AX OLD-FASHIONED DESCRIPTIVE CHAPTER.
IT was a comfort to get to a place with something like society, with residences which had pretensions to elegance, with people of some breeding, with a newspaper, and “stores” to advertise in it, and with two or three churches to keep each other alive by wholesome agitation. Rockland was such a place.
Some of the natural features of the town have been described already. The Mountain, of course, was what gave it its character, and redeemed it from wearing the commonplace expression which belongs to ordinary country-villages. Beautiful, wild, invested with the mystery which belongs to untrodden spaces, and with enough of terror to give it dignity, it had yet closer relations with the town over which it brooded than the passing stranger knew of. Thus, it made a local climate by cutting off the northern winds and holding the sun’s heat like a gardenwall. Peach-trees, which, on the northern side of the mountain, hardly ever came to fruit, ripened abundant crops in Rockland.
But there was still another relation between the mountain and the town at its foot, which strangers were not likely to hear alluded to, and which was oftener thought of than spoken of by its inhabitants. Those high-impending forests,— “hangers,” as White of Selborne would have called them,—sloping far upward and backward into the distance, had always an air of menace blended with their wild beauty. It seemed as if some heaven-scaling Titan had thrown his shaggy robe over the bare, precipitous flanks of the rocky summit, and it might at any moment slide like a garment flung carelessly on the nearest chance-support, and, so sliding, crush the village out of being, as the Rossberg when it tumbled over on the valley of Goldau.
Persons have been known to remove from the place, after a short residence in it, because they were haunted day and night by the thought of this awful green wall piled up into the air over their heads. They would lie awake of nights, thinking they heard the muffled snapping of roots, as if a thousand acres of the mountainside were tugging to break away, like the snow from a house-roof, and a hundred thousand trees were clinging with all their fibres to hold back the soil just ready to peel away and crash down with all its rocks and forest-growths. And yet, by one of those strange contradictions we are constantly finding in human nature, there were natives of the town who would come back thirty or forty years after leaving it, just to nestle under this same threatening mountain-side, as old men sun themselves against southward-facing walls. The old dreams and legends of danger added to the attraction. If the mountain should ever slide, they had a kind of feeling as if they ought to be there. It was a fascination like that which the rattlesnake is said to exert.
This comparison naturally suggests the recollection of that other source of danger which was an element in the everyday life of the Rockland people. The folks in some of the neighboring towns had a joke against them, that a Rocklander couldn’t hear a bean-pod rattle without saying, “ The Lord have mercy on us!” It is very true, that many a nervous old lady has had a terrible start, caused by some mischievous young rogue’s giving a sudden shake to one of these noisy vegetable products in her immediate vicinity. Yet, strangely enough, many persons missed the excitement of the possibility of a fatal bite in other regions, where there were nothing but black and green and striped snakes, mean ophidians, having the spite of the nobler serpent without his venom, — poor crawling creatures, whom Nature would not trust with a poison-bag. Many natives of Rockland did unquestionably experience a certain gratification in this infinitesimal sense of danger. It was noted that the old people retained their hearing longer than in other places. Some said it was the softened climate, but others believed it was owing to the habit of keeping their ears open whenever they were walking through the grass or in the woods. At any rate, a slight sense of danger is often an agreeable stimulus. People sip their crème de noyau with a peculiar tremulous pleasure.because there is a bare possibility that it may contain prussic acid enough to knock them over; in which case they will lie as dead as if a thunder-cloud had emptied itself into the earth through their brain and marrow.
ButRockland had other features which helped to give it a special character. First of all, there was one grand street which was its chief glory. Elm Street it was called, naturally enough, for its elms made a long, pointed-arelied gallery of it through most of its extent. No natural Gothic arch compares, for a moment, with that formed by two American elms, where their lofty jets of foliage shoot across each others ascending curves, to intermingle their showery flakes of green. When one looks through a long double row of these, as in that lovely avenue which the poets of Yale remember so well,—
As when I first through Temple Street looked down thine espalier! "—
he beholds a temple not built with hands, fairer than any minster, with all its clustered stems and flowering capitals, that ever grew in stone.
Nobody knows Now England who is not on terms of intimacy with one of its elms. The elm comes nearer to having a soul than any other vegetable creature among us. It loves man as man loves it. It is modest and patient. It has a small flake of a seed which blows in everywhere and makes arrangements for coming up by-and-by. So, in spring, one finds a crop of baby-elms among his carrots and parsnips, very weak and small compared to those succulent vegetables. The baby-elms die, most of them, slain, unrecognized or unheeded, by hand or hoe, as meekly as Herod’s innocents. One of them gets overlooked, perhaps, until it has established a kind ot right to stay. Three generations of carrot and parsnipconsumers have passed away, yourself among them, and now let your greatgrandson look for the baby-elm. Twenty-two feet of clean girth, three hundred and sixty feet in the line that bounds its leafy circle, it covers the boy with such a canopy as neither glossy-leafed oak nor insect-haunted linden ever lifted into the summer skies.
Elm Street was the pride of Rockland, but not only on account of its Gothicarched vista. In this street were most of the great houses, or “ mansion-houses, as it was usual to call them. Along this street, also, the more nicely kept and neatly painted dwellings were chiefly congregated. It was the correct thing for a Rockland dignitary to have a house in Elm Street.
A New England “mansion-house” is naturally square, with dormer windows projecting from the roof, which has a balustrade with turned posts round it. It shows a good breadth of front-yard before its floor, as its owner shows a respectable expanse of clean shirt-front. It has a lateral margin beyond its stables and offices, as its master wears his white wristbands showing beyond his coat-cuffs. It may not have what can properly be called grounds, but it must have elbow-room, at any rate. Without it, it is like, a man who is always tight-buttoned for want of any linen to show. The mansion-house which has had to button itself up tight in fences, for want of green or gravel margin. will be advertising for boarders presently. The old English pattern or the New England mansion-house, only on a somewhat grander scale, is Sir Thomas Abney’s place, where dear, good Dr. Watts said prayers for the family, and wrote those blessed hymns of his that sing us into consciousness in our cradles, and come back to us in sweet, single verses, between the moments of wandering and of stupor, when we lie dying, and sound over us when we can no longer hear them, bringing grateful tears to the hot, aching eyes beneath the thick, black veils, and carrying the holy calm with them which filled the good man’s heart, as he prayed and sung under the shelter of the old English mansion-house.
Next to the mansion-houses, came the two-story, trim, white-painted, “genteel” houses, which, being more gossipy and less nicely bred, crowded close up to the street, instead of standing back from it with arms akimbo, like the mansionhouses. Their little front-yards were very commonly full of lilac and syringa and other bushes, which were allowed to smother the lower story almost to the exclusion of light and air, so that, what with small windows and small windowpanes, and the darkness made by these choking growths of shrubbery, the front parlors of some of these houses were the most tomb-like, melancholy places that could be found anywhere among the abodes of the living. Their garnishing was apt to assist this impression. Largepatterned carpets, which always look discontented in little rooms, hair-cloth furniture, black and shiny as beetles’ wingcases, and centre-tables, with a sullen oillamp of the kind called astral by our imaginative ancestors, in the centre, — these things were inevitable. In set piles round the lamp was ranged the current literature of the day, in the form of Temperance Documents, unbound numbers of one of the Unknown Public's Magazines with worn-out steel engravings and highcolored fashion-plates, the Poems of a distinguished British author whom it is unnecessary to mention, a volume of sermons, or a novel or two, or both, according to the tastes of the family, and the Good Book, which is always Itself in the cheapest and commonest company. The father of the family with his hand in the breast of his coat, the mother of the same in a wide-bordered cap, sometimes a print of the Last Supper, by no means Morghen’s, or the Father of his Country, or the old General, or the Defender of the Constitution, or an unknown clergyman with an open book before him, — these were the usual ornaments of the walls, the first two a matter of rigor, the others according to politics and other tendencies.
This intermediate class of houses, wherever one finds them in New England towns, are very apt to be cheerless and unsatisfactory. They have neither the luxury of the mansion-house nor the comfort of the farm-house. They are rarely kept at an agreeable temperature. The mansion-house has large fireplaces and generous chimneys, and is open to the sunshine. The farm-house makes no pretensions, but it has a good warm kitchen, at any rate, and one can be comfortable there with the rest of the family, without fear and without reproach. These lesser country-houses of genteel aspirations are much given to patent subterfuges of one kind and another to get heat without combustion. The chilly parlor and the slippery hair-cloth seat take the life out of the warmest welcome. If one would make these places wholesome, happy, and cheerful, the first precept would be,— The dearest fuel, plenty of it, and let half the heat go up the chimney. If you can’t afford this, don’t try to live in a “ genteel ” fashion, but stick to the ways of the honest farm-house.
There were a good many comfortable farm-houses scattered about Rockland. The best of them were something of the following pattern, which is too often superseded of late by a more pretentious, but infinitely less pleasing kind of rustic architecture. A little back from the road, seated directly on the green sod, rose a plain wooden building, two stories in front, with a long roof sloping backwards to within a few feet of the ground. This, like the “mansion-house,” is copied from an old English pattern. Cottages of this model may be seen in Lancashire, for instance, always with the same honest, homely look, as if their roofs acknowledged their relationship to the soil out of which they sprung. The walls were unpainted, but turned by the slow action of sun and air and rain to a quiet doveor slate-color. An old broken mill-stone at the door, — a well-sweep pointing like a finger to the heavens, which the shining round of water beneath looked up at like a dark unsleeping eye, —a single large elm a little at one side, — a barn twice as big as the house,— a cattle-yard, with
“ The white horns tossing above the wall,”— some fields, in pasture or in crops, with low stone walls round them, — a row of beehives, — a garden-patch, with roots, and currant-bushes, and many-hued hollyhocks, and swollen-stemmed, globe-headed, seedling onions, and marigolds, and flower-de-luces, and lady’s-delights, and peonies, crowding in together, with southernwood in the borders, and woodbine and hops and morning-glories climbing as they got a chance, — these were the features by which the Rockland-born children remembered the farm-house, when they had grown to be men. Such are the recollections that come over poor sailorboys crawling out on reeling yards to reef topsails as their vessels stagger round the stormy Cape; and such are the flitting images that make the eyes of old countryborn merchants look dim and dreamy, as they sit in their city palaces, warm with the after-dinner flush of the red wave out of which Memory arises, as Aphrodite arose from the green waves of the ocean.
Two meeting-houses stood on two eminences, facing each other, and looking like a couple of fighting-cocks with their necks straight up in the air,—as if they would flap their roofs, the next thing, and crow out of their upstretched steeples, and peck at each other’s glass eyes with their sharp-pointed weathercocks.
The first was a good pattern of the real old-fashioned New England meetinghouse. It was a large barn with windows, fronted by a square tower crowned with a kind of wooden bell inverted and raised on legs, out of which rose a slender spire with the sharp-billed weathercock at its summit. Inside, tall, square pews with flapping seats, and a gallery running round three sides of the building, On the fourth side the pulpit, with a huge, dusty sounding-board hanging over it. Here preached the Reverend Pierrepont Honeywood, D. D. successor, after a number of generations, to the office and the parsonage of the Reverend Didymus Bean, before mentioned, but not suspected of any of his alleged heresies. He held to the old faith of the Puritans, and occasionally delivered a discourse which was considered by the hard-headed theologians of his parish to have settled the whole matter fully and finally, so that now there was a good logical basis laid down for the Millennium, which might begin at once upon the platform of his demonstrations. Yet the Reverend Dr. Honeywood was fonder of preaching plain, practical sermons about the duties of life, and showing his Christianity in abundant good works among his people. It was noticed by some few of his flock, not without comment, that the great majority of his texts came from the Gospels, and this more and more as he became interested in various benevolent enterprises which brought him into relations with ministers and kind-hearted laymen of other denominations. The truth is, that he was a man of a very warm, open, and exceedingly human disposition, and, although bred by a clerical father, whose motto was “ Sit anima mea cum Puritanis ” he exercised his human faculties in the harness of his ancient faith with such freedom that the straps of it got so loose they did not interfere greatly with the circulation of the warm blood through his system. Once in a while he seemed to think it necessary to come out with a grand doctrinal sermon, and then he would lapse away for a while into preaching on men’s duties to each other and to society, and hit hard, perhaps, at some of the actual vices of the time and place, and insist with such tenderness and eloquence on the great depth and breadth of true Christian love and charity, that his oldest deacon shook his head, and wished he had shown as much interest when he was preaching, three Sabbaths back, on Predestination, or in his discourse against the Sabellians. But he was sound in the faith ; no doubt of that. Did he not preside at the council held in the town of Tamarack, on the other side of the mountain, which expelled its clergyman for maintaining heretical doctrines ? As presiding officer, he did not vote, to be sure, but there was no doubt that he was all right; he had some of the Edwards blood in him, and that couldn’t very well let him go wrong.
The meeting-house on the other and opposite summit was of a more modern style, considered by many a great improvement on the old New England model, so that it is not uncommon for a country parish to pull down its old meetinghouse, which has been preached in for a hundred years or so, and put up one of these more elegant edifices. The new building was in what may be called the florid shingle-Gothic manner. Its pinnacles and crockets and other ornaments were, like the body of the building, all of pine wood,—an admirable material, as it is very soft and easily worked, and can be painted of any color desired. Inside, the walls were stuccoed in imitation of stone,— first a dark-brown square, then two light-brown squares, then another dark-brown square, and so on, to represent the accidental differences of shade always noticeable in the real stones of which walls are built. To be sure, the architect could not help getting his partycolored squares in almost as regular rhythmical order as those of a chess-board; but nobody can avoid doing things in a systematic and serial way; indeed, people who wish to plant trees in natural clumps know very well that they cannot keep from making regular lines and symmetrical figures, unless by some trick or other, as that one of throwing up into the air a peck of potatoes and sticking in a tree wherever a potato happens to fall. The pews of this meeting-house were the usual oblong ones, where people sit close together with a ledge before them to support their hymn-books, liable only to occasional contact with the back of the next pew’s heads or bonnets, and a place running under the seat of that pew where hats could be deposited,— always at the risk of the owner, in case of injury by boots or crickets.
In this meeting-house preached the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather, a divine of the “ Liberal ” school, as it is commonly called, bred at that famous college which used to be thought, twenty or thirty years ago, to have the monopoly of training young men in the milder forms of heresy. His ministrations were attended with decency, but not followed with enthusiasm. “ The beauty of virtue ” got to be an old story at last. “ The moral dignity of human nature” ceased to excite a thrill of satisfaction, after some hundred repetitions. It grew to be a dull business, this preaching against stealing and intemperance, while he knew very well that the thieves were prowling round orchards and empty houses, instead of being there to hear the sermon, and that the drunkards, being rarely church-goers, get little good by the statistics and eloquent appeals of the preacher. Every now and then, however, the Reverend Mr. Fairweather let off a polemic discourse against his neighbor opposite, which waked his people up a little ; but it was a languid congregation, at best,— very apt to stay away from meeting in the afternoon, and not at all given to extra evening services. The minister, unlike his rival of the other side of the way, was a down-hearted and timid kind of man. He went on preaching as he had been taught to preach, but he had misgivings at times. There was a little Roman Catholic church at the foot of the hill where his own was placed, which he always had to pass on Sundays. He could never look on the thronging multitudes that crowded its pews and aisles or knelt bare-headed on its steps, without a longing to get in among them and go down on his knees and enjoy that luxury of devotional contact which makes a worshipping throng as different from the same numbers praying apart as a bed of coals is from a trail of scattered cinders.
“ Oh, if I could but huddle in with those poor laborers and working-women!” he would say to himself. “ If I could but breathe that atmosphere, stifling though it be, yet made holy by ancient litanies, and cloudy with the smoke of hallowed incense, for one hour, instead of droning over these moral precepts to my half-sleeping congregation!” The intellectual isolation of his sect preyed upon him ; for, of all the terrible things to natures like his, the most terrible is to belong to a minority. No person that looked at his thin and sallow cheek, his sunken and sad eye, his tremulous lip, his contracted forehead, or who heard his querulous, though not unmusical voice, could fail to see that his life was an uneasy one, that he was engaged in some inward conflict. His dark, melancholic aspect contrasted with his seemingly cheerful creed, and was all the more striking, as the worthy Dr. Honey wood, professing a belief which made him a passenger on board a shipwrecked planet, was yet a most good-humored and companionable gentleman, whose laugh on week-days did one as much good to listen to as the best Sermon lie ever delivered on a Sunday.
A few miles from Rockland was a pretty little Episcopal church, with a roof like a wedge of cheese, a square tower, a stained window, and a trained rector, who read the service with such ventral depth of utterance and rrreduplication of the rrresonant letter, that his own mother would not have known him for her son, if the good woman had not ironed his surplice and put it on with her own hands.
There were two public-houses in the place: one dignified with the name of the Mountain House, somewhat frequented by city-people in the summer months, large - fronted, threestoried, balconied, boasting a distinct ladies’-drawing-room, and spreading a table d'hôte of some pretensions : the other, “ Pollard's Tahvern,” in the common speech,—a two-story building, with a bar-room, once famous, where there was a great smell of hay and bools and pipes and all other bucolic-flavored elements,—where games of checkers were played on the back of the bellows with red and white kernels of corn, or with beans and coffee,—-where a man slept in a box-settle at night, to wake up early passengers, — where teamsters came in, with wooden-handled whips and coarse frocks, reinforcing the bucolic flavor of the atmosphere, and middle-aged male gossips, sometimes including the squire of the neighboring law-office, gathered to exchange a question or two about the news, and then fall into that solemn state of suspended animation which the temperance bar-rooms of modern days produce on human beings, as the Grotta del Cane does on dogs in the well-known experiments related by travellers. This bar-room used to be famous for drinking and story-telling, and sometimes fighting, in old times. That was when there were rows of decanters on the shelf behind the bar, and a hissing vessel of hot water ready, to make punch, and three or four loggerheads (long irons clubbed at the end) were always lying in the fire in the cold season, waiting to be plunged into sputtering and foaming mugs of flip,— a goodly compound, speaking according to the flesh, made with beer and sugar, and a certain suspicion of strong waters, over which a little nutmeg being grated, and in it the hot iron being then allowed to sizzle, there results a peculiar singed aroma, which the wise regard as a warning to remove themselves at once out of the reach of temptation.
But the bar of Pollard’s Tahvern no longer presented its old attractions, and the loggerheads had long disappeared from the fire. In place of the decanters, were boxes containing “ lozengers,” as they were commonly called, sticks of candy in jars, cigars in tumblers, a few lemons, grown hard-skinned and marvellously shrunken by long exposure, but still feebly suggestive of possible lemonade,— the whole ornamented by festoons of yellow and blue cut fly-paper. On the front shelf of the bar stood a large German-silver pitcher of water, and scattered about were ill-conditioned lamps, with wicks that always wanted picking, which burned red and smoked a good deal, and were apt to go out without any obvious cause, leaving strong reminiscences of the whale-fishery in the circumambient air.
The common school-houses of Rockland were dwarfed by the grandeur of the Apollinean Institute. The master passed one of them, in a walk he was taking, soon after his arrival at Rockland, He looked in at the rows of desks and recalled his late experiences. He could not help laughing, as he thought how neatly he had knocked the young butcher off his pins.
“ ‘ A little science is a dangerous thing,’
as well as a little * learning/” he said to himself ; “ only it’s dangerous to the fellow you try it on.” And he cut him a good stick and began climbing the side of The Mountain to get a look at that famous Rattlesnake Ledge.
THIS SUNBEAM AND THE SHADOW.
THE virtue of the world is not mainly in its leaders. In the midst of the multitude which follows there is often something better than in the one that goes before. Old generals wanted to take Toulon, but one of their young colonels showed them how. The junior counsel has been known not unfrequently to make a better argument than his senior fellow, — if, indeed, he did not make both their arguments. Good ministers will tell you they have parishioners who beat them in the practice of the virtues. A great establishment, got up on commercial principles, like the Apollinean Institute, might yet be well carried on, if it happened to get good teachers. And when Master Langdon came to see its management, he recognized that there must be fidelity and intelligence somewhere among the instructors. It was only necessary to look for a moment at the fair, open forehead, the still, tranquil eye of gentle, habitual authority, the sweet gravity that lay upon the lips, to hear the clear answers to the pupils'questions, to notice how every request had the force without the form of a command, and the young man could not doubt that the good genius of the school stood before him in the person of Helen Darley.
It was the old story. A poor countrvelergymau dies and leaves a widow and a daughter. In Old England the daughter would have eaten the bitter bread of a governess in some rich family. In New England she must keep a school. So, rising from one sphere to another, she at length finds herself the prima donna in the department of instruction in Mr. Silas Peckham’s educational establishment.
What a miserable thing it is to be poor ! She was dependent, frail, sensitive, conscientious. She was in the power of a hard, grasping, thin-blooded, tough-fibred, trading educator, who neither knew nor cared for a tender woman’s sensibilities, but who paid her and meant to have his money’s worth out of her brains, and as much more than his money’s worth as he could get. She was consequently, in plain English, overworked, and an overworked woman is always a sad sight, — sadder a great deal than an overworked man, because she is so much more fertile in capacities of suffering than a man. She has so many varieties of headache,— sometimes as if Jael were driving the nail that killed Sisera into her temples, — sometimes letting her work with half her brain while the other half throbs as if it would go to pieces,—sometimes tightening round the brows as if her cap-band were Luke’s iron crown, - — and then her neuralgias, and her back-aches, and her fits of depression, in which she thinks she is nothing and less than nothing, and those paroxysms which men speak slightingly of as hysterical, — convulsions, that is all, only not commonly fatal ones, — so many trials which belong to her fine and mobile structure,— that she is always entitled to pity, when she is placed in conditions which develop her nervous tendencies. The poor teacher’s work had, of course, been doubled since the departure of Mr. Langdon’s predecessor. Nobody knows what the weariness of instruction is, as soon as the teacher’s faculties begin to be overtasked, but those who have tried it. The relays of fresh pupils, each new set with its exhausting powers in full action, coming one after another, take out all the reserved forces and faculties of resistance from the subject of their draining process.
The day’s work was over, and it was late in the evening, when she sat down, tired and faint, with a great bundle of girls’ themes or compositions to read over before she could rest her weary head on the pillow of her narrow trundle-bed, and forget for a while the treadmill stair of labor she was daily climbing.
How she dreaded this most forlorn of all a teacher’s tasks ! She was conscientious in her duties and would insiston reading every sentence,-—-there was no saying where she might find faults of grammar or bad spelling. There might have been twenty or thirty of these themes in the bundle before her. Of course she knew pretty well the leading sentiments they could contain : that beauty was subject to the accidents of time; that wealth was inconstant, and existence uncertain ; that virtue was its own reward ; that youth exhaled, like the dewdrop from the flower, ere the sun had reached its meridian ; that life was o’ershadowed with trials ; that the lessons of virtue instilled by our beloved teachers were to be our guides through all our future career. The imagery employed consisted principally of roses, lilies, birds, clouds, and brooks, with the celebrated comparison of wayward genius to a meteor. Who does not know the small, slanted, Italian hand of these girls’-composilions,— their stringing together of the good old traditional copy-book phrases, their occasional gushes of sentiment, their profound estimates of Lhe world, sounding to the old folks that read them as the experience of a bantam-pullet's last-hatched young one with the chips of its shell on its head would sound to a Mother Cary’s chicken, who knew the great ocean with all its typhoons and tornadoes ? Yet every now and then one is liable to be surprised with strange clairvoyant flashby, that can hardly be explained, except bv the mysterious inspiration which every now and then seizes a young girl and exalts her intelligence, just as hysteria in other instances exalts the sensibility, — a little something of that which made Joan of Arc, and the Burney girl who prophesied “ Evelina,” and the Davidson sisters. In the midst of these commonplace exercises which Miss Darley read over so carefully were two or three that had something of individual flavor about them, and here and there there was an image or an epithet which showed the footprint of a passionate nature, as a fallen scarlet feather marks the path the wild flamingo has trodden.
The young lady teacher read them with a certain indifference of manner, as one reads proofs, — noting defects of detail, but not commonly arrested by the matters treated of. Even Miss Charlotte Ann Wood's poem, beginning
did not excite her. She marked the inevitable false rhyme of Cockney and Yankee beginners, morn and dawn, and tossed the verses on the pile of those she had finished. She was looking over some of the last of them in a rather listless way,— for the poor thing was getting sleepy in spite of herself,— when she came to one which seemed to rouse her attention, and lifted her drooping lids. She looked at it a moment before she would touch it. Then she took hold of it by one corner and slid it off from the rest. One would have said she was afraid of it, or had some undefined antipathy which made it hateful to her. Such odd fancies are common enough in young persons in her nervous state. Many of these young people will jump up twenty times a day and run to dabble the tips of their fingers in water, after touching the most inoffensive objects.
This composition was written in a singular, sharp-pointed, long, slender hand, on a kind of wavy, ribbed paper. There was something strangely suggestive about the look of it,—but exactly of what. Miss Darley either could not or did not try to think. The subject of the paper was The Mountain,—the composition being a sort of descriptive rhapsody. It showed a startling familiarity with some of the savage scenery of the region. One would have said that the writer must have threaded its wildest solitudes by the light of the moon and stars as well as by day. As the teacher read on, her color changed, and a kind of tremulous agitation came over her. There were hints in this strange paper she did not know what to make of. There was something in its descriptions and imagery that recalled,— Miss Darley could not say what,—but it made her frightfully nervous. Still she could not help reading, till she came to one passage which so agitated her that the tired and overwearied girl’s self-control left her entirely. She sobbed once or twice, then laughed convulsively, and flung herself on the bed, where she worked out a set hysteric spasm as she best might, without anybody to rub her hands and see that she did not hurt herself. By-and-by she got quiet, rose and went to her bookcase, took down a volume of Coleridge and read a short time, and so to bed, to sleep and wake from time to time with a sudden start out of uneasy dreams.
Perhaps it is of no great consequence what it was in the composition which set her off into this nervous paroxysm. She was in such a state that almost any slight agitation would have brought on the attack, and it was the accident of her transient excitability, very probably, which made a trifling cause the seeming occasion of so much disturbance. The theme was signed, in the same peculiar, sharp, slender hand, E. Venner, and was, of course, written by that wild-looking girl who had excited the master’s curiosity and prompted his question, as before mentioned.
The next morning the lady-teacher looked pale and wearied, naturally enough, but she was in her place at the usual hour, and Master Langdon in his own. The girls had not yet entered the schoolroom.
“ You have been ill, I am afraid,” said Mr. Bernard.
“ I was not well yesterday,” she answered. “ I had a worry and a kind of fright. It is so dreadful to have the charge of all these young souls and bodies ! Every young girl ought to walk, locked close, arm in arm, between two guardian angels. Sometimes I faint almost with the thought of all that I ought to do, and of my own weakness and wants —Tell me, are there not natures born so out of parallel with the lines of natural law that nothing short of a miracle can bring them right?”
Mr. Bernard had speculated somewhat, as all thoughtful persons of his profession are forced to do, on the innate organic tendencies with which individuals, families, and races are born. He replied, therefore, with a smile, as one to whom the question suggested a very familiar class of facts.
“ Why, of course. Each of us is only the footing-up of a double column of figures that goes back to the first pair. Every unit tells,—and some of them are plus, and some minus. If the columns don’t add up right, it is commonly because we can’t make out all the figures. I don’t mean to say that something may not be added by Nature to make up for losses and keep the race to its average, but we are mainly nothing but the answer to a long sum in addition and subtraction. No doubt there are people born with impulses at every possible angle to the parallels of Nature, as you call them. If they happen to cut these at right angles, of course they are beyond the reach of common influences. Slight obliquities are what we have most to do with in education. Penitentiaries and insane asylums take care of most of the right-angle cases. — I am afraid I have put it too much like a professor, and I am only a student, you know. Pray, what set you to asking me this ? Any strange cases among the scholars ? ”
The meek teacher’s blue eyes met the luminous glance that came with the question. She, too, was of gentle blood,—not meaning by that that she was of any noted lineage, but that she came of a cultivated stock, never rich, but long trained to intellectual callings. A thousand decencies, amenities, reticences, graces, which no one thinks of until he misses them, are the traditional right of those who spring from such families. And when two persons of this exceptional breeding meet in the midst of the common multitude, they seek each other's company at once by the natural law of elective affinity. It is wonderful how men and women know their peers. If two stranger queens, sole survivors of two shipwrecked vessels, were cast, half-naked, on a rock together, each would at once address the other as “ Our Royal Sister,” Helen Darley looked into the dark eyes of Bernard Langdon glittering with the light which flashed from them with his question. Not as those foolish, innocent country-girls of the small village did she look into them, to be fascinated and bewildered, but to sound them with a calm, steadfast purpose. “ A gentleman,” she said to herself, as she read his expression and his features with a woman’s rapid, but exhausting glance. “ A lady,” he said to himself, as he met her questioning look,— so brief, so quiet, yet so assured, as of one whom necessity had taught to read faces quickly without offence, as children read the faces of parents, as wives read the faces of hardsouled husbands. All this was but a few seconds’ work, and yet the main point was settled. If there had been any vulgar curiosity or coarseness of any kind lurking in his expression, she would have detected it. If she had not lifted her eyes to his face so softly and kept them there so calmly and withdrawn them so quietly, he would not have said to himself, “ She is a lady” for that word meant a good deal to the descendant of the courtly Wentworths and the scholarly Langdons.
“ There are strange people everywhere, Mr. Langdon,” she said, “ and I don’t think our school-room is an exception. I am glad you believe in the force of transmitted tendencies. It would break my heart, if I did not think that there are faults beyond the reach of everything but God’s special grace. I should die, if I thought that my negligence or incapacity was alone responsible for the errors and sins of those I have charge of. Yet there are mysteries I do not know how to account for.” She looked all round the school-room, and then said, in a whisper, “ Mr. Langdon, we had a girl that stole, in the school, not long ago. Worse than that, we had a girl that tried to set us On fire. Children of good people, both of them. And we have a girl now that frightens me so”-
The door opened, and three misses came in to take their seats: three types, as it happened, of certain classes, into which it would not have been difficult to distribute the greater number of the girls in the school. — Hannah Martin. Fourteen years and three months old. Short-necked, thick-waisted, round-cheeked, smooth, vacant forehead, large, dull eyes. Looks good-natured, with little other expression. Three buns in her bag, and a large apple. Has a habit of attacking her provisions in school-hours. — Rosa Milburn. Sixteen. Brunette, with a rareripe flush in her cheeks. Color comes and goes easily. Eyes wandering, apt to be downcast. Moody at times. Said to be passionate, if irritated. Finished in high relief. Carries shoulders well back and walks well, as if proud of her woman’s life, with a slight rocking movement, being one of the wide-flanged pattern, but seems restless,— a hard girl to look after. Has a romance in her pocket, which she means to read in school-time. — Charlotte Ann Wood. Fifteen. The poetess before mentioned. Long, light ringlets, pallid complexion, blue eyes. Delicate child, half unfolded. Gentle, but languid and despondent. Does not go much with the other girls, but reads a good deal, especially poetry, underscoring favorite passages. Writes a great many verses, very fast, not very correctly; full of the usual human sentiments, expressed in the accustomed phrases, Undervitalized. Sensibilities not covered with their normal integuments. A negative condition, often confounded with genius, and sometimes running into it. Young people that fall out of line through weakness of the active faculties are often confounded with those that step out of it through strength of the intellectual ones.
The girls kept coming in, one after another, or in pairs or groups, until the school-room was nearly full. Then there was a little pause, and a light step was heard in the passage. The lady-teacher’s eyes turned to the door, and the master’s followed them in the same direction.
A girl of about seventeen entered. She was tall and slender, but rounded, with a peculiar undulation of movement, such as one sometimes sees in perfectly untutored country-girls, whom Nature, the queen of graces, has taken in hand, but more commonly in connection with the very highest breeding of the most thoroughly trained society. She was a splendid scowling beauty, black-browed, with a flash of white teeth that was always like a surprise when her lips parted. She wore a checkered dress, of a curious pattern, and a camel’s-hair scarf twisted a little fantastically about her. She went to her seat, which she had moved a short distance apart from the rest, and, sitting down, began playing listlessly with her gold chain, as was a common habit with her, coiling it and uncoiling it about her slender wrist, and braiding it in with her long, delicate fingers. Presently she looked up. Black, piercing eyes, not large,:—-a low forehead, as low as that of Clytie in the Townley bust,— black hair, twisted in heavy braids, —a face that one could not help looking at for its beauty, yet that one wanted to look away from for something in its expression, and could not for those diamond eyes. They were fixed on the lady-teacher now. The latter turned her own away, and let them wander over the other scholars. But they could not help coming back again for a single glance at the wild beauty. The diamond eyes were on her still. She turned the leaves of several of her books, as if in search of some passage, and, when she thought she had waited long enough to be safe, once more stole a quick look at the dark girl. The diamond eyes were still upon her. She put her kerchief to her forehead, which had grown slightly moist; she sighed once, almost shivered, for she felt cold ; then, following some ill-defined impulse, which she could not resist, she left her place and went to the young girl’s desk.
“What do you want of me, Elsie Venner ? ” It was a strange question to put, for the girl had not signified that she wished the teacher to come to her.
“ Nothing,” she said. “ I thought I could make you come.” The girl spoke in a low tone, a kind of half-whisper. She did not lisp, yet her articulation of one or two consonants was not absolutely perfect.
“ Where did you get that flower, Elsie ? ” said Miss Darley. It was a rare alpine flower, which was found only in one spot among the rocks of The Mountain.
“Where it grew,” said Elsie Venner. “ Take it.” The teacher could not refuse her. The girl’s finger-tips touched hers as she took it. How cold they were for a girl of such an organization !
The teacher went back to her seat. She made an excuse for quitting the school-room soon afterwards. The first thing she did was to fling the flower into her fireplace and rake the ashes over it. The second was to wash the tips of her fingers, as if she had been another Lady Macbeth. A poor, overtasked, nervous creature,— we must not think too much of her fancies.
After school was done, she finished the talk with the master which had been so suddenly interrupted. There were things spoken of which may prove interesting by-an-by, but there are other matters we must first attend to.