Ethan Brand by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A CHAPTER FROM AN ABORTIVE ROMANCE
Bartram the lime-burner, a rough, heavy-looking man, begrimed with
charcoal, sat watching his kiln at nightfall, while his little son
played at building houses with the scattered fragments of marble, when,
on the hill-side below them, they heard a roar of laughter, not
mirthful, but slow, and even solemn, like a wind shaking the boughs of
"Father, what is that?" asked the little boy, leaving his play, and
pressing betwixt his father's knees.
"Oh, some drunken man, I suppose," answered the lime-burner; "some
merry fellow from the bar-room in the village, who dared not laugh loud
enough within doors lest he should blow the roof of the house off. So
here he is, shaking his jolly sides at the foot of Graylock."
"But, father," said the child, more sensitive than the obtuse,
middle-aged clown, "he does not laugh like a man that is glad. So the
noise frightens me!"
"Don't be a fool, child!" cried his father, gruffly. "You will never
make a man, I do believe; there is too much of your mother in you. I
have known the rustling of a leaf startle you. Hark! Here comes the
merry fellow now. You shall see that there is no harm in him."
Bartram and his little son, while they were talking thus, sat watching
the same lime-kiln that had been the scene of Ethan Brand's solitary
and meditative life, before he began his search for the Unpardonable
Sin. Many years, as we have seen, had now elapsed, since that
portentous night when the IDEA was first developed. The kiln, however,
on the mountain-side, stood unimpaired, and was in nothing changed
since he had thrown his dark thoughts into the intense glow of its
furnace, and melted them, as it were, into the one thought that took
possession of his life. It was a rude, round, tower-like structure
about twenty feet high, heavily built of rough stones, and with a
hillock of earth heaped about the larger part of its circumference; so
that the blocks and fragments of marble might be drawn by cart-loads,
and thrown in at the top. There was an opening at the bottom of the
tower, like an over-mouth, but large enough to admit a man in a
stooping posture, and provided with a massive iron door. With the smoke
and jets of flame issuing from the chinks and crevices of this door,
which seemed to give admittance into the hill-side, it resembled
nothing so much as the private entrance to the infernal regions, which
the shepherds of the Delectable Mountains were accustomed to show to
There are many such lime-kilns in that tract of country, for the
purpose of burning the white marble which composes a large part of the
substance of the hills. Some of them, built years ago, and long
deserted, with weeds growing in the vacant round of the interior, which
is open to the sky, and grass and wild-flowers rooting themselves into
the chinks of the stones, look already like relics of antiquity, and
may yet be overspread with the lichens of centuries to come. Others,
where the limeburner still feeds his daily and night-long fire, afford
points of interest to the wanderer among the hills, who seats himself
on a log of wood or a fragment of marble, to hold a chat with the
solitary man. It is a lonesome, and, when the character is inclined to
thought, may be an intensely thoughtful occupation; as it proved in the
case of Ethan Brand, who had mused to such strange purpose, in days
gone by, while the fire in this very kiln was burning.
The man who now watched the fire was of a different order, and troubled
himself with no thoughts save the very few that were requisite to his
business. At frequent intervals, he flung back the clashing weight of
the iron door, and, turning his face from the insufferable glare,
thrust in huge logs of oak, or stirred the immense brands with a long
pole. Within the furnace were seen the curling and riotous flames, and
the burning marble, almost molten with the intensity of heat; while
without, the reflection of the fire quivered on the dark intricacy of
the surrounding forest, and showed in the foreground a bright and ruddy
little picture of the hut, the spring beside its door, the athletic and
coal-begrimed figure of the lime-burner, and the half-frightened child,
shrinking into the protection of his father's shadow. And when, again,
the iron door was closed, then reappeared the tender light of the
half-full moon, which vainly strove to trace out the indistinct shapes
of the neighboring mountains; and, in the upper sky, there was a
flitting congregation of clouds, still faintly tinged with the rosy
sunset, though thus far down into the valley the sunshine had vanished
long and long ago.
The little boy now crept still closer to his father, as footsteps were
heard ascending the hill-side, and a human form thrust aside the bushes
that clustered beneath the trees.
"Halloo! who is it?" cried the lime-burner, vexed at his son's
timidity, yet half infected by it. "Come forward, and show yourself,
like a man, or I'll fling this chunk of marble at your head!"
"You offer me a rough welcome," said a gloomy voice, as the unknown man
drew nigh. "Yet I neither claim nor desire a kinder one, even at my own
To obtain a distincter view, Bartram threw open the iron door of the
kiln, whence immediately issued a gush of fierce light, that smote full
upon the stranger's face and figure. To a careless eye there appeared
nothing very remarkable in his aspect, which was that of a man in a
coarse brown, country-made suit of clothes, tall and thin, with the
staff and heavy shoes of a wayfarer. As he advanced, he fixed his
eyes--which were very bright--intently upon the brightness of the
furnace, as if he beheld, or expected to behold, some object worthy of
note within it.
"Good evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you, so
late in the day?"
"I come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it is
"Drunk!--or crazy!" muttered Bartram to himself. "I shall have trouble
with the fellow. The sooner I drive him away, the better."
The little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and begged
him to shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not be so much
light; for that there was something in the man's face which he was
afraid to look at, yet could not look away from. And, indeed, even the
lime-burner's dull and torpid sense began to be impressed by an
indescribable something in that thin, rugged, thoughtful visage, with
the grizzled hair hanging wildly about it, and those deeply sunken
eyes, which gleamed like fires within the entrance of a mysterious
cavern. But, as he closed the door, the stranger turned towards him,
and spoke in a quiet, familiar way, that made Bartram feel as if he
were a sane and sensible man, after all.
"Your task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has already
been burning three days. A few hours more will convert the stone to
"Why, who are you?" exclaimed the lime-burner. "You seem as well
acquainted with my business as I am myself."
"And well I may be," said the stranger; "for I followed the same craft
many a long year, and here, too, on this very spot. But you are a
newcomer in these parts. Did you never hear of Ethan Brand?"
"The man that went in search of the Unpardonable Sin?" asked Bartram,
with a laugh.
"The same," answered the stranger. "He has found what he sought, and
therefore he comes back again."
"What! then you are Ethan Brand himself?" cried the lime-burner, in
amazement. "I am a new-comer here, as you say, and they call it
eighteen years since you left the foot of Graylock. But, I can tell
you, the good folks still talk about Ethan Brand, in the village
yonder, and what a strange errand took him away from his lime-kiln.
Well, and so you have found the Unpardonable Sin?"
"Even so!" said the stranger, calmly.
"If the question is a fair one," proceeded Bartram, "where might it be?"
Ethan Brand laid his finger on his own heart.
"Here!" replied he.
And then, without mirth in his countenance, but as if moved by an
involuntary recognition of the infinite absurdity of seeking throughout
the world for what was the closest of all things to himself, and
looking into every heart, save his own, for what was hidden in no other
breast, he broke into a laugh of scorn. It was the same slow, heavy
laugh, that had almost appalled the lime-burner when it heralded the
The solitary mountain-side was made dismal by it. Laughter, when out of
place, mistimed, or bursting forth from a disordered state of feeling,
may be the most terrible modulation of the human voice. The laughter of
one asleep, even if it be a little child,--the madman's laugh,--the
wild, screaming laugh of a born idiot,--are sounds that we sometimes
tremble to hear, and would always willingly forget. Poets have imagined
no utterance of fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully appropriate as a
laugh. And even the obtuse lime-burner felt his nerves shaken, as this
strange man looked inward at his own heart, and burst into laughter
that rolled away into the night, and was indistinctly reverberated
among the hills.
"Joe," said he to his little son, "scamper down to the tavern in the
village, and tell the jolly fellows there that Ethan Brand has come
back, and that he has found the Unpardonable Sin!"
The boy darted away on his errand, to which Ethan Brand made no
objection, nor seemed hardly to notice it. He sat on a log of wood,
looking steadfastly at the iron door of the kiln. When the child was
out of sight, and his swift and light footsteps ceased to be heard
treading first on the fallen leaves and then on the rocky
mountain-path, the lime-burner began to regret his departure. He felt
that the little fellow's presence had been a barrier between his guest
and himself, and that he must now deal, heart to heart, with a man who,
on his own confession, had committed the one only crime for which
Heaven could afford no mercy. That crime, in its indistinct blackness,
seemed to overshadow him, and made his memory riotous with a throng of
evil shapes that asserted their kindred with the Master Sin, whatever
it might be, which it was within the scope of man's corrupted nature to
conceive and cherish. They were all of one family; they went to and fro
between his breast and Ethan Brand's, and carried dark greetings from
one to the other.
Then Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary in
reference to this strange man, who had come upon him like a shadow of
the night, and was making himself at home in his old place, after so
long absence, that the dead people, dead and buried for years, would
have had more right to be at home, in any familiar spot, than he. Ethan
Brand, it was said, had conversed with Satan himself in the lurid blaze
of this very kiln. The legend had been matter of mirth heretofore, but
looked grisly now. According to this tale, before Ethan Brand departed
on his search, he had been accustomed to evoke a fiend from the hot
furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in order to confer with
him about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the fiend each laboring to
frame the image of some mode of guilt which could neither be atoned for
nor forgiven. And, with the first gleam of light upon the mountain-top,
the fiend crept in at the iron door, there to abide the intensest
element of fire until again summoned forth to share in the dreadful
task of extending man's possible guilt beyond the scope of Heaven's
else infinite mercy.
While the lime-burner was struggling with the horror of these thoughts,
Ethan Brand rose from the log, and flung open the door of the kiln. The
action was in such accordance with the idea in Bartram's mind, that he
almost expected to see the Evil One issue forth, red-hot, from the
"Hold! hold!" cried he, with a tremulous attempt to laugh; for he was
ashamed of his fears, although they overmastered him. "Don't, for
mercy's sake, bring out your Devil now!"
"Man!" sternly replied Ethan Brand, "what need have I of the Devil? I
have left him behind me, on my track. It is with such half-way sinners
as you that he busies himself. Fear not, because I open the door. I do
but act by old custom, and am going to trim your fire, like a
lime-burner, as I was once."
He stirred the vast coals, thrust in more wood, and bent forward to
gaze into the hollow prison-house of the fire, regardless of the fierce
glow that reddened upon his face. The lime-burner sat watching him, and
half suspected this strange guest of a purpose, if not to evoke a
fiend, at least to plunge into the flames, and thus vanish from the
sight of man. Ethan Brand, however, drew quietly back, and closed the
door of the kiln.
"I have looked," said he, "into many a human heart that was seven times
hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace is with fire. But I
found not there what I sought. No, not the Unpardonable Sin!"
"What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then he
shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question should
"It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan Brand,
standing erect with a pride that distinguishes all enthusiasts of his
stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that
triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God,
and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims! The only sin that
deserves a recompense of immortal agony! Freely, were it to do again,
would I incur the guilt. Unshrinkingly I accept the retribution!"
"The man's head is turned," muttered the lime-burner to himself. "He
may be a sinner like the rest of us,--nothing more likely,--but, I'll
be sworn, he is a madman too."
Nevertheless, he felt uncomfortable at his situation, alone with Ethan
Brand on the wild mountain-side, and was right glad to hear the rough
murmur of tongues, and the footsteps of what seemed a pretty numerous
party, stumbling over the stones and rustling through the underbrush.
Soon appeared the whole lazy regiment that was wont to infest the
village tavern, comprehending three or four individuals who had drunk
flip beside the bar-room fire through all the winters, and smoked their
pipes beneath the stoop through all the summers, since Ethan Brand's
departure. Laughing boisterously, and mingling all their voices
together in unceremonious talk, they now burst into the moonshine and
narrow streaks of firelight that illuminated the open space before the
lime-kiln. Bartram set the door ajar again, flooding the spot with
light, that the whole company might get a fair view of Ethan Brand, and
he of them.
There, among other old acquaintances, was a once ubiquitous man, now
almost extinct, but whom we were formerly sure to encounter at the
hotel of every thriving village throughout the country. It was the
stage-agent. The present specimen of the genus was a wilted and
smoke-dried man, wrinkled and red-nosed, in a smartly cut, brown,
bobtailed coat, with brass buttons, who, for a length of time unknown,
had kept his desk and corner in the bar-room, and was still puffing
what seemed to be the same cigar that he had lighted twenty years
before. He had great fame as a dry joker, though, perhaps, less on
account of any intrinsic humor than from a certain flavor of
brandy-toddy and tobacco-smoke, which impregnated all his ideas and
expressions, as well as his person. Another well-remembered, though
strangely altered, face was that of Lawyer Giles, as people still
called him in courtesy; an elderly ragamuffin, in his soiled
shirtsleeves and tow-cloth trousers. This poor fellow had been an
attorney, in what he called his better days, a sharp practitioner, and
in great vogue among the village litigants; but flip, and sling, and
toddy, and cocktails, imbibed at all hours, morning, noon, and night,
had caused him to slide from intellectual to various kinds and degrees
of bodily labor, till at last, to adopt his own phrase, he slid into a
soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a soap-boiler, in a small way.
He had come to be but the fragment of a human being, a part of one foot
having been chopped off by an axe, and an entire hand torn away by the
devilish grip of a steam-engine. Yet, though the corporeal hand was
gone, a spiritual member remained; for, stretching forth the stump,
Giles steadfastly averred that he felt an invisible thumb and fingers
with as vivid a sensation as before the real ones were amputated. A
maimed and miserable wretch he was; but one, nevertheless, whom the
world could not trample on, and had no right to scorn, either in this
or any previous stage of his misfortunes, since he had still kept up
the courage and spirit of a man, asked nothing in charity, and with his
one hand--and that the left one--fought a stern battle against want and
Among the throng, too, came another personage, who, with certain points
of similarity to Lawyer Giles, had many more of difference. It was the
village doctor; a man of some fifty years, whom, at an earlier period
of his life, we introduced as paying a professional visit to Ethan
Brand during the latter's supposed insanity. He was now a
purple-visaged, rude, and brutal, yet half-gentlemanly figure, with
something wild, ruined, and desperate in his talk, and in all the
details of his gesture and manners. Brandy possessed this man like an
evil spirit, and made him as surly and savage as a wild beast, and as
miserable as a lost soul; but there was supposed to be in him such
wonderful skill, such native gifts of healing, beyond any which medical
science could impart, that society caught hold of him, and would not
let him sink out of its reach. So, swaying to and fro upon his horse,
and grumbling thick accents at the bedside, he visited all the
sick-chambers for miles about among the mountain towns, and sometimes
raised a dying man, as it were, by miracle, or quite as often, no
doubt, sent his patient to a grave that was dug many a year too soon.
The doctor had an everlasting pipe in his mouth, and, as somebody said,
in allusion to his habit of swearing, it was always alight with
These three worthies pressed forward, and greeted Ethan Brand each
after his own fashion, earnestly inviting him to partake of the
contents of a certain black bottle, in which, as they averred, he would
find something far better worth seeking than the Unpardonable Sin. No
mind, which has wrought itself by intense and solitary meditation into
a high state of enthusiasm, can endure the kind of contact with low and
vulgar modes of thought and feeling to which Ethan Brand was now
subjected. It made him doubt--and, strange to say, it was a painful
doubt--whether he had indeed found the Unpardonable Sin, and found it
within himself. The whole question on which he had exhausted life, and
more than life, looked like a delusion.
"Leave me," he said bitterly, "ye brute beasts, that have made
yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery liquors! I have
done with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your hearts and found
nothing there for my purpose. Get ye gone!"
"Why, you uncivil scoundrel," cried the fierce doctor, "is that the way
you respond to the kindness of your best friends? Then let me tell you
the truth. You have no more found the Unpardonable Sin than yonder boy
Joe has. You are but a crazy fellow,--I told you so twenty years
ago,-neither better nor worse than a crazy fellow, and the fit
companion of old Humphrey, here!"
He pointed to an old man, shabbily dressed, with long white hair, thin
visage, and unsteady eyes. For some years past this aged person had
been wandering about among the hills, inquiring of all travellers whom
he met for his daughter. The girl, it seemed, had gone off with a
company of circus-performers, and occasionally tidings of her came to
the village, and fine stories were told of her glittering appearance as
she rode on horseback in the ring, or performed marvellous feats on the
The white-haired father now approached Ethan Brand, and gazed
unsteadily into his face.
"They tell me you have been all over the earth," said he, wringing his
hands with earnestness. "You must have seen my daughter, for she makes
a grand figure in the world, and everybody goes to see her. Did she
send any word to her old father, or say when she was coming back?"
Ethan Brand's eye quailed beneath the old man's. That daughter, from
whom he so earnestly desired a word of greeting, was the Esther of our
tale, the very girl whom, with such cold and remorseless purpose, Ethan
Brand had made the subject of a psychological experiment, and wasted,
absorbed, and perhaps annihilated her soul, in the process.
"Yes," he murmured, turning away from the hoary wanderer, "it is no
delusion. There is an Unpardonable Sin!"
While these things were passing, a merry scene was going forward in the
area of cheerful light, beside the spring and before the door of the
hut. A number of the youth of the village, young men and girls, had
hurried up the hill-side, impelled by curiosity to see Ethan Brand, the
hero of so many a legend familiar to their childhood. Finding nothing,
however, very remarkable in his aspect,--nothing but a sunburnt
wayfarer, in plain garb and dusty shoes, who sat looking into the fire
as if he fancied pictures among the coals,--these young people speedily
grew tired of observing him. As it happened, there was other amusement
at hand. An old German Jew travelling with a diorama on his back, was
passing down the mountain-road towards the village just as the party
turned aside from it, and, in hopes of eking out the profits of the
day, the showman had kept them company to the lime-kiln.
"Come, old Dutchman," cried one of the young men, "let us see your
pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!"
"Oh yes, Captain," answered the Jew,--whether as a matter of courtesy
or craft, he styled everybody Captain,--"I shall show you, indeed, some
very superb pictures!"
So, placing his box in a proper position, he invited the young men and
girls to look through the glass orifices of the machine, and proceeded
to exhibit a series of the most outrageous scratchings and daubings, as
specimens of the fine arts, that ever an itinerant showman had the face
to impose upon his circle of spectators. The pictures were worn out,
moreover, tattered, full of cracks and wrinkles, dingy with
tobacco-smoke, and otherwise in a most pitiable condition. Some
purported to be cities, public edifices, and ruined castles in Europe;
others represented Napoleon's battles and Nelson's sea-fights; and in
the midst of these would be seen a gigantic, brown, hairy hand,--which
might have been mistaken for the Hand of Destiny, though, in truth, it
was only the showman's,--pointing its forefinger to various scenes of
the conflict, while its owner gave historical illustrations. When, with
much merriment at its abominable deficiency of merit, the exhibition
was concluded, the German bade little Joe put his head into the box.
Viewed through the magnifying-glasses, the boy's round, rosy visage
assumed the strangest imaginable aspect of an immense Titanic child,
the mouth grinning broadly, and the eyes and every other feature
overflowing with fun at the joke. Suddenly, however, that merry face
turned pale, and its expression changed to horror, for this easily
impressed and excitable child had become sensible that the eye of Ethan
Brand was fixed upon him through the glass.
"You make the little man to be afraid, Captain," said the German Jew,
turning up the dark and strong outline of his visage from his stooping
posture. "But look again, and, by chance, I shall cause you to see
somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Ethan Brand gazed into the box for an instant, and then starting back,
looked fixedly at the German. What had he seen? Nothing, apparently;
for a curious youth, who had peeped in almost at the same moment,
beheld only a vacant space of canvas.
"I remember you now," muttered Ethan Brand to the showman.
"Ah, Captain," whispered the Jew of Nuremberg, with a dark smile, "I
find it to be a heavy matter in my show-box,--this Unpardonable Sin! By
my faith, Captain, it has wearied my shoulders, this long day, to carry
it over the mountain."
"Peace," answered Ethan Brand, sternly, "or get thee into the furnace
The Jew's exhibition had scarcely concluded, when a great, elderly
dog--who seemed to be his own master, as no person in the company laid
claim to him--saw fit to render himself the object of public notice.
Hitherto, he had shown himself a very quiet, well-disposed old dog,
going round from one to another, and, by way of being sociable,
offering his rough head to be patted by any kindly hand that would take
so much trouble. But now, all of a sudden, this grave and venerable
quadruped, of his own mere motion, and without the slightest suggestion
from anybody else, began to run round after his tail, which, to
heighten the absurdity of the proceeding, was a great deal shorter than
it should have been. Never was seen such headlong eagerness in pursuit
of an object that could not possibly be attained; never was heard such
a tremendous outbreak of growling, snarling, barking, and snapping,--as
if one end of the ridiculous brute's body were at deadly and most
unforgivable enmity with the other. Faster and faster, round about went
the cur; and faster and still faster fled the unapproachable brevity of
his tail; and louder and fiercer grew his yells of rage and animosity;
until, utterly exhausted, and as far from the goal as ever, the foolish
old dog ceased his performance as suddenly as he had begun it. The next
moment he was as mild, quiet, sensible, and respectable in his
deportment, as when he first scraped acquaintance with the company.
As may be supposed, the exhibition was greeted with universal laughter,
clapping of hands, and shouts of encore, to which the canine performer
responded by wagging all that there was to wag of his tail, but
appeared totally unable to repeat his very successful effort to amuse
Meanwhile, Ethan Brand had resumed his seat upon the log, and moved, as
it might be, by a perception of some remote analogy between his own
case and that of this self-pursuing cur, he broke into the awful laugh,
which, more than any other token, expressed the condition of his inward
being. From that moment, the merriment of the party was at an end; they
stood aghast, dreading lest the inauspicious sound should be
reverberated around the horizon, and that mountain would thunder it to
mountain, and so the horror be prolonged upon their ears. Then,
whispering one to another that it was late,--that the moon was almost
down,-that the August night was growing chill,--they hurried homewards,
leaving the lime-burner and little Joe to deal as they might with their
unwelcome guest. Save for these three human beings, the open space on
the hill-side was a solitude, set in a vast gloom of forest. Beyond
that darksome verge, the firelight glimmered on the stately trunks and
almost black foliage of pines, intermixed with the lighter verdure of
sapling oaks, maples, and poplars, while here and there lay the
gigantic corpses of dead trees, decaying on the leaf-strewn soil. And
it seemed to little Joe--a timorous and imaginative child--that the
silent forest was holding its breath until some fearful thing should
Ethan Brand thrust more wood into the fire, and closed the door of the
kiln; then looking over his shoulder at the lime-burner and his son, he
bade, rather than advised, them to retire to rest.
"For myself, I cannot sleep," said he. "I have matters that it concerns
me to meditate upon. I will watch the fire, as I used to do in the old
"And call the Devil out of the furnace to keep you company, I suppose,"
muttered Bartram, who had been making intimate acquaintance with the
black bottle above mentioned. "But watch, if you like, and call as many
devils as you like! For my part, I shall be all the better for a
snooze. Come, Joe!"
As the boy followed his father into the hut, he looked back at the
wayfarer, and the tears came into his eyes, for his tender spirit had
an intuition of the bleak and terrible loneliness in which this man had
When they had gone, Ethan Brand sat listening to the crackling of the
kindled wood, and looking at the little spirts of fire that issued
through the chinks of the door. These trifles, however, once so
familiar, had but the slightest hold of his attention, while deep
within his mind he was reviewing the gradual but marvellous change that
had been wrought upon him by the search to which he had devoted
himself. He remembered how the night dew had fallen upon him,--how the
dark forest had whispered to him,--how the stars had gleamed upon
him,--a simple and loving man, watching his fire in the years gone by,
and ever musing as it burned. He remembered with what tenderness, with
what love and sympathy for mankind and what pity for human guilt and
woe, he had first begun to contemplate those ideas which afterwards
became the inspiration of his life; with what reverence he had then
looked into the heart of man, viewing it as a temple originally divine,
and, however desecrated, still to be held sacred by a brother; with
what awful fear he had deprecated the success of his pursuit, and
prayed that the Unpardonable Sin might never be revealed to him. Then
ensued that vast intellectual development, which, in its progress,
disturbed the counterpoise between his mind and heart. The Idea that
possessed his life had operated as a means of education; it had gone on
cultivating his powers to the highest point of which they were
susceptible; it had raised him from the level of an unlettered laborer
to stand on a star-lit eminence, whither the philosophers of the earth,
laden with the lore of universities, might vainly strive to clamber
after him. So much for the intellect! But where was the heart? That,
indeed, had withered,--had contracted,--had hardened,--had perished! It
had ceased to partake of the universal throb. He had lost his hold of
the magnetic chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother-man, opening
the chambers or the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy
sympathy, which gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was
now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his
experiment, and, at length, converting man and woman to be his puppets,
and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were
demanded for his study.
Thus Ethan Brand became a fiend. He began to be so from the moment that
his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of improvement with his
intellect. And now, as his highest effort and inevitable
development,--as the bright and gorgeous flower, and rich, delicious
fruit of his life's labor,--he had produced the Unpardonable Sin!
"What more have I to seek? what more to achieve?" said Ethan Brand to
himself. "My task is done, and well done!"
Starting from the log with a certain alacrity in his gait and ascending
the hillock of earth that was raised against the stone circumference of
the lime-kiln, he thus reached the top of the structure. It was a space
of perhaps ten feet across, from edge to edge, presenting a view of the
upper surface of the immense mass of broken marble with which the kiln
was heaped. All these innumerable blocks and fragments of marble were
redhot and vividly on fire, sending up great spouts of blue flame,
which quivered aloft and danced madly, as within a magic circle, and
sank and rose again, with continual and multitudinous activity. As the
lonely man bent forward over this terrible body of fire, the blasting
heat smote up against his person with a breath that, it might be
supposed, would have scorched and shrivelled him up in a moment.
Ethan Brand stood erect, and raised his arms on high. The blue flames
played upon his face, and imparted the wild and ghastly light which
alone could have suited its expression; it was that of a fiend on the
verge of plunging into his gulf of intensest torment.
"O Mother Earth," cried he, "who art no more my Mother, and into whose
bosom this frame shall never be resolved! O mankind, whose brotherhood
I have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath my feet! O stars
of heaven, that shone on me of old, as if to light me onward and
upward!--farewell all, and forever. Come, deadly element of
Fire,-henceforth my familiar friend! Embrace me, as I do thee!"
That night the sound of a fearful peal of laughter rolled heavily
through the sleep of the lime-burner and his little son; dim shapes of
horror and anguish haunted their dreams, and seemed still present in
the rude hovel, when they opened their eyes to the daylight.
"Up, boy, up!" cried the lime-burner, staring about him. "Thank Heaven,
the night is gone, at last; and rather than pass such another, I would
watch my lime-kiln, wide awake, for a twelvemonth. This Ethan Brand,
with his humbug of an Unpardonable Sin, has done me no such mighty
favor, in taking my place!"
He issued from the hut, followed by little Joe, who kept fast hold of
his father's hand. The early sunshine was already pouring its gold upon
the mountain-tops, and though the valleys were still in shadow, they
smiled cheerfully in the promise of the bright day that was hastening
onward. The village, completely shut in by hills, which swelled away
gently about it, looked as if it had rested peacefully in the hollow of
the great hand of Providence. Every dwelling was distinctly visible;
the little spires of the two churches pointed upwards, and caught a
fore-glimmering of brightness from the sun-gilt skies upon their gilded
weather-cocks. The tavern was astir, and the figure of the old,
smoke-dried stage-agent, cigar in mouth, was seen beneath the stoop.
Old Graylock was glorified with a golden cloud upon his head. Scattered
likewise over the breasts of the surrounding mountains, there were
heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes, some of them far down into
the valley, others high up towards the summits, and still others, of
the same family of mist or cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the
upper atmosphere. Stepping from one to another of the clouds that
rested on the hills, and thence to the loftier brotherhood that sailed
in air, it seemed almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the
heavenly regions. Earth was so mingled with sky that it was a day-dream
to look at it.
To supply that charm of the familiar and homely, which Nature so
readily adopts into a scene like this, the stage-coach was rattling
down the mountain-road, and the driver sounded his horn, while Echo
caught up the notes, and intertwined them into a rich and varied and
elaborate harmony, of which the original performer could lay claim to
little share. The great hills played a concert among themselves, each
contributing a strain of airy sweetness.
Little Joe's face brightened at once.
"Dear father," cried he, skipping cheerily to and fro, "that strange
man is gone, and the sky and the mountains all seem glad of it!"
"Yes," growled the lime-burner, with an oath, "but he has let the fire
go down, and no thanks to him if five hundred bushels of lime are not
spoiled. If I catch the fellow hereabouts again, I shall feel like
tossing him into the furnace!"
With his long pole in his hand, he ascended to the top of the kiln.
After a moment's pause, he called to his son.
"Come up here, Joe!" said he.
So little Joe ran up the hillock, and stood by his father's side. The
marble was all burnt into perfect, snow-white lime. But on its surface,
in the midst of the circle,--snow-white too, and thoroughly converted
into lime,--lay a human skeleton, in the attitude of a person who,
after long toil, lies down to long repose. Within the ribs--strange to
say--was the shape of a human heart.
"Was the fellow's heart made of marble?" cried Bartram, in some
perplexity at this phenomenon. "At any rate, it is burnt into what
looks like special good lime; and, taking all the bones together, my
kiln is half a bushel the richer for him."
So saying, the rude lime-burner lifted his pole, and, letting it fall
upon the skeleton, the relics of Ethan Brand were crumbled into