Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE SOCIETY AND ITS NEW SECRETARY.
There is no use in trying to hurry the natural course of events, in a narrative like this. June passed away, and July, and August had come, and as yet the enigma which had completely puzzled Arrowhead Village and its visitors remained unsolved. The white canoe still wandered over the lake, alone, ghostly, always avoiding the near approach of the boats which seemed to be coming in its direction. Now and then a circumstance would happen which helped to keep inquiry alive. Good horsemanship was not so common among the young men of the place and its neighborhood that Maurice's accomplishment in that way could be overlooked. If there was a wicked horse or a wild colt whose owner was afraid of him, he would be commended to Maurice's attention. Paolo would lead him to his master with all due precaution,--for he had no idea of risking his neck on the back of any ill-conditioned beast,--and Maurice would fasten on his long spurs, spring into the saddle, and very speedily teach the creature good behavior. There soon got about a story that he was what the fresh-water fisherman called "one o' them whisperers." It is a common legend enough, coming from the Old World, but known in American horse-talking circles, that some persons will whisper certain words in a horse's ear which will tame him if he is as wild and furious as ever Cruiser was. All this added to the mystery which surrounded the young man. A single improbable or absurd story amounts to very little, but when half a dozen such stories are told about the same individual or the same event, they begin to produce the effect of credible evidence. If the year had been 1692 and the place had been Salem Village, Maurice Kirkwood would have run the risk of being treated like the Reverend George Burroughs.
Miss Lurida Vincent's curiosity had been intensely excited with reference to the young man of whom so many stories were told. She had pretty nearly convinced herself that he was the author of the paper on Ocean, Lake, and River, which had been read at one of the meetings of the Pansophian Society. She was very desirous of meeting him, if it were possible. It seemed as if she might, as Secretary of the Society, request the cooperation of any of the visitors, without impropriety. So, after much deliberation, she wrote a careful note, of which the following is an exact copy. Her hand was bold, almost masculine, a curious contrast to that of Euthymia, which was delicately feminine. PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY.
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 3, 18-.
MAURICE KIRKWOOD, ESQ.
DEAR SIR,--You have received, I trust, a card of invitation to the meetings of our Society, but I think we have not yet had the pleasure of seeing you at any of them. We have supposed that we might be indebted to you for a paper read at the last meeting, and listened to with much interest. As it was anonymous, we do not wish to be inquisitive respecting its authorship; but we desire to say that any papers kindly sent us by the temporary residents of our village will be welcome, and if adapted to the wants of our Association will be read at one of its meetings or printed in its records, or perhaps both read and printed. May we not hope for your presence at the meeting, which is to take place next Wednesday evening? Respectfully yours,
LURIDA VINCENT, Secretary of the Pansophian Society.
To this note the Secretary received the following reply: MISS LURIDA VINCENT,
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 4, 18-.
Secretary of the Pansophian Society:
DEAR MISS VINCENT,--I have received the ticket you refer to, and desire to express my acknowledgments for the polite attention. I regret that I have not been and I fear shall not be able to attend the meetings of the Society; but if any subject occurs to me on which I feel an inclination to write, it will give me pleasure to send a paper, to be disposed of as the Society may see fit.
Very respectfully yours,
"He says nothing about the authorship of the paper that was read the other evening," the Secretary said to herself. "No matter,--he wrote it,--there is no mistaking his handwriting. We know something about him, now, at any rate. But why doesn't he come to our meetings? What has his antipathy to do with his staying away? I must find out what his secret is, and I will. I don't believe it's harder than it was to solve that prize problem which puzzled so many teachers, or than beating Crakowitz, the great chess-player."
To this enigma, then, The Terror determined to bend all the faculties which had excited the admiration and sometimes the amazement of those who knew her in her school-days. It was a very delicate piece of business; for though Lurida was an intrepid woman's rights advocate, and believed she was entitled to do almost everything that men dared to, she knew very well there were certain limits which a young woman like herself must not pass.
In the mean time Maurice had received a visit from the young student at the University,--the same whom he had rescued from his dangerous predicament in the lake. With him had called one of the teachers,--an instructor in modern languages, a native of Italy. Maurice and the instructor exchanged a few words in Italian. The young man spoke it with the ease which implied long familiarity with its use.
After they left, the instructor asked many curious questions about him,--who he was, how long he had been in the village, whether anything was known of his history,--all these inquiries with an eagerness which implied some special and peculiar reason for the interest they evinced.
"I feel satisfied," the instructor said, "that I have met that young man in my own country. It was a number of years ago, and of course he has altered in appearance a good deal; but there is a look about him of--what shall I call it?---apprehension,--as if he were fearing the approach of something or somebody. I think it is the way a man would look that was haunted; you know what I mean,--followed by a spirit or ghost. He does not suggest the idea of a murderer,--very far from it; but if he did, I should think he was every minute in fear of seeing the murdered man's spirit."
The student was curious, in his turn, to know all the instructor could recall. He had seen him in Rome, he thought, at the Fountain of Trevi, where so many strangers go before leaving the city. The youth was in the company of a man who looked like a priest. He could not mistake the peculiar expression of his countenance, but that was all he now remembered about his appearance. His attention had been called to this young man by seeing that some of the bystanders were pointing at him, and noticing that they were whispering with each other as if with reference to him. He should say that the youth was at that time fifteen or sixteen years old, and the time was about ten years ago.
After all, this evidence was of little or no value. Suppose the youth were Maurice; what then? We know that he had been in Italy, and had been there a good while,--or at least we infer so much from his familiarity with the language, and are confirmed in the belief by his having an Italian servant, whom he probably brought from Italy when he returned. If he wrote the paper which was read the other evening, that settles it, for the writer says he had lived by the Tiber. We must put this scrap of evidence furnished by the Professor with the other scraps; it may turn out of some consequence, sooner or later. It is like a piece of a dissected map; it means almost nothing by itself, but when we find the pieces it joins with we may discover a very important meaning in it.
In a small, concentrated community like that which centred in and immediately around Arrowhead Village, every day must have its local gossip as well as its general news. The newspaper tells the small community what is going on in the great world, and the busy tongues of male and female, especially the latter, fill in with the occurrences and comments of the ever-stirring microcosm. The fact that the Italian teacher had, or thought he had, seen Maurice ten years before was circulated and made the most of,--turned over and over like a cake, until it was thoroughly done on both sides and all through. It was a very small cake, but better than nothing. Miss Vincent heard this story, as others did, and talked about it with her friend, Miss Tower. Here was one more fact to help along.
The two young ladies who had recently graduated at the Corinna Institute remained, as they had always been, intimate friends. They were the natural complements of each other. Euthymia represented a complete, symmetrical womanhood. Her outward presence was only an index of a large, wholesome, affluent life. She could not help being courageous, with such a firm organization. She could not help being generous, cheerful, active. She had been told often enough that she was fair to look upon. She knew that she was called The Wonder by the schoolmates who were dazzled by her singular accomplishments, but she did not overvalue them. She rather tended to depreciate her own gifts, in comparison with those of her friend, Miss Lurida Vincent. The two agreed all the better for differing as they did. The octave makes a perfect chord, when shorter intervals jar more or less on the ear. Each admired the other with a heartiness which if they had been less unlike, would have been impossible.
It was a pleasant thing to observe their dependence on each other. The Terror of the schoolroom was the oracle in her relations with her friend. All the freedom of movement which The Wonder showed in her bodily exercises The Terror manifested in the world of thought. She would fling open a book, and decide in a swift glance whether it had any message for her. Her teachers had compared her way of reading to the taking of an instantaneous photograph. When she took up the first book on Physiology which Dr. Butts handed her, it seemed to him that if she only opened at any place, and gave one look, her mind drank its meaning up, as a moist sponge absorbs water. "What can I do with such a creature as this?" he said to himself. "There is only one way to deal with her, treat her as one treats a silkworm: give it its mulberry leaf, and it will spin its own cocoon. Give her the books, and she will spin her own web of knowledge."
"Do you really think of studying medicine?" said Dr. Butts to her.
"I have n't made up my mind about that," she answered, "but I want to know a little more about this terrible machinery of life and death we are all tangled in. I know something about it, but not enough. I find some very strange beliefs among the women I meet with, and I want to be able to silence them when they attempt to proselyte me to their whims and fancies. Besides, I want to know everything."
"They tell me you do, already," said Dr. Butts.
"I am the most ignorant little wretch that draws the breath of life!" exclaimed The Terror.
The doctor smiled. He knew what it meant. She had reached that stage of education in which the vast domain of the unknown opens its illimitable expanse before the eyes of the student. We never know the extent of darkness until it is partially illuminated.
"You did not leave the Institute with the reputation of being the most ignorant young lady that ever graduated there," said the doctor. "They tell me you got the highest marks of any pupil on their record since the school was founded."
"What a grand thing it was to be the biggest fish in our small aquarium, to be sure!" answered The Terror. "He was six inches long, the monster,--a little too big for bait to catch a pickerel with! What did you hand me that schoolbook for? Did you think I did n't know anything about the human body?"
"You said you were such an ignorant creature I thought I would try you with an easy book, by way of introduction."
The Terror was not confused by her apparent self-contradiction.
"I meant what I said, and I mean what I say. When I talk about my ignorance, I don't measure myself with schoolgirls, doctor. I don't measure myself with my teachers, either. You must talk to me as if I were a man, a grown man, if you mean to teach me anything. Where is your hat, doctor? Let me try it on."
The doctor handed her his wide-awake. The Terror's hair was not naturally abundant, like Euthymia's, and she kept it cut rather short. Her head used to get very hot when she studied hard. She tried to put the hat on.
"Do you see that?" she said. "I could n't wear it--it would squeeze my eyes out of my head. The books told me that women's brains were smaller than men's: perhaps they are,--most of them,--I never measured a great many. But when they try to settle what women are good for, by phrenology, I like to have them put their tape round my head. I don't believe in their nonsense, for all that. You might as well tell me that if one horse weighs more than another horse he is worth more,--a cart-horse that weighs twelve or fourteen hundred pounds better than Eclipse, that may have weighed a thousand. Give me a list of the best books you can think of, and turn me loose in your library. I can find what I want, if you have it; and what I don't find there I will get at the Public Library. I shall want to ask you a question now and then."
The doctor looked at her with a kind of admiration, but thoughtfully, as if he feared she was thinking of a task too formidable for her slight constitutional resource.
She returned, instinctively, to the apparent contradiction in her statements about herself.
"I am not a fool, if I am ignorant. Yes, doctor, I sail on a wide sea of ignorance, but I have taken soundings of some of its shallows and some of its depths. Your profession deals with the facts of life that interest me most just now, and I want to know something of it. Perhaps I may find it a calling such as would suit me."
"Do you seriously think of becoming a practitioner of medicine?" said the doctor.
"Certainly, I seriously think of it as a possibility, but I want to know something more about it first. Perhaps I sha'n't believe in medicine enough to practise it. Perhaps I sha'n't like it well enough. No matter about that. I wish to study some of your best books on some of the subjects that most interest me. I know about bones and muscles and all that, and about digestion and respiration and such things. I want to study up the nervous system, and learn all about it. I am of the nervous temperament myself, and perhaps that is the reason. I want to read about insanity and all that relates to it."
A curious expression flitted across the doctor's features as The Terror said this.
"Nervous system. Insanity. She has headaches, I know,--all those large-headed, hard-thinking girls do, as a matter of course; but what has set her off about insanity and the nervous system? I wonder if any of her more remote relatives are subject to mental disorder. Bright people very often have crazy relations. Perhaps some of her friends are in that way. I wonder whether"--the doctor did not speak any of these thoughts, and in fact hardly shaped his "whether," for The Terror interrupted his train of reflection, or rather struck into it in a way which startled him.
"Where is the first volume of this Medical Cyclopaedia?" she asked, looking at its empty place on the shelf.
"On my table," the doctor answered. "I have been consulting it."
Lurida flung it open, in her eager way, and turned the pages rapidly until she came to the one she wanted. The doctor cast his eye on the beading of the page, and saw the large letters A N T.
"I thought so," he said to himself. "We shall know everything there is in the books about antipathies now, if we never did before. She has a special object in studying the nervous system, just as I suspected. I think she does not care to mention it at this time; but if she finds out anything of interest she will tell me, if she does anybody. Perhaps she does not mean to tell anybody. It is a rather delicate business,--a young girl studying the natural history of a young man. Not quite so safe as botany or palaeontology!"
Lurida, lately The Terror, now Miss Vincent, had her own plans, and chose to keep them to herself, for the present, at least. Her hands were full enough, it might seem, without undertaking the solution of the great Arrowhead Village enigma. But she was in the most perfect training, so far as her intelligence was concerned; and the summer rest had restored her bodily vigor, so that her brain was like an overcharged battery which will find conductors somewhere to carry off its crowded energy.
At this time Arrowhead Village was enjoying the most successful season it had ever known. The Pansophian Society flourished to an extraordinary degree under the fostering care of the new Secretary. The rector was a good figure-head as President, but the Secretary was the life of the Society. Communications came in abundantly: some from the village and its neighborhood, some from the University and the Institute, some from distant and unknown sources. The new Secretary was very busy with the work of examining these papers. After a forenoon so employed, the carpet of her room looked like a barn floor after a husking-match. A glance at the manuscripts strewed about, or lying in heaps, would have frightened any young writer away from the thought of authorship as a business. If the candidate for that fearful calling had seen the process of selection and elimination, he would have felt still more desperately. A paper of twenty pages would come in, with an underscored request to please read through, carefully. That request alone is commonly sufficient to condemn any paper, and prevent its having any chance of a hearing; but the Secretary was not hardened enough yet for that kind of martial law in dealing with manuscripts. The looker-on might have seen her take up the paper, cast one flashing glance at its title, read the first sentence and the last, dip at a venture into two or three pages, and decide as swiftly as the lightning calculator would add up a column of figures what was to be its destination. If rejected, it went into the heap on the left; if approved, it was laid apart, to be submitted to the Committee for their judgment. The foolish writers who insist on one's reading through their manuscript poems and stories ought to know how fatal the request is to their prospects. It provokes the reader, to begin with. The reading of manuscript is frightful work, at the best; the reading of worthless manuscript--and most of that which one is requested to read through is worthless--would add to the terrors of Tartarus, if any infernal deity were ingenious enough to suggest it as a punishment.
If a paper was rejected by the Secretary, it did not come before the Committee, but was returned to the author, if he sent for it, which he commonly did. Its natural course was to try for admission into some one of the popular magazines: into "The Sifter," the most fastidious of them all; if that declined it, into "The Second Best;" and if that returned it, into "The Omnivorous." If it was refused admittance at the doors of all the magazines, it might at length find shelter in the corner of a newspaper, where a good deal of very readable verse is to be met with nowadays, some of which has been, no doubt, presented to the Pansophian Society, but was not considered up to its standard.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.