Before his eyes appeared, sick, noisome, dark,
A Lazar house it seemed, wherein were laid
Numbers of those diseased;
Dire was the tossing, deep the groans, despair
Tended the sick, busy from couch to couch;
And over them triumphant Death, his dart
All changes are more or less tinged with melancholy, for what we are leaving behind is part of ourselves. The last night I spent in Austin was full of fears and sorrowful memories. The Sixth Cavalry had left the week previous, and I was in terror of the negroes who hungry and angry were going to-and-fro in the darkness, seeking whom they could injure or rob. I dared not sleep. But about two o’clock a severe thunder storm came on and relieved me from any fear of negroes; for I knew that they were terrified by thunder and lightning, and, moreover, that they seriously objected to getting wet.
The storm troubled me, because I dreaded detention. If we were to leave, then the sooner the better. I did not like plans to be delayed, they always seemed to lose something in the interval, and to come to the point at last but half-heartedly. So I wandered about the house, or sat musing in spirit by the two little graves in that lonely suburb of the dead, which I should never, in this life, see again. When the dawn began to break I fell asleep, and on awakening found that it was an exquisite morning, cool and bright, with a refreshing little wind stirring the tree tops.
We had a pleasant breakfast, and then made our last preparations. I had sold the furniture, but it was in some confusion, and had such a hopeless look of hurry and dispersion, that I felt angry at the senseless things. I did not expect the coach until eleven o’clock, but I knew there would be many callers, and I wished to be able to give them my whole time. And at this hour of parting all differences were forgotten and forgiven; acquaintances I had not spoken to for five or six years came to bid me farewell, girls I had helped and taught, men and women of later acquaintance, all alike came with farewell gifts and good wishes.
So the house was full until the coach was driven up to the door; then I ran into the living-room to stop the clock. I did not wish to leave “my time” for I knew not whom, and as I touched the pendulum, I remembered its fall, and glanced at the dial plate. It was ten minutes past eleven. So I smiled and said to Mary, “We are leaving exactly at the hour your father left.” And she answered, “You know, Mamma, every one who goes by this coach will go about the same hour.” I nodded my head to this remark, and taking Alice by the hand, we made our final adieus and started.
Somehow, I seemed to have suddenly lost a foothold, my spirits were dashed, and I was relieved when the house was out of sight, and we were driving down the avenue. And yet I was soon sorry, that we had taken that way of exit from the city, for my heart ached when I remembered the beautiful highway, as I saw it, the day I first entered Austin—bathed in spring sunshine, redolent with the perfume of the China trees, gay with white-robed women and picturesque men, with busy stores, and little rambling hints of music from negroes picking their banjos, while waiting for their masters or watching their horses. It was so charming, so happy, so full of calm content and evident prosperity.
Now! Ah! Now it was a desolate place. Only two or three stores were open, the rest were closed, and had an air of desertion. I did not see a dozen white men on the sidewalks, and just two white women were visible, and they were robed in deepest black, and their faces closely covered by long black veils. There was no sound or sight of business of any kind, the doors of the hotel were shut, and not even an empty chair stood under its shady verandah. All the signs of life present were black signs—squads of ragged negro men, and with every squad negro women equally ragged; while squatting near them, there was usually some black hairless Mexican dogs—all else, despondency and loneliness.
I was glad when we were beyond any sight or sound of Austin, and now I confess that I remember only the Austin I saw and loved in 1856. I had to call peremptorily on memory to restore me my last view of it, in 1866. The latter was but a passing condition. I know now that splendid natural avenue is bright and busy, and wonderfully built up and adorned with all that marks commercial prosperity. I do not want to see it in its modern splendor. I prefer to keep my memory of it in A.D. 1856. It was then, I think, the brightest, happiest, most romantic street in the whole world.
We left Austin on the twenty-fifth of September, A.D. 1866, at ten minutes past eleven A.M., and we arrived at Bastrop at ten o’clock P.M., having stopped at a place called Nash’s for supper. Then all night we were in the stage, not reaching a village called La Grange till near noon next day. At La Grange we had a good meal, and then took a stage for Allington, where we arrived between seven and eight o’clock that night. Here we stayed at a small hotel, and never before in all my life had beds been so welcome. The children were worn out, and I had a bad nervous headache but a long night’s sleep put us all right.
When I awoke, I found that Mary and Lilly had dressed the younger children, and were dressing themselves, and by hurrying a little, I was able to go with them when the gong called us to breakfast. Calvin and Alexander were missing, but were soon found in speechless worship and wonder before the railway engine. Calvin was a natural mechanic, and the engine attracted him as nothing in all his short life had ever done. He held his little brother by the hand, and was explaining it to him in his childlike manner. After breakfast we took the train for Galveston, but did not arrive there until it was nearly dark.
We had all left Allington in high spirits, but as the day went on a great depression fell upon every one of us. The boys appeared to feel its influence most, and they became silent and even sad. I thought it was only physical weariness, for I was conscious also of a great melancholy. A little while before we reached Galveston, we had to cross a very long bridge or viaduct, connecting the main land with the island of Galveston. Over this viaduct the train moved very slowly. I looked at Alexander who was sitting on my knees, for I expected him to be full of interest and chatter, and I saw that his eyes had the most remarkable appearance. He seemed to be looking through his eyeballs, as through a window, seeing something at an infinite, incalculable distance. He was evidently unconscious, and I could neither speak nor move. Calvin was in the same trance. Mary and Lilly were gazing at the boy, but neither of them moved nor spoke. Suddenly Alexander shuddered, and with a deep sigh was conscious, but he made no remark. At the same moment Calvin awoke to life, in the same manner, and none of us uttered a word. The boys were exceedingly sad, but neither of them asked a question, or made any allusion to their experience. The strangest, most sorrowful atmosphere pervaded the car, and I could scarcely move under the somber, silent inertia; but I expected the train to stop at any moment, and Robert would be waiting. This nameless, causeless, speechless dejection would be too cruel. It would never do, it must be conquered.
I made a great effort, and got the children to answer me in an absent-minded way, but when the train stopped, and Robert stepped forward happy and smiling, and stretching out his arms for Alice, we could hardly speak to him. For weeks and months we had all been joyfully anticipating this very hour, and when it came, none of us appeared to be even decently pleased. Robert was astonished but very good-natured, and pitied us because we were too weary for anything but sleep. But when I told him, a little later, about the kind of trance into which both boys had fallen at the same time, he was much troubled.
“Was it a trance, Robert?” I asked.
“It was vision,” he answered sadly. “The same experience came to Ethel, the day before her death.”
“And what is vision?”
“The cup of strength, given only to those who will need its comfort.”
Then we were both silent, and for some time both unhappy, though we did not again name the circumstance.
We stayed in a boarding-house while furnishing our new home, and this occupied over two weeks, for Robert could not spare much time to assist me, though he had seen to it, that the house itself was spotlessly clean and in good order. The rest had to be mainly my work. Now, how is it, that the very same circumstances are not always equally pleasant? I could not but remember our happy furnishing in Austin ten years previously. What a joyous time it was! And there was nothing to prevent, in some measure, a renewal of this experience; there were even one or two things favorable towards making it a still more delightful one; for instance, we had more money to spend, and more certain prospects.
But it was quite different. Robert went about the matter generously and helpfully, and the result was a pretty, comfortable home, with which we were both pleased; but its making had not been the same delightful event that our Austin home represented. There had been no disagreement, no disappointment, not one untoward circumstance of any kind, but it was not the same! Why? We loved each other better than ever before; what had caused the change? Ten years? When I was alone, I could not help a few regretful tears, but alas!
“No tears can make the grass to grow
On the trampled meadows of long ago.”
Ah, if we had known that it was our last home making! The very last time we should talk together about chairs and tables, curtaining and china, how almost sacred these common household things would have become. I have not an article left of this furnishing, but a pretty Queen Anne cream pitcher. On leaving Galveston forever, I gave this pitcher to Mrs. Lee of that city, as a memorial of her great kindness to me in the most terrible hours of my life. Twenty years afterwards, she sent it with a loving message back to me, knowing that it would be a relic beyond price. Surely the veil God draws between us and the future is a veil of mercy. If Robert and I had known it, how heart-breaking that furnishing would have been!
We took possession of our new home on the sixteenth of October. It was then in perfect order, and we made a gala meal of our first supper, at which all the children were present. Then there followed half-a-year of days sweet as the droppings from the honeycomb. Lilly and Calvin were at good schools, Mary was studying music, and learning how to dance, and I was busy enough with my house, with the sewing for the whole family, and with giving Alexander his first lessons. Alice though near seven years old was yet too weak to be troubled. She had been born during the excitement and terror of the beginning of the war, and she brought with her—not the fervid spirit of the time—but its exhaustion and weakness.
During the worry and trouble following the Emancipation, Robert had received a letter from my sister Mary, telling him of my father’s death, but advising that I should not be informed of it, while I had so many every day troubles and anxieties. Robert thought well of this request, and so he did not tell me until we were happily settled in our Galveston home. I could weep no sorrowful tears for my father’s release. For a long time earth had lain at his feet like a cast-off sandal. He had longed to depart, and to be with Christ and the loved ones waiting for him; and Mary said he went away smiling, like one who goes on a pleasant journey.
During his last days he frequently expressed a wish that he might go on a Sabbath morning, while the bells were ringing for service. Very wise people will doubtless think that was a childish wish, but the kindly angel of his release granted it. On a Sabbath morning, while the bells of Baildon church were ringing a joyful peal, and filling the air with the gladdest music that can ever be between heaven and earth, he went away with the air and the smile of one,
“To whom glad news is sent,
From the far country of his home,
After long banishment.”
No I could not weep for my father’s release. I could sit and recall his fine face, his gracious manner, his blameless life, his wonderful sermons and our long pleasant walks together, but though my tears were dropping upon my sewing, they were not sorrowful tears. I could wipe them away with thanksgiving.
For half a year everything went on in the happiest manner. We had very pleasant neighbors; the markets were cheap and plentiful. A few old Austin friends had gathered round us, and we had many new ones. Life seemed to me in those days like a busy, happy story. True, every day was much alike; yet every day was different—a fresh visitor, a new book, the children’s school gossip, the household and city happenings made changes that were sufficient. And in the evenings, if we had no company, I played and sang and read to Robert and the three eldest children, or we took a walk to the beach, which was scarce a quarter of a mile away.
Thus one day slipped into another, and I find no complaints in my diary against anything, or anyone, but myself. To its pages I am constantly lamenting my too vivid enjoyment of earthly happiness, and my forgetfulness of past sorrows and trials. Yet if this small book tells the truth, as I am sure it does, I must have loved God through these happy days very sincerely. I wish with all my soul that I loved him now, as I did then, with a conscience sensitive as a nerve, and a heart that acknowledged no truer love, or dearer loyalty. Yes, in my eighty-first year, I am ashamed before the memory of that woman in the prime of her life, who could write such passionate longings for God’s love, and such sorrowful regrets for her small lapses of duty or temper. Surely He cannot have forgotten.
It was not until late in April that the first whisper of calamity came. We lived in a cottage belonging to Judge Wheeler, and standing next to his own house, and one evening he came over to smoke his pipe with Robert on our verandah.
“Barr,” he said, “I hear a good deal of talk about yellow fever, and I dare say people will be advising you to leave this house, because there is a meat market not far away, which will be sure to attract the fever. Don’t you believe them. Sit still. You are as safe here as anywhere. We do not intend to move, nor do the Dalzells, who have the next house to us.”
During the following month the terror grew daily, and as the hot weather came on, we were sensibly aware of our too close proximity to the meat market, Robert was sure we ought to remove, and he came home one day delighted with an empty house which he had found. It was near the sea, and it had unusually large rooms, all of which had just been renovated, papered and painted. It is not great things, but trivial ones, which generally produce the most important and tragic consequences; and it was the fresh papering and painting that made me willing to go through another removal. Yet I did not inspect the house before moving into it; if I had, I am sure I should have hesitated about doing so, but the weather was hot and humid, and the road between it and the Wheeler cottage deep with sand. My feeling about the change was really one of assent, rather than desire.
The place, however, appeared to be all that had been represented—roomy and clean, freshly papered and painted, and so near to the Gulf that we could hear the waves breaking on the shore. But as I walked through the rooms, an indefinable repugnance took possession of me, and I asked Robert if he knew who had been living in it?
“I do not,” he said a little tartly. “I never thought of asking such a question. Does it matter, Milly?”
“Yes,” I answered, “it does matter a great deal. In spite of the fresh paper and paint, the air of these rooms is not clean. Wicked people must have lived in them.”
Then he laughed, and said, “You are too fanciful. No one has lived in the house,” he continued, “for a great many years. It was almost a ruin, when old Durr bought it. We are its first tenants since its restoration to a respectable dwelling.”
I said nothing further at the time, but I noticed that when the two large lamps were lit in the parlor, they did not light the room. It remained dull and gloomy, and full of shadows, and an eerie feeling of fear and unconquerable depression dashed all desire to talk over our arrangement of the furniture; deny it as he would, Robert and the children were affected in the same way.
But the change was made, and the wisest plan was to accept it hopefully. I put up the white curtains, and white mosquito draperies as soon as possible, not only because they were necessary to our comfort, but because I hoped the profusion of white would relieve the gloom. I filled the rooms with flowers, I hung no pictures but such as were of light coloring and cheerful subjects, and when I had finished my work, I felt more satisfied with the place.
Then life settled to its usual routine, yet hardly so, for I was counseled against allowing the children to study during the hot months in which they were acclimating; and I felt little inclination myself for any duty that was not an imperative necessity. I sat drowsily within the open door hardly thinking. Life gradually became inertia. I laid down my book and needle, and the children played without spirit, or lay sleeping in any cool place they could find. In Austin the thermometer had often stood ten or twelve degrees higher, and not affected our work or spirits, but as soon as it passed ninety degrees in Galveston it became intolerable. And at this time the average heat, if I remember rightly, was one hundred degrees and upward.
Still I am glad now to recall we kept up as far as possible all our household ways and traditions. No matter how hot the morning or night, we never missed the usual family worship, and only in case of sickness, did I permit either myself or the children, to neglect dressing to meet their father for supper. I did not read so much aloud to them, for we were all too listless and anxious to care about imaginary sorrows, with so much real danger and suffering around. Sometimes, however, I took a little stroll with Robert to the beach, and sometimes even I went downtown with him as far as our grocer’s. He was a Glasgow man called Shaw, and Robert had formed a warm friendship with him.
As the days and weeks went on, we could not escape the certain knowledge that the fever was steadily gaining ground. During the latter part of June the corporation were keeping large fires of tar burning all through the city, and the gutters had a horrible odor of disinfectants. Far and wide the lurid smoke of these fires darkened the hot humid atmosphere, and at night their dark fantastic shadows, and the singular forms they took, seemed to prefigure and presage the fate of the doomed city. Here and there stores were closed, and frequently dwellings full of human beings were marked with the dreaded yellow cross.
At this time I had no great fear of the fateful sickness. However, towards the middle of July affairs were coming to a frightful crisis. The fever had at last reached the military camp of the United States soldiers, which was but a block or two behind our house. There were a thousand men in it, and every morning I saw long lines of carts filled with rude boxes and tarred canvas pass the house. They were carrying the dead to the long trenches made for them. In August the colonel of this regiment died of the fever, and not thirty of the men were alive to bury him.
There was nothing for the custom’s house and post office to do, their doors were shut; the Strand, which was the principal business street of the city, was rank with waving grass. Its large warehouses, shops, wharves and public buildings were closed. There were half a dozen little places scattered about, that were still open, mainly for the sale of bread and drugs, but they had an air of hopeless silence and abandonment. A dreadful haze hung over the city, and the sea—a haze that appeared to be filled with the very odors of despair and death. I was glad when the corporation gave up all efforts at prevention. The fever was now far beyond it, and Galveston was strictly isolated from the living world. It had become a city of dreadful death.
Day after day and week after week the weather was of the same distressing character—an hour or two of pouring, beating, tropical rain, and then an hour or two of such awful heat and baleful sunshine, as the language happily has no words to describe. These two conditions alternated continually, and the consequence was streets full of grass—this grass being literally alive with tiny frogs, frogs not bigger than a bean, but in such enormous quantities that pedestrians crushed hundreds under their feet with every step they took. I do not exaggerate this sickening plethora of life; it is impossible to do so.
One evening towards the end of August I told Robert we were out of certain household necessities, and asked if he knew how they could be procured. He answered, “Yes, Shaw told me if we wanted anything to knock at his house door, and he would give me what was required. I will go and see him after supper.”
Then I pleaded, “Let me go with you, Robert. I want a walk so much.” He entreated me not to go, but I was resolved to see with my own eyes whether things were as bad as reported, and after some demur he consented. So I walked down into the city with him. A walk through hell could hardly have been more dreadful. The beds of the dying were drawn to the open windows, and there was hardly a dwelling wanting a dying bed. The faces of the sufferers were white and awful, their heads covered with crushed ice. They were raving, moaning, shrieking, or choking with the appalling vomito. I covered my eyes, and clung to Robert, and finally asked him to turn back.
“We are nearly at Shaw’s,” he answered, “and you had better rest there half an hour. It will then be darker.”
So he knocked at the door for admission, and one of Mr. Shaw’s clerks opened to us. Robert asked for Mr. Shaw, and the young man replied, “He is in bed, very ill with the fever.”
I knew it the moment the door was opened. A strong sickly odor, like nothing ever felt before, told me so. I said to myself on the instant, “It is the smell of yellow fever.” And no one, I think, would have failed to give it its own dreadful name—that is, if they were in a situation where the fever was probable. There is no odor on earth to which it is comparable. The soul loathes, and sickens, and trembles in its presence; for there is no straighter or surer avenue to the soul than the sense of smell.
I went home thoroughly frightened, and Robert I think was not sorry. He had often told me I was too indifferent—not to the discomfort of the situation—but to its danger. We found on reaching home that Calvin and Alexander had not gone to bed, and then both boys cried in our arms and said they dared not go to their rooms upstairs.
“There are evil spirits there, Papa,” sobbed Calvin, “and they walk about and stand and look at us. They emptied my drawers last night. They pulled the clothes off our bed. Oh, they are so wicked, and so dreadful! Save us from them, Papa! We cannot go upstairs tonight.”
We were astounded, the more so as Mary and Lilly had a similar story to tell. The dear children had been consulting in our absence, whether we must be told, or whether they should try to bear it a little longer—until Mamma felt better. Those four words smote me like a whip.
Of course we comforted them, and gave the boys a room downstairs beside us. Then I went to the kitchen to make some inquiries of the servant, who also slept upstairs. She was a sensible middle-aged Dutch woman, as little likely to be psychic, or even imaginative, as was the bed upon which she slept. I found that she had gone home to sleep, but would be back early in the morning. When she came in the morning, I said to her, “Why did you go home last night, Gertrude?”
“Because it is impossible to sleep here, Madame,” she answered. “There are such strange noises, and I see dreadful men going up and down stairs all night. I am afraid of them.”
I told Robert what she said, and he answered in a sad, slow voice, “I hear such things wherever I turn Milly. It is astonishing what some men have told me. I could almost fear we were all in hell and did not know it. During the great cholera year in Glasgow, 1847-8, people told the same things, but the spiritual terror is far, far greater here, and now, than it was there, and then.”
“Do you think such a calamity as this is the work of evil spirits, Robert?”
“It may be. But if so, they are only the agents of a wise and merciful God who permits them so far, and no further. There is the case of Job, and when Daniel prayed for help, the help, though sent by the Archangel Michael, was delayed twenty-one days; for Michael had to fight the Evil Ones, who opposed him.” Then we were silent and thoughtful, and I had suddenly a childish fear, that it was not well to talk of the Evil Ones. They could perhaps hear what we said.
I will try to write as little as possible about the spiritual terror of this time, but ignoring a subject does not annihilate it, and this subject was one of general concern and absorbing interest. There were few people—men and women both—who had not some strange or terrible experience to relate. Nor were these experiences confined to the vulgar, the ignorant, the superstitious or the irreligious; they affected every class, without any distinction of social standing, age or culture.
We must remember that every one for three months dwelt at the mouth of the grave. The terror by night, the pestilence that walked in darkness, the destruction that wasted at noonday was their companion and their conversation. The invisible world drew strangely near to the visible; every one talked with bated breath of things supernatural. It was an atmosphere in which the solemn and thoughtful grew spiritual, but which offended and angered natures of clayey mold.
Those who have visited old churches and cathedrals where men have prayed and poured out spiritual emotions for centuries know how powerfully they are moved by this unseen force of righteousness; how softly they tread! How lowly they speak! How readily their souls respond to the reverent thoughts that spring voluntarily to their consideration! Such places are really sacred. God has visited them, angels have rested in their solemn aisles, mortals seeking heavenly mercy have found it there.
Now the power of evil association with places is quite as great—perhaps greater; for evil clings passionately to whatever is of the earth. There are many places today filled with the strong vibrations of tragedies long since enacted there. Go and stand, even at bright noonday, amid the ruins of some old Druidical temple, and you will be chilled by the supernal horror that yet lingers there. Every city has its own mental atmosphere, and it affects persons moving to it. In a lesser degree every tabernacle built by man, and used by man, becomes imbued with his personality, physical and spiritual. I knew dwellings in England where the same family had lived for centuries, that had actually the aura of the family, and in their arrangement and atmosphere, almost its personality. Indeed, every habitation reveals in some degree the nature of the people who dwell in it. So I wondered constantly as to who had built and lived in the old house we had unfortunately taken possession of. I was sure that their wraiths were still in it, and that our presence annoyed them. But we told ourselves that their malignity could have no power over us. Whatever came, though it were the fever, we were determined to take it as from God’s will.
One night in August, Robert brought home with him a Mr. Hall, an old Austin friend. They had some business to talk over, and when I saw their conversation was finished, I had supper brought in, and as we sat down to the table, Mr. Hall glanced round the parlor and remarked, “The old pirate’s nest has quite a Barr-y look already.”
“Pirate’s nest!” I ejaculated. “What do you mean, Mr. Hall?”
“Well,” he answered, “if devils haunt the places they made hells upon earth, Lafitte and his men must be here. It is said that Durr’s house was standing in the days when Galveston was called Campeachy, and was a haunt and home of the vilest men, pirates and murderers from the scum of all nations, ruled by the infamous Lafitte. By the way, Barr,” he continued, “Lafitte was a great slave trader, and he had a very convenient way of selling negroes; a dollar a pound for them, old or young. If this should have been Lafitte’s house, as I have heard some suppose, it was originally painted blood-red, and——”
“Mr. Hall,” interrupted Robert, “I think you ought not to mention such things in Madame’s presence.”
“I beg Madame’s pardon,” he answered, “but I felt sure she had already heard many incomprehensible things. To me they are hardly so, for I know what fiends once made Galveston Island their home. Do you think they have forgotten the place of their sins and cruelties? No, Furies of ancient crimes are here, revengeful souls full of unsatisfied hatreds. Perhaps they have been given a strange enlargement for some reason, and that reason must be within the permission and mercy of God.”
Robert made a motion of dissent. “I do not believe,” he said, “that God would select for the execution of any of his purposes, foul spirits who gloat in cruelties.”
“We know nothing more surely of God, than that he is love and mercy. I am one of those who believe even in the repentance and forgiveness of that great Archangel who fell, and drew after him a third part of heaven.”
“Yes, I believe in the full and final triumph of good. Why else should Christ have descended into hell to preach to the spirits in prison there? He had surely some hope or promise to give, or He would not have gone. I hope I may at least have the same divine charity which is expressed in one of the most ancient Persian hymns.”
“Do you know the hymn, Mr. Hall?” I asked.
“I know the lines I refer to.”
“Will you repeat them?”
“In the translation I possess, they read thus:
‘Ormuzd grant me the grace, the joy of seeing
Him who makes the Evil, be brought to comprehend
The purity of the Heart. Grant that I may see the
Great Chief of the Evil Ones, loving nothing but holiness;
And forever speaking the Word, among the
“Thank you,” I answered, and Mr. Hall continued, “Take your Bible. Between cover and cover, there is not any doctrine more constantly taught and exemplified, than the one teaching angelic and demoniacal agency. What says Madame?”
“I believe in it,” I answered, “just as I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the communion of saints. They are articles of the same creed. I cannot doubt one, without doubting the other; and I hope I have a share of that divine charity which inspired the Persian worshipper. David believed that even if he made his bed in hell, God would care for him, and Ezekiel tells us that Pharaoh shall be comforted in hell.” (Ezekiel, 32:31.)
“Do you remember in what chapter?” asked Mr. Hall.
“No,” I answered, “but we will look for it after supper.” Then I changed the conversation for Robert looked as much like a Sadducee as any dweller in ancient Jewry could have done.
That night we were both very sad and quiet, and after Mr. Hall had left, Robert sat down by his two sons and talked softly to them for a long time. I sat at the open door, listening to the great voice of the sea lamenting and creeping up through the darkness. At that hour my faith was weak, and I could not help remembering how, when I first crossed this unhappy threshold, my heart sighed heavily, and my very steps were reluctant and prelusive of sorrow. But in a little while Robert came to comfort me, and he spoke so bravely of God’s omnipotent power, and of his goodness to us in every emergency, that I soon found no difficulty in carrying my fearful heart from this unhappy house, safe to the hidden house of God’s abiding.
That night I had a dream. It is as clear to my inward vision this hour as when I awoke from it. I was by the side of a river, a river black and motionless. Great trees overshadowed it, and all its banks were hidden in a lush growth of rushes and long grasses. It was a horror of marshy earth and dead water. And among the long rushes and dead water, a human figure lay, a man unnaturally thin and tall, with a yellowish, deathlike face, surrounded by long straight black hair. He lay prone as if asleep, but slowly raised himself, and looked at me. Then with a languid air, but a voice of fate, he said, “One shall be taken, and the other left.”
I awoke, and my heart was sick, for I had seen the likeness of yellow fever. And from that hour I knew, that either I must leave my dear ones, or they would have to leave me. For come how it may, dreams do read the future. Then why should we despise their teaching? How can we tell what subtle lines run between spirit and spirit? Fifty years ago we would have thought it a thing incredible, if told that a man in New York could talk with a man in Chicago. Can it not be as easy for the dear ones who have left us, to send a warning dream, as it is for our scientists by means of spectrum analysis, to examine a ray of light from Sirius, Capella or any distant star, and tell us what are the elements of their composition. And from the dream there soon followed reality. I went softly. I hung around my husband and children with a wistful tenderness. I asked God to prepare me for whatever He sent, and all my prayer was, “Let us fall into Thy Hands.”
I can make no apology for being now compelled to refer to a life not this life. It would indeed be a miserable one-sided biography of any human being, that was only a biography of their physical life. We are soul as well as body. It is not that we have a soul, we are a soul; and this higher part is in no one quiescent. The men who think of nothing outside their physical senses, have often souls of a far more pronounced type than their physical man; the type may be evil, but even while they ignore its agency, they are ruled by it.
I had been in touch with myself all my life long; by night and day the other Amelia was familiar to my apprehension, and an incommunicable sense of another world never far away. Hitherto, I had been astonished that while others saw and heard so much from this other world, I had been singularly free from spiritual influences. The dream I have just related, was the first intimation I received of a personal share in the general calamity. I did not speak of it to Robert, but as I have said, I went prayerfully about my house, and all my pleasant work fell from my listless hands.
Sometime after midnight on the twentieth of August I rose from my bed. I could not sleep; I was too restless and unhappy, but all whom I loved appeared to be sleeping well. So I sat down in a rocking-chair facing an open window which looked towards the sea. This open window was however screened by the ordinary green blinds, made of thin slats of wood. All was quiet but the dull roar of the sea, troubling the sad heart of the night with a sound of vague anger and menace; and the stillness of earth and sky was ghostly and melancholy. I heard a faint stir among the leaves of the Japonica hedge that surrounded the place, and I stopped rocking and sat motionless listening.
Then there fell upon the closed blinds—on which my eyes were fixed—a blow so tremendous, that I was sure they must be shattered; but ere I could rise, another blow of less intensity followed, and then a third not quite as crashing as the second. I never for a moment thought the blows were given by any instrument. I was sure they were made by hand. I went to Robert’s side. He was fast asleep. The children also were sleeping. Then I understood. I prayed for God’s mercy, but God seemed far from me. Until the dim gray dawn I sat in troubled thought, but when I heard Robert stir I told him what had happened, and begged him to come to the window with me. I had been afraid to go near it; I had turned my back upon it, but I was sure the blinds were shattered.
There was not a slat broken. But the thin strips of wood were indented and showed plainly the full shape of a hand twice as large as any human hand. Why were the blinds not broken to pieces by three blows from a hand like that? And how could the thin strips of wood be made to bend and to take that impression? This evidence of physical force, made by some spiritual entity remained for every one to see, as long as I lived in the house. As to what came after, I know not. I never again went within sight of the place.
That day I noticed that the leaves of the Japonica hedge had turned black, and were covered with a loathsome sweat or moisture, and Robert told me he had been with Scotch Brown to the camp to do something for a Scotchman ill there, and that they were shown the body of a calf killed one hour previously, and it was as black as a piece of coal. “I would not let the children go outside, Milly,” he said, “the very atmosphere has the fever.”
That night Alexander was taken ill, and before midnight he was delirious. The next day Lilly was sick, and the following day Mary. There was then no institution like the present trained nurses, but the Scotchmen of Galveston had formed themselves into a society for nursing each other, if attacked by fever; and Robert and Scotch Brown had been busily engaged in this work for some weeks. Now Scotch Brown came to our assistance. He went into the kitchen, and could cook a suitable meal if necessary. He kept the negro hired help at their duties, and no woman could have been more tender, more watchful, more ready to help and to comfort. Lilly had not a very bad attack, but Mary came perilously near to the fatal end. But carefully watched and nursed, they passed the crisis, and began to recover. The recovery from yellow fever is very rapid, but if a relapse should take place, the case is hopeless.
On Sunday, the sixth of September, Alexander, Lilly and Mary were apparently getting well as satisfactorily as we could expect. Mary looked white and frail; Alexander lay mostly on the sofa; Lilly, in spite of yellow fever, had her usual bright smile and cheerful voice; but, Oh, how happy we were to be able to gather at the dinner table! Very sparing was the food of the invalids, but they enjoyed it, and we had a pleasant meal. It was a very happy day, I remember every hour of it. It was the last day I was to spend with my husband and sons, but I knew it not. Surely, I thought, God has heard my prayers, and we shall all be spared to thank Him. We did so together, as soon as supper was over, and the children with kisses and loving words went early to rest. Robert and I sat until late; Robert was very quiet, but I leaned my head against his shoulder, and we spoke tenderly and hopefully to each other of things past, and of things likely to come. And as I brushed out my hair, and coiled it for the night, I said cheerfully to him,
“God doth not leave His Own.
The night of weeping for a time may last,
Then tears all past,
His going forth shall as the morning shine.
The sunrise of His favor shall be thine and mine,
God doth not leave His Own.”
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