E_BRAND

 

1851
TWICE-TOLD TALES
ETHAN BRAND
A CHAPTER FROM AN ABORTIVE ROMANCE
by Nathaniel Hawthorne

BARTRAM THE LIME-BURNER, a rough, heavy-looking man, begrimed
with charcoal, sat watching his kiln, at nightfall, while his little
son played at building houses with the scattered fragments of
marble, when, on the hill-side below them, they heard a roar of
laughter, not mirthful, but slow, and even solemn, like a wind shaking
the boughs of the forest.
"Father, what is that?" asked the little boy, leaving his play, and
pressing betwixt his father's knees.
"O, some drunken man, I suppose," answered the lime-burner; "some
merry fellow from the bar-room in the village, who dared not laugh
loud enough within doors, lest he should blow the roof of the house
off. So here he is, shaking his jolly sides at the foot of Gray-lock."
"But, father," said the child, more sensitive than the obtuse,
middle-aged clown, "he does not laugh like a man that is glad. So
the noise frightens me!"
"Don't be a fool, child!" cried his father, gruffly. "You will
never make a man, I do believe; there is too much of your mother in
you. I have known the rustling of a leaf startle you. Hark! Here comes
the merry fellow, now. You shall see that there is no harm in him."
Bartram and his little son, while they were talking thus, sat
watching the same lime-kiln that had been the scene of Ethan Brand's
solitary and meditative life, before he began his search for the
Unpardonable Sin. Many years, as we have seen, had now elapsed,
since that portentous night when the IDEA was first developed. The
kiln, however, on the mountain-side, stood unimpaired, and was in
nothing changed since he had thrown his dark thoughts into the intense
glow of its furnace, and melted them, as it were, into the one thought
that took possession of his life. It was a rude, round, tower-like
structure, about twenty feet high, heavily built of rough stones,
and with a hillock of earth heaped about the larger part of its
circumference; so that the blocks and fragments of marble might be
drawn by cart-loads, and thrown in at the top. There was an opening at
the bottom of the tower, like an oven-mouth, but large enough to admit
a man in a stooping posture, and provided with a massive iron door.
With the smoke and jets of flame issuing from the chinks and
crevices of this door, which seemed to give admittance into the
hill-side, it resembled nothing so much as the private entrance to the
infernal regions, which the shepherds of the Delectable Mountains were
accustomed to show to pilgrims.
There are many such lime-kilns in that tract of country, for the
purpose of burning the white marble which composes a large part of the
substance of the hills. Some of them, built years ago, and long
deserted, with weeds growing in the vacant round of the interior,
which is open to the sky, and grass and wild-flowers rooting
themselves into the chinks of the stones, look already like relics
of antiquity, and may yet be overspread with the lichens of
centuries to come. Others, where the lime-burner still feeds his daily
and nightlong fire, afford points of interest to the wanderer among
the hills, who seats himself on a log of wood or a fragment of marble,
to hold a chat with the solitary man. It is a lonesome, and, when
the character is inclined to thought, may be an intensely thoughtful
occupation; as it proved in the case of Ethan Brand, who had mused
to such strange purpose, in days gone by, while the fire in this
very kiln was burning.
The man who now watched the fire was of a different order, and
troubled himself with no thoughts save the very few that were
requisite to his business. At frequent intervals, he flung back the
clashing weight of the iron door, and, turning his face from the
insufferable glare, thrust in huge logs of oak, or stirred the immense
brands with a long pole. Within the furnace were seen the curling
and riotous flames, and the burning marble, almost molten with the
intensity of heat; while without, the reflection of the fire
quivered on the dark intricacy of the surrounding forest, and showed
in the foreground a bright and ruddy little picture of the hut, the
spring beside its door, the athletic and coal-begrimed figure of the
lime-burner, and the half-frightened child, shrinking into the
protection of his father's shadow. And when again the iron door was
closed, then reappeared the tender light of the half-full moon,
which vainly strove to trace out the indistinct shapes of the
neighboring mountains; and, in the upper sky, there was a flitting
congregation of clouds, still faintly tinged with the rosy sunset,
though thus far down into the valley the sunshine had vanished long
and long ago.
The little boy now crept still closer to his father, as footsteps
were heard ascending the hill-side, and a human form thrust aside
the bushes that clustered beneath the trees.
"Halloo! who is it?" cried the lime-burner, vexed at his son's
timidity, yet half infected by it. "Come forward, and show yourself,
like a man, or I'll fling this chunk of marble at your head!"
"You offer me a rough welcome," said a gloomy voice, as the unknown
man drew nigh. "Yet I neither claim nor desire a kinder one, even at
my own fireside."
To obtain a distincter view, Bartram threw open the iron door of
the kiln, whence immediately issued a gush of fierce light, that smote
full upon the stranger's face and figure. To a careless eye there
appeared nothing very remarkable in his aspect, which was that of a
man in a coarse, brown, country-made suit of clothes, tall and thin,
with the staff and heavy shoes of a wayfarer. As he advanced, he fixed
his eyes- which were very bright- intently upon the brightness of
the furnace, as if he beheld, or expected to behold, some object
worthy of note within it.
"Good evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you,
so late in the day?"
"I come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it
is finished."
"Drunk!- or crazy!" muttered Bartram to himself. "I shall have
trouble with the fellow. The sooner I drive him away, the better."
The little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and
begged him to shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not be so
much light; for that there was something in the man's face which he
was afraid to look at, yet could not look away from. And, indeed, even
the lime-burner's dull and torpid sense began to be impressed by an
indescribable something in that thin, rugged, thoughtful visage,
with the grizzled hair hanging wildly about it, and those
deeply-sunken eyes, which gleamed like fires within the entrance of
a mysterious cavern. But, as he closed the door, the stranger turned
towards him, and spoke in a quiet, familiar way, that made Bartram
feel as if he were a sane and sensible man, after all.
"Your task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has
already been burning three days. A few hours more will convert the
stone to lime."
"Why, who are you?" exclaimed the lime-burner. "You seem as well
acquainted with my business as I am myself."
"And well I may be," said the stranger; "for I followed the same
craft many a long year, and here, too, on this very spot. But you
are a newcomer in these parts. Did you never hear of Ethan Brand?"
"The man that went in search of the Unpardonable Sin?" asked
Bartram, with a laugh.
"The same," answered the stranger. "He has found what he sought,
and therefore he comes back again."
"What! then you are Ethan Brand himself?" cried the lime-burner, in
amazement. "I am a newcomer here, as you say, and they call it
eighteen years since you left the foot of Gray-lock. But, I can tell
you, the good folks still talk about Ethan Brand, in the village
yonder, and what a strange errand took him away from his lime-kiln.
Well, and so you have found the Unpardonable Sin?"
"Even so!" said the stranger, calmly.
"If the question is a fair one," proceeded Bartram, "where might it
be?"
Ethan Brand laid his finger on his own heart.
"Here!" replied he.
And then, without mirth in his countenance, but as if moved by an
involuntary recognition of the infinite absurdity of seeking
throughout the world for what was the closest of all things to
himself, and looking into every heart, save his own, for what was
hidden in no other breast, he broke into a laugh of scorn. It was
the same slow, heavy laugh, that had almost appalled the lime-burner
when it heralded the wayfarer's approach.
The solitary mountain-side was made dismal by it. Laughter, when
out of place, mistimed, or bursting forth from a disordered state of
feeling, may be the most terrible modulation of the human voice. The
laughter of one asleep, even if it be a little child- the madman's
laugh- the wild, screaming laugh of a born idiot- are sounds that we
sometimes tremble to hear, and would always willingly forget. Poets
have imagined no utterance of fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully
appropriate as a laugh. And even the obtuse lime-burner felt his
nerves shaken, as this strange man looked inward at his own heart, and
burst into laughter that rolled away into the night, and was
indistinctly reverberated among the hills.
"Joe," said he to his little son, "scamper down to the tavern in
the village, and tell the jolly fellows there that Ethan Brand has
come back, and that he has found the Unpardonable Sin!"
The boy darted away on his errand, to which Ethan Brand made no
objection, nor seemed hardly to notice it. He sat on a log of wood,
looking steadfastly at the iron door of the kiln. When the child was
out of sight, and his swift and light footsteps ceased to be heard
treading first on the fallen leaves and then on the rocky mountain
path, the lime-burner began to regret his departure. He felt that
the little fellow's presence had been a barrier between his guest
and himself, and that he must now deal, heart to heart, with a man
who, on his own confession, had committed the one only crime for which
Heaven could afford no mercy. That crime, in its indistinct blackness,
seemed to overshadow him. The lime-burner's own sins rose up within
him, and made his memory riotous with a throng of evil shapes that
asserted their kindred with the Master Sin, whatever it might be,
which it was within the scope of man's corrupted nature to conceive
and cherish. They were all of one family; they went to and fro between
his breast and Ethan Brand's, and carried dark greetings from one to
the other.
Then Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary in
reference to this strange man, who had come upon him like a shadow
of the night, and was making himself at home in his old place, after
so long absence that the dead people, dead and buried for years, would
have had more right to be at home, in any familiar spot, than he.
Ethan Brand, it was said, had conversed with Satan himself in the
lurid blaze of this very kiln. The legend had been matter of mirth
heretofore but looked grisly now. According to this tale, before Ethan
Brand departed on his search, he had been accustomed to evoke a
fiend from the hot furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in
order to confer with him about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the
fiend each laboring to frame the image of some mode of guilt which
could neither be atoned for nor forgiven. And, with the first gleam of
light upon the mountain-top, the fiend crept in at the iron door,
there to abide the intensest element of fire, until again summoned
forth to share in the dreadful task of extending man's possible
guilt beyond the scope of Heaven's else infinite mercy.
While the lime-burner was struggling with the horror of these
thoughts, Ethan Brand rose from the log, and flung open the door of
the kiln. The action was in such accordance with the idea in Bartram's
mind, that he almost expected to see the Evil One issue forth, red-hot
from the raging furnace.
"Hold! hold!" cried he, with a tremulous attempt to laugh; for he
was ashamed of his fears, although they overmastered him. "Don't,
for mercy's sake, bring out your devil now!"
"Man!" sternly replied Ethan Brand, "what need have I of the devil?
I have left him behind me, on my track. It is with such halfway
sinners as you that he busies himself. Fear not because I open the
door. I do but act by old custom, and am going to trim your fire, like
a lime-burner, as I was once."
He stirred the vast coals, thrust in more wood, and bent forward to
gaze into the hollow prison-house of the fire, regardless of the
fierce glow that reddened upon his face. The lime-burner sat
watching him, and half suspected his strange guest of a purpose, if
not to evoke a fiend, at least to plunge bodily into the flames, and
thus vanish from the sight of man. Ethan Brand, however, drew
quietly back, and closed the door of the kiln.
"I have looked, said he, "into many a human heart that was seven
times hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace is with fire.
But I found not there what I sought. No, not the Unpardonable Sin!"
"What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then
he shrank further from his companion, trembling lest his question
should be answered.
"It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan
Brand, standing erect, with a pride that distinguishes all enthusiasts
of his stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin of an intellect
that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with man and reverence
for God, and sacrificed everything to its own mighty claims! The
only sin that deserves a recompense of immortal agony! Freely, were it
to do again, would I incur the guilt. Unshrinkingly I accept the
retribution!"
"The man's head is turned," muttered the lime-burner to himself.
"He may be a sinner, like the rest of us- nothing more likely- but,
I'll be sworn, he is a madman too."
Nevertheless he felt uncomfortable at his situation, alone with
Ethan Brand on the wild mountain-side, and was right glad to hear
the rough murmur of tongues, and the footsteps of what seemed a pretty
numerous party, stumbling over the stones and rustling through the
underbrush. Soon appeared the whole lazy regiment that was wont to
infest the village tavern comprehending three or four individuals
who had drunk flip beside the bar-room fire through all the winters,
and smoked their pipes beneath the stoop through all the summers,
since Ethan Brand's departure. Laughing boisterously, and mingling all
their voices together in unceremonious talk, they now burst into the
moonshine and narrow streaks of fire-light that illuminated the open
space before the lime-kiln. Bartram set the door ajar again,
flooding the spot with light, that the whole company might get a
fair view of Ethan Brand, and he of them.
There, among other old acquaintances, was a once ubiquitous man,
now almost extinct, but whom we were formerly sure to encounter at the
hotel of every thriving village throughout the country. It was the
stage-agent. The present specimen of the genus was a wilted and
smoke-dried man, wrinkled and red-nosed, in a smartly cut, brown,
bob-tailed coat, with brass buttons, who, for a length of time
unknown, had kept his desk and corner in the bar-room, and was still
puffing what seemed to be the same cigar that he had lighted twenty
years before. He had great fame as a dry joker, though, perhaps,
less on account of any intrinsic humor than from a certain flavor of
brandy-toddy and tobacco-smoke, which impregnated all his ideas and
expressions, as well as his person. Another well-remembered though
strangely altered face was that of Lawyer Giles, as people still
called him in courtesy; an elderly ragamuffin, in his soiled
shirt-sleeves and tow-cloth trousers. This poor fellow had been an
attorney, in what he called his better days, a sharp practitioner, and
in great vogue among the village litigants; but flip, and sling, and
toddy, and cocktails, imbibed at all hours, morning, noon, and
night, had caused him to slide from intellectual to various kinds
and degrees of bodily labor, till, at last, to adopt his own phrase,
he slid into a soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a
soap-boiler, in a small way. He had come to be but the fragment of a
human being, a part of one foot having been chopped off by an axe, and
an entire hand torn away by the devilish grip of a steam-engine.
Yet, though the corporeal hand was gone, a spiritual member
remained; for, stretching forth the stump, Giles steadfastly averred
that he felt an invisible thumb and fingers with as vivid a
sensation as before the real ones were amputated. A maimed and
miserable wretch he was; but one, nevertheless, whom the world could
not trample on, and had no right to scorn, either in this or any
previous stage of his misfortunes, since he had still kept up the
courage and spirit of a man, asked nothing in charity, and with his
one hand- and that the left one- fought a stern battle against want
and hostile circumstances.
Among the throng, too, came another personage, who, with certain
points of similarity to Lawyer Giles, had many more of difference.
It was the village doctor; a man of some fifty years, whom, at an
earlier period of his life, we introduced as paying a professional
visit to Ethan Brand during the latter's supposed insanity. He was now
a purple-visaged, rude, and brutal, yet half-gentlemanly figure,
with something wild, ruined, and desperate in his talk, and in all the
details of his gesture and manners. Brandy possessed this man like
an evil spirit, and made him as surly and savage as a wild beast,
and as miserable as a lost soul; but there was supposed to be in him
such wonderful skill, such native gifts of healing, beyond any which
medical science could impart, that society caught hold of him, and
would not let him sink out of its reach. So, swaying to and fro upon
his horse, and grumbling thick accents at the bedside, he visited
all the sick chambers for miles about among the mountain towns, and
sometimes raised a dying man, as it were, by miracle, or quite as
often, no doubt, sent his patient to a grave that was dug many a
year too soon. The doctor had an everlasting pipe in his mouth, and,
as somebody said, in allusion to his habit of swearing, it was
always alight with hell-fire.
These three worthies pressed forward, and greeted Ethan Brand
each after his own fashion, earnestly inviting him to partake of the
contents of a certain black bottle, in which, as they averred, he
would find something far better worth seeking for than the
Unpardonable Sin. No mind, which has wrought itself by intense and
solitary meditation into a high state of enthusiasm, can endure the
kind of contact with low and vulgar modes of thought and feeling to
which Ethan Brand was now subjected. It made him doubt-and, strange to
say, it was a painful doubt-whether he had indeed found the
Unpardonable Sin, and found it within himself. The whole question on
which he had exhausted life, and more than life, looked like a
delusion.
"Leave me," he said, bitterly, "ye brute beasts, that have made
yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery liquors! I have
done with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your hearts, and
found nothing there for my purpose. Get ye gone!"
"Why, you uncivil scoundrel," cried the fierce doctor, "is that the
way you respond to the kindness of your best friends? Then let me tell
you the truth. You have no more found the Unpardonable Sin than yonder
boy Joe has. You are but a crazy fellow- I told you so twenty years
ago- neither better nor worse than a crazy fellow, and the fit
companion of old Humphrey, here!"
He pointed to an old man, shabbily dressed, with long white hair,
thin visage, and unsteady eyes. For some years past this aged person
had been wandering about among the hills, inquiring of all
travellers whom he met for his daughter. The girl, it seemed, had gone
off with a company of circus-performers; and occasionally tidings of
her came to the village, and fine stories were told of her
glittering appearance as she rode on horse-back in the ring, or
performed marvellous feats on the tight-rope.
The white-haired father now approached Ethan Brand, and gazed
unsteadily into his face.
"They tell me you have been all over the earth," said he,
wringing his hands with earnestness. "You must have seen my
daughter, for she makes a grand figure in the world, and everybody
goes to see her. Did she send any word to her old father, or say
when she was coming back?"
Ethan Brand's eye quailed beneath the old man's. That daughter,
from whom he so earnestly desired a word of greeting, was the Esther
of our tale, the very girl whom, with such cold and remorseless
purpose, Ethan Brand had made the subject of a psychological
experiment, and wasted, absorbed, and perhaps annihilated her soul, in
the process.
"Yes," murmured he, turning away from the hoary wanderer; "it is no
delusion. There is an Unpardonable Sin!"
While these things were passing, a merry scene was going forward in
the area of cheerful light, beside the spring and before the door of
the hut. A number of the youth of the village, young men and girls,
had hurried up the hill-side, impelled by curiosity to see Ethan
Brand, the hero of so many a legend familiar to their childhood.
Finding nothing, however, very remarkable in his aspect- nothing but a
sun-burnt wayfarer, in plain garb and dusty shoes, who sat looking
into the fire, as if he fancied pictures among the coals- these
young people speedily grew tired of observing him. As it happened,
there was other amusement at hand. An old German Jew, travelling
with a diorama on his back, was passing down the mountain-road towards
the village just as the party turned aside from it, and, in hopes of
eking out the profits of the day, the showman had kept them company to
the lime-kiln.
"Come, old Dutchman," cried one of the young men, "let us see
your pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!"
"O, yes, Captain," answered the Jew- whether as a matter of
courtesy or craft, he styled everybody Captain- "I shall show you,
indeed, some very superb pictures!"
So, placing his box in a proper position, he invited the young
men and girls to look through the glass orifices of the machine, and
proceeded to exhibit a series of the most outrageous scratchings and
daubings, as specimens of the fine arts, that ever an itinerant
showman had the face to impose upon his circle of spectators. The
pictures were worn out, moreover, tattered, full of cracks and
wrinkles, dingy with tobacco-smoke, and otherwise in a most pitiable
condition. Some purported to be cities, public edifices, and ruined
castles in Europe; others represented Napoleon's battles and
Nelson's sea-fights; and in the midst of these would be seen a
gigantic, brown, hairy hand- which might have been mistaken for the
Hand of Destiny, though, in truth, it was only the showman's- pointing
its forefinger to various scenes of the conflict, while its owner gave
historical illustrations. When, with much merriment at its
abominable deficiency of merit, the exhibition was concluded, the
German bade little Joe put his head into the box. Viewed through the
magnifying glasses, the boy's round, rosy visage assumed the strangest
imaginable aspect of an immense Titanic child, the mouth grinning
broadly, and the eyes and every other feature overflowing with fun
at the joke. Suddenly, however, that merry face turned pale, and its
expression changed to horror, for this easily impressed and
excitable child had become sensible that the eye of Ethan Brand was
fixed upon him through the glass.
"You make the little man to be afraid, Captain," said the German
Jew, turning up the dark and strong outline of his visage, from his
stooping posture. "But look again, and, by chance, I shall cause you
to see somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Ethan Brand gazed into the box for an instant, and then starting
back, looked fixedly at the German. What had he seen? Nothing,
apparently; for a curious youth, who had peeped in almost at the
same moment, beheld only a vacant space of canvas.
"I remember you now," muttered Ethan Brand to the showman.
"Ah, Captain," whispered the Jew of Nuremberg, with a dark smile,
"I find it to be a heavy matter in my show-box- this Unpardonable Sin!
By my faith, Captain, it has wearied my shoulders, this long day, to
carry it over the mountain."
"Peace," answered Ethan Brand, sternly, "or get thee into the
furnace yonder!"
The Jew's exhibition had scarcely concluded, when a great,
elderly dog- who seemed to be his own master, as no person in the
company laid claim to him- saw fit to render himself the object of
public notice. Hitherto, he had shown himself a very quiet, well
disposed old dog, going round from one to another, and, by way of
being sociable, offering his rough head to be patted by any kindly
hand that would take so much trouble. But now, all of a sudden, this
grave and venerable quadruped, of his own mere motion, and without the
slightest suggestion from anybody else, began to run round after his
tail, which, to heighten the absurdity of the proceeding, was a
great deal shorter than it should have been. Never was seen such
headlong eagerness in pursuit of an object that could not possibly
be attained; never was heard such a tremendous outbreak of growling,
snarling, barking, and snapping- as if one end of the ridiculous
brute's body were at deadly and most unforgivable enmity with the
other. Faster and faster, round about went the cur; and faster and
still faster fled the unapproachable brevity of his tail; and louder
and fiercer grew his yells of rage and animosity; until, utterly
exhausted, and as far from the goal as ever, the foolish old dog
ceased his performance as suddenly as he had begun it. The next moment
he was as mild, quiet, sensible, and respectable in his deportment, as
when he first scraped acquaintance with the company.
As may be supposed, the exhibition was greeted with universal
laughter, clapping of hands, and shouts of encore, to which the canine
performer responded by wagging all that there was to wag of his
tail, but appeared totally unable to repeat his very successful effort
to amuse the spectators.
Meanwhile, Ethan Brand had resumed his seat upon the log, and
moved, it might be, by a perception of some remote analogy between his
own case and that of this self-pursuing cur, he broke into the awful
laugh, which, more than any other token, expressed the condition of
his inward being. From that moment, the merriment of the party was
at an end; they stood aghast, dreading lest the inauspicious sound
should be reverberated around the horizon, and that mountain would
thunder it to mountain, and so the horror be prolonged upon their
ears. Then, whispering one to another that it was late- that the
moon was almost down- that the August night was growing chill- they
hurried homewards leaving the lime-burner and little Joe to deal as
they might with their unwelcome guest. Save for these three human
beings, the open space on the hill-side was a solitude, set in a
vast gloom of forest. Beyond that darksome verge, the fire-light
glimmered on the stately trunks and almost black foliage of pines,
intermixed with the lighter verdure of sapling oaks, maples, and
poplars, while here and there lay the gigantic corpses of dead
trees, decaying on the leaf-strewn soil. And it seemed to little
Joe- a timorous and imaginative child- that the silent forest was
holding its breath, until some fearful thing should happen.
Ethan Brand thrust more wood into the fire, and closed the door
of the kiln; then looking over his shoulder at the lime-burner and his
son, he bade, rather than advised, them to retire to rest.
"For myself, I cannot sleep," said he. "I have matters that it
concerns me to meditate upon. I will watch the fire, as I used to do
in the old time."
"And call the devil out of the furnace to keep you company, I
suppose," muttered Bartram, who had been making intimate
acquaintance with the black bottle above-mentioned. "But watch, if you
like, and call as many devils as you like! For my part, I shall be all
the better for a snooze. Come, Joe!"
As the boy followed his father into the hut, he looked back at
the wayfarer, and the tears came into his eyes, for his tender
spirit had an intuition of the bleak and terrible loneliness in
which this man had enveloped himself.
When they had gone, Ethan Brand sat listening to the crackling of
the kindled wood, and looking at the little spirts of fire that issued
through the chinks of the door. These trifles, however, once so
familiar, had but the slightest hold of his attention, while deep
within his mind he was reviewing the gradual but marvellous change
that had been wrought upon him by the search to which he had devoted
himself. He remembered how the night dew had fallen upon him- how
the dark forest had whispered to him- how the stars had gleamed upon
him- a simple and loving man, watching his fire in the years gone
by, and ever musing as it burned. He remembered with what
tenderness, with what love and sympathy for mankind, and what pity for
human guilt and woe, he had first begun to contemplate those ideas
which afterwards became the inspiration of his life; with what
reverence he had then looked into the heart of man, viewing it as a
temple originally divine, and, however desecrated, still to be held
sacred by a brother; with what awful fear he had deprecated the
success of his pursuit, and prayed that the Unpardonable Sin might
never be revealed to him. Then ensued that vast intellectual
development, which, in its progress, disturbed the counterpoise
between his mind and heart. The Idea that possessed his life had
operated as a means of education; it had gone on cultivating his
powers to the highest point of which they were susceptible; it had
raised him from the level of an unlettered laborer to stand on a
star-lit eminence, whither the philosophers of the earth, laden with
the lore of universities, might vainly strive to clamber after him. So
much for the intellect! But where was the heart? That, indeed, had
withered- had contracted- had hardened- had perished! It had ceased to
partake of the universal throb. He had lost his hold of the magnetic
chain of humanity. He was no longer a brother-man, opening the
chambers or the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy
sympathy, which gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was
now a cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his
experiment, and, at length, converting man and woman to be his
puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of
crime as were demanded for his study.
Thus Ethan Brand became a fiend. He began to be so from the
moment that his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of
improvement with his intellect. And now, as his highest effort and
inevitable development- as the bright and gorgeous flower, and rich,
delicious fruit of his life's labor- he had produced the
Unpardonable Sin!
What more have I to seek? What more to achieve?" said Ethan Brand
to himself. "My task is done, and well done!"
Starting from the log with a certain alacrity in his gait, and
ascending the hillock of earth that was raised against the stone
circumference of the lime-kiln, he thus reached the top of the
structure. It was a space of perhaps ten feet across, from edge to
edge, presenting a view of the upper surface of the immense mass of
broken marble with which the kiln was heaped. All these innumerable
blocks and fragments of marble were red-hot and vividly on fire,
sending up great spouts of blue flame, which quivered aloft and danced
madly, as within a magic circle, and sank and rose again, with
continual and multitudinous activity. As the lonely man bent forward
over this terrible body of fire, the blasting heat smote up against
his person with a breath that, it might be scorched and shrivelled him
up in a moment.
Ethan Brand stood erect, and raised his arms on high. The blue
flames played upon his face, and imparted the wild and ghastly light
which alone could have suited its expression; it was that of a fiend
on the verge of plunging into his gulf of intensest torment.
"O Mother Earth," cried he, "who art no more my Mother, and into
whose bosom this frame shall never be resolved! O mankind, whose
brotherhood I have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath my
feet! O stars of heaven, that shone on me of old, as if to light me
onward and upward!- farewell all, and forever. Come, deadly element of
Fire- henceforth my familiar friend! Embrace me, as I do thee!"
That night the sound of a fearful peal of laughter rolled heavily
through the sleep of the lime-burner and his little son; dim shapes of
horror and anguish haunted their dreams, and seemed still present in
the rude hovel, when they opened their eyes to the daylight.
"Up, boy, up!" cried the lime-burner, staring about him. "Thank
Heaven, the night is gone, at last; and rather than pass such another,
I would watch my lime-kiln, wide awake, for a twelvemonth. This
Ethan Brand, with his humbug of an Unpardonable Sin, has done me no
such mighty favor, in taking my place!"
He issued from the hut, followed by little Joe, who kept fast
hold of his father's hand. The early sunshine was already pouring
its gold upon the mountain-tops; and though the valleys were still
in shadow, they smiled cheerfully in the promise of the bright day
that was hastening onward. The village, completely shut in by hills,
which swelled away gently about it, looked as if it had rested
peacefully in the hollow of the great hand of Providence. Every
dwelling was distinctly visible; the little spires of the two churches
pointed upwards, and caught a fore-glimmering of brightness from the
sun-gilt skies upon their gilded weather-cocks. The tavern was
astir, and the figure of the old, smoke-dried stage-agent, cigar in
mouth, was seen beneath the stoop. Old Graylock was glorified with a
golden cloud upon his head. Scattered likewise over the breasts of the
surrounding mountains, there were heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic
shapes, some of them far down into the valley, others high up
towards the summits and still others, of the same family of mist or
cloud, hovering in the gold radiance of the upper atmosphere. Stepping
from one to another of the clouds that rested on the hills, and thence
to the loftier brotherhood that sailed in air, it seemed almost as
if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly regions. Earth was
so mingled with sky that it was a day-dream to look at it.
To supply that charm of the familiar and homely, which Nature so
readily adopts into a scene like this, the stage-coach was rattling
down the mountain-road, and the driver sounded his horn, while echo
caught up the notes, and intertwined them into a rich and varied and
elaborate harmony, of which the original performer could lay claim
to little share. The great hills played a concert among themselves,
each contributing a strain of airy sweetness.
Little Joe's face brightened at once.
"Dear father," cried he, skipping cheerily to and fro, "that
strange man is gone, and the sky and the mountains all seem glad of
it!"
"Yes," growled the lime-burner, with an oath, "but he has let the
fire go down, and no thanks to him if five hundred bushels of lime are
not spoiled. If I catch the fellow hereabouts again, I shall feel like
tossing him into the furnace!"
With his long pole in his hand, he ascended to the top of the kiln.
After a moment's pause, he called to his son.
"Come up here, Joe!" said he.
So little Joe ran up the hillock, and stood by his father's side.
The marble was all burnt into perfect, snow-white lime. But on its
surface, in the midst of the circle- snow-white too, and thoroughly
converted into lime- lay a human skeleton, in the attitude of a person
who, after long toil, lies down to long repose. Within the ribs-
strange to say- was the shape of a human heart.
"Was the fellow's heart made of marble?" cried Bartram, in some
perplexity at this phenomenon. "At any rate, it is burnt into what
looks like special good lime; and, taking all the bones together, my
kiln is half a bushel the richer for him."
So saying, the rude lime-burner lifted his pole, and, letting it
fall upon the skeleton, the relics of Ethan Brand were crumbled into
fragments.


THE END

 

Default Template for Easy Text To HTML Converter