The Professor's Story



COLONEL SPROWLE'S family arose late the next morning. The fatigues and excitements of the evening and the preparation for it were followed by a natural collapse, of which somnolence was a leading symptom. The sun shone into the window at a pretty well opened angle when the Colonel first found himself sufciently awake to address his yet slumbering spouse.

“ Sally ! ” said the Colonel, in a voice that was a little husky,—for he had finished off the evening with an extra glass or two of “Madary,” and had a somewhat rusty and headachy sense of renewed existence, on greeting the rather advanced dawn,—“Sally!”

“ Take care o’ them custard-cups! There they go ! ”

Poor Mrs. Sprowle was fighting the party over in her dream; and as the visionary custard-cups crashed down through one lobe of her brain into another, she gave a start as if an inch of lightning from a quart Leyden jar had jumped into one of her knuckles with its sudden and lively poonk!

“Sally!” said the Colonel,—“wake up, wake up ! What ‘r’ y’ dreamin’ abaout? ”

Mrs. Sprowle raised herself, by a sort of spasm, sur son scant, as they say in France,—up on end, as we have it in New England. She looked first to the left, then to the right, then straight before her, apparently without seeing anything, and at last slowly settled down, with her two eyes, blank of any particular meaning, directed upon the Colonel.

“ What time is’t ? ” she said.

“Ten o’clock. What ‘y’ been dreamin’ abaout ? Y’ giv a jump like a hoppergrass. Wake up, wake up ! Th’ party’s over, and y’ been asleep all the mornin’. The party’s over, I tell ye ! Wake up ! ”

“Over!’’said Mrs. Sprowle, who began to define her position at last,—“over! I should think ’twas time ’twas over ! It’s lasted a hundud year. I’ve been workin’ for that party longer ’n Methuselah’s lifetime, sence I been asleep. The pies wouldn’ bake, and the blo’monge wouldn’ set, and the ice-cream wouldn’ freeze, and all the folks kep’ comin’ ‘n’ comin’ ‘n’ comin’,—everybody I ever knew in all my life,—some of ’em ’s been dead this twenty year ’n’ more,—'n’ nothin’ for ’em to eat nor drink. The fire wouldn’ burn to cook anything, all we could do. We blowed with the belluses, ’n’ we stuffed in paper ‘n’ pitch-pine kindlin’s, but nothin’could make that fire burn ; ’n’ all the time the folks kep’ comin’, as if they’d never stop,—’n’ nothin’ for ’em but empty dishes, ’n’ all the borrowed chaney slippin’ round on the waiters ’n’ chippin’ ’n’ crackin’. I wouldn’ go through what I been through t’-night for all th’ money in th Bank,—I do believe it’s harder t’ have a party than t'”-

Mrs. Sprowle stated the case strongly.

The Colonel said he didn’t know how that might be. She was a better judge than he was. It was bother enough, anyhow, and he was glad that it was over. After this, the worthy pair commenced preparations for rejoining the waking world, and in due time proceeded down-stairs.

Everybody was late that morning, and nothing had got put to rights. The house looked as if a small army had been quartered in it over night. The tables were of course in huge disorder, after the protracted assault they had undergone. There had been a great battle evidently, and it had gone against the provisions. Some points had been stormed, and all their defences annihilated, but here and there were centres of resistance which had held out against all attacks,—large rounds of beef, and solid loaves of cake, against which the inexperienced had wasted their energies in the enthusiasm of youth or uninformed maturity, while the longer-headed guests were making discoveries of “shell-oysters" and “patridges" and similar delicacies.

The breakfast was naturally of a somewhat fragmentary character. A chicken that had lost his legs In the service of the preceding campaign was once more put on duty. A great ham stuck with cloves, as Saint Sebastian was with arrows, was again offered for martyrdom. It would have been a pleasant sight for a medical man of a speculative turn to have seen the prospect before the Colonel’s family of the next week’s breakfasts, dinners, and suppers. The trail that one of these great rural parties leaves after it is one of its most formidable considerations. Every door-handle in the house is suggestive of sweetmeats for the next week, at least. The most unnatural articles of diet displace the frugal but nutritious food of unconvulsed periods of existence. If there is a walking infant about the house, it will certainly have a more or less fatal fit from overmuch of some indigestible delicacy. Before the week is out, everybody will be tired to death of sugary forms of nourishment and long to see the last of the remnants of the festival.

The family had not yet arrived at this condition. On the contrary, the first inspection of the tables suggested the prospect of days of unstinted luxury; and the younger portion of the household, especially, were in a state of great excitement as the account of stock was taken with reference to future internal investments. Some curious facts came to light during these researches.

“ Where’s all the oranges gone to ? ” said Mrs. Sprowle. “ I expected there’d be ever so many of’em left. 1 didn’t see many of the folks eatin’ oranges. Where’s the skins of ’em ? There ought to be six dozen orange-skins round on the plates, and there a’n’t one dozen. And all the small cakes, too, and all the sugar things that was stuck on the big cakes;— Has anybody counted the spoons? Some of ’em got swallered, perhaps. I hope they was plated ones, if they did !”

The failure of the morning’s orangecrop and the deficit in other expected residual delicacies were not very difficult to account for. In many of the two-story Rockland families, and in those favored households of the neighboring villages whose members had been invited to the great party, there was a very general excitement among the younger people on the morning after the great event. “ Did y’ bring home somethin’ from the party? What is it? What is it? Is it frût-cake ? Is it nuts and oranges and apples ? Give me some ! Give me some ! ” Such a concert of treble voices uttering accents like these had not been heard since the great Temperance Festival with the celebrated “ cōlation ” in the open air under the trees of the Parnassian Grove,—as the place was christened by the young ladies of the Institute. The cry of the children was not in vain. From the pockets of demure fathers, from the bags of sharp-eyed spinsters, from the folded handkerchiefs of light-fingered sisters, from the tall hats of sly-winking brothers, there was a resurrection of the missing oranges and cakes and sugar-things in many a rejoicing family-circle, enough to astonish the most hardened “caterer” that ever contracted to feed a thousand people under canvas.

The tender recollection of those dear little ones whom extreme youth or other pressing considerations detain from scenes of festivity—a trait of affection by no means uncommon among our thoughtful people—dignifies those social meetings where it is manifested, and sheds a ray of sunshine on our common nature. It is “an oasis in the desort,”—to use the striking expression of the last year’s “ Valedictorian ” of the Apollinean Institute. In the midst of so much that is purely selfish, it is delightful to meet such disinterested care for others. When a large family of children are expecting a parent’s return from an entertainment, it will often require great exertions on his part to provide himself so as to meet their reasonable expectations. A few rules are worth remembering by all who attend anniversary dinners in Faneuil Hall or elsewhere. Thus: Lobsters’ claws, are always acceptable to children of all ages. Oranges and apples are to be taken one at a time, until the coat-pockets begin to become inconveniently heavy. Cakes are injured by sitting upon them ; it is, therefore, well to carry a stout tin box of a size to hold as many pieces as there are children in the domestic circle. A very pleasant amusement, at the close of one of these banquets, is grabbing for the flowers with which the table is embellished. These will please the ladies at home very greatly, and, if the children are at the same time abundantly supplied with fruits, nuts, cakes, and any little ornamental articles of confectionery which are of a nature to be unostentatiously removed, the kind-hearted parent will make a whole household happy, without any additional expense beyond the outlay for his ticket.

There were fragmentary delicacies enough left, of one kind and another, at any rate, to make all the Colonel’s family uncomfortable for the next week. It bid fair to take as long to get rid of the remains of the great party as it had taken to make ready for it.

In the mean time Mr. Bernard had been dreaming, as young men dream, of gliding shapes with bright eyes and burning cheeks, strangely blended with red planets and hissing meteors, and, shining over all, the white, unwandering star of the North, girt with its tethered constellations.

After breakfast he walked into the parlor, where he found Miss Darley. She was alone, and, holding a school-book in her hand, was at work with one of the morning’s lessons. She hardly noticed him as he entered, being very busy with her book,—and he paused a moment before speaking, and looked at her with a kind of reverence. It would not have been strictly true to call her beautiful. For years,—since her earliest womanhood,—those slender hands had taken the bread which repaid the toil of heart and brain from the coarse palms that offered it in the world’s rude market. It was not for herself alone that she had bartered away the life of her youth, that she had breathed the hot air of school-rooms, that she had forced her intelligence to posture before her will, as the exigencies of her place required,—waking to mental labor,—sleeping to dream of problems,— rolling up the stone of education for an endless twelvemonth’s term, to find it at the bottom of the hill again when another year called her to its renewed duties,—schooling her temper in unending inward and outward conflicts, until neither dulness nor obstinacy nor ingratitude nor insolence could reach her serene self-possession. Not for herself alone. Poorly as her prodigal labors were repaid in proportion to the waste of life they cost, her value was too well established to leave her without what, under other circumstances, would have been a more than sufficient compensation. But there were others who looked to her in their need, and so the modest fountain which might have been filled to its brim was continually drained through silent-flowing, hidden sluices.

Out of such a life, inherited from a race which had lived in conditions not unlike her own, beauty, in the common sense of the term, could hardly find leisure to develop and shape itself. For it must be remembered, that symmetry and elegance of features and figure, like perfectly formed crystals in the mineral world, are reached only by insuring a certain necessary repose to individuals and to generations. Human beauty is an agricultural product in the country, growing up in men and women as in corn and cattle, where the soil is good. It is a luxury almost monopolized by the rich in cities, bred under glass like their forced pine-apples and peaches. Both in city and country, the evolution of the physical harmonies which make music to our eyes requires a combination of favorable circumstances, of which alternations of unburdened tranquillity with intervals of varied excitement of mind and body are among the most important. Where sufficient excitement is wanting, as often happens in the country, the features, however rich in red and white, get heavy, and the movements sluggish; where excitement is furnished in excess, as is frequently the case in cities, the contours and colors are impoverished, and the nerves begin to make their existence known to the consciousness, as the face very soon informs us.

Helen Darley could not, in the nature of things, have possessed the kind of beauty which pleases the common taste. Her eye was calm, sad-looking, her features very still, except when her pleasant smile changed them for a moment, all her outlines were delicate, her voice was very gentle, but somewhat subdued by years of thoughtful labor, and on her smooth forehead one little hinted line whispered already that Care was beginning to mark the trace which Time sooner or later would make a furrow. She could not be a beauty ; if she had been, it would have been much harder for many persons to be interested in her. For, although in the abstract we all love beauty, and although, if we were sent naked souls into some ultramundane warehouse of soulless bodies and told to select one to our liking, we should each choose a handsome one, and never think of the consequences, —it is quite certain that beauty carries an atmosphere of repulsion as well as of attraction with it, alike in both sexes. We may be well assured that there are many persons who no more think of specializing their love of the other sex upon one endowed with signal beauty, than they think of wanting great diamonds or thousanddollar horses. No man or woman can appropriate beauty without paying for it, —in endowments, in fortune, in position, in self-surrender, or other valuable stock; and there are a great many who are too poor, too ordinary, too humble, too busy, too proud, to pay any of these prices for it. So the unbeautiful get many more lovers than the beauties; only, as there are more of them, their lovers are spread thinner and do not make so much show.

The young master stood looking at Helen Darley with a kind of tender admiration. She was such a picture of the martyr by the slow social combustive process, that it almost seemed to him he could see a pale lambent aureole round her head.

“ I did not see you at the great party last evening,” he said, presently.

She looked up and answered, “No. I have not much taste for such large companies. Besides, I do not feel as if my time belonged to me after it has been paid for. There is always something to do, some lesson or exercise,—and it so happened, I was very busy last night with the new problems in geometry. I hope you had a good time.”

“ Very. Two or three of our girls were there. Rosa Milburn. What a beauty she is! I wonder what she feeds on ! Wine and musk and chloroform and coals of fire, I believe; I didn’t think there was such color and flavor in a woman outside the tropics.”

Miss Darley smiled rather faintly; the imagery was not just to her taste : femincity often finds it very hard to accept the fact of muliebrity.

“ Was ”-?

She stopped short; but her question had asked itself.

“ Elsie there ? She was, for an hour or so. She looked frightfully handsome. I meant to have spoken to her, but she slipped away before I knew it.”

“ I thought she meant to go to the party,” said Miss Darley. “ Did she look at you ? ”

“ She did. Why ? ”

“ And you did not speak to her ? ”

“No. I should have spoken to her, but she was gone when I looked for her. A strange creature ! Isn’t there an odd sort of fascination about her? You have not explained all the mystery about the girl. What does she come to this school for ? She seems to do pretty much as she likes about studying.”

Miss Darley answered in very low tones. “ It was a fancy of hers to come, and they let her have her way. I don’t know what there is about her, except that she seems to take my life out of me when she looks at me. I don’t like to ask other people about our girls. She says very little to anybody, and studies, or makes believe study, almost what she likes. I don’t know what she is,” (Miss Darley laid her hand, trembling, on the young master’s sleeve,) “ but I can tell when she is in the room without seeing or hearing her. Oh, Mr. Langdon, I am weak and nervous, and no doubt foolish,—but —if there were women now, as in the days of our Saviour, possessed of devils, I should think there was something not human looking out of Elsie Venner’s eyes ! ”

The poor girl’s breast rose and fell tumultuously as she spoke, and her voice labored, as if some obstruction were rising in her throat.

A scene might possibly have come of it, but the door opened. Mr. Silas Peckham. Miss Darley got away as soon as she well could.

“ Why did not Miss Darley go to the party last evening?” said Mr. Bernard.

“ Well, the fact is,” answered Mr. Silas Peckham, “ Miss Darley, she’s pootty much took up with the school. She’s an industris young woman,—yis, she is industris,—but perhaps she a’n’t quite so spry a worker as some. Maybe, considerin’ she’s paid for her time, she isn’t fur out o’ the way in occoopyin’ herself evenin’s,—that is, if so be she a’n’t smart enough to finish up all her work in the daytime. Edoocation is the great business of the Institoot. Amoosements are objec’s of a secondary natur’, accordin’ to my v’oo.” [The unspellable pronunciation of this word is the touchstone of New England Brahminism.]

Mr. Bernard drew a deep breath, his thin nostrils dilating, as if the air did not rush in fast enough to cool his blood, while Silas Peckham was speaking. The Head of the Apollinean Institute delivered himself of these judicious sentiments in that peculiar acid, penetrating tone, wadded with a nasal twang, which not rarely becomes hereditary after three or four generations raised upon east winds, salt fish, and large, white-bellied, pickled cucumbers. He spoke deliberately, as if weighing his words well, so that, during his few remarks, Mr. Bernard had time for a mental accompaniment with variations, accented by certain bodily changes, which escaped Mr. Peekham’s observation. First there was a feeling of disgust and shame at hearing Helen Darley spoken of like a dumb working animal. That sent the blood up into his cheeks. Then the slur upon her probable want of force-her incapacity, who made the character of the school and left this man to pocket its profits—sent a thrill of the old Wentworth fire through him, so that his muscles hardened, his hands closed, and he took the measure of Mr. Silas Peckham, to see if his head would strike the wall in case he went over backwards all of a sudden. This would not do, of course, and so the thrill passed off and the muscles softened again. Then came that state of tenderness in the heart, overlying wrath in the stomach, in which the eyes grow moist like a woman’s, and there is also a great boiling-up of objectionable terms out of the deep-water vocabulary, so that Prudence and Propriety and all the other pious Ps have to jump upon the lid of speech to keep them from boiling over into fierce articulation. All this was internal, chiefly, and of course not recognized by Mr. Silas Peckham. The idea, that any full-grown, sensible man should have any other notion than that of getting the most work for the least money out of his assistants, had never suggested itself to him.

Mr. Bernard had gone through this paroxysm, and cooled down, in the period while Mr. Peckham was uttering these words in his thin, shallow whine, twanging up into the frontal sinuses. What was the use of losing his temper and throwing away his place, and so, among the consequences which would necessarily follow, leaving the poor lady-teacher without a friend to stand by her ready to lay his hand on the grand-inquisitor before the windlass of his rack had taken one turn too many ?

“ No doubt, Mr. Peckham,” he said, in a grave, calm voice, “ there is a great deal of work to be done in the school; but perhaps we can distribute the duties a little more evenly after a time. I shall look over the girls’ themes myself, after this week. Perhaps there will be some other parts of her labor that I can take on myself. We can arrange a new programme of studies and recitations.”

“ We can do that,” said Mr. Silas Peckham. “ But I don’t propose mater’lly alterin’ Miss Darley’s dooties. I don’t think she works to hurt herself. Some of the Trustees have proposed interdoosin’ new branches of study, and I expect you will be pootty much occoopied with the dooties that belong to your place. On the Sahbath you will be able to attend divine service three times, which is expected of our teachers, I shall continoo myself to give Sahbath Seriptur’-readin’s to the young ladies. That is a solemn dooty I can’t make up my mind to commit to other people. My teachers enjoy the Lord’s day as a day of rest. In it they do no manner of work,—except in cases of necessity or mercy, such as fillin’out diplomas, or when we git crowded jest at the end of a term, or when there is an extry number of poopils, or other Providential call to dispense with the ordinance.”

Mr. Bernard had a fine glow in his cheeks by this time,—doubtless kindled by the thought of the kind consideration Mr. Peckham showed for his subordinates in allowing them the between - meetingtime on Sundays except for some special reason. But the morning was wearing away ; so he went to the school-room, taking leave very properly of his respected principal, who soon took his hat and departed.

Mr. Peckham visited certain “ stores ” or shops, where he made inquiries after various articles in the provision-line, and effected a purchase or two. Two or three barrels of potatoes, which had sprouted in a promising way, he secured at a bargain. A side of feminine beef was also obtained at a low figure. He was entirely satisfied with a couple of barrels of flour, which, being invoiced “ slightly damaged,” were to be had at a reasonable price.

After this, Silas Peckham felt in good spirits. He had done a pretty stroke of business. It came into his head whether he might not follow it up with a still more brilliant speculation. So he turned his steps in the direction of Colonel Sprowle’s.

It was now eleven o’clock, and the battle-field of last evening was as we left it. Mr. Peckham’s visit was unexpected, perhaps not very well timed, but the Colonel received him civilly.

“ Beautifully lighted,—these rooms last night!” said Mr. Peckham. “Winterstrained ? ”

The Colonel nodded.

“ How much do you pay for your winter-strained ? ”

The Colonel told him the price.

“ Very hahnsome supper,—very hahnsome ! Nothin’ ever seen like it in Rockland. Must have been a great heap of things left over.”

The compliment was not ungrateful, and the Colonel acknowledged it by smiling and saying, “I should think the’ was a trifle ! Come and look.”

When Silas Peckham saw how many delicacies had survived the evening's conflict, his commercial spirit rose at once to the point of a proposal.

“ Colonel Sprowle,” said he, “ there’s meat and cakes and pies and pickles enough on that table to spread a hahnsome cōlation. If you’d like to trade reasonable, I think perhaps I should be willin’ to take ’em off your hands. There’s been a talk about our havin’ a celebration in the Parnassian Grove, and I think I could work in what your folks don’t want and make myself whole by chargin’ a small sum for tickets. Broken meats, of course, a’n’t of the same valoo as fresh provisions; so I think you might be willin’ to trade reasonable.”

Mr. Peckham paused and rested on his proposal. It would not, perhaps, have been very extraordinary, if Colonel Sprowle had entertained the proposition. There is no telling beforehand how such things will strike people. It didn’t happen to strike the Colonel favorably. He had a little red-blooded manhood in him.

“ Sell you them things to make a cōlation out of? ” the Colonel replied. Walk up to that table, Mr. Peckham, and help yourself! Fill your pockets, Mr. Peckham! Fetch a basket, and our hired folks shall fill it full for ye ! Send a cart, if y’ like, ’n’ carry off them leavin’s to make a celebration for your pupils with! Only let me tell ye this:—as sure’s my name’s Hezekiah Spraowle, you’ll be known through the taown ’n’ through the caounty, from that day forrard, as the Principal of the Broken-Victuals Institoot! ”

Even provincial human-nature sometimes has a touch of sublimity about it. Mr. Silas Peckham had gone a little deeper than he meant, and come upon the “hard pan,” as the well-diggers call it, of the Colonel’s character, before he thought of it. A militia-colonel standing on his sentiments is not to be despised. That was shown pretty well in New England two or three generations ago. There were a good many plain officers that talked about their “rigiment” and their “ caounty ” who knew very well how to say “ Make ready! ” “ Take aim ! ” “ Fire ! ” —in the face of a line of grenadiers with bullets in their guns and bayonets on them. And though a rustic uniform is not always unexceptionable in its cut and trimmings, yet there was many an illmade coat in those old times that was good enough to be shown to the enemy’s front rank, too often to be left on the field with a round hole in its left lapel that matched another going right through the brave heart of the plain Country captain or major or colonel who was buried in it under the crimson turf.

Mr. Silas Peckham said little or nothing. His sensibilities were not acute, but he perceived that he had made a miscalculation. He hoped that there was no offence,—thought it might have been mutooally agreeable, conclooded he would give up the idee of a cōlation, and backed himself out as if unwilling to expose the less guarded aspect of his person to the risk of accelerating impulses.

The Colonel shut the door—cast his eye on the toe of his right boot, as if it had had a strong temptation,—looked at his watch, then round the room, and, going to a cupboard, swallowed a glass of deepred brandy and water to compose his feelings.



( With a Digression on “Hired Help.”)

“ ABEL! Slip Cassia into the new sulky, and fetch her round.”

Abel was Dr. Kittredge’s hired man. He was born in New Hampshire, a queer sort of a State, with fat streaks of soil and population where they breed giants in mind and body, and lean streaks which export imperfectly nourished young men with promising but neglected appetites, who may be found in great numbers in all the large towns, or could be until of late years, when they have been half driven out of their favorite basement-stories by foreigners, and half coaxed away from them by California. New Humpshire is in more than one sense the Switzerland of New England. The “ Granite State” being naturally enough deficient in pudding-stone, its children are apt to wander southward in search of that deposit,—in the unpetrified condition.

Abel Stebbins was a good specimen of that extraordinary hybrid or mule between democracy and chrysocracy, a native-born New-England serving-man. The Old World has nothing at all like him. He is at once an emperor and a subordinate. In one hand he holds one five-millionth part (be the same more or less) of the power that sways the destinies of the Great Republic. His other hand is in your boot, which he is about to polish. It is impossible to turn a fellow-citizen whose vote may make his master—say, rather, employer—Governor or President, or who may be one or both himself, into a flunky. That article must be imported ready-made from other centres of civilization. When a NewEnglander has lost his self-respect as a citizen and as a man, he is demoralized, and cannot be trusted with the money to pay for a dinner.

It may be supposed, therefore, that this fractional emperor, this continent-shaper, finds his position awkward when he goes into service, and that his employer is apt to find it still more embarrassing. It is always under protest that the hired man does his duty. Every act of service is subject to the drawback, “ I am as good as you are.” This is so common, at least, as almost to be the rule, and partly accounts for the rapid disappearance of the indigenous “ domestic ” from the basements above mentioned. Paleontologists will by-and-by be examining the floors of our kitchens for tracks of the extinct native species of serving-man. The female of the same race is fast dying out; indeed, the time is not far distant when all the varieties of young woman will have vanished from New England, as the dodo has perished in the Mauritius, The young lady is all that we shall have left, and the mop and duster of the last Almira or Loizy will be stared at by generations of Bridgets and Noras as that famous head and foot of the lost bird are stared at in the Ashmolean Museum.

Abel Stebbins, the Doctor's man, took the true American view of his difficult position. He sold his time to the Doctor, and, having sold it, he took care to fulfil his half of the bargain. The Doctor, on hiss part, treated him, not like a gentleman, because one does not order a gentleman to bring up his horse or run his errands, but he treated him like a man. Every order was given in courteous terms. His reasonable privileges were respected as much as if they had been guarantied under hand and seal. The Doctor lent him books from his own library, and gave him all friendly counsel, as if he were a son or a younger brother.

Abel had Revolutionary blood in his veins, and though he saw fit to “ hire out,” he could never stand the word "servant,” or consider himself the inferior one of the two high contracting parties. When he came to live with the Doctor, he made up his mind he would dismiss the old gentleman, if he did not behave according to his notions of propriety. But he soon found that the Doctor was one of the right sort, and so determined to keep him. The Doctor soon found, on his side, that he had a trustworthy, intelligent fellow, who would be invaluable to him, if he only let him have his own way of doing what was to be done.

The Doctor’s hired man had not the manners of a French valet. He was grave and taciturn for the most part, he never bowed and rarely smiled, but was always at work in the daytime and always reading in the evening. He was hostler, and did all the housework that a man could properly do, would go to the door or “ tend table,” bought the provisions for the family,—in short, did almost everything for them but get their clothing. There was no office in a perfectly appointed household, from that of steward down to that of stable-boy, which he did not cheerfully assume. His round of work not consuming all his energies, he must needs cultivate the Doctor’s garden, which he kept in one perpetual bloom, from the blowing of the first crocus to the fading of the last dahlia.

This garden was Abel’s poem. Its half-dozen beds were so many cantos. Nature crowded them for him with imagery such as no Laureate could copy in the cold mosaic of language. The rhythm of alternating dawn and sunset, the strophe and antistrophe still perceptible through all the sudden shifts of our dithyrambic seasons and echoed in corresponding floral harmonies, made melody in the soul of Abel, the plain servingman. It softened his whole otherwise rigid aspect. He worshipped God according to the strict way of his fathers; but a florist’s Puritanism is always colored by the petals of his flowers,—and Nature never shows him a black corolla.

Perhaps he may have little or nothing to do in this narrative; but as there must be some who confound the New-England hired man, native-born, with the servant of foreign birth, and as there is the difference of two continents and two civilizations between them, it did not seem fair to let Abel bring round the Doctor’s mare and sulky without touching his features in half-shadow into our background.

The Doctor’s mare, Cassia, was so called by her master from her cinnamon color, cassia being one of the professional names for that spice or drug. She was of the shade we call sorrel, or, as an Englishman would perhaps say, chestnut,—a genuine “Morgan” mare, with a low forehand, as is common in this breed, but with strong quarters and flat hocks, well ribbed up, with a good eye and a pair of lively ears,—a first-rate doctor’s beast,— would stand until her harness dropped off her back at the door of a tedious case, and trot over hill and dale thirty miles in three hours, if there was a child in the next county with a bean in its windpipe and the Doctor gave her a hint of the fact. Cassia was not large, but she had a good deal of action, and was the Doctor's show-horse. There were two other animals in his stable: Quassia or Quashy, the black horse, and Caustic, the old bay, with whom he jogged round the village.

“ A long ride to-day ? ” said Abel, as he brought up the equipage.

“Just out of the village,—that’s all.— There’s a kink in her mane,—pull it out, will you ? ”

“ Goin’ to visit some of the great folks,” Abel said to himself “ Wonder who it is.”—Then to the Doctor,—“Anybody get sick at Sprowles’s ? They say Deacon Soper had a fit, after eatin’ some o’ their frozen victuals.”

The Doctor smiled. He guessed the Deacon would do well enough. He was only going to ride over to the Dudley mansion-house.



IF that primitive physician, CHIRON, M. D., appears as a Centaur, as we look at him through the lapse of thirty centuries, the modern country-doctor, if he could be seen about thirty miles off, could not be distinguished from a wheel-animalcule. He inhabits a wheel-carriage. He thinks of stationary dwellings as Long Tom Coffin did of land in general; a house may be well enough for incidental purposes, but for a “ stiddy ” residence give him a “ kerridge.” If he is classified in the Linnæan scale, he must be set down thus: Genus Homo; Species Rotifer infusorius,—the wheel-animal of infusions.

The Dudley mansion was not a mile from the Doctor’s; but it never occurred to him to think of walking to see any of his patients’ families, if he had any professional object in his visit. Whenever the narrow sulky turned in at a gate, the rustic who was digging potatoes, or hoeing corn, or swishing through the grass with his scythe in wave-like crescents, or stepping short behind a loaded wheelbarrow, or trudging lazily by the side of the swinging, loose-throated, short-legged oxen, rocking along the road as if they had just been landed after a three-months’ voyage,—the toiling native, whatever he was doing, stopped and looked up at the house the doctor was visiting.

“ Somebody sick over there t’ Haynes’s. Guess th’ old man’s ailin’ ag’in. Winder’s haaf-way open in the chamber,— shouldn’t wonder ’f he was dead and laid aout. Docterin’ a’n’t no use, when y’ see the winders open like that. Wahl, money a’n't much to speak of to th’ old man naow ! He don’t want but tew cents, —and old Widah Peake, she knows what he wants them for ! ”

Or again,—

“ Measles raound pootty thick. Briggs’s folks ’s’ buried two children with ’em laäst week. Th’ old Doctor, he’d h’ ker’d ’em threugh. Struck in ’n’ p’dooced mot'f’cation,—so they say.”

This is only meant as a sample of the kind of way they used to think or talk, when the narrow sulky turned in at the gate of some house where there was a visit to be made.

Oh, that narrow sulky ! What hopes, what fears, what comfort, what anguish, what despair, in the roll of its coming or its parting wheels ! In the spring, when the old people get the coughs which give them a few shakes and their lives drop in pieces like the ashes of a burned thread which have kept the threadlike shape until they were stirred,—in the hot summer noons, when the strong man comes in from the fields, like the son of the Shunamite, crying, “My head, my head,”— in the dying autumn days, when youth and maiden lie fever-stricken in many a household, still-faced, dull-eyed, darkflushed, dry-lipped, low-muttering in their daylight dreams, their fingers moving singly like those of slumbering harpers,—in the dead winter, when the white plague of the North has caged its wasted victims, shuddering as they think of the frozen soil which must be quarried like rock to receive them, if their perpetual convalescence should happen to be interfered with by any untoward accident,—at every season, the narrow sulky rolled round freighted with unmeasured burdens of joy and woe.

The Doctor drove along the southern foot of The Mountain. The “ Dudley mansion ” was near the eastern edge of this declivity, where it rose steepest, with baldest cliffs and densest patches of overhanging wood. It seemed almost too steep to climb, but a practised eye could see from a distance the zigzag lines of the sheep-paths which scaled it like miniature Alpine roads. A few hundred feet up The Mountain’s side was a dark, deep dell, unwooded, save for a few spindling, crazy-looking hackmatacks or native larches, with pallid green tufts sticking out fantastically all over them. It shelved so deeply, that, while the hemlock-tassels were swinging on the trees around its border, all would be still at its springy bottom, save that perhaps a single fern would wave slowly backward and forward like a sabre, with a twist as of a feathered oar,—and this, when not a breath could be felt, and every other stem and blade were motionless. There was an old story of one having perished here in the winter of ’86, and his body having been found in the spring,—whence its common name of “Dead-Man’s Hollow.” Higher up there were huge cliffs with chasms, and, it was thought, concealed caves, where in old times they said that Tories lay hid,—some hinted not without occasional aid and comfort from the Dudleys then living in the mansion-house. Still higher and farther west lay the accursed ledge,—shunned by all, unless it were now and then a daring youth, or a wandering naturalist who ventured to its edge in the hope of securing some infantile Crotalus durissus, who had not yet cut his poison-teeth.

Long, long ago, in old Colonial times, the Honorable Thomas Dudley, Esquire, a man of note and name and great resources, allied by descent to the family of “Tom Dudley,” as the early Governor is sometimes irreverently called by our most venerable, but still youthful antiquary,—and to the other public Dudleys, of course,—of all of whom he made small account, as being himself an English gentleman, with little taste for the splendors of provincial office,—early in the last century, Thomas Dudley had built this mansion. For several generations it had been dwelt in by descendants of the same name, but soon after the Revolution it passed by marriage into the hands of the Venners, by whom it had ever since been held and tenanted.

As the Doctor turned an angle in the road, all at once the stately old house rose before him. It was a skilfully managed effect, as it well might be, for it was no vulgar English architect who had planned the mansion and arranged its position and approach. The old house rose before the Doctor crowning a terraced garden, flanked at the left by a double avenue of tall elms. The flower-beds were edged with box, which diffused around it that dreamy balsamic odor, full of ante-natal reminiscences of a lost Paradise, dimly fragrant as might be the bdellium of ancient Havilah, the land compassed by the river Pison that went out of Eden. The garden was somewhat neglected, but not in disgrace,—and in the time of tulips and hyacinths, of roses, of “ snowballs,” of honeysuckles, of lilacs, of syringas, it was rich with blossoms.

From the front-windows of the mansion the eye reached a far blue mountainsummit,—no rounded heap, such as often shuts in a village-landscape, but a sharp peak, clean-angled as Ascutney from the Dartmouth green. A wide gap through miles of woods had opened this distant view, and showed more, perhaps, than all the labors of the architect and the landscape-gardener the large style of the early Dudleys.

The great stone chimney of the mansion-house was the centre from which all the artificial features of the scene appeared to flow. The roofs, the gables, the dormer-windows, the porches, the clustered offices in the rear, all seemed to crowd about the great chimney. To this central pillar the paths all converged. The single poplar behind the house,—Nature is jealous of proud chimneys, and always loves to put a poplar near one, so that it may fling a leaf or two down its black throat every autumn,—the one tall poplar behind the house seemed to nod and whisper to the grave square column, the elms to sway their branches towards it. And when the blue smoke rose from its summit, it seemed to be wafted away to join the azure haze which hung around the peak in the far distance, so that both should bathe in a common atmosphere.

Behind the house were clumps of lilacs with a century’s growth upon them, and looking more like trees than like shrubs. Shaded by a group of these was the ancient well, of huge circuit, and with a low arch opening out of its wall about ten feet below the surface,—whether the door of a crypt for the concealment of treasure, or of a subterranean passage, or merely of a vault for keeping provisions cool in hot weather, opinions differed.

On looking at the house, it was plain that it was built with Old-World notions of strength and durability, and, so far as might be, with Old-World materials. The hinges of the doors stretched out like arms, instead of like hands, as we make them. The bolts were massive enough for a donjon-keep. The small window-panes were actually inclosed in the wood of the sashes, instead of being stuck to them with putty, as in our modern windows. The broad staircase was of easy ascent, and was guarded by quaintly turned and twisted balusters. The ceilings of the two rooms of state were moulded with medallion-portraits and rustic figures, such as may have been seen by many readers in the famous old Philipse house,—Washington’s headquarters, —in the town of Yonkers. The fireplaces, worthy of the wide-throated central chimney, were bordered by pictured tiles, some of them with Scripture stories, some with Watteau-like figures,— tall damsels in slim waists and with spread enough of skirt for a modern ballroom, with bowing, reclining, or musical swains of what everybody calls the “ conventional” sort,—that is, the swain adapted to genteel society rather than to a literal sheep-compelling existence.

The house was furnished, soon after it was completed, with many heavy articles made in London from a rare wood just their come into fashion, not so rare now, and commonly known as mahogany. Time had turned it very dark, and the stately bedsteads and tall cabinets and claw-footed chairs and tables were in keeping with the sober dignity of the ancient mansion. The old “hangings” were yet preserved in the chambers, faded, but still showing their rich patterns,—properly entitled to their name, for they were literally hung upon flat wooden frames like trellis-work, which again were secured to the naked partitions.

There were portraits of different date on the walls of the various apartments, old painted coats-of-arms, bevel-edged mirrors, and in one sleeping-room a glass case of wax-work flowers and spangly symbols, with a legend signifying that E. M. (supposed to be Elizabeth Mascarene) wished not to be “ forgot ”

“ When I am dead and lay'd in dust
And all my bones are”

Poor E. M. ! Poor everybody that sighs for earthly remembrance in a planet with a core of fire and a crust of fossils !

Such was the Dudley mansion-house, —for it kept its ancient name in spite of the change in the line of descent. Its spacious apartments looked dreary and desolate; for here Dudley Venner and his daughter dwelt by themselves, with such servants only as their quiet mode of life required. He almost lived in his library, the western room on the groundfloor. Its window looked upon a small plat of green, in the midst of which was a single grave marked by a plain marble slab. Except this room, and the chamber where he slept, and the servants’ wing, the rest of the house was all Elsie's. She was always a restless, wandering child from her early years, and would have her little bed moved from one chamber to another,—flitting round as the fancy took her. Sometimes she would drag a mat and a pillow into one of the great empty rooms, and, wrapping herself in a shawl, coil up and go to sleep in a corner. Nothing frightened her; the “ haunted” chamber, with the torn hangings that flapped like wings when there was air stirring, was one of her favorite retreats.

She had been a very hard creature to manage. Her father could influence, but not govern her. Old Sophy, born of a slave mother in the house, could do more with her than anybody, knowing her by long instinctive study. The other servants were afraid of her. Her father had sent for governesses, but none of them ever stayed long. She made them nervous; one of them had a strange fit of sickness; not one of them ever came back to the house to see her. A young Spanish woman who taught her dancing succeeded best with her, for she had a passion for that exercise, and had mastered some of the most difficult dances.

Long before this period, she had manifested some most extraordinary singularities of taste or instinct. The extreme sensitiveness of her father on this point prevented any allusion to them; but there were stories floating round, some of them even getting into the papers,—without her name, of course,—which were of a kind to excite intense curiosity, if not more anxious feelings. This thing was certain, that at the age of twelve she was missed one night, and was found sleeping in the open air under a tree, like a wild creature. Very often she would wander off by day, always without a companion, bringing home with her a nest, a flower, or even a more questionable trophy of her ramble, such as showed that there was no place where she was afraid to venture. Once in a while she had stayed out over night, in which case the alarm was spread, and men went in search of her, but never successfully,—so that some said she hid herself in trees, and others that she had found one of the old Tory caves.

Some, of course, said she was a crazy girl, and ought to be sent to an Asylum. But old Dr. Kittredge had shaken his head, and told them to bear with her, and let her have her way as much as they could, but watch her, as far as possible, without making her suspicious of them. He visited her now and then, under the pretext of seeing her father on business, or of only making a friendly call.

The Doctor fastened his horse outside the gate, and walked up the garden-alley. He stopped suddenly with a start. A strange sound had jarred upon his ear. It was a sharp prolonged rattle, continuous, but rising and falling as if in rhythmical cadence. He moved softly towards the open window from which the sound seemed to proceed.

Elsie was alone in the room, dancing one of those wild Moorish fandangos, such as a matador hot from the Plaza de Toros of Seville or Madrid might love to lie and gaze at. She was a figure to look upon in silence. The dancing frenzy must have seized upon her while she was dressing; for she was in her bodice, barearmed, her hair floating unbound far below the waist of her barred or banded skirt. She had caught up her castanets, and rattled them as she danced with a kind of passionate fierceness, her lithe body undulating with flexuous grace, her diamond eyes glittering, her round arms wreathing and unwinding, alive and vibrant to the tips of the slender fingers. Some passion seemed to exhaust itself in this dancing paroxysm; for all at once she reeled from the middle of the floor, and flung herself, as it were in a careless coil, upon a great tiger’s-skin which was spread out in one corner of the apartment.

The old Doctor stood motionless, looking at her as she lay panting on the tawny, black-lined robe of the dead monster, which Stretched out beneath her, its rude flattened outline recalling the Terror of the Jungle as he crouched for his fatal spring. In a few moments her head drooped upon her arm, and her glittering eyes closed,—she was sleeping. He stood looking at her still, steadily, thoughtfully, tenderly. Presently he lifted his hand to his forehead, as if recalling some fading remembrance of other years.

“ Poor Catalina ! ”

This was all he said. He shook his head,—implying that his visit would be in vain to-day,—returned to his sulky, and rode away, as if in a dream.