Fanshawe, by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Chapter 3

“And let the aspiring youth beware of love —

Of the smooth glance beware; for ’tis too late

When on his heart the torrent softness pours;

Then wisdom prostrate lies, and fading fame

Dissolves in air away.”

THOMSON.

A few months passed over the heads of Ellen Langton and her admirers, unproductive of events, that, separately, were of sufficient importance to be related. The summer was now drawing to a close; and Dr. Melmoth had received information that his friend’s arrangements were nearly completed, and that by the next home-bound ship he hoped to return to his native country. The arrival of that ship was daily expected.

During the time that had elapsed since his first meeting with Ellen, there had been a change, yet not a very remarkable one, in Fanshawe’s habits. He was still the same solitary being, so far as regarded his own sex; and he still confined himself as sedulously to his chamber, except for one hour — the sunset hour — of every day. At that period, unless prevented by the inclemency of the weather, he was accustomed to tread a path that wound along the banks of the stream. He had discovered that this was the most frequent scene of Ellen’s walks; and this it was that drew him thither.

Their intercourse was at first extremely slight — a bow on the one side, a smile on the other, and a passing word from both; and then the student hurried back to his solitude. But, in course of time, opportunities occurred for more extended conversation; so that, at the period with which this chapter is concerned, Fanshawe was, almost as constantly as Edward Walcott himself, the companion of Ellen’s walks.

His passion had strengthened more than proportionably to the time that had elapsed since it was conceived; but the first glow and excitement which attended it had now vanished. He had reasoned calmly with himself, and rendered evident to his own mind the almost utter hopelessness of success. He had also made his resolution strong, that he would not even endeavor to win Ellen’s love, the result of which, for a thousand reasons, could not be happiness. Firm in this determination, and confident of his power to adhere to it; feeling, also, that time and absence could not cure his own passion, and having no desire for such a cure — he saw no reason for breaking off the intercourse that was established between Ellen and himself. It was remarkable, that, notwithstanding the desperate nature of his love, that, or something connected with it, seemed to have a beneficial effect upon his health. There was now a slight tinge of color in his cheek, and a less consuming brightness in his eye. Could it be that hope, unknown to himself, was yet alive in his breast; that a sense of the possibility of earthly happiness was redeeming him from the grave?

Had the character of Ellen Langton’s mind been different, there might, perhaps, have been danger to her from an intercourse of this nature with such a being as Fanshawe; for he was distinguished by many of those asperities around which a woman’s affection will often cling. But she was formed to walk in the calm and quiet paths of life, and to pluck the flowers of happiness from the wayside where they grow. Singularity of character, therefore, was not calculated to win her love. She undoubtedly felt an interest in the solitary student, and perceiving, with no great exercise of vanity, that her society drew him from the destructive intensity of his studies, she perhaps felt it a duty to exert her influence. But it did not occur to her that her influence had been sufficiently strong to change the whole current of his thoughts and feelings.

Ellen and her two lovers (for both, though perhaps not equally, deserved that epithet) had met, as usual, at the close of a sweet summer day, and were standing by the side of the stream, just where it swept into a deep pool. The current, undermining the bank, had formed a recess, which, according to Edward Walcott, afforded at that moment a hiding-place to a trout of noble size.

“Now would I give the world,” he exclaimed with great interest, “for a hook and line, a fish-spear, or any piscatorial instrument of death! Look, Ellen, you can see the waving of his tail from beneath the bank!”

“If you had the means of taking him, I should save him from your cruelty, thus,” said Ellen, dropping a pebble into the water, just over the fish. “There! he has darted down the stream. How many pleasant caves and recesses there must be under these banks, where he may be happy! May there not be happiness in the life of a fish?” she added, turning with a smile to Fanshawe.

“There may,” he replied, “so long as he lives quietly in the caves and recesses of which you speak, Yes, there may be happiness, though such as few would envy; but, then, the hook and line”—

“Which, there is reason to apprehend, will shortly destroy the happiness of our friend the trout,” interrupted Edward, pointing down the stream. “There is an angler on his way toward us, who will intercept him.”

“He seems to care little for the sport, to judge by the pace at which he walks,” said Ellen.

“But he sees, now, that we are observing him, and is willing to prove that he knows something of the art,” replied Edward Walcott. “I should think him well acquainted with the stream; for, hastily as he walks, he has tried every pool and ripple where a fish usually hides. But that point will be decided when he reaches yonder old bare oak-tree.”

“And how is the old tree to decide the question?” inquired Fanshawe. “It is a species of evidence of which I have never before heard.”

“The stream has worn a hollow under its roots,” answered Edward — “a most delicate retreat for a trout. Now, a stranger would not discover the spot; or, if he did, the probable result of a cast would be the loss of hook and line — an accident that has occurred to me more than once. If, therefore, this angler takes a fish from thence, it follows that he knows the stream.”

They observed the fisher, accordingly, as he kept his way up the bank. He did not pause when he reached the old leafless oak, that formed with its roots an obstruction very common in American streams; but, throwing his line with involuntary skill as he passed, he not only escaped the various entanglements, but drew forth a fine large fish.

“There, Ellen, he has captivated your protégé, the trout, or, at least, one very like him in size,” observed Edward. “It is singular,” he added, gazing earnestly at the man.

“Why is it singular?” inquired Ellen Langton. “This person, perhaps, resides in the neighborhood, and may have fished often in the stream.”

“Do but look at him, Ellen, and judge whether his life can have been spent in this lonely valley,” he replied. “The glow of many a hotter sun than ours has darkened his brow; and his step and air have something foreign in them, like what we see in sailors who have lived more in other countries than in their own. Is it not so, Ellen? for your education in a seaport must have given you skill in these matters. But come, let us approach nearer.”

They walked towards the angler, accordingly, who still remained under the oak, apparently engaged in arranging his fishing-tackle. As the party drew nigh, he raised his head, and threw one quick, scrutinizing glance towards them, disclosing, on his part, a set of bold and rather coarse features, weather-beaten, but indicating the age of the owner to be not above thirty. In person he surpassed the middle size, was well set, and evidently strong and active.

“Do you meet with much success, sir?” inquired Edward Walcott, when within a convenient distance for conversation.

“I have taken but one fish,” replied the angler, in an accent which his hearers could scarcely determine to be foreign, or the contrary. “I am a stranger to the stream, and have doubtless passed over many a likely place for sport.”

“You have an angler’s eye, sir,” rejoined Edward.

“I observed that you made your casts as if you had often trod these banks, and I could scarcely have guided you better myself.”

“Yes, I have learned the art, and I love to practise it,” replied the man. “But will not the young lady try her skill?” he continued, casting a bold eye on Ellen. “The fish will love to be drawn out by such white hands as those.”

Ellen shrank back, though almost imperceptibly, from the free bearing of the man. It seemed meant for courtesy; but its effect was excessively disagreeable. Edward Walcott, who perceived and coincided in Ellen’s feelings, replied to the stranger’s proposal.

“The young lady will not put the gallantry of the fish to the proof, sir,” he said, “and she will therefore have no occasion for your own.”

“I shall take leave to hear my answer from the young lady’s own mouth,” answered the stranger, haughtily. “If you will step this way, Miss Langton” (here he interrupted himself) — “if you will cast the line by yonder sunken log, I think you will meet with success.”

Thus saying, the angler offered his rod and line to Ellen. She at first drew back, then hesitated, but finally held out her hand to receive them. In thus complying with the stranger’s request, she was actuated by a desire to keep the peace, which, as her notice of Edward Walcott’s crimsoned cheek and flashing eye assured her, was considerably endangered. The angler led the way to the spot which he had pointed out, which, though not at such a distance from Ellen’s companions but that words in a common tone could be distinguished, was out of the range of a lowered voice.

Edward Walcott and the student remained by the oak: the former biting his lip with vexation; the latter, whose abstraction always vanished where Ellen was concerned, regarding her and the stranger with fixed and silent attention. The young men could at first hear the words that the angler addressed to Ellen. They related to the mode of managing the rod; and she made one or two casts under his direction. At length, however, as if to offer his assistance, the man advanced close to her side, and seemed to speak, but in so low a tone, that the sense of what he uttered was lost before it reached the oak. But its effect upon Ellen was immediate and very obvious. Her eyes flashed; and an indignant blush rose high on her cheek, giving to her beauty a haughty brightness, of which the gentleness of her disposition in general deprived it. The next moment, however, she seemed to recollect herself, and, restoring the angling-rod to its owner, she turned away calmly, and approached her companions.

“The evening breeze grows chill; and mine is a dress for a summer day,” she observed. “Let us walk homeward.”

“Miss Langton, is it the evening breeze alone that sends you homeward?” inquired Edward.

At this moment the angler, who had resumed, and seemed to be intent upon his occupation, drew a fish from the pool, which he had pointed out to Ellen.

“I told the young lady,” he exclaimed, “that, if she would listen to me a moment longer, she would be repaid for her trouble; and here is the proof of my words.”

“Come, let us hasten towards home,” cried Ellen, eagerly; and she took Edward Walcott’s arm, with a freedom that, at another time, would have enchanted him. He at first seemed inclined to resist her wishes, but complied, after exchanging, unperceived by Ellen, a glance with the stranger, the meaning of which the latter appeared perfectly to understand. Fanshawe also attended her. Their walk towards Dr. Melmoth’s dwelling was almost a silent one; and the few words that passed between them did not relate to the adventure which occupied the thoughts of each. On arriving at the house, Ellen’s attendants took leave of her, and retired.

Edward Walcott, eluding Fanshawe’s observation with little difficulty, hastened back to the old oak-tree. From the intelligence with which the stranger had received his meaning glance, the young man had supposed that he would here await his return. But the banks of the stream, upward and downward, so far as his eye could reach, were solitary. He could see only his own image in the water, where it swept into a silent depth; and could hear only its ripple, where stones and sunken trees impeded its course. The object of his search might, indeed, have found concealment among the tufts of alders, or in the forest that was near at hand; but thither it was in vain to pursue him. The angler had apparently set little store by the fruits of his assumed occupation; for the last fish that he had taken lay, yet alive, on the bank, gasping for the element to which Edward was sufficiently compassionate to restore him. After watching him as he glided down the stream, making feeble efforts to resist its current, the youth turned away, and sauntered slowly towards the college.

Ellen Langton, on her return from her walk, found Dr. Melmoth’s little parlor unoccupied; that gentleman being deeply engaged in his study, and his lady busied in her domestic affairs. The evening, notwithstanding Ellen’s remark concerning the chillness of the breeze, was almost sultry; and the windows of the apartment were thrown open. At one of these, which looked into the garden, she seated herself, listening, almost unconsciously, to the monotonous music of a thousand insects, varied occasionally by the voice of a whippoorwill, who, as the day departed, was just commencing his song. A dusky tint, as yet almost imperceptible, was beginning to settle on the surrounding objects, except where they were opposed to the purple and golden clouds, which the vanished sun had made the brief inheritors of a portion of his brightness. In these gorgeous vapors, Ellen’s fancy, in the interval of other thoughts, pictured a fairy-land, and longed for wings to visit it.

But as the clouds lost their brilliancy, and assumed first a dull purple, and then a sullen gray tint, Ellen’s thoughts recurred to the adventure of the angler, which her imagination was inclined to invest with an undue singularity. It was, however, sufficiently unaccountable that an entire stranger should venture to demand of her a private audience; and she assigned, in turn, a thousand motives for such a request, none of which were in any degree satisfactory. Her most prevailing thought, though she could not justify it to her reason, inclined her to believe that the angler was a messenger from her father. But wherefore he should deem it necessary to communicate any intelligence that he might possess only by means of a private interview, and without the knowledge of her friends, was a mystery she could not solve. In this view of the matter, however, she half regretted that her instinctive delicacy had impelled her so suddenly to break off their conference, admitting, in the secrecy of her own mind, that, if an opportunity were again to occur, it might not again be shunned. As if that unuttered thought had power to conjure up its object, she now became aware of a form standing in the garden, at a short distance from the window where she sat. The dusk had deepened, during Ellen’s abstraction, to such a degree, that the man’s features were not perfectly distinguishable; but the maiden was not long in doubt of his identity, for he approached, and spoke in the same low tone in which he had addressed her when they stood by the stream.

“Do you still refuse my request, when its object is but your own good, and that of one who should be most dear to you?” he asked.

Ellen’s first impulse had been to cry out for assistance; her second was to fly: but, rejecting both these measures, she determined to remain, endeavoring to persuade herself that she was safe. The quivering of her voice, however, when she attempted to reply, betrayed her apprehensions.

“I cannot listen to such a request from a stranger,” she said. “If you bring news from — from my father, why is it not told to Dr. Melmoth?”

“Because what I have to say is for your ear alone,” was the reply; “and if you would avoid misfortune now, and sorrow hereafter, you will not refuse to hear me.”

“And does it concern my father?” asked Ellen, eagerly.

“It does — most deeply,” answered the stranger.

She meditated a moment, and then replied, “I will not refuse, I will hear — but speak quickly.”

“We are in danger of interruption in this place, and that would be fatal to my errand,” said the stranger. “I will await you in the garden.”

With these words, and giving her no opportunity for reply, he drew back; and his form faded from her eyes. This precipitate retreat from argument was the most probable method that he could have adopted of gaining his end. He had awakened the strongest interest in Ellen’s mind; and he calculated justly in supposing that she would consent to an interview upon his own terms.

Dr. Melmoth had followed his own fancies in the mode of laying out his garden; and, in consequence, the plan that had undoubtedly existed in his mind was utterly incomprehensible to every one but himself. It was an intermixture of kitchen and flower garden, a labyrinth of winding paths, bordered by hedges, and impeded by shrubbery. Many of the original trees of the forest were still flourishing among the exotics which the doctor had transplanted thither. It was not without a sensation of fear, stronger than she had ever before experienced, that Ellen Langton found herself in this artificial wilderness, and in the presence of the mysterious stranger. The dusky light deepened the lines of his dark, strong features; and Ellen fancied that his countenance wore a wilder and a fiercer look than when she had met him by the stream. He perceived her agitation, and addressed her in the softest tones of which his voice was capable.

“Compose yourself,” he said; “you have nothing to fear from me. But we are in open view from the house, where we now stand; and discovery would not be without danger to both of us.”

“No eye can see us here,” said Ellen, trembling at the truth of her own observation, when they stood beneath a gnarled, low-branched pine, which Dr. Melmoth’s ideas of beauty had caused him to retain in his garden. “Speak quickly; for I dare follow you no farther.”

The spot was indeed sufficiently solitary; and the stranger delayed no longer to explain his errand.

“Your father,” he began — “do you not love him? Would you do aught for his welfare?”

“Everything that a father could ask I would do,” exclaimed Ellen, eagerly. “Where is my father? and when shall I meet him?”

“It must depend upon yourself, whether you shall meet him in a few days or never.”

“Never!” repeated Ellen. “Is he ill? Is he in danger?”

“He is in danger,” replied the man, “but not from illness. Your father is a ruined man. Of all his friends, but one remains to him. That friend has travelled far to prove if his daughter has a daughter’s affection.”

“And what is to be the proof?” asked Ellen, with more calmness than the stranger had anticipated; for she possessed a large fund of plain sense, which revolted against the mystery of these proceedings. Such a course, too, seemed discordant with her father’s character, whose strong mind and almost cold heart were little likely to demand, or even to pardon, the romance of affection.

“This letter will explain,” was the reply to Ellen’s question. “You will see that it is in your father’s hand; and that may gain your confidence, though I am doubted.”

She received the letter; and many of her suspicions of the stranger’s truth were vanquished by the apparent openness of his manner. He was preparing to speak further, but paused, for a footstep was now heard, approaching from the lower part of the garden. From their situation — at some distance from the path, and in the shade of the tree — they had a fair chance of eluding discovery from any unsuspecting passenger; and, when Ellen saw that the intruder was Fanshawe, she hoped that his usual abstraction would assist their concealment.

But, as the student advanced along the path, his air was not that of one whose deep inward thoughts withdrew his attention from all outward objects. He rather resembled the hunter, on the watch for his game; and, while he was yet at a distance from Ellen, a wandering gust of wind waved her white garment, and betrayed her.

“It is as I feared,” said Fanshawe to himself. He then drew nigh, and addressed Ellen with a calm authority that became him well, notwithstanding that his years scarcely exceeded her own. “Miss Langton,” he inquired, “what do you here at such an hour, and with such a companion?”

Ellen was sufficiently displeased at what she deemed the unauthorized intrusion of Fanshawe in her affairs; but his imposing manner and her own confusion prevented her from replying.

“Permit me to lead you to the house,” he continued, in the words of a request, but in the tone of a command. “The dew hangs dank and heavy on these branches; and a longer stay would be more dangerous than you are aware.”

Ellen would fain have resisted; but though the tears hung as heavy on her eyelashes, between shame and anger, as the dew upon the leaves, she felt compelled to accept the arm that he offered her. But the stranger, who, since Fanshawe’s approach, had remained a little apart, now advanced.

“You speak as one in authority, young man,” he said. “Have you the means of compelling obedience? Does your power extend to men? Or do you rule only over simple girls? Miss Langton is under my protection, and, till you can bend me to your will, she shall remain so.”

Fanshawe turned calmly, and fixed his eyes on the stranger. “Retire, sir,” was all he said.

Ellen almost shuddered, as if there were a mysterious and unearthly power in Fanshawe’s voice; for she saw that the stranger endeavored in vain, borne down by the influence of a superior mind, to maintain the boldness of look and bearing that seemed natural to him. He at first made a step forward, then muttered a few half-audible words; but, quailing at length beneath the young man’s bright and steady eye, he turned and slowly withdrew.

Fanshawe remained silent a moment after his opponent had departed, and, when he next spoke, it was in a tone of depression. Ellen observed, also, that his countenance had lost its look of pride and authority; and he seemed faint and exhausted. The occasion that called forth his energies had passed; and they had left him.

“Forgive me, Miss Langton,” he said almost humbly, “if my eagerness to serve you has led me too far. There is evil in this stranger, more than your pure mind can conceive. I know not what has been his errand; but let me entreat you to put confidence in those to whose care your father has intrusted you. Or if I— or — or Edward Walcott — But I have no right to advise you; and your own calm thoughts will guide you best.”

He said no more; and, as Ellen did not reply, they reached the house, and parted in silence.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38