Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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palaces and churches, because the fancy haunted me that I myself the
preceding summer had beheld just such a humble meeting-house, in just
such a pine-surrounded nook, among our own green mountains. All these
pictures were tolerably executed, though far inferior to the girl's
touches of description; nor was it easy to comprehend how in so few
sentences, and these, as I supposed, in a language foreign to her, she
contrived to present an airy copy of each varied scene.

When we had travelled through the vast extent of the mahogany box, I
looked into my guide's face.

"'Where are you going, my pretty maid?'" inquired I, in the words of
an old song.

"Ah!" said the gay damsel; "you might as well ask where the summer
wind is going. We are wanderers here and there and everywhere.
Wherever there is mirth our merry hearts are drawn to it. To-day,
indeed, the people have told us of a great frolic and festival in
these parts; so perhaps we may be needed at what you call the
camp-meeting at Stamford."

Then, in my happy youth, and while her pleasant voice yet sounded in
my ears, I sighed; for none but myself, I thought, should have been
her companion in a life which seemed to realize my own wild fancies
cherished all through visionary boyhood to that hour. To these two
strangers the world was in its Golden Age - not that, indeed, it was
less dark and sad than ever, but because its weariness and sorrow had
no community with their ethereal nature. Wherever they might appear in
their pilgrimage of bliss, Youth would echo back their gladness,
care-stricken Maturity would rest a moment from its toil, and Age,
tottering among the graves, would smile in withered joy for their
sakes. The lonely cot, the narrow and gloomy street, the sombre shade,
would catch a passing gleam like that now shining on ourselves as
these bright spirits wandered by. Blessed pair, whose happy home was
throughout all the earth! I looked at my shoulders, and thought them
broad enough to sustain those pictured towns and mountains; mine, too,
was an elastic foot as tireless as the wing of the bird of Paradise;
mine was then an untroubled heart that would have gone singing on its
delightful way.

"Oh, maiden," said I aloud, "why did you not come hither alone?"

While the merry girl and myself were busy with the show-box the
unceasing rain had driven another wayfarer into the wagon. He seemed
pretty nearly of the old showman's age, but much smaller, leaner and
more withered than he, and less respectably clad in a patched suit of
gray; withal, he had a thin, shrewd countenance and a pair of
diminutive gray eyes, which peeped rather too keenly out of their
puckered sockets. This old fellow had been joking with the showman in
a manner which intimated previous acquaintance, but, perceiving that
the damsel and I had terminated our affairs, he drew forth a folded
document and presented it to me. As I had anticipated, it proved to be
a circular, written in a very fair and legible hand and signed by
several distinguished gentlemen whom I had never heard of, stating
that the bearer had encountered every variety of misfortune and
recommending him to the notice of all charitable people. Previous
disbursements had left me no more than a five-dollar bill, out of
which, however, I offered to make the beggar a donation provided he
would give me change for it. The object of my beneficence looked
keenly in my face, and discerned that I had none of that abominable
spirit, characteristic though it be, of a full-blooded Yankee, which
takes pleasure in detecting every little harmless piece of knavery.

"Why, perhaps," said the ragged old mendicant, "if the bank is in good
standing, I can't say but I may have enough about me to change your
bill."

"It is a bill of the Suffolk Bank," said I, "and better than the
specie."

As the beggar had nothing to object, he now produced a small buff
leather bag tied up carefully with a shoe-string. When this was
opened, there appeared a very comfortable treasure of silver coins of
all sorts and sizes, and I even fancied that I saw gleaming among them
the golden plumage of that rare bird in our currency the American
eagle. In this precious heap was my bank-note deposited, the rate of
exchange being considerably against me.

His wants being thus relieved, the destitute man pulled out of his
pocket an old pack of greasy cards which had probably contributed to
fill the buff leather bag in more ways than one.

"Come!" said he; "I spy a rare fortune in your face, and for
twenty-five cents more I'll tell you what it is."

I never refuse to take a glimpse into futurity; so, after shuffling
the cards and when the fair damsel had cut them, I dealt a portion to
the prophetic beggar. Like others of his profession, before predicting
the shadowy events that were moving on to meet me he gave proof of his
preternatural science by describing scenes through which I had already
passed.

Here let me have credit for a sober fact. When the old man had read a
page in his book of fate, he bent his keen gray eyes on mine and
proceeded to relate in all its minute particulars what was then the
most singular event of my life. It was one which I had no purpose to
disclose till the general unfolding of all secrets, nor would it be a
much stranger instance of inscrutable knowledge or fortunate
conjecture if the beggar were to meet me in the street today and
repeat word for word the page which I have here written.

The fortune-teller, after predicting a destiny which time seems loth
to make good, put up his cards, secreted his treasure-bag and began to
converse with the other occupants of the wagon.

"Well, old friend," said the showman, "you have not yet told us which
way your face is turned this afternoon."

"I am taking a trip northward this warm weather," replied the
conjurer, "across the Connecticut first, and then up through Vermont,
and maybe into Canada before the fall. But I must stop and see the
breaking up of the camp-meeting at Stamford."

I began to think that all the vagrants in New England were converging
to the camp-meeting and had made this wagon, their rendezvous by the
way.

The showman now proposed that when the shower was over they should
pursue the road to Stamford together, it being sometimes the policy of
these people to form a sort of league and confederacy.

"And the young lady too," observed the gallant bibliopolist, bowing to
her profoundly, "and this foreign gentleman, as I understand, are on a
jaunt of pleasure to the same spot. It would add incalculably to my
own enjoyment, and I presume to that of my colleague and his friend,
if they could be prevailed upon to join our party."

This arrangement met with approbation on all hands, nor were any of
those concerned more sensible of its advantages than myself, who had
no title to be included in it.

Having already satisfied myself as to the several modes in which the
four others attained felicity, I next set my mind at work to discover
what enjoyments were peculiar to the old "straggler," as the people of
the country would have termed the wandering mendicant and prophet. As
he pretended to familiarity with the devil, so I fancied that he was
fitted to pursue and take delight in his way of life by possessing
some of the mental and moral characteristics - the lighter and more
comic ones - of the devil in popular stories. Among them might be
reckoned a love of deception for its own sake, a shrewd eye and keen
relish for human weakness and ridiculous infirmity, and the talent of
petty fraud. Thus to this old man there would be pleasure even in the
consciousness - so insupportable to some minds - that his whole life was
a cheat upon the world, and that, so far as he was concerned with the
public, his little cunning had the upper hand of its united wisdom.
Every day would furnish him with a succession of minute and pungent
triumphs - as when, for instance, his importunity wrung a pittance out
of the heart of a miser, or when my silly good-nature transferred a
part of my slender purse to his plump leather bag, or when some
ostentatious gentleman should throw a coin to the ragged beggar who
was richer than himself, or when - though he would not always be so
decidedly diabolical - his pretended wants should make him a sharer in
the scanty living of real indigence. And then what an inexhaustible
field of enjoyment, both as enabling him to discern so much folly and
achieve such quantities of minor mischief, was opened to his sneering
spirit by his pretensions to prophetic knowledge.

All this was a sort of happiness which I could conceive of, though I
had little sympathy with it. Perhaps, had I been then inclined to
admit it, I might have found that the roving life was more proper to
him than to either of his companions; for Satan, to whom I had
compared the poor man, has delighted, ever since the time of Job, in
"wandering up and down upon the earth," and, indeed, a crafty
disposition which operates not in deep-laid plans, but in disconnected
tricks, could not have an adequate scope, unless naturally impelled to
a continual change of scene and society.

My reflections were here interrupted.

"Another visitor!" exclaimed the old showman.

The door of the wagon had been closed against the tempest, which was
roaring and blustering with prodigious fury and commotion and beating
violently against our shelter, as if it claimed all those homeless
people for its lawful prey, while we, caring little for the
displeasure of the elements, sat comfortably talking. There was now an
attempt to open the door, succeeded by a voice uttering some strange,
unintelligible gibberish which my companions mistook for Greek and I
suspected to be thieves' Latin. However, the showman stepped forward
and gave admittance to a figure which made me imagine either that our
wagon had rolled back two hundred years into past ages or that the
forest and its old inhabitants had sprung up around us by enchantment.
It was a red Indian armed with his bow and arrow. His dress was a sort
of cap adorned with a single feather of some wild bird, and a frock of
blue cotton girded tight about him; on his breast, like orders of
knighthood, hung a crescent and a circle and other ornaments of
silver, while a small crucifix betokened that our father the pope had
interposed between the Indian and the Great Spirit whom he had
worshipped in his simplicity. This son of the wilderness and pilgrim
of the storm took his place silently in the midst of us. When the
first surprise was over, I rightly conjectured him to be one of the
Penobscot tribe, parties of which I had often seen in their summer
excursions down our Eastern rivers. There they paddle their birch
canoes among the coasting-schooners, and build their wigwam beside
some roaring mill-dam, and drive a little trade in basket-work where
their fathers hunted deer. Our new visitor was probably wandering
through the country toward Boston, subsisting on the careless charity
of the people while he turned his archery to profitable account by
shooting at cents which were to be the prize of his successful aim.

The Indian had not long been seated ere our merry damsel sought to
draw him into conversation. She, indeed, seemed all made up of
sunshine in the month of May, for there was nothing so dark and dismal
that her pleasant mind could not cast a glow over it; and the wild
man, like a fir tree in his native forest, soon began to brighten into
a sort of sombre cheerfulness. At length she inquired whether his
journey had any particular end or purpose.

"I go shoot at the camp-meeting at Stamford," replied the Indian.

"And here are five more," said the girl, "all aiming at the
camp-meeting too. You shall be one of us, for we travel with light
hearts; and, as for me, I sing merry songs and tell merry tales and am
full of merry thoughts, and I dance merrily along the road, so that
there is never any sadness among them that keep me company. But oh,
you would find it very dull indeed to go all the way to Stamford
alone."

My ideas of the aboriginal character led me to fear that the Indian
would prefer his own solitary musings to the gay society thus offered
him; on the contrary, the girl's proposal met with immediate
acceptance and seemed to animate him with a misty expectation of
enjoyment.

I now gave myself up to a course of thought which, whether it flowed
naturally from this combination of events or was drawn forth by a
wayward fancy, caused my mind to thrill as if I were listening to deep
music. I saw mankind in this weary old age of the world either
enduring a sluggish existence amid the smoke and dust of cities, or,
if they breathed a purer air, still lying down at night with no hope
but to wear out to-morrow, and all the to-morrows which make up life,
among the same dull scenes and in the same wretched toil that had
darkened the sunshine of today. But there were some full of the
primeval instinct who preserved the freshness of youth to their latest
years by the continual excitement of new objects, new pursuits and new
associates, and cared little, though their birthplace might have been
here in New England, if the grave should close over them in Central
Asia. Fate was summoning a parliament of these free spirits;
unconscious of the impulse which directed them to a common centre,
they had come hither from far and near, and last of all appeared the
representatives of those mighty vagrants who had chased the deer
during thousands of years, and were chasing it now in the spirit-land.
Wandering down through the waste of ages, the woods had vanished
around his path; his arm had lost somewhat of its strength, his foot
of its fleetness, his mien of its wild regality, his heart and mind of
their savage virtue and uncultured force, but here, untamable to the
routine of artificial life, roving now along the dusty road as of old
over the forest-leaves, - here was the Indian still.

"Well," said the old showman, in the midst of my meditations, "here is
an honest company of us - one, two, three, four, five, six - all going
to the camp-meeting at Stamford. Now, hoping no offence, I should like
to know where this young gentleman may be going?"

I started. How came I among these wanderers? The free mind that
preferred its own folly to another's wisdom, the open spirit that
found companions everywhere - above all, the restless impulse that had
so often made me wretched in the midst of enjoyments, - these were my
claims to be of their society.

"My friends," cried I, stepping into the centre of the wagon, "I am
going with you to the camp-meeting at Stamford."

"But in what capacity?" asked the old showman, after a moment's
silence. "All of us here can get our bread in some creditable way.
Every honest man should have his livelihood. You, sir, as I take it,
are a mere strolling gentleman."

I proceeded to inform the company that when Nature gave me a
propensity to their way of life she had not left me altogether
destitute of qualifications for it, though I could not deny that my
talent was less respectable, and might be less profitable, than the
meanest of theirs. My design, in short, was to imitate the
story-tellers of whom Oriental travellers have told us, and become an
itinerant novelist, reciting my own extemporaneous fictions to such
audiences as I could collect.

"Either this," said I, "is my vocation, or I have been born in vain."

The fortune-teller, with a sly wink to the company, proposed to take
me as an apprentice to one or other of his professions, either of
which undoubtedly would have given full scope to whatever inventive
talent I might possess. The bibliopolist spoke a few words in
opposition to my plan - influenced partly, I suspect, by the jealousy
of authorship, and partly by an apprehension that the _viv√Ґ-voce_
practice would become general among novelists, to the infinite
detriment of the book trade.

Dreading a rejection, I solicited the interest of the merry damsel.

"'Mirth,'" cried I, most aptly appropriating the words of L'Allegro,
"'to thee I sue! Mirth, admit me of thy crew!'"

"Let us indulge the poor youth," said Mirth, with a kindness which
made me love her dearly, though I was no such coxcomb as to
misinterpret her motives. "I have espied much promise in him. True, a
shadow sometimes flits across his brow, but the sunshine is sure to
follow in a moment. He is never guilty of a sad thought but a merry
one is twin-born with it. We will take him with us, and you shall see
that he will set us all a-laughing before we reach the camp-meeting at
Stamford." Her voice silenced the scruples of the rest and gained me
admittance into the league; according to the terms of which, without a
community of goods or profits, we were to lend each other all the aid
and avert all the harm that might be in our power.

This affair settled, a marvellous jollity entered into the whole tribe
of us, manifesting itself characteristically in each individual. The
old showman, sitting down to his barrel-organ, stirred up the souls of
the pigmy people with one of the quickest tunes in the music-book;
tailors, blacksmiths, gentlemen and ladies all seemed to share in the
spirit of the occasion, and the Merry Andrew played his part more
facetiously than ever, nodding and winking particularly at me. The
young foreigner flourished his fiddle-bow with a master's hand, and
gave an inspiring echo to the showman's melody. The bookish man and
the merry damsel started up simultaneously to dance, the former
enacting the double shuffle in a style which everybody must have
witnessed ere election week was blotted out of time, while the girl,
setting her arms akimbo with both hands at her slim waist, displayed
such light rapidity of foot and harmony of varying attitude and motion
that I could not conceive how she ever was to stop, imagining at the
moment that Nature had made her, as the old showman had made his
puppets, for no earthly purpose but to dance jigs. The Indian bellowed
forth a succession of most hideous outcries, somewhat affrighting us
till we interpreted them as the war-song with which, in imitation of
his ancestors, he was prefacing the assault on Stamford. The conjurer,
meanwhile, sat demurely in a corner extracting a sly enjoyment from
the whole scene, and, like the facetious Merry Andrew, directing his
queer glance particularly at me. As for myself, with great
exhilaration of fancy, I began to arrange and color the incidents of a
tale wherewith I proposed to amuse an audience that very evening; for
I saw that my associates were a little ashamed of me, and that no time
was to be lost in obtaining a public acknowledgment of my abilities.

"Come, fellow-laborers," at last said the old showman, whom we had
elected president; "the shower is over, and we must be doing our duty
by these poor souls at Stamford."

"We'll come among them in procession, with music and dancing," cried
the merry damsel.

Accordingly - for it must be understood that our pilgrimage was to be
performed on foot - we sallied joyously out of the wagon, each of us,
even the old gentleman in his white top-boots, giving a great skip as
we came down the ladder. Above our heads there was such a glory of
sunshine and splendor of clouds, and such brightness of verdure below,
that, as I modestly remarked at the time, Nature seemed to have washed
her face and put on the best of her jewelry and a fresh green gown in
honor of our confederation. Casting our eyes northward, we beheld a
horseman approaching leisurely and splashing through the little puddle
on the Stamford road. Onward he came, sticking up in his saddle with
rigid perpendicularity, a tall, thin figure in rusty black, whom the
showman and the conjurer shortly recognized to be what his aspect
sufficiently indicated - a travelling preacher of great fame among the
Methodists. What puzzled us was the fact that his face appeared turned
from, instead of to, the camp-meeting at Stamford. However, as this
new votary of the wandering life drew near the little green space
where the guide-post and our wagon were situated, my six
fellow-vagabonds and myself rushed forward and surrounded him, crying
out with united voices, "What news? What news from the camp-meeting at
Stamford?"

The missionary looked down in surprise at as singular a knot of people
as could have been selected from all his heterogeneous auditors.
Indeed, considering that we might all be classified under the general
head of Vagabond, there was great diversity of character among the
grave old showman, the sly, prophetic beggar, the fiddling foreigner
and his merry damsel, the smart bibliopolist, the sombre Indian and
myself, the itinerant novelist, a slender youth of eighteen. I even
fancied that a smile was endeavoring to disturb the iron gravity of
the preacher's mouth.

"Good people," answered he, "the camp-meeting is broke up."

So saying, the Methodist minister switched his steed and rode
westward. Our union being thus nullified by the removal of its object,
we were sundered at once to the four winds of heaven. The
fortune-teller, giving a nod to all and a peculiar wink to me,
departed on his Northern tour, chuckling within himself as he took the
Stamford road. The old showman and his literary coadjutor were already
tackling their horses to the wagon with a design to peregrinate
south-west along the sea-coast. The foreigner and the merry damsel
took their laughing leave and pursued the eastern road, which I had
that day trodden; as they passed away the young man played a lively
strain and the girl's happy spirit broke into a dance, and, thus
dissolving, as it were, into sunbeams and gay music, that pleasant
pair departed from my view. Finally, with a pensive shadow thrown
across my mind, yet emulous of the light philosophy of my late
companions, I joined myself to the Penobscot Indian and set forth
toward the distant city.




THE WHITE OLD MAID.


The moonbeams came through two deep and narrow windows and showed a
spacious chamber richly furnished in an antique fashion. From one
lattice the shadow of the diamond panes was thrown upon the floor; the
ghostly light through the other slept upon a bed, falling between the
heavy silken curtains and illuminating the face of a young man. But
how quietly the slumberer lay! how pale his features! And how like a
shroud the sheet was wound about his frame! Yes, it was a corpse in
its burial-clothes.

Suddenly the fixed features seemed to move with dark emotion. Strange
fantasy! It was but the shadow of the fringed curtain waving betwixt
the dead face and the moonlight as the door of the chamber opened and
a girl stole softly to the bedside. Was there delusion in the
moonbeams, or did her gesture and her eye betray a gleam of triumph as
she bent over the pale corpse, pale as itself, and pressed her living
lips to the cold ones of the dead? As she drew back from that long
kiss her features writhed as if a proud heart were fighting with its
anguish. Again it seemed that the features of the corpse had moved
responsive to her own. Still an illusion. The silken curtains had
waved a second time betwixt the dead face and the moonlight as another
fair young girl unclosed the door and glided ghostlike to the bedside.
There the two maidens stood, both beautiful, with the pale beauty of
the dead between them. But she who had first entered was proud and
stately, and the other a soft and fragile thing.

"Away!" cried the lofty one. "Thou hadst him living; the dead is
mine."

"Thine!" returned the other, shuddering. "Well hast thou spoken; the
dead is thine."

The proud girl started and stared into her face with a ghastly look,
but a wild-and mournful expression passed across the features of the
gentle one, and, weak and helpless, she sank down on the bed, her head
pillowed beside that of the corpse and her hair mingling with his dark
locks. A creature of hope and joy, the first draught of sorrow had
bewildered her.

"Edith!" cried her rival.

Edith groaned as with a sudden compression of the heart, and, removing
her cheek from the dead youth's pillow, she stood upright, fearfully
encountering the eyes of the lofty girl.

"Wilt thou betray me?" said the latter, calmly.

"Till the dead bid me speak I will be silent," answered Edith. "Leave
us alone together. Go and live many years, and then return and tell me
of thy life. He too will be here. Then, if thou tellest of sufferings
more than death, we will both forgive thee."

"And what shall be the token?" asked the proud girl, as if her heart
acknowledged a meaning in these wild words.



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