University of Virginia Library




“What think'st thou then of me, and this my state;
Seem I to thee sufficiently possessed of happiness or not?”

When Grace went to her room after the eventful walk to
Prospect Hill, she found a letter from her sister on her table.
Eleanor wrote as follows:

My Dear Grace:

“Uncle Walter came home yesterday; for home, my
house is to be to him henceforth, unless you steal him from
me. The children were in transports at seeing him. `You
shall never go away from us again!' cried May, sitting on
one of his knees, while Nel stuck, like a burr, to the other.
`I never will, May,' he replied, `if your mother can find a
place in her little box for me; be it in attic or closet.' `A
place for you, Uncle Walter, I guess she can—and if mother
can't, I can; you can double up and sleep with me in my
trundle-bed!' Nel put in her claim, `You can double up
double, Uncle Watty,' she said, `and sleep in my tib.'
Uncle Walter laughed; Nel brushed a tear from his cheek,
saying, `How funny you are, Uncle Watty! to laugh and
cry too!' `I have a room ready for dear Uncle Walter,
girls!' I said, whereupon May shouted, `Oh, I know, mother,
I know it's for Uncle Walter you have been fixing the dining-room;
you might have told me, mother, when I asked
you what you got the new paper and paint for; and the new
bedstead and book-case, and easy chair, and every thing.


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It was not fair, mother, not to tell me!' `I only waited,
May, till Uncle Walter consented to the arrangement—let
him come and see if he can manage in our narrow quarters.'
Uncle Walter, the girls at his heels, followed me. I confess,
that as I opened the door, I thought the room looked
pleasant with its pretty new carpet, fresh chintz curtains
and covers, and the little decorations with which I had endeavored
to set off the few comforts I had been able to stow
in a space fifteen by twelve. After looking round with the
sweetest satisfaction, Uncle Walter seized a vase of fresh
flowers, and on pretence of smelling them, with childlike
guile, hid his tears; he need not. The soft emotions become
his robust, manly face. I remember your once telling
him that his ever-ready smiles and tears denoted his latent
youth, and became him, as blossoms do a rugged old tree.
His countenance changed, `But Eleanor,' he said, `this was
your dining-room?' `It was, Uncle Walter, and I am getting,
in the place of a mere convenience, a living, loving
soul.' `I accept it, my child,' he said, `as freely as you give
it, and we won't quarrel as to which has the best of the bargain,
the giver or the receiver. My spirit will have rest
with you, and in this “fifteen by twelve,” space for its freest
breath. It has been starved, pinched, and chilled long
enough in those big Bond-street rooms, where downy beds
did not rest me, nor cushioned chairs give me ease. I hated
the place from the moment Grace left the house; and to
return to it—pah! it would be the wilderness without the

“He has just gone to his room for the night, after talking
much of you, and more of himself than I have heard him in
his whole life before; and think of it, dear Grace, he has
explained the mystery of the letter we found in the green
trunk! Poor Uncle Walter! You are burning to hear it?
Well—when he was a senior in Yale College (then only nineteen),


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he lodged in the house of a widow, who had with her
a relative, sent there from the interior in search of health.
She was a beautiful young creature, educated far above her
condition, as many of the women of New England are, and
thus destined to marry ill-mated, or live unmarried. Uncle
Walter describes her as of a poetic temperament, susceptible,
and truthful, `a Juliet in years, and passionate and sudden
love,' he said, `and yet with the shyness of her northern
breeding.' He fell desperately in love with her (and
he is yet a lover!) They went on blindly happy, till a summons
came from her home. While the chaise that was to
convey her away was waiting at the door, impelled by his
generous temper (inconsiderate as you and I well know it
to be), he persuaded her to take the only surety he could
give her that he would be true to her, in spite of his youth,
of their necessary separation, and of the abyss between the
orphan child of an humble Yankee farmer, and the son of a
pre-Revolution gentleman of New York—that surety was a
marriage before starting. So suiting the imprudent act to
the hasty word, while her escort was waiting, they went, on
pretext of his buying a book for a farewell gift, to a magistrate
and were married. In lieu of wedding-ring, he put on
her arm the fellow of the bracelet he gave you—do you re
member Mrs. Herbert's curiosity about it? They parted
immediately. Uncle Walter wrote to her regularly, but received
no replies, till one came saying she was forbidden to
write, or to receive his letters. He went directly to New
York to confess his marriage to his father, as a preliminary
to claiming his wife. He arrived on the very evening of
Aunt Sarah's tragedy, and he shrunk from adding a shock
and perplexity to his father's calamities. His wife, he knew,
was in a comfortable home, and that `no evil,' as he said,
`half so bad as the torture of his own feelings could result
from a few weeks', or, if need be, months' delay.' How characteristic


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of dear Uncle Walter, Grace; he always puts off
the evil day. His constitutional indolence extends to the
decisions of his mind—even impedes the action of his great
heart. In less than three months he received a parcel containing
the bracelet, with a scrap cut from a country newspaper.
He took out his pocket-book, from that a small
paper box, and opening it, said, `Here, I have kept them
ever since.' He put them into my hand, and turned away.
The printed scrap contained only these words: `Died, in
this village, on Sabbath morning, Helen Dale, aged sixteen
years and six months. “The Lord gave, the Lord hath taken
away—blessed be the name of the Lord!'” The words I have
underscored were italicised; it struck me there was some
intimation in this, and I asked Uncle Walter `if he knew
any thing of her friends?' `Very little,' he replied; `she
sometimes spoke of a sister Judith; and I remember once
saying to her, “You seem to stand much in awe of that
sister of your's?” She answered gently, “She is much older
than I—a good sister, and a mother as well.” But Eleanor,'
he added, `I thought nothing of her accessories—we were
treading on flowers; our present was our world, and it has
filled mine ever since with sweet and bitter memories—it
has been the one thing real, the rest but shadows.' He continued
for a long time to walk up and down the room, his
head bent forward, and his hands behind him, as is his way,
you know, when he is pensive. I think our poor trifling
Aunt Fanny is of the shadows he alluded to, and his dear
and only love, the `substance of things hoped for.'

“I gave him your last letter to read. He read it, taking
off his spectacles repeatedly and wiping them, and returned
it to me without any other comment than a heavy sigh. I
understood him. He is as easily seen through as a simple
child. At the moment of your rupture with H. C., his old
hope revived; your news of the lovers at Mapleton extinguished


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it. I said, `I believe you have seen the little girl
Archibald is to marry? How will you like it?'

“`Like it? oh, if he likes it, I shall, of course.' After a
short silence, he exclaimed (one may easily guess the train
of thought that led to the exclamation), `Thank God, she
was saved from Copley! That was a greater good than one
could look for in this blundering world.' Then he went on
ejecting his thoughts as they rose, as if unconscious of my
presence. `With her instincts, her high tone, her clear-sightedness,
to fancy such a fellow! I don't understand it.
A fellow with passion without feeling, mind without culture;
living here the contemptible life of an old-world idler;
turning his fortune and position to no one good purpose or
account. And there was Archy. Good Lord! what a difference.
He is an exponent of our institutions. He had
no vantage-ground to start from, and he has made himself a
man among men; a gentleman—a Christian gentleman. Oh,
Grace, Grace, what a miss you made of it!'

“`But, dear uncle,' I said (I could not help putting in a
word for you, Grace), `Archibald was never Grace's

“`He would have been, Eleanor, but for that fellow—I
have seen the infallible signs; but there is no help for it now,
and we must learn wisdom from old Di, and not “cry for
spilt milk.'”

“Poor Uncle Walter! he looked as if it would be a long
lesson for him to learn. `How do you like,' I asked him,
`the fashion in which Grace casts her future?'

“`I heartily approve it—God speed her! We are an un-lucky
family in marriages—your exception only proves the
rule. No one can have more than one chance in that line;
I had mine, Grace her's: we both threw them away. Grace,
if she married at all, would of course marry her inferior;
and Milton's Adam spoke for all his children, when he said:


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“`Among unequals, what society
Can sort, what harmony or true delight?'”
After a dreary pause, while his mind went back to the sad
disparity that has marred his life, he brightened, and said,
`Thank God, Grace's star has not set—such a light as her's
cannot be hid; she has lost the best prize in the lottery.
The “next best” is for her to live a true single life; an
example much wanted in these times, when the increase
of luxury, and the frightful increase of the necessary
expense of living, multiplies, at a fearful rate, the
number of men and women who are restricted to single

“Dear sister, it is a consolation (excuse the word) that
your example may send a thrill of courage or of resignation
to many hearts. One noble single woman, who devotes
her faculties (her ten or her one talent) to the service of God
and humanity—it matters not whether it be by maintaining
hospitals, reforming prisons, succoring and educating outcast
children, or by the noiseless healing visit to the obscure
sick, or helpless in mind or body—redeems single life from
waste, and from dread and contempt. Let women, who
have not a home with a master, and a nursery in it, make
themselves welcome in many homes, by making them the
brighter and happier for their presence; let them, if so
gifted, be artists, poets, sculptors, or painters; let them be
leeches, or nurses; let their mission be to the ignorant poor,
or the poorer rich; let them fall on any wise and profitable
occupation, and the prim and ridiculous maiden-aunt will
vanish from our novels, and the Lucretia Mactabs from our
comedies, and, what is better, the single gossip will disappear
from town and village, and the purring `old maid' from garrets
and chimney corners. Why, Grace, dear old Effie is a
rebuke to whining wives and careless mothers, with her self-denying,


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lavish devotion to children, her gentle, kind doings
of all sorts to her general family of human kind, and her
cheerful economies of her small means of happiness.

“If I sigh with Uncle Walter over what I must regard
as your great loss, I, with him, too, dwell with satisfaction,
with hope and pride, on the mapping out of your future life
in your last letter. When I look at your high aims, and
survey the great harvest-fields to which you point, ready to
the hand of the single laborer, I am almost willing to admit
that your's is the highest calling, and to receive St. Paul's
opinion, as still of authority, that `the single are happier if
they so abide.' And further, that it is merely to guard the
social relations and dependencies that marriage is so fenced
about with honor, respect, and good report.

“You see I am not a pharisaical wife; with Uncle Walter
I bid you `God-speed!' and yet, and yet, blessed as I have
been and am, the thought of being unwived and unmothered
makes me shudder.

“And this brings me to my dear husband, from whom I
have just received letters. His health is perfectly restored,
and he is merely prolonging his stay to complete his examination
of the schools of France and Germany. Having once
consecrated himself to teaching, he says he will not withdraw
from that vocation. He loves young people, and believes
he shall work more to his own mind (and as acceptably
to his Master) with plastic school-boys than with a congregation.
He proposes to give you a high salary as his musical
professor. I have answered him that your ambitions are
higher—that you will organize a `ragged school,' or something
of that sort. Was I right?

“Uncle Walter proposes to go himself to fetch you home,
and to take May with him; so with the promise of this discreet
escort, farewell till Saturday.

“Ever yours,
E. E.”


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“P. S. They say a woman always leaves her most important
subject for her postscript. I have yet to tell you that
Augusta Tallis and her husband came to see me last week.
Never in my life have I seen two people so completely
changed. The soul has come to Undine, a soul full of
peace, and love to God and man: the right love, and
the right man. As to Rupert Tallis, he is as different
from the fretted, petulant, cynical man he was, as is a
ripe day in June from one cloudy, sleety, teasing, stinging,
and out-of-season in March. Augusta's `countenance betokened
her heart in prosperity.' She is beautiful now, Grace;
the sweet serenity of her expression harmonizes with her
delicate features, and a rich bloom has taken place of the
soupçon of rouge that used to soil her cheek. She asked to
go up to my nursery, and there she poured out her heart to
me. I reserve details till we meet, but such a capacity of
love and happiness as she had discovered in Rupert, in herself.
`No other man had ever been so magnanimous in his
forgiveness—never by word or look did he recall her past
life.' She dilated on the contentments of their present
quiet life—`such richness in home; such interest and beauty
in its simple accidents and incidents.' Oh, Grace! it was a
blessed commentary on her past and present. She has kissed
the rod, and it has budded.

“After caressing my little girls, who, touching the spring
of painful memories, called forth inevitable tears, she looked
up brightly through them, and with a smile full of sunshine,
asked me for all sorts of patterns of baby-garments, saying,
`If it please God to fulfil my hope, I shall look to you,
Eleanor, for other models than these—patterns by which to
fashion mind and heart!'

“E. E.”