Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Twice Told Tales online

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"your life has been prolonged until the world has changed around you.
You have treasured up all that time has rendered worthless - the
principles, feelings, manners, modes of being and acting which another
generation has flung aside - and you are a symbol of the past. And I
and these around me - we represent a new race of men, living no longer
in the past, scarcely in the present, but projecting our lives forward
into the future. Ceasing to model ourselves on ancestral superstitions,
it is our faith and principle to press onward - onward. - Yet," continued
he, turning to his attendants, "let us reverence for the last time the
stately and gorgeous prejudices of the tottering past."

While the republican governor spoke he had continued to support the
helpless form of Esther Dudley; her weight grew heavier against his
arm, but at last, with a sudden effort to free herself, the ancient
woman sank down beside one of the pillars of the portal. The key of
the province-house fell from her grasp and clanked against the stone.

"I have been faithful unto death," murmured she. "God save the king!"

"She hath done her office," said Hancock, solemnly. "We will follow her
reverently to the tomb of her ancestors, and then, my fellow-citizens,
onward - onward. We are no longer children of the past."



As the old loyalist concluded his narrative the enthusiasm which had
been fitfully flashing within his sunken eyes and quivering across his
wrinkled visage faded away, as if all the lingering fire of his soul
were extinguished. Just then, too, a lamp upon the mantelpiece threw
out a dying gleam, which vanished as speedily as it shot upward,
compelling our eyes to grope for one another's features by the dim
glow of the hearth. With such a lingering fire, methought, with such a
dying gleam, had the glory of the ancient system vanished from the
province-house when the spirit of old Esther Dudley took its flight.
And now, again, the clock of the Old South threw its voice of ages on
the breeze, knolling the hourly knell of the past, crying out far and
wide through the multitudinous city, and filling our ears, as we sat
in the dusky chamber, with its reverberating depth of tone. In that
same mansion - in that very chamber - what a volume of history had been
told off into hours by the same voice that was now trembling in the
air! Many a governor had heard those midnight accents and longed to
exchange his stately cares for slumber. And, as for mine host and Mr.
Bela Tiffany and the old loyalist and me, we had babbled about dreams
of the past until we almost fancied that the clock was still striking
in a bygone century. Neither of us would have wondered had a
hoop-petticoated phantom of Esther Dudley tottered into the chamber,
walking her rounds in the hush of midnight as of yore, and motioned us
to quench the fading embers of the fire and leave the historic
precincts to herself and her kindred shades. But, as no such vision
was vouchsafed, I retired unbidden, and would advise Mr. Tiffany to
lay hold of another auditor, being resolved not to show my face in the
Province House for a good while hence - if ever.




THE HAUNTED MIND.


What a singular moment is the first one, when you have hardly begun to
recollect yourself, after starting from midnight slumber! By unclosing
your eyes so suddenly you seem to have surprised the personages of
your dream in full convocation round your bed, and catch one broad
glance at them before they can flit into obscurity. Or, to vary the
metaphor, you find yourself for a single instant wide awake in that
realm of illusions whither sleep has been the passport, and behold its
ghostly inhabitants and wondrous scenery with a perception of their
strangeness such as you never attain while the dream is undisturbed.
The distant sound of a church-clock is borne faintly on the wind. You
question with yourself, half seriously, whether it has stolen to your
waking ear from some gray tower that stood within the precincts of
your dream. While yet in suspense another clock flings its heavy clang
over the slumbering town with so full and distinct a sound, and such a
long murmur in the neighboring air, that you are certain it must
proceed from the steeple at the nearest corner; You count the
strokes - one, two; and there they cease with a booming sound like the
gathering of a third stroke within the bell.

If you could choose an hour of wakefulness out of the whole night, it
would be this. Since your sober bedtime, at eleven, you have had rest
enough to take off the pressure of yesterday's fatigue, while before
you, till the sun comes from "Far Cathay" to brighten your window,
there is almost the space of a summer night - one hour to be spent in
thought with the mind's eye half shut, and two in pleasant dreams, and
two in that strangest of enjoyments the forgetfulness alike of joy and
woe. The moment of rising belongs to another period of time, and
appears so distant that the plunge out of a warm bed into the frosty
air cannot yet be anticipated with dismay. Yesterday has already
vanished among the shadows of the past; to-morrow has not yet emerged
from the future. You have found an intermediate space where the
business of life does not intrude, where the passing moment lingers
and becomes truly the present; a spot where Father Time, when he
thinks nobody is watching him, sits down by the wayside to take
breath. Oh that he would fall asleep and let mortals live on without
growing older!

Hitherto you have lain perfectly still, because the slightest motion
would dissipate the fragments of your slumber. Now, being irrevocably
awake, you peep through the half-drawn window-curtain, and observe
that the glass is ornamented with fanciful devices in frost-work, and
that each pane presents something like a frozen dream. There will be
time enough to trace out the analogy while waiting the summons to
breakfast. Seen through the clear portion of the glass where the
silvery mountain-peaks of the frost-scenery do not ascend, the most
conspicuous object is the steeple, the white spire of which directs
you to the wintry lustre of the firmament. You may almost distinguish
the figures on the clock that has just told the hour. Such a frosty
sky and the snow-covered roofs and the long vista of the frozen
street, all white, and the distant water hardened into rock, might
make you shiver even under four blankets and a woollen comforter. Yet
look at that one glorious star! Its beams are distinguishable from all
the rest, and actually cast the shadow of the casement on the bed with
a radiance of deeper hue than moonlight, though not so accurate an
outline.

You sink down and muffle your head in the clothes, shivering all the
while, but less from bodily chill than the bare idea of a polar
atmosphere. It is too cold even for the thoughts to venture abroad.
You speculate on the luxury of wearing out a whole existence in bed
like an oyster in its shell, content with the sluggish ecstasy of
inaction, and drowsily conscious of nothing but delicious warmth such
as you now feel again. Ah! that idea has brought a hideous one in its
train. You think how the dead are lying in their cold shrouds and
narrow coffins through the drear winter of the grave, and cannot
persuade your fancy that they neither shrink nor shiver when the snow
is drifting over their little hillocks and the bitter blast howls
against the door of the tomb. That gloomy thought will collect a
gloomy multitude and throw its complexion over your wakeful hour.

In the depths of every heart there is a tomb and a dungeon, though the
lights, the music and revelry, above may cause us to forget their
existence and the buried ones or prisoners whom they hide. But
sometimes, and oftenest at midnight, those dark receptacles are flung
wide open. In an hour like this, when the mind has a passive
sensibility, but no active strength - when the imagination is a mirror
imparting vividness to all ideas without the power of selecting or
controlling them - then pray that your griefs may slumber and the
brotherhood of remorse not break their chain. It is too late. A
funeral train comes gliding by your bed in which passion and feeling
assume bodily shape and things of the mind become dim spectres to the
eye. There is your earliest sorrow, a pale young mourner wearing a
sister's likeness to first love, sadly beautiful, with a hallowed
sweetness in her melancholy features and grace in the flow of her
sable robe. Next appears a shade of ruined loveliness with dust among
her golden hair and her bright garments all faded and defaced,
stealing from your glance with drooping head, as fearful of reproach:
she was your fondest hope, but a delusive one; so call her
Disappointment now. A sterner form succeeds, with a brow of wrinkles,
a look and gesture of iron authority; there is no name for him unless
it be Fatality - an emblem of the evil influence that rules your
fortunes, a demon to whom you subjected yourself by some error at the
outset of life, and were bound his slave for ever by once obeying him.
See those fiendish lineaments graven on the darkness, the writhed lip
of scorn, the mockery of that living eye, the pointed finger touching
the sore place in your heart! Do you remember any act of enormous
folly at which you would blush even in the remotest cavern of the
earth? Then recognize your shame.

Pass, wretched band! Well for the wakeful one if, riotously miserable,
a fiercer tribe do not surround him - the devils of a guilty heart that
holds its hell within itself. What if Remorse should assume the
features of an injured friend? What if the fiend should come in
woman's garments with a pale beauty amid sin and desolation, and lie
down by your side? What if he should stand at your bed's foot in the
likeness of a corpse with a bloody stain upon the shroud? Sufficient
without such guilt is this nightmare of the soul, this heavy, heavy
sinking of the spirits, this wintry gloom about the heart, this
indistinct horror of the mind blending itself with the darkness of the
chamber.

By a desperate effort you start upright, breaking from a sort of
conscious sleep and gazing wildly round the bed, as if the fiends were
anywhere but in your haunted mind. At the same moment the slumbering
embers on the hearth send forth a gleam which palely illuminates the
whole outer room and flickers through the door of the bedchamber, but
cannot quite dispel its obscurity. Your eye searches for whatever may
remind you of the living world. With eager minuteness you take note of
the table near the fireplace, the book with an ivory knife between its
leaves, the unfolded letter, the hat and the fallen glove. Soon the
flame vanishes, and with it the whole scene is gone, though its image
remains an instant in your mind's eye when darkness has swallowed the
reality. Throughout the chamber there is the same obscurity as before,
but not the same gloom within your breast.

As your head falls back upon the pillow you think - in a whisper be it
spoken - how pleasant in these night solitudes would be the rise and
fall of a softer breathing than your own, the slight pressure of a
tenderer bosom, the quiet throb of a purer heart, imparting its
peacefulness to your troubled one, as if the fond sleeper were
involving you in her dream. Her influence is over you, though she have
no existence but in that momentary image. You sink down in a flowery
spot on the borders of sleep and wakefulness, while your thoughts rise
before you in pictures, all disconnected, yet all assimilated by a
pervading gladsomeness and beauty. The wheeling of gorgeous squadrons
that glitter in the sun is succeeded by the merriment of children
round the door of a schoolhouse beneath the glimmering shadow of old
trees at the corner of a rustic lane. You stand in the sunny rain of a
summer shower, and wander among the sunny trees of an autumnal wood,
and look upward at the brightest of all rainbows overarching the
unbroken sheet of snow on the American side of Niagara. Your mind
struggles pleasantly between the dancing radiance round the hearth of
a young man and his recent bride and the twittering flight of birds in
spring about their new-made nest. You feel the merry bounding of a
ship before the breeze, and watch the tuneful feet of rosy girls as
they twine their last and merriest dance in a splendid ball-room, and
find yourself in the brilliant circle of a crowded theatre as the
curtain falls over a light and airy scene.

With an involuntary start you seize hold on consciousness, and prove
yourself but half awake by running a doubtful parallel between human
life and the hour which has now elapsed. In both you emerge from
mystery, pass through a vicissitude that you can but imperfectly
control, and are borne onward to another mystery. Now comes the peal
of the distant clock with fainter and fainter strokes as you plunge
farther into the wilderness of sleep. It is the knell of a temporary
death. Your spirit has departed, and strays like a free citizen among
the people of a shadowy world, beholding strange sights, yet without
wonder or dismay. So calm, perhaps, will be the final change - so
undisturbed, as if among familiar things, the entrance of the soul to
its eternal home.




THE VILLAGE UNCLE.

AN IMAGINARY RETROSPECT.


Come! another log upon the hearth. True, our little parlor is
comfortable, especially here where the old man sits in his old
arm-chair; but on Thanksgiving-night the blaze should dance higher up
the chimney and send a shower of sparks into the outer darkness. Toss
on an armful of those dry oak chips, the last relicts of the Mermaid's
knee-timbers - the bones of your namesake, Susan. Higher yet, and
clearer, be the blaze, till our cottage windows glow the ruddiest in
the village and the light of our household mirth flash far across the
bay to Nahant.

And now come, Susan; come, my children. Draw your chairs round me, all
of you. There is a dimness over your figures. You sit quivering
indistinctly with each motion of the blaze, which eddies about you
like a flood; so that you all have the look of visions or people that
dwell only in the firelight, and will vanish from existence as
completely as your own shadows when the flame shall sink among the
embers.

Hark! let me listen for the swell of the surf; it should be audible a
mile inland on a night like this. Yes; there I catch the sound, but
only an uncertain murmur, as if a good way down over the beach, though
by the almanac it is high tide at eight o'clock, and the billows must
now be dashing within thirty yards of our door. Ah! the old man's ears
are failing him, and so is his eyesight, and perhaps his mind, else
you would not all be so shadowy in the blaze of his Thanksgiving fire.

How strangely the past is peeping over the shoulders of the present!
To judge by my recollections, it is but a few moments since I sat in
another room. Yonder model of a vessel was not there, nor the old
chest of drawers, nor Susan's profile and mine in that gilt
frame - nothing, in short, except this same fire, which glimmered on
books, papers and a picture, and half discovered my solitary figure in
a looking-glass. But it was paler than my rugged old self, and
younger, too, by almost half a century.

Speak to me, Susan; speak, my beloved ones; for the scene is
glimmering on my sight again, and as it brightens you fade away. Oh, I
should be loth to lose my treasure of past happiness and become once
more what I was then - a hermit in the depths of my own mind,
sometimes yawning over drowsy volumes and anon a scribbler of wearier
trash than what I read; a man who had wandered out of the real world
and got into its shadow, where his troubles, joys and vicissitudes
were of such slight stuff that he hardly knew whether he lived or only
dreamed of living. Thank Heaven I am an old man now and have done with
all such vanities!

Still this dimness of mine eyes! - Come nearer, Susan, and stand before
the fullest blaze of the hearth. Now I behold you illuminated from
head to foot, in your clean cap and decent gown, with the dear lock of
gray hair across your forehead and a quiet smile about your mouth,
while the eyes alone are concealed by the red gleam of the fire upon
your spectacles. There! you made me tremble again. When the flame
quivered, my sweet Susan, you quivered with it and grew indistinct, as
if melting into the warm light, that my last glimpse of you might be
as visionary as the first was, full many a year since. Do you remember
it? You stood on the little bridge over the brook that runs across
King's Beach into the sea. It was twilight, the waves rolling in, the
wind sweeping by, the crimson clouds fading in the west and the silver
moon brightening above the hill; and on the bridge were you,
fluttering in the breeze like a sea-bird that might skim away at your
pleasure. You seemed a daughter of the viewless wind, a creature of
the ocean-foam and the crimson light, whose merry life was spent in
dancing on the crests of the billows that threw up their spray to
support your footsteps. As I drew nearer I fancied you akin to the
race of mermaids, and thought how pleasant it would be to dwell with
you among the quiet coves in the shadow of the cliffs, and to roam
along secluded beaches of the purest sand, and, when our Northern
shores grew bleak, to haunt the islands, green and lonely, far amid
summer seas. And yet it gladdened me, after all this nonsense, to find
you nothing but a pretty young girl sadly perplexed with the rude
behavior of the wind about your petticoats. Thus I did with Susan as
with most other things in my earlier days, dipping her image into my
mind and coloring it of a thousand fantastic hues before I could see
her as she really was.

Now, Susan, for a sober picture of our village. It was a small
collection of dwellings that seemed to have been cast up by the sea
with the rock-weed and marine plants that it vomits after a storm, or
to have come ashore among the pipe-staves and other lumber which had
been washed from the deck of an Eastern schooner. There was just space
for the narrow and sandy street between the beach in front and a
precipitous hill that lifted its rocky forehead in the rear among a
waste of juniper-bushes and the wild growth of a broken pasture. The
village was picturesque in the variety of its edifices, though all
were rude. Here stood a little old hovel, built, perhaps, of
driftwood, there a row of boat-houses, and beyond them a two-story
dwelling of dark and weatherbeaten aspect, the whole intermixed with
one or two snug cottages painted white, a sufficiency of pig-styes and
a shoemaker's shop. Two grocery stores stood opposite each other in
the centre of the village. These were the places of resort at their
idle hours of a hardy throng of fishermen in red baize shirts,
oilcloth trousers and boots of brown leather covering the whole
leg - true seven-league boots, but fitter to wade the ocean than walk
the earth. The wearers seemed amphibious, as if they did but creep out
of salt water to sun themselves; nor would it have been wonderful to
see their lower limbs covered with clusters of little shellfish such
as cling to rocks and old ship-timber over which the tide ebbs and
flows. When their fleet of boats was weather-bound, the butchers
raised their price, and the spit was busier than the frying-pan; for
this was a place of fish, and known as such to all the country round
about. The very air was fishy, being perfumed with dead sculpins,
hard-heads and dogfish strewn plentifully on the beach. - You see,
children, the village is but little changed since your mother and I
were young.

How like a dream it was when I bent over a pool of water one pleasant
morning and saw that the ocean had dashed its spray over me and made
me a fisherman! There was the tarpaulin, the baize shirt, the oilcloth
trousers and seven-league boots, and there my own features, but so
reddened with sunburn and sea-breezes that methought I had another
face, and on other shoulders too. The seagulls and the loons and I had
now all one trade: we skimmed the crested waves and sought our prey
beneath them, the man with as keen enjoyment as the birds. Always when
the east grew purple I launched my dory, my little flat-bottomed
skiff, and rowed cross-handed to Point Ledge, the Middle Ledge, or
perhaps beyond Egg Rock; often, too, did I anchor off Dread Ledge - a
spot of peril to ships unpiloted - and sometimes spread an adventurous
sail and tracked across the bay to South Shore, casting my lines in
sight of Scituate. Ere nightfall I hauled my skiff high and dry on the
beach, laden with red rock-cod or the white-bellied ones of deep
water, haddock bearing the black marks of St. Peter's fingers near the
gills, the long-bearded hake whose liver holds oil enough for a
midnight lamp, and now and then a mighty halibut with a back broad as
my boat. In the autumn I toled and caught those lovely fish the
mackerel. When the wind was high, when the whale-boats anchored off
the Point nodded their slender masts at each other and the dories
pitched and tossed in the surf, when Nahant Beach was thundering three
miles off and the spray broke a hundred feet in the air round the
distant base of Egg Rock, when the brimful and boisterous sea
threatened to tumble over the street of our village, - then I made a
holiday on shore.

Many such a day did I sit snugly in Mr. Bartlett's store, attentive to
the yarns of Uncle Parker - uncle to the whole village by right of
seniority, but of Southern blood, with no kindred in New England. His
figure is before me now enthroned upon a mackerel-barrel - a lean old
man of great height, but bent with years and twisted into an uncouth
shape by seven broken limbs; furrowed, also, and weatherworn, as if
every gale for the better part of a century had caught him somewhere
on the sea. He looked like a harbinger of tempest - a shipmate of the
Flying Dutchman. After innumerable voyages aboard men-of-war and
merchantmen, fishing-schooners and chebacco-boats, the old salt had
become master of a hand-cart, which he daily trundled about the
vicinity, and sometimes blew his fish-horn through the streets of
Salem. One of Uncle Parker's eyes had been blown out with gunpowder,
and the other did but glimmer in its socket. Turning it upward as he
spoke, it was his delight to tell of cruises against the French and
battles with his own shipmates, when he and an antagonist used to be
seated astride of a sailor's chest, each fastened down by a spike-nail
through his trousers, and there to fight it out. Sometimes he
expatiated on the delicious flavor of the hagden, a greasy and
goose-like fowl which the sailors catch with hook and line on the
Grand Banks. He dwelt with rapture on an interminable winter at the
Isle of Sables, where he had gladdened himself amid polar snows with
the rum and sugar saved from the wreck of a West India schooner. And
wrathfully did he shake his fist as he related how a party of Cape Cod
men had robbed him and his companions of their lawful spoils and
sailed away with every keg of old Jamaica, leaving him not a drop to
drown his sorrow. Villains they were, and of that wicked brotherhood
who are said to tie lanterns to horses' tails to mislead the mariner
along the dangerous shores of the Cape.

Even now I seem to see the group of fishermen with that old salt in
the midst. One fellow sits on the counter, a second bestrides an
oil-barrel, a third lolls at his length on a parcel of new cod-lines,
and another has planted the tarry seat of his trousers on a heap of
salt which will shortly be sprinkled over a lot of fish. They are a
likely set of men. Some have voyaged to the East Indies or the
Pacific, and most of them have sailed in Marblehead schooners to
Newfoundland; a few have been no farther than the Middle Banks, and
one or two have always fished along the shore; but, as Uncle Parker
used to say, they have all been christened in salt water and know more
than men ever learn in the bushes. A curious figure, by way of
contrast, is a fish-dealer from far up-country listening with eyes
wide open to narratives that might startle Sinbad the Sailor. - Be it
well with you, my brethren! Ye are all gone - some to your graves
ashore and others to the depths of ocean - but my faith is strong that
ye are happy; for whenever I behold your forms, whether in dream or
vision, each departed friend is puffing his long nine, and a mug of
the right blackstrap goes round from lip to lip.

But where was the mermaid in those delightful times? At a certain
window near the centre of the village appeared a pretty display of



Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneTwice Told Tales → online text (page 22 of 35)