Part 5 out of 5
"Why, Sally, what do you mean! I never heard you so unjust. Emma is one of
the very sweetest women I ever saw in my life. How can you say such a
thing! Everybody loves and admires her. Don't go if you feel so. I never
dreamed that you disliked her. But I thought John would be less likely to
suspect me of any desire to have him away, if you proposed going there;
and I must have him out of the house. I cannot talk with the doctor if he
is under the roof." She said these last words with an excited emphasis so
unlike her usual manner, that it frightened me. But I thought only of her
physical state; I feared that she suspected the existence of some terrible
I went with John to Mrs. Long's almost immediately after tea. He accepted
the proposal with unconcealed delight; and I wondered if Ellen observed
the very nonchalant way in which he replied when she said she did not feel
well enough to go. He already liked better to see Mrs. Long without his
wife's presence, cordial and unembarrassed as her manner always was. His
secret consciousness was always disturbed by it.
When we reached Mrs. Long's house, we learned that she had gone out to
dinner. John's face became black with the sudden disappointment, and quite
forgetting himself, he exclaimed: "Why, what does that mean? She did not
tell me she was going."
The servant stared, but made no reply. I was confused and indignant; but
John went on: "We will come in and wait. I am sure it is some very
informal dinner, and Mrs. Long will soon be at home."
I made no remonstrance, knowing that it might annoy and disturb Ellen to
have us return. John threw himself into a chair in front of the fire, and
looked moodily into the coals, making no attempt at conversation. I took
up a book. Very soon John rose, sauntered abstractedly about the room,
took up Mrs. Long's work-basket, and examined every article in it, and at
last sat down before her little writing-desk, which stood open. Presently
I saw that he was writing. More than an hour passed. I pretended to read;
but I watched my brother-in-law's face. I could not mistake its language.
Suddenly there came a low cry of delight from the door, "Why, John!"
Mrs. Long had entered the house by a side door, and having met no servant
before reaching the drawing-room, was unprepared for finding any one
there. From the door she could see John, but could not see me, except in
the long mirror, to which she did not raise her eyes, but in which I saw
her swift movement, her outstretched hands, her look of unspeakable
gladness. In less than a second, however, she had seen me, and with no
perceptible change of manner had come rapidly towards me, holding out her
left hand familiarly to him, as she passed him. Emma Long was not a
hypocrite at heart, but she had an almost superhuman power of acting. It
was all lost upon me, however, on that occasion. I observed the quick
motion with which John thrust into a compartment of the desk, the sheet on
which he had been writing; I observed the clasp of their hands as she
glided by him; I observed her face; I observed his; and I knew as I had
never fully known before how intensely they loved each other.
My resolution was taken. Cost what it might, come what might, I would
speak fully and frankly to my sister the next day. I would not longer
stand by and see this thing go on. At that moment I hated both John Gray
and Emma Long. No possible pain to Ellen seemed to me to weigh for a
moment against my impulse to part them.
I could not talk. I availed myself of the freedom warranted by the
intimacy between the families, and continued to seem absorbed in my book.
But I lost no word, no look, which passed between the two who sat opposite
me. I never saw Emma Long look so nearly beautiful as she did that night.
She wore a black velvet dress, with fine white lace ruffles at the throat
and wrists. Her hair was fair, and her complexion of that soft pale tint,
with a slight undertone of brown in it, which is at once fair and warm,
and which can kindle in moments of excitement into a brilliance far
outshining any brunette skin. She talked rapidly with much gesture. She
was giving John an account of the stupidity of the people with whom she
had been dining. Her imitative faculty amounted almost to genius. No
smallest peculiarity of manner or speech escaped her, and she could become
a dozen different persons in a minute. John laughed as he listened, but
not so heartily as he was wont to laugh at her humorous sayings. He had
been too deeply stirred in the long interval of solitude before she
returned. His cheeks were flushed and his voice unsteady. She soon felt
the effect of his manner, and her gayety died away; before long they were
sitting in silence, each looking at the fire. I knew I ought to make the
proposition to go home, but I seemed under a spell; I was conscious of a
morbid desire to watch and wait. At length Mrs. Long rose, saying,--
"If it will not disturb Sally's reading, I will play for you a lovely
little thing I learned yesterday."
"Oh, no," said I. "But we must go as soon as I finish this chapter."
She passed into the music-room and looked back for John to follow her; but
he threw himself at full length on the sofa, and said,--
"No, I will listen here."
My quickened instinct saw that he dared not go; also that he had laid his
cheek in an abandonment of ecstasy on the arm of the sofa on which her
hand had been resting. Even in that moment I had a sharp pang of pity for
him, and the same old misgiving of question, whether my good and sweet and
almost faultless Ellen could be loved just in the same way in which Emma
Long would be!
As soon as she had finished the nocturne, a sad, low sweet strain, she
came back to the parlor. Not even for the pleasure of giving John the
delight of the music he loved would she stay where she could not see his
But I had already put down my book, and was ready to go. Our good-nights
were short and more formal than usual. All three were conscious of an
undefined constraint in the air. Mrs. Long glanced up uneasily in John's
face as we left the room. Her eyes were unutterably tender and childlike
when a look of grieved perplexity shadowed them. Again my heart ached for
her and for him. This was no idle caprice, no mere entanglement of senses
between two unemployed and unprincipled hearts. It was a subtle harmony,
organic, spiritual, intellectual, between two susceptible and intense
natures. The bond was as natural and inevitable as any other fact of
nature. And in this very fact lay the terrible danger.
We walked home in silence. A few steps from our house we met Dr. Willis
walking very rapidly. He did not recognize us at first. When he did, he
half stopped as if about to speak, then suddenly changed his mind, and
merely bowing, passed on. A bright light was burning in Ellen's room.
"Why, Ellen has not gone to bed!" exclaimed John.
"Perhaps some one called," said I, guiltily.
"Oh, I dare say," replied he; "perhaps the doctor has been there. But it
is half-past twelve," added he, pulling out his watch as we entered the
hall. "He could not have stayed until this time."
I went to my own room immediately. In a few moments I heard John come up,
say a few words to Ellen, and then go down-stairs, calling back, as he
left her room,--
"Don't keep awake for me, wifie, I have a huge batch of letters to answer.
I shall not get through before three o'clock."
I crept noiselessly to Ellen's room. It was dark. She had extinguished the
gas as soon as she had heard us enter the house! I knew by the first sound
of her voice that she had been weeping violently and long. I said,--
"Ellen, I must come in and have a talk with you."
"Not to-night, dear. To-morrow I will talk over everything. All is
settled. Good-night. Don't urge me to-night, Sally. I can't bear any
It is strange--it is marvellous what power there is in words to mean more
than words. I knew as soon as Ellen had said, "Not to-night, dear," that
she divined all I wanted to say, that she knew all I knew, and that the
final moment, the crisis, had come. Whatever she might have to tell me in
the morning, I should not be surprised. I did not sleep. All night I
tossed wearily, trying to conjecture what Ellen would do, trying to
imagine what I should do in her place.
At breakfast Ellen seemed better than she had seemed for weeks. Her eyes
were bright and her cheeks pink; but there was an ineffable, almost solemn
tenderness in her manner to John, which was pathetic. Again the suspicion
crossed my mind that she knew that she must die. He too was disturbed by
it; he looked at her constantly with a lingering gaze as if trying to read
her face; and when he bade us good-by to go to the office, he kissed her
over and over as I had not seen him kiss her for months. The tears came
into her eyes, and she threw both arms around his neck for a second,--a
very rare thing for her to do in the presence of others.
"Why, wifie," he said, "you musn't make it too hard for a fellow to get
off!--Doesn't she look well this morning, Sally?" turning to me. "I was
thinking last night that I must take her to the mountains as soon as it
was warm enough. But such cheeks as these don't need it." And he took her
face in his two hands with a caress full of tenderness, and sprang down
Just at this moment Mrs. Long's carriage came driving swiftly around the
corner, and the driver stopped suddenly at sight of John.
"Oh, Mr. Gray, Mr. Gray!" called Emma, "I was just coming to take Ellen
and the children for a turn, and we can leave you at the office on our
"Thank you," said John, "but there are several persons I must see before
going to the office, and it would detain you too long. I am already much
too late," and without a second look he hurried on.
I saw a slight color rise in Mrs. Long's cheek, but no observer less
jealous than I would have detected it; and there was not a shade less
warmth than usual in her manner to Ellen.
Ellen told her that she could not go herself, but she would be very glad
to have some of the children go; and then she stood for some moments,
leaning on the carriage-door and talking most animatedly. I looked from
one woman to the other. Ellen at that moment was more beautiful than Mrs.
Long. The strong, serene, upright look which was her most distinguishing
and characteristic expression, actually shone on her face. I wished that
John Gray had stopped to see the two faces side by side. Emma Long might
be the woman to stir and thrill and entrance the soul; to give stimulus to
the intellectual nature; to rouse passionate emotion; but Ellen was the
woman on whose steadfastness he could rest,--in the light of whose sweet
integrity and transparent truthfulness he was a far safer, and would be a
far stronger man than with any other woman in the world.
As the carriage drove away with all three of the little girls laughing and
shouting and clinging around Mrs. Long, a strange pang seized me. I looked
at Ellen. She stood watching them with a smile which had something
heavenly in it. Turning suddenly to me, she said: "Sally, if I were dying,
it would make me very happy to know that Emma Long would be the mother of
I was about to reply with a passionate ejaculation, but she interrupted
"Hush, dear, hush. I am not going to die,--I have no fear of any such
thing. Come to my room now, and I will tell you all."
She locked the door, stood for a moment looking at me very earnestly, then
folded me in her arms and kissed me many times; then she made me sit in a
large arm-chair, and drawing up a low foot-stool, sat down at my feet,
rested both arms on my lap, and began to speak. I shall try to tell in her
own words what she said.
"Sally, I want to tell you in the beginning how I thank you for your
silence. All winter I have known that you were seeing all I saw, feeling
all I felt, and keeping silent for my sake. I never can tell you how much
I thank you; it was the one thing which supported me. It was an
unspeakable comfort to know that you sympathized with me at every point;
but to have had the sympathy expressed even by a look would have made it
impossible for me to bear up. As long as I live, darling, I shall be
grateful to you. And, moreover, it makes it possible for me to trust you
unreservedly now. I had always done you injustice, Sally. I did not think
you had so much self-control."
Here she hesitated an instant. It was not easy for her to mention John's
name; but it was only for a second that she hesitated. With an impetuous
eagerness unlike herself, she went on.
"Sally, you must not blame John. He has struggled as constantly and nobly
as a man ever struggled. Neither must you blame Emma. They have neither of
them done wrong. I have watched them both hour by hour. I know my
husband's nature so thoroughly that I know his very thoughts almost as
soon as he knows them himself. I know his emotions before he knows them
himself. I saw the first moment in which his eyes rested on Emma's face as
they used to rest on mine. From that day to this I have known every phase,
every step, every change of his feeling towards her; and I tell you,
Sally, that I pity John from the bottom of my heart. I understand it all
far better than you can, far better than he does. He loves her at once far
more and far less than you believe, and he loves me far more than you
believe! You will say, in the absolute idealization of your inexperienced
heart, that this is impossible. I know that it is not, and I wish I could
make you believe it, for without believing it you cannot be just to John.
He loves me to-day, in spite of all this, with a sort of clinging
tenderness born of this very struggle. He would far rather love me with
all his nature if he could, but just now he cannot. I see very clearly
where Emma gives him what he needs, and has never had in me. I have
learned many things from Emma Long this winter. I can never be like her.
But I need not have been so unlike her as I was. She has armed me with
weapons when she least suspected it. But she is not after all, on the
whole, so nearly what John needs as I am. If I really believed that he
would be a better man, or even a happier one with her as his wife, I
should have but one desire, and that would be to die. But I think that it
is not so. I believe that it is in my power to do for him, and to be to
him, what she never could. I do not wonder that you look pityingly and
incredulously. You will see. But in order to do this, I must leave him."
I sprang to my feet. "Leave him! Are you mad?"
"No, dear, not at all; very sane and very determined. I have been for six
months coming to this resolve. I began to think of it in a very few hours
after I first saw him look at Emma as if he loved her. I have thought of
it day and night since, and I know I am right. If I stay, I shall lose his
love. If I go, I shall keep it, regain it, compel it." She spoke here
more hurriedly. "I have borne now all I can bear without betraying my
pain to him. I am jealous of Emma. It almost kills me to see him look at
her, speak to her."
"My poor, poor darling!" I exclaimed; "and I have been thinking you did
not feel it!"
She smiled sadly, and tossed back the sleeve of her wrapper so as to show
her arm to the shoulder. I started. It was almost emaciated. I had again
and again in the course of the winter asked her why she did not wear her
usual style of evening dress, and she had replied that it was on account
of her cough.
"It is well that my face does not show loss of flesh as quickly as the
rest of my body does," she said quietly. "I have lost thirty-five pounds
of flesh in four months, and nobody observed it! Yes, dear," she went on,
"I have felt it. More than that, I have felt it increasingly every hour,
and I can bear no more. Up to this time I have never by look or tone shown
to John that I knew it. He wonders every hour what it means that I do not.
I have never by so much as the slightest act watched him. I have seen
notes in Emma's handwriting lying on his desk, and I have left the house
lest I might be tempted to read them! I know that he has as yet done no
clandestine thing, but at any moment I should have led them both into it
by showing one symptom of jealousy. And I should have roused in his heart
a feeling of irritation and impatience with me, which would have done in
one hour more to intensify his love for her, and to change its nature from
a pure, involuntary sentiment into an acknowledged and guilty one, than
years and years of free intercourse could do. But I have reached the
limit of my physical endurance. My nerves are giving away. I am really
very ill, but nothing is out of order in my body aside from the effects of
this anguish. A month more of this would make me a hopelessly broken-down
woman. A month's absence from the sight of it will almost make me well."
I could not refrain from interrupting her.
"Ellen, you are mad! you are mad! You mean to go away and leave him to see
her constantly alone, unrestrained by your presence? It has almost killed
you to see it. How can you bear imagining it, knowing it?"
"Better than I can bear seeing it, far better. Because I have still
undiminished confidence in the real lastingness of the bond between John
and me. Emma Long would have been no doubt a good, a very good wife for
him. But I am the mother of his children, and just so surely as right is
right, and wrong is wrong, he will return to me and to them. All wrong
things are like diseases, self-limited. It is wrong for a man to love any
woman better than he loves his wife; I don't deny that, dear," she said,
half smiling through her tears at my indignant face; "but a man may seem
to do it when he is really very far from it. He may really do it for days,
for months--for years, perhaps; but if he be a true man, and his wife a
true wife, he will return. John is a true husband and a still truer
father: that I am the mother of his five children, he can never forget. If
I had had no children, it would be different. If I had ever been for one
moment an unloving wife, it would be different; but I am his; I believe
that he is mine; and that I shall live to remind you of all these things,
Sally, after time has proved them true."
I was almost dumb with surprise. I was astounded. To me it seemed that her
plan was simply suicidal. I told her in the strongest words I could use of
the scene of the night before.
"I could tell you of still more trying scenes than that, Sally. I know far
more than you. But if I knew ten times as much, I should still believe
that my plan is the only one. Of course I may fail. It is all in God's
hands. We none of us know how much discipline we need. But I know one
thing: if I do not regain John in this way, I cannot in any. If I stay I
shall annoy, vex, disturb, torture him! Once the barriers of my silence
and concealment are broken down, I shall do just what all other jealous
women have done since the world began. There are no torments on earth like
those which a jealous woman inflicts, except those which she bears! I will
die sooner than inflict them on John. Even if the result proves me
mistaken, I shall never regret my course, for I know that the worst is
certain if I remain. But I have absolute faith,"--and her face was
transfigured with it as she spoke,--"John is mine. If I could stay by his
side through it all and preserve the same relation with him which I have
all winter, all would sooner or later be well. I wish I were strong
enough. My heart is, but my body is not, and I must go."
When she told me the details of her plan, I was more astounded than ever.
She had taken Dr. Willis into her full confidence. (He had been to us
father and physician both ever since our father's death.) He entirely
approved of her course. He was to say--which indeed he could do
conscientiously--that her health imperatively required an entire change of
climate, and that he had advised her to spend at least one year abroad. It
had always been one of John's and Ellen's air-castles to take all the
children to England and to Germany for some years of study. She proposed
to take the youngest four, leaving the eldest girl, who was her father's
especial pet and companion, to stay with him. A maiden aunt of ours was to
come and keep the house, and I was to stay with the family. This was the
hardest of all.
"Ellen, I cannot!" I exclaimed. "Do not--oh, do not trust me. I shall
never have strength. I shall betray all some day and ruin all your hopes."
"You cannot, you dare not, Sally, when I tell you that my life's whole
happiness lies in your silence. John is unobservant and also unsuspicious.
He has never had an intimate relation with you. You will have no
difficulty. But you must be here,--because, dear, there is another
reason," and here her voice grew very unsteady, and tears ran down her
"In spite of all my faith, I do not disguise from myself the possibility
of the worst. I cannot believe my husband would ever do a dishonorable
thing. I do not believe that Emma Long would. And yet, when I remember
what ruin, has overtaken many men and women whom we believed upright, I
dare not be wholly sure. And I must know that some one is here who would
see and understand if a time were approaching at which it would be
needful for me to make one last effort with and for my husband face to
face with him. Unless that comes, I do not wish you to allude to the
subject in your letters. I think I know just how all things will go. I
believe that in one year, or less, all will be well. But if the worst is
to come, you with your instincts will foresee it, and I must be told. I
should return then at once. I should have power, even at the last moment,
I believe, to save John from disgrace. But I should lose his love
irrecoverably; it is to save that that I go."
I could say but few words. I was lifted up and borne out of myself, as it
were, by my sister's exaltation. She seemed more like some angel-wife than
like a mortal woman. Before I left her room at noon, I believed almost as
fully as she did in the wisdom and the success of her plan.
There was no time to be lost. Every day between the announcement of her
purpose and the carrying of it out, would be a fearful strain on Ellen's
nerves. Dr. Willis had a long talk with John in his office while Ellen was
talking with me. John came home to dinner looking like a man who had
received a mortal blow. Dr. Willis had purposely given him to understand
that Ellen's life was in great danger. So it was, but not from the cough!
At first John's vehement purpose was to go with them. But she was prepared
for this. His business and official relations were such that it was next
to impossible for him to do it, and it would at best involve a great
pecuniary sacrifice. She overruled and remonstrated, and was so firm in
her objections to every suggestion of his of accompanying or following
her, that finally, in spite of all his anxiety, John seemed almost piqued
at her preference for going alone. In every conversation on the subject I
saw more and more clearly that Ellen was right. He did love her--love her
Two weeks from the day of my conversation with her they sailed for
Liverpool. The summer was to be spent in England, and the winter in Nice
Alice, the eldest daughter, a loving, sunshiny girl of twelve, was
installed in her mother's room. This was Ellen's especial wish. She knew
that in this way John would be drawn to the room constantly. All her own
little belongings were given to Alice.
"Only think, Auntie," said she, "mamma has given me, all for my own, her
lovely toilette set, and all the Bohemian glass on the bureau, and her
ivory brushes! She says when she comes home she shall refurnish her room
and papa's too!"
Oh, my wise Ellen. Could Emma Long have done more subtly!
Early on the first evening after John returned from New York, having seen
them off, I missed him. I said bitterly to myself, "At Mrs. Long's, I
suppose," and went up-stairs to find Alice. As I drew near her room I
heard his voice, reading aloud. I went in. He and Alice were lying
together on a broad chintz-covered lounge, as I had so often seen him and
"Oh, Auntie, come here," said Alice, "hear mamma's letter to me! She gave
it to papa in New York. She says it is like the sealed orders they give to
captains sometimes, not to be opened till they are out at sea. It is all
about how I am to fill her place to papa. And there are ever so many
little notes inside, more orders, which even papa himself is not to see!
only I suppose he'll recognize the things when I do them!"
At that moment, as I watched John Gray's face, with Alice's nestled close,
and his arms clasped tight around her, while they read Ellen's letter, a
great load rolled off my heart. I went through many dark days afterward,
but I never could quite despair when I remembered the fatherhood and the
husbandhood which were in his eyes and his voice that night
The story of the next twelve months could be told in few words, so far as
its external incidents are concerned. It could not be told in a thousand
volumes, if I attempted to reproduce the subtle undercurrents of John
Gray's life and mine. Each of us was living a double life; he more or less
unconsciously; I with such sharpened senses, such overwrought emotions,
that I only wonder that my health did not give way. I endured vicariously
all the suspense and torment of the deepest jealousy, with a sense of more
than vicarious responsibility added, which was almost more than human
nature could bear. Ellen little knew how heavy would be the burden she
laid upon me. Her most express and explicit direction was that the
familiar intimacy between our family and Mrs. Long's was to be preserved
unaltered. This it would have been impossible for me to do if Mrs. Long
had not herself recognized the necessity of it, for her own full enjoyment
of John's society. But it was a hard thing; my aunt, the ostensible head
of our house, was a quiet woman who had nothing whatever to do with
society, and who felt in the outset a great shrinking from the brilliant
Mrs. Long. I had never been on intimate terms with her, so that John and
Alice were really the only members of the household who could keep up
precisely the old relation. And so it gradually came about that to most of
our meetings under each other's roofs, strangers were asked to fill up the
vacant places, and in spite of all Emma Long's efforts and mine, there was
a change in the atmosphere of our intercourse. But there was intimacy
enough to produce the effect for which Ellen was most anxious, i.e., to
extend the shelter of our recognition to the friendship between John and
Emma, and to remove from them both all temptation to anything clandestine
or secret. They still saw each other almost daily; they still shared most
of each other's interests and pleasures; they still showed most
undisguised delight in each other's presence. Again and again I went with
them to the opera, to the theatre, and sat through the long hours,
watching, with a pain which seemed to me hardly less than Ellen's would
have been, their constant sympathy with each other in every point of
enjoyment, their constant forgetfulness of every one else.
But there was, all this time, another side to John Gray's life, which I
saw, and Emma Long did not see. By every steamer came packages of the most
marvelous letters from Ellen: letters to us all; but for John, a diary of
every hour of her life. Each night she spent two hours in writing out the
record of the day. I have never seen letters which so reproduced the
atmosphere of the day, the scene, the heart. They were brilliant and
effective to a degree that utterly astonished me; but they were also
ineffably tender and loving, and so natural in their every word, that it
was like seeing Ellen face to face to read them. At first John did not
show them even to me; but soon he began to say, "These are too rare to be
kept to myself; I must just read you this account;" or, "Here is a page I
must read," until it at last became his habit to read them aloud in the
evenings to the family, and even to more intimate friends who chanced to
be with us. He grew proud beyond expression of Ellen's talent for writing;
and well he might. No one who listened to them but exclaimed, "There never
were such letters before!" I think there never were. And I alone knew the
secret of them.
But these long, brilliant letters were not all. In every mail came also
packages for Alice--secret, mysterious things which nobody could see, but
which proved to be sometimes small notes, to be given to papa at
unexpected times and places; sometimes little fancy articles, as a
pen-wiper, or a cigar-case, half worked by Ellen, to be finished by Alice,
and given to papa on some especial day, the significance of which "only
mamma knows;" sometimes a pressed flower, which was to be put by papa's
plate at breakfast, or put in papa's button-hole as he went out in the
morning. I was more and more lost in astonishment at the subtle and
boundless art of love which could so contrive to reach across an ocean,
and surround a man's daily life with its expression. There were also in
every package, letters to John from all the children: even the baby's
little hand was guided to write by every mail, "Dear papa, I love you
just as much as all the rest do!" or, "Dear papa, I want you to toss me
up!" More than once I saw tears roll down John's face in spite of him, as
he slowly deciphered these illegible little scrawls. The older children's
notes were vivid and loving like their mother's. It was evident that they
were having a season of royal delight in their journey, but also evident
that their thoughts and their longings were constantly reverting to papa.
How much Ellen really indited of these apparently spontaneous letters I do
not know; but no doubt their tone was in part created by her. They showed,
even more than did her own letters, that papa was still the centre of the
family life. No sight was seen without the wish--"Oh, if papa were here!"
and even little Mary, aged five, was making a collection of pressed leaves
for papa, from all the places they visited. Louise had already great
talent for drawing, and in almost every letter came two or three childish
but spirited little pictures, all labelled "Drawn for papa!" "The true
picture of our courier in a rage, for papa to see." "The washerwoman's
dog, for papa," etc., etc. Again and again I sat by, almost trembling with
delight, and saw John spend an entire evening in looking over these little
missives and reading Ellen's letters. Then again I sat alone and anxious
through an entire evening, when I knew he was with Emma Long. But even
after such an evening, he never failed to sit down and write pages in his
journal-letter to Ellen--a practice which he began of his own accord,
after receiving the first journal-letter from her.
"Ha! little Alice," he said, "we'll keep a journal too, for mamma, won't
we! She shall not out-do us that way." And so, between Alice's letters and
his, the whole record of our family life went every week to Ellen; and I
do not believe, so utterly unaware was John Gray of any pain in his wife's
heart about Emma Long, I do not believe that he ever in a single instance
omitted to mention when he had been with her, where, and how long.
Emma Long wrote too, and Ellen wrote to her occasional affectionate notes;
but referring her always to John's diary-letters for the details of
interest. I used to study Mrs. Long's face while these letters were read
to her. John's animated delight, his enthusiastic pride, must, it seemed
to me, have been bitter to her. But I never saw even a shade of such a
feeling in her face. There was nothing base or petty in Emma Long's
nature, and, strange as it may seem, she did love Ellen. Only once did I
ever see a trace of pique or resentment in her manner to John, and then I
could not wonder at it. A large package had come from Ellen, just after
tea one night, and we were all gathered in the library, reading our
letters and looking at the photographs--(she always sent unmounted
photographs of the place from which she wrote, and, if possible, of the
house in which they were living, and the children often wrote above the
windows, "_Papa's_ and mamma's room," etc, etc.)--hour after hour passed.
The hall clock had just struck ten, when the door-bell rang violently.
"Good heavens!" exclaimed John, springing up, "that must be Mrs. Long; I
totally forgot that I had promised to go with her to Mrs. Willis's party.
I said I would be there at nine; tell her I am up-stairs dressing," and he
was gone before the servant had had time to open the door. Mrs. Long came
in, with a flushed face and anxious look. "Is Mr. Gray ill?" she said. "He
promised to call for me at nine, to go to Mrs. Willis's, and I have been
afraid he might be ill."
Before I could reply, the unconscious Alice exclaimed,--
"Oh, no; papa isn't ill; he is so sorry, but he forgot all about the party
till he heard you ring the bell. We were so busy over mamma's letters."
"John will be down in a moment," added I. "He ran up-stairs to dress as
soon as you rang."
For one second Emma Long's face was sad to see. Such astonishment, such
pain, were in it, my heart ached for her. Then a look of angry resentment
succeeded the pain, and merely saying, "I am very sorry; but I really
cannot wait for him. It is now almost too late to go," she had left the
room and closed the outer door before I could think of any words to say.
I ran up to John's room, and told him through the closed door. He made no
reply for a moment, and then said,--
"No wonder she is vexed. It was unpardonable rudeness. Tell Robert to run
at once for a carriage for me."
In a very few moments he came down dressed for the party, but with no
shadow of disturbance on his face. He was still thinking of the letters.
He took up his own, and putting it into an inside breast-pocket, said, as
he kissed Alice, "Papa will take mamma's letter to the party, if he can't
I shed grateful tears that night before I went to sleep. How I longed to
write to Ellen of the incident; but I had resolved not once to disregard
her request that the whole subject be a sealed one. And I trusted that
Alice would remember to tell it. Well I might! At breakfast Alice said,--
"Oh, papa, I told mamma that you carried her to the party in your
breast-pocket; that is, you carried her letter!"
I fancied that John's cheek flushed a little as he said,--
"You might tell mamma that papa carries her everywhere in his
breast-pocket, little girlie, and mamma would understand."
I think from that day I never feared for Ellen's future. I fancied, too,
that from that day there was a new light in John Gray's eyes. Perhaps it
might have been only the new light in my own; but I think when a man knows
that he has once, for one hour, forgotten a promise to meet a woman whose
presence has been dangerously dear to him, he must be aware of his dawning
The winter was nearly over. Ellen had said nothing to us about returning.
"Dr. Willis tells me that, from what Ellen writes to him of her health, he
thinks it would be safer for her to remain abroad another year," said John
to me one morning at breakfast.
"Oh, she never will stay another year!" exclaimed I.
"Not unless I go out to stay with her," said John, very quietly.
"Oh, John, could you?" and, "Oh, papa, will you take me?" exclaimed Alice
and I in one breath.
"Yes," and "yes," said John, laughing, "and Sally too, if she will go."
He then proceeded to tell me that he had been all winter contemplating
this; that he believed they would never again have so good an opportunity
to travel in Europe, and that Dr. Willis's hesitancy about Ellen's health
had decided the question. He had been planning and deliberating as
silently and unsuspectedly as Ellen had done the year before. Never once
had it crossed my mind that he desired it, or that it could be. But I
found that he had for the last half of the year been arranging his affairs
with a view to it, and had entered into new business connections which
would make it not only easy, but profitable, for him to remain abroad two
years. He urged me to go with them, but I refused. I felt that the father
and the mother and the children ought to be absolutely alone in this
blessed reunion, and I have never regretted my decision, although the old
world is yet an unknown world to me.
John Gray was a reticent and undemonstrative man, in spite of all the
tenderness and passionateness in his nature. But when he bade me good-by
on the deck of the steamer, as he kissed me he whispered:--
"Sally, I shall hold my very breath till I see Ellen. I never knew how I
loved her before." And the tears stood in his eyes.
I never saw Emma Long after she knew that John was to go abroad to join
Ellen. I found myself suddenly without courage to look in her face. The
hurry of my preparations for Alice was ample excuse for my not going to
her house, and she did not come to ours. I knew that John spent several
evenings with her, and came home late, with a sad and serious face, and
that was all. A week before he sailed she joined a large and gay party for
San Francisco and the Yosemite. In all the newspaper accounts of the
excursion, Mrs. Long was spoken of as the brilliant centre of all
festivities. I understood well that this was the first reaction of her
proud and sensitive nature under an irremediable pain. She never returned
to ----, but established herself in a Southern city, where she lived in
great retirement for a year, doing good to all poor and suffering people,
and spending the larger part of her fortune in charity. Early in the
second year there was an epidemic of yellow fever: Mrs. Long refused to
leave the city, and went as fearlessly as the physicians to visit and
nurse the worst cases. But after the epidemic had passed by, she herself
was taken ill, and died suddenly in a hospital ward, surrounded by the
very patients whom she had nursed back to health. Nothing I could say in
my own words would give so vivid an idea of the meeting between John Gray
and his wife, as the first letter which I received from little Alice:--
"It is too bad you did not come too. The voyage was horrid. Papa was so
much sicker than I, that I had to take care of him all the time; but my
head ached so that I kept seeing black spots if I stooped over to kiss
papa; but papa said, I was just like another mamma.
"Oh, Auntie, only think, there was a mistake about the letters, and mamma
never got the letter to tell her that we were coming; and she was out on
the balcony of the hotel when we got out of the carriage, and first she
saw me; and the lady who was with her said she turned first red and then
so white the lady thought she was sick; and then the next minute she saw
papa, and she just fell right down among all the people, and looked as if
she was dead; and the very first thing poor papa and I saw, when we got
up-stairs, was mamma being carried by two men, and papa and I both thought
she was dead; and papa fell right down on his knees, and made the men put
mamma down on the floor, and everybody talked out loud, and papa never
spoke a word, but just looked at mamma, and nobody knew who papa was till
I spoke, and I said,--
"'That's my mamma, and papa and I have just come all the way from
America,"--and then a gentleman told me to kiss mamma, and I did; and then
she opened her eyes; and just as soon as she saw papa, she got a great
deal whiter and her head fell back again, and I was so sure she was dying,
that I began to cry out loud, and I do think there were more than a
hundred people all round us; but Louise says there were only ten or
twelve; and then the same gentleman that told me to kiss mamma took hold
of papa, and made him go away; and they carried mamma into a room, and
laid her on a bed, and said we must all go out; but I wouldn't: I got
right under the bed, and they didn't see me; and it seemed to me a
thousand years before anybody spoke; and at last I heard mamma's voice,
just as weak as a baby's--but you know nobody could mistake mamma's voice;
and said she, 'Where is John--I saw John;' and then the gentleman
said,--oh, I forgot to tell you he was a doctor,--he said,--
"'My dear madam, calm yourself'--and then I cried right out again, and
crept out between his legs and almost knocked him down; and said I, 'Don't
you try to calm my mamma; it is papa--and me too, mamma!' and then mamma
burst out crying; and then the old gentleman ran out, and I guess papa was
at the door, for he came right in; and then he put his arms round mamma,
and they didn't speak for so long, I thought I should die; and all the
people were listening, and going up and down in the halls outside, and I
felt so frightened and ashamed, for fear people would think mamma wasn't
glad to see us. But papa says that is always the way when people are more
glad than they can bear; and the surprise, too, was too much for anybody.
But I said at the tea-table that I hoped I should never be so glad myself
as long as I lived; and then the old gentleman,--he's a very nice old
gentleman, and a great friend of mamma's, and wears gold spectacles,--he
said, 'My dear little girl, I hope you _may_ be some day just as glad,'
and then he looked at papa and mamma and smiled,--and mamma almost cried
again! Oh, altogether it was a horrid time; the worst I ever had; and so
different from what papa and I thought it would be.
"But it's all over now, and we're all so happy, we laugh so all the time,
that papa says it is disgraceful; that we shall have to go off and hide
ourselves somewhere where people can't see us.
"But Auntie, you don't know how perfectly splendid mamma is. She is the
prettiest lady in the hotel, Louise says. She is ever so much fatter than
she used to be. And the baby has grown so I did not know her, and her
curls are more than half a yard long. Louise and Mary have got their hair
cut short like boys, but their gowns are splendid; they say it was such a
pity you had any made for me at home. But oh, dear Auntie, don't think I
shall not always like the gowns you made for me. Charlie isn't here; he's
at some horrid school a great way off; I forget the name of the place. But
we are all going there to live for the summer. Mamma said we should keep
house in an 'apartment,' and I was perfectly horrified, and I said,
'Mamma, in one room?' and then Louise and Mary laughed till I was quite
angry; but mamma says that here an 'apartment' means a set of a good many
rooms, quite enough to live in. I don't believe you can have patience to
read this long letter; but I haven't told you half; no, not one half of
half. Good-by, you darling aunty. ALICE.
"P.S.--I wish you could just see mamma. It isn't only me that thinks she
is so pretty; papa thinks so too. He just sits and looks, and looks at
her, till mamma doesn't quite like it, and asks him to look at baby a
Ellen's first letter was short. Her heart was too full. She said at the
"I suppose you will both laugh and cry over Alice's letter. At first I
thought of suppressing it. But it gives you such a graphic picture of the
whole scene that I shall let it go. It is well that I had the excuse of
the surprise for my behavior, but I myself doubt very much if I should
have done any better, had I been prepared for their coming.
"God bless and thank you, dear Sally, for this last year, as I cannot.
These events happened many years ago. My sister and I are now old women.
Her life has been from that time to this, one of the sunniest and most
unclouded I ever knew.
John Gray is a hale old man; white-haired and bent, but clear-eyed and
vigorous. All the good and lovable and pure in his nature have gone on
steadily increasing: his love for his wife is still so full of sentiment
and romance that the world remarks it.
His grandchildren will read these pages, no doubt, but they will never
dream that it could have been their sweet and placid and beloved old
grandmother who, through such sore straits in her youth, kept her husband!
Esther Wynn's Love-Letters.
My uncle, Joseph Norton, lived in a very old house. It was one of those
many mansions in which that father of all sleepers, George Washington,
once slept for two nights. This, however, was before the house came into
the possession of our family, and we seldom mentioned the fact.
The rooms were all square, and high; many of the walls were of wood
throughout, panelled from the floor to the ceiling, and with curious china
tiles set in around the fire-places. In the room in which I always slept
when I visited there, these wooden walls were of pale green; the tiles
were of blue and white, and afforded me endless study and perplexity,
being painted with a series of half-allegorical, half-historical,
half-Scriptural representations which might well have puzzled an older
head than mine. The parlors were white, with gold ornaments; the library
was of oak, with mahogany wainscoting, and so were the two great central
halls, upper and lower. The balustrade of the staircase was of apple-tree
wood, more beautiful than all the rest, having fine red veins on its dark
polished surface. These halls were lined with portraits of dead Nortons,
men and women, who looked as much at home as if the grand old house had
always borne their name. And well they might, for none of the owners who
had gone before had been of as gentle blood as they; and now they would
probably never be taken down from the walls, for my uncle had bought the
house, and my uncle's son would inherit it; and it had never yet been
known that a Norton of our branch of Nortons had lived wastefully or come
My uncle had married very late in life: he was now a gray-haired man, with
little children around his knee. It was said once in my presence, by some
one who did not know I listened, that his heart had been broken when he
was little more than a boy, by the faithlessness of a woman older than
himself, and that he would never have married if he had not seen that
another heart would be broken if he did not. Be that as it may, his
bearing towards his wife was always of the most chivalrous and courteous
devotion, so courteous as perhaps to confirm this interpretation of his
My aunt was an uninteresting woman, of whom, if she were not in sight, one
never thought; but she had great strength of affection and much good sense
in affairs. Her children loved her; her husband enjoyed the admirably
ordered system of her management, and her house was a delightful one to
visit. Although she did not contribute to the flavor of living, she never
hindered or thwarted those who could. There was freedom in her presence,
from the very fact that you forgot her, and that she did not in the least
object to being forgotten. Such people are of great use in the world; and
make much comfort.
At the time when the strange incidents which I am about to tell occurred,
my aunt had been married twelve years, and had four children; three girls,
Sarah, Hilda, and Agnes, and a baby boy, who had as yet no name. Sarah was
called "Princess," and her real name was never heard. She was the oldest,
and was my uncle's inseparable companion. She was a child of uncommon
thoughtfulness and tenderness. The other two were simply healthy, happy
little creatures, who gave no promise of being any more individual than
their serene, quiet mother.
I was spending the winter in the family, and going to school, and between
my uncle and me there had grown up an intimate and confidential friendship
such as is rare between a man of sixty and a girl of fifteen. I understood
him far better than his wife did; and his affection for me was so great
and so caressing that he used often to say, laughingly, "Nell, my girl,
you'll never have another lover like me!"
We were sitting at breakfast one morning when Princess came in, holding a
small letter in her hand.
"Look, papa mia!" she said; "see this queer old letter I found on the
cellar stairs. It looks a hundred years old."
My uncle glanced up, carelessly at first, but as soon as he saw the paper
he stretched out his hand for it, and looked eager. It did indeed seem as
if it were a hundred years old; yellow, crumpled, torn. It had been folded
in the clumsy old way which was customary before the invention of
envelopes; the part of the page containing the address had been torn out.
He read a few words, and the color mounted in his cheek.
"Where did you say you found it, Princess?" he said.
"On the cellar stairs, papa; I went down to find Fido, and he was playing
"What is it, Joseph?" said Aunt Sarah, in tones a shade more eager than
"I do not know, my dear," replied my uncle; "it is very old," and he went
on reading with a more and more sobered face.
"Robert," said he, turning to the waiter, "do you know where this paper
could have come from? Have any old papers been carried down from the
garret, to light the fire in the furnace?"
"No, sir," said Robert, "not that I know, sir."
"There are whole barrels of old papers under the eaves in the garret,"
said Aunt Sarah; "I have always meant to have them burned up; I dare say
this came out of one of them, in some way;" and she resumed her habitual
expression of nonchalance.
"Perhaps so," said Uncle Jo, folding up the paper and putting it in his
pocket. "I will look, after breakfast."
She glanced up, again surprised, and said, "Why? is it of any importance?"
"Oh, no, no," said he hastily, with a shade of embarrassment in his voice,
"it is only an old letter, but I thought there might be more from the same
"Who was it?" said Aunt Sarah, languidly.
"I don't know; only the first name is signed," said he evasively; and the
placid lady asked no more. The children were busy with Fido, and breakfast
went on, but I watched my uncle's face. I had never seen it look just as
it looked then. What could that old yellow letter have been? My magnetic
sympathy with my uncle told me that he was deeply moved.
At dinner-time my uncle was late, and Aunt Sarah said, with a little less
than her usual dignity, "I never did see such a man as Mr. Norton, when he
takes a notion in his head. He's been all the morning rummaging in clouds
of dust in the garret, to find more of those old letters."
"Who wrote it, Auntie?" said I.
"Heaven knows," said she; "some woman or other, fifty years ago. He says
her name was Esther."
"Did you read it?" I asked tremblingly. Already I felt a shrinking sense
of regard for the unknown Esther.
Aunt Sarah looked at me with almost amused surprise. "Read it, child? no,
indeed! What do I care what that poor soul wrote half a century ago. But
your uncle's half out of his head about her, and he's had all the servants
up questioning them back and forth till they are nearly as mad as he is.
Cook says she has found several of them on the cellar stairs in the last
few weeks; but she saw they were so old she threw them into the fire, and
never once looked at them; and when she said that, your uncle just
groaned. I never did see such a man as he is when he gets a notion in his
head,"--she repeated, hopelessly.
My uncle came in flushed and tired. Nothing was said about the letters
till, just as dinner was over, he said suddenly:--
"Robert, if you find any more of these old papers anywhere, bring them to
me at once. And give orders to all the servants that no piece of old
paper with writing on it is to be destroyed without my seeing it."
"Yes, sir," said Robert, without changing a muscle of his face, but I saw
that he too was of Mrs. Norton's opinion as to his master's oddity when he
once got a notion in his head.
"Who was the lady, papa?" said little Agnes. "Did you know her?"
"My dear, the letter is as old as papa is himself," said he. "I think the
lady died when papa was a little baby."
"Then what makes you care so much, papa?" persisted Agnes.
"I can't tell you, little one," said he, kissing her, and tossing her up
in the air; but he looked at me.
In the early twilight that afternoon I found my uncle lying with closed
eyes on the lounge in the library. He was very tired by his long
forenoon's work in the garret. I sat down on the floor and stroked his
dear old white hair.
"Pet," he said, without opening his eyes, "that letter had the whole soul
of a woman in it."
"I thought so, dear," said I, "by your face."
After a long interval he said: "I could not find a word more of her
writing; I might have known I should not;" and again, after a still longer
silence, "Would you like to read it, Nell?"
"I am not sure, Uncle Jo," I said. "It seems hardly right. I think she
would not so much mind your having it, because you are a man; but another
woman! no, uncle dear, I think the letter belongs to you."
"Oh, you true woman-hearted darling," he said, kissing me; "but some day
I think I shall want you to read it with me. She would not mind your
reading it, if she knew you as I do."
Just then Aunt Sarah came into the room, and we said no more.
Several days passed by, and the mysterious letter was forgotten by
everybody except my uncle and me.
One bitterly cold night we were sitting around a blazing coal fire in the
library. It was very late. Aunt Sarah was asleep in her chair; my uncle
was reading. Suddenly the door opened and Robert came in, bringing a
letter on his little silver tray: it was past eleven o'clock; the evening
mail had been brought in long before.
"Why, what is that, Robert?" said Uncle Jo, starting up a little alarmed.
"One of them old letters, sir," replied Robert; "I just got it on the
cellar stairs, sir."
My uncle took the letter hastily. Robert still stood as if he had more to
say; and his honest, blank face looked stupefied with perplexity.
"If you please, sir," he began, "it's the queerest thing ever I saw. That
letter's been put on them stairs, sir, within the last five minutes."
"Why, Robert, what do you mean?" said my uncle, thoroughly excited.
"Oh dear," groaned Aunt Sarah, creeping out of her nap and chair, "if you
are going into another catechism about those old letters, I am going to
bed;" and she left the room, not staying long enough to understand that
this was a new mystery, and not a vain rediscussing of the old one.
It seemed that Robert had been down cellar to see that the furnace fire
was in order for the night. As soon as he reached the top of the stairs,
in coming up, he remembered that he had not turned the outside damper
properly, and went back to do it.
"I wasn't gone three minutes, sir, and when I came back there lay the
letter, right side up, square in the middle of the stairs; and I'd take my
Bible oath, sir, as 'twan't there when I went down."
"Who was in the hall when you went down, Robert?" said my uncle sternly.
"Nobody, sir. Every servant in the house had gone to bed, except Jane" (my
aunt's maid), "and she was going up the stairs over my head, sir, when I
first went down into the cellar. I know she was, sir, for she called
through the stairs to me, and she says, 'Master'll hear you, Robert.' You
see, sir, Jane and me didn't know as it was so late, and we was frightened
when we heard the clock strike half-past eleven."
"That will do, Robert," said Uncle Jo. "You can go," and Robert
disappeared, relieved but puzzled. There seemed no possible explanation of
the appearance of the letter there and then, except that hands had placed
it there during the brief interval of Robert's being in the cellar. There
were no human hands in the house which could have done it. Was a restless
ghost wandering there, bent on betraying poor Esther's secrets to
strangers? What did it, what could it mean?
"Will you read this one with me, Nell?" said my uncle, turning it over
reverently and opening it.
"No," I said, "but I will watch you read it;" and I sat down on the floor
at his feet.
The letter was very short; he read it twice without speaking; and then
said, in an unsteady voice: "This is an earlier letter than the other, I
think. This is a joyous one; poor Esther! I believe I know her whole
story. But the mystery is inexplicable! I would take down these walls if I
thought I could get at the secret."
Long past midnight we sat and talked it all over; and racked our brains in
vain to invent any theory to account for the appearance of the letters on
that cellar stairway. My uncle's tender interest in the poor dead Esther
was fast being overshadowed by the perplexing mystery.
A few days after this, Mary the cook found another of the letters when she
first went down-stairs in the morning, and Robert placed it by my uncle's
plate, with the rest of his mail. It was the strangest one of all, for
there was not a word of writing in it that could be read. It was a foreign
letter; some lines of the faded old postmarks were still visible on the
back. The first page looked as if it had been written over with some sort
of sympathetic ink; but not a word could be deciphered. Folded in a small
piece of the thinnest of paper was a mouldy and crumbling flower, of a
dull-brown color; on the paper was written,--"Pomegranate blossom, from
Jaffa," and a few lines of poetry, of which we could make out only here
and there a word.
Even Aunt Sarah was thoroughly aroused and excited now. Robert had been in
the cellar very late on the previous night, and was sure that at that time
no papers were on the stairs.
"I never go down them stairs, sir," said Robert, "without looking--and
listening too," he added under his breath, with a furtive look back at the
cook, who was standing in the second doorway of the butler's pantry. The
truth was, Robert had been afraid of the cellar ever since the finding of
the second letter: and all the servants shared his uneasiness.
Between eleven at night and seven the next morning, this mute ghostly waif
from Palestine, with the half-century old dust of a pomegranate flower in
its keeping, had come up that dark stairway. It appeared now that the
letters were always found on the fourth stair from the top. This fact had
not before been elicited, but there seemed little doubt about it. Even
little Princess said,--
"Yes, papa, I am sure that the one I found was on that stair; for I now
remember Fido came up with only just one or two bounds to the top, as soon
as he saw me."
We were very sober. The little children chattered on; it meant nothing to
them, this breath from such a far past. But to hearts old enough to
comprehend, there was something infinitely sad and suggestive in it. I
already felt, though I had not read one word of her writing, that I loved
the woman called Esther; as for my uncle, his very face was becoming
changed by the thought of her, and the mystery about the appearance of the
letters. He began to be annoyed also; for the servants were growing
suspicious, and unwilling to go into the cellar. Mary the cook declared
that on the morning when she found this last letter, something white
brushed by her at the foot of the stairs; and Robert said that he had for
a long time heard strange sounds from that staircase late at night.
Just after this, my aunt went away for a visit; and several days passed
without any further discoveries on the stairs. My uncle and I spent long
hours in talking over the mystery, and he urged me to read, or to let him
read to me, the two letters he had.
"Pet," he said, "I will tell you something. One reason they move me so is,
that they are strangely like words written by a woman whom I knew thirty
years ago. I did not believe two such women had been on the earth."
I kissed his hand when he said this; yet a strange unwillingness to read
Esther's letters withheld me. I felt that he had right, and I had not.
But the end of the mystery was near. It was revealed, as it ought to have
been, to my uncle himself.
One night I was wakened out of my first sleep by a very cautious tap at my
door, and my uncle's voice, saying,--
"Nell--Nell, are you awake?"
I sprang to the door instantly.
"O uncle, are you ill?" (My aunt had not yet returned.)
"No, pet. But I want you down-stairs. Dress yourself and come down into
My hands trembled with excitement as I dressed. Yet I was not afraid: I
knew it was in some way connected with "Esther," though my uncle had not
mentioned her name.
I found him sitting before the library table, which was literally covered
with old letters, such as we had before seen.
"O uncle!" I gasped as soon as I saw them.
"Yes, dear! I have got them all. There was no ghost!"
Then he told me in few words what had happened. It seemed that he had gone
down himself into the cellar, partly to satisfy himself that all was right
with the furnace, partly with a vague hope of finding another of the
letters. He had found nothing, had examined the furnace, locked the door
at the head of the cellar stairs, and gone up to his bed-room. While he
was undressing, a strange impulse seized him to go back once more, and see
whether it might not happen to him as it had to Robert, to find a letter
on returning after a few moments' interval.
He threw on his wrapper, took a candle, and went down. The first thing he
saw, on opening the door, which he had himself locked only five minutes
before, was a letter lying on the same fourth stair!
"I confess, Nell," said he, "for a minute I felt as frightened as black
Bob. But I sat down on the upper step, and resolved not to go away till I
had discovered how that letter came there, if I stayed till day-light!"
Nearly an hour passed, he said; the cold wind from the cellar blew up and
swayed the candle-flame to and fro. All sorts of strange sounds seemed to
grow louder and louder, and still he sat, gazing helplessly in a sort of
despair at that motionless letter, which he had not lifted from the stair.
At last, purely by accident, he looked up to the staircase overhead--the
front stairs, down which he had just come from his room. He jumped to his
feet! There, up among the dark cobwebbed shadows, he thought he saw
something white. He held up the candle. It was, yes, it was a tiny corner
of white paper wedged into a crack; by standing on the beam at the side he
could just reach it. He touched it,--pulled it;--it came out
slowly,--another of Esther's letters. They were hid in the upper
staircase! The boards had been worn and jarred a little away from each
other, and the letters were gradually shaken through the opening; some
heavier or quicker step than usual giving always the final impetus to a
letter which had been for days slowly working down towards the fated
Stealthily as any burglar he had crept about his own house, had taken up
the whole of the front staircase carpet, and had with trouble pried off
one board of the stair in which the letters were hid. There had been a
spring, he found, but it was rusted and would not yield. He had carefully
replaced the carpet, carried the letters into the library, and come for
me; it was now half-past one o'clock at night.
Dear, blessed Uncle Jo! I am an old woman now. Good men and strong men
have given me love, and have shown me of their love for others; but never
did I feel myself so in the living presence of incarnate love as I did
that night, sitting with my white-haired uncle, face to face with the
faded records of the love of Esther Wynn.
It was only from one note that we discovered her last name. This was
written in the early days of her acquaintance with her lover, and while
she was apparently little more than a child. It was evident that at first
the relation was more like one of pupil and master. For some time the
letters all commenced scrupulously "my dear friend," or "my most beloved
friend." It was not until years had passed that the master became the
lover; we fancied, Uncle Jo and I, as we went reverently over the
beautiful pages, that Esther had grown and developed more and more, until
she was the teacher, the helper, the inspirer. We felt sure, though we
could not tell how, that she was the stronger of the two; that she moved
and lived habitually on a higher plane; that she yearned often to lift the
man she loved to the freer heights on which her soul led its glorified
It was strange how little we gathered which could give a clew to her
actual history or to his. The letters almost never gave the name of the
place, only the day and year, many of them only the day. There was dearth
of allusions to persons; it was as if these two had lived in a separate
world of their own. When persons were mentioned at all, it was only by
initials. It was plain that some cruel, inexorable bar separated her from
the man she loved; a bar never spoken of--whose nature we could only
guess,--but one which her strong and pure nature felt itself free to
triumph over in spirit, however submissive the external life might seem.
Their relation had lasted for many years; so many, that that fact alone
seemed a holy seal and testimony to the purity and immortality of the bond
which united them. Esther must have been a middle-aged woman when, as the
saddened letters revealed, her health failed and she was ordered by the
physicians to go to Europe. The first letter which my uncle had read, the
one which Princess found, was the letter in which she bade farewell to
her lover. There was no record after that; only two letters which had come
from abroad; one was the one that I have mentioned, which contained the
pomegranate blossom from Jaffa, and a little poem which, after long hours
of labor, Uncle Jo and I succeeded in deciphering. The other had two
flowers in it--an Edelweiss which looked as white and pure and immortal as
if it had come from Alpine snows only the day before; and a little crimson
flower of the amaranth species, which was wrapped by itself, and marked
"From Bethlehem of Judea." The only other words in this letter were, "I am
better, darling, but I cannot write yet."
It was evident that there had been the deepest intellectual sympathy
between them. Closely and fervently and passionately as their hearts must
have loved, the letters were never, from first to last, simply lovers'
letters. Keen interchange of comment and analysis, full revelation of
strongly marked individual life, constant mutual stimulus to mental growth
there must have been between these two. We were inclined to think, from
the exquisitely phrased sentences and rare fancies in the letters, and
from the graceful movement of some of the little poems, that Esther must
have had ambition as a writer. Then, again, she seemed so wholly, simply,
passionately, a woman, to love and be loved, that all thought of anything
else in her nature or her life seemed incongruous.
"Oh," groaned Uncle Jo, after reading one of the most glowing letters,
"oh, was there really ever in any other man's arms but mine a woman who
could say such things as these between kisses? O Nell, Nell, thank God
that you haven't the dower of such a double fire in your veins as Esther
All night we sat reading, and reading, and reading. When the great clock
in the hall struck six, we started like guilty persons.
"Oh, my childie," said Uncle Jo, "how wrong this has been in me! Poor
little pale face, go to bed now, and remember, I forbid you to go to
school to-day; and I forbid your getting up until noon. I promise you I
will not look at another letter. I will lock them all up till to-morrow
evening, and then we will finish them."
I obeyed him silently. I was too exhausted to speak; but I was also too
excited to sleep. Until noon I lay wide awake on the bed, in my darkened
room, living over Esther Wynn's life, marvelling at the inexplicable
revelation of it which had been put into our hands, and wondering, until
the uncertainty seemed almost anguish, what was that end which we could
never know. Did she die in the Holy Land? or did she come home well and
strong? and did her lover die some day, leaving his secret treasure of
letters behind him, and poor stricken Esther to go to her grave in fear
lest unfriendly hands might have gained possession of her heart's records?
He was a married man we felt sure. Had the wife whom he did not love paced
up and down and up and down for years over these dumb witnesses to that of
which she had never dreamed? The man himself, when he came to die, did he
writhe, thinking of those silent, eloquent, precious letters which he must
leave to time and chance to destroy or protect? Did men carry him, dead,
down the very stairs on which he had so often knelt unseen and wafted
kisses towards the hidden Esther?
All these conjectures and questions, and thousands more, hurried in wild
confusion through my brain. In vain I closed my eyes, in vain I pressed my
hands on my eyelids; countless faces, dark, light, beautiful, plain,
happy, sad, threatening, imploring, seemed dancing in the air around my
bed, and saying, "Esther, Esther!"
We knew she was fair; for there was in one of the letters a tiny curl of
pale brown hair; but we believed from many expressions of hers that she
had no beauty. Oh, if I could but have known how she looked!
At last I fell asleep, and slept heavily until after dark. This refreshed
my overwrought nerves, and when at nine o'clock in the evening I joined my
uncle in the library, I was calmer than he.
We said very few words. I sat on his knee, with one arm around his neck,
and hand in hand we reverently lifted the frail, trembling sheets.
We learned nothing new; in fact, almost any one of the letters was a
rounded revelation of Esther's nature, and of the great love she bore--and
there was little more to learn. There were more than a hundred of the
letters, and they embraced a period of fifteen years. We arranged them in
piles, each year by itself; for some years there were only two or three;
we wondered whether during those years they had lived near each other, and
so had not written, or whether the letters had been destroyed. When the
last letter was laid where it belonged, we looked at each other in
silence, and we both sighed.
Uncle Jo spoke first.
"Childie, what shall we do with them?"
"I do not know, uncle," I said. "I should feel very guilty if we did not
make sure that no one else read them. I should feel very guilty myself,
except that I have read them with you. They seem to me to belong to you,
Uncle Jo kissed me, and we were silent again. Then he said, "There is but
one way to make sure that no human being will ever read them--that is, to
burn them; but it is as hard for me to do it as if they had been written
"Could you not put them back in the stair, and nail it up firmly?" said I.
It was a stormy night. The wind was blowing hard, and sleet and snow
driving against the windows. At this instant a terrible gust rattled the
icy branches of the syringa-bushes against the window, with a noise like
the click of musketry, and above the howling of the wind there came a
strange sound which sounded like a voice crying, "Burn, burn!"
Uncle Jo and I both heard it, and both sprang to our feet, white with a
nervous terror. In a second he recovered himself, and said, laughing, "Pet
we are both a good deal shaken by this business. But I do think it will be
safer to burn the letters. Poor, poor Esther. I hope she is safe with her
"Oh, do you doubt it?" said I; "I do not."
"No," said he, "I do not, either. Thank God!"
"Uncle Jo," said I, "do you think Esther would mind if I copied a few of
these letters, and two or three of the poems? I so want to have them that
it seems to me I cannot give them up; I love her so, I think she would be
The storm suddenly died away, and the peaceful silence around us was
almost as startling as the fierce gust had been before. I took it as an
omen that Esther did not refuse my wish, and I selected the four letters
which I most desired to keep. I took also the pomegranate blossom, and the
Edelweiss, and the crimson Amaranth from Bethlehem.
"I think Esther would rather that these should not be burned," I said.
"Yes; I think so too," replied Uncle Jo.
Then we laid the rest upon the fire. The generous hickory logs seemed to
open their arms to them. In a few seconds great panting streams of fire
leaped up and rushed out of our sight, bearing with them all that was
perishable of Esther Wynn's letters. Just as the crackling shadowy shapes
were falling apart and turning black, my uncle sprang to an Indian cabinet
which stood near, and seizing a little box of incense-powder which had
been brought from China by his brother, he shook a few grains of it into
the fire. A pale, fragrant film rose slowly in coiling wreaths and clouds
and hid the last moments of the burning of the letters. When the incense
smoke cleared away, nothing could be seen on the hearth but the bright
hickory coals in their bed of white ashes.
"I shall make every effort," said Uncle Jo, "to find out who lived in this
house during those years. I presume I can, by old records somewhere."
"Oh, uncle," I said, "don't. I think they would rather we did not know any
"You sweet woman child!" he exclaimed. "You are right. Your instinct is
truer than mine. I am only a man, after all! I will never try to learn who
it was that Esther loved."
"I am very glad," he added, "that this happened when your Aunt Sarah was
away. It would have been a great weariness and annoyance to her to have
read these letters."
Dear, courteous Uncle Jo! I respected his chivalrous little artifice of
speech, and tried to look as if I believed he would have carried the
letters to his wife if she had been there.
"And I think, dear," he hesitatingly proceeded, "we would better not speak
of this. It will be one sacred little secret that you and your old uncle
will keep. As no more letters will be found on the stairs, the whole thing
will be soon forgotten."
"Oh yes, uncle," replied I; "of course it would be terrible to tell. It
isn't our secret, you know; it is dear Esther Wynn's."
I do not know why it was that I locked up those four letters of Esther
Wynn's and did not look at them for many months. I felt very guilty in
keeping them; but a power I could not resist seemed to paralyze my very
hand when I thought of opening the box in which they were. At last, long
after I had left Uncle Jo's house, I took them out one day, and in the
quiet and warmth of a summer noon I copied them slowly, carefully, word
for word. Then I hid the originals in my bosom, and walked alone, without
telling any one whither I was going, to a wild spot I knew several miles
away, where a little mountain stream came foaming and dashing down
through a narrow gorge to empty itself into our broad and placid river. I
sat down on a mossy granite boulder, and slowly tore the letters into
minutest fragments. One by one I tossed the white and tiny shreds into the
swift water, and watched them as far as I could see them. The brook lifted
them and tossed them over and over, lodged them in mossy crevices, or on
tree roots, then swept them all up and whirled them away in dark depths of
the current from which they would never more come to the surface. It was a
place which Esther would have loved, and I wondered, as I sat there hour
after hour, whether it were really improbable, that she knew just then
what I was doing for her. I wondered, also, as I often before had
wondered, if it might not have been by Esther's will that the sacred hoard
of letters, which had lain undiscovered for so many years, should fall at
last into the hands of my tender and chivalrous Uncle Jo. It was certainly
a strange thing that on the stormy night which I have described, when we
were discussing what should be done with the letters, both Uncle Jo and I
at the same instant should have fancied we heard the words "Burn, burn!"
The following letter is the earliest one which I copied. It is the one
which Robert found so late at night and brought to us in the library:--
"SWEETEST:--It is very light in my room to-night. The full moon and the
thought of you! I see to write, but you would forbid me--you who would
see only the moonlight, and not the other. Oh, my darling! my darling!
"I have been all day in fields and on edges of woods. I have never seen
just such a day: a June sun, and a September wind; clover and butter-cups
under foot, and a sparkling October sky overhead. I think the earth
enjoyed it as a sort of masquerading frolic. The breeze was so strong that
it took the butterflies half off their air-legs, and they fairly reeled
about in the sun. As for me, I sat here and there, on hillocks and stones,
among ferns, and white cornels, and honey-bees, and bobolinks. I was the
only still thing in the fields. I waited so long in each spot, that it was
like being transplanted when I moved myself to the north or the south. And
I discovered a few things in each country in which I lived. For one thing,
I observed that the little busy bee is not busy all the while; that he
does a great amount of aimless, idle snuffing and tasting of all sorts of
things besides flowers; especially he indulges in a running accompaniment
of gymnastics among the grass-stalks, which cannot possibly have anything
to do with honey. I watched one fellow to-day through a series of positive
trapeze movements from top to bottom and bottom to top of a grass-tangle.
When he got through he shook himself, and smoothed off his legs exactly as
the circus-men do. Then he took a long pull at a clover well.
"Ah, the clover! Dearest! you should have seen how it swung to-day. The
stupidest person in the world could not have helped thinking that it kept
time to invisible band-playing, and was trying to catch hold of the
buttercups. I lay down at full length and looked off through the stems,
and then I saw for the first time how close they were, and that they
constantly swayed and touched, and sometimes locked fast together for a
second. Stately as a minuet it looked, but joyous and loving as the
wildest waltz I ever danced in your arms, my darling. Oh, how dare we
presume to be so sure that the flowers are not glad as we are glad! On
such a day as to-day I never doubt it; and I picked one as reverently and
hesitatingly as I would ask the Queen of the Fairies home to tea if I met
her in a wood.
"Laughing, are you, darling? Yes, I know it. Poor soul! You cannot help
being a man, I suppose. Nor would I have you help it, my great, strong,
glorious one! How I adore the things which you do, which I could not do.
Oh, my sweet master! Never fear that I do you less reverence than I
should. All the same, I lie back on my ferny hillock, and look you in the
eye, and ask you what you think would become of you if you had no little
one of my kind to bring you honey! And when I say this--you--ah, my
darling, now there are tears in my eyes, and the moonlight grows dim. I
cannot bear the thinking what you would do when I said those words!
Good-night! Perhaps in my sleep I will say them again, and you will be
there to answer. In the morning I shall write out for you to-day's clover
The clover song was not in the letter. We found it afterward on a small
piece of paper, so worn and broken in the folds that we knew it must have
been carried for months in a pocket-book.
A Song of Clover.
I wonder what the Clover thinks?--
Intimate friend of Bob-o-links,
Lover of Daisies slim and white,
Waltzer with Butter-cups at night;
Keeper of Inn for travelling Bees,
Serving to them wine dregs and lees,
Left by the Royal Humming-birds,
Who sip and pay with fine-spun words;
Fellow with all the lowliest,
Peer of the gayest and the best;
Comrade of winds, beloved of sun,
Kissed by the Dew-drops, one by one;
Prophet of Good Luck mystery
By sign of four which few may see;
Symbol of Nature's magic zone,
One out of three, and three in one;
Emblem of comfort in the speech
Which poor men's babies early reach;
Sweet by the roadsides, sweet by sills,
Sweet in the meadows, sweet on hills,
Sweet in its white, sweet in its red,
Oh, half its sweet cannot be said;
Sweet in its every living breath,
Sweetest, perhaps, at last, in death!
Oh, who knows what the Clover thinks?
No one! unless the Bob-o-links!
The lines which were written on the paper inclosing the pomegranate flower
from Jaffa we deciphered with great trouble. The last verse we were not
quite sure about, for there had been erasures. But I think we were right
Pomegranate blossom! Heart of fire!
I dare to be thy death,
To slay thee while the summer sun
Is quickening thy breath;
To rob the autumn of thy wine;--
Next year of all ripe seeds of thine,
That thou mayest bear one kiss of mine
To my dear love before my death.
For, Heart of fire, I too am robbed
Like thee! Like thee, I die,
While yet my summer sun of love
Is near, and warm, and high;
The autumn will run red with wine;
The autumn fruits will swing and shine;
But in that little grave of mine
I shall not see them where I lie.
Pomegranate blossom! Heart of fire!
This kiss, so slow, so sweet,
Thou bearest hence, can never lose
Even in death its heat.
Redder than autumns can run with wine,
Warmer than summer suns can shine,
Forever that dear love of mine
Shall find thy sacred hidden sweet!
The next letter which I copied was one written five years after the first;
it is not so much a letter as an allegory, and so beautiful, so weird,
that we wondered Esther did not set it to tune as a poem.
"MY DARLING:--Even this blazing September sun looks dull to me this
morning. I have come from such a riotous dream. All last night I walked in
a realm of such golden splendor, that I think even in our fullest noon I
shall only see enough light to grope by for days and days.
"I do not know how to tell you my dream. I think I must put it in shape
of a story of two people; but you will know, darling, that in my dream it
was you and I. And I honestly did dream it, love, every word just as I
shall write it for you; only there are no words which so glow and light
and blaze as did the chambers through which we walked. I had been reading
about the wonderful gold mines of which every one is talking now, and this
led to my dream.
"You can laugh if you like, sweet master mine, but I think it is all true,
and I call it
"The Mine of Gold.
"There is but one true mine of gold; and of it no man knows, and no woman,
save those who go into it. Neither can they who go tell whether they sink
into the earth's heart or are caught up into the chambers of the air, or
led to the outer pavilions of the sea. Suddenly they perceive that all
around, above, below them is gold: rocks of gold higher than they can see;
caves whose depths are bright with gold; lakes of gold which is molten and
leaps like fire, but in which flowers can be dipped and not wither; sands
of gold, soft and pleasant to touch; innumerable shapes of all things
beautiful, which wave and change, but only from gold to gold; air which
shines and shimmers like refiner's gold; warmth which is like the glow of
the red gold of Ophir; and everywhere golden silence!
"Hand in hand walk the two to whom it is given to enter here: of the gold,
they may carry away only so much as can be hid in their bosoms; grains
which are spilled, or are left on their garments, turn to ashes; only to
each other may they speak of these mysteries; but all men perceive that
they have riches, and that their faces shine as the faces of angels.
"Suddenly it comes to pass that one day a golden path leads them farther
than they have ever gone before, and into a vast chamber, too vast to be
measured. Its walls, although they are of gold, are also like crystal.
This is a mystery. Only three sides are walled. The fourth side is the
opening of a gallery which stretches away and away, golden like a broad
sunbeam: from out the distance comes the sound of rushing waters; however
far they walk in that gallery, still the golden sunbeam stretches before
them; still the sound of the waters is no nearer: and so would the sunbeam
and the sound of the waters be forever, for they are Eternity.
"But there is a fourth mystery. On the walls of crystal gold, on all
sides, shine faces; not dead faces, not pictured faces; living
faces--warm, smiling, reflected faces.
"Then it is revealed to the two who walk hand in hand that these are the
faces of all who have ever entered in, as they, between the walls of
crystal gold; flashing faces of the sons of God looking into eyes of
earthly women;--these were the first: and after them, all in their
generations until to-day, the sons of men with the women they have loved.
The men's faces smile; but the faces of the women have in them a joy
greater than a smile.
"Presently the two who walk hand in hand see their own faces added to the
others, with the same smile, the same joy; and it is revealed to them that
these faces are immortal. Through all eternity they will shine on the
walls of crystal gold; and those who have once looked on them can never
more see in each other change or loss of beauty.
"If as they walk there, in the broad sunbeam, an angel meets them, bearing
the tokens of a golden bowl that is broken and a silver cord that is
unloosed, they follow him without grief or fear, thinking on that chamber
of crystal gold!
The third letter was written three years after this one. Sadness was
beginning to cloud the free, joyous outpourings of Esther's heart.
Probably this sadness was one of the first symptoms of the failure of her
health. It was from this letter chiefly--although there were expressions
in others which deepened the impression--that we inferred that her lover
had tried to stimulate in her an intellectual ambition.
"DEAR ONE:--Your last letter gave me great pain. It breaks my heart to see
you looking so earnestly and expectantly into my future. Beloved, that I
have grown and developed so much in the last seven years is no proof that
I can still keep on growing. If you understood, darling, you would see
that it is just the other way. I have grown year by year, hour by hour,
because hour by hour I have loved you more. That is all! I have felt the
growth. I know it, as clearly as you do. But I know the secret of it as
you do not; and I know the limit of it, as you cannot. I cannot love you
more, precious one! Neither would I if I could! One heart-beat more in a
minute, and I should die! But all that you have so much loved and cared
for, dear, calling it intellectual growth and expansion in me, has been
only the clearing, refining, and stimulating of every faculty, every
sense, by my love for you. When I have said or written a word which has
pleased you thus, if there were any special fitness or eloquence in the
word, it was only because I sought after what would best carry my thought
to you, darling; what would be best frame, best setting, to keep the
flowers or the sky which I had to see alone,--to keep them till you could
see them too! Oh, dear one, do understand that there is nothing of me
except my heart and my love! While they were wonderingly, tremblingly,
rapturously growing within me, under the sweet warmth of your love, no
wonder I changed day by day. But, precious one, it is ended. The whole
solemn, steadfast womanhood within me recognizes it. Beloved master, in
one sense you can teach me no more! I am content. I desire nothing. One
moment of full consciousness of you, of life, of your love, is more than
all centuries of learning, all eternities of inspiration. I would rather
at this moment, dear, lay my cheek on your hand, and sit in my old place
by your knee, and feel myself the woman you have made me, than know all
that God knows, and make a universe!
"Beloved, do not say such things to me any more; and whenever you feel
such ambition and hope stirring in your heart, read over this little
verse, and be sure that your child knew what she said when she wrote
"The End of Harvest.
"O Love, who walkest slow among my sheaves,
Smiling at tint and shape, thy smile of peace,
But whispering of the next sweet year's increase,--
O tender Love, thy loving hope but grieves
My heart! I rue my harvest, if it leaves
Thee vainly waiting after harvests cease,
Like one who has been mocked by title lease
To barren fields.
Dear one, my word deceives
Thee never. Hearts one summer have. Their grain
'Is sown not that which shall be!'
Can new pain
Teach me of pain? Or any ecstasy
Be new, that I should speak its name again?
My darling, all there was or is of me
Is harvested for thine Eternity!
The fourth letter was the one which Princess had found, the first which my
uncle had read--Esther's farewell to her lover before going abroad. No
wonder that it so moved him!
"MY DARLING:--I implore you not to come. Have I not loved you enough, all
these years long, for you to trust me, and believe that it is only because
I love you so much that I cannot, cannot see you now? Dear, did I ever
before ask you to forego your wish for mine? Did I ever before withhold
anything from you, my darling? Ah, love, you know--oh, how well you know,
that always, in every blissful moment we have spent together, my bliss
has been shadowed by a little, interrupted by a little, because my soul
was forever restlessly asking, seeking, longing, for one more joy,
delight, rapture, to give to you!
"Now listen, darling. You say it is almost a year since we met; true, but
if it were yesterday, would you remember it any more clearly? Why, my
precious one, I can see over again at this moment each little movement
which you made, each look your face wore; I can hear every word; I can
feel every kiss; very solemn kisses they were too, love, as if we had
"You say we may never meet again. True. But if that is to be so, all the
more I choose to leave with you the memory of the face you saw then,
rather than of the one you would see to-day. Be compassionate, darling,
and spare me the pain of seeing your pain at sight of my poor changed
face. I hope it is not vanity, love, which makes me feel this so strongly.
Being so clearly and calmly conscious as I am that very possibly my
earthly days are near their end, it does not seem as if mere vanity could
linger in my soul. And you know you have always said, dearest, that I had
none. I know I have always wondered unspeakably that you could find
pleasure in my face, except occasionally, when I have felt, as it were, a
great sudden glow and throb of love quicken and heat it under your gaze;
then, as I have looked up in your eyes, I have sometimes had a flash of
consciousness of a transfiguration in the very flesh of my face, just as I
have a sense of rapturous strength sometimes in the very flesh and bone of
my right hand, when I strike on the piano some of Beethoven's chords. But
I know that, except in the light of your presence, I have no beauty. I
had not so much to lose by illness as other women. But, dear one, that
little is gone. I can read in the pitying looks of all my friends how
altered I am. Even if I did not see it with my own eyes, I should read it
in theirs. And I cannot--oh, I cannot read it in yours!
"If I knew any spell which could make you forget all except some one rare
moment in which you said in your heart, 'she never looked so lovely
before!' oh, how firmly I would bind you by it! All the weary indifferent,
or unhappy looks, love, I would blot out from your memory, and have the
thought of me raise but one picture in your mind. I would have it as if I
had died, and left of my face no record on earth except one wonderful
picture by some great master, who had caught the whole beauty of the one
rarest moment of my life. Darling, if you look back, you will find that
moment; for it must have been in your arms; and let Love be the master who
will paint the immortal picture!
"As for this thin, pale, listless body, which just now answers to the name
of me, there is nothing in or about it which you know. Presently it will
be carried like a half-lifeless thing on board a ship; the winds will blow
roughly on it and it will not care. If God wills, darling, I will come
back to you well and strong. If I cannot come well and strong, I hope
never to come at all.
"Don't call me cruel. You would feel the same. I also should combat the
resolve in you, as you do in me. But in my heart I should understand. I
should sympathize, and I should yield.
"God bless you, darling. I believe He will, for the infinite goodness of
your life. I thank Him daily that He has given it to me to bless you a
little. If I had seen you to say farewell, my beloved, I should not have
kissed you many times, as has been our wont. That is for hours of joy. I
should have kissed you three times--only three times--on your beautiful,
strong, gentle lips, and each kiss would have been a separate sacrament,
with a bond of its own. I send them to you here, love, and this is what
"Three Kisses of Farewell.
"Three, only three my darling,
Separate, solemn, slow;
Not like the swift and joyous ones
We used to know
When we kissed because we loved each other
Simply to taste love's sweet,
And lavished our kisses as the summer
But as they kiss whose hearts are wrung,
When hope and fear are spent,
And nothing is left to give, except
"First of the three, my darling,
Is sacred unto pain;
We have hurt each other often;
We shall again,
When we pine because we miss each other,
And do not understand
How the written words are so much colder
Than eye and hand.
I kiss thee, dear, for all such pain
Which we may give or take;
Buried, forgiven, before it comes
For our love's sake!
"The second kiss, my darling,
Is full of joy's sweet thrill;
We have blessed each other always;
We always will.
We shall reach until we feel each other,
Past all of time and space;
We shall listen till we hear each other
In every place;
The earth is full of messengers,
Which love sends to and fro;
I kiss thee, darling, for all joy
Which we shall know!
"The last kiss, oh, my darling,
My love--I cannot see
Through my tears, as I remember
What it may be.
We may die and never see each other,
Die with no time to give
Any sign that our hearts are faithful
To die, as live.
Token of what they will not see
Who see our parting breath,
This one last kiss, my darling, seals
The seal of death!"
It was on my sixteenth birthday that I copied these letters and poems of
Esther Wynn's. I kept them, with a few other very precious things, in a
curious little inlaid box, which came from Venice, and was so old that in
many places its sides were worm-eaten. It was one of my choicest
treasures, and I was never separated from it.
When I was twenty years old I had been for two years a happy wife, for one
year a glad mother, and had for some time remembered Esther only in the
vague, passing way in which happy souls recall old shadows of the griefs
of other hearts. As my boy entered on a second summer he began to droop a
little, and the physician recommended that we should take him to the
sea-side; so it came to pass that on the morning of my twentieth birthday
I was sitting, with my baby in my arms, on a rocky sea-shore, at one of
the well-known summer resorts of the New Hampshire coast. Near me sat a
woman whose face had interested me strangely ever since my arrival. She
seemed an invalid; but there was an atmosphere of overflowing vitality
about her, in spite of her feebleness, which made her very presence
stimulating and cheering to every one. I had longed to speak with her, but
as yet had not done so. While I sat watching her face and my baby's, and
the face of the sea, she was joined by her husband, who had just come from
a walk in the fields, and had brought her a large bouquet of red clover
and feathery grasses. She took it eagerly with great delight, and
"I wonder what the Clover thinks?
Intimate friend of Bob-o-links!"
I could not control the sudden start with which I heard these words. Who
was this that knew Esther Wynn's verses by heart? I could hardly refrain
from speaking to her at once, and betraying all. But I reflected instantly
that I must be very cautious; it would be almost impossible to find out
what I longed to know without revealing how my own acquaintance with the
verses had come about. Days passed before I ventured to allude to the
subject; but one evening, as we were walking together, she stooped and
picked a clover-blossom, and said,--
"I really think I love red clover better than any wild flower we have."
"I thought so," said I, "when I saw you take that big bunch your husband
brought you the other morning. That was before I knew you: I felt almost
rude, I watched you so, in spite of myself."
"But I had watched you quite as much," said she, smiling; "I thought then
of giving you a part of the clover. Edward always brings me huge bouquets
of it every day; he knows so well how I love it."
"I heard you quote a little couplet of verse about it then," said I,
looking away from her, that she might not see my face: "I was so near you
I could not help hearing what you said."
"Oh, yes," said she,
"I wonder what the Clover thinks?
Intimate friend of Bob-o-links'--
"I do not know but that old clover-song is the real reason I love clover
so. My mother taught it to me when I was a little child. It is all very
quaint and sweet. Would you like to hear it?"
I felt myself color scarlet, but I replied,--
"Oh, yes, pray repeat it."
When she had repeated the verses she went on speaking, to my great relief,
saving me from the necessity of saying anything.
"That was written a great many years ago, by an aunt of my mother's. My
mother has a little manuscript book bound in red morocco, very faded and
worn, which my grandmother kept on her bureau till she died, last year;
and it has in it this little clover-song and several others, with Aunt
Esther's diary while she was abroad. She died abroad; died in Jerusalem,
and was buried there. There was something mysteriously sad in her life, I
think: grandmother always sighed when she spoke of her, and used to read
in the little red book every day. She was only her half-sister, but she
said she loved her better than she did any sister of her own. Once I asked
grandmamma to tell me about her, but she said, 'There is nothing to tell,
child. She was never married: she died the autumn before your mother was
born, and your mother looked very much like her when she was young. She is
like her, too, in many ways,' and that was all grandmamma would ever say.
But we always called her Aunt Esther, and know all her verses by heart,
and the diary was fascinating. It seems strange to read such vivid written
records of people you never saw; don't you think so?"
"Yes, it must, very," said I.
She went on: "I always had a very special love for this old Aunt Esther,
which I could hardly account for. I am to have the little red book when my
mother dies; and"--she hesitated a moment--"and I named my first baby for
her, Esther Wynn. The baby only lived to be a few weeks old, and I often
think, as I look at her little grave-stone, of the other one, so many
thousand miles away, alone in a strange land, bearing the same name."
On my way home I stopped for a few days' visit at Uncle Jo's. Late one
night, sitting in my old place at his feet in the library, I told him this
sequel to the romance of the letters.
"Oh, childie, how could you help showing that you knew about her?" said
he. "You must have betrayed it."
"No, I am sure I did not," I said. "I never spoke about it after that day,
and she was too absorbed herself in the reminiscences to observe my
"What was your friend's name?" said Uncle Jo.
I told him. He sprang from his chair, and walked rapidly away to the end
of the library; presently he came back, and standing before me, said,--
"Nell! Nell! your friend's mother is the woman of whom I once spoke to
you! I might have known that the subtle kinship I felt between Esther Wynn
and her was no chance resemblance. I never heard of the name 'Wynn,'
however. But you said she was only a half-sister; that accounts for it. I
might have known! I might have known!" he exclaimed, more to himself than
to me, and buried his face in his hands I stole away quietly and left him;
but I heard him saying under his breath, "Her aunt! I might have known!"