The Guardian Angel
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art and Politics.
VOL. XX. — JULY, 1867. — NO. CXVII.
SUSAN’S YOUNG MAN.
THERE seems no reasonable doubt that Myrtle Hazard might have made a safe thing of it with Gifted Hopkins, (if so inclined,) provided that she had only been secured against interference. But the constant habit of reading his verses to Susan Posey was not without its risk to so excitable a nature as that of the young poet. Poets always were capable of divided affections, and Cowley’s “ Chronicle ” is a confession that would fit the whole tribe of them. It is true that Gifted had no right to regard Susan’s heart as open to the wiles of any new-comer. He knew that she considered herself, and was considered by another, as pledged and plighted. Yet she was such a devoted listener, her sympathies were so easily roused, her blue eyes glistened so tenderly at the least poetical hint, such as “ Never, O never,” “ My aching heart,” “ Do, let me weep,” — any of those touching phrases out of the long catalogue which readily suggests itself, — that her influence was getting to be such that Myrtle (if reafiy anxious to secure him) might look upon it with apprehension, and the owner of Susan’s heart (if of a jealous disposition) might have thought it worth while to make a visit to Oxbow Village to see after his property.
It may seem not impossible that some friend had suggested as much as this to the young lady’s lover. The caution would have been unnecessary, or at least premature. Susan was loyal as ever to her absent friend. Gifted Hopkins had never yet presumed upon the familiar relations existing between them to attempt to shake her allegiance. It is quite as likely, after all, that the young gentleman about to make his appearance in Oxbow Village visited the place of his own accord, without a hint from anybody. But the fact concerns us more than the reason of it, just now.
“Who do you think is coming, Mr. Gridley ? Who do you think is coming ?” said Susan Posey, her face covered with a carnation such as the first season may see in a city belle, but not the second.
“ Well, Susan Posey, I suppose I must guess, though I am rather slow at that business. Perhaps the Governor. No, I don't think it can be the Governor, for you would n’t look so happy if it was only his Excellency. It must be the President, Susan Posey, — President James Buchanan. Have n’t I guessed right, now, tell me, my dear ? ”
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1867, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
“ O Mr. Gridley, you are too bad, — what do I care for governors and presidents ? I know somebody that’s worth fifty million thousand presidents, — and he 's coming, — my Clement is coming,” said Susan, who had by this time learned to consider the awful Byles Gridley as her next friend and faithful counsellor.
Susan could not stay long in the house after she got her note informing her that her friend was soon to be with her. Everybody told everything to Olive Eveleth, and Susan must run over to the Parsonage to tell her that there was a young gentleman coming to Oxbow Village ; upon which Olive asked who it was, exactly as if she did not know ; whereupon Susan dropped her eyes and said, “ Clement, — I mean Mr. Lindsay.”
That was a fair piece of news now, and Olive had her bonnet on five minutes after Susan was gone, and was on her way to Bathsheba’s, — it was too bad that the poor girl who lived so out of the world should n't know anything of what was going on in it. Bathsheba had been in all the morning, and the Doctor had said she must take the air every day; so Bathsheba had on her bonnet a little after Olive had gone, and walked straight up to The Poplars to tell Myrtle Hazard that a certain young gentleman, Clement Lindsay, was coming to Oxbow Village.
It was perhaps fortunate that there was no special significance to Myrtle in the name of Clement Lindsay. Since the adventure which had brought these two young persons together, and, after coming so near a disaster, had ended in a mere humiliation and disappointment, and but for Master Gridley’s discreet kindness might have led to foolish scandal, Myrtle had never referred to it in any way. Nobody really knew what her plans had been except Olive and Cyprian, who had observed a very kind silence about the whole matter. The common version of the story was harmless, and near enough to the truth, — down the river, — boat upset, — pulled out, — taken care of by some women in a house farther down, — sick, brain fever, — pretty near it, anyhow,—old Dr. Hurlbut called in, — had her hair cut, — hystericky, etc., etc.
Myrtle was contented with this statement, and asked no questions, and it was a perfectly understood thing that nobody alluded to the subject in her presence. It followed from all this that the name of Clement Lindsay had no peculiar meaning for her. Nor was she like to recognize him as the youth in whose company she had gone through her mortal peril, for all her recollections were confused and dreamlike from the moment when she awoke and found herself in the foaming rapids just above the fall, until that when her senses returned, and she saw Master Byles Gridley standing over her with that look of tenderness in his square features which had lingered in her recollection, and made her feel towards him as if she were his daughter.
Now this had its advantage ; for as Clement was Susan’s young man, and had been so for two or three years, it would have been a great pity to have any such curious relations established between him and Myrtle Hazard as a consciousness on both sides of what had happened would naturally suggest.
“ Who is this Clement Lindsay, Bathsheba ? ” Myrtle asked.
“ Why, Myrtle, don’t you remember about Susan Posey’s is-to-be, — the young man that has been — well, I don’t know, but I suppose engaged to her ever since they were children almost ? ”
“ Yes, yes, I remember now. O dear! I have forgotten so many things I should think I had been dead and was coming back to life again. Do you know anything about him, Bathsheba ? Did n’t somebody say he was very handsome ? I wonder if he is really in love with Susan Posey. Such a simple thing ! I want to see him. I have seen so few young men.”
As Myrtle said these words, she lifted the sleeve a little on her left arm, by a half-instinctive and half-voluntary movement. The glimmering gold of Judith Pride’s bracelet flashed out the yellow gleam which has been the reddening of so many hands and the blackening of so many souls since that innocent sin-breeder was first picked up in the land of Havilah. There came a sudden light into her eye, such as Bathsheba had never seen there before. It looked to her as if Myrtle were saying unconsciously to herself that she had the power of beauty, and would like to try its influence on the handsome young man whom she was soon to meet, even at the risk of unseating poor little Susan in his affections. This pained the gentle and humble-minded girl, who, without having tasted the world’s pleasures, had meekly consecrated herself to the lowly duties which lay nearest to her. For Bathsheba’s phrasing of life was in the monosyllables of a rigid faith. Her conceptions of the human soul were all simplicity and purity, but elementary. She could not conceive the vast licence the creative energy allows itself in mingling the instincts which, after long conflict, may come into harmonious adjustment. The flash which Myrtle’s eye had caught from the gleam of the golden bracelet filled Bathsheba with a sudden fear that she was like to be led away by the vanities of that world lying in wickedness of which the minister’s daughter had heard so much and seen so little.
Not that Bathsheba made any fine moral speeches to herself. She only felt a slight shock, such as a word or a look from one we love too often gives us, —such as a child’s trivial gesture or movement makes a parent feel, — that impalpable something which in the slightest possible inflection of a syllable or gradation of a tone will sometimes leave a sting behind it, even in a trusting heart. This was all. But it was true that what she saw meant a great deal. It meant the dawning in Myrtle Hazard of one of her as yet unlived secondary lives. Bathsheba’s virgin perceptions had caught a faint early ray of its glimmering twilight.
She answered, after a very slight pause, which this explanation has made seem so long, that she had never seen the young gentleman, and that she did not know about Susan’s sentiments. Only, as they had kept so long to each other, she supposed there must be love between them.
Myrtle fell into a re very, with certain tableaux glowing along its perspectives which poor little Susan Posey would have shivered to look upon, if they could have been transferred from the purple clouds of Myrtle’s imagination to the pale silvery mists of Susan’s pretty fancies. She sat in her day-dream long after Bathsheba had left her, her eyes fixed, not on the faded portrait of her beautiful ancestress, but on that other canvas where the dead Beauty seemed to live in all the splendors of her full-blown womanhood.
The young man whose name had set her thoughts roving was handsome, as the glance at him already given might have foreshadowed. But his features had a graver impress than his age seemed to account for, and the sober tone of his letter to Susan implied that something had given him a maturity beyond his years. The story was not an uncommon one. At sixteen he had dreamed — and told his dream. At eighteen he had awoke, and found, as he believed, that a young heart had grown to his so that its life was dependent on his own. Whether it would have perished if its filaments had been gently disentangled from the object to which they had attached themselves, experienced judges of such matters may perhaps question. To justify Clement in his estimate of the danger of such an experiment, we must remember that to young people in their teens a first passion is a portentous and unprecedented phenomenon. The young man may have been mistaken in thinking that Susan would die it he left her, and may have done more than his duty in sacrificing himself; but if so, it was the mistake of a generous youth, who estimated the depth of another’s feelings by his own. He measured the depth of his own rather by what he felt they might be, than by that of any abysses they had yet sounded.
Clement was called a “genius” by those who knew him, and was consequently in danger of being spoiled early. The risk is great enough anywhere, but greatest in a new country, where there is an almost universal want of fixed standards of excellence.
He was by nature an artist; a shaper with the pencil or the chisel, a planner, a contriver capable of turning his hand to almost any work of eye and hand. It would not have been strange if he thought he could do everything, having gifts which were capable of various application,—and being an American citizen. But though he was a good draughtsman, and had made some reliefs and modelled some figures, he called himself only an architect. He had given himself up to his art, not merely from a love of it and talent for it, but with a kind of heroic devotion, because he thought his country wanted a race of builders to clothe the new forms of religious, social, and national life afresh from the forest, the quarry, and the mine. Some thought He would succeed, others that he would be a brilliant failure.
“ Grand notions, — grand notions,” the master with whom he studied said. “Large ground plan of life,— splendid elevation. A little wild in some of his fancies, perhaps, but he is only a boy, and he’s the kind of boy that sometimes grows to be a pretty big man. Wait and see,—wait and see. He works days, and we can let him dream nights. There’s a good deal of him, anyhow.” His fellow - students were puzzled. Those who thought of their calling as a trade, and looked forward to the time when they should be embodying the ideals of municipal authorities in brick and stone, or making contracts with wealthy citizens, doubted whether Clement would have a sharp eye enough for business. “ Too many whims, you know. All sorts of queer ideas in his head, — as if a boy like him was going to make things all over again ! ”
No doubt there was something of youthful extravagance in his plans and expectations. But it was the untamed enthusiasm which is the source of all great thoughts and deeds, — a beautiful delirium which age commonly tames down, and for which the cold showerbath the world furnishes gratis proves a pretty certain cure.
Creation is always preceded by chaos. The youthful architect’s mind was confused by the multitude of suggestions which were crowding in upon it, and which he had not yet had time or developed mature strength sufficient to reduce to order. The young American of any freshness of intellect is stimulated to dangerous excess by the conditions of life into which he is born. There is a double proportion of oxygen in the New-World air. The chemists have not found it out yet, but human brains and breathing organs have long since made the discovery.
Clement knew that his hasty entanglement had limited his possibilities of happiness in one direction, and he felt that there was a certain grandeur in the recompense of working out his defeated instincts through the ambitious medium of his noble art. Had not Pharaohs chosen it to proclaim their longings for immortality, Cæsars their passion for pomp and luxury, and the priesthood to symbolize their conceptions of the heavenly mansions ? His dreams were on a grand scale ; such, after all, are the best possessions of youth. Had he but been free, cr mated with a nature akin to his own, he would have felt himself as truly the heir of creation as any young man that lived. But his lot was cast, and his youth had all the serious aspect to himself of thoughtful manhood. In the region of his art alone he hoped always to find freedom and a companionship which his home life could never give him.
Clement meant to have visited his beloved before he left Alderbank, but was called unexpectedly back to the city. Happily Susan was not exacting; she looked up to him with too great a feeling of distance between them to dare to question his actions. Perhaps she found a partial consolation in the company of Mr. Gifted Hopkins, who tried his new poems on her, which was the next best thing to addressing them to her. “Would that you were with us at this delightful season,” she wrote in the autumn ; “ but no, your Susan must not repine. Yet, in the beautiful words of our native poet,
For absence makes thee doubly dear;
Ah ! what is life while thou ’rt away?
’T is night without the orb of day ! ’ ”
The poet referred to, it need hardly be said, was our young and promising friend G. H., as he sometimes modestly signed himself. The letter, it is unnecessary to state, was voluminous, — for a woman can tell her love, or other matter of interest, over and over again in as many forms as another poet, not G. H., found for his grief in ringing the musical changes of “In Memoriam.”
The answers to Susan’s letters were kind, but not very long. They convinced her that it was a simple impossibility that Clement could come to Oxbow Village, on account of the great pressure of the work he had to keep him in the city, and the plans he must finish at any rate. But at last the work was partially got rid of, and Clement was coming; yes, it was so nice, and, O clear! should n’t she be real happy to see him ?
To Susan he appeared as a kind of divinity, — almost too grand for human nature’s daily food. Yet, if the simplehearted girl could have told herself the whole truth in plain words, she would have confessed to certain doubts which from time to time, and oftener of late, cast a shadow on her seemingly bright future. With all the pleasure that the thought of meeting Clement gave her, she felt a little tremor, a certain degree of awe, in contemplating his visit. If she could have clothed her sell-humiliation in the gold and purple of the “ Portuguese Sonnets,” it would have been another matter ; but the trouble with the most common sources of disquiet is that they have no wardrobe of flaming phraseology to air themselves in ; the inward burning goes on without the relief and gratifying display of the crater.
“A friend of mine is coming to the village,” she said to Mr. Gifted Hopkins. “ I want you to see him. He is a genius,—as some other young men are.” (This was obviously personal, and the youthful poet blushed with ingenuous delight.) “ I have known him for ever so many years. He and I are very good friends.” The poet knew that this meant an exclusive relation between them ; and though the fact was no surprise to him, his countenance fell a little. The truth was, that his admiration was divided between Myrtle, who seemed to him divine and adorable, but distant, and Susan, who listened to his frequent poems, whom he was in the habit of seeing in artless domestic costumes, and whose attractions had been gaining upon him of late in the enforced absence of his divinity.
He retired pensive from this interview, and, flinging himself at his desk, attempted wreaking his thoughts upon expression, to borrow the language of one of his brother bards, in a passionate lyric which he began thus : —
" ANOTHER’S !
Fate owes to Love a deathless grudge, —
The barbéd fang has rent a heart
Which — which —
“judge—judge,—no, not judge. Budge, drudge, fudge — What a disgusting language English is ! Nothing fit to couple with such a word as grudge ! And the gush of an impassioned moment arrested in full flow, stopped short, corked up, for want of a paltry rhyme ! Judge, — budge, — drudge, — nudge, — oh ! — smudge, — misery ! — fudge. In vain, — futile, — no use, — all up for to-night! ”
While the poet, headed off in this way by the poverty of his native tongue, sought inspiration by retiring into the world of dreams,—went to bed, in short, — his more fortunate rival was just entering the village, where he was to make his brief residence at the house of Deacon Rumrill, who, having been a loser by the devouring element, was glad to receive a stray boarder when any such were looking about for quarters.
For some reason or other he was restless that evening, and took out a volume he had brought with him to beguile the earlier hours of the night. It was too late when he arrived to disturb the quiet of Mrs. Hopkins's household ; and whatever may have been Clement’s impatience, he held it in check, and sat tranquilly until midnight over the pages of the book with which he had prudently provided himself.
“ Hope you slept well last night,” said the old Deacon, when Mr. Clement came down to breakfast the next morning.
“Very well, thank you, — that is, after I got to bed. But I sat up prettylate reading my favorite Scott. I am apt to forget how the hours pass when I have one of his books in my hand.”
The worthy Deacon looked at Mr. Clement with a sudden accession of interest.
“ You could n’t find better reading, young man. Scott is my favorite author. A great man. I have got his likeness in a gilt frame hanging up in the other room. I have read him all through three times.”
The young man’s countenance brightened. He had not expected to find so much taste for elegant literature in an old village deacon.
“ What are your favorites among his writings, Deacon ? I suppose you have your particular likings, as the rest of us have.”
The Deacon was flattered by the question. “ Well,” he answered, “ I can hardly tell you. I like pretty much everything Scott ever wrote. Sometimes I think it is one thing, and sometimes another. Great on Paul’s Epistles, — don’t you think so ? ”
The honest fact was, that Clement remembered very little about “ Paul’s Letters to his Kinsfolk,” — a book of Sir Walter’s less famous than many of his others ; but he signified his polite assent to the Deacon’s statement, rather wondering at his choice of a favorite, and smiling at his queer way of talking about the Letters as Epistles.
“ I am afraid Scott is not so much read now-a-days as he once was, and as he ought to be,” said Mr. Clement. “ Such character, such nature and so much grace — ”
“ That’s it, — that’s it, young man,” the Deacon broke in, — “ Natur’ and Grace, — Natur’ and Grace. Nobody ever knew better what those two words meant than Scott did, and I ’m very glad to see you ’ve chosen such good wholesome reading. You can’t set up too late, young man, to read Scott. If I had twenty children, they should all begin reading Scott as soon as they were old enough to spell 'sin,’ — and that ’s the first word my little ones learned, next to ‘pa’ and ‘ma.’ Nothing like beginning the lessons of life in good season.”
“ What a grim old satirist! ” Clement said to himself. “I wonder if the old man reads other novelists. — Do tell me, Deacon, if you have read Thackeray’s last story ? ”
“ Thackery’s story? Published by the American Tract Society ? ”
“ Not exactly,” Clement answered, smiling, and quite delighted to find such an unexpected vein of grave pleasantry about the demure-looking church-dignitary; for the Deacon asked his question without moving a muscle, and took no cognizance whatever of the young man’s tone and smile. First-class humorists are, as is well known, remarkaable for the immovable solemnity of their features. Clement promised himself not a little amusement from the curiously sedate drollery of the venerable Deacon, who, it was plain from his conversation, had cultivated a literary taste which would make him a more agreeable companion than the common ecclesiastics of his grade in country villages.
After breakfast, Mr. Clement walked forth in the direction of Mrs. Hopkins’s house, thinking as he went of the pleasant surprise his visit would bring to his longing and doubtless pensive Susan ; for though she knew he was coming, she did not know that he was at that moment in Oxbow Village.
As he drew near the house, the first thing he saw was Susan Posey, almost running against her just as he turned a corner. She looked wonderfully lively and rosy, for the weather was getting keen and the frosts had begun to bite. A young gentleman was walking at her side, and reading to her from a paper he held in his hand. Both looked deeply interested, — so much so that Clement felt half ashamed of himself for intruding upon them so abruptly.
But lovers are lovers, and Clement could not help joining them. The first thing, of course, was the utterance of two simultaneous exclamations, “Why, Clement!” “Why, Susan!” What might have come next in the programme, but for the presence of a third party, is matter of conjecture ; but what did come next was a mighty awkward look on the part of Susan Posey, and the following short speech : —
“Mr. Lindsay, let me introduce Mr. Hopkins, my friend, the poet I 've written to you about. He was just reading two of his poems to me. Some other time, Gifted — Mr. Hopkins.”
“ O no, Mr. Hopkins, — pray go on,” said Clement. “ I 'm very fond of poetry.”
The poet did not require much urging, and began at once reciting over again the stanzas which were afterwards so much admired in the “ Banner and Oracle,” —the first verse being, as the readers of that paper will remember,—
That hashes from unclouded skies,
And all the charms of night and day
Are mingled in her hair and eyes.”
Clement, who must have been in an agony of impatience to be alone with his beloved, commanded his feelings admirably. He signified his approbation of the poem by saying that the lines were smooth and the rhymes absolutely without blemish. The stanzas reminded him forcibly of one of the greatest poets of the century.
Gifted flushed hot with pleasure. He had tasted the blood of his own rhymes; and when a poet gets as far as that, it is like wringing the bag of exhilarating gas from the lips of a fellow sucking at it, to drag his piece away from him.
“ Perhaps you will like these lines still better,” he said; “ the style is more modern : —
Her bubbly grapes have spilled the wine
That staineth with its hue divine
The red flower of thy perfect mouth.’ ”
And so on, through a series of stanzas like these, with the pulp of two rhymes between the upper and lower crust of two others.
Clement was cornered. It was necessary to say something for the poet’s sake,—perhaps for Susan’s; for she was in a certain sense responsible for the poems of a youth of genius, of whom she had spoken so often and so enthusiastically.
“Very good, Mr. Hopkins, and a form of verse little used, I should think, until of late years. You modelled this piece on the style of a famous living English poet, did you not ? ”
“ Indeed I did not, Mr. Lindsay, — I never imitate. Originality is, if I may be allowed to say so much for myself, my peculiar forte. Why, the critics allow as much as that. See here, Mr. Lindsay.”
Mr. Gifted Hopkins pulled out his pocket-book, and, taking therefrom a cutting from a newspaper, — which dropped helplessly open of itself, as if tired of the process, being very tender in the joints or creases, by reason of having been often folded and unfolded, — read aloud as follows : —
“The bard of Oxbow Village — our valued correspondent who writes over the signature of G. H. — is, in our opinion, more remarkable for his originality than for any other of his numerous gifts.”
Clement was apparently silenced by this, and the poet a little elated with a sense of triumph. Susan could not help sharing his feeling of satisfaction, and without meaning it in the least, nay, without knowing it, for she was as simple and pure as new milk, edged a little bit—the merest infinitesimal atom — nearer to Gifted Hopkins, who was on one side of her, while Clement walked on the other. Women love the conquering party, — it is the way of their sex. And poets, as we have seen, are wellnigh irresistible when they exert their dangerous power of fascination upon the female heart. But Clement was above jealousy: and, if he perceived anything of this movement, took no notice of it.
He saw a good deal of his pretty Susan that day. She was tender in her expressions and manners as usual, but there was a little something in her looks and language from time to time that Clement did not know exactly what to make of. She colored once or twice when the young poet’s name was mentioned. She was not so full of her little plans for the future as she had sometimes been, “ everything was so uncertain,” she said. Clement asked himself whether she felt quite as sure that her attachment would last as she once did. But there were no reproaches, not even any explanations, which are about as bad between lovers. There was nothing but an undefined feeling on his side that she did not cling quite so closely to him, perhaps, as he had once thought, and that, if he had happened to have been drowned that day when he went down with the beautiful young woman, it was just conceivable that Susan, who would have cried dreadfully, no doubt, would in time have listened to consolation from some other young man, — possibly from the young poet whose verses he had been admiring. Easy-crying widows take new husbands soonest ; there is nothing like wet weather for transplanting, as Master Gridley used to say. Susan had a fluent natural gift for tears, as Clement well knew, after the exercise of which she used to brighten up like the rose which had been washed, just washed in a shower, mentioned by Cowper.
As for the poet, he learned more of his own sentiments during this visit of Clement’s than he had ever before known. He wandered about with a dreadfully disconsolate look upon his countenance. He showed a falling-off in his appetite at tea-time, which surprised and disturbed his mother, for she had filled the house with fragrant suggestions of good things coming, in honor of Mr. Lindsay, who was to be her guest at tea. And chiefly the genteel form of doughnut called in the native dialect cymbal (Qu. Symbol ? B. G.) which graced the board with its plastic forms, suggestive of the most pleasing objects,— the spiral ringlets pendent from the brow of beauty,— the magic circlet, which is the pledge of plighted affection, — the indissoluble knot, which typifies the union of hearts, which organs were also largely represented ; this exceptional delicacy would at any other time have claimed his special notice. But his mother remarked that he paid little attention to these, and his “No, I thank you,” when it came to the preserved " damsels ” as some call them, carried a pang with it to the maternal bosom. The most touching evidence of his unhappiness— whether intentional or the result of accident was not evident—was a broken heart, which he left upon his plate, the meaning of which was as plain as anything in the language of flowers. His thoughts were gloomy during that day, running a good deal on the more picturesque and impressive methods of bidding a voluntary farewell to a world which had allured him with visions of beauty only to snatch them from his impassioned gaze. His mother saw something of this, and got from him a few disjointed.words, which led her to lock up the clothes-line and hide her late husband’s razors,— an affectionate, yet perhaps unnecessary precaution, for self-elimination contemplated from this point of view by those who have the natural outlet of verse to relieve them is rarely followed by a casualty. It may rather be considered as implying a more than average chance for longevity ; as those who meditate an imposing finish naturally save themselves for it, and are therefore careful of their health until the time comes, and this is apt to be indefinitely postponed so long as there is a poem to write or a proof to be corrected.
THE SECOND MEETING.
“MISS EVELETH requests the pleasure of Mr. Lindsay’s company to meet a few friends on the evening of the Feast of St. Ambrose, December 7th, Wednesday.
It was the luckiest thing in the world. They always made a little festival of that evening at the Rev. Ambrose Eveleth’s, in honor of his canonized namesake, and because they liked to have a good time. It came this year just at the right moment, for here was a distinguished stranger visiting in the place. Oxbow Village seemed to be running over with its one extra young man,—as may be seen sometimes in larger villages, and even in cities of moderate dimensions.
Mr. William Murray Bradshaw had called on Clement the very day of his arrival. He had already met the Deacon in the street, and asked some questions about his transient boarder.
A very interesting young man, the Deacon said, much given to the reading of pious books. Up late at night after he came, reading Scott’s Commentary. Appeared to be as fond of serious works as other young folks were of their novels and romances and other immoral publications. He, the Deacon, thought of having a few religious friends to meet the young gentleman, if he felt so disposed ; and should like to have him, Mr. Bradshaw, come in and take a part in the exercises.
— Mr. Bradshaw was unfortunately engaged. He thought the young gentleman could hardly find time for such a meeting during his brief visit.
Mr. Bradshaw expected naturally to see a youth of imperfect constitution, and cachectic or dyspeptic tendencies, who was in training to furnish one of those biographies beginning with the statement that, from his infancy, the subject of it showed no inclination for boyish amusements, and so on, until he dies out, for the simple reason that there was not enough of him to live. Very interesting, no doubt, Master Byles Gridley would have said, but had no more to do with good, hearty, sound life than the history of those very little people to be seen in museums, preserved in jars of alcohol, like brandy peaches.
When Mr. Clement Lindsay presented himself, Mr. Bradshaw was a good deal surprised to see a young fellow of such a mould. He pleased himself with the idea that he knew a man of mark at sight, and he set down Clement in that category at his first glance. The young man met his penetrating and questioning look with a frank, ingenuous, open aspect, before which he felt himself disarmed, as it were, and thrown upon other means of analysis. He would try him a little in talk.
“ I hope you like these people you are with. What sort of a man do you find my old friend the Deacon ? ”
Clement laughed. “ A very queer old character. Loves his joke as well, and is as sly in making it, as if he had studied Joe Miller instead of the Catechism.”
Mr. Bradshaw looked at the young man to know what he meant. Mr. Lindsay talked in a very easy way for a serious young person. He was puzzled. He did not see to the bottom of this description of the Deacon. With a lawyer's instinct, he kept his doubts to himself and tried his witness with a new question.
“ Did you talk about books at all with the old man ? ”
“ To be sure I did. Would you believe it, that aged saint is a great novel-reader. So he tells me. What is more, he brings up his children to that sort of reading, from the time when they first begin to spell. If anybody else had told me such a story about an old country deacon, I would n’t have believed it; but he said so himself, to me, at breakfast this morning.”
Mr. Bradshaw felt as if either he or Mr. Lindsay must certainly be in the first stage of mild insanity, and he did not think that he himself could be out of his wits. He must try one more question. He had become so mystified that he forgot himself, and began putting his interrogation in legal form.
“ Will you state, if you please — I beg your pardon—may I ask who is your own favorite author ?”
“I think just now I like to read Scott better than almost anybody.”
“ Do you mean the Rev. Thomas Scott, author of the Commentary ? ”
Clement stared at Mr. Bradshaw, and wondered whether he was trying to make a fool of him. The young lawyer hardly looked as if he could be a fool himself.
“ I mean Sir Walter Scott,” he said, dryly.
“ Oh ! ” said Mr. Bradshaw. He saw that there had been a slight misunderstanding between the young man and his worthy host, but it was none of his business, and there were other subjects of interest to talk about.
“ You know one of our charming young ladies very well, I believe, Mr. Lindsay. I think you are an old acquaintance of Miss Posey, whom we all consider so pretty.”
Poor Clement! The question pierced to the very marrow of his soul, but it was put with the utmost suavity and courtesy, and honeyed with a compliment to the young lady, too, so that there was no avoiding a direct and pleasant answer to it.
“ Yes,” he said, “ I have known the young lady you speak of for a long time, and very well, — in fact, as you must have heard, we are something more than friends. My visit here is principally on her account.”
“You must give the rest of us a chance to see something of you during your visit, Mr. Lindsay. I hope you are invited to Miss Eveleth’s this evening ? ”
“Yes, I got a note this morning. Tell me, Mr. Bradshaw, who is there that I shall meet this evening if I go ? I have no doubt there are girls here I should like to see, and perhaps some young fellows that I should like to talk with. You know all that’s prettiest and pleasantest, of course.”
“ O, we ’re a little place, Mr. Lindsay. A few nice people, the rest comma ça, you know. High-bush blackberries and low-bush blackberries, — you understand, — just so everywhere, — highbush here and there, low-bush plenty. You must see the two parsons’ daughters,— Saint Ambrose’s and Saint Joseph’s,— and another girl I want particularly to introduce you to. You shall form your own opinion of her. I call her handsome and stylish, but you have got spoiled, you know. Our young poet, too, one we raised in this place, Mr. Lindsay, and a superior article of poet, as we think,—that is, some of us, for the rest of us are jealous of him, because the girls are all dying for him and want his autograph. — And Cyp, — yes, you must talk to Cvp, — he has ideas. But don’t forget to get hold of old Byles — Master Gridley I mean — before you go. Big head. Brains enough for a cabinet minister, and fit out a college faculty with what was left over. Be sure you see old Byles. Set him talking about his book, — ‘ Thoughts on the Universe.’ Didn’t sell much, but has got knowing things in it. I 'll show you a copy, and then you can tell him you know it, and he will take to you. Come in and get your dinner with me tomorrow. We will dine late, as the city folks do, and after that we will go over to the Rector’s. I should like to show you some of our village people.”
Mr. Bradshaw liked the thought of showing the young man to some of his friends there. As Clement was already “done for,” or “bowled out,” as the young lawyer would have expressed the fact of his being pledged in the matrimonial direction, there was nothing to be apprehended on the score of rivalry. And although Clement was particularly good-looking, and would have been called a distinguishable youth anywhere, Mr. Bradshaw considered himself far more than his match, in all probability, in social accomplishments. He expected, therefore, a certain amount of reflex credit for bringing such a fine young fellow in his company, and a second instalment of reputation from outshining him in conversation. This was rather nice calculating, but Murray Bradshaw always calculated. With most men life is like backgammon, half skill and half luck, but with him it was like chess. He never pushed a pawn without reckoning the cost, and when his mind was least busy it was sure to be half a dozen moves ahead of the game as it was standing.
Mr. Bradshaw gave Clement a pretty dinner enough for such a place as Oxbow Village. He offered him some good wine, and would have made him talk so as to show his lining, to use one of his own expressions, but Clement had apparently been through that trifling experience, and conld not be coaxed into saying more than he meant to say. Murray Bradshaw was very curious to find out how it was that he had become the victim of such a rudimentary miss as Susan Posey. Could she be an heiress in disguise ? Why no, of course not; had not he made all proper inquiries about that when Susan came to town ? A small inheritance from an aunt or uncle, or some such relative, enough to make her a desirable party in the eyes of certain villagers perhaps, but nothing to allure a man like this, whose face and figure as marketable possessions were worth say a hundred thousand in the girl’s own right, as Mr. Bradshaw put it roughly, with another hundred thousand if his talent is what some say, and if his connection is a desirable one, a fancy price, — anything he would fetch. Of course not. Must have got caught when he was a child. Why the diavolo did n’t he break it off, then ?
There was no fault to find with the modest entertainment at the Parsonage. A splendid banquet in a great house is an admirable thing, provided always its getting up did not cost the entertainer an inward conflict, nor its recollection a twinge of economical regret, nor its bills a cramp of anxiety. A simple evening party in the smallest village is just as admirable in its degree, when the parlor is cheerfully lighted, and the board prettily spread, and the guests are made to feel comfortable without being reminded that anybody is making a painful effort.
We know several of the young people who were there, and need not trouble ourselves for the others. Myrtle Hazard had promised to come. She had her own way of late as never before ; in fact, the women were afraid of her. Miss Silence felt that she could not be responsible for her any longer. She had hopes for a time that Myrtle would go through the customary spiritual paroxysm under the influence of the Rev. Mr. Stoker’s assiduous exhortations ; but since she had broken off with him, Miss Silence had looked upon her as little better than a backslider. And now that the girl was beginning to show the tendencies which seemed to come straight down to her from the belle of the last century, (whose rich physical developments seemed to the under-vitalized spinster as in themselves a kind of offence against propriety,) the forlorn woman folded her thin hands and looked on hopelessly, hardly venturing a remonstrance for fear of some new explosion. As for Cynthia, she was comparatively easy since she had, through Mr. Byles Gridley, upset the minister’s questionable apparatus of religious intimacy. She had, in fact, in a quiet way, given Mr. Bradshaw to understand that he would probably meet Myrtle at the Parsonage if he dropped in at their small gathering.
Clement walked over to Mrs. Hopkins’s after his dinner with the young lawyer, and asked if Susan was ready to go with him. At the sound of his Voice, Gifted Hopkins smote his forehead, and called himself, in subdued tones, a miserable being. His imagination wavered uncertain for a while between pictures of various modes of ridding himself of existence, and fearful deeds involving the life of others. He had no fell purpose of actually doing either, but there was a gloomy pleasure in contemplating them as possibilities, and in mentally sketching the “ Lines written in Despair” which would be found in what was but an hour before the pocket of the youthful bard, G. H., victim of a hopeless passion. All this emotion was in the nature of a surprise to the young man. He had fully believed himself desperately in love with Myrtle Hazard ; and it was not until Clement came into the family circle with the right of eminent domain over the realm of Susan’s affections, that this unfortunate discovered that Susan’s pretty ways and morning dress and love of poetry and liking for his company had been too much for him, and that he was henceforth to be wretched during the remainder of his natural life, except so far as he could unburden himself in song.
Mr. William Murray Bradshaw had asked the privilege of waiting upon Myrtle to the little party at the Eveleths. Myrtle was not insensible to the attractions of the young lawyer, though she had never thought of herself except as a child in her relations with any of these older persons. But she was not the same girl that she had been but a few months before. She had achieved her independence by her audacious and most dangerous enterprise. She had gone through strange nervous trials and spiritual experiences, which had matured her more rapidly than years of common life would have done. She had got back her health, bringing with it a riper wealth of womanhood. She had found her destiny in the consciousness that she inherited the beauty belonging to her blood, and which, after sleeping for a generation or two as if to rest from the glare of the pageant that follows beauty through its long career of triumph, had come to the light again in her life, and was to repeat the legends of the olden time in her own history.
Myrtle’s wardrobe had very little of ornament, such as the modistes of the town would have thought essential to render a young girl like her presentable. There were a few heirlooms of old date, however, which she had kept as curiosities until now, and which she looked over until she found some lace and other convertible material, with which she enlivened her costume a little for the evening. As she clasped the antique bracelet around her wrist, she felt as if it were an amulet that gave her the power of charming which had been so long obsolete in her lineage. At the bottom of her heart she cherished a secret longing to try her fascinations on the young lawyer. Who could blame her ? It was not an inwardly expressed intention, — it was the mere blind instinctive movement to subjugate the strongest of the other sex who had come in her way, which, as already said, is as natural to a woman as it is to a man to be captivated by the loveliest of those to whom he dares to aspire.
Before William Murray Bradshaw and Myrtle Hazard had reached the Parsonage, the girl’s cheeks were flushed and her dark eyes were flashing with a new excitement. The young man had not made love to her directly, but he had interested her in herself by a delicate and tender flattery of manner, and so set her fancies working that she was taken with him as never before, and wishing that the Parsonage had been a mile farther from The Poplars. It was impossible for a young girl like Myrtle to conceal the pleasure she received from listening to her seductive admirer, who was trying all his trained skill upon his artless companion. Murray Bradshaw felt sure that the game was in his hands if he played it with only common prudence. There was no need of hurrying this child, — it might startle her to make downright love abruptly ; and now that he had an ally in her own household, and was to have access to her with a freedom he had never before enjoyed, there was a refined pleasure in playing his fish, — this gamest of golden-scaled creatures,— which had risen to his fly, and which he wished to hook, but not to land, until he was sure it would be worth his while.
They entered the little parlor at the Parsonage looking so beaming, that Olive and Bathsheba exchanged glances which implied so much that it would take a full page to tell it with all the potentialities involved.
“ How magnificent Myrtle is this evening, Bathsheba ! ” said Cyprian Eveleth, pensively.
“ What a handsome pair they are, Cyprian ! ” said Bathsheba cheerfully.
Cyprian sighed. “ She always fascinates me whenever I look upon her. Is n’t she the very picture of what a poet’s love should be,—a poem herself, — a glorious lyric, — all light and music ! See what a smile the creature has ! And her voice ! When did you ever hear such tones ? And when was it ever so full of life before ? ”
Bathsheba sighed. “ I do not know any poets but Gifted Hopkins. Does not Myrtle look more in her place by the side of Murray Bradshaw than she would with Gifted hitched on her arm ? ”
Just then the poet made his appearance. He looked depressed, as if it had cost him an effort to come. He was, however, charged with a message which he must deliver to the hostess of the evening.
“ They ’re coming presently,” he said. “That young man and Susan. Wants you to introduce him, Mr. Bradshaw.”
The bell rang presently, and Murray Bradshaw slipped out into the entry to meet the two lovers.
“ How are you, my fortunate friend ? ” he said, as he met them at the door. " Of course you ’re well and happy as mortal man can be in this vale of tears. Charming, ravishing, quite delicious, that way of dressing your hair, Miss Posey ! Nice girls here this evening, Mr. Lindsay. Looked lovely when I came out of the parlor. Can’t say how they will show after this young lady puts in an appearance.” In reply to which florid speeches Susan blushed, not knowing what else to do, and Clement smiled as naturally as if he had been sitting for his photograph.
He felt, in a vague way, that he and Susan were being patronized, which is not a pleasant feeling to persons with a certain pride of character There was no expression of contempt about Mr. Bradshaw’s manner or language at which he could take offence. Only he had the air of a man who praises his neighbor without stint, with a calm consciousness that he himself is out of reach of comparison in the possessions or qualities which he is admiring in the other. Clement was right in his obscure perception of Mr. Bradshaw’s feeling while he was making his phrases. That gentleman was, in another moment, to have the tingling delight of showing the grand creature he had just begun to tame. He was going to extinguish the pallid light of Susan’s prettiness in the brightness of Myrtle’s beauty. He would bring this young man, neutralized and rendered entirely harmless by his irrevocable pledge to a slight girl, face to face with a masterpiece of young womanhood, and say to him, not in words, but as plainly as speech could have told him, “ Behold my captive ! ”
It was a proud moment for Murray Bradshaw. He had seen, or thought that he had seen, the assured evidence of a speedy triumph over all the obstacles of Myrtle’s youth and his own present seeming slight excess of maturity. Unless he were very greatly mistaken, he could now walk the course ; the plate was his, no matter what might be the entries. And this youth, this handsome, spirited-looking, noble-aired young fellow, whose artist-eye could not miss a line of Myrtle’s proud and almost defiant beauty, was to be the witness of bis power, and to look in admiration upon his prize ! He introduced him to the others, reserving her for the last. She was at that moment talking with the worthy Rector, and turned when Mr. Bradshaw spoke to her.
“Miss Hazard, will you allow me to present to you my friend, Mr. Clement Lindsay ? ”
They looked full upon each other, and spoke the common words of salutation. It was a strange meeting ; but we who profess to tell the truth must tell strange things, or we shall be liars.
In poor little Susan’s letter there was some allusion to a bust of Innocence which the young artist had begun, but of which he had said nothing in his answer to her. He had roughed out a block of marble for that impersonation ; sculpture was a delight to him, though secondary to his main pursuit. After his memorable adventure, the features and the forms of the girl he had rescued so haunted him that the pale ideal which was to work itself out in the bust faded away in its perpetual presence, and — alas, poor Susan ! — in obedience to the impulse that he could not control, he left Innocence sleeping in the marble, and began modelling a figure of proud and noble and imperious beauty, to which he gave the name of Liberty.
The original which had inspired his conception was before him. These were the lips to which his own had clung when lie brought her back from the land of shadows. The hyacinthine curl of her lengthening locks had added something to her beauty ; but it was the same face which had haunted him. This was the form he had borne seemingly lifeless in his arms, and the bosom which heaved so visibly before him was that which his eyes— They were the calm eyes of a sculptor, but of a sculptor hardly twenty years old.
Yes, — her bosom was heaving. She had an unexplained feeling of suffocation, and drew great breaths, — she could not have said why, — but she could not help it; and presently she became giddy, and had a great noise in her ears, and rolled her eyes about, and was on the point of going into an hysteric spasm. They called Dr, Hurlbut, who was making himself agreeable to Olive just then, to come and see what was the matter with Myrtle.
“ A little nervous turn, — that is all,” he said. “ Open the window. Loose the ribbon round her neck. Rub her hands. Sprinkle some water on her forehead. A few drops of cologne. Room too warm for her, —that’s all, I think.”
Myrtle came to herself after a time without anything like a regular paroxysm. But she was excitable, and whatever the cause of the disturbance may have been, it seemed prudent that she should go home early ; and the excellent Rector insisted on caring for her, much to the discontent of Mr. William Murray Bradshaw.
“ Demonish odd,” said this gentleman, “ was n’t it, Mr. Lindsay, that Miss Hazard should go off in that way ? Did you ever see her before ? ”
“ I —I —have seen that young lady before,” Clement answered.
“Where did you meet her?” Mr. Bradshaw asked, with eager interest.
“ I met her in the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” Clement answered, very solemnly. — “ I leave this place to-morrow morning. Have you any commands for the city ? ”
(“ Knows how to shut a fellow up pretty well for a young one, does n’t he ?” Mr. Bradshaw thought to himself.)
“Thank you, no,” he answered, recovering himself. “ Rather a melancholy place to make acquaintance in, I should think, that Valley you spoke of. I should like to know about it.”
Mr. Clement had the power of looking steadily into another person’s eyes in a way that was by no means encouraging to curiosity or favorable to the process of cross-examination. Mr. Bradshaw was not disposed to press his question in the face of the calm, repressive look the young man gave him.
“ If he was n’t bagged, I should n’t like the shape of things any too well,” he said to himself.
The conversation between Mr. Clement Lindsay and Miss Susan Posey, as they walked home together, was not very brilliant. “ I am going to-morrow morning,” he said, “ and I must bid you good by to-night.” Perhaps it is as well to leave two lovers to themselves, under these circumstances.
Before he went he spoke to his worthy host, whose moderate demands he had to satisfy, and with whom he wished to exchange a few words.
“ And by the way, Deacon, I have no use for this book, and as it is in a good type, perhaps you would like it. Your favorite, Scott, and one of his greatest works. I have another edition of it at home, and don’t care for this volume.”
“ Thank you, thank you, Mr. Lindsay, much obleeged. I shall read that copy for your sake, — the best of books next to the Bible itself.”
After Mr. Lindsay had gone, the Deacon looked at the back of the book. “ Scott’s Works, Vol. IX.” He opened it at hazard, and happened to fall on a well-known page, from which he began reading aloud, slowly,
Out of the land of bondage came.”
The whole hymn pleased the grave Deacon. He had never seen this work of the author of the Commentary. No matter ; anything that such a good man wrote must be good reading, and he would save it up for Sunday. The consequence of this was, that, when the Rev. Mr. Stoker stopped in on his way to meeting on the “ Sabbath,” he turned white with horror at the spectacle of the senior Deacon of his church sitting, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, absorbed in the pages of “ Ivanhoe,” which he found enormously interesting ; but, so far as he had yet read, not occupied with religious matters so much as he had expected.
Myrtle had no explanation to give of her nervous attack. Mr. Bradshaw called the day after the party, but did not see her. He met her walking, and thought she seemed a little more distant than common. That would never do. He called again at The Poplars a few days afterwards, and was met in the entry by Miss Cynthia, with whom he had a long conversation on matters involving Myrtle’s interests and their own.