Pages From an Old Volume of Life, essay(s) by Oliver Wendell Holmes
MY HUNT AFTER "THE CAPTAIN"
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MY HUNT AFTER "THE CAPTAIN"
In the dead of the night which closed upon the bloody field of Antietam, my household was startled from its slumbers by the loud summons of a telegraphic messenger. The air had been heavy all day with rumors of battle, and thousands and tens of thousands had walked the streets with throbbing hearts, in dread anticipation of the tidings any hour might bring.
We rose hastily, and presently the messenger was admitted. I took the envelope from his hand, opened it, and read:
To__________ H ______
Capt H______ wounded shot through the neck thought not mortal at
Through the neck,--no bullet left in wound. Windpipe, food-pipe, carotid, jugular, half a dozen smaller, but still formidable vessels, a great braid of nerves, each as big as a lamp-wick, spinal cord,--ought to kill at once, if at all. Thought not mortal, or not thought mortal,--which was it? The first; that is better than the second would be.--"Keedysville, a post-office, Washington Co., Maryland." Leduc? Leduc? Don't remember that name. The boy is waiting for his money. A dollar and thirteen cents. Has nobody got thirteen cents? Don't keep that boy waiting,--how do we know what messages he has got to carry?
The boy had another message to carry. It was to the father of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilder Dwight, informing him that his son was grievously wounded in the same battle, and was lying at Boonsborough, a town a few miles this side of Keedysville. This I learned the next morning from the civil and attentive officials at the Central Telegraph Office.
Calling upon this gentleman, I found that he meant to leave in the quarter past two o'clock train, taking with him Dr. George H. Gay, an accomplished and energetic surgeon, equal to any difficult question or pressing emergency. I agreed to accompany them, and we met in the cars. I felt myself peculiarly fortunate in having companions whose society would be a pleasure, whose feelings would harmonize with my own, and whose assistance I might, in case of need, be glad to claim.
It is of the journey which we began together, and which I finished apart, that I mean to give my "Atlantic" readers an account. They must let me tell my story in my own way, speaking of many little matters that interested or amused me, and which a certain leisurely class of elderly persons, who sit at their firesides and never travel, will, I hope, follow with a kind of interest. For, besides the main object of my excursion, I could not help being excited by the incidental sights and occurrences of a trip which to a commercial traveller or a newspaper-reporter would seem quite commonplace and undeserving of record. There are periods in which all places and people seem to be in a conspiracy to impress us with their individuality, in which every ordinary locality seems to assume a special significance and to claim a particular notice, in which every person we meet is either an old acquaintance or a character; days in which the strangest coincidences are continually happening, so that they get to be the rule, and not the exception. Some might naturally think that anxiety and the weariness of a prolonged search after a near relative would have prevented my taking any interest in or paying any regard to the little matters around me. Perhaps it had just the contrary effect, and acted like a diffused stimulus upon the attention. When all the faculties are wide-awake in pursuit of a single object, or fixed in the spasm of an absorbing emotion, they are oftentimes clairvoyant in a marvellous degree in respect to many collateral things, as Wordsworth has so forcibly illustrated in his sonnet on the Boy of Windermere, and as Hawthorne has developed with such metaphysical accuracy in that chapter of his wondrous story where Hester walks forth to meet her punishment.
Be that as it may,--though I set out with a full and heavy heart, though many times my blood chilled with what were perhaps needless and unwise fears, though I broke through all my habits without thinking about them, which is almost as hard in certain circumstances as for one of our young fellows to leave his sweetheart and go into a Peninsular campaign, though I did not always know when I was hungry nor discover that I was thirsting, though I had a worrying ache and inward tremor underlying all the outward play of the senses and the mind, yet it is the simple truth that I did look out of the car-windows with an eye for all that passed, that I did take cognizance of strange sights and singular people, that I did act much as persons act from the ordinary promptings of curiosity, and from time to time even laugh very much as others do who are attacked with a convulsive sense of the ridiculous, the epilepsy of the diaphragm.
By a mutual compact, we talked little in the cars. A communicative friend is the greatest nuisance to have at one's side during a railroad journey, especially if his conversation is stimulating and in itself agreeable. "A fast train and a 'slow' neighbor," is my motto. Many times, when I have got upon the cars, expecting to be magnetized into an hour or two of blissful reverie, my thoughts shaken up by the vibrations into all sorts of new and pleasing patterns, arranging themselves in curves and nodal points, like the grains of sand in Chladni's famous experiment,--fresh ideas coming up to the surface, as the kernels do when a measure of corn is jolted in a farmer's wagon,--all this without volition, the mechanical impulse alone keeping the thoughts in motion, as the mere act of carrying certain watches in the pocket keeps them wound up,--many times, I say, just as my brain was beginning to creep and hum with this delicious locomotive intoxication, some dear detestable friend, cordial, intelligent, social, radiant, has come up and sat down by me and opened a conversation which has broken my day-dream, unharnessed the flying horses that were whirling along my fancies and hitched on the old weary omnibus-team of every-day associations, fatigued my hearing and attention, exhausted my voice, and milked the breasts of my thought dry during the hour when they should have been filling themselves full of fresh juices. My friends spared me this trial.
So, then, I sat by the window and enjoyed the slight tipsiness produced by short, limited, rapid oscillations, which I take to be the exhilarating stage of that condition which reaches hopeless inebriety in what we know as sea-sickness. Where the horizon opened widely, it pleased me to watch the curious effect of the rapid movement of near objects contrasted with the slow motion of distant ones. Looking from a right-hand window, for instance, the fences close by glide swiftly backward, or to the right, while the distant hills not only do not appear to move backward, but look by contrast with the fences near at hand as if they were moving forward, or to the left; and thus the whole landscape becomes a mighty wheel revolving about an imaginary axis somewhere in the middle-distance.
My companions proposed to stay at one of the best-known and longest-established of the New-York caravansaries, and I accompanied them. We were particularly well lodged, and not uncivilly treated. The traveller who supposes that he is to repeat the melancholy experience of Shenstone, and have to sigh over the reflection that he has found "his warmest welcome at an inn," has something to learn at the offices of the great city hotels. The unheralded guest who is honored by mere indifference may think himself blessed with singular good-fortune. If the despot of the Patent-Annunciator is only mildly contemptuous in his manner, let the victim look upon it as a personal favor. The coldest welcome that a threadbare curate ever got at the door of a bishop's palace, the most icy reception that a country cousin ever received at the city mansion of a mushroom millionaire, is agreeably tepid, compared to that which the Rhadamanthus who dooms you to the more or less elevated circle of his inverted Inferno vouchsafes, as you step up to enter your name on his dog's-eared register. I have less hesitation in unburdening myself of this uncomfortable statement, as on this particular trip I met with more than one exception to the rule. Officials become brutalized, I suppose, as a matter of course. One cannot expect an office clerk to embrace tenderly every stranger who comes in with a carpet-bag, or a telegraph operator to burst into tears over every unpleasant message he receives for transmission. Still, humanity is not always totally extinguished in these persons. I discovered a youth in a telegraph office of the Continental Hotel, in Philadelphia, who was as pleasant in conversation, and as graciously responsive to inoffensive questions, as if I had been his childless opulent uncle and my will not made.
On the road again the next morning, over the ferry, into the cars with sliding panels and fixed windows, so that in summer the whole side of the car maybe made transparent. New Jersey is, to the apprehension of a traveller, a double-headed suburb rather than a State. Its dull red dust looks like the dried and powdered mud of a battle-field. Peach-trees are common, and champagne-orchards. Canal-boats, drawn by mules, swim by, feeling their way along like blind men led by dogs. I had a mighty passion come over me to be the captain of one,--to glide back and forward upon a sea never roughened by storms,--to float where I could not sink,--to navigate where there is no shipwreck,--to lie languidly on the deck and govern the huge craft by a word or the movement of a finger: there was something of railroad intoxication in the fancy: but who has not often envied a cobbler in his stall?
The boys cry the "N'-York Heddle," instead of "Herald"; I remember that years ago in Philadelphia; we must be getting near the farther end of the dumb-bell suburb. A bridge has been swept away by a rise of the waters, so we must approach Philadelphia by the river. Her physiognomy is not distinguished; nez camus, as a Frenchman would say; no illustrious steeple, no imposing tower; the water-edge of the town looking bedraggled, like the flounce of a vulgar rich woman's dress that trails on the sidewalk. The New Ironsides lies at one of the wharves, elephantine in bulk and color, her sides narrowing as they rise, like the walls of a hock-glass.
I went straight to the house in Walnut Street where the Captain would be heard of, if anywhere in this region. His lieutenant-colonel was there, gravely wounded; his college-friend and comrade in arms, a son of the house, was there, injured in a similar way; another soldier, brother of the last, was there, prostrate with fever. A fourth bed was waiting ready for the Captain, but not one word had been heard of him, though inquiries had been made in the towns from and through which the father had brought his two sons and the lieutenant-colonel. And so my search is, like a "Ledger" story, to be continued.
I rejoined my companions in time to take the noon-train for Baltimore. Our company was gaining in number as it moved onwards. We had found upon the train from New York a lovely, lonely lady, the wife of one of our most spirited Massachusetts officers, the brave Colonel of the __th Regiment, going to seek her wounded husband at Middletown, a place lying directly in our track. She was the light of our party while we were together on our pilgrimage, a fair, gracious woman, gentle, but courageous,
---"ful plesant and amiable of port,
On the road from Philadelphia, I found in the same car with our party Dr. William Hunt of Philadelphia, who had most kindly and faithfully attended the Captain, then the Lieutenant, after a wound received at Ball's Bluff, which came very near being mortal. He was going upon an errand of mercy to the wounded, and found he had in his memorandum-book the name of our lady's husband, the Colonel, who had been commended to his particular attention.
Not long after leaving Philadelphia, we passed a solitary sentry keeping guard over a short railroad bridge. It was the first evidence that we were approaching the perilous borders, the marches where the North and the South mingle their angry hosts, where the extremes of our so-called civilization meet in conflict, and the fierce slave-driver of the Lower Mississippi stares into the stern eyes of the forest-feller from the banks of the Aroostook. All the way along, the bridges were guarded more or less strongly. In a vast country like ours, communications play a far more complex part than in Europe, where the whole territory available for strategic purposes is so comparatively limited. Belgium, for instance, has long been the bowling-alley where kings roll cannon-balls at each other's armies; but here we are playing the game of live ninepins without any alley.
We were obliged to stay in Baltimore over night, as we were too late for the train to Frederick. At the Eutaw House, where we found both comfort and courtesy, we met a number of friends, who beguiled the evening hours for us in the most agreeable manner. We devoted some time to procuring surgical and other articles, such as might be useful to our friends, or to others, if our friends should not need them. In the morning, I found myself seated at the breakfast-table next to General Wool. It did not surprise me to find the General very far from expansive. With Fort McHenry on his shoulders and Baltimore in his breeches-pocket, and the weight of a military department loading down his social safety-valves, I thought it a great deal for an officer in his trying position to select so very obliging and affable an aid as the gentleman who relieved him of the burden of attending to strangers.
We left the Eutaw House, to take the cars for Frederick. As we stood waiting on the platform, a telegraphic message was handed in silence to my companion. Sad news: the lifeless body of the son he was hastening to see was even now on its way to him in Baltimore. It was no time for empty words of consolation: I knew what he had lost, and that now was not the time to intrude upon a grief borne as men bear it, felt as women feel it.
Colonel Wilder Dwight was first made known to me as the friend of a beloved relative of my own, who was with him during a severe illness in Switzerland; and for whom while living, and for whose memory when dead, he retained the warmest affection. Since that the story of his noble deeds of daring, of his capture and escape, and a brief visit home before he was able to rejoin his regiment, had made his name familiar to many among us, myself among the number. His memory has been honored by those who had the largest opportunity of knowing his rare promise, as a man of talents and energy of nature. His abounding vitality must have produced its impression on all who met him; there was a still fire about him which any one could see would blaze up to melt all difficulties and recast obstacles into implements in the mould of an heroic will. These elements of his character many had the chance of knowing; but I shall always associate him with the memory of that pure and noble friendship which made me feel that I knew him before I looked upon his face, and added a personal tenderness to the sense of loss which I share with the whole community.
Here, then, I parted, sorrowfully, from the companions with whom I set out on my journey.
In one of the cars, at the same station, we met General Shriver of Frederick, a most loyal Unionist, whose name is synonymous with a hearty welcome to all whom he can aid by his counsel and his hospitality. He took great pains to give us all the information we needed, and expressed the hope, which was afterwards fulfilled, to the great gratification of some of us, that we should meet again when he should return to his home.
There was nothing worthy of special note in the trip to Frederick, except our passing a squad of Rebel prisoners, whom I missed seeing, as they flashed by, but who were said to be a most forlorn-looking crowd of scarecrows. Arrived at the Monocacy River, about three miles this side of Frederick, we came to a halt, for the railroad bridge had been blown up by the Rebels, and its iron pillars and arches were lying in the bed of the river. The unfortunate wretch who fired the train was killed by the explosion, and lay buried hard by, his hands sticking out of the shallow grave into which he had been huddled. This was the story they told us, but whether true or not I must leave to the correspondents of "Notes and Queries" to settle.
There was a great confusion of carriages and wagons at the stopping-place of the train, so that it was a long time before I could get anything that would carry us. At last I was lucky enough to light on a sturdy wagon, drawn by a pair of serviceable bays, and driven by James Grayden, with whom I was destined to have a somewhat continued acquaintance. We took up a little girl who had been in Baltimore during the late Rebel inroad. It made me think of the time when my own mother, at that time six years old, was hurried off from Boston, then occupied by the British soldiers, to Newburyport, and heard the people saying that "the redcoats were coming, killing and murdering everybody as they went along." Frederick looked cheerful for a place that had so recently been in an enemy's hands. Here and there a house or shop was shut up, but the national colors were waving in all directions, and the general aspect was peaceful and contented. I saw no bullet-marks or other sign of the fighting which had gone on in the streets. The Colonel's lady was taken in charge by a daughter of that hospitable family to which we had been commended by its head, and I proceeded to inquire for wounded officers at the various temporary hospitals.
At the United States Hotel, where many were lying, I heard mention of an officer in an upper chamber, and, going there, found Lieutenant Abbott, of the Twentieth Massachusetts Volunteers, lying ill with what looked like typhoid fever. While there, who should come in but the almost ubiquitous Lieutenant Wilkins, of the same Twentieth, whom I had met repeatedly before on errands of kindness or duty, and who was just from the battle-ground. He was going to Boston in charge of the body of the lamented Dr. Revere, the Assistant Surgeon of the regiment, killed on the field. From his lips I learned something of the mishaps of the regiment. My Captain's wound he spoke of as less grave than at first thought; but he mentioned incidentally having heard a story recently that he was killed,--a fiction, doubtless,--a mistake,--a palpable absurdity,--not to be remembered or made any account of. Oh no! but what dull ache is this in that obscurely sensitive region, somewhere below the heart, where the nervous centre called the semilunar ganglion lies unconscious of itself until a great grief or a mastering anxiety reaches it through all the non-conductors which isolate it from ordinary impressions? I talked awhile with Lieutenant Abbott, who lay prostrate, feeble, but soldier-like and uncomplaining, carefully waited upon by a most excellent lady, a captain's wife, New England born, loyal as the Liberty on a golden ten-dollar piece, and of lofty bearing enough to have sat for that goddess's portrait. She had stayed in Frederick through the Rebel inroad, and kept the star-spangled banner where it would be safe, to unroll it as the last Rebel hoofs clattered off from the pavement of the town.
Near by Lieutenant Abbott was an unhappy gentleman, occupying a small chamber, and filling it with his troubles. When he gets well and plump, I know he will forgive me if I confess that I could not help smiling in the midst of my sympathy for him. He had been a well-favored man, he said, sweeping his hand in a semicircle, which implied that his acute-angled countenance had once filled the goodly curve he described. He was now a perfect Don Quixote to look upon. Weakness had made him querulous, as it does all of us, and he piped his grievances to me in a thin voice, with that finish of detail which chronic invalidism alone can command. He was starving,--he could not get what he wanted to eat. He was in need of stimulants, and he held up a pitiful two-ounce phial containing three thimblefuls--of brandy,--his whole stock of that encouraging article. Him I consoled to the best of my ability, and afterwards, in some slight measure, supplied his wants. Feed this poor gentleman up, as these good people soon will, and I should not know him, nor he himself. We are all egotists in sickness and debility. An animal has been defined as "a stomach ministered to by organs;" and the greatest man comes very near this simple formula after a month or two of fever and starvation.
James Grayden and his team pleased me well enough, and so I made a bargain with him to take us, the lady and myself, on our further journey as far as Middletown. As we were about starting from the front of the United States Hotel, two gentlemen presented themselves and expressed a wish to be allowed to share our conveyance. I looked at them and convinced myself that they were neither Rebels in disguise, nor deserters, nor camp-followers, nor miscreants, but plain, honest men on a proper errand. The first of them I will pass over briefly. He was a young man of mild and modest demeanor, chaplain to a Pennsylvania regiment, which he was going to rejoin. He belonged to the Moravian Church, of which I had the misfortune to know little more than what I had learned from Southey's "Life of Wesley." and from the exquisite hymns we have borrowed from its rhapsodists. The other stranger was a New Englander of respectable appearance, with a grave, hard, honest, hay-bearded face, who had come to serve the sick and wounded on the battle-field and in its immediate neighborhood. There is no reason why I should not mention his name, but I shall content myself with calling him the Philanthropist.
So we set forth, the sturdy wagon, the serviceable bays, with James Grayden their driver, the gentle lady, whose serene patience bore up through all delays and discomforts, the Chaplain, the Philanthropist, and myself, the teller of this story.
And now, as we emerged from Frederick, we struck at once upon the trail from the great battle-field. The road was filled with straggling and wounded soldiers. All who could travel on foot,--multitudes with slight wounds of the upper limbs, the head, or face,--were told to take up their beds,--alight burden or none at all,--and walk. Just as the battle-field sucks everything into its red vortex for the conflict, so does it drive everything off in long, diverging rays after the fierce centripetal forces have met and neutralized each other. For more than a week there had been sharp fighting all along this road. Through the streets of Frederick, through Crampton's Gap, over South Mountain, sweeping at last the hills and the woods that skirt the windings of the Antietam, the long battle had travelled, like one of those tornadoes which tear their path through our fields and villages. The slain of higher condition, "embalmed" and iron-cased, were sliding off on the railways to their far homes; the dead of the rank and file were being gathered up and committed hastily to the earth; the gravely wounded were cared for hard by the scene of conflict, or pushed a little way along to the neighboring villages; while those who could walk were meeting us, as I have said, at every step in the road. It was a pitiable sight, truly pitiable, yet so vast, so far beyond the possibility of relief, that many single sorrows of small dimensions have wrought upon my feelings more than the sight of this great caravan of maimed pilgrims. The companionship of so many seemed to make a joint-stock of their suffering; it was next to impossible to individualize it, and so bring it home, as one can do with a single broken limb or aching wound. Then they were all of the male sex, and in the freshness or the prime of their strength. Though they tramped so wearily along, yet there was rest and kind nursing in store for them. These wounds they bore would be the medals they would show their children and grandchildren by and by. Who would not rather wear his decorations beneath his uniform than on it?
Yet among them were figures which arrested our attention and sympathy. Delicate boys, with more spirit than strength, flushed with fever or pale with exhaustion or haggard with suffering, dragged their weary limbs along as if each step would exhaust their slender store of strength. At the roadside sat or lay others, quite spent with their journey. Here and there was a house at which the wayfarers would stop, in the hope, I fear often vain, of getting refreshment; and in one place was a clear, cool spring, where the little bands of the long procession halted for a few moments, as the trains that traverse the desert rest by its fountains. My companions had brought a few peaches along with them, which the Philanthropist bestowed upon the tired and thirsty soldiers with a satisfaction which we all shared. I had with me a small flask of strong waters, to be used as a medicine in case of inward grief. From this, also, he dispensed relief, without hesitation, to a poor fellow who looked as if he needed it. I rather admired the simplicity with which he applied my limited means of solace to the first-comer who wanted it more than I; a genuine benevolent impulse does not stand on ceremony, and had I perished of colic for want of a stimulus that night, I should not have reproached my friend the Philanthropist, any more than I grudged my other ardent friend the two dollars and more which it cost me to send the charitable message he left in my hands.
It was a lovely country through which we were riding. The hillsides rolled away into the distance, slanting up fair and broad to the sun, as one sees them in the open parts of the Berkshire Valley, at Lanesborough, for instance, or in the many-hued mountain chalice at the bottom of which the Shaker houses of Lebanon have shaped themselves like a sediment of cubical crystals. The wheat was all garnered, and the land ploughed for a new crop. There was Indian corn standing, but I saw no pumpkins warming their yellow carapaces in the sunshine like so many turtles; only in a single instance did I notice some wretched little miniature specimens in form and hue not unlike those colossal oranges of our cornfields. The rail fences were somewhat disturbed, and the cinders of extinguished fires showed the use to which they had been applied. The houses along the road were not for the most part neatly kept; the garden fences were poorly built of laths or long slats, and very rarely of trim aspect. The men of this region seemed to ride in the saddle very generally, rather than drive. They looked sober and stern, less curious and lively than Yankees, and I fancied that a type of features familiar to us in the countenance of the late John Tyler, our accidental President, was frequently met with. The women were still more distinguishable from our New England pattern. Soft, sallow, succulent, delicately finished about the mouth and firmly shaped about the chin, dark-eyed, full-throated, they looked as if they had been grown in a land of olives. There was a little toss in their movement, full of muliebrity. I fancied there was something more of the duck and less of the chicken about them, as compared with the daughters of our leaner soil; but these are mere impressions caught from stray glances, and if there is any offence in them, my fair readers may consider them all retracted.
At intervals, a dead horse lay by the roadside, or in the fields, unburied, not grateful to gods or men. I saw no bird of prey, no ill-omened fowl, on my way to the carnival of death, or at the place where it had been held. The vulture of story, the crow of Talavera, the "twa corbies" of the ghastly ballad, are all from Nature, doubtless; but no black wing was spread over these animal ruins, and no call to the banquet pierced through the heavy-laden and sickening air.
Full in the middle of the road, caring little for whom or what they met, came long strings of army wagons, returning empty from the front after supplies. James Grayden stated it as his conviction that they had a little rather run into a fellow than not. I liked the looks of these equipages and their drivers; they meant business. Drawn by mules mostly, six, I think, to a wagon, powdered well with dust, wagon, beast, and driver, they came jogging along the road, turning neither to right nor left,--some driven by bearded, solemn white men, some by careless, saucy-looking negroes, of a blackness like that of anthracite or obsidian. There seemed to be nothing about them, dead or alive, that was not serviceable. Sometimes a mule would give out on the road; then he was left where he lay, until by and by he would think better of it, and get up, when the first public wagon that came along would hitch him on, and restore him to the sphere of duty.
It was evening when we got to Middletown. The gentle lady who had graced our homely conveyance with her company here left us. She found her husband, the gallant Colonel, in very comfortable quarters, well cared for, very weak from the effects of the fearful operation he had been compelled to undergo, but showing calm courage to endure as he had shown manly energy to act. It was a meeting full of heroism and tenderness, of which I heard more than there is need to tell. Health to the brave soldier, and peace to the household over which so fair a spirit presides!
Dr. Thompson, the very active and intelligent surgical director of the hospitals of the place, took me in charge. He carried me to the house of a worthy and benevolent clergyman of the German Reformed Church, where I was to take tea and pass the night. What became of the Moravian chaplain I did not know; but my friend the Philanthropist had evidently made up his mind to adhere to my fortunes. He followed me, therefore, to the house of the "Dominie." as a newspaper correspondent calls my kind host, and partook of the fare there furnished me. He withdrew with me to the apartment assigned for my slumbers, and slept sweetly on the same pillow where I waked and tossed. Nay, I do affirm that he did, unconsciously, I believe, encroach on that moiety of the couch which I had flattered myself was to be my own through the watches of the night, and that I was in serious doubt at one time whether I should not be gradually, but irresistibly, expelled from the bed which I had supposed destined for my sole possession. As Ruth clave unto Naomi, so my friend the Philanthropist clave unto me. "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge." A really kind, good man, full of zeal, determined to help somebody, and absorbed in his one thought, he doubted nobody's willingness to serve him, going, as he was, on a purely benevolent errand. When he reads this, as I hope he will, let him be assured of my esteem and respect; and if he gained any accommodation from being in my company, let me tell him that I learned a lesson from his active benevolence. I could, however, have wished to hear him laugh once before we parted, perhaps forever. He did not, to the best of my recollection, even smile during the whole period that we were in company. I am afraid that a lightsome disposition and a relish for humor are not so common in those whose benevolence takes an active turn as in people of sentiment, who are always ready with their tears and abounding in passionate expressions of sympathy. Working philanthropy is a practical specialty, requiring not a mere impulse, but a talent, with its peculiar sagacity for finding its objects, a tact for selecting its agencies, an organizing and art ranging faculty, a steady set of nerves, and a constitution such as Sallust describes in Catiline, patient of cold, of hunger, and of watching. Philanthropists are commonly grave, occasionally grim, and not very rarely morose. Their expansive social force is imprisoned as a working power, to show itself only through its legitimate pistons and cranks. The tighter the boiler, the less it whistles and sings at its work. When Dr. Waterhouse, in 1780, travelled with Howard, on his tour among the Dutch prisons and hospitals, he found his temper and manners very different from what would have been expected.
My benevolent companion having already made a preliminary exploration of the hospitals of the place, before sharing my bed with him, as above mentioned, I joined him in a second tour through them. The authorities of Middletown are evidently leagued with the surgeons of that place, for such a break-neck succession of pitfalls and chasms I have never seen in the streets of a civilized town. It was getting late in the evening when we began our rounds. The principal collections of the wounded were in the churches. Boards were laid over the tops of the pews, on these some straw was spread, and on this the wounded lay, with little or no covering other than such scanty clothes as they had on. There were wounds of all degrees of severity, but I heard no groans or murmurs. Most of the sufferers were hurt in the limbs, some had undergone amputation, and all had, I presume, received such attention as was required. Still, it was but a rough and dreary kind of comfort that the extemporized hospitals suggested. I could not help thinking the patients must be cold; but they were used to camp life, and did not complain. The men who watched were not of the soft-handed variety of the race. One of them was smoking his pipe as he went from bed to bed. I saw one poor fellow who had been shot through the breast; his breathing was labored, and he was tossing, anxious and restless. The men were debating about the opiate he was to take, and I was thankful that I happened there at the right moment to see that he was well narcotized for the night. Was it possible that my Captain could be lying on the straw in one of these places? Certainly possible, but not probable; but as the lantern was held over each bed, it was with a kind of thrill that I looked upon the features it illuminated. Many times as I went from hospital to hospital in my wanderings, I started as some faint resemblance,-the shade of a young man's hair, the outline of his half-turned face,--recalled the presence I was in search of. The face would turn towards me, and the momentary illusion would pass away, but still the fancy clung to me. There was no figure huddled up on its rude couch, none stretched at the roadside, none toiling languidly along the dusty pike, none passing in car or in ambulance, that I did not scrutinize, as if it might be that for which I was making my pilgrimage to the battlefield.
"There are two wounded Secesh," said my companion. I walked to the bedside of the first, who was an officer, a lieutenant, if I remember right, from North Carolina. He was of good family, son of a judge in one of the higher courts of his State, educated, pleasant, gentle, intelligent. One moment's intercourse with such an enemy, lying helpless and wounded among strangers, takes away all personal bitterness towards those with whom we or our children have been but a few hours before in deadly strife. The basest lie which the murderous contrivers of this Rebellion have told is that which tries to make out a difference of race in the men of the North and South. It would be worth a year of battles to abolish this delusion, though the great sponge of war that wiped it out were moistened with the best blood of the land. My Rebel was of slight, scholastic habit, and spoke as one accustomed to tread carefully among the parts of speech. It made my heart ache to see him, a man finished in the humanities and Christian culture, whom the sin of his forefathers and the crime of his rulers had set in barbarous conflict against others of like training with his own,--a man who, but for the curse which our generation is called on to expiate, would have taken his part in the beneficent task of shaping the intelligence and lifting the moral standard of a peaceful and united people.
On Sunday morning, the twenty-first, having engaged James Grayden and his team, I set out with the Chaplain and the Philanthropist for Keedysville. Our track lay through the South Mountain Gap, and led us first to the town of Boonsborough, where, it will be remembered, Colonel Dwight had been brought after the battle. We saw the positions occupied in the battle of South Mountain, and many traces of the conflict. In one situation a group of young trees was marked with shot, hardly one having escaped. As we walked by the side of the wagon, the Philanthropist left us for a while and climbed a hill, where, along the line of a fence, he found traces of the most desperate fighting. A ride of some three hours brought us to Boonsborough, where I roused the unfortunate army surgeon who had charge of the hospitals, and who was trying to get a little sleep after his fatigues and watchings. He bore this cross very creditably, and helped me to explore all places where my soldier might be lying among the crowds of wounded. After the useless search, I resumed my journey, fortified with a note of introduction to Dr. Letterman; also with a bale of oakum which I was to carry to that gentleman, this substance being employed as a substitute for lint. We were obliged also to procure a pass to Keedysville from the Provost Marshal of Boonsborough. As we came near the place, we learned that General McClellan's head quarters had been removed from this village some miles farther to the front.
On entering the small settlement of Keedysville, a familiar face and figure blocked the way, like one of Bunyan's giants. The tall form and benevolent countenance, set off by long, flowing hair, belonged to the excellent Mayor Frank B. Fay of Chelsea, who, like my Philanthropist, only still more promptly, had come to succor the wounded of the great battle. It was wonderful to see how his single personality pervaded this torpid little village; he seemed to be the centre of all its activities. All my questions he answered clearly and decisively, as one who knew everything that was going on in the place. But the one question I had come five hundred miles to ask,--Where is Captain H.?--he could not answer. There were some thousands of wounded in the place, he told me, scattered about everywhere. It would be a long job to hunt up my Captain; the only way would be to go to every house and ask for him. Just then a medical officer came up.
"Do you know anything of Captain H. of the Massachusetts Twentieth?"
"Oh yes; he is staying in that house. I saw him there, doing very well."
A chorus of hallelujahs arose in my soul, but I kept them to myself. Now, then, for our twice-wounded volunteer, our young centurion whose double-barred shoulder-straps we have never yet looked upon. Let us observe the proprieties, however; no swelling upward of the mother,--no hysterica passio, we do not like scenes. A calm salutation,--then swallow and hold hard. That is about the programme.
A cottage of squared logs, filled in with plaster, and whitewashed. A little yard before it, with a gate swinging. The door of the cottage ajar,--no one visible as yet. I push open the door and enter. An old woman, Margaret Kitzmuller her name proves to be, is the first person I see.
"Captain H. here?"
"Oh no, sir,--left yesterday morning for Hagerstown,--in a milk-cart."
The Kitzmuller is a beady-eyed, cheery-looking ancient woman, answers questions with a rising inflection, and gives a good account of the Captain, who got into the vehicle without assistance, and was in excellent spirits. Of course he had struck for Hagerstown as the terminus of the Cumberland Valley Railroad, and was on his way to Philadelphia, via Chambersburg and Harrisburg, if he were not already in the hospitable home of Walnut Street, where his friends were expecting him.
I might follow on his track or return upon my own; the distance was the same to Philadelphia through Harrisburg as through Baltimore. But it was very difficult, Mr. Fay told me, to procure any kind of conveyance to Hagerstown; and, on the other hand, I had James Grayden and his wagon to carry me back to Frederick. It was not likely that I should overtake the object of my pursuit with nearly thirty-six hours start, even if I could procure a conveyance that day. In the mean time James was getting impatient to be on his return, according to the direction of his employers. So I decided to go back with him.
But there was the great battle-field only about three miles from Keedysville, and it was impossible to go without seeing that. James Grayden's directions were peremptory, but it was a case for the higher law. I must make a good offer for an extra couple of hours, such as would satisfy the owners of the wagon, and enforce it by a personal motive. I did this handsomely, and succeeded without difficulty. To add brilliancy to my enterprise, I invited the Chaplain and the Philanthropist to take a free passage with me.
We followed the road through the village for a space, then turned off to the right, and wandered somewhat vaguely, for want of precise directions, over the hills. Inquiring as we went, we forded a wide creek in which soldiers were washing their clothes, the name of which we did not then know, but which must have been the Antietam. At one point we met a party, women among them, bringing off various trophies they had picked up on the battlefield. Still wandering along, we were at last pointed to a hill in the distance, a part of the summit of which was covered with Indian corn. There, we were told, some of the fiercest fighting of the day had been done. The fences were taken down so as to make a passage across the fields, and the tracks worn within the last few days looked like old roads. We passed a fresh grave under a tree near the road. A board was nailed to the tree, bearing the name, as well as I could make it out, of Gardiner, of a New Hampshire regiment.
On coming near the brow of the hill, we met a party carrying picks and spades. "How many?" "Only one." The dead were nearly all buried, then, in this region of the field of strife. We stopped the wagon, and, getting out, began to look around us. Hard by was a large pile of muskets, scores, if not hundreds, which had been picked up, and were guarded for the Government. A long ridge of fresh gravel rose before us. A board stuck up in front of it bore this inscription, the first part of which was, I believe, not correct: "The Rebel General Anderson and 80 Rebels are buried in this hole." Other smaller ridges were marked with the number of dead lying under them. The whole ground was strewed with fragments of clothing, haversacks, canteens, cap-boxes, bullets, cartridge-boxes, cartridges, scraps of paper, portions of bread and meat. I saw two soldiers' caps that looked as though their owners had been shot through the head. In several places I noticed dark red patches where a pool of blood had curdled and caked, as some poor fellow poured his life out on the sod. I then wandered about in the cornfield. It surprised me to notice, that, though there was every mark of hard fighting having taken place here, the Indian corn was not generally trodden down. One of our cornfields is a kind of forest, and even when fighting, men avoid the tall stalks as if they were trees. At the edge of this cornfield lay a gray horse, said to have belonged to a Rebel colonel, who was killed near the same place. Not far off were two dead artillery horses in their harness. Another had been attended to by a burying-party, who had thrown some earth over him but his last bed-clothes were too short, and his legs stuck out stark and stiff from beneath the gravel coverlet. It was a great pity that we had no intelligent guide to explain to us the position of that portion of the two armies which fought over this ground. There was a shallow trench before we came to the cornfield, too narrow for a road, as I should think, too elevated for a water-course, and which seemed to have been used as a rifle-pit. At any rate, there had been hard fighting in and about it. This and the cornfield may serve to identify the part of the ground we visited, if any who fought there should ever look over this paper. The opposing tides of battle must have blended their waves at this point, for portions of gray uniform were mingled with the "garments rolled in blood" torn from our own dead and wounded soldiers. I picked up a Rebel canteen, and one of our own,--but there was something repulsive about the trodden and stained relics of the stale battle-field. It was like the table of some hideous orgy left uncleared, and one turned away disgusted from its broken fragments and muddy heeltaps. A bullet or two, a button, a brass plate from a soldier's belt, served well enough for mementos of my visit, with a letter which I picked up, directed to Richmond, Virginia, its seal unbroken. "N. C. Cleveland County. E. Wright to J. Wright." On the other side, "A few lines from W. L. Vaughn." who has just been writing for the wife to her husband, and continues on his own account. The postscript, "tell John that nancy's folks are all well and has a verry good Little Crop of corn a growing." I wonder, if, by one of those strange chances of which I have seen so many, this number or leaf of the "Atlantic" will not sooner or later find its way to Cleveland County, North Carolina, and E. Wright, widow of James Wright, and Nancy's folks, get from these sentences the last glimpse of husband and friend as he threw up his arms and fell in the bloody cornfield of Antietam? I will keep this stained letter for them until peace comes back, if it comes in my time, and my pleasant North Carolina Rebel of the Middletown Hospital will, perhaps look these poor people up, and tell them where to send for it.
On the battle-field I parted with my two companions, the Chaplain and the Philanthropist. They were going to the front, the one to find his regiment, the other to look for those who needed his assistance. We exchanged cards and farewells, I mounted the wagon, the horses' heads were turned homewards, my two companions went their way, and I saw them no more. On my way back, I fell into talk with James Grayden. Born in England, Lancashire; in this country since he was four years old. Had nothing to care for but an old mother; didn't know what he should do if he lost her. Though so long in this country, he had all the simplicity and childlike lightheartedness which belong to the Old World's people. He laughed at the smallest pleasantry, and showed his great white English teeth; he took a joke without retorting by an impertinence; he had a very limited curiosity about all that was going on; he had small store of information; he lived chiefly in his horses, it seemed to me. His quiet animal nature acted as a pleasing anodyne to my recurring fits of anxiety, and I liked his frequent "'Deed I don't know, sir." better than I have sometimes relished the large discourse of professors and other very wise men.
I have not much to say of the road which we were travelling for the second time. Reaching Middletown, my first call was on the wounded Colonel and his lady. She gave me a most touching account of all the suffering he had gone through with his shattered limb before he succeeded in finding a shelter; showing the terrible want of proper means of transportation of the wounded after the battle. It occurred to me, while at this house, that I was more or less famished, and for the first time in my life I begged for a meal, which the kind family with whom the Colonel was staying most graciously furnished me.
After tea, there came in a stout army surgeon, a Highlander by birth, educated in Edinburgh, with whom I had pleasant, not unstimulating talk. He had been brought very close to that immane and nefandous Burke-and-Hare business which made the blood of civilization run cold in the year 1828, and told me, in a very calm way, with an occasional pinch from the mull, to refresh his memory, some of the details of those frightful murders, never rivalled in horror until the wretch Dumollard, who kept a private cemetery for his victims, was dragged into the light of day. He had a good deal to say, too, about the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, and the famous preparations, mercurial and the rest, which I remember well having seen there,--the "sudabit multum." and others,--also of our New York Professor Carnochan's handiwork, a specimen of which I once admired at the New York College. But the doctor was not in a happy frame of mind, and seemed willing to forget the present in the past: things went wrong, somehow, and the time was out of joint with him.
Dr. Thompson, kind, cheerful, companionable, offered me half his own wide bed, in the house of Dr. Baer, for my second night in Middletown. Here I lay awake again another night. Close to the house stood an ambulance in which was a wounded Rebel officer, attended by one of their own surgeons. He was calling out in a loud voice, all night long, as it seemed to me, "Doctor! Doctor! Driver! Water!" in loud, complaining tones, I have no doubt of real suffering, but in strange contrast with the silent patience which was the almost universal rule.
The courteous Dr. Thompson will let me tell here an odd coincidence, trivial, but having its interest as one of a series. The Doctor and myself lay in the bed, and a lieutenant, a friend of his, slept on the sofa, At night, I placed my match-box, a Scotch one, of the Macpherson-plaid pattern, which I bought years ago, on the bureau, just where I could put my hand upon it. I was the last of the three to rise in the morning, and on looking for my pretty match-box, I found it was gone. This was rather awkward,--not on account of the loss, but of the unavoidable fact that one of my fellow-lodgers must have taken it. I must try to find out what it meant.
"By the way, Doctor, have you seen anything of a little plaid-pattern match-box?"
The Doctor put his hand to his pocket, and, to his own huge surprise and my great gratification, pulled out two match-boxes exactly alike, both printed with the Macpherson plaid. One was his, the other mine, which he had seen lying round, and naturally took for his own, thrusting it into his pocket, where it found its twin-brother from the same workshop. In memory of which event, we exchanged boxes, like two Homeric heroes.
This curious coincidence illustrates well enough some supposed cases of plagiarism of which I will mention one where my name figured. When a little poem called "The Two Streams" was first printed, a writer in the New York "Evening Post" virtually accused the author of it of borrowing the thought from a baccalaureate sermon of President Hopkins of Williamstown, and printed a quotation from that discourse, which, as I thought, a thief or catch-poll might well consider as establishing a fair presumption that it was so borrowed. I was at the same time wholly unconscious of ever having met with the discourse or the sentence which the verses were most like, nor do I believe I ever had seen or heard either. Some time after this, happening to meet my eloquent cousin, Wendell Phillips, I mentioned the fact to him, and he told me that he had once used the special image said to be borrowed, in a discourse delivered at Williamstown. On relating this to my friend Mr. Buchanan Read, he informed me that he too, had used the image,--perhaps referring to his poem called "The Twins." He thought Tennyson had used it also. The parting of the streams on the Alps is poetically elaborated in a passage attributed to "M. Loisne," printed in the "Boston Evening Transcript" for October 23, 1859. Captain, afterwards Sir Francis Head, speaks of the showers parting on the Cordilleras, one portion going to the Atlantic, one to the Pacific. I found the image running loose in my mind, without a halter. It suggested itself as an illustration of the will, and I worked the poem out by the aid of Mitchell's School Atlas.--The spores of a great many ideas are floating about in the atmosphere. We no more know where all the growths of our mind came from, than where the lichens which eat the names off from the gravestones borrowed the germs that gave them birth. The two match-boxes were just alike, but neither was a plagiarism.
In the morning I took to the same wagon once more, but, instead of James Grayden, I was to have for my driver a young man who spelt his name "Phillip Ottenheimer" and whose features at once showed him to be an Israelite. I found him agreeable enough, and disposed to talk. So I asked him many questions about his religion, and got some answers that sound strangely in Christian ears. He was from Wittenberg, and had been educated in strict Jewish fashion. From his childhood he had read Hebrew, but was not much of a scholar otherwise. A young person of his race lost caste utterly by marrying a Christian. The Founder of our religion was considered by the Israelites to have been "a right smart man and a great doctor." But the horror with which the reading of the New Testament by any young person of their faith would be regarded was as great, I judged by his language, as that of one of our straitest sectaries would be, if he found his son or daughter perusing the "Age of Reason."
In approaching Frederick, the singular beauty of its clustered spires struck me very much, so that I was not surprised to find "Fair-View" laid down about this point on a railroad map. I wish some wandering photographer would take a picture of the place, a stereoscopic one, if possible, to show how gracefully, how charmingly, its group of steeples nestles among the Maryland hills. The town had a poetical look from a distance, as if seers and dreamers might dwell there. The first sign I read, on entering its long street, might perhaps be considered as confirming my remote impression. It bore these words: "Miss Ogle, Past, Present, and Future." On arriving, I visited Lieutenant Abbott, and the attenuated unhappy gentleman, his neighbor, sharing between them as my parting gift what I had left of the balsam known to the Pharmacopoeia as Spiritus Vini Gallici. I took advantage of General Shriver's always open door to write a letter home, but had not time to partake of his offered hospitality. The railroad bridge over the Monocacy had been rebuilt since I passed through Frederick, and we trundled along over the track toward Baltimore.
It was a disappointment, on reaching the Eutaw House, where I had ordered all communications to be addressed, to find no telegraphic message from Philadelphia or Boston, stating that Captain H. had arrived at the former place, "wound doing well in good spirits expects to leave soon for Boston." After all, it was no great matter; the Captain was, no doubt, snugly lodged before this in the house called Beautiful, at * * * * Walnut Street, where that "grave and beautiful damsel named Discretion" had already welcomed him, smiling, though "the water stood in her eyes," and had "called out Prudence, Piety, and Charity, who, after a little more discourse with him, had him into the family."
The friends I had met at the Eutaw House had all gone but one, the lady of an officer from Boston, who was most amiable and agreeable, and whose benevolence, as I afterwards learned, soon reached the invalids I had left suffering at Frederick. General Wool still walked the corridors, inexpansive, with Fort McHenry on his shoulders, and Baltimore in his breeches-pocket, and his courteous aid again pressed upon me his kind offices. About the doors of the hotel the news-boys cried the papers in plaintive, wailing tones, as different from the sharp accents of their Boston counterparts as a sigh from the southwest is from a northeastern breeze. To understand what they said was, of course, impossible to any but an educated ear, and if I made out "Starr" and "Clipp'rr," it was because I knew beforehand what must be the burden of their advertising coranach.
I set out for Philadelphia on the morrow, Tuesday the twenty-third, there beyond question to meet my Captain, once more united to his brave wounded companions under that roof which covers a household of as noble hearts as ever throbbed with human sympathies. Back River, Bush River, Gunpowder Creek,--lives there the man with soul so dead that his memory has cerements to wrap up these senseless names in the same envelopes with their meaningless localities? But the Susquehanna,--the broad, the beautiful, the historical, the poetical Susquehanna,--the river of Wyoming and of Gertrude, dividing the shores where
"Aye those sunny mountains half-way down
did not my heart renew its allegiance to the poet who has made it lovely to the imagination as well as to the eye, and so identified his fame with the noble stream that it "rolls mingling with his fame forever?" The prosaic traveller perhaps remembers it better from the fact that a great sea-monster, in the shape of a steamboat, takes him, sitting in the car, on its back, and swims across with him like Arion's dolphin,--also that mercenary men on board offer him canvas-backs in the season, and ducks of lower degree at other periods.
At Philadelphia again at last! Drive fast, O colored man and brother, to the house called Beautiful, where my Captain lies sore wounded, waiting for the sound of the chariot wheels which bring to his bedside the face and the voice nearer than any save one to his heart in this his hour of pain and weakness! Up a long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. Off at right angles into another long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. Off again at another right angle into still another long street with white shutters and white steps to all the houses. The natives of this city pretend to know one street from another by some individual differences of aspect; but the best way for a stranger to distinguish the streets he has been in from others is to make a cross or other mark on the white shutters.
This corner-house is the one. Ring softly,--for the Lieutenant-Colonel lies there with a dreadfully wounded arm, and two sons of the family, one wounded like the Colonel, one fighting with death in the fog of a typhoid fever, will start with fresh pangs at the least sound you can make. I entered the house, but no cheerful smile met me. The sufferers were each of them thought to be in a critical condition. The fourth bed, waiting its tenant day after day, was still empty. Not a word from my Captain.
Then, foolish, fond body that I was, my heart sank within me. Had he been taken ill on the road, perhaps been attacked with those formidable symptoms which sometimes come on suddenly after wounds that seemed to be doing well enough, and was his life ebbing away in some lonely cottage, nay, in some cold barn or shed, or at the wayside, unknown, uncared for? Somewhere between Philadelphia and Hagerstown, if not at the latter town, he must be, at any rate. I must sweep the hundred and eighty miles between these places as one would sweep a chamber where a precious pearl had been dropped. I must have a companion in my search, partly to help me look about, and partly because I was getting nervous and felt lonely. Charley said he would go with me,--Charley, my Captain's beloved friend, gentle, but full of spirit and liveliness, cultivated, social, affectionate, a good talker, a most agreeable letter-writer, observing, with large relish of life, and keen sense of humor. He was not well enough to go, some of the timid ones said; but he answered by packing his carpet-bag, and in an hour or two we were on the Pennsylvania Central Railroad in full blast for Harrisburg.
I should have been a forlorn creature but for the presence of my companion. In his delightful company I half forgot my anxieties, which, exaggerated as they may seem now, were not unnatural after what I had seen of the confusion and distress that had followed the great battle, nay, which seem almost justified by the recent statement that "high officers" were buried after that battle whose names were never ascertained. I noticed little matters, as usual. The road was filled in between the rails with cracked stones, such as are used for macadamizing streets. They keep the dust down, I suppose, for I could not think of any other use for them. By and by the glorious valley which stretches along through Chester and Lancaster Counties opened upon us. Much as I had heard of the fertile regions of Pennsylvania, the vast scale and the uniform luxuriance of this region astonished me. The grazing pastures were so green, the fields were under such perfect culture, the cattle looked so sleek, the houses were so comfortable, the barns so ample, the fences so well kept, that I did not wonder, when I was told that this region was called the England of Pennsylvania. The people whom we saw were, like the cattle, well nourished; the young women looked round and wholesome.
"Grass makes girls." I said to my companion, and left him to work out my Orphic saying, thinking to myself, that as guano makes grass, it was a legitimate conclusion that Ichaboe must be a nursery of female loveliness.
As the train stopped at the different stations, I inquired at each if they had any wounded officers. None as yet; the red rays of the battle-field had not streamed off so far as this. Evening found us in the cars; they lighted candles in spring-candle-sticks; odd enough I thought it in the land of oil-wells and unmeasured floods of kerosene. Some fellows turned up the back of a seat so as to make it horizontal, and began gambling, or pretending to gamble; it looked as if they were trying to pluck a young countryman; but appearances are deceptive, and no deeper stake than "drinks for the crowd" seemed at last to be involved. But remembering that murder has tried of late years to establish itself as an institution in the cars, I was less tolerant of the doings of these "sportsmen" who tried to turn our public conveyance into a travelling Frascati. They acted as if they were used to it, and nobody seemed to pay much attention to their manoeuvres.
We arrived at Harrisburg in the course of the evening, and attempted to find our way to the Jones House, to which we had been commended. By some mistake, intentional on the part of somebody, as it may have been, or purely accidental, we went to the Herr House instead. I entered my name in the book, with that of my companion. A plain, middle-aged man stepped up, read it to himself in low tones, and coupled to it a literary title by which I have been sometimes known. He proved to be a graduate of Brown University, and had heard a certain Phi Beta Kappa poem delivered there a good many years ago. I remembered it, too; Professor Goddard, whose sudden and singular death left such lasting regret, was the Orator. I recollect that while I was speaking a drum went by the church, and how I was disgusted to see all the heads near the windows thrust out of them, as if the building were on fire. Cedat armis toga. The clerk in the office, a mild, pensive, unassuming young man, was very polite in his manners, and did all he could to make us comfortable. He was of a literary turn, and knew one of his guests in his character of author. At tea, a mild old gentleman, with white hair and beard, sat next us. He, too, had come hunting after his son, a lieutenant in a Pennsylvania regiment. Of these, father and son, more presently.
After tea we went to look up Dr. Wilson, chief medical officer of the hospitals in the place, who was staying at the Brady House. A magnificent old toddy-mixer, Bardolphian in hue, and stern of aspect, as all grog-dispensers must be, accustomed as they are to dive through the features of men to the bottom of their souls and pockets to see whether they are solvent to the amount of sixpence, answered my question by a wave of one hand, the other being engaged in carrying a dram to his lips. His superb indifference gratified my artistic feeling more than it wounded my personal sensibilities. Anything really superior in its line claims my homage, and this man was the ideal bartender, above all vulgar passions, untouched by commonplace sympathies, himself a lover of the liquid happiness he dispenses, and filled with a fine scorn of all those lesser felicities conferred by love or fame or wealth or any of the roundabout agencies for which his fiery elixir is the cheap, all-powerful substitute.
Dr. Wilson was in bed, though it was early in the evening, not having slept for I don't know how many nights.
"Take my card up to him, if you please."
"This way, sir."
A man who has not slept for a fortnight or so is not expected to be as affable, when attacked in his bed, as a French Princess of old time at her morning receptions. Dr. Wilson turned toward me, as I entered, without effusion, but without rudeness. His thick, dark moustache was chopped off square at the lower edge of the upper lip, which implied a decisive, if not a peremptory, style of character.
I am Dr. So-and-So of Hubtown, looking after my wounded son. (I gave my name and said Boston, of course, in reality.)
Dr. Wilson leaned on his elbow and looked up in my face, his features growing cordial. Then he put out his hand, and good-humoredly excused his reception of me. The day before, as he told me, he had dismissed from the service a medical man hailing from ******, Pennsylvania, bearing my last name, preceded by the same two initials; and he supposed, when my card came up, it was this individual who was disturbing his slumbers. The coincidence was so unlikely a priori, unless some forlorn parent without antecedents had named, a child after me, that I could not help cross-questioning the Doctor, who assured me deliberately that the fact was just as he had said, even to the somewhat unusual initials. Dr. Wilson very kindly furnished me all the information in his power, gave me directions for telegraphing to Chambersburg, and showed every disposition to serve me.
On returning to the Herr House, we found the mild, white-haired old gentleman in a very happy state. He had just discovered his son, in a comfortable condition, at the United States Hotel. He thought that he could probably give us some information which would prove interesting. To the United States Hotel we repaired, then, in company with our kind-hearted old friend, who evidently wanted to see me as happy as himself. He went up-stairs to his son's chamber, and presently came down to conduct us there.
Lieutenant P________, of the Pennsylvania __th, was a very fresh, bright-looking young man, lying in bed from the effects of a recent injury received in action. A grape-shot, after passing through a post and a board, had struck him in the hip, bruising, but not penetrating or breaking. He had good news for me.
That very afternoon, a party of wounded officers had passed through Harrisburg, going East. He had conversed in the bar-room of this hotel with one of them, who was wounded about the shoulder (it might be the lower part of the neck), and had his arm in a sling. He belonged to the Twentieth Massachusetts; the Lieutenant saw that he was a Captain, by the two bars on his shoulder-strap. His name was my family-name; he was tall and youthful, like my Captain. At four o'clock he left in the train for Philadelphia. Closely questioned, the Lieutenant's evidence was as round, complete, and lucid as a Japanese sphere of rock-crystal.
TE DEUM LAUDAMUS! The Lord's name be praised! The dead pain in the semilunar ganglion (which I must remind my reader is a kind of stupid, unreasoning brain, beneath the pit of the stomach, common to man and beast, which aches in the supreme moments of life, as when the dam loses her young ones, or the wild horse is lassoed) stopped short. There was a feeling as if I had slipped off a tight boot, or cut a strangling garter,--only it was all over my system. What more could I ask to assure me of the Captain's safety? As soon as the telegraph office opens tomorrow morning we will send a message to our friends in Philadelphia, and get a reply, doubtless, which will settle the whole matter.
The hopeful morrow dawned at last, and the message was sent accordingly. In due time, the following reply was received: "Phil Sept 24 I think the report you have heard that W [the Captain] has gone East must be an error we have not seen or heard of him here M L H."
DE PROFUNDIS CLAMAVI! He could not have passed through Philadelphia without visiting the house called Beautiful, where he had been so tenderly cared for after his wound at Ball's Bluff, and where those whom he loved were lying in grave peril of life or limb. Yet he did pass through Harrisburg, going East, going to Philadelphia, on his way home. Ah, this is it! He must have taken the late night-train from Philadelphia for New York, in his impatience to reach home. There is such a train, not down in the guide-book, but we were assured of the fact at the Harrisburg depot. By and by came the reply from Dr. Wilson's telegraphic message: nothing had been heard of the Captain at Chambersburg. Still later, another message came from our Philadelphia friend, saying that he was seen on Friday last at the house of Mrs. K_______, a well-known Union lady in Hagerstown. Now this could not be true, for he did not leave Keedysville until Saturday; but the name of the lady furnished a clew by which we could probably track him. A telegram was at once sent to Mrs. K_______, asking information. It was transmitted immediately, but when the answer would be received was uncertain, as the Government almost monopolized the line. I was, on the whole, so well satisfied that the Captain had gone East, that, unless something were heard to the contrary, I proposed following him in the late train leaving a little after midnight for Philadelphia.
This same morning we visited several of the temporary hospitals, churches and school-houses, where the wounded were lying. In one of these, after looking round as usual, I asked aloud, "Any Massachusetts men here?" Two bright faces lifted themselves from their pillows and welcomed me by name. The one nearest me was private John B. Noyes of Company B, Massachusetts Thirteenth, son of my old college class-tutor, now the reverend and learned Professor of Hebrew, etc., in Harvard University. His neighbor was Corporal Armstrong of the same Company. Both were slightly wounded, doing well. I learned then and since from Mr. Noyes that they and their comrades were completely overwhelmed by the attentions of the good people of Harrisburg,--that the ladies brought them fruits and flowers, and smiles, better than either,--and that the little boys of the place were almost fighting for the privilege of doing their errands. I am afraid there will be a good many hearts pierced in this war that will have no bulletmark to show.
There were some heavy hours to get rid of, and we thought a visit to Camp Curtin might lighten some of them. A rickety wagon carried us to the camp, in company with a young woman from Troy, who had a basket of good things with her for a sick brother. "Poor boy! he will be sure to die," she said. The rustic sentries uncrossed their muskets and let us in. The camp was on a fair plain, girdled with hills, spacious, well kept apparently, but did not present any peculiar attraction for us. The visit would have been a dull one, had we not happened to get sight of a singular-looking set of human beings in the distance. They were clad in stuff of different hues, gray and brown being the leading shades, but both subdued by a neutral tint, such as is wont to harmonize the variegated apparel of travel-stained vagabonds. They looked slouchy, listless, torpid,--an ill-conditioned crew, at first sight, made up of such fellows as an old woman would drive away from her hen-roost with a broomstick. Yet these were estrays from the fiery army which has given our generals so much trouble,--"Secesh prisoners," as a bystander told us. A talk with them might be profitable and entertaining. But they were tabooed to the common visitor, and it was necessary to get inside of the line which separated us from them.
A solid, square captain was standing near by, to whom we were referred. Look a man calmly through the very centre of his pupils and ask him for anything with a tone implying entire conviction that he will grant it, and he will very commonly consent to the thing asked, were it to commit hari-kari. The Captain acceded to my postulate, and accepted my friend as a corollary. As one string of my own ancestors was of Batavian origin, I may be permitted to say that my new friend was of the Dutch type, like the Amsterdam galiots, broad in the beam, capacious in the hold, and calculated to carry a heavy cargo rather than to make fast time. He must have been in politics at some time or other, for he made orations to all the "Secesh," in which he explained to them that the United States considered and treated them like children, and enforced upon them the ridiculous impossibility of the Rebels attempting to do anything against such a power as that of the National Government.
Much as his discourse edified them and enlightened me, it interfered somewhat with my little plans of entering into frank and friendly talk with some of these poor fellows, for whom I could not help feeling a kind of human sympathy, though I am as venomous a hater of the Rebellion as one is like to find under the stars and stripes. It is fair to take a man prisoner. It is fair to make speeches to a man. But to take a man prisoner and then make speeches to him while in durance is not fair.
I began a few pleasant conversations, which would have come to something but for the reason assigned.
One old fellow had a long beard, a drooping eyelid, and a black clay pipe in his mouth. He was a Scotchman from Ayr, dour enough, and little disposed to be communicative, though I tried him with the "Twa Briggs," and, like all Scotchmen, he was a reader of "Burrns." He professed to feel no interest in the cause for which he was fighting, and was in the army, I judged, only from compulsion. There was a wild-haired, unsoaped boy, with pretty, foolish features enough, who looked as if he might be about seventeen, as he said he was. I give my questions and his answers literally.
"What State do you come from?"
"What part of Georgia?"
--[How odd that is! My father was settled for seven years as pastor over the church at Midway, Georgia, and this youth is very probably a grandson or great grandson of one of his parishioners.]
"Where did you go to church when you were at home?"
"Never went inside 'f a church b't once in m' life."
"What did you do before you became a soldier?"
"What do you mean to do when you get back?"
Who could have any other feeling than pity for this poor human weed, this dwarfed and etiolated soul, doomed by neglect to an existence but one degree above that of the idiot?
With the group was a lieutenant, buttoned close in his gray coat,--one button gone, perhaps to make a breastpin for some fair traitorous bosom. A short, stocky man, undistinguishable from one of the "subject race" by any obvious meanderings of the sangre azul on his exposed surfaces. He did not say much, possibly because he was convinced by the statements and arguments of the Dutch captain. He had on strong, iron-heeled shoes, of English make, which he said cost him seventeen dollars in Richmond.
I put the question, in a quiet, friendly way, to several of the prisoners, what they were fighting for. One answered, "For our homes." Two or three others said they did not know, and manifested great indifference to the whole matter, at which another of their number, a sturdy fellow, took offence, and muttered opinions strongly derogatory to those who would not stand up for the cause they had been fighting for. A feeble; attenuated old man, who wore the Rebel uniform, if such it could be called, stood by without showing any sign of intelligence. It was cutting very close to the bone to carve such a shred of humanity from the body politic to make a soldier of.
We were just leaving, when a face attracted me, and I stopped the party. "That is the true Southern type," I said to my companion. A young fellow, a little over twenty, rather tall, slight, with a perfectly smooth, boyish cheek, delicate, somewhat high features, and a fine, almost feminine mouth, stood at the opening of his tent, and as we turned towards him fidgeted a little nervously with one hand at the loose canvas, while he seemed at the same time not unwilling to talk. He was from Mississippi, he said, had been at Georgetown College, and was so far imbued with letters that even the name of the literary humility before him was not new to his ears. Of course I found it easy to come into magnetic relation with him, and to ask him without incivility what he was fighting for. "Because I like the excitement of it," he answered. I know those fighters with women's mouths and boys' cheeks. One such from the circle of my own friends, sixteen years old, slipped away from his nursery, and dashed in under, an assumed name among the red-legged Zouaves, in whose company he got an ornamental bullet-mark in one of the earliest conflicts of the war.
"Did you ever see a genuine Yankee?" said my Philadelphia friend to the young Mississippian.
"I have shot at a good many of them," he replied, modestly, his woman's mouth stirring a little, with a pleasant, dangerous smile.
The Dutch captain here put his foot into the conversation, as his ancestors used to put theirs into the scale, when they were buying furs of the Indians by weight,--so much for the weight of a hand, so much for the weight of a foot. It deranged the balance of our intercourse; there was no use in throwing a fly where a paving-stone had just splashed into the water, and I nodded a good-by to the boy-fighter, thinking how much pleasanter it was for my friend the Captain to address him with unanswerable arguments and crushing statements in his own tent than it would be to meet him upon some remote picket station and offer his fair proportions to the quick eye of a youngster who would draw a bead on him before he had time to say dunder and blixum.
We drove back to the town. No message. After dinner still no message. Dr. Cuyler, Chief Army Hospital Inspector, is in town, they say. Let us hunt him up,--perhaps he can help us.
We found him at the Jones House. A gentleman of large proportions, but of lively temperament, his frame knit in the North, I think, but ripened in Georgia, incisive, prompt but good-humored, wearing his broad-brimmed, steeple-crowned felt hat with the least possible tilt on one side,--a sure sign of exuberant vitality in a mature and dignified person like him, business-like in his ways, and not to be interrupted while occupied with another, but giving himself up heartily to the claimant who held him for the time. He was so genial, so cordial, so encouraging, that it seemed as if the clouds, which had been thick all the morning, broke away as we came into his presence, and the sunshine of his large nature filled the air all around us. He took the matter in hand at once, as if it were his own private affair. In ten minutes he had a second telegraphic message on its way to Mrs. K at Hagerstown, sent through the Government channel from the State Capitol,--one so direct and urgent that I should be sure of an answer to it, whatever became of the one I had sent in the morning.
While this was going on, we hired a dilapidated barouche, driven by an odd young native, neither boy nor man, "as a codling when 't is almost an apple," who said wery for very, simple and sincere, who smiled faintly at our pleasantries, always with a certain reserve of suspicion, and a gleam of the shrewdness that all men get who live in the atmosphere of horses. He drove us round by the Capitol grounds, white with tents, which were disgraced in my eyes by unsoldierly scrawls in huge letters, thus: THE SEVEN BLOOMSBURY BROTHERS, DEVIL'S HOLE, and similar inscriptions. Then to the Beacon Street of Harrisburg, which looks upon the Susquehanna instead of the Common, and shows a long front of handsome houses with fair gardens. The river is pretty nearly a mile across here, but very shallow now. The codling told us that a Rebel spy had been caught trying its fords a little while ago, and was now at Camp Curtin with a heavy ball chained to his leg,--a popular story, but a lie, Dr. Wilson said. A little farther along we came to the barkless stump of the tree to which Mr. Harris, the Cecrops of the city named after him, was tied by the Indians for some unpleasant operation of scalping or roasting, when he was rescued by friendly savages, who paddled across the stream to save him. Our youngling pointed out a very respectable-looking stone house as having been "built by the Indians" about those times. Guides have queer notions occasionally.
I was at Niagara just when Dr. Rae arrived there with his companions and dogs and things from his Arctic search after the lost navigator.
"Who are those?" I said to my conductor.
"Them?" he answered. "Them's the men that's been out West, out to Michig'n, aft' Sir Ben Franklin."
Of the other sights of Harrisburg the Brant House or Hotel, or whatever it is called, seems most worth notice. Its facade is imposing, with a row of stately columns, high above which a broad sign impends, like a crag over the brow of a lofty precipice. The lower floor only appeared to be open to the public. Its tessellated pavement and ample courts suggested the idea of a temple where great multitudes might kneel uncrowded at their devotions; but from appearances about the place where the altar should be, I judged, that, if one asked the officiating priest for the cup which cheers and likewise inebriates, his prayer would not be unanswered. The edifice recalled to me a similar phenomenon I had once looked upon,--the famous Caffe Pedrocchi at Padua. It was the same thing in Italy and America: a rich man builds himself a mausoleum, and calls it a place of entertainment. The fragrance of innumerable libations and the smoke of incense-breathing cigars and pipes shall ascend day and night through the arches of his funereal monument. What are the poor dips which flare and flicker on the crowns of spikes that stand at the corners of St. Genevieve's filigree-cased sarcophagus to this perpetual offering of sacrifice?
Ten o'clock in the evening was approaching. The telegraph office would presently close, and as yet there were no tidings from Hagerstown. Let us step over and see for ourselves. A message! A message!
"Captain H. still here leaves seven to-morrow for Harrisburg Penna Is doing well Mrs HK--."
A note from Dr. Cuyler to the same effect came soon afterwards to the hotel.
We shall sleep well to-night; but let us sit awhile with nubiferous, or, if we may coin a word, nepheligenous accompaniment, such as shall gently narcotize the over-wearied brain and fold its convolutions for slumber like the leaves of a lily at nightfall. For now the over-tense nerves are all unstraining themselves, and a buzz, like that which comes over one who stops after being long jolted upon an uneasy pavement, makes the whole frame alive with a luxurious languid sense of all its inmost fibres. Our cheerfulness ran over, and the mild, pensive clerk was so magnetized by it that he came and sat down with us. He presently confided to me, with infinite naivete and ingenuousness, that, judging from my personal appearance, he should not have thought me the writer that he in his generosity reckoned me to be. His conception, so far as I could reach it, involved a huge, uplifted forehead, embossed with protuberant organs of the intellectual faculties, such as all writers are supposed to possess in abounding measure. While I fell short of his ideal in this respect, he was pleased to say that he found me by no means the remote and inaccessible personage he had imagined, and that I had nothing of the dandy about me, which last compliment I had a modest consciousness of most abundantly deserving.
Sweet slumbers brought us to the morning of Thursday. The train from Hagerstown was due at 11.15 A. M: We took another ride behind the codling, who showed us the sights of yesterday over again. Being in a gracious mood of mind, I enlarged on the varying aspects of the town-pumps and other striking objects which we had once inspected, as seen by the different lights of evening and morning. After this, we visited the school-house hospital. A fine young fellow, whose arm had been shattered, was just falling into the spasms of lock-jaw. The beads of sweat stood large and round on his flushed and contracted features. He was under the effect of opiates,--why not (if his case was desperate, as it seemed to be considered) stop his sufferings with chloroform? It was suggested that it might shorten life. "What then?" I said. "Are a dozen additional spasms worth living for?"
The time approached for the train to arrive from Hagerstown, and we went to the station. I was struck, while waiting there, with what seemed to me a great want of care for the safety of the people standing round. Just after my companion and myself had stepped off the track, I noticed a car coming quietly along at a walk, as one may say, without engine, without visible conductor, without any person heralding its approach, so silently, so insidiously, that I could not help thinking how very near it came to flattening out me and my match-box worse than the Ravel pantomimist and his snuff-box were flattened out in the play. The train was late,--fifteen minutes, half an hour late, and I began to get nervous, lest something had happened. While I was looking for it, out started a freight-train, as if on purpose to meet the cars I was expecting, for a grand smash-up. I shivered at the thought, and asked an employee of the road, with whom I had formed an acquaintance a few minutes old, why there should not be a collision of the expected train with this which was just going out. He smiled an official smile, and answered that they arranged to prevent that, or words to that effect.
Twenty-four hours had not passed from that moment when a collision did occur, just out of the city, where I feared it, by which at least eleven persons were killed, and from forty to sixty more were maimed and crippled!
To-day there was the delay spoken of, but nothing worse. The expected train came in so quietly that I was almost startled to see it on the track. Let us walk calmly through the cars, and look around us.
In the first car, on the fourth seat to the right, I saw my Captain; there saw I him, even my first-born, whom I had sought through many cities.
"How are you, Boy?"
"How are you, Dad?"
Such are the proprieties of life, as they are observed among us Anglo-Saxons of the nineteenth century, decently disguising those natural impulses that made Joseph, the Prime Minister of Egypt, weep aloud so that the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard, nay, which had once overcome his shaggy old uncle Esau so entirely that he fell on his brother's neck and cried like a baby in the presence of all the women. But the hidden cisterns of the soul may be filling fast with sweet tears, while the windows through which it looks are undimmed by a drop or a film of moisture.
These are times in which we cannot live solely for selfish joys or griefs. I had not let fall the hand I held, when a sad, calm voice addressed me by name. I fear that at the moment I was too much absorbed in my own feelings; for certainly at any other time. I should have yielded myself without stint to the sympathy which this meeting might well call forth.
"You remember my son, Cortland Saunders, whom I brought to see you once in Boston?"
"I do remember him well."
"He was killed on Monday, at Shepherdstown. I am carrying his body back with me on this train. He was my only child. If you could come to my house,--I can hardly call it my home now,--it would be a pleasure to me."
This young man, belonging in Philadelphia, was the author of a "New System of Latin Paradigms," a work showing extraordinary scholarship and capacity. It was this book which first made me acquainted with him, and I kept him in my memory, for there was genius in the youth. Some time afterwards he came to me with a modest request to be introduced to President Felton, and one or two others, who would aid him in a course of independent study he was proposing to himself. I was most happy to smooth the way for him, and he came repeatedly after this to see me and express his satisfaction in the opportunities for study he enjoyed at Cambridge. He was a dark, still, slender person, always with a trance-like remoteness, a mystic dreaminess of manner, such as I never saw in any other youth. Whether he heard with difficulty, or whether his mind reacted slowly on an alien thought, I could not say; but his answer would often be behind time, and then a vague, sweet smile, or a few words spoken under his breath, as if he had been trained in sick men's chambers. For such a young man, seemingly destined for the inner life of contemplation, to be a soldier seemed almost unnatural. Yet he spoke to me of his intention to offer himself to his country, and his blood must now be reckoned among the precious sacrifices which will make her soil sacred forever. Had he lived, I doubt not that he would have redeemed the rare promise of his earlier years. He has done better, for he has died that unborn generations may attain the hopes held out to our nation and to mankind.
So, then, I had been within ten miles of the place where my wounded soldier was lying, and then calmly turned my back upon him to come once more round by a journey of three or four hundred miles to the same region I had left! No mysterious attraction warned me that the heart warm with the same blood as mine was throbbing so near my own. I thought of that lovely, tender passage where Gabriel glides unconsciously by Evangeline upon the great river. Ah, me! if that railroad crash had been a few hours earlier, we two should never have met again, after coming so close to each other!
The source of my repeated disappointments was soon made clear enough. The Captain had gone to Hagerstown, intending to take the cars at once for Philadelphia, as his three friends actually did, and as I took it for granted he certainly would. But as he walked languidly along, some ladies saw him across the street, and seeing, were moved with pity, and pitying, spoke such soft words that he was tempted to accept their invitation and rest awhile beneath their hospitable roof. The mansion was old, as the dwellings of gentlefolks should be; the ladies were some of them young, and all were full of kindness; there were gentle cares, and unasked luxuries, and pleasant talk, and music-sprinklings from the piano, with a sweet voice to keep them company,--and all this after the swamps of the Chickahominy, the mud and flies of Harrison's Landing, the dragging marches, the desperate battles, the fretting wound, the jolting ambulance, the log-house, and the rickety milk--cart! Thanks, uncounted thanks to the angelic ladies whose charming attentions detained him from Saturday to Thursday, to his great advantage and my infinite bewilderment! As for his wound, how could it do otherwise than well under such hands? The bullet had gone smoothly through, dodging everything but a few nervous branches, which would come right in time and leave him as well as ever.
At ten that evening we were in Philadelphia, the Captain at the house of the friends so often referred to, and I the guest of Charley, my kind companion. The Quaker element gives an irresistible attraction to these benignant Philadelphia households. Many things reminded me that I was no longer in the land of the Pilgrims. On the table were Kool Slaa and Schmeer Kase, but the good grandmother who dispensed with such quiet, simple grace these and more familiar delicacies was literally ignorant of Baked Beans, and asked if it was the Lima bean which was employed in that marvellous dish of animalized leguminous farina!
Charley was pleased with my comparing the face of the small Ethiop known to his household as "Tines" to a huckleberry with features. He also approved my parallel between a certain German blonde young maiden whom we passed in the street and the "Morris White" peach. But he was so good-humored at times, that, if one scratched a lucifer, he accepted it as an illumination.
A day in Philadelphia left a very agreeable impression of the outside of that great city, which has endeared itself so much of late to all the country by its most noble and generous care of our soldiers. Measured by its sovereign hotel, the Continental, it would stand at the head of our economic civilization. It provides for the comforts and conveniences, and many of the elegances of life, more satisfactorily than any American city, perhaps than any other city anywhere. Many of its characteristics are accounted for to some extent by its geographical position. It is the great neutral centre of the Continent, where the fiery enthusiasms of the South and the keen fanaticisms of the North meet at their outer limits, and result in a compound which neither turns litmus red nor turmeric brown. It lives largely on its traditions, of which, leaving out Franklin and Independence Hall, the most imposing must be considered its famous water-works. In my younger days I visited Fairmount, and it was with a pious reverence that I renewed my pilgrimage to that perennial fountain. Its watery ventricles were throbbing with the same systole and diastole as when, the blood of twenty years bounding in my own heart, I looked upon their giant mechanism. But in the place of "Pratt's Garden" was an open park, and the old house where Robert Morris held his court in a former generation was changing to a public restaurant. A suspension bridge cobwebbed itself across the Schuylkill where that audacious arch used to leap the river at a single bound,--an arch of greater span, as they loved to tell us, than was ever before constructed. The Upper Ferry Bridge was to the Schuylkill what the Colossus was to the harbor of Rhodes. It had an air of dash about it which went far towards redeeming the dead level of respectable average which flattens the physiognomy of the rectangular city. Philadelphia will never be herself again until another Robert Mills and another Lewis Wernwag have shaped her a new palladium. She must leap the Schuylkill again, or old men will sadly shake their heads, like the Jews at the sight of the second temple, remembering the glories of that which it replaced.
There are times when Ethiopian minstrelsy can amuse, if it does not charm, a weary soul, and such a vacant hour there was on this same Friday evening. The "opera-house" was spacious and admirably ventilated. As I was listening to the merriment of the sooty buffoons, I happened to cast my eyes up to the ceiling, and through an open semicircular window a bright solitary star looked me calmly in the eyes. It was a strange intrusion of the vast eternities beckoning from the infinite spaces. I called the attention of one of my neighbors to it, but "Bones" was irresistibly droll, and Arcturus, or Aldebaran, or whatever the blazing luminary may have been, with all his revolving worlds, sailed uncared-for down the firmament.
On Saturday morning we took up our line of march for New York. Mr. Felton, President of the Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore Railroad, had already called upon me, with a benevolent and sagacious look on his face which implied that he knew how to do me a service and meant to do it. Sure enough, when we got to the depot, we found a couch spread for the Captain, and both of us were passed on to New York with no visits, but those of civility, from the conductor. The best thing I saw on the route was a rustic fence, near Elizabethtown, I think, but I am not quite sure. There was more genius in it than in any structure of the kind I have ever seen,--each length being of a special pattern, ramified, reticulated, contorted, as the limbs of the trees had grown. I trust some friend will photograph or stereograph this fence for me, to go with the view of the spires of Frederick, already referred to, as mementos of my journey.
I had come to feeling that I knew most of the respectably dressed people whom I met in the cars, and had been in contact with them at some time or other. Three or four ladies and gentlemen were near us, forming a group by themselves. Presently one addressed me by name, and, on inquiry, I found him to be the gentleman who was with me in the pulpit as Orator on the occasion of another Phi Beta Kappa poem, one delivered at New Haven. The party were very courteous and friendly, and contributed in various ways to our comfort.
It sometimes seems to me as if there were only about a thousand people in the world, who keep going round and round behind the scenes and then before them, like the "army" in a beggarly stage-show. Suppose that I should really wish; some time or other, to get away from this everlasting circle of revolving supernumeraries, where should I buy a ticket the like of which was not in some of their pockets, or find a seat to which some one of them was not a neighbor.
A little less than a year before, after the Ball's Bluff accident, the Captain, then the Lieutenant, and myself had reposed for a night on our homeward journey at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where we were lodged on the ground-floor, and fared sumptuously. We were not so peculiarly fortunate this time, the house being really very full. Farther from the flowers and nearer to the stars,--to reach the neighborhood of which last the per ardua of three or four flights of stairs was formidable for any mortal, wounded or well.
The "vertical railway" settled that for us, however. It is a giant corkscrew forever pulling a mammoth cork, which, by some divine judgment, is no sooner drawn than it is replaced in its position. This ascending and descending stopper is hollow, carpeted, with cushioned seats, and is watched over by two condemned souls, called conductors, one of whom is said to be named Igion, and the other Sisyphus.
I love New York, because, as in Paris, everybody that lives in it feels that it is his property,--at least, as much as it is anybody's. My Broadway, in particular, I love almost as I used to love my Boulevards. I went, therefore, with peculiar interest, on the day that we rested at our grand hotel, to visit some new pleasure-grounds the citizens had been arranging for us, and which I had not yet seen. The Central Park is an expanse of wild country, well crumpled so as to form ridges which will give views and hollows that will hold water. The hips and elbows and other bones of Nature stick out here and there in the shape of rocks which give character to the scenery, and an unchangeable, unpurchasable look to a landscape that without them would have been in danger of being fattened by art and money out of all its native features. The roads were fine, the sheets of water beautiful, the bridges handsome, the swans elegant in their deportment, the grass green and as short as a fast horse's winter coat. I could not learn whether it was kept so by clipping or singeing. I was delighted with my new property,--but it cost me four dollars to get there, so far was it beyond the Pillars of Hercules of the fashionable quarter. What it will be by and by depends on circumstances; but at present it is as much central to New York as Brookline is central to Boston.
The question is not between Mr. Olmsted's admirably arranged, but remote pleasure-ground and our Common, with its batrachian pool, but between his Excentric Park and our finest suburban scenery, between its artificial reservoirs and the broad natural sheet of Jamaica Pond. I say this not invidiously, but in justice to the beauties which surround our own metropolis. To compare the situations of any dwellings in either of the great cities with those which look upon the Common, the Public Garden, the waters of the Back Bay, would be to take an unfair advantage of Fifth Avenue and Walnut Street. St. Botolph's daughter dresses in plainer clothes than her more stately sisters, but she wears an emerald on her right hand and a diamond on her left that Cybele herself need not be ashamed of.
On Monday morning, the twenty-ninth of September, we took the cars for home. Vacant lots, with Irish and pigs; vegetable-gardens; straggling houses; the high bridge; villages, not enchanting; then Stamford: then NORWALK. Here, on the sixth of May, 1853, I passed close on the heels of the great disaster. But that my lids were heavy on that morning, my readers would probably have had no further trouble with me. Two of my friends saw the car in which they rode break in the middle and leave them hanging over the abyss. From Norwalk to Boston, that day's journey of two hundred miles was a long funeral procession.
Bridgeport, waiting for Iranistan to rise from its ashes with all its phoenix-egg domes,--bubbles of wealth that broke, ready to be blown again; iridescent as ever, which is pleasant, for the world likes cheerful Mr. Barnum's success; New Haven, girt with flat marshes that look like monstrous billiard-tables, with hay-cocks lying about for balls,--romantic with West Rock and its legends,--cursed with a detestable depot, whose niggardly arrangements crowd the track so murderously close to the wall that the peine forte et dare must be the frequent penalty of an innocent walk on its platform,--with its neat carriages, metropolitan hotels, precious old college-dormitories, its vistas of elms and its dishevelled weeping-willows; Hartford, substantial, well-bridged, many--steepled city,--every conical spire an extinguisher of some nineteenth-century heresy; so onward, by and across the broad, shallow Connecticut,--dull red road and dark river woven in like warp and woof by the shuttle of the darting engine; then Springfield, the wide-meadowed, well-feeding, horse-loving, hot-summered, giant-treed town,--city among villages, village among cities; Worcester, with its Daedalian labyrinth of crossing railroad-bars, where the snorting Minotaurs, breathing fire and smoke and hot vapors, are stabled in their dens; Framingham, fair cup-bearer, leaf-cinctured Hebe of the deep-bosomed Queen sitting by the seaside on the throne of the Six Nations. And now I begin to know the road, not by towns, but by single dwellings; not by miles, but by rods. The poles of the great magnet that draws in all the iron tracks through the grooves of all the mountains must be near at hand, for here are crossings, and sudden stops, and screams of alarmed engines heard all around. The tall granite obelisk comes into view far away on the left, its bevelled cap-stone sharp against the sky; the lofty chimneys of Charlestown and East Cambridge flaunt their smoky banners up in the thin air; and now one fair bosom of the three-pilled city, with its dome-crowned summit, reveals itself, as when many-breasted Ephesian Artemis appeared with half-open chlamys before her worshippers.
Fling open the window-blinds of the chamber that looks out on the waters and towards the western sun! Let the joyous light shine in upon the pictures that hang upon its walls and the shelves thick-set with the names of poets and philosophers and sacred teachers, in whose pages our boys learn that life is noble only when it is held cheap by the side of honor and of duty. Lay him in his own bed, and let him sleep off his aches and weariness. So comes down another night over this household, unbroken by any messenger of evil tidings,--a night of peaceful rest and grateful thoughts; for this our son and brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found. _