« ElőzőTovább »
young man may have been mistaken in thinking that Susan would die if he left her, and may have done more than his duty in sacrificing himself; but if so, it was the mistake of a generous youth, who estimated the depth of another's feelings by his own. He measured the depth of his own rather by what he felt they might be, than by that of any abysses they had yet sounded.
Clement was called a "genius" by those who knew him, and was consequently in danger of being spoiled early. The risk is great enough anywhere, but greatest in a new country, where there is an almost universal want of fixed standards of excellence.
He was by nature an artist; a shaper with the pencil or the chisel, a planner, a contriver capable of turning his hand to almost any work of eye and hand. It would not have been strange if he thought he could do everything, having gifts which were capable of various application, — and being an American citizen. But though he was a good draughtsman, and had made some reliefs and modelled some figures, he called himself only an architect. He had given himself up to his art, not merely from a love of it and talent for it, but with a kind of heroic devotion, because he thought his country wanted a race of builders to clothe the new forms of religious, social, and national life afresh from the forest, the quarry, and the mine. Some thought he would succeed, others that he would be a brilliant failure.
"Grand notions, — grand notions," the master with whom he studied said. "Large ground plan of life, — splendid elevation. A little wild in some of his fancies, perhaps, but he 's only a boy, and he 's the kind of boy that sometimes grows to be a pretty big man. Wait and see, — wait and see. He works days, and we can let him dream nights. There 's a good deal of him, anyhow." His fellow-students were puzded. Those who thought of their calling as a trade, and looked forward to the time when they should be embodying the ideals of munici
pal authorities in brick and stone, or making contracts with wealthy citizens, doubted whether Clement would have a sharp eye enough for business. "Too many whims, you know. All sorts of queer ideas in his head, — as if a boy like him was going to make things all over again!"
No doubt there was something of youthful extravagance in his plans and expectations. But it was the untamed enthusiasm which is the source of all great thoughts and deeds, — a beautiful delirium which age commonly tames down, and for which the cold showerbath the world furnishes gratis proves a pretty certain cure.
Creation is always preceded by chaos. The youthful architect's mind was confused by the multitude of suggestions which were crowding in upon it, and which he had not yet had time or developed mature strength sufficient to reduce to order. The young American of any freshness of intellect is stimulated to dangerous excess by the conditions of life into which he is born. There is a double proportion of oxygen in the New-World air. The chemists have not found it out yet, but human brains and breathing organs have long since made the discovery.
Clement knew that his hasty entanglement had limited his possibilities of happiness in one direction, and he felt that there was a certain grandeur in the recompense of working out his defeated instincts through the ambitious medium of his noble art. Had not Pharaohs chosen it to proclaim their longings for immortality, Ca;sars their passion for pomp and luxury, and the priesthood to symbolize their conceptions of the heavenly mansions? His dreams were on a grand scale; such, after all, are the best possessions of youth. Had he but been free, or mated with a nature akin to his own, he would have felt himself as truly the heir of creation as any young man that lived. But his lot was cast, and his youth had all the serious aspect to himself of thoughtful manhood. In the region of his art alone he hoped always to find freedom and a companionship which his home life could never give him.
Clement meant to have visited his beloved before he left Alderbank, but was called unexpectedly back to the city. Happily Susan was not exacting; she looked up to him with too great a feeling of distance between them to dare to question his actions. Perhaps she found a partial consolation in the company of Mr. Gifted Hopkins, who tried his new poems on her, which was the next best thing to addressing them to her. "Would that you were with us at this delightful season," she wrote in the autumn ; "but no, your Susan must not repine. Yet, in the beautiful words of our native poet,
'O would, O would that thou wast here,
The poet referred to, it need hardly be said, was our young and promising friend G. H., as he sometimes modestly signed himself. The letter, it is unnecessary to state, was voluminous, — for a woman can tell her love, or other matter of interest, over and over again in as many forms as another poet, not G. H., found for his grief in ringing the musical changes of "In Memoriam."
The answers to Susan's letters were kind, but not very long. They convinced her that it was a simple impossibility that Clement could come to Oxbow Village, on account of the great pressure of the work he had to keep him in the city, and the plans he must finish at any rate. But at last the work was partially got rid of, and Clement was coming; yes, it was so nice, and, O dear! should n't she be real happy to see him?
To Susan he appeared as a kind of divinity, — almost too grand for human nature's daily food. Yet, if the simplehearted girl could have told herself the whole truth in plain words, she would have confessed to certain doubts which from time to time, and oftener of late, cast a shadow on her seemingly bright future. With all the pleasure that the thought of meeting Clement gave her,
she felt a little tremor, a certain degree of awe, in contemplating his visit. If she could have clothed her self-humiliation in the gold and purple of the "Portuguese Sonnets," it would have been another matter; but the trouble with the most common sources of disquiet is that they have no wardrobe of flaming phraseology to air themselves in; the inward burning goes on without the relief and gratifying display of the crater.
"A friend of mine is coming to the village," she said to Mr. Gifted Hopkins. "I want you to see him. He is a genius, — as some other young men are." (This was obviously personal, and the youthful poet blushed with ingenuous delight.) "I have known him for ever so many years. He and I are very good friends." The poet knew that this meant an exclusive relation between them; and though the fact was no surprise to him, his countenance fell a little. The truth was, that his admiration was divided between Myrtle, who seemed to him divine and adorable, but distant, and Susan, who listened to his frequent poems, whom he was in the habit of seeing in artless domestic costumes, and whose attractions had been gaining upon him of late in the enforced absence of his divinity.
He retired pensive Irj. n this interview, and, flinging him:,. .;' at his desk, attempted wreaking his thoughts upon expression, to borrow the language of one of his brother bards, in a passionate lyric which he began thus : —
"Another's I O the pang, the smart!
Fate owes to Love a deathless grudge, —
"judge—judge,—no, not judge. Budge, drudge, fudge— What a disgusting language English is! Nothing fit to couple with such a word as grudge! And the gush of an impassioned moment arrested in full flow, stopped short, corked up, for want of a paltry rhyme! Judge, — budge, — drudge, — nudge, — oh ! — smudge, — misery ! — fudge. In vain,— futile, — no use, — all up for to-night!"
While the poet, headed off in this way by the poverty of his native tongue, sought inspiration by retiring into the world of dreams,—went to bed, in short, — his more fortunate rival was just entering the village, where he was to make his brief residence at the house of Deacon Rumrill, who, having been a loser by the devouring element, was glad to receive a stray boarder when any such were looking about for quarters.
For some reason or other he was restless that evening, and took out a volume he had brought with him to beguile the earlier hours of the night. It was too late when he arrived to disturb the quiet of Mrs. Hopkins's household; and whatever may have been Clement's impatience, he held it in check, and sat tranquilly until midnight over the pages of the book with which he had prudently provided himself.
"Hope you slept well last night," said the old Deacon, when Mr. Clement came down to breakfast the next morning.
"Very well, thank you, — that is, after I got to bed. But I sat up pretty late reading my favorite Scott. I am apt to forget how the hours pass when I have one of his books in my hand."
The worthy Deacon looked at Mr. Clement with a sudden accession of interest.
"You could n't find better reading, young man. Scott is my favorite author. A great man. I have got his likeness in a gilt frame hanging up in the other room. I have read him all through three times."
The young man's countenance brightened. He had not expected to find so much taste for elegant literature in an old village deacon.
"What are your favorites among his writings, Deacon? I suppose you have your particular likings, as the rest of us have."
The Deacon was flattered by the question. "Well," he answered, "I can hardly tell you. I like pretty much everything Scott ever wrote. Some
times I think it is one thing, and sometimes another. Great on Paul's Epistles, — don't you think so?"
The honest fact was, that Clement remembered very little about "Paul's Letters to his Kinsfolk,"—a book of Sir Walter's less famous than many of his others ; but he signified his polite assent to the Deacon's statement, rather wondering at his choice of a favorite, and smiling at his queer way of talking about the Letters as Epistles.
"I am afraid Scott is not so much read now-a-days as he once was, and as he ought to be," said Mr. Clement. "Such character, such nature and so much grace —"
"That 's it, — that 's it, young man," the Deacon broke in, — " Xatur' and Grace,— Natur' and Grace. Nobody ever knew better what those two words meant than Scott did, and l 'm very glad to see you 've chosen such good wholesome reading. You can't set up too late, young man, to read Scott. If I had twenty children, they should all begin reading Scott as soon as they were old enough to spell 'sin,'—and that 's the first word my little ones learned, next to 'pa' and 'ma.' Nothing like beginning the lessons of life in good season."
"What a grim old satirist!" Clement said to himself. "I wonder if the old man reads other novelists. — Do tell me, Deacon, if you have read Thackeray's last story?"
"Thackery's story? Published by the American Tract Society?"
"Not exactly," Clement answered, smiling, and quite delighted to find such an unexpected vein of grave pleasantry about the demure-looking church-dignitary; for the Deacon asked his question without moving a muscle, and took no cognizance whatever of the young man's tone and smile. First-class humorists are, as is well known, remarkaable for the immovable solemnity of their features. Clement promised himself not a little amusement from the curiously sedate drollery of the venerable Deacon, who, it was plain from his conversation, had cultivated a literary taste which would make him a more agreeable companion than the common •ecclesiastics of his grade in country villages.
After breakfast, Mr. Clement walked forth in the direction of Mrs. Hopkins's house, thinking as he went of the pleasant surprise his visit would bring to his longing and doubtless pensive Susan; for though she knew he was coming, she did not know that he was at that moment in Oxbow Village.
As he drew near the house, the first thing he saw was Susan Posey, almost running against her just as he turned a .corner. She looked wonderfully lively and rosy, for the weather was getting keen and the frosts had begun to bite. A young gentleman was walking at her side, and reading to- her from a paper he held in his hand. Both looked deeply interested, — so much so that Clement felt half ashamed of himself for intruding upon them so abruptly.
But lovers are lovers, and Clement •could not help joining them. The first thing, of course, was the utterance of two simultaneous exclamations, "Why, Clement!" "Why, Susan!" What might have come next in the programme, but for the presence of a third party, is matter of conjecture; but what did come next was a mighty awkward look on the part of Susan Posey, and the following short speech : —
"Mr. Lindsay, let roe introduce Mr. Hopkins, my friend, the poet I 've written to you about . He was just reading two of his poems to me. Some other time, Gifted — Mr. Hopkins."
"O no, Mr. Hopkins, — pray go on," said Clement. "l 'm very fond of poetry."
The poet did not require much urging, and began at once reciting over again the stanzas which were afterwards so much admired in the "Banner and Oracle," — the first verse being, as the readers of that paper will remember, —
"She moves in splendor, like the ray
Clement, who must have been in an
agony of impatience to be alone with his beloved, commanded his feelings admirably^ He signified his approbation of the poem by saying that the lines were smooth and the rhymes absolutely without blemish. The stanzas reminded him forcibly of one of the greatest poets of the century.
Gifted flushed hot with pleasure. He had tasted the blood of his own rhymes; and when a poet gets as far as that, it is like wringing the bag of exhilarating gas from the lips of a fellow sucking at it, to drag bis piece away from him.
"Perhaps you will like these lines still better," he said; "the style is more modern: —
'O daughter of the spiceVl South,
Her bubbly grapes hare spilled the wise
And so on, through a series of stanzas like these, with the pulp of two rhymes between the upper and lower crust of two others.
Clement was cornered. It was necessary to say something for the poet's sake,—perhaps for Susan's; for she was in a certain sense responsible for the poems of a youth of genius, of whom she had spoken so often and so enthusiastically.
"Very good, Mr. Hopkins, and a form of verse little used, I should think, until of late years. You modelled this piece on the style of a famous living English poet, did you not?"
"Indeed I did not, Mr. Lindsay, — I never imitate. Originality is, if I may be allowed to say so much for myself, my peculiar forte. Why, the critics allow as much as that. See here, Mr. Lindsay."
Mr. Gifted Hopkins pulled out his pocket-book, and, taking therefrom a cutting from a newspaper, — which dropped helplessly open of itself, as if tired of the process, being very tender in the joints or creases, by reason of having been often folded and unfolded, — read aloud as follows: —
"The bard of Oxbow Village — our valued correspondent who writes over the signature of G. H. — is, in our opinion, more remarkable for his originality than for any other of his numerous gifts."
Clement was apparently silenced by this, and the poet a little elated with a sense of triumph. Susan could not help sharing his feeling of satisfaction, and without meaning it in the least, nay, without knowing it, for she was as simple and pure as new milk, edged a little bit — the merest infinitesimal atom — nearer to Gifted Hopkins, who was on one side of her, while Clement walked on the other. Women love the conquering party,—it is the way of their sex. And poets, as we have seen, are wellnigh irresistible when they exert their dangerous power of fascination upon the female heart. But Clement was above jealousy; and, if he perceived anything of this movement, took no notice of it.
He saw a good deal of his pretty Susan that day. She was tender in her expressions and manners as usual, but there was a little something in her looks and language from time to time that Clement did not know exactly what to make of. She colored once or twice when the young poet's name was mentioned. She was not so full of her little plans for the future as she had sometimes been, "everything was so uncertain," she said. Clement asked himself whether she felt quite as sure that her attachment would last as she once did. But there were no reproaches, not even any explanations, which are about as bad between lovers. There was nothing but an undefined feeling on his side that she did not cling quite so closely to him, perhaps, as he had once thought, and that, if he had happened to have been drowned that day when he went down with the beautiful young woman, it was just conceivable that Susan, who would have cried dreadfully, no doubt, would in time have listened to consolation from some other young man, — possibly from the young poet whose verses he had been admiring. Easy-crying widows take new husbands soonest; there is nothing like wet weather for transplanting, as Master Gridley used to say. Susan
had a fluent natural gift for tears, as Clement well knew, after the exercise of which she used to brighten up like the rose which had been washed, just washed in a shower, mentioned by Cowper.
As for the poet, he learned more of his own sentiments during this visit of Clement's than he had ever before known. He wandered about with a dreadfully disconsolate look upon his countenance. He showed a falling-off in his appetite at tea-time, which surprised and disturbed his mother, for she had filled the house with fragrant suggestions of good things coming, in honor of Mr. Lindsay, who was to be her guest at tea- And chiefly the genteel form of doughnut called in the native dialect cymbal (Qu. Symbol? B. G.) which graced the board with its plastic forms, suggestive of the most pleasing objects,— the spiral ringlets pendent from the brow of beauty,— the magic circlet, which is the pledge of plighted affection, — the indissoluble knot, which typifies the union of hearts, which organs were also largely repre, sented; this exceptional delicacy would at any other time have claimed his special notice. But his mother remarked that he paid little attention to these, and his "No, I thank you," when it came to the preserved "damsels" as some call them, carried a pang with it to the maternal bosom. The most touching evidence of his unhappiness — whether intentional or the result of accident was not evident — was a broken heart, which he left upon his plate, the meaning of which was as plain as anything in the language of flowers. His thoughts were gloomy during that day, running a good deal on the more picturesque and impressive methods of bidding a voluntary farewell to a world which had allured him with visions of beauty only to snatch them from his impassioned gaze. His mother saw something of this, and got from him a few disjointed words, which led her to lock up the clothes-line' and hide her late husband's razors,— an affectionate, yet perhaps unnecessary precaution, for_£elfJLelimination contem