The Guardian Angel
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A Magazine of Literature, ScienceArt, and Politics.
VOL. XIX.—JUNE, 1867. — NO. CXVI.
ARRIVAL OF REINFORCEMENTS.
MYRTLE HAZARD sat in stony stillness, like an Egyptian statue, long after the steps of Master Byles Gridley had ceased to be heard, as he descended the stairs and walked in his emphatic way through the long entry of the old mansion. She could not doubt his sincerity, and there was something in her own consciousness which responded to the suspicions he had expressed with regard to the questionable impulses of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker.
It is not in the words that others say to us, but in those other words which these make us say to ourselves, that we find our gravest lessons and our sharpest rebukes. The hint another gives us finds whole trains of thought which have been getting themselves ready to be shaped in inwardly articulated words, and only awaited the touch of a burning syllable, as the mottoes of a pyrotechnist only wait for a spark to become letters of fire.
The artist who takes your photograph must carry you with him into his “developing” room, and he will give you a more exact illustration of the truth just mentioned. There is nothing to be seen on the glass just taken from the camera. But there is a potential, though invisible, picture hid in the creamy film which covers it. Watch him as he pours a wash over it, and you will see that miracle wrought which is at once a surprise and a charm, — the sudden appearance of your own features, where a moment before was a blank without a vestige of intelligence or beauty.
In some such way the grave warnings of Master Byles Gridley had called up a fully shaped, but hitherto unworded, train of thought in the consciousness of Myrtle Hazard. It was not merely their significance, it was mainly because they were spoken at the fitting time. If they had been uttered a few weeks earlier, when Myrtle was taking the first stitch on the embroidered slippers, they would have been as useless as the artist’s developing solution on a plate which had never been exposed in the camera. But she had been of late in training for her lesson in ways that neither she nor anybody else dreamed of. The reader who has shrugged his (or her) shoulders over the last illustration will perhaps hear this one which follows more cheerfully. The physician in the Arabian Nights made his patient play ball with a bat, the hollow handle of which contained drugs of marvellous efficacy. Whether it was the drugs that made the sick man get well, or the exercise, is not of so much consequence as the fact that he did at any rate get well.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by TICKNOK AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts,
These walks which Myrtle had taken with her reverend counsellor had given her a new taste for the open air, which was what she needed just now more than confessions of faith or spiritual paroxysms. And so it happened that, while he had been stimulating all those imaginative and emotional elements of her nature which responded to the keys he loved to play upon, the restoring influences of the sweet autumnal air, the mellow sunshine, the soothing aspects of the woods and fields and sky, had been quietly doing their work. The color was fast returning to her cheek, and the discords of her feelings and her thoughts gradually resolving themselves into the harmonious and cheerful rhythms of bodily and mental health. It needed but the timely word from the fitting lips to change the whole programme of her daily mode of being. The word had been spoken. She saw its truth; but how hard it is to tear away a cherished delusion, to cast out an unworthy intimate ! How hard for any ! — but for a girl so young, and who had as yet found so little to love and trust, how cruelly hard !
She sat, still and stony, just as Master Gridley had left her. Her eyes were fixed on the chair in which he had been sitting. It was a very singular and fantastic old chair, said to have been brought over by the first emigrant of her race. The legs and arms were curiously turned in spirals, the suggestions of which were half pleasing and half repulsive. Instead of the claw-feet common in furniture of a later date, each of its legs rested on a misshapen reptile, which it seemed to flatten by its weight, as if it were squeezing the breath out of the ugly creature. Over this chair hung the portrait of her beautiful ancestress, her neck and arms, the specialty of her beauty, bare, except for a bracelet on the left wrist, and her shapely figure set off by the ample folds of a rich crimson brocade. Over Myrtle’s bed bung that other portrait, which was to her almost as the pictures of the Mater Dolorosa to trustful souls of the Roman faith. She had longed for these pictures while she was in her strange hysteric condition, and they had been hung up in her chamber.
The night was far gone, as she knew by the declining of the constellations which she had seen shining brightly almost overhead in the early evening, when she awoke, and found herself still sitting in the very attitude in which Master Gridley had left her. Her lamp had burned out, and the starlight but dimly illuminated her chamber. She started to find herself sitting there, chilled and stiffened by long remaining in one posture ; and as her consciousness returned, a great fear seized her, and she sprang for a match. It broke with the quick movement she made to kindle it, and she snatched another as if a fiend were after her. It flashed and went out. O the terror, the terror ! The darkness seemed alive with fearful presences. The lurid glare of her own eyeballs flashed backwards into her brain. She tried one more match ; it kindled as it should, and she lighted another lamp. Her first impulse was to assure herself that nothing was changed in the familiar objects around her. She held the lamp up to the picture of Judith Pride. The beauty looked at her, it seemed as if with a kind ot lofty recognition in her eyes ; but there she was, as always. She turned the light upon the pale face of the martyr-portrait. It looked troubled and faded, as it seemed to Myrtle, but still it was the same face she remembered from her childhood. Then she threw the light on the old chair, and, shuddering, caught up a shawl and flung it over the spiral-wound arms and legs, and the flattened reptiles on which it stood.
In those dead hours of the night which had passed over her sitting there, still and stony, as it should seem, she had had strange visitors. Two women had been with her, as real as any that breathed the breath of life, —so it appeared to her,—yet both had long been what is called, in our poor language, dead. One came in all the glory of her ripened beauty, barenecked, bare-armed, full dressed by nature in that splendid animal equipment which in its day had captivated the eyes of all the lusty lovers of complete muliebrity. The other, — how delicate, how translucent, how aerial she seemed ! yet real and true to the lineaments of her whom the young girl looked upon as her hereditary protector.
The beautiful woman turned, and, with a face full of loathing and scorn, pointed to one of the reptiles beneath the feet of the chair. And while Myrtle’s eyes followed hers, the flattened and half-crushed creature seemed to swell and spread like his relative in the old fable, like the black dog in Faust, until he became of tenfold size, and at last of colossal proportions. And, fearful to relate, the batrachian features humanized themselves as the monster grew, and, shaping themselves more and more into a remembered similitude, Myrtle saw in them a hideous likeness of— No! no! it was too horrible ! Was that the face which had been so close to hers but yesterday ? were those the lips, the breath from which had stirred her growing curls as he leaned over her while they read together some passionate stanza from a hymn that was as much like a lovesong as it dared to be in godly company ? A shudder of disgust — the natural repugnance of loveliness for deformity — ran all through her, and she shrieked, as she thought, and threw herself at the feet of that other figure. She felt herself lifted from the floor, and then a cold thin hand seemed to take hers. The warm life went out of her, and she was to herself as a dimly conscious shadow that glided with passive acquiescence wherever it was led. Presently she found herself in a halflighted apartment, where there were books on the shelves around, and a desk with loose manuscripts lying on it, and a little mirror with a worn bit of carpet before it. And while she looked, a great serpent writhed in through the half-open door, and made the circuit of the room, laying one huge ring all round it, and then, going round again, laid another ring over the first, and so on until he was wound all round the room like the spiral of a mighty cable, leaving a hollow in the centre ; and then the serpent seemed to arch his neck in the air, and bring his head close down to Myrtle’s face ; and the features were not those of a serpent, but of a man, and it hissed out the words she had read that very day in a little note which said, “ Come to my study to-morrow, and we will read hymns together.”
Again she was back in her little chamber, she did not know how, and the two women were looking into her eyes with strange meaning in their own. Something in them seemed to plead with her to yield to their influence, and her choice wavered which of them to follow, for each would have led her her own way, — whither, she knew not. It was the strife of her “ Vision,” only in another form, —the contest of two lives her blood inherited for the mastery of her soul. The might of beauty conquered. Myrtle resigned herself to the guidance of the lovely phantom, which seemed so much fuller of the unextinguished fire of life, and so like herself as she would grow to be when noon should have ripened her into maturity.
Doors opened softly before them; they climbed stairs, and threaded corridors, and penetrated crypts, strange yet familiar to her eyes, which seemed to her as if they could see, as it were, in darkness. Then came a confused sense of eager search for something that she knew was hidden, whether in the cleft of a rock, or under the boards of a floor, or in some hiding-place among the skeleton rafters, or in a forgotten drawer, or in a heap of rubbish, she could not tell; but somewhere there was something which she was to find, and which, once found, was to be her talisman. She was in the midst of this eager search when she awoke.
The impression was left so strongly on her mind that, with ail her fears, she could not resist the desire to make an effort to find what meaning there was in this frightfully real dream. Her courage came back as her senses assured her that all around her was natural, as when she left it. She determined to follow the lead of the strange hint her nightmare had given her.
In one of the upper chambers of the old mansion there stood a tall, upright desk of the ancient pattern, with folding doors above and large drawers below. “That desk is yours, Myrtle,” her uncle Malachi had once said to her; “and there is a trick or two about it that it will pay you to study.” Many a time Myrtle had puzzled herself about the mystery of the old desk. All the little drawers, of which there were a considerable number, she had pulled out, and every crevice, as she thought, she had carefully examined. She determined to make one more trial. It was the dead of the night, and a fearful old place to be wandering about; but she was possessed with an urgent feeling which would not let her wait until daylight.
She stole like a ghost from her chamber. She glided along the narrow entries as she had seemed to move in her dream. She opened the folding doors of the great upright desk. She had always before examined it by daylight, and though she had so often pulled all the little drawers out, she had never thoroughly explored the recesses which received them. But in her new-born passion of search, she held her light so as to illuminate all these deeper spaces. At once she thought she saw the marks of pressure with a finger. She pressed her own finger on this place, and, as it yielded with a slight click, a small mahogany pilaster sprang forward, revealing its well-kept secret that it was the mask of a tall, deep, very narrow drawer. There was something heavy in it, and, as Myrtle turned it over, a golden bracelet fell into her hand. She recognized it at once as that which had been long ago the ornament of the fair woman whose portrait hung in her chamber. She clasped it upon her wrist, and from that moment she felt as if she were the captive of the lovely phantom who had been with her in her dream.
“The old man walked last night, God save us ! ” said Kitty Fagan to Biddy Finnegan, the day after Myrtle’s nightmare and her curious discovery.
IT seems probable enough that Myrtle’s whole spiritual adventure was an unconscious dramatization of a few simple facts which her imagination tangled together into a kind of vital coherence. The philosopher who goes to the bottom of things will remark that all the elements of her fantastic melodrama had been furnished her while waking. Master Byles Gridley’s penetrating and stinging caution was the text, and the grotesque carvings and the portraits furnished the “ properties ” with which her own mind had wrought up this scenic show.
The philosopher who goes to the bottom of things might not find it so easy to account for the change which came over Myrtle Hazard from the hour when she clasped the bracelet of Judith Pride upon her wrist. She felt a sudden loathing of the man whom she had idealized as a saint. A young girl's caprice ? Possibly. A return of the natural instincts of girlhood with returning health ? Perhaps so. An impression produced by her dream ? An effect of an influx from another sphere of being ? The working of Master Byles Gridley’s emphatic warning ? The magic of her new talisman ?
We may safely leave these questions for the present. As we have to tell, not what Myrtle Hazard ought to have done, and why she should have done it, but what she did do, our task is a simpler one than it would be to lay bare all the springs of her action. Until this period, she had hardly thought of herself as a born beauty. The flatteries she had received from time to time were like the chips and splinters under the green wood, when the chill women pretended to make a fire in the best parlor at The Poplars, which had a way of burning themselves out, hardly warming, much less kindling, the forestick and the back-log.
Myrtle had a tinge of what some call superstition, and she began to look upon her strange acquisition as a kind of amulet. Its suggestions betrayed themselves in one of her first movements. Nothing could be soberer than the cut of the dresses which the propriety of the severe household had established as the rule of her costume. But the girl was no sooner out of bed than a passion came over her to see herself in that less jealous arrangement of drapery which the Beauty of the last century had insisted on as presenting her most fittingly to the artist. She rolled up the sleeves of her dress, she turned down its prim collar and neck, and glanced from her glass to the portrait, from the portrait back to the glass. Myrtle was not blind nor dull, though young, and in many things untaught. She did not say in so many words, “ I too am a beauty,” but she could not help seeing that she had many of the attractions of feature and form which had made the original of the picture before her famous. The same stately carriage of the head, the same full-rounded neck, the same more than hinted outlines of figure, the same finely-shaped arms and hands, and something very like the same features startled her by their identity in the permanent image of the canvas and the fleeting one of the mirror.
The world was hers then, — for she had not read romances and love-letters without finding that beauty governs it in all times and places. Who was this middle-aged minister that had been hanging round her and talking to her about heaven, when there was not a single joy of earth that she had as yet tasted ? A man that had been saying all his fine things to Miss Susan Posey, too, had he, before he had bestowed his attentions on her ? And to a dozen other girls, too, nobody knows who !
The revulsion was a very sudden one. Such changes of feeling are apt to be sudden in young people whose nerves have been tampered with, and Myrtle was not of a temperament or an age to act with much deliberation where a pique came in to the aid of a resolve. Master Gridley guessed sagaciously what would be the effect of his revelation, when he told her of the particular attentions the minister had paid to pretty Susan Posey and various other young women.
The Rev. Mr. Stoker had parted his hair wonderfully that morning, and made himself as captivating as his professional costume allowed. He had drawn down the shades of his windows so as to let in that subdued light which is merciful to crow’s-feet and similar embellishments, and wheeled up his sofa so that two could sit at the table and read from the same book.
At eleven o’clock he was pacing the room with a certain feverish impatience, casting a glance now and then at the mirror as he passed it At last the bell rang, and he himself went to answer it. his heart throbbing with expectation of meeting his lovely visitor.
Myrtle Hazard appeared by an envoy extraordinary, the bearer of sealed despatches. Mistress Kitty Fagan was the young lady’s substitute, and she delivered into the hand of the astonished clergyman the following missive : —
“ To THE REV. MR. STOKER.
“REVEREND Sir,—I shall not come to your study this day. I do not feel that I have any more need of religious counsel at this time, and I am told by a friend that there are others who will be glad to hear you talk on this subject. I hear that Mrs. Hopkins is interested in religious subjects, and would have been glad to see you in my company. As I cannot go with her, perhaps Miss Susan Posey will take my place. I thank you for all the good things you have said to me, and that you have given me so much of your company. I hope we shall sing hymns together in heaven some time, if we are good enough, but I want to wait for that awhile, for I do not feel quite ready. I am not going to see you any more alone, reverend sir.
I think this is best, and I have good advice. I want to see more of young people of my own age, and I have a friend, Mr. Gridley, who I think is older than you are, that takes an interest in me ; and as you have many others that you must be interested in, he can take the place of a father better than you can do. I return to you the hymnbook, — I read one of those you marked, and do not care to read any more.
“ Respectfully yours,
“ MYRTLE HAZARD.”
The Rev. Mr. Stoker uttered a cry of rage as he finished this awkwardly written, but tolerably intelligible letter. What could he do about it ? It would hardly do to stab Myrtle Hazard, and shoot Byles Gridley, and strangle Mrs. Hopkins, every one of which homicides he felt at the moment that he could have committed. And here he was in a frantic paroxysm, and the next day was Sunday, and his morning’s discourse was unwritten. His savage mediæval theology came to his relief, and he clutched out of a heap of yellow manuscripts his well-worn “ convulsionfit” sermon. He preached it the next day as if it did his heart good, but Myrtle Hazard did not hear it, for she had gone to St. Bartholomew’s with Olive Eveleth.
SAINT AND SINNER.
IT happened a little after this time that the minister’s invalid wife improved somewhat unexpectedly in health, and, as Bathsheba was beginning to suffer from imprisonment in her sick-chamber, the physician advised very strongly that she should vary the monotony of her life by going out of the house daily for fresh air and cheerful companionship. She was therefore frequently at the house of Olive Eveleth; and as Myrtle wanted to see young people, and had her own way now as never before, the three girls often met at the parsonage. Thus they became more and more intimate, and grew more and more into each other’s affections.
These girls presented three types of spiritual character which are to be found in all our towns and villages. Olive had been carefully trained, and at the proper age confirmed. Bathsheba had been prayed for, and in due time startled and converted. Myrtle was a simple daughter of Eve, with many impulses like those of the other two girls, and some that required more watching. She was not so safe, perhaps, as either of the other girls, for this world or the next; but she was on some accounts more interesting, as being a more genuine representative of that inexperienced and too easily deluded, yet always cherished, mother of our race, whom we must after all accept as embodying the creative idea of woman, and who might have been alive and happy now (though at a great age) but for a single fatal error.
The Rev. Ambrose Eveleth, Rector of Saint Bartholomew’s, Olive’s father, was one of a class numerous in the Anglican Church, a cultivated man, with pure tastes, with simple habits, a good reader, a neat writer, a safe thinker, with a snug and well-fenced mental pasturage, which his sermons kept cropped moderately close without any exhausting demand upon the soil. Olive had grown insensibly into her religious maturity, as into her bodily and intellectual developments, which one might suppose was the natural order of things in a well-regulated Christian household, where the children are brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Bathsheba had been worried over and perplexed and depressed with vague apprehensions about her condition, conveyed in mysterious phrases and graveyard expressions of countenance, until about the age of fourteen years, when she had one of those emotional paroxysms very commonly considered in some Protestant sects as essential to the formation of religious character. It began with a shivering sense of enormous guilt, inherited and practised from her earliest infancy. Just as every breath she ever drew had been malignantly poisoning the air with carbonic acid, so her every thought and feeling had been tainting the universe with sin. This spiritual chill or rigor had in due order been followed by the fever-flush of hope, and that in its turn had ushered in the last stage,—the free opening of all the spiritual pores in the peaceful relaxation of self-surrender.
Good Christians are made by many very different processes. Bathsheba had taken her religion after the fashion of her sect; but it was genuine, in spite of the cavils of the formalists, who could not understand that the spirit which kept her at her mother's bedside was the same as that which poured the tears of Mary of Magdala on the feet of her Lord, and led her forth at early dawn with the other Mary to visit his sepulchre.
Myrtle was a child of nature, and of course, according to the out-worn formulæ which still shame the distorted religion of humanity, hateful to the Father in Heaven who made her. She had grown up in antagonism with all that surrounded her. She had been talked to about her corrupt nature and her sinful heart, until the words had become an offence and an insult. Bathsheba knew her father’s fondness for young company too well to suppose that his intercourse with Myrtle had gone beyond the sentimental and poetical stage, and was not displeased when she found that there was some breach between them. Myrtle herself did not profess to have passed through the technical stages of the customary spiritual paroxysm. Still, the gentle daughter of the terrible preacher loved her and judged her kindly. She was modest enough to think that perhaps the natural state of some girls might be at least as good as her own after the spiritual change of which she had been the subject. A manifest heresy, but not new, nor unamiable, nor inexplicable.
The excellent Bishop Joseph Hall, a painful preacher and solid divine of Puritan tendencies, declares that he prefers good-nature before grace in the election of a wife ; because, saith he, “ it will be a hard Task, where the Nature is peevish and froward, for Grace to make an entire Conquest whilst Life lasteth.” An opinion apparently entertained by many modern ecclesiastics, and one which may be considered very encouraging to those young ladies of the politer circles who have a fancy for marrying bishops and other fashionable clergymen. Not of course that “grace” is so rare a gift among the young ladies of the upper social sphere ; but they are in the habit of using the word with a somewhat different meaning from that which the good Bishop attached to it
THE VILLAGE POET.
IT was impossible for Myrtle to be frequently at Olive’s without often meeting Olive’s brother, and her reappearance with the bloom on her cheek was a signal which her other admirers were not like to overlook as a hint to recommence their flattering demonstrations ; and so it was that she found herself all at once the centre of attraction to three young men with whom we have made some acquaintance, namely, Cyprian Eveleth, Gifted Hopkins, and Murray Bradshaw.
When the three girls were together at the house of Olive, it gave Cyprian a chance to see something of Myrtle in the most natural way. Indeed, they all became used to meeting him in a brotherly sort of relation ; only, as he was not the brother of two of them, it gave him the inside track, as the sporting men say, with reference to any rivals for the good-will of either of these. Of course neither Bathsheba nor Myrtle thought of him in any other light than as Olive’s brother, and would have been surprised with the manifestation on his part of any other feeling, if it existed. So he became very nearly as intimate with them as Olive was, and hardly thought of his intimacy as anything more than friendship, until one day Myrtle sang some hymns so sweetly that Cyprian dreamed about her that night; and what young person does not know that the woman or the man once idealized and glorified in the exalted state of the imagination belonging to sleep becomes dangerous to the sensibilities in the waking hours that follow ? Yet something drew Cyprian to the gentler and more subdued nature of Bathsheba, so that he often thought, like a gayer personage than himself, whose divided affections are famous in song, that he could have been blessed to share her faithful heart, if Myrtle had not bewitched him with her unconscious and innocent sorceries. As for poor, modest Bathsheba, she thought nothing of herself, but was almost as much fascinated by Myrtle as if she had been one of the sex she was born to make in love with her.
The first rival Cyprian was to encounter in his admiration of Myrtle Hazard was Mr. Gifted Hopkins. This young gentleman had the enormous advantage of that all-subduing accomplishment, the poetical endowment. No woman, it is pretty generally understood, can resist the youth or man who addresses her in verse. The thought that she is the object of a poet’s love one which fills a woman’s ambition more completely than all that wealth or office or social eminence can offer. Do the young millionnaires and the members of the General Court get letters from unknown ladies, every clay, asking for their autographs and photographs ? Well, then !
Mr. Gifted Hopkins, being a poet, felt that it was so, to the very depth of his soul. Could he not confer that immortality so dear to the human heart? Not quite yet, perhaps, — though the “ Banner and Oracle ” gave him already " an elevated niche in the Temple of Fame,” to quote its own words, — but in that glorious summer of his genius, of which these spring blossoms were the promise. It was a most formidable battery, then, which Cyprian's first rival opened upon the fortress of Myrtle’s affections.
His second rival, Mr. William Murray Bradshaw, had made a half-playful bet with his fair relative, Mrs. Clymer Ketchum, that he would bag a girl within twelve months of date who should unite three desirable qualities, specified in the bet, in a higher degree than any one of the five who were on the matrimonial programme which she had laid out for him, —and Myrtle was the girl with whom he meant to win the bet. When a young fellow like him, cool and clever, makes up his mind to bring down his bird, it is no joke, but a very serious and a tolerably certain piece of business. Not being made a fool of by any boyish nonsense, — passion and all that,—he has a great advantage. Many a woman rejects a man because he is in love with her, and accepts another because he is not. The first is thinking too much of himself and his emotions, — the other makes a study of her and her friends, and learns what ropes to pull. But then it must be remembered that Murray Bradshaw had a poet for his rival, to say nothing of the brother of a bosom friend.
The qualities of a young poet are so exceptional, and such interesting objects of study, that a narrative like this can well afford to linger awhile in the delineation of this most envied of all the forms of genius. And by contrasting the powers and limitations of two such young persons as Gifted Hopkins and Cyprian Eveleth, we may better appreciate the nature of that divine inspiration which gives to poetry the superiority it claims over every other form of human expression.
Gifted Hopkins had shown an ear for rhythm, and for the simpler forms of music, from his earliest childhood. He began beating with his heels the accents of the psalm-tunes sung at meeting at a very tender age, — a habit, indeed, of which he had afterwards to correct himself, as, though it shows the same sensibility to rhythmical impulses which is beautifully illustrated when a circle join hands and emphasize by vigorous downward movements the leading syllables in the tune of Auld Lang Syne, yet it is apt to be too expressive when a large number of boots join in the performance. He showed a remarkable talent for playing on one of the less complex musical instruments, too limited in compass to satisfy exacting ears, but affording excellent discipline to those who wish to write in the simpler metrical forms,— the same which summons the hero from his repose and stirs his blood in battle.
By the time he was twelve years old he was struck with the pleasing resemblance of certain vocal sounds which, without being the same, yet had a curious relation which made them agree marvellously well in couples ; as eyes with skies; as heart with art, also with part and smart; and so of numerous others, twenty or thirty pairs, perhaps, which number he considerably increased as he grew older, until he may have had fifty or more such pairs at his command.
The union of so extensive a catalogue of words which matched each other, and of an ear so nice that it could tell if there were nine or eleven syllables in an heroic line, instead of the legitimate ten, consituted a rare combination of talents in the opinion of those upon whose judgment he relied. He was naturally led to try his powers in the expression of some just thought or natural sentiment in the shape of verse, that wonderful medium of imparting thought and feeling to his fellow-creatures which a bountiful Providence had made his rare and inestimable endowment.
It was at about this period of his life, that is to say, when he was of the age of thirteen, or we may perhaps say fourteen years, for we do not wish to overstate his precocity, that he experienced a sensation so entirely novel, that, to the best of his belief, it was such as no other young person had ever known, at least in anything like the same degree. This extraordinary emotion was brought on by the sight of Myrtle Hazard, with whom he had never before had any near relations, as they had been to different schools, and Myrtle was too reserved to be very generally known among the young people of his age.
Then it was that he broke forth in his virgin effort, “ Lines to M——e,” which were published in the village paper, and were claimed by all possible girls but the right one ; namely, by two Mary Annes, one Minnie, one Mehitable, and one Marthie, as she saw fit to spell the name borrowed from her who was troubled about many things.
The success of these lines, which were in that form of verse known to the hymn-books as “common metre,” was such as to convince the youth that, whatever occupation he might be compelled to follow for a time to obtain a livelihood or to assist his worthy parent, his true destiny was the glorious career of a poet. It was a most pleasing circumstance, that his mother, while she fully recognized the propriety of his being diligent in the prosaic line of business to which circumstances had called him, was yet as much convinced as he himself that he was destined to achieve literary fame. She had read Watts and Select Hymns all through, she said, and she did n't see but what Gifted could make the verses come out jest as slick, and the sound of the rhymes jest as pooty, as Izik Watts or the Selectmen, whoever they was, — she was sure they could n't be the selectmen of this town, wherever they belonged. It is pleasant to say that the young man, though favored by nature with this rarest of talents, did not forget the humbler duties that Heaven, which dresses few singing-birds in the golden plumes of fortune, had laid upon him. After having received a moderate amount of instruction at one of the less ambitious educational institutions of the town, supplemented, it is true, by the judicious and gratuitous hints of Master Gridley, the young poet, in obedience to a feeling which did him the highest credit, relinquished, at least for the time, the Groves of Academus, and offered his youth at the shrine of Plutus, that is, left off studying and took to business. He became what they call a “clerk” in what they call a “store” up in the huckleberry districts, and kept such accounts as were required by the business of the establishment. His principal occupation was, however, to attend to the details of commerce as it was transacted over the counter. This industry enabled him. to his great praise be it spoken, to assist his excellent parent, to clothe himself in a becoming manner, so that he made a really handsome figure on Sundays and was always of presentable aspect, likewise to purchase a book now and then, and to subscribe for that leading periodical which furnishes the best models to the youth of the country in the various modes of composition.
Though Master Gridley was very kind to the young man. he was rather disposed to check the exuberance of his poetical aspirations. The truth was, that the old classical scholar did not care a great deal for modern English poetry. Give him an Ode of Horace, or a scrap from the Greek Anthology, and he would recite it with great inflation of spirits ; but he did not think very much of “your Keatses, and your Tennysons, and the whole Hasheesh-crazy lot,” as he called the dreamily sensuous idealists who belong to the same century that brought in ether and chloroform. He rather shook his head at Gifted Hopkins for indulging so largely in metrical composition.
“ Better stick to your ciphering, my young friend,” he said to him, one day. “ Figures of speech are all very well in their way ; but if you undertake to deal much in them, you ‘ll figure down your prospects into a mighty small sum. There’s some danger that it will take all the sense out of you, if you keep writing verses at this rate. You young scribblers think any kind of nonsense will do for the public, if it only has a string of rhymes tacked to it. Cut off the bobs of your kite, Gifted Hopkins, and see if it does n’t pitch, and stagger, and come down head-foremost. Don't write any stuff with rhyming tails to it that won’t make a decent show for itself after you ’ve chopped all the rhyming tails off. That 's my advice, Gifted Hopkins. Is there any book you would like to have out of my library ? Have you ever read Spenser’s Faery Queen ? ”
He had tried, the young man answered, on the recommendation of Cyprian Eveleth, but had found it rather hard reading.
Master Gridley lifted his eyebrows very slightly, remembering that some had called Spenser the poets’ poet. “What a pity,” he said to himself, “that this Gifted Hopkins has n’t got the brains of that William Murray Bradshaw ! What’s the reason, I wonder, that all the little earthen pots blow their covers off and froth over in rhymes at such a great rate, while the big iron pots keep their lids on, and do all their simmering inside ? ”
That is the way these old pedants will talk, after all their youth and all their poetry, if they ever had any, are gone. The smiles of woman, in the mean time, encouraged the young poet to smite the lyre. Fame beckoned him upward from her templed steep. The rhymes which rose before him unbidden were as the rounds of Jacob’s ladder, on which he would climb to a heaven of glory.
Master Gridley threw cold water on the young man’s too sanguine anticipations of success. “ All up with the boy, if he’s going to take to rhyming when he ought to be doing up papers of brown sugar and weighing out pounds of tea. Poor-house, — that’s what it 'll end in. Poets, to be sure ! Sausagemakers ! Empty skins of old phrases, — stuff ’em with odds and ends of old thoughts that never were good for anything, — cut ’em up in lengths and sell ’em to fools ! And if they ain't big fools enough to buy ’em, give ’em away ; and if you can’t do that, pay folks to take ’em. Bah ! what a fine style of genius common-sense is ! There’s a passage in the book that would fit half these addle-headed rhymesters. What is that saying of mine about ‘squinting brains ’ ? ”
He took down “ Thoughts on the Universe,” and read : —
“ Of Squinting Brains.
“ Where there is one man who squints with his eyes, there are a dozen who squint with their brains. It is an infirmity in one of the eyes, making the two unequal in power, that makes men squint. Just so it is an inequality in the two halves of the brain that makes some men idiots and others rascals. I know a fellow whose right half is a genius, but his other hemisphere belongs to a fool; and I had a friend perfectly honest on one side, but who was sent to jail because the other had an inveterate tendency in the direction of picking pockets and appropriating æs alienum.”
All this, talking and reading to himself in his usual fashion.
The poetical faculty which was so freely developed in Gifted Hopkins had never manifested itself in Cyprian Eveleth, whose look and voice might, to a stranger, have seemed more likely to imply an imaginative nature. Cyprian was dark, slender, sensitive, contemplative, a lover of lonely walks, — one who listened for the whispers of Nature and watched her shadows, and was alive to the symbolisms she writes over everything, But Cyprian had never shown the talent or the inclination for writing in verse.
He was on the pleasantest terms with the young poet, and being somewhat older, and having had the advantage of academic and college culture, often gave him useful hints as to the cultivation of his powers, such as genius often requires at the hands of humbler intelligences. Cyprian was incapable of jealousy; and although the name of Gifted Hopkins was getting to be known beyond the immediate neighborhood, and his autograph had been requested by more than one young lady living in another county, he never thought of envying the young poet’s spreading popularity.
That the poet himself was flattered by these marks of public favor may be inferred from the growing confidence with which he expressed himself in his conversations with Cyprian, more especially in one which was held at the “store ” where he officiated as “clerk.”
“ I become more and more assured, Cyprian,” he said, leaning over the counter, “ that I was born to be a poet. I feel it in my marrow. I must succeed. I must win the laurel of fame. I must taste the sweets of— ”
“Molasses,” said a bareheaded girl of ten who entered at that moment, bearing in her hand a cracked pitcher, — “ ma wants three gills of molasses.”
Gifted Hopkins dropped his subject and took up a tin measure. He served the little maid with a benignity quite charming to witness, made an entry on a slate of .08, and resumed the conversation.
“Yes, I am sure of it, Cyprian. The very last piece I wrote was copied in two papers. It was ' Contemplations in Autumn,’ and — don't think I am too vain — one young lady has told me that it reminded her of Pollok. You never wrote in verse, did you, Cyprian ? ”
“ I never wrote at all, Gifted, except school and college exercises, and a letter now and then. Do you find it an easy and pleasant exercise to make rhymes ? ”
“ Pleasant! Poetry is to me a delight and a passion. I never know what I am going to write when I sit down. And presently the rhymes begin pounding in my brain, — it seems as if there were a hundred couples of them, paired like so many dancers, — and then these rhymes seem to take possession of me, like a surprise party, and bring in all sorts of beautiful thoughts, and I write and write, and the verses run measuring themselves out like—”
“Ribbins, — any narrer blue ribbins, Mr. Hopkins ? Five eighths of a yard, if you please, Mr. Hopkins. How ’s your folks ? ” Then, in a lower tone, “Those last verses of yours in the Bannernoracle were sweet pooty.”
Gifted Hopkins meted out the five eighths of blue ribbon by the aid of certain brass nails on the counter. He gave good measure, not prodigal, for he was loyal to his employer, but putting a very moderate strain on the ribbon, and letting the thumb-nail slide with a contempt of infinitesimals which betokened a large soul in its genial mood.
The young lady departed, after casting upon him one of those bewitchingglances which the young poet — let us rather say the poet, without making odious distinctions — is in the confirmed habit of receiving from dear woman.
Mr. Gifted Hopkins resumed: “I do not know where this talent, as my friends call it, of mine, comes from. My father used to carry a chain for a surveyor sometimes, and there is a tenfoot pole in the house he used to measure land with. I don’t see why that should make me a poet. My mother was always fond of Dr. Watts’s hymns ; but so are other young men’s mothers, and yet they don’t show poetical genius. But wherever I got it, it comes as easy to me to write in verse as to write in prose, almost. Don’t you ever feel a longing to send your thoughts forth in verse, Cyprian ? ”
“ I wish I had a greater facility of expression very often,” Cyprian answered ; “ but when I have my best thoughts I do not find that I have words that seem fitting to clothe them. I have imagined a great many poems, Gifted, but I never wrote a rhyming verse, or verse of any kind. Did you ever hear Olive play ‘ Songs without Words’? If you have ever heard her, you will know what I mean by unrhymed and unversed poetry.”
“ I am sure I don’t know what you mean, Cyprian, by poetry without rhyme or verse, any more than I should if you talked about pictures that were painted on nothing, or statues that were made out of nothing. How can you tell that anything is poetry, I should like to know, if there is neither a regular line with just so many syllables, nor a rhyme? Of course you can’t, I never have any thoughts too beautiful to put in verse: nothing can be too beautiful for it.”
Cyprian left the conversation at this point. It was getting more suggestive than interpenetrating, and he thought he might talk the matter over better with Olive. Just then a little boy came in, and bargained with Gifted for a Jews-harp, which, having obtained, he placed against his teeth, and began playing upon it with a pleasure almost equal to that of the young poet reciting his own verses.
“ A little too much like my friend Gifted Hopkins’s poetry,” Cyprian said, as he left the “store.” “All in one note, pretty much. Not a great many tunes, —‘Hi Betty Martin,’ ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and one or two more like them. But many people seem to like them, and I don’t doubt it is as exciting to Gifted to write them as it is to a great genius to express itself in a poem.”
Cyprian was, perhaps, too exacting. He loved too well the sweet intricacies of Spenser, the majestic and subtly interwoven harmonies of Milton, these made him impatient of the simpler strains of Gifted Hopkins.
Though he himself never wrote verses. he had some qualities which his friend the poet may have undervalued in comparison with the talent ot modelling the symmetries of verse and adjusting the correspondences of rhyme. He had kept in a singular degree all the sensibilities of childhood, its simplicity, its reverence. It seemed as it nothing of all that he met in his daily life was common or unclean to him, for there was no mordant in his nature for what was coarse or vile, and all else he could not help idealizing into its own conception of itself, so to speak.
He loved the leaf after its kind as well as the flower, and the root as well as the leaf, and did not exhaust his capacity of affection or admiration on the blossom or bud upon which his friend the poet lavished the wealth of his verse. Thus Nature took him into her confidence. She loves the men of science well, and tells them all her family secrets,— who is the father of this or that member of the group, who is brother, sister, cousin, and so on, through all the circle of relationship. But there are others to whom she tells her dreams ; not what species or genus her lily belongs to, but what vague thought it has when it dresses in white, or what memory of its birthplace that is which we call its fragrance. Cyprian was one of these. Yet he was not a complete nature. He required another and a wholly different one to be the complement of his own. Olive came as near it as a sister could, but — we must borrow an old image — moonlight is but a cold and vacant glimmer on the sundial, which only answers to the great flaming orb of day. If Cyprian could but find some true, sweet-tempered, well-balanced woman, richer in feeling than in those special imaginative gifts which made the outward world at times unreal to him in the intense reality of his own inner life, how he could enrich and adorn her existence, — how she could direct and chasten and elevate the character of all his thoughts and actions !
“Bathsheba,” said Olive, “ it seems to me that Cyprian is getting more and more fascinated with Myrtle Hazard. He has never got over the fancy he took to her when he first saw her in her red jacket, and called her the fire-hangbird. Would n’t they suit each other by and by, after Myrtle has come to hersell and grown into a beautiful and noble woman, as I feel sure she will in due time ? ”
“ Myrtle is very lovely,” Bathsheba answered; “but is n't she a little too — flighty — for one like your brother? Cyprian is n't more like other young men than Myrtle is like other young girls. I have thought sometimes — I wondered whether out-of-the-way people and common ones do not get along best together. Does n’t Cyprian want some more every-day kind of girl to keep him straight? Myrtle is beautiful, — beautiful, — fascinates everybody. Has Mr. Bradshaw been following after her lately ? He is taken with her too. Did n’t you ever think she would have to give in to Murray Bradshaw at last ? He looks to me like a man that would hold on desperately as a lover.”
If Myrtle Hazard, instead of being a half-finished school-girl, hardly sixteen years old, had been a young woman of eighteen or nineteen, it would have been plain sailing enough for Murray Bradshaw. But he knew what a distance their ages seemed just now to put between them,—a distance which would grow practically less and less with every year, and he did not wish to risk anything so long as there was no danger of interference. He rather encouraged Gifted Hopkins to write poetry to Myrtle. “ Go in, Gifted.” he said, “ there’s no telling what may come of it,” — and Gifted did go in at a great rate.
Murray Bradshaw did not write poetry himself, but he read poetry with a good deal of effect, and he would sometimes take a hint from one of Gifted Hopkins’s last productions to recite a passionate lyric of Byron or Moore, into which he would artfully throw so much meaning that Myrtle was almost as much puzzled, in her simplicity, to know what it meant, as she had been by the religious fervors of the Rev. Mr. Stoker.
He spoke well of Cyprian Eveleth. A good young man, —limited, but exemplary. Would succeed well as rector of a small parish. That required little talent, but a good deal of the humbler sort of virtue. As for himself, he confessed to ambition, — yes, a great deal of ambition. A failing, he supposed, but not the worst of failings. He felt the instinct to handle the larger interests of society. The village would perhaps lose sight of him for a time ; but he meant to emerge sooner or later in the higher spheres of government or diplomacy. Myrtle must keep his secret. Nobody else knew it. He could not help making a confidant of her,— a thing he had never done before with any other person as to his plans in life. Perhaps she might watch his career with more interest from her acquaintance with him. He loved to think that there was one woman at least who would be pleased to hear of his success if he succeeded, as with life and health he would, —who would share his disappointment if fate should not favor him. — So he wound and wreathed himself into her thoughts.
It was not very long before Myrtle began to accept the idea that she was the one person in the world whose peculiar duty it was to sympathize with the aspiring young man whose humble beginnings she had the honor ot witnessing. And it is not very far from being the solitary confidant, and the single source of inspiration, to the growth of a livelier interest, where a young man and a young woman are in question.
Myrtle was at this time her own mistress as never before. The three young men had access to her as she walked to and from meeting and in her frequent rambles, besides the opportunities Cyprian had of meeting her in his sister's company, and the convenient visits which, in connection with the great lawsuit, Murray Bradshaw could make, without question, at The Poplars.
It was not long before Cyprian perceived that he could never pass a certain boundary of intimacy with Myrtle. Very pleasant and sisterly always she was with him ; but she never looked as if she might mean more than she said, and cherished any little spark of sensibility which might be fanned into the flame of love. Cyprian felt this so certainly that he was on the point of telling his grief to Bathsheba, who looked to him as if she would sympathize as heartily with him as his own sister, and whose sympathy would have a certain flavor in it, — something which one cannot find in the heart ot the dearest sister that ever lived. But Bathsheba was herself sensitive, and changed color when Cyprian ventured a hint or two in the direction of his thought, so that he never got so far as to unburden his heart to her about Myrtle, whom she admired so sincerely that she could not have helped feeling a great interest in his passion towards her.
As for Gifted Hopkins, the roses that were beginning to bloom fresher and fresher every day in Myrtle’s cheeks unfolded themselves more and more freely, to speak metaphorically, in his song. Every week she would receive a delicately tinted note with lines to “Myrtle awaking,” or to “ Myrtle retiring,” (one string of verses a little too Musidora-ish, and which soon found itself in the condition of a cinder, perhaps reduced to that state by spontaneous combustion.) or to “ The Flower of the Tropics,” or to the “ Nymph of the River-side,” or other poetical alias, such as bards affect in their sieges of the female heart.
Gifted Hopkins was of a sanguine temperament. As he read and re-read his verses, it certainly seemed to him that they must reach the heart of the angelic being to whom they were addressed. That she was slow in confessing the impression they made upon her, was a favorable sign ; so many girls called his poems “sweet pooty,” that those charming words, though soothing, no longer stirred him deeply. Myrtle’s silence showed that the impression his verses had made was deep. Time would develop her sentiments ; they were both young; his position was humble as yet; but when he had become famous through the land—O blissful thought ! — the bard of Oxbow village would bear a name that any woman would be proud to assume, and the M. H. which her delicate hands had wrought on the kerchiefs she wore would yet perhaps be read, not Myrtle Hazard, but Myrtle Hopkins !