It is three years since I wrote that. Those lectures were my first step, and, like all first steps, cost me more of a struggle than anything I have done since. As I look back over these three years, I see that every hope and aspiration I then cherished has been more than realized. I can trace the steady progress of my intellect. I can go back to the days when I started to earn my own living—when I thought it a great thing to have gained a few dollars by my own labor. Yes, I am very glad to have this record of the past: it makes me strong and hopeful of the future. I have never regretted my decision to make an independent life for myself. I have sought only to do that for which Nature had gifted me, and from which nothing but custom and prejudice debarred me; and in claiming my own position I am conscious of having helped other women, and of having led the way for those who may be less courageous than I am.
All this might sound very conceited and self-confident to any one who should read it, but I do not write to be read by other eyes than my own: my journal is the reflex of my thoughts and feelings; so I may be frank with myself. And why should I not be proud of my independence, as well as any other human creature?
But I must prepare my speech for to-morrow. They say they can't do without me, and I really believe they mean it; for though some women besides myself have opinions, and can put them into words, they mostly lack the courage that I certainly possess. What a delicious sense of freedom and unfettered action I have in my life! I don't think I have laid down the special powers of my sex in asserting my freedom; but you must wait, little book, for the confession that is on the tip of my pen. Work first: that is my motto.
Nov. 10. Ten days since I opened my journal, and such busy days as they have been! Three speeches, and half a pamphlet written! I have done what people commonly term "a man's work" this week. How I despise all these time-honored phrases, which, dead letters as they are, act as links to strengthen the chain that binds women in a state of inferiority. Why not say "a woman's work"? But that is a different sort of thing, I should be told: a woman should stay at home and take care of her house and children. Why so, say I, if she has no house, and does not wish for husband and children, feeling that they would impede her in her work? All women are not born to be wives and mothers: some have other work to do. But I need not argue with my journal: it is of my way of thinking; my ideas meet no opposition here. "But this is not at all womanly," my critic would say, had I one, which I have not: "you have not said a word of the really important event of the week." Dare I say that I had half forgotten it? A man has asked me to marry him! The great event of a woman's life has been within my reach, and I refused it. Mr. Whitaker is a very nice fellow, but too adoring by half. I want an equal, not a slave—a friend, a companion, not a man drawn to me by his imagination and desiring to put me on a pedestal before marriage, that he may reverse our position afterward. And then, too, marriage would hamper and restrict me. I must not give up to mankind what is meant for a party. But here I have a reflection to make, the result of my three years' experience since I became a "strong-minded woman." It is always maintained that a woman who chooses the life and holds the views that I do destroys her attraction and charm for the other sex, and that no man, however clever and successful she may be, will want to marry a woman who puts her intellect into trousers instead of petticoats. There was never a greater mistake. I have had four offers of marriage since I "unsexed" myself (that's the proper expression, I believe), and all from most respectable, well-to-do, worthy men; and I really think they all cared for me. I cannot help having a certain sense of gratified vanity about this, for, in spite of my critics, I am a woman still. I have earned a rest to-night, so I'll stop writing and go to bed.
Nov. 16. I feel lonely to-night. I am not often lonely: perhaps my little book will comfort me. Sometimes I have said to myself that my motto was that of a star: "Einsam bin ich, nicht allein." To-night it is not so. That Mr. Lawrence who was introduced to me to-night had a striking face, but there was a sort of masculine manner about him that I don't fancy. Manliness I like, but he seemed to be so sure that I was not his equal; and yet he treated me with perfect respect and courtesy. Some one whispered in my ear, "He is a great society swell." I have never seen anything of what is called society: I was not born with a title to admission within its circle, and I have always been too proud to seek it; yet I confess I have a curiosity to see what it is like. I suppose I should see the best result that the old way of looking at women can produce—the pink-cotton system, I call it. I don't believe that man would ever dream of contradicting me in a question of fact, or of using his strongest logical weapons against me in a discussion: he would only play with me mentally. How angry the very thought makes me! And yet he would defer to my opinion, and pay me all respect, and listen to everything I said, however silly, because I am a woman. What a strange, inconsistent mingling of discordant ideas! A toy and a divinity! His manners were, however, very agreeable: I suppose he is what is called a man of the world. Rather a poor thing to be: his manners are dearly bought. He said something about his cousin Mrs. Fordyce calling on me. Well, if she does, I shall perhaps have a glimpse at the beau monde. I wonder if all the men in society look as high-bred as he does? He is probably narrow-minded naturally, but he is one result of our scheme of civilization, which has its good as well as its bad points. Dear me! I certainly did not mean to make an analysis of Mr. Lawrence's character. Good-night, my little book!
Nov. 20. I cannot write to-night, and yet I must, I must. My head is bursting with thoughts and visions, my heart is swelling with new sensations. What an evening I have had! I shall never, never think myself courageous again. I, who have faced crowds with calmness, to quail before forty or fifty men and women, not one of whom was more intelligent or better educated than myself! But let me write it out if I can. I accepted Mrs. Fordyce's invitation to a little party. It was graciously given, and I, fool that I was, thought it was to do me honor that I was asked. I did not know then that these women of society will commit a baseness for a new sensation or to gratify an emotion of curiosity. I have been so admired, so looked up to by the men who have surrounded me, I never dreamed of being the object of mere curiosity or amusement. Well, I went. The room was half full of men and women, talking, laughing, moving about. I was alone, and from the moment of my entrance into that blaze of light I felt lonely and weak; but I crossed the room and spoke to my hostess. She greeted me graciously, and then some one else came up, and I stood aside. Suddenly the sense of eyes upon me came over me. How those women stared! Never before had I been among women and felt no bond of sisterhood. How was it? was I unsexed, or they? There seemed a gulf between us: I read it in their eyes, it came to me in the air, a subtle but keen conviction. And how exquisite they were!—so soft and smooth and white, with no lines on their foreheads or creases round their mouths. I had never had such a sense of beauty given me before by anything but pictures. I wondered the men did not kneel to them: I felt as if I could myself if they would let me. As I stood there, my heart beating quick, and something in my throat beginning to choke me, dazzled and bewildered by the scene, a voice said—oh how gently!—in my ear, "Miss Linton, will you let me take you into the other rooms? There are one or two pictures you will enjoy." I tried not to start, but I trembled in spite of myself, the relief was so great. There we stood—he, Henry Lawrence, taller and handsomer and prouder-looking than any man in the room, looking down upon me and offering me his arm! I think I felt as I should if a lifeboat came to take me off a wreck—in a modified degree, I mean. I took his arm with a few rather inarticulate words of thanks, and we strolled through the other rooms, he listening to me with such earnest attentiveness, bending his head at every word, seeming so absorbed in me, so forgetful of the women who gazed at me as if I were a pariah, and the men who smiled on them as they did so. I confess it, I felt as if he stood between me and the mocking, coldly scrutinizing glances about me. I felt guarded, protected, and I could not struggle against the feeling, weak though I knew it was: it seemed irresistible. I suppose, being a woman like other women, I inherit traditional weakness, and cannot break the bonds of former generations in a day. Be it as it may, he did not seem to know or notice that I was not myself: he only seemed interested and absorbed. I did not feel as if I were taxing his courtesy, and soon I recovered my self-possession and talked naturally: my spirits rose, and my natural self-assertion returned to me. I enjoyed looking at the women, watching their ways and listening to the sound of their voices. It was a revelation of a new world to me, and I said as much to him.
"What in particular is it," he said, "that strikes you so?"
"I think," I answered, "it is the harmony of the whole effect."
"A thorough-bred woman always produces an harmonious effect," he said.
Something in his tone jarred me, and I said hastily, "I don't think development should be sacrificed to harmony: incompleteness is better than perfection sometimes."
He smiled sweetly: "Yes, but I am afraid we should hardly agree about the development of women, though I should like to hear you talk of it."
"Why should we not discuss and disagree?"
"I do not like to disagree with a woman at all, especially with a woman whom I admire," he said, bending his blue eyes on me with a look such as I had never seen before in a man's eyes. It was what I suppose would be called a chivalric look; and yet chivalry was only an improved barbarism.
Mrs. Fordyce came up just then, and introduced some gentlemen to me; and while they were talking Mr. Lawrence turned away. In a few moments he was back again with a lovely-looking young girl on his arm, blushing and yet self-possessed, with the same exquisite simplicity of manner he has himself. "My cousin Alice Wilton asks me to introduce her to you, Miss Linton," he said.
I have always—shall I confess it?—patted young girls on the head: this one I could no more have patronized than I could a statue of Diana. She was very charming to look at as she stood beside her cousin, and yet—No, I will make no exception: she was charming in every way, and I felt more at my ease that a woman had been presented to me.
Mr. Lawrence put me in my carriage. As he closed the door he said, "Your maid is not with you?"
I replied that I had none; on which he said to the driver, "Drive slowly: I mean to walk as far as the hotel with the carriage."
"Won't you get in?" I cried from the window.
He seemed not to hear me, but started off at a rapid pace, and I gave up the attempt, wondering at what seemed to me an eccentric choice. It was unnecessary for him to go with me at all, but I thought, "He has been, I suppose, brought up to think no woman can take care of herself." He was ready to open the door as I got out, and I longed to ask him why he had not driven with me; but I hesitated: something tied my tongue, and in a moment he had said "Good-night," and was gone with hasty steps into the darkness. I must stop, I am so tired.
December 3. It seems to me I am growing to be a dreadful egotist. I put nothing down now in this little book but just what concerns myself—nothing of the great subjects of universal interest which have always absorbed most of my thoughts, but just my own doings and sayings. At this very moment I desire only to write about my afternoon, and the way in which I spent it. I will indulge myself, and the record may serve me. How it had snowed all day! how it did snow this afternoon when I started out, wrapped in my waterproof, accoutred to encounter the storm, and rejoicing in the absence of long skirts and hooped petticoats! With my India-rubber boots I felt I could plod through any snow-drift, and I gained a pervading sense of exhilaration from the beating of the storm in my face. I chose a certain street I had come to know, which ran straight through the town and on into a more thinly-settled suburb. It was a good, clear path, and I should be able to have a splendid walk without meeting probably more than a dozen people in the course of it. Just as I passed the last square of closely-built town-houses, and began to come upon the stretching white landscape before me, as I trudged along, turning my head a little aside to escape the brunt of the driving snow, I heard an exclamation of surprise, and a man's voice said, "You here, Miss Linton?"
It was he, Mr. Lawrence. There he stood, his eyes brilliant with the excitement of the storm, his cheek aglow with exercise, looking, as the old women say, "the very picture of a man." I am very sensitive to beauty, and his seems to me very great: it draws me to him.
"Yes it is I," I said (we had both stopped). "I wanted exercise and air, and something to change my frame of mind; so I came out for a tramp."
He turned with me, and we walked on. In a moment more he said, "Will you take my arm? It will be easier to keep step and walk fast then."
I took it, and he looked down at me and said, with an inscrutable smile, which haunts me yet, I suppose because I can't make out its meaning, "Do you believe in fate?"
"If you mean by fate something which the will is powerless to resist, against which it is unavailing to struggle, I do not," I answered. "Do you, Mr. Lawrence?"
He laughed, not a pleasant laugh, albeit musical, but as if his smile had been one with some hidden meaning in it: "I hardly know what I believe. Certainly some power seems to lay traps for our wills at times, and waylay us when they are off duty. As, for instance," he went on, "I wanted to see you to-day, and I did not go to see you: my will acted perfectly well, and I seemed able to resist any temptation. I came out here to walk alone, thinking that I should be even farther away from you here than elsewhere, when, lo! you start up in my path, and here we are together. It is just as if some malicious spirit had mocked me with an idea of my own strength, only to betray me the better through my weakness." He spoke with an intensity which seemed out of place, and strangely unlike his usual calm manner. Somehow, a feeling of great delight had come over me as he spoke. I felt pleased—why I do not know—at his evident impatience and annoyance.
"But why," said I, "did you turn with me? There would have been the moment for your will to act."
"You think so? That is hardly fair, Miss Linton. Does one brand a soldier as a coward and a laggard who has fought and won a battle, and has sunk exhausted upon his arms to sleep, if he is discomfited and dismayed when, just as slumber has him in its arms, a fresh foe sets upon him? No, I could not turn back."
His eyes were bent on me again, and something in them stirred my soul to its depths. Such a delicious feeling seemed stealing over me—a feeling of mixed power and weakness. I felt my color rise, but I looked ahead over the snowfields and said, "I don't see why you should have turned back. Why should you want to be with me and not be with me? I wanted to see you too."
I started as he spoke again, for his voice and manner were both changed—all the quiver and intensity gone out of them. "The 'reason why' of a mood is hard to find sometimes, and when found one has a conviction that no one but one's self would see its reasonableness," he said with a laugh cold and musical. "Let us talk of something we can both be sure to understand."
He seemed far away again. For a moment he had seemed so near—nearer, I think, than I ever remember to have felt a man to be. Then he talked, and talked very well, and made me talk, though it was not as easy as it usually is to me, and though we spoke of things that are generally to me like the sound of a trumpet to the war-horse. My spirit did not rise: the words would hardly come. I wanted to be alone and think it over—think over his words, his manner, his voice, the look in his eyes, and see what they meant, and, if I could, why he had changed so suddenly to me.
When we had walked some distance farther he himself proposed turning back, and took me home. As we neared the hotel I could not resist asking him why he had not come home with me that night in the carriage instead of walking, or running rather, beside it.
Such a strange look came over his face as I asked him, and his lips set with a stern expression as he said stiffly, icily, "I had realized, Miss Linton, how utterly different our ways of looking at life must be; or else perhaps it is that you do not hold me to be enough of a knight to consider a woman's position before my own comfort and pleasure."
"I don't understand you," said I, bewildered. "I asked you to get into the carriage."
"I know it," he replied; "but in such matters no gentleman can allow a woman's kindly impulse of courtesy to compromise her in any way: he must think first of her, and all the more because she has thought of him."
"What do you mean by compromise?" I exclaimed. "I am quite independent enough of public opinion to be a free agent in such matters: you must not forget that I am a very different woman from a society belle."
"Quite true," he answered, stung by my tone, "but I do not claim to be unsexed because—because—" He stammered.
"Because I am? You are very right to live according to your lights, Mr. Lawrence, but I must decline to see life by them. Good-night!" His tone was more than I could bear, and I turned abruptly from him: we had reached the hotel, and without a word more I ran up stairs to my parlor. The door was ajar: I entered hastily and pushed it to, but he had followed me on the instant, and now stood with it in his hand.
"I cannot let you send me away without saying one word," he said. "I never meant to say that you were unsexed. I beg you will forgive me if I offended you. I had no right in the world to judge for you. It was a presumptuous impulse to protect, to guard you that prompted my action the other night—my words just now. Forgive me. As for my prejudices, they shall not displease you again: only remember as my excuse that a man of my class has but one way of looking at a woman whom—he—" He drew a long breath, hesitated, and then said with an effort—"admires."
The word was cold and formal, but his voice and manner were warm and earnest. His mood seemed changed: he seemed again near me, and an irresistible attraction toward him possessed me, body and soul. There was something in his very attitude, as he stood by the door with his head bent down, that seemed to win me. What was it that came over me? What subtle power is it by which one nature draws another without any apparent or audible summons? I do not know; but this I know, that as he said the words I have just written down a floodgate within me seemed raised, and with a mighty rush my spirit bounded toward him. And yet I did not move.
"Forgive you?" I said. "Yes, a thousand times!"
He looked up, said, "Thank you!" very softly, and turned to the door. When he reached it he stopped, turned again, and came up to me. "Will you give me your hand in token of forgiveness and friendship?" he said.
I said nothing, but held out my hand. He took it in both of his, and then in a moment more my arms were about his neck, and our lips had met. He kissed me again and again, held me very close for an instant, and then, untwining my arms from their hold, he abruptly left the room. That was three hours ago, and I have sat here thinking, thinking, ever since. What does it all mean? Writing it out has helped me, as I thought it would. Two things have become clear to me: I am quite conscious that I have sought Mr. Lawrence at least as much as he has me. I have always believed it to be as natural for a woman who was once freed from the foolish prejudices of education and tradition to hold out her hand to any one who attracted her as for a man to seek a woman. Now I have proved it to be true. He does attract me. Why deny it, either to myself or him? I do not, I will not. This I see and know to be true. The other thing which seems clear to me is, that he is only drawn by one side of his nature—that he does not want to love me, perhaps can only half love me. Then, if that be so, I have done wrong to show him my feelings. With his ideas about women, he would feel it to be almost unmanly to fold his arms on his breast if a woman put hers about his neck, as I did; and I fear I forced my love upon him. I feel as I should think a man feels who has taken an unfair advantage of a woman's fancy for him, and got from her graces and favors to which her whole heart does not assent. I am not ashamed of loving him: bear me witness, little book, I am not ashamed of loving him, nor indeed of telling him so; only I would not "betray his will," as he said this afternoon. No, no: if he comes to me, it must be with a whole and willing heart. Now that's resolved, what next? Write to him of course, and tell him I am sorry to have led him into this position, and say, "I won't do so again." Did a woman ever write to a man before and beg his pardon for letting him kiss her? for throwing her arms about his neck? I doubt it, but what does that matter? I belong to the new era, and I will be the "Coming Woman." I laugh, but I feel, after all, more like crying. Good-night, little book. I will write to Mr. Lawrence in the morning. Now for bed.
Dec. 4. I wrote to him this morning, and sent my note by a messenger. I could not work, I could neither think nor write, till his answer came. He had made the bearer of my note wait, and wrote me just a few words to ask if he might not see me to-night. I wrote back "Yes," and now it is only four o'clock: he will not come till eight. It seems an impossible time to wait, and I must not waste the afternoon as I did the morning. Let me see: shall I finish that article on English love-poetry, past and present, in which I mean to show how the germ of degradation and decay always existed, even in the chivalric idea of woman's nature and sphere, and how it has gone on developing itself in the poetry which is its truest expression, till we have got its different stages from the ideal of the school which really had a gloss of elevation and fine sentiment about it—the woman of Herrick and Ben Jonson, and later on of Lovelace and Montrose, to the woman of Owen Meredith and Swinburne, who, instead of inspiring men to die for her honor, makes them rather wish her to live to be the instrument of their pleasure? It was not a bad idea, and I think I could have traced the gradations very well. But I cannot write, I cannot think. Let me recall my letter to him. Ah, here is one of the dozen copies I made before I could make it what I wanted:
"MY DEAR MR. LAWRENCE: I must ask you to forgive me, for I am conscious of having been thoughtless and selfish. I yielded to an impulse yesterday, and I put you in an unfair position. I never meant to do it, and I will never do it again. I trust we may be friends, and I am
That was all I said: I wish now I had said more. Ah me! will evening never come?
* * * * *
Before I go to bed I must write a word or two. Ah, how much happier I am than I was last night! He came at eight punctually. I trembled all over when I shook hands with him: I think he must have seen it, but he said nothing. What a wonderful thing this thing they call high breeding is! One feels it in a moment, and yet it seems intangible, indescribable. He has it, I should think, in perfection, and he is the only person I have ever known who possessed it, except, perhaps that young girl, his cousin, whom he presented to me at the party. For a while we talked—at least he did—easily and pleasantly, and then suddenly he said, smiling at me, "Do you know, I think you are a very generous woman?"
"Do you? Why?" said I.
"Because you are willing to shoulder other people's peccadilloes. Don't you know a woman should never do that, especially for a man, who is naturally selfish and can always take care of himself?"
I did not like the word peccadilloes, but I only said, "So can a woman take care of herself."
"Do you really believe that?" he said with a gleam in his blue eyes.
"Really, I do. I am sure, at least, that I can take care of myself."
"Are you?" said he. We were sitting beside each other on the sofa, and in another moment he had put his arm about me and drawn me to him. I could not resist him—his voice, his eyes, his sweet words. I loved him and was happy. It was a heaven of delight to be so near him; and how natural it seemed! He said little, nor did I speak many words: he held me in his arms, kissed me many times on my hands, cheeks and lips; and then suddenly, almost abruptly, he left me, pleading an engagement. But my happiness did not go with him. I am happy in the conviction that he loves me, and I feel strong to make him all my own. He will come again to-morrow. He did not say so: no need to say so—he will surely come. He is poor, I know. What of that? I earn a good income, and together we can defy the world. I shall be able to convert him from his prejudices and narrow notions, now that he loves me. What an acquisition to our cause! He loves me as I am. I have yielded nothing, I have sacrificed nothing—not one iota of principle, not an inch of ground. He has come to me because he loves me. I can influence him to think as I do of woman's nature and sphere. My single life will convince him of the justice of my ideas, and having known me, he can never "decline on a lower range of feelings and a narrower sphere than mine."
I am triumphant, I am successful: I could sing a song of rejoicing. Have I not always felt sure that a woman's true attraction does not depend on the false attitude in which she is placed by men? This man has seen me as I am, and I have drawn him to me.
Dec. 11. It seems scarcely possible that it is but one week since I wrote those words above, yet the date stares me in the face, and tells me that but seven days and seven nights have passed since then. It seems to me as if all my past life held less of emotion, of sensation, less of living, than this one week; and what absolute, uncompromising pain it has all been! It seems to me as if I had been through every stage of suffering in succession; yet to what does it all amount? what has caused it all? what has racked me with all these various gradations of torture? Just this: since that night, that triumphant, happy night, I have neither heard from nor seen Mr. Lawrence. Silence, unbroken silence, has been between us. I have borne it, but oh how badly!—not calmly or with quiet self-control and strength; but I have borne it with passionate out-cry and restless struggles. I have sobbed myself to sleep at night: I have roamed aimlessly about during the day, or lain on a lounge, book in hand, pretending to read, but in reality listening, waiting, longing to hear his step, his knock, to have some message, some sign, come to me from him. Then it has seemed to me as if there was but one other human creature in the world, and that was he—as if all the manifold needs and wants, losses and gains, of humanity had no longer the slightest meaning for me. I have no sense of any ambition, any aim, any obligation pressing upon me. I find nothing within myself to feed upon but a few pale memories of him, and my whole future seems concentred in his existence. I do not think I can bear to live as I am now. It is all profoundly dark to me. Why does he not come? I can think of no possible explanation—none. I am resolved to think it out to an end, and then act: it is this passiveness which is killing me.
I am resolved: I will write, and will ask him to come to me, and when he comes I will say what I feel. Some mistaken hesitation is keeping him away. I will say, "We love one another: let us unite our lives and live them together, yoked in all exercise of noble end."
Letter from Henry Lawrence to George Manning.
DEAR GEORGE: I will begin by telling the truth, and here it is: I am in a scrape. I know you won't think much of the simple fact, but the scrape is very different from any of my former ones, and I don't see how I can get out of it honorably. I can see you raise your eyebrows, and hear you say with an incredulous smile, "Why, Harry, I have heard you ridicule honor a thousand times where women are concerned, and of course this scrape involves a woman." You are right there—it does; or rather a woman has involved me, and there lies the scrape. As for honor, I laugh at most of the things I believe in, just because it's the fashion of the day—and I belong to the day I live in—not to wear one's heart on one's sleeve. Then, too, sometimes one finds that logically one thinks a thing, an idea, a feeling absurd, and yet when one's life comes into collision with it, somehow up springs something within you which I suppose might be called an instinct, and forces you to respect and cherish and uphold the very feeling or idea which you have always ridiculed.
Well, I'll tell you my story, and then perhaps you'll tell me what to do. About—let me see—a month ago I went with some men one evening, out of pure idleness, to a public meeting. The men who spoke were all stupid, and roared and mouthed stuff "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," and I was thinking how I could get away and have a game of cards at the club, when suddenly a voice like music smote upon my astonished ears. I looked up, and there on the platform stood a woman, speaking, by Jove! and doing it well, too. I listened and looked, and should have enjoyed it if it had not disgusted me so in theory. I must confess, barring the fact of her being there, there was nothing objectionable about her. She was handsome, and had a magnificent voice: she talked a hundred per cent, better than the men who preceded her; and it was well for the meeting that it was over when she stopped: any other speaker would have made a terrible anti-climax. The two fellows with me proposed our being introduced to her, and half from curiosity, half—I swore to speak the truth—half, George, from attraction (hear me out, old fellow: she was feminine-looking and very handsome)—I went forward and was presented. She interested and attracted me, the more so perhaps that from the moment our eyes met I was conscious that there existed between us a strong natural affinity, latent, but capable of being developed. I called on her the next day, and made my cousin Clara invite her to a party. Clara, who is thoroughly unconventional, and would do anything to please me, did so without a second thought. But imagine my distress when, as I entered the drawing-room a little late, I saw my fair Amazon standing in a doorway, not only alone, but alone in the midst of curious and scornful glances. My courtesy was at stake, my chivalry was roused, and she looked very handsome and very like any other woman brought to bay. She had the most charming expression, compounded of bewilderment and defiance, on her face when my eyes fell on her, and it changed to one that pleased me still better (which I won't describe) when our eyes met. You, you unbelieving dog, think that because she is "strong-minded" she must be repulsive and immodest. But there is a charming inconsistency about female human nature.
But to go on with my story. I felt quite like a champion, I assure you, for, after all, it was shabby of the women to give her the cold shoulder, and cowardly of the men to stand aloof; so I devoted myself to her, and asked Alice Wilton to be presented to her. Miss Linton has not a particle of usage du monde, nor is she what would be called high-bred; but she is self-possessed and gentle in her manner, and makes a good enough figure in the company of ladies and gentlemen. Here I confess my weakness. I did think her very attractive, and I was conscious that I had a power over her which I did not forbear to exercise. The result of this was that when we parted she had every reason to expect to see me very soon again, and I had inwardly resolved never to see her again if I could help it. I did keep away, and then luck would have it that I met her taking a walk one snowy afternoon. I suspected she had come out to get away from the remembrance of me, as I had to get away from the desire to see her; and she was so moved by seeing me that I could not help showing her that I cared for her, and perhaps seemed to care more than I did. It was a sore temptation, and I yielded to it. Wrong? Do you think I don't know that it was wrong? But the worst is to come. I walked back with her, and an accident led to our having one of those conversations that people have when they are under the influence of emotion and cannot give it vent in its natural way, but must do something or talk. If I could have put my arms about her and kissed her, we could have got on without words: as it was, I said I hardly know what, and she, being very much in earnest and very unsophisticated, showed me how much she cared for me. I vow, George, if I had had a moment to think, to gather my self-control—But I had not, and so we ended by my finding her arms round my neck, after all. I rushed away with hardly a word, and walked and walked, and thought and thought. The next day comes a note from her—what one would call a manly, straightforward acknowledgment that she had led me into a position that was an unfair one, and that she regretted it. Nothing franker or more generous could have been conceived, but somehow it roused within me the impulse to make her conscious of the weakness of her sex. My masculine conceit rose and demanded an opportunity of self-assertion. I went to her, and she seemed more attractive than ever. Her independence and self-reliance nettled me, and I was mean enough to yield to the desire to see if she could resist me. But I was richly punished, for the knowledge rolled over me like a wave that she loved me, and I left her, stung by the consciousness of having taken an unworthy advantage of a simple and trustful nature. I know that this is high tragedy, and will meet with your displeasure. I can hear you say, "Confound you, Harry! why don't you marry her?"
Very easy to say; but look at the situation, which is not so simple as you probably think. Of course any girl of my own class would never build an edifice of eternal and sacred happiness on such a foundation as a few warm looks and eloquent words, or even a caress, might furnish. In plain words, neither she nor I would think marriage a necessary or even likely sequence to such a preamble. But it is different with Miss Linton. I am sure, I am confident—laugh if you like—that she has never given any man what she has given me, either in degree or kind. Her eccentric notions about women's nature and position would protect her from tampering with her own feelings or those of another; and then, too, there has been so much hard reality, so much serious business, in her life that the sweet follies of girlhood have not been hers. Shall I say that I cannot help feeling her innocence and inexperience make her more attractive? I am not sure, even, that they do not balance her self-reliance and independence, which certainly repel me. All this I did not dream of at first. I am not a scoundrel or a coxcomb. It came to me the other afternoon all at once, when she threw her arms about my neck. I have been selfish, and perhaps stupid. "Why not marry her?" you say. I have asked myself that question, and this is my answer: No passion in the world could make me insensible to the humiliation of her career, and I should be obliged not only to accept it in the past, but to recognize it in the future. My wife must be my social equal and the natural associate of high-bred women. I must be able to take any man by the throat who looks at or speaks of her as does not please me. This woman's character, intellect, manners and appearance are public property for all purposes of criticism and comment. She is unsexed. My wife must be dependent on me, clinging to me. This woman has always stood, and will always stand alone; and yet I have thought that she was capable of such deep, strong, concentrated feeling that the man who owned her heart might do with her as he liked. This, I admit, has tempted me to think of marriage, for, after all, George, it would be a luxury to be very much loved. This woman would love a man in another fashion from that which prevails in society.
But I have put the idea away from me, and here I am, determined not to marry her, and yet feeling that I have unintentionally wronged her. I have not been near her these seven days. I know she expects me—she has every right to expect me—but I will not go till I have decided what to say and do. I am too weak to go otherwise. Write to me, George, and advise me; and remember that she is not like the women of whom we have both known so many. She has no more idea of flirting than had Hippolyta queen of the Amazons or Zenobia queen of Palmyra—those two strong-minded women of old days. I am joking, but I assure you I am not jolly. I am afraid, George, that she truly loves me, and, unsexed though she be, love has made a woman of her, and I fear is unmanning me.
Yours always, HENRY LAWRENCE.
P.S. I open my letter to say that it is too late for you to write when you receive this: it will be over. I have just got a note from her asking to see me. I shall speak frankly, but I feel like a hound. As ever, H.L.
Dec. 11. I am resolved to write it all down as it happened. I wrote him a note this afternoon, and this evening he came—handsome, pale and quiet. He walked up to me, took my hand in his, pressed it and let it go. He did not wait for me to speak, fortunately, for I could not have spoken: I could not have commanded my voice. He said—oh so quietly and steadily!—"I should have come to see you to-night, I think, if you had not asked me: I had so much to say."
"I thought you would never come," I answered.
He rose and walked hurriedly up and down the room, then paused in front of me and said—his words seem burned into my brain—"You are a woman who deserves frankness, and I will be utterly and absolutely frank with you. I have done very wrong in behaving as I have done. I had no right, no justification, for it, and I beg you to forgive me—humbly I beg it on my knees;" and he knelt before me.
I was bewildered and pained beyond measure. I thought I knew not what, but a tissue of wild absurdities rushed through my brain to account for his words—anything rather than think he did not love me.
"With many women this confession would be unnecessary," he went on. "You are genuine and simple, and attach a real meaning to every word and act, because you do not yourself speak or act without meaning. How can I, then, part from you without asking your forgiveness for what I have said and done?"
"Part from me!" I exclaimed, holding out my hands to him: he had risen now. "Oh, Mr. Lawrence, let us be frank with one another. There is no need to part. Do you think your poverty is any barrier between us? It is but an added bond. Can I not work too? And we will learn to think alike where we now differ. Why should we part? We love each other. Why should we not marry? What can part us but our own wills? I love you, you know it, and I think you love me; at least I am sure I could teach you to love me." He stood while I spoke, his arms hanging by his sides. What more I said I hardly know. I think—I am sure, indeed—I told him, standing there, how I loved him. I felt I must speak it once to one human being. A great foresight came to me: I seemed to see my life stretching before me, long, lonely, desolate: no other love like this could come, full well I knew that, and I could not enter on that dreary path without setting free my soul. Yes, I spoke out to him. Words of power they were—power and fire and longing. Perhaps I alone, of all women, have told a man of my love when I knew it to be hopeless. My hope had died when he first spoke. Had he loved me, he had spoken otherwise. That I was woman enough to see; but if it be unwomanly to feel in every pulse-throb the need of expression, to know that I should die of suppressed passion, tenderness, love, if I did not speak it all, did not tell him once how I loved him, how I could have lived his servant, his slave, happy and content—how his smile seemed the sun and his caresses heaven to me—how I was hungry with the hunger of my very soul to spend on him the garnered treasure of my heart,—if this be unwomanly, I was indeed unsexed. I seemed exalted out of myself, and full of power.
He heard me, and it moved him. He spoke again when I had finished. He had not lifted his eyes to mine, and did not then. He said, "I could not marry you: it would be the worst possible thing for both of us. Your life would be miserable—mine most wretched. You must see that there are other things in life besides love, and other things which influence its happiness. Everything would separate us except our personal affinity. Our education, our ideas, beliefs, our past lives, our aims for the future, make a gulf between us. We could never bridge it," He paused.
I laughed aloud: he looked at me then in surprise. "I laugh," said I, "because I see how absurd it was to fancy that you loved me. A bridge between us! If you loved me as I love you, our love would turn water into land, melt mountains into plains: we would cross dry-shod to one another."
"Do you love me so?" he said, his blue eyes gleaming, and making a step toward me. I had power enough to make him feel, and feel strongly, but that was not enough.
"No," I said, "Mr. Lawrence, you must take nothing from me now: I can give nothing now."
"But if I want all?" he said.
I laughed again. "But you do not," I said. "I have told you I love you and would marry you. You cannot, you say. Then that ends all between us. I love you too much to be able to give you only what you give me."
"We cannot marry," he repeated: "it would be ruin to both of us."
"Go away!" I said: "I would rather be alone." I was spent, and felt feeble and weak.
"Let me tell you, first, that I admire you, esteem you, infinitely: let me say this before I go; and you will think of me kindly." He said this pleadingly.
I looked at him wonderingly. Did he not yet know how much I loved him? My courage and pride were ebbing fast away. Faintly I said, "Before you go kneel down in front of me, and let me touch your forehead with my lips." He did so, and I bent forward and took his head in both my hands and kissed it. Somehow as I did it the strange thought came to me that if I had ever had a son, just so I have kissed his head. It was a yearning feeling, with such tenderness in it that my heart seemed dissolving. Many times. I kissed it and held it, and then, "Good-bye, my only love," I said. "I could have loved you very well."
His eyes were wet with tears as he raised his head. "I shall never forget you: you are nobleness itself," he said. "God bless and prosper you, Miss Linton!" Then he went.
That is all, all, and life is where it was a month ago; only, "I wear my rue with a difference." He was my inferior. I was higher and nobler and purer than he, but I loved him, and the greatest joy I could know would have been to lead my life with him. So it is over, and this book had best be put away. I will go back to my old life, and see what I can make of it. I am glad to have known what love meant: I shall be gladder after a while, when this ache is over. If he could but have loved me as I loved him—if he could! But he could not, and it was not to be. I must learn to be again a strong-minded woman.
Letter from Henry Lawrence to George Manning.
DEAR GEORGE: I'm off for Europe to-morrow. I behaved like a man and broke the whole thing off. She behaved like a man too, told me how much she loved me, and then accepted the position. I feel like a girl who has jilted a fellow, and it's a very poor way to feel. Never flirt with a strong-minded woman. I believe she cared for me, and I think very likely when I'm fifty I shall think I was a fool not to have braved it out and married her. I'm sure if I don't think it then, I shall when I reach the next world; but then, like the girl in Browning's poem, "she will pass, nor turn her face."
I feel very blue, and I think I'd better ask Alice to marry me. Yours, H.L.
THE KING OF BAVARIA.
Of all the prominent personages who, through their official position or individual power, or both combined, occupy at present the eye of the public, probably not one is more unjustly criticised or more generally misunderstood than Ludwig II., king of Bavaria. As a reigning monarch, young, handsome, secluded in his habits and unmarried, he is of course exposed to all the inquisitive observation and exaggerated gossip which the feminine curiosity and masculine envy of a court and capital can supply—gossip which is eagerly listened to by the annual crowd of foreigners who spend a few days in Munich to visit the Pinakothek, listen to a Wagner opera, and catch, if possible, a glimpse of the romantic young king; and is by them carried home to find public circulation at third hand through the columns of sensation newspapers. And when to this personal criticism is added the strife of opinion over his political acts, and the ill-will of the extreme Church party in consequence of his liberal tendencies, it may easily be believed that his real character is but little known, and is in many cases deliberately falsified. A brief review of the facts and circumstances of his reign may serve to correct, in some degree, the false impressions which have so long prevailed.
In 1864, in the midst of the confusion of the Schleswig-Holstein war, which was then agitating all Germany, King Max died, and his eldest son, Ludwig, only nineteen years old, was summoned from the quiet routine of his university studies to ascend the throne of Bavaria. In childhood his health had been extremely delicate, and on that account he had been educated in unusual privacy—training which, joined to his naturally reserved and meditative disposition, and the various disenchantments of his public career, may satisfactorily account for his present confirmed love of solitude. The position to which he was so unexpectedly called was an exceedingly difficult one for a mind filled, as his was, with ideal visions of liberty and progress, and totally inexperienced in the ways of a selfish world and in the profundity of Jesuitical intrigues; and the unavoidable embarrassments of the time had been increased by the course of his immediate predecessors. Ludwig I., through a sentimental love of the picturesque, had encouraged the multiplication of monasteries and convents and brotherhoods of wandering friars, and Maximilian, though naturally tolerant, and still more liberalized by the influence of his Protestant queen, was a firm believer in the divine right of kings; and having joined hands with the clerical party in putting down the revolution of 1848, found himself afterward so far compromised in their behalf that he was unable to oppose their aggrandizing plans; so that in his reign the priests, and especially the Jesuits, attained to a greater degree of power than they had ever before known.
The young king for a while carried on the government after his father's policy, and with the same ministerial officers; but he soon began to show signs of independence of character, the first manifestation of which was an attempt to curtail the power of the Jesuits, especially in the matter of public instruction. This was, of course, enough to rouse the enmity of the whole Society of Jesus against him, and its members have been busy ever since in thwarting all his plans and doing their utmost to render him unpopular with his subjects.
Unfortunately, the king soon gave his people a plausible excuse for fault-finding by the unbounded favor which he bestowed upon Wagner, whose ideas and whose music were at that time alike obnoxious to the majority of Germans. The favorite theory of this great genius, but arrogant and unscrupulous man, was the elevation of the German nation through the aesthetic and moral influence of a properly developed theatre; and the king was ready to offer every facility for the practical realization of this visionary plan. But the Jesuits scented heresy in the alliance between the experienced composer and the youthful dreamer, and the liberal party were indignant that Wagner's affairs should be made a cabinet question at a time of such great national anxiety. The dissatisfaction rose to such a height at last that it became necessary for Wagner to leave Munich, and for his royal patron to break off, apparently at least, the unpopular intimacy. The people were right, to some extent, in denouncing Wagner, whose course in Munich, as elsewhere, had been selfish and ungrateful, and in blaming the king for indulging his individual tastes to the neglect of his duties as a ruler; but the youth and inexperience of the latter were a sufficient excuse for excess of enthusiasm, and reproach may well be forgotten in astonishment and admiration at the capacity of this mere boy to understand and feel those wonderful musical dramas which were then almost universally laughed at or condemned, though their gradual but steady rise in public appreciation seems now to warrant their claim to be considered as "the music of the future."
In December, 1865, a little more than a year after his accession, King Ludwig acknowledged the union of Italy under Victor Emmanuel—an important step, which at once arrayed the Catholic Church against him as its enemy. He also endeavored to effect a reconciliation between Vienna and Berlin, but his mediation did not avail; nor could he hinder the alliance of Bavaria with Austria in the war of 1866. But as soon as peace was concluded he quitted the policy of his father, which he had hitherto, for the most part, followed, and selected as members of his cabinet men of liberal principles and progressive ideas, calling to, its head Prince Hohenlohe, a known friend of Prussia and a firm opposer of the Austrian alliance.
One of the first projects of the new ministry was to free the public schools, as far as possible, from the influence of the clergy. These and other liberal movements aroused the whole force of the Ultramontane party, and a terrible strife ensued, resulting in Hohenlohe's resignation, which the king was unwillingly obliged to accept. Hohenlohe was succeeded by Count Bray, a man devoted to feudalism and the Church, who had been minister under Ludwig I. and Maximilian II. The clerical party were exultant in their triumph. They saw that trouble was brewing between France and Prussia, and trusted that Count Bray would be able to prevent any alliance between the latter state and Bavaria. They would have preferred a coalition with France and Austria against Prussia and the kingdom of Italy, with the ultimate purpose of reinstating the pope as a temporal sovereign. To this end they were willing to degrade Bavaria to a province of Rome, and would gladly have dethroned the king if they could have done so; their hatred of him having been increased in the mean time by his public recognition of Dr. Doellinger's protest against the decree of papal infallibility. But when the crisis came their hopes were speedily frustrated by the king's prompt decision to stand by Prussia in the contest. He at once declared his intention to Parliament, which had until then appeared willing to grant only the supplies necessary to maintain Bavaria in a state of armed neutrality. The decision was the king's alone—"My word is sacred" was his principle of action—but after he had taken the first step his ministers supported him throughout the struggle with patriotic zeal. He immediately issued a proclamation calling his people to arms against their hereditary enemy, and his message, "We South Germans are with you" was the first pledge of sympathy and assistance that cheered the king and the citizens at Berlin.
King Ludwig's conduct in this matter is especially deserving of praise, because his kingdom is of sufficient size and importance to make its absorption into the empire a great sacrifice of individual pride; particularly when it is remembered that Prussia, of which Bavaria had long been jealous, was to be the leading power in the new union of states, and Prussia's king the emperor. But from the time of Ludwig's accession he had looked forward with hope to a consolidation of the numerous states of Germany into one nation; and the opportunity, though coming sooner than he or any one else had anticipated, found him not unprepared for the change. When the storm against Hohenlohe was at its height, he said, "Does that party really think that the steps which have already been taken toward the unity of Germany will be retracted? Then they do not know me. I have not read Schiller in vain. I too can say, 'All the power, all the influence, which belongs to me as a constitutional prince I will lay in the scale of the idea of the unity of Germany.' I should greatly prefer to devote myself to peaceful pursuits, to clear the way for my people to elevate themselves through education and material prosperity, and to help them open the noble treasure of ideas bequeathed to them by our thinkers and poets; but when a foreign enemy is standing at Germany's gates I hold it my duty not only to give my army, my lands and my property for the public good, but to offer myself to the commander in-chief as a common soldier of the united German empire." On another occasion he said, "I acknowledge in my country only one party—that of truly noble men, who, through extensive knowledge, pure thoughts and useful deeds, serve the commonwealth, whether these be skillful workmen, citizens, peasants, scholars, honest magistrates, who, like myself, serve the people conscientiously, officers who are friends as well as leaders of the soldiers, worthy priests of all confessions, who are real physicians of souls, righteous judges, teachers of my people, or noblemen who add to the distinction of title that of true nobility of soul, and set a worthy example in all good things: all these, and only these, are of my party."
And again: "I desire of my Creator not the satisfaction of gratified ambition, but the joy of knowing that after my death it will be said of me, 'Ludwig II. strove to be a true friend to his people, and he succeeded in making them happier." And again: "It would gratify me more to obtain a true solution of my country's social problems than to become, by force of arms, ruler of all Europe; nor should I be willing to incur the responsibility of a single life lost through my pursuit of any selfish plan."
These quotations are sufficient to show the enlightened views of the king in regard to his duties as a ruler; and his whole conduct since his accession has proved his desire to free his subjects from the chains of bigotry and superstition in which they have so long been bound. His constant opposition to the machinations of the Jesuits, his increasing neglect of the religious shows and ceremonies in which Munich delights, and his open support of Dollinger and the liberal Catholics, indicate plainly enough that he is no slave of the Church of which he is by birth and training a member; but his example and influence cannot, as yet, effect much against the strong majority of Ultramontanists in Parliament and the crowds of priests who still hold spiritual sway over the greater portion of his people. One peculiar hindrance to the success of any progressive measure in Bavaria lies in the absurd regulation which makes every ex-cabinet minister a member of a separate government council, the consent of which must be obtained before any new royal or parliamentary decree can be put in force; and as the majority of these ex-ministers are Ultramontanists or otherwise behind the times, it will be seen that the progressive party, though with the king at their head, are constantly thwarted by this auxiliary force of the Jesuits and old fogies outside the government.
With regard to the private life of the king, his secluded habits are a source of general complaint. The Bavarians, and especially the citizens of Munich, would like him to mix freely with his people in the streets and at places of public resort, as Ludwig I. was in the habit of doing, and to settle down with wife and children around him, after the manner of good King Max; to head all their festive processions, preside at the opening of their annual fairs, and lend himself to legendary customs which have long lost their significance, and to social gayeties in which he can find no pleasure. And because he refuses to take his airings in the crowded streets, to head the processions on Corpus Christi and St. John's Day, to wash the disciples' feet on Holy Thursday, to preside at the Michaelmas horse-races and puppet-shows, and to marry for the sake of increasing the brilliancy of the court and perpetuating the Wittelsbach dynasty, he is denounced alike by devotees and worldlings, who judge him, not by what he does that is good and useful, but by what he does not do to gratify them. Because he spends the greater part of the year in retirement at his castles in the country, coming to Munich only for the session of Parliament in the winter, he is accused of indifference to the prosperity of his state and the welfare of his subjects.
But he himself says, "It is incumbent upon a prince to meditate upon the duties of his calling, which he can surely do better when alone with God and Nature than in the confusion of a court." His ministers and all who have occasion to approach him in a business capacity declare that at every such interview they are surprised at his thorough knowledge of the subject under discussion, as also at his keen insight into character and motives.
To an unprejudiced observer—say to an intelligent foreigner who remains in Bavaria long enough, not only to hear all the gossip, but to see and judge for himself as to the merits of the case—the career of this young king is exceedingly interesting and worthy of admiration. It is something, in these times of political intrigue and diplomatic evasion, that a king can say, "My word is sacred," without awakening in any mind a remembrance of broken faith and forgotten obligations. It is something, amid the corruptions of a dissolute capital and the temptations of a royal court, that the sovereign, young, full of tender sentiment, and unprotected by the marriage tie, lives on with virtue unimpeached; not even the bitterest enemy daring to breathe a word against the purity of this modern Lohengrin. It is something that a man born to the splendors of a throne should prefer to these the simplicity of Nature, the solitude of woods and mountains, the companionship of music that searches the soul's sincerity, and of books that have no recognition of royalty in their announcement of immortal and universal truths.
In the endless criticism of which the king is the subject attention is often called, sometimes in pity, sometimes in blame, to the fact that he has no intimate friend or friends. Those who make this reproach forget that his station demands a certain degree of isolation, unless he would lay himself open to the charge of favoritism, and the object of his preference to the flatteries and manoeuvrings of the parasites that infest a court. Of the men of his own age whose rank would entitle them to associate with the king on terms of familiarity, there is not one who has sufficient sympathy with his tastes and pursuits to be chosen by him as a companion; and the tyranny of etiquette and custom forbids him to seek out a congenial friend from among the untitled scholars and thinkers who judge him tenderly and justly from afar. Moreover, his early unfortunate essays in this direction may well have taught him to be reserved and cautious in be-stowing his confidence and love. The man whose splendid genius enthralled, and still enthralls, the intellect of the king had not the moral qualities to secure his esteem; the woman whose beauty once took his senses captive he soon found to be unworthy of his heart; and disappointments such as these are a lesson for a lifetime to a character such as his.
Fortunately, he has abundant resources within himself for the entertainment of his self-chosen solitude. The education which was so early interrupted by a summons to the throne has been continued with zeal through the study of the best authors in various languages. He always has some favorite work at hand for the edification of a chance mood or unoccupied moment; and in his frequent short journeys, however slight provision he may make for his wardrobe, a port-manteau well filled with books is sure to accompany him. When in the country a good portion of his time is spent on horseback. With a single attendant at some distance behind him, he rides for hours, stopping occasionally at some peasant's cottage or roadside inn to refresh himself with a glass of water or a simple meal, treating his temporary entertainers the while with an unreserved friendliness which has won him the devoted affection of his lowly neighbors, and which he never displays within the precincts of the court.
The king's favorite residence is Hohenschwangau, where he is building a noble castle upon the site of a ruin which was originally a Roman fortress and afterward a feudal stronghold. The new building is modeled after the style of the Wartburg, and is composed of various kinds of stone brought from different parts of Germany and Switzerland, and selected for their beauty and durability. The work has been in progress for about two years, and will probably require ten or twelve years more to finish it, as the season for outdoor labor in that mountainous region is necessarily short.. The surrounding scenery is magnificent: lakes, mountains, gorges, waterfalls, gloomy forests, sunny meadows, all that is grand and beautiful in Nature, are here comprised within a single view.
The present castle stands on the spur of an adjacent hill, and commands the same extensive prospect. Though of moderate size (too small, indeed, to accommodate at the same time the king and the queen-mother with their respective suites, for which reason it is occupied by each only during the absence of the other), the appearance of the castle is imposing, and its interior decorations render it a most interesting point for the tourist, as well as a delightful residence for its proprietors. The walls of all the principal apartments are adorned with frescoes painted by some of the best German artists, each room being devoted to a special subject. There is the "Hall of the Swan-Knight," containing illustrations of that most charming legend, the foundation of the world's best opera, Lohengrin; the "Schwangau Chamber," with pictures concerning the history of the locality; the "Bertha Chamber," containing the story of the parents of Charlemagne; the "Ladies' Chamber," portraying the life of German women in the Middle Ages, the principal figure being a portrait of Agnes, wife of Otto von Wittelsbach, an ancestor of the royal house; the "Hall of Heroes," containing illustrations of the Vilkina Saga, Dietrich of Berne being supposed to have lived at Hohenschwangau; the "Knights' Chamber," representing the knightly customs of the Middle Ages; the "Oriental Chamber," with frescoes recalling King Maximilian's travels in the East; and several other rooms, in each of which is commemorated some striking point of German history or some interesting record of national manners. The furniture of all these apartments is rich and tasteful; and scattered here and there are little indications of home-life which lend a new charm to the stately abode. Thus, upon a table loaded with costly and beautiful objects are two exquisite portraits, on porcelain, of the king and his brother, suggesting at once the usual vicinity of their affectionate mother; while the abundance of books in the king's private sitting-room is a pleasant reminder of his studious habits. It is curious to see how the swan, the device of this ancient property, which was formerly called "Schwanstein", is represented in every possible manner and material in the adornment of the castle. Swans are pictured upon the armorial bearings at the entrance-gate; a bronze swan spouts water from its uplifted beak in the garden fountain; while below, upon the two lakes that enclose the park, groups of living swans are floating about, as if to testify to the abiding characteristics of the place. Within the building not only is the swan a prominent figure in the frescoed story, but whichever way one turns one sees a counterfeit presentment of the graceful bird. There is Lohengrin in his enchanted boat impelled by his beloved swan, an exquisite group in silver, and another like it in porcelain; swans are carved upon the furniture, moulded upon the dishes, painted upon cups and saucers, embroidered upon cushions and footstools: they serve as ornaments to antique goblets, as covers to match-boxes, as handles to vases. The paper-knife upon His Majesty's writing-table is carved into the same likeness, and swans adorn the top of the pen-handle and preside over the ink and sand bottles.
Besides the castle of Hohenschwangau, the king has a hunting-lodge at Linderhof, which is being fitted up with great elegance in the Renaissance style, and a palace on Lake Starnberg, where he spends the greater part of his time, its nearness to Munich making it a convenient residence.
As a consolation for the severities of winter and the utter lack of beauty in the situation and surroundings of Munich, he has his winter-garden, that mysterious enclosure at the top of the palace, which is a perpetual irritant to the curiosity of the public, who grudge to their ruler every token of that possession of his which he seems to value above all the rest—his privacy. Now and then some noted scholar or privileged acquaintance is invited to enter this green retreat, so that its delights are not all unknown to the outside world. The garden opens from the private apartments of the king, and encloses a space of two hundred and thirty-four feet in length by fifty (in one part ninety) feet in breadth, being, in fact, the upper story of the west wing of the palace, with a raised and vaulted roof of iron and glass. The landscape is arranged after the king's own idea, and is entirely Oriental in vegetation and effect, the long perspective of tropical luxuriance being closed by a distant view of the Himalaya Mountains, so admirably executed that the illusion is not dispelled until the beholder approaches very near to the wall upon which it is painted. The garden is agreeably diversified by groups of palms, plantains and other trees, by open lawns adorned with beds of brilliant flowers, and by sheltered walks and secluded arbors. A considerable space is occupied by a lake bordered with reeds, the home of several swans, which float up and down in the dreamy silence: a little way from the shore stands a small pavilion entirely hidden in the dense shrubbery that surrounds it; and farther off a gorgeous kiosk raises its glittering cupolas and slender minarets above the neighboring bushes and blossoming plants.
During the king's stay in Munich in the winter he takes but little part in the gayeties of the season. He conforms, indeed, to the customs of a court in giving the stated number of balls, dinners and concerts; but it is easy to see that necessity, and not inclination, prompts him to the task. There is plenty of work to occupy his mind during the session of Parliament, and books enough to read and ponder over in the solitude of his chamber; and so long as he is alert and well prepared on every question of business to which his attention is called, affable and polite to persons with whom he is brought into official contact, gentle and generous to the poor and oppressed who appeal to him in person—and no one can deny that he is all this—why should he be blamed for preferring to spend his time as
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
instead of making himself a gazing-stock for the curious and a companion of the gay and the foolish of his generation?
It may be that in the far-off future, long after the titles and prerogatives of royalty shall have been done away with and wellnigh forgotten, the virtues of this king, who is so poorly appreciated by his contemporaries, will be commemorated in some beautiful legend, like that of his favorite story of the Swan-Knight; since even now, when that chaste hero appears in the dazzling purity of his enchanted armor upon the Munich stage, one turns involuntarily to recognize his counterpart in the solitary occupant of the royal box. E.E.
ON THE CHURCH STEPS.
Lenox again, and bluebirds darting to and fro among the maples. I had reached the hotel at midnight. Our train was late, detained on the road, and though my thoughts drove instantly to the Sloman cottage, I allowed the tardier coach-horses to set me down at the hotel. I had not telegraphed from New York. I would give her no chance to withhold herself from me, or to avoid me by running away. There was no time for her, as yet, to have read of the ship's arrival. I would take her unawares.
So, after the bountiful Nora, who presides over the comfort of her favorites, had plied me with breakfast-cakes and milk and honey, I sauntered down toward the Lebanon road. Yes, sauntered, for I felt that a great crisis in my life was at hand, and at such times a wonderful calmness, almost to lethargy, possesses me. I went slowly up the hill. The church-clock was striking nine—calm, peaceful strokes. There was no tremor in them, no warning of what was coming. The air was very still, and I stopped a moment to watch the bluebirds before I turned into the Lebanon road.
There was the little gray cottage, with its last year's vines about it, a withered spray here and there waving feebly as the soft April air caught it and tossed it to and fro. No sign of life about the cottage—doors and windows tight shut and barred. Only the little gate swung open, but that might have been the wind. I stepped up on the porch. No sound save the echo of my steps and the knocking of my heart. I rang the bell. It pealed violently, but there were no answering sounds: nothing stirred.
I rang again, more gently, and waited, looking along the little path to the gate. There was snow, the winter's snow, lingering about the roots of the old elm, the one elm tree that overhung the cottage. Last winter's snow lying there, and of the people who had lived in the house, and made it warm and bright, not a footprint, not a trace!
Again I rang, and this time I heard footsteps coming round the corner of the house. I sat down on the rustic bench by the door. If it had been Bessie's self, I could not have stirred, I was so chilled, so awed by the blank silence. A brown sun-bonnet, surmounting a tall, gaunt figure, came in sight.
"What is it?" asked the owner of the sun-bonnet in a quick, sharp voice that seemed the prelude to "Don't want any."
"Where are Mrs. Sloman and Miss Stewart? Are they not in Lenox?"
"Miss' Sloman, she's away to Minnarsoter: ben thar' all winter for her health. She don't cal'late to be home afore June."
"And Miss Stewart?—is she with her?"
"Miss Stewart? I dunno," said the woman, with a strange look about the corners of her mouth. "I dunno: I never see her; and the family was all away afore I came here to take charge. They left the kitchen-end open for me; and my sister-in-law—that's Hiram Splinter's wife—she made all the 'rangements. But I did hear," hesitating a moment, "as how Bessie Stewart was away to Shaker Village; and some does say "—a portentous pause and clearing of her throat—"that she's jined."
"Joined—what?" I asked, all in a mist of impatience and perplexity.
"Jined the Shakers."
"Nonsense!" I said, recovering my breath angrily. "Where is this Hiram's wife? Let me see her."
"In the back lot—there where you see the yaller house where the chimney's smoking. That's Hiram's house. He has charge of the Gold property on the hill. Won't you come in and warm yourself by the fire in the kitchen? I was away to the next neighbor's, and I was sure I hear our bell a-ringin'. Did you hev' to ring long?"
But I was away, striding over the cabbage-patch and climbing the worm-fence that shut in the estate of Hiram. Some wretched mistake: the woman does not know what she's talking about. These Splinters! they seem to have had some communication with Mrs. Sloman: they will know.
Mrs. Splinter, a neat, bright-eyed woman of about twenty-five, opened the door at my somewhat peremptory knock. I recollected her in a moment as a familiar face—some laundress or auxiliary of the Sloman family in some way; and she seemed to recognize me as well: "Why! it's Mr. Munro! Walk in, sir, and sit down," dusting off a chair with her apron as she spoke.
"Miss Stewart—where is she? You know."
"Miss Stewart?" said the woman, sinking down into a chair and looking greatly disturbed. "Miss Stewart's gone to live with the Shakers. My husband drove her over with his team—her and her trunk."
"Why, where was her aunt? Did Mrs. Sloman know? Why isn't Miss Bessie with her?"
"Miss' Sloman said all she could—afterward I guess," said the woman, wiping her eyes, "but 'twan't no use then. You see, Miss' Sloman had jined a party that was goin' to Minnesota—while she was in Philadelfy, that was—and Miss Stewart she wasn't goin'. She reckoned she'd spend the winter here in the house. Miss' Sloman's maid—that's Mary—was goin' with her to the West, and I was to hire my sister-in-law to take charge of things here, so that Miss Bessie could have her mind free-like to come and go. But afore ever Mary Jane—that's my sister-in-law—could come over from Lee, where she was livin' out, Miss Bessie comes up and opens the house. She stayed there about a week, and she had lots of company while she was here. I think she got tired. They was people that was just goin' to sail for Europe, and as soon as they went she just shut up and told me to send for Mary Jane to take care of things. So Mary Jane never see her, and perhaps she giv' you a crooked answer, sir, if you was inquirin' of her over to the cottage."
"Where's Hiram? where's your husband? Can I have his team this morning?"
"I guess so," said the sympathetic Mrs. Splinter. "He'll show you the very house he druv' her to."
Hiram was hunted for and found; and an hour later I was bowling along the Lebanon road behind the bay team he was so proud of. I had concluded to take him' with me, as he could identify places and people, and I knew well what castles the Shaker houses are for the world's people outside. Hiram was full of talk going over. He seemed to have been bottling it up, and I was the first auditor for his wrath. "I know 'm," he said, cracking his whip over his horses' heads. "They be sharp at a bargain, they be. If they've contrived to get a hold on Bessie Stewart, property and all, it'll go hard on 'em to give her up."
"A hold on Bessie!" What dreadful words! I bade him sharply hold his tongue and mind his horses, but he went on muttering in an undertone, "Yo'll see, yo'll see! You're druv' pretty hard, young man, I expect, so I won't think nothing of your ha'sh words, and we'll get her out, for all Elder Nebson."
So Hiram, looked out along the road from under his huge fur-cap, and up hill and down. The miles shortened, until at last the fair houses and barns of the Shaker village came in sight. A sleeping village, one would have thought. Nobody in the road save one old man, who eyed us suspiciously through the back of a chair he was carrying.
"It must be dinner-time, I think," said Hiram as he drove cautiously along. Stopping at a house near the bridge: "Now this is the very house. Just you go right up and knock at that 'ere door."
I knocked. In a twinkling the door was opened by a neat Shaker sister, whose round, smiling face was flushed, as though she had just come from cooking dinner. I stepped across the threshold: "Bessie Stewart is here. Please say to her that a friend—a friend from England—wishes to see her."
"Sure," said the motherly-faced woman, for she was sweet and motherly in spite of her Shaker garb, "I'll go and see."
Smilingly she ushered me into a room at the left of the hall. "Take seat, please;" and with a cheerful alacrity she departed, closing the door gently behind her.
"Well," thought I, "this is pleasant: no bolts or bars here. I'm sure of one friend at court."
I had leisure to observe the apartment—the neatly-scrubbed floor, with one narrow cot bed against the wall, a tall bureau on which some brown old books were lying, and the little dust-pan and dust-brush on a brass nail in the corner. There was a brightly polished stove with no fire in it, and some straight-backed chairs of yellow wood stood round the room. An open door into a large, roomy closet showed various garments of men's apparel hanging upon the wall. The plain thermometer in the window casement seemed the one article of luxury or ornament in the apartment. I believe I made my observations on all these things aloud, concluding with, "Oh, Bessie! Bessie! you shall not stay here." I know that I was startled enough by the apparition of a man standing in the open closet door. He must have been within it at my entrance, and had heard all I said.
He came forward, holding out his hand—very friendly apparently. Then, requesting me to be seated, he drew out a chair from the wall and sat down, tilting it back on two legs and leaning against the wall, with his hands folded before him. Some commonplace remark about the weather, which I answered, led to a rambling conversation, in which he expressed the greatest curiosity as to worldly matters, and asked several purely local questions about the city of New York. Perhaps his ignorance was feigned. I do not know, but I found myself relating, a la Stanley-Livingstone, some of the current events of the day. His face was quite intelligent, tanned with labor in the fields, and his brown eyes were kind and soft, like those of some dumb animals. I note his eyes here especially, as different in expression from those of others of his sect.
Several times during the conversation I heard footsteps in the hall, and darted from my seat, and finally, in my impatience, began to pace the floor. Kindly as he looked, I did not wish to question the man about Bessie. I would rely upon the beaming portress, whose "Sure" was such an earnest of her good-will. Moreover, a feeling of contempt, growing out of pity, was taking possession of me. This man, in what did he differ from the Catholic priest save in the utter selfishness of his creed? Beside the sordid accumulation of gain to which his life was devoted the priest's mission among crowded alleys and fever-stricken lanes seemed luminous and grand. A moral suicide, with no redeeming feature. The barns bursting with fatness, the comfortable houses, gain added to gain—to what end? I was beginning to give very short answers indeed to his questions, and was already meditating a foray through the rest of the house, when the door opened slowly and a lady-abbess entered. She was stiff and stately, with the most formal neckerchief folded precisely over her straitened bust, a clear-muslin cap concealing her hair, and her face, stony, blue-eyed and cold—a pale, frozen woman standing stately there.
"Bessie Stewart?" said I. "She is here—I know it. Do not detain her. I must see her. Why all this delay?"
"Dost thou mean Sister Eliza?" she asked in chilling tones.
"No, nobody's sister—least of all a sister here—but the young lady who came over here from Lenox two months ago—Bessie Stewart, Mrs. Sloman's niece." (I knew that Mrs. Sloman was quite familiar with some of the Shakeresses, and visited them at times.)
Very composedly the sister took a chair and folded her hands across her outspread handkerchief before she spoke again. I noticed at this moment that her dress was just the color of her eyes, a pale, stony blue.
"Sister Eliza: it is the same," in measured accents. "She is not here: she has gone—to Watervliet."
Can this be treachery? I thought, and is she still in the house? Will they hide from her that I am here? But there was no fathoming the woman's cold blue eyes.
"To Watervliet?" I inquired dismally. "How? when? how did she go?"
"She went in one of our wagons: Sister Leah and Brother Ephraim went along."
"When will they return?"
"I cannot say."
All this time the man was leaning back against the wall, but uttered not a word. A glance of triumph shot from the sister's eyes as I rose. But she was mistaken if she thought I was going away. I stepped to the window, and throwing it open called to Hiram, who was still sitting in his wagon, chewing composedly a bit of straw. He leaped out in an instant, and leaning out to him I rapidly repeated in an undertone the previous conversation: "What would you do?"
"Ten chances to one it's a lie. Tell 'em you'll set there till you see her. They can't shake us off that way."
I drew in my head. The pair still sat as before. "Well," said I, "as I must see her, and as you seem so uncertain about it, I will wait here."
And again I took my seat. The sister's face flushed. I had meant no rudeness in my tone, but she must have detected the suspicion in it. She crimsoned to her temples, and said hastily, "It is impossible for us to entertain strangers to-day. A brother is dying in the house: we are all waiting for him to pass away from moment to moment. We can submit to no intrusion."
Well, perhaps it was an intrusion. It was certainly their house if it did hold my darling. I looked at her steadily: "Are you sure that Bessie Stewart has gone away from here?"
"To Watervliet—yea," she answered composedly. "She left here last week."
My skill at cross-examination was at fault. If that woman was lying, she would be a premium witness. "I should be sorry, madam," I said, recalling the world's etiquette, which I had half forgotten, "to intrude upon you at this or any other time, but I cannot leave here in doubt. Will you oblige me by stating the exact hour and day at which Miss Stewart is expected to return from Watervliet, and the road thither?"
She glanced across the room. Answering the look, the man spoke, for the first time since she had entered: "The party, I believe, will be home to-night."
"And she with them?"
"Yea, unless she has elected to remain."
"At what hour?"
"I cannot tell."
"By what road shall I meet her?"
"There are two roads: we generally use the river-road."
"To-night? I will go to meet her. By the river-road, you say?"
"And if I do not meet her?"
"If thou dost not meet her," said the lady-abbess, answering calmly, "it will be because she is detained on the road."
I had to believe her, and yet I was very skeptical. As I walked out of the door the man was at my heels. He followed me out on to the wooden stoop and nodded to Hiram.
"Who is that, Hiram?" I whispered as he leaned across the back of a horse, adjusting some leathern buckle.
"That?" said Hiram under his breath. "That's a deep 'un: that's Elder Nebson."
Great was the dissatisfaction of the stout-hearted Splinter at my retreat, as he called it, from the enemy's ground.
"I'd ha' liked nothin' better than to beat up them quarters. I thought every minit' you'd be calling me, and was ready to go in." And he clenched his fist in a way that showed unmistakably how he would have "gone in" had he been summoned. By this time we were driving on briskly toward the river-road. "You wa'n't smart, I reckon, to leave that there house. It was your one chance, hevin' got in. Ten chances to one she's hid away som'eres in one of them upper rooms," and he pointed to a row of dormer-windows, "not knowin' nothin' of your bein' there."
"Stop!" I said with one foot on the shafts. "You don't mean to say she is shut up there?"
"Shet up? No: they be too smart for that. But there's plenty ways to shet a young gal's eyes an' ears 'thout lockin' of her up. How'd she know who was in this wagon, even if she seed it from her winders? To be sure, I made myself conspicuous enough, a-whistlin' 'Tramp, tramp,' and makin' the horses switch round a good deal. But, like enough, ef she'd be down-spereted-like, she'd never go near the winder, but just set there, a-stitchin' beads on velvet or a-plattin' them mats."
"Why should she work?" I asked, with my grasp still on the reins.
"Them all does," he answered, taking a fresh bite of the straw. "It's the best cure for sorrow, they say. Or mebbe she's a-teachin' the children. I see a powerful sight of children comin' along while you was in there talkin', a-goin' to their school, and I tried to ask some o' them about her. But the old sheep who was drivin' on 'em looked at me like vinegar, and I thought I'd better shet up, or mebbe she'd give the alarm that we was here with horses and wagon to carry her off."
I had a painful moment of indecision as Hiram paused in his narrative and leisurely proceeded to evict a fly from the near horse's ear. "I think we'll go on, Hiram," I said, jumping back to my seat again. "Take the river-road."
Hiram had brought plentiful provision for his horses in a bag under the seat. "Victualed for a march or a siege," he said as he dragged out a tin kettle from the same receptacle when we drew up by the roadside an hour after. "We're clear of them pryin' Shakers, and we'll just rest a spell."
I could not demur, though my impatience was urging me on faster than his hungry horses could go.
"I told Susan," he said, "to put me up a bit of pie and cheese—mebbe we wouldn't be back afore night. Won't you hev' some?—there's a plenty."
But I declined the luncheon, and while he munched away contentedly, and while the horses crunched their corn, I got out and walked on, telling Hiram to follow at his leisure. My heart beat fast as I espied a wagon in the distance with one—yes, two—Shaker bonnets in it. Bessie in masquerade! Perhaps so—it could not be the other: that would be too horrible. But she was coming, surely coming, and the cold prim sister had told the truth, after all.
The wagon came nearer. In it were two weather-beaten dames, neither of whom could possibly be mistaken for Bessie in disguise; and the lank, long-haired brother who was driving them looked ignorant as a child of anything save the management of his horses. I hailed them, and the wagon drew up at the side of the road.
It was the women who answered in shrill, piping voices: "Ben to Watervliet? Nay, they'd ben driving round the country, selling garden seeds."
"Did they know Bessie Stewart, who was staying in the Shaker village, in the house by the bridge?"
"Sure, there had ben a stranger woman come there some time ago: they could not tell—never heerd her name."
I was forced to let them drive on after I had exhausted every possible inquiry, trusting that Hiram, who was close behind, would have keener wit in questioning them, but Hiram, as it happened, did not come up to them at all. They must have turned off into some farm-house lane before they passed him. The afternoon wore on. It grew toward sunset, and still we kept the river-road. There was no trace of the Shaker wagon, and indeed the road was growing wild and lonely.
"I tell you what," said Hiram, stopping suddenly, "these beasts can't go on for ever, and then turn round and come back again. I'll turn here, and drive to the little tavern we passed about two mile back, and stable 'em, and then you and me can watch the road."
It was but reasonable, and I had to assent, though to turn back seemed an evil omen, and to carry me away from Bessie. The horses were stabled, and I meanwhile paced the broad open sweep in front of the tavern, across which the lights were shining. Hiram improved the opportunity to eat a hearty supper, urging me to partake. But as I declined, in my impatience, to take my eyes off the road, he brought me out a bowl of some hot fluid and something on a plate, which I got through with quickly enough, for the cool evening air had sharpened my appetite. I rested the bowl on the broad bench beside the door, while Hiram went backward and forward with the supplies.
"Now," said he as I finished at last, still keeping my eye upon the road, "you go in and take a turn lyin' down: I'll watch the road. I'm a-goin' to see this thing out."
But I was not ready to sleep yet; so, yielding to my injunction, he went in, and I seated myself, wrapped in a buffalo robe from the wagon. The night was damp and chill.
"Hedn't you better set at the window?" said the kind-hearted landlady, bustling out. Hiram had evidently told her the story.
"Oh no, thank you;" for I was impatient of walls and tongues, and wanted to be alone with my anxiety.
What madness was this in Bessie? She could not, oh she could not, have thrown her life away! What grief and disquiet must have driven her into this refuge! Poor little soul, scorched and racked by distrust and doubt! if she could not trust me, whom should she trust?
The household noises ceased one by one; the clump of willows by the river grew darker and darker; the stars came out and shone with that magnetic brilliancy that fixes our gaze upon them, leading one to speculate on their influence, and—
A hand on my shoulder: Hiram with a lantern turned full upon my face. "'Most one o'clock," he said, rubbing his eyes sleepily. "Come to take my turn. Have you seen nothing?"
"Nothing," I said, staggering to my feet, which felt like lead—"nothing."
I did not confess it, but to this hour I cannot tell whether I had been nodding for one minute or ten. I kept my own counsel as I turned over the watch to Hiram, but a suspicion shot through me that perhaps that wagon had gone by, after all, in the moment that I had been off guard.
Hiram kept the watch faithfully till five that morning, when I too was stirring. One or two teams had passed, but no Shaker wagon rattling through the night. We breakfasted in the little room that overlooked the road. Outside, at the pump, a lounging hostler, who had been bribed to keep a sharp lookout for a Shaker wagon, whistled and waited too.
"Tell you what," said Hiram, bolting a goodly rouleau of ham and eggs, "I've got an idee. You and me might shilly-shally here on this road all day, and what surety shall we hev' that they hevn't gone by the other road. Old gal said there was two?"
"Yes, but the folks here say that the other is a wild mountain-road, and not much used."
"Well, you see they comes down by the boat a piece, or they may cut across the river at Greenbush. They have queer ways. Now, mebbe they have come over that mountain-road in the night, while you and me was a-watchin' this like ferrits. In that case she's safe and sound at Shaker Village, not knowin' anything of your coming; and Elder Nebson and that other is laughin' in their sleeves at us."
"Now, this is my advice, but I'll do just as you say. 'Tain't no good to lay around and watch that ere house to day. Ef we hedn't been in such a white heat, we might just hev' hid round in the neighborhood there till she came along. But it's too late, for that now. Let's you and me lay low till Sunday. She'll be sure to go to meetin' on Sunday ef she's there, and you can quietly slip in and see if she is. And to shut their eyes up, so that they won't suspect nothin', we'll leave a message on one of your pasteboards that you're very sorry not to hev' seen her, drefful sorry, but that you can't wait no longer, and you are off. They'll think you're off for York: you've got York on your cards, hevn't you?"
"You just come and stay to my house: we'll make you comfortable, and there's only one day longer to wait. This is Friday, be'ent it? You'd best not be seen around to the hotel, lest any of their spies be about. They do a powerful sight o' drivin' round the country this time o' year. And then, you see, ef on Sunday she isn't there, you can go over to Watervliet, or we'll search them houses—whichever you choose."
There seemed no help for it but to take Hiram's advice. We drove homeward through the Shaker village, and drew up at the house again. This time the door was opened by a bent, sharp little Creole, as I took her to be: the beaming portress of the day before had been relieved at her post.
"Nay, Bessie Stewart was not at home: she would go and inquire for me when she was expected."
"No," I said carelessly, not wishing to repeat the scene of yesterday and to present myself, a humiliated failure, before the two elders again—"no: give her this card when she does come, and tell her I could stay no longer."
I had not written any message on the card, for the message, indeed, was not for Bessie, but for the others. She would interpret it that I was in the neighborhood, anxious and waiting: she would understand.
"Home, then, Hiram," as I took my seat beside him. "We'll wait till Sunday."
"You'd better eat sum'thin'," said Hiram over the breakfast-table on Sunday morning. "Got a good long drive afore you, and mebbe a good day's work besides. No? Well, then, Susan, you put the apple-brandy into the basket, and some of them rusks, for I reckon we'll hev' work with this young man afore night."
Susan, bless her good heart! wanted to go along, and as Hiram's excitement was evidently at the highest pitch, he consented that she should occupy the back seat of the wagon: "P'raps Miss Stewart'll feel more comfortable about leavin' when she sees there's a woman along."
It was a rainy morning, and there were but few wagons on the road. Arrived at the village, we encountered one little procession after another of broadbrim straws and Shaker bonnets turning out of the several houses as we drove past. They stepped along quickly, and seemed to take no notice of us.
"Reckon we're the only visitors to-day," whispered Hiram as he stopped at the horseblock in front of the meeting-house. "You know where you hev' to set—on the left-hand side; and Susan, she goes to the right."
I followed Susan up the steps, and she hastened, as ordered, to the right, while I took my seat on one of the back benches of the left, against the wall. It was a barn-like structure, large, neat and exquisitely chill. Two large stoves on either side possibly had fire in them—an old man who looked like an ancient porter went to them from time to time and put on coal—but the very walls reflected a chill, blue glare. The roof was lofty and vaulted, and added to the hollow coldness of the hall. The whole apartment was clean to sanctity, and in its straitness and blank dreariness no unfit emblem of the faith it embodied.
Around three sides of the hall, and facing the benches for visitors, the Shaker fraternity were ranged. The hats and straight straw bonnets hung decorously upon the wall over their heads: here and there a sky-blue shawl or one of faded lilac hung beneath the headgear. Across the wide apartment it was difficult to distinguish faces. I scanned closely the sisterhood—old, withered faces most of them, with here and there one young and blooming—but no Bessie as yet. Still, they were coming in continually through the side door: she might yet appear. I recognized my lady-abbess, who sat directly facing me, in a seat of state apparently, and close to her, on the brethren's side of the house, was Elder Nebson.
The services began. All rose, and sisters and brethren faced each other and sang a hymn, with no accompaniment and no melody—a harsh chant in wild, barbaric measure. Then, after a prayer, they entered upon the peculiar method of their service. Round and round the room they trooped in two large circles, sister following sister, brother brother, keeping time with their hanging hands to the rhythm of the hymn. Clustered in the centre was a little knot of men and women, the high dignitaries, who seemed to lead the singing with their clapping hands.
The circles passed each other and wove in and out, each preserving its unbroken continuity. I looked for Elder Nebson: could it be that he was joining in these gyrations? Yes, he was leading one of the lines. But I noticed that his hands moved mechanically, not with the spasmodic fervor of the rest, and that his eyes, instead of the dull, heavy stare of his fellows, sought with faithful yet shy constancy the women's ranks. And as the women filed past me, wringing their hands, I scrutinized each face and figure—the sweet-faced portress, the shrunken little creole ("A mulatto, she is," Hiram whispered—he had taken his seat beside me—"and very powerful, they say, among 'em"), and some fair young girls; two or three of these with blooming cheeks bursting frankly through the stiff bordering of their caps. But I saw not the face I sought.