One of the Thirty Pieces by
William Henry Bishop
In the spring of the year 1870 the premium on gold had fallen so low
that it began to be thought by sanguine people that specie payments
would be resumed at once. Silver in considerable quantities actually
came into circulation. Restaurants, cigar-stands, and establishments
dealing in the lighter articles of merchandise paid it out in change, by
way of an extra inducement to customers.
On one of these days Henry Barwood, a treasury clerk, and Megilp, the
rather well-known picture restorer, met by accident at the door of
Gruyère's restaurant. Gruyère's place, although in the business
quarter, is not supported to any great extent by the hurrying throng of
bankers', brokers', merchants', and lawyers' clerks who overrun the
vicinity every day at lunch-time. It is a rather leisurely resort,
frequented by well-to-do importers, musicians, and artists, people who
have travelled, and whose affairs admit of considerable deliberation and
repose. Barwood in former times had been in the habit of going there
occasionally to air his amateur French, burn a spoonful of brandy in his
coffee, and enjoy an economical foretaste of Paris. Returned to New York
after a considerable absence, to spend his vacation at home, he was
inclined to renew this with other old associations.
Megilp, sprung from a race which has supplied the world with a large
share of its versatility of talent and its adventurous proclivities, was
familiarly known at Gruyère's as "Mac." He was removed above want by the
possession of an income sufficient, with some ingenuity of management,
to provide him with the bare necessaries of life.
He found leisure to come every day to retail the gossip of the studios,
and fortify himself for the desultory labors in which he was engaged. He
liked the society of young men for several reasons. For one thing, they
were more free with their purses than his older cronies. The
association, he also thought, threw a sort of glamour of youth about his
own person. Finally, they listened to the disquisitions and artistic
rhapsodies in which he was fond of indulging, with an attention by no
means accorded by his compeers.
Barwood was of a speculative turn of mind, and had also by nature a
strong leaning towards whatever was curious and out of the common. These
proclivities Megilp's conversation, pursuits, and studio full of
trumpery were calculated to gratify. A moderate sort of friendship had
in consequence sprung up between them.
They made mutual protestations of pleasure at this meeting. Barwood
considered it an occasion worthy of a bottle of Dry Verzenay, which was
not demurred to by Megilp.
The payment of specie was so entire a novelty that, when the inquiries
and explanations natural after a long separation were concluded, it was
among the first topics touched upon.
"Sure it's the first hard money I've seen these ten years, so it is,"
"That is my case also," said Barwood. "I took as little interest in the
matter as any boy of fourteen might be expected to; but I remember very
well how rapidly specie disappeared at the beginning of the war."
"And where has it been?" said Megilp. "There's many fine points of
interest about it, do you see. Consider the receptacles in which it has
been hoarded—the secret places in chimneys, under floors and under
ground, the vaults, old stockings, cabinets, and caskets that have
teemed and glittered with it. Then there's the characters again, of all
its various owners: the timid doubters about the government, the
speculators, the curiosity hunters, the misers"—
"Yes," said Barwood, "the history of a single one of these pieces for
the period would probably make a story full of interest." It did not
detract from the value of Megilp's conversation, in Barwood's view, that
the worthy artist said "foine" and "hoorded" instead of adopting the
more conventional pronunciation.
"But what I'm after telling you isn't the singular part of it at all,"
resumed Megilp, taking some silver from his pocket and evidently
settling down to the subject. "What is ten years to it? According to the
mint reports a coin of the precious metals loses by wear and tear but
one twenty-four hundredth of its bulk in a year. These pieces I hold in
my hand, coined forty years ago, are scarcely defaced. In another forty
they will be hardly more so. What, for instance, has been the career of
this Mexican dollar? Perhaps it was struck from bullion fresh from a
Mexican mine. In that case I have nothing to say. But just as likely it
was struck from old Spanish plate or from former coin, and then it takes
us back to the earliest times, and its origin is lost in obscurity. The
same metal is time after time re-melted, re-cast, re-stamped, and thus
maintained in perpetual youth. This gold piece upon my watch-chain was
perchance coined from the sands of the Pactolus, and once bore
Chaldaean characters. And to what uses has it come?
'Imperial Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away;'
and so the pieces paid for the ransom of the Inca of Peru or Richard the
Lion-hearted, the material of the spurs of Agincourt, the rings of
Cleopatra and Zenobia, the golden targets of Solomon, fashioned from the
treasures of Ophir, may purchase soap and candles and mutton-chops for
John Smith. And yet why not? We ourselves have come down to commonplace
usages; why should not the works of our hands? You with your
conventional hat and English walking-coat, I with my spectacles and
Irish brogue, have had ancestors that wore coats of mail in the first
crusade, or twanged cross-bows with Robin Hood, sailed in the ships of
Tarshish, and traded to Tyre and Sidon."
"You think, then," said Barwood, "that some part of the coinage of
antiquity is still in circulation."
"To be sure I do, don't I tell you? I say the precious metals are
indestructible. All the coins that have figured prominently in history
are in some shape or other among us still. Twenty-four hundred years of
active use are needed to wear out a coin completely. How long will it
last with moderate use, and with intervals of lying buried for hundreds
of years, as much of the coinage of antiquity now extant in its
original condition has done? We have among us the rings, bolts, chains
bracelets, drinking-vessels, and vases that glitter in the narratives of
all the chroniclers, and embody the pomp and luxury of all the ages.
"My silver dollar here, which I ring upon Gruyère's table, and with
which, had it not been for your amiable politeness, I should have paid
for my frugal lunch, has haply been moulded in Cellini's dagger-hilts or
crucifixes, or formed part of a pirate's booty from a scuttled galleon
on the Spanish Main. For aught I know, it was current money in Nineveh
and Babylon. Perhaps it is one of the pieces paid by Abraham to the
children of Heth for the double cave that looked towards Mamre."
"Or one of the pieces for which Judas betrayed the Master," suggested
Megilp looked startled, and involuntarily pushed the money away from
him. "That is a singular fancy of yours."
"It came to me quite spontaneously this moment," said Barwood. "I don't
know but it is, and yet it was a very natural sequence from what
Both were abstracted for some moments, and contemplated in silence the
bubbles twisting up the stems of the delicate wine-glasses.
"Do you suppose," finally said Barwood, "that those coins, if extant,
carry with them an enduring curse?"
"There's no good in them, you may depend," said the other. By this time
both bottle and plates were empty. The train of thought they had been
pursuing seemed to have found its climax in the turn given it by
Barwood. Over their coffee and dessert they discussed more cheerful
"Come around to my place before you leave town," said Megilp, as they
shook hands at parting. "I have a one-legged bronze Hercules from
Pompeii. I think ye'll enjoy it."
As he hobbled away he muttered to himself more than once, "It's the
divil's own fancy, so it is."
The business of the Bureau of Ethereal Claims at Washington was
conducted by a moderate force of clerks, under the direction of General
Bellwether. The general had been a little of everything in his time. At
the outbreak of the war he abandoned an unprofitable insurance agency to
raise a company. He displayed considerable courage and strategic talent
in his campaigning, came out a brevet brigadier, and had been making a
good thing of it ever since in the government service. The office
bristled with military titles. Everybody except Barwood and Judge
Montane was either colonel, major, or captain. As to the judge, a
middle-aged, uncommunicative man who was known to be supporting a large
family, he confessed one day over a bottle, ordered in by the bureau
during the general's absence, that his title was chiefly honorary.
"What court did you used to be judge of, Montane?" inquired young Mars
"I'll tell you, boys," replied the judge, yielding to the genial
influences of the occasion; "I'm just no judge at all, do you see,
except may be as I'd be a good judge of whiskey or the like."
It was doubtful whether the claims of some others of the number could
have been much better established.
Mars Brown, son of the senator of that name,—a man whose influence few
generals or bureaus of claims could afford to disregard,—was naturally
the most privileged character in the office. He chatted familiarly with
the general when that irregular chief was present, absented himself for
several days at a time with perfect unconcern, came late in the morning,
and went early, as he explained, to make up for it. He was a handsome
fellow, thoroughly confident of himself, and companionable. He
displayed, among other accomplishments, an acquaintance with the manners
and customs of horses and dogs, and a facility in the management of
boats, guns, and fishing tackle that made him an indisputable authority
on all matters of the sort. His stock of stories was immense, his wit
always ready and very comical. He could convulse a dinner-party when
everything else failed, by making ridiculous faces. Among ladies of all
ages he was a sort of conquering hero. He was consequently in general
social demand as the life of the company.
Such was Mars Brown, whom Barwood, shortly after his return to
Washington, began to regard with distrust and dislike, as a possible
rival in the quarter where his affections were chiefly centred.
It might have been expected, from the general's excessive preoccupation
with lobbyists and politicians, that the business of the bureau should
languish, and so it did. The brunt of it was borne by a few clerks—of
whom Barwood was not one—whose tenure of office depended upon efficient
work rather than upon influential backing. Government work must be
performed by somebody, and it happens that, in spite of the great
principle of rotation, the heads of men of undeniable usefulness rest
firm upon their shoulders while hundreds are toppling all about them.
The bureau was not without spasmodic attempts at discipline. The general
spent an occasional forenoon in lying in wait for delinquents, whose
shortcomings he made the text for some very forcible remarks. The
business of the office, he would state warmly, should be attended to, or
he would make unpleasant theological arrangements for himself if he
didn't know the reason why. With Brown he never went much further than
to request, as a personal favor, that he would try to be on hand a
little oftener and rather earlier, to which Brown always acceded quite
Admirable punctuality of attendance and of office hours was almost
always observed for a couple of days after these formalities, and then
things resumed the even tenor of their way.
Whatever might be the effect of this state of affairs upon the other
employés of the office and upon the general public, it was certainly
disastrous to the private interests of Henry Barwood. Naturally of an
unpractical, somewhat morbid disposition, he needed the stimulus of a
business life in which the necessity for action and its results when
performed were constantly apparent. If engaged in his own ventures,
taking risks and devising plans, he might have abandoned his
speculations and fancies, and become a man of affairs. As it was, he
found too much opportunity for their indulgence.
Every day from nine to three he assorted, copied, and made abstracts of
applications and reports, the objects of which were remote, their
expediency questionable, and their ultimate fate problematical. Without
interest in the work and without any particular pressure for its
performance, he dreamed over it, and often awoke from his reveries to
find his figures inaccurate and his sentences meaningless.
Morbid people are probably as incomprehensible to themselves as to
others. The world is viewed by each through the medium of his own
ill-adjusted temperament. Objects are seen in a strangely tinted light,
which is more than suspected to be delusive, yet cannot be decolorized.
Barwood's vision was affected by such a distorting influence. He
discovered subtle meanings in ordinary things or circumstances, in the
manner of a nod from an acquaintance or the tone of a remark, and
brooded over them. He continually scrutinized and questioned his own
motives and those of others.
The mind of every human being is a puzzle to every other. With what is
it occupied when left to its own devices? There is, in Barwood's
handwriting, proof that his brain was filled with a procession of
changing activities and impressions which were for the most part
melancholy,—aspirations for fame, distrust in his own powers,
forecasting of probabilities, repining for past sins and follies, rage
and epithets for imaginary meetings with enemies. In the midst of all
there were moments of perfect peace made up of reminiscences of a
high-porticoed house, the grass-grown wheel-tracks and the sandy beach
of the village on the Connecticut coast where his early home had been.
His fancies were rich and full, but slightly chaotic. So also his will
was strong and imperious at times, but vacillating.
It could not be said that he was not ambitious He would have desired
success in order to secure a kindly recognition and to obviate the jars
and harshness of life. But no one prevailing impulse had ever enlisted
his full powers. He saved money, with a general indefinite notion of
some day becoming a capitalist, and also gave much time to studies of
various sorts. He learned music among the rest, after coming of age, and
composed music of his own, using as an inspiration a favorite poem,
picture, or character. These compositions were marked by a quaintness
like that—if a comparison may be made to something tangible—, of a
Chinese vase or a broken bronze figure. His family, the Barwoods, had
been from the earliest times a race of shrewd and driving New England
storekeepers, the very antipodes of sentiment and dilettanteism. Such
incongruities are among the compensations of nature. The Holbrook farm
was the one locality, and Nina Holbrook the one figure, in the generally
sombre prospect which Barwood saw about him, that gleamed in sunshine.
By the interposition of Mars Brown these also were presently shadowed.
From entries in a carefully kept diary.
It would have been strange, with Barwood's habits of retrospection and
continual casting about for the rare and curious, if the subject matter
of his conversation with the old painter at Gruyère's had not taken some
hold upon his imagination. But to explain the rapidity with which the
notion there suggested grew, and the absorbing interest with which it
finally held him, would be difficult. The influence of the mind upon the
body is known. By persistent direction of thought one can both create
and cure a pain in any specific spot of his organism. The mind has a
similar power over itself. By intense concentration upon one subject it
may suspend and finally destroy its faculty of interest in any and all
The idea that the price of the treason of Judas is still extant and
current in these every-day, commonplace times is at first sight utterly
incongruous and incredible, perhaps a little sacrilegious. Yet it is
evidently plausible. "The precious metals are indeed indestructible, as
Megilp has said," soliloquized Barwood. "They do not oxidize. The most
violent excesses of the elements have no effect upon them. If not still
extant, where then are the treasures of the ages?
"Buried under ground or in the ocean.
"What proportion of the whole has been thus disposed of?
"In the absence of statistics a definite amount cannot be stated, but
from the nature of the case it cannot be large. This form of wealth has
been too highly esteemed, too jealously guarded, and too rigorously
sought for when lost. In the wars and convulsions of society it has
changed hands but it could not be destroyed. Alexander and Tamerlane and
Timour the Tartar and Mahomet might overrun the world, burning and
destroying, and melting its more fragile riches like frost-work. But the
money of the vanquished was useful to the victor for his own purposes.
Rome took from Alexander, the barbarians from Rome, and modern
civilization from the barbarians. The waves of time roll over and engulf
all the monuments of men, all that gold and silver buy and sell, and, as
it were, create; but these irrepressible tokens themselves float and
glitter in the foam-crests upon those very billows. It cannot, then, be
doubted that the instruments and accompaniments of most of the pomp and
luxury, the war, treasons, and varied mercenary crimes of the world, are
still acting their part in it.
"And why not with the rest the fatal money which Judas cast down before
the chief priests in his remorse, going out to destroy himself?"
These were the reflections that recurred again and again to Barwood, and
possessed him with a strange fascination. All coins acquired a new and
intense interest. He saw in each the exponent of centuries of human
passions and activities. It is true that in a country like our own a
large part of the coinage is fresh from the mine. Yet his occasional
encounters with foreign, especially Mexican and Canadian pieces, and a
consideration of the immense sums received at the great ports of entry,
were, in his regard, sufficient to leaven the whole.
Is there anywhere in literature an account of the subsequent career of
the thirty pieces?
The Capitol library, one of the most complete collections in the world,
offers unlimited facilities for research. There Barwood was to be found
some part of every day for months.
The writer has seen a list of the works consulted by him in his singular
investigation. It numbers some hundreds, and includes commentaries of
all sorts upon the Gospels, lives of the apostles, collections of
apocryphal Gospels and Scriptural traditions, the works of the early
fathers, chronicles of the Middle Ages, treatises upon Oriental life and
customs, histories of symbolism and Christian art, a great number of
works upon numismatics, and, finally, accounts of great crimes and
calamities. For Barwood took a new view of history: he looked to find
that the great treasons, briberies, betrayals of trust, murders from
mercenary motives, and perhaps financial troubles, had been set in
motion by this fatal money, made the instrument of divine vengeance.
"It has mown a swath through history," he said, "like a discharge of
He believed it would appear, if the truth were known, in the bank
accounts of Manuel Comnenus, of Egmont, Benedict Arnold, and the
His progress was by no means rapid. Much of the literature among which
he delved, musty with age, written in mediaeval Latin and in obsolete
characters, gave up its secrets with reluctance. Nevertheless he found
definite replies to the questions which he propounded to himself. A
collection of apocryphal Gospels "printed," according to the quaint
title-page, "for Richard Royston at the Angle in Amen Corner, MDCLXX,"
relates particulars about Judas, among the rest, which do not appear in
the Scriptures. He was when young, it was said, a playmate of the boy
Jesus, who delivered him from a devil by which he was even then
possessed. The chief value of this book to Barwood was in a reference it
contained to a fuller Gospel of Judas Iscariot, not now extant with the
exception of some passages quoted in the writings of Irenaeus. But these
passages were upon the very subject of which he was in search. In a
treatise of Irenaeus's, therefore, of about the second century, Barwood
found the first definite mention of the coins.
The main part of the story is that of the authorized version, but after
the account of the relinquishment of the coins by Judas, saying that he
had betrayed innocent blood, and of their use in the purchase of the
potter's field, occurs a passage translated by Barwood as follows:—
"Now the shekels were of the coinage of Simon, the high priest, which
Antiochus authorized him to issue. They bore the pot of manna and the
flowering rod of Aaron, the high priest. But he to whom they were given
knew that they were the price of blood, and was afraid. And
them with a mark in shape like a cross. And great tribulations came
upon him, and tribulation came upon all that bought and sold with the
money of Judas." Later on, Leontinus, a Byzantine writer of the sixth
century, in a treatise devoted to showing the efficacy of certain forms
and processes in imparting virtue to inanimate matter, instances as well
known the malevolence inherent in the thirty pieces of silver of Judas,
which carry ruin wherever they go. From this time the legend is traced
down through successive periods. The Middle Ages, which so delighted in
the romantic, the mysterious, the portentous, received it implicitly.
Eginhard, abbot of Seligenstadt under Charlemagne, William of
Malmesbury, the English chronicler of the twelfth century, Roger Bacon
of the thirteenth, Malespini, the Italian chronicler of the same period,
and many others of equal note mention as fully established that the
coins of Judas were in circulation, and were inflicting serious injury
upon those into whose possession they came. It was said to be
impossible to amalgamate them with any other silver. They either would
not melt or in melting remained distinct. This, however, was a disputed
point. Some of the alchemists in their writings seem disposed to
attribute the ill success of their efforts at transmutation to the
presence of some taint of these pieces in the silver upon which they
Matthew Paris, who first popularized the legend of the Wandering Jew, as
now received, strangely enough makes no mention of them.
The conclusions arrived at by Barwood were these:—
1. There was for hundreds of years a general belief in the existence and
active circulation of the thirty pieces paid to Judas.
2. They were supposed to be sent as a divine judgment, and to leave ruin
in their track.
3. The tradition gradually disappeared and cannot be traced in the
literature of modern times.
Here was a valuable pursuit for a young American treasury clerk of the
nineteenth century! It would have been interesting to have got the
general's opinion upon it, if it could have been sought in some hurried
interval of his confidential transactions with Richard Roe, claim agent
and brother-in-law, or his attention to addition and division with
Barwood did not stop here. Now that his belief was put into tangible
shape, he felt impelled onward to its realization. He examined minutely
every coin collection in Washington. Then, as he could, he made journeys
to several of the great cities. Very seldom did he find a specimen of
Jewish money of any kind. Jewish coins are rare. "It is known that the
Jews had no coinage of their own until the time of Maccabeus. Simon
Maccabeus, by virtue of a decree of Antiochus (1 Macc. xv. 6) issued a
shekel and also a half-shekel. These with the exception of some brass
coins of the Herods, Archelaus, and Agrippa, and a doubtful piece
attributed to Bar Cochba, the leader in the last rising against the
Romans, are the only coins of Judea extant."
Barwood began to be affected by a nervous dread brought on by his too
close study and constant preoccupation with this subject. As he alone
had felt this interest and prosecuted this strange inquiry, might it not
be that he was being drawn in some mysterious way within the influence
of the fatal money? Perhaps he himself was to be involved in its
relentless course. He shuddered at the thought, and yet was borne
irresistibly on, as he believed, in his pursuit. He imagined at times
that he felt a peculiar influence from the touch of certain pieces. This
he held to be a clairvoyant sense that they had figured in crimes.
Perhaps contact with a hand affected by powerful passion had imparted to
them subtle properties capable of being detected by a sensitive
In such study and speculation Barwood passed the spring and summer of
1870. Towards the middle of August occurred the well-remembered flurry
in Wall Street consequent upon the breaking out of the French and
Prussian War. Gold jumped up to one hundred and twenty-three. Money was
loaned at ruinous rates. The whole financial system was disturbed.
Silver, then withdrawn from circulation, has not reappeared to this day.
The effect of these events upon Barwood although not immediately
apparent, was highly important. With the disappearance of specie, the
daily sight and handling of which had given his conception a tangible
support, its strength declined. It was not forgotten at once, nor indeed
at all. But time drew it away by little and little. It threw mists of
distance and hues of strangeness about it, until at length Barwood
looked back upon it, far remote, as a vague object of wonderment.
Diary, June, 1870.
THE HOLBROOK FARM.
The day had been sultry. Even after sunset the atmosphere was
oppressive, and pavements and railings in the city were warm to the
touch from the steady blaze to which they had been subjected. At the
Holbrook farm, however, occasional puffs of air stirred the silver
poplars skirting the road, and waved the brown timothy grass that grew
knee-deep up to the veranda.
Porto Rico and Carter's boy turning somersaults in the grass—entirely
without the knowledge of the discreet Carter himself, it may be
assumed—suddenly relinquished this fascinating sport to rush for the
privilege of holding Barwood's horse, Porto Rico's longer legs and
general force of character gave him the preference. He jumped into the
saddle as soon as Barwood was out of it, and trotted off to the stable
with Carter's boy whooping and bobbing his woolly head in the rear.
"Never you mine," said Carter's boy, "I'll have the other gen'l'm'n."
"No other gen'l'm'n a'n't comin'," said Porto Rico. "Don't I done tole
you dey don't bofe come de same day?"
The Holbrook house, three miles from the Capitol, of the dome of which
it commands a pretty glimpse across an expanse of foliage, is one of the
old residences remaining from the days of the slave-holders. Like many
such places it has been much altered and improved. It seems to have been
originally a one and-a-half-story stone dwelling, to which some later
proprietor has added a high-peaked roof, dormer windows, and ample
piazzas. It stands half-way up a slope, near the top of which is a
grove. A brook runs down through the woods on the other side of the
road, and beyond that rises a steep little bluff crowned with scrub-oaks
The attraction that drew people to Holbrook farm was not the proprietor
himself, nor very much his maiden sister, the housekeeper, nor yet
Carter, the farmer and manager who came with them from Richmond. It was
rather the engaging manners and amiable beauty of Nina Holbrook, the
daughter of the house. The old gentleman was a partial paralytic,
whimsical, and not especially sociable. He was known to have lived in
princely style at Richmond, formerly. He was said to have met for some
years past with continual reverses, in the loss of property, in
sickness, and in the death of friends. The farm was bought with almost
the last remnants of a great fortune.
As Barwood strode down the piazza, a young lady rose from her reading to
give him her hand.
Blonde beauty is slightly indefinite. The edges are, as it were, too
much softened off into the background. The figure before Barwood was
fresh, distinct, clear-cut,—pre-Raphaelitish, to take a word from
painting. In all the details, from the ribbon in her feathery brown hair
to the pretty buttoned boot, there was the ineffable aroma of a pure,
To a man of Barwood's temperament falling in love was difficult. He
analyzed too closely. To ask the tender passion too many questions is to
repel its advances.
Nevertheless, after two years of intimate association, in which he had
discovered in Nina Holbrook a frankness and loveliness of character
commensurate with her personal graces, he had arrived at this
condition. First, He believed that her permanent influence upon his
character could cure his moodiness and his unpractical tendencies, and
enable him to exert his fullest powers. Second, By making the
supposition that anything should intervene to limit or break off their
intercourse, he found that she had become indispensable to him.
Their acquaintance had begun in some one of the ordinary ways in which
people meet. It might have been at a tea-party, or a secretary's
reception, or a boat excursion up the Potomac. They discovered that they
had mutual acquaintances to talk about. His evening rides began to be
directed through the pretty lanes that led to Holbrook. She loaned him a
book; he brought her confectionery; they played some piano duets
On her side the sentiment was different. She respected Barwood for fine
traits and was grateful for his many kindnesses to her. But certain
peculiar moods of his made her uncomfortable. His interest also was too
much occupied with books, speculations about the anomalies and problems
of life, and similar serious matters. She found it wearisome and often
difficult to follow him. She admired such things, but had not as much
head for them as he gave her credit for. Her taste was more practical,
commonplace, and cheerful. She was satisfied with people and things in
their ordinary aspects.
She got on much better with Mars Brown, exchanging comments with him
upon the affairs of her friends and his, discussing the last party and
the next wedding, or laughing at his drollery. She confessed her
stupidity and frivolity with charming frankness.
Barwood was conscious that he did not always interest her, although she
never showed anything but the most ladylike attention. He often went
away lamenting the destiny that had fashioned his nature to run in so
small and rigid a groove. His happiness, therefore, did not consist in
being with her, for then he was oppressed by a consciousness of not
entirely pleasing her. It was rather in retrospect, in his memory of her
sweet and earnest face, the tones of her voice, the shine of her hair.
He gave her such small gifts as he might within the restraints of social
propriety. It would have consisted with his notion of the fitness of
things to give her everything he had and leave himself a beggar.
Barwood rode to Holbrook to-day with a definite purpose. He was aware,
although, as Porto Rico said, both gentlemen did not come on the same
day, that Mars Brown was devoting more attention in this direction of
late than the exigencies of his boat and ball clubs, his shooting and
fishing, and the claims of the social world in town would seem to
warrant. He did not yet really fear him as a rival. His presence was
only a suggestion of possibilities. There might at some time be rivals.
He had determined to forestall possibilities, and tell her of his
affection at once.
Mars Brown was, however, a dangerous rival, although himself perhaps as
little aware of it as Barwood. He also had met Nina and been impressed
by her animated beauty. Accustomed to success, he had ridden out to
Holbrook to add one more to his list of flirtations and conquests. The
results had by no means answered his expectations. When he approached
sentiment Nina laughed at him. By degrees he had been piqued into
earnestness, and had for the first time in his life approximated to a
serious esteem and attachment.
Although Nina laughed at first, later on she sometimes blushed at his
voice or his step, or when she put her hand into his. If his customary
shrewd vision had not been disturbed by some unusual influences at work
within himself, he would have seen it.
He had the audacity that charms women, and with it a frank, open face, a
hearty laugh, an entirely healthy, cheerful disposition, and an air of
strength under all his frivolity.
It has been said that Barwood had come to the farm to-day with a
definite purpose. He drew up one of the comfortable chairs at hand, and
sat down near to Nina. They talked at first of ordinary things, the
unusual heat, the news of the day, and what each had been doing since
their last meeting.
The secluded prospect before them was very peaceful. Barwood felt its
soothing influence acting upon the perturbation of his spirit.
"I am improving my mind, you see," said Nina, holding up to him one of
Motley's histories, which she had apparently been reading. "I do not
believe even you can find fault with this."
"Am I in the habit of finding fault with anybody, Miss Nina?"
"Oh no, I don't mean that exactly, but you know so much, you know, that
you frighten one."
"Thank you," said Barwood with a grave smile, "you flatter me."
"Why were you not at the Hoyts' last Tuesday?" said she.
"I was not invited, and, strange to state, I am a little diffident about
going under such circumstances."
"Ah, you are! how singular! But I wish you had been there, if it was
only to see Betty Goodwin. You used to know her. It is such a short time
ago that she was a little girl. Now she is out of school and as
important as anybody. You should have seen the attention she had, and
her perfect self-possession. It makes me feel extremely antiquated. Am I
very much wrinkled?"
Barwood gazed with admiration at her animated face. She was to him the
personification of youth and beauty. The notion of age and wrinkles in
her regard was inconceivable.
"Why, of course," said he; "Methuselah wasn't a circumstance."
She dismissed the subject with a little pout.
"I am so glad you have come early," she resumed. "I wish the others
would imitate your example."
"The others? What others?"
"Mr. Hyson, the Hoyt boys, Mr. Brown, Fanny Davis, and the rest. You did
not suppose you were to do them alone, I hope."
"Do what alone? I don't understand."
"Why, the tableaux—Evangeline. Did you not get my message yesterday?"
"I got no message. Am I to be implicated in tableaux?"
"Why, certainly. You are to be Evangeline's father. They are for the
benefit of the French wounded. I sent Carter to tell you yesterday. We
are to arrange the preliminaries this evening."
Barwood saw that if he would not postpone his purpose no time was to be
lost. The visitors might arrive at any moment.
Literature is full of the embarrassments of the marriage proposal. To
all who are not borne along by an impetuous impulse it is a trying
ordeal. Barwood was too self-conscious ever to be transported out of
"I have something to say to you, Miss Nina," he began, "which I have
come from town expressly to say. It is of the greatest moment to me."
She continued to look straight before her at the glowing evening sky,
and so did he. The crickets and katydids had commenced their chorus and
the tree-toads their long rhythm. Fire-flies flitted in the uncertain
light. There came from the woods the call of the owl and the
"We have sometimes laughed together at sentiment," he continued, "and
voted it an invention of the story-books; but there are times—there is
a sentiment—which—in short, dear Nina, I have come to ask you to be my
little wife. I have loved you almost since our first meeting."
"Oh, Mr. Barwood," said she, looking hastily towards him, with
heightened color and a tone of regret, "you must not say so. I cannot
let you go on."
"I must go on," said he. "I have never felt so strongly upon any subject
as this. I know I am not worthy of such happiness, yet I cannot bear the
thought of losing it. Consider our long friendship. You will be mine?
Oh, say so, Nina!" In the terrible dread that his petition was already
refused, he became a little incoherent.
Nina, a tender-hearted young lady, was by this time in tears. His
evident distress, and her recognition of the great compliment he had
paid her, would have commanded almost any return save the one he asked.
But the sacrifice was too great. She had not thought it would ever be
necessary to change their relation of friendship.
"I am very sorry to have to say what is painful to you," said she, with
a sob only half repressed. "I want you to be always my friend. I shall
be very unhappy if our friendship is to be broken, but
will find some other"—
"Do not speak further," he interrupted, impetuously. "You have not yet
said no. Reserve your answer; take time to consider. Let me still hope."
"No," she began, "I ought"—but wheels and merry voices were heard at
the gate. "Oh! I cannot let them see me now," she said, and hurried
away. In a moment more the Robinsons' carriage was at the steps. When
Nina came down with a sweet, subdued manner, there was a jolly party of
ten or twelve in the drawing-room. Mars Brown was already amusing
everybody with his absurd posturing.
"I want to be Evangeline," said he, wrapping a lady's shawl about him
and sitting on the arm of a chair in a collapsed attitude. "No, on
second thought, I want to be Basil the blacksmith." He made imitations
of tremendous muscular power with a tack-hammer that happened in his way
for a sledge. Everybody on such occasions has his own notions of the
picturesque. A deal of talking was required in arranging the various
scenes. Evangeline must manifest a "celestial brightness," according to
the lines. "I don't think you do it quite right," said Julia Robinson.
"You should smile a little."
"Oh no, not at all; she should have an earnest, far off look," said
"Of course she should," said Mars Brown, rumpling his hair and
contorting his features into an expression of idiotic vacancy;
"something this way."
"We ought to have a real artist to arrange them," said Nina; "what
would I give if old Mr. Megilp were here."
"Did you know Megilp?" exclaimed Barwood.
"Why, of course I did. He was my drawing teacher at Richmond for years."
"What a small world it is, to be sure," said Barwood, giving vent to a
favorite reflection. The mention of Megilp brought back for a moment a
remembrance of their last meeting and conversation, and the strange
pursuit into which it had led him.
The signing of the marriage contract was selected by the amateurs as an
appropriate subject for illustration.
"We must have a table," said Miss Travers. "At one side sits the notary,
lifting his pen from the document which he has just signed, and at the
other her father, pushing toward the notary a roll of money in payment."
"Here you are," said George Wigwag, taking his place and assuming the
appropriate gesture; "here's your notary; bring on your old gentleman
and his money."
"A roll of old copper cents would be just the thing," said Miss Travers.
"They look antique enough."
"Will some gentleman deposit with the treasurer a roll of antique copper
cents?" said Brown, passing a hat. "No gentleman deposits a roll of
copper cents. Very well, then the wedding can't go on."
"Do you think I'll sign marriage contracts for copper?" said Wigwag.
"No indeed; I'm not that kind of a notary."
"I will bring down some of papa's curiosity coins from his cabinet,"
said Nina. "I don't believe he will scold me, just for once."
She returned in a moment with a dozen or more silver pieces, and placed
them on the table by Barwood. He began to examine them carelessly.
"I did not know your father was a numismatist," said he.
"Oh yes," said Nina, "he always had a great taste in that way. His
collection now is nothing. When we broke up in Richmond most of it was
sold off. He retained only a few of the most valuable pieces, which he
keeps in a case in his room. I don't know much about such things, for my
part. Here is one that is considered curious. It was taken out of a
wreck on the California coast, I believe, and was the last papa bought
before his failure. I think it is Russian, perhaps, or Arabic—no, let
Barwood, with an abstracted air, took it to examine. Suddenly he uttered
a strange exclamation and fell back in his chair, pale, trembling,
The coin was a Jewish shekel, with a cross cut through at one side.
He pleaded sudden illness, and rode hastily homeward in a state of
Barwood's strange and almost forgotten conception was thus at length
realized, and the interest with which it had inspired him intensely
revived. One of the fatal pieces was found. He would now fain have
overthrown the structure of probabilities which he had labored so
painfully to elaborate. He reviewed step by step all the details of his
former study; but no argument availed in the face of the extraordinary
corroboration now offered. The piece was "stamped with a mark in shape
like a cross," and the account of Irenaeus was verified.
That this fatal piece should appear in the hands of the people whom of
all others he most esteemed and with whom his own fortunes were most
intimately bound up, was a terrible shock. This, then, was the clew to
the catalogue of Holbrook's misfortunes. What surpassing crime could the
old man have committed to be so signally marked out for vengeance? But
the question of most vital interest was what could be done to save the
family so dear to him from their impending fate.
With the recovery of some calmness, he felt that his first duty was to
remove the coin from their possession. But how was it to be done? He
could not disclose his knowledge of its baleful properties. It would be
set down as the vagary of a disordered brain; nobody would entertain it
for an instant. His object must be accomplished, if at all, by artifice.
When he next rode to the farm, nearly a week had elapsed since the
evening into which so many distracting emotions had been crowded. He
exerted himself to display unusual cheerfulness, with the double object
of removing any disagreeable impression which might have been the result
of his sudden departure on that occasion, and also of finding means to
forward his purpose. The subject uppermost in the thoughts of both was
at first carefully avoided, and they talked much in their usual fashion.
"Those coins, Miss Nina, which were used the other evening in the
tableau," said he, with a careless air, "can I see them again? I found
them interesting, but owing to my sudden illness, as you know, had
scarcely time to examine them."
"My father was displeased at me for taking them," said she, "and has
forbidden me to do so again. I think he would show them to you himself
with pleasure, if he were here, but he went North yesterday on business
which will detain him a week. He took the key of his cabinet with him."
Disappointed in this, there seemed to be for the present no resource. He
recurred again to his love. If she would consent to be his, he thought,
he might disclose the danger, and they could plan together to avert it.
He told her with what anxiety he had been awaiting her decision, and
then once more made his appeal with all the ardor at his command. As he
finished, standing close beside her, he took her hand.
She did not withdraw it, but still went on to tell him with great
calmness and dignity that what he desired could never be. She hoped
their friendship might always continue, but as for a closer relation, it
would be unjust to him as well as herself to enter into it without the
affection which she could not give.
He went away apparently very much broken down, saying that his life was
a burden to him, and that he had no use for it. The next day he came
again and acted so strangely, mingling appeals to her with talk about
her father's coins, that she was a little frightened.
The few days that succeeded made a striking change in the appearance of
Barwood. He became pale and haggard, and seemed to have lost his
capacity for business and fixed attention. He sat staring helplessly at
his papers for an hour at a time. The general, who with all his
iniquities was a good-hearted chief, thought he was sick, and told him
to stay at home and take care of himself. His reflections at this time
were tormenting. He saw that he had indeed been drawn within the
influence of the fatal coin. It was at him that its malignity was
directed, and he believed that his doom was approaching, as indeed it
was. Sometimes he gazed at his altered face in the glass, while tears
streamed down his cheeks. He said aloud, in a piteous tone, "Poor Henry
The sympathy of the world is generally upon the side of the unsuccessful
lover. He is considered to have been defrauded of happiness which should
by right have been his. But is it fair? Because her face is sweet, her
manners are amiable, her form is slender and graceful, and her hair has
a golden shine, and Barwood or Brown or Travers, as the case may be, in
common with all the world, recognizes it, does that establish a claim
upon her? Just as likely as not he has a snub nose and only fifteen
hundred a year, and cannot dance the Boston. No! sympathy is well
enough, but let not the blame be cast upon Chloe every time that Daphnis
goes off in despair to the Sandwich Islands, or the war in Cuba, or
turns out a good-for-nothing sot. Let it rather be set down as one of
the ill-adjustments of which there are so many in life, and the
endurance of which is no doubt of service in some direction not yet
In about a week there came from Holbrook Farm a message which was not
needed to complete the measure of Barwood's unhappiness.
"My father," wrote Nina, "has just returned. He has decided that we are
to remove permanently to Connecticut, where my aunt has fallen heir to
the Holbrook homestead. We shall leave next Monday. Will you let us see
you before we go?"
He mounted his horse and started at once. He did not know exactly what
he should do or say. His ideas were in a state of confusion, and there
was a numbness over all his sensations. He gave himself up blindly to
He saw Nina sitting in the shade of an apple-tree, half-way down the
lawn, near a little plateau which served for a croquet ground. He tied
his horse to the fence outside, much to the disappointment of the
rollicking negro boys, and walked up. Nina held in her lap a tray of
coins which she was engaged in brightening. She assumed a sprightliness
not quite natural, and evidently designed to obviate the awkwardness of
their peculiar relation.
"We have had an accident," said she. "One of our chimneys fell through
the roof during the storm last night. It shook down the plaster upon
papa's cabinet. The glass was broken and the rain came in so that this
morning it was in a sorry condition. I am repairing damages, you see. If
I were superstitious," she continued, "I should fear that something was
going to happen. I meet with so many omens lately. I spill salt, cross
funerals, and make one of thirteen at dinner parties."
Barwood replied as best he could; he did not know exactly what. He was
in no mood for flippancy. He assumed a dozen different positions in a
short space: first sitting on a camp-chair beside her, then hurried
walking up and down, then careless prostration upon the grass. The old,
useless argument was gone through with again. She told him at last that
it annoyed her, that he was very inconsiderate. Then again he paced up
and down the little croquet ground. She saw him twisting and clutching
his hands together behind him. At the fifth or sixth turn as he came by
she had the marked shekel in her hand. He took it from her and looked at
"Yes, it is indeed," said he in an unnatural voice, "fatal money, and I
am its latest victim!"
He threw it towards the woods with great force.
It rose high in the air, skimmed the trees, and they saw it twinkle into
It was a very little incident. No magic hand arose from the water. The
beauty of the August day was not marred. The rain of the past night had
swollen the brook, which ran hurriedly on to the Potomac, making little
of this trivial addition to its burdens.
Nina did not reproach him. She felt that her father would consider the
loss irreparable, yet she had no words for this extraordinary rudeness.
After two or three turns more in his walk he stopped close beside her.
"For the last time," said he, "have I urged everything, and is it of no
She made no answer.
"You have said so?" he persisted.
"Yes, I have said so," she replied, with a touch of impatience, and
without raising her eyes. "I am engaged to Mars Brown."
He went forward several steps and stood still. Glancing up she saw him
hold a little revolver to his temple. It was one she had known him to
carry for protection when riding late in the evening. He seemed to
deliberate one terrible moment while she sat spell-bound as if by
nightmare, and then he fired and fell.
She tried to reach his body, but fainted on the way. Mars Brown, riding
to Holbrook for a half-holiday, was almost within sight.
Upon the closing scene of Hamlet, where the characters, after a period
of stormy conflict and exquisite anguish, lie strewn by violent death,
arrives young Fortinbras at the head of his marching army. Tall, sturdy,
elastic, dressed in chain-mail, victorious, careless, the impersonation
of ruddy life, the young Norway conqueror leans upon his sword above the
So this brilliant young man, elegant in figure, well dressed, joyous,
cynical, came whistling up the path. He cut off the clover tops with his
walking-stick. The butterflies, the pleasant aromas, and all the
manifestations of rural beauty pleased him.
"Egad," said he, "this isn't so bad, you know."
In a moment he stood by the apple-tree, and the whole sad spectacle was
The telegraphic column of a New York newspaper gave the story next
morning, in the conventional manner, as follows:
"Henry Barwood, a treasury clerk, was killed
yesterday at the Holbrook estate near Washington,
by the discharge of a pistol in his own hands. The
shooting is thought to have been accidental,
although he had been ill and depressed for some
days, and is said to have shown symptoms of insanity
on former occasions."