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    educator, and founder of a school for

    free blacks. In 1850, she became the first

    female teacher at the Union Seminary in

    Ohio. She left teaching to devote herself

    to anti-slavery activism. She lectured for

    anti-slavery organizations in northern

    states and southeastern Canada. With

    William Still (1821–1902), she assisted Image 4.23 | Frances Ellen Watkins Harper fugitive slaves escape to freedom in the Photographer | J. W. Gibson Source | Wikimedia Commons

    north through the network of people License | Public Domain Page | 1476


    comprising the Underground Railroad. And she published poetry, first in antislavery newspapers, then in a collection entitled Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects (1854). William Lloyd Garrison wrote its preface, endorsing her poetry, and the book sold so well that Harper published an enlarged and revised edition in 1857.

    She wrote consistently about the black experience in slavery, black resistance to slavery, education, women’s rights, and the dangers of intemperance. Her poetry is marked by its emotional intensity, lyricism, and Biblical allusions and language.

    It made a strong appeal to readers and was strongly appealing to them. She also wrote short stories, essays, and four novels. In The Anglo-African Magazine, she published “The Two Offers” (1859), a work that many consider to be the first short story published by an African American. In 1872, she published Sketches of Southern Life, in which she introduced the elderly Aunt Chloe, a free slave strong on reading and morality, particularly Christian morality.

    In 1860, she married Fenton Harper. He died four years later, leaving Harper to care for his three children and their child Mary. Harper continued to publish highly successful books of poetry and worked as a paid lecturer, traveling not only in the North but also in the South. She worked with important social reformers for equal rights for blacks and for women, including Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells (1862–1931), and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). She joined white-majority organizations such as The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the American Woman Suffrage Association, and the National Council for Women, to give their causes her support while reminding these groups to support blacks.

    Her last novel, Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted (1892), tells of a mulatto woman who reunites her family after the Civil War, refuses to pass for white, and remains true to herself and her own goals even within marriage. It speaks of a mutually-supportive black community that communicates amongst itself in messages of which and to which whites remain unaware. With Harriet Tubman (d. 1913), Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954), and Wells, Harper helped found the National Association for Colored Women in 1896.

    4.25.1 “The Slave Mother”



    I have but four, the treasures of my soul,

    They lay like doves around my heart;

    I tremble lest some cruel hand

    Should tear my household wreaths apart.

    My baby girl, with childish glance,

    Looks curious in my anxious eye,

    Page | 1477


    She little knows that for her sake

    Deep shadows round my spirit lie.

    My playful boys could I forget.

    My home might seem a joyous spot,

    But with their sunshine mirth I blend

    The darkness of their future lot.

    And thou my babe, my darling one,

    My last, my loved, my precious child,

    Oh! when I think upon thy doom

    My heart grows faint and then throbs wild.

    The Ohio’s bridged and spanned with ice.

    The northern star is shining bright,

    I’ll take the nestlings of my heart

    And search for freedom by its light.

    Winter and night were on the earth,

    And feebly moaned the shivering trees,

    A sigh of winter seemed to run

    Through every murmur of the breeze.

    She fled, and with her children all,

    She reached the stream and crossed it o’er,

    Bright visions of deliverance came

    Like dreams of plenty to the poor.

    Dreams! vain dreams, heroic mother,

    Give all thy hopes and struggles o’er,

    The pursuer is on thy track,

    And the hunter at thy door.

    Judea’s refuge cities had power

    To shelter, shield and save,

    E’en Rome had altars; ‘neath whose shade

    Might crouch the wan and weary slave.

    But Ohio had no sacred fane,

    To human rights so consecrate,

    Where thou may’st shield thy hapless ones

    From their darkly gathering fate.

    Page | 1478


    Then, said the mournful mother,

    If Ohio cannot save,

    I will do a deed for freedom.

    She shall find each child a grave.

    I will save my precious children

    From their darkly threatened doom,

    I will hew their path to freedom

    Through the portals of the tomb.

    A moment in the sunlight,

    She held a glimmering knife,

    The next moment she had bathed it

    In the crimson fount of life.

    They snatched away the fatal knife,

    Her boys shrieked wild with dread;

    The baby girl was pale and cold.

    They raised it up, the child was dead.

    Sends this deed of fearful daring

    Through my country’s heart no thrill,

    Do the icy hands of slavery

    Every pure emotion chill?

    Oh! if there is any honor.

    Truth or justice in the land.

    Will ye not, as men and Christians,

    On the side of freedom stand?

    4.25.2 “Ethiopia”


    Yes! Ethiopia yet shall stretch

    Her bleeding hands abroad;

    Her cry of agony shall reach

    The burning throne of God,

    The tyrant’s yoke from off her neck,

    His fetters from her soul,

    The mighty hand of God shall break,

    And spurn the base control.

    Page | 1479


    Redeemed from dust and freed from chains,

    Her sons snail lift their eyes;

    From cloud-capt hills and verdant plains

    Shall shouts of triumph rise.

    Upon her dark, despairing brow,

    Shall play a smile of peace;

    For God shall bend unto her wo,

    And bid her sorrows cease.

    ‘Neath sheltering vines and stately palms

    Shall laughing children play,

    And aged sires with joyous psalms

    Shall gladden every day.

    Secure by night, and blest by day.

    Shall pass her happy hours;

    Nor human tigers hunt for prey

    Within her peaceful bowers.

    Then, Ethiopia! stretch, oh! stretch

    Thy bleeding hands abroad;

    Thy cry of agony shall reach

    And find redress from God.

    4.25.3 “Learning to Read”


    Very soon the Yankee teachers

    Came down and set up school;

    But, oh! how the Rebs did hate it,—

    It was agin’ their rule.

    Our masters always tried to hide

    Book learning from our eyes;

    Knowledge didn’t agree with slavery—

    ‘Twould make us all too wise.

    But some of us would try to steal

    A little from the book,

    And put the words together,

    And learn by hook or crook.

    Page | 1480


    I remember Uncle Caldwell,

    Who took pot-liquor fat

    And greased the pages of his book,

    And hid it in his hat.

    And had his master ever seen

    The leaves upon his head,

    He’d have thought them greasy papers,

    But nothing to be read.

    And there was Mr. Turner’s Ben,

    Who heard the children spell,

    And picked the words right up by heart,

    And learned to read ‘em well.

    Well, the Northern folks kept sending

    The Yankee teachers down;

    And they stood right up and helped us,

    Though Rebs did sneer and frown.

    And, I longed to read my Bible,

    For precious words it said;

    But when I begun to learn it,

    Folks just shook their heads,

    And said there is no use trying,

    Oh! Chloe, you’re too late;

    But as I was rising sixty,

    I had no time to wait.

    So I got a pair of glasses,

    And straight to work I went,

    And never stopped till I could read

    The hymns and Testament.

    Then I got a little cabin—

    A place to call my own—

    And I felt as independent

    As the queen upon her throne.

    4.25.4 Reading and Review Questions

    1. In “Ethiopia,” how does Harper use Biblical allusions for blacks, as opposed to using them to undermine whites?

    Page | 1481




    2. Compare the sentimental tone of Whittier’s poetry and Stowe’s prose with Harper’s forceful acclamation in “Ethiopia.” How authentic does Harper’s tone seem to you? Why?

    3. In “Learning to Read,” how effective and authentic is the voice/persona of Aunt Chloe? Why does Harper use this persona?

    4. What aspects of the positive effects of education for blacks does “Learning To Read” disclose? Why? How do these aspects compare to Douglass’s and Jacobs’s views on education? Why?

    5. In “Slave Mother,” what’s the effect of Harper’s use of repetend? What’s do you think is the effect of the last line identifying the suffering woman as a mother, without adding the adjective “black” or “slave?” Why?



    The following content originally appeared in Writing the Nation: A Concise Introduction to American Literature 1865 to Present by the University System of Georgia, and is used in accordance to license CC BY-SA 4.0.

    Born into an influential and socially

    prominent New England family in 1830,

    Emily Dickinson benefited from a level

    of education and mobility that most of

    her contemporaries, female and male,

    could not comprehend. The middle

    child of Edward Dickinson and Emily

    Norcross, Dickinson, along with her

    older brother Austin and younger sister

    Lavinia, received both an extensive

    formal education and the informal

    education that came by way of countless

    visitors to the family homestead during

    Edward Dickinson’s political career.

    Contrary to popular depictions of her

    life, Dickinson did travel outside of

    Amherst but ultimately chose to remain Image 4.24 | Emily Dickinson at home in the close company of family Photographer | Unknown and friends. An intensely private person, Source | Wikimedia Commons Dickinson exerted almost singular License | Public Domain control over the distribution of her poetry during her lifetime. That control, coupled with early portrayals of her as reclusive, has led many readers to assume that Dickinson was a fragile and timid figure whose formal, mysterious, concise, Page | 1482


    and clever poetry revealed the mind of a writer trapped in the rigid gender confines of the nineteenth century. More recent scholarship demonstrates not only the fallacy of Dickinson’s depiction as the ghostly “Belle of Amherst,” but also reveals the technical complexity of her poetry that predates the Modernism of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore by almost three-quarters of a century. In the selections that follow, Dickinson’s poetry displays both her technical proficiency and her embrace of techniques that were new to the nineteenth century. Like her contemporary Walt Whitman, Dickinson used poetry to show her readers familiar landscapes from a fresh perspective.

    The selections that follow, from Dickinson’s most prolific years (1861-1865), illustrate the poet’s mastery of the lyric—a short poem that often expresses a single theme such as the speaker’s mood or feeling. “I taste a liquor never brewed –” . .

    . celebrates the poet’s relationship to the natural world in both its wordplay (note the use of liquor in line one to indicate both an alcoholic beverage in the first stanza and a rich nectar in the third) and its natural imagery. Here, as in many of her poems, Dickinson’s vibrant language demonstrates a vital spark in contrast to her reclusive image. . . . “The Soul selects her own Society –,” shows Dickinson using well-known images of power and authority to celebrate the independence of the soul in the face of expectations. In both of these first two poems, readers will note the celebrations of the individual will that engages fully with life without becoming either intoxicated or enslaved. . . . “Because I could not stop for Death –,” one of the most famous poems in the Dickinson canon, forms an important bookend to

    “The Soul” in that both poems show Dickinson’s precise control over the speaker’s relationship to not only the natural world but also the divine. While death cannot be avoided, neither is it to be feared; the speaker of this poem reminds readers that the omnipresence of death does not mean that death is immanent. This idea of death as always present and potential comes full circle in . . . “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun –.” Here Dickinson plays with our preconceptions not only of death, but also of energy which appears always to be waiting for someone to unleash it. Considered carefully, these four poems demonstrate the range of Dickinson’s reach as a poet. In these lyrics, mortality and desire combine in precise lyrics that awaken both our imagination and our awareness of the natural world.

    4.26.1 #122 [These are the days when Birds come back]

    These are the days when Birds come back —

    A very few — a Bird or two —

    To take a backward look.

    These are the days when skies resume

    The old — old sophistries of June —

    A blue and gold mistake.

    Page | 1483


    Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee —

    Almost thy plausibility

    Induces my belief.

    Till ranks of seeds their witness bear —

    And softly thro’ the altered air

    Hurries a timid leaf.

    Oh Sacrament of summer days,

    Oh Last Communion in the Haze —

    Permit a child to join.

    Thy sacred emblems to partake —

    They consecrated bread to take

    And thine immortal wine!

    4.26.2 #194 [Title divine, is mine]

    Title divine — is mine!

    The Wife — without the Sign!

    Acute Degree — conferred on me —

    Empress of Calvary!

    Royal — all but the Crown!

    Betrothed — without the swoon

    God sends us Women —

    When you — hold — Garnet to Garnet —

    Gold — to Gold —

    Born — Bridalled — Shrouded —

    In a Day —

    Tri Victory

    “My Husband” — women say —

    Stroking the Melody —

    Is this — the way?

    4.26.3 #207 [I taste a liquor never brewed]

    I taste a liquor never brewed,

    From tankards scooped in pearl;

    Not all the vats upon the Rhine

    Yield such an alcohol!

    Inebriate of air am I,

    And debauchee of dew,

    Page | 1484


    Reeling, through endless summer days,

    From inns of molten blue.

    When landlords turn the drunken bee

    Out of the foxglove’s door,

    When butterflies renounce their drams,

    I shall but drink the more!

    Till seraphs swing their snowy hats,

    And saints to windows run,

    To see the little tippler

    Leaning against the sun!

    4.26.4 #225 [I’m “wife” – I’ve finished that]

    I’m “wife” — I’ve finished that —

    That other state —

    I’m Czar — I’m “Woman” now —

    It’s safer so —

    How odd the Girl’s life looks

    Behind this soft Eclipse —

    I think that Earth feels so

    To folks in Heaven — now —

    This being comfort — then

    That other kind — was pain —

    But why compare?

    I’m “Wife”! Stop there!

    4.26.5 #236 [Some keep the Sabbath going to Church]

    Some keep the Sabbath going to Church —

    I keep it, staying at Home —

    With a Bobolink for a Chorister —

    And an Orchard, for a Dome —

    Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice —

    I just wear my Wings —

    And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,

    Our little Sexton — sings.

    God preaches, a noted Clergyman —

    And the sermon is never long,

    Page | 1485


    So instead of getting to Heaven, at last —

    I’m going, all along.

    4.26.6 #260 [I’m Nobody! Who are you?]

    I’m nobody! Who are you?

    Are you nobody, too?

    Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell!

    They’d banish us, you know.

    How dreary to be somebody!

    How public, like a frog

    To tell your name the livelong day

    To an admiring bog!

    4.26.7 #269 [Wild nights – Wild nights!]

    Wild Nights — Wild Nights!

    Were I with thee

    Wild Nights should be

    Our luxury!

    Futile — the Winds —

    To a Heart in port —

    Done with the Compass —

    Done with the Chart!

    Rowing in Eden —

    Ah, the Sea!

    Might I but moor — Tonight —

    In Thee!

    4.26.8 #320 [There’s a certain Slant of light]

    There’s a certain slant of light,

    On winter afternoons,

    That oppresses, like the weight

    Of cathedral tunes.

    Heavenly hurt it gives us;

    We can find no scar,

    But internal difference

    Where the meanings are.

    Page | 1486


    None may teach it anything,

    ‘T is the seal, despair,—

    An imperial affliction

    Sent us of the air.

    When it comes, the landscape listens,

    Shadows hold their breath;

    When it goes, ‘t is like the distance

    On the look of death.

    4.26.9 #340 [I felt a Funeral, in my Brain]

    I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,

    And Mourners to and fro

    Kept treading — treading — till it seemed

    That Sense was breaking through —

    And when they all were seated,

    A Service, like a Drum —

    Kept beating — beating — till I thought

    My Mind was going numb —

    And then I heard them lift a Box

    And creak across my Soul

    With those same Boots of Lead, again,

    Then Space — began to toll,

    As all the Heavens were a Bell,

    And Being, but an Ear,

    And I, and Silence, some strange Race

    Wrecked, solitary, here —

    And then a Plank in Reason, broke,

    And I dropped down, and down —

    And hit a World, at every plunge,

    And Finished knowing — then —

    4.26.10 #341 [‘Tis so appalling it exhilarates]

    ‘Tis so appalling — it exhilarates —

    So over Horror, it half Captivates —

    The Soul stares after it, secure —

    A Sepulchre, fears frost, no more —

    Page | 1487


    To scan a Ghost, is faint —

    But grappling, conquers it —

    How easy, Torment, now —

    Suspense kept sawing so —

    The Truth, is Bald, and Cold —

    But that will hold —

    If any are not sure —

    We show them — prayer —

    But we, who know,

    Stop hoping, now —

    Looking at Death, is Dying —

    Just let go the Breath —

    And not the pillow at your Cheek

    So Slumbereth —

    Others, Can wrestle —

    Yours, is done —

    And so of Woe, bleak dreaded — come,

    It sets the Fright at liberty —

    And Terror’s free —

    Gay, Ghastly, Holiday!

    4.26.11 #348 [I would not paint – a picture]

    I would not paint — a picture —

    I’d rather be the One

    Its bright impossibility

    To dwell — delicious — on —

    And wonder how the fingers feel

    Whose rare — celestial — stir —

    Evokes so sweet a Torment —

    Such sumptuous — Despair —

    I would not talk, like Cornets —

    I’d rather be the One

    Raised softly to the Ceilings —

    And out, and easy on —

    Through Villages of Ether —

    Myself endued Balloon

    By but a lip of Metal —

    The pier to my Pontoon —

    Page | 1488


    Nor would I be a Poet —

    It’s finer — own the Ear —

    Enamored — impotent — content —

    The License to revere,

    A privilege so awful

    What would the Dower be,

    Had I the Art to stun myself

    With Bolts of Melody!

    4.26.12 #353 [I’m ceded – I’ve stopped being Their’s]

    I’m ceded — I’ve stopped being Theirs —

    The name They dropped upon my face

    With water, in the country church

    Is finished using, now,

    And They can put it with my Dolls,

    My childhood, and the string of spools,

    I’ve finished threading — too —

    Baptized, before, without the choice,

    But this time, consciously, of Grace —

    Unto supremest name —

    Called to my Full — The Crescent dropped —

    Existence’s whole Arc, filled up,

    With one small Diadem.

    My second Rank — too small the first —

    Crowned — Crowing — on my Father’s breast —

    A half unconscious Queen —

    But this time — Adequate — Erect,

    With Will to choose, or to reject,

    And I choose, just a Crown —

    4.26.13 #355 [It was not Death, for I stood up]

    It was not Death, for I stood up,

    And all the Dead, lie down —

    It was not Night, for all the Bells

    Put out their Tongues, for Noon.

    It was not Frost, for on my Flesh

    I felt Siroccos — crawl —

    Nor Fire — for just my Marble feet

    Could keep a Chancel, cool —

    Page | 1489


    And yet, it tasted, like them all,

    The Figures I have seen

    Set orderly, for Burial,

    Reminded me, of mine —

    As if my life were shaven,

    And fitted to a frame,

    And could not breathe without a key,

    And ‘twas like Midnight, some -

    When everything that ticked — has stopped —

    And Space stares all around —

    Or Grisly frosts — first Autumn morns,

    Repeal the Beating Ground —

    But, most, like Chaos —Stopless — cool —

    Without a Chance, or Spar —

    Or even a Report of Land —

    To justify — Despair.

    4.26.14 #359 [A Bird, came down the Walk]

    A Bird came down the Walk —

    He did not know I saw —

    He bit an Angleworm in halves

    And ate the fellow, raw,

    And then he drank a Dew

    From a convenient Grass —

    And then hopped sidewise to the Wall

    To let a Beetle pass —

    He glanced with rapid eyes

    That hurried all around —

    They looked like frightened Beads, I thought —

    He stirred his Velvet Head

    Like one in danger, Cautious,

    I offered him a Crumb

    And he unrolled his feathers

    And rowed him softer home —

    Than Oars divide the Ocean,

    Too silver for a seam —

    Page | 1490


    Or Butterflies, off Banks of Noon

    Leap, plashless as they swim.

    4.26.15 #372 [After great pain, a formal feeling comes —]

    After great pain, a formal feeling comes —

    The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs —

    The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,

    And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

    The Feet, mechanical, go round —

    A Wooden Way

    Of Ground, or Air, or Ought —

    Regardless grown,

    A Quartz contentment, like a stone —

    This is the Hour of Lead —

    Remembered, if outlived,

    As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow —

    First — Chill — then Stupor — then the letting go —

    4.26.16 #381 [I cannot dance upon my Toes]

    I cannot dance upon my Toes —

    No Man instructed me —

    But oftentimes, among my mind,

    A Glee possesseth me,

    That had I Ballet knowledge —

    Would put itself abroad

    In Pirouette to blanch a Troupe —

    Or lay a Prima, mad,

    And though I had no Gown of Gauze —

    No Ringlet, to my Hair,

    Nor hopped to Audiences — like Birds,

    One Claw upon the Air,

    Nor tossed my shape in Eider Balls,

    Nor rolled on wheels of snow

    Till I was out of sight, in sound,

    The House encore me so —

    Page | 1491


    Nor any know I know the Art

    I mention — easy — Here —

    Nor any Placard boast me —

    It’s full as Opera —

    4.26.17 #407 [One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted]

    One need not be a Chamber — to be Haunted —

    One need not be a House —

    The Brain has Corridors — surpassing

    Material Place —

    Far safer, of a Midnight Meeting

    External Ghost

    Than its interior Confronting —

    That Cooler Host.

    Far safer, through an Abbey gallop,

    The Stones a’chase —

    Than Unarmed, one’s a’self encounter —

    In lonesome Place —

    Ourself behind ourself, concealed —

    Should startle most —

    Assassin hid in our Apartment

    Be Horror’s least.

    The Body — borrows a Revolver —

    He bolts the Door —

    O’erlooking a superior spectre —

    Or More —

    4.26.18 #409 [The Soul selects her own Society]

    The Soul selects her own Society —

    Then — shuts the Door —

    To her divine Majority —

    Present no more —

    Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —

    At her low Gate —

    Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling

    Upon her Mat —

    Page | 1492


    I’ve known her — from an ample nation —

    Choose One —

    Then — close the Valves of her attention —

    Like Stone —

    4.26.19 #466 [I dwell in Possibility]

    I dwell in Possibility —

    A fairer House than Prose —

    More numerous of Windows —

    Superior — for Doors —

    Of Chambers as the Cedars —

    Impregnable of Eye —

    And for an Everlasting Roof

    The Gambrels of the Sky —

    Of Visitors — the fairest —

    For Occupation — This —

    The spreading wide my narrow Hands

    To gather Paradise —

    4.26.20 #479 [Because I could not stop for Death]

    Because I could not stop for Death—

    He kindly stopped for me—

    The Carriage held but just Ourselves—

    And Immortality.

    We slowly drove—He knew no haste,

    And I had put away

    My labor and my leisure too,

    For His Civility—

    We passed the School, where Children strove

    At recess—in the ring—

    We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain—

    We passed the Setting Sun—

    Or rather—He passed Us—

    The Dews drew quivering and chill—

    For only Gossamer, my Gown—

    My Tippet—only Tulle—

    Page | 1493


    We paused before a House that seemed

    A Swelling of the Ground—

    The Roof was scarcely visible—

    The Cornice—in the Ground—

    Since then—’tis centuries— and yet

    Feels shorter than the Day

    I first surmised the Horses’ Heads

    Were toward Eternity—

    4.26.21 #519 [this is my letter to the World]

    This is my letter to the World

    That never wrote to Me —

    The simple News that Nature told —

    With tender Majesty

    Her Message is committed

    To Hands I cannot see —

    For love of Her — Sweet — countrymen —

    Judge tenderly — of Me

    4.26.22 #598 [The Brain – is wider than the Sky]

    The Brain — is wider than the Sky —

    For — put them side by side —

    The one the other will contain

    With ease — and You — beside —

    The Brain is deeper than the sea —

    For — hold them — Blue to Blue —

    The one the other will absorb —

    As Sponges — Buckets — do —

    The Brain is just the weight of God —

    For — Heft them — Pound for Pound —

    And they will differ — if they do —

    As Syllable from Sound —

    4.26.23 #620 [Much Madness is divinest Sense]

    Much madness is divinest sense

    To a discerning eye;

    Much sense the starkest madness.

    ‘T is the majority

    Page | 1494


    In this, as all, prevails.

    Assent, and you are sane;

    Demur, — you’re straightway dangerous,

    And handled with a chain.

    4.26.24 #656 [I started Early – Took my Dog]

    I started Early — Took my Dog —

    And visited the Sea —

    The Mermaids in the Basement

    Came out to look at me —

    And Frigates — in the Upper Floor

    Extended Hempen Hands —

    Presuming Me to be a Mouse —

    Aground — upon the Sands —

    But no Man moved Me — till the Tide

    Went past my simple Shoe —

    And past my Apron — and my Belt —

    And past my Bodice — too —

    And made as He would eat me up —

    As wholly as a Dew

    Upon a Dandelion’s Sleeve —

    And then — I started — too —

    And He — He followed — close behind —

    I felt his Silver Heel

    Upon my Ankle — Then my Shoes

    Would overflow with Pearl —

    Until We met the Solid Town —

    No One He seemed to know —

    And bowing — with a Mighty look —

    At me — The Sea withdrew —

    4.26.25 #675 [What soft – Cherubic Creatures]

    What Soft — Cherubic Creatures —

    These Gentlewomen are —

    One would as soon assault a Plush —

    Or violate a Star —

    Page | 1495


    Such Dimity Convictions —

    A Horror so refined

    Of freckled Human Nature —

    Of Deity — ashamed —

    It’s such a common — Glory —

    A Fisherman’s — Degree —

    Redemption — Brittle Lady —

    Be so — ashamed of Thee —

    4.26.26 #764 [My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun —]

    My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun —

    In Corners — till a Day

    The Owner passed — identified —

    And carried Me away —

    And now We roam in Sovereign Woods —

    And now We hunt the Doe —

    And every time I speak for Him —

    The Mountains straight reply —

    And do I smile, such cordial light

    Upon the Valley glow —

    It is as a Vesuvian face

    Had let its pleasure through —

    And when at Night — Our good Day done —

    I guard My Master’s Head —

    ‘Tis better than the Eider-Duck’s

    Deep Pillow — to have shared —

    To foe of His — I’m deadly foe —

    None stir the second time —

    On whom I lay a Yellow Eye —

    Or an emphatic Thumb —

    Though I than He — may longer live

    He longer must — than I —

    For I have but the power to kill,

    Without — the power to die —

    Page | 1496


    4.26.27 #857 [She rose to His Requirement – dropt]

    She rose to His Requirement — dropt

    The Playthings of Her Life

    To take the honorable Work

    Of Woman, and of Wife —

    If ought She missed in Her new Day,

    Of Amplitude, or Awe —

    Or first Prospective — Or the Gold

    In using, wear away,

    It lay unmentioned — as the Sea

    Develop Pearl, and Weed,

    But only to Himself — be known

    The Fathoms they abide —

    4.26.28 #1096 [A narrow Fellow in the Grass]

    A narrow Fellow in the Grass

    Occasionally rides —

    You may have met Him — did you not

    His notice sudden is —

    The Grass divides as with a Comb —

    A spotted shaft is seen —

    And then it closes at your feet

    And opens further on —

    He likes a Boggy Acre

    A Floor too cool for Corn —

    Yet when a Boy, and Barefoot —

    I more than once at Noon

    Have passed, I thought, a Whip lash

    Unbraiding in the Sun

    When stooping to secure it

    It wrinkled and was gone —

    Several of Nature’s People

    I know, and they know me —

    I feel for them a transport

    Of cordiality —

    Page | 1497


    But never met this Fellow,

    Attended, or alone

    Without a tighter breathing

    And Zero at the Bone —

    4.26.29 #1263 [Tell all the truth but tell it slant]

    Tell all the Truth but tell it slant —

    Success in Circuit lies

    Too bright for our infirm Delight

    The Truth’s superb surprise

    As Lightning to the Children eased

    With explanation kind

    The Truth must dazzle gradually

    Or every man be blind —

    4.26.30 #1773 [My life closed twice before it’s close]

    My life closed twice before its close—

    It yet remains to see

    If Immortality unveil

    A third event to me

    So huge, so hopeless to conceive

    As these that twice befell.

    Parting is all we know of heaven,

    And all we need of hell.

    4.26.31 Reading and Review Questions

    1. Many of Dickinson’s poems are rhythmically similar to popular nineteenth-century songs. How do those similarities help us understand Dickinson’s poetry?

    2. Death and isolation are common themes in Dickinson’s poetry, yet her poems rarely seem melancholy. What elements prevent her poems from becoming too solemn?

    3. How do Dickinson’s poems support or challenge what we think we know about gender roles in the nineteenth century?

    4. Compare and contract Dickinson’s isolation with Whitman’s aggressively public persona.

    Page | 1498






    Rebecca Harding Davis was born in

    Washington, Pennsylvania. Seven years

    later, her family moved to Wheeling,

    Virginia (now West Virginia) where

    Davis saw first-hand the depredations of

    both the Civil War and industrialization.

    She attended the Washington Female

    Seminary, graduating as class valedicto-

    rian in 1848.

    In 1861, her first publication appeared

    in the prestigious The Atlantic Monthly.

    Life in the Iron Mills won Davis imme-

    diate fame and a lifelong readership.

    She subsequently wrote twelve novels,

    hundreds of children’s stories and short

    stories, an autobiography, and over 200

    essays and articles. She published in

    popular periodicals, including Harper’s

    Magazine and Scribner’s Magazine. Image 4.25 | Rebecca Harding Davis From 1875 to around 1895, she wrote as Photographer | Unknown a contributing editor for the New-York Source | Wikimedia Commons Tribune, resigning that position when License | Public Domain her work was censored. She also wrote for The Independent and The Saturday Evening Post.

    Her work raised awareness of the adverse effects of slavery, increasing industrialization, workplace labor abuses, the treatment of the insane and imprisoned, and the destructive effects of the Civil War on men and women’s lives and on landscapes, particularly in places like where she lived, Wheeling, VA (now West Virginia), which was a border state. She sought pragmatic reform for more humane treatment for the marginalized. For women, she advocated fair wages and fair work hours and, in such essays as “Low Wages for Women” and

    “In the Market,” encouraged women to claim control over their own lives and live independently, even without marriage. However, she neither joined any women’s rights organization nor lauded the appearance of the New Woman, that is, women who sought other “professional” vocations than marriage. In 1863, she married L.

    Clarke Davis. They had three children and survived mainly on the income from her work. Davis’s writing fell into neglect until 1972, when Tillie Olsen (1912–2007) republished Life in the Iron Mills in the Feminist Press.

    Davis contributed to the mid-nineteenth century trend of Realism in literature, as she consciously rejected what she saw as the elitism of Transcendentalism.

    Page | 1499




    Realism took the familiar and every day for its subject matter and focused on the so-called lowly and poor, as did Romanticism. Realism, however, dwelt more on the urban than rural landscape, without apprehending an animism or metaphysical force in the environment. Realism also did not infuse its depictions of reality with (often ostentatious) emotion and subjectivity, taking instead an apparently objective view—almost like that of a court report—and letting often “sordid” facts and details speak for themselves.

    Davis’s Life in the Iron Mills realistically depicts unpleasant details and facts, particularly of the political, social, and aesthetic divide between laborers and factory-owners, the poor and the landed wealthy, the charitable and the hypocrite.

    However, she frames her story’s perspective within a Christian context in apparent hope of reform.

    Image 4.26 | Housing in a Mills Factory in Alabama, 1910

    Photographer | Lewis Wickes Hine

    Source | Wikimedia Commons

    License | Public Domain

    4.27.1 Life in the Iron Mills


    “Is this the end?

    O Life, as futile, then, as frail!

    What hope of answer or redress?”

    Page | 1500


    A cloudy day: do you know what that is in a town of iron-works? The sky sank down before dawn, muddy, flat, immovable. The air is thick, clammy with the breath of crowded human beings. It stifles me. I open the window, and, looking out, can scarcely see through the rain the grocer’s shop opposite, where a crowd of drunken Irishmen are puffing Lynchburg tobacco in their pipes. I can detect the scent through all the foul smells ranging loose in the air.

    The idiosyncrasy of this town is smoke. It rolls sullenly in slow folds from the great chimneys of the iron-foundries, and settles down in black, slimy pools on the muddy streets. Smoke on the wharves, smoke on the dingy boats, on the yellow river,—clinging in a coating of greasy soot to the house-front, the two faded poplars, the faces of the passers-by. The long train of mules, dragging masses of pig-iron through the narrow street, have a foul vapor hanging to their reeking sides. Here, inside, is a little broken figure of an angel pointing upward from the mantel-shelf; but even its wings are covered with smoke, clotted and black. Smoke everywhere!

    A dirty canary chirps desolately in a cage beside me. Its dream of green fields and sunshine is a very old dream,—almost worn out, I think.

    From the back-window I can see a narrow brick-yard sloping down to the river-side, strewed with rain-butts and tubs. The river, dull and tawny-colored, (la belle riviere!) drags itself sluggishly along, tired of the heavy weight of boats and coal-barges. What wonder? When I was a child, I used to fancy a look of weary, dumb appeal upon the face of the negro-like river slavishly bearing its burden day after day. Something of the same idle notion comes to me to-day, when from the street-window I look on the slow stream of human life creeping past, night and morning, to the great mills. Masses of men, with dull, besotted faces bent to the ground, sharpened here and there by pain or cunning; skin and muscle and flesh begrimed with smoke and ashes; stooping all night over boiling caldrons of metal, laired by day in dens of drunkenness and infamy; breathing from infancy to death an air saturated with fog and grease and soot, vileness for soul and body. What do you make of a case like that, amateur psychologist? You call it an altogether serious thing to be alive: to these men it is a drunken jest, a joke,—horrible to angels perhaps, to them commonplace enough. My fancy about the river was an idle one: it is no type of such a life. What if it be stagnant and slimy here? It knows that beyond there waits for it odorous sunlight, quaint old gardens, dusky with soft, green foliage of apple-trees, and flushing crimson with roses,—air, and fields, and mountains. The future of the Welsh puddler passing just now is not so pleasant.

    To be stowed away, after his grimy work is done, in a hole in the muddy graveyard, and after that, not air, nor green fields, nor curious roses.

    Can you see how foggy the day is? As I stand here, idly tapping the windowpane, and looking out through the rain at the dirty back-yard and the coalboats below, fragments of an old story float up before me,—a story of this house into which I happened to come to-day. You may think it a tiresome story enough, as foggy as the day, sharpened by no sudden flashes of pain or pleasure.—I know: only the outline of a dull life, that long since, with thousands of dull lives like its own, was vainly lived and lost: thousands of them, massed, vile, slimy lives, like those of the torpid Page | 1501


    lizards in yonder stagnant water-butt.—Lost? There is a curious point for you to settle, my friend, who study psychology in a lazy, dilettante way. Stop a moment.

    I am going to be honest. This is what I want you to do. I want you to hide your disgust, take no heed to your clean clothes, and come right down with me,—here, into the thickest of the fog and mud and foul effluvia. I want you to hear this story.

    There is a secret down here, in this nightmare fog, that has lain dumb for centuries: I want to make it a real thing to you. You, Egoist, or Pantheist, or Arminian, busy in making straight paths for your feet on the hills, do not see it clearly,—this terrible question which men here have gone mad and died trying to answer. I dare not put this secret into words. I told you it was dumb. These men, going by with drunken faces and brains full of unawakened power, do not ask it of Society or of God. Their lives ask it; their deaths ask it. There is no reply. I will tell you plainly that I have a great hope; and I bring it to you to be tested. It is this: that this terrible dumb question is its own reply; that it is not the sentence of death we think it, but, from the very extremity of its darkness, the most solemn prophecy which the world has known of the Hope to come. I dare make my meaning no clearer, but will only tell my story. It will, perhaps, seem to you as foul and dark as this thick vapor about us, and as pregnant with death; but if your eyes are free as mine are to look deeper, no perfume-tinted dawn will be so fair with promise of the day that shall surely come.

    My story is very simple,—Only what I remember of the life of one of these men,—a furnace-tender in one of Kirby & John’s rolling-mills,—Hugh Wolfe. You know the mills? They took the great order for the lower Virginia railroads there last winter; run usually with about a thousand men. I cannot tell why I choose the half-forgotten story of this Wolfe more than that of myriads of these furnace-hands.

    Perhaps because there is a secret, underlying sympathy between that story and this day with its impure fog and thwarted sunshine,—or perhaps simply for the reason that this house is the one where the Wolfes lived. There were the father and son,—

    both hands, as I said, in one of Kirby & John’s mills for making railroad-iron,—and Deborah, their cousin, a picker in some of the cotton-mills. The house was rented then to half a dozen families. The Wolfes had two of the cellar-rooms. The old man, like many of the puddlers and feeders of the mills, was Welsh,—had spent half of his life in the Cornish tin-mines. You may pick the Welsh emigrants, Cornish miners, out of the throng passing the windows, any day. They are a trifle more filthy; their muscles are not so brawny; they stoop more. When they are drunk, they neither yell, nor shout, nor stagger, but skulk along like beaten hounds. A pure, unmixed blood, I fancy: shows itself in the slight angular bodies and sharply-cut facial lines.

    It is nearly thirty years since the Wolfes lived here. Their lives were like those of their class: incessant labor, sleeping in kennel-like rooms, eating rank pork and molasses, drinking—God and the distillers only know what; with an occasional night in jail, to atone for some drunken excess. Is that all of their lives?—of the portion given to them and these their duplicates swarming the streets to-day?—

    nothing beneath?—all? So many a political reformer will tell you,—and many a private reformer, too, who has gone among them with a heart tender with Christ’s charity, and come out outraged, hardened.

    Page | 1502


    One rainy night, about eleven o’clock, a crowd of half-clothed women stopped outside of the cellar-door. They were going home from the cotton-mill.

    “Good-night, Deb,” said one, a mulatto, steadying herself against the gas-post.

    She needed the post to steady her. So did more than one of them.

    “Dah’s a ball to Miss Potts’ to-night. Ye’d best come.”

    “Inteet, Deb, if hur’ll come, hur’ll hef fun,” said a shrill Welsh voice in the crowd.

    Two or three dirty hands were thrust out to catch the gown of the woman, who was groping for the latch of the door.


    “No? Where’s Kit Small, then?”

    “Begorra! on the spools. Alleys behint, though we helped her, we dud. An wid ye! Let Deb alone! It’s ondacent frettin’ a quite body. Be the powers, an we’ll have a night of it! there’ll be lashin’s o’ drink,—the Vargent be blessed and praised for’t!”

    They went on, the mulatto inclining for a moment to show fight, and drag the woman Wolfe off with them; but, being pacified, she staggered away.

    Deborah groped her way into the cellar, and, after considerable stumbling, kindled a match, and lighted a tallow dip, that sent a yellow glimmer over the room. It was low, damp,—the earthen floor covered with a green, slimy moss,—a fetid air smothering the breath. Old Wolfe lay asleep on a heap of straw, wrapped in a torn horse-blanket. He was a pale, meek little man, with a white face and red rabbit-eyes. The woman Deborah was like him; only her face was even more ghastly, her lips bluer, her eyes more watery. She wore a faded cotton gown and a slouching bonnet. When she walked, one could see that she was deformed, almost a hunchback. She trod softly, so as not to waken him, and went through into the room beyond. There she found by the half-extinguished fire an iron saucepan filled with cold boiled potatoes, which she put upon a broken chair with a pint-cup of ale.

    Placing the old candlestick beside this dainty repast, she untied her bonnet, which hung limp and wet over her face, and prepared to eat her supper. It was the first food that had touched her lips since morning. There was enough of it, however: there is not always. She was hungry,—one could see that easily enough,—and not drunk, as most of her companions would have been found at this hour. She did not drink, this woman,—her face told that, too,—nothing stronger than ale. Perhaps the weak, flaccid wretch had some stimulant in her pale life to keep her up,—some love or hope, it might be, or urgent need. When that stimulant was gone, she would take to whiskey. Man cannot live by work alone. While she was skinning the potatoes, and munching them, a noise behind her made her stop.

    “Janey!” she called, lifting the candle and peering into the darkness. “Janey, are you there?”

    A heap of ragged coats was heaved up, and the face of a young girl emerged, staring sleepily at the woman.

    “Deborah,” she said, at last, “I’m here the night.”

    “Yes, child. Hur’s welcome,” she said, quietly eating on.

    The girl’s face was haggard and sickly; her eyes were heavy with sleep and Page | 1503


    hunger: real Milesian eyes they were, dark, delicate blue, glooming out from black shadows with a pitiful fright.

    “I was alone,” she said, timidly.

    “Where’s the father?” asked Deborah, holding out a potato, which the girl greedily seized.

    “He’s beyant,—wid Haley,—in the stone house.” (Did you ever hear the word tail from an Irish mouth?) “I came here. Hugh told me never to stay me-lone.”



    A vexed frown crossed her face. The girl saw it, and added quickly,—

    “I have not seen Hugh the day, Deb. The old man says his watch lasts till the mornin’.”

    The woman sprang up, and hastily began to arrange some bread and flitch in a tin pail, and to pour her own measure of ale into a bottle. Tying on her bonnet, she blew out the candle.

    “Lay ye down, Janey dear,” she said, gently, covering her with the old rags.

    “Hur can eat the potatoes, if hur’s hungry.

    “Where are ye goin’, Deb? The rain’s sharp.”

    “To the mill, with Hugh’s supper.”

    “Let him bide till th’ morn. Sit ye down.”

    “No, no,”—sharply pushing her off. “The boy’ll starve.”

    She hurried from the cellar, while the child wearily coiled herself up for sleep.

    The rain was falling heavily, as the woman, pail in hand, emerged from the mouth of the alley, and turned down the narrow street, that stretched out, long and black, miles before her. Here and there a flicker of gas lighted an uncertain space of muddy footwalk and gutter; the long rows of houses, except an occasional lager-bier shop, were closed; now and then she met a band of millhands skulking to or from their work.

    Not many even of the inhabitants of a manufacturing town know the vast machinery of system by which the bodies of workmen are governed, that goes on unceasingly from year to year. The hands of each mill are divided into watches that relieve each other as regularly as the sentinels of an army. By night and day the work goes on, the unsleeping engines groan and shriek, the fiery pools of metal boil and surge. Only for a day in the week, in half-courtesy to public censure, the fires are partially veiled; but as soon as the clock strikes midnight, the great furnaces break forth with renewed fury, the clamor begins with fresh, breathless vigor, the engines sob and shriek like “gods in pain.”

    As Deborah hurried down through the heavy rain, the noise of these thousand engines sounded through the sleep and shadow of the city like far-off thunder. The mill to which she was going lay on the river, a mile below the city-limits. It was far, and she was weak, aching from standing twelve hours at the spools. Yet it was her almost nightly walk to take this man his supper, though at every square she sat down to rest, and she knew she should receive small word of thanks.

    Page | 1504


    Perhaps, if she had possessed an artist’s eye, the picturesque oddity of the scene might have made her step stagger less, and the path seem shorter; but to her the mills were only “summat deilish to look at by night.”

    The road leading to the mills had been quarried from the solid rock, which rose abrupt and bare on one side of the cinder-covered road, while the river, sluggish and black, crept past on the other. The mills for rolling iron are simply immense tent-like roofs, covering acres of ground, open on every side. Beneath these roofs Deborah looked in on a city of fires, that burned hot and fiercely in the night. Fire in every horrible form: pits of flame waving in the wind; liquid metal-flames writhing in tortuous streams through the sand; wide caldrons filled with boiling fire, over which bent ghastly wretches stirring the strange brewing; and through all, crowds of half-clad men, looking like revengeful ghosts in the red light, hurried, throwing masses of glittering fire. It was like a street in Hell. Even Deborah muttered, as she crept through, “looks like t’ Devil’s place!” It did,—in more ways than one.

    She found the man she was looking for, at last, heaping coal on a furnace. He had not time to eat his supper; so she went behind the furnace, and waited. Only a few men were with him, and they noticed her only by a “Hyur comes t’hunchback, Wolfe.”

    Deborah was stupid with sleep; her back pained her sharply; and her teeth chattered with cold, with the rain that soaked her clothes and dripped from her at every step. She stood, however, patiently holding the pail, and waiting.

    “Hout, woman! ye look like a drowned cat. Come near to the fire,”—said one of the men, approaching to scrape away the ashes.

    She shook her head. Wolfe had forgotten her. He turned, hearing the man, and came closer.

    “I did no’ think; gi’ me my supper, woman.”

    She watched him eat with a painful eagerness. With a woman’s quick instinct, she saw that he was not hungry,—was eating to please her. Her pale, watery eyes began to gather a strange light.

    “Is’t good, Hugh? T’ ale was a bit sour, I feared.”

    “No, good enough.” He hesitated a moment. “Ye’re tired, poor lass! Bide here till I go. Lay down there on that heap of ash, and go to sleep.”

    He threw her an old coat for a pillow, and turned to his work. The heap was the refuse of the burnt iron, and was not a hard bed; the half-smothered warmth, too, penetrated her limbs, dulling their pain and cold shiver.

    Miserable enough she looked, lying there on the ashes like a limp, dirty rag,—yet not an unfitting figure to crown the scene of hopeless discomfort and veiled crime: more fitting, if one looked deeper into the heart of things, at her thwarted woman’s form, her colorless life, her waking stupor that smothered pain and hunger,—even more fit to be a type of her class. Deeper yet if one could look, was there nothing worth reading in this wet, faded thing, halfcovered with ashes? no story of a soul filled with groping passionate love, heroic unselfishness, fierce jealousy? of years of weary trying to please the one human being whom she loved, to gain one look of real heart-kindness from him? If anything like this were hidden beneath the pale, Page | 1505


    bleared eyes, and dull, washed-out-looking face, no one had ever taken the trouble to read its faint signs: not the half-clothed furnace-tender, Wolfe, certainly. Yet he was kind to her: it was his nature to be kind, even to the very rats that swarmed in the cellar: kind to her in just the same way. She knew that. And it might be that very knowledge had given to her face its apathy and vacancy more than her low, torpid life. One sees that dead, vacant look steal sometimes over the rarest, finest of women’s faces,—in the very midst, it may be, of their warmest summer’s day; and then one can guess at the secret of intolerable solitude that lies hid beneath the delicate laces and brilliant smile. There was no warmth, no brilliancy, no summer for this woman; so the stupor and vacancy had time to gnaw into her face perpetually.

    She was young, too, though no one guessed it; so the gnawing was the fiercer.

    She lay quiet in the dark corner, listening, through the monotonous din and uncertain glare of the works, to the dull plash of the rain in the far distance, shrinking back whenever the man Wolfe happened to look towards her. She knew, in spite of all his kindness, that there was that in her face and form which made him loathe the sight of her. She felt by instinct, although she could not comprehend it, the finer nature of the man, which made him among his fellow-workmen something unique, set apart. She knew, that, down under all the vileness and coarseness of his life, there was a groping passion for whatever was beautiful and pure, that his soul sickened with disgust at her deformity, even when his words were kindest. Through this dull consciousness, which never left her, came, like a sting, the recollection of the dark blue eyes and lithe figure of the little Irish girl she had left in the cellar. The recollection struck through even her stupid intellect with a vivid glow of beauty and of grace. Little Janey, timid, helpless, clinging to Hugh as her only friend: that was the sharp thought, the bitter thought, that drove into the glazed eyes a fierce light of pain. You laugh at it? Are pain and jealousy less savage realities down here in this place I am taking you to than in your own house or your own heart,—your heart, which they clutch at sometimes? The note is the same, I fancy, be the octave high or low.

    If you could go into this mill where Deborah lay, and drag out from the hearts of these men the terrible tragedy of their lives, taking it as a symptom of the disease of their class, no ghost Horror would terrify you more. A reality of soul-starvation, of living death, that meets you every day under the besotted faces on the street,—I can paint nothing of this, only give you the outside outlines of a night, a crisis in the life of one man: whatever muddy depth of soul-history lies beneath you can read according to the eyes God has given you.

    Wolfe, while Deborah watched him as a spaniel its master, bent over the furnace with his iron pole, unconscious of her scrutiny, only stopping to receive orders. Physically, Nature had promised the man but little. He had already lost the strength and instinct vigor of a man, his muscles were thin, his nerves weak, his face ( a meek, woman’s face) haggard, yellow with consumption. In the mill he was known as one of the girl-men: “Molly Wolfe” was his sobriquet. He was never seen in the cockpit, did not own a terrier, drank but seldom; when he did, desperately.

    Page | 1506


    He fought sometimes, but was always thrashed, pommelled to a jelly. The man was game enough, when his blood was up: but he was no favorite in the mill; he had the taint of school-learning on him,—not to a dangerous extent, only a quarter or so in the free-school in fact, but enough to ruin him as a good hand in a fight.

    For other reasons, too, he was not popular. Not one of themselves, they felt that, though outwardly as filthy and ash-covered; silent, with foreign thoughts and longings breaking out through his quietness in innumerable curious ways: this one, for instance. In the neighboring furnace-buildings lay great heaps of the refuse from the ore after the pig-metal is run. Korl we call it here: a light, porous substance, of a delicate, waxen, flesh-colored tinge. Out of the blocks of this korl, Wolfe, in his off-hours from the furnace, had a habit of chipping and moulding figures,—hideous, fantastic enough, but sometimes strangely beautiful: even the mill-men saw that, while they jeered at him. It was a curious fancy in the man, almost a passion. The few hours for rest he spent hewing and hacking with his blunt knife, never speaking, until his watch came again,—working at one figure for months, and, when it was finished, breaking it to pieces perhaps, in a fit of disappointment. A morbid, gloomy man, untaught, unled, left to feed his soul in grossness and crime, and hard, grinding labor.

    I want you to come down and look at this Wolfe, standing there among the lowest of his kind, and see him just as he is, that you may judge him justly when you hear the story of this night. I want you to look back, as he does every day, at his birth in vice, his starved infancy; to remember the heavy years he has groped through as boy and man,—the slow, heavy years of constant, hot work. So long ago he began, that he thinks sometimes he has worked there for ages. There is no hope that it will ever end. Think that God put into this man’s soul a fierce thirst for beauty,—to know it, to create it; to be—something, he knows not what,—other than he is. There are moments when a passing cloud, the sun glinting on the purple thistles, a kindly smile, a child’s face, will rouse him to a passion of pain,—when his nature starts up with a mad cry of rage against God, man, whoever it is that has forced this vile, slimy life upon him. With all this groping, this mad desire, a great blind intellect stumbling through wrong, a loving poet’s heart, the man was by habit only a coarse, vulgar laborer, familiar with sights and words you would blush to name. Be just: when I tell you about this night, see him as he is. Be just,—

    not like man’s law, which seizes on one isolated fact, but like God’s judging angel, whose clear, sad eye saw all the countless cankering days of this man’s life, all the countless nights, when, sick with starving, his soul fainted in him, before it judged him for this night, the saddest of all.

    I called this night the crisis of his life. If it was, it stole on him unawares. These great turning-days of life cast no shadow before, slip by unconsciously. Only a trifle, a little turn of the rudder, and the ship goes to heaven or hell.

    Wolfe, while Deborah watched him, dug into the furnace of melting iron with his pole, dully thinking only how many rails the lump would yield. It was late,—

    nearly Sunday morning; another hour, and the heavy work would be done, only the Page | 1507


    furnaces to replenish and cover for the next day. The workmen were growing more noisy, shouting, as they had to do, to be heard over the deep clamor of the mills.

    Suddenly they grew less boisterous,—at the far end, entirely silent. Something unusual had happened. After a moment, the silence came nearer; the men stopped their jeers and drunken choruses. Deborah, stupidly lifting up her head, saw the cause of the quiet. A group of five or six men were slowly approaching, stopping to examine each furnace as they came. Visitors often came to see the mills after night: except by growing less noisy, the men took no notice of them. The furnace where Wolfe worked was near the bounds of the works; they halted there hot and tired: a walk over one of these great foundries is no trifling task. The woman, drawing out of sight, turned over to sleep. Wolfe, seeing them stop, suddenly roused from his indifferent stupor, and watched them keenly. He knew some of them: the overseer, Clarke,—a son of Kirby, one of the mill-owners,—and a Doctor May, one of the town-physicians. The other two were strangers. Wolfe came closer. He seized eagerly every chance that brought him into contact with this mysterious class that shone down on him perpetually with the glamour of another order of being. What made the difference between them? That was the mystery of his life. He had a vague notion that perhaps to-night he could find it out. One of the strangers sat down on a pile of bricks, and beckoned young Kirby to his side.

    “This is hot, with a vengeance. A match, please?”—lighting his cigar. “But the walk is worth the trouble. If it were not that you must have heard it so often, Kirby, I would tell you that your works look like Dante’s Inferno.”

    Kirby laughed.

    “Yes. Yonder is Farinata himself in the burning tomb,”—pointing to some figure in the shimmering shadows.

    “Judging from some of the faces of your men,” said the other, “they bid fair to try the reality of Dante’s vision, some day.”

    Young Kirby looked curiously around, as if seeing the faces of his hands for the first time.

    “They’re bad enough, that’s true. A desperate set, I fancy. Eh, Clarke?”

    The overseer did not hear him. He was talking of net profits just then,—giving, in fact, a schedule of the annual business of the firm to a sharp peering little Yankee, who jotted down notes on a paper laid on the crown of his hat: a reporter for one of the city-papers, getting up a series of reviews of the leading manufactories. The other gentlemen had accompanied them merely for amusement. They were silent until the notes were finished, drying their feet at the furnaces, and sheltering their faces from the intolerable heat. At last the overseer concluded with—

    “I believe that is a pretty fair estimate, Captain.”

    “Here, some of you men!” said Kirby, “bring up those boards. We may as well sit down, gentlemen, until the rain is over. It cannot last much longer at this rate.”

    “Pig-metal,”—mumbled the reporter,—”um! coal facilities,—um! hands employed, twelve hundred,—bitumen,—um!—all right, I believe, Mr. Clarke;—

    sinking-fund,—what did you say was your sinking-fund?”

    Page | 1508


    “Twelve hundred hands?” said the stranger, the young man who had first spoken. “Do you control their votes, Kirby?”

    “Control? No.” The young man smiled complacently. “But my father brought seven hundred votes to the polls for his candidate last November. No force-work, you understand,—only a speech or two, a hint to form themselves into a society, and a bit of red and blue bunting to make them a flag. The Invincible Roughs,—I believe that is their name. I forget the motto: ‘Our country’s hope,’ I think.”

    There was a laugh. The young man talking to Kirby sat with an amused light in his cool gray eye, surveying critically the half-clothed figures of the puddlers, and the slow swing of their brawny muscles. He was a stranger in the city,—spending a couple of months in the borders of a Slave State, to study the institutions of the South,—a brother-in-law of Kirby’s,—Mitchell. He was an amateur gymnast,—

    hence his anatomical eye; a patron, in a blase’ way, of the prize-ring; a man who sucked the essence out of a science or philosophy in an indifferent, gentlemanly way; who took Kant, Novalis, Humboldt, for what they were worth in his own scales; accepting all, despising nothing, in heaven, earth, or hell, but one-idead men; with a temper yielding and brilliant as summer water, until his Self was touched, when it was ice, though brilliant still. Such men are not rare in the States.

    As he knocked the ashes from his cigar, Wolfe caught with a quick pleasure the contour of the white hand, the blood-glow of a red ring he wore. His voice, too, and that of Kirby’s, touched him like music,—low, even, with chording cadences. About this man Mitchell hung the impalpable atmosphere belonging to the thoroughbred gentleman, Wolfe, scraping away the ashes beside him, was conscious of it, did obeisance to it with his artist sense, unconscious that he did so.

    The rain did not cease. Clarke and the reporter left the mills; the others, comfortably seated near the furnace, lingered, smoking and talking in a desultory way. Greek would not have been more unintelligible to the furnace-tenders, whose presence they soon forgot entirely. Kirby drew out a newspaper from his pocket and read aloud some article, which they discussed eagerly. At every sentence, Wolfe listened more and more like a dumb, hopeless animal, with a duller, more stolid look creeping over his face, glancing now and then at Mitchell, marking acutely every smallest sign of refinement, then back to himself, seeing as in a mirror his filthy body, his more stained soul.

    Never! He had no words for such a thought, but he knew now, in all the sharpness of the bitter certainty, that between them there was a great gulf never to be passed. Never!

    The bell of the mills rang for midnight. Sunday morning had dawned. Whatever hidden message lay in the tolling bells floated past these men unknown. Yet it was there. Veiled in the solemn music ushering the risen Saviour was a key-note to solve the darkest secrets of a world gone wrong,—even this social riddle which the brain of the grimy puddler grappled with madly to-night.

    The men began to withdraw the metal from the caldrons. The mills were deserted on Sundays, except by the hands who fed the fires, and those who had no Page | 1509


    lodgings and slept usually on the ash-heaps. The three strangers sat still during the next hour, watching the men cover the furnaces, laughing now and then at some jest of Kirby’s.

    “Do you know,” said Mitchell, “I like this view of the works better than when the glare was fiercest? These heavy shadows and the amphitheatre of smothered fires are ghostly, unreal. One could fancy these red smouldering lights to be the half-shut eyes of wild beasts, and the spectral figures their victims in the den.”

    Kirby laughed. “You are fanciful. Come, let us get out of the den. The spectral figures, as you call them, are a little too real for me to fancy a close proximity in the darkness,—unarmed, too.”

    The others rose, buttoning their overcoats, and lighting cigars.

    “Raining, still,” said Doctor May, “and hard. Where did we leave the coach, Mitchell?”

    “At the other side of the works.—Kirby, what’s that?”

    Mitchell started back, half-frightened, as, suddenly turning a corner, the white figure of a woman faced him in the darkness,—a woman, white, of giant proportions, crouching on the ground, her arms flung out in some wild gesture of warning.

    “Stop! Make that fire burn there!” cried Kirby, stopping short.

    The flame burst out, flashing the gaunt figure into bold relief.

    Mitchell drew a long breath.

    “I thought it was alive,” he said, going up curiously.

    The others followed.

    “Not marble, eh?” asked Kirby, touching it.

    One of the lower overseers stopped.

    “Korl, Sir.”

    “Who did it?”

    “Can’t say. Some of the hands; chipped it out in off-hours.”

    “Chipped to some purpose, I should say. What a flesh-tint the stuff has! Do you see, Mitchell?”

    “I see.”

    He had stepped aside where the light fell boldest on the figure, looking at it in silence. There was not one line of beauty or grace in it: a nude woman’s form, muscular, grown coarse with labor, the powerful limbs instinct with some one poignant longing.

    One idea: there it was in the tense, rigid muscles, the clutching hands, the wild, eager face, like that of a starving wolf’s. Kirby and Doctor May walked around it, critical, curious. Mitchell stood aloof, silent. The figure touched him strangely.

    “Not badly done,” said Doctor May, “Where did the fellow learn that sweep of the muscles in the arm and hand? Look at them! They are groping, do you see?—

    clutching: the peculiar action of a man dying of thirst.”

    “They have ample facilities for studying anatomy,” sneered Kirby, glancing at the half-naked figures.

    “Look,” continued the Doctor, “at this bony wrist, and the strained sinews of the instep! A working-woman,—the very type of her class.”

    Page | 1510


    “God forbid!” muttered Mitchell.

    “Why?” demanded May, “What does the fellow intend by the figure? I cannot catch the meaning.”

    “Ask him,” said the other, dryly, “There he stands,”—pointing to Wolfe, who stood with a group of men, leaning on his ash-rake.

    The Doctor beckoned him with the affable smile which kind-hearted men put on, when talking to these people.

    “Mr. Mitchell has picked you out as the man who did this,—I’m sure I don’t know why. But what did you mean by it?”

    “She be hungry.”

    Wolfe’s eyes answered Mitchell, not the Doctor.

    “Oh-h! But what a mistake you have made, my fine fellow! You have given no sign of starvation to the body. It is strong,—terribly strong. It has the mad, half-despairing gesture of drowning.”

    Wolfe stammered, glanced appealingly at Mitchell, who saw the soul of the thing, he knew. But the cool, probing eyes were turned on himself now,—mocking, cruel, relentless.

    “Not hungry for meat,” the furnace-tender said at last.

    “What then? Whiskey?” jeered Kirby, with a coarse laugh.

    Wolfe was silent a moment, thinking.

    “I dunno,” he said, with a bewildered look. “It mebbe. Summat to make her live, I think,—like you. Whiskey ull do it, in a way.”

    The young man laughed again. Mitchell flashed a look of disgust somewhere,—

    not at Wolfe.

    “May,” he broke out impatiently, “are you blind? Look at that woman’s face! It asks questions of God, and says, ‘I have a right to know,’ Good God, how hungry it is!”

    They looked a moment; then May turned to the mill-owner:—

    “Have you many such hands as this? What are you going to do with them? Keep them at puddling iron?”

    Kirby shrugged his shoulders. Mitchell’s look had irritated him.

    “Ce n’est pas mon affaire. I have no fancy for nursing infant geniuses. I suppose there are some stray gleams of mind and soul among these wretches. The Lord will take care of his own; or else they can work out their own salvation. I have heard you call our American system a ladder which any man can scale. Do you doubt it? Or perhaps you want to banish all social ladders, and put us all on a flat table-land,—eh, May?”

    The Doctor looked vexed, puzzled. Some terrible problem lay hid in this woman’s face, and troubled these men. Kirby waited for an answer, and, receiving none, went on, warming with his subject.

    “I tell you, there’s something wrong that no talk of ‘Liberte’ or ‘Egalite’ will do away. If I had the making of men, these men who do the lowest part of the world’s work should be machines,—nothing more,—hands. It would be kindness. God help them! What are taste, reason, to creatures who must live such lives as that?” He Page | 1511


    pointed to Deborah, sleeping on the ash-heap. “So many nerves to sting them to pain. What if God had put your brain, with all its agony of touch, into your fingers, and bid you work and strike with that?”

    “You think you could govern the world better?” laughed the Doctor.

    “I do not think at all.”

    “That is true philosophy. Drift with the stream, because you cannot dive deep enough to find bottom, eh?”

    “Exactly,” rejoined Kirby. “I do not think. I wash my hands of all social problems,—slavery, caste, white or black. My duty to my operatives has a narrow limit,—the pay-hour on Saturday night. Outside of that, if they cut korl, or cut each other’s throats, (the more popular amusement of the two,) I am not responsible.”

    The Doctor sighed,—a good honest sigh, from the depths of his stomach.

    “God help us! Who is responsible?”

    “Not I, I tell you,” said Kirby, testily. “What has the man who pays them money to do with their souls’ concerns, more than the grocer or butcher who takes it?”

    “And yet,” said Mitchell’s cynical voice, “look at her! How hungry she is!”

    Kirby tapped his boot with his cane. No one spoke. Only the dumb face of the rough image looking into their faces with the awful question, “What shall we do to be saved?” Only Wolfe’s face, with its heavy weight of brain, its weak, uncertain mouth, its desperate eyes, out of which looked the soul of his class,—only Wolfe’s face turned towards Kirby’s. Mitchell laughed,—a cool, musical laugh.

    “Money has spoken!” he said, seating himself lightly on a stone with the air of an amused spectator at a play. “Are you answered?”—turning to Wolfe his clear, magnetic face.

    Bright and deep and cold as Arctic air, the soul of the man lay tranquil beneath.

    He looked at the furnace-tender as he had looked at a rare mosaic in the morning; only the man was the more amusing study of the two.

    “Are you answered? Why, May, look at him! ‘De profundis clamavi.’ Or, to quote in English, ‘Hungry and thirsty, his soul faints in him.’ And so Money sends back its answer into the depths through you, Kirby! Very clear the answer, too!—I think I remember reading the same words somewhere: washing your hands in Eau de Cologne, and saying, ‘I am innocent of the blood of this man. See ye to it!’”

    Kirby flushed angrily.

    “You quote Scripture freely.”

    “Do I not quote correctly? I think I remember another line, which may amend my meaning? ‘Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these, ye did it unto me.’ Deist? Bless you, man, I was raised on the milk of the Word. Now, Doctor, the pocket of the world having uttered its voice, what has the heart to say? You are a philanthropist, in a small Way,—n’est ce pas? Here, boy, this gentleman can show you how to cut korl better,—or your destiny. Go on, May!”

    “I think a mocking devil possesses you to-night,” rejoined the Doctor, seriously.

    He went to Wolfe and put his hand kindly on his arm. Something of a vague idea possessed the Doctor’s brain that much good was to be done here by a friendly Page | 1512


    word or two: a latent genius to be warmed into life by a waited-for sunbeam. Here it was: he had brought it. So he went on complacently:

    “Do you know, boy, you have it in you to be a great sculptor, a great man? do you understand?” (talking down to the capacity of his hearer: it is a way people have with children, and men like Wolfe,)—”to live a better, stronger life than I, or Mr. Kirby here? A man may make himself anything he chooses. God has given you stronger powers than many men,—me, for instance.”

    May stopped, heated, glowing with his own magnanimity. And it was magnanimous. The puddler had drunk in every word, looking through the Doctor’s flurry, and generous heat, and self-approval, into his will, with those slow, absorbing eyes of his.

    “Make yourself what you will. It is your right.

    “I know,” quietly. “Will you help me?”

    Mitchell laughed again. The Doctor turned now, in a passion,—

    “You know, Mitchell, I have not the means. You know, if I had, it is in my heart to take this boy and educate him for”—

    “The glory of God, and the glory of John May.”

    May did not speak for a moment; then, controlled, he said,—

    “Why should one be raised, when myriads are left?—I have not the money, boy,” to Wolfe, shortly.

    “Money?” He said it over slowly, as one repeats the guessed answer to a riddle, doubtfully. “That is it? Money?”

    “Yes, money,—that is it,” said Mitchell, rising, and drawing his furred coat about him. “You’ve found the cure for all the world’s diseases.—Come, May, find your good-humor, and come home. This damp wind chills my very bones. Come and preach your Saint-Simonian doctrines’ to-morrow to Kirby’s hands. Let them have a clear idea of the rights of the soul, and I’ll venture next week they’ll strike for higher wages. That will be the end of it.”

    “Will you send the coach-driver to this side of the mills?” asked Kirby, turning to Wolfe.

    He spoke kindly: it was his habit to do so. Deborah, seeing the puddler go, crept after him. The three men waited outside. Doctor May walked up and down, chafed.

    Suddenly he stopped.

    “Go back, Mitchell! You say the pocket and the heart of the world speak without meaning to these people. What has its head to say? Taste, culture, refinement? Go!”

    Mitchell was leaning against a brick wall. He turned his head indolently, and looked into the mills. There hung about the place a thick, unclean odor. The slightest motion of his hand marked that he perceived it, and his insufferable disgust. That was all. May said nothing, only quickened his angry tramp.

    “Besides,” added Mitchell, giving a corollary to his answer, “it would be of no use. I am not one of them.”

    “You do not mean”—said May, facing him.

    Page | 1513


    “Yes, I mean just that. Reform is born of need, not pity. No vital movement of the people’s has worked down, for good or evil; fermented, instead, carried up the heaving, cloggy mass. Think back through history, and you will know it. What will this lowest deep—thieves, Magdalens, negroes—do with the light filtered through ponderous Church creeds, Baconian theories, Goethe schemes? Some day, out of their bitter need will be thrown up their own light-bringer,—their Jean Paul, their Cromwell, their Messiah.”

    “Bah!” was the Doctor’s inward criticism. However, in practice, he adopted the theory; for, when, night and morning, afterwards, he prayed that power might be given these degraded souls to rise, he glowed at heart, recognizing an accomplished duty.

    Wolfe and the woman had stood in the shadow of the works as the coach drove off. The Doctor had held out his hand in a frank, generous way, telling him to “take care of himself, and to remember it was his right to rise.” Mitchell had simply touched his hat, as to an equal, with a quiet look of thorough recognition. Kirby had thrown Deborah some money, which she found, and clutched eagerly enough.

    They were gone now, all of them. The man sat down on the cinder-road, looking up into the murky sky.

    “‘T be late, Hugh. Wunnot hur come?”

    He shook his head doggedly, and the woman crouched out of his sight against the wall. Do you remember rare moments when a sudden light flashed over yourself, your world, God? when you stood on a mountain-peak, seeing your life as it might have been, as it is? one quick instant, when custom lost its force and every-day usage? when your friend, wife, brother, stood in a new light? your soul was bared, and the grave,—a foretaste of the nakedness of the Judgment-Day? So it came before him, his life, that night. The slow tides of pain he had borne gathered themselves up and surged against his soul. His squalid daily life, the brutal coarseness eating into his brain, as the ashes into his skin: before, these things had been a dull aching into his consciousness; to-night, they were reality. He griped the filthy red shirt that clung, stiff with soot, about him, and tore it savagely from his arm. The flesh beneath was muddy with grease and ashes,—and the heart beneath that! And the soul? God knows.

    Then flashed before his vivid poetic sense the man who had left him,—the pure face, the delicate, sinewy limbs, in harmony with all he knew of beauty or truth.

    In his cloudy fancy he had pictured a Something like this. He had found it in this Mitchell, even when he idly scoffed at his pain: a Man all-knowing, all-seeing, crowned by Nature, reigning,—the keen glance of his eye falling like a sceptre on other men. And yet his instinct taught him that he too—He! He looked at himself with sudden loathing, sick, wrung his hands With a cry, and then was silent. With all the phantoms of his heated, ignorant fancy, Wolfe had not been vague in his ambitions. They were practical, slowly built up before him out of his knowledge of what he could do. Through years he had day by day made this hope a real thing to himself,—a clear, projected figure of himself, as he might become.

    Page | 1514


    Able to speak, to know what was best, to raise these men and women working at his side up with him: sometimes he forgot this defined hope in the frantic anguish to escape, only to escape,—out of the wet, the pain, the ashes, somewhere, anywhere,—only for one moment of free air on a hill-side, to lie down and let his sick soul throb itself out in the sunshine. But to-night he panted for life. The savage strength of his nature was roused; his cry was fierce to God for justice.

    “Look at me!” he said to Deborah, with a low, bitter laugh, striking his puny chest savagely. “What am I worth, Deb? Is it my fault that I am no better? My fault?

    My fault?”

    He stopped, stung with a sudden remorse, seeing her hunchback shape writhing with sobs. For Deborah was crying thankless tears, according to the fashion of women.

    “God forgi’ me, woman! Things go harder Wi’ you nor me. It’s a worse share.”

    He got up and helped her to rise; and they went doggedly down the muddy street, side by side.

    “It’s all wrong,” he muttered, slowly,—”all wrong! I dunnot understan’. But it’ll end some day.”

    “Come home, Hugh!” she said, coaxingly; for he had stopped, looking around bewildered.

    “Home,—and back to the mill!” He went on saying this over to himself, as if he would mutter down every pain in this dull despair.

    She followed him through the fog, her blue lips chattering with cold. They reached the cellar at last. Old Wolfe had been drinking since she went out, and had crept nearer the door. The girl Janey slept heavily in the corner. He went up to her, touching softly the worn white arm with his fingers. Some bitterer thought stung him, as he stood there. He wiped the drops from his forehead, and went into the room beyond, livid, trembling. A hope, trifling, perhaps, but very dear, had died just then out of the poor puddler’s life, as he looked at the sleeping, innocent girl,—

    some plan for the future, in which she had borne a part. He gave it up that moment, then and forever. Only a trifle, perhaps, to us: his face grew a shade paler,—that was all. But, somehow, the man’s soul, as God and the angels looked down on it, never was the same afterwards.

    Deborah followed him into the inner room. She carried a candle, which she placed on the floor, closing the door after her. She had seen the look on his face, as he turned away: her own grew deadly. Yet, as she came up to him, her eyes glowed.

    He was seated on an old chest, quiet, holding his face in his hands.

    “Hugh!” she said, softly.

    He did not speak.

    “Hugh, did hur hear what the man said,—him with the clear voice? Did hur hear? Money, money,—that it wud do all?”

    He pushed her away,—gently, but he was worn out; her rasping tone fretted him.


    Page | 1515


    The candle flared a pale yellow light over the cobwebbed brick walls, and the woman standing there. He looked at her. She was young, in deadly earnest; her faded eyes, and wet, ragged figure caught from their frantic eagerness a power akin to beauty.

    “Hugh, it is true! Money ull do it! Oh, Hugh, boy, listen till me! He said it true!

    It is money!”

    “I know. Go back! I do not want you here.”

    “Hugh, it is t’ last time. I’ll never worrit hur again.”

    There were tears in her voice now, but she choked them back:

    “Hear till me only to-night! If one of t’ witch people wud come, them we heard oft’ home, and gif hur all hur wants, what then? Say, Hugh!”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean money.”

    Her whisper shrilled through his brain.

    “If one oft’ witch dwarfs wud come from t’ lane moors to-night, and gif hur money, to go out,—OUT, I say,—out, lad, where t’ sun shines, and t’ heath grows, and t’ ladies walk in silken gownds, and God stays all t’ time,—where t’man lives that talked to us to-night, Hugh knows,—Hugh could walk there like a king!”

    He thought the woman mad, tried to check her, but she went on, fierce in her eager haste.

    “If I were t’ witch dwarf, if I had t’ money, wud hur thank me? Wud hur take me out o’ this place wid hur and Janey? I wud not come into the gran’ house hur wud build, to vex hur wid t’ hunch,—only at night, when t’ shadows were dark, stand far off to see hur.”

    Mad? Yes! Are many of us mad in this way?

    “Poor Deb! poor Deb!” he said, soothingly.

    “It is here,” she said, suddenly, jerking into his hand a small roll. “I took it! I did it! Me, me!—not hur! I shall be hanged, I shall be burnt in hell, if anybody knows I took it! Out of his pocket, as he leaned against t’ bricks. Hur knows?”

    She thrust it into his hand, and then, her errand done, began to gather chips together to make a fire, choking down hysteric sobs.

    “Has it come to this?”

    That was all he said. The Welsh Wolfe blood was honest. The roll was a small green pocket-book containing one or two gold pieces, and a check for an incredible amount, as it seemed to the poor puddler. He laid it down, hiding his face again in his hands.

    “Hugh, don’t be angry wud me! It’s only poor Deb,—hur knows?”

    He took the long skinny fingers kindly in his.

    “Angry? God help me, no! Let me sleep. I am tired.”

    He threw himself heavily down on the wooden bench, stunned with pain and weariness. She brought some old rags to cover him.

    It was late on Sunday evening before he awoke. I tell God’s truth, when I say he had then no thought of keeping this money. Deborah had hid it in his pocket. He found it there. She watched him eagerly, as he took it out.

    Page | 1516


    “I must gif it to him,” he said, reading her face.

    “Hur knows,” she said with a bitter sigh of disappointment. “But it is hur right to keep it.”

    His right! The word struck him. Doctor May had used the same. He washed himself, and went out to find this man Mitchell. His right! Why did this chance word cling to him so obstinately? Do you hear the fierce devils whisper in his ear, as he went slowly down the darkening street?

    The evening came on, slow and calm. He seated himself at the end of an alley leading into one of the larger streets. His brain was clear to-night, keen, intent, mastering. It would not start back, cowardly, from any hellish temptation, but meet it face to face. Therefore the great temptation of his life came to him veiled by no sophistry, but bold, defiant, owning its own vile name, trusting to one bold blow for victory.

    He did not deceive himself. Theft! That was it. At first the word sickened him; then he grappled with it. Sitting there on a broken cart-wheel, the fading day, the noisy groups, the church-bells’ tolling passed before him like a panorama, while the sharp struggle went on within. This money! He took it out, and looked at it. If he gave it back, what then? He was going to be cool about it.

    People going by to church saw only a sickly mill-boy watching them quietly at the alley’s mouth. They did not know that he was mad, or they would not have gone by so quietly: mad with hunger; stretching out his hands to the world, that had given so much to them, for leave to live the life God meant him to live. His soul within him was smothering to death; he wanted so much, thought so much, and knew—nothing. There was nothing of which he was certain, except the mill and things there. Of God and heaven he had heard so little, that they were to him what fairy-land is to a child: something real, but not here; very far off. His brain, greedy, dwarfed, full of thwarted energy and unused powers, questioned these men and women going by, coldly, bitterly, that night. Was it not his right to live as they,—a pure life, a good, true-hearted life, full of beauty and kind words? He only wanted to know how to use the strength within him. His heart warmed, as he thought of it.

    He suffered himself to think of it longer. If he took the money?

    Then he saw himself as he might be, strong, helpful, kindly. The night crept on, as this one image slowly evolved itself from the crowd of other thoughts and stood triumphant. He looked at it. As he might be! What wonder, if it blinded him to delirium,—the madness that underlies all revolution, all progress, and all fall?

    You laugh at the shallow temptation? You see the error underlying its argument so clearly,—that to him a true life was one of full development rather than self-restraint? that he was deaf to the higher tone in a cry of voluntary suffering for truth’s sake than in the fullest flow of spontaneous harmony? I do not plead his cause. I only want to show you the mote in my brother’s eye: then you can see clearly to take it out.

    The money,—there it lay on his knee, a little blotted slip of paper, nothing in itself; used to raise him out of the pit, something straight from God’s hand. A thief!

    Well, what was it to be a thief? He met the question at last, face to face, wiping the Page | 1517


    clammy drops of sweat from his forehead. God made this money—the fresh air, too—for his children’s use. He never made the difference between poor and rich.

    The Something who looked down on him that moment through the cool gray sky had a kindly face, he knew,—loved his children alike. Oh, he knew that!

    There were times when the soft floods of color in the crimson and purple flames, or the clear depth of amber in the water below the bridge, had somehow given him a glimpse of another world than this,—of an infinite depth of beauty and of quiet somewhere,—somewhere, a depth of quiet and rest and love. Looking up now, it became strangely real. The sun had sunk quite below the hills, but his last rays struck upward, touching the zenith. The fog had risen, and the town and river were steeped in its thick, gray damp; but overhead, the sun-touched smoke-clouds opened like a cleft ocean,—shifting, rolling seas of crimson mist, waves of billowy silver veined with blood-scarlet, inner depths unfathomable of glancing light.

    Wolfe’s artist-eye grew drunk with color. The gates of that other world! Fading, flashing before him now! What, in that world of Beauty, Content, and Right, were the petty laws, the mine and thine, of mill-owners and mill hands?

    A consciousness of power stirred within him. He stood up. A man,—he thought, stretching out his hands,—free to work, to live, to love! Free! His right! He folded the scrap of paper in his hand. As his nervous fingers took it in, limp and blotted, so his soul took in the mean temptation, lapped it in fancied rights, in dreams of improved existences, drifting and endless as the cloud-seas of color. Clutching it, as if the tightness of his hold would strengthen his sense of possession, he went aimlessly down the street. It was his watch at the mill. He need not go, need never go again, thank God!—shaking off the thought with unspeakable loathing.

    Shall I go over the history of the hours of that night? how the man wandered from one to another of his old haunts, with a half-consciousness of bidding them farewell,—lanes and alleys and back-yards where the mill-hands lodged,—noting, with a new eagerness, the filth and drunkenness, the pig-pens, the ash-heaps covered with potato-skins, the bloated, pimpled women at the doors, with a new disgust, a new sense of sudden triumph, and, under all, a new, vague dread, unknown before, smothered down, kept under, but still there? It left him but once during the night, when, for the second time in his life, he entered a church.

    It was a sombre Gothic pile, where the stained light lost itself in far-retreating arches; built to meet the requirements and sympathies of a far other class than Wolfe’s. Yet it touched, moved him uncontrollably. The distances, the shadows, the still, marble figures, the mass of silent kneeling worshippers, the mysterious music, thrilled, lifted his soul with a wonderful pain. Wolfe forgot himself, forgot the new life he was going to live, the mean terror gnawing underneath. The voice of the speaker strengthened the charm; it was clear, feeling, full, strong.

    An old man, who had lived much, suffered much; whose brain was keenly alive, dominant; whose heart was summer-warm with charity. He taught it to-night.

    He held up Humanity in its grand total; showed the great world-cancer to his people. Who could show it better? He was a Christian reformer; he had studied Page | 1518


    the age thoroughly; his outlook at man had been free, world-wide, over all time.

    His faith stood sublime upon the Rock of Ages; his fiery zeal guided vast schemes by which the Gospel was to be preached to all nations. How did he preach it tonight? In burning, light-laden words he painted Jesus, the incarnate Life, Love, the universal Man: words that became reality in the lives of these people,—that lived again in beautiful words and actions, trifling, but heroic. Sin, as he defined it, was a real foe to them; their trials, temptations, were his. His words passed far over the furnace-tender’s grasp, toned to suit another class of culture; they sounded in his ears a very pleasant song in an unknown tongue. He meant to cure this world-cancer with a steady eye that had never glared with hunger, and a hand that neither poverty nor strychnine-whiskey had taught to shake. In this morbid, distorted heart of the Welsh puddler he had failed.

    Eighteen centuries ago, the Master of this man tried reform in the streets of a city as crowded and vile as this, and did not fail. His disciple, showing Him tonight to cultured hearers, showing the clearness of the God-power acting through Him, shrank back from one coarse fact; that in birth and habit the man Christ was thrown up from the lowest of the people: his flesh, their flesh; their blood, his blood; tempted like them, to brutalize day by day; to lie, to steal: the actual slime and want of their hourly life, and the wine-press he trod alone.

    Yet, is there no meaning in this perpetually covered truth? If the son of the carpenter had stood in the church that night, as he stood with the fishermen and harlots by the sea of Galilee, before His Father and their Father, despised and rejected of men, without a place to lay His head, wounded for their iniquities, bruised for their transgressions, would not that hungry mill-boy at least, in the back seat, have “known the man”? That Jesus did not stand there.

    Wolfe rose at last, and turned from the church down the street. He looked up; the night had come on foggy, damp; the golden mists had vanished, and the sky lay dull and ash-colored. He wandered again aimlessly down the street, idly wondering what had become of the cloud-sea of crimson and scarlet. The trial-day of this man’s life was over, and he had lost the victory. What followed was mere drifting circumstance,—a quicker walking over the path,—that was all. Do you want to hear the end of it? You wish me to make a tragic story out of it? Why, in the police-reports of the morning paper you can find a dozen such tragedies: hints of shipwrecks unlike any that ever befell on the high seas; hints that here a power was lost to heaven,—that there a soul went down where no tide can ebb or flow. Commonplace enough the hints are,—jocose sometimes, done up in rhyme.

    Doctor May a month after the night I have told you of, was reading to his wife at breakfast from this fourth column of the morning-paper: an unusual thing,—these police-reports not being, in general, choice reading for ladies; but it was only one item he read.

    “Oh, my dear! You remember that man I told you of, that we saw at Kirby’s mill?—that was arrested for robbing Mitchell? Here he is; just listen:—’Circuit Court. Judge Day. Hugh Wolfe, operative in Kirby & John’s Loudon Mills. Charge, Page | 1519


    grand larceny. Sentence, nineteen years hard labor in penitentiary. Scoundrel!

    Serves him right! After all our kindness that night! Picking Mitchell’s pocket at the very time!”

    His wife said something about the ingratitude of that kind of people, and then they began to talk of something else.

    Nineteen years! How easy that was to read! What a simple word for Judge Day to utter! Nineteen years! Half a lifetime!

    Hugh Wolfe sat on the window-ledge of his cell, looking out. His ankles Were ironed. Not usual in such cases; but he had made two desperate efforts to escape.

    “Well,” as Haley, the jailer, said, “small blame to him! Nineteen years’ imprisonment was not a pleasant thing to look forward to.” Haley was very good-natured about it, though Wolfe had fought him savagely.

    “When he was first caught,” the jailer said afterwards, in telling the story,

    “before the trial, the fellow was cut down at once,—laid there on that pallet like a dead man, with his hands over his eyes. Never saw a man so cut down in my life. Time of the trial, too, came the queerest dodge of any customer I ever had.

    Would choose no lawyer. Judge gave him one, of course. Gibson it Was. He tried to prove the fellow crazy; but it wouldn’t go. Thing was plain as daylight: money found on him. ‘T was a hard sentence,—all the law allows; but it was for ‘xample’s sake. These mill-hands are gettin’ onbearable. When the sentence was read, he just looked up, and said the money was his by rights, and that all the world had gone wrong. That night, after the trial, a gentleman came to see him here, name of Mitchell,—him as he stole from. Talked to him for an hour. Thought he came for curiosity, like. After he was gone, thought Wolfe was remarkable quiet, and went into his cell. Found him very low; bed all bloody. Doctor said he had been bleeding at the lungs. He was as weak as a cat; yet if ye’ll b’lieve me, he tried to get a-past me and get out. I just carried him like a baby, and threw him on the pallet.

    Three days after, he tried it again: that time reached the wall. Lord help you! he fought like a tiger,—giv’ some terrible blows. Fightin’ for life, you see; for he can’t live long, shut up in the stone crib down yonder. Got a death-cough now. ‘T took two of us to bring him down that day; so I just put the irons on his feet. There he sits, in there. Goin’ to-morrow, with a batch more of ‘em. That woman, hunchback, tried with him,—you remember?—she’s only got three years. ‘Complice. But she’s a woman, you know. He’s been quiet ever since I put on irons: giv’ up, I suppose.

    Looks white, sick-lookin’. It acts different on ‘em, bein’ sentenced. Most of ‘em gets reckless, devilish-like. Some prays awful, and sings them vile songs of the mills, all in a breath. That woman, now, she’s desper’t’. Been beggin’ to see Hugh, as she calls him, for three days. I’m a-goin’ to let her in. She don’t go with him. Here she is in this next cell. I’m a-goin’ now to let her in.”

    He let her in. Wolfe did not see her. She crept into a corner of the cell, and stood watching him. He was scratching the iron bars of the window with a piece of tin which he had picked up, with an idle, uncertain, vacant stare, just as a child or idiot would do.

    Page | 1520


    “Tryin’ to get out, old boy?” laughed Haley. “Them irons will need a crow-bar beside your tin, before you can open ‘em.”

    Wolfe laughed, too, in a senseless way.

    “I think I’ll get out,” he said.

    “I believe his brain’s touched,” said Haley, when he came out.

    The puddler scraped away with the tin for half an hour. Still Deborah did not speak. At last she ventured nearer, and touched his arm.

    “Blood?” she said, looking at some spots on his coat with a shudder.

    He looked up at her, “Why, Deb!” he said, smiling,—such a bright, boyish smile, that it Went to poor Deborah’s heart directly, and she sobbed and cried out loud.

    “Oh, Hugh, lad! Hugh! dunnot look at me, when it wur my fault! To think I brought hur to it! And I loved hur so! Oh lad, I dud!”

    The confession, even In this wretch, came with the woman’s blush through the sharp cry.

    He did not seem to hear her,—scraping away diligently at the bars with the bit of tin.

    Was he going mad? She peered closely into his face. Something she saw there made her draw suddenly back,—something which Haley had not seen, that lay beneath the pinched, vacant look it had caught since the trial, or the curious gray shadow that rested on it. That gray shadow,—yes, she knew what that meant. She had often seen it creeping over women’s faces for months, who died at last of slow hunger or consumption. That meant death, distant, lingering: but this—Whatever it was the woman saw, or thought she saw, used as she was to crime and misery, seemed to make her sick with a new horror. Forgetting her fear of him, she caught his shoulders, and looked keenly, steadily, into his eyes.

    “Hugh!” she cried, in a desperate whisper,—”oh, boy, not that! for God’s sake, not that!”

    The vacant laugh went off his face, and he answered her in a muttered word or two that drove her away. Yet the words were kindly enough. Sitting there on his pallet, she cried silently a hopeless sort of tears, but did not speak again. The man looked up furtively at her now and then. Whatever his own trouble was, her distress vexed him with a momentary sting.

    It was market-day. The narrow window of the jail looked down directly on the carts and wagons drawn up in a long line, where they had unloaded. He could see, too, and hear distinctly the clink of money as it changed hands, the busy crowd of whites and blacks shoving, pushing one another, and the chaffering and swearing at the stalls. Somehow, the sound, more than anything else had done, wakened him up,—made the whole real to him. He was done with the world and the business of it. He let the tin fall, and looked out, pressing his face close to the rusty bars.

    How they crowded and pushed! And he,—he should never walk that pavement again! There came Neff Sanders, one of the feeders at the mill, with a basket on his arm. Sure enough, Nyeff was married the other week. He whistled, hoping he would look up; but he did not. He wondered if Neff remembered he was there,—if Page | 1521


    any of the boys thought of him up there, and thought that he never was to go down that old cinder-road again. Never again! He had not quite understood it before; but now he did. Not for days or years, but never!—that was it.

    How clear the light fell on that stall in front of the market! and how like a picture it was, the dark-green heaps of corn, and the crimson beets, and golden melons! There was another with game: how the light flickered on that pheasant’s breast, with the purplish blood dripping over the brown feathers! He could see the red shining of the drops, it was so near. In one minute he could be down there. It was just a step. So easy, as it seemed, so natural to go! Yet it could never be—not in all the thousands of years to come—that he should put his foot on that street again!

    He thought of himself with a sorrowful pity, as of some one else. There was a dog down in the market, walking after his master with such a stately, grave look!—only a dog, yet he could go backwards and forwards just as he pleased: he had good luck! Why, the very vilest cur, yelping there in the gutter, had not lived his life, had been free to act out whatever thought God had put into his brain; while he—No, he would not think of that! He tried to put the thought away, and to listen to a dispute between a countryman and a woman about some meat; but it would come back.

    He, what had he done to bear this?

    Then came the sudden picture of what might have been, and now. He knew what it was to be in the penitentiary, how it went with men there. He knew how in these long years he should slowly die, but not until soul and body had become corrupt and rotten,—how, when he came out, if he lived to come, even the lowest of the mill-hands would jeer him,—how his hands would be weak, and his brain senseless and stupid. He believed he was almost that now. He put his hand to his head, with a puzzled, weary look. It ached, his head, with thinking. He tried to quiet himself. It was only right, perhaps; he had done wrong. But was there right or wrong for such as he? What was right? And who had ever taught him? He thrust the whole matter away. A dark, cold quiet crept through his brain. It was all wrong; but let it be! It was nothing to him more than the others. Let it be!

    The door grated, as Haley opened it.

    “Come, my woman! Must lock up for t’ night. Come, stir yerself!”

    She went up and took Hugh’s hand.

    “Good-night, Deb,” he said, carelessly.

    She had not hoped he would say more; but the tired pain on her mouth just then was bitterer than death. She took his passive hand and kissed it.

    “Hur’ll never see Deb again!” she ventured, her lips growing colder and more bloodless.

    What did she say that for? Did he not know it? Yet he would not be impatient with poor old Deb. She had trouble of her own, as well as he.

    “No, never again,” he said, trying to be cheerful.

    She stood just a moment, looking at him. Do you laugh at her, standing there, with her hunchback, her rags, her bleared, withered face, and the great despised love tugging at her heart?

    Page | 1522


    “Come, you!” called Haley, impatiently.

    She did not move.

    “Hugh!” she whispered.

    It was to be her last word. What was it?

    “Hugh, boy, not THAT!”

    He did not answer. She wrung her hands, trying to be silent, looking in his face in an agony of entreaty. He smiled again, kindly.

    “It is best, Deb. I cannot bear to be hurted any more.

    “Hur knows,” she said, humbly.

    “Tell my father good-bye; and—and kiss little Janey.”

    She nodded, saying nothing, looked in his face again, and went out of the door.

    As she went, she staggered.

    “Drinkin’ to-day?” broke out Haley, pushing her before him. “Where the Devil did you get it? Here, in with ye!” and he shoved her into her cell, next to Wolfe’s, and shut the door.

    Along the wall of her cell there was a crack low down by the floor, through which she could see the light from Wolfe’s. She had discovered it days before. She hurried in now, and, kneeling down by it, listened, hoping to hear some sound.

    Nothing but the rasping of the tin on the bars. He was at his old amusement again.

    Something in the noise jarred on her ear, for she shivered as she heard it. Hugh rasped away at the bars. A dull old bit of tin, not fit to cut korl with.

    He looked out of the window again. People were leaving the market now. A tall mulatto girl, following her mistress, her basket on her head, crossed the street just below, and looked up. She was laughing; but, when she caught sight of the haggard face peering out through the bars, suddenly grew grave, and hurried by. A free, firm step, a clear-cut olive face, with a scarlet turban tied on one side, dark, shining eyes, and on the head the basket poised, filled with fruit and flowers, under which the scarlet turban and bright eyes looked out half-shadowed. The picture caught his eye. It was good to see a face like that. He would try to-morrow, and cut one like it. To-morrow! He threw down the tin, trembling, and covered his face with his hands. When he looked up again, the daylight was gone.

    Deborah, crouching near by on the other side of the wall, heard no noise. He sat on the side of the low pallet, thinking. Whatever was the mystery which the woman had seen on his face, it came out now slowly, in the dark there, and became fixed,—a something never seen on his face before. The evening was darkening fast.

    The market had been over for an hour; the rumbling of the carts over the pavement grew more infrequent: he listened to each, as it passed, because he thought it was to be for the last time. For the same reason, it was, I suppose, that he strained his eyes to catch a glimpse of each passer-by, wondering who they were, what kind of homes they were going to, if they had children,—listening eagerly to every chance word in the street, as if—(God be merciful to the man! what strange fancy was this?)—as if he never should hear human voices again.

    It was quite dark at last. The street was a lonely one. The last passenger, he thought, was gone. No,—there was a quick step: Joe Hill, lighting the lamps.

    Page | 1523


    Joe was a good old chap; never passed a fellow without some joke or other. He remembered once seeing the place where he lived with his wife. “Granny Hill” the boys called her. Bedridden she Was; but so kind as Joe was to her! kept the room so clean!—and the old woman, when he was there, was laughing at some of “t’

    lad’s foolishness.” The step was far down the street; but he could see him place the ladder, run up, and light the gas. A longing seized him to be spoken to once more.

    “Joe!” he called, out of the grating. “Good-bye, Joe!”

    The old man stopped a moment, listening uncertainly; then hurried on. The prisoner thrust his hand out of the window, and called again, louder; but Joe was too far down the street. It was a little thing; but it hurt him,—this disappointment.

    “Good-bye, Joe!” he called, sorrowfully enough.

    “Be quiet!” said one of the jailers, passing the door, striking on it with his club.

    Oh, that was the last, was it?

    There was an inexpressible bitterness on his face, as he lay down on the bed, taking the bit of tin, which he had rasped to a tolerable degree of sharpness, in his hand,—to play with, it may be. He bared his arms, looking intently at their corded veins and sinews. Deborah, listening in the next cell, heard a slight clicking sound, often repeated. She shut her lips tightly, that she might not scream; the cold drops of sweat broke over her, in her dumb agony.

    “Hur knows best,” she muttered at last, fiercely clutching the boards where she lay.

    If she could have seen Wolfe, there was nothing about him to frighten her. He lay quite still, his arms outstretched, looking at the pearly stream of moonlight coming into the window. I think in that one hour that came then he lived back over all the years that had gone before. I think that all the low, vile life, all his wrongs, all his starved hopes, came then, and stung him with a farewell poison that made him sick unto death. He made neither moan nor cry, only turned his worn face now and then to the pure light, that seemed so far off, as one that said, “How long, O

    Lord? how long?”

    The hour was over at last. The moon, passing over her nightly path, slowly came nearer, and threw the light across his bed on his feet. He watched it steadily, as it crept up, inch by inch, slowly. It seemed to him to carry with it a great silence.

    He had been so hot and tired there always in the mills! The years had been so fierce and cruel! There was coming now quiet and coolness and sleep. His tense limbs relaxed, and settled in a calm languor. The blood ran fainter and slow from his heart. He did not think now with a savage anger of what might be and was not; he was conscious only of deep stillness creeping over him. At first he saw a sea of faces: the mill-men,—women he had known, drunken and bloated,—Janey’s timid and pitiful-poor old Debs: then they floated together like a mist, and faded away, leaving only the clear, pearly moonlight.

    Whether, as the pure light crept up the stretched-out figure, it brought with It calm and peace, who shall say? His dumb soul was alone with God in judgment. A Voice may have spoken for it from far-off Calvary, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Who dare say? Fainter and fainter the heart rose and Page | 1524


    fell, slower and slower the moon floated from behind a cloud, until, when at last its full tide of white splendor swept over the cell, it seemed to wrap and fold into a deeper stillness the dead figure that never should move again. Silence deeper than the Night! Nothing that moved, save the black, nauseous stream of blood dripping slowly from the pallet to the floor!

    There was outcry and crowd enough in the cell the next day. The coroner and his jury, the local editors, Kirby himself, and boys with their hands thrust knowingly into their pockets and heads on one side, jammed into the corners. Coming and going all day. Only one woman. She came late, and outstayed them all. A Quaker, or Friend, as they call themselves. I think this woman Was known by that name in heaven. A homely body, coarsely dressed in gray and white. Deborah (for Haley had let her in) took notice of her. She watched them all—sitting on the end of the pallet, holding his head in her arms with the ferocity of a watch-dog, if any of them touched the body. There was no meekness, no sorrow, in her face; the stuff out of which murderers are made, instead. All the time Haley and the woman were laying straight the limbs and cleaning the cell, Deborah sat still, keenly watching the Quaker’s face. Of all the crowd there that day, this woman alone had not spoken to her,—only once or twice had put some cordial to her lips. After they all were gone, the woman, in the same still, gentle way, brought a vase of wood-leaves and berries, and placed it by the pallet, then opened the narrow window. The fresh air blew in, and swept the woody fragrance over the dead face, Deborah looked up with a quick wonder.

    “Did hur know my boy wud like it? Did hur know Hugh?”

    “I know Hugh now.”

    The white fingers passed in a slow, pitiful way over the dead, worn face. There was a heavy shadow in the quiet eyes.

    “Did hur know where they’ll bury Hugh?” said Deborah in a shrill tone, catching her arm.

    This had been the question hanging on her lips all day.

    “In t’ town-yard? Under t’ mud and ash? T’ lad’ll smother, woman! He wur born in t’ lane moor, where t’ air is frick and strong. Take hur out, for God’s sake, take hur out where t’ air blows!”

    The Quaker hesitated, but only for a moment. She put her strong arm around Deborah and led her to the window.

    “Thee sees the hills, friend, over the river? Thee sees how the light lies warm there, and the winds of God blow all the day? I live there,—where the blue smoke is, by the trees. Look at me,” She turned Deborah’s face to her own, clear and earnest,

    “Thee will believe me? I will take Hugh and bury him there to-morrow.”

    Deborah did not doubt her. As the evening wore on, she leaned against the iron bars, looking at the hills that rose far off, through the thick sodden clouds, like a bright, unattainable calm. As she looked, a shadow of their solemn repose fell on her face; its fierce discontent faded into a pitiful, humble quiet. Slow, solemn tears gathered in her eyes: the poor weak eyes turned so hopelessly to the place where Hugh was to rest, the grave heights looking higher and brighter and more solemn Page | 1525


    than ever before. The Quaker watched her keenly. She came to her at last, and touched her arm.

    “When thee comes back,” she said, in a low, sorrowful tone, like one who speaks from a strong heart deeply moved with remorse or pity, “thee shall begin thy life again,—there on the hills. I came too late; but not for thee,—by God’s help, it may be.”

    Not too late. Three years after, the Quaker began her work. I end my story here. At evening-time it was light. There is no need to tire you with the long years of sunshine, and fresh air, and slow, patient Christ-love, needed to make healthy and hopeful this impure body and soul. There is a homely pine house, on one of these hills, whose windows overlook broad, wooded slopes and clover-crimsoned meadows,—niched into the very place where the light is warmest, the air freest. It is the Friends’ meeting-house. Once a week they sit there, in their grave, earnest way, waiting for the Spirit of Love to speak, opening their simple hearts to receive His words. There is a woman, old, deformed, who takes a humble place among them: waiting like them: in her gray dress, her worn face, pure and meek, turned now and then to the sky. A woman much loved by these silent, restful people; more silent than they, more humble, more loving. Waiting: with her eyes turned to hills higher and purer than these on which she lives, dim and far off now, but to be reached some day. There may be in her heart some latent hope to meet there the love denied her here,—that she shall find him whom she lost, and that then she will not be all-unworthy. Who blames her? Something is lost in the passage of every soul from one eternity to the other,—something pure and beautiful, which might have been and was not: a hope, a talent, a love, over which the soul mourns, like Esau deprived of his birthright. What blame to the meek Quaker, if she took her lost hope to make the hills of heaven more fair?

    Nothing remains to tell that the poor Welsh puddler once lived, but this figure of the mill-woman cut in korl. I have it here in a corner of my library. I keep it hid behind a curtain,—it is such a rough, ungainly thing. Yet there are about it touches, grand sweeps of outline, that show a master’s hand. Sometimes,—to-night, for instance,—the curtain is accidentally drawn back, and I see a bare arm stretched out imploringly in the darkness, and an eager, wolfish face watching mine: a wan, woful face, through which the spirit of the dead korl-cutter looks out, with its thwarted life, its mighty hunger, its unfinished work. Its pale, vague lips seem to tremble with a terrible question. “Is this the End?” they say,—”nothing beyond?

    no more?” Why, you tell me you have seen that look in the eyes of dumb brutes,—

    horses dying under the lash. I know.

    The deep of the night is passing while I write. The gas-light wakens from the shadows here and there the objects which lie scattered through the room: only faintly, though; for they belong to the open sunlight. As I glance at them, they each recall some task or pleasure of the coming day. A half-moulded child’s head; Aphrodite; a bough of forest-leaves; music; work; homely fragments, in which lie the secrets of all eternal truth and beauty. Prophetic all! Only this dumb, woful face seems to belong to and end with the night. I turn to look at it. Has the power of Page | 1526




    its desperate need commanded the darkness away? While the room is yet steeped in heavy shadow, a cool, gray light suddenly touches its head like a blessing hand, and its groping arm points through the broken cloud to the far East, where, in the flickering, nebulous crimson, God has set the promise of the Dawn.

    4.27.2 Reading and Review Questions

    1. How does Harding tie her readers—of whatever class, race, age, gender, and religion—with the characters and events of her story? Why? What’s her intent?

    2. What role, if any, does art, artistry, and the artist, play in this story?

    Why? How do you know?

    3. What mysteries or hidden messages does the story describe versus mysteries it resolves or solves? Why? How, and to what end?

    4. Looking at the qualities of this text that reflect Realism in literature, how does its realism use facts? How does it transcend facts? Why, and how?

    5. What is the role of women in this work? Do women have a role in

    “bettering” the factory-workers lives? Are women central or marginal in this story? Why? How do you know?



    Best known today for her young

    adult novel Little Women (1869),

    Louisa May Alcott also published a

    novel on women and labor; short stories

    on nurses and hospitals, racism, and

    the abuses of slavery; and a number

    of sensation novels with such lurid

    subjects as suicide and drug addiction.

    Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, but

    raised mainly in Boston and Concord,

    Alcott benefited from her father’s views

    on progressive education as well as

    friendships with such local celebrities as

    Emerson and Thoreau.

    In 1843, Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–

    1888) founded Fruitlands, a utopian

    community near Concord that banned Image 4.27 | Louisa May Alcott meat and money, and he brought his Photographer | Unknown Source | Wikimedia Commons

    wife and four daughters to live there. Its License | Public Domain Page | 1527


    idealism foundered in its practice within a year’s time. Because he had invested his own funds, the Alcott’s subsequently suffered financial hardship for years. Abigail May Alcott (1800–1877) tried earning money through social work before running an employment agency. Amos held paid “conversations” on intellectual subjects.

    Alcott was determined to contribute her fair share through paid work then generally open to women, work such as sewing, teaching, and writing. In 1852, she placed a paid piece in The Olive Branch. Two years later, she published Fabled Flowers, a collection of children’s stories. And in 1860, she published her short story “A Modern Cinderella” in the prestigious Atlantic Monthly.

    A long-fervent abolitionist—likely due to her maternal uncle Samuel May (1797–1871) who was an important abolitionist in Boston—Alcott diverted her efforts from writing to supporting the Civil War. She did what most women with similar intent were then allowed to do: work in a hospital treating wounded soldiers. Starting in 1862, Alcott worked at the Union Hotel Hospital as a member of the nursing corps, where she treated amputees and the dying. Early in the next year, she caught typhoid pneumonia. As with much medical practice in those days, its treatment was as bad—if not worse—than the disease. She was treated with mercury and suffered the aftereffects, including fatigue and neuralgia, for the rest of her life. She gave up nursing and returned to writing.

    She drew from her nursing experiences in Hospital Sketches (1863) and she continued to contribute to the war effort by writing about the abuses of slavery.

    Using the pseudonym of A. M. Barnard, she wrote sensational pieces in the Gothic mode—stories that were not attributed to Alcott until the 1980s through the work of Madeleine Stowe. After the war ended, Alcott worked as editor for Mercury Museum, a children’s magazine. At the urging of Thomas Niles, an editor at Robert Brothers, Alcott also began writing her novel Little Women. Based on her childhood, the novel depicted the early literary efforts and reading interests of four sisters, the death of one (probably inspired by Elizabeth Sewall Alcott, who died at the age of twenty-two in 1858, weakened by scarlet fever), and their opportunities in and through marriage. Reflecting the struggles she herself faced in poverty and the professional restrictions placed on women at that time, Alcott’s character Jo sought and gained independence and the ability to make significant contributions to society through her own writing and marriage to Professor Bhaer who eventually ran a co-educational school with Jo’s help.

    Despite her poor health, Alcott continued to publish novels, even as she cared for her adopted niece and, eventually, her ailing father who died two days before she did.

    4.28.1 “My Contraband”


    Doctor Franck came in as I sat sewing up the rents in an old shirt, that Tom might go tidily to his grave. New shirts were needed for the living, and there was Page | 1528


    no wife or mother to “ dress him handsome when he went to meet the Lord,” as one woman said, describing the fine funeral she had pinched herself to give her son.

    “Miss Dane, I’m in a quandary,” began the Doctor, with that expression of countenance which says as plainly as words, “I want to ask a favor, but I wish you’d save me the trouble.”

    “Can I help you out of it?”

    “Faith! I don’t like to propose it, but you certainly can, if you please.”

    “Then name it, I beg.”

    “You see a Reb has just been brought in crazy with typhoid; a bad case every way; a drunken, rascally little captain somebody took the trouble to capture, but whom nobody wants to take the trouble to cure. The wards are full, the ladies worked to death, and willing to be for our own boys, but rather slow to risk their lives for a Reb.

    Now, you’ve had the fever, you like queer patients, your mate will see to your ward for a while, and I will find you a good attendant. The fellow won’t last long, I fancy; but he can’t die without some sort of care, you know. I’ve put him in the fourth story of the west wing, away from the rest. It is airy, quiet, and comfortable there. I’m on that ward, and will do my best for you in every way. Now, then, will you go?”

    “Of course I will, out of perversity, if not common charity; for some of these people think that because I’m an abolitionist I am also a heathen, and I should rather like to show them that, though I cannot quite love my enemies, I am willing to take care of them.”

    “Very good; I thought you’d go; and speaking of abolition reminds me that you can have a contraband for servant, if you like. It is that fine mulatto fellow who was found burying his rebel master after the fight, and, being badly cut over the head, our boys brought him along. Will you have him?”

    “By all means,—for I’ll stand to my guns on that point, as on the other; these black boys are far more faithful and handy than some of the white scamps given me to serve, instead of being served by. But is this man well enough? ”

    “Yes, for that sort of work, and I think you’ll like him. He must have been a handsome fellow before he got his face slashed; not much darker than myself; his master’s son, I dare say, and the white blood makes him rather high and haughty about some things. He was in a bad way when he came in, but vowed he’d die in the street rather than turn in with the black fellows below; so I put him up in the west wing, to be out of the way, and he’s seen to the captain all the morning;. When can you go up?”

    “As soon as Tom is laid out, Skinner moved, Haywood washed, Marble dressed, Charley rubbed, Downs taken up, Upham laid down, and the whole forty fed.”

    We both laughed, though the Doctor was on his way to the dead-house and I held a shroud on my lap. But in a hospital one learns that cheerfulness is one’s salvation; for, in an atmosphere of suffering and death, heav-iness of heart would soon paralyze usefulness of hand, if the blessed gift of smiles had been denied us.

    In an hour I took possession of my new charge, finding a dissipated-looking boy of nineteen or twenty raving in the solitary little room, with no one near him but Page | 1529


    the contraband in the room adjoining. Feeling decidedly more interest in the black man than in the white, yet remembering the Doctor’s hint of his being “high and haughty,” I glanced furtively at him as I scattered chloride of lime about the room to purify the air, and settled matters to suit myself. I had seen many contrabands, but never one so attractive as this. All colored men are called “boys,” even if their heads are white; this boy was five-and-twenty at least, strong-limbed and manly, and had the look of one who never had been cowed by abuse or worn with oppressive labor. He sat on his bed doing nothing; no book, no pipe, no pen or paper anywhere appeared, yet anything less indolent or listless than his attitude and expression I never saw. Erect he sat, with a hand on either knee, and eyes fixed on the bare wall opposite, so rapt in some absorbing thought as to be unconscious of my presence, though the door stood wide open and my movements were by no means noiseless.

    His face was half averted, but I instantly approved the Doctor’s taste, for the profile which I saw possessed all the attributes of comeliness belonging to his mixed race.

    He was more quadroon than mulatto, with Saxon features, Spanish complexion darkened by exposure, color in lips and cheek, waving hair, and an eye full of the passionate melancholy which in such men always seems to utter a mute protest against the broken law that doomed them at their birth. What could he be thinking of? The sick boy cursed and raved, I rustled to and fro, steps passed the door, bells rang, and the steady rumble of army-wagons came up from the street, still he never stirred. I had seen colored people in what they call “the black sulks,” when, for days, they neither smiled nor spoke, and scarcely ate. But this was something more than that; for the man was not dully brooding over some small grievance; he seemed to see an all-absorbing fact or fancy recorded on the wall, which was a blank to me. I wondered if it were some deep wrong or sorrow, kept alive by memory and impotent regret; if he mourned for the dead master to whom he had been faithful to the end; or if the liberty now his were robbed of half its sweetness by the knowledge that some one near and dear to him still languished in the nell from which he had escaped. My heart quite warmed to him at that idea; I wanted to know and comfort him; and, following the impulse of the moment, I went in and touched him on the shoulder.

    In an instant the man vanished and the slave appeared. Freedom was too new a boon to have wrought its blessed changes yet; and as he started up, with his hand at his temple, and an obsequious “Yes, Missis,” any romance that had gathered round him fled away, leaving the saddest of all sad facts in living guise before me.

    Not only did the manhood seem to die out

    of him, but the comeliness that first attracted me; for, as he turned, I saw the ghastly wound that had laid open cheek and forehead. Being partly healed, it was no longer bandaged, but held together with strips of that transparent plaster which I never see without a shiver, and swift recollections of the scenes with which it is associated in my mind. Part of his black hair had been shorn away, and one eye was nearly closed; pain so distorted, and the cruel sabre-cut so marred that portion of his face, that, when I saw it, I felt as if a fine medal had been suddenly reversed, Page | 1530


    showing me a far more striking type of human suffering and wrong than Michael Angelo’s bronze prisoner. By one of those inexplicable processes that often teach us how little we understand ourselves, my purpose was suddenly changed; and, though I went in to offer comfort as a friend, I merely gave an order as a mistress.

    “Will you open these windows? this man needs more air.”

    He obeyed at once, and, as he slowly urged up the unruly sash, the handsome profile was again turned toward me, and again I was possessed by my first impression so strongly that I involuntarily said,—

    “Thank you.”

    Perhaps it was fancy, but I thought that in the look of mingled surprise and something like reproach which he gave me, there was also a trace of grateful pleasure. But he said, in that tone of spiritless humility these pool souls learn so soon,—

    “I isn’t a white man, Missis, I’se a contraband.”

    “Yes, I know it; but a contraband is a free man, and I heartily congratulate you.”

    He liked that; his face shone, he squared his shoulders, lifted his head, and looked me full in the eye with a brisk,—

    “Thank ye, Missis; anything more to do fer yer?”

    “Doctor Franck thought you would help me with this man, as there are many patients and few nurses or attendants. Have you had the fever?”

    “No, Missis.”

    “They should have thought of that when they .put him here; wounds and fevers should not be together. I’ll try to get you moved.”

    He laughed a sudden laugh : if he had been a white man, I should have called it scornful; as he was a few shades darker than myself, I suppose it must be considered an insolent, or at least an unmannerly one.

    “It don’t matter, Missis. I’d rather be up here with the fever than down with those niggers; and there isn’t no other place fer me.”

    Poor fellow! that was true. No ward in all the hospital would take him in to lie side by side with the most miserable white wreck there. Like the bat in Aesop’s fable, he belonged to neither race; and the pride of one and the helplessness of the other, kept him hovering alone in the twilight a great sin has brought to overshadow the whole land.

    “You shall stay, then; for I would far rather have you than my lazy Jack. But are you well and strong enough?”

    “I guess I’ll do, Missis.”

    He spoke with a passive sort of acquiescence,—as if it did not much matter if he were not able, and no one would particularly rejoice if he were.

    “Yes, I think you will. By what name shall I call you?”

    “Bob, Missis.”

    Every woman has her pet whim; one of mine was to teach the men self-respect by treating them respectfully. Tom, Dick, and Harry would pass, when lads rejoiced in those familiar abbreviations; but to address men often old enough to be my Page | 1531


    father in that style did not suit my old-fashioned ideas of propriety. This “Bob”

    would never do; I should have found it as easy to call the chaplain “Gus” as my tragical-looking contraband by a title so strongly associated with the tail of a kite.

    “What is your other name?” I asked. “I like to call my attendants by their last names rather than by their first.”

    “I’se got no other, Missis; we has our master’s names, or do without. Mine’s dead, and I won’t have anything of his ‘bout me.”

    “Well, I’ll call you Robert, then, and you may fill this pitcher for me, if you will be so kind.”

    He went; but, through all the tame obedience years of servitude had taught him, I could see that the proud spirit his father gave him was not yet subdued, for the look and gesture with which he repudiated his master’s name were a more effective declaration of independence than any Fourth-of-July orator could have prepared.

    We spent a curious week together. Robert seldom left his room, except upon my errands; and I was a prisoner all day, often all night, by the bedside of the rebel. The fever burned itself rapidly away, for there seemed little vitality to feed it in the feeble frame of this old young man, whose life had been none of the most righteous, judging from the revelations made by his unconscious lips; since more than once Robert authoritatively silenced him, when my gentler hushings were of no avail, and blasphemous wanderings or ribald camp-songs made my cheeks burn and Robert’s face assume an aspect of disgust. The captain was a gentleman in the world’s eye, but the contraband was the gentleman in mine;—I was a fanatic, and that accounts for such depravity of taste, I hope. I never asked Robert of himself, feeling that somewhere there was a spot still too sore to bear the lightest touch; but, from his language, manner, and intelligence, I inferred that his color had procured for him the few advantages within the reach of a quick-witted, kindly-treated slave.

    Silent, grave, and thoughtful, but most serviceable, was my contraband; glad of the books I brought him, faithful in the performance of the duties I assigned to him, grateful for the friendliness I could not but feel and show toward him. Often I longed to ask what purpose was so visibly altering his aspect with such daily deepening gloom. But I never dared, and no one else had either time or desire to pry into the past of this specimen of one branch of the chivalrous “F. F. Vs.”

    On the seventh night, Dr. Franck suggested that it would be well for some one, besides the general watch-man of the ward, to be with the captain, as it might be his last. Although the greater part of the two preceding nights had been spent there, of course I offered to remain,—for there is a strange fascination in these scenes, which renders one careless of fatigue and unconscious of fear until the crisis is past.

    “Give him water as long as he can drink, and if he drops into a natural sleep, it may save him. I’ll look in at midnight, when some change will probably take place.

    Nothing but sleep or a miracle will keep him now. Good-night.”

    Away went the Doctor; and, devouring a whole mouthful of gapes, I lowered the lamp, wet the captain’s head, and sat down on a hard stool to begin my watch.

    Page | 1532


    The captain lay with his hot, haggard face turned toward me, filling the air with his poisonous breath, and feebly muttering, with lips and tongue so parched that the sanest speech would have been difficult to understand. Robert was stretched on his bed in the inner room, the door of which stood ajar, that a fresh draught from his open window might carry the fever—fumes away through mine. I could just see a long, dark figure, with the lighter outline of a face, and, having little else to do just then, I fell to thinking of this curious contraband, who evidently prized his freedom highly, yet seemed in no haste to enjoy it. Dr. Franck had offered to send him on to safer quarters, but he had said, “No, thank yer, sir, not yet,” and then had gone away to fall into one of those black moods of his, which began to disturb me, because I had no power to lighten them. As l sat listening to the clocks from the steeples all about us, I amused myself with planning Robert’s future, as I often did my own, and had dealt out to him a generous hand of trumps wherewith to play this game of life which hitherto had gone so cruelly against him, when a harsh choked voice called,—


    It was the captain, and some new terror seemed to have gifted him with momentary strength.

    “Yes, here’s Lucy,” I answered, hoping that by following the fancy I might quiet him,—for his face was damp with the clammy moisture, and his frame shaken with the nervous tremor that so often precedes death. His dull eye fixed upon me, dilating with a bewildered look of incredulity and wrath, till he broke out fiercely.—

    “That’s a lie! she’s dead,—and so’s Bob, damn him!”

    Finding speech a failure, I began to sing the quiet tune that had often soothed delirium like this; but hardly had the line,—

    “See gentle patience smile on pain,”

    passed my lips, when he clutched me by the wrist, whispering like one in mortal fear,—

    “Hush! she used to sing that way to Bob, but she never would to me. I swore I’d whip the devil out of her, and I did; but you know before she cut her throat she said she’d haunt me, and there she is!”

    He pointed behind me with an aspect of such pale dismay, that I involuntarily glanced over my shoulder and started as if I had seen a veritable ghost; for, peering from the gloom of that inner room, I saw a shadowy face, with dark hair all about it, and a glimpse of scarlet at the throat. An instant showed me that it was only Robert leaning from his bed’s foot, wrapped in a gray army-blanket, with his red shirt just visible above it, and his long hair disordered by sleep. But what a strange expression was on his face! The umnarred side was toward me, fixed and motionless as when I first observed it,—less absorbed now, but more intent. His eye glittered, his lips were apart like one who listened with every sense, and his whole aspect reminded me of a hound to which some wind had brought the scent of unsuspected prey.

    Page | 1533


    “Do you know him, Robert? Does he mean you?”

    “Laws, no, Missis; they all own half-a-dozen Bobs: but hearin’ my name woke me; that’s all.”

    He spoke quite naturally, and lay down again, while I returned to my charge, thinking that this paroxysm was probably his last. But by another hour I perceived a hopeful change; for the tremor had subsided, the cold dew was gone, his breathing was more regular, and Sleep, the healer, had descended to save or take him gently away. Doctor Franck looked in at midnight, bade me keep all cool and quiet, and not fail to administer a certain draught as soon as the captain woke. Very much relieved, I laid my head on my arms, uncomfortably folded on the little table, and fancied I was about to perform one of the feats which practice renders possible,—

    “sleeping with one eye open,” as we say : a half—and-half doze, for all senses sleep but that of hearing : the faintest murmur, sigh, or motion will break it, and give one back one’s wits much brightened by the brief permission to “stand at ease.” On this night the experiment was a failure, for previous vigils, confinement, and much care had rendered naps a dangerous indulgence. Having roused half-a-dozen times in an hour to find all quiet, I dropped my heavy head on my arms, and, drowsily resolving to look up again in fifteen minutes, fell fast asleep.

    The striking of a deep-voiced clock awoke me with a start. “That is one,” thought I; but, to my dismay, two more strokes followed, and in remorseful haste I sprang up to see what harm my long oblivion had done. A strong hand put me back into my seat, and held me there. It was Robert. The instant my eye met his my heart began to beat, and all along my nerves tingled that electric flash which foretells a danger that we cannot see. He was very pale, his mouth grim, and both eyes full of sombre fire; for even the wounded one was open now, all the more sinister for the deep scar above and below. But his touch was steady, his voice quiet, as he said,—

    “Sit still, Missis; I won’t hurt yer, nor scare yer, ef I can help it, but yer waked too soon.”

    ‘‘Let me go, Robert,—the captain is stirring,—I

    must give him something.”

    “No, Missis, yer can’t stir an inch. Look here!”

    Holding me with one hand, with the other he took up the glass in which I had left the draught, and showed me it was empty.

    “Has he taken it? ” I asked, more and more bewildered.

    “I flung it out o’ winder, Missis; he’ll have to do without.”

    “But why, Robert? why did you do it?”

    “’Kase I hate him!”

    Impossible to doubt the truth of that; his whole face showed it, as he spoke through his set teeth, and launched a fiery glance at the unconscious captain. I could only hold my breath and stare blankly at him, wondering what mad act was coming next. I suppose I shook and turned white, as women have a foolish habit of doing when sudden danger daunts them; for Robert released my arm, sat down Page | 1534


    upon the bedside just in front of me, and said, with the ominous quietude that made me cold to see and hear,—

    “Don’t yer be frightened, Missis; don’t try to run away, fer the door’s locked and the key in my pocket; don’t yer cry out, fer yer’d have to scream a long while, with my hand on yer mouth, ’efore yer was heard. Be still, an’ I’ll tell yer what I’m gwine to do.”

    “Lord help us! he has taken the fever in some sudden, violent way, and is out of his head. I must humor him till some one comes ”; in pursuance of which swift determination, I tried to say, quite composedly,—

    “I will be still and hear you; but open the window. Why did you shut it?”

    “I’m sorry I can’t do it, Missis; but yer’d jump out, or call, if I did, an’ I’m not ready yet. I shut it to make yer sleep, an’ heat would do it quicker’n anything else I could do.”

    The captain moved, and feebly muttered “Water!” Instinctively I rose to give it to him, but the heavy hand came down upon my shoulder, and in the same decided tone Robert said,—

    “The water went with the physic; let him call.”

    “Do let me go to him! he’ll die without care!”

    “I mean he shall;—don’t yer meddle, if yer please, Missis.”

    In spite of his quiet tone and respectful manner, I saw murder in his eyes, and turned faint with fear; yet the fear excited me, and, hardly knowing what I did, I seized the hands that had seized me, crying,—

    “No, no; you shall not kill him! It is base to hurt a helpless man. Why do you hate him? He is not your master.”

    “He’s my brother.”

    I felt that answer from head to foot, and seemed to fathom what was coming, with a prescience vague, but unmistakable. One appeal was left to me, and I made it.

    “Robert, tell me what it means? Do not commit a crime and make me accessory to it. There is a better way of righting wrong than by violence;—let me help you find it.”

    My voice trembled as I spoke, and I heard the frightened flutter of my heart; so did he, and if any little act of mine had ever won affection or respect from him, the memory of it served me then. He looked down, and seemed to put some question to himself; whatever it was, the answer was in my favor, for when his eyes rose again, they were gloomy, but not desperate.

    “I will tell yer, Missis; but mind, this makes no difference; the boy is mine. I’ll give the Lord a chance to take him fust : if He don’t, I shall.”

    “Oh, no! remember he is your brother.”

    An unwise speech; I felt it as it passed my lips, for a black frown gathered on Robert’s face, and his strong hands closed with an ugly sort of grip. But he did not touch the poor soul gasping there behind him, and seemed content to let the slow suffocation of that stifling room end his frail life.

    Page | 1535


    “I’m not like to forgit dat, Missis, when I’ve been thinkin’ of it all this week. I knew him when they fetched him in, an’ would ’a’ done it long ’fore this, but I wanted to ask where Lucy was; he knows,—he told to-night, and now he’s done for.”

    “Who is Lucy? ” I asked hurriedly, intent on keeping his mind busy with any thought but murder.

    With one of the swift transitions of a mixed temperament like this, at my question Robert’s deep eyes filled, the clenched hands were spread before his face, and all I heard were the broken words,—

    “My wife,—he took her ”

    In that instant every thought of fear was swallowed up in burning indignation for the wrong, and a perfect passion of pity for the desperate man so tempted to avenge an injury for which there seemed no redress but this. He was no longer slave or contraband, no drop of black blood marred him in my sight, but an infinite compassion yearned to save, to help, to comfort him. Words seemed so powerless I offered none, only put my hand on his poor head, wounded, homeless, bowed down with grief for which I had no cure, and softly smoothed the long, neglected hair, pitifully wondering the while where was the wife who must have loved this tender-hearted man so well.

    The captain moaned again, and faintly whispered, “Air!” but I never stirred.

    God forgive me! just then I hated him as only a woman thinking of a sister woman’s wrong could hate. Robert looked up; his eyes were dry again, his mouth grim. I saw that, said, “Tell me more,” and he did; for sympathy is a gift the poorest may give, the proudest stoop to receive.

    “Yer see, Missis, his father,—I might say ours, ef I warn’t ashamed of both of

    ’em,—his father died two years ago, an’ left us all to Marster Ned,—that’s him here, eighteen then. He always hated me, I looked so like old Marster : he don’t,—only the light skin an’ hair. Old Marster was kind to all of us, me ’specially, an’ bought Lucy off the next plantation down there in South Car’lina, when he found I liked her. I married her, all I could; it warn’t much, but we was true to one another till Marster Ned come home a year after an’ made hell fer both of us. He sent my old mother to be used up in his rice-swamp in Georgy; he found me with my pretty Lucy, an’ though young Miss cried, an’ I prayed to him on my knees, an’ Lucy run away, he wouldn’t have no mercy; he brought her back, an’—took her.”

    “Oh, what did you do?” I cried, hot with helpless pain and passion.

    How the man’s outraged heart sent the blood flaming up into his face and deepened the tones of his impetuous voice, as he stretched his arm across the bed, saying, with a terribly expressive gesture,—

    “I half murdered him, an’ to-night I’ll finish.”

    “Yes, yes,—but go on now; what came next?”

    He gave me a look that showed no white man could have felt a deeper degradation in remembering and confessing these last acts of brotherly oppression.

    “They whipped me till I couldn’t stand, an’ then they sold me further South. Yer thought I was a white man once,—look here!”

    Page | 1536


    With a sudden wrench he tore the shirt from neck to waist, and on his strong, brown shoulders showed me furrows deeply ploughed, wounds which, though healed, were ghastlier to me than any in that house. I could not speak to him, and, with the pathetic dignity a great grief lends the humblest sufferer, he ended his brief tragedy by simply saying,—

    “That’s all, Missis. I’se never seen her since, an now I never shall in this world,—

    maybe not in t’other.”

    “But, Robert, why think her dead? The captain was wandering when he said those sad things; perhaps he will retract them when he is sane. Don’t despair; don’t give up yet.”

    “No, Missis, I ’spect he’s right; she was too proud to bear that long. It’s like her to kill herself. I told her to, if there was no other way; an’ she always minded me, Lucy did. My poor girl! Oh, it warn’t right! No, by God, it warn’t!”

    As the memory of this bitter wrong, this double bereavement, burned in his sore heart, the devil that lurks in every strong man’s blood leaped up; he put his hand upon his brother’s throat, and, watching the white face before him, muttered low between his teeth,—

    “I’m lettin’ him go too easy; there’s no pain in this; we a’n’t even yet. I wish he knew me. Marster Ned! it’s Bob; where’s Lucy?”

    From the captain’s lips there came a long faint sigh, and nothing but a flutter of the eyelids showed that he still lived. A strange stillness filled the room as the elder brother held the younger’s life suspended in his hand, while wavering between a dim hope and a deadly hate. In the whirl of thoughts that went on in my brain, only one was clear enough to act upon. I must prevent murder, if I could,—but how?

    What could I do up there alone, locked in with a dying man and a lunatic?—for any mind yielded utterly to any unrighteous impulse is mad while the impulse rules it. Strength I had not, nor much courage, neither time nor wit for stratagem, and chance only could bring me help before it was too late. But one weapon I possessed,—a tongue,—often a woman’s best defence; and sympathy, stronger than fear, gave me power to use it. What I said Heaven only knows, but surely Heaven helped me; words burned on my lips, tears streamed from my eyes, and some good angel prompted me to use the. one name that had power to arrest my hearer’s hand and touch his heart. For at that moment I heartily believed that Lucy lived, and this earnest faith roused in him a like belief.

    He listened with the lowering look of one in whom brute instinct was sovereign for the time,—a look that makes the noblest countenance base. He was but a man,—a poor, untaught, outcast, outraged man. Life had few joys for him; the world offered him no honors, no success, no home, no love. What future would this crime mar?

    and why should he deny himself that sweet, yet bitter morsel called revenge? How many white men, with all New England’s freedom, culture, Christianity, would not have felt as he felt then? Should I have reproached him for a human anguish, a human longing for redress, all now left him from the ruin of his few poor hopes?

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    masters of the earth, and lift them nearer heaven? Should I have urged the beauty of forgiveness, the duty of devout submission? He had no religion, for he was no saintly “Uncle Tom,” and Slavery’s black shadow seemed to darken all the world to him, and shut out God. Should I have war ed him of penalties, of judgments, and the potency of law? What did he know of justice, or the mercy that should temper that stern virtue, when every law, human and divine, had been broken on his hearthstone? Should I have tried to touch him by appeals to filial duty, to brotherly love? How had his appeals been answered? What memories had father and brother stored up in his heart to plead for either now? No,—all these influences, these associations, would have proved worse than useless, had I been calm enough to try them. I was not; but instinct, subtler than reason, showed me the one safe clue by which to lead this troubled soul from the labyrinth in which it groped and nearly fell. When I paused, breathless, Robert turned to me, asking, as if human assurances could strengthen his faith in Divine Omnipotence,—

    “Do you believe, if I let Marster Ned live, the Lord will give me back my Lucy?”

    “As surely as there is a Lord, you will find her here or in the beautiful hereafter, where there is no black or white, no master and no slave.”

    He took his hand from his brother’s throat, lifted his eyes from my face to the wintry sky beyond, as if searching for that blessed country, happier even than the happy North. Alas, it was the darkest hour before the dawn!—there was no star above, no light below but the pale glimmer of the lamp that showed the brother who had made him desolate. Like a blind man who believes there is a sun, yet cannot see it, he shook his head, let his arms drop nervelessly upon his knees, and sat there dumbly asking that question which many a soul whose faith is firmer fixed than his has asked in hours less dark than this,—“Where is God?” I saw the tide had turned, and strenuously tried to keep this rudderless life-boat from slipping back into the whirlpool wherein it had been so nearly lost.

    “I have listened to you, Robert; now hear me, and heed what I say, because my heart is full of pity for you, full of hope for your future, and a desire to help you now.

    I want you to go away from here, from the temptation of this place, and the sad thoughts that haunt it. You have conquered yourself once, and I honor you for it, because, the harder the battle, the more glorious the victory; but it is safer to put a greater distance between you and this man. I will write you letters, give you money, and send you to good old Massachusetts to begin your new life a freeman,—yes, and a happy man; for when the captain is himself again, I will learn where Lucy is, and move heaven and earth to find and give her back to you. Will you do this, Robert?”

    Slowly, very slowly, the answer came; for the purpose of a week, perhaps a year, was hard to relinquish in an hour.

    “Yes, Missis, I will.”

    “Good! Now you are the man I thought you, and I’ll work for you with all my heart. You need sleep, my poor fellow; go, and try to forget. The captain is alive, and as yet you are spared that sin. No, don’t look there; I’ll care for him. Come, Robert, for Lucy’s sake.”

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    Thank Heaven for the immortality of love! for when all other means of salvation failed, a spark of this vital fire softened the man’s iron will, until a woman’s hand could bend it. He let me take from him the key, let me draw him gently away, and lead him to the solitude which now w r as the most healing balm I could bestow.

    Once in his little room, he fell down on his bed and lay there, as if spent with the sharpest conflict of his life. I slipped the bolt across his door, and unlocked my own, flung up the window, steadied myself with a breath of air, then rushed to Doctor Franck. He came; and till dawn we worked together, saving one brother’s life, and taking earnest thought how best to secure the other’s liberty. When the sun came up as blithely as if it shone only upon happy homes, the Doctor went to Robert. For an hour I heard the murmur of their voices; once I caught the sound of heavy sobs, and for a time a reverent hush, as if in the silence that good man were ministering to soul as well as body. When he departed he took Robert with him, pausing to tell me he should get him off as soon as possible, but not before we met again.

    Nothing more was seen of. them all day; another surgeon came to see the captain, and another attendant came to fill the empty place. I tried to rest, but could not, with the thought of poor Lucy tugging at my heart, and was soon back at my post again, anxiously hoping that my contraband had not been too hastily spirited away. Just as night fell there came a tap, and, opening, I saw Robert literally “clothed, and in his right mind.” The Doctor had replaced the ragged suit with tidy garments, and no trace of that tempestuous night remained but deeper lines upon the forehead, and the docile look of a repentant child. He did not cross the threshold, did not offer me his hand,—only took off his cap, saying, with a traitorous falter in his voice,—

    “God bless yer, Missis! I’m gwine.”

    I put out both my hands, and held his face.

    “Good-by, Robert! Keep up good heart, and when I come home to Massachusetts we’ll meet in a happier place than this. Are you quite ready, quite comfortable for your journey?”

    “Yes, Missis, yes; the Doctor’s fixed everything; I’segwine with a friend of his; my papers are all right, an’ I’m as happy as I can be till I find”—

    He stopped there; then went on, with a glance into the room,—

    “I’m glad I didn’t do it, an’ I thank yer, Missis, fer hinderin’ me,—thank yer hearty; but I’m afraid I hate him jest the same.”

    Of course he did; and so did I; for these faulty hearts of ours cannot turn perfect in a night, but need frost and fire, wind and rain, to ripen and make them ready for the great harvest-home. Wishing to divert his mind, I put my poor mite into his hand, and, remembering the magic of a certain little book, I gave him mine, on whose dark cover whitely shone the Virgin Mother and the Child, the grand history of whose life the book contained. The money went into Robert’s pocket with a grateful murmur, the book into his bosom, with a long look and a tremulous—

    “I never saw my baby, Missis.”

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    I broke down then; and though my eyes were too dim to see, I felt the touch of lips upon my hands, heard the sound of departing feet, and knew my contraband was gone.

    When one feels an intense dislike, the less one says about the subject of it the better; therefore I shall merely record that the captain lived,—in time was exchanged; and that, whoever the other party was, I am convinced the Government got the best of the bar—

    gain. But long before this occurred, I had fulfilled my promise to Robert; for as soon as my patient recovered strength of memory enough to make his answer trustworthy, I asked, without any circumlocution,—

    “Captain Fairfax, where is Lucy?”

    And too feeble to be angry, surprised, or insincere, he straightway answered,—

    “Dead, Miss Dane.”

    “And she killed herself when you sold Bob?”

    “How the devil did you know that?” he muttered, with an expression half-remorseful, half-amazed; but I was satisfied, and said no more.

    Of course this went to Robert, waiting far away there in a lonely home,—waiting, working, hoping for his Lucy. It almost broke my heart to do it; but delay was weak, deceit was wicked; so I sent the heavy tidings, and very soon the answer came,—

    only three lines; but I felt that the sustaining power of the man’s life was gone.

    “I tort I’d never see her any more; I ’m glad to know she’s out of trouble. I thank yer, Missis; an’ if they let us, I’ll fight fer yer till I’m killed, which I hope will be ‘fore long.”

    Six months later he had his wish, and kept his word.

    Every one knows the story of the attack on Fort Wagner; but we should not tire yet of recalling how our Fifty-Fourth, spent with three sleepless nights, a day’s fast, and a march under the July sun, stormed the fort as night fell, facing death in many shapes, following their brave leaders through a fiery rain of shot and shell, fighting valiantly for “God and Governor Andrew,”—how the regiment that went into action seven hundred strong, came out having had nearly half its number captured, killed, or wounded, leaving their young commander to be buried, like a chief of earlier times, with his body-guard around him, faithful to the death.

    Surely, the insult turns to honor, and the wide grave needs no monument but the heroism that consecrates it in our sight; surely, the hearts that held him nearest, see through their tears a noble victory in the seeming sad defeat; and surely, God’s benediction was bestowed, when this loyal soul answered, as Death called the roll,

    “Lord, here am I, with the brothers Thou hast given me!”

    The future must show how well that fight was fought; for though Fort Wagner once defied us, public prejudice is down; and through the cannon-smoke of that black night, the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see, rings in many ears that would not hear, wins many hearts that would not hitherto believe.

    When the news came that we were needed, there was none so glad as I to leave teaching contrabands, the new work I had taken up, and go to nurse “our boys,” as Page | 1540


    my dusky flock so proudly called the wounded of the Fifty-Fourth. Feeling more satisfaction, as I assumed my big apron and turned up my cuffs, than if dressing for the President’s levee, I fell to work in Hospital No. 10 at Beaufort. The scene was most familiar, and yet strange; for only dark faces looked up at me from the pallets so thickly laid along the floor, and I missed the sharp accent of my Yankee boys in the slower, softer voices calling cheerily to one another, or answering my questions with a stout, “We’ll never give it up, Missis, till the last Reb’s dead,” or,

    “If our people’s free, we can afford to die.”

    Passing from bed to bed, intent on making one pair of hands do the work of three, at least, I gradually washed, fed, and bandaged my way down the long line of sable heroes, and coming to the very last, found that he was my contraband. So old, so worn, so deathly weak and wan, I never should have known him but for the deep scar on his cheek. That side lay uppermost, and caught my eye at once; but even then I doubted, such an awful change had come upon him, when, turning to the ticket just above his head, I saw the name, “ Robert Dane.” That both assured and touched me, for, remembering that he had no name, I knew that he had taken mine. I longed for him to speak to me, to tell how he had fared since I lost sight of him, and let me perform some little service for him in return for many he had done for me; but he seemed asleep; and as I stood re-living that strange night again, a bright lad, who lay next him softly waving an old fan across both beds, looked up and said,—

    “I guess you know him, Missis?”

    “You are right. Do you?”

    “As much as any one was able to, Missis.”

    “Why do you say ‘ was,’ as if the man were dead and gone?”

    “I s’pose because I know he’ll have to go. He’s got a bad jab in the breast, an’ is bleedin’ inside, the Doctor says. He don’t suffer any, only gets weaker ’n’ weaker every minute. I’ve been fannin’ him this long while, an’ he’s talked a little; but he don’t know me now, so he’s most gone, I guess.”

    There was so much sorrow and affection in the boy’s face, that I remembered something, and asked, with redoubled interest,—

    “Are you the one that brought him off? I was told about a boy who nearly lost his life in saving that of his mate.”

    I dare say the young fellow blushed, as any modest lad might have done; I could not see it, but I heard the chuckle of satisfaction that escaped him, as he glanced from his shattered arm and bandaged side to the pale figure opposite.

    “ Lord, Missis, that’s nothin’; we boys always stan’ by one another, an’ I warn’t goin’ to leave him to be tormented any more by them cussed Rebs. He’s been a slave once, though he don’t look half so much like it as me, an’ I was born in Boston.”

    He did not; for the speaker was as black as the ace of spades,—being a sturdy specimen, the knave of clubs would perhaps be a fitter representative,—but the dark freeman looked at the white slave with the pitiful, yet puzzled expression I have so often seen on the faces of our wisest men, when this tangled question of Slavery presented itself, asking to be cut or patiently undone.

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    ”Tell me what you know of this man; for, even if he were awake, he is too weak to talk.”

    “I never saw him till I joined the regiment, an’ no one ’peared to have got much out of him. He was a shut-up sort of feller, an’ didn’t seem to care for anything but gettin’ at the Rebs. Some say he was the fust man of us that enlisted; I know he fretted till we were off, an’ when we pitched into old Wagner, he fought like th’d devil.”

    “Were you with him when he was wounded? How was it?”

    “Yes, Missis. There was somethin’ queer about it; for he ’peared to know the chap that killed him, an’ the chap knew him. I don’t dare to ask, but I rather guess one owned the other some time; for, when they clinched, the chap sung out, ‘Bob!’

    an’ Dane, ‘Marster Ned!’

    then they went at it.”

    I sat down suddenly, for the old anger and compassion struggled in my heart, and I both longed and feared to hear what was to follow.

    “You see, when the Colonel,—Lord keep an’ send him back to us!—it a’n’t certain yet, you know, Missis, though it’s two days ago we lost him,—well, when the Colonel shouted, ‘Rush on, boys, rush on! ’ Dane tore away as if he was goin’

    to take the fort alone; I was next him, an’ kept close as we went through the ditch an’ up the wall. Hi! warn’t that a rusher! and the boy flung up his well arm with a whoop, as if the mere memory of that stirring moment came over him in a gust of irrepressible excitement.

    “Were you afraid?” I said, asking the question women often put, and receiving the answer they seldom fail to get.

    “No, Missis! ”—emphasis on the “Missis”—“I never thought of anything but the damn’ Rebs, that scalp, slash, an’ cut our ears off, when they git us. I was bound to let daylight into one of ’em at least, an’ I did. Hope he liked it!”

    “It is evident that yon did. Now go on about Robert, for I should be at work.”

    “He was one of the fust up; I was just behind, an’ though the whole thing happened in a minute, I remember how it was, for all I was yellin’ an’ knockin’

    round like mad. Just where we were, some sort of an officer was wavin’ his sword an’ cheerin’ on his men; Dane saw him by a big flash that come by; he flung away his gun, give a leap, an’ went at that feller as if he was Jeff, Beauregard, an’ Lee, all in one. I scrabbled after as quick as I could, but was only up in time to see him git the sword straight through him an’ drop into the ditch. ou needn’t ask what I did next, Missis, for I don’t quite know myself; all I’m clear about is, that I managed somehow to pitch that Reb into the fort as dead as Moses, git hold of Dane, an’

    bring him off. Poor old feller! we said we went in to live or die; he said he went in to die, an’ he’s done it.”

    I had been intently watching the excited speaker; but as he regretfully added those last words I turned again, and Robert’s eyes met mine,—those melancholy eyes, so full of an intelligence that proved he had heard, remembered, and reflected with that preternatural power which often outlives all other faculties. He knew me, Page | 1542


    yet gave no greeting; was glad to see a woman’s face, yet had no smile wherewith to welcome it; felt that he was dying, yet uttered no farewell. He was too far across the river to return or linger now; departing thought, strength, breath, were spent in one grateful look, one murmur of submission to the last pang he could ever feel.

    His lips moved, and, bending to them, a whisper chilled my cheek, as it shaped the broken words,-—

    “I’d ‘a’ done it,—but it’s better so,—I’m satisfied.”

    Ah! well he might be,—for, as he turned his face from the shadow of the life that was, the sunshine of the life to be touched it with a beautiful content, and in the drawing of a breath my contraband found wife and home, eternal liberty and God.

    4.28.2 Reading and Review Questions

    1. What possible meanings and understanding on the narrator’s part are effected by the contrasts between the half-brothers, including their respective likeness to their father? Why?

    2. How does this story transform and ironize the statement, “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” Cain made this response to God when asked about his brother Abel, whom Cain had murdered. Who does this story suggest is the original criminal? Why?

    3. Why does the Nurse sympathize so readily with Lucy’s plight, though their lives differ so greatly? What is Alcott’s point here?

    4. What does Lucy’s suicide say about honor and chastity—such as that the Roman matron Lucrece showed when she committed suicide after identifying her rapist to her husband? What does Robert’s desire for revenge and his ability to maintain self-control due to his love for Lucy say about honor and chastity?

    5. How does this story alter the connotations, or meanings, of such words as “contraband,” “my,” “brother,” “scar,” “white,” “boy,” and “child?”

    Why, and to what effect?

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