FROM the lounge where Fred Shaw was lying, he could easily look out of the low window into Senter Place, and at the usually “uninterrupted view across the street.” Just now it was interrupted so fully with a driving snow-storm, that the houses opposite were scarcely visible. The wind tossed the great flakes up and across and whirled them in circles, as if loath to let them go at all to the ground. There was something lively and merry in it, too, as if the flakes themselves were joyful and dancing in the abundance of their life,—as if they and the wind had a life of their own, as well as poor stupid mortals, that cowered under cover, and shut themselves away from the broad, free air. How foolish it is, to be sure! Here comes one now, turning into the place,—well covered, a fur tippet about his face,—slapping his arms on his chest, —a defiant smile on his brown face, and a look of expectancy in his eyes. Yes! there they are at the window,—wife and children! The smile melts into a broad laugh, as the snow-flakes dash madly at his eyes and nose. There they are,— rosy, well, and warm! From the warmest corner of his heart comes up a quick throb that takes away his breath;—he runs up the steps,—the door opens,—one, two, three little faces,—it shuts. The snow-flakes gallop on again, madly, joyfully.
Behind the man who ran up the steps, a girl of eighteen walked swiftly and firmly over the drifting heaps on the sidewalk. Her eyes glanced upward at the sky. There are four immense clouds, of a very light gray, with silver edges, trying to meet over a speck of blue. They tumble and clamber, and press all for the same point; but whether the wind is too variable for them to gather in one mass, or for whatever meteorological reason, she does not guess, but she is attracted to the sky and gazes at it as she walks rapidly on.
Fred recognizes the blue eyes and glowing face, as they go past the window. It is only Sister Minnie. Not coming here, after all! No. And the clouds could not overcome and hide the blue sky. It shone out serenely and hopefully, like Minnie’s own encouraging spirit. She breasts the storm gallantly. If she can only get round the corner into C——Street! But here all the tempest seems collected to battle with her. She wraps herself a little closer, and holds her breath. A few steps more,—she turns round,—places her back full at the driving storm,—and draws a long breath. Now for it! The flakes stop suddenly, as if awed by the quiet determination in the young face. They fall to the ground, stilly. The blue sky looks out, the sun shimmers white for five minutes. Minnie walks rapidly,— runs up the steps,—rings,—and takes into the house with her a full, fresh life, that vibrates from cellar to attic in harmonious energy.
The afternoon wanes. Fred has dined. He takes his meerschaum from the teapoy by his side and examines it critically. How for the color? Is it just the right shade to stop? No. A very little darker. This is growing quite beautiful. Almost like an agate. Which of those six is the prettiest, after all? He thinks a seventh, which he remembers lying on Little’s mantel-piece, outdoes the whole. That of Little’s was not carved, nor silver-mounted even, and yet connoisseurs pronounced it worth a hundred and fifty dollars. Not one of these is worth ten. He smokes again, and looks at the cannel coal as it leaps into flame. The room is very still; not a footfall can be heard in the house;—partly because the doors are hung with a view to silence and the floors thickly carpeted, and partly because there are only two servants in-doors, and those men. The cook cannot speak English, and Fred’s own man, a jewel in his way, is taciturn to a fault. If Fred would be honest with himself, he would acknowledge that the third-hand chatter of anybody’s kitchen would often be a delightful relief to his solitude. But then how could he follow up his system of self-culture? That and society are quite incompatible things. However, he yawns fearfully.
But what then? Has the man no mind, no cultivation, no taste? Things do not indicate any such want. The walls of the room in which he is just now lounging have their crimson and gold almost covered with pictures,—copies of rare Murillos and Raphaels, and an original head of a boy, by Greuze, with the lips as fresh as they were a hundred years ago. An exquisite “Dying Stork,” in bronze, stands on a bracket below Sassoferrato’s sweetest Madonna, and Retzsch’s “Hamlet” lies open on a side-table. The three Canovian Graces stand in a corner opposite him, and he glances at the pedestal which stands ready to receive “Eve at the Fountain.” The pedestal has been there two weeks already, waiting for the “Oxford” to arrive with its many precious Art-burdens. It stands near the window; it will be a good light for it. Fred wishes, for the hundredth time, that it would come along. There are books, surely? Oh, yes, one side of the room is a complete bookcase,—tasteful, inside and out.
The small room which opens into this luxurious sitting-room has a high north window, and near it stands Fred’s easel, with a half-finished head on a canvas. Already it has changed its aspect twenty times. Sometimes it is a Nymph, sometimes a Naiad, sometimes Undine. Once, he dashed all the green of the woodnymph’s forest, with one stroke, into green water, intending to put in Undine, with a boat. He has not fulfilled his intention; but he works on, with the luxurious abandonment of genius to its spell, be it what it may. He does not care what it ends in. One of Fred’s theories is, that the imagination, by constant and intense exercise, may so project the image it conceives, as to make it the subject of ocular contemplation and imitation. Why not? All objects of sight are painted on a flat surface, and it is by experience, comparison, nay, in some measure by the will, that we get our ideas of their shape and distance. Poor Blake’s insane painting of imaginary heads, which he saw three or six feet from him, was the only true and rational method of painting at all. Think of your thought,—intensify it,—create it,—create it perfectly,—define it carefully,—group it gracefully, —color it exquisitely,—project it, by an intense effort of the will, into the space before you. There it stands. Now paint it.
He is fond of dwelling on this theory; and as nobody takes the trouble to contradict him, he has come to believe it truth, through hearing it often repeated. He has explained it to Minnie more than twenty times, and says he is almost ready to paint. Not quite. He must lie on the sofa a year, perhaps two years longer, before he will be able to satisfy himself. But then, what is a year, two, ten years, in an eternity of fame?
The conception being completely projected from the brain in a visible form, what remains but the mechanical imitation of it? Anybody can do that. The thing is the conception. In vain Minnie suggests the vulgar notion of acquiring facility by drawing and copying things in general.
“Entirely unnecessary, Minnie. What! is not genius before rules? Why should I imitate Titian’s tints, when I can copy my own fancies? When I get my ideal perfected, you will soon see it real. I can copy it in half an hour. If it is in me, it will come out of me, like Curran’s eloquence.”
“But,” says Minnie, doubtfully, looking at the easel where the golden curls and heavenly eyes of an angel are obscured by the russet-brown of a beginning woodnymph, “why don’t you keep to one idea, Fred?”
"Oh, because I choose to be fancyfree. I will not have my imagination trammelled. Let it wander at its own sweet will. You will see, Minnie, byand-by. Now, here I have been getting up a head,—not painting it, you know. Sometimes I can almost see the eyes. But they elude me,—I haven’t quite command of them yet. But I shall get it,—I shall get it yet!”
Minnie remembers the same things said to her ever since she was a child. Fred used to tell it all over to her then. He was so much older than she was,— fourteen years,—that she was quite flattered by being thought worthy to listen to his theories of all sorts. However, since she had come to think for herself, one by one all these theories had faded out of her mind and seemed like last year's clouds. She had discovered that it was useless to controvert them, and generally listened with some pretence of patience. The last time she had said, at the first pause,—
"Now, Fred, I must go. But I want you to contribute a little, if you will, to my poor’s library,—and if you will, a little, too, to poor Sophia.”
“Little Sister Minnie,” answered Fred, curtly, “don’t annoy me. If you enjoy digging out beggar-women, and adorning them with all sorts of comforts and pleasures, do it. I don’t ask you not to. Will you give me the same privilege of following my own pleasure?”
“But, Fred!” said Minnie, astonished, “only last week, what did you do for poor Sophia? More than I could in a year,—two, three years! For you know I have only my thirty dollars quarterly for everything, and sometimes I have so little to give!”
“Why do you give, then, dear Minnie?” said Fred, languidly smiling.
“Oh, if you ask that, why did you give, last Monday? You gave—let me see—fifty-four dollars; every cent, you had in your purse. Oh, the things I bought for her with it! Paid rent, bought medicine, blankets,—oh, so many needed comforts! Now, why did you give?” said Minnie, with a triumphant smile,— “for now I have him,” she thought.
“To save myself pain.—that’s all.”
Minnie looked puzzled.
“Nothing else, I do assure you. No very great virtue in that. The fact was, I was bored, and, to tell the truth, somewhat shocked, by your ‘poor Sophia’s’ ailments, which I came upon so inopportunely,—and I was glad to empty my pockets to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling.”
“Well, then, save yourself pain again, Fred,—for I assure you she suffers constantly for want of simple alleviations, which a small sum of money would afford her. Oh, she needs so many things, and everything is so dear! And she has so many helpless children, and no husband, and so bowed with rheumatism”—
“Minnie! excuse me for interrupting you; but can you find nothing but rheumatism to talk about? It is of all subjects the least tasteful to me."
“My dear Fred!” And there Minnie stopped. She was both hurt and puzzled.
Fred laughed. His good-humor returned at the sight of her mystified face, and the opportunity of explaining some of his theories of morals.
“In the first place, Minnie, what do we live for?”
Minnie had not thought. She was only eighteen, and had acted.
“Well, I dare say you have never considered the subject. I have, a great deal. You see, Minnie, we are born to pursue happiness. You allow that.”
“Yes,—I suppose so,” said Minnie.
“Well, then, if I look at the wrong thing, and call it happiness, it is my mistake, and I only shall pay for it. You find your happiness in an active life and works of mercy. Very well, do so. You devote a certain part of your income, small as it is, to that sort of pleasure. I devote mine to my pleasures. They are different from yours. You might call them selfish. What then? So are yours.
I don’t say you are not modest and humble, and all that; but you do enjoy your old women, and your fussy charityschools. Very well. That is all I do with my drawing, my lounging, my smoking, my reading. And I think, Minnie,” added Fred, laughing, “I have the added grace of humility; for I am far from making a merit of my sort of life.”
“No,—it would be difficult to make a merit of it,” said Minnie.
That was clear enough, Fred loved to have her for an auditor. So long as she could not see over him, he was as good as infinite to her.
“In the first place, Minnie, you must allow, it is a duty to surround ourselves with the beautiful in all things. It conduces to the highest self-culture; and self-culture is our first duty.”
“Is it? Surely, it cannot be! Oh, you mean we ought rather to attend to our own faults than those of others?”
“I mean as I say. Self-culture is our first duty, both moral and intellectual. I might add, also, that to take care of Number One is a dictate of common prudence. You allow that? Well, First, then, the body cared for, all right. Then the morals,—attend to your own, and let other people’s alone. Then, thirdly, your intellect. Now, then, it becomes a positive duty, ‘the duty that lies nearest to me,’ to cultivate that. And to do that, Minnie, I am obliged to draw on myself to my very last dollar. To refine the taste by familiarity with the highest objects of taste, to appreciate Art, to develop the intellect, to bring one’s self to conceive and grasp the Universal, the Beautiful, to raise one’s self in the scale of created things by creative fancies imitating the Highest,—ah! in fact, Minnie, self-culture becomes a duty,—indeed, our first duty.”
Something in Minnie’s face—it was not a smile—made Fred turn the subject a little.
“Now, really, if every one would take care of one, and that one himself, don’t you see there would be no more want or suffering in this weary world? no more need of blankets or dispensaries? Each is happy, comfortable, and self-cultured in his proportion. A universal harmony prevails. Like the planets, self-revolving, and moving, each in his chosen orbit, they shout and sing for joy. How much better this than to be eccentrically darting off in search of somebody’s tears to wipe, somebody’s wounds to bandage,— who, indeed, would have neither wounds nor grief, if they would follow my simple rule!”
Minnie laughed a little at her brother’s grave sophistry, but had no wish to contest the point with him.
“It is no merit in me, but, as you say, rather self-indulgence, to be looking up and relieving destitute cases. But it would be merit in you, if you don’t like it; and you might have all that, and none of the annoyances.”
Her bright face glowed; and Fred liked to look at her when she was excited; the coloring beat Titian’s, he thought.
“You don’t know how painful to me it is to hold out empty hands to so many sufferers”—
But now Minnie’s face looked so sorrowful that there was nothing specially beautiful in the coloring, and Fred said, impatiently,—
“You bore me, Minnie. I am waiting to take my afternoon nap.”
And he turned positively over towards the wall.
The sight of Minnie, swiftly walking through the driving storm to-day, brought up to Fred’s memory all the talk they had had in that very room, he lying in the same place, a fortnight ago. Since that day he had not seen Minnie, except casually; and, indeed, she seemed very busy and very happy, if one might judge by her lighted face and her laden arm. Something keener than philosophy, subtiler than Epicurus, pricked Fred, as Minnie vanished into the cloud of snowflakes.
He glanced around the apartment. It was still luxurious; but “custom had staled the infinite variety” of its ornament and furnishing. Already he was dissatisfied with this and that. Where to place a new bas-relief that had struck him at Cotton’s the day before, and which he had purchased on the spot, without considering that there was no room for it in the library? There it leaned against the wall,—not so big as the Vicar’s familypicture, but quite as much in the way.
“The room looks loaded. I ought to have a gallery for these things. I wonder if I couldn’t buy Carter’s house, and push a gallery through from the top of my stairway.”
He touched the bell, and lay down again.
Martin entered softly, let down the crimson curtains, so as to exclude the vanishing light, and stirred the crimson cannel into a newer radiance.
“This weather frets my nerves, Martin. My face aches. Give me the bottle of chloroform in my chamber.”
He inhaled the subtile fluid two or three times, and handed it back to Martin. It made no difference, he said. He would try to sleep. So Martin went out on tiptoe and closed the door.
The chloroform probably did relieve him, for he thought no more of the uneasiness in his face; but he was not only not at all sleepy, but every sense seemed wide awake,—wide awake to its utmost capacity of perception. It was as if a misty veil were suddenly removed from before his eyes, and he saw, what indeed had always been there, but what in his abstraction or inattention he had never before noticed. For instance, he noticed at once that Martin had not quite closed the curtains, but had left an inch or two open, and the window open besides. The air, however, had grown soft, and the wind must have gone down, for it did not stir the drapery. He looked again, to be certain he was right. Yes, —there was an inch clear, where the wind might come in, if it liked. Martin was growing blind or stupid. However, he did not so much think that. On the whole, it was more likely that his own senses were sharpening. That would be a good thing, though,—to be wiser and sharper and clearer-sighted than all the rest of the world! He would like that advantage. And why might he not have it? Already he perceived a marked difference from his usual sensuous condition. It was unnatural, preternatural,— and yet, a state which could be produced at will. It was easily done. Just homoeopathy, in fact. A little sniff, a minute dose, and he could see and hear with a miraculous clearness; but people would take a dozen, and then they grew stupid.
He looked again around the room. Was it fancy, now? Perhaps it was. It was not likely the Madonna was winking in a heretic’s parlor. Besides, it was the same sort of no-motion he had watched many a time in the twilight, when the door seemed to swing backward and forward in the dusky air, following the dilation and contraction of his own eyes. He tried it now on the Madonna. He opened his eyes as widely as possible, and the drooping lids of the picture evidently half-raised themselves from the dark, soft orbs. He nearly closed his own, and hers bent again in serenest contemplation.
He loooked at the bronze figure of the “Dying Stork,” which was placed below the picture, and started to see that it moved also, and with a strange, unnatural, galvanic sort of movement, like the “animated oat,” which moves when placed on the hand after being warmed a moment in the mouth. The legs sprung against the reeds and flags, in the same way.
Lastly, he looked at the bas-relief which stood near, leaning against the wall. It was very, very strange. Had the old fable of Pygmalion a truth in it, then? And could the same genius that created also give life and warmth to its productions? Beneath the marble he could see the soft, living pulse, distinctly; and the wind that blew over the mountains, beyond the river, ruffled the waves about the tiny boat. Even the star above the child’s head sparkled in the depths of the sky.
Fred was delighted. “It is enchantment!” he said. But no,—it was one of those miracles that have not yet become commonplace. The poetic life that his perceptions were now able to enjoy, in inanimate nature, would be such a perpetual gratification to his taste,—such an incentive to explorations and discoveries! He could not felicitate himself enough.
“A thousand times better than the microscope,” said he to himself again. “Atoms are annoying and disgusting to look at, with their incomprehensible and frightful minuteness, and their horrible celerity. One does not like to think that everything is composed of myriads, be they ever so beautiful,—which they are not, that ever I could see, but chiefly all head or a wriggling tail. Bah! This is much better. Hark! I can hear the waves dash,—the hope-song of the child, —and the breeze moving against the delicate sails!
“How delightful it will be to travel, with this new-found faculty! Whenever I choose, I can have the talking bird, the singing tree, and the laughing water! I always thought those peeps into irrational nature the chief charm of the Arabian tales. How little did I dream of ever being able to read with my own eyes the riddle of the world! By-the-way, let me look at my Graces, and see if they, too, are conscious forms of beauty.”
He turned to the group. Alas! even the Graces were not proof against the ordeal of constant society. Perhaps, if he had reflected, he would not have expected it. In truth, it was surprising to see how many disagreeable sentiments they all three contrived to express, without untwining their arms, or loosening their fond and graceful hold on each other. A slight elevation of the eyebrow, a curve of the lovely mouth, or a shrug from the Parian shoulders,—how expressive,—how surprising! But Fred need not have been surprised; they never set up for Faith, Hope, and Charity. What he most wondered at was that they still looked so lovely, when they were clearly full of all pagan naughtiness. They might as well have been women.
Fred pondered on this for some time. Then, it seemed, everything had a latent life in it. He had suspected as much. “There is always a something,” said he, “in what we make, not only beyond what we intend to make, but different from it. We study a long time the powers of position,—in chess, for example;—how much is produced by one move that we did not anticipate, and perhaps cannot ascertain,—certainly not prevent! How many times we are wittier than we meant to be,—striking out, by our unconscious blow, thoughts related to the one we utter, but far more brilliant,—and ourselves becoming conscious of the very good thing we have said only by its effect on the company! So it is, I fancy, with all our mental movements. The brain acts independently of the will in sleep. Why not, in a great measure, when awake? Probably, as all Nature has a movement of its own, so all Art may be made to have, by the infusion and absorption of so much of the creative energy of the artist,—hidden to the common eye, but palpitating to the instructed touch, throbbing or sparkling to the instructed eye. Yes, it must be so. The south-wind sighs a thousand times more mournfully through the keyhole than Thalberg can make it do on the piano. What music there was in those stones the man brought round, the other day, and played on with a stick! And now, the sound here from the gas-tube, how wailing, how sorrowful!—now, how triumphant!"
Fred was so delighted with watching the gas-burner, and listening to the wild music which floated through it, that he did not at first observe that the wind had risen and was blowing almost a gale. Presently, in his speculations as to the cause of such a sudden flood of melody, he hit on the possibility of a current of air.
“But, then, how comes the air to be so full of music? Never mind,—I’ll put the window down.”
However, just as he was putting it down, a snow-flake, one of a hundred, all pressing for the same point, flew past him, and alighted on the green velvet tabouret.
It was nothing,—only a snow-flake,— and another time, Fred would have thought nothing of it. But in the novel awakening of his faculties, even a snowflake had a new interest. With intense eagerness he watched the movement of the little thing,—and yet, feeling that he might be on forbidden ground, he had the presence of mind to seem not to see or hear. If inanimate Nature were once to suspect his new insight, what a bustle there would be! He almost closed his eyes, and lay still, where he could watch and yet seem asleep. His prudence and caution were well rewarded.
The snow-flake was, as he suspected, as much alive as the wind: and that was singing, shouting, dying away in ecstasies, at this very moment.
He glanced at her. Lithe, sparkling, graceful, she gathered her soft drapery about her, and stood poised delicately on one foot, while she looked around the apartment in which she found herself. Fred could see that she was moulded more beautifully than the Graces,—by so much more as Nature is fairer than all Art,—and that she had an inward pure coldness, beside which Diana’s was only stone. Yet it was not indifference, like that of the wild huntress,—not an incapacity to feel, but only that her time had not come; when it should, she would melt as well as another. Now she stood still and calm. She did not once look at him. She had seen human beings before,—plenty of them. Something else attracted her, —thrilled her, evidently; for the faintest rose-color suffused her beautiful form; she changed her attitude, and bent forward her graceful head.
Something about “warming his hands by thinking on the frosty Caucasus" passed through Fred’s mind, and some law of association impelled him to look at the fire. It was queer enough, that, as many times as he had looked at that fire by the hour together, he had never before noticed its shape or expression. Only last night, he had watched it, dancing and flickering just as it did now, and never once suspected the truth!
Mailed figures! Yes, plenty of them, —golden-helmeted and sworded like the seraphim! A glorious band, gathering, twining, shooting past each other,—jousting, tilting,—with blazing banners, and a field broader than that of the “Cloth of Gold”; for this reached to and mingled with the clouds,—yea, tinted them with flame-color and roses,—and garlanded the earth with crimson blossoms that nestled among her forests on the far-off horizon. What a wide field, indeed! And how far might these blazes and flames go, when once they set out? To the stars, perhaps. Fred did not see what should stop them. The atmosphere might, possibly. He must study that out.
Meanwhile how strangely far he could see! What a power it was! What a new interest it gave to Nature! Nature, he must confess, had always seemed rather flat to him, on the whole. He had always liked the imitations better than the original,—pictures better than people,— busts better than philosophers. But now the case is altered. He has got what his friend Norris calls “glorification-spectacles.” Now he can have perpetual amusement. Why, it is vastly better than Asmodeus peeping in at the tops of houses. By the same token, snow-flakes are more interesting than humanity.
Speaking of snow-flakes, what does he see, but that she is evidently yielding to the soft enchantment of the nearest flame-god,—drawn thither by resistless affinity, and melting, in his burning arms, to the most delicate vapor! Snow-flake no more, yet not absorbed nor lost! Rather taking her true place, transported from the earth-tempests to a warmer and higher sphere of action.
That might be, but not yet. In their new vaporous condition, in which both had lost some of their prominent qualities, they had acquired new relations, perhaps new duties. At all events, they did not at once ascend to their kindred ether,—but swam, glided, floated, above and around, and finally separated. Watching them keenly, Fred could distinctly see that the some-time snow-flake left her sphere and came gradually towards himself. As the vaporous shape floated nearer, it also grew larger, so that, although Fred could not have said certainly that the size was human, it relieved him from the impression of any fairy or elf or sprite. No, it was nothing of that sort. It was just the gentlest, calmest, serenest face and form in the world,—with the same look of pure sweetness he had noticed on her first entrance, —with a peculiar surprised look in her wide-open eyes, that he had seen but in one human face. As well tell the truth,— the face, expression, and all, were as like Annie Peyton’s, as her portrait, drawn in water-colors, could possibly have been.
The shape sat down by him,—her vaporous garment still folding softly around her, and her clear, open eyes fixed on him. There was no need of speech, for he read her face as if written by Heaven’s own hand; and the coarse and selfish philosophy which had sufficed partially to stun and confuse Minnie fled at the presence of the spirit. Not a word still from the calm, sweet face. It looked on him with pity and surprise. Then all the ideas and convictions that throng on the mind warped, but not lost, pressed on him. He hid his face in the sofa-cushions.
His presence of mind returned as a new thought struck him. It was an ocular delusion, surely. He sprang up, took three or four turns across the room, rubbed his eyes smartly, and took his seat again. For a moment he would not look towards the chair. When at last he did look, the airy, soft form was still there, looking steadily into his eyes.
“What an idea!” exclaimed he, impatiently. “I might put my hands through it, like the flame of a candle. It is nothing but vapor. What is it made of? Nothing but a snow-flake and the gas from cannel coal. I saw it, myself, melting and falling together into this beautiful shape. But then it is only a shape. It is not a body. Oh, but then it may be a soul! Who knows what souls are made of? Snow-flakes and vapor, perhaps. Who knows, indeed?”
He looked about the room. Everything was in its natural and usual place. The fire burned merrily; the wind swept fitfully without, and all was quiet within. A very uncomfortable feeling, of mingled awe and curiosity, took possession of him. He did not quite like to look at the shape. He thought.—
“Can this be the spiritual body that St. Paul says is to supersede the natural one? If this is, indeed, the soul of Annie Peyton,—why, she knows, somehow, what is in mine. And, by Jove! I can see her soul now, too, without any trouble! She can’t hide her real feelings now from me, any more than I can my character from her. There's some good in it, anyhow!”
With some effort, he raised his eyes, —very respectfully, indeed; for though he was only about to look at a soul, he was full as much overpowered as if it had been the body. His eyes fell.
“If I dared to look! But she knows how I feel. I suppose she sees me now, —shivering from head to foot like a— Somehow, I can’t look her in the eyes. However, this won’t do!” And he looked quickly and timidly into the now smiling face.
He need not have been so timid. If a soul could discern evil, it could, also, good; and this spirit was quick to see the last. Without a word,—but when were words necessary to souls?—with only a glance, she expressed so much love and pity for him, that Fred was ashamed to look her in the face. “Oh! if she could really see him,” he thought, “would she look so?” Perhaps so. For the Intelligence that sees the evil can clearest of all see the mitigations, the causes, and the sore temptations; and the fruit of the widest knowledge is the widest love.
Something like this passed from the soul that sat opposite Fred into his awakening and sensitive consciousness:—
“You have never tasted the pleasures of useful activity,” the sweet face said. “Come with me, and we will look together, and see what good may come, and also what enjoyment, from it.”
Now it was, for the first time, that Fred fully understood his position. It came like a gleam of light on his puzzled intellect, and made that quite clear which had before been so mystical and cloudy, that he had been ready to rub his eyes, and to doubt, almost, the evidence of his senses. He remembered his old and a thousand times repeated theory of “projected images.” Here it was. Instead of a fancy, a thought, here was the whole of Annie Peyton’s soul (which, to be sure, had often enough occupied his mind) projected from his own, perhaps, so as to be a subject of contemplation to his bodily eyes. Or, what was more likely, the soul itself of Annie Peyton might have left her body for a time in a dream. It was among the possibilities, though he had never before believed it to be. But then, again, how could his soul go off on an exploring tour with Annie’s? His soul was safe in his body, and that, namely, the body, lying on the sofa,—the room close, the window down. Just then, he glanced toward the window, and remembered that he had not fastened it at all. There was room enough for a soul to pass easily. But then, again, how was his soul to pass,—to get out, in the first place, of his body? Easily enough. The concentrated effort of will, which could give shape to a fancy, and place it outside the eye, could, by sustained action, separate all the perceptive powers from the senses,—in short, the spirit from its envelope.
“To know, to perceive, to suffer, to rejoice, do not require skin and bones. The heart weeps while the eye is dry; the lips smile while the heart is breaking. One might have a conventional soul, —to keep house, as it were, and do all the honors of society, while the real one went abroad to regions of truth and beauty, and bathed in living waters!”
While Fred continued so to think and speculate, and also to separate, and, as it were, classify his ideas, he was pleased to perceive, that, without any very strong volition on his part, but only from the analytical processes of his reason, that portion of his mind which perceived and enjoyed the truth of things became condensed and separated from the conventional, the factitious, and the merely sensual. The qualities, or states, or whatever the metaphysician calls them, fell off him, as garments do in a dream, and left himself, his very self, separate, and a little distant, from his body. He perceived this rather than saw it. He knew it, but could not assert it. The body, with its bodily wants and limitations, leaned on the couch, half slumberously; while the mind, himself, full of vague aspirations, keen intellectual hunger, and overlaid with error, obstinacy, and the thick crust of self-contemplation, which stifles all true progress.—these assimilated qualities made himself, what he felt he was, not an attractive object to himself more than to anybody else. All his perceptions pointed inward, and cramped and narrowed his existence. He felt very, very small.
“This is strange,” he reasoned, “that I should have such a sense of contraction! I crowd on myself, as it were. My thoughts hit me, press me, instead of elevating me. I cannot see why; for the habit of looking up to no goodness or intelligence but the Supreme must surely be a good one, and self-education and development the noblest process for a human being.”
He said this in a mechanical sort of way, as if it were a lesson he remembered at school. But it made no impression on him, and did not relieve his difficulty. He knew it, somehow, to be false, and felt it falling off as he spoke, as if it were the last remnant of gauzy sophistry.
Fred had never been fond of churchgoing, nor was he much given to reading the Holy Scriptures. Indeed, he rather affected the style of the Latter-Day Saints, who look for a better and nobler Messiah than came in the Son of Mary. But just now, fifty texts of Scripture, which he must have learned long ago at his mother’s knee, came crowding upon his memory.
“Though I have all gifts, and have not charity, I am nothing.”
“He that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
“He that loveth not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?”
“Little children, love one another.”
“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
And so on,—interminably. In a helpless, vague way, he looked at the shadow by his side.
“You like pictures, and paint them,” said she, speaking for the first time;— and the voice was precisely the tone he had recognized in the music of the wind; he had thought then it was like hers;— “look with me at these two.”
They were, indeed, magnificent pictures. They reached from floor to ceiling. Fred was artist enough to enjoy fully the wide sweep of sky and land,— the mountains in the distance, and the firmament studded with stars. A figure wandered up and down the space, sometimes to the tops of the mountains, sometimes to the clefts of the rocks. When he saw the stars, he calculated their distances;—when he saw the moon, he weighed her, and guessed about the atmosphere on the other side;—when the gold and diamonds shone in the clefts of the rocks, he gathered and analyzed them. The Leviathan he studied and classed. He groped and reached constantly, and, having gathered, looked at his gatherings, dissatisfied. He was ever searching out knowledge. Meanwhile, a gnat put him in a passion, and unleavened bread destroyed his peace. Though he might sleep on rose-leaves, as he could not command the wind, they came often to double under him, and annoy him with bad dreams.
“When shall I be a disembodied spirit, and no longer subject to the petty annoyances that belong to the flesh?” cried he, fretfully. “My knowledge, too, is a moth,—only vexing me by a sense of the limitations of my condition. If I could grasp Nature,—if I could handle the stars,—if I could wake the thunder, —if I could summon the cloud! That would be worth something,—to send the comets on their errands! But what avails it, to know that they go?—how far from me when they start, and how many millions of miles before they turn to come back? If I could move only one of these subtile energies that mock me while I look them in the face!”
The philosopher dozed. A storm came on, and swept over all creation. When he awoke, it was clearing away, and one side of the heavens was heaped with goldlined clouds, and the darkness of the other spanned with the seven-hued bow. He looked admiringly at the clouds and critically at the rainbow, and added to his memorandum-book.
“What use?” said he, mournfully; “delicate dew, and refracted light!”
He continued to ponder and murmur, to explore, to ascertain, to grumble. He had rheumatic pains, for the elements had no mercy on him; he rubbed himself as he was able, and added to his stores of knowledge. He was very, very learned. When he reached a shelter, he lay down. If no human love welcomed him, and no gentle lip soothed him, he had self-culture, especially in the sciences.
All this Fred knew as soon as he looked at him.
“If he were wise, he would not stop at knowledge, which is, of course, unsatisfactory,—but dive beyond, as I have done, into the essence of things,” said Fred to himself. “If he could pierce through the veil that covers all things, he would find amusement enough to last a lifetime. In vegetable life, the jealousies and passions of flowers,—in the quiet eventfulness of the mineral kingdom, to see forms of living beauty in crystals, —finally, in all the under-mechanism of creation, what a fund of enjoyment and instruction! I think I should never cease to be delighted and entertained.”
Fred glanced from the picture to the fireplace. The shovel and tongs were just laughing at him; and though they composed their countenances immediately, he had caught the expression, and was excessively annoyed. Philosophy at length came to his aid, especially as the poker expressed only profound deference, preserving a martial attitude and immovable features. After all, why should he care for a pair of tongs? One must cultivate phlegm, if one is a philosopher; and a shovel, after all, is not so bad as a pretty woman. He heard the cool wind distinctly blowing across the mountains in the picture, and saw the stars coming out again. Then Fred knew he had been looking at a diorama, and that the exhibition was over.
He heard a hearty laugh at a little distance, and perceived that the picture, which at first had seemed to spread out over the whole wall, was really divided into two parts, something like an exhibition he remembered of dissolving views. This was delightful. The first picture faded out into gloom, and gave place to a bright, cheerful room in the third story of a house in the city. There were only two rooms,—this, and a small anteroom. The furniture was simple, even poor. Through the window the snow was seen falling, and the blaze flickered, in cheerful contrast, on the hearth. A woman, neither young nor pretty, stood with an astonished expression, and an elderly man laughed loudly, and sat down before the fire.
“What in the world shall I do?” said the woman.
“Do, my dear?—why, bring me my dressing-gown”; said he, laughing again so cheerily, that it was contagious; and as she brought the coarse wadded garment he asked for, she laughed too.
“A pretty kettle of fish!” said she.
“Yes! Now what shall we do? Not a dollar in our pockets!”
“Nor a coat to your back!” broke in the woman.
Then they both laughed again, loudly and heartily.
Fred remembered now what they were laughing at. The man was a minister, well known in Boston, and the woman was his wife. He had just come in, running through the storm, and almost out of breath.
“Wife! my coat! Don’t you see I am in my shirt-sleeves? I’ve got a snow-bank on my back!”
“Why! where in the world—what have you done with your coat?”
“Oh! that I am almost ashamed to tell you; it seems such a parading sort o’ thing to do in the streets! But you may depend, I didn’t stand at the corners long, to be seen of men, in this driving storm! Fact was, wife, I just took it off of my back, and gave it, to poor old M’Carty;—he’d nothing on but rags, and was fairly shaking with the cold. I knew I’d another to home,—and what does a man want of two coats? One’s enough for anybody. Besides, didn’t our Lord particularly tell his disciples not to have but one? Say, now, wife!”
The wife looked blank and embarrassed.
“Well, wife! what now?”
“Only”——and she paused again. “Only what? Out with it! You think it was silly! But, wife, you’d ’a’ done the same thing;—you couldn’t ’a’ helped it, nohow. Providence seemed to ’a’ cast him in my way o' purpose. I tell you, wife, it was as plain-spoken as it could be,—‘Be ye warmed!’ Why, you’d ’a’ done the same thing, wife!”
“My goodness! I have done it, husband! A man and his wife and three little children came along, not half an hour ago, looking so miserable and cold, that, as I thought, as you say, you had one coat, and that was all you really needed, I just out with the other, and put it on the man’s back. The thankfullest creature you ever saw!”
And here the man had broken into the hearty laugh Fred heard.
When the man put on his dressinggown, which was comfortable for the fireside, the wife renewed her question. He answered with a bright smile,—
“The Son of Man, my dear we know, had not where to lay his head; but then he always trusted in God God never fails his children. Thanks to Him!” added he, reverently, and raising loving eyes to heaven, as if he really spoke to somebody there,—“Thanks to Him! there’s bountiful hands and tender hearts, a plenty of ’em, in the city of Boston. I’ve only got to strike, and the waters ’ll flow out! yes,—rivers of water!”
The wife looked down, and said, meditatively, “It makes me think what our dear Saviour said to poor Peter,—‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’”
The man answered in a clear, joyful tone, “Oh, you won’t doubt more’n half a minute to time, wife!—and I won’t doubt at all!”
With that, the two aged Christians struck up a sweet Wesleyan melody; and that, too, was in the same soft minor key that Fred had heard singing through the gas-burner. They finished the little hymn, and the woman scraped some corn from a cob into the corn-popper. In a few minutes, she had filled a large bowl with the parched corn.
“I declare, they look like them hyacinths in the window,—don’t they? What a lovely white color!”
“I think, wife,” answered the man, as he took a handful of the kernels and looked at them, “this corn is a good deal like human nature. When we’re all shut up in ourselves, we’re poor creatures;— but touch us with the live coals of the Holy Spirit, and we turn out something refreshing. Fact is, wife, we’re good for nothing, till we’re turned inside out.”
The picture faded. It was a very homely one.
Fred turned to the soul by his side, but she was no longer visible.
“Escaped, somehow! I wonder, now, how?”
But he had scarcely spoken, when he saw, by a slight movement of the door, that she must have gone out that way. It was just closing. With a tremendous effort of will, he tried to follow her, but in vain. He had been so much in the habit of looking after himself only, that his untrained faculties refused to obey him. As a last resource, he sank passively towards the form which still lay prone on the couch. How he was again to join soul and body he could not guess. But, apparently, there was no difficulty. The spirit which had called him out of himself, for a little while, had departed, and, with her, both the power and the desire of separation. He joined his sensuous existence with ease and pleasure, and with no perceptible lapse of consciousness. No sooner had he obtained the use of his tongue, than he made an inarticulate noise. The door, which had been all that time swinging, opened again, and the velvet-footed Martin appeared.
“Who went out, Martin?”
“Out of here. Sir? No one, Sir.”
“Who opened the door, then?—"What’s that in your hand?”
“The chloroform, Sir, you just handed me.”
"Just handed you?”
“Yes, Sir;—you gave it back to me not a quarter of a minute ago.”
“Have I been asleep, Martin?”
“I should judge not, Sir. You didn’t take more than two sniffs at the bottle. I just had time to go to the door when you spoke to me.”
“Martin,—is the window close?”
“Perfectly close, Sir.”
“You may go.”