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On the following morning, Kavanagh sat musing upon his worldly affairs, and upon various little household arrangements which it would be necessary for him to make. To aid him in these, he had taken up the village paper, and was running over the columns of advertisements, - those narrow and crowded thoroughfares, in which the wants and wishes of humanity displayed themselves like mendicants without disguise. His eye ran hastily over the advantageous offers of the cheap tailors and the dealers in patent medicines. He wished neither to be clothed nor cured. In one place he saw that a young lady, perfectly competent, desired to form a class of young mothers and nurses, and to instruct them in the art of talking to infants so as to interest and amuse them; and in another, that the firemen of Fairmeadow wished well to those hostile editors who had called them gamblers, drunkards, and rioters, and hoped that they might be spared from that great fire which they were told could never be extinguished ! Finally, his eye rested on the advertisement of a carpet warehouse, in which the one-price system was strictly adhered to. It was further stated that a discount would be made “ to clergymen on small salaries, feeble churches, and charitable institutions.” Thinking that this was doubtless the place for one who united in himself two of these qualifications for a discount, with a smile on his lips, he took his hat and sallied forth into the street.
A few days previous, Kavanagh had discovered in the tower of the church a vacant room, which he had immediately determined to take possession of, and to convert into a study. From this retreat, through the four oval windows, fronting the four corners of the heavens, he could look down upon the streets, the roofs and gardens of the village, - on the winding river, the meadows, the farms, the distant blue mountains. Here he could sit and meditate, in that peculiar sense of seclusion and spiritual elevation, that entire separation from the world below, which a chamber in a tower al
ways gives. Here, uninterrupted and aloof from all intrusion, he could pour his heart into those discourses, with which he hoped to reach and move the hearts of his parishioners.
It was to furnish this retreat, that he went forth on the Monday morning after his first sermon. He was not long in procuring the few things needed, — the carpet, the table, the chairs, the shelves for books; and was returning thoughtfully homeward, when his eye was caught by a sign-board on the corner of the street, inscribed “ Moses Merryweather, Dealer in Singing Birds, foreign and domestic." He saw also a whole chamber-window transformed into a cage, in which sundry canary-birds, and others of a gayer plumage, were jargoning together, like people in the market-places of foreign towns. At the sight of these old favorites, a long slumbering passion awoke within him ; and he straightway ascended the dark wooden staircase, with the intent of enlivening his solitary room with the vivacity and songs of these captive ballad-singers.
In a moment he found himself in a little room hung round with cages, roof and walls; full of sunshine; full of twitterings, cooings, and flutterings; full of downy odors, suggesting nests, and dovecots, and distant islands inhabited only by birds. The taxidermist the Selkirk of the sunny island
was not there; but a young lady of noble mien, who was looking at an English goldfinch in a square cage with a portico, turned upon him, as he entered, a fair and beautiful face, shaded by long light locks, in which the sunshine seemed entangled, as among the boughs of trees. That face he had never seen before, and yet it seemed familiar to him; and the added light in her large, celestial eyes, and the almost imperceptible expression that passed over her face, showed that she knew who he was.
At the same moment the taxidermist presented himself, coming from an inner room ; a little man in gray, with spectacles upon his nose, holding in his hands, with wings and legs drawn close and smoothly together, like
carrier-pigeons of Bagdad, and the columbaries of Egypt, stationed at fixed intervals as relays and resting-places for the flying post. With an indefinable feeling of sadness, too, came wafted like a perfume through his memory those tender, melancholy lines of Maria del Occidente :
“ And as the dove, to far Palmyra flying,
From where her native founts of Antioch beam, Weary, exhausted, longing, panting, sighing,
Lights sadly at the desert's bitter stream;
“So many a soul, o'er life's drear desert faring, –
Love's pure, congenial spring unfound, unquaffed, Suffers, recoils, then, thirsty and despairing Of what it would, descends and sips the nearest
the green husks of the maize ear, a beautiful carrier-pigeon, who turned up first one bright eye and then the other, as if asking, “ What are you going to do with me now?” This silent inquiry was soon answered by Mr. Merryweather, who said to the young lady,
" Here, Miss Vaughan, is the best carrierpigeon in my whole collection. The real Columbia Tabullaria. He is about three years old, as you can see by his wattle.”
“A very pretty bird,” said the lady; "and how shall I train it?"
“Oh, that is very easy. You have only to keep it shut up for a few days, well fed and well treated. Then take it in an open cage to the place you mean it to fly to, and do the same thing there. Afterwards it will give you no trouble ; it will always fly between those two places."
“ That, certainly, is not very difficult. At all events, I will make the trial. You may send the bird home to me. On what shall I feed it?"
“On any kind of grain, – barley and buckwheat are best; and remember to let it have a plenty of gravel in the bottom of its cage.”
“I will not forget. Send me the bird today, if possible."
With these words she departed, much too soon for Kavanagh, who was charmed with her form, her face, her voice; and who, when left alone with the little taxidermist, felt that the momentary fascination of the place was gone. He heard no longer the singing of the birds; he saw no longer their gay plumage ; and having speedily made the purchase of a canary and a cage, he likewise departed, thinking of the
Meanwhile, Mr. Merryweather, left to himself, walked about his aviary, musing, and talking to his birds. Finally he paused before the tin cage of a gray African parrot, between which and himself there was a strong family likeness, and, giving it his finger to peck and perch upon, conversed with it in that peculiar dialect with which it had often made vocal the distant groves of Zanguebar. He then withdrew to the inner room, where he resumed his labor of stuffing a cardinal grossbeak, saying to himself between whiles, —
"I wonder what Miss Cecilia Vaughan means to do with a carrier-pigeon!”
Some mysterious connection he had evidently established already between this pigeon and Mr. Kavanagh ; for, continuing his revery, he said, half aloud, —
“Of course she would never think of marrying a poor clergyman!”
THE old family mansion of the Vaughans stood a little out of town, in the midst of a pleasant farm. The county road was not near enough to annoy; and the rattling wheels and little clouds of dust seemed like friendly salutations from travellers as they passed. They spoke of safety and companionship, and took away all loneliness from the solitude.
On three sides, the farm was inclosed by willow and alder hedges, and the flowing wall of a river; nearer the house were groves clear of all underwood, with rocky knolls, and breezy bowers of beech; and afar off the blue hills broke the horizon, creating secret longings for what lay beyond them, and filling the mind with pleasant thoughts of Prince Rasselas and the Happy Valley.
The house was one of the few old houses still standing in New England ; a large, square building, with a portico in front, whose door in summer time stood open from morning until night. A pleasing stillness reigned about it; and soft gusts of pine-embalmed air, and distant cawings from the crow-haunted mountains, filled its airy and ample halls.
In this old-fashioned house had Cecilia Vaughan grown up to maidenhood. The travelling shadows of the clouds on the hillsides,
- the sudden summer wind, that lifted the languid leaves, and rushed from field to field, from grove to grove, the forerunner of the rain, — and, most of all, the mysterious mountain, whose coolness was a perpetual invitation to her, and whose silence a perpetual fear, fostered her dreamy and poetic temperament. Not less so did the reading of poetry and romance in the long, silent, solitary winter evenings. Her mother had been dead for many years, and the memory of that mother had become almost a religion to her. She recalled it incessantly; and the reverential love which it inspired completely filled her soul with melancholy delight. Her father was a kindly old man; a judge in one of the courts; dignified, affable, somewhat bent by his legal erudition, as a shelf is by the weight of the books upon
it. His papers incumbered the study table; - his law books, the study floor. They seemed to shut out from his mind the lovely daughter, who had grown up to womanhood by his side, but almost without his recognition. Always affectionate, always indulgent, he left her to walk alone, without his stronger thought and firmer purpose to lean upon; and though her education had been, on this account, somewhat desultory, and her imagination indulged in many dreams and vagaries, yet, on the whole, the result had been more favorable than in many cases where the process of instruction has been too diligently carried on, and where as sometimes on the roofs of farm-houses and barns, the scaffolding has been left to deform the building
Cecilia's bosom-friend at school was Alice Archer; and, after they left school, the love between them, and consequently the letters, rather increased than diminished. These two young hearts found not only a delight, but a necessity, in pouring forth their thoughts and feelings to each other; and it was to facilitate this intercommunication, for whose exigencies the ordinary methods were now found inadequate, that the carrier-pigeon had been purchased. He was to be the flying post; their bedrooms the dove-cots, the pure and friendly columbaria.
Endowed with youth, beauty, talent, fortune, and, moreover, with that indefinable fascination which has no name, Cecilia Vaughan was not without lovers, avowed and unavowed; — young men, who made an ostentatious display of their affection ; — boys, who treasured it in their bosoms, as something indescribably sweet and precious, perfuming all the chambers of the heart with its celestial fragrance. Whenever she returned from a visit to the city, some unknown youth of elegant manners and varnished leather boots was sure to hover round the village inn for a few days, — was known to visit the Vaughans assiduously, and then silently to disappear, and be seen no more. Of course, nothing could be known of the secret history of such individuals; but shrewd surmises were formed as to their designs and their destinies ; till finally any well-tressed stranger, lingering in the village without ostensible business, was set down as “one of Miss Vaughan's lovers."
In all this, what a contrast was there be
tween the two young friends! The wealth of one and the poverty of the other were not so strikingly at variance as this affluence and refluence of love. To the one, so much was given that she became regardless of the gift; from the other, so much withheld, that, if possible, she exaggerated its importance.
In addition to these transient lovers, who were but birds of passage, winging their way in an incredibly short space of time, from the torrid to the frigid zone, there was in the village a domestic and resident adorer, whose love for himself, for Miss Vaughan, and for the beautiful, had transformed his name from Hiram A. Hawkins to H. Adolphus Hawkins. He was a dealer in English linens and carpets ; a profession which of itself fills the mind with ideas of domestic comfort. His waistcoats were made like Lord Melbourne's in the illustrated English papers, and his shiny hair went off to the left in a superb sweep, like the hand-rail of a banister.
He wore many rings on his fingers, and several breastpins and gold chains disposed about his person. On all his bland physiognomy was stamped, as some of his linens, “Soft finish for family use.” Everything about him spoke the lady's man. He was, in fact, a perfect ring dove; and, like the rest of his species, always walked up to the female, and, bowing his head, swelled out his white crop, and uttered a very plaintive mur
to know, that, in private life, as his sister remarked, he was “ by no means the censorious and moody person some of his writings might imply."
Such was the personage who assumed to himself the perilous position of Miss Vaughan's permanent lover.
He imagined that it was impossible for any woman to look upon him and not love him. Accordingly, he paraded bimself at his shop-door as she passed; he paraded himself at the corner of the streets ; he paraded himself at the church-steps on Sunday. He spied her from the window ; he sallied from the door; he followed her with his eyes; he followed her with his whole august person ; he passed her and repassed her, and turned back to gaze; he lay in wait with dejected countenance and desponding air ; he persecuted her with his looks; he pretended that their souls could comprehend each other without words; and whenever her lovers were alluded to in his presence, he gravely declared, as one who had reason to know, that, if Miss Vaughan ever married, it would be some one of gigantic intellect!
Of these persecutions Cecilia was for a long time the unconscious victim. She saw this individual, with rings and strange waistcoats, performing his gyrations before her, but did not suspect that she was the centre of attraction, — not imagining that any man would begin his wooing with such outrages. Gradually the truth dawned upon her, and became the source of indescribable annoyance, which was augmented by a series of anonymous letters, written in a female hand, and setting forth the excellences of a certain mysterious relative, his modesty, his reserve, his extreme delicacy, his talent for poetry, — rendered authentic by
Moreover, Mr. H. Adolphus Hawkins was a poet, so much a poet, that, as his sister frequently remarked, he “spoke blank verse in the bosom of his family.” The general tone of his productions was sad, desponding, perhaps slightly morbid. How could it be otherwise with the writings of one who had never been the world's friend, nor the world his ? who looked upon himself as “a pyramid of mind on the dark desert of despair" ? and who, at the age of twentyfive, had drunk the bitter draught of life to the dregs, and dashed the goblet down? His productions were published in the Poet's Corner of the Fairmeadow Advertiser; and it was a relief
extracts from his papers, made, of course, without the slightest knowledge or suspicion on his part. Whence came these sibylline leaves ? At first Cecilia could not divine; but, erelong, her woman's instinct traced them to the thin and nervous hand of the poet's sister. This surmise was confirmed by her maid, who asked the boy that brought them.
It was with one of these missives in her hand that Cecilia entered Mrs. Archer's house, after purchasing the carrier-pigeon. Unannounced she entered, and walked up the narrow and imperfectly lighted stairs to Alice's bedroom, — that little sanctuary draped with white, – that columbarium lined with warmth, and softness, and silence. Alice was not there; but the chair by the window, the open volume of Tennyson's poems on the table, the note to Cecilia by its side, and the ink not yet dry in the pen, were like the vibration of a bough, when the bird has just left it, — like the rising of the grass, when the foot has just pressed it. In a moment she returned. She had been down to her mother, who sat talking, talking, talking, with an old friend in the parlor below, even as these young friends were talking together, in the bedroom above. Ah, how different were their themes ! Death and Love, - apples of Sodom, that crumble to ashes at a touch, - golden fruits of the Hesperides, — golden fruits of Paradise, fragrant, ambrosial, perennial !
“I have just been writing to you,” said Alice; “I wanted so much to see you this morning!”
Why this morning in particular? Has anything happened?”
“ Nothing, only I had such a longing to see
was not yet distinctly visible even to herself, but would grow brighter as the sun grew lower, and the rosy twilight darker ? Was it nothing, that a new fountain of affection had suddenly sprung up within her, which she mistook for the freshening and overflowing of the old fountain of friendship, that hitherto had kept the lowland landscape of her life so green, but now, being flooded by more affection, was not to cease, but only to disappear in the greater tide, and flow unseen beneath it? Yet so it was ; and this stronger yearning - this unappeasable desire for her friend — was only the tumultuous swelling of a heart, that as yet knows not its own secret.
“I am so glad to see you, Cecilia !” she continued. " You are so beautiful! I love so much to sit and look at you! Ah, how I wish Heaven had made me as tall, and strong, and beautiful as you are
e !" “ You little flatterer! What an affectionate, lover-like friend you are! What have you been doing all the morning ?”
"Looking out of the window, thinking of you, and writing you this letter, to beg you to come and see me."
“ And I have been buying a carrier-pigeon, to fly between us, and carry all our letters.”
“ That will be delightful.”
“He is to be sent home to-day; and after he gets accustomed to my room, I shall send him here, to get acquainted with yours; — an lachimo in my Imogen's bedchamber, to spy out its secrets."
“If he sees Cleopatra in these white curtains, and silver Cupids in these andirons, he will have your imagination.”
“ He will see the book with the leaf turned down, and you asleep, and tell me all about you.
“* A carrier-pigeon! What a charming idea! and how like you to think of it!"
“But to-day I have been obliged to bring my own letters. I have some more sibylline leaves from my anonymous correspondent, in laud and exaltation of her modest relative, who speaks blank verse in the bosom of his family. I have brought them to read you some extracts, and to take your advice ; for, really and seriously, this must be stopped. It has grown too annoying.”
And, seating herself in a low chair by Cecilia's side, she laid her head upon the shoulder of her friend, who, taking one of her pale, thin hands in both her own, silently kissed her forehead again and again.
Alice was not aware, that, in the words she uttered, there was the slightest shadow of untruth. And yet had nothing happened ?
Was it nothing, that among her thoughts a new thought had risen, like a star, whose pale effulgence, mingled with the common daylight,