THE VIEW UPON THE RIVER; A MAGNIFICENT PANORAMA—MR. AND MRS. COOLEY—MATRIMIONIAL INFELICITIES—THE CASE OF MRS. SAWYER; A BLIGHTED LIFE—A PRESENT; OUR CENTURY PLANT AND ITS PECULIARITIES.
E have a full view of the river from our chamber window, and it is a magnificent spectacle that greets us as we rise in the morning and fling the shutters wide open. The sun, in this early summer-time, has already crept high above the horizon of the pine-covered shore opposite, and has flooded the unruffled waters with its golden light until they are transformed for us into a sea of flame. There comes a fleet of grimy coal schooners moving upward with the tide, their dingy sails hanging almost listless in the air; now they float, one by one, into the yellow glory of the sunshine which bars the river from shore to shore. Yonder is a tiny tug puffing valorously as it tows the great merchantman—home from what distant land of wonders?—up to the wharves of the great city. And look! there is another tug-boat going down stream, with a score of canal-boats moving in huge mass slowly behind it. They come from far up among the mountains of the Lehigh and the Schuylkill with their burdens of coal, and they are bound for the Chesapeake. Those men lounging lazily about upon the decks while the women are getting breakfast ready spend their lives amid some of the wildest and noblest scenery in the world. I would rather be a canal-boat captain, Mrs. Adeler, and through all my existence float calmly and serenely amid those regions of beauty and delight, without ever knowing what hurry is, than to be the greatest and busiest of statesmen—that is, if one calling were as respectable and lucrative as the other.
That fellow upon the boat at the rear is playing upon his bugle. The canal-boat bugler is not an artist, but he makes wonderful music sometimes when he blows a blast up yonder in the heart of Pennsylvania, and sets the wild echoes flying among the canons of those mighty hills. And even now it is not indifferent. Listen! The tones come to us mellowed by the distance, and so indistinct that they have lost all but the sweetness which makes them seem so like the sound of
"Horns of Elfland, faintly blowing."
That prosaic tooter floating there upon the river doubtless would be surprised to learn that he is capable of such a suggestion; but he is.
Off there in the distance, emerging from the shadowy mantle of mist that rests still upon the bosom of the stream to the south, comes the steamboat from Salem, with its decks loaded down with rosy and fragrant peaches, and with baskets of tomatoes and apples and potatoes and berries, ready for the hungry thousands of the Quaker City. The schooner lying there at the wharf is getting ready to move away, so that the steamer may come in. You can hear the screech made by the block as the tackle of the sail is drawn swiftly through it. Now she swings out into the stream, and there, right athwart her bows, see that fisherman rowing homeward with his net piled high in tangled meshes in the bow of his boat. He has a hundred or two silver-scaled shiners at his feet, I'll warrant you, and he is thinking rather of the price they will bring than of the fact that his appearance in his rough batteau gives an especially picturesque air to the beauty of that matchless scene. I wish I was a painter. I would pay any price if I could fling upon canvas that background of hazy gray, and place against it the fiery splendor of the sunlit river, with steamer and ship and weather-beaten sloop and fishing-boat drifting to and fro upon the golden tide.
There, too, is old Cooley, our next-door neighbor on the east. He is out early this morning, walking about his garden, pulling up a weed here and there, prowling among his strawberry vines and investigating the condition of his early raspberries. That dog which trots behind him, my dear, is the one that barked all night. I shall have to ask Cooley to take him in the house after this. We had enough of that kind of disturbance in the city; we do not want it here.
"I don't like the Cooleys," remarked Mrs. A.
"Because they quarrel with each other. Their girl told our girl that 'him and her don't hit it,' and that Mr. Cooley is continually having angry disputes with his wife. She says that sometimes they even come to blows. It is dreadful."
"It is indeed dreadful. Somebody ought to speak to Cooley about it. He needs overhauling. Perhaps he is too ignorant a man to have perceived the true road to happiness. Of course, Mrs. A., you know the secret of real happiness in married life?"
She said she had never thought much about it. She was happy, and it seemed natural to be so. She thought it very strange that there should ever be any other condition of things between man and wife.
"Mrs. Adeler, the secret of conjugal felicity is contained in this formula: demonstrative affection and self-sacrifice. A man should not only love his wife dearly, but he should tell her he loves her, and tell her very often. And each should be willing to yield, not once or twice, but constantly, and as a practice, to the other. The man who never takes the baby from his wife, who never offers to help her in her domestic duties, who will sit idly by, indulging himself with repose while she is overwhelmed with care and work among the children, or with other matters, is a mean wretch who does not deserve to have a happy home. And a wife who never holds up her husband's hands in his struggle with the world, who displays no interest in his perplexities and trials, who has never a word of cheer for him when he staggers under his heavy burden, is not worthy the name of a wife. Selfishness, my dear, crushes out love, and most of the couples who are living without affection for each other, with cold and dead hearts, with ashes where there should be a bright and holy flame, have destroyed themselves by caring too much for themselves and too little for each other."
"To me," said Mrs. Adeler, "the saddest thing about such coldness and indifference is that both the man and the woman must sometimes think of the years when they loved each other."
"Yes, and can you imagine anything that would be more likely to give a woman the heartache than such a recollection? When her husband comes home and enters the house without a smile or a word of welcome; when he growls at his meals, and finds fault with this and that domestic arrangement; when he buries his nose in his newspaper after supper, and never resurrects it excepting when he has a savage word of reproof for one of his children, or when he goes out again to spend the evening and leaves his wife alone, the picture which she brings up from the past cannot be a very pleasant one.
"Indeed, my dear, the man's present conduct must fill the woman's soul with bitter pain when she contrasts it with that which won her affection. For there must have been a time when she looked forward with joy to his coming, when he caressed her and covered her with endearments, when he looked deep into her eyes and said that he loved her, and when he said that he could have no happiness in this world unless she loved him wholly and truly. When a man makes such a declaration as that to a woman, he is a villain if he ever treats her with anything but loving-kindness. And I take the liberty of doubting whether he who leads a young girl into wedlock with such pledges, and then acts in direct violation of them, ought not to be prosecuted for obtaining valuable consideration upon false pretences. It is infinitely worse, in my opinion, than stealing ordinary property."
Mrs. Adeler expressed the opinion that death at the stake might be regarded as an appropriate punishment for criminals of this class.
"But there is a humorous side even to this melancholy business. Do you remember the Sawyers, who used to live near us in the city? Well, before Sawyer's marriage I was his most intimate friend; and when they returned from their wedding-trip, of course I called upon them. Mrs. Sawyer alone was at home, and after a brief discussion of the weather, the conversation turned upon Sawyer. I had known him for many years, and I took pleasure in making Mrs. Sawyer believe that he had as much virtue as an omnibus load of patriarchs. Mrs. Sawyer assented joyously to it all, but I thought I detected a shade of sadness on her face while she spoke. I asked her if anything was the matter—if Sawyer's health was not good.
"'Oh yes,' she said, 'very good indeed, and I love him dearly. He is the best man in the world; but—but—'
"Then I assured Mrs. Sawyer that she might speak frankly to me, as I was Sawyer's friend, and could probably smooth away any little unpleasantness that might mar their happiness. She then said it was nothing: It might seem foolish to speak of it; she knew it was not her dear husband's fault, and she ought not to complain; but it was hard, hard to submit when she reflected that there was but one thing to prevent her being perfectly happy; yes, but one thing, for oh, Mr. Adeler, I would ask for nothing more in this world if Ezekiel only had a Roman nose!'
"It is an awful thing, Mrs. Adeler, to think of two young lives being made miserable for want of one Roman nose, isn't it?"
Mrs. A. gently intimated that she entertained a suspicion that I had made up the story; and if I had not, why, then Mrs. Sawyer certainly was a very foolish woman.
My wife's cousin, Bob Parker, came down a fortnight ago to stay a day or two on his way to Cape May, with the intent to tarry at that watering-place for a week or ten days, and then to return here to remain with us for some time. Bob is a bright youth, witty in his own small way, fond of using his tongue, and always overflowing with animal spirits. He came partly to see us, but chiefly, I think, because he cherishes a secret passion for a certain fair maid who abides here.
He brought me a splendid present in the shape of an American agave, or century plant. It was offered to him in Philadelphia by a man who brought it to the store and wanted to sell it. The man said it had belonged to his grandfather, and he consented to part with it only because he was in extreme poverty. The man informed Bob that the plant grew but half an inch in twenty years, and blossomed but once in a century. The last time it bloomed, according to the information obtained from the gray-haired grandsire of the man, was in 1776, and it would therefore certainly burst out again in 1876. Patriotism and a desire to have such a curiosity in the family combined to induce Mr. Parker to purchase it at the price of fifty dollars.
I planted the phenomenon on the south side of the house, against the wall. Two days afterward I called Bob's attention to the circumstance that the agave had grown nearly three feet since it was placed in the ground. This seemed somewhat strange after what the man said about the growth of half an inch in two decades. But we concluded that the surprising development must be due to the extraordinary fertility of the soil, and Bob exulted as he thought how he had beaten the man by getting a century plant so much larger and so much more valuable than he had supposed. Bob said that the man would be wofully mad if he should call and see that century plant of his grandfather's getting up out of the ground so splendidly.
That afternoon we all went down to Cape May, and for two weeks we remained there. Upon our return, Bob remarked, as we stepped from the boat, that he wanted to go around the first thing and see how the plant was coming on. He suggested gloomily that he should be bitterly disappointed if it had perished from neglect during our absence.
But it was not dead. We saw it as soon as we came near the house. It had grown since our departure. It had a trunk as thick as my leg, and the branches ran completely over three sides of the house; over the window shutters, which were closed so tightly that we had to chop the century plant away with a hatchet; over the roof, down the chimneys, which were so filled with foliage that they wouldn't draw; and over the grapevine arbor, in such a fashion that we had to cut away vines and all to get rid of the intruder.
The roots, also, had thrown out shoots over every available square foot of the yard, so that I had eight or ten thousand century plants in an exceedingly thriving condition, while a branch had grown through the open cellar window, and was getting along so finely that we could only reach the coal-bin by tramping through a kind of an East Indian jungle.
Mr. Parker, after examining the vegetable carefully, observed:
"I'm kind of sorry I bought that century plant, Max. I have half an idea that the man who sold it to me was a humorist, and that his Revolutionary grandfather was an octogenarian fraud."
If anybody wants a good, strong, healthy century plant that will stand any climate, and that is warranted to bloom in 1876, mine can be had for a very reasonable price. This may be regarded as an unparalleled opportunity for any young agriculturist who does not want to wait long for his vegetables to grow.