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Two sisters were sitting, one evening, in their small private
library, adjoining their sleeping apartment, in their step-mother's
house, in a fashionable quarter of New York. It
matters not in what year, for though this their history
makes great pretension to veritableness, it pays no respect
whatever to chronology. The youngest—the youngest of
course takes precedence in our society—was not past eighteen,
and, grown to her full stature, rather above the average
height; Grace Herbert differing in most of the faculties,
qualities, and circumstances of her being from the average
of her sex. To a strictly classical eye she was too thin for
her height, but of such exact proportions, so flexible and
graceful, that the defect was insignificant. Her features
were of the noble cast. Her complexion was neither fair
nor brown, but exquisitely smooth and soft. Ordinarily
she was pale, and her large dark eye lacked lustre; but a
flash from her mind, a gust of passion, or even a gentle
throb of affection, would brighten her cheek, light her eye,
play over her lips, and even seem to radiate from the waving
tresses of her dark hair. In that there was a notable


Page 8
peculiarity. It was dark, and yet so brilliant in certain
lights, that in her little court of school-girl friends, where
she was queen (by divine right), it was a standing dispute
whether its color were golden, auburn, or brown. But it
was not form or color that so much distinguished Grace
Herbert, as a certain magnanimity in the expression of her
face, figure, and movement.

Her sister Eleanor was some three years older, and many
years wiser, in the opinion of their friends, in Grace's, in
all the world's, save Eleanor's herself. She was of the
medium stature, a little too full, perhaps, for our fashion's
spare ideal, but not for perfect health and loveliness. Her
complexion was of the firmest texture. Not blonde that
might intimate change and early decay, but fair and blooming
as Hebe's. Her mouth—that can not be described by
lines and colors; her uncle Walter said to her that very
evening, when she gave him her good-night kiss, “Take care,
dear Nelly, that the bees don't light on your lips for their
honey!” Eleanor's eye was hazel, not brilliant, nor marked
in form or setting; and yet such an eye, so steady, so clear,
could only look out from serene memories, from religious
aims, moderate expectations, and attainable hopes; from a
heart of gentle and healthy affections. And there was such
a holy calm on her brow, that, if the rest of her face had
been veiled, one might have divined its whole expression. A
divine seal was set there, with the inscription, “Though
thou pass through the waters, they shall not overwhelm
thee, and through the fires, they shall not consume thee.”

She was sitting on a cushion beside an open, time-stained
morocco trunk, heavy with brass bands, and nails, and filled
with files of old letters, while Grace sat by a table with a
book of Flaxman's outlines before her, and sheets of drawing-paper,
some bearing fair copies of her exquisite models,
and others from her own ideals, scarcely less graceful.


Page 9

Is there any thing sadder than files of old family letters,
where one seems to spell backward one's own future! The
frail fabric of paper is still firm, while the strong hand that
poured over it the heart's throbs of love, of hate, of hope or
of despair, is mouldering in the grave. Letters filled with
anxieties, blessed perhaps in their realization; hopes defeated
in their very accomplishment, letters soiled with professions
of everlasting affection that exhaled with a few mornings'
dews, and stamped with sincere loves, that seem, as the time-stained
sheet trembles in the hand, to breathe from heaven
upon it; letters with announcements of births, to be received
with a family—all hail!—and then with fond records
of opening childhood—and then—the black-lined sheet, and
the hastily-broken seal, and the story of sickness and death;
letters with gay disclosures of betrothals, of illimitable
hopes, and sweet reliance; and a little further down in the
file, conjugal dissatisfactions, bickerings, and disappointments,
and perchance the history, from year to year, of a
happy married love, tried and made stronger by trial, cemented
by every joy, brightened all along its course with
cheerfulness and patience, and home loves, and charities;
but in this there is solemnity, for it is past. The sheaves
are gathered into the garner, and on earth is nothing left
but the seared stubble-field!

“Eleanor,” exclaimed Grace, looking up from her drawing,
“what are you doing with that hecatomb of letters?”

“I have selected them to burn; they are only grandmamma's,
and her friends', and Aunt Annie's, and Uncle

“All that is left of their profitable lives!” said Grace,
with a mournful shake of her head.

“They had interest in their time, as our's have, Grace.
We spent all yesterday morning in matching our new silks
with trimmings, and half the day before, in ordering our


Page 10
new hats; we can not blame grandmamma if she did the
same thing fifty years ago.”

“No—no—but is it not a bitter satire on life, as we live
it? Hand me half a dozen of the letters, just as they come;
let me see the stuff they are made of. Ah! this is Uncle
Tom's!” She ran her eye over the letter, reading aloud a
paragraph here and there.

Dear Sam:

“I should have written you as I promised, if I had
found any thing to write, but the town has been deuced
dull. Now it's waking up; there is a splendid little
actress here—one Mrs. Darley; our set patronize her.
(`Patronize—audacity!' exclaimed Grace.) Fanny Dawson
has come home—a splendid beauty! I and she rode out to
Love Lane before breakfast yesterday; my new horse is fine
under the saddle—Fanny is finer, but I shan't try my harness
there; I am shy of reins; one can't tell who will hold
them, so Miss Fanny will be left for my elder—if not my

“O! did our shallow-pated uncle,” again interrupted
Grace, “presume to entertain the idea that he could marry
a woman Uncle Walter would marry! What coxcombs
men are!”

“Miss Fanny Dawson, I imagine,” said Eleanor, “was
not so far above Uncle Tom, as she was below Uncle

“What woman, Eleanor, ever did reach the stature of
Uncle Walter's great heart?”

Eleanor smiled fondly on her sister, as if she were thinking
that sister might attain it, and proceeded with the edifying


Page 11

“The coat you ordered me for Bill's wedding came in
the nick of time. The bride observed the fit and said she
could tell a London made coat at a glance: she is cool, the
widow that was. The old bishop married them; he was behind
time; when he did come, I was sent up stairs to announce
him to the expecting couple. Bill was striding up
and down the room, looking all colors, mostly blue; and
what think you, Sam, the brisk little widow was about?
darning a silk stocking!—'pon honor, Sam; and as she put
it aside, she said, `darning was the best of sedatives.'”

“O! our precious step-mother!” exclaimed Grace; “divine
in her unchangeableness.”

“Grace! Grace!” said Eleanor, in a half smiling, half
rebuking tone.

“It is well enough,” continued the letter, “for Bill to put
his head in the noose again: he has children, and they must be
taken care of; but I shall keep myself free of these shackles.
If a man don't make a slump as to the woman, there are
children to bring up, and be provided for, and it don't pay.”

“The unmanly wretch—read no more, Eleanor.”

“There is little more to read; there is a long hiatus, and
then this postscript:”

“My letter has lain by a month, and now I have news.
Smith, Jones and Co. have gone bankrupt, and poor Bill
is on their paper well-nigh to the amount of his fortune;
Luckily there's something left, and then there's the little
widow's fortune. Well, I go for the children of this world,
that are wise in their generation. Commend me to the
Londoners in general.—Believe me, as ever, your's faithfully,

Tom Herbert.


Page 12

“Is it in that fashion, Mr. Tom Herbert speaks of my
father's losses?” said Grace. “Hand me another, haphazard,

She took a letter from Eleanor, and looking at the signature,
read “Arabella Simpson.”

“O! that frightful, deaf old Mrs. Clary, that grandmamma
used to wonder we did not find beautiful, and tell us
she was such a belle in her time! Let us see what she says.”

My Sweetest Annie:

“You may conceive, but I can not describe, how
wretched I feel at our separation. You would hear from
me much oftener if I followed the dictates of my heart, but
my time is so absorbed that it is quite impossible to find
a moment for my truest, darlingest, little friend. I write
now to entreat you to match the feathers I send; aren't
they loves? I have spent two days in attempting to do it
here. New York is a paradise for shops, you know; in this
horrid Quaker city there's no variety; at the same time,
dearest love, will you look for a sash, the shade of the
feathers? You may send me a sample, or you may send
me several, if you feel uncertain about the match. It is
really trying, the difficulty of matching. I sometimes walk
up and down the streets of Philadelphia, hours and hours, to
match a lace or a fringe, and so does my mamma. The
Grays wear pink bonnets this winter. Mrs. Remson has
come out in her old yellow brocade again—the third winter,
mamma says—just think of it! Do they hold on to powder
yet in New York? I dread its going out—'tis so becoming;
It makes me quite wretched that you don't come on this
winter, dear little pearl! My hair was superbly dressed at
Mrs. Lee's ball; I paid dear for it, though, for Pardessus was
engaged ten hours ahead, so I had mine done at three A.M.
Of course I didn't feel over well the next day, and General


Page 13
Washington observed it, and said he did not like to see
young ladies look pale. As it was the only time he ever
spoke to me, he might have found something more pleasing
to say; pale or not, I found partners for every dance, and
refused nine! But, darling, I must cut short my epistle, and
sign myself, your sincere and ever attached friend,

“P.S. O! please send on my `Pious Thoughts for Every
Day in the Year;' mamma never likes me to be without
that book, and I could have committed ever so much that
morning I got up with my hair.”

Grace threw down the letter without comment, and took
up another.

“This is from poor Aunt Betty, grandmamma's sister,
was she not Eleanor? You keep all these musty family

“I lived so much at my grandfather's, I could not forget

“And I remember nothing of those people, except that
they tired me to death—shadows they were, except grandpapa,
and Aunt Sarah: they were 'live people. But let me
see what poor Aunt Betty says out of her shroud!”

My Ever Dear Sister:

“Having a few leisure moments, I sit down to have a
little pleasant chat with you. I have still to acknowledge
your letter, informing me of the decease of our dear old
friend, Lady Hepsy; strange coincidence! that she should
have been burned to death, so afraid of fire as she was all
her life; but so it is—`Our days a transient period run!'

“I was truly grieved to hear of Walter's losses, one after
another—three promising immortal souls all gone! Well, one


Page 14
can never tell where death will aim his shafts next. But we
must not murmur against Providence. I am sure if any one
ever performed her responsible duties, it was Walter's wife.
I approved her so much when I was on my last visit to you.
The children were never exposed to the air, and so provided
against chills and draughts, and always taking preventive

“Eleanor, was Uncle Walter's wife a fool?” asked

“I knew little about her,” replied Eleanor, “but I gathered
from Aunt Sarah that she was a beauty before marriage,
and a valetudinarian ever after.”

“And Uncle Walter yielded to her folly? What a compound
of strength and weakness Uncle Walter is!”

Eleanor proceeded with Aunt Betty's letter:

“You will feel for me, dear sister, when I tell you the
measles are all over our street. You may be sure I keep
the children shut up. Two of them were terribly ill last
night, and I sent for Dr. Lee. I was all of a nerve when he
came, expecting he would tell me they had the symptoms,
but to my inexpressible relief he said it was only the cranberry
sauce and mince-pie, and almonds, and raisins, and so
on, they had eaten plentifully of at dinner—poor little
things! how much they have to suffer in this world!”

“If you have any of Lowe's croup-conserve on hand,
pray send some to me; I like to be provided. My husband
will have his way with the boys, so he takes them out in all
weathers, `roughing it,' as he calls it. To be sure they are
hearty now, but when sickness comes, it will be sickness!

“Hoping that you and yours may enjoy as much health
as is consistent, I remain, my dear sister,

“Yours faithfully,

Elizabeth Wimple.


Page 15
“P.S. My love to Sally Jenkins. I am sorry her old
complaint has returned; I knew it would; ask her to try
Deitz's Essential Elixir.
“P.S. 2d. Please, dear sister, send me your recipe for
scarlet fever, in case it prevails.”

“Poor Aunt Betty!” exclaimed Grace, when the letter
was finished, “and this is what she called a pleasant chat.
Why, she is a fair pendant for the old woman Uncle Walter
was chuckling over, who found it so hard to part with the
old comrade she had enjoyed so much sickness and so
many deaths with! If this is life, it were better to die now
on its threshold, than to go further. Never tell, Eleanor,”
she added with a smile half sad and half ironical, “but do you
really believe that such creatures as these of our departed
family, whose minds were expended on dinners, and clubs,
belles, horses, laces, and feathers, measles, and conserves, do
you sincerely believe their souls survive their bodies? No,
no! they perish with the things that perish. You are too
much shocked to answer me, Eleanor,” she continued, looking
up from the pencil she had resumed. “But, what now?
you have found something of real interest; how I like to
see tears on your cheek; you are the only person I ever saw
look pretty in tears. Your tears are like raindrops in sunshine!
but what is it?”

“I have found a file of Aunt Sarah's letters,” she replied,
“comprising thirty years of her life. See how time-stained
they are, Grace, and yet there is an immortal freshness in
them. Dear Aunt Sarah, how she loved us all! How I
loved her!”

“Yes—and I had a sort of indefinite wonder that you
did so—that you liked to be with her—there was something
so dread and shadowy about her; but now, that I know so
much more of life—Grace was scarce eighteen!—I see how


Page 16
it was. To your sweet nature it was the pleasure of cheering—the
little divinity loved the statue it shone upon. But
read me something out of her letters. I remember a certain
grandeur about her, a grand silence. I wonder if she
says any thing of Uncle Walter?”

“This letter announces her engagement to Frank Silborn.”

“O! read that—that must be interesting.”

Eleanor read—

Dearest Cousin Emma:

“This day I am seventeen! and this day I am the
happiest creature in the universe. You will guess why,
and how, for you prophesied long ago that what has now
happened would come to pass. Perhaps your prophecy
has led to its fulfillment—certainly hastened it, that I
will allow; for since we were at Madame B.'s school, and
you talked so much of him, he has been the ideal of my
life—every thing that I have imagined of noble and beautiful
has been impersonated in Frank Silborn. O think of my
felicity! He is mine, I am his; as the clock struck twelve
last night we plighted vows, and exchanged rings! O what
a bliss is life before me! And yet now I think I would be
content to die, my spirit is so raised with a sense of joy ineffable.
I can not believe it is but three weeks since Frank's
return; my love for him seems to stretch through my whole

“It is two—no, three years since we met at the fête on
board the Henri Quatre, the eve of his departure for
France. It was love at first sight. From that time he has
shaped my visions by day, my dreams by night. I could
not tell this to papa, when he shook his head, and said, `I
do not quite like this haste, Sarah;' but he smiled consent,
while he sighed and kissed me. I think old people always


Page 17
sigh when they hear of an engagement. Mamma did not,
though. `The first family in New York!' she said, `and
such a pretty fortune!' Poor mamma! she has not quite my
father's single eye.

“Walter has just been in to congratulate me. One can
never tell whether Walter is in jest or earnest. `Have a
care, Sarah,' he said, `hot love is soon cold.' Ours will
never be; I am sure its present heat melts away all fear of
change. Frank sends for me—so adieu till we meet.

“Yours ever,
S. H.”

“Good heaven! is it possible?” exclaimed Grace. “O,
Eleanor, how can one ever guess what is to come. I will
never marry—but, go on—go on, what comes next?”

“The next letter bears date two years later. Miss Emma
has just left Aunt Sarah. It is filled with details about the
baby, who now fills her field of vision. You won't care to
hear it, Grace.”

“No; but is there nothing about that `ideal' of her's—
poor Aunt Sarah!”

“Yes, just at the close she says: `Frank and I have had
unkind words. I am so grieved, Emma; I would that mine
had never been spoken.'”

“Look at the next letter. I want to know how that little
speck overcast her whole firmament, from horizon to zenith.”

Eleanor unfolded five or six letters—glanced over them,
and shook her head. “Those,” she said, “cover twelve
months. They are all about the baby's progress—some pensive
sentences, but no word of her husband. Ah! here is
something,” opening another; “this is four years after marriage:”

“It has come, Emma. Frank and I have had a serious
quarrel. He was disrespectful to my father—he spoke


Page 18
abusively of him to me. I could not stand that. My father
had urged his going into business; he remonstrated with
him upon the danger of an idle life.—But my baby is crying
for me, and I must go, and cry with it.”

“Ah, it is all over,” said Grace, “she is disenchanted.
The ideal is changed to the real. Pray read on, Eleanor.”

Eleanor read the next letter in the file, still two years

“You reproach me with my silence, dear Emma; but
why should I write? The childhood of my children glides
on evenly. I have nothing to tell of it. You know they
are a comfort—more—more—an infinite joy to me. And of
my husband I never speak. You know from what a wild,
senseless dream I awoke, to find my husband was not the
man I married, but idle, coarse, sensual, ill-tempered, a
gambler, and a spendthrift. There are sorrows to which
human sympathy is as inapplicable as it is unavailing. I
must bide my destiny—there is no compromise in a bankrupt
marriage! If he, who, ignorant of his pilot, goes to
sea in a ship, unseaworthy and without ballast, deserves
the wreck he meets, surely those who enter into the most
sacred, complicated, and hazardous relation of life rashly,
deserve the chastisement they provoke. Alas! Emma, sorrow
has made me early wise! I see that my dear father
shares the sorrow with me, as he does the blame. He
should have delayed the marriage—corrected my youth by
his age. O! how white his head has become in the last two
years, while my heart has grown wrinkled and gray!

“There come my blessed little ones from their walk.
Their voices are to my troubled soul far more potent than
David's harp to Saul's!”


Page 19

Eleanor looked at the date of the next letter, one year
later, and read on:—“I have been in tribulation, dear Emma,
for the last few weeks. I begin to feel it intolerable to
live under the same roof with my husband. I had sedulously
concealed his irregularities. Last week I told the
whole story to my father. I begged of him to effect an
amicable separation, but my husband would listen to no
terms, and will never give the children to me, but by the
compulsion of the law; and the result at law is uncertain,
for my father says the law has neither justice nor mercy for
a woman. I can not go through the mire of a public trial.
I will not expose my children to the after misery of knowing
their father's infamy. I will never leave them—I would
rather lie down at the threshold of their door, and have
my life trodden out. But do not grieve too much for me,
dear Emma. While they, my darlings, live, I have life, and
hope, and, God be praised, much joy.”

“Poor Aunt Sarah!” said Eleanor, wiping the blinding
tears from her eyes. “The next letter,” she said, “is in a
different hand. Bless me, it is grandpapa's! I know—
yes, I supposed it was just about this time it happened.
How it's blotted!—how the hand faltered! Dear old grandpapa!”

Dearest Emma:

“It is my sad duty to write to you the most sorrowful
news—prepare yourself, my child, for it will greatly shock
you. Yesterday afternoon—I can scarcely guide my pen—
Silborn drove up to his door in a curricle, and insisted
on taking the two little boys, who were just dressed for
a walk, to ride. Sarah must have seen he was greatly
excited—in no state to drive—for the nurse says `she refused
decidedly to let the children go;' whereupon he
snatched them both, and ran out of the house with them to


Page 20
the carriage. He drove furiously up the street, turned the
corner short, ran afoul a loaded wagon, turned over the
carriage—the boys, our dear little boys, were thrown against
a curb-stone and killed, instantly—both Sarah's little boys—
both, Emma—both!

“For God's sake come down as soon as possible. Sarah
sits over her children with her hands clasped, without saying
one word, or dropping one tear. God knows what will
be the end.”

Eleanor dropped the letter, and both girls wept, as if they
had never heard the tragedy before. They knew it as one
of the family traditions, and had received it, after time had
seared over the wounds. Such wounds are never healed.
They knew, too, what no letter recorded, that their aunt
was torn from the children to be carried to an insane asylum,
where she remained two years; and they were not surprised
to find the next letter of five years' later date:

Dear Emma:

“I promised, when we parted, to resume our long-suspended
correspondence. With what varied emotions of
remorse and gratitude I survey this chasm. O! Emma, how
differently life looks, prospectively or retrospectively. After
it pleased God to restore my reason, I wasted years of responsible
life in helpless misery, and profitless repining.

“I tormented myself with vain and endless efforts to
solve the mysteries of life—the mysteries of my life! Were
my calamities retributions? Was it a God of love and mercy
who thus visited the rashness, ignorance, presumptuousness
of a girl of seventeen? The vengeance of the heathen deities
seemed not more cruel to me than his who had permitted
my children to be dashed against a stone. No light entered
my soul; but, as when with a diseased eye you look at the


Page 21
sun, a black image falls wherever you direct your eye—so
I saw nothing in life but struggle, misery, blasting. I ceased
to resist the conviction of universal, unmitigated evil. I was
paralyzed by despair. I was truly the skeleton in my father's
house—an image of woe that turned all the cheerful uses of
life to sadness. His friends urged him to send me back to
the asylum. My poor mother was worn out with me, and
kept up a continual simmering of vexation. This was no
more to me than the complaining of a kitten in a tempest.
Thus I went on till it seemed as if there was not a spark of
love left in my soul to be kindled by God's mercies. But
love is the immortal spark, and however overlaid and obstructed,
a divine breath restores its energy, and it consumes
in its pure and holy flame all evil, and revitalizes our whole
being. While there seemed neither light nor heat in me,
my soul was touched by a sense of my father's sweet patience
with me. He not only never spoke a rebuke or remonstrance,
but whenever he spoke to me his voice was mellowed with
compassion, and often I met his eye moistened with an infinite
tenderness. One day I had returned in a state of mind
more than usually irritated with Providence, and abhorrent
of life, from a habitation of wretchedness, for my conscience
scourged me now and then to acts of charity, and I was
sitting before the fire, my arms folded, and my veil down,
my soul in an attitude of defiant despair, when my father
came in—gently removed my veil, kissed me, and pressed
my cheek to his. Suddenly, like a ray of light, those
words darted athwart my mind, `If your earthly father so
love you, how much more your heavenly Father?' I threw
my arms around my father and wept on his bosom—for the
first time since my children were brought home dead to me,
I felt the relief of tears. I rushed to my room—I fell on my
knees—I uttered no word of confession or prayer. My
mind was opened, and light entered. The Bible which I had


Page 22
pored over and felt as if it were all words—words—words
—was now bright with divine effulgence. I read it with my
mind's eye, as well as with my bodily organs. I saw how the
holy men of old held fast their faith through all trial and tribulation.
I received Job's sublime words, `though he slay me,
yet will I trust in him,' thus accepting God's mysterious
dealings with him, and repelling the abortive metaphysical
arguments of his earthly comforters—poor groundlings!
Passage after passage from David's lips dropped into my
melted heart. The prophets seemed to bear me over the
dark ocean of life with their strong wings, and, dear Emma,
I laid myself down at the feet of Jesus, and became as a little
child, receiving without questioning or doubt the teaching
of his words and life. I was possessed with a peace which
I can not describe to you. No matter now how profound
the mysteries of life. They were sealed up—I knelt upon
them and looked up with the eye of faith. The exultation
of my mind of course subsided, but the religious trust and
peace remains. It is not what we find life, but what it
makes of us, that is the great question we are to solve. I
came out of my tribulation with my heart overflowing with
gratitude. Duty did not appear to me a stern teacher; for
him who trusts and believes, she has a smiling aspect and
carries in her hand a cornucopia of blessings. I no longer
weary my mind and burden my heart with an attempt to
solve the mysteries of life. God is good. He loveth us as a
father loveth his children. He has sent his beloved Son to
reiterate the great truths revealed by nature, and providence;
and though it be evident, my dear Emma, that happiness is
not our normal state, yet we have occasional joys, bright
passages enough to give us a conviction of the capacity of
our nature, and to confirm the hope of its future destiny.

“Such joy is mine, late gleaner as I am in God's field,
when I am permitted to do some unexpected good. Such


Page 23
joy was mine yesterday, when I stood at the font, sponsor
for my brother John's little girl Eleanor, and consecrated to
her a portion of all that remains of my health and strength,
so long abused and wasted by a sinful excess of grief.”

As Eleanor silently folded this letter, Grace, after looking
steadfastly in her sister's face, said, “Now one riddle is
solved for me, Eleanor, and I know why it is that you are
of the celestial, and I of the terrestrial: your childhood was
passed with this heavenly aunt of ours, while I, left to earthly
influences, as you know, though you may never have the bad
boldness to say so, have made wings for myself, which I
know will melt off in the first fiery trial, and leave me to sink,
poor mortal as I am! But how sorry I am I did not comprehend
our heavenly-minded aunt.”

“And I think, Grace, I loved her without comprehending
her. Every day interprets to me her earnest life and teaching;
it will be a great reproach to me if I am not the better
for it. Will you have any more of the letters, or are you
tired? Here is a very old one, that seems to be all about
Uncle Walter.”

“Uncle Walter! there's music in his name. Yes, read
it. I hope it is about his marriage; that part of his life
seems as much lost out of it, as the lost tribes of the Jews to
their brethren.”

“Yes, it is of his marriage. The letter begins:”

Dear Emma:

“The rumor you heard (and heard before we did, so complete
is our retirement from the world) is confirmed. Walter
announced his engagement, in his own way, last evening.
`Do you know,' he asked my mother, `whom Augustus
Dawson married?'

“`I have heard,' replied my poor mother, with a certain


Page 24
compression of her lips, which in spite of me always reminds
me of the `Honorable Mr. Delville.' `I dare say she was a
Brown, or a Smith—I never remember such names. She
was nobody.' `I am sorry for that,' replied Walter, `for I
propose to make his daughter, Miss Dawson, somebody, by
giving her your name—with your approbation, and my

“`Not with mine, Walter—never—I remember now, Dawson
married a Winal; I never could bring myself to consent
to your marrying a grand-daughter of Dicky Winal.'

“`Vinal, if you please, madam. (Poor mamma always
transposes her V's and W's, though Walter never lets slip
a chance of correcting her.) You do recall the name?'
`Yes, it came like a blow. Dicky Winal was a tallow-chandler—all
our family bought candles of him.' `And “our
family,” my dear mother, being addicted to lighting their
candles at both ends, Mr. Richard Vinal died richer than
any of the “Sir Harry's” or “Sir John's,” to whom, as I
have learned from you, we have the honor of being distantly

“`Well, well, Walter, if we are not rich as they, we are
not poor enough to want any of their greasy money.'

“`No, madam, that article always retains enough of its
slippery quality to glide away from our hands.' While
Walter talked with this levity to my mother, his eyes
glanced to my father, who at the first word he had spoken
had thrown down his newspaper, and risen from his chair,
and leaning his elbow on the mantel, had fixed his sweet
radiant eye anxiously on Walter. `You were trifling, my
son,' he said: `it is all badinage.'

“`No, pardon me, my dear father, I am in earnest. But
as my Fanny is not the grand-daughter of the tallow-chandler,
but is a daughter of Mr. Dawson's first wife, and grand-daughter
of William Delancy, my mother's friend in those


Page 25
happy days when we were King George's subjects, I

“`Hope! yes, indeed, that you may—I might have
known you were fooling, Walter. Dicky Winal, indeed!'

“`Vinal, madam.'

“`What does it signify what you call such trumpery?
Why I might have known. Nanny Jones told me at Christmas
that Dawson had brought his wife's daughter from
England. How lucky she has been living with English gentry!
Of course she will have nothing to do with the second
brood—Winal's grand-children.'

“`Vinal's, my dear mother.'

“`Yes—dear me, Walter! yes, Winal's. But Fanny will
inherit equally with them?'

“`Probably not. She will have nothing in common with
the second brood, you know, dear mother. Dawson is a
just man, and will so far respect the rights of his children as
to transmit to them the fortune produced by the candles.
No. My Fanny's crest is that which fits most of our Tory
gentry—an empty purse. You say nothing, my dear father.
May I bring her here to-morrow for your blessing?'

“`Certainly, Walter. I trust you have duly considered
this matter. We have already suffered from haste. (I
caught the words, though he depressed his voice.) This is
the great event of your life, my son. Every other takes
color from it. You are not a boy to be governed by impulses
—by love at first sight.'

“`I am not, and this is not my first-love,' he said, with
such a tone and emphasis that we all started and turned our
eyes to him. He started too, as if self-betrayed, and then
coming up to me he pressed me to his bosom with a tenderness
the more affecting that he is undemonstrative; `you
need not speak, my dear sister,' he said, `these cold little
hands say too much.' I tried to speak cheerily, but could


Page 26
not. I feel like a thing of ill omen in all times of gladness.

“Walter settled it with my father that he would bring his
Fanny to us the next morning at twelve. Twelve o'clock
came, and one, and not Walter. My father was annoyed—
nothing vexes him more than a failure of punctuality, but he
suppressed his impatience, and, in the kindness of his gentle
heart, seeking an apology for Miss Fanny, he said, `hours
are later in England than with us.'

“`Yes,' said my mother, who never loses an occasion of
lauding any thing English, `and their customs are so much
better than ours, that I wish we could introduce them all here.'

“`That would be about as sensible,' replied my father, `as
to dress a boy in his grandfather's clothes—but here they
are!' and Miss Fanny entered, in very elegant walking costume,
leaning on Walter's arm. She came in as she would
have entered any other drawing-room on any other occasion
—neither bold, nor timid. My father would have taken her
in his dear old arms, but she prevented this by gracefully
turning her cheek for a salutation. I knew the current of
paternal feeling suffered a sudden congelation. Just then, a
knot of ribbon attached to Miss Dawson's ruff dropped.
She took it from Walter's hand, adjusted it, and afterwards,
with a sort of conventional smile, received my mother's and
my kiss.

“Perhaps I give significance to mere trifles: Walter
seemed satisfied—delighted even; and my brother Walter
is a keen observer of the foibles of our sex. He has been too
fond of quoting from Pope, and the writers of his day, the
biting satires upon the mass of women who have `no characters
at all.'

“While mamma was calling up all the dead Delancys
from her memory, many more than Fanny Dawson had ever
heard of, my father sat perusing the young lady with his


Page 27
soft eye (not a very intricate reading, Emma!) and I sat silent,
my eyes steadfast on my work. Of late years, whenever
I feel emotion, a kind of numbness comes over my
organs—life and heat seem concentrated at my heart. My
friends know I am not the petrefaction I seem. How others
judge me, it does not matter. Walter was disturbed at the
impression I was making on Miss Dawson. `Have you made
a vow to finish that blanket for Nelly while we sit here, Mrs.
Silborn?' he asked. I looked up from my embroidery,
stammering an apology. `Mrs. Silborn! dear me!' exclaimed
Miss Fanny. `Why, Mr. Herbert, you did not tell
me your sister was married! I am enchanted—do you
know I detest old maids—don't you Mrs. Herbert?'

“`Yes, my dear, they are so inconvenient.'

“`Just what mamma says!—one never knows where to
put them, and there are so many in England! Dear Mrs.
Silborn, I am sure I shall love you—and we shall be such
friends, both married ladies—what a sweet blanket you are
embroidering! I will come again to-morrow to see your
baby—I am so fond of babies! Is Mr. Silborn absent?'
She had turned the creaking hinges to sorrows never alluded
to in my family. Do not imagine I burst into tears. We
were all silent, even my mother, and the young lady becoming
conscious there were broken chords in the instrument
she had so rudely handled, reminded Walter of an engagement,
and after again surveying herself in the glass and
seeing that all was right, she made a graceful exit.

“`She is a very pretty young lady,' said my father, as the
door closed after them—`very, very,' as if by reiteration he
could satisfy his desire that she were something more. My
mother took up the words heartily—`pretty, beautiful! my
dear; so high-bred too, such aristocratic features! I
should know her for a Delancy any where, so English! I
am glad she has escaped their embonpoint.'


Page 28

“`Don't use French words, my dear,' said my father, testily,
for him; `you don't speak French well.'

“`French!' exclaimed mamma; `I am sure that's English;
I have heard it a thousand times in English.' (Poor mamma.)

“`Ah well, my love,' said my father, reverting to his usual
equanimity, `it is not your word, but your sentiment I quarrel
with. Embonpoint is the sign of health, and you and I
have lived long enough to know that health is the foundation
of energy, contentment, cheerfulness, and of whatever
makes life either useful or pleasant. You, my dear, are a
pattern of the embonpoint.' And thus the scene was rounded
off with this little conjugal compliment.

“O, Emma, is this Fanny Dawson Walter's ideal?—my
rational, strong-minded brother! `We know what we are,
but we know not what we shall be!' Is all love a mere enchantment?
and did Shakespeare mean so to symbolize it in
his `Midsummer's Night's Dream?'

“I have heard men—sensible, philosophic men—explain
the hideous disparities in marriage, by quietly receiving it
as an ordination of Providence that it should be so—in
order that, by an amalgamation of the tall and the short,
the fat and the lean, the wise and the foolish, the good and
the bad, an average might be sustained. I do not believe a
word of it. I have more reverent notions of God's providence.
I believe that God instituted marriage, to produce
in that relation, as in all others, the highest happiness and
the purest virtue, and that the fearful disorders and imperfections
of the condition are not of his ordination, but produced
by the passions, the prejudices, the ignorance, and
weakness of men and women. Ambition, greed, govern;
an accident, an overpowering vanity, a whim, a fancy, sets
the seal on life! When men buy houses or lands they
take counsel; when they buy a horse, or add a cow to
their herd, they ask a friend's advice; but in the great


Page 29
affair of life, that which makes the life of life, they seek no

“I rather think that a want of true respect for women lies
at the root of the mistake Walter is making, and of many
marriage wrecks, as far as men are concerned; and with us
—poor women—dear Emma, we suck in with our mother's
milk love-fancies, to be distilled upon the first man that
crosses our path, and makes love to us after we are sixteen;
and till then and always, we are taught by books, by all
the talk we hear from old and young, married and single,
that marriage is not only the felicity of woman, but that her
dignity, her attractiveness, her usefulness depends on it; that
in short it is a sine quâ non—the choice of the alternative
is never to be thought of. The sphinx in the desert has not
a more dreary, hideous solitude to the imagination of a girl,
than the old maid, who must pass through the world without
the whispers of love, or any of the rich appliances of
married life. So that marriage becomes not only their
heaven, but an escape from—, the word is not for `ears
polite,' dear Emma; and women go to the altar, and vow
love, honor, and obedience, and priests require this vow, of
impossible performance by the mere volition of the maker.
`Obey' we may the sternest, most unreasonable commands;
but the love and honor depend upon the partner in this
portentous partnership. There is no anguish, Emma—I
speak from experience—I am sure there can be none in any
state of penal misery, to surpass that inflicted by severe disparities
in married life; and, with my own still open wounds,
I say sincerely that I believe there is no felicity exceeding
that of happy married love. You can not wonder that the
marriage of any one I love fills me with dread. I can not
help it. Memory has killed hope. I remember how I
rushed into the paradise of my imagination. How soon the


Page 30
flowers were blighted, and trailing in the dust! How soon
the fruit was blasted!

“I can not account for this fancy—it is not love—of Walter's
betraying him to such serious consequences. A man,
like my brother, to be caught by the sparkle of this little
brilliant! Does that first love, that he so inadvertently confessed,
explain it? He has seemed singularly indifferent to
the attractions of women ever since he left college. Perhaps
he has been disappointed in some fervent, earnest,
youthful passion, and then, as men do, when the time comes
to choose between the married man and the sorry bachelor,
he has suffered himself to be the sport and the victim of an
accident. He should have sought a woman who would be
the friend of his maturity, who could sound the depth of his
affections, give impulse to his highest aspirations, be his
counselor in perplexity, and then stand behind him with the
gentleness and self-renunciation of a loving wife. Instead
of this, Emma—but I do not know Fanny Dawson. She
may prove something very different from the pretty shallowness
she seems. God grant she may sustain that love which
is the element of life, from turret to foundation-stone, and
heaven pardon my foreboding, that Walter's structure will
fall at the first strain.

“My brother's is a most noble nature, Emma, but he is
indolent, and lets times and accidents master him. Dear
Walter, I tremble for you when you come to want the companionship
of a friend, the buoyancy and infinite ingenuity
of a true woman's love—when children come to be trained
for earth and heaven—when the saddest exigences of life
arrive, or, what is perhaps more dangerous to happiness,
when its familiar prosperities become stale and ennuyantes;
then—but, dear brother, I will not be your Cassandra!

“It is because I reverence the marriage compact that I
would not have it lightly made. God knows how I reverence


Page 31
it; how it bound my conscience to every possible sacrifice;
how, in obedience to it, I turned all my means from
the natural channels of my affections, to feed and clothe
my miserable husband, and to answer his insatiable demands.
I was with him, Emma, for many hours of every
day during the last months of his loathsome life, in the
wretched lodging to which, in spite of my supplies, he had
reduced himself. Neither my words nor my prayers penetrated
the obstructions of his dimmed senses and clouded
mind. I could not comfort him; but I appeased my conscience,
which forever reiterated to me my rash marriage

Eleanor kissed the letter, and reverently refolding it, returned
it to the file.

Mrs. Silborn's letters had thoroughly awakened Grace's
interest. She left her drawings, and insensibly slid down on
the cushion beside Eleanor. Another file of their aunt's letters
was taken out, and each sister eagerly opened and read
them, passing their eyes over family events which they already
well knew—such as their grandmother's death, the
particulars of their grandfather's long decline, “the going
down of that sun which,” as their aunt wrote, “had preserved
a course of serene beneficence from its dawn to its
setting,” etc., etc.

“How I wish,” said Grace, “that I could find something
more about dear Uncle Walter. It is always just so, the
moment people are married they are passed over with mere
hints and allusions. Ah! here Aunt Sarah says: `Walter's
wife is exceedingly admired. Walter brought her here to
exhibit a rose-colored Parisian dress, before going to General
M.'s ball. Mamma was in raptures. “She does look
lovely,” said my father, as they left the room, and sighed.
I sighed, too, Emma.'


Page 32

“Here again: `Fanny says she has worn all her dresses
twice, and she shall go out no more. “What should I go
for,” she says, “when I have no more new dresses? it's so
tiresome! No one cares for a married woman.” '”

“Ah!” cried Eleanor, “here is something better: `Fanny
is becoming a devoted mother; every faculty of her nature
seems resolved into the maternal instinct. I don't think
Walter quite likes being so soon superseded.'”

Letter after letter was explored, but no mention of Mrs.
Herbert for three years.

“Of course she has become a nonentity,” said Grace.

“No, Grace,” said Eleanor, “here, in a letter, of four years
later date, Aunt Sarah says: `You inquire about Walter's
boys. I am sorry to say they are puny little things, petted
and pampered by their weak mother, seldom allowed to
breathe fresh air, and in the doctor's hands six days out of
seven. Is it not strange that Walter, with his sense, should
submit to this? Poor fellow, he takes refuge from the inanities
of his home at “the club,” and thus he neither manfully
cures, nor patiently endures, the evil.'”

“I can not find a mention of Aunt Fanny's name again,”
said Grace, running her eye over several letters.

“There was little to say,” replied Eleanor; “the poor
little boys died, as I have heard from Aunt Sarah, before
they were four years old, and Aunt Fanny, after a few
years of invalidism—not life, nor quite death—followed

“Oh, I remember her death!” exclaimed Grace, “and
remember perfectly feeling a little ashamed of Uncle Walter
that he did not cry; and saying to him—from my infancy I
have spoken out my heart to him—`Why don't you cry,
Uncle Walter? Papa did dreadfully, when mamma died!' I
shall never forget his look and answer: `I am no dissembler,
Gracie!' I went straight to the library, and looked out the


Page 33
word in Johnson, and since then I have never spoken to him
of Aunt Fanny. Eleanor,” she continued, after a few moments'
brooding, “these family annals reveal a cruel destiny
—a fate hangs over us all. There was our great-hearted
grandfather married to the tenth dilution of a woman;
Aunt Sarah wedded to a sensual brute, and Uncle Walter to
a fool!”

“But, Grace, it was of free will—not fate!”

“And you have no fears. I have. With the freest will
in the world, I have a perfect terror of fate. But what are
you smiling at, Eleanor? For pity's sake, if any thing has
turned up in Aunt Sarah's letters to smile at, let's have it.”

“I have just lighted upon something that comes a little
nearer home to you and to me.”

She read aloud:

“My brother William was wise in allotting to Walter, in
his will, a suit of apartments in his house. This secures to
the girls Walter's protection, and to him the infinite comfort
of their companionship. Between him and Grace there is
growing a strong affection, founded in congenial natures,
with the authority and respect of the parental and filial tie,
softened by the consciousness, on both sides, that the duties
are voluntary. I do not admit the affection is stronger
than that which subsists between Eleanor and myself, but
there is ever a raciness imparted by difference of sex, and
besides Grace will always keep the current of her loves
more agitated and more sparkling than Eleanor.”

Eleanor paused.

“Read on,” said Grace; and she proceeded.

“My dear Emma, I look forward to this child's future
with painful anxiety—”


Page 34

“Of course she did; but go on, I can bear it.”

“I can leave my little Ellen tranquilly, whatever may be
her destiny in life. There is a principle of spiritual development
in her that clouds will but nurture. Poor Grace is a
tropical plant, capable of rich growth and marvelous
beauty, but exposed to volcanic perils. She is so deeply
stamped by nature, that neither time nor custom will wear
out the impression. She is capable of soaring higher than
my Eleanor, and will always be capable of feats, but never
of dear Nelly's patient continuance in well-doing. Grace
has an intensity manifested in hot loves and hot hates. This
is all innocent enough now—she is but eleven—but will it
not impair the ripened woman? Eleanor will inherit the
earth, which I take to mean the spiritual harvests that life
yields, and which those only reap who have moderate expectations,
disciplined tempers, unexacting affections, and
subdued wills. Poor Grace will reach heaven at last, but
through much tribulation.”

“Stop, Ellen—stop!” cried Grace; “Aunt Sarah is dreadful.
I can't have her spin out the black thread of my
destiny, and besides, I do not honestly think that our good
aunt quite comprehended me.”

“Aunt Sarah died when you were but thirteen, Grace,
and surely you have the best of it. She carries you to
heaven, and leaves to me only the inheritance of the

“An inheritance, Eleanor, that is sure to take you
through the beaten track of all the beatitudes up to the
third heaven. But come, is there more? I believe, after
all, Aunt Sarah was a seeress; let's have it.”

“It's all much in the same strain,” replied Ellen, about to
refold the voluminous letter.


Page 35

“Ah, I see how it is, Miss Eleanor; let me have it—it
won't try my modesty.”

Grace read aloud:

“Eleanor has not her sister's personal or mental brilliancy
—`a sop to Cerberus,' exclaimed Grace—`but she has that
equal temperament that is not liable to disturbances. Her
clear mind mirrors every thing definitely, and in true proportions.
Grace's is the glassy lake, reflecting with intense
brightness, but darkened by every cloud that flies over it,
and tossed by gusty winds and giving back shifting shadows.'
Eleanor is trained in self-sacrifice—`I am the trainer, no
doubt'—and her activity and industry—she is the busiest of
little bees—will preserve her from the self-created miseries
of the nervous, sickly women that afflict domestic life.

“How tenacious are the affections, dear Emma. Mine,
wrenched as they were, have taken root again in Eleanor.
The maternal instincts have made a channel for themselves,
as they will, for they are the ruling force of a woman's
nature. It is not necessary to have borne a child to love it
with a mother's perceptive, anxious, relying fondness. The
affections are not dependent on the instincts, though they
be best adapted to the conservation of the race, and its
general happiness.”

“Aunt Sarah is getting sententious, and prosy,” said
Grace, “but proceed.”

“To return to the children. They illustrated their different
qualities in their reception of their step-mother. Eleanor
was ten, Grace but seven when William married Mrs. Carlton.
My brother asked me to prepare the girls for this
event. When I told them, Eleanor turned fearfully pale, put
her arm clingingly around me, and laid her head on my


Page 36
shoulder. She did not speak. Grace went off into a passion
of grief and indignation. `A new mother!' she exclaimed;
`Mrs. Carlton dare not call herself my mother;
my mother lives, though we can not see her; you told me so
yourself, Aunt Sarah. How dare papa? Mrs. Carlton can't
be my mother. I wish she were dead!' `O, don't, Grace!'
interposed Eleanor. `Then, Eleanor, if that suits you better,
I wish you and I were dead!' And so she went on till
she was exhausted, but neither convinced nor subdued; and
to this day, I believe, a step-mother is to her an unmitigable
evil—`true! even to this day true, Aunt Sarah!'—to which
all my sister-in-law's good sense and good temper has not
reconciled her, so do her feelings overpower her reason. My
wise, good little Eleanor admitted all I said of her father's
right to marry again, and of the requirements of her filial
duty; and she went to it with the determination to live as
she will wish to have lived when she comes to die.”

“O Eleanor, how completely you have carried out the
principles Aunt Sarah implanted! Your present gilds your
future, and there is a glowing twilight in your past. Such
prospective, retrospective goodness is marvelous to me!
But what does Aunt Sarah say of that horrible slough of Mrs.
Herbert's advent?—how well I remember it.”

“The girls were sad enough when their step-mother came,
but Ellen's was a gentle inoffensive sadness, and involuntary
clinging to sweet filial memories. Poor little Grace seemed
resenting a personal indignity—an irreparable injury, and
to this day, whatever Mrs. Herbert proposes goes counter
to her grain, while Eleanor, `ceasing to resist, ceased to suffer,'
and coöperating in the somewhat tedious perfection of
Mrs. Herbert's domestic economy, the harmonies of her nature
were not disturbed. Duty did the work of love. Poor


Page 37
Grace is in a state of perpetual annoyance, fretted by her
step-mother's foibles, and feeling the bitterness of being fretted
by them, for she has a clear self-discernment. Fortunately,
my sister-in-law has too serene a temper, and perhaps
a little too much self-complacency, to perceive Grace's irritations.
She honestly thinks both the girls love her, and
fancies that Grace with any one else might be irascible, but
that she knows how to manage her!”

“O!” cried Grace, “I am the same child yet: her sweet
brings out all my acid. I have traveled all the way from
seven to eighteen without learning any thing. I shall never
be wiser.”

“Do not say so, dear Grace,” said Eleanor, interposing, as
a kind-hearted person is too apt to, to fend off the arrows of
conscience; “this very morning, at breakfast, I was admiring
your self-command in making no retort when Mrs. Herbert
so elaborately lauded Horace Copley, contrasting him with
his aristocratic manners, and elegant taste in dress, with
Frank Esterly.”

“My dear, simple Eleanor, I was pleased with what she
said. Mr. Esterly piqued me last evening. He tossed over
my finest drawings without saying one word about them.
No, I am not deceived. I know myself. You deserved to
be Aunt Sarah's favorite. You were papa's—mamma's—
you are mine, dear Eleanor,” she cried, her face irradiating,
and throwing her arms around her sister; “I love you a
thousand times better than I love myself.”

“You are more generous than just,” said Eleanor, returning
her sister's embrace. “It is not true—I am not the
favorite of all our family. Uncle Walter loves you immeasurably
more than he loves me.”

“That is true, I think. Yes, I admit that. Dear old
Uncle Walter! We are a good deal alike—he and I. We


Page 38
hate monotony, even in goodness. He groans—if he does
not groan aloud, as I do, under Mrs. Herbert's infinite tediousness.
We are both sinners, and repenters. Poor dear
Uncle Walter! I am afraid he is no more judicious in his
loves than he was twenty years ago. Can't you find any
more scraps in the letters about him?”

“Yes, here is one:—`You say, dear Emma, that you
were both surprised and glad to see Walter looking so well
and bright after the loss of his little boys. You do not
know Walter. He is like those citadels kept well manned
and in stern outward order when there is starvation within.
I should call my brother a Christian stoic, if there were
any thing in Christianity so hard and egotistic as stoicism.
When his poor, pampered, doctored children fell, within one
week, a prey to the first serious disease that attacked them,
he made no lamentation, but he looked blasted, and in a
month wasted to a skeleton. I once said to him, “Walter,
God does not willingly grieve or afflict you.” He replied
with a calm voice of deep conviction, “Sarah, I am not
deceived, I do not accuse Providence: `as ye sow, so shall
ye reap.' When I took for a mother to my children, a
woman without sense, without any just notions of life, without
health, without one of the essential qualifications for the
highest and holiest office of a woman, what should I have
expected?—just what has come to pass. As I sowed, so
have I reaped. Poor Fanny! poor Fanny! I pity her from
the bottom of my heart. She, and you, and I, Sarah,” and
he pressed my hand with a desperate gripe, “are all victims.”
“Of our own weakness and ignorance,” I said. “In part,
Sarah, in part,” he replied; “but what have our religious
teachers done to rectify, and counteract the false notions and
false usages of society? Did our parents implant the views
and principles on which the most important of all relations
should be based? No, we were left to whim—to accident


Page 39
—to the feverish dreams of youth—and here we are—here
we are—God help us!” and he rushed out of the room, and
left me crying bitterly. It was the first and last he ever
said to me on the subject. A few months passed. Walter
locked his secret griefs in his heart, and kept the key himself.
In outward seeming he was the same man he had always
been, noble, thoughtful for others, careless for himself,
sometimes wise, and sometimes far otherwise. I can not
bear a harsher censure of one whose nature is so composed
of all that sweetens, and vitalizes life—tears are due to his
infirmities, not censure, Emma!'”

“O, Eleanor!” exclaimed Grace, “how strange that a man
like Uncle Walter should go on so unchanged in character, so
changed in circumstances. Just as he was when he married
Aunt Fanny—when his children lived—when they died—
when he lived in his own house on the Battery in open-door
hospitality—just so he now is, living with only a bedroom
and a little parlor, in our third story, and with just a pittance
to pay his bills. Let's shut up the trunk. I am tired of it.
Stop! what is this you have left out? A pocket-book
marked with grandpapa's name—if there should be a treasure
in it?”

She unclasped the pocket-book, and exclaimed, “There is!
there is! a letter from Uncle Walter—the single letter of
his life, I think, for I never heard of his putting pen to paper.
Bless us! written—oh, how long ago—when he was in Yale

Grace began to read aloud.

My Dear Father:—”

“But, Grace!” interposed Eleanor, “is this quite right?
We should ask Uncle Walter's leave—there may be a secret.”


Page 40

“A college-boy's secret, ages ago. Eleanor, you are
too absurdly scrupulous. I'll confess and take all the

Grace read aloud.

My Dear Father:

“My filial duty and my unlimited confidence in both
your justice and generosity would have induced long since
the communication I am about to make, but it was deferred
by the griefs my sister's calamities brought upon you. I
could not then add another bitter drop to your full cup. I
must no longer delay. Six months since—”

“O, stop there, Grace,” cried Eleanor, spreading her
hand over the page, “we must not read another word.”

“No, we must not,” replied Grace, hurriedly refolding the
letter; “but is it not too bad, just as we perceived the
flavor of the apple, and had our teeth upon it? How much
better we are than Eve! I always thought her a remarkable
specimen of human infirmity.” Grace, looking again at
the seal and at the superscription, tossed it into the trunk,
saying, “Lock the trunk, Eleanor, and hide the key from
me, lest at some weak moment—. No, no, hand me the
letter. I will give it to Uncle Walter; he'll not object to
my reading it—it concerns some college prank, or some
transient love-madness. Perhaps it is that `first love' alluded
to in Aunt Sarah's letter?”

“Most likely; Uncle Walter was not the kind of man to
repeat his loves.”

“I don't know that. I have heard him say men have
forty before they marry, and I believe him.”

“I do not, Grace; I have more faith in man's loyalty.”

“Of course, Eleanor; being yourself made after the divine
pattern—knowing no variableness. Don't look so


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solemn, I mean no irreverence. I'll refer it to our clerical
oracle—perhaps you don't know whom I mean?”

“I do.”

“Ah, you do!” Both sisters smiled. “I'll ask Mr. Esterly,
then,” continued Grace, “and if he sees a mote in my
eye—why, I'll clutch at the beam in his.”

“What do you mean, Grace?”

“He was admiring the harmonious proportions of your
character, my dear; the admirable consistency of your conduct;
and I said it was not then quite so absurd as I had
imagined, in Miss Hannah More to send forth her knight
errant, `Cœlebs in Search of a Wife,' with the motto, `Expect
not perfection, but look for consistency!' Without listening
to me, he murmured, as if ruminating on his own
thoughts, `Montaigne says that perfect consistency is to be
expected alone of Omnipotence.'


“Quel vago impallidor che 'l dolce riso,
D'un amorosa nebbia ricopersi!'”

Eleanor's face was, indeed, covered with a rush of blushes
and smiles, quickly changing to paleness and gravity. It
was such a change as might chance to a Turkish lady's face,
from whom her lover had torn her veil. But Eleanor's
heart was still impenetrably veiled from her sister's eye; and
when a servant opened the door, and said, “Mr. Esterly is
below, Miss Eleanor;” “Did he ask only for Miss Eleanor,
John?” she inquired.

“Yes, Miss, and no mistake.”

“That's odd!” said Grace. “Ah! now I recollect—he
told me he was coming to ask you, Eleanor, to take a class
in his Sunday-school, or sewing-school, or some such parochial
affair. If he asks for me to go on with our Petrarch,


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tell him I am engaged. I don't feel like it; my heart is in
that old green trunk.”

Though Grace fancied her interest was monopolized by
one subject, she set the door ajar, and listened eagerly for
Esterly's retiring footsteps; and when her sister, after a long
delay, returned, she said: “Have you been all this time arranging
your Sunday-school, Eleanor?”

“Mr. Esterly came to ask me to take a class in it,” she

“Did he seem offended that I put him off?”

“O, forgive me, Grace, I forgot to tell him.”

“And he forgot to ask! Of course, he was offended, or
hurt, or something of that sort. Lovers—I don't mean that,
but—he is so sensitive. Eleanor, how you flush to-day.
Our step-mother is right for once; she says you are not
well; that you are getting nervous with all these schools
and societies. She says Mr. Esterly imposes on you. Do
not look so injured—it was her remark, not mine. She said,
with her usual jealousy for you—you angel! you are never
jealous for yourself—that while Mr. Esterly spent hours
dawdling over the piano with me, and reading Italian, if
there were work to do, he turned it over to you.” She
paused, and, as if uttering the result of her consideration,
she added, “I wonder if all men commit the folly of preferring
`le beau à l'utile!' Ah! if Frailty's the name of
woman, Presumption is the name of girl.”