Stories by American Authors,
Volume VIII, by Various
ZERVIAH HOPE BY ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS
THE LIFE-MAGNET BY ALVEY A. ADEE
OSGOOD’S PREDICAMENT BY ELIZABETH D. B. STODDARD
THE BRIGADE COMMANDER BY J. W. De FOREST
SPLIT ZEPHYR BY HENRY A. BEERS
Copyright, 1884, by
CHARLES SCRIBNER’S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by
copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
THE BRIGADE COMMANDER.
By J. W. De Forest.
⁂ New York Times.
The Colonel was the idol of his bragging old regiment and of the
bragging brigade which for the last six months he had commanded.
He was the idol, not because he was good and gracious, not because he
spared his soldiers or treated them as fellow-citizens, but because he
had led them to victory and made them famous. If a man will win
battles and give his brigade a right to brag loudly of its doings, he
may have its admiration and even its enthusiastic devotion, though he
be as pitiless and as wicked as Lucifer.
“It’s nothin’ to me what the Currnell is in prrivit, so long as he
shows us how to whack the rrebs,” said Major Gahogan, commandant of
the “Old Tenth.” “Moses saw God in the burrnin’ bussh, an’ bowed down
to it, an’ worrshipt it. It wasn’t the bussh he worrshipt; it was his
God that was in it. An’ I worrship this villin of a Currnell (if he
is a villin) because he’s almighty and gives us the vict’ry. He’s
nothin’ but a human burrnin’ bussh, perhaps, but he’s got the god of
war in um. Adjetant Wallis, it’s a —— long time between dhrinks, as
I think ye was sayin’, an’ with rayson. See if ye can’t confiscate a
canteen of whiskee somewhere in the camp. Bedad, if I can’t buy it
I’ll stale it. We’re goin’ to fight to-morry, an’ it may be it’s the
last chance we’ll have for a dhrink, unless there’s more lik’r now in
the other worrld than Dives got.”
The brigade was bivouacked in some invisible region, amid the damp,
misty darkness of a September night. The men lay in their ranks, each
with his feet to the front and his head rearward, each covered by his
overcoat and pillowed upon his haversack, each with his loaded rifle
nestled close beside him. Asleep as they were, or dropping placidly
into slumber, they were ready to start in order to their feet and pour
out the red light and harsh roar of combat. There were two lines of
battle, each of three regiments of infantry, the first some two
hundred yards in advance of the second. In the space between them lay
two four-gun batteries, one of them brass twelve-pounder “Napoleons,”
and the other rifled Parrotts. To the rear of the infantry were the
recumbent troopers and picketed horses of a regiment of cavalry. All
around, in the far, black distance, invisible and inaudible, paced or
watched stealthily the sentinels of the grand guards.
There was not a fire, nor a torch, nor a star-beam in the whole
bivouac to guide the feet of Adjutant Wallis in his pilgrimage after
whisky. The orders from brigade headquarters had been strict against
illuminations, for the Confederates were near at hand in force, and a
surprise was purposed as well as feared. A tired and sleepy youngster,
almost dropping with the heavy somnolence of wearied adolescence, he
stumbled on through the trials of an undiscernible and unfamiliar
footing, lifting his heavy riding-boots sluggishly over imaginary
obstacles, and fearing the while lest his toil were labor misspent. It
was a dry camp, he felt dolefully certain, or there would have been
more noise in it. He fell over a sleeping Sergeant, and said to him
hastily, “Steady, man—a friend!” as the half-roused soldier clutched
his rifle. Then he found a Lieutenant, and shook him in vain; further
on a Captain, and exchanged saddening murmurs with him; further still
a camp-follower of African extraction, and blasphemed him.
“It’s a God-forsaken camp, and there isn’t a horn in it,” said
Adjutant Wallis to himself as he pursued his groping journey. “Bet you
I don’t find the first drop,” he continued, for he was a betting boy,
and frequently argued by wagers, even with himself. “Bet you two to
one I don’t. Bet you three to one—ten to one.”
Then he saw, an indefinite distance beyond him, burning like red-hot
iron through the darkness, a little scarlet or crimson gleam, as of a
“That’s Old Grumps, of the Bloody Fourteenth,” he thought. “I’ve
raided into his happy sleeping-grounds. I’ll draw on him.”
But Old Grumps, otherwise Colonel Lafayette Gildersleeve, had no
rations—that is, no whisky.
“How do you suppose an officer is to have a drink, Lieutenant?” he
“Don’t you know that our would-be Brigadier sent all the commissary to
the rear day before yesterday? A canteenful can’t last two days. Mine
went empty about five minutes ago.”
“Oh, thunder!” groaned Wallis, saddened by that saddest of all
thoughts, “Too late!” “Well, least said soonest mended. I must wobble
back to my Major.”
“He’ll send you off to some other camp as dry as this one. Wait ten
minutes, and he’ll be asleep. Lie down on my blanket and light your
pipe. I want to talk to you about official business—about our
“Oh, your turn will come some day,” mumbled Wallis, remembering
Gildersleeve’s jealousy of the brigade commander—a jealousy which
only gave tongue when aroused by “commissary.” “If you do as well as
usual to-morrow you can have your own brigade.”
“I suppose you think we are all going to do well to-morrow,” scoffed
old Grumps, whose utterance by this time stumbled. “I suppose you
expect to whip and to have a good time. I suppose you brag on fighting
and enjoy it.”
“I like it well enough when it goes right; and it generally does go
right with this brigade. I should like it better if the rebs would
fire higher and break quicker.”
“That depends on the way those are commanded whose business it is to
break them,” growled Old Grumps. “I don’t say but what we are rightly
commanded,” he added, remembering his duty to superiors. “I concede
and acknowledge that our would-be Brigadier knows his military
business. But the blessing of God, Wallis! I believe in Waldron as a
soldier. But as a man and a Christian, faugh!”
Gildersleeve had clearly emptied his canteen unassisted; he never
talked about Christianity when perfectly sober.
“What was your last remark?” inquired Wallis, taking his pipe from his
mouth to grin. Even a superior officer might be chaffed a little in
“I made no last remark,” asserted the Colonel with dignity. “I’m not
a-dying yet. If I said anything last it was a mere exclamation of
disgust—the disgust of an officer and gentleman. I suppose you know
something about our would-be Brigadier. I suppose you think you know
something about him.”
“Bet you I know all about him,” affirmed Wallis. “He enlisted in the
old Tenth as a common soldier. Before he had been a week in camp they
found that he knew his biz, and they made him a Sergeant. Before we
started for the field the Governor got his eye on him and shoved him
into a Lieutenancy. The first battle h’isted him to a Captain. And the
second—bang! whiz! he shot up to Colonel, right over the heads of
everybody, line and field. Nobody in the old Tenth grumbled. They saw
that he knew his biz. I know all about him. What’ll you bet?”
“I’m not a betting man, Lieutenant, except in a friendly game of
poker,” sighed Old Grumps. “You don’t know anything about your
Brigadier,” he added in a sepulchral murmur, the echo of an empty
canteen. “I have only been in this brigade a month, and I know more
than you do, far, very far more, sorry to say it. He’s a reformed
clergyman. He’s an apostatized minister.” The Colonel’s voice as he
said this was solemn and sad enough to do credit to an undertaker.
“It’s a bad sort, Wallis,” he continued, after another deep sigh, a
very highly perfumed one, the sigh of a bar-keeper. “When a clergyman
falls, he falls for life and eternity, like a woman or an angel. I
never knew a backslidden shepherd to come to good. Sooner or later he
always goes to the devil, and takes down whomsoever hangs to him.”
“He’ll take down the old Tenth, then,” asserted Wallis. “It hangs to
him. Bet you two to one he takes it along.”
“You’re right, Adjutant; spoken like a soldier,” swore Gildersleeve.
“And the Bloody Fourteenth, too! It will march into the burning pit as
far as any regiment; and the whole brigade, yes sir! But a
backslidden shepherd, my God! Have we come to that? I often say to
myself, in the solemn hours of the night, as I remember my
Sabbath-school days, ‘Great Scott, have we come to that?’ A reformed
clergyman! An apostatized minister! Think of it, Wallis, think of it!
Why, sir, his very wife ran away from him. They had but just buried
their first boy,” pursued Old Grumps, his hoarse voice sinking to a
whimper. “They drove home from the burial-place, where lay the
new-made grave. Arrived at their door, he got out and extended his
hand to help her out. Instead of accepting, instead of throwing
herself into his arms and weeping there, she turned to the coachman
and said, ‘Driver, drive me to my father’s house.’ That was the end of
their wedded life, Wallis.”
The Colonel actually wept at this point, and the maudlin tears were
not altogether insincere. His own wife and children he heartily loved,
and remembered them now with honest tenderness. At home he was not a
drinker and a rough; only amid the hardships and perils of the field.
“That was the end of it, Wallis,” he repeated. “And what was it while
it lasted? What does a woman leave her husband for? Why does she
separate from him over the grave of her innocent first-born? There are
twenty reasons, but they must all of them be good ones. I am sorry to
give it as my decided opinion, Wallis, in perfect confidence, that
they must all be whopping good ones. Well, that was the beginning;
only the beginning. After that he held on for a while, breaking the
bread of life to a skedaddling flock, and then he bolted. The next
known of him, three years later, he enlisted in your regiment, a smart
but seedy recruit, smelling strongly of whisky.”
“I wish I smelt half as strong of it myself,” grumbled Wallis. “It
might keep out the swamp fever.”
“That’s the true story of Col. John James Waldron,” continued Old
Grumps, with a groan which was very somnolent, as if it were a twin to
a snore. “That’s the true story.”
“I don’t believe the first word of it—that is to say, Colonel, I
think you have been misinformed—and I’ll bet you two to one on it. If
he was nothing more than a minister, how did he know drill and
“Oh, I forgot to say, he went through West Point—that is, nearly
through. They graduated him in his third year by the back door,
“Oh, that was it, was it? He was a West Pointer, was he? Well, then,
the backsliding was natural, and oughtn’t to count against him. A
member of Benny Havens’ church has a right to backslide anywhere,
especially as the Colonel doesn’t seem to be any worse than some of
the rest of us, who haven’t fallen from grace the least particle, but
took our stand at the start just where we are now. A fellow that
begins with a handful of trumps has a right to play a risky game.”
“I know what euchered him, Wallis. It was the old Little Joker; and
there’s another of the same on hand now.”
“On hand where? What are you driving at, Colonel?”
“He looks like a boy. I mean she looks like a boy. You know what I
mean, Wallis; I mean the boy that makes believe wait on him. And her
brother is in camp, got here to-night. There’ll be an explanation
to-morrow, and there’ll be bloodshed.”
“Good-night, Colonel, and sleep it off,” said Wallis, rising from the
side of a man whom he believed to be sillily drunk and altogether
untrustworthy. “You know we get after the rebs at dawn.”
“I know it—goo-night, Adjutant—gawblessyou,” mumbled Old Grumps.
“We’ll lick those rebs, won’t we?” he chuckled. “Goo-night, ole
fellow, an’ gawblessyou.”
Whereupon Old Grumps fell asleep, very absurdly overcome by liquor, we
extremely regret to concede, but nobly sure to do his soldierly duty
as soon as he should awake.
Stumbling wearily blanketward, Wallis found his Major and regimental
commander, the genial and gallant Gahogan, slumbering in a peace like
that of the just. He stretched himself a-near, put out his hand to
touch his sabre and revolver, drew his caped great-coat over him,
moved once to free his back of a root or pebble, glanced languidly at a single struggling star, thought for an instant of his far-away
mother, turned his head with a sigh, and slept. In the morning he was
to fight, and perhaps to die; but the boyish veteran was too seasoned,
and also too tired, to mind that; he could mind but one
thing—nature’s pleading for rest.
In the iron-gray dawn, while the troops were falling dimly and
spectrally into line, and he was mounting his horse to be ready for
orders, he remembered Gildersleeve’s drunken tale concerning the
commandant, and laughed aloud. But turning his face toward brigade
headquarters (a sylvan region marked out by the branches of a great
oak), he was surprised to see a strange officer, a fair young man in
Captain’s uniform, riding slowly toward it.
“Is that the Boy’s brother?” he said to himself; and in the next
instant he had forgotten the whole subject; it was time to form and
present the regiment.
Quietly and without tap of drum the small, battle-worn battalions
filed out of their bivouacs into the highway, ordered arms and waited
for the word to march. With a dull rumble the field-pieces trundled
slowly after, and halted in rear of the infantry. The cavalry trotted
off circuitously through the fields, emerged upon the road in advance
and likewise halted, all but a single company, which pushed on for
half a mile, spreading out as it went into a thin line of skirmishers.
Meanwhile a strange interview took place near the great oak which had
sheltered brigade headquarters. As the unknown officer, whom Wallis
had noted, approached it, Col. Waldron was standing by his horse ready
to mount. The commandant was a man of medium size, fairly handsome in
person and features, and apparently about twenty-eight years of age.
Perhaps it was the singular breadth of his forehead which made the
lower part of his face look so unusually slight and feminine. His eyes
were dark hazel, as clear, brilliant, and tender as a girl’s, and
brimming full of a pensiveness which seemed both loving and
melancholy. Few persons, at all events few women, who looked upon him
ever looked beyond his eyes. They were very fascinating, and in a
man’s countenance very strange. They were the kind of eyes which
reveal passionate romances, and which make them.
By his side stood a boy, a singularly interesting and beautiful boy,
fair-haired and blue-eyed, and delicate in color. When this boy saw
the stranger approach he turned as pale as marble, slid away from the
brigade commander’s side, and disappeared behind a group of staff
officers and orderlies. The new-comer also became deathly white as he
glanced after the retreating youth. Then he dismounted, touched his
cap slightly and, as if mechanically, advanced a few steps, and said
hoarsely, “I believe this is Colonel Waldron. I am Captain Fitz Hugh,
of the —th Delaware.”
Waldron put his hand to his revolver, withdrew it instantaneously, and
“I am on leave of absence from my regiment, Colonel,” continued Fitz
Hugh, speaking now with an elaborate ceremoniousness of utterance
significant of a struggle to suppress violent emotion. “I suppose you
can understand why I made use of it in seeking you.”
Waldron hesitated; he stood gazing at the earth with the air of one
who represses deep pain; at last, after a profound sigh, he raised his
eyes and answered.
“Captain, we are on the eve of a battle. I must attend to my public
duties first. After the battle we will settle our private affair.”
“There is but one way to settle it, Colonel.”
“You shall have your way if you will. You shall do what you will. I
only ask what good will it do to her?”
“It will do good to me, Colonel,” whispered Fitz Hugh, suddenly
turning crimson. “You forget me.”
Waldron’s face also flushed, and an angry sparkle shot from under his
lashes in reply to this utterance of hate, but it died out in an
“I have done a wrong, and I will accept the consequences,” he said. “I
pledge you my word that I will be at your disposal if I survive the
battle. Where do you propose to remain meanwhile?”
“I will take the same chance, Sir. I propose to do my share in the
fighting if you will use me.”
“I am short of staff officers. Will you act as my aid?”
“I will, Colonel,” bowed Fitz Hugh, with a glance which expressed
surprise, and perhaps admiration, at this confidence.
Waldron turned, beckoned his staff officers to approach, and said,
“Gentlemen, this is Captain Fitz Hugh of the —th Delaware. He has
volunteered to join us for the day, and will act as my aid. And now,
Captain, will you ride to the head of the column and order it forward?
There will be no drum-beat and no noise. When you have given your
order and seen it executed, you will wait for me.”
Fitz Hugh saluted, sprang into his saddle and galloped away. A few
minutes later the whole column was plodding on silently toward its
bloody goal. To a civilian, unaccustomed to scenes of war, the
tranquillity of these men would have seemed very wonderful. Many of
the soldiers were still munching the hard bread and raw pork of their
meagre breakfasts, or drinking the cold coffee with which they had
filled their canteens the day previous. Many more were chatting in an
undertone, grumbling over their sore feet and other discomfits,
chaffing each other, and laughing. The general bearing, however, was
grave, patient, quietly enduring, and one might almost say stolid. You
would have said, to judge by their expressions, that these sunburnt
fellows were merely doing hard work, and thoroughly commonplace work,
without a prospect of adventure, and much less of danger. The
explanation of this calmness, so brutal perhaps to the eye of a
sensitive soul, lies mainly in the fact that they were all veterans,
the survivors of marches, privations, maladies, sieges, and battles.
Not a regiment present numbered four hundred men, and the average was
not above three hundred. The whole force, including artillery and
cavalry, might have been about twenty-five hundred sabres and
At the beginning of the march Waldron fell into the rear of his staff
and mounted orderlies. Then the Boy who had fled from Fitz Hugh
dropped out of the tramping escort, and rode up to his side.
“Well, Charlie,” said Waldron, casting a pitying glance at the yet
pallid face and anxious eyes of the youth, “you have had a sad fright.
I make you very miserable.”
“He has found us at last,” murmured Charlie in a tremulous soprano
voice. “What did he say?”
“We are to talk to-morrow. He acts as my aide-de-camp to-day. I ought
to tell you frankly that he is not friendly.”
“Of course, I knew it,” sighed Charlie, while the tears fell.
“It is only one more trouble—one more danger, and perhaps it may
pass. So many have passed.”
“Did you tell him anything to quiet him? Did you tell him that we were
“But we are not married yet, Charlie. We shall be, I hope.”
“But you ought to have told him that we were. It might stop him from
doing something—mad. Why didn’t you tell him so? Why didn’t you think
“My dear little child, we are about to have a battle. I should like to
carry some honor and truth into it.”
“Where is he?” continued Charlie, unconvinced and unappeased. “I want
to see him. Is he at the head of the column? I want to speak to him,
just one word. He won’t hurt me.”
She suddenly spurred her horse, wheeled into the fields, and dashed
onward. Fitz Hugh was lounging in his saddle, and sombrely surveying
the passing column, when she galloped up to him.
“Carrol!” she said, in a choked voice, reining in by his side, and
leaning forward to touch his sleeve.
He threw one glance at her—a glance of aversion, if not of downright
hatred, and turned his back in silence.
“He is my husband, Carrol,” she went on rapidly. “I knew you didn’t
understand it. I ought to have written you about it. I thought I would
come and tell you before you did anything absurd. We were married as
soon as he heard that his wife was dead.”
“What is the use of this?” he muttered hoarsely. “She is not dead. I
heard from her a week ago. She was living a week ago.”
“Oh, Carrol!” stammered Charlie. “It was some mistake then. Is it
possible! And he was so sure! But he can get a divorce, you know. She
abandoned him. Or she can get one. No, he can get it—of course,
when she abandoned him. But, Carrol, she must be dead—he was so
“She is not dead, I tell you. And there can be no divorce. Insanity
bars all claim to a divorce. She is in an asylum. She had to leave
him, and then she went mad.”
“Oh, no, Carrol, it is all a mistake; it is not so, Carrol,” she
murmured in a voice so faint that he could not help glancing at her,
half in fury and half in pity. She was slowly falling from her horse.
He sprang from his saddle, caught her in his arms, and laid her on the
turf, wishing the while that it covered her grave. Just then one of
Waldron’s orderlies rode up and exclaimed: “What is the matter with
the—the Boy? Hullo, Charlie.”
Fitz Hugh stared at the man in silence, tempted to tear him from his
horse. “The boy is ill,” he answered when he recovered his
self-command. “Take charge of him yourself.” He remounted, rode onward
out of sight beyond a thicket, and there waited for the brigade
commander, now and then fingering his revolver. As Charlie was being
placed in an ambulance by the orderly and a sergeant’s wife, Waldron
came up, reined in his horse violently, and asked in a furious voice,
“Is that boy hurt?”
“Ah—fainted,” he added immediately. “Thank you, Mrs. Gunner. Take
good care of him—the best of care, my dear woman, and don’t let him
leave you all day.”
Further on, when Fitz Hugh silently fell into his escort, he merely
glanced at him in a furtive way, and then cantered on rapidly to the
head of the cavalry. There he beckoned to the tall, grave, iron-gray
Chaplain of the Tenth, and rode with him for nearly an hour, apart,
engaged in low and seemingly impassioned discourse. From this
interview Mr. Colquhoun returned to the escort with a strangely
solemnized, tender countenance, while the commandant, with a more
cheerful air than he had yet worn that day, gave himself to his
martial duties, inspecting the landscape incessantly with his glass,
and sending frequently for news to the advance scouts. It may properly
be stated here that the Chaplain never divulged to any one the nature
of the conversation which he had held with his Colonel.
Nothing further of note occurred until the little army, after two
hours of plodding march, wound through a sinuous, wooded ravine,
entered a broad, bare, slightly undulating valley, and for the second
time halted. Waldron galloped to the summit of a knoll, pointed to a
long eminence which faced him some two miles distant, and said
tranquilly, “There is our battle-ground.”
“Is that the enemy’s position?” returned Captain Ives, his
Adjutant-General. “We shall have a tough job if we go at it from
Waldron remained in deep thought for some minutes, meanwhile scanning
the ridge and all its surroundings.
“What I want to know,” he observed, at last, “is whether they have
occupied the wooded knolls in front of their right and around their
Shortly afterward the commander of the scouting squadron came riding
back at a furious pace.
“They are on the hill, Colonel,” he shouted.
“Yes, of course,” nodded Waldron; “but have they occupied the woods
which veil their right front and flank?”
“Not a bit of it; my fellows have cantered all through, and up to the
base of the hill.”
“Ah!” exclaimed the brigade commander, with a rush of elation. “Then
it will be easy work. Go back, Captain, and scatter your men through
the wood, and hold it, if possible. Adjutant, call up the regimental
commanders at once. I want them to understand my plan fully.”
In a few minutes Gahogan, of the Tenth; Gildersleeve, of the
Fourteenth; Peck, of the First; Thomas, of the Seventh; Taylor, of the
Eighth, and Colburn, of the Fifth, were gathered around their
commander. There, too, was Bradley, the boyish, red-cheeked chief of
the artillery; and Stilton, the rough, old, bearded regular, who
headed the cavalry. The staff was at hand, also, including Fitz Hugh,
who sat his horse a little apart, downcast and sombre and silent, but
nevertheless keenly interested. It is worthy of remark, by the way,
that Waldron took no special note of him, and did not seem conscious
of any disturbing presence. Evil as the man may have been, he was a
thoroughly good soldier, and just now he thought but of his duties.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “I want you to see your field of battle. The
enemy occupy that long ridge. How shall we reach it?”
“I think, if we go at it straight from here, we shan’t miss it,”
promptly judged Old Grumps, his red-oak countenance admirably cheerful
and hopeful, and his jealousy all dissolved in the interest of
“Nor they won’t miss us nuther,” laughed Major Gahogan. “Betther slide
our infantree into thim wuds, push up our skirmishers, play away wid
our guns for an hour, an’ thin rowl in a couple o’ col’ms.”
There was a general murmur of approval. The limits of volunteer
invention in tactics had been reached by Gahogan. The other regimental
commanders looked upon him as their superior in the art of war.
“That would be well, Major, if we could do nothing better,” said
Waldron. “But I do not feel obliged to attack the front seriously at
all. The rebels have been thoughtless enough to leave that long
semicircle of wooded knolls unoccupied, even by scouts. It stretches
from the front of their centre clear around their right flank. I shall
use it as a veil to cover us while we get into position. I shall throw
out a regiment, a battery, and five companies of cavalry, to make a
feint against their centre and left. With the remainder of the brigade
I shall skirt the woods, double around the right of the position, and
close in upon it front and rear.”
“Loike scissors blades upon a snip o’ paper,” shouted Gahogan, in
delight. Then he turned to Fitz Hugh, who happened to be nearest him,
and added, “I tell ye he’s got the God o’ War in um. He’s the burrnin’
bussh of humanity, wid a God o’ Battles inside on’t.”
“But how if they come down on our thin right wing?” asked a cautious
officer, Taylor, of the Eighth. “They might smash it and seize our
line of retreat.”
“Men who have taken up a strong position, a position obviously chosen
for defense, rarely quit it promptly for an attack,” replied Waldron.
“There is not one chance in ten that these gentlemen will make a
considerable forward movement early in the fight. Only the greatest
geniuses jump from the defensive to the offensive. Besides, we must
hold the wood. So long as we hold the wood in front of their centre we
save the road.”
Then came personal and detailed instructions. Each regimental
commander was told whither he should march, the point where he should
halt to form line, and the direction by which he should attack. The
mass of the command was to advance in marching column toward a knoll
where the highway entered and traversed the wood. Some time before
reaching it Taylor was to deploy the Eighth to the right, throw out a
strong skirmish line and open fire on the enemy’s centre and left,
supported by the battery of Parrotts, and, if pushed, by five
companies of cavalry. The remaining troops would reach the knoll, file
to the left under cover of the forest, skirt it for a mile as rapidly
as possible, enfold the right of the Confederate position, and then
move upon it concentrically. Counting from the left, the Tenth, the
Seventh, and the Fourteenth were to constitute the first line of
battle, while five companies of cavalry, then the First, and then the
Fifth formed the second line. Not until Gahogan might have time to
wind into the enemy’s right rear should Gildersleeve move out of the
wood and commence the real attack.
“You will go straight at the front of their right,” said Waldron, with
a gay smile, to this latter Colonel. “Send up two companies as
skirmishers. The moment they are clearly checked, lead up the other
eight in line. It will be rough work. But keep pushing. You won’t have
fifteen minutes of it before Thomas, on your left, will be climbing
the end of the ridge to take the rebels in flank. In fifteen minutes
more Gahogan will be running in on their backs. Of course they will
try to change front and meet us. But they have extended their line a
long way in order to cover the whole ridge. They will not be quick
enough. We shall get hold of their right, and we shall roll them up.
Then, Colonel Stilton, I shall expect to see the troopers jumping into
the gaps and making prisoners.”
“All right, Colonel,” answered Stilton in that hoarse growl which is
apt to mark the old cavalry officer. “Where shall we find you if we
want a fresh order?”
“I shall be with Colburn, in rear of Gildersleeve. That is our centre.
But never mind me; you know what the battle is to be, and you know how
to fight it. The whole point with the infantry is to fold around the
enemy’s right, go in upon it concentrically, smash it, and roll up
their line. The cavalry will watch against the infantry being flanked,
and when the latter have seized the hill, will charge for prisoners.
The artillery will reply to the enemy’s guns with shell, and fire
grape at any offensive demonstration. You all know your duties, now,
gentlemen. Go to your commands, and march!”
The Colonels saluted and started off at a gallop. In a few minutes
twenty-five hundred men were in simultaneous movement. Five companies
of cavalry wheeled into column of companies, and advanced at a trot
through the fields, seeking to gain the shelter of the forest. The six
infantry regiments slid up alongside of each other, and pushed on in
six parallel columns of march, two on the right of the road and four
on the left. The artillery, which alone left the highway, followed at
a distance of two or three hundred yards. The remaining cavalry made a
wide detour to the right, as if to flank the enemy’s left.
It was a mile and a quarter—it was a march of fully twenty
minutes—to the edge of the woodland, the proposed cover of the
column. Ten minutes before this point was reached a tiny puff of smoke
showed on the brow of the hostile ridge; then, at an interval of
several seconds, followed the sound of a distant explosion; then,
almost immediately, came the screech of a rifled shell. Every man who
heard it swiftly asked himself, “Will it strike me?” But even as the
words were thought out it had passed, high in air, clean to the rear,
and burst harmlessly. A few faces turned upward and a few eyes glanced
backward, as if to see the invisible enemy. But there was no pause in
the column; it flowed onward quietly, eagerly, and with business-like
precision; it gave forth no sound but the trampling of feet and the
muttering of the officers, “Steady, men! Forward, men.”
The Confederates, however, had got their range. A half minute later
four puffs of smoke dotted the ridge, and a flight of hoarse humming
shrieks tore the air. A little aureole cracked and splintered over the
First, followed by loud cries of anguish and a brief, slight
confusion. The voice of an officer rose sharply out of the flurry,
“Close up, Company A! Forward, men!” The battalion column resumed its
even formation in an instant, and tramped unitedly onward, leaving
behind it two quivering corpses and a wounded man who tottered
Then came more screeches, and a shell exploded over the high road,
knocking a gunner lifeless from his carriage. The brigade commander
glanced anxiously along his batteries, and addressed a few words to
his chief of artillery. Presently the four Napoleons set forward at a
gallop for the wood, while the four Parrotts wheeled to the right,
deployed, and advanced across the fields, inclining toward the left of
the enemy. Next, Taylor’s regiment (the Eighth) halted, fronted, faced
to the right, and filed off in column of march at a double-quick until
it had gained the rear of the Parrotts, when it fronted again, and
pushed on in support. A quarter of a mile further on these guns went
into battery behind the brow of a little knoll, and opened fire. Four
companies of the Eighth spread out to the right as skirmishers, and
commenced stealing toward the ridge, from time to time measuring the
distance with rifle-balls. The remainder of the regiment lay down in
line between the Parrotts and the forest. Far away to the right, five
companies of cavalry showed themselves, maneuvering as if they
proposed to turn the left flank of the Southerners. The attack on this
side was in form and in operation.
Meantime the Confederate fire had divided. Two guns pounded away at
Taylor’s feint, while two shelled the main column. The latter was
struck repeatedly; more than twenty men dropped silent or groaning out
of the hurrying files; but the survivors pushed on without faltering,
and without even caring for the wounded. At last a broad belt of green
branches rose between the regiments and the ridge; and the rebel
gunners, unable to see their foe, dropped suddenly into silence.
Here it appeared that the road divided. The highway traversed the
forest, mounted the slope beyond and dissected the enemy’s position,
while a branch road turned to the left and skirted the exterior of the
long curve of wooded hillocks. At the fork the battery of Napoleons
had halted, and there it was ordered to remain for the present in
quiet. There, too, the Fourteenth filed in among the dense greenery,
threw out two companies of skirmishers toward the ridge, and pushed
slowly after them into the shadows.
“Get sight of the enemy at once!” was Waldron’s last word to
Gildersleeve. “If they move down the slope, drive them back. But don’t
commence your attack under half an hour.”
Next he filed the Fifth into the thickets, saying to Colburn, “I want
you to halt a hundred yards to the left and rear of Gildersleeve.
Cover his flank if he is attacked; but otherwise lie quiet. As soon as
he charges, move forward to the edge of the wood, and be ready to
support him. But make no assault yourself until further orders.”
The two next regiments—the Seventh and First—he placed in échelon,
in like manner, a quarter of a mile further along. Then he galloped
forward to the cavalry, and had a last word with Stilton. “You and
Gahogan must take care of yourselves. Push on four or five hundred
yards, and then face to the right. Whatever Gahogan finds let him go
at it. If he can’t shake it, help him. You two must reach the top of
the ridge. Only, look out for your left flank. Keep a squadron or two
in reserve on that side.”
“Currnell, if we don’t raich the top of the hill, it’ll be because it
hasn’t got wan,” answered Gahogan. Stilton only laughed and rode
Waldron now returned toward the fork of the road. On the way he sent a
staff officer to the Seventh with renewed orders to attack as soon as
possible after Gildersleeve. Then another staff officer was hurried
forward to Taylor with directions to push his feint strongly, and
drive his skirmishers as far up the slope as they could get. A third
staff officer set the Parrotts in rear of Taylor to firing with all
their might. By the time that the commandant had returned to Colburn’s
ambushed ranks, no one was with him but his enemy, Fitz Hugh.
“You don’t seem to trust me with duty, Colonel,” said the young man.
“I shall use you only in case of extremity, Captain,” replied Waldron.
“We have business to settle to-morrow.”
“I ask no favors on that account. I hope you will offer me none.”
“In case of need I shall spare no one,” declared Waldron.
Then he took out his watch, looked at it impatiently, put it to his
ear, restored it to his pocket, and felt into an attitude of deep
attention. Evidently his whole mind was on his battle, and he was
waiting, watching, yearning for its outburst.
“If he wins this fight,” thought Fitz Hugh, “how can I do him a harm?
And yet,” he added, “how can I help it?”
Minutes passed. Fitz Hugh tried to think of his injury, and to steel
himself against his chief. But the roar of battle on the right, and
the suspense and imminence of battle on the left, absorbed the
attention of even this wounded and angry spirit, as, indeed, they
might have absorbed that of any being not more or less than human. A
private wrong, insupportable though it might be, seemed so small amid
that deadly clamor and awful expectation! Moreover, the intellect
which worked so calmly and vigorously by his side, and which alone of
all things near appeared able to rule the coming crisis, began to
dominate him, in spite of his sense of injury. A thought crossed him
to the effect that the great among men are too valuable to be punished
for their evil deeds. He turned to the absorbed brigade commander, now
not only his ruler but even his protector, with a feeling that he must
accord him a word of peace, a proffer in some form of possible
forgiveness and friendship. But the man’s face was clouded and stern
with responsibility and authority. He seemed at that moment too lofty
to be approached with a message of pardon. Fitz Hugh gazed at him with
a mixture of profound respect and smothered hate. He gazed, turned
away, and remained silent.
Minutes more passed. Then a mounted orderly dashed up at full speed,
with the words, “Colonel Major Gahogan has fronted.”
“Has he?” answered Waldron, with a smile which thanked the trooper and
made him happy. “Ride on through the thicket here, my man, and tell
Colonel Gildersleeve to push up his skirmishers.”
With a thud of hoofs and a rustling of parting foliage the cavalryman
disappeared amid the underwood. A minute or two later a thin, dropping
rattle of musketry, five hundred yards or so to the front, announced
that the sharpshooters of the Fourteenth were at work. Almost
immediately there was an angry response, full of the threatenings and
execution of death. Through the lofty leafage tore the screech of a
shell, bursting with a sharp crash as it passed overhead, and
scattering in humming slivers. Then came another, and another, and
many more, chasing each other with hoarse hissings through the
trembling air, a succession of flying serpents. The enemy doubtless
believed that nearly the whole attacking force was massed in the wood
around the road, and they had brought at least four guns to bear upon
that point, and were working them with the utmost possible rapidity.
Presently a large chestnut, not fifty yards from Fitz Hugh, was struck
by a shot. The solid trunk, nearly three feet in diameter, parted
asunder as if it were the brittlest of vegetable matter. The upper
portion started aside with a monstrous groan, dropped in a standing
posture to the earth, and then toppled slowly, sublimely prostrate,
its branches crashing and all its leaves wailing. Ere long, a little
further to the front, another Anak of the forest went down; and,
mingled with the noise of its sylvan agony, there arose sharp cries of
human suffering. Then Colonel Colburn, a broad-chested and ruddy man
of thirty-five, with a look of indignant anxiety in his iron-gray
eyes, rode up to the brigade commander.
“This is very annoying, Colonel,” he said. “I am losing my men without
using them. That last tree fell into my command.”
“Are they firing toward our left?” asked Waldron.
“Not a shot.”
“Very good,” said the chief, with a sigh of contentment. “If we can
only keep them occupied in this direction! By the way, let your men
lie down under the fallen tree, as far as it will go. It will protect
them from others.”
Colburn rode back to his regiment. Waldron looked impatiently at his
watch. At that moment a fierce burst of line firing arose in front,
followed and almost overborne by a long-drawn yell, the scream of
charging men. Waldron put up his watch, glanced excitedly at Fitz
Hugh, and smiled.
“I must forgive or forget,” the latter could not help saying to
himself. “All the rest of life is nothing compared with this.”
“Captain,” said Waldron, “ride off to the left at full speed. As soon
as you hear firing at the shoulder of the ridge, return instantly and
let me know.”
Fitz Hugh dashed away. Three minutes carried him into perfect peace,
beyond the whistling of ball or the screeching of shell. On the right
was a tranquil, wide waving of foliage, and on the left a serene
landscape of cultivated fields, with here and there an embowered
farm-house. Only for the clamor of artillery and musketry far behind
him, he could not have believed in the near presence of battle, of
blood and suffering and triumphant death. But suddenly he heard to his
right, assaulting and slaughtering the tranquillity of nature, a
tumultuous outbreak of file-firing, mingled with savage yells. He
wheeled, drove spurs into his horse, and flew back to Waldron. As he
re-entered the wood he met wounded men streaming through it, a few
marching alertly upright, many more crouching and groaning, some
clinging to their less injured comrades, but all haggard in face and
“Are we winning?” he hastily asked of one man who held up a hand with
three fingers gone and the bones projecting in sharp spikes through
“All right, Sir; sailing in,” was the answer.
“Is the brigade commander all right?” he inquired of another who was
winding a bloody handkerchief around his arm.
“Straight ahead, Sir; hurrah for Waldron!” responded the soldier, and
almost in the same instant fell lifeless with a fresh ball through his
“Hurrah for him!” Fitz Hugh answered frantically, plunging on through
the underwood. He found Waldron with Colburn, the two conversing
tranquilly in their saddles amid hissing bullets and dropping
“Move your regiment forward now,” the brigade commander was saying;
“but halt it in the edge of the wood.”
“Shan’t I relieve Gildersleeve if he gets beaten?” asked the
subordinate officer eagerly.
“No. The regiments on the left will help him out. I want your men and
Peck’s for the fight on top of the hill. Of course the rebels will try
to retake it; then I shall call for you.”
Fitz Hugh now approached and said, “Colonel, the Seventh has attacked
“Good!” answered Waldron, with that sweet smile of his which thanked
people who brought him pleasant news. “I thought I heard his fire.
Gahogan will be on their right rear in ten minutes. Then we shall get
the ridge. Ride back now to Major Bradley, and tell him to bring his
Napoleons through the wood, and set two of them to shelling the
enemy’s centre. Tell him my idea is to amuse them, and keep them from
Again Fitz Hugh galloped off as before on a comfortably safe errand,
safer at all events than many errands of that day. “This man is
sparing my life,” he said to himself. “Would to God I knew how to
He found Bradley lunching on a gun caisson, and delivered his orders.
“Something to do at last, eh?” laughed the rosy-cheeked youngster.
“The smallest favors thankfully received. Won’t you take a bite of
rebel chicken, Captain? This rebellion must be put down. No? Well,
tell the Colonel I am moving on, and John Brown’s soul not far ahead.”
When Fitz Hugh returned to Waldron he found him outside of the wood,
at the base of the long incline which rose into the rebel position.
About the slope were scattered prostrate forms, most numerous near the
bottom, some crawling slowly rearward, some quiescent. Under the brow
of the ridge, decimated and broken into a mere skirmish line sheltered
in knots and, singly, behind rocks and knolls and bushes, lay the
Fourteenth Regiment, keeping up a steady, slow fire. From the edge
above, smokily dim against a pure, blue heaven, answered another
rattle of musketry, incessant, obstinate, and spiteful. The combatants
on both sides were lying down; otherwise neither party could have
lasted ten minutes. From Fitz Hugh’s point of view not a Confederate
uniform could be seen. But the smoke of their rifles made a long gray
line, which was disagreeably visible and permanent; and the sharp
whit! whit! of their bullets continually passed him, and cheeped
away in the leafage behind.
“Our men can’t get on another inch,” he ventured to say to his
commander. “Wouldn’t it be well for me to ride up and say a cheering
“Every battle consists largely in waiting,” replied Waldron
thoughtfully. “They have undoubtedly brought up a reserve to face
Thomas. But when Gahogan strikes the flank of the reserve, we shall
“I wish you would take shelter,” begged Fitz Hugh. “Everything depends
on your life.”
“My life has been both a help and a hurt to my fellow-creatures,”
sighed the brigade commander. “Let come what will to it.”
He glanced upward with an expression of profound emotion; he was
evidently fighting two battles, an outward and an inward one.
Presently he added, “I think the musketry is increasing on the left.
Does it strike you so?”
He was all eagerness again, leaning forward with an air of earnest
listening, his face deeply flushed and his eye brilliant. Of a sudden
the combat above rose and swelled into higher violence. There was a
clamor far away—it seemed nearly a mile away—over the hill. Then the
nearer musketry, first Thomas’ on the shoulder of the ridge, next
Gildersleeve’s in front, caught fire and raged with new fury.
Waldron laughed outright. “Gahogan has reached them,” he said to one
of his staff who had just rejoined him. “We shall all be up there in
five minutes. Tell Colburn to bring on his regiment slowly.”
Then, turning to Fitz Hugh, he added, “Captain, we will ride forward.”
They set off at a walk, now watching the smoking brow of the eminence,
now picking their way among dead and wounded. Suddenly there was a
shout above them and a sudden diminution of the firing; and looking
upward, they saw the men of the Fourteenth running confusedly toward
the summit. Without a word the brigade commander struck spurs into his
horse and dashed up the long slope at a run, closely followed by his
enemy and aid. What they saw when they overtook the straggling,
running, panting, screaming pell-mell of the Fourteenth was victory!
The entire right wing of the Confederates, attacked on three sides at
once, placed at enormous disadvantage, completely outgeneraled, had
given way in confusion, was retreating, breaking, and flying. There
were lines yet of dirty gray or butternut; but they were few, meagre,
fluctuating, and recoiling, and there were scattered and scurrying
men in hundreds. Three veteran and gallant regiments had gone all to
wreck under the shock of three similar regiments far more
intelligently directed. A strong position had been lost because the
heroes who held it could not perform the impossible feat of forming
successively two fresh fronts under a concentric fire of musketry. The
inferior brain power had confessed the superiority of the stronger
On the victorious side there was wild, clamorous, fierce exultation.
The hurrying, shouting, firing soldiers, who noted their commander
riding among them, swung their rifles or their tattered hats at him,
and screamed “Hurrah!” No one thought of the Confederate dead under
foot, nor of the Union dead who dotted the slope behind. “What are you
here for, Colonel?” shouted rough old Gildersleeve, one leg of his
trousers dripping blood. “We can do it alone.”
“It is a battle won,” laughed Fitz Hugh, almost worshipping the man
whom he had come to slay.
“It is a battle won, but not used,” answered Waldron. “We haven’t a
gun yet, nor a flag. Where is the cavalry? Why isn’t Stilton here? He
must have got afoul of the enemy’s horse, and been obliged to beat it
off. Can anybody hear anything of Stilton?”
“Let him go,” roared old Grumps. “The infantry don’t want any help.”
“Your regiment has suffered, Colonel,” answered Waldron, glancing at
the scattered files of the Fourteenth. “Halt it and reorganize it, and
let it fall in with the right of the First when Peck comes up. I shall
replace you with the Fifth. Send your Adjutant back to Colburn and
tell him to hurry along. Those fellows are making a new front over
there,” he added, pointing to the centre of the hill. “I want the
Fifth, Seventh, and Tenth in échelon as quickly as possible. And I
want that cavalry. Lieutenant,” turning to one of his staff, “ride off
to the left and find Colonel Stilton. Tell him that I need a charge in
Presently cannon opened from that part of the ridge still held by the
Confederates, the shells tearing through or over the dissolving groups
of their right wing, and cracking viciously above the heads of the
victorious Unionists. The explosions followed each other with stunning
rapidity, and the shrill whirring of the splinters was ominous. Men
began to fall again in the ranks or to drop out of them wounded. Of
all this Waldron took no further note than to ride hastily to the brow
of the ridge and look for his own artillery.
“See how he attinds to iverything himself,” said Major Gahogan, who
had cantered up to the side of Fitz Hugh. “It’s just a matther of
plain business, an’ he looks after it loike a business man. Did ye see
us, though, Captin, whin we come in on their right flank? By George,
we murthered um. There’s more’n a hundred lyin’ in hapes back there.
As for old Stilton, I just caught sight of um behind that wood to our
left, an’ he’s makin’ for the enemy’s right rair. He’ll have lots o’
prisoners in half an hour.”
When Waldron returned to the group he was told of his cavalry’s
whereabouts, and responded to the information with a smile of
“Bradley is hurrying up,” he said, “and Taylor is pushing their left
smartly. They will make one more tussle to recover their line of
retreat; but we shall smash them from end to end and take every gun.”
He galloped now to his infantry, and gave the word “Forward!” The
three regiments which composed the échelon were the Fifth on the
right, the Seventh fifty yards to the rear and left of the Fifth, the
Tenth to the rear and left of the Seventh. It was behind the Fifth,
that is the foremost battalion, that the brigade commander posted
“Do you mean to stay here, Colonel?” asked Fitz Hugh, in surprise
“It is a certain victory now,” answered Waldron, with a singular
glance upward. “My life is no longer important. I prefer to do my duty
to the utmost in the sight of all men.”
“I shall follow you and do mine, Sir,” said the Captain, much moved,
he could scarcely say by what emotions, they were so many and
“I want you other wheres. Ride to Colonel Taylor at once, and hurry
him up the hill. Tell him the enemy have greatly weakened their left.
Tell him to push up everything, infantry, and cavalry, and artillery,
and to do it in haste.”
“Colonel, this is saving my life against my will,” remonstrated Fitz
“Go!” ordered Waldron, imperiously. “Time is precious.”
Fitz Hugh dashed down the slope to the right at a gallop. The brigade
commander turned tranquilly, and followed the march of his échelon.
The second and decisive crisis of the little battle was approaching,
and to understand it we must glance at the ground on which it was to
be fought. Two hostile lines were marching toward each other along the
broad, gently rounded crest of the hill and at right angles to its
general course. Between these lines, but much the nearest to the Union
troops, a spacious road came up out of the forest in front, crossed
the ridge, swept down the smooth decline in rear, and led to a single
wooden bridge over a narrow but deep rivulet. On either hand the road
was hedged in by a close board fence, four feet or so in height. It
was for the possession of this highway that the approaching lines were
about to shed their blood. If the Confederates failed to win it, all
their artillery would be lost, and their army captured or dispersed.
The two parties came on without firing. The soldiers on both sides
were veterans, cool, obedient to orders, intelligent through long
service, and able to reserve all their resources for a short-range
and final struggle. Moreover, the fences as yet partially hid them
from each other, and would have rendered all aim for the present vague
“Forward, Fifth!” shouted Waldron. “Steady. Reserve your fire.” Then,
as the regiment came up to the fence, he added, “Halt; right dress.
Meantime he watched the advancing array with an eager gaze. It was a
noble sight, full of moral sublimity, and worthy of all admiration.
The long, lean, sunburned, weather-beaten soldiers in ragged gray
stepped forward, superbly, their ranks loose, but swift and firm, the
men leaning forward in their haste, their tattered slouch hats pushed
backward, their whole aspect business-like and virile. Their line was
three battalions strong, far outflanking the Fifth, and at least equal
to the entire échelon. When within thirty or forty yards of the
further fence they increased their pace to nearly a double-quick, many
of them stooping low in hunter fashion, and a few firing. Then Waldron
rose in his stirrups and yelled, “Battalion! ready—aim—aim low.
There was a stunning roar of three hundred and fifty rifles, and a
deadly screech of bullets. But the smoke rolled out, the haste to
reload was intense, and none could mark what execution was done.
Whatever the Confederates may have suffered, they bore up under the
volley, and they came on. In another minute each of those fences, not
more than twenty-five yards apart, was lined by the shattered fragment
of a regiment, each firing as fast as possible into the face of the
other. The Fifth bled fearfully: it had five of its ten company
commanders shot dead in three minutes; and its loss in other officers
and in men fell scarcely short of this terrible ratio. On its left the
Seventh and the Tenth were up, pouring in musketry, and receiving it
in a fashion hardly less sanguinary. No one present had ever seen, or
ever afterward saw, such another close and deadly contest.
But the strangest thing in this whole wonderful fight was the conduct
of the brigade commander. Up and down the rear of the lacerated Fifth
Waldron rode thrice, spurring his plunging and wounded horse close to
the yelling and fighting file-closers, and shouting in a piercing
voice encouragement to his men. Stranger still, considering the
character which he had borne in the army, and considering the evil
deed for which he was to account on the morrow, were the words which
he was distinctly and repeatedly heard to utter. “Stand steady,
men—God is with us!” was the extraordinary battle-cry of this
backslidden clergyman, this sinner above many.
And it was a prophecy of victory. Bradley ran up his Napoleons on the
right in the nick of time, and, although only one of them could be
brought to bear, it was enough; the grape raked the Confederate left,
broke it, and the battle was over. In five minutes more their whole
array was scattered, and the entire position open to galloping
cavalry, seizing guns, standards, and prisoners.
It was in the very moment of triumph, just as the stubborn Southern
line reeled back from the fence in isolated clusters, that the
miraculous impunity of Waldron terminated, and he received his death
wound. A quarter of an hour later Fitz Hugh found a sorrowful group of
officers gazing from a little distance upon their dying commander.
“Is the Colonel hit?” he asked, shocked and grieved, incredible as the
emotion may seem.
“Don’t go near him,” called Gildersleeve, who, it will be remembered,
knew or guessed his errand in camp. “The Chaplain and surgeon are
there. Let him alone.”
“He’s going to render his account,” added Gahogan. “An’ whativer he’s
done wrong, he’s made it square to-day. Let um lave it to his
Adjutant Wallis, who had been blubbering aloud, who had cursed the
rebels and the luck energetically, and who had also been trying to
pray inwardly, groaned out, “This is our last victory. You see if it
ain’t. Bet you two to one.”
“Hush, man!” replied Gahogan. “We’ll win our share of um, though we’ll
have to work harder for it. We’ll have to do more ourselves, an’ get
less done for us in the way of tactics.”
“That so, Major,” whimpered a drummer, looking up from his duty of
attending to a wounded comrade. “He knowed how to put his men in the
right place, and his men knowed when they was in the right place. But
it’s goin’ to be uphill through the steepest part of hell the rest of
Soldiers, some of them weeping, some of them bleeding, arrived
constantly to inquire after their commander, only to be sent quietly
back to their ranks or to the rear. Around lay other men—dead men,
and senseless, groaning men—all for the present unnoticed.
Everything, except the distant pursuit of the cavalry, waited for
Waldron to die. Fitz Hugh looked on silently, with the tears of
mingled emotions in his eyes, and with hopes and hatreds expiring in
his heart. The surgeon supported the expiring victor’s head, while
Chaplain Colquhoun knelt beside him, holding his hand and praying
audibly. Of a sudden the petition ceased, both bent hastily toward the
wounded man, and after what seemed a long time exchanged whispers.
Then the Chaplain rose, came slowly toward the now advancing group of
officers, his hands outspread toward heaven in an attitude of
benediction, and tears running down his haggard white face.
“I trust, dear friends,” he said, in a tremulous voice, “that all is
well with our brother and commander. His last words were, ‘God is with
“Oh! but, man, that isn’t well,” broke out Gahogan, in a groan.
“What did ye pray for his sowl for? Why didn’t ye pray for his loife?”
Fitz Hugh turned his horse and rode silently away. The next day he was
seen journeying rearward by the side of an ambulance, within which lay
what seemed a strangely delicate boy, insensible, and, one would say,
AN ATTENUATED YARN SPUN BY THE FATES.
By Henry A. Beers.
⁂ Century Magazine, June, 1883.
It was the evening of Commencement Day. The old church on the green,
which had rung for many consecutive hours with the eloquence of slim
young gentlemen in evening dress, exhorting the Scholar in Politics or
denouncing the Gross Materialism of the Age, was at last empty and
still. As it drew the dewy shadows softly about its eaves and filled
its rasped interior with soothing darkness, it bore a whimsical
likeness to some aged horse which, having been pestered all day with
flies, was now feeding in peace along the dim pasture.
It was Clay who suggested this resemblance, and we all laughed
appreciatively, as we used to do in those days at Clay’s clever
sayings. There were five of us strolling down the diagonal walk to
our farewell supper at “Ambrose’s.” Arrived at that refectory, we
found it bare of guests and had things quite to ourselves. After
supper, we took our coffee out in the little court-yard, where a
fountain dribbled, and the flutter of the grape-leaves on the
trellises in the night wind invited to confidences.
“Well, Armstrong,” began Doddridge, “where are you going to spend the
“Vacation!” answered Armstrong; “vacations are over for me.”
“You’re not going to work for your living at once?” inquired Berkeley.
“I’m going to work to-morrow,” replied Armstrong, emphatically: “I’m
going down to New York to enter a law office.”
“I thought you had some notion of staying here and taking a course of
“No, sir! The sooner a man gets into harness, the better. I’ve wasted
enough time in the last four years. The longer a man loafs around in
this old place, under pretense of reading and that kind of thing, the
harder it is for him to take hold.”
Armstrong was a rosy little man, with yellow hair and light eyes. His
expression was one of irresolute good nature. His temper was sanguine
and expansive, and he had been noted in college for anything but
concentration of pursuit. He was gregarious in his habits, susceptible
and subject to sudden enthusiasms. His good nature made him a victim
to all the bores and idlers in the class, and his room became a
favorite resort for men on their way to recitation, being on the
ground floor and near the lecture-rooms. They would drop in about half
an hour before the bell rang, and make up a little game of “penny
ante” around Armstrong’s center-table. In these diversions he seldom
took part, as he had given it out publicly that he was “studying for a
stand”; but his abstinence from the game in no wise damped the spirits
of his guests. Occasionally his presence would receive the notice of
the company somewhat as follows:
No. 1. “Make less noise, fellows: Charley is digging out
that Puckle lesson.”
No. 2. “You go into the bedroom, Charley, and shut the door,
and then you won’t be bothered by the racket.”
No. 3. “Oh, hang the Puckle! Come and take a hand, Charley.
We’ll let you in this pool without an ante.”
No. 4. “Why don’t you get a new pack of cards, Charley? It’s
a disgrace to you to keep such a dirty lot of old
pasteboards for your friends.”
In face of which abuse, Armstrong was as helpless as Telemachus under
the visitation of the suitors. The resolute air with which he now
declared his intention of grappling with life had therefore something
comic about it, and Berkeley said, rather incredulously:
“I suppose you’ll keep up your reading along with your law?”
“No,” replied the other; “Themis is a jealous mistress. No; I’m going
to bone right down to it.”
“Haven’t you changed your ideal of life lately?” asked Clay, a little
“Perhaps I have,” said Armstrong, “perhaps I’ve had to.”
“What is your ideal of life?” I inquired.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” he answered, draining his coffee-cup solemnly,
and putting it down with the manner of a man who has made up his mind.
The rest of us arranged ourselves in attitudes of attention. “My ideal
is independence,” began Armstrong. “I want to live my own life; and as
the first condition of independence is money, I’m going for money.
Culture and taste, and all that, are well enough when a man can afford
it, but for a poor man it means just so many additional wants which he
can’t gratify. My father is an educated man; a country minister with a
small salary and a large family; and his education, instead of being a
blessing, has been an actual curse to him. He has pined for all sorts
of things which he couldn’t have—books, engravings, foreign travel,
leisure for study, nice people and nice things about him. I’ve made
up my mind that, whatever else I may be, I won’t be poor, and I
won’t be a minister, and I won’t have a wife and brats hanging to me.
I tell you that, next to ill health, poverty is the worst thing
that can happen to a man. All the sentimental grievances that
are represented in novels and poetry as the deepest of human
afflictions,—disappointed ambitions, death of friends, loss of faith,
estrangements, having your girl go back on you,—they don’t signify
very long if a man has sound health and a full purse. The ministers
and novel writers and fellows that preach the sentimental view of life
don’t believe it themselves. It’s a kind of professional or literary
quackery with them. Just let them feel the pinch of poverty, and then
offer them a higher salary or a chance to make a little ‘sordid gain’
in some way, and see how quick they’ll accept the call to ‘a higher
sphere of usefulness.’ Berk, hand over a match, will you; this cigar
has gone out.”
“Loud cries of ‘We will—we will’!” said Berkeley. “But can it be? Has
the poick turned cynic, and the sickly sentimentalist become a
materialist and a misogynist?”
(Armstrong was our class poet, and had worried the official muse on
Presentation Day to the utterance of some four hundred lines filled
with allusions to Alma Mater, Friendship’s Altar, the Elms of Yale,
etc. His piece on that occasion had been “pronounced, by a well-known
literary gentleman who was present, equal to the finest productions of
our own Willis.”)
“I’ll bet the cigars,” said Doddridge, “that Armstrong marries the
first girl he sees in New York.”
“Yes,” said Clay, “his boarding-house keeper’s daughter.”
“And has a dozen children before he is forty,” added Berkeley; “a
dozen kids, and all of them girls. Charley is sure to be a begetter of
“And writes birthday odes ‘To My Infant Daughter’ for the ‘Home
Journal,’” continued Clay.
“No, no,” said the victim of this banter, shaking his head solemnly.
“I shall give no hostages to Fortune. I mean to live snug and carry as
little sail as possible: to leave only the narrowest margin out for
Fate to tread on. The man who has the fewest exposed points leads, on
the whole, the happiest life. How can a man enjoy himself freely when
a piece of defective plumbing, the bursting of a toy pistol, the
carelessness of a nurse, may plunge him into a life-long sorrow? I
don’t say it’s a very noble life that I propose to myself, but it’s a
safe one. I’m too nervous and anxious to stand the responsibilities of
“If you can’t stand responsibility,” said Doddridge, “I don’t see why
you choose the law for a profession. You don’t seem to me cut out for
a lawyer anyway. I always thought you meant to be some kind of a
“Yes,” said Berkeley, “why don’t you go for a snug berth under the
government, or study for a tutorship here? That’s the life that would
suit you, old man.”
“Not at all,” answered Armstrong; “I have a horror of any salaried
position, or of any position where a man is obliged to conform his
habits and opinions to other people’s. It is the worst sort of
dependence. Now a lawyer in successful practice, and especially if he
is a bachelor, is about as independent as a man can be. His relations
with his clients are merely professional, and what he does or thinks
privately is nobody’s business.”
“If you are going to be a mere lawyer,” asked Clay, “what becomes of
your education and your intellectual satisfactions, etc.?”
“A man can get his best intellectual satisfactions out of the work of
his profession,” answered Armstrong. “Besides, as to that, there’s
time enough. Fifteen years of solid work will enable one to put by a
fair competence, if he lives carefully and has no one but himself to
support; and then he will be free to take up a hobby. Oh, I shall
cultivate a hobby or two after awhile. It keeps the mind healthy to
have some interest of the kind outside of one’s business. I may take
to book-collecting or numismatics or raising orchids. Perhaps I may
become an authority on ancient armor; time enough for that by and by.
And then I can cut over to Europe every summer if I like, and no one
to interfere with my down-sittings or my up-risings, my goings-out or
my comings-in. Do you know,” he went on, after a pause, “how I always
look to myself in the glass of the future? I figure myself like old
Tulkinghorn, in ‘Bleak House,’—going down into his reverberating
vaults for a bottle of choice vintage, after the work of the day, and
then sitting quietly in the twilight in his dusky, old-fashioned law
chambers, sipping his wine while the room fills with the fragrance of
southern grapes. The gay old silver-top!”
There was silence for a few minutes after Armstrong had finished his
declaration. It was broken by Berkeley, who had risen, and was walking
up and down in front of the fountain with his hands thrust into his
“You couldn’t lead that sort of life if you tried,” he said; “you
aren’t built for it.”
“Don’t you make any mistake,” rejoined the other; “it’s the sort of
life I’m going to live.”
“It’s a cowardly life,” retorted Berkeley.
“Did I say it wasn’t? I said it was safe. You can call it what you
“Well,” replied Berkeley, seating himself again, “my ideal career is
just the opposite of that.”
“Suppose you explain yours, then,” said Armstrong.
Berkeley hesitated a few moments before beginning. He was a lean,
tallish fellow, with a Scotch cast of countenance, a small blue eye,
high cheek bones, a freckled skin, and whity-brown hair. He had a dry,
cautious humor, fed by much out-of-the-way reading. He had been
distinguished in college by methodical habits, a want of ambition, a
disposition to keep to himself, and a mixture of selfishness and
bonhomie which made him a cold friend but an agreeable companion.
It was therefore with some surprise that we heard him deliver himself
“I believe that the greatest mistake a man can make is in not getting
enough out of life. I want to lead a full life, to have a wide
experience, to develop my whole nature to the utmost, to touch mankind
at the largest possible number of points. I want adventure, change,
excitement, emotion, suffering even,—I don’t care what, so long as it
is not stagnation. Just consider what there is on this planet to be
seen, learned, enjoyed, and what a miserably small share of it most
people appropriate. Why, there are men in my village who have never
been outside the county and seldom out of the township; who have never
heard a word of any language but English; never seen a city or a
mountain or the ocean—or, indeed, any body of water bigger than Fresh
Pond or the Hogganum River; never been in a theatre, steamboat,
library, or cathedral. Cathedral! Their conception of a church is
limited to the white wooden meeting-house at ‘the center.’ Their
art-gallery is the wagon of a travelling photographer. Their
metropolitan hotel is the stoop and bar-room of the ‘Uncas House.’
Their university is the unpainted school-house on the hill. Their
literature is the weekly newspaper from the county town. But take the
majority of educated men even. What a rusty, small kind of existence
they lead! They are in a rut, just the same as the others, only the
rut is a trifle wider. If I had my way I would never do the same work
or talk with the same people—hardly live in the same place for two
days running. Life is too short to do a thing twice. When I come to
the end of mine I don’t want to say J’ai manqué la vie; but make my
brag, with the Wife of Bath,
‘Unto this day it doth myn herte bote
That I have had my world as in my time.’”
“Well, how are you going to do all those fine things?” inquired
Armstrong. “For instance, that about not living in one place two days
running. I’m afraid you’ll find that inconvenient, not to say
“Oh, you mustn’t take me too literally. I may have to travel on foot
or take a steerage passage, but I shall keep going all the same. I
haven’t made any definite plans yet. I shall probably strike for
something in the diplomatic line,—secretary of legation, or some
small consulship perhaps. But the principle is the main thing, and the
principle is: Don’t do anything because it’s the nearest and easiest
and most obvious thing to do, but make up your mind to get the best.
Look at the lazy way in which men accept their circumstances. There is
the matter of acquaintance, for instance—we let chance determine it.
We know the men that we can’t help knowing,—the ones in the next
house, cousins and second cousins, business connections, etc. Here at
college, now, we get acquainted with the fellows at the eating club or
in the same society, or those who happen to sit next us in the
class-room, because their names begin with the same letter. That’s it;
it’s just a sample of our whole life. Our friendships, like everything
else about us, are determined by the alphabet. We go with the Z’s
because some arbitrary system of classification has put us among them,
instead of fighting our way up to the A’s, where we naturally belong.
The consequence is that one’s friends are mostly dreadful bores.”
“I’m sure we are all much obliged to you,” murmured Clay,
“There are about two or three thousand people in the world,” continued
Berkeley, “supremely worth knowing. Why shouldn’t I know them?—— I
will! Everybody knows two or three thousand people,—mostly very
stupid people,—or, rather, he lets them know him. Why shouldn’t he
use some choice in the matter? Why not know Thackeray and Carlyle,
Lord Palmerston and the Pope, and the Emperor of China and all the
great statesmen, authors, African explorers, military commanders,
artists, hereditary nobles, actresses, wits and belles of the best
society, instead of putting up with Tom, Dick, and Harry?”
“Berkeley, ‘with whom the bell-mouthed flask had wrought!’” exclaimed
Clay. “Decidedly, Berk, you should take your coffee without cognac.”
“Let me suggest,” put in Doddridge, “that some of those parties you
mentioned are not so easy to get introductions to.”
“Oh, I say again, you mustn’t take me too literally. But even the top
swells are easier to know than you think. All that is wanted is a
little cheek. But take it in a smaller way; say that we resolve to
cultivate the best society within our reach. Doubtless there are
numbers of interesting and distinguished people right here in New
Haven whose acquaintance it would be worth while to have. But how long
would you beggars live here without making the least effort to look
them out, and meanwhile put up with the same old every-day bores—like
me, or Polisson here? And it’s the same way with marriage. A fellow
blunders into matrimony with the first attractive girl that gives him
the opportunity. He knows, if he takes the time to think about it,
that there are a thousand others better than she, if he will wait and
look through the world a little. ‘Juxtaposition in fine,’ as Clough
“Of course, with such a brilliant destiny before you, you’ll never
marry,” said I.
“Yes, I think I shall. I fancy that the noblest possibilities of life
are never realized without marriage. Yes, I can think of nothing finer
than to have a lot of manly boys and sweet girls growing up around
one. But when I marry it shall be so as to give completeness and
expansion to life, not narrowness and dullness. I shall never marry
and settle down. Settle down! What a damnable expression that is! A
man ought to settle up. I mean to have my fling first, too. I should
like to gamble a bit at Baden-Baden. I should like to go out to
Colorado and have a lick at mining speculations. I want to rough it
some too, and see how life is lived close to the bone: ship for a
voyage before the mast; enlist for a campaign or two somewhere and
have joy of battle; join the gypsies or the Mormons or the Shakers for
awhile, and taste all the queerness of things. And then I want to
float for another while on the very top-most crest of society. I want
to fight a duel or two, elope with a marquise, do a little of
everything for the experience’s sake, as a man ought to take opium
once in his life just to know how it feels.”
Whether it was indeed the cognac, or only the unusual excitement
attending this outburst of pent-up fire, Berkeley’s cheek had got a
flush upon it. Perhaps, too, it was owing to the influences of the day
and the hour, the splash of the fountain, the rustle of the
vine-leaves, and the wavering shadows which played about the
court-yard as the gas-jets flickered in the breeze of night, that made
his boastful words seem less extravagantly out of character than they
otherwise would. The silence which followed his speech was broken by
Clay, who sat with his foot on the rim of the fountain, balancing on
the hind legs of his chair, and looking thoughtfully at the slender
jet as it rose and fell. He still wore the dress suit in which he had
figured on the Commencement platform in the afternoon, and which set
off the aristocratic grace of his slight figure. There was a pale
intellectual light in his face, and his black eyes had the glow of
“I think,” he began, “that Berkeley makes a mistake in confounding a
full life with a restless one. I believe in a full experience too, but
the satisfactions should be inward ones. Take the matter of foreign
travel, for one thing, on which you lay so much stress. It is a great
stimulus to the imagination, no doubt; but then foreign countries are
accessible to the imagination by other means—through books and art,
for example. I think it likely that the reality is, quite as often as
not, disappointing. Place, after all, is indifferent. ‘The soul is its
own place’: you can’t get rid of yourself by going abroad, and it’s
himself that a man gets sooner tired of than of anything else. Then as
to acquaintances, I don’t know that I should care to know personally
such men as Thackeray and Carlyle, and the big composers and artists
and other people that you mentioned. It might be equally
disenchanting. They put the best of themselves into their books, or
pictures, or music. I certainly would not seek their society through a
formal introduction, at all events. It is hard for a small man to keep
his self-respect in face of a great man when he obtains his
acquaintance as a special favor. If I could meet some of those
fellows, quite naturally and accidentally, on equal terms, I might
like it, but not otherwise. But, leaving that point out of account, I
think that the career which Berkeley proposes to himself would turn
out very hollow. It would result in the superficial gratification of
the curiosity and the senses; and, as soon as the novelty got rubbed
off, what is there left?”
“So then,” said Berkeley, “you’ve swung into line with Armstrong, have
you? You mean to plod along in some professional rut too. What has got
into all our idealists?”
“Not by any means,” answered Clay. “Armstrong talks about
independence, and yet destines himself to the worst kind of
dependence—slavery to money-getting. Most people, it seems to me,
spend the best part of their lives not in living, but in getting the
means to live. We’ll give Armstrong, say twenty years, to lay up
enough money to retire on and begin to live. What sort of a position
will he be in then to enjoy his independence? His nature will have got
so subdued to what it works in that the only safety for him will be to
keep on at the law.”
“All right! Then I’ll keep on,” interjected Armstrong.
“What the devil do you mean to do then?” asked Berkeley of Clay.
“I don’t quite know yet,” replied the latter. “I shall ‘loaf and
invite my soul’ whenever I feel like it. I shall live as I go along,
and not postpone it till I am forty. I sha’n’t put myself into any
mill that will grind me just so much a day. I need my leisure too
badly for that. I presume I shall spend most of my time at first in
reading and walking. Then, whenever I think of anything to write I
shall write it, and if I can sell what I write to some publisher or
other, so much the better. If not, go on as before.”
“Meanwhile, where will your bread and butter come from?” asked
“Oh, I sha’n’t starve. I can get some sort of hack work—something
that won’t take much of my time, and which I can do with my left hand.
But the great point, after all, is to make your wants simple; to live
like an Arab, content with a few dates and a swallow from the gourd.
‘Lessen your denominator.’ It’s easier than raising your numerator,
and the quotient is the same.”
“No, it’s not the same,” Berkeley retorted. “Renunciation and
enjoyment are not the same. It makes a heap of difference whether you
have a thing or simply do without it. The plain living and high
thinking philosophy may do for Clay, whose mind to him a kingdom is;
but a fellow like me, whose mind is only a small Central American
republic, can’t live on the revenues of the spirit. The fact is, Clay,
you’ve read too much Emerson. I went into that myself once, but I soon
found out that it wouldn’t wear. I want mine thicker. The worst thing
about the career of a literary man or an artist is that if he fails
there are no compensations; and success is mighty uncertain. Nobody
doubts that you are smart enough, Clay, and I am sure we expect great
things of you, whatever line you take up. But, for the sake of the
argument, suppose you have grubbed along in a small way, living on
crusts and water, till you are fifty, without doing any really good
work. Then where are you? You haven’t had any fun. You’ve no other
string to your bow. You haven’t that practical experience of the world
which would enable you to turn your hand to something else. You have
no influence or reputation; for, of all poor things, poor art of any
kind is the worst—hateful to gods and men and columns. In short,
where are you? You’re out of the dance; you don’t count.”
“Yes,” added Armstrong, “and you’ve no professional success or solid
standing in the community; and, what’s worse, you’ve no money, which
might make up for the want of all the rest.”
“I don’t think you get my meaning. I may fail,” said Clay, proudly; “I
may never even try to succeed, in your sense of the word. I decline
all mean competitions and all low views of success. The noblest ideal
of life—at least, the noblest to me—is self-culture in the high
meaning of the word; the harmonious development of one’s whole nature.
Armstrong has drawn a picture of his future in the likeness of old
Tulkinghorn. I suppose we are all accustomed to put our anticipations
into some such concrete shape before our mind’s eye. The typical
situation which I am fond of imagining is something like this: I like
to fancy myself sitting in a dark old upper room in some remote
farm-house, at the close of a winter day, after three or four hours of
steady reading or writing. The room is full of books—the best
books. There is a little fire on the hearth, there is a dingy curtain
at the window. It is solitary and still, and when the light gets too
scant to let me read any more, I fill my pipe, and go and stand in the
window. Outside, there is a row of leafless elms, and beyond that a
dim, wide landscape of lakes and hills, and beyond that a red, windy
sunset. I can sit in that window and smoke my pipe and have my own
thoughts till the hills grow black. There is no one to say to me ‘Go’
or ‘Come’; no patient to visit; no confounded case on the docket next
morning at nine; no distasteful, mean, slavish job of any kind. How
can I fail to have thoughts worth the thinking, and to live a rich and
free life when I breathe every day the bracing air of nature and the
great poets? Isn’t such a life in itself the best kind of success,
even if a man accomplishes nothing in particular that you can put your
“Yes, I know,” said Armstrong, taking a long breath. “I have felt that
way too. But a man has got to put all that sternly behind him and do
the world’s work for the world’s wages, if he means to amount to
anything. It’s only a finer kind of self-indulgence, after
all—egoistic Hedonism and that sort of thing.”
“It won’t be all standing at windows and looking at sunsets,” added
Doddridge. “Has it ever occurred to you that, before entering on a
life of self-denial and devotion to rather vague ideals, a man ought
to be mighty sure of himself? Can you keep up the culture business
without growing in on yourself unhealthily, and then getting sick of
inaction? Don’t you think there will be times of disappointment and
doubt when you look around and see fellows without half your talents
getting ahead of you in the world?”
“Of course,” answered Clay, “I shall have to make sacrifices, and I
shall have to stick to them when made. But there have always been
plenty of people willing to make similar sacrifices for similar
compensations. Men have gone out into the wilderness or shut
themselves up in the cloister for opportunities of study or
self-communion, or for other objects which were perhaps at bottom no
more truly devotional than mine. Nowadays such opportunities may be
had by any man who will keep himself free from the servitude of a
bread-winning profession. It is not necessary now to cry Ecce in
deserto or Ecce in penetralibus. Oh, I shall have my dark days; but
whenever the blue devils get thick I shall take to the woods and
return to sanity.”
“You mean to live in the country, then?” I inquired.
“Yes; most of the time, at any rate. Nature is fully half of life to
Again there was a pause.
“Well, you next, Polisson,” said Armstrong, finally. “Let’s hear what
your programme is.”
“Oh, nothing in the least interesting,” I replied. “My future is all
cut and dried. I shall spend the next two years in the south of
France—mainly at Lyons—to learn the details of the silk manufacture.
Then I shall come home to go into my father’s store for a year as a
clerk in the importing department. At the close of that year the
governor will take me in as junior partner, and I shall marry my
second cousin. We shall live with my parents, and I am going to be
very domestic, though, as a matter of form, I shall join one or two
clubs. I shall go down town every morning at nine, and come up at
“Quite a neat little destiny,” said Armstrong. “I wish I had your
backing. Come, Dodd, what’s yours? You’re the only man left.”
“I haven’t made up my mind yet,” said Doddridge, slowly.
He was a large, spare man, with a swarthy skin, a wide mouth, a dark,
steady eye, and a long jaw. There was an appearance of power and will
about him which was well borne out by his character. He had been a
systematic though not a laborious student, and while maintaining a
stand comfortably near the head of the class, had taken a course in
the Law School during Senior year, doing his double duties with
apparent ease. He was a constant speaker in the debates of the
Linonian Society, and the few who attended the meetings of that
moribund school of eloquence spoke of Doddridge’s speeches as oases in
the waste of forensic dispute, being always distinguished by vigor and
soundness, though without any literary quality, such as Clay’s
occasional performances had. Berkeley, who covered his own lazy and
miscellaneous reading with the mask of eclecticism, and proclaimed his
disbelief in a prescribed course of study, was wont to say that
Doddridge was the only man that he knew who was using the
opportunities given by the college for all they were worth, and really
getting out of “the old curric” that mental discipline which it
professed to impart. Though rather taciturn, he was not unsocial, and
was fond of his pipe in the evening. He liked a joke, especially if it
was of a definite kind, and at some one’s expense touching a
characteristic weakness of the man. There was at bottom something a
little hard about him, though every one agreed that he was a good
fellow. We all felt sure that he would make a distinguished success in
practical life; and we doubtless thought—if we thought about it at
all—that with his clear foresight and habits of steady work, he had
already decided upon his career. His words were therefore a surprise.
“What! you don’t mean to say that you are going to drift, Dodd?”
“Drift? Well, no; not exactly. I shall keep my steering apparatus well
in hand, but I haven’t decided yet what port to run for. There’s no
hurry. I have an uncle in the Northwest in the lumber business, who
would give me a chance. I may go out there and look about awhile at
first. If it doesn’t promise much, there is the law to fall back upon.
My father has a fruit farm at Byzantium in western New York,—where I
come from, you know,—and he is part owner of the Byzantium weekly
‘Bugle.’ I’ve no doubt I could get on as editor, and go to the
Legislature. Or I might do worse than begin on the farm; farming is
looking up in that section. I may try several things till I find the
“That’s queer,” said Armstrong. “I thought you had made up your mind
to enter the Columbia Law School.”
“Hardly,” answered Doddridge, “though I may, after all. The main point
is to keep yourself in readiness for any work, and take the best thing
that turns up—like Berkeley here,” he added, drily.
Armstrong looked at his watch and remarked that it was nearly
“Boys,” said I, “in fifteen years from to-night let’s have a supper
here and see how each man of us has worked out his theory of life, and
how he likes it as far as he has got.”
“Oh, give us twenty,” said Doddridge, laughing, as we all arose and
prepared to break up. “No one accomplishes anything in this latitude
before he is forty.”
It was in effect just fifteen years from the summer of our graduation
that I started out to look up systematically my quondam classmates and
compare notes with them. The course of my own life had been quite
other than I had planned. For one thing, I had lived in New Orleans
and not in New York, and my occasions had led me seldom to the North.
The first visit I paid was to Berkeley. I had heard that he was still
unmarried, and that he had been for years settled, as minister, over a
small Episcopal parish on the Hudson. The steamer landed me one summer
afternoon at a little dock on the west bank; and after obtaining from
the dock-keeper precise directions for finding the parsonage, I set
out on foot. After a walk of a mile along a road skirted by handsome
country seats, but contrasting strangely in its loneliness with the
broad thoroughfare of the river constantly occupied by long tows of
barges and rafts, I came to the rectory gate. The house was a stone
cottage, covered with trailers, and standing well back from the road.
In the same inclosure, surrounded by a grove of firs, was a little
stone chapel with high pitched roof and rustic belfry. In front of the
house I spied a figure which I recognized as Berkeley. He was in his
shirt-sleeves, and was pecking away with a hoe at the gravel walk,
whistling meanwhile his old favorite “Bonny Doon.” He turned as I came
up the driveway, and regarded me at first without recognition. He, for
his part, was little changed by time. There was the same tall,
narrow-shouldered, slightly stooping figure; the face, smooth-shaved,
with a spot of wintry red in the cheek, and the old humorous cast in
the small blue eyes.
“You don’t know me from Adam,” I said, pausing in front of him.
“Ah!” he exclaimed, directly. “Polisson, old man, upon my conscience
I’m glad to see you, but I didn’t know you till you spoke. You’ve been
having the yellow fever, haven’t you? Come in—come into the house.”
We passed in through the porch, which was covered with sweet-pea vines
trained on strings, and entered the library, where Berkeley resumed
his coat. The room was lined with book-shelves loaded to the ceiling,
while piles of literature had overflowed the cases and stood about on
the floor in bachelor freedom. After the first greetings and
inquiries, Berkeley carried my valise upstairs, and then returning,
“I’m a methodical though not methodistical person, or rather parson
(excuse the Fullerism); and as you have got to stay with me till I let
you go, that is, several days at the least (don’t interrupt), I’ll
keep a little appointment for the next hour, if you will excuse me. A
boy comes three times a week to blow the bellows for my organ
practice. Perhaps you would like to step into the church and hear me.”
I assented, and we went out into the yard and found the boy already
waiting in the church porch. Berkeley and his assistant climbed into
the organ loft, while I seated myself in the chancel to listen. The
instrument was small but sweet, and Berkeley really played very well.
The interior of the little church was plain to bareness; but the sun,
which had fallen low, threw red lights on the upper part of the
undecorated walls, and rich shadows darkened the lower half. Through
the white, pointed windows I saw the trembling branches of the firs. I
had been hurrying for a fortnight past over heated railways, treading
fiery pavements, and lodging in red-hot city hotels. But now the music
and the day’s decline filled me with a sense of religious calm, and
for a moment I envied Berkeley. After his practicing was over the
organist locked the chapel door, and we paced up and down in the
fir-grove on the matting of dark red needles, and watched the river,
whose eastern half still shone in the evening light. After supper we
sat out on the piazza, which commanded a view of the Hudson. Berkeley
opened a bottle of Chablis and produced some very old and dry Manilla
cheroots, and, leaning back in our wicker chairs, we proceeded to
“You are very comfortably fixed here,” I began; “but this is not
precisely what I expected to find you doing, after your declaration of
principles, fifteen years ago, you may remember, on our Commencement
“Fifteen years! So it is—so it is,” he answered, with a sigh. “Well,
l’homme propose, you know. I don’t quite remember what it was that
I said on that occasion: dreadful nonsense, no doubt. As Thackeray
says, a boy is an ass. Whatever it was, it proceeded, I suppose,
from some temporary mood rather than from any permanent conviction;
though, to be sure, I slipped into this way of life almost by accident
at first. But, being in, I have found it easy to continue. I am rather
too apt, perhaps, to stay where I am put. I am a quietist by
constitution.” He paused, and I waited for him to enter upon a fuller
and more formal apology. Finally, he went on much as follows:
“Just after I left college I made application through some parties at
Washington for a foreign consulate. While I was waiting for the
application to be passed on (it was finally unsuccessful), I came up
here to visit my uncle, who was the rector of this parish. He was a
widower, without any children, and the church was his hobby. It is a
queer little affair, something like the old field-kirks or chapels of
ease in some parts of England. It was built partly by my uncle and
partly by a few New York families who have country places here, and
who use it in the summer. This is all glebe land,” he said,
indicating, with a sweep of his hand, the twilight fields below the
house sloping down toward the faintly glimmering river. “My uncle had
a sort of prescription or lien by courtesy on the place. There’s not
much salary to speak of, but he had a nice plum of his own, and lived
inexpensively. Well, that first summer I moped about here, got
acquainted with the summer residents, read a good deal of the time,
took long walks into the interior,—a rough, aboriginal country, where
they still talk Dutch,—and waited for an answer to my application.
When it came at last, I fretted about it considerably, and was for
starting off in search of something else. I had an idea of getting a
place as botanist on Coprolite’s survey of the Nth parallel, and I
wrote to New Haven for letters. I thought it would be a good outdoor,
horseback sort of life, and might lead to something better. But that
fell through, and meanwhile the dominie kept saying: ‘My dear fellow,
don’t be in too much of a hurry to begin. Young America goes so fast
nowadays that it is like the dog in the hunting story,—a leetle bit
ahead of the hare. Why not stay here for awhile and ripen—ripen?’ The
dominie had a good library,—all my old college favorites, old Burton,
old Fuller, and Browne, etc., and it seemed the wisest course to
follow his advice for the present. But in the fall my uncle had a
slight stroke of paralysis, and really needed my help for awhile; so
that what had been a somewhat aimless life, considered as loafing,
became all at once a duty. At first he had a theological student, from
somewhere across the river, come to stay in the house and read service
for him on Sundays. But he was a ridiculous animal, whose main idea of
a minister’s duties was to intone the responses in a sonorous manner.
He used to practice this on week days in his surplice, and I remember
especially the cadence with which he delivered the sentence: ‘Yea,
like a broken wall shall ye be and as a ruined hedge.’
“He got the huckleberry, as we used to say in college, on that
particular text, and it has stuck by me ever since. The dominie fired
him out after a fortnight, and one day said to me: ‘Jack, why don’t
you study for orders and take up the succession here? You are a
bookworm, and the life seems to be to your liking.’ Of course, I
declined very vigorously in the beginning, though offering to stay on
so long as the dominie needed my help. I used to do lay reading on
Sundays when he was too feeble. Gradually, ‘the idea of the life did
sweetly creep into my study of imagination.’ The quaintness of the
place appealed to me. And here was a future all cut out for me: no
preliminary struggle, no contact with vulgar people, no cut-throat
competition, but everything gentlemanly and independent about it. I
had strong doubts touching my theology, and used to discuss them with
my uncle; but he said,—and said rightly, I now think,—‘You young
fellows in college fancy that it’s a mighty fine, bold thing to effect
radicalism and atheism, and the Lord knows what all; but it won’t
stick to you when you get older. Experience will soften your heart,
and you’ll find after awhile that belief and doubt are not matters of
the pure reason, but of the will. It is a question of attitude.
Besides, the church is broad enough to cover a good many private
differences in opinion. It isn’t as if you were going to be a
blue-nosed Presbyterian. You can stay here and make your studies with
me, instead of going into a seminary, and when you are ready to go
before the bishop I’ll see that you get the right send-off.’ In short,
here I am! My uncle died two years after, when I was already in
orders, and I’ve been here ever since.”
“I should think you would get lonely sometimes, and make a strike for
a city parish,” I suggested.
“Why—no, I don’t think I should care for ordinary parish work. The
beauty of my position here is its uniqueness. In winter I keep the
church open for the Aborigines till they get snowed up and stop
coming, and then I put down to New York for a month or two of work at
the Astor Library. Last winter I held service for two Sundays running
with one boy for congregation. Finally I announced to him that the
church would be closed until spring.”
“What in the——: well, what do you find to do all alone up here?”
“Oh, there’s always plenty to do, if you’ll only do it. I’ve been
cultivating some virtuosities, among other things. Remind me to show
you my etchings when we go in. Did you notice, perhaps, that little
head over the table, on the north wall? No? Then I smatter botany
some. I’ll let you look over my hortus siccus before you go. It has
some very rare ferns; one of them is a new species, and Fungus—who
exchanges with me—swore that he was going to have it named after me.
I sent the first specimen to have it described in his forthcoming
report. But doubtless all this sort of thing is a bore to you. Well,
lately I have been going into genealogy, and I find it more and more
absorbing. Those piles of blank-books and manuscripts on the floor at
the south end are all crammed with genealogical notes and material.”
“I should think you would find it pretty dry fodder,” I said.
“That is because you take an outside, unsympathetic view of it. Now,
to an amateur it’s anything but dry. There is as much excitement in
hunting down a missing link in a pedigree that you have been on the
trail of for a long time, as there is in the chase of any other kind
“Do you ever get across the water? Travel, if I remember right, played
a large part in your scheme of life once.”
“Yes; I’ve been over once, for a few months. But my income, though
very comfortable for the statics of existence, is rather short for the
dynamics, and so I mostly stay at home.”
“Did you meet any interesting people over there? Any of the crowned
heads, famous wits, etc., whom you once proposed to cultivate?”
“No; nobody in particular. I went in a very quiet way. I had some good
letters to people in England, but I didn’t present them. The idea of
introductions became a bore as I got nearer to it.”
“And, of course, you didn’t elope with the marquise?”
“Was that in my scheme? Well—no, I did not.”
“You might have done worse, old man. You ought to have a wife, to keep
you from getting rusty up here. And, besides, a fellow that goes so
much into genealogy should take some interest in posterity. You ought
to cultivate the science practically.”
“Oh, I’m past all danger of matrimony now,” said Berkeley, with a
laugh. “There was a girl that I was rather sweet on a few years ago. I
was looking up a pedigree for her papa, and I found that I was related
to her myself, in eight different ways, though none of them very near.
I explained it to her one evening. It took me an hour to do it, and I
fancy she thought it a little slow. At all events, when I afterward
hinted that we might make the eight ways nine, she answered that our
relationship was so intricate already that she couldn’t think of
complicating it any further. No, you may put me down as safe.”
After this, we sat listening in silence to the distant beat of
paddle-wheels where a steamer was moving up river.
“The river is a deal of company,” resumed my host. “Thirty-six
steamers pass here every twenty-four hours. That now is the Mary
“Well,” I said, answering not so much to his last remark as to the
whole trend of his autobiography, “I suppose you are happy in this
way of life, since you seem to prefer it. But it would be terribly
monotonous to me.”
“Happy?” replied Berkeley, doubtfully. “I don’t know. Happiness is a
subjective matter. You are happy if you think yourself so. As for
me, I cultivate an obsolete mood—the old-fashioned humor of
melancholy. I don’t suppose now that a light-hearted, French kind of
chap like you can understand, in the least, what those fine, crusty
old Elizabethans meant when they wrote,
‘There’s naught in this life sweet,
If man were wise to see’t,
But only melancholy.’
This noisy generation has lost their secret. As for me, I am content
with the grays and drabs. I think the brighter colors would disturb my
mood. I know it’s not a large life, but it is a safe one.”
I did not at the moment remember that this had been Armstrong’s very
saying fifteen years ago, but some unconscious association led me to
“Armstrong and you have changed places in one respect, I should
think,” said I. “He is keeping a boarding-school somewhere in
Connecticut. And instead of leading a Tulkinghorny existence in the
New York University building, as he firmly intended, he has married
and produced a numerous offspring, I hear.”
“Yes, poor fellow!” said Berkeley; “I fancy that he is dreadfully
overrun and hard up. There always was something absurdly domestic
about Armstrong. They say he has grown red, fat, and bald. Think of a
man with Armstrong’s education—and he had some talent, too—keeping a
sort of Dotheboys Hall! I haven’t seen him for eight or nine years.
The last time was at Jersey City, and I had just time to shake hands
with him. He was with a lot of other pedagogues, all going up to a
teachers’ convention, or some such dreary thing, at Albany.”
I had an opportunity for verifying Berkeley’s account of Armstrong a
few days after my conversation with the former. The Pestalozzian
Institute, in the pleasant little village of Thimbleville, was
situated, as its prospectus informed the public, on “one of the most
elegant residence streets, in one of the healthiest and most beautiful
rural towns of Eastern Connecticut.” Over the entrance gate was a
Roman arch bearing the inscription “Pestalozzian Institute” in large
gilt letters. The temple of learning itself was a big, bare, white
house at some distance from the street, with an orchard and kitchen
garden on one side, and a roomy play-ground on the other. The latter
was in possession of some small boys, who were kicking a broken-winded
foot-ball about the field with an amount of noise greatly in excess of
its occasion. To my question where I could find Mr. Armstrong, they
answered eagerly: “Mr. Armstrong? Yes, sir. You go right into the
hall, and knock on the first door to the right, and he’ll come—or
The door to the large square entry stood wide open, and through
another door opposite, which was ajar, I saw long tables, and heard
the clatter of dishes being removed, while a strong smell of dinner
filled the air. I knocked at the door on the right, but no one
appeared. Finally, a chubby girl of about ten summers came running
round the corner of the house and into the front door. She was eating
an apple, and gazed at me wonderingly.
“Is Mr. Armstrong in?” I asked.
“Yes, sir; he’s about somewhere. Walk into the parlor, please, and sit
down, and I’ll find him.”
I entered the room on the right, which was a bleak and
official-looking apartment,—apparently the reception-room where
parents held interviews with the instructor of youth, or tore
themselves from the parting embraces of homesick sons at the beginning
of a new term. There is always something depressing about the parlor
of an “institution” of any kind, and I could not help feeling sorry
for Armstrong, as I waited for him, seated on a sofa covered with
faded rep. At length the door of an inner room opened, and the
principal of the Pestalozzian Institute waddled across the floor with
his hand held out, crying:
“Franky Polisson, how are you?”
He certainly had grown stout, and his light hair had retreated from
the forehead. He wore glasses and was dressed in a suit of rusty
black, with a high vest which gave him a ministerial look—a much more
ministerial look than Berkeley had. His pantaloons presented that
appearance which tailors describe as “kneeing out.” He sat down and we
chatted for half an hour. The little girl had followed him into the
room, and behind her came another three or four years her junior. The
older one stood by his side, and he kept his arm around her, while he
held the younger on his knee. They were both pretty, healthy-looking
children, and kept their eyes fixed on “the man.”
“Are those your own kids?” I inquired presently.
“Yes, two of them. I have six, you know,” he answered, with a fond
sigh: “five girls and one boy. The lasses are rather in the majority.”
“I heard you were quite a paterfamilias,” I said. “Won’t you come
and kiss me, little girl?”
To this proposal the elder answered by burying her head bashfully in
her father’s shoulder, while the smaller one simply opened her eyes
wider and stared with more fixed intensity.
“Oh, by the way,” exclaimed Armstrong, “of course you’ll take tea with
us and spend the evening. I wish I could offer to sleep you here; but
the fact is, Mrs. Armstrong’s sister is with us for a few days, and
the parents of one of my boys, who is sick, are also staying here; so
that my guest chambers are full.”
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “I couldn’t stay over night. I’ve got to
be in New York in the morning, and must take the nine-o’clock train.
But I’ll stay to supper and much obliged, if you are sure I sha’n’t
take up too much of your time.”
“Not the least—not the least. This is a half holiday, and nothing in
particular to do.” He bustled to the door and called out loudly,
There was no response.
“Nelly,” he commanded, “run and find your mamma, and tell her that Mr.
Polisson—from New Orleans—an old classmate of papa’s, will be here
to tea. That’s a good girl. Polisson, put on your hat and let’s go
round the place. I want to show you what an establishment I’ve got
We accordingly made the tour of the premises, Armstrong doing the
cicerone impressively, and every now and then urging me with emphatic
hospitality to come and spend a week—a fortnight—longer, if I chose,
during the summer vacation.
“Bring Mrs. Polisson and the kids. Bring ’em all,” he said. “It will
do them good; the air here is fine; eleven hundred feet above the sea.
No malaria—no typhoid. I laid out four hundred dollars last year on
It being a half holiday, most of the big boys had gone to a pond in
the neighborhood for a swim, under the conduct of the classical
master,—a Yale graduate, Armstrong explained, who had stood fourth
in his class, “and a very able fellow,—very able.”
But while we sat at tea in Armstrong’s family dining-room, which
adjoined the school commons, we were made aware of the return of the
swimming party by the constant shuffle and tramp of feet through the
hall and the noise of feeding in the next room. At our table were
present Mrs. Armstrong, her sister (who had a frightened air when
addressed and conversed in monosyllables), the parents of the sick
pupil, and Armstrong’s two eldest children. I surmised that the
younger children had been in the habit of sharing in the social meal,
and had been crowded out on this occasion by the number of guests; for
I heard them fremunting in carcere behind a door through which the
waitress passed out and in, bringing plates of waffles. The
remonstrances of the waitress were also audible, and, when the wailing
rose high, my hostess’s face had a distrait expression, as of one
prepared at any moment for an irruption of infant Goths.
Mrs. Armstrong was a vivacious little woman, who, I conjectured, had
once been a village belle, with some pretensions to espièglerie and
the fragile prettiness common among New England country girls. But the
bearing and rearing of a family of children, and the matronizing of a
houseful of hungry school-boys in such a way as to make ends meet, had
substituted a faded and worried look for her natural liveliness of
expression. She bore up bravely, however, against the embarrassments
of the occasion. In particular, it pleased her to take a facetious
view of college life.
“Oh, Mr. Polisson,” she cried, “I am afraid that you and my husband
were very gay young men when you were at college together. Oh, don’t
tell me; I know—I know. I’ve heard of some of your scrapes.”
I protested feebly against this impeachment, but Armstrong winked at
me with the air of a sly dog, and said:
“It’s no use, Polisson. You can’t fool Mrs. A. Buckingham and one or
two of the fellows have been here to dinner occasionally, and I’m
afraid they’ve given us away.”
“Yes,” she affirmed, “Mr. Buckingham was one of you too, I guess,
though he is the Rev. Mr. Buckingham now. Oh, he has told me.”
“You remember old Buck?” put in Armstrong. “He is preaching near
here—settled over a church at Bobtown.”
“Yes,” I answered, “I remember there was such a man in the class, but
really I didn’t know that he was—ah—such a character as you seem to
infer, Mrs. Armstrong.”
“Oh, he has quieted down now, I assure you,” said the lady. “He is as
prim and proper as a Methodist meeting-house. Why, he has to be, you
This amusing fiction of the wildness of Armstrong’s youth had
evidently become a family tradition, and even, by a familiar process,
an article of belief in his own mind. It reminded me grotesquely of
Justice Shallow’s reminiscences with Sir John Falstaff: “Ha,
Cousin Silence, that thou hadst seen that, that this knight and I have
seen.... Jesu, Jesu, the mad days that I have spent!”
The resemblance became still stronger when, as we rose from the table,
the good fellow beckoned me into a closet which opened off the
dining-room, saying, in a hoarse whisper:
“Here, Polisson, come in here.”
He was uncorking a large bottle half-filled with some red liquid, and
as he poured a portion of this into two glasses he explained:
“I don’t have this sort of thing on the table, you understand, on
account of the children and my—ah—position. It would make talk. But
I tell you this is some of the real old stuff. How!” And he held his
glass up to the light, regarding it with the one eye of a connoisseur,
and then drank down its contents with a smack. I was considerably
astonished, on doing the same, to discover that this dark
beverage—which, from Armstrong’s manner, I had been prepared to find
something at least as wicked as absinthe—was simply and solely
Bordeaux of a mild quality. After this Bacchanalian proceeding we went
out into the orchard, which was reserved for family use, and sat on a
bench under an apple-tree. Armstrong called his little boy who had
been at supper with us and gave him a whispered message, together with
some small change. The messenger disappeared, and after a short
absence returned with two very domestic cigars, transparently bought
for the nonce from some neighboring grocer. “Have a smoke,” commanded
my host, and we solemnly kindled the rolls of yellow leaf, Armstrong
puffing away at his with the air of a man who, though intrusted by
destiny with the responsibility of molding the characters of youth,
has not forgotten how to be a man of the world on occasion.
“Well, Charley,” I began, after a few preliminary draughts, “you seem
to have a good thing of it. Your school is prosperous, I understand;
the work suits you; you have a mighty pretty family of children
growing up, and your health appears to be perfect.”
“Yes,” he admitted; “I suppose I ought to be thankful. I certainly
enjoy great mercies. It’s a warm, crowded kind of life; plenty of
affection,—plenty of anxiety too, to be sure. I like to have the boys
around me; it keeps one’s heart fresh, though in a way it’s sometimes
wearing to the nerves. Yes, I like the young rascals—I like them.
But, of course, it has its drawbacks. Most careers have,” he added, in
a burst of commonplace.
“It is not exactly the career that you had cut out for yourself,” I
suggested, “when we talked our plans over, you remember, that last
evening at New Haven.”
“No, it’s not,” he acknowledged; “but perhaps it is a better one. What
was it I said then? I really don’t recall it. Something very silly,
“Oh, you said, in a general way, that you were going in for money and
celibacy and selfishness,—just as you have not done.”
“Yes, yes; I know, I remember now,” he said, laughing. “Boys are great
fools with their brag of what they are going to do and be. Life knocks
it out of them fast enough; they learn to do what they must.”
“Do you ever write any poetry nowadays?”
“No, no; not I. The muse has given me the go-by completely. Except for
some occasional verses for a school festival or something of the kind,
which I grind out now and then, I’ve sunk my rhyming dictionary deeper
than ever plummet sounded. The chief disadvantage of running a big
school like this,” he continued, with a sigh, “is the want of leisure
and retirement to enable a man to keep up his studies. Sometimes I
actually ache for solitude—for a few weeks or months of absolute
loneliness and silence. Mrs. Armstrong has fixed me up a nice little
private study,—remind me to take you in there before you go,—where I
keep my books, etc. But the children will find their way in, and then
I’m seldom undisturbed anywhere for more than an hour at a time;
there’s always some call on me,—something wanted that no one else can
“You ought to swap places with Berkeley for awhile. He’s got more
leisure than he knows what to do with.”
“Berkeley! Well, what’s he up to now? Philately? Arboriculture? What’s
his last fad? You’ve seen him lately, you said. I met him for a minute
in New York, a few years ago, and he told me he was going to an old
“He’s got genealogy at present,” I explained.
“Genealogy! What hay! What sawdust! Aren’t there enough live people to
take an interest in, without grubbing up dead ones from tombstones and
town clerks’ records? Berkeley must be a regular old bachelor
antiquary by this time, with all human sympathy dried out of him. No,
I wouldn’t change with him. Would we, fatty?” he said, appealing to
a small offspring of uncertain sex which had just toddled out the door
and across the gangway to kiss its papa good-night.
I took leave of Armstrong and his interesting family with a sense of
increased liking. His worldliness, good nature, and simple little
enthusiasms and self-satisfactions had somehow kept him young, and he
seemed quite the old Armstrong of college days. I afterward learned
that the excellent fellow had just finished his law studies, and was
preparing to enter upon practice, when his father’s health failed,
forcing him to give up his parish, and leaving a number of younger
brothers and sisters partly dependent on Armstrong. He had accordingly
taken the first situation that promised a fair salary, and, having got
started upon the work of teaching, had been unable to let go until it
was too late; had, indeed, got deeper and deeper in, by falling in
love and impulsively marrying at the first opportunity, and finally
setting up for himself at the Pestalozzian Institute. Poor fellow!
Good fellow! Amico mio, non della fortuna.
My next call was upon Clay, who had rooms in the Babel building in New
York, and was reported to be something of a Bohemian. He received me
in a smoking jacket and slippers. He had grown a full beard which hid
his finely cut features. His black eyes had the old fire, but his skin
was sallower, and I thought that his manner had a touch of
listlessness mingled with irritability and defiance. He was glad to
see me; but inclined to be at first, not precisely distant, yet by no
means confidential. After awhile, however, he thawed out and became
more like the Clay whom I remembered—our college genius, the
brilliant, the admired, in those days of eager hero-worship. I told
him of my visits to Berkeley and Armstrong.
“Berkeley I see now and then in town,” said Clay. “It was rather queer
of him to turn parson, but I guess he doesn’t let his theology bother
him much. He has a really superior collection of etchings, I am told.
Armstrong I haven’t seen for years. I knew he was a pedagogue
somewhere in Connecticut.”
“Don’t you ever go to the class reunions?” I asked.
“Class reunions? Well, hardly.”
“I should think you would; you are so near New Haven.”
“How charmingly provincial you are—you Southern chaps! Don’t you know
that, to a man who lives in New York, nothing is near? Besides, as to
my classmates at old Yale and all that, I would go round a corner to
avoid meeting most of them.”
I expressed myself as duly shocked by this sentiment, and presently I
“Well, Clay, how are you getting on, anyway?”
“That’s a d—— general question. How do you want me to answer it?”
“Oh, not at all, if you don’t like.”
“Well, don’t get miffed. Suppose I answer, ‘Pretty well, I thank you,
sir.’ How will that do?”
“Are you writing anything now?”
“I’m always scribbling something or other. At present, I’ve got the
position of dramatic critic on the ‘Daily Boreas,’ which is not a very
bad bore, and keeps the pot boiling. And I do more or less work of a
hack kind for the magazines and cyclopedias, etc.”
“I thought you were on the ‘Weekly Prig.’ Berkeley or somebody told me
“So I was at one time, but I got out of it. The work was drying me up
too fast. The concern is run by a lot of cusses who have failed in
various branches of literature themselves, and undertake, in
consequence, to make it unpleasant for every one else who tries to
write anything. I got so that I could sling as cynical a quill as the
rest of them. But the trick is an easy one and hardly worth learning.
It’s a great fraud, this business of reviewing. Here’s a man of
learning, for instance, who has spent years of research on a
particular work. He has collected a large library, perhaps, on his
subject; knows more about it than any one else living. Then along
comes some insolent little whipper-snapper,—like me,—whose sole
knowledge of the matter in hand is drawn from the very book that he
pretends to criticise, and patronizes the learned author in a book
notice. No, I got out of it; I hadn’t the cheek.”
“I bought your book,” said I, “as soon as it came out.”
“That’s more than the public did.”
“Yes, and I read it, too.”
“No! Did you, now? That’s true friendship. Well, how did you like it?
Did you get your money’s worth?”
I hesitated a moment and then answered:
“It was clever, of course. Anything that you write would be sure to be
that. But it didn’t appear to get down to hard-pan or to take a firm
grip on life—did it?”
“Ah, that’s what the critics said,—only they’ve got a set of phrases
for expressing it. They said it was amateurish, that it was in a
falsetto key, etc.”
“Well, how does it strike you, yourself? You know that it didn’t come
out of the deep places of your nature, don’t you? You feel that you’ve
got better behind?”
“Oh, I don’t know. A man does what he can. I rather think it’s the
best I can do at present.”
“Why don’t you go at some more serious work; some magnum opus that
would bring your whole strength into play?”
“A magnum opus, my dear fellow!” replied Clay, with a shade of
irritation in his voice. “You talk as if a magnum opus could be done
for the wishing. Why don’t you do a magnum opus, then?”
“Why don’t I? Oh, I’m not a literary fellow—never professed to be.
What a question!”
“Well, no more am I, perhaps. I don’t think any better of the stuff
that I scribble than you do. It’s all an experiment with me. I’m
trying my brushes—trying my brushes. Perhaps I may be able to do
something stronger some day, and perhaps not. But at all events I
sha’n’t force my mood. I shall wait for my inspiration. One thing I’ve
noticed, that as a man grows older he loses his spontaneity and gets
more critical with himself. I could do more, no doubt, if I would only
let myself go. But I’m like this meerschaum here,—a hard piece and
slow in coloring.”
“Well, meanwhile you might do something in the line of scholarship, a
history or a volume of critical essays—‘Hours with the Poets,’ or
something of that kind, that would bring in the results of your
reading. Have you seen Brainard’s book? It seemed to me work that was
worth doing. But you could do something of the same kind, only much
better, without taking your hands out of your pockets.”
Brainard was a painstaking classmate of ours, who had been for some
years Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, English Literature,
and European History, in a Western university, and had recently
published a volume entitled “Theism and Pantheism in the Literature of
the English Renaissance,” which was well spoken of, and was already in
its third edition.
“Yes, I’ve seen the stuff,” said Clay. “My unhappy country swarms with
that sort of thing: books about books, and books about other books
about books—like the big fleas and little fleas. It’s not literature;
it’s a parasitic growth that infests literature. I always say to
myself, with the melancholy Jaques, whenever I have to look over a
book by Brainard or any such fellow, ‘I think of as many matters as
he; but I give Heaven thanks and make no boast of them.’ No, I don’t
care to add anything to that particular rubbish heap. You know Emerson
said that the worst poem is better than the best criticism of it. The
trouble with me is that what I want to do I can’t do—at present; what
I can do I don’t think it worth while to do—worth my while, at
least. Some one else may do it and get the credit and welcome.”
“But you do a good deal of work that you don’t care about, as it is,”
“Of course. A man must live, and so I do the nearest thing and the one
that pays quickest. I got eighty dollars, now, for that last screed in
“But,” I persisted, “I thought that money-making had no part in your
scheme. You could make more money in a dozen other businesses.”
“So I could,” he answered; “but they all involve some form of slavery.
Now, I am my own master. After all, every profession has its drudgery,
and literary drudgery is not the worst.”
“Well,” I conceded, “independent of what you accomplish, I suppose
your way of life furnishes as many daily satisfactions as any. I
sometimes envy you and Berkeley your freedom from business cares and
your opportunities for study. What becomes of most men’s college
training, for example? By Jove! I picked up a Greek book the other
day, and I couldn’t read three words running. Now, I take it, you
manage to keep up your classics, among other things.”
“Oh, my way of life has its compensations,” he answered. “But Sydney
Smith—wasn’t it?—said that life was a middling affair, anyway. As
for the classics, etc., I find that reading and study lose much of
their stimulus unless they get an issue in action,—unless one can
apply them directly toward his own work. I often think that, if I
were fifteen or even ten years younger, I would go into some branch of
natural science. A scientific man always seems to me peculiarly happy
in the healthy character of his work. He can keep himself apart from
it. It is objective, impersonal, makes no demand on his emotions. Now
a writing man has to put himself into his work. He has to keep looking
out all the time for impressions, material; to keep trying to enlarge
and deepen his own experience, and he gets self-conscious and loses
his freshness in the process.”
“I am surprised to find you in New York,” said I, by way of changing
the subject. “I thought you had laid out to live in the country. Do
you remember that pretty little word-picture of a winter afternoon
that you drew us—something in the style of an Il Penseroso
landscape? I expected to find you domesticated in a Berkshire
“Yes, I remember. I tried it. But I find it necessary, for my work, to
be in New York. The newspapers—confound ’em!—won’t move into the
woods. But, after all, place is indifferent. See here; this isn’t
He drew aside the window curtain, and I looked out over a wilderness
of roofs to the North River and the Palisades tinged with a purple
light. The ferry boats and tugs plying over the water in every
direction, the noise of the steam whistles, and the clouds of white
vapor floating on the clear air, made an inspiriting scene.
“I’m up among the architects here,” continued Clay; “nothing but the
janitor’s family between me and the roof.”
We talked awhile longer, and on taking leave, I said:
“I shall be on the lookout for something big from you one of these
days. You know what we always expected of you. So don’t lose your
grip, old man.”
“Who knows?” he replied. “It doesn’t rest with me, but with the
I was unable to visit Doddridge, the remaining member of our group. He
lived in the thriving town of Wahee, Minnesota, and I had heard of
him, in a general way, as highly prosperous. He was a prominent lawyer
and successful politician, and had lately been appointed United States
district judge, after representing his section in the State Senate for
a term or two. I wrote to him, congratulating him on his success and
asking for details. I mentioned also my visits to Berkeley, Armstrong,
and Clay. I got a prompt reply from Doddridge, from which I extract
such portions as are material to this narrative:
“The first few months after I left college I traveled pretty
extensively through the West, making contracts with the
farmers as agent for a nursery and seed-farm in my part of
the country, but really with the object of spying out the
land and choosing a place to settle in. Finally I lit on
Wahee, and made up my mind that it was a town with a future.
It was bound to be a railroad center. It had a first-rate
agricultural country around it, and a rich timber region a
little further back; and it already had an enterprising
little pop. growing rapidly. To-day Wahee is as smart a city
of its inches as there is in the Northwest. I squatted right
down here, got a little raise from the old man, and put it
all into building lots. I made a good thing of it, and paid
it all back in six years with eight per cent. interest.
Meanwhile, I went into Judge Pratt’s law office and made my
salt by fitting his boy for college—till I learned enough
law to earn a salary. The judge was an old Waheer—belonged
to the time-honored aristocracy of the place, having been
here at least fifteen years before I came. He got into
railroads after awhile (is president now of the Wahee and
Heliopolis Bee-line), and left his law practice to me. I
married his daughter Alice in 1875. She is a Western girl,
but she was educated at Vassar. We have two boys. If you
ever come out our way, Polisson, you must put up with us for
as long as you can stay. I would like to show you the
country about here and have you ride after my team. I’ve got
a pair that can do it inside three minutes. Do you remember
Liddell of our class? He is an architect, you know. I got
him to come to Wahee, and he has all he can do putting up
business blocks. We have got some here equal to anything in
“Yes, I am United States judge for this district. There is
not much money in it, but it will help me professionally by
and by. I shall not keep it long. Do I go into politics
much, you ask. I used to, but I’ve got through for the
present. The folks about here wanted to run me for Congress
last term, but I hadn’t any use for it. As to what you are
kind enough to say about my ‘success,’ etc., whatever
success I have had is owing to nothing but a capacity for
hard work, which is the only talent that I lay claim to.
They want a man out here who will do the work that comes to
hand, and keep on doing it till something better turns
“So Berkeley has turned out a dilettante instead of an
African explorer. I heard he was a minister. He does not
seem to have much ambition even in that line of life. I
should think Armstrong had got the right kind of place for
him. He was a good fellow, but never had much practical
ability. You say very little about Clay. How is old
‘Sweetness and Light,’ any way? I saw some fluff of his in
one of the magazines,—a ‘romance’ I think he called it.
This is not an age for scribbling romances. The country
wants something solider. I never took much stock in
philosophers like Berkeley and Clay. There is the same thing
the trouble with them both: they don’t want to do any hard
work, and they conceal their laziness under fine
names,—culture, transcendentalism, and what not? ‘Feeble
and restless youths, born to inglorious days.’”
This letter may be supplemented by another,—say Exhibit B,—which I
received from Clay not long after:
“My Dear Polisson
: It occurs to me that your question the
other day, as to how I was ‘getting on,’ did not receive as
candid an answer as it deserved. I am afraid that you
carried away an impression of me as of a man who suspected
himself to be a failure, but had not the manliness to
acknowledge it. You will say, perhaps, that there are all
degrees of half success short of absolute failure. But I say
no. In the career which I have chosen, to miss of
success—pronounced, unquestionable success—is to fail; and
I am not weak enough to hide from myself on which side of
the line I fall. The line is a very distinct one, after all.
The fact is, I took the wrong turning, and it is too late to
go back. I am a case of arrested development—a common
enough case. I might give plenty of excellent excuses to my
friends for not having accomplished what they expected me
to. But the world doesn’t want apologies; it wants
“You will think this letter a most extraordinary outburst of
morbid vanity. But while I can afford to have you think me a
failure, I couldn’t let you go on thinking me a fraud. That
must be my excuse for writing.
“Yours, as ever, E. Clay.”
This letter moved me deeply by its characteristic mingling of egotism
with elevation of feeling. As I held it open in my hand, and thought
over my classmates’ fortunes, I was led to make a few reflections.
From the fact that Armstrong and Berkeley were leading lives that
squarely contradicted their announced ideas and intentions, it was an
obvious but not therefore a true inference that circumstance is
usually stronger than will. Say, rather, that the species of necessity
which consists in character and inborn tendency is stronger than any
resolution to run counter to it.
Both Armstrong and Berkeley, on our Commencement night, had spoken
from a sense of their own limitations, and in violent momentary
rebellion against them. But, in talking with them fifteen years later,
I could not discover that the lack of correspondence between their
ideal future and their actual present troubled them much. It is matter
of common note that it is impossible to make one man realize another’s
experience; but it is often quite as hard to make him recover a past
stage of his own consciousness.
These, then, had bent to the force of chance or temperament. But Clay
had shaped his life according to his programme, and had the result
been happier? He who gets his wish often suffers a sharper
disappointment than he who loses it. “So täuscht uns also bald die
Hoffnung, bald das Gehoffte,” says the great pessimist, and Fate is
never more ironical than when she humors our whim. Doddridge alone,
who had thrown himself confidingly into the arms of the Destinies, had
obtained their capricious favors.
I cannot say that I drew any counsel, civil or moral, from these
comparisons. Life is deeper and wider than any particular lesson to be
learned from it; and just when we think that we have at last guessed
its best meanings, it laughs in our face with some paradox which turns
our solution into a new riddle.
By Elizabeth Stuart Phelps.
⁂ Scribner’s Monthly, November, 1880.
In the month of August, in the year 1878, the steamer Mercy, of the
New York and Savannah line, cast anchor down the channel, off a little
town in South Carolina which bore the name of Calhoun. It was not a
regular part of her “run” for the Mercy to make a landing at this
place. She had departed from her course by special permit to leave
three passengers, two men and one woman, who had business of a grave
nature in Calhoun.
A man, himself a passenger for Savannah, came upon deck as the
steamship hove to, to inquire the reason of the delay. He was a short
man, thin, with a nervous hand and neck. His eyes were black, his hair
was black, and closely cut. He had an inscrutable mouth, and a
forehead well-plowed rather by experience than years. He was not an old man. He was cleanly dressed in new, cheap clothes. He had been
commented upon as a reticent passenger. He had no friends on board the
Mercy. This was the first time upon the voyage that he had been
observed to speak. He came forward and stood among the others, and
“What’s this for?”
He addressed the mate, who answered with a sidelong look, and none too
“We land passengers by the Company’s order.”
“Yes, the men and the lady.”
“Who are they?”
“Physicians from New York.”
“Ah-h!” said the man, slowly, making a sighing noise between his
teeth. “That means—that means—”
“Volunteers to the fever district,” said the mate, shortly, “as you
might have known before now. You’re not of a sociable cast, I see.”
“I have made no acquaintances,” said the short passenger. “I know
nothing of the news of the ship. Is the lady a nurse?”
“She’s a she-doctor. Doctors, the whole of ’em. There ain’t a nurse
“Plenty to be found, I suppose, in this place you speak of?”
“How should I know?” replied the mate, with another sidelong look.
One of the physicians, it seemed, overheard this last question and
reply. It was the woman. She stepped forward without hesitation, and,
regarding the short passenger closely, said:
“There are not nurses. This place is perishing. Savannah and the
larger towns have been looked after first—as is natural and right,”
added the physician, in a business-like tone. She had a quick and
clear-cut, but not ungentle voice.
The man nodded at her curtly, as he would to another man; he made no
answer; then with a slight flush his eye returned to her dress and
figure; he lifted his hat and stood uncovered till she had passed and
turned from him. His face, under the influence of this fluctuation of
color, changed exceedingly, and improved in proportion as it changed.
“Who is that glum fellow, Doctor?”
One of the men physicians followed and asked the lady; he spoke to her
with an air of camaraderie, at once frank and deferential; they had
been classmates at college for a course of lectures; he had theories
averse to the medical education of women in general, but this woman in
particular, having outranked him at graduation, he had made up his
mind to her as a marked exception to a wise rule, entitled to a candid
fellow’s respect. Besides, despite her diploma, Marian Dare was a
lady—he knew the family.
“Is he glum, Dr. Frank?” replied Dr. Dare.
But the other young man stood silent. He never consulted with
Dr. Dare went below for her luggage. A lonely dory, black of
complexion and skittish of gait, had wandered out and hung in the
shadow of the steamer, awaiting the passengers. The dory was manned by
one negro, who sat with his oars crossed, perfectly silent.
There is a kind of terror for which we find that animals, as well as
men, instinctively refrain from seeking expression. The face and
figure of the negro boatman presented a dull form of this species of
fear. Dr. Dare wondered if all the people in Calhoun would have that
look. The negro regarded the Mercy and her passengers apathetically.
It was a hot day, and the water seemed to be blistering about the
dory. So, too, the stretching sand of the shore, as one raised the
eyes painfully against the direct noon-light, was as if it smoked. The
low, gray palmetto leaves were curled and faint. Scanty spots of shade
beneath sickly trees seemed to gasp upon the hot ground, like
creatures that had thrown themselves down to get cool. The outlines of
the town beyond had a certain horrible distinctness, as if of a sight
that should but could not be veiled. Overhead, and clean to the flat
horizon, flashed a sky of blue and blazing fire.
“Passengers for Calhoun!”
The three physicians descended into the dory. The other
passengers—what there were of them—gathered to see the little group
depart. Dr. Frank offered Dr. Dare a hand, which she accepted, like a
lady, not needing it in the least. She was a climber, with firm, lithe
ankles. No one spoke, as these people got in with the negro, and
prepared to drift down with the scorching tide. The woman looked from
the steamer to the shore, once, and back again, northwards. The men
did not look at all. There was an oppression in the scene which no one
was ready to run the risk of increasing by the wrong word.
“Land me here, too,” said a low voice, suddenly appearing. It was the
glum passenger. No one noticed him, except, perhaps, the mate (looking
on with the air of a man who would feel an individual grievance in
anything this person would be likely to do) and the lady.
“There is room for you,” said Dr. Dare. The man let himself into the
boat at a light bound, and the negro rowed them away. The Mercy,
heading outwards, seemed to shrug her shoulders, as if she had thrown
them off. The strip of burning water between them and the town
narrowed rapidly, and the group set their faces firmly landwards.
Once, upon the little voyage, Dr. Frank took up an idle pair of oars,
with some vaguely humane intent of helping the negro—he looked so.
“I wouldn’t, Frank,” said the other gentleman.
“Now, Remane—why, for instance?”
“I wouldn’t begin by getting overheated.”
No other word was spoken. They landed in silence. In silence, and
somewhat weakly, the negro pulled the dory high upon the beach. The
four passengers stood for a moment upon the hot, white sands, moved
toward one another, before they separated, by a blind sense of human
fellowship. Even Remane found himself touching his hat. Dr. Frank
asked Dr. Dare if he could serve her in any way; but she thanked him,
and, holding out her firm, white hand, said, “Good-bye.”
This was, perhaps, the first moment when the consciousness of her sex
had made itself oppressive to her since she ventured upon this
undertaking. She would have minded presenting herself to the Relief
Committee of Calhoun, accompanied by gentlemen upon whom she had no
claim. She walked on alone, in her gray dress and white straw hat,
with her luggage in her own sufficient hand.
The reticent passenger had fallen behind with the negro boatman, with
whom he walked slowly, closing the line.
After a few moments, he advanced and hesitatingly joined the lady,
beginning to say:
“May I ask you—”
“Ah,” interrupted Dr. Dare, cordially, “it is you.”
“Will you tell me, madam, the best way of going to work to offer
myself as a fever nurse in this place? I want the best way. I want
“Yes, yes,” she said, nodding; “I knew you would do it.”
“I came from the North for this purpose, but I meant to go on to
“Yes, I know. This is better; they need everything in this place.”
She looked toward the gasping little town through the relentless noon.
Her merciful blue eyes filled, but the man’s look followed with a dry,
“There is no porter,” he said, abruptly, glancing at her heavy bag and
shawl-strap. “Would you permit me to help you?”
“Oh, thank you!” replied Dr. Dare, heartily, relinquishing her burden.
Plainly, this poor fellow was not a gentleman. The lady could afford
to be kind to him.
“I know nothing how we shall find it,” she chatted, affably, “but I go
to work to-night. I presume I shall need nurses before morning. I’ll
have your address.”
She took from her gray sacque pocket a physician’s note-book, and
stood, pencil in hand.
“My name,” he said, “is Hope—Zerviah Hope.”
She wrote without comment, walking as she wrote; he made no other
attempt to converse with her. The two physicians followed, exchanging
now and then a subdued word. The negro dragged himself wearily over
the scorching sand, and thus the little procession of pity entered the
town of Calhoun.
My story does not deal with love or ladies. I have to relate no tender
passages between the fever-physicians, volunteers from New York, for
the afflicted region of Calhoun. Dr. Marian Dare came South to do a
brave work, and I have no doubt she did it bravely, as a woman should.
She came in pursuit of science, and I have no doubt she found it, as a
woman will. Our chief interest in her at this time lies in the fact
that certain missing fragments in the history of the person known as
Zerviah Hope we owe to her. She hovers over the tale with a distant
and beautiful influence, pervading as womanly compassion and alert as
a woman’s eye.
I have nothing further to say about the story before I tell it, except
that it is true.
That night, after the physicians had gone about their business,
Zerviah Hope wandered, a little forlornly, through the wretched town.
Scip, the negro boatman, found him a corner to spend the night. It was
a passable place, but Hope could not sleep; he had already seen too
much. His soul was parched with the thirst of sympathy. He walked his
hot attic till the dawn came. As it grew brighter he grew calmer; and,
when the unkindly sun burst burning upon the land, he knelt by his
window and looked over the doomed town, and watched the dead-carts
slinking away toward the everglades in the splendid color of the sky
and air, and thought his own thoughts in his own way about this which
he had come to do. We should not suppose that they were remarkable
thoughts; he had not the look of a remarkable man. Yet, as he knelt
there,—a sleepless, haggard figure blotted against the sunrise, with
folded hands and moving lips,—an artist, with a high type of
imagination and capable of spiritual discernment, would have found in
him a design for a lofty subject, to which perhaps he would have given
the name of “Consecration” rather than of “Renunciation,” or of
“Exultance” rather than of “Dread.”
A common observer would have simply said: “I should not have taken him
for a praying man.”
He was still upon his knees when Dr. Dare’s order came, “Nurse wanted
for a bad case!” and he went from his prayer to his first patient. The
day was already deep, and a reflection, not of the sunrise, moved with
him as light moves.
Doctor Dare, in her gray dress, herself a little pale, met him with
keen eyes. She said:
“It is a very bad case. An old man—much neglected. No one will go.
Are you willing?”
The nurse answered:
“I am glad.”
She watched him as he walked away—a plain, clean, common man, with
unheroic carriage. The physician’s fine eyes fired.
To Doctor Frank, who had happened in, she said:
“He will do the work of ten.”
“His strength was as the strength of ten,
Because his heart was pure,”
quoted the young man, laughing lightly. “I don’t know that I should
have thought it, in this case. You’ve taken a fancy to the fellow.”
“I always respect an unmixed motive when I see it,” she replied,
shortly. “But I’ve been in practice too long to take sudden fancies.
There is no profession like ours, Doctor, for putting the sympathies
under double picket guard.”
She stiffened a little in her manner. She did not like to be thought
an over-enthusiastic woman—womanish, unused to the world.
The weather, soon after the arrival of the Mercy, took a terrible
mood, and a prolonged drought settled upon Calhoun. The days dawned
lurid and long. The nights fell dewless and deadly. Fatal and
beautiful colors lurked in the swamps, and in the sifting dust, fine
and hard, blown by siroccos across the glare of noon, like sands on
the shores of the Lake of Fire. The pestilence walked in darkness, and
the destruction wasted at midday. Men died, in that little town of a
few thousand souls, at the rate of a score a day—black and white,
poor and rich, clean and foul, saint and sinner. The quarantine laws
tightened. Vessels fled by the harbor mouth under full sail, and
melted like helpless compassion upon the fiery horizon. Trains upon
the Shore Line shot through and thundered past the station; they
crowded on steam; the fireman and his stoker averted their faces as
they whirled by. The world turned her back upon Calhoun, and the dying
town was shut in with her dead. Only, at long intervals, the Mercy,
casting anchor far down the channel, sent up by Scip, the weak, black
boatman, the signs of human fellowship—food, physician, purse,
medicine—that spoke from the heart of the North to the heart of the
South, and upheld her in those well-remembered days.
Zerviah Hope, volunteer nurse, became quickly enough a marked man in
Calhoun. He more than verified Doctor Dare’s prognosis. Where the
deadliest work was to be done, this man, it was observed, asked to be
sent. Where no one else would go, he went. What no one else would do,
he did. He sought the neglected, and the negroes. He braved the
unclean, and the unburied. With the readiness of all incisive
character acting on emergencies, he stamped himself upon the place and
time. He went to his task as the soldier goes to the front under
raking fire, with gleaming eyes and iron muscles. The fever of the
fight was on him. He seemed to wrestle with disease for his patients,
and to trample death beneath his feet. He glowed over his cures with a
positive physical dilation, and writhed over his dead as if he had
killed them. He seemed built of endurance more than mortal. It was not
known when he slept, scarcely if he ate. His weariness sat upon him
like a halo. He grew thin, refined, radiant. In short, he presented an
example of that rare spectacle which never fails to command
spectators—a common man possessed by an uncommon enthusiasm.
What passed with him at this time in that undiscovered sea which we
call a man’s inner life, it would not be easy to assert. So far as we
can judge, all the currents of his nature had swelled into the great,
pulsing tide of self-surrender, which swept him along. Weakness,
wrong, memory, regret, fear, grief, pleasure, hope,—all the little
channels of personal life,—ran dry. He was that most blessed of human
creatures, a man without a past and without a future, and living in a
present nobler than the one could have been or the other could become.
He continued to be a silent man, speaking little, excepting to his
patients, and now and then, very gently, to the lady, Dr. Dare. He was
always pliable to the influence of a woman’s voice or to womanly
manner. He had, in the presence of women, the quick responsiveness and
sudden change of color and sensitiveness of intonation which bespeak
the man whose highest graces and lowest faults are likely to be owing
to feminine power.
This was a quality which gave him remarkable success as a nurse. He
was found to be infinitely tender, and of fine, brave patience. It was
found that he shrank from no task because it was too small, as he had
shrunk from no danger because it was too great. He became a favorite
with the sick and with physicians. The convalescent clung to him, the
dying heard of him and sent for him, the Relief Committee leaned upon
him, as in such crises the leader leans upon the led. By degrees, he
became greatly trusted in Calhoun; this is to say, that he became
I have been told that, to this day, many people personally unknown to
him, whose fate it was to be imprisoned in that beleaguered town at
that time, and who were familiar with the nervous figure and plain,
intense countenance of the Northern nurse, as he passed, terrible day
after terrible day, to his post, cannot hear of him, even now, without
that suffusion of look by which we hold back tears; and that, when his
name took on, as it did, a more than local reputation, they were
unable to speak it because of choking voices. I have often wished that
he knew this.
It was the custom in Calhoun to pay the nurses at short, stated
intervals,—I think once a week, on Saturday nights. The first time
that Hope was summoned to receive his wages, he evinced marked
emotion, too genuine not to be one of surprise and repugnance.
“I had not thought,—” he began, and stood, coloring violently.
“You earn your five dollars a day, if anybody in Calhoun does,” urged
the official, with kindly brusqueness.
“It is not right; I do not wish to take the money,” said the nurse,
with agitation. “I do not wish to be paid for—saving—human life. I
did not come to the fever district to make money; I came to save
life—to save life!” he added, in a quick whisper. He had not slept
for four nights, and seemed, they noticed, more than usually nervous
in his manner.
“The money is yours,” insisted the treasurer.
“Very well,” said Hope, after a long silence; and no more was said
about it. He took his wages and walked away up the street, absorbed in
One morning, he went to his lodgings to seek a little rest. It was
about six o’clock, and people were already moving in the hot, thirsty
streets. The apothecaries’ doors were open, and their clerks were
astir. The physicians drove or walked hastily, with the haggard look
of men whose days and nights are too short for their work, and whose
hope, and heart as well, have grown almost too small. Zerviah noticed
those young Northern fellows among them, Frank and Remane, and saw how
they had aged since they came South,—brave boys, both of them, and
had done a man’s brave deed. Through her office window, as he walked
past, he caught a glimpse of Dr. Dare’s gray dress and blonde, womanly
head of abundant hair. She was mixing medicines, and patients stood
waiting. She looked up and nodded as he went by; she was too busy to
smile. At the door of the Relief Committee, gaunt groups hung,
clamoring. At the telegraph office, knots of men and women gathered,
duly inspiring the heroic young operator,—a slight girl,—who had not
left her post for now many days and nights. Her chief had the fever
last week,—was taken at the wires,—lived to get home. She was the
only person alive in the town who knew how to communicate with the
outer world. She had begun to teach a little brother of hers the Morse
alphabet,—“That somebody may know, Bobby, if I—can’t come some day.”
She, too, knew Zerviah Hope, and looked up; but her pretty face was
clouded with the awful shadow of her own responsibility.
“We all have about as much as we can bear,” thought Zerviah, as he
went by. His own burden was lightened a little that morning, and he
was going home to get a real rest. He had just saved his last
patient—the doctor gave him up. It was a young man, the father of
five very little children, and their mother had died the week before.
The nurse had looked at the orphans, and said: “He’s got to live.”
This man had blessed him this morning, and called the love of heaven
on his head and its tender mercy on his whole long life. Zerviah
walked with quick step. He lifted his head, with its short, black,
coarse hair. His eyes, staring for sleep, flashed, fed with a food the
body knows not of. He felt almost happy, as he turned to climb the
stairs that led to the attic shelter where he had knelt and watched
the dawn come on that first day, and given himself to God and to the
dying of Calhoun. He had always kept that attic, partly because he had
made that prayer there. He thought it helped him to make others since.
He had not always been a man who prayed. The habit was new, and
required culture. He had guarded it rigidly since he came South, as
he had his diet and regimen of bathing, air, and other physical needs.
On this morning that I speak of, standing with his almost happy face
and lifted head, with his foot upon the stairs, he turned, for no
reason that he could have given, and looked over his shoulder. A man
behind him, stepping softly, stopped, changed color, and crossed the
“I am followed,” said the nurse.
He spoke aloud, but there was no one to hear him. A visible change
came over his face. He stood uncertain for a moment; then shut the
door and crawled upstairs. At intervals he stopped on the stairs to
rest, and sat with his head in his hands, thinking. By and by he
reached his room, and threw himself heavily upon his bed. All the
radiance had departed from his tired face, as if a fog had crept over
it. He hid it in his long, thin, humane hands, and lay there for a
little while. He was perplexed—not surprised. He was not
shocked—only disappointed. Dully he wished that he could get five
minutes’ nap; but he could not sleep. Not knowing what else to do, he
got upon his knees presently, in that place by the window he liked to
pray in, and said aloud:
“Lord, I didn’t expect it; I wasn’t ready. I should like to sleep long
enough to decide what to do.”
After this, he went back to bed and lay still again, and in a little
while he truly slept. Not long; but to those who perish for rest, a
moment of unconsciousness may do the work of a cup of water to one
perishing of thirst. He started, strengthened, with lines of decision
forming about his mouth and chin; and, having bathed and cleanly
dressed, went out.
He went out beyond the town to the hut where Scip the boatman lived.
Scip was at home. He lived quite alone. His father, his mother and
four brothers had died of the plague since June. He started when he
saw Hope, and his habitual look of fear deepened to a craven terror;
he would rather have had the yellow fever than to have seen the
Northern nurse just then. But Zerviah sat down by him on the hot sand,
beside a rather ghastly palmetto that grew there, and spoke to him
very gently. He said:
“The Mercy came in last night, Scip.—I know. And you rowed down for
the supplies. You heard something about me on board the Mercy. Tell
“He’s a durn fool,” said Scip, with a dull show of passion.
“Who is a durn fool?”
“That dem mate.”
“So it was the mate? Yes. What did he say, Scip?”
“I never done believe it,” urged Scip, with an air of suddenly
“But you told of it, Scip.”
“I never told nobody but Jupiter, the durn fool!” persisted Scip.
“Who is Jupiter?”
“Doctor Remane’s Jupiter, him that holds his hoss, that he brung up
from the fever. He said he wouldn’t tell. I never done believe it,
“It seems to me, Scip,” said Zerviah, in a low, kind voice, “that I
wouldn’t have told if I’d been you. But never mind.”
“I never done mean to hurt you!” cried Scip, following him into the
road. “Jupiter the durn, he said he’d never tell. I never told nobody
“You have told the whole town,” said Zerviah Hope, patiently. “I’m
sorry, but never mind.”
He stood for a moment looking across the stark palmetto, over the
dusty stretch of road, across the glare, to the town. His eyes blinded
“It wouldn’t have been a great while,” he said. “I wish you hadn’t,
Scip, but never mind!”
He shook the negro gently off, as if he had been a child. There was
nothing more to say. He would go back to his work. As he walked along,
he suddenly said to himself:
“She did not smile this morning! Nor the lady at the telegraph office,
either. Nor—a good many other folks. I remember now.... Lord!” he
added aloud, thought breaking into one of his half-unconscious
prayers, which had the more pathos because it began with the rude
abruptness of an apparent oath,—“Lord! what in the name of heaven am
I going to do about it?”
Now, as he was coming into the little city, with bowed head and broken
face, he met Doctor Dare. She was riding on her rounds upon a patient,
Southern tackey, and she was riding fast. But she reined up and
“Mr. Hope! There is a hateful rumor brought from New York about you. I
am going to tell you immediately. It is said—”
“Wait a minute!” he pleaded, holding out both hands. “Now. Go on.”
“It is said that you are an escaped convict,” continued the lady,
“It is false!” cried the nurse, in a ringing voice.
The doctor regarded him for a moment.
“I may be wrong. Perhaps it was not so bad. I was in a cruel hurry,
and so was Doctor Frank. Perhaps they said a discharged convict.”
“What else?” asked Zerviah, lifting his eyes to hers.
“They said you were just out of a seven years’ imprisonment for
manslaughter. They said you killed a man—for jealousy, I believe;
something about a woman.”
“What else?” repeated the nurse, steadily.
“I told them I did not believe one word of it!” cried Marian Dare.
“Thank you, madam,” said Zerviah Hope, after a scarcely perceptible
pause; “but it is true.”
He drew one fierce breath.
“She was beautiful,” he said. “I loved her; he ruined her; I stabbed
He had grown painfully pale. He wanted to go on speaking to this
woman, not to defend or excuse himself, not to say anything weak or
wrong, only to make her understand that he did not want to excuse
himself; in some way, just because she was a woman, to make her feel
that he was man enough to bear the burden of his deed. He wanted to
cry out to her, “You are a woman! Oh, be gentle, and understand how
sorry a man can be for a deadly sin!” but his lips were parched. He
moved them dryly; he could not talk.
She was silent at first. She was a prudent woman; she thought before
“Poor fellow!” she said, suddenly. Her clear blue eyes overflowed. She
held out her hand, lifted his, wrung it, dropped it, and softly added,
“Well, never mind!” much as if he had been a child or a patient,—much
as he himself had said, “Never mind!” to Scip.
Then Zerviah Hope broke down.
“I haven’t got a murderer’s heart!” he cried. “It has been taken away
from me. I ain’t so bad—now. I meant to be—I wanted to do—”
“Hush!” she said. “You have, and you shall. God is fair.”
“Yes,” said the penitent convict, in a dull voice, “God is fair, and
so he let ’em tell of me. I’ve got no fault to find with Him. So
nigh as I can understand Almighty God, He means well.... I guess
He’ll pull me through some way.... But I wish Scip hadn’t told just
now. I can’t help being sorry. It wasn’t that I wanted to cheat,
but”—he choked—“the sick folks used to like me. Now, do you think
I’d ought to go on nursing, Doctor? Do you think I’d ought to stop?”
“You are already an hour late,” replied the woman of science, in her
usual business-like voice. “Your substitute will be sleepy and
restless; that affects the patient. Go back to your work as fast as
you can. Ask me no more foolish questions.”
She drew her veil; there was unprofessional moisture on her long,
feminine lashes. She held out her hearty hand-grasp to him, touched
the tackey, and galloped away.
“She is a good woman,” said Zerviah, half aloud, looking down at his
cold fingers. “She touched me, and she knew! Lord, I should like to
have you bless her!”
He looked after her. She sat her horse finely; her gray veil drifted
in the hot wind. His sensitive color came. He watched her as if he had
known that he should never see her again on earth.
A ruined character may be as callous as a paralyzed limb. A ruined and
repentant one is in itself an independent system of sensitive and
Zerviah Hope returned to his work, shrinking under the foreknowledge
of his fate. He felt as if he knew what kind of people would remind
him that they had become acquainted with his history, and what ways
they would select to do it.
He was not taken by surprise when men who had lifted their hats to the
popular nurse last week, passed him on the street to-day with a cold
nod or curious stare. When women who had reverenced the self-sacrifice
and gentleness of his life as only women do or can reverence the
quality of tenderness in a man, shrank from him as if he were
something infectious, like the plague,—he knew it was just, though he
felt it hard.
His patients heard of what had happened, sometimes, and indicated a
feeling of recoil. That was the worst. One said:
“I am sorry to hear you are not the man we thought you,” and died in
his arms that night.
Zerviah remembered that these things must be. He reasoned with
himself. He went into his attic, and prayed it all over. He said:
“Lord, I can’t expect to be treated as if I’d never been in prison.
I’m sorry I mind it so. Perhaps I’d ought not to. I’ll try not to care
More than once he was sure of being followed again, suspiciously or
curiously. It occurred to him at last that this was most likely to
happen on pay-days. That puzzled him. But when he turned, it was
usually some idler, and the fellow shrank and took to his heels, as if
the nurse had the fever.
In point of fact, even in that death-stricken town, to be alive was
to be as able to gossip as well people, and rumor, wearied of the
monotonous fever symptom, found a diverting zest in this shattered
Zerviah Hope was very much talked about in Calhoun; so much, that the
Relief Committee heard, questioned, and experienced official anxiety.
It seemed a mistake to lose so valuable a man. It seemed a severity to
disturb so noble a career. Yet who knew what sinister countenance the
murderer might be capable of shielding beneath his mask of pity? The
official mind was perplexed. Was it humane to trust the lives of our
perishing citizens to the ministrations of a felon who had so
skillfully deceived the most intelligent guardians of the public weal?
There was, in particular, a chairman of a sub-committee (on the water
supply) who was burdened with uneasiness.
“It’s clear enough what brought him to Calhoun,” said this man.
“What do you suppose the fellow does with his five dollars a day?”
The Committee on the Water Supply promptly divided into a
Sub-Vigilance, and to the Sub-Vigilance Committee Zerviah Hope’s case
was referred. The result was, that he was followed on pay-day.
One Saturday night, just as the red-hot sun was going down, the
sub-committee returned to the Relief Office in a state of high
official excitement, and reported to the chief as follows:
“We’ve done it. We’ve got him. We’ve found out what the fellow does
with his money. He puts it—”
“Well?” for the sub-committee hesitated.
“Into the relief contribution-boxes on the corners of the street.”
“Every dollar. We stood and watched him count it out—his week’s
wages. Every mortal cent that Yankee’s turned over to the fund for the
sufferers. He never kept back a red. He poured it all in.”
“Follow him next week. Report again.”
They followed, and reported still again. They consulted, and accepted
the astounding truth. The murderer, the convict, the miserable, the
mystery, Zerviah Hope,—volunteer nurse, poor, friendless, discharged
from Sing Sing, was proved to have surrendered to the public charities
of Calhoun, every dollar which he had earned in the service of her
sick and dying.
The Committee on the Water Supply, and the Sub-Vigilance Committee
stood, much depressed, before their superior officer. He, being a just
man, flushed red with a noble rage.
“Where is he? Where is Zerviah Hope? The man should be sent for. He
should receive the thanks of the committee. He should receive the
acknowledgments of the city. And we’ve set on him like detectives!
hunted him down! Zounds! The city is disgraced. Find him for me!”
“We have already done our best,” replied the sub-committee, sadly.
“We have searched for the man. He cannot be found.”
“Where is the woman-doctor?” persisted the excited chief. “She
recommended the fellow. She’d be apt to know. Can’t some of you find
At this moment, young Dr. Frank looked haggardly into the Relief
“I am taking her cases,” he said. “She is down with the fever.”
It was the morning after his last pay-day—Sunday morning, the first
in October; a dry, deadly, glittering day. Zerviah had been to his
attic to rest and bathe; he had been there some hours since sunrise,
in the old place by the window, and watched the red sun kindle, and
watched the dead-carts slink away into the color, and kneeled and
prayed for frost. Now, being strengthened in mind and spirit, he was
descending to his Sabbath’s work, when a message met him at the door.
The messenger was a negro boy, who thrust a slip of paper into his
hand, and, seeming to be seized with superstitious fright, ran rapidly
up the street and disappeared.
The message was a triumphal result of the education of the freedmen’s
evening school, and succinctly said:
“ive Gut IT. Nobuddy Wunt Nuss me. Norr no Docter nEther.
“P. S. Joopiter the Durn hee sed he’d kerry This i dont
Serpose youd kum.
The sun went down that night as red as it had risen. There were no
clouds. There was no wind. There was no frost. The hot dust curdled in
the shadow that coiled beneath the stark palmetto. That palmetto
always looked like a corpse, though there was life in it yet. Zerviah
came to the door of Scip’s hovel for air, and looked at the thing. It
seemed like something that ought to be buried. There were no other
trees. The everglades were miles away. The sand and the scant, starved
grass stretched all around. Scip’s hut stood quite by itself. No one
passed by. Often no one passed for a week, or even more. Zerviah
looked from the door of the hut to the little city. The red light lay
between him and it, like a great pool. He felt less lonely to see the
town, and the smoke now and then from chimneys. He thought how many
people loved and cared for one another in the suffering place. He
thought how much love and care suffering gave birth to, in human
hearts. He began to think a little of his own suffering; then Scip
called him, sobbing wretchedly. Scip was very sick. Hope had sent for
Dr. Dare. She had not come. Scip was too sick to be left. The nurse
found his duty with the negro. Scip was growing worse.
By and by, when the patient could be left for a moment again, Zerviah
came to the air once more. He drew in great breaths of the now cooler
night. The red pool was gone. All the world was filled with the fatal
beauty of the purple colors that he had learned to know so well. The
swamps seemed to be asleep, and to exhale in the slow, regular
pulsations of sleep. In the town, lamps were lighted. From a hundred
windows, fair, fine sparks shone like stars as the nurse looked over.
There, a hundred watchers tended their sick or dead, or their healing,
dearly loved, and guarded ones. Dying eyes looked their last at eyes
that would have died to save them; strengthening hands clasped hands
that had girded them with the iron of love’s tenderness, through the
valley of the shadow, and up the heights of life and light. Over
there, in some happy home, tremulous lips that the plague had parted
met to-night in their first kiss of thanksgiving.
Zerviah thought of these things. He had never felt so lonely before.
It seemed a hard place for a man to die in. Poor Scip!
Zerviah clasped his thin hands and looked up at the purple sky.
“Lord,” he said, “it is my duty. I came South to do my duty. Because
he told of me, had I ought to turn against him? It is a lonesome
place; he’s got it hard, but I’ll stand by him.... Lord!”—his worn
face became suddenly suffused, and flashed, transfigured, as he lifted
it—“Lord God Almighty! You stood by me! I couldn’t have been a
pleasant fellow to look after. You stood by me in my scrape! I
hadn’t treated You any too well.... You needn’t be afraid I’ll leave
He went back into the hut. Scip called, and he hurried in. The nurse
and the plague, like two living combatants, met in the miserable place
and battled for the negro.
The white Southern stars blazed out. How clean they looked! Zerviah
could see them through the window, where the wooden shutter had
flapped back. They looked well and wholesome—holy, he thought. He
remembered to have heard some one say, at a Sunday meeting he happened
into once, years ago, that the word holiness meant health. He wondered
what it would be like, to be holy. He wondered what kinds of people
would be holy people, say, after a man was dead. Women, he
thought,—good women, and honest men who had never done a deadly deed.
He occupied his thoughts in this way. He looked often from the cold
stars to the warm lights throbbing in the town. They were both company
to him. He began to feel less alone. There was a special service
called somewhere in the city that night, to read the prayers for the
sick and dying. The wind rose feebly, and bore the sound of the
church-bells to the hut. There was a great deal of company, too, in
the bells. He remembered that it was Sunday night.
It was Monday, but no one came. It was Tuesday, but the nurse and the
plague still battled alone together over the negro. Zerviah’s stock of
remedies was as ample as his skill. He had thought he should save
Scip. He worked without sleep, and the food was not clean. He lavished
himself like a lover over this black boatman; he leaned like a mother
over this man who had betrayed him.
But on Tuesday night, a little before midnight, Scip rose, struggling
on his wretched bed, and held up his hands and cried out:
“Mr. Hope! Mr. Hope! I never done mean to harm ye!”
“You have not harmed me,” said Zerviah, solemnly. “Nobody ever harmed
me but myself. Don’t mind me, Scip.”
Scip put up his feeble hand; Zerviah took it; Scip spoke no more. The
nurse held the negro’s hand a long time; the lamp went out; they sat
on in the dark. Through the flapping wooden shutter the stars looked
Suddenly, Zerviah perceived that Scip’s hand was quite cold.
He carried him out by starlight, and buried him under the palmetto. It
was hard work digging alone. He could not make a very deep grave, and
he had no coffin. When the earth was stamped down, he felt extremely
weary and weak. He fell down beside his shovel and pick to rest, and
lay there in the night till he felt stronger. It was damp and dark.
Shadows like clouds hung over the distant outline of the swamp.
The Sunday bells in the town had ceased. There were no sounds but the
cries of a few lonely birds and wild creatures of the night, whose
names he did not know. This little fact added to his sense of
He thought at first he would get up and walk back to the city in the
dark. An intense and passionate longing seized him to be among living
men. He took a few steps down the road. The unwholesome dust blew up
through the dark against his face. He found himself so tired that he
concluded to go back to the hut. He would sleep, and start in the
morning with the break of the dawn. He should be glad to see the faces
of his kind again, even though the stir of welcome and the light of
trust were gone out of them for him. They lived, they breathed, they
spoke. He was tired of death and solitude.
He groped back into the hut. The oil was low, and he could not relight
the lamp. He threw himself in the dark upon his bed.
He slept until late in the morning, heavily. When he waked, the birds
were shrill in the hot air, and the sun glared in.
“I will go now,” he said, aloud. “I am glad I can go,” and crept to
He took two steps—staggered—and fell back. He lay for some moments,
stricken more with astonishment than alarm. His first words were:
“Lord God! After all—after all I’ve gone through—Lord God Almighty,
if You’ll believe it—I’ve got it!”
This was on Wednesday morning. Night fell, but no one came.
Thursday—but outside the hut no step stirred the parched, white dust.
Friday—Saturday—no voice but his own moaning broke upon the sick
man’s straining ear.
His professional experience gave him an excruciating foresight of his
symptoms, and their result presented itself to him with horrible
distinctness. As one by one he passed through the familiar conditions
whose phases he had watched in other men a hundred times, he would
have given his life for a temporary ignorance. His trained imagination
had little mercy on him. He weighed his chances, and watched his fate
with the sad exactness of knowledge.
As the days passed, and no one came to him, he was aware of not being
able to reason with himself clearly about his solitude. Growing weak,
he remembered the averted faces of the people for whom he had labored,
and whom he had loved. In the stress of his pain their estranged eyes
gazed at him. He felt that he was deserted because he was distrusted.
Patient as he was, this seemed hard.
“They did not care enough for me to miss me,” he said, aloud, gently.
“I suppose I was not worth it. I had been in prison. I was a wicked
man. I must not blame them.”
“They would have come if they had known. They would not have let me
die alone. I don’t think she would have done that. I wonder where
she is? Nobody has missed me—that is all. I must not mind.”
Growing weaker, he thought less and prayed more. He prayed, at last,
almost all his time. When he did not pray, he slept. When he could not
sleep, he prayed. He addressed God with that sublime familiarity of
his, which fell from his lips with no more irreverence than the kiss
of a child falling upon its mother’s hand or neck.
The murderer, the felon, the outcast, talked with the Almighty
Holiness, as a man talketh with his friends. The deserted, distrusted,
dying creature believed himself to be trusted by the Being who had
bestowed on him the awful gift of life.
“Lord,” he said, softly, “I guess I can bear it. I’d like to see
somebody—but I’ll make out to get along.... Lord! I’m pretty weak. I
know all about these spasms. You get delirious next thing, you know.
Then you either get better or you never do. It’ll be decided by Sunday
night. Lord! Dear Lord!” he added, with a tender pause, “don’t You
forget me! I hope You’ll miss me enough to hunt me up.”
It grew dark early on Saturday night. The sun sank under a thin,
deceptive web of cloud. The shadow beneath the palmetto grew long over
Scip’s fresh grave. The stars were dim and few. The wind rose, and the
lights in the city, where watchers wept over their sick, trembled on
the frail breeze, and seemed to be multiplied, like objects seen
Through the wooden shutter, Zerviah could see the lights, and the
lonely palmetto, and the grave. He could see those few cold stars.
He thought, while his thoughts remained his own, most tenderly and
longingly of those for whom he had given his life. He remembered how
many keen cares of their own they had to carry, how many ghastly deeds
and sights to do and bear. It was not strange that he should not be
missed. Who was he?—a disgraced, unfamiliar man, among their kin and
neighborhood. Why should they think of him? he said.
Yet he was glad that he could remember them. He wished his living or
his dying could help them any. Things that his patients had said to
him, looks that healing eyes had turned on him, little signs of human
love and leaning, came back to him as he lay there, and stood around
his bed, like people, in the dark hut.
“They loved me,” he said: “Lord, as true as I’m alive, they did! I’m
glad I lived long enough to save life, to save life! I’m much
obliged to You for that! I wish there was something else I could do
for them.... Lord! I’d be willing to die if it would help them any. If
I thought I could do anything that way, toward sending them a frost—
“No,” he added, “that ain’t reasonable. A frost and a human life ain’t
convertible coin. He don’t do unreasonable things. May be I’ve lost
my head already. But I’d be glad to. That’s all. I suppose I can
ask You for a frost. That’s reason.
“Lord God of earth and heaven! that made the South and North, the
pestilence and destruction, the sick and well, the living and the
dead, have mercy on us miserable sinners! Have mercy on the folks that
pray to You, and on the folks that don’t! Remember the old graves, and
the new ones, and the graves that are to be opened if this hellish
heat goes on, and send us a blessed frost, O Lord, as an act of
humanity! And if that ain’t the way to speak to You, remember I
haven’t been a praying man long enough to learn the language very
well,—and that I’m pretty sick,—but that I would be glad to die—to
give them—a great, white, holy frost. Lord, a frost! Lord, a cool,
white, clean frost, for these poor devils that have borne so much!”
At midnight of that Saturday he dozed and dreamed. He dreamed of what
he had thought while Scip was sick: of what it was like, to be holy;
and, sadly waking, thought of holy people—good women and honest men,
who had never done a deadly deed.
“I cannot be holy,” thought Zerviah Hope; “but I can pray for frost.”
So he tried to pray for frost. But by that time he had grown confused,
and his will wandered pitifully, and he saw strange sights in the
little hut. It was as if he were not alone. Yet no one had come in.
She could not come at midnight. Strange—how strange! Who was that
who walked about the hut? Who stood and looked at him? Who leaned to
him? Who brooded over him? Who put arms beneath him? Who looked at
him, as those look who love the sick too much to shrink from them?
“I don’t know You,” said Zerviah, in a distinct voice. Presently he
smiled. “Yes, I guess I do. I see now. I’m not used to You. I never
saw You before. You are Him I’ve heered about—God’s Son! God’s Son,
You’ve taken a great deal of trouble to come here after me. Nobody
else came. You’re the only one that has remembered me. You’re very
good to me.
“... Yes, I remember. They made a prisoner of You. Why, yes! They
deserted You. They let You die by Yourself. What did You do it
for? I don’t know much about theology. I am not an educated man. I
never prayed till I come South.... I forget—What did You do it
A profound and solemn silence replied.
“Well,” said the sick man, breaking it in a satisfied tone, as if he
had been answered, “I wasn’t worth it ... but I’m glad You came. I
wish they had a frost, poor things! You won’t go away? Well, I’m
glad. Poor things! Poor things! I’ll take Your hand, if You’ve no
After a little time, he added, in a tone of unutterable tenderness and
“Dear Lord!” and said no more.
It was a quiet night. The stars rode on as if there were no task but
the tasks of stars in all the universe, and no sorrow keener than
their sorrow, and no care other than their motion and their shining.
The web of cloud floated like exhaling breath between them and the
earth. It grew cooler before the dawn. The leaves of the palmetto over
Scip’s grave seemed to uncurl, and grow lax, and soften. The dust
still flew heavily, but the wind rose.
The Sunday-bells rang peacefully. The sick heard them, and the
convalescent and the well. The dying listened to them before they
left. On the faces of the dead, too, there came the look of those who
The bells tolled, too, that Sunday. They tolled almost all the
afternoon. The young Northerner, Dr. Remane, was gone,—a reticent,
brave young man,—and the heroic telegraph operator. Saturday night
they buried her. Sunday, “Bobby” took her place at the wires, and
spelled out, with shaking fingers, the cries of Calhoun to the wide,
By sunset, all the bells had done ringing and done tolling. There was
a clear sky, with cool colors. It seemed almost cold about Scip’s hut.
The palmetto lifted its faint head. The dust slept. It was not yet
dark when a little party from the city rode up, searching for the
dreary place. They had ridden fast. Dr. Frank was with them, and the
lady, Marian Dare. She rode at their head. She hurried nervously on.
She was pale, and still weak. The chairman of the Relief Committee was
with her, and the sub-committee and others.
Dr. Dare pushed on through the swinging door of the hut. She entered
alone. They saw the backward motion of her gray-sleeved wrist, and
came no farther, but removed their hats and stood. She knelt beside
the bed, and put her hand upon his eyes. God is good, after all. Let
us hope that they knew her before they closed.
She came out, and tried to tell about it, but broke down, and sobbed
before them all.
“It’s a martyr’s death,” said the chief, and added solemnly, “Let us
He knelt, and the others with him, between the buried negro and the
unburied nurse, and thanked God for the knowledge and the recollection
of the holy life which this man had lived among them in their hour of
They buried him, as they must, and hurried homeward to their living,
comforting one another for his memory as they could.
As for him, he rested, after her hand had fallen on his eyes. He who
had known so deeply the starvation of sleeplessness, slept well that
In the morning, when they all awoke, these of the sorrowing city here,
and those of the happy city yonder; when they took up life again with
its returning sunrise,—the sick and the well, the free and the
fettered, the living and the dead,—the frost lay, cool, white,
blessed, on his grave.
By Alvey A. Adee.
⁂ Putnam’s Magazine, August, 1870.
There was something about the wholesome sleepiness of Freiberg, in
Saxony, that fitted well with the lazy nature of Ronald Wyde. So,
having run down there to spend a day or two among the students and the
mines, and taking a liking to the quaint, unmodernized town, he bodily
changed his plans of autumn-travel, gave up a cherished scheme of
Russian vagabondage, had his baggage sent from Dresden, and made ready
to settle down and drowse away three or four months in idleness and
not over-arduous study. And this move of his led to the happening of a
very strange and seemingly unreal event in his life.
Ronald Wyde was then about twenty-five or six years old, rather above
the medium height, with thick blue-black hair that he had an
artist-trick of allowing to ripple down to his neck, dark hazel eyes
that were almost too deeply recessed in their bony orbits, and a
troublesome growth of beard that, close-shaven as he always was,
showed in strong blue outline through the thin and rather sallow skin.
His address was singularly pleasing, and his wide experience of life,
taught him by years of varied travel, made him a good deal of a
cosmopolitan in his views and ways, which caused him to be looked upon
as a not over-safe companion for young men of his own age or under.
Having made up his mind to winter in Freiberg, his first step was to
quit the little hotel, with its mouldy stone-vaulted entrance and its
columned dining-room, under whose full-centered arches close beery and
smoky fumes lingered persistently, and seek quieter student-lodgings
in the heart of the town. His choice was mainly influenced by a
thin-railed balcony, twined through and through by the shoots of a
vigorous Virginia creeper, that flamed and flickered in the breezy
October sunsets in strong relief against the curtains that drifted
whitely out and in through the open window. So, with the steady-going
and hale old Frau Spritzkrapfen he took up his quarters, fully
persuading himself that he did so for the sake of the stray
home-breaths that seemed to stir the scarlet vine-leaves more gently
for him, and ignoring pretty Lottchen’s great, earnest Saxon eyes as
best he could.
A sunny morning followed his removal to Frau Spritzkrapfen’s tidy
home. There had been a slight rain in the early night, and the
footways were yet bright and moist in patches that the slanting
morning rays were slowly coaxing away. Ronald Wyde, having set his
favorite books handily on the dimity-draped table, which comprised for
him the process of getting to rights, and having given more than one
glance of amused wonderment at the naïve blue-and-white scriptural
tiles that cased his cumbrous four-story earthenware stove, and smiled
lazily at poor Adam’s obvious and sudden indigestion, even while the
uneaten half-apple remained in his guilty hand, he stepped out on his
balcony, leaned his elbows among the crimson leaves, and took in the
healthful morning air in great draughts. It was a Sunday; the bells of
the gray minster hard by were iterating their clanging calls to the
simple townsfolk to come and be droned to in sleepy German gutturals
from the carved, pillar-hung pulpit inside. Looking down, he saw
thick-ankled women cluttering past in loose wooden-soled shoes, and
dumpy girls with tow-braids primly dangling to their hips, convoying
sturdy Dutch-built luggers of younger brothers up the easy slope that
led to the church and the bells. Presently Frau Spritzkrapfen and
dainty Lottchen, rosy with soap and health, slipped through the
doorway beneath him out into the little church-bound throng, and, as
they disappeared, left the house and street somehow unaccountably
alone. Feeling this, Ronald Wyde determined on a stroll.
Something in the Sabbath stillness around him led Ronald away from the
swift clang and throbbing hum of the bells and in the direction of the
old cemetery. Passing through the clumsy tower-gate that lifts its
grimy bulk sullenly, like a huge head-stone over the grave of a dead
time of feudalism, he reached the burial-ground and entered the quiet
enclosure. The usual touching reverence of the Germans for their dead
was strikingly manifest around him. The humbler mounds, walled up with
rough stones a foot or two above the pathway level, carried on their
crests little gardens of gay and inexpensive plants; while on the tall
wooden crosses at their head hung yellow wreaths, half hiding the
hopeful legend, “Wiedersehen.” The more pretentious slabs bore vases
filled with fresh flowers; while in the grate-barred vaults, that
skirted the ground like the arches of a cloister, lay rusty heaps of
long-since mouldered bloom, topped by newer wreaths tossed lovingly in
to wilt and turn to dust in their turn, like those cast in before them
in memory of that other dust asleep below.
Turning aside from the central walk that halved the cemetery, Ronald
strolled along, his hands in his pockets, his eyes listlessly fixed on
the orange-colored fumes and rolling smoke that welled out of tall
chimneys in the hollow beyond, an idle student-tune humming on his
lips, and his thoughts nowhere, and everywhere, at once. Happening to
look away from the dun smoke-trail for an instant, he found something
of greater interest close at hand. An old man stooped stiffly over a
simple mound, busied among the flowers that hid it, and by his side
crouched a young girl, perhaps fourteen years old, who peered up at
Ronald with questioning, velvet-brown eyes. The old man heard the
intruder’s steps crunching in the damp gravel, and slowly looked up
“Good morning, mein Herr,” said Ronald, pleasantly.
The old man remained for an instant blinking nervously, and shading
his eyes from the full sunlight that fell on his face. A quiet face it
was, and very old, seamed and creased by mazy wrinkles that played at
aimless cross-purposes with each other, beginning and ending nowhere.
His thick beard and thin, curved nose looked just a little Jewish, and
seemed at variance with his pale blue eyes that were still bright in
spite of age. And yet, bearded as he was, there was a lurking
expression about his features that bordered upon effeminacy, and made
the treble of his voice sound even more thin and womanish as he
answered Wyde’s greeting.
“Good morning, too, mein Herr. A stranger to our town, I see.”
“Yes; but soon not to be called one, I hope. I am here for the
“A cold season—a cold season; our northern winters are very chilling
to an old man’s blood.” And slouching together into a tired stoop, he
resumed his simple task of knotting a few flowers into a clumsy
nosegay. Ronald stood and watched him with a vague interest.
Presently, the flowers being clumped to his liking, the old man pried
himself upright by getting a good purchase with his left hand in the
small of his back, and so deliberately that Ronald almost fancied he
heard him creak. The girl rose too, and drew her thin shawl over her
“You Germans love longer than we,” said Ronald, glancing at the
flowers that trembled in the old man’s bony fingers, and then
downwards to the quiet grave; “a lifetime of easy-going love and a
year or two of easier-forgetting are enough for us.”
“Should I forget my own flesh and blood?” asked the old man, simply.
Ronald paused a moment, and, pointing downwards, said:
“Your daughter, then, I fancy?”
“Very long; more than fifty years.”
Ronald stared, but said nothing audibly. Inwardly he whispered
something about being devilish glad to make the wandering Jew’s
acquaintance, rattled the loose gröschen in his pocket, and turned to
follow the tottering old man and firm-footed child down the walk.
After a dozen paces they halted before a more ambitious tombstone, on
which Ronald could make out the well-remembered name of Plattner. The
child took the flowers and laid them reverently on the stone.
“It seems to me almost like arriving at the end of a pilgrimage,” said
Ronald, “when I stand by the grave of a man of science. Perhaps you
knew him, mein Herr?”
“He was my pupil.”
“Whew!” thought Ronald, “that makes my friend here a centenarian at
“My pupil and friend,” the feeble voice went on; “and, more than that,
my daughter’s first lover, and only one.”
“Ach so!” drawled Ronald.
“And now, on her death-day, I take these poor flowers from her to him,
as I have done all these years.”
Something in the pathetic earnestness of his companion touched Ronald
Wyde, and he forthwith took his hands out of his pockets, and didn’t
try to whistle inaudibly—which was a great deal for him to do.
“I know Plattner well by his works,” he said; “I once studied
mineralogy for nearly a month.”
“You love science, then?”
“Yes; like every thing else, for diversion.”
“It was different with him,” quavered the old man, pointing unsteadily
to the head-stone. “Science grew to be his one passion, and many
discoveries rewarded him for his devotion. He was groping on the track
of a far greater achievement when he died.”
“May I ask what it was?” said Ronald, now fairly interested.
“The creation and isolation of the principle of Life!”
This was too much for Ronald Wyde; down dived his restless hands into
his trowsers’ pockets again, and the gröschen rattled as merrily as
“I have made quite a study of biology, and all that sort of thing,”
said he; “and, although a good deal of a skeptic, and inclined to
follow Huxley, I can’t bring myself to conceive of life without
organism. Such theorizing is, to my mind, on a par with the illogical
search for the philosopher’s stone and a perpetual motor.”
The old man’s eyes sparkled as he turned full upon Ronald.
“You dismiss the subject very airily, my young friend,” he cried; “but
let me tell you that I—I, whom you see here—have grappled with such
problems through a weary century, and have conquered one of them.”
“And that one is—”
“The one that conquered Plattner!”
“Do I understand you to claim that you have discovered the
“Will you permit an utter stranger to inquire what is its nature?”
“Certainly. It is twofold. The ultimate principle of life is carbon;
the cause of its combination with water, or rather with the two
gaseous elements of water, and the development of organized existence
therefrom, is electricity.”
Ronald Wyde shrugged his broad shoulders a little, and absently
“All I can say, mein Herr, is, that you’ve got the bulge on me.”
“I beg your pardon—”
“Excuse me; I unconsciously translated an Americanism. I mean that I
don’t quite understand you.”
“Which means that you do not believe me. It is but natural at your
age, when one doubts as if by instinct. Would you be convinced?”
“Nothing would please me better.”
With the same painful effort as before, the old man straightened
himself and made a piercing clairvoyant examination into and through
Ronald Wyde’s eyes, as if reading the brain beyond them.
“I think I can trust you,” he mumbled at last. “Come with me.”
Leaning on the young girl’s arm, the old philosopher faltered through
the cemetery and into the town, followed by Wyde, his hands again
pocketed for safety. Groups of released church-goers, sermon-fed, met
them, and once in a while some stout burgher would nod patronizingly
to Ronald’s guides, and get in response a shaky, sidelong roll of the
old man’s head, as if it were mounted on a weak spiral spring. Further
on they intersected a knot of students, who eyed them askance and
exchanged remarks in an undertone. Keeping on deeper into the foul
heart of the town, they passed through swarms of idle children playing
sportlessly, as poverty is apt to play, in the dank shadows of the
narrow street. They seemed incited to mirth and ribaldry by the sight
of Ronald’s new friend, and one even ventured to hurl a clod at him;
but this striking Ronald instead, and he facing promptly to the
hostile quarter from whence it came, caused a sudden slinking of the
crowd into unknown holes, like a horde of rats, and the street was for
a time empty save for the little party that threaded it. Ronald began
to think that the old man’s sanity was gravely called in doubt by the
townsfolk, and would readily have backed out of his adventure but for
the curiosity that had now got the upper hand of him.
Presently the old man sidled into a dingy doorway, like a tired beast
run to earth, and Ronald followed him, not without a wish that the
architect had provided for a more efficient lighting of the sombre
passage-way in which he found himself. A sharp turn to the right after
a dozen groping-paces, a narrow stairway, a bump or two against
unexpected saliences of rough mortared wall, two steps upward and one
very surprising step downward through a cavernous doorway that took
away Ronald’s breath for a moment, and sent it back again with a hot,
creeping wave of sudden perspiration all over him, as is the way with
missteps, and two more sharp turns, brought the three into a black
no-thoroughfare of a hall, whose further end was closed by a locked
door. The girl here rubbed a brimstone abomination of a match into a
mal-odorous green glow, and by its help the old man got a tortuous key
into the snaky opening in the great lock, creakily shot back its bolt,
swung open the door, and motioned Ronald to enter.
He found himself in a long and rather narrow room, with a high
ceiling, duskily lighted by three wide windows that were thickly
webbed and dusted, like ancestral bottles of fine crusty Port.
A veritable den it was, filled with what seemed to be the
wrecks of philosophical apparatus dating back two or three
generations—ill-fated ventures on the treacherous main of science.
Here a fat-bellied alembic lolled lazily over in a gleamy sand-bath,
like a beach-lost galleon at ebb-tide; and there a heap of broken
porcelain-tubing and shreds of crucibles lay like bleaching ship-ribs
on a sullen shore. Beyond, by the middle window, stood a furnace,
fireless, and clogged with gray ashes. Two or three solid old-time
tables, built when joiners were more lavish of oaken timber than
nowadays, stood hopelessly littered with retorts, filtering funnels,
lamps, ringstands, and squat-beakers of delicate glass, caked with
long-dried sediment, all alike dust-smirched. Ronald involuntarily
sought for some huge Chaldaic tome, conveniently open at a favorite
spell, or a handy crocodile or two dangling from the square beams
overhead, but saw nothing more formidable than a stray volume of
“Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.” Taking this up and glancing at its
fly-leaf, he saw a name written in spidery German script, almost
illegible from its shakiness—“Max Lebensfunke.”
“Your name?” he asked.
“Yes, mein Herr,” answered the old man, taking the volume and
caressing it like a live thing in his fumbling hands. “This book was
given to me by the great Kant himself,” he added.
Reverently replacing it, he advanced a few steps toward the middle of
the room. Ronald followed, and, turning away from the windows, looked
further around him. In striking contrast to the undisturbed disorder,
so redolent of middle-age alchemy, was the big table that flanked the
laboratory through its whole length. It began with a powerful galvanic
battery, succeeded by a wiry labyrinth of coils and helices, with
little keys in front of them like a telegraph-office retired from
business; these gave place to many-necked jars wired together by twos
and threes, like oath-bound patriots plotting treason; beyond them
stood a great glass globe, connected with a sizable air-pump, and
filled with a complexity of shiny wires and glassware; next loomed up
a huge induction-magnet, carefully insulated on solid glass supports;
and at the further extremity of the table lay—a corpse.
Ronald Wyde, in spite of his many-sided experience of
dissection-rooms, and morgues, and other ghastlinesses to which he had
long since accustomed himself from principle, drew back at the
sight—perhaps because he had come to this strange place to clutch the
world-old mystery of the life-essence, and found himself, instead,
confronted on its threshold by the equal mystery of death.
Herr Lebensfunke smiled feebly at this movement.
“A subject received this morning from Berlin,” he said, in answer to
Wyde’s look of inquiry. “A sad piece of extravagance, mein Herr—a
luxury to which I can rarely afford to treat myself.”
Ronald Wyde bent over the body and looked into its face. A rough, red
face, that had seemingly seen forty years of low-lived dissipation.
The blotched skin and bleary eyes told of debauchery and drunkenness,
and a slight alcoholic fœtidness was unpleasantly perceptible, as
from the breath of one who sleeps away the effects of a carouse.
“I hope you don’t think of restoring this soaked specimen to life?”
“That is still beyond me,” answered the old man, mournfully. “As yet I
have not created life of a higher grade than that of the lowest
“Do you claim to have done as much as that?”
“It is not an idle claim,” said Herr Lebensfunke, solemnly. “Look at
this, if you doubt.”
“This” was the great crystal globe that rose from the middle of the
long table, and dominated its lesser accessories, as some great dome
swells above the clustered houses of a town. Tubes passing through its
walls met in a smaller central globe half filled with a colorless
liquid. Beneath this, and half encircling it, was an intricate maze of
bright wire; and two other wires dipped into it, touching the surface
of the liquid with their platinum tips. Within the liquid pulsed a
shapeless mass of almost transparent spongy tissue.
“You see an aggregation of cells possessed of life—of a low order, it
is true, but none the less life,” said the philosopher, proudly.
“These were created from water chemically pure, with the exception of
a trace of ammonia, and impregnated with liquid carbon, by the
combined action of heat and induced electricity, in vacuo. Look!”
He pressed one of the keys before him. Presently the wire began to
glow with a faint light, which increased in intensity till the coil
flamed into pure whiteness. Removing his finger, the current ceased to
flow, and the wire grew rapidly cool.
“I passed the whole strength of sixty cups through it to show you its
action. Ordinarily, with one or two carbon cells, and refining the
current by triple induction, the temperature is barely blood-warm.”
“Pardon an interruption,” said Ronald. “You spoke of liquid carbon;
does it exist?”
“Yes; here is some in this phial. See it—how pure, how transparent!
how it loves and hoards the light!” The old man held the phial up as
he spoke, and turned it round and round. “See how it flashes! No
wonder, for it is the diamond, liquid and uncrystallized. Think how
these fools of men have called diamonds precious above all gems
through these many weary years, and showered them on their kings, or
tossed them to their mistresses’ feet, never dreaming that the silly
stone they lauded was inert, crystallized life!”
“Can’t you crystallize diamonds yourself?” asked Wyde, “and make
Freiberg a Golconda and yourself a Crœsus?”
“It could be done, after the lapse of thousands of years,” replied
Herr Lebensfunke. “Place undiluted liquid carbon in that inner globe,
keep the coil at a white heat, and if Adam had started the process,
his heir-at-law would have a koh-i-noor to-day, and a nice lawsuit for
Ronald Wyde bent toward the globe once more and examined the throbbing
mass closely, whistling softly meanwhile.
“If you can create this cellular life, why not develop it still higher
into an organism?”
“Because I can only create life—not soul. Years ago I was a
freethinker, now my discoveries have made me a deist; for I found that
my cells, living as they were, and possessing undoubted parietal
circulation, were not germs; and though they might cluster into a bulk
like this, as bubbles do to form froth, to evolve an animal or plant
from them was far beyond me; that needs what we call soul. But, in
searching blindly for this higher power, I grasped a greater discovery
than any I had hoped for—the power to isolate life from its bodily
“You have to keep the bottle carefully corked, I should imagine,”
“Not quite,” said Herr Lebensfunke, joining in the laugh. “Life is not
glue. My grand discovery is the life-magnet.”
“Which has the post of honor on your table here, has it not?” inquired
Ronald, drawing his hand from his pocket and pointing to the insulated
The old man glanced keenly at his hand as he did so; at which Ronald
seemed confused, and pocketed it again abruptly.
“Yes, that is the life-magnet. You see this bent glass tube surrounded
by the helix? That tube contains liquid carbon. I pass through the
helix a current of induced electricity, generated by the action of
these sixty Bunsen cups upon a succession of coils with carbon cores,
and the magnet becomes charged with soulless life. I reverse the
stream—what was positive now is negative, and the same magnet will
absorb life from a living being to an extent only to be measured by
thousands of millions.”
“Then, what effect is produced on the body you pump the life from?”
“And what becomes of the soul?”
“I don’t quite know. I fancy, however, that the magnet absorbs that
“Can it give it back?”
“Certainly; otherwise my life-magnet would belie its name, and be
simply an ingenious and expensive instrument of death. By reversing
the conditions, I can restore both soul and life to the body from
which I drew them, or to another body, even after the lapse of several
“Have you ever done so?”
Ronald looked reflectively downward to his boot-toe, but seemed to
find nothing there—except a boot-toe.
“I say, my friend,” he spoke at last, “haven’t you got a pin you can
stick in me? I’d like to know if I’m dreaming.”
“I can convince you better than by pins,” replied Herr Lebensfunke.
“Let me see that hand you hide so carefully.”
Ronald Wyde slowly drew it from his pocket, as reluctantly as though
it were a grudged charity dole, and extended it to the old man. Its
little finger was gone.
“A defect that I am foolishly sensitive about,” said he. “A childish
freak—playing with edged tools, you know. A boy-playmate chopped it
off by accident: I cut his head open with his own hatchet, and made an
idiot of him for life—that’s all.”
“I could do this,” said Herr Lebensfunke, pausing on each word as if
it were somewhat heavy, and had to be lifted out of his cramped chest
by force; “I could draw your entity into that magnet, leaving you side
by side with this corpse. I could dissect a finger from that same
corpse, attach it to your own dead hand by a little of that
palpitating life-mass you have seen, pass an electric stream through
it, and a junction would be effected in three or four days. I could
then restore you to existence, whole, and not maimed as now.”
“I don’t quite like the idea of dying, even for a day,” answered Wyde.
“Couldn’t you contrive to lend me a body while you are mending my
“You can take that one, if you like.”
Ronald Wyde looked once more at the sodden features of the corpse, and
“A mighty shabby old customer,” he said, “and I doubt if I could feel
at home in his skin; but I’m willing to risk it for the sake of the
novelty of the thing.”
The old philosopher’s thin face lit up with pleasure.
“You consent, then?” he chuckled in his womanish treble.
“Of course I do. Begin at once, and have done with it.”
“Not now, mein Herr; some modifications must be made in the
connections—mere matters of detail. Come again to-night.”
“At what hour?”
“At ten. Mein Vögelein, show the Herr the way out.”
The girl, who had been moving restlessly about the room all this time,
with her wild brown eyes fixed now on Ronald, now on the old man, and
oftener in a shy, inquisitive stare on the corpse, lit a dusty
chemical lamp and led the way down the awkward passages and stairs.
Ronald tried to start a conversation with her as he followed.
“You are too young, my birdling, to be accustomed to such sights as
“Birdling is not too young, she’s almost fourteen,” said the girl,
proudly. “And she likes it, too; it makes her think of mother. Mother
went to sleep on that table, mein Herr.”
“Poor thing! she’s half-witted,” thought Wyde as he passed into the
street. “By-by, birdie.”
Home he walked briskly, to be met under his flaming balcony by
Lottchen’s kindly afternoon greeting. How had mein Herr passed his
Sabbath? she asked.
“Quietly enough, Lottchen. I met an old philosopher in the God’s-Acre,
and went home with him to his shop. Have you ever heard of Herr Doctor
“Yes, mein Herr. Wrong here, they say;” and she tapped her wide, round
German forehead, and lifted her eyes expressively heavenward.
“Sold himself to the devil, eh?” asked Wyde.
Lottchen was not quite sure on that point. Some said one thing, and
some another. There was undoubtedly a devil, else how could good
Doctor Luther have thrown his inkstand at him? But he had never been
seen in Doctor Lebensfunke’s neighborhood; and, on the whole, Lottchen
was inclined to attribute the Herr Doctor’s trouble to an indefinable
something whose nature was broadly hinted at by more tapping of the
Ronald Wyde mounted the stairs, locked himself in his room, and wished
himself out of the scrape he was getting into. But, being in for it
now, he lit a cigar, and tried to fancy the processes he would have to
go through, and how he, a natty and respectable young fellow, would
look and feel in a drunkard’s skin. His conjectures being too foggily
outlined to please him, he put them aside, and waited impatiently
enough for ten o’clock.
A moonlight walk through the low streets, transfigured by the silver
gleam into fairy vistas—all but the odor—brought him to Herr
Lebensfunke’s house. Simple birdling, on the lookout for him, piloted
him through the unsafe channel, and brought him to anchor in the
“All is ready,” said the philosopher, as he trembled forward and shook
Ronald’s hand. “See here.” Zig-zags of silk-bound wire squirmed hither
and thither from the life-magnet. Two of them ended in carbon points.
“And here, too, my young friend, is your new finger.”
It lay, detached, in the central globe, and on its severed end atoms
of protoplasm were already clustered. “Literally a second-hand
article,” thought Ronald; but, not venturing to translate the idiom,
he only bowed and said, “Ach so!” which means any thing and every
thing in German.
It was not without a very natural sinking of the heart that Ronald
Wyde divested himself of his clothing, and took his position, by the
old man’s direction, on the stout table, side by side with the dead. A
flat brass plate pressed between his shoulders, and one of the carbon
points, clamped in a little insulated stand, rested on his bosom and
quivered with the quickened motion of the heart beneath it. The other
point touched the dead man’s breast.
“Are you ready?”
The old man pressed a key, and as he did so a sharp sting, hardly
worse than a leech’s bite, pricked Ronald Wyde’s breast. A sense of
languor crept slowly upon him, his feet tingled, his breath came
slowly, and waves of light and shade pulsed in indistinct alternation
before his sight; but through them the old man’s eyes peered into his,
like a dream. Presently Ronald would have started if he could, for two
old philosophers were craning over him instead of one. But as he
looked more steadily, one face softly dimmed into nothing, and the
other grew brighter and stronger in its lines, while the room flushed
with an unaccountable light. The little key clicked once more; a
vague sensation that the current had somehow ceased to flow, roused
him, and he raised himself on his elbow and looked in blank
bewilderment at his own dead self lying by his side in the daylight,
while the sunrise tried to peer through the webbed panes.
“Is it over?” he asked, with a puzzled glance around him; and added,
“Which am I?”
“Either, or both,” answered Herr Lebensfunke. “Your identity will be
something of a problem to you for a day or two.”
Aided by the old man, Ronald awkwardly got into the sleazy clothes
that went with the exchange—growing less and less at home each
minute. He felt weak and sore; his head ached, and the wound left by
the fresh amputation of his little finger throbbed angrily.
“I suppose I may as well go now,” he said. “When can I get my own self
there back again?”
“On Thursday night, if all works well,” said the old man. “Till then,
Ronald Wyde’s first impulse, as he shambled into the open air, was to
go home; but he thought of the confusion his sadly-mixed identity
would cause in Frau Spritzkrapfen’s quiet household, and came to a
dead stop to consider the matter. Then he decided to quit the town for
the interminable four days—to go to Dresden, or anywhere. His next
step was to slouch into the nearest beer-cellar and call for beer,
pen, and paper. While waiting for these, he surveyed his own
reflection in the dingy glass that hung above the table he sat by—a
glass that gave his face a wavy look, as if seen through heated air.
He felt an amused pride in his altered appearance, much as a
masquerader might be pleased with a clever disguise, and caught
himself wondering whether he were likely to be recognized in it.
Apparently satisfied of his safety from detection, he turned to the
table and wrote a beer-scented note to Frau Spritzkrapfen, explaining
his sudden absence by some discreet fiction. He got along well enough
till he reached the end, when, instead of his own flowing sign-manual,
he tipsily scrawled the unfamiliar name of Hans Kraut. Tearing the
sheet angrily across, he wrote another, and signed his name with an
effort. He was about to seek a messenger to carry his note, when it
occurred to him to leave it himself, which he did; and had thereby the
keen satisfaction of hearing pretty Lottchen confess, with a blush on
her fair German cheek, that they would all miss Herr Wyde very much,
because they all loved him. Turning away with a sigh that was very
like a hiccough, he trudged to the railway-station and took a ticket
to Dresden, going third-class as best befitting his clothes and
He felt ashamed enough of himself as the train rumbled over the
rolling land between Freiberg and the capital, and gave him time to
think connectedly over what had happened, and what he now was. His
fellow-passengers cast him sidelong looks, and gave him a wide berth.
Even the quaint, flat-arched windows of one pane each, that winked out
of the red-tiled roofs like sleepy eyes, seemed to leer drunkenly at
him as they scudded by.
Ronald Wyde’s account of those days in Dresden was vague and misty. He
crept along the bustling streets of that sombre, gray city, that
seemed to look more natural by cloud-light than in the full sunshine,
feeling continually within him a struggle between the two incompatible
natures now so strangely blended. Each day he kept up the contest
manfully, passing by the countless beer-cellars and drinking-booths
with an assumption of firmness and resolution that oozed slowly away
toward nightfall, when the animal body of the late Hans Kraut would
contrive to get the better of the animating principle of Ronald Wyde;
the refined nature would yield to the toper’s brute-craving, with an
awful sense of its deep degradation in so succumbing, and, before
midnight, Hans was gloriously drunk, to Ronald’s intense grief.
Time passed somehow. He had memories of sunny lounges on the
Bruhl’sche Terrace, looking on the turbid flow of the eddied Elbe, and
watching the little steamboats that buzzed up and down the city’s
flanks, settling now and then, like gad-flies, to drain it of a few
drops of its human life. Well-known friends, whose hands he had
grasped not a week before, passed him unheedingly; all save one, who
eyed him for a moment, said “Poor devil!” in an undertone, and
dropped a silber-gro’ into his maimed hand. He felt glad of even this
lame sympathy in his lowness; but most of all he prized the moistened
glance of pity that flashed upon him from the great dark eyes of a
lovely girl who passed him now and then as he slouched along. Once, a
being as degraded and scurvy as his own outward self, turned to him,
called him “Dutzbruder,” asked him how he left them all in Berlin,
stared at Ronald’s blank look of non-recognition, and passed on with a
muttered curse on his own stupidity in mistaking a stranger, in broad
daylight, for his crony Kraut.
Another memory was of the strange lassitude that seemed to almost
paralyze him after even moderate exertion, and caused him to drop
exhausted on a bench on the terrace when he had shuffled over less
than half its length. More than once the suspicion crept upon him that
only a portion of his vitality now remained to him, and that its
greater part lay mysteriously coiled in Herr Lebensfunke’s
life-magnet. And this, in turn, broadened into a doubting distrust of
the Herr himself—a dread lest the old man might in some way
appropriate this stock of life to his own use, and so renew his
fast-expiring lease for a score or two of years to come. At last this
dread grew so painfully definite, that he hurried back to Freiberg a
day before his appointed time, and once more found his twofold self
wandering through its devious streets.
It was long after dark, and a thin rain slanted on the slippery
stones, as he again made his way through the deserted and sleepy paths
of the town to the old philosopher’s house. He was wet, chilled,
weary, and sick enough at heart as he leaned against the cold stone
doorway and waited for an answer to his knock. The plash of the
heavier rain-drops from the tiled leaves was the only sound he heard
for many minutes, until, at last, pattering feet neared him on the
inside, and a child’s voice asked who was there. To his friendly
response the door was opened half-wide, and Vögelein’s blank, pretty
face peeped through.
Was Herr Lebensfunke at home? No; he had said that he wasn’t at home;
but then, she thought he was in the long room where mamma went to
sleep. Could he be seen? No, she thought not; he was very tired, and,
in her own—Vögelein’s—opinion, he was going to sleep too, just as
mamma did. And the wizened little face, with its eldritch eyes and
tangled hair, was withdrawn, and the door began to close. Ronald
forced himself inside, and grasped the child’s arm.
“Vögelein, don’t you know me?”
The girl, in nowise startled, gravely set her flickering candle on the
door-step, looked up at him wonderingly, as if he were an exhibition,
and said she thought not, unless he had been asleep on the table.
“Good heavens!” cried Ronald, “can this child talk of nothing but
people asleep on a table?”
But, as he spoke, a thought whirred through his brain. He drew the
poor half-witted thing close to him and asked:
“Can Vögelein tell me something about mamma, and how she went to
The child rambled on, pleased to find a listener to her foolish
prattle. All he could connect into a narrative was, that the girl’s
mother, some seven or eight years before, had been drained of her life
by the awful magnet, and that, as the child said, “the Herr Doctor
ever since had talked just like mamma.”
His dread was well founded, then. The old man’s one dream and aim was
to prolong his wretched life; could he doubt that he would not now
make use of the means he had so unwisely thrown in his way? He turned
about, half maddened.
“Girl!” he cried, “I must see the old man! Where is he?”
He couldn’t see him, she whined. He was asleep up there, on the table.
At one o’clock he had said he would wake up.
He pushed past her, mounted to the long room, pressed open the
unfastened door, and entered.
The old man and the corpse of his former self lay together under the
light of a lamp that swung from the beam overhead. An insulated carbon
point was directed to each white, still breast. From the old man’s
hand a cord ran to a key beyond, arranged to make or break connection
at a touch. By it stood a clock, with a simple mechanism attached that
bore upon a second key like the first, evidently planned to press upon
it when the hands should mark a given hour. The child had said that he
would wake at one, and it was now past midnight.
Ronald Wyde comprehended it all now. The wily old man’s feeble life
had been withdrawn into the great magnet, and mixed therein with what
remained of his own. In less than an hour the key would fall, and the
double stream would flow into and animate his young body, which would
then wake to renewed life; while the cast-off shell beside it, worn to
utter uselessness by a toilsome century, would be left to moulder as a
Surely no time was to be lost; his life depended upon instant action.
And yet, comprehending this, he went to work slowly, and as a
somnambulist might, acting almost by instinct, and well knowing that a
blunder now meant irrevocable death.
Carefully disengaging the cord from the old man’s yet warm grasp, and
setting the carbon point aside, he lifted the shrivelled corpse and
bore it away, to cast it on the white rubbish-heap in one corner.
Returning to his work, he stripped himself, and laid down in the old
man’s place. As he did so, the distant Minster bells rang the
Was there yet time?
He braced his shoulders firmly against the brass plate under them, and
moved the carbon point steadily back to its place, with its tip
resting on his breast; the silk-wrapped wire that dangled between it
and the magnet quivering, as he did so, as with conscious life.
Drawing a long breath, he tightened the cord, and heard a faint click
as the key snapped down.
The same sharp sting as before instantly pricked his breast, tingling
thrills pulsed over him, beats of light and shadow swept before his
eyes, and he lost all consciousness. For how long he knew not. At last
he felt, rather than saw, the lamp-rays flickering above him, and
opened his eyes as though waking from a tired sleep. Sitting up, he
gave a fearful look around him, as if dreading what he might see. The
drunkard’s body lay stretched and motionless beside him, and the clock
marked three. He was saved!
Slipping down from his perilous bed, he resumed the old familiar
garments that belonged to him as Ronald Wyde, shuddering with emotion
as he did so. Only pausing to give one look at the pale heap in the
shadowy corner, and at the other sleeper under the now dying lamp, he
quitted the room and locked its heavy door upon the two silent
guardians of its life-secrets. When he reached the street, he found
the rain had ceased to drop, and that the cold stars blinked over the
Before noon he had taken leave of Frau Spritzkrapfen, turned buxom
Lottchen scarlet all over by a hearty, sudden, farewell-kiss, and was
far on his way from Freiberg, with its red-vined balcony and its dark
laboratory, never again to visit it or them. And as the busy engine
toiled and shrieked, and with each beat of its mighty steam-heart
carried him further away, his thoughts flew back and clustered around
witless, brown-eyed birdling. Poor child, he never learned her fate.
I heard this strange story from its hero, one sunny summer morning as
we swept over the meadowy reaches of the Erie Railway, or hung along
the cliffside by the wooded windings of the Susquehanna. When he had
ended it, he smiled languidly, and, showing me his still-mutilated
hand, said that the old doctor’s job had been a sad bungle, after all.
In fact, the only physical proof that remained to verify his story,
was a curved blue spot where the ingoing current from the magnet had
carried particles from the carbon point and lodged them beneath the
skin. Psychologically, he was sadly mixed up, he said; for, since that
time, he had felt that four lives were joined in him—his own, the
remnant of Herr Lebensfunke’s miserable hoard merged in that of poor
birdling’s mother, and, last of all, Hans Kraut’s.
He left the cars soon afterward at Binghamton, watchfully followed by
a stout, shabby man with a three days’ beard stubbling his chin, who
had occupied the seat in front of us, and had turned now and then to
listen for a moment to Ronald’s rapid narration.
A week later, and I heard that he was dead—having committed suicide
in a fit of delirium soon after his admission to the Binghamton
Inebriate Asylum. The attendant who made him ready for burial noticed
a singular blue mark on his left breast, that looked, he said, a
little like a horseshoe magnet.
By Elizabeth D. B. Stoddard.
⁂ Harper’s Magazine, June, 1863.
Osgood took a cane-bottomed chair whose edges had given way from the
application of boot-soles, cane and umbrella ferules, and studied his
predicament. He commenced this necessary study early in the morning in
his room, which was in a boarding-house situated in this metropolis.
The early carts were taking their way down town through a blue haze,
which in the country prefigured a golden day. The milkman, the
walk-sweeper, and the rag-picker, were the only creatures moving in
Osgood’s neighborhood. The time was propitious for meditation and
resolve, but Osgood’s head was not ready. The still Champagne that he
had drank the night before buzzed in his brain. With a glass of it in
his hand, under a side gas-light, in the drawing-room of his Aunt
Formica, he had proposed marriage to a handsome dashing girl, and the
handsome dashing girl had accepted him. They swallowed the bubbles on
the “beaker’s brim,” thinking it was the Cup of Life they were
drinking from. Neither supposed that the moment was one of
exhilaration or enthusiasm. Osgood never felt so serious, or so
determined to face the music, as he called it, which was the short for
a philosophical design to march boldly through life, and shoulder its
necessities with a brave spirit and a martial air.
Osgood was intelligent, agreeable, and handsome. He had advanced no
further into life than to give this impression. He knew nothing more
of himself than that he was intelligent, handsome, and “plucky.” He
had no father or mother, but he had an aunt who had married Mr.
Formica; this pair, effete in themselves, belonged to that mysterious
class who are always able to get their relatives places under
Government. When Osgood was eighteen they obtained a place in the
Sub-Treasury, which yielded him the income of fifteen hundred dollars.
Aunt Formica expected a great deal from him in the way of deportment
and dress. The exigencies of his position, she observed, compelled him
to do as those around him did. Of course he never laid up any of his
salary, but he kept out of debt, and in doing this he fulfilled the
highest duty that came within his province. His associates were young
men who had more money than he, and who expected him to spend as much
as they spent. The houses he visited were inhabited by people who
took it for granted that all who came in contact with them were as
rich as themselves. The Formica interest was large. When he went to
Washington with his aunt, he went the rounds of the senators’ houses
and hotels in the way of calls, dinners, and parties. When he went to
Boston with her he began his visits at the right hand of Beacon
Street, and branched into the streets behind it, where as good blood
abides, though it has not the same advantage of the air of the Common.
Wherever he went expense was involved, in the way of gloves, bouquets,
cards, fees to errand boys, exchange of civilities in lunches, cigars,
ale, brandy, sherry, stage, hack, and car fare, which he bore like a
Lily Tree, the girl whom he proposed to marry, belonged to a family of
the Formica species. It sailed through society all a-taut with
convention, and was comme il faut from stem to stern. Lily and
Osgood had always known each other. They passed through the season of
hoop and ball, dancing-school, tableaux, and charades together;
sympathized in each other’s embryonic flirtations; and were such fast
friends that no one ever dreamed of any danger to them from love. But
as the wagon that goes from the powder-mill in safety innumerable
times at last carries the keg which explodes it, so Osgood and Lily at
last touched the divine spark which threw them out of their old world
into one they had not anticipated.
This was part of Osgood’s predicament.
What made him do as he had done?
Why had Lily accepted him?
She would never, he argued, consent to go out of the area which
bounded her ideas, and which comprised a small portion of New York,
Boston, Washington, and the tour of Europe, which meant a week in
London, six months in Paris, and ten days in Rome. Unless he descended
from the Sub-Treasury, and sought some business, such as making
varnish, glue, buttons, soap, sarsaparilla, or sewing machines, could
he marry? What shrewdness had he in the place of capital to bring to
bear on the requirements of these Yankee callings? How he worried over
the prospect which looked so pleasant the night before! Champagne,
flowers, light, and perfume were gone from it. He pitied himself in
his helplessness. The thought of Lily deprived of her delicate evening
dresses, her diurnal bouquets, caramels, and her pecunious caprices,
was not pleasant. He could not see her in any light that made her so
agreeable as in the light that he must certainly cause her to lose.
Something practical must be done.
Naturally he looked into his pocket-book. There was eighteen dollars
in it—all the money he had. It was the last day in the month,
however, and he was entitled to draw one hundred and twenty-five
dollars. He shut his pocket-book and looked into his closet. He found
there several pairs of patent-leather boots and a brilliant
dressing-gown. “Pooh!” he said, peevishly, and shut the door. He then
examined his bureau: in its drawers were many socks, shirts, cravats,
four sets of studs and sleeve-buttons, and five scarf-pins. He rattled
the studs and buttons thoughtfully; but nothing came of it, and he
closed the drawers. His eye then fell on a dress-coat which he had
worn for the first time the evening before. He resolved to take the
coat back to Wiedenfeldt, his tailor. This resolve was the nucleus
probably of his future undertakings. He finished dressing and left the
house. Before reaching Wiedenfeldt he purchased and drank a bottle of
Congress Water. He also stopped at a favorite restaurant and made an
excellent breakfast, and came away with a “Relampagos”—a small cigar
of superior flavor—and three daily papers. His interview with
Wiedenfeldt was satisfactory; the coat was taken back, and when he had
settled the matter he felt as if a beginning had been made in a new
and right direction.
That afternoon he drew his pay, and walked up town. The moment he
entered his room his predicament fell upon him again, and his spirits
sunk. He sat on the edge of his bed, so quiet in his misery that he
began to hear the ticking of the watch in his pocket; it associated
itself in his mind with the sound and motion of railroad-cars. He felt
himself traveling hundreds of miles away, listening all the while to a
rhythmic sound, which said, “Many a mile, many a mile.” Why should he
not go “many a mile, many a mile,” in reality? He went out immediately
and bought a valise. After that his demeanor was settled and
tranquil. He then wrote three notes—to his chief, his Aunt Formica,
and Lily. The first was a note of resignation; the second conveyed the
information to his aunt that he was sick of his place, had thrown it
up, and was going out of town for a change of air. He regretted, when
he began his note to Lily, that he had not sent her some flowers. A
momentary impulse to go and see her stayed his hand; but he remembered
that she must be at Mrs. Perche’s “sit-down supper” that evening, and
resumed writing. He begged her to enjoy herself, and not miss him
while he was away. He did not know what to write besides, but put in a
few chaotic expressions which might or might not mean a great deal.
While he put a few necessary articles in the valise he wondered where
he should go, never dropping the thought that he must go somewhere.
The remainder of his wardrobe, including the brilliant dressing-gown,
he packed in a trunk and locked it.
He rang the bell, and when the waiter came up asked for the landlady,
Mrs. Semmes. The waiter thought that it was not too late to see her in
her own parlor, and lingered, with his hand on his chin and his eyes
on the valise.
“Jem,” said Osgood, “I have left some boots in the closet, and some
shirts in the drawers, which are at your service.”
The alacrity with which Jem changed his attitude and expression
struck Osgood with a sense of pain. “How horribly selfish servants
are!” he thought, taking his way down stairs. Mrs. Semmes hoped there
was no trouble, and asked him to be seated. He looked at her
earnestly; she was the only one to say farewell to. Never had he
looked Mrs. Semmes in the face before; he had only seen the hand into
which he had placed the price of his board.
“I came to tell you, Mrs. Semmes, that I am about to leave town for
the present. Will you allow my trunk to remain here? If I do not
return in a year and a day, break it open.”
Mrs. Semmes promised to keep the trunk; took some money due her;
wondered at his going away at that time of year, and asked him his
“I think I shall go to Canada,” he answered, vaguely.
“There must be snow there, by the accounts.”
“Where shall I go?” he was about to say, but checked himself.
“If you were going East,” she continued, “you would find the ground
bare enough, especially in the neighborhood of the sea: the sea-winds
melt the snow almost as soon as it falls.”
“I think I will go East,” he said, musingly. He sat so long without
saying any thing, staring straight before him, that Mrs. Semmes began
to feel fidgety. She recalled him to the present by walking to the
window. He started, bade her good-by, and retired.
He tossed about all night in a feverish sleep, tormented with dreams
which transformed Lily into a small child which he was compelled to
carry in his arms, or furnished his Aunt Formica with a long spear,
with which she pursued him, and was forever on the point of overtaking
At 8 o’clock A.M. he might have been seen by a detective at the
Twenty-seventh Street dépôt. A few minutes after he was going through
the tunnel; and, emerging from that, he considered himself fairly
divided from New York. At the first station beyond the State-line of
Massachusetts he consulted a map, and concluded to stop at the
junction of the Old Colony Railroad. There he changed the route, and
in the evening reached a town which seemed waiting to go somewhere
else, where he passed the night.
The next morning he started on his travels again toward Cape Cod. Five
miles beyond a large village, in a flat, sterile, gloomy region, he
alighted with his baggage, and said, “This is the place for me.” The
train went on, and the dépôt-master went into his little den without
noticing Osgood. Several tall school-girls, who had come to watch for
the train, strolled down a cross-road, and he was alone. He went to
the end of the platform and surveyed the country. He stood on the edge
of a wide plateau along which ran the railroad-track. Beyond that a
road deviated through dismal fields, by unpainted houses, large barns,
and straggling orchards. Below the plateau a wide marsh extended,
intersected by crooked creeks, which gnawed into the black earth like
worms. A rim of sea bordered the tongue of the marsh, but it was too
far off to add life to the scene. The sedge, giving up all hope of
being moistened by the salt waves, had died in great circles, which
looked like mats of gray hair on some pre-Adamite monster’s buried
Osgood determined to pursue the windings of the road. He plowed the
sand for two miles, and at a sudden turn of the road came upon a
house, with a number of barns and sheds attached to it. A dog with a
stiff tail ran out from a shed and barked at him, and a pale-faced
woman in a muslin cap appeared at a window of the house. He knocked at
the door: she opened it.
“Will thee come in?” she asked.
He entered, following her as he would have followed a ghost. She moved
a chair from the wall without the least noise, and he dropped upon it.
As he looked at her his identity seemed slipping away—seemed to be
slipping into an atmosphere connected with her and her surroundings.
She brought him some water which she dipped from a pail near by, and
held the cocoa-nut dipper which contained it to his lips.
“Thee has come to us from strange parts, I reckon, from thy looks.”
“Yes,” he answered, absently; “I needed change.”
“There has been no change here since the Indians went away. If thee
will look across the road thee can see the ground is strewed with the
bits of shells from their feasts.”
He went to the window, and again remarked to himself, “This is the
place for me.”
“Could you,” he asked, going toward her, “let me stay with you a
“Did thee come to the Marsh End station this morning?”
“Yes; my valise is there.”
“Thy parents are rich?”
“I have none.”
“Thee has been well cared for, though.”
“I have not left home because of any—” Misfortune, he was about to
say, but that did not seem to be the right word; so he tried to think
of something else to say. She saw his embarrassment, and said,
“I never have harbored a stranger; but if Peter likes, he may take
Osgood thanked her so pleasantly that she determined he should stay.
She asked him his name, his age, his place of residence, his business,
and his intentions. Except in regard to the latter, his answer proved
satisfactory; and when Peter returned at noon from the distant shore
with a load of sea-weed, she introduced Osgood as if he were an old
acquaintance of whom Peter was in a state of lamentable ignorance. He
pushed his hat on the back of his head, shook hands with Osgood, and
said, “Maria, will thee give me my dinner?” taking no further notice
of Osgood till she had placed it on the table. It consisted of stewed
beans, boiled beef, apple-pie, and cheese. Osgood ate half a pie, and
established himself in Peter’s good graces.
“Thee will learn that Maria’s pie-crust beats all,” he said.
“Thee is ready to consent,” said his wife, “to keep young Osgood a
“I don’t know yet,” answered Peter.
But after dinner he harnessed his horse and went to the dépôt for
Osgood’s valise, which he carried upstairs and deposited in the spare
room. He then invited Osgood to take a look at the premises. He wished
to make his own investigations in regard to Osgood without Maria’s
intervention. They lingered by the pig-sty, and while Peter scratched
the pigs with a cord-wood stick, exchanged views of men and things.
Peter saw the capabilities of Osgood’s character, and easily divined
the manner of life he had led. He knew him to be selfish from
ignorance, and because he had early formed the habits which impose
self-indulgence. Something in the young man’s bearing won his heart—a
certain impetuous simplicity and frankness which made him long to be
of service to a nature unlike his own. Osgood found Peter genial,
shrewd, and sad. Such a man he had never met. It seemed to him that
Peter could set him straight in his own estimation; there was no
nonsense about the old man, and yet he could see deep feeling in his
dark, cavernous eyes. The feeling which had oppressed him passed
away, and another took its place which contained restoration, and
faith in the future. He got into Peter’s way by attempting to help
fodder the cattle and “slick up” the barn. When the work was done, and
while Peter fastened the barn-doors with an ox-bow, Osgood looked
about him. It was a March afternoon; no wind blew, and no sun shone;
but the gray round of the sky, which neither woods nor hills hid from
his sight, rolled over him in soft commotion. The reddish, barren
fields stretched in their flatness beyond his vision, and the narrow
roads of yellow sand ran to nowhere. The world of God, he thought, he
saw for the first time; and, away from the world of men, felt himself
He looked so kindly upon Maria when he entered the house that she
delayed the stream of the tea-kettle which she held over the teapot to
admire him. The supper was the dinner—cold, with an addition of warm
biscuits; and again Osgood ate himself into Peter’s good graces.
The evening was passed in silence. Peter smoked, Maria mended, and
Osgood reflected. A violent storm arose in the night, which lasted
three days. They were improved by Maria and Peter in overhauling
garden-seeds in the garret, and in setting up a leach-tub in the
wood-house. Osgood assisted. When he was alone with Maria she talked
to him of the boy who was lost at sea, and of the girl who died in
childhood; with the hungry eyes of a bereaved mother she looked upon
him, and his heart was touched with a new tenderness. When he was
alone with Peter the old man sounded the depths of the young man’s
soul with wise, pathetic, quaint speech; he went over the ground of
his own life, which had been passed on the spot where he now was, with
the exception of several mackerel voyages, and one in a merchant
vessel to some of the southern ports of Europe. But when together
Peter and Maria never talked with Osgood on personal matters. Between
them a marital silence was kept, which was more expressive than the
conjugal volubility which ordinarily exists; it proved that they had
passed through profounder experiences.
When the storm ceased Peter went to the station for his Boston
newspaper, which he read to Maria, who took it afterward and read it
over to herself. Brother Quakers, Peter’s neighbors, who lived out of
sight, dropped in from time to time to exchange a word with Maria, or
hold talks outside with Peter, with one foot in the rut and the other
on the wagon-step. The present subject of interest, Osgood discovered,
was the approaching Quarterly Meeting, and the mackerel fishery. Peter
asked him to accompany himself and Maria to the town where the meeting
was to be. They breakfasted at sunrise, when the day arrived, in full
dress—Peter in a snuff-colored suit, and Maria in a series of brown
articles—dress, shawl, and bonnet. They started in good spirits in an
open wagon, with an improvised seat for Peter in front. Beyond a belt
of pine woods stood the meeting-house, and a mile beyond the
meeting-house lay the town, before a vast bay. Osgood drove alone into
the town, and spent several hours there. He visited the shops to find
some trifle for Maria, and then went through the town down to the
shore. How happy he grew in the pure wind and the gay morning light!
The gulls rode over the foaming wave-crests and dipped into their
green walls, and hawks swooped between the steadfast sky and heaving
deep. The sea traveled round and round before his eyes with a mad joy,
and tempted him to plunge into it. He wrote his name in the heavy sand
with a broken shell, and the water filtered out the letters; then he
paved it in pebbles with the word Strength.
Peter and Maria were waiting for him when he returned to the
meeting-house with the wagon.
“Thee has been skylarking,” she said.
“After something for you,” he answered, putting in her hand a handsome
“Has thee so much money that thee must waste it on me, Osgood?”
But she was pleased with the gift. They rode home amicably. Peter, as
a favor, allowed Osgood to drive, while he imparted to Maria sundry
bits of information gained at the meeting.
“Mackerel” went in and out at Osgood’s ears without gaining his
attention, till he caught at something Peter said about the Bonita.
He listened. Three vessels were about to sail from the town on a
mackerel voyage, and the Bonita was one of them. He comprehended
that Peter owned half the Bonita, and a plan struck him. He inquired
into the subject, and obtained its history. That evening he proposed
going on a mackerel voyage, which proposal so fired Peter that he
declared he had a mind to go too; but Maria quenched his enthusiasm by
going over the programme of work that must be done at home. She made
no opposition to Osgood’s going, but set before him in plain terms the
hardships of such a voyage. He was not to be deterred, and Peter gave
his consent, promising him a small share of the profits.
Osgood wrote to his Aunt Formica that night, assuring her that he
already felt much better, and that he was about to enter into a new
business, of which she should hear more. He also wrote Lily Tree a
minute, lengthy epistle. He described his situation with Peter and
Maria; told her how much board he paid—two dollars and fifty cents a
week—and how well he had learned to do chores. He fed the pigs every
day; he wished that she could see how well they thrived on the diet
lately introduced by Peter and himself—a dry mash of boiled potatoes
and meal, with an occasional horseshoe thrown in as a relish. Would
she, he wondered, have enjoyed the day that he, Maria, and Peter made
soft soap? He mentioned his intended voyage, and asked her if she
liked sailors. Could he have the hope, he continued, of her sympathy
in his future enterprises, which perhaps would differ from those she
had thought of for him? He avowed a change in himself. Would it affect
He sealed his letters, and began pacing his little room. Writing home
had brought his old life near him again; the distance it had come to
reach him seemed enormous.
“It was only a few days ago,” he thought, “and yet I am so different!”
He rolled up his paper window-curtain and softly raised the window.
The moon made the landscape look more vast and desolate than it was in
the light of day. Under the horizon it revealed a strip of sea which
shone as if it were the portal of another world whose light was
reflected thereon. Osgood felt that he was an imprisoned soul this
side of it. The light gave him an intimation of immortality. “Where is
Lily’s soul?” he asked. “Has she any dream beyond the life she is in?”
When Lily received Osgood’s note she was angry; so was Mrs. Formica
when she received hers. An intuition that Osgood repented his rashness
touched Lily’s pride, and preserved her silence. When the second
letter came, she thought he had the intention of experimenting with
her; a test, she concluded, was unendurable, not to be submitted to.
Should she test him, and proclaim the engagement she meditated? it
would be a relief to do something. She could not reach him with a
letter, for he had gone on a mackerel voyage beyond the limits of the
post-office. She decided differently according to the light she had.
Unlike Osgood, she was chained to the place she was in. She was alone,
too; her mother was occupied with neuralgia, and her father was out of
town half his time, on mysterious agencies which referred to canals.
The newspaper reporters at Albany were well acquainted with Mr. Tree’s
name while they were putting into short-hand the doings of the
Legislature. Mrs. Formica had no suspicion that Lily was the cause of
Osgood’s disappearance; she would not have regretted his absence so
much on these grounds, for a match with Lily was not desirable.
Within a month Lily’s engagement to Mr. Barclay Dodge was announced.
He was a young man of fortune, whose father owed his rise in the world
to corn starch, and who had made himself known by spending large sums
of money on pictures, landscapes mostly, which had been indorsed by
the public in exhibitions.
Mr. Barclay Dodge was happy; he had for more than two years followed
Lily through all vicissitudes attendant upon the career of a young
girl in society. From an exhilaration the pursuit had become a
desperation. He had never suspected any man of being his rival, and
accounted for the acquaintance between Lily and Osgood by believing
that Lily was related to the Formica family. How she managed so
suddenly to convince Barclay Dodge that it was safe for him to propose
is a mystery which none but a disappointed, contrary woman may
reveal. He had the usual penetration of his sex in regard to such
mysteries; he was a man of sense and experience, but he was in love,
and when a man is in love he only analyzes himself, and all that he
learns is, that his love must be gratified.
In the whirl of his attentions, and the congratulations of her
friends, the time passed quickly; not so quickly, however, as to avert
the plan by which the Fates were to bring her to a knowledge of
Barclay proposed an immediate marriage. Lily declined the proposal
with so much vehemence that he dared not insist. He pulled his
mustache in rage after he left her, and wondered why he did not
insist. By what means, he cogitated, could he make her yield her will
to his? Her resistance he set down to coyness; all women had freaks;
they were alike in such matters. He divined after a while that she
would let go the lasso at any moment if he proved restive; so he
played the submissive to perfection. If she ever saw his eyes flame,
or any gesture which contained a threat, he never knew it; but every
revelation from him was a revelation to her of herself, and this was
to be her education and her punishment.
“Where is your friend Osgood?” he asked once.
“He has been away a long time,” she answered, looking him full in the
face, but with rather a stony expression in her eyes.
“He is your relative?”
“No? I thought so, always seeing you in the same places.”
“Our families have been acquainted always.”
“Do you think he is handsome?”
“He is too short” (Barclay was tall), “and his eyes have a wandering,
“He is following his destiny by them,” she answered, bitterly. “I wish
that I could follow mine as a man can.”
“Do you mean that you would like to follow Osgood’s eyes?”
“By no means; I must see destiny by your eyes.”
The words were pleasant, but the tone was malicious. It made his heart
bound as if an invisible foe had come into his atmosphere to do battle
with him, and he could do nothing.
“‘With the vapors all around, and the breakers on our lee,
Not a light is in the sky, not a light is on the sea.’—
barring the lantern abaft,” roared Osgood, from the deck of the
schooner Bonita, which was tossing outside Cape Malabar.
“You may sing t’other side of your mouth afore long,” bawled back the
skipper. “We ain’t fur from the Cormorant Rocks; the wind p’r’aps will
shove us on the ledge.”
“What, when we are just going home with full barrels?”
“The mackerel may be briled in Tophet for all we know.”
The skipper was at the helm; Osgood and he were in the radius of a
lantern which revealed their faces to each other. Outside of that was
pitch darkness; the rain drove in fierce slants against them, and the
wind howled all round the sea.
The skipper did not look concerned, neither did Osgood; but they were
both wondering which would first break over the Bonita, the light of
morning or the sea.
“Them boys are asleep, I s’pose, wet to the bone?” the skipper yelled.
“Let ’em sleep; there ain’t a lanyard loose.”
“What time must it be?”
“Hard onto ’leven. My old woman’s turned in long afore this, she
has; allus goes to bed on the stroke o’ nine.”
“She has thought of you to-night?”
“She has give me a prayer or so; she’s the strictest kind. Now I’ll
luff, there is a lull comin’; peskiest storms that have lulls in ’em.
You don’t hear a swashing to a distance now?”
A sound, not of wind nor sea, approached them—a rapid, rushing,
“Up with the helm!” shrieked the skipper to himself. “God Almighty,
she is down on us!”
Osgood leaped up. The bowsprit of a large ship was over him; he threw
up his arms instinctively and caught at something; he felt his feet
drawing over the skipper’s head, and that he thumped it with his
boots. He knew no more. The great ship crushed and plowed the Bonita
into the waves as easily as a plow buries in the sod the stubble of
the corn-field. Nothing signaled her destruction except the
exclamation of the skipper; nothing remained in the wide sea to show
it. Her timbers and the sleeping crew went to the bottom together.
Morning dawned on the wild scene, revealing no floating spar, no rib
of boat, no stave of tub or barrel, no sailor’s hat, no remnant of
sail, no shred of clothing; the jaws of the sea had closed over all.
The ship, a Liverpool liner, driven out of her course by the storm,
cruised round the spot for a few hours, and then went on her way,
taking Osgood with her. He had clung to the folds of the forward sail;
and there he was found with his left wrist dislocated, his body
strained and sore, and his mind wandering. He was no romantic sight
with his red flannel shirt, fishy trowsers, cowhide boots, and hands
pickled in brine. Still the ship’s surgeon took to him, and found,
when Osgood came to himself, that he had taken to a gentleman. He lent
him a suit of customary black, and introduced him to his
acquaintances. Osgood would have enjoyed the voyage across the
Atlantic but for the horror which had fallen on his mind from the
catastrophe of the Bonita.
“How old are you?” the surgeon asked him.
“About the first of March I was twenty-three; since then I have grown
so old I have lost the reckoning.”
“I’ll have to give you quinine, my boy.”
“Give me some of the tincture of Lethe.”
“It is of no use to one to forget; don’t be soft.”
“Let us reason together, Sawbones.”
The Doctor agreed, and Osgood began his story with, “Poor Peter,” and
finished it with asking, “Do you think I love her?”
“I’ll bet a guinea,” said the Doctor, “that she is married.”
“She isn’t,” replied Osgood, indignantly.
“I am sure that she is engaged, as you call it, to somebody besides
“I know better.”
“What do you propose doing when you get home?”
“What can I do with thirty dollars, which I left with Peter
“We shall see what we shall see when we come face to face with Aunt
Formica. I intend going the rounds with you in New York. I am a
He carried Osgood to his country-home beyond Liverpool, where they
staid till the ship was ready to sail again. He amused his mother and
sisters with stories of Osgood’s adventures on sea and land, and
represented him in the light of a “Jarley’s wax-works” hero, till he
was fairly cured of his melancholy.
Five months from the day on which he left New York Osgood returned,
and stood on his Aunt Formica’s door-steps with Dr. Black. They looked
like a pair of Englishmen. Both had shiny, red noses, shiny, hard,
narrow-brimmed hats, and shiny, narrow-toed boots, and the nap had
brushed off their coats.
Osgood looked into the familiar area with emotion, and the Doctor
looked at the windows with curiosity.
“They must be out of town,” he said; “the house has been put in brown
But Osgood knew the habits of his aunt—knew that from the first of
July till the first of October the house was put on an out-of-town
footing; and that she skirmished between city and country, or
watering-place. The bell was answered by a servant he did not know.
“I wish to see Mrs. Formica,” he said, brushing past her, and entering
the dark parlor. “Dr. Black and friend say.”
Mrs. Formica came in a moment after with a slight air of amazement,
which increased to astonishment when she saw her nephew. She gave a
little yelp as he embraced her, and said, “Where have you been?”
“To Cape Cod, and to Europe. I have been shipwrecked, aunt—that is, I
lost my mackerel venture, and have been taken care of by my noble
friend, Dr. Black.”
Aunt Formica grew pale at the word “shipwrecked,” and turned to Dr.
Black. Something in his face made her extend her hand and give him a
“Black may stay here while he is in port, mayn’t he? He will amuse you
with yarns about me.”
“Of course,” she replied. “Now tell me the whole story.”
Between Osgood and the Doctor it was related.
“Why did you ever go from me?” she asked, wiping away a real tear.
“I believe, aunt, I shall keep up the business of going—it suits me.
I can never live through your conventional cramps.”
She did not think it prudent to combat him just then; but made a
mental memorandum that something must be done that would change his
foolish resolution. A plan developed at dinner that evening.
“I had a note yesterday from Mrs. Senator Conch,” said Mrs. Formica.
“She will be in Saratoga this week, and begs me to meet her there.
Formica and I have been talking it over, Osgood, and we think that it
will be pleasant for Dr. Black and you to go up for a week. You will
“Thank you, Madam, provided Osgood is not averse.”
“Any of our set there?” Osgood asked.
“The Trees went up last Saturday with Barclay Dodge. They are making
an extensive tour this year.”
“What’s Barclay Dodge along for?”
“He is engaged to Lily Tree!”
“Ah!” said Osgood, looking at the Doctor, who could not help giving
him a malicious grimace. “How long since? It’s a capital match, ain’t
“The engagement must have been announced soon after you left.”
This reply put Osgood in a brown study. What impulse, he mused, had
prompted Lily to give herself to Barclay Dodge? Would he have done
Dr. Black commented on Osgood’s face, and considered himself in a fair
way to make studies.
“As far as money goes,” continued Mrs. Formica, “it may be called a
good match; but certainly not as far as family goes.”
“Family!” echoed Dr. Black, softly.
“His father was a tradesman,” explained Mr. Formica, “while Lily can
go back to her great-grandfather before trade need be mentioned.”
“Old Mr. Tree’s father,” remarked his wife, “was a brigadier-general
in the Revolution.”
“He was a drover, for all that,” said Osgood.
Mrs. Formica changed the theme, and talked of Saratoga.
“We’ll go,” Osgood said, crossly; “but I must first go to my tailor.”
Mrs. Formica held a private conversation with him after dinner, gave
him a check, and told him not to worry about the future: she had a
plan in view.
“Plans go by contraries with me, aunt.”
“You owe it to me not to be perverse.”
“I can’t pay any debt.”
Previous to going to bed Dr. Black and Osgood smoked several cigars.
“You strike me,” said the Doctor, “as growing to the dramatic just
now. One event runs into another with monstrous rapidity among you
Americans. How you differ from the English! How is it that you catch
fortune by the hair so?”
“We are passionate and quick-witted.”
“And then you repudiate with ease.”
“Bah! you imitate Sydney Smith.”
“I did not mean in the sense of State bonds precisely.”
“I think,” Osgood groaned, “that I begin to feel like a snob again.
What shall I do to be saved?”
“Go on in the groove that is making for you. I’ll stand by and be the
chorus. When I hear thy plaints of misery I will let fall the tear;
but remember that ‘laws determine even the fates.’”
Except a dispute between the Doctor and Osgood concerning a slouched
hat, which the Doctor would not wear, the party succeeded in starting
and arriving amicably at the Union in Saratoga. In a few hours Mrs.
Formica knew who was there. The Trees were at the Union. Mrs. Senator
Conch had taken a cottage; but the Senator himself had stopped at
Albany for a day to confer with the Governor. Old Madam Funchal of
Philadelphia was at Congress Hall, with her train, and Mrs. Romeo
Pipps Bovis and husband, from Boston. All her friends were round her;
that is, the traveling set she was in the habit of meeting; and her
spirits rose to the occasion. These particulars she detailed, in a
white muslin morning-dress, to Osgood, who, dressed in a new
cream-colored suit, lounged in the doorway of a small parlor off the
hall. He shouldered round just in time to come face to face with Lily
Tree, who was passing on the arm of Barclay Dodge. She stopped, of
course, to shake hands with Mrs. Formica, whose apparently warm kiss
fell on the edge of a braid of her chestnut hair with the weight and
coldness of a snow-flake. Her face settled into rigidity when she
turned to speak to Osgood, and, like a transparent boy, he looked,
with all the earnestness his gray eyes were capable of, straight into
hers. Aunt Formica and Barclay read a story at once upon the text his
countenance furnished; but they both made the mistake of believing
that Lily had rejected him. Lily was too much occupied in managing her
own feelings to divine Osgood’s. The imperative necessity of
concealment, which all tutored women feel, governed her. She laughed a
great deal, though nobody said a witty thing, and kept her eyes going
between Mrs. Formica and Barclay with a steadiness which equaled the
movements of the wax women in the Broadway shop windows. Mr. Formica
and Dr. Black added themselves to the party, and the relief of an
introduction to the Doctor came to Lily. She approached him, and his
honest face induced her to skirmish lightly with him; but not a word
did he utter of the whys and wherefores of his being with Osgood. He
would not, at any rate, extend his self-elected office of chorus so
far as to include her. He felt a dislike toward her. She was too thin,
he thought; there was an air of wear and tear about her which was not
pleasant. He felt, too, that she knew more than Osgood; and a woman,
in his estimation, should never be the intellectual superior of a man
she might make choice of. But the Doctor was an Englishman; his ideas
of women had been developed by the cynical Thackeray and the material
Dickens. There was a line between the two classes of women he only
believed to exist—the bad capable woman and the good foolish
woman—which could never be crossed by one or the other. The elements
which go to make up a man, of good and evil mixed, never enter into
the composition of the women of Englishmen of the present time. It is
possible that Lily discovered Dr. Black’s impression: she discovered
it so nearly that she was certain Osgood had talked of her with him.
Why had he? she wondered.
In a few minutes the party fell apart as naturally as it had come
together. Lily went on her walk with Barclay; after which she retired
to dress for luncheon, but instead of appearing thereat kept her room
Osgood avoided every body; he was tormented with an idea that Lily had
suffered. There was no reason for his thinking so; he derived the idea
from reasoning with himself—reasoning which meeting with her had put
in play. In the evening he went to the drawing-room, and waited till
he saw her come in. Barclay, who was waiting too, darted toward her,
but Osgood reached her first. When Barclay saw Lily take the arm which
Osgood offered her, he turned away; but changing his mind again went
up to them.
“Osgood,” he said, in a frank voice, “you have not congratulated me on
my engagement to your friend Lily.”
Talk of heroes and martyrs; was not Lily both, at that moment,
standing between these two men, with her hair dressed by a barber, and
wearing a pale blue silk?
She eyed with a dainty air a little bouquet she held in her hand, of
tea-roses and geraniums, and applied it to her nose with great
deliberation. She felt an impetus from Osgood’s arm. He had not
answered Barclay, but was dragging her decorously out of the
drawing-room. When they were alone he spoke to her.
“I have faced death since I saw you. I have grown a man; but until
now, I did not know that I loved you. Which man do you belong to?”
“I have faced life since I saw you,” she answered, in a silvery
voice, “and I belong to Barclay Dodge.”
“Let us go back.”
She tossed her bouquet over the railing of the veranda with a
vindictive smile which would have astonished Osgood had he seen it.
Barclay was on the threshold; he looked at Lily and missed the
bouquet; it was not in Osgood’s button-hole—what could she have done
with it? He looked at Osgood, and saw that his teeth were set with a
passion which he could understand. Lily sat down in the nearest chair,
and the young men moved away together.
“There is no need of any nonsense between us,” said Osgood; “I was
under a wrong impression regarding your engagement. I do offer my
“Thank you,” said Barclay, dubiously. And then they looked at each
other with mad eyes. What a relief it would have been if they could
have fought to the death!
Osgood left Barclay abruptly, and sought his Aunt Formica.
“Aunt!” he said, in a mild voice, “you need not ask Conch to blow any
horn for me. I am going to sea.”
“You will be better when she is married,” she answered, significantly.
“I intend to before that. Your surmise is incorrect. You do not know
that I ran away from Lily, as well as from you and the Sub-Treasury.”
“What do you mean?”
“I offered myself to her; she accepted me, and on the strength of it I
left her immediately. What do you think of me?”
“She is a little wretch. Did you care for her very much?”
“I thought she couldn’t make a poor man a good wife, after I had
asked her to be such. And I thought a poor man wouldn’t be a good
“It was the height of foolishness in both of you. It is most unwise
for two people who have had luxuries separately to join and give them
“Luxuries! I wish you knew Peter and Maria.”
“Osgood, you are morbid.”
“Now, aunt, hear me. I am resolved to choose my own life; you must let
me go. Whatever way I go, I shall not disgrace you. Formica may give
me a sailor’s outfit, if he chooses. Meantime let us enjoy ourselves
for the remainder of the week.” Notwithstanding she saw that he was
determined, she applied to Senator Conch for a place, and he promised
her one for Osgood in a department at Washington. When she told Osgood
of it, he deigned no reply; but shook his head so fiercely that she
forebore to trouble him.
Every day that he saw Lily she learned his nature by the contrast
Barclay offered; she also learned to doubt herself. She never had been
worthy of Osgood; it was fit that she should marry Barclay. She
doubted whether she could keep up the strain, which she knew Osgood’s
love would impose upon her, of self-abnegation, self-denial,
isolation, and independence. She was not sure that she did not prefer
enervation with Barclay to action with Osgood. Barclay watched them
both. Jealousy gnawed his soul, not because he doubted Osgood, but
because he had a suspicion that Lily once felt an interest in Osgood,
which might be on the point of awakening. He tried experiments upon
her feelings, pinched them, tore them up by the roots, extracted them
with wrenches of his will, applied slow fire; but he learned nothing.
His motive was so palpable to Osgood that he more than once felt on
the point of knocking him down, and had he seen any encouraging sign
from Lily he would have done it. He sometimes sighed over Barclay’s
failure, hateful as his conduct was.
Through the torture which Barclay applied to her she saw the passion
which tortured him. Could a woman have been quailed into love she
would have been at his feet; for he broke loose from his feigned
submission and savagely demanded an equal return of his love. Then
came the full measure of her punishment. She was incapable of rising
to the strength, height, and abandon of Barclay’s love. She was just
as unworthy of him as she was of Osgood.
How she hated herself!
Somehow she heard that Osgood was going to sea. It is probable that
Aunt Formica’s feminine malice directed the disclosure to her ears.
She staggered Dr. Black a moment after she heard the report by asking
if it was true.
“It is,” he answered, with dignity, though inwardly scared.
She asked no other question of him, but snapped her fan together and
“Lily does not want you to go to sea,” he said, when next he saw
Osgood blew a ring of cigar smoke into the air and watched its
“If wedding rings would only disappear that way!” said the Doctor.
Osgood blew another. “Include engagement rings,” he said.
“One did vanish,” replied the Doctor, slyly.
“I do not believe so. I swear she wears two this moment.”
He left the Doctor, shut himself in his room, and wrote a long letter
to Peter about himself, Lily, and Barclay, and posted it.
“Peter will understand me,” he thought; “and more than that, he will
The last day of the Formicas’ stay in Saratoga came. Osgood and Dr.
Black appeared in traveling costume. Lily saw them enter the
breakfast-room, and followed them with her father. As she passed their
chairs, she asked, “Do you go to-day?” Osgood bowed. Dr. Black engaged
Mr. Tree in making a remark.
“Why do you go?” she asked.
“Because Barclay stays,” he whispered.
She turned a fiery red and passed on. He looked across the table once
and met her eyes. She thought they said “Farewell.” A wild wish rose
in her heart which compelled all her nature to give way to it, to
speak to him once more; to see him alone, and force him to tell her if
he loved her. She resolved to find him somewhere, at all hazards.
Dr. Black watched her also. His comment was, that she was “coming to a
crisis,” and was beautifully following out the laws which governed her
sex. “Why can’t they be something without hysterics?” he lamented.
“Osgood will break down if he is not got away.” He mechanically turned
back his wristbands.
Lily waited in an ante-room, whose door Osgood must pass on his way
out, and when he came, beckoned to him.
“Say your farewell to me as you feel it,” she said, her eyes in a
“I can not.”
Her eyes and her voice threw him into a tumult; had he followed the
desire which assailed him, he would have taken her in his arms and
carried her off. As it was, he looked at her, with a far-off look, as
if he were calling some one to his aid.
“Osgood, Osgood!” she cried.
She wrung her hands.
“Lily!” he said again.
“No, no, you need not speak; you may go.”
Both of them gained a victory.
“After I have gone,” he said, “if you think it proper, will you visit
Peter and Maria?”
“Peter and Maria?”
“The friends I found when I left you, who helped me to find a better
self—a self that at last finds you.”
“I will go.”
“To-morrow, then, I will write you of them.”
He was gone.
In a few days she received a letter which contained the narrative of
his sojourn with Peter and Maria, and a letter of introduction to
them. She showed the letter to Barclay.
“Shall you meet him there?”
She gave him no answer.
“On what terms are you with yourself?” he continued.
“To answer candidly, bad terms.”
“Could you marry that beggar on better?”
“Tell me, are you satisfied with your choice?”
She looked so irresolute that he trembled and was sorry that he had
asked the question. Her better angel took wings, however, and she laid
her hand on his shoulder, saying, “I make no other.”
So she went on her travels with Barclay in her train, and Osgood went
on a voyage in the Stormy Petrel as third mate. When autumn came,
and the travelers had returned to town, Lily grew miserable. One day
she told Barclay that she wanted to read him a poem. He composed
himself to listen, and she read “The Palace of Art.”
“‘What is it that will take away my sin,
And save me lest I die?’”—
“Barclay,” she entreated, “let me throw your royal robes away, and
go to those friends of Osgood’s, where I may learn that I am either
worthy of you or of him.”
A stormy scene ensued. He would neither allow her to go, he said, nor
would he give her back her promise to him. But she was firm, and said
that she must go. His imprecations and his tears agitated her, but did
not shake her resolution. She had a battle with her father also when
she mentioned the subject, but she triumphed over him so far as to
make him promise to accompany her. She sent the letter of introduction
to Peter, and received a pithy reply from him. He advised her to come.
With Peter and Maria she learned why Osgood wished her to visit them.
She left them with a request that they should allow her to return
whenever she should wish.
She found Barclay sullen and unhappy; but in spite of himself she
convinced him that they were not intended for each other. It was a
work to persuade him to the contrary; but at last they parted not as
foes but friends.
When the engagement was annulled she took pains to ascertain from the
owners of the Stormy Petrel what time she was expected home, and
before the date of her arrival she went on a visit to Peter and Maria.
There she studied the Marine List till she saw that the Stormy
Petrel was in port. She said nothing of the fact to Peter, but as he
read the Marine List too, he found it out for himself. He went away in
his wagon a few mornings afterward, and when he returned Osgood was
“Thee is as white as a ghost, Lily,” said Maria, after a few minutes.
Osgood put his arm round her, and they kissed each other. Peter pushed
his hat on the back of his head, and kissed Maria, and said, “Give me