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The Blithedale Romance
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Table of Contents
I. OLD MOODIE
III. A KNOT OF DREAMERS
IV. THE SUPPER-TABLE
V. UNTIL BEDTIME
VI. COVERDALE'S SICK CHAMBER
VII. THE CONVALESCENT
VIII. A MODERN ARCADIA
X. A VISITOR FROM TOWN
XI. THE WOOD-PATH
XII. COVERDALE'S HERMITAGE
XIII. ZENOBIA'S LEGEND
XIV. ELIOT'S PULPIT
XV. A CRISIS
XVII. THE HOTEL
XVIII. THE BOARDING-HOUSE
XIX. ZENOBIA'S DRAWING-ROOM
XX. THEY VANISH
XXI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
XXIII. A VILLAGE HALL
XXIV. THE MASQUERADERS
XXV. THE THREE TOGETHER
XXVI. ZENOBIA AND COVERDALE
XXVIII. BLITHEDALE PASTURE
XXIX. MILES COVERDALE'S CONFESSION
The Blithedale Romance
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
I. OLD MOODIE
The evening before my departure for BlithedaleI was returning to my
bachelor apartmentsafter attending the wonderful exhibition of the
Veiled Ladywhen an elderly man of rather shabby appearance met me in an
obscure part of the street.
Mr. Coverdale,said he softlycan I speak with you a moment?
As I have casually alluded to the Veiled Ladyit may not be amiss to
mentionfor the benefit of such of my readers as are unacquainted with
her now forgotten celebritythat she was a phenomenon in the mesmeric
line; one of the earliest that had indicated the birth of a new science
or the revival of an old humbug. Since those times her sisterhood have
grown too numerous to attract much individual notice; norin facthas
any one of them come before the public under such skilfully contrived
circumstances of stage effect as those which at once mystified and
illuminated the remarkable performances of the lady in question.
Nowadaysin the management of his "subject clairvoyant or medium
the exhibitor affects the simplicity and openness of scientific
experiment; and even if he profess to tread a step or two across the
boundaries of the spiritual world, yet carries with him the laws of our
actual life and extends them over his preternatural conquests. Twelve or
fifteen years ago, on the contrary, all the arts of mysterious
arrangement, of picturesque disposition, and artistically contrasted
light and shade, were made available, in order to set the apparent
miracle in the strongest attitude of opposition to ordinary facts. In
the case of the Veiled Lady, moreover, the interest of the spectator was
further wrought up by the enigma of her identity, and an absurd rumor
(probably set afloat by the exhibitor, and at one time very prevalent)
that a beautiful young lady, of family and fortune, was enshrouded within
the misty drapery of the veil. It was white, with somewhat of a subdued
silver sheen, like the sunny side of a cloud; and, falling over the
wearer from head to foot, was supposed to insulate her from the material
world, from time and space, and to endow her with many of the privileges
of a disembodied spirit.
Her pretensions, however, whether miraculous or otherwise, have little to
do with the present narrative--except, indeed, that I had propounded, for
the Veiled Lady's prophetic solution, a query as to the success of our
Blithedale enterprise. The response, by the bye, was of the true
Sibylline stamp,--nonsensical in its first aspect, yet on closer study
unfolding a variety of interpretations, one of which has certainly
accorded with the event. I was turning over this riddle in my mind, and
trying to catch its slippery purport by the tail, when the old man above
mentioned interrupted me.
Mr. Coverdale!--Mr. Coverdale!" said herepeating my name twicein
order to make up for the hesitating and ineffectual way in which he
uttered it. "I ask your pardonsirbut I hear you are going to
I knew the paleelderly facewith the redtipt noseand the patch over
one eye; and likewise saw something characteristic in the old fellow's
way of standing under the arch of a gateonly revealing enough of
himself to make me recognize him as an acquaintance. He was a very shy
personagethis Mr. Moodie; and the trait was the more singularas his
mode of getting his bread necessarily brought him into the stir and
hubbub of the world more than the generality of men.
Yes, Mr. Moodie,I answeredwondering what interest he could take in
the factit is my intention to go to Blithedale to-morrow. Can I be of
any service to you before my departure?
If you pleased, Mr. Coverdale,said heyou might do me a very great
A very great one?repeated Iin a tone that must have expressed but
little alacrity of beneficencealthough I was ready to do the old man
any amount of kindness involving no special trouble to myself. "A very
great favordo you say? My time is briefMr. Moodieand I have a good
many preparations to make. But be good enough to tell me what you wish."
Ah, sir,replied Old MoodieI don't quite like to do that; and, on
further thoughts, Mr. Coverdale, perhaps I had better apply to some older
gentleman, or to some lady, if you would have the kindness to make me
known to one, who may happen to be going to Blithedale. You are a young
Does that fact lessen my availability for your purpose?asked I.
However, if an older man will suit you better, there is Mr.
Hollingsworth, who has three or four years the advantage of me in age,
and is a much more solid character, and a philanthropist to boot. I am
only a poet, and, so the critics tell me, no great affair at that! But
what can this business be, Mr. Moodie? It begins to interest me;
especially since your hint that a lady's influence might be found
desirable. Come, I am really anxious to be of service to you.
But the old fellowin his civil and demure mannerwas both freakish and
obstinate; and he had now taken some notion or other into his head that
made him hesitate in his former design.
I wonder, sir,said hewhether you know a lady whom they call
Not personally,I answeredalthough I expect that pleasure to-morrow,
as she has got the start of the rest of us, and is already a resident at
Blithedale. But have you a literary turn, Mr. Moodie? or have you taken
up the advocacy of women's rights? or what else can have interested you
in this lady? Zenobia, by the bye, as I suppose you know, is merely her
public name; a sort of mask in which she comes before the world,
retaining all the privileges of privacy,--a contrivance, in short, like
the white drapery of the Veiled Lady, only a little more transparent.
But it is late. Will you tell me what I can do for you?
Please to excuse me to-night, Mr. Coverdale,said Moodie. "You are
very kind; but I am afraid I have troubled youwhenafter allthere
may be no need. Perhapswith your good leaveI will come to your
lodgings to-morrow morningbefore you set out for Blithedale. I wish
you a good-nightsirand beg pardon for stopping you."
And so he slipt away; andas he did not show himself the next morning
it was only through subsequent events that I ever arrived at a plausible
conjecture as to what his business could have been. Arriving at my room
I threw a lump of cannel coal upon the gratelighted a cigarand spent
an hour in musings of every huefrom the brightest to the most sombre;
beingin truthnot so very confident as at some former periods that
this final stepwhich would mix me up irrevocably with the Blithedale
affairwas the wisest that could possibly be taken. It was nothing
short of midnight when I went to bedafter drinking a glass of
particularly fine sherry on which I used to pride myself in those days.
It was the very last bottle; and I finished itwith a friendthe next
forenoonbefore setting out for Blithedale.
There can hardly remain for me (who am really getting to be a frosty
bachelorwith another white hairevery week or soin my mustache)
there can hardly flicker up again so cheery a blaze upon the hearthas
that which I rememberthe next dayat Blithedale. It was a wood fire
in the parlor of an old farmhouseon an April afternoonbut with the
fitful gusts of a wintry snowstorm roaring in the chimney. Vividly does
that fireside re-create itselfas I rake away the ashes from the embers
in my memoryand blow them up with a sighfor lack of more inspiring
breath. Vividly for an instantbut anonwith the dimmest gleamand
with just as little fervency for my heart as for my finger-ends! The
staunch oaken logs were long ago burnt out. Their genial glow must be
representedif at allby the merest phosphoric glimmerlike that which
exudesrather than shinesfrom damp fragments of decayed trees
deluding the benighted wanderer through a forest. Around such chill
mockery of a fire some few of us might sit on the withered leaves
spreading out each a palm towards the imaginary warmthand talk over our
exploded scheme for beginning the life of Paradise anew.
Paradiseindeed! Nobody else in the worldI am bold to affirm--nobody
at leastin our bleak little world of New England--had dreamed of
Paradise that day except as the pole suggests the tropic. Norwith such
materials as were at handcould the most skilful architect have
constructed any better imitation of Eve's bower than might be seen in the
snow hut of an Esquimaux. But we made a summer of itin spite of the
It was an April dayas already hintedand well towards the middle of
the month. When morning dawned upon mein townits temperature was
mild enough to be pronounced even balmyby a lodgerlike myselfin one
of the midmost houses of a brick block--each house partaking of the
warmth of all the restbesides the sultriness of its individual
furnace--heat. But towards noon there had come snowdriven along the
street by a northeasterly blastand whitening the roofs and sidewalks
with a business-like perseverance that would have done credit to our
severest January tempest. It set about its task apparently as much in
earnest as if it had been guaranteed from a thaw for months to come. The
greatersurelywas my heroismwhenpuffing out a final whiff of
cigar-smokeI quitted my cosey pair of bachelor-rooms--with a good fire
burning in the grateand a closet right at handwhere there was still a
bottle or two in the champagne basket and a residuum of claret in a box
--quittedI saythese comfortable quartersand plunged into the heart
of the pitiless snowstormin quest of a better life.
The better life! Possiblyit would hardly look so now; it is enough if
it looked so then. The greatest obstacle to being heroic is the doubt
whether one may not be going to prove one's self a fool; the truest
heroism is to resist the doubt; and the profoundest wisdom to know when
it ought to be resistedand when to be obeyed.
Yetafter alllet us acknowledge it wiserif not more sagaciousto
follow out one's daydream to its natural consummationalthoughif the
vision have been worth the havingit is certain never to be consummated
otherwise than by a failure. And what of that? Its airiest fragments
impalpable as they may bewill possess a value that lurks not in the
most ponderous realities of any practicable scheme. They are not the
rubbish of the mind. Whatever else I may repent ofthereforelet it be
reckoned neither among my sins nor follies that I once had faith and
force enough to form generous hopes of the world's destiny--yes!--and to
do what in me lay for their accomplishment; even to the extent of
quitting a warm firesideflinging away a freshly lighted cigarand
travelling far beyond the strike of city clocksthrough a drifting
There were four of us who rode together through the storm; and
Hollingsworthwho had agreed to be of the numberwas accidentally
delayedand set forth at a later hour alone. As we threaded the streets
I remember how the buildings on either side seemed to press too closely
upon usinsomuch that our mighty hearts found barely room enough to
throb between them. The snowfalltoolooked inexpressibly dreary (I
had almost called it dingy)coming down through an atmosphere of city
smokeand alighting on the sidewalk only to be moulded into the impress
of somebody's patched boot or overshoe. Thus the track of an old
conventionalism was visible on what was freshest from the sky. But when
we left the pavementsand our muffled hoof-tramps beat upon a desolate
extent of country roadand were effaced by the unfettered blast as soon
as stampedthen there was better air to breathe. Air that had not been
breathed once and again! air that had not been spoken into words of
falsehoodformalityand errorlike all the air of the dusky city!
How pleasant it is!remarked Iwhile the snowflakes flew into my
mouth the moment it was opened. "How very mild and balmy is this country
Ah, Coverdale, don't laugh at what little enthusiasm you have left!
said one of my companions. "I maintain that this nitrous atmosphere is
really exhilarating; andat any ratewe can never call ourselves
regenerated men till a February northeaster shall be as grateful to us as
the softest breeze of June!"
So we all of us took courageriding fleetly and merrily alongby stone
fences that were half buried in the wave-like drifts; and through patches
of woodlandwhere the tree-trunks opposed a snow-incrusted side towards
the northeast; and within ken of deserted villaswith no footprints in
their avenues; and passed scattered dwellingswhence puffed the smoke of
country firesstrongly impregnated with the pungent aroma of burning
peat. Sometimesencountering a travellerwe shouted a friendly
greeting; and heunmuffling his ears to the bluster and the snow-spray
and listening eagerlyappeared to think our courtesy worth less than the
trouble which it cost him. The churl! He understood the shrill whistle
of the blastbut had no intelligence for our blithe tones of brotherhood.
This lack of faith in our cordial sympathyon the traveller's part
was one among the innumerable tokens how difficult a task we had in hand
for the reformation of the world. We rode onhoweverwith still
unflagging spiritsand made such good companionship with the tempest
thatat our journey's endwe professed ourselves almost loath to bid
the rude blusterer good-by. Butto own the truthI was little better
than an icicleand began to be suspicious that I had caught a fearful
And now we were seated by the brisk fireside of the old farmhousethe
same fire that glimmers so faintly among my reminiscences at the
beginning of this chapter. There we satwith the snow melting out of
our hair and beardsand our faces all ablazewhat with the past
inclemency and present warmth. It wasindeeda right good fire that we
found awaiting usbuilt up of greatrough logsand knotty limbsand
splintered fragments of an oak-treesuch as farmers are wont to keep for
their own hearthssince these crooked and unmanageable boughs could
never be measured into merchantable cords for the market. A family of
the old Pilgrims might have swung their kettle over precisely such a fire
as thisonlyno doubta bigger one; andcontrasting it with my
coal-grateI felt so much the more that we had transported ourselves a
world-wide distance from the system of society that shackled us at
Goodcomfortable Mrs. Foster (the wife of stout Silas Fosterwho was to
manage the farm at a fair stipendand be our tutor in the art of
husbandry) bade us a hearty welcome. At her back--a back of generous
breadth--appeared two young womensmiling most hospitablybut looking
rather awkward withalas not well knowing what was to be their position
in our new arrangement of the world. We shook hands affectionately all
roundand congratulated ourselves that the blessed state of brotherhood
and sisterhoodat which we aimedmight fairly be dated from this moment.
Our greetings were hardly concluded when the door openedand
Zenobia--whom I had never before seenimportant as was her place in our
enterprise--Zenobia entered the parlor.
This (as the readerif at all acquainted with our literary biography
need scarcely be told) was not her real name. She had assumed itin the
first instanceas her magazine signature; andas it accorded well with
something imperial which her friends attributed to this lady's figure and
deportmentthey half-laughingly adopted it in their familiar intercourse
with her. She took the appellation in good partand even encouraged its
constant use; whichin factwas thus far appropriatethat our Zenobia
however humble looked her new philosophyhad as much native pride as any
queen would have known what to do with.
III. A KNOT OF DREAMERS
Zenobia bade us welcomein a finefrankmellow voiceand gave each of
us her handwhich was very soft and warm. She had something appropriate
I recollectto say to every individual; and what she said to myself was
this :--"I have long wished to know youMr. Coverdaleand to thank you
for your beautiful poetrysome of which I have learned by heart; or
rather it has stolen into my memorywithout my exercising any choice or
volition about the matter. Of course--permit me to say you do not think
of relinquishing an occupation in which you have done yourself so much
credit. I would almost rather give you up as an associatethan that the
world should lose one of its true poets!"
Ah, no; there will not be the slightest danger of that, especially after
this inestimable praise from Zenobia,said Ismilingand blushingno
doubtwith excess of pleasure. "I hopeon the contrarynow to produce
something that shall really deserve to be called poetry--truestrong
naturaland sweetas is the life which we are going to lead--something
that shall have the notes of wild birds twittering through itor a
strain like the wind anthems in the woodsas the case may be."
Is it irksome to you to hear your own verses sung?asked Zenobiawith
a gracious smile. "If soI am very sorryfor you will certainly hear
me singing them sometimesin the summer evenings."
Of all things,answered Ithat is what will delight me most.
While this passedand while she spoke to my companionsI was taking
note of Zenobia's aspect; and it impressed itself on me so distinctly
that I can now summon her uplike a ghosta little wanner than the life
but otherwise identical with it. She was dressed as simply as possible
in an American print (I think the dry-goods people call it so)but with
a silken kerchiefbetween which and her gown there was one glimpse of a
white shoulder. It struck me as a great piece of good fortune that there
should be just that glimpse. Her hairwhich was darkglossyand of
singular abundancewas put up rather soberly and primly--without curls
or other ornamentexcept a single flower. It was an exotic of rare
beautyand as fresh as if the hothouse gardener had just clipt it from
the stem. That flower has struck deep root into my memory. I can both
see it and smell itat this moment. So brilliantso rareso costly as
it must have beenand yet enduring only for a dayit was more
indicative of the pride and pomp which had a luxuriant growth in
Zenobia's character than if a great diamond had sparkled among her hair.
Her handthough very softwas larger than most women would like to have
or than they could afford to havethough not a whit too large in
proportion with the spacious plan of Zenobia's entire development. It
did one good to see a fine intellect (as hers really wasalthough its
natural tendency lay in another direction than towards literature) so
fitly cased. She wasindeedan admirable figure of a womanjust on the
hither verge of her richest maturitywith a combination of features
which it is safe to call remarkably beautifuleven if some fastidious
persons might pronounce them a little deficient in softness and delicacy.
But we find enough of those attributes everywhere. Preferable--by way of
varietyat least--was Zenobia's bloomhealthand vigorwhich she
possessed in such overflow that a man might well have fallen in love with
her for their sake only. In her quiet moodsshe seemed rather indolent;
but when really in earnestparticularly if there were a spice of bitter
feelingshe grew all alive to her finger-tips.
I am the first comer,Zenobia went on to saywhile her smile beamed
warmth upon us all; "so I take the part of hostess for to-dayand
welcome you as if to my own fireside. You shall be my gueststooat
supper. Tomorrowif you pleasewe will be brethren and sistersand
begin our new life from daybreak."
Have we our various parts assigned?asked some one.
Oh, we of the softer sex,responded Zenobiawith her mellowalmost
broad laugh--most delectable to hearbut not in the least like an
ordinary woman's laugh--"we women (there are four of us here already)
will take the domestic and indoor part of the businessas a matter of
course. To baketo boilto roastto fryto stew--to washand iron
and scruband sweep--andat our idler intervalsto repose ourselves
on knitting and sewing--theseI supposemust be feminine occupations
for the present. By and byperhapswhen our individual adaptations
begin to develop themselvesit may be that some of us who wear the
petticoat will go afieldand leave the weaker brethren to take our
places in the kitchen."
What a pity,I remarkedthat the kitchen, and the housework generally,
cannot be left out of our system altogether! It is odd enough that the
kind of labor which falls to the lot of women is just that which chiefly
distinguishes artificial life--the life of degenerated mortals--from the
life of Paradise. Eve had no dinner-pot, and no clothes to mend, and no
I am afraid,said Zenobiawith mirth gleaming out of her eyeswe
shall find some difficulty in adopting the paradisiacal system for at
least a month to come. Look at that snowdrift sweeping past the window!
Are there any figs ripe, do you think? Have the pineapples been gathered
to-day? Would you like a bread-fruit, or a cocoanut? Shall I run out
and pluck you some roses? No, no, Mr. Coverdale; the only flower
hereabouts is the one in my hair, which I got out of a greenhouse this
morning. As for the garb of Eden,added sheshivering playfullyI
shall not assume it till after May-day!
Assuredly Zenobia could not have intended it--the fault must have been
entirely in my imagination. But these last wordstogether with
something in her mannerirresistibly brought up a picture of that fine
perfectly developed figurein Eve's earliest garment. Her freecareless
generous modes of expression often had this effect of creating images
whichthough pureare hardly felt to be quite decorous when born of a
thought that passes between man and woman. I imputed itat that time
to Zenobia's noble courageconscious of no harmand scorning the petty
restraints which take the life and color out of other women's
conversation. There was another peculiarity about her. We seldom meet
with women nowadaysand in this countrywho impress us as being women
at all--their sex fades away and goes for nothingin ordinary
intercourse. Not so with Zenobia. One felt an influence breathing out
of her such as we might suppose to come from Evewhen she was just made
and her Creator brought her to AdamsayingBehold! here is a woman!
Not that I would convey the idea of especial gentlenessgracemodesty
and shynessbut of a certain warm and rich characteristicwhich seems
for the most partto have been refined away out of the feminine system.
And now,continued ZenobiaI must go and help get supper. Do you
think you can be content, instead of figs, pineapples, and all the other
delicacies of Adam's supper-table, with tea and toast, and a certain
modest supply of ham and tongue, which, with the instinct of a housewife,
I brought hither in a basket? And there shall be bread and milk, too, if
the innocence of your taste demands it.
The whole sisterhood now went about their domestic avocationsutterly
declining our offers to assistfurther than by bringing wood for the
kitchen fire from a huge pile in the back yard. After heaping up more
than a sufficient quantitywe returned to the sitting-roomdrew our
chairs close to the hearthand began to talk over our prospects. Soon
with a tremendous stamping in the entryappeared Silas Fosterlank
stalwartuncouthand grizzly-bearded. He came from foddering the cattle
in the barnand from the fieldwhere he had been ploughinguntil the
depth of the snow rendered it impossible to draw a furrow. He greeted us
in pretty much the same tone as if he were speaking to his oxentook a
quid from his iron tobacco-boxpulled off his wet cowhide bootsand sat
down before the fire in his stocking-feet. The steam arose from his
soaked garmentsso that the stout yeoman looked vaporous and
Well, folks,remarked Silasyou'll be wishing yourselves back to
town again, if this weather holds.
Andtrue enoughthere was a look of gloomas the twilight fell
silently and sadly out of the skyits gray or sable flakes intermingling
themselves with the fast-descending snow. The stormin its evening
aspectwas decidedly dreary. It seemed to have arisen for our especial
behoof--a symbol of the colddesolatedistrustful phantoms that
invariably haunt the mindon the eve of adventurous enterprisesto warn
us back within the boundaries of ordinary life.
But our courage did not quail. We would not allow ourselves to be
depressed by the snowdrift trailing past the windowany more than if it
had been the sigh of a summer wind among rustling boughs. There have
been few brighter seasons for us than that. If ever men might lawfully
dream awakeand give utterance to their wildest visions without dread of
laughter or scorn on the part of the audience--yesand speak of
earthly happinessfor themselves and mankindas an object to be
hopefully striven forand probably attainedwe who made that little
semicircle round the blazing fire were those very men. We had left the
rusty iron framework of society behind us; we had broken through many
hindrances that are powerful enough to keep most people on the weary
treadmill of the established systemeven while they feel its irksomeness
almost as intolerable as we did. We had stepped down from the pulpit; we
had flung aside the pen; we had shut up the ledger; we had thrown off
that sweetbewitchingenervating indolencewhich is betterafter all
than most of the enjoyments within mortal grasp. It was our purpose--a
generous onecertainlyand absurdno doubtin full proportion with
its generosity--to give up whatever we had heretofore attainedfor the
sake of showing mankind the example of a life governed by other than the
false and cruel principles on which human society has all along been
Andfirst of allwe had divorced ourselves from prideand were
striving to supply its place with familiar love. We meant to lessen the
laboring man's great burden of toilby performing our due share of it at
the cost of our own thews and sinews. We sought our profit by mutual aid
instead of wresting it by the strong hand from an enemyor filching it
craftily from those less shrewd than ourselves (ifindeedthere were
any such in New England)or winning it by selfish competition with a
neighbor; in one or another of which fashions every son of woman both
perpetrates and suffers his share of the common evilwhether he chooses
it or no. Andas the basis of our institutionwe purposed to offer up
the earnest toil of our bodiesas a prayer no less than an effort for
the advancement of our race.
Thereforeif we built splendid castles (phalansteries perhaps they might
be more fitly called)and pictured beautiful scenesamong the fervid
coals of the hearth around which we were clusteringand if all went to
rack with the crumbling embers and have never since arisen out of the
asheslet us take to ourselves no shame. In my own behalfI rejoice
that I could once think better of the world's improvability than it
deserved. It is a mistake into which men seldom fall twice in a lifetime;
orif sothe rarer and higher is the nature that can thus
magnanimously persist in error.
Stout Silas Foster mingled little in our conversation; but when he did
speakit was very much to some practical purpose. For instance:--"Which
man among you quoth he, is the best judge of swine? Some of us must
go to the next Brighton fairand buy half a dozen pigs."
Pigs! Good heavens! had we come out from among the swinish multitude
for this? And againin reference to some discussion about raising early
vegetables for the market:--"We shall never make any hand at market
gardening said Silas Foster, unless the women folks will undertake to
do all the weeding. We haven't team enough for that and the regular
farm-workreckoning three of your city folks as worth one common
field-hand. Nono; I tell youwe should have to get up a little too
early in the morningto compete with the market gardeners round Boston."
It struck me as rather oddthat one of the first questions raisedafter
our separation from the greedystrugglingself-seeking worldshould
relate to the possibility of getting the advantage over the outside
barbarians in their own field of labor. Butto own the truthI very
soon became sensible thatas regarded society at largewe stood in a
position of new hostilityrather than new brotherhood. Nor could this
fail to be the casein some degreeuntil the bigger and better half of
society should range itself on our side. Constituting so pitiful a
minority as nowwe were inevitably estranged from the rest of mankind in
pretty fair proportion with the strictness of our mutual bond among
This dawning ideahoweverwas driven back into my inner consciousness
by the entrance of Zenobia. She came with the welcome intelligence that
supper was on the table. Looking at herself in the glassand perceiving
that her one magnificent flower had grown rather languid (probably by
being exposed to the fervency of the kitchen fire)she flung it on the
flooras unconcernedly as a village girl would throw away a faded violet.
The action seemed proper to her characteralthoughmethoughtit
would still more have befitted the bounteous nature of this beautiful
woman to scatter fresh flowers from her handand to revive faded ones by
her touch. Neverthelessit was a singular but irresistible effect; the
presence of Zenobia caused our heroic enterprise to show like an illusion
a masqueradea pastorala counterfeit Arcadiain which we grown-up
men and women were making a play-day of the years that were given us to
live in. I tried to analyze this impressionbut not with much success.
It really vexes me,observed Zenobiaas we left the roomthat Mr.
Hollingsworth should be such a laggard. I should not have thought him at
all the sort of person to be turned back by a puff of contrary wind, or a
few snowflakes drifting into his face.
Do you know Hollingsworth personally?I inquired.
No; only as an auditor--auditress, I mean--of some of his lectures,
said she. "What a voice he has! and what a man he is! Yet not so much an
intellectual manI should sayas a great heart; at leasthe moved me
more deeply than I think myself capable of being movedexcept by the
stroke of a truestrong heart against my own. It is a sad pity that he
should have devoted his glorious powers to such a grimyunbeautifuland
positively hopeless object as this reformation of criminalsabout which
he makes himself and his wretchedly small audiences so very miserable.
To tell you a secretI never could tolerate a philanthropist before.
By no means,I answered; "neither can I now."
They are, indeed, an odiously disagreeable set of mortals,continued
Zenobia. "I should like Mr. Hollingsworth a great deal better if the
philanthropy had been left out. At all eventsas a mere matter of taste
I wish he would let the bad people aloneand try to benefit those who
are not already past his help. Do you suppose he will be content to spend
his lifeor even a few months of itamong tolerably virtuous and
comfortable individuals like ourselves?"
Upon my word, I doubt it,said I. "If we wish to keep him with uswe
must systematically commit at least one crime apiece! Mere peccadillos
will not satisfy him."
Zenobia turnedsidelonga strange kind of a glance upon me; butbefore
I could make out what it meantwe had entered the kitchenwherein
accordance with the rustic simplicity of our new lifethe supper-table
IV. THE SUPPER-TABLE
The pleasant firelight! I must still keep harping on it. The kitchen
hearth had an old-fashioned breadthdepthand spaciousnessfar within
which lay what seemed the butt of a good-sized oak-treewith the
moisture bubbling merrily out at both ends. It was now half an hour
beyond dusk. The blaze from an armful of substantial sticksrendered
more combustible by brushwood and pineflickered powerfully on the
smoke-blackened wallsand so cheered our spirits that we cared not what
inclemency might rage and roar on the other side of our illuminated
windows. A yet sultrier warmth was bestowed by a goodly quantity of peat
which was crumbling to white ashes among the burning brandsand
incensed the kitchen with its not ungrateful fragrance. The exuberance
of this household fire would alone have sufficed to bespeak us no true
farmers; for the New England yeomanif he have the misfortune to dwell
within practicable distance of a wood-marketis as niggardly of each
stick as if it were a bar of California gold.
But it was fortunate for uson that wintry eve of our untried lifeto
enjoy the warm and radiant luxury of a somewhat too abundant fire. If it
served no other purposeit made the men look so full of youthwarm
bloodand hopeand the women--such of themat leastas were anywise
convertible by its magic--so very beautifulthat I would cheerfully have
spent my last dollar to prolong the blaze. As for Zenobiathere was a
glow in her cheeks that made me think of Pandorafresh from Vulcan's
workshopand full of the celestial warmth by dint of which he had
tempered and moulded her.
Take your places, my dear friends all,cried she; "seat yourselves
without ceremonyand you shall be made happy with such tea as not many
of the world's working-peopleexcept yourselveswill find in their cups
to-night. After this one supperyou may drink buttermilkif you please.
To-night we will quaff this nectarwhichI assure youcould not be
bought with gold."
We all sat down--grizzly Silas Fosterhis rotund helpmateand the two
bouncing handmaidensincluded--and looked at one another in a friendly
but rather awkward way. It was the first practical trial of our theories
of equal brotherhood and sisterhood; and we people of superior
cultivation and refinement (for as suchI presumewe unhesitatingly
reckoned ourselves) felt as if something were alreadyaccomplished
towards the millennium of love. The truth ishoweverthat the laboring
oar was with our unpolished companions; it being far easier to condescend
than to accept of condescension. Neither did I refrain from questioning
in secretwhether some of us--and Zenobia among the rest--would so
quietly have taken our places among these good peoplesave for the
cherished consciousness that it was not by necessity but choice. Though
we saw fit to drink our tea out of earthen cups to-nightand in earthen
companyit was at our own option to use pictured porcelain and handle
silver forks again to-morrow. This same salvoas to the power of
regaining our former positioncontributed muchI fearto the
equanimity with which we subsequently bore many of the hardships and
humiliations of a life of toil. If ever I have deserved (which has not
often been the caseandI thinknever)but if ever I did deserve to
be soundly cuffed by a fellow mortalfor secretly putting weight upon
some imaginary social advantageit must have been while I was striving
to prove myself ostentatiously his equal and no more. It was while I sat
beside him on his cobbler's benchor clinked my hoe against his own in
the cornfieldor broke the same crust of breadmy earth-grimed hand to
hisat our noontide lunch. The poorproud man should look at both
sides of sympathy like this.
The silence which followed upon our sitting down to table grew rather
oppressive; indeedit was hardly broken by a wordduring the first
round of Zenobia's fragrant tea.
I hope,said Iat lastthat our blazing windows will be visible a
great way off. There is nothing so pleasant and encouraging to a
solitary traveller, on a stormy night, as a flood of firelight seen amid
the gloom. These ruddy window panes cannot fail to cheer the hearts of
all that look at them. Are they not warm with the beacon-fire which we
have kindled for humanity?
The blaze of that brushwood will only last a minute or two longer,
observed Silas Foster; but whether he meant to insinuate that our moral
illumination would have as brief a termI cannot say.
Meantime,said Zenobiait may serve to guide some wayfarer to a
Andjust as she said thisthere came a knock at the house door.
There is one of the world's wayfarers,said I. "Ayayjust so!"
quoth Silas Foster. "Our firelight will draw stragglersjust as a
candle draws dorbugs on a summer night."
Whether to enjoy a dramatic suspenseor that we were selfishly
contrasting our own comfort with the chill and dreary situation of the
unknown person at the thresholdor that some of us city folk felt a
little startled at the knock which came so unseasonablythrough night
and stormto the door of the lonely farmhouse--so it happened that
nobodyfor an instant or twoarose to answer the summons. Pretty soon
there came another knock. The first had been moderately loud; the second
was smitten so forcibly that the knuckles of the applicant must have left
their mark in the door panel.
He knocks as if he had a right to come in,said Zenobialaughing.
And what are we thinking of?--It must be Mr. Hollingsworth!
Hereupon I went to the doorunboltedand flung it wide open. There
sure enoughstood Hollingsworthhis shaggy greatcoat all covered with
snowso that he looked quite as much like a polar bear as a modern
Sluggish hospitality this!said hein those deep tones of hiswhich
seemed to come out of a chest as capacious as a barrel. "It would have
served you right if I had lain down and spent the night on the doorstep
just for the sake of putting you to shame. But here is a guest who will
need a warmer and softer bed."
Andstepping back to the wagon in which he had journeyed hither
Hollingsworth received into his arms and deposited on the doorstep a
figure enveloped in a cloak. It was evidently a woman; orrather
--judging from the ease with which he lifted herand the little space
which she seemed to fill in his armsa slim and unsubstantial girl. As
she showed some hesitation about entering the doorHollingsworthwith
his usual directness and lack of ceremonyurged her forward not merely
within the entrybut into the warm and strongly lighted kitchen.
Who is this?whispered Iremaining behind with himwhile he was
taking off his greatcoat.
Who? Really, I don't know,answered Hollingsworthlooking at me with
some surprise. "It is a young person who belongs herehowever; and no
doubt she had been expected. Zenobiaor some of the women folkscan
tell you all about it."
I think not,said Iglancing towards the new-comer and the other
occupants of the kitchen. "Nobody seems to welcome her. I should hardly
judge that she was an expected guest."
Well, well,said Hollingsworth quietlyWe'll make it right.
The strangeror whatever she wereremained standing precisely on that
spot of the kitchen floor to which Hollingsworth's kindly hand had
impelled her. The cloak falling partly offshe was seen to be a very
young woman dressed in a poor but decent gownmade high in the neckand
without any regard to fashion or smartness. Her brown hair fell down
from beneath a hoodnot in curls but with only a slight wave; her face
was of a wanalmost sickly huebetokening habitual seclusion from the
sun and free atmospherelike a flower-shrub that had done its best to
blossom in too scanty light. To complete the pitiableness of her aspect
she shivered either with coldor fearor nervous excitementso that
you might have beheld her shadow vibrating on the fire-lighted wall. In
shortthere has seldom been seen so depressed and sad a figure as this
young girl's; and it was hardly possible to help being angry with her
from mere despair of doing anything for her comfort. The fantasy occurred
to me that she was some desolate kind of a creaturedoomed to wander
about in snowstorms; and thatthough the ruddiness of our window panes
had tempted her into a human dwellingshe would not remain long enough
to melt the icicles out of her hair. Another conjecture likewise came
into my mind. Recollecting Hollingsworth's sphere of philanthropic
actionI deemed it possible that he might have brought one of his guilty
patientsto be wrought upon and restored to spiritual health by the pure
influences which our mode of life would create.
As yet the girl had not stirred. She stood near the doorfixing a pair
of largebrownmelancholy eyes upon Zenobia--only upon Zenobia!--she
evidently saw nothing else in the room save that brightfairrosy
beautiful woman. It was the strangest look I ever witnessed; long a
mystery to meand forever a memory. Once she seemed about to move
forward and greet her--I know not with what warmth or with what words
--butfinallyinstead of doing soshe dropped down upon her knees
clasped her handsand gazed piteously into Zenobia's face. Meeting no
kindly receptionher head fell on her bosom.
I never thoroughly forgave Zenobia for her conduct on this occasion. But
women are always more cautious in their casual hospitalities than men.
What does the girl mean?cried she in rather a sharp tone. "Is she
crazy? Has she no tongue?"
And here Hollingsworth stepped forward.
No wonder if the poor child's tongue is frozen in her mouth,said he;
and I think he positively frowned at Zenobia. "The very heart will be
frozen in her bosomunless you women can warm itamong youwith the
warmth that ought to be in your own!"
Hollingsworth's appearance was very striking at this moment. He was then
about thirty years oldbut looked several years olderwith his great
shaggy headhis heavy browhis dark complexionhis abundant beardand
the rude strength with which his features seemed to have been hammered
out of ironrather than chiselled or moulded from any finer or softer
material. His figure was not tallbut massive and brawnyand well
befitting his original occupation; which as the reader probably
knows--was that of a blacksmith. As for external polishor mere
courtesy of mannerhe never possessed more than a tolerably educated
bear; althoughin his gentler moodsthere was a tenderness in his voice
eyesmouthin his gestureand in every indescribable manifestation
which few men could resist and no woman. But he now looked stern and
reproachful; and it was with that inauspicious meaning in his glance that
Hollingsworth first met Zenobia's eyesand began his influence upon her
To my surpriseZenobia--of whose haughty spirit I had been told so many
examples--absolutely changed colorand seemed mortified and confused.
You do not quite do me justice, Mr. Hollingsworth,said she almost
humbly. "I am willing to be kind to the poor girl. Is she a protegee of
yours? What can I do for her?"
Have you anything to ask of this lady?said Hollingsworth kindly to the
girl. "I remember you mentioned her name before we left town."
Only that she will shelter me,replied the girl tremulously. "Only
that she will let me be always near her."
Well, indeed,exclaimed Zenobiarecovering herself and laughingthis
is an adventure, and well-worthy to be the first incident in our life of
love and free-heartedness! But I accept it, for the present, without
further question, only,added sheit would be a convenience if we knew
Priscilla,said the girl; and it appeared to me that she hesitated
whether to add anything moreand decided in the negative. "Pray do not
ask me my other name--at least not yet--if you will be so kind to a
Priscilla!--Priscilla! I repeated the name to myself three or four times;
and in that little spacethis quaint and prim cognomen had so
amalgamated itself with my idea of the girlthat it seemed as if no
other name could have adhered to her for a moment. Heretofore the poor
thing had not shed any tears; but now that she found herself received
and at least temporarily establishedthe big drops began to ooze out
from beneath her eyelids as if she were full of them. Perhaps it showed
the iron substance of my heartthat I could not help smiling at this odd
scene of unknown and unaccountable calamityinto which our cheerful
party had been entrapped without the liberty of choosing whether to
sympathize or no. Hollingsworth's behavior was certainly a great deal
more creditable than mine.
Let us not pry further into her secrets,he said to Zenobia and the
rest of usapart; and his darkshaggy face looked really beautiful with
its expression of thoughtful benevolence. "Let us conclude that
Providence has sent her to usas the first-fruits of the worldwhich we
have undertaken to make happier than we find it. Let us warm her poor
shivering body with this good fireand her poorshivering heart with
our best kindness. Let us feed herand make her one of us. As we do by
this friendless girlso shall we prosper. Andin good timewhatever
is desirable for us to know will be melted out of heras inevitably as
those tears which we see now."
At least,remarked Iyou may tell us how and where you met with her.
An old man brought her to my lodgings,answered Hollingsworthand
begged me to convey her to Blithedale, where--so I understood him--she
had friends; and this is positively all I know about the matter.
Grim Silas Fosterall this whilehad been busy at the supper-table
pouring out his own tea and gulping it down with no more sense of its
exquisiteness than if it were a decoction of catnip; helping himself to
pieces of dipt toast on the flat of his knife bladeand dropping half of
it on the table-cloth; using the same serviceable implement to cut slice
after slice of ham; perpetrating terrible enormities with the butterplate;
and in all other respects behaving less like a civilized Christian than
the worst kind of an ogre. Being by this time fully gorgedhe crowned
his amiable exploits with a draught from the water pitcherand then
favored us with his opinion about the business in hand. Andcertainly
though they proceeded out of an unwiped mouthhis expressions did him
Give the girl a hot cup of tea and a thick slice of this first-rate
bacon,said Silaslike a sensible man as he was. "That's what she
wants. Let her stay with us as long as she likesand help in the
kitchenand take the cow-breath at milking time; andin a week or two
she'll begin to look like a creature of this world."
So we sat down again to supperand Priscilla along with us.
V. UNTIL BEDTIME
Silas Fosterby the time we concluded our mealhad stript off his coat
and planted himself on a low chair by the kitchen firewith a lapstone
a hammera piece of sole leatherand some waxed-endsin order to
cobble an old pair of cowhide boots; he beingin his own phrase
something of a dab(whatever degree of skill that may imply) at the
shoemaking business. We heard the tap of his hammer at intervals for the
rest of the evening. The remainder of the party adjourned to the
sitting-room. Good Mrs. Foster took her knitting-workand soon fell
fast asleepstill keeping her needles in brisk movementandto the
best of my observationabsolutely footing a stocking out of the texture
of a dream. And a very substantial stocking it seemed to be. One of the
two handmaidens hemmed a toweland the other appeared to be making a
rufflefor her Sunday's wearout of a little bit of embroidered muslin
which Zenobia had probably given her.
It was curious to observe how trustinglyand yet how timidlyour poor
Priscilla betook herself into the shadow of Zenobia's protection. She sat
beside her on a stoollooking up every now and then with an expression
of humble delight at her new friend's beauty. A brilliant woman is often
an object of the devoted admiration--it might almost be termed worship
or idolatry--of some young girlwho perhaps beholds the cynosure only at
an awful distanceand has as little hope of personal intercourse as of
climbing among the stars of heaven. We men are too gross to comprehend
it. Even a womanof mature agedespises or laughs at such a passion.
There occurred to me no mode of accounting for Priscilla's behavior
except by supposing that she had read some of Zenobia's stories (as such
literature goes everywhere)or her tracts in defence of the sexand had
come hither with the one purpose of being her slave. There is nothing
parallel to thisI believe---nothing so foolishly disinterestedand
hardly anything so beautiful--in the masculine natureat whatever epoch
of life; orif there bea fine and rare development of character might
reasonably be looked for from the youth who should prove himself capable
of such self-forgetful affection.
Zenobia happening to change her seatI took the opportunityin an
undertoneto suggest some such notion as the above.
Since you see the young woman in so poetical a light,replied she in
the same toneyou had better turn the affair into a ballad. It is a
grand subject, and worthy of supernatural machinery. The storm, the
startling knock at the door, the entrance of the sable knight
Hollingsworth and this shadowy snow-maiden, who, precisely at the stroke
of midnight, shall melt away at my feet in a pool of ice-cold water and
give me my death with a pair of wet slippers! And when the verses are
written, and polished quite to your mind, I will favor you with my idea
as to what the girl really is.
Pray let me have it now,said I; "it shall be woven into the ballad."
She is neither more nor less,answered Zenobiathan a seamstress from
the city; and she has probably no more transcendental purpose than to do
my miscellaneous sewing, for I suppose she will hardly expect to make my
How can you decide upon her so easily?I inquired.
Oh, we women judge one another by tokens that escape the obtuseness of
masculine perceptions!said Zenobia. "There is no proof which you
would be likely to appreciateexcept the needle marks on the tip of her
forefinger. Thenmy supposition perfectly accounts for her palenessher
nervousnessand her wretched fragility. Poor thing! She has been
stifled with the heat of a salamander stovein a smallclose roomand
has drunk coffeeand fed upon doughnutsraisinscandyand all such
trashtill she is scarcely half alive; and soas she has hardly any
physiquea poet like Mr. Miles Coverdale may be allowed to think her
Look at her now!whispered I.
Priscilla was gazing towards us with an inexpressible sorrow in her wan
face and great tears running down her cheeks. It was difficult to resist
the impression thatcautiously as we had lowered our voicesshe must
have overheard and been wounded by Zenobia's scornful estimate of her
character and purposes.
What ears the girl must have!whispered Zenobiawith a look of
vexationpartly comic and partly real. "I will confess to you that I
cannot quite make her out. HoweverI am positively not an ill-natured
personunless when very grievously provoked--and as youand especially
Mr. Hollingsworthtake so much interest in this odd creatureand as she
knocks with a very slight tap against my own heart likewise--whyI mean
to let her in. From this moment I will be reasonably kind to her. There
is no pleasure in tormenting a person of one's own sexeven if she do
favor one with a little more love than one can conveniently dispose of;
and thatlet me sayMr. Coverdaleis the most troublesome offence you
can offer to a woman."
Thank you,said Ismiling; "I don't mean to be guilty of it."
She went towards Priscillatook her handand passed her own rosy
finger-tipswith a prettycaressing movementover the girl's hair.
The touch had a magical effect. So vivid a look of joy flushed up
beneath those fingersthat it seemed as if the sad and wan Priscilla had
been snatched awayand another kind of creature substituted in her place.
This one caressbestowed voluntarily by Zenobiawas evidently
received as a pledge of all that the stranger sought from herwhatever
the unuttered boon might be. From that instanttooshe melted in
quietly amongst usand was no longer a foreign element. Though always
an object of peculiar interesta riddleand a theme of frequent
discussionher tenure at Blithedale was thenceforth fixed. We no more
thought of questioning itthan if Priscilla had been recognized as a
domestic spritewho had haunted the rustic fireside of oldbefore we
had ever been warmed by its blaze.
She now producedout of a work-bag that she had with hersome little
wooden instruments (what they are called I never knew)and proceeded to
knitor netan article which ultimately took the shape of a silk purse.
As the work went onI remembered to have seen just such purses before;
indeedI was the possessor of one. Their peculiar excellencebesides
the great delicacy and beauty of the manufacturelay in the almost
impossibility that any uninitiated person should discover the aperture;
althoughto a practised touchthey would open as wide as charity or
prodigality might wish. I wondered if it were not a symbol of Priscilla's
Notwithstanding the new confidence with which Zenobia had inspired her
our guest showed herself disquieted by the storm. When the strong puffs
of wind spattered the snow against the windows and made the oaken frame
of the farmhouse creakshe looked at us apprehensivelyas if to inquire
whether these tempestuous outbreaks did not betoken some unusual mischief
in the shrieking blast. She had been bred upno doubtin some close
nooksome inauspiciously sheltered court of the citywhere the
uttermost rage of a tempestthough it might scatter down the slates of
the roof into the bricked areacould not shake the casement of her
little room. The sense of vastundefined spacepressing from the
outside against the black panes of our uncurtained windowswas fearful
to the poor girlheretofore accustomed to the narrowness of human limits
with the lamps of neighboring tenements glimmering across the street.
The house probably seemed to her adrift on the great ocean of the night.
A little parallelogram of sky was all that she had hitherto known of
natureso that she felt the awfulness that really exists in its
limitless extent. Oncewhile the blast was bellowingshe caught hold
of Zenobia's robewith precisely the air of one who hears her own name
spoken at a distancebut is unutterably reluctant to obey the call.
We spent rather an incommunicative evening. Hollingsworth hardly said a
wordunless when repeatedly and pertinaciously addressed. Thenindeed
he would glare upon us from the thick shrubbery of his meditations like a
tiger out of a junglemake the briefest reply possibleand betake
himself back into the solitude of his heart and mind. The poor fellow
had contracted this ungracious habit from the intensity with which he
contemplated his own ideasand the infrequent sympathy which they met
with from his auditors--a circumstance that seemed only to strengthen
the implicit confidence that he awarded to them. His heartI imagine
was never really interested in our socialist schemebut was forever busy
with his strangeandas most people thought itimpracticable planfor
the reformation of criminals through an appeal to their higher instincts.
Much as I liked Hollingsworthit cost me many a groan to tolerate him on
this point. He ought to have commenced his investigation of the subject
by perpetrating some huge sin in his proper personand examining the
condition of his higher instincts afterwards.
The rest of us formed ourselves into a committee for providing our infant
community with an appropriate name--a matter of greatly more difficulty
than the uninitiated reader would suppose. Blithedale was neither good
nor bad. We should have resumed the old Indian name of the premiseshad
it possessed the oil-and--honey flow which the aborigines were so often
happy in communicating to their local appellations; but it chanced to be
a harshill-connectedand interminable wordwhich seemed to fill the
mouth with a mixture of very stiff clay and very crumbly pebbles.
Zenobia suggested "Sunny Glimpse as expressive of a vista into a better
system of society. This we turned over and over for a while,
acknowledging its prettiness, but concluded it to be rather too fine and
sentimental a name (a fault inevitable by literary ladies in such
attempts) for sunburnt men to work under. I ventured to whisper Utopia
which, however, was unanimously scouted down, and the proposer very
harshly maltreated, as if he had intended a latent satire. Some were for
calling our institution The Oasis in view of its being the one green
spot in the moral sand-waste of the world; but others insisted on a
proviso for reconsidering the matter at a twelvemonths' end, when a final
decision might be had, whether to name it The Oasis" or "Sahara." So
at lastfinding it impracticable to hammer out anything betterwe
resolved that the spot should still be Blithedaleas being of good
The evening wore onand the outer solitude looked in upon us through the
windowsgloomywildand vaguelike another state of existenceclose
beside the little sphere of warmth and light in which we were the
prattlers and bustlers of a moment. By and by the door was opened by
Silas Fosterwith a cotton handkerchief about his headand a tallow
candle in his hand.
Take my advice, brother farmers,said hewith a greatbroad
bottomless yawnand get to bed as soon as you can. I shall sound the
horn at daybreak; and we've got the cattle to fodder, and nine cows to
milk, and a dozen other things to do, before breakfast.
Thus ended the first evening at Blithedale. I went shivering to my
fireless chamberwith the miserable consciousness (which had been
growing upon me for several hours past) that I had caught a tremendous
coldand should probably awakenat the blast of the horna fit subject
for a hospital. The night proved a feverish one. During the greater
part of itI was in that vilest of states when a fixed idea remains in
the mindlike the nail in Sisera's brainwhile innumerable other ideas
go and comeand flutter to and frocombining constant transition with
intolerable sameness. Had I made a record of that night's half-waking
dreamsit is my belief that it would have anticipated several of the
chief incidents of this narrativeincluding a dim shadow of its
catastrophe. Starting up in bed at lengthI saw that the storm was past
and the moon was shining on the snowy landscapewhich looked like a
lifeless copy of the world in marble.
From the bank of the distant riverwhich was shimmering in the moonlight
came the black shadow of the only cloud in heavendriven swiftly by the
windand passing over meadow and hillockvanishing amid tufts of
leafless treesbut reappearing on the hither sideuntil it swept across
How cold an Arcadia was this!
VI. COVERDALE'S SICK-CHAMBER
The horn sounded at daybreakas Silas Foster had forewarned usharsh
uproariousinexorably drawn outand as sleep-dispelling as if this
hard-hearted old yeoman had got hold of the trump of doom.
On all sides I could hear the creaking of the bedsteadsas the brethren
of Blithedale started from slumberand thrust themselves into their
habilimentsall awryno doubtin their haste to begin the reformation
of the world. Zenobia put her head into the entryand besought Silas
Foster to cease his clamorand to be kind enough to leave an armful of
firewood and a pail of water at her chamber door. Of the whole household
--unlessindeedit were Priscillafor whose habitsin this particular
I cannot vouch--of all our apostolic societywhose mission was to
bless mankindHollingsworthI apprehendwas the only one who began the
enterprise with prayer. My sleeping-room being but thinly partitioned
from histhe solemn murmur of his voice made its way to my ears
compelling me to be an auditor of his awful privacy with the Creator. It
affected me with a deep reverence for Hollingsworthwhich no familiarity
then existingor that afterwards grew more intimate between us--nonor
my subsequent perception of his own great errors--ever quite effaced.
It is so rarein these timesto meet with a man of prayerful habits
(exceptof coursein the pulpit)that such an one is decidedly marked
out by the light of transfigurationshed upon him in the divine
interview from which he passes into his daily life.
As for meI lay abed; and if I said my prayersit was backwardcursing
my day as bitterly as patient Job himself. The truth wasthe hot-house
warmth of a town residenceand the luxurious life in which I indulged
myselfhad taken much of the pith out of my physical system; and the
wintry blast of the preceding daytogether with the general chill of our
airy old farmhousehad got fairly into my heart and the marrow of my
bones. In this predicamentI seriously wished--selfish as it may
appear--that the reformation of society had been postponed about half a
centuryorat all eventsto such a date as should have put my
intermeddling with it entirely out of the question.
Whatin the name of common-sensehad I to do with any better society
than I had always lived in? It had satisfied me well enough. My pleasant
bachelor-parlorsunny and shadowycurtained and carpetedwith the
bedchamber adjoining; my centre-tablestrewn with books and periodicals;
my writing-desk with a half-finished poemin a stanza of my own
contrivance; my morning lounge at the reading-room or picture gallery; my
noontide walk along the cheery pavementwith the suggestive succession
of human facesand the brisk throb of human life in which I shared; my
dinner at the Albionwhere I had a hundred dishes at commandand could
banquet as delicately as the wizard Michael Scott when the Devil fed him
from the king of France's kitchen; my evening at the billiard clubthe
concertthe theatreor at somebody's partyif I pleased--what could
be better than all this? Was it better to hoeto mowto toil and moil
amidst the accumulations of a barnyard; to be the chambermaid of two yoke
of oxen and a dozen cows; to eat salt beefand earn it with the sweat of
my browand thereby take the tough morsel out of some wretch's mouth
into whose vocation I had thrust myself? Above allwas it better to
have a fever and die blasphemingas I was like to do?
In this wretched plightwith a furnace in my heart and another in my
headby the heat of which I was kept constantly at the boiling point
yet shivering at the bare idea of extruding so much as a finger into the
icy atmosphere of the roomI kept my bed until breakfast-timewhen
Hollingsworth knocked at the doorand entered.
Well, Coverdale,cried heyou bid fair to make an admirable farmer!
Don't you mean to get up to-day?
Neither to-day nor to-morrow,said I hopelessly. "I doubt if I ever
What is the matter now?he asked.
I told him my piteous caseand besought him to send me back to town in a
No, no!said Hollingsworth with kindly seriousness. "If you are
really sickwe must take care of you."
Accordingly he built a fire in my chamberandhaving little else to do
while the snow lay on the groundestablished himself as my nurse. A
doctor was sent forwhobeing homaeopathicgave me as much medicine
in the course of a fortnight's attendanceas would have laid on the
point of a needle. They fed me on water-grueland I speedily became a
skeleton above ground. Butafter allI have many precious
recollections connected with that fit of sickness.
Hollingsworth's more than brotherly attendance gave me inexpressible
comfort. Most men--and certainly I could not always claim to be one of
the exceptions--have a natural indifferenceif not an absolutely hostile
feelingtowards those whom diseaseor weaknessor calamity of any kind
causes to falter and faint amid the rude jostle of our selfish existence.
The education of Christianityit is truethe sympathy of a like
experience and the example of womenmay soften andpossiblysubvert
this ugly characteristic of our sex; but it is originally thereand has
likewise its analogy in the practice of our brute brethrenwho hunt the
sick or disabled member of the herd from among themas an enemy. It is
for this reason that the stricken deer goes apartand the sick lion
grimly withdraws himself into his den. Except in loveor the
attachments of kindredor other very long and habitual affectionwe
really have no tenderness. But there was something of the woman moulded
into the greatstalwart frame of Hollingsworth; nor was he ashamed of it
as men often are of what is best in themnor seemed ever to know that
there was such a soft place in his heart. I knew it wellhoweverat
that timealthough afterwards it came nigh to be forgotten. Methought
there could not be two such men alive as Hollingsworth. There never was
any blaze of a fireside that warmed and cheered mein the down-sinkings
and shiverings of my spiritso effectually as did the light out of those
eyeswhich lay so deep and dark under his shaggy brows.
Happy the man that has such a friend beside him when he comes to die!
and unless a friend like Hollingsworth be at hand--as most probably
there will not--he had better make up his mind to die alone. How many
menI wonderdoes one meet with in a lifetimewhom he would choose for
his deathbed companions! At the crisis of my fever I besought
Hollingsworth to let nobody else enter the roombut continually to make
me sensible of his own presence by a grasp of the handa worda prayer
if he thought good to utter it; and that then he should be the witness
how courageously I would encounter the worst. It still impresses me as
almost a matter of regret that I did not die thenwhen I had tolerably
made up my mind to it; for Hollingsworth would have gone with me to the
hither verge of lifeand have sent his friendly and hopeful accents far
over on the other sidewhile I should be treading the unknown path. Now
were I to send for himhe would hardly come to my bedsidenor should I
depart the easier for his presence.
You are not going to die, this time,said hegravely smiling. "You
know nothing about sicknessand think your case a great deal more
desperate than it is."
Death should take me while I am in the mood,replied Iwith a little
of my customary levity.
Have you nothing to do in life,asked Hollingsworththat you fancy
yourself so ready to leave it?
Nothing,answered I; "nothing that I know ofunless to make pretty
versesand play a partwith Zenobia and the rest of the amateursin
our pastoral. It seems but an unsubstantial sort of businessas viewed
through a mist of fever. Butdear Hollingsworthyour own vocation is
evidently to be a priestand to spend your days and nights in helping
your fellow creatures to draw peaceful dying breaths."
And by which of my qualities,inquired hecan you suppose me fitted
for this awful ministry?
By your tenderness,I said. " It seems to me the reflection of God's
And you call me tender!repeated Hollingsworth thoughtfully. "I
should rather say that the most marked trait in my character is an
inflexible severity of purpose. Mortal man has no right to be so
inflexible as it is my nature and necessity to be."
I do not believe it,I replied.
Butin due timeI remembered what he said.
Probablyas Hollingsworth suggestedmy disorder was never so serious as
in my ignorance of such mattersI was inclined to consider it. After
so much tragical preparationit was positively rather mortifying to find
myself on the mending hand.
All the other members of the Community showed me kindnessaccording to
the full measure of their capacity. Zenobia brought me my gruel every
daymade by her own hands (not very skilfullyif the truth must be
told)andwhenever I seemed inclined to conversewould sit by my
bedsideand talk with so much vivacity as to add several gratuitous
throbs to my pulse. Her poor little stories and tracts never half did
justice to her intellect. It was only the lack of a fitter avenue that
drove her to seek development in literature. She was made (among a
thousand other things that she might have been) for a stump oratress. I
recognized no severe culture in Zenobia; her mind was full of weeds. It
startled me sometimesin my state of moral as well as bodily
faint-heartednessto observe the hardihood of her philosophy. She made
no scruple of oversetting all human institutionsand scattering them as
with a breeze from her fan. A female reformerin her attacks upon
societyhas an instinctive sense of where the life liesand is inclined
to aim directly at that spot. Especially the relation between the sexes
is naturally among the earliest to attract her notice.
Zenobia was truly a magnificent woman. The homely simplicity of her dress
could not concealnor scarcely diminishthe queenliness of her presence.
The image of her form and face should have been multiplied all over the
earth. It was wronging the rest of mankind to retain her as the
spectacle of only a few. The stage would have been her proper sphere.
She should have made it a point of dutymoreoverto sit endlessly to
painters and sculptorsand preferably to the latter; because the cold
decorum of the marble would consist with the utmost scantiness of drapery
so that the eye might chastely be gladdened with her material perfection
in its entireness. I know not well how to express that the native glow
of coloring in her cheeksand even the flesh-warmth over her round arms
and what was visible of her full bust--in a wordher womanliness
incarnated--compelled me sometimes to close my eyesas if it were not
quite the privilege of modesty to gaze at her. Illness and exhaustion
no doubthad made me morbidly sensitive.
I noticed--and wondered how Zenobia contrived it--that she had always a
new flower in her hair. And still it was a hot-house flower--an
outlandish flower--a flower of the tropicssuch as appeared to have
sprung passionately out of a soil the very weeds of which would be fervid
and spicy. Unlike as was the flower of each successive day to the
preceding oneit yet so assimilated its richness to the rich beauty of
the womanthat I thought it the only flower fit to be worn; so fit
indeedthat Nature had evidently created this floral gemin a happy
exuberancefor the one purpose of worthily adorning Zenobia's head. It
might be that my feverish fantasies clustered themselves about this
peculiarityand caused it to look more gorgeous and wonderful than if
beheld with temperate eyes. In the height of my illnessas I well
recollectI went so far as to pronounce it preternatural.
Zenobia is an enchantress!whispered I once to Hollingsworth. "She is
a sister of the Veiled Lady. That flower in her hair is a talisman. If
you were to snatch it awayshe would vanishor be transformed into
something else." "What does he say?" asked Zenobia.
Nothing that has an atom of sense in it,answered Hollingsworth. "He
is a little beside himselfI believeand talks about your being a witch
and of some magical property in the flower that you wear in your hair."
It is an idea worthy of a feverish poet,said shelaughing rather
compassionatelyand taking out the flower. "I scorn to owe anything to
magic. HereMr. Hollingsworthyou may keep the spell while it has any
virtue in it; but I cannot promise you not to appear with a new one
to-morrow. It is the one relic of my more brilliantmy happier days!"
The most curious part of the matter was thatlong after my slight
delirium had passed away--as longindeedas t continued to know this
remarkable woman--her daily flower affected my imaginationthough more
slightlyyet in very much the same way. The reason must have been that
whether intentionally on her part or notthis favorite ornament was
actually a subtile expression of Zenobia's character.
One subjectabout which--very impertinentlymoreover--I perplexed
myself with a great many conjectureswaswhether Zenobia had ever been
married. The ideait must be understoodwas unauthorized by any
circumstance or suggestion that had made its way to my ears. So young as
I beheld herand the freshest and rosiest woman of a thousandthere was
certainly no need of imputing to her a destiny already accomplished; the
probability was far greater that her coming years had all life's richest
gifts to bring. If the great event of a woman's existence had been
consummatedthe world knew nothing of italthough the world seemed to
know Zenobia well. It was a ridiculous piece of romanceundoubtedlyto
imagine that this beautiful personagewealthy as she wasand holding a
position that might fairly enough be called distinguishedcould have
given herself away so privatelybut that some whisper and suspicionand
by degrees a full understanding of the factwould eventually be blown
abroad. But thenas I failed not to considerher original home was at
a distance of many hundred miles. Rumors might fill the social
atmosphereor might once have filled ittherewhich would travel but
slowlyagainst the windtowards our Northeastern metropolisand
perhaps melt into thin air before reaching it.
There was not--and I distinctly repeat it---the slightest foundation in
my knowledge for any surmise of the kind. But there is a species of
intuition--either a spiritual lie or the subtile recognition of a fact
--which comes to us in a reduced state of the corporeal system. The soul
gets the better of the bodyafter wasting illnessor when a vegetable
diet may have mingled too much ether in the blood. Vapors then rise up
to the brainand take shapes that often image falsehoodbut sometimes
truth. The spheres of our companions haveat such periodsa vastly
greater influence upon our own than when robust health gives us a
repellent and self-defensive energy. Zenobia's sphereI imagine
impressed itself powerfully on mineand transformed meduring this
period of my weaknessinto something like a mesmerical clairvoyant.
Thenalsoas anybody could observethe freedom of her deportment
(thoughto some tastesit might commend itself as the utmost perfection
of manner in a youthful widow or a blooming matron) was not exactly
maiden-like. What girl had ever laughed as Zenobia did? What girl had
ever spoken in her mellow tones? Her unconstrained and inevitable
manifestationI said often to myselfwas that of a woman to whom
wedlock had thrown wide the gates of mystery. Yet sometimes I strove to
be ashamed of these conjectures. I acknowledged it as a masculine
grossness--a sin of wicked interpretationof which man is often guilty
towards the other sex--thus to mistake the sweetliberalbut womanly
frankness of a noble and generous disposition. Stillit was of no avail
to reason with myself nor to upbraid myself. Pertinaciously the thought
Zenobia is a wife; Zenobia has lived and loved! There is no folded
petal, no latent dewdrop, in this perfectly developed rose!
--irresistibly that thought drove out all other conclusionsas often as
my mind reverted to the subject.
Zenobia was conscious of my observationthough notI presumeof the
point to which it led me.
Mr. Coverdale,said she one dayas she saw me watching herwhile she
arranged my gruel on the tableI have been exposed to a great deal of
eye-shot in the few years of my mixing in the world, but never, I think,
to precisely such glances as you are in the habit of favoring me with. I
seem to interest you very much; and yet--or else a woman's instinct is
for once deceived--I cannot reckon you as an admirer. What are you
seeking to discover in me?
The mystery of your life,answered Isurprised into the truth by the
unexpectedness of her attack. "And you will never tell me."
She bent her head towards meand let me look into her eyesas if
challenging me to drop a plummet-line down into the depths of her
I see nothing now,said Iclosing my own eyesunless it be the face
of a sprite laughing at me from the bottom of a deep well.
A bachelor always feels himself defraudedwhen he knows or suspects that
any woman of his acquaintance has given herself away. Otherwisethe
matter could have been no concern of mine. It was purely speculative
for I should notunder any circumstanceshave fallen in love with
Zenobia. The riddle made me so nervoushoweverin my sensitive
condition of mind and bodythat I most ungratefully began to wish that
she would let me alone. Thentooher gruel was very wretched stuff
with almost invariably the smell of pine smoke upon itlike the evil
taste that is said to mix itself up with a witch's best concocted
dainties. Why could not she have allowed one of the other women to take
the gruel in charge? Whatever else might be her giftsNature certainly
never intended Zenobia for a cook. Orif soshe should have meddled
only with the richest and spiciest dishesand such as are to be tasted
at banquetsbetween draughts of intoxicating wine.
VII. THE CONVALESCENT
As soon as my incommodities allowed me to think of past occurrencesI
failed not to inquire what had become of the odd little guest whom
Hollingsworth had been the medium of introducing among us. It now
appeared that poor Priscilla had not so literally fallen out of the
cloudsas we were at first inclined to suppose. A letterwhich should
have introduced herhad since been received from one of the city
missionariescontaining a certificate of character and an allusion to
circumstances whichin the writer's judgmentmade it especially
desirable that she should find shelter in our Community. There was a
hintnot very intelligibleimplying either that Priscilla had recently
escaped from some particular peril or irksomeness of positionor else
that she was still liable to this danger or difficultywhatever it might
be. We should ill have deserved the reputation of a benevolent
fraternityhad we hesitated to entertain a petitioner in such needand
so strongly recommended to our kindness; not to mentionmoreoverthat
the strange maiden had set herself diligently to workand was doing good
service with her needle. But a slight mist of uncertainty still floated
about Priscillaand kept heras yetfrom taking a very decided place
among creatures of flesh and blood.
The mysterious attractionwhichfrom her first entrance on our scene
she evinced for Zenobiahad lost nothing of its force. I often heard
her footstepssoft and lowaccompanying the light but decided tread of
the latter up the staircasestealing along the passage-way by her new
friend's sideand pausing while Zenobia entered my chamber.
Occasionally Zenobia would be a little annoyed by Priscilla's too close
attendance. In an authoritative and not very kindly toneshe would
advise her to breathe the pleasant air in a walkor to go with her work
into the barnholding out half a promise to come and sit on the hay with
herwhen at leisure. EvidentlyPriscilla found but scanty requital for
her love. Hollingsworth was likewise a great favorite with her. For
several minutes together sometimeswhile my auditory nerves retained the
susceptibility of delicate healthI used to hear a lowpleasant murmur
ascending from the room below; and at last ascertained it to be
Priscilla's voicebabbling like a little brook to Hollingsworth. She
talked more largely and freely with him than with Zenobiatowards whom
indeedher feelings seemed not so much to be confidence as involuntary
affection. I should have thought all the better of my own qualities had
Priscilla marked me out for the third place in her regards. Butthough
she appeared to like me tolerably wellI could never flatter myself with
being distinguished by her as Hollingsworth and Zenobia were.
One forenoonduring my convalescencethere came a gentle tap at my
chamber door. I immediately saidCome in, Priscilla!with an acute
sense of the applicant's identity. Nor was I deceived. It was really
Priscilla--a palelarge-eyed little woman (for she had gone far enough
into her teens to beat leaston the outer limit of girlhood)but much
less wan than at my previous view of herand far better conditioned both
as to health and spirits. As I first saw hershe had reminded me of
plants that one sometimes observes doing their best to vegetate among the
bricks of an enclosed courtwhere there is scanty soil and never any
sunshine. At presentthough with no approach to bloomthere were
indications that the girl had human blood in her veins.
Priscilla came softly to my bedsideand held out an article of
snow-white linenvery carefully and smoothly ironed. She did not seem
bashfulnor anywise embarrassed. My weakly conditionI suppose
supplied a medium in which she could approach me.
Do not you need this?asked she. "I have made it for you." It was a
My dear Priscilla,said IsmilingI never had on a nightcap in my
life! But perhaps it will be better for me to wear one, now that I am a
miserable invalid. How admirably you have done it! No, no; I never can
think of wearing such an exquisitely wrought nightcap as this, unless it
be in the daytime, when I sit up to receive company.
It is for use, not beauty,answered Priscilla. "I could have
embroidered it and made it much prettierif I pleased."
While holding up the nightcap and admiring the fine needleworkI
perceived that Priscilla had a sealed letter which she was waiting for me
to take. It had arrived from the village post-office that morning. As I
did not immediately offer to receive the lettershe drew it backand
held it against her bosomwith both hands clasped over itin a way that
had probably grown habitual to her. Nowon turning my eyes from the
nightcap to Priscillait forcibly struck me that her airthough not her
figureand the expression of her facebut not its featureshad a
resemblance to what I had often seen in a friend of mineone of the most
gifted women of the age. I cannot describe it. The points easiest to
convey to the reader were a certain curve of the shoulders and a partial
closing of the eyeswhich seemed to look more penetratingly into my own
eyesthrough the narrowed aperturesthan if they had been open at full
width. It was a singular anomaly of likeness coexisting with perfect
Will you give me the letter, Priscilla?said I.
She startedput the letter into my handand quite lost the look that
had drawn my notice.
Priscilla,I inquireddid you ever see Miss Margaret Fuller?No,
Because,said Iyou reminded me of her just now,--and it happens,
strangely enough, that this very letter is from her.
Priscillafor whatever reasonlooked very much discomposed.
I wish people would not fancy such odd things in me!she said rather
petulantly. "How could I possibly make myself resemble this lady merely
by holding her letter in my hand?"
Certainly, Priscilla, it would puzzle me to explain it,I replied; "nor
do I suppose that the letter had anything to do with it. It was just a
She hastened out of the roomand this was the last that I saw of
Priscilla until I ceased to be an invalid.
Being much alone during my recoveryI read interminably in Mr. Emerson's
EssaysThe Dial,Carlyle's worksGeorge Sand's romances (lent me by
Zenobia)and other books which one or another of the brethren or
sisterhood had brought with them. Agreeing in little elsemost of these
utterances were like the cry of some solitary sentinelwhose station was
on the outposts of the advance guard of human progression; or sometimes
the voice came sadly from among the shattered ruins of the pastbut yet
had a hopeful echo in the future. They were well adapted (betterat
leastthan any other intellectual productsthe volatile essence of
which had heretofore tinctured a printed page) to pilgrims like ourselves
whose present bivouac was considerably further into the waste of chaos
than any mortal army of crusaders had ever marched before. Fourier's
worksalsoin a series of horribly tedious volumesattracted a good
deal of my attentionfrom the analogy which I could not but recognize
between his system and our own. There was far less resemblanceit is
truethan the world chose to imagineinasmuch as the two theories
differedas widely as the zenith from the nadirin their main
I talked about Fourier to Hollingsworthand translatedfor his benefit
some of the passages that chiefly impressed me.
When, as a consequence of human improvement,said Ithe globe shall
arrive at its final perfection, the great ocean is to be converted into a
particular kind of lemonade, such as was fashionable at Paris in
Fourier's time. He calls it limonade a cedre. It is positively a fact!
Just imagine the city docks filled, every day, with a flood tide of this
Why did not the Frenchman make punch of it at once?asked
Hollingsworth. "The jack-tars would be delighted to go down in ships and
do business in such an element."
I further proceeded to explainas well as I modestly couldseveral
points of Fourier's systemillustrating them with here and there a page
or twoand asking Hollingsworth's opinion as to the expediency of
introducing these beautiful peculiarities into our own practice.
Let me hear no more of it!cried hein utter disgust. "I never will
forgive this fellow! He has committed the unpardonable sin; for what
more monstrous iniquity could the Devil himself contrive than to choose
the selfish principle--the principle of all human wrongthe very
blackness of man's heartthe portion of ourselves which we shudder at
and which it is the whole aim of spiritual discipline to eradicate--to
choose it as the master workman of his system? To seize upon and foster
whatever vilepettysordidfilthybestialand abominable corruptions
have cankered into our natureto be the efficient instruments of his
infernal regeneration! And his consummated Paradiseas he pictures it
would be worthy of the agency which he counts upon for establishing it.
The nauseous villain!"
Nevertheless,remarked Iin consideration of the promised delights of
his system,---so very proper, as they certainly are, to be appreciated by
Fourier's countrymen,--I cannot but wonder that universal France did not
adopt his theory at a moment's warning. But is there not something very
characteristic of his nation in Fourier's manner of putting forth his
views? He makes no claim to inspiration. He has not persuaded
himself--as Swedenborg did, and as any other than a Frenchman would, with
a mission of like importance to communicate--that he speaks with
authority from above. He promulgates his system, so far as I can
perceive, entirely on his own responsibility. He has searched out and
discovered the whole counsel of the Almighty in respect to mankind, past,
present, and for exactly seventy thousand years to come, by the mere
force and cunning of his individual intellect!
Take the book out of my sight,said Hollingsworth with great virulence
of expressionor, I tell you fairly, I shall fling it in the fire! And
as for Fourier, let him make a Paradise, if he can, of Gehenna, where, as
I conscientiously believe, he is floundering at this moment!
And bellowing, I suppose,said I--not that I felt any ill-will towards
Fourierbut merely wanted to give the finishing touch to Hollingsworth's
imagebellowing for the least drop of his beloved limonade a cedre!
There is but little profit to be expected in attempting to argue with a
man who allows himself to declaim in this manner; so I dropt the subject
and never took it up again.
But had the system at which he was so enraged combined almost any amount
of human wisdomspiritual insightand imaginative beautyI question
whether Hollingsworth's mind was in a fit condition to receive it. I
began to discern that he had come among us actuated by no real sympathy
with our feelings and our hopesbut chiefly because we were estranging
ourselves from the worldwith which his lonely and exclusive object in
life had already put him at odds. Hollingsworth must have been
originally endowed with a great spirit of benevolencedeep enough and
warm enough to be the source of as much disinterested good as Providence
often allows a human being the privilege of conferring upon his fellows.
This native instinct yet lived within him. I myself had profited by it
in my necessity. It was seentooin his treatment of Priscilla. Such
casual circumstances as were here involved would quicken his divine power
of sympathyand make him seemwhile their influence lastedthe
tenderest man and the truest friend on earth. But by and by you missed
the tenderness of yesterdayand grew drearily conscious that
Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be; and this friend
was the coldspectral monster which he had himself conjured upand on
which he was wasting all the warmth of his heartand of whichat last
--as these men of a mighty purpose so invariably do--he had grown to be
the bond-slave. It was his philanthropic theory.
This was a result exceedingly sad to contemplateconsidering that it had
been mainly brought about by the very ardor and exuberance of his
philanthropy. Sadindeedbut by no means unusual: he had taught his
benevolence to pour its warm tide exclusively through one channel; so
that there was nothing to spare for other great manifestations of love to
mannor scarcely for the nutriment of individual attachmentsunless
they could minister in some way to the terrible egotism which he mistook
for an angel of God. Had Hollingsworth's education been more enlarged
he might not so inevitably have stumbled into this pitfall. But this
identical pursuit had educated him. He knew absolutely nothingexcept
in a single directionwhere he had thought so energeticallyand felt to
such a depththat no doubt the entire reason and justice of the universe
appeared to be concentrated thitherward.
It is my private opinion thatat this period of his lifeHollingsworth
was fast going mad; andas with other crazy people (among whom I include
humorists of every degree)it required all the constancy of friendship
to restrain his associates from pronouncing him an intolerable bore.
Such prolonged fiddling upon one string--such multiform presentation of
one idea! His specific object (of which he made the public more than
sufficiently awarethrough the medium of lectures and pamphlets) was to
obtain funds for the construction of an edificewith a sort of
collegiate endowment. On this foundation he purposed to devote himself
and a few disciples to the reform and mental culture of our criminal
brethren. His visionary edifice was Hollingsworth's one castle in the
air; it was the material type in which his philanthropic dream strove to
embody itself; and he made the scheme more definiteand caught hold of
it the more stronglyand kept his clutch the more pertinaciouslyby
rendering it visible to the bodily eye. I have seen hima hundred times
with a pencil and sheet of papersketching the facadethe side-view
or the rear of the structureor planning the internal arrangementsas
lovingly as another man might plan those of the projected home where he
meant to be happy with his wife and children. I have known him to begin
a model of the building with little stonesgathered at the brookside
whither we had gone to cool ourselves in the sultry noon of hayingtime.
Unlike all other ghostshis spirit haunted an edificewhichinstead of
being time-wornand full of storied loveand joyand sorrowhad never
yet come into existence.
Dear friend,said I once to Hollingsworthbefore leaving my
sick-chamber I heartily wish that I could make your schemes my schemes,
because it would be so great a happiness to find myself treading the same
path with you. But I am afraid there is not stuff in me stern enough for
a philanthropist,--or not in this peculiar direction,--or, at all events,
not solely in this. Can you bear with me, if such should prove to be the
I will at least wait awhile,answered Hollingsworthgazing at me
sternly and gloomily. "But how can you be my life-long friendexcept you
strive with me towards the great object of my life?"
Heaven forgive me! A horrible suspicion crept into my heartand stung
the very core of it as with the fangs of an adder. I wondered whether it
were possible that Hollingsworth could have watched by my bedsidewith
all that devoted careonly for the ulterior purpose of making me a
proselyte to his views!
VIII. A MODERN ARCADIA
May-day--I forget whether by Zenobia s sole decreeor by the unanimous
vote of our community--had been declared a movable festival. It was
deferred until the sun should have had a reasonable time to clear away
the snowdrifts along the lee of the stone wallsand bring out a few of
the readiest wild flowers. On the forenoon of the substituted dayafter
admitting some of the balmy air into my chamberI decided that it was
nonsense and effeminacy to keep myself a prisoner any longer. So I
descended to the sitting-roomand finding nobody thereproceeded to the
barnwhence I had already heard Zenobia's voiceand along with it a
girlish laugh which was not so certainly recognizable. Arriving at the
spotit a little surprised me to discover that these merry outbreaks
came from Priscilla.
The two had been a-maying together. They had found anemones in abundance
houstonias by the handfulsome columbinesa few longstalked violets
and a quantity of white everlasting flowersand had filled up their
basket with the delicate spray of shrubs and trees. None were prettier
than the maple twigsthe leaf of which looks like a scarlet bud in May
and like a plate of vegetable gold in October. Zenobiawho showed no
conscience in such mattershad also rifled a cherry-tree of one of its
blossomed boughsandwith all this variety of sylvan ornamenthad been
decking out Priscilla. Being done with a good deal of tasteit made her
look more charming than I should have thought possiblewith my
recollection of the wanfrostnipt girlas heretofore described.
Neverthelessamong those fragrant blossomsand conspicuouslytoohad
been stuck a weed of evil odor and ugly aspectwhichas soon as I
detected itdestroyed the effect of all the rest. There was a gleam of
latent mischief--not to call it deviltry--in Zenobia's eyewhich seemed
to indicate a slightly malicious purpose in the arrangement.
As for herselfshe scorned the rural buds and leafletsand wore nothing
but her invariable flower of the tropics.
What do you think of Priscilla now, Mr. Coverdale?asked she
surveying her as a child does its doll. "Is not she worth a verse or
There is only one thing amiss,answered I. Zenobia laughedand flung
the malignant weed away.
Yes; she deserves some verses now,said Iand from a better poet than
myself. She is the very picture of the New England spring; subdued in
tint and rather cool, but with a capacity of sunshine, and bringing us a
few Alpine blossoms, as earnest of something richer, though hardly more
beautiful, hereafter. The best type of her is one of those anemones.
What I find most singular in Priscilla, as her health improves,
observed Zenobiais her wildness. Such a quiet little body as she
seemed, one would not have expected that. Why, as we strolled the woods
together, I could hardly keep her from scrambling up the trees, like a
squirrel. She has never before known what it is to live in the free air,
and so it intoxicates her as if she were sipping wine. And she thinks it
such a paradise here, and all of us, particularly Mr. Hollingsworth and
myself, such angels! It is quite ridiculous, and provokes one's malice
almost, to see a creature so happy, especially a feminine creature.
They are always happier than male creatures,said I.
You must correct that opinion, Mr. Coverdale,replied Zenobia
contemptuouslyor I shall think you lack the poetic insight. Did you
ever see a happy woman in your life? Of course, I do not mean a girl,
like Priscilla and a thousand others,--for they are all alike, while on
the sunny side of experience,--but a grown woman. How can she be happy,
after discovering that fate has assigned her but one single event, which
she must contrive to make the substance of her whole life? A man has his
choice of innumerable events.
A woman, I suppose,answered Iby constant repetition of her one
event, may compensate for the lack of variety.Indeed!said Zenobia.
While we were talkingPriscilla caught sight of Hollingsworth at a
distancein a blue frockand with a hoe over his shoulderreturning
from the field. She immediately set out to meet himrunning and
skippingwith spirits as light as the breeze of the May morningbut
with limbs too little exercised to be quite responsive; she clapped her
handstoowith great exuberance of gestureas is the custom of young
girls when their electricity overcharges them. Butall at oncemidway
to Hollingsworthshe pausedlooked round about hertowards the river
the roadthe woodsand back towards usappearing to listenas if she
heard some one calling her nameand knew not precisely in what direction.
Have you bewitched her?I exclaimed.
It is no sorcery of mine,said Zenobia; "but I have seen the girl do
that identical thing once or twice before. Can you imagine what is the
matter with her?"
No; unless,said Ishe has the gift of hearing those 'airy tongues
that syllable men's names,' which Milton tells about.
From whatever causePriscilla's animation seemed entirely to have
deserted her. She seated herself on a rockand remained there until
Hollingsworth came up; and when he took her hand and led her back to us
she rather resembled my original image of the wan and spiritless
Priscilla than the flowery May-queen of a few moments ago. These sudden
transformationsonly to be accounted for by an extreme nervous
susceptibilityalways continued to characterize the girlthough with
diminished frequency as her health progressively grew more robust.
I was now on my legs again. My fit of illness had been an avenue between
two existences; the low-arched and darksome doorwaythrough which I
crept out of a life of old conventionalismson my hands and kneesas it
wereand gained admittance into the freer region that lay beyond. In
this respectit was like death. Andas with deathtooit was good to
have gone through it. No otherwise could I have rid myself of a thousand
folliesfripperiesprejudiceshabitsand other such worldly dust as
inevitably settles upon the crowd along the broad highwaygiving them
all one sordid aspect before noon-timehowever freshly they may have
begun their pilgrimage in the dewy morning. The very substance upon my
bones had not been fit to live with in any bettertrueror more
energetic mode than that to which I was accustomed. So it was taken off
me and flung asidelike any other worn-out or unseasonable garment; and
after shivering a little while in my skeletonI began to be clothed anew
and much more satisfactorily than in my previous suit. In literal and
physical truthI was quite another man. I had a lively sense of the
exultation with which the spirit will enter on the next stage of its
eternal progress after leaving the heavy burden of its mortality in an
early gravewith as little concern for what may become of it as now
affected me for the flesh which I had lost.
Emerging into the genial sunshineI half fancied that the labors of the
brotherhood had already realized some of Fourier's predictions. Their
enlightened culture of the soiland the virtues with which they
sanctified their lifehad begun to produce an effect upon the material
world and its climate. In my new enthusiasmman looked strong and
stately--and womanohhow beautiful!--and the earth a green garden
blossoming with many-colored delights. Thus Naturewhose laws I had
broken in various artificial wayscomported herself towards me as a
strict but loving motherwho uses the rod upon her little boy for his
naughtinessand then gives him a smilea kissand some pretty
playthings to console the urchin for her severity.
In the interval of my seclusionthere had been a number of recruits to
our little army of saints and martyrs. They were mostly individuals who
had gone through such an experience as to disgust them with ordinary
pursuitsbut who were not yet so oldnor had suffered so deeplyas to
lose their faith in the better time to come. On comparing their minds
one with another they often discovered that this idea of a Community had
been growing upin silent and unknown sympathyfor years. Thoughtful
strongly lined faces were among them; sombre browsbut eyes that did not
require spectaclesunless prematurely dimmed by the student's lamplight
and hair that seldom showed a thread of silver. Agewedded to the past
incrusted over with a stony layer of habitsand retaining nothing fluid
in its possibilitieswould have been absurdly out of place in an
enterprise like this. Youthtooin its early dawnwas hardly more
adapted to our purpose; for it would behold the morning radiance of its
own spirit beaming over the very same spots of withered grass and barren
sand whence most of us had seen it vanish. We had very young people with
usit is true--downy ladsrosy girls in their first teensand
children of all heights above one's knee; but these had chiefly been sent
hither for educationwhich it was one of the objects and methods of our
institution to supply. Then we had boardersfrom town and elsewhere
who lived with us in a familiar waysympathized more or less in our
theoriesand sometimes shared in our labors.
On the wholeit was a society such as has seldom met together; nor
perhapscould it reasonably be expected to hold together long. Persons
of marked individuality--crooked sticksas some of us might be
called--are not exactly the easiest to bind up into a fagot. Butso
long as our union should subsista man of intellect and feelingwith a
free nature in himmight have sought far and near without finding so
many points of attraction as would allure him hitherward. We were of all
creeds and opinionsand generally tolerant of allon every imaginable
subject. Our bondit seems to mewas not affirmativebut negative.
We had individually found one thing or another to quarrel with in our
past lifeand were pretty well agreed as to the inexpediency of
lumbering along with the old system any further. As to what should be
substitutedthere was much less unanimity. We did not greatly care--at
leastI never did--for the written constitution under which our
millennium had commenced. My hope wasthatbetween theory and practice
a true and available mode of life might be struck out; and thateven
should we ultimately failthe months or years spent in the trial would
not have been wastedeither as regarded passing enjoymentor the
experience which makes men wise.
Arcadians though we wereour costume bore no resemblance to the
beribboned doubletssilk breeches and stockingsand slippers fastened
with artificial rosesthat distinguish the pastoral people of poetry and
the stage. In outward showI humbly conceivewe looked rather like a
gang of beggarsor bandittithan either a company of honest
laboring-menor a conclave of philosophers. Whatever might be our
points of differencewe all of us seemed to have come to Blithedale with
the one thrifty and laudable idea of wearing out our old clothes. Such
garments as had an airingwhenever we strode afield! Coats with high
collars and with no collarsbroad-skirted or swallow-tailedand with
the waist at every point between the hip and arm-pit; pantaloons of a
dozen successive epochsand greatly defaced at the knees by the
humiliations of the wearer before his lady-love--in shortwe were a
living epitome of defunct fashionsand the very raggedest presentment of
men who had seen better days. It was gentility in tatters. Often
retaining a scholarlike or clerical airyou might have taken us for the
denizens of Grub Streetintent on getting a comfortable livelihood by
agricultural labor; or Coleridge's projected Pantisocracy in full
experiment; or Candide and his motley associates at work in their cabbage
garden; or anything else that was miserably out at elbowsand most
clumsily patched in the rear. We might have been sworn comrades to
Falstaff's ragged regiment. Little skill as we boasted in other points
of husbandryevery mother's son of us would have served admirably to
stick up for a scarecrow. And the worst of the matter wasthat the
first energetic movement essential to one downright stroke of real labor
was sure to put a finish to these poor habiliments. So we gradually
flung them all asideand took to honest homespun and linsey-woolseyas
preferableon the wholeto the plan recommendedI thinkby Virgil-"
Ara nudus; sere nudus--which as Silas Foster remarked, when I
translated the maxim, would be apt to astonish the women-folks.
After a reasonable training, the yeoman life throve well with us. Our
faces took the sunburn kindly; our chests gained in compass, and our
shoulders in breadth and squareness; our great brown fists looked as if
they had never been capable of kid gloves. The plough, the hoe, the
scythe, and the hay-fork grew familiar to our grasp. The oxen responded
to our voices. We could do almost as fair a day's work as Silas Foster
himself, sleep dreamlessly after it, and awake at daybreak with only a
little stiffness of the joints, which was usually quite gone by
To be sure, our next neighbors pretended to be incredulous as to our real
proficiency in the business which we had taken in hand. They told
slanderous fables about our inability to yoke our own oxen, or to drive
them afield when yoked, or to release the poor brutes from their conjugal
bond at nightfall. They had the face to say, too, that the cows laughed
at our awkwardness at milking-time, and invariably kicked over the pails;
partly in consequence of our putting the stool on the wrong side, and
partly because, taking offence at the whisking of their tails, we were in
the habit of holding these natural fly-flappers with one hand and milking
with the other. They further averred that we hoed up whole acres of
Indian corn and other crops, and drew the earth carefully about the weeds;
and that we raised five hundred tufts of burdock, mistaking them for
cabbages; and that by dint of unskilful planting few of our seeds ever
came up at all, or, if they did come up, it was stern-foremost; and that
we spent the better part of the month of June in reversing a field of
beans, which had thrust themselves out of the ground in this unseemly way.
They quoted it as nothing more than an ordinary occurrence for one or
other of us to crop off two or three fingers, of a morning, by our clumsy
use of the hay-cutter. Finally, and as an ultimate catastrophe, these
mendacious rogues circulated a report that we communitarians were
exterminated, to the last man, by severing ourselves asunder with the
sweep of our own scythes! and that the world had lost nothing by this
But this was pure envy and malice on the part of the neighboring farmers.
The peril of our new way of life was not lest we should fail in becoming
practical agriculturists, but that we should probably cease to be
anything else. While our enterprise lay all in theory, we had pleased
ourselves with delectable visions of the spiritualization of labor. It
was to be our form of prayer and ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of
the hoe was to uncover some aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden
from the sun. Pausing in the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture
from our foreheads, we were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the
far-off soul of truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out
quite so well as we anticipated. It is very true that, sometimes, gazing
casually around me, out of the midst of my toil, I used to discern a
richer picturesqueness in the visible scene of earth and sky. There was,
at such moments, a novelty, an unwonted aspect, on the face of Nature, as
if she had been taken by surprise and seen at unawares, with no
opportunity to put off her real look, and assume the mask with which she
mysteriously hides herself from mortals. But this was all. The clods of
earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and over, were
never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the contrary, were
fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing, and left us
mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening. Intellectual activity is
incompatible with any large amount of bodily exercise. The yeoman and
the scholar--the yeoman and the man of finest moral culture, though not
the man of sturdiest sense and integrity--are two distinct individuals,
and can never be melted or welded into one substance.
Zenobia soon saw this truth, and gibed me about it, one evening, as
Hollingsworth and I lay on the grass, after a hard day's work.
I am afraid you did not make a song todaywhile loading the hay-cart
said she, as Burns didwhen he was reaping barley."
Burns never made a song in haying-time,I answered very positively.
He was no poet while a farmer, and no farmer while a poet.
And on the whole, which of the two characters do you like best?asked
Zenobia. "For I have an idea that you cannot combine them any better than
Burns did. AhI seein my mind's eyewhat sort of an individual you
are to betwo or three years hence. Grim Silas Foster is your prototype
with his palm of soleleatherand his joints of rusty iron (which all
through summer keep the stiffness of what he calls his winter's
rheumatize)and his brain of--I don't know what his brain is made of
unless it be a Savoy cabbage; but yours may be caulifloweras a rather
more delicate variety. Your physical man will be transmuted into salt
beef and fried porkat the rateI should imagineof a pound and a half
a day; that being about the average which we find necessary in the
kitchen. You will make your toilet for the day (still like this
delightful Silas Foster) by rinsing your fingers and the front part of
your face in a little tin pan of water at the doorstepand teasing your
hair with a wooden pocketcomb before a seven-by-nine-inch looking-glass.
Your only pastime will be to smoke some very vile tobacco in the black
stump of a pipe."
Pray, spare me!cried I. "But the pipe is not Silas's only mode of
solacing himself with the weed."
Your literature,continued Zenobiaapparently delighted with her
descriptionwill be the 'Farmer's Almanac;' for I observe our friend
Foster never gets so far as the newspaper. When you happen to sit down,
at odd moments, you will fall asleep, and make nasal proclamation of the
fact, as he does; and invariably you must be jogged out of a nap, after
supper, by the future Mrs. Coverdale, and persuaded to go regularly to
bed. And on Sundays, when you put on a blue coat with brass buttons, you
will think of nothing else to do but to go and lounge over the stone
walls and rail fences, and stare at the corn growing. And you will look
with a knowing eye at oxen, and will have a tendency to clamber over into
pigsties, and feel of the hogs, and give a guess how much they will weigh
after you shall have stuck and dressed them. Already I have noticed you
begin to speak through your nose, and with a drawl. Pray, if you really
did make any poetry to-day, let us hear it in that kind of utterance!
Coverdale has given up making verses now,said Hollingsworthwho never
had the slightest appreciation of my poetry. "Just think of him penning
a sonnet with a fist like that! There is at least this good in a life of
toilthat it takes the nonsense and fancy-work out of a manand leaves
nothing but what truly belongs to him. If a farmer can make poetry at
the plough-tailit must be because his nature insists on it; and if that
be the caselet him make itin Heaven's name!"
And how is it with you?asked Zenobiain a different voice; for she
never laughed at Hollingsworthas she often did at me. "YouI think
cannot have ceased to live a life of thought and feeling."
I have always been in earnest,answered Hollingsworth. "I have
hammered thought out of ironafter heating the iron in my heart! It
matters little what my outward toil may be. Were I a slaveat the bottom
of a mineI should keep the same purposethe same faith in its ultimate
accomplishmentthat I do now. Miles Coverdale is not in earnesteither
as a poet or a laborer."
You give me hard measure, Hollingsworth,said Ia little hurt. "I
have kept pace with you in the field; and my bones feel as if I had been
in earnestwhatever may be the case with my brain!"
I cannot conceive,observed Zenobia with great emphasis--andno doubt
she spoke fairly the feeling of the moment--" I cannot conceive of
being so continually as Mr. Coverdale is within the sphere of a strong
and noble naturewithout being strengthened and ennobled by its
This amiable remark of the fair Zenobia confirmed me in what I had
already begun to suspectthat Hollingsworthlike many other illustrious
prophetsreformersand philanthropistswas likely to make at least two
proselytes among the women to one among the men. Zenobia and Priscilla!
TheseI believe (unless my unworthy self might be reckoned for a third)
were the only disciples of his mission; and I spent a great deal of time
uselesslyin trying to conjecture what Hollingsworth meant to do with
them--and they with him!
It is notI apprehenda healthy kind of mental occupation to devote
ourselves too exclusively to the study of individual men and women. If
the person under examination be one's selfthe result is pretty certain
to be diseased action of the heartalmost before we can snatch a second
glance. Or if we take the freedom to put a friend under our microscope
we thereby insulate him from many of his true relationsmagnify his
peculiaritiesinevitably tear him into partsand of course patch him
very clumsily together again. What wonderthenshould we be frightened
by the aspect of a monsterwhichafter all--though we can point to
every feature of his deformity in the real personage--may be said to
have been created mainly by ourselves.
Thusas my conscience has often whispered meI did Hollingsworth a
great wrong by prying into his character; and am perhaps doing him as
great a oneat this momentby putting faith in the discoveries which I
seemed to make. But I could not help it. Had I loved him lessI might
have used him better. He and Zenobia and Priscilla--both for their own
sakes and as connected with him--were separated from the rest of the
Communityto my imaginationand stood forth as the indices of a problem
which it was my business to solve. Other associates had a portion of my
time; other matters amused me; passing occurrences carried me along with
themwhile they lasted. But here was the vortex of my meditations
around which they revolvedand whitherward they too continually tended.
In the midst of cheerful societyI had often a feeling of loneliness.
For it was impossible not to be sensible thatwhile these three
characters figured so largely on my private theatreI--though probably
reckoned as a friend by all--was at best but a secondary or tertiary
personage with either of them.
I loved Hollingsworthas has already been enough expressed. But it
impressed memore and morethat there was a stern and dreadful
peculiarity in this mansuch as could not prove otherwise than
pernicious to the happiness of those who should be drawn into too
intimate a connection with him. He was not altogether human. There was
something else in Hollingsworth besides flesh and bloodand sympathies
and affections and celestial spirit.
This is always true of those men who have surrendered themselves to an
overruling purpose. It does not so much impel them from withoutnor
even operate as a motive power withinbut grows incorporate with all
that they think and feeland finally converts them into little else save
that one principle. When such begins to be the predicamentit is not
cowardicebut wisdomto avoid these victims. They have no heartno
sympathyno reasonno conscience. They will keep no friendunless he
make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will smite and slay you
and trample your dead corpse under footall the more readilyif you
take the first step with themand cannot take the secondand the third
and every other step of their terribly strait path. They have an idol to
which they consecrate themselves high-priestand deem it holy work to
offer sacrifices of whatever is most precious; and never once seem to
suspect--so cunning has the Devil been with them--that this false deity
in whose iron featuresimmitigable to all the rest of mankindthey see
only benignity and loveis but a spectrum of the very priest himself
projected upon the surrounding darkness. And the higher and purer the
original objectand the more unselfishly it may have been taken upthe
slighter is the probability that they can be led to recognize the process
by which godlike benevolence has been debased into all-devouring egotism.
Of course I am perfectly aware that the above statement is exaggerated
in the attempt to make it adequate. Professed philanthropists have gone
far; but no originally good manI presumeever went quite so far as
this. Let the reader abate whatever he deems fit. The paragraph may
remainhoweverboth for its truth and its exaggerationas strongly
expressive of the tendencies which were really operative in Hollingsworth
and as exemplifying the kind of error into which my mode of observation
was calculated to lead me. The issue wasthat in solitude I often
shuddered at my friend. In my recollection of his dark and impressive
countenancethe features grew more sternly prominent than the reality
duskier in their depth and shadowand more lurid in their light; the
frownthat had merely flitted across his browseemed to have contorted
it with an adamantine wrinkle. On meeting him againI was often filled
with remorsewhen his deep eyes beamed kindly upon meas with the glow
of a household fire that was burning in a cave. "He is a man after all
thought I; his Maker's own truest imagea philanthropic man!---not that
steel engine of the Devil's contrivancea philanthropist!" But in my
wood-walksand in my silent chamberthe dark face frowned at me again.
When a young girl comes within the sphere of such a manshe is as
perilously situated as the maiden whomin the old classical mythsthe
people used to expose to a dragon. If I had any duty whateverin
reference to Hollingsworthit was to endeavor to save Priscilla from
that kind of personal worship which her sex is generally prone to lavish
upon saints and heroes. It often requires but one smile out of the
hero's eyes into the girl's or woman's heartto transform this devotion
from a sentiment of the highest approval and confidenceinto passionate
love. NowHollingsworth smiled much upon Priscilla--more than upon any
other person. If she thought him beautifulit was no wonder. I often
thought him sowith the expression of tender human care and gentlest
sympathy which she alone seemed to have power to call out upon his
features. ZenobiaI suspectwould have given her eyesbright as they
werefor such a look; it was the least that our poor Priscilla could do
to give her heart for a great many of them. There was the more danger of
thisinasmuch as the footing on which we all associated at Blithedale
was widely different from that of conventional society. While inclining
us to the soft affections of the golden ageit seemed to authorize any
individualof either sexto fall in love with any otherregardless of
what would elsewhere be judged suitable and prudent. Accordingly the
tender passion was very rife among usin various degrees of mildness or
virulencebut mostly passing away with the state of things that had
given it origin. This was all well enough; butfor a girl like
Priscilla and a woman like Zenobia to jostle one another in their love of
a man like Hollingsworthwas likely to be no child's play.
Had I been as cold-hearted as I sometimes thought myselfnothing would
have interested me more than to witness the play of passions that must
thus have been evolved. Butin honest truthI would really have gone
far to save Priscillaat leastfrom the catastrophe in which such a
drama would be apt to terminate.
Priscilla had now grown to be a very pretty girland still kept budding
and blossomingand daily putting on some new charmwhich you no sooner
became sensible of than you thought it worth all that she had previously.
possessed. So unformedvagueand without substanceas she had come to
usit seemed as if we could see Nature shaping out a woman before our
very eyesand yet had only a more reverential sense of the mystery of a
woman's soul and frame. Yesterdayher cheek was paleto-dayit had a
bloom. Priscilla's smilelike a baby's first onewas a wondrous
novelty. Her imperfections and shortcomings affected me with a kind of
playful pathoswhich was as absolutely bewitching a sensation as ever I
experienced. After she had been a month or two at Blithedaleher animal
spirits waxed highand kept her pretty constantly in a state of bubble
and fermentimpelling her to far more bodily activity than she had yet
strength to endure. She was very fond of playing with the other girls
out of doors. There is hardly another sight in the world so pretty as
that of a company of young girlsalmost women grownat playand so
giving themselves up to their airy impulse that their tiptoes barely
touch the ground.
Girls are incomparably wilder and more effervescent than boysmore
untamable and regardless of rule and limitwith an ever-shifting variety
breaking continually into new modes of funyet with a harmonious
propriety through all. Their stepstheir voicesappear free as the
windbut keep consonance with a strain of music inaudible to us. Young
men and boyson the other handplayaccording to recognized lawold
traditionary gamespermitting no caprioles of fancybut with scope
enough for the outbreak of savage instincts. Foryoung or oldin play
or in earnestman is prone to be a brute.
Especially is it delightful to see a vigorous young girl run a racewith
her head thrown backher limbs moving more friskily than they needand
an air between that of a bird and a young colt. But Priscilla's peculiar
charmin a foot-racewas the weakness and irregularity with which she
ran. Growing up without exerciseexcept to her poor little fingersshe
had never yet acquired the perfect use of her legs. Setting buoyantly
forththereforeas if no rival less swift than Atalanta could compete
with hershe ran falteringlyand often tumbled on the grass. Such an
incident--though it seems too slight to think of--was a thing to laugh at
but which brought the water into one's eyesand lingered in the memory
after far greater joys and sorrows were wept out of itas antiquated
trash. Priscilla's lifeas I beheld itwas full of trifles that
affected me in just this way.
When she had come to be quite at home among usI used to fancy that
Priscilla played more pranksand perpetrated more mischiefthan any
other girl in the Community. For exampleI once heard Silas Fosterin
a very gruff voicethreatening to rivet three horseshoes round
Priscilla's neck and chain her to a postbecause shewith some other
young peoplehad clambered upon a load of hayand caused it to slide
off the cart. How she made her peace I never knew; but very soon
afterwards I saw old Silaswith his brawny hands round Priscilla's waist
swinging her to and froand finally depositing her on one of the oxen
to take her first lessons in riding. She met with terrible mishaps in
her efforts to milk a cow; she let the poultry into the garden; she
generally spoilt whatever part of the dinner she took in charge; she
broke crockery; she dropt our biggest water pitcher into the well;
and---except with her needleand those little wooden instruments for
purse-making--was as unserviceable a member of society as any young lady
in the land. There was no other sort of efficiency about her. Yet
everybody was kind to Priscilla; everybody loved her and laughed at her
to her faceand did not laugh behind her back; everybody would have
given her half of his last crustor the bigger share of his plum-cake.
These were pretty certain indications that we were all conscious of a
pleasant weakness in the girland considered her not quite able to look
after her own interests or fight her battle with the world. And
Hollingsworth--perhaps because he had been the means of introducing
Priscilla to her new abode--appeared to recognize her as his own especial
Her simplecarelesschildish flow of spirits often made me sad. She
seemed to me like a butterfly at play in a flickering bit of sunshine
and mistaking it for a broad and eternal summer. We sometimes hold mirth
to a stricter accountability than sorrow; it must show good causeor the
echo of its laughter comes back drearily. Priscilla's gayetymoreover
was of a nature that showed me how delicate an instrument she wasand
what fragile harp-strings were her nerves. As they made sweet music at
the airiest touchit would require but a stronger one to burst them all
asunder. Absurd as it might beI tried to reason with herand persuade
her not to be so joyousthinking thatif she would draw less lavishly
upon her fund of happinessit would last the longer. I remember doing
soone summer eveningwhen we tired laborers sat looking onlike
Goldsmith's old folks under the village thorn-treewhile the young
people were at their sports.
What is the use or sense of being so very gay?I said to Priscilla
while she was taking breathafter a great frolic. "I love to see a
sufficient cause for everythingand I can see none for this. Pray tell
menowwhat kind of a world you imagine this to bewhich you are so
I never think about it at all,answered Priscillalaughing. "But this
I am sure ofthat it is a world where everybody is kind to meand where
I love everybody. My heart keeps dancing within meand all the foolish
things which you see me do are only the motions of my heart. How can I
be dismalif my heart will not let me?"
Have you nothing dismal to remember?I suggested. "If notthen
indeedyou are very fortunate!"
Ah!said Priscilla slowly.
And then came that unintelligible gesturewhen she seemed to be
listening to a distant voice.
For my part,I continuedbeneficently seeking to overshadow her with
my own sombre humormy past life has been a tiresome one enough; yet I
would rather look backward ten times than forward once. For, little as
we know of our life to come, we may be very sure, for one thing, that the
good we aim at will not be attained. People never do get just the good
they seek. If it come at all, it is something else, which they never
dreamed of, and did not particularly want. Then, again, we may rest
certain that our friends of to-day will not be our friends of a few years
hence; but, if we keep one of them, it will be at the expense of the
others; and most probably we shall keep none. To be sure, there are more
to be had; but who cares about making a new set of friends, even should
they be better than those around us?
Not I!said Priscilla. "I will live and die with these!"
Well; but let the future go,resumed I. "As for the present momentif
we could look into the hearts where we wish to be most valuedwhat
should you expect to see? One's own likenessin the innermostholiest
niche? Ah! I don't know! It may not be there at all. It may be a dusty
imagethrust aside into a cornerand by and by to be flung out of doors
where any foot may trample upon it. If not to-daythen to-morrow! And
soPriscillaI do not see much wisdom in being so very merry in this
kind of a world."
It had taken me nearly seven years of worldly life to hive up the bitter
honey which I here offered to Priscilla. And she rejected it!
I don't believe one word of what you say!she repliedlaughing anew.
You made me sad, for a minute, by talking about the past; but the past
never comes back again. Do we dream the same dream twice? There is
nothing else that I am afraid of.
So away she ranand fell down on the green grassas it was often her
luck to dobut got up againwithout any harm.
Priscilla, Priscilla!cried Hollingsworthwho was sitting on the
doorstep; "you had better not run any more to-night. You will weary
yourself too much. And do not sit down out of doorsfor there is a
heavy dew beginning to fall."
At his first wordshe went and sat down under the porchat
Hollingsworth's feetentirely contented and happy. What charm was there
in his rude massiveness that so attracted and soothed this shadow-like
girl? It appeared to mewho have always been curious in such matters
that Priscilla's vague and seemingly causeless flow of felicitous feeling
was that with which love blesses inexperienced heartsbefore they begin
to suspect what is going on within them. It transports them to the
seventh heaven; and if you ask what brought them thitherthey neither
can tell nor care to learnbut cherish an ecstatic faith that there they
shall abide forever.
Zenobia was in the doorwaynot far from Hollingsworth. She gazed at
Priscilla in a very singular way. Indeedit was a sight worth gazing at
and a beautiful sighttooas the fair girl sat at the feet of that
darkpowerful figure. Her airwhile perfectly modestdelicateand
virgin-likedenoted her as swayed by Hollingsworthattracted to him
and unconsciously seeking to rest upon his strength. I could not turn
away my own eyesbut hoped that nobodysave Zenobia and myselfwas
witnessing this picture. It is before me nowwith the evening twilight
a little deepened by the dusk of memory.
Come hither, Priscilla,said Zenobia. "I have something to say to you."
She spoke in little more than a whisper. But it is strange how
expressive of moods a whisper may often be. Priscilla felt at once that
something had gone wrong.
Are you angry with me?she askedrising slowlyand standing before
Zenobia in a drooping attitude. "What have I done? I hope you are not
No, no, Priscilla!said Hollingsworthsmiling. "I will answer for it
she is not. You are the one little person in the world with whom nobody
can be angry!"
Angry with you, child? What a silly idea!exclaimed Zenobialaughing.
No, indeed! But, my dear Priscilla, you are getting to be so very
pretty that you absolutely need a duenna; and, as I am older than you,
and have had my own little experience of life, and think myself
exceedingly sage, I intend to fill the place of a maiden aunt. Every day,
I shall give you a lecture, a quarter of an hour in length, on the
morals, manners, and proprieties of social life. When our pastoral shall
be quite played out, Priscilla, my worldly wisdom may stand you in good
I am afraid you are angry with me!repeated Priscilla sadly; for
while she seemed as impressible as waxthe girl often showed a
persistency in her own ideas as stubborn as it was gentle.
Dear me, what can I say to the child!cried Zenobia in a tone of
humorous vexation. "Wellwell; since you insist on my being angrycome
to my room this momentand let me beat you!"
Zenobia bade Hollingsworth good-night very sweetlyand nodded to me with
a smile. Butjust as she turned aside with Priscilla into the dimness
of the porchI caught another glance at her countenance. It would have
made the fortune of a tragic actresscould she have borrowed it for the
moment when she fumbles in her bosom for the concealed daggeror the
exceedingly sharp bodkinor mingles the ratsbane in her lover's bowl of
wine or her rival's cup of tea. Not that I in the least anticipated any
such catastrophe--it being a remarkable truth that custom has in no one
point a greater sway than over our modes of wreaking our wild passions.
And besideshad we been in Italyinstead of New Englandit was hardly
yet a crisis for the dagger or the bowl.
It often amazed mehoweverthat Hollingsworth should show himself so
recklessly tender towards Priscillaand never once seem to think of the
effect which it might have upon her heart. But the manas I have
endeavored to explainwas thrown completely off his moral balanceand
quite bewildered as to his personal relationsby his great excrescence
of a philanthropic scheme. I used to seeor fancyindications that he
was not altogether obtuse to Zenobia's influence as a woman. No doubt
howeverhe had a still more exquisite enjoyment of Priscilla's silent
sympathy with his purposesso unalloyed with criticismand therefore
more grateful than any intellectual approbationwhich always involves a
possible reserve of latent censure. A man--poetprophetor whatever he
may be--readily persuades himself of his right to all the worship that is
voluntarily tendered. In requital of so rich benefits as he was to
confer upon mankindit would have been hard to deny Hollingsworth the
simple solace of a young girl's heartwhich he held in his handand
smelled toolike a rosebud. But what ifwhile pressing out its
fragrancehe should crush the tender rosebud in his grasp!
As for ZenobiaI saw no occasion to give myself any trouble. With her
native strengthand her experience of the worldshe could not be
supposed to need any help of mine. NeverthelessI was really generous
enough to feel some little interest likewise for Zenobia. With all her
faults (which might have been a great many besides the abundance that I
knew of)she possessed noble traitsand a heart which mustat least
have been valuable while new. And she seemed ready to fling it away as
uncalculatingly as Priscilla herself. I could not but suspect thatif
merely at play with Hollingsworthshe was sporting with a power which
she did not fully estimate. Or if in earnestit might chancebetween
Zenobia's passionate force and his darkself-delusive egotismto turn
out such earnest as would develop itself in some sufficiently tragic
catastrophethough the dagger and the bowl should go for nothing in it.
Meantimethe gossip of the Community set them down as a pair of lovers.
They took walks togetherand were not seldom encountered in the
wood-paths: Hollingsworth deeply discoursingin tones solemn and sternly
pathetic; Zenobiawith a rich glow on her cheeksand her eyes softened
from their ordinary brightnesslooked so beautifulthat had her
companion been ten times a philanthropistit seemed impossible but that
one glance should melt him back into a man. Oftener than anywhere else
they went to a certain point on the slope of a pasturecommanding nearly
the whole of our own domainbesides a view of the riverand an airy
prospect of many distant hills. The bond of our Community was suchthat
the members had the privilege of building cottages for their own
residence within our precinctsthus laying a hearthstone and fencing in
a home private and peculiar to all desirable extentwhile yet the
inhabitants should continue to share the advantages of an associated life.
It was inferred that Hollingsworth and Zenobia intended to rear their
dwelling on this favorite spot.
I mentioned those rumors to Hollingsworth in a playful way.
Had you consulted me,I went on to observeI should have recommended
a site farther to the left, just a little withdrawn into the wood, with
two or three peeps at the prospect among the trees. You will be in the
shady vale of years long before you can raise any better kind of shade
around your cottage, if you build it on this bare slope.
But I offer my edifice as a spectacle to the world,said Hollingsworth
that it may take example and build many another like it. Therefore, I
mean to set it on the open hillside.
Twist these words how I mightthey offered no very satisfactory import.
It seemed hardly probable that Hollingsworth should care about educating
the public taste in the department of cottage architecturedesirable as
such improvement certainly was.
X. A VISITOR FROM TOWN
Hollingsworth and I--we had been hoeing potatoesthat forenoonwhile
the rest of the fraternity were engaged in a distant quarter of the
farm--sat under a clump of mapleseating our eleven o'clock lunchwhen
we saw a stranger approaching along the edge of the field. He had
admitted himself from the roadside through a turnstileand seemed to
have a purpose of speaking with us.
Andby the byewe were favored with many visits at Blithedale
especially from people who sympathized with our theoriesand perhaps
held themselves ready to unite in our actual experiment as soon as there
should appear a reliable promise of its success. It was rather ludicrous
indeed (to meat leastwhose enthusiasm had insensibly been exhaled
together with the perspiration of many a hard day's toil)it was
absolutely funnythereforeto observe what a glory was shed about our
life and laborsin the imaginations of these longing proselytes. In
their viewwe were as poetical as Arcadiansbesides being as practical
as the hardest-fisted husbandmen in Massachusetts. We did notit is
truespend much time in piping to our sheepor warbling our innocent
loves to the sisterhood. But they gave us credit for imbuing the
ordinary rustic occupations with a kind of religious poetryinsomuch
that our very cowyards and pigsties were as delightfully fragrant as a
flower garden. Nothing used to please me more than to see one of these
lay enthusiasts snatch up a hoeas they were very prone to doand set
to work with a vigor that perhaps carried him through about a dozen
ill-directed strokes. Men are wonderfully soon satisfiedin this day of
shameful bodily enervationwhenfrom one end of life to the othersuch
multitudes never taste the sweet weariness that follows accustomed toil.
I seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow as flimsy and flaccid
as the proselyte's moistened shirt-collarwith a quarter of an hour's
active labor under a July sun.
But the person now at hand had not at all the air of one of these amiable
visionaries. He was an elderly mandressed rather shabbilyyet
decently enoughin a gray frock-coatfaded towards a brown hueand
wore a broad-brimmed white hatof the fashion of several years gone by.
His hair was perfect silverwithout a dark thread in the whole of it;
his nosethough it had a scarlet tipby no means indicated the jollity
of which a red nose is the generally admitted symbol. He was a subdued
undemonstrative old manwho would doubtless drink a glass of liquornow
and thenand probably more than was good for him--nothoweverwith a
purpose of undue exhilarationbut in the hope of bringing his spirits up
to the ordinary level of the world's cheerfulness. Drawing nearerthere
was a shy look about himas if he were ashamed of his povertyorat
any ratefor some reason or otherwould rather have us glance at him
sidelong than take a full front view. He had a queer appearance of
hiding himself behind the patch on his left eye.
I know this old gentleman,said I to Hollingsworthas we sat observing
him; "that isI have met him a hundred times in townand have often
amused my fancy with wondering what he was before he came to be what he
is. He haunts restaurants and such placesand has an odd way of lurking
in corners or getting behind a door whenever practicableand holding out
his hand with some little article in it which he wishes you to buy. The
eye of the world seems to trouble himalthough he necessarily lives so
much in it. I never expected to see him in an open field."
Have you learned anything of his history?asked Hollingsworth.
Not a circumstance,I answered; "but there must be something curious in
it. I take him to be a harmless sort of a personand a tolerably honest
one; but his mannersbeing so furtiveremind me of those of a rat--a
rat without the mischiefthe fierce eyethe teeth to bite withor the
desire to bite. Seenow! He means to skulk along that fringe of bushes
and approach us on the other side of our clump of maples."
We soon heard the old man's velvet tread on the grassindicating that he
had arrived within a few feet of where we Sat.
Good-morning, Mr. Moodie,said Hollingsworthaddressing the stranger
as an acquaintance; "you must have had a hot and tiresome walk from the
city. Sit downand take a morsel of our bread and cheese."
The visitor made a grateful little murmur of acquiescenceand sat down
in a spot somewhat removed; so thatglancing roundI could see his gray
pantaloons and dusty shoeswhile his upper part was mostly hidden behind
the shrubbery. Nor did he come forth from this retirement during the
whole of the interview that followed. We handed him such food as we had
together with a brown jug of molasses and water (would that it had been
brandyor some thing betterfor the sake of his chill old heart!)like
priests offering dainty sacrifice to an enshrined and invisible idol. I
have no idea that he really lacked sustenance; but it was quite touching
neverthelessto hear him nibbling away at our crusts.
Mr. Moodie,said Ido you remember selling me one of those very
pretty little silk purses, of which you seem to have a monopoly in the
market? I keep it to this day, I can assure you.
Ah, thank you,said our guest. "YesMr. CoverdaleI used to sell a
good many of those little purses."
He spoke languidlyand only those few wordslike a watch with an
inelastic springthat just ticks a moment or two and stops again. He
seemed a very forlorn old man. In the wantonness of youthstrengthand
comfortable condition--making my prey of people's individualitiesas my
custom was--I tried to identify my mind with the old fellow'sand take
his view of the worldas if looking through a smoke-blackened glass at
the sun. It robbed the landscape of all its life. Those pleasantly
swelling slopes of our farmdescending towards the wide meadowsthrough
which sluggishly circled the brimful tide of the Charlesbathing the
long sedges on its hither and farther shores; the broadsunny gleam over
the winding water; that peculiar picturesqueness of the scene where capes
and headlands put themselves boldly forth upon the perfect level of the
meadowas into a green lakewith inlets between the promontories; the
shadowy woodlandwith twinkling showers of light falling into its depths;
the sultry heat-vaporwhich rose everywhere like incenseand in which
my soul delightedas indicating so rich a fervor in the passionate day
and in the earth that was burning with its love--I beheld all these
things as through old Moodie's eyes. When my eyes are dimmer than they
have yet come to beI will go thither againand see if I did not catch
the tone of his mind arightand if the cold and lifeless tint of his
perceptions be not then repeated in my own.
Yet it was unaccountable to myselfthe interest that I felt in him.
Have you any objection,said Ito telling me who made those little
Gentlemen have often asked me that,said Moodie slowly; "but I shake my
headand say little or nothingand creep out of the way as well as I
can. I am a man of few words; and if gentlemen were to be told one thing
they would be very aptI supposeto ask me another. But it happens
just nowMr. Coverdalethat you can tell me more about the maker of
those little purses than I can tell you."
Why do you trouble him with needless questions, Coverdale?interrupted
Hollingsworth. "You must have knownlong agothat it was Priscilla.
And somy good friendyou have come to see her? WellI am glad of it.
You will find her altered very much for the bettersince that winter
evening when you put her into my charge. WhyPriscilla has a bloom in
Has my pale little girl a bloom?repeated Moodie with a kind of slow
wonder. "Priscilla with a bloom in her cheeks! AhI am afraid I shall
not know my little girl. And is she happy?"
Just as happy as a bird,answered Hollingsworth.
Then, gentlemen,said our guest apprehensively I don't think it well
for me to go any farther. I crept hitherward only to ask about Priscilla;
and now that you have told me such good news, perhaps I can do no better
than to creep back again. If she were to see this old face of mine, the
child would remember some very sad times which we have spent together.
Some very sad times, indeed! She has forgotten them, I know,--them and
me,--else she could not be so happy, nor have a bloom in her cheeks.
Yes--yes--yes,continued hestill with the same torpid utterance; "with
many thanks to youMr. HollingsworthI will creep back to town again."
You shall do no such thing, Mr. Moodie,said Hollingsworth bluffly.
Priscilla often speaks of you; and if there lacks anything to make her
cheeks bloom like two damask roses, I'll venture to say it is just the
sight of your face. Come,--we will go and find her.
Mr. Hollingsworth!said the old man in his hesitating way.
Has there been any call for Priscilla?asked Moodie; and though his
face was hidden from ushis tone gave a sure indication of the
mysterious nod and wink with which he put the question. "You knowI
thinksirwhat I mean."
I have not the remotest suspicion what you mean, Mr. Moodie,replied
Hollingsworth; "nobodyto my knowledgehas called for Priscillaexcept
yourself. But come; we are losing timeand I have several things to say
to you by the way."
And, Mr. Hollingsworth!repeated Moodie.
Well, again!cried my friend rather impatiently. "What now?"
There is a lady here,said the old man; and his voice lost some of its
wearisome hesitation. "You will account it a very strange matter for me
to talk about; but I chanced to know this lady when she was but a little
child. If I am rightly informedshe has grown to be a very fine woman
and makes a brilliant figure in the worldwith her beautyand her
talentsand her noble way of spending her riches. I should recognize
this ladyso people tell meby a magnificent flower in her hair."
What a rich tinge it gives to his colorless ideas, when he speaks of
Zenobia!I whispered to Hollingsworth. "But how can there possibly be
any interest or connecting link between him and her?"
The old man, for years past,whispered Hollingsworthhas been a
little out of his right mind, as you probably see.
What I would inquire,resumed Moodieis whether this beautiful lady
is kind to my poor Priscilla.
Very kind,said Hollingsworth.
Does she love her?asked Moodie.
It should seem so,answered my friend. "They are always together."
Like a gentlewoman and her maid-servant, I fancy?suggested the old
There was something so singular in his way of saying thisthat I could
not resist the impulse to turn quite roundso as to catch a glimpse of
his facealmost imagining that I should see another person than old
Moodie. But there he satwith the patched side of his face towards me.
Like an elder and younger sister, rather,replied Hollingsworth.
Ah!said Moodie more complacentlyfor his latter tones had harshness
and acidity in them--" it would gladden my old heart to witness that.
If one thing would make me happier than anotherMr. Hollingsworthit
would be to see that beautiful lady holding my little girl by the hand."
Come along,said Hollingsworthand perhaps you may.
After a little more delay on the part of our freakish visitorthey set
forth togetherold Moodie keeping a step or two behind Hollingsworthso
that the latter could not very conveniently look him in the face. I
remained under the tuft of maplesdoing my utmost to draw an inference
from the scene that had just passed. In spite of Hollingsworth's
off-hand explanationit did not strike me that our strange guest was
really beside himselfbut only that his mind needed screwing uplike an
instrument long out of tunethe strings of which have ceased to vibrate
smartly and sharply. Methought it would be profitable for usprojectors
of a happy lifeto welcome this old gray shadowand cherish him as one
of usand let him creep about our domainin order that he might be a
little merrier for our sakesand wesometimesa little sadder for his.
Human destinies look ominous without some perceptible intermixture of
the sable or the gray. And thentooshould any of our fraternity grow
feverish with an over-exulting sense of prosperityit would be a sort of
cooling regimen to slink off into the woodsand spend an houror a day
or as many days as might be requisite to the curein uninterrupted
communion with this deplorable old Moodie!
Going homeward to dinnerI had a glimpse of himbehind the trunk of a
treegazing earnestly towards a particular window of the farmhouse; and
by and by Priscilla appeared at this windowplayfully drawing along
Zenobiawho looked as bright as the very day that was blazing down upon
usonly notby many degreesso well advanced towards her noon. I was
convinced that this pretty sight must have been purposely arranged by
Priscilla for the old man to see. But either the girl held her too long
or her fondness was resented as too great a freedom; for Zenobia suddenly
put Priscilla decidedly awayand gave her a haughty lookas from a
mistress to a dependant. Old Moodie shook his head; and again and again
I saw him shake itas he withdrew along the road; and at the last point
whence the farmhouse was visiblehe turned and shook his uplifted staff.
XI. THE WOOD-PATH
Not long after the preceding incidentin order to get the ache of too
constant labor out of my bonesand to relieve my spirit of the
irksomeness of a settled routineI took a holiday. It was my purpose to
spend it all alonefrom breakfast-time till twilightin the deepest
wood-seclusion that lay anywhere around us. Though fond of societyI
was so constituted as to need these occasional retirementseven in a
life like that of Blithedalewhich was itself characterized by a
remoteness from the world. Unless renewed by a yet further withdrawal
towards the inner circle of self-communionI lost the better part of my
individuality. My thoughts became of little worthand my sensibilities
grew as arid as a tuft of moss (a thing whose life is in the shadethe
rainor the noontide dew)crumbling in the sunshine after long
expectance of a shower. Sowith my heart full of a drowsy pleasureand
cautious not to dissipate my mood by previous intercourse with any oneI
hurried awayand was soon pacing a wood-patharched overhead with
boughsand dusky-brown beneath my feet.
At first I walked very swiftlyas if the heavy flood tide of social life
were roaring at my heelsand would outstrip and overwhelm mewithout
all the better diligence in my escape. Butthreading the more distant
windings of the trackI abated my paceand looked about me for some
side-aislethat should admit me into the innermost sanctuary of this
green cathedraljust asin human acquaintanceshipa casual opening
sometimes lets usall of a suddeninto the long-sought intimacy of a
mysterious heart. So much was I absorbed in my reflections--orrather
in my moodthe substance of which was as yet too shapeless to be called
thought--that footsteps rustled on the leavesand a figure passed me by
almost without impressing either the sound or sight upon my
A moment afterwardsI heard a voice at a little distance behind me
speaking so sharply and impertinently that it made a complete discord
with my spiritual stateand caused the latter to vanish as abruptly as
when you thrust a finger into a soap-bubble.
Halloo, friend!cried this most unseasonable voice. "Stop a momentI
say! I must have a word with you!"
I turned aboutin a humor ludicrously irate. In the first placethe
interruptionat any ratewas a grievous injury; thenthe tone
displeased me. And finallyunless there be real affection in his heart
a man cannot--such is the bad state to which the world has brought
itself---cannot more effectually show his contempt for a brother mortal
nor more gallingly assume a position of superioritythan by addressing
him as "friend." Especially does the misapplication of this phrase bring
out that latent hostility which is sure to animate peculiar sectsand
those whowith however generous a purposehave sequestered themselves
from the crowd; a feelingit is truewhich may be hidden in some
dog-kennel of the heartgrumbling there in the darknessbut is never
quite extinctuntil the dissenting party have gained power and scope
enough to treat the world generously. For my partI should have taken
it as far less an insult to be styled" fellow clown or bumpkin." To
either of these appellations my rustic garb (it was a linen blousewith
checked shirt and striped pantaloonsa chip hat on my headand a rough
hickory stick in my hand) very fairly entitled me. As the case stoodmy
temper darted at once to the opposite pole; not friendbut enemy!
What do you want with me?said Ifacing about.
Come a little nearer, friend,said the strangerbeckoning.
No,answered I. "If I can do anything for you without too much trouble
to myselfsay so. But recollectif you pleasethat you are not
speaking to an acquaintancemuch less a friend!"
Upon my word, I believe not!retorted helooking at me with some
curiosity; andlifting his hathe made me a salute which had enough of
sarcasm to be offensiveand just enough of doubtful courtesy to render
any resentment of it absurd. "But I ask your pardon! I recognize a
little mistake. If I may take the liberty to suppose ityousirare
probably one of the aesthetic--or shall I rather say ecstatic?--laborers
who have planted themselves hereabouts. This is your forest of Arden;
and you are either the banished Duke in personor one of the chief
nobles in his train. The melancholy Jacquesperhaps? Be it so. In that
caseyou can probably do me a favor."
I neverin my lifefelt less inclined to confer a favor on any man.
I am busy,said I.
So unexpectedly had the stranger made me sensible of his presencethat
he had almost the effect of an apparition; and certainly a less
appropriate one (taking into view the dim woodland solitude about us)
than if the salvage man of antiquityhirsute and cinctured with a leafy
girdlehad started out of a thicket. He was still youngseemingly a
little under thirtyof a tall and well-developed figureand as handsome
a man as ever I beheld. The style of his beautyhoweverthough a
masculine styledid not at all commend itself to my taste. His
countenance--I hardly know how to describe the peculiarity--had an
indecorum in ita kind of rudenessa hardcoarseforth-putting
freedom of expressionwhich no degree of external polish could have
abated one single jot. Not that it was vulgar. But he had no fineness
of nature; there was in his eyes (although they might have artifice
enough of another sort) the naked exposure of something that ought not to
be left prominent. With these vague allusions to what I have seen in
other faces as well as hisI leave the quality to be comprehended
best--because with an intuitive repugnance--by those who possess least of
His hairas well as his beard and mustachewas coal-black; his eyes
toowere black and sparklingand his teeth remarkably brilliant. He was
rather carelessly but well and fashionably dressedin a summer-morning
costume. There was a gold chainexquisitely wroughtacross his vest.
never saw a smoother or whiter gloss than that upon his shirt-bosom
which had a pin in itset with a gem that glimmeredin the leafy shadow
where he stoodlike a living tip of fire. He carried a stick with a
wooden headcarved in vivid imitation of that of a serpent. I hated him
partlyI do believefrom a comparison of my own homely garb with his
Well, sir,said Ia little ashamed of my first irritationbut still
with no waste of civilitybe pleased to speak at once, as I have my own
business in hand.
I regret that my mode of addressing you was a little unfortunate,said
the strangersmiling; for he seemed a very acute sort of personand saw
in some degreehow I stood affected towards him. "I intended no
offenceand shall certainly comport myself with due ceremony hereafter.
I merely wish to make a few inquiries respecting a ladyformerly of my
acquaintancewho is now resident in your CommunityandI believe
largely concerned in your social enterprise. You call herI think
That is her name in literature,observed I; "a nametoowhich
possibly she may permit her private friends to know and address her by
--but not one which they feel at liberty to recognize when used of her
personally by a stranger or casual acquaintance."
Indeed!answered this disagreeable person; and he turned aside his
face for an instant with a brief laughwhich struck me as a noteworthy
expression of his character. "Perhaps I might put forward a claimon
your own groundsto call the lady by a name so appropriate to her
splendid qualities. But I am willing to know her by any cognomen that
you may suggest."
Heartily wishing that he would be either a little more offensiveor a
good deal less soor break off our intercourse altogetherI mentioned
Zenobia's real name.
True,said he; "and in general society I have never heard her called
otherwise. Andafter allour discussion of the point has been
gratuitous. My object is only to inquire whenwhereand how this lady
may most conveniently be seen."
At her present residence, of course,I replied. "You have but to go
thither and ask for her. This very path will lead you within sight of
the house; so I wish you good-morning."
One moment, if you please,said the stranger. "The course you indicate
would certainly be the proper onein an ordinary morning call. But my
business is privatepersonaland somewhat peculiar. Nowin a
community like thisI should judge that any little occurrence is likely
to be discussed rather more minutely than would quite suit my views. I
refer solely to myselfyou understandand without intimating that it
would be other than a matter of entire indifference to the lady. In
shortI especially desire to see her in private. If her habits are such
as I have known themshe is probably often to be met with in the woods
or by the river-side; and I think you could do me the favor to point out
some favorite walkwhereabout this hourI might be fortunate enough
to gain an interview."
I reflected that it would be quite a supererogatory piece of Quixotism in
me to undertake the guardianship of Zenobiawhofor my painswould
only make me the butt of endless ridiculeshould the fact ever come to
her knowledge. I therefore described a spot whichas often as any other
was Zenobia's resort at this period of the day; nor was it so remote
from the farmhouse as to leave her in much perilwhatever might be the
A single word more,said he; and his black eyes sparkled at mewhether
with fun or malice I knew notbut certainly as if the Devil were peeping
out of them. "Among your fraternityI understandthere is a certain
holy and benevolent blacksmith; a man of ironin more senses than one; a
roughcross-grainedwellmeaning individualrather boorish in his
mannersas might be expectedand by no means of the highest
intellectual cultivation. He is a philanthropical lecturerwith two or
three disciplesand a scheme of his ownthe preliminary step in which
involves a large purchase of landand the erection of a spacious edifice
at an expense considerably beyond his means; inasmuch as these are to be
reckoned in copper or old iron much more conveniently than in gold or
silver. He hammers away upon his one topic as lustily as ever he did
upon a horseshoe! Do you know such a person?" I shook my headand was
turning away. "Our friend he continued, is described to me as a brawny
shaggygrimand ill-favored personagenot particularly well
calculatedone would sayto insinuate himself with the softer sex. Yet
so far has this honest fellow succeeded with one lady whom we wot of
that he anticipatesfrom her abundant resourcesthe necessary funds for
realizing his plan in brick and mortar!"
Here the stranger seemed to be so much amused with his sketch of
Hollingsworth's character and purposesthat he burst into a fit of
merrimentof the same nature as the briefmetallic laugh already
alluded tobut immensely prolonged and enlarged. In the excess of his
delighthe opened his mouth wideand disclosed a gold band around the
upper part of his teeththereby making it apparent that every one of his
brilliant grinders and incisors was a sham. This discovery affected me
I felt as if the whole man were a moral and physical humbug; his
wonderful beauty of facefor aught I knewmight be removable like a
mask; andtall and comely as his figure lookedhe was perhaps but a
wizened little elfgray and decrepitwith nothing genuine about him
save the wicked expression of his grin. The fantasy of his spectral
character so wrought upon metogether with the contagion of his strange
mirth on my sympathiesthat I soon began to laugh as loudly as himself.
By and byhe paused all at once; so suddenlyindeedthat my own
cachinnation lasted a moment longer.
Ah, excuse me!said he. "Our interview seems to proceed more merrily
than it began."
It ends here,answered I. "And I take shame to myself that my folly
has lost me the right of resenting your ridicule of a friend."
Pray allow me,said the strangerapproaching a step nearerand laying
his gloved hand on my sleeve. "One other favor I must ask of you. You
have a young person here at Blithedaleof whom I have heard--whom
perhapsI have known--and in whomat all eventsI take a peculiar
interest. She is one of those delicatenervous young creaturesnot
uncommon in New Englandand whom I suppose to have become what we find
them by the gradual refining away of the physical system among your women.
Some philosophers choose to glorify this habit of body by terming it
spiritual; butin my opinionit is rather the effect of unwholesome
foodbad airlack of outdoor exerciseand neglect of bathingon the
part of these damsels and their female progenitorsall resulting in a
kind of hereditary dyspepsia. Zenobiaeven with her uncomfortable
surplus of vitalityis far the better model of womanhood. But--to
revert again to this young person--she goes among you by the name of
Priscilla. Could you possibly afford me the means of speaking with her?"
You have made so many inquiries of me,I observedthat I may at least
trouble you with one. What is your name?
He offered me a cardwith "Professor Westervelt" engraved on it. At the
same timeas if to vindicate his claim to the professorial dignityso
often assumed on very questionable groundshe put on a pair of
spectacleswhich so altered the character of his face that I hardly knew
him again. But I liked the present aspect no better than the former one.
I must decline any further connection with your affairs,said I
drawing back. "I have told you where to find Zenobia. As for Priscilla
she has closer friends than myselfthrough whomif they see fityou
can gain access to her."
In that case,returned the Professorceremoniously raising his hat
good-morning to you.
He took his departureand was soon out of sight among the windings of
the wood-path. But after a little reflectionI could not help regretting
that I had so peremptorily broken off the interviewwhile the stranger
seemed inclined to continue it. His evident knowledge of matters
affecting my three friends might have led to disclosures or inferences
that would perhaps have been serviceable. I was particularly struck with
the fact thatever since the appearance of Priscillait had been the
tendency of events to suggest and establish a connection between Zenobia
and her. She had comein the first instanceas if with the sole
purpose of claiming Zenobia's protection. Old Moodie's visitit
appearedwas chiefly to ascertain whether this object had been
accomplished. And hereto-daywas the questionable Professorlinking
one with the other in his inquiriesand seeking communication with both.
Meanwhilemy inclination for a ramble having been balkedI lingered in
the vicinity of the farmwith perhaps a vague idea that some new event
would grow out of Westervelt's proposed interview with Zenobia. My own
part in these transactions was singularly subordinate. It resembled that
of the Chorus in a classic playwhich seems to be set aloof from the
possibility of personal concernmentand bestows the whole measure of its
hope or fearits exultation or sorrowon the fortunes of others
between whom and itself this sympathy is the only bond. Destinyit may
be---the most skilful of stage managers--seldom chooses to arrange its
scenesand carry forward its dramawithout securing the presence of at
least one calm observer. It is his office to give applause when dueand
sometimes an inevitable tearto detect the final fitness of incident to
characterand distil in his long-brooding thought the whole morality of
Not to be out of the way in case there were need of me in my vocation
andat the same timeto avoid thrusting myself where neither destiny
nor mortals might desire my presenceI remained pretty near the verge of
the woodlands. My position was off the track of Zenobia's customary walk
yet not so remote but that a recognized occasion might speedily have
brought me thither.
XII. COVERDALE'S HERMITAGE
Long sincein this part of our circumjacent woodI had found out for
myself a little hermitage. It was a kind of leafy cavehigh upward into
the airamong the midmost branches of a white-pine tree. A wild
grapevineof unusual size and luxuriancehad twined and twisted itself
up into the treeandafter wreathing the entanglement of its tendrils
around almost every boughhad caught hold of three or four neighboring
treesand married the whole clump with a perfectly inextricable knot of
polygamy. Oncewhile sheltering myself from a summer showerthe fancy
had taken me to clamber up into this seemingly impervious mass of foliage.
The branches yielded me a passageand closed again beneathas if only
a squirrel or a bird had passed. Far aloftaround the stem of the
central pinebehold a perfect nest for Robinson Crusoe or King Charles!
A hollow chamber of rare seclusion had been formed by the decay of some
of the pine brancheswhich the vine had lovingly strangled with its
embraceburying them from the light of day in an aerial sepulchre of its
own leaves. It cost me but little ingenuity to enlarge the interiorand
open loopholes through the verdant walls. Had it ever been my fortune to
spend a honeymoonI should have thought seriously of inviting my bride
up thitherwhere our next neighbors would have been two orioles in
another part of the clump.
It was an admirable place to make versestuning the rhythm to the breezy
symphony that so often stirred among the vine leaves; or to meditate an
essay for "The Dial in which the many tongues of Nature whispered
mysteries, and seemed to ask only a little stronger puff of wind to speak
out the solution of its riddle. Being so pervious to air-currents, it
was just the nook, too, for the enjoyment of a cigar. This hermitage was
my one exclusive possession while I counted myself a brother of the
socialists. It symbolized my individuality, and aided me in keeping it
inviolate. None ever found me out in it, except, once, a squirrel. I
brought thither no guest, because, after Hollingsworth failed me, there
was no longer the man alive with whom I could think of sharing all. So
there I used to sit, owl-like, yet not without liberal and hospitable
thoughts. I counted the innumerable clusters of my vine, and
fore-reckoned the abundance of my vintage. It gladdened me to anticipate
the surprise of the Community, when, like an allegorical figure of rich
October, I should make my appearance, with shoulders bent beneath the
burden of ripe grapes, and some of the crushed ones crimsoning my brow as
with, a bloodstain.
Ascending into this natural turret, I peeped in turn out of several of
its small windows. The pine-tree, being ancient, rose high above the rest
of the wood, which was of comparatively recent growth. Even where I sat,
about midway between the root and the topmost bough, my position was
lofty enough to serve as an observatory, not for starry investigations,
but for those sublunary matters in which lay a lore as infinite as that
of the planets. Through one loophole I saw the river lapsing calmly
onward, while in the meadow, near its brink, a few of the brethren were
digging peat for our winter's fuel. On the interior cart-road of our
farm I discerned Hollingsworth, with a yoke of oxen hitched to a drag of
stones, that were to be piled into a fence, on which we employed
ourselves at the odd intervals of other labor. The harsh tones of his
voice, shouting to the sluggish steers, made me sensible, even at such a
distance, that he was ill at ease, and that the balked philanthropist had
the battle-spirit in his heart.
HawBuck!" quoth he. "Come along thereye lazy ones! What are ye
Mankind, in Hollingsworth's opinion,thought Iis but another yoke of
oxen, as stubborn, stupid, and sluggish as our old Brown and Bright. He
vituperates us aloud, and curses us in his heart, and will begin to prick
us with the goad-stick, by and by. But are we his oxen? And what right
has he to be the driver? And why, when there is enough else to do,
should we waste our strength in dragging home the ponderous load of his
philanthropic absurdities? At my height above the earth, the whole
matter looks ridiculous!
Turning towards the farmhouseI saw Priscilla (forthough a great way
offthe eye of faith assured me that it was she) sitting at Zenobia's
windowand making little pursesI suppose; orperhapsmending the
Community's old linen. A bird flew past my tree; andas it clove its way
onward into the sunny atmosphereI flung it a message for Priscilla.
Tell her,said Ithat her fragile thread of life has inextricably
knotted itself with other and tougher threads, and most likely it will be
broken. Tell her that Zenobia will not be long her friend. Say that
Hollingsworth's heart is on fire with his own purpose, but icy for all
human affection; and that, if she has given him her love, it is like
casting a flower into a sepulchre. And say that if any mortal really
cares for her, it is myself; and not even I for her realities,--poor
little seamstress, as Zenobia rightly called her!--but for the fancy-work
with which I have idly decked her out!
The pleasant scent of the woodevolved by the hot sunstole up to my
nostrilsas if I had been an idol in its niche. Many trees mingled
their fragrance into a thousand-fold odor. Possibly there was a sensual
influence in the broad light of noon that lay beneath me. It may have
been the causein partthat I suddenly found myself possessed by a mood
of disbelief in moral beauty or heroismand a conviction of the folly of
attempting to benefit the world. Our especial scheme of reformwhich
from my observatoryI could take in with the bodily eyelooked so
ridiculous that it was impossible not to laugh aloud.
But the joke is a little too heavy,thought I. "If I were wiseI
should get out of the scrape with all diligenceand then laugh at my
companions for remaining in it."
While thus musingI heard with perfect distinctnesssomewhere in the
wood beneaththe peculiar laugh which I have described as one of the
disagreeable characteristics of Professor Westervelt. It brought my
thoughts back to our recent interview. I recognized as chiefly due to
this man's influence the sceptical and sneering view which just now had
filled my mental vision in regard to all life's better purposes. And it
was through his eyesmore than my ownthat I was looking at
Hollingsworthwith his glorious if impracticable dreamand at the noble
earthliness of Zenobia's characterand even at Priscillawhose
impalpable grace lay so singularly between disease and beauty. The
essential charm of each had vanished. There are some spheres the contact
with which inevitably degrades the highdebases the puredeforms the
beautiful. It must be a mind of uncommon strengthand little
impressibilitythat can permit itself the habit of such intercourseand
not be permanently deteriorated; and yet the Professor's tone represented
that of worldly society at largewhere a cold scepticism smothers what
it can of our spiritual aspirationsand makes the rest ridiculous. I
detested this kind of man; and all the more because a part of my own
nature showed itself responsive to him.
Voices were now approaching through the region of the wood which lay in
the vicinity of my tree. Soon I caught glimpses of two figures
--a woman and a man--Zenobia and the stranger--earnestly talking together
as they advanced.
Zenobia had a rich though varying color. It wasmost of the whilea
flameand anon a sudden paleness. Her eyes glowedso that their light
sometimes flashed upward to meas when the sun throws a dazzle from some
bright object on the ground. Her gestures were freeand strikingly
impressive. The whole woman was alive with a passionate intensitywhich
I now perceived to be the phase in which her beauty culminated. Any
passion would have become her well; and passionate loveperhapsthe
best of all. This was not lovebut angerlargely intermixed with scorn.
Yet the idea strangely forced itself upon methat there was a sort of
familiarity between these two companionsnecessarily the result of an
intimate love--on Zenobia's partat least--in days gone bybut which
had prolonged itself into as intimate a hatredfor all futurity. As
they passed among the treesreckless as her movement wasshe took good
heed that even the hem of her garment should not brush against the
stranger's person. I wondered whether there had always been a chasm
guarded so religiouslybetwixt these two.
As for Westervelthe was not a whit more warmed by Zenobia's passion
than a salamander by the heat of its native furnace. He would have been
absolutely statuesquesave for a look of slight perplexitytinctured
strongly with derision. It was a crisis in which his intellectual
perceptions could not altogether help him out. He failed to comprehend
and cared but little for comprehendingwhy Zenobia should put herself
into such a fume; but satisfied his mind that it was all follyand only
another shape of a woman's manifold absurditywhich men can never
understand. How many a woman's evil fate has yoked her with a man like
this! Nature thrusts some of us into the world miserably incomplete on
the emotional sidewith hardly any sensibilities except what pertain to
us as animals. No passionsave of the senses; no holy tendernessnor
the delicacy that results from this. Externally they bear a close
resemblance to other menand have perhaps all save the finest grace; but
when a woman wrecks herself on such a beingshe ultimately finds that
the real womanhood within her has no corresponding part in him. Her
deepest voice lacks a response; the deeper her crythe more dead his
silence. The fault may be none of his; he cannot give her what never
lived within his soul. But the wretchedness on her sideand the moral
deterioration attendant on a false and shallow lifewithout strength
enough to keep itself sweetare among the most pitiable wrongs that
Nowas I looked down from my upper region at this man and woman
--outwardly so fair a sightand wandering like two lovers in the wood
--I imagined that Zenobiaat an earlier period of youthmight have
fallen into the misfortune above indicated. And when her passionate
womanhoodas was inevitablehad discovered its mistakehere had ensued
the character of eccentricity and defiance which distinguished the more
public portion of her life.
Seeing how aptly matters had chanced thus farI began to think it the
design of fate to let me into all Zenobia's secretsand that therefore
the couple would sit down beneath my treeand carry on a conversation
Which would leave me nothing to inquire. No doubthoweverhad it so
happenedI should have deemed myself honorably bound to warn them of a
listener's presence by flinging down a handful of unripe grapesor by
sending an unearthly groan out of my hiding-placeas if this were one of
the trees of Dante's ghostly forest. But real life never arranges itself
exactly like a romance. In the first placethey did not sit down at all.
Secondlyeven while they passed beneath the treeZenobia's utterance
was so hasty and brokenand Westervelt's so cool and lowthat I hardly
could make out an intelligible sentence on either side. What I seem to
rememberI yet suspectmay have been patched together by my fancyin
brooding over the matter afterwards.
Why not fling the girl off,said Westerveltand let her go?
She clung to me from the first,replied Zenobia. "I neither know nor
care what it is in me that so attaches her. But she loves meand I will
not fail her."
She will plague you, then,said hein more ways than one.
The poor child!exclaimed Zenobia. "She can do me neither good nor
harm. How should she?"
I know not what reply Westervelt whispered; nor did Zenobia's subsequent
exclamation give me any clewexcept that it evidently inspired her with
horror and disgust.
With what kind of a being am I linked?cried she. "If my Creator cares
aught for my soullet him release me from this miserable bond!"
I did not think it weighed so heavily,said her companion..
Nevertheless,answered Zenobiait will strangle me at last!
And then I heard her utter a helpless sort of moan; a sound which
struggling out of the heart of a person of her pride and strength
affected me more than if she had made the wood dolorously vocal with a
thousand shrieks and wails.
Other mysterious wordsbesides what are above writtenthey spoke
together; but I understood no moreand even question whether I fairly
understood so much as this. By long brooding over our recollectionswe
subtilize them into something akin to imaginary stuffand hardly capable
of being distinguished from it. In a few moments they were completely
beyond ear-shot. A breeze stirred after themand awoke the leafy
tongues of the surrounding treeswhich forthwith began to babbleas if
innumerable gossips had all at once got wind of Zenobia's secret. But
as the breeze grew strongerits voice among the branches was as if it
saidHush! Hush!and I resolved that to no mortal would I disclose
what I had heard. Andthough there might be room for casuistrysuchI
conceiveis the most equitable rule in all similar conjunctures.
XIII. ZENOBIA'S LEGEND
The illustrious Society of Blithedalethough it toiled in downright
earnest for the good of mankindyet not unfrequently illuminated its
laborious life with an afternoon or evening of pastime. Picnics under
the trees were considerably in vogue; andwithin doorsfragmentary bits
of theatrical performancesuch as single acts of tragedy or comedyor
dramatic proverbs and charades. Zenobiabesideswas fond of giving us
readings from Shakespeareand often with a depth of tragic poweror
breadth of comic effectthat made one feel it an intolerable wrong to
the world that she did not at once go upon the stage. Tableaux vivants
were another of our occasional modes of amusementin which scarlet
shawlsold silken robesruffsvelvetsfursand all kinds of
miscellaneous trumpery converted our familiar companions into the people
of a pictorial world. We had been thus engaged on the evening after the
incident narrated in the last chapter. Several splendid works of
art---either arranged after engravings from the old mastersor original
illustrations of scenes in history or romance--had been presentedand we
were earnestly entreating Zenobia for more.
She stood with a meditative airholding a large piece of gauzeor some
such ethereal stuffas if considering what picture should next occupy
the frame; while at her feet lay a heap of many-colored garmentswhich
her quick fancy and magic skill could so easily convert into gorgeous
draperies for heroes and princesses.
I am getting weary of this,said sheafter a moment's thought. "Our
own featuresand our own figures and airsshow a little too intrusively
through all the characters we assume. We have so much familiarity with
one another's realitiesthat we cannot remove ourselvesat pleasure
into an imaginary sphere. Let us have no more pictures to-night; butto
make you what poor amends I canhow would you like to have me trump up a
wildspectral legendon the spur of the moment?"
Zenobia had the gift of telling a fanciful little storyoff-handin a
way that made it greatly more effective than it was usually found to be
when she afterwards elaborated the same production with her pen. Her
proposalthereforewas greeted with acclamation.
Oh, a story, a story, by all means!cried the young girls. "No matter
how marvellous; we will believe itevery word. And let it be a ghost
storyif you please."
No, not exactly a ghost story,answered Zenobia; "but something so
nearly like it that you shall hardly tell the difference. AndPriscilla
stand you before mewhere I may look at youand get my inspiration out
of your eyes. They are very deep and dreamy to-night."
I know not whether the following version of her story will retain any
portion of its pristine character; butas Zenobia told it wildly and
rapidlyhesitating at no extravaganceand dashing at absurdities which
I am too timorous to repeat--giving it the varied emphasis of her
inimitable voiceand the pictorial illustration of her mobile face
while through it all we caught the freshest aroma of the thoughtsas
they came bubbling out of her mind--thus narratedand thus heardthe
legend seemed quite a remarkable affair. I scarcely knewat the time
whether she intended us to laugh or be more seriously impressed. From
beginning to endit was undeniable nonsensebut not necessarily the
worse for that.
THE SILVERY VEIL
You have heardmy dear friendsof the Veiled Ladywho grew suddenly so
very famousa few months ago. And have you never thought how remarkable
it was that this marvellous creature should vanishall at oncewhile
her renown was on the increasebefore the public had grown weary of her
and when the enigma of her characterinstead of being solvedpresented
itself more mystically at every exhibition? Her last appearanceas you
knowwas before a crowded audience. The next evening--although the
bills had announced herat the corner of every streetin red letters of
a gigantic size--there was no Veiled Lady to be seen! Nowlisten to my
simple little taleand you shall hear the very latest incident in the
known life--(if life it may be calledwhich seemed to have no more
reality than the candle-light image of one's self which peeps at us
outside of a dark windowpane)--the life of this shadowy phenomenon.
A party of young gentlemenyou are to understandwere enjoying
themselvesone afternoon--as young gentlemen are sometimes fond of
doing--over a bottle or two of champagne; andamong other ladies less
mysteriousthe subject of the Veiled Ladyas was very naturalhappened
to come up before them for discussion. She roseas it werewith the
sparkling effervescence of their wineand appeared in a more airy and
fantastic light on account of the medium through which they saw her.
They repeated to one anotherbetween jest and earnestall the wild
stories that were in vogue; norI presumedid they hesitate to add any
small circumstance that the inventive whim of the moment might suggest
to heighten the marvellousness of their theme.
But what an audacious report was that,observed onewhich pretended
to assert the identity of this strange creature with a young lady,--and
here he mentioned her name--"the daughter of one of our most
Ah, there is more in that story than can well be accounted for,
remarked another. "I have it on good authoritythat the young lady in
question is invariably out of sightand not to be tracedeven by her
own familyat the hours when the Veiled Lady is before the public; nor
can any satisfactory explanation be given of her disappearance. And just
look at the thing: Her brother is a young fellow of spirit. He cannot
but be aware of these rumors in reference to his sister. Whythendoes
he not come forward to defend her characterunless he is conscious that
an investigation would only make the matter worse?"
It is essential to the purposes of my legend to distinguish one of these
young gentlemen from his companions; sofor the sake of a soft and
pretty name (such as we of the literary sisterhood invariably bestow upon
our heroes)I deem it fit to call him Theodore.
Pshaw!exclaimed Theodore; "her brother is no such fool! Nobody
unless his brain be as full of bubbles as this winecan seriously think
of crediting that ridiculous rumor. Whyif my senses did not play me
false (which never was the case yet)I affirm that I saw that very lady
last eveningat the exhibitionwhile this veiled phenomenon was playing
off her juggling tricks! What can you say to that?"
Oh, it was a spectral illusion that you saw!replied his friendswith
a general laugh. "The Veiled Lady is quite up to such a thing."
Howeveras the above-mentioned fable could not hold its ground against
Theodore's downright refutationthey went on to speak of other stories
which the wild babble of the town had set afloat. Some upheld that the
veil covered the most beautiful countenance in the world; others--and
certainly with more reasonconsidering the sex of the Veiled Lady
--that the face was the most hideous and horribleand that this was her
sole motive for hiding it. It was the face of a corpse; it was the head
of a skeleton; it was a monstrous visagewith snaky lockslike Medusa's
and one great red eye in the centre of the forehead. Againit was
affirmed that there was no single and unchangeable set of features
beneath the veil; but that whosoever should be bold enough to lift it
would behold the features of that personin all the worldwho was
destined to be his fate; perhaps he would be greeted by the tender smile
of the woman whom he lovedorquite as probablythe deadly scowl of
his bitterest enemy would throw a blight over his life. They quoted
moreoverthis startling explanation of the whole affair: that the
magician who exhibited the Veiled Lady--and whoby the byewas the
handsomest man in the whole world--had bartered his own soul for seven
years' possession of a familiar fiendand that the last year of the
contract was wearing towards its close.
If it were worth our whileI could keep you till an hour beyond midnight
listening to a thousand such absurdities as these. But finally our
friend Theodorewho prided himself upon his common-sensefound the
matter getting quite beyond his patience.
I offer any wager you like,cried hesetting down his glass so
forcibly as to break the stem of itthat this very evening I find out
the mystery of the Veiled Lady!
Young menI am toldboggle at nothing over their wine; soafter a
little more talka wager of considerable amount was actually laidthe
money stakedand Theodore left to choose his own method of settling the
How he managed it I know notnor is it of any great importance to this
veracious legend. The most natural wayto be surewas by bribing the
doorkeeper--or possibly he preferred clambering in at the window. But
at any ratethat very eveningwhile the exhibition was going forward in
the hallTheodore contrived to gain admittance into the private
withdrawing-room whither the Veiled Lady was accustomed to retire at the
close of her performances. There he waitedlisteningI supposeto the
stifled hum of the great audience; and no doubt he could distinguish the
deep tones of the magiciancausing the wonders that he wrought to appear
more dark and intricateby his mystic pretence of an explanation.
Perhapstooin the intervals of the wild breezy music which accompanied
the exhibitionhe might hear the low voice of the Veiled Ladyconveying
her sibylline responses. Firm as Theodore's nerves might beand much as
he prided himself on his sturdy perception of realitiesI should not be
surprised if his heart throbbed at a little more than its ordinary rate.
Theodore concealed himself behind a screen. In due time the performance
was brought to a closeand whether the door was softly openedor
whether her bodiless presence came through the wallis more than I can
saybutall at oncewithout the young man's knowing how it happeneda
veiled figure stood in the centre of the room. It was one thing to be in
presence of this mystery in the hall of exhibitionwhere the warmdense
life of hundreds of other mortals kept up the beholder's courageand
distributed her influence among so many; it was another thing to be quite
alone with herand thattoowith a hostileorat leastan
unauthorized and unjustifiable purpose. I father imagine that Theodore
now began robe sensible of something more serious in his enterprise than
he had been quite aware of while he sat with his boon-companions over
their sparkling wine.
Very strangeit must be confessedwas the movement with which the
figure floated to and fro over the carpetwith the silvery veil covering
her from head to foot; so impalpableso etherealso without substance
as the texture seemedyet hiding her every outline in an impenetrability
like that of midnight. Surelyshe did not walk! She floatedand
flittedand hovered about the room; no sound of a footstepno
perceptible motion of a limb; it was as if a wandering breeze wafted her
before itat its own wild and gentle pleasure. Butby and bya
purpose began to be discerniblethroughout the seeming vagueness of her
unrest. She was in quest of something. Could it be that a subtile
presentiment had informed her of the young man's presence? And if so
did the Veiled Lady seek or did she shun him? The doubt in Theodore's
mind was speedily resolved; forafter a moment or two of these erratic
flutteringsshe advanced more decidedlyand stood motionless before the
Thou art here!said a softlow voice. "Come forthTheodore!" Thus
summoned by his nameTheodoreas a man of couragehad no choice. He
emerged from his concealmentand presented himself before the Veiled
Ladywith the wine-flushit may bequite gone out of his cheeks.
What wouldst thou with me?she inquiredwith the same gentle
composure that was in her former utterance.
Mysterious creature,replied TheodoreI would know who and what you
My lips are forbidden to betray the secret,said the Veiled Lady.
At whatever risk, I must discover it,rejoined Theodore.
Then,said the Mysterythere is no way save to lift my veil.
And Theodorepartly recovering his audacitystept forward on the
instantto do as the Veiled Lady had suggested. But she floated
backward to the opposite side of the roomas if the young man's breath
had possessed power enough to waft her away.
Pause, one little instant,said the softlow voiceand learn the
conditions of what thou art so bold to undertake? Thou canst go hence,
and think of me no more; or, at thy option, thou canst lift this
mysterious veil, beneath which I am a sad and lonely prisoner, in a
bondage which is worse to me than death. But, before raising it, I
entreat thee, in all maiden modesty, to bend forward and impress a kiss
where my breath stirs the veil; and my virgin lips shall come forward to
meet thy lips; and from that instant, Theodore, thou shalt be mine, and I
thine, with never more a veil between us. And all the felicity of earth
and of the future world shall be thine and mine together. So much may a
maiden say behind the veil. If thou shrinkest from this, there is yet
another way.And what is that?asked Theodore. "Dost thou hesitate
said the Veiled Lady, to pledge thyself to meby meeting these lips of
minewhile the veil yet hides my face? Has not thy heart recognized me?
Dost thou come hithernot in holy faithnor with a pure and generous
purposebut in scornful scepticism and idle curiosity? Stillthou
mayest lift the veil! Butfrom that instantTheodoreI am doomed to
be thy evil fate; nor wilt thou ever taste another breath of happiness!"
There was a shade of inexpressible sadness in the utterance of these last
words. But Theodorewhose natural tendency was towards scepticismfelt
himself almost injured and insulted by the Veiled Lady's proposal that he
should pledge himselffor life and eternityto so questionable a
creature as herself; or even that she should suggest an inconsequential
kisstaking into view the probability that her face was none of the most
bewitching. A delightful ideatrulythat he should salute the lips of
a dead girlor the jaws of a skeletonor the grinning cavity of a
monster's mouth! Even should she prove a comely maiden enough in other
respectsthe odds were ten to one that her teeth were defective; a
terrible drawback on the delectableness of a kiss.
Excuse me, fair lady,said Theodoreand I think he nearly burst into a
laughif I prefer to lift the veil first; and for this affair of the
kiss, we may decide upon it afterwards.
Thou hast made thy choice,said the sweetsad voice behind the veil;
and there seemed a tender but unresentful sense of wrong done to
womanhood by the young man's contemptuous interpretation of her offer.
I must not counsel thee to pause, although thy fate is still in thee own
Grasping at the veilhe flung it upwardand caught a glimpse of a pale
lovely face beneath; just one momentary glimpseand then the apparition
vanishedand the silvery veil fluttered slowly down and lay upon the
floor. Theodore was alone. Our legend leaves him there. His retribution
wasto pine forever and ever for another sight of that dimmournful
face--which might have been his life-long household fireside joy--to
desireand waste life in a feverish questand never meet it more.
But whatin good soothhad become of the Veiled Lady? Had all her
existence been comprehended within that mysterious veiland was she now
annihilated? Or was she a spiritwith a heavenly essencebut which
might have been tamed down to human blisshad Theodore been brave and
true enough to claim her? Hearkenmy sweet friends--and hearkendear
Priscilla--and you shall learn the little more that Zenobia can tell
Just at the momentso far as can be ascertainedwhen the Veiled Lady
vanisheda maidenpale and shadowyrose up amid a knot of visionary
peoplewho were seeking for the better life. She was so gentle and so
sad--a nameless melancholy gave her such hold upon their sympathies
--that they never thought of questioning whence she came. She might have
heretofore existedor her thin substance might have been moulded out of
air at the very instant when they first beheld her. It was all one to
them; they took her to their hearts. Among them was a lady to whommore
than to all the restthis palemysterious girl attached herself.
But one morning the lady was wandering in the woodsand there met her a
figure in an Oriental robewith a dark beardand holding in his hand a
silvery veil. He motioned her to stay. Being a woman of some nerveshe
did not shrieknor run awaynor faintas many ladies would have been
apt to dobut stood quietlyand bade him speak. The truth wasshe had
seen his face beforebut had never feared italthough she knew him to
be a terrible magician.
Lady,said hewith a warning gestureyou are in peril!Peril!
she exclaimed. "And of what nature?"
There is a certain maiden,replied the magicianwho has come out of
the realm of mystery, and made herself your most intimate companion. Now,
the fates have so ordained it, that, whether by her own will or no, this
stranger is your deadliest enemy. In love, in worldly fortune, in all
your pursuit of happiness, she is doomed to fling a blight over your
prospects. There is but one possibility of thwarting her disastrous
Then tell me that one method,said the lady.
Take this veil,he answeredholding forth the silvery texture. "It is
a spell; it is a powerful enchantmentwhich I wrought for her sakeand
beneath which she was once my prisoner. Throw itat unawaresover the
head of this secret foestamp your footand cry'AriseMagician!
Here is the Veiled Lady!' and immediately I will rise up through the
earthand seize her; and from that moment you are safe!"
So the lady took the silvery veilwhich was like woven airor like some
substance airier than nothingand that would float upward and be lost
among the cloudswere she once to let it go. Returning homewardshe
found the shadowy girl amid the knot of visionary transcendentalistswho
were still seeking for the better life. She was joyous nowand had a
rose-bloom in her cheeksand was one of the prettiest creaturesand
seemed one of the happiestthat the world could show. But the lady
stole noiselessly behind her and threw the veil over her head. As the
slightethereal texture sank inevitably down over her figurethe poor
girl strove to raise itand met her dear friend's eyes with one glance
of mortal terrorand deepdeep reproach. It could not change her
Arise, Magician!she exclaimedstamping her foot upon the earth.
Here is the Veiled Lady!
At the wordup rose the bearded man in the Oriental robes--the
beautifulthe dark magicianwho had bartered away his soul! He threw
his arms around the Veiled Ladyand she was his bond-slave for evermore!
Zenobiaall this whilehad been holding the piece of gauzeand so
managed it as greatly to increase the dramatic effect of the legend at
those points where the magic veil was to be described. Arriving at the
catastropheand uttering the fatal wordsshe flung the gauze over
Priscilla's head; and for an instant her auditors held their breathhalf
expectingI verily believethat the magician would start up through the
floorand carry off our poor little friend before our eyes.
As for Priscillashe stood droopingly in the midst of usmaking no
attempt to remove the veil.
How do you find yourself, my love?said Zenobialifting a corner of
the gauzeand peeping beneath it with a mischievous smile. "Ahthe dear
little soul! Whyshe is really going to faint! Mr. CoverdaleMr.
Coverdalepray bring a glass of water!"
Her nerves being none of the strongestPriscilla hardly recovered her
equanimity during the rest of the evening. Thisto be surewas a great
pity; butneverthelesswe thought it a very bright idea of Zenobia's to
bring her legend to so effective a conclusion.
XIV. ELIOT'S PULPIT
Our Sundays at Blithedale were not ordinarily kept with such rigid
observance as might have befitted the descendants of the Pilgrimswhose
high enterpriseas we sometimes flattered ourselveswe had taken up
and were carrying it onward and aloftto a point which they never
dreamed of attaining.
On that hallowed dayit is truewe rested from our labors. Our oxen
relieved from their week-day yokeroamed at large through the pasture;
each yoke-fellowhoweverkeeping close beside his mateand continuing
to acknowledgefrom the force of habit and sluggish sympathythe union
which the taskmaster had imposed for his own hard ends. As for us human
yoke-fellowschosen companions of toilwhose hoes had clinked together
throughout the weekwe wandered offin various directionsto enjoy our
interval of repose. SomeI believewent devoutly to the village church.
Othersit may beascended a city or a country pulpitwearing the
clerical robe with so much dignity that you would scarcely have suspected
the yeoman's frock to have been flung off only since milking-time.
Others took long rambles among the rustic lanes and by-pathspausing to
look at black old farmhouseswith their sloping roofs; and at the modern
cottageso like a plaything that it seemed as if real joy or sorrow
could have no scope within; and at the more pretending villawith its
range of wooden columns supporting the needless insolence of a great
portico. Some betook themselves into the widedusky barnand lay there
for hours together on the odorous hay; while the sunstreaks and the
shadows strove together--these to make the barn solemnthose to make it
cheerful--and both were conquerors; and the swallows twittered a cheery
anthemflashing into sightor vanishing as they darted to and fro among
the golden rules of sunshine. And others went a little way into the
woodsand threw themselves on mother earthpillowing their heads on a
heap of mossthe green decay of an old log; anddropping asleepthe
bumblebees and mosquitoes sung and buzzed about their earscausing the
slumberers to twitch and startwithout awaking.
With HollingsworthZenobiaPriscillaand myselfit grew to be a
custom to spend the Sabbath afternoon at a certain rock. It was known to
us under the name of Eliot's pulpitfrom a tradition that the venerable
Apostle Eliot had preached theretwo centuries gone byto an Indian
auditory. The old pine forestthrough which the Apostle's voice was
wont to soundhad fallen an immemorial time ago. But the soilbeing of
the rudest and most broken surfacehad apparently never been brought
under tillage; other growthsmaple and beech and birchhad succeeded to
the primeval trees; so that it was still as wild a tract of woodland as
the great-great-great-greatgrandson of one of Eliot's Indians (had any
such posterity been in existence) could have desired for the site and
shelter of his wigwam. These after-growthsindeedlose the stately
solemnity of the original forest. If left in due neglecthoweverthey
run into an entanglement of softer wildnessamong the rustling leaves of
which the sun can scatter cheerfulness as it never could among the
The rock itself rose some twenty or thirty feeta shattered granite
bowlderor heap of bowlderswith an irregular outline and many fissures
out of which sprang shrubsbushesand even trees; as if the scanty
soil within those crevices were sweeter to their roots than any other
earth. At the base of the pulpitthe broken bowlders inclined towards
each otherso as to form a shallow cavewithin which our little party
had sometimes found protection from a summer shower. On the threshold
or just across itgrew a tuft of pale columbinesin their seasonand
violetssad and shadowy reclusessuch as Priscilla was when we first
knew her; children of the sunwho had never seen their fatherbut dwelt
among damp mossesthough not akin to them. At the summitthe rock was
overshadowed by the canopy of a birch-treewhich served as a
sounding-board for the pulpit. Beneath this shade (with my eyes of sense
half shut and those of the imagination widely opened) I used to see the
holy Apostle of the Indianswith the sunlight flickering down upon him
through the leavesand glorifying his figure as with the
half-perceptible glow of a transfiguration.
I the more minutely describe the rockand this little Sabbath solitude
because Hollingsworthat our solicitationoften ascended Eliot's pulpit
and not exactly preachedbut talked to ushis few disciplesin a
strain that rose and fell as naturally as the wind's breath among the
leaves of the birch-tree. No other speech of man has ever moved me like
some of those discourses. It seemed most pitiful--a positive calamity to
the world--that a treasury of golden thoughts should thus be scattered
by the liberal handfuldown among us threewhen a thousand hearers
might have been the richer for them; and Hollingsworth the richer
likewiseby the sympathy of multitudes. After speaking much or little
as might happenhe would descend from his gray pulpitand generally
fling himself at full length on the groundface downward. Meanwhilewe
talked around him on such topics as were suggested by the discourse.
Since her interview with WesterveltZenobia's continual inequalities of
temper had been rather difficult for her friends to bear. On the first
Sunday after that incidentwhen Hollingsworth had clambered down from
Eliot's pulpitshe declaimed with great earnestness and passionnothing
short of angeron the injustice which the world did to womenand
equally to itselfby not allowing themin freedom and honorand with
the fullest welcometheir natural utterance in public.
It shall not always be so!cried she. "If I live another yearI will
lift up my own voice in behalf of woman's wider liberty!"
She perhaps saw me smile.
What matter of ridicule do you find in this, Miles Coverdale?
exclaimed Zenobiawith a flash of anger in her eyes. "That smile
permit me to saymakes me suspicious of a low tone of feeling and
shallow thought. It is my belief--yesand my prophecyshould I die
before it happens--thatwhen my sex shall achieve its rightsthere will
be ten eloquent women where there is now one eloquent man. Thus farno
woman in the world has ever once spoken out her whole heart and her whole
mind. The mistrust and disapproval of the vast bulk of society throttles
usas with two gigantic hands at our throats! We mumble a few weak
wordsand leave a thousand better ones unsaid. You let us write a little
it is trueon a limited range of subjects. But the pen is not for
woman. Her power is too natural and immediate. It is with the living
voice alone that she can compel the world to recognize the light of her
intellect and the depth of her heart!"
Now--though I could not well say so to Zenobia--I had not smiled from
any unworthy estimate of womanor in denial of the claims which she is
beginning to put forth. What amused and puzzled me was the factthat
womenhowever intellectually superiorso seldom disquiet themselves
about the rights or wrongs of their sexunless their own individual
affections chance to lie in idlenessor to be ill at ease. They are not
natural reformersbut become such by the pressure of exceptional
misfortune. I could measure Zenobia's inward trouble by the animosity
with which she now took up the general quarrel of woman against man.
I will give you leave, Zenobia,replied Ito fling your utmost scorn
upon me, if you ever hear me utter a sentiment unfavorable to the widest
liberty which woman has yet dreamed of. I would give her all she asks,
and add a great deal more, which she will not be the party to demand, but
which men, if they were generous and wise, would grant of their own free
motion. For instance, I should love dearly--for the next thousand years,
at least--to have all government devolve into the hands of women. I hate
to be ruled by my own sex; it excites my jealousy, and wounds my pride.
It is the iron sway of bodily force which abases us, in our compelled
submission. But how sweet the free, generous courtesy with which I would
kneel before a woman-ruler!
Yes, if she were young and beautiful,said Zenobialaughing. "But how
if she were sixtyand a fright?"
Ah! it is you that rate womanhood low,said I. "But let me go on. I
have never found it possible to suffer a bearded priest so near my heart
and conscience as to do me any spiritual good. I blush at the very
thought! Ohin the better order of thingsHeaven grant that the
ministry of souls may be left in charge of women! The gates of the
Blessed City will be thronged with the multitude that enter inwhen that
day comes! The task belongs to woman. God meant it for her. He has
endowed her with the religious sentiment in its utmost depth and purity
refined from that grossintellectual alloy with which every masculine
theologist--save only Onewho merely veiled himself in mortal and
masculine shapebut wasin truthdivine--has been prone to mingle it.
I have always envied the Catholics their faith in that sweetsacred
Virgin Motherwho stands between them and the Deityintercepting
somewhat of his awful splendorbut permitting his love to stream upon
the worshipper more intelligibly to human comprehension through the
medium of a woman's tenderness. Have I not said enoughZenobia?"
I cannot think that this is true,observed Priscillawho had been
gazing at me with greatdisapproving eyes. "And I am sure I do not wish
it to be true!"
Poor child!exclaimed Zenobiarather contemptuously. "She is the
type of womanhoodsuch as man has spent centuries in making it. He is
never content unless he can degrade himself by stooping towards what he
loves. In denying us our rightshe betrays even more blindness to his
own interests than profligate disregard of ours!"
Is this true?asked Priscilla with simplicityturning to
Hollingsworth. "Is it all truethat Mr. Coverdale and Zenobia have been
No, Priscilla!answered Hollingsworth with his customary bluntness.
They have neither of them spoken one true word yet.
Do you despise woman?said Zenobia.
Ah, Hollingsworth, that would be most ungrateful!
Despise her? No!cried Hollingsworthlifting his great shaggy head
and shaking it at uswhile his eyes glowed almost fiercely. "She is the
most admirable handiwork of Godin her true place and character. Her
place is at man's side. Her officethat of the sympathizer; the
unreservedunquestioning believer; the recognitionwithheld in every
other mannerbut givenin pitythrough woman's heartlest man should
utterly lose faith in himself; the echo of God's own voicepronouncing
'It is well done!' All the separate action of woman isand ever has been
and always shall befalsefoolishvaindestructive of her own best
and holiest qualitiesvoid of every good effectand productive of
intolerable mischiefs! Man is a wretch without woman; but woman is a
monster--andthank Heavenan almost impossible and hitherto imaginary
monster--without man as her acknowledged principal! As true as I had
once a mother whom I lovedwere there any possible prospect of woman's
taking the social stand which some of them--poormiserableabortive
creatureswho only dream of such things because they have missed woman's
peculiar happinessor because nature made them really neither man nor
woman!--if there were a chance of their attaining the end which these
petticoated monstrosities have in viewI would call upon my own sex to
use its physical forcethat unmistakable evidence of sovereigntyto
scourge them back within their proper bounds! But it will not be needful.
The heart of time womanhood knows where its own sphere isand never
seeks to stray beyond it!"
Never was mortal blessed--if blessing it were--with a glance of such
entire acquiescence and unquestioning faithhappy in its completeness
as our little Priscilla unconsciously bestowed on Hollingsworth. She
seemed to take the sentiment from his lips into her heartand brood over
it in perfect content. The very woman whom he pictured--the gentle
parasitethe soft reflection of a more powerful existence--sat there at
I looked at Zenobiahoweverfully expecting her to resent--as I felt
by the indignant ebullition of my own bloodthat she ought this
outrageous affirmation of what struck me as the intensity of masculine
egotism. It centred everything in itselfand deprived woman of her very
soulher inexpressible and unfathomable allto make it a mere incident
in the great sum of man. Hollingsworth had boldly uttered what heand
millions of despots like himreally felt. Without intending ithe had
disclosed the wellspring of all these troubled waters. Nowif everit
surely behooved Zenobia to be the champion of her sex.
Butto my surpriseand indignation tooshe only looked humbled. Some
tears sparkled in her eyesbut they were wholly of griefnot anger.
Well, be it so,was all she said. "Iat leasthave deep cause to
think you right. Let man be but manly and godlikeand woman is only too
ready to become to him what you say!"
I smiled--somewhat bitterlyit is true--in contemplation of my own
ill-luck. How little did these two women care for mewho had freely
conceded all their claimsand a great deal moreout of the fulness of
my heart; while Hollingsworthby some necromancy of his horrible
injusticeseemed to have brought them both to his feet!
Women almost invariably behave thus,thought I. "What does the fact
mean? Is it their nature? Or is itat lastthe result of ages of
compelled degradation? Andin either casewill it be possible ever to
An intuition now appeared to possess all the partythatfor this time
at leastthere was no more to be said. With one accordwe arose from
the groundand made our way through the tangled undergrowth towards one
of those pleasant wood-paths that wound among the overarching trees.
Some of the branches hung so low as partly to conceal the figures that
went before from those who followed. Priscilla had leaped up more
lightly than the rest of usand ran along in advancewith as much airy
activity of spirit as was typified in the motion of a birdwhich chanced
to be flitting from tree to treein the same direction as herself.
Never did she seem so happy as that afternoon. She skiptand could not
help itfrom very playfulness of heart.
Zenobia and Hollingsworth went nextin close contiguitybut not with
arm in arm. Nowjust when they had passed the impending bough of a
birch-treeI plainly saw Zenobia take the hand of Hollingsworth in both
her ownpress it to her bosomand let it fall again!
The gesture was suddenand full of passion; the impulse had evidently
taken her by surprise; it expressed all! Had Zenobia knelt before him
or flung herself upon his breastand gasped out I love you,
Hollingsworth!I could not have been more certain of what it meant.
They then walked onwardas before. Butmethoughtas the declining sun
threw Zenobia's magnified shadow along the pathI beheld it tremulous;
and the delicate stem of the flower which she wore in her hair was
likewise responsive to her agitation.
Priscilla--through the medium of her eyesat least could not possibly
have been aware of the gesture above described. Yetat that instantI
saw her droop. The buoyancywhich just before had been so bird-like
was utterly departed; the life seemed to pass out of herand even the
substance of her figure to grow thin and gray. I almost imagined her a
shadowtiding gradually into the dimness of the wood. Her pace became so
slow that Hollingsworth and Zenobia passed byand Iwithout hastening
my footstepsovertook her.
Come, Priscilla,said Ilooking her intently in the facewhich was
very pale and sorrowfulwe must make haste after our friends. Do you
feel suddenly ill? A moment ago, you flitted along so lightly that I was
comparing you to a bird. Now, on the contrary, it is as if you had a
heavy heart, and a very little strength to bear it with. Pray take my
No,said PriscillaI do not think it would help me. It is my heart,
as you say, that makes me heavy; and I know not why. Just now, I felt
No doubt it was a kind of sacrilege in me to attempt to come within her
maidenly mystery; butas she appeared to be tossed aside by her other
friendsor carelessly let falllike a flower which they had done with
I could not resist the impulse to take just one peep beneath her folded
Zenobia and yourself are dear friends of late,I remarked. "At first
--that first evening when you came to us--she did not receive you quite
so warmly as might have been wished."
I remember it,said Priscilla. "No wonder she hesitated to love me
who was then a stranger to herand a girl of no grace or beauty--she
being herself so beautiful!"
But she loves you now, of course?suggested I. "And at this very
instant you feel her to be your dearest friend?"
Why do you ask me that question?exclaimed Priscillaas if frightened
at the scrutiny into her feelings which I compelled her to make. "It
somehow puts strange thoughts into my mind. But I do love Zenobia dearly!
If she only loves me half as wellI shall be happy!"
How is it possible to doubt that, Priscilla?I rejoined. "But observe
how pleasantly and happily Zenobia and Hollingsworth are walking together.
I call it a delightful spectacle. It truly rejoices me that
Hollingsworth has found so fit and affectionate a friend! So many people
in the world mistrust him--so many disbelieve and ridiculewhile hardly
any do him justiceor acknowledge him for the wonderful man he is--that
it is really a blessed thing for him to have won the sympathy of such a
woman as Zenobia. Any man might be proud of that. Any maneven if he be
as great as Hollingsworthmight love so magnificent a woman. How very
beautiful Zenobia is! And Hollingsworth knows ittoo."
There may have been some petty malice in what I said. Generosity is a
very fine thingat a proper time and within due limits. But it is an
insufferable bore to see one man engrossing every thought of all the
womenand leaving his friend to shiver in outer seclusionwithout even
the alternative of solacing himself with what the more fortunate
individual has rejected. Yesit was out of a foolish bitterness of
heart that I had spoken.
Go on before,said Priscilla abruptlyand with true feminine
imperiousnesswhich heretofore I had never seen her exercise. "It
pleases me best to loiter along by myself. I do not walk so fast as you.
With her hand she made a little gesture of dismissal. It provoked me;
yet, on the whole, was the most bewitching thing that Priscilla had ever
done. I obeyed her, and strolled moodily homeward, wondering--as I had
wondered a thousand times already--how Hollingsworth meant to dispose of
these two hearts, which (plainly to my perception, and, as I could not
but now suppose, to his) he had engrossed into his own huge egotism.
There was likewise another subject hardly less fruitful of speculation.
In what attitude did Zenobia present herself to Hollingsworth? Was it in
that of a free woman, with no mortgage on her affections nor claimant to
her hand, but fully at liberty to surrender both, in exchange for the
heart and hand which she apparently expected to receive? But was it a
vision that I had witnessed in the wood? Was Westervelt a goblin? Were
those words of passion and agony, which Zenobia had uttered in my hearing,
a mere stage declamation? Were they formed of a material lighter than
common air? Or, supposing them to bear sterling weight, was it a perilous
and dreadful wrong which she was meditating towards herself and
Arriving nearly at the farmhouse, I looked back over the long slope of
pasture land, and beheld them standing together, in the light of sunset,
just on the spot where, according to the gossip of the Community, they
meant to build their cottage. Priscilla, alone and forgotten, was
lingering in the shadow of the wood.
XV. A CRISIS
Thus the summer was passing away,--a summer of toil, of interest, of
something that was not pleasure, but which went deep into my heart, and
there became a rich experience. I found myself looking forward to years,
if not to a lifetime, to be spent on the same system. The Community were
now beginning to form their permanent plans. One of our purposes was to
erect a Phalanstery (as I think we called it, after Fourier; but the
phraseology of those days is not very fresh in my remembrance), where the
great and general family should have its abidingplace. Individual
members, too, who made it a point of religion to preserve the sanctity of
an exclusive home, were selecting sites for their cottages, by the
woodside, or on the breezy swells, or in the sheltered nook of some
little valley, according as their taste might lean towards snugness or
the picturesque. Altogether, by projecting our minds outward, we had
imparted a show of novelty to existence, and contemplated it as hopefully
as if the soil beneath our feet had not been fathom-deep with the dust of
deluded generations, on every one of which, as on ourselves, the world
had imposed itself as a hitherto unwedded bride.
Hollingsworth and myself had often discussed these prospects. It was
easy to perceive, however, that he spoke with little or no fervor, but
either as questioning the fulfilment of our anticipations, or, at any
rate, with a quiet consciousness that it was no personal concern of his.
Shortly after the scene at Eliot's pulpit, while he and I were repairing
an old stone fence, I amused myself with sallying forward into the future
When we come to be old men I said, they will call us unclesor
fathers--Father Hollingsworth and Uncle Coverdale--and we will look
back cheerfully to these early daysand make a romantic story for the
young People (and if a little more romantic than truth may warrantit
will be no harm) out of our severe trials and hardships. In a century or
twowe shallevery one of usbe mythical personagesor exceedingly
picturesque and poetical onesat all events. They will have a great
public hallin which your portraitand mineand twenty other faces
that are living nowshall be hung up; and as for meI will be painted
in my shirtsleevesand with the sleeves rolled upto show my muscular
development. What stories will be rife among them about our mighty
strength!" continued Ilifting a big stone and putting it into its place
though our posterity will really be far stronger than ourselves, after
several generations of a simple, natural, and active life. What legends
of Zenobia's beauty, and Priscilla's slender and shadowy grace, and those
mysterious qualities which make her seem diaphanous with spiritual light!
In due course of ages, we must all figure heroically in an epic poem;
and we will ourselves--at least, I will--bend unseen over the future
poet, and lend him inspiration while he writes it.
You seem,said Hollingsworthto be trying how much nonsense you can
pour out in a breath.
I wish you would see fit to comprehend,retorted Ithat the
profoundest wisdom must be mingled with nine tenths of nonsense, else it
is not worth the breath that utters it. But I do long for the cottages
to be built, that the creeping plants may begin to run over them, and the
moss to gather on the walls, and the trees--which we will set out--to
cover them with a breadth of shadow. This spick-and-span novelty does
not quite suit my taste. It is time, too, for children to be born among
us. The first-born child is still to come. And I shall never feel as if
this were a real, practical, as well as poetical system of human life,
until somebody has sanctified it by death.
A pretty occasion for martyrdom, truly!said Hollingsworth.
As good as any other,I replied. "I wonderHollingsworthwhoof all
these strong menand fair women and maidensis doomed the first to die.
Would it not be welleven before we have absolute need of itto fix
upon a spot for a cemetery? Let us choose the rudestroughestmost
uncultivable spotfor Death's garden ground; and Death shall teach us to
beautify itgrave by grave. By our sweetcalm way of dyingand the
airy elegance out of which we will shape our funeral ritesand the
cheerful allegories which we will model into tombstonesthe final scene
shall lose its terrors; so that hereafter it may be happiness to live
and bliss to die. None of us must die young. Yetshould Providence
ordain it sothe event shall not be sorrowfulbut affect us with a
tenderdeliciousonly half-melancholyand almost smiling pathos!"
That is to say,muttered Hollingsworthyou will die like a heathen,
as you certainly live like one. But, listen to me, Coverdale. Your
fantastic anticipations make me discern all the more forcibly what a
wretched, unsubstantial scheme is this, on which we have wasted a
precious summer of our lives. Do you seriously imagine that any such
realities as you, and many others here, have dreamed of, will ever be
brought to pass?
Certainly I do,said I. "Of coursewhen the reality comesit will
wear the every-daycommonplacedustyand rather homely garb that
reality always does put on. Butsetting aside the ideal charmI hold
that our highest anticipations have a solid footing on commonsense."
You only half believe what you say,rejoined Hollingsworth; "and as for
meI neither have faith in your dreamnor would care the value of this
pebble for its realizationwere that possible. And what more do you
want of it? It has given you a theme for poetry. Let that content you.
But now I ask you to beat lasta man of sobriety and earnestnessand
aid me in an enterprise which is worth all our strengthand the strength
of a thousand mightier than we."
There can be no need of giving in detail the conversation that ensued.
It is enough to say that Hollingsworth once more brought forward his
rigid and unconquerable idea--a scheme for the reformation of the wicked
by methods moralintellectualand industrialby the sympathy of pure
humbleand yet exalted mindsand by opening to his pupils the
possibility of a worthier life than that which had become their fate. It
appearedunless he overestimated his own meansthat Hollingsworth held
it at his choice (and he did so choose) to obtain possession of the very
ground on which we had planted our Communityand which had not yet been
made irrevocably oursby purchase. It was just the foundation that he
desired. Our beginnings might readily be adapted to his great end. The
arrangements already completed would work quietly into his system. So
plausible looked his theoryandmore than thatso practical--such an
air of reasonableness had heby patient thoughtthrown over it--each
segment of it was contrived to dovetail into all the rest with such a
complicated applicabilityand so ready was he with a response for every
objectionthatreallyso far as logic and argument wenthe had the
matter all his own way.
But,said Iwhence can you, having no means of your own, derive the
enormous capital which is essential to this experiment? State Street, I
imagine, would not draw its purser strings very liberally in aid of such
I have the funds--as much, at least, as is needed for a commencement--at
command,he answered. "They can be produced within a monthif
My thoughts reverted to Zenobia. It could only be her wealth which
Hollingsworth was appropriating so lavishly. And on what conditions was
it to be had? Did she fling it into the scheme with the uncalculating
generosity that characterizes a woman when it is her impulse to be
generous at all? And did she fling herself along with it? But
Hollingsworth did not volunteer an explanation.
And have you no regrets,I inquiredin overthrowing this fair system
of our new life, which has been planned so deeply, and is now beginning
to flourish so hopefully around us? How beautiful it is, and, so far as
we can yet see, how practicable! The ages have waited for us, and here
we are, the very first that have essayed to carry on our mortal existence
in love and mutual help! Hollingsworth, I would be loath to take the
ruin of this enterprise upon my conscience.
Then let it rest wholly upon mine!he answeredknitting his black
brows. "I see through the system. It is full of defects--irremediable
and damning ones!--from first to lastthere is nothing else! I grasp it
in my handand find no substance whatever. There is not human nature in
Why are you so secret in your operations?I asked. "God forbid that I
should accuse you of intentional wrong; but the besetting sin of a
philanthropistit appears to meis apt to be a moral obliquity. His
sense of honor ceases to be the sense of other honorable men. At some
point of his course--I know not exactly when or where--he is tempted to
palter with the rightand can scarcely forbear persuading himself that
the importance of his public ends renders it allowable to throw aside his
private conscience. Ohmy dear friendbeware this error! If you
meditate the overthrow of this establishmentCall together our
companionsstate your designsupport it with all your eloquencebut
allow them an opportunity of defending themselves."
It does not suit me,said Hollingsworth. "Nor is it my duty to do so."
I think it is,replied I.
Hollingsworth frowned; not in passionbutlike fateinexorably.
I will not argue the point,said he. "What I desire to know of you is
--and you can tell me in one word--whether I am to look for your
cooperation in this great scheme of good? Take it up with me! Be my
brother in it! It offers you (what you have told meover and over again
that you most need) a purpose in lifeworthy of the extremest
selfdevotion--worthy of martyrdomshould God so order it! In this view
I present it to you. You can greatly benefit mankind. Your peculiar
facultiesas I shall direct themare capable of being so wrought into
this enterprise that not one of them need lie idle. Strike hands with me
and from this moment you shall never again feel the languor and vague
wretchedness of an indolent or half-occupied man. There may be no more
aimless beauty in your life; butin its steadthere shall be strength
courageimmitigable will--everything that a manly and generous nature
should desire! we shall succeed! We shall have done our best for this
miserable world; and happiness (which never comes but incidentally) will
come to us unawares."
It seemed his intention to say no more. Butafter he had quite broken
offhis deep eyes filled with tearsand he held out both his hands to
Coverdale,he murmuredthere is not the man in this wide world whom I
can love as I could you. Do not forsake me!
As I look back upon this scenethrough the coldness and dimness of so
many yearsthere is still a sensation as if Hollingsworth had caught
hold of my heartand were pulling it towards him with an almost
irresistible force. It is a mystery to me how I withstood it. Butin
truthI saw in his scheme of philanthropy nothing but what was odious.
A loathsomeness that was to be forever in my daily work! A great black
ugliness of sinwhich he proposed to collect out of a thousand human
heartsand that we should spend our lives in an experiment of
transmuting it into virtue! Had I but touched his extended hand
Hollingsworth's magnetism would perhaps have penetrated me with his own
conception of all these matters. But I stood aloof. I fortified myself
with doubts whether his strength of purpose had not been too gigantic for
his integrityimpelling him to trample on considerations that should
have been paramount to every other.
Is Zenobia to take a part in your enterprise?I asked.
She is,said Hollingsworth.
She!--the beautiful!--the gorgeous!I exclaimed. "And how have you
prevailed with such a woman to work in this squalid element?"
Through no base methods, as you seem to suspect,he answered; "but by
addressing whatever is best and noblest in her."
Hollingsworth was looking on the ground. Butas he often did so
--generallyindeedin his habitual moods of thought--I could not judge
whether it was from any special unwillingness now to meet my eyes. What
it was that dictated my next questionI cannot precisely say.
Neverthelessit rose so inevitably into my mouthandas it wereasked
itself so involuntarilythat there must needs have been an aptness in it.
What is to become of Priscilla? Hollingsworth looked at me fiercely
and with glowing eyes. He could not have shown any other kind of
expression than thathad he meant to strike me with a sword.
Why do you bring in the names of these women?said heafter a moment
of pregnant silence. "What have they to do with the proposal which I
make you? I must have your answer! Will you devote yourselfand
sacrifice all to this great endand be my friend of friends forever?"
In Heaven's name, Hollingsworth,cried Igetting angryand glad to be
angrybecause so only was it possible to oppose his tremendous
concentrativeness and indomitable willcannot you conceive that a man
may wish well to the world, and struggle for its good, on some other plan
than precisely that which you have laid down? And will you cast off a
friend for no unworthiness, but merely because he stands upon his right
as an individual being, and looks at matters through his own optics,
instead of yours?
Be with me,said Hollingsworthor be against me! There is no third
choice for you.
Take this, then, as my decision,I answered. "I doubt the wisdom of
your scheme. FurthermoreI greatly fear that the methods by which you
allow yourself to pursue it are such as cannot stand the scrutiny of an
And you will not join me?
I never said the word--and certainly can never have it to say
hereafter--that cost me a thousandth part so hard an effort as did that
one syllable. The heart-pang was not merely figurativebut an absolute
torture of the breast. I was gazing steadfastly at Hollingsworth. It
seemed to me that it struck himtoolike a bullet. A ghastly
paleness--always so terrific on a swarthy face--overspread his features.
There was a convulsive movement of his throatas if he were forcing down
some words that struggled and fought for utterance. Whether words of
angeror words of griefI cannot tell; although many and many a time I
have vainly tormented myself with conjecturing which of the two they were.
One other appeal to my friendship--such as oncealready
Hollingsworth had made--taking me in the revulsion that followed a
strenuous exercise of opposing willwould completely have subdued me.
But he left the matter there. "Well!" said he.
And that was all! I should have been thankful for one word moreeven
had it shot me through the heartas mine did him. But he did not speak
it; andafter a few momentswith one accordwe set to work again
repairing the stone fence. HollingsworthI observedwrought like a
Titan; andfor my own partI lifted stones which at this day--orin a
calmer moodat that one--I should no more have thought it possible to
stir than to carry off the gates of Gaza on my back.
A few days after the tragic passage-at-arms between Hollingsworth and me
I appeared at the dinner-table actually dressed in a coatinstead of my
customary blouse; with a satin cravattooa white vestand several
other things that made me seem strange and outlandish to myself. As for
my companionsthis unwonted spectacle caused a great stir upon the
wooden benches that bordered either side of our homely board.
What's in the wind now, Miles?asked one of them. "Are you deserting
Yes, for a week or two,said I. "It strikes me that my health demands
a little relaxation of laborand a short visit to the seasideduring
You look like it!grumbled Silas Fosternot greatly pleased with the
idea of losing an efficient laborer before the stress of the season was
well over. "Nowhere's a pretty fellow! His shoulders have broadened a
matter of six inches since he came among us; he can do his day's workif
he likeswith any man or ox on the farm; and yet he talks about going to
the seashore for his health! Wellwellold woman added he to his
wife, let me have a plateful of that pork and cabbage! I begin to feel
in a very weakly way. When the others have had their turnyou and I
will take a jaunt to Newport or Saratoga!"
Well, but, Mr. Foster,said Iyou must allow me to take a little
Breath!retorted the old yeoman. "Your lungs have the play of a pair
of blacksmith's bellows already. What on earth do you want more? But go
along! I understand the business. We shall never see your face here
again. Here ends the reformation of the worldso far as Miles Coverdale
has a hand in it!"
By no means,I replied. "I am resolute to die in the last ditchfor
the good of the cause."
Die in a ditch!muttered gruff Silaswith genuine Yankee intolerance
of any intermission of toilexcept on Sundaythe Fourth of Julythe
autumnal cattle-showThanksgivingor the annual Fast--"die in a ditch!
I believein my conscienceyou wouldif there were no steadier means
than your own labor to keep you out of it!"
The truth wasthat an intolerable discontent and irksomeness had come
over me. Blithedale was no longer what it had been. Everything was
suddenly faded. The sunburnt and arid aspect of our woods and pastures
beneath the August skydid but imperfectly symbolize the lack of dew and
moisturethatsince yesterdayas it werehad blighted my fields of
thoughtand penetrated to the innermost and shadiest of my contemplative
recesses. The change will be recognized by manywhoafter a period of
happinesshave endeavored to go on with the same kind of lifein the
same scenein spite of the alteration or withdrawal of some principal
circumstance. They discover (what heretoforeperhapsthey had not
known) that it was this which gave the bright color and vivid reality to
the whole affair.
I stood on other terms than beforenot only with Hollingsworthbut with
Zenobia and Priscilla. As regarded the two latterit was that dreamlike
and miserable sort of change that denies you the privilege to complain
because you can assert no positive injurynor lay your finger on
anything tangible. It is a matter which you do not seebut feeland
whichwhen you try to analyze itseems to lose its very existenceand
resolve itself into a sickly humor of your own. Your understanding
possiblymay put faith in this denial. But your heart will not so
easily rest satisfied. It incessantly remonstratesthoughmost of the
timein a bass-notewhich you do not separately distinguish; butnow
and thenwith a sharp cryimportunate to be heardand resolute to
claim belief. "Things are not as they were!" it keeps saying. "You
shall not impose on me! I will never be quiet! I will throb painfully! I
will be heavyand desolateand shiver with cold! For Iyour deep
heartknow when to be miserableas once I knew when to be happy! All is
changed for us! You are beloved no more!" And were my life to be spent
over againI would invariably lend my ear to this Cassandra of the
inward depthshowever clamorous the music and the merriment of a more
My outbreak with Hollingsworththough never definitely known to our
associateshad really an effect upon the moral atmosphere of the
Community. It was incidental to the closeness of relationship into which
we had brought ourselvesthat an unfriendly state of feeling could not
occur between any two members without the whole society being more or
less commoted and made uncomfortable thereby. This species of nervous
sympathy (though a pretty characteristic enoughsentimentally considered
and apparently betokening an actual bond of love among us) was yet found
rather inconvenient in its practical operationmortal tempers being so
infirm and variable as they are. If one of us happened to give his
neighbor a box on the earthe tingle was immediately felt on the same
side of everybody's head. Thuseven on the supposition that we were far
less quarrelsome than the rest of the worlda great deal of time was
necessarily wasted in rubbing our ears.
Musing on all these mattersI felt an inexpressible longing for at least
a temporary novelty. I thought of going across the Rocky Mountainsor
to Europeor up the Nile; of offering myself a volunteer on the
Exploring Expedition; of taking a ramble of yearsno matter in what
directionand coming back on the other side of the world. Thenshould
the colonists of Blithedale have established their enterprise on a
permanent basisI might fling aside my pilgrim staff and dusty shoon
and rest as peacefully here as elsewhere. Orin case Hollingsworth
should occupy the ground with his School of Reformas he now purposedI
might plead earthly guilt enoughby that timeto give me what I was
inclined to think the only trustworthy hold on his affections. Meanwhile
before deciding on any ultimate planI determined to remove myself to a
little distanceand take an exterior view of what we had all been about.
In truthit was dizzy workamid such fermentation of opinions as was
going on in the general brain of the Community. It was a kind of Bedlam
for the time beingalthough out of the very thoughts that were wildest
and most destructive might grow a wisdomholycalmand pureand that
should incarnate itself with the substance of a noble and happy life. But
as matters now wereI felt myself (andhaving a decided tendency
towards the actualI never liked to feel it) getting quite out of my
reckoningwith regard to the existing state of the world. I was
beginning to lose the sense of what kind of a world it wasamong
innumerable schemes of what it might or ought to be. It was impossible
situated as we werenot to imbibe the idea that everything in nature and
human existence was fluidor fast becoming so; that the crust of the
earth in many places was brokenand its whole surface portentously
upheaving; that it was a day of crisisand that we ourselves were in the
critical vortex. Our great globe floated in the atmosphere of infinite
space like an unsubstantial bubble. No sagacious man will long retain
his sagacityif he live exclusively among reformers and progressive
peoplewithout periodically returning into the settled system of things
to correct himself by a new observation from that old standpoint.
It was now time for methereforeto go and hold a little talk with the
conservativesthe writers of "The North American Review the merchants,
the politicians, the Cambridge men, and all those respectable old
blockheads who still, in this intangibility and mistiness of affairs,
kept a death-grip on one or two ideas which had not come into vogue since
The brethren took leave of me with cordial kindness; and as for the
sisterhood, I had serious thoughts of kissing them all round, but forbore
to do so, because, in all such general salutations, the penance is fully
equal to the pleasure. So I kissed none of them; and nobody, to say the
truth, seemed to expect it.
Do you wish me I said to Zenobia, to announce in townand at the
watering-placesyour purpose to deliver a course of lectures on the
rights of women?"
Women possess no rights,said Zenobiawith a half-melancholy smile;
or, at all events, only little girls and grandmothers would have the
force to exercise them.
She gave me her hand freely and kindlyand looked at meI thoughtwith
a pitying expression in her eyes; nor was there any settled light of joy
in them on her own behalfbut a troubled and passionate flame
flickering and fitful.
I regret, on the whole, that you are leaving us,she said; "and all the
moresince I feel that this phase of our life is finishedand can never
be lived over again. Do you knowMr. Coverdalethat I have been
several times on the point of making you my confidantfor lack of a
better and wiser one? But you are too young to be my father confessor;
and you would not thank me for treating you like one of those good little
handmaidens who share the bosom secrets of a tragedy-queen."
I would, at least, be loyal and faithful,answered I; "and would
counsel you with an honest purposeif not wisely."
Yes,said Zenobiayou would be only too wise, too honest. Honesty
and wisdom are such a delightful pastime, at another person's expense!
Ah, Zenobia,I exclaimedif you would but let me speak!
By no means,she repliedespecially when you have just resumed the
whole series of social conventionalisms, together with that strait-bodied
coat. I would as lief open my heart to a lawyer or a clergyman! No, no,
Mr. Coverdale; if I choose a counsellor, in the present aspect of my
affairs, it must be either an angel or a madman; and I rather apprehend
that the latter would be likeliest of the two to speak the fitting word.
It needs a wild steersman when we voyage through chaos! The anchor is up,
Priscillaas soon as dinner was overhad betaken herself into a corner
and set to work on a little purse. As I approached hershe let her eyes
rest on me with a calmserious look; forwith all her delicacy of
nervesthere was a singular self-possession in Priscillaand her
sensibilities seemed to lie sheltered from ordinary commotionlike the
water in a deep well.
Will you give me that purse, Priscilla,said Ias a parting
Yes,she answeredif you will wait till it is finished.
I must not wait, even for that,I replied. "Shall I find you hereon
I never wish to go away,said she.
I have sometimes thought,observed Ismilingthat you, Priscilla,
are a little prophetess, or, at least, that you have spiritual
intimations respecting matters which are dark to us grosser people. If
that be the case, I should like to ask you what is about to happen; for I
am tormented with a strong foreboding that, were I to return even so soon
as to-morrow morning, I should find everything changed. Have you any
impressions of this nature?
Ah, no,said Priscillalooking at me apprehensively. "If any such
misfortune is comingthe shadow has not reached me yet. Heaven forbid!
I should be glad if there might never be any changebut one summer
follow anotherand all just like this."
No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike,said I
with a degree of Orphic wisdom that astonished myself. "Times changeand
people change; and if our hearts do not change as readilyso much the
worse for us. Good-byPriscilla!"
I gave her hand a pressurewhichI thinkshe neither resisted nor
returned. Priscilla's heart was deepbut of small compass; it had room
but for a very few dearest onesamong whom she never reckoned me.
On the doorstep I met Hollingsworth. I had a momentary impulse to hold
out my handor at least to give a parting nodbut resisted both. When
a real and strong affection has come to an endit is not well to mock
the sacred past with any show of those commonplace civilities that belong
to ordinary intercourse. Being dead henceforth to himand he to me
there could be no propriety in our chilling one another with the touch of
two corpse-like handsor playing at looks of courtesy with eyes that
were impenetrable beneath the glaze and the film. We passedtherefore
as if mutually invisible.
I can nowise explain what sort of whimprankor perversity it wasthat
after all these leave-takingsinduced me to go to the pigstyand take
leave of the swine! There they layburied as deeply among the straw as
they could burrowfour huge black gruntersthe very symbols of slothful
ease and sensual comfort. They were asleepdrawing short and heavy
breathswhich heaved their big sides up and down. Unclosing their eyes
howeverat my approachthey looked dimly forth at the outer worldand
simultaneously uttered a gentle grunt; not putting themselves to the
trouble of an additional breath for that particular purposebut grunting
with their ordinary inhalation. They were involvedand almost stifled
and buried alivein their own corporeal substance. The very unreadiness
and oppression wherewith these greasy citizens gained breath enough to
keep their life-machinery in sluggish movement appeared to make them only
the more sensible of the ponderous and fat satisfaction of their
existence. Peeping at me an instant out of their smallredhardly
perceptible eyesthey dropt asleep again; yet not so far asleep but that
their unctuous bliss was still present to thembetwixt dream and reality.
You must come back in season to eat part of a spare-rib,said Silas
Fostergiving my hand a mighty squeeze. "I shall have these fat fellows
hanging up by the heelsheads downwardpretty soonI tell you!"
O cruel Silas, what a horrible idealcried I. "All the rest of usmen
womenand livestocksave only these four porkersare bedevilled with
one grief or another; they alone are happy--and you mean to cut their
throats and eat them! It would be more for the general comfort to let
them eat us; and bitter and sour morsels we should be!"
XVII. THE HOTEL
Arriving in town (where my bachelor-roomslong before this timehad
received some other occupant)I established myselffor a day or twoin
a certainrespectable hotel. It was situated somewhat aloof from my
former track in life; my present mood inclining me to avoid most of my
old companionsfrom whom I was now sundered by other interestsand who
would have been likely enough to amuse themselves at the expense of the
amateur workingman. The hotel-keeper put me into a back room of the
third story of his spacious establishment. The day was loweringwith
occasional gusts of rainand an ugly tempered east windwhich seemed to
come right off the chill and melancholy seahardly mitigated by sweeping
over the roofsand amalgamating itself with the dusky element of city
smoke. All the effeminacy of past days had returned upon me at once.
Summer as it still wasI ordered a coal fire in the rusty grateand was
glad to find myself growing a little too warm with an artificial
My sensations were those of a travellerlong sojourning in remote
regionsand at length sitting down again amid customs once familiar.
There was a newness and an oldness oddly combining themselves into one
impression. It made me acutely sensible how strange a piece of
mosaic-work had lately been wrought into my life. Trueif you look at
it in one wayit had been only a summer in the country. Butconsidered
in a profounder relationit was part of another agea different state
of societya segment of an existence peculiar in its aims and methodsa
leaf of some mysterious volume interpolated into the current history
which time was writing off. At one momentthe very circumstances now
surrounding me--my coal fire and the dingy room in the bustling
hotel--appeared far off and intangible; the next instant Blithedale
looked vagueas if it were at a distance both in time and spaceand so
shadowy that a question might be raised whether the whole affair had been
anything more than the thoughts of a speculative man. I had never before
experienced a mood that so robbed the actual world of its solidity. It
nevertheless involved a charmon which--a devoted epicure of my own
emotions--I resolved to pauseand enjoy the moral sillabub until quite
Whatever had been my taste for solitude and natural sceneryyet the
thickfoggystifled element of citiesthe entangled life of many men
togethersordid as it wasand empty of the beautifultook quite as
strenuous a hold upon my mind. I felt as if there could never be enough
of it. Each characteristic sound was too suggestive to be passed over
unnoticed. Beneath and around meI heard the stir of the hotel; the loud
voices of guestslandlordor bar-keeper; steps echoing on the staircase;
the ringing of a bellannouncing arrivals or departures; the porter
lumbering past my door with baggagewhich he thumped down upon the
floors of neighboring chambers; the lighter feet of chambermaids scudding
along the passages;--it is ridiculous to think what an interest they had
for me! From the street came the tumult of the pavementspervading the
whole house with a continual uproarso broad and deep that only an
unaccustomed ear would dwell upon it. A company of the city soldiery
with a full military bandmarched in front of the hotelinvisible to me
but stirringly audible both by its foot-tramp and the clangor of its
instruments. Once or twice all the city bells jangled together
announcing a firewhich brought out the engine-men and their machines
like an army with its artillery rushing to battle. Hour by hour the
clocks in many steeples responded one to another.
In some public hallnot a great way offthere seemed to be an
exhibition of a mechanical diorama; for three times during the day
occurred a repetition of obstreperous musicwinding up with the rattle
of imitative cannon and musketryand a huge final explosion. Then ensued
the applause of the spectatorswith clap of hands and thump of sticks
and the energetic pounding of their heels. All this was just as valuable
in its wayas the sighing of the breeze among the birch-trees that
overshadowed Eliot's pulpit.
Yet I felt a hesitation about plunging into this muddy tide of human
activity and pastime. It suited me betterfor the presentto linger on
the brinkor hover in the air above it. So I spent the first dayand
the greater part of the secondin the laziest manner possiblein a
rocking-chairinhaling the fragrance of a series of cigarswith my legs
and slippered feet horizontally disposedand in my hand a novel
purchased of a railroad bibliopolist. The gradual waste of my cigar
accomplished itself with an easy and gentle expenditure of breath. My
book was of the dullestyet had a sort of sluggish flowlike that of a
stream in which your boat is as often aground as afloat. Had there been
a more impetuous rusha more absorbing passion of the narrativeI
should the sooner have struggled out of its uneasy currentand have
given myself up to the swell and subsidence of my thoughts. Butas it
wasthe torpid life of the book served as an unobtrusive accompaniment
to the life within me and about me. At intervalshoweverwhen its
effect grew a little too soporific--not for my patiencebut for the
possibility of keeping my eyes openI bestirred myselfstarted from the
rocking-chairand looked out of the window.
A gray sky; the weathercock of a steeple that rose beyond the opposite
range of buildingspointing from the eastward; a sprinkle of small
spiteful-looking raindrops on the window-pane. In that ebb-tide of my
energieshad I thought of venturing abroadthese tokens would have
checked the abortive purpose.
After several such visits to the windowI found myself getting pretty
well acquainted with that little portion of the backside of the universe
which it presented to my view. Over against the hotel and its adjacent
housesat the distance of forty or fifty yardswas the rear of a range
of buildings which appeared to be spaciousmodernand calculated for
fashionable residences. The interval between was apportioned into
grass-plotsand here and there an apology for a gardenpertaining
severally to these dwellings. There were apple-treesand pear and peach
treestoothe fruit on which looked singularly largeluxuriantand
abundantas well it mightin a situation so warm and shelteredand
where the soil had doubtless been enriched to a more than natural
fertility. In two or three places grapevines clambered upon trellises
and bore clusters already purpleand promising the richness of Malta or
Madeira in their ripened juice. The blighting winds of our rigid climate
could not molest these trees and vines; the sunshinethough descending
late into this areaand too early intercepted by the height of the
surrounding housesyet lay tropically thereeven when less than
temperate in every other region. Dreary as was the daythe scene was
illuminated by not a few sparrows and other birdswhich spread their
wingsand flitted and flutteredand alighted now herenow thereand
busily scratched their food out of the wormy earth. Most of these winged
people seemed to have their domicile in a robust and healthy
buttonwood-tree. It aspired upwardhigh above the roofs of the houses
and spread a dense head of foliage half across the area.
There was a cat--as there invariably is in such places--who evidently
thought herself entitled to the privileges of forest life in this close
heart of city conventionalisms. I watched her creeping along the low
flat roofs of the officesdescending a flight of wooden stepsgliding
among the grassand besieging the buttonwood-treewith murderous
purpose against its feathered citizens. Butafter allthey were birds
of city breedingand doubtless knew how to guard themselves against the
peculiar perils of their position.
Bewitching to my fancy are all those nooks and crannies where Nature
like a stray partridgehides her head among the long-established haunts
of men! It is likewise to be remarkedas a general rulethat there is
far more of the picturesquemore truth to native and characteristic
tendenciesand vastly greater suggestiveness in the back view of a
residencewhether in town or countrythan in its front. The latter is
always artificial; it is meant for the world's eyeand is therefore a
veil and a concealment. Realities keep in the rearand put forward an
advance guard of show and humbug. The posterior aspect of any old
farmhousebehind which a railroad has unexpectedly been openedis so
different from that looking upon the immemorial highwaythat the
spectator gets new ideas of rural life and individuality in the puff or
two of steam-breath which shoots him past the premises. In a citythe
distinction between what is offered to the public and what is kept for
the family is certainly not less striking.
Butto return to my window at the back of the hotel. Together with a
due contemplation of the fruit-treesthe grapevinesthe buttonwood-tree
the catthe birdsand many other particularsI failed not to study
the row of fashionable dwellings to which all these appertained. Here
it must be confessedthere was a general sameness. From the upper story
to the first floorthey were so much alikethat I could only conceive
of the inhabitants as cut out on one identical patternlike little
wooden toy-people of German manufacture. One longunited roofwith its
thousands of slates glittering in the rainextended over the whole.
After the distinctness of separate characters to which I had recently
been accustomedit perplexed and annoyed me not to be able to resolve
this combination of human interests into well-defined elements. It
seemed hardly worth while for more than one of those families to be in
existencesince they all had the same glimpse of the skyall looked
into the same areaall received just their equal share of sunshine
through the front windowsand all listened to precisely the same noises
of the street on which they boarded. Men are so much alike in their
naturethat they grow intolerable unless varied by their circumstances.
Just about this time a waiter entered my room. The truth wasI had rung
the bell and ordered a sherry-cobbler.
Can you tell me,I inquiredwhat families reside in any of those
The one right opposite is a rather stylish boarding-house,said the
waiter. "Two of the gentlemen boarders keep horses at the stable of our
establishment. They do things in very good stylesirthe people that
I might have found out nearly as much for myselfon examining the house
a little more closelyin one of the upper chambers I saw a young man in
a dressing-gownstanding before the glass and brushing his hair for a
quarter of an hour together. He then spent an equal space of time in the
elaborate arrangement of his cravatand finally made his appearance in a
dress-coatwhich I suspected to be newly come from the tailor'sand now
first put on for a dinner-party. At a window of the next story below
two childrenprettily dressedwere looking out. By and by a
middle-aged gentleman came softly behind themkissed the little girl
and playfully pulled the little boy's ear. It was a papano doubtjust
come in from his counting-room or office; and anon appeared mamma
stealing as softly behind papa as he had stolen behind the childrenand
laying her hand on his shoulder to surprise him. Then followed a kiss
between papa and mamma; but a noiseless onefor the children did not
turn their heads.
I bless God for these good folks!thought I to myself. "I have not
seen a prettier bit of naturein all my summer in the countrythan they
have shown me herein a rather stylish boarding-house. I will pay them
a little more attention by and by."
On the first flooran iron balustrade ran along in front of the tall and
spacious windowsevidently belonging to a back drawing-room; and far
into the interiorthrough the arch of the sliding-doorsI could discern
a gleam from the windows of the front apartment. There were no signs of
present occupancy in this suite of rooms; the curtains being enveloped in
a protective coveringwhich allowed but a small portion of their crimson
material to be seen. But two housemaids were industriously at work; so
that there was good prospect that the boarding-house might not long
suffer from the absence of its most expensive and profitable guests.
Meanwhileuntil they should appearI cast my eyes downward to the lower
regions. Therein the dusk that so early settles into such placesI saw
the red glow of the kitchen range. The hot cookor one of her
subordinateswith a ladle in her handcame to draw a cool breath at the
back door. As soon as she disappearedan Irish man-servantin a white
jacketcrept slyly forthand threw away the fragments of a china dish
whichunquestionablyhe had just broken. Soon afterwardsa lady
showily dressedwith a curling front of what must have been false hair
and reddish-brownI supposein hue--though my remoteness allowed me
only to guess at such particulars--this respectable mistress of the
boarding-house made a momentary transit across the kitchen windowand
appeared no more. It was her finalcomprehensive glancein order to
make sure that soupfishand flesh were in a proper state of readiness
before the serving up of dinner.
There was nothing else worth noticing about the houseunless it be that
on the peak of one of the dormer windows which opened out of the roof sat
a dovelooking very dreary and forlorn; insomuch that I wondered why she
chose to sit therein the chilly rainwhile her kindred were doubtless
nestling in a warm and comfortable dove-cote. All at once this dove
spread her wingsandlaunching herself in the aircame flying so
straight across the intervening spacethat I fully expected her to
alight directly on my window-sill. In the latter part of her course
howevershe swerved asideflew upwardand vanishedas didlikewise
the slightfantastic pathos with which I had invested her.
XVIII. THE BOARDING-HOUSE
The next dayas soon as I thought of looking again towards the opposite
housethere sat the dove againon the peak of the same dormer window!
It was by no means an early hourfor the preceding evening I had
ultimately mustered enterprise enough to visit the theatrehad gone late
to bedand slept beyond all limitin my remoteness from Silas Foster's
awakening horn. Dreams had tormented me throughout the night. The train
of thoughts whichfor months pasthad worn a track through my mindand
to escape which was one of my chief objects in leaving Blithedalekept
treading remorselessly to and fro in their old footstepswhile slumber
left me impotent to regulate them. It was not till I had quitted my
three friends that they first began to encroach upon my dreams. In those
of the last nightHollingsworth and Zenobiastanding on either side of
my bedhad bent across it to exchange a kiss of passion. Priscilla
beholding this--for she seemed to be peeping in at the chamber window
--had melted gradually awayand left only the sadness of her expression
in my heart. There it still lingeredafter I awoke; one of those
unreasonable sadnesses that you know not how to deal withbecause it
involves nothing for common-sense to clutch.
It was a gray and dripping forenoon; gloomy enough in townand still
gloomier in the haunts to which my recollections persisted in
transporting me. Forin spite of my efforts to think of something else
I thought how the gusty rain was drifting over the slopes and valleys of
our farm; how wet must be the foliage that overshadowed the pulpit rock;
how cheerlessin such a daymy hermitage--the tree-solitude of my
owl-like humors--in the vine-encircled heart of the tall pine! It was a
phase of homesickness. I had wrenched myself too suddenly out of an
accustomed sphere. There was no choicenowbut to bear the pang of
whatever heartstrings were snapt asunderand that illusive torment (like
the ache of a limb long ago cut off) by which a past mode of life
prolongs itself into the succeeding one. I was full of idle and
shapeless regrets. The thought impressed itself upon me that I had left
duties unperformed. With the powerperhapsto act in the place of
destiny and avert misfortune from my friendsI had resigned them to
their fate. That cold tendencybetween instinct and intellectwhich
made me pry with a speculative interest into people's passions and
impulsesappeared to have gone far towards unhumanizing my heart.
But a man cannot always decide for himself whether his own heart is cold
or warm. It now impresses me thatif I erred at all in regard to
HollingsworthZenobiaand Priscillait was through too much sympathy
rather than too little.
To escape the irksomeness of these meditationsI resumed my post at the
window. At first sightthere was nothing new to be noticed. The general
aspect of affairs was the same as yesterdayexcept that the more decided
inclemency of to-day had driven the sparrows to shelterand kept the cat
within doors; whencehowevershe soon emergedpursued by the cookand
with what looked like the better half of a roast chicken in her mouth.
The young man in the dress-coat was invisible; the two childrenin the
story belowseemed to be romping about the roomunder the
superintendence of a nursery-maid. The damask curtains of the
drawing-roomon the first floorwere now fully displayedfestooned
gracefully from top to bottom of the windowswhich extended from the
ceiling to the carpet. A narrower windowat the left of the
drawing-roomgave light to what was probably a small boudoirwithin
which I caught the faintest imaginable glimpse of a girl's figurein
airy drapery. Her arm was in regular movementas if she were busy with
her German worstedor some other such pretty and unprofitable handiwork.
While intent upon making out this girlish shapeI became sensible that a
figure had appeared at one of the windows of the drawing-room. There was
a presentiment in my mind; or perhaps my first glanceimperfect and
sidelong as it washad sufficed to convey subtile information of the
truth. At any rateit was with no positive surprisebut as if I had
all along expected the incidentthatdirecting my eyes thitherwardI
beheld--like a full-length picturein the space between the heavy
festoons of the window curtains--no other than Zenobia! At the same
instantmy thoughts made sure of the identity of the figure in the
boudoir. It could only be Priscilla.
Zenobia was attirednot in the almost rustic costume which she had
heretofore wornbut in a fashionable morning-dress. There was
neverthelessone familiar point. She hadas usuala flower in her
hairbrilliant and of a rare varietyelse it had not been Zenobia.
After a brief pause at the windowshe turned awayexemplifyingin the
few steps that removed her out of sightthat noble and beautiful motion
which characterized her as much as any other personal charm. Not one
woman in a thousand could move so admirably as Zenobia. Many women can
sit gracefully; some can stand gracefully; and a fewperhapscan assume
a series of graceful positions. But natural movement is the result and
expression of the whole beingand cannot be well and nobly performed
unless responsive to something in the character. I often used to think
that music--light and airywild and passionateor the full harmony of
stately marchesin accordance with her varying mood--should have
attended Zenobia's footsteps.
I waited for her reappearance. It was one peculiaritydistinguishing
Zenobia from most of her sexthat she needed for her moral wellbeing
and never would foregoa large amount of physical exercise. At
Blithedaleno inclemency of sky or muddiness of earth had ever impeded
her daily walks. Here in townshe probably preferred to tread the
extent of the two drawing-roomsand measure out the miles by spaces of
forty feetrather than bedraggle her skirts over the sloppy pavements.
Accordinglyin about the time requisite to pass through the arch of the
sliding-doors to the front windowand to return upon her stepsthere
she stood againbetween the festoons of the crimson curtains. But
another personage was now added to the scene. Behind Zenobia appeared
that face which I had first encountered in the wood-path; the man who had
passedside by side with herin such mysterious familiarity and
estrangementbeneath my vine curtained hermitage in the tall pine-tree.
It was Westervelt. And though he was looking closely over her shoulder
it still seemed to meas on the former occasionthat Zenobia repelled
him--thatperchancethey mutually repelled each otherby some
incompatibility of their spheres.
This impressionhowevermight have been altogether the result of fancy
and prejudice in me. The distance was so great as to obliterate any play
of feature by which I might otherwise have been made a partaker of their
There now needed only Hollingsworth and old Moodie to complete the knot
of characterswhom a real intricacy of eventsgreatly assisted by my
method of insulating them from other relationshad kept so long upon my
mental stageas actors in a drama. In itselfperhapsit was no very
remarkable event that they should thus come across meat the moment when
I imagined myself free. Zenobiaas I well knewhad retained an
establishment in townand had not unfrequently withdrawn herself from
Blithedale during brief intervalson one of which occasions she had
taken Priscilla along with her. Neverthelessthere seemed something
fatal in the coincidence that had borne me to this one spotof all
others in a great cityand transfixed me thereand compelled me again
to waste my already wearied sympathies on affairs which were none of mine
and persons who cared little for me. It irritated my nerves; it
affected me with a kind of heart-sickness. After the effort which it
cost me to fling them off--after consummating my escapeas I thought
from these goblins of flesh and bloodand pausing to revive myself with
a breath or two of an atmosphere in which they should have no share--it
was a positive despair to find the same figures arraying themselves
before meand presenting their old problem in a shape that made it more
insoluble than ever.
I began to long for a catastrophe. If the noble temper of
Hollingsworth's soul were doomed to be utterly corrupted by the too
powerful purpose which had grown out of what was noblest in him; if the
rich and generous qualities of Zenobia's womanhood might not save her; if
Priscilla must perish by her tenderness and faithso simple and so
devoutthen be it so! Let it all come! As for meI would look onas
it seemed my part to dounderstandinglyif my intellect could fathom
the meaning and the moralandat all eventsreverently and sadly. The
curtain fallenI would pass onward with my poor individual lifewhich
was now attenuated of much of its proper substanceand diffused among
many alien interests.
MeanwhileZenobia and her companion had retreated from the window. Then
followed an intervalduring which I directed my eves towards the figure
in the boudoir. Most certainly it was Priscillaalthough dressed with a
novel and fanciful elegance. The vague perception of itas viewed so
far offimpressed me as if she had suddenly passed out of a chrysalis
state and put forth wings. Her hands were not now in motion. She had
dropt her workand sat with her head thrown backin the same attitude
that I had seen several times beforewhen she seemed to be listening to
an imperfectly distinguished sound.
Again the two figures in the drawing-room became visible. They were now
a little withdrawn from the windowface to faceandas I could see by
Zenobia's emphatic gestureswere discussing some subject in which she
at leastfelt a passionate concern. By and by she broke awayand
vanished beyond my ken. Westervelt approached the windowand leaned his
forehead against a pane of glassdisplaying the sort of smile on his
handsome features whichwhen I before met himhad let me into the
secret of his gold-bordered teeth. Every human beingwhen given over to
the Devilis sure to have the wizard mark upon himin one form or
another. I fancied that this smilewith its peculiar revelationwas
the Devil's signet on the Professor.
This manas I had soon reason to knowwas endowed with a cat-like
circumspection; and though precisely the most unspiritual quality in the
worldit was almost as effective as spiritual insight in making him
acquainted with whatever it suited him to discover. He now proved it
considerably to my discomfitureby detecting and recognizing meat my
post of observation. Perhaps I ought to have blushed at being caught in
such an evident scrutiny of Professor Westervelt and his affairs.
Perhaps I did blush. Be that as it mightI retained presence of mind
enough not to make my position yet more irksome by the poltroonery of
Westervelt looked into the depths of the drawing-roomand beckoned.
Immediately afterwards Zenobia appeared at the windowwith color much
heightenedand eyes whichas my conscience whispered mewere shooting
bright arrowsbarbed with scornacross the intervening spacedirected
full at my sensibilities as a gentleman. If the truth must be toldfar
as her flight-shot wasthose arrows hit the mark. She signified her
recognition of me by a gesture with her head and handcomprising at once
a salutation and dismissal. The next moment she administered one of
those pitiless rebukes which a woman always has at handready for any
offence (and which she so seldom spares on due occasion)by letting down
a white linen curtain between the festoons of the damask ones. It fell
like the drop-curtain of a theatrein the interval between the acts.
Priscilla had disappeared from the boudoir. But the dove still kept her
desolate perch on the peak of the attic window.
XIX. ZENOBIA'S DRAWING-ROOM
The remainder of the dayso far as I was concernedwas spent in
meditating on these recent incidents. I contrivedand alternately
rejectedinnumerable methods of accounting for the presence of Zenobia
and Priscillaand the connection of Westervelt with both. It must be
ownedtoothat I had a keenrevengeful sense of the insult inflicted
by Zenobia's scornful recognitionand more particularly by her letting
down the curtain; as if such were the proper barrier to be interposed
between a character like hers and a perceptive faculty like mine. For
was mine a mere vulgar curiosity? Zenobia should have known me better
than to suppose it. She should have been able to appreciate that quality
of the intellect and the heart which impelled me (often against my own
willand to the detriment of my own comfort) to live in other livesand
to endeavor--by generous sympathiesby delicate intuitionsby taking
note of things too slight for recordand by bringing my human spirit
into manifold accordance with the companions whom God assigned me--to
learn the secret which was hidden even from themselves.
Of all possible observersmethought a woman like Zenobia and a man like
Hollingsworth should have selected me. And now when the event has long
been pastI retain the same opinion of my fitness for the office. True
I might have condemned them. Had I been judge as well as witnessmy
sentence might have been stern as that of destiny itself. Butstillno
trait of original nobility of characterno struggle against temptation
--no iron necessity of willon the one handnor extenuating
circumstance to be derived from passion and despairon the other--no
remorse that might coexist with erroreven if powerless to prevent it
--no proud repentance that should claim retribution as a meed--would go
unappreciated. TrueagainI might give my full assent to the
punishment which was sure to follow. But it would be given mournfully
and with undiminished love. Andafter all was finishedI would come as
if to gather up the white ashes of those who had perished at the stake
and to tell the world--the wrong being now atoned for--how much had
perished there which it had never yet known how to praise.
I sat in my rocking-chairtoo far withdrawn from the window to expose
myself to another rebuke like that already inflicted. My eyes still
wandered towards the opposite housebut without effecting any new
discoveries. Late in the afternoonthe weathercock on the church spire
indicated a change of wind; the sun shone dimly outas if the golden
wine of its beams were mingled half-and-half with water. Nevertheless
they kindled up the whole range of edificesthrew a glow over the
windowsglistened on the wet roofsandslowly withdrawing upward
perched upon the chimney-tops; thence they took a higher flightand
lingered an instant on the tip of the spiremaking it the final point of
more cheerful light in the whole sombre scene. The next momentit was
all gone. The twilight fell into the area like a shower of dusky snow
and before it was quite darkthe gong of the hotel summoned me to tea.
When I returned to my chamberthe glow of an astral lamp was penetrating
mistily through the white curtain of Zenobia's drawing-room. The shadow
of a passing figure was now and then cast upon this mediumbut with too
vague an outline for even my adventurous conjectures to read the
hieroglyphic that it presented.
All at onceit occurred to me how very absurd was my behavior in thus
tormenting myself with crazy hypotheses as to what was going on within
that drawing-roomwhen it was at my option to be personally present
thereMy relations with Zenobiaas yet unchanged--as a familiar
friendand associated in the same life-long enterprise--gave me the
rightand made it no more than kindly courtesy demandedto call on her.
Nothingexcept our habitual independence of conventional rules at
Blithedalecould have kept me from sooner recognizing this duty. At all
eventsit should now be performed.
In compliance with this sudden impulseI soon found myself actually
within the housethe rear of whichfor two days pastI had been so
sedulously watching. A servant took my cardandimmediately returning
ushered me upstairs. On the wayI heard a richandas it were
triumphant burst of music from a pianoin which I felt Zenobia's
characteralthough heretofore I had known nothing of her skill upon the
instrument. Two or three canary-birdsexcited by this gush of sound
sang piercinglyand did their utmost to produce a kindred melody. A
bright illumination streamed throughthe door of the front drawing-room;
and I had barelystept across the threshold before Zenobia came forward
to meet melaughingand with an extended hand.
Ah, Mr. Coverdale,said shestill smilingbutas I thoughtwith a
good deal of scornful anger underneathit has gratified me to see the
interest which you continue to take in my affairs! I have long
recognized you as a sort of transcendental Yankee, with all the native
propensity of your countrymen to investigate matters that come within
their range, but rendered almost poetical, in your case, by the refined
methods which you adopt for its gratification. After all, it was an
unjustifiable stroke, on my part,--was it not?--to let down the window
I cannot call it a very wise one,returned Iwith a secret bitterness
whichno doubtZenobia appreciated. "It is really impossible to hide
anything in this worldto say nothing of the next. All that we ought to
askthereforeisthat the witnesses of our conductand the
speculators on our motivesshould be capable of taking the highest view
which the circumstances of the case may admit. So much being securedI
for onewould be most happy in feeling myself followed everywhere by an
indefatigable human sympathy."
We must trust for intelligent sympathy to our guardian angels, if any
there be,said Zenobia. "As long as the only spectator of my poor
tragedy is a young man at the window of his hotelI must still claim the
liberty to drop the curtain."
While this passedas Zenobia's hand was extendedI had applied the very
slightest touch of my fingers to her own. In spite of an external
freedomher manner made me sensible that we stood upon no real terms of
confidence. The thought came sadly across mehow great was the contrast
betwixt this interview and our first meeting. Thenin the warm light of
the country firesideZenobia had greeted me cheerily and hopefullywith
a full sisterly grasp of the handconveying as much kindness in it as
other women could have evinced by the pressure of both arms around my
neckor by yielding a cheek to the brotherly salute. The difference was
as complete as between her appearance at that time--so simply attired
and with only the one superb flower in her hair--and nowwhen her beauty
was set off by all that dress and ornament could do for it. And they did
much. Notindeedthat they created or added anything to what Nature
had lavishly done for Zenobia. Butthose costly robes which she had on
those flaming jewels on her neckserved as lamps to display the personal
advantages which required nothing less than such an illumination to be
fully seen. Even her characteristic flowerthough it seemed to be still
therehad undergone a cold and bright transfiguration; it was a flower
exquisitely imitated in jeweller's workand imparting the last touch
that transformed Zenobia into a work of art.
I scarcely feel,I could not forbear sayingas if we had ever met
before. How many years ago it seems since we last sat beneath Eliot's
pulpit, with Hollingsworth extended on the fallen leaves, and Priscilla
at his feet! Can it be, Zenobia, that you ever really numbered yourself
with our little band of earnest, thoughtful, philanthropic laborers?
Those ideas have their time and place,she answered coldly. "But I
fancy it must be a very circumscribed mind that can find room for no
Her manner bewildered me. LiterallymoreoverI was dazzled by the
brilliancy of the room. A chandelier hung down in the centreglowing
with I know not how many lights; there were separate lampsalsoon two
or three tablesand on marble bracketsadding their white radiance to
that of the chandelier. The furniture was exceedingly rich. Fresh from
our old farmhousewith its homely board and benches in the dining-room
and a few wicker chairs in the best parlorit struck me that here was
the fulfilment of every fantasy of an imagination revelling in various
methods of costly self-indulgence and splendid ease. Picturesmarbles
vases--in briefmore shapes of luxury than there could be any object in
enumeratingexcept for an auctioneer's advertisement--and the whole
repeated and doubled by the reflection of a great mirrorwhich showed me
Zenobia's proud figurelikewiseand my own. It cost meI acknowledge
a bitter sense of shameto perceive in myself a positive effort to bear
up against the effect which Zenobia sought to impose on me. I reasoned
against herin my secret mindand strove so to keep my footing. In the
gorgeousness with which she had surrounded herself--in the redundance of
personal ornamentwhich the largeness of her physical nature and the
rich type of her beauty caused to seem so suitable--I malevolently
beheld the true character of the womanpassionateluxuriouslacking
simplicitynot deeply refinedincapable of pure and perfect taste. But
the next instantshe was too powerful for all my opposing struggles. I
saw how fit it was that she should make herself as gorgeous as she
pleasedand should do a thousand things that would have been ridiculous
in the poorthinweakly characters of other women. To this day
howeverI hardly know whether I then beheld Zenobia in her truest
attitudeor whether that were the truer one in which she had presented
herself at Blithedale. In boththere was something like the illusion
which a great actress flings around her.
Have you given up Blithedale forever?I inquired.
Why should you think so?asked she.
I cannot tell,answered I; "except that it appears all like a dream
that we were ever there together."
It is not so to me,said Zenobia. "I should think it a poor and meagre
nature that is capable of but one set of formsand must convert all the
past into a dream merely because the present happens to be unlike it.
Why should we be content with our homely life of a few months pastto
the exclusion of all other modes? It was good; but there are other lives
as goodor better. Notyou will understandthat I condemn those who
give themselves up to it more entirely than Ifor myselfshould deem it
wise to do."
It irritated methis self-complacentcondescendingqualified approval
and criticism of a system to which many individuals--perhaps as highly
endowed as our gorgeous Zenobia--had contributed their all of earthly
endeavorand their loftiest aspirations. I determined to make proof if
there were any spell that would exorcise her out of the part which she
seemed to be acting. She should be compelled to give me a glimpse of
something true; some naturesome passionno matter whether right or
wrongprovided it were real.
Your allusion to that class of circumscribed characters who can live
only in one mode of life,remarked I coollyreminds me of our poor
friend Hollingsworth. Possibly he was in your thoughts when you spoke
thus. Poor fellow! It is a pity that, by the fault of a narrow
education, he should have so completely immolated himself to that one
idea of his, especially as the slightest modicum of commonsense would
teach him its utter impracticability. Now that I have returned into the
world, and can look at his project from a distance, it requires quite all
my real regard for this respectable and well-intentioned man to prevent
me laughing at him,--as I find society at large does.
Zenobia's eyes darted lightningher cheeks flushedthe vividness of her
expression was like the effect of a powerful light flaming up suddenly
within her. My experiment had fully succeeded. She had shown me the
true flesh and blood of her heartby thus involuntarily resenting my
slightpityinghalf-kindhalf-scornful mention of the man who was all
in all with her. She herself probably felt this; for it was hardly a
moment before she tranquillized her uneven breathand seemed as proud
and self-possessed as ever.
I rather imagine,said she quietlythat your appreciation falls short
of Mr. Hollingsworth's just claims. Blind enthusiasm, absorption in one
idea, I grant, is generally ridiculous, and must be fatal to the
respectability of an ordinary man; it requires a very high and powerful
character to make it otherwise. But a great man--as, perhaps, you do not
know--attains his normal condition only through the inspiration of one
great idea. As a friend of Mr. Hollingsworth, and, at the same time, a
calm observer, I must tell you that he seems to me such a man. But you
are very pardonable for fancying him ridiculous. Doubtless, he is so
--to you! There can be no truer test of the noble and heroic, in any
individual, than the degree in which he possesses the faculty of
distinguishing heroism from absurdity.
I dared make no retort to Zenobia's concluding apothegm. In truthI
admired her fidelity. It gave me a new sense of Hollingsworth's native
powerto discover that his influence was no less potent with this
beautiful woman herein the midst of artificial lifethan it had been
at the foot of the gray rockand among the wild birch-trees of the
wood-pathwhen she so passionately pressed his hand against her heart.
The greatrudeshaggyswarthy man! And Zenobia loved him!
Did you bring Priscilla with you?I resumed. "Do you know I have
sometimes fancied it not quite safeconsidering the susceptibility of
her temperamentthat she should be so constantly within the sphere of a
man like Hollingsworth. Such tender and delicate naturesamong your sex
have oftenI believea very adequate appreciation of the heroic
element in men. But thenagainI should suppose them as likely as any
other women to make a reciprocal impression. Hollingsworth could hardly
give his affections to a person capable of taking an independent stand
but only to one whom he might absorb into himself. He has certainly
shown great tenderness for Priscilla."
Zenobia had turned aside. But I caught the reflection of her face in the
mirrorand saw that it was very pale--as palein her rich attireas
if a shroud were round her.
Priscilla is here,said sheher voice a little lower than usual.
Have not you learnt as much from your chamber window? Would you like to
She made a step or two into the back drawing-roomand called
--"Priscilla! Dear Priscilla!"
XX. THEY VANISH
Priscilla immediately answered the summonsand made her appearance
through the door of the boudoir. I had conceived the ideawhich I now
recognized as a very foolish onethat Zenobia would have taken measures
to debar me from an interview with this girlbetween whom and herself
there was so utter an opposition of their dearest intereststhaton one
part or the othera great griefif not likewise a great wrongseemed a
matter of necessity. Butas Priscilla was only a leaf floating on the
dark current of eventswithout influencing them by her own choice or
planas she probably guessed not whither the stream was bearing hernor
perhaps even felt its inevitable movement--there could be no peril of
her communicating to me any intelligence with regard to Zenobia's
On perceiving meshe came forward with great quietude of manner; and
when I held out my handher own moved slightly towards itas if
attracted by a feeble degree of magnetism.
I am glad to see you, my dear Priscilla,said Istill holding her hand;
but everything that I meet with nowadays makes me wonder whether I am
awake. You, especially, have always seemed like a figure in a dream, and
now more than ever.
Oh, there is substance in these fingers of mine,she answeredgiving
my hand the faintest possible pressureand then taking away her own.
Why do you call me a dream? Zenobia is much more like one than I; she
is so very, very beautiful! And, I suppose,added Priscillaas if
thinking aloudeverybody sees it, as I do.
Butfor my partit was Priscilla's beautynot Zenobia'sof which I
was thinking at that moment. She was a person who could be quite
obliteratedso far as beauty wentby anything unsuitable in her attire;
her charm was not positive and material enough to bear up against a
mistaken choice of colorfor instanceor fashion. It was safestin
her caseto attempt no art of dress; for it demanded the most perfect
tasteor else the happiest accident in the worldto give her precisely
the adornment which she needed. She was now dressed in pure whiteset
off with some kind of a gauzy fabricwhich--as I bring up her figure in
my memorywith a faint gleam on her shadowy hairand her dark eyes bent
shyly on minethrough all the vanished years--seems to be floating about
her like a mist. I wondered what Zenobia meant by evolving so much
loveliness out of this poor girl. It was what few women could afford to
do; foras I looked from one to the otherthe sheen and splendor of
Zenobia's presence took nothing from Priscilla's softer spellif it
might not rather be thought to add to it.
What do you think of her?asked Zenobia.
I could not understand the look of melancholy kindness with which Zenobia
regarded her. She advanced a stepand beckoning Priscilla near her
kissed her cheek; thenwith a slight gesture of repulseshe moved to
the other side of the room. I followed.
She is a wonderful creature,I said. "Ever since she came among usI
have been dimly sensible of just this charm which you have brought out.
But it was never absolutely visible till now. She is as lovely as a
Well, say so if you like,answered Zenobia. "You are a poet--at least
as poets go nowadays--and must be allowed to make an opera-glass of your
imaginationwhen you look at women. I wonderin such Arcadian freedom
of falling in love as we have lately enjoyedit never occurred to you to
fall in love with Priscilla. In societyindeeda genuine American
never dreams of stepping across the inappreciable air-line which
separates one class from another. But what was rank to the colonists of
There were other reasons,I repliedwhy I should have demonstrated
myself an ass, had I fallen in love with Priscilla. By the bye, has
Hollingsworth ever seen her in this dress?
Why do you bring up his name at every turn?asked Zenobia in an
undertoneand with a malign look which wandered from my face to
Priscilla's. "You know not what you do! It is dangeroussirbelieve me
to tamper thus with earnest human passionsout of your own mere
idlenessand for your sport. I will endure it no longer! Take care
that it does not happen again! I warn you!"
You partly wrong me, if not wholly,I responded. "It is an uncertain
sense of some duty to performthat brings my thoughtsand therefore my
wordscontinually to that one point."
Oh, this stale excuse of duty!said Zenobiain a whisper so full of
scorn that it penetrated me like the hiss of a serpent. "I have often
heard it beforefrom those who sought to interfere with meand I know
precisely what it signifies. Bigotry; self-conceit; an insolent
curiosity; a meddlesome temper; a cold-blooded criticismfounded on a
shallow interpretation of half-perceptions; a monstrous scepticism in
regard to any conscience or any wisdomexcept one's own; a most
irreverent propensity to thrust Providence asideand substitute one's
self in its awful place--out of theseand other motives as miserable as
thesecomes your idea of duty! Butbewaresir! With all your fancied
acutenessyou step blindfold into these affairs. For any mischief that
may follow your interferenceI hold you responsible!"
It was evident thatwith but a little further provocationthe lioness
would turn to bay; ifindeedsuch were not her attitude already. I
bowedand not very well knowing what else to dowas about to withdraw.
Butglancing again towards Priscillawho had retreated into a corner
there fell upon my heart an intolerable burden of despondencythe
purport of which I could not tellbut only felt it to bear reference to
her. I approached and held out my hand; a gesturehoweverto which she
made no response. It was always one of her peculiarities that she seemed
to shrink from even the most friendly touchunless it were Zenobia's or
Hollingsworth's. Zenobiaall this whilestood watching usbut with a
careless expressionas if it mattered very little what might pass.
Priscilla,I inquiredlowering my voicewhen do you go back to
Whenever they please to take me,said she.
Did you come away of your own free will?I asked.
I am blown about like a leaf,she replied.
I never have any free will.
Does Hollingsworth know that you are here?said I.
He bade me come,answered Priscilla.
She looked at meI thoughtwith an air of surpriseas if the idea were
incomprehensible that she should have taken this step without his agency.
What a gripe this man has laid upon her whole being!muttered I
between my teeth.
Well, as Zenobia so kindly intimates, I have no more business here. I
wash my hands of it all. On Hollingsworth's head be the consequences!
Priscilla,I added aloudI know not that ever we may meet again.
As I spoke the worda carriage had rumbled along the streetand stopt
before the house. The doorbell rangand steps were immediately
afterwards heard on the staircase. Zenobia had thrown a shawl over her
Mr. Coverdale,said shewith cool courtesyyou will perhaps excuse
us. We have an engagement, and are going out.
Is not that a little more than you are entitled to inquire?said she
with a smile.
At all events, it does not suit me to tell you.
The door of the drawing-room openedand Westervelt appeared. I observed
that he was elaborately dressedas if for some grand entertainment. My
dislike for this man was infinite. At that moment it amounted to nothing
less than a creeping of the fleshas whenfeeling about in a dark place
one touches something cold and slimyand questions what the secret
hatefulness may be. And still I could not but acknowledge thatfor
personal beautyfor polish of mannerfor all that externally befits a
gentlemanthere was hardly another like him. After bowing to Zenobia
and graciously saluting Priscilla in her cornerhe recognized me by a
slight but courteous inclination.
Come, Priscilla,said Zenobia; "it is time. Mr. Coverdale
As Priscilla moved slowly forwardI met her in the middle of the
Priscilla,said Iin the hearing of them alldo you know whither you
I do not know,she answered.
Is it wise to go, and is it your choice to go?I asked. "If notI am
your friendand Hollingsworth's friend. Tell me soat once."
Possibly,observed WesterveltsmilingPriscilla sees in me an older
friend than either Mr. Coverdale or Mr. Hollingsworth. I shall willingly
leave the matter at her option.
While thus speakinghe made a gesture of kindly invitationand
Priscilla passed mewith the gliding movement of a spriteand took his
offered arm. He offered the other to Zenobia; but she turned her proud
and beautiful face upon him with a look which--judging from what I caught
of it in profile--would undoubtedly have smitten the man deadhad he
possessed any heartor had this glance attained to it. It seemed to
reboundhoweverfrom his courteous visagelike an arrow from polished
steel. They all three descended the stairs; and when I likewise reached
the street doorthe carriage was already rolling away.
XXI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
Thus excluded from everybody's confidenceand attaining no furtherby
my most earnest studythan to an uncertain sense of something hidden
from meit would appear reasonable that I should have flung off all
these alien perplexities. Obviouslymy best course was to betake myself
to new scenes. Here I was only an intruder. Elsewhere there might be
circumstances in which I could establish a personal interestand people
who would respondwith a portion of their sympathiesfor so much as I
should bestow of mine.
Neverthelessthere occurred to me one other thing to be done.
Remembering old Moodieand his relationship with PriscillaI determined
to seek an interviewfor the purpose of ascertaining whether the knot of
affairs was as inextricable on that side as I found it on all others.
Being tolerably well acquainted with the old man's hauntsI wentthe
next dayto the saloon of a certain establishment about which he often
lurked. It was a reputable place enoughaffording good entertainment in
the way of meatdrinkand fumigation; and therein my young and idle
days and nightswhen I was neither nice nor wiseI had often amused
myself with watching the staid humors and sober jollities of the thirsty
souls around me.
At my first entranceold Moodie was not there. The more patiently to
await himI lighted a cigarand establishing myself in a cornertook a
quietandby sympathya boozy kind of pleasure in the customary life
that was going forward. The saloon was fitted up with a good deal of
taste. There were pictures on the wallsand among them an oil-painting
of a beefsteakwith such an admirable show of juicy tendernessthat the
beholder sighed to think it merely visionaryand incapable of ever being
put upon a gridiron. Another work of high art was the lifelike
representation of a noble sirloin; anotherthe hindquarters of a deer
retaining the hoofs and tawny fur; anotherthe head and shoulders of a
salmon; andstill more exquisitely finisheda brace of canvasback ducks
in which the mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a
daguerreotype. Some very hungry painterI supposehad wrought these
subjects of still-lifeheightening his imagination with his appetite
and earningit is to be hopedthe privilege of a daily dinner off
whichever of his pictorial viands he themselves to plain brandy-and-water
ginor West India rum; andoftentimesthey prefaced their dram with
some medicinal remark as to the wholesomeness and stomachic qualities of
that particular drink. Two or three appeared to have bottles of their
own behind the counter; andwinking one red eye to the bar-keeperhe
forthwith produced these choicest and peculiar cordialswhich it was a
matter of great interest and favoramong their acquaintancesto obtain
a sip of.
Agreeably to the Yankee habitunder whatever circumstancesthe
deportment of all these good fellowsold or youngwas decorous and
thoroughly correct. They grew only the more sober in their cups; there
was no confused babble nor boisterous laughter. They sucked in the
joyous fire of the decanters and kept it smouldering in their inmost
recesseswith a bliss known only to the heart which it warmed and
comforted. Their eyes twinkled a littleto be sure; they hemmed
vigorously after each glassand laid a hand upon the pit of the stomach
as if the pleasant titillation there was what constituted the tangible
part of their enjoyment. In that spotunquestionablyand not in the
brainwas the acme of the whole affair. But the true purpose of their
drinking--and one that will induce men to drinkor do something
equivalentas long as this weary world shall endure--was the renewed
youth and vigorthe briskcheerful sense of things present and to come
with whichfor about a quarter of an hourthe dram permeated their
systems. And when such quarters of an hour can be obtained in some mode
less baneful to the great sum of a man's life--butneverthelesswith a
little spice of improprietyto give it a wild flavor--we temperance
people may ring out our bells for victory!
The prettiest object in the saloon was a tiny fountainwhich threw up
its feathery jet through the counterand sparkled down again into an
oval basinor lakeletcontaining several goldfishes. There was a bed
of bright sand at the bottomstrewn with coral and rock-work; and the
fishes went gleaming aboutnow turning up the sheen of a golden side
and now vanishing into the shadows of the waterlike the fanciful
thoughts that coquet with a poet in his dream. Never beforeI imagine
did a company of water-drinkers remain so entirely uncontaminated by the
bad example around them; nor could I help wondering that it had not
occurred to any freakish inebriate to empty a glass of liquor into their
lakelet. What a delightful idea! Who would not be a fishif he could
inhale jollity with the essential element of his existence!
I had begun to despair of meeting old Moodiewhenall at onceI
recognized his hand and arm protruding from behind a screen that was set
up for the accommodation of bashful topers. As a matter of coursehe
had one of Priscilla's little pursesand was quietly insinuating it
under the notice of a person who stood near. This was always old
Moodie's way. You hardly ever saw him advancing towards youbut became
aware of his proximity without being able to guess how he had come
thither. He glided about like a spiritassuming visibility close to your
elbowoffering his petty trifles of merchandiseremaining long enough
for you to purchaseif so disposedand then taking himself offbetween
two breathswhile you happened to be thinking of something else.
By a sort of sympathetic impulse that often controlled me in those more
impressible days of my lifeI was induced to approach this old man in a
mode as undemonstrative as his own. Thuswhenaccording to his custom
he was probably just about to vanishhe found me at his elbow.
Ah!said hewith more emphasis than was usual with him. "It is Mr.
Yes, Mr. Moodie, your old acquaintance,answered I. "It is some time
now since we ate luncheon together at Blithedaleand a good deal longer
since our little talk together at the street corner."
That was a good while ago,said the old man.
And he seemed inclined to say not a word more. His existence looked so
colorless and torpid--so very faintly shadowed on the canvas of reality
--that I was half afraid lest he should altogether disappeareven while
my eyes were fixed full upon his figure. He was certainly the
wretchedest old ghost in the worldwith his crazy hatthe dingy
handkerchief about his throathis suit of threadbare grayand
especially that patch over his right eyebehind which he always seemed
to be hiding himself. There was one methodhoweverof bringing him out
into somewhat stronger relief. A glass of brandy would effect it.
Perhaps the gentler influence of a bottle of claret might do the same.
Nor could I think it a matter for the recording angel to write down
against meif--with my painful consciousness of the frost in this old
man's bloodand the positive ice that had congealed about his heart--I
should thaw him outwere it only for an hourwith the summer warmth of
a little wine. What else could possibly be done for him? How else could
he be imbued with energy enough to hope for a happier state hereafter?
How else be inspired to say his prayers? For there are states of our
spiritual system when the throb of the soul's life is too faint and weak
to render us capable of religious aspiration.
Mr. Moodie,said Ishall we lunch together? And would you like to
drink a glass of wine?
His one eye gleamed. He bowed; and it impressed me that he grew to be
more of a man at onceeither in anticipation of the wineor as a
grateful response to my good fellowship in offering it.
With pleasure,he replied.
The bar-keeperat my requestshowed us into a private roomand soon
afterwards set some fried oysters and a bottle of claret on the table;
and I saw the old man glance curiously at the label of the bottleas if
to learn the brand.
It should be good wine,I remarkedif it have any right to its label.
You cannot suppose, sir,said Moodiewith a sighthat a poor old
fellow like me knows any difference in wines.
And yetin his way of handling the glassin his preliminary snuff at
the aromain his first cautious sip of the wineand the gustatory skill
with which he gave his palate the full advantage of itit was impossible
not to recognize the connoisseur.
I fancy, Mr. Moodie,said Iyou are a much better judge of wines than
I have yet learned to be. Tell me fairly,--did you never drink it where
the grape grows?
How should that have been, Mr. Coverdale?answered old Moodie shyly;
but then he took courageas it wereand uttered a feeble little laugh.
The flavor of this wine,added heand its perfume still more than its
taste, makes me remember that I was once a young man.
I wish, Mr. Moodie,suggested I--not that I greatly cared about it
howeverbut was only anxious to draw him into some talk about Priscilla
and Zenobia--"I wishwhile we sit over our wineyou would favor me
with a few of those youthful reminiscences."
Ah,said heshaking his headthey might interest you more than you
suppose. But I had better be silent, Mr. Coverdale. If this good wine,
--though claret, I suppose, is not apt to play such a trick,--but if it
should make my tongue run too freely, I could never look you in the face
You never did look me in the face, Mr. Moodie,I replieduntil this
Ah!sighed old Moodie.
It was wonderfulhoweverwhat an effect the mild grape-juice wrought
upon him. It was not in the winebut in the associations which it
seemed to bring up. Instead of the meanslouchingfurtivepainfully
depressed air of an old city vagabondmore like a gray kennel-rat than
any other living thinghe began to take the aspect of a decayed
gentleman. Even his garments--especially after I had myself quaffed a
glass or two--looked less shabby than when we first sat down. There was
by and bya certain exuberance and elaborateness of gesture and manner
oddly in contrast with all that I had hitherto seen of him. Anonwith
hardly any impulse from meold Moodie began to talk. His communications
referred exclusively to a long-past and more fortunate period of his life
with only a few unavoidable allusions to the circumstances that had
reduced him to his present state. Buthaving once got the clewmy
subsequent researches acquainted me with the main facts of the following
narrative; althoughin writing it outmy pen has perhaps allowed itself
a trifle of romantic and legendary licenseworthier of a small poet than
of a grave biographer.
Five-and-twenty years agoat the epoch of this storythere dwelt in one
of the Middle States a man whom we shall call Fauntleroy; a man of wealth
and magnificent tastesand prodigal expenditure. His home might almost
be styled a palace; his habitsin the ordinary senseprincely. His
whole being seemed to have crystallized itself into an external splendor
wherewith he glittered in the eyes of the worldand had no other life
than upon this gaudy surface. He had married a lovely womanwhose
nature was deeper than his own. But his affection for herthough it
showed largelywas superficiallike all his other manifestations and
developments; he did not so truly keep this noble creature in his heart
as wear her beauty for the most brilliant ornament of his outward state.
And there was born to him a childa beautiful daughterwhom he took
from the beneficent hand of God with no just sense of her immortal value
but as a man already rich in gems would receive another jewel. If he
loved herit was because she shone.
After Fauntleroy had thus spent a few empty yearscoruscating
continually an unnatural lightthe source of it--which was merely his
gold--began to grow more shallowand finally became exhausted. He saw
himself in imminent peril of losing all that had heretofore distinguished
him; andconscious of no innate worth to fall back uponhe recoiled
from this calamity with the instinct of a soul shrinking from
annihilation. To avoid it--wretched man!--or rather to defer itif but
for a montha dayor only to procure himself the life of a few breaths
more amid the false glitter which was now less his own than ever--he
made himself guilty of a crime. It was just the sort of crimegrowing
out of its artificial statewhich society (unless it should change its
entire constitution for this man's unworthy sake) neither could nor ought
to pardon. More safely might it pardon murder. Fauntleroy's guilt was
discovered. He fled; his wife perishedby the necessity of her innate
noblenessin its alliance with a being so ignoble; and betwixt her
mother's death and her father's ignominyhis daughter was left worse
There was no pursuit after Fauntleroy. His family connectionswho had
great wealthmade such arrangements with those whom he had attempted to
wrong as secured him from the retribution that would have overtaken an
unfriended criminal. The wreck of his estate was divided among his
creditors: His namein a very brief spacewas forgotten by the
multitude who had passed it so diligently from mouth to mouth. Seldom
indeedwas it recalledeven by his closest former intimates. Nor could
it have been otherwise. The man had laid no real touch on any mortal's
heart. Being a mere imagean optical delusioncreated by the sunshine
of prosperityit was his law to vanish into the shadow of the first
intervening cloud. He seemed to leave no vacancy; a phenomenon which
like many others that attended his brief careerwent far to prove the
illusiveness of his existence.
Nothoweverthat the physical substance of Fauntleroy had literally
melted into vapor. He had fled northward to the New England metropolis
and had taken up his abodeunder another namein a squalid street or
court of the older portion of the city. There he dwelt among
poverty-stricken wretchessinnersand forlorn good peopleIrishand
whomsoever else were neediest. Many families were clustered in each
house togetherabove stairs and belowin the little peaked garretsand
even in the dusky cellars. The house where Fauntleroy paid weekly rent
for a chamber and a closet had been a stately habitation in its day. An
old colonial governor had built itand lived therelong agoand held
his levees in a great room where now slept twenty Irish bedfellows; and
died in Fauntleroy's chamberwhich his embroidered and white-wigged
ghost still haunted. Tattered hangingsa marble hearthtraversed with
many cracks and fissuresa richly carved oaken mantelpiecepartly
hacked away for kindling-stuffa stuccoed ceilingdefaced with great
unsightly patches of the naked laths--such was the chamber's aspectas
ifwith its splinters and rags of dirty splendorit were a kind of
practical gibe at this poorruined man of show.
At firstand at irregular intervalshis relatives allowed Fauntleroy a
little pittance to sustain life; not from any loveperhapsbut lest
poverty should compel himby new offencesto add more shame to that
with which he had already stained them. But he showed no tendency to
further guilt. His character appeared to have been radically changed (as
indeedfrom its shallownessit well might) by his miserable fate; or
it may bethe traits now seen in him were portions of the same character
presenting itself in another phase. Instead of any longer seeking to
live in the sight of the worldhis impulse was to shrink into the
nearest obscurityand to be unseen of menwere it possibleeven while
standing before their eyes. He had no pride; it was all trodden in the
dust. No ostentation; for how could it survivewhen there was nothing
left of Fauntleroysave penury and shame! His very gait demonstrated
that he would gladly have faded out of viewand have crept about
invisiblyfor the sake of sheltering himself from the irksomeness of a
human glance. Hardlyit was averredwithin the memory of those who
knew him nowhad he the hardihood to show his full front to the world.
He skulked in cornersand crept about in a sort of noonday twilight
making himself gray and mistyat all hourswith his morbid intolerance
In his torpid despairhoweverhe had done an act which that condition
of the spirit seems to prompt almost as often as prosperity and hope.
Fauntleroy was again married. He had taken to wife a forlorn
meek-spiritedfeeble young womana seamstresswhom he found dwelling
with her mother in a contiguous chamber of the old gubernatorial
residence. This poor phantom--as the beautiful and noble companion of
his former life had done brought him a daughter. And sometimesas from
one dream into anotherFauntleroy looked forth out of his present grimy
environment into that past magnificenceand wondered whether the grandee
of yesterday or the pauper of to-day were real. Butin my mindthe one
and the other were alike impalpable. In truthit was Fauntleroy's
fatality to behold whatever he touched dissolve. After a few yearshis
second wife (dim shadow that she had always been) faded finally out of
the worldand left Fauntleroy to deal as he might with their pale and
nervous child. Andby this timeamong his distant relatives--with
whom he had grown a weary thoughtlinked with contagious infamyand
which they were only too willing to get rid of--he was himself supposed
to be no more.
The younger childlike his elder onemight be considered as the true
offspring of both parentsand as the reflection of their state. She was
a tremulous little creatureshrinking involuntarily from all mankind
but in timidityand no sour repugnance. There was a lack of human
substance in her; it seemed as ifwere she to stand up in a sunbeamit
would pass right through her figureand trace out the cracked and dusty
window-panes upon the naked floor. Butneverthelessthe poor child had
a heart; and from her mother's gentle character she had inherited a
profound and still capacity of affection. And so her life was one of
love. She bestowed it partly on her fatherbut in greater part on an
For Fauntleroyas they sat by their cheerless fireside--which was no
firesidein truthbut only a rusty stove--had often talked to the
little girl about his former wealththe noble loveliness of his first
wifeand the beautiful child whom she had given him. Instead of the
fairy tales which other parents tellhe told Priscilla this. Andout
of the loneliness of her sad little existencePriscilla's love grewand
tended upwardand twined itself perseveringly around this unseen sister;
as a grapevine might strive to clamber out of a gloomy hollow among the
rocksand embrace a young tree standing in the sunny warmth above. It
was almost like worshipboth in its earnestness and its humility; nor
was it the less humble--though the more earnest--because Priscilla could
claim human kindred with the being whom sheso devoutly loved. As with
worshiptooit gave her soul the refreshment of a purer atmosphere.
Save for this singularthis melancholyand yet beautiful affectionthe
child could hardly have lived; orhad she livedwith a heart shrunken
for lack of any sentiment to fill itshe must have yielded to the barren
miseries of her positionand have grown to womanhood characterless and
worthless. But nowamid all the sombre coarseness of her father's
outward lifeand of her ownPriscilla had a higher and imaginative life
within. Some faint gleam thereof was often visible upon her face. It
was as ifin her spiritual visits to her brilliant sistera portion of
the latter's brightness had permeated our dim Priscillaand still
lingeredshedding a faint illumination through the cheerless chamber
after she came back.
As the child grew upso pallid and so slenderand with much
unaccountable nervousnessand all the weaknesses of neglected infancy
still haunting herthe gross and simple neighbors whispered strange
things about Priscilla. The bigredIrish matronswhose innumerable
progeny swarmed out of the adjacent doorsused to mock at the pale
Western child. They fancied--orat leastaffirmed itbetween jest and
earnest--that she was not so solid flesh and blood as other childrenbut
mixed largely with a thinner element. They called her ghost-childand
said that she could indeed vanish when she pleasedbut could neverin
her densest momentsmake herself quite visible. The sun at midday would
shine through her; in the first gray of the twilightshe lost all the
distinctness of her outline; andif you followed the dim thing into a
dark cornerbehold! she was not there. And it was true that Priscilla
had strange ways; strange waysand stranger wordswhen she uttered any
words at all. Never stirring out of the old governor's dusky houseshe
sometimes talked of distant places and splendid roomsas if she had just
left them. Hidden things were visible to her (at least so the people
inferred from obscure hints escaping unawares out of her mouth)and
silence was audible. And in all the world there was nothing so difficult
to be enduredby those who had any dark secret to concealas the glance
of Priscilla's timid and melancholy eyes.
Her peculiarities were the theme of continual gossip among the other
inhabitants of the gubernatorial mansion. The rumor spread thence into a
wider circle. Those who knew old Moodieas he was now calledused
often to jeer himat the very street-cornersabout his daughter's gift
of second-sight and prophecy. It was a period when science (though mostly
through its empirical professors) was bringing forwardanewa hoard of
facts and imperfect theoriesthat had partially won credence in elder
timesbut which modern scepticism had swept away as rubbish. These
things were now tossed up againout of the surging ocean of human
thought and experience. The story of Priscilla's preternatural
manifestationsthereforeattracted a kind of notice of which it would
have been deemed wholly unworthy a few years earlier. One day a
gentleman ascended the creaking staircaseand inquired which was old
Moodie's chamber door. Andseveral timeshe came again. He was a
marvellously handsome man--still youthfultooand fashionably dressed.
Except that Priscillain those dayshad no beautyandin the languor
of her existencehad not yet blossomed into womanhoodthere would have
been rich food for scandal in these visits; for the girl was
unquestionably their sole objectalthough her father was supposed always
to be present. Butit must likewise be addedthere was something about
Priscilla that calumny could not meddle with; and thus far was she
privilegedeither by the preponderance of what was spiritualor the
thin and watery blood that left her cheek so pallid.
Yetif the busy tongues of the neighborhood spared Priscilla in one way
they made themselves amends by renewed and wilder babble on another score.
They averred that the strange gentleman was a wizardand that he had
taken advantage of Priscilla's lack of earthly substance to subject her
to himselfas his familiar spiritthrough whose medium he gained
cognizance of whatever happenedin regions near or remote. The
boundaries of his power were defined by the verge of the pit of Tartarus
on the one handand the third sphere of the celestial world on the other.
Againthey declared their suspicion that the wizardwith all his show
of manly beautywas really an aged and wizened figureor else that his
semblance of a human body was only a necromanticor perhaps a mechanical
contrivancein which a demon walked about. In proof of ithowever
they could merely instance a gold band around his upper teethwhich had
once been visible to several old womenwhen he smiled at them from the
top of the governor's staircase. Of course this was all absurdityor
mostly so. Butafter every possible deductionthere remained certain
very mysterious points about the stranger's characteras well as the
connection that he established with Priscilla. Its nature at that period
was even less understood than nowwhen miracles of this kind have grown
so absolutely stalethat I would gladlyif the truth alloweddismiss
the whole matter from my narrative.
We must now glance backwardin quest of the beautiful daughter of
Fauntleroy's prosperity. What had become of her? Fauntleroy's only
brothera bachelorand with no other relative so nearhad adopted the
forsaken child. She grew up in affluencewith native graces clustering
luxuriantly about her. In her triumphant progress towards womanhoodshe
was adorned with every variety of feminine accomplishment. But she
lacked a mother's care. With no adequate controlon any hand (for a man
however sternhowever wisecan never sway and guide a female child)
her character was left to shape itself. There was good in itand evil.
Passionateself-willedand imperiousshe had a warm and generous
nature; showing the richness of the soilhoweverchiefly by the weeds
that flourished in itand choked up the herbs of grace. In her girlhood
her uncle died. As Fauntleroy was supposed to be likewise deadand no
other heir was known to existhis wealth devolved on heralthough
dying suddenlythe uncle left no will. After his death there were
obscure passages in Zenobia's history. There were whispers of an
attachmentand even a secret marriagewith a fascinating and
accomplished but unprincipled young man. The incidents and appearances
howeverwhich led to this surmise soon passed awayand were forgotten.
Nor was her reputation seriously affected by the report. In factso
great was her native power and influenceand such seemed the careless
purity of her naturethat whatever Zenobia did was generally
acknowledged as right for her to do. The world never criticised her so
harshly as it does most women who transcend its rules. It almost yielded
its assentwhen it beheld her stepping out of the common pathand
asserting the more extensive privileges of her sexboth theoretically
and by her practice. The sphere of ordinary womanhood was felt to be
narrower than her development required.
A portion of Zenobia's more recent life is told in the foregoing pages.
Partly in earnest--andI imagineas was her dispositionhalf in a
proud jestor in a kind of recklessness that had grown upon herout of
some hidden grief--she had given her countenanceand promised liberal
pecuniary aidto our experiment of a better social state. And Priscilla
followed her to Blithedale. The sole bliss of her life had been a dream
of this beautiful sisterwho had never so much as known of her existence.
By this timetoothe poor girl was enthralled in an intolerable
bondagefrom which she must either free herself or perish. She deemed
herself safest near Zenobiainto whose large heart she hoped to nestle.
One eveningmonths after Priscilla's departurewhen Moodie (or shall we
call him Fauntleroy?) was sitting alone in the state-chamber of the old
governorthere came footsteps up the staircase. There was a pause on
the landing-place. A lady's musical yet haughty accents were heard
making an inquiry from some denizen of the housewho had thrust a head
out of a contiguous chamber. There was then a knock at Moodie's door.
Come in!said he.
And Zenobia entered. The details of the interview that followed being
unknown to me--whilenotwithstandingit would be a pity quite to lose
the picturesqueness of the situation--I shall attempt to sketch it
mainly from fancyalthough with some general grounds of surmise m regard
to the old man's feelings.
She gazed wonderingly at the dismal chamber. Dismal to herwho beheld
it only for an instant; and how much more so to himinto whose brain
each bare spot on the ceilingevery tatter of the paper-hangingsand
all the splintered carvings of the mantelpieceseen wearily through long
yearshad worn their several prints! Inexpressibly miserable is this
familiarity with objects that have been from the first disgustful.
I have received a strange message,said Zenobiaafter a moment's
silencerequesting, or rather enjoining it upon me, to come hither.
Rather from curiosity than any other motive,--and because, though a woman,
I have not all the timidity of one,--I have complied. Can it be you,
sir, who thus summoned me?
It was,answered Moodie.
And what was your purpose?she continued. "You require charity
perhaps? In that casethe message might have been more fitly worded.
But you are old and poorand age and poverty should be allowed their
privileges. Tell methereforeto what extent you need my aid."
Put up your purse,said the supposed mendicantwith an inexplicable
smile. "Keep it--keep all your wealth--until I demand it allor none!
My message had no such end in view. You are beautifulthey tell me;
and I desired to look at you."
He took the one lamp that showed the discomfort and sordidness of his
abodeand approaching Zenobia held it upso as to gain the more perfect
view of herfrom top to toe. So obscure was the chamberthat you could
see the reflection of her diamonds thrown upon the dingy walland
flickering with the rise and fall of Zenobia's breath. It was the
splendor of those jewels on her necklike lamps that burn before some
fair templeand the jewelled flower in her hairmore than the murky
yellow lightthat helped him to see her beauty. But he beheld itand
grew proud at heart; his own figurein spite of his mean habiliments
assumed an air of state and grandeur.
It is well,cried old Moodie. "Keep your wealth. You are right worthy
of it. Keep itthereforebut with one condition only."
Zenobia thought the old man beside himselfand was moved with pity.
Have you none to care for you?asked she. "No daughter?--no
kind-hearted neighbor?--no means of procuring the attendance which you
need? Tell me once againcan I do nothing for you?"
Nothing,he replied. "I have beheld what I wished. Now leave me.
Linger not a moment longeror I may be tempted to say what would bring a
cloud over that queenly brow. Keep all your wealthbut with only this
one condition: Be kind--be no less kind than sisters are--to my poor
Andit may beafter Zenobia withdrewFauntleroy paced his gloomy
chamberand communed with himself as follows--orat all eventsit is
the only solution which I can offer of the enigma presented in his
character:--"I am unchanged--the same man as of yore!" said he. "True
my brother's wealth--he dying intestate--is legally my own. I know it;
yet of my own choiceI live a beggarand go meanly cladand hide
myself behind a forgotten ignominy. Looks this like ostentation? Ah!
but in Zenobia I live again! Beholding herso beautiful--so fit to be
adorned with all imaginable splendor of outward state--the cursed
vanitywhichhalf a lifetime sincedropt off like tatters of once
gaudy apparel from my debased and ruined personis all renewed for her
sake. Were I to reappearmy shame would go with me from darkness into
daylight. Zenobia has the splendorand not the shame. Let the world
admire herand be dazzled by herthe brilliant child of my prosperity!
It is Fauntleroy that still shines through her!" But thenperhaps
another thought occurred to him.
My poor Priscilla! And am I just to her, in surrendering all to this
beautiful Zenobia? Priscilla! I love her best,--I love her only!--but
with shame, not pride. So dim, so pallid, so shrinking,--the daughter of
my long calamity! Wealth were but a mockery in Priscilla's hands. What
is its use, except to fling a golden radiance around those who grasp it?
Yet let Zenobia take heed! Priscilla shall have no wrong!Butwhile
the man of show thus meditated--that very eveningso far as I can
adjust the dates of these strange incidents--Priscilla poorpallid
flower!--was either snatched from Zenobia's handor flung wilfully away!
XXIII. A VILLAGE HALL
WellI betook myself awayand wandered up and downlike an exorcised
spirit that had been driven from its old haunts after a mighty struggle.
It takes down the solitary pride of manbeyond most other thingsto
find the impracticability of flinging aside affections that have grown
irksome. The bands that were silken once are apt to become iron fetters
when we desire to shake them off. Our soulsafter allare not our own.
We convey a property in them to those with whom we associate; but to
what extent can never be knownuntil we feel the tugthe agonyof our
abortive effort to resume an exclusive sway over ourselves. Thusin all
the weeks of my absencemy thoughts continually reverted backbrooding
over the bygone monthsand bringing up incidents that seemed hardly to
have left a trace of themselves in their passage. I spent painful hours
in recalling these triflesand rendering them more misty and
unsubstantial than at first by the quantity of speculative musing thus
kneaded in with them. HollingsworthZenobiaPriscilla! These three had
absorbed my life into themselves. Together with an inexpressible longing
to know their fortunesthere was likewise a morbid resentment of my own
painand a stubborn reluctance to come again within their sphere.
All that I learned of themthereforewas comprised in a few brief and
pungent squibssuch as the newspapers were then in the habit of
bestowing on our socialist enterprise. There was one paragraphwhich if
I rightly guessed its purport bore reference to Zenobiabut was too
darkly hinted to convey even thus much of certainty. Hollingsworthtoo
with his philanthropic projectafforded the penny-a-liners a theme for
some savage and bloody minded jokes; andconsiderably to my surprise
they affected me with as much indignation as if we had still been friends.
Thus passed several weeks; time long enough for my brown and
toil-hardened hands to reaccustom themselves to gloves. Old habitssuch
as were merely externalreturned upon me with wonderful promptitude. My
superficial talktooassumed altogether a worldly tone. Meeting former
acquaintanceswho showed themselves inclined to ridicule my heroic
devotion to the cause of human welfareI spoke of the recent phase of my
life as indeed fair matter for a jest. ButI also gave them to
understand that it wasat mostonly an experimenton which I had
staked no valuable amount of hope or fear. It had enabled me to pass the
summer in a novel and agreeable wayhad afforded me some grotesque
specimens of artificial simplicityand could notthereforeso far as I
was concernedbe reckoned a failure. In no one instancehoweverdid I
voluntarily speak of my three friends. They dwelt in a profounder region.
The more I consider myself as I then wasthe more do I recognize how
deeply my connection with those three had affected all my being.
As it was already the epoch of annihilated spaceI might in the time I
was away from Blithedale have snatched a glimpse at Englandand been
back again. But my wanderings were confined within a very limited sphere.
I hopped and flutteredlike a bird with a string about its leg
gyrating round a small circumferenceand keeping up a restless activity
to no purpose. Thus it was still in our familiar Massachusetts--in one
of its white country villages--that I must next particularize an incident.
The scene was one of those lyceum hallsof which almost every village
has now its owndedicated to that sober and pallidor rather
drab-coloredmode of winter-evening entertainmentthe lecture. Of late
years this has come strangely into voguewhen the natural tendency of
things would seem to be to substitute lettered for oral methods of
addressing the public. Butin halls like thisbesides the winter course
of lecturesthere is a rich and varied series of other exhibitions.
Hither comes the ventriloquistwith all his mysterious tongues; the
thaumaturgisttoowith his miraculous transformations of platesdoves
and ringshis pancakes smoking in your hatand his cellar of choice
liquors represented in one small bottle. Herealsothe itinerant
professor instructs separate classes of ladies and gentlemen in
physiologyand demonstrates his lessons by the aid of real skeletons
and manikins in waxfrom Paris. Here is to be heard the choir of
Ethiopian melodistsand to be seen the diorama of Moscow or Bunker Hill
or the moving panorama of the Chinese wall. Here is displayed the museum
of wax figuresillustrating the wide catholicism of earthly renownby
mixing up heroes and statesmenthe pope and the Mormon prophetkings
queensmurderersand beautiful ladies; every sort of personin short
except authorsof whom I never beheld even the most famous done in wax.
And herein this many-purposed hall (unless the selectmen of the village
chance to have more than their share of the Puritanismwhichhowever
diversified with later patchworkstill gives its prevailing tint to New
England character)--here the company of strolling players sets up its
little stageand claims patronage for the legitimate drama.
Buton the autumnal evening which I speak ofa number of printed
handbills--stuck up in the bar-roomand on the sign-post of the hotel
and on the meeting-house porchand distributed largely through the
village--had promised the inhabitants an interview with that celebrated
and hitherto inexplicable phenomenonthe Veiled Lady!
The hall was fitted up with an amphitheatrical descent of seats towards a
platformon which stood a desktwo lightsa stooland a capacious
antique chair. The audience was of a generally decent and respectable
character: old farmersin their Sunday black coatswith shrewdhard
sun-dried facesand a cynical humoroftener than any other expression
in their eyes; pretty girlsin many-colored attire; pretty young men
--the schoolmasterthe lawyeror student at lawthe shop-keeper--all
looking rather suburban than rural. In these daysthere is absolutely
no rusticityexcept when the actual labor of the soil leaves its
earthmould on the person. There was likewise a considerable proportion
of young and middle-aged womenmany of them stern in featurewith marked
foreheadsand a very definite line of eyebrow; a type of womanhood in
which a bold intellectual development seems to be keeping pace with the
progressive delicacy of the physical constitution. Of all these people I
took noteat firstaccording to my custom. But I ceased to do so the
moment that my eyes fell on an individual who sat two or three seats
below meimmovableapparently deep in thoughtwith his backof course
towards meand his face turned steadfastly upon the platform.
After sitting awhile in contemplation of this person's familiar contour
I was irresistibly moved to step over the intervening bencheslay my
hand on his shoulderput my mouth close to his earand address him in a
sepulchralmelodramatic whisper: "Hollingsworth! where have you left
His nerveshoweverwere proof against my attack. He turned half around
and looked me in the face with great sad eyesin which there was
neither kindness nor resentmentnor any perceptible surprise.
Zenobia, when I last saw her,he answeredwas at Blithedale.
He said no more. But there was a great deal of talk going on near me
among a knot of people who might be considered as representing the
mysticismor rather the mystic sensualityof this singular age. The
nature of the exhibition that was about to take place had probably given
the turn to their conversation.
I heardfrom a pale man in blue spectaclessome stranger stories than
ever were written in a romance; toldtoowith a simpleunimaginative
steadfastnesswhich was terribly efficacious in compelling the auditor
to receive them into the category of established facts. He cited
instances of the miraculous power of one human being over the will and
passions of another; insomuch that settled grief was but a shadow beneath
the influence of a man possessing this potencyand the strong love of
years melted away like a vapor. At the bidding of one of these wizards
the maidenwith her lover's kiss still burning on her lipswould turn
from him with icy indifference; the newly made widow would dig up her
buried heart out of her young husband's grave before the sods had taken
root upon it; a mother with her babe's milk in her bosom would thrust
away her child. Human character was but soft wax in his hands; and guilt
or virtueonly the forms into which he should see fit to mould it. The
religious sentiment was a flame which he could blow up with his breath
or a spark that he could utterly extinguish. It is unutterablethe
horror and disgust with which I listenedand saw thatif these things
were to be believedthe individual soul was virtually annihilatedand
all that is sweet and pure in our present life debasedand that the idea
of man's eternal responsibility was made ridiculousand immortality
rendered at once impossibleand not worth acceptance. But I would have
perished on the spot sooner than believe it.
The epoch of rapping spiritsand all the wonders that have followed in
their train--such as tables upset by invisible agenciesbells
self-tolled at funeralsand ghostly music performed on jew's-harps--had
not yet arrived. Alasmy countrymenmethinks we have fallen on an evil
age! If these phenomena have not humbug at the bottomso much the worse
for us. What can they indicatein a spiritual wayexcept that the soul
of man is descending to a lower point than it has ever before reached
while incarnate? We are pursuing a downward course in the eternal march
and thus bring ourselves into the same range with beings whom deathin
requital of their gross and evil liveshas degraded below humanity! To
hold intercourse with spirits of this orderwe must stoop and grovel in
some element more vile than earthly dust. These goblinsif they exist
at allare but the shadows of past mortalityoutcastsmere refuse
stuffadjudged unworthy of the eternal worldandon the most favorable
suppositiondwindling gradually into nothingness. The less we have to
say to them the betterlest we share their fate!
The audience now began to be impatient; they signified their desire for
the entertainment to commence by thump of sticks and stamp of boot-heels.
Nor was it a great while longer beforein response to their callthere
appeared a bearded personage in Oriental robeslooking like one of the
enchanters of the Arabian Nights. He came upon the platform from a side
doorsaluted the spectatorsnot with a salaambut a bowtook his
station at the deskand first blowing his nose with a white handkerchief
prepared to speak. The environment of the homely village halland the
absence of many ingenious contrivances of stage effect with which the
exhibition had heretofore been set offseemed to bring the artifice of
this character more openly upon the surface. No sooner did I behold the
bearded enchanterthanlaying my hand again on Hollingsworth's shoulder
I whispered in his earDo you know him?
I never saw the man before,he mutteredwithout turning his head.
But I had seen him three times already.
Onceon occasion of my first visit to the Veiled Lady; a second timein
the wood-path at Blithedale; and lastlyin Zenobia's drawing-room. It
was Westervelt. A quick association of ideas made me shudder from head
to foot; and againlike an evil spiritbringing up reminiscences of a
man's sinsI whispered a question in Hollingsworth's ear--"What have
you done with Priscilla?"
He gave a convulsive startas if I had thrust a knife into himwrithed
himself round on his seatglared fiercely into my eyesbut answered not
The Professor began his discourseexplanatory of the psychological
phenomenaas he termed themwhich it was his purpose to exhibit to the
spectators. There remains no very distinct impression of it on my memory.
It was eloquentingeniousplausiblewith a delusive show of
spiritualityyet really imbued throughout with a cold and dead
materialism. I shiveredas at a current of chill air issuing out of a
sepulchral vaultand bringing the smell of corruption along with it. He
spoke of a new era that was dawning upon the world; an era that would
link soul to souland the present life to what we call futuritywith a
closeness that should finally convert both worlds into one great
mutually conscious brotherhood. He described (in a strangephilosophical
guisewith terms of artas if it were a matter of chemical discovery)
the agency by which this mighty result was to be effected; nor would it
have surprised mehad he pretended to hold up a portion of his
universally pervasive fluidas he affirmed it to bein a glass phial.
At the close of his exordiumthe Professor beckoned with his hand--once
twicethrice--and a figure came gliding upon the platformenveloped
in a long veil of silvery whiteness. It fell about her like the texture
of a summer cloudwith a kind of vaguenessso that the outline of the
form beneath it could not be accurately discerned. But the movement of
the Veiled Lady was gracefulfreeand unembarrassedlike that of a
person accustomed to be the spectacle of thousands; orpossiblya
blindfold prisoner within the sphere with which this dark earthly
magician had surrounded hershe was wholly unconscious of being the
central object to all those straining eyes.
Pliant to his gesture (which had even an obsequious courtesybut at the
same time a remarkable decisiveness)the figure placed itself in the
great chair. Sitting therein such visible obscurityit wasperhaps
as much like the actual presence of a disembodied spirit as anything that
stage trickery could devise. The hushed breathing of the spectators
proved how high-wrought were their anticipations of the wonders to be
performed through the medium of this incomprehensible creature. Itoo
was in breathless suspensebut with a far different presentiment of some
strange event at hand.
You see before you the Veiled Lady, said the bearded Professor,
advancing to the verge of the platform. By the agency of which I have
just spokenshe is at this moment in communion with the spiritual world.
That silvery veil isin one sensean enchantmenthaving been dipped
as it wereand essentially imbuedthrough the potency of my artwith
the fluid medium of spirits. Slight and ethereal as it seemsthe
limitations of time and space have no existence within its folds. This
hall--these hundreds of facesencompassing her within so narrow an
amphitheatre--are of thinner substancein her viewthan the airiest
vapor that the clouds are made of. She beholds the Absolute!"
As preliminary to other and far more wonderful psychological experiments
the exhibitor suggested that some of his auditors should endeavor to make
the Veiled Lady sensible of their presence by such methods--provided only
no touch were laid upon her person--as they might deem best adapted to
that end. Accordinglyseveral deep-lunged country fellowswho looked as
if they might have blown the apparition away with a breathascended the
platform. Mutually encouraging one anotherthey shouted so close to her
ear that the veil stirred like a wreath of vanishing mist; they smote
upon the floor with bludgeons; they perpetrated so hideous a clamorthat
methought it might have reachedat leasta little way into the eternal
sphere. Finallywith the assent of the Professorthey laid hold of the
great chairand were startledapparentlyto find it soar upwardas if
lighter than the air through which it rose. But the Veiled Lady remained
seated and motionlesswith a composure that was hardly less than awful
because implying so immeasurable a distance betwixt her and these rude
These efforts are wholly without avail,observed the Professorwho had
been looking on with an aspect of serene indifference. "The roar of a
battery of cannon would be inaudible to the Veiled Lady. And yetwere I
to will itsitting in this very hallshe could hear the desert wind
sweeping over the sands as far off as Arabia; the icebergs grinding one
against the other in the polar seas; the rustle of a leaf in an East
Indian forest; the lowest whispered breath of the bashfullest maiden in
the worlduttering the first confession of her love. Nor does there
exist the moral inducementapart from my own behestthat could persuade
her to lift the silvery veilor arise out of that chair."
Greatly to the Professor's discomposurehoweverjust as he spoke these
wordsthe Veiled Lady arose. There was a mysterious tremor that shook
the magic veil. The spectatorsit may beimagined that she was about
to take flight into that invisible sphereand to the society of those
purely spiritual beings with whom they reckoned her so near akin.
Hollingswortha moment agohad mounted the platformand now stood
gazing at the figurewith a sad intentness that brought the whole power
of his greatsternyet tender soul into his glance.
Come,said hewaving his hand towards her. "You are safe!"
She threw off the veiland stood before that multitude of people pale
tremulousshrinkingas if only then had she discovered that a thousand
eyes were gazing at her. Poor maiden! How strangely had she been
betrayed! Blazoned abroad as a wonder of the worldand performing what
were adjudged as miracles--in the faith of manya seeress and a
prophetess; in the harsher judgment of othersa mountebank--she had
keptas I religiously believeher virgin reserve and sanctity of soul
throughout it all. Within that encircling veilthough an evil hand had
flung it over herthere was as deep a seclusion as if this forsaken girl
hadall the whilebeen sitting under the shadow of Eliot's pulpitin
the Blithedale woodsat the feet of him who now summoned her to the
shelter of his arms. And the true heart-throb of a woman's affection was
too powerful for the jugglery that had hitherto environed her. She
uttered a shriekand fled to Hollingsworthlike one escaping from her
deadliest enemyand was safe forever.
XXIV. THE MASQUERADERS
Two nights had passed since the foregoing occurrenceswhenin a breezy
September forenoonI set forth from townon foottowards Blithedale.
It was the most delightful of all days for a walkwith a dash of
invigorating ice-temper in the airbut a coolness that soon gave place
to the brisk glow of exercisewhile the vigor remained as elastic as
before. The atmosphere had a spirit and sparkle in it. Each breath was
like a sip of ethereal winetemperedas I saidwith a crystal lump of
ice. I had started on this expedition in an exceedingly sombre moodas
well befitted one who found himself tending towards homebut was
conscious that nobody would be quite overjoyed to greet him there. My
feet were hardly off the pavementhoweverwhen this morbid sensation
began to yield to the lively influences of air and motion. Nor had I gone
farwith fields yet green on either sidebefore my step became as swift
and light as if Hollingsworth were waiting to exchange a friendly
hand-gripand Zenobia's and Priscilla's open arms would welcome the
wanderer's reappearance. It has happened to me on other occasionsas
well as thisto prove how a state of physical well-being can create a
kind of joyin spite of the profoundest anxiety of mind.
The pathway of that walk still runs alongwith sunny freshnessthrough
my memory. I know not why it should be so. But my mental eye can even
now discern the September grassbordering the pleasant roadside with a
brighter verdure than while the summer heats were scorching it; the trees
toomostly greenalthough here and there a branch or shrub has donned
its vesture of crimson and gold a week or two before its fellows. I see
the tufted barberry-busheswith their small clusters of scarlet fruit;
the toadstoolslikewise--some spotlessly whiteothers yellow or red
--mysterious growthsspringing suddenly from no root or seedand
growing nobody can tell how or wherefore. In this respect they resembled
many of the emotions in my breast. And I still see the little rivulets
chillclearand brightthat murmured beneath the roadthrough
subterranean rocksand deepened into mossy poolswhere tiny fish were
darting to and froand within which lurked the hermit frog. But no--I
never can account for itthatwith a yearning interest to learn the
upshot of all my storyand returning to Blithedale for that sole purpose
I should examine these things so like a peaceful-bosomed naturalist.
Nor whyamid all my sympathies and fearsthere shotat timesa wild
exhilaration through my frame.
Thus I pursued my way along the line of the ancient stone wall that Paul
Dudley builtand through white villagesand past orchards of ruddy
applesand fields of ripening maizeand patches of woodlandand all
such sweet rural scenery as looks the fairesta little beyond the
suburbs of a town. HollingsworthZenobiaPriscilla! They glided
mistily before meas I walked. Sometimesin my solitudeI laughed
with the bitterness of self-scornremembering how unreservedly I had
given up my heart and soul to interests that were not mine. What had I
ever had to do with them? And whybeing now freeshould I take this
thraldom on me once again? It was both sad and dangerousI whispered to
myselfto be in too close affinity with the passionsthe errorsand
the misfortunes of individuals who stood within a circle of their own
into whichif I stept at allit must be as an intruderand at a peril
that I could not estimate.
Drawing nearer to Blithedalea sickness of the spirits kept alternating
with my flights of causeless buoyancy. I indulged in a hundred odd and
extravagant conjectures. Either there was no such place as Blithedale
nor ever had beennor any brotherhood of thoughtful laborerslike what
I seemed to recollect thereor else it was all changed during my absence.
It had been nothing but dream work and enchantment. I should seek in
vain for the old farmhouseand for the greenswardthe potato-fields
the root-cropsand acres of Indian cornand for all that configuration
of the land which I had imagined. It would be another spotand an utter
These vagaries were of the spectral throng so apt to steal out of an
unquiet heart. They partly ceased to haunt meon my arriving at a point
whencethrough the treesI began to catch glimpses of the Blithedale
farm. That surely was something real. There was hardly a square foot of
all those acres on which I had not trodden heavilyin one or another
kind of toil. The curse of Adam's posterity--andcurse or blessing be
itit gives substance to the life around us--had first come upon me
there. In the sweat of my brow I had there earned bread and eaten it
and so established my claim to be on earthand my fellowship with all
the sons of labor. I could have knelt downand have laid my breast
against that soil. The red clay of which my frame was moulded seemed
nearer akin to those crumbling furrows than to any other portion of the
world's dust. There was my homeand there might be my grave.
I felt an invincible reluctanceneverthelessat the idea of presenting
myself before my old associateswithout first ascertaining the state in
which they were. A nameless foreboding weighed upon me. Perhapsshould
I know all the circumstances that had occurredI might find it my wisest
course to turn backunrecognizedunseenand never look at Blithedale
more. Had it been eveningI would have stolen softly to some lighted
window of the old farmhouseand peeped darkling into see all their
well-known faces round the supper-board. Thenwere there a vacant seat
I might noiselessly unclose the doorglide inand take my place among
themwithout a word. My entrance might be so quietmy aspect so
familiarthat they would forget how long I had been awayand suffer me
to melt into the sceneas a wreath of vapor melts into a larger cloud.
I dreaded a boisterous greeting. Beholding me at tableZenobiaas a
matter of coursewould send me a cup of teaand Hollingsworth fill my
plate from the great dish of pandowdyand Priscillain her quiet way
would hand the creamand others help me to the bread and butter. Being
one of them againthe knowledge of what had happened would come to me
without a shock. For stillat every turn of my shifting fantasiesthe
thought stared me in the face that some evil thing had befallen usor
was ready to befall.
Yielding to this ominous impressionI now turned aside into the woods
resolving to spy out the posture of the Community as craftily as the wild
Indian before he makes his onset. I would go wandering about the
outskirts of the farmandperhapscatching sight of a solitary
acquaintancewould approach him amid the brown shadows of the trees (a
kind of medium fit for spirits departed and revisitantlike myself)and
entreat him to tell me how all things were.
The first living creature that I met was a partridgewhich sprung up
beneath my feetand whirred away; the next was a squirrelwho chattered
angrily at me from an overhanging bough. I trod along by the dark
sluggish riverand remember pausing on the bankabove one of its
blackest and most placid pools (the very spotwith the barkless stump of
a tree aslantwise over the wateris depicting itself to my fancy at this
instant)and wondering how deep it wasand if any overladen soul had
ever flung its weight of mortality in thitherand if it thus escaped the
burdenor only made it heavier. And perhaps the skeleton of the drowned
wretch still lay beneath the inscrutable depthclinging to some sunken
log at the bottom with the gripe of its old despair. So slighthowever
was the track of these gloomy ideasthat I soon forgot them in the
contemplation of a brood of wild duckswhich were floating on the river
and anon took flightleaving each a bright streak over the black surface.
By and byI came to my hermitagein the heart of the whitepine tree
and clambering up into itsat down to rest. The grapeswhich I had
watched throughout the summernow dangled around me in abundant clusters
of the deepest purpledeliciously sweet to the tasteandthough wild
yet free from that ungentle flavor which distinguishes nearly all our
native and uncultivated grapes. Methought a wine might be pressed out of
them possessing a passionate zestand endowed with a new kind of
intoxicating qualityattended with such bacchanalian ecstasies as the
tamer grapes of MadeiraFranceand the Rhine are inadequate to produce.
And I longed to quaff a great goblet of it that moment!
While devouring the grapesI looked on all sides out of the peep-holes
of my hermitageand saw the farmhousethe fieldsand almost every part
of our domainbut not a single human figure in the landscape. Some of
the windows of the house were openbut with no more signs of life than
in a dead man's unshut eyes. The barn-door was ajarand swinging in the
breeze. The big old dog--he was a relic of the former dynasty of the
farm--that hardly ever stirred out of the yardwas nowhere to be seen.
Whatthenhad become of all the fraternity and sisterhood? Curious to
ascertain this pointI let myself down out of the treeand going to the
edge of the woodwas glad to perceive our herd of cows chewing the cud
or grazing not far off. I fanciedby their mannerthat two or three of
them recognized me (asindeedthey oughtfor I had milked them and
been their chamberlain times without number); butafter staring me in
the face a little whilethey phlegmatically began grazing and chewing
their cuds again. Then I grew foolishly angry at so cold a reception
and flung some rotten fragments of an old stump at these unsentimental
Skirting farther round the pastureI heard voices and much laughter
proceeding from the interior of the wood. Voicesmale and feminine;
laughternot only of fresh young throatsbut the bass of grown people
as if solemn organ-pipes should pour out airs of merriment. Not a voice
spokebut I knew it better than my own; not a laughbut its cadences
were familiar. The woodin this portion of itseemed as full of
jollity as if Comus and his crew were holding their revels in one of its
usually lonesome glades. Stealing onward as far as I durstwithout
hazard of discoveryI saw a concourse of strange figures beneath the
overshadowing branches. They appearedand vanishedand came again
confusedly with the streaks of sunlight glimmering down upon them.
Among them was an Indian chiefwith blanketfeathersand war-paint
and uplifted tomahawk; and near himlooking fit to be his woodland bride
the goddess Dianawith the crescent on her headand attended by our
big lazy dogin lack of any fleeter hound. Drawing an arrow from her
quivershe let it fly at a ventureand hit the very tree behind which I
happened to be lurking. Another group consisted of a Bavarian broom-girl
a negro of the Jim Crow orderone or two foresters of the Middle Ages
a Kentucky woodsman in his trimmed hunting-shirt and deerskin leggings
and a Shaker elderquaintdemurebroad-brimmedand square-skirted.
Shepherds of Arcadiaand allegoric figures from the "Faerie Queen were
oddly mixed up with these. Arm in arm, or otherwise huddled together in
strange discrepancy, stood grim Puritans, gay Cavaliers, and
Revolutionary officers with three-cornered cocked hats, and queues longer
than their swords. A bright-complexioned, dark-haired, vivacious little
gypsy, with a red shawl over her head, went from one group to another,
telling fortunes by palmistry; and Moll Pitcher, the renowned old witch
of Lynn, broomstick in hand, showed herself prominently in the midst, as
if announcing all these apparitions to be the offspring of her
necromantic art. But Silas Foster, who leaned against a tree near by, in
his customary blue frock and smoking a short pipe, did more to disenchant
the scene, with his look of shrewd, acrid, Yankee observation, than
twenty witches and necromancers could have done in the way of rendering
it weird and fantastic.
A little farther off, some old-fashioned skinkers and drawers, all with
portentously red noses, were spreading a banquet on the leaf-strewn earth;
while a horned and long-tailed gentleman (in whom I recognized the
fiendish musician erst seen by Tam O'Shanter) tuned his fiddle, and
summoned the whole motley rout to a dance, before partaking of the festal
cheer. So they joined hands in a circle, whirling round so swiftly, so
madly, and so merrily, in time and tune with the Satanic music, that
their separate incongruities were blended all together, and they became a
kind of entanglement that went nigh to turn one's brain with merely
looking at it. Anon they stopt all of a sudden, and staring at one
another's figures, set up a roar of laughter; whereat a shower of the
September leaves (which, all day long, had been hesitating whether to
fall or no) were shaken off by the movement of the air, and came eddying
down upon the revellers.
Then, for lack of breath, ensued a silence, at the deepest point of which,
tickled by the oddity of surprising my grave associates in this
masquerading trim, I could not possibly refrain from a burst of laughter
on my own separate account;
Hush!" I heard the pretty gypsy fortuneteller say. "Who is that
Some profane intruder!said the goddess Diana. "I shall send an arrow
through his heartor change him into a stagas I did Actaeonif he
peeps from behind the trees!"
Me take his scalp!cried the Indian chiefbrandishing his tomahawk
and cutting a great caper in the air.
I'll root him in the earth with a spell that I have at my tongue's end!
squeaked Moll Pitcher. "And the green moss shall grow all over him
before he gets free again!"
The voice was Miles Coverdale's,said the fiendish fiddlerwith a
whisk of his tail and a toss of his horns. "My music has brought him
hither. He is always ready to dance to the Devil's tune!"
Thus put on the right trackthey all recognized the voice at onceand
set up a simultaneous shout.
Miles! Miles! Miles Coverdale, where are you?they cried. "Zenobia!
Queen Zenobia! here is one of your vassals lurking in the wood.
Command him to approach and pay his duty!"
The whole fantastic rabble forthwith streamed off in pursuit of meso
that I was like a mad poet hunted by chimeras. Having fairly the start
of themhoweverI succeeded in making my escapeand soon left their
merriment and riot at a good distance in the rear. Its fainter tones
assumed a kind of mournfulnessand were finally lost in the hush and
solemnity of the wood. In my hasteI stumbled over a heap of logs and
sticks that had been cut for firewooda great while agoby some former
possessor of the soiland piled up squarein order to be carted or
sledded away to the farmhouse. Butbeing forgottenthey had lain there
perhaps fifty yearsand possibly much longer; untilby the accumulation
of mossand the leaves falling over themand decaying therefrom
autumn to autumna green mound was formedin which the softened outline
of the woodpile was still perceptible. In the fitful mood that then
swayed my mindI found something strangely affecting in this simple
circumstance. I imagined the long-dead woodmanand his long-dead wife
and childrencoming out of their chill gravesand essaying to make a
fire with this heap of mossy fuel!
From this spot I strayed onwardquite lost in reverieand neither knew
nor cared whither I was goinguntil a lowsoftwell-remembered voice
spokeat a little distance.
There is Mr. Coverdale!
Miles Coverdale!said another voice--and its tones were very stern.
Let him come forward, then!
Yes, Mr. Coverdale,cried a woman's voice--clear and melodiousbut
just thenwith something unnatural in its chord--"you are welcome! But
you come half an hour too lateand have missed a scene which you would
I looked up and found myself nigh Eliot's pulpitat the base of which
sat Hollingsworthwith Priscilla at his feet and Zenobia standing before
XXV. THE THREE TOGETHER
Hollingsworth was in his ordinary working-dress. Priscilla wore a pretty
and simple gownwith a kerchief about her neckand a calashwhich she
had flung back from her headleaving it suspended by the strings. But
Zenobia (whose part among the maskersas may be supposedwas no
inferior one) appeared in a costume of fanciful magnificencewith her
jewelled flower as the central ornament of what resembled a leafy crown
or coronet. She represented the Oriental princess by whose name we were
accustomed to know her. Her attitude was free and noble; yetif a
queen'sit was not that of a queen triumphantbut dethronedon trial
for her lifeorperchancecondemned already. The spirit of the
conflict seemedneverthelessto be alive in her. Her eyes were on fire;
her cheeks had each a crimson spotso exceedingly vividand marked
with so definite an outlinethat I at first doubted whether it were not
artificial. In a very brief spacehoweverthis idea was shamed by the
paleness that ensuedas the blood sunk suddenly away. Zenobia now looked
One always feels the factin an instantwhen he has intruded on those
who loveor those who hateat some acme of their passion that puts them
into a sphere of their ownwhere no other spirit can pretend to stand on
equal ground with them. I was confused--affected even with a species of
terror--and wished myself away. The intenseness of their feelings gave
them the exclusive property of the soil and atmosphereand left me no
right to be or breathe there.
Hollingsworth,--Zenobia,--I have just returned to Blithedale,said I
and had no thought of finding you here. We shall meet again at the
house. I will retire.
This place is free to you,answered Hollingsworth.
As free as to ourselves,added Zenobia. "This long while pastyou have
been following up your gamegroping for human emotions in the dark
corners of the heart. Had you been here a little sooneryou might have
seen them dragged into the daylight. I could even wish to have my trial
over againwith you standing by to see fair play! Do you knowMr.
CoverdaleI have been on trial for my life?"
She laughedwhile speaking thus. Butin truthas my eyes wandered
from one of the group to anotherI saw in Hollingsworth all that an
artist could desire for the grim portrait of a Puritan magistrate holding
inquest of life and death in a case of witchcraft; in Zenobiathe
sorceress herselfnot agedwrinkledand decrepitbut fair enough to
tempt Satan with a force reciprocal to his own; andin Priscillathe
pale victimwhose soul and body had been wasted by her spells. Had a
pile of fagots been heaped against the rockthis hint of impending doom
would have completed the suggestive picture.
It was too hard upon me,continued Zenobiaaddressing Hollingsworth
that judge, jury, and accuser should all be comprehended in one man! I
demur, as I think the lawyers say, to the jurisdiction. But let the
learned Judge Coverdale seat himself on the top of the rock, and you and
me stand at its base, side by side, pleading our cause before him! There
might, at least, be two criminals instead of one.
You forced this on me,replied Hollingsworthlooking her sternly in
the face. "Did I call you hither from among the masqueraders yonder? Do
I assume to be your judge? No; except so far as I have an unquestionable
right of judgmentin order to settle my own line of behavior towards
those with whom the events of life bring me in contact. TrueI have
already judged youbut not on the world's part--neither do I pretend to
pass a sentence!"
Ah, this is very good!cried Zenobia with a smile. "What strange
beings you men areMr. Coverdale!--is it not so? It is the simplest
thing in the world with you to bring a woman before your secret tribunals
and judge and condemn her unheardand then tell her to go free without
a sentence. The misfortune isthat this same secret tribunal chances to
be the only judgment-seat that a true woman stands in awe ofand that
any verdict short of acquittal is equivalent to a death sentence!"
The more I looked at themand the more I heardthe stronger grew my
impression that a crisis had just come and gone. On Hollingsworth's brow
it had left a stamp like that of irrevocable doomof which his own will
was the instrument. In Zenobia's whole personbeholding her more
closelyI saw a riotous agitation; the almost delirious disquietude of a
great struggleat the close of which the vanquished one felt her
strength and courage still mighty within herand longed to renew the
contest. My sensations were as if I had come upon a battlefield before
the smoke was as yet cleared away.
And what subjects had been discussed here? Allno doubtthat for so
many months past had kept my heart and my imagination idly feverish.
Zenobia's whole character and history; the true nature of her mysterious
connection with Westervelt; her later purposes towards Hollingsworthand
reciprocallyhis in reference to her; andfinallythe degree in which
Zenobia had been cognizant of the plot against Priscillaand whatat
lasthad been the real object of that scheme. On these pointsas
beforeI was left to my own conjectures. One thingonlywas certain.
Zenobia and Hollingsworth were friends no longer. If their heartstrings
were ever intertwinedthe knot had been adjudged an entanglementand
was now violently broken.
But Zenobia seemed unable to rest content with the matter in the posture
which it had assumed.
Ah! do we part so?exclaimed sheseeing Hollingsworth about to
And why not?said hewith almost rude abruptness. "What is there
further to be said between us?"
Well, perhaps nothing,answered Zenobialooking him in the faceand
smiling. "But we have come many times before to this gray rockand we
have talked very softly among the whisperings of the birch-trees. They
were pleasant hours! I love to make the latest of themthough not
altogether so delightfulloiter away as slowly as may be. Andbesides
you have put many queries to me at thiswhich you design to be our last
interview; and being drivenas I must acknowledgeinto a cornerI have
responded with reasonable frankness. But nowwith your free consentI
desire the privilege of asking a few questionsin my turn."
I have no concealments,said Hollingsworth.
We shall see,answered Zenobia. "I would first inquire whether you
have supposed me to be wealthy?"
On that point,observed HollingsworthI have had the opinion which
the world holds.
And I held it likewise,said Zenobia. "Had I notHeaven is my witness
the knowledge should have been as free to you as me. It is only three
days since I knew the strange fact that threatens to make me poor; and
your own acquaintance with itI suspectis of at least as old a date.
I fancied myself affluent. You are awaretooof the disposition which I
purposed making of the larger portion of my imaginary opulence--nay
were it allI had not hesitated. Let me ask youfurtherdid I ever
propose or intimate any terms of compacton which depended this--as the
world would consider it--so important sacrifice?"
You certainly spoke of none,said Hollingsworth.
Nor meant any,she responded. "I was willing to realize your dream
freely--generouslyas some might think--butat all eventsfullyand
heedless though it should prove the ruin of my fortune.
Ifin your own thoughtsyou have imposed any conditions of this
expenditureit is you that must be held responsible for whatever is
sordid and unworthy in them. And now one other question. Do you love
O Zenobia!exclaimed Priscillashrinking backas if longing for the
rock to topple over and hide her.
Do you love her?repeated Zenobia.
Had you asked me that question a short time since,replied
Hollingsworthafter a pauseduring whichit seemed to meeven the
birch-trees held their whispering breathI should have told you--'No!'
My feelings for Priscilla differed little from those of an elder brother,
watching tenderly over the gentle sister whom God has given him to
And what is your answer now?persisted Zenobia.
I do love her!said Hollingsworthuttering the words with a deep
inward breathinstead of speaking them outright. "As well declare it
thus as in any other way. I do love her!"
Now, God be judge between us,cried Zenobiabreaking into sudden
passionwhich of us two has most mortally offended Him! At least, I am
a woman, with every fault, it may be, that a woman ever had,--weak, vain,
unprincipled (like most of my sex; for our virtues, when we have any, are
merely impulsive and intuitive), passionate, too, and pursuing my foolish
and unattainable ends by indirect and cunning, though absurdly chosen
means, as an hereditary bond-slave must; false, moreover, to the whole
circle of good, in my reckless truth to the little good I saw before me,
--but still a woman! A creature whom only a little change of earthly
fortune, a little kinder smile of Him who sent me hither, and one true
heart to encourage and direct me, might have made all that a woman can be!
But how is it with you? Are you a man? No; but a monster! A cold,
heartless, self-beginning and self-ending piece of mechanism!
With what, then, do you charge me!asked Hollingsworthaghastand
greatly disturbed by this attack. "Show me one selfish endin all I
ever aimed atand you may cut it out of my bosom with a knife!"
It is all self!answered Zenobia with still intenser bitterness.
Nothing else; nothing but self, self, self! The fiend, I doubt not, has
made his choicest mirth of you these seven years past, and especially in
the mad summer which we have spent together. I see it now! I am awake,
disenchanted, disinthralled! Self, self, self! You have embodied
yourself in a project. You are a better masquerader than the witches and
gypsies yonder; for your disguise is a self-deception. See whither it
has brought you! First, you aimed a death-blow, and a treacherous one,
at this scheme of a purer and higher life, which so many noble spirits
had wrought out. Then, because Coverdale could not be quite your slave,
you threw him ruthlessly away. And you took me, too, into your plan, as
long as there was hope of my being available, and now fling me aside
again, a broken tool! But, foremost and blackest of your sins, you
stifled down your inmost consciousness!--you did a deadly wrong to your
own heart!--you were ready to sacrifice this girl, whom, if God ever
visibly showed a purpose, He put into your charge, and through whom He
was striving to redeem you!
This is a woman's view,said Hollingsworthgrowing deadly pale--"a
woman'swhose whole sphere of action is in the heartand who can
conceive of no higher nor wider one!"
Be silent!cried Zenobia imperiously. "You know neither man nor woman!
The utmost that can be said in your behalf--and because I would not be
wholly despicable in my own eyesbut would fain excuse my wasted
feelingsnor own it wholly a delusiontherefore I say it--isthat a
great and rich heart has been ruined in your breast. Leave menow. You
have done with meand I with you. Farewell!"
Priscilla,said Hollingsworthcome.Zenobia smiled; possibly I did
so too. Not oftenin human lifehas a gnawing sense of injury found a
sweeter morsel of revenge than was conveyed in the tone with which
Hollingsworth spoke those two words. It was the abased and tremulous
tone of a man whose faith in himself was shakenand who soughtat last
to lean on an affection. Yes; the strong man bowed himself and rested on
this poor Priscilla! Ohcould she have failed himwhat a triumph for
Andat firstI half imagined that she was about to fail him. She rose
upstood shivering like the birch leaves that trembled over her head
and then slowly totteredrather than walkedtowards Zenobia. Arriving
at her feetshe sank down therein the very same attitude which she had
assumed on their first meetingin the kitchen of the old farmhouse.
Zenobia remembered it.
Ah, Priscilla!said sheshaking her headhow much is changed since
then! You kneel to a dethroned princess. You, the victorious one! But
he is waiting for you. Say what you wish, and leave me.
We are sisters!gasped Priscilla.
I fancied that I understood the word and action. It meant the offering
of herselfand all she hadto be at Zenobia's disposal. But the latter
would not take it thus.
True, we are sisters!she replied; andmoved by the sweet wordshe
stooped down and kissed Priscilla; but not lovinglyfor a sense of fatal
harm received through her seemed to be lurking in Zenobia's heart. "We
had one father! You knew it from the first; Ibut a little while--else
some things that have chanced might have been spared you. But I never
wished you harm. You stood between me and an end which I desired. I
wanted a clear path. No matter what I meant. It is over now. Do you
O Zenobia,sobbed Priscillait is I that feel like the guilty one!
No, no, poor little thing!said Zenobiawith a sort of contempt.
You have been my evil fate, but there never was a babe with less
strength or will to do an injury. Poor child! Methinks you have but a
melancholy lot before you, sitting all alone in that wide, cheerless
heart, where, for aught you know,--and as I, alas! believe,--the fire
which you have kindled may soon go out. Ah, the thought makes me shiver
for you! What will you do, Priscilla, when you find no spark among the
That was well said!responded Zenobiawith an approving smile.
There is all a woman in your little compass, my poor sister. Meanwhile,
go with him, and live!
She waved her away with a queenly gestureand turned her own face to the
rock. I watched Priscillawondering what judgment she would pass
between Zenobia and Hollingsworth; how interpret his behaviorso as to
reconcile it with true faith both towards her sister and herself; how
compel her love for him to keep any terms whatever with her sisterly
affection! Butin truththere was no such difficulty as I imagined.
Her engrossing love made it all clear. Hollingsworth could have no fault.
That was the one principle at the centre of the universe. And the
doubtful guilt or possible integrity of other peopleappearances
self-evident factsthe testimony of her own senses--even
Hollingsworth's self-accusationhad he volunteered it--would have
weighed not the value of a mote of thistledown on the other side. So
secure was she of his rightthat she never thought of comparing it with
another's wrongbut left the latter to itself.
Hollingsworth drew her arm within hisand soon disappeared with her
among the trees. I cannot imagine how Zenobia knew when they were out of
sight; she never glanced again towards them. Butretaining a proud
attitude so long as they might have thrown back a retiring lookthey
were no sooner departed--utterly departed--than she began slowly to
sink down. It was as if a greatinvisibleirresistible weight were
pressing her to the earth. Settling upon her kneesshe leaned her
forehead against the rockand sobbed convulsively; dry sobs they seemed
to besuch as have nothing to do with tears.
XXVI. ZENOBIA AND COVERDALE
Zenobia had entirely forgotten me. She fancied herself alone with her
great grief. And had it been only a common pity that I felt for her
--the pity that her proud nature would have repelledas the one worst
wrong which the world yet held in reserve--the sacredness and awfulness
of the crisis might have impelled me to steal away silentlyso that not
a dry leaf should rustle under my feet. I would have left her to
strugglein that solitudewith only the eye of God upon her. Butso
it happenedI never once dreamed of questioning my right to be there now
as I had questioned it just beforewhen I came so suddenly upon
Hollingsworth and herselfin the passion of their recent debate. It
suits me not to explain what was the analogy that I saw or imagined
between Zenobia's situation and mine; norI believewill the reader
detect this one secrethidden beneath many a revelation which perhaps
concerned me less. In simple truthhoweveras Zenobia leaned her
forehead against the rockshaken with that tearless agonyit seemed to
me that the self-same pangwith hardly mitigated tormentleaped
thrilling from her heartstrings to my own. Was it wrongthereforeif I
felt myself consecrated to the priesthood by sympathy like thisand
called upon to minister to this woman's afflictionso far as mortal
Butindeedwhat could mortal do for her? Nothing! The attempt would be
a mockery and an anguish. Timeit is truewould steal away her grief
and bury it and the best of her heart in the same grave. But Destiny
itselfmethoughtin its kindliest moodcould do no better for Zenobia
in the way of quick relief; than to cause the impending rock to impend a
little fartherand fall upon her head. So I leaned against a treeand
listened to her sobsin unbroken silence. She was half prostratehalf
kneelingwith her forehead still pressed against the rock. Her sobs
were the only sound; she did not groannor give any other utterance to
her distress. It was all involuntary.
At length she sat upput back her hairand stared about her with a
bewildered aspectas if not distinctly recollecting the scene through
which she had passednor cognizant of the situation in which it left her.
Her face and brow were almost purple with the rush of blood. They
whitenedhoweverby and byand for some time retained this deathlike
hue. She put her hand to her foreheadwith a gesture that made me
forcibly conscious of an intense and living pain there.
Her glancewandering wildly to and fropassed over me several times
without appearing to inform her of my presence. Butfinallya look of
recognition gleamed from her eyes into mine.
Is it you, Miles Coverdale?said shesmiling. "AhI perceive what
you are about! You are turning this whole affair into a ballad. Pray let
me hear as many stanzas as you happen to have ready."
Oh, hush, Zenobia!I answered. "Heaven knows what an ache is in my
It is genuine tragedy, is it not?rejoined Zenobiawith a sharp
light laugh. "And you are willing to allowperhapsthat I have had
hard measure. But it is a woman's doomand I have deserved it like a
woman; so let there be no pityason my partthere shall be no
complaint. It is all rightnowor will shortly be so. ButMr.
Coverdaleby all means write this balladand put your soul's ache into
itand turn your sympathy to good accountas other poets doand as
poets mustunless they choose to give us glittering icicles instead of
lines of fire. As for the moralit shall be distilled into the final
stanzain a drop of bitter honey."
What shall it be, Zenobia?I inquiredendeavoring to fall in with her
Oh, a very old one will serve the purpose,she replied. "There are no
new truthsmuch as we have prided ourselves on finding some. A moral?
Whythis: Thatin the battlefield of lifethe downright strokethat
would fall only on a man's steel headpieceis sure to light on a woman's
heartover which she wears no breastplateand whose wisdom it is
thereforeto keep out of the conflict. Orthis: That the whole
universeher own sex and yoursand Providenceor Destinyto boot
make common cause against the woman who swerves one hair's-breadth out of
the beaten track. Yes; and add (for I may as well own itnow) that
with that one hair's-breadthshe goes all astrayand never sees the
world in its true aspect afterwards."
This last is too stern a moral,I observed. "Cannot we soften it a
Do it if you like, at your own peril, not on my responsibility,she
answered. Thenwith a sudden change of subjectshe went on: "After all
he has flung away what would have served him better than the poorpale
flower he kept. What can Priscilla do for him? Put passionate warmth
into his heartwhen it shall be chilled with frozen hopes? Strengthen
his handswhen they are weary with much doing and no performance? No!
but only tend towards him with a blindinstinctive loveand hang her
littlepuny weakness for a clog upon his arm! She cannot even give him
such sympathy as is worth the name. For will he neverin many an hour
of darknessneed that proud intellectual sympathy which he might have
had from me?--the sympathy that would flash light along his courseand
guideas well as cheer him? Poor Hollingsworth! Where will he find it
Hollingsworth has a heart of ice!said I bitterly. "He is a wretch!"
Do him no wrong,interrupted Zenobiaturning haughtily upon me.
Presume not to estimate a man like Hollingsworth. It was my fault, all
along, and none of his. I see it now! He never sought me. Why should
he seek me? What had I to offer him? Amiserable, bruised, and battered
heart, spoilt long before he met me. A life, too, hopelessly entangled
with a villain's! He did well to cast me off. God be praised, he did
it! And yet, had he trusted me, and borne with me a little longer, I
would have saved him all this trouble.
She was silent for a timeand stood with her eyes fixed on the ground.
Again raising themher look was more mild and calm.
Miles Coverdale!said she.
Well, Zenobia,I responded. "Can I do you any service?"
Very little,she replied. "But it is my purposeas you may well
imagineto remove from Blithedale; andmost likelyI may not see
Hollingsworth again. A woman in my positionyou understandfeels
scarcely at her ease among former friends. New faces--unaccustomed
looks--those only can she tolerate. She would pine among familiar
scenes; she would be apt to blushtoounder the eyes that knew her
secret; her heart might throb uncomfortably; she would mortify herselfI
supposewith foolish notions of having sacrificed the honor of her sex
at the foot of proudcontumacious man. Poor womanhoodwith its rights
and wrongs! Here will be new matter for my course of lecturesat the
idea of which you smiledMr. Coverdalea month or two ago. Butas you
have really a heart and sympathiesas far as they goand as I shall
depart without seeing HollingsworthI must entreat you to be a messenger
between him and me."
Willingly,said Iwondering at the strange way in which her mind
seemed to vibrate from the deepest earnest to mere levity. "What is the
True,--what is it?exclaimed Zenobia. "After allI hardly know. On
better considerationI have no message. Tell him--tell him something
pretty and patheticthat will come nicely and sweetly into your ballad
--anything you pleaseso it be tender and submissive enough. Tell him
he has murdered me! Tell him that I'll haunt him!"--She spoke these words
with the wildest energy.--"And give him--nogive Priscilla--this!"
Thus sayingshe took the jewelled flower out of her hair; and it struck
me as the act of a queenwhen worsted in a combatdiscrowning herself
as if she found a sort of relief in abasing all her pride.
Bid her wear this for Zenobia's sake,she continued. "She is a pretty
little creatureand will make as soft and gentle a wife as the veriest
Bluebeard could desire. Pity that she must fade so soon! These delicate
and puny maidens always do. Ten years hencelet Hollingsworth look at
my face and Priscilla'sand then choose betwixt them. Orif he pleases
let him do it now."
How magnificently Zenobia looked as she said this! The effect of her
beauty was even heightened by the over-consciousness and self-recognition
of itinto whichI supposeHollingsworth's scorn had driven her. She
understood the look of admiration in my face; and--Zenobia to the
last--it gave her pleasure.
It is an endless pity,said shethat I had not bethought myself of
winning your heart, Mr. Coverdale, instead of Hollingsworth's. I think I
should have succeeded, and many women would have deemed you the worthier
conquest of the two. You are certainly much the handsomest man. But
there is a fate in these things. And beauty, in a man, has been of
little account with me since my earliest girlhood, when, for once, it
turned my head. Now, farewell!
Zenobia, whither are you going?I asked.
No matter where,said she. "But I am weary of this placeand sick to
death of playing at philanthropy and progress. Of all varieties of
mock-lifewe have surely blundered into the very emptiest mockery in our
effort to establish the one true system. I have done with it; and
Blithedale must find another woman to superintend the laundryand you
Mr. Coverdaleanother nurse to make your gruelthe next time you fall
ill. It wasindeeda foolish dream! Yet it gave us some pleasant
summer daysand bright hopeswhile they lasted. It can do no more; nor
will it avail us to shed tears over a broken bubble. Here is my hand!
She gave me her hand with the same freewhole-souled gesture as on the
first afternoon of our acquaintanceandbeing greatly movedI
bethought me of no better method of expressing my deep sympathy than to
carry it to my lips. In so doingI perceived that this white hand--so
hospitably warm when I first touched itfive months since--was now cold
as a veritable piece of snow.
How very cold!I exclaimedholding it between both my ownwith the
vain idea of warming it. "What can be the reason? It is really
The extremities die first, they say,answered Zenobialaughing. "And
so you kiss this poordespisedrejected hand! Wellmy dear friendI
thank you. You have reserved your homage for the fallen. Lip of man
will never touch my hand again. I intend to become a Catholicfor the
sake of going into a nunnery. When you next hear of Zenobiaher face
will be behind the black veil; so look your last at it now--for all is
over. Once morefarewell!"
She withdrew her handyet left a lingering pressurewhich I felt long
afterwards. So intimately connected as I had been with perhaps the only
man in whom she was ever truly interestedZenobia looked on me as the
representative of all the pastand was conscious thatin bidding me
adieushe likewise took final leave of Hollingsworthand of this whole
epoch of her life. Never did her beauty shine out more lustrously than in
the last glimpse that I had of her. She departedand was soon hidden
among the trees. Butwhether it was the strong impression of the
foregoing sceneor whatever else the causeI was affected with a
fantasy that Zenobia had not actually gonebut was still hovering about
the spot and haunting it. I seemed to feel her eyes upon me. It was as
if the vivid coloring of her character had left a brilliant stain upon
the air. By degreeshoweverthe impression grew less distinct. I
flung myself upon the fallen leaves at the base of Eliot's pulpit. The
sunshine withdrew up the tree trunks and flickered on the topmost boughs;
gray twilight made the wood obscure; the stars brightened out; the
pendent boughs became wet with chill autumnal dews. But I was listless
worn out with emotion on my own behalf and sympathy for othersand had
no heart to leave my comfortless lair beneath the rock.
I must have fallen asleepand had a dreamall the circumstances of
which utterly vanished at the moment when they converged to some tragical
catastropheand thus grew too powerful for the thin sphere of slumber
that enveloped them. Starting from the groundI found the risen moon
shining upon the rugged face of the rockand myself all in a tremble.
It could not have been far from midnight when I came beneath
Hollingsworth's windowandfinding it openflung in a tuft of grass
with earth at the rootsand heard it fall upon the floor. He was either
awake or sleeping very lightly; for scarcely a moment had gone by before
he looked out and discerned me standing in the moonlight.
Is it you, Coverdale?he asked. "What is the matter?"
Come down to me, Hollingsworth!I answered. "I am anxious to speak
The strange tone of my own voice startled meand himprobablyno less.
He lost no timeand soon issued from the house-doorwith his dress
Again, what is the matter?he asked impatiently.
Have you seen Zenobia,said Isince you parted from her at Eliot's
No,answered Hollingsworth; "nor did I expect it."
His voice was deepbut had a tremor in it
Hardly had he spokenwhen Silas Foster thrust his headdone up in a
cotton handkerchiefout of another windowand took what he called as it
literally was--a squint at us.
Well, folks, what are ye about here?he demanded. "Aha! are you
thereMiles Coverdale? You have been turning night into day since you
left usI reckon; and so you find it quite natural to come prowling
about the house at this time o' nightfrightening my old woman out of
her witsand making her disturb a tired man out of his best nap. In
with youyou vagabondand to bed!"
Dress yourself quickly, Foster,said I. "We want your assistance."
I could notfor the life of mekeep that strange tone out of my voice.
Silas Fosterobtuse as were his sensibilitiesseemed to feel the
ghastly earnestness that was conveyed in it as well as Hollingsworth did.
He immediately withdrew his headand I heard him yawningmuttering to
his wifeand again yawning heavilywhile he hurried on his clothes.
Meanwhile I showed Hollingsworth a delicate handkerchiefmarked with a
well-known cipherand told where I had found itand other circumstances
which had filled me with a suspicion so terrible that I left himif he
daredto shape it out for himself. By the time my brief explanation was
finishedwe were joined by Silas Foster in his blue woollen frock.
Well, boys,cried he peevishlywhat is to pay now?
Tell him, Hollingsworth,said I.
Hollingsworth shivered perceptiblyand drew in a hard breath betwixt his
teeth. He steadied himselfhoweverandlooking the matter more firmly
in the face than I had doneexplained to Foster my suspicionsand the
grounds of themwith a distinctness from whichin spite of my utmost
effortsmy words had swerved aside. The tough-nerved yeomanin his
commentput a finish on the businessand brought out the hideous idea
in its full terroras if he were removing the napkin from the face of a
And so you think she's drowned herself?he cried. I turned away my
What on earth should the young woman do that for?exclaimed Silashis
eyes half out of his head with mere surprise. "Whyshe has more means
than she can use or wasteand lacks nothing to make her comfortablebut
a husbandand that's an article she could haveany day. There's some
mistake about thisI tell you!"
Come,said Ishuddering; "let us go and ascertain the truth."
Well, well,answered Silas Foster; "just as you say. We'll take the
long polewith the hook at the endthat serves to get the bucket out of
the draw-well when the rope is broken. With thatand a couple of
long-handled hay-rakesI'll answer for finding herif she's anywhere to
be found. Strange enough! Zenobia drown herself! Nono; I don't
believe it. She had too much senseand too much meansand enjoyed life
a great deal too well."
When our few preparations were completedwe hastenedby a shorter than
the customary routethrough fields and pasturesand across a portion of
the meadowto the particular spot on the river-bank which I had paused
to contemplate in the course of my afternoon's ramble. A nameless
presentiment had again drawn me thitherafter leaving Eliot's pulpit. I
showed my companions where I had found the handkerchiefand pointed to
two or three footstepsimpressed into the clayey marginand tending
towards the water. Beneath its shallow vergeamong the water-weeds
there were further tracesas yet unobliterated by the sluggish current
which was there almost at a standstill. Silas Foster thrust his face down
close to these footstepsand picked up a shoe that had escaped my
observationbeing half imbedded in the mud.
There's a kid shoe that never was made on a Yankee last,observed he.
I know enough of shoemaker's craft to tell that. French manufacture;
and see what a high instep! and how evenly she trod in it! There never
was a woman that stept handsomer in her shoes than Zenobia did. Here,
he addedaddressing Hollingsworthwould you like to keep the shoe?
Hollingsworth started back.
Give it to me, Foster,said I.
I dabbled it in the waterto rinse off the mudand have kept it ever
since. Not far from this spot lay an oldleaky puntdrawn up on the
oozy river-sideand generally half full of water. It served the angler
to go in quest of pickerelor the sportsman to pick up his wild ducks.
Setting this crazy bark afloatI seated myself in the stern with the
paddlewhile Hollingsworth sat in the bows with the hooked poleand
Silas Foster amidships with a hay-rake.
It puts me in mind of my young days,remarked Silaswhen I used to
steal out of bed to go bobbing for hornpouts and eels. Heigh-ho!--well,
life and death together make sad work for us all! Then I was a boy,
bobbing for fish; and now I am getting to be an old fellow, and here I be,
groping for a dead body! I tell you what, lads; if I thought anything
had really happened to Zenobia, I should feel kind o' sorrowful.
I wish, at least, you would hold your tongue,muttered I.
The moonthat nightthough past the fullwas still large and ovaland
having risen between eight and nine o'clocknow shone aslantwise over
the riverthrowing the highopposite bankwith its woodsinto deep
shadowbut lighting up the hither shore pretty effectually. Not a ray
appeared to fall on the river itself. It lapsed imperceptibly awaya
broadblackinscrutable depthkeeping its own secrets from the eye of
manas impenetrably as mid-ocean could.
Well, Miles Coverdale,said Fosteryou are the helmsman. How do you
mean to manage this business?
I shall let the boat drift, broadside foremost, past that stump,I
replied. "I know the bottomhaving sounded it in fishing. The shore
on this sideafter the first step or twogoes off very abruptly; and
there is a pooljust by the stumptwelve or fifteen feet deep. The
current could not have force enough to sweep any sunken objecteven if
partially buoyantout of that hollow."
Come, then,said Silas; "but I doubt whether I can touch bottom with
this hay-rakeif it's as deep as you say. Mr. HollingsworthI think
you'll be the lucky man to-nightsuch luck as it is."
We floated past the stump. Silas Foster plied his rake manfullypoking
it as far as he could into the waterand immersing the whole length of
his arm besides. Hollingsworth at first sat motionlesswith the hooked
pole elevated in the air. Butby and bywith a nervous and jerky
movementhe began to plunge it into the blackness that upbore us
setting his teethand making precisely such thrustsmethoughtas if he
were stabbing at a deadly enemy. I bent over the side of the boat. So
obscurehoweverso awfully mysteriouswas that dark streamthat--and
the thought made me shiver like a leaf--I might as well have tried to
look into the enigma of the eternal worldto discover what had become of
Zenobia's soulas into the river's depthsto find her body. And there
perhapsshe laywith her face upwardwhile the shadow of the boatand
my own pale face peering downwardpassed slowly betwixt her and the sky!
OncetwicethriceI paddled the boat upstreamand again suffered it
to glidewith the river's slowfunereal motiondownward. Silas Foster
had raked up a large mass of stuffwhichas it came towards the surface
looked somewhat like a flowing garmentbut proved to be a monstrous
tuft of water-weeds. Hollingsworthwith a gigantic effortupheaved a
sunken log. When once free of the bottomit rose partly out of water
--all weedy and slimya devilish-looking objectwhich the moon had not
shone upon for half a hundred years--then plunged againand sullenly
returned to its old resting-placefor the remnant of the century.
That looked ugly!quoth Silas. "I half thought it was the Evil One
on the same errand as ourselves--searching for Zenobia."
He shall never get her,said Igiving the boat a strong impulse.
That's not for you to say, my boy,retorted the yeoman. "Pray God he
never hasand never may. Slow work thishowever! I should really be
glad to find something! Pshaw! What a notion that iswhen the only good
luck would be to paddleand driftand pokeand gropehereaboutstill
morningand have our labor for our pains! For my partI shouldn't
wonder if the creature had only lost her shoe in the mudand saved her
soul aliveafter all. My stars! how she will laugh at usto-morrow
It is indescribable what an image of Zenobia--at the breakfast-table
full of warm and mirthful life--this surmise of Silas Foster's brought
before my mind. The terrible phantasm of her death was thrown by it into
the remotest and dimmest backgroundwhere it seemed to grow as
improbable as a myth.
Yes, Silas, it may be as you say,cried I. The drift of the stream had
again borne us a little below the stumpwhen I felt--yesfeltfor it
was as if the iron hook had smote my breast--felt Hollingsworth's pole
strike some object at the bottom of the river!
He started upand almost overset the boat.
Hold on!cried Foster; "you have her!"
Putting a fury of strength into the effortHollingsworth heaved amain
and up came a white swash to the surface of the river. It was the flow
of a woman's garments. A little higherand we saw her dark hair
streaming down the current. Black River of Deaththou hadst yielded up
thy victim! Zenobia was found!
Silas Foster laid hold of the body; Hollingsworth likewise grappled with
it; and I steered towards the bankgazing all the while at Zenobia
whose limbs were swaying in the current close at the boat's side.
Arriving near the shorewe all three stept into the waterbore her out
and laid her on the ground beneath a tree.
Poor child!said Foster--and his dry old heartI verily believe
vouchsafed a tearI'm sorry for her!
Were I to describe the perfect horror of the spectaclethe reader might
justly reckon it to me for a sin and shame. For more than twelve long
years I have borne it in my memoryand could now reproduce it as freshly
as if it were still before my eyesOf all modes of deathmethinks it is
the ugliest. Her wet garments swathed limbs of terrible inflexibility.
She was the marble image of a death-agony. Her arms had grown rigid in
the act of strugglingand were bent before her with clenched hands; her
kneestoowere bentand--thank God for it!--in the attitude of prayer.
Ahthat rigidity! It is impossible to bear the terror of it. It
seemed--I must needs impart so much of my own miserable idea--it seemed
as if her body must keep the same position in the coffinand that her
skeleton would keep it in the grave; and that when Zenobia rose at the
day of judgmentit would be in just the same attitude as now!
One hope I hadand that too was mingled half with fear. She knelt as if
in prayer. With the lastchoking consciousnessher soulbubbling out
through her lipsit may behad given itself up to the Father
reconciled and penitent. But her arms! They were bent before heras if
she struggled against Providence in never-ending hostility. Her hands!
They were clenched in immitigable defiance. Away with the hideous
thought. The flitting moment after Zenobia sank into the dark pool--when
her breath was goneand her soul at her lips was as longin its
capacity of God's infinite forgivenessas the lifetime of the world!
Foster bent over the bodyand carefully examined it.
You have wounded the poor thing's breast,said he to Hollingsworth
close by her heart, too!
Ha!cried Hollingsworth with a start.
And so he hadindeedboth before and after death!
See!said Foster. "That's the place where the iron struck her. It
looks cruellybut she never felt it!"
He endeavored to arrange the arms of the corpse decently by its side.
His utmost strengthhoweverscarcely sufficed to bring them down; and
rising againthe next instantthey bade him defianceexactly as before.
He made another effortwith the same result.
In God's name, Silas Foster,cried I with bitter indignation. "let
that dead woman alone!"
Why, man, it's not decent!answered hestaring at me in amazement.
I can't bear to see her looking so! Well, well,added heafter a
third effort't is of no use, sure enough; and we must leave the women
to do their best with her, after we get to the house. The sooner that's
done, the better.
We took two rails from a neighboring fenceand formed a bier by laying
across some boards from the bottom of the boat. And thus we bore Zenobia
homeward. Six hours beforehow beautiful! At midnightwhat a horror!
A reflection occurs to me that will show ludicrouslyI doubt noton my
pagebut must come in for its sterling truth. Being the woman that she
wascould Zenobia have foreseen all these ugly circumstances of death
--how ill it would become herthe altogether unseemly aspect which she
must put onand especially old Silas Foster's efforts to improve the
matter--she would no more have committed the dreadful act than have
exhibited herself to a public assembly in a badly fitting garment!
ZenobiaI have often thoughtwas not quite simple in her death. She
had seen picturesI supposeof drowned persons in lithe and graceful
attitudes. And she deemed it well and decorous to die as so many village
maidens havewronged in their first loveand seeking peace in the bosom
of the old familiar stream--so familiar that they could not dread it
--wherein childhoodthey used to bathe their little feetwading
mid-leg deepunmindful of wet skirts. But in Zenobia's case there was
some tint of the Arcadian affectation that had been visible enough in all
our lives for a few months past.
Thishoweverto my conceptiontakes nothing from the tragedy. For
has not the world come to an awfully sophisticated passwhenafter a
certain degree of acquaintance with itwe cannot even put ourselves to
death in whole-hearted simplicity? Slowlyslowlywith many a dreary
pause--resting the bier often on some rock or balancing it across a
mossy logto take fresh hold--we bore our burden onward through the
moonlightand at last laid Zenobia on the floor of the old farmhouse.
By and by came three or four withered women and stood whispering around
the corpsepeering at it through their spectaclesholding up their
skinny handsshaking their night-capped headsand taking counsel of one
another's experience what was to be done.
With those tire-women we left Zenobia.
XXVIII. BLITHEDALE PASTURE
Blithedalethus far in its progresshad never found the necessity of a
burial-ground. There was some consultation among us in what spot Zenobia
might most fitly be laid. It was my own wish that she should sleep at
the base of Eliot's pulpitand that on the rugged front of the rock the
name by which we familiarly knew herZenobia--and not another word
should be deeply cutand left for the moss and lichens to fill up at
their long leisure. But Hollingsworth (to whose ideas on this point
great deference was due) made it his request that her grave might be dug
on the gently sloping hillsidein the wide pasturewhereas we once
supposedZenobia and he had planned to build their cottage. And thus it
She was buried very much as other people have been for hundreds of years
gone by. In anticipation of a deathwe Blithedale colonists had
sometimes set our fancies at work to arrange a funereal ceremonywhich
should be the proper symbolic expression of our spiritual faith and
eternal hopes; and this we meant to substitute for those customary rites
which were moulded originally out of the Gothic gloomand by long use
like an old velvet pallhave so much more than their first death-smell
in them. But when the occasion came we found it the simplest and truest
thingafter allto content ourselves with the old fashiontaking away
what we couldbut interpolating no noveltiesand particularly avoiding
all frippery of flowers and cheerful emblems. The procession moved from
the farmhouse. Nearest the dead walked an old man in deep mourninghis
face mostly concealed in a white handkerchiefand with Priscilla leaning
on his arm. Hollingsworth and myself came next. We all stood around the
narrow niche in the cold earth; all saw the coffin lowered in; all heard
the rattle of the crumbly soil upon its lid--that final soundwhich
mortality awakens on the utmost verge of senseas if in the vain hope of
bringing an echo from the spiritual world.
I noticed a stranger--a stranger to most of those presentthough known
to me--whoafter the coffin had descendedtook up a handful of earth
and flung it first into the grave. I had given up Hollingsworth's arm
and now found myself near this man.
It was an idle thing--a foolish thing--for Zenobia to do,said he. "She
was the last woman in the world to whom death could have been necessary.
It was too absurd! I have no patience with her."
Why so?I inquiredsmothering my horror at his cold commentin my
eager curiosity to discover some tangible truth as to his relation with
Zenobia. "If any crisis could justify the sad wrong she offered to
herselfit was surely that in which she stood. Everything had failed
her; prosperity in the world's sensefor her opulence was gone--the
heart's prosperityin love. And there was a secret burden on herthe
nature of which is best known to you. Young as she wasshe had tried
life fullyhad no more to hopeand somethingperhapsto fear. Had
Providence taken her away in its own holy handI should have thought it
the kindest dispensation that could be awarded to one so wrecked."
You mistake the matter completely,rejoined Westervelt.
What, then, is your own view of it?I asked.
Her mind was active, and various in its powers,said he. "Her heart
had a manifold adaptation; her constitution an infinite buoyancywhich
(had she possessed only a little patience to await the reflux of her
troubles) would have borne her upward triumphantly for twenty years to
come. Her beauty would not have waned--or scarcely soand surely not
beyond the reach of art to restore it--in all that time. She had life's
summer all before herand a hundred varieties of brilliant success.
What an actress Zenobia might have been! It was one of her least
valuable capabilities. How forcibly she might have wrought upon the
worldeither directly in her own personor by her influence upon some
manor a series of menof controlling genius! Every prize that could
be worth a woman's having--and many prizes which other women are too
timid to desire--lay within Zenobia's reach."
In all this,I observedthere would have been nothing to satisfy her
Her heart!answered Westervelt contemptuously. "That troublesome
organ (as she had hitherto found it) would have been kept in its due
place and degreeand have had all the gratification it could fairly
claim. She would soon have established a control over it. Love had
failed heryou say. Had it never failed her before? Yet she survived
itand loved again--possibly not once alonenor twice either. And now
to drown herself for yonder dreamy philanthropist!"
Who are you,I exclaimed indignantlythat dare to speak thus of the
dead? You seem to intend a eulogy, yet leave out whatever was noblest in
her, and blacken while you mean to praise. I have long considered you as
Zenobia's evil fate. Your sentiments confirm me in the idea, but leave
me still ignorant as to the mode in which you have influenced her life.
The connection may have been indissoluble, except by death. Then, indeed,
--always in the hope of God's infinite mercy,--I cannot deem it a
misfortune that she sleeps in yonder grave!
No matter what I was to her,he answered gloomilyyet without actual
emotion. "She is now beyond my reach. Had she livedand hearkened to my
counselswe might have served each other well. But there Zenobia lies
in yonder pitwith the dull earth over her. Twenty years of a brilliant
lifetime thrown away for a mere woman's whim!"
Heaven deal with Westervelt according to his nature and deserts!--that is
to sayannihilate him. He was altogether earthyworldlymade for time
and its gross objectsand incapable--except by a sort of dim reflection
caught from other minds--of so much as one spiritual idea. Whatever
stain Zenobia had was caught from him; nor does it seldom happen that a
character of admirable qualities loses its better life because the
atmosphere that should sustain it is rendered poisonous by such breath as
this man mingled with Zenobia's. Yet his reflections possessed their
share of truth. It was a woeful thoughtthat a woman of Zenobia's
diversified capacity should have fancied herself irretrievably defeated
on the broad battlefield of lifeand with no refugesave to fall on her
own swordmerely because Love had gone against her. It is nonsenseand
a miserable wrong--the resultlike so many othersof masculine egotism
--that the success or failure of woman's existence should be made to
depend wholly on the affectionsand on one species of affectionwhile
man has such a multitude of other chancesthat this seems but an
incident. For its own sakeif it will do no morethe world should
throw open all its avenues to the passport of a woman's bleeding heart.
As we stood around the graveI looked often towards Priscilladreading
to see her wholly overcome with grief. And deeply grievedin truthshe
was. But a character so simply constituted as hers has room only for a
single predominant affection. No other feeling can touch the heart's
inmost corenor do it any deadly mischief. Thuswhile we see that such
a being responds to every breeze with tremulous vibrationand imagine
that she must be shattered by the first rude blastwe find her retaining
her equilibrium amid shocks that might have overthrown many a sturdier
frame. So with Priscilla; her one possible misfortune was
Hollingsworth's unkindness; and that was destined never to befall her
never yetat leastfor Priscilla has not died.
But Hollingsworth! After all the evil that he didare we to leave him
thusblest with the entire devotion of this one true heartand with
wealth at his disposal to execute the long-contemplated project that had
led him so far astray? What retribution is there here? My mind being
vexed with precisely this queryI made a journeysome years sincefor
the sole purpose of catching a last glimpse of Hollingsworthand judging
for myself whether he were a happy man or no. I learned that he
inhabited a small cottagethat his way of life was exceedingly retired
and that my only chance of encountering him or Priscilla was to meet them
in a secluded lanewherein the latter part of the afternoonthey were
accustomed to walk. I did meet themaccordingly. As they approached me
I observed in Hollingsworth's face a depressed and melancholy lookthat
seemed habitual; the powerfully built man showed a self-distrustful
weaknessand a childlike or childish tendency to press closeand closer
stillto the side of the slender woman whose arm was within his. In
Priscilla's manner there was a protective and watchful qualityas if she
felt herself the guardian of her companion; butlikewisea deep
submissiveunquestioning reverenceand also a veiled happiness in her
fair and quiet countenance.
Drawing nearerPriscilla recognized meand gave me a kind and friendly
smilebut with a slight gesturewhich I could not help interpreting as
an entreaty not to make myself known to Hollingsworth. Neverthelessan
impulse took possession of meand compelled me to address him.
I have come, Hollingsworth,said Ito view your grand edifice for the
reformation of criminals. Is it finished yet?
No, nor begun,answered hewithout raising his eyes. "A very small
one answers all my purposes."
Priscilla threw me an upbraiding glance. But I spoke againwith a bitter
and revengeful emotionas if flinging a poisoned arrow at
Up to this moment,I inquiredhow many criminals have you reformed?
Not one,said Hollingsworthwith his eyes still fixed on the ground.
Ever since we parted, I have been busy with a single murderer.
Then the tears gushed into my eyesand I forgave him; for I remembered
the wild energythe passionate shriekwith which Zenobia had spoken
those wordsTell him he has murdered me! Tell him that I'll haunt him!
--and I knew what murderer he meantand whose vindictive shadow dogged
the side where Priscilla was not.
The moral which presents itself to my reflectionsas drawn from
Hollingsworth's character and errorsis simply thisthatadmitting
what is called philanthropywhen adopted as a professionto be often
useful by its energetic impulse to society at largeit is perilous to
the individual whose ruling passionin one exclusive channelit thus
becomes. It ruinsor is fearfully apt to ruinthe heartthe rich
juices of which God never meant should be pressed violently out and
distilled into alcoholic liquor by an unnatural processbut should
render life sweetblandand gently beneficentand insensibly influence
other hearts and other lives to the same blessed end. I see in
Hollingsworth an exemplification of the most awful truth in Bunyan's book
of suchfrom the very gate of heaven there is a by-way to the pit!
Butall this whilewe have been standing by Zenobia's grave. I have
never since beheld itbut make no question that the grass grew all the
betteron that little parallelogram of pasture landfor the decay of
the beautiful woman who slept beneath. How Nature seems to love us! And
how readilyneverthelesswithout a sigh or a complaintshe converts us
to a meaner purposewhen her highest one--that of a conscious
intellectual life and sensibility has been untimely balked! While
Zenobia livedNature was proud of herand directed all eyes upon that
radiant presenceas her fairest handiwork. Zenobia perished. Will not
Nature shed a tear? Ahno!--she adopts the calamity at once into her
systemand is just as well pleasedfor aught we can seewith the tuft
of ranker vegetation that grew out of Zenobia's heartas with all the
beauty which has bequeathed us no earthly representative except in this
crop of weeds. It is because the spirit is inestimable that the lifeless
body is so little valued.
XXIX. MILES COVERDALE'S CONFESSION
It remains only to say a few words about myself. Not improbablythe
reader might be willing to spare me the trouble; for I have made but a
poor and dim figure in my own narrativeestablishing no separate
interestand suffering my colorless life to take its hue from other
lives. But one still retains some little consideration for one's self;
so I keep these last two or three pages for my individual and sole behoof.
But whatafter allhave I to tell? Nothingnothingnothing! I left
Blithedale within the week after Zenobia's deathand went back thither
no more. The whole soil of our farmfor a long time afterwardsseemed
but the sodded earth over her grave. I could not toil therenor live
upon its products. Oftenhoweverin these years that are darkening
around meI remember our beautiful scheme of a noble and unselfish life;
and how fairin that first summerappeared the prospect that it might
endure for generationsand be perfectedas the ages rolled awayinto
the system of a people and a world! Were my former associates now there
--were there only three or four of those true-hearted men still laboring
in the sun--I sometimes fancy that I should direct my world-weary
footsteps thitherwardand entreat them to receive mefor old
friendship's sake. More and more I feel that we had struck upon what
ought to be a truth. Posterity may dig it upand profit by it. The
experimentso far as its original projectors were concernedproved
long agoa failure; first lapsing into Fourierismand dyingas it well
deservedfor this infidelity to its own higher spirit. Where once we
toiled with our whole hopeful heartsthe town paupersagednerveless
and disconsolatecreep sluggishly afield. Alaswhat faith is requisite
to bear up against such results of generous effort!
My subsequent life has passed--I was going to say happilybutat all
eventstolerably enough. I am now at middle agewellwella step or
two beyond the midmost pointand I care not a fig who knows it!--a
bachelorwith no very decided purpose of ever being otherwise. I have
been twice to Europeand spent a year or two rather agreeably at each
visit. Being well to do in the worldand having nobody but myself to
care forI live very much at my easeand fare sumptuously every day.
As for poetryI have given it upnotwithstanding that Dr. Griswold--as
the readerof courseknows--has placed me at a fair elevation among our
minor minstrelsyon the strength of my pretty little volumepublished
ten years ago. As regards human progress (in spite of my irrepressible
yearnings over the Blithedale reminiscences)let them believe in it who
canand aid in it who choose. If I could earnestly do eitherit might
be all the better for my comfort. As Hollingsworth once told meI lack
a purpose. How strange! He was ruinedmorallyby an overplus of the
very same ingredientthe want of whichI occasionally suspecthas
rendered my own life all an emptiness. I by no means wish to die. Yet
were there any causein this whole chaos of human struggleworth a sane
man's dying forand which my death would benefitthen--provided
howeverthe effort did not involve an unreasonable amount of
trouble--methinks I might be bold to offer up my life. If Kossuthfor
examplewould pitch the battlefield of Hungarian rights within an easy
ride of my abodeand choose a mildsunny morningafter breakfastfor
the conflictMiles Coverdale would gladly be his manfor one brave rush
upon the levelled bayonets. Further than thatI should be loath to
I exaggerate my own defects. The reader must not take my own word for it
nor believe me altogether changed from the young man who once hoped
strenuouslyand struggled not so much amiss. Frostier heads than mine
have gained honor in the world; frostier hearts have imbibed new warmth
and been newly happy. Lifehoweverit must be ownedhas come to
rather an idle pass with me. Would my friends like to know what brought
it thither? There is one secret--I have concealed it all alongand
never meant to let the least whisper of it escape--one foolish little
secretwhich possibly may have had something to do with these inactive
years of meridian manhoodwith my bachelorshipwith the unsatisfied
retrospect that I fling back on lifeand my listless glance towards the
future. Shall I reveal it? It is an absurd thing for a man in his
afternoon--a man of the worldmoreoverwith these three white hairs in
his brown mustache and that deepening track of a crow's-foot on each
temple--an absurd thing ever to have happenedand quite the absurdest
for an old bachelorlike meto talk about. But it rises to my throat;
so let it come.
I perceivemoreoverthat the confessionbrief as it shall bewill
throw a gleam of light over my behavior throughout the foregoing
incidentsand isindeedessential to the full understanding of my
story. The readerthereforesince I have disclosed so muchis
entitled to this one word more. As I write ithe will charitably
suppose me to blushand turn away my face:
I--I myself--was in love--with--Priscilla!