“Our Happiness foundered by one evil Soul.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“God accomplishes that which is beyond expectation.”
“Whatever we gain through suffering is good; we have bought it; we have paid the price.”
One voyage across the ocean is very much like another, and the majority of my readers have doubtless taken several. Some may even remember the old steamship Atlantic, for I think she was making her regular trips when the war of 1860 began. The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them. We met good and evil fortune on the Atlantic, and Robert perversely chose the latter. The good fortune came in a Mr. and Mrs. Curtis of Boston. They had been to Geneva, Switzerland, to place their sons in some famous school there, and were returning home. It is fifty-nine years since we traveled together, but I have the clearest and pleasantest remembrance of them. Mr. Curtis and Robert were much together, and Mrs. Curtis sat a great deal with me and my children, helping me to take care of them, and telling me about Boston housekeeping and social life. I was charmed with her descriptions, and longed to settle in Boston beside her.
Our evil fortune was represented by a man of about sixty years of age whose name I will not write. He had a military title and reputation, had been Governor of his state, was very rich, and had great political influence. He sat opposite to us at the dining-table, and I noticed him the first meal that I ate in the saloon. For he watched Robert with eyes like those the evil angels may look out with, and Robert appeared quite unconscious of the hatred in their glances. But I said nothing about my observations, for within the past few days I had discovered that there was one phase of life, in which my husband was a stranger to me. I had known him hitherto in a very narrow domestic and social circle. I saw him now among business men, lawyers, financiers, and men of the world and fashion. I was astonished. I wondered how I had dared to contradict and advise, and even snub a man whom every one appeared to court and admire; for I can truly say, he held the crowd in his open hand.
For several days his enemy watched him, then I saw them frequently together and apparently on the most friendly terms. One afternoon when I was on deck and watching them in eager conversation, Mrs. Curtis sat down at my side. She looked at them, and then at me, and asked, “Do you like that acquaintanceship?”
“No,” I answered. “He is a bad man.”
“Perhaps you should not say that—you may not be right.”
“I am right,” I replied. “I think he knows every sin that has a name.”
“I wish,” she continued, “that Mr. Barr did not listen so eagerly to him. We were in hopes of your coming to Boston, but now that he has caught the Western fever, nothing will cure him but an experience of the West. Mr. Curtis thinks you are both unfit for Chicago.”
“I know we are.”
“Poor child!” she exclaimed. “I intended to have taken such good care of you.”
Then tears sprang to my eyes. I leaned my head against her breast, and if she had been an Englishwoman, she would have kissed me.
It was, alas, quite true that Robert had fallen completely under the spell of his enemy. His lure had been the wonderful West, which Robert was now determined to visit, before we definitely settled, “We will go as far as Buffalo, Milly,” he said to me, “see Niagara, and cross into Canada. We may find just what we like in Canada. If so, we shall still be under the British flag. If we do not like Canada, then we will go westward to Chicago.”
I pleaded for a trial of Boston, but Robert would not listen to me. “Every one on the ship says, ‘Go west,’” he replied. “Let us see with our own eyes, and judge for ourselves.”
I was grieved and offended at the time, but I can understand now the influence primarily working against Boston. He longed for rest and travel and change. All his life he had been kept strictly to his lessons, and his business. He had never had a holiday, unless his mother and sister and her children were with him, and this going where he liked, seeing what he liked, doing what he liked, and resting whenever he wished to rest, possessed irresistible charms. He could not deny himself. He could not go to Boston and settle at once to business of some kind. I do not blame him. He had had no youth. He was naturally poetic and romantic, but
“Even his childhood knew nothing better,
Than bills of creditor and debtor——”
while the modern spirit of travel and recreation was just beginning to make both age and youth restless and expectant.
Yet at that time I could not reason thus, and the refusal of the kind offers made us by Mr. and Mrs. Curtis, appeared to me a wilful flinging away of good fortune. Also, I apprehended nothing but danger and sorrow from any step taken on the advice of a man, whom nothing could make me trust. Alas! an apprehended danger can not always be a defended one. I believed firmly that heaven chalked the line that brought us to New York. I saw no white road leading us to Chicago. I felt that in turning away from Boston we had lost opportunity’s golden tide.
On the fifth of September, A.D. 1853, we landed in New York. The Atlantic’s dock was on the East River, and we went to a large hotel some where in the lower part of the city. I think just below Trinity Church. Robert was like a boy out on a holiday. Everything delighted him. We rode about seeing what there was to see, and among other things the Crystal Palace; but as we had spent three weeks at the original in London in 1851, we were disappointed. However, I was greatly pleased with the dry goods stores and astonished to find dresses ready made, more so when I discovered I could slip comfortably into them, and that they looked as if they had been expressly made for me. It was always such a labor to have a dress made in England, that I laughed with delight at this sensible convenience, and bought many more than I needed. I was afraid I might never have such another opportunity.
As I call to remembrance the events of those few days in New York of 1853, I smile and sigh over our ignorance and our happiness. For instance when driving about the city one day, I saw exposed for sale what appeared to me some wonderfully large plums. I asked Robert to buy some, and he did so but when I tasted them, I was astonished and disappointed. They did not taste like plums; they did not taste nice at all. In fact they were tomatoes, and I was about to throw them away when the Irishman who was driving us asked for them, saying, “They would be fine with his supper’s beefsteak.” Then I laughed, for I remembered Mr. Pickwick and what came of his beefsteak and tomato sauce. But I had really never before seen a tomato, for in the North of England they could not ripen, and I think it is only under glass they ripen in the southern counties. At this day they are plentiful in all parts of England, but they are imported from the Channel Islands and the Continent.
Such small blunders were common enough, and gave us much amusement; for seeing that I could not alter Robert’s arrangements, I entered into all that interested him with that simplicity of heart, which accepts the inevitable and enjoys it. Besides, I was then only twenty-two years old, and twenty-two has hopeful eyes, and sees things on their best side. But in less than a week, we had exhausted the New York of 1853, and we went to Buffalo. I remember our ride up the banks of the Hudson very well, but no kind angel whispered me then, that I should, after thirty-five years had come and gone, make my home there.
I was delighted with Buffalo, especially with the picturesque beauty of its frame residences. A house made of wood was a wonder to me, and their balconies and piazzas, their little towers and pinnacles, and their green outside blinds, made me long for such a home. But we only remained two days in Buffalo, and then went to Niagara, which disappointed me at first, though the roar of its waters remained in my ears for many days. The change into Canada was remarkable. I know that in England the crossing of the Tweed, makes you immediately sensible that you are in Scotland; but this sensation of passing rapidly from one country to another, was much stronger in stepping from the United States into Canada, and the Scottish atmosphere was intensified as soon as you entered a house or spoke to any one.
“Well, Robert,” I said, “we did not cross the Atlantic for this kind of thing. Let us go back to New York.”
“This kind of thing, seems very comfortable and respectable,” answered Robert, a little piqued, “but as you do not like it, we will go on to Chicago. You know, Milly, we have come into an unknown world, and we must take it as we find it.”
It would be tedious to follow our wanderings from place to place for the next six weeks, but at last I rebelled against any more travel. “I am tired to death, Robert,” I said. And he smiled and told me, that I never looked better. “And the children are too tired to sleep; Mary is crying to stop,” I added. That was a thing to be looked after. For to an English and Scotch husband—and for anything I know to the contrary, to all kinds of husbands, the children are sacred objects, and of far greater importance than the wife. The children are his; they are flesh of his flesh, and blood of his blood. They represent his family, and if they were lost, there is no positive certainty of there being more. But wives are only relatives by marriage, and wives are certain and plentiful. At least I never saw a man, however old and ugly, that did not consider himself eligible for any woman he fancied. So when Robert heard the children were weary, he blamed himself—and me, at once.
“We have been very thoughtless,” he said. “We ought to have considered their youth. Of course they could not endure the travel we enjoyed. What do you think? Shall we stay in Chicago? It appears to me as likely a place as any I have seen.”
“Very well,” I answered. “Only, dear Robert, let us have a home, one of those dear little wooden cottages. Four or five rooms to begin with, will do.”
He laughed at what he called my “primitive ideas” and went to look for a cottage, while we stayed in the Sherman House. But for two days he found nothing “fit to live in” and on the third day, said he was going to the North Side. “They tell me,” he added, “it is the aristocratic part of the city, and I suppose rents will be high.”
“Well,” I replied, “we have a saying in England, that we should choose a house beyond our means, dress up to our means, and live below our means.”
About noon he came home satisfied. He had found exactly what he liked—“a new house, just finished, the only brick house on the North Side.”
“Brick!” I exclaimed.
“Yes. So comfortable. Mr. Wadsworth’s big house is just a little nearer the lake, General Butterfield’s directly opposite, and the Ogdens’ not far away. You will like it, Milly.”
“Have you decided to rent it, Robert?”
“I have rented it. After lunch, leave the children with Nora, and let us go to buy the furniture.”
In going through this house, I saw that it was large enough for a family of fourteen, and I proposed that we only furnish at present the rooms we were going to use. Reluctantly Robert agreed to this proposal, and reluctantly also, he submitted to my “primitive ideas” regarding the furnishing. But in two or three days, we had at last a comfortable home, though the little wood cottage had not materialized.
Then Robert rented a small office on Lake Street, and advertised himself as an accountant, and soon appeared to be very busy and very happy. Every night when we were sitting together, he told me wonderful stories about the big fortunes made so rapidly in Chicago, and was so excited over them, I could not help an anxious look at his shining eyes and flushed face. Generally I discredited these reports, and answered, “There is no easy way to wealth, Robert. Don’t believe in impossibilities.”
“They happen every day in Chicago,” he would reply. “I wish that I had come here ten years ago. I should have been a rich man now.”
It was in this exaggerated spirit he met his new life, and there was no Mr. Curtis near to check his impetuosities. I wonder whether I was happy at this time. I have no doubt I appeared so, but I must have been very lonely. It was different with Robert. Every day he made fresh friends and he began to join societies for this and that purpose, and seemed to be in constant request. But it was Thanksgiving Day when I received my first caller, a Miss Dagget, the sister of the principal grocer in Chicago. She lived so close to me, that we could stand at our doors and converse without raising our voices.
From her conversation, however, I learned that I had been thoroughly discussed. Mrs. Nicholson had thought from our taking such a large house, that I might be going to keep boarders, and Mrs. Ogden had said she had heard, I was very well educated, and what a charity to the North Side it would be, if I opened a school and saved the children, the danger of crossing the dreadful draw-bridge. I said nothing at the time about Mrs. Ogden’s idea, but it took possession of me, and the result was that I opened a ladies’ school on the second of January, 1854. I limited the number of pupils to four boarders, and twelve day scholars, and made the terms prohibitive to all but the class, whose patronage I desired. They were indeed the cause of much conversation, but those paying them were proud of the circumstance, and liked to make it known by their complaints. It was their privilege, and did me more good, than harm.
A week before school opened, my number was complete, the spare rooms were furnished for the four boarders, and I had written to a New York Agency to send me a resident teacher who could speak French and teach music. My first pupil was one of the boarders, a Miss Sarah Morgan, a lovely affectionate girl about fifteen years old. I have not thought of her for many a year, but as soon as I began this sentence, she came smiling into my memory, and I see her childish face with its apple bloom complexion, and her fair brown hair, just as I saw her the first day she came to me.
After the opening of my school there was no lack of callers and social invitations, but as it was impossible to accept all, I declined all; yet in many other ways, I received constant tokens of appreciation and good will. I began to be really happy. My children, my house, and my pupils kept every moment busy; and when the session closed early in June, the school had proved itself a financial success, and there were few women on the North Side more popular than myself. Of course I enjoyed it. Work was always a necessity to me and it is my belief, that when people work hard, they like to do it.
One afternoon during the vacation a brother of one of my pupils passed, and asked me if I had “read today’s paper;” I said, “I have not;” and he replied, “Then I will leave you mine.” After he had gone, I opened it without interest, but instantly saw Robert’s name in large type. It was above an account of a Know Nothing meeting; he had been speaking against the society, and the man I feared, in favor of it.
The speeches did not concern me, it was the fact that this man was in Chicago, and associated with Robert, that filled my whole consciousness. I looked backward a few weeks, put this and that together, and was then sure he had been in Chicago a long time. Robert’s silence troubled my very soul. Confused intuitions, obscure presentiments, took possession of me. My mind reached backward and forward, and began to foresee and foretell, and I had a cold shudder at my own thoughts.
Then I went into the house, for my anxiety usually runs into motion. If I sit still and bear it, I have become stupefied, while motion calls up whatever comfort or strength I can lay hold of. But during the last busy half-year, I had lost something of my general spiritual aptitude, at least the stream of that life ran deeper and darker, and I could remember nothing that had any message for me. For I had not then read, or I should not have forgotten John Milton’s fine advice against an unhappy looking forward to doubtful or questionable misfortunes:
“Be not o’er exquisite
To cast the fashion of uncertain evils,
For grant they be so, while they rest unknown,
Why need a man forestall his day of grief,
And run to meet what he would most avoid?”
I said nothing to Robert until after supper, then when he was placidly smoking, I told him what I had read. Was it true, I asked.
“Yes, Milly, it was true,” he replied.
“Then that man is here? In Chicago?”
“Has he been here long, Robert?”
“About three months.”
“And you never told me?”
“You hate him so bitterly. Why should I annoy you by speaking of him?”
“But, Robert, if talking about him, was also talking about yourself?”
“I did not say it was.”
“Have you anything to do with him? Tell me truly, Robert.”
“Yes, I have unavoidably found myself compelled to have a great deal to do with him.”
“How?” I persisted.
“You have read ‘how’ in one way, Milly. He himself asked me to answer his speech. He thought that I, being an alien, would make a proper opponent. I am a fair speaker, and I think I have learned a little about American politics.”
“Robert!” I said, “you have no more knowledge of American politics, than a Hindoo has of skating.”
He did not contradict me; he never did that, but he changed the conversation, and I had hard work to keep my temper under control. Perhaps I did not succeed very well; for when he bid me good night he said, “Milly, we will not be cross about nothing. I do not interfere with your scholars, and you must give me the same freedom. I have to transact business with men I do not personally like, and the man you hate so unnecessarily, has never done me any harm.”
“Robert!” I answered, “listen to me this once, and I will say no more. Remember what Peter Grey told you. He said, ‘I have escaped from him, as a bird from the fowler’—furthermore, that he hated young men, and found his pleasure in their destruction—that he stalked them as a Highland Chief stalks stags for his amusement. Such a man must either be insane, or have a fiendish disposition. Are you going to be his next victim?”
“My dear Milly,” he answered, “you let your imaginations and superstitions rule you too much. I have often heard you say, that we only meet the people in this world, we are meant to meet.” Then he kissed me, and I felt that I had done more harm than good. I had promised not to speak on this subject again, so I had virtually released him from any similar confidence. In the dark I went over and over our conversation, and wrung my hands miserably at the mistake I had made. Yet perhaps it was a fatality. Perhaps I was too imaginative and superstitious. Well then, there was nothing to be had, and nothing to be saved by interfering with destiny. I tried to dismiss the subject, and to take my life day by day and be happy.
In September the school opened with a full roll, and the session was a remarkably pleasant one. On the following Christmas Day I had a third daughter whom we called Edith. After this event, all went well until the extreme heat compelled the closing of the school a few days before the usual time. Both I and my children felt it severely and Edith was very ill. She never quite recovered, but slowly withered away like a plucked flower. In August a terrible fear came into my heart, and on August the twentieth, while my dear mother was watching every mail for some word of my promised visit, I was watching my dying daughter.
But much as I suffered, Robert suffered more. He was devotedly attached to this child, for she showed from her earliest consciousness a singular love for him. She was never quite happy but in his arms. She wept whenever he left her. How ever sick or sleepy she was if he entered the room she entreated him with smiles and little happy cries to take her in his arms; and when all was nearly over, at the last moment, she opened her eyes, looked at him, and with a smile passed away forever.
We were broken-hearted. I know not how I endured the next few days. It was a new sorrow. I would hear of no comfort. Robert bore his grief trustfully and manfully, but I would not listen to anything he could say. I could not pray. I could only think of the little soul struggling through the nameless woe with the angel of the river, and of the multitude of little children at the same hour passing with her,
“... as a stream across the stream,
Or as visions across a dream,
For as clouds of doves to their windows fly,
The clouds of souls unto God flit by.”
She was such a tender little soul, if she stumbled in the river who would care for her? Numberless mothers must have had such fears, and the sweetest and tenderest of singers, answered them a few years ago:
“Day and night Christ standeth,
Scanning each soul as it landeth;
Over the floods He bendeth,
With a face that hath once been dead.
. . . . . . . . . .
“And when the children come
To pass through the dreary River,
Christ stretcheth forth His hand,
A gentle piercèd hand,
And draws them safe to Land.”
To those who know nothing of this loss, my grief may seem unreasonable; but the fathers and mothers who have turned away from an open grave, blind with tears, and with heart and flesh failing them, they will understand.
Yet I had not been left without intelligence of the coming sorrow. Three nights before her death, at the midnight, as I lay thinking with the child asleep in my arms, the warning notice came. I knew then, that some of my family were called, and my thoughts went at once to my father. I either did not, or would not associate it with my child, until the symptoms of her dissolution were at hand. If it was an inimical Presence that predicted such relentless, inexorable doom, who would carry my little child safe through the river of death, and up to the celestial city? And as I mused on these things, a sweet Spanish tradition read years before came into my memory—that an angel sat outside the gate of heaven with shoes for the barefooted babies, who came there unshod—and I remembered that Edith had been laid to rest unshod, and had a passionate fit of weeping.
But comfort was at hand. The thought of the gate of heaven made me remember that heaven had twelve gates, and that they were always open. So then, when God took from us our beloved, He did not shut them up in the heavenly city. Its twelve gates stand open, and the angels ascend and descend; and go in and out on their heavenly messages. Jacob saw them; weeping mothers and good and suffering souls have seen them. No doubt, the child would be safely carried home. And I blessed God for the smile with which she went. Surely
“The Shepherd from His Fold,
Had smiled and drawn her unto Him.”
It was this thought which enabled me to dry my eyes, and to set my hands to the duty they had to perform. For the school was to meet late in September, and I had not done anything, as yet, towards the welfare of the next session. Yet I knew that if it was to be successful, I must set the key-note of enthusiasm and delight in the work, or all would be done with the left hand only; knew that if I went into the school room alert, and smiling, and with the air of a teacher expecting great things, I would have cheerful, busy, ardent girls around me; while if I showed depression and indifference, my attitude would have the same effect upon their spirits and ardor, that the putting down of the soft pedal has on the tones of a piano. For it is not what a teacher does, it is what she makes her scholars do, that is of lasting value.
Knowing these things well, because taught by experience, I tried to give myself to my duties with all my heart, and
“So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, ‘Thou must,’
The Soul replies, ‘I can.’”
The school opened well, so well, that the proprietor of the house we rented, asked me if I would like him to build a larger house with suitable school room attached. And this question revealed to me my innermost and as yet unacknowledged feeling—that we should not remain much longer in Chicago. I told myself that the climate was too cruel, the summer heat and the winter cold were alike dangerous. Croup lurked in the nursery all the time; I never went to bed without its remedies at hand; and again the school had unavoidably out-stripped its limits. At present it was too large; its demands exhausted even my young, fresh faculties, and physical strength. If I increased it, I should require more room and more assistance. I told myself these were my reasons for desiring a change, but down in my soul I knew they were only the reasons I should assign to the world at large—the deep, underlying motive beyond all others, and above all others, was Robert’s evident and constant anxiety. He came home every night mentally exhausted. It was not his grief for Edith’s loss; no, he sought me in that trouble, and we comforted each other. It was no God-sent trouble of any kind, or he would have done the same thing and I thought, and feared, but knew nothing certain.
One day about the middle of November, he returned home in such evident distress, that I could no longer keep silence. “Are you ill, dear Robert?” I asked.
“No, Milly,” he replied. “I am as well as a man can be, who is worried to death nearly.”
He was lying on the sofa, and I went close to him, and with kisses and sweet words begged to share his worry.
“Is it business?” I asked.
“Yes, and no. I could manage the business end, if it was not for that man. You know who I mean?”
“Yes, I know. What is the matter now? Tell me, dear.”
“I must. You will have to know, for in that quarter it is now kill, or be killed. He has made life too intolerable—and I struck him today. He promised me full payment, and he is able to keep his promise.”
“Then you must go away. He provoked that blow, because his revenge is ready. You must go at once—tonight—do not wait for the morning.”
“I have no money. I cannot go. I will not be driven away by him.”
“You do not want that creature to spill your life in the dust of Chicago! You do not want to commit murder! That part of the subject is settled. Where then will you go? You must have thought of this necessity as certain.”
“I have. I will say I am going to Kansas City, and go a little way in that direction—then cross to a line by which I can reach Cairo, and at Cairo take a boat down the Mississippi to some southern town. There I will wait for you, and we will go forward to Texas.”
“Wait at Memphis,” I said.
“I do not know, Robert. The word came inadvertently to my lips. It is therefore a word from Intelligence beyond mine. Say Memphis, Robert.”
“Go tomorrow night,” I urged, “at the latest.”
“I will try. I must see Peter Grey in the morning, and leave my affairs with him.”
“Do you trust him?”
“Not much. As for money——”
“I have one thousand dollars saved, Robert. Take half of it. With the rest I will close up the house and school affairs, and come to you. Be ready for Texas when I come.”
“God be thanked for you, Milly! You have given me a new life!” he said lovingly. We talked the matter over in every light, found out the best trains, and I promised to have a small valise packed for him. He was to come home to get it and the five hundred dollars at six in the evening.
All day I went about like a woman in a dream. When the clock struck six, every stroke was on my heart. Then I waited for the turn of the key in the lock, and the sound of footsteps. All was strangely silent. I was sick with fear. Seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven o’clock struck, but Robert did not come—did not even send any message. I could wait no longer. Something must be done, but what? Whom must I go to now, that it was near midnight? My own household was fast asleep. Peter Grey was not now at his office. I did not know where he lived. There were no telephones in those days. I watched and watched for a policeman, but none came to this quiet corner of the North Side; and I could not leave a house full of girls, and my own children alone. I slept none all night. I was on the alert for any call that might come. It was bitterly cold. I went down stairs and brought up coal, and sitting down by the fire, suddenly found my dress, which was of silk, burning. I put the fire out, and then saw it was six o’clock. The servants began to move about; I went to my room. Oh, if the daylight would come! And I had to go to the breakfast table, and give the orders for the day’s work. I do not know how I did it. I was dressing to go to Peter Grey’s office when he called.
The thing that I feared had come to me. Robert was in the power of his enemy, and there followed an interval of ten days of supreme agony and suspense; then Robert was triumphantly justified in the sight of all men. But I will not, can not, enter into details. The men are both dead—dying almost at the same moment, though Robert was in Texas, and the other one in a far northwestern state; but I have no doubt whatever, that Robert’s soul in passing called his soul, for he told him he would do so. I will go into no details of this tragedy, for there is no good to be gained by compelling myself to live over again those terrible ten days and nights. Time cancels, and I have forgiven. But if anything could make me do this thing, it would be solely and entirely, that I might glorify the wonderful way, in which the Great and Holy One wrought out our salvation, and that by means so insignificant, that even the hatred of hell had overlooked them. “We were brought low, and He helped us.” He raised up also a host of unknown friends, and the way that had seemed impossible was made clear and easy. I did things at that time that appear incredible to me now, and all I did prospered.
In those days I did not think of tears, but it was then I learned to pray, to take heaven by assault, to press forward and upward, bent on prevailing. Such prayer is the gift of God, and when He gives it, He gives all it asks with it. This was one of those chasms of life, for which we must have wings—the wings of prayer.
The day after our victory was Thanksgiving Day. The scholars had all gone home, and Robert and I were sitting still and almost speechless in our parlor with the children playing quietly beside us. We were both weary, and looked very much like two strong swimmers who had just—and only just—escaped the treacherous under-current carrying them to destruction. I was hardly able to open my eyes, and too tired to lift the hands that hung by my side. Robert was more restless. Finally he rose and walked about, saying softly, and in a kind of rapture, “A wonderful Thanksgiving! We won a great victory, Milly—by God’s help!”
“Yes, God won it for us. A great victory, Robert, but after a victory, the new situation will bring the new struggle. We must be ready for it. What will you do now?”
“We must remain here for the present.”
Just as he said these words, his assumed friend Peter Grey entered. He had come to congratulate Robert in the first instance, but when he had spoken of the enthusiastic partizanship of every one, he asked, “How soon can you get away, Robert, for your life is not worth a cent here.”
“I have made up my mind to stay here, Grey.”
“Let me tell you something—in fact, I came here specially to tell you; better get away tonight. Tomorrow there will be an attempt to arrest you for debt.”
“Yes, if that does not work, you will go out some day, and never come back.”
“I will go armed.”
“A pistol will not help you. Some rough in the crush of the North River Bridge, will push you into the black Illinois River, and you will not be seen again till the ice breaks up. Then it will be an accident. Such accidents happen too frequently to be all accidents, and there are plenty of men—among our low aliens, who would give you ‘the push’ for a dollar. If you stay here, you must not leave the house.”
Grey only voiced my own fears, and I seconded his advice as urgently as I could. Robert was unusually calm and answered, “It may be as you say, Grey, and I will go tomorrow night.”
“West, I suppose?”
“I think of Kansas City.”
“That is a good place.”
When he went away, I looked steadily at Robert and asked, “Will you wait until tomorrow?”
“No, love, I will go tonight. There will be no crush on the bridge tonight. It will be as empty as it is on Sunday.”
“Why did you tell him tomorrow?”
“It is a case of life and death. I will trust no one.”
“He is a black Highland Celt. He would sell his brother for a bawbee. I believe he is a spy for my enemies. Take care of him—talk as you do not mean before him.”
Then we went upstairs together, and I repacked his valise, and showed him the one thousand dollars I had saved. “I call it my emergency fund,” I said, and I counted out five hundred dollars. He quietly pushed four hundred dollars back to me. “One hundred is sufficient for me,” he said. “It will take me to Memphis, and there I shall find work and friends.”
It was then five o’clock, and I had tea brought to the parlor fireside, and saw that Robert had a good meal. There was no necessity for hurrying it, and without tears, and with sad little efforts to be hopeful and cheerful, we ate what might be our last meal together. As we finished it, the children came in to say good night and I turned away until that loving ceremony was over. Then I brought him his hat and coat, and we were both silent as he put them on. Indeed there was no room for words. All had been said. And equally it was no time for tears. We looked at each other and parted. Until his strong, swift steps were no longer audible on the wooden pavements, I stood at the open door. When I could neither see nor hear him, I went in, called a servant, and had the children’s cots removed to my room and when the fire had been rebuilt, and plenty of wood brought, I locked myself in. That night I went to bed without prayer. I only told God, as I undressed, that I was too tired and too sorrowful. And God knew, knew all about it, and gave me the sweetest night’s sleep I ever remember.
For while I had sunk even below the tide of dreams, some power removed all the miserable débris of the late calamity, swept away seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and made the way before me clear and straight. When I opened my eyes, the old cheerful morning call of my girlhood came pealing through my memory, “Awake, Amelia! There is a charge for thy shield today!” And I knew instantly that all my old fearlessness had come back to me. In that deep tide of unconscious sleep I had renewed myself. I looked young and cheerful, and felt able to manage all I had to do.
The first thing was to write to every pupil, thank them for their sympathy and support, and bid them a final farewell. It was not likely I should meet any of them again, and I never have; though from time to time in later years, I have had many refreshing words from dear old ladies, once my pupils. I wrote to each girl and enclosed a bill for the sum due me for two months’ teaching et cetera. I had small hopes of these bills being honored in time for me to receive them, but I was pleasantly surprised to find them, with but one exception, immediately and generously answered. Five out of the number sent me the price of the whole session. Three offered pecuniary assistance, if I needed it, and every remittance was accompanied by affectionate wishes and remembrances. The one letter of refusal, ran as nearly as I can remember thus:
As you have not kept your bargains about your teaching, I shall not keep my bargains about paying for same.
The things to be taken, and the things to be left, was my next consideration, and I went out and bought two large trunks for the household and personal belongings, that were to go with us to Texas. My great perplexity was to get something small enough for one person to carry, and yet large enough to hold such clothing for myself and children as would be necessary while traveling. The miraculous contrivances for women’s comfort in such circumstances, common enough today, were then unknown; and I found myself left to a choice between carpet bags, tin band boxes, and small trunks. Considering that I would in any case be obliged to hire a man to carry either bag, box or trunk, I chose the latter, buying also a small bag I could hang over my arm, to carry medicines, comb and brush, and such trifles as it might be necessary to reach quickly, or to use frequently.
Then I went through the house, room by room, selecting what was worth while, leaving everything not likely to be of practical value in the making of a new home. Many a heartache this task gave me; and after the trunks had been packed, I pushed into odd corners all kinds of pretty mementoes; one I specially remember—a tortoise shell box, mounted and trimmed elaborately with silver. It had been given me by my bridesmaid, and she was now dead. Somehow, I could not let her gift go into the hands of strangers.
When the packing was finished, I began to look for a letter from Robert. It came long before I expected it, for he had found when he reached Cairo, that there was no boat going South for two days, and so had taken a train for Memphis. We had not thought of this contingency, but I was glad of it, for I immediately dispatched the two large trunks to Memphis by train, notifying Robert to look out for their arrival. In his letter, a very cheerful hopeful letter, he said that he was delighted with Memphis, and was busy opening a new set of books for the great cotton house of Calvin Fackler and Company.
I was now happy and busy, but there was much yet to be done; much that was very difficult and hard for me to face. One thing was the little chest of silver. It would be out of all place in our new home, and the money it would bring more useful. I had also some jewelry I should hardly care to wear on the frontier. It also could be turned into money. I did not care to ask Peter Grey, or any one I knew to sell these things for me. So I wrote to the best jeweler and silversmith in Chicago, told him what I had for sale, and asked him to come and see the goods. He answered my letter in person, looked at the silver and made me an offer which I accepted. Then he asked for the jewelry, and I showed him what I possessed. It was beautiful, but not very valuable, the best pieces being a set of white cameos, necklace, bracelets, and brooch. Robert gave them to me the day before our marriage, and I had to bite my under lip as I laid them beside the silver. I had not worn them a dozen times, and as jewelry I did not care for them, yet—well, it was only sentiment, gold would be better. All my pretty trifles of rings and brooches and bracelets went without much regret. I reserved nothing but the diamond hoop guarding my wedding ring, and those Scotch agate bracelets, which I considered valueless and threw into a corner of my trunk. That was the end of these things for me. I wonder who wears the white cameos today, and I hope the silver brightens the family table of some happy and prosperous home.
This was the hardest duty I had to do; after it, all went easily to its appointed end. I was afraid I should have to tolerate a public auction of my furniture, but the house was suddenly rented, and the new comers were glad to buy all I wished to sell, and to settle at once in a home unknowingly prepared for them. I was by this time nearly ready to shake the dust of Chicago from my feet, and I gave place to the new tenants cheerfully and went to the Richmond House for a couple of days.
It was on Christmas Day, 1856, that I began my new exodus, a bitterly cold gray day. The train left at two o’clock, and the streets were quiet and almost deserted, save for a few pedestrians hurrying to their homes or friends. My thoughts were full of the child I was leaving behind me in that desolate, sandy place of graves, outside the city, where I had suffered and lost so much.
Travel was travail then. There were no Pullman cars, and few conveniences, and even something to eat was not always to be counted on for long distances. But I was young and full of life and spirit, and everybody was eager to help me. The first night I got the porter to bring me pillows and I laid my children on the sofa at the end of the car, and then sat down opposite to watch them. I could hardly keep my eyes open; indeed I think I was dropping asleep, when a kindly-looking man said, “Let me watch your children. I am used to waking all night, and sleeping all day. I will take good care of them.”
So I left them in his care, and slept as soundly as the children did. All the way to Cairo he looked after food, and fresh food, and fresh milk, and anything needed for our comfort. I do not remember how long we were in reaching Cairo. I think two days and two nights, but it might be nearly three days, for it was dusk when we came to the place. At that time it was not much of a place, and Dickens’ description of it, under the name of Eden in “Martin Chuzzlewit” was not, I dare say, much, if in any way, an exaggeration. It stood at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers down in the mud of their overflowing waters.
My friend looked troubled as we approached the place. “You have a hard bit to get over here,” he said. “I will help you as far as possible, but we must hire a couple of negroes to help us.”
There were plenty of negroes loafing about the little station, and he called a big black man and said, “Uncle, give this lady your arm, and be sure to keep her on her feet.” Another negro was called to carry the trunk. Then I asked anxiously,
“I will take care of the children,” he said; “now follow me.”
It was the hardest feat I ever performed. The road was down a steep hill, ankle deep in liquid mud of the stickiest description. The steamer lay at the foot of this hill, and the flaming pine knot lights, the shouts of the negro stevedores, and the swearing, quarreling teamsters, the screams of men and women fast in the mud, and the escaping steam and ominous ringing of a bell, were but items in the hellish confusion. Almost fainting, and wanting one shoe, I reached the boat at last, and sat down with a feeling of slipping away. But the children were all right, and the trunk was there, too, and the man who had helped me so bravely and kindly smiled, and said, “Now you will be comfortable, and I must go, or I shall miss my train.”
I have always had a fear that I thanked him very badly, but so good a man would forgive me for being frightened and unable to find the best words. I never asked his name, and I do not remember that he asked mine, but if we meet in any other life, I shall know him by the kindness in his eyes, and the gentleness of his voice and manner.
In a few minutes the purser gave me a nice roomy cabin, and a kind helpful old negro woman took me and the children to its comfortable seclusion. She knew just what I needed, and just what to do for me; and after I had put on clean clothing, she brought us a delicious dinner in our cabin. It was one of the dinners I remember in my life. I think I never tasted food so delicately and tastefully cooked, and the children thought so with me. We ate and laughed and talked about the journey, until we were satisfied and sleepy; then I just whispered the last verse of the fourth Psalm, and lay down and slept until bright sunshine was flooding every corner of our little chamber.
I was thoroughly refreshed and arose with all the vivid senses of a new life. The children also rose full of excitement and expectation, and after I had dressed them prettily, we went to the saloon and had a wonderful breakfast, and then to the deck of the steamer. One of the dreams of my childhood had come true. I was afloat on the Mississippi, “The Father of Waters,” as I was politely informed at least half-a-dozen times within the first hour of my voyage. But what a misnomer! Rolling on amid virgin forests, and young cities just emerging from primeval mud, I silently wondered what such venerable streams as the Euphrates and Scamander would say to this assumption of paternity. Of the Mississippi River itself, I brought away no idea except a dream of interminable woods, clothed in solemn gray moss, scrambling cities perched on red or yellow bluffs, and miles of flat dreary land baking in the blazing sunshine. I was, however, repeatedly assured that the land was amazingly fertile, and my faith being naturally strong, I believed it in spite of appearances.
But if nature was monotonous and uninteresting, I was surrounded by humanity offering abundance of material for delightful speculation. I never before saw such handsome, courtly men, such lovely, languorous, beautifully dressed women. I never before saw women treated as if they were angels and children as if they were cherubims, and what could I think of men who appeared to serve every woman upon their knees. It was not only the young and beautiful who were thus adored. There were several aged women present, and they received the same attentions, affectionately mingled with a respect that was almost veneration. It bewildered me. I longed for all the Scotchmen and Englishmen I ever knew to be on the Mississippi with me. I took great pains when I wrote my next letter home to enlarge on this peculiarity of Southern gentlemen, and to give it all the praise it merited. The journey lasted more than a week I think, but in its pleasant monotony I have forgotten the exact number of days.
We reached Memphis during the night and cast anchor in the river, landing early in the morning. Robert was watching and waiting for us, and looking younger and better than I had seen him for a long time; as it was a charming morning, we walked with him to our new home, a little cottage pretty and comfortable, which he had rented furnished from a couple who were going to New York for four months. Memphis seemed familiar to me. Surely I must have dreamed of that brick city, and of those large white houses set in such roomy gardens, even then beautiful with snowdrops and many colored crocus flowers. But the thing that perplexed my memory was the great number of peacocks. They seemed everywhere present—perching in every big tree, trailing their resplendent feathers over the lawns, and spreading them out by the big gates open to the highway, as if to arouse the envy and admiration of the featherless creatures passing. Where had I seen this kind of exhibition before? Never in England, never in Scotland, never in Chicago. Well, then, I must have dreamed it.
We did not intend to remain in Memphis, and I was quite pleased with the furnished cottage for a resting place. For I needed rest of body, mind, and feeling, and it was a luxury to lie in the sweet warm air, and be conscious of a daily renewing of flesh and spirit. I was happy to see Robert so happy and free of care, so satisfied with the work he was doing, so at one with Calvin Fackler, his employer. And as the spring came, Memphis grew more and more lovely; it was a city of flowers and blossoming shrubs, swaying willow trees, and gorgeous peacocks. The inhabitants darkly handsome, gentle in manner, and never in a hurry, seemed born for such a soft luxurious home.
Only one dark spot was in this charming city, and Robert strictly charged me not to approach it. Of course I promised to obey him, and of course as soon as I had done so, I began to look for some excuse to enable me to break my promise. Every time I passed that forbidden street the desire to go through it became stronger, and finally I began to find pretexts for passing it, when I had no occasion to do so. One day as I sauntered by the forbidden place, I saw two women go down it; instantly I resolved to follow them, for they appeared to be of the highest respectability.
I had not gone far, before I understood why the restriction had been laid on me. The forbidden street led directly into a kind of dull, open place, surrounded by small dark houses. There was a slight elevation about the center made of wood, and on this sort of table a negro woman was standing. I knew instinctively that I was in the slave market. There was no need to go further. I stood still and looked around. On the doorstep of most of the cabins, women were sitting silent and apathetic. They were not talking or singing or even sewing. Their hands lay idle or were clasped together. They paid no attention to me, asked no favor, and appeared to be in most cases stolidly indifferent. They were women who had lost all hope, and I said fearfully to myself, “Just so, women will sit in hell when they have lost their souls.” And I was ashamed and repentant for the curiosity that had led me into such a piteous place.
I resolved to confess my fault to Robert that night, but I did not do so; something made the confession undesirable at the time, and the longer I put it off, the less inclined I felt to be sorry about it; the result being that I never found a convenient season for an acknowledgment of my fault. A confession to God is so easy—you have nothing to explain. He understands all. He accepts your contrition, and forgives you freely. But, if we confess to man, we must be questioned and make explanations, and very likely be led to prevaricate, to make things better or worse, as suits the case, and so the confession becomes as bad or worse than the fault.
In March, the dearest wish of my heart was granted me. We brought from that desolate place of graves in Chicago, to the garden-like cemetery in Memphis, the small coffin holding the remains of our dead child, and laid them under a shadowy elm tree. Blue-birds were singing on its branches as we planted the roses above her, and the sunshine fell with a softened glory over this flowery city of the dead. After this event the days came and went in an easy, happy way that has left few memories; but in May, and the first days of June the heat became unbearable, a damp, sunless heat prostrating beyond expression. I noticed that dwelling-houses were closed rapidly, and heard every day of some acquaintance going to the mountains, but the real cause of this movement was not named to me until early in June. Then one morning Robert came home an hour after leaving it, and his face was white and grave, and he spoke too seriously to be doubted, or argued with.
“Milly, we must leave here at sunset. Cholera has broken out in the little town north of us, and is said to be already epidemic; here, in Memphis, there are at least a dozen known cases of yellow fever. Last summer there was a dreadful epidemic of it, and this summer its recurrence seems certain.”
“In Memphis, Robert?” I asked.
“Yes, here in Memphis. Mr. Fackler says we are not safe twenty-four hours, and he told me to come home and prepare to leave by tonight’s boat. He has had the fever, and is, he thinks, immune, but he takes his family to the mountains tomorrow. Is there much to pack, Milly?”
“Very little,” I answered. “One trunk has never been opened, and from the other I have only taken a little clothing.”
Indeed, before one o’clock all we possessed, except what would go with us, was on its way to the pier, where the goods for the Natchez were lying. Then I told Cinda, the negress who had served us ever since our arrival, the state of the case, and gave her permission, after cooking our dinner, to pack all the groceries left, for her own use, taking her promise to go home the next morning. So, after our meal, there was nothing to do but to put the house in order, turn the key in the door, and give it to my neighbor. Before five o’clock we were ready to leave Memphis forever, and I could not help turning my face towards the spot where we had laid the dust of our dear Edith. In this silent farewell I was inadvertently joined by Robert. Our eyes met, but for a few moments we were silent. Then Robert said, “She is not there!” and I bent my head, and turned to the living. Cinda was carrying Lilly, and Mary walked with us, holding her father’s hand. In twenty minutes we were on board the Natchez. I did not like her. She was not a nice boat, and there was an atmosphere that I resented, though I knew not why I should do so. She seemed to have very few passengers, and I only saw three women among them. There was a lack of the usual stir in her leaving. I missed the negro songs and shouts and laughter. All was too still. I missed the crowds usually on the bluff or pier, when a boat was going to sail. Why were they not present? We had a large, comfortable cabin, but it did not please me. I said to Robert the sheets and pillow cases were not clean, but he would not let me ask for different ones. And the heat was terrible.
We had a fairly good meal, just as the sun sunk, and, while eating it, I heard great confusion, and the noise of many people coming on board. They were not accompanied by any of the pleasant sounds usual on such an event—no merry good-byes, no loving messages, no eager calls for recognition. On the contrary, there was sobbing and crying, and one long-drawn wail, inexpressibly mournful and savage, from a number of voices together. I looked at the purser, who sat at the head of the table; he seemed unconscious of the disturbance; none of the passengers appeared to be astonished, and Robert kept his eyes on his plate and would not look at me.
After supper I went on deck. A few men were scattered about; the captain and officers appeared to be busy and watchful; there was an air of constraint; and oh, the heat! The damp, foggy, suffocating heat! There was no comfort outside, and I went in and undressed the children. As I was doing so, Robert looked into the cabin, and said, “I am going to the upper deck to smoke.”
“Robert,” I asked, “what kind of a ship is this? On the lower deck I saw quite a crowd of people.”
“What kind of people?”
“How could I tell? All was dark. I just saw that the crowd consisted of men and women—mostly women.”
“Well, dear, the boat is, I am sorry to say, a slaver; that is, it carries the negroes collected in the states of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky down to the New Orleans slave market for sale.”
“Why? There is a market in Memphis.”
“It pays to send them to New Orleans. Mr. Fackler told me it was a slaver, but advised us to take it, rather than to wait for the next boat, which, under the circumstances, might be delayed. We are fleeing for our lives, Milly, do not forget that, and we cannot be too particular, lest we lose them.”
I said only, “Oh!” but Robert understood my dissatisfaction, and went to the deck unhappy.
I was too cross to care. Never in all my life, before or since, have I been so long and so willingly ill-tempered. I asked myself for no reason; I never tried to make an excuse for the mood. I just gave way to the feeling, and rather enjoyed my wickedness. Mary looked at me with strange questions in her gray eyes. Lilly crept into my arms, or clung to my skirts. I petted them when Robert was not present; when he was, it pleased me to speak sharply, or not answer their questions at all. Evidently, then, it was Robert who had offended me. Poor fellow! He tried being cheerful and bringing me little bits of ship gossip. I perfectly scorned to see there was anything in life worth smiling at. Then he tried being a little aloof, and only looked at me with hasty glances, and I was troubled. I could not gaze into his sorrowful eyes, and not see in them “Love’s philtred euphrasy.” But one day pitiful love, nay loving pity, bid the tides of memory cast on my soul a little spray of tears. It happened thus:
I had dressed the children, gone to the deck with them, and been compelled to come back to the cabin immediately. The air quivered with heat; the river, rolling rapidly onward, was like a river of death; there was no whirr of bird’s wings over it, no sound of a bird’s song on its banks, and vegetation there was apparently withered. The blacks on the lower deck were absolutely silent and motionless, except for a woman’s long drawn wail, always quickly stopped by a man’s passionate command. The captain spoke to no one; the officers passed constantly to and fro, always bent on some duty; in fact, even my short observations convinced me, that every man on the ship was watching the lower deck. I said to Mary, “Let us go to our room, dear,” and she answered, “Please, Mamma, and put on my nightgown; these things”—pointing to her dress and shoes and stockings—“they hurt Mary so much.”
I was granting the child her request, when Robert looked into the cabin. “I heard you and the children were on deck,” he said. “I was glad you were taking a little change. Why did you come in?”
“I could not endure the sight of the river.”
“It is a grand river, Milly; you should not speak ill of it.”
“It is like the river of sorrows—’ Acheron sad and black and deep.’ I hate it with my whole soul,” and I spoke with passionate force, throwing down Mary’s coral necklace to emphasize my words, and scattering its scarlet and gold beads on the floor.
The child uttered a cry, and Robert said, “Hush, Mary! Papa will pick them up for you.”
“The Acheron, Milly?” he queried, as he gathered the scattered beads; “I have heard of it, but I cannot place it. Where is it?”
“In hell,” I answered.
I said no more, for Robert dropped the beads he had gathered into Mary’s pinafore, and then went to the door. As he stood with it open in his hand, he said, “Forgive me, Milly. I have brought you much sorrow, an Acheron of it! Poor child! I meant to make you happier than all our dreams. God help us both!”
As he spoke I lifted my eyes to his face, and an instantaneous penetrating sense of my sin made my soul tremble. For it was a handsome, loving face, though it looked, after all, as one made for suffering; half-pleading and half-defiant—the face of a man I could hurt, but could not move.
“Robert!” I said, and I knew that my voice had its old loving tones.
“Milly!” And he closed the door, opened his arms, and I buried my contrition in his tender words and kisses. It was he, and not me, who made excuses for my behavior; then he told me, that we should be in New Orleans the next day, and would take as long a rest as possible at the St. Charles Hotel.
At that time I wondered, and was ashamed and sorry for the temper I had not been able to control, but I was far from understanding its cause, and perhaps blamed myself a little more than I deserved. For I am sure now, that my mind was infected by the anger, grief, and misery with which I was traveling; that my soul had retired from her surroundings, and so left me to the tyranny of physical emotions. The mind, as well as the body, is subject to malignant diseases, and, in some fretful moment, when I had surrendered myself to disaffection, deposed will, and given all power to feeling, I had caught the mental malady so rife a few yards away from me.
Mental, or spiritual crowding, is just as injurious as physical crowding—perhaps more so; and, as people are made ill, or money-mad in a great city by breathing sickly, cast-off commercial atoms, so I was made angry, moody, sullen or passionate, by the cast-off thoughts of the wrathful, miserable crowd of sufferers almost at my elbow. Had I known then, what I know now, I would have called constantly for the help of Him who was able to say to such spiritual invasions, “Retro me, Sathana,” “Get thee behind me, Satan,” and drawn from the simple exercise of this power, the love that is omnipotent against all evil. And, if this excuse does not seem rational to my readers, let all who have never been cross under the suffering caused by excessive heat or cold, or the strain of things known and unknown, reprove me. The number of such accusers will be few, and their words mildly uncertain.
Two days after this explanation we were resting in the cool shadowy rooms of the St. Charles Hotel, New Orleans. I saw nothing of this city. Fever was present in many quarters, and Robert was anxiously looking for some ship ready to leave the port. He found a fine bark bound for New York, and also a small steamer going to Galveston, early on our third day in New Orleans.
“Which shall it be, Milly?” he asked.
“Have you any doubt, Robert?” I replied.
“A little. It seems I made a great mistake in not going to Boston. Is it too late now?”
“Yes, dear. Fortune does not stand twice on a man’s threshold. New York was our point of turning, and we turned to the West, instead of the North.”
“Mr. Curtis would not renew his offer, I suppose?”
“If he did, you would have to tell him all that has taken place.”
“That would be foolish.”
“It would be honorable.”
“Milly, I have seen all my life, that it is very near as bad to be accused as it is to be guilty. In a few words, a man is accused of some cruel or dishonorable deed—four or five words will do that wrong—but the accused, however innocent, cannot go about with the proofs of his innocence in his pocket, and expect people to take an interest in them. That unspeakable man knew this; he calculated on its influence, even if his plot failed.”
“Do not let us speak of him. His very name is malign on our lips. Robert, we have been traveling thousands of miles towards Texas. Shall we turn back now? Or shall we go on?”
“To go to New York, Milly——”
“Is to turn back.”
“Then we had better go forward to Texas.”
“It seems the only road open to us.”
So Robert took passage for us on The Lone Star, bound for Galveston, and I had a singular failure of heart and hope. I had longed so to go to Boston, but that prayer had fallen from out my prayers and had come to nothing. Chicago had been our first station on a wrong road; all it promised had turned to failure, and it had taken the hand of God to lift us out of the ruth and ruin we met in places to which we were not sent. Yellow fever and cholera had driven us down that dreary, steaming, terrible river. Would Texas indeed give a future to our mistaken past? Then my eyes fell upon my children playing with such careless sweet content in the cool, dusky room. They had no fear as to where their father and I were going to take them. They believed in our love and wisdom. Would God be less kind to us than we were to them? Impossible! Then why not give Him the same child-like confidence and affection? For, if I did not know where we were going, I did know
“We could not drift,
Beyond God’s love and care.”
That surely was sufficient.
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