Ethan Brand

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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 Graylock.”

“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 over-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 limeburner still feeds his daily and night-long 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 hillside, 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 new-comer here, as you say, and they call it eighteen years since you left the foot of Graylock. 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 half-way 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 this 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 farther 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 firelight 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, bobtailed 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 shirtsleeves 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 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,

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 horseback 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 who ​m, 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,” he murmured, 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 sunburnt 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

“Come, old Dutchman,” cried one of the young men, “let us see
your pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!”

“Oh 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

As may be supposed, the exhibition was greeted with universal
laughter, cl ​apping 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, as 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 firelight 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

“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 b ​ut 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 redhot 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 supposed, would have 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

“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

“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.

This work was published before January 1, 1926, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.