Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

to .-\;-t, though latent, in every one, and to be susceptible of development by cultivation. This is surely a very different thing from madness. Neither is it the low superstition of ghosts. He recounted no miracle, nothing supernatural. It was only that by strenuous effort and untiring devotion he had penetrated beyond the rank and file — but not beyond the possibilities of the rank and file — into the unseen world. Undoubtedly this power finally assumed undue proportions. In his isolation it led him on too unresistingly. His generation knew him not. It neglected where it should have trained, and stared where it should have studied. He was not wily enough to conceal or gloss over his views. Often silent with congenial companions, he would thrust in with boisterous assertion in the company of captious opponents. Set upon by the unfriendly and the conventional, he wilfully hurled out his wild utterances, exaggerating everything, scorning all explanation or modification, goading peculiarities into reckless extravagance, on purpose to puzzle and startle, and so avenging himself by playing off upon those who attempted to play off upon him. To the gentle, the reverent, the receptive, the simple, he, too, was gentle and reverent .

Nearest and dearest of all, the " beloved Kate" held him in highest honor. The ripples that disturbed the smooth flow of their early life had died away and left an unruffled current. To the childless wife, he was child, husband, and lover. No sphere so lofty, but he could come quickly down to perform the lowliest duties. The empty platter, silently placed on the dinner-table, was the signal for his descent from Parnassus to the money - earning graver. No angel-faces kept him from lighting the morning fire and setting on

the breakfast - kettle before his Kitty awoke. Their life became one. Her very spirit passed into his. By day and by night her love surrounded him. In his moments of fierce inspiration, when he would arise from his bed to sketch or write the thoughts that tore his brain, she, too, arose and sat by his side, silent, motionless, soothing him only by the tenderness of her presence. Years and wintry fortunes made havoc of her beauty, but love renewed it day by day for the eyes of her lover, and their hands only met in firmer clasp as they neared the Dark River.

It was reached at last. No violent steep, but a gentle and gracious slope led to the cold waters that had no bitterness for him. Shining already in the glory of the celestial city, his eyes rested upon the dear form that had stood by his side through all these years, and with waning strength he cried, " Stay I Keep as you are! You have been ever an angel to me: I will draw you." And, summoning his forces, he sketched his last portrait of the fond and faithful wife. Then, comforting her with the shortness of their separation, assuring her that he should always be about her to take care of her, he set his face steadfastly towards the Beautiful Gate. So joyful was his passage, so triumphant his march, that the very sight was to them that could behold it as if heaven itself were come down to meet him. Even the sorrowing wife could but listen enraptured to the sweet songs he chanted to his Maker's praise; but, " They are not mine, my beloved I" he tenderly cried; "No! they are not mine!" The strain he heard was of a higher mood; and continually sounding as he went, with melodious noise, in notes on high, he entered in through the gates into the City.

THE FIRST VISIT TO WASHINGTON.

One chill morning in the autumn of 1826, in the town of Keene, New Hampshire, lights might have been seen at an unusually early hour in the windows of a yellow one-story-and-a-half house, that stood—and still stands, perhaps—on the corner of the main street and the Swanzey road.

There was living in that house a blind widow, the mother of a large family of children, now mostly scattered; and the occasion of the unseasonable lights was the departure from home of a son yet left to her, upon a long and uncertain adventure.

He was a young man, eighteen years old, just out of college. Graduating at Dartmouth, he had brought away from that institution something better than book-learning,—a deep religious experience, which was to be his support through trials now quickly to come, and through a subsequent prosperity more dangerous to the soul than trials. He had been bred a farmer's boy. He was poor, and had his living to get. And he was now going out into the world, he scarcely knew whither, to see what prizes were to be won. In person he was tall, slender, slightly bent; shy and diffident in his manners; in his appearance a little green and awkward. He had an impediment in his speech also. His name — it is an odd one, but you may perhaps have heard it — was Salmon.

He had been up long before day, making preparations for the journey. His mother was up also, busily assisting him, though blind,—her intelligent hands placing together the linen that was to remind him affectingly of her, when unpacked in a distant city.

A singular hush was upon the little household, though all were so active. The sisters moved about noiselessly by candle-light, their pale cheeks and constrained lips betraying the repressed emotion. The early breakfast was eaten in

silence, — anxious eyes looking up now and then at the clock. It was only when the hour for the starting of the stage struck that all seemed suddenly to remember that there were a thousand things to be said; and so the last moments were crowded with last words.

"Your blessing, mother!" said Salmon, (for we shall call the youth by the youth's name,) bending before her with his heart chokingly full.

She rose up from her chair. Her right hand held his; the other was laid lovingly over his neck. Her blind eyes were turned upward prayerfully, and tears streamed from them as she spoke and blessed him. Then a last embrace; and he hurried forth from the house, his cheeks still wet, — not with his own tears.

The stage took him up. He climbed to the driver's seat. Then again the dull clank of the lumbering coach-wheels was heard, — a heavy sound to the mother's ears. In the dim, still light of the frosty morning he turned and waved back his farewell to her who could not see, took his last look at the faces at the door, and so departed from that home forever. The past was left behind him, with all its dear associations; and before him rose the future, chill, uncertain, yet not without gleams of rosy brightness, like the dawn then breaking upon Monadnoek's misty head.

Thus went forth the young man into the world, seeking his fortune. Conscious of power, courageous, shrinking from no hardship, palpitating with young dreams, he felt that he had his place off yonder somewhere, beneath that brightening sky, beyond those purple hills, — but where?

In due time he arrived in New York; but something within assured him that here was not the field of his fortunes. So he went on to Philadelphia. There he made a longer stop. He had a letter of introduction to the Rev. Mr. ,

who received him with hospitality, and used his influence to assist him in gaining a position. But the door of Providence did not open yet: Philadelphia was not that door: his path led farther.

So he kept on, still drawn by that magnet which we call Destiny. He went to Frederick: still the invisible finger pointed on. At last there was but one more step. He secured a seat in the stage going down the Frederick road to Washington.

Years after he was to approach the capital of the nation with far different prospects! But this was his first visit. It was at the close of a bleak day, late in November, that he came in sight of the city. The last tint of daylight was fading from a sullen sky. The dreary twilight was setting in. Cold blew the wind from over the Maryland hills. The trees were leaffess; they shook and whistled in the blast. Gloom was shutting down upon the capital. The city wore a dismal and forbidding aspect; and the whole landscape was desolate and discouraging in the extreme. Here was mud, in which the stage-coach lurched and rolled as it descended the hills. Yonder was the watery spread of the Potomac, gray, cold, dimly seen under the shadow of coming night. Between this mud and that water what was there for him? Yet here was his destination.

Years after there dwelt in Washington a man high in position, wielding a power that was felt not only throughout this nation, but in Europe also, — his hand dispensing benefits, his door thronged by troops of friends. But now it was a city of strangers he was entering, a youth. Of all the dwellers there he knew not a living soul. There was no one to dispense favors to Aim, — to receive Aim with cheerful look and cordial grasp of the hand. A heavy foreboding settled upon his spirit, aa the darkness settled upon the hills. Here he was, alone and unknown, — a bashful boy as yet, utterly wanting in that ready audacity by means of which persons of extreme shallowness often push

themselves into notice. Well might he foresee days of gloom, long days of waiting and struggle, stretching like the landscape before him!

But he was not disheartened. From the depths of his spirit arose a hope, like a bubble from a deep spring. That spring was Faith. There, in that dull, bleak November twilight, he seemed to feel the hand of Providence take hold of his. And a prayer rose to his lips,— a prayer of earnest supplication for guidance and support . Was that prayer answered?

Tho stage rumbled through the naked suburbs and along the unlighted streets.

"Where do you stop?" asked the driver.

"Sot me down at a boarding-house, if you know of a good one." For Salmon could not afford to go to a hotel.

"What sort of a boarding-house? I know of a good many. Some 'a right smart, — 'ristocratic, and 'ristoeratic prices. Then there's some good enough in every way, only not quite so smart, — and with this advantage, you don't have the smartness to pay for."

"I prefer to go to a good house, where there are nice people, without too much smartness to be put into the bill."

"I know jest the kind of place, I reckon !" — and the driver whipped up his jaded horses.

He drew up before a respectable-looking wooden tenement on Pennsylvania Avenue, the windows of which, just lighted up, looked warm and inviting to the chilled and weary traveller.

"Good evening, Mrs. Markham!" said the driver to a kindly-looking lady who came to the door at his knock. "Got room for a boarder?"

"I don't know, I 'm sure. I 'm afraid not," said the lady, loud enough for Salmon to hear and be discouraged. "There 's only half a room unoccupied, — if he would be content with that, and if he 's the right sort of person"

Here she said something in a whisper to thc driver, who apparently pointed oat Salmon to her inspection.

But it was too dark for her to decide whether he would do to put into the room with Williams; so Salmon had to get down and show himself. She examined him, and he inquired her terms. They appeared mutually satisfied. Accordingly the driver received directions to deposit Salmon's baggage in the entry; and the hungry and benumbed young traveller had the comfort of feeling that he had reached a home.

Grateful at finding a kind woman's face to welcome him, — glad of the opportunity to economize his slender means by sharing a room with another person, strongly recommended as "very quiet" by Mrs. Markham,—Salmon washed his face, combed his hair, and ate his first supper in Washington. He has eaten better suppers there since, no doubt, — but not many, I fancy, that have been sweetened by a more devout sense of reliance upon Providence.

Williams was a companionable person, who had a place in the Treasury Department, and talked freely about the kind of work he had to do, and the salary.

"Eight hundred a year!" thought Salmon, deeming that man enviable who had constant employment, an assured position, and eight hundred a year. His ambition was to get a living simply, —to place his foot upon some certainty, however humble, with freedom from this present gnawing anxiety, and with a prospect of rising, he cared not how slowly, to the place which he felt belonged to him in the future. Little did he dream what that place was, when he questioned Williams so curiously as to what sort of thing the Treasury Department might be.

"If I could be sure of half that salary, —or even of three, or two hundred, just enough to pay my expenses, the first year, — I should be perfectly happy I"

"Have n't you any idea what you are going to do?"

"None whatever."

"What can you do?"

"For one thing, I can teach. I think 1 shall try that."

"You 1l find it a mighty hard place to get pupils!" said Williams, with a dubious smile.

Which rather gloomy prediction Salmon had to think of before going to bed.

But soon another subject, which be deemed of far greater importance, occupied his mind. He had of late been seriously considering whether it was his duty to continue his private devotions openly, or in secret,—and had concluded, that, when occasion seemed to require it, he ought to make an open manifestation of his faith. Here now was a test for his conscience. His room-mate showed no signs of going out again that night: he had pulled off his boots, put on his slippers, and lighted his pipe. Salmon had already inferred, from the tone of his conversation, that he was not a person who could sympathize with him in his religious sentiments. Yet he must kneel there in his presence, if he knelt at all. It was not the fear of ridicule, but a certain sensitiveness of spirit, which caused him to shrink from the act . He did not hesitate long, however. He turned, and knelt by his chair. Williams took the pipe out of his mouth, and looked at him over his shoulder with curious amazement . Not a word was spoken. Salmon, feeling that he had no right to intrude bis devotions upon the ear of another, prayed silently; and Williams, compelled to respect the courageous, yet quiet manner in which he performed what he regarded as a solemn duty, kept his astonishment to himself.

Then Salmon arose, and went to bed for that first time in Washington under Mrs. Markham's roof.

On the twenty-third of December, 1826, the following advertisement appeared in the columns of the "National Intelligencer ": —

"Select Classical School.

"The Subscriber intends opening a Select Classical School, in the Western part of the City, to commence on the second Monday in January. His number of pupils will be limited to twenty, which will enable him to devote a much larger portion of his time and attention than ordinary to each individual student. Instruction will be given in all the studies preparatory to entering College, or, if desired, in any of the higher branches of a classical education. The subscriber pledges himself that no effort shall be wanting on his part to promote both the moral and intellectual improvement of those who may be confided to his care. He may be found at his room, three doors west of Brown's Hotel. Reference m.iy be made to the Hon. Henry Clay; Hon.

D. Chase and Hon. H. Seymour, of the Senate; Hon. L Bartlett and Hon. William C. Bradley, of the House of Representatives; Rev. Wm. Hawley and Rev.

E. Allen.

"Salmon .

"Dec. 23 — 3td & eotJS."

The " Hon. Henry Clay " was then Secretary of State. The " Hon. D. Chase" referred to was Salmon's uncle Dudley, then United States Senator from Vermont. Congress was now in session, and he had arrived in town. He was a man of great practical sagacity, and kept a true heart beating under an exterior which appeared sometimes austere and eccentric. He had the year before been a second time elected to the Senate; and when he was on his way to Washington, Salmon had gone over from Hanover to Woodstock to meet him. They occupied the same room at the tavern, and the uncle had given the nephew some very good advice. What he said of the human passions was characteristic of the man; and it made a strong impression upon the mind of the youth: — "A man's passions are given him for good, and not evil. They are not to be destroyed, but controlled. If they get the mastery, they destroy the man; but kept in their place, they are sources of power and happiness."

And he used this illustration, which, though the same thing has been said by

others, remains, nevertheless, fresh as truth itself: —

"The passions are the winds that fill our sails; but the helmsman must be faithful, if we would avoid shipwreck, and reach the happy port at last."

Salmon had remembered well these words of his uncle, and the night spent with him at the Woodstock inn. Hearing of his arrival in Washington, he had called on him at his boarding - house. The Senator received him kindly, listened to his plans, approved them, and helped him to procure the references named in the advertisement.

Day after day the advertisement appeared; and day after day Salmon waited for pupils. But his room, "three doors west of Brown's Hotel," remained unvisitcd. Sometimes, at first, when there came a knock at Mrs. Markham's door, his heart gave a bound of expectation; but it was never a knock for him.

So went out the old year, drearily enough for Salmon. He had made the acquaintance of several people ; but friends he had none. There was nobody to whom he could open his heart, — for he was not one of those persons "of so loose soul" that they hasten to pour out their troubles and appeal for sympathy to the first chance-comer. In the mean time the advertisement was to be paid for, barren of benefit though it had been to him. There was also his board-bill to be settled at the end of each week ; and Salmon saw his slender purse grow lank and lanker than ever, with no means within his reach of replenishing it.

The new year came; but it brought no brightening skies to him. Lonely enough those days were I When tired of waiting in his room, he would go out and walk, — always alone. He strolled up and down the Potomac, and sometimes crossed over to the Virginia shore, and climbed the brown, wooded banks there, and listened to the clamor of the crows in the leafiess oak-trees. There was something in their wild cawing, in the desolateness of the fields, in the rush of

« ZurückWeiter »