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worth doing. But you could do something of the same kind, only much
better, without taking your hands out of your pockets."

Brainard was a painstaking classmate of ours, who had been for some
years Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy, English Literature,
and European History, in a Western university, and had recently
published a volume entitled "Theism and Pantheism in the Literature of
the English Renaissance," which was well spoken of, and was already in
its third edition.

"Yes, I've seen the stuff," said Clay. "My unhappy country swarms with
that sort of thing: books about books, and books about other books
about books - like the big fleas and little fleas. It's not literature;
it's a parasitic growth that infests literature. I always say to
myself, with the melancholy Jaques, whenever I have to look over a
book by Brainard or any such fellow, 'I think of as many matters as
he; but I give Heaven thanks and make no boast of them.' No, I don't
care to add anything to that particular rubbish heap. You know Emerson
said that the worst poem is better than the best criticism of it. The
trouble with me is that what I want to do I can't do - at present; what
I can do I don't think it worth while to do - worth my while, at
least. Some one else may do it and get the credit and welcome."

"But you do a good deal of work that you don't care about, as it is,"
I objected.

"Of course. A man must live, and so I do the nearest thing and the one
that pays quickest. I got eighty dollars, now, for that last screed in
'The Reservoir.'"

"But," I persisted, "I thought that money-making had no part in your
scheme. You could make more money in a dozen other businesses."

"So I could," he answered; "but they all involve some form of slavery.
Now, I am my own master. After all, every profession has its drudgery,
and literary drudgery is not the worst."

"Well," I conceded, "independent of what you accomplish, I suppose
your way of life furnishes as many daily satisfactions as any. I
sometimes envy you and Berkeley your freedom from business cares and
your opportunities for study. What becomes of most men's college
training, for example? By Jove! I picked up a Greek book the other
day, and I couldn't read three words running. Now, I take it, you
manage to keep up your classics, among other things."

"Oh, my way of life has its compensations," he answered. "But Sydney
Smith - wasn't it? - said that life was a middling affair, anyway. As
for the classics, etc., I find that reading and study lose much of
their stimulus unless they get an issue in action, - unless one can
apply them directly toward his own work. I often think that, if I
were fifteen or even ten years younger, I would go into some branch of
natural science. A scientific man always seems to me peculiarly happy
in the healthy character of his work. He can keep himself apart from
it. It is objective, impersonal, makes no demand on his emotions. Now
a writing man has to put himself into his work. He has to keep looking
out all the time for impressions, material; to keep trying to enlarge
and deepen his own experience, and he gets self-conscious and loses
his freshness in the process."

"I am surprised to find you in New York," said I, by way of changing
the subject. "I thought you had laid out to live in the country. Do
you remember that pretty little word-picture of a winter afternoon
that you drew us - something in the style of an _Il Penseroso_
landscape? I expected to find you domesticated in a Berkshire

"Yes, I remember. I tried it. But I find it necessary, for my work, to
be in New York. The newspapers - confound 'em! - won't move into the
woods. But, after all, place is indifferent. See here; this isn't

He drew aside the window curtain, and I looked out over a wilderness
of roofs to the North River and the Palisades tinged with a purple
light. The ferry boats and tugs plying over the water in every
direction, the noise of the steam whistles, and the clouds of white
vapor floating on the clear air, made an inspiriting scene.

"I'm up among the architects here," continued Clay; "nothing but the
janitor's family between me and the roof."

We talked awhile longer, and on taking leave, I said:

"I shall be on the lookout for something big from you one of these
days. You know what we always expected of you. So don't lose your
grip, old man."

"Who knows?" he replied. "It doesn't rest with me, but with the

I was unable to visit Doddridge, the remaining member of our group. He
lived in the thriving town of Wahee, Minnesota, and I had heard of
him, in a general way, as highly prosperous. He was a prominent lawyer
and successful politician, and had lately been appointed United States
district judge, after representing his section in the State Senate for
a term or two. I wrote to him, congratulating him on his success and
asking for details. I mentioned also my visits to Berkeley, Armstrong,
and Clay. I got a prompt reply from Doddridge, from which I extract
such portions as are material to this narrative:

"The first few months after I left college I traveled pretty
extensively through the West, making contracts with the
farmers as agent for a nursery and seed-farm in my part of
the country, but really with the object of spying out the
land and choosing a place to settle in. Finally I lit on
Wahee, and made up my mind that it was a town with a future.
It was bound to be a railroad center. It had a first-rate
agricultural country around it, and a rich timber region a
little further back; and it already had an enterprising
little pop. growing rapidly. To-day Wahee is as smart a city
of its inches as there is in the Northwest. I squatted right
down here, got a little raise from the old man, and put it
all into building lots. I made a good thing of it, and paid
it all back in six years with eight per cent. interest.
Meanwhile, I went into Judge Pratt's law office and made my
salt by fitting his boy for college - till I learned enough
law to earn a salary. The judge was an old Waheer - belonged
to the time-honored aristocracy of the place, having been
here at least fifteen years before I came. He got into
railroads after awhile (is president now of the Wahee and
Heliopolis Bee-line), and left his law practice to me. I
married his daughter Alice in 1875. She is a Western girl,
but she was educated at Vassar. We have two boys. If you
ever come out our way, Polisson, you must put up with us for
as long as you can stay. I would like to show you the
country about here and have you ride after my team. I've got
a pair that can do it inside three minutes. Do you remember
Liddell of our class? He is an architect, you know. I got
him to come to Wahee, and he has all he can do putting up
business blocks. We have got some here equal to anything in

"Yes, I am United States judge for this district. There is
not much money in it, but it will help me professionally by
and by. I shall not keep it long. Do I go into politics
much, you ask. I used to, but I've got through for the
present. The folks about here wanted to run me for Congress
last term, but I hadn't any use for it. As to what you are
kind enough to say about my 'success,' etc., whatever
success I have had is owing to nothing but a capacity for
hard work, which is the only talent that I lay claim to.
They want a man out here who will do the work that comes to
hand, and keep on doing it till something better turns

"So Berkeley has turned out a dilettante instead of an
African explorer. I heard he was a minister. He does not
seem to have much ambition even in that line of life. I
should think Armstrong had got the right kind of place for
him. He was a good fellow, but never had much practical
ability. You say very little about Clay. How is old
'Sweetness and Light,' any way? I saw some fluff of his in
one of the magazines, - a 'romance' I think he called it.
This is not an age for scribbling romances. The country
wants something solider. I never took much stock in
philosophers like Berkeley and Clay. There is the same thing
the trouble with them both: they don't want to do any hard
work, and they conceal their laziness under fine
names, - culture, transcendentalism, and what not? 'Feeble
and restless youths, born to inglorious days.'"

This letter may be supplemented by another, - say Exhibit B, - which I
received from Clay not long after:

"MY DEAR POLISSON: It occurs to me that your question the
other day, as to how I was 'getting on,' did not receive as
candid an answer as it deserved. I am afraid that you
carried away an impression of me as of a man who suspected
himself to be a failure, but had not the manliness to
acknowledge it. You will say, perhaps, that there are all
degrees of half success short of absolute failure. But I say
no. In the career which I have chosen, to miss of
success - pronounced, unquestionable success - is to fail; and
I am not weak enough to hide from myself on which side of
the line I fall. The line is a very distinct one, after all.
The fact is, I took the wrong turning, and it is too late to
go back. I am a case of arrested development - a common
enough case. I might give plenty of excellent excuses to my
friends for not having accomplished what they expected me
to. But the world doesn't want apologies; it wants

"You will think this letter a most extraordinary outburst of
morbid vanity. But while I can afford to have you think me a
failure, I couldn't let you go on thinking me a fraud. That
must be my excuse for writing.

"Yours, as ever, E. CLAY."

This letter moved me deeply by its characteristic mingling of egotism
with elevation of feeling. As I held it open in my hand, and thought
over my classmates' fortunes, I was led to make a few reflections.
From the fact that Armstrong and Berkeley were leading lives that
squarely contradicted their announced ideas and intentions, it was an
obvious but not therefore a true inference that circumstance is
usually stronger than will. Say, rather, that the species of necessity
which consists in character and inborn tendency is stronger than any
resolution to run counter to it.

Both Armstrong and Berkeley, on our Commencement night, had spoken
from a sense of their own limitations, and in violent momentary
rebellion against them. But, in talking with them fifteen years later,
I could not discover that the lack of correspondence between their
ideal future and their actual present troubled them much. It is matter
of common note that it is impossible to make one man realize another's
experience; but it is often quite as hard to make him recover a past
stage of his own consciousness.

These, then, had bent to the force of chance or temperament. But
Clay had shaped his life according to his programme, and had the
result been happier? He who gets his wish often suffers a sharper
disappointment than he who loses it. "_So täuscht uns also bald die
Hoffnung, bald das Gehoffte_," says the great pessimist, and Fate is
never more ironical than when she humors our whim. Doddridge alone,
who had thrown himself confidingly into the arms of the Destinies, had
obtained their capricious favors.

I cannot say that I drew any counsel, civil or moral, from these
comparisons. Life is deeper and wider than any particular lesson to be
learned from it; and just when we think that we have at last guessed
its best meanings, it laughs in our face with some paradox which turns
our solution into a new riddle.



_Scribner's Monthly, November, 1880._


In the month of August, in the year 1878, the steamer _Mercy_, of the
New York and Savannah line, cast anchor down the channel, off a little
town in South Carolina which bore the name of Calhoun. It was not a
regular part of her "run" for the _Mercy_ to make a landing at this
place. She had departed from her course by special permit to leave
three passengers, two men and one woman, who had business of a grave
nature in Calhoun.

A man, himself a passenger for Savannah, came upon deck as the
steamship hove to, to inquire the reason of the delay. He was a short
man, thin, with a nervous hand and neck. His eyes were black, his hair
was black, and closely cut. He had an inscrutable mouth, and a
forehead well-plowed rather by experience than years. He was not an
old man. He was cleanly dressed in new, cheap clothes. He had been
commented upon as a reticent passenger. He had no friends on board the
_Mercy_. This was the first time upon the voyage that he had been
observed to speak. He came forward and stood among the others, and
abruptly said:

"What's this for?"

He addressed the mate, who answered with a sidelong look, and none too

"We land passengers by the Company's order."

"Those three?"

"Yes, the men and the lady."

"Who are they?"

"Physicians from New York."

"Ah-h!" said the man, slowly, making a sighing noise between his
teeth. "That means - that means - "

"Volunteers to the fever district," said the mate, shortly, "as you
might have known before now. You're not of a sociable cast, I see."

"I have made no acquaintances," said the short passenger. "I know
nothing of the news of the ship. Is the lady a nurse?"

"She's a she-doctor. Doctors, the whole of 'em. There ain't a nurse

"Plenty to be found, I suppose, in this place you speak of?"

"How should I know?" replied the mate, with another sidelong look.

One of the physicians, it seemed, overheard this last question and
reply. It was the woman. She stepped forward without hesitation, and,
regarding the short passenger closely, said:

"There are not nurses. This place is perishing. Savannah and the
larger towns have been looked after first - as is natural and right,"
added the physician, in a business-like tone. She had a quick and
clear-cut, but not ungentle voice.

The man nodded at her curtly, as he would to another man; he made no
answer; then with a slight flush his eye returned to her dress and
figure; he lifted his hat and stood uncovered till she had passed and
turned from him. His face, under the influence of this fluctuation of
color, changed exceedingly, and improved in proportion as it changed.

"Who is that glum fellow, Doctor?"

One of the men physicians followed and asked the lady; he spoke to her
with an air of _camaraderie_, at once frank and deferential; they had
been classmates at college for a course of lectures; he had theories
averse to the medical education of women in general, but this woman in
particular, having outranked him at graduation, he had made up his
mind to her as a marked exception to a wise rule, entitled to a candid
fellow's respect. Besides, despite her diploma, Marian Dare was a
lady - he knew the family.

"_Is_ he glum, Dr. Frank?" replied Dr. Dare.

But the other young man stood silent. He never consulted with

Dr. Dare went below for her luggage. A lonely dory, black of
complexion and skittish of gait, had wandered out and hung in the
shadow of the steamer, awaiting the passengers. The dory was manned by
one negro, who sat with his oars crossed, perfectly silent.

There is a kind of terror for which we find that animals, as well as
men, instinctively refrain from seeking expression. The face and
figure of the negro boatman presented a dull form of this species of
fear. Dr. Dare wondered if all the people in Calhoun would have that
look. The negro regarded the _Mercy_ and her passengers apathetically.

It was a hot day, and the water seemed to be blistering about the
dory. So, too, the stretching sand of the shore, as one raised the
eyes painfully against the direct noon-light, was as if it smoked. The
low, gray palmetto leaves were curled and faint. Scanty spots of shade
beneath sickly trees seemed to gasp upon the hot ground, like
creatures that had thrown themselves down to get cool. The outlines of
the town beyond had a certain horrible distinctness, as if of a sight
that should but could not be veiled. Overhead, and clean to the flat
horizon, flashed a sky of blue and blazing fire.

"Passengers for Calhoun!"

The three physicians descended into the dory. The other
passengers - what there were of them - gathered to see the little group
depart. Dr. Frank offered Dr. Dare a hand, which she accepted, like a
lady, not needing it in the least. She was a climber, with firm, lithe
ankles. No one spoke, as these people got in with the negro, and
prepared to drift down with the scorching tide. The woman looked from
the steamer to the shore, once, and back again, northwards. The men
did not look at all. There was an oppression in the scene which no one
was ready to run the risk of increasing by the wrong word.

"Land me here, too," said a low voice, suddenly appearing. It was the
glum passenger. No one noticed him, except, perhaps, the mate (looking
on with the air of a man who would feel an individual grievance in
anything this person would be likely to do) and the lady.

"There is room for you," said Dr. Dare. The man let himself into the
boat at a light bound, and the negro rowed them away. The _Mercy_,
heading outwards, seemed to shrug her shoulders, as if she had thrown
them off. The strip of burning water between them and the town
narrowed rapidly, and the group set their faces firmly landwards.
Once, upon the little voyage, Dr. Frank took up an idle pair of oars,
with some vaguely humane intent of helping the negro - he looked so.

"I wouldn't, Frank," said the other gentleman.

"Now, Remane - why, for instance?"

"I wouldn't begin by getting overheated."

No other word was spoken. They landed in silence. In silence, and
somewhat weakly, the negro pulled the dory high upon the beach. The
four passengers stood for a moment upon the hot, white sands, moved
toward one another, before they separated, by a blind sense of human
fellowship. Even Remane found himself touching his hat. Dr. Frank
asked Dr. Dare if he could serve her in any way; but she thanked him,
and, holding out her firm, white hand, said, "Good-bye."

This was, perhaps, the first moment when the consciousness of her sex
had made itself oppressive to her since she ventured upon this
undertaking. She would have minded presenting herself to the Relief
Committee of Calhoun, accompanied by gentlemen upon whom she had no
claim. She walked on alone, in her gray dress and white straw hat,
with her luggage in her own sufficient hand.

The reticent passenger had fallen behind with the negro boatman, with
whom he walked slowly, closing the line.

After a few moments, he advanced and hesitatingly joined the lady,
beginning to say:

"May I ask you - "

"Ah," interrupted Dr. Dare, cordially, "it is you."

"Will you tell me, madam, the best way of going to work to offer
myself as a fever nurse in this place? I want the _best_ way. I want
real work."

"Yes, yes," she said, nodding; "I knew you would do it."

"I came from the North for this purpose, but I meant to go on to

"Yes, I know. This is better; they need _everything_ in this place."

She looked toward the gasping little town through the relentless noon.
Her merciful blue eyes filled, but the man's look followed with a dry,
exultant light.

"There is no porter," he said, abruptly, glancing at her heavy bag and
shawl-strap. "Would you permit me to help you?"

"Oh, thank you!" replied Dr. Dare, heartily, relinquishing her burden.

Plainly, this poor fellow was not a gentleman. The lady could afford
to be kind to him.

"I know nothing how we shall find it," she chatted, affably, "but I go
to work to-night. I presume I shall need nurses before morning. I'll
have your address."

She took from her gray sacque pocket a physician's note-book, and
stood, pencil in hand.

"My name," he said, "is Hope - Zerviah Hope."

She wrote without comment, walking as she wrote; he made no other
attempt to converse with her. The two physicians followed, exchanging
now and then a subdued word. The negro dragged himself wearily over
the scorching sand, and thus the little procession of pity entered the
town of Calhoun.

My story does not deal with love or ladies. I have to relate no tender
passages between the fever-physicians, volunteers from New York, for
the afflicted region of Calhoun. Dr. Marian Dare came South to do a
brave work, and I have no doubt she did it bravely, as a woman should.
She came in pursuit of science, and I have no doubt she found it, as a
woman will. Our chief interest in her at this time lies in the fact
that certain missing fragments in the history of the person known as
Zerviah Hope we owe to her. She hovers over the tale with a distant
and beautiful influence, pervading as womanly compassion and alert as
a woman's eye.

I have nothing further to say about the story before I tell it, except
that it is true.

* * * * *

That night, after the physicians had gone about their business,
Zerviah Hope wandered, a little forlornly, through the wretched town.
Scip, the negro boatman, found him a corner to spend the night. It was
a passable place, but Hope could not sleep; he had already seen too
much. His soul was parched with the thirst of sympathy. He walked his
hot attic till the dawn came. As it grew brighter he grew calmer; and,
when the unkindly sun burst burning upon the land, he knelt by his
window and looked over the doomed town, and watched the dead-carts
slinking away toward the everglades in the splendid color of the sky
and air, and thought his own thoughts in his own way about this which
he had come to do. We should not suppose that they were remarkable
thoughts; he had not the look of a remarkable man. Yet, as he knelt
there, - a sleepless, haggard figure blotted against the sunrise,
with folded hands and moving lips, - an artist, with a high type of
imagination and capable of spiritual discernment, would have found in
him a design for a lofty subject, to which perhaps he would have given
the name of "Consecration" rather than of "Renunciation," or of
"Exultance" rather than of "Dread."

A common observer would have simply said: "I should not have taken him
for a praying man."

He was still upon his knees when Dr. Dare's order came, "Nurse wanted
for a bad case!" and he went from his prayer to his first patient. The
day was already deep, and a reflection, not of the sunrise, moved with
him as light moves.

Doctor Dare, in her gray dress, herself a little pale, met him with
keen eyes. She said:

"It is a _very_ bad case. An old man - much neglected. No one will go.
Are you willing?"

The nurse answered:

"I am glad."

She watched him as he walked away - a plain, clean, common man, with
unheroic carriage. The physician's fine eyes fired.

To Doctor Frank, who had happened in, she said:

"He will do the work of ten."

"His strength was as the strength of ten,
Because his heart was pure,"

quoted the young man, laughing lightly. "I don't know that I should
have thought it, in this case. You've taken a fancy to the fellow."

"I always respect an unmixed motive when I see it," she replied,
shortly. "But I've been in practice too long to take sudden fancies.
There is no profession like ours, Doctor, for putting the sympathies
under double picket guard."

She stiffened a little in her manner. She did not like to be thought
an over-enthusiastic woman - womanish, unused to the world.

The weather, soon after the arrival of the _Mercy_, took a terrible
mood, and a prolonged drought settled upon Calhoun. The days dawned
lurid and long. The nights fell dewless and deadly. Fatal and
beautiful colors lurked in the swamps, and in the sifting dust, fine
and hard, blown by siroccos across the glare of noon, like sands on
the shores of the Lake of Fire. The pestilence walked in darkness, and
the destruction wasted at midday. Men died, in that little town of a
few thousand souls, at the rate of a score a day - black and white,
poor and rich, clean and foul, saint and sinner. The quarantine laws
tightened. Vessels fled by the harbor mouth under full sail, and
melted like helpless compassion upon the fiery horizon. Trains upon

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Online LibraryVariousStories by American Authors, Volume 8 → online text (page 6 of 12)