The Guardian Angel
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.
VOL. XIX.— FEBRUARY, 1867.— NO. CXII.
BYLES GRIDLEY, A. M.
THE old Master of Arts was as notable a man in his outside presentment as one will find among five hundred college alumni as they file in procession. His strong, squared features, his formidable scowl, his solid-looking head, his iron-gray hair, his positive and as it were categorical stride, his slow, precise way of putting a statement, the strange union of trampling radicalism in some directions and highstepping conservatism in others, which made it impossible to calculate on his unexpressed opinions, his testy ways and his generous impulses, his hard judgments and kindly actions, were characteristics that gave him a very decided individuality.
He had all the aspects of a man of books. His study, which was the best room in Mrs. Hopkins’s house, was filled with a miscellaneous-looking collection of volumes, which his curious literary taste had got together from the shelves of all the libraries that had been broken up during his long life as a scholar. Classics, theology, especially of the controversial sort, statistics, politics, law, medicine, science, occult and overt, general literature,— almost every branch of knowledge was represented. His learning was very various, and of course mixed up, useful and useless, new and ancient, dogmatic and rational, — like his library, in short; for a library gathered like his is a looking-glass in which the owner’s mind is reflected.
The common people about the village did not know what to make of such a phenomenon. He did not preach, marry, christen, or bury, like the ministers, nor jog round with medicines for sick folks, nor carry cases into court for quarrelsome neighbors. What was he good for? Not a great deal, some of the wiseacres thought, — had “all sorts of sense but common sense,”—“ smart malm, but not prahetieal.” There were others who read him more shrewdly. He knowed more, they said, than all the ministers put together, and if he’d stan1 for Ripresentative they’d like to vote for him, — they hed n’t heda smart mahn in the Gineral Court sence Squire Wibird was thar.
They may have overdone the matter in comparing his knowledge with that of all the ministers together, for Priest Pemberton was a real scholar in his special line of study, — as all D-D-s are supposed to be, or they would not have been honored with that distinguished title. But Mr. Byles Gridley not only had more learning than the deep-sea line of the bucolic intelligence could fathom ; he had more wisdom also than they gave him credit for, even those among them who thought most of his abilities.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1866, by TICK NOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
In his capacity of schoolmaster he had sharpened his wits against those of the lively city boys he had in charge, and made such a reputation as “ Master” Gridley, that he kept that title even after he had become a college tutor and professor. As a tutor he had to deal with many of these same boys, and others like them, in the still more vivacious period of their early college life. lie got rid of his police duties when he became a professor, but he still studied the pupils as carefully as he used once to watch them, and learned to read character with a skill which might have fitted him for governing men instead of adolescents. But he loved quiet and he dreaded mingling with the brawlers of the marketplace, whose stock in trade is a voice and a vocabulary. So it was that he had passed his life in the patient mechanical labor of instruction, leaving too many of his instincts and faculties in abeyance.
The alluvium of all this experience bore a nearer resemblance to worldly wisdom than might have been conjectured ; much nearer, indeed, than it does in many old instructors, whose eyes get fish-like as their blood grows cold, and who are not fit to be trusted with anything more practical than a gerund or a cosine. Master Gridley not only knew a good deal of human nature, but he knew how to keep his knowledge to himself upon occasion. Pie understood singularly well the ways and tendencies of young people. Pie was shrewd in the detection of trickery, and very confident in those who had once passed the ordeal of his wellschooled observing powers. He had no particular tendency to meddle with the personal relations of those about him; but if they were forced upon him in any way, he was like to see into them at least as quickly as any of his neighbors who thought themselves most endowed with practical skill.
In leaving the duties of his office he considered himself, as he said a little bitterly, like an old horse unharnessed and turned out to pasture. He felt that he had separated himself from human interests, and was henceforth to live in his books with the dead, until he should be numbered with them himself. He had chosen this quiet village as a place where he might pass Ins days undisturbed, and find a peaceful resting-place in its churchyard, where the gravel was dry, and the sun lay warm, and the glowing woods of autumn would spread their many-colored counterpane over the bed where he would be taking his rest. It sometimes came over him sadly that he was never more to be of any importance to his fellow-creatures. There was nobody living to whom he was connected by any very near ties. He felt kindly enough to the good woman in whose house he lived; he sometimes gave a few words of counsel to her son ; he was not unamiable with the few people he met; he bowed with great consideration to the Rev. Dr. Pemberton; and he studied with no small interest the physiognomy of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker, to whose sermons he listened, with a black scowl now and then, and a nostril dilating with ominous intensity of meaning. But he said sadly to himself, that his life had been a failure, — that he had nothing to show for it, and his one talent was ready in its napkin to give back to his Lord.
He owed something of this sadness, perhaps, to a cause which many would hold of small significance. Though he had mourned for no lost love, at least so far as was known, though he had never suffered the pang of parting with a child, though he seemed isolated from those joys and griefs which come with the ties of family, he too had his private urn filled with the ashes of extinguished hopes. He was the father of a dead book.
Why “ Thoughts on the Universe, by Byles Grid ley, A. M.,” had not met with an eager welcome and a permanent demand from the discriminating public, it would take us too long to inquire in detail. Indeed, he himself was never able to account satisfactorily for the state of things which his bookseller’s account made evident to him. He had read and re-read his work; and the more familiar he became with it, the less was he able to understand the singular want of popular appreciation of what he could not fail to recognize as its excellences. He had a special copy of his work, printed on large paper and sumptuously bound. He loved to read in this, as people read over the letters of friends who have long been dead ; and it might have awakened a feeling of something far removed from the ludicrous, if his comments on his own production could have been heard. “That’s a thought, now, for you! — See Mr. Thomas Babington Macaulay’s Essay printed six years after this book.” “ A felicitous
image ! — and so everybody would have said if only Mr. Thomas Carlyle had hit upon it.” “ If this is not genuine pathos, where will you find it, I should like to know ? And nobody to open the book where it stands written but one poor old man — in this generation, at least — in this generation!” It may be doubted whether he would ever have loved his book with such jealous fondness if it had gone through a dozen editions, and everybody was quoting it to his face. But now it lived only for him ; and to him it was wife and child, parent, friend, all in one, as Hector was all in all to his spouse. He never tired of it, and in his more sanguine moods he looked forward to the time when the world would acknowledge its merits, and his genius would find full recognition. Perhaps he was right: more than one book which seemed dead and was dead for contemporary readers has had a resurrection when the rivals who triumphed over it lived only in the tombstone memory of antiquaries. Comfort for some of us, dear fellow-writer !
It followed from the way in which he lived that he must have some means of support upon which he could depend. He was economical, if not over frugal in some of his habits; but he bought books, and took newspapers and reviews, and had money when money was needed; the fact being, though it was not generally known, that a distant relative had not long before died, leaving him a very comfortable property.
His money matters had led him to have occasional dealings with the late legal firm of Wibird and Penhallow, which had naturally passed into the hands of the new partnership, Penhallow and Bradshaw. He had entire confidence in the senior partner, but not so much in the young man who had been recently associated in the business.
Mr. William Murray Bradshaw, commonly called by his last two names, was the son of a lawyer of some note for his acuteness, who marked out his calling for him in having him named after the great Lord Mansfield. Murray Bradshaw was about twenty-five years old, by common consent good-looking, with a finely formed head, a searching eye, and a sharp-cut mouth, which smiled at his bidding without the slightest reference to the real condition of his feeling at the moment. This was a great convenience ; for it gave him an appearance of good-nature at the small expense of a slight muscular movement which was as easy as winking, and deceived everybody but those who had studied him long and carefully enough to find that this play of his features was what a watchmaker would call a detached movement.
He had been a good scholar in college, not so much by hard study as by skilful veneering, and had taken great pains to stand well with the Faculty, at least one of whom, Byles Gridley, A.M., had watched him with no little interest as a man with a promising future, provided he were not so astute as to outwit and overreach himself in his excess of contrivance. His classmates could not help liking him ; as to loving him, none of them would have thought of that. He was so shrewd, so keen, so full of practical sense, and so goodhumored as long as things went on to hi$ liking, that few could resist his fascination. He had a way of talking with people about what they were interested in, as if it were the one matter in the world nearest to his heart. But he was commonly trying to find out something, or to produce some impression, as a juggler is working at his miracle while lie keeps people's attention by his voluble discourse and make-believe movements. In his lightest talk he was almost always edging towards a practical object, and it was an interesting and instructive amusement to watch for the moment at which lie would ship the belt of his colloquial machinery on to the tight pulley. It was done so easily and naturally that there was hardly a sign of it. Master Gridley could usually detect the shifting action, but the young man’s features and voice never betrayed him.
He was a favorite with the other sex, who love poetry and romance, as he well knew, for which reason he often used the phrases of both, and in such a way as to answer his purpose with most of those whom he wished to please. He had one great advantage In the sweepstakes of life : he was not handicapped with any burdensome ideals. He took everything at its marketvalue. He accepted the standard of the street as a final fact for to-day, like the broker's list of prices.
His whole plan of life was laid out. He knew that law was the best introduction to political life, and he meant to use it for this end. He chose to begin his career in the country, so as to feel his way more surely and gradually to its ultimate aim ; but he had no intention of burying his shining talents in a grazing district, however tall its grass might grow. His business was not with these stiffjointed, slow-witted bucolics, but with the supple, dangerous, far-seeing men who sit scheming by the gas-light in the great cities, after all the lamps and candles are out from the Merrimac to the I-Iousatonic. Every strong and every weak point of those who might probably be his rivals were laid down on his charts, as winds and currents and rocks are marked on those of a navigator. All the young girls in the country, and not a few in the city, with which, as mentioned, he had frequent relations, were on his list of possible availabilities in the matrimonial line of speculation, provided always that their position and prospects were such as would make them proper matches for so considerable a person as the future Hon. William Murray Bradshaw.
Master Gridley had made a careful study of his old pupil since they had resided in the same village. The old professor could not help admiring him, notwithstanding certain suspicious elements in his character; for after muddy village talk, a clear stream of intelligent conversation was a great luxury to the hard-headed scholar. The more he saw of him, the more he learned to watch his movements, and to be on his guard in talking with him. The old man could be crafty, with all his simplicity, and he had found out that under his good-natured manner there often lurked some design more or less worth noting, and -which might involve other interests deserving protection.
For some reason or other the old Master of Arts had of late experienced a certain degree of relenting with regard to himself, probably brought about by the expressions of gratitude from worthy Mrs. Hopkins for acts of kindness to which he himself attached no great value. He had been kind to her son Gifted; he had been fatherly with Susan Posey, her relative and boarder; and he had shown himself singularly and unexpectedly amiable with the little twins who had been adopted by the good woman into her household. In fact, ever since these little creatures had begun to toddle about and explode their first consonants, he had looked through his great round spectacles upon them with a decided interest; and from that time it seemed as if some of the human and social sentiments which had never leafed or flowered in him, for want of their natural sunshine, had begun growing up from roots which had never lost their life. His liking for the twins may have been an illustration of that singular law which old Dr. Hurlbut used to lay down, namely, that, at a certain period of life, say from fifty to sixty and upward, the ^rvzwY-paternal instinct awakens in bachelors, the rhythms of Nature reaching them in spite of her defeated intentions : so that when men marry late they love their autumn child with a twofold affection, — father’s and grandfather’s both in one.
However this may be, there is no doubt that Mr. Byles Gridley was beginning to take a part in his neighbors’ welfare and misfortunes, such as could hardly have been expected of a man so long lost in his books and his scholastic duties. And among others, Myrtle Hazard had come in for a share of his interest. He had met her now and then in her walks to and from school and meeting, and had been taken with her beauty and her apparent unconsciousness of it, which he attributed to the forlorn kind of household in which she had grown up. He had got so far as to talk with her now and then, and found himself puzzled, as well he might be, in talking with a girl who had been growing into her early maturity in antagonism with every influence that surrounded her.
“ Love will reach her by and by,” he said, “ in spite of the dragons up at the den yonder.
Argus, et hos unus saepe fefellit amor.’ ”
But there was something about Myrtle — he hardly knew whether to call it dignity, or pride, or reserve, or the mere habit of holding back brought about by the system of repression under which she had been educated — which kept even the old Master of Arts at his distance. Yet he was strongly drawn to her, and had a sort of presentiment that he might be able to help her some day, and that very probably she would want his help ; for she was alone in the world, except for the dragons, and sure to be assailed by foes from without and from within.
He noticed that her name was apt to come up in his conversations with Murray Bradshaw; and, as he himself never introduced it, of course the young man must have forced it, as conjurers force a card, and with some special object. This set him thinking hard ; and, as a result of it, he determined the next time Mr. Bradshaw brought her name up to set him talking. So he talked, not suspecting how carefully the old man listened.
“ It was a demonish hard case,” he said, “that old Malachi had left his money as he did. Myrtle Hazard was going to be the handsomest girl about, whfen she came to her beauty, and she was coming to it mighty fast. If they could only break that will, — but it was no use trying. The doctors said he was of sound mind for at least two years after making it. If Silence Withers got the land claim, there’d be a pile, sure enough. Myrtle Hazard ought to have it. If the girl had only inherited that property — whew! She’d have been a match for any fellow. That old Silence Withers would do just as her minister told her, — even chance whether she gives it to the Parson-factory, or marries Bellamy Stoker, and gives it to him —after his wife’s dead. He’d take it if he had to take her with it. Earn his money,— hey, Master Gridley ? ”
“ Why, you don’t seem to think very well of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker ?” said Mr. Gridley, smiling.
“ Think well of him ? Too fond of using the Devil’s pitchfork for my fancy! Forks over pretty much all the world but himself and his lot into — the bad place, you know; and toasts his own cheese with it with very much the same kind of comfort that other folks seem to take in that business. Besides, he has a weak' ness for pretty saints — and sinners. That’s an odd name he has. More belle amie than 'Joseph about him, I rather guess ! ”
The old professor smiled again. “ So you don’t think he believes all the mediaeval doctrines he is in the habit of preaching, Mr. Bradshaw ?”
“No, sir; 1 think he belongs to the class 1 have seen described somewhere. ‘There are those who hold the opinion that truth is only safe when diluted, — about one fifth to four fifths lies,— as the oxygen of the air is with its nitrogen. Else it would burn us all up.’ ”
Byles Gridley colored and started a little. This was one of his own sayings in “ Thoughts on the Universe.” But the young man quoted it without seeming to suspect its authorship.
“Where did you pick up that saying, Mr. Bradshaw ? ”
“ I don’t remember. Some paper, I rather think. It’s one of those good things that get about without anybody’s knowing who says ’em. Sounds like Coleridge.”
“That’s what I call a compliment worth having,” said Byles Gridley to himself, when he got home. “ Let me look at that passage.”
He took down “Thoughts on the Universe,” and got so much interested, reading on page after page, that he did not hear the little tea-bell, and Susan Posey volunteered to run up to his study and call him down to tea.
Miss SUSAN POSEY knocked timidly at his door, and informed him that tea was waiting. He rather liked Susan Posey. She was a pretty creature, slight, blonde, a little too light, a village beauty of the second or third grade, effective at picnics and by moonlight, — the kind of girl that very young men are apt to remember as their first love. She had a taste for poetry, and an admiration of poets; but, what was better, she was modest and simple, and a perfect sister and mother and grandmother to the two little forlorn twins who had been stranded on the Widow Hopkins’s door-step.
These little twins, a boy and girl, were now between two and three years old. A few words will make us acquainted with them. Nothing had ever been known of their origin. The sharp eyes of all the spinsters had been through every household in the village and neighborhood, and not a suspicion fixed itself on any one. It was a dark night when they were left; and it was probable that they had been brought from another town, as the sound of wheels had been heard close to the door where they were found, had stopped for a moment, then been heard again, and lost in the distance.
How the good woman of the house took them in and kept them has been briefly mentioned. At first nobody thought they would live a day, such little absurd attempts at humanity did they seem. But the young doctor came, and the old doctor came, and the infants were laid in cotton-wool, and the room heated up to keep them warm, and baby-teaspoonfuls of milk given them, and after being kept alive in this way, like the young of opossums and kangaroos, they came to a conclusion about which they did not seem to have made up their thinking-pulps for some weeks, namely, to go on trying to cross the sea of life by tugging at the fourand-twenty oars which must be pulled day and night until the unknown shore is reached, and the oars lie at rest under the folded hands.
As it was not very likely that the parents who left their offspring round on door-steps were of saintly life, they were not presented for baptism like the children of church - members. Still, they must have names to be known by, and Mrs. Hopkins was much exercised in the matter. Like many New England parents, she had a decided taste for names that were significant and sonorous. That which she had chosen for her oldest child, the young poet, was either a remarkable prophecy, or it had brought with it the endowments it promised. She had lost, or, in her own more pictorial language, she had buried, a daughter to whom she had given the names, at once of cheerful omen and melodious effect, Wealthy Amadora.
As for them poor little creturs, she said, she believed they was rained down out o’ the skies, jest as they say toads and tadpoles come. She meant to be a mother to ’em for all that, and give ’em jest as good names as if they was the governor’s children, or the minister’s. If Mr. Gridley would be so good as to find her some kind of a real handsome Chris’n name for ’em, she’d provide ’em with the other one. Hopkinses they shall be bred and taught, and Hopkinses they shall be called. Ef their father and mother was ashamed to own ’em, she was n’t. Could n’t Mr. Gridley pick out some pooty-sounding names from some of them great books of his. Its jest as well to have ’em pooty as long as they don’t cost any more than if they was Tom and Sally.
A grim smile passed over the rugged features of Byles Gridley. “ Nothing is easier than that, Mrs. Hopkins,” he said. “ I will give you two very pretty names that I think will please you and other folks. They ’re new names, too. If they should n’t like to keep them, they can change them before they ’re christened, if they ever are. Isosceles will be just the name for the boy, and I’m sure you won’t find a prettier name for the girl in a hurry than Helmiuthia.
Mrs. Hopkins was delighted with the dignity and novelty of these two names, which were forthwith adopted. As they were rather long for common use in the family, they were shortened into the easier forms of Sossy and Minthy, under which designation the babes began very soon to thrive mightily, turning bread and milk into the substance of little sinners at a great rate, and growing as if they were put out at compound interest.
This short episode shows us the family conditions surrounding Byles Gridley, who, as we were saying, had just been called down to tea by Miss Susan Posey.
“ I am coming, my dear,” he said, — which expression quite touched Miss Susan, who did not know that it was a kind of transferred caress from the delicious page he was reading. It was not the living child that was kissed, but the dead one lying under the snow, if we may make a trivial use of a very sweet and tender thought we all remember.
Not long after this, happening to call in at the lawyer’s office, his eye was caught by the corner of a book lying covered up by a pile of papers. Somehow or other it seemed to look very natural to him. Could that be a copy of “ Thoughts on the Universe ” ? He watched his opportunity, and got a hurried sight of the volume. His own treatise, sure enough ! Leaves uncut. Opened of itself to the one hundred and twentieth page. The axiom Murray Bradshaw had quoted — he did not remember from what, — “sounded like Coleridge ” — was staring him. in the face from that very page. When lie remembered how he had pleased himself with that compliment the other day, he blushed like a school-girl; and then, thinking out the whole trick,— to hunt up his forgotten book, pick out a phrase or two from it, and play on Ills weakness with it, to win his good opinion, — for what purpose he did not know, but doubtless to use him in some way, — he grinned with a contempt about equally divided between himself and the young schemer.
“Ah ha!” lie muttered scornfully. “Sounds like Coleridge, hey? Niccolo Macchiavelli Bradshaw! ”
From this day forward he looked on all the young lawyer’s doings with even more suspicion than before. Yet he would not forego his company and conversation ; for lie was very agreeable and amusing to study; and this trick he had played him was, after all, only a diplomatist’s way of flattering his plenipotentiary. Who could say ? Some time or other he might cajole England or France or Russia into a treaty with just such a trick. Shallower men than he had gone out as ministers of the great Republic. At any rate the fellow was worth watching.
THE USE OF SPECTACLES.
THE old Master of Arts had a great reputation in the house where he lived for knowing everything that was going on. He rather enjoyed it; and sometimes amused himself with surprising his simple-hearted landlady and her boarders with the unaccountable results of his sagacity. One thing was quite beyond her comprehension. She was perfectly sure that Mr. Gridley could see out of the back of his head\ just as other people see with their natural organs. Time and again he had told her what she was doing when his back was turned to her, just as if he had been sitting squarely in front of her. Some laughed at this foolish notion ; but others, who knew more of the nebulous sciences, told her it was like’s not jes’ so. Folks had read letters laid ag’in' the pits o’ their stomachs, hi’ whyshould n’t they see out o’ the backs o’ their heads ?
Now there was a certain fact at the bottom of this belief of Mrs Hopkins; and as it would be a very small thing to make a mystery of so simple a matter, the reader shall have the whole benefit of knowing all there is in it, — not quite yet, however, of knowing all that came of it. It was not the mirror trick, 01 course, which Mrs. Felix Lorraine and other dangerous historical personages have so long made use of. It was nothing but this. Mr. Byles Gridley wore a pair of formidable spectacles with large round glasses. He had often noticed the reflection of objects behind him when they caught their images at certain angles, and had got the habit of very often looking at the reflecting surface of one or the other of the glasses, when he seemed to be looking through them. It put a singular power into his possession, which might possibly hereafter lead to something more significant than the mystification of the Widow Hopkins.
A short time before Myrtle Hazard’s disappearance, Mr. Byles Gridley had occasion to call again at the office of Penhallow and Bradshaw on some small matter of business of his own. There were papers to look over, and he put on his great round-glassed spectacles. He and Mr. Penhallow sat down at the table, and Mr. Bradshaw was at a desk behind them. After sitting for a while, Mr. Penhallow seemed to remember something he had meant to attend to, for he said all at once : ‘L Excuse me, Mr. Gridley. Mr. Bradshaw, if you are not busy, I wish you would look over this bundle of papers. They look like old receipted bills and memoranda of no particular use ; but they came from the garret of the Withers place, and might possibly have something that would be of value. Look them over, will you, and see whether there is anything there worth saving.”
The young man took the papers, and Mr. Penhallow sat down again at the table with Mr. Byles Gridley.
This last-named gentleman felt just then a strong impulse to observe the operations of Murray Bradshaw. He could not have given an}' very good reason for it, any more than any of us can for half of what we do.
“ I should like to examine that conveyance we were speaking of once more,” said he. “ Please to look at this one in the mean time, will you, Mr. Penhallow ? ”
Master Gridley held the document up before him. He did not seem to find it quite legible, and adjusted his spectacles carefully, until they were just as he wanted them. When he had got them to suit himself, sitting there with his back to Murray Bradshaw, he could see him and all his movements, the desk at which he was standing, and the books in the shelves before him,— all this time appearing as if he were intent upon his own reading.
The young man began in a rather indifferent way to look over the papers. He loosened the band round them, and took them up one by one, gave a careless glance at them, and laid them together to tie up again when he had gone through them. Master Gridley saw all 'this process, thinking what a fool he was all the time to be watching such a simple proceeding. Presently he noticed a more sudden movement: the young man had found something which arrested his attention, and turned his head to see if he was observed. The senior partner and his client were both apparently deep in their own affairs. In his hand Mr. Bradshaw held a paper folded like the others, the back of which he read, holding it in such a way that Master Gridley saw very distinctly three large spots of ink upon it, and noticed their position. Murray Bradshaw took another hurried glance at the two gentlemen, and then quickly opened the paper. He ran it over with a flash of his eye, folded it again, and laid it by itself. With another quick turn of his head, as if to see whether he were observed or like to be, he reached his hand out and took a volume down from the shelves. In this volume he shut the document, whatever it was, which lie had just taken out of the bundle, and placed the book in a very silent and as it were stealthy way back in its place. He then gave a look at each of the other papers, and said to his partner: “ Old bills, old leases, and insurance policies that have run out. Malacfai seems to have kept every scrap of paper that had a signature to it.”
That's the way with the old misers, always,” said Mr. Penhallow.
Byles Gridley had got through reading the document he held, — or pretending to read it. He took off his spectacles.
“ We all grow timid and cautious as we get old, Mr. Penhallow.” Then turning round to the young man, he slowly repeated the lines, —
Quarit et inventis miser abstinct, etc timet nti ;
Vel quod res ontnes timide, gdideque ministrat—’
You remember the passage, Mr. Bradshaw ? ”
While he was reciting these words from Horace, which he spoke slowly as if he relished every syllable, he kept his eyes on the young man steadily, but without betraying any suspicion. Plis old habits as a teacher made that easy.
Murray Bradshaw's face was calm as usual, but there was a flush on his cheek, and Master Gridley saw the slight but unequivocal signs of excitement.
“ Something is going on inside there,” the old man said to himself. Pie waited patiently, on the pretext of business, until Mr. Bradshaw got up and left the office. As soon as lie and the senior partner were alone, Master Gridley took a lazy look at some of the books in his library. There stood in the book-shelves a copy of the Corpus Juris Civilis, — the fine Elzevir edition of 1664. It was bound in parchment, and thus readily distinguishable at a glance from all the books round it. Now Mr. Penhallow was not much of a Latin scholar, and knew and cared very little about the civil law. Pie had picked up this book at an auction, and bought it to place in his shelves with the other “ properties ” of the office, because it would look respectable. Anything shut up in one of those two octavos might stay there a lifetime without Mr. Penhallow’s disturbing it ; that Master Gridley knew, and of course the young man knew it too.
We often move to the objects of supreme curiosity or desire, not in the lines of castle or bishop on the chess-board, but with the knight’s zigzag, at first in the wrong direction, making believe to ourselves we are not after the thing coveted. Put a lump of sugar in a canary-bird’s cage, and the small creature will illustrate the instinct for the benefit of inquirers or sceptics. Byles Gridley went to the other side of the room and took a volume of Reports from the shelves. He put it back and took a copy of “ Fearne on Contingent Remainders,” and looked at that for a moment in an idling way, as if from a sense of having nothing to do. Then he drew the back of his forefinger along the books on the shelf, as if nothing interested him in them, and strolled to the shelf in front of the desk at which Murray Bradshaw had stood. He took down the second volume of the Corpus Juris Civilis, turned the leaves over mechanically, as if in search of some title, and replaced it.
He looked round for a moment. Mr. Penhallow was writing hard at his table, not thinking of him, it was plain enough. He laid his hand on the FIRST volume of the Corpus Juris Civilis. There was a document shut up in it. His hand was on the book, whether taking it out or putting it back was not evident, when the door opened and Mr. William Murray Bradshaw entered.
“Ah, Mr. Gridley,” he said, “you are not studying the civil law, are you ? ” He strode towards him as he spoke, his face white, his eyes fixed fiercely on him.
“ it always interests me, Mr. Bradshaw,” he answered, “and this is a fine edition of it. One may find a great many valuable things in the Corpus Juris Civilis C
He looked impenetrable, and whether or not he had seen more than Mr. Bradshaw wished him to see, that gentleman could not tell. But there stood the two books in their place, and when, after Master Gridley had gone, he looked in the first volume, there was the document he had shut up in it.
MYRTLE'S LF.TTER. — THE YOUNG MENS1 PURSUIT.
“You know all about it, Olive?” Cyprian Eveleth said to his sister, after a brief word of greeting.
“ Know of what, Cyprian ? ”
“ Why, sister, don’t you know that Myrtle Hazard is missing, — gone ! — gone nobody knows where, and that we are looking in all directions to find her ? ”
Olive turned very pale and was silent for a moment. At the end of that moment the story seemed almost old to her. It was a natural ending of the prison-life which had been round Myrtle since her earliest years. When she got large and strong enough, she broke out of jail, — that was all. The nursery-bar is always climbed sooner or later, whether it is a wooden or an iron one. Olive felt as if she had dimly foreseen just such a finishing to the tragedy of the poor girl’s home bringing-up. Why could not she have done something to prevent it ? Well, — what shall we do now, and as it is ? — that is the question.
“Has she left no letter, — no explanation of her leaving in this way ?
“Not a word, so far as anybody in the village knows.”
“ Come over to the post-office with me ; perhaps we may find a letter. I think we shall.”
Olive’s sagacity and knowledge of her friend’s character had not misled her. She found a letter from Myrtle to herself, which she opened and read as here follows : —
“ MY DEAREST OLIVE : — Think no evil of me for what I have done. The fire-hang-bird’s nest, as Cyprian called it, is empty, and the poor bird is flown.
“ I can live as I have lived no longer. This place is chilling all the life out of me, and I must find another home. It is far, far away, and you will not hear from me again until I am there. Then I will write to you.
“ Y~ou know where I was born, under a hot sun and in the midst of strange, lovely scenes that I seem still to remember. I must visit them again : my heart always yearns for them. And I must cross the sea to get there, — the beautiful great sea that I have always longed for and that my river has been whispering about to me ever so many years. My life is pinched and starved here. I feel as old as Aunt Silence, and I am only fifteen, — a child she has called me within a few days. If this is to be a child, what is it to be a woman P
“ I love you dearly, —and your brother is almost to me as if he were mine. I love our sweet, patient Bathsheba, — yes, and the old man that has spoken so kindly with me, good Master Gridley ; I hate to give you pain, — to leave you all, — but my way of life is killing me, and I am too young to die. 1 cannot take the comfort with you, my dear friends, that I would ; for it seems as if 1 carried a lump of ice in my heart, and all the warmth I find in you cannot thaw it out.
“ 1 have had a strange warning to leave this place, Olive. Do you remember how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him to flee into Egypt ? I have had a dream like that, Olive. There is an old belief in our family that the spirit of one who died many generations ago watches over some of her descendants. They say it led our first ancestor to come over here when it was a wilderness. I believe it has appeared to others of the family in times of trouble. I have had a strange dream at any rate, and the one I saw, or thought 1 saw, told me to leave this place. Perhaps I should have stayed if it had not been for that, but it seemed like an angel’s warning.
“ Nobody will know how I have gone, or which way I have taken. On Monday, you may show this letter to my friends, not before. I do not think they will be in danger of breaking their hearts for me at our house. Aunt Silence cares tor nothing but her own soul, and the other woman hates me, I always thought. Kitty Fagan will cry hard. Tell her perhaps I shall come back by and by. There is a little box in my room, with some keepsakes marked, — one is for poor Kitty. You can give them to the right ones. Yours is with them.
“ Good by, dearest. Keep my secret, as I told you, till Monday. And if you never see me again, remember how much I loved you. Never think hardly of me, for you have grown up in a happy home, and do not know how much misery can be crowded into fifteen years of a young girl’s life. God be with you !
“ MYRTLE HAZARD.”
Olive could not restrain her tears, as she handed the letter to Cyprian. “ Her secret is as safe with you as with me,” she said. “But this is madness, Cyprian, and we must keep her from doing herself a wrong. What she means to do, is to get to Boston, in some way or other, and sail for India, It is strange that they have not tracked her. There is no time to be lost. She shall not go out into the world in this way, child that she is. No; she shall come back, and make her hotne with us, if she cannot be happy with these people. Ours is a happy and a cheerful home, and she shall be to me as a younger sister,—and your sister too, Cyprian. But you must see her; you must leave this very hour; and you may find her. Go to your cousin Edward, in Boston, at once ; tell him your errand, and get him to help you find our poor dear sister. Then give her the note I will write, and say — 1 know your heart, Cyprian, and I can trust that to tell you what to say.”
In a very short time Cyprian Eveleth was on his way to Boston. But another, keener even in pursuit than he, was there before him.
Ever since the day when Master Gridley had made that over-curious observation of the young lawyer’s proceedings at the office, Murray Bradshaw had shown a far livelier interest than before in the conditions and feelings of Myrtle Hazard. He had called frequently at The Poplars to talk over business matters, which seemed of late to require a deal of talking. He had been very deferential to Miss Silence, and had wound himself into the confidence of Miss Badlam. He found it harder to establish any very near relations with Myrtle, who had never seemed to care much for any young man but Cyprian Eveleth, and to care for him quite as much as Olive’s brother as for any personal reason. But he found out Myrtle’s tastes and ways of thinking and of life, so that, by and by, when she should look upon herself as a young woman, and not as a girl, he would have a great advantage in making her more intimate acquaintance.
Thus, she corresponded with a friend of her mother’s in India. She talked at times as if it were her ideal home, and showed many tastes which might well be vestiges of early Oriental impressions. She made herself a rude hammock,—such as are often used in hot climates, — and swung it between two elms. Here she would lie in the hot summer days, and fan herself with the sandal-wood fan her friend in India had sent her,— the perfume of which, the women said, seemed to throw her into day-dreams, which were almost like trances.
These circumstances gave a general direction to his ideas, which were presently fixed more exactly by two circumstances which he learned for himself and kept to himself; for he had no idea of making a hue and cry, and yet he did not mean that Myrtle Hazard should get away if he could help it.
The first fact was this. He found among the copies of the city newspaper they took at The Poplars a recent number from which a square had been cut out. He procured another copy of this paper of the same date, and found that the piece cut out was an advertisement to the effect that the A 1 Ship Swordfish, Captain Hawkins, was to sail from Boston for Calcutta, on the 20th of June.
The second fact was the following. On the window-sill of her little hanging chamber, which the women allowed him to inspect, he found some threads of long black glossy hair caught by a splinter in the wood. They were Myrtle’s of course. A simpleton might have constructed a tragedy out of this trivial circumstance, — how she had cast herself from the window into the waters beneath it, — how she had been thrust out after a struggle, of which this shred from her tresses was the dreadful witness,— and so on. Murray Bradshaw did not stop to guess and wonder. He said nothing about it, but wound the shining threads on his finger, and, as soon as he got home, examined them with a magnifier. They had been cut off smoothly, as with a pair of scissors. This was part of a mass of hair, then, which had been shorn and thrown from the window. Nobody would do that but she herself. What would she do it for ? To disguise her sex of course. The other inferences were plain enough.
The wily young man put all these facts and hints together, and concluded that he would let the rustics drag the ponds and the river, and scour the woods and swamps, while he himself went to the seaport town from which she would without doubt sail if she had formed the project he thought on the whole most probable.
Thus it was that we found him hurrying to the nearest station to catch the train to Boston, while they were all looking for traces of the missing girl nearer home. In the cars he made the most suggestive inquiries he could frame, to stir up the gentlemanly conductor’s memory. Had any young fellow been on the train within a day or two, who had attracted his notice ? Smooth, handsome face, black eyes, short black hair, new clothes, not fitting very well, looked away when he paid his fare, had a soft voice like a woman’s, — had he seen anybody answering to some such description as this ? The gentlemanly conductor had not noticed, — wras always taking up and setting down way-pahsengers, — might have had such a young man aboard, — there was two or three students one day in the car singing college songs, — he did n’t care bow folks looked if they had their tickets ready, — and minded their own business,— and, so saying, he poked a young man upon whose shoulder a ringleted head was reclining with that delightful abandon which the railroad train seems to provoke in lovely woman, — “ Fare ! ”
It is a fine thing to be set down in a great, over-crowded hotel, where they do not know you, looking dusty, and for the moment shabby, with nothing but a carpet-bag in your hand, feeling tired, and anything but clean, and hungry, and worried, and every way miserable and mean, and to undergo the appraising process of the gentleman in the office, who, while he shoves the book round to you for your name, is making a hasty calculation as to how high up he can venture to doom you. But Murray Bradshaw’s plain dress and carpet-bag were more than made up for by the air and tone which imply the habit of being attended to. The clerk saw that in a glance, and, as he looked at the name and address in the book, spoke sharply in the explosive dialect of his tribe, —
“Jun ! ta’tha’genlnvn’scarpctbag’n’showhimupt’thirtyone 1 ”
When Cyprian Eveleth reached the same hotel late at night, he appeared in his best clothes and with a new valise ; but his amiable countenance and gentle voice and modest manner sent him up two stories higher, where he found himself in a room not much better than a garret, feeling lonely enough, for he did not know he had an acquaintance in the same house. The two young men were in and out so irregularly that it was not very strange that they did not happen to meet each other.
The young lawyer was far more likely to find Myrtle if she were in the city than the other, even with the help of his cousin Edward. He was not only older, but sharper, better acquainted with the city and its ways, and, whatever might be the strength of Cyprian’s motives, his own were of such intensity that he thought of nothing else by day, and dreamed of nothing else by night. He went to work, therefore, in the most systematic manner. He first visited the ship Swordfish, lying at her wharf, saw her captain, and satisfied himself that as yet nobody at all corresponding to the description of Myrtle Hazard had been seen by any person on board. He visited all the wharves, inquiring on every vessel where it seemed possible she might have been looking about. Hotels, thoroughfares, every place where he might hear of her or meet her, were all searched. He took some of the police into his confidence, and had half a dozen pairs of eyes besides his own opened pretty widely to discover the lost girl.
On Sunday, the 19th, he got the first hint which encouraged him to think he was on the trail of his fugitive. He had gone down again to the wharf where the Swordfish, advertised to sail the next day, was lying. The captain was not on board, but one of the mates was there, and he addressed his questions to him, not with any great hope of hearing anything important, but determined to lose no chance, however small. He was startled with a piece of information which gave him such an exquisite pang of delight that he could hardly keep the usual quiet of his demeanor. A youth corresponding to his description of Myrtle Hazard in her probable disguise had been that morning on board the Swordfish, making many inquiries as to the hour at which she was to sail, and who were to be the passengers, and remained some time on board, going all over the vessel, examining her cabin accommodations, and saying he should return to - morrow before she sailed, — doubtless intending to take passage in her, as there was plenty of room on board. There could be little question, from the description, who this young person was. It was a rather delicate-looking, dark-haired youth, smoothfaced, somewhat shy and bashful in his ways, and evidently excited and nervous. He had apparently been to look about him, and would come back at the last moment, just as the vessel was ready to sail, and in an hour or two be beyond the reach of inquiry.
Murray Bradshaw returned to his hotel, and, going to his chamber, summoned all his faculties in state council to determine what course he should follow, now that he had the object of his search certainly within reaching distance. There was no danger now of her eluding him ; but the grave question arose, what was he to do when lie stood face to face with her. She must not go, — that was fixed. If she once got off in that ship, she might be safe enough ; but what would become of certain projects in which he was interested, — that was the question. But again, she was no child, to be turned away from her adventure by cajolery or by any such threats as common truants would find sufficient to scare them back to their duty. He could tell the facts of her disguise and the manner of her leaving home to the captain of the vessel, and induce him to send her ashore as a stray girl, to be returned to her relatives. But this would only make her furious with him ; and he must not alienate her from himself at any rate. He might plead with her in the name of duty, for the sake of her friends, for the good name of the family. She had thought all these things over before she ran away. What if he should address her as a lover, throw himself at her feet, implore her to pity him and give up her rash scheme, and, if things came to the very worst, offer to follow her wherever she went, if she would accept him in the only relation that would render it possible. Fifteen years old,— he nearly ten years older, — but such things had happened before, and this was no time to stand on trifles.
He worked out the hypothesis of the matrimonial offer as he would have reasoned out the probabilities in a law case he was undertaking.
1. There was not the least question on his part. The girl was handsome enough for his ambitious future, wherever it might carry him. She came of an honorable family, and had the great advantage of being free from a tribe of disagreeable relatives, which is such a drawback on many otherwise eligible parties. To these considerations were to be joined other circumstances which we need not here mention, of a nature to add greatly to their force, and which were sufficient of themselves to determine his action.
2. How was it likely she would look on such an extraordinary proposition ? At first, no doubt, as Lady Anne looked upon the advances of Richard. She would be startled, perhaps shocked. What then ? She could not help feeling flattered at such an offer from him, — him, William Murray Bradshaw, the rising young man of his county, at her feet, his eyes melting with the love he would throw into them, his tones subdued to their most sympathetic quality, and all those phrases on his lips which every day beguile women older and more discreet than this romantic, longimprisoned girl, whose rash and adventurous enterprise was an assertion of her womanhood and her right to dispose of herself as she chose. Fie had not lived to be twenty-five years old without knowing his power with women. He believed in himself so thoroughly, that his very confidence was a strong promise of success.
3.In case all his entreaties, arguments, and offers made no impression, should he make use of that supreme resource, not to be employed save in extreme need, but which was of a nature, in his opinion, to shake a resolution stronger than this young girl was like to oppose to it ? That would be like Christian’s coming to his weapon called All-prayer, he said to himself, with a smile that his early readings of Bunyan should have furnished him an image for so different an occasion. The question was one he could not settle till the time came, — he must leave it to the instinct of the moment.
The next morning found him early waking after a night of feverish dreams. He dressed himself with more than usual care, and walked down to the wharf where the Swordfish was moored. The ship had left the wharf, and was lying out in the stream. A small boat had just reached her, and a slender youth, as he appeared at that distance, climbed, not over-adroitly, up the vessel’s side.
Murray Bradshaw called to a boatman near by and ordered the man to row him over as fast as he could to the vessel lying in the stream. He had no sooner reached the deck of the Swordfish than he asked for the young person who had just been put on board.
“ He is in the cabin, sir, just gone down with the captain,” was the reply.
His heart beat, in spite of his cool temperament, as he went down the steps leading to the cabin. The young person was talking earnestly with the captain, and, on his turning round, Mr. William Murray Bradshaw had the pleasure of recognizing his young friend, Mr. Cyprian Eveleth.