“Calamity is a delicate goddess, and her feet are tender. Her feet are soft. She treads not on the ground. She takes her path upon the hearts of men.”
The next day was the worst we had yet seen. It poured incessantly, and when the rain ceased at nightfall, it was followed by a fog so dense that it seemed palpable. Every room in the house was full of it, lights would hardly burn, and breathing was not easy. Robert and the children went early to bed, but I wandered about the different rooms, watching the sleepers. I did not feel very well, and was nervous and full of fears. When the clock struck twelve I was worse, and I concluded it would be well for me to try to sleep. But before putting down the lamp, I opened the Bible, for my father had often told me, to take a verse to bed with me to meditate upon, if I happened to be wakeful. It was a common, almost a nightly custom, and I followed it at that hour more as a habit than a conscious intent. So opening the Bible, as my fingers touched the screw of the lamp, my eyes fell upon these words, “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let your widows trust in me.” (Jeremiah, 49:11.)
My first emotion was anger. I closed the Book hastily but did not put out the light. I told myself, that I would not go to bed with that strange verse pealing in my ears. And I wondered at my opening on the Book of Jeremiah; it was one book that we never read, either personally or in the family. Its pages indeed were fresh and white, while the Psalms and Gospels were well worn and discolored. All that splendid faith, which is exactly to the inner woman what courage is to the physical woman, had slipped away from me. Why was God so hard to me? I wanted so much a little verse of comfort, and I had been given an evil prediction. I cried very much as a sensitive child would cry, who thought its dearly loved father had been unkind, or indifferent to its distress.
I had said, I would not go to bed with that verse pealing in my ears, but the pain in every limb of my body grew constantly worse. I put my fingers upon my wrist, and found there that peculiar “bound” that says at every throb, yellow fever! I knew at last, that I was smitten with the fever. Then I called Robert, and was quickly in such physical anguish that I forgot all else; also a feeling of sheer despair took possession of me, and during the ensuing week I was only conscious of the agony of a thirst, which could not be satisfied but at the risk of the vomito. Robert put bits of crushed ice between my lips frequently, but they did not assuage the cruel longing for water. I was in an unconscious state wandering in “a desolate land, where the pains of hell get hold on me—a land of deserts and pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt;” and into which neither husband nor child could follow me; tossing, muttering, slowly parching and burning up, I lived on from day to day.
But He that “turneth man to destruction” says also, “Return ye children of men;” and on Friday, the eleventh, I became conscious of Robert at my side, and of the children passing through the room and coming to me. I could feel their soft kisses on my hands and face, and I finally found strength to ask Mary, “How are Calvin and Alice?”
“Calvin is sick, Mamma,” she answered. “Papa put him in my room; he wanted to be near you.”
“Very sick?” I asked.
“Not as bad as I was.”
“She has the fever very slightly. She is nearly well. Alexander, also, but you, dear Mamma?”
“All is right.”
The next day I was much worse. I could not move, and was hardly able to whisper a word or two, and towards midnight Alexander had a relapse. Wringing his hands, and full of a strange reluctance, Robert went out into the dreadful night to try to find a doctor. What happened on that fateful walk, I may not write, but he brought back the doctor, who looked at the child, and then turning to Robert said,
“You will be wanted soon, lie down and sleep. Oh, you must! You must! I will stay here until you awake.”
I know not how long Robert slept. He threw himself on a sofa within sight of my bed, and appeared to fall into a deep sleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Alexander begged to come to me, and the doctor laid him at my feet, and I felt with an indescribable thrill of love and anguish, his little hand clasp my ankle.
The clock had just struck three, when I heard Robert start suddenly to his feet and cry, “Yes, sir!” Then smiting his hands together as if in distress, he cried out still loudly, “Yes, sir! I am coming!” The doctor rose and went to him. “Barr,” he asked, “what is the matter?” for Robert was weeping as men seldom weep—long moaning sobs, that were the very language of heart-breaking despair. “What is the trouble, my friend?” the doctor asked again, and Robert answered,
“My father called me twice, and I—I answered him. He has been dead thirty-two years.”
“Well then, your father would only come for your relief and help.”
“He came for me, Doctor; the summons was inexorable, and sure.”
“Let us go to the child. He is very ill.”
I heard these words, and I felt at the same moment a tighter clasp of the small hand round my ankle, and Robert’s kiss upon my cheek. Then the hours went slowly and cruelly by, and in the afternoon the beginning of the end commenced. But just before it, the child had another attack similar to the one he and his brother had shared on the train coming in to Galveston. He was quite unconscious, even of his physical agony, his eyes firmly fixed their vision far, far beyond any earthly horizon. His father sat like a stone gazing at him, and I could not have moved a finger, or spoken a word, no, not to have saved his life.
The trance lasted only a few minutes, but he came out of it sighing, and then asked in a voice of awe and wonder, “Who is that man waiting for me, Papa?” He was assured there was no one waiting, but he replied, “Yes, there is a man waiting for me. He is in the next room.” Then his father noticed that his eyes had a new, deep look in them, as if some veil had been rent, and he with open face had beheld things wonderful and secret.
About seven o’clock they took him away from me into the next room. He clung to my feet, and begged to stay with me, and I—Oh, I strove as mortals strive with the impossible to speak, to plead, that he might remain! But it could not be. His father lifted him in his arms, and through the next five awful hours he held him there. No! no! It is not writable, unless one could write with blood and tears. At midnight it was over. But as his father laid down the little boy, Mrs. Lee went to him, and said,
“Calvin is very ill. Go and speak to him, while you can.”
He went at once and put his arm under the sweet child, and spoke to him. And the first words the dying boy uttered were, “Papa, what is the matter with my brother?”
“He is very ill, Calvin.”
“Is he dying?”
“Tell him to wait for me. I am dying, too, Papa! I cannot see you! I am blind! Kiss me, Papa.”
These were his last words. He died two hours after his brother, and I do not doubt they went together; and they had “a Man” with them, who knew his way through the constellations. They would go straight to Him whom their souls loved. I was not permitted to see either of them, and on Tuesday afternoon they were buried. I heard them carry out the coffins; I heard their father’s bitter grief, and I was dumb and tearless.
After they were buried, Robert came straight to me. “They are laid side by side, Milly, darling,” he said. “Now I also must leave you. Forgive Robert all that he has ever done to grieve you.” I tried to tell him I had nothing to forgive, that he was always good to me, but he shook his head sadly, and continued, “O Milly, my love, my wife, farewell! I must go, dearest! I must go! O my dear, dear wife, farewell!” and I could only answer with low sharp cries. I had not a word for this moment. At the open door our eyes met in a long parting gaze, and then I remember nothing more, till it was dark and late, and I heard the sounds of men busy in the next room.
I never saw my husband again. On Wednesday he died. Thank God, he died as Calvin did, of general congestion. Death mounted from his dead feet to his heart, and head, with a swift sure pace, but he was really dying all the last three days that he was nursing his dying sons. He fell on guard, and Death came as a friend to relieve him:
“And so he passed to joy, through bitter woe,
As some great galleon through dark may go,
Where no star glimmers, and the storm wind wails
Until the rose of Morning touch her sails.”
Mrs. Lee stayed at his side until the last moment, and when all was finished, she came to me. “He has gone!” she said.
“I know,” I answered. “He passed me as he went. There was One with him. I thank God! What time did he go?”
“It was just ten minutes past eleven.”
Then I remembered the pendulum of the clock falling at ten minutes past eleven. And the memory gave me a sudden sense of comfort. Some wiser Intelligence than ourselves, had known even then, what was before us; had known when Robert left his home, that he was faring into the shadows in which his grave was hid. His death was not a blind hap-hazard calamity. It was a foreseen event, an end pre-determined by Infinite Wisdom and Love. O mystery of life! From what unexpected sources, spring thy lessons and thy comforts! Whatever life was left in me was quickened by this blow. I felt it to the foundation of being, and though I could not speak to those around me, I could to the Divine Other who was closer to me than breathing, and nearer than hands or feet. Instantly I found myself urging that almighty help.
“I cannot die now,” I pleaded. “Oh, I cannot die and leave those three little girls alone—in a strange land, without money, without relative or friend to care for them! Oh, help me to live! Help me to live for their sakes! Not for thy sake, for thou can never see death! not for my sake, I am but as a dead woman now; but for my children’s sake, help me to recover my strength! Help me, and I shall live.”
In this manner I silently prayed, with all the fervor of which my soul was capable. And in that central tract of emotion where life and death meet, there are paths of spiritual experience remote and obscure, until some great crisis finds them out—experiences not to be unfolded save to that one Soul, and for which words—however wise—are impotent things. I feel this truth as I write, for I cannot find a way to explain the sure and certain influx of life, that came to me, even as I entreated for it. It came from no drug, no physician, no human help of any kind, but direct from the Thee in Me who works behind the veil, the More of Life in whom we live and move and have our Being.
I do not say that my prayer changed God’s will or purpose concerning me. Oh, no! but God directed my prayer. He put my petition into my heart. The prayer was granted ere I made it. For if we do right, it is God which teaches us both to will and to do, so that every soul that cries out to the Eternal, finds the Eternal; I care not when, or where. God is not far from any one of us, and in every case he seeks us, before we have the desire to seek Him.
I had a full and ready answer to my soul’s petition. I recovered rapidly, and in ten days was able to leave my room, and gather the salvage of my wrecked home around me. No doubt most of my readers have a keen and personal knowledge of that weight of grief, which hangs like lead in the rooms, and on the stairs, where the footsteps of the loved dead have sounded. They know what it is to come back from the grave of their love, and see his hat lying where he threw it down forever, and his slippers at the foot of the bed he died on. And, oh, what a multitude of mothers that no man could number, know what it means to put away the empty clothing that still keeps a heartbreaking look of the little form that moulded it—or the small worn shoes and stockings, the toys and books, that will never more be needed. Alas it is too common an experience to require words! This grief has but to be named, and at any hour thousands of heavy hearts can fill in all its sad details.
After the month of September the fever, for the very want of victims, began to decline, and about the middle of October there was a storm which shook Galveston Island to its foundation. The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Bay of Galveston met, and mingled, in the center of the city. There was a hurtling, roaring tempest around it, and a tremendous battle in the firmament above it. It was “a day of desolation, a day of darkness, of clouds and of thick darkness;” and throughout the hours the storm gathered strength. All night the inhabitants sat still in terror, while the sea beat at their doors, and their homes rocked in the terrific wind.
After midnight, when the roaring and crashing and fury of the elements were at their height, it was easy to call to remembrance the magnificent description of just such a storm in Habakkuk, 3:5-12, and as the children drew closer and closer to me, I repeated what I could of it:
“Before him went the pestilence, and burning coals went forth at his feet ... and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow.... I saw the tents of Cushan in affliction.... Was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?... The overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high. The sun and the moon stood still in their habitation.... Thou wentest forth for the salvation of thy people.”
At the dawning, the tempest lulled off with mighty, sobbing winds; sullenly but surely it went, and with it departed entirely the dreadful pestilence. There was not another case known. The Lord had indeed arisen for the salvation of the city, and His angels had driven away the powers of darkness that had been permitted there for a season. Oh, then if our eyes had been opened! If we could have seen the battle in the firmament above us! If we could have seen “the Man Gabriel,” or Michael “the great prince which standeth for the children of God’s people against the evil ones,” then, no doubt, we should have said with Elisha, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”
After the hurricane the inhabitants arose as one man, to build up and to repair, and to put out of sight and memory all traces of their great calamity. At this time, and for long after, my diary is a record of the most extraordinary kindness shown me, both by acquaintances and friends. Scotch Brown seemed to consider us under his special care, and this self-imposed trust he filled with such delicacy and generosity, that I feel angry at myself today, when I find such meagre acknowledgment of it. I must have been truly selfish, or gratitude would have caused me to write less concerning my own suffering, and more about Scotch Brown’s thoughtfulness in supplying the little comforts of life, that no one else considered. Thus he saw that I had my newspaper and my mail, or if the servant left, he found us another. His help was always practical help. It had few words, and I do not seem to have realized its wonderful faithfulness and unselfishness. Many a time afterwards I longed for a friendship like his, but I have never found it, and in the face of my own words, I say, “It serves me right.” Mrs. Lee visited me once a day, sometimes twice; Mayor Williams looked after any business that came up, and took the children nearly every day for a drive on the beach. He was Alice’s godfather, and he acted the part of a godfather to each of the three girls. A great many people are named in this part of my diary, whom I have quite forgotten, but they were distinctly Robert’s friends—men whom he had nursed through the fever, or had had business relations with, mostly Glasgow men, or at least Scotchmen, but it did me good to talk with them about him.
On the fifth of December my son Andrew was born at four o’clock A.M. I was so happy that the child was a boy, that I cried with thankfulness and delight. He appeared to be a fine strong infant, but he soon showed signs of yellow fever, contracted before his birth, and died when he was five days old at ten minutes to eleven P.M. The next morning he was laid beside his father and two elder brothers. The cycle of the birthplace and the grave fulfilled his doom of earth.
So far I had endured the will of God, but I was not resigned. It was so hard to make my heart believe in its great loss. Often as I sat sewing I would say, “Oh, I must be dreaming! I must wake up! I must go to the gate! He may be coming now!” and I would rise to go to the gate, and look and listen, and sometimes I heard the quick strong steps for which I waited and listened. For the ear has its own memory, and listens for an accustomed sound, and the imagination does not always suffer it to be disappointed.
This delusion lasted for many months, and I have no doubt the majority of widows have experienced it. Some one of them, I wish I knew her name, has expressed it for all, in the following lines:
“Half-unbelieving doth my heart remain of its great woe,
I waken, and a dull, dead sense of pain, is all I know;
Then dimly in the darkness, my mind I feel about,
To know what ’tis that troubles me, and find my sorrow out.
And hardly with long pains, my heart I bring its loss to own,
It seemeth yet impossible, that thou art gone.
That whatsoever else of good, for me in store remain.
This lieth out of hope, my Love, to see thy face again.”
As the year drew to a close, I had fully recovered my strength, indeed I had not been in such fine general health for many years, and with this feeling of physical well-being, there came an urgent sense of the necessity of work. My money, though used with great economy, was decreasing fast, and I had no source for supplying this loss, except by an application to Robert’s mother, which I did not wish to make. So I was troubled and anxious and very unhappy. One Sabbath morning about a week before Christmas I was alone in the house, the children had gone to church, the girl in the kitchen to High Mass. I sat thinking of my position, and wondering what I must do. Naturally, I thought also of the One, who had hitherto taken from my shoulders all the burden and the care of life.
Then a great illumination came to me. I saw events as I had never seen them before. I had always considered myself as one of the most loving and careful of wives and mothers. If any one had told me that I was not, I should have been indignant. But the dead open the eyes of the living. I saw myself that hour, as a character that amazed me and almost broke my heart. Every unreasonable mood, every ungracious and unkind look, every cross word came back to my memory to torture me! Oh, how I had wounded and disappointed those whom I loved best! What a selfish woman I had been!
I was so shocked at the accusations my conscience made against me, that I was silent even from prayer. I had been unkind to the souls of those nearest and dearest to me, and I had no way of redressing the wrong. Why then think about it? Because we cannot say to the heart, “Thou shalt not remember.” And if we could forget, it would be a great moral forfeiture, a treason against our own souls. So I let conscience accuse me until I had remembered, and speechlessly acknowledged all my failures. Then I laid my sorrowful heart, with all its love and contrition at His feet. All my slighted duties, cold retirements, and small returns for love unselfish even unto death, I cast into the abyss of His mercy. There were some moments of terrible lucidity, but when my grief subsided, it was followed by a wonderful peace. The feeling of the Infinite around me grew solemnly sweet and distinct, and my soul turned to it. “My God! My God!” I whispered; and though there were only four words given me, I had a joy past utterance. Trouble was lighter than a grasshopper and, oh, what words can describe that felicity of repose which the ebbing of the spiritual tide left behind it!
I am writing of nothing supernatural. My experience is not uncommon, and it might be universal. I wish to God it was! I can only speak for myself, but of myself I have a right to speak.
“What I know, I know;
And where I find place for my foot,
I plant it firmly there.”
So I bring my religious experiences to the common stock of religious facts, because I believe it would be a good thing for the world if more people spoke to it of their knowledge of unseen realities. What I have heard in the silence is not for me alone. I must tell my message in the open place for all I reach, to hear and consider.
I know everything that science and creeds and set forms can say against such experiences. Science, which affects to dote on the material, is everywhere brought up short by impalpable but adamantine gates of which God alone holds the key. It is as inscrutable and mysterious as any spiritual occurrence or event. What scientist can yet disclose, how the green bud becomes the rose?
As to outward rites and ceremonies at set times, they are useful to many, but we
“... may not hope from outward forms to win,
The glory of the Life whose fountains are within.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“... Councils, doctors, priests,
Are but the signs that point us to the spring
Whence flow thy living waters. From thyself, direct,
The secret comes to all worthy to find it.”
Very light was my soul that happy morning, and I might well be happy. Such moments as I had spent alone with God are both sacrificial and sacramental. They are strong with absolution, and the soul comes out of them justified, and full of hope.
The following day I called Mary and Lilly to me, and told them that our stock of money was getting low, and that as I was now quite well I must find something to do which would make us a living.
“Have you thought of this necessity, my dears?” I asked. Both answered they had thought a great deal about it. Then I said,
“Mary, what in your opinion is the best thing to try?”
Miss Lilly Barr
“A first class school for girls,” was her ready reply. “You like to teach big girls, Mamma, and I can take charge of the little ones.”
I saw dissent on Lilly’s face, and I asked, “Is that your opinion also, Lilly?”
“No, indeed!” she answered promptly. “I have often asked Mary, what good there would be in opening a school, when there were no scholars. The school I went to before the fever has not re-opened, nor has the school Calvin went to. There are no scholars for either of them, because there is no money to pay the teachers. And there is no money either to buy school dresses, and shoes and books and such things. I was talking to Lulu Jordan a few days since, and she told me, she could not go to school because she had only one decent suit, and she had to save that for church.”
“Well, then, Lilly, have you any idea as to what we can do?”
“Yes, Mamma. I would rent a proper room, very near the great shops, and fit it up to sell books, papers, fine stationery for girls’ love letters, pretty ribbons, tarlatans of all colors for dancing dresses, cheap laces—oh, everything that girls and women want, and especially embroidery silks and threads and patterns. I would buy the best tea you can get, and give ladies a cup of tea, and an Albert biscuit, and charge them fifteen cents for it. Don’t laugh, Mamma; yes, do laugh, Mamma. It is so good to hear you laugh again. You know I could attend to the tea department. I’d like to do it.”
I can see her bright eager face as I write these words, and also Mary’s calm dissenting smile, which was both critical and disapproving.
“What do you say, Mary, to this plan?” I asked.
“A plan that you should keep a shop, Mamma? It is absurd. Grandmother would never speak to us again.”
“I don’t think she fatigues herself with speaking to us now,” said Lilly; “and when she does send us a letter, it generally spoils two or three whole days.”
“No shop of any kind would make our living,” continued Mary. “Mamma could not make any shop pay. Mamma does not have the qualities that make a shopkeeper.”
I listened with interest to this conversation. Evidently my daughters had not a high opinion of my commercial ability, and I may as well admit here, that their estimate was a just one. I had no business tact. I could calculate neither profit nor loss. I had no power to judge of probabilities. Certainly I had intuitions, often singularly wise ones, but I had no more experience than the two girls who were discussing me. I was, however, a little piqued at Mary’s assertion that, “Mamma could not make any shop pay,” and I asked her why she made such a statement.
“Because, dear Mamma,” she answered, “you would be cheated both in your buying and your selling. I have heard Papa say often, that you paid too much for all you bought, and you know when we were in Cook’s house and had such quantities of eggs and chickens, that you sold some, and every one paid you less than market price, or mostly paid you nothing at all.”
This question with its asides and amendments kept us talking all day; for a norther had sprung up, and it was too cold for any of us to venture outside. Just as the dim came on, and Lilly rose to light the candles, and I to throw some cedar logs on the fire, there was a knock at the door, and Mayor Williams came in. Mary helped him off with his coat, and he sat down before the blazing fire, and took Alice upon his knee.
“Mrs. Barr,” he said, “I want to have a little talk with you and the girls, so if you will ask me to a cup of tea, we can discuss what I have come to say over it.”
“In ten minutes,” I said, “supper will be ready;” and I went to the dining-room to hurry forward its service. I knew whatever business he wished to discuss must in his opinion be important, or he would not have come to the house in a norther. As soon therefore as we were seated at the table, I said, “We have been talking all day, Mr. Williams, of work and business, and of how we are to make money.”
“And I,” he answered, “have been talking to General Waul about your position, and I think he has shown me a way that you can follow.”
“General Waul!” I ejaculated. “I do not know him at all. Who is General Waul?”
“He would feel much hurt at your asking such a question. He was the Commander of Waul’s Legion, and a man of mark during the war.”
“Is he a soldier now?”
“No. He is now the most prominent lawyer in Galveston. His estate is on the main land, but he wishes to get board and lodging for himself and Mrs. Waul in a family where there are no lodgers. I told him about your position, and it came to this: He says he will pay you one hundred dollars a month for their board and lodging. He says also, that he can bring with him four or five other lawyers, and I think I can assure you of two of my friends, and there is Scotch Brown, Barton, East, Sutherland, Miller, Thomas, and others whom Mr. Barr nursed through the fever, and who will be glad to return in this way the kindness he showed them.”
“O Mr. Williams!” I answered. “I am most grateful to you. I may not at first manage as well as I should like, but I will do my best.”
“And we will help you, all we can, Mamma,” said Mary and Lilly. So without having once thought of such a thing, I felt myself committed to running a boarding-house for the Lawyer’s Mess, and such other gentlemen as seemed advisable. My first question regarded the house.
“Shall I have to move?” I asked. “Or will this dwelling be suitable?”
“You will have to move at once,” was the answer. “This place is too far from the business part of the town; it never had a pleasant name; and its fatal record during the fever would terrify guests. I have just the house proper for your purpose in my mind. It was empty during the fever, and there is no one in it now, but there will be tenants, if you do not take it, tomorrow.”
“Where is it?”
“In the pleasantest part of Tremont Street, next door to your friend Dr. Estabrook. If you do not mind the cold, meet me at the doctor’s tomorrow at twelve o’clock, and I will go with you to the owner, and see that no advantage is taken of you.”
I could not help a smile. My business incompetency must indeed be flagrantly palpable, to make my business friend think it necessary to leave his official duties to protect me. Then I told him what my daughters’ opinion of it was, and so gave myself up to their management and advice. And there was a happy, hopeful feeling in every heart at our simple table. The way, and the work shown me, was not the way and the work I would have chosen; but we talked ourselves into a kind of enthusiasm concerning it. I made little of the cold or the labor of the removal, and was only anxious for the morning, that I might begin to get away from the house in which I had suffered such loss and sorrow.
I turned my thoughts persistently to the new house, to the new work, and the new life; and my heart thrilled, as in years gone by, to the warm, bright hope that had been given it. It was so naturally easy for me to hope when things came to me unexpectedly, with all the sanguine air of godsends. To this day, I have the same disposition, and find it hard to consider my good hope baseless. A seed must have been on the spot where a flower blooms.
In a week we were settled in the house on Tremont Street, and soon after General and Mrs. Waul took possession of its best room. I had had some fears about Mrs. Waul, who I was told had been a great beauty and a social leader in Washington and New Orleans. I found her in many respects a delightful woman, thoroughly good-natured, freely frank, in manner witty, clever in conversation, and still beautiful. She was also easily pleased, and whatever she asked was generally as advantageous to myself as to her. Thus a few days after she came to live with us, she said to me, as we were sitting together in the parlor,
“This is a very pleasant room.” I assented, and she continued, “and it would be much more pleasant if differently arranged.”
“How would you arrange it?” I asked.
She stood up and looked carefully around. “Why, my dear,” she answered in her pretty, patronizing manner, “in arranging a room, you must follow the same rule as in dressing a woman. A woman makes all she can of her strong points, brings them into notice, puts them forward, and so on. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes,” I answered, “but there is no harm in that.”
“Just so, and a room ought to have its strong points considered in the same way; that is, the handsomest or prettiest piece of furniture should be opposite the door, so that it may be the first thing that catches the visitor’s notice. Suppose we try it?”
I said, “I should like to do so;” and calling the table boy, I told him to get some one to help him move furniture, and come to the parlor. Then Mrs. Waul took the management of affairs, and in fifteen minutes the room had changed its character. It had been a quiet, orderly parlor, not often visited by any one; she gave it that air of ease and languor, so conducive to social intimacy. I do not know how she managed it, but the result she anticipated quickly followed. That evening after dinner, the piano was standing open opposite the parlor door, and Doctor Burnet sauntered into the room, and sat down before it. Moved perhaps by love’s tender phantasy, he struck a few chords and began to sing “Lorene.” Mrs. Waul and Major Hume and several others came in to listen, and then lingered there. By and by, some one started “There’s Life in the Old Land Yet,” a young gentleman from Baltimore thrilled the house with the magical strains of “My Maryland,” and was followed by a captain of a late Texas regiment, declaring in melodious numbers, his everlasting devotion to “The Bonnie Blue Flag that bears the Single Star.”
Every one seemed to enjoy that hour of song and conversation after dinner, and it had actually been induced by nothing more personal than the movement of a few chairs and tables, and the cheerful face of an open piano.
For a couple of months all appeared to be going well. I had twelve boarders, and my income from them was about a hundred dollars a week. That sum appeared to me a large amount for household expenses, and I was sure I must be making money. But one day something happened which caused me to make an investigation, and to my dismay, I found I had been exceeding my income every week. Without going into details, which would interest no one, I utterly failed to check this tendency to excess in the wrong direction and I was seriously unhappy and anxious.
Towards the end of May, Mrs. Waul and the General went to their own home, the heat grew oppressive, there were whispers of fever, and the rest of the boarders began to scatter. Some went north, some to Austin or San Antonio; here and there they went, most of them leaving part or whole of their bills “until their return.” By the first of June we were nearly alone, but I found it was an ordinary experience, and I faced it as cheerfully as I could. In my heart I was glad. I was sick for solitude. I had been living among people until I did not know myself. I said to my soul, “Now we will have a few days of quiet and peace, then I will look after money again.” And I really did throw off all care. I would not think of what I was owing, or of what people owed me. I let the children do as they wished, and I reveled in long hours of silence. And solitude is such a potential thing. We hear voices in solitude, we never hear in the hurry and turmoil of life; we receive counsels and comforts, we get under no other condition,
“For to be alone with Silence,
Is to be alone with God.”
So I let the world and all its cares “go” for three days, and at the end of them, I was ready to look my perplexities in the face.
“Children,” I said, “we shall have no boarders until October; very well, we will clear the house of all servants but little Polly. We will live as quietly as possible, and spend no money that can be helped.” But I could not easily carry out this intention. I had three boarders, and they did not wish to change, and promised to bring me enough transient guests to carry the house through the summer. In a way, they kept this promise, and I managed to get through the next four months not uncomfortably. For I was sure, that when my old boarders returned to Galveston, they would return to my house and table.
I was reckoning without my host. Late in September I had a letter from Mrs. Waul, saying that the General was going to New Orleans to conduct an important law case, and as he would be detained all winter she intended to go with him. This was a great disappointment in many respects. They had given a certain very respectable tone to the house, they had been kind to my daughters, and the simple presence of the General was a protection we should miss. Nearly all of my old boarders owed me money, and I thought this fact alone would bring them back, but it did not. One had married and gone to housekeeping. Others found my rates too high, they were obliged to economize after their summer’s trip, et cetera; they had all a sufficient excuse for leaving, but that did not help the situation, as far as I was concerned.
On the first of November I closed the house. My money was gone. I could not collect what was owing me, but I was not a dollar in debt; and I was determined to keep clear of that terror. Many tried to persuade me to hold on, but on the threshold of hope I had already lost many days; and I knew in my soul, that this phase of my life was over. What was to come next, I knew not, but this at least was over. I had learned the lessons it had to teach me, and though my future was unknown and uncertain, I had seen that in life, we have constantly to take some leap in the dark.
I gave myself a few days rest with my children, and waited. I was glad that this serving of tables, and mingling with people to whom I was quite indifferent was over. Both duties had been disagreeable, and it was only my left hand I had given to the work. I had taken no pride or pleasure in it, even when it was apparently very successful, and I felt no special regret when compelled to give it up. Yet in the sum of character it had been of great gain to me. I learned two lessons under its discipline that have made all my life since easier than it would have been. To what school was I to go next?
There seemed to be so few outlets to our life that I was troubled by the way any movement appeared to be hedged in. We could return to Austin, which Mary thought the best thing to do. “People mostly live on the government in Austin,” she said, “and so they have ready money.” Lilly opposed the return to Austin very warmly. “I think it will be foolish to go back to Austin,” she answered. “Without dear Papa, we shall find everything very different. Let us go to a new place, where we are not tied and hampered by the past. Even San Antonio would be better than Austin.”
I remember this discussion so well. It was on a dark, cold November morning. There was a blazing fire of cedar logs on the hearth, but the wind roared down the wide chimney, and the rain smote the window panes in passionate gusts. Mary was braiding a flannel sacque, Lilly was sitting beside Alice, who was lying on the sofa sick with a cold, and I was walking slowly about the room, inwardly trembling at the sound of doors opening into the future. I was glad of the storm. Often I had felt the crushing sense of bright sunshine when in trouble; the wind and the rain and the gloom were in sympathy with my mood; sunshine would have given me a sense of mockery, or at least of indifference. Suddenly Lilly said, “Mamma! What about Memphis? Papa had good friends there. Mr. Fackler——”
I heard no more. A voice clear and imperative said, “GO TO NEW YORK!” The command was peremptory, and from some deeper region there came with it, an indisputable convincingness. Of some things I might be uncertain, but not of this. Without a moment’s hesitation I obeyed the command given me. I turned with a cheerful smile, and an alert manner to my children, and said, “My dears, we will go to New York.”
“O Mamma, how glad I am!” cried Lilly. “We shall be half-way to England, when we are in New York.”
Then I told them of the order I had just received, and as I spoke I felt my heart burn, and my face flush, and my voice set itself to its old strong, happy tone, and the girls caught its cheerful influence, and we were soon discussing what was to be done, with the greatest interest and pleasure. For I knew the voice that had spoken—it was one, that had never yet deceived me.
I had nothing except my furniture, and old furniture sold for very little, but I knew God would not send me a journey, without providing the means; so I began there and then to prepare for it. I sold my piano to a friend at private sale, and I got a lawyer, who was in my debt, to collect what money was still due me from old boarders. He was quite successful and I hoped the proceeds of the auction added to these would raise my fund to five hundred dollars.
“God and five hundred dollars will be sufficient,” I said to my children; and they smiled and nodded, and were as confident and hopeful as myself.
On the night of the sixth of November, while I was talking to the auctioneer about the sale, a letter was given me. I saw the postmark was Austin, and I laid it carelessly down on the chimney piece, and went on with the conversation. After the auctioneer had gone, we had a cup of tea and some oysters, and I forgot all about the letter, until I was closing the house for the night. Then I lifted it carelessly, and took it upstairs with me. Lilly noticed it in my hand, and asked where it was from?
“Austin,” I answered.
“Read it, Mamma.”
As I opened it, a slip of paper fluttered to the floor. It was a check from the auctioneer, with whom I had left the furniture of my Austin home for sale. When I reached Galveston, I told Robert the agreement made with them, left the affairs in his hands, and had ever since forgotten all about it. Indeed if I had remembered it, I would have been sure Robert had collected the proceeds long ago. But here was a check made out to myself, for one hundred and eighty dollars, being the last payment due on the goods they had sold. They sent it with sympathetic words, and nothing that ever came to me had so much the air of a “godsend.”
We were so happy and excited, that we sat talking until nearly three o’clock, and it was at this time, Lilly made a proposition, which at first appeared foolish and distressing. “Mamma,” she said, “now that you have got some more money, let me go to Glasgow. I will try to make a friend of grandmother, and perhaps for Papa’s sake she will send me to school for two years. By that time you would be settled in some way.”
At first I would not listen to such a thing, but gradually the girls persuaded me, that I ought to give up Lilly for Lilly’s own sake. And I comforted myself with the thought of her natural bravery and self-sufficiency. Every one liked her, and surely her own kindred would be won by her kind heart, and sunny cheerful disposition. I finally acceded to the plan, and then all conversation afterward made the Glasgow arrangement more firm and certain. But that morning I fell asleep with a fresh, keen pain in my heart; for Lilly, ever since her father’s death, had been my great reliance in many ways.
On the ninth we were preparing for the sale, which was to take place in the house, and on the tenth we ate breakfast and had prayers together and then went to the Palmetto House to stay until the Ariadne sailed for New York, which was expected to be on the twelfth; but owing to contrary winds, she did not get over the bar until the following day. During these three days at the hotel, we made our last arrangements and received unlimited kindness both from friends I knew well, and also from many others who had no reason for their attentions, excepting their loving remembrance of my husband.
Among the many who called on us for the latter reason, was a large dry goods merchant called Willis, and he gave me a letter of introduction to a gentleman in New York, who he thought might be able to help me to find suitable employment. I speak of this letter, because it influenced my life for nearly two years. As we could not get away on the twelfth, I took Alice and went once more to those four graves I should never see again. We covered them with flowers and sweet shrubs, and the child wept passionately. I had no tears left. I was almost stupefied with grief and anxiety. Four tines in seventeen years, I had broken up my home, and gone to a place I knew not of, to make another; but this removal was the hardest of all. Yet I am ungrateful to say so. From friends known and unknown I received help and comfort. Difficulties vanished as soon as I met them. Whatever was necessary came to me. My way was cleared before me in the most remarkable manner. Even Mr. Lidstone, the auctioneer, refused to take any payment for selling the furniture, and I was so pleased and grateful at this mark of kindness from a stranger, that I have kept his name green in my memory ever since. It is true that at this time the hearts of all were open to those who had suffered in the great calamity, but more than a year had passed since Robert died, and he was yet unforgotten, for much of the sympathy and attention we received was for his sake.
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