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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJane Talbot - Letter 31 - To Henry Colden
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Jane Talbot - Letter 31 - To Henry Colden Post by :liberti Category :Long Stories Author :Charles Brockden Brown Date :May 2012 Read :1475

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Jane Talbot - Letter 31 - To Henry Colden

Letter XXXI - To Henry Colden

To Henry Colden

Philadelphia, Nov. 9.

What do you mean, Hal, by such a strain as this? I wanted no additional causes of disquiet. Yet you tell me to write cheerfully. I would have written cheerfully, if these letters, so full of dark forebodings and rueful prognostics, had not come to damp my spirits.

And is the destiny that awaits us so very mournful? Is thy wife necessarily to lose so many comforts and incur so many mortifications? Are my funds so small, that they will not secure to me the privilege of a separate apartment, in which I may pass my time with whom and in what manner I please?

Must I huddle, with a dozen squalling children and their notably-noisy or sluttishly-indolent dam, round a dirty hearth and meagre winter's fire? Must sooty rafters, a sorry truckle-bed, and a mud-encumbered alley, be my nuptial lot?

Out upon thee, thou egregious painter! Well for thee thou art not within my arm's length. I should certainly bestow upon thee a hearty-- _kiss or _two_. My blundering pen! I recall the word. I meant _cuff_; but my saucy pen, pretending to know more of my mind than I did myself, turned (as its mistress, mayhap, would have done, hadst thou been near me, _indeed_) her _cuff into a _kiss_.

What possessed thee, my beloved, to predict so ruefully? A very good beginning too! more vivacity than common! But I hardly had time to greet the sunny radiance--tis a long time since my cell was gilded by so sweet a beam--when a _black usurping mist stole it away, and all was dreary as it is wont to be.

Perhaps thy being in a house of mourning may account for it. Fitful and versatile I know thee to be; changeable with scene and circumstance. Thy views are just what any eloquent companion pleases to make them. She thou lovest is thy deity; her lips thy oracle. And hence my cheerful omens of the future; the confidence I have in the wholesome efficacy of my government. I, that have the _will to make thee happy, have the power too. I know I have; and hence my promptitude to give away all for thy sake; to give myself a _wife's title to thy company, a conjugal share in thy concerns, and claim to reign over thee.

Make haste, and atone, by the future brightness of thy epistolary emanations, for the pitchy cloud that overspreads these sick man's dreams.

How must thou have rummaged the cupboard of thy fancy for musty scraps and flinty crusts to feed thy spleen withal,--inattentive to the dainties which a blue-eyed Hebe had culled in the garden of Hope, and had poured from out her basket into thy ungrateful lap.

While thou wast mumbling these refractory and unsavoury bits, I was banqueting on the rosy and delicious products of that Eden which love, when not scared away by evil omens, is always sure (the poet says) to _plant around us. I have tasted nectarines of her raising, and I find her, let me tell thee, an admirable _horticulturist_.

Thou art so far off, there is no sending thee a basketful, or I would do it. They would wilt and wither ere they reached thee; the atmosphere thou breathest would strike a deadly worm into their hearts before thou couldst get them to thy lips.

But to drop the basket and the bough, and take up a plain meaning:--I will tell thee how I was employed when thy letter came; but first I must go back a little.

In the autumn of _ninety-seven_, and when death had spent his shafts in my own family, I went to see how a family fared, the father and husband of which kept a shop in Front Street, where every thing a lady wanted was sold, and where I had always been served with great despatch and affability.

Being one day (I am going to tell you how our acquaintance began)-- being one day detained in the shop by a shower, I was requested to walk into the parlour. I chatted ten minutes with the good woman of the house, and found in her so much gentleness and good sense, that afterwards my shopping visits were always, in part, social ones. My business being finished at the counter, I usually went back, and found on every interview new cause for esteeming the family. The treatment I met with was always cordial and frank; and, though our meetings were thus merely casual, we seemed, in a short time, to have grown into a perfect knowledge of each other.

This was in the summer you left us, and, the malady breaking out a few months after, and all _shopping being at an end, and alarm and grief taking early possession of my heart, I thought but seldom of the Hennings. A few weeks after death had bereaved me of my friend, I called these, and others whose welfare was dear to me, to my remembrance, and determined to pay them a visit and discover how it fared with them. I hoped they had left the city; yet Mrs. Henning had told me that her husband, who was a devout man, held it criminal to fly on such occasions, and that she, having passed safely through the pestilence of former years, had no apprehensions from staying.

Their house was inhabited, but I found the good woman in great affliction. Her husband had lately died, after a tedious illness, and her distress was augmented by the solitude in which the flight of all her neighbours and acquaintances had left her. A friendly visit could at no time have been so acceptable to her, and my sympathy was not more needed to console her than my counsel to assist her in the new state of her affairs.

Laying aside ceremony, I inquired freely into her condition, and offered her my poor services. She made me fully acquainted with her circumstances, and I was highly pleased at finding them so good. Her husband had always been industrious and thrifty, and his death left her enough to support her and her Sally in the way they wished.

Inquiring into their views and wishes, I found them limited to the privacy of a small but neat house in some cleanly and retired corner of the city. Their stock in trade I advised them to convert into money, and, placing it in some public fund, live upon its produce. Mrs. Henning knew nothing of the world. Though an excellent manager within-doors, any thing that might be called business was strange and arduous to her, and without my direct assistance she could do nothing.

Happily, at this time, just such a cheap and humble, but neat, new, and airy dwelling as my friend required, belonging to Mrs. Fielder, was vacant. You know the house. 'Tis that where the Frenchman Catineau lived. Is it not a charming abode?--at a distance from noise, with a green field opposite and a garden behind; of two stories; a couple of good rooms on each floor; with unspoiled water, and a kitchen, below the ground indeed, but light, wholesome, and warm.

Most fortunately, too, that incorrigible Creole had deserted it. He was scared away by the fever, and no other had put in a claim. I made haste to write to my mother, who, though angry with me on my own account, could not reject my application in favour of my good widow.

I even prevailed on her to set the rent forty dollars lower than she might have gotten from another, and to give a lease of it at that rate for five years. You can't imagine my satisfaction in completing this affair, and in seeing my good woman quietly settled in her new abode, with her daughter Sally and her servant _Alice_, who had come with her from Europe, and had lived with her the dear knows how long.

Mrs. Henning is no common woman, I assure you. Her temper is the sweetest in the world. Not cultivated or enlightened is her understanding, but naturally correct. Her life has always been spent under her own roof; and never saw I a scene of more quiet and order than her little homestead exhibits. Though humbly born, and perhaps meanly brought up, her parlour and chamber add to the purest cleanliness somewhat that approaches to elegance.

The mistress and the maid are nearly of the same age, and, though equally innocent and good-humoured, the former has more sedateness and reserve than the latter. She is devout in her way, which is Methodism, and acquires from this source nothing but new motives of charity to her neighbours and thankfulness to God.

Much--indeed, all--of these comforts she ascribes to me; yet her gratitude is not loquacious. It shows itself less in words than in the pleasure she manifests on my visits; the confidence with which she treats me; laying before me all her plans and arrangements, and entreating my advice in every thing. Yet she has brought with her, from her native country, notions of her inferiority to the better-born and the better- educated but too soothing to my pride. Hence she is always diffident, and never makes advances to intimacy but when expressly invited and encouraged.

It was a good while before all her new arrangements were completed. When they were, I told her I would spend the day with her, for which she was extremely grateful. She sent me word as soon as she was ready to receive me, and I went.

Artless and unceremonious was the good woman in the midst of all her anxiety to please. Affectionate yet discreet in her behaviour to her Sally and her Alice, and of me as tenderly observant as possible.

She showred me all her rooms, from cellar to garret, and every thing I saw delighted me. Two neat beds in the front-room above belong to her and Sally. The back-room is decked in a more fanciful and costly manner.

"Why, this, my good friend," said I, on entering it, "is quite superb. Here is carpet and coverlet and curtains that might satisfy a prince: you are quite prodigal. And for whose accommodation is all this?"

"Oh, any lady that will favour me with a visit. It is a spare room, and the only one I have, and I thought I would launch out a little for once. One wishes to set the best they have before a guest,--though, indeed, I don't expect many to visit me; but it is some comfort to think one has it in one's power to lodge a friend, when it happens so, in a manner that may not discredit one's intentions. I have no relations in this country, and the only friend I have in the world, besides God, is you, madam. But still, it may sometimes happen, you know, that one may have occasion to entertain somebody. God be thanked, I have enough, and what little I have to spare I have no right to hoard up."

"But might you not accommodate a good quiet kind of body in this room, at so much a year or week?"

"Why, ma'am, if you think that's best; but I thought one might indulge one's self in living one's own way. I have never been used to strangers, and always have had a small family. It would be a very new thing to me to have an inmate. I am afraid I should not please such a one. And then, ma'am, if this room's occupied, I have no decent place to put any accidental person in. It would go hard with me to be obliged to turn a good body away, that might be here on a visit, and might be caught by a rain or a snow storm."

"Very true; I did not think of that. And yet it seems a pity that so good a room should be unemployed, perhaps for a year together."

"So it does, ma'am; and I can't but say, if a proper person should offer, who wanted to be snug and quiet, I should have no great objection. One that could put up with our humble ways, and be satisfied with what I could do to make them comfortable. I think I should like such a one well enough."

"One," said I, "who would accept such accommodation as a favour. A single person, for example. A woman; a young woman. A stranger in the country, and friendless like yourself."

"Oh, very true, madam," said the good woman, with sparkling benignity; "I should have no objection in the world to such a one. I should like it of all things. And I should not mind to be hard with such a one. I should not stickle about terms. Pray, ma'am, do you know any such? If you do, and will advise me to take her, I would be very glad to do it."

Now, Hal, what thinkest thou? Cannot I light on such a young, single, slenderly-provided woman as this? One whose heart pants for just such a snug retreat as Mrs. Henning's roof would afford her?

This little chamber, set out with perfect neatness; looking out on a very pretty piece of verdure and a cleanly court-yard; with such a good couple to provide for her; with her privacy unapproachable but at her own pleasure; her quiet undisturbed by a prater, a scolder, a bustler, or a whiner; no dirty children to offend the eye, or squalling ones to wound the ear; with admitted claims to the gratitude, confidence, and affection of her hostess: might not these suffice to make a lowly, unambitious maiden happy?

One who, like Mrs. Henning, had only _one friend upon earth. Whom her former associates refused to commune with or look upon. Whose loneliness was uncheered, except by her own thoughts and her books,-- perhaps now and then, at times when oceans did not sever her from him, by that one earthly friend.

Might she not afford him as many hours of her society as his engagements would allow him to claim? Might she not, as an extraordinary favour, admit him to partake with her the comforts of her own little fire, if winter it be, or, in summer-time, to join her at her chamber-window and pass away the starlight hour in the unwitnessed community of fond hearts?

Suppose, to obviate unwelcome surmises and too scrupulous objections, the girl makes herself a wife, but, because their poverty will not enable them to live together, the girl merely admits the chosen youth on the footing of a visitor?

Suppose her hours are not embittered by the feelings of dependence? She pays an ample compensation for her entertainment, and by her occasional company, her superior strength of mind and knowledge of the world's ways, she materially contributes to the happiness and safety of her hostess.

Suppose, having only one visitor, and he sometimes wanting in zeal and punctuality, much of her time is spent alone? Happily she is exempt from the humiliating necessity of working to live, and is not obliged to demand a share of the earnings of her husband. Her task, therefore, will be to find amusement. Can she want the means, thinkest thou?

The sweet quiet of her chamber, the wholesome airs from abroad, or the cheerful blaze of her hearth, will invite her to mental exercise. Perhaps she has a taste for books, and, besides that pure delight which knowledge on its own account affords her, it possesses tenfold attractions in her eyes, by its tendency to heighten the esteem of him whom she lives to please.

Perhaps, rich as she is in books, she is an economist of pleasure, and tears herself away from them, to enjoy the vernal breezes, or the landscape of autumn, in a twilight ramble. Here she communes with bounteous nature, or lifts her soul in devotion to her God, to whose benignity she resigns herself as she used to do to the fond arms of that parent she has lost.

If these do not suffice to fill up her time, she may chance to reflect on the many ways in which she may be useful to herself. She may find delight in supplying her own wants; by maintaining cleanliness and order all about her; by making up her own dresses,--especially as she disdains to be outdone in taste and expertness at the needle by any female in the land.

By limiting in this way, and in every other which her judgment may recommend, her own expenses, she will be able to contribute somewhat to relieve the toils of her beloved. The pleasure will be hers of reflecting, not only that her love adds nothing to his fatigues and cares; not only that her tender solicitudes and seasonable counsel cherish his hopes and strengthen his courage, but that the employment of her hands makes his own separate subsistence an easier task. To work for herself will be no trivial gratification to her honest pride, but to work for her beloved will, indeed, be a cause of exultation.

Twenty things she may do for him which others must be paid for doing, not in caresses, but in money; and this service, though not small, is not perhaps the greatest she is able to perform. She is active and intelligent, perhaps, and may even aspire to the profits of some trade. What is it that makes one calling more lucrative than another? Not superior strength of shoulders or sleight of hand; not the greater quantity of brute matter that is reduced into form or set into motion. No. The difference lies in the mental powers of the artist, and the direction accidentally given to these powers.

What should hinder a girl like this from growing rich by her diligence and ingenuity? She has, perhaps, acquired many arts with no view but her own amusement. Not a little did her mother pay to those who taught her to draw and to sing. May she not levy the same tributes upon others that were levied on her, and make a business of her sports?

There is, indeed, a calling that may divert her from the thoughts of mere lucre. She may talk and sing for another, and dedicate her best hours to a tutelage for which there is a more precious requital than money can give.

Dost not see her, Hal? I do,--as well as this gushing sensibility will let me,--rocking in her arms and half stifling with her kisses, or delighting with her lullaby, a precious little creature----

Why, my friend, do I hesitate? Do I not write for thy eye, and thine only? and what is there but pure and sacred in the anticipated transports of a mother?

The conscious heart might stifle its throbs in thy presence; but why not indulge them in thy absence, and tell thee its inmost breathings, not without a shame-confessing glow, yet not without drops of the truest delight that were ever shed?

Why, how now, Jane? whence all this interest in the scene thou portrayest? One would fancy that this happy outcast, this self-dependent wife, was no other than _thyself_.

A shrewd conjecture, truly. I suppose, Hal, thou wilt be fond enough to guess so, too. By what penalty shall I deter thee from so rash a thing? yet thou art not here--I say it to my sorrow-to suffer the penalty which I might choose to inflict.

I will not say what it is, lest the _fear of it should keep thee away.

And, now that I have finished the history of Mrs. Henning and her boarder, I will bid thee--good-night.

Good----good-night, my love.

JANE TALBOT.

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