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“A bitter and perplexed `What shall I do?'
Is worse to man than worst necessity.”

When Grace returned from the funeral at her sister's
house to her own home, Mrs. Herbert, after little a-hem-ing,
said, “Grace, I wish to consult you—or rather, I wished to
say to you that I hope and trust Eleanor's feelings will not
be wounded by Anne not putting on mourning.” Grace
made no reply, and the lady proceeded, “It may appear odd
to see you in mourning and Anne in gay colors—they are
wearing very gay colors just now—but poor Anne has just
received her orders from Paris, and it would be a trial, you
know, to lay such lovely things aside, and see all the world
coming out in fresh fashions before her. Next Sunday is
Easter Sunday, you know!” Still Grace made no answer,
and she proceeded, “What style of mourning do you propose,
Grace? I hope not bombazine.”

“Indeed, Mrs. Herbert, I have not thought about it—nor,
I believe, has my sister. We shall wear what others wear
in like circumstances. Our dress-maker, the representative
of that august tribunal `the world,' will arrange the proprieties
of the outside—what is under it we shall take care of

“My dear Grace, I did not mean to hurt your feelings,
but I must say I do think Eleanor has thought about it.
She has such a well-balanced mind. I apologized at the
funeral for my bonnet; though it was quite plain, you know


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—I have never worn high colors since your father's death—
I do not think them suitable for a widow, but my bonnet
certainly was not quite the thing for the funeral, being rather
a lively brown velvet, you know. I told Eleanor that Lawson
had not sent home my mourning bonnet, and she answered
me so sweetly, so like herself!”

“What did Eleanor say, ma'am?”

“Why, she said I had always been so very kind to little
Herbert, that she was sure I should do every thing that was

“Are you not content to leave it there, ma'am? I am!”
and Grace went to her own apartment, leaving her step-mother
wondering that her sister's affliction had not at all
softened her; and Grace sharing the wonder in her own way,
for as she mounted the stairs she said to herself, “If I and
my step-mother meet in heaven, will the first word she
speaks to me rasp my nerves?”

As she opened her own door, a fresh bouquet and a note
on her table from Copley struck her eye. She filled a
Bohemian glass vase with water and was about to put the
flowers in, when the remembrance of little May's antipathy
to “old Copley's flowers” struck her like an oracle, and she
wavered between throwing the bouquet in the fire, or cherishing
it in the water. “What a child! what a dastardly
fool I am!” she exclaimed aloud, and placed them in the
centre of her table. She then opened the note, written on
exquisite French paper, stamped with Copley's crest and
initials, written, folded, and sealed with a pedantic elegance,
that does not indicate `thoughts that breathe and
words that burn.
' It began with gentlemanly common-places
of sympathy for the Esterlys, and proceeded to express
the intense anxiety he had felt for her. The note was
filled with exhalations of passionate admiration. Grace
pondered over each elaborated phrase, searching, as an


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alchemist would for gold, for one spontaneous effusion of
feeling, and finally she threw it down, ejaculating, “I hate
this way of writing—if he loves me, why does he not tell
me so simply and directly, and ask my love in return—could
I answer him simply—directly?” She shook her head in
painful doubt. Suddenly an inspiration, as she fancied,
came to her. Persons of Grace's temperament are apt to
mistake impulses for inspirations.

In her desire to relieve the monotonous frivolity of her
life, Grace had repeatedly been present at the “circles,” the
technical designation of those séances, where the natural
laws are supposed to be suspended, that fond mortals may
hold social communion with immortals. She had become
interested in a belief which relates to the mysterious elements
of our being, and which she found implicitly accepted
by a few sound minds and many honest ones—“men veracious,
nowise mad.”

On one occasion she had gone, at the invitation of a
friend, to a large house in one of our finest streets, where a
suite of elegant apartments were devoted to the reception
of the spirits. The walls were garnished with fitting pictures,
large sheets of parchment with costly frames, on
which were written texts of Scripture in all known tongues,
and the autographs of the signers of our Independence,
interspersed with those of emperors, popes, philosophers,
and poets from Homer to L. E. L., and from Aristotle
to Jonathan Edwards; all these worthies having condescendingly
visited the apartment of a poor divinity student,
and there inscribed their names. While Grace was looking
at these records, smiling incredulously, her eye was
caught by a sybil, who, in a trance, was giving to the commandant
at —, a communication from his daughter, who
had recently died. It was such as might come from the
beatified spirit of a child—tears poured down the soldier's


Page 255
cheek—Grace felt herself irresistibly drawn into the circle,
and beside the “medium.” She was not young, but just on
the confines of middle age; her form was attenuated, and
her skin so colorless and transparent, her form and face so
spiritualized, that it seemed as if at any moment her earthly
tenement might dissolve. Suddenly she opened wide her
half-closed eyes, and fixed them, as if spell-bound, on Grace.
Every eye followed hers to the beautiful and excited young
woman. The blood rushed to Grace's cheek.

“There is,” said the sybil to her, in a low, earnest voice,
“a spirit present that will give you a written communication
—if you wish—not else.”

“I do not wish it,” said Grace firmly, governed by her
previous cool judgment. “Some other time,” she whispered
to the friendly medium, “I may ask for what I now decline.”

“You do not look,” replied the spiritualist, with a sad
smile, “like one of the `church of Laodicea.'”

Grace made no reply, but by a fervid grasp of the hand,
and hastily withdrawing from what was becoming to her a
“charmed” circle. This visit occurred just before the death
of Eleanor's child. Now, perplexed by Copley's note—wishing
for a better faith, and, yet distrustful of him, and dissatisfied
with her own self-examination, she recurred to the
medium. She had, since their meeting, heard much of her.
Many believed in her preternatural powers, and no one had
the audacious scepticism to question her sincerity. Grace
was not a believer in mesmerism, spiritualism, and other
kindred discoveries, (?) but, highly imaginative, she hovered
on their confines, and sometimes fancied she perceived
definite truths in their obscure regions. Grace had been
told that this medium had the power of extracting from a
letter the spirit and character of its writer, by simply laying
it on her bosom, without opening it. She had seen striking
evidences of this potent gift in rhapsodies written down while


Page 256
the infusions of the letter-writer's mind predominated over
the medium's.

Grace ordered a carriage, and in the twilight set off to
find the residence of the seeress. She found in the outskirts
of the city a small, quaint old Dutch house perched on the
top of a sand-hill nearly undermined by the leveling processes
of city improvement. Few of its cotemporary tenements
are standing. Scarcely a material vestige, a gable, or a
pointed window, remains of the venerable Knickerbockers;
yet, thanks to the genius of our Irving—God bless him!—
these primitive homes, and their sage proprietors are, to the
mind's eye, intact and indestructible.

“Fit abode for an astrologer, oracle, seeress, `medium,'”
thought Grace, as she ascended the almost perpendicular
steps to the door, divided horizontally into two equal parts.
At the call of the massive knocker, the head of a “little
marchioness” peeped over the lower section, who, on being
told that Miss Herbert had private business with Miss Ida
Roorbach, led her up a dark stair-case to an attic apartment,
where, after lighting the three burners of a tall Roman lamp,
she went to summon her mistress. She, as her name indicated,
was of mixed blood, her Dutch father having married one
of those omnipresent aspirants, a Yankee itinerant teacher.
The seeress probably owed her spiritual inquisitiveness to
the maternal source, as the Dutch superstitions were of the
material order, concerning themselves chiefly with haunted
houses, and human subjects. The apartment, frugally furnished,
was decorated with beautiful engravings of Raphael's
Sybils, Michael Angelo's Fates, and the heads of eccentric
men and women of genius. Most conspicuous among these
last was that of the great social reformer, Fourier! These
were cheaply and ingeniously framed with pine cones, or
braided strings of the more delicate cones of the hemlock.
Each was surmounted by a chaplet woven of dried oak leaves,


Page 257
of laurel or myrtle, as symbolically suited the portrayed
individual. Odd volumes of Carlisle, Emerson, Miss Barrett,
and Browning, were intermingled with German mysticism.
A ponderous volume of Emanuel Swedenborg laid open on
the table. Grace smiled as she read its title, and the thought
crossed her that it might serve her oracle instead of the
intoxicating fumes from the Delphic cave. The inkstand
on the table was Persian, and all its adjuncts, the paper-cutter,
sealing-lamp, etc., had a suggestive form or quality.
Grace had the curiosity to examine a set of seals strung on
a hooped serpent. Every one of them had either an
inscrutable device or an inscription in a language unknown
to her. But, perhaps the most characteristic of all these
objets de mystère was a very beautiful half finished sketch
by Ida Roorbach herself, in which she was attempting to
embody the vision of a certain notorious disciple of Mesmer,
who reports that being in the room, and in the midst of the
weeping friends of a poor old woman in death agony with a
hideous disease, he fell into the mesmeric state, and saw, as
death overcame the mortal, the immortal overcoming death.
The spiritual form gradually evolved, till, at the last breath,
disengaged and glowing with etherealized youth and beauty,
it rose, floated off, and received by loving and caressing
spirits, it disappeared, wreathed in their arms!

Archibald Lisle had told Grace of this vision, which
greatly excited her imagination at the time, and she now felt
as if she were breathing a preternatural atmosphere. She
started, recalled to the actual world by the opening of the
door, and the ingliding of the genius loci. Grace stood for a
moment embarrassed, and really awe-stricken, though to a
rational observer, there seemed nothing in the little modest
woman before her to inspire such an emotion. To be sure
she was pale and attenuated to the last degree, and looked
as if her venture upon supernatural power had been visited


Page 258
with the curse of Prometheus' audacity, but not like his
had her vitality been reproduced.

After a moment, while the Pythoness waited with an expression
of benign inquiry, Grace said, stammeringly, “You
will excuse my intrusion—I want to ask a favor from you—

“Of me?” she replied, looking up half incredulously at
Grace, who, in the power of youth, beauty, and elegance,
stood head and shoulders above her. “Remember you once
rejected help proffered through me—you seemed then self-poised—self-reliant.”

“I am not so—I am not,” cried Grace, vehemently—“I
am staggering in the dark, and want light, more than ever
mortal wanted it.”

Ida Roorbach smiled seriously, and shook her head.
“We should try natural, customary, providential means of
self-enlightenment,” she said, “before we resort to such as
should be reserved for perplexing exigencies.”

“Mine is a most perplexing exigency,” replied Grace, and
then added, for she dared not evade the simplicity and truth
that impressed her with reverence, “No, perhaps I have
not sought counsel where I should, but other's judgments
are fallible as well as mine—I want unerring guidance.”

“A revelation? I can not give it.”

“No, not a revelation, but an intuition, an inspiration—a
preternatural impression—I know not what you call it.
Dear madam, I want you to read a letter for me—”

“I have no preternatural power, friend. Perhaps I have
a deeper experience of the potency of nature than some
others have. It is by shutting out the disturbances of the
outer world, and wholly committing and assigning myself
to my spiritual nature that I learn how far its sphere extends
—few know theirs, simply because they do not prove it.
It is no new thing that I tell you. `He who believeth in


Page 259
nature,' says Paracelsus, `will obtain from nature to the
extent of his faith.' You have brought me a letter to

“Yes—but perhaps you know me, and may surmise—”

“No, young lady, I do not know you. I have seen you
but once, and then I think you distrusted me—perhaps not
remembering that the Gospel, even the good news, was committed
to those humble in the world, and weak in the flesh.
As to `surmising,'” she added, with dignity, “I never surmise;
that would be untruth to myself. But come, friend,
give me your riddle to read.”

“You do not know the handwriting?” said Grace, giving
her Copley's letter.

“I never look at the handwriting. My apprehension is
not through the eye. The writer's mind is transfused into
mine; for the moment I lose my self-consciousness and receive
another's. Nor does the purport of the letter signify.
It may be written simply in good faith, or it may contain
the elaborated glosses of falsehood. It is the spirit of the
writer which is manifested in me, and to me.” She drew a
chair for Grace, and one for herself, but before sitting down,
“I can not oblige you,” she said, “unless you first assure
me that your correspondent is free from bodily disease. I
have already suffered much physical malady, through the
inscrutable effect, on my nervous system, of this letter-reading.
I have had temporary deafness, blindness, indescribable
pain, paralysis, and permanent debility.” Grace assured her
there was no risk in the present case. She gazed at the
seeress with a throbbing heart, as she sat down and, glancing
at the pictures on the wall, fixed her large, blue, prominent,
calm eye on the Parcœ of Michael Angelo. Her simplicity,
the guilelessness of her manner, her freedom from
all charlatanrie, her faith in herself, inspired Grace with a
conviction of her truth and her power; and all combined,


Page 260
heightened the solemnity with which she awaited a revelation
from the arcana of nature. The oracle laid the letter
on her bosom, and kept it there by the firm pressure of her
hand. Her head was slightly raised, and her eyes, half
veiled by her drooping lids, remained steadfast to the picture.
There was not the slightest movement or apparent
quickening of her pulses, for the space of a quarter of an hour.
Then came the faintest hue of color in her pale cheek; it
deepened, the blood mounted, the veins in her broad forehead
swelled, and her brow contracted, her mouth took a
sinister expression, her eyes glanced craftily from side to
side, and she shrunk, as if eluding observation. Then,
springing to her feet, she threw the letter into the fire, as
St. Paul shook the viper from his hand, sunk back in her
chair, and covered her face.

After some moments of silence, unbroken save by the loud
beating of poor Grace's heart, Ida Roorbach's countenance
recovered its usual sweet and composed expression, and
beckoning Grace to her, for she was too much exhausted to
rise, she laid her ghastly hand on her and said tenderly, in a
low, quivering voice, “I could not speak—my lips were
sealed; and having been so by an irresistible power, I can
not, dare not, now unseal them.”

“But why—oh tell me, why you looked so? Why had
your face that hateful expression?”

“I do not know how I looked,” she replied, mournfully.

“Tell me, then, how you felt—why you threw the letter
in the fire, as if it stung you?”

Ida Roorbach hesitated, and then said, with decision,
“My friend, I feel that I am not permitted to impart to
you what I experienced. My duty is made clear to me. A
heathen woman,” she continued, pointing to the picture of
the Fates, “might ask her destiny of those `children of night
and daughters of necessity;' but now, my eye is turned


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to the day-spring from on high, and the word borne into my
mind to speak to you is, `work out your own salvation!'”

Grace returned to her home. She had opened the book
of prophesy, and it was steeped in shadows. She tried the
thousand-times repeated experiment of Icarus, and the
wings had dropped in the forbidden element, under the
stern law, “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther.”


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