The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 110/Katharine Morne
Soon after Fanny's funeral, Miss Mehitable told me she had found out who the lady was that wished for my painting at the fair. Her niece had pointed her out as she drove by in a barouche; and it was Miss Dudley.
My second copy was begun in the last fortnight of Fanny's life, as she slept and I sat beside her. I had not then had time, nor since had heart, to go on with it. But now, seeing an opportunity to do something more to fulfil her wishes and to "do anything for Miss Dudley," I took up my task again, and quickly finished it. Then, still unsatisfied, I roamed through the woods, and along the shore, to gather specimens of the native plants, insects, and shells that seemed to me most like the foreign ones that I had copied, and grouped and painted and framed them like the first. The Doctor left both for me at Miss Dudley's gate, with this inscription on the envelope: "A little offering of great gratitude, from a sister of Fanny Morne." I suppose, by the way, this is one source of the satisfaction that some real mourners find in wearing mourning, as they say, "for the dead,"—a vague longing, like mine, after they have passed beyond human care, to do or sacrifice still something more for them.
After that, there seemed to be nothing more that I could do for Fanny, nor anything that, for myself, I cared to do. From habit only, I employed myself. Julia, as she begged that I would call her, had a large basket of baby-clothes cut out. At that I seated myself after breakfast; and at that I often worked till bedtime, like a machine,—startled sometimes from my revery, indeed, by seeing how much was done, but saying nothing, hearing little, and shedding not a tear.
Julia would have remonstrated; but the Doctor said to her: "Let her alone for the present, my dear; she has had a great shock. Trust to nature. This cannot last long with a girl like Katy. It is half of it over-fatigue, carried on from her school-keeping to add to the present account." To me he said: "Katy, you may sew, if you like, but not in-doors, I will carry your basket out for you into the arbor; and in the afternoon I am going to take you to ride in the woods."
Our past selves are often a riddle that our present selves cannot read; but I suspect the real state of the case was, partly that, as the Doctor believed, I was for the time being exhausted in body and stunned in mind, and partly that, in those young, impetuous days, grief was such an all-convulsing passion with me, when I yielded to it, that to the utmost of my strength I resisted it at the outset, and seldom dared suffer myself to suffer at all. But, as he also believed, "this could not last long"; and it did not.
One afternoon, as I sewed in the arbor, a sweet little girl, who had been in Fanny's class in her Sunday school, stole into the garden and up to me, looked wistfully into my face as if seeking some likeness there, kissed my cheek timidly, laid a large nosegay of delicate flowers upon my knee, and crept away as gently as she came. The flowers were all white; and I saw at once that they were meant for Fanny's grave. I might go there for the first time now, as well as at any other time. The Doctor and his wife were out together, and no one was at home to question me.
Fanny had been laid, I need scarcely say, just where she wished. My guardian had driven me there early one morning to point out the place; and we found the withered clovers in the grass. It had rained often since. The swollen turf was nearly healed. I untied the flowers, and slowly, and with minute precision, arranged them in a cross above her breast. At last, when there was no blossom more to add or alter, I sat down again in my solitude where I sat with her so lately, with the same leaves fluttering on the same trees, the same grass waving on the same graves, and her beneath instead of upon it.
At first I could not think,—I could only cry. For now at length I had to cry; and cry I did, in a tornado and deluge of grief that by degrees swept and washed away the accumulated vapors from my mind, and brought it to a clearer, healthier calm. I believe God in His mercy has appointed that those who are capable of the strongest, shall not in general be capable of the longest anguish. At least, I am sure that it is so, not only with myself, but with one better and dearer than myself; so that the experience of life has taught me to see in the sharpest of pangs the happiest augury of their brevity.
Thus it could not have been very long before I was able to raise my head, and wipe my eyes, and look once more upon my two dear graves. The setting sun glowed over them. They looked soft and bright. From one of them the echo of an angel's voice seemed still to say, "Here, by mamma, is where I like to lie"; from both in unison I heard, "It is good and brave to look things in the face and on all sides; but then among the sides, never forget the bright side, little Katy."
Could I refuse? I looked for the bright side. It was not far to seek. In the first place, the worst was over. Never again could I lose what I had lost, nor—so at least I thought then—could I feel what I had felt. Secondly, my sorrow was only mine, and no one's else. Those whom I loved were happy, every one of them;—mamma and Fanny,—I could not doubt it,—happier far than I ever could have made them, even if I had always tried as hard as I did after they began to leave me,—safer than they could ever have been in this world, and safe forever; and Jim,—I would not begin now to think about him again, but just so much I must,—he was happy with Emma. Even thus much brought a fresh gush of tears, though not for him,—I could still truly say that I had never shed one for him, and that was some comfort to my pride at least;—but for Fanny; because I had sometimes thought that, when she was well and I had time to think of anything besides her, if I ever did tell anybody of the mistake and trouble I had fallen into, I would tell her,—and now, however much I might need advice and assistance, that could never be. My guardian and his wife were happy in each other, and would be happier still after I roused myself, as I must and ought, and ceased to sadden their home. The world in which I still must live was, whatever people might say of it, not all sin, sickness, or sorrow. Even where I sat, in one of those spots which most persons accounted the dreariest in it, I could hear the laughter of light-hearted children at their play, the soft lowing of cattle grazing in the pleasant fields, and shouts of strong men at their wholesome, useful work. I knew there must be sickness, sin, and sorrow in it; but could not I do some little to help them, with my free hands and the health and strength which were almost always mine? Very good I was not myself, but I had been watchfully brought up in an innocent home; there was no crime upon my conscience, and, even as I cast a rueful glance upon its blemishes, I heard a well-remembered voice say from a grave once more: "Have patience with my little daughter. Some of the richest fruits and souls are not the first to ripen. The chief thing that she wants is time to mellow."
And one of the brightest points in all the bright side was, that, in living so constantly through her illness with Fanny, who lived with God, I had been perforce brought nearer to Him, and therefore naturally learned to dread Him less and love Him more than I had done; so that I hoped, as I know my mother did, that the sunshine of His grace would help to mellow me.
Another bright point was, that I need not go back to Greenville. The present mistress was glad to keep the school, and the committee willing to keep her.
My desultory thoughts still growing calmer, I began to form plans for my way of living, as I used to do aloud, when I could talk them over with my mother and Fanny. I did not plan anything great, however, because I was conscious of no great powers.—I already, I think, began to divine the truth of what a wise woman afterwards said to me, "Your own nature must settle your work," or rather of what she implied, though she did not say it: In laying out your work, you should do your best to take the diagonal between your nature and your circumstances.—But I resolved, such as I was, to try to make the most of myself in every way, for myself, my neighbors, and my God.
I was to stay at my guardian's for the present. He forbade my trying to teach again, for some months at least. It was my duty, as well as my pleasure, to obey him. In the mean time, I could prepare myself to teach better when I began again. I would draw and paint at odd times. Two hours a day I would try to divide between history and the English classic poets, of both of which I knew sadly little. Julia often drove out with her husband; and then I could study by myself. When she was at home, if I could not always chat with her as formerly, I could read to her in French, which she liked to hear; and that would be much more sociable and cheerful for her than my sitting mute. I would now exert myself to walk out every day for exercise, so that there would be no reason for her giving up her place in the Doctor's chaise to me. I blushed to think how often I had suffered myself to be foisted into it by her already. By my walks, I would earn leave to sit with her in-doors; and then I could save her many steps and little household cares. Then what should I do for her husband? Sing to him in the evening, and begin, if he liked it, to-night. It might be a little hard the first time; but if so, there was all the more reason for having the first time over. There was no need of my choosing sad songs, or any that Fanny was fond of.
But it was growing late. They would be anxious. I must get up and go home. Go home!—without my home-mates?—leave them here?—with no kiss,—no good-night? I stood up, and sat down again. The blinding, choking passion, that had seemed over, swelled up into my eyes and throat once more. O that lonely, empty life! Must I go back to it? How long would it last? This was my only real home. When might I come here to sleep?
In an instant it would have been all over again with my hardly-won calm; but in that instant a white and gray fluttering between the green graves caught my tear-blurred sight. I thought it that of a living dove, but, going nearer, found only a piece of torn newspaper, which had been wrapped around the stems of the flowers, playing in the wind; and on it my attention was caught by these quaint and pithy lines, printed in one corner in double columns:—
"Sad soul, long harboring fears and woes
Within a haunted breast.
Haste but to meet your lowly Lord,
And he shall give you rest.
"Into his commonwealth alike
Are ills and blessings thrown.
Bear you your neighbors' loads; and
"Yield only up His price, your heart,
Into God's loving hold,—
He turns with heavenly alchemy
Your lead of life to gold.
"Some needful pangs endure in peace,
Nor yet for freedom pant,—
He cuts the bane you cleave to off,
Then. . . ."
The rest was torn away. "'And,'" repeated I, impatiently,—"'Then'! 'And—then'—what?" There was no answer, or at least I heard none; but the verses, so far as they went, struck my excited fancy as a kind of preternatural confirmation of the faint outline of life and duty which I had been sketching. I marked the date of the day upon the white margin with my pencil, and took the paper with me as a memento of the time and place, trimmed its torn edges carefully, and laid it in Fanny's little Bible.
The next morning, at breakfast, Dr. Physick said: "You did me a good office, Katy, by singing me to sleepiness last night. I was as tired as a dog,—no, as a whole pack of Esquimaux dogs,—and, instead of lying awake and saying to myself, every time I turned over, 'What in this wide world am I ever going to do with that poor little Nelly Fader?' I only repeated, whenever I came to myself a little, 'Nelly Bligh shuts her eye when she goes to sleep'; and then I followed her example."
"I only wish," said I, "that there was any good office beside that I could do you."
"Well, now I think of it, there is one that I should be very much obliged to you to do, to me and Nelly Fader besides. I've got to hurry off in the direction opposite to her Uncle Wardour's; and you talked of walking. Take this paper. Empty it into a wine-bottle. Fill it up with spring-water. Cork it. Gum these directions on it. Take them to Nelly. Read them to her, and make her understand them if you can, and follow them, which I can't. I happen to have a better sample of the drug than is often in the market; and she may as well have the benefit of it. Her aunt's a goose, and she's a baby. But, as she's likely to be a suffering baby for some time to come, we must try to have patience, and take extra pains with her."
"Is she going to die?" asked I, anxiously.
"No, no! I've no idea she is. No such good luck, poor little victim! 'Only nervous,' as people say. I can't find out that there's much else the matter. I utterly hate these cases. She ought to be under the care of a sensible woman; and if there only was such a one in the profession, I'd guarantee her her hands full of patients out of my practice alone."
"A female physician!" cried I, in horror.
"O Phil! what will you say next?" exclaimed his wife, laughing.
"Well, only wait till you're a male physician, then, and see," returned he, jumping into his chaise, and relieving his own nerves with a crack of the whip, which put new vivacity into those of De Quincey.
I made ready at once, for the day was sulky. It had been weeping, and had not yet begun to smile.
Nelly lived with her uncle, the apothecary, Mr. Wardour, and his widowed sister, Mrs. Cumberland. As I neared the door, I heard her voice, which was not dulcet, from the parlor-kitchen: "What's this here winder open for?"
"It felt so close in here," was the plaintive little answer; "and the Doctor said I ought to have the air."
"Does he think we can afford wood enough to warm all out-doors with?"
I knocked; but Mrs. Cumberland was deaf, and went on: "My sakes alive, child! what's all this?"
"The stewed damsons."
"'Stewed damsons,' indeed!—Stewed stalks and stewed leaves and stewed creaturs! Didn't you have faculty of yourself enough to know that they'd got to be picked over before they went into the pot? There, there, child! don't you go to cryin', whatever you do."
I knocked louder.
"There's somebody to the door; mebbe it's the Doctor. You go and see what's wanted, an' don't take no more concern about these. I'll see to 'em."
After a little delay, occasioned perhaps by the need of rubbing the eyelids, which were red, a little pallid lass, apparently about sixteen years old, shyly opened the door, and looked relieved, I thought, to find only me at it. She had a small and pretty nose and mouth, large, heavy blue eyes, flaxen hair drawn neatly, but unbecomingly, away from her face, looked modest and refined, but sadly moped, and was dressed in dark green, which set her off much as spinach does a dropped egg.
"Miss Nelly?" said I.
"Yes, Miss Morne," said she.
I had never seen her before; but it afterwards came out that she had peeped at me through the blinds of her chamber.
"I have brought you a little treat from Dr. Physick."
"O," said she, looking rather pleased; "then isn't he coming to-day?"
"No; he sent me instead."
"I am glad to see you," said she, timidly, but beginning to look really pretty, as her countenance went on brightening. "Won't you walk in?"
I did so, sat down opposite to her in the cold, shaded "best parlor," and went over the directions to her aloud. She kept her face civilly turned towards me; but it grew utterly blank again, and I saw she was not paying the least attention. So I played her a genuine teacher's trick, which I had learned in my school-room. "Now," continued I, "will you be so good as to repeat to me what I have been saying, so that I may be able to tell Dr. Physick that I explained it to you perfectly? He was rather particular about it."
Of course she could not; but this obliged her, in common courtesy, to listen the second time, which was all I wanted. Then I rose.
She went with me to the door, saying, "I am sorry to give so much trouble. You are very kind to take so much for me."
"It will be a 'joyful trouble,' if it does you good."
"You are very kind to me. Do you like roses?"
"Indeed I do. Do not you?"
"I don't know. I used to."
There were three blossoms and one bud on a monthly rose-bush, which stood in an earthen pot by the front door. In an instant she had gathered them all, in spite of my protestations. She added two or three from a heliotrope, and the freshest sprigs from a diosma, a myrtle, and a geranium, all somewhat languishing, and tied them together for me with a long blade of grass.
"It is plain," said I, as I thanked her, "that you still care enough about flowers to arrange them most sweetly. These look as if they were sitting for their picture. I should like to paint them just as they are."
"Can you paint?"
"A little. Cannot you?"
"No; I can't do anything."
"Shall we make a bargain, then?" I ventured to say, as she looked and seemed so much like the poor baby the Doctor had called her. "We will each of us try to do something for the other. If I succeed in painting your flowers, and you succeed in following your directions, you shall have the picture."
She blushed deeply, looked half ashamed and half gratified, but altogether more alive than she had done till now, and finally managed to stammer out: "It's too good an offer—too kind—to refuse; but it's more than I deserve, a great deal. So I'll try to mind Dr. Physick, to please you; and then—if you liked to give me the picture, I should prize it very much."
I nodded, laughed, went home, put the flowers in water on Julia's work-table, read to her, and went into the heart of the town to do some shopping for her. After our early dinner, I said I was a little tired; and she drove with her husband. I took out my paper, brushes, and palette, set Nelly's nosegay in a becoming light, and began to rub my paints; when wheels and hoofs came near and stopped, and presently the door-bell rang.
"Are the ladies at home?" asked a smooth, silvery, feminine voice, with a peculiarly neat, but unaffected enunciation.
"No'm, he ain't," returned the portress, mechanically; "an' he's druv Missis out, too. Here's the slate; or Miss Kitty could take a message, I s'pose, without she's went out lately ago."
"Take this card," resumed the first voice, "if you please, to Miss Morne, and say that, if she is not engaged, I should be glad to see her."
I rose in some confusion, pushed my little table into the darkest corner of the room, received the white card from Rosanna's pink paw, in which it lay like cream amidst five half-ripe Hovey's seedlings, read "Miss Dudley" upon it, told Rosanna to ask her to please to walk in, and took up my position just within the door, in a state of some palpitation.
In another minute a gray-haired, rather tall and slight, and very well-made lady, with delicate, regular, spirited features, was before me, telling me with a peculiar kind of earnest cordiality, and a sympathy that expressed itself fully in tones, though not in words, that she could not content herself with writing her acknowledgments to me; she must come and see me herself, to tell me how pleased and gratified and touched she was by the offering that I had sent her.
I felt myself too much moved by the associations connected with it, and called up by her, to answer readily; and she, as if conjecturing this, led the conversation gently off, at first to painting in general, and afterwards, as I grew more at my ease with her, back again, with an appearance of genuine interest, to mine.
"There was one little shell," said she, "in your native group, which was quite new to me, and—which is more remarkable—to my brother."
"Was it like this?" asked I, taking a specimen from my paint-box.
"Precisely. We felt sure the portrait must be true to life, because all its companions were such faithful likenesses; and then it had itself such an honest, genuine, individual look. But is it to be found on this coast?"
"Yes. If Mr. Dudley has not met with it, it must no doubt be very rare; but, near the same spot always, just beyond Cedar Point, under the rocks in the little cove that lies farthest to the south, I have found it more than once."
"You must be quite an enthusiast in natural history. Have you studied it long?"
"No, ma'am, never. I mean," continued I, answering her look of surprise, "never from books. I believe I should enjoy it more than any other study; but I know so little yet of other things, and there are so many other things that one needs more to know." I felt my cheeks burn; for no sooner was I helplessly launched into this speech, than I perceived what an awkward one it was to make to the sister of an eminent naturalist. Notwithstanding, as I thought it was true, I could not take it back.
"I agree with you entirely," said she with a reassuring smile. "Such studies are fitted much more for the coping-stones than the foundation-stones of a good education. But then, if you will not think me too inquisitive, pray let me ask you one thing more; and that is, where and how you came by all the information that that group showed."
"Only by playing on the beaches and in the woods when I was a child. My mother did not like to keep me in, because she thought that that had impaired my sister"—here my voice would break, but I would go on,—Fanny's dear name should not die out of memory while I lived—"my sister Fanny's health; but they were afraid to let me run quite wild, and so she—my sister—led me out often wherever I wished to go, and helped me fill a little pasteboard museum which she made for me."
Miss Dudley's large, soft, trusty brown eyes met mine tenderly, as she said: "These things must indeed possess a more than common interest for you then. Have you that museum now?"
"No, ma'am; I sometimes wish I had. I gave it away when I went to Greenville to keep school," I added; not that I supposed it would matter anything to her, but that I thought it just as well to make sure of her understanding my position in life.
"That is so natural to us all,—to part with these little relics when we are still very young, and then to wish them back again before we are much older! You would smile to see a little museum that I keep for my brother,—not his scientific collection, which I hope some day to have the pleasure of showing you,—but 'an olla podrida in an ancestral wardrobe,' as my little Paul calls it, of his and my two little nieces' first baby-shoes, rattles, corals, and bells, wooden horses, primers, picture-books, and so forth, down to the cups and balls, and copy-books, which they have cast off within a month or two, each labelled with the owner's name, and the date of deposit. No year goes by without leaving behind some memento of each of them, or even without my laying aside there some trifling articles of dress that they have worn. It is a fancy of my brother's. He says that others may claim their after-years, but their childhood is his own,—all of it that is not mine,—and he must keep it for himself, and for them when they come back to visit him in his old age. It is a birthday treat to them already to take the key from my split-ring, and look together over the half-forgotten things. But there is one thing there—a manuscript on the topmost shelf—which they do not know about, but which we take out and laugh over sometimes when they are all in bed,—a record that I have kept of all the most diverting things which we have heard them say, ever since they began to learn to talk." She checked herself,—I fancied because she remembered that, in her enthusiasm about the children, she had forgotten to what a new acquaintance she was speaking. She rose to take leave, and resumed, shaking hands with me cordially,—she had, I observed, a remarkably cordial and pleasant, earnest way of shaking hands,—"But upon the subject of my museum, Miss Morne, I need hardly beg you to be more discreet than I, and not to mention a domestic trifle of so little general interest."
I could only bow, but longed, as I attended her to the door, to assure her of the particular interest which I had already begun to feel in every trifle which belonged to her.
Her little barouche, and long-tailed, dark-gray ponies, vanished with her down the road; and I was left walking up and down the room. The "kind o' poor-lookin', pale-lookin', queer-lookin' lady," that Miss Mehitable had described,—was this she? How are we ever to know people by descriptions, when the same person produces one impression on one mind and quite another on another,—nay, may have one set of inherent qualities brought out by contact with one character, and quite another set by contact with another character? Have I described Miss Dudley? No,—and I cannot. She was both unique and indescribable.
Most people impress us more, perhaps, by their outward and physical, than by their inward and psychical life. On a first interview with them, especially, we receive an impression of clothes, good or otherwise, of beauty or plainness or ugliness of feature, and of correctness or uncouthness of manner. These are the common people, whether ladies and gentlemen, or simple men and women. There are, however, others, in all ranks and conditions, so instinct and replete with spirit, that we chiefly feel, when they have come in our way, that a spirit has passed by,—that a new life has been brought in contact with our own life.
Of these was Miss Dudley. But because, ever since the day I write of, I have loved to think of her, and because I know that, when I rejoin her, I shall leave some behind me who will still love, and have a right to hear of her, I will indulge myself in saying something more. That something shall be what I said to myself then, as I promenaded to and fro,—that bodily exercise was one of my safety-valves in those times,—in the endeavor to work off so much of my superfluous animation as to be in a state to sit down and paint again; and thus I spake: "I must have had before me an uncommonly fine specimen of a class whose existence I have conjectured before, but by no means including all the wealthy, who wear their purple and fine linen both gracefully and graciously, fare not more sumptuously than temperately every day, and do a great deal, not only directly by their ready beneficence, but indirectly by their sunny benignity, to light up the gloomy world of Lazarus." And though I was but a budding theorist in human nature, and often made mistakes before and afterwards, I never found myself mistaken there.
When Julia came in an hour after, she said to me, as I looked up from my roses and my rose-colored revery, "Katy, you look like an inspired sibyl! What has come over you?"
"Miss Dudley," said I.
"What! has she really—been here? How I wish I had seen her! What did she wear?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you. Wait, I will try. O yes! it comes back to me;—a silver-gray shot poplin, or silk, made full, but, I think, quite plain; a large red Cashmere shawl, rather more crimson and less scarlet than they usually are,—it glowed gloriously out from the gray;—then some kind of a thin, gray bonnet, with large gray and crimson crape and velvet flowers in it,—hibiscus or passion-flowers, or really I don't know what,—that seemed just to marry the dress to the shawl."
"Pretty well for you, Katy! Rather heavy for the season; but I suppose she was afraid of this east wind. You liked her, then?"
"So does the Doctor, always. Some people call her proud; but he says, that is only their way of expressing their view of the fact that she has a good deal to make her so, and more than enough to make them so, if they had it instead of her."
"I dare say. I should not think she was a person to take liberties with; but she was very sweet and kind to me."
"You are not a person to take liberties with anybody, nor to have any taken with you; and so I dare say she recognized a kindred spirit."
"Now, Julia, by your paying me such a compliment as that, I am certain you must want to have your bonnet taken up stairs for you; and so you shall."
"Ah! now I shall always know what string to pull when I wish to put a skilful attendant in motion. Phil would take my bonnet up stairs for me in a moment, if I bade him; but when I went up myself after it, it would be sure to stare me in the face, topsy-turvy, dumped bolt upright on the feather."
In another fortnight we had another Physick in the family. His papa called him "a little dose," and his mamma a "pill," in contradistinction to her previous "Phil." Proving peaceful and reflective, he also soon earned for himself the title of "the infant Philosopher."
Mrs. Physick did not like the society of Mrs. Rocket, the nurse, whom the Doctor had chosen "on account of the absence of her conversational powers." Mrs. Physick was accordingly always trying to get me into her chamber to sit with her. Mrs. Rocket accordingly did not like me, and was always trying to get me out. Between these two contending powers above, and the butcher, the baker, and candlestick-maker below, I was neither solitary nor idle.
There was much to do, moreover, in answering the kind inquiries, and receiving and disposing of the whips, jellies, blanc-mangers, and other indigestible delicacies, sent in by anxious friends. These the grateful Doctor pronounced, in the privacy of domestic life, "poison for the patient, but not quite so bad for the attendants." Accordingly, we ate them together sociably, at almost every meal; after which we went up stairs and told "the patient" how good they were, while I presented her gruel, and he would ask her, with an earnest air of judicial and dispassionate investigation, whether that was not "nice." This conduct she declared most unfeeling and ungrateful in us both, and bound herself by many a vow to make us pay for it as soon as she had the ordering of our dinners again. So we all made merry together over the little cradle that was called "the pill-box." Its small tenant was from the first, as I have hinted, a virtuous child, cried little, slept much, and when awake rewarded our attentions by making such preposterous faces as rendered it a most grateful task to watch him. I soon, therefore, became much attached to him; and I enjoyed one at least of the chief elements of the happiness of the individual,—the happiness of those among whom the individual lives.
In the mean time my guardian sometimes discussed with me some other things besides the jellies. For instance, "Katy," said he at one of our tête-à-tête dinners, "you walk out every day, I suppose; or, at least, you ought. I wish you would call now and then, and take Nelly Fader with you. She can hardly be a very entertaining companion to you, I own, but it would be a charity; and, for your mother's daughter, that's enough."
"Certainly I will. By the way, speaking of her, what did you mean by what you said that day about female physicians?"
"I meant what I said," returned he, bluntly. "I meant just what I said. We need them, and we shall have them. It is an experiment that has got to be tried, and will be probably, within your lifetime, if not in mine. I don't want you to be one of them, though. You ought to be as much cleverer than yourself as you are now than Nelly Fader, in order to carry it through; and even then it might be the carrying of a cross through life,—a grievous, in the view of most men perhaps an ignominious cross, to the pioneers. Especially it will be so, if other good but uninformed and thoughtless women are going to cry out upon it, as you and Julia did the other day. Whether the experiment is to succeed or not depends, under Providence, very much on you and such as you. But if that sort of outcry is to be raised, it will probably have the effect of keeping out of the profession such women as, from their integrity, ability, culture, and breeding, could be ornaments to it, and leave us shallow and low-minded smatterers, that I wouldn't trust with the life of a canary-bird,—who will ask which is likely to be the most lucrative calling, medicine or millinery, and take their choice accordingly,—and, for want of better, poor dupes will employ them. If you can't bear female practitioners, you'll have to bear female quacktitioners." He paused and looked at me.
I knew how jealous he always was for the honor of his craft. He did not often come so near giving me a scolding; and I began to be afraid I might deserve one, though I could not see how. "I am sorry," said I; "I did not mean—I did not think—I did not know—"
"Precisely, kitten on the hearth," returned he, good-humoredly; "and as you are sorry, and as you are besides usually rather less unmeaning and unthinking and unknowing than most other chits of your age, I forgive you. Learn to think and know before you hiss or purr, and you will be wiser than most chits of any age or sex. But now, consider: you, such as you are, yourself little more than a child, have, in two or three short visits, roused, interested, and done that other poor child more good, and, I strongly suspect, inspired her with more confidence, than I—I trust as upright a person and as sincere a well-wisher—have been able to do in a score. And this you have been able to do, in great part, simply by virtue of your womanhood. It comes more natural to her, no doubt, to talk with you. Nelly's is a case in point, though by no manner of means so strong a case as others that I have in my mind. Now imagine another woman with your good-will and natural tact, vivacity, and sympathy; multiply these by double your age and intellect, and again by triple your experience and information; calculate from these data her powers of doing good in such cases, and then see whether, in helping to brand her and fetter her in the exercise of such powers, you may not 'haply be found to fight against God.'"
"I will not speak so again,—at least before I think and know. You have forgiven me. Now appoint me my penance."
"Do what more you can for Nelly, then. I can do little or nothing. In fact, my visits seem to embarrass and agitate her so much, that I am sometimes afraid they hurt her more than they help her. She suffers more in mind than body, I suspect. How, she will not tell me, and perhaps she cannot. It may be that she is sick from sorrow; or, on the other hand, her sorrow may be only an illusion of her sickness. It is all, from first to last, a mere miserable groping and working in the dark. In the mean time her constitution and character are forming for life. It is enough to make one's heart ache to look at the poor baby, and think what an unsatisfactory, profitless, miserable life that may be. I need not remind you, Katy, that all this is a little piece of Freemasonry between ourselves. You are one of the exceptional and abnormal human people before whom one can safely think aloud."
I went to Nelly that very afternoon, with some curiosity and with no unwillingness. I had already begun to like her better than the Doctor did, as I began to know her better. At first I had been somewhat at a loss as to her real disposition, between the constant civility of her manners, and the occasional sullenness of her manner. I was fast making up my mind that the civility was genuine; the sullenness, apparent only, the result of extreme shyness, despondency, and languor. As fast as she became more and more at her ease with me, just so fast did she become more and more engaging. She was chaotic enough, and like a different creature on different days; but I found her, though sometimes very childish, often sweet and never sour, unvaryingly patient towards her very trying aunt, and only too subservient to her.
On this particular afternoon, I spied her through the best-parlor window, sobbing dismally. When she heard and saw me, she tried to compose herself in vain; but the only account she had to give of her grief was, that "the mocking-bird sang so dreadfully, and the Doctor told Aunt Cumberland she [Nelly] was not going to die. There," added she, under her breath, "I didn't mean to say that!"
We had no chance to say more; for Mrs. Cumberland came in from her shopping, and inquired for some cap-ruffles, which she had given Nelly to make up for her. "She said she didn't feel well enough to go down town with me," said Mrs. Cumberland; "an' so I left her them to hem, 'cause the Doctor says she needs cheerful occupation; an' them are just the pootiest kind o' work for young ladies, an' ruther tryin' to old eyes."
This was unanswerable; and as I was obliged myself to go to some shops, and Nelly could not, with her swollen lids, I bade Mrs. Cumberland good by; but told her niece that I meant to call for her soon again, for the Doctor thought it would do both of us good to take a walk every day. She looked somewhat encouraged by this; and I hoped that the plan would have the twofold effect of making her think it would be ungracious to refuse to accompany me a second time, and of keeping her from crying lest she should again be caught at it.
When I reached home, I found it a home of strife. The pill was soon to be labelled. Dr. Physick wished to call it Julius; but nothing would do for his tyrannical wife but to have it bear his name.
"Thank you," said the Doctor, as I entered. "Aren't the sufferings of one generation under that dispensation enough for you? Do as you would be done by, Julia. How would you like yourself to be called Philemon?"
"I can't help that," persisted Mrs. Julia. "The name of Phil is a philter to me. Unless he bears it, I shall hate him."
"A likely story! What should you have done if he had been a girl?"
"Called him Phillis," answered the ready Julia, sturdily.
"Then what should you say to Philip, now?" interposed I in behalf of the helpless innocent,—(an interposition in return for which, ever after we have finished his medical education with a year in Paris, he ought in common gratitude to prescribe for me gratis, if I live to be as old and ill as Joyce Heth;—for Philip he was and is, and will be, I trust, for many a fine day,—the fine, honest, clever, useful fellow!)
"Here's your fee, Katy, for restoring my domestic supremacy—ahem! I hope Mrs. Physick did not hear," said the Doctor;—"domestic balance of power shall I say, my love,—or system of compromises?"
What "my love" desired him to say I cannot say, for I was deep in the note which he had disgorged for me from his not only omnivorous, but, alas! too often oblivious pocket. It was written on small-sized French paper, in a beautiful English hand, bore date, to my consternation, some days back, and ran as follows:—
"Barberry Beach, Monday, Sept.—th, 18—.
"Dear Miss Morne:—
"I have been wishing to see you again, all through this month, but scarcely expecting it till now; because I knew how full your heart and hands must be at home. Now, however, since I have had the pleasure of hearing from the Doctor that Mrs. Physick is nearly well, perhaps it will not be too much to hope that you will find an hour to spare for me some day this week. I have no engagements made; and if you can appoint a time to come to me, I shall be here and deny myself to other visitors. I should send my barouche for you; but one of the ponies has hurt its hoof, and the Doctor says that you confine yourself too closely to your household cares, and that you would be all the better for a walk.
"Another indulgence which I have been promising myself,—that of painting some illustrations for my brother's next work,—I find I must not only put off, but forego. It would be some consolation to me to be able to make it over to you, and believe that you found half as much enjoyment in it as I have, on former occasions. The usual terms, when he has paid for such work, have been. . . . [here she named a liberal sum]; but of course, if you like to undertake it, you will feel at liberty to name your own; and I shall be, as I am,
"Very gratefully yours,
Between surprise, pleasure, and dismay at my apparent neglect, I exclaimed simply, "What shall I do!"
"In all dilemmas, consult your guardian," answered he; and I handed him the note by way of a Nemesis.
He read it aloud very honestly, date and all; and I had the satisfaction to hear his wife, who was fast getting him well in hand again, rebuke him.
"Whew!" whistled he with most appropriate contrition; "'Monday'! and it's Thursday now, and too late for to-day! I wish I mayn't have lost you the job, Katy. While the heart holds out, however, never give up the case! Put on your best bib and tucker when you get up to-morrow morning; and, as soon as you have got through ordering me an apple-dumpling, I will take you over there, and tell Miss Dudley who was to blame, and promise her, if she will forgive us, never to give her any assafœtida."
I could scarcely sleep that night for eagerness and anticipation. Ever since the afternoon when the vision of Miss Dudley appeared, to startle me from my painting, in the little south parlor, she had been the foremost figure in my brightest day-dreams, as often as, with little Philip warm and slumberous on my knees, I could find time for day-dreams. Accordingly, I had been more than wishing—longing—to see her again; though I put off returning her visit, partly from real want of time, partly from uncertainty about what was the proper etiquette for me, and partly from the dread of dispelling some pleasant illusions, and finding that the Miss Dudley of my reveries belonged to the realm of my imagination rather than to that of my memory. I dreamed of her all that night, when I was not lying awake to think of her; and when, in the morning, I arose early to brush and brighten my somewhat faded black, the keen autumn air, instead of chilling me, seemed but to whet and sharpen my zest for my expedition.
Julia's toilet was not made when I heard the clatter of the recalcitrant De Quincey backing the chaise out of his beloved, but little be-lived in, stable. She sat up in bed, however, when I went in to kiss her, in spite of Mrs. Rocket, turned me round to the window to see whether I was looking my best, or, as she equivocally phrased it, "the best of which I was capable," told me, that I had got a little rouge the last time I was out, and must ask Miss Dudley whether it was not becoming, and hooked her forefingers into my naturally gekräuseltes hair, to pull it into what she always maintained to be the proper pose above my eyebrows.
Then down I ran, and off I went, through the town and along the road, between rocks and evergreens with here and there a gate among them that marked the entrance to the earthly paradise of some lucky gentleman.
"Sha'n't we be too early?" asked I, fidgeting, for my prosperity appeared to me, just now, too perfect to be permanent.
"No," said the Doctor. "They are early people at Barberry Beach,—not Sybarites in anything, so far as I can judge. It is near nine. Miss Dudley tells me I shall almost always find her visible by that time. If, not hearing from you, she has made other engagements, you know she is more likely to be at leisure now than later."
"She does not look well yet. What was the matter with her?"
"Angina pectoris. That is Greek to you, Katy. Pain in the heart, then."
"What made her have it?"
"That is a deep question in the most interesting of sciences,—that of the metamorphoses of diseases. Many men would answer it according to their many minds. To the best of my belief, the cause of Miss Dudley's having a pain in her heart lay in her great-grandfather's toe."
"O Doctor! what do you mean?"
"Well, that sounds very aristocratic and imposing; but, notwithstanding, I know you are laughing at me."
"No, I am not. It is no laughing matter."
"Why, is it dangerous?"
"Dangerous!" said he. "It is deadly. Why, Katy, I never shall dare to tell you anything again, if you are going to look so frightened! She did not when I told her."
"Does she know?"
"Yes, and makes no secret of it, and is not unlikely to mention it before you; so that you must accustom yourself to the idea, and be prepared to face it as she does."
"How came she to know?"
"She asked me. I gave up very early in my practice, for several reasons, the habit of lying to my patients. If they are cowards, or if, for any reason, I think the truth and the whole truth would shorten their days, I often tell them little or nothing; but I tell them nothing but the truth. She is not a person to be put off from knowing what she has a right to know."
"How did she take it?"
"Nobly and simply, without any affectation of indifference. As she put the question, I laid my hand on her pulse; and, as it went on pretty firmly, I went on too. When I had said all there was to say, she thanked me earnestly, and said, as sweetly as anything could possibly be said, that the information would add double weight to the cautions and other counsels I had given her, and told me that, if I ever came to be in a situation like hers, she trusted that I should find the comfort of being dealt with with candor and kindness like mine. After all, Katy, she may live yet many years, and die at last of something else; and that is about the best that can be prognosticated of you and me, my dear."
"'Tis true the young may die, but the old must," thought I. I was half comforted, and only half. Yet the pensive shadow of coming doom—or shall I not rather say the solemn dawn of approaching eternity?—seemed to lend a new and more unearthly charm to the lovely spiritual vision I cherished in my mind.
Presently, instead of passing a gate, the Doctor turned in at it, and drove smoothly up the gentle slope of a hard-rolled winding avenue lined with hemlocks. "Pretty, isn't it?" cried he. "O for the time when I shall retire upon my fortune, and leave my office to Phil the second! There, Katy! What do you think of that?"
What did I think? O, too much to be told, either then or now! From the dark trees one forward step of each of De Quincey's forefeet brought us out into a high amphitheatre, at the instant flooded with sunshine. A higher hill, wooded with evergreens and bossed with boulders, made a background behind it, on the right, for a large, low cottage of clear gray granite, with broad piazzas curtained with Virginia creepers and monthly honeysuckles, and cloistered on the south. In front of the cottage was a shaven lawn, rimmed with a hedge of graceful barberries, and lighted up by small circular spots of brown earth, teeming with salvia and other splendid autumn flowers. Beyond and on the left ran a long reach of rocky headlands, burning with golden-rod and wild-rose berries mingled with purple asters and white spiræa, and all along from below, but very near, spread out far and wide the inexpressible ocean. It was a rough, ridgy, sage-greenish, gray ocean, I remember, that morning, full of tumble and toss and long scalloped lines of spent foam, covered over with a dim, low half-dome of sky,—with seagulls flickering, and here and there a small, wild, ragged gypsy of a cloud, of a little darker gray, scudding lawlessly under,—and threw out in the strongest contrast the brilliant hues and sharp, clear outlines of the shore.
The Doctor sprang from the chaise, left me in it, and threw me the reins. I always wished he wouldn't, but he always would. The most I had to gain by pulling them, if De Quincey grew restless, was to make him back; and this was precisely what I least desired. My reasonable expostulations, however, could never obtain any more grace from him who should have been my guardian than a promise, if I would "make no fuss, and broken bones" came of it, that he would "mend me softly." Therefore I thought it most prudent not to expostulate; but my penance was this time a brief one. He had hardly entered the door when the tall, striking figure I recollected so well came dimly in view in one of the nearest bay-windows, tapped on the glass with one slender white-frilled hand, and nodded with a bright, glad smile; and back came the Doctor to help me out.
"It is all right, Katy. Miss Dudley wants you, and does not want me. If it rains, you can stay till I call for you. Otherwise, come back when you like. The first door to your left in the hall."
Miss Dudley met me in the parlor-door, laughing. "I should have come out to make prize of you," said she, "but they say it is rather bleak this morning, and I am still under orders. I had almost given you up for this week; but the Doctor assures me that he has already been suitably dealt with and brought to repentance, and so there is no more to be said on that point, especially as you have happened to hit on the very time when I am most alone, and when, as I have been accustomed to be the busiest, I feel my present idleness the most. You drove here, after all. You are not tired? What should you say, first, to a walk with me?"
A staid-looking, exquisitely neat, elderly woman brought her bonnet, umbrella, gloves, and a large Scotch plaid shawl, in which she wrapped Miss Dudley, with much solicitude, and was so prettily thanked for her pains that I longed to have the wrapping up to do myself.
"I really do not think I needed to be muffled up quite so closely to-day," said my hostess, as she stepped lightly from the piazza to the sunlit gravel-walk; "but Bonner is ten years older than I, and feels the cold a good deal herself, and I do not like to make her anxious about me. She had a great fright, poor thing! when I was ill. Where shall we go, Miss Morne?—to the garden or the shore? I am not certain that those clouds mean to give us time for both."
Not knowing which she would prefer, I answered that I could hardly choose, unless she would be so kind as to tell me which was the most beautiful. To my joy, she said the shore. The path ran close to the edge of the cliffs; and below our very feet were the beach and the breakers. We both forgot ourselves at first, I think, in the sight and sound.
At length she turned, with a sudden movement, and looked me in the face. "I do believe, Miss Morne," said she, "that you are one of the fortunate people who have the power to enjoy this to the full. I trust that we may often still enjoy it here together."
"Shall I tell you how I enjoy it, ma'am?" I exclaimed, carried out of myself at sight of the enthusiasm that was tinging her delicate cheek and lighting up her eyes. "As we enjoy those things that it never comes into our heads to ask ourselves whether we like or not. Some things we have to ask ourselves, whether we like or not, before we know, and even after we are scarcely sure; and some things, such as the poor little 'Marchioness's' orange-peel and water, we have to 'make believe very hard' in order to like at all. But home when we have been away, and friends when we have been lonely, and water when we are thirsty, and the sea always!—we never ask ourselves if those are good,—we know." Then my face burnt. How it would burn in those girlish days!
And how foolish I felt, or had begun to feel, when Miss Dudley slowly answered, looking mercifully away from me and at the waves: "Very true, Miss Morne! You speak from your heart, and to mine."
The clouds were forbearing, and allowed us time afterwards for a visit to the gorgeous garden. We walked to the summer-house at the very end, from which a winding path began to climb the hill. There Miss Dudley paused. "My chamois days are over, for the present, at least," said she. "We must wait for my little nieces or nephew to escort you up there. Shall we go in?"
When we did so, I thought that the interior of the cottage was not much less grand, scarcely less beautiful, than what we had seen without. At that period most housekeepers held the hardly yet exploded heresy, not only that fresh air was a dangerous and unwholesome luxury, to be denied, as far as might be, to any but the strongest constitutions, but that even sunshine within the doors was an inadmissible intrusion, alike untidy and superfluous. On these points this house set public opinion at defiance. It was set, of set purpose, at wrong angles to the points of the compass. Every wind of heaven could sweep it, at the pleasure of the inmates, through and through, and the piazzas were so arranged that there was not a single apartment in it into which the sun could not look, through one window or another, once at least in the twenty-four hours. The floors were tiled, ingrained, oiled, matted,—everything but carpeted, except that of the state drawing-room; and there the Wilton had a covering over it, removed, as I afterwards found, only on occasions of state. The whole atmosphere seemed full of health, purity, cheerfulness, warmth, and brightness. Brilliant flowers peeped in at the windows, and were set on the tables in vases, or hung in them from the walls. And there were pictures, and there were statues, but there too was Miss Dudley, paring a peach for me, for sociability's sake,—for she could not eat one herself, so soon after her breakfast; and, as I knew the time must be running away very fast,—hard that it will always run fastest when we are the happiest!—I seized my first opportunity to say that few things would give me greater pleasure than to furnish the illustrations she had mentioned, if I could but succeed in executing them as I ought.
"As to that, I will be your sponsor," returned she, gayly, "if you would like to begin them here. Your touch is very firm and true; and I will show you all our tricks of color. Here is my paint-box. Have you time to-day?"
I had time, and no excuse; though, in falling so suddenly into the midst of painting-lessons from Miss Dudley, I really felt as if I was having greatness thrust upon me in a manner to take my breath away. If I had only had a little more time to think about it, my touch might have been truer for the nonce. Her paint-box was so handsomely furnished, too, and so daintily ordered, that I scarcely dared touch it. She gave me a little respite, however, by rubbing the colors for me,—colors, some of them, that, for their costliness, I could not allow myself at all at home,—and selected for me two such exquisite brushes from her store! Then she lay down beside me on a "couch of Ind," smiled as I laid her plaid over her feet, and watched me at the work. How that brought my poor Fanny back to me! But my new mistress went on unwearyingly, teaching and encouraging me, and, if I was more than satisfied with her, did not on her part show that she was less than satisfied with me. The clock struck twelve before I dreamed of its taking upon itself to offer such an untimely interruption.
"Now I am nicely rested," said she, soon after; "and I am afraid you must begin to be nicely tired. Do you not?"
"No, indeed; I seldom do till nine o'clock at night."
"Then we will indulge ourselves here still a little longer. But hark! Are not there my little people back from school?"
The expression common to those who love children stole into her face. Young voices were drawing nearer.
"Come to my arms, O lovely cherub!" said one that had a boyish sound in it, paternally.
"Look out and see them," whispered Miss Dudley to me.
I peeped through the blinds. A handsome and very graceful olive-hued boy, apparently about fourteen years old, with a form like that of the Mercury upborne by a zephyr, eyes like stars, lashes like star-beams, and an expression that would have made him a good study for a picture of Puck, half leaning, half sitting, on the stone balustrade, was tenderly dandling in his arms a huge, vulgar-looking, gray, striped stable-cat, that rolled and writhed therein in transports of comfort and affection.
"But, indeed, Paul," remonstrated another voice, tout comme un serin, "Pet ought to be whipped instead of hugged! Lily says so."
"Tiger Lily? What a cruel girl! O, my Pettitoes! how can she say so?"
"Why," answered another girlish voice, a little firmer, but hardly less sweet, than the first, "only think! While we were all in school, he watched his opportunity and killed the robin that lives in the crab-apple-tree. The gardener says he heard it cry, and ran with his hoe; and there was this wicked, horrid, grim, great Pet galloping as fast as he could gallop to the stable, with its poor little beak sticking out at one side of his grinning mouth, and its tail at the other!"
"Why, Pettitoes! how very inconsiderate! You won't serve it so another time, will you? Though how a robin can have the face to squeak when he catches it himself at noon, after cramming himself with worms the whole morning, is more than I can see!"
"O no, Paul! He was singing most sweetly! I heard him; and so did Rose."
"And so did I. He was singing through his nose as bad as Deacon Piper, because he had a worm in his mouth. He couldn't leave off gobbling one single minute,—not even to practise his music."
"Let us go out," said Miss Dudley.
We did so. Paul's retreating back was all that was to be seen of the boy, with Pet's peaceful chin pillowed upon his shoulder, as, borne off in triumph, he looked calmly back at Lily, who stood shaking her small, chiselled ivory finger at him. Rose was still beside her, with her arm around her waist, as if in propitiation.
Two twelve-year-old twins, in twin blue gingham frocks,—they were much addicted to blue and pink ginghams,— they had that indefinable look of blood which belonged to their kin, which is sometimes, to be sure, to be found in families that have no great-grandfathers, after they have been well-fed, well-read, and well-bred for a generation or two, but to which they had an uncommonly good right, as their pedigree—so I afterwards found—ran straight back to the Norman Conquest, without a single "probably" in it. They were, for their age, tall and slender, with yet more springy buoyancy than their aunt in pose and movement. Strangers were always mistaking them for each other. That day I could scarcely tell them apart, though afterwards I wondered at it. Rose was the very prettiest child I ever saw, and Lily pretty nearly the most beautiful person.
Lily was already the tallest. Her thick and wavy hair was blonde cendrée, and all her features were perfectly Grecian. Her eyes were of a very dark blue, that turned into nothing but clear radiance when she was opposed or in any way excited. Her complexion was healthful, but would be described as soft and warm, rather than brilliant. Her whole fair little face was about as firm and spirited as a fair girlish face could be.
Rose's larger eyes were of a pure, deep hazel. Her hair, as thick and curly as Lily's, was far more glossy and flossy, and of the yellowest, brightest gold-color. Her nose—a most perfect little nose—was more aquiline than her sister's. Her skin was of the tints of the finest rare-ripe peaches,—pure white and deepening pink; and all around her mouth were dimples lying in wait for her to laugh.
As they met Miss Dudley, with the many-colored Virginia creepers behind them and the flowers behind her, a better tableau vivant of "first youth" and first age could scarcely have been put together than they made. It made me wish that I had been more than a painter of specimens. The elder lady presented me to the younger ones; and they greeted me with that pretty courtesy that always charms us twofold when we meet with it in children, because we scarcely expect it of them. Rose's radiant little countenance, especially, seemed to say, "I have heard of you before, and wished to know you"; and that is one of the most winning expressions that a new countenance can wear. Then they put their arms round "dear Aunt Lizzy," coaxed her for peaches, and obtained the remainder of our basketful without much difficulty; and then I had to depart, but not quite without solace, for Rose ran after me to say, "Aunt Lizzy hopes, if you are not otherwise engaged, to see you again Monday morning at nine; and she sends you this book that she forgot to give you. It made her think of you, she says, when she was reading it."
It was Greenwood's "Sermons of Consolation"; and, written in her hand on the fly-leaf, I found my name.
- The old philosophy held, that "Nature abhors a vacuum"; but modern observation shows that the natural Yankee abhors the air.