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    Chapter LXX

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    Chapter 74
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    We stopped some time at one of the plantations, to rest ourselves and
    refresh the horses. We had a chatty conversation with several gentlemen
    present; but there was one person, a middle aged man, with an absent look
    in his face, who simply glanced up, gave us good-day and lapsed again
    into the meditations which our coming had interrupted. The planters
    whispered us not to mind him--crazy. They said he was in the Islands for
    his health; was a preacher; his home, Michigan. They said that if he
    woke up presently and fell to talking about a correspondence which he had
    some time held with Mr. Greeley about a trifle of some kind, we must
    humor him and listen with interest; and we must humor his fancy that this
    correspondence was the talk of the world.

    It was easy to see that he was a gentle creature and that his madness had
    nothing vicious in it. He looked pale, and a little worn, as if with
    perplexing thought and anxiety of mind. He sat a long time, looking at
    the floor, and at intervals muttering to himself and nodding his head
    acquiescingly or shaking it in mild protest. He was lost in his thought,
    or in his memories. We continued our talk with the planters, branching
    from subject to subject. But at last the word "circumstance," casually
    dropped, in the course of conversation, attracted his attention and
    brought an eager look into his countenance. He faced about in his chair
    and said:

    "Circumstance? What circumstance? Ah, I know--I know too well. So you
    have heard of it too." [With a sigh.] "Well, no matter--all the world
    has heard of it. All the world. The whole world. It is a large world,
    too, for a thing to travel so far in--now isn't it? Yes, yes--the
    Greeley correspondence with Erickson has created the saddest and
    bitterest controversy on both sides of the ocean--and still they keep it
    up! It makes us famous, but at what a sorrowful sacrifice! I was so
    sorry when I heard that it had caused that bloody and distressful war
    over there in Italy. It was little comfort to me, after so much
    bloodshed, to know that the victors sided with me, and the vanquished
    with Greeley.--It is little comfort to know that Horace Greeley is
    responsible for the battle of Sadowa, and not me.

    "Queen Victoria wrote me that she felt just as I did about it--she said
    that as much as she was opposed to Greeley and the spirit he showed in
    the correspondence with me, she would not have had Sadowa happen for
    hundreds of dollars. I can show you her letter, if you would like to see
    it. But gentlemen, much as you may think you know about that unhappy
    correspondence, you cannot know the straight of it till you hear it from
    my lips. It has always been garbled in the journals, and even in
    history. Yes, even in history--think of it! Let me--please let me, give
    you the matter, exactly as it occurred. I truly will not abuse your

    Then he leaned forward, all interest, all earnestness, and told his
    story--and told it appealingly, too, and yet in the simplest and most
    unpretentious way; indeed, in such a way as to suggest to one, all the
    time, that this was a faithful, honorable witness, giving evidence in the
    sacred interest of justice, and under oath. He said:

    "Mrs. Beazeley--Mrs. Jackson Beazeley, widow, of the village of
    Campbellton, Kansas,--wrote me about a matter which was near her heart
    --a matter which many might think trivial, but to her it was a thing of
    deep concern. I was living in Michigan, then--serving in the ministry.
    She was, and is, an estimable woman--a woman to whom poverty and hardship
    have proven incentives to industry, in place of discouragements.
    Her only treasure was her son William, a youth just verging upon manhood;
    religious, amiable, and sincerely attached to agriculture. He was the
    widow's comfort and her pride. And so, moved by her love for him, she
    wrote me about a matter, as I have said before, which lay near her heart
    --because it lay near her boy's. She desired me to confer with
    Mr. Greeley about turnips. Turnips were the dream of her child's young
    ambition. While other youths were frittering away in frivolous
    amusements the precious years of budding vigor which God had given them
    for useful preparation, this boy was patiently enriching his mind with
    information concerning turnips. The sentiment which he felt toward the
    turnip was akin to adoration. He could not think of the turnip without
    emotion; he could not speak of it calmly; he could not contemplate it
    without exaltation. He could not eat it without shedding tears. All the
    poetry in his sensitive nature was in sympathy with the gracious
    vegetable. With the earliest pipe of dawn he sought his patch, and when
    the curtaining night drove him from it he shut himself up with his books
    and garnered statistics till sleep overcame him. On rainy days he sat
    and talked hours together with his mother about turnips. When company
    came, he made it his loving duty to put aside everything else and
    converse with them all the day long of his great joy in the turnip.

    "And yet, was this joy rounded and complete? Was there no secret alloy of
    unhappiness in it? Alas, there was. There was a canker gnawing at his
    heart; the noblest inspiration of his soul eluded his endeavor--viz: he
    could not make of the turnip a climbing vine. Months went by; the bloom
    forsook his cheek, the fire faded out of his eye; sighings and
    abstraction usurped the place of smiles and cheerful converse. But a
    watchful eye noted these things and in time a motherly sympathy unsealed
    the secret. Hence the letter to me. She pleaded for attention--she said
    her boy was dying by inches.

    "I was a stranger to Mr. Greeley, but what of that? The matter was
    urgent. I wrote and begged him to solve the difficult problem if
    possible and save the student's life. My interest grew, until it partook
    of the anxiety of the mother. I waited in much suspense.--At last the
    answer came.

    "I found that I could not read it readily, the handwriting being
    unfamiliar and my emotions somewhat wrought up. It seemed to refer in
    part to the boy's case, but chiefly to other and irrelevant matters--such
    as paving-stones, electricity, oysters, and something which I took to be
    'absolution' or 'agrarianism,' I could not be certain which; still, these
    appeared to be simply casual mentions, nothing more; friendly in spirit,
    without doubt, but lacking the connection or coherence necessary to make
    them useful.--I judged that my understanding was affected by my feelings,
    and so laid the letter away till morning.

    "In the morning I read it again, but with difficulty and uncertainty
    still, for I had lost some little rest and my mental vision seemed
    clouded. The note was more connected, now, but did not meet the
    emergency it was expected to meet. It was too discursive. It appeared
    to read as follows, though I was not certain of some of the words:

    "Polygamy dissembles majesty; extracts redeem polarity; causes
    hitherto exist. Ovations pursue wisdom, or warts inherit and
    condemn. Boston, botany, cakes, folony undertakes, but who shall
    allay? We fear not. Yrxwly,

    "But there did not seem to be a word about turnips. There seemed to be
    no suggestion as to how they might be made to grow like vines. There was
    not even a reference to the Beazeleys. I slept upon the matter; I ate no
    supper, neither any breakfast next morning. So I resumed my work with a
    brain refreshed, and was very hopeful. Now the letter took a different
    aspect-all save the signature, which latter I judged to be only a
    harmless affectation of Hebrew. The epistle was necessarily from Mr.
    Greeley, for it bore the printed heading of The Tribune, and I had
    written to no one else there. The letter, I say, had taken a different
    aspect, but still its language was eccentric and avoided the issue. It
    now appeared to say:

    "Bolivia extemporizes mackerel; borax esteems polygamy; sausages
    wither in the east. Creation perdu, is done; for woes inherent one
    can damn. Buttons, buttons, corks, geology underrates but we shall
    allay. My beer's out. Yrxwly,

    "I was evidently overworked. My comprehension was impaired. Therefore I
    gave two days to recreation, and then returned to my task greatly
    refreshed. The letter now took this form:

    "Poultices do sometimes choke swine; tulips reduce posterity; causes
    leather to resist. Our notions empower wisdom, her let's afford
    while we can. Butter but any cakes, fill any undertaker, we'll wean
    him from his filly. We feel hot.
    Yrxwly, HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

    "I was still not satisfied. These generalities did not meet the
    question. They were crisp, and vigorous, and delivered with a confidence
    that almost compelled conviction; but at such a time as this, with a
    human life at stake, they seemed inappropriate, worldly, and in bad
    taste. At any other time I would have been not only glad, but proud, to
    receive from a man like Mr. Greeley a letter of this kind, and would have
    studied it earnestly and tried to improve myself all I could; but now,
    with that poor boy in his far home languishing for relief, I had no heart
    for learning.

    "Three days passed by, and I read the note again. Again its tenor had
    changed. It now appeared to say:

    "Potations do sometimes wake wines; turnips restrain passion; causes
    necessary to state. Infest the poor widow; her lord's effects will
    be void. But dirt, bathing, etc., etc., followed unfairly, will
    worm him from his folly--so swear not.
    Yrxwly, HEVACE EVEELOJ.'

    "This was more like it. But I was unable to proceed. I was too much
    worn. The word 'turnips' brought temporary joy and encouragement, but my
    strength was so much impaired, and the delay might be so perilous for the
    boy, that I relinquished the idea of pursuing the translation further,
    and resolved to do what I ought to have done at first. I sat down and
    wrote Mr. Greeley as follows:

    "DEAR SIR: I fear I do not entirely comprehend your kind note. It
    cannot be possible, Sir, that 'turnips restrain passion'--at least
    the study or contemplation of turnips cannot--for it is this very
    employment that has scorched our poor friend's mind and sapped his
    bodily strength.--But if they do restrain it, will you bear with us
    a little further and explain how they should be prepared? I observe
    that you say 'causes necessary to state,' but you have omitted to
    state them.

    "Under a misapprehension, you seem to attribute to me interested
    motives in this matter--to call it by no harsher term. But I assure
    you, dear sir, that if I seem to be 'infesting the widow,' it is all
    seeming, and void of reality. It is from no seeking of mine that I
    am in this position. She asked me, herself, to write you. I never
    have infested her--indeed I scarcely know her. I do not infest
    anybody. I try to go along, in my humble way, doing as near right
    as I can, never harming anybody, and never throwing out
    insinuations. As for 'her lord and his effects,' they are of no
    interest to me. I trust I have effects enough of my own--shall
    endeavor to get along with them, at any rate, and not go mousing
    around to get hold of somebody's that are 'void.' But do you not
    see?--this woman is a widow--she has no 'lord.' He is dead--or
    pretended to be, when they buried him. Therefore, no amount of
    'dirt, bathing,' etc., etc., howsoever 'unfairly followed' will be
    likely to 'worm him from his folly'--if being dead and a ghost is
    'folly.' Your closing remark is as unkind as it was uncalled for;
    and if report says true you might have applied it to yourself, sir,
    with more point and less impropriety.
    Very Truly Yours, SIMON ERICKSON.

    "In the course of a few days, Mr. Greely did what would have saved a
    world of trouble, and much mental and bodily suffering and
    misunderstanding, if he had done it sooner. To wit, he sent an
    intelligible rescript or translation of his original note, made in a
    plain hand by his clerk. Then the mystery cleared, and I saw that his
    heart had been right, all the time. I will recite the note in its
    clarified form:

    'Potatoes do sometimes make vines; turnips remain passive: cause
    unnecessary to state. Inform the poor widow her lad's efforts will
    be vain. But diet, bathing, etc. etc., followed uniformly, will
    wean him from his folly--so fear not.

    "But alas, it was too late, gentlemen--too late. The criminal delay had
    done its work--young Beazely was no more. His spirit had taken its
    flight to a land where all anxieties shall be charmed away, all desires
    gratified, all ambitions realized. Poor lad, they laid him to his rest
    with a turnip in each hand."

    So ended Erickson, and lapsed again into nodding, mumbling, and
    abstraction. The company broke up, and left him so.... But they did not
    say what drove him crazy. In the momentary confusion, I forgot to ask.
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