“What is our Life? A strange mixture of good and evil; of ill-assorted fates and pathetic acquiescences; and of the overpowering certainty of daily needs, against the world of thoughts, and Shadows.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“The object of Life is to gain wisdom through experience, even one life forces us to this conclusion.”
In this year, 1883, I went to England alone, staying most of the time with Mr. Sam Wilson, who had been my friend and playmate when I was six years old. He was then a very tall fine-looking man of fifty-two years of age, with a beautiful and clever wife, and a son studying medicine in Edinburgh University. His handsome residence, with its wealth of flowers, was in the suburbs of Bradford, Yorkshire, and I remained there for many happy weeks; paying a short visit to London in the interval, and loitering some time around Glasgow, from which port I sailed to New York.
But I had a heartache all the time I was away about Mary, who I feared was going to marry, and I did not wish her to do so. I could not find one objection to the young man she intended to espouse. They had been friends for three years, and were truly attached to each other. He was a clever writer, especially for boys, and the first editor of Harper’s Young People. He was fine-looking, gentlemanly, and quite sufficiently good-hearted for the world he was living in, fond of outdoor sports of all kinds, both on land and water, and a traveler who loved ways unknown and adventurous. I believe he was the first white man who penetrated the recesses of the Everglades. Incidentally it may be noticed, that he was a great friend of the Seminole Indians, who lived in the Everglades, and that to this day, he is regarded by them as their true comrade.
So what chance had I against a lover of such manifold attractions? I knew I must lose, and I thought I could bear it better at a distance. In the middle of the Atlantic one night, I dreamed that Robert came to me and said, “This morning, Mary was married to Kirk Munroe.” He said other things, but they were entirely personal, and may not be repeated; but when I awoke I was consoled and reconciled. And it has always been my way to accept the inevitable as cheerfully as possible, so I told myself “I will now forget.” If Mary was happier with a stranger, than with the mother who had cherished and loved her, and worked for her for thirty-three years, well I must be content to shave my own pleasure to increase hers. Had I not done it all the years of her life? It was no new sacrifice. But I said all such things with a swelling heart, and eyes full of unshed tears. Yet the marriage has been a singularly happy and sympathetic one, and though her home is in southern Florida, she comes every year to spend a month with me. And I am now content in her happiness.
With the main events of my business life, Mary’s marriage made no difference. I wrote constantly, and spent my days mostly in the Astor Library and Lilly or I attended to the office work, as was most convenient. The year 1884 found me writing a story called “Sandiland’s Siller” which I finished on the sixteenth of January, noting in my diary, that I was tired, having composed the last six pages, and copied the last thirty-five pages that day. On the following day I took “Sandiland’s” to Dr. Stevenson of the Illustrated Christian Weekly. I mailed a poem called “He That Is Washed” to Mr. Mabie of the Christian Union, “Three Wishes” to The Advance, two little verses to Puck, and wrote “The Household Thrush” for Mr. Bonner. The first three poems had been written at intervals, while I was working on “Sandiland’s Siller;” “The Household Thrush,” only, was written on the seventeenth. About this latter poem the following incident occurred. It contained five verses, the length Mr. Bonner preferred, and the first three verses referred to the thrush. Mr. Bonner read it, and then turning to Lilly said,
“Too much bird, before you come to the girl.”
“Take some of the bird away, Mr. Bonner,” answered Lilly; and he smiled, cut out one verse, and handed her ten dollars. There were things about Mr. Bonner writers did not like, but all appreciated his clever criticisms, and his prompt payment. When Lilly came home and laughingly told me this story I was much amused. We had a merry little lunch together, and then I made three pencil drawings to illustrate an article called “The Fishers of Fife” which I intended to begin the following day.
The list of work done by me from this time to the twenty-sixth of May is hardly credible. On that day I fell from the library steps while sitting on them reading, and hurt my foot and my neck very much. The next day I had a high fever, and was suffering severely from nervous shock. For nine days I was unable to do anything, and by that time the swollen condition of my throat was alarming, and I sent for Dr. Fleuhrer, a very clever surgeon. For fourteen more days I was under his care, then I began to improve, so that on
June 24th. I began an article on the Scotch Highlands for Mr. Mabie.
June 25th. I was writing on the same. Still in bed but mending slowly.
June 26th. Finished and copied the Highland article.
June 27th. I began “Jan Vedder’s Wife,” and on this day also received fifty-five pounds from London for work done for The Leisure Hour and the Sunday Magazine. Lilly was down at Bonner’s when the checks came, but as soon as I showed them to her, she said,
“Mamma, we have now plenty of money to furnish comfortably. Don’t you want your own home, Mamma?”
“O Lilly!” I cried, “there is nothing on earth I want so much. Dear, dear child, go and look for what will suit us. Go tomorrow! Go this afternoon!”
So that afternoon Lilly went home hunting, and I wrote happily on “Jan Vedder’s Wife” and Alice sat sewing beside me, touching my hand every now and then and smiling. On the twenty-eighth the flat suitable was found, and on the thirtieth I managed to get into a cab and go home. All was in confusion, but such happy confusion, that we did not think of sleeping until midnight.
In a week the new home was in perfect order, and I was able to be on the sofa, and to write “Jan Vedder’s Wife” more swiftly and comfortably. So sweet was home! So good was home, that I now felt all things possible, and really I had not been as happy, since Robert and I went into the wood cottage with its domestic ceilings, in Austin, and turned it into the prettiest and happiest of dwellings. Lilly and Alice furnished the rooms as they desired, and I was quite pleased and full of content.
And it was a great joy when the eleventh of July came round to find that my wedding anniversary was not now to be forgotten. In hotels it had seemed out of place to keep it. I do not know why, but it had always slipped past with a kiss and a word or two. But on this happy day, Lilly set a fine dinner, and Mary sent a wedding cake; we had a bottle of sparkling Moselle, and drank silently but lovingly to the memory of those of our household dwelling in the City Celestial; and our tears of love and hope made the wine sacramental—a pledge and token of our remembrance and our thanksgiving.
There does not seem much to write about in the life of a woman lame and sick, and confined to a flat in an upper Park Avenue. But our existence is always a story, for the fruit of life is experience, not happiness. And every experience that helps us in our ultimate aim of becoming a Spiritual Being, though it be as trite as suffering, is worthy of being considered. Chesterton calls Christ’s counsel to “take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” an amazing command. To the majority it is an amazing command, but writers who love their work understand it. I was busy on “Jan Vedder’s Wife,” and so interested in the story that I forgot I was sick, and the processes of convalescence went right on without my regarding them. When the story was finished I read it to Lilly. It was then complete in four chapters, and she listened to them with critical interest, and when I laid down the manuscript said,
“It is too good for a short story, Mamma; make it into a novel. You have sufficient material and characters, and if the latter are more fully drawn out, the material will be better.”
“But,” I asked, “can we afford it? I shall get one hundred and fifty for it from the Christian Union just as it is, and we need the money.”
“No, we do not,” she replied, “and if we did, I would still say, write it over, Mamma. It is a shame not to write it fully, just because we might want five dollars;” and she pushed my paper and pencils towards me with an encouraging smile. Then I began it all over, and added nearly two hundred pages. When all were corrected and copied I sent it by Lilly to Mr. Bonner. For once this reticent man broke his usual custom, and commented on the work in “the straight-flung words and few,” which reflected him.
“It is a good story, a fine story,” he said. “Take it to Dodd, Mead and Company. It will suit them. It is too good for the Ledger.”
And when Lilly came home, and told me what Mr. Bonner had said, there flashed across my mind a dream I had had a week previously, in which Robert had given me the same advice. Christ said, that if one rose from the dead to inform, or direct us, we would not believe their message, and evidently I had not believed the dead, until they spoke through a mortal whose business capacities I trusted. I have often reproached myself on this score, but—Oh, there is no “but.” I have no excuse for my want of faith.
Miss Mary Barr (Mrs. Kirk Munroe)
I had finished the novel of “Jan Vedder’s Wife” on the sixteenth of September, 1884, the seventeenth anniversary of Robert’s death, and on October, the twelfth, I gave up the regular use of crutches, though my foot was extremely weak and painful, and I had nearly constant headaches. But on this date, I began a story called “Janet McFarlane,” which I finished on the twenty-first and sent to the Advance. On the twenty-sixth I began a story called “Paul and Christina,” which was published in the Christian Union and afterwards enlarged to book size and published by Dodd, Mead and Company. On the twenty-eighth, I note that “Mary and Kirk Munroe took tea with us,” so I had by that time conquered my dislike to her marriage; for I do not ask people to eat with me, if I have any ill will toward them. Those who do not understand me, will perhaps live to do so, for
“... soon or late the fact grows plain,
To all through sorrow’s test,
The only folks who give us pain,
Are those we love the best.”
On the first of November I was at the Astor Library again, but did not dare to go upstairs to my alcove. On the second of November I was finishing “Paul and Christina” began on the twenty-sixth of October. On the second, third and fourth of November I was at the library, and on the fifth so ill, I had to summon Dr. Fleuhrer’s help again. I was sick for a week then reviewed and corrected “Paul and Christina” and took it in the afternoon to the Christian Union. On the same day the Sisters from a Religious Order, living near us, began to teach Alice. I say “Sisters” because they were not allowed to go anywhere alone, so one came to teach, and the other came, for what purpose I know not. On the nineteenth I wrote “Going to Church Together,” a poem for Bonner, and a New Year’s article for the Illustrated Christian Weekly; Kirk came to tea. Mary was in Boston with his father and mother. The following day I was at the library and wrote “Lacordaire Dying.” On the twenty-third I wrote “Mary,” a Christmas poem, and Kirk came to tea; we had a pleasant evening, and I wrote in my diary, “He is a nice fellow, after all.” On the twenty-fifth I arranged with the Christian Union for the first study of “Paul and Christina.” They gave me one hundred and twenty dollars, and on the twenty-seventh of November, A.D. 1884, I received a letter from Dodd, Mead and Company accepting “Jan Vedder’s Wife.” It happened to be Thanksgiving Day, and this letter made it a memorable one, for it altered the whole course of my life. I had this letter framed, and it hangs now before me in my study as I write. Time has faded the four lines it contained, but they are graven on memory’s tablet, and the yellow paper and nearly colorless ink cannot hide from me the words of Promise it contained. On the twenty-eighth I saw Mr. Frank Dodd, and arranged with him for the publication of “Jan Vedder’s Wife.” He gave me three hundred dollars for the book, promising to add to this sum if it sold well, and I may mention here, that he subsequently sent me five hundred dollars more. He sent it of his own free will. I made neither claim nor request for it.
Lilly was very proud of this sale, because, as I have related, the book was written at her request. I had not been so far as fortunate with my publishers, as with my editors. Mr. B—— of Appleton’s, with whom I transacted the business relating to my volume on the “Children of Shakespeare’s Dramas,” was an unhappy, unpleasant man to deal with; but he is dead, and I think the Scotch reluctance to speak ill of the dead is at least a wise observance. The publisher of “Cluny MacPherson,” and a volume of “Scottish Tales” was hard and dry as a brush. He had some selfish ideas about the society he represented, but he had no feelings. He had ceased to live with his heart. Mr. Jack Howard was just unfortunate. He was the publisher of the Christian Union and my book, “Romances and Realities,” came out just before the house failed, so that I never received a dollar for it. But that was not Mr. Howard’s fault. He was always courteous and generous about any work I did for him.
Lilly was very proud and happy because, as I have related, the book was written by her advice. “And what do you think of Mr. Dodd, Mamma?” she asked, as we eat drinking tea together. “Is he pleasant? Will you like to write for him?”
“Yes,” I answered. “He is pliant, yet resistant. I dare say he keeps his heart within his head, and so makes an even balance between business keenness and moral emotions.”
“I do not see that, Mamma.”
“It is plain enough, Lilly. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions. So is the heart. We may often trust the latter most safely. I do. Mr. Dodd would consult both.”
“Is he a religious man?”
“How can I tell? I think so, but I am quite sure he is a straight, clean-living man.”
“Is he nice looking?”
“Quite as nice as there is any necessity to be. The spirit of his face is attractive—that is enough.”
“Is he anything like A——?”
“Walking majestically, and radiating awe and temper. No, Lilly, not in the least.”
“Or like B——?”
“Self-conscious to the finger tips. No, not in the least.”
“Then like F——?”
“A Philistine, proud of his class, and cheerfully living in Ascalon. No, you are far wrong yet.”
“Then like Dr. D——?”
“When his conscience is taking its usual six days’ sleep. No, you have not guessed at any resemblance. Publishers are as distinct a type of manhood as schoolmasters. They are even different from press men and editors. The latter are often compelled by their duties to waste their moral strength in politics, and their intellect in party journalism. Publishers can mind their own business, and are in no way injured by doing so.”
Thus we talked, as we eat and drank, but without any ill-nature. With the kindly race of editors I had, and have, the strongest sympathies. All that I have known have been kind and helpful to me, and if at times they showed a trifle of the petty unreasonableness of men dressed in a little brief authority, it did not hurt me. I said to myself—how true and striking that phrase is—I said to myself, “It is not you that offends, Amelia. It is something at his home, or down in the office—an unpleasant breakfast, or a disagreeable letter.” So I bore no rancor, and at the next interview all was right. God was very kind and thoughtful for me, when he set me my work among such a kindly, clever, gentlemanly class of workers as editors.
And I confess that I like people with tidal fluctuations of mood and temper. They are full of surprises; you always feel an interest in them. You think about them, and talk of them, and feel that they are as human as yourself. They are far more pleasant than men always cold, businesslike, reticent, polite. These latter are the men you desire to see in bronze, or marble, or even in encyclopedias, rather than in editorial chairs. Even if they are religiously perfect, they are unpleasant in a newspaper sanctum. For it is a trial to our faith in creeds, to find that in business matters, the justified are as selfish and unlovely as the reprobate. So though it is quite correct, that two and two make four, I have a liking for the man with whom the sum of two and two is variable. It is often five and six with me, and it may be ten or twenty, but when it is so, I trust humanity and love God best of all.
If I now copy the closing entry in my diary for the year 1884, it most truly describes my condition at that time.
Dec. 31st. A day of great suffering. I am still very far from well. I have been seven months ill. How my heart would have quailed at the prospect but God has been sufficient. My throat is very bad, my foot, also, and I am generally weary and worn out—and very feeble. Only, thank God, my mind never fails, nor my heart—often. I know in Whom I have trusted for fifty-three years, and I can trust Him for all the rest. I have been copying the “Preacher’s Daughter,” but twenty-four pages wearied me. Mary is in Florida. All the rest as usual. God of my Fathers, accept my gratitude for all Thy great mercies to me.
Amelia E. Barr.
1507 Park Avenue, N.Y.
I open 1885 with the following lines:
Commit Thy ways unto the Lord.
Thy Bread shall be given, and thy water sure.
Let thy widows trust in me.
The first and the last of these directions, were given to me in answer to prayer; the center one was my father’s promise to me, when I bid him farewell forever in this life. I notice, nevertheless, that I am anxious about money matters, that I have six hundred dollars owing me, and cannot collect a dollar, and that I fear the Ledger is not in good circumstances; nothing has been said, I write, and all appears the same, but I feel a change of some kind. I was copying the “Preacher’s Daughter,” but was weak, and it was hard work.
On the fifth of January I note that Dodd, Mead and Company paid me three hundred dollars for “Jan Vedder’s Wife,” and that I had a letter from London promising me money for my work soon, and that I also received a small check from The Advance. So once more I found out how good it is to commit my way unto the Lord, and that He brings things to pass, I cannot move. On the eleventh I see that Lilly was out all day among the shanties with Father B——, a Catholic priest “in the world,” a man of great mercy and piety, with an intellect keen and well cultivated. There were many shanties on the rocks in our vicinity, and Lilly’s missionary spirit had led her to make friends in all of them. She found them Roman Catholics in theory, but altogether negligent in practice. So she took Father B—— to stir up their faith, which he did with an authority they feared and obeyed.
I was ill and nervous at the time, and it did not please me. I asked her what her Grandmother Barr would say, and I assured her she would never leave her a shilling.
“I don’t care either for her shillings or her pounds,” Lilly answered. “I don’t want them. If I have helped one soul back to its faith in God, or even to its faith in good angels to help it to God, that is better than all the gold in Scotland.”
“Angels!” I said. “Do you call Father B—— an angel? and what kind of a way will he lead them?”
“A good way. The way of prayer. And also he will see that they take it. Now that he has found these few sheep in the wilderness, they will have to go back to the fold. That will be good for them everyway.”
“Well, Lilly, I hope you will not take his way.”
“Mamma, dear, we are all going to God, and some like the Roman Catholic way. My own forefathers for eight hundred years did so. They could not all be wrong—abbotts and priors and priests and nuns, all of them. They could not all be wrong.”
“Well none of us can deny that while the Huddlestons were of the old profession, they were famous and prosperous. They turned Protestant when that little German body that couldn’t speak a word of English, came to govern us. The idea!”
“Are you going to turn Catholic after all?”
“I am going to be just what my Bible makes me.”
For I may as well state here that Lilly, though born in the very citadel of Calvinism, was a natural Catholic. She loved its ritual, and frequently went to confession. At one time it took all my pleading and influence, and all Dr. Tyng’s eloquence to keep her out of a convent, and I had a year or two of constant fear and watchfulness. This was the year we lived on Lexington Avenue opposite the Dominican Church. There was at that time a priest there called Father McKenna, a holy man entirely separate from the world, night and day either before the altar, or among the most miserable of the living and the dying; and I think he was her inspiration.
For long centuries Lilly’s ancestors had been priests in the old profession, and Furness Abbey is full of their memorial stones as Abbotts of that rich and powerful brotherhood. Catholicism was in her heart and her blood, and she was animated by all the passionate missionary spirit of the old faith. I had much suffering and long months of miserable anxiety on this subject, and doubtless Lilly was just as unhappy, but this is one of those domestic tragedies not for the public ear, and I do not know how I came to write so much about it.
I will, however, let it stand, for I would not be astonished if she yet went back to the Roman Church. Her soul has evidently belonged to it in all its incarnations, and I know that whenever she is in trouble or perplexity she goes to a Catholic priest for advice. One day I asked her, “Why?”
“Because,” she answered, “they never snub or ask me ‘whose daughter art thou.’ They know immediately that I am a Protestant, but they never turn me away. Kindly, and without prejudice they give me the best advice. It never comes out wrong.”
“But why not go to God for advice?”
“Mamma, there are things, like love letters, for instance. Would you go to God with them?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Love letters may be very important things. At any rate, your mother might be better than a priest.”
“Mamma, dear, you know that you have a fixed conviction that love affairs should only occur in books. Now Frank is not a ‘character,’ he is a real, living, very delightful man.”
Then I said no more, for Frank Morgan was then a very sore subject of conversation, and I really was not sure in my own mind what I had against the young man. His parents were wealthy, and he was their only son. He was the captain of his company, handsome, gentlemanly, and particularly respectful and attentive to myself. It was hard to think wrong of him, and yet I did; and it was no use my deciding not to do so, for I invariably went back to my first impressions. This feeling made me patient, and perhaps less watchful and inquisitive than I should have been.
But during the first half of 1885 I was very weak, and seldom out of pain, and on the eighteenth of January I went to see Dr. Fleuhrer, who made me very anxious. He said work and company were killing me, and I must go to the mountains and live more in solitude. When I went home I found Mrs. Van Duzen there, and after dinner Nat Urner and his wife came to spend the evening. The next morning I went to the Methodist Book Concern and wrote a preface for “The Hallam Succession,” a novel written at Dr. Vincent’s request on purely Methodist lines. I wanted to do my very best on this book; for I liked Dr. Vincent, and I liked to write of Methodism, but I did not please myself at all. I was really too sick to write well, and I ought not to have attempted it.
On the twenty-sixth Lilly was at Harper’s and found Miss Van Dyne removed from her place as editress of Young People, and Mr. Conant’s office empty. She said there was general silence and distress; no one would talk, and she came away full of a sense of great trouble. Two days afterwards I went to the Illustrated Christian Weekly, and was shocked to see on the bulletin boards of all the newspapers “S. S. Conant Still Missing.”
I did not stop to read what followed. I was sick at heart, trembling, and glad to get safely into an empty Third Avenue horse-car, and lean for support against its upper-end corner. All the way uptown I was like a woman in a dream, for I was indeed living over a dream I had had a few days previously. This dream had troubled me much at the time, and when I related it to Lilly she listened silently, and made no remark but the following:
“It was an evil dream, and I hope S. S. C. is not going to be ill.”
We seldom called Mr. Conant by his full name. When speaking of him we used his initials, as indeed he generally did himself. S. S. C. stood in every writer’s mind for S. S. Conant. Well, I had dreamed three nights previously of standing in Park Row and looking up to an angry cloud-tossed sky. On this sky I saw the initials S. S. C. blazoned in immense black letters, and, as I watched, great masses of vengeful storm clouds came swiftly toward them, and drove them with a wild passion over the firmament, and out of sight. The dream made a profound impression on me, and when Lilly told me S. S. C. was lost, I answered, “He will not be found.”
“O Mamma, do not say that,” she cried. “When he left the office, he said he was going to the Grand Central Railway Station. How can a man be lost between Harper’s building and the Grand Central—unless he killed himself.”
“He did not do that,” I answered, and then we were silent. Indeed, to me the great wonder of the mysterious disappearance was the dislike of any one to speak of it. The man passed away like a dream that is told.
But I was anxious and unhappy. For years Mr. Conant had bought a large part of my work, and I looked upon him as a sure reliance. Who would take his place? I knew not, but I felt there had been one door closed forever. Then, I bid myself remember, “that as one door shuts, another opens; and that all the keys of the country did not hang from the Harper’s belt.” Still the little poem I wrote for Bonner that night shows the loneliness and longing I had for the love and protection once mine, which I had taken as I had taken hitherto my wonderful health and strength, and the daily bread that had never failed me:
Year after year with glad content
In and out of our home he went,
In and out;
Ever for us the skies were clear,
His heart carried the care and fear,
The care and doubt.
Our hands held with a careless hold,
All that he won of honor and gold,
In toil and pain;
O dear hands, that our burdens bore!
Hands that shall toil for us no more,
Oh, it was hard to learn our loss,
Bearing daily the heavy cross,
The cross he bore;
To say with an aching heart and head,
Would to God that the Love now dead
Were here once more!
For when the Love we held too light,
Was gone away from our speech and sight,
No bitter tears,
No passionate words of fond regret,
No yearning grief could pay the debt,
Of thankless years.
Oh, now while the sweet Love lingers near,
Grudge not the tender words of cheer,
Leave none unsaid;
For the heart can have no sadder fate,
Than some day to awake—too late—
And find Love dead.
Mr. Conant’s disappearance precipitated events. I felt it so much that I could not but understand how far below my usual health I had fallen. I was sitting thinking of various places to which I might retire, and yet keep in touch with my business, when Mrs. Orr of Cornwall-on-Hudson called. When we were together on the Devonia she had often spoken of Cornwall, and the mountains and river which made it such a beautiful and healthful resort; and when I told her of my desire to come to the country, she offered me a house called Overlook, near their own. The next day Lilly went to see the place, found it roomy and comfortable, and standing on the top of a hill, and she rented it for the following six months. It seemed on the road to nowhere, but it would give me solitude and fine mountain air, and these things, with less work, were all that was required to restore my usual splendid health and spirits. Dr. Fleuhrer stipulated with me to stay six months in Cornwall, and I intended to do so; but I did not intend to stay the twenty-seven years which I have done.
The clear, pure air and the quiet began its restorative work at once, and it was at this time I commenced a custom which I have observed ever since—that is, I went to my room at nine o’clock, no matter who, or how many were present, and I am sure I owe much of my good health and “staying power” to this custom. I do not sleep from nine to six, but I lie at rest in loose garments, and in the rebuilding darkness. Most of my mental work is prepared in this seclusion, my plots are laid, my characters conceived, and my background and motif determined.
We removed to Cornwall on the second of March, 1885, and on the twenty-sixth I received my first copy of “Jan Vedder’s Wife.” It had been on the market more than a week, but in my seclusion I had not heard of it. It was Dr. Lyman Abbott who gave me the first news that the book had brought me instant favor and recognition. Lilly was on the train going to the Ledger office one Friday, which was the only day Mr. Bonner received contributions, and Dr. Abbott came to her and said, “Tell your mother ‘Jan Vedder’ has made her famous. Everyone is reading it, and everyone is praising it.” Then Lilly had to pass Dodd, Mead and Company’s store, then on Broadway and Ninth Street, and she saw their windows full of large placards bearing the words “Jan Vedder’s Wife” in large letters; at the Ledger’s office she met Mr. Munkitterick, who gave her one of his delightful exaggerations about the beauty of the tale, and its great success. I often wonder where Munkitterick has gone to. No one could write such poems as he could. Mr. Bonner bought all he could get, and they were the gems of the Ledger. So clever, so witty, so good-hearted, what has become of such a rare man? I hope that he has all his desires, wherever he may be.
The record of March is a very happy one in regard to my work, and on the twenty-ninth, my fifty-fourth birthday, I wrote, “All is white and deep with snow, but I feel so much better. I thank God for the mercies of the past year. Over and over He has saved my life, and He has abundantly supplied my wants. My dear God, go forward with me, for I cannot direct my own steps, but with Thee, I am always safe and happy.”
During April I was steadily and rapidly improving, and very content and peaceful, so much so, that eight lines chronicles this month, and these lines refer mainly to the letters from Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Habberton, who was then on the staff of the New York Herald, both of them in praise of “Jan.” I said once, happiness is not written down. That is the truth. It is the unhappy, anxious months whose records cover pages; this happy April needed only eight lines.
Much the same conditions with regard to my work continued, and in health and strength I gained steadily. On the sixteenth of May I had a letter from Mr. Libbey, which I prized very highly. He told me that he had watched with great pleasure my steady progress, that he had never lost sight of my brave struggle, and was glad that he had been given the opportunity of helping me when I needed help. If Queen Victoria had written me the words of praise he did, I should not have been half so proud and pleased. I had to put aside my work that day; I was too happy to sit still and write. Mr. Libbey was my first friend in New York. He took me at my own word, and I thank God I had been able to more than make it good. I was purely and sincerely delighted. All the world seemed beautiful that day, and I went to my room and, kneeling down, not only thanked God, but told Robert all about the joy in my heart. I thought God would permit him to share it, and I believe He did.
Some time ago I had sent the novel called “The Last of the McAllisters,” which Mr. Henry Holt had praised but refused, to a London magazine, and in June they published it. I ought, of course, to have secured its sale in the United States, but I was yet ignorant of my right to sell both in England and America, and when Harper Brothers pirated it, and sent me what they called an honorarium of fifty dollars I thought it was very kind of them. I had no suspicion that I had been politely robbed, though I did notice a singular expression cross Mr. Mead’s face when I told him of the circumstance. Subsequently Dodd, Mead and Company paid me one hundred dollars to make over to them the American rights in the book.
During all this time I kept up my regular contributions to the papers for which I had so long written, for my books did not bring me enough to warrant my giving up my time to novel writing. At the same time I was writing another, and a better, story for the Methodist Book Concern, called “The Lost Silver of Briffault,” which I finished on the nineteenth of July. I was able by this time to take in the manuscript myself, and after leaving it with Dr. Hunt, I went to the Astor Library and worked there, until the twenty-eighth, making notes and reading for the New York story I had been so long contemplating.
The first morning I went to the library I found my alcove, table and chair, had been taken possession of by a man who looked intelligent, but who was common and ill-mannered. He did not speak to me, or even look at me, when I entered with a boy carrying his arms full of books. If he had done either, I know I should have said, “Sit still, sir, you will not incommode me, and I hope I shall not annoy you.” But he just glared, and dropped his eyes, and so, with a slight apology for displacing some paper—my paper, which he was freely using—I sat down at the other end of the table, which was large, even for two writers.
I could have forgotten he was there, if he would have sat still, but he fidgeted and sighed, and showed such signs of annoyance, that I was not a bit sorry when Professor Valentine came in with a joyful “welcome back” to me; and then launched into his usual enthusiasm, concerning Central America and its buried cities. Mr. Saunders followed, and, with his courtly English civilities about my health and my work, easily passed ten minutes. Then a scholarly clergyman connected with the Churchman, had something to ask me, and he was quickly joined by Professor Norton—not my starry friend—but an old editor of one department in the Christian Union; and we three found something to talk about for nearly half an hour. Every now and then some press writer came to ask help from my index, and though I myself was vexed at the interruptions, I was mean enough to be consoled, because the man at the other end of my table was as much disturbed as a man could be.
The next day I was sorry, and I intended to make him welcome, but he had gone as far from me as he could get, and all I could do was to make an apology, which he received in an injured, sulky temper, that astonished me; for I have always found real scholars, the best and easiest tempered men in the world. Afterwards, I asked Mr. Saunders who the man was, and he told me he was a teacher, writing a mathematical text-book. Then I fully excused him. The work was accountable for the temper. For though mathematics may teach a man how to build a bridge, it is what the Scotch Universities call the humanities, that teach him to be civil and sweet-tempered.
In August I wrote to Holland for some directions about the Dutch forms of speech, for one of the Astor librarians who spoke the Dutch language, told me always to remember that the Dutch of the period I wish to write of, thought in Dutch, even if they spoke in English. Thus, he instanced, an Englishman would say, “Spring will soon be here,” but a Dutchman would say, “We come near to the Spring.” So then a knowledge of Dutch forms was necessary, and he told me what books to write for. When I had sent off this letter, I considered that my preparations for writing “The Bow of Orange Ribbon” were complete.
They had extended over nearly two years. An historical novel was a new venture, and as I had leisure I had been making myself familiar with the history of the time, and the ways of colonial dressing and housekeeping. Indeed, I had perhaps an exaggerated idea of the necessity of a truthful background, and I have never got over that impression. I am sure that I may fairly claim, that my historical tales of New York are faithful pictures of whatever epoch I am using.
But, though I had done all I could do until the writing of the book should gradually reveal whatever was yet lacking, I did not begin it. I was waiting for the books from Amsterdam; and I commenced meanwhile, on the first of September, a tale of the fishers of Fife, for that particular humanity and locality was perfectly familiar to me. But by my visit to the library I had brought on a return of the trouble in my foot, and I was writing in bed all September, often twelve hours a day, so that I had finished “A Daughter of Fife” on the third of October. Then I went over it, corrected all errors, and sent it to Dodd, Mead on the ninth. I will insert here an amusing letter from one of Fife’s daughters—one of a great many; for the story was a favorite, especially among the Scotch.
Mrs. Amelia Barr:
I have just read “A Daughter of Fife” and I want to say to you, that however well you have portrayed the characteristics of the women of Fife, you have done remarkably well in representing some of the traits of a daughter of Fife; and that is myself. When I was the age of Maggie, I would have sent Aunt Janet back to her home, or thrashed her, or made my own exit in a great deal quicker time than Maggie did, I assure you.
The trust and confidence in the Lord is much the same. The independence is somewhat more pronounced in my case—quoting a phrase—people tell me, if I should fall in the river, I would float up stream. My mother read the book first, and noted the resemblance.
I just write this to tell you, how amusingly near to life, and near to home, your story is.
I am respectfully,
February 22, 1904.
I then employed myself in writing a short story for the Illustrated Christian Weekly called “Bread Upon the Waters,” and I also wrote a number of poems to keep the columns of the Ledger and other papers open to me. On the fifteenth of October I had a letter from Mr. Clark of the Christian World, London, asking me for another novel, and I immediately began “Between Two Loves,” which I finished on Thanksgiving Day, the twenty-sixth of November, and, after reviewing and correcting it, sent it to London, on the second of December. Then there was Christmas and New Year’s work to be done, and I did not really begin “The Bow of Orange Ribbon” until the twenty-eighth of December.
On the last day of this year I was working on “The Bow.” It had been a wonderful year full of great mercies and strange sorrows. During it “Jan Vedder’s Wife,” “The Hallam Succession,” and “The Lost Silver of Briffault” had been published; and “The Last of the McAllisters,” pirated. I had regained my health, and my foot only asked to be used with some mercy and discretion. Though I had lived very simply, I had been comfortable, and had had no care about money matters. As to what went on in my soul, I shall say nothing here. I ought to have been a happy woman, but I was unhappy in my domestic life. I was sure that Lilly was resolved to marry Captain Morgan. He came to see her constantly, and wrote to her once, frequently twice, a day. His influence pervaded the house, darkened my life, and made my success of no consequence.
Hitherto my desire or advice had been sufficient for Lilly, but now they were nothing against a sheet of paper. Only a sheet of paper, written over in a bold, much frescoed style, and there was nothing I could say that could stand against it. The sunlight had gone from my days, and life felt haggard and thin without Lilly’s sympathy. I did not blame her much. My position appeared to her unreasonable. I knew nothing wrong of Captain Morgan, and I had been shown a letter which proved him a favorite with his company.
“Why will you think wrong of Frank, Mamma?” she asked one day. “Nobody says wrong of him.”
“But I have an undeniable intuition that something is wrong,” I said.
“Intuition!” she cried. “That is not fair, Mamma. I am willing to listen to reason, but intuition, no.”
“Yet, Lilly,” I answered, “reason is only human perplexity. If we know, and are sure of a thing, we don’t reason about it. Intuition is far above reason. It is absolute knowledge. It comes from the spiritual region of our nature, and makes the mind knowing, and the object known, one. It never deceives.”
“Then I say, it ought to be more precise. It tells you to beware of Frank, it ought also to tell you why.”
“If there is a finger-post on the sea sands with the word ‘danger’ on it, is it necessary to say what kind of danger? If you value your life, you just give it a wide berth.”
Such conversations were frequent, but I knew well that they were useless. I only succeeded in delaying, what was sure to come. And Lilly never succeeded in changing in the least my opinion of her lover. Now,
“Who forged that other influence?
That heat of inward evidence,
By which I doubted against sense.”
The first part of 1886 I was busy on “The Bow of Orange Ribbon,” and various poems and articles for the Ledger, Advance, and Independent. On February, the second, I note that I added four verses to “The Beggars of the Sea,” a poem in the early part of the book. On the ninth I notice a great labor riot in London with the comment “the beginning—plenty more to follow.” I did not say this from intuition, but from a dream I had recently had. In this dream, I saw the flags of all nations strung across the firmament, and they were blown hither and thither in the midst of flame and thunders and lightnings, and great multitudes fighting below. And I thought the date was set, but not yet.
On the twenty-fifth of February, I had written two hundred pages of “The Bow.” On the first of March I had two hundred and thirty pages composed and had been copying all day. On the third I only wrote seven pages, having a blinding headache. On this day I got “The Last of the McAllisters” in Harper’s Handy Series, and I was rather pleased, not yet knowing how unfair and unjust was their possession of it. On March thirteenth I had finished two hundred and ninety-three pages of “The Bow.”
March 14th. I was writing all day; had a sore throat.
15th. Writing all day. Throat very bad.
16th. Ditto. Mrs. Orr to tea.
17th. Writing all day on “The Bow.”
18th. Ditto. Finished 325 pages.
19th. Very sick but wrote seventeen pages.
20th. Finished 343 pages. Still sick.
21st. Wrote all day.
22nd. Finished 373 pages.
23rd. Working on “The Bow” all day.
24th. Finished “The Bow of Orange Ribbon,” 404 pages.
29th. My fifty-fifth birthday. I was sick and tired and uncertain. I sat still all day, not realizing until the book was done, and out of my hands, how weary I was. But I was not unhappy. Lilly still ordered my home, and I caught her brave, happy look every time I asked it with my smile. And I thought over all the work I had done the past year, and stretched out my right hand to God, for He knew I had done it faithfully, and could say with McAndrews,
“I ha’ lived an’ I ha’ worked,
All thanks to Thee Most High,
An’ I ha’ done, what I ha’ done—judge
Thou, if ill or well—
Always Thy Grace preventin’ me.”
On the fourteenth of April, I went to Dodd, Mead’s about “The Bow.” They had many doubts and disparagements. Such a Dutchman as Joris was not natural, and was I sure that Lady Godon and her set spoke English as I had represented them? Now I had spent many weeks in studying the court English of the time, and had collected all my forms from Horace Walpole’s and Lord Chesterfield’s letters, et cetera, because it was in correspondence and familiar writing I expected to find the social forms most prevalent. I do not now remember the other criticisms, because I tried to forget them, feeling sure that the book, when published and reviewed, would justify me. I kept a stiff upper lip until I got home, then I broke down. I suppose if I had been a man, I should have said some bad words, being a woman I cried bitterly.
I had expected praise, and had received only doubts and hesitations, but it must be remembered, that it was an entirely new kind of novel, and that Irving’s caricatures of Dutchmen, had formed the popular idea of the early settlers of New Amsterdam. But among these settlers, there were many wealthy men, sons of old Leyden University, and many women who had grown to their rosy grace and refinement in exquisitely ordered homes, wherein the fear of God, and family affection was the law of their lives.
I did not go again about “The Bow” until the fourteenth of May, when Dodd, Mead offered me six hundred dollars for it, promising to pay me more if the book sold well. I have never received any more.
In the meantime I had begun, on the twenty-sixth of April, a novel called “The Squire of Sandalside,” and I finished it in July. Then I went to England very unexpectedly, being led to do so by the following incident:
A prominent editor and literary man of New York, sent me a letter asking me to call on him. I thought he wanted a novel, and I went to see him. His object was very different. He asked me to tell him how much money I had received from Mr. Clark of the Christian World for the English rights of my novels. I told him, of course, that Mr. Clark had paid me nothing. Then he explained the subject fully to me, and advised me to go to see Mr. Clark at once. Finally, he asked me to promise, that in speaking of the subject I would never, never name him as my informer. He was so particular about this, that I made the promise, and have faithfully kept it.
He said he had told me, because he pitied my ignorance, and I felt no gratitude to the man; for I distrusted him, and had a reason for doing so, that he was far from suspecting. I found myself worried, and even cross, when I got home, and Lilly said, “You ought to have gone to Mr. Dodd with this story, Mamma.” “No,” I answered, “it might annoy him without reason. He probably knows nothing about it.” Then we spoke of Dodd, Mead paying me five hundred dollars more on “Jan Vedder’s Wife,” because the book sold well; five hundred that I never claimed, or asked for.
Three days afterwards I went to England, but it was no pleasure trip. I had a heartache about the business, and I did not like to leave Lilly and Alice in such a lonely place without friends, or even acquaintances. But the sea air made me strong, and though the business was hateful to me, I got through it better than I expected.
Mr. Clark listened silently to my story, though I was quite aware of his sympathy. In reply he said, the money unfortunately was lost to me. He had paid others in good faith, supposing they were acting for me, but that in future he would deal directly with myself. He then and there made an arrangement with me for my next novel, which was called “Paul and Christina,” the study for which story had already appeared in the Christian Union.
He asked me to his house to stay over Sunday, and I went; for I had a curiosity to see how English publishers lived. And I was greatly impressed with his home, its surroundings and furnishings. It was a perfect example of the breadth, solidity, and the last-for-ever kind of chairs, tables, et cetera, which are found in the best English residences. There was a kind of sumptuousness about it, that was never vulgar, nothing in any room screamed, and the effect was very reposeful. I have tried to recall some examples, more particularly, but I can remember nothing but the dinner knives, which were of the finest Indian steel, wonderfully polished, and having exquisite onyx handles. That is a little thing to have remembered, but it typifies the whole.
Mr. Clark was a pleasant English gentleman, with just a trace of the schoolmaster in his manner. And he was one of the finest scholars in English literature I ever met. Indeed I think he was the finest. Under my father’s care I had become thoroughly acquainted with English authors of an early date, especially those of Cromwell’s and Anne’s time, and during the past fifteen years’ study in the Astor Library, I had read carefully those of later date; but I could not quote a line from any writer, that he did not instantly place, and likely give also the preceding and following lines. He was a good man, too, I am sure; one that feared God, and dealt fairly with his fellows.
I did not remain long in England. Something always drew me northward and, without staying in Edinburgh, I went to the pretty watering place of Burntisland. They are “cannie Scots” that live in Burntisland, and always have been. Even when besieged by Oliver Cromwell, they did not lose sight of their own interests for Prince Charles’ sake; for they offered to open their gates to Cromwell, if he would pave their streets, and improve their harbor. And Cromwell kept his part of the obligation so well, that the harbor, with some modern additions, is yet one of the best on the east of Scotland.
From there I went to Kirkcaldy, and once more walked up the High Street to look at the house in which Adam Smith wrote his “Wealth of Nations.” I don’t know why I did it. I never opened the “Wealth of Nations,” and I cared nothing about Adam Smith. In fact, I gave up looking at his house with impatience, and went to the old Tower of Balwearie, where Michael Scott, the famous wizard, lived. For I knew if I sat still long enough in its eerie shadows, I should find the wizard beside me.
But I suddenly wearied altogether of my solitary travel, and took the first train back to Edinburgh. The idea of home and Lilly and Alice haunted me. They ruled over me by attraction, as others often do by their antipathy; for the moral atmosphere, like the physical, becomes impregnated with certain feelings. And it so happened, that at my hotel I got the very same parlor that Robert and I had occupied on our wedding tour. What were all the royal palaces, and ancient castles, and wizard towers to me? There was a little wood cottage in Cornwall inexpressibly dearer. I resolved to turn homeward the next day.
From the windows of this parlor I had a fine view of the castle, and the old town lying around it. I had sat in my bridal finery with Robert on the same spot, at the same window thirty-six years ago, on just such a lovely summer night; and though I did not wish it, thoughts of the past came through memory, as the stars wore through the dark. A light like dreamland was over everything, and the fragrance of the summer roses in the gardens bordering Prince’s Street, filled the air. It was a melancholy fragrance, it made me sad, for I thought of the lovely flowers pulsing their souls away, and wondered where they went to. Was a fragrance so rich and rare wasted? If not, for whom were these scented airs, in the glimmering of the summer twilight? Men and women took little heed of them, surely then, they were for the angels all around us, since
“... Thousands at His bidding speed,
And post o’er land and ocean without rest.”
I sat dreaming until midnight, and then I knew that old doors in palace and castle would be opened, and forth would come the ghosts of ancient sorrows and splendors. So I slowly, very slowly, prepared myself to lie down and sleep, remembering as I did so, Alexander Smith’s almost forgotten description of Edinburgh, left unfinished because death took the pencil out of his fingers:
“Towered, templed Metropolitan,
Waited upon by hills,
River, and wide-spread ocean; tinged
By April’s light, or draped and fringed
As April’s vapor wills,
Thou hangest like a Cyclop’s dream,
High in the shifting weather gleam.”
Next morning I took the Caledonian Line as far as Kendal. There was a literary syndicate there, called the Northern Newspaper Syndicate; they bought a good deal of writing from me, and were at the time owing me a few pounds. I should not have called there on that account, but a reminiscent spell was over me, and I was glad of an excuse to indulge it. The money was as safe as if it was in my purse, for the syndicate was directed by Quakers, who certainly made close bargains, but who paid, without demur or delay, whatever they promised to pay. I went to the ancient hostelry called The King’s Arms. It has a long, strange history, and I have been frequently told there are some apartments in it, once occupied by King John, but closed up for centuries as unsafe. I had no desire to look into them. I wanted to see my mother’s house, also the preacher’s house and chapel, standing among its band of whispering poplar trees. After a good supper of tea, fresh cockles, and haver cake I felt in the proper Kendal humor. And if any of my readers ever go to Kendal, and will sup on fresh cockles and haver cake, they will remember me pleasantly as long as they live. The cockles will be fresh from Morcambe Bay, or Sandside, and if one has never eaten haver cake with the delicious butter that is plentiful there, he has a gastronomical luxury to become acquainted with. Haver cake is, however, so common in Kendal, that the hotels do not serve it, unless asked for; but it is worth asking for, and even paying for. It is made of oatmeal, as fine as the finest wheat flour, and the cake itself is thin as a wafer, and delightfully crisp. And really one does not know how good cheese is, until he has eaten it with Kendal haver cake. As time goes by, I shall no doubt have many letters of thanks for this information, and I shall be glad of them; for there are few things in life, that awaken such kindly memories as something good to eat.
The bedroom given me was the queerest, most old-fashioned place imaginable. I am sure it had been furnished about A.D. 1650. And the parlor I occupied had the same past look. All was so strange, and yet so familiar, and I could not help feeling, that in every old chair there was either a ghost, or a dream.
The next day was Sunday, and I was awakened by the grandest caroling of the church chimes. No other music between heaven and earth is so touching and elevating, as the pealing chimes from church towers. At intervals all day long, they reminded us that it was the Sabbath, until
“As evening shades descended,
Low, and loud, they sweetly blended;
Low at times, and loud at times,
Rang the beautiful old chimes.”
And as I sat listening to them, I could not help thinking how much, and how constantly, bells intermeddled with all the feelings and fortunes of humanity. In the dawn of time, they made a pleasant tinkling among the sons of Asher and Baal. The war horses of Sesostris jangled them on the first battlefields of the world; the priests of Israel wore them upon the hems of their most sacred vestments. They delivered oracles at Dodona, and shook a noisy challenge from the shields of Greek heroes. They have tolled out warnings on lonely coasts for the salvation of human life; they have given the signal for such awful massacres as St. Bartholomew and the Sicilian Vespers. They have rang in tyranny, and rang out tyrants; while on the wide ocean, they are given a new dignity, and are made the interpreters of the sun. No place has been so high and so holy, that there they have not been heard; yet the fool has shaken them on his bauble, and the infant on its rattle.
In America at the present day what a wonderful power has been the bell. Inside our homes, from street-cars and railways, from banks and offices, schools and factories, carts and counters, comes constantly the well-known sound of bell metal; and there is nothing inanimate that has so meddled with the joys and sorrows, and business of mankind. Indeed, to write the history of small bells would be to write the social history of nearly forty centuries. That was a labor to think of, so I reminded myself of Tennyson’s invocation to the bells to ring out old shapes of all evil, and ring in the Christ that is to be; and with this divine vision of the time when God “shall make his tabernacle with men, and wipe all tears from their eyes,” I fell happily asleep, and dreamed a strange dream. I thought I was in a beautiful garden, shady and sweet with many shelves of bee skeps, under some large plane trees, and as I looked I saw a woman knocking at the door of each skep, with the big key of the house door, and telling the bees that the master had just died. That was a ceremony always observed in the North of England, when the master died, but what made me dream of it that night? And what strange link was there between the room in which I slept, and the man who died? Had the master died in that room? on that bed? and was I in the old garden, when I heard the news of his death? I mean, was the dream a reminiscence—a reminiscence possible because the room, and the garden, and the master’s death had been in some anterior life, a part of my experience? I cannot tell. I only know I woke with a strange feeling of pity or grief for the dead master; and the humming of the bees in their hives, talking of the sad news was in my ears. Still if I ever should go to Kendal again, I would ask for that ancient bedroom, and bespeak another dream from the pillows that must be full of them. I am stating only a wandering thought, believing that many others must have had a like experience. For a few years ago, in a large hotel in Atlantic City, I had for seven nights the same dream upon the same pillow, but when I sent the pillow away, the dream went with it.
Early in October I was at work again, this time on a Roman Catholic story, called “The Beads of Tasmar.” There is a most romantic corner of Scotland on the shores of Ross, where the people have always been Catholics. It is Catholic Kintail. Fifty years ago if you landed at Bundalloch, where the great buttresses of Kintail come sheer down to the beach, you were among a people who have lived unchanged by all the revolts and revolutions of the world around them. Among these desolate hills you found the ancient Christian life in all its beauty and simplicity. To their thatched clachans they welcomed you with gentle, mannerly ways, very unlike the glower and greed of the lowlander; and handed you always a bowl of fresh milk, and an oaten cake. It appealed to me strongly as the background for an unusual Scotch tale, and I think “The Beads of Tasmar” is one of the prettiest romances I ever wrote. Dodd, Mead paid me five hundred dollars for it, and I enjoyed the work so much, that I felt well paid. Dodd, Mead were pleased with it, and it was printed and ready to put on the market when one of the members of the firm read it, and refused to give it to the public. He was perfectly conscientious in this decision, and as I had been paid for it, the loss was not mine. He really believed that its publication would injure the reputation, both of the firm, and myself.
So “The Beads of Tasmar” was laid aside, and I began the well beloved “Border Shepherdess,” a tale as opposite to “The Beads of Tasmar” as if it related to another planet. For the characters were all of them of the strictest sect of Cameronian Calvinists, the sea was not present, and the men and women were of the intense quality of Border Scots. It was, however, a great favorite, and with few exceptions I have had the most letters about it. The fall of the year after my return home was very still and happy. Two personal events that interested me broke the monotony—a lovely letter of congratulation from Mr. Stedman, with an invitation to a literary reception at his house, and a long letter from Martin F. Tupper. Just about the time I was married, every one was reading and praising Martin F. Tupper. I thought he was a wonderful writer. I learned whole pages of his philosophy and I am a perfect Philistine with regard to my idols. Mr. Tupper had been mutilated and slashed by later critics, till he was in as bad a case as the god Dagon, but to me he was just as wonderful as ever. I was so proud of his letter, full of praises and good wishes, that I wrote no more that day. Yet I could not help noticing the sad note of refrain, that comes with every joy, for I found myself saying frequently, as I walked about the room with his letter in my hand, “Oh, if my father had lived to see this letter, how happy he would have been! How happy I should be!”
“Never quite satisfied, Mamma,” said Lilly with a sigh; and I was ashamed, and read aloud to her Mr. Stedman’s letter, which had come with the same mail as Mr. Tupper’s, and then began to talk of the dress I must wear. I feared “nothing I had was quite good enough.”
“That is nonsense, Mamma,” answered Lilly, I thought a little coldly. “Literary people do not meet to show their dresses. It is supposed at least, they meet to exchange great ideas. Your silk gown was bought and made in London, and you have some lovely English lace, what can you want more?” And then she salved the slight tone of reproof, by adding, “I am sure you look beautiful in them.”
Lilly’s opinions always satisfied me, and I found she was right, at least in one point. I was quite sufficiently dressed, but somehow I did not find any exchange of great ideas. There was, however, a famous Japanese noble, and his two servants, most picturesquely dressed, made and handed around the tea. I never tasted tea before that night; I am never never apt to taste it again. Once afterwards, Mr. Matthieson, a neighbor, was in the Chinese tea fields, and he brought me home a present of a small chest of tea bought on the field where it was grown, and it came nearest to the tea I had at Mr. Stedman’s, the difference, I suppose, having been in the making of it. But no matter how full of great ideas the conversation at Mr. Stedman’s had been, I should have let all other memories slip away, and recollected only the ethereal delicacy, and far too fugitive aroma of that delicious tea. Surely such tea plants will grow for all of us in Paradise.
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