What Five Years Will Do
I KNOW of no one in this unrhythmical age who can better play the part in a love-story, taken by the chorus in the Greek plays, the Deus ex machinâ in the old epics or the fairy godmother in the legends of the Middle Ages, than a single-woman of forty or fifty, or thereabouts (not even here will I tell the exact whereabouts), who has done with love and sentiment in her own person, but has not quite yet lost her sympathy with such childishness or her faith in it.
It is not, however, necessary to my rôle of Chorus to tell you where I got the letters I send you. Was it Grandmamma Shirley, who played false to Miss Harriet Byron, and gave up the secrets of her darling’s heart to the editor ? We shall never know, and no one will ever know, how I came by Horace Thayer’s letter to his brother. One thing I will say, it was not Isaac Thayer who gave it to me. He is as reticent and as retinent as a sensible man — a middle-aged Yankee farmer — always is, and ought to be. I don’t believe he showed it even to his Lucy, who loves a bit of romance and a little mystery as well now as she did twenty years ago, when she read Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales and wondered over Emerson’s Lectures.
Horace wrote the letter in the summer of 1860, when we were both down on the Northern Neck in Eastern Virginia ; he as a tutor to Major Johnstone’s two boy-cubs, and I governess to Colonel Ridgeley’s only daughter, Ida, a brave, pretty girl of seventeen, who, though in my eyes not exactly the angel that the letter makes her out to be, was, and is yet, the darling of my heart, who watched every look from her father’s eyes, and who petted, like all the rest of us, her foolish, kindly little goose of a mother.
It was in the early summer, before the ground began to tremble beneath my feet, before the storm of electioneering passion arose, which made Colonel Ridgeley advise me to take my vacation earlier than usual, and to make no plans about returning till things looked more settled. I laughed at his gravity. What had I to fear ? — an inoffensive old maid, a Northern woman to be sure, with my own notions about slavery, but I had never talked of them except to him, to whom everybody told everything. As to the comparative claims of the general and the State governments, about which the gentlemen of the neighborhood seemed to be crazy, what were they to me, who had no vote to give and no husband to influence?
Why should a woman have a political theory when she has no political practice ? For my part. I shake off the useless responsibility, and I have fairly passed through the last five years without knowing exactly where State’s rights end and our duty to the central government begins. And yet, in spite of my eminent neutrality, I never went back to the Northern Neck, never saw, and never shall see again, the pleasant house of Ridgeley Manor, with its wide porches, its grand old avenue of trees, its cheerful negro-quarters, and its neglected, worn-out “old fields.” Nor did I ever get my big chest of winter clothing that I left behind me ; but that was not Colonel Ridgeley’s fault, nor poor, darling Mrs. Ridgeley’s either. It gives me pleasure to think that some aguish Confederate soldier made a blanket out of my quilted petticoat, and covered his blistered feet with the woollen stockings that my aunt Mehitable knit for me, and that I never could find a time to wear. But the Chorus is getting garrulous, and you are anxious for the entrance of the dramatis personœ.
RIDGELEY MANOR, June, 1860.
MY DEAR BROTHER : — I leave here for Boston next week, and shall be with you in Keene on the farm the week after. This is rather sooner than I expected, but circumstances have somewhat hurried me.
That three years have passed since I saw you seems to me almost incomprehensible. But I shall realize the changes that time has made when I see you in your own home, with your wife and baby by your side. Tell Lucy to prepare for a troublesome guest, for I shall pass my opinion on everything, — on her management of my little nephew, and on your management of house and farm. I shall argue with Joel as I did in old times, and I promise him that he shall find me as disputatious as ever ; and I shall demolish as many of good Mrs. Partridge’s pumpkin-pies as I did long ago when I was the troublesome boy whom Lucy used to pet. I never understood till lately why Lucy used to take so much notice of me. There is no knowing how long you may be troubled with me, for I have pretty much made up my mind to give up my situation here. I have done Major Johnstone’s boys some good since I have been here, and might do them more, but there is something here that I do not like, —an indefinable something oppressive in the air.
In short, a Northern man is not in his place here now, unless he is an older man than I am, — a man with something at stake, with some interest in the country, and then, indeed, he has a great work before him. I fancy, too, that Major Johnstone docs not care for my return ; on all hands things look strange, politics run very high ; in short, there is a good deal that I must talk over with you.
You will know how sorry I shall be to leave Colonel Ridgeley and his family. Colonel Ridgeley is unchanged, the same noble, considerate, and generous friend, the same true gentleman and chivalrous protector, that he always was. With him, at least, the chivalry of Virginia is something more than a name.
What do I not owe him for his constant kindness, and for the generosity which has allowed me, so much younger, so inferior to him, to call him friend, and to find him unchanging in his friendship ? What contempt would be too great for me if I abused his generosity ?
But of Mrs. Ridgeley I have only sad news to tell. She is feeble and worn, a little thing tires her, I see every cause to be anxious for her health ; and when I think of her gentle and loving nature, of her constant kindness to me, to all, I could almost lay down my life for her sake. Her husband evidently does not realize her situation ; he is harassed by anticipations of the election, — more harassed than I see any reason for him to be ; then he sees her every day, and cannot mark the change in her appearance, and Ida is so young, so inexperienced —
My dear brother, my almost father, you to whom I owe all that I am and all that I ever shall be, and you who have a right to know my inmost heart, do you know that I am not writing truly to you ? I would gladly go on, sending page after page of current news or pleasant remembrance, merely to put off the moment when I must speak the truth. I did not know I was such a coward; I will force myself to be brave, and speak at once.
I love Ida Ridgeley. It is said. And now what do you think of me, my dear brother,—you who judge me so gently, so lovingly ? I can speak the whole truth now. I love her with a strength, with a passion, that I never dreamed my nature was capable of. How or when this love began I cannot tell; it seems to me that it has sprung full-armed in my breast. And yet, on looking back, it seems that I have loved her always.
I remember the merry, dancing, happy girl whom I first saw three years ago, bringing light as if from Heaven upon my dreary homesickness, the kindly welcome I met from her eyes and hand. I remember what I wrote you about the almost idolatrous affection with which she regarded her father, the watchful care with which she studied his happiness, and then — holiest, most beautiful of all — her shielding and hiding her mother’s weaknesses with that tender love, like an elder sister’s in its protecting kindness, like a daughter’s in its true-hearted reverence.
I feel now that I must have loved her then, and yet, looking back, I seem to see myself almost regardless of her presence. Still in these happy years, when I have seen her every day, and did not know how happy I was, have been sown the seeds of that great love which has taken root, sprung up, and blossomed without my knowledge. Now that my eyes are opened, I see her, not changed, but glorified, idealized, — the loving girl, — grown into the gentle, dignified woman. There are the same laughing eyes, but so deepened and darkened in their glorious light; the same dewy lips, but — in short, I am a fool and you will think I have gone crazy. I only know this, — that I love her with my whole soul and with my whole mind ; with a strength of love which I did not think was in me, with a reverence of her womanliness which sometimes takes my very breath from me.
And now what right have I to love her? How could I lift up my eyes to her father, and tell him that the boy whom he took into his heart and home, the youth whom his teachings, his honored friendship, has lifted from a rough, uncultivated country boy, inflated with the conceit of his own little learning, into—well, at least into one who feels himself a man among men ; that that boy, that man, has stolen into his house with the ungrateful longing to take from him the very heart of his heart, the daughter who makes his life bright and holy to him.
You know what Ida is to Colonel Ridgeley, what she has always been. I do not believe the thought of her leaving him has ever been allowed to cross his mind ; but if it should be forced upon him, as it will be, is he not justified in being ambitious for her? With his wealth, with his position, with his influence, would he be satisfied with anything short of the most brilliant marriage for her ?
I believe Colonel Ridgeley respects me, — even more, has a true and earnest friendship for me; but I am simply a young man with my way all to make in the world, not a little indebted to him for my present position ; and for my family, dear as they are to me, and justly as I am proud of them, I know that Colonel Ridgeley, from the force of birth, education, and circumstance, could not prevent himself from looking down upon them.
But these are idle words; you know as well as I do what is the course that honor, that gratitude, that justice require me to pursue, and I hope you know me well enough to be sure that I shall not shrink from it. I shall leave here at once. I shall come to you, and be happy in your happiness. I will spend with you the few months that must pass before I can establish myself in my profession, and it cannot be but that I have sufficient command over myself to overthrow this love which has seized upon me "like a strong man armed,” and to put again in its place the tender, brotherly friendship which has made these three years in which she has been daily before my eyes, in all her heavenly goodness and beauty, the happiest of my life.
For Ida herself, — thank Heaven! (yes, I am strong enough still to thank Heaven for it,) her feelings towards me are the same that they ever were. She shows me the same frank kindness, and almost sisterly affection. She still looks up to what she pleases to call and to think my stronger judgment, and my superior knowledge ; she still comes to me with the difficult passage to translate, the knotty question to unravel; she still talks freely to me of her little cares and anxieties, still lets me watch her father’s moods with her, still calls upon me to rejoice with her in his happiness, to grieve for and soothe his anxiety, still looks to me for help to hide or to gratify her mother’s little unreasonablenesses, and still shows me as freely as ever that frank and loving but most strong and noble heart. And I have strength enough to meet all this without shrinking, to give her the sympathy she asks for, and which in time it will again satisfy me, make me happy, to give.
I have had strength for all this, but I do not know how long it will hold out, — indeed, I feel that I must go at once. Will you take me home to your heart, my dear brother, after I have shown you how weak I have been, how weak I am ? Let me come to you; let me stay with you and with Lucy till I am strong again. I promise you that you shall hear no weak complainings ; let me throw my heart and mind again into your labors and cares, let me work for you, let me think for you. For the few months that remain before I face the world for myself, take back to his old place in your heart
I shall be sorry that this letter has gone out of my hands, if you have lived long enough to forget the times when heaven and earth seemed falling apart because our little loves did not meet. We know now that it made no great difference how it all turned out. We are, even in this life, half convinced that all is for the best; we acknowledge with a languid acknowledgment that we should have been no happier, no better now, had all gone as we would have had it; but how whole destinies apart seemed the difference then ! Looking at Horace Thayer’s letter in the perspective given by my quarter of a century’s removal from those times, I see that his magnanimity was a little too grand for the occasion. But none the less was it great and good ; he will be a better man for it.
Let him go, and lei us wait quietly for what the future may bring. I, the Dcus ex machinâ, the fairy godmother, will not lift a finger to help him, though I know that Randolph Ridgeley could do nothing better for his daughter than to trust her to the care of this brave and honest son of a New Hampshire farmer. But he would not think so. The blood of the Randolphs and the Ridgeleys, of the good-for-nothing Charles the Second cavaliers from whom he traces his descent, would rise up against his own common sense. “ Blood is stronger than water,” though the Swedenborgians tell us that water corresponds to truth. I, with my Northern lights, laugh under my breath, and wonder that Thackeray did not put all the old Virginia families in his Book of Snobs ; and yet no one ever sits down in the clumsy wooden chair, with the carved arms, that stands in our wide entry at Newburyport, but I want to tell him that this chair came over in the Mayflower, and this, too, when I don't quite believe it myself; it is such a queer chair to have on shipboard.
Well, Horace Thayer has gone away from us, and the Manor seems dull to me. Colonel Ridgeley looks worn and anxious, poor Laura Ridgeley is half frightened about her health, so frightened that she will not see the doctor, and greets me every morning with, “ I am a great deal stronger to-day, Miss Gardiner!” Mammy Clary wonders why her “ young missus,” her “chile,” does not get well with the pleasant weather, and “ what Massa Randolph think of, that he not see she grow weak as a baby.” I wonder too, and ask myself if it be not my duty to speak to him about his wife’s health. I shall go in August, and I must say a word before I leave.
For my little pupil, her merry face is often clouded now, but I do not think that Horace Thayer has anything to do with the clouds. I was wicked enough, the day after I read his letter, to ask her if she missed him, and her answer came very frankly: “Certainly, I miss Horace: but I think I miss more the good times we all had a year ago, we are all so sober now. Everybody seems to have a weight hanging over him; even Major Johnstone’s broad, jolly face looks half anxious, half important; and papa — dear Miss Gardiner, what do you suppose is the matter with papa?” So I may thank Heaven, with Horace, that Ida’s love troubles are all before her, like the trials of the young bears.
Poor, happy, little child ! I have half a mind to say that I will come back to her, to stand by her and help her, if her mother’s health is really failing; if Colonel Ridgeley is right in foretelling mysterious political troubles here this winter. But all that is nonsense. This country has been on the brink of ruin before every Presidential election within my memory, and this one, go as it may, will leave us comfortably reconciled to its results. W ill there not be cakes and ale whether Douglas or Lincoln head the squabbles in Washington?
It is a week since I wrote this last sentence, and I have changed my mind about the cakes and ale. Colonel Ridgeley last night did me the honor, — I am right to use that word, for a confidence from him is an honor, -he did me the honor, I repeat, to hold a long confidential conversation with me. It began by my talking of coming back. I said that Ida’s education was not finished, that I could still do a great deal for her, and that, while Mrs. Ridgeley’s health was feeble, I could be useful about the house ; it was too much for Ida to have the whole charge of the house and the servants.
“Walk down the avenue with me, Miss Gardiner,” said he; “let us talk this over where we are sure not to be interrupted.”
We stopped under the glorious old horse-chestnut, and as I looked in his face I thought I should hear how anxious he was about his wife’s health, He took away my breath, when he said: —
“It is not on our account, on Ida’s, that I think it would not be well for you to come back, but it is on your own. You may hardly be safe here next winter,”
“Safe!” I exclaimed; “what could possibly hurt me ? ”
“ Nothing while you were in my house, under my protection, but I might not be always able to give you that protection. I am going to repose great confidence in you, Miss Gardiner; I am going to say to you that the feeling of jealousy of Northerners has reached a terrible height here; you are better away, — at least, until this election is over. If it goes for us, all may be well, and we may welcome you back again ; but if Lincoln is elected, there are politicians among us mad enough in their blind ambition to hurry the South into some irretrievable step, perhaps even to try to separate us from the North. It is in speaking freely of this chance in the future as something not impossible that I show my confidence in you. Should such a thing be attempted, and the North refuse to accept it quietly, you should be with your own people.”
“ But you, — what would become of you in such a case ?”
Colonel Ridgeley answered in that deliberate manner which showed that the question was no new one to his mind.
“There are occasions in life, and very sad ones they are, when a man perceives and has to choose between several duties ; I hope no such occasion is coming to me but, if it comes, I must follow that course which seems to me to involve the least wrong.”
“There cannot be two rights,” said I.
“ It has always been my curse in life,” he answered, “ to see a great many rights. Every party, every opinion, has some right on its side, and while I am weighing their different claims the time for action has generally passed for me. But this time, if the crisis comes, I shall be forced into action.”
“ I cannot believe it will come, but if it should, in so terrible a matter, so vital, you need not decide; you could leave, go North, go to Europe.”
“ No, that I could not do, because there are some clearly defined duties that keep me here. My duty to my people, ignorant and helpless as they are, is very plain to me. If troublesome times come, my responsibility to them will be even greater than it is now, and you know how great I have always felt it to be. You know, Miss Gardiner, that I am not a man of action ; looking back at my past life, I see many duties neglected, some things left undone that it is too late now to mend ; but at least I am not a coward, I will not desert my post. I trust this con versation with your good judgment. Do not let it go for more than it is worth, but believe that I feel it my duty to give you this advice this morning.
I left Colonel Ridgeley, and, walking directly to my own room, sat down by the window, determined to think well of what I had heard, and to decide my course of action. I began by watching the trees as they moved their leaves lazily in the wind, then wondered what chance there was that those two little negroes would succeed in driving that obstinate little pig through the hole made in the fence by the broken rail, and then fell to dreaming about those duties which Randolph Ridgeley had left undone. Of course, my mind ran off to his married life. About what else does a single-woman speculate when she thinks of her married friends ? I had tried before to measure the disappointment of a man of earnest, thoughtful character, when he finds that the companion whom he has chosen for life is capable only of a childlike affection,— pure and beautiful, indeed, so far as it goes, but satisfying so little of his nature. And yet who had he to blame but himself? He has everything he asked for. Is a man to complain that his wife is after marriage just what made her so charming before ; that she is too young, too gay, too gentle, too amiable, too yielding, too ready to be pleased? I suppose Laura Christie was lovely in his eyes just for these very things, and perhaps it is his fault as much as hers that she is nothing different now. I see how it has all been. He had six months or so of a fool’s paradise ; and then perhaps six months more of struggles to find a woman where there was only a child , and after that he threw the whole thing up, and contented himself with being very kind and very just to her, for he piques himself very much on his justice. At any rate, she does not grow peevish and fretful in growing old, as most silly women do. No, indeed, she is a darling, loving, kindly little thing; and I shall go and sit with her all the evening, and admire the pretty fancy-work which she calls sewing.
So that as the end of my careful thinking over my plans, a quiet, merry chat over Mrs. Ridgeley’s light-wood fire. What a thing a light-wood fire is! the nearest approach to sunshine that human hands can make. I see Sam now laying the pieces of wood artistically across each other; then one touch of the candle sends a sharp tongue of flame shooting up between them, crackling and leaping from piece to piece, until the whole chimney roars, and the room shines out into cheerfullest light. I agree with the settler on the Carolina pine barren, the despised “Cracker” who says, “Well, stranger, I reckon you call this a poor country, but there’s not such a district for light-wood to be found for miles around.”But it is idle, all this lingering ; the 1st of August is here, and I must go. I pretend it is only for a longer vacation than usual, say till the Christmas holidays ; but since my talk with Colonel Ridgeley I have grown nervous, and fancy I feel thunder in the air. I wish Mammy Clary would throw a shoe after me for good luck, instead of saring, “ ’Pears like things is all changing, Miss Gardiner.”
IT is the early summer of 1862, and I am still in Newbury port, cut off from my Virginia friends by an impassable wall of struggling, fighting men. McClellan’s army lies between us and Richmond, and the Northern Neck is only a camping-ground for his soldiers. Since we cannot see into the future, like the old gods of Olympus, let us never dream of meddling with their province.
Suppose I had told Colonel Ridgeley to secure Ida’s happiness by giving her to a brave, manly fellow like Horace Thayer, who would be everything to her that a man should be to a woman, a shield, a support, a tender and reverential guide. It was in Colonel Ridgeley to feel this, and he might have followed my advice. Suppose I had wakened up Ida’s heart by giving her one hint—just a little one — of Horace’s feelings towards her and turned her great admiration and affectionate friendship into a trembling, maidenly love which would have leaped up into strength like the flame through my crossed sticks of light-wood. — Why, since those quiet days they have been separated as far as in a lifetime of common years !
Horace is Major Thayer of theMassachusetts, in the-division of the Army of the Potomac; and Colonel Ridgeley, we have heard, is commanding a regiment of Virginia soldiers under Lee. I know nothing of Mrs. Ridgeley or of Ida, — a little note a year ago, and nothing more. My own occupation has gone too, and that of a large class of women like me. There are no calls for private governesses at the North ; all learning and all teaching is done in the public schools and the academies, and one look at the list of studies was enough to make me despair. What do I know of the Higher Mathematics, of Logic, of Electro-Chemistry ? I claim only a tolerable knowledge of English, a moderate grammatical proficiency in French and Italian, with an accent not quite shocking, a facility in sketching any pretty bit of landscape that catches my eye, and music enough to detect my pupils’ mistakes. What should I do in a High School ? The A grade would look down upon me. So I have stayed quietly at home and made “ havelocks ” and needle-cases for the soldiers. Lately, as their wants have seemed more pressing, we have worked hard on their summer clothing, and by August we shall begin on their winter socks and shirts. It is a wearying, anxious time, — nothing but eating your heart out with waiting for news ; and I do not wonder that the women around me look old, that I feel old and worn myself. I almost wish I had gone into the hospitals, it would have kept my heart and mind alive ; but what did I know of nursing sick people ? One must have a genius for it, like some women I know, or else be apprenticed to it by such an experience of whooping-cough, measles, scarlet fever, and so forth, as does not naturally come in the way of an old maid schoolmistress. But I shall rust out here. I must hear something, know something. I shall write to Lucy Thayer, and tell her that I am coming to spend a week with her. Isaac promised to send me news of Horace, — does he never get any? I believe I am too old to change interests as I used to do in the days when a year was long enough for a school engagement; when a winter as governess in Georgia, a school session as drawing teacher in that humbug of an academy in Alabama, was my way of seeing the world. — the only way open to a poor Yankee girl. Then it was great fun to see new people, to make new friends; but somehow I am tired of it all now. The three years’ care of Ida Ridgeley makes me feel as though I had a claim on her which cannot be broken by all the storms of rebellion and war that have come between us. And Horace Thayer too, — have I given him so much laughing advice, so much friendly consideration, so much really admiring respect for nothing, that he should drift away from me into a life that I know nothing about ? I shall go to Keene next week.
All this grumbling in my little room, the hall chamber, up stairs, where I sat with my feet up, and a shawl drawn close over my shoulders, looking out on an easterly storm which made the streets look gray and dreary. " If it would rain something like rain,” I said, " and not drizzle, drizzle for three whole days. I shall go wild with restlessness ; and what a nervous noise that door-knocker makes ! I suppose it’s the butcher.”
I fairly jumped when Margaret opened my door, a handkerchief over her head, dust-pan and brush in one hand, and a letter in the other.
“ From Washington, from the army, I do believe, Mary ; open it quick ; there’s no bad news, I hope.”
“ It is from Horace Thayer, from the Manor. How could he be there ? Sit down, never mind the sweeping, let me read. At any rate,” I continued under my voice, “this letter comes to me legitimately.”
THE MANOR, June, 1862.
MY DEAR MISS GARDINER : — Colonel Ridgeley asks me to write to you by the express that goes up to Washington to-morrow, to tell you the sad news that our dear, kind friend, Mrs. Ridgeley, is dead. She died last night, — just quietly sank away without any suffering. Thank Heaven, she had all that she loved around her, — her husband, her daughter, her old “ Mammy Clary,” and even the best attendance and nursing. She sent a message to you a few days ago. It was that she wished this horrid war had never taken you away ; she wished you were here now ; and so do I, though I know how impossible it is. I wish you were here for Miss Ridgeley’s, for Ida’s sake. You will wonder that I should be here. I was ordered a week ago, with a company of men, to the Green Spring Station, to remain there and forward army stores. You know the station is only ten miles from Ridgeley Manor, yet it was two days before I had time to ride over, or even any chance to inquire about them. But on Tuesday evening, Sam, Colonel Ridgeley’s own boy, you remember, came to my quarters. The negroes know everything that happens, and he had found out that morning that I was there, and came to ask for me. He told me that Colonel Ridgeley was at home, having passed our lines with a flag of truce, bearing a letter from Lee himself to the commanding officer of our division, requesting permission for him to visit his home, where his wife was dying. Sam said that Mrs. Ridgeley could live only a few days, and that they wanted everything, — medicine, wine, but especially some one to take care of her. Their houseservants had left them, except Mammy Clary and himself, and her long illness had worn out Mammy Clary’s and Ida’s strength. I knew that Miss Betsy Partridge was in Washington, waiting for admission to some hospital; and I ventured to send for her at once, simply telling her that I wanted her for a case of severe sickness. I loaded Sam with everything I could give him from my slender stock of luxuries (luckily I had some good sherry), and sent him home with a note to Colonel Ridgeley, saying that I should be at the Manor the next day, and that I hoped to bring an experienced nurse with me. But I dreaded to see Miss Betsy, and, indeed, her indignation, when she heard what I wanted her for, was almost beyond my power of calming.
“ Have you sent for me, Horace Thayer,” she said, —“sent for me from Washington, where our poor boys are suffering, that I may nurse a rebel soldier’s wife ? I shall go back by the next train.”
I told her what they had been to me, what kind friends, how much I owed to them, begged her only to ride over and see for herself, she would so pity that poor sick woman and her daughter, worn out by such cares.
“ I believe you are a fool,” she answered at last, “ or at least you must think I am one; but I’ll go with you, and do what I can, since I am here.”
And from that moment I never got a word more of reproach from her. God bless her! I never can be grateful enough to her for what she has done for us. She encloses a letter to you in this. I am sure her clear head and kind heart have led her to value our friends as they deserve.
Wc reached the Manor the next evening, and I could hardly recognize the place. The glorious avenue that led to Major Johnstone’s is gone, cut down for firewood or defence ; the negro-quarters are deserted, and their pretty gardens pulled to pieces; the house itself has lost its portico, the lawn is trampled over, and the Osage orange-hedge broken away. Colonel Ridgeley was at the door, and welcomed us eagerly. You know how cordial he can be, but I wish you had seen how he met Miss Betsy, with such an earnest gratitude to her for coming. Mrs. Ridgeley was expecting us, and wanted to see me at once. I could scarcely endure seeing her so wasted and pale, white as her pillow ; but the change in her looks was not so hard to bear as the frightened look in her face, the manner in which she clung to everybody around her as if for help. She held her husband’s hand tight as she spoke to me, clinging to him with an eager hold, as if life would pass away without his help. Her eyes seemed to ask aid from everybody, and, when she fixed them upon her husband, you could read her thoughts in them as well as if she had spoken : “ You are so strong, so wise, you have always helped me, always held me up. O, help me now ! ”
No one ever called Colonel Ridgeley a religious man, but I believe he has in his heart a living, personal trust in God, like that of a child in its father, which is life and strength in the time of trial, though hardly felt when all goes well. It could have been only such a trust which gave him power to meet her imploring look with one of love and encouragement. You know Ida’s place without my telling you. It has been the long habit of her life to care for every want of her mother’s, to anticipate those wants from her looks. She shows the calmness and self-control natural to her on serious occasions, but she is terribly worn by all she has gone through, and I think my coming was a relief to her. I am sure Miss Betsy’s was.
That was Wednesday night, and I could only stay an hour, — long enough to see Miss Betsy at home in the sickroom, and to find out what was most needed that I could supply. They have suffered from a great many privations like everybody here. It is the story that you have heard so often,— the soldiers of both armies passingover the country, comfort after comfort taken away from them as their communication with the North was cut off. Their people have gone one by one, followed our army, straggled into the woods, taken care of themselves in the various ways in which we used to think them so wise. Never but once has a word about the situation of the country or his present position passed between Colonel Ridgeley and myself, and that was that first night, as I was waiting for Sam to bring my horse.
He pointed over to the quarters and said : “ You will not be sorry for the change there ; but my care for them, my anxiety as to what would become of them if they were left, was almost the turning weight which made me go with the Confederacy. Well, ' man proposes and God disposes ’; but, let things turn out as they may, you and I, Mr. Thayer, will believe that each of us has done what he thought was his duty.”
Miss Betsy’s letter will tell you more about the next few days than I can. I could be there only an hour every evening, but on Sunday I got away early, and reached the Manor before sundown. Mrs. Ridgeley always wanted to see me, and that day I went in at once. Ida was asleep in her own room, and Mammy Clary had gone to prepare some refreshment for her mistress. Mrs. Ridgeley spoke to the Colonel.
“ Go and rest a little while, Randolph ; I want to talk to Horace.”
He looked a little surprised, but went, and Miss Betsy withdrew herself out of sight in the little dressing-room.
“My dear Horace,” she said, “I want to ask you something. You think I shall get well, — do you not? Randolph used to say so, but I am afraid to ask him now. You will not tell me if you do not think so,” she continued, her face bearing the scared expression of a child dreading the dark; “do not say anything if you don’t want to.”
Miss Betsy looked out from her recess and fixed her eyes sternly on my face. “ You ’ve come of a godly stock, Horace Thayer, speak the truth ; it’s no time to deceive that poor thing now.”
So I could only say, “You would not be afraid to go home to your Father’s house, dear Mrs. Ridgeley; you remember who died that we might come to Him.”
“I do not know, let me hear,”and her voice took a deeper, more earnest tone than ever in her life.
Miss Betsy reached out her Bible, opened at the fourteenth chapter of John, and once more, as so many thousand times before, were those words of healing heard in the chamber of grief, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” Her husband had returned at the sound of the reading, and stood by her pillow as she opened her eyes.
“ That is very pleasant to me.”she said, whilst there stole over her face a look of repose, like a tired child just going to sleep, Yes, in those last hours God had sent his angels to bear her through the valley of darkness, and gradually the holy presence which she was entering seemed to send its radiance through the mists of death. The struggle which she had, so dreaded was mercifully spared her, for she sank to sleep so quietly that nobody knew when she left them, until a burst of sobs from Mammy Clary, who was gazing at her from between the curtains, told that it was all over. Colonel Ridgeley laid her down from his arms slowly and tenderly, and turned to take his daughter into them. He carried her out into her own room, and as he closed the door behind him we heard from the bedside the grief of the poor black woman who had lost the darling of her life.
“ O my chile, my chile ! ’’ she said, rocking herself backward and forward in her sobs and cries, “ you ’se gone away from me to be wid de Lord Jesus, and who 'll I take care of now? You was always my chile. I knows dar ’s Miss Ida, but she ’pears always to take care of herself, and you was my own darling chile, and never was away from your Mammy Clary. O Lord, you ’se taken her to yourself, but what will she do without me ?”
I shall be here to-day, and do all that can be done. She will be buried on the plantation where the family are laid ; and to-morrow Ida goes with her father, — goes to the Christies in the southern countries beyond the two armies, while her father joins his command. We shall be separated perhaps forever, and I can say nothing, I have nothing to say. This war makes us live fast. Ida has changed ; she is not what she was two years ago, but she has only grown so womanly, so lovely! How I wish you could see her!
I am to join my regiment next week, as soon as the next supply of stores is forwarded. We are to go to the front. You will always hear of me through Isaac. Will you send him this letter? and believe me always your grateful friend,
Miss Betsy’s letter had fallen at my feet, and Margaret picked it up for me. I had been crying very gently and quietly while I read Horace’s to her, but somehow Miss Betsy’s made me hysterical, and I broke down into a nervous laugh which would have frightened Margaret if it had not ended in a sob. Let me read.” she said, and began it over again. The beginning was abrupt enough, and like Miss Betsy.
I suppose, Mary Gardiner, that you 'd be glad to hear what Horace Thayer has made me do, even if these folks were not your friends, for I believe you are more than half a rebel yourself. I always thought so when I used to hear you talk of the need of our being gentle in our judgment of these mistaken people, and of our allowing for the force of early training and putting ourselves in their place. Well, I came here for no grand reasons at all, not because they were fellow-creatures and needed me, but just because I saw that Horace Thayer’s heart was set upon it, and I could n’t bear to thwart the boy. 1 guessed it was the daughter before I got here, and now I know it as well as you do. He loves her so completely that I should be sorry for him, with everything against him in the future, if I did not know that such a real feeling will make more of a man of him.
I like the girl too ; she has something in her; she never could be like that poor little pitiful thing lying up stairs, even if Horace were not too much of a Christian to treat her as your grand rebel colonel has treated his wife. I see it all as plainly as if I had lived here:, and it’s one of the things that make me angry. A woman is a woman, and ought to be treated like one, and not like a baby, even if she has a leaning that way, for you see what comes of it in the end. Here is the man that I 've heard you praise up to the skies as the model Christian gentleman,—and I 'll notsay but he is grand and wise, and good too, I suppose. Well, he marries a woman, the woman whom he chose,—for I don’t suppose anybody forced him to marry her. A poor little thing, to be sure, but a good little thing, and one that loved him and nobody else ; and then, after he married her, because she was not grand enough or wise enough to suit his fancies, what does he do but content himself with being kind to her, and making her comfortable, and then go about with his own thoughts and occupations until she is no more a part of his life than you and I are.
Now, what a man ought to do if he finds the wife he has chosen is not quite all he would wish her is to give his life to making her so; to help her to be as wise and as strong as her nature will let her be, and not just pet her because it is too much trouble to teach her to be a woman.
You call Colonel Ridgeley a religious man, — do you ? I won’t gainsay it, but he has not so lived his life as to make that poor child religious. She lay there on the very borders of death, and she knew it too, and where did she look for help ? Not to the Lord, not once did I see her turn there in all her fears ; but she used to watch the doctor’s face when he came in the morning, and mine when I had been with her all night, and her husband’s when he stood by her bedside, and say, “ I am better than I was yesterday,” “To-morrow I can have my bed made,” or “ Next week I shall be down stairs ” ; and he would tell her she was better, or talk about her getting well, and bid us all keep up her spirits. It was the same kindness that I suppose he has always shown to her, but I call it a selfish kindness; and I don’t call that man a Christian who does not “ so let his light shine before men,” that his nearest and dearest may learn to “glorify their Father which is in heaven.”
Poor little thing! nobody could be cruel to her after all. I was almost as much afraid as any of them that she would find out the truth one night when she asked me to bring her a looking-glass, that she might see if she was much changed. If I had not known that it was a crying sin for that poor creature to go to her grave unprepared, I would not have brought her the glass. She only said, looking up at me so piteously, “ Do I look very badly ? am I very pale ? No, I cannot look at myself, it would frighten me so much ; and then Randolph does not want me to agitate myself, he would not like it; take away the glass, Miss Partridge.”
Well, she has gone now, and I am glad I had the chance to be kind to her. The daughter is made of a different stuff; such stuff as you’d put in storm stay-sails. She will come out of this storm all right, and, if she and Horace ever get together, she ’ll not be one for his friends to be ashamed of.
I have nothing more to do here, and shall go back to Washington tomorrow.
Give my love to Margaret; she is a capable person, and had better come here and help us,
P. S. — You can do as you think best about sending my letter to Isaac and Lucy.
Margaret went away quietly when she had finished the letter, and came back in a quarter of an hour with a quaint little round waiter in her hand, holding an India teapot such as you see only in Newburyport; and as she poured out my tea she said sympathizingly, "It is a pity you are not with them.”
I turned sharp upon her. “ How can I he with them, with two armies between us ? I wonder if the politicians who made the war ever think how they are keeping people apart as well as making them miserable. There are no two people in the world better suited to each other than Ida and Horace Thayer, but who knows when they will ever come together again. He will come back with a wooden leg, I suppose, and she — at this rate I don’t see how she is to find enough to eat, or anybody to cook it. If their negroes have run away, there is nobody left down there capable of cooking what they call "a meal’s victuals.’ ”
My little burst of temper did me good; and, after I had swallowed my first cup of tea, I began to sip the second and to talk more reasonably. But something certainly was the matter with me ; for, after my evening’s reasonable talk, after deciding that our two young people were worthy of each other, after assuring Margaret that I had the best of reasons for knowing Horace Thayer’s feelings ; after wondering whether Miss Betsy was of my opinion that Ida’s love for him had never been awakened ; after speculating on what this meeting at such a time would do for her; after a full tribute to Laura Ridgeley’s gentle nature and affectionate heart, and a confession that, noble and conscientious as Colonel Ridgeley was, he had not done quite all his duty as regarded his wife, — I went to my own room in hopes of a quiet night, in which I was, Margaret said, " to sleep off my nervousness.”
But scarcely had I put my feet on the fender, and taken out my hair-pins, when my excitement all came back again. I could not help a kind of exasperation when I thought of the woman who had lived her life, been bride, wife, and mother without so much as knowing it; who had had such chances of living the fullest life, to whom every source of happiness, of blissfulness had been opened, and all for nothing, — whilst I — " Oh ! ” thought I, shutting my hands up tight, " if I had only been in her place,” and yet, not exactly in her place, for, much as I honor Randolph Ridgeley, he is not my notion of a husband. The first thing I ask of a man is that he should be a man, and act out his manliness, not be always stopped by "some craven scruple of thinking too precisely on the event ” ; besides, old maid’s husbands — their dream husbands— are always young. I would rather marry Horace Thayer, if there were any question of my marrying in the matter.
So I went on, fretting over the impossible, wishing to take things into my own hands and play Providence, longing for the old times when fairy godmothers had power, when the good genius carried the princess through the air and laid her by the side of the prince, till I had used up half the night, and unfitted myself for anything better than the troubled, starting sleep which left me in the morning gray, pinched, and wrinkled, with a dilapidated look under the eyes and round the chin that did not comfort me at all, But there was nothing for it but patience, so I made havelocks all that week, and the next; and then came, like a thunderclap to clear up my leaden atmosphere, this note from Lucy Thayer : —
“I send you the telegram which we received last night. Isaac started this, morning for Washington, and will bring him home if possible. We want you to come here at once, and help me to get ready for them. There is no one who can take care of Horace as you can.”
The telegram was from the colonel of his regiment.
“Major Thayer, severely wounded in the side in the fight at Malvern Hill Julv 2. Is on his way to Washington.”
And the telegraph operator is the kindly genius, the Deux ex machinâ, of our times. Let us be thankful for what he does for us.
I leave for Keene to-night.
THE war is over; the claps of thunder which came upon us in such rapid succession — Sherman’s march, Lee’s surrender, the assassination, — have passed from over our heads, and nothing is left of them but low, distant rumblings. We breathe again ; indeed, more than that ; we go about our daily work as we did before, we are hungry and thirsty, we want new clothes, we buy bargains of cheap lawns to be made into gored dresses, we call Mrs. A’s tea-party a bore, and wonder that Mrs. B did not invite us to dinner. That I, Mary Gardiner, should have seen four years of civil war, should have felt the foundations of the earth shake under me and the heavens seem about to fall upon my head, and that I can still eat, drink, and be merry, — still talk my little talk and fret my little frets, look, act, and speak as I did in the old times, is perhaps the most mysterious lesson I have learned. What are these clashing events but “the garment thou seest Him by”? nothing in themselves.
I take up my little rôle of sympathizer in my love-story, just where I left it two years ago, when I sat by Horace Thayer’s bedside and listened while he talked of Ida. What a terrible puller down of pride is sickness ! Nothing but loss of blood and its consequent childlike weakness would have opened Horace Thayer’s heart; nothing else would have made the undemonstrative New-Englander, whose warmest caress had been a brotherly shake of the hand, whose confidences were as shy and as hard to surprise as a young girl’s, speak of himself and his feelings to the nurse, who sat quietly by, ready to hand the drink, to move the pillow, to read the newspaper, and, best of all, to listen when talking was at last allowed.
So l heard everything, soothed and sympathized and hoped, and when he grew strong enough to walk about, and I went back to Newburyport, sent him the letter I received from Colonel Ridgeley in May, 1865, saying that he and his daughter were to sail at once for Paris, and highly approved the Doctor’s decision, that change of air and a sea-voyage were needed for Horace ; a decision which sent him to Paris in June, —solely for his health, he said to his friends.
And now the postman brings me two letters. We must have the lady’s first. Place aux dames, when the question is of something from Paris.
RUE DE LISLE, July, 1865.
MY DEAR MISS GARDINER : — This is the first half-hour that I have been able to call mine since we arrived, — the first half-hour which I could give you with a clear conscience ; anxious as I have been that you should have early news of us, — news which you certainly deserve, since we owe to you so much of our present comfort. I wish you could see us in this little appartement, Rue de Lisle, on the wrong side of the Seine, among the old houses, in the narrow streets. You could hardly find us without a guide, even if you were set down in the street itself, and told to stop at No. 71. First, you would see 71, — then 71 bis, and after a doubting look at the two numbers, you would sec no possible entrance but a big gateway which might belong to either of them, then a long, narrow passage would carry you into a court, in one corner of which you would find the snuffy old concierge, in her stiff black gown, white apron and cap, with her face wrinkled as only an old Frenchwoman’s face can be. I made papa laugh last night by asking him what became of all the middle-aged Frenchwomen ; they are all either pleasantly young, or horribly old, — a mixture of snuff and wrinkles and funny gray curls.
But our old concierge will tell you that the stairs in the left-hand corner of the court lead to Monsieur Ridgeley’s apartments, au troisième; and you may follow their windings up the legitimate three stories, only to see such names as Mdlle. Silvestre, Modiste ; Steinfels, Peintre, &c., &c., on the little visitingcards which are tacked on the doors. You must go a story higher before you arc au troisième, and straight before you will be “ Randolph Ridgeley,” in papa’s own clear handwriting, under the little door-bell. O, if you could really ring that door-bell ! if it were anywhere but in my fancy that I open the door to you, and show you our tiny rooms. — our antechamber, which serves for a dining-room ; our little salon with its long French windows, pretty chintz cunains and cushions ; the two bedrooms opening out of it; and, queerest of all, the little, little kitchen about as big as a small-sized Virginia pantry, with nothing more like a fireplace than four holes where you may burn charcoal, and no water except what is “ toted ’ up in buckets every morning on a man’s shoulder.
And yet our little French servant Thérèsc manages to give us good coffee for breakfast, and the baker brings the wonderful French rolls, the milkman the tiny can of milk. Indeed, if you want anything in Paris, you have only to lean out of the window, and presently somebody will call it out. My little canary, that you said I could never bring safely through a voyage, but who sings here as merrily as he did in dear old Virginia, has his own special man, who calls out three times a week, “ de bon mouron, du mouron frais, pour les petits oiseaux,” and I do believe the little fellow knows his voice.
Yes, we are contented here, dear Mary ; papa is cheerful, and I am more than cheerful, I am hopeful. We did right to come. We could do nothing at home until things had time to settle down, and the money that papa invested here in dear mamma’s name at the beginning of the war brings enough to live upon as we are living now, but would do nothing for us in America. And I do not believe it would have been possible for papa to stay in Virginia after all he has gone through, at least without some rest, some quiet. We have not deserted our country, — do not think it. That would seem to me cowardly, and I am sure papa would feel it so. We shall go back again some time, when we can forget, when some of the bitterness has worn off; and then we shall settle down on what is left at the Manor, and try to be good citizens. We see Southerners here every day who say they never want to see America again, who are trying to find occupation here, trying to make homes for themselves here or in England. I do not blame them, I try not to judge them, but I cannot understand it.
Do you remember Colonel Christie ? He has entered himself as a lawyer in the Middle Temple, London. We stayed at his house at Bayswater as we came through. He says he never intends to go back, and Mrs. Christie looks sad, and says, “Yes, my baby shall be a little English girl.” But that would be impossible for me, impossible for papa. Let us stay here quietly till we can breathe again, till the old wounds have healed over, and then we shall go back to be good Union people! You know I was always a bit of a Northerner, and how many times before the war have we heard papa accused of being tainted with abolitionism when he used to talk of his plans for bettering the condition of our people. To be sure, when the war came, nobody doubted his being a Virginian to his very heart.
This is such weary work, — the going over it all again. I never want to think of it, and I won’t. I ’ll tell you something of our life here, something of my hopes, —for I have hopes, hopes of earning a little money by my pictures before long. Do you know that Miss Bartlett has had an offer of three thousand francs for her fine copy of the picture in the Luxembourg Gallery, the one she copied last year, and that Couture himself said was “ joliment bien peint ’
I work very hard, and some of the artists say that I improve. That this should come of the little studies you used to give me years ago at the Manor ! I am far enough from satisfying myself; but sometimes I feel as if there was something not altogether poor about my work.
We have our quiet breakfast in the morning ; at ten o’clock, I go to bliss Bartlett’s room, and either work there or go with her to the galleries ; then at four we meet papa at some café, and take our dinner; after that a stroll in the gardens, and home to a cup of tea, either alone or brightened up by some American face, —some artist with funny stories of Bohemian life, some newcomer, who does not know where to find cheap apartments, and whose rooms at the hotel are too much for his purse.
We are sometimes very merry over our troubles, and the Mondays when the galleries are closed are always holidays. We make cheap excursions to St. Cloud by the American Tramway, to Auteuiel in the omnibus, to Versailles by the chemin de fer, rive gauche, and, best of all, through the streets of Paris.
We had the most delicious time yesterday, going over Madame de Sevigné’s old home, the Hotel Canaveral, — Miss Bartlett told me of it, — a quaint French house,, not a palace (it is so nice to be shown something that is not a palace), off in the old part of the city, among the narrow streets. There they show you the very room where so many witty things have been said, Mme. de Sevigne’s salon, all filled with little white, dimity-spread cots, for the Hotel Canaveral is a boarding-school for boys now. I saw the portrait which hangs in her boudoir, — a recitation-room now, —the very portrait from which the vignette in the edition at the Manor was taken. You remember it, with the curls tied together at the temples and hanging out from the face.
How like old times it seemed ! — the times when we used to have our evening readings at home; when a good translation of one of those stupid, witty letters in the morning made you promise me some little bits for the evening, picked out of the French memoirs and histories in the library ; when poor, dear mamma would beg for something more amusing, and Major Thayer would bring the last novel that Mr. Johnstone had sent from Richmond. Who thought then that he would be Major Thayer ? We had majors and colonels all around us, but that Horace Thayer would have anything to do with the army would have been like a fairy-story to us.
How many things that have happened since that would have sounded like a sad story if we had heard of them then. I feel old enough when I think of the last five years ; they seem like fifty.
Papa wants me to ask you to tell us something of Mr. Thayer. That he reached home safely, in spite of his terrible wound, we know; that he was slowly getting better in his quiet New Hampshire home, of which he used to talk sometimes, we know too, but nothing else. How was it possible to hear anything with the armies between us, and then, that terrible last spring, General Lee’s surrender, and all that happened around us, with our hurried journey to New York, and the ocean voyage, that seemed to put an end to our former life, and bring us a new one in this old world which is a new world to us! Yes, I am so old now that I look back wondering at myself as I remember the old times, they seem so far removed from me. And yet the duties are the same, — the same save a greater necessity to cheer papa, to make things bright for him here in this new place, where everything is so strangely different from our old life. It is terrible for him, — a terrible past to look back upon, and a sad future to look forward to. I think poor dear mamma was kindly spared all this. How could she have borne it ? As it was, our troubles killed her,—she, made only for prosperous times, so good, so sweet, so gentle as she was. One thing I must say, — if I lived a thousand years I could never forget Horace Thayer’s thoughtfulness for her, nor all that he did for us at that terrible time when the Northern armies were upon us, and she was dying.
How foolish I am to talk to you of all this, when I only meant to satisfy your kind friendship by telling of our lite here ; not a sad life for me, — do not think so ; I am loo busy, my heart and my head are too full, — only sad for papa because he has no one, nothing. He can have no associates ; the Americans here, the Northerners, cannot look kindly upon him, and the few Confederates who are living poorly here are not friendly either.
It is not a happy thing to be so clearsighted, so gentle in judgment, as papa is. To see both sides of a question, to be able to put yourself in the place of either party, to understand how each may be right from his stand-point, to be free from prejudice, not carried away by feeling, what is it but to lay one’s self open to distrust from both sides, to accusations of lukewarmness ; and then at last to be obliged to choose almost against one’s conscience ? Poor papa ! sometimes I am proud that he chose the losing side, for seeing so clearly as he did that it would be so; sometimes I wonder still what course would have been the right one. And this is the sting for him. He has never known, never been able to see clearly, which was the right path. I suppose partisans on both sides will say this is impossible, but it is true. I have thought that such a life as papa’s — a student’s life, quiet and introverted, with his simple duties as a Virginia gentleman marked out for him, and his literary tastes keeping him apart from all around him — was a poor preparation for the rush of events that swept us all before them. To go with his State, with his friends, with the people he was so proud of belonging to, it seemed easy enough, straightforward enough, to Mr. Johnstone, to the Christies, to mamma, to me then ; but now, — now I can see what it was to papa, a struggle for light when there was no light, a terrible conflict of duties. I do believe, I always shall believe, that the turning-point, the weight that turned the scale, was a chivalrous feeling that led him to throw himself with the weaker side, — who but he thought then that it was the weaker ?
What a rambling letter I am writing to you ! Here is Thérèse with the waiter of tea, and papa with some old engravings he has picked up on the quays, —such wonderful things, and for a few francs. You drag them out from under a pile of dingy things, — and dingy enough they are themselves, but sometimes they are prizes. They are cheap luxuries, almost the only ones we can afford.
Think only, dear Miss Gardiner, that we are not unhappy ; homesick sometimes, sad enough sometimes, but not unhappy, and always grateful for what you have done to make it easier for us here. What would have become of us in our first bewilderment, in our present loneliness, without the help you secured for us by your letter to Miss Bartlett. She has been very kind, helping in every way, — to find our apartments, to arrange all our housekeeping details, and, best of all, to give me a hope for the future by seeing something more than a school-girl’s scrawls in the rude pencil-sketches and sepia daubings which I flung into my trunks as dear remembrances of the old Manor which we can never see again as it was.
Does Miss Bartlett write to you? She has some ideas that cannot be real, — it is all her imagination, and nothing but nonsense. I, with papa’s happiness in my hand, I hope no one who knows me could believe that I can have any thought nearer than him. And then I know what a man ought to be ; I have seen papa’s life, and others ; I know what sacrifice and self-denial mean, how a man may do his duty first and not think of himself.
I have read over my last sentence since I gave papa his tea. It sounds like girlish nonsense, and so it is. A woman of twenty-two should be above such affectation ; if I could do it without mutilating my letter, I would tear it off,—as it is.it simply means that a pleasant artist friend of Miss Bartlett’s has, Miss Bartlett thinks, a higher opinion of Ida Ridgeley than she deserves or desires. Love to all, to your sister, to all your friends, from your loving pupil,
Well, the last page of this letter is as frank, and bears its meaning as plainly on the face of it, as can be expected from a young woman of two-and-twenty. Let us see what the young gentleman “ simply means.” His letter is to Isaac Thayer: —
PARIS, July, 1865.
MY DEAR Brother:—I post this letter at Paris, where I arrived this morning after a voyage not all delightful. Our passengers suffered all the disagreeable consequences of tossing weather, but my visits to the Folgers, and my boyish trips in their fishingsloops, made me ready to help or to laugh as the humor took me, and the ocean gave me plenty to look at. I will not bore you with any of my sky and sea experiences. One thing, however, would have interested you, who watch the sky as carefully as a merchant does the stock exchange. It was the woolly, fleecy look of the clouds as we neared this side. Everything seemed softened and near ; great heaps of white wool rolled up from the horizon, and seemed to touch the mast-head. You may account for it philosophically; I looked at it with a curious wonder whether the earth was to be as strange as the sky. And strange it was ; the little old-fashioned Boulogne-sur-Mer, the queer French watering-place, with its quaint bathing-machines on the beach, its market square in front of the cathedral, and the breezy, shaded walks on the walls, were sufficiently unlike Rye Beach, Nantasket, or the Maine coast to make me realize that I was in a foreign country, if the heavy-looking men in blouses, the stout women in short petticoats and white caps, did not contrast enough with our wide-awake, shambling, lean countrymen and our anxious-looking, intelligent women.
A most melancholy country it is, that the railroad carries you through, between Boulogne and Paris, — a country which would make you despair more than did the old fields of Virginia in the far-off times. Long, dreary stretches of sand, glaring in the sunshine, with here and there a cluster of stone huts, — an irretrievable country ; I wondered what had become of la belle France.
But Paris, — I am in Paris, safe through the octroi, the cabmen, the porters, and on the second floor of the snug little Hôtel des États Unis, Rue d'Outin, that Frank Richards recommended, well cared for by the kindly Madame Robin, who piques herself on her English, and who thinks so much of Americans.
Lucy asks why I say nothing about my side. My dear sister, I have nothing to say. So far, the wound has given me no trouble, and, should it break out again, I am in good hands here. Do not be anxious about me, I shall do well enough. Colonel Ridgeley is my most anxious thought at present. I shall go to the American bankers, and among them I must find his address ; but I cannot throw off the weight which lies upon me when I think of what may have happened. It is two years since we have heard anything direct, nothing but Miss Gardiner’s note to Lucy, telling of the going to Europe last spring. I shall find them, however, for we know they are in Paris unless they have entirely changed their plans.
No, I have not forgotten all that we said to each other the evening before I left you. There is now no reason but my want of means to prevent me from trying to win Miss Ridgeley; and that, please God to give me good health, cannot long stand in my way, with the whole West before me, with my education, and with the helping hand which you, my dear brother, have held out for me to put mine into ever since the day you took up your duty of elder brother.
Who would not be an American with the future in his own hands ? I shall not hesitate, I shall speak at once, at whatever risk to myself. I hold it cowardly for a man who knows his own mind to keep silence from a selfish fear of a repulse. He has no right to keep a woman ignorant of his intentions ; nothing seems to me more unmanly than the “caution which waits to be assured of success,” which will not commit itself to the chances of defeat, which gives all risks and takes none.
Shall I ever cure myself of writing to you of my own nearest concerns ? It is your fault, you have taught me to do it; and, because you know me so well, others know little of me.
The city has waked up now, the shops are opening, and the carriages beginning to rattle at an hour when the day is half over at home, and Madame Robin offers a valet de place to show me-the wonders of Paris. I thank the broken-down seedy-looking individual, who stands hat in hand assuring me that nobody can show me what he can, Paris à fond; but I am too poor for such a troublesome luxury, and I prefer making my own mistakes and being cheated in my own way.
II P. M.
Tired out and disappointed ! I have tried all the prominent American bankers, seen their books, their letterboxes, but no clew. Of course it is only a question of time ; the police can give me a list of all residents, but I had hoped to see them to-day.
Since banking hours I have been in the gardens of the Tuileries, looking at the French bonnes flirting with the Zouaves ; the wonderfully dressed little children feeding the birds ; the shaky old gentlemen sitting on the benches, for which you do not pay ; and the wellto-do shop-women on the chairs for which you do pay. I wondered, with the children, at the elegant pony carriage drawn by a team of goats ; and gave a poor boy two sous, that he might ride on one of the wooden ponies which whirl around so fast. Then I witnessed the astonishing performances of Punch and Judy, whose witticisms and allusions were lost upon me. We have read of all these things so often, and pictured them to ourselves in such a perversely wrong-headed, left-handed way, that seeing them as they really are is like rubbing our eyes to find ourselves awake and the things around us changed from dreams to realities. And yet Miss Betsy would be glad to believe that the café chantant where I took my supper to-night was no reality, but only a bad dream. Poor Miss Betsy —
I think I can write steadily when I once get started ; but how to begin with every nerve alive, every sense acute; with my blood tingling through my veins in a way to make all life that I have known before only a dull sleep! I have found them, — found them in the easiest way ; after all my search at the bankers, my application to the police registry, — found them by the merest chance, let me say by the happiest luck. I believe in luck, and in my own luck from this time forth.
Did you ever hear of the Parc Monceau, the prettiest little place in Paris ? — a bit of the country let into the town, lovely with trees and lake and fountain ; a place to come upon as I did last Monday at the end of a tiresome, sight-seeing day ; strolling around it in a listless, stupid way, not knowing, not dreaming that my happiness lay before me. How we grope like blind people for what is just beside us ! I had looked nervously into the faces of every group of foreigners I had met that day ; the galleries, the palaces were passed through in a way that must have distracted my guides. I could not have sworn to having seen a picture. I was sure of nothing but the Venus of Milo, and a disappointing succession of English and American faces, into which I had rudely stared. But here, when I had given up all hope, when I was thinking only of the morrow’s chances ; here, quietly seated in the shade of a little cluster of trees, — I play with my happiness, it seems so beyond my deserts as not to belong to me, —here they were both, Colonel Ridgeley and his daughter ; he looking older, careworn, but still himself, and she all that I knew she would be, — all that even in the darkest times, when I could promise myself nothing, it made me happy to think that she would be. She was startled, and as I saw it I tried to reason myself into quietness, and say that it was only the sight of an old friend, and that I was a fool to think it anything else ; but, with this dancing happiness going through me, how could I listen to anything reasonable ?
We talked through the surprise of meeting, asked and answered the hundred questions that rose ; spoke of friends left behind, and thought of those who were never to be seen again ; then we walked home through the gay streets to their quaint little rooms.
To sit there by Colonel Ridgeley’s side, and see Ida busying herself with the little preparations for tea, while I told of you and of Lucy, and heard of their daily life, their plans for the future ! — I think I am a little crazy to-night, I shall not write you any more.
Yes, Colonel Ridgeley walked to the bridge with me, and we stood looking over the parapet at the great pile of the Louvre, which stretched out before us, while he spoke for the first time of the war, of himself in connection with it. He said very little, but that little was said with an earnestness that makes every word stand out before me. “ I have lived to feel that in the most important decision of my life I decided wrongly ; I have lived to be glad that events have proved me in the wrong ; but, believe me, Major Thayer, utterly blinded to our country’s claims as we may have seemed to you, the dupes of intriguing politicians as we certainly were, I am not the only Southerner who thought he was doing his duty in standing by his State. Not for slavery, — you know what my feeling has always been there, — but because we really believed that our first duty was to our State,—to go with her, right or wrong. Does this seem impossible to you? When you have lived as long as I have, you may come to know what it is to be torn by doubt as to the right”
“But now — "said I.
“Yes, now I see my way clearly, hard as that way may be, to stay here a few months, — long enough to give myself breathing time, and to allow some bitter feelings at home to pass away, and then to go back and follow the example set by some of our best men in trying to reconcile our people to what is and must be. Nor am I unhappy; I see hope for us in the future, I see a clear path of duty before me. I am not to be pitied,” he continued, shaking my hand as he said good night: “ those are to be pitied who will not accept the inevitable, — those of my countrymen who have exiled themselves forever in a cowardly despair.”
Yesterday morning found me as desponding as the day before I had been hopeful, but I would not send my letter till I knew my fate ; and now — that blessed little Parc Monceau — I have seen it again, seen, it with Ida alone. I think there is a broken colonnade there, which stretches beside the loveliest of walks, along which go wandering the merriest of children and the archest of bonnes, who bent knowing glances toward the young foreign couple, one of whom never saw them till he knew how happy he was. I do not know how soon I took her home to her father, — a man in a three-cornered hat came to say that the gates were shut at dark, — but Colonel Ridgeley did not look surprised when I told him how long I had loved her. He said, there on that same bridge where we had talked two nights before, “ It is true that there was a time when the thought of my daughter’s marrying out of her own circle, out of my own peculiar connections, would have been a very painful thing to me ; perhaps I should even have thought such a connection an unequal one ; but a larger knowledge, a more extended experience, have taught me a truer wisdom. And for yourself, you must not think that I have been so careless a father as to trust my daughter so entirely and so intimately to your society without remembering that this might be the result I know you, Horace, very thoroughly, I believe ; and there is no one to whom I would give her more readily. My dear boy, there is nothing so strange in all this ; is the friendship of years to go for nothing ? did you not believe it to be sincere?” After that, my dear brother, do you wonder that I came home happy ?
After these letters I have only one thing to sayI am glad it was not the police that brought them together. That would have been more prosaic than even the telegraph official.