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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDoctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVIII
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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVIII Post by :Cardo Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1155

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Doctor Grimshawe's Secret: A Romance - Chapter XVIII

After the two friends had parted from the young lady, they passed
through the village, and entered the park gate of Braithwaite Hall,
pursuing a winding road through its beautiful scenery, which realized
all that Redclyffe had read or dreamed about the perfect beauty of
these sylvan creations, with the clumps of trees, or sylvan oaks,
picturesquely disposed. To heighten the charm, they saw a herd of deer
reposing, 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 not
far from where they were. Redclyffe looked with great interest at these
deer, who were at once wild and civilized; retaining a kind of free
forest citizenship, while yet they were in some sense subject to man.
It seemed as if they were a link between wild nature and tame; as if
they could look back, in their long recollections, through a vista,
into the times when England's forests were as wild as those of America,
though now they were but a degree more removed from domesticity than
cattle, and took their food in winter from the hand of man, and in
summer reposed upon his lawns. This seemed the last touch of that
delightful conquered and regulated wildness, which English art has laid
upon the whole growth of English nature, animal or vegetable.

"There is nothing really wild in your whole island," he observed to the
Warden. "I have a sensation as if somebody knew, and had cultivated and
fostered, and set out in its proper place, every tree that grows; as if
somebody had patted the heads of your wildest animals and played with
them. It is very delightful to me, for the present; and yet, I think,
in the course of time, I should feel the need for something genuine, as
it were,--something that had not the touch and breath of man upon it. I
suppose even your skies are modified by the modes of human life that
are going on beneath it. London skies, of course, are so; but the
breath of a great people, to say nothing of its furnace vapors and
hearth-smokes, make the sky other than it was a thousand years ago."

"I believe we English have a feeling like this occasionally," replied
the Warden, "and it is from that, partly, that we must account for our
adventurousness into other regions, especially for our interest in what
is wild and new. In your own forests, now, and prairies, I fancy we
find a charm that Americans do not. In the sea, too, and therefore we
are yachters. For my part, however, I have grown to like Nature a
little smoothed down, and enriched; less gaunt and wolfish than she
would be if left to herself."

"Yes; I feel that charm too," said Redclyffe. "But yet life would be
slow and heavy, methinks, to see nothing but English parks."

Continuing their course through the noble clumps of oaks, they by and
by had a vista of the distant hall itself. It was one of the old
English timber and plaster houses, many of which are of unknown
antiquity; as was the case with a portion of this house, although other
portions had been renewed, repaired, or added, within a century. It
had, originally, the Warden said, stood all round an enclosed
courtyard, like the great houses of the Continent; but now one side of
the quadrangle had long been removed, and there was only a front, with
two wings; the beams of old oak being picked out with black, and three
or four gables in a line forming the front, while the wings seemed to
be stone. It was the timber portion that was most ancient. A clock was
on the midmost gable, and pointed now towards one o'clock. The whole
scene impressed Redclyffe, not as striking, but as an abode of ancient
peace, where generation after generation of the same family had lived,
each making the most of life, because the life of each successive
dweller there was eked out with the lives of all who had hitherto lived
there, and had in it equally those lives which were to come afterwards;
so that there was a rare and successful contrivance for giving length,
fulness, body, substance, to this thin and frail matter of human life.
And, as life was so rich in comprehensiveness, the dwellers there made
the most of it for the present and future, each generation contriving
what it could to add to the cosiness, the comfortableness, the grave,
solid respectability, the sylvan beauty, of the house with which they
seemed to be connected both before and after death. The family had its
home there; not merely the individual. Ancient shapes, that had
apparently gone to the family tomb, had yet a right by family hearth
and in family hall; nor did they come thither cold and shivering, and
diffusing dim ghostly terrors, and repulsive shrinkings, and death in
life; but in warm, genial attributes, making this life now passing more
dense as it were, by adding all the substance of their own to it.
Redclyffe could not compare this abode, and the feelings that it
aroused, to the houses of his own country; poor tents of a day, inns of
a night, where nothing was certain, save that the family of him who
built it would not dwell here, even if he himself should have the bliss
to die under the roof, which, with absurdest anticipations, he had
built for his posterity. Posterity! An American can have none.

"All this sort of thing is beautiful; the family institution was
beautiful in its day," ejaculated he, aloud, to himself, not to his
companion; "but it is a thing of the past. It is dying out in England;
and as for ourselves, we never had it. Something better will come up;
but as for this, it is past."

"That is a sad thing to say," observed the Warden, by no means
comprehending what was passing in his friend's mind. "But if you wish
to view the interior of the Hall, we will go thither; for, harshly as I
have spoken of the owner, I suppose he has English feeling enough to
give us lunch and show us the old house of his forefathers."

"Not at present, if you please," replied Redclyffe. "I am afraid of
destroying my delightful visionary idea of the house by coming too near
it. Before I leave this part of the country, I should be glad to ramble
over the whole of it, but not just now."

While Redclyffe was still enjoying the frank hospitality of his new
friend, a rather marked event occurred in his life; yet not so
important in reality as it seemed to his English friend.

A large letter was delivered to him, bearing the official seal of the
United States, and the indorsement of the State Department; a very
important-looking document, which could not but add to the importance
of the recipient in the eyes of any Englishman, accustomed as they are
to bow down before any seal of government. Redclyffe opened it rather
coolly, being rather loath to renew any of his political remembrances,
now that he was in peace; or to think of the turmoil of modern and
democratic politics, here in this quietude of gone-by ages and customs.
The contents, however, took him by surprise; nor did he know whether to
be pleased or not.

The official package, in short, contained an announcement that he had
been appointed by the President, by and with the advice of the Senate,
to one of the Continental missions, usually esteemed an object of
considerable ambition to any young man in politics; so that, if
consistent with his own pleasure, he was now one of the Diplomatic
Corps, a Minister, and representative of his country. On first
considering the matter, Redclyffe was inclined to doubt whether this
honor had been obtained for him altogether by friendly aid, though it
did happen to have much in it that might suit his half-formed purpose
of remaining long abroad; but with an eye already rendered somewhat
oblique by political practice, he suspected that a political rival--a
rival, though of his own party--had been exerting himself to provide an
inducement for Redclyffe to leave the local field to him; while he
himself should take advantage of the vacant field, and his rival be
thus insidiously, though honorably, laid on the shelf, whence if he
should try to remove himself a few years hence the shifting influences
of American politics would be likely enough to thwart him; so that, for
the sake of being a few years nominally somebody, he might in fine come
back to his own country and find himself permanently nobody. But
Redclyffe had already sufficiently begun to suspect that he lacked some
qualities that a politician ought to have, and without which a
political life, whether successful or otherwise, is sure to be a most
irksome one: some qualities he lacked, others he had, both almost
equally an obstacle. When he communicated the offer, therefore, to his
friend, the Warden, it was with the remark that he believed he should
accept it.

"Accept it?" cried the Warden, opening his eyes. "I should think so,
indeed! Why, it puts you above the level of the highest nobility of the
Court to which you are accredited; simple republican as you are, it
gives you rank with the old blood and birth of Europe. Accept it? By
all means; and I will come and see you at your court."

"Nothing is more different between England and America," said
Redclyffe, "than the different way in which the citizen of either
country looks at official station. To an Englishman, a commission, of
whatever kind, emanating from his sovereign, brings apparently a
gratifying sense of honor; to an American, on the contrary, it offers
really nothing of the kind. He ceases to be a sovereign,--an atom of
sovereignty, at all events,--and stoops to be a servant. If I accept
this mission, honorable as you think it, I assure you I shall not feel
myself quite the man I have hitherto been; although there is no
obstacle in the way of party obligations or connections to my taking
it, if I please."

"I do not well understand this," quoth the good Warden. "It is one of
the promises of Scripture to the wise man, that he shall stand before
kings, and that this embassy will enable you to do. No man--no man of
your country surely--is more worthy to do so; so pray accept."

"I think I shall," said Redclyffe.

Much as the Warden had seemed to affectionize Redclyffe hitherto, the
latter could not but be sensible, thereafter, of a certain deference in
his friend towards him, which he would fain have got rid of, had it
been in his power. However, there was still the same heartiness under
it all; and after a little he seemed, in some degree, to take
Redclyffe's own view of the matter;--namely, that, being so temporary
as these republican distinctions are, they really do not go skin deep,
have no reality in them, and that the sterling quality of the man, be
it higher or lower, is nowise altered by it;--an apothegm that is true
even of an hereditary nobility, and still more so of our own Honorables
and Excellencies. However, the good Warden was glad of his friend's
dignity, and perhaps, too, a little glad that this high fortune had
befallen one whom he chanced to be entertaining under his roof. As it
happened, there was an opportunity which might be taken advantage of to
celebrate the occasion; at least, to make it known to the English world
so far as the extent of the county. (Endnote: 1.)

It was an hereditary custom for the warden of Braithwaite Hospital,
once a year, to give a grand dinner to the nobility and gentry of the
neighborhood; and to this end a bequest had been made by one of the
former squires or lords of Braithwaite which would of itself suffice to
feed forty or fifty Englishmen with reasonable sumptuousness. The
present Warden, being a gentleman of private fortune, was accustomed to
eke the limited income, devoted for this purpose, with such additions
from his own resources as brought the rude and hearty hospitality
contemplated by the first founder on a par with modern refinements of
gourmandism. The banquet was annually given in the fine old hall where
James II. had feasted; and on some of these occasions the Warden's
table had been honored with illustrious guests; especially when any of
them happened to be wanting an opportunity to come before the public in
an after-dinner speech. Just at present there was no occasion of that
sort; and the good Warden fancied that he might give considerable
_eclat to his hereditary feast by bringing forward the young
American envoy, a distinguished and eloquent man, to speak on the well-
worn topic of the necessity of friendly relations between England and
America.

"You are eloquent, I doubt not, my young friend?" inquired he.

"Why, no," answered Redclyffe, modestly.

"Ah, yes, I know it," returned the Warden. "If one have all the natural
prerequisites of eloquence; a quick sensibility, ready thought, apt
expression, a good voice--and not making its way into the world through
your nose either, as they say most of your countrymen's voices do. You
shall make the crack speech at my dinner; and so strengthen the bonds
of good fellowship between our two countries, that there shall be no
question of war for at least six months to come."

Accordingly, the preparations for this stately banquet went on with
great spirit; and the Warden exhorted Redclyffe to be thinking of some
good topics for his international speech; but the young man laughed it
off, and told his friend that he thought the inspiration of the moment,
aided by the good old wine which the Warden had told him of, as among
the treasures of the Hospital, would perhaps serve him better than any
elaborate preparation.

Redclyffe, being not even yet strong, used to spend much time, when the
day chanced to be pleasant, (which was oftener than his preconceptions
of English weather led him to expect,) in the garden behind the
Warden's house. It was an extensive one, and apparently as antique as
the foundation of the establishment; and during all these years it had
probably been growing richer and richer. Here were flowers of ancient
race, and some that had been merely field or wayside flowers when first
they came into the garden; but by long cultivation and hereditary care,
instead of dying out, they had acquired a new richness and beauty, so
that you would scarcely recognize the daisy or the violet. Roses too,
there were, which Doctor Hammond said had been taken from those white
and red rose-trees in the Temple Gardens, whence the partisans of York
and Lancaster had plucked their fatal badges. With these, there were
all the modern and far-fetched flowers from America, the East, and
elsewhere; even the prairie flowers and the California blossoms were
represented here; for one of the brethren had horticultural tastes, and
was permitted freely to exercise them there. The antique character of
the garden was preserved, likewise, by the alleys of box, a part of
which had been suffered to remain, and was now grown to a great height
and density, so as to make impervious green walls. There were also yew
trees clipped into strange shapes of bird and beast, and uncouth
heraldic figures, among which of course the leopard's head grinned
triumphant; and as for fruit, the high garden wall was lined with pear
trees, spread out flat against it, where they managed to produce a
cold, flavorless fruit, a good deal akin to cucumbers.

Here, in these genial old arbors, Redclyffe used to recline in the
sweet, mild summer weather, basking in the sun, which was seldom too
warm to make its full embrace uncomfortable; and it seemed to him, with
its fertility, with its marks everywhere of the quiet long-bestowed
care of man, the sweetest and cosiest seclusion he had ever known; and
two or three times a day, when he heard the screech of the railway
train, rushing on towards distant London, it impressed him still more
with a sense of safe repose here.

Not unfrequently he here met the white-bearded palmer in whose chamber
he had found himself, as if conveyed thither by enchantment, when he
first came to the Hospital. The old man was not by any means of the
garrulous order; and yet he seemed full of thoughts, full of
reminiscences, and not disinclined to the company of Redclyffe. In
fact, the latter sometimes flattered himself that a tendency for his
society was one of the motives that brought him to the garden; though
the amount of their intercourse, after all, was not so great as to
warrant the idea of any settled purpose in so doing. Nevertheless, they
talked considerably; and Redclyffe could easily see that the old man
had been an extensive traveller, and had perhaps occupied situations
far different from his present one, and had perhaps been a struggler in
troubled waters before he was drifted into the retirement where
Redclyffe found him. He was fond of talking about the unsuspected
relationship that must now be existing between many families in England
and unknown consanguinity in the new world, where, perhaps, really the
main stock of the family tree was now existing, and with a new spirit
and life, which the representative growth here in England had lost by
too long continuance in one air and one mode of life. For history and
observation proved that all people--and the English people by no means
less than others--needed to be transplanted, or somehow renewed, every
few generations; so that, according to this ancient philosopher's
theory, it would be good for the whole people of England now, if it
could at once be transported to America, where its fatness, its
sleepiness, its too great beefiness, its preponderant animal character,
would be rectified by a different air and soil; and equally good, on
the other hand, for the whole American people to be transplanted back
to the original island, where their nervousness might be weighted with
heavier influences, where their little women might grow bigger, where
their thin, dry men might get a burden of flesh and good stomachs,
where their children might, with the air, draw in a reverence for age,
forms, and usage.

Redclyffe listened with complacency to these speculations, smiling at
the thought of such an exodus as would take place, and the reciprocal
dissatisfaction which would probably be the result. But he had greater
pleasure in drawing out some of the old gentleman's legendary lore,
some of which, whether true or not, was very curious. (Endnote: 2.)

As Redclyffe sat one day watching the old man in the garden, he could
not help being struck by the scrupulous care with which he attended to
the plants; it seemed to him that there was a sense of justice,--of
desiring to do exactly what was right in the matter, not favoring one
plant more than another, and doing all he could for each. His progress,
in consequence, was so slow, that in an hour, while Redclyffe was off
and on looking at him, he had scarcely done anything perceptible. Then
he was so minute; and often, when he was on the point of leaving one
thing to take up another, some small neglect that he saw or fancied
called him back again, to spend other minutes on the same task. He was
so full of scruples. It struck Redclyffe that this was conscience,
morbid, sick, a despot in trifles, looking so closely into life that it
permitted nothing to be done. The man might once have been strong and
able, but by some unhealthy process of his life he had ceased to be so
now. Nor did any happy or satisfactory result appear to come from these
painfully wrought efforts; he still seemed to know that he had left
something undone in doing too much in another direction. Here was a
lily that had been neglected, while he paid too much attention to a
rose; he had set his foot on a violet; he had grubbed up, in his haste,
a little plant that he mistook for a weed, but that he now suspected
was an herb of grace. Grieved by such reflections as these, he heaved a
deep sigh, almost amounting to a groan, and sat down on the little
stool that he carried with him in his weeding, resting his face in his
hands.

Redclyffe deemed that he might be doing the old man a good service by
interrupting his melancholy labors; so he emerged from the opposite
door of the summer-house, and came along the adjoining walk with
somewhat heavy footsteps, in order that the palmer might have warning
of his approach without any grounds to suppose that he had been watched
hitherto. Accordingly, when he turned into the other alley, he found
the old man sitting erect on his stool, looking composed, but still
sad, as was his general custom.

"After all your wanderings and experience," said he, "I observe that
you come back to the original occupation of cultivating a garden,--the
innocentest of all."

"Yes, so it would seem," said the old man; "but somehow or other I do
not find peace in this."

"These plants and shrubs," returned Redclyffe, "seem at all events to
recognize the goodness of your rule, so far as it has extended over
them. See how joyfully they take the sun; how clear (they are) from all
these vices that lie scattered round, in the shape of weeds. It is a
lovely sight, and I could almost fancy a quiet enjoyment in the plants
themselves, which they have no way of making us aware of, except by
giving out a fragrance."

"Ah! how infinitely would that idea increase man's responsibility,"
said the old palmer, "if, besides man and beast, we should find it
necessary to believe that there is also another set of beings dependent
for their happiness on our doing, or leaving undone, what might have
effect on them!"

"I question," said Redclyffe, smiling, "whether their pleasurable or
painful experiences can be so keen, that we need trouble our
consciences much with regard to what we do, merely as it affects them.
So highly cultivated a conscience as that would be a nuisance to one's
self and one's fellows."

"You say a terrible thing," rejoined the old man. "Can conscience be
too much alive in us? is not everything however trifling it seems, an
item in the great account, which it is of infinite importance therefore
to have right? A terrible thing is that you have said."

"That may be," said Redclyffe; "but it is none the less certain to me,
that the efficient actors--those who mould the world--are the persons
in whom something else is developed more strongly than conscience.
There must be an invincible determination to effect something; it may
be set to work in the right direction, but after that it must go
onward, trampling down small obstacles--small considerations of right
and wrong--as a great rock, thundering down a hillside, crushes a
thousand sweet flowers, and ploughs deep furrows in the innocent
hillside."

As Redclyffe gave vent to this doctrine, which was not naturally his,
but which had been the inculcation of a life, hitherto devoted to
politics, he was surprised to find how strongly sensible he became of
the ugliness and indefensibleness of what he said. He felt as if he
were speaking under the eye of Omniscience, and as if every word he
said were weighed, and its emptiness detected, by an unfailing
intelligence. He had thought that he had volumes to say about the
necessity of consenting not to do right in all matters minutely, for
the sake of getting out an available and valuable right as the whole;
but there was something that seemed to tie his tongue. Could it be the
quiet gaze of this old man, so unpretending, so humble, so simple in
aspect? He could not tell, only that he faltered, and finally left his
speech in the midst.

But he was surprised to find how he had to struggle against a certain
repulsion within himself to the old man. He seemed so nonsensical,
interfering with everybody's right in the world; so mischievous,
standing there and shutting out the possibility of action. It seemed
well to trample him down; to put him out of the way--no matter how--
somehow. It gave him, he thought, an inkling of the way in which this
poor old man had made himself odious to his kind, by opposing himself,
inevitably, to what was bad in man, chiding it by his very presence,
accepting nothing false. You must either love him utterly, or hate him
utterly; for he could not let you alone. Redclyffe, being a susceptible
man, felt this influence in the strongest way; for it was as if there
was a battle within him, one party pulling, wrenching him towards the
old man, another wrenching him away, so that, by the agony of the
contest, he felt disposed to end it by taking flight, and never seeing
the strange individual again. He could well enough conceive how a
brutal nature, if capable of receiving his influence at all, might find
it so intolerable that it must needs get rid of him by violence,--by
taking his blood if necessary.

All these feelings were but transitory, however; they swept across him
like a wind, and then he looked again at the old man and saw only his
simplicity, his unworldliness,--saw little more than the worn and
feeble individual in the Hospital garb, leaning on his staff; and then
turning again with a gentle sigh to weed in the garden. And then
Redclyffe went away, in a state of disturbance for which he could not
account to himself.

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High up in the old carved roof, meanwhile, the spiders of centuriesstill hung their flaunting webs with a profusion that old DoctorGrimshawe would have been ravished to see; but even this was to beremedied, for one day, on looking in, Redclyffe found the great halldim with floating dust, and down through it came great floating massesof cobweb, out of which the old Doctor would have undertaken toregenerate the world; and he saw, dimly aloft, men on ladders sweepingaway these accumulations of years, and breaking up the haunts andresidences of hereditary spiders.The stately old hall had been in process of cleaning and
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To return from this long discussion, the Warden took kindly, as we havesaid, to Redclyffe, and thought him a miraculously good fellow, to havecome from the rude American republic. Hitherto, in the little time thathe had been in England, Redclyffe had received civil and even kindtreatment from the English with whom he had come casually in contact;but still--perhaps partly from our Yankee narrowness and reserve--hehad felt, in the closest coming together, as if there were a nakedsword between the Englishman and him, as between the Arabian prince inthe tale and the princess whom he wedded; he felt as if that would
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