University of Virginia Library

Search this document 




“Straws show which way the wind drifts.”


My Dear Alice:

“All other interests are superseded just now by the
alarming illness of Eleanor's boy—her only boy. His illness
has come suddenly. But yesterday, he seemed to stand on
the hill-top of life, radiant with the rosy tints of morning,
casting down into many hearts the hopes and promises of a
long, bright day.

“They may talk as they will about the equality of the
sexes; but a boy, from the moment he comes into the world,
takes precedence. Esterly does not love him better, perhaps
not so tenderly, as he loves his girls; but in some sort
he looks upon him as an extension of himself, as one who is
to prolong his name on the earth, to be the heir of his honors,
and by whom he shall exist among men after he has
passed from them. And as to my dear little sister, why she
has loved this boy, not only with a mother's instincts, but
she has seemed to identify him with her husband, and to
have a blending of her wifely loyalty with her maternal tenderness;
hope, and joy, and pride—pride so sanctified by
love, that it is scarcely pride—are centered in her little

“I have loved him the more, we have all loved him the


Page 235
more, for bearing my dear father's name—and there the
little fellow lies, sinking with this hideous illness. Eleanor
is divinely calm; while my poor brother, distracted by parochial
cares, comes home to be soothed and upheld by her.
Oh, how touching is a strong man's weakness! How marvelous,
weak woman's strength!

“I wonder how I should ever bear such a trial as Ellen's.
Could one fancy a man of fashion in such a scene! Heigho,

“Thank God! my dear Alice. Eleanor's boy is pronounced
out of danger. I saw him this morning, looking
like a cherub, except his mortal paleness. He was sitting
up on his bed, leaning on his mother's bosom. It was such
a picture of maternity as the divinest painters have immortalized.
The bed and floor were strewn with French toys.
The French are artistes, even in this humble craft of toy-making.
These toys were quite too costly for `our money.'
Copley most kindly sent a huge box of them to `Erby.'
May was blowing up soap-bubbles, enchanting herself as
much as her brother, and his father was starting off a train
of tiny rail-cars—the whole family force employed. What
pictures has domestic life!”

We here interrupt the reading of Miss Herbert's letter, to
interpolate some circumstances which she, for reasons no
doubt best known to herself, omitted. While she was admiring
the nursery tableau vivante she has described, the
door was opened by Mrs. Esterly's Irish waitress, who said,
“Mr. Copley had called to ask after the little boy.”

“You told him Herbert was better, Bridget?” said Mrs.

“And I did; but he asked, too, was Miss Herbert here?”

“I bade you tell every one that I was engaged, Bridget,”
said Grace.


Page 236

“But he looked so craving-like, Miss Herbert, I just asked
him to walk in, and I would tell yourself.”

“Tell Mr. Copley Miss Herbert will be down directly,”
said Eleanor, with a smile. “Do go, Grace, and thank him
for me, as well as yourself. `Erby, darling, shall Aunt Grace
tell Mr. Copley how much you thank him for all these pretty

“Yes, mamma, but I am tired of them,” said the child,

“So you are, Erby,” said little May; “but you arn't tired
of the rail-cars papa bought for you?”

Grace went, nothing loath. Clouds in the moral atmosphere
are as softening to the heart, as rain is to the earth.
Copley's manifestations of sympathy had brought him into
her domestic and interior life. He was no longer the mere
drawing-room man to her, and when she gave him her hand,
she thanked him with a cordial earnestness. His face lighted
as she had never before seen it. “You rejoice with us,” she
said; “I see you do.”

“Yes; and though you have not seen it, or perhaps
thought of it, I have suffered with you. Has your servant
told you—I fear not, these Irish are so careless—that I have
called twice every day to inquire about you? About the
little boy, I mean,” he added, with a smile.

“Oh, yes; we all heard of your kindness.”

“But my dear Gr—Miss Herbert!” he exclaimed, as the
color, which the excitement of meeting him had kindled on
her cheek, faded, “your watching and anxiety tell sadly
upon you. It is a lovely morning, take a turn with me
around the square—the air will give you new life.”

Grace shook her head.

“No? then allow me to bring my carriage. You refuse
that too? I may send a carriage from a livery stable?”

Grace was too evidently pleased by his concern, but she


Page 237
declined, saying, that though the child was better, he needed
more than ever all the resources of mother and aunt to entertain

While he continued to urge and she to decline with a tone
of her sweet voice that made even denial pleasant to hear,
the door was thrown open, and Bridget ushered in Archibald
Lisle, saying, “He is in the nursery, sir; I'll call him

Lisle paused on the threshold as if he felt himself an intruder,
as well he might, seeing Copley bending over the
chair in which Grace was seated, and talking so earnestly
that he did not hear the door opened. Archibald advanced
instinctively, feeling it was less awkward to do so than to
recede. He was cold and silent, but in this brief moment
he had observed with a lover's acuteness, and interpreted
with a lover's jealousy. Copley's supercilious bow as he
turned and saw him, seemed to him to express the insolence
of triumph, and the blush that dyed Grace's cheek at his
startling interruption of the tête-à-tête, indicated the radiant
happiness of a young woman in the presence of her lover,
forgetting the world, and oblivious of the pressure of anxiety
in her sister's house. “Oh,” thought he, bitterly,
“there are many ways of trafficking away the soul!”

“We have neither seen you, Mr. Lisle, nor heard from
you, for a long while,” said Grace, contrasting, in her own
mind, as she filled the awkward silence with this common-place
remark, the devotion of Copley, during their anxieties,
with the negligence of Archibald.

“I have been more than usually driven by business of
late,” he replied, hardly knowing what he said.

“Oh, business! business!” replied Grace, “it is the slave-driver
of the North, worse than the dragons of old, that
lived on fair damsels and young children. Business in New
York devours all the charities of life.”


Page 238

“There are some fortunate exempts,” retorted Lisle, and
conscious that he felt savagely, if he did not appear so, he
was relieved by the reappearance of the servant-girl, who
said, “Mr. Esterly is in the nursery, sir, and little Herbert—
poor little man—hearing your name, is out of himself to
have you come to him, and if you please, the mistress bids
me to show you up.”

Archibald went, and was received with enthusiasm by the
little people. He had that sort of magnetism for them
which comes from loving instincts—children can not be
bribed. All the toys of Paris would not have bought from
May the glad shout with which she greeted Archibald's
entrance, or the soft caress of the little boy, as he laid
his pale cheek to Lisle's, and said, “Erby loves you all
the world, Archy Lisle!” It mattered not that Lisle had
sent no toys, nor that, when he had called in season or out
of season to satisfy himself of the condition of his friends,
he had not trumpeted the attention, by sending up his name.
He was not one of those who light a candle and set it on
every molehill. He knew, the Esterlys knew he sympathized
in all their joys and sorrows, and that was

When Grace shortly after returned to the nursery, Archibald
was in low and earnest conversation with her brother-in-law;
her sister was out of the room, and she took her
post at the bed-side. The little boy was tired and restless,
and sending May, who was always a little over-excited
by Archy's presence, away, she applied herself to the task
of soothing the sick child.

An old and ugly woman, if she do the work of a nurse, is
thereby for the time transformed into one of those “angels
that God makes his ministers,” and it was no wonder that
Archibald's eye involuntarily turned upon the bright and
beautiful young woman, who, without seeming to be even


Page 239
aware of his presence, was singing snatches of songs to the
sick child, telling him stories, and lulling him to sleep with
the magnetic strokings of her delicate fingers. His thoughts
followed his eye. The mental processes of a lover are
rapid, Lisle's might be summed up in the conclusion, “Oh!
that such a woman should be lured into such wretched

“You are suddenly abstracted, Lisle,” said Esterly; “in
my anxiety to get your opinion in my own affairs, I forgot
you told me you had an important cause coming on at one.”

“Bless my heart!” exclaimed Lisle, pulling out his watch,
“I forgot it too!”

Esterly was too much absorbed in certain perplexities of
his own to draw any inference from this honest confession.
The friends parted, and Grace, while watching the sleeping
child, resumed her letter to her friend:

“Time is the nurse and breeder of all good,” Alice. Bad
exhalations from old distrusts are passing off like a morning
fog; they will pass and leave my firmament bright to
the empyrean. Meanwhile I am patiently waiting the sun's
ascent. Before I proceed, however, let me tell you that my
happiness is not all self-centered; our dear little boy is still

“Your family's friend, Archibald Lisle, has just been here;
he is as changeful as the weather. Down stairs he was cold
and abstracted, but when he came into the nursery, to the
children, his heart seemed made of combustibles, and they,
little incendiaries, fired it.

“My dear little patient is waking. Farewell for the

At Grace's last suspension of her letter to Alice, she was
confident of the child's recovery. Dreadful are the vicissitudes


Page 240
of severe illness. But two days passed when she was
summoned to her sister by a messenger who said, “The
child is dying!” Grace was rushing through the entry
when Mrs. Herbert, who had caught the news, called out,
“Grace! Grace! stop one moment, dear! Let me go in
your place. Calmness is essential on such occasions, and I
am always calm—do you hear me, Grace?”

“Yes, yes—yes, ma'am!” said Grace, and rushed through
the outer door, and out of sight. Ten minutes brought her
to Eleanor's nursery. She opened the door with a throbbing
heart, and stood still at its threshold. The spirit of the
child had passed on, and had left the impress and beauty of
its immortality on the painless, lifeless form.

The agony of the wrench of separation was over, and the
parents were kneeling before their dead child with an expression
of meek acceptance of their Father's will, best interpreted
by those words distilled by faith from mortal anguish,
“Thou hast given and thou hast taken away—blessed
be thy name!”

Little May was lying on the bed beside her brother,
probably with no comprehension of the change to him, for
her glowing cheek touched his, and her arm was thrown
caressingly over him. Eleanor's head rested on her husband's
bosom, her eyes were raised. She was as still as her
dead child. There was no agitation, no sign of emotion but
in her mortal paleness, in the deep crimson spots that stained
her white throat, and in her tight grasp of little May's hand.
Grace spoke not a word, uttered no sound, but fell on her
knees beside her sister, and with all the fervor of her spirit
joined in the prayer Esterly was offering in a low, tremulous,
but not sad voice. There were no outbreaking, irrepressible
expressions of grief; his prayer was rather a thank-offering
for the gift of the boy, for the sweet blessing of his
two years of life, for his passage through the gates of immortality


Page 241
before temptation had assailed him, or the world
in any way stained him; for his safe wardship in Jesus's arms,
instead of their imperfect care. Esterly was not conscious of
Grace's presence. If he had been, he might have hesitated
to pour out, as he did, with a new feeling of its worth and
force, his sense of the perfect fusion of his heart with Eleanor's
in the fires of their afflictions—“Our day had been
bright,” he said, “but now our night is made to shine even
as the day, and to our true affection the darkness and the
light are both one.”

We should not have presumed to withdraw the veil from
this sacred home experience, but for the inevitable necessity
of showing its effect on Grace. She remained at her sister's
for the two trying days that followed, and then having returned
home, she added to her long letter to Alice the final
particulars of the child's illness, and thus closed it:

“Dear Alice, I never saw death till now. I should rather
say, till now I never saw life, for that which to common
experience is death, seems to my sister and brother to be
the breaking of the seals of eternal life—their Easter

“I wondered to see Eleanor so calm. I wondered, as she
told me of the last hours, how she had borne the supplicating
glances of her boy's eye appealing to her for help—the loving
grasp of his little hand, the soft murmur of his trembling
lips—the last kiss—the last sigh.”

“These have been sacred hours to us all; but these even
did not pass without a ruffling of my serenity. Copley sent
my sister a basket of the loveliest white flowers. May was
present when they were brought in, and when her mother
said, `Come with me, Grace, and place these around our
dear little boy,' May ran away, and just as we had arranged
the flowers, she reappeared, her apron filled with white


Page 242
azalias, and violets stripped hastily from their stems. `Here,
mamma,' she said, `do take away those flowers Mr. Copley
sent. I don't want them to be around “Erby.'” `My dear!'
said Eleanor, shaking her head; but May would not be repressed.
`Oh, mamma, do,' she said, `Erby would like my
flowers best; I know he would, because he knows Mr. Lisle
gave them to me. I have picked them—every one—for him
—Mr. Lisle won't care.' Tears were on the earnest little
thing's cheeks. I saw Eleanor hesitated. I fancied she
partook May's feeling. I clutched all Copley's flowers, and
threw them into the grate, and then rushed to my own
room, self-condemned. Is there a detective power in the
innocence of childhood? What think you, Alice? `No
falsehood can endure touch of celestial temper.'

“Eleanor pitied more than she blamed me, I know; for
when we met at dinner, she drew me to her, and kissed me
with more even than her usual sisterly tenderness.

“We had the funeral service at twilight. Esterly went
through it steadily. The words of our beautiful service
seemed to come as freshly from his soul as if they had never
before been uttered, and with as divine a power.

“To me it was significant that Archibald Lisle was present
with the only two other friends invited, and that Horace
Copley was not there, though he had called every day since
the boy first sickened, to inquire for him, and in every way
has manifested a friend's interest. And yet, I, even I, Alice,
should have felt him out of place in such a scene! Is not
this a dreadful confession?

“The white azalias encircled the dear child's shining curls
like a halo, and the sweet violets were laid upon his breast.
I heard May whisper to Archibald Lisle, `Aren't you glad
I gave all my flowers to “Erby?'” He answered her satisfactorily,
kissing her, and patting her cheek.

“And thus has ended this chapter in my sister's married


Page 243
life! Never before have I seen so demonstrated
God's infinite blessing on a true marriage; how it gives
strength to weakness, how it takes the bitter from disappointment,
the sting from sorrow; how it gives the `silver
lining' to the darkest cloud, how it helps the loving pilgrims
heavenward, how, dear Alice, it is heaven!

“And the reverse of the picture! I dare not look at it;
how surely God's curse follows the vows lightly spoken—
base motived—the ill assorted marriage, what a mockery it
is of God and nature! God be merciful to us, Alice!