"There is still," it said, "much suffering. I have given away every pair of stockings you sent me, reserving to myself only one; for I will not be one whit better off than the poorest soldier that fights for his country. Poor fellows! it makes my heart ache sometimes to go round among them, and see them with their worn clothes and torn shoes, and often bleeding feet, yet cheerful and hopeful, and every one willing to do his very best. Often the spirit of discouragement comes over them, particularly at night, when, weary, cold, and hungry, they turn into their comfortless huts, on the snowy ground. Then sometimes there is a thought of home, and warm fires, and some speak of giving up; but next morning out come Washington's general orders—little short note, but it's wonderful the good it does! and then they all resolve to hold on, come what may. There are commissioners going all through the country to pick up supplies. If they come to you, I need not tell you what to do. I know all that will be in your hearts."
"There, children, see what your father suffers," said the mother, "and what it costs these poor soldiers to gain our liberty."
"Ephraim Scranton told me that the commissioners had come as far as the Three Mile Tavern, and that he rather 'spected they'd be along here to-night," said John, as he was helping round the baked beans to the silent company at the tea table.
"To-night?—do tell, now!" said Aunt Hitty. "Then it's time we were awake and stirring. Let's see what can be got."
"I'll send my new overcoat, for one," said John. "That old one isn't cut up yet, is it, Aunt Hitty?"
"No," said Aunt Hitty; "I was laying out to cut it over next Wednesday, when Desire Smith could be here to do the tailoring.
"There's the south room," said Aunt Hitty, musing; "that bed has the two old Aunt Ward blankets on it, and the great blue quilt, and two comforters. Then mother's and my room, two pair—four comforters—two quilts—the best chamber has got——"
"O Aunt Hitty, send all that's in the best chamber! If any company comes, we can make it up off from our beds," said John. "I can send a blanket or two off from my bed, I know;—can't but just turn over in it, so many clothes on, now."
"Aunt Hitty, take a blanket off from our bed," said Grace and Dick at once.
"Well, well, we'll see," said Aunt Hitty, bustling up.
Up rose grandmamma, with, great earnestness, now, and going into the next room, and opening a large cedar wood chest, returned, bearing in her arms two large snow white blankets, which she deposited flat on the table, just as Aunt Hitty was whisking off the table cloth.
"Mortal! mother, what are you going to do?" said Aunt Hitty.
"There," she said; "I spun those, every thread of 'em, when my name was Mary Evans. Those were my wedding blankets, made of real nice wool, and worked with roses in all the corners. I've got them to give!" and grandmamma stroked and smoothed the blankets, and patted them down, with great pride and tenderness. It was evident she was giving something that lay very near her heart; but she never faltered.
"La! mother, there's no need of that," said Aunt Hitty. "Use them on your own bed, and send the blankets off from that; they are just as good for the soldiers."
"No, I shan't!" said the old lady, waxing warm; "'tisn't a bit too good for 'em. I'll send the very best I've got, before they shall suffer. Send 'em the best!" and the old lady gestured oratorically.
They were interrupted by a rap at the door, and two men entered, and announced themselves as commissioned by Congress to search out supplies for the army. Now the plot thickens. Aunt Hitty flew in every direction,—through entry passage, meal room, milk room, down cellar, up chamber,—her cap border on end with patriotic zeal; and followed by John, Dick, and Grace, who eagerly bore to the kitchen the supplies that she turned out, while Mrs. Ward busied herself in quietly sorting and arranging, in the best possible travelling order, the various contributions that were precipitately launched on the kitchen floor.
Aunt Hitty soon appeared in the kitchen with an armful of stockings, which, kneeling on the floor, she began counting and laying out.
"There," she said, laying down a large bundle on some blankets, "that leaves just two pair apiece all round."
"La!" said John, "what's the use of saving two pair for me? I can do with one pair, as well as father."
"Sure enough," said his mother; "besides, I can knit you another pair in a day."
"And I can do with one pair," said Dick.
"Yours will be too small, young master, I guess," said one of the commissioners.
"No," said Dick; "I've got a pretty good foot of my own, and Aunt Hitty will always knit my stockings an inch too long, 'cause she says I grow so. See here—these will do;" and the boy shook his, triumphantly.
"And mine, too," said Grace, nothing doubting, having been busy all the time in pulling off her little stockings.
"Here," she said to the man who was packing the things into a wide-mouthed sack; "here's mine," and her large blue eyes looked earnestly through her tears.
Aunt Hitty flew at her. "Good land! the child's crazy. Don't think the men could wear your stockings—take 'em away!"
Grace looked around with an air of utter desolation, and began to cry. "I wanted to give them something," said she. "I'd rather go barefoot on the snow all day than not send 'em any thing."
"Give me the stockings, my child," said the old soldier, tenderly. "There, I'll take 'em, and show 'em to the soldiers, and tell them what the little girl said that sent them. And it will do them as much good as if they could wear them. They've got little girls at home, too." Grace fell on her mother's bosom completely happy, and Aunt Hitty only muttered,—
"Every body does spile that child; and no wonder, neither!"
Soon the old sleigh drove off from the brown house, tightly packed and heavily loaded. And Grace and Dick were creeping up to their little beds.
"There's been something put on the altar of Liberty to-night, hasn't there, Dick?"
"Yes, indeed," said Dick; and, looking up to his mother, he said, "But, mother, what did you give?"
"I?" said the mother, musingly.
"Yes, you, mother; what have you given to the country?"
"All that I have, dears," said she, laying her hands gently on their heads—"my husband and my children!"
II. THE ALTAR OF ——, OR 1850.
The setting sun of chill December lighted up the solitary front window of a small tenement on —— Street, in Boston, which we now have occasion to visit. As we push gently aside the open door, we gain sight of a small room, clean as busy hands can make it, where a neat, cheerful young mulatto woman is busy at an ironing table. A basket full of glossy-bosomed shirts, and faultless collars and wristbands, is beside her, into which she is placing the last few items with evident pride and satisfaction. A bright black-eyed boy, just come in from school, with his satchel of books over his shoulder, stands, cap in hand, relating to his mother how he has been at the head of his class, and showing his school tickets, which his mother, with untiring admiration, deposits in the little real china tea pot—which, as being their most reliable article of gentility, is made the deposit of all the money and most especial valuables of the family.
"Now, Henry," says the mother, "look out and see if father is coming along the street;" and she begins filling the little black tea kettle, which is soon set singing on the stove.
From the inner room now daughter Mary, a well-grown girl of thirteen, brings the baby, just roused from a nap, and very impatient to renew his acquaintance with his mamma.
"Bless his bright eyes!—mother will take him," ejaculates the busy little woman, whose hands are by this time in a very floury condition, in the incipient stages of wetting up biscuit,—"in a minute;" and she quickly frees herself from the flour and paste, and, deputing Mary to roll out her biscuit, proceeds to the consolation and succor of young master.
"Now, Henry," says the mother, "you'll have time, before supper, to take that basket of clothes up to Mr. Sheldin's; put in that nice bill, that you made out last night. I shall give you a cent for every bill you write out for me. What a comfort it is, now, for one's children to be gettin' learnin' so!"
Henry shouldered the basket, and passed out the door, just as a neatly-dressed colored man walked up, with his pail and whitewash brushes.
"O, you've come, father, have you? Mary, are the biscuits in? You may as well set the table, now. Well, George, what's the news?"
"Nothing, only a pretty smart day's work. I've brought home five dollars, and shall have as much as I can do, these two weeks;" and the man, having washed his hands, proceeded to count out his change on the ironing table.
"Well, it takes you to bring in the money," said the delighted wife; "nobody but you could turn off that much in a day."
"Well, they do say—those that's had me once—that they never want any other hand to take hold in their rooms. I s'pose its a kinder practice I've got, and kinder natural!"
"Tell ye what," said the little woman, taking down the family strong box,—to wit, the china tea pot, aforenamed,—and pouring the contents on the table, "we're getting mighty rich, now! We can afford to get Henry his new Sunday cap, and Mary her mousseline-de-laine dress—take care, baby, you rogue!" she hastily interposed, as young master made a dive at a dollar bill, for his share in the proceeds.
"He wants something, too, I suppose," said the father; "let him get his hand in while he's young."
The baby gazed, with round, astonished eyes, while mother, with some difficulty, rescued the bill from his grasp; but, before any one could at all anticipate his purpose, he dashed in among the small change with such zeal as to send it flying all over the table.
"Hurrah! Bob's a smasher!" said the father, delighted; "he'll make it fly, he thinks;" and, taking the baby on his knee, he laughed merrily, as Mary and her mother pursued the rolling coin all over the room.
"He knows now, as well as can be, that he's been doing mischief," said the delighted mother, as the baby kicked and crowed uproariously: "he's such a forward child, now, to be only six months old! O, you've no idea, father, how mischievous he grows;" and therewith the little woman began to roll and tumble the little mischief maker about, uttering divers frightful threats, which appeared to contribute, in no small degree, to the general hilarity.
"Come, come, Mary," said the mother, at last, with a sudden burst of recollection; "you mustn't be always on your knees fooling with this child! Look in the oven at them biscuits."
"They're done exactly, mother—just the brown!" and, with the word, the mother dumped baby on to his father's knee, where he sat contentedly munching a very ancient crust of bread, occasionally improving the flavor thereof by rubbing it on his father's coat sleeve.
"What have you got in that blue dish, there?" said George, when the whole little circle were seated around the table.
"Well, now, what do you suppose?" said the little woman, delighted: "a quart of nice oysters—just for a treat, you know. I wouldn't tell you till this minute," said she, raising the cover.
"Well," said George, "we both work hard for our money, and we don't owe any body a cent; and why shouldn't we have our treats, now and then, as well as rich folks?"
And gayly passed the supper hour; the tea kettle sung, the baby crowed, and all chatted and laughed abundantly.
"I'll tell you," said George, wiping his mouth; "wife, these times are quite another thing from what it used to be down in Georgia. I remember then old mas'r used to hire me out by the year; and one time, I remember, I came and paid him in two hundred dollars—every cent I'd taken. He just looked it over, counted it, and put it in his pocket book, and said, 'You are a good boy, George'—and he gave me half a dollar!"
"I want to know, now!" said his wife.
"Yes, he did, and that was every cent I ever got of it; and, I tell you, I was mighty bad off for clothes, them times."
"Well, well, the Lord be praised, they're over, and you are in a free country now!" said the wife, as she rose thoughtfully from the table, and brought her husband the great Bible. The little circle were ranged around the stove for evening prayers.
"Henry, my boy, you must read—you are a better reader than your father—thank God, that let you learn early!"
The boy, with a cheerful readiness, read, "The Lord is my Shepherd," and the mother gently stilled the noisy baby, to listen to the holy words. Then all kneeled, while the father, with simple earnestness, poured out his soul to God.
They had but just risen—the words of Christian hope and trust scarce died on their lips—when, lo! the door was burst open, and two men entered; and one of them, advancing, laid his hand on the father's shoulder. "This is the fellow," said he.
"You are arrested in the name of the United States!" said the other.
"Gentlemen, what is this?" said the poor man, trembling.
"Are you not the property of Mr. B., of Georgia?" said the officer.
"Gentlemen, I've been a free, hard-working man these ten years."
"Yes; but you are arrested, on suit of Mr. B., as his slave."
Shall we describe the leave taking—the sorrowing wife, the dismayed children, the tears, the anguish, that simple, honest, kindly home, in a moment so desolated? Ah, ye who defend this because it is law, think, for one hour, what if this that happens to your poor brother should happen to you!
* * * * *
It was a crowded court room, and the man stood there to be tried—for life?—no; but for the life of life—for liberty!
Lawyers hurried to and fro, buzzing, consulting, bringing authorities,—all anxious, zealous, engaged,—for what? To save a fellow-man from bondage? No; anxious and zealous lest he might escape; full of zeal to deliver him over to slavery. The poor man's anxious eyes follow vainly the busy course of affairs, from which he dimly learns that he is to be sacrificed—on the altar of the Union; and that his heart-break and anguish, and the tears of his wife, and the desolation of his children are, in the eyes of these well-informed men, only the bleat of a sacrifice, bound to the horns of the glorious American altar!
* * * * *
Again it is a bright day, and business walks brisk in this market. Senator and statesman, the learned and patriotic, are out, this day, to give their countenance to an edifying, and impressive, and truly American spectacle—the sale of a man! All the preliminaries of the scene are there; dusky-browed mothers, looking with sad eyes while speculators are turning round their children, looking at their teeth, and feeling of their arms; a poor, old, trembling woman, helpless, half blind, whose last child is to be sold, holds on to her bright boy with trembling hands. Husbands and wives, sisters and friends, all soon to be scattered like the chaff of the threshing floor, look sadly on each other with poor nature's last tears; and among them walk briskly, glib, oily politicians, and thriving men of law, letters, and religion, exceedingly sprightly, and in good spirits—for why?—it isn't they that are going to be sold; it's only somebody else. And so they are very comfortable, and look on the whole thing as quite a matter-of-course affair, and, as it is to be conducted to-day, a decidedly valuable and judicious exhibition.
And now, after so many hearts and souls have been knocked and thumped this way and that way by the auctioneer's hammer, comes the instructive part of the whole; and the husband and father, whom we saw in his simple home, reading and praying with his children, and rejoicing in the joy of his poor ignorant heart that he lived in a free country, is now set up to be admonished of his mistake.
Now there is great excitement, and pressing to see, and exultation and approbation; for it is important and interesting to see a man put down that has tried to be a free man.
"That's he, is it? Couldn't come it, could he?" says one.
"No; and he will never come it, that's more," says another, triumphantly.
"I don't generally take much interest in scenes of this nature," says a grave representative; "but I came here to-day for the sake of the principle!"
"Gentlemen," says the auctioneer, "we've got a specimen here that some of your northern abolitionists would give any price for; but they shan't have him! no! we've looked out for that. The man that buys him must give bonds never to sell him to go north again!"
"Go it!" shout the crowd; "good! good! hurrah!" "An impressive idea!" says a senator; "a noble maintaining of principle!" and the man is bid off, and the hammer falls with a last crash on his heart, his hopes, his manhood, and he lies a bleeding wreck on the altar of Liberty!
Such was the altar in 1776; such is the altar in 1850!
A SCHOLAR'S ADVENTURES IN THE COUNTRY.
"If we could only live in the country," said my wife, "how much easier it would be to live!"
"And how much cheaper!" said I.
"To have a little place of our own, and raise our own things!" said my wife. "Dear me! I am heart sick when I think of the old place at home, and father's great garden. What peaches and melons we used to have! what green peas and corn! Now one has to buy every cent's worth of these things—and how they taste! Such wilted, miserable corn! Such peas! Then, if we lived in the country, we should have our own cow, and milk and cream in abundance; our own hens and chickens. We could have custard and ice cream every day."
"To say nothing of the trees and flowers, and all that," said I.
The result of this little domestic duet was, that my wife and I began to ride about the city of —— to look up some pretty, interesting cottage, where our visions of rural bliss might be realized. Country residences, near the city, we found to bear rather a high price; so that it was no easy matter to find a situation suitable to the length of our purse; till, at last, a judicious friend suggested a happy expedient.
"Borrow a few hundred," he said, "and give your note; you can save enough, very soon, to make the difference. When you raise every thing you eat, you know it will make your salary go a wonderful deal further."
"Certainly it will," said I. "And what can be more beautiful than to buy places by the simple process of giving one's note?—'tis so neat, and handy, and convenient!"
"Why," pursued my friend, "there is Mr. B., my next door neighbor—'tis enough to make one sick of life in the city to spend a week out on his farm. Such princely living as one gets! And he assures me that it costs him very little—scarce any thing, perceptible, in fact."
"Indeed!" said I; "few people can say that."
"Why," said my friend, "he has a couple of peach trees for every month, from June till frost, that furnish as many peaches as he, and his wife, and ten children can dispose of. And then he has grapes, apricots, etc..; and last year his wife sold fifty dollars' worth from her strawberry patch, and had an abundance for the table besides. Out of the milk of only one cow they had butter enough to sell three or four pounds a week, besides abundance of milk and cream; and madam has the butter for her pocket money. This is the way country people manage."
"Glorious!" thought I. And my wife and I could scarce sleep, all night, for the brilliancy of our anticipations!
To be sure our delight was somewhat damped the next day by the coldness with which my good old uncle, Jeremiah Standfast, who happened along at precisely this crisis, listened to our visions.
"You'll find it pleasant, children, in the summer time," said the hard-fisted old man, twirling his blue-checked pocket handkerchief; "but I'm sorry you've gone in debt for the land."
"O, but we shall soon save that—it's so much cheaper living in the country!" said both of us together.
"Well, as to that, I don't think it is to city-bred folks."
Here I broke in with a flood of accounts of Mr. B.'s peach trees, and Mrs. B.'s strawberries, butter, apricots, etc.., etc..; to which the old gentleman listened with such a long, leathery, unmoved quietude of visage as quite provoked me, and gave me the worst possible opinion of his judgment. I was disappointed too; for, as he was reckoned one of the best practical farmers in the county, I had counted on an enthusiastic sympathy with all my agricultural designs.
"I tell you what, children," he said, "a body can live in the country, as you say, amazin' cheap; but then a body must know how"—and my uncle spread his pocket handkerchief thoughtfully out upon his knees, and shook his head gravely.
I thought him a terribly slow, stupid old body, and wondered how I had always entertained so high an opinion of his sense.
"He is evidently getting old," said I to my wife; "his judgment is not what it used to be."
At all events, our place was bought, and we moved out, well pleased, the first morning in April, not at all remembering the ill savor of that day for matters of wisdom. Our place was a pretty cottage, about two miles from the city, with grounds that had been tastefully laid out. There was no lack of winding paths, arbors, flower borders, and rosebushes, with which my wife was especially pleased. There was a little green lot, strolling off down to a brook, with a thick grove of trees at the end, where our cow was to be pastured.
The first week or two went on happily enough in getting our little new pet of a house into trimness and good order; for, as it had been long for sale, of course there was any amount of little repairs that had been left to amuse the leisure hours of the purchaser. Here a door step had given away, and needed replacing; there a shutter hung loose, and wanted a hinge; abundance of glass needed setting; and as to painting and papering, there was no end to that. Then my wife wanted a door cut here, to make our bed room more convenient, and a china closet knocked up there, where no china closet before had been. We even ventured on throwing out a bay window from our sitting room, because we had luckily lighted on a workman who was so cheap that it was an actual saving of money to employ him. And to be sure our darling little cottage did lift up its head wonderfully for all this garnishing and furbishing. I got up early every morning, and nailed up the rosebushes, and my wife got up and watered geraniums, and both flattered ourselves and each other on our early hours and thrifty habits. But soon, like Adam and Eve in Paradise, we found our little domain to ask more hands than ours to get it into shape. So says I to my wife, "I will bring out a gardener when I come next time, and he shall lay the garden out, and get it into order; and after that, I can easily keep it by the work of my leisure hours."
Our gardener was a very sublime sort of man,—an Englishman, and, of course, used to laying out noblemen's places,—and we became as grasshoppers in our own eyes when he talked of lord this and that's estate, and began to question us about our carriage drive and conservatory; and we could with difficulty bring the gentleman down to any understanding of the humble limits of our expectations: merely to dress out the walks, and lay out a kitchen garden, and plant potatoes, turnips, beets, and carrots, was quite a descent for him. In fact, so strong were his aesthetic preferences, that he persuaded my wife to let him dig all the turf off from a green square opposite the bay window, and to lay it out into divers little triangles, resembling small pieces of pie, together with circles, mounds, and various other geometrical ornaments, the planning and planting of which soon engrossed my wife's whole soul. The planting of the potatoes, beets, carrots, etc.., was intrusted to a raw Irishman; for, as to me, to confess the truth, I began to fear that digging did not agree with me. It is true that I was exceedingly vigorous at first, and actually planted with my own hands two or three long rows of potatoes; after which I got a turn of rheumatism in my shoulder, which lasted me a week. Stooping down to plant beets and radishes gave me a vertigo, so that I was obliged to content myself with a general superintendence of the garden; that is to say, I charged my Englishman to see that my Irishman did his duty properly, and then got on to my horse and rode to the city. But about one part of the matter, I must say, I was not remiss; and that is, in the purchase of seed and garden utensils. Not a day passed that I did not come home with my pockets stuffed with, choice seeds, roots, etc..; and the variety of my garden utensils was unequalled. There was not a pruning hook, of any pattern, not a hoe, rake, or spade, great or small, that I did not have specimens of; and flower seeds and bulbs were also forthcoming in liberal proportions. In fact, I had opened an account at a thriving seed store; for, when a man is driving business on a large scale, it is not always convenient to hand out the change for every little matter, and buying things on account is as neat and agreeable a mode of acquisition as paying bills with one's notes.
"You know we must have a cow," said my wife, the morning of our second week. Our friend the gardener, who had now worked with us at the rate of two dollars a day for two weeks, was at hand in a moment in our emergency. We wanted to buy a cow, and he had one to sell—a wonderful cow, of a real English breed. He would not sell her for any money, except to oblige particular friends; but as we had patronized him, we should have her for forty dollars. How much we were obliged to him! The forty dollars were speedily forthcoming, and so also was the cow.
"What makes her shake her head in that way?" said my wife, apprehensively, as she observed the interesting beast making sundry demonstrations with her horns. "I hope she's gentle."
The gardener fluently demonstrated that the animal was a pattern of all the softer graces, and that this head-shaking was merely a little nervous affection consequent on the embarrassment of a new position. We had faith to believe almost any thing at this time, and therefore came from the barn yard to the house as much satisfied with our purchase as Job with his three thousand camels and five hundred yoke of oxen. Her quondam master milked her for us the first evening, out of a delicate regard to her feelings as a stranger, and we fancied that we discerned forty dollars' worth of excellence in the very quality of the milk.
But alas! the next morning our Irish girl came in with a most rueful face. "And is it milking that baste you'd have me be after?" she said; "sure, and she won't let me come near her?"
"Nonsense, Biddy!" said I; "you frightened her, perhaps; the cow is perfectly gentle;" and with the pail on my arm, I sallied forth. The moment madam saw me entering the cow yard, she greeted me with a very expressive flourish of her horns.
"This won't do," said I, and I stopped. The lady evidently was serious in her intentions of resisting any personal approaches. I cut a cudgel, and putting on a bold face, marched towards her, while Biddy followed with her milking stool. Apparently, the beast saw the necessity of temporizing, for she assumed a demure expression, and Biddy sat down to milk. I stood sentry, and if the lady shook her head, I shook my stick; and thus the milking operation proceeded with tolerable serenity and success.
"There!" said I, with dignity, when the frothing pail was full to the brim. "That will do, Biddy," and I dropped my stick. Dump! came madam's heel on the side of the pail, and it flew like a rocket into the air, while the milky flood showered plentifully over me, and a new broadcloth riding-coat that I had assumed for the first time that morning. "Whew!" said I, as soon as I could get my breath from this extraordinary shower bath; "what's all this?" My wife came running towards the cow yard, as I stood with the milk streaming from my hair, filling my eyes, and dropping from the tip of my nose; and she and Biddy performed a recitative lamentation over me in alternate strophes, like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Such was our first morning's experience; but as we had announced our bargain with some considerable flourish of trumpets among our neighbors and friends, we concluded to hush the matter up as much as possible.
"These very superior cows are apt to be cross," said I; "we must bear with it as we do with the eccentricities of genius; besides, when she gets accustomed to us, it will be better."
Madam was therefore installed into her pretty pasture lot, and my wife contemplated with pleasure the picturesque effect of her appearance, reclining on the green slope of the pasture lot, or standing ankle deep in the gurgling brook, or reclining under the deep shadows of the trees. She was, in fact, a handsome cow, which may account, in part, for some of her sins; and this consideration inspired me with some degree of indulgence towards her foibles.
But when I found that Biddy could never succeed in getting near her in the pasture, and that any kind of success in the milking operations required my vigorous personal exertions morning and evening, the matter wore a more serious aspect, and I began to feel quite pensive and apprehensive. It is very well to talk of the pleasures of the milkmaid going out in the balmy freshness of the purple dawn; but imagine a poor fellow pulled out of bed on a drizzly, rainy morning, and equipping himself for a scamper through a wet pasture lot, rope in hand, at the heels of such a termagant as mine! In fact, madam established a regular series of exercises, which had all to be gone through before she would suffer herself to be captured; as, first, she would station herself plump in the middle of a marsh, which lay at the lower part of the lot, and look very innocent and absent-minded, as if reflecting on some sentimental subject. "Suke! Suke! Suke!" I ejaculate, cautiously tottering along the edge of the marsh, and holding out an ear of corn. The lady looks gracious, and comes forward, almost within reach of my hand. I make a plunge to throw the rope over her horns, and away she goes, kicking up mud and water into my face in her flight, while I, losing my balance, tumble forward into the marsh. I pick myself up, and, full of wrath, behold her placidly chewing her cud on the other side, with the meekest air imaginable, as who should say, "I hope you are not hurt, sir." I dash through swamp and bog furiously, resolving to carry all by a coup de main. Then follows a miscellaneous season of dodging, scampering, and bopeeping, among the trees of the grove, interspersed with sundry occasional races across the bog aforesaid. I always wondered how I caught her every day; and when I had tied her head to one post and her heels to another, I wiped the sweat from my brow, and thought I was paying dear for the eccentricities of genius. A genius she certainly was, for besides her surprising agility, she had other talents equally extraordinary. There was no fence that she could not take down; nowhere that she could not go. She took the pickets off the garden fence at her pleasure, using her horns as handily as I could use a claw hammer. Whatever she had a mind to, whether it were a bite in the cabbage garden, or a run in the corn patch, or a foraging expedition into the flower borders, she made herself equally welcome and at home. Such a scampering and driving, such cries of "Suke here" and "Suke there," as constantly greeted our ears, kept our little establishment in a constant commotion. At last, when she one morning made a plunge at the skirts of my new broadcloth frock coat, and carried off one flap on her horns, my patience gave out, and I determined to sell her.
As, however, I had made a good story of my misfortunes among my friends and neighbors, and amused them with sundry whimsical accounts of my various adventures in the cow-catching line, I found, when I came to speak of selling, that there was a general coolness on the subject, and nobody seemed disposed to be the recipient of my responsibilities. In short, I was glad, at last, to get fifteen dollars for her, and comforted myself with thinking that I had at least gained twenty-five dollars worth of experience in the transaction, to say nothing of the fine exercise.
I comforted my soul, however, the day after, by purchasing and bringing home to my wife a fine swarm of bees.
"Your bee, now," says I, "is a really classical insect, and breathes of Virgil and the Augustan age—and then she is a domestic, tranquil, placid creature. How beautiful the murmuring of a hive near our honeysuckle of a calm, summer evening! Then they are tranquilly and peacefully amassing for us their stores of sweetness, while they lull us with their murmurs. What a beautiful image of disinterested benevolence!"
My wife declared that I was quite a poet, and the beehive was duly installed near the flower plots, that the delicate creatures might have the full benefit of the honeysuckle and mignonette. My spirits began to rise. I bought three different treatises on the rearing of bees, and also one or two new patterns of hives, and proposed to rear my bees on the most approved model. I charged all the establishment to let me know when there was any indication of an emigrating spirit, that I might be ready to receive the new swarm into my patent mansion.
Accordingly, one afternoon, when I was deep in an article that I was preparing for the North American Review, intelligence was brought me that a swarm had risen. I was on the alert at once, and discovered, on going out, that the provoking creatures had chosen the top of a tree about thirty feet high to settle on. Now my books had carefully instructed me just how to approach the swarm and cover them with a new hive; but I had never contemplated the possibility of the swarm being, like Haman's gallows, forty cubits high. I looked despairingly upon the smooth-bark tree, which rose, like a column, full twenty feet, without branch or twig. "What is to be done?" said I, appealing to two or three neighbors. At last, at the recommendation of one of them, a ladder was raised against the tree, and, equipped with a shirt outside of my clothes, a green veil over my head, and a pair of leather gloves on my hands, I went up with a saw at my girdle to saw off the branch on which they had settled, and lower it by a rope to a neighbor, similarly equipped, who stood below with the hive.
As a result of this manoeuvre the fastidious little insects were at length fairly installed at housekeeping in my new patent hive, and, rejoicing in my success, I again sat down to my article.
That evening my wife and I took tea in our honeysuckle arbor, with our little ones and a friend or two, to whom I showed my treasures, and expatiated at large on the comforts and conveniences of the new patent hive.
But alas for the hopes of man! The little ungrateful wretches—what must they do but take advantage of my over-sleeping myself, the next morning, to clear out for new quarters without so much as leaving me a P. P. C.! Such was the fact; at eight o'clock I found the new patent hive as good as ever; but the bees I have never seen from that day to this!
"The rascally little conservatives!" said I; "I believe they have never had a new idea from the days of Virgil down, and are entirely unprepared to appreciate improvements."
Meanwhile the seeds began to germinate in our garden, when we found, to our chagrin, that, between John Bull and Paddy, there had occurred sundry confusions in the several departments. Radishes had been planted broadcast, carrots and beets arranged in hills, and here and there a whole paper of seed appeared to have been planted bodily. My good old uncle, who, somewhat to my confusion, made me a call at this time, was greatly distressed and scandalized by the appearance of our garden. But, by a deal of fussing, transplanting, and replanting, it was got into some shape and order. My uncle was rather troublesome, as careful old people are apt to be—annoying us by perpetual inquiries of what we gave for this, and that, and running up provoking calculations on the final cost of matters; and we began to wish that his visits might be as short as would be convenient.
But when, on taking leave, he promised to send us a fine young cow of his own raising, our hearts rather smote us for our impatience.
"'Tain't any of your new breeds, nephew," said the old man, "yet I can say that she's a gentle, likely young crittur, and better worth forty dollars than many a one that's cried up for Ayrshire or Durham; and you shall be quite welcome to her."
We thanked him, as in duty bound, and thought that if he was full of old-fashioned notions, he was no less full of kindness and good will.
And now, with a new cow, with our garden beginning to thrive under the gentle showers of May, with our flower borders blooming, my wife and I began to think ourselves in Paradise. But alas! the same sun and rain that warmed our fruit and flowers brought up from the earth, like sulky gnomes, a vast array of purple-leaved weeds, that almost in a night seemed to cover the whole surface of the garden beds. Our gardeners both being gone, the weeding was expected to be done by me—one of the anticipated relaxations of my leisure hours.
"Well," said I, in reply to a gentle intimation from my wife, "when my article is finished, I'll take a day and weed all up clean."
Thus days slipped by, till at length the article was despatched, and I proceeded to my garden. Amazement! Who could have possibly foreseen that any thing earthly could grow so fast in a few days! There were no bounds, no alleys, no beds, no distinction of beet and carrot, nothing but a flourishing congregation of weeds nodding and bobbing in the morning breeze, as if to say, "We hope you are well, sir—we've got the ground, you see!" I began to explore, and to hoe, and to weed. Ah! did any body ever try to clean a neglected carrot or beet bed, or bend his back in a hot sun over rows of weedy onions! He is the man to feel for my despair! How I weeded, and sweat, and sighed! till, when high noon came on, as the result of all my toils, only three beds were cleaned! And how disconsolate looked the good seed, thus unexpectedly delivered from its sheltering tares, and laid open to a broiling July sun! Every juvenile beet and carrot lay flat down, wilted and drooping, as if, like me, they had been weeding, instead of being weeded.
"This weeding is quite a serious matter," said I to my wife; "the fact is, I must have help about it!"
"Just what I was myself thinking," said my wife. "My flower borders are all in confusion, and my petunia mounds so completely overgrown, that nobody would dream what they were meant for!"
In short, it was agreed between us that we could not afford the expense of a full-grown man to keep our place; yet we must reenforce ourselves by the addition of a boy, and a brisk youngster from the vicinity was pitched upon as the happy addition. This youth was a fellow of decidedly quick parts, and in one forenoon made such a clearing in our garden that I was delighted. Bed after bed appeared to view, all cleared and dressed out with such celerity that I was quite ashamed of my own slowness, until, on examination, I discovered that he had, with great impartiality, pulled up both weeds and vegetables.
This hopeful beginning was followed up by a succession of proceedings which should be recorded for the instruction of all who seek for help from the race of boys. Such a loser of all tools, great and small; such an invariable leaver-open of all gates, and letter-down of bars; such a personification of all manner of anarchy and ill luck, had never before been seen on the estate. His time, while I was gone to the city, was agreeably diversified with roosting on the fence, swinging on the gates, making poplar whistles for the children, hunting eggs, and eating whatever fruit happened to be in season, in which latter accomplishment he was certainly quite distinguished. After about three weeks of this kind of joint gardening, we concluded to dismiss Master Tom from the firm, and employ a man.
"Things must be taken care of," said I, "and I cannot do it. 'Tis out of the question." And so the man was secured.
But I am making a long story, and may chance to outrun the sympathies of my readers. Time would fail me to tell of the distresses manifold that fell upon me—of cows dried up by poor milkers; of hens that wouldn't set at all, and hens that, despite all law and reason, would set on one egg; of hens that, having hatched families, straightway led them into all manner of high grass and weeds, by which means numerous young chicks caught premature colds and perished; and how, when I, with manifold toil, had driven one of these inconsiderate gadders into a coop, to teach her domestic habits, the rats came down upon her and slew every chick in one night; how my pigs were always practising gymnastic exercises over the fence of the sty, and marauding in the garden. I wonder that Fourier never conceived the idea of having his garden land ploughed by pigs; for certainly they manifest quite a decided elective attraction for turning up the earth.
When autumn came, I went soberly to market, in the neighboring city, and bought my potatoes and turnips like any other man; for, between all the various systems of gardening pursued, I was obliged to confess that my first horticultural effort was a decided failure. But though all my rural visions had proved illusive, there were some very substantial realities. My bill at the seed store, for seeds, roots, and tools, for example, had run up to an amount that was perfectly unaccountable; then there were various smaller items, such as horse shoeing, carriage mending—for he who lives in the country and does business in the city must keep his vehicle and appurtenances. I had always prided myself on being an exact man, and settling every account, great and small, with the going out of the old year; but this season I found myself sorely put to it. In fact, had not I received a timely lift from my good old uncle, I should have made a complete break down. The old gentleman's troublesome habit of ciphering and calculating, it seems, had led him beforehand to foresee that I was not exactly in the money-making line, nor likely to possess much surplus revenue to meet the note which I had given for my place; and, therefore, he quietly paid it himself, as I discovered, when, after much anxiety and some sleepless nights, I went to the holder to ask for an extension of credit.
"He was right, after all," said I to my wife; "'to live cheap in the country, a body must know how.'"
"WOMAN, BEHOLD THY SON!"
The golden rays of a summer afternoon were streaming through the windows of a quiet apartment, where every thing was the picture of orderly repose. Gently and noiselessly they glide, gilding the glossy old chairs, polished by years of care; fluttering with flickering gleam on the bookcases, by the fire, and the antique China vases on the mantel, and even coqueting with sparkles of fanciful gayety over the face of the perpendicular, sombre old clock, which, though at times apparently coaxed almost to the verge of a smile, still continued its inevitable tick, as for a century before.
On the hearth rug lay outstretched a great, lazy-looking, Maltese cat, evidently enjoying the golden beam that fell upon his sober sides, and sleepily opening and shutting his great green eyes, as if lost in luxurious contemplation.
But the most characteristic figure in the whole picture was that of an aged woman, who sat quietly rocking to and fro in a great chair by the side of a large round table covered with books. There was a quiet beauty in that placid face—that silvery hair brushed neatly under the snowy border of the cap. Every line in that furrowed face told some tale of sorrow long assuaged, and passions hushed to rest, as on the calm ocean shore the golden-furrowed sand shows traces of storms and fluctuations long past.
On the round, green-covered table beside her lay the quiet companion of her age, the large Bible, whose pages, like the gates of the celestial city, were not shut at all by day, a few old standard books, and the pleasant, rippling knitting, whose dreamy, irresponsible monotony is the best music of age.
A fair, girlish form was seated by the table; the dress bonnet had fallen back on her shoulders, the soft cheeks were suffused and earnest, the long lashes and the veiled eyes were eloquent of subdued feeling, as she read aloud from the letter in her hand. It was from "our Harry," a name to both of them comprising all that was dear and valued on earth, for he was "the only son of his mother, and she a widow;" yet had he not been always an only one; flower after flower on the tree of her life had bloomed and died, and gradually, as waters cut off from many channels, the streams of love had centred deeper in this last and only one.
And, in truth, Harry Sargeant was all that a mother might desire or be proud of. Generous, high-minded, witty, and talented, and with a strong and noble physical development, he seemed born to command the love of women. The only trouble with him was, in common parlance, that he was too clever a fellow; he was too social, too impressible, too versatile, too attractive, and too much in demand for his own good. He always drew company about him, as honey draws flies, and was indispensable every where and to every body; and it needs a steady head and firm nerves for such a one to escape ruin.
Harry's course in college, though brilliant in scholarship, had been critical and perilous. He was a decided favorite with the faculty and students; yet it required a great deal of hard winking and adroit management on the part of his instructors to bring him through without infringement of college laws and proprieties: not that he ever meant the least harm in his life, but that some extra generous impulse, some quixotic generosity, was always tumbling him, neck and heels, into somebody's scrapes, and making him part and parcel in every piece of mischief that was going on.
With all this premised, there is no need to say that Harry was a special favorite with ladies; in truth, it was a confessed fact among his acquaintances, that, whereas dozens of creditable, respectable, well-to-do young men might besiege female hearts with every proper formality, waiting at the gates and watching at the posts of the doors in vain, yet before him all gates and passages seemed to fly open of their own accord. Nevertheless, there was in his native village one quiet maiden who held alone in her hand the key that could unlock his heart in return, and carried silently in her own the spell that could fetter that brilliant, restless spirit; and she it was, of the thoughtful brow and downcast eyes, whom we saw in our picture, bending over the letter with his mother.
That mother Harry loved to idolatry. She was to his mind an impersonation of all that was lovely in womanhood, hallowed and sainted by age, by wisdom, by sorrow; and his love for her was a beautiful union of protective tenderness, with veneration; and to his Ellen it seemed the best and most sacred evidence of the nobleness of his nature, and of the worth of the heart which he had pledged to her.
Nevertheless, there was a danger overhanging the heads of the three—a little cloud, no bigger than a man's hand, rising in the horizon of their hopes, yet destined to burst upon them, dark and dreadful, in a future day.
In those scenes of college hilarity where Harry had been so indispensable, the bright, poetic wine cup had freely circulated, and often amid the flush of conversation, and the genial excitement of the hour, he had drank freer and deeper than was best.
He said, it is true, that he cared nothing for it, that it was nothing to him, that it never affected him, and all those things that young men always say when the cup of Circe is beginning its work with them. Friends were annoyed, became anxious, remonstrated; but he laughed at their fears, and insisted on knowing himself best. At last, with a sudden start and shiver of his moral nature, he was awakened to a dreadful perception of his danger, and resolved on decided and determinate resistance. During this period he came to Cincinnati to establish himself in business, and as at this time the temperance reformation was in full tide of success there, he found every thing to strengthen his resolution; temperance meetings and speeches were all the mode; young men of the first standing were its patrons and supporters; wine was quite in the vocative, and seemed really in danger of being voted out of society. In such a turn of affairs, to sign a temperance pledge and keep it became an easy thing; temptation was scarce presented or felt; he was offered the glass in no social circle, met its attraction nowhere, and flattered himself that he had escaped so great a danger easily and completely.
His usual fortune of social popularity followed him, and his visiting circle became full as large and importunate as a young man with any thing else to do need desire. He was diligent in his application to business, began to be mentioned with approbation by the magnates as a rising young man, and had prospects daily nearing of competence and home, and all that man desires—visions, alas! never to be realized.
For after a while the tide that had risen so high began imperceptibly to decline. Men that had made eloquent speeches on temperance had now other things to look to. Fastidious persons thought that matters had, perhaps, been carried too far, and ladies declared that it was old and threadbare, and getting to be cant and stuff; and the ever-ready wine cup was gliding back into many a circle, as if, on sober second thoughts, the community was convinced that it was a friend unjustly belied.
There is no point in the history of reform, either in communities or individuals, so dangerous as that where danger seems entirely past. As long as a man thinks his health failing, he watches, he diets, and will undergo the most heroic self-denial; but let him once set himself down as cured, and how readily does he fall back to one soft indulgent habit after another, all tending to ruin every thing that he has before done!
So in communities. Let intemperance rage, and young men go to ruin by dozens, and the very evil inspires the remedy; but when the trumpet has been sounded, and the battle set in array, and the victory only said and sung in speeches, and newspaper paragraphs, and temperance odes, and processions, then comes the return wave; people cry, Enough; the community, vastly satisfied, lies down to sleep in its laurels; and then comes the hour of danger.
But let not the man who has once been swept down the stream of intemperate excitement, almost to the verge of ruin, dream of any point of security for him. He is like one who has awakened in the rapids of Niagara, and with straining oar and wild prayers to Heaven, forced his boat upward into smoother water, where the draught of the current seems to cease, and the banks smile, and all looks beautiful, and weary from rowing, lays by his oar to rest and dream; he knows not that under that smooth water still glides a current, that while he dreams, is imperceptibly but surely hurrying him back whence there is no return.
Harry was just in this perilous point; he viewed danger as long past, his self-confidence was fully restored, and in his security he began to neglect those lighter outworks of caution which he must still guard who does not mean, at last, to surrender the citadel.
* * * * *
"Now, girls and boys," said Mrs. G. to her sons and daughters, who were sitting round a centre table covered with notes of invitation, and all the preliminary et cetera of a party, "what shall we have on Friday night?—tea, coffee, lemonade, wine? of course not."
"And why not wine, mamma?" said the young ladies; "the people are beginning to have it; they had wine at Mrs. A.'s and Mrs. B.'s."
"Well, your papa thinks it won't do,—the boys are members of the temperance society,—and I don't think, girls, it will do myself."
There are many good sort of people, by the by, who always view moral questions in this style of phraseology—not what is right, but what will "do."
The girls made an appropriate reply to this view of the subject, by showing that Mrs. A. and Mrs. B. had done the thing, and nobody seemed to make any talk.
The boys, who thus far in the conversation had been thoughtfully rapping their boots with their canes, now interposed, and said that they would rather not have wine if it wouldn't look shabby.
"But it will look shabby," said Miss Fanny. "Lemons, you know, are scarce to be got for any price, and as for lemonade made of sirup, it's positively vulgar and detestable; it tastes just like cream of tartar and spirits of turpentine."
"For my part," said Emma, "I never did see the harm of wine, even when people were making the most fuss about it; to be sure rum and brandy and all that are bad, but wine——"
"And so convenient to get," said Fanny; "and no decent young man ever gets drunk at parties, so it can't do any harm; besides, one must have something, and, as I said, it will look shabby not to have it."
Now, there is no imputation that young men are so much afraid of, especially from the lips of ladies, as that of shabbiness; and as it happened in this case as most others that the young ladies were the most efficient talkers, the question was finally carried on their side.
Mrs. G. was a mild and a motherly woman, just the one fitted to inspire young men with confidence and that home feeling which all men desire to find somewhere. Her house was a free and easy ground, social for most of the young people of her acquaintance, and Harry was a favorite and domesticated visitor.
During the height of the temperance reform, fathers and brothers had given it their open and decided support, and Mrs. G.—always easily enlisted for any good movement—sympathized warmly in their endeavors. The great fault was, that too often incident to the gentleness of woman—a want of self-reliant principle. Her virtue was too much the result of mere sympathy, too little of her own conviction. Hence, when those she loved grew cold towards a good cause, they found no sustaining power in her, and those who were relying on her judgment and opinions insensibly controlled them. Notwithstanding, she was a woman that always acquired a great influence over young men, and Harry had loved and revered her with something of the same sentiment that he cherished towards his own mother.
It was the most brilliant party of the season. Every thing was got up in faultless taste, and Mrs. G. was in the very spirit of it. The girls were looking beautifully; the rooms were splendid; there was enough and not too much of light and warmth, and all were doing their best to please and be cheerful. Harry was more brilliant than usual, and in fact outdid himself. Wit and mind were the spirit of the hour.
"Just taste this tokay," said one of the sisters to him; "it has just been sent us from Europe, and is said to be a genuine article."
"You know I'm not in that line," said Harry, laughing and coloring.
"Why not?" said another young lady, taking a glass.
"O, the temperance pledge, you know! I am one of the pillars of the order, a very apostle; it will never do for me."
"Pshaw! those temperance pledges are like the proverb, 'something musty,'" said a gay girl.
"Well, but you said you had a headache the beginning of the evening, and you really look pale; you certainly need it as a medicine," said Fanny. "I'll leave it to mamma;" and she turned to Mrs. G., who stood gayly entertaining a group of young people.
"Nothing more likely," replied she, gayly; "I think, Harry, you have looked pale lately; a glass of wine might do you good."
Had Mrs. G. known all of Harry's past history and temptations, and had she not been in just the inconsiderate state that very good ladies sometimes get into at a party, she would sooner have sacrificed her right hand than to have thrown this observation into the scales; but she did, and they turned the balance for him.
"You shall be my doctor," he said, as, laughing and coloring, he drank the glass—and where was the harm? One glass of wine kills nobody; and yet if a man falls, and knows that in that glass he sacrifices principle and conscience, every drop may be poison to the soul and body.
Harry felt at that very time that a great internal barrier had given way; nor was that glass the only one that evening; another, and another, and another followed; his spirits rose with the wild and feverish gayety incident to his excitable temperament, and what had been begun in the society of ladies was completed late at night in the gentlemen's saloon.
Nobody ever knew, or thought, or recognized that that one party had forever undone this young man; and yet so it was. From that night his struggle of moral resistance was fatally impaired; not that he yielded at once and without desperate efforts and struggles, but gradually each struggle grew weaker, each reform shorter, each resolution more inefficient; yet at the close of the evening all those friends, mother, brother, and sister, flattered themselves that every thing had gone on so well that the next week Mrs. H. thought that it would do to give wine at the party because Mrs. G. had done it last week, and no harm had come of it.
In about a year after, the G.'s began to notice and lament the habits of their young friend, and all unconsciously to wonder how such a fine young man should be so led astray.
Harry was of a decided and desperate nature; his affections and his moral sense waged a fierce war with the terrible tyrant—the madness that had possessed him; and when at last all hope died out, he determined to avoid the anguish and shame of a drunkard's life by a suicide's death. Then came to the trembling, heart-stricken mother and beloved one a wild, incoherent letter of farewell, and he disappeared from among the living.
In the same quiet parlor, where the sunshine still streams through flickering leaves, it now rested on the polished sides and glittering plate of a coffin; there at last lay the weary at rest, the soft, shining gray hair was still gleaming as before, but deeper furrows on the wan cheek, and a weary, heavy languor over the pale, peaceful face, told that those gray hairs had been brought down in sorrow to the grave. Sadder still was the story on the cloudless cheek and lips of the young creature bending in quiet despair over her. Poor Ellen! her life's thread, woven with these two beloved ones, was broken.
And may all this happen?—nay, does it not happen?—just such things happen to young men among us every day. And do they not lead in a thousand ways to sorrows just like these? And is there not a responsibility on all who ought to be the guardians of the safety and purity of the other sex, to avoid setting before them the temptation to which so often and so fatally manhood has yielded? What is a paltry consideration of fashion, compared to the safety of sons, brothers, and husbands? The greatest fault of womanhood is slavery to custom; and yet who but woman makes custom? Are not all the usages and fashions of polite society more her work than that of man? And let every mother and sister think of the mothers and sisters of those who come within the range of their influence, and say to themselves, when in thoughtlessness they discuss questions affecting their interests, "Behold thy brother!"—"Behold thy son!"
THE CORAL RING.
"There is no time of life in which young girls are so thoroughly selfish as from fifteen to twenty," said Edward Ashton, deliberately, as he laid down a book he had been reading, and leaned over the centre table.
"You insulting fellow!" replied a tall, brilliant-looking creature, who was lounging on an ottoman hard by, over one of Dickens's last works.
"Truth, coz, for all that," said the gentleman, with the air of one who means to provoke a discussion.
"Now, Edward, this is just one of your wholesale declarations, for nothing only to get me into a dispute with you, you know," replied the lady. "On your conscience, now, (if you have one,) is it not so?"
"My conscience feels quite easy, cousin, in subscribing to that sentiment as my confession of faith," replied the gentleman, with provoking sang froid.
"Pshaw! it's one of your fusty old bachelor notions. See what comes, now, of your living to your time of life without a wife—disrespect for the sex, and all that. Really, cousin, your symptoms are getting alarming."
"Nay, now, Cousin Florence," said Edward, "you are a girl of moderately good sense, with all your nonsense. Now don't you (I know you do) think just so too?"
"Think just so too!—do you hear the creature?" replied Florence. "No, sir; you can speak for yourself in this matter, but I beg leave to enter my protest when you speak for me too."
"Well, now, where is there, coz, among all our circle, a young girl that has any sort of purpose or object in life, to speak of, except to make herself as interesting and agreeable as possible? to be admired, and to pass her time in as amusing a way as she can? Where will you find one between fifteen and twenty that has any serious regard for the improvement and best welfare of those with whom she is connected at all, or that modifies her conduct, in the least, with reference to it? Now, cousin, in very serious earnest, you have about as much real character, as much earnestness and depth of feeling, and as much good sense, when one can get at it, as any young lady of them all; and yet, on your conscience, can you say that you live with any sort of reference to any body's good, or to any thing but your own amusement and gratification?"
"What a shocking adjuration!" replied the lady; "prefaced, too, by a three-story compliment. Well, being so adjured, I must think to the best of my ability. And now, seriously and soberly, I don't see as I am selfish. I do all that I have any occasion to do for any body. You know that we have servants to do every thing that is necessary about the house, so that there is no occasion for my making any display of housewifery excellence. And I wait on mamma if she has a headache, and hand papa his slippers and newspaper, and find Uncle John's spectacles for him twenty times a day, (no small matter, that,) and then——"
"But, after all, what is the object and purpose of your life?"
"Why, I haven't any. I don't see how I can have any—that is, as I am made. Now, you know, I've none of the fussing, baby-tending, herb-tea-making recommendations of Aunt Sally, and divers others of the class commonly called useful. Indeed, to tell the truth, I think useful persons are commonly rather fussy and stupid. They are just like the boneset, and hoarhound, and catnip—very necessary to be raised in a garden, but not in the least ornamental."
"And you charming young ladies, who philosophize in kid slippers and French dresses, are the tulips and roses—very charming, and delightful, and sweet, but fit for nothing on earth but parlor ornaments."
"Well, parlor ornaments are good in their way," said the young lady, coloring, and looking a little vexed.
"So you give up the point, then," said the gentleman, "that you girls are good for—just to amuse yourselves, amuse others, look pretty, and be agreeable."
"Well, and if we behave well to our parents, and are amiable in the family—I don't know—and yet," said Florence, sighing, "I have often had a sort of vague idea of something higher that we might become; yet, really, what more than this is expected of us? what else can we do?"
"I used to read in old-fashioned novels about ladies visiting the sick and the poor," replied Edward. "You remember Coelebs in Search of a Wife?"
"Yes, truly; that is to say, I remember the story part of it, and the love scenes; but as for all those everlasting conversations of Dr. Barlow, Mr. Stanley, and nobody knows who else, I skipped those, of course. But really, this visiting and tending the poor, and all that, seems very well in a story, where the lady goes into a picturesque cottage, half overgrown with honeysuckle, and finds an emaciated, but still beautiful woman propped up by pillows. But come to the downright matter of fact of poking about in all these vile, dirty alleys, and entering little dark rooms, amid troops of grinning children, and smelling codfish and onions, and nobody knows what—dear me, my benevolence always evaporates before I get through. I'd rather pay any body five dollars a day to do it for me than do it myself. The fact is, that I have neither fancy nor nerves for this kind of thing."
"Well, granting, then, that you can do nothing for your fellow-creatures unless you are to do it in the most genteel, comfortable, and picturesque manner possible, is there not a great field for a woman like you, Florence, in your influence over your associates? With your talents for conversation, your tact, and self-possession, and ladylike gift of saying any thing you choose, are you not responsible, in some wise, for the influence you exert over those by whom you are surrounded?"
"I never thought of that," replied Florence.
"Now, you remember the remarks that Mr. Fortesque made the other evening on the religious services at church?"
"Yes, I do; and I thought then he was too bad."
"And I do not suppose there was one of you ladies in the room that did not think so too; but yet the matter was all passed over with smiles, and with not a single insinuation that he had said any thing unpleasing or disagreeable."
"Well, what could we do? One does not want to be rude, you know."
"Do! Could you not, Florence, you who have always taken the lead in society, and who have been noted for always being able to say and do what you please—could you not have shown him that those remarks were unpleasing to you, as decidedly as you certainly would have done if they had related to the character of your father or brother? To my mind, a woman of true moral feeling should consider herself as much insulted when her religion is treated with contempt as if the contempt were shown to herself. Do you not know the power which is given to you women to awe and restrain us in your presence, and to guard the sacredness of things which you treat as holy? Believe me, Florence, that Fortesque, infidel as he is, would reverence a woman with whom he dared not trifle on sacred subjects."
Florence rose from her seat with a heightened color, her dark eyes brightening through tears.
"I am sure what you say is just, cousin, and yet I have never thought of it before. I will—I am determined to begin, after this, to live with some better purpose than I have done."
"And let me tell you, Florence, in starting a new course, as in learning to walk, taking the first step is every thing. Now, I have a first step to propose to you."
"Well, you know, I suppose, that among your train of adorers you number Colonel Elliot?"
"And perhaps you do not know, what is certainly true, that, among the most discerning and cool part of his friends, Elliot is considered as a lost man."
"Good Heavens! Edward, what do you mean?"
"Simply this: that with all his brilliant talents, his amiable and generous feelings, and his success in society, Elliot has not self-control enough to prevent his becoming confirmed in intemperate habits."
"I never dreamed of this," replied Florence. "I knew that he was spirited and free, fond of society, and excitable; but never suspected any thing beyond."
"Elliot has tact enough never to appear in ladies' society when he is not in a fit state for it," replied Edward; "but yet it is so."
"But is he really so bad?"
"He stands just on the verge, Florence; just where a word fitly spoken might turn him. He is a noble creature, full of all sorts of fine impulses and feelings; the only son of a mother who dotes on him, the idolized brother of sisters who love him as you love your brother, Florence; and he stands where a word, a look—so they be of the right kind—might save him."
"And why, then, do you not speak to him?" said Florence.
"Because I am not the best person, Florence. There is another who can do it better; one whom he admires, who stands in a position which would forbid his feeling angry; a person, cousin, whom I have heard in gayer moments say that she knew how to say any thing she pleased without offending any body."
"O Edward!" said Florence, coloring; "do not bring up my foolish speeches against me, and do not speak as if I ought to interfere in this matter, for indeed I cannot do it. I never could in the world, I am certain I could not."
"And so," said Edward, "you, whom I have heard say so many things which no one else could say, or dared to say—you, who have gone on with your laughing assurance in your own powers of pleasing, shrink from trying that power when a noble and generous heart might be saved by it. You have been willing to venture a great deal for the sake of amusing yourself and winning admiration; but you dare not say a word for any high or noble purpose. Do you not see how you confirm what I said of the selfishness of you women?"
"But you must remember, Edward, this is a matter of great delicacy."
"That word delicacy is a charming cover-all in all these cases, Florence. Now, here is a fine, noble-spirited young man, away from his mother and sisters, away from any family friend who might care for him, tempted, betrayed, almost to ruin, and a few words from you, said as a woman knows how to say them, might be his salvation. But you will coldly look on and see him go to destruction, because you have too much delicacy to make the effort—like the man that would not help his neighbor out of the water because he had never had the honor of an introduction."
"But, Edward, consider how peculiarly fastidious Elliot is—how jealous of any attempt to restrain and guide him."
"And just for that reason it is that men of his acquaintance cannot do any thing with him. But what are you women made with so much tact and power of charming for, if it is not to do these very things that we cannot do? It is a delicate matter—true; and has not Heaven given to you a fine touch and a fine eye for just such delicate matters? Have you not seen, a thousand times, that what might be resented as an impertinent interference on the part of a man, comes to us as a flattering expression of interest from the lips of a woman?"
"Well, but, cousin, what would you have me do? How would you have me do it?" said Florence, earnestly.
"You know that Fashion, which makes so many wrong turns, and so many absurd ones, has at last made one good one, and it is now a fashionable thing to sign the temperance pledge. Elliot himself would be glad to do it, but he foolishly committed himself against it in the outset, and now feels bound to stand to his opinion. He has, too, been rather rudely assailed by some of the apostles of the new state of things, who did not understand the peculiar points of his character; in short, I am afraid that he will feel bound to go to destruction for the sake of supporting his own opinion. Now, if I should undertake with him, he might shoot me; but I hardly think there is any thing of the sort to be apprehended in your case. Just try your enchantments; you have bewitched wise men into doing foolish things before now; try, now, if you can't bewitch a foolish man into doing a wise thing."
Florence smiled archly, but instantly grew more thoughtful.
"Well, cousin," she said, "I will try. Though you are liberal in your ascriptions of power, yet I can put the matter to the test of experiment."
* * * * *
Florence Elmore was, at the time we speak of, in her twentieth year. Born of one of the wealthiest families in ——, highly educated and accomplished, idolized by her parents and brothers, she had entered the world as one born to command. With much native nobleness and magnanimity of character, with warm and impulsive feelings, and a capability of every thing high or great, she had hitherto lived solely for her own amusement, and looked on the whole brilliant circle by which she was surrounded, with all its various actors, as something got up for her special diversion. The idea of influencing any one, for better or worse, by any thing she ever said or did, had never occurred to her. The crowd of admirers of the other sex, who, as a matter of course, were always about her, she regarded as so many sources of diversion; but the idea of feeling any sympathy with them as human beings, or of making use of her power over them for their improvement, was one that had never entered her head.
Edward Ashton was an old bachelor cousin of Florence's, who, having earned the title of oddity, in general society, availed himself of it to exercise a turn for telling the truth to the various young ladies of his acquaintance, especially to his fair cousin Florence. We remark, by the by, that these privileged truth tellers are quite a necessary of life to young ladies in the full tide of society, and we really think it would be worth while for every dozen of them to unite to keep a person of this kind on a salary, for the benefit of the whole. However, that is nothing to our present purpose; we must return to our fair heroine, whom we left, at the close of the last conversation, standing in deep revery, by the window.
"It's more than half true," she said to herself—"more than half. Here am I, twenty years old, and never have thought of any thing, never done any thing, except to amuse and gratify myself; no purpose, no object; nothing high, nothing dignified, nothing worth living for! Only a parlor ornament—heigh ho! Well, I really do believe I could do something with this Elliot; and yet how dare I try?"
Now, my good readers, if you are anticipating a love story, we must hasten to put in our disclaimer; you are quite mistaken in the case. Our fair, brilliant heroine was, at this time of speaking, as heart-whole as the diamond on her bosom, which reflected the light in too many sparkling rays ever to absorb it. She had, to be sure, half in earnest, half in jest, maintained a bantering, platonic sort of friendship with George Elliot. She had danced, ridden, sung, and sketched with him; but so had she with twenty other young men; and as to coming to any thing tender with such a quick, brilliant, restless creature, Elliot would as soon have undertaken to sentimentalize over a glass of soda water. No; there was decidedly no love in the case.
"What a curious ring that is!" said Elliot to her, a day or two after, as they were reading together.
"It is a knight's ring," said she, playfully, as she drew it off and pointed to a coral cross set in the gold, "a ring of the red-cross knights. Come, now, I've a great mind to bind you to my service with it."
"Do, lady fair," said Elliot, stretching out his hand for the ring.
"Know, then," said she, "if you take this pledge, that you must obey whatever commands I lay upon you in its name."
"I swear!" said Elliot, in the mock heroic, and placed the ring on his finger.
An evening or two after, Elliot attended Florence to a party at Mrs. B.'s. Every thing was gay and brilliant, and there was no lack either of wit or wine. Elliot was standing in a little alcove, spread with refreshments, with a glass of wine in his hand. "I forbid it; the cup is poisoned!" said a voice in his ear. He turned quickly, and Florence was at his side. Every one was busy, with laughing and talking, around, and nobody saw the sudden start and flush that these words produced, as Elliot looked earnestly in the lady's face. She smiled, and pointed playfully to the ring; but after all, there was in her face an expression of agitation and interest which she could not repress, and Elliot felt, however playful the manner, that she was in earnest; and as she glided away in the crowd, he stood with his arms folded, and his eyes fixed on the spot where she disappeared.
"Is it possible that I am suspected—that there are things said of me as if I were in danger?" were the first thoughts that flashed through his mind. How strange that a man may appear doomed, given up, and lost, to the eye of every looker on, before he begins to suspect himself! This was the first time that any defined apprehension of loss of character had occurred to Elliot, and he was startled as if from a dream.
"What the deuse is the matter with you, Elliot? You look as solemn as a hearse!" said a young man near by.
"Has Miss Elmore cut you?" said another.
"Come, man, have a glass," said a third.
"Let him alone—he's bewitched," said a fourth. "I saw the spell laid on him. None of us can say but our turn may come next."
An hour later, that evening, Florence was talking with her usual spirit to a group who were collected around her, when, suddenly looking up, she saw Elliot, standing in an abstracted manner, at one of the windows that looked out into the balcony.
"He is offended, I dare say," she thought; "but what do I care? For once in my life I have tried to do a right thing—a good thing. I have risked giving offence for less than this, many a time." Still, Florence could not but feel tremulous, when, a few moments after, Elliot approached her and offered his arm for a promenade. They walked up and down the room, she talking volubly, and he answering yes and no, till at length, as if by accident, he drew her into the balcony which overhung the garden. The moon was shining brightly, and every thing without, in its placid quietness, contrasted strangely with the busy, hurrying scene within.
"Miss Elmore," said Elliot, abruptly, "may I ask you, sincerely, had you any design in a remark you made to me in the early part of the evening?"
Florence paused, and though habitually the most practised and self-possessed of women, the color actually receded from her cheek, as she answered,—
"Yes, Mr. Elliot; I must confess that I had."
"And is it possible, then, that you have heard any thing?"
"I have heard, Mr. Elliot, that which makes me tremble for you, and for those whose life, I know, is bound up in you; and, tell me, were it well or friendly in me to know that such things were said, that such danger existed, and not to warn you of it?"
Elliot stood for a few moments in silence.
"Have I offended? Have I taken too great a liberty?" said Florence, gently.
Hitherto Elliot had only seen in Florence the self-possessed, assured, light-hearted woman of fashion; but there was a reality and depth of feeling in the few words she had spoken to him, in this interview, that opened to him entirely a new view in her character.
"No, Miss Elmore," replied he, earnestly, after some pause; "I may be pained, offended I cannot be. To tell the truth, I have been thoughtless, excited, dazzled; my spirits, naturally buoyant, have carried me, often, too far; and lately I have painfully suspected my own powers of resistance. I have really felt that I needed help, but have been too proud to confess, even to myself, that I needed it. You, Miss Elmore, have done what, perhaps, no one else could have done. I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and I shall bless you for it to the latest day of my life. I am ready to pledge myself to any thing you may ask on this subject."
"Then," said Florence, "do not shrink from doing what is safe, and necessary, and right for you to do, because you have once said you would not do it. You understand me."
"Precisely," replied Elliot: "and you shall be obeyed."
It was not more than a week before the news was circulated that even George Elliot had signed the pledge of temperance. There was much wondering at this sudden turn among those who had known his utter repugnance to any measure of the kind, and the extent to which he had yielded to temptation; but few knew how fine and delicate had been the touch to which his pride had yielded.
ART AND NATURE.
"Now, girls," said Mrs. Ellis Grey to her daughters, "here is a letter from George Somers, and he is to be down here next week; so I give you fair warning."
"Warning?" said Fanny Grey, looking up from her embroidery; "what do you mean by that, mamma?"
"Now that's just you, Fanny," said the elder sister, laughing. "You dear little simplicity, you can never understand any thing unless it is stated as definitely as the multiplication table."
"But we need no warning in the case of Cousin George, I'm sure," said Fanny.
"Cousin George, to be sure! Do you hear the little innocent?" said Isabella, the second sister. "I suppose, Fanny, you never heard that he had been visiting all the courts of Europe, seeing all the fine women, stone, picture, and real, that are to be found. Such an amateur and connoisseur!"
"Besides having received a fortune of a million or so," said Emma. "I dare say now, Fanny, you thought he was coming home to make dandelion chains, and play with button balls, as he used to do when he was a little boy."
"Fanny will never take the world as it is," said Mrs. Grey. "I do believe she will be a child as long as she lives." Mrs. Grey said this as if she were sighing over some radical defect in the mind of her daughter, and the delicate cheek of Fanny showed a tint somewhat deeper as she spoke, and she went on with her embroidery in silence.
Mrs. Grey had been left, by the death of her husband, sole guardian of the three girls whose names have appeared on the page. She was an active, busy, ambitious woman, one of the sort for whom nothing is ever finished enough, or perfect enough, without a few touches, and dashes, and emendations; and, as such people always make a mighty affair of education, Mrs. Grey had made it a life's enterprise to order, adjust, and settle the character of her daughters; and when we use the word character, as Mrs. Grey understood it, we mean it to include both face, figure, dress, accomplishments, as well as those more unessential items, mind and heart.
Mrs. Grey had determined that her daughters should be something altogether out of the common way; and accordingly she had conducted the training of the two eldest with such zeal and effect, that every trace of an original character was thoroughly educated out of them. All their opinions, feelings, words, and actions, instead of gushing naturally from their hearts, were, according to the most approved authority, diligently compared and revised. Emma, the eldest, was an imposing, showy girl, of some considerable talent, and she had been assiduously trained to make a sensation as a woman of ability and intellect. Her mind had been filled with information on all sorts of subjects, much faster than she had power to digest or employ it; and the standard which her ambitious mother had set for her being rather above the range of her abilities, there was a constant sensation of effort in her keeping up to it. In hearing her talk you were constantly reminded, "I am a woman of intellect—I am entirely above the ordinary level of woman;" and on all subjects she was so anxiously and laboriously, well and circumstantially, informed, that it was enough to make one's head ache to hear her talk.
Isabella, the second daughter, was, par excellence, a beauty—a tall, sparkling, Cleopatra-looking girl, whose rich color, dazzling eyes, and superb figure might have bid defiance to art to furnish an extra charm; nevertheless, each grace had been as indefatigably drilled and manoeuvred as the members of an artillery company. Eyes, lips, eyelashes, all had their lesson; and every motion of her sculptured limbs, every intonation of her silvery voice, had been studied, considered, and corrected, till even her fastidious mother could discern nothing that was wanting. Then were added all the graces of belles lettres—all the approved rules of being delighted with music, painting, and poetry—and last of all came the tour of the continent; travelling being generally considered a sort of pumice stone, for rubbing down the varnish, and giving the very last touch to character.
During the time that all this was going on, Miss Fanny, whom we now declare our heroine, had been growing up in the quietude of her mother's country seat, and growing, as girls are apt to, much faster than her mother imagined. She was a fair, slender girl, with a purity and simplicity of appearance, which, if it be not in itself beauty, had all the best effect of beauty, in interesting and engaging the heart.
She looked not so much beautiful as lovable. Her character was in precise correspondence with her appearance; its first and chief element was feeling; and to this add fancy, fervor, taste, enthusiasm almost up to the point of genius, and just common sense enough to keep them all in order, and you will have a very good idea of the mind of Fanny Grey.
Delightfully passed the days with Fanny during the absence of her mother, while, without thought of rule or compass, she sang her own songs, painted flowers, and sketched landscapes from nature, visited sociably all over the village, where she was a great favorite, ran about through the fields, over fences, or in the woods with her little cottage bonnet, and, above all, built her own little castles in the air without any body to help pull them down, which we think about the happiest circumstance in her situation.
But affairs wore a very different aspect when Mrs. Grey with her daughters returned from Europe, as full of foreign tastes and notions as people of an artificial character generally do return.
Poor Fanny was deluged with a torrent of new ideas; she heard of styles of appearance and styles of beauty, styles of manner and styles of conversation, this, that, and the other air, a general effect and a particular effect, and of four hundred and fifty ways of producing an impression—in short, it seemed to her that people ought to be of wonderful consequence to have so many things to think and to say about the how and why of every word and action.
Mrs. Grey, who had no manner of doubt of her own ability to make over a character, undertook the point with Fanny as systematically as one would undertake to make over an old dress. Poor Fanny, who had an unconquerable aversion to trying on dresses or settling points in millinery, went through with most exemplary meekness an entire transformation as to all externals; but when Mrs. Grey set herself at work upon her mind, and tastes, and opinions, the matter became somewhat more serious; for the buoyant feeling and fanciful elements of her character were as incapable of being arranged according to rule as the sparkling water drops are of being strung into necklaces and earrings, or the gay clouds of being made into artificial flowers. Some warm natural desire or taste of her own was forever interfering with her mother's regime; some obstinate little "Fannyism" would always put up its head in defiance of received custom; and, as her mother and sisters pathetically remarked, do what you would with her, she would always come out herself after all.
After trying laboriously to conform to the pattern which was daily set before her, she came at last to the conclusion that some natural inferiority must forever prevent her aspiring to accomplish any thing in that way.
"If I can't be what my mother wishes, I'll at least be myself," said she one day to her sisters, "for if I try to alter I shall neither be myself nor any body else;" and on the whole her mother and sisters came to the same conclusion. And in truth they found it a very convenient thing to have one in the family who was not studying effect or aspiring to be any thing in particular.
It was very agreeable to Mrs. Grey to have a daughter to sit with her when she had the sick headache, while the other girls were entertaining company in the drawing room below. It was very convenient to her sisters to have some one whose dress took so little time that she had always a head and a pair of hands at their disposal, in case of any toilet emergency. Then she was always loving and affectionate, entirely willing to be outtalked and outshone on every occasion; and that was another advantage.
As to Isabella and Emma, the sensation that they made in society was enough to have gratified a dozen ordinary belles. All that they said, and did, and wore, was instant and unquestionable precedent; and young gentlemen, all starch and perfume, twirled their laced pocket handkerchiefs, and declared on their honor that they knew not which was the most overcoming, the genius and wit of Miss Emma, or the bright eyes of Miss Isabella; though it was an agreed point that between them both, not a heart in the gay world remained in its owner's possession—a thing which might have a serious sound to one who did not know the character of these articles, often the most trifling item in the inventory of worldly possessions. And all this while, all that was said of our heroine was something in this way: "I believe there is another sister—is there not?"
"Yes, there is a quiet little blue-eyed lady, who never has a word to say for herself—quite amiable I'm told."
Now, it was not a fact that Miss Fanny never had a word to say for herself. If people had seen her on a visit at any one of the houses along the little green street of her native village, they might have learned that her tongue could go fast enough.
But in lighted drawing rooms, and among buzzing voices, and surrounded by people who were always saying things because such things were proper to be said, Fanny was always dizzy, and puzzled, and unready; and for fear that she would say something that she should not, she concluded to say nothing at all; nevertheless, she made good use of her eyes, and found a very quiet amusement in looking on to see how other people conducted matters.
* * * * *
Well, Mr. George Somers is actually arrived at Mrs. Grey's country seat, and there he sits with Miss Isabella in the deep recess of that window, where the white roses are peeping in so modestly.
"To be sure," thought Fanny to herself, as she quietly surveyed him looming up through the shade of a pair of magnificent whiskers, and heard him passing the shuttlecock of compliment back and forth with the most assured and practised air in the world,—"to be sure, I was a child in imagining that I should see Cousin George Somers. I'm sure this magnificent young gentleman, full of all utterance and knowledge, is not the cousin that I used to feel so easy with; no, indeed;" and Fanny gave a half sigh, and then went out into the garden to water her geraniums.
For some days Mr. Somers seemed to feel put upon his reputation to sustain the character of gallant, savant, connoisseur, etc.., which every one who makes the tour of the continent is expected to bring home as a matter of course; for there is seldom a young gentleman who knows he has qualifications in this line, who can resist the temptation of showing what he can do. Accordingly he discussed tragedies, and reviews, and ancient and modern customs with Miss Emma; and with Miss Isabella retouched her drawings and exhibited his own; sported the most choice and recherche style of compliment at every turn, and, in short, flattered himself, perhaps justly, that he was playing the irresistible in a manner quite equal to that of his fair cousins.