“There is a warm impression, an instinctive sagacity, by which we anticipate future events.”
. . . . . . . . . .
“Life is filled with issues.”
With renunciation life begins. For nineteen years I had been a receiver: I was now to learn the grace of surrender, and of giving up. I was to drink the cup of pain, and to go through the valley of humiliation. As far as my home and kindred were concerned, we had counted the price together, and accepted the inevitable toll of marriage, understanding well, that marriage, as well as death, makes barren our lives. This fact was soon illustrated by the attitude assumed by my old friends in Glasgow. I thought I should be treated even with additional éclat, and they had apparently cut me out of their lives. I met Mrs. Sage one morning, soon after my return from my wedding journey, and greeted her with glad excitement. She was polite, but restrained, and when I asked her to call on me, regretted she had no time. The girls were going off to school, and her son Alick was going to Australia as representative of the Western Bank of Scotland. She gave me this information with a great deal of pride, and just a tone of resentment, then said, “Good morning,” and virtually passed out of my life.
I was much troubled by her behavior for a week, then I went one morning to Campbell’s for some muslin, and there I saw Mrs. McIntosh. She was such a good-hearted, sweet-tempered soul, I never doubted her kindness; but she, also, was changed. Civil, of course, but she never once spoke of their Saturday evenings, or asked, “When are you coming to see us?” I told Robert of these meetings, and he smiled and said that the behavior of my friends was quite natural. I was no longer available for young parties. I was out of the race, as it were, and my presence among the youths and girls was restraining and unpleasant to them. “You will have to be contented with the married women, now, Milly, and I think the girls are glad of your absence.” That was all his comment, and he did not seem to think it a matter of any importance.
Now I had always held my own with the girls—with the married women it was different. I thought them cold and critical, and, unfortunately, I gave them plenty of opportunities for criticism. I was ignorant of many things that were only to be learned by years of social experience, unless one was to the manner born. My dress, though handsome and becoming, was not like unto theirs, and I was innocently, but constantly, offending some national feeling or tradition. Thus, when I went to Campbleton to pay a week’s visit to my sister-in-law, I wore at a special entertainment a satin gown of the Royal Stuart tartan. I thought I was paying Scotland a compliment, but I could hardly have done anything more offensive to every Campbell in Campbleton. They could not believe any one was so densely ignorant, as not to know that the Campbells hated the Stuarts. To the local dominie I was an ignoramus, because I was not familiar with the smallest fact regarding the Great Disruption, and the founding of the Free Kirk. He wondered where I had been born, “not to have heard of Chalmers and Guthrie and the Highland Host they led to a great spiritual victory.” Yet, honestly, never even in Dr. Farrar’s, where embryo clergy congregated, had I heard of the Scottish Disruption. And this ignorance was astounding to them, if it was real, and impertinence, if it was only pretended.
I dislike to make the acknowledgment, but even Mrs. Semple was changed. She was offended because she was not asked to be present at our wedding. I explained to her the circumstances making her visit impossible—the smallness of my father’s house, and the likelihood of sickness at any hour, and she appeared quite satisfied at the time; but, when Robert brought his sister and brother-in-law to Kendal, she thought she ought to have been included in his party. I think she ought, and I would have been glad of her presence. There was somehow a mistake, and the fault was said to be mine; and I saw that Robert would be annoyed if I made a question about it, so I accepted the wrong and the blame.
Three months after my marriage I should have been quite disheartened but for the kindness of two admirable women, who had the intelligence to divine the whole situation. They were Marion, the wife of Walter Blackie, and her sister, Isabel Brodie. John Blackie, the father of Walter Blackie, had been the guardian of my husband, and the publishers of my husband’s father’s books, consequently there was an old tie of friendship between the families. But, in spite of this, Marion Blackie warmly and openly stood my friend. She advised me in private, and defended me in public. Indeed, she told my critics that they and herself, also, must appear as peculiar to me as I did to them. “Of course,” she continued, “the Barr women don’t like her. She has not a feeling in common with them, and how can she defend herself against innuendoes? I only hope they will not sneer and shrug her husband’s love away.” Only these two women remain in my memory to sweeten the story of my three years’ residence in Glasgow, as a wife and mother.
These were the social conditions in which I found myself, and I did not long struggle against them. Those who should have been kind to me were irreconcilable enemies; and they were old leaders of public opinion, and understood thoroughly the people with whom they lived. I felt that my case was hopeless, because victory in it might bring defeat in a nearer and dearer relation; for Robert would have certainly stood by me, if my attitude demanded his support; but I was sure I could not prevent a sense of anger and injury, if his interference was called for. It was not worth while provoking such a danger; I resolved to retire and make myself happy in other ways. I had a very handsome home to care for, and in it there was a library of about two hundred of the latest books in fiction, poetry, and travel. I began to use my needle, and grew expert in embroidery. I ran down to Kendal now and then for a day, and Father paid me one visit, and Mother several. In two or three months I had forgotten society, and it held its regular sessions without remembering me.
But the time passed happily—long sweet days in which I thought as I sewed, or read, or sang, or sometimes took a walk up to the old cathedral, or even through the busy thoroughfares of Argyle and Buchanan Streets. In the evenings I read aloud to Robert, or he taught me how to sing the Scotch songs he loved. We had a copy of Hamilton’s large edition of them, and I began with the initial lyric of “Braw Braw Lads of Gala Water,” and then went straight through the book, which took us about a month. Then we began it over again, and I do not remember wearying, at least not of the older songs, for they were never written: they sprung from the heart and went direct to the heart.
Sometimes we walked quietly to Glover’s Theatre, especially if there was a play like “Rob Roy,” with the great Mackay in the title rôle. I shall never forget the night I saw this play. The theatre was decorated with Rob Roy tartan, and every woman wore conspicuously some ornament of Rob Roy ribbon—a large bow, long streamers from her fan, or a handsome satin scarf of the red and black checks, and I think there was not a man present without a Rob Roy rosette on the lapel of his coat. If there was, he must have been some benighted Englishman who had no acquaintance with Walter Scott and his famous robber hero. The human stir and enthusiasm was wonderful; the players moved and spoke as if they were enchanted, and they carried every soul in the theatre with them. It was good to feel, if only for a couple of hours, something of the intense emotion of which the soul is capable. No wonder the Scotch are so Scotch; they nurse their patriotism continually, feed it with song and story, music and dancing, and the drama, and they regard the Sabbath Day as peculiarly a Scottish institution. Surely all this was better than exchanging suspicious courtesies with critical acquaintances.
As the days lengthened and grew warmer, we went at the week ends to Bute, or Arran, or Stirling, and very often to Edinburgh; for, at the latter place, we always heard a fine sermon at the old Greyfriar’s Kirk. The first anniversary of our marriage we spent in Kendal and Windermere, and somehow, after that event, there was a shadow I could feel, but could not see or define. Things appeared to go on as usual, but a singular sense of uncertainty troubled them; and, though I have said, “things went on as usual,” they did not quite do so. There was one change—it was in Robert’s movements. A few months previously he had gone into partnership with a man in Huddersfield, who had large woolen mills, and he left his business in Glasgow for two days every two weeks to go to Huddersfield. At first he always returned buoyant, and apparently well contented. I supposed, therefore, the woolen mill was doing well; but, true to his Scotch instincts, natural and educated, he had never explained anything about the transaction to me. It was, of course, necessary to say why he took this regular journey to England, but, beyond that information, the subject was not named, and I do not know unto this day, what kind of woolen goods were made in the Huddersfield mills.
This reticence about their business, is, I think, a Scotch trait of the most pronounced kind. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say, that no Scotchman ever tells his wife the truth, and the whole truth, about his affairs. Robert in this respect only followed out his strongest inherited instincts, the example set before him on every hand, and the precepts inculcated by parents and guardians. When we were first married, I tried to win his confidence and share his hopes and plans, and I was kindly but decisively made to understand that I was going beyond my sphere. And, as I write, and remember the position occupied by English and Scotch wives of sixty years ago, my heart burns with indignation, and I wonder not at any means they now take to emancipate themselves. I knew women at this time who spent weeks and months in fears and anxieties, that could have been dispelled by one word plainly and honestly spoken. But, when a husband says only, “Yesterday I was rich, today I am poor; you must do as well as you can,” his silence about his position has been not only cruel, but humiliating. He might make just such a speech to an affectionate and faithful dog. This is a digression, but it will not be lost, if it makes one man reflect, or one woman resolve.
As for myself, I was not destitute of rebellious thoughts. Once Robert had brought his Huddersfield partner home with him to dinner, and I had carefully scrutinized the man, and his speech, and manner. After he had left, Robert, in a kind of incidental way, as if it was a matter of no consequence, asked me what I thought of Mr. P.
“Do you wish me to tell you the truth, Robert,” I answered, “or shall I only say pleasant words?”
“Tell the truth, Milly, by all means,” he replied, “though I suppose you are going to say unpleasant words.”
“I am, but they are true words, be sure of that, Robert. I think Mr. P. is a rascal, from his beard to his boots. Nature has set his eyes crooked; she has put her mark on the man, and said plainly, ‘Beware of him!’ His voice is false. I watched his feet, he turned them out too much, and he had trod his shoes down at the sides. ‘He could not tread his shoes straight,’ is a Yorkshire proverb for a rogue. I would not trust him with a penny piece, further than I could see him.”
“You saw all this, Milly, while he was here a short hour or two?” And Robert laughed and drew me to his side. So the subject dropped, but I could see that my suspicions had allied themselves to similar ones in his own mind.
One incident of this year I must not forget—the meeting with Mrs. Stowe and Mr. Beecher. I saw them first on the platform of the City Hall, where I had a seat with some friends on the invitation committee. I was not attracted by Mrs. Stowe, who was quiet, and apparently bored or tired; but Mr. Beecher won every heart. Afterwards, at a reception, I had a long talk with him about America. Once more I saw him, and the conversation was renewed, and finally Mr. Beecher said, “I think you will come to America. If you come to New York, hunt me up; I shall not be hard to find. You will want help in seeing New York, and I will do anything I can for you.” Seventeen years afterwards I reminded Mr. Beecher of this promise, and he cheerfully and helpfully redeemed it.
So the time went on, and I was happy, for the pleasure of “use and wont” of things tried and confidential was mine. I found myself constantly singing, for I was busy about a very diminutive wardrobe. I delighted in making some of the tiny articles with my own hands, sewing into them prayers and hopes and blessings for the child who was to wear them, and whose advent was expected about the New Year. In these days I thought a great deal about my own infancy. I recalled its first exquisite beginnings, its wonder and joy in the mere fact of living. I thought of the dream I had, when I was too young to find words to tell it, and blessed God I was not too young for Him to think of me.
Even the dark November days, with their thick yellow fogs, and muffled melancholy sounds, could not sadden me. Nor was I much depressed by that haunting fear, which all women—however often they are mothers—are subject to before the birth of a child. I might die; many mothers did. What then? I answered my heart fearlessly, “I shall have had a perfect life, a happy childhood, a true love, a blessed marriage. The finite over, the infinite will begin. I shall be satisfied.” And I am sure I could then have trod the common road into the great darkness, without fear and with much hope.
But one day in this November I awoke both fearful and sad. It was with difficulty I preserved the cheerful morning face, that I had been taught from early childhood was the first duty of every day and, as soon as Robert left for his office, and I knew I should be alone until evening, I lay down upon my bed and wept with an unreasonable passion. I knew not why I wept, but my soul knew. She heard what was coming from afar, and knew that I was now to leave the walled garden of my happiness, and to take my share in those great sorrows, which are needed to give life its true meaning.
I had noticed, when at breakfast, that Robert was unusually silent, and I had not felt able to rise above the atmosphere of gloom and worry; but in the afternoon it struck me, that perhaps I only was to blame, and I resolved to dress prettily and be ready to carry the evening through with songs and smiles. So I rose and put on a gown that Robert liked to see me wearing, a handsomer garment than I usually wore, but I told myself that if trouble should be coming, I would meet it dressed like one who meant to conquer. And I remember that all the time I was brushing out my hair, I was saying over and over a few lines that came ready to my lips, though I knew not when, or where, I had learned them:
“Empire o’er the land and main,
Heaven who gave, can take again;
But a mind that’s truly brave,
And defies the wind and wave.”
I had forgotten the last line, but my mind involuntarily supplied it. And at that moment I felt able to defy sorrow, and to shut the door against it. But alas! how poorly we love those whom we love most. Our love sinks below our earthly cares, and we bruise ourselves against the limitations of our own love, as well as against the limitations of others.
I was sitting very still, thinking these things out, and talking reproachfully to my soul—who has always been a talkative soul, fond of giving me from the little chest wherein she dwells, reproofs and admonitions more than I like—when I heard Robert put his latch-key in the lock, and enter the house. He was an hour before his time, and I wondered at the circumstance. Generally he came to me in the parlor first, and then went to dress for dinner, but this night he went straight to his room. I stood up and considered. Fear tormented me with cruel expectations, and I would not give place to that enemy, so I went quickly down the passage, singing as I went, and at the door asked cheerfully,
“Are you there, Robert?”
“Yes,” he answered; “come in, Milly.”
Then I entered smiling, and he looked at me with all his soul in his eyes, and, without speaking, covered his face with his hands.
“Robert!” I cried. “Dear Robert, are you sick?”
“No, no!” he answered. “Sit down here at my side, and I will tell you. Milly, I have lost nearly all I possess. The Huddersfield mills have failed.”
“Never mind them,” I said; “your business here is sufficient, and you can pay it more attention.”
“It has today been sequestered by the English creditors.”
“What is ‘sequestered’?” I asked. I had never heard the word before.
“It means that I cannot have any use of my business here, until the court decides, whether it can be made to pay the debts of the Huddersfield concern. O my dear, dear Milly, forgive me!”
“My love, you have done me no wrong.”
“I have. I have taken risks that I ought not to have taken. You thought you were marrying a rich man, Milly.”
“I married you, yourself, Robert. Rich or poor, you are dearer than all to me. I do not count money in the same breath with you.”
“You love me, dear?”
“Better tonight, than ever before.”
“I am sick with anxiety.”
“Let me share it. That is all I ask. And you must be brave, Robert. Things are never as bad as you think they are. You are only twenty-seven years old; you have health and friends. We can half the expenses. Let the English place go. You will get your business here back soon, will you not?”
“I hope so. I cannot tell. I must leave you, and go to England tomorrow and you ought not to be alone now.”
“Nothing will harm me. Go, and find out the worst, then you know what you have to fight. Dinner is ready. You need a good meal; you will feel better after it.”
“How can I? I fear that I am ruined.”
“Now, Robert,” I said, “that depends on yourself. No man was ever ruined from without; the final ruin comes from within, when you turn hopeless and lose courage. I have heard my father tell young men that, many times.”
I suppose that most American husbands and wives would have spent the evening in talking over this trouble, and considering what steps were wisest to take. Robert did not speak of it again. During the meal, when the girl was coming in and out with the various dishes, he talked of a big fire in the High Street, and the appearance of Harrison in “The Bohemian Girl,” saying he was sorry I could not hear him sing “I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls.” When dinner was over, he asked me to go on with the book I was reading to him. It was “The Newcomes,” and I lifted it, and he lay down on the sofa with his cigar. But I did not know what I was reading. The lights seemed dim, my voice sounded far away, there was a tumult in my senses that was prelusive of fainting.
“I am not well, Robert,” I murmured, “I must stop,” and I laid “The Newcomes” down, and have never touched a book of Thackeray’s since.
Robert rose immediately. “I must leave for England very early in the morning,” he said. “I will try and get some sleep first.”
The next morning he went away before daylight, and I had to bear the uncertainty and suspense as well as I could; and these journeys continued until the twentieth of December, when all court business stopped until after the twelfth day in January. I did not write home about this trouble. Father had been ill, and Mother was coming to me, on the second or third day of the New Year; and I hoped afresh every morning, that some good news would come to brighten the sad story. But all I heard was that professional accountants were going over the books of both the Glasgow and the Huddersfield business, and that it was tedious work, and required Robert’s presence constantly to explain transactions. This appeared sensible and necessary, and I made the best of the week ends, when Robert usually hurried home, traveling all night, so as to reach me early Saturday morning.
So Christmas came and went, the saddest Christmas I ever spent in all my life; but Christmas was not Christmas in Scotland, at that date. It had too strong a likeness to Episcopacy, yes, even to Popery, for the Calvinistic Scot; and savored of monkish festivals, and idolatrous symbols. I never saw a nativity pie in Glasgow, but those I made; and I really think they caused Robert a twinge of conscience to have them on the table. He certainly never tasted them. But the New Year was a modest kind of saturnalia, kept very much as the Calvinistic Dutch settlers of New York kept it in the days of the Dutch governors. It was a quiet day with us, and I could not help contrasting it with the previous New Year’s when we had our minister, and the Blackies and Brodies, and a few others to dinner, and all drank the New Year in, standing with full glasses. At the moment we did so, my conscience smote me. I was cold and trembled as the clock slowly struck twelve, for I had always been used to solemnly keep the Watch Night, and, if not on my knees in the chapel, I was certain to be praying in my own room. “The ill year comes in swimming,” says an old proverb, and I have proved its truth.
On the third day of the New Year, Robert’s mother called in the afternoon. Robert had gone to Stirling, and I was alone and much astonished to see her; but I said, as cheerfully as possible, “Good afternoon, Mother, and a Happy New Year to you.” Then, noticing that she was much agitated, I grew frightened about Robert, and said anxiously, “You look troubled, Mother; is anything wrong with Robert?”
“Is there anything right with the man now? I got this letter from him on New Year’s Day—a nice-like greeting it was to send me.”
I looked at her inquiringly, but did not speak, and she asked, “Do you know what is in it?”
“No; Robert did not tell me he had written to you at all.”
“Of course, he didn’t! Mother may be heartbroken with shame and sorrow, but you! You must not have your precious feelings hurt.”
“Robert,” I answered, “would not willingly hurt a hair of your head, Mother. I know that. If he has told you of more trouble, I wish to share it with you.”
“You shall,” she replied. “He writes me that he fears the creditors—sorrow take them!—are trying to attach the furniture of this house, and he asks me, if they do, to buy it for him, at their valuation. That is a modest request to make, on the first of the year!”
“Mother, no one can touch this furniture. It is mine. It was given to me before my marriage, made legally over to me in my antenuptial contract. The furniture, silver, napery, books, and every item in the house is especially and carefully named, as the property of Amelia Huddleston.”
“Where is the contract?”
“With John Forbes, the writer. Go and see it.”
“I am thinking that the English law makes all that was yours, on your marriage day, become Robert’s, and all that is Robert’s belongs to his creditors, until the creatures are satisfied. But I came on a kind errand, if you will take it so. I came to tell you that, though you have been the ruin of my son, I will not see you put on the street. I will buy the furniture and rent it to you.”
“I would not rent it from any one. It is mine. If I am robbed of it, I will not countenance the robbery, by renting it.”
“What will you do with yourself?”
“I shall come to no harm.”
“You can maybe find a boarding-house?”
“I shall not need one.”
“And there is your own home.”
“I shall not go there.”
“I think Robert might have told you of this sore strait.”
Then, in a sudden passion of anger, I cried out, “I think so, too. He treats me as if I was a doll or a dog. He tells me nothing. I have the cruelest part of every sorrow to bear—the part not sure. It is a shame! It is a great wrong! My heart is sick with anxiety that does no good. At the last, he has to tell. I cannot bear it!”
“All the women have it to bear.”
“Then shame to the men who lay on them such a useless burden.”
“We have a saying that women’s counsel is ill luck.”
“It is the want of it that is ill luck. I never saw that Huddersfield man but once, yet I told Robert to beware of him.”
“People say that you have been a gey, extravagant wife, Amelia.”
“People lie!” I answered hotly. “I have saved two hundred and eight pounds in eighteen months, out of the money given me for housekeeping expenses.”
“Then Robert has been extravagant, and given you too much money.”
“He gave me exactly what he gave you, for the same purpose. He told me so.”
“And you have saved two hundred and eight pounds! Well, well! Where is it?”
“In my bank.”
She looked at me not unkindly, and I said, “Mother! Mother! If you and Jessy would have only directed me, I would gladly have obeyed your desires. If you would have only stood by me, no one would have seen any faults in my way of dressing, and doing things. Amelia Barr is no different from Amelia Huddleston, and under that name every one loved and praised me.”
“Well, well, married women are little thought of—except by the one man—and not always much thought of by him.”
“Try to like me, Mother. I could so easily love you, and I will do all as you wish it,” and, as I spoke, I went to her side and lifted her hand.
“Please God,” she answered, “there is plenty of time to put wrong right. Will you give me a cup of tea now?”
“Forgive me, I forgot.”
“That is just it,” she answered. “You forget. You should have offered it to me, when I first came in.”
Then I did all I could to redeem the forgetting, and she said, “Take a cup yourself; it will do you good, and tomorrow send for John Forbes.”
“I do not trust John Forbes.”
“Neither do I,” she answered quickly, “it is little he knows of the English law about any matter. What will you do then?”
“Go to a Councillor, who never yet deceived me.”
“I understand, but I’m not sure if that is right, Amelia. Going to God about chairs and tables, and the like of such things is not at all respectful.”
“We are told to pray about our bread and clothing, because ‘God knows we have need of such things.’”
“Your own way, be it. Tell Robert I am willing to help—if needs be.”
“There will be no need, Mother.”
“You’re a queer woman.” She rose as she spoke, and said it would soon be dark, and she must hurry, for lots of drunken men and women would be on the streets seeing it was the New Year. Then I fastened her cloak and furs, and said,
“Kiss me, Mother.”
A look of the uttermost discomfiture and confusion came into her face. She hesitated, and fingered her bonnet strings, but finally bent her head slightly, and allowed me to kiss her. Then suddenly I recollected that the family kiss was a thing practically unknown in Scotch households, and that Robert had more than once told me that he never remembered his mother kissing him, in all his life. But the momentary disconcertion passed, and I believed I had won a step in the old lady’s favor, and I was glad of it, for she had some excellencies, and her faults were the faults of race, education, and life-long habit and experiences.
Within an hour after her departure, my own dear mother came to me, and two days later, my daughter Mary was born, “a bonnie wee lassie, world-like, and wise-like,” said the old nurse pleasantly. She kept her sixtieth birthday a week ago, and may God spare her to keep her eightieth as well, and as joyfully. After the birth of Mary, her father’s affairs began to settle, and it was not necessary for him to travel so constantly between Glasgow and Huddersfield. And the furniture question gave me neither trouble nor anxiety. I took it to the Highest Court, and the Best Councillor known to man, and I never heard of it again. Robert did not speak of it to me, and I asked him no questions. There are times in life when it is wisest to let sleeping dogs lie, and I thought this subject was one of such occasions. About May Robert received his certificate of just and lawful bankruptcy, and was free to reopen his warehouse and recommence his business.
But I could see it was hard and discouraging work. An American can hardly estimate how cruel an English bankruptcy is. On its business side, I could only form opinions from Robert’s depression and remarks; but I could see, and feel, and hear on every hand, the social ostracism it entails. The kindest heart quickly drops the friend who has failed. The man is never forgiven by his family. Years cannot efface the stain, nor future success give back his former social position, or ever dispel the uncertainty of his business reputation. Now bankruptcy is not the unpardonable sin in the United States that it is—or was—in England and Scotland, and one of the things which struck me most forcibly, when I came to America, was the indifference with which men spoke of “being broke,” or having failed here or there, or in this, or that line of business, taking misfortune as cheerily as good fortune, and beginning again and again until they at last succeeded.
With small economies, small anxieties, and one man’s ceaseless struggle against misfortune, the next year passed away. Hitherto, I had always felt a contempt for struggling men; I had told myself, that their opportunities were so many, there was no excuse for the strife. If one thing, or one place was unfavorable, they could go elsewhere; the whole world was a market-place for their hands, or their brains. But during this year I discovered my mistake. Robert was tied by invisible bonds, and he had not the strength—perhaps not the will—to burst them asunder.
As for myself, I was busy with my house, and my child, my music, and books, my needle, and my correspondence with my home, and I could have been quite content with these sources of pleasure, if Robert had been in any measure satisfied and successful. But he could not hide from me the anxiety which was making his life a burden hard to bear. It was then the idea of exile, of a new country, new surroundings, and an entirely new effort, unhampered by the débris of an old failure, took possession of my mind; for this one year’s dismaying results satisfied me that nothing but the most radical changes would be of any use. But I was daily expecting the birth of my second child, and I told myself that nothing could be done for another month. I was, however, mistaken. Robert came home one night in such evident distress, that I was sure it arose from some social slight, and I asked, “Whatever has vexed you so much today, Robert?”
“Why, Milly,” he said, “three things: My old Sunday school teacher, to whom I am much attached, passed me without a word, and then turned back and said angrily, ‘Man Robert! I’m disappointed in you. I’m sair disappointed! I thought you were going to be a rich man, and a pillar o’ the Kirk.’ I said, ‘It is not my fault, Deacon.’ ‘It is your fault,’ he continued, ‘whatna for, did you buy Alexander Hastie’s business, if you didna ken how to run it? Hastie is now our member to Parliament, and you hae disgraced the whole city o’ Glasgow, by letting a business so weel kent in his name, go to the dogs. I wonder me, what your good father would say to the disgrace you hae brought on his name, and I am sorry, Dod! I’m heart sorry for your poor mother.’”
“O Robert! How cruel! How unjust!”
“I cannot live down such prejudice, Milly. It is impossible. He had scarcely left me, when I saw Mrs. Semple coming towards me. She hesitated a moment, then went into a small jeweler’s shop to avoid the meeting. This afternoon Mother came to my office, and we had some very hard words, about a piece of property that is solely and entirely my own.”
“Have you anything left, that is your own?”
“This piece of property is. Once, when I had plenty of money, I helped Donald McLeod to save it, and when he died, three months ago, he left it to me.”
“Hold to it fast, Robert,” I said. “I beg you not to touch it for anything.”
“Donald told me he had left it for an ‘emergency,’ and I am keeping it till that time arrives.”
“That time is now here, dear Robert. As soon as my trouble is past, let us go far away from Scotland, and begin a new life. You are not twenty-nine years old, and I am only twenty-two. Shall we give up our lives to a ceaseless, contemptible struggle, that brings us neither money nor respect? Somewhere in the world, there is peace and good fortune for us. We will go and find it.”
“Are you really willing to leave Scotland, Milly?”
“I will go to the end of the earth with you, Robert.”
Then he leaped to his feet, and his face was shining, and he kissed me tenderly, “Where shall we go?” he asked. “Canada? India? Australia?”
“What do you say to the United States?” I answered. “Tomorrow I will send to the library for books on all these countries. We will read and consider, and try to be ready to leave Scotland, about the middle of August.”
“At the middle of August? Why that date?”
“Because, about any new movement, it is good to have some one point decided. That is a foundation. We are going to seek good fortune about the middle of August. Let us regard that date as positive, Robert. It is our first step.”
He was by this time in an enthusiasm of fresh hope, and we sat talking till nearly three in the morning, and, if any acquaintance met him that day, they must have thought “Robert Barr has had some good luck. He was like his old self today.” Indeed the prospect of this new life brought back again the old cheerful Robert. Every day he came home with some fresh idea on the subject, or told me of something done to forward our plans. Among other incidental arrangements, he insisted on keeping our intention from the knowledge of his family. He feared his mother’s influence and interference. John Blackie had been urging his release from any further care of the Barr estate, and Robert’s name would be necessary to many papers in connection with this change, and unavoidable delays result. It also gave an air of romance to the flitting, which took it out of the rôle of ordinary emigration. And I will be truthful, and confess, that it pleased me to think of his mother’s and sister’s futile dismay, when they discovered we had escaped forever the shadows and petty humiliations of a conventional Scotch life.
On the twenty-second of May, 1853, my daughter Eliza was born, a bright, beautiful girl, who certainly brought her soul with her—a girl who all her life has been the good genius of extremities—never quailing before any calamity, but always sure there was a road over the mountains of difficulty, which we could find, as soon as we reached them. And, I may add, she always found the road.
I recovered rapidly, for I was fed daily on fresh hopes, and, in spite of the uncertainty surrounding these hopes, I was happy, for I believed in my dreams. Then there came a letter from Father, asking in his modest, unselfish way, for the return of Mother. It was enough to alarm us, for we knew well he had felt the necessity, though he voiced it with so little urgency; and, as this letter is the only scrap of my Father’s writing that has survived the constant chances and changes of nearly half a century, I will transcribe it:
My dear Amelia,
I can assure you the very sight of your letter afforded us unspeakable delight. Yes, we do feel grateful to that Divine and attentive Providence, which has been with you the last few weeks. We may, and do, attribute much to means, but what are all means without His sanction, and His blessing? To Him be all the praise! I hope, my dear, if spared, you will evince your gratitude by a devotion of all to Him. Give yourself, give your dear little ones to Him. You know well what is meant by that. God bless you! God bless the little stranger! She has come into a cold world; still she has friends who love and pray for her. Kiss her for me.
As to Mother, I am sure she has done all in her power, and she would do it so differently to any one else. I can assure you, at the time she left me, it was no small trial; but it was for Amelia, and only on this ground could I have been induced to make the sacrifice. Now, that you are so far improved, do not detain her. I fear another painful visitation. Think of Father. He has thought of Amelia. Give my love to dear Mother. The little girls are going to school, and send their love to you, and to dear Mr. Barr.
Amelia, I am what I ever was to you,
O Father! Father! If, in the stress of my labors and sorrows, I have forgotten your lovely, patient, helpful life, forgive me this day. Let my tears wash away my fault, and be still to me, what you ever were,
As soon as it was possible for me to do so, I faithfully read all I could read about Australia, India, Canada, and the United States, and very early came to the conclusion, that we must sail westward. I held in reserve a possible Canadian settlement, but I was sure that we must first go to New York. Australia, I had no hesitation in putting out of consideration; its climate, its strange natural conditions, and its doubtful early population, as well as its great distance from England, were definitely against it. But India to me was a land of romance. There were inconceivable possibilities in India. Anything wonderful could happen in those rich cities of the upper Ganges. The Huddleston ships had been early fond of Indian voyages, and Robert had several friends in Calcutta and Benares, who were making fortunes rapidly. We could not put India summarily out of our desires and calculations. My notes about it lay side by side with those of the United States, and for some time neither Robert nor I could honestly say “I prefer this or that, before the other.”
One night we had swiveled a great deal between New York and Calcutta as points of landing, Robert having had that day a letter from Andrew Blair, an old school friend, who was doing well in Delhi, and I went to sleep thinking that the children would require nothing in the way of an outfit but some white muslin. Then I dreamed a dream, and when I awakened from it I said softly, “Are you sleeping, Robert?” And he answered at once. “No. I heard you cry out in your sleep, and I was going to speak to you, if you cried again. What frightened you?”
“I thought we were in Calcutta, and we stood alone on a silent street, knowing not where to go. The sky was black as pitch, the air hot and heavy, and red as blood, and a great cry, like a woman’s cry, rang through it, and seemed to be taken up by the whole earth. Then a voice at my side said, ‘Look!’ and I saw that Calcutta was built entirely of great blocks of coal, and that, in the center of each block, there was a fierce fire burning. I must then have cried out, and awakened myself.”
For a few moments Robert did not speak, then he said in a hushed voice, “We cannot go to India. Blair told me in his letter that the whole country was restless, and the army mutinous, and that he felt a little uneasy. But that is such an old complaint, I did not heed it, and did not think it wise to trouble your decision by just a say-so.”
“Well, then, Robert,” I said, “you got the word, both for you and yours, and, as you did not heed it, another messenger was sent. I wonder if putting our own judgment first of all, and not delivering the entire message, will be counted as answering ‘No’ to the heavenly command.”
“Don’t say unpleasant things, Milly,” was Robert’s reply, and I was silent until he added, “We cannot go to India now, I suppose?”
“I would not go, for the whole wide world.”
“Then it must be America.”
“Yes, somewhere in America.”
In a very positive voice, Robert said, “It must be Canada. I am not going to give up my English citizenship for anything.”
“That is right,” I answered. “You can keep it anywhere. It is fine in you to guard your English citizenship. I have none to guard. It makes no difference to me where I live.”
“My citizenship is yours.”
“Oh, no! I do not exercise any of your citizenship rights, and they do not protect me.”
“I exercise them for you.”
“Well and good, but I am glad you do not eat, and drink, and sleep for me, and I would not like you to dream for me. You would not likely tell me the whole dream.”
“Now you are cross, Milly, and I will go to sleep.”
But I lay long awake, and felt anew, all through the silent hours, the horror and terror of that prophetic dream. For I need hardly remind my readers, that it was awfully verified in the unspeakable atrocities of the Sepoy rebellion, barely two years afterwards. And I do not believe Robert slept, but he could not endure allusions to the wrongs of women—a subject then beginning to find a voice here and there, among English women “who dared.”
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