THE SNOW IMAGE
The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle
The Great Stone Face
The Canterbury Pilgrims
The Devil in Manuscript
My Kinsman, Major Molineux
A CHILDISH MIRACLE
One afternoon of a cold winter's day, when the sun shone forth with
chilly brightness, after a long storm, two children asked leave of
their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow. The elder
child was a little girl, whom, because she was of a tender and modest
disposition, and was thought to be very beautiful, her parents, and
other people who were familiar with her, used to call Violet. But her
brother was known by the style and title of Peony, on account of the
ruddiness of his broad and round little phiz, which made everybody
think of sunshine and great scarlet flowers. The father of these two
children, a certain Mr. Lindsey, it is important to say, was an
excellent but exceedingly matter-of-fact sort of man, a dealer in
hardware, and was sturdily accustomed to take what is called the
common-sense view of all matters that came under his consideration.
With a heart about as tender as other people's, he had a head as hard
and impenetrable, and therefore, perhaps, as empty, as one of the iron
pots which it was a part of his business to sell. The mother's
character, on the other hand, had a strain of poetry in it, a trait of
unworldly beauty,--a delicate and dewy flower, as it were, that had
survived out of her imaginative youth, and still kept itself alive amid
the dusty realities of matrimony and motherhood.
So, Violet and Peony, as I began with saying, besought their mother to
let them run out and play in the new snow; for, though it had looked so
dreary and dismal, drifting downward out of the gray sky, it had a very
cheerful aspect, now that the sun was shining on it. The children dwelt
in a city, and had no wider play-place than a little garden before the
house, divided by a white fence from the street, and with a pear-tree
and two or three plum-trees overshadowing it, and some rose-bushes just
in front of the parlor-windows. The trees and shrubs, however, were now
leafless, and their twigs were enveloped in the light snow, which thus
made a kind of wintry foliage, with here and there a pendent icicle for
"Yes, Violet,--yes, my little Peony," said their kind mother, "you may
go out and play in the new snow."
Accordingly, the good lady bundled up her darlings in woollen jackets
and wadded sacks, and put comforters round their necks, and a pair of
striped gaiters on each little pair of legs, and worsted mittens on
their hands, and gave them a kiss apiece, by way of a spell to keep
away Jack Frost. Forth sallied the two children, with a
hop-skip-and-jump, that carried them at once into the very heart of a
huge snow-drift, whence Violet emerged like a snow-bunting, while
little Peony floundered out with his round face in full bloom. Then
what a merry time had they! To look at them, frolicking in the wintry
garden, you would have thought that the dark and pitiless storm had
been sent for no other purpose but to provide a new plaything for
Violet and Peony; and that they themselves had beer created, as the
snow-birds were, to take delight only in the tempest, and in the white
mantle which it spread over the earth.
At last, when they had frosted one another all over with handfuls of
snow, Violet, after laughing heartily at little Peony's figure, was
struck with a new idea.
"You look exactly like a snow-image, Peony," said she, "if your cheeks
were not so red. And that puts me in mind! Let us make an image out of
snow,--an image of a little girl,--and it shall be our sister, and
shall run about and play with us all winter long. Won't it be nice?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony, as plainly as he could speak, for he was but a
little boy. "That will be nice! And mamma shall see it!"
"Yes," answered Violet; "mamma shall see the new little girl. But she
must not make her come into the warm parlor; for, you know, our little
snow-sister will not love the warmth."
And forthwith the children began this great business of making a
snow-image that should run about; while their mother, who was sitting
at the window and overheard some of their talk, could not help smiling
at the gravity with which they set about it. They really seemed to
imagine that there would be no difficulty whatever in creating a live
little girl out of the snow. And, to say the truth, if miracles are
ever to be wrought, it will be by putting our hands to the work in
precisely such a simple and undoubting frame of mind as that in which
Violet and Peony now undertook to perform one, without so much as
knowing that it was a miracle. So thought the mother; and thought,
likewise, that the new snow, just fallen from heaven, would be
excellent material to make new beings of, if it were not so very cold.
She gazed at the children a moment longer, delighting to watch their
little figures,--the girl, tall for her age, graceful and agile, and so
delicately colored that she looked like a cheerful thought more than a
physical reality; while Peony expanded in breadth rather than height,
and rolled along on his short and sturdy legs as substantial as an
elephant, though not quite so big. Then the mother resumed her work.
What it was I forget; but she was either trimming a silken bonnet for
Violet, or darning a pair of stockings for little Peony's short legs.
Again, however, and again, and yet other agains, she could not help
turning her head to the window to see how the children got on with
Indeed, it was an exceedingly pleasant sight, those bright little souls
at their task! Moreover, it was really wonderful to observe how
knowingly and skilfully they managed the matter. Violet assumed the
chief direction, and told Peony what to do, while, with her own
delicate fingers, she shaped out all the nicer parts of the
snow-figure. It seemed, in fact, not so much to be made by the
children, as to grow up under their hands, while they were playing and
prattling about it. Their mother was quite surprised at this; and the
longer she looked, the more and more surprised she grew.
"What remarkable children mine are!" thought she, smiling with a
mother's pride; and, smiling at herself, too, for being so proud of
them. "What other children could have made anything so like a little
girl's figure out of snow at the first trial? Well; but now I must
finish Peony's new frock, for his grandfather is coming to-morrow, and
I want the little fellow to look handsome."
So she took up the frock, and was soon as busily at work again with her
needle as the two children with their snow-image. But still, as the
needle travelled hither and thither through the seams of the dress, the
mother made her toil light and happy by listening to the airy voices of
Violet and Peony. They kept talking to one another all the time, their
tongues being quite as active as their feet and hands. Except at
intervals, she could not distinctly hear what was said, but had merely
a sweet impression that they were in a most loving mood, and were
enjoying themselves highly, and that the business of making the
snow-image went prosperously on. Now and then, however, when Violet and
Peony happened to raise their voices, the words were as audible as if
they had been spoken in the very parlor where the mother sat. Oh how
delightfully those words echoed in her heart, even though they meant
nothing so very wise or wonderful, after all!
But you must know a mother listens with her heart much more than with
her ears; and thus she is often delighted with the trills of celestial
music, when other people can hear nothing of the kind.
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet to her brother, who had gone to another
part of the garden, "bring me some of that fresh snow, Peony, from the
very farthest corner, where we have not been trampling. I want it to
shape our little snow-sister's bosom with. You know that part must be
quite pure, just as it came out of the sky!"
"Here it is, Violet!" answered Peony, in his bluff tone,--but a very
sweet tone, too,--as he came floundering through the half-trodden
drifts. "Here is the snow for her little bosom. O Violet, how
beau-ti-ful she begins to look!"
"Yes," said Violet, thoughtfully and quietly; "our snow-sister does
look very lovely. I did not quite know, Peony, that we could make such
a sweet little girl as this."
The mother, as she listened, thought how fit and delightful an incident
it would be, if fairies, or still better, if angel-children were to
come from paradise, and play invisibly with her own darlings, and help
them to make their snow-image, giving it the features of celestial
babyhood! Violet and Peony would not be aware of their immortal
playmates,--only they would see that the image grew very beautiful
while they worked at it, and would think that they themselves had done
"My little girl and boy deserve such playmates, if mortal children ever
did!" said the mother to herself; and then she smiled again at her own
Nevertheless, the idea seized upon her imagination; and, ever and anon,
she took a glimpse out of the window, half dreaming that she might see
the golden-haired children of paradise sporting with her own
golden-haired Violet and bright-cheeked Peony.
Now, for a few moments, there was a busy and earnest, but indistinct
hum of the two children's voices, as Violet and Peony wrought together
with one happy consent. Violet still seemed to be the guiding spirit,
while Peony acted rather as a laborer, and brought her the snow from
far and near. And yet the little urchin evidently had a proper
understanding of the matter, too!
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet; for her brother was again at the other
side of the garden. "Bring me those light wreaths of snow that have
rested on the lower branches of the pear-tree. You can clamber on the
snowdrift, Peony, and reach them easily. I must have them to make some
ringlets for our snow-sister's head!"
"Here they are, Violet!" answered the little boy. "Take care you do not
break them. Well done! Well done! How pretty!"
"Does she not look sweetly?" said Violet, with a very satisfied tone;
"and now we must have some little shining bits of ice, to make the
brightness of her eyes. She is not finished yet. Mamma will see how
very beautiful she is; but papa will say, 'Tush! nonsense!--come in out
of the cold!'"
"Let us call mamma to look out," said Peony; and then he shouted
lustily, "Mamma! mamma!! mamma!!! Look out, and see what a nice 'ittle
girl we are making!"
The mother put down her work for an instant, and looked out of the
window. But it so happened that the sun--for this was one of the
shortest days of the whole year--had sunken so nearly to the edge of
the world that his setting shine came obliquely into the lady's eyes.
So she was dazzled, you must understand, and could not very distinctly
observe what was in the garden. Still, however, through all that
bright, blinding dazzle of the sun and the new snow, she beheld a small
white figure in the garden, that seemed to have a wonderful deal of
human likeness about it. And she saw Violet and Peony,--indeed, she
looked more at them than at the image,--she saw the two children still
at work; Peony bringing fresh snow, and Violet applying it to the
figure as scientifically as a sculptor adds clay to his model.
Indistinctly as she discerned the snow-child, the mother thought to
herself that never before was there a snow-figure so cunningly made,
nor ever such a dear little girl and boy to make it.
"They do everything better than other children," said she, very
complacently. "No wonder they make better snow-images!"
She sat down again to her work, and made as much haste with it as
possible; because twilight would soon come, and Peony's frock was not
yet finished, and grandfather was expected, by railroad, pretty early
in the morning. Faster and faster, therefore, went her flying fingers.
The children, likewise, kept busily at work in the garden, and still
the mother listened, whenever she could catch a word. She was amused to
observe how their little imaginations had got mixed up with what they
were doing, and carried away by it. They seemed positively to think
that the snow-child would run about and play with them.
"What a nice playmate she will be for us, all winter long!" said
Violet. "I hope papa will not be afraid of her giving us a cold!
Sha'n't you love her dearly, Peony?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony. "And I will hug her, and she shall sit down
close by me and drink some of my warm milk!"
"Oh no, Peony!" answered Violet, with grave wisdom. "That will not do
at all. Warm milk will not be wholesome for our little snow-sister.
Little snow people, like her, eat nothing but icicles. No, no, Peony;
we must not give her anything warm to drink!"
There was a minute or two of silence; for Peony, whose short legs were
never weary, had gone on a pilgrimage again to the other side of the
garden. All of a sudden, Violet cried out, loudly and joyfully,--"Look
here, Peony! Come quickly! A light has been shining on her cheek out of
that rose-colored cloud! and the color does not go away! Is not that
"Yes; it is beau-ti-ful," answered Peony, pronouncing the three
syllables with deliberate accuracy. "O Violet, only look at her hair!
It is all like gold!"
"Oh certainly," said Violet, with tranquillity, as if it were very much
a matter of course. "That color, you know, comes from the golden
clouds, that we see up there in the sky. She is almost finished now.
But her lips must be made very red,--redder than her cheeks. Perhaps,
Peony, it will make them red if we both kiss them!"
Accordingly, the mother heard two smart little smacks, as if both her
children were kissing the snow-image on its frozen mouth. But, as this
did not seem to make the lips quite red enough, Violet next proposed
that the snow-child should be invited to kiss Peony's scarlet cheek.
"Come, 'ittle snow-sister, kiss me!" cried Peony.
"There! she has kissed you," added Violet, "and now her lips are very
red. And she blushed a little, too!"
"Oh, what a cold kiss!" cried Peony.
Just then, there came a breeze of the pure west-wind, sweeping through
the garden and rattling the parlor-windows. It sounded so wintry cold,
that the mother was about to tap on the window-pane with her thimbled
finger, to summon the two children in, when they both cried out to her
with one voice. The tone was not a tone of surprise, although they were
evidently a good deal excited; it appeared rather as if they were very
much rejoiced at some event that had now happened, but which they had
been looking for, and had reckoned upon all along.
"Mamma! mamma! We have finished our little snow-sister, and she is
running about the garden with us!"
"What imaginative little beings my children are!" thought the mother,
putting the last few stitches into Peony's frock. "And it is strange,
too that they make me almost as much a child as they themselves are! I
can hardly help believing, now, that the snow-image has really come to
"Dear mamma!" cried Violet, "pray look out and see what a sweet
playmate we have!"
The mother, being thus entreated, could no longer delay to look forth
from the window. The sun was now gone out of the sky, leaving, however,
a rich inheritance of his brightness among those purple and golden
clouds which make the sunsets of winter so magnificent. But there was
not the slightest gleam or dazzle, either on the window or on the snow;
so that the good lady could look all over the garden, and see
everything and everybody in it. And what do you think she saw there?
Violet and Peony, of course, her own two darling children. Ah, but whom
or what did she see besides? Why, if you will believe me, there was a
small figure of a girl, dressed all in white, with rose-tinged cheeks
and ringlets of golden hue, playing about the garden with the two
children! A stranger though she was, the child seemed to be on as
familiar terms with Violet and Peony, and they with her, as if all the
three had been playmates during the whole of their little lives. The
mother thought to herself that it must certainly be the daughter of one
of the neighbors, and that, seeing Violet and Peony in the garden, the
child had run across the street to play with them. So this kind lady
went to the door, intending to invite the little runaway into her
comfortable parlor; for, now that the sunshine was withdrawn, the
atmosphere, out of doors, was already growing very cold.
But, after opening the house-door, she stood an instant on the
threshold, hesitating whether she ought to ask the child to come in, or
whether she should even speak to her. Indeed, she almost doubted
whether it were a real child after all, or only a light wreath of the
new-fallen snow, blown hither and thither about the garden by the
intensely cold west-wind. There was certainly something very singular
in the aspect of the little stranger. Among all the children of the
neighborhood, the lady could remember no such face, with its pure
white, and delicate rose-color, and the golden ringlets tossing about
the forehead and cheeks. And as for her dress, which was entirely of
white, and fluttering in the breeze, it was such as no reasonable woman
would put upon a little girl, when sending her out to play, in the
depth of winter. It made this kind and careful mother shiver only to
look at those small feet, with nothing in the world on them, except a
very thin pair of white slippers. Nevertheless, airily as she was clad,
the child seemed to feel not the slightest inconvenience from the cold,
but danced so lightly over the snow that the tips of her toes left
hardly a print in its surface; while Violet could but just keep pace
with her, and Peony's short legs compelled him to lag behind.
Once, in the course of their play, the strange child placed herself
between Violet and Peony, and taking a hand of each, skipped merrily
forward, and they along with her. Almost immediately, however, Peony
pulled away his little fist, and began to rub it as if the fingers were
tingling with cold; while Violet also released herself, though with
less abruptness, gravely remarking that it was better not to take hold
of hands. The white-robed damsel said not a word, but danced about,
just as merrily as before. If Violet and Peony did not choose to play
with her, she could make just as good a playmate of the brisk and cold
west-wind, which kept blowing her all about the garden, and took such
liberties with her, that they seemed to have been friends for a long
time. All this while, the mother stood on the threshold, wondering how
a little girl could look so much like a flying snow-drift, or how a
snow-drift could look so very like a little girl.
She called Violet, and whispered to her.
"Violet my darling, what is this child's name?" asked she. "Does she
live near us?"
"Why, dearest mamma," answered Violet, laughing to think that her
mother did not comprehend so very plain an affair, "this is our little
snow-sister whom we have just been making!"
"Yes, dear mamma," cried Peony, running to his mother, and looking up
simply into her face. "This is our snow-image! Is it not a nice 'ittle
At this instant a flock of snow-birds came flitting through the air. As
was very natural, they avoided Violet and Peony. But--and this looked
strange--they flew at once to the white-robed child, fluttered eagerly
about her head, alighted on her shoulders, and seemed to claim her as
an old acquaintance. She, on her part, was evidently as glad to see
these little birds, old Winter's grandchildren, as they were to see
her, and welcomed them by holding out both her hands. Hereupon, they
each and all tried to alight on her two palms and ten small fingers and
thumbs, crowding one another off, with an immense fluttering of their
tiny wings. One dear little bird nestled tenderly in her bosom; another
put its bill to her lips. They were as joyous, all the while, and
seemed as much in their element, as you may have seen them when
sporting with a snow-storm.
Violet and Peony stood laughing at this pretty sight; for they enjoyed
the merry time which their new playmate was having with these
small-winged visitants, almost as much as if they themselves took part
"Violet," said her mother, greatly perplexed, "tell me the truth,
without any jest. Who is this little girl?"
"My darling mamma," answered Violet, looking seriously into her
mother's face, and apparently surprised that she should need any
further explanation, "I have told you truly who she is. It is our
little snow-image, which Peony and I have been making. Peony will tell
you so, as well as I."
"Yes, mamma," asseverated Peony, with much gravity in his crimson
little phiz; "this is 'ittle snow-child. Is not she a nice one? But,
mamma, her hand is, oh, so very cold!"
While mamma still hesitated what to think and what to do, the
street-gate was thrown open, and the father of Violet and Peony
appeared, wrapped in a pilot-cloth sack, with a fur cap drawn down over
his ears, and the thickest of gloves upon his hands. Mr. Lindsey was a
middle-aged man, with a weary and yet a happy look in his wind-flushed
and frost-pinched face, as if he had been busy all the day long, and
was glad to get back to his quiet home. His eyes brightened at the
sight of his wife and children, although he could not help uttering a
word or two of surprise, at finding the whole family in the open air,
on so bleak a day, and after sunset too. He soon perceived the little
white stranger sporting to and fro in the garden, like a dancing
snow-wreath, and the flock of snow-birds fluttering about her head.
"Pray, what little girl may that be?" inquired this very sensible man.
"Surely her mother must be crazy to let her go out in such bitter
weather as it has been to-day, with only that flimsy white gown and
those thin slippers!"
"My dear husband," said his wife, "I know no more about the little
thing than you do. Some neighbor's child, I suppose. Our Violet and
Peony," she added, laughing at herself for repeating so absurd a story,
"insist that she is nothing but a snow-image, which they have been busy
about in the garden, almost all the afternoon."
As she said this, the mother glanced her eyes toward the spot where the
children's snow-image had been made. What was her surprise, on
perceiving that there was not the slightest trace of so much labor!--no
image at all!--no piled up heap of snow!--nothing whatever, save the
prints of little footsteps around a vacant space!
"This is very strange!" said she.
"What is strange, dear mother?" asked Violet. "Dear father, do not you
see how it is? This is our snow-image, which Peony and I have made,
because we wanted another playmate. Did not we, Peony?"
"Yes, papa," said crimson Peony. "This be our 'ittle snow-sister. Is
she not beau-ti-ful? But she gave me such a cold kiss!"
"Poh, nonsense, children!" cried their good, honest father, who, as we
have already intimated, had an exceedingly common-sensible way of
looking at matters. "Do not tell me of making live figures out of snow.
Come, wife; this little stranger must not stay out in the bleak air a
moment longer. We will bring her into the parlor; and you shall give
her a supper of warm bread and milk, and make her as comfortable as you
can. Meanwhile, I will inquire among the neighbors; or, if necessary,
send the city-crier about the streets, to give notice of a lost child."
So saying, this honest and very kind-hearted man was going toward the
little white damsel, with the best intentions in the world. But Violet
and Peony, each seizing their father by the hand, earnestly besought
him not to make her come in.
"Dear father," cried Violet, putting herself before him, "it is true
what I have been telling you! This is our little snow-girl, and she
cannot live any longer than while she breathes the cold west-wind. Do
not make her come into the hot room!"
"Yes, father," shouted Peony, stamping his little foot, so mightily was
he in earnest, "this be nothing but our 'ittle snow-child! She will not
love the hot fire!"
"Nonsense, children, nonsense, nonsense!" cried the father, half vexed,
half laughing at what he considered their foolish obstinacy. "Run into
the house, this moment! It is too late to play any longer, now. I must
take care of this little girl immediately, or she will catch her
"Husband! dear husband!" said his wife, in a low voice,--for she had
been looking narrowly at the snow-child, and was more perplexed than
ever,--"there is something very singular in all this. You will think me
foolish,--but--but--may it not be that some invisible angel has been
attracted by the simplicity and good faith with which our children set
about their undertaking? May he not have spent an hour of his
immortality in playing with those dear little souls? and so the result
is what we call a miracle. No, no! Do not laugh at me; I see what a
foolish thought it is!"
"My dear wife," replied the husband, laughing heartily, "you are as
much a child as Violet and Peony."
And in one sense so she was, for all through life she had kept her
heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as pure and
clear as crystal; and, looking at all matters through this transparent
medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound that other people laughed
at them as nonsense and absurdity.
But now kind Mr. Lindsey had entered the garden, breaking away from his
two children, who still sent their shrill voices after him, beseeching
him to let the snow-child stay and enjoy herself in the cold west-wind.
As he approached, the snow-birds took to flight. The little white
damsel, also, fled backward, shaking her head, as if to say, "Pray, do
not touch me!" and roguishly, as it appeared, leading him through the
deepest of the snow. Once, the good man stumbled, and floundered down
upon his face, so that, gathering himself up again, with the snow
sticking to his rough pilot-cloth sack, he looked as white and wintry
as a snow-image of the largest size. Some of the neighbors, meanwhile,
seeing him from their windows, wondered what could possess poor Mr.
Lindsey to be running about his garden in pursuit of a snow-drift,
which the west-wind was driving hither and thither! At length, after a
vast deal of trouble, he chased the little stranger into a corner,
where she could not possibly escape him. His wife had been looking on,
and, it being nearly twilight, was wonder-struck to observe how the
snow-child gleamed and sparkled, and how she seemed to shed a glow all
round about her; and when driven into the corner, she positively
glistened like a star! It was a frosty kind of brightness, too, like
that of an icicle in the moonlight. The wife thought it strange that
good Mr. Lindsey should see nothing remarkable in the snow-child's
"Come, you odd little thing!" cried the honest man, seizing her by the
hand, "I have caught you at last, and will make you comfortable in
spite of yourself. We will put a nice warm pair of worsted stockings on
your frozen little feet, and you shall have a good thick shawl to wrap
yourself in. Your poor white nose, I am afraid, is actually
frost-bitten. But we will make it all right. Come along in."
And so, with a most benevolent smile on his sagacious visage, all
purple as it was with the cold, this very well-meaning gentleman took
the snow-child by the hand and led her towards the house. She followed
him, droopingly and reluctant; for all the glow and sparkle was gone
out of her figure; and whereas just before she had resembled a bright,
frosty, star-gemmed evening, with a crimson gleam on the cold horizon,
she now looked as dull and languid as a thaw. As kind Mr. Lindsey led
her up the steps of the door, Violet and Peony looked into his
face,--their eyes full of tears, which froze before they could run down
their cheeks,--and again entreated him not to bring their snow-image
into the house.
"Not bring her in!" exclaimed the kind-hearted man. "Why, you are
crazy, my little Violet!--quite crazy, my small Peony! She is so cold,
already, that her hand has almost frozen mine, in spite of my thick
gloves. Would you have her freeze to death?"
His wife, as he came up the steps, had been taking another long,
earnest, almost awe-stricken gaze at the little white stranger. She
hardly knew whether it was a dream or no; but she could not help
fancying that she saw the delicate print of Violet's fingers on the
child's neck. It looked just as if, while Violet was shaping out the
image, she had given it a gentle pat with her hand, and had neglected
to smooth the impression quite away.
"After all, husband," said the mother, recurring to her idea that the
angels would be as much delighted to play with Violet and Peony as she
herself was,--"after all, she does look strangely like a snow-image! I
do believe she is made of snow!"
A puff of the west-wind blew against the snow-child, and again she
sparkled like a star.
"Snow!" repeated good Mr. Lindsey, drawing the reluctant guest over his
hospitable threshold. "No wonder she looks like snow. She is half
frozen, poor little thing! But a good fire will put everything to
Without further talk, and always with the same best intentions, this
highly benevolent and common-sensible individual led the little white
damsel--drooping, drooping, drooping, more and more out of the frosty
air, and into his comfortable parlor. A Heidenberg stove, filled to the
brim with intensely burning anthracite, was sending a bright gleam
through the isinglass of its iron door, and causing the vase of water
on its top to fume and bubble with excitement. A warm, sultry smell was
diffused throughout the room. A thermometer on the wall farthest from
the stove stood at eighty degrees. The parlor was hung with red
curtains, and covered with a red carpet, and looked just as warm as it
felt. The difference betwixt the atmosphere here and the cold, wintry
twilight out of doors, was like stepping at once from Nova Zembla to
the hottest part of India, or from the North Pole into an oven. Oh,
this was a fine place for the little white stranger!
The common-sensible man placed the snow-child on the hearth-rug, right
in front of the hissing and fuming stove.
"Now she will be comfortable!" cried Mr. Lindsey, rubbing his hands and
looking about him, with the pleasantest smile you ever saw. "Make
yourself at home, my child."
Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden, as she stood on
the hearth-rug, with the hot blast of the stove striking through her
like a pestilence. Once, she threw a glance wistfully toward the
windows, and caught a glimpse, through its red curtains, of the
snow-covered roofs, and the stars glimmering frostily, and all the
delicious intensity of the cold night. The bleak wind rattled the
window-panes, as if it were summoning her to come forth. But there
stood the snow-child, drooping, before the hot stove!
But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.
"Come wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick stockings and a
woollen shawl or blanket directly; and tell Dora to give her some warm
supper as soon as the milk boils. You, Violet and Peony, amuse your
little friend. She is out of spirits, you see, at finding herself in a
strange place. For my part, I will go around among the neighbors, and
find out where she belongs."
The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl and stockings;
for her own view of the matter, however subtle and delicate, had given
way, as it always did, to the stubborn materialism of her husband.
Without heeding the remonstrances of his two children, who still kept
murmuring that their little snow-sister did not love the warmth, good
Mr. Lindsey took his departure, shutting the parlor-door carefully
behind him. Turning up the collar of his sack over his ears, he emerged
from the house, and had barely reached the street-gate, when he was
recalled by the screams of Violet and Peony, and the rapping of a
thimbled finger against the parlor window.
"Husband! husband!" cried his wife, showing her horror-stricken face
through the window-panes. "There is no need of going for the child's
"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peony, as he re-entered
the parlor. "You would bring her in; and now our poor--dear-beau-ti-ful
little snow-sister is thawed!"
And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved in tears; so
that their father, seeing what strange things occasionally happen in
this every-day world, felt not a little anxious lest his children might
be going to thaw too! In the utmost perplexity, he demanded an
explanation of his wife. She could only reply, that, being summoned to
the parlor by the cries of Violet and Peony, she found no trace of the
little white maiden, unless it were the remains of a heap of snow,
which, while she was gazing at it, melted quite away upon the
"And there you see all that is left of it!" added she, pointing to a
pool of water in front of the stove.
"Yes, father," said Violet looking reproachfully at him, through her
tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little snow-sister!"
"Naughty father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and--I shudder to
say--shaking his little fist at the common-sensible man. "We told you
how it would be! What for did you bring her in?"
And the Heidenberg stove, through the isinglass of its door, seemed to
glare at good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed demon, triumphing in the
mischief which it had done!
This, you will observe, was one of those rare cases, which yet will
occasionally happen, where common-sense finds itself at fault. The
remarkable story of the snow-image, though to that sagacious class of
people to whom good Mr. Lindsey belongs it may seem but a childish
affair, is, nevertheless, capable of being moralized in various
methods, greatly for their edification. One of its lessons, for
instance, might be, that it behooves men, and especially men of
benevolence, to consider well what they are about, and, before acting
on their philanthropic purposes, to be quite sure that they comprehend
the nature and all the relations of the business in hand. What has been
established as an element of good to one being may prove absolute
mischief to another; even as the warmth of the parlor was proper enough
for children of flesh and blood, like Violet and Peony,--though by no
means very wholesome, even for them,--but involved nothing short of
annihilation to the unfortunate snow-image.
But, after all, there is no teaching anything to wise men of good Mr.
Lindsey's stamp. They know everything,--oh, to be sure!--everything
that has been, and everything that is, and everything that, by any
future possibility, can be. And, should some phenomenon of nature or
providence transcend their system, they will not recognize it, even if
it come to pass under their very noses.
"Wife," said Mr. Lindsey, after a fit of silence, "see what a quantity
of snow the children have brought in on their feet! It has made quite a
puddle here before the stove. Pray tell Dora to bring some towels and
mop it up!"
THE GREAT STONE FACE
One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her little boy
sat at the door of their cottage, talking about the Great Stone Face.
They had but to lift their eyes, and there it was plainly to be seen,
though miles away, with the sunshine brightening all its features.
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Embosomed amongst a family of lofty mountains, there was a valley so
spacious that it contained many thousand inhabitants. Some of these
good people dwelt in log-huts, with the black forest all around them,
on the steep and difficult hill-sides. Others had their homes in
comfortable farm-houses, and cultivated the rich soil on the gentle
slopes or level surfaces of the valley. Others, again, were congregated
into populous villages, where some wild, highland rivulet, tumbling
down from its birthplace in the upper mountain region, had been caught
and tamed by human cunning, and compelled to turn the machinery of
cotton-factories. The inhabitants of this valley, in short, were
numerous, and of many modes of life. But all of them, grown people and
children, had a kind of familiarity with the Great Stone Face, although
some possessed the gift of distinguishing this grand natural phenomenon
more perfectly than many of their neighbors.
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of
majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a mountain by
some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in such a position
as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely to resemble the
features of the human countenance. It seemed as if an enormous giant,
or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness on the precipice. There was
the broad arch of the forehead, a hundred feet in height; the nose,
with its long bridge; and the vast lips, which, if they could have
spoken, would have rolled their thunder accents from one end of the
valley to the other. True it is, that if the spectator approached too
near, he lost the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern
only a heap of ponderous and gigantic rocks, piled in chaotic ruin one
upon another. Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features would
again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the more like a
human face, with all its original divinity intact, did they appear;
until, as it grew dim in the distance, with the clouds and glorified
vapor of the mountains clustering about it, the Great Stone Face seemed
positively to be alive.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or womanhood with
the Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all the features were
noble, and the expression was at once grand and sweet, as if it were
the glow of a vast, warm heart, that embraced all mankind in its
affections, and had room for more. It was an education only to look at
it. According to the belief of many people, the valley owed much of its
fertility to this benign aspect that was continually beaming over it,
illuminating the clouds, and infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.
As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at their
cottage-door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about it. The
child's name was Ernest.
"Mother," said he, while the Titanic visage smiled on him, "I wish that
it could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its voice must needs
be pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a face, I should love him
"If an old prophecy should come to pass," answered his mother, "we may
see a man, some time or other, with exactly such a face as that."
"What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?" eagerly inquired Ernest.
"Pray tell me about it!"
So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to her,
when she herself was younger than little Ernest; a story, not of things
that were past, but of what was yet to come; a story, nevertheless, so
very old, that even the Indians, who formerly inhabited this valley,
had heard it from their forefathers, to whom, as they affirmed, it had
been murmured by the mountain streams, and whispered by the wind among
the tree-tops. The purport was, that, at some future day, a child
should be born hereabouts, who was destined to become the greatest and
noblest personage of his time, and whose countenance, in manhood,
should bear an exact resemblance to the Great Stone Face. Not a few
old-fashioned people, and young ones likewise, in the ardor of their
hopes, still cherished an enduring faith in this old prophecy. But
others, who had seen more of the world, had watched and waited till
they were weary, and had beheld no man with such a face, nor any man
that proved to be much greater or nobler than his neighbors, concluded
it to be nothing but an idle tale. At all events, the great man of the
prophecy had not yet appeared.
"O mother, dear mother!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands above his
head, "I do hope that I shall live to see him!"
His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt that it
was wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her little boy. So
she only said to him, "Perhaps you may."
And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It was
always in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone Face. He
spent his childhood in the log-cottage where he was born, and was
dutiful to his mother, and helpful to her in many things, assisting her
much with his little hands, and more with his loving heart. In this
manner, from a happy yet often pensive child, he grew up to be a mild,
quiet, unobtrusive boy, and sun-browned with labor in the fields, but
with more intelligence brightening his aspect than is seen in many lads
who have been taught at famous schools. Yet Ernest had had no teacher,
save only that the Great Stone Face became one to him. When the toil of
the day was over, he would gaze at it for hours, until he began to
imagine that those vast features recognized him, and gave him a smile
of kindness and encouragement, responsive to his own look of
veneration. We must not take upon us to affirm that this was a mistake,
although the Face may have looked no more kindly at Ernest than at all
the world besides. But the secret was that the boy's tender and
confiding simplicity discerned what other people could not see; and
thus the love, which was meant for all, became his peculiar portion.
About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the
great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a resemblance
to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It seems that, many
years before, a young man had migrated from the valley and settled at a
distant seaport, where, after getting together a little money, he had
set up as a shopkeeper. His name--but I could never learn whether it
was his real one, or a nickname that had grown out of his habits and
success in life--was Gathergold. Being shrewd and active, and endowed
by Providence with that inscrutable faculty which develops itself in
what the world calls luck, he became an exceedingly rich merchant, and
owner of a whole fleet of bulky-bottomed ships. All the countries of
the globe appeared to join hands for the mere purpose of adding heap
after heap to the mountainous accumulation of this one man's wealth.
The cold regions of the north, almost within the gloom and shadow of
the Arctic Circle, sent him their tribute in the shape of furs; hot
Africa sifted for him the golden sands of her rivers, and gathered up
the ivory tusks of her great elephants out of the forests; the East
came bringing him the rich shawls, and spices, and teas, and the
effulgence of diamonds, and the gleaming purity of large pearls. The
ocean, not to be behindhand with the earth, yielded up her mighty
whales, that Mr. Gathergold might sell their oil, and make a profit of
it. Be the original commodity what it might, it was gold within his
grasp. It might be said of him, as of Midas in the fable, that whatever
he touched with his finger immediately glistened, and grew yellow, and
was changed at once into sterling metal, or, which suited him still
better, into piles of coin. And, when Mr. Gathergold had become so very
rich that it would have taken him a hundred years only to count his
wealth, he bethought himself of his native valley, and resolved to go
back thither, and end his days where he was born. With this purpose in
view, he sent a skilful architect to build him such a palace as should
be fit for a man of his vast wealth to live in.
As I have said above, it had already been rumored in the valley that
Mr. Gathergold had turned out to be the prophetic personage so long and
vainly looked for, and that his visage was the perfect and undeniable
similitude of the Great Stone Face. People were the more ready to
believe that this must needs be the fact, when they beheld the splendid
edifice that rose, as if by enchantment, on the site of his father's
old weatherbeaten farm-house. The exterior was of marble, so dazzlingly
white that it seemed as though the whole structure might melt away in
the sunshine, like those humbler ones which Mr. Gathergold, in his
young play-days, before his fingers were gifted with the touch of
transmutation, had been accustomed to build of snow. It had a richly
ornamented portico, supported by tall pillars, beneath which was a
lofty door, studded with silver knobs, and made of a kind of variegated
wood that had been brought from beyond the sea. The windows, from the
floor to the ceiling of each stately apartment, were composed,
respectively, of but one enormous pane of glass, so transparently pure
that it was said to be a finer medium than even the vacant atmosphere.
Hardly anybody had been permitted to see the interior of this palace;
but it was reported, and with good semblance of truth, to be far more
gorgeous than the outside, insomuch that whatever was iron or brass in
other houses was silver or gold in this; and Mr. Gathergold's
bedchamber, especially, made such a glittering appearance that no
ordinary man would have been able to close his eyes there. But, on the
other hand, Mr. Gathergold was now so inured to wealth, that perhaps he
could not have closed his eyes unless where the gleam of it was certain
to find its way beneath his eyelids.
In due time, the mansion was finished; next came the upholsterers, with
magnificent furniture; then, a whole troop of black and white servants,
the harbingers of Mr. Gathergold, who, in his own majestic person, was
expected to arrive at sunset. Our friend Ernest, meanwhile, had been
deeply stirred by the idea that the great man, the noble man, the man
of prophecy, after so many ages of delay, was at length to be made
manifest to his native valley. He knew, boy as he was, that there were
a thousand ways in which Mr. Gathergold, with his vast wealth, might
transform himself into an angel of beneficence, and assume a control
over human affairs as wide and benignant as the smile of the Great
Stone Face. Full of faith and hope, Ernest doubted not that what the
people said was true, and that now he was to behold the living likeness
of those wondrous features on the mountain-side. While the boy was
still gazing up the valley, and fancying, as he always did, that the
Great Stone Face returned his gaze and looked kindly at him, the
rumbling of wheels was heard, approaching swiftly along the winding
"Here he comes!" cried a group of people who were assembled to witness
the arrival. "Here comes the great Mr. Gathergold!"
A carriage, drawn by four horses, dashed round the turn of the road.
Within it, thrust partly out of the window, appeared the physiognomy of
the old man, with a skin as yellow as if his own Midas-hand had
transmuted it. He had a low forehead, small, sharp eyes, puckered about
with innumerable wrinkles, and very thin lips, which he made still
thinner by pressing them forcibly together.
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people. "Sure
enough, the old prophecy is true; and here we have the great man come,
And, what greatly perplexed Ernest, they seemed actually to believe
that here was the likeness which they spoke of. By the roadside there
chanced to be an old beggar-woman and two little beggar-children,
stragglers from some far-off region, who, as the carriage rolled
onward, held out their hands and lifted up their doleful voices, most
piteously beseeching charity. A yellow claw--the very same that had
clawed together so much wealth--poked itself out of the coach-window,
and dropt some copper coins upon the ground; so that, though the great
man's name seems to have been Gathergold, he might just as suitably
have been nicknamed Scattercopper. Still, nevertheless, with an earnest
shout, and evidently with as much good faith as ever, the people
bellowed, "He is the very image of the Great Stone Face!"
But Ernest turned sadly from the wrinkled shrewdness of that sordid
visage, and gazed up the valley, where, amid a gathering mist, gilded
by the last sunbeams, he could still distinguish those glorious
features which had impressed themselves into his soul. Their aspect
cheered him. What did the benign lips seem to say?
"He will come! Fear not, Ernest; the man will come!"
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown to be a
young man now. He attracted little notice from the other inhabitants of
the valley; for they saw nothing remarkable in his way of life save
that, when the labor of the day was over, he still loved to go apart
and gaze and meditate upon the Great Stone Face. According to their
idea of the matter, it was a folly, indeed, but pardonable, inasmuch as
Ernest was industrious, kind, and neighborly, and neglected no duty for
the sake of indulging this idle habit. They knew not that the Great
Stone Face had become a teacher to him, and that the sentiment which
was expressed in it would enlarge the young man's heart, and fill it
with wider and deeper sympathies than other hearts. They knew not that
thence would come a better wisdom than could be learned from books, and
a better life than could be moulded on the defaced example of other
human lives. Neither did Ernest know that the thoughts and affections
which came to him so naturally, in the fields and at the fireside, and
wherever he communed with himself, were of a higher tone than those
which all men shared with him. A simple soul,--simple as when his
mother first taught him the old prophecy,--he beheld the marvellous
features beaming adown the valley, and still wondered that their human
counterpart was so long in making his appearance.
By this time poor Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried; and the oddest
part of the matter was, that his wealth, which was the body and spirit
of his existence, had disappeared before his death, leaving nothing of
him but a living skeleton, covered over with a wrinkled yellow skin.
Since the melting away of his gold, it had been very generally conceded
that there was no such striking resemblance, after all, betwixt the
ignoble features of the ruined merchant and that majestic face upon the
mountain-side. So the people ceased to honor him during his lifetime,
and quietly consigned him to forgetfulness after his decease. Once in a
while, it is true, his memory was brought up in connection with the
magnificent palace which he had built, and which had long ago been
turned into a hotel for the accommodation of strangers, multitudes of
whom came, every summer, to visit that famous natural curiosity, the
Great Stone Face. Thus, Mr. Gathergold being discredited and thrown
into the shade, the man of prophecy was yet to come.
It so happened that a native-born son of the valley, many years before,
had enlisted as a soldier, and, after a great deal of hard fighting,
had now become an illustrious commander. Whatever he may be called in
history, he was known in camps and on the battle-field under the
nickname of Old Blood-and-Thunder. This war-worn veteran being now
infirm with age and wounds, and weary of the turmoil of a military
life, and of the roll of the drum and the clangor of the trumpet, that
had so long been ringing in his ears, had lately signified a purpose of
returning to his native valley, hoping to find repose where he
remembered to have left it. The inhabitants, his old neighbors and
their grown-up children, were resolved to welcome the renowned warrior
with a salute of cannon and a public dinner; and all the more
enthusiastically, it being affirmed that now, at last, the likeness of
the Great Stone Face had actually appeared. An aid-de-camp of Old
Blood-and-Thunder, travelling through the valley, was said to have been
struck with the resemblance. Moreover the schoolmates and early
acquaintances of the general were ready to testify, on oath, that, to
the best of their recollection, the aforesaid general had been
exceedingly like the majestic image, even when a boy, only the idea had
never occurred to them at that period. Great, therefore, was the
excitement throughout the valley; and many people, who had never once
thought of glancing at the Great Stone Face for years before, now spent
their time in gazing at it, for the sake of knowing exactly how General
On the day of the great festival, Ernest, with all the other people of
the valley, left their work, and proceeded to the spot where the sylvan
banquet was prepared. As he approached, the loud voice of the Rev. Dr.
Battleblast was heard, beseeching a blessing on the good things set
before them, and on the distinguished friend of peace in whose honor
they were assembled. The tables were arranged in a cleared space of the
woods, shut in by the surrounding trees, except where a vista opened
eastward, and afforded a distant view of the Great Stone Face. Over the
general's chair, which was a relic from the home of Washington, there
was an arch of verdant boughs, with the laurel profusely intermixed,
and surmounted by his country's banner, beneath which he had won his
victories. Our friend Ernest raised himself on his tiptoes, in hopes to
get a glimpse of the celebrated guest; but there was a mighty crowd
about the tables anxious to hear the toasts and speeches, and to catch
any word that might fall from the general in reply; and a volunteer
company, doing duty as a guard, pricked ruthlessly with their bayonets
at any particularly quiet person among the throng. So Ernest, being of
an unobtrusive character, was thrust quite into the background, where
he could see no more of Old Blood-and-Thunder's physiognomy than if it
had been still blazing on the battle-field. To console himself, he
turned towards the Great Stone Face, which, like a faithful and long
remembered friend, looked back and smiled upon him through the vista of
the forest. Meantime, however, he could overhear the remarks of various
individuals, who were comparing the features of the hero with the face
on the distant mountain-side.
"'Tis the same face, to a hair!" cried one man, cutting a caper for joy.
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact!" responded another.
"Like! why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a monstrous
looking-glass!" cried a third. "And why not? He's the greatest man of
this or any other age, beyond a doubt."
And then all three of the speakers gave a great shout, which
communicated electricity to the crowd, and called forth a roar from a
thousand voices, that went reverberating for miles among the mountains,
until you might have supposed that the Great Stone Face had poured its
thunderbreath into the cry. All these comments, and this vast
enthusiasm, served the more to interest our friend; nor did he think of
questioning that now, at length, the mountain-visage had found its
human counterpart. It is true, Ernest had imagined that this
long-looked-for personage would appear in the character of a man of
peace, uttering wisdom, and doing good, and making people happy. But,
taking an habitual breadth of view, with all his simplicity, he
contended that Providence should choose its own method of blessing
mankind, and could conceive that this great end might be effected even
by a warrior and a bloody sword, should inscrutable wisdom see fit to
order matters so.
"The general! the general!" was now the cry. "Hush! silence! Old
Blood-and-Thunder's going to make a speech."
Even so; for, the cloth being removed, the general's health had been
drunk, amid shouts of applause, and he now stood upon his feet to thank
the company. Ernest saw him. There he was, over the shoulders of the
crowd, from the two glittering epaulets and embroidered collar upward,
beneath the arch of green boughs with intertwined laurel, and the
banner drooping as if to shade his brow! And there, too, visible in the
same glance, through the vista of the forest, appeared the Great Stone
Face! And was there, indeed, such a resemblance as the crowd had
testified? Alas, Ernest could not recognize it! He beheld a war-worn
and weatherbeaten countenance, full of energy, and expressive of an
iron will; but the gentle wisdom, the deep, broad, tender sympathies,
were altogether wanting in Old Blood-and-Thunder's visage; and even if
the Great Stone Face had assumed his look of stern command, the milder
traits would still have tempered it.
"This is not the man of prophecy," sighed Ernest to himself, as he made
his way out of the throng. "And must the world wait longer yet?"
The mists had congregated about the distant mountain-side, and there
were seen the grand and awful features of the Great Stone Face, awful
but benignant, as if a mighty angel were sitting among the hills, and
enrobing himself in a cloud-vesture of gold and purple. As he looked,
Ernest could hardly believe but that a smile beamed over the whole
visage, with a radiance still brightening, although without motion of
the lips. It was probably the effect of the western sunshine, melting
through the thinly diffused vapors that had swept between him and the
object that he gazed at. But--as it always did--the aspect of his
marvellous friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he had never hoped in
"Fear not, Ernest," said his heart, even as if the Great Face were
whispering him,--"fear not, Ernest; he will come."
More years sped swiftly and tranquilly away. Ernest still dwelt in his
native valley, and was now a man of middle age. By imperceptible
degrees, he had become known among the people. Now, as heretofore, he
labored for his bread, and was the same simple-hearted man that he had
always been. But he had thought and felt so much, he had given so many
of the best hours of his life to unworldly hopes for some great good to
mankind, that it seemed as though he had been talking with the angels,
and had imbibed a portion of their wisdom unawares. It was visible in
the calm and well-considered beneficence of his daily life, the quiet
stream of which had made a wide green margin all along its course. Not
a day passed by, that the world was not the better because this man,
humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped aside from his own path,
yet would always reach a blessing to his neighbor. Almost involuntarily
too, he had become a preacher. The pure and high simplicity of his
thought, which, as one of its manifestations, took shape in the good
deeds that dropped silently from his hand, flowed also forth in speech.
He uttered truths that wrought upon and moulded the lives of those who
heard him. His auditors, it may be, never suspected that Ernest, their
own neighbor and familiar friend, was more than an ordinary man; least
of all did Ernest himself suspect it; but, inevitably as the murmur of
a rivulet, came thoughts out of his mouth that no other human lips had
When the people's minds had had a little time to cool, they were ready
enough to acknowledge their mistake in imagining a similarity between
General Blood-and-Thunder's truculent physiognomy and the benign visage
on the mountain-side. But now, again, there were reports and many
paragraphs in the newspapers, affirming that the likeness of the Great
Stone Face had appeared upon the broad shoulders of a certain eminent
statesman. He, like Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder, was a
native of the valley, but had left it in his early days, and taken up
the trades of law and politics. Instead of the rich man's wealth and
the warrior's sword, he had but a tongue, and it was mightier than both
together. So wonderfully eloquent was he, that whatever he might choose
to say, his auditors had no choice but to believe him; wrong looked
like right, and right like wrong; for when it pleased him, he could
make a kind of illuminated fog with his mere breath, and obscure the
natural daylight with it. His tongue, indeed, was a magic instrument:
sometimes it rumbled like the thunder; sometimes it warbled like the
sweetest music. It was the blast of war, the song of peace; and it
seemed to have a heart in it, when there was no such matter. In good
truth, he was a wondrous man; and when his tongue had acquired him all
other imaginable success,--when it had been heard in halls of state,
and in the courts of princes and potentates,--after it had made him
known all over the world, even as a voice crying from shore to
shore,--it finally persuaded his countrymen to select him for the
Presidency. Before this time,--indeed, as soon as he began to grow
celebrated,--his admirers had found out the resemblance between him and
the Great Stone Face; and so much were they struck by it, that
throughout the country this distinguished gentleman was known by the
name of Old Stony Phiz. The phrase was considered as giving a highly
favorable aspect to his political prospects; for, as is likewise the
case with the Popedom, nobody ever becomes President without taking a
name other than his own.
While his friends were doing their best to make him President, Old
Stony Phiz, as he was called, set out on a visit to the valley where he
was born. Of course, he had no other object than to shake hands with
his fellow-citizens and neither thought nor cared about any effect
which his progress through the country might have upon the election.
Magnificent preparations were made to receive the illustrious
statesman; a cavalcade of horsemen set forth to meet him at the
boundary line of the State, and all the people left their business and
gathered along the wayside to see him pass. Among these was Ernest.
Though more than once disappointed, as we have seen, he had such a
hopeful and confiding nature, that he was always ready to believe in
whatever seemed beautiful and good. He kept his heart continually open,
and thus was sure to catch the blessing from on high when it should
come. So now again, as buoyantly as ever, he went forth to behold the
likeness of the Great Stone Face.
The cavalcade came prancing along the road, with a great clattering of
hoofs and a mighty cloud of dust, which rose up so dense and high that
the visage of the mountain-side was completely hidden from Ernest's
eyes. All the great men of the neighborhood were there on horseback;
militia officers, in uniform; the member of Congress; the sheriff of
the county; the editors of newspapers; and many a farmer, too, had
mounted his patient steed, with his Sunday coat upon his back. It
really was a very brilliant spectacle, especially as there were
numerous banners flaunting over the cavalcade, on some of which were
gorgeous portraits of the illustrious statesman and the Great Stone
Face, smiling familiarly at one another, like two brothers. If the
pictures were to be trusted, the mutual resemblance, it must be
confessed, was marvellous. We must not forget to mention that there was
a band of music, which made the echoes of the mountains ring and
reverberate with the loud triumph of its strains; so that airy and
soul-thrilling melodies broke out among all the heights and hollows, as
if every nook of his native valley had found a voice, to welcome the
distinguished guest. But the grandest effect was when the far-off
mountain precipice flung back the music; for then the Great Stone Face
itself seemed to be swelling the triumphant chorus, in acknowledgment
that, at length, the man of prophecy was come.
All this while the people were throwing up their hats and shouting with
enthusiasm so contagious that the heart of Ernest kindled up, and he
likewise threw up his hat, and shouted, as loudly as the loudest,
"Huzza for the great man! Huzza for Old Stony Phiz!" But as yet he had
not seen him.
"Here he is, now!" cried those who stood near Ernest. "There! There!
Look at Old Stony Phiz and then at the Old Man of the Mountain, and see
if they are not as like as two twin-brothers!"
In the midst of all this gallant array came an open barouche, drawn by
four white horses; and in the barouche, with his massive head
uncovered, sat the illustrious statesman, Old Stony Phiz himself.
"Confess it," said one of Ernest's neighbors to him, "the Great Stone
Face has met its match at last!"
Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the countenance
which was bowing and smiling from the barouche, Ernest did fancy that
there was a resemblance between it and the old familiar face upon the
mountain-side. The brow, with its massive depth and loftiness, and all
the other features, indeed, were boldly and strongly hewn, as if in
emulation of a more than heroic, of a Titanic model. But the sublimity
and stateliness, the grand expression of a divine sympathy, that
illuminated the mountain visage and etherealized its ponderous granite
substance into spirit, might here be sought in vain. Something had been
originally left out, or had departed. And therefore the marvellously
gifted statesman had always a weary gloom in the deep caverns of his
eyes, as of a child that has outgrown its playthings or a man of mighty
faculties and little aims, whose life, with all its high performances,
was vague and empty, because no high purpose had endowed it with
Still, Ernest's neighbor was thrusting his elbow into his side, and
pressing him for an answer.
"Confess! confess! Is not he the very picture of your Old Man of the
"No!" said Ernest bluntly, "I see little or no likeness."
"Then so much the worse for the Great Stone Face!" answered his
neighbor; and again he set up a shout for Old Stony Phiz.
But Ernest turned away, melancholy, and almost despondent: for this was
the saddest of his disappointments, to behold a man who might have
fulfilled the prophecy, and had not willed to do so. Meantime, the
cavalcade, the banners, the music, and the barouches swept past him,
with the vociferous crowd in the rear, leaving the dust to settle down,
and the Great Stone Face to be revealed again, with the grandeur that
it had worn for untold centuries.
"Lo, here I am, Ernest!" the benign lips seemed to say. "I have waited
longer than thou, and am not yet weary. Fear not; the man will come."
The years hurried onward, treading in their haste on one another's
heels. And now they began to bring white hairs, and scatter them over
the head of Ernest; they made reverend wrinkles across his forehead,
and furrows in his cheeks. He was an aged man. But not in vain had he
grown old: more than the white hairs on his head were the sage thoughts
in his mind; his wrinkles and furrows were inscriptions that Time had
graved, and in which he had written legends of wisdom that had been
tested by the tenor of a life. And Ernest had ceased to be obscure.
Unsought for, undesired, had come the fame which so many seek, and made
him known in the great world, beyond the limits of the valley in which
he had dwelt so quietly. College professors, and even the active men of
cities, came from far to see and converse with Ernest; for the report
had gone abroad that this simple husbandman had ideas unlike those of
other men, not gained from books, but of a higher tone,--a tranquil and
familiar majesty, as if he had been talking with the angels as his
daily friends. Whether it were sage, statesman, or philanthropist,
Ernest received these visitors with the gentle sincerity that had
characterized him from boyhood, and spoke freely with them of whatever
came uppermost, or lay deepest in his heart or their own. While they
talked together, his face would kindle, unawares, and shine upon them,
as with a mild evening light. Pensive with the fulness of such
discourse, his guests took leave and went their way; and passing up the
valley, paused to look at the Great Stone Face, imagining that they had
seen its likeness in a human countenance, but could not remember where.
While Ernest had been growing up and growing old, a bountiful
Providence had granted a new poet to this earth. He likewise, was a
native of the valley, but had spent the greater part of his life at a
distance from that romantic region, pouring out his sweet music amid
the bustle and din of cities. Often, however, did the mountains which
had been familiar to him in his childhood lift their snowy peaks into
the clear atmosphere of his poetry. Neither was the Great Stone Face
forgotten, for the poet had celebrated it in an ode, which was grand
enough to have been uttered by its own majestic lips. This man of
genius, we may say, had come down from heaven with wonderful
endowments. If he sang of a mountain, the eyes of all mankind beheld a
mightier grandeur reposing on its breast, or soaring to its summit,
than had before been seen there. If his theme were a lovely lake, a
celestial smile had now been thrown over it, to gleam forever on its
surface. If it were the vast old sea, even the deep immensity of its
dread bosom seemed to swell the higher, as if moved by the emotions of
the song. Thus the world assumed another and a better aspect from the
hour that the poet blessed it with his happy eyes. The Creator had
bestowed him, as the last best touch to his own handiwork. Creation was
not finished till the poet came to interpret, and so complete it.
The effect was no less high and beautiful, when his human brethren were
the subject of his verse. The man or woman, sordid with the common dust
of life, who crossed his daily path, and the little child who played in
it, were glorified if he beheld them in his mood of poetic faith. He
showed the golden links of the great chain that intertwined them with
an angelic kindred; he brought out the hidden traits of a celestial
birth that made them worthy of such kin. Some, indeed, there were, who
thought to show the soundness of their judgment by affirming that all
the beauty and dignity of the natural world existed only in the poet's
fancy. Let such men speak for themselves, who undoubtedly appear to
have been spawned forth by Nature with a contemptuous bitterness; she
having plastered them up out of her refuse stuff, after all the swine
were made. As respects all things else, the poet's ideal was the truest
The songs of this poet found their way to Ernest. He read them after
his customary toil, seated on the bench before his cottage-door, where
for such a length of time he had filled his repose with thought, by
gazing at the Great Stone Face. And now as he read stanzas that caused
the soul to thrill within him, he lifted his eyes to the vast
countenance beaming on him so benignantly.
"O majestic friend," he murmured, addressing the Great Stone Face, "is
not this man worthy to resemble thee?"
The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.
Now it happened that the poet, though he dwelt so far away, had not
only heard of Ernest, but had meditated much upon his character, until
he deemed nothing so desirable as to meet this man, whose untaught
wisdom walked hand in hand with the noble simplicity of his life. One
summer morning, therefore, he took passage by the railroad, and, in the
decline of the afternoon, alighted from the cars at no great distance
from Ernest's cottage. The great hotel, which had formerly been the
palace of Mr. Gathergold, was close at hand, but the poet, with his
carpet-bag on his arm, inquired at once where Ernest dwelt, and was
resolved to be accepted as his guest.
Approaching the door, he there found the good old man, holding a volume
in his hand, which alternately he read, and then, with a finger between
the leaves, looked lovingly at the Great Stone Face.
"Good evening," said the poet. "Can you give a traveller a night's
"Willingly," answered Ernest; and then he added, smiling, "Methinks I
never saw the Great Stone Face look so hospitably at a stranger."
The poet sat down on the bench beside him, and he and Ernest talked
together. Often had the poet held intercourse with the wittiest and the
wisest, but never before with a man like Ernest, whose thoughts and
feelings gushed up with such a natural freedom, and who made great
truths so familiar by his simple utterance of them. Angels, as had been
so often said, seemed to have wrought with him at his labor in the
fields; angels seemed to have sat with him by the fireside; and,
dwelling with angels as friend with friends, he had imbibed the
sublimity of their ideas, and imbued it with the sweet and lowly charm
of household words. So thought the poet. And Ernest, on the other hand,
was moved and agitated by the living images which the poet flung out of
his mind, and which peopled all the air about the cottage-door with
shapes of beauty, both gay and pensive. The sympathies of these two men
instructed them with a profounder sense than either could have attained
alone. Their minds accorded into one strain, and made delightful music
which neither of them could have claimed as all his own, nor
distinguished his own share from the other's. They led one another, as
it were, into a high pavilion of their thoughts, so remote, and
hitherto so dim, that they had never entered it before, and so
beautiful that they desired to be there always.
As Ernest listened to the poet, he imagined that the Great Stone Face
was bending forward to listen too. He gazed earnestly into the poet's
"Who are you, my strangely gifted guest?" he said.
The poet laid his finger on the volume that Ernest had been reading.
"You have read these poems," said he. "You know me, then,--for I wrote
Again, and still more earnestly than before, Ernest examined the poet's
features; then turned towards the Great Stone Face; then back, with an
uncertain aspect, to his guest. But his countenance fell; he shook his
head, and sighed.
"Wherefore are you sad?" inquired the poet.
"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the
fulfilment of a prophecy; and, when I read these poems, I hoped that it
might be fulfilled in you."
"You hoped," answered the poet, faintly smiling, "to find in me the
likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed, as formerly
with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, and Old Stony Phiz.
Yes, Ernest, it is my doom. You must add my name to the illustrious
three, and record another failure of your hopes. For--in shame and
sadness do I speak it, Ernest--I am not worthy to be typified by yonder
benign and majestic image."
"And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. "Are not those
"They have a strain of the Divinity," replied the poet. "You can hear
in them the far-off echo of a heavenly song. But my life, dear Ernest,
has not corresponded with my thought. I have had grand dreams, but they
have been only dreams, because I have lived--and that, too, by my own
choice--among poor and mean realities. Sometimes even--shall I dare to
say it?--I lack faith in the grandeur, the beauty, and the goodness,
which my own words are said to have made more evident in nature and in
human life. Why, then, pure seeker of the good and true, shouldst thou
hope to find me, in yonder image of the divine?"
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So, likewise,
were those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom, Ernest was
to discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring inhabitants in the
open air. He and the poet, arm in arm, still talking together as they
went along, proceeded to the spot. It was a small nook among the hills,
with a gray precipice behind, the stern front of which was relieved by
the pleasant foliage of many creeping plants that made a tapestry for
the naked rock, by hanging their festoons from all its rugged angles.
At a small elevation above the ground, set in a rich framework of
verdure, there appeared a niche, spacious enough to admit a human
figure, with freedom for such gestures as spontaneously accompany
earnest thought and genuine emotion. Into this natural pulpit Ernest
ascended, and threw a look of familiar kindness around upon his
audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined upon the grass, as seemed
good to each, with the departing sunshine falling obliquely over them,
and mingling its subdued cheerfulness with the solemnity of a grove of
ancient trees, beneath and amid the boughs of which the golden rays
were constrained to pass. In another direction was seen the Great Stone
Face, with the same cheer, combined with the same solemnity, in its
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his heart
and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with his thoughts;
and his thoughts had reality and depth, because they harmonized with
the life which he had always lived. It was not mere breath that this
preacher uttered; they were the words of life, because a life of good
deeds and holy love was melted into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had
been dissolved into this precious draught. The poet, as he listened,
felt that the being and character of Ernest were a nobler strain of
poetry than he had ever written. His eyes glistening with tears, he
gazed reverentially at the venerable man, and said within himself that
never was there an aspect so worthy of a prophet and a sage as that
mild, sweet, thoughtful countenance, with the glory of white hair
diffused about it. At a distance, but distinctly to be seen, high up in
the golden light of the setting sun, appeared the Great Stone Face,
with hoary mists around it, like the white hairs around the brow of
Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence seemed to embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to utter,
the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with
benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms
aloft and shouted, "Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of
the Great Stone Face!"
Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted poet
said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest, having finished
what he had to say, took the poet's arm, and walked slowly homeward,
still hoping that some wiser and better man than himself would by and
by appear, bearing a resemblance to the GREAT STONE FACE.
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
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
The summer moon, which shines in so many a tale, was beaming over a
broad extent of uneven country. Some of its brightest rays were flung
into a spring of water, where no traveller, toiling, as the writer has,
up the hilly road beside which it gushes, ever failed to quench his
thirst. The work of neat hands and considerate art was visible about
this blessed fountain. An open cistern, hewn and hollowed out of solid
stone, was placed above the waters, which filled it to the brim, but by
some invisible outlet were conveyed away without dripping down its
sides. Though the basin had not room for another drop, and the
continual gush of water made a tremor on the surface, there was a
secret charm that forbade it to overflow. I remember, that when I had
slaked my summer thirst, and sat panting by the cistern, it was my
fanciful theory that Nature could not afford to lavish so pure a
liquid, as she does the waters of all meaner fountains.
While the moon was hanging almost perpendicularly over this spot, two
figures appeared on the summit of the hill, and came with noiseless
footsteps down towards the spring. They were then in the first
freshness of youth; nor is there a wrinkle now on either of their
brows, and yet they wore a strange, old-fashioned garb. One, a young
man with ruddy cheeks, walked beneath the canopy of a broad-brimmed
gray hat; he seemed to have inherited his great-grandsire's
square-skirted coat, and a waistcoat that extended its immense flaps to
his knees; his brown locks, also, hung down behind, in a mode unknown
to our times. By his side was a sweet young damsel, her fair features
sheltered by a prim little bonnet, within which appeared the vestal
muslin of a cap; her close, long-waisted gown, and indeed her whole
attire, might have been worn by some rustic beauty who had faded half a
century before. But that there was something too warm and life-like in
them, I would here have compared this couple to the ghosts of two young
lovers who had died long since in the glow of passion, and now were
straying out of their graves, to renew the old vows, and shadow forth
the unforgotten kiss of their earthly lips, beside the moonlit spring.
"Thee and I will rest here a moment, Miriam," said the young man, as
they drew near the stone cistern, "for there is no fear that the elders
know what we have done; and this may be the last time we shall ever
taste this water."
Thus speaking, with a little sadness in his face, which was also
visible in that of his companion, he made her sit down on a stone, and
was about to place himself very close to her side; she, however,
repelled him, though not unkindly.
"Nay, Josiah," said she, giving him a timid push with her maiden hand,
"thee must sit farther off, on that other stone, with the spring
between us. What would the sisters say, if thee were to sit so close to
"But we are of the world's people now, Miriam," answered Josiah.
The girl persisted in her prudery, nor did the youth, in fact, seem
altogether free from a similar sort of shyness; so they sat apart from
each other, gazing up the hill, where the moonlight discovered the tops
of a group of buildings. While their attention was thus occupied, a
party of travellers, who had come wearily up the long ascent, made a
halt to refresh themselves at the spring. There were three men, a
woman, and a little girl and boy. Their attire was mean, covered with
the dust of the summer's day, and damp with the night-dew; they all
looked woebegone, as if the cares and sorrows of the world had made
their steps heavier as they climbed the hill; even the two little
children appeared older in evil days than the young man and maiden who
had first approached the spring.
"Good evening to you, young folks," was the salutation of the
travellers; and "Good evening, friends," replied the youth and damsel.
"Is that white building the Shaker meeting-house?" asked one of the
strangers. "And are those the red roofs of the Shaker village?"
"Friend, it is the Shaker village," answered Josiah, after some
The travellers, who, from the first, had looked suspiciously at the
garb of these young people, now taxed them with an intention which all
the circumstances, indeed, rendered too obvious to be mistaken.
"It is true, friends," replied the young man, summoning up his courage.
"Miriam and I have a gift to love each other, and we are going among
the world's people, to live after their fashion. And ye know that we do
not transgress the law of the land; and neither ye, nor the elders
themselves, have a right to hinder us."
"Yet you think it expedient to depart without leave-taking," remarked
one of the travellers.
"Yea, ye-a," said Josiah, reluctantly, "because father Job is a very
awful man to speak with; and being aged himself, he has but little
charity for what he calls the iniquities of the flesh."
"Well," said the stranger, "we will neither use force to bring you back
to the village, nor will we betray you to the elders. But sit you here
awhile, and when you have heard what we shall tell you of the world
which we have left, and into which you are going, perhaps you will turn
back with us of your own accord. What say you?" added he, turning to
his companions. "We have travelled thus far without becoming known to
each other. Shall we tell our stories, here by this pleasant spring,
for our own pastime, and the benefit of these misguided young lovers?"
In accordance with this proposal, the whole party stationed themselves
round the stone cistern; the two children, being very weary, fell
asleep upon the damp earth, and the pretty Shaker girl, whose feelings
were those of a nun or a Turkish lady, crept as close as possible to
the female traveller, and as far as she well could from the unknown
men. The same person who had hitherto been the chief spokesman now
stood up, waving his hat in his hand, and suffered the moonlight to
fall full upon his front.
"In me," said he, with a certain majesty of utterance,--"in me, you
behold a poet."
Though a lithographic print of this gentleman is extant, it may be well
to notice that he was now nearly forty, a thin and stooping figure, in
a black coat, out at elbows; notwithstanding the ill condition of his
attire, there were about him several tokens of a peculiar sort of
foppery, unworthy of a mature man, particularly in the arrangement of
his hair which was so disposed as to give all possible loftiness and
breadth to his forehead. However, he had an intelligent eye, and, on
the whole, a marked countenance.
"A poet!" repeated the young Shaker, a little puzzled how to understand
such a designation, seldom heard in the utilitarian community where he
had spent his life. "Oh, ay, Miriam, he means a varse-maker, thee must
This remark jarred upon the susceptible nerves of the poet; nor could
he help wondering what strange fatality had put into this young man's
mouth an epithet, which ill-natured people had affirmed to be more
proper to his merit than the one assumed by himself.
"True, I am a verse-maker," he resumed, "but my verse is no more than
the material body into which I breathe the celestial soul of thought.
Alas! how many a pang has it cost me, this same insensibility to the
ethereal essence of poetry, with which you have here tortured me again,
at the moment when I am to relinquish my profession forever! O Fate!
why hast thou warred with Nature, turning all her higher and more
perfect gifts to the ruin of me, their possessor? What is the voice of
song, when the world lacks the ear of taste? How can I rejoice in my
strength and delicacy of feeling, when they have but made great sorrows
out of little ones? Have I dreaded scorn like death, and yearned for
fame as others pant for vital air, only to find myself in a middle
state between obscurity and infamy? But I have my revenge! I could have
given existence to a thousand bright creations. I crush them into my
heart, and there let them putrefy! I shake off the dust of my feet
against my countrymen! But posterity, tracing my footsteps up this
weary hill, will cry shame upon the unworthy age that drove one of the
fathers of American song to end his days in a Shaker village!"
During this harangue, the speaker gesticulated with great energy, and,
as poetry is the natural language of passion, there appeared reason to
apprehend his final explosion into an ode extempore. The reader must
understand that, for all these bitter words, he was a kind, gentle,
harmless, poor fellow enough, whom Nature, tossing her ingredients
together without looking at her recipe, had sent into the world with
too much of one sort of brain, and hardly any of another.
"Friend," said the young Shaker, in some perplexity, "thee seemest to
have met with great troubles; and, doubtless, I should pity them,
if--if I could but understand what they were."
"Happy in your ignorance!" replied the poet, with an air of sublime
superiority. "To your coarser mind, perhaps, I may seem to speak of
more important griefs when I add, what I had well-nigh forgotten, that
I am out at elbows, and almost starved to death. At any rate, you have
the advice and example of one individual to warn you back; for I am
come hither, a disappointed man, flinging aside the fragments of my
hopes, and seeking shelter in the calm retreat which you are so anxious
"I thank thee, friend," rejoined the youth, "but I do not mean to be a
poet, nor, Heaven be praised! do I think Miriam ever made a varse in
her life. So we need not fear thy disappointments. But, Miriam," he
added, with real concern, "thee knowest that the elders admit nobody
that has not a gift to be useful. Now, what under the sun can they do
with this poor varse-maker?"
"Nay, Josiah, do not thee discourage the poor man," said the girl, in
all simplicity and kindness. "Our hymns are very rough, and perhaps
they may trust him to smooth them."
Without noticing this hint of professional employment, the poet turned
away, and gave himself up to a sort of vague reverie, which he called
thought. Sometimes he watched the moon, pouring a silvery liquid on the
clouds, through which it slowly melted till they became all bright;
then he saw the same sweet radiance dancing on the leafy trees which
rustled as if to shake it off, or sleeping on the high tops of hills,
or hovering down in distant valleys, like the material of unshaped
dreams; lastly, he looked into the spring, and there the light was
mingling with the water. In its crystal bosom, too, beholding all
heaven reflected there, he found an emblem of a pure and tranquil
breast. He listened to that most ethereal of all sounds, the song of
crickets, coming in full choir upon the wind, and fancied that, if
moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like that. Finally, he
took a draught at the Shaker spring, and, as if it were the true
Castalia, was forthwith moved to compose a lyric, a Farewell to his
Harp, which he swore should be its closing strain, the last verse that
an ungrateful world should have from him. This effusion, with two or
three other little pieces, subsequently written, he took the first
opportunity to send, by one of the Shaker brethren, to Concord, where
they were published in the New Hampshire Patriot.
Meantime, another of the Canterbury pilgrims, one so different from the
poet that the delicate fancy of the latter could hardly have conceived
of him, began to relate his sad experience. He was a small man, of
quick and unquiet gestures, about fifty years old, with a narrow
forehead, all wrinkled and drawn together. He held in his hand a
pencil, and a card of some commission-merchant in foreign parts, on the
back of which, for there was light enough to read or write by, he
seemed ready to figure out a calculation.
"Young man," said he, abruptly, "what quantity of land do the Shakers
own here, in Canterbury?"
"That is more than I can tell thee, friend," answered Josiah, "but it
is a very rich establishment, and for a long way by the roadside thee
may guess the land to be ours, by the neatness of the fences."
"And what may be the value of the whole," continued the stranger, "with
all the buildings and improvements, pretty nearly, in round numbers?"
"Oh, a monstrous sum,--more than I can reckon," replied the young
"Well, sir," said the pilgrim, "there was a day, and not very long ago,
neither, when I stood at my counting-room window, and watched the
signal flags of three of my own ships entering the harbor, from the
East Indies, from Liverpool, and from up the Straits, and I would not
have given the invoice of the least of them for the title-deeds of this
whole Shaker settlement. You stare. Perhaps, now, you won't believe
that I could have put more value on a little piece of paper, no bigger
than the palm of your hand, than all these solid acres of grain, grass,
and pasture-land would sell for?"
"I won't dispute it, friend," answered Josiah, "but I know I had rather
have fifty acres of this good land than a whole sheet of thy paper."
"You may say so now," said the ruined merchant, bitterly, "for my name
would not be worth the paper I should write it on. Of course, you must
have heard of my failure?"
And the stranger mentioned his name, which, however mighty it might
have been in the commercial world, the young Shaker had never heard of
among the Canterbury hills.
"Not heard of my failure!" exclaimed the merchant, considerably piqued.
"Why, it was spoken of on 'Change in London, and from Boston to New
Orleans men trembled in their shoes. At all events, I did fail, and you
see me here on my road to the Shaker village, where, doubtless (for the
Shakers are a shrewd sect), they will have a due respect for my
experience, and give me the management of the trading part of the
concern, in which case I think I can pledge myself to double their
capital in four or five years. Turn back with me, young man; for though
you will never meet with my good luck, you can hardly escape my bad."
"I will not turn back for this," replied Josiah, calmly, "any more than
for the advice of the varse-maker, between whom and thee, friend, I see
a sort of likeness, though I can't justly say where it lies. But Miriam
and I can earn our daily bread among the world's people as well as in
the Shaker village. And do we want anything more, Miriam?"
"Nothing more, Josiah," said the girl, quietly.
"Yea, Miriam, and daily bread for some other little mouths, if God send
them," observed the simple Shaker lad.
Miriam did not reply, but looked down into the spring, where she
encountered the image of her own pretty face, blushing within the prim
little bonnet. The third pilgrim now took up the conversation. He was a
sunburnt countryman, of tall frame and bony strength, on whose rude and
manly face there appeared a darker, more sullen and obstinate
despondency, than on those of either the poet or the merchant.
"Well, now, youngster," he began, "these folks have had their say, so
I'll take my turn. My story will cut but a poor figure by the side of
theirs; for I never supposed that I could have a right to meat and
drink, and great praise besides, only for tagging rhymes together, as
it seems this man does; nor ever tried to get the substance of hundreds
into my own hands, like the trader there. When I was about of your
years, I married me a wife,--just such a neat and pretty young woman as
Miriam, if that's her name,--and all I asked of Providence was an
ordinary blessing on the sweat of my brow, so that we might be decent
and comfortable, and have daily bread for ourselves, and for some other
little mouths that we soon had to feed. We had no very great prospects
before us; but I never wanted to be idle; and I thought it a matter of
course that the Lord would help me, because I was willing to help
"And didn't He help thee, friend?" demanded Josiah, with some eagerness.
"No," said the yeoman, sullenly; "for then you would not have seen me
here. I have labored hard for years; and my means have been growing
narrower, and my living poorer, and my heart colder and heavier, all
the time; till at last I could bear it no longer. I set myself down to
calculate whether I had best go on the Oregon expedition, or come here
to the Shaker village; but I had not hope enough left in me to begin
the world over again; and, to make my story short, here I am. And now,
youngster, take my advice, and turn back; or else, some few years
hence, you'll have to climb this hill, with as heavy a heart as mine."
This simple story had a strong effect on the young fugitives. The
misfortunes of the poet and merchant had won little sympathy from their
plain good sense and unworldly feelings, qualities which made them such
unprejudiced and inflexible judges, that few men would have chosen to
take the opinion of this youth and maiden as to the wisdom or folly of
their pursuits. But here was one whose simple wishes had resembled
their own, and who, after efforts which almost gave him a right to
claim success from fate, had failed in accomplishing them.
"But thy wife, friend?" exclaimed the younger man. "What became of the
pretty girl, like Miriam? Oh, I am afraid she is dead!"
"Yea, poor man, she must be dead,--she and the children, too," sobbed
The female pilgrim had been leaning over the spring, wherein latterly a
tear or two might have been seen to fall, and form its little circle on
the surface of the water. She now looked up, disclosing features still
comely, but which had acquired an expression of fretfulness, in the
same long course of evil fortune that had thrown a sullen gloom over
the temper of the unprosperous yeoman.
"I am his wife," said she, a shade of irritability just perceptible in
the sadness of her tone. "These poor little things, asleep on the
ground, are two of our children. We had two more, but God has provided
better for them than we could, by taking them to Himself."
"And what would thee advise Josiah and me to do?" asked Miriam, this
being the first question which she had put to either of the strangers.
"'Tis a thing almost against nature for a woman to try to part true
lovers," answered the yeoman's wife, after a pause; "but I'll speak as
truly to you as if these were my dying words. Though my husband told
you some of our troubles, he didn't mention the greatest, and that
which makes all the rest so hard to bear. If you and your sweetheart
marry, you'll be kind and pleasant to each other for a year or two, and
while that's the case, you never will repent; but, by and by, he'll
grow gloomy, rough, and hard to please, and you'll be peevish, and full
of little angry fits, and apt to be complaining by the fireside, when
he comes to rest himself from his troubles out of doors; so your love
will wear away by little and little, and leave you miserable at last.
It has been so with us; and yet my husband and I were true lovers once,
if ever two young folks were ."
As she ceased, the yeoman and his wife exchanged a glance, in which
there was more and warmer affection than they had supposed to have
escaped the frost of a wintry fate, in either of their breasts. At that
moment, when they stood on the utmost verge of married life, one word
fitly spoken, or perhaps one peculiar look, had they had mutual
confidence enough to reciprocate it, might have renewed all their old
feelings, and sent them back, resolved to sustain each other amid the
struggles of the world. But the crisis passed and never came again.
Just then, also, the children, roused by their mother's voice, looked
up, and added their wailing accents to the testimony borne by all the
Canterbury pilgrims against the world from which they fled.
"We are tired and hungry!" cried they. "Is it far to the Shaker
The Shaker youth and maiden looked mournfully into each other's eyes.
They had but stepped across the threshold of their homes, when lo! the
dark array of cares and sorrows that rose up to warn them back. The
varied narratives of the strangers had arranged themselves into a
parable; they seemed not merely instances of woful fate that had
befallen others, but shadowy omens of disappointed hope and unavailing
toil, domestic grief and estranged affection, that would cloud the
onward path of these poor fugitives. But after one instant's
hesitation, they opened their arms, and sealed their resolve with as
pure and fond an embrace as ever youthful love had hallowed.
"We will not go back," said they. "The world never can be dark to us,
for we will always love one another."
Then the Canterbury pilgrims went up the hill, while the poet chanted a
drear and desperate stanza of the Farewell to his Harp, fitting music
for that melancholy band. They sought a home where all former ties of
nature or society would be sundered, and all old distinctions levelled,
and a cold and passionless security be substituted for mortal hope and
fear, as in that other refuge of the world's weary outcasts, the grave.
The lovers drank at the Shaker spring, and then, with chastened hopes,
but more confiding affections, went on to mingle in an untried life.
THE DEVIL IN MANUSCRIPT
On a bitter evening of December, I arrived by mail in a large town,
which was then the residence of an intimate friend, one of those gifted
youths who cultivate poetry and the belles-lettres, and call themselves
students at law. My first business, after supper, was to visit him at
the office of his distinguished instructor. As I have said, it was a
bitter night, clear starlight, but cold as Nova Zembla,--the
shop-windows along the street being frosted, so as almost to hide the
lights, while the wheels of coaches thundered equally loud over frozen
earth and pavements of stone. There was no snow, either on the ground
or the roofs of the houses. The wind blew so violently, that I had but
to spread my cloak like a main-sail, and scud along the street at the
rate of ten knots, greatly envied by other navigators, who were beating
slowly up, with the gale right in their teeth. One of these I capsized,
but was gone on the wings of the wind before he could even vociferate
After this picture of an inclement night, behold us seated by a great
blazing fire, which looked so comfortable and delicious that I felt
inclined to lie down and roll among the hot coals. The usual furniture
of a lawyer's office was around us,--rows of volumes in sheepskin, and
a multitude of writs, summonses, and other legal papers, scattered over
the desks and tables. But there were certain objects which seemed to
intimate that we had little dread of the intrusion of clients, or of
the learned counsellor himself, who, indeed, was attending court in a
distant town. A tall, decanter-shaped bottle stood on the table,
between two tumblers, and beside a pile of blotted manuscripts,
altogether dissimilar to any law documents recognized in our courts. My
friend, whom I shall call Oberon,--it was a name of fancy and
friendship between him and me,--my friend Oberon looked at these papers
with a peculiar expression of disquietude.
"I do believe," said he, soberly, "or, at least, I could believe, if I
chose, that there is a devil in this pile of blotted papers. You have
read them, and know what I mean,--that conception in which I endeavored
to embody the character of a fiend, as represented in our traditions
and the written records of witchcraft. Oh, I have a horror of what was
created in my own brain, and shudder at the manuscripts in which I gave
that dark idea a sort of material existence! Would they were out of my
"And of mine, too," thought I.
"You remember," continued Oberon, "how the hellish thing used to suck
away the happiness of those who, by a simple concession that seemed
almost innocent, subjected themselves to his power. Just so my peace is
gone, and all by these accursed manuscripts. Have you felt nothing of
the same influence?"
"Nothing," replied I, "unless the spell be hid in a desire to turn
novelist, after reading your delightful tales."
"Novelist!" exclaimed Oberon, half seriously. "Then, indeed, my devil
has his claw on you! You are gone! You cannot even pray for
deliverance! But we will be the last and only victims; for this night I
mean to burn the manuscripts, and commit the fiend to his retribution
in the flames."
"Burn your tales!" repeated I, startled at the desperation of the idea.
"Even so," said the author, despondingly. "You cannot conceive what an
effect the composition of these tales has had on me. I have become
ambitious of a bubble, and careless of solid reputation. I am
surrounding myself with shadows, which bewilder me, by aping the
realities of life. They have drawn me aside from the beaten path of the
world, and led me into a strange sort of solitude,--a solitude in the
midst of men,-where nobody wishes for what I do, nor thinks nor feels
as I do. The tales have done all this. When they are ashes, perhaps I
shall be as I was before they had existence. Moreover, the sacrifice is
less than you may suppose, since nobody will publish them."
"That does make a difference, indeed," said I.
"They have been offered, by letter," continued Oberon, reddening with
vexation, "to some seventeen booksellers. It would make you stare to
read their answers; and read them you should, only that I burnt them as
fast as they arrived. One man publishes nothing but school-books;
another has five novels already under examination."
"What a voluminous mass the unpublished literature of America must be!"
"Oh, the Alexandrian manuscripts were nothing to it!" said my friend.
"Well, another gentleman is just giving up business, on purpose, I
verily believe, to escape publishing my book. Several, however, would
not absolutely decline the agency, on my advancing half the cost of an
edition, and giving bonds for the remainder, besides a high percentage
to themselves, whether the book sells or not. Another advises a
"The villain!" exclaimed I.
"A fact!" said Oberon. "In short, of all the seventeen booksellers,
only one has vouchsafed even to read my tales; and he--a literary
dabbler himself, I should judge--has the impertinence to criticise
them, proposing what he calls vast improvements, and concluding, after
a general sentence of condemnation, with the definitive assurance that
he will not be concerned on any terms."
"It might not be amiss to pull that fellow's nose," remarked I.
"If the whole 'trade' had one common nose, there would be some
satisfaction in pulling it," answered the author. "But, there does seem
to be one honest man among these seventeen unrighteous ones; and he
tells me fairly, that no American publisher will meddle with an
American work,--seldom if by a known writer, and never if by a new
one,--unless at the writer's risk."
"The paltry rogues!" cried I. "Will they live by literature, and yet
risk nothing for its sake? But, after all, you might publish on your
"And so I might," replied Oberon. "But the devil of the business is
this. These people have put me so out of conceit with the tales, that I
loathe the very thought of them, and actually experience a physical
sickness of the stomach, whenever I glance at them on the table. I tell
you there is a demon in them! I anticipate a wild enjoyment in seeing
them in the blaze; such as I should feel in taking vengeance on an
enemy, or destroying something noxious."
I did not very strenuously oppose this determination, being privately
of opinion, in spite of my partiality for the author, that his tales
would make a more brilliant appearance in the fire than anywhere else.
Before proceeding to execution, we broached the bottle of champagne,
which Oberon had provided for keeping up his spirits in this doleful
business. We swallowed each a tumblerful, in sparkling commotion; it
went bubbling down our throats, and brightened my eyes at once, but
left my friend sad and heavy as before. He drew the tales towards him,
with a mixture of natural affection and natural disgust, like a father
taking a deformed infant into his arms.
"Pooh! Pish! Pshaw!" exclaimed he, holding them at arm's-length. "It
was Gray's idea of heaven, to lounge on a sofa and read new novels.
Now, what more appropriate torture would Dante himself have contrived,
for the sinner who perpetrates a bad book, than to be continually
turning over the manuscript?"
"It would fail of effect," said I, "because a bad author is always his
own great admirer."
"I lack that one characteristic of my tribe,--the only desirable one,"
observed Oberon. "But how many recollections throng upon me, as I turn
over these leaves! This scene came into my fancy as I walked along a
hilly road, on a starlight October evening; in the pure and bracing
air, I became all soul, and felt as if I could climb the sky, and run a
race along the Milky Way. Here is another tale, in which I wrapt myself
during a dark and dreary night-ride in the month of March, till the
rattling of the wheels and the voices of my companions seemed like
faint sounds of a dream, and my visions a bright reality. That
scribbled page describes shadows which I summoned to my bedside at
midnight: they would not depart when I bade them; the gray dawn came,
and found me wide awake and feverish, the victim of my own
"There must have been a sort of happiness in all this," said I, smitten
with a strange longing to make proof of it.
"There may be happiness in a fever fit," replied the author. "And then
the various moods in which I wrote! Sometimes my ideas were like
precious stones under the earth, requiring toil to dig them up, and
care to polish and brighten them; but often a delicious stream of
thought would gush out upon the page at once, like water sparkling up
suddenly in the desert; and when it had passed, I gnawed my pen
hopelessly, or blundered on with cold and miserable toil, as if there
were a wall of ice between me and my subject."
"Do you now perceive a corresponding difference," inquired I, "between
the passages which you wrote so coldly, and those fervid flashes of the
"No," said Oberon, tossing the manuscripts on the table. "I find no
traces of the golden pen with which I wrote in characters of fire. My
treasure of fairy coin is changed to worthless dross. My picture,
painted in what seemed the loveliest hues, presents nothing but a faded
and indistinguishable surface. I have been eloquent and poetical and
humorous in a dream,--and behold! it is all nonsense, now that I am
My friend now threw sticks of wood and dry chips upon the fire, and
seeing it blaze like Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, seized the champagne
bottle, and drank two or three brimming bumpers, successively. The
heady liquor combined with his agitation to throw him into a species of
rage. He laid violent hands on the tales. In one instant more, their
faults and beauties would alike have vanished in a glowing purgatory.
But, all at once, I remembered passages of high imagination, deep
pathos, original thoughts, and points of such varied excellence, that
the vastness of the sacrifice struck me most forcibly. I caught his arm.
"Surely, you do not mean to burn them!" I exclaimed.
"Let me alone!" cried Oberon, his eyes flashing fire. "I will burn
them! Not a scorched syllable shall escape! Would you have me a damned
author?--To undergo sneers, taunts, abuse, and cold neglect, and faint
praise, bestowed, for pity's sake, against the giver's conscience! A
hissing and a laughing-stock to my own traitorous thoughts! An outlaw
from the protection of the grave,--one whose ashes every careless foot
might spurn, unhonored in life, and remembered scornfully in death! Am
I to bear all this, when yonder fire will insure me from the whole? No!
There go the tales! May my hand wither when it would write another!"
The deed was done. He had thrown the manuscripts into the hottest of
the fire, which at first seemed to shrink away, but soon curled around
them, and made them a part of its own fervent brightness. Oberon stood
gazing at the conflagration, and shortly began to soliloquize, in the
wildest strain, as if Fancy resisted and became riotous, at the moment
when he would have compelled her to ascend that funeral pile. His words
described objects which he appeared to discern in the fire, fed by his
own precious thoughts; perhaps the thousand visions which the writer's
magic had incorporated with these pages became visible to him in the
dissolving heat, brightening forth ere they vanished forever; while the
smoke, the vivid sheets of flame, the ruddy and whitening coals, caught
the aspect of a varied scenery.
"They blaze," said he, "as if I had steeped them in the intensest
spirit of genius. There I see my lovers clasped in each other's arms.
How pure the flame that bursts from their glowing hearts! And yonder
the features of a villain writhing in the fire that shall torment him
to eternity. My holy men, my pious and angelic women, stand like
martyrs amid the flames, their mild eyes lifted heavenward. Ring out
the bells! A city is on fire. See!--destruction roars through my dark
forests, while the lakes boil up in steaming billows, and the mountains
are volcanoes, and the sky kindles with a lurid brightness! All
elements are but one pervading flame! Ha! The fiend!"
I was somewhat startled by this latter exclamation. The tales were
almost consumed, but just then threw forth a broad sheet of fire, which
flickered as with laughter, making the whole room dance in its
brightness, and then roared portentously up the chimney.
"You saw him? You must have seen him!" cried Oberon. "How he glared at
me and laughed, in that last sheet of flame, with just the features
that I imagined for him! Well! The tales are gone."
The papers were indeed reduced to a heap of black cinders, with a
multitude of sparks hurrying confusedly among them, the traces of the
pen being now represented by white lines, and the whole mass fluttering
to and fro in the draughts of air. The destroyer knelt down to look at
"What is more potent than fire!" said he, in his gloomiest tone. "Even
thought, invisible and incorporeal as it is, cannot escape it. In this
little time, it has annihilated the creations of long nights and days,
which I could no more reproduce, in their first glow and freshness,
than cause ashes and whitened bones to rise up and live. There, too, I
sacrificed the unborn children of my mind. All that I had
accomplished--all that I planned for future years--has perished by one
common ruin, and left only this heap of embers! The deed has been my
fate. And what remains? A weary and aimless life,--a long repentance of
this hour,--and at last an obscure grave, where they will bury and
As the author concluded his dolorous moan, the extinguished embers
arose and settled down and arose again, and finally flew up the
chimney, like a demon with sable wings. Just as they disappeared, there
was a loud and solitary cry in the street below us. "Fire!" Fire! Other
voices caught up that terrible word, and it speedily became the shout
of a multitude. Oberon started to his feet, in fresh excitement.
"A fire on such a night!" cried he. "The wind blows a gale, and
wherever it whirls the flames, the roofs will flash up like gunpowder.
Every pump is frozen up, and boiling water would turn to ice the moment
it was flung from the engine. In an hour, this wooden town will be one
great bonfire! What a glorious scene for my next--Pshaw!"
The street was now all alive with footsteps, and the air full of
voices. We heard one engine thundering round a corner, and another
rattling from a distance over the pavements. The bells of three
steeples clanged out at once, spreading the alarm to many a neighboring
town, and expressing hurry, confusion, and terror, so inimitably that I
could almost distinguish in their peal the burden of the universal
cry,--"Fire! Fire! Fire!"
"What is so eloquent as their iron tongues!" exclaimed Oberon. "My
heart leaps and trembles, but not with fear. And that other sound,
too,--deep and awful as a mighty organ,--the roar and thunder of the
multitude on the pavement below! Come! We are losing time. I will cry
out in the loudest of the uproar, and mingle my spirit with the wildest
of the confusion, and be a bubble on the top of the ferment!"
From the first outcry, my forebodings had warned me of the true object
and centre of alarm. There was nothing now but uproar, above, beneath,
and around us; footsteps stumbling pell-mell up the public staircase,
eager shouts and heavy thumps at the door, the whiz and dash of water
from the engines, and the crash of furniture thrown upon the pavement.
At once, the truth flashed upon my friend. His frenzy took the hue of
joy, and, with a wild gesture of exultation, he leaped almost to the
ceiling of the chamber.
"My tales!" cried Oberon. "The chimney! The roof! The Fiend has gone
forth by night, and startled thousands in fear and wonder from their
beds! Here I stand,--a triumphant author! Huzza! Huzza! My brain has
set the town on fire! Huzza!"
MY KINSMAN, MAJOR MOLINEUX
After the kings of Great Britain had assumed the right of appointing
the colonial governors, the measures of the latter seldom met with the
ready and generous approbation which had been paid to those of their
predecessors, under the original charters. The people looked with most
jealous scrutiny to the exercise of power which did not emanate from
themselves, and they usually rewarded their rulers with slender
gratitude for the compliances by which, in softening their instructions
from beyond the sea, they had incurred the reprehension of those who
gave them. The annals of Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six
governors in the space of about forty years from the surrender of the
old charter, under James II, two were imprisoned by a popular
insurrection; a third, as Hutchinson inclines to believe, was driven
from the province by the whizzing of a musket-ball; a fourth, in the
opinion of the same historian, was hastened to his grave by continual
bickerings with the House of Representatives; and the remaining two, as
well as their successors, till the Revolution, were favored with few
and brief intervals of peaceful sway. The inferior members of the court
party, in times of high political excitement, led scarcely a more
desirable life. These remarks may serve as a preface to the following
adventures, which chanced upon a summer night, not far from a hundred
years ago. The reader, in order to avoid a long and dry detail of
colonial affairs, is requested to dispense with an account of the train
of circumstances that had caused much temporary inflammation of the
It was near nine o'clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat crossed
the ferry with a single passenger, who had obtained his conveyance at
that unusual hour by the promise of an extra fare. While he stood on
the landing-place, searching in either pocket for the means of
fulfilling his agreement, the ferryman lifted a lantern, by the aid of
which, and the newly risen moon, he took a very accurate survey of the
stranger's figure. He was a youth of barely eighteen years, evidently
country-bred, and now, as it should seem, upon his first visit to town.
He was clad in a coarse gray coat, well worn, but in excellent repair;
his under garments were durably constructed of leather, and fitted
tight to a pair of serviceable and well-shaped limbs; his stockings of
blue yarn were the incontrovertible work of a mother or a sister; and
on his head was a three-cornered hat, which in its better days had
perhaps sheltered the graver brow of the lad's father. Under his left
arm was a heavy cudgel formed of an oak sapling, and retaining a part
of the hardened root; and his equipment was completed by a wallet, not
so abundantly stocked as to incommode the vigorous shoulders on which
it hung. Brown, curly hair, well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful
eyes were nature's gifts, and worth all that art could have done for
The youth, one of whose names was Robin, finally drew from his pocket
the half of a little province bill of five shillings, which, in the
depreciation in that sort of currency, did but satisfy the ferryman's
demand, with the surplus of a sexangular piece of parchment, valued at
three pence. He then walked forward into the town, with as light a step
as if his day's journey had not already exceeded thirty miles, and with
as eager an eye as if he were entering London city, instead of the
little metropolis of a New England colony. Before Robin had proceeded
far, however, it occurred to him that he knew not whither to direct his
steps; so he paused, and looked up and down the narrow street,
scrutinizing the small and mean wooden buildings that were scattered on
"This low hovel cannot be my kinsman's dwelling," thought he, "nor
yonder old house, where the moonlight enters at the broken casement;
and truly I see none hereabouts that might be worthy of him. It would
have been wise to inquire my way of the ferryman, and doubtless he
would have gone with me, and earned a shilling from the Major for his
pains. But the next man I meet will do as well."
He resumed his walk, and was glad to perceive that the street now
became wider, and the houses more respectable in their appearance. He
soon discerned a figure moving on moderately in advance, and hastened
his steps to overtake it. As Robin drew nigh, he saw that the passenger
was a man in years, with a full periwig of gray hair, a wide-skirted
coat of dark cloth, and silk stockings rolled above his knees. He
carried a long and polished cane, which he struck down perpendicularly
before him at every step; and at regular intervals he uttered two
successive hems, of a peculiarly solemn and sepulchral intonation.
Having made these observations, Robin laid hold of the skirt of the old
man's coat just when the light from the open door and windows of a
barber's shop fell upon both their figures.
"Good evening to you, honored sir," said he, making a low bow, and
still retaining his hold of the skirt. "I pray you tell me whereabouts
is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux."
The youth's question was uttered very loudly; and one of the barbers,
whose razor was descending on a well-soaped chin, and another who was
dressing a Ramillies wig, left their occupations, and came to the door.
The citizen, in the mean time, turned a long-favored countenance upon
Robin, and answered him in a tone of excessive anger and annoyance. His
two sepulchral hems, however, broke into the very centre of his rebuke,
with most singular effect, like a thought of the cold grave obtruding
among wrathful passions.
"Let go my garment, fellow! I tell you, I know not the man you speak
of. What! I have authority, I have--hem, hem--authority; and if this be
the respect you show for your betters, your feet shall be brought
acquainted with the stocks by daylight, tomorrow morning!"
Robin released the old man's skirt, and hastened away, pursued by an
ill-mannered roar of laughter from the barber's shop. He was at first
considerably surprised by the result of his question, but, being a
shrewd youth, soon thought himself able to account for the mystery.
"This is some country representative," was his conclusion, "who has
never seen the inside of my kinsman's door, and lacks the breeding to
answer a stranger civilly. The man is old, or verily--I might be
tempted to turn back and smite him on the nose. Ah, Robin, Robin! even
the barber's boys laugh at you for choosing such a guide! You will be
wiser in time, friend Robin."
He now became entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow streets,
which crossed each other, and meandered at no great distance from the
water-side. The smell of tar was obvious to his nostrils, the masts of
vessels pierced the moonlight above the tops of the buildings, and the
numerous signs, which Robin paused to read, informed him that he was
near the centre of business. But the streets were empty, the shops were
closed, and lights were visible only in the second stories of a few
dwelling-houses. At length, on the corner of a narrow lane, through
which he was passing, he beheld the broad countenance of a British hero
swinging before the door of an inn, whence proceeded the voices of many
guests. The casement of one of the lower windows was thrown back, and a
very thin curtain permitted Robin to distinguish a party at supper,
round a well-furnished table. The fragrance of the good cheer steamed
forth into the outer air, and the youth could not fail to recollect
that the last remnant of his travelling stock of provision had yielded
to his morning appetite, and that noon had found and left him
"Oh, that a parchment three-penny might give me a right to sit down at
yonder table!" said Robin, with a sigh. "But the Major will make me
welcome to the best of his victuals; so I will even step boldly in, and
inquire my way to his dwelling."
He entered the tavern, and was guided by the murmur of voices and the
fumes of tobacco to the public-room. It was a long and low apartment,
with oaken walls, grown dark in the continual smoke, and a floor which
was thickly sanded, but of no immaculate purity. A number of
persons--the larger part of whom appeared to be mariners, or in some
way connected with the sea--occupied the wooden benches, or
leatherbottomed chairs, conversing on various matters, and occasionally
lending their attention to some topic of general interest. Three or
four little groups were draining as many bowls of punch, which the West
India trade had long since made a familiar drink in the colony. Others,
who had the appearance of men who lived by regular and laborious
handicraft, preferred the insulated bliss of an unshared potation, and
became more taciturn under its influence. Nearly all, in short, evinced
a predilection for the Good Creature in some of its various shapes, for
this is a vice to which, as Fast Day sermons of a hundred years ago
will testify, we have a long hereditary claim. The only guests to whom
Robin's sympathies inclined him were two or three sheepish countrymen,
who were using the inn somewhat after the fashion of a Turkish
caravansary; they had gotten themselves into the darkest corner of the
room, and heedless of the Nicotian atmosphere, were supping on the
bread of their own ovens, and the bacon cured in their own
chimney-smoke. But though Robin felt a sort of brotherhood with these
strangers, his eyes were attracted from them to a person who stood near
the door, holding whispered conversation with a group of ill-dressed
associates. His features were separately striking almost to
grotesqueness, and the whole face left a deep impression on the memory.
The forehead bulged out into a double prominence, with a vale between;
the nose came boldly forth in an irregular curve, and its bridge was of
more than a finger's breadth; the eyebrows were deep and shaggy, and
the eyes glowed beneath them like fire in a cave.
While Robin deliberated of whom to inquire respecting his kinsman's
dwelling, he was accosted by the innkeeper, a little man in a stained
white apron, who had come to pay his professional welcome to the
stranger. Being in the second generation from a French Protestant, he
seemed to have inherited the courtesy of his parent nation; but no
variety of circumstances was ever known to change his voice from the
one shrill note in which he now addressed Robin.
"From the country, I presume, sir?" said he, with a profound bow. "Beg
leave to congratulate you on your arrival, and trust you intend a long
stay with us. Fine town here, sir, beautiful buildings, and much that
may interest a stranger. May I hope for the honor of your commands in
respect to supper?"
"The man sees a family likeness! the rogue has guessed that I am
related to the Major!" thought Robin, who had hitherto experienced
little superfluous civility.
All eyes were now turned on the country lad, standing at the door, in
his worn three-cornered hat, gray coat, leather breeches, and blue yarn
stockings, leaning on an oaken cudgel, and bearing a wallet on his back.
Robin replied to the courteous innkeeper, with such an assumption of
confidence as befitted the Major's relative. "My honest friend," he
said, "I shall make it a point to patronize your house on some
occasion, when"--here he could not help lowering his voice--"when I may
have more than a parchment three-pence in my pocket. My present
business," continued he, speaking with lofty confidence, "is merely to
inquire my way to the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux."
There was a sudden and general movement in the room, which Robin
interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each individual to become
his guide. But the innkeeper turned his eyes to a written paper on the
wall, which he read, or seemed to read, with occasional recurrences to
the young man's figure.
"What have we here?" said he, breaking his speech into little dry
fragments. "'Left the house of the subscriber, bounden servant,
Hezekiah Mudge,--had on, when he went away, gray coat, leather
breeches, master's third-best hat. One pound currency reward to
whosoever shall lodge him in any jail of the providence.' Better
trudge, boy; better trudge!"
Robin had begun to draw his hand towards the lighter end of the oak
cudgel, but a strange hostility in every countenance induced him to
relinquish his purpose of breaking the courteous innkeeper's head. As
he turned to leave the room, he encountered a sneering glance from the
bold-featured personage whom he had before noticed; and no sooner was
he beyond the door, than he heard a general laugh, in which the
innkeeper's voice might be distinguished, like the dropping of small
stones into a kettle.
"Now, is it not strange," thought Robin, with his usual shrewdness, "is
it not strange that the confession of an empty pocket should outweigh
the name of my kinsman, Major Molineux? Oh, if I had one of those
grinning rascals in the woods, where I and my oak sapling grew up
together, I would teach him that my arm is heavy though my purse be
On turning the corner of the narrow lane, Robin found himself in a
spacious street, with an unbroken line of lofty houses on each side,
and a steepled building at the upper end, whence the ringing of a bell
announced the hour of nine. The light of the moon, and the lamps from
the numerous shop-windows, discovered people promenading on the
pavement, and amongst them Robin had hoped to recognize his hitherto
inscrutable relative. The result of his former inquiries made him
unwilling to hazard another, in a scene of such publicity, and he
determined to walk slowly and silently up the street, thrusting his
face close to that of every elderly gentleman, in search of the Major's
lineaments. In his progress, Robin encountered many gay and gallant
figures. Embroidered garments of showy colors, enormous periwigs,
gold-laced hats, and silver-hilted swords glided past him and dazzled
his optics. Travelled youths, imitators of the European fine gentlemen
of the period, trod jauntily along, half dancing to the fashionable
tunes which they hummed, and making poor Robin ashamed of his quiet and
natural gait. At length, after many pauses to examine the gorgeous
display of goods in the shop-windows, and after suffering some rebukes
for the impertinence of his scrutiny into people's faces, the Major's
kinsman found himself near the steepled building, still unsuccessful in
his search. As yet, however, he had seen only one side of the thronged
street; so Robin crossed, and continued the same sort of inquisition
down the opposite pavement, with stronger hopes than the philosopher
seeking an honest man, but with no better fortune. He had arrived about
midway towards the lower end, from which his course began, when he
overheard the approach of some one who struck down a cane on the
flag-stones at every step, uttering at regular intervals, two
"Mercy on us!" quoth Robin, recognizing the sound.
Turning a corner, which chanced to be close at his right hand, he
hastened to pursue his researches in some other part of the town. His
patience now was wearing low, and he seemed to feel more fatigue from
his rambles since he crossed the ferry, than from his journey of
several days on the other side. Hunger also pleaded loudly within him,
and Robin began to balance the propriety of demanding, violently, and
with lifted cudgel, the necessary guidance from the first solitary
passenger whom he should meet. While a resolution to this effect was
gaining strength, he entered a street of mean appearance, on either
side of which a row of ill-built houses was straggling towards the
harbor. The moonlight fell upon no passenger along the whole extent,
but in the third domicile which Robin passed there was a half-opened
door, and his keen glance detected a woman's garment within.
"My luck may be better here," said he to himself.
Accordingly, he approached the doors and beheld it shut closer as he
did so; yet an open space remained, sufficing for the fair occupant to
observe the stranger, without a corresponding display on her part. All
that Robin could discern was a strip of scarlet petticoat, and the
occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the moonbeams were trembling on
some bright thing.
"Pretty mistress," for I may call her so with a good conscience thought
the shrewd youth, since I know nothing to the contrary,--"my sweet
pretty mistress, will you be kind enough to tell me whereabouts I must
seek the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
Robin's voice was plaintive and winning, and the female, seeing nothing
to be shunned in the handsome country youth, thrust open the door, and
came forth into the moonlight. She was a dainty little figure with a
white neck, round arms, and a slender waist, at the extremity of which
her scarlet petticoat jutted out over a hoop, as if she were standing
in a balloon. Moreover, her face was oval and pretty, her hair dark
beneath the little cap, and her bright eyes possessed a sly freedom,
which triumphed over those of Robin.
"Major Molineux dwells here," said this fair woman.
Now, her voice was the sweetest Robin had heard that night, yet he
could not help doubting whether that sweet voice spoke Gospel truth. He
looked up and down the mean street, and then surveyed the house before
which they stood. It was a small, dark edifice of two stories, the
second of which projected over the lower floor, and the front apartment
had the aspect of a shop for petty commodities.
"Now, truly, I am in luck," replied Robin, cunningly, "and so indeed is
my kinsman, the Major, in having so pretty a housekeeper. But I prithee
trouble him to step to the door; I will deliver him a message from his
friends in the country, and then go back to my lodgings at the inn."
"Nay, the Major has been abed this hour or more," said the lady of the
scarlet petticoat; "and it would be to little purpose to disturb him
to-night, seeing his evening draught was of the strongest. But he is a
kind-hearted man, and it would be as much as my life's worth to let a
kinsman of his turn away from the door. You are the good old
gentleman's very picture, and I could swear that was his rainy-weather
hat. Also he has garments very much resembling those leather
small-clothes. But come in, I pray, for I bid you hearty welcome in his
So saying, the fair and hospitable dame took our hero by the hand; and
the touch was light, and the force was gentleness, and though Robin
read in her eyes what he did not hear in her words, yet the
slender-waisted woman in the scarlet petticoat proved stronger than the
athletic country youth. She had drawn his half-willing footsteps nearly
to the threshold, when the opening of a door in the neighborhood
startled the Major's housekeeper, and, leaving the Major's kinsman, she
vanished speedily into her own domicile. A heavy yawn preceded the
appearance of a man, who, like the Moonshine of Pyramus and Thisbe,
carried a lantern, needlessly aiding his sister luminary in the
heavens. As he walked sleepily up the street, he turned his broad, dull
face on Robin, and displayed a long staff, spiked at the end.
"Home, vagabond, home!" said the watchman, in accents that seemed to
fall asleep as soon as they were uttered. "Home, or we'll set you in
the stocks by peep of day!"
"This is the second hint of the kind," thought Robin. "I wish they
would end my difficulties, by setting me there to-night."
Nevertheless, the youth felt an instinctive antipathy towards the
guardian of midnight order, which at first prevented him from asking
his usual question. But just when the man was about to vanish behind
the corner, Robin resolved not to lose the opportunity, and shouted
lustily after him, "I say, friend! will you guide me to the house of my
kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The watchman made no reply, but turned the corner and was gone; yet
Robin seemed to hear the sound of drowsy laughter stealing along the
solitary street. At that moment, also, a pleasant titter saluted him
from the open window above his head; he looked up, and caught the
sparkle of a saucy eye; a round arm beckoned to him, and next he heard
light footsteps descending the staircase within. But Robin, being of
the household of a New England clergyman, was a good youth, as well as
a shrewd one; so he resisted temptation, and fled away.
He now roamed desperately, and at random, through the town, almost
ready to believe that a spell was on him, like that by which a wizard
of his country had once kept three pursuers wandering, a whole winter
night, within twenty paces of the cottage which they sought. The
streets lay before him, strange and desolate, and the lights were
extinguished in almost every house. Twice, however, little parties of
men, among whom Robin distinguished individuals in outlandish attire,
came hurrying along; but, though on both occasions, they paused to
address him such intercourse did not at all enlighten his perplexity.
They did but utter a few words in some language of which Robin knew
nothing, and perceiving his inability to answer, bestowed a curse upon
him in plain English and hastened away. Finally, the lad determined to
knock at the door of every mansion that might appear worthy to be
occupied by his kinsman, trusting that perseverance would overcome the
fatality that had hitherto thwarted him. Firm in this resolve, he was
passing beneath the walls of a church, which formed the corner of two
streets, when, as he turned into the shade of its steeple, he
encountered a bulky stranger muffled in a cloak. The man was proceeding
with the speed of earnest business, but Robin planted himself full
before him, holding the oak cudgel with both hands across his body as a
bar to further passage.
"Halt, honest man, and answer me a question," said he, very resolutely.
"Tell me, this instant, whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman,
"Keep your tongue between your teeth, fool, and let me pass!" said a
deep, gruff voice, which Robin partly remembered. "Let me pass, or I'll
strike you to the earth!"
"No, no, neighbor!" cried Robin, flourishing his cudgel, and then
thrusting its larger end close to the man's muffled face. "No, no, I'm
not the fool you take me for, nor do you pass till I have an answer to
my question. Whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major
Molineux?" The stranger, instead of attempting to force his passage,
stepped back into the moonlight, unmuffled his face, and stared full
into that of Robin.
"Watch here an hour, and Major Molineux will pass by," said he.
Robin gazed with dismay and astonishment on the unprecedented
physiognomy of the speaker. The forehead with its double prominence the
broad hooked nose, the shaggy eyebrows, and fiery eyes were those which
he had noticed at the inn, but the man's complexion had undergone a
singular, or, more properly, a twofold change. One side of the face
blazed an intense red, while the other was black as midnight, the
division line being in the broad bridge of the nose; and a mouth which
seemed to extend from ear to ear was black or red, in contrast to the
color of the cheek. The effect was as if two individual devils, a fiend
of fire and a fiend of darkness, had united themselves to form this
infernal visage. The stranger grinned in Robin's face, muffled his
party-colored features, and was out of sight in a moment.
"Strange things we travellers see!" ejaculated Robin.
He seated himself, however, upon the steps of the church-door,
resolving to wait the appointed time for his kinsman. A few moments
were consumed in philosophical speculations upon the species of man who
had just left him; but having settled this point shrewdly, rationally,
and satisfactorily, he was compelled to look elsewhere for his
amusement. And first he threw his eyes along the street. It was of more
respectable appearance than most of those into which he had wandered,
and the moon, creating, like the imaginative power, a beautiful
strangeness in familiar objects, gave something of romance to a scene
that might not have possessed it in the light of day. The irregular and
often quaint architecture of the houses, some of whose roofs were
broken into numerous little peaks, while others ascended, steep and
narrow, into a single point, and others again were square; the pure
snow-white of some of their complexions, the aged darkness of others,
and the thousand sparklings, reflected from bright substances in the
walls of many; these matters engaged Robin's attention for a while, and
then began to grow wearisome. Next he endeavored to define the forms of
distant objects, starting away, with almost ghostly indistinctness,
just as his eye appeared to grasp them, and finally he took a minute
survey of an edifice which stood on the opposite side of the street,
directly in front of the church-door, where he was stationed. It was a
large, square mansion, distinguished from its neighbors by a balcony,
which rested on tall pillars, and by an elaborate Gothic window,
"Perhaps this is the very house I have been seeking," thought Robin.
Then he strove to speed away the time, by listening to a murmur which
swept continually along the street, yet was scarcely audible, except to
an unaccustomed ear like his; it was a low, dull, dreamy sound,
compounded of many noises, each of which was at too great a distance to
be separately heard. Robin marvelled at this snore of a sleeping town,
and marvelled more whenever its continuity was broken by now and then a
distant shout, apparently loud where it originated. But altogether it
was a sleep-inspiring sound, and, to shake off its drowsy influence,
Robin arose, and climbed a window-frame, that he might view the
interior of the church. There the moonbeams came trembling in, and fell
down upon the deserted pews, and extended along the quiet aisles. A
fainter yet more awful radiance was hovering around the pulpit, and one
solitary ray had dared to rest upon the open page of the great Bible.
Had nature, in that deep hour, become a worshipper in the house which
man had builded? Or was that heavenly light the visible sanctity of the
place,--visible because no earthly and impure feet were within the
walls? The scene made Robin's heart shiver with a sensation of
loneliness stronger than he had ever felt in the remotest depths of his
native woods; so he turned away and sat down again before the door.
There were graves around the church, and now an uneasy thought obtruded
into Robin's breast. What if the object of his search, which had been
so often and so strangely thwarted, were all the time mouldering in his
shroud? What if his kinsman should glide through yonder gate, and nod
and smile to him in dimly passing by?
"Oh that any breathing thing were here with me!" said Robin.
Recalling his thoughts from this uncomfortable track, he sent them over
forest, hill, and stream, and attempted to imagine how that evening of
ambiguity and weariness had been spent by his father's household. He
pictured them assembled at the door, beneath the tree, the great old
tree, which had been spared for its huge twisted trunk and venerable
shade, when a thousand leafy brethren fell. There, at the going down of
the summer sun, it was his father's custom to perform domestic worship
that the neighbors might come and join with him like brothers of the
family, and that the wayfaring man might pause to drink at that
fountain, and keep his heart pure by freshening the memory of home.
Robin distinguished the seat of every individual of the little
audience; he saw the good man in the midst, holding the Scriptures in
the golden light that fell from the western clouds; he beheld him close
the book and all rise up to pray. He heard the old thanksgivings for
daily mercies, the old supplications for their continuance to which he
had so often listened in weariness, but which were now among his dear
remembrances. He perceived the slight inequality of his father's voice
when he came to speak of the absent one; he noted how his mother turned
her face to the broad and knotted trunk; how his elder brother scorned,
because the beard was rough upon his upper lip, to permit his features
to be moved; how the younger sister drew down a low hanging branch
before her eyes; and how the little one of all, whose sports had
hitherto broken the decorum of the scene, understood the prayer for her
playmate, and burst into clamorous grief. Then he saw them go in at the
door; and when Robin would have entered also, the latch tinkled into
its place, and he was excluded from his home.
"Am I here, or there?" cried Robin, starting; for all at once, when his
thoughts had become visible and audible in a dream, the long, wide,
solitary street shone out before him.
He aroused himself, and endeavored to fix his attention steadily upon
the large edifice which he had surveyed before. But still his mind kept
vibrating between fancy and reality; by turns, the pillars of the
balcony lengthened into the tall, bare stems of pines, dwindled down to
human figures, settled again into their true shape and size, and then
commenced a new succession of changes. For a single moment, when he
deemed himself awake, he could have sworn that a visage--one which he
seemed to remember, yet could not absolutely name as his kinsman's--was
looking towards him from the Gothic window. A deeper sleep wrestled
with and nearly overcame him, but fled at the sound of footsteps along
the opposite pavement. Robin rubbed his eyes, discerned a man passing
at the foot of the balcony, and addressed him in a loud, peevish, and
"Hallo, friend! must I wait here all night for my kinsman, Major
The sleeping echoes awoke, and answered the voice; and the passenger,
barely able to discern a figure sitting in the oblique shade of the
steeple, traversed the street to obtain a nearer view. He was himself a
gentleman in his prime, of open, intelligent, cheerful, and altogether
prepossessing countenance. Perceiving a country youth, apparently
homeless and without friends, he accosted him in a tone of real
kindness, which had become strange to Robin's ears.
"Well, my good lad, why are you sitting here?" inquired he. "Can I be
of service to you in any way?"
"I am afraid not, sir," replied Robin, despondingly; "yet I shall take
it kindly, if you'll answer me a single question. I've been searching,
half the night, for one Major Molineux, now, sir, is there really such
a person in these parts, or am I dreaming?"
"Major Molineux! The name is not altogether strange to me," said the
gentleman, smiling. "Have you any objection to telling me the nature of
your business with him?"
Then Robin briefly related that his father was a clergyman, settled on
a small salary, at a long distance back in the country, and that he and
Major Molineux were brothers' children. The Major, having inherited
riches, and acquired civil and military rank, had visited his cousin,
in great pomp, a year or two before; had manifested much interest in
Robin and an elder brother, and, being childless himself, had thrown
out hints respecting the future establishment of one of them in life.
The elder brother was destined to succeed to the farm which his father
cultivated in the interval of sacred duties; it was therefore
determined that Robin should profit by his kinsman's generous
intentions, especially as he seemed to be rather the favorite, and was
thought to possess other necessary endowments.
"For I have the name of being a shrewd youth," observed Robin, in this
part of his story.
"I doubt not you deserve it," replied his new friend, good-naturedly;
"but pray proceed."
"Well, sir, being nearly eighteen years old, and well grown, as you
see," continued Robin, drawing himself up to his full height, "I
thought it high time to begin in the world. So my mother and sister put
me in handsome trim, and my father gave me half the remnant of his last
year's salary, and five days ago I started for this place, to pay the
Major a visit. But, would you believe it, sir! I crossed the ferry a
little after dark, and have yet found nobody that would show me the way
to his dwelling; only, an hour or two since, I was told to wait here,
and Major Molineux would pass by."
"Can you describe the man who told you this?" inquired the gentleman.
"Oh, he was a very ill-favored fellow, sir," replied Robin, "with two
great bumps on his forehead, a hook nose, fiery eyes; and, what struck
me as the strangest, his face was of two different colors. Do you
happen to know such a man, sir?"
"Not intimately," answered the stranger, "but I chanced to meet him a
little time previous to your stopping me. I believe you may trust his
word, and that the Major will very shortly pass through this street. In
the mean time, as I have a singular curiosity to witness your meeting,
I will sit down here upon the steps and bear you company."
He seated himself accordingly, and soon engaged his companion in
animated discourse. It was but of brief continuance, however, for a
noise of shouting, which had long been remotely audible, drew so much
nearer that Robin inquired its cause.
"What may be the meaning of this uproar?" asked he. "Truly, if your
town be always as noisy, I shall find little sleep while I am an
"Why, indeed, friend Robin, there do appear to be three or four riotous
fellows abroad to-night," replied the gentleman. "You must not expect
all the stillness of your native woods here in our streets. But the
watch will shortly be at the heels of these lads and--"
"Ay, and set them in the stocks by peep of day," interrupted Robin
recollecting his own encounter with the drowsy lantern-bearer. "But,
dear sir, if I may trust my ears, an army of watchmen would never make
head against such a multitude of rioters. There were at least a
thousand voices went up to make that one shout."
"May not a man have several voices, Robin, as well as two complexions?"
said his friend.
"Perhaps a man may; but Heaven forbid that a woman should!" responded
the shrewd youth, thinking of the seductive tones of the Major's
The sounds of a trumpet in some neighboring street now became so
evident and continual, that Robin's curiosity was strongly excited. In
addition to the shouts, he heard frequent bursts from many instruments
of discord, and a wild and confused laughter filled up the intervals.
Robin rose from the steps, and looked wistfully towards a point whither
people seemed to be hastening.
"Surely some prodigious merry-making is going on," exclaimed he "I have
laughed very little since I left home, sir, and should be sorry to lose
an opportunity. Shall we step round the corner by that darkish house
and take our share of the fun?"
"Sit down again, sit down, good Robin," replied the gentleman, laying
his hand on the skirt of the gray coat. "You forget that we must wait
here for your kinsman; and there is reason to believe that he will pass
by, in the course of a very few moments."
The near approach of the uproar had now disturbed the neighborhood;
windows flew open on all sides; and many heads, in the attire of the
pillow, and confused by sleep suddenly broken, were protruded to the
gaze of whoever had leisure to observe them. Eager voices hailed each
other from house to house, all demanding the explanation, which not a
soul could give. Half-dressed men hurried towards the unknown commotion
stumbling as they went over the stone steps that thrust themselves into
the narrow foot-walk. The shouts, the laughter, and the tuneless bray
the antipodes of music, came onwards with increasing din, till
scattered individuals, and then denser bodies, began to appear round a
corner at the distance of a hundred yards.
"Will you recognize your kinsman, if he passes in this crowd?" inquired
"Indeed, I can't warrant it, sir; but I'll take my stand here, and keep
a bright lookout," answered Robin, descending to the outer edge of the
A mighty stream of people now emptied into the street, and came rolling
slowly towards the church. A single horseman wheeled the corner in the
midst of them, and close behind him came a band of fearful wind
instruments, sending forth a fresher discord now that no intervening
buildings kept it from the ear. Then a redder light disturbed the
moonbeams, and a dense multitude of torches shone along the street,
concealing, by their glare, whatever object they illuminated. The
single horseman, clad in a military dress, and bearing a drawn sword,
rode onward as the leader, and, by his fierce and variegated
countenance, appeared like war personified; the red of one cheek was an
emblem of fire and sword; the blackness of the other betokened the
mourning that attends them. In his train were wild figures in the
Indian dress, and many fantastic shapes without a model, giving the
whole march a visionary air, as if a dream had broken forth from some
feverish brain, and were sweeping visibly through the midnight streets.
A mass of people, inactive, except as applauding spectators, hemmed the
procession in; and several women ran along the sidewalk, piercing the
confusion of heavier sounds with their shrill voices of mirth or terror.
"The double-faced fellow has his eye upon me," muttered Robin, with an
indefinite but an uncomfortable idea that he was himself to bear a part
in the pageantry.
The leader turned himself in the saddle, and fixed his glance full upon
the country youth, as the steed went slowly by. When Robin had freed
his eyes from those fiery ones, the musicians were passing before him,
and the torches were close at hand; but the unsteady brightness of the
latter formed a veil which he could not penetrate. The rattling of
wheels over the stones sometimes found its way to his ear, and confused
traces of a human form appeared at intervals, and then melted into the
vivid light. A moment more, and the leader thundered a command to halt:
the trumpets vomited a horrid breath, and then held their peace; the
shouts and laughter of the people died away, and there remained only a
universal hum, allied to silence. Right before Robin's eyes was an
uncovered cart. There the torches blazed the brightest, there the moon
shone out like day, and there, in tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his
kinsman, Major Molineux!
He was an elderly man, of large and majestic person, and strong, square
features, betokening a steady soul; but steady as it was, his enemies
had found means to shake it. His face was pale as death, and far more
ghastly; the broad forehead was contracted in his agony, so that his
eyebrows formed one grizzled line; his eyes were red and wild, and the
foam hung white upon his quivering lip. His whole frame was agitated by
a quick and continual tremor, which his pride strove to quell, even in
those circumstances of overwhelming humiliation. But perhaps the
bitterest pang of all was when his eyes met those of Robin; for he
evidently knew him on the instant, as the youth stood witnessing the
foul disgrace of a head grown gray in honor. They stared at each other
in silence, and Robin's knees shook, and his hair bristled, with a
mixture of pity and terror. Soon, however, a bewildering excitement
began to seize upon his mind; the preceding adventures of the night,
the unexpected appearance of the crowd, the torches, the confused din
and the hush that followed, the spectre of his kinsman reviled by that
great multitude,--all this, and, more than all, a perception of
tremendous ridicule in the whole scene, affected him with a sort of
mental inebriety. At that moment a voice of sluggish merriment saluted
Robin's ears; he turned instinctively, and just behind the corner of
the church stood the lantern-bearer, rubbing his eyes, and drowsily
enjoying the lad's amazement. Then he heard a peal of laughter like the
ringing of silvery bells; a woman twitched his arm, a saucy eye met
his, and he saw the lady of the scarlet petticoat. A sharp, dry
cachinnation appealed to his memory, and, standing on tiptoe in the
crowd, with his white apron over his head, he beheld the courteous
little innkeeper. And lastly, there sailed over the heads of the
multitude a great, broad laugh, broken in the midst by two sepulchral
hems; thus, "Haw, haw, haw,--hem, hem,--haw, haw, haw, haw!"
The sound proceeded from the balcony of the opposite edifice, and
thither Robin turned his eyes. In front of the Gothic window stood the
old citizen, wrapped in a wide gown, his gray periwig exchanged for a
nightcap, which was thrust back from his forehead, and his silk
stockings hanging about his legs. He supported himself on his polished
cane in a fit of convulsive merriment, which manifested itself on his
solemn old features like a funny inscription on a tombstone. Then Robin
seemed to hear the voices of the barbers, of the guests of the inn, and
of all who had made sport of him that night. The contagion was
spreading among the multitude, when all at once, it seized upon Robin,
and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through the
street,--every man shook his sides, every man emptied his lungs, but
Robin's shout was the loudest there. The cloud-spirits peeped from
their silvery islands, as the congregated mirth went roaring up the
sky! The Man in the Moon heard the far bellow. "Oho," quoth he, "the
old earth is frolicsome to-night!"
When there was a momentary calm in that tempestuous sea of sound, the
leader gave the sign, the procession resumed its march. On they went,
like fiends that throng in mockery around some dead potentate, mighty
no more, but majestic still in his agony. On they went, in
counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in frenzied merriment,
trampling all on an old man's heart. On swept the tumult, and left a
silent street behind.
"Well, Robin, are you dreaming?" inquired the gentleman, laying his
hand on the youth's shoulder.
Robin started, and withdrew his arm from the stone post to which he had
instinctively clung, as the living stream rolled by him. His cheek was
somewhat pale, and his eye not quite as lively as in the earlier part
of the evening.
"Will you be kind enough to show me the way to the ferry?" said he,
after a moment's pause.
"You have, then, adopted a new subject of inquiry?" observed his
companion, with a smile.
"Why, yes, sir," replied Robin, rather dryly. "Thanks to you, and to my
other friends, I have at last met my kinsman, and he will scarce desire
to see my face again. I begin to grow weary of a town life, sir. Will
you show me the way to the ferry?"
"No, my good friend Robin,--not to-night, at least," said the
gentleman. "Some few days hence, if you wish it, I will speed you on
your journey. Or, if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as you are
a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world without the help of your
kinsman, Major Molineux."