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care to know by what magic all this mischief befell poor Tom Fairfax, turn over the leaf, my story is at your service.
I have already observed that it was a bright warm morning of the month of orations and fire-crackers, when I took a seat in the northern train of cars. After reading the morning papers-a duty which every American holds sacred as the Turk his morning salaam to Mecca-I began to look about me, in that agreeable mood which the prospect of a fortnight's holiday must always afford a hard-working fellow like myself. The cars were full, crowded, indeed; but there was neither form nor voice familiar to me, in the long double row of passengers. I took a look at the country through the window at my elbow; a succession of swamp views, with a foreground of ditches and wood-piles, varied by an occasional eating-house or some desperate attempt at a Gothic cottage, all this was not particularly interesting. The track was new, and as flat and prosaic as the most utilitarian stockholder need desire. The prospect, such as it was, moreover, was soon shut out by the clouds of dust which, as the dew dried under the hot July sun, soon threatened to stifle us. There was no remedy but closing the blinds, and turning eyes and attention within. I tried reading. The book in my pocket, one of the last and most fiercely puffed of home-made novels, proved contemptibly weak and ridiculous-impossible to read more than half a page of such stuff; having made, in vain, several vigorous plunges after a grain of common sense, I threw the volume out of the window, and, as it chanced to alight in a roadside ditch, VOL. IX.-30
tremendous must have been the excitement produced, by this specimen of modern romance, among the tadpoles! Determined to keep all business thoughts at bay.
an attempt at conversation
with my next neighbor followed; but he was a surly fellow, and would have little to say to
In this state of things there seemed but one resource open to me; I began to scan my fellowpassengers more closely. The prospect, in this respect, was neither better nor worse than what might present itself in any other train of cars. It was commonplace enough, the commonplace, however, of Yankeeland, and the middle of the nineteenth century. There was a fair proportion of worthy-looking folks of different ages and conditions, mingled with a dash of rowdyism, washed and unwashed. Three-fourths of the men, with care-worn faces, were reading newspapers of different shadespolitical and religious. About half the women were overdressed-some of them glaringly so. A goodly number of children were eating candy, and some grown-up persons were zealously cherishing national dyspepsia in the same way. Immediately before me sat a group of lads and lasses--young America in its rustic guise-evidently bound on a frolic. The girls were very fine, the youths very spruce: it was pleasant to see their merry faces, and funny to hear their comments; but I could not help wishing that they were a degree less confiding in the discretion of their neighbors-jokes, love-affairs, familysecrets, were alike shouted out with earpiercing frankness. A poor German emigrant mother and her two chubby girls pleased me, from the broad, goodnatured honesty of their expression, and, ere long, they excited my compassion not a little, when I discovered that all these had fallen into the clutches of the Yankee Mormon in their rear. This last venerable character chanced to share the same bench with a blue
ooated Shaker-the two most opposite extremes to which fanaticism has yet gone among us-being thus thrown cheek-by-jowl into the same car. Further down, too, I discovered another ill-favored growth of the soil, a lusus naturæ, a tragi-comic creature, a Bloomer in full costume.
Half an hour may have passed in this idle review, when suddenly my eye fell on two passengers hitherto unnoticed. Between the giddy heads of the young group of rustics, beyond the Mormon and the Shaker, flanked on one side by the Bloomer, on the other by some very dazzling millinery, I discovered two travelers, who immediately fixed my attention. An elderly man of very re
spectable appearance, somewhat infirm in his bearing, occupied the outer seat, and near the window sat a lady. The faces of both travelers were turned away from me; but there was something in the general appearance of each that produced a most agreeable impression at the first glance, there was something of fitness, quiet self-possession, ease, and dignity in refreshing contrast with their immediate neighbors. A rear view of the human creature may be very strongly marked with individual character-the back has a sort of physiognomy of its own often very frank and truth-telling; even the minute lines and shades of character may frequently be distinctly traced there.
Backs of all kinds are seen passing along the public thoroughfares; some are bold and bullying, others shy and sensitive; one is sturdy and resolute, another timid and wavering; this is honest, that treacherous. One looks sensible, its comrade is painfully silly; here you have conceit transparent through every thread of web and woof, yonder is hypocrisy peering, double-faced, over its own shoulder-blades; here, with his hands behind his back, you have Goodman Positive, there, in a very loose fit, is Neighbor Waverer, who never knows his own mind. Your purse-proud backs are quite numerous, and so, alas! are poverty-stricken backs.
Now, a rearview of the travelers just
alluded to struck me as highly favorable. Thoroughly respectable, sensible, gentlemanly, was the aspect of the old man. The lady by his side was, at first, something of an enigma. A sketch taken from nature, at the moment, would have given a plain straw-hat, a dark veil thrown over it, and a light summer shawl covering the shoulders in easy, careless folds; but there was a neatness, a modesty, a degree of quiet good sense, a simple elegance in these plain materials, that contrasted charmingly with the bold oddity of the Bloomer neighbor on one side, and the glaringly extravagant millinery fluttering in the back-ground. I could not succeed in catching the faintest glimpse of the
lady's face. Several times the gentleman, while conversing with her, turned his head sufficiently for me to have a good three-quarter view of fine elderly features; but in vain I watched for the same good luck with regard to his companion-the envious veil floated between us. The slight character of the materials, however, became only an additional incentive to closer study. We lawyers delight in investigating doubtful points, and I succeeded in persuading myself that it would be an exercise of professional acumen to make out a portrait, mental and physical, of the lady before me, from the few scanty facts the case presented.
Cuvier immortalized himself, on some occasion, by a scientific description, admirable in its completeness and accuracy, of some unknown antediluvian monster of whose frame he possessed but a single bone. Without even the tip of an ear, or the point of a finger to help me, would it be possible to come to sound conclusions as to the nature of a woman who was an entire stranger to me? Were hat, veil, and shawl to do in this case what the claw did for Cuvier and his monster? Not entirely. Hat, veil, and shawl may sometimes prove more than the owner is aware of, even as regards intellectual and moral qualities; but the reader must not forget that, in the present instance, the figure over which this drapery was thrown was no automaton, no mere milliner's doll; there was life in it, there was a brain of some sort within the straw hat, there was a heart, good, bad, or indifferent, beneath the shawland these higher attributes of the human being might reveal themselves, I chose to believe, in what, at the distance that divided us, must prove, however, little more than mute pantomime. In short, the materials were just sufficient to excite all the ingenuity at my command, while they were not too slight for some positive results. That neat straw hat, the simple shawl, so easily worn, the plain veil, were again passed in review, and seen, as before, beyond a maze of very gorgeous millinery, again pleased me: "A woman of good sense and education, clearly!" I mentally exclaimed. Another scrutiny excited my admiration still further; the quiet modesty of her manner, the simple, natural grace of her movements, few and unobtrusive as these were, charmed me. The
respectful attention to the elderly gentleman at her side, whether father, uncle, or guardian, bespoke good-breeding, and good principle, too, according to my interpretation.
The heat was now oppressive, and the lady, making a fruitless attempt to raise one of the unmanageable windows, common in cars, was assisted by the Shaker in her rear; the civil bow of thanks which followed was another proof of good manners. Two dull-looking, unruly, and not overclean children occupied the seat before her, and, turning their snubby faces-which I had not the least desire to see-seemed lost in admiration of their neighbor: "She is probably pretty-must certainly have a good expression-children's instincts are safe in such points," was my mute remark. The same little pests were constantly dropping a gingerbread, or a bit of candy, or a handkerchief on the lady's lap, or at her feet; she kindly restored these different objects several times, but at last I saw a reproving shake of the head, and a warning finger raised, as if to enjoin better behavior: "Amiable, certainly, and yet not without decision when necessary," was my conclusion. Good reader, thou art smiling; so be it. I maintain, at the point of the pen, that, although these minute traits, and others of the same kind, which I spare you, were in themselves each trifling, yet there was a harmony pervading them all, which proved that they flowed from the nature of the individual, and not merely from accident. How much further this mute investigation of character, this interesting car-study, might have carried me that morning, I cannot say; but I fully resolved that, when we reached the next station at G-—, a glimpse of the fair stranger's face must be obtained: "And we shall soon be at G--!" I exclaimed to myself.
But the halt came even sooner than was expected. We never reached the station at G-- Suddenly, in the midst of our swift course, there came a fearful shock, a tremendous crashand the ill-fated journey of that day was at an end. A sound of crashing wood and iron, human shrieks, a stunning blow, acute pain followed by utter insensibility, are my only recollections of the disastrous collision which then took place-the details of which, as I
afterwards learned them, I spare the reader.
Hours passed, during which I lay wholly unconscious. It was late in the morning when I partially recovered my faculties. On opening my eyes, the objects about me seemed all strange, but a vague impression was received that I was in bed, in some barn or outhouse. It was, in fact, one of the shanties, or huts of the Irish laborers, on the road. At first I believed myself alone; but an indistinct view of two figures followed-an elderly man reclining on a bench, and a female figure bending over him.
"Water-cold water!" I feebly exclaimed, with the little strength I could command.
The female figure started, and turned towards me with a movement of surprise.
"He is reviving-give him water, Emily, it cannot possibly injure him," said the person reclining on the bench.
In another moment a cup of fresh water was put to my lips, and a low, compassionate voice aroused my halftorpid attention; "Here is water, sir, cool water, fresh from the spring."
I opened the eyes which debility and pain had again closed, and saw, bending
over me, a face, the sweetness of whose expression produced an impression of pleasure, even at that moment. With some difficulty I swallowed a little of the water; never did anything taste so deliciously. Revived by the draught, I attempted to express my thanks, while I once more looked up inquiringly at the gentle countenance. I had a singular feeling that this kindly assistant was no stranger, and yet I could not recall the face as that of an acquaint ance. Vague and dreamy, at best, was the condition in which I remained for hours, varied by moments of acute suffering, or entire insensibility. I heard voices about me indistinctly, and I had dim visions of figures moving to and fro. More than once that same sweet
face came near; more than once I heard the deep voice of the gentleman stretched on the bench-Irish faces, some kindly, some coarse and uncouth, seemed to come and go; I heard, but scarcely understood, whispered comments on my own condition, and, at length, I had a dim impression of a parting glance from gentle womanly eyes, and a glimpse of a lame old gentleman moving to the door, supported by two rough fellows, and followed by the lady. A surgical examination of my own poor bruised and battered body followed, then came a feeling of being borne into the open air. and moving somewhere on wheels.
The ensuing weeks are nearly a perfect blank. A severe operation was followed by a long illness, which many of
my friends considered hopeless. It is unnecessary to dwell on the details beyond their results. At the end of three months I was once more able to crawl about, supported by crutches, a mere wreck of what I had so lately been. I actually did not know my own face the first time I saw it in a mirror. In fact, I seemed to have undergone a complete metamorphosis, and it needed some time longer to accustom me to the state of things brought about by that fatal collision on the railroad. At length, by steadily looking matters in the face, I began to comprehend clearly my present position, and the future connected with it. To ill health I must accustom myself; the physicians hold out no hope of complete restoration. My profession must be abandoned; the chest, once so sound and strong, was now miserably weak. To loss of fortune I must also make up my mind: the day before the railroad disaster, I had become uneasy as to the condition of a company in which a very considerable portion of my property was invested, and had determined to withdraw my funds immediately, actually resolving in the car, that the letter, with the necessary orders to my agent, should be written that very evening.
But the reader already knows that evening found me in no condition to write; the company failed, half ruining hundreds besides myself. The evil was irretrievable, and I must now consider myself a poor man, compared with what I had been. There was a little place still left me in the country, a cottage and a few acres of land; here I determined to set up my bachelor penates, and with a tolerable library, and my crutch for company, to make the best of matters. "I will turn farmer; I will take to my pen, too; I will write. Farming and writing are just the work best suited to a good-for-nothing fellow like myself -harmless occupations for body and mind. Scanty honors, and still less profit, do they yield to-day. To raise turnips of the best quality, and write tolerable books, let that, Tom Fairfax, of the Stumpery, be thy future aim. If thy turnips are good, they will be eaten, and, perhaps, paid for. But, beware lest thy books be too good-a good book, remember, is neither read nor paid for. Indifferent books may look for a reasonable degree of prosperity, bad books often meet with tremendous success, but your good book—a book of the
highest stamp--such a book, like virtue, must be its own reward, in this our day and country. Luckily for thee, Tom, the indifferent is most likely to be thy vein; proceed, therefore, and take courage, man!"
With such virtuous resolutions I hobbled over the country to my little place at "The Stumpery," and began preparations for the new state of things. Ere my turnip-field had been halfplowed, however, or my first volume half-written, I was compelled to suspend my labors; the lame leg became wholly unmanageable, and some further surgical work was declared necessary. A worthy uncle, who lives in New York, hearing of my hapless condition, came to see me. It seems he found matters worse than he expected--the leg more crooked; the turnip-field more Sparrowgrass; the first volume even more stupid than was desirable.
"Tom, you must have a good surgeon at once. You want society, too. You want a nurse. It is a thousand pities you are not married, my boy."
"My wife that might have been, sir, my missing better-half, is infinitely obliged to you."
"Well, you are welcome to either of my girls if you can persuade one of them to fancy you.".
"Fancy such a specimen of modern civilization as the locomotive has left me, sir! I should be sorry to think there was a woman in the country with such a wretched taste. "
To speak seriously, Tom, that collision has left its mark on you for life, my poor fellow. You know that the trial at is just over."
"I did not know the fact. But I know already how the matter must end
acquitted, of course. No one to blame. Engineers, conductors, the company--the most prudent, and scrupulous of men-fit to be trusted to-morrow with thousands of human lives."
"Yes, all acquitted!" replied my uncle, nodding.
"Of course. That is the way we take care of life and limb in Yankeeland, to say nothing of lesser interests. Was the race clearly proved!"
"Beyond all denial-a race against time, three minutes, and a small bet depending on it."
Well, it is only the thousandth occasion on which the life and happiness of our people have been sacrificed to the