“ BRIDGEPORT ! Change cars for the Naugatuck Railroad ! ” shouted the conductor of the New York and Boston Express Train, on the evening of May 27th, 1858. Indeed, he does it every night, (Sundays excepted,) for that matter; but as this story refers especially to Mr. J. Edward Johnson, who was a passenger on that train, on the aforesaid evening, I make special mention of the fact. Mr. Johnson, carpet-bag in hand, jumped upon the platform, entered the office, purchased a ticket for Waterbary, and was soon whirling in the Naugatuck train towards his destination.
On reaching Waterbury, in the soft spring twilight, Mr. Johnson walked up and down in front of the station, curiously scanning the faces of the assembled crowd. Presently he noticed a gentleman who was performing the same operation upon the faces of the alighting passengers. Throwing himself directly in the way of the latter, the two exchanged a steady gaze.
“ Is your name Billings ? ” “ Is your name Johnson ? ” were simultaneous questions, followed by the simultaneous exclamations, — “ Ned ! ” “ Enos ! ”
Then there was a crushing grasp of hands, repeated after a pause, in testimony of ancient friendship, and Mr. Billings, returning to practical life, asked,— “ Is that all your baggage ? Come, I have a buggy here : Eunice has heard the whistle, and she ’ll be impatient to welcome you.”
The impatience of Eunice (Mrs. Billings, of course) was not of long duration; for in five minutes thereafter she stood at the door of her husband's chocolate-colored villa, receiving his friend.
While these three persons are comfortably seated at the tea-table, enjoying their waffles, cold tongue, and canned peaches, and asking and answering questions helter-skelter in the delightful confusion of reunion after long separation, let us briefly inform the reader who and what they are.
Mr. Enos Billings, then, was part owner of a manufactory of metal buttons, forty years old, of middling height, ordinarily quiet and rather shy, but with a large share of latent warmth and enthusiasm in his nature. His hair was brown, slightly streaked with gray, his eyes a soft, dark hazel, forehead square, eyebrows straight, nose of no very marked character, and mouth moderately full, with a tendency to twitch a little at the corners. His voice was undertoned, but mellow and agreeable.
Mrs. Eunice Billings, of nearly equal age, was a good specimen of the wideawake New-England woman. Her face had a piquant smartness of expression, which might have been refined into a sharp edge, but for her natural hearty good-humor. Her head was smoothly formed, her face a full oval, her hair and eyes blond and blue in a strong light, but brown and steel-gray at other times, and her complexion of that ripe fairness into which a ruddier color will sometimes fade. Her form, neither plump nor spare, had yet a firm, elastic compactness, and her slightest movement conveyed a certain impression of decision and self-reliance.
As for J. Edward Johnson, it is enough to say that he was a tall, thin gentleman of forty-five, with an aquiline nose, narrow face, and military whiskers, which swooped upwards and met under his nose in a glossy black moustache. His complexion was dark, from the bronzing of fifteen summers in New Orleans. He was a member of a wholesale hardware firm in that city, and had now revisited his native North for the first time since his departure. A year before, some letters relating to invoices of metal buttons, signed “ Foster, Kirkup, & Co., per Enos Billings,” had accidentally revealed to him the whereabouts of the old friend of his youth, with whom we now find him domiciled. The first thing he did, after attending to some necessary business matters in New York, was to take the train for Waterbury.
“ Enos,” said he, as he stretched out his hand for the third cup of tea, (which he had taken only for the purpose of prolonging the pleasant table-chat,) “ I wonder which of us is most changed.”
“ You, of course,” said Mr. Billings, “ with your brown face and big moustache. Your own brother would n’t have known you, if he had seen you last, as I did, with smooth cheeks and hair of unmerciful length. Why, not even your voice is the same ! ”
“ That is easily accounted for,” replied Mr. Johnson. “ But in your case, Enos, l am puzzled to find where the difference lies. Your features seem to be but little changed, now that I can examine them at leisure ; yet it is not the same face. But, really, I never looked at you for so long a time, in those days. I beg pardon : you used to be so — so remarkably shy.”
Mr. Billings blushed slightly, and seemed at a loss what to answer. His wife, however, burst into a merry laugh, exclaiming, —
“ Oh, that was before the days of the A. C. ! ”
He, catching the infection, laughed also: in fact, Mr. Johnson laughed, but without knowing why.
“ The ‘ A. C.’! ” said Mr. Billings. “ Bless me, Eunice ! how long it is since we have talked of that summer! I had almost forgotten that there ever was an A. C.”
“ Enos, could you ever forget Abel Mallory and the beer? — or that scene between Hollins and Shelldrake? — or” (here she blushed the least bit) “your own fit of candor ? ” And she laughed again, more heartily than ever.
“ What a precious lot of fools, to be sure ! ” exclaimed her husband.
Mr. Johnson, meanwhile, though enjoying the cheerful humor of his hosts, was not a little puzzled with regard to its cause.
“ What is the A. C. ? ” lie ventured to ask.
Mr. and Mrs. Billings looked at each other, and smiled, without replying.
“ Really, Ned,” said the former, finally, “ the answer to your question involves the whole story.”
“ Then why not tell him the whole story, Enos ? ” remarked his wife.
“ You know I ’ve never told it yet, and it’s rather a hard thing to do, seeing that I'm one of the heroes of the farce, — for it was n’t even genteel comedy, Ned,” said Mr. Billings. “ However,” he continued, “ absurd as the story may seem, it’s the only key to the change in my life, and I must run the risk of being laughed at.”
“ I ’ll help you through, Enos,” said his wife, encouragingly; “and besides, my rôle in the farce was no better than yours. Let us resuscitate, for to-night only, the constitution of the A. C.”
“ Upon my word, a capital idea! But we shall have to initiate Ned.”
Mr. Johnson merrily agreeing, he was blindfolded and conducted into another room. A heavy arm-chair, rolling on casters, struck his legs in the rear, and he sank into it with lamb-like resignation.
“Open your mouth!” was the command, given with mock solemnity.
“ Now shut it! ”
And his lips closed upon a cigar, while at the same time the handkerchief was whisked away from his eyes. He found himself in Mr, Billings’s library.
“ Your nose betrays your taste, Mr. Johnson,” said the lady, “and I am not hard-hearted enough to deprive you of the indulgence. Here are matches.”
“ Well,” said he, acting upon the hint, “ if the remainder of the ceremonies are equally agreeable, I should like to be a permanent member of your order.”
By this time Mr. and Mrs. Billings, having between them lighted the lamp, stirred up the coal in the grate, closed the doors, and taken possession of comfortable chairs, the latter proclaimed,—
“The Chapter (is n’t that what you call it ?) will now be held ! ”
“ Was it in ’43 when you left home, Ned ? ” asked Mr. B.
“ Well, the A. C. culminated in ’45. You remember something of the society of Norridgeport, the last winter you were there ? Abel Mallory, for instance ? ”
“ Let me think a moment,” said Mr. Johnson, reflectively. “ Really, it seems like looking back a hundred years. Mallory,—was n’t that the sentimental young man, with wispy hair, a tallowy skin, and big, sweaty hands, who used to be spouting Carlyle on the ‘reading evenings’ at Shelldrake’s? Yes, to be sure; and there was Hollins, with his clerical face and infidel talk, — and Pauline Ringtop, who used to say, ‘ The Beautiful is the Good.’ I can still hear her shrill voice singing, ‘ Would that I were beautiful, would that I were fair ! ’ ”
There was a hearty chorus of laughter at poor Miss Ringtop’s expense. It harmed no one, however; for the tar-weed was already thick over her Californian grave.
“ Oh, I see,” said Mr. Billings, “ you, still remember the absurdities of those days. In fact, I think you partially saw through them then. But I was younger, and far from being so clear-headed, and I looked upon those evenings at Shelldrake’s as being equal, at least, to the symposia of Plato. Something in Mallory always repelled me. I detested the sight of his thick nose, with the flaring nostrils, and his coarse, half-formed lips, of the bluish color of raw corned-beef. But I looked upon these feelings as unreasonable prejudices, and strove to conquer them, seeing the admiration which he received from others. He was an oracle on the subject of ‘Nature.’ Having eaten nothing for two years, except Graham bread, vegetables without salt, and fruits, fresh or dried, he considered himself to have attained an antediluvian purity of health,— or that he would attain it, so soon as two pimples on his left temple should have healed. These pimples he looked upon as the last feeble stand made by the pernicious juices left from the meat he had formerly eaten and the coffee he had drunk. His theory was, that through a body so purged and purified none but true and natural impulses could find access to the soul. Such, indeed, was the theory we all held. A Return to Nature was the near Millennium, the dawn of which we already beheld in the sky. To be sure, there was a difference in our individual views as to how this ■should be achieved, but we were all agreed as to what the result should be.
“ I can laugh over those days now, Ned; but they were really happy while they lasted. We were the salt of the earth; we were lifted above those grovelling instincts which we saw manifested in the lives of others. Each contributed his share of gas to inflate the painted balloon to which we all clung, in the expectation that it would presently soar with us to the stars. But it only went up over the out-houses, dodged backwards and forwards two or three times, and finally flopped down with us into a swamp.”
“ And that balloon was the A. C. ? ” suggested Mr. Johnson.
“ As President of this Chapter, I prohibit questions,” said Eunice. “ And, Enos, don’t send up your balloon until the proper time. Don't anticipate the programme, or the performance will be spoiled.”
“ I had almost forgotten that Ned is so much in the dark,” her obedient husband answered. “ You can have but a slight notion,” he continued, turning to his friend, "of the extent to which this sentimental, or transcendental, element in the little circle at Shelldrake’s increased after you left Norridgeport. We read the ‘Dial,’ and Emerson ; we believed in Alcott as the‘purple Plato’of modern times; we took psychological works out of the library, and would listen for hours to Hollins while he read Schelling or Fichte, and then go home with a misty impression of having imbibed infinite wisdom. It was, perhaps, a natural, though very eccentric rebound from the hard, practical, unimaginative New-England mind which surrounded us ; yet I look back upon it with a kind of wonder, I was then, as you know, unformed mentally, and might have been so still, but for the experiences of the A. C.”
Mr. Johnson shifted his position, a little impatiently. Eunice looked at him with laughing eyes, and shook her finger with a mock threat.
“ Shelldrake,” continued Mr. Billings, without noticing this by-play, “was a man of more pretence than real cultivation, as I afterwards discovered. He was in good circumstances, and always glad to receive us at his house, as this made him, virtually, the chief of our tribe, and the outlay for refreshments involved only the apples from his own orchard and water from his well. There was an entire absence of conventionality at our meetings, and this, compared with the somewhat stiff society of the village, was really an attraction. There was a mystic bond of union in our ideas: we discussed life, love, religion, and the future state, not only with the utmost candor, but with a warmth of feeling which, in many of us, was genuine. Even I (and you know how painfully shy and bashful I was) felt myself more at home there than in my father’s house; and if I did n’t talk much, I had a pleasant feeling of being in harmony with those who did.
“Well, ’t was in the early part of'45, — I think in April, — when we were all gathered together, discussing, as usual, the possibility of leading a life in accordance with Nature. Abel Mallory was there, and Hollins, and Miss Ringtop, and Faith Levis, with her knitting,—and also Eunice Hazleton, a lady whom you have never seen, but you may take my wife as her representative”—
“ Stick to the programme, Enos,” interrupted Mrs. Billings.
“ Eunice Hazleton, then. I wish I could recollect some of the speeches made on that occasion. Abel had but one pimple on his temple, (there was a purple spot where the other had been,) and was estimating that in two or three months more he would be a true, unspoiled man. His complexion, nevertheless, was more clammy and whey-like than ever.
“ ‘ Yes,’ said he, ‘ I also am an Arcadian ! This false dual existence which I have been leading will soon be merged in the unity of Nature. Our lives must conform to her sacred law. Why can’t we strip off these hollow Shams,’ (he made great use of that word,) ‘ and be our true selves, pure, perfect, and divine ?'
“ Miss Ringtop heaved a sigh, and repeated a stanza from her favorite poet:—
On the everlasting Never,
And my heart with all its fires
In the cradle of Creation
Finds the soul resuscitation! ’
“ Shelldrake, however, turning to his wife, said, —
“ ‘ Elviry, how many up-stairs rooms is there in that house down on the Sound ? ’
“’ Four,—besides three small ones under the roof. Why, what made you think of that, Jesse ? ’ said she.
“ ‘ I’ve got an idea, while Abel’s been talking,’ he answered. ‘ We’ve taken a house for the summer, down the other side of Bridgeport, right ou the water, where there ’s good fishing and a fine view of the Sound. Now, there’s room enough for all of us, — at least, all that can make it suit to go. Abel, you and Enos, and Pauline and Eunice might fix matters so that we could all take the place in partnership, and pass the summer together, living a true and beautiful life in the bosom of Nature. There we shall be perfectly free and untrammelled by the chains which still hang around us in Norridgeport. You know how often we have wanted to be set on some island in the Pacific Ocean, where we could build up a true society, right from the start. Now, here ’s a chance to try the experiment for a few months, anyhow.’
“Eunice clapped her hands (yes, you did !) and cried out, —
“ ‘ Splendid ! Arcadian ! I ’ll give up my school for the summer.’
“ Miss Ringtop gave her opinion in another quotation : —
Condense to gems, and form the Real! ’
“ Abel Mallory, of course, did not need to have the proposal repeated. He was ready for anything which promised indolence, and the indulgence of his sentimental tastes. I will do the fellow the justice to say that he was not a hypocrite, He firmly believed both in himself and his ideas, — especially the former. He pushed both hands through the long wisps of his drab-colored hair, and threw his head back until his wide nostrils resembled a double door to his brain.
“’ O Nature ! ’ he said, ‘ you have found your lost children ! We shall obey your neglected laws! we shall hearken to your divine whispers ! we shall bring you back from your ignominious exile, and place you on your ancestral throne ! ’
“ ‘Let us do it !’ was the general cry.
“ A sudden enthusiasm fired us, and we grasped each other's hands in the hearty impulse of the moment. My own private intention to make a summer trip to the White Mountains had been relinquished the moment I heard Eunice give in her adhesion. I may as well confess, at once, that I was desperately in love, and afraid to speak to her.
“ By the time Mrs. Shelldrake brought in the apples and water we were discussing the plan as a settled thing. Hollins had an engagement to deliver Temperance lectures in Ohio during the summer, but decided to postpone his departure until August, so that he might, at least, spend two months with us. Faith Levis could n’t go,— at which, I think, we were all secretly glad. Some three or four others were in the same case, and the company was finally arranged to consist of the Shelldrakes, Hollins, Mallory, Eunice, Miss Ringtop, and myself. We did not give much thought, either to the preparations in advance, or to our mode of life when settled there. We were to live near to Nature: that was the main thing.
“’ What shall we call the place ? ’ asked Eunice.
“ ‘ Arcadia !’ said Abel Mallory, rolling up his large green eyes.
“ ‘ Then,’ said Hollins, ‘ let us constitute ourselves the Arcadian Club ! ’ ”
—“ Aha ! ” interrupted Mr. Johnson, “ I see ! The A. C.! ”
“ Yes, you see the A. C. now,” said Mrs. Billings; “but to understand it fully, you should have had a share in those Arcadian experiences.”
“ I am all the more interested in hearing them described. Go on, Enos.”
“ The proposition was adopted. We called ourselves The Arcadian Club ; but in order to avoid gossip, and the usual ridicule, to which we were all more or less sensitive, in case our plan should become generally known, it Was agreed that the initials only should be used. Besides, there was an agreeable air of mystery about it: we thought of Delphi, and Eleusis, and Samothrace: we should discover that Truth which the dim eyes of worldly men and women were unable to see, and the day of disclosure would be the day of Triumph. In one sense we were truly Arcadians: no suspicion of impropriety, I verily believe, entered any of our minds. In our aspirations after what we called a truer life there was no material taint. We were fools, if you choose, but as far as possible from being sinners. Besides, the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Shelldrake, who naturally became the heads of our proposed community, were sufficient to preserve us from slander or suspicion, if even our designs had been publicly announced.
“ I won’t bore you with an account of our preparations. In fact, there was very little to be done. Mr. Shelldrake succeeded in hiring the house, with most of its furniture, so that but a few articles had to be supplied. My trunk contained more books than boots, more blank paper than linen.
“‘Two shirts will be enough,’ said Abel: ‘ you can wash one of them any day, and dry it in the sun.’
“ The supplies consisted mostly of flour, potatoes, and sugar. There was a vegetable-garden in good condition, Mr. Shelldrake said, which would be our principal dependence.
‘“Besides, the clams!’ I exclaimed, unthinkingly.
“ ‘ Oh, yes ! ’ said Eunice, ‘ we can have chowder-parties: that will be delightful ! ’
“ ‘ Clams ! chowder ! oh, worse than flesh ! ’ groaned Abel. ‘ Will you reverence Nature by outraging her first laws ? ’
“ I had made a great mistake, and felt very foolish. Eunice and I looked at each other, for the first time.”
“ Speak for yourself only, Enos,” gently interpolated his wife.
“ It was a lovely afternoon in the beginning of June when we first approached Arcadia. We had taken two double teams at Bridgeport, and drove slowly forward to our destination, followed by a cart containing our trunks and a few household articles. J was a sweet, bright, balmy day : the -fields were rich and green, the clove snowed faint streaks of ruby mist along slopes leaning southward, and the meadows were yellow with buttercups. Now and then we caught glimpses of the Sound, and, far beyond it, the dim Long-Island shore. Every old white farm-house, with its gray-walled garden, its clumps of lilacs, viburnums, and early roses, offered us a picture of pastoral simplicity and repose. We passed them, one by one, in the happiest mood, enjoying the earth around us, the sky above, and ourselves most of all.
“ The scenery, however, gradually became more rough anil broken. Knobs of gray gneiss, crowned by mournful cedars, intrenched upon the arable land, and the dark-blue gleam of water appeared through the trees. Our road, which had been approaching the Sound, now skirted the head of a deep, irregular inlet, beyond which extended a beautiful promontory, thickly studded with cedars, and with scattering groups of elm, oak, and maple trees. Towards the end of the promontory stood a house, with white walls shining against the blue line of the Sound.
“ ‘ There is Arcadia, at last! ’ exclaimed Mr. Shelldrake.
“ A general outcry of delight greeted the announcement. And, indeed, the loveliness of the picture surpassed our most poetic anticipations. The low sun was throwing exquisite lights across the point, painting the slopes of grass a golden green, and giving a pearly softness to the gray rocks. In the background was drawn the far-off water-line, over which a lew specks of sail glimmered against the sky. Miss Ringtop, who, with Eunice, Mallory, and myself, occupied one carriage, expressed her ‘ gushing ’ feelings in the usual manner: —
Doth an angel thrust me on,—
Where the landscape lies serenest,
In the journey of the sun! ’
“’ Don't, Pauline ! ’ said Eunice; ‘ I never like to hear poetry flourished in the face of Nature. This landscape surpasses any poem in the world. Let us enjoy the best thing we have, rather than the next best.’
“’ Ah, yes ! ’ sighed Miss Ringtop, ‘’t is true !
” Thenceforward, to the house, all was childish joy and jubilee. All minor personal repugnances were smoothed over in the general exultation. Even Abel Mallory became agreeable; and Hollins, sitting beside Mrs. Shelldrake on the back seat of the foremost carriage, shouted to us, in boyish lightness of heart.
“Passing the head of the inlet, we left the country-road, and entered, through a gate in the tottering stone wall, on our summer domain. A track, open to the field on one side, led us past a clump of deciduous trees, between pastures broken by cedared knolls of rock, down the centre of the peninsula, to the house. It was quite an old frame-building, two stories high, with a gambrel roof and tall chimneys. Two slim Lombardy poplars and a broad-leaved catalpa shaded the southern side, and a kitchen-garden, divided in the centre by a double row of untrimmed currant-bushes, flanked it on the east. For flowers, there were masses of blue flags and coarse tawny-red lilies, besides a huge trumpet-vine which swung its pendent arms from one of the gables. In front of the house a natural lawn of mingled turf and rock sloped steeply down to the water, which was not more than two hundred yards distant. To the west was another and broader inlet of the Sound, out of which our Arcadian promontory rose bluff and bold, crowned with a thick fringe of pines. It was really a lovely spot which Shelldrake had chosen, — so secluded, while almost surrounded by the winged and moving life of the Sound, mple, so pastoral and home-like. No one doubted the success of our experiment, for that evening, at least.
“ Perkins Brown, Shelldrake’s boy-ofall-work, awaited us at the door. He had been sent on two or three days in advance, to take charge of the house, and seemed to have had enough of hermitlife, for he hailed us with a wild whoop, throwing his straw hat half-way up one of the poplars. Perkins was a boy of fifteen, the child of poor parents, who were satisfied to get him off their hands, regardless as to what humanitarian theories might be tested upon him. As the Arcadian Club recognized no such thing as caste, he was always admitted to our meetings, and understood just enough of our conversation to excite a silly ambition in his slow mind. His animal nature was predominant, and this led him to be deceitful. At that time, however, we all looked upon him as a proper young Arcadian, and hoped that he would develop into a second Abel Mallory.
“After our effects had been deposited on the stoop, and the carriages had driven away, we proceeded to apportion the rooms, and take possession. On the first floor there were three rooms, two of which would serve us as diningand drawingrooms, leaving the third for the Shelldrakes. As neither Eunice and Miss Ringtop, nor Hollins and Abel showed any disposition to room together, I quietly gave up to them the four rooms in the second story, and installed myself in one of the attic chambers. Here I could hear the music of the rain close above my head, and through the little gable window, as I lay in bed, watch the colors of the morning gradually steal over the distant shores. The end was, we were all satisfied.
“’ Now for our first meal in Arcadia ! ’ was the next cry. Mrs. Shelldrake, like a prudent housekeeper, marched off to the kitchen, where Perkins had already kindled a fire. We looked in at the door, but thought it best to allow her undisputed sway in such a narrow realm. Eunice was unpacking some loaves of bread and paper bags of crackers ; and Miss Ringtop, smiling through her ropy curls, as much as to say, ‘ You see, I also can perform the coarser tasks of life ! ’ occupied herself with plates and cups. We men, therefore, walked out to the garden, which we found in a promising condition. The usual vegetables had been planted and were growing finely, for the season was yet scarcely warm enough for the weeds to make much headway. Radishes, young onions, and lettuce formed our contribution to the table. The Shelldrakes, I should explain, had not yet advanced to the antediluvian point, in diet: nor, indeed, had either Eunice or myself. We acknowledged the fascination of tea, we saw a very mitigated evil in milk and butter, and we were conscious of stifled longings after the abomination of meat. Only Mallory, Hollins, and Miss Ringtop had reached that loftiest round on the ladder of progress where the material nature loosens the last fetter of the spiritual. They looked down upon us, and we meekly admitted their right to do so.
“ Our board, that evening, was really tempting. The absence of meat was compensated to us by the crisp and racy onions, and I craved only a little salt, which had been interdicted, as a most pernicious substance. I sat at one corner of the table, beside Perkins Brown, who took an opportunity, while the others were engaged in conversation, to jog my elbow gently. As I turned towards him, he said nothing, but dropped his eyes significantly. The little rascal had the lid of a blacking-box, filled with salt, upon his knee, and was privately seasoning his onions and radishes. I blushed at the thought of my hypocrisy, but the onions were so much better that I could n’t help dipping into the lid with him.
“ ‘Oh,’ said Eunice, ‘ we must send for some oil and vinegar! This lettuce is very nice.’
“'Oil and vinegar ?’ exclaimed Abel.
“’ Why, yes,’ said she, innocently: ‘they are both vegetable substances.’
“ Abel at first looked rather foolish, but quickly recovering himself, said,—
“’ All vegetable substances are not proper for food : you would not taste the poison-oak, or sit under the up-as-tree of Java.’
“'Well, Abel,’ Eunice rejoined, ‘how are we to distinguish what is best for us ? How are we to know what vegetables to choose, or what animal and mineral substances to avoid ? ’
“’ I will tell you,’ he answered, with a lofty air. ‘ See here ! ’ pointing to his temple, where the second pimple — either from the change of air, or because, in the excitement of the last few days, he had forgotten it — was actually healed. ‘ My blood is at last pure. The struggle between the natural and the unnatural is over, and I am beyond the depraved influences of my former taste. My instincts are now, therefore, entirely pure also. What is good for man to eat, that I shall have a natural desire to eat: what is bad will be naturally repelled. How does the cow distinguish between the wholesome and the poisonous herbs of the meadow ? And is man less than a cow, that he cannot cultivate his instincts to an equal point ? Let me walk through the woods and I can tell you every berry and root which God designed for food, though I know not its name, and have never seen it before. I shall make use of my time, during our sojourn here, to test, by my purified instinct, every substance, animal, mineral, and vegetable, upon which the human race subsists, and to create a catalogue of the True Food of Man ! ’
“ Abel was eloquent on this theme, and he silenced not only Eunice, but the rest of us. Indeed, as we were all half-infected with the same delusions, it was not easy to answer his sophistries.
“ After supper was over, the prospect of cleaning the dishes and putting things in order was not so agreeable; but Mrs. Shelldrake and Perkins undertook the work, and we did not think it necessary to interfere with them. Half an hour afterwards, when the full moon had risen, we took our chairs upon the stoop, to enjoy the calm, silver night, the soft sea-air, and our summer’s residence in anticipatory talk.
“‘My friends,’ said Hollins, (and his hobby, as you may remember, Ned, was the organization of Society, rather than those reforms which apply directly to the Individual,) — ‘ my friends, I think we are sufficiently advanced in progressive ideas to establish our little Arcadian community upon what I consider the true basis: not Law, nor Custom, but the uncorrupted impulses of our nature. What Abel said in regard to dietetic reform is true; but that alone will not regenerate the race. We must rise superior to those conventional ideas of Duty whereby Life is warped and crippled. Life must not be a prison, where each one must come and go, work, eat, and sleep, as the jailer commands. Labor must not be a necessity, but a spontaneous joy. ’T is true, but little labor is required of us here: let us, therefore, have no set tasks, no fixed rules, but each one work, rest, eat, sleep, talk or be silent, as his own nature prompts.’
“ Perkins, sitting on the steps, gave a suppressed chuckle, which I think no one heard but myself. I was vexed with his levity, but, nevertheless, gave him a warning nudge with my toe, in payment for the surreptitious salt.
“That ’s just the notion I had, when I first talked of our coming here,’ said Shelldrake. ‘ Here we ’re alone and unhindered ; and if the plan should n’t happen to work well, (I don’t see why it should n’t, though,) no harm will be done. I’ve had a deal of hard work in my life, and I’ve been badgered and bullied so much by your strait-laced professors, that I’m glad to get away from the world for a spell, and talk and do rationally, without being laughed at.’
“ ‘ Yes,’ answered Hollins, ‘ and if we succeed, as I feel we shall, for I think I know the hearts of all of us here, this may be the commencement of a new eepoch for the world. We may become the turning-point between two dispensations: behind us everything false and unnatural,—before us everything true, beautiful, and good.’
“ ‘ Ah,’ sighed Miss Ringtop, ‘ it reminds me of Gamaliel J. Gawthrop’s beautiful lines: —
In the distance, gray and dead;
There no wreaths of godless glory
To his mist-like tresses wed,
And the foot-fall of the Ages
Reigns supreme, with noiseless tread.” ‘
“ ‘ I am willing to try the experiment,’ said I, on being appealed to by Hollins; ‘ but don’t you think we had better observe some kind of order, even in yielding everything to impulse ? Should n’t there be, at least, a platform, as the politicians call it, — an agreement by which we shall all be bound, and which we can afterwards exhibit as the basis of our success ? ’
“ He meditated a few moments, and then answered,—
“ ‘ I think not. It resembles too much the thing we are trying to overthrow. Can you bind a man’s belief by making him sign certain articles of Faith ? No: his thought will be free, in spite of it; and I would have Action — Life — as free as Thought. Our platform — to adopt your image — has but one plank : Truth. Let each only be true to himself: be himself, act himself, or herself, with the uttermost candor. We can all agree upon that.’
“ The agreement was accordingly made. And certainly no happier or more hopeful human beings went to bed in all New England that night.
“ I arose with the sun, went into the garden, and commenced weeding, intending to do my quota of work before breakfast, and then devote the day to reading and conversation. I was presently joined by Shelldrake and Mallory, and between us we finished the onions and radishes, stuck the peas, and cleaned the alleys. Perkins, after milking the cow and turning her out to pasture, assisted Mrs. Shelldrake in the kitchen. At breakfast we were joined by Hollins, who made no excuse for his easy morning habits; nor was one expected. I may as well tell you now, though, that his natural instincts never led him to work. After a week, when a second crop of weeds was coming on, Mallory fell off also, and thenceforth Shelldrake and myself had the entire charge of the garden. Perkins did the rougher work, and was always on hand when he was wanted. Very soon, however, I noticed that he was in the habit of disappearing for two or three hours in the afternoon.
“ Our meals preserved the same Spartan simplicity. Eunice, however, carried her point in regard to the salad; for Abel, after tasting and finding it very palatable, decided that oil and vinegar might be classed in the catalogue of True Food. Indeed, his long abstinence from piquant flavors gave him such an appetite for it, that our supply of lettuce was soon exhausted. An embarrassing accident also favored us with the use of salt. Perkins happening to move his knee at the moment I was dipping an onion into the blacking-box lid, our supply was knocked upon the floor. He picked it up, and we both hoped the accident might pass unnoticed. But Abel, stretching his long neck across the corner of the table, caught a glimpse of what was going on.
“ ‘ What’s that ? ‘ he asked.
“ ‘ Oh, it’s — it ’s only,’ said I, seeking for a synonyme, ‘ only chloride of sodium !*
“ ‘ Chloride of sodium ! what do you do with it ? ‘
“ ‘ Eat it with onions,’ said I, boldly : ‘ it’s a chemical substance, but I believe it is found in some plants.’
“ Eunice, who knew something of chemistry, (she taught a class, though you would n’t think it,) grew red with suppressed fun, but the others were as ignorant as Abel Mallory himself.
“ ‘ Let me taste it,’ said he, stretching out an onion.
“ I handed him the box-lid, which still contained a portion of its contents. He dipped the onion, bit off a piece, and chewed it gravely.
“ ‘ Why,’ said he, turning to me, ‘ it’s very much like salt.’
“ Perkins burst into a spluttering yell, which discharged an onion-top he had just put between his teeth across the table ; Eunice and I gave way at the same moment; and the others, catching the joke, joined us. But while we were laughing, Abel was finishing his onion, and the result was that Salt was added to the True Food, and thereafter appeared regularly on the table.
“ The forenoons we usually spent in reading and writing, each in his or her chamber. (Oh, the journals, Ned ! — but you shall not see mine.) After a midday meal, — I cannot call it dinner, — we sat upon the stoop, listening while one of us read aloud, or strolled down the shores on either side, or, when the sun was not too warm, got into a boat, and rowed or floated lazily around the promontory.
“ One afternoon, as I was sauntering off, past the garden, towards the eastern inlet, I noticed Perkins slipping along behind the cedar knobs, towards the little woodland at the end of our domain. Curious to find out the cause of his mysterious disappearances, I followed cautiously. From the edge of the wood I saw him enter a little gap between the rocks, which led down to the water. Presently a thread of blue smoke stole up. Quietly creeping along, I got upon the nearer bluff and looked down. There was a sort of hearth built up at the base of the rock, with a brisk little fire burning upon it, but Perkins had disappeared. I stretched myself out upon the moss, in the shade, and waited. In about half an hour up came Perkins, with a large fish in one hand and a lump of clay in the other. I now understood the mystery. He carefully imbedded the fish in a thin layer of clay, placed it on the coals, and then went down to the shore to wash his hands. On his return he found me watching the fire.
“ ‘ Ho, ho, Mr. Enos ! ’ said he, ‘you ’ve found me out! But you won’t say nothin’. Gosh ! you like it as well I do. Look ’ee there ! ’ — breaking open the clay, from which arose ‘ a steam of richdistilled perfumes,’ —' and, I say, I ’ve got the box-lid with that ’ere stuff in it, — ho ! ho!’ and the scamp roared again.
“ Out of a hole in the rock he brought salt and the end of a loaf, and between us we finished the fish. Before long, I got into a habit of disappearing in the afternoon.
“ Now and then, we took walks, alone or collectively, to the nearest village, or even to Bridgeport, for the papers or a late book. The few purchases we required were made at such times, and sent down in a cart, or, if not too heavy, carried by Perkins in a basket. I noticed that Abel, whenever we had occasion to visit a grocery, would go sniffing around, alternately attracted or repelled by the various articles: now turning away with a shudder from a ham, — now inhaling, with a fearful delight and uncertainty, the odor of smoked herrings. ‘ I think herrings must feed on sea-weed,’ said he, ‘there is such a vegetable attraction about them.’ After his violent vegetarian harangues, however, he hesitated about adding them to his catalogue.
“ But, one day, as we were passing through the village, he was reminded by the sign of ‘ WARTER CRACKERS ‘ in the window of an obscure grocery, that he required a supply of those articles, and we therefore entered. There was a splendid Rhode-Island cheese on the counter, from which the shop-mistress was just cutting a slice for a customer. Abel leaned over it, inhaling the rich, pungent fragrance.
“ ‘ Enos,’ said he to me, between his sniffs, ‘this impresses me like flowers, — like marigolds. It must be, — really,— yes, the vegetable element is predominant. My instinct towards it is so strong that I cannot be mistaken. May I taste it, Ma’am ? ’
“The woman sliced off a thin corner, and presented it to him on the knife.
“ ‘ Delicious ! ’ he exclaimed ; ‘ I am right, — this is the True Food. Give me two pounds,— and the crackers, Ma’am.’
“ I turned away, quite as much disgusted as amused with this charlatanism. And yet I verily believe the fellow was sincere, — self-deluded only. I had by this time lost my faith in him, though not in the great Arcadian principles. On reaching home, after an hour’s walk, I found our household in unusual commotion. Abel was writhing in intense pain : he had eaten the whole two pounds of cheese, on his way home ! His stomach, so weakened by years of unhealthy abstinence from true nourishment, was now terribly tortured by this sudden stimulus. Mrs. Shelldrake, fortunately, had some mustard among her stores, and could therefore administer a timely emetic. His life was saved, but he was very ill for two or three days. Hollins did not fail to take advantage of this circumstance to overthrow the authority which Abel had gradually acquired on the subject of food. He was so arrogant in his nature that he could not tolerate the same quality in another, even where their views coincided.
“ By this time several weeks had passed away. It was the beginning of July, and the long summer heats had come. I was driven out of my attic during the middle hours of the day, and the others found it pleasanter on the doubly shaded stoop than in their chambers. We were thus thrown more together than usual,— a circumstance which made our life more monotonous to the others, as I could see ; but to myself, who could at last talk to Eunice, and who was happy at the very sight of her, this ‘ heated term ’ seemed borrowed from Elysium. I read aloud, and the sound of my own voice gave me confidence; many passages suggested discussions, in which I took a part; and you may judge, Ned, how fast I got on, from the fact that I ventured to tell Eunice of my fish-bakes with Perkins, and invite her to join them. After that, she, also, often disappeared from sight for an hour or two in the afternoon.”
—" Oh, Mr. Johnson,” interrupted Mrs. Billings, “ it was n’t for the fish ! ”
“ Of course not,” said her husband; “ it was for my sake.”
“ No, you need not think it was for you. Enos,” she added perceiving the feminine dilemma into which she had been led, “ all this is not necessary to the story.”
“ Stop ! ” he answered “ The A. C. has been revived for this night only. Do you remember our platform, or rather no-platform ? I must follow my impulses, and say whatever comes uppermost.”
“ Right, Enos,” said Mr. Johnson ; “ I, as temporary Arcadian take the same ground. My instinct tells me that you, Mrs. Billings, must permit the confession.”
She submitted with a good grace, and her husband continued.
“ I said that our lazy life during the hot weather had become a little monotonous. The Arcadian plan had worked tolerably well, on the whole, for there was very little for any one to do, — Mrs. Shelldrake and Perkins Brown excepted. Our conversation, however, lacked spirit and variety. We were, perhaps unconsciously, a little tired of hearing and assenting to the same sentiments. But, one evening, about this time, Hollins struck upon a variation, the consequences of which he little foresaw. We had been reading one of Bulwer’s works, (the weather was too hot for Psychology,) and came upon this paragraph, or something like it: —
“ ‘ Ah, Behind the Veil! We see the summer smile of the Earth, — enamelled meadow and limpid stream, — but what hides she in her sunless heart ? Caverns of serpents, or grottoes of priceless gems ? Youth, whose soul sits on thy countenance, thyself wearing no mask, strive not to lift the masks of others ! Be content with what thou seest; and wait until Time and Experience shall teach thee to find jealousy behind the sweet smile, and hatred under the honeyed word ! ’
“ This seemed to us a dark and bitter reflection; but one or another of us recalled some illustration of human hypocrisy, and the evidences, by the simple fact of repetition, gradually led to a division of opinion, — Hollins, Shelldrake, and Miss Ringtop on the dark side, and the rest of us on the bright. The last, however, contented herself with quoting from her favorite poet, Gamaliel J. Gawthrop : —
I see thy spirit’s dark revealment!
Thy inner self betrayed I see :
Thy coward, craven, shivering’ ME !'
“ ‘ We think we know one another, exclaimed Hollins; ‘ but do we ? We see the faults of others, their weaknesses, their disagreeable qualities, and we keep silent. How much we should gain, were candor as universal as concealment! Then each one, seeing himself as others see him, would truly know himself. How much misunderstanding might be avoided, how much hidden shame be removed, hopeless because unspoken love made glad, honest admiration cheer its object, uttered sympathy mitigate misfortune, — in short, how much brighter and happier the world would become, if each one expressed, everywhere and at all times, his true and entire feeling ! Why, even Evil would lose half its power! ’
“ There seemed to be so much practical wisdom in these views that we were all dazzled and half-convinced at the start. So, when Hollins, turning towards me, as he continued, exclaimed,— ‘Come, why should not this candor be adopted in our Arcadia ? Will any one — will you, Enos—commence at once by telling me now— to my face — my principal faults ?’ I answered, after a moment's reflection,— ‘ You have a great deal of intellectual arrogance, and you are, physically, very indolent.'
“He did not flinch from the self-invited test, though he looked a little surprised.
“Well put,’ said he, ‘though I do not say that you are entirely correct. Now, what are my merits ? ‘
“'You are clear-sighted,'I answered, ‘an earnest seeker after truth, and courageous in the avowal of your thoughts.'
“This restored the balance, and we soon began to confess our own private faults and weaknesses. Though the confessions did not go very deep, — no one betraying anything we did not all know already, — yet they were sufficient to strengthen Hollins in his new idea, and it was unanimously resolved that Candor should thenceforth be the main charm of our Arcadian life. It was the very thing I wanted, in order to make a certain communication to Eunice; but I should probably never have reached the point, had not the same candor been exercised towards me, from a quarter where I least expected it.
“The next day, Abel, who had resumed his researches after the True Food, came home to supper with a healthier Color than I had before seen on his face.
“'Do you know,’ said he, looking shyly at Hollins,’ that I begin to think Beer must be a natural beverage ? There was an auction in the village to-day, as I passed through, and I stopped at a cake-stand to get a glass of water, as it was very hot. There was no water, — only beer: so I thought I would try a glass, simply as an experiment. Really, the flavor was very agreeable. And it occurred to me, on the way home, that all the elements contained in beer are vegetable. Besides, fermentation is a natural process. I think the question has never been properly tested before.'
“'But the alcohol!5 exclaimed Hollins.
“'I could not distinguish any, either by taste or smell. I know that chemical analysis is said to show it; but may not the alcohol be created, somehow, during the analysis ? ’
“'Abel,’ said Hollins, in a fresh burst of candor, ‘ you will never be a Reformer, until you possess some of the commonest elements of knowledge.'
“The rest of us were much diverted : it was a pleasant relief to our monotonous amiability.
“Abel, however, had a stubborn streak in his character. The next day he sent Perkins Brown to Bridgeport for a dozen botlles of ‘Beer.’ Perkins, either intentionally or by mistake, (I always suspected the former,) brought pint-bottles of Scotch ale, which he placed in the coolest part of the cellar. The evening happened to be exceedingly hot and sultry, and, as we were all fanning ourselves and talking languidly, Abel bethought him of his beer. In his thirst, he drank the contents of the first bottle, almost at a single draught.
“'The effect of beer,’ said he, ‘depends, I think, ou the commixture of the nourishing principle of the grain with the cooling properties of the water. Perhaps, hereafter, a liquid food of the same character may be invented, which shall save us from mastication and all the diseases of the teeth.'
“Hollins and Shelldrake, at his invitation, divided a bottle between them, and he took a second. The potent beverage was not long in acting on a brain so unaccustomed to its influence. He grew unusually talkative and sentimental, in a few minutes.
“'Oh, sing, somebody!’ he sighed in hoarse rapture : ‘the night was made for Song.'
“Miss Ringtop, nothing loath, immediately commenced, ‘ When stars are in the quiet skies'; but scarcely had she finished the first verse before Abel interrupted her.
“ ‘ Candor’s the order of the day, is n’t it ? ’ he asked.
“ ‘ Yes !’ ‘ Yes ! ’ two or three answered.
“ ‘ Well, then,’ said he, ‘ candidly, Pauline, you ’ve got the darn’dest squeaky voice ’—
“ Miss Ringtop gave a faint little scream of horror.
“ ‘ Oh, never mind ! ’ he continued. ‘We act according to impulse, don’t we ? And I’ve the impulse to swear; and it’s right. Let Nature have her way. Listen ! Damn, damn, damn, damn ! I never knew it was so easy. Why, there ’s a pleasure in it! Try it, Pauline! try it on me ! ’
“ ‘ Oh-ooh ! ’ was all Miss Ringtop could utter.
“ ‘ Abel! Abel! ’ exclaimed Hollins, ‘the beer has got into your head.’
“ ‘ No, it is n’t Beer, — it’s Candor ! ’ said Abel. ‘ It ’s your own proposal, Hollins. Suppose it ’s evil to swear : is n’t it better I should express it, and be done with it, than keep it bottled up, to ferment in my mind ? Oh, you ‘re a precious, consistent old humbug, you are ! ’
“ And therewith he jumped off the stoop, and went dancing awkwardly down towards the water, singing in a most unmelodious voice, ‘ ’T is home where’er the heart is.’
“ ‘ Oh, he may fall into the water ! ’ exclaimed Eunice, in alarm.
“’ He ’s not fool enough to do that,’ said Shelldrake. ‘ His head is a little light, that’s all. The air will cool him down presently.’
But she arose and followed him, not satisfied with this assurance. Miss Ringtop sat rigidly still. She would have received with composure the news of his drowning.
“ As Eunice’s white dress disappeared among the cedars crowning the shore, I sprang up and ran after her. I knew that Abel was not intoxicated, but simply excited, and I had no fear on his account : I obeyed an involuntary impulse. On approaching the water, I heard their voices, — hers in friendly persuasion, his in sentimental entreaty, — then the sound of oars in the rowlocks. Looking out from the last clump of cedars, I saw them seated in the boat, Eunice at the stern, while Abel, facing her, just dipped an oar now and then to keep from drifting with the tide. She had found him already in the boat, which was loosely chained to a stone. Stepping on one of the forward thwarts, in her eagerness to persuade him to return, he sprang past her, jerked away the chain, and pushed off before she could escape. She would have fallen, but he caught her and placed her in the stern, and then seated himself at the oars. She must have been somewhat alarmed, but there was only indignation in her voice. All this had transpired before my arrival, and the first words I heard bound me to the spot and kept me silent.
“ ‘ Abel, what does this mean ? ’ she asked.
“‘It means Fate, — Destiny!’ he exclaimed, rather wildly. ‘ Ah, Eunice, ask the night, and the moon,— ask the impulse which told you to follow me ! Let us be candid, like the old Arcadians we imitate. Eunice, we know that we love each other: why should we conceal it any longer ? The Angel ot Love comes down from the stars on his azure wings, and whispers to our hearts. Let us confess to each other ! The female heart should not be timid, in this pure and beautiful atmosphere of Love which we breathe. Come, Eunice ! we are alone : let your heart speak to me ! ’
“ Ned, if you ’ve ever been in love, (we ’ll talk of that, after a while,) you will easily understand what tortures I endured, in thus hearing him speak. That he should love Eunice ! It was a profanation to her, an outrage to me. Yet the assurance with which he spoke! Could she love this conceited, ridiculous, repulsive fellow, after all ? I almost gasped for breath, as I clinched the prickly boughs of the cedars in my hands, and set my teeth, waiting to hear her answer.
“ ‘ I will not hear such language! Take me back to the shore ! ’ she said, in very short, decided tones.
“ ‘ Oh, Eunice,’ he groaned, (and now, I think, he was perfectly sober,) ‘ don’t you love me, indeed ? I love you,—from my heart I do: yes, I love you. Tell me how you feel towards me.’
“ ‘ Abel,’ said she, earnestly, ‘ I feel towards you only as a friend; and if you wish me to retain a friendly interest in you, you must never again talk in this manner. I do not love you, and I never shall. Let me go back to the house.’
“ His head dropped upon his breast, but he rowed back to the shore, drew the bow upon the rocks, and assisted her to land. Then, sitting down, he groaned forth,—
“ ‘ Oh, Eunice, you have broken my heart! ’ and putting his big hands to his face, began to cry.
“ She turned, placed one hand on his shoulder, and said, in a calm, but kind tone,—
“ ‘ I am very sorry, Abel, but I cannot help it.’
“ I slipped aside, that she might not see me, and we returned by separate paths.
“ I slept very little that night. The conviction, which I had chased away from my mind as often as it returned, that our Arcadian experiment was taking a ridiculous and at the same time impracticable development, became clearer and stronger. I felt sure that our little community could not hold together much longer without an explosion. I had a presentiment that Eunice shared my impressions. My feelings towards her had reached that crisis where a declaration was imperative: but how to make it ? It was a terrible struggle between my shyness and my affection. There was another circumstance, in connection with this subject, which troubled me not a little. Miss Ringtop evidently sought my company, and made me, as much as possible, the recipient of her sentimental outpourings. I was not bold enough to repel her, — indeed, I had none of that tact which is so useful in such emergencies, — and she seemed to misinterpret my submission. Not only was her conversation pointedly directed to me, but she looked at me, when singing, (especially, ‘ Thou, thou, reign’st in this bosom ! ’) in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. What if Eunice should suspect an attachment towards her, on my part? What if — oh, horror! — I had unconsciously said or done something to impress Miss Ringtop herself with the same conviction ? I shuddered as the thought crossed my mind. One thing was very certain : this suspense was not to be endured much longer.
“ We had an unusually silent breakfast the next morning. Abel scarcely spoke, which the others attributed to a natural feeling of shame, after his display of the previous evening. Hollins and Shelldrake discussed Temperance, with a special view to his edification, and Miss Ringtop favored us with several quotations about ‘the maddening bowl,'—but he paid no attention to them. Eunice was pale and thoughtful. I had no doubt, in my mind, that she was already contemplating a removal from Arcadia. Perkins, whose perceptive faculties were by no means dull, whispered to me,
'Sha’n’t I bring up some porgies for supper ? ’ but I shook my head. I was busy with other thoughts, and did not join him in the wood, that day.
'The forenoon was overcast, with frequent showers. Each one occupied his or her room until dinner-time, when we met again with something of the old geniality. There was an evident effort to restore our former flow of good feeling. Abel’s experience with the beer was freely discussed. He insisted strongly that he had not been laboring under its effects, and proposed a mutual test. He, Shelldrake, and Hollins were to drink it in equal measures, and compare observations as to their physical sensations. The others agreed, — quite willingly, I thought, — but I refused. I had determined to make a desperate attempt at candor, and Abel’s fate was fresh before my eyes.
“My nervous agitation increased dur ing the day, and, after sunset, fearing lest I should betray my excitement in some way, I walked down to the end of the promontory, and took a seat on the rocks. The sky had cleared, and the air was deliciously cool and sweet. The Sound was spread out before me like a sea, for the Long-Island shore was veiled in a silvery mist. My mind was soothed and calmed by the influences of the scene, until the moon arose. Moonlight, you know, disturbs,— at least, when one is in love. (Ah, Ned, I see you understand it!) I felt blissfully miserable, ready to cry with joy at the knowledge that I loved, and with fear and vexation at my cowardice, at the same time.
“ Suddenly I heard a rustling beside me. Every nerve in my body tingled, and I turned my head, with a beating and expectant heart. Pshaw! It was Miss Ringtop, who spread her blue dress on the rock beside me, and shook back her long curls, and sighed, as she gazed at the silver path of the moon on the water.
“ ‘ Oh, how delicious !’ she cried. ‘ How it seems to set the spirit free, and we wander off on the wings of Fancy to other spheres ! ‘
“ ‘ Yes,’ said I, ‘ it is very beautiful, but sad, when one is alone.’
I was thinking of Eunice.
“ ‘ How inadequate,’ she continued, ‘is language to express the emotions which such a scene calls up in the bosom ! Poetry alone is the voice of the spiritual world, and we, who are not poets, must borrow the language of the gifted sons of Song. Oh, Enos, I wish you were a poet! But you feel poetry, I know you do. I have seen it in your eyes, when I quoted the burning lines of Adeliza Kelley, or the soul-breathings of Gamaliel J. Gawthrop. In him, particularly, I find the voice of my own nature. Do you know his “ Night-Whispers ” ? How it embodies the feelings of such a scene as this!
And moonlit glories sweep star-footed on;
And pale, sweet rivers, in their shining races,
Are ever gliding through the moonlit places,
With, silver ripples on their trancèd faces,
And forests clasp their dusky hands, with low and sullen moan! ”
“ ‘ Ah ! ’ she continued, as I made no reply, ‘ this is an hour for the soul to unveil its most secret chambers ! Do you not think, Enos, that love rises superior to all conventionalities? that those whose souls are in unison should be allowed to reveal themselves to each other, regardless of the world’s opinions ? ’
“ ‘ Yes ! ’ said I, earnestly.
“ ‘ Enos, do you Understand me ? ’ she asked, in a tender voice, — almost a whisper.
“ ‘ Yes,’ said I, with a blushing confidence of my own passion.
“ ‘ Then,’ she whispered, ‘ our hearts are wholly in unison. I know you are true, Enos. I know your noble nature, and I will never doubt you. This is indeed happiness! ’
“ And therewith she laid her head on my shoulder, and sighed,—
Love illumes his fairest fuel,
When the hearts that once were dual
Meet as one, in sweet renewal! ’
“ ‘ Miss Ringtop ! ’ I cried, starting away from her, in alarm, ‘ you don’t mean that — that ’—
“ I could not finish the sentence.
“ ‘ Yes, Enos, dear Enos ! henceforth we belong to each other.’
“ The painful embarrassment I felt, as her true meaning shot through my mind, surpassed anything I had imagined, or experienced in anticipation, when planning how I should declare myself to Eunice. Miss Ringtop was at least ten years older than I, far from handsome, (but you remember her face,) and so affectedly sentimental, that I, sentimental as I was then, was sick of hearing her talk. Her hallucination was so monstrous, and gave me such a shock of desperate alarm, that I spoke, on the impulse of the moment, with great energy, without regarding how her feelings might be wounded.
“ ‘ You mistake ! ’ I exclaimed. ‘ I did n’t mean that, — I did n’t understand you. Don’t talk to me that way,— don’t look at me in that way, Miss Ringtop ! We were never meant for each other, — I was n’t—You ’re so much older, —• I mean different. It can’t be, — no, it can never be ! Let us go back to the house: the night is cold.’
“ I rose hastily to my feet. She murmured something, — what, I did not stay to hear,— but, plunging through the cedars, was hurrying with all speed to the house, when, half-way up the lawn, beside one of the rocky knobs, I met Eunice, who was apparently on her way to join us. In my excited mood, after the ordeal through which I had just passed, everything seemed easy. My usual timidity was blown to the four winds. I went directly to her, took her hand, and said,—
“ ‘ Eunice, the others are driving me mad with their candor; will you let me be candid, too ? ’
“ ‘ I think you are always candid, Enos,’ she answered.
“ Even then, if I had hesitated, I should have been lost. But I went on, without pausing, —
“ ‘ Eunice, I love you,— I have loved you since we first met. I came here that I might be near you; but I must leave you forever, and to-night, unless you can trust your life in my keeping. God help me, since we have been together I have lost my faith in almost everything but you. Pardon me, if I am impetuous, — different from what I have seemed. I have struggled so hard to speak! I have been a coward, Eunice, because of my love. But now I have spoken, from my heart of hearts. Look at me: I can bear it now. Read the truth in my eyes, before you answer.’
“ I felt her hand tremble while I spoke. As she turned towards me her face, which had been averted, the moon shone full upon it, and I saw that tears were upon her cheeks. What was said—whether anything was said — I cannot tell. I felt the blessed fact, and that was enough. That was the dawning of the true Arcadia.”
—Mrs. Billings, who had been silent during this recital, took her husband’s hand and smiled. Mr. Johnson felt a dull pang about the region of his heart. If he had a secret, however, I do not feel justified in betraying it.
“ It was late,” Mr. Billings continued, “ before we returned to the house. I had a special dread of again encountering Miss Ringtop, but she was wandering up and down the bluff, under the pines, singing, ‘ The dream is past.’ There was a sound of loud voices, as we approached the stoop. Hollins, Shelldrake and his wife, and Abel Mallory were sitting together near the door. Perkins Brown, as usual, was crouched on the lowest step, with one leg over the other, and rubbing the top of his boot with a vigor which betrayed to me some secret mirth. He looked up at me from under his straw hat with the grin of a malicious Puck, glanced towards the group, and made a curious gesture with his thumb. There were several empty pint-bottles on the stoop.
“ ‘ Now, are you sure you can bear the test ? ’ we heard Hollins ask, as we approached.
“ ‘ Bear it ? Why, to be sure ! ’ replied Shelldrake; ‘ if I could n’t bear it, or if you could n’t, your theory ’s done for. Try ! I can stand it as long as you can.’
“ ‘ Well, then,’ said Hollins, ‘ I think you are a very ordinary man. I derive no intellectual benefit from my intercourse with you, but your house is convenient to me. I’m under no obligations for your hospitality, however, because my company is an advantage to you. Indeed, if I were treated according to my deserts, you could n’t do enough for me.'
“ Mrs. Shelldrake was up in arms.
“'Indeed,’ she exclaimed, ‘ I think you get as good as you deserve, and more too.’
“ ‘ Elvira,’ said he, with a benevolent condescension, ‘ I have no doubt you think so, for your mind belongs to the lowest and most material sphere. You have your place in Nature, and you fill it; but it is not for you to judge of intelligences which move only on the upper planes.’
“ ‘ Hollins,’ said Shelldrake, ‘ Elviry’s a good wife and a sensible woman, and I won’t allow you to turn up your nose at her.’
“'I am not surprised,’ he answered, ‘ that you should fail to stand the test. I did n’t expect it.’
“ ‘ Let me try it on you ! ‘ cried Shelldrake. ‘ You, now, have some intellect, — I don’t deny that, — but not so much, by a long shot, as you think you have. Besides that, you ’re awfully selfish in your opinions. You won’t admit that anybody can be right who differs from you. Yon’ve sponged on me for a long time; but I suppose I’ve learned something from you, so we ’ll call it even. I think, however, that what you call acting according to impulse is simply an excuse to cover your own laziness.’
“ ‘ Gosh ! that’s it! ’ interrupted Perkins, jumping up; then, recollecting himself, he sank down on the steps again, and shook with a suppressed ‘ Ho ! ho ! ho ! ’
“ Hollins, however, drew himself up with an exasperated air.
“ ‘ Shelldrake,’ said he, ‘ I pity you. I always knew your ignorance, but I thought you honest in your human character. I never suspected you of envy and malice. However, the true Reformer must expect to he misunderstood and misrepresented by meaner minds. That love which I bear to all creatures teaches me to forgive you. Without such love, all plans of progress must fail. Is it not so, Abel ? ’
“ Shelldrake could only ejaculate the words, ‘Pity!’ ‘Forgive!’ in his most contemptuous tone; while Mrs. Shelldrake, rocking violently in her chair, gave utterance to that peculiar clucking ‘ts, ts, ts, ts,’ whereby certain women express emotions too deep for words.
“ Abel, roused by Hollins’s question, answered, with a sudden energy, —
“ ‘ Love ! there is no love in the world. Where will you find it ? Tell me, and I ’ll go there. Love ! I’d like to see it! If all human hearts were like mine, we might have an Arcadia; but most men have no hearts. The world is a miserable, hollow, deceitful shell of vanity and hypocrisy. No: let us give up. We were born before our time : this age is not worthy of us.’
“ Hollins stared at the speaker in ut ter amazement. Shelldrake gave a long whistle, and finally gasped out, —
“ ‘ Well, what next ? ’
“ None of us were prepared for such a sudden and complete wreck of our Arcadian scheme. The foundations had been sapped before, it is true ; but we had not perceived it; and now, in two short days, the whole edifice tumbled about our ears. Though it was inevitable, we felt a shock of sorrow, and a silence fell upon us. Only that scamp of a Perkins Brown, chuckling and rubbing his boot, really rejoiced. I could have kicked him.
“ We all went to bed, feeling that the charm of our Arcadian life was over. I was so full of the new happiness of love that I was scarcely conscious of regret. I seemed to have leaped at once into responsible manhood, and a glad rush of courage filled me at the knowledge that my own heart was a better oracle than those — now so shamefully overthrown — on whom I had so long implicitly relied. In the first revulsion of feeling, I was perhaps unjust to my associates. I see now, more clearly, the causes of those vagaries, which originated in a genuine aspiration, and failed from an ignorance of the true nature of Man, quite as much as from the egotism of the individuals. Other attempts at reorganizing Society were made about the same time by men of culture and experience, but in the A. C. we had neither. Our leaders had caught a few half-truths, which, in their minds, were speedily warped into errors. I can laugh over the absurdities I helped to perpetrate, but I must confess that the experiences of those few weeks went far towards making a man of me.”
“ Did the A. C. break up at once ? ” asked Mr. Johnson.
“ Not precisely; though Eunice and I left the house within two days, as we had agreed. We were not married immediately, however. Three long years — years of hope and mutual encouragement — passed away before that happy consummation. Before our departure, Hollins had fallen into his old manner, convinced, apparently, that Candor must be postponed to a better age of the world. But the quarrel rankled in Shelldrake’s mind, and especially in that of his wife. I could see by her looks and little fidgety ways that his further stay would be very uncomfortable. Abel Mallory, finding himself gaining in weight and improving in color, had no thought of returning. The day previous, as I afterwards learned, he had discovered Perkins Brown’s secret kitchen in the woods.
“ ‘ Golly ! ’ said that youth, in describing the circumstance to me, ‘ I had to ketch two porgies that day.’
“Miss Ringtop, who must have suspected the new relation between Eunice and myself, was for the most part rigidly silent. If she quoted, it was from the darkest and dreariest utterances of her favorite Gamaliel.
“ What happened after our departure I learned from Perkins, on the return of the Shelldrakes to Norridgeport, in September. Mrs. Shelldrake stoutly persisted in refusing to make Hollins’s bed, or to wash his shirts. Her brain was dull, to be sure ; but she was therefore all the more stubborn in her resentment. He bore this state of things for about a week, when his engagements to lecture in Ohio suddenly called him away. Abel and Miss Ringtop were left to wander about the promontory in company, and to exchange lamentations on the hollowness of human hopes or the pleasures of despair. Whether it was owing to that attraction of sex which would make any man and any woman, thrown together on a desert island, finally become mates, or whether she skilfully ministered to Abel’s sentimental vanity, I will not undertake to decide : but the fact is, they were actually betrothed, on leaving Arcadia. I think he would willingly have retreated, after his return to the world; but that was not so easy. Miss Ringtop held him with an inexorable clutch. They were not married, however, until just before his departure for California, whither she afterwards followed him. She died in less than a year, and left him free.”
“ And what became of the other Arcadians ? ” asked Mr. Johnson.
“ The Shelldrakes are still living in Norridgeport. They have become Spiritualists, I understand, and cultivate Mediums. Hollins, when I last heard of him, was a Deputy Surveyor in the New York Custom-House. Perkins Brown is our butcher, here in Waterbury, and he often asks me,— ‘Do you take chloride of soda on your beefsteaks ? ’ He is as fat as a prize ox, and the father of five children.”
“ Enos ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Billings, looking at the clock, “ it ’s nearly midnight! Mr. Johnson must be very tired, after such a long story. The Chapter of the A. C. is hereby closed ! ”