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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDoctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVII
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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVII Post by :Igor_Gir Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :2978

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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVII

To return from this long discussion, the Warden took kindly, as we have
said, to Redclyffe, and thought him a miraculously good fellow, to have
come from the rude American republic. Hitherto, in the little time that
he had been in England, Redclyffe had received civil and even kind
treatment from the English with whom he had come casually in contact;
but still--perhaps partly from our Yankee narrowness and reserve--he
had felt, in the closest coming together, as if there were a naked
sword between the Englishman and him, as between the Arabian prince in
the tale and the princess whom he wedded; he felt as if that would be
the case even if he should love an Englishwoman; to such a distance,
into such an attitude of self-defence, does English self-complacency
and belief in England's superiority throw the stranger. In fact, in a
good-natured way, John Bull is always doubling his fist in a stranger's
face, and though it be good-natured, it does not always produce the
most amiable feeling.

The worthy Warden, being an Englishman, had doubtless the same kind of
feeling; doubtless, too, he thought ours a poor, distracted country,
perhaps prosperous for the moment, but as likely as not to be the scene
of anarchy five minutes hence; but being of so genial a nature, when he
came to see the amiableness of his young guest, and how deeply he was
impressed with England, all prejudice died away, and he loved him like
a treasure that he had found for himself, and valued him as if there
were something of his own in him. And so the old Warden's residence had
never before been so cheery as it was now; his bachelor life passed the
more pleasantly with this quiet, vivacious, yet not troublesomely
restless spirit beside him,--this eager, almost childish interest in
everything English, and yet this capacity to take independent views of
things, and sometimes, it might be, to throw a gleam of light even on
things appertaining to England. And so, the better they came to know
one another, the greater was their mutual liking.

"I fear I am getting too strong to burden you much longer," said
Redclyffe, this morning. "I have no pretence to be a patient now."

"Pooh! nonsense!" ejaculated the Warden. "It will not be safe to leave
you to yourself for at least a month to come. And I have half a dozen
excursions in a neighborhood of twenty miles, in which I mean to show
you what old England is, in a way that you would never find out for
yourself. Do not speak of going. This day, if you find yourself strong
enough, you shall go and look at an old village church."

"With all my heart," said Redclyffe.

They went, accordingly, walking slowly, in consequence of Redclyffe's
yet imperfect strength, along the highroad, which was overshadowed with
elms, that grew in beautiful shape and luxuriance in that part of
England, not with the slender, drooping, picturesque grace of a New
England elm, but more luxuriant, fuller of leaves, sturdier in limb. It
was a day which the Warden called fine, and which Redclyffe, at home,
would have thought to bode rain; though here he had learned that such
weather might continue for weeks together, with only a few raindrops
all the time. The road was in the finest condition, hard and dry.

They had not long emerged from the gateway of the Hospital,--at the
venerable front and gables of which Redclyffe turned to look with a
feeling as if it were his home,--when they heard the clatter of hoofs
behind them, and a gentleman on horseback rode by, paying a courteous
salute to the Warden as he passed. A groom in livery followed at a
little distance, and both rode roundly towards the village, whither the
Warden and his friend were going.

"Did you observe that man?" asked the Warden.

"Yes," said Redclyffe. "Is he an Englishman?"

"That is a pertinent question," replied the Warden, "but I scarcely
know how to answer it."

In truth, Redclyffe's question had been suggested by the appearance of
the mounted gentleman, who was a dark, thin man, with black hair, and a
black moustache and pointed beard setting off his sallow face, in which
the eyes had a certain pointed steeliness, which did not look English,
--whose eyes, methinks, are usually not so hard as those of Americans or
foreigners. Redclyffe, somehow or other, had fancied that these not
very pleasant eyes had been fixed in a marked way on himself, a
stranger, while at the same time his salute was evidently directed
towards the Warden.

"An Englishman,--why, no," continued the latter. "If you observe, he
does not even sit his horse like an Englishman, but in that absurd,
stiff continental way, as if a poker should get on horseback. Neither
has he an English face, English manners, nor English religion, nor an
English heart; nor, to sum up the whole, had he English birth.
Nevertheless, as fate would have it, he is the inheritor of a good old
English name, a fine patrimonial estate, and a very probable claim to
an old English title. This is Lord Braithwaite of Braithwaite Hall, who
if he can make his case good (and they say there is good prospect of
it) will soon be Lord Hinchbrooke."

"I hardly know why, but I should be sorry for it," said Redclyffe. "He
certainly is not English; and I have an odd sort of sympathy, which
makes me unwilling that English honors should be enjoyed by foreigners.
This, then, is the gentleman of Italian birth whom you have mentioned
to me, and of whom there is a slight mention in the County History."

"Yes," said the Warden. "There have been three descents of this man's
branch in Italy, and only one English mother in all that time.
Positively, I do not see an English trait in his face, and as little in
his manner. His civility is Italian, such as oftentimes, among his
countrymen, has offered a cup of poison to a guest, or insinuated the
stab of a stiletto into his heart."

"You are particularly bitter against this poor man," said Redclyffe,
laughing at the Warden's vehemence. "His appearance--and yet he is a
handsome man--is certainly not prepossessing; but unless it be
countersigned by something in his actual life, I should hardly think it
worth while to condemn him utterly."

"Well, well; you can forgive a little English prejudice," said the
Warden, a little ashamed. "But, in good earnest, the man has few or no
good traits, takes no interest in the country, dislikes our sky, our
earth, our people, is close and inhospitable, a hard landlord, and
whatever may be his good qualities, they are not such as flourish in
this soil and climate, or can be appreciated here." (Endnote: 1.)

"Has he children?" asked Redclyffe.

"They say so,--a family by an Italian wife, whom some, on the other
hand, pronounce to be no wife at all. His son is at a Catholic college
in France; his daughter in a convent there."

In talk like this they were drawing near the little rustic village of
Braithwaite, and saw, above a cloud of foliage, the small, low,
battlemented tower, the gray stones of which had probably been laid a
little after the Norman conquest. Approaching nearer, they passed a
thatched cottage or two, very plain and simple edifices, though
interesting to Redclyffe from their antique aspect, which denoted that
they were probably older than the settlement of his own country, and
might very likely have nursed children who had gone, more than two
centuries ago, to found the commonwealth of which he was a citizen. If
you considered them in one way, prosaically, they were ugly enough; but
then there were the old latticed windows, and there the thatch, which
was verdant with leek, and strange weeds, possessing a whole botanical
growth. And birds flew in and out, as if they had their homes there.
Then came a row of similar cottages, all joined on together, and each
with a little garden before it divided from its neighbors by a hedge,
now in full verdure. Redclyffe was glad to see some symptoms of natural
love of beauty here, for there were plants of box, cut into queer
shapes of birds, peacocks, etc., as if year after year had been spent
in bringing these vegetable sculptures to perfection. In one of the
gardens, moreover, the ingenious inhabitant had spent his leisure in
building grotto-work, of which the English are rather ludicrously fond,
on their little bits of lawn, and in building a miniature castle of
oyster-shells, where were seen turrets, ramparts, a frowning arched
gateway, and miniature cannon looking from the embrasures. A pleasanter
and better adornment were the homely household flowers, and a pleasant
sound, too, was the hum of bees, who had their home in several
beehives, and were making their honey among the flowers of the garden,
or come from afar, buzzing dreamily through the air, laden with honey
that they had found elsewhere. Fruit trees stood erect, or, in some
instances, were flattened out against the walls of cottages, looking
somewhat like hawks nailed _in terrorem against a barn door. The
male members of this little community were probably afield, with the
exception of one or two half-torpid great-grandsires, who (were) moving
rheumatically about the gardens, and some children not yet in breeches,
who stared with stolid eyes at the passers-by; but the good dames were
busy within doors, where Redclyffe had glimpses of their interior with
its pavement of stone flags. Altogether it seemed a comfortable
settlement enough.

"Do you see that child yonder," observed the Warden, "creeping away
from the door, and displaying a vista of his petticoats as he does so?
That sturdy boy is the lineal heir of one of the oldest families in
this part of England,--though now decayed and fallen, as you may judge.
So, you see, with all our contrivances to keep up an aristocracy, there
still is change forever going on."

"There is something not agreeable, and something otherwise, in the
thought," replied Redclyffe. "What is the name of the old family, whose
representative is in such a case?"

"Moseby," said the Warden. "Their family residence stood within three
miles of Braithwaite Hall, but was taken down in the last century, and
its place supplied by a grand show-place, built by a Birmingham
manufacturer, who also originated here."

They kept onward from this outskirt of the village, and soon, passing
over a little rising ground, and descending now into a hollow came to
the new portion of it, clustered around its gray Norman church, one
side of the tower of which was covered with ivy, that was carefully
kept, the Warden said, from climbing to the battlements, on account of
some old prophecy that foretold that the tower would fall, if ever the
ivy mantled over its top. Certainly, however, there seemed little
likelihood that the square, low mass would fall, unless by external
violence, in less than as many ages as it had already stood.

Redclyffe looked at the old tower and little adjoining edifice with an
interest that attached itself to every separate, moss-grown stone; but
the Warden, like most Englishmen, was at once amazed and wearied with
the American's enthusiasm for this spot, which to him was uninteresting
for the very reason that made it most interesting to Redclyffe, because
it had stood there such a weary while. It was too common an object to
excite in his mind, as it did in Redclyffe's, visions of the long ago
time when it was founded, when mass was first said there, and the
glimmer of torches at the altar was seen through the vista of that
broad-browed porch; and of all the procession of villagers that had
since gone in and come out during nine hundred years, in their varying
costume and fashion, but yet--and this was the strongest and most
thrilling part of the idea--all, the very oldest of them, bearing a
resemblance of feature, the kindred, the family likeness, to those who
died yesterday,--to those who still went thither to worship; and that
all the grassy and half-obliterated graves around had held those who
bore the same traits.

In front of the church was a little green, on which stood a very
ancient yew tree, (Endnote: 2) all the heart of which seemed to have
been eaten away by time, so that a man could now creep into the trunk,
through a wide opening, and, looking upward, see another opening to the
sky.

"That tree," observed the Warden, "is well worth the notice of such an
enthusiastic lover of old things; though I suppose aged trees may be
the one antiquity that you do not value, having them by myriads in your
primeval forests. But then the interest of this tree consists greatly
in what your trees have not,--in its long connection with men and the
goings of men. Some of its companions were made into bows for Harold's
archers. This tree is of unreckonable antiquity; so old, that in a
record of the time of Edward IV. it is styled the yew tree of
Braithwaite Green. That carries it back to Norman times, truly. It was
in comparatively modern times when it served as a gallows for one of
James II.'s bloodthirsty judges to hang his victims on after Monmouth's
rebellion."

On one side of this yew was a certain structure which Redclyffe did not
recognize as anything that he had before seen, but soon guessed its
purpose; though, from appearances, it seemed to have been very long
since it had served that purpose. It was a ponderous old oaken
framework, six or seven feet high, so contrived that a heavy cross-
piece shut down over another, leaving two round holes; in short, it was
a pair of stocks, in which, I suppose, hundreds of vagrants and petty
criminals had sat of old, but which now appeared to be merely a matter
of curiosity.

"This excellent old machine," said the Warden, "had been lying in a
rubbish chamber of the church tower for at least a century; when the
clerk, who is a little of an antiquarian, unearthed it, and I advised
him to set it here, where it used to stand;--not with any idea of its
being used (though there is as much need of it now as ever), but that
the present age may see what comforts it has lost."

They sat down a few moments on the circular seat, and looked at the
pretty scene of this quiet little village, clustered round the old
church as a centre; a collection of houses, mostly thatched, though
there were one or two, with rather more pretension, that had roofs of
red tiles. Some of them were stone cottages, whitewashed, but the
larger edifices had timber frames, filled in with brick and plaster,
which seemed to have been renewed in patches, and to be a frailer and
less durable material than the old oak of their skeletons. They were
gabled, with lattice windows, and picturesquely set off with projecting
stones, and many little patchwork additions, such as, in the course of
generations, the inhabitants had found themselves to need. There was
not much commerce, apparently, in this little village, there seeming to
be only one shop, with some gingerbread, penny whistles, ballads, and
such matters, displayed in the window; and there, too, across the
little green, opposite the church, was the village alehouse, with its
bench under the low projecting eaves, with a Teniers scene of two
wayfaring yeomen drinking a pot of beer and smoking their pipes.

With Redclyffe's Yankee feelings, there was something sad to think how
the generations had succeeded one another, over and over, in
innumerable succession, in this little spot, being born here, living,
dying, lying down among their fathers' dust, and forthwith getting up
again, as it were, and recommencing the same meaningless round, and
really bringing nothing to pass; for probably the generation of to-day,
in so secluded and motionless a place as this, had few or no ideas in
advance of their ancestors of five centuries ago. It seems not worth
while that more than one generation of them should have existed. Even
in dress, with their smock frocks and breeches, they were just like
their fathers. The stirring blood of the new land,--where no man dwells
in his father's house,--where no man thinks of dying in his
birthplace,--awoke within him, and revolted at the thought; and, as
connected with it, revolted at all the hereditary pretensions which,
since his stay here, had exercised such an influence over the fanciful
part of his nature. In another mood, the village might have seemed a
picture of rural peace, which it would have been worth while to give up
ambition to enjoy; now, as his warmer impulse stirred, it was a
weariness to think of. The new American was stronger in him than the
hereditary Englishman.

"I should go mad of it!" exclaimed he aloud.

He started up impulsively, to the amazement of his companion, who of
course could not comprehend what seemed so to have stung his American
friend. As they passed the tree, on the other side of its huge trunk,
they saw a young woman, sitting on that side of it, and sketching,
apparently, the church tower, with the old Elizabethan vicarage that
stood near it, with a gate opening into the churchyard, and much
embowered and ivy-hung.

"Ah, Miss Cheltenham," said the Warden. "I am glad to see that you have
taken the old church in hand, for it is one of the prettiest rustic
churches in England, and as well worthy as any to be engraved on a
sheet of note-paper or put into a portfolio. Will you let my friend and
me see your sketch?"

The Warden had made his request with rather more freedom than perhaps
he would to a lady whom he considered on a level with himself, though
with perfect respect, that being considered; and Redclyffe, looking at
the person, saw that it was the same of whose face he had had a glimpse
in the looking-glass, in the old palmer's chamber.

"No, Doctor Hammond," said the young lady, with a respectful sort of
frankness, "you must excuse me. I am no good artist, and am but jotting
down the old church because I like it."

"Well, well, as you please," said the Warden; and whispered aside to
Redclyffe, "A girl's sketchbook is seldom worth looking at. But now,
Miss Cheltenham, I am about to give my American friend here a lecture
on gargoyles, and other peculiarities of sacred Gothic architecture;
and if you will honor me with your attention, I should be glad to find
my audience increased by one."

So the young lady arose, and Redclyffe, considering the Warden's
allusion to him as a sort of partial introduction, bowed to her, and
she responded with a cold, reserved, yet not unpleasant sort of
courtesy. They went towards the church porch, and, looking in at the
old stone bench on each side of the interior, the Warden showed them
the hacks of the swords of the Roundheads, when they took it by storm.
Redclyffe, mindful of the old graveyard on the edge of which he had
spent his childhood, began to look at this far more antique receptacle,
expecting to find there many ancient tombstones, perhaps of
contemporaries or predecessors of the founders of his country. In this,
however, he was disappointed, at least in a great measure; for the
persons buried in the churchyard were probably, for the most part, of a
humble rank in life, such as were not so ambitious as to desire a
monument of any kind, but were content to let their low earth-mounds
subside into the level, where their memory had waxed so faint that none
among the survivors could point out the spot, or cared any longer about
knowing it; while in other cases, where a monument of red freestone, or
even of hewn granite, had been erected, the English climate had
forthwith set to work to gnaw away the inscriptions; so that in fifty
years--in a time that would have left an American tombstone as fresh as
if just cut--it was quite impossible to make out the record. Their
superiors, meanwhile, were sleeping less enviably in dismal mouldy and
dusty vaults, instead of under the daisies. Thus Redclyffe really found
less antiquity here, than in the graveyard which might almost be called
his natal spot.

When he said something to this effect, the Warden nodded.

"Yes," said he, "and, in truth, we have not much need of inscriptions
for these poor people. All good families--every one almost, with any
pretensions to respectable station, has his family or individual
recognition within the church, or upon its walls; or some of them you
see on tombs on the outside. As for our poorer friends here, they are
content, as they may well be, to swell and subside, like little billows
of mortality, here on the outside."

"And for my part," said Redclyffe, "if there were anything particularly
desirable on either side, I should like best to sleep under this lovely
green turf, with the daisies strewn over me by Nature herself, and
whatever other homely flowers any friend might choose to add."

"And, Doctor Hammond," said the young woman, "we see by this gravestone
that sometimes a person of humble rank may happen to be commemorated,
and that Nature--in this instance at least--seems to take especial
pains and pleasure to preserve the record."

She indicated a flat gravestone, near the porch, which time had indeed
beautified in a singular way, for there was cut deep into it a name and
date, in old English characters, very deep it must originally have
been; and as if in despair of obliterating it, Time had taken the
kindlier method of filling up the letters with moss; so that now, high
embossed in loveliest green, was seen the name "Richard Oglethorpe
1613";--green, and flourishing, and beautiful, like the memory of a
good man. The inscription originally seemed to have contained some
twenty lines, which might have been poetry, or perhaps a prose eulogy,
or perhaps the simple record of the buried person's life; but all this,
having been done in fainter and smaller letters, was now so far worn
away as to be illegible; nor had they ever been deep enough to be made
living in moss, like the rest of the inscription.

"How tantalizing," remarked Redclyffe, "to see the verdant shine of
this name, impressed upon us as something remarkable--and nothing else.
I cannot but think that there must be something worth remembering about
a man thus distinguished. When two hundred years have taken all these
natural pains to illustrate and emblazon 'Richard Oglethorpe 1613.' Ha!
I surely recollect that name. It haunts me somehow, as if it had been
familiar of old."

"And me," said the young lady.

"It was an old name, hereabouts," observed the Warden, "but has been
long extinct,--a cottage name, not a gentleman's. I doubt not that
Oglethorpes sleep in many of these undistinguished graves."

Redclyffe did not much attend to what his friend said, his attention
being attracted to the tone--to something in the tone of the young
lady, and also to her coincidence in his remark that the name appealed
to some early recollection. He had been taxing his memory, to tell him
when and how the name had become familiar to him; and he now remembered
that it had occurred in the old Doctor's story of the Bloody Footstep,
told to him and Elsie, so long ago. (Endnote: 3) To him and Elsie! It
struck him--what if it were possible?--but he knew it was not--that the
young lady had a remembrance also of the fact, and that she, after so
many years, were mingling her thoughts with his. As this fancy recurred
to him, he endeavored to get a glimpse of her face, and while he did so
she turned it upon him. It was a quick, sensitive face, that did not
seem altogether English; he would rather have imagined it American; but
at all events he could not recognize it as one that he had seen before,
and a thousand fantasies died within him as, in his momentary glance,
he took in the volume of its contour.

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After the two friends had parted from the young lady, they passedthrough the village, and entered the park gate of Braithwaite Hall,pursuing a winding road through its beautiful scenery, which realizedall that Redclyffe had read or dreamed about the perfect beauty ofthese sylvan creations, with the clumps of trees, or sylvan oaks,picturesquely disposed. To heighten the charm, they saw a herd of deerreposing, who, on their appearance, rose from their recumbent position,and began to gaze warily at the strangers; then, tossing their horns,they set off on a stampede, but only swept round, and settled down notfar from where they were. Redclyffe
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On entering the old palmer's apartment, they found him looking oversome ancient papers, yellow and crabbedly written, and on one of them alarge old seal, all of which he did up in a bundle and enclosed in aparchment cover, so that, before they were well in the room, thedocuments were removed from view."Those papers and parchments have a fine old yellow tint, Colcord,"said the Warden, "very satisfactory to an antiquary.""There is nothing in them," said the old man, "of general interest.Some old papers they are, which came into my possession by inheritance,and some of them relating to the affairs of a
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