University of Virginia Library




—“beyond reach
His children can not wander
Of the sweep of his white raiment.”

On the banks of the Hudson river, on one of the old
roads not yet absorbed into a broad and numbered avenue,
was a farm-house on a property called “Blossom Farm.”
The house stood under a bluff overlooking the river and the
Palisades. It was completely screened, winter and summer,
by tall old pines. The road that ran between it and the
river, scarcely more than a bridle path, was particularly attractive
for horsemen who liked lonely and romantic rides.
There, in a well-aired apartment of the house, bolstered by
piles of pillows, lay a young woman in the last stage of consumption,
as her emaciated frame, her hectic cheek, her
glowing eye, her moist temples and her whistling breath too
surely indicated. Her fair long tresses were turned off her
face and lay over the pillow with that lifeless languor which
marks even the hair in this disease. Her small transparent
hands were tightly clasped, betraying the effort to which her
spirit was strained. Her faithful little spaniel lay at her feet,
looking up wistfully, moving at her slightest movement, and
wagging his tail at every sound of her husky feeble voice—
that voice lately so sweet and clear. Miss Travers stood
behind her, dropping heavy tears on her pillow, and bathing


Page 22
her temples, while a middle-aged woman knelt beside her,
her whole frame quivering with emotion, and her face crimsoned
and convulsed with grief. “Why, in the world, my
poor child,” she said (it was Jessie's mother), “did you
not tell his mother? Did the villain buy your silence?”

“No, mother. But when I felt what it was to be miserable—oh,
most miserable—I could not bear to make another
so—he was her only child.”

“And you—you were mine! Oh God, rain down curses
on him!”

“Oh, mother, don't say that. You promised to be still
and hear me. I can not speak if you say such words—don't,
mother dear.”

“I will try not, my darling,” said the poor woman eagerly,
and she pressed her hand firmly over her mouth.

“He sent me to the city,” resumed Jessie, “to a decent-looking
place; he gave me plenty of money, and every way
provided for me. Oh, how I lived on his promise to come
and see me—he never came—I thank God now, but then I
did not feel so. I saw only a woman and a servant that
tended on me. I soon found out they were the worst of

“Oh, my innocent child!”

“Hush, dear mother. I wrote again to you—was it that
letter you got?”

“It was, thank God.”

“I can't remember how many weeks I was there, it seemed
forever. I had cried till I had no more tears left; but I
sobbed, and sobbed night and day, I had got so into the
way of it. One horrid night the house seemed full; there
was rioting, and drunkenness, and thundering knocks at my
locked door. I was in such terror. The next day I stole
away, and went to Miss Martha Young's. She was dead.
Oh, when I found it so, I was so sick and faint. But, mother,


Page 23
God did not forsake me. A kind Irish woman took
me into her own little room, and got such plenty of work
for me, that I earned more than I spent. I made my baby-things;
they were so pretty!” A smile gleamed over Jessie's
face at this one pleasant memory. “I loved to look at
them; I could not help it—I hope it was not wrong; I
knew I was disgraced, but I did not feel wicked, mother.
It seemed to me that my Father in heaven looked down on
me in pity, not in anger. I had burned up the bank-notes
Mr. Copley gave me. I had cast away all the fine things he
decked me with. I had tried to do all the right I could,
and I was patient and somehow at peace. It was last May
my baby was born—the baby that I had so longed to
hold in my arms! to feel its breath on my cheek, and its
little lips on mine, but, oh mother, it was dead—it was
dead! I never saw it!” The poor girl's voice here sank
away and a shiver passed over her, but after an interval of
ten minutes, and taking some restoratives, she was able
again to speak. “It was better so, I suppose; I had on
right to the sweet feelings of a mother. I was very, very
ill, and that good soul staid from her day's work to nurse
me. A cough came on, and I went down, down, down,
month after month, worse and worse. About a month ago,
it may be two, my mind began to wander, and one night, I
think, I got up in my sleep—I don't know—it was all confused—”
She rose in the bed, and rested on her elbow, and
seemed piercing into the intricate obscurities of her memory,
but it was in vain; she shook her head and sank back. “It
seemed to me I met him—I can not say if I did. I can not
separate what was real from what was a dream. My mind
was so bewildered—could it have been a dream? I remember
it all so well. The streets were still and empty, and I
walked on and on—I was so tired. I looked up to the stars,
and they looked cold and far away, and I tried to pray, and


Page 24
God seemed far away too. Then I heard footsteps—I stood
under a lamp. Mr. Copley came close to me—he was walking
with a tall lady. It could not have been a dream, and
yet when I laid my hand on him, and stopped him, and spoke
to him, he seemed not to know me—just as people do seem
in a dream—and he shook me off, and I fell on the pavement,
and then I don't remember any more till I waked in the
hospital on Blackwell's Island. You know, dear Miss
Travers, what that place is? It's the place, mother, where
they send wretched women from wretched places. I was
mistaken for one of them! Oh, dear! dear! dear!”

“You, Jessie, my child! and you ask me not to curse

“You must not, mother. I am just gone, and I want to
hear blessing and not cursing. Mother, say that blessed
prayer with me I used to say at home, when I knelt down
before you. I have prayed it many a time when it seemed
to fold me round like wings and lift me above my sin and
my sorrows. Pray it with me, dear mother, and you won't
feel like cursing.”

Mother and child repeated together that divine petition,
whose few words expand to every want of humanity. The
mother's voice was soft and steady. Jessie's such as one
might imagine a spirit's to be, hovering at the opening gate
of immortality. When it was finished, she drew her mother
down to her bosom, gave her a long protracted kiss, and
murmured, so low that Miss Travers bent her head to the
pillow to hear her, “Now all my trouble is over, mother.
God has forgiven us both. We shall meet in heaven.” She
gasped for breath. Miss Travers gave her a cordial, and
wiped away the cold dews on her forehead. After a little
while her breath was less obstructed; nature roused its last
energies, and she proceeded: “You want to know all,
mother; there's not much more to tell. I was three weeks


Page 25
in the hospital. Oh, what racking pains of body, and pangs
of conscience, and far worse, what hardened wickedness I
saw there! For the most part they were victims of vanity
and love of dress. I thought good women should gather
up friendless children, and teach weak ignorant girls what
snares fine clothes and flattery may be to them. But God's
witnesses were there too—a good doctor, and a kind matron;
and there came there every week, a woman—one of God's
messengers she surely was—she looks after all forsaken and
forgotten ones—love and hope shone in her face. The sun
broke on my black night when she took my hand and kissed
me, and told me to be of good cheer. She it was that
brought me to this quiet place, and brought Miss Travers to

All that we have here written down in continuous sentences,
was broken into fragments by faintness, gasping, and
sometimes utter loss of breath. Now her eye was becoming
glazed, and her utterance so painful that Miss Travers said,
“Don't try to speak any more, dear child, it is too hard.”

“Only one word more—mother, say you forgive him.”

“I do—I do forgive him—God forgive us all!”

A heavenly smile lighted Jessie's face.

“Just like the first smile I ever saw on my baby's lips!”
exclaimed the mother.

“Thanks,” whispered Jessie, her feeble hand groping for
Miss Travers; “poor little Beau, good-bye—kiss me, mother—how
dark it's getting! Good-night—good-night!”

The low whisper ceased, the breathing became fainter and
fainter. In one hour more Jessie's heart ceased to beat.

Miss Travers sank on her knees in silent prayer. The
mother seemed totally changed. God had spoken to the
waves of resistance and resentment, “Peace—be still!”
and they were still. She sat down on the bedside, and


Page 26
calmly putting aside the pillows, laid Jessie's head on her
bosom, and folded her arms around her, saying in a subdued
tone, “My own little girl in my arms again!”

Here, in the deep shadows of obscurity, lay this victim of
a man of the world, degraded—not corrupted—a beautiful
flower ruthlessly crushed, God's gracious gifts thrown away,
and the good purposes of his providence contravened. Here,
her life taken away, her pure name blighted, never to be
spoken, but with scorn or sighs; here she lay—dead—on
the bosom of a broken-hearted mother!

Where was he who was to answer for her fate? Lapped
in luxury—seeking a fresh pleasure for every passing hour—
received among “respectable men,” who knew his course of
life, as if untainted, and—God help us!—by mothers as a fit
associate, a coveted husband for their daughters, for he belonged
to the “best society,” he was “high-bred,” and
“very elegant,” and “so fascinating”—we quote, not invent
the current phrases—and “he had thirty thousand a year!”
This is the stale old world complaisance repeated here.
Pass the threshold to another life—“A ministering angel
shall my sister be when thou liest howling.”[1]


Dear Sam,

“I have been passing the evening alone with my mother.
I do that dutiful act now and then. My mother is regularly
pious, straight-laced, but she discreetly avoids meddling
with my affairs. I fancied she had her suspicions after
Jessie's sudden demise, but she said nothing—wise in her
generation is my mother. `Apropos des bottes,' I met


Page 27
that girl Jessy in the street not long ago—she is shockingly
changed—gone like the rest of them. She stopped me, and
spoke to me, and who of all the world do you think was with
me!—G. H. By Jupiter, Sam, I thought my game was up
—but bless these fine young ladies!—bless their voluntary
and involuntary blindness! To return to my tête-à-tête
with my mother. After a preliminary fidgeting she began:
`I have long wished, my son, to speak to you on an interesting
subject. The town, you know, Horace, is giving
you to Miss Herbert.' I bowed and looked, I'll answer for
it, as blank as white paper. `I have no objection to make,'
she continued (that is, revered mother, you will not oppose
a will you can't control) `I must confess I should have preferred
another selection. Your dear father in his life-time
tried hard to purchase the beautiful Carlton property next
ours, and when I think of what I know to have been his
wish, of course it seems to me a pity that you do not prefer
Miss Anne Carlton, who is quite as handsome and as superior
as Miss Herbert, and more—(I wondered what my
mother stumbled at), and more—docile—more like to make
a pliant wife. But of course it is for you to decide—it is
nothing to me in a worldly point of view.'—Humbug, Sam,
she would give her right hand to see me married to Anne—
and her `beautiful property.' `It is a trial,' she continued,
`when an only son comes to marry; daughters-in-law are
not daughters, but mothers are always mothers.' She wiped
her eyes, perhaps tears from them, for it is a tremendous
struggle to ungrapple her hopes from the Carlton estate. I
assured my venerable parent that I felt deeply grateful for
her generosity, but I only nibbled at the bait;—it is too soon
to pour my confidence into the maternal bosom. The balances
are still quivering. They shall not turn against me.
I know, Sam, you think me a fool for this dogged pursuit,
when, as you say, there are scores of pretty women—Anne


Page 28
Carltons—that I might marry for the asking, or, better still,
have without the cost, and risks, and tedium of marriage; or,
I may enjoy the swing of youth, you tell me, and at forty,
fifty, or sixty buy a pretty young wife. Wives have their
price in our pure young republic, and if not quite as cheap
as in a Turkish market, they are as surely to be bought. But,
my boy, I can not give up the chase now. Like other men,
perhaps I `prize the thing ungained more than it is.' Six
years since I made a bet with you and recorded it, that I
would marry Grace Herbert. When I was a boy, if I set
my wishes on a particular apple, on a particular tree, I
would break my neck but I got it. My temper is not yet

“She cares not a fig for my fortune, or my position—this
gratifies my pride; for, if she marries me, it will be for what
I am, or what she fancies I am. Laugh at my vanity, if you
will, I have it in common with the world; it is the universal
motive-passion; it impels the florist to produce the prize
rose, and leads the martyr to the stake; we are all on one
level there.

“I have made lucky hits of late. The Esterlys have lost
one of their progeny, and while they were in the ferment of
hopes and fears, I rained down toys and flowers upon them.
Trifles light as air tell, when the heart is soft. I wrote a
masterly note, and sent it, with a bouquet, to solace Miss H.
when she came home from her nephew's funeral. It was
non-committal, and yet significant enough. I could turn
Augusta Tallis' head off her shoulders, with half the pains
I took to compose that note.

“But my master-stroke, my coup-de-grace, was this very
morning. There has been a hue and cry after a mulatto
runaway slave, a devilish fine creature, connected with an
old family servant of the Esterlys. Miss H., as one might
predicate of her, partakes the furor for fugitive slaves in


Page 29
general, and for this one she had a particular interest. I
seized the occasion, and ransomed the woman and her boy,
paying to the tune of $1,400!!

“I see but one breaker ahead—that cousin of mine, Julia
Travers, saint and vestal; would she were trimming her
own fires, instead of watching mine! Setting aside feminine
decency, she had the boldness, not long ago, to speak to
me of that little fille-de-joie, Jessie, who has turned up somewhere
in Miss Julia's harvest-field, and `della qualle é bella il
' and so I told my cousin in pretty plain English, and
we parted—daggers drawn.

“Rolla is at the door, I am going out for a gallop—au

“11, P.M.—I think it was the devil, or a spell like that
which is said to bring a murderer back to the precise scene
of his crime, that made me turn Rolla's head out of the
avenue into an obscure road, which you may remember,
where, on turning an angle by a copse of pines, you come
upon an old farm-house. As I came round the corner, Rolla
was in full headway. I saw a hearse standing before the
farm-house door, and two or three officials about it. I think
from a premonitory impulse to escape the place, I must have
given a sudden jerk to Rolla's bit; he never before served
me such a knave's trick—he stumbled, and threw me over
his head; mine struck the ground. I was stunned, and taken
into the farm-house unconscious. When I came to my
senses, I was stretched on a sofa, and my cousin Julia was
bathing my temples. My perceptions were dim, but I think
there was another person beside my cousin in the room, for
I have an impression of a ghostly pale face, and a long
mourning veil floating through a door into a back-parlor,
and of my cousin leaving my side to close the door. She
gave me a glass of wine—her hand shook; so, I think, did


Page 30
mine. After a while she said, `Your color is returning—are
you better?'

“`Yes, quite well.'

“`Your horse is at the door; are you able to remount him?'

“Her voice was steady, and her manner not unkind. I
can not tell why I was irritated. Are there unseen demons
that beset us? I felt as if I were in a place of torment, and
she there to scourge me. I replied, `Yes, perfectly able,'
and threw from me a handkerchief steeped in some infernal
stuff which she had laid on my forehead. As I rose to my
feet—the room turned dark; I reeled, and caught by the
first thing I could reach. The confusion passed like a driving
cloud, and directly, with the full power and acuteness of
my senses, I perceived that my hand had seized the open lid
of a coffin, and under my eye was the face of that girl—
Jessie. Good God! Her image, as she was a little more than
a year ago, rose before me; the bloom and roundness; the
rich and shining tresses that her little childish fingers played
with, as in her confusion she parried my love-making; those
bright dewy lips, now blue—blue, and cold—bah! they
haunt me. I was weakened by my fall, and this shocking
sight smote me: my nerves were shaken—my blood curdled
at my heart. I should have been prepared for this sorry
sight by the looks of the girl when I met her in the street,
but I was not; I was unmanned. I paced up and down the
room, and again I stood over the dead girl. Just at that
moment the door opened, and in sprang another acquaintance
of mine, Jessie's only friend, a little spaniel that had come
with her from her English home; she called him Beau. I
had fed and petted him; he flew up to me, fawned on me,
and licked my hands. Sam, I confess it, I felt at the moment
as if it would be sacrilege to touch him. He turned from
me, and leaped to the coffin, and lay there as still as the clod
within it. I was weak as a child. I wrung my hands—I


Page 31
cried like a boy! I saw a tear in the hollow of Jessie's
cheek; I started, and looked to my cousin. `Her mother
dropped it there,' she said.

“`Her mother! Has she a mother?' I asked.

“`Yes, a broken-hearted mother. Oh, Horace! who can
say where a great wrong shall stop? Dear little Jessie's
sorrows are ended. She forgave all, and I doubt not is forgiven.
Do not let her dying prayer for you be lost! There
is mercy for the sinner; though his sins be as scarlet, they
shall become white as wool.' She went on multiplying trite
quotations. Her exhortation was a thought too long; it
brought me back to the old track. Had she left me to the
scourging of that horrid sight—to the rebuke of that fond
little animal, I might have passed by remorse to penitence,
and perchance come out upon the highway of reformation,
but I was not to be bridled and ridden by a canting girl,
so I broke away, mounted Rolla, and came home. I swallowed
a glass of brandy, and went to the opera, but I heard
nothing but the ringing in my ears, saw nothing, but that
coffin, and the wreck within it. I rushed into the street,
and found myself before Miss Herbert's door. Miss Herbert
heard me as I entered, and came into the hall to thank me
for my part in the fugitive-slave affair. She sent a flood of
healing from her starry eyes into my soul. When we came
into the drawing-room, her step-mother—old women are
always asking about one's health—remarked my paleness,
and inquired if I were ill, and followed up her inquiry
with an exclamation at a patch on my forehead which I believed
my hair covered. I stammered, and finally confessed
that my horse had thrown me.

“`Your horse stumbled!' exclaimed old Herbert, who
never lets an opportunity pass of annoying me; `I think I
heard you boast that a horse well broken like your's never


Page 32

“`Rolla bowed to destiny, Uncle Walter,' said Grace;
`pride must have its fall! But I hope you are not much
hurt,' she added, turning on me a look full of earnest interest.
Uncle Walter, Rolla, may go to the devil—that look
pays all. Lisle was there. That old loafer, Walter Herbert,
affects him greatly. I meet him hobbling along at the
young man's side every day. I believe in my soul, the old
fool would rather give his niece to him than to me! I am
not jealous of him, Sam, but we are antagonistic. He looks
at me with a cold contempt that irritates me.

“Good-night—the clock strikes two—I am tired, out and
out, but there is no sleep in me—phantoms haunt me. Twice
I have rushed into the street, and walked round the square.
I can not get beyond that coffin! that dead girl! I am not
worse than other men, nor old, nor sick—why should these
phantoms pursue me? Good-night.

H. C.”

The good man meditates and prays in the silent watches
of the night, and “the peace that passeth understanding”
takes possession of him. But to all, save the good, what
are these “silent watches,” when nature with its thousand
assuaging voices is stilled, when the clamors of the world
are hushed, the flatteries of friends are forgotten, the officiousness
of incessant vanity is subdued, and even the soothing
whisperings of self-love have died away? Crimes, sorrows,
levities—that which “has been done that ought not to
have been done,” and “that which has been left undone”—
haunt the memory. The soul is alone in the sun-light of
truth, before the tribunal of conscience! before God!

The veriest wretch of our city, unfed, unhoused, needed
not to envy Horace Copley, the rich, the exquisite, the “fascinating”
Horace Copley, during the silent watches of that

No besieging general ever more anxiously calculated the


Page 33
chances of success, and provided against intervening and
opposing forces, than did Copley. The nearer he approached
the hour of victory, the more eager and vigilant he became.

He had now to manage his cousin Julia, and to that end
he elaborately penned the following epistle:

My Dear Cousin Julia:

“After the melo-dramatic scene which we shared yesterday,
I feel bound to make an appeal to you, not wholly to
justify myself, but to state some extenuating circumstances.
This is not a fitting subject to discuss with a young lady,
but it is thrust upon me, and you must pardon me. A recurrence
to the circumstances of my early life will perhaps
distill from your kind heart some drops of pity for me. Remember,
that I was left at nineteen, when the appetites are
keenest, and the love of pleasure uncontrollable, heir of a
large fortune, and master of myself. My father, it is too
well known, had not been over-strict in his life. With his
example, I inherited his constitution. Pardon me, Julia;
you are a sensible woman, and will allow their due weight
to the grounds of my defence. At nineteen, then, I began
my career; I had intimates older than myself, who were
deep in the world. I plunged in with them, and I have no
great satisfaction in the retrospect of the two years that followed.

“At that period, viz., when I was twenty-one, `a change
came o'er the spirit of my dream'—the love of my childhood
for Grace Herbert revived, with all the force of manhood,
and from that hour, with more or less hope, I have
loved and followed her. From that period I have been getting
rid of my old companions, and habits, and, on my soul,
they have now no charm for me, or influence over me.

“`And yet,' you will say, `this poor girl's tragedy has
been enacted within the last year!' True, my dear cousin,


Page 34
true! But I could not turn anchorite at once. Miss Herbert
had been unusually cold to me; and disheartened, I
shut myself up at Elm Grove. My mother brought this
pretty young person there, and imprudently left us alone
together. I can not enter into details to you; but, for
heaven's sake, dear Julia, let by-gones be by-gones. Your
imagination is naturally excited by the illness and death of
this young person—God knows, no fault of mine—but look
at the facts I have stated reasonably. I did all in my power
to atone for my fault; I sent the girl to the care of a person
in whom I had implicit confidence, and, as perhaps she told
you, provided ample means for every exigency.

“But, my dear cousin, as it is impossible we should view
this subject quite in the same light, let me turn to another,
on which we must have one judgment. I have but one
chance for happiness, perhaps for virtue, for I am not
stronger than other men, and disappointment might throw
me back into the whirlpool which I have escaped by the
force of a pure and constant passion. You know, by your
own experience, the omnipotence of such a love. You will
not assume the responsibility of depriving me of its motives
and security? The future opens two paths to me—one of
married love and honorable aspiration, the other, the `facilis
descensus;' which I shall take, depends on you.

“You love my mother? Her heart is garnered up in my
unworthy self. With me alone rests the transmission of the
husband's name whom she loved and honored, despite his
faults—who, among poor mortals, has not faults? You would
compass sea and land to save my life for my mother's sake;
will you not do something to preserve that which is far
dearer to her, the honor of my life?

“I know you have a stern, permit me to say, a fanatical
sense of duty, which might impel you to disclose this story of
the poor girl, with your partly false impressions of it, to Miss


Page 35
Herbert. If you do, it is easy to foresee the effect upon her
wounded pride, may I not add, her wounded affection?
Dare you take this responsibility? I ask this question
solemnly, my dear cousin, not in a spirit of defiance. Julia,
when you kneel at the marriage altar, will it not be a bitter
thought to you, that you have fenced me from it forever?
for as true as there is a heaven above, I never again can
entertain an honorable love.

“You may imagine what is the force of feeling that overcomes
my habitual reserve, and leads me to throw my open
heart, quivering, at your feet—do not crush the life out
of it.

“May the God you so faithfully serve direct you!

“Yours devotedly,
H. C.”

Miss Travers, with a deep conviction of her cousin's baseness,
and a clear perception of her duty to her friend, had
her hat and cloak on, with the purpose of going to Miss
Herbert to make a full disclosure, when this letter was
brought in. She read it through, at first simply with indignation
at its false views and false assumptions. She read it
a second time, and felt there was some truth, mingled with
its subtle sophisms; a third time, and she shrunk from leveling
a blow that must strike down her aunt; a fourth, and,
throwing off her hat and cloak, she exclaimed aloud, “No,
I dare not take this responsibility; perhaps it is by marrying
my cousin that poor Grace is to work out his salvation and
her own!”

How few there are that comprehend the responsibility of
declining a responsibility!

Copley received a short, cold note from his cousin, promising
secresy, and unfolding the letter he had written to Belson,
he added this postscript:


Page 36

“I have Julia's promise of secresy, and the devil himself
can't tempt her to break it! The game is won! Dear,
sweet cousin Julia! you are just as consistent as the rest of
the world—saints and sinners!”


If this sad story serve to expose a prevailing sin, let it have the full
weight due to an “o'er true tale.” Its leading facts are true. Some of the
most touching expressions were taken down from the lips of a dying girl,
one of the many who are every year in our Christian city corrupted in
their youth, and turned aside from the benign purposes of Providence, their
fair field of life choked with poisonous weeds, and untimely driven to that
bar, where, if mercy is meted to them, justice will be dealt to their destroyers.


See note at the end of this chapter.