[The following Tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich
Knickerbocker, an old gentleman of New York, who was very curious in the
Dutch history of the province, and the manners of the descendants from
its primitive settlers. His historical researches, however, did not lie
so much among books as among men; for the former are lamentably scanty
on his favorite topics; whereas he found the old burghers, and still
more their wives, rich in that legendary lore, so invaluable to true
history. Whenever, therefore, he happened upon a genuine Dutch family,
snugly shut up in its low-roofed farmhouse, under a spreading sycamore,
he looked upon it as a little clasped volume of black-letter, and
studied it with the zeal of a book-worm.
The result of all these researches was a history of the province during
the reign of the Dutch governors, which he published some years since.
There have been various opinions as to the literary character of his
work, and, to tell the truth, it is not a whit better than it should be.
Its chief merit is its scrupulous accuracy, which indeed was a little
questioned on its first appearance, but has since been completely
established; and it is now admitted into all historical collections, as
a book of unquestionable authority.
The old gentleman died shortly after the publication of his work, and
now that he is dead and gone, it cannot do much harm to his memory to
say that his time might have been much better employed in weightier
labors. He, however, was apt to ride his hobby his own way; and though
it did now and then kick up the dust a little in the eyes of his
neighbors, and grieve the spirit of some friends, for whom he felt the
truest deference and affection; yet his errors and follies are
remembered "more in sorrow than in anger," and it begins to be
suspected, that he never intended to injure or offend. But however his
memory may be appreciated by critics, it is still held dear by many
folks, whose good opinion is well worth having; particularly by certain
biscuit-bakers, who have gone so far as to imprint his likeness on their
new-year cakes; and have thus given him a chance for immortality, almost
equal to the being stamped on a Waterloo Medal, or a Queen Anne's
RIP VAN WINKLE
A POSTHUMOUS WRITING OF DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER
By Woden, God of Saxons,
From whence comes Wensday, that is Wodensday,
Truth is a thing that ever I will keep
Unto thylke day in which I creep into
Whoever has made a voyage up the Hudson must remember the Kaatskill
mountains. They are a dismembered branch of the great Appalachian
family, and are seen away to the west of the river, swelling up to a
noble height, and lording it over the surrounding country. Every change
of season, every change of weather, indeed, every hour of the day,
produces some change in the magical hues and shapes of these mountains,
and they are regarded by all the good wives, far and near, as perfect
barometers. When the weather is fair and settled, they are clothed in
blue and purple, and print their bold outlines on the clear evening sky;
but, sometimes, when the rest of the landscape is cloudless, they will
gather a hood of gray vapors about their summits, which, in the last
rays of the setting sun, will glow and light up like a crown of glory.
At the foot of these fairy mountains, the voyager may have descried the
light smoke curling up from a village whose shingle-roofs gleam among
the trees, just where the blue tints of the upland melt away into the
fresh green of the nearer landscape. It is a little village of great
antiquity, having been founded by some of the Dutch colonists, in the
early times of the province, just about the beginning of the government
of the good Peter Stuyvesant, (may he rest in peace!) and there were
some of the houses of the original settlers standing within a few years,
built of small yellow bricks brought from Holland, having latticed
windows and gable fronts, surmounted with weather-cocks.
In that same village, and in one of these very houses (which, to tell
the precise truth, was sadly time-worn and weather-beaten), there lived
many years since, while the country was yet a province of Great Britain,
a simple good-natured fellow of the name of Rip Van Winkle. He was a
descendant of the Van Winkles who figured so gallantly in the chivalrous
days of Peter Stuyvesant, and accompanied him to the siege of Fort
Christina. He inherited, however, but little of the martial character of
his ancestors. I have observed that he was a simple good-natured man; he
was, moreover, a kind neighbor, and an obedient hen-pecked husband.
Indeed, to the latter circumstance might be owing that meekness of
spirit which gained him such universal popularity; for those men are
most apt to be obsequious and conciliating abroad, who are under the
discipline of shrews at home. Their tempers, doubtless, are rendered
pliant and malleable in the fiery furnace of domestic tribulation; and a
curtain lecture is worth all the sermons in the world for teaching the
virtues of patience and long-suffering. A termagant wife may, therefore,
in some respects, be considered a tolerable blessing; and if so, Rip Van
Winkle was thrice blessed.
Certain it is, that he was a great favorite among all the good wives
the village, who, as usual with the amiable sex, took his part in all
family squabbles; and never failed, whenever they talked those matters
over in their evening gossipings, to lay all the blame on Dame Van
Winkle. The children of the village, too, would shout with joy whenever
he approached. He assisted at their sports, made their playthings,
taught them to fly kites and shoot marbles, and told them long stories
of ghosts, witches, and Indians. Whenever he went dodging about the
village, he was surrounded by a troop of them, hanging on his skirts,
clambering on his back, and playing a thousand tricks on him with
impunity; and not a dog would bark at him throughout the neighborhood.
The great error in Rip's composition was an insuperable aversion to all
kinds of profitable labor. It could not be from the want of assiduity or
perseverance; for he would sit on a wet rock, with a rod as long and
heavy as a Tartar's lance, and fish all day without a murmur, even
though he should not be encouraged by a single nibble. He would carry a
fowling-piece on his shoulder for hours together, trudging through woods
and swamps, and up hill and down dale, to shoot a few squirrels or wild
pigeons. He would never refuse to assist a neighbor even in the roughest
toil, and was a foremost man at all country frolics for husking Indian
corn, or building stone-fences; the women of the village, too, used to
employ him to run their errands, and to do such little odd jobs as their
less obliging husbands would not do for them. In a word Rip was ready to
attend to anybody's business but his own; but as to doing family duty,
and keeping his farm in order, he found it impossible.
In fact, he declared it was of no use to work on his farm; it was the
most pestilent little piece of ground in the whole country; everything
about it went wrong, and would go wrong, in spite of him. His fences
were continually falling to pieces; his cow would either go astray or
get among the cabbages; weeds were sure to grow quicker in his fields
than anywhere else; the rain always made a point of setting in just as
he had some out-door work to do, so that though his patrimonial estate
had dwindled away under his management, acre by acre, until there was
little more left than a mere patch of Indian corn and potatoes, yet it
was the worst conditioned farm in the neighborhood.
His children, too, were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to
nobody. His son Rip, an urchin begotten in his own likeness, promised to
inherit the habits, with the old clothes of his father. He was generally
seen trooping like a colt at his mother's heels, equipped in a pair of
his father's cast-off galligaskins, which he had much ado to hold up
with one hand, as a fine lady does her train in bad weather.
Rip Van Winkle, however, was one of those happy mortals, of foolish,
well-oiled dispositions, who take the world easy, eat white bread or
brown, whichever can be got with least thought or trouble, and would
rather starve on a penny than work for a pound. If left to himself, he
would have whistled life away in perfect contentment; but his wife kept
continually dinning in his ears about his idleness, his carelessness,
and the ruin he was bringing on his family. Morning, noon, and night,
her tongue was incessantly going, and everything he said or did was sure
to produce a torrent of household eloquence. Rip had but one way of
replying to all lectures of the kind, and that, by frequent use, had
grown into a habit. He shrugged his shoulders, shook his head, cast up
his eyes, but said nothing. This, however, always provoked a fresh
volley from his wife; so that he was fain to draw off his forces, and
take to the outside of the house--the only side which, in truth, belongs
to a hen-pecked husband.
Rip's sole domestic adherent was his dog Wolf, who was as much
hen-pecked as his master; for Dame Van Winkle regarded them as
companions in idleness, and even looked upon Wolf with an evil eye, as
the cause of his master's going so often astray. True it is, in all
points of spirit befitting an honorable dog, he was as courageous an
animal as ever scoured the woods--but what courage can withstand the
ever-during and all-besetting terrors of a woman's tongue? The moment
Wolf entered the house his crest fell, his tail drooped to the ground,
or curled between his legs, he sneaked about with a gallows air, casting
many a sidelong glance at Dame Van Winkle, and at the least flourish of
a broom-stick or ladle, he would fly to the door with yelping
Times grew worse and worse with Rip Van Winkle as years of matrimony
rolled on; a tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is
the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use. For a long
while he used to console himself, when driven from home, by frequenting
a kind of perpetual club of the sages, philosophers, and other idle
personages of the village; which held its sessions on a bench before a
small inn, designated by a rubicund portrait of His Majesty George the
Third. Here they used to sit in the shade through a long lazy summer's
day, talking listlessly over village gossip, or telling endless sleepy
stories about nothing. But it would have been worth any statesman's
money to have heard the profound discussions that sometimes took place,
when by chance an old newspaper fell into their hands from some passing
traveller. How solemnly they would listen to the contents, as drawled
out by Derrick Van Bummel, the schoolmaster, a dapper learned little
man, who was not to be daunted by the most gigantic word in the
dictionary; and how sagely they would deliberate upon public events some
months after they had taken place.
The opinions of this junto were completely controlled by Nicholas
Vedder, a patriarch of the village, and landlord of the inn, at the door
of which he took his seat from morning till night, just moving
sufficiently to avoid the sun and keep in the shade of a large tree; so
that the neighbors could tell the hour by his movements as accurately as
by a sun-dial. It is true he was rarely heard to speak, but smoked his
pipe incessantly. His adherents, however (for every great man has his
adherents), perfectly understood him, and knew how to gather his
opinions. When anything that was read or related displeased him, he was
observed to smoke his pipe vehemently, and to send forth short, frequent
and angry puffs; but when pleased, he would inhale the smoke slowly and
tranquilly, and emit it in light and placid clouds; and sometimes,
taking the pipe from his mouth, and letting the fragrant vapor curl
about his nose, would gravely nod his head in token of perfect
From even this stronghold the unlucky Rip was at length routed by his
termagant wife, who would suddenly break in upon the tranquillity of the
assemblage and call the members all to naught; nor was that august
personage, Nicholas Vedder himself, sacred from the daring tongue of
this terrible virago, who charged him outright with encouraging her
husband in habits of idleness.
Poor Rip was at last reduced almost to despair; and his only
alternative, to escape from the labor of the farm and clamor of his
wife, was to take gun in hand and stroll away into the woods. Here he
would sometimes seat himself at the foot of a tree, and share the
contents of his wallet with Wolf, with whom he sympathized as a
fellow-sufferer in persecution. "Poor Wolf," he would say, "thy
leads thee a dog's life of it; but never mind, my lad, whilst I live
thou shalt never want a friend to stand by thee!" Wolf would wag his
tail, look wistfully in his master's face, and if dogs can feel pity I
verily believe he reciprocated the sentiment with all his heart.
In a long ramble of the kind on a fine autumnal day, Rip had
unconsciously scrambled to one of the highest parts of the Kaatskill
mountains. He was after his favorite sport of squirrel shooting, and the
still solitudes had echoed and re-echoed with the reports of his gun.
Panting and fatigued, he threw himself, late in the afternoon, on a
green knoll, covered with mountain herbage, that crowned the brow of a
precipice. From an opening between the trees he could overlook all the
lower country for many a mile of rich woodland. He saw at a distance the
lordly Hudson, far, far below him, moving on its silent but majestic
course, with the reflection of a purple cloud, or the sail of a lagging
bark, here and there sleeping on its glassy bosom, and at last losing
itself in the blue highlands.
On the other side he looked down into a deep mountain glen, wild,
lonely, and shagged, the bottom filled with fragments from the impending
cliffs, and scarcely lighted by the reflected rays of the setting sun.
For some time Rip lay musing on this scene; evening was gradually
advancing; the mountains began to throw their long blue shadows over the
valleys; he saw that it would be dark long before he could reach the
village, and he heaved a heavy sigh when he thought of encountering the
terrors of Dame Van Winkle.
As he was about to descend, he heard a voice from a distance, hallooing,
"Rip Van Winkle! Rip Van Winkle!" He looked round, but could see
but a crow winging its solitary flight across the mountain. He thought
his fancy must have deceived him, and turned again to descend, when he
heard the same cry ring through the still evening air: "Rip Van Winkle!
Rip Van Winkle!"--at the same time Wolf bristled up his back, and giving
a low growl, skulked to his master's side, looking fearfully down into
the glen. Rip now felt a vague apprehension stealing over him; he looked
anxiously in the same direction, and perceived a strange figure slowly
toiling up the rocks, and bending under the weight of something he
carried on his back. He was surprised to see any human being in this
lonely and unfrequented place, but supposing it to be some one of the
neighborhood in need of his assistance, he hastened down to yield it.
On nearer approach he was still more surprised at the singularity of
stranger's appearance. He was a short square-built old fellow, with
thick bushy hair, and a grizzled beard. His dress was of the antique
Dutch fashion--a cloth jerkin strapped round the waist--several pair of
breeches, the outer one of ample volume, decorated with rows of buttons
down the sides, and bunches at the knees. He bore on his shoulder a
stout keg, that seemed full of liquor, and made signs for Rip to
approach and assist him with the load. Though rather shy and distrustful
of this new acquaintance, Rip complied with his usual alacrity; and
mutually relieving one another, they clambered up a narrow gully,
apparently the dry bed of a mountain torrent. As they ascended, Rip
every now and then heard long rolling peals, like distant thunder, that
seemed to issue out of a deep ravine, or rather cleft, between lofty
rocks, toward which their rugged path conducted. He paused for an
instant, but supposing it to be the muttering of one of those transient
thunder-showers which often take place in mountain heights, he
proceeded. Passing through the ravine, they came to a hollow, like a
small amphitheatre, surrounded by perpendicular precipices, over the
brinks of which impending trees shot their branches, so that you only
caught glimpses of the azure sky and the bright evening cloud. During
the whole time Rip and his companion had labored on in silence; for
though the former marvelled greatly what could be the object of carrying
a keg of liquor up this wild mountain, yet there was something strange
and incomprehensible about the unknown, that inspired awe and checked
On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder presented
themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a company of odd-looking
personages playing at nine-pins. They were dressed in a quaint
outlandish fashion; some wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long
knives in their belts, and most of them had enormous breeches, of
similar style with that of the guide's. Their visages, too, were
peculiar: one had a large beard, broad face, and small piggish eyes: the
face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose, and was surmounted
by a white sugar-loaf hat set off with a little red cock's tail. They
all had beards, of various shapes and colors. There was one who seemed
to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten
countenance; he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger,
high-crowned hat and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with
roses in them. The whole group reminded Rip of the figures in an old
Flemish painting, in the parlor of Dominie Van Shaick, the village
parson, and which had been brought over from Holland at the time of the
What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were
evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the
most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of
pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of the
scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled,
echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder.
As Rip and his companion approached them, they suddenly desisted from
their play, and stared at him with such fixed statue-like gaze, and such
strange, uncouth, lack-lustre countenances, that his heart turned within
him, and his knees smote together. His companion now emptied the
contents of the keg into large flagons, and made signs to him to wait
upon the company. He obeyed with fear and trembling; they quaffed the
liquor in profound silence, and then returned to their game.
By degrees Rip's awe and apprehension subsided. He even ventured, when
no eye was fixed upon him, to taste the beverage, which he found had
much of the flavor of excellent Hollands. He was naturally a thirsty
soul, and was soon tempted to repeat the draught. One taste provoked
another; and he reiterated his visits to the flagon so often that at
length his senses were overpowered, his eyes swam in his head, his head
gradually declined, and he fell into a deep sleep.
On waking, he found himself on the green knoll whence he had first seen
the old man of the glen. He rubbed his eyes--it was a bright sunny
morning. The birds were hopping and twittering among the bushes, and the
eagle was wheeling aloft, and breasting the pure mountain breeze.
"Surely," thought Rip, "I have not slept here all night."
the occurrences before he fell asleep. The strange man with a keg of
liquor--the mountain ravine--the wild retreat among the rocks--the
woe-begone party at nine-pins--the flagon--"Oh! that flagon! that wicked
flagon!" thought Rip--"what excuse shall I make to Dame Van Winkle!"
He looked round for his gun, but in place of the clean well-oiled
fowling-piece, he found an old firelock lying by him, the barrel
incrusted with rust, the lock falling off, and the stock worm-eaten. He
now suspected that the grave roysters of the mountain had put a trick
upon him, and, having dosed him with liquor, had robbed him of his gun.
Wolf, too, had disappeared, but he might have strayed away after a
squirrel or partridge. He whistled after him and shouted his name, but
all in vain; the echoes repeated his whistle and shout, but no dog was
to be seen.
He determined to revisit the scene of the last evening's gambol, and
he met with any of the party, to demand his dog and gun. As he rose to
walk, he found himself stiff in the joints, and wanting in his usual
activity. "These mountain beds do not agree with me," thought
if this frolic should lay me up with a fit of rheumatism, I shall have a
blessed time with Dame Van Winkle." With some difficulty he got down
into the glen: he found the gully up which he and his companion had
ascended the preceding evening; but to his astonishment a mountain
stream was now foaming down it, leaping from rock to rock, and filling
the glen with babbling murmurs. He, however, made shift to scramble up
its sides, working his toilsome way through thickets of birch,
sassafras, and witch-hazel, and sometimes tripped up or entangled by
the wild grapevines that twisted their coils or tendrils from tree to
tree, and spread a kind of network in his path.
At length he reached to where the ravine had opened through the cliffs
to the amphitheatre; but no traces of such opening remained. The rocks
presented a high impenetrable wall over which the torrent came tumbling
in a sheet of feathery foam, and fell into a broad deep basin, black
from the shadows of the surrounding forest. Here, then, poor Rip was
brought to a stand. He again called and whistled after his dog; he was
only answered by the cawing of a flock of idle crows, sporting high in
air about a dry tree that overhung a sunny precipice; and who, secure in
their elevation, seemed to look down and scoff at the poor man's
perplexities. What was to be done? the morning was passing away, and Rip
felt famished for want of his breakfast. He grieved to give up his dog
and gun; he dreaded to meet his wife; but it would not do to starve
among the mountains. He shook his head, shouldered the rusty firelock,
and, with a heart full of trouble and anxiety, turned his steps
As he approached the village he met a number of people, but none whom
knew, which somewhat surprised him, for he had thought himself
acquainted with every one in the country round. Their dress, too, was of
a different fashion from that to which he was accustomed. They all
stared at him with equal marks of surprise, and whenever they cast their
eyes upon him, invariably stroked their chins. The constant recurrence
of this gesture induced Rip, involuntarily, to do the same, when, to his
astonishment, he found his beard had grown a foot long!
He had now entered the skirts of the village. A troop of strange
children ran at his heels, hooting after him, and pointing at his gray
beard. The dogs, too, not one of which he recognized for an old
acquaintance, barked at him as he passed. The very village was altered;
it was larger and more populous. There were rows of houses which he had
never seen before, and those which had been his familiar haunts had
disappeared. Strange names were over the doors--strange faces at the
windows--every thing was strange. His mind now misgave him; he began to
doubt whether both he and the world around him were not bewitched.
Surely this was his native village, which he had left but the day
before. There stood the Kaatskill mountains--there ran the silver Hudson
at a distance--there was every hill and dale precisely as it had always
been--Rip was sorely perplexed--"That flagon last night," thought
"has addled my poor head sadly!"
It was with some difficulty that he found the way to his own house,
which he approached with silent awe, expecting every moment to hear the
shrill voice of Dame Van Winkle. He found the house gone to decay--the
roof fallen in, the windows shattered, and the doors off the hinges. A
half-starved dog that looked like Wolf was skulking about it. Rip called
him by name, but the cur snarled, showed his teeth, and passed on. This
was an unkind cut indeed--"My very dog," sighed poor Rip, "has
He entered the house, which, to tell the truth, Dame Van Winkle had
always kept in neat order. It was empty, forlorn, and apparently
abandoned. This desolateness overcame all his connubial fears--he called
loudly for his wife and children--the lonely chambers rang for a moment
with his voice, and then all again was silence.
He now hurried forth, and hastened to his old resort, the village
inn--but it too was gone. A large rickety wooden building stood in its
place, with great gaping windows, some of them broken and mended with
old hats and petticoats, and over the door was painted, "the Union
Hotel, by Jonathan Doolittle." Instead of the great tree that used
shelter the quiet little Dutch inn of yore, there now was reared a tall
naked pole, with something on the top that looked like a red night-cap,
and from it was fluttering a flag, on which was a singular assemblage of
stars and stripes--all this was strange and incomprehensible. He
recognized on the sign, however, the ruby face of King George, under
which he had smoked so many a peaceful pipe; but even this was
singularly metamorphosed. The red coat was changed for one of blue and
buff, a sword was held in the hand instead of a sceptre, the head was
decorated with a cocked hat, and underneath was painted in large
characters, GENERAL WASHINGTON.
There was, as usual, a crowd of folk about the door, but none that Rip
recollected. The very character of the people seemed changed. There was
a busy, bustling, disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed
phlegm and drowsy tranquillity. He looked in vain for the sage Nicholas
Vedder, with his broad face, double chin, and fair long pipe, uttering
clouds of tobacco-smoke instead of idle speeches; or Van Bummel, the
schoolmaster, doling forth the contents of an ancient newspaper. In place
of these, a lean, bilious-looking fellow, with his pockets full of
handbills, was haranguing vehemently about rights of
citizens--elections--members of congress--liberty--Bunker's Hill--heroes
of seventy-six--and other words, which were a perfect Babylonish jargon
to the bewildered Van Winkle.
The appearance of Rip, with his long grizzled beard, his rusty
fowling-piece, his uncouth dress, and an army of women and children at
his heels, soon attracted the attention of the tavern politicians. They
crowded round him, eying him from head to foot with great curiosity. The
orator bustled up to him, and, drawing him partly aside, inquired "on
which side he voted?" Rip stared in vacant stupidity. Another short
busy little fellow pulled him by the arm, and, rising on tiptoe,
inquired in his ear, "Whether he was Federal or Democrat?" Rip
equally at a loss to comprehend the question; when a knowing,
self-important old gentleman, in a sharp cocked hat, made his way
through the crowd, putting them to the right and left with his elbows as
he passed, and planting himself before Van Winkle, with one arm akimbo,
the other resting on his cane, his keen eyes and sharp hat penetrating,
as it were, into his very soul, demanded in an austere tone, "what
brought him to the election with a gun on his shoulder, and a mob at his
heels, and whether he meant to breed a riot in the village?"--"Alas!
gentlemen," cried Rip, somewhat dismayed, "I am a poor quiet man,
native of the place, and a loyal subject of the king, God bless him!"
Here a general shout burst from the by-standers--"A tory! a tory!
a refugee! hustle him! away with him!" It was with great difficulty
the self-important man in the cocked hat restored order; and, having
assumed a tenfold austerity of brow, demanded again of the unknown
culprit, what he came there for, and whom he was seeking? The poor man
humbly assured him that he meant no harm, but merely came there in
search of some of his neighbors, who used to keep about the tavern.
"Well--who are they?--name them."
Rip bethought himself a moment, and inquired, "Where's Nicholas
There was a silence for a little while, when an old man replied, in a
thin piping voice, "Nicholas Vedder! why, he is dead and gone these
eighteen years! There was a wooden tombstone in the church-yard that
used to tell all about him, but that's rotten and gone too."
"Where's Brom Dutcher?"
"Oh, he went off to the army in the beginning of the war; some say
was killed at the storming of Stony Point--others say he was drowned in
a squall at the foot of Antony's Nose. I don't know---he never came back
"Where's Van Bummel, the schoolmaster?"
"He went off to the wars too, was a great militia general, and is
Rip's heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and
friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world. Every answer
puzzled him, too, by treating of such enormous lapses of time, and of
matters which he could not understand: war--congress--Stony Point;--he
had no courage to ask after any more friends, but cried out in despair,
"Does nobody here know Rip Van Winkle?"
"Oh, Rip Van Winkle!" exclaimed two or three. "Oh, to
be sure! that's
Rip Van Winkle yonder, leaning against the tree."
Rip looked, and beheld a precise counterpart of himself, as he went up
the mountain; apparently as lazy, and certainly as ragged. The poor
fellow was now completely confounded. He doubted his own identity, and
whether he was himself or another man. In the midst of his bewilderment,
the man in the cocked hat demanded who he was, and what was his name?
"God knows," exclaimed he, at his wit's end; "I'm not
somebody else--that's me yonder--no--that's somebody else got into my
shoes--I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and
they've changed my gun, and every thing's changed, and I'm changed, and
I can't tell what's my name, or who I am!"
The by-standers began now to look at each other, nod, wink
significantly, and tap their fingers against their foreheads. There was
a whisper, also, about securing the gun, and keeping the old fellow from
doing mischief, at the very suggestion of which the self-important man
in the cocked hat retired with some precipitation. At this critical
moment a fresh comely woman pressed through the throng to get a peep at
the gray-bearded man. She had a chubby child in her arms, which,
frightened at his looks, began to cry. "Hush, Rip," cried she,
you little fool; the old man won't hurt you." The name of the child,
air of the mother, the tone of her voice, all awakened a train of
recollections in his mind. "What is your name, my good woman?"
"And your father's name?"
"Ah, poor man, Rip Van Winkle was his name, but it's twenty years
he went away from home with his gun, and never has been heard of
since--his dog came home without him; but whether he shot himself, or
was carried away by the Indians, nobody can tell. I was then but a
Rip had but one question more to ask; but he put it with a faltering
"Where's your mother?"
"Oh, she too had died but a short time since; she broke a blood-vessel
in a fit of passion at a New-England peddler."
There was a drop of comfort, at least, in this intelligence. The honest
man could contain himself no longer. He caught his daughter and her
child in his arms. "I am your father!" cried he--"Young Rip
once--old Rip Van Winkle now!--Does nobody know poor Rip Van Winkle?"
All stood amazed, until an old woman, tottering out from among the
crowd, put her hand to her brow, and peering under it in his face for a
moment, exclaimed, "Sure enough! it is Rip Van Winkle--it is himself!
Welcome home, again, old neighbor---Why, where have you been these
twenty long years?"
Rip's story was soon told, for the whole twenty years had been to him
but as one night. The neighbors stared when they heard it; some were
seen to wink at each other, and put their tongues in their cheeks: and
the self-important man in the cocked hat, who, when the alarm was over,
had returned to the field, screwed down the corners of his mouth, and
shook his head--upon which there was a general shaking of the head
throughout the assemblage.
It was determined, however, to take the opinion of old Peter Vanderdonk,
who was seen slowly advancing up the road. He was a descendant of the
historian of that name, who wrote one of the earliest accounts of the
province. Peter was the most ancient inhabitant of the village, and well
versed in all the wonderful events and traditions of the neighborhood.
He recollected Rip at once, and corroborated his story in the most
satisfactory manner. He assured the company that it was a fact, handed
down from his ancestor the historian, that the Kaatskill mountains had
always been haunted by strange beings. That it was affirmed that the
great Hendrick Hudson, the first discoverer of the river and country,
kept a kind of vigil there every twenty years, with his crew of the
Half-moon; being permitted in this way to revisit the scenes of his
enterprise, and keep a guardian eye upon the river, and the great city
called by his name. That his father had once seen them in their old
Dutch dresses playing at nine-pins in a hollow of the mountain; and that
he himself had heard, one summer afternoon, the sound of their balls,
like distant peals of thunder.
To make a long story short, the company broke up, and returned to the
more important concerns of the election. Rip's daughter took him home to
live with her; she had a snug, well-furnished house, and a stout cheery
farmer for a husband, whom Rip recollected for one of the urchins that
used to climb upon his back. As to Rip's son and heir, who was the ditto
of himself, seen leaning against the tree, he was employed to work on
the farm; but evinced an hereditary disposition to attend to any thing
else but his business.
Rip now resumed his old walks and habits; he soon found many of his
former cronies, though all rather the worse for the wear and tear of
time; and preferred making friends among the rising generation, with
whom he soon grew into great favor.
Having nothing to do at home, and being arrived at that happy age when
man can be idle with impunity, he took his place once more on the bench
at the inn door, and was reverenced as one of the patriarchs of the
village, and a chronicle of the old times "before the war." It
time before he could get into the regular track of gossip, or could be
made to comprehend the strange events that had taken place during his
torpor. How that there had been a revolutionary war--that the country
had thrown off the yoke of old England--and that, instead of being a
subject of his Majesty George the Third, he was now a free citizen of
the United States. Rip, in fact, was no politician; the changes of
states and empires made but little impression on him; but there was one
species of despotism under which he had long groaned, and that
was--petticoat government. Happily that was at an end; he had got his
neck out of the yoke of matrimony, and could go in and out whenever he
pleased, without dreading the tyranny of Dame Van Winkle. Whenever her
name was mentioned, however, he shook his head, shrugged his shoulders,
and cast up his eyes; which might pass either for an expression of
resignation to his fate, or joy at his deliverance.
He used to tell his story to every stranger that arrived at Mr.
Doolittle's hotel. He was observed, at first, to vary on some points
every time he told it, which was, doubtless, owing to his having so
recently awaked. It at last settled down precisely to the tale I have
related, and not a man, woman, or child in the neighborhood, but knew it
by heart. Some always pretended to doubt the reality of it, and insisted
that Rip had been out of his head and that this was one point on which
he always remained flighty. The old Dutch inhabitants, however, almost
universally gave it full credit. Even to this day they never hear a
thunderstorm of a summer afternoon about the Kaatskill, but they say
Hendrick Hudson and his crew are at their game of nine-pins; and it is a
common wish of all hen-pecked husbands in the neighborhood, when life
hangs heavy on their hands, that they might have a quieting draught out
of Rip Van Winkle's flagon.
The foregoing Tale, one would suspect, had been suggested to Mr.
Knickerbocker by a little German superstition about the Emperor
Frederick der Rothbart, and the Kypphaüser mountain: the subjoined
however, which he had appended to the tale, shows that it is an absolute
fact, narrated with his usual fidelity:
"The story of Rip Van Winkle may seem incredible to many, but
nevertheless I give it my full belief, for I know the vicinity of our
old Dutch settlements to have been very subject to marvellous events and
appearances. Indeed, I have heard many stranger stories than this, in
the villages along the Hudson; all of which were too well authenticated
to admit of a doubt. I have even talked with Rip Van Winkle myself, who,
when last I saw him, was a very venerable old man, and so perfectly
rational and consistent on every other point, that I think no
conscientious person could refuse to take this into the bargain; nay, I
have seen a certificate on the subject taken before a country justice
and signed with a cross, in the justice's own handwriting. The story,
therefore, is beyond the possibility of doubt. D. K."--[AUTHOR'S NOTE.]
The following are travelling notes from a memorandum-book of Mr.
The Kaatsberg, or Catskill mountains, have always been a region full
fable. The Indians considered them the abode of spirits, who influenced
the weather, spreading sunshine or clouds over the landscape, and
sending good or bad hunting seasons. They were ruled by an old squaw
spirit, said to be their mother. She dwelt on the highest peak of the
Catskills, and had charge of the doors of day and night to open and shut
them at the proper hour. She hung up the new moons in the skies, and cut
up the old ones into stars. In times of drought, if properly
propitiated, she would spin light summer clouds out of cobwebs and
morning dew, and send them off from the crest of the mountain, flake
after flake, like flakes of carded cotton, to float in the air; until,
dissolved by the heat of the sun, they would fall in gentle showers,
causing the grass to spring, the fruits to ripen, and the corn to grow
an inch an hour. If displeased, however, she would brew up clouds black
as ink, sitting in the midst of them like a bottle-bellied spider in the
midst of its web; and when these clouds broke, woe betide the valleys.
In old times, say the Indian traditions, there was a kind of Manitou
Spirit, who kept about the wildest recesses of the Catskill Mountains,
and took a mischievous pleasure in wreaking all kinds of evils and
vexations upon the red men. Sometimes he would assume the form of a
bear, a panther, or a deer, lead the bewildered hunter a weary chase
through tangled forests and among ragged rocks; and then spring off with
a loud ho! ho! leaving him aghast on the brink of a beetling precipice
or raging torrent.
The favorite abode of this Manitou is still shown. It is a great rock
cliff on the loneliest part of the mountains, and, from the flowering
vines which clamber about it, and the wild flowers which abound in its
neighborhood, is known by the name of the Garden Rock. Near the foot of
it is a small lake, the haunt of the solitary bittern, with water-snakes
basking in the sun on the leaves of the pond-lilies which lie on the
surface. This place was held in great awe by the Indians, insomuch that
the boldest hunter would not pursue his game within its precincts. Once
upon a time, however, a hunter who had lost his way, penetrated to the
garden rock, where he beheld a number of gourds placed in the crotches
of trees. One of these he seized and made off with it, but in the hurry
of his retreat he let it fall among the rocks, when a great stream
gushed forth, which washed him away and swept him down precipices, where
he was dashed to pieces, and the stream made its way to the Hudson, and
continues to flow to the present day; being the identical stream known
by the name of the Kaaters-kill.
[Illustration: EDGAR ALLAN POE]
THE GOLD BUG
"What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad!
He hath been bitten by the Tarantula."
_All in the Wrong._
Many years ago I contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand. He
was of an ancient Huguenot family, and had once been wealthy; but a
series of misfortunes had reduced him to want. To avoid the
mortification consequent upon his disasters, he left New Orleans, the
city of his forefathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan's Island,
near Charleston, South Carolina.
This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the
sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds
a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the main land by a scarcely
perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and
slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation, as might be
supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are
to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and
where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted during summer by the
fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the
bristly palmetto; but the whole island, with the exception of the
western point, and a line of hard, white beach on the sea-coast, is
covered with a dense undergrowth of sweet myrtle, so much prized by the
horticulturalists of England. The shrub here often attains the height
of fifteen or twenty feet, and forms an almost impenetrable coppice,
burthening the air with its fragrance.
In the inmost recesses of this coppice, not far from the eastern or more
remote end of the island, Legrand had built himself a small hut, which
he occupied when I first, by mere accident, made his acquaintance. This
soon ripened into friendship,--for there was much in the recluse to
excite interest and esteem. I found him well educated, with unusual
powers of mind, but infected with misanthropy, and subject to perverse
moods of alternate enthusiasm and melancholy. He had with him many
books, but rarely employed them. His chief amusements were gunning and
fishing, or sauntering along the beach and through the myrtles in quest
of shells or entomological specimens; his collection of the latter might
have been envied by a Swammerdam. In these excursions he was usually
accompanied by an old negro called Jupiter, who had been manumitted
before the reverses of the family, but who could be induced, neither by
threats nor by promises, to abandon what he considered his right of
attendance upon the footsteps of his young "Massa Will." It is
improbable that the relatives of Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat
unsettled in intellect, had contrived to instil this obstinacy into
Jupiter, with a view to the supervision and guardianship of the
The winters in the latitude of Sullivan's Island are seldom very severe,
and in the fall of the year it is a rare event indeed when a fire is
considered necessary. About the middle of October, 18--, there occurred,
however, a day of remarkable chilliness. Just before sunset I scrambled
my way through the evergreens to the hut of my friend, whom I had not
visited for several weeks, my residence being at that time in
Charleston, a distance of nine miles from the island, while the
facilities of passage and re-passage were very far behind those of the
present day. Upon reaching the hut I rapped, as was my custom; and,
getting no reply, sought for the key where I knew it was secreted,
unlocked the door, and went in. A fine fire was blazing upon the hearth.
It was a novelty, and by no means an ungrateful one. I threw off an
overcoat, took an armchair by the crackling logs, and awaited patiently
the arrival of my hosts.
Soon after dark they arrived, and gave me a most cordial welcome.
Jupiter, grinning from ear to ear, bustled about to prepare some
marsh-hens for supper. Legrand was in one of his fits--how else shall I
term them?--of enthusiasm. He had found an unknown bivalve, forming a
new genus; and, more than this, he had hunted down and secured, with
Jupiter's assistance, a scarabæus which he believed to be totally
but in respect to which he wished to have my opinion on the morrow.
"And why not to-night?" I asked, rubbing my hands over the
wishing the whole tribe of scarabæi at the devil.
"Ah, if I had only known you were here!" said Legrand; "but
it's so long
since I saw you, and how could I foresee that you would pay me a visit
this very night of all others? As I was coming home I met Lieutenant
G---- from the fort, and, very foolishly, I lent him the bug; so it will
be impossible for you to see it until the morning. Stay here to-night,
and I will send Jup down for it at sunrise. It is the loveliest thing in
"Nonsense! no! the bug. It is of a brilliant gold color, about the
of a large hickory nut, with two jet black spots near one extremity of
the back, another, somewhat longer, at the other. The _antennæ_ are"--
"Dey ain't _no_ tin in him, Massa Will, I keep a-telling on you,"
interrupted Jupiter; "de bug is a goole-bug, solid, ebery bit of him,
inside and all, sep him wing--neber feel half so hebby a bug in my
"Well, suppose it is, Jup," replied Legrand, somewhat more
seemed to me, than the case demanded, "is that any reason for you
letting the birds burn? The color"--here he turned to me--"is
almost enough to warrant Jupiter's idea. You never saw a more brilliant
metallic lustre than the scales emit; but of this you cannot judge till
to-morrow. In the meantime I can give you some idea of the shape."
Saying this, he seated himself at a small table on which were a pen and
ink, but no paper. He looked for some in a drawer, but found none.
"Never mind," said he at length, "this will answer;"
and he drew from
his waistcoat pocket a scrap of what I took to be very dirty foolscap,
and made upon it a rough drawing with the pen. While he did this, I
retained my seat by the fire, for I was still chilly. When the design
was complete he handed it to me without rising. As I received it, a loud
growl was heard, succeeded by a scratching at the door. Jupiter opened
it, and a large Newfoundland, belonging to Legrand, rushed in, leaped
upon my shoulders and loaded me with caresses; for I had shown him much
attention during previous visits. When his gambols were over, I looked
at the paper, and, to speak the truth, found myself not a little puzzled
at what my friend had depicted.
"Well!" I said, after contemplating it for some minutes, "this
strange _scarabæus_, I must confess; new to me; never saw anything
it before--unless it was a skull, or a death's-head--which it more
nearly resembles than anything else that has come under _my_
"A death's-head!" echoed Legrand. "Oh--yes--well, it has
that appearance upon paper, no doubt. The two upper black spots look
like eyes, eh? and the longer one at the bottom like a mouth--and then
the shape of the whole is oval."
"Perhaps so," said I; "but, Legrand, I fear you are no
artist. I must
wait until I see the beetle itself, if I am to form any idea of its
"Well, I don't know," said he, a little nettled, "I draw
tolerably--_should_ do it at least, have had good masters--and flatter
myself that I am not quite a blockhead."
"But, my dear fellow, you are joking then," said I; "this
is a very
passable _skull_--indeed, I may say that it is a very _excellent_ skull,
according to the vulgar notions about such specimens of physiology--and
your _scarabæus_ must be the queerest _scarabæus_ in the world
resembles it. Why, we may get up a very thrilling bit of superstition
upon this hint. I presume you will call the bug _scarabæus caput
hominis_, or something of that kind--there are many similar titles in
the Natural Histories. But where are the _antennæ_ you spoke of?"
"The _antennæ_!" said Legrand, who seemed to be getting
warm upon the subject; "I am sure you must see the _antennæ_.
them as distinct as they are in the original insect, and I presume that
"Well, well," I said, "perhaps you have--still I don't
see them;" and I
handed him the paper without additional remark, not wishing to ruffle
his temper; but I was much surprised at the turn affairs had taken; his
ill-humor puzzled me--and, as for the drawing of the beetle, there were
positively _no antennæ_ visible, and the whole _did_ bear a very close
resemblance to the ordinary cuts of a death's-head.
He received the paper very peevishly, and was about to crumple it,
apparently to throw it in the fire, when a casual glance at the design
seemed suddenly to rivet his attention. In an instant his face grew
violently red--in another as excessively pale. For some minutes he
continued to scrutinize the drawing minutely where he sat. At length he
arose, took a candle from the table, and proceeded to seat himself upon
a sea-chest in the farthest corner of the room. Here again he made an
anxious examination of the paper, turning it in all directions. He said
nothing, however, and his conduct greatly astonished me; yet I thought
it prudent not to exacerbate the growing moodiness of his temper by any
comment. Presently he took from his coat pocket a wallet, placed the
paper carefully in it, and deposited both in a writing-desk, which he
locked. He now grew more composed in his demeanor; but his original air
of enthusiasm had quite disappeared. Yet he seemed not so much sulky as
abstracted. As the evening wore away he became more and more absorbed in
revery, from which no sallies of mine could arouse him. It had been my
intention to pass the night at the hut, as I had frequently done before,
but, seeing my host in this mood, I deemed it proper to take leave. He
did not press me to remain, but, as I departed, he shook my hand with
even more than his usual cordiality.
It was about a month after this (and during the interval I had seen
nothing of Legrand) when I received a visit, at Charleston, from his man
Jupiter. I had never seen the good old negro look so dispirited, and I
feared that some serious disaster had befallen my friend.
"Well, Jup," said I, "what is the matter now?--how is
"Why, to speak de troof, massa, him not so berry well as mought
"Not well! I am truly sorry to hear it. What does he complain of?"
"Dar! dat's it!--him never plain of notin--but him berry sick for
"_Very_ sick, Jupiter!--why didn't you say so at once? Is he confined
"No, dat he aint!--he aint find nowhar--dat's just whar de shoe
pinch--my mind is got to be berry hebby bout poor Massa Will."
"Jupiter, I should like to understand what it is you are talking
You say your master is sick. Hasn't he told you what ails him?"
"Why, massa, taint worf while for to git mad about de matter--Massa
say noffin at all aint de matter wid him--but den what make him go about
looking dis here way, wid he head down and he soldiers up, and as white
as a gose? And den he keep a syphon all de time"--
"Keeps a what, Jupiter?"
"Keeps a syphon wid de figgurs on de slate--de queerest figgurs
did see. Ise gittin to be skeered, I tell you. Hab for to keep mighty
tight eye pon him noovers. Todder day he gib me slip fore de sun up and
was gone de whole ob de blessed day. I had a big stick ready cut for to
gib him deuced good beating when he did come--but Ise sich a fool dat I
hadn't de heart arter all--he look so berry poorly."
"Eh?--what?--ah, yes!--upon the whole I think you had better not
severe with the poor fellow--don't flog him, Jupiter--he can't very well
stand it--but can you form no idea of what has occasioned this illness,
or rather this change of conduct? Has anything unpleasant happened since
I saw you?"
"No, massa, dey aint bin noffin onpleasant _since_ den--'twas _fore_
I'm feared--'twas de berry day you was dare."
"How? what do you mean?"
"Why, massa, I mean de bug--dare now."
"De bug--I'm berry sartain that Massa Will bin bit somewhere bout
head by dat goole-bug."
"And what cause have you, Jupiter, for such a supposition?"
"Claws enuff, massa, and mouff too. I nebber did see sich a deuced
bug--he kick and he bite ebery ting what cum near him. Massa Will cotch
him fuss, but had for to let him go gin mighty quick, I tell you--den
was de time he must hab got de bite. I didn't like de look of de bug
mouff, myself, no how, so I wouldn't take hold ob him wid my finger, but
I cotch him wid a piece ob paper dat I found. I rap him up in de paper
and stuff piece ob it in he mouff--dad was de way."
"And you think, then, that your master was really bitten by the
and that the bite made him sick?"
"I don't tink noffin bout it--I nose it. What make him dream bout
goole so much, if taint cause he bit by de goole-bug? Ise heerd bout dem
goole-bugs fore dis."
"But how do you know he dreams about gold?"
"How I know? why, cause he talk bout it in he sleep, dat's how I
"Well, Jup, perhaps you are right; but to what fortunate circumstance
I to attribute the honor of a visit from you to-day?"
"What de matter, massa?"
"Did you bring any message from Mr. Legrand?"
"No, massa, I bring dis here pissel;" and here Jupiter handed
me a note
which ran thus:--
"MY DEAR ----
Why have I not seen you for so long a time? I hope you have not been
foolish as to take offence at any little _brusquerie_ of mine; but no,
that is improbable.
Since I saw you I have had great cause for anxiety. I have something
tell you, yet scarcely know how to tell it, or whether I should tell it
I have not been quite well for some days past, and poor old Jup annoys
me, almost beyond endurance, by his well-meant attentions. Would you
believe it?--he had prepared a huge stick, the other day, with which to
chastise me for giving him the slip, and spending the day, _solus_,
among the hills on the main land. I verily believe that my ill looks
alone saved me a flogging.
I have made no addition to my cabinet since we met.
If you can, in any way, make it convenient, come over with Jupiter. _Do_
come. I wish to see you _to-night_, upon business of importance. I
assure you that it is of the _highest_ importance.
There was something in the tone of this note which gave me great
uneasiness. Its whole style differed materially from that of Legrand.
What could he be dreaming of? What new crotchet possessed his excitable
brain? What "business of the highest importance" could _he_ possibly
have to transact? Jupiter's account of him boded no good. I dreaded lest
the continued pressure of misfortune had, at length, fairly unsettled
the reason of my friend. Without a moment's hesitation, therefore, I
prepared to accompany the negro.
Upon reaching the wharf, I noticed a scythe and three spades, all
apparently new, lying in the bottom of the boat in which we were to
"What is the meaning of all this, Jup?" I inquired.
"Him syfe, massa, and spade."
"Very true; but what are they doing here?"
"Him de syfe and de spade what Massa Will sis pon my buying for
de town, and de debbil's own lot of money I had to gib for em."
"But what, in the name of all that is mysterious, is your 'Massa
going to do with scythes and spades?"
"Dat's more dan _I_ know, and debbil take me if I don't believe
more dan he know, too. But it's all cum ob de bug."
Finding that no satisfaction was to be obtained of Jupiter, whose whole
intellect seemed to be absorbed by "de bug," I now stepped into
and made sail. With a fair and strong breeze we soon ran into the little
cove to the northward of Fort Moultrie, and a walk of some two miles
brought us to the hut. It was about three in the afternoon when we
arrived. Legrand had been awaiting us in eager expectation. He grasped
my hand with a nervous _empressement_ which alarmed me, and strengthened
the suspicions already entertained. His countenance was pale even to
ghastliness, and his deep-set eyes glared with unnatural lustre. After
some inquiries respecting his health, I asked him, not knowing what
better to say, if he had yet obtained the _scarabæus_ from Lieutenant
"Oh, yes," he replied, coloring violently; "I got it from
him the next
morning. Nothing should tempt me to part with that _scarabæus_. Do
know that Jupiter is quite right about it?"
"In what way?" I asked, with a sad foreboding at heart.
"In supposing it to be a bug of _real gold_." He said this
with an air
of profound seriousness, and I felt inexpressibly shocked.
"This bug is to make my fortune," he continued with a triumphant
"to reinstate me in my family possessions. Is it any wonder, then,
I prize it? Since Fortune has thought fit to bestow it upon me, I have
only to use it properly, and I shall arrive at the gold of which it is
the index. Jupiter, bring me that _scarabæus_!"
"What, de bug, massa? I'd rudder not go fer trubble dat bug; you
him for your own self." Hereupon Legrand arose, with a grave and stately
air, and brought me the beetle from a glass case in which it was
enclosed. It was a beautiful _scarabæus_, and, at that time, unknown
naturalists--of course a great prize in a scientific point of view.
There were two round black spots near one extremity of the back, and a
long one near the other. The scales were exceedingly hard and glossy,
with all the appearance of burnished gold. The weight of the insect was
very remarkable, and, taking all things into consideration, I could
hardly blame Jupiter for his opinion respecting it; but what to make of
Legrand's concordance with that opinion, I could not, for the life of
"I sent for you," said he, in a grandiloquent tone, when I
my examination of the beetle, "I sent for you that I might have your
counsel and assistance in furthering the views of Fate and of the bug"--
"My dear Legrand," I cried interrupting him, "you are
and had better use some little precautions. You shall go to bed, and I
will remain with you a few days until you get over this. You are
"Feel my pulse," said he.
I felt it, and, to say the truth, found not the slightest indication
"But you may be ill, and yet have no fever. Allow me this once to
prescribe for you. In the first place, go to bed. In the next"--
"You are mistaken," he interposed; "I am as well as I
can expect to be
under the excitement which I suffer. If you really wish me well, you
will relieve this excitement."
"And how is this to be done?"
"Very easily. Jupiter and myself are going upon an expedition into
hills upon the mainland; and in this expedition we shall need the aid of
some person in whom we can confide. You are the only one we can trust.
Whether we succeed or fail, the excitement which you now perceive in me
will be equally allayed."
"I am anxious to oblige you in any way," I replied; "but
do you mean to
say that this infernal beetle has any connection with your expedition
into the hills."
"Then, Legrand, I can become a party to no such absurd proceeding."
"I am sorry--very sorry--for we shall have to try it by ourselves."
"Try it by yourselves! The man is surely mad! but stay, how long
propose to be absent?"
"Probably all night. We shall start immediately, and be back, at
events, by sunrise."
"And will you promise me, upon your honor, that when this freak
yours is over, and the bug business (good God!) settled to your
satisfaction, you will then return home and follow my advice implicitly,
as that of your physician?"
"Yes, I promise; and now let us be off, for we have no time to lose."
With a heavy heart I accompanied my friend. We started about four
o'clock--Legrand, Jupiter, the dog, and myself. Jupiter had with him the
scythe and spades, the whole of which he insisted upon carrying, more
through fear, it seemed to me, of trusting either of the implements
within reach of his master, than from any excess of industry or
complaisance. His demeanor was dogged in the extreme, and "dat deuced
bug" were the sole words which escaped his lips during the journey.
my own part, I had charge of a couple of dark lanterns, while Legrand
contented himself with the _scarabæus_, which he carried attached
end of a bit of whip-cord; twirling it to and fro, with the air of a
conjurer, as he went. When I observed this last, plain evidence of my
friend's aberration of mind, I could scarcely refrain from tears. I
thought it best, however, to humor his fancy, at least for the present,
or until I could adopt some more energetic measures with a chance of
success. In the meantime I endeavored, but all in vain, to sound him in
regard to the object of the expedition. Having succeeded in inducing me
to accompany him, he seemed unwilling to hold conversation upon any
topic of minor importance, and to all my questions vouchsafed no other
reply than "we shall see!"
We crossed the creek at the head of the island by means of a skiff, and,
ascending the high grounds on the shore of the mainland, proceeded in a
northwesterly direction, through a tract of country excessively wild
and desolate, where no trace of a human footstep was to be seen.
Legrand led the way with decision; pausing only for an instant, here and
there, to consult what appeared to be certain landmarks of his own
contrivance upon a former occasion.
In this manner we journeyed for about two hours, and the sun was just
setting when we entered a region infinitely more dreary than any yet
seen. It was a species of tableland, near the summit of an almost
inaccessible hill, densely wooded from base to pinnacle, and
interspersed with huge crags that appeared to lie loosely upon the soil,
and in many cases were prevented from precipitating themselves into the
valleys below, merely by the support of the trees against which they
reclined. Deep ravines, in various directions, gave an air of still
sterner solemnity to the scene.
The natural platform to which we had clambered was thickly overgrown
with brambles, through which we soon discovered that it would have been
impossible to force our way but for the scythe; and Jupiter, by
direction of his master, proceeded to clear for us a path to the foot of
an enormously tall tulip-tree, which stood, with some eight or ten oaks,
upon the level, and far surpassed them all, and all other trees which I
had then ever seen, in the beauty of its foliage and form, in the wide
spread of its branches, and in the general majesty of its appearance.
When we reached this tree, Legrand turned to Jupiter, and asked him if
he thought he could climb it. The old man seemed a little staggered by
the question, and for some moments made no reply. At length he
approached the huge trunk, walked slowly around it, and examined it with
minute attention. When he had completed his scrutiny, he merely said,--
"Yes, massa, Jup climb any tree he ebber see in he life."
"Then up with you as soon as possible, for it will soon be too dark
see what we are about."
"How far mus go up, massa?" inquired Jupiter.
"Get up the main trunk first, and then I will tell you which way
go--and here--stop! take this beetle with you."
"De bug, Massa Will!--de goole-bug!" cried the negro, drawing
dismay--"what for mus tote de bug way up the tree?--damn if I do!"
"If you are afraid, Jup, a great big negro like you, to take hold
harmless little dead beetle, why you can carry it up by this
string--but, if you do not take it up with you in some way, I shall be
under the necessity of breaking your head with this shovel."
"What de matter now, massa?" said Jup, evidently shamed into
"always want for to raise fuss wid old nigger. Was only funnin, any
_Me_ feered de bug! what I keer for de bug?" Here he took cautiously
hold of the extreme end of the string, and, maintaining the insect as
far from his person as circumstances would permit, prepared to ascend
In youth, the tulip-tree, or _Liriodendron Tulipiferum_, the most
magnificent of American foresters, has a trunk peculiarly smooth, and
often rises to a great height without lateral branches; but, in its
riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short limbs
make their appearance on the stem. Thus the difficulty of ascension, in
the present case, lay more in semblance than in reality. Embracing the
huge cylinder as closely as possible with his arms and knees, seizing
with his hands some projections, and resting his naked toes upon
others, Jupiter, after one or two narrow escapes from falling, at
length wriggled himself into the first great fork, and seemed to
consider the whole business as virtually accomplished. The _risk_ of the
achievement was, in fact, now over, although the climber was some sixty
or seventy feet from the ground.
"Which way mus go now, Massa Will?" he asked.
"Keep up the largest branch--the one on this side," said Legrand.
negro obeyed him promptly, and apparently with but little trouble,
ascending higher and higher, until no glimpse of his squat figure could
be obtained through the dense foliage which enveloped it. Presently his
voice was heard in a sort of halloo.
"How much fudder is got for go?"
"How high up are you?" asked Legrand.
"Ebber so fur," replied the negro; "can see de sky fru
de top ob de
"Never mind the sky, but attend to what I say. Look down the trunk,
count the limbs below you on this side. How many limbs have you passed?"
"One, two, tree, four, fibe--I done pass fibe big limb, massa, pon
"Then go one limb higher."
In a few minutes the voice was heard again, announcing that the seventh
limb was attained.
"Now, Jup," cried Legrand, evidently much excited, "I
want you to work
your way out upon that limb as far as you can. If you see anything
strange, let me know."
By this time what little doubt I might have entertained of my poor
friend's insanity was put finally at rest. I had no alternative but to
conclude him stricken with lunacy, and I became seriously anxious about
getting him home. While I was pondering upon what was best to be done,
Jupiter's voice was again heard.
"Mos feerd for to ventur pon dis limb berry far--'tis dead limb
much all de way."
"Did you say it was a _dead_ limb, Jupiter?" cried Legrand
"Yes, massa; him dead as de door-nail; done up for sartain; done
departed dis here life."
"What in the name of heaven shall I do?" asked Legrand, seemingly
"Do!" said I, glad of an opportunity to interpose a word, "why,
home and go to bed. Come, now, that's a fine fellow! It's getting late,
and, besides, you remember your promise."
"Jupiter," cried he, without heeding me in the least, "do
you hear me?"
"Yes, Massa Will, hear you ebber so plain."
"Try the wood well, then, with your knife, and see if you think
"Him rotten, massa, sure nuff," replied the negro in a few
not so berry rotten as mought be. Mought ventur out leetle way pon de
limb by myself, dat's true."
"By yourself? what do you mean?"
"Why, I mean de bug. 'Tis _berry_ hebby bug. Spose I drop him down
and den de limb won't break wid just de weight ob one nigger."
"You infernal scoundrel!" cried Legrand, apparently much relieved;
do you mean by telling me such nonsense as that? As sure as you drop
that beetle I'll break your neck. Look here, Jupiter, do you hear me?"
"Yes, massa; needn't hollo at poor nigger dat style."
"Well, now listen. If you will venture out on the limb as far as
think safe, and not let go the beetle, I'll make you a present of a
silver dollar as soon as you get down."
"I'm gwine, Mass Will--deed I is," replied the negro, very
promptly--"mos out to the end now."
"_Out to the end!_" here fairly screamed Legrand, "do
you say you are
out to the end of that limb?"
"Soon be to de eend, massa,--o-o-o-o-oh! Lor-gol-a-marcy! what _is_
here pon de tree?"
"Well!" cried Legrand, highly delighted, "what is it?"
"Why, taint noffin but a skull--somebody bin lef him head up de
and de crows done gobble ebery bit ob de meat off."
"A skull, you say!--very well!--how is it fastened to the limb?--what
holds it on?"
"Sure nuff, massa; mus look. Why, dis berry curous cumstance, pon
word--dare's a great big nail in de skull what fastens ob it on to de
"Well, now, Jupiter, do exactly as I tell you--do you hear?"
"Pay attention, then!--find the left eye of the skull."
"Hum! hoo! dat's good! why, dare aint no eye lef at all."
"Curse your stupidity! do you know your right hand from your left?"
"Yes, I nose dat--nose all bout dat--'tis my lef hand what I chops
"To be sure! you are left-handed; and your left eye is on the same
as your left hand. Now, I suppose you can find the left eye of the
skull, or the place where the left eye has been. Have you found it?"
Here was a long pause. At length the negro asked,--
"Is de lef eye ob de skull pon de same side as de lef hand ob de
too?--cause de skull aint got not a bit ob a hand at all--nebber mind! I
got de lef eye now--here de lef eye! what mus do with it?"
"Let the beetle drop through it, as far as the string will reach--but
careful and not let go your hold of the string."
"All dat done, Mass Will; mighty easy ting for to put de bug frue
hole--look out for him dare below!"
During this colloquy no portion of Jupiter's person could be seen; but
the beetle, which he had suffered to descend, was now visible at the end
of the string, and glistened, like a globe of burnished gold, in the
last rays of the setting sun, some of which still faintly illumined the
eminence upon which we stood. The _scarabæus_ hung quite clear of
branches, and, if allowed to fall, would have fallen at our feet.
Legrand immediately took the scythe and cleared with it a circular
space, three or four yards in diameter, just beneath the insect, and,
having accomplished this, ordered Jupiter to let go the string and come
down from the tree.
Driving a peg, with great nicety, into the ground, at the precise spot
where the beetle fell, my friend now produced from his pocket a
tape-measure. Fastening one end of this at that point of the trunk of
the tree which was nearest the peg, he unrolled it till it reached the
peg, and thence further unrolled it, in the direction already
established by the two points of the tree and the peg, for the distance
of fifty feet--Jupiter clearing away the brambles with the scythe. At
the spot thus attained a second peg was driven, and about this, as a
centre, a rude circle, about four feet in diameter, described. Taking
now a spade himself, and giving one to Jupiter and one to me, Legrand
begged us to set about digging as quickly as possible.
To speak the truth, I had no special relish for such amusement at any
and, at that particular moment, would most willingly have declined it; for
the night was coming on, and I felt much fatigued with the exercise already
taken; but I saw no mode of escape, and was fearful of disturbing my poor
friend's equanimity by a refusal. Could I have depended, indeed, upon
Jupiter's aid, I would have had no hesitation in attempting to get the
lunatic home by force; but I was too well assured of the old negro's
disposition to hope that he would assist me, under any circumstances, in
personal contest with his master. I made no doubt that the latter had been
infected with some of the innumerable Southern superstitions about money
buried, and that his fantasy had received confirmation by the finding of
the _scarabæus_, or, perhaps, by Jupiter's obstinacy in maintaining
be "a bug of real gold." A mind disposed to lunacy would readily
away by such suggestions--especially if chiming in with favorite
preconceived ideas--and then I called to mind the poor fellow's speech
about the beetle's being "the index of his fortune." Upon the
whole, I was
sadly vexed and puzzled, but at length, I concluded to make a virtue of
necessity--to dig with a good will, and thus the sooner to convince the
visionary, by ocular demonstration, of the fallacy of the opinions he
The lanterns having been lit, we all fell to work with a zeal worthy
more rational cause; and, as the glare fell upon our persons and
implements, I could not help thinking how picturesque a group we
composed, and how strange and suspicious our labors must have appeared
to any interloper who, by chance, might have stumbled upon our
We dug very steadily for two hours. Little was said; and our chief
embarrassment lay in the yelpings of the dog, who took exceeding
interest in our proceedings. He at length became so obstreperous that we
grew fearful of his giving alarm to some stragglers in the vicinity; or,
rather, this was the apprehension of Legrand; for myself, I should have
rejoiced at any interruption which might have enabled me to get the
wanderer home. The noise was at length very effectually silenced by
Jupiter, who, getting out of the hole with a dogged air of deliberation,
tied the brute's mouth up with one of his suspenders, and then returned,
with a grave chuckle, to his task.
When the time mentioned had expired, we had reached a depth of five
feet, and yet no signs of any treasure became manifest. A general pause
ensued, and I began to hope that the farce was at an end. Legrand,
however, although evidently much disconcerted, wiped his brow
thoughtfully and recommenced. We had excavated the entire circle of four
feet diameter, and now we slightly enlarged the limit, and went to the
further depth of two feet. Still nothing appeared. The gold-seeker, whom
I sincerely pitied, at length clambered from the pit, with the bitterest
disappointment imprinted upon every feature, and proceeded, slowly and
reluctantly, to put on his coat, which he had thrown off at the
beginning of his labor. In the meantime I made no remark. Jupiter, at a
signal from his master, began to gather up his tools. This done, and the
dog having been unmuzzled, we turned in profound silence toward home.
We had taken, perhaps, a dozen steps in this direction, when, with a
loud oath, Legrand strode up to Jupiter, and seized him by the collar.
The astonished negro opened his eyes and mouth to the fullest extent,
let fall the spades, and fell upon his knees.
"You scoundrel," said Legrand, hissing out the syllables from
his clinched teeth--"you infernal black villain!--speak, I tell
you!--answer me this instant, without prevarication!--which--which is
your left eye?"
"Oh, my golly, Massa Will! aint dis here my lef eye for sartin?"
the terrified Jupiter, placing his hand upon his _right_ organ of
vision, and holding it there with a desperate pertinacity, as if in
immediate dread of his master's attempt at a gouge.
"I thought so!--I knew it! hurrah!" vociferated Legrand, letting
negro go and executing a series of curvets and caracoles, much to the
astonishment of his valet, who, arising from his knees, looked mutely
from his master to myself, and then from myself to his master.
"Come! we must go back," said the latter, "the game's
not up yet;" and
he again led the way to the tulip-tree.
"Jupiter," said he, when we reached its foot, "come here;
was the skull
nailed to the limb with the face outward, or with the face to the limb?"
"De face was out, massa, so dat de crows could get at de eyes good,
widout any trouble."
"Well, then, was it this eye or that through which you dropped the
beetle?"--here Legrand touched each of Jupiter's eyes.
"'Twas dis eye, massa--de lef eye--jis as you tell me," and
here it was
his right eye that the negro indicated.
"That will do--we must try it again."
Here my friend, about whose madness I now saw, or fancied that I saw,
certain indications of method, removed the peg which marked the spot
where the beetle fell, to a spot about three inches to the westward of
its former position. Taking, now, the tape-measure from the nearest
point of the trunk to the peg, as before, and continuing the extension
in a straight line to the distance of fifty feet, a spot was indicated,
removed, by several yards, from the point at which we had been digging.
Around the new position a circle, somewhat larger than in the former
instance, was now described, and we again set to work with the spades. I
was dreadfully weary, but scarcely understanding what had occasioned the
change in my thoughts, I felt no longer any great aversion from the
labor imposed. I had become most unaccountably interested--nay, even
excited. Perhaps there was something, amid all the extravagant demeanor
of Legrand, some air of forethought, or of deliberation, which impressed
me. I dug eagerly, and now and then caught myself actually looking, with
something that very much resembled expectation, for the fancied
treasure, the vision of which had demented my unfortunate companion. At
a period when such vagaries of thought most fully possessed me, and when
we had been at work perhaps an hour and a half, we were again
interrupted by the violent howlings of the dog. His uneasiness, in the
first instance, had been, evidently, but the result of playfulness or
caprice, but he now assumed a bitter and serious tone. Upon Jupiter's
again attempting to muzzle him, he made furious resistance, and leaping
into the hole, tore up the mould frantically with his claws. In a few
seconds he had uncovered a mass of human bones, forming two complete
skeletons, intermingled with several buttons of metal, and what appeared
to be the dust of decayed woollen. One or two strokes of a spade
upturned the blade of a large Spanish knife, and, as we dug further,
three or four loose pieces of gold and silver coin came to light.
At sight of these the joy of Jupiter could scarcely be restrained; but
the countenance of his master wore an air of extreme disappointment. He
urged us, however, to continue our exertions; and the words were hardly
uttered when I stumbled and fell forward, having caught the toe of my
boot in a large ring of iron that lay half buried in the loose earth.
We now worked in earnest; and never did I pass ten minutes of more
intense excitement. During this interval we had fairly unearthed an
oblong chest of wood, which, from its perfect preservation and wonderful
hardness, had plainly been subjected to some mineralizing
process--perhaps that of the bichloride of mercury. This box was three
feet and a half long, three feet broad, and two and a half feet deep. It
was firmly secured by bands of wrought iron, riveted, and forming a kind
of open trelliswork over the whole. On each side of the chest, near the
top, were three rings of iron--six in all--by means of which a firm hold
could be obtained by six persons. Our utmost united endeavors served
only to disturb the coffer very slightly in its bed. We at once saw the
impossibility of removing so great a weight. Luckily, the sole
fastenings of the lid consisted of two sliding bolts. These we drew
back, trembling and panting with anxiety. In an instant a treasure of
incalculable value lay gleaming before us. As the rays of the lanterns
fell within the pit, there flashed upward a glow and a glare, from a
confused heap of gold and of jewels, that absolutely dazzled our eyes.
I shall not pretend to describe the feelings with which I gazed.
Amazement was, of course, predominant. Legrand appeared exhausted with
excitement, and spoke very few words. Jupiter's countenance wore, for
some minutes, as deadly a pallor as it is possible, in the nature of
things, for any negro's visage to assume. He seemed stupefied,
thunderstricken. Presently he fell upon his knees in the pit, and,
burying his naked arms up to the elbows in gold, let them there remain,
as if enjoying the luxury of a bath. At length, with a deep sigh, he
exclaimed, as if in a soliloquy:--
"And dis all cum ob de goole-bug! de putty goole-bug! de poor little
goole-bug, what I boosed in dat sabage kind ob style! Ain't you ashamed
ob yourself, nigger? Answer me dat!"
It became necessary at last that I should arouse both master and valet
to the expediency of removing the treasure. It was growing late, and it
behooved us to make exertion, that we might get everything housed before
daylight. It was difficult to say what should be done, and much time was
spent in deliberation, so confused were the ideas of all. We finally
lightened the box by removing two-thirds of its contents, when we were
enabled, with some trouble, to raise it from the hole. The articles
taken out were deposited among the brambles, and the dog left to guard
them, with strict orders from Jupiter, neither, upon any pretence, to
stir from the spot, nor to open his mouth until our return. We then
hurriedly made for home with the chest, reaching the hut in safety, but
after excessive toil, at one o'clock in the morning. Worn out as we
were, it was not in human nature to do more immediately. We rested until
two, and had supper, starting for the hills immediately afterward, armed
with three stout sacks, which, by good luck, were upon the premises. A
little before four we arrived at the pit, divided the remainder of the
booty as equally as might be among us; and, leaving the holes unfilled,
again set out for the hut, at which, for the second time, we deposited
our golden burthens, just as the first faint streaks of the dawn gleamed
from over the tree-tops in the east.
We were now thoroughly broken down; but the intense excitement of the
time denied us repose. After an unquiet slumber of some three or four
hours' duration, we arose, as if by preconcert, to make examination of
The chest had been full to the brim, and we spent the whole day, and
greater part of the next night, in scrutiny of its contents. There had
been nothing like order or arrangement. Everything had been heaped in
promiscuously. Having assorted all with care, we found ourselves
possessed of even vaster wealth than we had at first supposed. In coin
there was rather more than four hundred and fifty thousand dollars,
estimating the value of the pieces as accurately as we could by the
tables of the period. There was not a particle of silver. All was gold
of antique date and of great variety,--French, Spanish, and German
money, with a few English guineas, and some counters, of which we had
never seen specimens before. There were several very large and heavy
coins, so worn that we could make nothing of their inscriptions. There
was no American money.
The value of the jewels we found more difficulty in estimating. There
were diamonds, some of them exceedingly large and fine--a hundred and
ten in all, and not one of them small; eighteen rubies of remarkable
brilliancy; three hundred and ten emeralds, all very beautiful; and
twenty one sapphires, with an opal. These stones had all been broken
from their settings, and thrown loose in the chest. The settings
themselves, which we picked out from among the other gold, appeared to
have been beaten up with hammers, as if to prevent identification.
Besides all this, there was a vast quantity of solid gold ornaments;
nearly two hundred massive finger and ear rings; rich chains--thirty of
these, if I remember; eighty-three very large and heavy crucifixes; five
gold censers of great value; a prodigious golden punch-bowl, ornamented
with richly chased vine-leaves and bacchanalian figures; with two
sword-handles exquisitely embossed, and many other smaller articles
which I cannot recollect.
The weight of these valuables exceeded three hundred and fifty pounds
avoirdupois; and in this estimate I have not included one hundred and
ninety-seven superb gold watches, three of the number being worth each
five hundred dollars, if one. Many of them were very old, and as
timekeepers valueless, the works having suffered more or less from
corrosion; but all were richly jewelled, and in cases of great worth. We
estimated the entire contents of the chest that night at a million and a
half of dollars; and upon the subsequent disposal of the trinkets and
jewels (a few being retained for our own use), it was found that we had
greatly undervalued the treasure.
When at length we had concluded our examination, and the intense
excitement of the time had, in some measure, subsided, Legrand, who saw
that I was dying with impatience for a solution of this most
extraordinary riddle, entered into a full detail of all the
circumstances connected with it.
"You remember," said he, "the night when I handed you
the rough sketch I
had made of the _scarabæus_. You recollect, also, that I became quite
vexed at you for insisting that my drawing resembled a death's-head.
When you first made this assertion, I thought you were jesting; but
afterward I called to mind the peculiar spots on the back of the insect,
and admitted to myself that your remark had some little foundation in
fact. Still the sneer at my graphic powers irritated me--for I am
considered a good artist; and therefore, when you handed me the scrap of
parchment, I was about to crumple it up and throw it angrily into the
"The scrap of paper, you mean," said I.
"No; it had much the appearance of paper, and at first I supposed
be such; but when I came to draw upon it, I discovered it at once to be
a piece of very thin parchment. It was quite dirty, you remember. Well,
as I was in the very act of crumpling it up, my glance fell upon the
sketch at which you had been looking; and you may imagine my
astonishment when I perceived, in fact, the figure of a death's-head
just where, it seemed to me, I had made the drawing of the beetle. For a
moment I was too much amazed to think with accuracy. I knew that my
design was very different in detail from this, although there was a
certain similarity in general outline. Presently I took a candle, and,
seating myself at the other end of the room, proceeded to scrutinize the
parchment more closely. Upon turning it over, I saw my own sketch upon
the reverse, just as I had made it. My first idea now was mere surprise
at the really remarkable similarity of outline--at the singular
coincidence involved in the fact that, unknown to me, there should have
been a skull upon the other side of the parchment, immediately beneath
my figure of the _scarabæus_, and that this skull, not only in outline,
but in size, should so closely resemble my drawing. I say the
singularity of this coincidence absolutely stupefied me for a time.
"This is the usual effect of such coincidences. The mind struggles
establish a connection, a sequence of cause and effect; and, being
unable to do so, suffers a species of temporary paralysis. But when I
recovered from this stupor, there dawned upon me gradually a conviction
which startled me even far more than the coincidence. I began
distinctly, positively, to remember that there had been _no_ drawing
upon the parchment when I made my sketch of the _scarabæus_. I became
perfectly certain of this; for I recollected turning up first one side
and then the other, in search of the cleanest spot. Had the skull been
then there, of course I could not have failed to notice it. Here was
indeed a mystery which I felt it impossible to explain; but, even at
that early moment, there seemed to glimmer faintly within the most
remote and secret chambers of my intellect a glowworm-like conception of
that truth which last night's adventure brought to so magnificent a
demonstration. I arose at once, and, putting the parchment securely
away, dismissed all further reflection until I should be alone.
"When you had gone, and when Jupiter was fast asleep, I betook myself
a more methodical investigation of the affair. In the first place I
considered the manner in which the parchment had come into my
possession. The spot where we discovered the _scarabæus_ was on the
coast of the main land, about a mile eastward of the island, and but a
short distance above high-water mark. Upon my taking hold of it, it gave
me a sharp bite, which caused me to let it drop. Jupiter, with his
accustomed caution, before seizing the insect, which had flown towards
him, looked about him for a leaf, or something of that nature, by which
to take hold of it. It was at this moment that his eyes, and mine also,
fell upon the scrap of parchment, which I then supposed to be paper. It
was lying half buried in the sand, a corner sticking up. Near the spot
where we found it, I observed the remnant of the hull of what appeared
to have been a ship's long boat. The wreck seemed to have been there for
a very great while; for the resemblance to boat timbers could scarcely
"Well, Jupiter picked up the parchment, wrapped the beetle in it,
gave it to me. Soon afterwards we turned to go home, and on the way met
Lieutenant G----. I showed him the insect, and he begged me to let him
take it to the fort. Upon my consenting, he thrust it forthwith into his
waistcoat pocket, without the parchment in which it had been wrapped,
and which I had continued to hold in my hand during his inspection.
Perhaps he dreaded my changing my mind, and thought it best to make sure
of the prize at once--you know how enthusiastic he is on all subjects
connected with Natural History. At the same time, without being
conscious of it, I must have deposited the parchment in my own pocket.
"You remember that when I went to the table, for the purpose of
sketch of the beetle, I found no paper where it was usually kept. I
looked in the drawer and found none there. I searched my pockets, hoping
to find an old letter, when my hand fell upon the parchment. I thus
detail the precise mode in which it came into my possession; for the
circumstances impressed me with peculiar force.
"No doubt you will think me fanciful--but I had already established
kind of _connection_. I had put together two links of a great chain.
There was a boat lying upon a sea-coast, and not far from the boat was a
parchment--_not a paper_--with a skull depicted upon it. You will, of
course, ask, 'where is the connection?' I reply that the skull, or
death's-head, is the well-known emblem of the pirate. The flag of the
death's-head is hoisted in all engagements.
"I have said that the scrap was parchment, and not paper. Parchment
durable--almost imperishable. Matters of little moment are rarely
consigned to parchment; since for the mere ordinary purposes of drawing
or writing it is not nearly so well adapted as paper. This reflection
suggested some meaning--some relevancy--in the death's-head. I did not
fail to observe, also, the _form_ of the parchment. Although one of its
corners had been, by some accident, destroyed, it could be seen that the
original form was oblong. It was just a slip, indeed, as might have been
chosen for a memorandum--for a record of something to be long remembered
and carefully preserved."
"But," I interposed, "you say that the skull was _not_
parchment when you made the drawing of the beetle. How then do you trace
any connection between the boat and the skull--since this latter,
according to your own admission, must have been designed (God only knows
how or by whom) at some period subsequent to your sketching the
"Ah, hereupon turns the whole mystery; although the secret, at this
point, I had comparatively little difficulty in solving. My steps were
sure, and could afford but a single result. I reasoned, for example,
thus: When I drew the _scarabæus_, there was no skull apparent upon
parchment. When I had completed the drawing I gave it to you and
observed you narrowly until you returned it. _You_, therefore, did not
design the skull, and no one else was present to do it. Then it was not
done by human agency. And nevertheless it was done.
"At this stage of my reflections I endeavored to remember, and _did_
remember, with entire distinctness, every incident which occurred about
the period in question. The weather was chilly (oh, rare and happy
accident!), and a fire was blazing upon the hearth. I was heated with
exercise and sat near the table. You, however, had drawn a chair close
to the chimney. Just as I placed the parchment in your hand, and you
were in the act of inspecting it, Wolf, the Newfoundland, entered, and
leaped upon your shoulders. With your left hand you caressed him and
kept him off, while your right, holding the parchment, was permitted to
fall listlessly between your knees, and in close proximity to the fire.
At one moment I thought the blaze had caught it, and was about to
caution you, but, before I could speak, you had withdrawn it, and were
engaged in its examination. When I considered all these particulars, I
doubted not for a moment that _heat_ had been the agent in bringing to
light, upon the parchment, the skull which I saw designed upon it. You
are well aware that chemical preparations exist, and have existed time
out of mind, by means of which it is possible to write upon either paper
or vellum, so that the characters shall become visible only when
subjected to the action of fire. Zaffre, digested in _aqua regia_, and
diluted with four times its weight of water, is sometimes employed; a
green tint results. The regulus of cobalt, dissolved in spirit of nitre,
gives a red. These colors disappear at longer or shorter intervals after
the material written upon cools, but again become apparent upon the
reapplication of heat.
"I now scrutinized the death's-head with care. Its outer edges--the
edges of the drawing nearest the edge of the vellum--were far more
_distinct_ than the others. It was clear that the action of the caloric
had been imperfect or unequal. I immediately kindled a fire, and
subjected every portion of the parchment to a glowing heat. At first,
the only effect was the strengthening of the faint lines in the skull;
but, upon persevering in the experiment, there became visible, at the
corner of the slip, diagonally opposite to the spot in which the
death's-head was delineated, the figure of what I at first supposed to
be a goat. A closer scrutiny, however, satisfied me that it was intended
for a kid."
"Ha! ha!" said I, "to be sure I have no right to laugh
at you--a million
and a half of money is too serious a matter for mirth--but you are not
about to establish a third link in your chain--you will not find any
special connection between your pirates and a goat--pirates, you know,
have nothing to do with goats; they appertain to the farming interest."
"But I have just said that the figure was _not_ that of a goat."
"Well, a kid then--pretty much the same thing."
"Pretty much, but not altogether," said Legrand. "You
may have heard of
one _Captain_ Kidd. I at once looked upon the figure of the animal as a
kind of punning or hieroglyphical signature. I say signature, because
its position on the vellum suggested this idea. The death's-head at the
corner diagonally opposite, had, in the same manner, the air of a stamp,
or seal. But I was sorely put out by the absence of all else--of the
body to my imagined instrument--of the text for my context."
"I presume you expected to find a letter between the stamp and the
"Something of that kind. The fact is, I felt irresistibly impressed
a presentiment of some vast good fortune impending. I can scarcely say
why. Perhaps, after all, it was rather a desire than an actual belief;
but do you know that Jupiter's silly words, about the bug being of solid
gold, had a remarkable effect upon my fancy? And then the series of
accidents and coincidences--these were so _very_ extraordinary. Do you
observe how mere an accident it was that these events should have
occurred upon the _sole_ day of all the year in which it has been, or
may be, sufficiently cool for fire, and that without the fire, or
without the intervention of the dog at the precise moment in which he
appeared, I should never have become aware of the death's-head, and so
never the possessor of the treasure?"
"But proceed, I am all impatience."
"Well, you have heard, of course, the many stories current, the
vague rumors afloat, about money buried, somewhere upon the Atlantic
coast, by Kidd and his associates. These rumors must have some
foundation in fact. And that the rumors have existed so long and so
continuous, could have resulted, it appeared to me, only from the
circumstance of the buried treasure still _remaining_ entombed. Had Kidd
concealed his plunder for a time, and afterward reclaimed it, the rumors
would scarcely have reached us in their present unvarying form. You will
observe that the stories told are all about money-seekers, not about
money-finders. Had the pirate recovered his money, there the affair
would have dropped. It seemed to me that some accident--say the loss of
a memorandum indicating its locality--had deprived him of the means of
recovering it, and that this accident had become known to his followers,
who otherwise might never have heard that treasure had been concealed at
all, and who, busying themselves in vain, because unguided, attempts to
regain it, had given first birth, and then universal currency, to the
reports which are now so common. Have you ever heard of any important
treasure being unearthed along the coast?"
"But that Kidd's accumulations were immense, is well known. I took
for granted, therefore, that the earth still held them; and you will
scarcely be surprised when I tell you that I felt a hope, nearly
amounting to certainty, that the parchment so strangely found, involved
a lost record of the place of deposit."
"But how did you proceed?"
"I held the vellum again to the fire, after increasing the heat,
nothing appeared. I now thought it possible that the coating of dirt
might have something to do with the failure; so I carefully rinsed the
parchment by pouring warm water over it, and having done this, I placed
it in a tin pan, with the skull downward, and put the pan upon a furnace
of lighted charcoal. In a few minutes, the pan having become thoroughly
heated, I removed the slip, and to my inexpressible joy, found it
spotted in several places, with what appeared to be figures arranged in
lines. Again I placed it in the pan, and suffered it to remain another
minute. Upon taking it off, the whole was just as you see it now."
Here Legrand, having re-heated the parchment, submitted it to my
inspection. The following characters were rudely traced, in a red tint,
between the death's-head and the goat:--
"But," said I, returning him the slip, "I am as much in
the dark as
ever. Were all the jewels of Golconda awaiting me upon my solution of
this enigma, I am quite sure that I should be unable to earn them."
"And yet," said Legrand, "the solution is by no means
so difficult as
you might be led to imagine from the first hasty inspection of the
characters. These characters, as any one might readily guess, form a
cipher--that is to say, they convey a meaning; but then, from what is
known of Kidd, I could not suppose him capable of constructing any of
the more abstruse cryptographs. I made up my mind at once that this was
of a simple species--such, however, as would appear to the crude
intellect of the sailor absolutely insoluble without the key."
"And you really solved it?"
"Readily; I have solved others of an abstruseness ten thousand times
greater. Circumstances, and a certain bias of mind, have led me to take
interest in such riddles, and it may well be doubted whether human
ingenuity can construct an enigma of the kind which human ingenuity may
not, by proper application, resolve. In fact, having once established
connected and legible characters, I scarcely gave a thought to the mere
difficulty of developing their import.
"In the present case--indeed in all cases of secret writing--the
question regards the _language_ of the cipher; for the principles of
solution, so far especially as the more simple ciphers are concerned,
depend upon, and are varied by, the genius of the particular idiom. In
general, there is no alternative but experiment (directed by
probabilities) of every tongue known to him who attempts the solution,
until the true one be attained. But, with the cipher now before us, all
difficulty was removed by the signature. The pun upon the word 'Kidd'
is appreciable in no other language than the English. But for this
consideration I should have begun my attempts with the Spanish and
French, as the tongues in which a secret of this kind would most
naturally have been written by a pirate of the Spanish main. As it was,
I assumed the cryptograph to be English.
"You observe there are no divisions between the words. Had there
divisions, the task would have been comparatively easy. In such cases I
should have commenced with a collation and analysis of the shorter
words, and, had a word of a single letter occurred, as it is most likely
(_a_ or _I_, for example), I should have considered the solution as
assured. But, there being no division, my first step was to ascertain
the predominant letters, as well as the least frequent. Counting all, I
constructed a table thus:--
Of the character 8 there are 33
; " 26
4 " 19
#) " 16
* " 13
5 " 12
6 " 11
( " 10
+1 " 8
0 " 6
92 " 5
:3 " 4
? " 3
¶ " 2
]--. " 1
"Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is _e_.
Afterward, the succession runs thus: _a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w
b k p q x z_. _E_ predominates so remarkably that an individual sentence
of any length is rarely seen in which it is not the prevailing
"Here, then, we have, in the very beginning, the groundwork for
something more than a mere guess. The general use which may be made of
the table is obvious, but, in this particular cipher, we shall only very
partially require its aid. As our predominant character is 8, we will
commence by assuming it as the _e_ of the natural alphabet. To verify
the supposition, let us observe if the 8 be seen often in couples--for
_e_ is doubled with great frequency in English--in such words, for
example, as 'meet,' 'fleet,' 'speed,' 'seen,' 'been,' 'agree,' etc. In
the present instance we see it doubled no less than five times, although
the cryptograph is brief.
"Let us assume 8, then, as _e_. Now, of all the _words_ in the language,
'the' is most usual; let us see, therefore, whether there are not
repetitions of any three characters, in the same order of collocation,
the last of them being 8. If we discover repetitions of such letters, so
arranged, they will most probably represent the word 'the.' Upon
inspection, we find no less than seven such arrangements, the characters
being;48. We may, therefore, assume that; represents _t_, 4 represents
_h_, and 8 represents _e_--the last being now well confirmed. Thus a
great step has been taken.
"But, having established a single word, we are enabled to establish
vastly important point; that is to say, several commencements and
terminations of other words. Let us refer, for example, to the last
instance but one, in which the combination ;48 occurs--not far from the
end of the cipher. We know that the; immediately ensuing is the
commencement of a word, and of the six characters succeeding this
'the,' we are cognizant of no less than five. Let us set these
characters down, thus, by the letters we know them to represent, leaving
a space for the unknown:--
"Here we are enabled, at once, to discard the '_th_,' as forming
portion of the word commencing with the first _t_; since, by experiment
of the entire alphabet for a letter adapted to the vacancy, we perceive
that no word can be formed of which this _th_ can be a part. We are thus
and, going through the alphabet, if necessary, as before, we arrive at
the word 'tree' as the sole possible reading. We thus gain another
letter, _r_, represented by (, with the words 'the tree,' in
"Looking beyond these words, for a short distance, we again see
combination;48, and employ it by way of _termination_ to what
immediately precedes. We have thus this arrangement:--
the tree; 4(#?34 the,
or, substituting the natural letters, where known, it reads thus:--
the tree thr#?3h the.
"Now, if, in place of the unknown characters, we leave blank spaces,
substitute dots, we read thus:--
the tree thr...h the,
when the word '_through_' makes itself evident at once. But this
discovery gives us three new letters, _o, u, g_, represented by # ? and
"Looking now, narrowly, through the cipher for combinations of known
characters, we find, not very far from the beginning, this
83(88, or egree,
which plainly is the conclusion of the word 'degree,' and gives us
another letter _d_, represented by +.
"Four letters beyond the word 'degree,' we perceive the combination:--
"Translating the known characters, and representing the unknown
as before, we read thus:--
an arrangement immediately suggestive of the word 'thirteen,' and again
furnishing us with two new characters _i_ and _n_, represented by 6 and
"Referring, now, to the beginning of the cryptograph, we find the
"Translating as before, we obtain:--
which assures us that the first letter is _A_, and that the first two
words are 'A good.'
"It is now time that we arrange our key, as far as discovered, in
tabular form, to avoid confusion. It will stand thus:--
5 represents a
+ " d
8 " e
3 " g
4 " h
6 " i
* " n
# " o
( " r
; " t
have, therefore, no less than ten of the most important letters
represented, and it will be unnecessary to proceed with the details of
the solution. I have said enough to convince you that ciphers of this
nature are readily soluble, and to give you some insight into the
_rationale_ of their development. But be assured that the specimen
before us appertains to the very simplest species of cryptograph. It now
only remains to give you the full translation of the characters upon the
parchment, as unriddled. Here it is:--
"'A good glass in the bishop's hostel in the devil's seat forty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes north-east and by north main branch
seventh limb east side shoot from the left eye of the death's-head a
bee-line from the tree through the shot fifty feet out.'"
"But," said I, "the enigma seems still in as bad a condition
How is it possible to extort a meaning from all this jargon about
'devil's seats,' 'death's-heads,' and 'bishop's hotels'?"
"I confess," replied Legrand, "that the matter still wears
aspect when regarded with a casual glance. My first endeavor was to
divide the sentence into the natural division intended by the
"You mean, to punctuate it?"
"Something of that kind."
"I reflected that it had been a _point_ with the writer to run his
together without division, so as to increase the difficulty of solution.
Now, a not over-acute man, in pursuing such an object, would be nearly
certain to overdo the matter. When, in the course of his composition, he
arrived at a break in his subject which would naturally require a pause,
or a point, he would be exceedingly apt to run his characters, at this
place, more than usually close together. If you will observe the MS.,
in the present instance, you will easily detect five such cases of
unusual crowding. Acting upon this hint, I made the division thus:--
"'A good glass in the Bishop's hostel in the Devil's seat--forty-one
degrees and thirteen minutes--north-east and by north--main branch
seventh limb east side--shoot from the left eye of the
death's-head--a bee-line from the tree through the shot fifty feet
"Even this division," said I, "leaves me still in the
"It left me also in the dark," replied Legrand, "for a
few days; during
which I made diligent inquiry, in the neighborhood of Sullivan's Island,
for any building which went by the name of the 'Bishop's Hotel'; for of
course I dropped the obsolete word 'hostel.' Gaining no information on
the subject, I was on the point of extending my sphere of search, and
proceeding in a more systematic manner, when one morning it entered into
my head, quite suddenly, that this 'Bishop's Hostel' might have some
reference to an old family of the name of Bessop, which, time out of
mind, had held possession of an ancient manor-house, about four miles to
the northward of the Island. I accordingly went over to the plantation,
and re-instituted my inquiries among the older negroes of the place. At
length one of the most aged of the women said that she had heard of such
a place as _Bessop's Castle_, and thought that she could guide me to it,
but that it was not a castle, nor a tavern, but a high rock.
"I offered to pay her well for her trouble, and, after some demur,
consented to accompany me to the spot. We found it without much
difficulty, when, dismissing her, I proceeded to examine the place. The
'castle' consisted of an irregular assemblage of cliffs and rocks--one
of the latter being quite remarkable for its height as well as for its
insulated and artificial appearance. I clambered to its apex, and then
felt much at a loss as to what should be next done.
"While I was busied in reflection, my eyes fell upon a narrow ledge
the eastern face of the rock, perhaps a yard below the summit upon which
I stood. This ledge projected about eighteen inches, and was not more
than a foot wide, while a niche in the cliff just above it, gave it a
rude resemblance to one of the hollow-backed chairs used by our
ancestors. I made no doubt that here was the 'devil's seat' alluded to
in the MS., and now I seemed to grasp the full secret of the riddle.
"The 'good glass' I knew could have reference to nothing but a
telescope; for the word 'glass' is rarely employed in any other sense by
seamen. Now here, I at once saw a telescope to be used, and a definite
point of view, _admitting no variation_, from which to use it. Nor did I
hesitate to believe that the phrases, 'forty-one degrees and thirteen
minutes,' and 'north-east and by north,' were intended as directions for
the levelling of the glass. Greatly excited by these discoveries, I
hurried home, procured a telescope, and returned to the rock.
"I let myself down to the ledge, and found that it was impossible
retain a seat upon it except in one particular position. This fact
confirmed my preconceived idea. I proceeded to use the glass. Of course,
the 'forty-one degrees and thirteen minutes' could allude to nothing but
elevation above the visible horizon, since the horizontal direction was
clearly indicated by the words, 'north-east and by north.' This latter
direction I at once established by means of a pocket-compass; then,
pointing the glass as nearly at an angle of forty-one degrees of
elevation as I could do it by guess, I moved it cautiously up or down,
until my attention was arrested by a circular rift or opening in the
foliage of a large tree that overtopped its fellows in the distance. In
the centre of this rift I perceived a white spot, but could not, at
first, distinguish what it was. Adjusting the focus of the telescope, I
again looked, "Upon this discovery I was so sanguine as to consider
enigma solved; for the phrase 'main branch, seventh limb, east side,'
could refer only to the position of the skull upon the tree, while
'shoot from the left eye of the death's-head' admitted, also, of but one
interpretation, in regard to a search for buried treasure. I perceived
that the design was to drop a bullet from the left eye of the skull, and
that a bee-line, or, in other words, a straight line, drawn from the
nearest point of the trunk through 'the shot' (or the spot where the
bullet fell) and thence extended to a distance of fifty feet, would
indicate a definite point--and beneath this point I thought it at least
_possible_ that a deposit of value lay concealed."
"All this," I said, "is exceedingly clear, and, although
still simple and explicit. When you left the Bishop's Hotel, what then?"
"Why, having carefully taken the bearings of the tree, I turned
homewards. The instant that I left the 'devil's seat,' however, the
circular rift vanished; nor could I get a glimpse of it afterwards, turn
as I would. What seems to me the chief ingenuity in this whole business
is the fact (for repeated experiment has convinced me it _is_ a fact)
that the circular opening in question is visible from no other
attainable point of view than that afforded by the narrow ledge on the
face of the rock.
"In this expedition to the 'Bishop's Hotel' I had been attended
Jupiter, who had no doubt observed for some weeks past the abstraction
of my demeanor, and took especial care not to leave me alone. But, on
the next day, getting up very early, I contrived to give him the slip,
and went into the hills in search of the tree. After much toil I found
it. When I came home at night my valet proposed to give me a flogging.
With the rest of the adventure I believe you are as well acquainted as
"I suppose," said I, "you missed the spot, in the first
digging, through Jupiter's stupidity in letting the bug fall through the
right instead of through the left eye of the skull."
"Precisely. This mistake made a difference of about two inches and
half in the 'shot,' that is to say, in the position of the peg nearest
the tree; and had the treasure been _beneath_ the 'shot,' the error
would have been of little moment; but 'the shot,' together with the
nearest point of the tree, were merely two points for the establishment
of a line of direction; of course the error, however trivial in the
beginning, increased as we proceeded with the line, and by the time we
had gone fifty feet, threw us quite off the scent. But for my
deep-seated impression that treasure was here somewhere actually buried,
we might have had all our labor in vain."
"I presume the fancy of _the skull_--of letting fall a bullet through
the skull's eye--was suggested to Kidd by the piratical flag. No doubt
he felt a kind of poetical consistency in recovering his money through
this ominous insignium."
"Perhaps so; still, I cannot help thinking that common-sense had
as much to do with the matter as poetical consistency. To be visible
from the Devil's seat, it was necessary that the object, if small,
should be _white_: and there is nothing like your human skull for
retaining and even increasing its whiteness under exposure to all
vicissitudes of weather."
"But your grandiloquence, and your conduct in swinging the beetle--how
excessively odd! I was sure you were mad. And why did you insist upon
letting fall the bug, instead of a bullet, from the skull?"
"Why, to be frank, I felt somewhat annoyed by your evident suspicions
touching my sanity, and so resolved to punish you quietly, in my own
way, by a little bit of sober mystification. For this reason I swung the
beetle, and for this reason I let it fall from the tree. An observation
of yours about its great weight suggested the latter idea."
"Yes, I perceive; and now there is only one point which puzzles
are we to make of the skeletons found in the hole?"
"That is a question I am no more able to answer than yourself. There
seems, however, only one plausible way of accounting for them, and yet
it is dreadful to believe in such atrocity as my suggestion would imply.
It is clear that Kidd--if Kidd indeed secreted this treasure, which I
doubt not--it is clear that he must have had assistance in the labor.
But this labor concluded, he may have thought it expedient to remove all
participants in his secret. Perhaps a couple of blows with a mattock
were sufficient, while his coadjutors were busy in the pit; perhaps it
required a dozen--who shall tell?"
[Transcribers Note: In the above story the "dagger" and "double
symbols were used in the cipher. Neither symbols are capable of being
replicated in ascii, therefore they have been replaced with "+"
THE PURLOINED LETTER
_Nil sapientiæ odiosius acumine nimio._
At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18--, I
enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company
with my friend, C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or
book-closet, _au troisième, No. 33, Rue Dunôt, Faubourg Saint
For one hour at least we had maintained a profound silence; while each,
to any casual observer, might have seemed intently and exclusively
occupied with the curling eddies of smoke that oppressed the atmosphere
of the chamber. For myself, however, I was mentally discussing certain
topics which had formed matter for conversation between us at an earlier
period of the evening; I mean the affair of the Rue Morgue, and the
mystery attending the murder of Marie Rogêt. I looked upon it,
therefore, as something of a coincidence, when the door of our apartment
was thrown open and admitted our old acquaintance, Monsieur G----, the
Prefect of the Parisian police.
We gave him a hearty welcome; for there was nearly half as much of the
entertaining as of the contemptible about the man, and we had not seen
him for several years. We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin now
arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again without
doing so, upon G----'s saying that he had called to consult us, or
rather to ask the opinion of my friend, about some official business
which had occasioned a great deal of trouble.
"If it is any point requiring reflection," observed Dupin,
forebore to enkindle the wick, "we shall examine it to better purpose
"This is another of your odd notions," said the Prefect, who
fashion of calling everything "odd" that was beyond his comprehension,
and thus lived amid an absolute legion of "oddities."
"Very true," said Dupin, as he supplied his visitor with a
rolled towards him a comfortable chair.
"And what is the difficulty now?" I asked. "Nothing more
assassination way, I hope?"
"Oh, no; nothing of that nature. The fact is, the business is _very_
simple indeed, and I make no doubt that we can manage it sufficiently
well ourselves; but then I thought Dupin would like to hear the details
of it, because it is so excessively _odd_."
"Simple and odd," said Dupin.
"Why, yes; and not exactly that, either. The fact is, we have all
good deal puzzled because the affair _is_ so simple, and yet baffles us
"Perhaps it is the very simplicity of the thing which puts you at
fault," said my friend.
"What nonsense you _do_ talk!" said the Prefect, laughing heartily.
"Perhaps the mystery is a little _too_ plain," said Dupin.
"Oh, good heavens! who ever heard of such an idea?"
"A little _too_ self-evident."
"Ha! ha! ha!--ha! ha! ha!--ho! ho! ho!" roared our visitor,
amused, "O Dupin, you will be the death of me yet!"
"And what, after all, _is_ the matter on hand?" I asked.
"Why, I will tell you," replied the Prefect, as he gave a long,
and contemplative puff, and settled himself in his chair. "I will tell
you in a few words; but, before I begin, let me caution you that this is
an affair demanding the greatest secrecy, and that I should most
probably lose the position I now hold, were it known that I had confided
it to any one."
"Proceed," said I.
"Or not," said Dupin.
"Well, then; I have received personal information, from a very high
quarter, that a certain document of the last importance has been
purloined from the royal apartments. The individual who purloined it is
known; this beyond a doubt; he was seen to take it. It is known, also,
that it still remains in his possession."
"How is this known?" asked Dupin.
"It is clearly inferred," replied the Prefect, "from the
nature of the
document, and from the non-appearance of certain results which would at
once arise from its passing _out_ of the robber's possession;--that is
to say, from his employing it as he must design in the end to employ
"Be a little more explicit," I said.
"Well, I may venture so far as to say that the paper gives its holder
certain power in a certain quarter where such power is immensely
valuable." The Prefect was fond of the cant of diplomacy.
"Still I do not quite understand," said Dupin.
"No? Well; the disclosure of the document to a third person, who
be nameless, would bring in question the honor of a personage of most
exalted station; and this fact gives the holder of the document an
ascendency over the illustrious personage whose honor and peace are so
"But this ascendency," I interposed, "would depend upon
knowledge of the loser's knowledge of the robber. Who would dare--"
"The thief," said G----, "is the minister D----, who dares
those unbecoming as well as those becoming a man. The method of the
theft was not less ingenious than bold. The document in question--a
letter, to be frank--had been received by the personage robbed while
alone in the royal _boudoir_. During its perusal she was suddenly
interrupted by the entrance of the other exalted personage, from whom
especially it was her wish to conceal it. After a hurried and vain
endeavor to thrust it in a drawer, she was forced to place it, open as
it was, upon a table. The address, however, was uppermost, and, the
contents thus unexposed, the letter escaped notice. At this juncture
enters the minister D----. His lynx eye immediately perceives the paper,
recognizes the handwriting of the address, observes the confusion of the
personage addressed, and fathoms her secret. After some business
transactions, hurried through in his ordinary manner, he produces a
letter somewhat similar to the one in question, opens it, pretends to
read it, and then places it in close juxtaposition to the other. Again
he converses for some fifteen minutes upon the public affairs. At
length, in taking leave, he takes also from the table the letter to
which he had no claim. Its rightful owner saw, but, of course, dared not
call attention to the act, in the presence of the third personage, who
stood at her elbow. The minister decamped, leaving his own letter--one
of no importance--upon the table."
"Here, then," said Dupin to me, "you have precisely what
you demand to
make the ascendency complete--the robber's knowledge of the loser's
knowledge of the robber."
"Yes," replied the Prefect; "and the power thus attained
has for some
months past been wielded, for political purposes, to a very dangerous
extent. The personage robbed is more thoroughly convinced every day of
the necessity of reclaiming her letter. But this, of course, cannot be
done openly. In fine, driven to despair, she has committed the matter to
"Than whom," said Dupin, amid a perfect whirlwind of smoke,
sagacious agent could, I suppose, be desired, or even imagined."
"You flatter me," replied the Prefect; "but it is possible
such opinion may have been entertained."
"It is clear," said I, "as you observe, that the letter
is still in
possession of the minister; since it is this possession, and not any
employment of the letter, which bestows the power. With the employment
the power departs."
"True," said G----; "and upon this conviction I proceeded.
My first care
was to make thorough search of the minister's hôtel; and here my chief
embarrassment lay in the necessity of searching without his knowledge.
Beyond all things, I have been warned of the danger which would result
from giving him reason to suspect our design."
"But," said I, "you are quite _au fait_ in these investigations.
Parisian police have done this thing often before."
"Oh yes; and for this reason I did not despair. The habits of the
minister gave me, too, a great advantage. He is frequently absent from
home all night. His servants are by no means numerous. They sleep at a
distance from their master's apartment, and, being chiefly Neapolitans,
are readily made drunk. I have keys, as you know, with which I can open
any chamber or cabinet in Paris. For three months a night has not
passed, during the greater part of which I have not been engaged,
personally, in ransacking the D---- Hôtel. My honor is interested,
to mention a great secret, the reward is enormous. So I did not abandon
the search until I had become fully satisfied that the thief is a more
astute man than myself. I fancy that I have investigated every nook and
corner of the premises in which it is possible that the paper can be
"But is it not possible," I suggested, "that although
the letter may be
in possession of the minister, as it unquestionably is, he may have
concealed it elsewhere than upon his own premises?"
"This is barely possible," said Dupin. "The present peculiar
of affairs at court, and especially of those intrigues in which D---- is
known to be involved, would render the instant availability of the
document--its susceptibility of being produced at a moment's notice--a
point of nearly equal importance with its possession."
"Its susceptibility of being produced?" said I.
"That is to say, of being _destroyed_," said Dupin.
"True," I observed; "the paper is clearly then upon the
premises. As for
its being upon the person of the minister, we may consider that as out
of the question."
"Entirely," said the Prefect. "He has been twice waylaid,
as if by
footpads, and his person rigorously searched under my own inspection."
"You might have spared yourself the trouble," said Dupin. "D----,
presume, is not altogether a fool, and, if not, must have anticipated
these waylayings, as a matter of course."
"Not _altogether_ a fool," said G----; "but then he's
a poet, which I
take to be only one remove from a fool."
"True," said Dupin, after a long and thoughtful whiff from
meerschaum, "although I have been guilty of certain doggerel myself."
"Suppose you detail," said I, "the particulars of your
"Why, the fact is, we took our time, and we searched _everywhere_.
have had long experience in these affairs. I took the entire building,
room by room, devoting the nights of a whole week to each. We examined,
first, the furniture of each apartment. We opened every possible drawer;
and I presume you know that, to a properly trained police agent, such a
thing as a _secret_ drawer is impossible. Any man is a dolt who permits
a 'secret' drawer to escape him in a search of this kind. The thing is
_so_ plain. There is a certain amount of bulk--of space--to be accounted
for in every cabinet. Then we have accurate rules. The fiftieth part of
a line could not escape us. After the cabinets we took the chairs. The
cushions we probed with the fine long needles you have seen me employ.
From the tables we removed the tops."
"Sometimes the top of a table or other similarly arranged piece
furniture is removed by the person wishing to conceal an article; then
the leg is excavated, the article deposited within the cavity, and the
top replaced. The bottoms and tops of bed-posts are employed in the same
"But could not the cavity be detected by sounding?" I asked.
"By no means, if, when the article is deposited, a sufficient wadding
cotton be placed around it. Besides, in our case we were obliged to
proceed without noise."
"But you could not have removed--you could not have taken to pieces
_all_ articles of furniture in which it would have been possible to make
a deposit in the manner you mention. A letter may be compressed into a
thin spiral roll, not differing much in shape or bulk from a large
knitting-needle, and in this form it might be inserted into the rung of
a chair, for example. You did not take to pieces all the chairs?"
"Certainly not; but we did better--we examined the rungs of every
in the hôtel, and indeed, the jointings of every description of
furniture, by the aid of a most powerful microscope. Had there been any
traces of recent disturbance we should not have failed to detect it
instantly. A single grain of gimlet-dust, for example, would have been
as obvious as an apple. Any disorder in the gluing, any unusual gaping
in the joints, would have sufficed to insure detection."
"I presume you looked to the mirrors, between the boards and the
and you probed the beds and the bedclothes, as well as the curtains and
"That, of course; and when we had absolutely completed every article
furniture in this way, then we examined the house itself. We divided its
entire surface into compartments, which we numbered, so that none might
be missed; then we scrutinized each individual square inch throughout
the premises, including the two houses immediately adjoining, with the
microscope, as before."
"The two houses adjoining!" I exclaimed; "you must have
had a great deal
"We had; but the reward offered is prodigious."
"You include the _grounds_ about the houses?"
"All the grounds are paved with brick. They gave us comparatively
little trouble. We examined the moss between the bricks, and found it
"You looked among D----'s papers, of course, and into the books
"Certainly, we opened every package and parcel; we not only opened
book, but we turned over every leaf in each volume, not contenting
ourselves with a mere shake, according to the fashion of some of our
police officers. We also measured the thickness of every book-_cover_,
with the most accurate admeasurement, and applied to each the most
jealous scrutiny of the microscope. Had any of the bindings been
recently meddled with, it would have been utterly impossible that the
fact should have escaped observation. Some five or six volumes, just
from the hands of the binder, we carefully probed, longitudinally, with
"You explored the floors beneath the carpets?"
"Beyond doubt. We removed every carpet, and examined the boards
"And the paper on the walls?"
"You looked into the cellars?"
"Then," I said, "you have been making a miscalculation,
and the letter
is _not_ upon the premises, as you suppose."
"I fear you are right there," said the Prefect. "And now,
would you advise me to do?"
"To make a thorough of the premises."
"That is absolutely needless," replied G----. "I am not
more sure that I
breathe than I am that the letter is not at the hôtel."
"I have no better advice to give you," said Dupin. "You
course, an accurate description of the letter?"
"Oh, yes." And here the Prefect, producing a memorandum-book,
to read aloud a minute account of the internal, and especially of the
external appearance of the missing document. Soon after finishing the
perusal of this description, he took his departure, more entirely
depressed in spirits than I had ever known the good gentleman before.
In about a month afterward he paid us another visit, and found us
occupied very nearly as before. He took a pipe and a chair, and entered
into some ordinary conversation. At length I said:--
"Well, but G----, what of the purloined letter? I presume you have
last made up your mind that there is no such thing as overreaching the
"Confound him, say I--yes; I made the re-examination, however, as
suggested; but it was all labor lost, as I knew it would be."
"How much was the reward offered, did you say?" asked Dupin.
"Why, a very great deal--a _very_ liberal reward--I don't like to
how much precisely; but one thing I _will_ say, that I wouldn't mind
giving my individual check for fifty thousand francs to any one who
obtains me that letter. The fact is, it is becoming of more and more
importance every day; and the reward has been lately doubled. If it were
trebled, however, I could do no more than I have done."
"Why, yes," said Dupin drawlingly, between the whiffs of his
"I really--think, G----, you have not exerted yourself--to the utmost
this matter. You might do a little more, I think, eh?"
"How? in what way?"
"Why, [puff, puff] you might [puff, puff] employ counsel in the
eh? [puff, puff, puff]. Do you remember the story they tell of
"No; hang Abernethy!"
"To be sure! hang him and welcome. But, once upon a time, a certain
miser conceived the design of sponging upon this Abernethy for a medical
opinion. Getting up, for this purpose, an ordinary conversation in a
private company, he insinuated his case to the physician, as that of an
"'We will suppose,' said the miser, 'that his symptoms are such
such; now, doctor, what would _you_ have directed him to take?'
"'Take!' said Abernethy, 'why, take _advice_, to be sure.'"
"But," said the Prefect, a little discomposed, "_I_ am
willing to take advice, and to pay for it. I would _really_ give fifty
thousand francs to any one who would aid me in the matter."
"In that case," replied Dupin, opening a drawer, and producing
check-book, "you may as well fill me up a check for the amount
mentioned. When you have signed it, I will hand you the letter."
I was astounded. The Prefect appeared absolutely thunderstricken. For
some minutes he remained speechless and motionless, looking
incredulously at my friend with open mouth, and eyes that seemed
starting from their sockets; then, apparently recovering himself in some
measure, he seized a pen, and, after several pauses and vacant stares,
finally filled up and signed a check for fifty thousand francs, and
handed it across the table to Dupin. The latter examined it carefully,
and deposited it in his pocket-book; then, unlocking an _escritoire_,
took thence a letter and gave it to the Prefect. This functionary
grasped it in a perfect agony of joy, opened it with a trembling hand,
cast a rapid glance at its contents, and then, scrambling and struggling
to the door, rushed at length unceremoniously from the room and from the
house, without having offered a syllable since Dupin had requested him
to fill up the check.
When he had gone, my friend entered into some explanations.
"The Parisian police," he said, "are exceedingly able
in their way. They
are persevering, ingenious, cunning, and thoroughly versed in the
knowledge which their duties seem chiefly to demand. Thus, when
G---- detailed to us his mode of searching the premises of the Hôtel
D----, I felt entire confidence in his having made a satisfactory
investigation--so far as his labors extended."
"So far as his labors extended?" said I.
"Yes," said Dupin. "The measures adopted were not only
the best of their
kind, but carried out to absolute perfection. Had the letter been
deposited within the range of their search, these fellows would, beyond
a question, have found it."
I merely laughed, but he seemed quite serious in all that he said.
"The measures, then," he continued, "were good in their
kind, and well
executed; their defect lay in their being inapplicable to the case and
to the man. A certain set of highly ingenious resources are, with the
Prefect, a sort of Procrustean bed, to which he forcibly adapts his
designs. But he perpetually errs by being too deep or too shallow, for
the matter in hand; and many a schoolboy is a better reasoner than he.
I knew one about eight years of age, whose success at guessing in the
game of 'even and odd' attracted universal admiration. This game is
simple, and is played with marbles. One player holds in his hand a
number of these toys, and demands of another whether that number is even
or odd. If the guess is right, the guesser wins one; if wrong, he loses
one. The boy to whom I allude won all the marbles of the school. Of
course he had some principle of guessing; and this lay in mere
observation and admeasurement of the astuteness of his opponents. For
example, an arrant simpleton is his opponent, and, holding up his closed
hand asks, 'Are they even or odd?' Our schoolboy replies, 'Odd,' and
loses; but upon the second trial he wins, for he then says to himself,
'The simpleton had them even upon the first trial, and his amount of
cunning is just sufficient to make him have them odd upon the second; I
will therefore guess odd;' he guesses odd, and wins. Now, with a
simpleton a degree above the first he would have reasoned thus: 'This
fellow finds that in the first instance I guessed odd, and in the second
he will propose to himself, upon the first impulse, a simple variation
from even to odd, as did the first simpleton; but then a second thought
will suggest that this is too simple a variation, and finally he will
decide upon putting it even as before. I will therefore guess even;' he
guesses even, and wins. Now, this mode of reasoning in the schoolboy,
whom his fellows term 'lucky,' what, in its last analysis, is it?"
"It is merely," I said, "an identification of the reasoner's
with that of his opponent."
"It is," said Dupin; "and, upon inquiring of the boy by
what means he
effected the _thorough_ identification in which his success consisted, I
received answer as follows: 'When I wish to find out how wise, or how
stupid, or how good, or how wicked is any one, or what are his thoughts
at the moment, I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as
possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see
what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart, as if to match or
correspond with the expression.' This response of the schoolboy lies at
the bottom of all the spurious profundity which has been attributed to
Rochefoucauld, to La Bougive, to Machiavelli, and to Campanella."
"And the identification," I said, "of the reasoner's intellect
of his opponent depends, if I understand you aright, upon the accuracy
with which the opponent's intellect is admeasured."
"For its practical value it depends upon this," replied Dupin;
Prefect and his cohort fail so frequently, first, by default of this
identification, and secondly, by ill-admeasurement, or rather through
non-admeasurement, of the intellect with which they are engaged. They
consider only their _own_ ideas of ingenuity; and, in searching for
anything hidden, advert only to the modes in which _they_ would have
hidden it. They are right in this much--that their own ingenuity is a
faithful representative of that of _the mass_; but when the cunning of
the individual felon is diverse in character from their own, the felon
foils them, of course. This always happens when it is above their own,
and very usually when it is below. They have no variation of principle
in their investigations; at best, when urged by some unusual
emergency--by some extraordinary reward--they extend or exaggerate their
old modes of _practice_, without touching their principles. What, for
example, in this case of D----, has been done to vary the principle of
action? What is all this boring, and probing, and sounding, and
scrutinizing with the microscope, and dividing the surface of the
building into registered square inches--what is it all but an
exaggeration _of the application_ of the one principle or set of
principles of search, which are based upon the one set of notions
regarding human ingenuity, to which the Prefect, in the long routine of
his duty, has been accustomed? Do you not see he has taken it for
granted that _all_ men proceed to conceal a letter--not exactly in a
gimlet-hole bored in a chair-leg--but, at least, in _some_
out-of-the-way hole or corner suggested by the same tenor of thought
which would urge a man to secrete a letter in a gimlet-hole bored in a
chair leg? And do you not see also, that such _recherché_ nooks for
concealment are adapted only for ordinary occasions, and would be
adopted only by ordinary intellects?--for, in all cases of concealment,
a disposal of the article concealed--a disposal of it in this
_recherché_ manner, is, in the very first instance, presumable and
presumed; and thus its discovery depends, not at all upon the acumen,
but altogether upon the mere care, patience, and determination of the
seekers; and where the case is of importance--or, what amounts to the
same thing in the policial eyes, when the reward is of magnitude--the
qualities in question have _never_ been known to fail. You will now
understand what I meant in suggesting that, had the purloined letter
been hidden anywhere within the limits of the Prefect's examination--in
other words, had the principle of its concealment been comprehended
within the principles of the Prefect--its discovery would have been a
matter altogether beyond question. This functionary, however, has been
thoroughly mystified; and the remote source of his defeat lies in the
supposition that the minister is a fool, because he has acquired renown
as a poet. All fools are poets; this the Prefect _feels_; and he is
merely guilty of a _non distributio medii_ in thence inferring that all
poets are fools."
"But is this really the poet?" I asked. "There are two
brothers, I know;
and both have attained reputation in letters. The minister, I believe,
has written learnedly on the Differential Calculus. He is a
mathematician, and no poet."
"You are mistaken; I know him well; he is both. As poet _and_
mathematician he would reason well; as mere mathematician he could not
have reasoned at all, and thus would have been at the mercy of the
"You surprise me," I said, "by these opinions, which have
contradicted by the voice of the world. You do not mean to set at naught
the well-digested idea of centuries. The mathematical reason has long
been regarded as _the_ reason _par excellence_."
"'_Il y a à parier_,'" replied Dupin, quoting from Chamfort,
toute idée publique, toute convention reçue, est une sottise,
car elle a
convenue au plus grande nombre_.' The mathematicians, I grant you, have
done their best to promulgate the popular error to which you allude, and
which is none the less an error for its promulgation as truth. With an
art worthy a better cause, for example, they have insinuated the term
'analysis' into application to algebra. The French are the originators
of this practical deception; but if the term is of any importance--if
words derive any value from applicability--then 'analysis' conveys, in
algebra, about as much as, in Latin, '_ambitus_' implies 'ambition,'
'_religio_,' 'religion,' or '_homines honesti_,' 'a set of _honorable_
"You have a quarrel on hand, I see," said I, "with some
algebraists of Paris; but proceed."
"I dispute the availability, and thus the value, of that reason
cultivated in any especial form other than the abstractly logical. I
dispute, in particular, the reason educed by mathematical study. The
mathematics are the science of form and quantity; mathematical reasoning
is merely logic applied to observation upon form and quantity. The great
error lies in supposing that even the truths of what is called _pure_
algebra are abstract or general truths. And this error is so egregious
that I am confounded at the universality with which it has been
received. Mathematical axioms are _not_ axioms of general truth. What is
true of _relation_, of form and quantity, is often grossly false in
regard to morals, for example. In this latter science it is very
unusually _untrue_ that the aggregated parts are equal to the whole. In
chemistry, also, the axiom fails. In the consideration of motive it
fails; for two motives, each of a given value, have not, necessarily, a
value, when united, equal to the sum of their values apart. There are
numerous other mathematical truths which are only truths within the
limits of _relation_. But the mathematician argues, from his _finite
truths_, through habit, as if they were of an absolutely general
applicability--as the world indeed imagines them to be. Bryant, in his
very learned 'Mythology,' mentions an analogous source of error, when he
says that 'although the Pagan fables are not believed, yet we forget
ourselves continually, and make inferences from them as existing
realities.' With the algebraists, however, who are Pagans themselves,
the 'Pagan fables' _are_ believed; and the inferences are made, not so
much through lapse of memory, as through an unaccountable addling of the
brains. In short, I never yet encountered the mere mathematician who
could be trusted out of equal roots, or one who did not clandestinely
hold it as a point of his faith that _x_^2 + _px_ was absolutely and
unconditionally equal to _q_. Say to one of these gentlemen, by way of
experiment if you please, that you believe occasions may occur where
_x_^2 + _px_ is not altogether equal to _q_, and, having made him
understand what you mean, get out of his reach as speedily as
convenient, for, beyond doubt, he will endeavor to knock you down.
"I mean to say," continued Dupin, while I merely laughed at
observations, "that if the minister had been no more than a
mathematician, the Prefect would have been under no necessity of giving
me this check. I knew him, however, as both mathematician and poet; and
my measures were adapted to his capacity, with reference to the
circumstances by which he was surrounded. I know him as courtier, too,
and as a bold _intrigant_. Such a man, I consider, could not fail to be
aware of the ordinary political modes of action. He could not have
failed to anticipate--and events have proved that he did not fail to
anticipate--the waylayings to which he was subjected. He must have
foreseen, I reflected, the secret investigations of his premises. His
frequent absences from home at night, which were hailed by the Prefect
as certain aids to his success, I regarded only as _ruses_, to afford
opportunity for thorough search to the police, and thus the sooner to
impress them with the conviction to which G----, in fact, did finally
arrive--the conviction that the letter was not upon the premises. I
felt, also, that the whole train of thought, which I was at some pains
in detailing to you just now, concerning the invariable principle of
policial action in searches for articles concealed, I felt that this
whole train of thought would necessarily pass through the mind of the
minister. It would imperatively lead him to despise all the ordinary
_nooks_ of concealment. _He_ could not, I reflected, be so weak as not
to see that the most intricate and remote recess of his hôtel would
as open as his commonest closets to the eyes, to the probes, to the
gimlets, and to the microscopes of the Prefect. I saw, in fine, that he
would be driven, as a matter of course, to _simplicity_, if not
deliberately induced to it as a matter of choice. You will remember,
perhaps, how desperately the Prefect laughed when I suggested, upon our
first interview, that it was just possible this mystery troubled him so
much on account of its being so _very_ self-evident."
"Yes," said I, "I remember his merriment well. I really
thought he would
have fallen into convulsions."
"The material world," continued Dupin, "abounds with very
analogies to the immaterial; and thus some color of truth has been given
to the rhetorical dogma, that metaphor, or simile, may be made to
strengthen an argument, as well as to embellish a description. The
principle of the _vis inertiæ_, for example, seems to be identical
physics and metaphysics. It is not more true in the former, that a large
body is with more difficulty set in motion than a smaller one, and that
its subsequent _momentum_ is commensurate with this difficulty, that it
is in the latter, that intellects of the vaster capacity, while more
forcible, more constant, and more eventful in their movements than those
of inferior grade, are yet the less readily moved, and more embarrassed
and full of hesitation in the first few steps of their progress. Again;
have you ever noticed which of the street signs over the shop doors are
the most attractive of attention?"
"I have never given the matter a thought," I said.
"There is a game of puzzles," he resumed, "which is played
upon a map.
One party playing requires another to find a given word--the name of
town, river, state, or empire--any word, in short, upon the motley and
perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to
embarrass his opponents by giving them the most minutely lettered names;
but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from
one end of the chart to the other. These, like the over-largely lettered
signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of being
excessively obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely
analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the intellect suffers
to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too obtrusively and too
palpably self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, somewhat above
or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once thought it
probable, or possible, that the minister had deposited the letter
immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best
preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it.
"But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and discriminating
ingenuity of D----; upon the fact that the document must always have
been _at hand_, if he intended to use it to good purpose; and upon the
decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was not hidden
within the limits of that dignitary's ordinary search--the more
satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the minister had
resorted to the comprehensive and sagacious expedient of not attempting
to conceal it at all.
"Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green spectacles,
and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the ministerial
hôtel. I found D---- at home, yawning, lounging, and dawdling, as
and pretending to be in the last extremity of _ennui_. He is, perhaps,
the most really energetic human being now alive--but that is only when
nobody sees him.
"To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented
necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and
thoroughly surveyed the whole apartment, while seemingly intent only
upon the conversation of my host.
"I paid especial attention to a large writing-table near which he
and upon which lay confusedly some miscellaneous letters and other
papers, with one or two musical instruments and a few books. Here,
however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to
excite particular suspicion.
"At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon
trumpery filigree card-rack of paste-board, that hung dangling by a
dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of
the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four compartments,
were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last was
much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the
middle--as if a design, in the first instance, to tear it entirely up as
worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a large
black seal, bearing the D---- cipher _very_ conspicuously, and was
addressed, in a diminutive female hand, to D----, the minister himself.
It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into
one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.
"No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to
of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance,
radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so
minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the
D----cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the
S----family. Here the address, to the minister, was diminutive and
feminine; there the superscription, to a certain royal personage, was
markedly bold and decided; the size alone formed a point of
correspondence. But, then, the _radicalness_ of these differences, which
was excessive; the dirt, the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so
inconsistent with the _true_ methodical habits of D----, and so
suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the
worthlessness of the document; these things, together with the
hyper-obtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every
visitor, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions to which I
had previously arrived--these things, I say, were strongly corroborative
of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect.
"I protracted my visit as long as possible; and while I maintained
most animated discussion with the minister, upon a topic which I knew
well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention
really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to
memory its external appearance and arrangement in the rack; and also
fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial
doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper,
I observed them to be more _chafed_ than seemed necessary. They
presented the _broken_ appearance which is manifested when a stiff
paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in
a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the
original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that
the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, redirected, and
re-sealed. I bade the minister good-morning, and took my departure at
once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.
"The next morning I called for the snuff-box, when we resumed, quite
eagerly, the conversation of the preceding day. While thus engaged,
however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath
the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful
screams, and the shoutings of a terrified mob. D----rushed to a
casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped to
the card-rack, took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it by
a _fac-simile_ (so far as regards externals) which I had carefully
prepared at my lodgings--imitating the D---- cipher very readily by
means of a seal formed of bread.
"The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic
behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of women
and children. It proved, however, to have been without ball, and the
fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard. When he
had gone, D---- came from the window, whither I had followed him
immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon afterward I bade him
farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay."
"But what purpose had you," I asked, "in replacing the
letter by a
_fac-simile_? Would it not have been better, at the first visit, to have
seized it openly, and departed?"
"D----," replied Dupin, "is a desperate man, and a man
of nerve. His
hôtel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his interest. Had
made the wild attempt you suggest, I might never have left the
ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris might have heard of
me no more. But I had an object apart from these considerations. You
know my political prepossessions. In this matter I act as a partisan of
the lady concerned. For eighteen months the minister has had her in his
power. She has now him in hers--since, being unaware that the letter is
not in his possession, he will proceed with his exactions as if it was.
Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at once, to his political
destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more precipitate than
awkward. It is all very well to talk about the _facilis descensus
Averni_; but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalani said of singing, it
is far more easy to get up than to come down. In the present instance I
have no sympathy--at least no pity--for him who descends. He is that
_monstrum horrendum_, an unprincipled man of genius. I confess, however,
that I should like very well to know the precise character of his
thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms 'a certain
personage,' he is reduced to opening the letter which I left for him in
"How? did you put anything particular in it?"
"Why, it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank--that
would have been insulting. D----, at Vienna once, did me an evil turn,
which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as I
knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity of the
person who had outwitted him, I thought it a pity not to give him a
clew. He is well acquainted with my MS.; and I just copied into the
middle of the blank sheet the words--
"'_----Un dessein si funeste,
S'il n'est digne d'Atrée, est digne de Thyeste._'
They are to be found in Crébillon's _Atrée_."
[Illustration: NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE]
One afternoon, last summer, while walking along Washington Street, my
eye was attracted by a signboard protruding over a narrow archway,
nearly opposite the Old South Church. The sign represented the front of
a stately edifice, which was designated as the "OLD PROVINCE HOUSE,
by Thomas Waite." I was glad to be thus reminded of a purpose, long
entertained, of visiting and rambling over the mansion of the old royal
governors of Massachusetts; and entering the arched passage, which
penetrated through the middle of a brick row of shops, a few steps
transported me from the busy heart of modern Boston into a small and
secluded court-yard. One side of this space was occupied by the square
front of the Province House, three stories high, and surmounted by a
cupola, on the top of which a gilded Indian was discernible, with his
bow bent and his arrow on the string, as if aiming at the weathercock on
the spire of the Old South. The figure has kept this attitude for
seventy years or more, ever since good Deacon Drowne, a cunning carver
of wood, first stationed him on his long sentinel's watch over the city.
The Province House is constructed of brick, which seems recently to have
been overlaid with a coat of light-colored paint. A flight of red
freestone steps, fenced in by a balustrade of curiously wrought iron,
ascends from the court-yard to the spacious porch, over which is a
balcony, with an iron balustrade of similar pattern and workmanship to
that beneath. These letters and figures--16 P. S. 79--are wrought into
the iron work of the balcony, and probably express the date of the
edifice, with the initials of its founder's name. A wide door with
double leaves admitted me into the hall or entry, on the right of which
is the entrance to the bar-room.
It was in this apartment, I presume, that the ancient governors held
their levees, with vice-regal pomp, surrounded by the military men, the
councillors, the judges, and other officers of the crown, while all the
loyalty of the province thronged to do them honor. But the room, in its
present condition, cannot boast even of faded magnificence. The panelled
wainscot is covered with dingy paint, and acquires a duskier hue from
the deep shadow into which the Province House is thrown by the brick
block that shuts it in from Washington Street. A ray of sunshine never
visits this apartment any more than the glare of the festal torches,
which have been extinguished from the era of the Revolution. The most
venerable and ornamental object is a chimneypiece set round with Dutch
tiles of blue-figured China, representing scenes from Scripture; and,
for aught I know, the lady of Pownall or Bernard may have sat beside
this fire-place, and told her children the story of each blue tile. A
bar in modern style, well replenished with decanters, bottles, cigar
boxes, and network bags of lemons, and provided with a beer pump and a
soda fount, extends along one side of the room. At my entrance, an
elderly person was smacking his lips with a zest which satisfied me that
the cellars of the Province House still hold good liquor, though
doubtless of other vintages than were quaffed by the old governors.
After sipping a glass of port sangaree, prepared by the skilful hands of
Mr. Thomas Waite, I besought that worthy successor and representative
of so many historic personages to conduct me over their time honored
He readily complied; but, to confess the truth, I was forced to draw
strenuously upon my imagination, in order to find aught that was
interesting in a house which, without its historic associations, would
have seemed merely such a tavern as is usually favored by the custom of
decent city boarders, and old-fashioned country gentlemen. The chambers,
which were probably spacious in former times, are now cut up by
partitions, and subdivided into little nooks, each affording scanty room
for the narrow bed and chair and dressing-table of a single lodger. The
great staircase, however, may be termed, without much hyperbole, a
feature of grandeur and magnificence. It winds through the midst of the
house by flights of broad steps, each flight terminating in a square
landing-place, whence the ascent is continued towards the cupola. A
carved balustrade, freshly painted in the lower stories, but growing
dingier as we ascend, borders the staircase with its quaintly twisted
and intertwined pillars, from top to bottom. Up these stairs the
military boots, or perchance the gouty shoes, of many a governor have
trodden, as the wearers mounted to the cupola, which afforded them so
wide a view over their metropolis and the surrounding country. The
cupola is an octagon, with several windows, and a door opening upon the
roof. From this station, as I pleased myself with imagining, Gage may
have beheld his disastrous victory on Bunker Hill (unless one of the
tri-mountains intervened), and Howe have marked the approaches of
Washington's besieging army; although the buildings since erected in the
vicinity have shut out almost every object, save the steeple of the Old
South, which seems almost within arm's length. Descending from the
cupola, I paused in the garret to observe the ponderous white-oak
framework, so much more massive than the frames of modern houses, and
thereby resembling an antique skeleton. The brick walls, the materials
of which were imported from Holland, and the timbers of the mansion, are
still as sound as ever; but the floors and other interior parts being
greatly decayed, it is contemplated to gut the whole, and build a new
house within the ancient frame and brick work. Among other
inconveniences of the present edifice, mine host mentioned that any jar
or motion was apt to shake down the dust of ages out of the ceiling of
one chamber upon the floor of that beneath it.
We stepped forth from the great front window into the balcony, where,
old times, it was doubtless the custom of the king's representative to
show himself to a loyal populace, requiting their huzzas and tossed-up
hats with stately bendings of his dignified person. In those days the
front of the Province House looked upon the street; and the whole site
now occupied by the brick range of stores, as well as the present
court-yard, was laid out in grass plats, overshadowed by trees and
bordered by a wrought-iron fence. Now, the old aristocratic edifice
hides its time-worn visage behind an upstart modern building; at one of
the back windows I observed some pretty tailoresses, sewing and chatting
and laughing, with now and then a careless glance towards the balcony.
Descending thence, we again entered the bar-room, where the elderly
gentleman above mentioned, the smack of whose lips had spoken so
favorably for Mr. Waite's good liquor, was still lounging in his chair.
He seemed to be, if not a lodger, at least a familiar visitor of the
house, who might be supposed to have his regular score at the bar, his
summer seat at the open window, and his prescriptive corner at the
winter's fireside. Being of a sociable aspect, I ventured to address him
with a remark calculated to draw forth his historical reminiscences, if
any such were in his mind; and it gratified me to discover, that,
between memory and tradition, the old gentleman was really possessed of
some very pleasant gossip about the Province House. The portion of his
talk which chiefly interested me was the outline of the following
legend. He professed to have received it at one or two removes from an
eye-witness; but this derivation, together with the lapse of time, must
have afforded opportunities for many variations of the narrative; so
that despairing of literal and absolute truth, I have not scrupled to
make such further changes as seemed conducive to the reader's profit and
* * * * *
At one of the entertainments given at the Province House, during the
latter part of the siege of Boston, there passed a scene which has never
yet been satisfactorily explained. The officers of the British army, and
the loyal gentry of the province, most of whom were collected within the
beleaguered town, had been invited to a masked ball; for it was the
policy of Sir William Howe to hide the distress and danger of the
period, and the desperate aspect of the siege, under an ostentation of
festivity. The spectacle of this evening, if the oldest members of the
provincial court circle might be believed, was the most gay and gorgeous
affair that had occurred in the annals of the government. The
brilliantly-lighted apartments were thronged with figures that seemed to
have stepped from the dark canvas of historic portraits, or to have
flitted forth from the magic pages of romance, or at least to have
flown hither from one of the London theatres, without a change of
garments. Steeled knights of the Conquest, bearded statesmen of Queen
Elizabeth, and high-ruffled ladies of her court, were mingled with
characters of comedy, such as a party-colored Merry Andrew, jingling his
cap and bells; a Falstaff, almost as provocative of laughter as his
prototype; and a Don Quixote, with a bean pole for a lance, and a pot
lid for a shield.
But the broadest merriment was excited by a group of figures
ridiculously dressed in old regimentals, which seemed to have been
purchased at a military rag fair, or pilfered from some receptacle of
the cast-off clothes of both the French and British armies. Portions of
their attire had probably been worn at the siege of Louisburg, and the
coats of most recent cut might have been rent and tattered by sword,
ball, or bayonet, as long ago as Wolfe's victory. One of these
worthies--a tall, lank figure, brandishing a rusty sword of immense
longitude--purported to be no less a personage than General George
Washington; and the other principal officers of the American army, such
as Gates, Lee, Putnam, Schuyler, Ward and Heath, were represented by
similar scarecrows. An interview in the mock heroic style, between the
rebel warriors and the British commander-in-chief, was received with
immense applause, which came loudest of all from the loyalists of the
colony. There was one of the guests, however, who stood apart, eyeing
these antics sternly and scornfully, at once with a frown and a bitter
It was an old man, formerly of high station and great repute in the
province, and who had been a very famous soldier in his day. Some
surprise had been expressed that a person of Colonel Joliffe's known
whig principles, though now too old to take an active part in the
contest, should have remained in Boston during the siege, and especially
that he should consent to show himself in the mansion of Sir William
Howe. But thither he had come, with a fair granddaughter under his arm;
and there, amid all the mirth and buffoonery, stood this stern old
figure, the best sustained character in the masquerade, because so well
representing the antique spirit of his native land. The other guests
affirmed that Colonel Joliffe's black puritanical scowl threw a shadow
round about him; although in spite of his sombre influence their gayety
continued to blaze higher, like--(an ominous comparison)--the flickering
brilliancy of a lamp which has but a little while to burn. Eleven
strokes, full half an hour ago, had pealed from the clock of the Old
South, when a rumor was circulated among the company that some new
spectacle or pageant was about to be exhibited, which should put a
fitting close to the splendid festivities of the night.
"What new jest has your Excellency in hand?" asked the Rev.
Byles, whose Presbyterian scruples had not kept him from the
entertainment. "Trust me, sir, I have already laughed more than beseems
my cloth at your Homeric confabulation with yonder ragamuffin General of
the rebels. One other such fit of merriment, and I must throw off my
clerical wig and band."
"Not so, good Doctor Byles," answered Sir William Howe; "if
mirth were a
crime, you had never gained your doctorate in divinity. As to this new
foolery, I know no more about it than yourself; perhaps not so much.
Honestly now, Doctor, have you not stirred up the sober brains of some
of your countrymen to enact a scene in our masquerade?"
"Perhaps," slyly remarked the granddaughter of Colonel Joliffe,
high spirit had been stung by many taunts against New England,--"perhaps
we are to have a mask of allegorical figures. Victory, with trophies
from Lexington and Bunker Hill--Plenty, with her overflowing horn, to
typify the present abundance in this good town--and Glory, with a wreath
for his Excellency's brow."
Sir William Howe smiled at words which he would have answered with one
of his darkest frowns had they been uttered by lips that wore a beard.
He was spared the necessity of a retort, by a singular interruption. A
sound of music was heard without the house, as if proceeding from a full
band of military instruments stationed in the street, playing not such a
festal strain as was suited to the occasion, but a slow funeral march.
The drums appeared to be muffled, and the trumpets poured forth a
wailing breath, which at once hushed the merriment of the auditors,
filling all with wonder, and some with apprehension. The idea occurred
to many that either the funeral procession of some great personage had
halted in front of the Province House, or that a corpse, in a
velvet-covered and gorgeously-decorated coffin, was about to be borne
from the portal. After listening a moment, Sir William Howe called, in a
stern voice, to the leader of the musicians, who had hitherto enlivened
the entertainment with gay and lightsome melodies. The man was
drum-major to one of the British regiments.
"Dighton," demanded the General, "what means this foolery?
Bid your band
silence that dead march--or, by my word, they shall have sufficient
cause for their lugubrious strains! Silence it, sirrah!"
"Please your honor," answered the drum-major, whose rubicund
lost all its color, "the fault is none of mine. I and my band are all
here together, and I question whether there be a man of us that could
play that march without book. I never heard it but once before, and that
was at the funeral of his late Majesty, King George the Second."
"Well, well!" said Sir William Howe, recovering his composure--"it
the prelude to some masquerading antic. Let it pass."
A figure now presented itself, but among the many fantastic masks that
were dispersed through the apartments none could tell precisely from
whence it came. It was a man in an old-fashioned dress of black serge,
and having the aspect of a steward or principal domestic in the
household of a nobleman or great English landholder. This figure
advanced to the outer door of the mansion, and throwing both its leaves
wide open, withdrew a little to one side and looked back towards the
grand staircase as if expecting some person to descend. At the same time
the music in the street sounded a loud and doleful summons. The eyes of
Sir William Howe and his guests being directed to the staircase, there
appeared, on the uppermost landing-place that was discernible from the
bottom, several personages descending towards the door. The foremost was
a man of stern visage, wearing a steeple-crowned hat and a skull-cap
beneath it; a dark cloak, and huge wrinkled boots that came half-way up
his legs. Under his arm was a rolled-up banner, which seemed to be the
banner of England, but strangely rent and torn; he had a sword in his
right hand, and grasped a Bible in his left. The next figure was of
milder aspect, yet full of dignity, wearing a broad ruff, over which
descended a beard, a gown of wrought velvet, and a doublet and hose of
black satin. He carried a roll of manuscript in his hand. Close behind
these two came a young man of very striking countenance and demeanor,
with deep thought and contemplation on his brow, and perhaps a flash of
enthusiasm in his eye. His garb, like that of his predecessors, was of
an antique fashion, and there was a stain of blood upon his ruff. In the
same group with these were three or four others, all men of dignity and
evident command, and bearing themselves like personages who were
accustomed to the gaze of the multitude. It was the idea of the
beholders that these figures went to join the mysterious funeral that
had halted in front of the Province House; yet that supposition seemed
to be contradicted by the air of triumph with which they waved their
hands, as they crossed the threshold and vanished through the portal.
"In the devil's name what is this?" muttered Sir William Howe
gentleman beside him; "a procession of the regicide judges of King
Charles the martyr?"
"These," said Colonel Joliffe, breaking silence almost for
time that evening,--"these, if I interpret them aright, are the Puritan
governors--the rulers of the old original Democracy of Massachusetts.
Endicott, with the banner from which he had torn the symbol of
subjection, and Winthrop, and Sir Henry Vane, and Dudley, Haynes,
Bellingham, and Leverett."
"Why had that young man a stain of blood upon his ruff?" asked
"Because, in after years," answered her grandfather, "he
laid down the
wisest head in England upon the block for the principles of liberty."
"Will not your Excellency order out the guard?" whispered Lord
who, with other British officers, had now assembled round the General.
"There may be a plot under this mummery."
"Tush! we have nothing to fear," carelessly replied Sir William
"There can be no worse treason in the matter than a jest, and that
somewhat of the dullest. Even were it a sharp and bitter one, our best
policy would be to laugh it off. See--here comes more of these gentry."
Another group of characters had now partly descended the staircase. The
first was a venerable and white-bearded patriarch, who cautiously felt
his way downward with a staff. Treading hastily behind him, and
stretching forth his gauntleted hand as if to grasp the old man's
shoulder, came a tall, soldier-like figure, equipped with a plumed cap
of steel, a bright breast-plate, and a long sword, which rattled against
the stairs. Next was seen a stout man, dressed in rich and courtly
attire, but not of courtly demeanor; his gait had the swinging motion of
a seaman's walk; and chancing to stumble on the staircase, he suddenly
grew wrathful, and was heard to mutter an oath. He was followed by a
noble-looking personage in a curled wig, such as are represented in the
portraits of Queen Anne's time and earlier; and the breast of his coat
was decorated with an embroidered star. While advancing to the door, he
bowed to the right hand and to the left, in a very gracious and
insinuating style; but as he crossed the threshold, unlike the early
Puritan governors, he seemed to wring his hands with sorrow.
"Prithee, play the part of a chorus, good Doctor Byles," said
William Howe. "What worthies are these?"
"If it please your Excellency they lived somewhat before my day,"
answered the doctor; "but doubtless our friend, the Colonel, has been
hand and glove with them."
"Their living faces I never looked upon," said Colonel Joliffe,
"although I have spoken face to face with many rulers of this land,
shall greet yet another with an old man's blessing ere I die. But we
talk of these figures. I take the venerable patriarch to be Bradstreet,
the last of the Puritans, who was governor at ninety, or thereabouts.
The next is Sir Edmund Andros, a tyrant, as any New England schoolboy
will tell you; and therefore the people cast him down from his high seat
into a dungeon. Then comes Sir William Phipps, shepherd, cooper,
sea-captain, and governor--may many of his countrymen rise as high from
as low an origin! Lastly, you saw the gracious Earl of Bellamont, who
ruled us under King William."
"But what is the meaning of it all?" asked Lord Percy.
"Now, were I a rebel," said Miss Joliffe, half aloud, "I
that the ghosts of these ancient governors had been summoned to form the
funeral procession of royal authority in New England."
Several other figures were now seen at the turn of the staircase. The
one in advance had a thoughtful, anxious, and somewhat crafty expression
of face, and in spite of his loftiness of manner, which was evidently
the result both of an ambitious spirit and of long continuance in high
stations, he seemed not incapable of cringing to a greater than himself.
A few steps behind came an officer in a scarlet and embroidered uniform,
cut in a fashion old enough to have been worn by the Duke of
Marlborough. His nose had a rubicund tinge, which, together with the
twinkle of his eye, might have marked him as a lover of the wine cup and
good fellowship; notwithstanding which tokens he appeared ill at ease,
and often glanced around him as if apprehensive of some secret
mischief. Next came a portly gentleman, wearing a coat of shaggy cloth,
lined with silken velvet; he had sense, shrewdness, and humor in his
face, and a folio volume under his arm; but his aspect was that of a man
vexed and tormented beyond all patience, and harassed almost to death.
He went hastily down, and was followed by a dignified person, dressed in
a purple velvet suit, with very rich embroidery; his demeanor would have
possessed much stateliness, only that a grievous fit of the gout
compelled him to hobble from stair to stair, with contortions of face
and body. When Doctor Byles beheld this figure on the staircase, he
shivered as with an ague, but continued to watch him steadfastly, until
the gouty gentleman had reached the threshold, made a gesture of anguish
and despair, and vanished into the outer gloom, whither the funeral
music summoned him.
"Governor Belcher!--my old patron!--in his very shape and dress!"
Doctor Byles. "This is an awful mockery!"
"A tedious foolery, rather," said Sir William Howe, with an
indifference. "But who were the three that preceded him?"
"Governor Dudley, a cunning politician--yet his craft once brought
to a prison," replied Colonel Joliffe. "Governor Shute, formerly
Colonel under Marlborough, and whom the people frightened out of the
province; and learned Governor Burnet, whom the legislature tormented
into a mortal fever."
"Methinks they were miserable men, these royal governors of
Massachusetts," observed Miss Joliffe. "Heavens, how dim the light
It was certainly a fact that the large lamp which illuminated the
staircase now burned dim and duskily: so that several figures, which
passed hastily down the stairs and went forth from the porch, appeared
rather like shadows than persons of fleshly substance. Sir William Howe
and his guests stood at the doors of the contiguous apartments, watching
the progress of this singular pageant, with various emotions of anger,
contempt, or half-acknowledged fear, but still with an anxious
curiosity. The shapes which now seemed hastening to join the mysterious
procession were recognized rather by striking peculiarities of dress, of
broad characteristics of manner, than by any perceptible resemblance of
features to their prototypes. Their faces, indeed, were invariably kept
in deep shadow. But Doctor Byles, and other gentlemen who had long been
familiar with the successive rulers of the province, were heard to
whisper the names of Shirley, of Pownall, of Sir Francis Bernard, and of
the well-remembered Hutchinson; thereby confessing that the actors,
whoever they might be, in this spectral march of governors, had
succeeded in putting on some distant portraiture of the real personages.
As they vanished from the door, still did these shadows toss their arms
into the gloom of night, with a dread expression of woe. Following the
mimic representative of Hutchinson came a military figure, holding
before his face the cocked hat which he had taken from his powdered
head; but his epaulettes and other insignia of rank were those of a
general officer, and something in his mien reminded the beholders of one
who had recently been master of the Province House, and chief of all the
"The shape of Gage, as true as in a looking-glass," exclaimed
Percy, turning pale.
"No, surely," cried Miss Joliffe, laughing hysterically; "it
be Gage, or Sir William would have greeted his old comrade in arms!
Perhaps he will not suffer the next to pass unchallenged."
"Of that be assured, young lady," answered Sir William Howe,
eyes, with a very marked expression, upon the immovable visage of her
grandfather. "I have long enough delayed to pay the ceremonies of a
to these departing guests. The next that takes his leave shall receive
A wild and dreary burst of music came through the open door. It seemed
as if the procession, which had been gradually filling up its ranks,
were now about to move, and that this loud peal of the wailing trumpets,
and roll of the muffled drums, were a call to some loiterer to make
haste. Many eyes, by an irresistible impulse, were turned upon Sir
William Howe, as if it were he whom the dreary music summoned to the
funeral of the departed power.
"See!--here comes the last!" whispered Miss Joliffe, pointing
tremulous finger to the staircase.
A figure had come into view as if descending the stairs; although so
dusky was the region whence it emerged, some of the spectators fancied
that they had seen this human shape suddenly moulding itself amid the
gloom. Downward the figure came, with a stately and martial tread, and
reaching the lowest stair was observed to be a tall man, booted and
wrapped in a military cloak, which was drawn up around the face so as to
meet the flapped brim of a laced hat. The features, therefore, were
completely hidden. But the British officers deemed that they had seen
that military cloak before, and even recognized the frayed embroidery on
the collar, as well as the gilded scabbard of a sword which protruded
from the folds of the cloak, and glittered in a vivid gleam of light.
Apart from these trifling particulars, there were characteristics of
gait and bearing which impelled the wondering guests to glance from the
shrouded figure to Sir William Howe, as if to satisfy themselves that
their host had not suddenly vanished from the midst of them.
With a dark flush of wrath upon his brow they saw the General draw his
sword and advance to meet the figure in the cloak before the latter had
stepped one pace upon the floor.
"Villain, unmuffle yourself!" cried he. "You pass no farther!"
The figure, without blenching a hair's breadth from the sword which was
pointed at his breast, made a solemn pause and lowered the cape of the
cloak from about his face, yet not sufficiently for the spectators to
catch a glimpse of it. But Sir William Howe had evidently seen enough.
The sternness of his countenance gave place to a look of wild amazement,
if not horror, while he recoiled several steps from the figure, and let
fall his sword upon the floor. The martial shape again drew the cloak
about his features and passed on; but reaching the threshold, with his
back towards the spectators, he was seen to stamp his foot and shake his
clinched hands in the air. It was afterwards affirmed that Sir William
Howe had repeated that selfsame gesture of rage and sorrow, when, for
the last time, and as the last royal governor, he passed through the
portal of the Province House.
"Hark!--the procession moves," said Miss Joliffe.
The music was dying away along the street, and its dismal strains were
mingled with the knell of midnight from the steeple of the Old South,
and with the roar of artillery, which announced that the beleaguering
army of Washington had intrenched itself upon a nearer height than
before. As the deep boom of the cannon smote upon his ear, Colonel
Joliffe raised himself to the full height of his aged form, and smiled
sternly on the British General.
"Would your Excellency inquire further into the mystery of the pageant?"
"Take care of your gray head!" cried Sir William Howe, fiercely,
with a quivering lip. "It has stood too long on a traitor's shoulders!"
"You must make haste to chop it off, then," calmly replied
"for a few hours longer, and not all the power of Sir William Howe,
of his master, shall cause one of these gray hairs to fall. The empire
of Britain in this ancient province is at its last gasp
to-night;--almost while I speak it is a dead corpse;--and methinks the
shadows of the old governors are fit mourners at its funeral!"
With these words Colonel Joliffe threw on his cloak, and drawing his
granddaughter's arm within his own, retired from the last festival that
a British ruler ever held in the old province of Massachusetts Bay. It
was supposed that the Colonel and the young lady possessed some secret
intelligence in regard to the mysterious pageant of that night. However
this might be, such knowledge has never become general. The actors in
the scene have vanished into deeper obscurity than even that wild Indian
band who scattered the cargoes of the tea ships on the waves, and gained
a place in history, yet left no names. But superstition, among other
legends of this mansion, repeats the wondrous tale, that on the
anniversary night of Britain's discomfiture the ghosts of the ancient
governors of Massachusetts still glide through the portal of the
Province House. And, last of all, comes a figure shrouded in a military
cloak, tossing his clinched hands into the air, and stamping his
iron-shod boots upon the broad freestone steps, with a semblance of
feverish despair, but without the sound of a foot-tramp.
* * * * *
When the truth-telling accents of the elderly gentleman were hushed,
drew a long breath and looked round the room, striving, with the best
energy of my imagination, to throw a tinge of romance and historic
grandeur over the realities of the scene. But my nostrils snuffed up a
scent of cigar smoke, clouds of which the narrator had emitted by way of
visible emblem, I suppose, of the nebulous obscurity of his tale.
Moreover, my gorgeous fantasies were wofully disturbed by the rattling
of the spoon in a tumbler of whiskey punch, which Mr. Thomas Waite was
mingling for a customer. Nor did it add to the picturesque appearance of
the panelled walls that the slate of the Brookline stage was suspended
against them, instead of the armorial escutcheon of some far-descended
governor. A stage-driver sat at one of the windows, reading a penny
paper of the day--the Boston Times--and presenting a figure which could
nowise be brought into any picture of "Times in Boston" seventy
hundred years ago. On the window seat lay a bundle, neatly done up in
brown paper, the direction of which I had the idle curiosity to read.
"MISS SUSAN HUGGINS, at the PROVINCE HOUSE." A pretty chambermaid,
doubt. In truth, it is desperately hard work, when we attempt to throw
the spell of hoar antiquity over localities with which the living world,
and the day that is passing over us, have aught to do. Yet, as I glanced
at the stately staircase down which the procession of the old governors
had descended, and as I emerged through the venerable portal whence
their figures had preceded me, it gladdened me to be conscious of a
thrill of awe. Then, diving through the narrow archway, a few strides
transported me into the densest throng of Washington Street.
In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science,
eminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not long
before our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity more
attractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care
of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke,
washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a beautiful
woman to become his wife. In those days when the comparatively recent
discovery of electricity and other kindred mysteries of Nature seemed to
open paths into the region of miracle, it was not unusual for the love
of science to rival the love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy.
The higher intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart
might all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of
their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of powerful
intelligence to another, until the philosopher should lay his hand on
the secret of creative force and perhaps make new worlds for himself. We
know not whether Aylmer possessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate
control over Nature. He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly
to scientific studies ever to be weaned from them by any second passion.
His love for his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it
could only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and
uniting the strength of the latter to his own.
Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with truly
remarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day, very
soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife with a trouble
in his countenance that grew stronger until he spoke.
"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that
the mark on
your cheek might be removed?"
"No, indeed," said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness
manner, she blushed deeply. "To tell you the truth it has been so often
called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so."
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband;
never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect from
the hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which we
hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being the
visible mark of earthly imperfection."
"Shocks you, my husband!" cried Georgiana, deeply hurt; at
reddening with momentary anger, but then bursting into tears. "Then
did you take me from my mother's side? You cannot love what shocks you!"
To explain this conversation it must be mentioned that in the centre
Georgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, as
it were, with the texture and substance of her face. In the usual state
of her complexion--a healthy though delicate bloom--the mark wore a tint
of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined its shape amid the
surrounding rosiness. When she blushed it gradually became more
indistinct, and finally vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that
bathed the whole cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting
motion caused her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain
upon the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful
distinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand,
though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana's lovers were wont to say
that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the
infant's cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magic
endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts. Many a
desperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressing his
lips to the mysterious hand. It must not be concealed, however, that the
impression wrought by this fairy sign manual varied exceedingly,
according to the difference of temperament in the beholders. Some
fastidious persons--but they were exclusively of her own sex--affirmed
that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the
effect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous.
But it would be as reasonable to say that one of those small blue stains
which sometimes occur in the purest statuary marble would convert the
Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculine observers, if the birthmark did
not heighten their admiration, contented themselves with wishing it
away, that the world might possess one living specimen of ideal
loveliness without the semblance of a flaw. After his marriage,--for he
thought little or nothing of the matter before,--Aylmer discovered that
this was the case with himself.
Had she been less beautiful,--if Envy's self could have found aught else
to sneer at,--he might have felt his affection heightened by the
prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely portrayed, now lost, now
stealing forth again and glimmering to and fro with every pulse of
emotion that throbbed within her heart; but seeing her otherwise so
perfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable with
every moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity
which Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her
productions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that
their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand
expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the highest
and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred with the
lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visible frames
return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol of his wife's
liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombre imagination
was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object, causing him
more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty, whether of soul or
sense, had given him delight.
At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he invariably
and without intending it, nay, in spite of a purpose to the contrary,
reverted to this one disastrous topic. Trifling as it at first appeared,
it so connected itself with innumerable trains of thought and modes of
feeling that it became the central point of all. With the morning
twilight Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife's face and recognized the
symbol of imperfection; and when they sat together at the evening hearth
his eyes wandered stealthily to her cheek, and beheld, flickering with
the blaze of the wood fire, the spectral hand that wrote mortality where
he would fain have worshipped. Georgiana soon learned to shudder at his
gaze. It needed but a glance with the peculiar expression that his face
often wore to change the roses of her cheek into a deathlike paleness,
amid which the crimson hand was brought strongly out, like a bas-relief
of ruby on the whitest marble.
Late one night when the lights were growing dim, so as hardly to betray
the stain on the poor wife's cheek, she, herself, for the first time,
voluntarily took up the subject.
"Do you remember, my dear Aylmer," said she, with a feeble
attempt at a
smile, "have you any recollection of a dream last night about this
"None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then he
added, in a
dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealing the real depth of
his emotion, "I might well dream of it; for before I fell asleep it
taken a pretty firm hold of my fancy."
"And you did dream of it?" continued Georgiana, hastily; for
lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had to say. "A terrible
dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is it possible to forget this
one expression?--'It is in her heart now; we must have it out!' Reflect,
my husband; for by all means I would have you recall that dream."
The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannot confine
her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but suffers them to
break forth, affrighting this actual life with secrets that perchance
belong to a deeper one. Aylmer now remembered his dream. He had fancied
himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operation for the
removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank
the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold of
Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably resolved
to cut or wrench it away.
When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer sat
his wife's presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often finds its way to
the mind close muffled in robes of sleep, and then speaks with
uncompromising directness of matters in regard to which we practise an
unconscious self-deception during our waking moments. Until now he had
not been aware of the tyrannizing influence acquired by one idea over
his mind, and of the lengths which he might find in his heart to go for
the sake of giving himself peace.
"Aylmer," resumed Georgiana, solemnly, "I know not what
may be the cost
to both of us to rid me of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps its removal may
cause cureless deformity; or it may be the stain goes as deep as life
itself. Again: do we know that there is a possibility, on any terms, of
unclasping the firm gripe of this little hand which was laid upon me
before I came into the world?"
"Dearest Georgiana, I have spent much thought upon the subject,"
interrupted Aylmer. "I am convinced of the perfect practicability of
"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued Georgiana,
the attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; for life,
while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror and
disgust,--life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. Either
remove this dreadful hand, or take my wretched life! You have deep
science. All the world bears witness of it. You have achieved great
wonders. Cannot you remove this little, little mark, which I cover with
the tips of two small fingers? Is this beyond your power, for the sake
of your own peace, and to save your poor wife from madness?"
"Noblest, dearest, tenderest wife," cried Aylmer, rapturously,
not my power. I have already given this matter the deepest
thought--thought which might almost have enlightened me to create a
being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeper than
ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent to render
this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, most beloved, what
will be my triumph when I shall have corrected what Nature left
imperfect in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman
assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine will be."
"It is resolved, then," said Georgiana, faintly smiling. "And,
spare me not, though you should find the birthmark take refuge in my
heart at last."
Her husband tenderly kissed her cheek--her right cheek--not that which
bore the impress of the crimson hand.
The next day Aylmer apprised his wife of a plan that he had formed
whereby he might have opportunity for the intense thought and constant
watchfulness which the proposed operation would require; while
Georgiana, likewise, would enjoy the perfect repose essential to its
success. They were to seclude themselves in the extensive apartments
occupied by Aylmer as a laboratory, and where, during his toilsome
youth, he had made discoveries in the elemental powers of Nature that
had roused the admiration of all the learned societies in Europe. Seated
calmly in this laboratory, the pale philosopher had investigated the
secrets of the highest cloud region and of the profoundest mines; he had
satisfied himself of the causes that kindled and kept alive the fires of
the volcano; and had explained the mystery of fountains, and how it is
that they gush forth, some so bright and pure, and others with such rich
medicinal virtues, from the dark bosom of the earth. Here, too, at an
earlier period, he had studied the wonders of the human frame, and
attempted to fathom the very process by which Nature assimilates all her
precious influences from earth and air, and from the spiritual world, to
create and foster man, her masterpiece. The latter pursuit, however,
Aylmer had long laid aside in unwilling recognition of the
truth--against which all seekers sooner or later stumble--that our great
creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently working in the
broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep her own secrets, and,
in spite of her pretended openness, shows us nothing but results. She
permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom to mend, and, like a jealous
patentee, on no account to make. Now, however, Aylmer resumed these
half-forgotten investigations; not, of course, with such hopes or wishes
as first suggested them; but because they involved much physiological
truth and lay in the path of his proposed scheme for the treatment of
As he led her over the threshold of the laboratory, Georgiana was cold
and tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into her face, with intent to
reassure her, but was so startled with the intense glow of the birthmark
upon the whiteness of her cheek that he could not restrain a strong
convulsive shudder. His wife fainted.
"Aminadab! Aminadab!" shouted Aylmer, stamping violently on
Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low stature,
bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed
with the vapors of the furnace. This personage had been Aylmer's
under-worker during his whole scientific career, and was admirably
fitted for that office by his great mechanical readiness, and the skill
with which, while incapable of comprehending a single principle, he
executed all the details of his master's experiments. With his vast
strength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable
earthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man's physical
nature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale, intellectual face, were
no less apt a type of the spiritual element.
"Throw open the door of the boudoir, Aminadab," said Aylmer,
"and burn a
"Yes, master," answered Aminadab, looking intently at the lifeless
of Georgiana; and then he muttered to himself, "If she were my wife,
never part with that birthmark."
When Georgiana recovered consciousness she found herself breathing an
atmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle potency of which had
recalled her from her deathlike faintness. The scene around her looked
like enchantment. Aylmer had converted those smoky, dingy, sombre rooms,
where he had spent his brightest years in recondite pursuits, into a
series of beautiful apartments not unfit to be the secluded abode of a
lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains, which imparted
the combination of grandeur and grace that no other species of adornment
can achieve; and as they fell from the ceiling to the floor, their rich
and ponderous folds, concealing all angles and straight lines, appeared
to shut in the scene from infinite space. For aught Georgiana knew, it
might be a pavilion among the clouds. And Aylmer, excluding the
sunshine, which would have interfered with his chemical processes, had
supplied its place with perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hue,
but all uniting in a soft, impurpled radiance. He now knelt by his
wife's side, watching her earnestly, but without alarm; for he was
confident in his science, and felt that he could draw a magic circle
round her within which no evil might intrude.
"Where am I? Ah, I remember," said Georgiana, faintly; and
her hand over her cheek to hide the terrible mark from her husband's
"Fear not, dearest!" exclaimed he. "Do not shrink from
me! Believe me,
Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will be
such a rapture to remove it."
"Oh, spare me!" sadly replied his wife. "Pray do not look
at it again. I
never can forget that convulsive shudder."
In order to soothe Georgiana, and, as it were, to release her mind from
the burden of actual things, Aylmer now put in practice some of the
light and playful secrets which science had taught him among its
profounder lore. Airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas, and forms of
unsubstantial beauty came and danced before her, imprinting their
momentary footsteps on beams of light. Though she had some indistinct
idea of the method of these optical phenomena, still the illusion was
almost perfect enough to warrant the belief that her husband possessed
sway over the spiritual world. Then again, when she felt a wish to look
forth from her seclusion, immediately, as if her thoughts were answered,
the possession of external existence flitted across a screen. The
scenery and the figures of actual life were perfectly represented, but
with that bewitching, yet indescribable difference which always makes a
picture, an image, or a shadow so much more attractive than the
original. When wearied of this, Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon a
vessel containing a quantity of earth. She did so, with little interest
at first; but was soon startled to perceive the germ of a plant shooting
upward from the soil. Then came the slender stalk; the leaves gradually
unfolded themselves; and amid them was a perfect and lovely flower.
"It is magical!" cried Georgiana. "I dare not touch it."
"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer,--"pluck it, and inhale
perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments and leave
nothing save its brown seed vessels; but thence may be perpetuated a
race as ephemeral as itself."
But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plant
suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency of
"There was too powerful a stimulus," said Aylmer, thoughtfully.
To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take her
portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to be
effected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of metal.
Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was affrighted to
find the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while the
minute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been.
Aylmer snatched the metallic plate and threw it into a jar of corrosive
Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the intervals
study and chemical experiment he came to her flushed and exhausted, but
seemed invigorated by her presence, and spoke in glowing language of the
resources of his art. He gave a history of the long dynasty of the
alchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent by
which the golden principle might be elicited from all things vile and
base. Aylmer appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientific logic,
it was altogether within the limits of possibility to discover this
long-sought medium; "but," he added, "a philosopher who should
enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom to stoop to
the exercise of it." Not less singular were his opinions in regard
the elixir vitæ. He more than intimated that it was at his option
concoct a liquid that should prolong life for years, perhaps
interminably; but that it would produce a discord in Nature which all
the world, and chiefly the quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would find
cause to curse.
"Aylmer, are you in earnest?" asked Georgiana, looking at him
amazement and fear. "It is terrible to possess such power, or even
dream of possessing it."
"Oh, do not tremble, my love," said her husband. "I would
either you or myself by working such inharmonious effects upon our
lives; but I would have you consider how trifling, in comparison, is the
skill requisite to remove this little hand."
At the mention of the birthmark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank as if a
red-hot iron had touched her cheek.
Again Aylmer applied himself to his labors. She could hear his voice
the distant furnace room giving directions to Aminadab, whose harsh,
uncouth, misshapen tones were audible in response, more like the grunt
or growl of a brute than human speech. After hours of absence, Aylmer
reappeared and proposed that she should now examine his cabinet of
chemical products and natural treasures of the earth. Among the former
he showed her a small vial, in which, he remarked, was contained a
gentle yet most powerful fragrance, capable of impregnating all the
breezes that blow across the kingdom. They were of inestimable value,
the contents of that little vial; and, as he said so, he threw some of
the perfume into the air and filled the room with piercing and
"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal
containing a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to the eye that
could imagine it the elixir of life."
"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer; "or, rather, the
immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted in
this world. By its aid I could apportion the lifetime of any mortal at
whom you might point your finger. The strength of the dose would
determine whether he were to linger out years, or drop dead in the midst
of a breath. No king on his guarded throne could keep his life if I, in
my private station, should deem that the welfare of millions justified
me in depriving him of it."
"Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" inquired Georgiana
"Do not mistrust me, dearest," said her husband, smiling; "its
potency is yet greater than its harmful one. But see! here is a powerful
cosmetic. With a few drops of this in a vase of water, freckles may be
washed away as easily as the hands are cleansed. A stronger infusion
would take the blood out of the cheek, and leave the rosiest beauty a
"Is it with this lotion that you intend to bathe my cheek?"
"Oh, no," hastily replied her husband; "this is merely
case demands a remedy that shall go deeper."
In his interviews with Georgiana, Aylmer generally made minute inquiries
as to her sensations and whether the confinement of the rooms and the
temperature of the atmosphere agreed with her. These questions had such
a particular drift that Georgiana began to conjecture that she was
already subjected to certain physical influences, either breathed in
with the fragrant air or taken with her food. She fancied likewise, but
it might be altogether fancy, that there was a stirring up of her
system--a strange, indefinite sensation creeping through her veins, and
tingling, half painfully, half pleasurably, at her heart. Still,
whenever she dared to look into the mirror, there she beheld herself
pale as a white rose and with the crimson birthmark stamped upon her
cheek. Not even Aylmer now hated it so much as she.
To dispel the tedium of the hours which her husband found it necessary
to devote to the processes of combination and analysis, Georgiana turned
over the volumes of his scientific library. In many dark old tomes she
met with chapters full of romance and poetry. They were the works of the
philosophers of the middle ages, such as Albertus Magnus, Cornelius
Agrippa, Paracelsus, and the famous friar who created the prophetic
Brazen Head. All these antique naturalists stood in advance of their
centuries, yet were imbued with some of their credulity, and therefore
were believed, and perhaps imagined themselves to have acquired from the
investigation of Nature a power above Nature, and from physics a sway
over the spiritual world. Hardly less curious and imaginative were the
early volumes of the Transactions of the Royal Society, in which the
members, knowing little of the limits of natural possibility, were
continually recording wonders or proposing methods whereby wonders might
But to Georgiana the most engrossing volume was a large folio from her
husband's own hand, in which he had recorded every experiment of his
scientific career, its original aim, the methods adopted for its
development, and its final success or failure, with the circumstances to
which either event was attributable. The book, in truth, was both the
history and emblem of his ardent, ambitious, imaginative, yet practical
and laborious life. He handled physical details as if there were nothing
beyond them; yet spiritualized them all, and redeemed himself from
materialism by his strong and eager aspiration towards the infinite. In
his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul. Georgiana, as she
read, reverenced Aylmer and loved him more profoundly than ever, but
with a less entire dependence on his judgment than heretofore. Much as
he had accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid
successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the ideal at
which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest pebbles, and felt
to be so by himself, in comparison with the inestimable gems which lay
hidden beyond his reach. The volume, rich with achievements that had won
renown for its author, was yet as melancholy a record as ever mortal
hand had penned. It was the sad confession and continual exemplification
of the shortcomings of the composite man, the spirit burdened with clay
and working in matter, and of the despair that assails the higher nature
at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly part. Perhaps
every man of genius in whatever sphere might recognize the image of his
own experience in Aylmer's journal.
So deeply did these reflections affect Georgiana that she laid her face
upon the open volume and burst into tears. In this situation she was
found by her husband.
"It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books," said he with
though his countenance was uneasy and displeased. "Georgiana, there
pages in that volume which I can scarcely glance over and keep my
senses. Take heed less it prove as detrimental to you."
"It has made me worship you more than ever," said she.
"Ah, wait for this one success," rejoined he, "then worship
me if you
will. I shall deem myself hardly unworthy of it. But come, I have sought
you for the luxury of your voice. Sing to me, dearest."
So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst
his spirit. He then took his leave with a boyish exuberance of gayety,
assuring her that her seclusion would endure but a little longer, and
that the result was already certain. Scarcely had he departed when
Georgiana felt irresistibly impelled to follow him. She had forgotten to
inform Aylmer of a symptom which for two or three hours past had begun
to excite her attention. It was a sensation in the fatal birthmark, not
painful, but which induced a restlessness throughout her system.
Hastening after her husband, she intruded for the first time into the
The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and
feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the
quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning for
ages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation. Around the
room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus of
chemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use.
The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseous
odors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. The
severe and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls and
brick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to
the fantastic elegance of her boudoir. But what chiefly, indeed almost
solely, drew her attention, was the aspect of Aylmer himself.
He was pale as death, anxious and absorbed, and hung over the furnace
if it depended upon his utmost watchfulness whether the liquid which it
was distilling should be the draught of immortal happiness or misery.
How different from the sanguine and joyous mien that he had assumed for
"Carefully now, Aminadab; carefully, thou human machine; carefully,
man of clay!" muttered Aylmer, more to himself than to his assistant.
"Now, if there be a thought too much or too little, it is all over."
"Ho! ho!" mumbled Aminadab. "Look, master! look!"
Aylmer raised his eyes hastily, and at first reddened, then grew paler
than ever, on beholding Georgiana. He rushed towards her and seized her
arm with a gripe that left the print of his fingers upon it.
"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?"
impetuously. "Would you throw the blight of that fatal birthmark over
labors? It is not well done. Go, prying woman, go!"
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she
no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to complain.
mistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watch
the development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, my
husband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink;
for my share in it is far less than your own."
"No, no, Georgiana!" said Aylmer, impatiently; "it must
"I submit," replied she calmly. "And, Aylmer, I shall
draught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that would
induce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not
the height and
depth of your nature until now. Nothing shall be concealed. Know, then,
that this crimson hand, superficial as it seems, has clutched its grasp
into your being with a strength of which I had no previous conception. I
have already administered agents powerful enough to do aught except to
change your entire physical system. Only one thing remains to be tried.
If that fail us we are ruined."
"Why did you hesitate to tell me this?" asked she.
"Because, Georgiana," said Aylmer, in a low voice, "there
"Danger? There is but one danger--that this horrible stigma shall
left upon my cheek!" cried Georgiana. "Remove it, remove it, whatever
the cost, or we shall both go mad!"
"Heaven knows your words are too true," said Aylmer, sadly.
dearest, return to your boudoir. In a little while all will be tested."
He conducted her back and took leave of her with a solemn tenderness
which spoke far more than his words how much was now at stake. After his
departure Georgiana became rapt in musings. She considered the character
of Aylmer, and did it completer justice than at any previous moment. Her
heart exalted, while it trembled, at his honorable love--so pure and
lofty that it would accept nothing less than perfection nor miserably
make itself contented with an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of.
She felt how much more precious was such a sentiment than that meaner
kind which would have borne with the imperfection for her sake, and have
been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading its perfect idea to the
level of the actual; and with her whole spirit she prayed that, for a
single moment, she might satisfy his highest and deepest conception.
Longer than one moment she well knew it could not be; for his spirit
was ever on the march, ever ascending, and each instant required
something that was beyond the scope of the instant before.
The sound of her husband's footsteps aroused her. He bore a crystal
goblet containing a liquor colorless as water, but bright enough to be
the draught of immortality. Aylmer was pale; but it seemed rather the
consequence of a highly-wrought state of mind and tension of spirit than
of fear or doubt.
"The concoction of the draught has been perfect," said he,
in answer to
Georgiana's look. "Unless all my science have deceived me, it cannot
"Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer," observed his wife,
wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortality
itself in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad possession to
those who have attained precisely the degree of moral advancement at
which I stand. Were I weaker and blinder it might be happiness. Were I
stronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being what I find myself,
methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die."
"You are fit for heaven without tasting death!" replied her
"But why do we speak of dying? The draught cannot fail. Behold its
effect upon this plant."
On the window seat there stood a geranium diseased with yellow blotches,
which had overspread all its leaves. Aylmer poured a small quantity of
the liquid upon the soil in which it grew. In a little time, when the
roots of the plant had taken up the moisture, the unsightly blotches
began to be extinguished in a living verdure.
"There needed no proof," said Georgiana, quietly. "Give
me the goblet. I
joyfully stake all upon your word."
"Drink, then, thou lofty creature!" exclaimed Aylmer, with
admiration. "There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit. Thy
sensible frame, too, shall soon be all perfect."
She quaffed the liquid and returned the goblet to his hand.
"It is grateful," said she with a placid smile. "Methinks
it is like
water from a heavenly fountain; for it contains I know not what of
unobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness. It allays a feverish thirst
that had parched me for many days. Now, dearest, let me sleep. My
earthly senses are closing over my spirit like the leaves around the
heart of a rose at sunset."
She spoke the last words with a gentle reluctance, as if it required
almost more energy than she could command to pronounce the faint and
lingering syllables. Scarcely had they loitered through her lips ere she
was lost in slumber. Aylmer sat by her side, watching her aspect with
the emotions proper to a man the whole value of whose existence was
involved in the process now to be tested. Mingled with this mood,
however, was the philosophic investigation characteristic of the man of
science. Not the minutest symptom escaped him. A heightened flush of the
cheek, a slight irregularity of breath, a quiver of the eyelid, a hardly
perceptible tremor through the frame,--such were the details which, as
the moments passed, he wrote down in his folio volume. Intense thought
had set its stamp upon every previous page of that volume, but the
thoughts of years were all concentrated upon the last.
While thus employed, he failed not to gaze often at the fatal hand, and
not without a shudder. Yet once, by a strange and unaccountable impulse,
he pressed it with his lips. His spirit recoiled, however, in the very
act; and Georgiana, out of the midst of her deep sleep, moved uneasily
and murmured as if in remonstrance. Again Aylmer resumed his watch. Nor
was it without avail. The crimson hand, which at first had been strongly
visible upon the marble paleness of Georgiana's cheek, now grew more
faintly outlined. She remained not less pale than ever; but the
birthmark, with every breath that came and went, lost somewhat of its
former distinctness. Its presence had been awful; its departure was more
awful still. Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out of the sky, and
you will know how that mysterious symbol passed away.
"By Heaven! it is well nigh gone!" said Aylmer to himself,
irrepressible ecstasy. "I can scarcely trace it now. Success! success!
And now it is like the faintest rose color. The lightest flush of blood
across her cheek would overcome it. But she is so pale!"
He drew aside the window curtain and suffered the light of natural day
to fall into the room and rest upon her cheek. At the same time he heard
a gross, hoarse chuckle, which he had long known as his servant
Aminadab's expression of delight.
"Ah, clod! ah, earthly mass!" cried Aylmer, laughing in a sort
frenzy, "you have served me well! Matter and spirit--earth and
heaven--have both done their part in this! Laugh, thing of the senses!
You have earned the right to laugh."
These exclamations broke Georgiana's sleep. She slowly unclosed her eyes
and gazed into the mirror which her husband had arranged for that
purpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips when she recognized how
barely perceptible was now that crimson hand which had once blazed forth
with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare away all their happiness.
But then her eyes sought Aylmer's face with a trouble and anxiety that
he could by no means account for.
"My poor Aylmer!" murmured she.
"Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!" exclaimed he.
bride, it is successful! You are perfect!"
"My poor Aylmer," she repeated, with a more than human tenderness.
have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with so high
and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth could offer.
Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!"
Alas! it was too true! The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery of
life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in union
with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark--that
sole token of human imperfection--faded from her cheek, the parting
breath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and her
soul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight.
Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross
fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal
essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demands the
completeness of a higher state. Yet, had Aylmer reached a profounder
wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have
woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial. The
momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to look beyond
the shadowy scope of time, and living once for all in eternity, to find
the perfect future in the present.
THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT
As Mr. John Oakhurst, gambler, stepped into the main street of Poker
Flat on the morning of the 23d of November, 1850, he was conscious of a
change in its moral atmosphere since the preceding night. Two or three
men, conversing earnestly together, ceased as he approached, and
exchanged significant glances. There was a Sabbath lull in the air,
which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous.
Mr. Oakhurst's calm, handsome face betrayed small concern in these
indications. Whether he was conscious of any predisposing cause was
another question. "I reckon they're after somebody," he reflected;
"likely it's me." He returned to his pocket the handkerchief with
he had been whipping away the red dust of Poker Flat from his neat
boots, and quietly discharged his mind of any further conjecture.
In point of fact, Poker Flat was "after somebody." It had lately
suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses, and
a prominent citizen. It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction,
quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked
it. A secret committee had determined to rid the town of all improper
persons. This was done permanently in regard of two men who were then
hanging from the boughs of a sycamore in the gulch, and temporarily in
the banishment of certain other objectionable characters. I regret to
say that some of these were ladies. It is but due to the sex,
however, to state that their impropriety was professional, and it was
only in such easily established standards of evil that Poker Flat
ventured to sit in judgment.
[Illustration: BRET HARTE]
Mr. Oakhurst was right in supposing that he was included in this
category. A few of the committee had urged hanging him as a possible
example and a sure method of reimbursing themselves from his pockets of
the sums he had won from them. "It's agin justice," said Jim Wheeler,
"to let this yer young man from Roaring Camp--an entire stranger--carry
away our money." But a crude sentiment of equity residing in the breasts
of those who had been fortunate enough to win from Mr. Oakhurst
overruled this narrower local prejudice.
Mr. Oakhurst received his sentence with philosophic calmness, none the
less coolly that he was aware of the hesitation of his judges. He was
too much of a gambler not to accept fate. With him life was at best an
uncertain game, and he recognized the usual percentage in favor of the
A body of armed men accompanied the deported wickedness of Poker Flat
the outskirts of the settlement. Besides Mr. Oakhurst, who was known to
be a coolly desperate man, and for whose intimidation the armed escort
was intended, the expatriated party consisted of a young woman
familiarly known as "The Duchess;" another who had won the title
"Mother Shipton;" and "Uncle Billy," a suspected sluice-robber
confirmed drunkard. The cavalcade provoked no comments from the
spectators, nor was any word uttered by the escort. Only when the gulch
which marked the uttermost limit of Poker Flat was reached, the leader
spoke briefly and to the point. The exiles were forbidden to return at
the peril of their lives.
As the escort disappeared, their pent-up feelings found vent in a few
hysterical tears from the Duchess, some bad language from Mother
Shipton, and a Parthian volley of expletives from Uncle Billy. The
philosophic Oakhurst alone remained silent. He listened calmly to Mother
Shipton's desire to cut somebody's heart out, to the repeated statements
of the Duchess that she would die in the road, and to the alarming oaths
that seemed to be bumped out of Uncle Billy as he rode forward. With the
easy good humor characteristic of his class, he insisted upon exchanging
his own riding-horse, "Five-Spot," for the sorry mule which the
rode. But even this act did not draw the party into any closer sympathy.
The young woman readjusted her somewhat draggled plumes with a feeble,
faded coquetry; Mother Shipton eyed the possessor of "Five-Spot"
malevolence, and Uncle Billy included the whole party in one sweeping
The road to Sandy Bar--a camp that, not having as yet experienced the
regenerating influences of Poker Flat, consequently seemed to offer some
invitation to the emigrants--lay over a steep mountain range. It was
distant a day's severe travel. In that advanced season the party soon
passed out of the moist, temperate regions of the foothills into the
dry, cold, bracing air of the Sierras. The trail was narrow and
difficult. At noon the Duchess, rolling out of her saddle upon the
ground, declared her intention of going no farther, and the party
The spot was singularly wild and impressive. A wooded amphitheatre,
surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs of naked granite, sloped
gently toward the crest of another precipice that overlooked the valley.
It was, undoubtedly, the most suitable spot for a camp, had camping
been advisable. But Mr. Oakhurst knew that scarcely half the journey to
Sandy Bar was accomplished, and the party were not equipped or
provisioned for delay. This fact he pointed out to his companions
curtly, with a philosophic commentary on the folly of "throwing up
hand before the game was played out." But they were furnished with
liquor, which in this emergency stood them in place of food, fuel, rest,
and prescience. In spite of his remonstrances, it was not long before
they were more or less under its influence. Uncle Billy passed rapidly
from a bellicose state into one of stupor, the Duchess became maudlin,
and Mother Shipton snored. Mr. Oakhurst alone remained erect, leaning
against a rock, calmly surveying them.
Mr. Oakhurst did not drink. It interfered with a profession which
required coolness, impassiveness, and presence of mind, and, in his own
language, he "couldn't afford it." As he gazed at his recumbent
exiles, the loneliness begotten of his pariah trade, his habits of life,
his very vices, for the first time seriously oppressed him. He bestirred
himself in dusting his black clothes, washing his hands and face, and
other acts characteristic of his studiously neat habits, and for a
moment forgot his annoyance. The thought of deserting his weaker and
more pitiable companions never perhaps occurred to him. Yet he could not
help feeling the want of that excitement which, singularly enough, was
most conducive to that calm equanimity for which he was notorious. He
looked at the gloomy walls that rose a thousand feet sheer above the
circling pines around him, at the sky ominously clouded, at the valley
below, already deepening into shadow; and, doing so, suddenly he heard
his own name called.
A horseman slowly ascended the trail. In the fresh, open face of the
newcomer Mr. Oakhurst recognized Tom Simson, otherwise known as "The
Innocent," of Sandy Bar. He had met him some months before over a
"little game," and had, with perfect equanimity, won the entire
fortune--amounting to some forty dollars--of that guileless youth. After
the game was finished, Mr. Oakhurst drew the youthful speculator behind
the door and thus addressed him: "Tommy, you're a good little man,
you can't gamble worth a cent. Don't try it over again." He then handed
him his money back, pushed him gently from the room, and so made a
devoted slave of Tom Simson.
* * * * *
There was a remembrance of this in his boyish and enthusiastic greeting
of Mr. Oakhurst. He had started, he said, to go to Poker Flat to seek
his fortune. "Alone?" No, not exactly alone; in fact (a giggle),
run away with Piney Woods. Didn't Mr. Oakhurst remember Piney? She that
used to wait on the table at the Temperance House? They had been engaged
a long time, but old Jake Woods had objected, and so they had run away,
and were going to Poker Flat to be married, and here they were. And they
were tired out, and how lucky it was they had found a place to camp, and
company. All this the Innocent delivered rapidly, while Piney, a stout,
comely damsel of fifteen, emerged from behind the pine-tree, where she
had been blushing unseen, and rode to the side of her lover.
Mr. Oakhurst seldom troubled himself with sentiment, still less with
propriety; but he had a vague idea that the situation was not fortunate.
He retained, however, his presence of mind sufficiently to kick Uncle
Billy, who was about to say something, and Uncle Billy was sober enough
to recognize in Mr. Oakhurst's kick a superior power that would not bear
trifling. He then endeavored to dissuade Tom Simson from delaying
further, but in vain. He even pointed out the fact that there was no
provision, nor means of making a camp. But, unluckily, the Innocent met
this objection by assuring the party that he was provided with an extra
mule loaded with provisions, and by the discovery of a rude attempt at a
log house near the trail. "Piney can stay with Mrs. Oakhurst,"
Innocent, pointing to the Duchess, "and I can shift for myself."
Nothing but Mr. Oakhurst's admonishing foot saved Uncle Billy from
bursting into a roar of laughter. As it was, he felt compelled to retire
up the cañon until he could recover his gravity. There he confided
joke to the tall pine-trees, with many slaps of his leg, contortions of
his face, and the usual profanity. But when he returned to the party, he
found them seated by a fire--for the air had grown strangely chill and
the sky overcast--in apparently amicable conversation. Piney was
actually talking in an impulsive girlish fashion to the Duchess, who was
listening with an interest and animation she had not shown for many
days. The Innocent was holding forth, apparently with equal effect, to
Mr. Oakhurst and Mother Shipton, who was actually relaxing into
amiability. "Is this yer a d----d picnic?" said Uncle Billy, with
scorn, as he surveyed the sylvan group, the glancing firelight, and the
tethered animals in the foreground. Suddenly an idea mingled with the
alcoholic fumes that disturbed his brain. It was apparently of a jocular
nature, for he felt impelled to slap his leg again and cram his fist
into his mouth.
As the shadows crept slowly up the mountain, a slight breeze rocked the
tops of the pine-trees and moaned through their long and gloomy aisles.
The ruined cabin, patched and covered with pine boughs, was set apart
for the ladies. As the lovers parted, they unaffectedly exchanged a
kiss, so honest and sincere that it might have been heard above the
swaying pines. The frail Duchess and the malevolent Mother Shipton were
probably too stunned to remark upon this last evidence of simplicity,
and so turned without a word to the hut. The fire was replenished, the
men lay down before the door, and in a few minutes were asleep.
Mr. Oakhurst was a light sleeper. Toward morning he awoke benumbed and
cold. As he stirred the dying fire, the wind, which was now blowing
strongly, brought to his cheek that which caused the blood to leave
He started to his feet with the intention of awakening the sleepers,
there was no time to lose. But turning to where Uncle Billy had been
lying, he found him gone. A suspicion leaped to his brain, and a curse
to his lips. He ran to the spot where the mules had been tethered--they
were no longer there. The tracks were already rapidly disappearing in
The momentary excitement brought Mr. Oakhurst back to the fire with his
usual calm. He did not waken the sleepers. The Innocent slumbered
peacefully, with a smile on his good-humored, freckled face; the virgin
Piney slept beside her frailer sisters as sweetly as though attended by
celestial guardians; and Mr. Oakhurst, drawing his blanket over his
shoulders, stroked his mustaches and waited for the dawn. It came slowly
in a whirling mist of snowflakes that dazzled and confused the eye.
What could be seen of the landscape appeared magically changed. He
looked over the valley, and summed up the present and future in two
words, "Snowed in!"
A careful inventory of the provisions, which, fortunately for the party,
had been stored within the hut, and so escaped the felonious fingers of
Uncle Billy, disclosed the fact that with care and prudence they might
last ten days longer. "That is," said Mr. Oakhurst _sotto voce_
Innocent, "if you're willing to board us. If you ain't--and perhaps
you'd better not--you can wait till Uncle Billy gets back with
provisions." For some occult reason, Mr. Oakhurst could not bring
himself to disclose Uncle Billy's rascality, and so offered the
hypothesis that he had wandered from the camp and had accidentally
stampeded the animals. He dropped a warning to the Duchess and Mother
Shipton, who of course knew the facts of their associate's defection.
"They'll find out the truth about us _all_ when they find out anything,"
he added significantly, "and there's no good frightening them now."
Tom Simson not only put all his worldly store at the disposal of Mr.
Oakhurst, but seemed to enjoy the prospect of their enforced seclusion.
"We'll have a good camp for a week, and then the snow'll melt, and
all go back together." The cheerful gayety of the young man and Mr.
Oakhurst's calm infected the others. The Innocent, with the aid of pine
boughs, extemporized a thatch for the roofless cabin, and the Duchess
directed Piney in the rearrangement of the interior with a taste and
tact that opened the blue eyes of that provincial maiden to their
fullest extent. "I reckon now you're used to fine things at Poker Flat,"
said Piney. The Duchess turned away sharply to conceal something that
reddened her cheeks through their professional tint, and Mother Shipton
requested Piney not to "chatter." But when Mr. Oakhurst returned
weary search for the trail, he heard the sound of happy laughter echoed
from the rocks. He stopped in some alarm, and his thoughts first
naturally reverted to the whiskey, which he had prudently cachéd.
yet it don't somehow sound like whiskey," said the gambler. It was
until he caught sight of the blazing fire through the still blinding
storm, and the group around it, that he settled to the conviction that
it was "square fun."
Whether Mr. Oakhurst had cachéd his cards with the whiskey as
debarred the free access of the community, I cannot say. It was certain
that, in Mother Shipton's words, he "didn't say 'cards' once"
that evening. Haply the time was beguiled by an accordion, produced
somewhat ostentatiously by Tom Simson from his pack. Notwithstanding
some difficulties attending the manipulation of this instrument, Piney
Woods managed to pluck several reluctant melodies from its keys, to an
accompaniment by the Innocent on a pair of bone castanets. But the
crowning festivity of the evening was reached in a rude camp-meeting
hymn, which the lovers, joining hands, sang with great earnestness and
vociferation. I fear that a certain defiant tone and Covenanter's swing
to its chorus, rather than any devotional quality, caused it speedily to
infect the others, who at last joined in the refrain:--
"I'm proud to live in the service of the Lord,
And I'm bound to die in His army."
The pines rocked, the storm eddied and whirled above the miserable
group, and the flames of their altar leaped heavenward, as if in token
of the vow.
At midnight the storm abated, the rolling clouds parted, and the stars
glittered keenly above the sleeping camp. Mr. Oakhurst, whose
professional habits had enabled him to live on the smallest possible
amount of sleep, in dividing the watch with Tom Simson somehow managed
to take upon himself the greater part of that duty. He excused himself
to the Innocent by saying that he had "often been a week without sleep."
"Doing what?" asked Tom. "Poker!" replied Oakhurst sententiously.
a man gets a streak of luck,--nigger-luck,--he don't get tired. The luck
gives in first. Luck," continued the gambler reflectively, "is
queer thing. All you know about it for certain is that it's bound to
change. And it's finding out when it's going to change that makes you.
We've had a streak of bad luck since we left Poker Flat,--you come
along, and slap you get into it, too. If you can hold your cards right
along you're all right. For," added the gambler, with cheerful
"'I'm proud to live in the service of the Lord,
And I'm bound to die in His army.'"
The third day came, and the sun, looking through the white-curtained
valley, saw the outcasts divide their slowly decreasing store of
provisions for the morning meal. It was one of the peculiarities of that
mountain climate that its rays diffused a kindly warmth over the wintry
landscape, as if in regretful commiseration of the past. But it revealed
drift on drift of snow piled high around the hut,--a hopeless,
uncharted, trackless sea of white lying below the rocky shores to which
the castaways still clung. Through the marvelously clear air the smoke
of the pastoral village of Poker Flat rose miles away. Mother Shipton
saw it, and from a remote pinnacle of her rocky fastness hurled in that
direction a final malediction. It was her last vituperative attempt, and
perhaps for that reason was invested with a certain degree of
sublimity. It did her good, she privately informed the Duchess. "Just
you go out there and cuss, and see." She then set herself to the task
amusing "the child," as she and the Duchess were pleased to call
Piney was no chicken, but it was a soothing and original theory of the
pair thus to account for the fact that she didn't swear and wasn't
When night crept up again through the gorges, the reedy notes of the
accordion rose and fell in fitful spasms and long-drawn gasps by the
flickering campfire. But music failed to fill entirely the aching void
left by insufficient food, and a new diversion was proposed by
Piney,--story-telling. Neither Mr. Oakhurst nor his female companions
caring to relate their personal experiences, this plan would have failed
too, but for the Innocent. Some months before he had chanced upon a
stray copy of Mr. Pope's ingenious translation of the Iliad. He now
proposed to narrate the principal incidents of that poem--having
thoroughly mastered the argument and fairly forgotten the words--in the
current vernacular of Sandy Bar. And so for the rest of that night the
Homeric demi-gods again walked the earth. Trojan bully and wily Greek
wrestled in the winds, and the great pines in the cañon seemed to
the wrath of the son of Peleus. Mr. Oakhurst listened with quiet
satisfaction. Most especially was he interested in the fate of
"Ash-heels," as the Innocent persisted in denominating the "swift-footed
So, with small food and much of Homer and the accordion, a week passed
over the heads of the outcasts. The sun again forsook them, and again
from leaden skies the snowflakes were sifted over the land. Day by day
closer around them drew the snowy circle, until at last they looked from
their prison over drifted walls of dazzling white, that towered twenty
feet above their heads. It became more and more difficult to replenish
their fires, even from the fallen trees beside them, now half hidden in
the drifts. And yet no one complained. The lovers turned from the dreary
prospect and looked into each other's eyes, and were happy. Mr. Oakhurst
settled himself coolly to the losing game before him. The Duchess, more
cheerful than she had been, assumed the care of Piney. Only Mother
Shipton--once the strongest of the party--seemed to sicken and fade. At
midnight on the tenth day she called Oakhurst to her side. "I'm going,"
she said, in a voice of querulous weakness, "but don't say anything
about it. Don't waken the kids. Take the bundle from under my head, and
open it." Mr. Oakhurst did so. It contained Mother Shipton's rations
the last week, untouched. "Give 'em to the child," she said, pointing
the sleeping Piney. "You've starved yourself," said the gambler.
what they call it," said the woman querulously, as she lay down again,
and, turning her face to the wall, passed quietly away.
The accordion and the bones were put aside that day, and Homer was
forgotten. When the body of Mother Shipton had been committed to the
snow, Mr. Oakhurst took the Innocent aside, and showed him a pair of
snow-shoes, which he had fashioned from the old pack-saddle. "There's
one chance in a hundred to save her yet," he said, pointing to Piney;
"but it's there," he added, pointing toward Poker Flat. "If
reach there in two days she's safe." "And you?" asked Tom
stay here," was the curt reply.
The lovers parted with a long embrace. "You are not going, too?"
the Duchess, as she saw Mr. Oakhurst apparently waiting to accompany
him. "As far as the cañon," he replied. He turned suddenly
the Duchess, leaving her pallid face aflame, and her trembling limbs
rigid with amazement.
Night came, but not Mr. Oakhurst. It brought the storm again and the
whirling snow. Then the Duchess, feeding the fire, found that some one
had quietly piled beside the hut enough fuel to last a few days longer.
The tears rose to her eyes, but she hid them from Piney.
The women slept but little. In the morning, looking into each other's
faces, they read their fate. Neither spoke, but Piney, accepting the
position of the stronger, drew near and placed her arm around the
Duchess's waist. They kept this attitude for the rest of the day. That
night the storm reached its greatest fury, and, rending asunder the
protecting vines, invaded the very hut.
Toward morning they found themselves unable to feed the fire, which
gradually died away. As the embers slowly blackened, the Duchess crept
closer to Piney, and broke the silence of many hours: "Piney, can you
pray?" "No, dear," said Piney simply. The Duchess, without
exactly why, felt relieved, and, putting her head upon Piney's shoulder,
spoke no more. And so reclining, the younger and purer pillowing the
head of her soiled sister upon her virgin breast, they fell asleep.
The wind lulled as if it feared to waken them. Feathery drifts of snow,
shaken from the long pine boughs, flew like white winged birds, and
settled about them as they slept. The moon through the rifted clouds
looked down upon what had been the camp. But all human stain, all trace
of earthly travail, was hidden beneath the spotless mantle mercifully
flung from above.
They slept all that day and the next, nor did they waken when voices
footsteps broke the silence of the camp. And when pitying fingers
brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from
the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned. Even
the law of Poker Flat recognized this, and turned away, leaving them
still locked in each other's arms.
But at the head of the gulch, on one of the largest pine-trees, they
found the deuce of clubs pinned to the bark with a bowie-knife. It bore
the following, written in pencil in a firm hand:--
BENEATH THIS TREE
LIES THE BODY
WHO STRUCK A STREAK OF BAD LUCK
ON THE 23D OF NOVEMBER 1850,
HANDED IN HIS CHECKS
ON THE 7TH DECEMBER, 1850.
[Symbol: reversed dagger]
And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in
heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he who was at
once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat.
THE SIRE DE MALÉTROIT'S DOOR
Denis de Beaulieu was not yet two-and-twenty, but he counted himself
grown man, and a very accomplished cavalier into the bargain. Lads were
early formed in that rough, warfaring epoch; and when one has been in a
pitched battle and a dozen raids, has killed one's man in an honorable
fashion, and knows a thing or two of strategy and mankind, a certain
swagger in the gait is surely to be pardoned. He had put up his horse
with due care, and supped with due deliberation; and then, in a very
agreeable frame of mind, went out to pay a visit in the gray of the
evening. It was not a very wise proceeding on the young man's part. He
would have done better to remain beside the fire or go decently to bed.
For the town was full of the troops of Burgundy and England under a
mixed command; and though Denis was there on safe-conduct, his
safe-conduct was like to serve him little on a chance encounter.
It was September, 1429; the weather had fallen sharp; a flighty piping
wind, laden with showers, beat about the township; and the dead leaves
ran riot along the streets. Here and there a window was already lighted
up; and the noise of men-at-arms making merry over supper within came
forth in fits and was swallowed up and carried away by the wind. The
night fell swiftly; the flag of England, fluttering on the spire top,
grew ever fainter and fainter against the flying clouds--a black speck
like a swallow in the tumultuous, leaden chaos of the sky. As the
night fell the wind rose, and began to hoot under archways and roar amid
the tree-tops in the valley below the town.
[Illustration: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON]
Denis de Beaulieu walked fast and was soon knocking at his friend's
door; but though he promised himself to stay only a little while and
make an early return, his welcome was so pleasant, and he found so much
to delay him, that it was already long past midnight before he said
good-by upon the threshold. The wind had fallen again in the meanwhile;
the night was as black as the grave; not a star, nor a glimmer of
moonshine, slipped through the canopy of cloud. Denis was ill-acquainted
with the intricate lanes of Chateau Landon; even by daylight he had
found some trouble in picking his way; and in this absolute darkness he
soon lost it altogether. He was certain of one thing only--to keep
mounting the hill; for his friend's house lay at the lower end, or tail,
of Chateau Landon, while the inn was up at the head, under the great
church spire. With this clew to go upon he stumbled and groped forward,
now breathing more freely in the open places where there was a good
slice of sky overhead, now feeling along the wall in stifling closes. It
is an eerie and mysterious position to be thus submerged in opaque
blackness in an almost unknown town. The silence is terrifying in its
possibilities. The touch of cold window bars to the exploring hand
startles the man like the touch of a toad; the inequalities of the
pavement shake his heart into his mouth; a piece of denser darkness
threatens an ambuscade or a chasm in the pathway; and where the air is
brighter, the houses put on strange and bewildering appearances, as if
to lead him further from his way. For Denis, who had to regain his inn
without attracting notice, there was real danger as well as mere
discomfort in the walk; and he went warily and boldly at once, and at
every corner paused to make an observation.
He had been for some time threading a lane so narrow that he could touch
a wall with either hand, when it began to open out and go sharply
downward. Plainly this lay no longer in the direction of his inn; but
the hope of a little more light tempted him forward to reconnoitre. The
lane ended in a terrace with a bartizan wall, which gave an outlook
between high houses, as out of an embrasure, into the valley lying dark
and formless several hundred feet below. Denis looked down, and could
discern a few tree-tops waving and a single speck of brightness where
the river ran across a weir. The weather was clearing up, and the sky
had lightened, so as to show the outline of the heavier clouds and the
dark margin of the hills. By the uncertain glimmer, the house on his
left hand should be a place of some pretensions; it was surmounted by
several pinnacles and turret-tops; the round stern of a chapel, with a
fringe of flying buttresses, projected boldly from the main block; and
the door was sheltered under a deep porch carved with figures and
overhung by two long gargoyles. The windows of the chapel gleamed
through their intricate tracery with a light as of many tapers, and
threw out the buttresses and the peaked roof in a more intense blackness
against the sky. It was plainly the hotel of some great family of the
neighborhood; and as it reminded Denis of a town house of his own at
Bourges, he stood for some time gazing up at it and mentally gauging the
skill of the architects and the consideration of the two families.
There seemed to be no issue to the terrace but the lane by which he had
reached it; he could only retrace his steps, but he had gained some
notion of his whereabouts, and hoped by this means to hit the main
thoroughfare and speedily regain the inn. He was reckoning without that
chapter of accidents which was to make this night memorable above all
others in his career; for he had not gone back above a hundred yards
before he saw a light coming to meet him, and heard loud voices speaking
together in the echoing narrows of the lane. It was a party of
men-at-arms going the night round with torches. Denis assured himself
that they had all been making free with the wine bowl, and were in no
mood to be particular about safe-conducts or the niceties of chivalrous
war. It was as like as not that they would kill him like a dog and leave
him where he fell. The situation was inspiriting but nervous. Their own
torches would conceal him from sight, he reflected; and he hoped that
they would drown the noise of his footsteps with their own empty voices.
It he were but fleet and silent, he might evade their notice altogether.
Unfortunately, as he turned to beat a retreat, his foot rolled upon a
pebble; he fell against the wall with an ejaculation, and his sword rang
loudly on the stones. Two or three voices demanded who went there--some
in French, some in English; but Denis made no reply, and ran the faster
down the lane. Once upon the terrace, he paused to look back. They still
kept calling after him, and just then began to double the pace in
pursuit, with a considerable clank of armor, and great tossing of the
torchlight to and fro in the narrow jaws of the passage.
Denis cast a look around and darted into the porch. There he might
escape observation, or--if that were too much to expect--was in a
capital posture whether for parley or defence. So thinking, he drew his
sword and tried to set his back against the door. To his surprise it
yielded behind his weight; and though he turned in a moment, continued
to swing back on oiled and noiseless hinges until it stood wide open on
a black interior. When things fall out opportunely for the person
concerned, he is not apt to be critical about the how or why, his own
immediate personal convenience seeming a sufficient reason for the
strangest oddities and revolutions in our sublunary things; and so
Denis, without a moment's hesitation, stepped within and partly closed
the door behind him to conceal his place of refuge. Nothing was further
from his thoughts than to close it altogether; but for some inexplicable
reason--perhaps by a spring or a weight--the ponderous mass of oak
whipped itself out of his fingers and clanked to, with a formidable
rumble and a noise like the falling of an automatic bar.
The round, at that very moment, debouched upon the terrace and proceeded
to summon him with shouts and curses. He heard them ferreting in the
dark corners; the stock of a lance even rattled along the outer surface
of the door behind which he stood; but these gentlemen were in too high
a humor to be long delayed, and soon made off down a corkscrew pathway
which had escaped Denis' observation, and passed out of sight and
hearing along the battlements of the town.
Denis breathed again. He gave them a few minutes grace for fear of
accidents, and then groped about for some means of opening the door and
slipping forth again. The inner surface was quite smooth, not a handle,
not a moulding, not a projection of any sort. He got his finger nails
round the edges and pulled, but the mass was immovable. He shook it, it
was as firm as a rock. Denis de Beaulieu frowned and gave vent to a
little noiseless whistle. What ailed the door? he wondered. Why was it
open? How came it to shut so easily and so effectually after him? There
was something obscure and underhand about all this, that was little to
the young man's fancy. It looked like a snare, and yet who could suppose
a snare in such a quiet by-street and in a house of so prosperous and
even noble an exterior? And yet--snare or no snare, intentionally or
unintentionally--here he was, prettily trapped; and for the life of him
he could see no way out of it again. The darkness began to weigh upon
him. He gave ear; all was silent without, but within and close by he
seemed to catch a faint sighing, a faint sobbing rustle, a little
stealthy creak--as though many persons were at his side, holding
themselves quite still, and governing even their respiration with the
extreme of slyness. The idea went to his vitals with a shock, and he
faced about suddenly as if to defend his life. Then, for the first time,
he became aware of a light about the level of his eyes and at some
distance in the interior of the house--a vertical thread of light,
widening toward the bottom, such as might escape between two wings of
arras over a doorway.
To see anything was a relief to Denis; it was like a piece of solid
ground to a man laboring in a morass; his mind seized upon it with
avidity; and he stood staring at it and trying to piece together some
logical conception of his surroundings. Plainly there was a flight of
steps ascending from his own level to that of this illuminated doorway,
and indeed he thought he could make out another thread of light, as fine
as a needle and as faint as phosphorescence, which might very well be
reflected along the polished wood of a handrail. Since he had begun to
suspect that he was not alone, his heart had continued to beat with
smothering violence, and an intolerable desire for action of any sort
had possessed itself of his spirit. He was in deadly peril, he believed.
What could be more natural than to mount the staircase, lift the
curtain, and confront his difficulty at once? At least he would be
dealing with something tangible; at least he would be no longer in the
dark. He stepped slowly forward with outstretched hands, until his foot
struck the bottom step; then he rapidly scaled the stairs, stood for a
moment to compose his expression, lifted the arras and went in.
He found himself in a large apartment of polished stone. There were
three doors, one on each of three sides, all similarly curtained with
tapestry. The fourth side was occupied by two large windows and a great
stone chimneypiece, carved with the arms of the Malétroits. Denis
recognized the bearings, and was gratified to find himself in such good
hands. The room was strongly illuminated; but it contained little
furniture except a heavy table and a chair or two; the hearth was
innocent of fire, and the pavement was but sparsely strewn with rushes
clearly many days old.
On a high chair beside the chimney, and directly facing Denis as he
entered, sat a little old gentleman in a fur tippet. He sat with his
legs crossed and his hands folded, and a cup of spiced wine stood by his
elbow on a bracket on the wall. His countenance had a strong masculine
cast; not properly human, but such as we see in the bull, the goat, or
the domestic boar; something equivocal and wheedling, something greedy,
brutal and dangerous. The upper lip was inordinately full, as though
swollen by a blow or a toothache; and the smile, the peaked eyebrows,
and the small, strong eyes were quaintly and almost comically evil in
expression. Beautiful white hair hung straight all round his head, like
a saint's and fell in a single curl upon the tippet. His beard and
mustache were the pink of venerable sweetness. Age, probably in
consequence of inordinate precautions, had left no mark upon his hands;
and the Malétroit hand was famous. It would be difficult to imagine
anything at once so fleshy and so delicate in design; the taper, sensual
fingers were like those of one of Leonardo's women; the fork of the
thumb made a dimpled protuberance when closed; the nails were perfectly
shaped, and of a dead, surprising whiteness. It rendered his aspect
tenfold more redoubtable, that a man with hands like these should keep
them devoutly folded like a virgin martyr--that a man with so intent and
startling an expression of face should sit patiently on his seat and
contemplate people with an unwinking stare, like a god, or a god's
statue. His quiescence seemed ironical and treacherous, it fitted so
poorly with his looks.
Such was Alain, Sire de Malétroit.
Denis and he looked silently at each other for a second or two.
"Pray step in," said the Sire de Malétroit. "I
have been expecting you
all the evening."
He had not risen, but he accompanied his words with a smile and a slight
but courteous inclination of the head. Partly from the smile, partly
from the strange musical murmur with which the sire prefaced his
observation, Denis felt a strong shudder of disgust go through his
marrow. And what with disgust and honest confusion of mind, he could
scarcely get words together in reply.
"I fear," he said, "that this is a double accident. I
am not the person
you suppose me. It seems you were looking for a visit; but for my part,
nothing was further from my thoughts--nothing could be more contrary to
my wishes--than this intrusion."
"Well, well," replied the old gentleman indulgently, "here
which is the main point. Seat yourself, my friend, and put yourself
entirely at your ease. We shall arrange our little affairs presently."
Denis perceived that the matter was still complicated with some
misconception, and he hastened to continue his explanation.
"Your door," he began.
"About my door?" asked the other raising his peaked eyebrows.
piece of ingenuity." And he shrugged his shoulders. "A hospitable
By your own account, you were not desirous of making my acquaintance. We
old people look for such reluctance now and then; when it touches our
honor, we cast about until we find some way of overcoming it. You arrive
uninvited, but believe me, very welcome."
"You persist in error, sir," said Denis. "There can be
between you and me. I am a stranger in this countryside. My name is
Denis, damoiseau de Beaulieu. If you see me in your house it is only--"
"My young friend," interrupted the other, "you will permit
me to have my
own ideas on that subject. They probably differ from yours at the
present moment," he added with a leer, "but time will show which
is in the right."
Denis was convinced he had to do with a lunatic. He seated himself with
a shrug, content to wait the upshot; and a pause ensued, during which he
thought he could distinguish a hurried gabbling as of a prayer from
behind the arras immediately opposite him. Sometimes there seemed to be
but one person engaged, sometimes two; and the vehemence of the voice,
low as it was, seemed to indicate either great haste or an agony of
spirit. It occurred to him that this piece of tapestry covered the
entrance to the chapel he had noticed from without.
The old gentleman meanwhile surveyed Denis from head to foot with a
smile, and from time to time emitted little noises like a bird or a
mouse, which seemed to indicate a high degree of satisfaction. This
state of matters became rapidly insupportable; and Denis, to put an end
to it, remarked politely that the wind had gone down.
The old gentleman fell into a fit of silent laughter, so prolonged and
violent that he became quite red in the face. Denis got upon his feet at
once, and put on his hat with a flourish.
"Sir," he said, "if you are in your wits, you have affronted
If you are out of them, I flatter myself I can find better employment
for my brains than to talk with lunatics. My conscience is clear; you
have made a fool of me from the first moment; you have refused to hear
my explanations; and now there is no power under God will make me stay
here any longer; and if I cannot make my way out in a more decent
fashion, I will hack your door in pieces with my sword."
The Sire de Malétroit raised his right hand and wagged it at Denis
the fore and little fingers extended.
"My dear nephew," he said, "sit down."
"Nephew!" retorted Denis, "you lie in your throat;"
and he snapped his
fingers in his face.
"Sit down, you rogue!" cried the old gentleman, in a sudden,
like the barking of a dog. "Do you fancy," he went on, "that
when I had
made my little contrivance for the door I had stopped short with that?
If you prefer to be bound hand and foot till your bones ache, rise and
try to go away. If you choose to remain a free young buck, agreeably
conversing with an old gentleman--why, sit where you are in peace, and
God be with you."
"Do you mean I am a prisoner?" demanded Denis.
"I state the facts," replied the other. "I would rather
conclusion to yourself."
Denis sat down again. Externally he managed to keep pretty calm, but
within, he was now boiling with anger, now chilled with apprehension. He
no longer felt convinced that he was dealing with a madman. And if the
old gentleman was sane, what, in God's name, had he to look for? What
absurd or tragical adventure had befallen him? What countenance was he
While he was thus unpleasantly reflecting, the arras that overhung the
chapel door was raised, and a tall priest in his robes came forth, and,
giving a long, keen stare at Denis, said something in an undertone to
Sire de Malétroit.
"She is in a better frame of spirit?" asked the latter.
"She is more resigned, messire," replied the priest.
"Now the Lord help her, she is hard to please!" sneered the
gentleman. "A likely stripling--not ill-born--and of her own choosing,
too? Why, what more would the jade have?"
"The situation is not usual for a young damsel," said the other,
somewhat trying to her blushes."
"She should have thought of that before she began the dance! It
of my choosing, God knows that; but since she is in it, by our Lady, she
shall carry it to the end." And then addressing Denis, "Monsieur
Beaulieu," he asked, "may I present you to my niece? She has been
waiting your arrival, I may say, with even greater impatience than
Denis had resigned himself with a good grace--all he desired was to know
the worst of it as speedily as possible; so he rose at once, and bowed
in acquiescence. The Sire de Malétroit followed his example and limped,
with the assistance of the chaplain's arm, toward the chapel door. The
priest pulled aside the arras, and all three entered. The building had
considerable architectural pretensions. A light groining sprung from six
stout columns, and hung down in two rich pendants from the centre of the
vault. The place terminated behind the altar in a round end, embossed
and honeycombed with a superfluity of ornament in relief, and pierced by
many little windows shaped like stars, trefoils, or wheels. These
windows were imperfectly glazed, so that the night air circulated freely
in the chapel. The tapers, of which there must have been half a hundred
burning on the altar, were unmercifully blown about; and the light went
through many different phases of brilliancy and semi-eclipse. On the
steps in front of the altar knelt a young girl richly attired as a
bride. A chill settled over Denis as he observed her costume; he fought
with desperate energy against the conclusion that was being thrust upon
his mind; it could not--it should not--be as he feared.
"Blanche," said the sire, in his most flute-like tones, "I
a friend to see you, my little girl; turn round and give him your pretty
hand. It is good to be devout; but it is necessary to be polite, my
The girl rose to her feet and turned toward the newcomers. She moved
of a piece; and shame and exhaustion were expressed in every line of her
fresh young body; and she held her head down and kept her eyes upon the
pavement, as she came slowly forward. In the course of her advance her
eyes fell upon Denis de Beaulieu's feet--feet of which he was justly
vain, be it remarked, and wore in the most elegant accoutrement even
while travelling. She paused--started, as if his yellow boots had
conveyed some shocking meaning--and glanced suddenly up into the
wearer's countenance. Their eyes met: shame gave place to horror and
terror in her looks; the blood left her lips, with a piercing scream she
covered her face with her hands and sank upon the chapel floor.
"That is not the man!" she cried. "My uncle, that is not
The Sire de Malétroit chirped agreeably. "Of course not,"
he said; "I
expected as much. It was so unfortunate you could not remember his
"Indeed," she cried, "indeed, I have never seen this person
moment--I have never so much as set eyes upon him--I never wish to see
him again. Sir," she said, turning to Denis, "if you are a gentleman,
you will bear me out. Have I ever seen you--have you ever seen
me--before this accursed hour?"
"To speak for myself, I have never had that pleasure," answered
young man. "This is the first time, messire, that I have met with your
The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders.
"I am distressed to hear it," he said. "But it is never
too late to
begin. I had little more acquaintance with my own late lady ere I
married her; which proves," he added, with a grimace, "that these
impromptu marriages may often produce an excellent understanding in the
long run. As the bridegroom is to have a voice in the matter, I will
give him two hours to make up for lost time before we proceed with the
ceremony." And he turned toward the door, followed by the clergyman.
The girl was on her feet in a moment. "My uncle, you cannot be in
earnest," she said. "I declare before God I will stab myself rather
be forced on that young man. The heart rises at it; God forbids such
marriages; you dishonor your white hair. Oh, my uncle, pity me! There
is not a woman in all the world but would prefer death to such a
nuptial. Is it possible," she added, faltering--"is it possible
do not believe me--that you still think this" and she pointed at Denis
with a tremor of anger and contempt--"that you still think _this_ to
"Frankly," said the old gentleman, pausing on the threshold,
"I do. But
let me explain to you once for all, Blanche de Malétroit, my way
thinking about this affair. When you took it into your head to dishonor
my family and the name that I have borne, in peace and war, for more
than threescore years, you forfeited, not only the right to question my
designs, but that of looking me in the face. If your father had been
alive, he would have spat on you and turned you out of doors. His was
the hand of iron. You may bless your God you have only to deal with the
hand of velvet, mademoiselle. It was my duty to get you married without
delay. Out of pure goodwill, I have tried to find your own gallant for
you. And I believe I have succeeded. But before God and all the holy
angels, Blanche de Malétroit, if I have not, I care not one jackstraw.
So let me recommend you to be polite to our young friend; for, upon my
word, your next groom may be less appetizing."
And with that he went out, with the chaplain at his heels; and the arras
fell behind the pair.
The girl turned upon Denis with flashing eyes.
"And what, sir," she demanded, "may be the meaning of
"God knows," returned Denis, gloomily. "I am a prisoner
in this house,
which seems full of mad people. More I know not; and nothing do I
"And pray how came you here?" she asked.
He told her as briefly as he could. "For the rest," he added,
you will follow my example, and tell me the answer to all these riddles,
and what, in God's name, is like to be the end of it."
She stood silent for a little, and he could see her lips tremble and
tearless eyes burn with a feverish lustre. Then she pressed her forehead
in both hands.
"Alas, how my head aches!" she said, wearily--"to say
nothing of my poor
heart! But it is due to you to know my story, unmaidenly as it must
seem. I am called Blanche de Malétroit; I have been without father
mother for--oh! for as long as I can recollect, and indeed I have been
most unhappy all my life. Three months ago a young captain began to
stand near me every day in church. I could see that I pleased him; I am
much to blame, but I was so glad that any one should love me; and when
he passed me a letter, I took it home with me and read it with great
pleasure. Since that time he has written many. He was so anxious to
speak with me, poor fellow! and kept asking me to leave the door open
some evening that we might have two words upon the stair. For he knew
how much my uncle trusted me." She gave something like a sob at that,
and it was a moment before she could go on. "My uncle is a hard man,
he is very shrewd," she said, at last. "He has performed many
war, and was a great person at court, and much trusted by Queen Isabeau
in old days. How he came to suspect me I cannot tell; but it is hard to
keep anything from his knowledge; and this morning, as we came from
mass, he took my hand into his, forced it open, and read my little
billet, walking by my side all the while.
"When he finished, he gave it back to me with great politeness.
contained another request to have the door left open; and this has been
the ruin of us all. My uncle kept me strictly in my room until evening,
and then ordered me to dress myself as you see me--a hard mockery for a
young girl, do you not think so? I suppose, when he could not prevail
with me to tell him the young captain's name, he must have laid a trap
for him; into which, alas! you have fallen in the anger of God. I looked
for much confusion; for how could I tell whether he was willing to take
me for his wife on these sharp terms? He might have been trifling with
me from the first; or I might have made myself too cheap in his eyes.
But truly I had not looked for such a shameful punishment as this! I
could not think that God would let a girl be so disgraced before a young
man. And now I tell you all; and I can scarcely hope that you will not
Denis made her a respectful inclination.
"Madam," he said, "you have honored me by your confidence.
for me to prove that I am not unworthy of the honor. Is Messire de
Malétroit at hand?"
"I believe he is writing in the _salle_ without," she answered.
"May I lead you thither, madam?" asked Denis, offering his
hand with his
most courtly bearing.
She accepted it; and the pair passed out of the chapel, Blanche in a
very drooping and shamefast condition, but Denis strutting and ruffling
in the consciousness of a mission, and the boyish certainty of
accomplishing it with honor.
The Sire Malétroit rose to meet them with an ironical obeisance.
"Sir," said Denis, with the grandest possible air, "I
believe I am to
have some say in the matter of this marriage; and let me tell you at
once, I will be no party to forcing the inclination of this young lady.
Had it been freely offered to me, I should have been proud to accept
her hand, for I perceive she is as good as she is beautiful; but as
things are, I have now the honor, messire, of refusing."
Blanche looked at him with gratitude in her eyes; but the old gentleman
only smiled and smiled, until his smile grew positively sickening to
"I am afraid," he said, "Monsieur de Beaulieu, that you
do not perfectly
understand the choice I have offered you. Follow me, I beseech you, to
this window." And he led the way to one of the large windows which
open on the night. "You observe," he went on, "there is an
iron ring in
the upper masonry, and reeved through that, a very efficacious rope.
Now, mark my words: if you should find your disinclination to my niece's
person insurmountable, I shall have you hanged out of this window before
sunrise. I shall only proceed to such an extremity with the greatest
regret, you may believe me. For it is not at all your death that I
desire, but my niece's establishment in life. At the same time, it must
come to that if you prove obstinate. Your family, Monsieur de Beaulieu,
is very well in its way; but if you sprung from Charlemagne, you should
not refuse the hand of a Malétroit with impunity--not if she had
common as the Paris road--not if she was as hideous as the gargoyle over
my door. Neither my niece nor you, nor my own private feelings, move me
at all in this matter. The honor of my house has been compromised; I
believe you to be the guilty person, at least you are now in the secret;
and you can hardly wonder if I request you to wipe out the stain. If you
will not, your blood be on your own head! It will be no great
satisfaction to me to have your interesting relics kicking their heels
in the breeze below my windows, but half a loaf is better than no
bread, and if I cannot cure the dishonor, I shall at least stop the
There was a pause.
"I believe there are other ways of settling such imbroglios among
gentlemen," said Denis. "You wear a sword, and I hear you have
The Sire de Malétroit made a signal to the chaplain, who crossed
room with long silent strides and raised the arras over the third of the
three doors. It was only a moment before he let it fall again; but Denis
had time to see a dusky passage full of armed men.
"When I was a little younger, I should have been delighted to honor
Monsieur de Beaulieu," said Sire Alain; "but now I am too old.
retainers are the sinews of age, and I must employ the strength I have.
This is one of the hardest things to swallow as a man grows up in years;
but with a little patience, even this becomes habitual. You and the lady
seem to prefer the _salle_ for what remains of your two hours; and as I
have no desire to cross your preference, I shall resign it to your use
with all the pleasure in the world. No haste!" he added, holding up
hand, as he saw a dangerous look come into Denis de Beaulieu's face. "If
your mind revolt against hanging, it will be time enough two hours hence
to throw yourself out of the window or upon the pikes of my retainers.
Two hours of life are always two hours. A great many things may turn up
in even as little a while as that. And, besides, if I understand her
appearance, my niece has something to say to you. You will not disfigure
your last hours by want of politeness to a lady?"
Denis looked at Blanche, and she made him an imploring gesture.
It is likely that the old gentleman was hugely pleased at this symptom
of an understanding; for he smiled on both, and added sweetly: "If
will give me your word of honor, Monsieur de Beaulieu, to await my
return at the end of the two hours before attempting anything desperate,
I shall withdraw my retainers, and let you speak in greater privacy with
Denis again glanced at the girl, who seemed to beseech him to agree.
"I give you my word of honor," he said.
Messire de Malétroit bowed, and proceeded to limp about the apartment,
clearing his throat the while with that odd musical chirp which had
already grown so irritating in the ears of Denis de Beaulieu. He first
possessed himself of some papers which lay upon the table; then he went
to the mouth of the passage and appeared to give an order to the men
behind the arras; and lastly he hobbled out through the door by which
Denis had come in, turning upon the threshold to address a last smiling
bow to the young couple, and followed by the chaplain with a hand lamp.
No sooner were they alone than Blanche advanced toward Denis with her
hands extended. Her face was flushed and excited, and her eyes shone
"You shall not die!" she cried, "you shall marry me after
"You seem to think, madam," replied Denis, "that I stand
much in fear of
"Oh, no, no," she said, "I see you are no poltroon. It
is for my own
sake--I could not bear to have you slain for such a scruple."
"I am afraid," returned Denis, "that you underrate the
madam. What you may be too generous to refuse, I may be too proud to
accept. In a moment of noble feeling toward me, you forget what you
perhaps owe to others." He had the decency to keep his eyes on the
floor as he said this, and after he had finished, so as not to spy upon
her confusion. She stood silent for a moment, then walked suddenly away,
and falling on her uncle's chair, fairly burst out sobbing. Denis was in
the acme of embarrassment. He looked round, as if to seek for
inspiration, and, seeing a stool, plumped down upon it for something to
do. There he sat, playing with the guard of his rapier, and wishing
himself dead a thousand times over, and buried in the nastiest
kitchen-heap in France. His eyes wandered round the apartment, but found
nothing to arrest them. There were such wide spaces between the
furniture, the light fell so badly and cheerlessly over all, the dark
outside air looked in so coldly through the windows, that he thought he
had never seen a church so vast, nor a tomb so melancholy. The regular
sobs of Blanche de Malétroit measured out the time like the ticking
clock. He read the device upon the shield over and over again, until his
eyes became obscured; he stared into shadowy corners until he imagined
they were swarming with horrible animals; and every now and again he
awoke with a start, to remember that his last two hours were running,
and death was on the march.
Oftener and oftener, as the time went on, did his glance settle on the
girl herself. Her face was bowed forward and covered with her hands, and
she was shaken at intervals by the convulsive hiccough of grief. Even
thus she was not an unpleasant object to dwell upon, so plump and yet so
fine, with a warm brown skin, and the most beautiful hair, Denis
thought, in the whole world of womankind. Her hands were like her
uncle's: but they were more in place at the end of her young arms, and
looked infinitely soft and caressing. He remembered how her blue eyes
had shone upon him, full of anger, pity, and innocence. And the more he
dwelt on her perfections, the uglier death looked, and the more deeply
was he smitten with penitence at her continued tears. Now he felt that
no man could have the courage to leave a world which contained so
beautiful a creature; and now he would have given forty minutes of his
last hour to have unsaid his cruel speech.
Suddenly a hoarse and ragged peal of cockcrow rose to their ears from
the dark valley below the windows. And this shattering noise in the
silence of all around was like a light in a dark place, and shook them
both out of their reflections.
"Alas, can I do nothing to help you?" she said, looking up.
"Madam," replied Denis, with a fine irrelevancy, "if I
anything to wound you, believe me, it was for your own sake and not for
She thanked him with a tearful look.
"I feel your position cruelly," he went on. "The world
has been bitter
hard on you. Your uncle is a disgrace to mankind. Believe me, madam,
there is no young gentleman in all France but would be glad of my
opportunity, to die in doing you a momentary service."
"I know already that you can be very brave and generous," she
"What I _want_ to know is whether I can serve you--now or afterward,"
she added, with a quaver.
"Most certainly," he answered, with a smile. "Let me sit
beside you as
if I were a friend, instead of a foolish intruder; try to forget how
awkwardly we are placed to one another; make my last moments go
pleasantly; and you will do me the chief service possible."
"You are very gallant," she added, with a yet deeper sadness--"very
gallant--and it somehow pains me. But draw nearer, if you please; and
if you find anything to say to me, you will at least make certain of a
very friendly listener. Ah! Monsieur de Beaulieu," she broke forth--"ah!
Monsieur de Beaulieu, how can I look you in the face?" And she fell
weeping again with a renewed effusion.
"Madam," said Denis, taking her hand in both of his, "reflect
little time I have before me, and the great bitterness into which I am
cast by the sight of your distress. Spare me, in my last moments, the
spectacle of what I cannot cure even with the sacrifice of my life."
"I am very selfish," answered Blanche. "I will be braver,
Beaulieu, for your sake. But think if I can do you no kindness in the
future--if you have no friends to whom I could carry your adieux. Charge
me as heavily as you can; every burden will lighten, by so little, the
invaluable gratitude I owe you. Put it in my power to do something more
for you than weep."
"My mother is married again, and has a young family to care for.
brother Guichard will inherit my fiefs; and if I am not in error, that
will content him amply for my death. Life is a little vapor that passeth
away, as we are told by those in holy orders. When a man is in a fair
way and sees all life open in front of him, he seems to himself to make
a very important figure in the world. His horse whinnies to him; the
trumpets blow and the girls look out of window as he rides into town
before his company; he receives many assurances of trust and
regard--sometimes by express in a letter--sometimes face to face, with
persons of great consequence falling on his neck. It is not wonderful if
his head is turned for a time. But once he is dead, were he as brave as
Hercules or as wise as Solomon, he is soon forgotten. It is not ten
years since my father fell, with many other knights around him, in a
very fierce encounter, and I do not think that any one of them, nor so
much as the name of the fight, is now remembered. No, no, madam, the
nearer you come to it, you see that death is a dark and dusty corner,
where a man gets into his tomb and has the door shut after him till the
judgment day. I have few friends just now, and once I am dead I shall
"Ah, Monsieur de Beaulieu!" she exclaimed, "you forget
"You have a sweet nature, madam, and you are pleased to estimate
little service far beyond its worth."
"It is not that," she answered. "You mistake me if you
think I am easily
touched by my own concerns. I say so because you are the noblest man I
have ever met; because I recognize in you a spirit that would have made
even a common person famous in the land."
"And yet here I die in a mousetrap--with no more noise about it
own squeaking," answered he.
A look of pain crossed her face and she was silent for a little while.
Then a light came into her eyes, and with a smile she spoke again.
"I cannot have my champion think meanly of himself. Anyone who gives
life for another will be met in Paradise by all the heralds and angels
of the Lord God. And you have no such cause to hang your head.
For--Pray, do you think me beautiful?" she asked, with a deep flush.
"Indeed, madam, I do," he said.
"I am glad of that," she answered heartily. "Do you think
there are many
men in France who have been asked in marriage by a beautiful
maiden--with her own lips--and who have refused her to her face? I know
you men would half despise such a triumph; but believe me, we women know
more of what is precious in love. There is nothing that should set a
person higher in his own esteem; and we women would prize nothing more
"You are very good," he said; "but you cannot make me
forget that I was
asked in pity and not for love."
"I am not so sure of that," she replied, holding down her head.
to an end, Monsieur de Beaulieu. I know how you must despise me; I feel
you are right to do so; I am too poor a creature to occupy one thought
of your mind, although, alas! you must die for me this morning. But when
I asked you to marry me, indeed, and indeed, it was because I respected
and admired you, and loved you with my whole soul, from the very moment
that you took my part against my uncle. If you had seen yourself, and
how noble you looked, you would pity rather than despise me. And now,"
she went on, hurriedly checking him with her hand, "although I have
aside all reserve and told you so much, remember that I know your
sentiments toward me already. I would not, believe me, being nobly born,
weary you with importunities into consent. I too have a pride of my own:
and I declare before the holy mother of God, if you should now go back
from your word already given, I would no more marry you than I would
marry my uncle's groom."
Denis smiled a little bitterly.
"It is a small love," he said, "that shies at a little
She made no answer, although she probably had her own thoughts.
"Come hither to the window," he said with a sigh. "Here
is the dawn."
And indeed the dawn was already beginning. The hollow of the sky was
full of essential daylight, colorless and clean; and the valley
underneath was flooded with a gray reflection. A few thin vapors clung
in the coves of the forest or lay along the winding course of the river.
The scene disengaged a surprising effect of stillness, which was hardly
interrupted when the cocks began once more to crow among the steadings.
Perhaps the same fellow who had made so horrid a clangor in the darkness
not half an hour before, now sent up the merriest cheer to greet the
coming day. A little wind went bustling and eddying among the tree-tops
underneath the windows. And still the daylight kept flooding insensibly
out of the east, which was soon to grow incandescent and cast up that
red-hot cannon-ball, the rising sun.
Denis looked out over all this with a bit of a shiver. He had taken her
hand, and retained it in his almost unconsciously.
"Has the day begun already?" she said; and then illogically
night has been so long! Alas! what shall we say to my uncle when he
"What you will," said Denis, and he pressed her fingers in
She was silent.
"Blanche," he said, with a swift, uncertain, passionate utterance,
have seen whether I fear death. You must know well enough that I would
as gladly leap out of that window into the empty air as to lay a finger
on you without your free and full consent. But if you care for me at all
do not let me lose my life in a misapprehension; for I love you better
than the whole world; and though I will die for you blithely, it would
be like all the joys of Paradise to live on and spend my life in your
As he stopped speaking, a bell began to ring loudly in the interior of
the house; and a clatter of armor in the corridor showed that the
retainers were returning to their post, and the two hours were at an
"After all that you have heard?" she whispered, leaning toward
her lips and eyes.
"I have heard nothing," he replied.
"The captain's name was Florimond de Champdivers," she said
in his ear.
"I did not hear it," he answered, taking her supple body in
and covering her wet face with kisses.
A melodious chirping was audible behind, followed by a beautiful
chuckle, and the voice of Messire de Malétroit wished his new nephew
"Yes," said the dealer, "our windfalls are of various
customers are ignorant, and then I touch a dividend on my superior
knowledge. Some are dishonest," and here he held up the candle, so
the light fell strongly on his visitor, "and in that case," he
continued, "I profit by my virtue."
Markheim had but just entered from the daylight streets, and his eyes
had not yet grown familiar with the mingled shine and darkness in the
shop. At these pointed words, and before the near presence of the flame,
he blinked painfully and looked aside.
The dealer chuckled. "You come to me on Christmas Day," he
"when you know that I am alone in my house, put up my shutters, and
a point of refusing business. Well, you will have to pay for that; you
will have to pay for my loss of time, when I should be balancing my
books; you will have to pay, besides, for a kind of manner that I remark
in you to-day very strongly. I am the essence of discretion, and ask no
awkward questions; but when a customer cannot look me in the eye, he has
to pay for it." The dealer once more chuckled; and then, changing to
usual business voice, though still with a note of irony, "You can give,
as usual, a clear account of how you came into the possession of the
object?" he continued. "Still your uncle's cabinet? A remarkable
And the little pale, round-shouldered dealer stood almost on tiptoe,
looking over the top of his gold spectacles, and nodding his head with
every mark of disbelief. Markheim returned his gaze with one of infinite
pity, and a touch of horror.
"This time," said he, "you are in error. I have not come
to sell, but to
buy. I have no curios to dispose of; my uncle's cabinet is bare to the
wainscot; even were it still intact, I have done well on the Stock
Exchange, and should more likely add to it than otherwise, and my errand
to-day is simplicity itself. I seek a Christmas present for a lady,"
continued, waxing more fluent as he struck into the speech he had
prepared; "and certainly I owe you every excuse for thus disturbing
upon so small a matter. But the thing was neglected yesterday; I must
produce my little compliment at dinner; and, as you very well know, a
rich marriage is not a thing to be neglected."
There followed a pause, during which the dealer seemed to weigh this
statement incredulously. The ticking of many clocks among the curious
lumber of the shop, and the faint rushing of the cabs in a near
thoroughfare, filled up the interval of silence.
"Well, sir," said the dealer, "be it so. You are an old
all; and if, as you say, you have the chance of a good marriage, far be
it from me to be an obstacle. Here is a nice thing for a lady, now,"
went on, "this hand glass--fifteenth century, warranted; comes from
good collection, too; but I reserve the name, in the interests of my
customer, who was just like yourself, my dear sir, the nephew and sole
heir of a remarkable collector."
The dealer, while he thus ran on in his dry and biting voice, had
stooped to take the object from its place; and, as he had done so, a
shock had passed through Markheim, a start both of hand and foot, a
sudden leap of many tumultuous passions to the face. It passed as
swiftly as it came, and left no trace beyond a certain trembling of the
hand that now received the glass.
"A glass," he said hoarsely, and then paused, and repeated
clearly. "A glass? For Christmas? Surely not."
"And why not?" cried the dealer. "Why not a glass?"
Markheim was looking upon him with an indefinable expression. "You
me why not?" he said. "Why, look here--look in it--look at yourself!
you like to see it? No! nor I--nor any man."
The little man had jumped back when Markheim had so suddenly confronted
him with the mirror; but now, perceiving there was nothing worse on
hand, he chuckled. "Your future lady, sir, must be pretty hard favored,"
"I ask you," said Markheim, "for a Christmas present,
and you give me
this--this damned reminder of years and sins and follies--this
hand-conscience! Did you mean it? Had you a thought in your mind? Tell
me. It will be better for you if you do. Come, tell me about yourself. I
hazard a guess now, that you are in secret a very charitable man?"
The dealer looked closely at his companion. It was very odd, Markheim
did not appear to be laughing; there was something in his face like an
eager sparkle of hope, but nothing of mirth.
"What are you driving at?" the dealer asked.
"Not charitable?" returned the other, gloomily. "Not charitable;
pious; not scrupulous; unloving; unbeloved; a hand to get money, a safe
to keep it. Is that all? Dear God, man, is that all?"
"I will tell you what it is," began the dealer, with some sharpness,
then broke off again into a chuckle. "But I see this is a love match
yours, and you have been drinking the lady's health."
"Ah!" cried Markheim, with a strange curiosity. "Ah, have
you been in
love? Tell me about that."
"I!" cried the dealer. "I in love! I never had the time,
nor have I the
time to-day for all this nonsense. Will you take the glass?"
"Where is the hurry?" returned Markheim. "It is very pleasant
here talking; and life is so short and insecure that I would not hurry
away from any pleasure--no, not even from so mild a one as this. We
should rather cling, cling to what little we can get, like a man at a
cliff's edge. Every second is a cliff, if you think upon it--a cliff a
mile high--high enough, if we fall, to dash us out of every feature of
humanity. Hence it is best to talk pleasantly. Let us talk of each
other; why should we wear this mask? Let us be confidential. Who knows,
we might become friends?"
"I have just one word to say to you," said the dealer. "Either
purchase, or walk out of my shop."
"True, true," said Markheim. "Enough fooling. To business.
The dealer stooped once more, this time to replace the glass upon the
shelf, his thin blond hair falling over his eyes as he did so. Markheim
moved a little nearer, with one hand in the pocket of his greatcoat; he
drew himself up and filled his lungs; at the same time many different
emotions were depicted together on his face--terror, horror, and
resolve, fascination, and a physical repulsion; and through a haggard
lift of his upper lip, his teeth looked out.
"This, perhaps, may suit," observed the dealer; and then, as
he began to
re-arise, Markheim bounded from behind upon his victim. The long,
skewer-like dagger flashed and fell. The dealer struggled like a hen,
striking his temple on the shelf, and then tumbled on the floor in a
Time had some score of small voices in that shop, some stately and slow
as was becoming to their great age, others garrulous and hurried. All
these told out the seconds in an intricate chorus of tickings. Then the
passage of a lad's feet, heavily running on the pavement, broke in upon
these smaller voices and startled Markheim into the consciousness of his
surroundings. He looked about him awfully. The candle stood on the
counter, its flame solemnly wagging in a draught; and by that
inconsiderable movement, the whole room was filled with noiseless bustle
and kept heaving like a sea: the tall shadows nodding, the gross blots
of darkness swelling and dwindling as with respiration, the faces of the
portraits and the china gods changing and wavering like images in water.
The inner door stood ajar, and peered into that leaguer of shadows with
a long slit of daylight like a pointing finger.
From these fear-stricken rovings, Markheim's eyes returned to the body
of his victim, where it lay both humped and sprawling, incredibly small
and strangely meaner than in life. In these poor, miserly clothes, in
that ungainly attitude, the dealer lay like so much sawdust. Markheim
had feared to see it, and, lo! it was nothing. And yet, as he gazed,
this bundle of old clothes and pool of blood began to find eloquent
voices. There it must lie; there was none to work the cunning hinges or
direct the miracle of locomotion--there it must lie till it was found.
Found! aye, and then? Then would this dead flesh lift up a cry that
would ring over England, and fill the world with the echoes of pursuit.
Ay, dead or not, this was still the enemy. "Time was that when the
brains were out," he thought; and the first word struck into his mind.
Time, now that the deed was accomplished--time, which had closed for the
victim, had become instant and momentous for the slayer.
The thought was yet in his mind, when, first one and then another, with
every variety of pace and voice--one deep as the bell from a cathedral
turret, another ringing on its treble notes the prelude of a waltz--the
clocks began to strike the hour of three in the afternoon.
The sudden outbreak of so many tongues in that dumb chamber staggered
him. He began to bestir himself, going to and fro with the candle,
beleaguered by moving shadows, and startled to the soul by chance
reflections. In many rich mirrors, some of home designs, some from
Venice or Amsterdam, he saw his face repeated and repeated, as it were
an army of spies; his own eyes met and detected him; and the sound of
his own steps, lightly as they fell, vexed the surrounding quiet. And
still as he continued to fill his pockets, his mind accused him, with a
sickening iteration, of the thousand faults of his design. He should
have chosen a more quiet hour; he should have prepared an alibi; he
should not have used a knife; he should have been more cautious, and
only bound and gagged the dealer, and not killed him; he should have
been more bold, and killed the servant also; he should have done all
things otherwise; poignant regrets, weary, incessant toiling of the mind
to change what was unchangeable, to plan what was now useless, to be the
architect of the irrevocable past. Meanwhile, and behind all this
activity, brute terrors, like the scurrying of rats in a deserted
attic, filled the more remote chambers of his brain with riot; the hand
of the constable would fall heavy on his shoulder, and his nerves would
jerk like a hooked fish; or he beheld, in galloping defile, the dock,
the prison, the gallows, and the black coffin. Terror of the people in
the street sat down before his mind like a besieging army. It was
impossible, he thought, but that some rumor of the struggle must have
reached their ears and set on edge their curiosity; and now, in all the
neighboring houses, he divined them sitting motionless and with uplifted
ear--solitary people, condemned to spend Christmas dwelling alone on
memories of the past, and now startlingly recalled from that tender
exercise; happy family parties, struck into silence round the table, the
mother still with raised finger: every degree and age and humor, but
all, by their own hearths, prying and hearkening and weaving the rope
that was to hang him. Sometimes it seemed to him he could not move too
softly; the clink of the tall Bohemian goblets rang out loudly like a
bell; and alarmed by the bigness of the ticking, he was tempted to stop
the clocks. And then, again, with a swift transition of his terrors, the
very silence of the place appeared a source of peril, and a thing to
strike and freeze the passer-by; and he would step more boldly, and
bustle aloud among the contents of the shop, and imitate, with elaborate
bravado, the movements of a busy man at ease in his own house.
But he was now so pulled about by different alarms that, while one
portion of his mind was still alert and cunning, another trembled on the
brink of lunacy. One hallucination in particular took a strong hold on
his credulity. The neighbor hearkening with white face beside his
window, the passer-by arrested by a horrible surmise on the
pavement--these could at worst suspect, they could not know; through
the brick walls and shuttered windows only sounds could penetrate. But
here, within the house, was he alone? He knew he was; he had watched the
servant set forth sweethearting, in her poor best, "out for the day"
written in every ribbon and smile. Yes, he was alone, of course; and
yet, in the bulk of empty house about him, he could surely hear a stir
of delicate footing--he was surely conscious, inexplicably conscious, of
some presence. Ay, surely; to every room and corner of the house his
imagination followed it; and now it was a faceless thing, and yet had
eyes to see with; and again it was a shadow of himself; and yet again
behold the image of the dead dealer, reinspired with cunning and hatred.
At times, with a strong effort, he would glance at the open door which
still seemed to repel his eyes. The house was tall, the skylight small
and dirty, the day blind with fog; and the light that filtered down to
the ground story was exceedingly faint, and showed dimly on the
threshold of the shop. And yet, in that strip of doubtful brightness,
did there not hang wavering a shadow?
Suddenly, from the street outside, a very jovial gentleman began to beat
with a staff on the shop door, accompanying his blows with shouts and
railleries in which the dealer was continually called upon by name.
Markheim, smitten into ice, glanced at the dead man. But no! he lay
quite still; he was fled away far beyond earshot of these blows and
shoutings; he was sunk beneath seas of silence; and his name, which
would once have caught his notice above the howling of a storm, had
become an empty sound. And presently the jovial gentleman desisted from
his knocking and departed.
Here was a broad hint to hurry what remained to be done, to get forth
from this accusing neighborhood, to plunge into a bath of London
multitudes, and to reach, on the other side of day, that haven of safety
and apparent innocence--his bed. One visitor had come: at any moment
another might follow and be more obstinate. To have done the deed, and
yet not to reap the profit, would be too abhorrent a failure. The money,
that was now Markheim's concern; and as a means to that, the keys.
He glanced over his shoulder at the open door, where the shadow was
still lingering and shivering; and with no conscious repugnance of the
mind, yet with a tremor of the belly, he drew near the body of his
victim. The human character had quite departed. Like a suit half-stuffed
with bran, the limbs lay scattered, the trunk doubled, on the floor; and
yet the thing repelled him. Although so dingy and inconsiderable to the
eye, he feared it might have more significance to the touch. He took the
body by the shoulders, and turned it on its back. It was strangely light
and supple, and the limbs, as if they had been broken, fell into the
oddest postures. The face was robbed of all expression; but it was as
pale as wax, and shockingly smeared with blood about one temple. That
was, for Markheim, the one displeasing circumstance. It carried him
back, upon the instant, to a certain fair day in a fishers' village: a
gray day, a piping wind, a crowd upon the street, the blare of brasses,
the booming of drums, the nasal voice of a ballad singer; and a boy
going to and fro, buried over head in the crowd and divided between
interest and fear, until, coming out upon the chief place of concourse,
he beheld a booth and a great screen with pictures, dismally designed,
garishly colored: Brownrigg with her apprentice; the Mannings with their
murdered guest; Weare in the death grip of Thurtell; and a score besides
of famous crimes. The thing was as clear as an illusion; he was once
again that little boy; he was looking once again, and with the same
sense of physical revolt, at these vile pictures; he was still stunned
by the thumping of the drums. A bar of that day's music returned upon
his memory; and at that, for the first time, a qualm came over him, a
breath of nausea, a sudden weakness of the joints, which he must
instantly resist and conquer.
He judged it more prudent to confront than to flee from these
considerations; looking the more hardily in the dead face, bending his
mind to realize the nature and greatness of his crime. So little a while
ago that face had moved with every change of sentiment, that pale mouth
had spoken, that body had been all on fire with governable energies; and
now, and by his act, that piece of life had been arrested, as the
horologist, with interjected finger, arrests the beating of the clock.
So he reasoned in vain; he could rise to no more remorseful
consciousness; the same heart which had shuddered before the painted
effigies of crime, looked on its reality unmoved. At best, he felt a
gleam of pity for one who had been endowed in vain with all those
faculties that can make the world a garden of enchantment, one who had
never lived and who was now dead. But of penitence, no, not a tremor.
With that, shaking himself clear of these considerations, he found the
keys and advanced toward the open door of the shop. Outside, it had
begun to rain smartly; and the sound of the shower upon the roof had
banished silence. Like some dripping cavern, the chambers of the house
were haunted by an incessant echoing, which filled the ear and mingled
with the ticking of the clocks. And, as Markheim approached the door, he
seemed to hear, in answer to his own cautious tread, the steps of
another foot withdrawing up the stair. The shadow still palpitated
loosely on the threshold. He threw a ton's weight of resolve upon his
muscles, and drew back the door.
The faint, foggy daylight glimmered dimly on the bare floor and stairs;
on the bright suit of armor posted, halbert in hand, upon the landing;
and on the dark wood carvings and framed pictures that hung against the
yellow panels of the wainscot. So loud was the beating of the rain
through all the house that, in Markheim's ears, it began to be
distinguished into many different sounds. Footsteps and sighs, the tread
of regiments marching in the distance, the chink of money in the
counting, and the creaking of doors held stealthily ajar, appeared to
mingle with the patter of the drops upon the cupola and the gushing of
the water in the pipes. The sense that he was not alone grew upon him to
the verge of madness. On every side he was haunted and begirt by
presences. He heard them moving in the upper chambers; from the shop, he
heard the dead man getting to his legs; and as he began with a great
effort to mount the stairs, feet fled quietly before him and followed
stealthily behind. If he were but deaf, he thought, how tranquilly he
would possess his soul! And then again, and hearkening with ever fresh
attention, he blessed himself for that unresting sense which held the
outposts and stood a trusty sentinel upon his life. His head turned
continually on his neck; his eyes, which seemed starting from their
orbits, scouted on every side, and on every side were half rewarded as
with the tail of something nameless vanishing. The four-and-twenty steps
to the first floor were four-and-twenty agonies.
On that first story the doors stood ajar, three of them like three
ambushes, shaking his nerves like the throats of cannon. He could never
again, he felt, be sufficiently immured and fortified from men's
observing eyes; he longed to be home, girt in by walls, buried among
bedclothes, and invisible to all but God. And at that thought he
wondered a little, recollecting tales of other murderers and the fear
they were said to entertain of heavenly avengers. It was not so, at
least, with him. He feared the laws of nature, lest, in their callous
and immutable procedure, they should preserve some damning evidence of
his crime. He feared tenfold more, with a slavish, superstitious terror,
some scission in the continuity of man's experience, some wilful
illegality of nature. He played a game of skill, depending on the rules,
calculating consequence from cause; and what if nature, as the defeated
tyrant overthrew the chessboard, should break the mould of their
succession? The like had befallen Napoleon (so writers said) when the
winter changed the time of its appearance. The like might befall
Markheim: the solid walls might become transparent and reveal his doings
like those of bees in a glass hive; the stout planks might yield under
his foot like quicksands and detain him in their clutch; ay, and there
were soberer accidents that might destroy him: if, for instance, the
house should fall and imprison him beside the body of his victim; or the
house next door should fly on fire, and the firemen invade him from all
sides. These things he feared; and, in a sense, these things might be
called the hands of God reached forth against sin. But about God himself
he was at ease; his act was doubtless exceptional, but so were his
excuses, which God knew; it was there, and not among men, that he felt
sure of justice.
When he got safe into the drawing-room, and shut the door behind him,
was aware of a respite from alarms. The room was quite dismantled,
uncarpeted besides, and strewn with packing cases and incongruous
furniture; several great pier glasses, in which he beheld himself at
various angles, like an actor on a stage; many pictures, framed and
unframed, standing, with their faces to the wall; a fine Sheraton
sideboard, a cabinet of marquetry, and a great old bed, with tapestry
hangings. The windows opened to the floor; but by great good fortune the
lower part of the shutters had been closed, and this concealed him from
the neighbors. Here, then, Markheim drew in a packing case before the
cabinet, and began to search among the keys. It was a long business, for
there were many; and it was irksome, besides; for, after all, there
might be nothing in the cabinet, and time was on the wing. But the
closeness of the occupation sobered him. With the tail of his eye he saw
the door--even glanced at it from time to time directly, like a besieged
commander pleased to verify the good estate of his defences. But in
truth he was at peace. The rain falling in the street sounded natural
and pleasant. Presently, on the other side, the notes of a piano were
wakened to the music of a hymn, and the voices of many children took up
the air and words. How stately, how comfortable was the melody! How
fresh the youthful voices! Markheim gave ear to it smilingly, as he
sorted out the keys; and his mind was thronged with answerable ideas and
images; church-going children and the pealing of the high organ;
children afield, bathers by the brookside, ramblers on the brambly
common, kite-flyers in the windy and cloud-navigated sky; and then, at
another cadence of the hymn, back again to church, and the somnolence of
summer Sundays, and the high, genteel voice of the parson (which he
smiled a little to recall), and the painted Jacobean tombs, and the dim
lettering of the Ten Commandments in the chancel.
And as he sat thus, at once busy and absent, he was startled to his
feet. A flash of ice, a flash of fire, a bursting gush of blood, went
over him, and then he stood transfixed and thrilling. A step mounted the
stair slowly and steadily, and presently a hand was laid upon the knob,
and the lock clicked, and the door opened. Fear held Markheim in a vice.
What to expect he knew not, whether the dead man walking, or the
official ministers of human justice, or some chance witness blindly
stumbling in to consign him to the gallows. But when a face was thrust
into the aperture, glanced round the room, looked at him, nodded and
smiled as if in friendly recognition, and then withdrew again, and the
door closed behind it, his fear broke loose from his control in a hoarse
cry. At the sound of this the visitant returned.
"Did you call me?" he asked pleasantly, and with that he entered
room and closed the door behind him.
Markheim stood and gazed at him with all his eyes. Perhaps there was
film upon his sight, but the outlines of the newcomer seemed to change
and waver like those of the idols in the wavering candlelight of the
shop: and at times he thought he knew him; and at times he thought he
bore a likeness to himself; and always, like a lump of living terror,
there lay in his bosom the conviction that this thing was not of the
earth and not of God.
And yet the creature had a strange air of the commonplace, as he stood
looking on Markheim with a smile; and when he added: "You are looking
for the money, I believe?" it was in the tones of everyday politeness.
Markheim made no answer.
"I should warn you," resumed the other, "that the maid
has left her
sweetheart earlier than usual and will soon be here. If Mr. Markheim be
found in this house, I need not describe to him the consequences."
"You know me?" cried the murderer.
The visitor smiled. "You have long been a favorite of mine,"
"and I have long observed and often sought to help you."
"What are you?" cried Markheim: "the devil?"
"What I may be," returned the other, "cannot affect the
propose to render you."
"It can," cried Markheim; "it does! Be helped by you?
No, never; not by
you! You do not know me yet; thank God, you do not know me!"
"I know you," replied the visitant, with a sort of kind severity
rather firmness. "I know you to the soul."
"Know me!" cried Markheim. "Who can do so? My life is
but a travesty and
slander on myself. I have lived to belie my nature. All men do; all men
are better than this disguise that grows about and stifles them. You see
each dragged away by life, like one whom bravos have seized and muffled
in a cloak. If they had their own control--if you could see their faces,
they would be altogether different, they would shine out for heroes and
saints! I am worse than most; myself is more overlaid; my excuse is
known to me and God. But, had I the time, I could disclose myself."
"To me?" inquired the visitant.
"To you before all," returned the murderer. "I supposed
intelligent. I thought--since you exist--you would prove a reader of the
heart. And yet you would propose to judge me by my acts! Think of it; my
acts! I was born and I have lived in a land of giants; giants have
dragged me by the wrists since I was born out of my mother--the giants
of circumstance. And you would judge me by my acts! But can you not look
within? Can you not understand that evil is hateful to me? Can you not
see within me the clear writing of conscience, never blurred by any
wilful sophistry although too often disregarded? Can you not read me for
a thing that surely must be common as humanity--the unwilling sinner?"
"All this is very feelingly expressed," was the reply, "but
me not. These points of consistency are beyond my province, and I care
not in the least by what compulsion you may have been dragged away, so
as you are but carried in the right direction. But time flies; the
servant delays, looking in the faces of the crowd and at the pictures on
the hoardings, but still she keeps moving nearer; and remember, it is as
if the gallows itself were striding toward you through the Christmas
streets! Shall I help you--I, who know all? Shall I tell you where to
find the money?"
"For what price?" asked Markheim.
"I offer you the service for a Christmas gift," returned the
Markheim could not refrain from smiling with a kind of bitter triumph.
"No," said he, "I will take nothing at your hands; if I were
thirst, and it was your hand that put the pitcher to my lips, I should
find the courage to refuse. It may be credulous, but I will do nothing
to commit myself to evil."
"I have no objection to a death-bed repentance," observed the
"Because you disbelieve their efficacy!" Markheim cried.
"I do not say so," returned the other; "but I look on
these things from
a different side, and when the life is done my interest falls. The man
has lived to serve me, to spread black looks under color of religion, or
to sow tares in the wheat field, as you do, in a course of weak
compliance with desire. Now that he draws so near to his deliverance, he
can add but one act of service--to repent, to die smiling, and thus to
build up in confidence and hope the more timorous of my surviving
followers. I am not so hard a master. Try me. Accept my help. Please
yourself in life as you have done hitherto; please yourself more amply,
spread your elbows at the board; and when the night begins to fall and
the curtains to be drawn, I tell you, for your greater comfort, that you
will find it even easy to compound your quarrel with your conscience,
and to make a truckling peace with God. I came but now from such a
death-bed, and the room was full of sincere mourners, listening to the
man's last words; and when I looked into that face, which had been set
as a flint against mercy, I found it smiling with hope."
"And do you, then, suppose me such a creature?" asked Markheim.
think I have no more generous aspirations than to sin, and sin, and sin,
and, at last, sneak into heaven? My heart rises at the thought. Is this,
then, your experience of mankind? or is it because you find me with red
hands that you presume such baseness? and is this crime of murder indeed
so impious as to dry up the very springs of good?"
"Murder is to me no special category," replied the other. "All
murder, even all life is war. I behold your race, like starving mariners
on a raft, plucking crusts out of the hands of famine and feeding on
each other's lives. I follow sins beyond the moment of their acting; I
find in all that the last consequence is death; and to my eyes, the
pretty maid who thwarts her mother with such taking graces on a
question of a ball, drips no less visibly with human gore than such a
murderer as yourself. Do I say that I follow sins? I follow virtues
also; they differ not by the thickness of a nail, they are both scythes
for the reaping angel of Death. Evil, for which I live, consists not in
action but in character. The bad man is dear to me; not the bad act,
whose fruits, if we could follow them far enough down the hurtling
cataract of the ages, might yet be found more blessed than those of the
rarest virtues. And it is not because you have killed a dealer, but
because you are Markheim, that I offered to forward your escape."
"I will lay my heart open to you," answered Markheim. "This
which you find me is my last. On my way to it I have learned many
lessons; itself is a lesson, a momentous lesson. Hitherto I have been
driven with revolt to what I would not; I was a bondslave to poverty,
driven and scourged. There are robust virtues that can stand in these
temptations; mine was not so: I had a thirst of pleasure. But to-day,
and out of this deed, I pluck both warning and riches--both the power
and a fresh resolve to be myself. I become in all things a free actor in
the world; I begin to see myself all changed, these hands the agents of
good, this heart at peace. Something comes over me out of the past;
something of what I have dreamed on Sabbath evenings to the sound of the
church organ, of what I forecast when I shed tears over noble books, or
talked, an innocent child, with my mother. There lies my life; I have
wandered a few years, but now I see once more my city of destination."
"You are to use this money on the Stock Exchange, I think?"
visitor; "and there, if I mistake not, you have already lost some
"Ah," said Markheim, "but this time I have a sure thing."
"This time, again, you will lose," replied the visitor, quietly.
"Ah, but I keep back the half!" cried Markheim.
"That also you will lose," said the other.
The sweat started upon Markheim's brow. "Well, then, what matter?"
exclaimed. "Say it be lost, say I am plunged again in poverty, shall
part of me, and that the worse, continue until the end to override the
better? Evil and good run strong in me, hailing me both ways. I do not
love the one thing, I love all. I can conceive great deeds,
renunciations, martyrdoms; and though I be fallen to such a crime as
murder, pity is no stranger to my thoughts. I pity the poor; who knows
their trials better than myself? I pity and help them; I prize love, I
love honest laughter; there is no good thing nor true thing on earth but
I love it from my heart. And are my vices only to direct my life, and my
virtues to lie without effect, like some passive lumber of the mind? Not
so; good, also, is a spring of acts."
But the visitant raised his finger. "For six-and-thirty years that
have been in this world," said he, "through many changes of fortune
varieties of humor, I have watched you steadily fall. Fifteen years ago
you would have started at a theft. Three years back you would have
blenched at the name of murder. Is there any crime, is there any cruelty
or meanness, from which you still recoil?--five years from now I shall
detect you in the fact! Downward, downward lies your way; nor can
anything but death avail to stop you."
"It is true," Markheim said huskily, "I have in some degree
with evil. But it is so with all: the very saints, in the mere exercise
of living, grow less dainty, and take on the tone of their
"I will propound to you one simple question," said the other;
you answer, I shall read to you your moral horoscope. You have grown in
many things more lax; possibly you do right to be so; and at any
account, it is the same with all men. But granting that, are you in any
one particular, however trifling, more difficult to please with your own
conduct, or do you go in all things with a looser rein?"
"In any one?" repeated Markheim, with an anguish of consideration.
he added, with despair, "in none! I have gone down in all."
"Then," said the visitor, "content yourself with what
you are, for you
will never change; and the words of your part on this stage are
irrevocably written down."
Markheim stood for a long while silent, and indeed it was the visitor
who first broke the silence. "That being so," he said, "shall
I show you
"And grace?" cried Markheim.
"Have you not tried it?" returned the other. "Two or three
did I not see you on the platform of revival meetings, and was not your
voice the loudest in the hymn?"
"It is true," said Markheim; "and I see clearly what remains
for me by
way of duty. I thank you for these lessons from my soul; my eyes are
opened, and I behold myself at last for what I am."
At this moment, the sharp note of the door-bell rang through the house;
and the visitant, as though this were some concerted signal for which he
had been waiting, changed at once in his demeanor.
"The maid!" he cried. "She has returned, as I forewarned
you, and there
is now before you one more difficult passage. Her master, you must say,
is ill; you must let her in, with an assured but rather serious
countenance--no smiles, no overacting, and I promise you success! Once
the girl within, and the door closed, the same dexterity that has
already rid you of the dealer will relieve you of this last danger in
your path. Thenceforward you have the whole evening--the whole night, if
needful--to ransack the treasures of the house and to make good your
safety. This is help that comes to you with the mask of danger. Up!"
cried: "up, friend; your life hangs trembling in the scales: up, and
Markheim steadily regarded his counsellor. "If I be condemned to
acts," he said, "there is still one door of freedom open--I can
from action. If my life be an ill thing, I can lay it down. Though I be,
as you say truly, at the beck of every small temptation, I can yet, by
one decisive gesture, place myself beyond the reach of all. My love of
good is damned to barrenness; it may, and let it be! But I have still my
hatred of evil; and from that, to your galling disappointment, you shall
see that I can draw both energy and courage."
The features of the visitor began to undergo a wonderful and lovely
change: they brightened and softened with a tender triumph; and, even as
they brightened, faded and dislimned. But Markheim did not pause to
watch or understand the transformation. He opened the door and went
downstairs very slowly, thinking to himself. His past went soberly
before him; he beheld it as it was, ugly and strenuous like a dream,
random as chance-medley--a scene of defeat. Life, as he thus reviewed
it, tempted him no longer; but on the farther side he perceived a quiet
haven for his bark. He paused in the passage, and looked into the shop,
where the candle still burned by the dead body. It was strangely silent.
Thoughts of the dealer swarmed into his mind, as he stood gazing. And
then the bell once more broke out into impatient clamor.
He confronted the maid upon the threshold with something like a smile.
"You had better go for the police," said he: "I have killed
WEE WILLIE WINKIE
"An officer and a gentleman."
His full name was Percival William Williams, but he picked up the other
name in a nursery-book, and that was the end of the christened titles.
His mother's _ayah_ called him Willie-_Baba_, but as he never paid the
faintest attention to anything that the _ayah_ said, her wisdom did not
His father was the Colonel of the 195th, and as soon as Wee Willie
Winkie was old enough to understand what Military Discipline meant,
Colonel Williams put him under it. There was no other way of managing
the child. When he was good for a week, he drew good-conduct pay; and
when he was bad, he was deprived of his good-conduct stripe. Generally
he was bad, for India offers so many chances to little six-year-olds of
Children resent familiarity from strangers, and Wee Willie Winkie was
very particular child. Once he accepted an acquaintance, he was
graciously pleased to thaw. He accepted Brandis, a subaltern of the
195th, on sight. Brandis was having tea at the Colonel's, and Wee Willie
Winkie entered strong in the possession of a good-conduct badge won for
not chasing the hens round the compound. He regarded Brandis with
gravity for at least ten minutes, and then delivered himself of his
"I like you," said he, slowly, getting off his chair and coming
to Brandis. "I like you. I shall call you Coppy, because of your hair.
Do you _mind_ being called Coppy? it is because of ve hair, you know."
[Illustration: RUDYARD KIPLING]
Here was one of the most embarrassing of Wee Willie Winkie's
peculiarities. He would look at a stranger for some time, and then,
without warning or explanation, would give him a name. And the name
stuck. No regimental penalties could break Wee Willie Winkie of this
habit. He lost his good-conduct badge for christening the Commissioner's
wife "Pobs"; but nothing that the Colonel could do made the Station
forego the nickname, and Mrs. Collen remained Mrs. "Pobs" till
of her stay. So Brandis was christened "Coppy," and rose, therefore,
the estimation of the regiment.
If Wee Willie Winkie took an interest in any one, the fortunate man was
envied alike by the mess and the rank and file. And in their envy lay no
suspicion of self-interest. "The Colonel's son" was idolized on
merits entirely. Yet Wee Willie Winkie was not lovely. His face was
permanently freckled, as his legs were permanently scratched, and in
spite of his mother's almost tearful remonstrances he had insisted upon
having his long yellow locks cut short in the military fashion. "I
my hair like Sergeant Tummil's," said Wee Willie Winkie, and, his father
abetting, the sacrifice was accomplished.
Three weeks after the bestowal of his youthful affections on Lieutenant
Brandis--henceforward to be called "Coppy" for the sake of brevity--Wee
Willie Winkie was destined to behold strange things and far beyond his
Coppy returned his liking with interest. Coppy had let him wear for five
rapturous minutes his own big sword--just as tall as Wee Willie Winkie.
Coppy had promised him a terrier puppy; and Coppy had permitted him to
witness the miraculous operation of shaving. Nay, more--Coppy had said
that even he, Wee Willie Winkie, would rise in time to the ownership of
a box of shiny knives, a silver soap-box and a silver-handled
"sputter-brush," as Wee Willie Winkie called it. Decidedly, there
one except his father, who could give or take away good-conduct badges
at pleasure, half so wise, strong, and valiant as Coppy with the Afghan
and Egyptian medals on his breast. Why, then, should Coppy be guilty of
the unmanly weakness of kissing--vehemently kissing--a "big girl,"
Allardyce to wit? In the course of a morning ride, Wee Willie Winkie had
seen Coppy so doing, and, like the gentleman he was, had promptly
wheeled round and cantered back to his groom, lest the groom should also
Under ordinary circumstances he would have spoken to his father, but
felt instinctively that this was a matter on which Coppy ought first to
"Coppy," shouted Wee Willie Winkie, reining up outside that
bungalow early one morning--"I want to see you, Coppy!"
"Come in, young 'un," returned Coppy, who was at early breakfast
midst of his dogs. "What mischief have you been getting into now?"
Wee Willie Winkie had done nothing notoriously bad for three days, and
so stood on a pinnacle of virtue.
"I've been doing nothing bad," said he, curling himself into
chair with a studious affectation of the Colonel's languor after a hot
parade. He buried his freckled nose in a tea-cup and, with eyes staring
roundly over the rim, asked: "I say, Coppy, is it pwoper to kiss big
"By Jove! You're beginning early. Who do you want to kiss?"
"No one. My muvver's always kissing me if I don't stop her. If it
pwoper, how was you kissing Major Allardyce's big girl last morning, by
Coppy's brow wrinkled. He and Miss Allardyce had with great craft
managed to keep their engagement secret for a fortnight. There were
urgent and imperative reasons why Major Allardyce should not know how
matters stood for at least another month, and this small marplot had
discovered a great deal too much.
"I saw you," said Wee Willie Winkie, calmly. "But ve groom
didn't see. I
said, '_Hut jao_.'"
"Oh, you had that much sense, you young Rip," groaned poor
amused and half angry. "And how many people may you have told about
"Only me myself. You didn't tell when I twied to wide ve buffalo
pony was lame; and I fought you wouldn't like."
"Winkie," said Coppy, enthusiastically, shaking the small hand,
the best of good fellows. Look here, you can't understand all these
things. One of these days--hang it, how can I make you see it!--I'm
going to marry Miss Allardyce, and then she'll be Mrs. Coppy, as you
say. If your young mind is so scandalized at the idea of kissing big
girls, go and tell your father."
"What will happen?" said Wee Willie Winkie, who firmly believed
father was omnipotent.
"I shall get into trouble," said Coppy, playing his trump card
appealing look at the holder of the ace.
"Ven I won't," said Wee Willie Winkie, briefly. "But my
faver says it's
un-man-ly to be always kissing, and I didn't fink _you'd_ do vat,
"I'm not always kissing, old chap. It's only now and then, and when
you're bigger you'll do it too. Your father meant it's not good for
"Ah!" said Wee Willie Winkie, now fully enlightened. "It's
"Exactly," said Coppy, gravely.
"But I don't fink I'll ever want to kiss big girls, nor no one,
muvver. And I _must_ vat, you know."
There was a long pause, broken by Wee Willie Winkie.
"Are you fond of vis big girl, Coppy?"
"Awfully!" said Coppy.
"Fonder van you are of Bell or ve Butcha--or me?"
"It's in a different way," said Coppy. "You see, one of
these days Miss
Allardyce will belong to me, but you'll grow up and command the Regiment
and--all sorts of things. It's quite different, you see."
"Very well," said Wee Willie Winkie, rising. "If you're
fond of ve big
girl, I won't tell any one. I must go now."
Coppy rose and escorted his small guest to the door, adding: "You're
best of little fellows, Winkie. I tell you what. In thirty days from now
you can tell if you like--tell any one you like."
Thus the secret of the Brandis-Allardyce engagement was dependent on
little child's word. Coppy, who knew Wee Willie Winkie's idea of truth,
was at ease, for he felt that he would not break promises. Wee Willie
Winkie betrayed a special and unusual interest in Miss Allardyce, and,
slowly revolving round that embarrassed young lady, was used to regard
her gravely with unwinking eye. He was trying to discover why Coppy
should have kissed her. She was not half so nice as his own mother. On
the other hand, she was Coppy's property, and would in time belong to
him. Therefore it behooved him to treat her with as much respect as
Coppy's big sword or shiny pistol.
The idea that he shared a great secret in common with Coppy kept Wee
Willie Winkie unusually virtuous for three weeks. Then the Old Adam
broke out, and he made what he called a "campfire" at the bottom
garden. How could he have foreseen that the flying sparks would have
lighted the Colonel's little hayrick and consumed a week's store for the
horses? Sudden and swift was the punishment--deprivation of the
good-conduct badge and, most sorrowful of all, two days' confinement to
barracks--the house and veranda--coupled with the withdrawal of the
light of his father's countenance.
He took the sentence like the man he strove to be, drew himself up with
a quivering under-lip, saluted, and, once clear of the room, ran to weep
bitterly in his nursery--called by him "my quarters." Coppy came
afternoon and attempted to console the culprit.
"I'm under awwest," said Wee Willie Winkie, mournfully, "and
ought to speak to you."
Very early the next morning he climbed on to the roof of the house--that
was not forbidden--and beheld Miss Allardyce going for a ride.
"Where are you going?" cried Wee Willie Winkie.
"Across the river," she answered, and trotted forward.
Now the cantonment in which the 195th lay was bounded on the north by
river--dry in the winter. From his earliest years, Wee Willie Winkie had
been forbidden to go across the river, and had noted that even
Coppy--the almost almighty Coppy--had never set foot beyond it. Wee
Willie Winkie had once been read to, out of a big blue book, the history
of the Princess and the Goblins--a most wonderful tale of a land where
the Goblins were always warring with the children of men until they were
defeated by one Curdie. Ever since that date it seemed to him that the
bare black and purple hills across the river were inhabited by Goblins,
and, in truth, every one had said that there lived the Bad Men. Even in
his own house the lower halves of the windows were covered with green
paper on account of the Bad Men who might, if allowed clear view, fire
into peaceful drawing-rooms and comfortable bedrooms. Certainly, beyond
the river, which was the end of all the Earth, lived the Bad Men. And
here was Major Allardyce's big girl, Coppy's property, preparing to
venture into their borders! What would Coppy say if anything happened to
her? If the Goblins ran off with her as they did with Curdie's Princess?
She must at all hazards be turned back.
The house was still. Wee Willie Winkie reflected for a moment on the
very terrible wrath of his father; and then--broke his arrest! It was a
crime unspeakable. The low sun threw his shadow, very large and very
black, on the trim garden-paths, as he went down to the stables and
ordered his pony. It seemed to him in the hush of the dawn that all the
big world had been bidden to stand still and look at Wee Willie Winkie
guilty of mutiny. The drowsy groom handed him his mount, and, since the
one great sin made all others insignificant, Wee Willie Winkie said that
he was going to ride over to Coppy Sahib, and went out at a foot-pace,
stepping on the soft mould of the flower-borders.
The devastating track of the pony's feet was the last misdeed that cut
him off from all sympathy of Humanity. He turned into the road, leaned
forward, and rode as fast as the pony could put foot to the ground in
the direction of the river.
But the liveliest of twelve-two ponies can do little against the long
canter of a Waler. Miss Allardyce was far ahead, had passed through the
crops, beyond the Police-post, when all the guards were asleep, and her
mount was scattering the pebbles of the river bed as Wee Willie Winkie
left the cantonment and British India behind him. Bowed forward and
still flogging, Wee Willie Winkie shot into Afghan territory, and could
just see Miss Allardyce a black speck, flickering across the stony
plain. The reason of her wandering was simple enough. Coppy, in a tone
of too-hastily-assumed authority, had told her overnight that she must
not ride out by the river. And she had gone to prove her own spirit and
teach Coppy a lesson.
Almost at the foot of the inhospitable hills, Wee Willie Winkie saw the
Waler blunder and come down heavily. Miss Allardyce struggled clear, but
her ankle had been severely twisted, and she could not stand. Having
thus demonstrated her spirit, she wept copiously, and was surprised by
the apparition of a white, wide-eyed child in khaki, on a nearly spent
"Are you badly, badly hurted?" shouted Wee Willie Winkie, as
soon as he
was within range. "You didn't ought to be here."
"I don't know," said Miss Allardyce, ruefully, ignoring the
"Good gracious, child, what are _you_ doing here?"
"You said you was going acwoss ve wiver," panted Wee Willie
throwing himself off his pony. "And nobody--not even Coppy--must go
acwoss ve wiver, and I came after you ever so hard, but you wouldn't
stop, and now you've hurted yourself, and Coppy will be angwy wiv me,
and--I've bwoken my awwest! I've bwoken my awwest!"
The future Colonel of the 195th sat down and sobbed. In spite of the
pain in her ankle the girl was moved.
"Have you ridden all the way from cantonments, little man? What
"You belonged to Coppy. Coppy told me so!" wailed Wee Willie
disconsolately. "I saw him kissing you, and he said he was fonder of
van Bell or ve Butcha or me. And so I came. You must get up and come
back. You didn't ought to be here. Vis is a bad place, and I've bwoken
"I can't move, Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, with a groan.
"I've hurt my
foot. What shall I do?"
She showed a readiness to weep afresh, which steadied Wee Willie Winkie,
who had been brought up to believe that tears were the depth of
unmanliness. Still, when one is as great a sinner as Wee Willie Winkie,
even a man may be permitted to break down.
"Winkie," said Miss Allardyce, "when you've rested a little,
and tell them to send out something to carry me back in. It hurts
The child sat still for a little time and Miss Allardyce closed her
eyes; the pain was nearly making her faint. She was roused by Wee Willie
Winkie tying up the reins on his pony's neck and setting it free with a
vicious cut of his whip that made it whicker. The little animal headed
toward the cantonments.
"Oh, Winkie! What are you doing?"
"Hush!" said Wee Willie Winkie. "Vere's a man coming--one
of ve Bad Men.
I must stay wiv you. My faver says a man must _always_ look after a
girl. Jack will go home, and ven vey'll come and look for us. Vat's why
I let him go."
Not one man but two or three had appeared from behind the rocks of the
hills, and the heart of Wee Willie Winkie sank within him, for just in
this manner were the Goblins wont to steal out and vex Curdie's soul.
Thus had they played in Curdie's garden, he had seen the picture, and
thus had they frightened the Princess's nurse. He heard them talking to
each other, and recognized with joy the bastard Pushto that he had
picked up from one of his father's grooms lately dismissed. People who
spoke that tongue could not be the Bad Men. They were only natives after
They came up to the boulders on which Miss Allardyce's horse had
Then rose from the rock Wee Willie Winkie, child of the Dominant Race,
aged six and three-quarters, and said briefly and emphatically "_Jao!_"
The pony had crossed the river-bed.
The men laughed, and laughter from natives was the one thing Wee Willie
Winkie could not tolerate. He asked them what they wanted and why they
did not depart. Other men with most evil faces and crooked-stocked guns
crept out of the shadows of the hills, till, soon, Wee Willie Winkie was
face to face with an audience some twenty strong. Miss Allardyce
"Who are you?" said one of the men.
"I am the Colonel Sahib's son, and my order is that you go at once.
black men are frightening the Miss Sahib. One of you must run into
cantonments and take the news that Miss Sahib has hurt herself, and that
the Colonel's son is here with her."
"Put our feet into the trap?" was the laughing reply. "Hear
"Say that I sent you--I, the Colonel's son. They will give you money."
"What is the use of this talk? Take up the child and the girl, and
can at least ask for the ransom. Ours are the villages on the heights,"
said a voice in the background.
These _were_ the Bad Men--worse than Goblins--and it needed all Wee
Willie Winkie's training to prevent him from bursting into tears. But he
felt that to cry before a native, excepting only his mother's _ayah_,
would be an infamy greater than any mutiny. Moreover, he as future
Colonel of the 195th, had that grim regiment at his back.
"Are you going to carry us away?" said Wee Willie Winkie, very
"Yes, my little _Sahib Bahadur_," said the tallest of the men,
"That is child's talk," said Wee Willie Winkie. "Men do
not eat men."
A yell of laughter interrupted him, but he went on firmly,--"And
do carry us away, I tell you that all my regiment will come up in a day
and kill you all without leaving one. Who will take my message to the
Speech in any vernacular--and Wee Willie Winkie had a colloquial
acquaintance with three--was easy to the boy who could not yet manage
his "r's" and "th's" aright.
Another man joined the conference, crying: "O foolish men! What
babe says is true. He is the heart's heart of those white troops. For
the sake of peace let them go both, for if he be taken, the regiment
will break loose and gut the valley. _Our_ villages are in the valley,
and we shall not escape. That regiment are devils. They broke Khoda
Yar's breast-bone with kicks when he tried to take the rifles; and if we
touch this child they will fire and rape and plunder for a month, till
nothing remains. Better to send a man back to take the message and get a
reward. I say that this child is their God, and that they will spare
none of us, nor our women, if we harm him."
It was Din Mahommed, the dismissed groom of the Colonel, who made the
diversion, and an angry and heated discussion followed. Wee Willie
Winkie standing over Miss Allardyce, waited the upshot. Surely his
"wegiment," his own "wegiment," would not desert him
if they knew of his
* * * * *
The riderless pony brought the news to the 195th, though there had been
consternation in the Colonel's household for an hour before. The little
beast came in through the parade ground in front of the main barracks,
where the men were settling down to play Spoil-five till the afternoon.
Devlin, the Color Sergeant of E Company, glanced at the empty saddle and
tumbled through the barrack-rooms, kicking up each Room Corporal as he
passed. "Up, ye beggars! There's something happened to the Colonel's
son," he shouted.
"He couldn't fall off! S'elp me, 'e _couldn't_ fall off," blubbered
drummer-boy. "Go an' hunt acrost the river. He's over there if he's
anywhere, an' maybe those Pathans have got 'im. For the love o' Gawd
don't look for 'im in the nullahs! Let's go over the river."
"There's sense in Mott yet," said Devlin. "E Company,
double out to the
So E Company, in its shirt-sleeves mainly, doubled for the dear life,
and in the rear toiled the perspiring Sergeant, adjuring it to double
yet faster. The cantonment was alive with the men of the 195th hunting
for Wee Willie Winkie, and the Colonel finally overtook E Company, far
too exhausted to swear, struggling in the pebbles of the river-bed.
Up the hill under which Wee Willie Winkie's Bad Men were discussing the
wisdom of carrying off the child and the girl, a look-out fired two
"What have I said?" shouted Din Mahommed. "There is the
_pulton_ are out already and are coming across the plain! Get away! Let
us not be seen with the boy!"
The men waited for an instant, and then, as another shot was fired,
withdrew into the hills, silently as they had appeared.
"The wegiment is coming," said Wee Willie Winkie, confidently,
Allardyce, "and it's all wight. Don't cwy!"
He needed the advice himself, for ten minutes later, when his father
came up, he was weeping bitterly with his head in Miss Allardyce's lap.
And the men of the 195th carried him home with shouts and rejoicings;
and Coppy, who had ridden a horse into a lather, met him, and, to his
intense disgust, kissed him openly in the presence of the men.
But there was balm for his dignity. His father assured him that not only
would the breaking of arrest be condoned, but that the good-conduct
badge would be restored as soon as his mother could sew it on his
blouse-sleeve. Miss Allardyce had told the Colonel a story that made him
proud of his son.
"She belonged to you, Coppy," said Wee Willie Winkie, indicating
Allardyce with a grimy forefinger. "I _knew_ she didn't ought to go
acwoss ve wiver, and I knew ve wegiment would come to me if I sent Jack
"You're a hero, Winkie," said Coppy--"a _pukka_ hero!"
"I don't know what vat means," said Wee Willie Winkie, "but
call me Winkie any no more. I'm Percival Will'am Will'ams."
And in this manner did Wee Willie Winkie enter into his manhood.
Washington Irving, the son of a Scotch merchant, was born in New York,
April 3, 1783. As his health was delicate his education was desultory,
and at sixteen he began to study law but without much seriousness. He
spent most of the time in reading, being in this way really
self-educated. His health continuing a matter of concern, he took many
excursions up the state to the woods, with much physical benefit. In
many of the up-state towns he mingled in society to such a degree that
he was in danger of becoming a mere society man. However, all the time
he was doing some writing, a part of which appeared in _The Morning
Chronicle_ when he was but nineteen.
In 1804, his health continuing poor, it was decided to send him to
Europe. There he stayed nearly two years, visiting France, England, and
Italy, being everywhere received by society and meeting the best people,
as he was a remarkably agreeable young man. The trip completely restored
On his return to America in 1806, he again plunged into society, giving,
however, a hint of his future occupation in _Salmagundi_, a semi-monthly
periodical of short duration, on the model of _The Spectator_, written
in conjunction with two of his brothers in 1807-1808. In the meantime he
had been admitted to the bar. In 1809 appeared "The Knickerbocker
History of New York," a piece of humor and satire which made him famous.
At this time occurred the death of his fiancée, a loss from which
never recovered. At the beginning of the War of 1812 he served for four
months on the staff of the Governor of New York.
In 1815 he went again to Europe, this time on the business of his
brothers' firm, to which he had been admitted, and he stayed there
seventeen years. The firm failing in 1818, he turned to literature and
began the publication in 1819 of "The Sketch-Book," a collection
sketches and narratives in the manner of _The Spectator_. This book
definitely established him as an author, being received both in America
and in England with delight. Besides being successful financially it
gave him an introduction to literary society. "Bracebridge Hall"
"The Tales of a Traveller" appeared soon after, in 1822 and 1824
respectively. Irving himself had been for years much of a traveller,
both from inclination and from the demands of his health.
In 1826 Irving went to Spain to write his "Life and Voyages of
Columbus," which appeared in 1828. This residence in Spain, which lasted
till September, 1829, was a fruitful one, as Spanish subjects appealed
to his imagination. Besides the "Columbus," he wrote "The
Granada," "The Companions of Columbus," and "The Alhambra."
were financially profitable in addition to being literary successes.
Throughout these years he enjoyed, as usual, the pleasures of charming
society. His stay in Spain was terminated by his unexpected appointment
as Secretary of Legation to the Court of St. James.
Returning to England, he was received with honors, the Royal Society
Literature awarding him in 1830 one of the two annual medals and the
University of Oxford making him an honorary D.C.L. In 1831 he resigned
and the next year returned to America.
America greeted him with enthusiasm. After an extended tour of the South
and West he settled at Tarrytown, on the Hudson, a few miles north of
New York, to enjoy the domestic life afforded by numerous relatives, and
to do the writing which was more than ever necessary for the support of
the relatives who had become dependent on him. At Sunnyside, as his
place was named, he resolutely devoted himself to literary work, after
declining several offers of public office. He was a regular contributor
to _The Knickerbocker Magazine_ at an annual salary, and he wrote
several volumes, not now much read, while working on more ambitious
In 1842 he received the unexpected and unsolicited honor of appointment
as Minister to Spain. For four years he continued in office, performing
his duties with tact and discretion. In 1846 he returned finally to his
home, where he devoted his last days to a long-contemplated "Life of
Washington," a task almost beyond his powers. On the 28th of November,
1850, he died, honored as no American man of letters had ever been.
WARNER: Washington Irving.
BOYNTON: Washington Irving.
HOWELLS: My Literary Passions.
THACKERAY: Nil Nisi Bonum (Roundabout Papers).
RICHARDSON: American Literature.
NOTES TO "RIP VAN WINKLE"
This story appeared with four other papers in the first number of "The
Sketch-Book," which was published in America in May, 1819, as the work
of one Geoffrey Crayon.
PAGE 1. DIEDRICH KNICKERBOCKER: the supposed author of "The
Knickerbocker History of New York." All this prefatory matter is merely
to carry out the pretence, as do the Note and Postscript at the end.
2. PETER STUYVESANT: last Dutch governor of New York, born in Holland
1592, died in New York in 1672. A man of short temper and with a wooden
leg from the knee. FORT CHRISTINA: built by the Swedes on the Delaware
River near the present city of Wilmington. There was no fighting.
15. FEDERAL OR DEMOCRAT: the two political parties after the close of
the Revolutionary War. TORY: name applied to all followers of the king
during the war.
16. STONY POINT: this promontory on the west bank of the Hudson was
captured by the British, and later recaptured by the Americans under
General Anthony Wayne. ANTONY'S NOSE: a bold cliff, in the shape of a
nose, on the east bank of the river. The name is now usually spelled
with an _h_.
18. HENDRICK HUDSON: really Henry Hudson, an Englishman in the employ
the Dutch East India Company. He was on a voyage to discover a
north-east passage, when he explored the river which bears his name. The
_Half Moon_ was the name of his boat.
EDGAR ALLAN POE
Edgar Allan Poe, the child of poor travelling actors, was born in
Boston, January 19, 1809. Left an orphan in his third year, he was taken
into the family of Mr. John Allan of Richmond, who gave him his name.
Soon he became a great pet of his foster-parents, who rather spoiled
him. In 1815 the Allans went to England, where the boy was in school at
Stoke Newington, a suburb of London, till June, 1820, when the family
returned to Richmond. His education was continued in private schools and
by the aid of tutors till he entered the University of Virginia,
February 14, 1826. At the University he developed a passion for drink
and gambling, which led Mr. Allan to place him in his own counting-room
at the end of the session in December, though he had done extremely well
in some of his studies. Not liking the irksomeness of this occupation,
Poe left to make his own way.
He first went to Boston, where he succeeded in having some of his verses
published. His resources failing, he enlisted in the United States Army,
being assigned to the artillery and serving in different stations, among
them Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina. His conduct being
excellent, he was appointed Sergeant-major in 1829. Shortly afterward he
was reconciled to Mr. Allan, who secured him an appointment to West
Point. At the Academy he neglected his duty, was court-martialled, and
was dismissed March 7, 1831.
Poe now settled in Baltimore, where he devoted himself to writing,
winning a prize of one hundred dollars for his tale, "A MS. Found in
Bottle." He lived with his aunt, Mrs. Clemm, to whose daughter he became
engaged and whom he married in 1836 in Richmond, where he had gone to
become an assistant on _The Southern Literary Messenger_.
His habits and unfortunate disposition made it impossible for him to
remain long in one position. After some drifting, he settled in
Philadelphia in 1838, where he did hack work until he became associate
editor of _Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and American Monthly Review_ in
July, 1839. In 1840 appeared a volume of his tales which attracted
favorable notice. In 1841 he became editor of _Graham's Magazine_, but
in this year, too, his wife became a hopeless invalid. Anxiety about her
had doubtless much to do with the subsequent condition of Poe's mind. In
the next year again he lost his position. At this time he fell into
wretched poverty. Then, as always, his aunt gave him the devotion of a
mother. The fortunate gaining of another hundred-dollar prize, this time
for "The Gold Bug," helped along together with some work on _Graham's_
in a minor capacity.
New York was his next location, where he was on _The Evening Mirror_.
1845 his "Raven" was published and at once sprang into phenomenal
Lecturing, magazine work, and the editing of _The Broadway Journal_
occupied the next year. In 1846 he moved to Fordham. There ill-health
and poverty so oppressed him that money had to be raised to take care of
the family. In 1847 Mrs. Poe died. From this time till his own death,
October 7, 1849, his mind, long clouded and affected by his habits,
became hopelessly diseased.
Poe was a genius of great analytical power and imagination, but unstable
and morbid. His ability has always received great recognition in Europe,
particularly in France, where a translation of his tales appeared in his
WOODBERRY: Edgar Allan Poe.
HARRISON: The Life and Letters of Edgar Allan Poe.
STEDMAN: Poets of America.
GATES: Studies and Appreciations.
BROWNELL: American Prose Masters.
NOTES TO "THE GOLD BUG"
This story, which is classed in the group entitled "Stories of
Ratiocination" (see Introduction), was first published in _The Dollar
Newspaper_ of Philadelphia in June, 1843, winning a prize of one hundred
PAGE 23. TARANTULA: the bite of this spider was once supposed to cause
form of madness which made the victim dance. Compare the musical term
"tarantelle." HUGUENOT: French Protestant. Many fled to South
from persecutions in France. SULLIVAN'S ISLAND: Poe has been criticised
for his inaccuracies concerning this island. He should have known it
well, as he was stationed at Fort Moultrie in 1828 when a private in the
United States Artillery.
24. SWAMMERDAMM: Jan Swammerdam--one final _m_ according to the Century
Dictionary--(1637-1680). A distinguished Dutch naturalist.
27. SCARABÆUS CAPUT HOMINIS: (Latin) _a man's head beetle_. There
such species known.
29. SYPHON: Negro dialect for ciphering, a colloquial word for
"reckoning in figures." Poe hardly seems successful in representing
sounds of the speech of Negroes. Not much attention had been paid to the
subject in literature at that time. To-day, since the work of Joel
Chandler Harris in "Uncle Remus" and of Thomas Nelson Page in
Virginia," we rather look down on these early crude attempts. NOOVERS:
Negro dialect for manoeuvres in the sense of movements.
32. EMPRESSEMENT: (French) _eagerness_.
44. CURVETS AND CARACOLES: the prancing and turning of a horse.
45. VIOLENT HOWLINGS OF THE DOG: it is popularly supposed that a dog,
through its extraordinary sense of smell, can indicate the presence of
parts of a human body, though buried.
48. COUNTER: obsolete term for pieces of money.
49. SOLUTION OF THIS MOST EXTRAORDINARY RIDDLE: this story exemplifies
Poe's power in such work. He specialized on it in magazines.
52. LONG BOAT: "The largest and strongest boat belonging to a sailing
54. AQUA REGIA: (Latin) _royal water_. A chemical compound so called
from its power of dissolving gold. REGULUS OF COBALT: early chemical
term referring to the metallic mass of an ore.
55. CAPTAIN KIDD: William Kidd, about whose early life nothing is
positively known, was commissioned by the Governor of Massachusetts Bay
Colony in 1695 to put down piracy. With a good ship under him, however,
he himself turned pirate. On his return he was arrested, sent to
England, tried, and executed in London in 1701. Some of his buried
treasure was recovered by the colonial authorities in 1699.
58. GOLCONDA: a place near Hyderabad, India, noted for its diamonds.
CRYPTOGRAPHS: from two Greek words meaning _hidden_ and _write_. The
commoner term is "cryptogram."
59. SPANISH MAIN: the ocean near the coast of South America and the
adjacent parts of the Caribbean Sea over which the Spaniards exercised
67. INSIGNIUM: (Latin) _a sign_.
NOTES TO "THE PURLOINED LETTER"
This detective story was published in "The Gift" for 1845.
PAGE 69. NIL SAPIENTIÆ, etc.: (Latin) _Nothing is more hateful
than too great acuteness_. C. AUGUSTE DUPIN: clever amateur who solves
the mysteries which baffle the police. Most writers of detective stories
follow this example set by Poe. AU TROISIÈME: (French) _on the third
floor_. FAUBOURG: (French) section of a city. SAINT GERMAIN: a section
of Paris on the south bank of the Seine, once the abode of the French
nobility. AFFAIR OF THE RUE MORGUE: a reference to the detective story,
"The Murders in the Rue Morgue." THE MURDER OF MARIE ROGÊT:
to another detective story, "THE MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGÊT."
The writer is
playing the same part as does Dr. Watson in the various Sherlock Holmes
stories by Conan Doyle. PREFECT: (French) _chief_.
71. CANT OF DIPLOMACY: set phrases used in intercourse between
representatives of governments by which they hint at their meaning.
73. HÔTEL: (French) _residence_. AU FAIT: (French) _expert_.
76. MICROSCOPE: since Poe's time the microscope is, in stories, almost
an invariable part of a detective's outfit.
79. ABERNETHY: John Abernethy (1764-1831). A celebrated London
80. ESCRITOIRE: "A piece of furniture with conveniences for writing,
an opening top or falling front panel, places for inkstand, pens, and
stationery, etc."--_Century Dictionary_. PROCRUSTEAN BED: In Greek
mythology, Procrustes (derivatively "the stretcher") was a giant
tied those whom he caught on a bed, making them fit by stretching them
out if too short, and by cutting off their limbs if too long.
82. ROCHE FOUCALD: François La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680). A French
moralist known for his "Maxims" published in 1665. LA BOUGIVE:
edition of Poe's works prepared by Edmund Clarence Stedman and Professor
George Edward Woodberry, this name is given as La Bruyère. Jean de
Bruyère (1645-1696) was a French moralist. MACHIAVELLI: Nicolo
Machiavelli (1469-1527). A celebrated statesman and writer of Florence,
Italy, whose book "The Prince" is based on unscrupulous principles.
CAMPANELLA: Tomaso Campanella (1568-1639). An Italian writer.
83. RECHERCHÉ: (French) _far-fetched_. POLITICAL: a rare word,
"pertaining to the police."
84. NON DISTRIBUTIO MEDII: (Latin) _a non-distribution of the middle,
the undistributed middle_. This is a mistake in reasoning. When the
Prefect reasons that all fools are poets, therefore all poets are fools,
he has no middle term at all; that is, no class of which poets and fools
are both members. Correct reasoning is represented by this: all men are
mortal; John is a man; therefore John is mortal. Between mortal and
John, two terms, there is a middle term, men, of which both are members.
DIFFERENTIAL CALCULUS a higher form of mathematics. PAR EXCELLENCE:
(French) _above all_. IL Y A, etc.: (French). _The odds are that every
public idea, every accepted convention, is a foolish trick, for it is
suitable for the greatest number._ CHAMFORT: Sebastian Roch Nicolas
Chamfort (1741-1794). A French writer of maxims. AMBITUS: (Latin) _a
going around_. Poe means by this example and by those that follow that
mere similarity of two words does not make them of the same meaning.
85. BRYANT: Jacob Bryant (1715-1804). An English writer on mythology.
86. INTRIGANT: (French) _intriger_.
87. VIS INERTIÆ: (Latin) _the force of inertia_, the same as _inertia_,
a term of physics which denotes the tendency of a body to remain at rest
or in motion.
88. MINISTERIAL HÔTEL: house of the minister or cabinet officer.
92. FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNI: a misquotation from Vergil's "Aeneid,"
Book VI, line 126. It should be "facilis descensus Averno," _easy
the descent to Avernus_. CATALANI: Angelica Catalani (1779-1849). An
Italian singer. MONSTRUM HORRENDUM: (Latin) _a horrible monster_, the
epithet applied to the one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, in Vergil's "Aeneid,"
Book III, line 658. UN DESSEIN, etc.: (French). _A design so fatal, if
it is not worthy of Atrée, it is worthy of Thyeste_. CRÉBILLON'S
"ATRÉE": Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon (1674-1762).
A French tragic poet.
His play, "Atrée et Thyeste," bears the date 1707.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, or Hathorne, as it was spelled before he changed
it, was born in Salem, Massachusetts, July 4, 1804. His family, settled
in New England since 1630, had played its part in the activities of the
land in various capacities, including the persecution of so-called
witches. His father, a sea-captain, died on a voyage when the lad was
four years old. The excessive mourning then in vogue made the widow
practically seclude herself in her room, throwing a consequent gloom
over the household and affecting the boy's spirits. From this depressing
atmosphere he found relief in an early developed taste for reading. In
1818 the family moved to a lonely part of Maine, where in roaming the
lonely woods he gained a liking for solitude as well as for nature. He
returned to Salem in 1819 to prepare for Bowdoin College, which he
entered in 1821. After an undistinguished course he went back to his
native town, whither his mother had also returned.
In Salem he remained for twelve years, a recluse in a family of
recluses, devoting himself to reading and writing. In 1828 his first
book, "Fanshawe," was published at his own expense. Its failure
him to destroy all the copies he could find. Some of the stories which
he wrote during this period were published in the annuals, then
fashionable, and in _The New England Magazine_, but without making much
This hermit-like existence was healthily broken in 1836 by his becoming
the editor of an obscure magazine, though it was hack work and lasted
but a short time. The anonymity to which he had stubbornly clung was
also dispelled by one friend, and the publication of his "Twice-Told
Tales" was arranged for by another, his classmate, Horatio Bridge.
two facts made him known and mark the beginning of the disappearance of
his solitary depression, which was ended by his engagement to Sophia
In January, 1839, he became a weigher and gauger in the Boston Custom
House, a position which he lost in April, 1841, owing to a change in the
political administration. Then for a few months he was a member of the
Brook Farm Community, a group of reformers who tried to combine
agriculture and education. In the Custom House and at Brook Farm he
worked so hard as to have little energy for literature, publishing only
some children's books. On July 9, 1842, occurred his marriage.
For the next three years Hawthorne resided in Concord at the Old Manse.
In this retired town, where such eminent people as Emerson and Thoreau
were to be met, he lived a very happy, quiet life, given to musing and
observation. But he had lost a considerable sum of money in the Brook
Farm experiment, the failure of _The Democratic Review_ prevented
payment for his contributions, and he began to feel the pinch of
poverty. At this juncture his college mates, Bridge and Pierce, came to
the rescue, and on March 23, 1846, he was appointed surveyor of the port
of Salem, that spot in which the Hawthorne family was so firmly rooted,
whither he had previously returned with his wife and daughter, Una, born
in Concord in 1844.
Though happy for a short time at getting into the stir of actual life,
the routine and sordidness soon palled and he began to fret in the
harness. This mood kept him from composition till he forced from
himself, in 1848, the last of his short stories, including "The Great
Stone Face" and "Ethan Brand." Despite the effort, the stories
well. In 1849 he was dismissed from office by a change of political
administration, not because of inefficiency. He took this dismissal hard
because some of his townspeople had been opposed to him. Again he was in
money difficulties from which he was released by a donation from his
loyal friends. The leisure thus made possible was devoted to the
production of his greatest work, a novel, "The Scarlet Letter,"
a study in the darker side of Puritanism. Its publication in April,
1850, brought him fame. In the same year he moved to the Berkshire
The year and a half in the hills was thoroughly happy. He had the
incentive of success, the tranquillity of mind due to sufficient means,
physical comfort, and a loving household now enlarged by the birth of a
second daughter, Rose. During this time he wrote and published (1851)
his novel, "The House of the Seven Gables," the study of an inherited
curse, made pleasing as a story by means of its realistic portrayal of
ordinary life. He also put many of the stories of classical mythology
into a form understandable by children, publishing the results in "A
Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys" (1852) and "Tanglewood Tales for
and Boys" (1853). In 1852 appeared "The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told
Tales," containing hitherto uncollected contributions to various
Believing the Berkshire air rather enervating, Hawthorne moved in
November, 1851, to a temporary residence in West Newton, where he wrote
"The Blithedale Romance," which was published in 1852. This novel,
founded on his Brook Farm experience, is a study of the failure of the
typical reformer. In June, 1852, the family moved to a place of their
own, called "The Wayside" in Concord. Here the ideal family life
continued. In the summer he brought out "The Life of Franklin Pierce,"
the biography of his old college mate, who was shortly after elected to
the presidency of the United States, and made Hawthorne United States
Consul at Liverpool in 1853.
The holding of office was never a congenial occupation to Hawthorne,
though he was a good official. It always became irksome and dried up his
creative power. The consulship was no exception, and when he resigned in
1857 he felt much relief. By this time he had obtained a competence
which afforded him the gratification of paying back the money once
raised for him by his friends. When in England he had seen much of the
country; now he determined to see more of Europe. The family travelled
through France to Italy, which they greatly enjoyed, staying there till
1859. For some months they had occupied the old villa of Montauto, where
Hawthorne composed most of "The Marble Faun." The illness of Una
compelling them to seek a different climate, they returned to England,
where he finished the book, which was published the next year. "The
Marble Faun" is "an analytical study of evil"; but despite
the artistic effects and the interpretation of Italy lend it charm.
In 1860 the family returned to Concord. Hawthorne's health had been
failing for some time, and now he became incapable of sustained work.
However, in 1863 was published "Our Old Home," the theme of which
well expressed by the sub-title "A Series of English Sketches,"
had been composed previously. He continued to do some work, and even
promised a new novel to the press, but he came to realize that he would
never finish it. In 1864 he went on a carriage trip with his old friend
Pierce, during which he peacefully died in his sleep.