The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 07, No. 42, April, 1861 online

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perhaps a half, of her salary.

"Here is your accaount, Miss Darley, and the balance doo you,"
said Silas Peckham, handing her a paper and a small roll of
infectious-flavored bills wrapping six poisonous coppers of the old

She took the paper and began looking at it. She could not quite make up
her mind to touch the feverish bills with the cankering copper in them,
and left them airing themselves on the table.

The document she held ran as follows:

_Silas Peckham, Esq., Principal of the Apollinean Institute,
In Account with Helen Darley, Assist. Teacher._

To Salary for quarter ending Jan. 1st,
@ $75 per quarter . . . . . . $75.00


By Deduction for absence, 1 week 8
days . . . . . . . . . . $10.00
" Board, lodging, etc., for 10 days,
@ 75 cts. per day . . . . . . 7.50
" Damage to Institution by absence
of teacher from duties, say . . . 25.00
" Stationery furnished . . . . . 43
" Postage-stamp . . . . . . . 01
" Balance due Helen Darley . . $32.06

ROCKLAND, Jan. 1st, 1859.

Now Helen had her own private reasons for wishing to receive the
small sum which was due her at this time without any unfair
deduction, - reasons which we need not inquire into too particularly,
as we may be very sure that they were right and womanly. So, when she
looked over this account of Mr. Silas Peckham's, and saw that he had
contrived to pare down her salary to something less than half its
stipulated amount, the look which her countenance wore was as near to
that of righteous indignation as her gentle features and soft blue eyes
would admit of its being.

"Why, Mr. Peckham," she said, "do you mean this? If I am of so much
value to you that you must take off twenty-five dollars for ten days'
absence, how is it that my salary is to be cut down to less than
seventy-five dollars a quarter, if I remain here?"

"I gave you fair notice," said Silas. "I have a minute of it I took down
immed'ately after the intervoo."

He lugged out his large pocket-book with the strap going all round it,
and took from it a slip of paper which confirmed his statement.

"Besides," he added, slyly, "I presoom you have received a liberal
pecooniary compensation from Squire Venner for nussin' his daughter."

Helen was looking over the bill while he was speaking.

"Board and lodging for ten days, Mr. Peckham, - _whose_ board and
lodging, pray?"

The door opened before Silas Peckham could answer, and Mr. Bernard
walked into the parlor. Helen was holding the bill in her hand, looking
as any woman ought to look who has been at once wronged and insulted.

"The last turn of the thumbscrew!" said Mr. Bernard to himself. "What is
it, Helen? You look troubled."

She handed him the account.

He looked at the footing of it. Then he looked at the items. Then he
looked at Silas Peckham.

At this moment Silas was sublime. He was so transcendency unconscious of
the emotions going on in Mr. Bernard's mind at the moment, that he had
only a single thought.

"The accaount's correc'ly cast, I presoom; - if the' 's any mistake
of figgers or addin' 'em up, it'll be made all right. Everything's
accordin' to agreement. The minute written immed'ately after the
intervoo is here in my possession."

Mr. Bernard looked at Helen. Just what would have happened to Silas
Peckham, as he stood then and there, but for the interposition of a
merciful Providence, nobody knows or ever will know; for at that moment
steps were heard upon the stairs, and Hiram threw open the parlor-door
for Mr. Dudley Venner to enter.

He saluted them all gracefully with the good-wishes of the season, and
each of them returned his compliment, - Helen blushing fearfully, of
course, but not particularly noticed in her embarrassment by more than

Silas Peckham reckoned with perfect confidence on his Trustees, who had
always said what he told them to, and done what he wanted. It was a good
chance now to show off his power, and, by letting his instructors know
the unstable tenure of their offices, make it easier to settle his
accounts and arrange his salaries. There was nothing very strange in Mr.
Venner's calling; he was one of the Trustees, and this was New Year's
Day. But he had called just at the lucky moment for Mr. Peckham's

"I have thought some of makin' changes in the department of
instruction," he began. "Several accomplished teachers have applied to
me, who would be glad of sitooations. I understand that there never have
been so many fust-rate teachers, male and female, out of employment as
doorin' the present season. If I can make sahtisfahctory arrangements
with my present corpse of teachers, I shall be glad to do so; otherwise
I shell, with the permission of the Trustees, make sech noo arrangements
as circumstahnces compel."

"You may make arrangements for a new assistant in my department, Mr.
Peckham," said Mr. Bernard, "at once, - this day, - this hour. I am not
safe to be trusted with your person five minutes out of this lady's
presence, - of whom I beg pardon for this strong language. Mr. Venner, I
must beg you, as one of the Trustees of this Institution, to look at the
manner in which its Principal has attempted to swindle this faithful
teacher, whose toils and sacrifices and self-devotion to the school
have made it all that it is, in spite of this miserable trader's
incompetence. Will you look at the paper I hold?"

Dudley Venner took the account and read it through, without changing a
feature. Then he turned to Silas Peckham.

"You may make arrangements for a new assistant in the branches this lady
has taught. Miss Helen Darley is to be my wife. I had hoped to announce
this news in a less abrupt and ungraceful manner. But I came to tell
you with my own lips what you would have learned before evening from my
friends in the village."

Mr. Bernard went to Helen, who stood silent, with downcast eyes, and
took her hand warmly, hoping she might find all the happiness she
deserved. Then he turned to Dudley Venner, and said, -

"She is a queen, but has never found it out. The world has nothing
nobler than this dear woman, whom you have discovered in the disguise of
a teacher. God bless her and you!"

Dudley Venner returned his friendly grasp, without answering a word in
articulate speech.

Silas remained dumb and aghast for a brief space. Coming to himself
a little, he thought there might have been some mistake about the
items, - would like to have Miss Darley's bill returned, - would make it
all right, - had no idee that Squire Venner had a special int'rest in
Miss Darley, - was sorry he had given offence, - if he might take that
bill and look it over -

"No, Mr. Peckham," said Mr. Dudley Venner; "there will be a full meeting
of the Board next week, and the bill, and such evidence with reference
to the management of the Institution and the treatment of its
instructors as Mr. Langdon sees fit to bring forward, will be laid
before them."

Miss Helen Darley became that very day the guest of Miss Arabella
Thornton, the Judge's daughter. Mr. Bernard made his appearance a week
or two later at the Lectures, where the Professor first introduced him
to the reader.

He stayed after the class had left the room.

"Ah, Mr. Langdon! how do you do? Very glad to see you back again. How
have you been since our correspondence on Fascination and other curious
scientific questions?"

It was the Professor who spoke, - whom the reader will recognize as
myself, the teller of this story.

"I have been well," Mr. Bernard answered, with a serious look which
invited a further question.

"I hope you have had none of those painful or dangerous experiences you
seemed to be thinking of when you wrote; at any rate, you have escaped
having your obituary written."

"I have seen some things worth remembering. Shall I call on you this
evening and tell you about them?"

"I shall be most happy to see you."

* * * * *

This was the way in which I, the Professor, became acquainted with some
of the leading events of this story. They interested me sufficiently
to lead me to avail myself of all those other extraordinary methods of
obtaining information well known to writers of narrative.

Mr. Langdon seemed to me to have gained in seriousness and strength of
character by his late experiences. He threw his whole energies into
his studies with an effect which distanced all his previous efforts.
Remembering my former hint, he employed his spare hours in writing for
the annual prizes, both of which he took by a unanimous vote of the
judges. Those who heard him read his Thesis at the Medical Commencement
will not soon forget the impression made by his fine personal appearance
and manners, nor the universal interest excited in the audience, as
he read, with his beautiful enunciation, that striking paper entitled
"Unresolved Nebulas in Vital Science." It was a general remark of the
Faculty, - and old Doctor Kittredge, who had come down on purpose to hear
Mr. Langdon, heartily agreed to it, - that there had never been a diploma
filled up, since the institution which conferred upon him the degree of
_Doctor Medicinae_ was founded, which carried with it more of promise to
the profession than that which bore the name of

Bernardus Caryl Langdon



Mr. Bernard Langdon had no sooner taken his degree, than, in accordance
with the advice of one of his teachers whom he frequently consulted, he
took an office in the heart of the city where he had studied. He had
thought of beginning in a suburb or some remoter district of the city

"No," said his teacher, - to wit, myself, - "don't do any such thing. You
are made for the best kind of practice; don't hamper yourself with an
outside constituency, such as belongs to a practitioner of the second
class. When a fellow like you chooses his beat, he must look ahead a
little. Take care of all the poor that apply to you, but leave the
half-pay classes to a different style of doctor, - the people who spend
one half their time in taking care of their patients, and the other half
in squeezing out their money. Go for the swell-fronts and south-exposure
houses; the folks inside are just as good as other people, and the
pleasantest, on the whole, to take care of. They must have somebody, and
they like a gentleman best. Don't throw yourself away. You have a
good presence and pleasing manners. You wear white linen by inherited
instinct. You can pronounce the word _view_. You have all the elements
of success; go and take it. Be polite and generous, but don't undervalue
yourself. You will be useful, at any rate; you may just as well be
happy, while you are about it. The highest social class furnishes
incomparably the best patients, taking them by and large. Besides, when
they won't get well and bore you to death, you can send 'em off to
travel. Mind me now, and take the tops of your sparrowgrass. Somebody
must have 'em, - why shouldn't you? If you don't take your chance, you'll
get the butt-ends as a matter of course."

Mr. Bernard talked like a young man full of noble sentiments. He wanted
to be useful to his fellow-beings. Their social differences were nothing
to him. He would never court the rich, - he would go where he was called.
He would rather save the life of a poor mother of a family than that of
half a dozen old gouty millionnaires whose heirs had been yawning and
stretching these ten years to get rid of them.

"Generous emotions!" I exclaimed. "Cherish 'em; cling to 'em till you
are fifty, - till you are seventy, - till you are ninety! But do as I tell
you, - strike for the best circle of practice, and you'll be sure to get

Mr. Langdon did as I told him, - took a genteel office, furnished it
neatly, dressed with a certain elegance, soon made a pleasant circle
of acquaintances, and began to work his way into the right kind of
business. I missed him, however, for some days, not long after he had
opened his office. On his return, he told me he had been up at Rockland,
by special invitation, to attend the wedding of Mr. Dudley Venner and
Miss Helen Darley. He gave me a full account of the ceremony, which
I regret that I cannot relate in full. "Helen looked like an
angel," - that, I am sure, was one of his expressions. As for her dress,
I should like to give the details, but am afraid of committing blunders,
as men always do, when they undertake to describe such matters. White
dress, anyhow, - that I am sure of, - with orange-flowers, and the most
wonderful lace veil that was ever seen or heard of. The Reverend Doctor
Honeywood performed the ceremony, of course. The good people seemed to
have forgotten they ever had had any other minister, - except Deacon
Shearer and his set of malecontents, who were doing a dull business in
the meeting-house lately occupied by the Reverend Mr. Fairweather.

"Who was at the wedding?"

"Everybody, pretty much. They wanted to keep it quiet, but it was of no
use. Married at church. Front pews, old Doctor Kittredge and all the
mansion-house people and distinguished strangers, - Colonel Sprowle and
family, including Matilda's young gentleman, a graduate of one of
the fresh-water colleges, - Mrs. Pickins (late Widow Rowens) and
husband, - Deacon Soper and numerous parishioners. A little nearer the
door, Abel, the Doctor's man, and Elbridge, who drove them to church in,
the family-coach. Father Fairweather, as they all call him now, came in
late, with Father McShane."

"And Silas Peckham?"

"Oh, Silas had left The School and Rockland. Cut up altogether too
badly in the examination instituted by the Trustees. Had moved over
to Tamarack, and thought of renting a large house and 'farming' the

* * * * *

Some time after this, as I was walking with a young friend along by the
swell-fronts and south-exposures, whom should I see but Mr. Bernard
Langdon, looking remarkably happy, and keeping step by the side of a
very handsome and singularly well-dressed young lady? He bowed and
lifted his hat as we passed.

"Who is that pretty girl my young doctor has got there?" I said to my

"Who is that?" he answered. "You don't know? Why, that is neither more
nor less than Miss Letitia Forester, daughter of - of - why, the great
banking-firm, you know, Bilyuns Brothers & Forester. Got acquainted with
her in the country, they say. There's a story that they're engaged, or
like to be, if the firm consents."

"Oh!" I said.

I did not like the look of it in the least. Too young, - too young. Has
not taken any position yet. No right to ask for the hand of Bilyuns
Brothers & Co.'s daughter. Besides, it will spoil him for practice, if
he marries a rich girl before he has formed habits of work.

I looked in at his office the next day. A box of white kids was lying
open on the table. A three-cornered note, directed in a very delicate
lady's-hand, was distinguishable among a heap of papers. I was just
going to call him to account for his proceedings, when he pushed
the three-cornered note aside and took up a letter with a great
corporation-seal upon it. He had received the offer of a professor's
chair in an ancient and distinguished institution.

"Pretty well for three-and-twenty, my boy," I said. "I suppose you'll
think you must be married one of these days, if you accept this office."

Mr. Langdon blushed. - There had been stories about him, he knew. His
name had been mentioned in connection with that of a very charming young
lady. The current reports were not true. He had met this young lady,
and been much pleased with her, in the country, at the house of her
grandfather, the Reverend Doctor Honeywood, - you remember Miss Letitia
Forester, whom I have mentioned repeatedly? On coming to town, he found
his country-acquaintance in a social position which seemed to discourage
his continued intimacy. He had discovered, however, that he was a not
unwelcome visitor, and had kept up friendly relations with her. But
there was no truth in the current reports, - none at all.

Some months had passed, after this visit, when I happened one evening to
stroll into a box in one of the principal theatres of the city. A small
party sat on the seats before me: a middle-aged gentleman and his lady,
in front, and directly behind them my young doctor and the same very
handsome young lady I had seen him walking with on the side-walk before
the swell-fronts and south-exposures. As Professor Langdon seemed to be
very much taken up with his companion, and both of them looked as if
they were enjoying themselves, I determined not to make my presence
known to my young friend, and to withdraw quietly after feasting my eyes
with the sight of them for a few minutes.

"It looks as if something might come of it," I said to myself.

At that moment the young lady lifted her arm accidentally, in such a way
that the light fell upon the clasp of a chain which encircled her wrist.
My eyes filled with tears as I read upon the clasp, in sharp-cut Italic
letters, _E.V._ They were tears at once of sad remembrance and of joyous
anticipation; for the ornament on which I looked was the double
pledge of a dead sorrow and a living affection. It was the golden
bracelet, - the parting-gift of Elsie Venner.

* * * * *



I stood on the brink in childhood,
And watched the bubbles go
From the rock-fretted sunny ripple
To the smoother lymph below;

And over the white creek-bottom,
Under them every one,
Went golden stars in the water,
All luminous with the sun.

But the bubbles brake on the surface,
And under, the stars of gold
Brake, and the hurrying water
Flowed onward, swift and cold.


I stood on the brink in manhood,
And it came to my weary heart, -
In my breast so dull and heavy,
After the years of smart, -

That every hollowest bubble
Which over my life had passed
Still into its deeper current
Some sky-sweet gleam had cast;

That, however I mocked it gayly,
And guessed at its hollowness,
Still shone, with each bursting bubble,
One star in my soul the less.



The first murderer was the first city-builder; and a good deal of
murdering has been carried on in the interest of city-building ever
since Cain's day. Narrow and crooked streets, want of proper sewerage
and ventilation, the absence of forethought in providing open spaces for
the recreation of the people, the allowance of intramural burials,
and of fetid nuisances, such as slaughter-houses and manufactories of
offensive stuffs, have converted cities into pestilential inclosures,
and kept Jefferson's saying - "Great cities are great sores" - true in its
most literal and mortifying sense.

There is some excuse for the crowded and irregular character of
Old-World cities. They grew, and were not builded. Accumulations
of people, who lighted like bees upon a chance branch, they found
themselves hived in obdurate brick and mortar before they knew it; and
then, to meet the necessities of their cribbed, cabined, and confined
condition, they must tear down sacred landmarks, sacrifice invaluable
possessions, and trample on prescriptive rights, to provide
breathing-room for their gasping population. Besides, air, water, light,
and cleanliness are modern innovations. The nose seems to have acquired
its sensitiveness within a hundred years, - the lungs their objection to
foul air, and the palate its disgust at ditch-water like the Thames,
within a more recent period. Honestly dirty, and robustly indifferent to
what mortally offends our squeamish senses, our happy ancestors fattened
on carbonic acid gas, and took the exhalations of graveyards and gutters
with a placidity of stomach that excites our physiological admiration.
If they died, it was not for want of air. The pestilence carried, them
off, - and that was a providential enemy, whose home-bred origin nobody

It must seem to foreigners of all things the strangest, that, in a
country where land is sold at one dollar and twenty-five cents the acre
by the square mile, there should in any considerable part of it be a
want of room, - any necessity for crowding the population into pent-up
cities, - any narrowness of streets, or want of commons and parks. And
yet it is an undeniable truth that our American cities are all suffering
the want of ample thoroughfares, destitute of adequate parks and
commons, and too much crowded for health, convenience, or beauty. Boston
has for its main street a serpentine lane, wide enough to drive the cows
home from their pastures, but totally and almost fatally inadequate
to be the great artery of a city of two hundred thousand people.
Philadelphia is little better off with her narrow Chestnut Street,
which purchases what accommodation it affords by admitting the parallel
streets to nearly equal use, and thus sacrificing the very idea of a
metropolitan thoroughfare, in which the splendor and motion and life
of a metropolis ought to be concentrated. New York succeeds in making
Broadway what the Toledo, the Strand, the Linden Strasse, the Italian
Boulevards are; but the street is notoriously blocked and confused, and
occasions more loss of time and temper and life and limb than would
amply repay, once in five years, the widening of it to double its
present breadth.

It is a great misfortune, that our commercial metropolis, the
predestined home of five millions of people, should not have a single
street worthy of the population, the wealth, the architectural ambition
ready to fill and adorn it. Wholesale trade, bankers, brokers, and
lawyers seek narrow streets. There must be swift communication between
the opposite sides, and easy recognition of faces across the way. But
retail trade requires no such conditions. The passers up and down on
opposite sides of Broadway are as if in different streets, and neither
expect to recognize each other nor to pass from one to the other without
set effort. It took a good while to make Broad and Canal Streets
attractive business-streets, and to get the importers and jobbers out
of Pearl Street; but the work is now done. The Bowery affords the only
remaining chance of building a magnificent metropolitan thoroughfare in
New York; and we anticipate the day - when Broadway will surrender its
pretensions to that now modest Cheapside. Already, about the confluence
of the Third and Fourth Avenues at Eighth Street are congregated some
of the chief institutions of the city, - the Bible House, the Cooper
Institute, the Astor Library, the Mercantile Library. Farther down,
the continuation of Canal Street affords the most commanding sites for
future public edifices; while the neighborhoods of Franklin and Chatham
Squares ought to be seized upon to embellish the city at imperial points
with its finest architectural piles. The capacities of New York, below
Union Square, for metropolitan splendor are entirely undeveloped; the
best points are still occupied by comparatively worthless buildings, and
the future will produce a now unlooked-for change in the whole character
of that great district.

The huddling together of our American cities is due to the recentness
of the time when space was our greatest enemy and sparseness our chief
discouragement. Our founders hated room as much as a backwoods farmer
hates trees. The protecting walls, which narrowed the ways and cramped
the houses of the Old-World cities, did not put a severer compress
upon them, than the disgust of solitude and the craving for "the sweet
security of streets" threw about our city-builders. In the Western towns
now, they carefully give a city air to their villages by crowding the
few stores and houses of which they are composed into the likeliest
appearance of an absolute scarcity of space.

They labor unconsciously to look crowded, and would sooner go into a
cellar to eat their oysters than have them in the finest saloon above
ground. And so, if a peninsula like Boston, or a miniature Mesopotamia
like New York, or a basin like Cincinnati, could be found to tuck away
a town in, in which there was a decent chance of covering over the
nakedness of the land within a thousand years, they rejoiced to seize
on it and warm their shivering imaginations in the idea of the possible
snugness which their distant posterity might enjoy.

Boston owes its only park worth naming - the celebrated Common - to

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Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 07, No. 42, April, 1861 → online text (page 5 of 21)