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Civil War Harper's Weekly, February 13, 1864

Welcome to our online collection of Civil War Harper's Weekly newspapers. This collection presents you with a valuable source or original reports and illustrations of the War. Harper's was the prominent source of information for people during the war, and today is popular among collectors and researchers.

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HARPER'S WEEKLY.

[FEBRUARY 13, 1864.

106

SHADOWY MISGIVINGS.

I MAY as well begin by stating that my name is Blushman—Percival Blushman. I believe an unusual name; but that will not affect the course of the little true narrative which I am about to introduce, and which I hope will "run smooth."

Further preliminary particulars in reference to Percival Blushman may not perhaps be found uninteresting. From childhood upward I have always had a leaning—a yearning, in fact—for the noble. The grand, the colossal, fills my mind with a strange sensation of speechless awe. Nature's grandest works are to me always sublime in the direct proportion to their size and strength. An elephant some way seemed to affect me with a greater thrill of admiration than, say, a powerful mastiff, though the latter might naturally furnish more immediate grounds of alarm. Yet so it was. Even such a thing as a cattle-show had on these grounds a strange fascination for me; and, a prey to mingled feelings of repulsion and attraction, I found myself surveying the gross charms of the kine so mysteriously and wonderfully fattened. Yet so it was. All monstrous developments—Great Easterns, Great Exhibitions for all nations, and even the stalwart forms of the heroes of the ring, all excited this elevating tone of mind—morbid, some of my friends called it. Yet so it was.

I was reading for the Bar. I had determined to walk that famous Westminster Hall, which a Scarlett, a Ffollett, and the rest of the profession, had walked. Every thing, too, about it was large, stately, grand—and that impressed me. The statutes, the reports, the suits (of law), the suits (of costume), the wigs, the abuses, the excellences, and (sometimes) the fees, all were on a monstrous and overgrown scale. It struck me, too—but this might have been fanciful—that the physique of the men was greater. But about their professional reputation there could be no question, boasting such men as a Scarlett, an Erskine, a Ffollett, and many more.

I was, then, reading for the Bar, with a view of being "called" by the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. The Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn. How euphonistic! It seemed to come to me rolling down a church aisle like an anthem. I was reading hard, very hard; I felt the responsibility of the course I had chosen; of the path made sacred by the steps of a Scarlett, of a—but I must not allude to those famous names again. I determined not to see my fellow-creatures; I declined routs, and female society generally; I rose in the mornings two hours earlier than I was accustomed to—that is to say, at half past eight; and it being now close on a Christmas week, I had, with the calm disposition of a suttee, declined a dancing, shooting, driving, riding, general merry-making party, down in the country. Tears came almost to my eyes as I rose with the lark at the cold dull hour of half past eight, and I thought of Greyforest, for I had been there before, and shot, and driven, and danced. But then I thought of a Scarlett, and of—the rest, and how they, too, rose betimes as I was doing, and labored, and gave up shooting and dancing. And then, sternly, I brought all my law books together in a pyre, and, laying myself down on the top—a true suttee—set fire to—that is, began to read again with desperation.

I grew ill in the struggle. I have heard the expression used "broke down"—I think it a good one. So I broke down. I confess it was hard to say what had broken, or where it had broken, or why the breakage should have been down and not up, or at least in a lateral direction.

I was sitting one night in this state of general fracture at my lonely chambers, when my friend Twentyman burst in. He, too, was reading for the Bar; but not as I was reading. He danced and sang. He had come on an errand of charity. He had heard of the break-down, and found me with all the broken pieces about me: he pitied me.

"Blushman, my boy," he said, "what's all this? Never mind; you must come with me. A little in the dumps? Never mind; I have got a notion that I will soon put you straight."

Put me straight—put straight what was broken down! I smiled at the notion, but waved to him to proceed.

"You must come with me," he said. "I have a scheme. I am going to-night to the Strongbows, out to Triton Villas. You don't know the Strong-bows; I do."

I did not see how this concerned me, and was about to interrupt him with what is called in our legal dialect a demurrer, when he stopped me.

"You must come with me," he said. "You must know the Strongbows; you must go out to Triton Villas."

This was more pertinent, so I withdrew my demurrer, and substituted what is called—still in our legal jargon—a traverse.

"Impossible," I said. "Graver matters engross me. It was not thus that a Scarlett, a Ffollett—a Sir William Ffollett, I mean—"

"I know," he said, "exactly. But as a favor—a particular favor, old friend—oblige; never have asked you for any thing." (This was scarcely consistent with truth; yet I did not allude to a trifling loan, barely three weeks old.) "Do, do, do now."

In short, I weakly consented. I gave way. I bound myself to go out to the Strongbows, positively for one night only, as I think I have seen it in some public notices. As he was going out, he said, thoughtfully, "We can join in a cab, you know; that will just do;" and went his way.

At night he came, and we did join in a cab—at least as far as mere occupancy went; but in a more figurative and fiscal sense, I might be considered the sole tenant. My friend had forgotten his purse —unfortunately, as I considered it: I had brought mine—fortunately, as he considered it. We entered the Triton Villas, the home of the Strong-bows.

It was a party. The house was not to say large: on oath, I should adhere to the statement that it was small. It stood by itself in a little garden, and, being lit up, looked like a square card lantern.

There was a small hall, where hats and coats were shoveled up together in a mound of wearing apparel. Sounds of feeble pianoforte-playing issued from the room.

We entered. I was made known to the hostess by my friend, who straight cut the social painter—I believe that is the nautical term—that joined him to me, and stood out himself to sea. I scarcely saw him again that night, and I now divined the sordid motives that had prompted him to solicit my company. And as this reflection occurred to me, I suddenly saw beside me a miracle of strength, symmetry, and beauty—that is, a miracle of female strength, symmetry, and beauty.

I was amazed. She overpowered me with her presence. Such a form! More a hint than a positive manifestation of secret strength; yet nothing out of proportion. Athletic is scarcely the word; stoutness suggests itself with horrible indelicacy; and yet it is miles away from the truth. A coarse mind would say extra stout; but I have my own ideal, and she reached to it. Six feet of beauty, yet in proportion. A corresponding breadth of person was only harmony. Every thing reached to my ideal. She was tall, graceful, strong, matchless, superb, lithe. Ah! at last there is the word! Lithe she was, and I was introduced to her.

Why linger over the earlier stages of that passion? The whole of that evening I played and eddied around her like the waters about the foot of the great Bass Rock. I looked up and measured her with admiration. I spoke with her, and to my joy found she too had an ideal of secret strength and poetical muscularity. She candidly told me that I did not reach to that ideal, and my heart sank; but she saw, she said, that I could admire the same ideal, which was the next best thing, and my heart rose again. We presently understood each other, and she took me into confidence. She was amused at my unrestrained and almost childish admiration. She told me many things that night (on the stairs). How she loved tales of daring deeds; of her hero who, with a single stroke of his keen falchion, cleft a sheep whole; of her second hero, who wrestled with a lion on the savage desert; of her third hero, who had pulled down a tree with his single arm; of her heroes in general, whom she loved to go and see at circuses, lying upon their backs upon a carpet, cast their offspring into the air, and catch them skillfully on the soles of their feet. I told her of the athletic man I had once seen, who threw fifty half hundred-weights in succession over his head as though they had been feathers. She eagerly broke in and asked me had I ever seen Herr Betz, the German professor, who lifted an ordinary stone weight with his little finger. We grew enthusiastic in our mutual confidences. "I will tell you a secret," she said, "as you are the only one I ever met that understands me. Mamma and papa know nothing of it. They would kill me if they did."

I smiled at this pardonable little exaggeration of filial reverence. Papa and mamma were a little man and a little woman, of wretched muscular development. But my noble girl, as I may call her, felt that no muscular charms of person ought to emancipate her from parental control. "Yes," I said, eagerly, "do tell me. I love to hear those things."

"Well," she said, bending down her—may I call them massive?—yes, massive shoulders. "No," she said, raising her massive shoulders, "no, I couldn't tell you. You will laugh."

"Laugh," I said, wounded deeply; "do you take me for one of those heartless circulating things yonder, who have no feeling for the beautiful, the strong, the—?"

" What is it, Captain Rideaboot?" she said, sweetly, to that officer, who was standing over her. A chill passed athwart my heart like a knife. Captain Rideaboot was a giant. Miltonic in his proportions; Goliath in a dress-suit. I hated and scorned him with a deep, deadly, defiant, passionate scorn.

He took her away—took her to the dance. With a horrible gnawing I marked their progress. I had to own myself, with a frightful pang, that they were suited. He was a Patagonian, and yet, Oh! yes, a graceful Patagonian. There was, I owned it with a loud groan, muscular poetry somewhere. They performed their dance, and swept a road clear for themselves in the little room. It was fine; like the great Miltonic monster again, I trembled while compelled to admire. It was over; but another creature, one of the vertebrate order called a brother-officer, came crawling up, and to him the man Rideaboot handed her. Rideaboot then went his way, mopping and fanning himself with his handkerchief; for he suffered by exercise.

The other was a wretched thing—a mere reptile, if I may be pardoned the noun. His action was ungraceful; I could see she was suffering agonies with him. It was soon over, and then, after an interval, came—I declare yes—that—that beast (I must call him something)—again offered his odious person for the measure that was now about commencing: and she, I grieve to say, yielded. And yet to me, writhing in a corner, the sight was beautiful to see, as they floated, rather surged, with a gentle roll round the room. Other mere ordinary dancing fry fell away from their path like waves before a ship's keel. Going away, I caught her for a moment. My friend had come to me an hour before, and proposed, with a strange effrontery, that we should again "join in a cab" home. Following my massive charmer as she floated by I agreed mechanically, and he had gone out to secure a vehicle. That conveyance had been retained now more than an hour, yet I did not regard it. Strange to say, he did not; though we were to "join."

I caught her for a moment, in the moral sense of the word. "Sit down," she said; "I want to talk to you."

"You must tell me," I said, "this secret. What is it like? Something large, grand, stupendous!"

"I can't," she said, smiling; "you would laugh at my weakness, for a weakness it is."

A weakness in her! Physical? No. But I was burning to know.

"Something that I am sadly addicted to," she said, with meaning, "and daren't tell you. Good-

night; come and see me. You understand me, I can see."

Perhaps I did. But with reference to that Rideaboot, did he understand?—as well, or perhaps better? "I should like," I said aloud, "to have that uninformed beast here in this cab, say under the seat."

"Hallo!" said my friend; "asleep, eh? How did you like it, though? A little too small a crib, eh?"

"Small!" I said, indignantly. "What do you call large? What do you call symmetry? What do you call massiveness, shape, outline, proportions? I say," I continued, excitedly, "what do you call these? You a judge?" I added, derisively. "Talk of what you know—pipes, bats, and the United Suffield Duffers. There's your line."

He was scared at my manner, and did not resume the subject. I waited for him with an intellectual bludgeon raised to smash him if he should; but he didn't.

"We shall go out there to-morrow," I said; "you and I."

"I can't," he said. "I have an engagement."

"The Duffers, I suppose?" I said, scornfully. "Put them off. I have no engagement. We go."

He was again cowed. He agreed. We went next day. We joined in a cab; but he proposed it feebly.

We got to Triton Villas. We saw her. Papa, mamma, and all the world, except a younger sister, were out; and by a sudden and ferocious look, I made him devote himself entirely to this child of nature. The child took him presently to show him her doll. We got on delightfully. "But the secret," I said; "what you are addicted to. Do, do, DO tell me."

"Ah, it is a vice," she said, with a sigh; "an unwomanly vice. The world would point at me if they knew. The mouth of an enemy," she added, prettily, "often steals away our brains, you know."

Where had I heard that? "But this obscure language," I said.

"It is growing on me every day," she said, mournfully. "I am enslaved to it, and can not shake it off. If I told you you would despise me, and yet I mean well."

I was growing alarmed. These were phrases usually applied to one species of human vice the most degrading of our nature. Surely—surely—in one so young, so grand, so noble—ah! that was it. To keep that splendid system well strung, who knows but that some stimulating—

"I will give you a hint," she said, in a low, meaning voice, and looking round to see she was not heard. "Dobbler has just sent me the materials, and I have contrived to smuggle them in."

At this moment her parents returned. We went away; I in sorrow and grief, and a prey to a thousand misgivings. " What," said I, as we journeyed home in the cab we had joined in (I mean that I had joined—I mean that he didn't join in),"what is the popular quotation about the mouth—an enemy stealing our brains?"

"To drink," he replied, humbly; "to strong drink indulged in to excess. And the accurate shape of the quotation is something about putting an enemy in our mouth to steal away our brains. It occurs in Othello."

"You should lecture," I said, sarcastically, "on the immortal bard, and on the unities. Reserved seats, five shillings. Your exegesis—I believe that is the new word—your exegesis would be entertaining. You would draw."

This bitterness silenced him. He would not again presume to be merry at my expense.

"You must come with me," I said to him, "as near to midnight as is convenient."

"Midnight!" he said, amazed. "Where? Why?"

Where? Why?

"To Triton Villas; and because I want you," said I, answering his two questions curtly. "That is the where, and the why. We are going to walk by night. I must satisfy the horrid doubts that you have raised."

"I raised! When? Where?" He stopped himself hastily. "I mean, I raised none."

"We will watch," I said; "you at the back, I at the front. You at the side, I at the other; you all round generally, I every where. You understand me?"

"No," he said, vacantly.

"And yet," I said, with pity, "if I addressed you in the slang of your profession—for cricketing, with the addition of pipes, is your profession—you would understand. I could adapt my language to the meanest capacity; but I won't."

He was stung by this cutting remark, and agreed without a word more.

Toward midnight, or more accurately speaking, about eleven o'clock, we again—and for the last time joined in a cab, on the old commandite principle. I had a strange foreboding, as I took my seat, and the strange sound of the door closing with a jar and discordant jam. Something was impending, I was convinced, but I would know the worst.

We reached the neighborhood of Triton Villas, and drew up the vehicle in a by-lane, where he was to wait our coming. I may add that this arrangement was not perfected until after the exhibition of a disheartening lack of confidence in the person who drove, and who required a partial settlement of his claims before he would consent to let us go our way. I went my way cautiously, my friend following vacantly as in a dream. Here was—were—which is it? Triton Villas.

All was still, as I looked over the railings; all was pushed in repose. Not a sound. From one window, and from one only, flashed light. I knew whose window it was, from information I had received. When I received it, I thought myself blessed; but there are things—and I don't know whose the thought is—which it is better wisdom not to know. It was her window, without shutters, but with a yellow blind down—alas! too much down—illuminated from behind. Shadows—a shadow, rather—passed at times fitfully across. A grand,

stately, full, comprehensive shadow, which I would have picked out among a thousand shadows. These reflections have an individuality of their own.

We were still at the railings, looking through. He coughed; there was a slight fog, natural in the country, rising from the ground. I turned on him fiercely, and he did not cough again for some time. Suddenly the shadow, hitherto restive and unsteady, acquired a darker intensity, which could be explained, on principles of natural philosophy, by a nearer approach to the window. It seemed to expand in size, and remained perfectly calm and quiescent. What was she—it—about to do? Had she—it—seen us? My breath came and went. Suddenly—how shall I tell it? but I was near to fainting at the moment, and but for the rails would have fallen—I saw—saw—saw distinctly, projected —yes, projected is the word—with all the vividness of a spectral image in a photograph, projected upon the blind, a shadow of some material object in her hand. Indistinct at first, with a horrible vividness, it gradually took shape—a vile, odious, terrific, but unmistakable shape. The outlines of an object but too familiar, tapering at the neck (the object's neck), distended and swollen about the body (the object's body), and distinctly applied to the mouth (her mouth)—a FLASK! its contents partaken of, not, not by the agency of the vehicles furnished by civilization, but with the degrading simplicity of savage life.

It was all over. The dream was past, and I tottered away to the cab, my friend humanely leading me.

This, then, was the secret of those mysterious allusions—the "little vice which she was addicted to" —of which she dare not tell her parents, and "the materials" for which (there was an Irish student at an Inn of Court always calling for what he called the materials; I knew what he meant) she had to "get in" privately. Worse than all, was the strange moral obliquity which could lead her to speak so lightly of the fatal passion, which would lead her by slow degrees down the abyss.

Such a night I spent. A female, too! Was not this the most degrading feature. Moralists tell us, that for a man there is hope, but once a female become enslaved, then reformation is all but impossible!

I determined to tear her from my heart, and go back to the outraged Ffollett, to the Erskine, the Scarlett, too long neglected. And yet I could not shut out her image, that is to say, that particular image, with its horrid accompaniment. It was always before my eyes.

She wrote to me, inviting me to go and see her; she wanted to talk to me, she said: I understood her. (I did understand her.) In a postscriptum she added, "Perhaps I may confide to you the little weakness you were so curious about."

I wrote a reply, half mysterious, half scornful—I wonder what she thought of it. I told her bitterly that I knew all, had discovered all; that the necessity of devotion to my legal studies would prevent my having the pleasure of waiting on her; but that, as a friend, nay, an acquaintance, I trusted she would not resent the few words of friendly counsel I would venture to give her, for her own sake. "Fly," I said, "fly the fatal seduction; it will gradually impair your strength, weaken your powers, and stupefy the faculties. Every time you yield to the temptation, think, oh think how you are hurrying to destruction."

An answer arrived next day, couched in very mysterious language. She could not understand the tone of my letter. If I had discovered, as I said I had, what she was engaged in, there was nothing, thank Heaven, to blush for. Many good and eminent persons had before given way to the same weakness. For her part she gloried in it, and would never give up the practice. "Impair my strength!" she added; "how little you know—After—after every bout I feel myself stronger and better." (Every bout! of course she fancied she did; the most confirmed drun—I mean beings—that is their fatal delusion.)

I strove to banish her from my mind, but ineffectually.

Two months passed away. It was too much for me; it was wearing me to a thread. It must end one way or the other; I chose the other way. I would go and see Triton Villas merely out of curiosity.

I stood at the gate with mingled feelings. Before me was the fatal window. I paused. Should I go in merely out of curiosity? Prudence said yes, and in I went.

I saw her; she was good-natured, genial, warm.

She reproached me gently with my absence. She was afraid I was offended. She was more grieved than angry, I could see, and, with a sudden impulse, I resolved that we should have a reconciliation. I love scenes of reconciliation.

"But you must come to us now. Next week we are to have a little festival; in short, I am going—"

"Away?" I said, with a start of alarm.

"Well, yes," she said, a little embarrassed. "Did they not tell you? I thought you knew it. It has been settled some time."

"That you were to go away?" I said.

"Yes," she said, "and my marriage also."

"Your marriage!" I started from my seat. "And who is the vile impostor; the base—er—er—" I could not think of a word for a moment, "er—scullion—who has dared—"

"Hush! hush!" she said, amused and flattered at my warmth. "If Captain Rideaboot heard you—"

"Better and better," I said, bitterly; "nothing could be better or more suitable."

"Well," she said, modestly, "it is considered a good match; and do you know," she added, "he has been so good, so kind, so generous about that little—you know—weakness of mine, which I hinted to you. He will not require me to give it up—"

"Ha! ha!" I laughed; "what reveling you will have together!"

"Yes," she said; "the truth is, I have found out


 

 

  

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