Tantissimi classici della letteratura e della cultura politica,
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Abbe Prevost - MANON LESCAUT
Alcott, Louisa M. - AN OLDFASHIONED GIRL
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE MEN
Alcott, Louisa M. - LITTLE WOMEN
Alcott, Louisa May - JACK AND JILL
Alcott, Louisa May - LIFE LETTERS AND JOURNALS
Andersen, Hans Christian - FAIRY TALES
Anonimo - BEOWULF
Ariosto, Ludovico - ORLANDO ENRAGED
Aurelius, Marcus - MEDITATIONS
Austen, Jane - EMMA
Austen, Jane - MANSFIELD PARK
Austen, Jane - NORTHANGER ABBEY
Austen, Jane - PERSUASION
Austen, Jane - PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Austen, Jane - SENSE AND SENSIBILITY
Authors, Various - LETTERS OF ABELARD AND HELOISE
Authors, Various - SELECTED ENGLISH LETTERS
Autori Vari - THE WORLD ENGLISH BIBLE
Bacon, Francis - THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING
Balzac, Honore de - EUGENIE GRANDET
Balzac, Honore de - FATHER GORIOT
Baroness Orczy - THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL
Barrie, J. M. - PETER AND WENDY
Barrie, James M. - PETER PAN
Bierce, Ambrose - THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY
Blake, William - SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE
Boccaccio, Giovanni - DECAMERONE
Brent, Linda - INCIDENTS IN THE LIFE OF A SLAVE GIRL
Bronte, Charlotte - JANE EYRE
Bronte, Charlotte - VILLETTE
Buchan, John - GREENMANTLE
Buchan, John - MR STANDFAST
Buchan, John - THE 39 STEPS
Bunyan, John - THE PILGRIM'S PROGRESS
Burckhardt, Jacob - THE CIVILIZATION OF THE RENAISSANCE IN ITALY
Burnett, Frances H. - A LITTLE PRINCESS
Burnett, Frances H. - LITTLE LORD FAUNTLEROY
Burnett, Frances H. - THE SECRET GARDEN
Butler, Samuel - EREWHON
Carlyle, Thomas - PAST AND PRESENT
Carlyle, Thomas - THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
Cellini, Benvenuto - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Cervantes - DON QUIXOTE
Chaucer, Geoffrey - THE CANTERBURY TALES
Chesterton, G. K. - A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND
Chesterton, G. K. - THE BALLAD OF THE WHITE HORSE
Chesterton, G. K. - THE INNOCENCE OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
Chesterton, G. K. - THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY
Chesterton, G. K. - THE WISDOM OF FATHER BROWN
Chesterton, G. K. - TWELVE TYPES
Chesterton, G. K. - WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA
Chesterton, Gilbert K. - HERETICS
Chopin, Kate - AT FAULT
Chopin, Kate - BAYOU FOLK
Chopin, Kate - THE AWAKENING AND SELECTED SHORT STORIES
Clark Hall, John R. - A CONCISE ANGLOSAXON DICTIONARY
Clarkson, Thomas - AN ESSAY ON THE SLAVERY AND COMMERCE OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
Clausewitz, Carl von - ON WAR
Coleridge, Herbert - A DICTIONARY OF THE FIRST OR OLDEST WORDS IN THE ENGLISH
Coleridge, S. T. - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Coleridge, S. T. - HINTS TOWARDS THE FORMATION OF A MORE COMPREHENSIVE THEORY
Coleridge, S. T. - THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER
Collins, Wilkie - THE MOONSTONE
Collodi - PINOCCHIO
Conan Doyle, Arthur - A STUDY IN SCARLET
Conan Doyle, Arthur - MEMOIRS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES
Conan Doyle, Arthur - THE SIGN OF THE FOUR
Conrad, Joseph - HEART OF DARKNESS
Conrad, Joseph - LORD JIM
Conrad, Joseph - NOSTROMO
Conrad, Joseph - THE NIGGER OF THE NARCISSUS
Conrad, Joseph - TYPHOON
Crane, Stephen - LAST WORDS
Crane, Stephen - MAGGIE
Crane, Stephen - THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
Crane, Stephen - WOUNDS IN THE RAIN
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: HELL
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PARADISE
Dante - THE DIVINE COMEDY: PURGATORY
Darwin, Charles - THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CHARLES DARWIN
Darwin, Charles - THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES
Defoe, Daniel - A GENERAL HISTORY OF THE PYRATES
Defoe, Daniel - A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR
Defoe, Daniel - CAPTAIN SINGLETON
Defoe, Daniel - MOLL FLANDERS
Defoe, Daniel - ROBINSON CRUSOE
Defoe, Daniel - THE COMPLETE ENGLISH TRADESMAN
Defoe, Daniel - THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF ROBINSON CRUSOE
Deledda, Grazia - AFTER THE DIVORCE
Dickens, Charles - A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dickens, Charles - A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Dickens, Charles - BLEAK HOUSE
Dickens, Charles - DAVID COPPERFIELD
Dickens, Charles - DONBEY AND SON
Dickens, Charles - GREAT EXPECTATIONS
Dickens, Charles - HARD TIMES
Dickens, Charles - LETTERS VOLUME 1
Dickens, Charles - LITTLE DORRIT
Dickens, Charles - MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT
Dickens, Charles - NICHOLAS NICKLEBY
Dickens, Charles - OLIVER TWIST
Dickens, Charles - OUR MUTUAL FRIEND
Dickens, Charles - PICTURES FROM ITALY
Dickens, Charles - THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD
Dickens, Charles - THE OLD CURIOSITY SHOP
Dickens, Charles - THE PICKWICK PAPERS
Dickinson, Emily - POEMS
Dostoevsky, Fyodor - CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor - THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Du Maurier, George - TRILBY
Dumas, Alexandre - THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO
Dumas, Alexandre - THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Dumas, Alexandre - THE THREE MUSKETEERS
Eliot, George - DANIEL DERONDA
Eliot, George - MIDDLEMARCH
Eliot, George - SILAS MARNER
Eliot, George - THE MILL ON THE FLOSS
Engels, Frederick - THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING-CLASS IN ENGLAND IN 1844
Equiano - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Esopo - FABLES
Fenimore Cooper, James - THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS
Fielding, Henry - TOM JONES
France, Anatole - THAIS
France, Anatole - THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
France, Anatole - THE LIFE OF JOAN OF ARC
France, Anatole - THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
Frank Baum, L. - THE PATCHWORK GIRL OF OZ
Frank Baum, L. - THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ
Franklin, Benjamin - AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Frazer, James George - THE GOLDEN BOUGH
Freud, Sigmund - DREAM PSYCHOLOGY
Galsworthy, John - COMPLETE PLAYS
Galsworthy, John - STRIFE
Galsworthy, John - STUDIES AND ESSAYS
Galsworthy, John - THE FIRST AND THE LAST
Galsworthy, John - THE FORSYTE SAGA
Galsworthy, John - THE LITTLE MAN
Galsworthy, John - THE SILVER BOX
Galsworthy, John - THE SKIN GAME
Gaskell, Elizabeth - CRANFORD
Gaskell, Elizabeth - MARY BARTON
Gaskell, Elizabeth - NORTH AND SOUTH
Gaskell, Elizabeth - THE LIFE OF CHARLOTTE BRONTE
Gay, John - THE BEGGAR'S OPERA
Gentile, Maria - THE ITALIAN COOK BOOK
Gilbert and Sullivan - PLAYS
Goethe - FAUST
Gogol - DEAD SOULS
Goldsmith, Oliver - SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER
Goldsmith, Oliver - THE VICAR OF WAKEFIELD
Grahame, Kenneth - THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Grimm, Brothers - FAIRY TALES
Harding, A. R. - GINSENG AND OTHER MEDICINAL PLANTS
Hardy, Thomas - A CHANGED MAN AND OTHER TALES
Hardy, Thomas - FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
Hardy, Thomas - JUDE THE OBSCURE
Hardy, Thomas - TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES
Hardy, Thomas - THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE
Hartley, Cecil B. - THE GENTLEMEN'S BOOK OF ETIQUETTE
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - LITTLE MASTERPIECES
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - THE SCARLET LETTER
Henry VIII - LOVE LETTERS TO ANNE BOLEYN
Henry, O. - CABBAGES AND KINGS
Henry, O. - SIXES AND SEVENS
Henry, O. - THE FOUR MILLION
Henry, O. - THE TRIMMED LAMP
Henry, O. - WHIRLIGIGS
Hindman Miller, Gustavus - TEN THOUSAND DREAMS INTERPRETED
Hobbes, Thomas - LEVIATHAN
Homer - THE ILIAD
Homer - THE ODYSSEY
Hornaday, William T. - THE EXTERMINATION OF THE AMERICAN BISON
Hume, David - A TREATISE OF HUMAN NATURE
Hume, David - AN ENQUIRY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
Hume, David - DIALOGUES CONCERNING NATURAL RELIGION
Ibsen, Henrik - A DOLL'S HOUSE
Ibsen, Henrik - AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE
Ibsen, Henrik - GHOSTS
Ibsen, Henrik - HEDDA GABLER
Ibsen, Henrik - JOHN GABRIEL BORKMAN
Ibsen, Henrik - ROSMERHOLM
Ibsen, Henrik - THE LADY FROM THE SEA
Ibsen, Henrik - THE MASTER BUILDER
Ibsen, Henrik - WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN
Irving, Washington - THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
James, Henry - ITALIAN HOURS
James, Henry - THE ASPERN PAPERS
James, Henry - THE BOSTONIANS
James, Henry - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY
James, Henry - THE TURN OF THE SCREW
James, Henry - WASHINGTON SQUARE
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jerome, Jerome K. - THREE MEN ON THE BUMMEL
Jevons, Stanley - POLITICAL ECONOMY
Johnson, Samuel - A GRAMMAR OF THE ENGLISH TONGUE
Jonson, Ben - THE ALCHEMIST
Jonson, Ben - VOLPONE
Joyce, James - A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN
Joyce, James - CHAMBER MUSIC
Joyce, James - DUBLINERS
Joyce, James - ULYSSES
Keats, John - ENDYMION
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1817
Keats, John - POEMS PUBLISHED IN 1820
King James - THE BIBLE
Kipling, Rudyard - CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
Kipling, Rudyard - INDIAN TALES
Kipling, Rudyard - JUST SO STORIES
Kipling, Rudyard - KIM
Kipling, Rudyard - THE JUNGLE BOOK
Kipling, Rudyard - THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Kipling, Rudyard - THE SECOND JUNGLE BOOK
Lawrence, D. H - THE RAINBOW
Lawrence, D. H - THE WHITE PEACOCK
Lawrence, D. H - TWILIGHT IN ITALY
Lawrence, D. H. - AARON'S ROD
Lawrence, D. H. - SONS AND LOVERS
Lawrence, D. H. - THE LOST GIRL
Lawrence, D. H. - WOMEN IN LOVE
Lear, Edward - BOOK OF NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - LAUGHABLE LYRICS
Lear, Edward - MORE NONSENSE
Lear, Edward - NONSENSE SONG
Leblanc, Maurice - ARSENE LUPIN VS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Leblanc, Maurice - THE ADVENTURES OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE CONFESSIONS OF ARSENE LUPIN
Leblanc, Maurice - THE HOLLOW NEEDLE
Leblanc, Maurice - THE RETURN OF ARSENE LUPIN
Lehmann, Lilli - HOW TO SING
Leroux, Gaston - THE MAN WITH THE BLACK FEATHER
Leroux, Gaston - THE MYSTERY OF THE YELLOW ROOM
Leroux, Gaston - THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA
London, Jack - MARTIN EDEN
London, Jack - THE CALL OF THE WILD
London, Jack - WHITE FANG
Machiavelli, Nicolo' - THE PRINCE
Malthus, Thomas - PRINCIPLE OF POPULATION
Mansfield, Katherine - THE GARDEN PARTY AND OTHER STORIES
Marlowe, Christopher - THE JEW OF MALTA
Marryat, Captain - THE CHILDREN OF THE NEW FOREST
Maupassant, Guy De - BEL AMI
Melville, Hermann - MOBY DICK
Melville, Hermann - TYPEE
Mill, John Stuart - PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
Milton, John - PARADISE LOST
Mitra, S. M. - HINDU TALES FROM THE SANSKRIT
Montaigne, Michel de - ESSAYS
Montgomery, Lucy Maud - ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
More, Thomas - UTOPIA
Nesbit, E. - FIVE CHILDREN AND IT
Nesbit, E. - THE PHOENIX AND THE CARPET
Nesbit, E. - THE RAILWAY CHILDREN
Nesbit, E. - THE STORY OF THE AMULET
Newton, Isaac - OPTICKS
Nietsche, Friedrich - BEYOND GOOD AND EVIL
Nietsche, Friedrich - THUS SPAKE ZARATHUSTRA
Nightingale, Florence - NOTES ON NURSING
Owen, Wilfred - POEMS
Ozaki, Yei Theodora - JAPANESE FAIRY TALES
Pascal, Blaise - PENSEES
Pellico, Silvio - MY TEN YEARS IMPRISONMENT
Perrault, Charles - FAIRY TALES
Pirandello, Luigi - THREE PLAYS
Plato - THE REPUBLIC
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 1
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 2
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 3
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 4
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS 5
Poe, Edgar Allan - THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
Potter, Beatrix - THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT
Proust, Marcel - SWANN'S WAY
Radcliffe, Ann - A SICILIAN ROMANCE
Ricardo, David - ON THE PRINCIPLES OF POLITICAL ECONOMY AND TAXATION
Richardson, Samuel - PAMELA
Rider Haggard, H. - ALLAN QUATERMAIN
Rider Haggard, H. - KING SOLOMON'S MINES
Rousseau, J. J. - THE ORIGIN AND FOUNDATION OF INEQUALITY AMONG MANKIND
Ruskin, John - THE SEVEN LAMPS OF ARCHITECTURE
Schiller, Friedrich - THE DEATH OF WALLENSTEIN
Schiller, Friedrich - THE PICCOLOMINI
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE ART OF CONTROVERSY
Schopenhauer, Arthur - THE WISDOM OF LIFE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - FLAPPERS AND PHILOSOPHERS
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - TALES OF THE JAZZ AGE
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THE BEAUTIFUL AND DAMNED
Scott Fitzgerald, F. - THIS SIDE OF PARADISE
Scott, Walter - IVANHOE
Scott, Walter - QUENTIN DURWARD
Scott, Walter - ROB ROY
Scott, Walter - THE BRIDE OF LAMMERMOOR
Scott, Walter - WAVERLEY
Sedgwick, Anne Douglas - THE THIRD WINDOW
Sewell, Anna - BLACK BEAUTY
Shakespeare, William - COMPLETE WORKS
Shakespeare, William - HAMLET
Shakespeare, William - OTHELLO
Shakespeare, William - ROMEO AND JULIET
Shelley, Mary - FRANKENSTEIN
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - A DEFENCE OF POETRY AND OTHER ESSAYS
Shelley, Percy Bysshe - COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS
Sheridan, Richard B. - THE SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL
Sienkiewicz, Henryk - QUO VADIS
Smith, Adam - THE WEALTH OF NATIONS
Smollett, Tobias - TRAVELS THROUGH FRANCE AND ITALY
Spencer, Herbert - ESSAYS ON EDUCATION AND KINDRED SUBJECTS
Spyri, Johanna - HEIDI
Sterne, Laurence - A SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY
Sterne, Laurence - TRISTRAM SHANDY
Stevenson, Robert Louis - A CHILD'S GARDEN OF VERSES
Stevenson, Robert Louis - ESSAYS IN THE ART OF WRITING
Stevenson, Robert Louis - KIDNAPPED
Stevenson, Robert Louis - NEW ARABIAN NIGHTS
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE BLACK ARROW
Stevenson, Robert Louis - THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE
Stevenson, Robert Louis - TREASURE ISLAND
Stoker, Bram - DRACULA
Strindberg, August - LUCKY PEHR
Strindberg, August - MASTER OLOF
Strindberg, August - THE RED ROOM
Strindberg, August - THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Strindberg, August - THERE ARE CRIMES AND CRIMES
Swift, Jonathan - A MODEST PROPOSAL
Swift, Jonathan - A TALE OF A TUB
Swift, Jonathan - GULLIVER'S TRAVELS
Swift, Jonathan - THE BATTLE OF THE BOOKS AND OTHER SHORT PIECES
Tagore, Rabindranath - FRUIT GATHERING
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE GARDENER
Tagore, Rabindranath - THE HUNGRY STONES AND OTHER STORIES
Thackeray, William - BARRY LYNDON
Thackeray, William - VANITY FAIR
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE BOOK OF SNOBS
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE ROSE AND THE RING
Thackeray, William Makepeace - THE VIRGINIANS
Thoreau, Henry David - WALDEN
Tolstoi, Leo - A LETTER TO A HINDU
Tolstoy, Lev - ANNA KARENINA
Tolstoy, Lev - WAR AND PEACE
Trollope, Anthony - AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Trollope, Anthony - BARCHESTER TOWERS
Trollope, Anthony - FRAMLEY PARSONAGE
Trollope, Anthony - THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS
Trollope, Anthony - THE MAN WHO KEPT HIS MONEY IN A BOX
Trollope, Anthony - THE WARDEN
Trollope, Anthony - THE WAY WE LIVE NOW
Twain, Mark - LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI
Twain, Mark - SPEECHES
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Twain, Mark - THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER
Twain, Mark - THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER
Vari, Autori - THE MAGNA CARTA
Verga, Giovanni - SICILIAN STORIES
Verne, Jules - 20000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEAS
Verne, Jules - A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Verne, Jules - ALL AROUND THE MOON
Verne, Jules - AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS
Verne, Jules - FIVE WEEKS IN A BALLOON
Verne, Jules - FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON
Verne, Jules - MICHAEL STROGOFF
Verne, Jules - THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
Voltaire - PHILOSOPHICAL DICTIONARY
Vyasa - MAHABHARATA
Wallace, Edgar - SANDERS OF THE RIVER
Wallace, Edgar - THE DAFFODIL MYSTERY
Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR
Webster, Jean - DADDY LONG LEGS
Wedekind, Franz - THE AWAKENING OF SPRING
Wells, H. G. - KIPPS
Wells, H. G. - THE INVISIBLE MAN
Wells, H. G. - THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Wells, H. G. - THE STOLEN BACILLUS AND OTHER INCIDENTS
Wells, H. G. - THE TIME MACHINE
Wells, H. G. - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS
Wells, H. G. - WHAT IS COMING
Wharton, Edith - THE AGE OF INNOCENCE
White, Andrew Dickson - FIAT MONEY INFLATION IN FRANCE
Wilde, Oscar - A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE
Wilde, Oscar - AN IDEAL HUSBAND
Wilde, Oscar - DE PROFUNDIS
Wilde, Oscar - LADY WINDERMERE'S FAN
Wilde, Oscar - SALOME
Wilde, Oscar - SELECTED POEMS
Wilde, Oscar - THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL
Wilde, Oscar - THE CANTERVILLE GHOST
Wilde, Oscar - THE HAPPY PRINCE AND OTHER TALES
Wilde, Oscar - THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Wilde, Oscar - THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GREY
Wilde, Oscar - THE SOUL OF MAN
Wilson, Epiphanius - SACRED BOOKS OF THE EAST
Wollstonecraft, Mary - A VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMAN
Woolf, Virgina - NIGHT AND DAY
Woolf, Virgina - THE VOYAGE OUT
Woolf, Virginia - JACOB'S ROOM
Woolf, Virginia - MONDAY OR TUESDAY
Wordsworth, William - POEMS
Wordsworth, William - PROSE WORKS
Zola, Emile - THERESE RAQUIN
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ISTRUZIONI D'USO DETTAGLIATE
By NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
DR. HEIDEGGER'S EXPERIMENT
DROWNE'S WOODEN IMAGE
THE AMBITIOUS GUEST
THE GREAT STONE FACE
THE GRAY CHAMPION
Hawthorne made three collections of his short stories and sketches:
"Twice-Told Tales," "Mosses from an Old Manse," and "The Snow Image and
Other Tales." The prefaces to these volumes express, with characteristic
charm, the author's dissatisfaction with his handiwork. No critic has
pointed out so clearly as Hawthorne himself the ineffectiveness of some
of the "Twice-Told Tales"; he thinks that the "Mosses from an Old Manse"
afford no solid basis for a literary reputation; and his comment upon
the earlier and later work gathered indiscriminately into his final
volume is that "the ripened autumnal fruit tastes but little better than
the early windfalls."
It must be remembered that the collections were made in desultory
fashion. They included some work that Hawthorne had outgrown even when
the first volume was published, such as elaborate exercises in
description and fanciful allegories, excellently composed but without
substance. Yet side by side with these proofs of his long, weary
apprenticeship are stories that reveal the consummate artist, mature in
mind and heart, and with the sure hand of the master. The qualities of
imagination and style that place Hawthorne easily first among American
writers of fiction are as readily discernible in his best brief tales as
in his romances.
"Dr. Heidegger's Experiment," with which the present volume opens, is
Hawthorne's earliest treatment of the elixir of immortality theme, which
haunted him throughout his life and was the subject of the unfinished
romance which rested upon his coffin. He handles it daintily, poetically
here, with an irony at once exquisite and profound. "The Birthmark"
represents another favorite theme: the rivalry between scientific
passion and human affection. It is not wholly free from the morbid fancy
which Hawthorne occasionally betrays, and which allies him, on one side
of his many-gifted mind, with Edgar Allan Poe; but the essential sanity
of Hawthorne's moral, and the perfection of the workmanship, render "The
Birthmark" worthy of its high place among modern short stories. "Ethan
Brand" dates obviously from the sojourn at North Adams, Massachusetts,
described in the "American Note-Book." Fragmentary as it is, it is one
of Hawthorne's most powerful pieces of writing, the Unpardonable Sin
which it portrays--the development of the intellect at the expense of
the heart--being one which the lonely romancer himself had had cause to
dread. The motive of the humorous character sketch entitled "Wakefield"
is somewhat similar: the danger of stepping aside, even for a moment,
from one's allotted place. "Drowne's Wooden Image" is a charming old
Boston version of the artistic miracles made possible by love. In "The
Ambitious Guest," the familiar story of the Willey House, in the Notch
of the White Hills, is told with singular delicacy and imaginativeness,
while "The Great Stone Face," a parable after Hawthorne's own heart, is
suggested by a well-known phenomenon of the same mountainous region.
Hawthorne's numerous tales based upon New England history are
represented by one of the briefest, "The Gray Champion," whose succinct
opening and eloquent close are no less admirable than the stern passion
of its dramatic climax.
Not every note of which Hawthorne's deep-toned instrument was capable is
exhibited in these eight tales, but they will serve, perhaps, to show
the nature of his magic. Certain characteristics of his art are
everywhere in evidence: simplicity of theme and treatment, absolute
clearness, verbal melody, with now and again a dusky splendor of
coloring. The touch of a few other men may be as perfect, the notes they
evoke more brilliant, certainly more gay, but Hawthorne's graver
harmonies linger in the ear and abide in the memory. It is only after
intimate acquaintance, however, that one perceives fully Hawthorne's
real scope, his power to convey an idea in its totality. His art is the
product of a rich personality, strong, self-contained, content to brood
long over its treasures. It is seldom in the history of literature--and
quite without parallel in American letters--that a nature so perfectly
dowered should attain to such perfect self-expression. Here lies his
supreme fortune as an artist. He was permitted to give adequate
expression to a rare and beautiful genius, and for thousands of his
countrymen life has been touched to finer issues because Hawthorne
followed his boyish bent and became a writer of fiction.
Editor's Introduction V
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment 1
The Birthmark 21
Ethan Brand 53
Drowne's Wooden Image 101
The Ambitious Guest 125
The Great Stone Face 141
The Gray Champion 177
Dr. Heidegger's Experiment
That very singular man, old Dr. Heidegger, once invited four venerable
friends to meet him in his study. There were three white-bearded
gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne, Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, and a
withered gentlewoman, whose name was the Widow Wycherly. They were all
melancholy old creatures, who had been unfortunate in life, and whose
greatest misfortune it was that they were not long ago in their graves.
Mr. Medbourne, in the vigor of his age, had been a prosperous merchant,
but had lost his all by a frantic speculation, and was now little better
than a mendicant. Colonel Killigrew had wasted his best years, and his
health and substance, in the pursuit of sinful pleasures, which had
given birth to a brood of pains, such as the gout, and divers other
torments of soul and body. Mr. Gascoigne was a ruined politician, a man
of evil fame, or at least had been so, till time had buried him from the
knowledge of the present generation, and made him obscure instead of
infamous. As for the Widow Wycherly, tradition tells us that she was a
great beauty in her day; but, for a long while past, she had lived in
deep seclusion, on account of certain scandalous stories, which had
prejudiced the gentry of the town against her. It is a circumstance
worth mentioning, that each of these three old gentlemen, Mr. Medbourne,
Colonel Killigrew, and Mr. Gascoigne, were early lovers of the Widow
Wycherly, and had once been on the point of cutting each other's throats
for her sake. And, before proceeding further, I will merely hint, that
Dr. Heidegger and all his four guests were sometimes thought to be a
little beside themselves; as is not unfrequently the case with old
people, when worried either by present troubles or woful recollections.
"My dear old friends," said Dr. Heidegger, motioning them to be seated,
"I am desirous of your assistance in one of those little experiments
with which I amuse myself here in my study."
If all stories were true, Dr. Heidegger's study must have been a very
curious place. It was a dim, old-fashioned chamber, festooned with
cobwebs and besprinkled with antique dust. Around the walls stood
several oaken bookcases, the lower shelves of which were filled with
rows of gigantic folios and black-letter quartos, and the upper with
little parchment-covered duodecimos. Over the central bookcase was a
bronze bust of Hippocrates, with which, according to some authorities,
Dr. Heidegger was accustomed to hold consultations, in all difficult
cases of his practice. In the obscurest corner of the room stood a tall
and narrow oaken closet, with its door ajar, within which doubtfully
appeared a skeleton. Between two of the bookcases hung a looking-glass,
presenting its high and dusty plate within a tarnished gilt frame. Among
many wonderful stories related of this mirror, it was fabled that the
spirits of all the doctor's deceased patients dwelt within its verge,
and would stare him in the face whenever he looked thitherward. The
opposite side of the chamber was ornamented with the full-length
portrait of a young lady, arrayed in the faded magnificence of silk,
satin, and brocade, and with a visage as faded as her dress. Above half
a century ago, Dr. Heidegger had been on the point of marriage with this
young lady; but, being affected with some slight disorder, she had
swallowed one of her lover's prescriptions, and died on the bridal
evening. The greatest curiosity of the study remains to be mentioned; it
was a ponderous folio volume, bound in black leather, with massive
silver clasps. There were no letters on the back, and nobody could tell
the title of the book. But it was well known to be a book of magic; and
once, when a chambermaid had lifted it, merely to brush away the dust,
the skeleton had rattled in its closet, the picture of the young lady
had stepped one foot upon the floor, and several ghastly faces had
peeped forth from the mirror; while the brazen head of Hippocrates
frowned, and said, "Forbear!"
Such was Dr. Heidegger's study. On the summer afternoon of our tale, a
small round table, as black as ebony, stood in the centre of the room,
sustaining a cut-glass vase, of beautiful form and elaborate
workmanship. The sunshine came through the window, between the heavy
festoons of two faded damask curtains, and fell directly across this
vase; so that a mild splendor was reflected from it on the ashen visages
of the five old people who sat around. Four champagne-glasses were also
on the table.
"My dear old friends," repeated Dr. Heidegger, "may I reckon on your aid
in performing an exceedingly curious experiment?"
Now Dr. Heidegger was a very strange old gentleman, whose eccentricity
had become the nucleus for a thousand fantastic stories. Some of these
fables, to my shame be it spoken, might possibly be traced back to mine
own veracious self; and if any passages of the present tale should
startle the reader's faith, I must be content to bear the stigma of a
When the doctor's four guests heard him talk of his proposed experiment,
they anticipated nothing more wonderful than the murder of a mouse in
an air-pump, or the examination of a cobweb by the microscope, or some
similar nonsense, with which he was constantly in the habit of pestering
his intimates. But without waiting for a reply, Dr. Heidegger hobbled
across the chamber, and returned with the same ponderous folio, bound in
black leather, which common report affirmed to be a book of magic.
Undoing the silver clasps, he opened the volume, and took from among its
black-letter pages a rose, or what was once a rose, though now the green
leaves and crimson petals had assumed one brownish hue, and the ancient
flower seemed ready to crumble to dust in the doctor's hands.
"This rose," said Dr. Heidegger, with a sigh, "this same withered and
crumbling flower, blossomed five-and-fifty years ago. It was given me by
Sylvia Ward, whose portrait hangs yonder; and I meant to wear it in my
bosom at our wedding. Five-and-fifty years it has been treasured between
the leaves of this old volume. Now, would you deem it possible that this
rose of half a century could ever bloom again?"
"Nonsense!" said the Widow Wycherly, with a peevish toss of her head.
"You might as well ask whether an old woman's wrinkled face could ever
"See!" answered Dr. Heidegger.
He uncovered the vase, and threw the faded rose into the water which it
contained. At first, it lay lightly on the surface of the fluid,
appearing to imbibe none of its moisture. Soon, however, a singular
change began to be visible. The crushed and dried petals stirred, and
assumed a deepening tinge of crimson, as if the flower were reviving
from a death-like slumber; the slender stalk and twigs of foliage became
green; and there was the rose of half a century, looking as fresh as
when Sylvia Ward had first given it to her lover. It was scarcely full
blown; for some of its delicate red leaves curled modestly around its
moist bosom, within which two or three dewdrops were sparkling.
"That is certainly a very pretty deception," said the doctor's friends;
carelessly, however, for they had witnessed greater miracles at a
conjurer's show; "pray how was it effected?"
"Did you never hear of the 'Fountain of Youth,'" asked Dr. Heidegger,
"which Ponce de Leon, the Spanish adventurer, went in search of, two or
three centuries ago?"
"But did Ponce de Leon ever find it?" said the Widow Wycherly.
"No," answered Dr. Heidegger, "for he never sought it in the right
place. The famous Fountain of Youth, if I am rightly informed, is
situated in the southern part of the Floridian peninsula, not far from
Lake Macaco. Its source is overshadowed by several gigantic magnolias,
which, though numberless centuries old, have been kept as fresh as
violets, by the virtues of this wonderful water. An acquaintance of
mine, knowing my curiosity in such matters, has sent me what you see in
"Ahem!" said Colonel Killigrew, who believed not a word of the doctor's
story; "and what may be the effect of this fluid on the human frame?"
"You shall judge for yourself, my dear Colonel," replied Dr. Heidegger;
"and all of you, my respected friends, are welcome to so much of this
admirable fluid as may restore to you the bloom of youth. For my own
part, having had much trouble in growing old, I am in no hurry to grow
young again. With your permission, therefore, I will merely watch the
progress of the experiment."
While he spoke, Dr. Heidegger had been filling the four
champagne-glasses with the water of the Fountain of Youth. It was
apparently impregnated with an effervescent gas, for little bubbles were
continually ascending from the depths of the glasses, and bursting in
silvery spray at the surface. As the liquor diffused a pleasant perfume,
the old people doubted not that it possessed cordial and comfortable
properties; and, though utter sceptics as to its rejuvenescent power,
they were inclined to swallow it at once. But Dr. Heidegger besought
them to stay a moment.
"Before you drink, my respectable old friends," said he, "it would be
well that, with the experience of a lifetime to direct you, you should
draw up a few general rules for your guidance, in passing a second time
through the perils of youth. Think what a sin and shame it would be, if,
with your peculiar advantages, you should not become patterns of virtue
and wisdom to all the young people of the age."
The doctor's four venerable friends made him no answer, except by a
feeble and tremulous laugh; so very ridiculous was the idea, that,
knowing how closely repentance treads behind the steps of error, they
should ever go astray again.
"Drink, then," said the doctor, bowing. "I rejoice that I have so well
selected the subjects of my experiment."
With palsied hands, they raised the glasses to their lips. The liquor,
if it really possessed such virtues as Dr. Heidegger imputed to it,
could not have been bestowed on four human beings who needed it more
wofully. They looked as if they had never known what youth or pleasure
was, but had been the off-spring of Nature's dotage, and always the
gray, decrepit, sapless, miserable creatures who now sat stooping round
the doctor's table, without life enough in their souls or bodies to be
animated even by the prospect of growing young again. They drank off the
water, and replaced their glasses on the table.
Assuredly there was an almost immediate improvement in the aspect of the
party, not unlike what might have been produced by a glass of generous
wine, together with a sudden glow of cheerful sunshine, brightening over
all their visages at once. There was a healthful suffusion on their
cheeks, instead of the ashen hue that had made them look so corpse-like.
They gazed at one another, and fancied that some magic power had really
begun to smooth away the deep and sad inscriptions which Father Time had
been so long engraving on their brows. The Widow Wycherly adjusted her
cap, for she felt almost like a woman again.
"Give us more of this wondrous water!" cried they, eagerly. "We are
younger,--but we are still too old! Quick,--give us more!"
"Patience, patience!" quoth Dr. Heidegger, who sat watching the
experiment, with philosophic coolness. "You have been a long time
growing old. Surely, you might be content to grow young in half an hour!
But the water is at your service."
Again he filled their glasses with the liquor of youth, enough of which
still remained in the vase to turn half the old people in the city to
the age of their own grandchildren. While the bubbles were yet sparkling
on the brim, the doctor's four guests snatched their glasses from the
table, and swallowed the contents at a single gulp. Was it delusion?
even while the draught was passing down their throats, it seemed to have
wrought a change on their whole systems. Their eyes grew clear and
bright; a dark shade deepened among their silvery locks; they sat around
the table, three gentlemen of middle age, and a woman, hardly beyond her
"My dear widow, you are charming!" cried Colonel Killigrew, whose eyes
had been fixed upon her face, while the shadows of age were flitting
from it like darkness from the crimson daybreak.
The fair widow knew, of old, that Colonel Killigrew's compliments were
not always measured by sober truth; so she started up and ran to the
mirror, still dreading that the ugly visage of an old woman would meet
her gaze. Meanwhile, the three gentlemen behaved in such a manner, as
proved that the water of the Fountain of Youth possessed some
intoxicating qualities; unless, indeed, their exhilaration of spirits
were merely a lightsome dizziness, caused by the sudden removal of the
weight of years. Mr. Gascoigne's mind seemed to run on political topics,
but whether relating to the past, present, or future, could not easily
be determined, since the same ideas and phrases have been in vogue
these fifty years. Now he rattled forth full-throated sentences about
patriotism, national glory, and the people's right; now he muttered some
perilous stuff or other, in a sly and doubtful whisper, so cautiously
that even his own conscience could scarcely catch the secret; and now,
again, he spoke in measured accents, and a deeply deferential tone, as
if a royal ear were listening to his well-turned periods. Colonel
Killigrew all this time had been trolling forth a jolly bottle-song, and
ringing his glass in symphony with the chorus, while his eyes wandered
toward the buxom figure of the Widow Wycherly. On the other side of the
table, Mr. Medbourne was involved in a calculation of dollars and cents,
with which was strangely intermingled a project for supplying the East
Indies with ice, by harnessing a team of whales to the polar icebergs.
As for the Widow Wycherly, she stood before the mirror courtesying and
simpering to her own image, and greeting it as the friend whom she loved
better than all the world beside. She thrust her face close to the
glass, to see whether some long-remembered wrinkle or crow's-foot had
indeed vanished. She examined whether the snow had so entirely melted
from her hair, that the venerable cap could be safely thrown aside. At
last, turning briskly away, she came with a sort of dancing step to the
"My dear old doctor," cried she, "pray favor me with another glass!"
"Certainly, my dear madam, certainly!" replied the complaisant doctor;
"see! I have already filled the glasses."
There, in fact, stood the four glasses, brimful of this wonderful water,
the delicate spray of which, as it effervesced from the surface,
resembled the tremulous glitter of diamonds. It was now so nearly
sunset, that the chamber had grown duskier than ever; but a mild and
moonlike splendor gleamed from within the vase, and rested alike on the
four guests, and on the doctor's venerable figure. He sat in a
high-backed, elaborately carved oaken arm-chair, with a gray dignity of
aspect that might have well befitted that very Father Time, whose power
had never been disputed, save by this fortunate company. Even while
quaffing the third draught of the Fountain of Youth, they were almost
awed by the expression of his mysterious visage.
But, the next moment, the exhilarating gush of young life shot through
their veins. They were now in the happy prime of youth. Age, with its
miserable train of cares, and sorrows, and diseases, was remembered only
as the trouble of a dream, from which they had joyously awoke. The fresh
gloss of the soul, so early lost, and without which the world's
successive scenes had been but a gallery of faded pictures, again threw
its enchantment over all their prospects. They felt like new-created
beings, in a new-created universe.
"We are young! We are young!" they cried exultingly.
Youth, like the extremity of age, had effaced the strongly marked
characteristics of middle life, and mutually assimilated them all. They
were a group of merry youngsters, almost maddened with the exuberant
frolicsomeness of their years. The most singular effect of their gayety
was an impulse to mock the infirmity and decrepitude of which they had
so lately been the victims. They laughed loudly at their old-fashioned
attire, the wide-skirted coats and flapped waistcoats of the young men,
and the ancient cap and gown of the blooming girl. One limped across the
floor, like a gouty grandfather; one set a pair of spectacles astride of
his nose, and pretended to pore over the black-letter pages of the book
of magic; a third seated himself in an arm-chair, and strove to imitate
the venerable dignity of Dr. Heidegger. Then all shouted mirthfully, and
leaped about the room. The Widow Wycherly--if so fresh a damsel could be
called a widow--tripped up to the doctor's chair, with a mischievous
merriment in her rosy face.
"Doctor, you dear old soul," cried she, "get up and dance with me!" And
then the four young people laughed louder than ever, to think what a
queer figure the poor old doctor would cut.
"Pray excuse me," answered the doctor, quietly. "I am old and rheumatic,
and my dancing days were over long ago. But either of these gay young
gentlemen will be glad of so pretty a partner."
"Dance with me, Clara!" cried Colonel Killigrew.
"No, no, I will be her partner!" shouted Mr. Gascoigne.
"She promised me her hand, fifty years ago!" exclaimed Mr. Medbourne.
They all gathered round her. One caught both her hands in his passionate
grasp,--another threw his arm about her waist,--the third buried his
hand among the glossy curls that clustered beneath the widow's cap.
Blushing, panting, struggling, chiding, laughing, her warm breath
fanning each of their faces by turns, she strove to disengage herself,
yet still remained in their triple embrace. Never was there a livelier
picture of youthful rivalship, with bewitching beauty for the prize.
Yet, by a strange deception, owing to the duskiness of the chamber, and
the antique dresses which they still wore, the tall mirror is said to
have reflected the figures of the three old, gray, withered grandsires,
ridiculously contending for the skinny ugliness of a shrivelled
But they were young: their burning passions proved them so. Inflamed to
madness by the coquetry of the girl-widow, who neither granted nor quite
withheld her favors, the three rivals began to interchange threatening
glances. Still keeping hold of the fair prize, they grappled fiercely at
one another's throats. As they struggled to and fro, the table was
overturned, and the vase dashed into a thousand fragments. The precious
Water of Youth flowed in a bright stream across the floor, moistening
the wings of a butterfly, which, grown old in the decline of summer, had
alighted there to die. The insect fluttered lightly through the chamber,
and settled on the snowy head of Dr. Heidegger.
"Come, come, gentlemen!--come, Madam Wycherly," exclaimed the doctor, "I
really must protest against this riot."
They stood still and shivered; for it seemed as if gray Time were
calling them back from their sunny youth, far down into the chill and
darksome vale of years. They looked at old Dr. Heidegger, who sat in his
carved arm-chair, holding the rose of half a century, which he had
rescued from among the fragments of the shattered vase. At the motion of
his hand, the four rioters resumed their seats; the more readily,
because their violent exertions had wearied them, youthful though they
"My poor Sylvia's rose!" ejaculated Dr. Heidegger, holding it in the
light of the sunset clouds; "it appears to be fading again."
And so it was. Even while the party were looking at it, the flower
continued to shrivel up, till it became as dry and fragile as when the
doctor had first thrown it into the vase. He shook off the few drops of
moisture which clung to its petals.
"I love it as well thus, as in its dewy freshness," observed he,
pressing the withered rose to his withered lips. While he spoke, the
butterfly fluttered down from the doctor's snowy head, and fell upon the
His guests shivered again. A strange chillness, whether of the body or
spirit they could not tell, was creeping gradually over them all. They
gazed at one another, and fancied that each fleeting moment snatched
away a charm, and left a deepening furrow where none had been before.
Was it an illusion? Had the changes of a lifetime been crowded into so
brief a space, and were they now four aged people, sitting with their
old friend, Dr. Heidegger?
"Are we grown old again, so soon?" cried they, dolefully.
In truth, they had. The Water of Youth possessed merely a virtue more
transient than that of wine. The delirium which it created had
effervesced away. Yes! they were old again. With a shuddering impulse,
that showed her a woman still, the widow clasped her skinny hands before
her face, and wished that the coffin-lid were over it, since it could be
no longer beautiful.
"Yes, friends, ye are old again," said Dr. Heidegger; "and lo! the Water
of Youth is all lavished on the ground. Well, I bemoan it not; for if
the fountain gushed at my very doorstep, I would not stoop to bathe my
lips in it; no, though its delirium were for years instead of moments.
Such is the lesson ye have taught me!"
But the doctor's four friends had taught no such lesson to themselves.
They resolved forthwith to make a pilgrimage to Florida, and quaff at
morning, noon, and night from the Fountain of Youth.
NOTE.--In an English Review, not long since, I have been accused of
plagiarizing the idea of this story from a chapter in one of the
novels of Alexandre Dumas. There has undoubtedly been a plagiarism
on one side or the other; but as my story was written a good deal
more than twenty years ago, and as the novel is of considerably
more recent date, I take pleasure in thinking that M. Dumas has
done me the honor to appropriate one of the fanciful conceptions of
my earlier days. He is heartily welcome to it: nor is it the only
instance, by many, in which the great French romancer has exercised
the privilege of commanding genius by confiscating the intellectual
property of less famous people to his own use and behoof.
In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, an
eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long
before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more
attractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care
of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace-smoke,
washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful
woman to become his wife. In those days, when the comparatively recent
discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to
open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love
of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy.
The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart
might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of
their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful
intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on
the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself.
We know not whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's
ultimate control over nature. He had devoted himself, however, too
unreservedly to scientific studies ever to be weakened from them by any
second passion. His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of
the two; but it could only be by intertwining itself with his love of
science and uniting the strength of the latter to his own.
Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with truly
remarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day, very
soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife with a trouble
in his countenance that grew stronger until he spoke.
"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the mark upon
your cheek might be removed?"
"No, indeed," said she, smiling; but, perceiving the seriousness of his
manner, she blushed deeply. "To tell you the truth, it has been so often
called a charm, that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so."
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband; "but
never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from
the hand of Nature, that this slightest possible defect, which we
hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the
visible mark of earthly imperfection."
"Shocks you, my husband!" cried Georgiana, deeply hurt; at first
reddening with momentary anger but then bursting into tears. "Then why
did you take me from my mother's side? You cannot love what shocks you!"
To explain this conversation, it must be mentioned that in the centre of
Georgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as
it were, with the texture and substance of her face. In the usual state
of her complexion--a healthy though delicate bloom--the mark wore a tint
of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined its shape amid the
surrounding rosiness. When she blushed it gradually became more
indistinct, and finally vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that
bathed the whole cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting
motion caused her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain
upon the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful
distinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand,
though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana's lovers were wont to say
that some fairy at her birth-hour had laid her tiny hand upon the
infant's cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magic
endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts. Many a
desperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressing
his lips to the mysterious hand. It must not be concealed, however, that
the impression wrought by this fairy sign-manual varied exceedingly
according to the difference of temperament in the beholders. Some
fastidious persons--but they were exclusively of her own sex--affirmed
that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the
effect of Georgiana's beauty and rendered her countenance even hideous.
But it would be as reasonable to say that one of those small blue stains
which sometimes occur in the purest statuary marble would convert the
Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculine observers, if the birthmark did
not heighten their admiration, contented themselves with wishing it
away, that the world might possess one living specimen of ideal
loveliness without the semblance of a flaw. After his marriage,--for he
thought little or nothing of the matter before,--Aylmer discovered that
this was the case with himself.
Had she been less beautiful,--if Envy's self could have found aught else
to sneer at,--he might have felt his affection heightened by the
prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely portrayed, now lost, now
stealing forth again and glimmering to and fro with every pulse of
emotion that throbbed within her heart; but, seeing her otherwise so
perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with
every moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity
which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her
productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that
their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand
expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest
and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the
lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames
return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's
liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombre imagination
was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him
more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or
sense, had given him delight.
At all the seasons which should have been their happiest he invariably,
and without intending it, nay, in spite of a purpose to the contrary,
reverted to this one disastrous topic. Trifling as it at first appeared,
it so connected itself with innumerable trains of thought and modes of
feeling that it became the central point of all. With the morning
twilight Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife's face and recognized the
symbol of imperfection; and when they sat together at the evening
hearth his eyes wandered stealthily to her cheek, and beheld, flickering
with the blaze of the wood-fire, the spectral hand that wrote mortality
where he would fain have worshipped. Georgiana soon learned to shudder
at his gaze. It needed but a glance with the peculiar expression that
his face often wore to change the roses of her cheek into a death-like
paleness, amid which the crimson hand was brought strongly out, like a
bas-relief of ruby on the whitest marble.
Late one night, when the lights were growing dim so as hardly to betray
the stain on the poor wife's cheek, she herself, for the first time,
voluntarily took up the subject.
"Do you remember, my dear Aylmer," said she, with a feeble attempt at a
smile, "have you any recollection, of a dream last night about this
"None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then he added, in a
dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealing the real depth of
his emotion, "I might well dream of it; for, before I fell asleep, it
had taken a pretty firm hold of my fancy."
"And you did dream of it?" continued Georgiana, hastily; for she dreaded
lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had to say. "A terrible
dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is it possible to forget this
one expression?--'It is in her heart now; we must have it out!' Reflect,
my husband; for by all means I would have you recall that dream."
The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannot confine
her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but suffers them to
break forth, affrighting this actual life with secrets that perchance
belong to a deeper one. Aylmer now remembered his dream. He had fancied
himself with his servant Aminadab attempting an operation for the
removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank
the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of
Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved
to cut or wrench it away.
When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer sat in
his wife's presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often finds its way to
the mind close muffled in robes of sleep, and then speaks with
uncompromising directness of matters in regard to which we practise an
unconscious self-deception during our waking moments. Until now he had
not been aware of the tyrannizing influence acquired by one idea over
his mind, and of the lengths which he might find in his heart to go for
the sake of giving himself peace.
"Aylmer," resumed Georgiana, solemnly, "I know not what may be the cost
to both of us to rid me of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps its removal may
cause cureless deformity; or it may be the stain goes as deep as life
itself. Again: do we know that there is a possibility, on any terms, of
unclasping the firm gripe of this little hand which was laid upon me
before I came into the world?"
"Dearest Georgiana, I have spent much thought upon the subject," hastily
interrupted Aylmer. "I am convinced of the perfect practicability of its
"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued Georgiana, "let
the attempt be made, at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; for
life, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and
disgust,--life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. Either
remove this dreadful hand, or take my wretched life! You have deep
science. All the world bears witness of it. You have achieved great
wonders. Cannot you remove this little, little mark, which I cover with
the tips of two small fingers? Is this beyond your power, for the sake
of your own peace, and to save your poor wife from madness?"
"Noblest, dearest, tenderest wife," cried Aylmer, rapturously, "doubt
not my power. I have already given this matter the deepest
thought,--thought which might almost have enlightened me to create a
being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeper than
ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent to render
this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved,
what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left
imperfect in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman
assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will be."
"It is resolved, then," said Georgiana, faintly smiling. "And, Aylmer,
spare me not, though you should find the birthmark take refuge in my
heart at last."
Her husband tenderly kissed her cheek,--her right cheek,--not that which
bore the impress of the crimson hand.
The next day Aylmer apprised his wife of a plan that he had formed
whereby he might have opportunity for the intense thought and constant
watchfulness which the proposed operation would require; while
Georgiana, likewise, would enjoy the perfect repose essential to its
success. They were to seclude themselves in the extensive apartments
occupied by Aylmer as a laboratory, and where, during his toilsome
youth, he had made discoveries in the elemental powers of nature that
had roused the admiration of all the learned societies in Europe. Seated
calmly in this laboratory, the pale philosopher had investigated the
secrets of the highest cloud-region and of the profoundest mines; he had
satisfied himself of the causes that kindled and kept alive the fires of
the volcano; and had explained the mystery of fountains, and how it is
that they gush forth, some so bright and pure, and others with such rich
medicinal virtues, from the dark bosom of the earth. Here, too, at an
earlier period, he had studied the wonders of the human frame, and
attempted to fathom the very process by which Nature assimilates all her
precious influences from earth and air, and from the spiritual world, to
create and foster man, her masterpiece. The latter pursuit, however,
Aylmer had long laid aside in unwilling recognition of the
truth--against which all seekers sooner or later stumble--that our great
creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the
broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and,
in spite of her pretended openness, shows us nothing but results. She
permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous
patentee, on no account to make. Now, however, Aylmer resumed these
half-forgotten investigations; not, of course, with such hopes or wishes
as first suggested them; but because they involved much physiological
truth and lay in the path of his proposed scheme for the treatment of
As he led her over the threshold of the laboratory Georgiana was cold
and tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into her face, with intent to
reassure her, but was so startled with the intense glow of the
birthmark upon the whiteness of her cheek that he could not restrain a
strong convulsive shudder. His wife fainted.
"Aminadab! Aminadab!" shouted Aylmer, stamping violently on the floor.
Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low stature, but
bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed
with the vapors of the furnace. This personage had been Aylmer's
underworker during his whole scientific career, and was admirably fitted
for that office by his great mechanical readiness, and the skill with
which, while incapable of comprehending a single principle, he executed
all the details of his master's experiments. With his vast strength, his
shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable earthiness that
incrusted him, he seemed to represent man's physical nature; while
Aylmer's slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were no less apt a
type of the spiritual element.
"Throw open the door of the boudoir, Aminadab," said Aylmer, "and burn a
"Yes, master," answered Aminadab, looking intently at the lifeless form
of Georgiana; and then he muttered to himself, "If she were my wife, I'd
never part with that birthmark."
When Georgiana recovered consciousness she found herself breathing an
atmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle potency of which had
recalled her from her death-like faintness. The scene around her looked
like enchantment. Aylmer had converted those smoky, dingy, sombre rooms,
where he had spent his brightest years in recondite pursuits, into a
series of beautiful apartments not unfit to be the secluded abode of a
lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains, which imparted
the combination of grandeur and grace that no other species of adornment
can achieve; and, as they fell from the ceiling to the floor, their rich
and ponderous folds, concealing all angles and straight lines, appeared
to shut in the scene from infinite space. For aught Georgiana knew, it
might be a pavilion among the clouds. And Aylmer, excluding the
sunshine, which would have interfered with his chemical processes, had
supplied its place with perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hue,
but all uniting in a soft, impurpled radiance. He now knelt by his
wife's side, watching her earnestly, but without alarm; for he was
confident in his science, and felt that he could draw a magic circle
round her within which no evil might intrude.
"Where am I? Ah, I remember," said Georgiana, faintly; and she placed
her hand over her cheek to hide the terrible mark from her husband's
"Fear not, dearest!" exclaimed he. "Do not shrink from me! Believe me,
Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will be
such a rapture to remove it."
"O, spare me!" sadly replied his wife. "Pray do not look at it again. I
never can forget that convulsive shudder."
In order to soothe Georgiana, and, as it were, to release her mind from
the burden of actual things, Aylmer now put in practice some of the
light and playful secrets which science had taught him among its
profounder lore. Airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas, and forms of
unsubstantial beauty came and danced before her, imprinting their
momentary footsteps on beams of light. Though she had some indistinct
idea of the method of these optical phenomena, still the illusion was
almost perfect enough to warrant the belief that her husband possessed
sway over the spiritual world. Then again, when she felt a wish to look
forth from her seclusion, immediately, as if her thoughts were answered,
the procession of external existence flitted across a screen. The
scenery and the figures of actual life were perfectly represented but
with that bewitching yet indescribable difference which always makes a
picture, an image, or a shadow so much more attractive than the
original. When wearied of this, Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon a
vessel containing a quantity of earth. She did so, with little interest
at first; but was soon startled to perceive the germ of a plant shooting
upward from the soil. Then came the slender stalk; the leaves gradually
unfolded themselves; and amid them was a perfect and lovely flower.
"It is magical!" cried Georgiana. "I dare not touch it."
"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer,--"pluck it, and inhale its brief
perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments and leave
nothing save its brown seed-vessels; but thence may be perpetuated a
race as ephemeral as itself."
But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant
suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of
"There was too powerful a stimulus," said Aylmer, thoughtfully.
To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take her
portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to be
effected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of metal.
Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was affrighted to
find the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while the
minute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been.
Aylmer snatched the metallic plate and threw it into a jar of corrosive
Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the intervals of
study and chemical experiment he came to her flushed and exhausted, but
seemed invigorated by her presence, and spoke in glowing language of the
resources of his art. He gave a history of the long dynasty of the
alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent by
which the golden principle might be elicited from all things vile and
base. Aylmer appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientific logic,
it was altogether within the limits of possibility to discover this
long-sought medium. "But," he added, "a philosopher who should go deep
enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom to stoop to
the exercise of it." Not less singular were his opinions in regard to
the elixir vitæ. He more than intimated that it was at his option to
concoct a liquid that should prolong life for years, perhaps
interminably; but that it would produce a discord in nature which all
the world, and chiefly the quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would find
cause to curse.
"Aylmer, are you in earnest?" asked Georgiana, looking at him with
amazement and fear. "It is terrible to possess such power, or even to
dream of possessing it."
"O, do not tremble, my love," said her husband. "I would not wrong
either you or myself by working such inharmonious effects upon our
lives; but I would have you consider how trifling, in comparison, is
the skill requisite to remove this little hand."
At the mention of the birthmark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank as if a
red-hot iron had touched her cheek.
Again Aylmer applied himself to his labors. She could hear his voice in
the distant furnace-room giving directions to Aminadab, whose harsh,
uncouth, misshapen tones were audible in response, more like the grunt
or growl of a brute than human speech. After hours of absence, Aylmer
reappeared and proposed that she should now examine his cabinet of
chemical products and natural treasures of the earth. Among the former
he showed her a small vial, in which, he remarked, was contained a
gentle yet most powerful fragrance, capable of impregnating all the
breezes that blow across a kingdom. They were of inestimable value, the
contents of that little vial; and, as he said so, he threw some of the
perfume into the air and filled the room with piercing and invigorating
"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal globe
containing a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to the eye that I
could imagine it the elixir of life."
"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer; "or rather, the elixir of
immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted in
this world. By its aid I could apportion the lifetime of any mortal at
whom you might point your finger. The strength of the dose would
determine whether he were to linger out years, or drop dead in the midst
of a breath. No king on his guarded throne could keep his life if I, in
my private station, should deem that the welfare of millions justified
me in depriving him of it."
"Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" inquired Georgiana, in horror.
"Do not mistrust me, dearest," said her husband, smiling; "its virtuous
potency is yet greater than its harmful one. But see! here is a powerful
cosmetic. With a few drops of this in a vase of water, freckles may be
washed away as easily as the hands are cleansed. A stronger infusion
would take the blood out of the cheek, and leave the rosiest beauty a
"Is it with this lotion that you intend to bathe my cheek?" asked
"O no," hastily replied her husband; "this is merely superficial. Your
case demands a remedy that shall go deeper."
In his interviews with Georgiana, Aylmer generally made minute inquiries
as to her sensations, and whether the confinement of the rooms and the
temperature of the atmosphere agreed with her. These questions had such
a particular drift that Georgiana began to conjecture that she was
already subjected to certain physical influences, either breathed in
with the fragrant air or taken with her food. She fancied likewise, but
it might be altogether fancy, that there was a stirring up of her
system,--a strange, indefinite sensation creeping through her veins, and
tingling, half painfully, half pleasurably, at her heart. Still,
whenever she dared to look into the mirror, there she beheld herself
pale as a white rose and with the crimson birthmark stamped upon her
cheek. Not even Aylmer now hated it so much as she.
To dispel the tedium of the hours which her husband found it necessary
to devote to the processes of combination and analysis, Georgiana turned
over the volumes of his scientific library. In many dark old tomes she
met with chapters full of romance and poetry. They were the works of the
philosophers of the Middle Ages, such as Albertus Magnus, Cornelius
Agrippa, Paracelsus, and the famous friar who created the prophetic
Brazen Head. All these antique naturalists stood in advance of their
centuries, yet were imbued with some of their credulity, and therefore
were believed, and perhaps imagined themselves to have acquired from the
investigation of nature a power above nature, and from physics a sway
over the spiritual world. Hardly less curious and imaginative were the
early volumes of the Transactions of the Royal Society, in which the
members, knowing little of the limits of natural possibility, were
continually recording wonders or proposing methods whereby wonders might
But, to Georgiana, the most engrossing volume was a large folio from her
husband's own hand, in which he had recorded every experiment of his
scientific career, its original aim, the methods adopted for its
development, and its final success or failure, with the circumstances to
which either event was attributable. The book, in truth was both the
history and emblem of his ardent, ambitious, imaginative, yet practical
and laborious life. He handled physical details as if there were nothing
beyond them; yet spiritualized them all, and redeemed himself from
materialism by his strong and eager aspiration towards the infinite. In
his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul. Georgiana, as she
read, reverenced Aylmer and loved him more profoundly than ever, but
with a less entire dependence on his judgment than heretofore. Much as
he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid
successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at
which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt
to be so by himself, in comparison with the inestimable gems which lay
hidden beyond his reach. The volume, rich with achievements that had
won renown for its author, was yet as melancholy a record as ever mortal
hand had penned. It was the sad confession and continual exemplification
of the shortcomings of the composite man, the spirit burdened with clay
and working in matter, and of the despair that assails the higher nature
at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly part. Perhaps
every man of genius, in whatever sphere, might recognize the image of
his own experience in Aylmer's journal.
So deeply did these reflections affect Georgiana that she laid her face
upon the open volume and burst into tears. In this situation she was
found by her husband.
"It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books," said he with a smile,
though his countenance was uneasy and displeased. "Georgiana, there are
pages in that volume which I can scarcely glance over and keep my
senses. Take heed lest it prove as detrimental to you."
"It has made me worship you more than ever," said she.
"Ah, wait for this one success," rejoined he, "then worship me if you
will. I shall deem myself hardly unworthy of it. But come, I have sought
you for the luxury of your voice. Sing to me, dearest."
So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst of
his spirit. He then took his leave with a boyish exuberance of gayety,
assuring her that her seclusion would endure but a little longer, and
that the result was already certain. Scarcely had he departed when
Georgiana felt irresistibly impelled to follow him. She had forgotten to
inform Aylmer of a symptom which for two or three hours past had begun
to excite her attention. It was a sensation in the fatal birthmark, not
painful, but which induced a restlessness throughout her system.
Hastening after her husband, she intruded for the first time into the
The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and
feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the
quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for
ages. There was a distilling-apparatus in full operation. Around the
room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus of
chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use.
The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous
odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The
severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and
brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to
the fantastic elegance of her boudoir. But what chiefly, indeed almost
solely, drew her attention, was the aspect of Aylmer himself.
He was pale as death, anxious and absorbed, and hung over the furnace as
if it depended upon his utmost watchfulness whether the liquid which it
was distilling should be the draught of immortal happiness or misery.
How different from the sanguine and joyous mien that he had assumed for
"Carefully now, Aminadab; carefully, thou human machine; carefully, thou
man of clay," muttered Aylmer, more to himself than his assistant. "Now,
if there be a thought too much or too little, it is all over."
"Ho! ho!" mumbled Aminadab. "Look, master! look!"
Aylmer raised his eyes hastily, and at first reddened, then grew paler
than ever, on beholding Georgiana. He rushed towards her and seized her
arm with a gripe that left the print of his fingers upon it.
"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?" cried he,
impetuously. "Would you throw the blight of that fatal birthmark over my
labors? It is not well done. Go, prying woman! go!"
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she possessed
no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to complain. You
mistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watch
the development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, my
husband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink;
for my share in it is far less than your own."
"No, no, Georgiana!" said Aylmer, impatiently; "it must not be."
"I submit," replied she, calmly. "And, Aylmer, I shall quaff whatever
draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that would
induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the height and
depth of your nature until now. Nothing shall be concealed. Know, then,
that this crimson hand, superficial as it seems, has clutched its grasp
into your being with a strength of which I had no previous conception. I
have already administered agents powerful enough to do aught except to
change your entire physical system. Only one thing remains to be tried.
If that fail us we are ruined."
"Why did you hesitate to tell me this?" asked she.
"Because, Georgiana," said Aylmer, in a low voice, "there is danger."
"Danger? There is but one danger,--that this horrible stigma shall be
left upon my cheek!" cried Georgiana. "Remove it, remove it, whatever be
the cost, or we shall both go mad!"
"Heaven knows your words are too true," said Aylmer, sadly. "And now,
dearest, return to your boudoir. In a little while all will be tested."
He conducted her back and took leave of her with a solemn tenderness
which spoke far more than his words how much was now at stake. After his
departure Georgiana became rapt in musings. She considered the character
of Aylmer, and did it completer justice than at any previous moment. Her
heart exulted, while it trembled, at his honorable love,--so pure and
lofty that it would accept nothing less than perfection, nor miserably
make itself contented with an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of.
She felt how much more precious was such a sentiment than that meaner
kind which would have borne with the imperfection for her sake, and have
been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading its perfect idea to the
level of the actual; and with her whole spirit she prayed that, for a
single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception.
Longer than one moment she well knew it could not be; for his spirit was
ever on the march, ever ascending, and each instant required something
that was beyond the scope of the instant before.
The sound of her husband's footsteps aroused her. He bore a crystal
goblet containing a liquor colorless as water, but bright enough to be
the draught of immortality. Aylmer was pale; but it seemed rather the
consequence of a highly wrought state of mind and tension of spirit than
of fear or doubt.
"The concoction of the draught has been perfect," said he, in answer to
Georgiana's look. "Unless all my science have deceived me, it cannot
"Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer," observed his wife, "I might
wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality
itself in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad possession to
those who have attained precisely the degree of moral advancement at
which I stand. Were I weaker and blinder, it might be happiness. Were I
stronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being what I find myself,
methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die."
"You are fit for heaven without tasting death!" replied her husband.
"But why do we speak of dying? The draught cannot fail. Behold its
effect upon this plant."
On the window-seat there stood a geranium diseased with yellow blotches,
which had overspread all its leaves. Aylmer poured a small quantity of
the liquid upon the soil in which it grew. In a little time, when the
roots of the plant had taken up the moisture, the unsightly blotches
began to be extinguished in a living verdure.
"There needed no proof," said Georgiana, quietly. "Give me the goblet.
I joyfully stake all upon your word."
"Drink, then, thou lofty creature!" exclaimed Aylmer, with fervid
admiration. "There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit. Thy
sensible frame, too, shall soon be all perfect."
She quaffed the liquid and returned the goblet to his hand.
"It is grateful," said she, with a placid smile. "Methinks it is like
water from a heavenly fountain; for it contains I know not what of
unobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness. It allays a feverish thirst
that had parched me for many days. Now, dearest, let me sleep. My
earthly senses are closing over my spirit like the leaves around the
heart of a rose at sunset."
She spoke the last words with a gentle reluctance, as if it required
almost more energy than she could command to pronounce the faint and
lingering syllables. Scarcely had they loitered through her lips ere she
was lost in slumber. Aylmer sat by her side, watching her aspect with
the emotions proper to a man, the whole value of whose existence was
involved in the process now to be tested. Mingled with this mood,
however, was the philosophic investigation characteristic of the man of
science. Not the minutest symptom escaped him. A heightened flush of the
cheek, a slight irregularity of breath, a quiver of the eyelid, a
hardly perceptible tremor through the frame,--such were the details
which, as the moments passed, he wrote down in his folio volume. Intense
thought had set its stamp upon every previous page of that volume; but
the thoughts of years were all concentrated upon the last.
While thus employed, he failed not to gaze often at the fatal hand, and
not without a shudder. Yet once, by a strange and unaccountable impulse,
he pressed it with his lips. His spirit recoiled, however, in the very
act; and Georgiana, out of the midst of her deep sleep, moved uneasily
and murmured, as if in remonstrance. Again Aylmer resumed his watch. Nor
was it without avail. The crimson hand, which at first had been strongly
visible upon the marble paleness of Georgiana's cheek, now grew more
faintly outlined. She remained not less pale than ever; but the
birthmark, with every breath that came and went, lost somewhat of its
former distinctness. Its presence had been awful; its departure was more
awful still. Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out of the sky, and
you will know how that mysterious symbol passed away.
"By Heaven! it is wellnigh gone!" said Aylmer to himself, in almost
irrepressible ecstasy. "I can scarcely trace it now. Success! success!
And now it is like the faintest rose-color. The lightest flush of blood
across her cheek would overcome it. But she is so pale!"
He drew aside the window-curtain and suffered the light of natural day
to fall into the room and rest upon her cheek. At the same time he heard
a gross, hoarse chuckle, which he had long known as his servant
Aminadab's expression of delight.
"Ah, clod! ah, earthly mass!" cried Aylmer, laughing in a sort of
frenzy, "you have served me well! Matter and spirit--earth and
heaven--have both done their part in this! Laugh, thing of the senses!
You have earned the right to laugh."
These exclamations broke Georgiana's sleep. She slowly unclosed her eyes
and gazed into the mirror which her husband had arranged for that
purpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips when she recognized how
barely perceptible was now that crimson hand which had once blazed forth
with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare away all their happiness.
But then her eyes sought Aylmer's face with a trouble and anxiety that
he could by no means account for.
"My poor Aylmer!" murmured she.
"Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!" exclaimed he. "My peerless
bride, it is successful! You are perfect!"
"My poor Aylmer," she repeated, with a more than human tenderness, "you
have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that, with so
high and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could
offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!"
Alas! it was too true! The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of
life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union
with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark--that
sole token of human imperfection--faded from her cheek, the parting
breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her
soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight.
Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross
fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal
essence which, in this dim sphere of half-development, demands the
completeness of a higher state. Yet, had Aylmer reached a profounder
wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have
woven his mortal life of the self-same texture with the celestial. The
momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond
the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all in eternity, to find
the perfect future in the present.
A CHAPTER FROM AN ABORTIVE ROMANCE
Bartram the lime-burner, a rough, heavy-looking man, begrimed with
charcoal, sat watching his kiln, at nightfall, while his little son
played at building houses with the scattered fragments of marble, when,
on the hillside below them, they heard a roar of laughter, not mirthful,
but slow, and even solemn, like a wind shaking the boughs of the forest.
"Father, what is that?" asked the little boy, leaving his play, and
pressing betwixt his father's knees.
"O, some drunken man, I suppose," answered the lime-burner; "some merry
fellow from the bar-room in the village, who dared not laugh loud enough
within doors lest he should blow the roof of the house off. So here he
is, shaking his jolly sides at the foot of Graylock."
"But, father," said the child, more sensitive than the obtuse,
middle-aged clown, "he does not laugh like a man that is glad. So the
noise frightens me!"
"Don't be a fool, child!" cried his father, gruffly. "You will never
make a man, I do believe; there is too much of your mother in you. I
have known the rustling of a leaf startle you. Hark! Here comes the
merry fellow now. You shall see that there is no harm in him."
Bartram and his little son, while they were talking thus, sat watching
the same lime-kiln that had been the scene of Ethan Brand's solitary and
meditative life, before he began his search for the Unpardonable Sin.
Many years, as we have seen, had now elapsed, since that portentous
night when the Idea was first developed. The kiln, however, on the
mountain-side, stood unimpaired, and was in nothing changed since he had
thrown his dark thoughts into the intense glow of its furnace, and
melted them, as it were, into the one thought that took possession of
his life. It was a rude, round, tower-like structure, about twenty feet
high, heavily built of rough stones, and with a hillock of earth heaped
about the larger part of its circumference; so that the blocks and
fragments of marble might be drawn by cart-loads, and thrown in at the
top. There was an opening at the bottom of the tower, like an
oven-mouth, but large enough to admit a man in a stooping posture, and
provided with a massive iron door. With the smoke and jets of flame
issuing from the chinks and crevices of this door, which seemed to give
admittance into the hillside, it resembled nothing so much as the
private entrance to the infernal regions, which the shepherds of the
Delectable Mountains were accustomed to show to pilgrims.
There are many such lime-kilns in that tract of country, for the purpose
of burning the white marble which composes a large part of the substance
of the hills. Some of them, built years ago, and long deserted, with
weeds growing in the vacant round of the interior, which is open to the
sky, and grass and wild-flowers rooting themselves into the chinks of
the stones, look already like relics of antiquity, and may yet be
overspread with the lichens of centuries to come. Others, where the
lime-burner still feeds his daily and night-long fire, afford points of
interest to the wanderer among the hills, who seats himself on a log of
wood or a fragment of marble, to hold a chat with the solitary man. It
is a lonesome, and, when the character is inclined to thought, may be an
intensely thoughtful occupation; as it proved in the case of Ethan
Brand, who had mused to such strange purpose, in days gone by, while the
fire in this very kiln was burning.
The man who now watched the fire was of a different order, and troubled
himself with no thoughts save the very few that were requisite to his
business. At frequent intervals, he flung back the clashing weight of
the iron door, and, turning his face from the insufferable glare, thrust
in huge logs of oak, or stirred the immense brands with a long pole.
Within the furnace were seen the curling and riotous flames, and the
burning marble, almost molten with the intensity of heat; while without,
the reflection of the fire quivered on the dark intricacy of the
surrounding forest, and showed in the foreground a bright and ruddy
little picture of the hut, the spring beside its door, the athletic and
coal-begrimed figure of the lime-burner, and the half-frightened child,
shrinking into the protection of his father's shadow. And when again the
iron door was closed, then reappeared the tender light of the half-full
moon, which vainly strove to trace out the indistinct shapes of the
neighboring mountains; and, in the upper sky, there was a flitting
congregation of clouds, still faintly tinged with the rosy sunset,
though thus far down into the valley the sunshine had vanished long and
The little boy now crept still closer to his father, as footsteps were
heard ascending the hillside, and a human form thrust aside the bushes
that clustered beneath the trees.
"Halloo! who is it?" cried the lime-burner, vexed at his son's timidity,
yet half infected by it. "Come forward, and show yourself, like a man,
or I'll fling this chunk of marble at your head!"
"You offer me a rough welcome," said a gloomy voice, as the unknown man
drew nigh. "Yet I neither claim nor desire a kinder one, even at my own
To obtain a distincter view, Bartram threw open the iron door of the
kiln, whence immediately issued a gush of fierce light, that smote full
upon the stranger's face and figure. To a careless eye there appeared
nothing very remarkable in his aspect, which was that of a man in a
coarse, brown, country-made suit of clothes, tall and thin, with the
staff and heavy shoes of a wayfarer. As he advanced, he fixed his
eyes--which were very bright--intently upon the brightness of the
furnace, as if he beheld, or expected to behold, some object worthy of
note within it.
"Good evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you, so
late in the day?"
"I come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it is
"Drunk!--or crazy!" muttered Bartram to himself. "I shall have trouble
with the fellow. The sooner I drive him away, the better."
The little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and begged
him to shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not be so much
light; for that there was something in the man's face which he was
afraid to look at, yet could not look away from. And, indeed, even the
lime-burner's dull and torpid sense began to be impressed by an
indescribable something in that thin, rugged, thoughtful visage, with
the grizzled hair hanging wildly about it, and those deeply sunken eyes,
which gleamed like fires within the entrance of a mysterious cavern.
But, as he closed the door, the stranger turned towards him, and spoke
in a quiet, familiar way, that made Bartram feel as if he were a sane
and sensible man, after all.
"Your task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has already
been burning three days. A few hours more will convert the stone to
"Why, who are you?" exclaimed the lime-burner. "You seem as well
acquainted with my business as I am myself."
"And well I may be," said the stranger; "for I followed the same craft
many a long year, and here, too, on this very spot. But you are a
new-comer in these parts. Did you never hear of Ethan Brand?"
"The man that went in search of the Unpardonable Sin?" asked Bartram,
with a laugh.
"The same," answered the stranger. "He has found what he sought, and
therefore he comes back again."
"What! then you are Ethan Brand himself?" cried the lime-burner, in
amazement. "I am a new-comer here, as you say, and they call it eighteen
years since you left the foot of Graylock. But, I can tell you, the good
folks still talk about Ethan Brand, in the village yonder, and what a
strange errand took him away from his lime-kiln. Well, and so you have
found the Unpardonable Sin?"
"Even so!" said the stranger, calmly.
"If the question is a fair one," proceeded Bartram, "where might it be?"
Ethan Brand laid his finger on his own heart.
"Here!" replied he.
And then, without mirth in his countenance, but as if moved by an
involuntary recognition of the infinite absurdity of seeking throughout
the world for what was the closest of all things to himself, and looking
into every heart, save his own, for what was hidden in no other breast,
he broke into a laugh of scorn. It was the same slow, heavy laugh, that
had almost appalled the lime-burner when it heralded the wayfarer's
The solitary mountain-side was made dismal by it. Laughter, when out of
place, mis-timed, or bursting forth from a disordered state of feeling,
may be the most terrible modulation of the human voice. The laughter of
one asleep, even if it be a little child,--the madman's laugh,--the
wild, screaming laugh of a born idiot,--are sounds that we sometimes
tremble to hear, and would always willingly forget. Poets have imagined
no utterance of fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully appropriate as a
laugh. And even the obtuse lime-burner felt his nerves shaken, as this
strange man looked inward at his own heart, and burst into laughter that
rolled away into the night, and was indistinctly reverberated among the
"Joe," said he to his little son, "scamper down to the tavern in the
village, and tell the jolly fellows there that Ethan Brand has come
back, and that he has found the Unpardonable Sin!"
The boy darted away on his errand, to which Ethan Brand made no
objection, nor seemed hardly to notice it. He sat on a log of wood,
looking steadfastly at the iron door of the kiln. When the child was out
of sight, and his swift and light footsteps ceased to be heard treading
first on the fallen leaves and then on the rocky mountain-path, the
lime-burner began to regret his departure. He felt that the little
fellow's presence had been a barrier between his guest and himself, and
that he must now deal, heart to heart, with a man who, on his own
confession, had committed the one only crime for which Heaven could
afford no mercy. That crime, in its indistinct blackness, seemed to
overshadow him. The lime-burner's own sins rose up within him, and made
his memory riotous with a throng of evil shapes that asserted their
kindred with the Master Sin, whatever it might be, which it was within
the scope of man's corrupted nature to conceive and cherish. They were
all of one family; they went to and fro between his breast and Ethan
Brand's, and carried dark greetings from one to the other.
Then Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary in
reference to this strange man, who had come upon him like a shadow of
the night, and was making himself at home in his old place, after so
long absence that the dead people, dead and buried for years, would have
had more right to be at home, in any familiar spot, than he. Ethan
Brand, it was said, had conversed with Satan himself in the lurid blaze
of this very kiln. The legend had been matter of mirth heretofore, but
looked grisly now. According to this tale, before Ethan Brand departed
on his search, he had been accustomed to evoke a fiend from the hot
furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in order to confer with him
about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the fiend each laboring to frame
the image of some mode of guilt which could neither be atoned for nor
forgiven. And, with the first gleam of light upon the mountain-top, the
fiend crept in at the iron door, there to abide the intensest element
of fire, until again summoned forth to share in the dreadful task of
extending man's possible guilt beyond the scope of Heaven's else
While the lime-burner was struggling with the horror of these thoughts,
Ethan Brand rose from the log, and flung open the door of the kiln. The
action was in such accordance with the idea in Bartram's mind, that he
almost expected to see the Evil One issue forth, red-hot from the raging
"Hold! hold!" cried he, with a tremulous attempt to laugh; for he was
ashamed of his fears, although they overmastered him. "Don't, for
mercy's sake, bring out your Devil now!"
"Man!" sternly replied Ethan Brand, "what need have I of the Devil? I
have left him behind me, on my track. It is with such half-way sinners
as you that he busies himself. Fear not, because I open the door. I do
but act by old custom, and am going to trim your fire, like a
lime-burner, as I was once."
He stirred the vast coals, thrust in more wood, and bent forward to gaze
into the hollow prison-house of the fire, regardless of the fierce glow
that reddened upon his face. The lime-burner sat watching him, and half
suspected his strange guest of a purpose, if not to evoke a fiend, at
least to plunge bodily into the flames, and thus vanish from the sight
of man. Ethan Brand, however, drew quietly back, and closed the door of
"I have looked," said he, "into many a human heart that was seven times
hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace is with fire. But I
found not there what I sought. No, not the Unpardonable Sin!"
"What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then he
shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question should be
"It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan Brand,
standing erect, with a pride that distinguishes all enthusiasts of his
stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect that
triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence for God,
and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims! The only sin that
deserves a recompense of immortal agony! Freely, were it to do again,
would I incur the guilt. Unshrinkingly I accept the retribution!"
"The man's head is turned," muttered the lime-burner to himself. "He may
be a sinner, like the rest of us,--nothing more likely,--but, I'll be
sworn, he is a madman too."
Nevertheless, he felt uncomfortable at his situation, alone with Ethan
Brand on the wild mountain-side, and was right glad to hear the rough
murmur of tongues, and the footsteps of what seemed a pretty numerous
party, stumbling over the stones and rustling through the underbrush.
Soon appeared the whole lazy regiment that was wont to infest the
village tavern, comprehending three or four individuals who had drunk
flip beside the bar-room fire through all the winters, and smoked their
pipes beneath the stoop through all the summers, since Ethan Brand's
departure. Laughing boisterously, and mingling all their voices together
in unceremonious talk, they now burst into the moonshine and narrow
streaks of firelight that illuminated the open space before the
lime-kiln. Bartram set the door ajar again, flooding the spot with
light, that the whole company might get a fair view of Ethan Brand, and
he of them.
There, among other old acquaintances, was a once ubiquitous man, now
almost extinct, but whom we were formerly sure to encounter at the hotel
of every thriving village throughout the country. It was the
stage-agent. The present specimen of the genus was a wilted and
smoke-dried man, wrinkled and red-nosed, in a smartly cut, brown,
bobtailed coat, with brass buttons, who, for a length of time unknown,
had kept his desk and corner in the bar-room, and was still puffing what
seemed to be the same cigar that he had lighted twenty years before. He
had great fame as a dry joker, though, perhaps, less on account of any
intrinsic humor than from a certain flavor of brandy-toddy and
tobacco-smoke, which impregnated all his ideas and expressions, as well
as his person. Another well-remembered though strangely altered face was
that of Lawyer Giles, as people still called him in courtesy; an elderly
ragamuffin, in his soiled shirt-sleeves and tow-cloth trousers. This
poor fellow had been an attorney, in what he called his better days, a
sharp practitioner, and in great vogue among the village litigants; but
flip, and sling, and toddy, and cocktails, imbibed at all hours,
morning, noon, and night, had caused him to slide from intellectual to
various kinds and degrees of bodily labor, till, at last, to adopt his
own phrase, he slid into a soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a
soap-boiler, in a small way. He had come to be but the fragment of a
human being, a part of one foot having been chopped off by an axe, and
an entire hand torn away by the devilish grip of a steam-engine. Yet,
though the corporeal hand was gone, a spiritual member remained; for,
stretching forth the stump, Giles steadfastly averred that he felt an
invisible thumb and fingers with as vivid a sensation as before the real
ones were amputated. A maimed and miserable wretch he was; but one,
nevertheless, whom the world could not trample on, and had no right to
scorn, either in this or any previous stage of his misfortunes, since he
had still kept up the courage and spirit of a man, asked nothing in
charity, and with his one hand--and that the left one--fought a stern
battle against want and hostile circumstances.
Among the throng, too, came another personage, who, with certain points
of similarity to Lawyer Giles, had many more of difference. It was the
village doctor; a man of some fifty years, whom, at an earlier period of
his life, we introduced as paying a professional visit to Ethan Brand
during the latter's supposed insanity. He was now a purple-visaged,
rude, and brutal, yet half-gentlemanly figure, with something wild,
ruined, and desperate in his talk, and in all the details of his gesture
and manners. Brandy possessed this man like an evil spirit, and made him
as surly and savage as a wild beast, and as miserable as a lost soul;
but there was supposed to be in him such wonderful skill, such native
gifts of healing, beyond any which medical science could impart, that
society caught hold of him, and would not let him sink out of its reach.
So, swaying to and fro upon his horse, and grumbling thick accents at
the bedside, he visited all the sick-chambers for miles about among the
mountain towns, and sometimes raised a dying man, as it were, by
miracle, or quite as often, no doubt, sent his patient to a grave that
was dug many a year too soon. The doctor had an everlasting pipe in his
mouth, and, as somebody said, in allusion to his habit of swearing, it
was always alight with hell-fire.
These three worthies pressed forward, and greeted Ethan Brand each after
his own fashion, earnestly inviting him to partake of the contents of a
certain black bottle, in which, as they averred, he would find something
far better worth seeking for than the Unpardonable Sin. No mind, which
has wrought itself by intense and solitary meditation into a high state
of enthusiasm, can endure the kind of contact with low and vulgar modes
of thought and feeling to which Ethan Brand was now subjected. It made
him doubt--and, strange to say, it was a painful doubt--whether he had
indeed found the Unpardonable Sin and found it within himself. The whole
question on which he had exhausted life, and more than life, looked like
"Leave me," he said bitterly, "ye brute beasts, that have made
yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery liquors! I have done
with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your hearts, and found
nothing there for my purpose. Get ye gone!"
"Why, you uncivil scoundrel," cried the fierce doctor, "is that the way
you respond to the kindness of your best friends? Then let me tell you
the truth. You have no more found the Unpardonable Sin than yonder boy
Joe has. You are but a crazy fellow,--I told you so twenty years
ago,--neither better nor worse than a crazy fellow, and the fit
companion of old Humphrey, here!"
He pointed to an old man, shabbily dressed, with long white hair, thin
visage, and unsteady eyes. For some years past this aged person had been
wandering about among the hills, inquiring of all travellers whom he met
for his daughter. The girl, it seemed, had gone off with a company of
circus-performers; and occasionally tidings of her came to the village,
and fine stories were told of her glittering appearance as she rode on
horseback in the ring, or performed marvellous feats on the tight-rope.
The white-haired father now approached Ethan Brand, and gazed unsteadily
into his face.
"They tell me you have been all over the earth," said he, wringing his
hands with earnestness. "You must have seen my daughter, for she makes a
grand figure in the world, and everybody goes to see her. Did she send
any word to her old father, or say when she was coming back?"
Ethan Brand's eye quailed beneath the old man's. That daughter, from
whom he so earnestly desired a word of greeting, was the Esther of our
tale, the very girl whom, with such cold and remorseless purpose, Ethan
Brand had made the subject of a psychological experiment, and wasted,
absorbed, and perhaps annihilated her soul, in the process.
"Yes," murmured he, turning away from the hoary wanderer; "it is no
delusion. There is an Unpardonable Sin!"
While these things were passing, a merry scene was going forward in the
area of cheerful light, beside the spring and before the door of the
hut. A number of the youth of the village, young men and girls, had
hurried up the hillside, impelled by curiosity to see Ethan Brand, the
hero of so many a legend familiar to their childhood. Finding nothing,
however, very remarkable in his aspect,--nothing but a sunburnt
wayfarer, in plain garb and dusty shoes, who sat looking into the fire,
as if he fancied pictures among the coals,--these young people speedily
grew tired of observing him. As it happened, there was other amusement
at hand. An old German Jew, travelling with a diorama on his back, was
passing down the mountain-road towards the village just as the party
turned aside from it, and, in hopes of eking out the profits of the day,
the showman had kept them company to the lime-kiln.
"Come, old Dutchman," cried one of the young men, "let us see your
pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!"
"O yes, Captain," answered the Jew,--whether was a matter of courtesy
or craft, he styled everybody Captain,--"I shall show you, indeed, some
very superb pictures!"
So, placing his box in a proper position, he invited the young men and
girls to look through the glass orifices of the machine, and proceeded
to exhibit a series of the most outrageous scratchings and daubings, as
specimens of the fine arts, that ever an itinerant showman had the face
to impose upon his circle of spectators. The pictures were worn out,
moreover, tattered, full of cracks and wrinkles, dingy with
tobacco-smoke, and otherwise in a most pitiable condition. Some
purported to be cities, public edifices, and ruined castles in Europe;
others represented Napoleon's battles and Nelson's sea-fights; and in
the midst of these would be seen a gigantic, brown, hairy hand,--which
might have been mistaken for the Hand of Destiny, though, in truth, it
was only the showman's,--pointing its forefinger to various scenes of
the conflict, while its owner gave historical illustrations. When, with
much merriment at its abominable deficiency of merit, the exhibition was
concluded, the German bade little Joe put his head into the box. Viewed
through the magnifying-glasses, the boy's round, rosy visage assumed the
strangest imaginable aspect of an immense Titanic child, the mouth
grinning broadly, and the eyes and every other feature overflowing with
fun at the joke. Suddenly, however, that merry face turned pale, and
its expression changed to horror, for this easily impressed and
excitable child had become sensible that the eye of Ethan Brand was
fixed upon him through the glass.
"You make the little man to be afraid, Captain," said the German Jew,
turning up the dark and strong outline of his visage, from his stooping
posture. "But look again, and, by chance, I shall cause you to see
somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Ethan Brand gazed into the box for an instant, and then starting back,
looked fixedly at the German. What had he seen? Nothing, apparently; for
a curious youth, who had peeped in almost at the same moment, beheld
only a vacant space of canvas.
"I remember you now," muttered Ethan Brand to the showman.
"Ah, Captain," whispered the Jew of Nuremburg, with a dark smile, "I
find it to be a heavy matter in my show-box,--this Unpardonable Sin! By
my faith, Captain, it has wearied my shoulders, this long day, to carry
it over the mountain."
"Peace," answered Ethan Brand, sternly, "or get thee into the furnace
The Jew's exhibition had scarcely concluded, when a great, elderly
dog--who seemed to be his own master, as no person in the company laid
claim to him--saw fit to render himself the object of public notice.
Hitherto, he had shown himself a very quiet, well-disposed old dog,
going round from one to another, and, by way of being sociable, offering
his rough head to be patted by any kindly hand that would take so much
trouble. But now, all of a sudden, this grave and venerable quadruped,
of his own mere motion, and without the slightest suggestion from
anybody else, began to run round after his tail, which, to heighten the
absurdity of the proceeding, was a great deal shorter than it should
have been. Never was seen such headlong eagerness in pursuit of an
object that could not possibly be attained; never was heard such a
tremendous outbreak of growling, snarling, barking, and snapping,--as if
one end of the ridiculous brute's body were at deadly and most
unforgivable enmity with the other. Faster and faster, round about went
the cur; and faster and still faster fled the unapproachable brevity of
his tail; and louder and fiercer grew his yells of rage and animosity;
until, utterly exhausted, and as far from the goal as ever, the foolish
old dog ceased his performance as suddenly as he had begun it. The next
moment he was as mild, quiet, sensible, and respectable in his
deportment, as when he first scraped acquaintance with the company.
As may be supposed, the exhibition was greeted with universal laughter,
clapping of hands, and shouts of encore, to which the canine performer
responded by wagging all that there was to wag of his tail, but appeared
totally unable to repeat his very successful effort to amuse the
Meanwhile, Ethan Brand had resumed his seat upon the log, and moved, it
might be, by a perception of some remote analogy between his own case
and that of this self-pursuing cur, he broke into the awful laugh,
which, more than any other token, expressed the condition of his inward
being. From that moment, the merriment of the party was at an end; they
stood aghast, dreading lest the inauspicious sound should be
reverberated around the horizon, and that mountain would thunder it to
mountain, and so the horror be prolonged upon their ears. Then,
whispering one to another that it was late,--that the moon was almost
down,--that the August night was growing chill,--they hurried homewards,
leaving the lime-burner and little Joe to deal as they might with their
unwelcome guest. Save for these three human beings, the open space on
the hillside was a solitude, set in a vast gloom of forest. Beyond that
darksome verge, the firelight glimmered on the stately trunks and almost
black foliage of pines, intermixed with the lighter verdure of sapling
oaks, maples, and poplars, while here and there lay the gigantic corpses
of dead trees, decaying on the leaf-strewn soil. And it seemed to
little Joe--a timorous and imaginative child--that the silent forest was
holding its breath, until some fearful thing should happen.
Ethan Brand thrust more wood into the fire, and closed the door of the
kiln; then looking over his shoulder at the lime-burner and his son, he
bade, rather than advised, them to retire to rest.
"For myself, I cannot sleep," said he. "I have matters that it concerns
me to meditate upon. I will watch the fire, as I used to do in the old
"And call the Devil out of the furnace to keep you company, I suppose,"
muttered Bartram, who had been making intimate acquaintance with the
black bottle above mentioned. "But watch, if you like, and call as many
devils as you like! For my part, I shall be all the better for a snooze.
As the boy followed his father into the hut, he looked back at the
wayfarer, and the tears came into his eyes, for his tender spirit had an
intuition of the bleak and terrible loneliness in which this man had
When they had gone, Ethan Brand sat listening to the crackling of the
kindled wood, and looking at the little spirts of fire that issued
through the chinks of the door. These trifles, however, once so
familiar, had but the slightest hold of his attention, while deep
within his mind he was reviewing the gradual but marvellous change that
had been wrought upon him by the search to which he had devoted himself.
He remembered how the night dew had fallen upon him,--how the dark
forest had whispered to him,--how the stars had gleamed upon him,--a
simple and loving man, watching his fire in the years gone by, and ever
musing as it burned. He remembered with what tenderness, with what love
and sympathy for mankind, and what pity for human guilt and woe, he had
first begun to contemplate those ideas which afterwards became the
inspiration of his life; with what reverence he had then looked into the
heart of man, viewing it as a temple originally divine, and, however
desecrated, still to be held sacred by a brother; with what awful fear
he had deprecated the success of his pursuit, and prayed that the
Unpardonable Sin might never be revealed to him. Then ensued that vast
intellectual development, which, in its progress, disturbed the
counterpoise between his mind and heart. The Idea that possessed his
life had operated as a means of education; it had gone on cultivating
his powers to the highest point of which they were susceptible; it had
raised him from the level of an unlettered laborer to stand on a
star-lit eminence, whither the philosophers of the earth, laden with
the lore of universities, might vainly strive to clamber after him. So
much for the intellect! But where was the heart? That, indeed, had
withered,--had contracted,--had hardened,--had perished! It had ceased
to partake of the universal throb. He had lost his hold of the magnetic
chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother-man, opening the chambers
of the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy sympathy, which
gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was now a cold
observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his experiment, and, at
length, converting man and woman to be his puppets, and pulling the
wires that moved them to such degrees of crime as were demanded for his
Thus Ethan Brand became a fiend. He began to be so from the moment that
his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of improvement with his
intellect. And now, as his highest effort and inevitable
development,--as the bright and gorgeous flower, and rich, delicious
fruit of his life's labor,--he had produced the Unpardonable Sin!
"What more have I to seek? what more to achieve?" said Ethan Brand to
himself. "My task is done, and well done!"
Starting from the log with a certain alacrity in his gait and ascending
the hillock of earth that was raised against the stone circumference of
the lime-kiln, he thus reached the top of the structure. It was a space
of perhaps ten feet across, from edge to edge, presenting a view of the
upper surface of the immense mass of broken marble with which the kiln
was heaped. All these innumerable blocks and fragments of marble were
red-hot and vividly on fire, sending up great spouts of blue flame,
which quivered aloft and danced madly, as within a magic circle, and
sank and rose again, with continual and multitudinous activity. As the
lonely man bent forward over this terrible body of fire, the blasting
heat smote up against his person with a breath that, it might be
supposed, would have scorched and shrivelled him up in a moment.
Ethan Brand stood erect, and raised his arms on high. The blue flames
played upon his face, and imparted the wild and ghastly light which
alone could have suited its expression; it was that of a fiend on the
verge of plunging into his gulf of intensest torment.
"O Mother Earth," cried he, "who art no more my Mother, and into whose
bosom this frame shall never be resolved! O mankind, whose brotherhood I
have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath my feet! O stars of
heaven, that shone on me of old, as if to light me onward and
upward!--farewell all, and forever. Come, deadly element of
Fire,--henceforth my familiar frame! Embrace me, as I do thee!"
That night the sound of a fearful peal of laughter rolled heavily
through the sleep of the lime-burner and his little son; dim shapes of
horror and anguish haunted their dreams, and seemed still present in the
rude hovel, when they opened their eyes to the daylight.
"Up, boy, up!" cried the lime-burner, staring about him. "Thank Heaven,
the night is gone, at last; and rather than pass such another, I would
watch my lime-kiln, wide awake, for a twelvemonth. This Ethan Brand,
with his humbug of an Unpardonable Sin, has done me no such mighty
favor, in taking my place!"
He issued from the hut, followed by little Joe, who kept fast hold of
his father's hand. The early sunshine was already pouring its gold upon
the mountain-tops; and though the valleys were still in shadow, they
smiled cheerfully in the promise of the bright day that was hastening
onward. The village, completely shut in by hills, which swelled away
gently about it, looked as if it had rested peacefully in the hollow of
the great hand of Providence. Every dwelling was distinctly visible; the
little spires of the two churches pointed upwards, and caught a
fore-glimmering of brightness from the sun-gilt skies upon their gilded
weathercocks. The tavern was astir, and the figure of the old,
smoke-dried stage-agent, cigar in mouth, was seen beneath the stoop.
Old Graylock was glorified with a golden cloud upon his head. Scattered
likewise over the breasts of the surrounding mountains, there were heaps
of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes, some of them far down into the
valley, others high up towards the summits, and still others, of the
same family of mist or cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the upper
atmosphere. Stepping from one to another of the clouds that rested on
the hills, and thence to the loftier brotherhood that sailed in air, it
seemed almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly
regions. Earth was so mingled with sky that it was a day-dream to look
To supply that charm of the familiar and homely, which Nature so readily
adopts into a scene like this, the stage-coach was rattling down the
mountain-road, and the driver sounded his horn, while echo caught up the
notes, and intertwined them into a rich and varied and elaborate
harmony, of which the original performer could lay claim to little
share. The great hills played a concert among themselves, each
contributing a strain of airy sweetness.
Little Joe's face brightened at once.
"Dear father," cried he, skipping cheerily to and fro, "that strange man
is gone, and the sky and the mountains all seem glad of it!"
"Yes," growled the lime-burner, with an oath, "but he has let the fire
go down, and no thanks to him if five hundred bushels of lime are not
spoiled. If I catch the fellow hereabouts again, I shall feel like
tossing him into the furnace!"
With his long pole in his hand, he ascended to the top of the kiln.
After a moment's pause, he called to his son.
"Come up here, Joe!" said he.
So little Joe ran up the hillock, and stood by his father's side. The
marble was all burnt into perfect, snow-white lime. But on its surface,
in the midst of the circle,--snow-white too, and thoroughly converted
into lime,--lay a human skeleton, in the attitude of a person who, after
long toil, lies down to long repose. Within the ribs--strange to
say--was the shape of a human heart.
"Was the fellow's heart made of marble?" cried Bartram, in some
perplexity at this phenomenon. "At any rate, it is burnt into what looks
like special good lime; and, taking all the bones together, my kiln is
half a bushel the richer for him."
So saying, the rude lime-burner lifted his pole, and, letting it fall
upon the skeleton, the relics of Ethan Brand were crumbled into
In some old magazine or newspaper, I recollect a story, told as truth,
of a man--let us call him Wakefield--who absented himself for a long
time from his wife. The fact thus abstractedly stated is not very
uncommon, nor--without a proper distinction of circumstances--to be
condemned either as naughty or nonsensical. Howbeit, this, though far
from the most aggravated, is perhaps the strangest instance on record of
marital delinquency; and, moreover, as remarkable a freak as may be
found in the whole list of human oddities. The wedded couple lived in
London. The man, under pretence of going a journey, took lodgings in the
next street to his own house, and there, unheard of by his wife or
friends, and without the shadow of a reason for such self-banishment,
dwelt upwards of twenty years. During that period, he beheld his home
every day, and frequently the forlorn Mrs. Wakefield. And after so great
a gap in his matrimonial felicity--when his death was reckoned certain,
his estate settled, his name dismissed from memory, and his wife, long,
long ago resigned to her autumnal widowhood--he entered the door one
evening, quietly, as from a day's absence, and became a loving spouse
This outline is all that I remember. But the incident, though of the
purest originality, unexampled, and probably never to be repeated, is
one, I think, which appeals to the generous sympathies of mankind. We
know, each for himself, that none of us would perpetrate such a folly,
yet feel as if some other might. To my own contemplations, at least, it
has often recurred, always exciting wonder, but with a sense that the
story must be true, and a conception of its hero's character. Whenever
any subject so forcibly affects the mind, time is well spent in thinking
of it. If the reader choose, let him do his own meditation; or if he
prefer to ramble with me through the twenty years of Wakefield's vagary,
I bid him welcome; trusting that there will be a pervading spirit and a
moral, even should we fail to find them, done up neatly, and condensed
into the final sentence. Thought has always its efficacy, and every
striking incident its moral.
What sort of a man was Wakefield? We are free to shape out our own idea,
and call it by his name. He was now in the meridian of life; his
matrimonial affections, never violent, were sobered into a calm,
habitual sentiment; of all husbands, he was likely to be the most
constant, because a certain sluggishness would keep his heart at rest,
wherever it might be placed. He was intellectual, but not actively so;
his mind occupied itself in long and lazy musings, that tended to no
purpose, or had not vigor to attain it; his thoughts were seldom so
energetic as to seize hold of words. Imagination, in the proper meaning
of the term, made no part of Wakefield's gifts. With a cold but not
depraved nor wandering heart, and a mind never feverish with riotous
thoughts, nor perplexed with originality, who could have anticipated
that our friend would entitle himself to a foremost place among the
doers of eccentric deeds? Had his acquaintances been asked, who was the
man in London, the surest to perform nothing to-day which should be
remembered on the morrow, they would have thought of Wakefield. Only the
wife of his bosom might have hesitated. She, without having analyzed his
character, was partly aware of a quiet selfishness, that had rusted into
his inactive mind,--of a peculiar sort of vanity, the most uneasy
attribute about him,--of a disposition to craft, which had seldom
produced more positive effects than the keeping of petty secrets, hardly
worth revealing,--and, lastly, of what she called a little strangeness,
sometimes, in the good man. This latter quality is indefinable, and
Let us now imagine Wakefield bidding adieu to his wife. It is the dusk
of an October evening. His equipment is a drab great-coat, a hat covered
with an oil-cloth, top-boots, an umbrella in one hand and a small
portmanteau in the other. He has informed Mrs. Wakefield that he is to
take the night coach into the country. She would fain inquire the length
of his journey, its object, and the probable time of his return; but,
indulgent to his harmless love of mystery, interrogates him only by a
look. He tells her not to expect him positively by the return coach, nor
to be alarmed should he tarry three or four days; but, at all events, to
look for him at supper on Friday evening. Wakefield himself, be it
considered, has no suspicion of what is before him. He holds out his
hand; she gives her own, and meets his parting kiss, in the
matter-of-course way of a ten years' matrimony; and forth goes the
middle-aged Mr. Wakefield, almost resolved to perplex his good lady by a
whole week's absence. After the door has closed behind him, she
perceives it thrust partly open, and a vision of her husband's face,
through the aperture, smiling on her, and gone in a moment. For the
time, this little incident is dismissed without a thought. But, long
afterwards, when she has been more years a widow than a wife, that smile
recurs, and flickers across all her reminiscences of Wakefield's
visage. In her many musings, she surrounds the original smile with a
multitude of fantasies, which make it strange and awful; as, for
instance, if she imagines him in a coffin, that parting look is frozen
on his pale features; or, if she dreams of him in heaven, still his
blessed spirit wears a quiet and crafty smile. Yet, for its sake, when
all others have given him up for dead, she sometimes doubts whether she
is a widow.
But our business is with the husband. We must hurry after him, along the
street, ere he lose his individuality, and melt into the great mass of
London life. It would be vain searching for him there. Let us follow
close at his heels, therefore, until, after several superfluous turns
and doublings, we find him comfortably established by the fireside of a
small apartment, previously bespoken. He is in the next street to his
own, and at his journey's end. He can scarcely trust his good fortune in
having got thither unperceived,--recollecting that, at one time, he was
delayed by the throng, in the very focus of a lighted lantern; and,
again, there were footsteps, that seemed to tread behind his own,
distinct from the multitudinous tramp around him; and, anon, he heard a
voice shouting afar, and fancied that it called his name. Doubtless, a
dozen busybodies had been watching him, and told his wife the whole
affair. Poor Wakefield! Little knowest thou thine own insignificance in
this great world! No mortal eye but mine has traced thee. Go quietly to
thy bed, foolish man; and, on the morrow, if thou wilt be wise, get thee
home to good Mrs. Wakefield, and tell her the truth. Remove not thyself,
even for a little week, from thy place in her chaste bosom. Were she,
for a single moment to deem thee dead, or lost, or lastingly divided
from her, thou wouldst be wofully conscious of a change in thy true
wife, forever after. It is perilous to make a chasm in human affections;
not that they gape so long and wide, but so quickly close again!
Almost repenting of his frolic, or whatever it may be termed, Wakefield
lies down betimes, and starting from his first nap, spreads forth his
arms into the wide and solitary waste of the unaccustomed bed.
"No,"--thinks he, gathering the bedclothes about him,--"I will not sleep
alone another night."
In the morning, he rises earlier than usual, and sets himself to
consider what he really means to do. Such are his loose and rambling
modes of thought, that he has taken this very singular step, with the
consciousness of a purpose, indeed, but without being able to define it
sufficiently for his own contemplation. The vagueness of the project,
and the convulsive effort with which he plunges into the execution of
it, are equally characteristic of a feeble-minded man. Wakefield sifts
his ideas, however, as minutely as he may, and finds himself curious to
know the progress of matters at home,--how his exemplary wife will
endure her widowhood of a week; and, briefly, how the little sphere of
creatures and circumstances, in which he was a central object, will be
affected by his removal. A morbid vanity, therefore, lies nearest the
bottom of the affair. But, how is he to attain his ends? Not, certainly,
by keeping close in this comfortable lodging, where, though he slept and
awoke in the next street to his home, he is as effectually abroad, as if
the stage-coach had been whirling him away all night. Yet, should he
reappear, the whole project is knocked in the head. His poor brains
being hopelessly puzzled with this dilemma, he at length ventures out,
partly resolving to cross the head of the street, and send one hasty
glance towards his forsaken domicile. Habit--for he is a man of
habits--takes him by the hand, and guides him, wholly unaware, to his
own door, where, just at the critical moment, he is aroused by the
scraping of his foot upon the step. Wakefield! whither are you going?
At that instant, his fate was turning on the pivot. Little dreaming of
the doom to which his first backward step devotes him, he hurries away,
breathless with agitation hitherto unfelt, and hardly dares turn his
head, at the distant corner. Can it be that nobody caught sight of him?
Will not the whole household--the decent Mrs. Wakefield, the smart
maid-servant, and the dirty little footboy--raise a hue and cry, through
London streets, in pursuit of their fugitive lord and master? Wonderful
escape! He gathers courage to pause and look homeward, but is perplexed
with a sense of change about the familiar edifice, such as affects us
all, when after a separation of months or years, we again see some hill
or lake, or work of art, with which we were friends of old. In ordinary
cases, this indescribable impression is caused by the comparison and
contrast between our imperfect reminiscences and the reality. In
Wakefield, the magic of a single night has wrought a similar
transformation, because, in that brief period, a great moral change has
been effected. But this is a secret from himself. Before leaving the
spot, he catches a far and momentary glimpse of his wife, passing
athwart the front window, with her face turned towards the head of the
street. The crafty nincompoop takes to his heels, scared with the idea,
that, among a thousand such atoms of mortality, her eye must have
detected him. Right glad is his heart, though his brain be somewhat
dizzy, when he finds himself by the coal-fire of his lodgings.
So much for the commencement of this long whim-wham. After the initial
conception, and the stirring up of the man's sluggish temperament to
put it in practice, the whole matter evolves itself in a natural train.
We may suppose him, as the result of deep deliberation, buying a new
wig, of reddish hair, and selecting sundry garments, in a fashion unlike
his customary suit of brown, from a Jew's old-clothes bag. It is
accomplished. Wakefield is another man. The new system being now
established, a retrograde movement to the old would be almost as
difficult as the step that placed him in his unparalleled position.
Furthermore, he is rendered obstinate by a sulkiness, occasionally
incident to his temper, and brought on, at present, by the inadequate
sensation which he conceives to have been produced in the bosom of Mrs.
Wakefield. He will not go back until she be frightened half to death.
Well; twice or thrice has she passed before his sight, each time with a
heavier step, a paler cheek, and more anxious brow; and in the third
week of his non-appearance, he detects a portent of evil entering the
house, in the guise of an apothecary. Next day, the knocker is muffled.
Towards nightfall comes the chariot of a physician, and deposits its
big-wigged and solemn burden at Wakefield's door, whence, after a
quarter of an hour's visit, he emerges, perchance the herald of a
funeral. Dear woman! Will she die? By this time, Wakefield is excited to
something like energy of feeling, but still lingers away from his
wife's bedside, pleading with his conscience, that she must not be
disturbed at such a juncture. If aught else restrains him, he does not
know it. In the course of a few weeks, she gradually recovers; the
crisis is over; her heart is sad, perhaps, but quiet; and, let him
return soon or late, it will never be feverish for him again. Such ideas
glimmer through the mist of Wakefield's mind, and render him
indistinctly conscious that an almost impassable gulf divides his hired
apartment from his former home. "It is but in the next street!" he
sometimes says. Fool! it is in another world. Hitherto, he has put off
his return from one particular day to another; henceforward, he leaves
the precise time undetermined. Not to-morrow,--probably next
week,--pretty soon. Poor man! The dead have nearly as much chance of
revisiting their earthly homes, as the self-banished Wakefield.
Would that I had a folio to write, instead of an article of a dozen
pages! Then might I exemplify how an influence, beyond our control, lays
its strong hand on every deed which we do, and weaves its consequences
into an iron tissue of necessity. Wakefield is spellbound. We must leave
him, for ten years or so, to haunt around his house, without once
crossing the threshold, and to be faithful to his wife, with all the
affection of which his heart is capable, while he is slowly fading out
of hers. Long since, it must be remarked, he has lost the perception of
singularity in his conduct.
Now for a scene! Amid the throng of a London street, we distinguish a
man, now waxing elderly, with few characteristics to attract careless
observers, yet bearing, in his whole aspect, the handwriting of no
common fate, for such as have the skill to read it. He is meagre; his
low and narrow forehead is deeply wrinkled; his eyes, small and
lustreless, sometimes wander apprehensively about him, but oftener seem
to look inward. He bends his head, and moves with an indescribable
obliquity of gait, as if unwilling to display his full front to the
world. Watch him, long enough to see what we have described, and you
will allow, that circumstances--which often produce remarkable men from
nature's ordinary handiwork--have produced one such here. Next, leaving
him to sidle along the footwalk, cast your eyes in the opposite
direction, where a portly female, considerably in the wane of life, with
a prayer-book in her hand, is proceeding to yonder church. She has the
placid mien of settled widowhood. Her regrets have either died away, or
have become so essential to her heart, that they would be poorly
exchanged for joy. Just as the lean man and well-conditioned woman are
passing, a slight obstruction occurs, and brings these two figures
directly in contact. Their hands touch; the pressure of the crowd forces
her bosom against his shoulder; they stand, face to face, staring into
each other's eyes. After a ten years' separation, thus Wakefield meets
The throng eddies away, and carries them asunder. The sober widow,
resuming her former pace, proceeds to church, but pauses in the portal,
and throws a perplexed glance along the street. She passes in, however,
opening her prayer-book as she goes. And the man! with so wild a face,
that busy and selfish London stands to gaze after him, he hurries to his
lodgings, bolts the door, and throws himself upon the bed. The latent
feelings of years break out; his feeble mind acquires a brief energy
from their strength; all the miserable strangeness of his life is
revealed to him at a glance: and he cries out, passionately, "Wakefield!
Wakefield! you are mad!"
Perhaps he was so. The singularity of his situation must have so moulded
him to himself, that, considered in regard to his fellow-creatures and
the business of life, he could not be said to possess his right mind. He
had contrived, or rather he had happened, to dissever himself from the
world,--to vanish,--to give up his place and privileges with living men,
without being admitted among the dead. The life of a hermit is nowise
parallel to his. He was in the bustle of the city, as of old; but the
crowd swept by, and saw him not; he was, we may figuratively say, always
beside his wife, and at his hearth, yet must never feel the warmth of
the one, nor the affection of the other. It was Wakefield's
unprecedented fate, to retain his original share of human sympathies,
and to be still involved in human interests, while he had lost his
reciprocal influence on them. It would be a most curious speculation, to
trace out the effect of such circumstances on his heart and intellect,
separately, and in unison. Yet, changed as he was, he would seldom be
conscious of it, but deem himself the same man as ever; glimpses of the
truth, indeed, would come, but only for the moment; and still he would
keep saying, "I shall soon go back!" nor reflect that he had been saying
so for twenty years.
I conceive, also, that these twenty years would appear, in the
retrospect, scarcely longer than the week to which Wakefield had at
first limited his absence. He would look on the affair as no more than
an interlude in the main business of his life. When, after a little
while more, he should deem it time to re-enter his parlor, his wife
would clap her hands for joy, on beholding the middle-aged Mr.
Wakefield. Alas, what a mistake! Would Time but await the close of our
favorite follies, we should be young men, all of us, and till Doomsday.
One evening, in the twentieth year since he vanished, Wakefield is
taking his customary walk towards the dwelling which he still calls his
own. It is a gusty night of autumn, with frequent showers, that patter
down upon the pavement, and are gone, before a man can put up his
umbrella. Pausing near the house, Wakefield discerns, through the parlor
windows of the second floor, the red glow, and the glimmer and fitful
flash of a comfortable fire. On the ceiling appears a grotesque shadow
of good Mrs. Wakefield. The cap, the nose and chin, and the broad waist
form an admirable caricature, which dances, moreover, with the
up-flickering and down-sinking blaze, almost too merrily for the shade
of an elderly widow. At this instant, a shower chances to fall, and is
driven, by the unmannerly gust, full into Wakefield's face and bosom. He
is quite penetrated with its autumnal chill. Shall he stand, wet and
shivering here, when his own hearth has a good fire to warm him, and his
own wife will run to fetch the gray coat and small-clothes, which
doubtless she has kept carefully in the closet of their bedchamber? No!
Wakefield is no such fool. He ascends the steps,--heavily!--for twenty
years have stiffened his legs, since he came down,--but he knows it not.
Stay, Wakefield! Would you go to the sole home that is left you? Then
step into your grave! The door opens. As he passes in, we have a
parting glimpse of his visage, and recognize the crafty smile, which was
the precursor of the little joke that he has ever since been playing off
at his wife's expense. How unmercifully has he quizzed the poor woman!
Well, a good night's rest to Wakefield!
This happy event--supposing it to be such--could only have occurred at
an unpremeditated moment. We will not follow our friend across the
threshold. He has left us much food for thought, a portion of which
shall lend its wisdom to a moral, and be shaped into a figure. Amid the
seeming confusion of our mysterious world, individuals are so nicely
adjusted to a system, and systems to one another, and to a whole, that,
by stepping aside for a moment, a man exposes himself to a fearful risk
of losing his place forever. Like Wakefield, he may become, as it were,
the Outcast of the Universe.
Drowne's Wooden Image
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of Boston, a
young carver in wood, well known by the name of Drowne, stood
contemplating a large oaken log, which it was his purpose to convert
into the figure-head of a vessel. And while he discussed within his own
mind what sort of shape or similitude it were well to bestow upon this
excellent piece of timber, there came into Drowne's workshop a certain
Captain Hunnewell, owner and commander of the good brig called the
Cynosure, which had just returned from her first voyage to Fayal.
"Ah! that will do, Drowne, that will do!" cried the jolly captain,
tapping the log with his ratan. "I bespeak this very piece of oak for
the figure-head of the Cynosure. She has shown herself the sweetest
craft that ever floated, and I mean to decorate her prow with the
handsomest image that the skill of man can cut out of timber. And,
Drowne, you are the fellow to execute it."
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said the
carver, modestly, yet as one conscious of eminence in his art. "But,
for the sake of the good brig, I stand ready to do my best. And which of
these designs do you prefer? Here,"--pointing to a staring, half-length
figure, in a white wig and scarlet coat,--"here is an excellent model,
the likeness of our gracious king. Here is the valiant Admiral Vernon.
Or, if you prefer a female figure, what say you to Britannia with the
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner. "But as
nothing like the brig ever swam the ocean, so I am determined she shall
have such a figure-head as old Neptune never saw in his life. And what
is more, as there is a secret in the matter, you must pledge your credit
not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible mystery
there could be in reference to an affair so open, of necessity, to the
inspection of all the world as the figure-head of a vessel. "You may
depend, Captain, on my being as secret as the nature of the case will
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and communicated his
wishes in so low a tone that it would be unmannerly to repeat what was
evidently intended for the carver's private ear. We shall, therefore,
take the opportunity to give the reader a few desirable particulars
about Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted--in a very
humble line, it is true--that art in which we can now reckon so many
names already distinguished, or rising to distinction. From his earliest
boyhood he had exhibited a knack,--for it would be too proud a word to
call it genius,--a knack, therefore, for the imitation of the human
figure in whatever material came most readily to hand. The snows of a
New England winter had often supplied him with a species of marble as
dazzlingly white, at least, as the Parian or the Carrara, and if less
durable, yet sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to permanent
existence possessed by the boy's frozen statues. Yet they won admiration
from maturer judges than his schoolfellows, and were, indeed, remarkably
clever, though destitute of the native warmth that might have made the
snow melt beneath his hand. As he advanced in life, the young man
adopted pine and oak as eligible materials for the display of his skill,
which now began to bring him a return of solid silver as well as the
empty praise that had been an apt reward enough for his productions of
evanescent snow. He became noted for carving ornamental pump-heads, and
wooden urns for gate-posts, and decorations, more grotesque than
fanciful, for mantel-pieces. No apothecary would have deemed himself in
the way of obtaining custom, without setting up a gilded mortar, if not
a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the skilful hand of Drowne.
But the great scope of his business lay in the manufacture of
figure-heads for vessels. Whether it were the monarch himself, or some
famous British admiral or general, or the governor of the province, or
perchance the favorite daughter of the ship-owner, there the image stood
above the prow, decked out in gorgeous colors, magnificently gilded, and
staring the whole world out of countenance, as if from an innate
consciousness of its own superiority. These specimens of native
sculpture had crossed the sea in all directions, and been not ignobly
noticed among the crowded shipping of the Thames, and wherever else the
hardy mariners of New England had pushed their adventures. It must be
confessed that a family likeness pervaded these respectable progeny of
Drowne's skill; that the benign countenance of the king resembled those
of his subjects, and that Miss Peggy Hobart, the merchant's daughter,
bore a remarkable similitude to Britannia, Victory, and other ladies of
the allegoric sisterhood; and, finally, that they all had a kind of
wooden aspect, which proved an intimate relationship with the unshaped
blocks of timber in the carver's workshop. But at least there was no
inconsiderable skill of hand, nor a deficiency of any attribute to
render them really works of art, except that deep quality, be it of
soul or intellect, which bestows life upon the lifeless and warmth upon
the cold, and which, had it been present, would have made Drowne's
wooden image instinct with spirit.
The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
"And, Drowne," said he, impressively, "you must lay aside all other
business and set about this forthwith. And as to the price, only do the
job in first-rate style, and you shall settle that point yourself."
"Very well, Captain," answered the carver, who looked grave and somewhat
perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage; "depend upon it,
I'll do my utmost to satisfy you."
From that moment the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town Dock who
were wont to show their love for the arts by frequent visits to Drowne's
workshop, and admiration of his wooden images, began to be sensible of a
mystery in the carver's conduct. Often he was absent in the daytime.
Sometimes, as might be judged by gleams of light from the shop-windows,
he was at work until a late hour of the evening; although neither knock
nor voice, on such occasions, could gain admittance for a visitor, or
elicit any word of response. Nothing remarkable, however, was observed
in the shop at those hours when it was thrown open. A fine piece of
timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to have reserved for some work of
especial dignity, was seen to be gradually assuming shape. What shape it
was destined ultimately to take was a problem to his friends and a point
on which the carver himself preserved a rigid silence. But day after
day, though Drowne was seldom noticed in the act of working upon it,
this rude form began to be developed until it became evident to all
observers that a female figure was growing into mimic life. At each new
visit they beheld a larger pile of wooden chips and a nearer
approximation to something beautiful. It seemed as if the hamadryad of
the oak had sheltered herself from the unimaginative world within the
heart of her native tree, and that it was only necessary to remove the
strange shapelessness that had incrusted her, and reveal the grace and
loveliness of a divinity. Imperfect as the design, the attitude, the
costume, and especially the face of the image still remained, there was
already an effect that drew the eye from the wooden cleverness of
Drowne's earlier productions and fixed it upon the tantalizing mystery
of this new project.
Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man and a resident of
Boston, came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so much of
moderate ability in the carver as to induce him, in the dearth of
professional sympathy, to cultivate his acquaintance. On entering the
shop the artist glanced at the inflexible image of the king, commander,
dame, and allegory that stood around, on the best of which might have
been bestowed the questionable praise that it looked as if a living man
had here been changed to wood, and that not only the physical, but the
intellectual and spiritual part, partook of the stolid transformation.
But in not a single instance did it seem as if the wood were imbibing
the ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction is here! and
how far would the slightest portion of the latter merit have outvalued
the utmost degree of the former!
"My friend Drowne," said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding to the
mechanical and wooden cleverness that so invariably distinguished the
images, "you are really a remarkable person! I have seldom met with a
man in your line of business that could do so much; for one other touch
might make this figure of General Wolfe, for instance, a breathing and
intelligent human creature."
"You would have me think that you are praising me highly, Mr. Copley,"
answered Drowne, turning his back upon Wolfe's image in apparent
disgust. "But there has come a light into my mind. I know, what you know
as well, that the one touch which you speak of as deficient is the only
one that would be truly valuable, and that without it these works of
mine are no better than worthless abortions. There is the same
difference between them and the works of an inspired artist as between a
sign-post daub and one of your best pictures."
"This is strange," cried Copley, looking him in the face, which now, as
the painter fancied, had a singular depth of intelligence, though
hitherto it had not given him greatly the advantage over his own family
of wooden images. "What has come over you? How is it that, possessing
the idea which you have now uttered, you should produce only such works
The carver smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to the images,
conceiving that the sense of deficiency which Drowne had just expressed,
and which is so rare in a merely mechanical character, must surely imply
a genius, the tokens of which had heretofore been overlooked. But no;
there was not a trace of it. He was about to withdraw when his eyes
chanced to fall upon a half-developed figure which lay in a corner of
the workshop, surrounded by scattered chips of oak. It arrested him at
"What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after contemplating it
in speechless astonishment for an instant. "Here is the divine, the
life-giving touch. What inspired hand is beckoning this wood to arise
and live? Whose work is this?"
"No man's work," replied Drowne. "The figure lies within that block of
oak, and it is my business to find it."
"Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by the
hand, "you are a man of genius!"
As Copley departed, happening to glance backward from the threshold, he
beheld Drowne bending over the half-created shape, and stretching forth
his arms as if he would have embraced and drawn it to his heart; while,
had such a miracle been possible, his countenance expressed passion
enough to communicate warmth and sensibility to the lifeless oak.
"Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have looked for
a modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee mechanic!"
As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so that, as
in the cloud-shapes around the western sun, the observer rather felt, or
was led to imagine, than really saw what was intended by it. Day by day,
however, the work assumed greater precision, and settled its irregular
and misty outline into distincter grace and beauty. The general design
was now obvious to the common eye. It was a female figure, in what
appeared to be a foreign dress; the gown being laced over the bosom,
and opening in front so as to disclose a skirt or petticoat, the folds
and inequalities of which were admirably represented in the oaken
substance. She wore a hat of singular gracefulness, and abundantly laden
with flowers, such as never grew in the rude soil of New England, but
which, with all their fanciful luxuriance, had a natural truth that it
seemed impossible for the most fertile imagination to have attained
without copying from real prototypes. There were several little
appendages to this dress, such as a fan, a pair of earrings, a chain
about the neck, a watch in the bosom, and a ring upon the finger, all of
which would have been deemed beneath the dignity of sculpture. They were
put on, however, with as much taste as a lovely woman might have shown
in her attire, and could therefore have shocked none but a judgment
spoiled by artistic rules.
The face was still imperfect; but gradually, by a magic touch,
intelligence and sensibility brightened through the features, with all
the effect of light gleaming forth from within the solid oak. The face
became alive. It was a beautiful, though not precisely regular, and
somewhat haughty aspect, but with a certain piquancy about the eyes and
mouth, which, of all expressions, would have seemed the most impossible
to throw over a wooden countenance. And now, so far as carving went,
this wonderful production was complete.
"Drowne," said Copley, who had hardly missed a single day in his visits
to the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble it would make you
famous at once; nay, I would almost affirm that it would make an era in
the art. It is as ideal as an antique statue, and yet as real as any
lovely woman whom one meets at a fireside or in the street. But I trust
you do not mean to desecrate this exquisite creature with paint, like
those staring kings and admirals yonder?"
"Not paint her!" exclaimed Captain Hunnewell, who stood by; "not paint
the figure-head of the Cynosure! And what sort of a figure should I cut
in a foreign port with such an unpainted oaken stick as this over my
prow! She must, and she shall, be painted to the life, from the topmost
flower in her hat down to the silver spangles on her slippers."
"Mr. Copley," said Drowne, quietly, "I know nothing of marble statuary,
and nothing of the sculptor's rules of art; but of this wooden image,
this work of my hands, this creature of my heart,"--and here his voice
faltered and choked in a very singular manner,--"of this--of her--I may
say that I know something. A wellspring of inward wisdom gushed within
me as I wrought upon the oak with my whole strength, and soul, and
faith. Let others do what they may with marble, and adopt what rules
they choose. If I can produce my desired effect by painted wood, those
rules are not for me, and I have a right to disregard them."
"The very spirit of genius," muttered Copley to himself. "How otherwise
should this carver feel himself entitled to transcend all rules, and
make me ashamed of quoting them?"
He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of human
love which, in a spiritual sense, as the artist could not help
imagining, was the secret of the life that had been breathed into this
block of wood.
The carver, still in the same secrecy that marked all his operations
upon this mysterious image, proceeded to paint the habiliments in their
proper colors, and the countenance with nature's red and white. When all
was finished he threw open his workshop, and admitted the towns-people
to behold what he had done. Most persons, at their first entrance, felt
impelled to remove their hats, and pay such reverence as was due to the
richly dressed and beautiful young lady who seemed to stand in a corner
of the room, with oaken chips and shavings scattered at her feet. Then
came a sensation of fear; as if, not being actually human, yet so like
humanity, she must therefore be something preternatural. There was, in
truth, an indefinable air and expression that might reasonably induce
the query, Who and from what sphere this daughter of the oak should be?
The strange, rich flowers of Eden on her head; the complexion, so much
deeper and more brilliant than those of our native beauties; the
foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yet not too fantastic to be
worn decorously in the street; the delicately wrought embroidery of the
skirt; the broad gold chain about her neck; the curious ring upon her
finger; the fan, so exquisitely sculptured in open-work, and painted to
resemble pearl and ebony;--where could Drowne, in his sober walk of
life, have beheld the vision here so matchlessly embodied! And then her
face! In the dark eyes and around the voluptuous mouth there played a
look made up of pride, coquetry, and a gleam of mirthfulness, which
impressed Copley with the idea that the image was secretly enjoying the
perplexing admiration of himself and other beholders.
"And will you," said he to the carver, "permit this masterpiece to
become the figure-head of a vessel? Give the honest captain yonder
figure of Britannia,--it will answer his purpose far better,--and send
this fairy queen to England, where, for aught I know, it may bring you a
"I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
"What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and throw
away the chance of making his fortune! He has gone mad; and thence has
come this gleam of genius."
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were due to
the rumor that he had been seen kneeling at the feet of the oaken lady,
and gazing with a lover's passionate ardor into the face that his own
hands had created. The bigots of the day hinted that it would be no
matter of surprise if an evil spirit were allowed to enter this
beautiful form and seduce the carver to destruction.
The fame of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants visited it so
universally that after a few days of exhibition there was hardly an old
man or a child who had not become minutely familiar with its aspect.
Even had the story of Drowne's wooden image ended here, its celebrity
might have been prolonged for many years by the reminiscences of those
who looked upon it in their childhood, and saw nothing else so beautiful
in after life. But the town was now astounded by an event the narrative
of which has formed itself into one of the most singular legends that
are yet to be met with in the traditionary chimney-corners of the New
England metropolis, where old men and women sit dreaming of the past,
and wag their heads at the dreamers of the present and the future.
One fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on her
second voyage to Fayal, the commander of that gallant vessel was seen to
issue from his residence in Hanover Street. He was stylishly dressed in
a blue broadcloth coat, with gold-lace at the seams and button-holes, an
embroidered scarlet waistcoat, a triangular hat, with a loop and broad
binding of gold, and wore a silver-hilted hanger at his side. But the
good captain might have been arrayed in the robes of a prince or the
rags of a beggar, without in either case attracting notice, while
obscured by such a companion as now leaned on his arm. The people in the
street started, rubbed their eyes, and either leaped aside from their
path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble in astonishment.
"Do you see it?--do you see it?" cried one, with tremulous eagerness.
"It is the very same!"
"The same?" answered another, who had arrived in town only the night
before. "Who do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his shore-going
clothes, and a young lady in a foreign habit, with a bunch of beautiful
flowers in her hat. On my word, she is as fair and bright a damsel as my
eyes have looked on this many a day!"
"Yes; the same!--the very same!" repeated the other. "Drowne's wooden
image has come to life!"
Here was a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, or darkened
by the alternate shade of the houses, and with its garments fluttering
lightly in the morning breeze, there passed the image along the street.
It was exactly and minutely the shape, the garb, and the face which the
towns-people had so recently thronged to see and admire. Not a rich
flower upon her head, not a single leaf, but had its prototype in
Drowne's wooden workmanship, although now their fragile grace had become
flexible, and was shaken by every footstep that the wearer made. The
broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with the one represented on
the image, and glistened with the motion imparted by the rise and fall
of the bosom which it decorated. A real diamond sparkled on her finger.
In her right hand she bore a pearl and ebony fan, which she flourished
with a fantastic and bewitching coquetry, that was likewise expressed in
all her movements as well as in the style of her beauty and the attire
that so well harmonized with it. The face, with its brilliant depth of
complexion, had the same piquancy of mirthful mischief that was fixed
upon the countenance of the image, but which was here varied and
continually shifting, yet always essentially the same, like the sunny
gleam upon a bubbling fountain. On the whole, there was something so
airy and yet so real in the figure, and withal so perfectly did it
represent Drowne's image, that people knew not whether to suppose the
magic wood etherealized into a spirit or warmed and softened into an
"One thing is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp, "Drowne has
sold himself to the Devil; and doubtless this gay Captain Hunnewell is a
party to the bargain."
"And I," said a young man who overheard him, "would almost consent to be
the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those lovely lips."
"And so would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege of taking
The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still escorted by
the bold captain, proceeded from Hanover Street through some of the
cross lanes that make this portion of the town so intricate, to Ann
Street, thence into Dock Square, and so downward to Drowne's shop, which
stood just on the water's edge. The crowd still followed, gathering
volume as it rolled along. Never had a modern miracle occurred in such
broad daylight, nor in the presence of such a multitude of witnesses.
The airy image, as if conscious that she was the object of the murmurs
and disturbance that swelled behind her, appeared slightly vexed and
flustered, yet still in a manner consistent with the light vivacity and
sportive mischief that were written in her countenance. She was observed
to flutter her fan with such vehement rapidity that the elaborate
delicacy of its workmanship gave way, and it remained broken in her
Arriving at Drowne's door, while the captain threw it open, the
marvellous apparition paused an instant on the threshold, assuming the
very attitude of the image, and casting over the crowd that glance of
sunny coquetry which all remembered on the face of the oaken lady. She
and her cavalier then disappeared.
"Ah!" murmured the crowd, drawing a deep breath, as with one vast pair
"The world looks darker now that she has vanished," said some of the
But the aged, whose recollections dated as far back as witch times,
shook their heads, and hinted that our forefathers would have thought it
a pious deed to burn the daughter of the oak with fire.
"If she be other than a bubble of the elements," exclaimed Copley, "I
must look upon her face again."
He accordingly entered the shop; and there, in her usual corner, stood
the image, gazing at him, as it might seem, with the very same
expression of mirthful mischief that had been the farewell look of the
apparition when, but a moment before, she turned her face towards the
crowd. The carver stood beside his creation, mending the beautiful fan,
which by some accident was broken in her hand. But there was no longer
any motion in the life-like image, nor any real woman in the workshop,
nor even the witchcraft of a sunny shadow, that might have deluded
people's eyes as it flitted along the street. Captain Hunnewell, too,
had vanished. His hoarse, sea-breezy tones, however, were audible on the
other side of a door that opened upon the water.
"Sit down in the stern sheets, my lady," said the gallant captain.
"Come, bear a hand, you lubbers, and set us on board in the turning of a
And then was heard the stroke of oars.
"Drowne," said Copley, with a smile of intelligence, "you have been a
truly fortunate man. What painter or statuary ever had such a subject!
No wonder that she inspired a genius into you, and first created the
artist who afterwards created her image."
Drowne looked at him with a visage that bore the traces of tears, but
from which the light of imagination and sensibility, so recently
illuminating it, had departed. He was again the mechanical carver that
he had been known to be all his lifetime.
"I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Copley," said he, putting his
hand to his brow. "This image! Can it have been my work? Well, I have
wrought it in a kind of dream; and now that I am broad awake I must set
about finishing yonder figure of Admiral Vernon."
And forthwith he employed himself on the stolid countenance of one of
his wooden progeny, and completed it in his own mechanical style, from
which he was never known afterwards to deviate. He followed his business
industriously for many years, acquired a competence, and in the latter
part of his life attained to a dignified station in the church, being
remembered in records and traditions as Deacon Drowne, the carver. One
of his productions, an Indian chief, gilded all over, stood during the
better part of a century on the cupola of the Province House, bedazzling
the eyes of those who looked upward, like an angel of the sun. Another
work of the good deacon's hand--a reduced likeness of his friend Captain
Hunnewell, holding a telescope and quadrant--may be seen to this day, at
the corner of Broad and State Streets, serving in the useful capacity of
sign to the shop of a nautical-instrument maker. We know not how to
account for the inferiority of this quaint old figure as compared with
the recorded excellence of the Oaken Lady, unless on the supposition
that in every human spirit there is imagination, sensibility, creative
power, genius, which, according to circumstances, may either be
developed in this world, or shrouded in a mask of dulness until another
state of being. To our friend Drowne there came a brief season of
excitement, kindled by love. It rendered him a genius for that one
occasion, but quenched in disappointment, left him again the mechanical
carver in wood, without the power even of appreciating the work that his
own hands had wrought. Yet, who can doubt that the very highest state to
which a human spirit can attain, in its loftiest aspirations, is its
truest and most natural state, and that Drowne was more consistent with
himself when he wrought the admirable figure of the mysterious lady,
than when he perpetrated a whole progeny of blockheads?
There was a rumor in Boston, about this period, that a young Portuguese
lady of rank, on some occasion of political or domestic disquietude, had
fled from her home in Fayal and put herself under the protection of
Captain Hunnewell, on board of whose vessel, and at whose residence, she
was sheltered until a change of affairs. This fair stranger must have
been the original of Drowne's Wooden Image.
The Ambitious Guest
One September night, a family had gathered round their hearth, and piled
it high with the drift-wood of mountain streams, the dry cones of the
pine, and the splintered ruins of great trees, that had come crashing
down the precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the
room with its broad blaze. The faces of the father and mother had a
sober gladness; the children laughed; the eldest daughter was the image
of Happiness at seventeen; and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in
the warmest place, was the image of Happiness grown old. They had found
the "herb, heart's-ease," in the bleakest spot of all New England. This
family were situated in the Notch of the White Hills, where the wind was
sharp throughout the year, and pitilessly cold in the winter,--giving
their cottage all its fresh inclemency, before it descended on the
valley of the Saco. They dwelt in a cold spot and a dangerous one; for a
mountain towered above their heads, so steep, that the stones would
often rumble down its sides, and startle them at midnight.
The daughter had just uttered some simple jest, that filled them all
with mirth, when the wind came through the Notch and seemed to pause
before their cottage,--rattling the door, with a sound of wailing and
lamentation, before it passed into the valley. For a moment, it saddened
them, though there was nothing unusual in the tones. But the family were
glad again, when they perceived that the latch was lifted by some
traveller, whose footsteps had been unheard amid the dreary blast, which
heralded his approach, and wailed as he was entering, and went moaning
away from the door.
Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse
with the world. The romantic pass of the Notch is a great artery,
through which the life-blood of internal commerce is continually
throbbing, between Maine on one side and the Green Mountains and the
shores of the St. Lawrence on the other. The stage-coach always drew up
before the door of the cottage. The wayfarer, with no companion but his
staff, paused here to exchange a word, that the sense of loneliness
might not utterly overcome him, ere he could pass through the cleft of
the mountain, or reach the first house in the valley. And there the
teamster, on his way to Portland market, would put up for the night;
and, if a bachelor, might sit an hour beyond the usual bedtime, and
steal a kiss from the mountain-maid, at parting. It was one of those
primitive taverns, where the traveller pays only for food and lodging,
but meets with a homely kindness, beyond all price. When the footsteps
were heard, therefore, between the outer door and the inner one, the
whole family rose up, grandmother, children, and all, as if about to
welcome some one who belonged to them, and whose fate was linked with
The door was opened by a young man. His face at first wore the
melancholy expression, almost despondency, of one who travels a wild and
bleak road, at nightfall and alone, but soon brightened up, when he saw
the kindly warmth of his reception. He felt his heart spring forward to
meet them all, from the old woman, who wiped a chair with her apron, to
the little child that held out its arms to him. One glance and smile
placed the stranger on a footing of innocent familiarity with the eldest
"Ah, this fire is the right thing!" cried he; "especially when there is
such a pleasant circle round it. I am quite benumbed; for the Notch is
just like the pipe of a great pair of bellows; it has blown a terrible
blast in my face, all the way from Bartlett."
"Then you are going towards Vermont?" said the master of the house, as
he helped to take a light knapsack off the young man's shoulders.
"Yes; to Burlington, and far enough beyond," replied he. "I meant to
have been at Ethan Crawford's to-night; but a pedestrian lingers along
such a road as this. It is no matter; for, when I saw this good fire,
and all your cheerful faces, I felt as if you had kindled it on purpose
for me, and were waiting my arrival. So I shall sit down among you, and
make myself at home."
The frank-hearted stranger had just drawn his chair to the fire, when
something like a heavy footstep was heard without, rushing down the
steep side of the mountain, as with long and rapid strides, and taking
such a leap, in passing the cottage, as to strike the opposite
precipice. The family held their breath, because they knew the sound,
and their guest held his, by instinct.
"The old mountain has thrown a stone at us, for fear we should forget
him," said the landlord, recovering himself. "He sometimes nods his
head, and threatens to come down; but we are old neighbors, and agree
together pretty well, upon the whole. Besides, we have a sure place of
refuge, hard by, if he should be coming in good earnest."
Let us now suppose the stranger to have finished his supper of bear's
meat; and, by his natural felicity of manner, to have placed himself on
a footing of kindness with the whole family, so that they talked as
freely together, as if he belonged to their mountain brood. He was of a
proud, yet gentle spirit,--haughty and reserved among the rich and
great; but ever ready to stoop his head to the lowly cottage door, and
be like a brother or a son at the poor man's fireside. In the household
of the Notch, he found warmth and simplicity of feeling, the pervading
intelligence of New England, and a poetry of native growth, which they
had gathered, when they little thought of it, from the mountain peaks
and chasms, and at the very threshold of their romantic and dangerous
abode. He had travelled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had been
a solitary path; for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he had kept
himself apart from those who might otherwise have been his companions.
The family, too, though so kind and hospitable, had that consciousness
of unity among themselves, and separation from the world at large,
which, in every domestic circle, should still keep a holy place, where
no stranger may intrude. But, this evening, a prophetic sympathy
impelled the refined and educated youth to pour out his heart before the
simple mountaineers, and constrained them to answer him with the same
free confidence. And thus it should have been. Is not the kindred of a
common fate a closer tie than that of birth?
The secret of the young man's character was, a high and abstracted
ambition. He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not
to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to
hope; and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty, that,
obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his
pathway,--though not, perhaps, while he was treading it. But, when
posterity should gaze back into the gloom of what was now the present,
they would trace the brightness of his footsteps, brightening as meaner
glories faded, and confess, that a gifted one had passed from his cradle
to his tomb, with none to recognize him.
"As yet," cried the stranger, his cheek glowing and his eye flashing
with enthusiasm,--"as yet, I have done nothing. Were I to vanish from
the earth to-morrow, none would know so much of me as you; that a
nameless youth came up, at nightfall, from the valley of the Saco, and
opened his heart to you in the evening, and passed through the Notch, by
sunrise, and was seen no more. Not a soul would ask, 'Who was he?
Whither did the wanderer go?' But, I cannot die till I have achieved my
destiny. Then, let Death come! I shall have built my monument!"
There was a continual flow of natural emotion, gushing forth amid
abstracted revery, which enabled the family to understand this young
man's sentiments, though so foreign from their own. With quick
sensibility of the ludicrous, he blushed at the ardor into which he had
"You laugh at me," said he, taking the eldest daughter's hand, and
laughing himself. "You think my ambition as nonsensical as if I were to
freeze myself to death on the top of Mount Washington, only that people
might spy at me from the country round about. And truly, that would be a
noble pedestal for a man's statue!"
"It is better to sit here by this fire," answered the girl, blushing,
"and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us."
"I suppose," said her father, after a fit of musing, "there is something
natural in what the young man says; and if my mind had been turned that
way, I might have felt just the same. It is strange, wife, how his talk
has set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come
"Perhaps they may," observed the wife. "Is the man thinking what he will
do when he is a widower?"
"No, no!" cried he, repelling the idea with reproachful kindness. "When
I think of your death, Esther, I think of mine, too. But I was wishing
we had a good farm, in Bartlett, or Bethlehem, or Littleton, or some
other township round the White Mountains; but not where they could
tumble on our heads. I should want to stand well with my neighbors, and
be called Squire, and sent to General Court for a term or two; for a
plain, honest man may do as much good there as a lawyer. And when I
should be grown quite an old man, and you an old woman, so as not to be
long apart, I might die happy enough in my bed, and leave you all crying
around me. A slate gravestone would suit me as well as a marble
one,--with just my name and age, and a verse of a hymn, and something to
let people know that I lived an honest man and died a Christian."
"There now!" exclaimed the stranger; "it is our nature to desire a
monument, be it slate, or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious
memory in the universal heart of man."
"We're in a strange way, to-night," said the wife, with tears in her
eyes. "They say it's a sign of something, when folks' minds go a
wandering so. Hark to the children!"
They listened accordingly. The younger children had been put to bed in
another room, but with an open door between, so that they could be heard
talking busily among themselves. One and all seemed to have caught the
infection from the fireside circle, and were outvying each other in wild
wishes and childish projects of what they would do when they came to be
men and women. At length, a little boy, instead of addressing his
brothers and sisters, called out to his mother.
"I'll tell you what I wish, mother," cried he. "I want you and father
and grandma'm, and all of us, and the stranger too, to start right away,
and go and take a drink out of the basin of the Flume!"
Nobody could help laughing at the child's notion of leaving a warm bed,
and dragging them from a cheerful fire, to visit the basin of the
Flume,--a brook which tumbles over the precipice, deep within the Notch.
The boy had hardly spoken, when a wagon rattled along the road, and
stopped a moment before the door. It appeared to contain two or three
men, who were cheering their hearts with the rough chorus of a song,
which resounded, in broken notes, between the cliffs, while the singers
hesitated whether to continue their journey, or put up here for the
"Father," said the girl, "they are calling you by name."
But the good man doubted whether they had really called him, and was
unwilling to show himself too solicitous of gain, by inviting people to
patronize his house. He therefore did not hurry to the door; and the
lash being soon applied, the travellers plunged into the Notch, still
singing and laughing, though their music and mirth came back drearily
from the heart of the mountain.
"There, mother!" cried the boy, again. "They'd have given us a ride to
Again they laughed at the child's pertinacious fancy for a night ramble.
But it happened, that a light cloud passed over the daughter's spirit;
she looked gravely into the fire, and drew a breath that was almost a
sigh. It forced its way, in spite of a little struggle to repress it.
Then starting and blushing, she looked quickly round the circle, as if
they had caught a glimpse into her bosom. The stranger asked what she
had been thinking of.
"Nothing," answered she, with a downcast smile. "Only I felt lonesome
"O, I have always had a gift of feeling what is in other people's
hearts!" said he, half seriously. "Shall I tell the secrets of yours?
For I know what to think, when a young girl shivers by a warm hearth,
and complains of lonesomeness at her mother's side. Shall I put these
feelings into words?"
"They would not be a girl's feelings any longer, if they could be put
into words," replied the mountain nymph, laughing, but avoiding his eye.
All this was said apart. Perhaps a germ of love was springing in their
hearts, so pure that it might blossom in Paradise, since it could not be
matured on earth; for women worship such gentle dignity as his; and the
proud, contemplative, yet kindly soul is oftenest captivated by
simplicity like hers. But, while they spoke softly, and he was watching
the happy sadness, the lightsome shadows, the shy yearnings of a
maiden's nature, the wind, through the Notch, took a deeper and drearier
sound. It seemed, as the fanciful stranger said, like the choral strain
of the spirits of the blast, who, in old Indian times, had their
dwelling among these mountains, and made their heights and recesses a
sacred region. There was a wail, along the road, as if a funeral were
passing. To chase away the gloom, the family threw pine branches on
their fire, till the dry leaves crackled and the flame arose,
discovering once again a scene of peace and humble happiness. The light
hovered about them fondly, and caressed them all. There were the little
faces of the children, peeping from their bed apart, and here the
father's frame of strength, the mother's subdued and careful mien, the
high-browed youth, the budding girl, and the good old grandam, still
knitting in the warmest place. The aged woman looked up from her task,
and, with fingers ever busy, was the next to speak.
"Old folks have their notions," said she, "as well as young ones. You've
been wishing and planning; and letting your heads run on one thing and
another, till you've set my mind a-wandering too. Now what should an old
woman wish for, when she can go but a step or two before she comes to
her grave? Children, it will haunt me night and day, till I tell you."
"What is it, mother?" cried the husband and wife, at once.
Then the old woman, with an air of mystery, which drew the circle closer
round the fire, informed them that she had provided her graveclothes
some years before,--a nice linen shroud, a cap with a muslin ruff, and
everything of a finer sort than she had worn since her wedding-day. But,
this evening, an old superstition had strangely recurred to her. It used
to be said, in her younger days, that, if anything were amiss with a
corpse, if only the ruff were not smooth, or the cap did not set right,
the corpse, in the coffin and beneath the clods, would strive to put up
its cold hands and arrange it. The bare thought made her nervous.
"Don't talk so, grandmother!" said the girl, shuddering.
"Now," continued the old woman, with singular earnestness, yet smiling
strangely at her own folly, "I want one of you, my children,--when your
mother is dressed, and in the coffin,--I want one of you to hold a
looking-glass over my face. Who knows but I may take a glimpse at
myself, and see whether all's right?"
"Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments," murmured the stranger
youth. "I wonder how mariners feel, when the ship is sinking, and they,
unknown and undistinguished, are to be buried together in the
ocean,--that wide and nameless sepulchre?"
For a moment, the old woman's ghastly conception so engrossed the minds
of her hearers, that a sound, abroad in the night, rising like the roar
of a blast, had grown broad, deep, and terrible, before the fated group
were conscious of it. The house, and all within it, trembled; the
foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken, as if this awful sound
were the peal of the last trump. Young and old exchanged one wild
glance, and remained an instant, pale, affrighted, without utterance, or
power to move. Then the same shriek burst simultaneously from all their
"The Slide! The Slide!"
The simplest words must intimate, but not p
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