Eben Jackson -
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thine earthly task hast done.
The large tropical moon rose in full majesty over the Gulf of Mexico,
that beneath it rolled a weltering surge of silver, which broke upon the
level sand of the beach with a low, sullen roar, prophetic of storms to
come. To-night a south wind was heavily blowing over Gulf and prairie,
laden with salt odors of weed and grass, now and then crossed by a
strain of such perfume as only tropic breezes know,—a breath of heavy,
passionate sweetness from orange-groves and rose gardens, mixed with the
miasmatic sighs of rank forests, and mile on mile of tangled cane-brake,
where jewel-tinted snakes glitter and emit their own sickly-sweet odor,
and the deep blue bells of luxuriant vines wave from their dusky censers
steams of poisonous incense.
I endured the influence of all this as long as I dared, and then turned
my pony's head from the beach, and, loitering through the city's hot
streets, touched him into a gallop as the prairie opened before us, and
followed the preternatural, colossal shadow of horse and man east by the
moon across the dry dull grass and bitter yellow chamomile growth of
the sand, till I stopped at the office door of the Hospital, when,
consigning my horse to a servant, I commenced my nightly round of the
There were but few patients just now, for the fever had not yet made
its appearance, and until within a week the unwontedly clear and cool
atmosphere had done the work of the physician. Most of the sick were
doing well enough without me; some few needed and received attention;
and these disposed of, I betook myself to the last bed in one of the
long wards, quite apart from the others, which was occupied by a sailor,
a man originally from New England, whose hard life and continual
exposure to all climates and weathers had at length resulted in slow
It was one of the rare cases of this disease not supervening upon an
original strumous diathesis, and, had it been properly cared for in the
beginning, might have been cured. Now there was no hope; but the case
being a peculiar and interesting one, I kept a faithful record of its
symptoms and progress for publication. Besides, I liked the man; rugged
and hardy by nature, it was curious to see what strange effects a long,
wasting, and painful disease produced upon him. At first he could not be
persuaded to be quiet; the muscular energies were still unaffected, and,
with continual hemorrhage from the lungs, he could not understand that
work or exercise could hurt him. But as the disease gained ground, its
characteristic languor unstrung his force; the hard and sinewy limbs
became attenuated and relaxed; his breath labored; a hectic fever burnt
in his veins like light flame every afternoon, and subsided into chilly
languor toward morning; profuse night-sweats increased the weakness; and
as he grew feebler, offering of course less resistance to the febrile
symptoms, they were exacerbated, till at times a slight delirium showed
itself; and so, without haste or delay, he "made for port," as he said.
His name was Eben Jackson, and the homely appellation was no way belied
by his aspect. He never could have been handsome, and now fifteen
years of rough-and-tumble life had left their stains and scars on his
weather-beaten visage, whose only notable features were the deep-set
eyes retreating under shaggy brows, that looked one through and through
with the keen glance of honest instinct; while a light tattooing of red
and blue on either cheek-bone added an element of the grotesque to his
homeliness. He was a natural and simple man, with whom conventionalities
and the world's scale went for nothing,—without vanity as without
guile.—But it is best to let him speak for himself. I found him that
night very feverish, yet not wild at all.
"Hullo, Doctor!" said he, "I'm all afire! I've ben thinkin' about my old
mother's humstead up to Simsbury, and the great big well to the back
door; how I used to tilt that 'are sweep up, of a hot day, till the
bucket went 'way down to the bottom and come up drippin' over,—such
cold, clear water! I swear, I'd give all Madagascar for a drink on't!"
I called the nurse to bring me a small basket of oranges I had sent out
in the morning, expressly for this patient, and squeezing the juice from
one of them on a little bit of ice, I held it to his lips, and he drank
"That's better for you than water, Jackson," said I.
"I dunno but 'tis, Doctor; I dunno but 'tis; but there a'n't nothin'
goes to the spot like that Simsbury water. You ha'n't never v'yaged to
them parts, have ye?"
"Bless you, yes, man! I was born and brought up in Hartford, just over
the mountain, and I've been to Simsbury, fishing, many a time."
"Good Lord! You don't never desert a feller, ef the ship is a-goin'
down!" fervently ejaculated Eben, looking up as he did sometimes in his
brief delirium, when he said the Lord's Prayer, and thought his mother
held his folded hands; but this was no delirious aspiration. He went
"You see, Doctor, I've had somethin' in the hold a good spell't I wanted
to break bulk on, but I didn't know as I ever was goin' to see a shipmet
agin; and now you've jined convoy jist in time, for Davy Jones's a'n't
fur off. Are you calculatin' to go North afore long?"
"Yes, I mean to go next spring," said I.
Jackson began to fumble with weak and trembling hands about his throat,
to undo his shirt-collar,—he would not let me help him,—and presently,
flushed and panting from the effort, he drew out a length of delicate
Panama chain fastened rudely together by a link of copper wire, and
suspended on it a little old-fashioned ring of reddish gold, twisted of
two wires, and holding a very small dark garnet. Jackson looked at it as
I have seen many a Catholic look at his reliquary in mortal sickness.
"Well," said he, "I've carried that 'are gimcrack nigh twenty long year
round my old scrag, and when I'm sunk I want you to take it off, Doctor.
Keep it safe till you go to Connecticut, and then some day take a tack
over to Simsbury. Don't ye go through the Gap, but go 'long out on
the turnpike over the mountain, and down t'other side to Avon, and so
nor'ard till jist arter you git into Simsbury town you see an old red
house 'longside o' the mountain, with a big ellum-tree afore the door,
and a stone well to the side on't. Go 'long in and ask for Hetty Buel,
and give her that 'are thing, and tell her where you got it, and that I
ha'n't never forgot to wish her well allus, though I couldn't write to
There was Eben Jackson's romance! It piqued my curiosity. The poor
fellow was wakeful and restless,—I knew he would not sleep, if I left
him,—and I encouraged him to go on talking.
"I will, Jackson, I promise you. But wouldn't it be better for you to
tell me something about where you have been all these long years? Your
friends will like to know."
His eye brightened; he was like all the rest of us, pleased with any
interest taken in him and his; he turned over on his pillow, and I
lifted him into a half-sitting position.
"That's ship-shape, Doctor! I don't know but what I had oughter spin a
yarn for you; I'm kinder on a watch to-night; and Hetty won't never know
what I did do, if I don't send home the log 'long 'i' the cargo.
"Well, you see I was born in them parts, down to Canton, where father
belonged; but mother was a Simsbury woman, and afore I was long-togged,
father he moved onter the old humstead up to Simsbury, when gran'ther
Peck died. Our farm was right 'longside o' Miss Buel's; you'll see't
when you go there; but there a'n't nobody there now. Mother died afore
I come away, and lies safe to the leeward o' Simsbury meetin'-house.
Father he got a stroke a spell back, and he couldn't farm it; so he sold
out and went West, to Parmely Larkum's, my sister's, to live. But I
guess the house is there, and that old well.—How etarnal hot it's
growin'! Doctor, give me a drink!
"Well, as I was tellin', I lived there next to Miss Buel's, and Hetty'n'
I went to deestrict-school together, up to the cross-roads. We used to
hev' ovens in the sand together, and roast apples an' ears of corn in
'em; and we used to build cubby-houses, and fix 'em out with broken
chiny and posies. I swan 't makes me feel curus when I think what
children du contrive to get pleased, and likewise riled about! One day I
rec'lect Hetty'd stepped onto my biggest clam-shell and broke it, and
I up and hit her a switch right across her pretty lips. Now you'd 'a'
thought she would cry and run, for she wasn't bigger than a baby, much;
but she jest come up and put her little fat arms round my neck, and
"'I'm so sorry, Eben!'
"And that's Hetty Buel! I declare I was beat, and I hav'n't never got
over bein' beat about that. So we growed up together, always out in the
woods between schools, huntin' checker-berries, and young winter-greens,
and prince's piney, and huckleberries, and saxifrax, and birch, and all
them woodsy things that children hanker arter; and by-'n'-by we got to
goin' to the 'Cademy; and when Hetty was seventeen she went in to
Hartford to her Aunt Smith's for a spell, to do chores, and get a little
Seminary larnin', and I went to work on the farm; and when she come
home, two year arter, she was growed to be a young woman, and though I
was five year older'n her, I was as sheepish a land-lubber as ever got
stuck a-goin' to the mast-head, whenever I sighted her.
"She wasn't very much for looks neither; she had black eyes, and she
was pretty behaved; but she wasn't no gret for beauty, anyhow, only
I thought the world of her, and so did her old grandmother;—for her
mother died when she wa'n't but two year old, and she lived to old Miss
Buel's 'cause her father had married agin away down to Jersey.
"Arter a spell I got over bein' so mighty sheepish about Hetty; her
ways was too kindly for me to keep on that tack. We took to goin' to
singin'-school together; then I always come home from quiltin'-parties
and conference-meetin's with her, because 'twas handy, bein' right next
door; and so it come about that I begun to think of settlin' down for
life, and that was the start of all my troubles. I couldn't take the
home farm; for 'twas such poor land, father could only jest make a live
out on't for him and me. Most of it was pastur', gravelly land, full of
mullens and stones; the rest was principally woodsy,—not hickory, nor
oak neither, but hemlock and white birches, that a'n't of no account
for timber nor firing, 'longside of the other trees. There was a little
strip of a medder-lot, and an orchard up on the mountain, where we used
to make redstreak cider that beat the Dutch; but we hadn't pastur' land
enough to keep more'n two cows, and altogether I knew 'twasn't any use
to think of bringin' a family on to't. So I wrote to Parmely's husband,
out West, to know about Government lands, and what I could do ef I was
to move out there and take an allotment; and gettin' an answer every way
favorable, I posted over to Miss Buel's one night arter milkin' to tell
Hetty. She was settin' on the south door-step, braidin' palm-leaf; and
her grandmother was knittin' in her old chair, a little back by the
window. Sometimes, a-lyin' here on my back, with my head full o' sounds,
and the hot wind and the salt sea-smell a-comin' in through the winders,
and the poor fellers groanin' overhead, I get clear away back to that
night, so cool and sweet; the air full of treely smells, dead leaves
like, and white-blows in the ma'sh below; and wood-robins singin' clear
fine whistles in the woods; and the big sweet-brier by the winder
all a-flowered out; and the drippin' little beads of dew on the
clover-heads; and the tinklin' sound of the mill-dam down to Squire
"I set down by Hetty; and the old woman bein' as deaf as a post, it was
as good as if I'd been there alone. So I mustered up my courage, that
was sinkin' down to my boots, and told Hetty my plans, and asked her to
go along. She never said nothin' for a minute; she flushed all up as red
as a rose, and I see her little fingers was shakin', and her eye-winkers
shiny and wet; but she spoke presently, and said,—
"'I can't, Eben!'
"I was shot betwixt wind and water then, I tell you, Doctor! 'Twa'n't
much to be said, but I've allers noticed afloat that real dangersome
squalls comes on still; there's a dumb kind of a time in the air, the
storm seems to be waitin' and holdin' its breath, and then a little
low whisper of wind,—a cat's paw we call't,—and then you get it real
'arnest. I'd rather she'd have taken on, and cried, and scolded, than
have said so still, 'I can't, Eben.'
"'Why not, Hetty?' says I.
"'I ought not to leave grandmother,' said she.
"I declare, I hadn't thought o' that! Miss Buel was a real infirm woman
without kith nor kin, exceptin' Hetty; for Jason Buel he'd died down to
Jersey long before; and she hadn't means. Hetty nigh about kept 'em both
since Miss Buel had grown too rheumatic to make cheese and see to the
hens and cows, as she used to. They didn't keep any men-folks now, nor
but one cow; Hetty milked her, and drove her to pastur', and fed the
chickens, and braided hats, and did chores. The farm was all sold off;
'twas poor land, and didn't fetch much; but what there was went to keep
'em in vittles and firin'. I guess Hetty 'arnt most of what they lived
on, arter all.
"'Well,' says I, after a spell of thinkin', 'can't she go along too,
"'Oh, no, Eben! she's too old; she never could get there, and she never
could live there. She says very often she wouldn't leave Simsbury for
gold untold; she was born here, and she's bound to die here. I know she
"'Ask her, Hetty!'
"'No, it wouldn't be any use; it would only fret her always to think I
staid at home for her, and you know she can't do without me.'
"'No more can't I,' says I. 'Do you love her the best, Hetty?'
"I was kinder sorry I'd said that; for she grew real white, and I could
see by her throat she was chokin' to keep down somethin'. Finally she
"'That isn't for me to say, Eben. If it was right for me to go with you,
I should be glad to; but you know I can't leave grandmother.'
"Well, Doctor, I couldn't say no more. I got up to go. Hetty put down
her work and walked to the big ellum by the gate with me. I was most too
full to speak, but I catched her up and kissed her soft little tremblin'
lips, and her pretty eyes, and then I set off for home as if I was goin'
to be hanged.
"Young folks is obstreperous, Doctor. I've been a long spell away from
Hetty, and I don't know as I should take on so now. That night I never
slept. I lay kickin' and tumblin' all night, and before mornin' I'd
resolved to quit Simsbury, and go seek my fortin' beyond seas, hopin'
to come back to Hetty, arter all, with riches to take care on her right
there in the old place. You'd 'a' thought I might have had some kind of
feelin' for my old father, after seein' Hetty's faithful ways; but I was
a man and she was a woman, and I take it them is two different kind o'
craft. Men is allers for themselves first, an' Devil take the hindmost;
but women lives in other folks's lives, and ache, and work, and endure
all sorts of stress o' weather afore they'll quit the ship that's got
crew and passengers aboard.
"I never said nothin' to father,—I couldn't 'a' stood no jawin',—but
I made up my kit, an' next night slung it over my shoulder, and tramped
off. I couldn't have gone without biddin' Hetty goodbye; so I stopped
there, and told her what I was up to, and charged her to tell father.
"She tried her best to keep me to home, but I was sot in my way; so when
she found that out, she run up stairs an' got a little Bible, and made
me promise I'd read it sometimes, and then she pulled that 'are little
ring off her finger and give it to me to keep.
"'Eben,' says she, 'I wish you well always, and I sha'n't never forget
"And then she put up her face to me, as innocent as a baby, to kiss me
goodbye. I see she choked up when I said the word, though, and I said,
"'I hope you'll get a better husband than me, Hetty!'
"I swear! she give me a look like the judgment-day, and stoopin'
down she pressed her lips onto that ring, and says she, 'That is my
weddin'-ring, Eben!' and goes into the house as still and white as a
ghost; and I never see her again, nor never shall.—Oh, Doctor! give me
I lifted the poor fellow, fevered and gasping, to an easier position,
and wet his hot lips with fresh orange-juice.
"Stop, now, Jackson!" said I, "you are tired."
"No, I a'n't, Doctor! No, I a'n't! I'm bound to finish now. But Lord
deliver us! look there! one of the Devil's own imps, I b'lieve!"
I looked on the little deal stand where I had set the candle, and there
stood one of the quaint, evil-looking insects that infest the island, a
praying Mantis. Raised up against the candle, with its fore-legs in the
attitude of supplication that gives it the name, its long green body
relieved on the white stearin, it was eyeing Jackson, with its head
turned first on one side and then on the other, in the most elvish and
preternatural way. Presently it moved upward, stuck one of its fore-legs
cautiously into the flame, burnt it of course and drew it back, eyed it,
first from one angle, then from another, with deliberate investigation,
and at length conveyed the injured member to its mouth and sucked it
steadily, resuming its stare of blank scrutiny at my patient, who did
not at all fancy the interest taken in him.
I could not help laughing at the strange manoeuvres of the creature,
familiar as I was with them.
"It is only one of our Texan bugs, Jackson," said I; "it is harmless
"It's got a pesky look, though, Doctor! I thought I'd seen enough curus
creturs in the Marquesas, but that beats all!"
Seeing the insect really irritated and annoyed him, I put it out of the
window, and turned the blinds closely to prevent its reëntrance, and he
went on with his story.
"So I tramped it to Hartford that night, got a lodgin' with a first
cousin I had there, worked my passage to Boston in a coaster, and after
hangin' about Long Wharf day in and day out for a week, I was driv' to
ship myself aboard of a whaler, the Lowisy Miles, Twist, cap'en; and I
writ from there to Hetty, so't she could know my bearin's so fur, and
tell my father.
"It would take a week, Doctor, to tell you what a rough-an'-tumble time
I had on that 'are whaler. There's a feller's writ a book about v'yagin'
afore the mast that'll give ye an idee on't; he had an eddication so't
he could set it off, and I fell foul of his book down to Valparaiso
more'n a year back, and I swear I wanted to shake hands with him. I
heerd he was gone ashore somewheres down to Boston, and hed cast anchor
for good. But I tell you he's a brick, and what he said's gospel truth.
I thought I'd got to hell afore my time when we see blue water. I didn't
have no peace exceptin' times when I was to the top, lookin' out for
spouters; then I'd get nigh about into the clouds that was allers
a-hangin' down close to the sea mornin' and night, all kinds of colors,
red an' purple an' white; and 'stead of thinkin' o' whales, I'd get my
head full o' Simsbury, and get a precious knock with the butt end of a
handspike when I come down, 'cause I'd never sighted a whale till arter
they see'd it on deck.
"We was bound to the South Seas after sperm whales, but we was eight
months gettin' there, and we took sech as we could find on the way.
The cap'en he scooted round into one port an' another arter his own
business,—down to Caraccas, into Rio; and when we'd rounded the Horn
and was nigh about dead of cold an' short rations, and hadn't killed but
three whales, we put into Valparaiso to get vittled, and there I laid
hold o' this little trinket of a chain, and spliced Hetty's ring on
to't, lest I should be stranded somewheres and get rid of it onawares.
"We cruised about in them seas a good year or more, with poor luck, and
the cap'en growin' more and more outrageous continually. Them waters
aren't like the Gulf, Doctor,—nor like the Northern Ocean, nohow; there
a'n't no choppin' seas there, but a great, long, everlasting lazy swell,
that goes rollin' and fallin' away like the toll of a big bell, in
endless blue rollers; and the trades blow through the sails like
singin', as warm and soft as if they blowed right out o' sunshiny
gardens; and the sky's as blue as summer all the time, only jest round
the dip on't there's allers a hull fleet o' hazy round-topped clouds, so
thin you can see the moon rise through 'em; and the waves go ripplin'
off the cut-water as peaceful as a mill-pond, day and night. Squalls
is sca'ce some times o' the year; but when there is one, I tell you a
feller hears thunder! The clouds settle right down onto the mast-head,
black and thick, like the settlin's of an ink-bottle; the lightnin'
hisses an' cuts fore and aft; and corposants come flightin' down onto
the boom or the top, gret balls o' light; and the wind roars louder than
the seas; and the rain comes down in spouts,—it don't fall fur enough
to drop; you'd think heaven and earth was come together, with hell
betwixt 'em;—and then it'll all clear up as quiet and calm as a
Simsbury Sunday; and you wouldn't know it could be squally, if 'twan't
for the sail that you hadn't had a chance to furl was drove to ribbons,
and here an' there a stout spar snapped like a cornstalk, or the
bulwarks stove by a heavy sea. There's queer things to be heerd, too, in
them parts: cries to wind'ard like a drowndin' man, and you can't never
find him; noises right under the keel; bells ringin' off the land like,
when you a'n't within five hundred miles of shore; and curus hails out
o' ghost-ships that sails agin' wind an' tide.—Strange! strange! I
declare for't! seems as though I heerd my old mother a-singin' Mear
I saw Jackson was getting excited, so I gave him a little soothing
draught and walked away to give the nurse some orders. But he made me
promise to return and hear the story out; so, after half an hour's
investigation of the wards, I came back and found him composed enough to
permit his resuming where he had left off.
"Howsomever, Doctor, there wa'n't no smooth sailin' nor fair weather
with the cap'en; 'twas always squally in his latitude, and I begun to
get mutinous and think of desartin'. About eighteen months arter we sot
sail from Valparaiso, I hadn't done somethin' I'd been ordered, or I'd
done it wrong, and Cap'en Twist come on deck, ragin' and roarin', with
a handspike in his fist, and let fly at my head. I see what was comin',
and put my arm up to fend it off; and gettin' the blow on my fore-arm,
it got broke acrost as quick as a wink, and I dropped. So they picked me
up, and havin' a mate aboard who knew some doctorin', I was spliced
and bound up, and put under hatches on the sick-list. I tell you I
was dog-tired them days, lyin' in my berth, hearin' the rats and mice
scuttle round the bulkheads and skitter over the floor. I couldn't do
nothin', and finally I bethought myself of Hetty's Bible and contrived
to get it out o' my chist,—and when I could get a bit of a glim I'd
read it. I'm a master-hand to remember things, and what I read over and
over in that 'are dog-hole of cabin never got clean out of my head, no,
nor never will; and when the Lord above calls all hands on deck to pass
muster, ef I'm ship-shape afore him, it'll be because I follered his
signals and l'arnt 'em out of that 'are log. But I didn't foller 'em
then, nor not for a plaguy long cruise yet!
"One day, as I laid there readin' by the light of a bit of tallow dip
the mate gave me, who should stick his head into the hole he called a
cabin, but old Twist! He'd got an idee I was shammin'; and when he saw
me with a book, he cussed, and swore, and raved, and finally hauled it
out o' my hand and flung it up through the hatchway clean and clear
"I tell ye, Doctor, if I'd 'a' had a sound arm, he'd 'a' gone after it;
but I had to take it out in ratin' at him, and that night my mind was
made up; I was bound to desart at the first land. And it come about that
a fortnight after my arm had jined, and I could haul shrouds agin, we
sighted the Marquesas, and bein' near about out o' water, the cap'en
laid his course for the nearest land, and by daybreak of the second day
we lay to in a small harbor, on the south side of an island where
ships wa'n't very prompt to go commonly. But old Twist didn't care for
cannibals nor wild beasts, when they stood in his way; and there wasn't
but half a cask of water aboard, and that a hog wouldn't 'a' drank, only
for the name on't. So we pulled ashore after some, and findin' a spring
near by, was takin' it out, hand over hand, as fast as we could bale it
up, when all of a sudden the mate see a bunch of feathers over a little
bush near by, and yelled out to run for our lives, the savages was come.
"Now I had made up my mind to run away from the ship that very day, and
all the while I'd been baling the water up I had been tryin' to lay my
course so as to get quit of the boat's crew, and be off; but natur' is
stronger than a man thinks. When I heerd the mate sing out, and see the
men begin to run, I turned and run too, full speed, down to the shore;
but my foot caught in some root or hole, I fell flat down, and hittin'
my head ag'inst a stone near by, I lay; good as dead; and when I come
to, the boat was gone, and the ship makin' all sail out of harbor, and
a crew of wild Indian women were a-lookin' at me as I've seen a set of
Simsbury women-folks look at a baboon in a caravan; but they treated me
"Findin' I was helpless, for I'd sprained my ankle in the fall, four of
'em picked me up, and carried me away to a hut, and tended me like a
baby; and when the men, who'd come over to that side of the island 'long
with 'em, and gone a-fishin', come back, I was safe enough; for women
are women all the world over, soft-hearted, kindly creturs, that like
anything that's in trouble, 'specially if they can give it a lift out
on't. So I was nursed, and fed, and finally taken over the ridge of
rocks that run acrost the island to their town of bamboo huts; and now
begun to look about me, for here I was, stranded, as one may say, out o'
sight o' land.
"Ships didn't never touch there, I knew by their ways, their wonderin'
and takin' sights at me. As for Cap'en Twist, he wouldn't come back for
his own father, unless he was short o' hands for whalin'. I was in for
life, no doubt on't; and I'd better look at the fair-weather side of the
thing. The island was as pretty a bit of land as ever lay betwixt sea
and sky; full of tall cocoa-nut palms, with broad, feathery tops, and
bunches of brown nuts; bananas hung in yellow clumps ready to drop off
at a touch; and big bread-fruit trees stood about everywhere, lookin' as
though a punkin-vine had climbed up into 'em and hung half-ripe punkins
off of every bough; beside lots of other trees that the natives set
great store by, and live on the fruit of 'em; and flyin' through all,
such pretty birds as you never see except in them parts; but one brown
thrasher'd beat the whole on 'em singin'; fact is, they run to feathers;
they don't sing none.
"It was as sightly a country as ever Adam and Eve had to themselves;
but it wa'n't home. Howsomever, after a while the savages took to me
mightily. I was allers handy with tools, and by good luck I'd come off
with two jack-knives and a loose awl in my jacket-pocket, so I could
beat 'em all at whittlin'; and I made figgers on their bows an'
pipe-stems, of things they never see,—roosters, and horses, Miss Buel's
old sleigh, and the Albany stage, driver'n' all, and our yoke of oxen
a-ploughin',—till nothin' would serve them but I should have a house o'
my own, and be married to their king's daughter; so I did.
"Well, Doctor, you kinder wonder I forgot Hetty Buel. I didn't forget
her, but I knew she wa'n't to be had anyhow; I thought I was in for
life; and Wailua was the prettiest little craft that ever you set eyes
on, as straight as a spar, and as kindly as a Christian; and besides, I
had to, or I'd have been killed, and broiled, and eaten, whether or no!
And then in that 'are latitude it a'n't just the way 'tis here; you
don't work; you get easy, and lazy, and sleepy; somethin' in the air
kind of hushes you up; it makes you sweat to think, and you're too hazy
to, if it didn't; and you don't care for nothing much but food and
drink. I hadn't no spunk left; so I married her after their fashion, and
I liked her well enough; and she was my wife, after all.
"I tell ye, Doctor, it goes a gret way with men-folks to think
anything's their'n, and nobody else's. But when I married her, I took
the chain with Hetty Buel's ring off my neck, and put 'em in a shell,
and buried the shell under my doorway. I couldn't have Wailua touch
"So there I lived fifteen long year, as it might be, in a kind of a
curus dream, doin' nothin' much, only that when I got to know the tongue
them savages spoke, little by little I got pretty much the steerin' o'
the hull crew, till by-'n'-by some of 'em got jealous, and plotted and
planned to kill me, because the king, Wailua's father, was gettin' old,
and they thought I wanted to be king when he died, and they couldn't
stan' that no way.
"Somehow or other Wailua got word of what was goin' on, and one night
she woke me out of sleep an' told me I must run for't, and she would
hide me safe till things took a turn. So I scratched up the shell with
Hetty's ring in't, and afore morning I was over t'other side of the
island, in a kind of a cave overlookin' the sea, near by to a grove of
bananas and mammee apples, and not fur from the harbor where I'd landed;
and safe enough, for nobody but Wailua knew the way to't.
"Well, the sixth day I sot in the porthole of that cave I see a sail in
the offing. I declare, I thought I should 'a' choked! I catched off my
tappa cloth and h'isted it on a pole, but the ship kep' on stiddy out
to sea. My heart beat up to my eyes, but I held on ag'inst hope, and I
declare I prayed; words come to me that I hadn't said since I was a boy
to Simsbury, and the Lord he heerd; for, as true as the compass, that
ship lay to, tacked, put in for the island, and afore night I was
aboard of the Lysander, a Salem whaler, with my mouth full of grog and
ship-biscuit, and my body in civilized toggery. I own I felt queer to go
away so and leave Wailua; but I knew 'twas gettin' her out of danger,
for the old king was just a-goin' to die, and if ever I'd have gone
back, we should both have been murdered. Besides, we didn't always
agree; she had to walk straighter than her wild natur' agreed with,
because she was my wife; and we hadn't no children to hold us together;
and I couldn't 'a' taken her aboard of the whaler, if she'd wanted to
go. I guess it was best; anyhow, so it was.
"But this wasn't to be the end of my v'yagin'. The Lysander foundered
just off Valparaiso; and though all hands was saved in the boats, when
we got to port there wasn't no craft there bound any nearer homeward
than an English merchant-ship, for Liverpool, by way of Madeira. So I
worked a passage to Funchal, and there I got aboard of a Southampton
steamer, bound for Cuba, that put in for coal. But when I come to Havana
I was nigh about tuckered out; for goin' round the Horn in the Lemon,
—that 'are English ship,—I'd ben on duty in all sorts o' weather; and
I'd lived lazy and warm so long I expect it was too tough for me, and
I was pestered with a hard cough, and spit blood, so't I was laid up a
long spell in the hospital at Havana. And there I kep' a-thinkin' over
Hetty's Bible, and I b'lieve I studied that 'are chart till I found out
the way to port, and made up my log all square for the owner; for I
knowed well enough where I was bound; but I did hanker to get home to
Simsbury afore shovin' off.
"Well, finally, there come into the harbor a Mystic ship that was
a-goin' down the Gulf for a New York owner. I'd known Seth Crane, the
cap'en of her, away back in old Simsbury times. He was an Avon boy; and
when I sighted that vessel's name, as I was crawlin' along the quay one
day, and, seein' she was Connecticut-built, boarded her, and see Seth, I
was old fool enough to cry right out,—I was so shaky. And Seth he
was about as scart as ef he'd seen the dead, havin' heerd up to Avon,
fifteen year ago nearly, that the Lowisy Miles had been run down off the
Sandwich Islands by a British man-of-war, and all hands lost, exceptin'
one o' the boys. However, he come to his bearin's after a while, and
told me about our folks, and how't Hetty Buel wasn't married, but
keepin' deestrict school, and her old grandmother alive yet.
"Well, I kinder heartened up, and agreed to take passage with
Seth.—Good Lord, Doctor! what's that?"
A peculiar and oppressive stillness had settled down on everything in
and out of the hospital while Jackson was going on with his story. I
noticed it only as the hush of a tropic midnight; but as he spoke,
I heard—apparently out on the prairie—a heavy jarring sound like
repeated blows, drawing nearer and nearer the building.
Jackson sprung upright on his pillows, the hectic passed from either
gaunt and sallow cheek, leaving the red and blue tattoo marks visible
in most ghastly distinctness, while the sweat poured in drops down his
The noise drew still nearer. All the patients in the ward awoke and
quitted their beds, hastily. The noise was at hand,—blows of great
violence and power; and a certain malign rapidity shook the walls from
one end of the hospital to the other,—blow upon blow, like the fierce
attacks of a catapult, only with no like result. The nurse, a German
Catholic, fell on his knees and told his beads, glancing over his
shoulder in undisguised horror; the patients cowered together, groaning
and praying; and I could hear the stir and confusion in the ward below.
In less than a minute's space the singular sound passed through the
house, and in hollow, jarring echoes died out toward the bay.
I looked at Eben;—his jaw had fallen; his hands were rigid and locked
together; his eyes were rolled upward, fixed and glassy; a stream of
scarlet blood trickled over his gray beard from the corner of his
mouth;—he was dead! As I laid him back on the pillow and turned to
restore some quiet to the ward, a Norther came sweeping down the Gulf
like a rush of mad spirits; tore up the white crests of the sea and
flung them on the beach in thundering surf; burst through the heavy fog
that had trailed upon the moon's track and smothered the island in its
soft pestilent brooding; and in one mighty pouring out of cold pure
ether changed earth and sky from torrid to temperate zone.
Vainly did I endeavor to calm the terror of my patients, excited still
more by the elemental uproar without; vainly did I harangue them, in the
plainest terms to which science is reducible, on atmospheric vibrations,
acoustics, reverberations, and volcanic agencies; they insisted on some
supernatural power having produced the recent fearful sounds. Neither
common nor uncommon sense could prevail with them; and when they
discovered, by the appearance of the extra nurse I had sent for, to
perform the last offices for Jackson, that he was dead, a renewed
and irrepressible horror attacked them, and it was broad day before
composure or stillness was regained in any part of the building except
my own rooms, to which I betook myself as soon as possible, and slept
till sunrise, too soundly for any mystical visitation whatever to have
disturbed my rest.
The next day, in spite of the brief influence of the Norther, the first
case of yellow fever showed itself in the hospital; before night seven
had sickened, and one, already reduced by chronic disease, died. I had
hoped to bury Jackson decently, in the cemetery of the city, where his
vexed mortality might rest in peace under the oleanders and china-trees,
shut in by the hedge of Cherokee roses that guards the enclosure from
the prairie, a living wall of glassy green, strewn with ivory-white buds
and blossoms, fair and pure; but on applying for a burial-spot, the
city authorities, panic-stricken cowards that they were, denied me the
privilege even of a prairie grave, outside the cemetery hedge, for the
poor fellow. In vain did I represent that he had died of lingering
disease, and that nowise contagious; nothing moved them. It was enough
that there was yellow fever in the ward where he died. I was forthwith
strictly ordered to have all the dead from the hospital buried on the
sand-flats at the east end of the island.
What a place that is it is scarcely possible to describe. Wide and
dreary levels of sand, some four or five feet lower than the town,
and flooded by high tides; the only vegetation a scanty, dingy gray,
brittle, crackling growth,—bitter sandworts and the like; over and
through which the abominable tawny sand-crabs are constantly executing
diabolic waltzes on the tips of their eight legs, vanishing into the
ground like imps as you approach; curlews start from behind the loose
drifts of sand and float away with heartbroken cries seaward; little
sandpipers twitter plaintively, running through the weeds; and great,
sulky, gray cranes droop their motionless heads over the still salt
pools along the shore.
To this blank desolation I was forced to carry poor Jackson's body,
with that of the fever-patient, just at sunset. As the Dutchman who
officiated as hearse, sexton, bearer, and procession, stuck his spade
into the ground, and withdrew it full of crumbling shells and fine sand,
the hole it left filled with bitter black ooze. There, sunk in the ooze,
covered with the shifting sand, bewailed by the wild cries of sea-birds,
noteless and alone, I left Eben Jackson, and returned to the mass of
pestilence and wretchedness within the hospital walls.
In the spring I reached home safely. None but the resident on a Southern
sand-bank can fully appreciate the verdure and bloom of the North. The
great elms of my native town were full of tender buds, like a clinging
mist in their graceful branches; earlier trees were decked with little
leaves, deep-creased, and silvery with down; the wide river in a fluent
track of metallic lustre weltered through green meadows that on either
hand stretched far and wide; the rolling land beyond was spread out in
pastures, where the cattle luxuriated after the winter's stalling; and
on many a slope and plain the patient farmer turned up his heavy sods
and clay, to moulder in sun and air for seed-time and harvest; and the
beautiful valley that met the horizon on the north and south rolled away
eastward and westward to a low blue range of hills, that guarded it with
granite walls and bristling spears of hemlock and pine.
This is not my story; and if it were, I do not know that I should detail
my home-coming. It is enough to say, that I came after a five years'
absence, and found all that I had left nearly as I had left it;—how few
can say as much!
Various duties and some business arrangements kept me at work for six or
seven weeks, and it was June before I could fulfil my promise to Eben
Jackson. I took the venerable old horse and chaise that had carried my
father on his rounds for years, and made the best of my way out toward
Simsbury. I was alone, of course; even Cousin Lizzy, charming as five
years had made the little girl of thirteen whom I had left behind on
quitting home, was not invited to share my drive; there was something
too serious in the errand to endure the presence of a gay young lady.
But I was not lonely; the drive up Talcott Mountain, under the rude
portcullis of the toll-gate, through fragrant woods, by trickling
brooks, past huge boulders that scarce a wild vine dare cling to, with
its feeble, delicate tendrils, is all exquisite, and full of living
repose; and turning to descend the mountain, just where a brook drops
headlong with clattering leap into a steep black ravine, and comes out
over a tiny green meadow, sliding past great granite rocks, and bending
the grass-blades to a shining track, you see suddenly at your feet the
beautiful mountain valley of the Farmington river, trending away in hill
after hill,—rough granite ledges crowned with cedar and pine,—deep
ravines full of heaped rocks,—and here and there the formal white rows
of a manufacturing village, where Kühleborn is captured and forced to
turn water-wheels, and Undine picks cotton or grinds hardware, dammed
Into this valley I plunged, and inquiring my way of many a prim farmer's
wife and white-headed school-boy, I edged my way northward under the
mountain side, and just before noon found myself beneath the "great
ellum," where, nearly twenty years ago, Eben Jackson and Hetty Buel had
I tied my horse to the fence and walked up the worn footpath to the
door. Apparently no one was at home. Under this impression I knocked
vehemently, by way of making sure; and a weak, cracked voice at length
answered, "Come in!" There, by the window, perhaps the same where she
sat so long before, crouched in an old chair covered with calico, her
bent fingers striving with mechanical motion to knit a coarse stocking,
sat old Mrs. Buel. Age had worn to the extreme of attenuation a face
that must always have been hard-featured, and a few locks of snow-white
hair, straying from under the bandanna handkerchief of bright red and
orange that was tied over her cap and under her chin, added to the
old-world expression of her whole figure. She was very deaf; scarcely
could I make her comprehend that I wanted to see her grand-daughter; at
last she understood, and asked me to sit down till Hetty should come
from school; and before long, a tall, thin figure opened the gate and
came slowly up the path.
I had a good opportunity to observe the constant, dutiful, self-denying
Yankee girl,—girl no longer, now that twenty years of unrewarded
patience had lined her face with unmistakable graving. But I could not
agree with Eben's statement that she was not pretty; she must have been
so in her youth; even now there was beauty in her deep-set and heavily
fringed dark eyes, soft, tender, and serious, and in the noble and
pensive Greek outline of the brow and nose; her upper lip and chin were
too long to agree well with her little classic head, but they gave a
certain just and pure expression to the whole face, and to the large
thin-lipped mouth, flexible yet firm in its lines. It is true, her hair
was neither abundant, nor wanting in gleaming threads of gray; her skin
was freckled, sallow, and devoid of varying tint or freshness; her
figure angular and spare; her hands red with hard work; and her air at
once sad and shy;—still, Hetty Buel was a very lovely woman in my eyes,
though I doubt if Lizzy would have thought so.
I hardly knew how to approach the painful errand I had come on, and with
true masculine awkwardness I cut the matter short by drawing out from my
pocket-book the Panama chain and ring, and placing them in her hands.
Well as I thought I knew the New England character, I was not prepared
for so quiet a reception of this token as she gave it. With a steady
hand she untwisted the wire fastening of the chain, slipped the ring
off, and, bending her head, placed it reverently on the ring-finger of
her left hand;—brief, but potent ceremony; and over without preface or
comment, but over for all time.
Still holding the chain, she offered me a chair, and sat down
herself,—a little paler, a little more grave, than on entering.
"Will you tell me how and where he died, Sir?" said she,—evidently
having long considered the fact in her heart as a fact; probably having
heard Seth Crane's story of the Louisa Miles's loss.
I detailed my patient's tale as briefly and sympathetically as I knew
how. The episode of Wailua caused a little flushing of lip and cheek, a
little twisting of the ring, as if it were not to be worn, after all;
but as I told of his sacred care of the trinket for its giver's sake,
and the not unwilling forsaking of that island wife, the restless motion
passed away, and she listened quietly to the end; only once lifting her
left hand to her lips, and resting her head on it for a moment, as
I detailed the circumstances of his death, after supplying what was
wanting in his own story, from the time of his taking passage in Crane's
ship, to their touching at the island, expressly to leave him in the
Hospital, when a violent hemorrhage had disabled him from further
I was about to tell her I had seen him decently buried,—of course
omitting descriptions of the how and where,—when the grandmother, who
had been watching us with the impatient querulousness of age, hobbled
across the room to ask "what that 'are man was a-talkin' about."
Briefly and calmly, in the key long use had suited to her infirmity,
Hetty detailed the chief points of my story.
"Dew tell!" exclaimed the old woman; "Eben Jackson a'n't dead on dry
land, is he? Left means, eh?"
I walked away to the door, biting my lip. Hetty, for once, reddened to
the brow; but replaced her charge in the chair and followed me to the
"Good day, Sir," said she, offering me her hand,—and then slightly
hesitating,—"Grandmother is very old. I thank you, Sir! I thank you
As she turned and went toward the house, I saw the glitter of the Panama
chain about her thin and sallow throat, and, by the motion of her hands,
that she was retwisting the same wire fastening that Eben Jackson had
manufactured for it.
Five years after, last June, I went to Simsbury with a gay picnic party.
This time Lizzy was with me; indeed, she generally is now.
I detached myself from the rest, after we were fairly arranged for the
day, and wandered away alone to "Miss Buel's."
The house was closed, the path grassy, a sweetbrier bush had blown
across the door, and was gay with blossoms; all was still, dusty,
desolate. I could not be satisfied with this. The meeting-house was
as near as any neighbor's, and the graveyard would ask me no curious
questions; I entered it doubting; but there, "on the leeward side," near
to the grave of "Bethia Jackson, wife of John Eben Jackson," were two
new stones, one dated but a year later than the other, recording the
deaths of "Temperance Buel, aged 96," and "Hester Buel, aged 44."