A Visitor from Town
I--we had been hoeing potatoes,
that forenoon, while the rest of the fraternity
were engaged in a distant quarter of the farm--sat
under a clump of maples, eating our eleven o'clock
lunch, when we saw a stranger approaching along
the edge of the field. He had admitted himself
from the road-side, through a turnstile, and
seemed to have a purpose of speaking with us.
And, by-the-by, we were favored with many visits
at Blithedale; especially from people who
sympathized with our theories, and perhaps held
themselves ready to unite in our actual
experiment, as soon as there should appear a
reliable promise of its success. It was rather
ludicrous, indeed, (to me, at least, whose
enthusiasm had insensibly been exhaled, together
with the perspiration of many a hard day's toil,)
it was absolutely funny, therefore, to observe
what a glory was shed about our life and labors,
in the imagination of these longing proselytes.
In their view, we were as poetical as Arcadians,
besides being as practical as the hardest-fisted
husbandmen in Massachusetts. We did not, it is
true, spend much time in piping to our sheep, or
warbling our innocent loves to the sisterhood.
But they gave us credit for imbuing the ordinary
rustic occupations with a kind of religious
poetry, insomuch that our very cow-yards and
pig-sties were as delightfully fragrant as a
flower-garden. Nothing used to please me more
than to see one of these lay enthusiasts snatch up
a hoe, as they were very prone to do, and set to
work with a vigor that perhaps carried him through
about a dozen ill-directed strokes. Men are
wonderfully soon satisfied, in this day of
shameful bodily enervation, when, from one end of
life to the other, such multitudes never taste the
sweet weariness that follows accustomed toil. I
seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow as
flimsy and flaccid as the proselyte's moistened
shirt-collar, with a quarter-of-an-hour's active
labor, under a July sun.
person, now at hand, had not at all the
air of one of these amiable visionaries. He was
an elderly man, dressed rather shabbily, yet
decently enough, in a gray frock-coat, faded
towards a brown hue, and wore a broad-brimmed
white hat, of the fashion of several years gone
by. His hair was perfect silver, without a dark
thread in the whole of it; his nose, though it had
a scarlet tip, by no means indicated the jollity
of which a red nose is the generally admitted
symbol. He was a subdued, undemonstrative old
man, who would doubtless drink a glass of liquor,
now and then, and probably more than was good for
him; not, however, with a purpose of undue
exhilaration, but in the hope of bringing his
spirits up to the ordinary level of the world's
cheerfulness. Drawing nearer, there was a shy
look about him, as if he were ashamed of his
poverty, or, at any rate, for some reason or
other, would rather have us glance at him sidelong
than take a full-front view. He had a queer
appearance of hiding himself behind the patch on
his left eye.
this old gentleman," said I to
Hollingsworth, as we sat observing him--"that is,
I have met him a hundred times, in town, and have
often amused my fancy with wondering what he was,
before he came to be what he is. He haunts
restaurants and such places, and has an odd way of
lurking in corners or getting behind a door,
whenever practicable, and holding out his hand,
with some little article in it, which he wishes
you to buy. The eye of the world seems to trouble
him, although he necessarily lives so much in it.
I never expected to see him in an open field."
learned anything of his history?" asked
circumstance," I answered. "But there must
be something curious in it. I take him to be a
harmless sort of a person, and a tolerably honest
one; but his manners, being so furtive, remind me
of those of a rat--a rat without the mischief, the
fierce eye, the teeth to bite with, or the desire
to bite. See, now! He means to skulk along that
fringe of bushes, and approach us on the other
side of our clump of maples."
heard the old man's velvet tread on the
grass, indicating that he had arrived within a few
feet of where we sat.
Mr. Moodie," said Hollingsworth,
addressing the stranger as an acquaintance. "You
must have had a hot and tiresome walk from the
city. Sit down, and take a morsel of our bread
made a grateful little murmur of
acquiescence, and sat down in a spot somewhat
removed; so that, glancing round, I could see his
gray pantaloons and dusty shoes, while his upper
part was mostly hidden behind the shrubbery. Nor
did he come forth from this retirement during the
whole of the interview that followed. We handed
him such food as we had, together with a brown jug
of molasses-and-water, (would that it had been
brandy, or something better, for the sake of his
chill old heart!) like priests offering dainty
sacrifice to an enshrined and invisible idol. I
have no idea that he really lacked sustenance; but
it was quite touching, nevertheless, to hear him
nibbling away at our crusts.
said I, "do you remember selling me
one of those very pretty little silk purses, of
which you seem to have a monopoly in the market?
I keep it, to this day, I can assure you."
you!" said our guest. "Yes, Mr.
Coverdale, I used to sell a good many of those
languidly, and only those few words, like
a watch with an inelastic spring, that just ticks,
a moment or two, and stops again. He seemed a
very forlorn old man. In the wantonness of youth,
strength, and comfortable condition--making my
prey of people's individualities, as my custom
was--I tried to identify my mind with the old
fellow's, and take his view of the world, as if
looking through a smoke-blackened glass at the
sun. It robbed the landscape of all its life.
Those pleasantly swelling slopes of our farm,
descending towards the wide meadows, through which
sluggishly circled the brimfull tide of the
Charles, bathing the long sedges on its hither and
farther shores; the broad, sunny gleam over the
winding water; that peculiar picturesqueness of
the scene, where capes and headlands put
themselves boldly forth upon the perfect level of
the meadow, as into a green lake, with inlets
between the promontories; the shadowy woodland,
with twinkling showers of light falling into its
depths; the sultry heat-vapor, which rose
everywhere like incense, and in which my soul
delighted, as indicating so rich a fervor in the
passionate day, and in the earth that was burning
with its love:--I beheld all these things as
through old Moodie's eyes. When my eyes are
dimmer than they have yet come to be, I will go
thither again, and see if I did not catch the tone
of his mind aright, and if the cold and lifeless
tint of his perceptions be not then repeated in my
was unaccountable to myself, the interest
that I felt in him.
any objection," said I, "to telling me
who made those little purses?"
often asked me that," said Moodie,
slowly; "but I shake my head, and say little or
nothing, and creep out of the way, as well as I
can. I am a man of few words; and if gentlemen
were to be told one thing, they would be very apt,
I suppose, to ask me another. But it happens,
just now, Mr. Coverdale, that you can tell me
more about the maker of those little purses, than
I can tell you."
you trouble him with needless questions,
Coverdale?" interrupted Hollingsworth. "You must
have known, long ago, that it was Priscilla. And
so, my good friend, you have come to see her?
Well, I am glad of it. You will find her altered
very much for the better, since that winter
evening when you put her into my charge. Why,
Priscilla has a bloom in her cheeks, now!"
pale little girl a bloom?" repeated
Moodie, with a kind of slow wonder. "Priscilla
with a bloom in her cheeks! Ah, I am afraid I
shall not know my little girl. And is she happy?"
happy as a bird," answered Hollingsworth.
said our guest, apprehensively,
"I don't think it well for me to go any further.
I crept hitherward only to ask about Priscilla;
and now that you have told me such good news,
perhaps I can do no better than to creep back
again. If she were to see this old face of mine,
the child would remember some very sad times which
we have spent together. Some very sad times
indeed! She has forgotten them, I know--them and
me--else she could not be so happy, nor have a
bloom in her cheeks. Yes--yes--yes," continued
he, still with the same torpid utterance; "with
many thanks to you, Mr. Hollingsworth, I will
creep back to town again."
do no such thing, Mr. Moodie!" said
Hollingsworth, bluffly. "Priscilla often speaks
of you; and if there lacks anything to make her
cheeks bloom like two damask roses, I'll venture
to say, it is just the sight of your face. Come;
we will go and find her."
said the old man, in his
been any call for Priscilla?" asked
Moodier and though his face was hidden from us,
his tone gave a sure indication of the mysterious
nod and wink with which he put the question. "You
know, I think, sir, what I mean."
not the remotest suspicion what you mean,
Mr. Moodie," replied Hollingsworth. "Nobody, to
my knowledge, has called for Priscilla, except
yourself. But, come; we are losing time, and I
have several things to say to you, by the way."
Hollingsworth!" repeated Moodie.
cried my friend, rather
impatiently. "What now?"
a lady here," said the old man; and his
voice lost some of its wearisome hesitation. "You
will account it a very strange matter for me to
talk about; but I chanced to know this lady, when
she was but a little child. If I am rightly
informed, she has grown to be a very fine woman,
and makes a brilliant figure in the world, with
her beauty, and her talents, and her noble way of
spending her riches. I should recognize this
lady, so people tell me, by a magnificent flower
in her hair!"
rich tinge it gives to his colorless
ideas, when he speaks of Zenobia!" I whispered to
Hollingsworth. "But how can there possibly be any
interest or connecting link between him and her?"
man, for years past," whispered
Hollingsworth, "has been a little out of his right
mind, as you probably see."
would inquire," resumed Moodie, "is,
whether this beautiful lady is kind to my poor
love her?" asked Moodie.
seem so," answered my friend. "They
are always together."
gentlewoman and her maid servant, I
fancy?" suggested the old man.
something so singular in his way of
saying this, that I could not resist the impulse
to turn quite round, so as to catch a glimpse of
his face; almost imagining that I should see
another person than old Moodie. But there he sat,
with the patched side of his face towards me.
elder and younger sister, rather,"
Moodie, more complacently--for his
latter tones had harshness and acidity in
them--"it would gladden my old heart to witness
that. If one thing would make me happier than
another, Mr. Hollingsworth, it would be, to see
that beautiful lady holding my little girl by the
said Hollingsworth, "and perhaps you
little more delay on the part of our
freakish visitor, they set forth together; old
Moodie keeping a step or two behind Hollingsworth,
so that the latter could not very conveniently
look him in the face. I remained under the tuft
of maples, doing my utmost to draw an inference
from the scene that had just passed. In spite of
Hollingsworth's offhand explanation, it did not
strike me that our strange guest was really beside
himself, but only that his mind needed screwing
up, like an instrument long out of tune, the
strings of which have ceased to vibrate smartly
and sharply. Methought it would be profitable for
us, projectors of a happy life, to welcome this
old gray shadow, and cherish him as one of us, and
let him creep about our domain, in order that he
might be a little merrier for our sakes, and we,
sometimes, a little sadder for his. Human
destinies look ominous, without some perceptible
intermixture of the sable or the gray. And then,
too, should any of our fraternity grow feverish
with an over-exulting sense of prosperity, it
would be a sort of cooling regimen to slink off
into the woods, and spend an hour, or a day, or as
many days as might be requisite to the cure, in
uninterrupted communion with this deplorable old
to dinner, I had a glimpse of him
behind the trunk of a tree, gazing earnestly
towards a particular window of the farm-house.
And, by-and-by, Priscilla appeared at this window,
playfully drawing along Zenobia, who looked as
bright as the very day that was blazing down upon
us, only not, by many degrees, so well advanced
towards her noon. I was convinced that this
pretty sight must have been purposely arranged by
Priscilla, for the old man to see. But either the
girl held her too long, or her fondness was
resented as too great a freedom; for Zenobia
suddenly put Priscilla decidedly away, and gave
her a haughty look, as from a mistress to a
dependent. Old Moodie shook his head--and again,
and again, I saw him shake it, as he withdrew
along the road--and, at the last point whence the
farm-house was visible, he turned, and shook his
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