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clean ? Why will they be so ineffably stupid as not to see
that there is that which speech profanes? Why will they
lower their drag-nets into the unfathomable waters, in
the vain attempt to bring up your pearls and gems, whose
luster would pale to ashes in the garish light, whose only
sparkle is in the deep sea-soundings? Prociil, prociil
cste, profani!

O, the matchless power of silence! There are words
that concentrate in themselves the glory of a lifetime;
but there is a silence that is more precious than they.
Speech ripples over the surface of life, but silence sinks
into its depths. Airy pleasantnesses bubble up in aiiy,
pleasant words. Weak sorrows quaver out their shallow
being, and are not. When the heart is cleft to its core,
there is no speech nor language.

Do not now, Messrs. Bores, think to retrieve your char-
acter by coming into my house and sitting mute for two
hours. Heaven forbid that your blood should be found
on my skirts ! but I believe I shall kill you, if you do. The
only reason why I have not laid violent hands on you
heretofore is that your vapid talk has operated as a wire
to conduct my electricity to the receptive and kindly
earth; but if you intrude upon my magnetisms without
any such life-preserver, your future in this world is not
worth a crossed sixpence. Your silence would break the
reed that your talk but bruised. The only people with
whom it is a joy to sit silent are the people with whom it
is a joy to talk. Clear out !

Friendship plays the mischief in the false ideas of con-
stancy which are generated and cherished in its name, if
not by its agency. Your enemies are intense, but tempo-
rary. Time wears off the edge of hostility. It is the
alembic in which offenses are dissolved into thin air^ and

6ii



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

a calm indifference reigns in their stead. But your
friends are expected to be a permanent arrangement.
They are not only a sore evil, but of long continuance.
Adhesiveness seems to be the head and front, the bones
and the blood, of their creed. It is not the direction of
the quality, but the quality itself, which they swear by.
Only stick, it is no matter what you stick to. Fall out
with a man, and you can kiss and be friends as soon as
you like; the recording angel will set it down on the
credit side of his books. Fall in, and you are expected
to stay in, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. No matter what
combination of laws got you there, there you are, and
there you must stay, for better, for worse, till merciful
death you do part, — or you are — "fickle." You find a
man entertaining for an hour, a week, a concert, a jour-
ney, and presto ! you are saddled with him forever. What
preposterous absurdity ! Do but look at it calmly. You
are thrown into contact with a person, and, as in duty
bound, you proceed to fathom him : for every man is a
possible revelation. In the deeps of his soul there may
lie unknown worlds for you. Consequently you proceed
at once to experiment on him. It takes a little while to get
your tackle in order. Then the line begins to run off rap-
idly, and your eager soul cries out, "Ah! what depth!
What perpetual calmness must be down below ! What rest
is here for all my tumult ! What a grand, vast nature is
this I" Surely, surely, you are on the high seas. Surely,
you will not float serenely down the eternities ! But by
and by there is a kink. You find that, though the line
runs off so fast, it does not go down, — it only floats out.
A current has caught it and bears it on horizontally. It
does not sink plumb. You have been deceived. Your
grand Pacific Ocean is nothing but a shallow little brook,
that you can ford all the year round, if it does not utterly

612



GAIL HAMILTON

dry up in the summer heats, when you want it most ; or,
at best, it is a fussy little tormenting river, that won't
and can't sail a sloop. What are you going to do about
it ? You are going to wind up your lead and line, shoul-
der your birch canoe, as the old sea-kings used, and thrid
the deep forests, and scale the purple hills, till you come
to water again, when you will unroll your lead and line
for another essay. Is that fickleness ? What else can you
do? Must you launch your bark on the unquiet stream,
against whose pebbly bottom the keel continually grates
and rasps your nerves — simply that your reputation suf-
fer no detriment? Fickleness? There is no fickleness
about it. You were trying an experiment which you had
every right to try. As soon as you were satisfied, you
stopped. If you had stopped sooner, you would have
been unsatisfied. If you had stopped later, you would
have been dissatisfied. It is a criminal contempt of the
magnificent possibilities of life not to lay hold of "God's
occasions floating by." It is an equally criminal perver-
sion of. them to cling tenaciously to what was only the
simulacrum of an occasion. A man will toil many days
and nights among the mountains to find an ingot of gold,
which, found, he bears home with infinite pains and just
rejoicing; but he would be a fool who should lade his
mules with iron-pyrites to justify his labors, however
severe.

Fickleness ! what is it, that we make such an ado about
it ? And what is constancy, that it commands such usuri-
ous interest? The one is a foible only in its relations.
The other is only thus a virtue. "Fickle as the winds" is
our death-seal upon a man ; but should we like our winds
unfickle? Would a perpetual northeaster lay us open to
perpetual gratitude ? or is a soft south gale to be orisoned
and vespered forevermore?

613



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

I am tired of this eternal prating of devotion and con-
stancy. It is senseless in itself and harmful in its tend-
encies. The dictate of reason is to treat men and women
as we do oranges. Suck all the juice out and then let
them go. Where is the good of keeping the peel and
pulp-cells till they get old, dry, and mouldy? Let them
go, and they will help feed the earth-worms and bugs and
beetles who can hardly find existence a continued ban-
quet, and fertilize the earth, which will have you give be-
fore you receive. Thus they will ultimately spring up in
new and beautiful shapes. Clung to with constancy, they
stain your knife and napkin, impart a bad odor to your
dining-room, and degenerate into something that is nei-
ther pleasant to the eye nor good for food. I believe in
a rotation of crops, morally and socially, as well as agri-
culturally. When you have taken the measure of a man,
when you have sounded him and know that you can not
wade in him more than ankle-deep, when you have got
out of him all that he has to yield for your soul's suste-
nance and strength, what is the next thing to be done?
Obviously, pass him on; and turn you "to fresh woods
and pastures new." Do you work him an injury? By
no means. Friends that are simply glued on, and don't
grow out of, are little worth. He has nothing more for
you, nor you for him ; but he may be rich in juices where-
withal to nourish the heart of another man, and their
two lives, set together, may have an endosmose and ex-
osmose whose result shall be richness of soil, grandeur
of growth, beauty of foliage, and perfectness of fruit,
while you and he would only have languished into aridity
and a stunted crab-tree.

For my part, I desire to sweep off my old friends
with the old year, and begin the new with a clean record.
It is a measure absolutely necessary. The snake does not

614



GAIL HAMILTON

put on his new skin over the old one. He sloughs off the
first, before he dons the second. He would be a very
clumsy serpent, if he did not. One can not have suc-
cessive layers of friendships any more than the snake has
successive layers of skins. One must adopt some system
to guard against a congestion of the heart from plethora
of loves. I go in for the much-abused, fair-weather, skin-
deep, April-shower friends, — the friends who will drop
off, if let alone, — who must be kept awake to be kept at
all, — who will talk and laugh with you as long as it suits
your respective humors and you are prosperous and
happy, — the blessed butterfly-race, who flutter about your
June mornings, and when the clouds lower, and the drops
patter, and the rains descend, and the winds blow, will
spread their gay wings and float gracefully away to
sunny, southern lands, where the skies are yet blue and
the breezes violet-scented. They are not only agreeable,
but deeply wise. So long as a man keeps his streamer
flying, his sails set, and his hull above water, it is pleasant
to paddle alongside; but when the sails split, the yards
crack, and the keel goes staggering down, by all means
paddle off. Why should you be submerged in his whirl-
pool? Will he drown any more easily because you are
drowning with him ? Lung is lung. He dies from want
of air, not from want of sympathy. When a poor fellow
sits down among the ashes, the best thing his friends can
do is to stand afar off. Job bore the loss of property,
children, health, with equanimity. Satan himself found
his match there ; and for all his buffeting, Job sinned not,
nor charged God foolishly. But Job's three friends must
needs make an appointment together to come and mourn
with him and to comfort him, and after this Job opened
his mouth, and cursed his day, — and no wonder.

Your friends have an intimate knowledge of you that

615



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

is astonishing to contemplate. It is not that they know
your affairs, which he who runs may read, but they know
you. From a bit of bone, Cuvier could predicate a
whole animal, even to the hide and hair. Such moral
naturalists are your dear five hundred friends. It seems
to yourself that you are immeasurably reticent. You
know, of a certainty, that you project only the smallest
possible fragment of yourself. You yield your univer-
sality to the bond of common brotherhood ; but your in-
dividualism — what it is that makes you you — withdraws
itself naturally, involuntarily, inevitably into the back-
ground, — the dim distance which their eyes can not pene-
trate. But, from the fraction which you do project, they
construct another you, call it by your name, and pass it
around for the real, the actual you. You bristle with jest
and laughter and wild whims, to keep them at a distance;
and they fancy this to be your every-day equipment.
They think your life holds constant carnival. It is aston-
ishing what ideas spring up in the heads of sensible peo-
ple. There are those who assume that a person can never
have had any grief, unless somebody has died, or he has
been disappointed in love, — not knowing that every ave-
nue of joy lies open to the tramp of pain. They see the
flashing coronet on the queen's brow, and they infer a
diamond woman, not recking of the human heart that
throbs wildly out of sight. They see the foam-crest on
the wave, and picture an Atlantic Ocean of froth, and
not the solemn sea that stands below in eternal equipoise.
You turn to them the luminous crescent of your life, and
they call it the whole round globe ; and so they love you
with a love that is agate, not pearl, because what they
love in you is something infinitely below the highest.
They love you level : they have never scaled your heights
nor fathomed your depths. And when they talk of you

6i6



GAIL HAMILTON

as familiarly as if they had taken out your auricles and
ventricles, and turned them inside out, and wrung- them,
and shaken them, — when they prate of your transparency
and openness, the abandonment with which you draw
aside the curtain and reveal the inmost thoughts of your
heart, — ^you, who are to yourself a miracle and a mystery,
you smile inwardly, and are content. They are on the
wrong scent, and you may pursue your plans in peace.
They are indiscriminate and satisfied. They do not know
the relation of what appears to what is. If they chance
to skirt along the coasts of your Purple Island, it will be
only chance, and they will not know it. You may close
your port-holes, lower your drawbridge, and make merry,
for they will never come within gunshot of the "round
tower of your heart."

There is no such thing as knowing a man intimately.
Every soul is, for the greater part of its mortal life, iso-
lated from every other. Whether it dwell in the Garden
of Eden or the Desert of Sahara, it dwells alone. Not
only do we jostle against the street crowd unknowing
and unknown, but we go out and come in, we lie down
and rise up, with strangers. Jupiter and Neptune sweep
the heavens not more unfamiliar to us than the worlds
that circle our own hearthstone. Day after day, and year
after year a person moves by your side; he sits at the
same table; he reads the same books; he kneels in the
same church. You know every hair of his head, every
trick of his lips, every tone of his voice; you can tell him
far off by his gait. Without seeing him, you recognize
his step, his knock, his laugh. "Know him ? Yes, I have
known him these twenty years." No, you don't know
him. You know his gait, and hair, and voice. You know
what preacher he hears, what ticket he voted, and what
were his last year's expenses; but you don't know him.

617



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

He sits quietly in his chair, but he is in the temple. You
speak to him ; his soul comes out into the vestibule to
answer you, and returns, — and the gates are shut ; there-
in you can not enter. You were discussing the state of the
country ; but when you ceased, he opened a postern-gate,
went down a bank, and launched on a sea over whose
waters you have no boat to sail, no star to guide. You
have loved and reverenced him. He has been your con-
crete of truth and nobleness. Unwittingly you touch a
secret spring, and a Blue-Beard chamber stands revealed.
You give no sign ; you meet and part as usual ; but a Dead
Sea rolls between you two forevermore.

It must be so. Not even to the nearest and dearest can
one unveil the secret place where his soul abideth, so that
there shall be no more any winding ways or hidden cham-
bers ; but to your indifferent neighbor, what blind alleys,
and deep caverns, and inaccessible mountains! To him
who "touches the electric chain wherewith you're darkly
bound," your soul sends back an answering thrill. One
little window is opened, and there is short parley. Your
ships speak each other now and then in welcome, though
imperfect communication ; but immediately you strike out
again into the great, shoreless sea, over which you must
sail forever alone. You may shrink from the far-reach-
ing solitudes of your heart, but no other foot than yours
can tread them, save those

"That, eighteen hundred years ago, were nailed,
For our advantage, to the bitter cross."

Be thankful that it is so, — that only His eye sees
whose hand formed. If we could look in, we should be
appalled at the vision. The worlds that glide around us
are mysteries too high for us. We can not attain to them.
The naked soul is a sight too awful for man to look at

6i8



GAIL HAMILTON

and live. There are individuals whose topography \vc
would like to know a little better, and there is danger
that we crash against each other while roaming around
in the dark; but for all that, would we not have the con-
stitution broken up. Somebody says, *Tn Heaven there
will be no secrets," which, it seems to me, would be in-
tolerable. (If that were a revelation from the King of
Heaven, of course I would not speak flippantly of it; but
though towards Heaven we look with reverence and
humble hope, I do not know that Tom, Dick and Harry's
notions of it have any special claim to our respect.) Such
publicity would destroy all individuality, and undermine
the foundations of society. Clairvoyance — if there be
any such thing — always seemed to me a stupid imperti-
nence. When people pay visits to me, I wish them to
come to the front door, and ring the bell, and send up
their names. I don't wish them to climb in at the win-
dow, or creep through the pantry, or, worst of all, float
through the key-hole, and catch me in undress. So I be-
lieve that in all worlds thoughts will be the subjects of
volition, — more accurately expressed when expression is
desired, but just as entirely suppressed when we will sup-
pression.

After all, perhaps the chief trouble arises from a preva-
lent confusion of ideas as to what constitutes a man your
friend. Friendship may stand for that peaceful com-
placence which you feel towards all well-behaved people
who wear clean collars and use tolerable grammar. This
is a very good meaning, if everybody will subscribe to it.
But sundry of these well-behaved people will mistake
your civility and complacence for a recognition of special
affinity, and proceed at once to frame an alliance offensive
and defensive while the sun and the moon shall endure. O,
the barnacles that cling to your keel in such waters ! The

619



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

inevitable result is, that they win your intense rancor.
You would feel a genial kindliness toward them, if they
would be satisfied with that ; but they lay out to be your
specialty. They infer your innocent little inch to be the
standard-bearer of twenty ells, and goad you to frenzy.
I mean you, you desperate little horror, who nearly de-
throned my reason six years ago! I always meant to
have my revenge, and here I impale you before the pub-
lic. For three months, you fastened yourself upon me,
and I could not shake you off. What availed it me, that
you were an honest and excellent man? Did I not,
twenty times a day, wish you had been a villain, who had
insulted me, and I a Kentucky giant, that I might have
the unspeakable satisfaction of knocking you down ? But
you added to your crimes virtue. Villainy had no part
or lot in you. You were a member of a church, in good
and regular standing; you had graduated with all the
honors worth mentioning; you had not a sin, a vice, or
a fault that I knew of ; and you were so thoroughly good
and repulsive that you were a great grief to me. Do you
think, you dear, disinterested wretch, that I have forgot-
ten how you were continually putting yourself to horrible
inconveniences on my account? Do you think I am not
now filled with remorse for the aversion that rooted itself
ineradicably in my soul, and which now gloats over you,
as you stand in the pillory where my own hands have
fastened you? But can nature be crushed forever? Did
I not ruin my nerves, and seriously injure my temper, by
the overpowering pressure I laid upon them to keep them
quiet when you were by? Could I not, by the sense of
coming ill through all my quivering frame, presage your
advent as exactly as the barometer heralds the approach-
ing storm? Those three months of agony are little
atoned for by this late vengeance ; but go in peace !

620



GAIL HAMILTON

Mysterious are the ways of friendship. It is not a mat-
ter of reason or of choice, but of magnetisms. You can
not always give the premises nor the argument, but the
conclusion is a palpable and stubborn fact. Abana and
Pharpar may be broad, and deep, and blue, and grand ;
but only in Jordan shall your soul wash and be clean. A
thousand brooks are born of the sunshine and the moun-
tains : very, very few are they whose flow can mingle
with yours, and not disturb, but only deepen and broaden
the current.

Your friend! Who shall describe him, or worthily
paint what he is to you? No merchant, nor lawyer, nor
farmer, nor statesman claims your suffrage, but a kingly
soul. He comes to you from God, — a prophet, a seer, a
revealer. He has a clear vision. His love is reverence.
He goes into the penetralia of your life, — not presumptu-
ously, but with uncovered head, unsandaled feet, and
pours libations at the innermost shrine. His incense is
grateful. For him the sunlight brightens, the skies grow
rosy, and all the days are Junes. Wrapped in his love,
you float in a delicious rest, rocked in the bosom of pur-
ple, scented waves. Nameless melodies sing themselves
through your heart. A golden glow suffices your atmos-
phere. A vague, fine ecstasy thrills to the sources of life,
and earth lays hold on Heaven. Such friendship is wor-
ship. It elevates the most trifling services into rites.
The humblest offices are sanctified. All things are bap-
tized into a new name. Duty is lost in joy. Care veils
itself in caresses. Drudgery becomes delight. There is
no longer anything menial, small, or servile. All is
transformed

"Into something rich and strange."

The homely household-ways lead through beds of spices

621



A COMPLAINT OF FRIENDS

and orchards of pomegranates. The daily toil among
your parsnips and carrots is plucking May violets with
the dew upon them to meet the eyes you love upon their
first awaking. In the burden and heat of the day you
hear the rustling of summer showers and the whispering
of summer winds. Everything is lifted up from the plane
of labor to the plane of love, and a glory spans your life.
With your friend, speech and silence are one ; for a com-
munion mysterious and intangible reaches across from
heart to heart. The many dig and delve in your nature
with fruitless toil to find the spring of living water : he
only raises his wand, and, obedient to the hidden power,
it bends at once to your secret. Your friendship, though
independent of language, gives to it life and light. The
mystic spirit stirs even in commonplaces, and the merest
question is an endearment. You are quiet because your
heart is over-full. You talk because it is pleasant, not
because you have anything to say. You weary of terms
that are already love-laden, and you go out into the high-
ways and hedges, and gather up the rough, wild, wilful
words, heavy with the hatreds of men, and fill them to the
brim with honey-dew. All things great and small,
grand or humble, you press into your service, force them
to do soldier's duty, and your banner over them is love.

With such a friendship, presence alone is happiness;
nor is absence wholly void, — for memories, and hopes,
and pleasing fancies, sparkle through the hours, and you
know the sunshine will come back.

For such friendship one is grateful. No matter that
it comes unsought, and comes not for the seeking. You
do not discuss the reasonableness of your gratitude. You
only know that your whole being bows with humility and
utter thankfulness to him who thus crowns you monarch
of all realms.

622



GAIL HAMILTON

And the king-dom is everlasting-. A weak love dies
weakly with the CK:casion. that gave it birth; but such
friendship is born of the gods, and immortal. Clouds
and darkness may sweep around it, but within the cloud
the glory lives undimmed. Death has nO' power over it.
Time can not diminish, nor even dishonor annul it. Its
direction may have been earthly, but itself is divine. You
go back into your solitudes : all is silent as aforetime, but
you can not forget that a Voice once resounded there. A
Presence filled the valleys and gilded the mountain-tops,
— ^breathed upon the plains, and they sprang up in lilies
and roses, — flashed upon the waters, and they flowed to
spheral melody, — swept through the forests, and they,
too, trembled into song. And though now the warmth
has faded out, though the ruddy tints and amber clear-
ness have paled to ashen hues, though the murmuring
melodies are dead, and forest, vale, and hill look hard
and angular in the sharp air, you know that it is not
death. The fire is unquenched beneath. You go your
way not disconsolate. There needs but the Victorious
Voice. At the touch of the prince's lips, life shall rise
again and be perfected forevermore.



623



PONCHUS PILUT

BY JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY

Ponchus Pilut used to be

1st a Slave, an' now he's free.

Slaves wuz on'y ist before

The War wuz — an' ain't no more.

He works on our place fer us, —
An' comes here — sometimes he does.
He shocks corn an' shucks it. — An'
He makes hominy "by han' !" —

Wunst he bringed us some, one trip,
Tied up in a piller-slip :
Pa says, when Ma cooked it, "MY !
This-here's gooder'n you buy!"

Ponchus pats fer me an' sings ;
An' he says most funny things !
Ponchus calls a dish a "deesh" —
Yes, an' he calls fishes "feesh" !

When Ma want him eat wiv us
He says, " 'Skuse me — 'deed you mus' !-
Ponchus know good manners, Miss. —
He aint eat wher' White-folks is!"
624



JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY

'Lindy takes his dinner out
Wher' he's workin' — roun' about. —
Wunst he et his dinner, spread
In our ole wheel-borry-bed.

Ponchus Pilut says " ^at's not


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Online LibraryKate Milner RabbThe wit and humor of America (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 24)