Stand And Wait
"They've come! they've come!"
This was the cry of little Herbert as he ran in from the square stone
which made the large doorstep of the house. Here he had been watching, a
self-posted sentinel, for the moment when the carriage should turn the
corner at the bottom of the hill.
"They've come! they've come!" echoed joyfully through the
house; and the
cry penetrated out into the extension, or ell, in which the grown
members of the family were, in the kitchen, "getting tea" by some
formulas more solemn than ordinary.
"Have they come?" cried Grace; and she set her skillet back to the
quarter-deck, or after-part of the stove, lest its white contents
should burn while she was away. She threw a waiting handkerchief over
her shoulders, and ran with the others to the front door, to wave
something white, and to be in at the first welcome.
Young and old were gathered there in that hospitable open space where
the side road swept up to the barn on its way from the main road. The
bigger boys of the home party had scattered half-way down the hill by
this time. Even grandmamma had stepped down from the stone, and walked
half-way to the roadway. Every one was waving something. Those who had
no handkerchiefs had hats or towels to wave; and the more advanced boys
began an undefined or irregular cheer.
But the carryall advanced slowly up the hill, with no answering
handkerchief, and no bonneted head stretched out from the side. And, as
it neared Sam and Andrew, their enthusiasm could be seen to droop, and
George and Herbert stopped their cheers as it came up to them; and
before it was near the house, on its grieved way up the hill, the bad
news had come up before it, as bad news will,--"She has not come, after
It was Huldah Root, Grace's older sister, who had not come. John Root,
their father, had himself driven down to the station to meet her; and
Abner, her oldest brother, had gone with him. It was two years since she
had been at home, and the whole family was on tiptoe to welcome her.
Hence the unusual tea preparation; hence the sentinel on the doorstep;
hence the general assembly in the yard; and, after all, she had not
come! It was a wretched disappointment. Her mother had that heavy,
silent look, which children take as the heaviest affliction of all, when
they see it in their mother's faces. John Root himself led the horse
into the barn, as if he did not care now for anything which might happen
in heaven above or in earth beneath. The boys were voluble in their
rage: "It is too bad!" and, "Grandmamma, don't you think it is too bad?"
and, "It is the meanest thing I ever heard of in all my life!" and,
"Grace, why don't you say anything? did you ever know anything so mean?"
As for poor Grace herself, she was quite beyond saying anything. All the
treasured words she had laid up to say to Huldah; all the doubts and
hopes and guesses, which were secret to all but God, but which were to
be poured out in Huldah's ear as soon as they were alone, were coming
up one by one, as if to choke her. She had waited so long for this
blessed fortnight of sympathy, and now she had lost it. Grace could say
nothing. And poor grandmamma, on whom fell the stilling of the boys, was
at heart as wretched as any of them.
Somehow, something got itself put on the supper-table; and, when John
Root and Abner came in from the barn, they all sat down to pretend to
eat something. What a miserable contrast to the Christmas eve party
which had been expected!
The observance of Christmas is quite a novelty in the heart of New
England among the lords of the manor. Winslow and Brewster, above
Plymouth Rock, celebrated their first Christmas by making all hands work
all day in the raising of their first house. It was in that way that a
Christian empire was begun. They builded better than they knew. They and
theirs, in that hard day's work, struck the key-note for New England for
two centuries and a half. And many and many a New Englander, still in
middle life, remembers that in childhood, though nurtured in Christian
homes, he could not have told, if he were asked, on what day of the
year Christmas fell. But as New England, in the advance of the world,
has come into the general life of the world, she has shown no inaptitude
for the greater enjoyments of life; and, with the true catholicity of
her great Congregational system, her people and her churches seize, one
after another, all the noble traditions of the loftiest memories. And so
in this matter we have in hand; it happened that the Roots, in their
hillside home, had determined that they would celebrate Christmas, as
never had Roots done before since Josiah Root landed at Salem, from the
"Hercules," with other Kentish people, in 1635. Abner and Gershom had
cut and trimmed a pretty fir-balsam from the edge of the Hotchkiss
clearing; and it was now in the best parlor. Grace, with Mary Bickford,
her firm ally and other self, had gilded nuts, and rubbed lady apples,
and strung popped corn; and the tree had been dressed in secret, the
youngsters all locked and warned out from the room. The choicest turkeys
of the drove, and the tenderest geese from the herd, and the plumpest
fowls from the barnyard, had been sacrificed on consecrated altars. And
all this was but as accompaniment and side illustration of the great
glory of the celebration, which was, that Huldah, after her two years'
absence,--Huldah was to come home.
And now she had not come,--nay, was not coming!
As they sat down at their Barmecide feast, how wretched the assemblage
of unrivalled dainties seemed! John Root handed to his wife their
daughter's letter; she read it, and gave it to Grace, who read it, and
gave it to her grandmother. No one read it aloud. To read aloud in such
trials is not the custom of New England.
Boston, Dec. 24, 1848.
DEAR FATHER AND MOTHER,--It is dreadful to disappoint you all,
but I cannot come. I am all ready, and this goes by the carriage
that was to take me to the cars. But our dear little Horace has
just been brought home, I am afraid, dying; but we cannot tell,
and I cannot leave him. You know there is really no one who can
do what I can. He was riding on his pony. First the pony came
home alone; and, in five minutes after, two policemen brought
the dear child in a carriage. His poor mother is very calm, but
cannot think yet, or do anything. We have sent for his father,
who is down town. I try to hope that he may come to himself; but
he only lies and draws long breaths on his little bed. The
doctors are with him now; and I write this little scrawl to say
how dreadfully sorry I am. A merry Christmas to you all. Do not
be troubled about me.
Your own loving
P.S. I have got some little presents for the children; but they
are all in my trunk, and I cannot get them out now. I will make
a bundle Monday. Good-by. The man is waiting.
This was the letter that was passed from hand to hand, of which the
contents slowly trickled into the comprehension of all parties,
according as their several ages permitted them to comprehend. Sam, as
usual, broke the silence by saying,--
"It is a perfect shame! She might as well be a nigger slave! I suppose
they think they have bought her and sold her. I should like to see 'em
all, just for once, and tell 'em that her flesh and blood is as good as
theirs; and that, with all their airs and their money, they've no
"Sam," said poor Grace, "you shall not say such things. Huldah has
stayed because she chose to stay; and that is the worst of it. She will
not think of herself, not for one minute; and so--everything happens."
And Grace was sobbing beyond speech again; and her intervention
amounted, therefore, to little or nothing. The boys, through the
evening, descanted among themselves on the outrage. Grandmamma, and at
last their mother, took successive turns in taming their indignation;
but, for all this, it was a miserable evening. As for John Root, he took
a lamp in one hand, and "The Weekly Tribune" in the other, and sat
before the fire, and pretended to read; but not once did John Root
change the fold of the paper that evening. It was a wretched Christmas
eve; and, at half-past eight, every light was out, and every member of
the household was lying stark awake, in bed.
* * * * *
Huldah Root, you see, was a servant with the Bartletts, in Boston. When
she was only sixteen, she was engaged at her "trade," as a vest-maker,
in that town; and, by some chance, made an appointment to sew as a
seamstress at Mrs. Bartlett's for a fortnight. There were any number of
children to be clothed there; and the fortnight extended to a month.
Then the month became two months. She grew fond of Mrs. Bartlett,
because Mrs. Bartlett grew fond of her. The children adored her; and she
kept an eye to them; and it ended in her engaging to spend the winter
there, half-seamstress, half-nurse, half-nursery-governess, and a little
of everything. From such a beginning, it had happened that she had lived
there six years, in confidential service. She could cook better than
anybody in the house,--better than Mrs. Bartlett herself; but it was not
often that she tried her talent there. On a birthday perhaps, in August,
she would make huckleberry cakes, by the old homestead "receipt," for
the children. She had the run of all their clothes as nobody else did;
took the younger ones to be measured; and saw that none of the older
ones went out with a crack in a seam, or a rough edge at the foot of a
trowser. It was whispered that Minnie had rather go into the sewing-room
to get Huldah to "show her" about "alligation" or "square-root," than
to wait for Miss Thurber's explanations in the morning. In fifty such
ways, it happened that Huldah--who, on the roll-call of the census-man,
probably rated as a nursery-maid in the house--was the confidential
friend of every member of the family, from Mr. Bartlett, who wanted to
know where "The Intelligencer" was, down to the chore-boy who came in to
black the shoes. And so it was, that, when poor little Horace was
brought in with his skull knocked in by the pony, Huldah was--and
modestly knew that she was--the most essential person in the stunned
While her brothers and sisters were putting out their lights at New
Durham, heart-sick and wounded, Huldah was sitting in that still room,
where only the rough broken breathing of poor Horace broke the sound.
She was changing, once in ten minutes, the ice-water cloths; was feeling
of his feet sometimes; wetting his tongue once or twice in an hour;
putting her finger to his pulse with a native sense, which needed no
second-hand to help it; and all the time, with the thought of him, was
remembering how grieved and hurt and heart-broken they were at home.
Every half-hour or less, a pale face appeared at the door; and Huldah
just slid across the room, and said, "He is really doing nicely, pray
lie down;" or, "His pulse is surely better, I will certainly come to you
if it flags;" or "Pray trust me, I will not let you wait a moment if he
needs you;" or, "Pray get ready for to-morrow. An hour's sleep now will
be worth everything to you then." And the poor mother would crawl back
to her baby and her bed, and pretend to try to sleep; and in half an
hour would appear again at the door. One o'clock, two o'clock, three
o'clock. How companionable Dr. Lowell's clock seems when one is sitting
up so, with no one else to talk to! Four o'clock at last; it is really
growing to be quite intimate. Five o'clock. "If I were in dear Durham
now, one of the roosters would be calling,"--Six o'clock. Poor Horace
stirs, turns, flings his arm over. "Mother--O Huldah! is it you? How
nice that is!" And he is unconscious again; but he had had sense enough
to know her. What a blessed Christmas present that is, to tell that to
his poor mother when she slides in at daybreak, and says, "You shall go
to bed now, dear child. You see I am very fresh; and you must rest
yourself, you know. Do you really say he knew you? Are you sure he knew
you? Why, Huldah, what an angel of peace you are!"
So opened Huldah's Christmas morning.
* * * * *
Days of doubt, nights of watching. Every now and then the boy knows his
mother, his father, or Huldah. Then will come this heavy stupor which is
so different from sleep. At last the surgeons have determined that a
piece of the bone must come away. There is the quiet gathering of the
most skilful at the determined hour; there is the firm table for the
little fellow to lie on; here is the ether and the sponge; and, of
course, here and there, and everywhere, is Huldah. She can hold the
sponge, or she can fetch and carry; she can answer at once if she is
spoken to; she can wait, if it is waiting; she can act, if it is acting.
At last the wretched little button, which has been pressing on our poor
boy's brain, is lifted safely out. It is in Morton's hand; he smiles and
nods at Huldah as she looks inquiry, and she knows he is satisfied. And
does not the poor child himself, even in his unconscious sleep, draw
his breath more lightly than he did before? All is well.
"Who do you say that young woman is?" says Dr. Morton to Mr. Bartlett,
as he draws on his coat in the doorway after all is over. "Could we not
tempt her over to the General Hospital?"
"No, I think not. I do not think we can spare her."
The boy Horace is new-born that day; a New Year's gift to his mother. So
pass Huldah's holidays.
Fourteen years make of the boy whose pony has been too much for him a
man equal to any prank of any pony. Fourteen years will do this, even to
boys of ten. Horace Bartlett is the colonel of a cavalry regiment,
stationed just now in West Virginia; and, as it happens, this
twenty-four-year-old boy has an older commission than anybody in that
region, and is the Post Commander at Talbot C. H., and will be, most
likely, for the winter. The boy has a vein of foresight in him; a good
deal of system; and, what is worth while to have by the side of system,
some knack of order. So soon as he finds that he is responsible, he
begins to prepare for responsibility. His staff-officers are boys too;
but they are all friends, and all mean to do their best. His
Surgeon-in-Charge took his degree at Washington last spring; that is
encouraging. Perhaps, if he has not much experience, he has, at least,
the latest advices. His head is level too; he means to do his best, such
as it is; and, indeed, all hands in that knot of boy counsellors will
not fail for laziness or carelessness. Their very youth makes them
provident and grave.
So among a hundred other letters, as October opens, Horace writes
TALBOT COURT HOUSE, VA.,
Oct. 3, 1863.
DEAR HULDAH,--Here we are still, as I have been explaining to
father; and, as you will see by my letter to him, here we are
like to stay. Thus far we are doing sufficiently well. As I have
told him, if my plans had been adopted we should have been
pushed rapidly forward up the valley of the Yellow Creek;
Badger's corps would have been withdrawn from before Winchester;
Wilcox and Steele together would have threatened Early; and
then, by a rapid flank movement, we should have pounced down on
Longstreet (not the great Longstreet, but little Longstreet),
and compelled him to uncover Lynchburg; we could have blown up
the dams and locks on the canal, made a freshet to sweep all the
obstructions out of James River, and then, if they had shown
half as much spirit on the Potomac, all of us would be in
Richmond for our Christmas dinner. But my plans, as usual, were
not asked for, far less taken. So, as I said, here we are.
Well, I have been talking with Lawrence Worster, my
Surgeon-in-Charge, who is a very good fellow. His sick-list is
not bad now, and he does not mean to have it bad; but he says
that he is not pleased with the ways of his ward-masters; and it
was his suggestion, not mine, mark you, that I should see if one
or two of the Sanitary women would not come as far as this to
make things decent. So, of course, I write to you. Don't you
think mother could spare you to spend the winter here? It will
be rough, of course; but it is all in the good cause. Perhaps
you know some nice women,--well, not like you, of course; but
still, disinterested and sensible, who would come too. Think of
this carefully, I beg you, and talk to father and mother.
Worster says we may have three hundred boys in hospital before
Christmas. If Jubal Early should come this way, I don't know how
many more. Talk with mother and father.
P. S. I have shown Worster what I have written; he encloses a
sort of official letter which may be of use. He says, "Show this
to Dr. Hayward; get them to examine you and the others, and then
the government, on his order, will pass you on." I enclose this,
because, if you come, it will save time.
Of course Huldah went. Grace Starr, her married sister, went with her,
and Mrs. Philbrick, and Anna Thwart. That was the way they happened to
be all together in the Methodist Church that had been, of Talbot Court
House, as Christmas holidays drew near, of the year of grace, 1863.
She and her friends had been there quite long enough to be wonted to the
strangeness of December in the open air. On her little table in front of
the desk of the church were three or four buttercups in bloom, which she
had gathered in an afternoon walk, with three or four heads of
hawksweed. "The beginning of one year," Huldah said, "with the end of
the other." Nay, there was even a stray rose which Dr. Sprigg had found
in a farmer's garden. Huldah came out from the vestry, where her own bed
was, in the gray of the morning, changed the water for the poor little
flowers, sat a moment at the table to look at last night's memoranda,
and then beckoned to the ward-master, and asked him, in a whisper, what
was the movement she had heard in the night,--"Another alarm from
"No, Miss; not an alarm. I saw the Colonel's orderly as he passed. He
stopped here for Dr. Fenno's case. There had come down an express from
General Mitchell, and the men were called without the bugle, each man
separately; not a horse was to neigh, if they could help it. And really,
Miss, they were off in twenty minutes."
"Off, who are off?"
"The whole post, Miss, except the relief for to-day. There are not fifty
men in the village besides us here. The orderly thought they were to go
down to Braxton's; but he did not know."
Here was news indeed! news so exciting that Huldah went back at once,
and called the other women; and then all of them together began on that
wretched business of waiting. They had never yet known what it was to
wait for a real battle. They had had their beds filled with this and
that patient from one or another post, and had some gun-shot wounds of
old standing among the rest; but this was their first battle if it were
a battle. So the covers were taken off that long line of beds, down on
the west aisle, and from those under the singers' seat; and the sheets
and pillow-cases were brought out from the linen room, and aired, and
put on. Our biggest kettles are filled up with strong soup; and we have
our milk-punch, and our beef-tea all in readiness; and everybody we can
command is on hand to help lift patients and distribute food. But there
is only too much time. Will there never be any news? Anna Thwart and
Doctor Sprigg have walked down to the bend of the hill, to see if any
messenger is coming. As for the other women, they sit at their table;
they look at their watches; they walk down to the door; they come back
to the table. I notice they have all put on fresh aprons, for the sake
of doing something more in getting ready.
Here is Anna Thwart. "They are coming! they are coming! somebody is
coming. A mounted man is crossing the flat, coming towards us; and the
doctor told me to come back and tell." Five minutes more, ten minutes
more, an eternity more, and then, rat-tat-tat, rat-tat-tat, the mounted
man is here. "Wagons right behind. We bagged every man of them at
Wyatt's. Got there before daylight. Colonel White's men from the Yellows
came up just at the same time, and we pitched in before they knew
it,--three or four regiments, thirteen hundred men, and all their guns."
"And with no fighting?"
"Oh, yes! fighting of course. The colonel has got a train of wagons down
here with the men that are hurt. That's why I am here. Here is his
note." Thus does the mounted man discharge his errand backward.
DEAR DOCTOR,--We have had great success. We have surprised the
whole post. The company across the brook tried hard to get away;
and a good many of them, and of Sykes's men, are hit; but I
cannot find that we have lost more than seven men. I have
nineteen wagons here of wounded men,--some hurt pretty badly.
Ever yours, H.
So there must be more waiting. But now we know what we are waiting for;
and the end will come in a finite world. Thank God, at half-past three,
here they are! Tenderly, gently. "Hush, Sam! Hush, Caesar! You talk too
much." Gently, tenderly. Twenty-seven of the poor fellows, with
everything the matter, from a burnt face to a heart stopping its beats
for want of more blood.
"Huldah, come here. This is my old classmate, Barthow; sat next me at
prayers four years. He is a major in their army, you see. His horse
stumbled, and pitched him against a stone wall; and he has not spoken
since. Don't tell me he is dying; but do as well for him, Huldah,"--and
the handsome boy smiled,--"do as well for him as you did for me." So
they carried Barthow, senseless as he was, tenderly into the church; and
he became E, 27, on an iron bedstead. Not half our soup was wanted, nor
our beef-tea, nor our punch. So much the better.
Then came day and night, week in and out, of army system, and womanly
sensibility; that quiet, cheerful, homish, hospital life, in the
quaint surroundings of the white-washed church; the pointed arches of
the windows and the faded moreen of the pulpit telling that it is a
church, in a reminder not unpleasant. Two or three weeks of hopes and
fears, failures and success, bring us to Christmas eve.
* * * * *
It is the surgeon-in-chief, who happens to give our particular Christmas
dinner,--I mean the one that interests you and me. Huldah and the other
ladies had accepted his invitation. Horace Bartlett and his staff, and
some of the other officers, were guests; and the doctor had given his
own permit that Major Barthow might walk up to his quarters with the
ladies. Huldah and he were in advance, he leaning, with many apologies,
on her arm. Dr. Sprigg and Anna Thwart were far behind. The two married
ladies, as needing no escort, were in the middle. Major Barthow enjoyed
the emancipation, was delighted with his companion, could not say enough
to make her praise the glimpses of Virginia, even if it were West
"What a party it is, to be sure!" said he. "The doctor might call on us
for our stories, as one of Dickens's chiefs would do at a Christmas
feast. Let's see, we should have
THE SURGEON'S TALE;
THE GENERAL'S TALE;
for we may at least make believe that Hod's stars have come from
Washington. Then we must call in that one-eyed servant of his; and we
THE ORDERLY'S TALE.
Your handsome friend from Wisconsin shall tell
THE GERMAN'S TALE.
I shall be encouraged to tell
THE PRISONER'S TALE.
"And I?" said Huldah laughing, because he paused.
"You shall tell
THE SAINT'S TALE."
Barthow spoke with real feeling, which he did not care to disguise. But
Huldah was not there for sentiment; and without quivering in the least,
nor making other acknowledgment, she laughed as she knew she ought to
do, and said, "Oh, no! that is quite too grand, the story must end with
THE SUPERINTENDENT OF SPECIAL RELIEF'S
It is a little unromantic to the sound; but that's what it is."
"I don't see," persisted the major, "if Superintendent of Special Relief
means Saint in Latin, why we should not say so."
"Because we are not talking Latin," said Huldah. "Listen to me; and,
before we come to dinner, I will tell you a story pretty enough for
Dickens, or any of them; and it is a story not fifteen minutes old.
"Have you noticed that black-whiskered fellow, under the gallery, by the
north window?--Yes, the same. He is French, enlisted, I think, in New
London. I came to him just now, managed to say etrennes and Noel to
him, and a few other French words, and asked if there were nothing we
could do to make him more at home. Oh, no! there was nothing; madame
was too good, and everybody was too good, and so on. But I persisted. I
wished I knew more about Christmas in France; and I staid by. 'No,
madame, nothing; there is nothing. But, since you say it,--if there were
two drops of red wine,--du vin de mon pays, madame; but you could not
here in Virginia.' Could not I? A superintendent of special relief has
long arms. There was a box of claret, which was the first thing I saw in
the store-room the day I took my keys. The doctor was only too glad the
man had thought of it; and you should have seen the pleasure that red
glass, as full as I could pile it, gave him. The tears were running down
his cheeks. Anna, there, had another Frenchman; and she sent some to
him: and my man is now humming a little song about the vin rouge of
Bourgogne. Would not Mr. Dickens make a pretty story of that for
you,--'THE FRENCHMAN'S STORY'?"
Barthow longed to say that the great novelist would not make so pretty a
story as she did. But this time he did not dare.
You are not going to hear the eight stories. Mr. Dickens was not there;
nor, indeed, was I. But a jolly Christmas dinner they had; though they
had not those eight stories. Quiet they were, and very, very happy. It
was a strange thing,--if one could have analyzed it,--that they should
have felt so much at home, and so much at ease with each other, in that
queer Virginian kitchen, where the doctor and his friends of his mess
had arranged the feast. It was a happy thing, that the recollections of
so many other Christmas homes should come in, not sadly, but pleasantly,
and should cheer, rather than shade the evening. They felt off
soundings, all of them. There was, for the time, no responsibility. The
strain was gone. The gentlemen were glad to be dining with ladies, I
believe: the ladies, unconsciously, were probably glad to be dining with
gentlemen. The officers were glad they were not on duty; and the
prisoner, if glad of nothing else, was glad he was not in bed. But he
was glad for many things beside. You see it was but a little post. They
were far away; and they took things with the ease of a detached command.
"Shall we have any toasts?" said the doctor, when his nuts and raisins
and apples at last appeared.
"Oh, no! no toasts,--nothing so stiff as that."
"Oh, yes! oh, yes!" said Grace. "I should like to know what it is to
drink a toast. Something I have heard of all my life, and never saw."
"One toast, at least, then," said the doctor. "Colonel Bartlett, will
you name the toast?"
"Only one toast?" said Horace; "that is a hard selection: we must vote
"No, no!" said a dozen voices; and a dozen laughing assistants at the
feast offered their advice.
"I might give 'The Country;' I might give 'The Cause;' I might give 'The
President:' and everybody would drink," said Horace. "I might give
'Absent friends,' or 'Home, sweet home;' but then we should cry."
"Why do you not give 'The trepanned people'?" said Worster, laughing,
"or 'The silver-headed gentlemen'?"
"Why don't you give 'The Staff and the Line'?" "Why don't you give
'Here's Hoping'?" "Give 'Next Christmas.'" "Give 'The Medical
Department; and may they often ask us to dine!'"
"Give 'Saints and Sinners,'" said Major Barthow, after the first outcry
"I shall give no such thing," said Horace. "We have had a lovely dinner;
and we know we have; and the host, who is a good fellow, knows the first
thanks are not to him. Those of us who ever had our heads knocked open,
like the Major and me, do know. Fill your glasses, gentlemen; I give you
'the Special Diet Kitchen.'"
He took them all by surprise. There was a general shout; and the ladies
all rose, and dropped mock courtesies.
"By Jove!" said Barthow to the Colonel, afterwards, "It was the best
toast I ever drank in my life. Anyway, that little woman has saved my
life. Do you say she did the same to you?"
So you think that when the war was over Major Barthow, then
Major-General, remembered Huldah all the same, and came on and persuaded
her to marry him, and that she is now sitting in her veranda, looking
down on the Pamunkey River. You think that, do not you?
Well! you were never so mistaken in your life. If you want that story,
you can go and buy yourself a dime novel. I would buy "The Rescued
Rebel;" or, "The Noble Nurse," if I were you.
After the war was over, Huldah did make Colonel Barthow and his wife a
visit once, at their plantation in Pocataligo County; but I was not
there, and know nothing about it.
Here is a Christmas of hers, about which she wrote a letter; and, as it
happens, it was a letter to Mrs. Barthow.
HULDAH ROOT TO AGNES BARTHOW.
VILLERS-BOCAGE, Dec. 27, 1868.
... Here I was, then, after this series of hopeless blunders,
sole alone at the gare [French for station] of this little
out-of-the-way town. My dear, there was never an American here
since Christopher Columbus slept here when he was a boy. And
here, you see, I was like to remain; for there was no
possibility of the others getting back to me till to-morrow, and
no good in my trying to overtake them. All I could do was just
to bear it, and live on, and live through from Thursday to
Monday; and, really, what was worst of all was that Friday was
Well, I found a funny little carriage, with a funny old man who
did not understand my patois any better than I did his; but he
understood a franc-piece. I had my guide-book, and I said
auberge; and we came to the oddest, most outlandish, and
old-fashioned establishment that ever escaped from one of Julia
Nathalie woman's novels. And here I am.
And the reason, my dear Mrs. Barthow, that I take to-day to
write to you, you and the Colonel will now understand. You see
it was only ten o'clock when I got here; then I went to walk,
many enfans terribles following respectfully; then I came
home, and ate the funny refection; then I got a nap; then I went
to walk again, and made a little sketch in the churchyard: and
this time, one of the children brought up her mother, a funny
Norman woman, in a delicious costume,--I have a sketch of
another just like her,--and she dropped a courtesy, and in a
very mild patois said she hoped the children did not trouble
madame. And I said, "Oh, no!" and found a sugar-plum for the
child and showed my sketch to the woman; and she said she
supposed madame was Anglaise.
I said I was not Anglaise,--and here the story begins; for I
said I was Americaine. And, do you know, her face lighted up
as if I had said I was St. Gulda, or St. Hilda, or any of their
"Americaine! est-il possible? Jeannette, Gertrude, faites vos
reverences. Madame est Americaine."
And, sure enough, they all dropped preternatural courtesies. And
then the most eager enthusiasm; how fond they all were of les
Americaines, but how no Americaines had ever come before! And
was madame at the Three Cygnets? And might she and her son and
her husband call to see madame at the Three Cygnets? And might
she bring a little etrenne to madame? And I know not what
I was very glad the national reputation had gone so far. I
really wished I were Charles Sumner (pardon me, dear Agnes),
that I might properly receive the delegation. But I said, "Oh,
certainly!" and, as it grew dark, with my admiring cortege
whispering now to the street full of admirers that madame was
Americaine, I returned to the Three Cygnets.
And in the evening they all came. Really, you should see the
pretty basket they brought for an etrenne. I could not guess
then where they got such exquisite flowers; these lovely
stephanotis blossoms, a perfect wealth of roses, and all
arranged with charming taste in a quaint country basket, such as
exists nowhere but in this particular section of this quaint old
Normandy. In came the husband, dressed up, and frightened, but
thoroughly good in his look. In came my friend; and then two
sons and two wives, and three or four children: and, my dear
Agnes, one of the sons, I knew him in an instant, was a man we
had at Talbot Court House when your husband was there. I think
the Colonel will remember him,--a black-whiskered man, who used
to sing a little song about le vin rouge of Bourgogne.
He did not remember me; that I saw in a moment. It was all so
different, you know. In the hospital, I had on my cap and apron,
and here,--well, it was another thing. My hostess knew that they
were coming, and had me in her largest room, and I succeeded in
making them all sit down; and I received my formal welcome; and
I thanked in my most Parisian French; and then the conversation
hung fire. But I took my turn now, and turned round to poor
"You served in America, did you not?" said I.
"Ah, yes, madame! I did not know my mother had told you."
No more did she, indeed; and she looked astonished. But I
"You seem strong and well."
"Ah, yes, madame!"
"How long since you returned?"
"As soon as there was peace, madame. We were mustered out in
"And does your arm never trouble you?"
"Oh, never, madame! I did not know my mother had told you."
New astonishment on the part of the mother.
"You never had another piece of bone come out?"
"Oh, no, madame! how did madame know? I did not know my mother
had told you!"
And by this time I could not help saying, "You Normans care
more for Christmas than we Americans; is it not so, my brave?"
And this he would not stand; and he said stoutly, "Ah, no,
madame! no, no, jamais!" and began an eager defence of the
religious enthusiasm of the Americans, and their goodness to all
people who were good, if people would only be good. But still he
had not the least dream who I was. And I said,--
"Do the Normans ever drink Burgundy?" and to my old hostess,
"Madame, could you bring us a flask du vin rouge de
Bourgogne?" and then I hummed his little chanson, I am sure
Colonel Barthow will remember it,--"Deux--gouttes--du vin rouge
My dear Mrs. Barthow, he sprang from his chair, and fell on his
knees, and kissed my hands, before I could stop him. And when
his mother and father, and all the rest, found that I was the
particular soeur de la charite who had had the care of dear
Louis when he was hurt, and that it was I he had told of that
very day,--for the thousandth time, I believe,--who gave him
that glass of claret, and cheered up his Christmas, I verily
believe they would have taken me to the church to worship me.
They were not satisfied,--the women with kissing me, or the men
with shaking hands with each other,--the whole auberge had to
be called in; and poor I was famous. I need not say I cried my
eyes out; and when, at ten o'clock, they let me go to bed, I was
worn out with crying, and laughing, and talking, and listening;
and I believe they were as much upset as I.
Now that is just the beginning; and yet I see I must stop. But,
for forty-eight hours, I have been simply a queen. I can hardly
put my foot to the ground. Christmas morning, these dear
Thibault people came again; and then the cure came; and then
some nice Madame Perrons came, and I went to mass with them;
and, after mass, their brother's carriage came; and they would
take no refusals; but with many apologies to my sweet old
hostess, at the Three Cygnets, I was fain to come up to M.
Firmin's lovely chateau here, and make myself at home till my
friends shall arrive. It seems the poor Thibaults had come here
to beg the flowers for the etrenne. It is really the most
beautiful country residence I have seen in France; and they live
on the most patriarchal footing with all the people round them.
I am sure I ought to speak kindly of them. It is the most
fascinating hospitality. So here am I, waiting, with my little
sac de nuit to make me aspettabile; and here I ate my
Christmas dinner. Tell the Colonel that here is "THE TRAVELLER'S
TALE;" and that is why the letter is so long.
Most truly yours,
ONE CHRISTMAS MORE.
This last Christmas party is Huldah's own. It is hers, at least, as much
as it is any one's. There are five of them, nay, six, with equal right
to precedence in the John o' Groat's house, where she has settled down.
It is one of those comfortable houses which are still left three miles
out from the old State House in Boston. It is not all on one floor; that
would be, perhaps, too much like the golden courts of heaven. There are
two stories; but they are connected by a central flight of stairs of
easy tread (designed by Charles Cummings); so easy, and so stately
withal, that, as you pass over them, you always bless the builder, and
hardly know that you go up or down. Five large rooms on each floor give
ample room for the five heads of the house, if, indeed, there be not
six, as I said before.
Into this Saints' Rest, there have drifted together, by the eternal law
of attraction,--Huldah, and Ellen Philbrick (who was with her in
Virginia, and in France, and has been, indeed, but little separated from
her, except on duty, for twenty years), and with them three other
friends. These women,--well, I cannot introduce them to you without
writing three stories of true romance, one for each. This quiet, strong,
meditative, helpful saint, who is coming into the parlor now, is Helen
Touro. She was left alone with her baby when "The Empire State" went
down; and her husband was never heard of more. The love of that baby
warmed her to the love of all others; and, when I first knew her, she
was ruling over a home of babies, whose own mothers or fathers were
not,--always with a heart big enough to say there was room for one more
waif in that sanctuary. That older woman, who is writing at the
Davenport in the corner, lightened the cares and smoothed the daily
life of General Schuyler in all the last years of his life, when he was
in the Cabinet, in Brazil, and in Louisiana. His wife was long ill, and
then died. His children needed all a woman's care; and this woman
stepped to the front, cared for them, cared for all his household, cared
for him: and I dare not say how much is due to her of that which you and
I say daily we owe to him. Miss Peters, I see you know. She served in
another regiment; was at the head of the sweetest, noblest, purest
school that ever trained, in five and twenty years, five hundred girls
to be the queens in five hundred happy and strong families. All of these
five,--our Huldah and Mrs. Philbrick too, you have seen before,--all of
them have been in "the service;" all of them have known that perfect
service is perfect freedom. I think they know that perfect service is
the highest honor. They have together taken this house, as they say, for
the shelter and home of their old age. But Huldah, as she plays with
your Harry there, does not look to me as if she were superannuated yet.
"But you said there were six in all."
Did I? I suppose there are. "Mrs. Philbrick, are there five captains in
your establishment, or six?"
"My dear Mr. Hale, why do you ask me? You know there are five captains
and one general. We have persuaded Seth Corbet to make his home
here,--yes, the same who went round the world with Mrs. Cradock. Since
her death, he has come home to Boston; and he reports to us, and makes
his head-quarters here. He sees that we are all right every morning; and
then he goes his rounds to see every grandchild of old Mr. Cradock, and
to make sure that every son and daughter of that house is 'all right.'
Sometimes he is away over night. This is when somebody in the whole
circle of all their friends is more sick than usual, and needs a man
nurse. That old man was employed by old Mr. Cradock, in 1816, when he
first went to housekeeping. He has had all the sons and all the
daughters of that house in his arms; and now that the youngest of them
is five and twenty, and the oldest fifty, I suppose he is not satisfied
any day until he has seen that they and theirs, in their respective
homes, are well. He thinks we here are babies; but he takes care of us
all the more courteously."
"Will he dine with you to-day?"
"I am afraid not; but we shall see him at the Christmas-tree after
dinner. There is to be a tree."
You see, this house was dedicated to the Apotheosis of Noble Ministry.
Over the mantel-piece hung Raphael Morghen's large print of "The
Lavatio," Caracci's picture of "The Washing of the Feet,"--the only copy
I ever saw. We asked Huldah about it.
"Oh, that was a present from Mr. Burchstadt, a rich manufacturer in
Wuertemberg, to Ellen. She stumbled into one of those villages when
everybody was sick and dying of typhus, and tended and watched and
saved, one whole summer long, as Mrs. Ware did at Osmotherly. And this
Mr. Burchstadt wanted to do something, and he sent her this in
On the other side was Kaulbach's own study of Elizabeth of Hungary,
dropping her apron full of roses.
"Oh! what a sight the apron discloses;
The viands are changed to real roses!"
When I asked Huldah where that came from, she blushed, and said, "Oh,
that was a present to me!" and led us to Steinler's exquisite "Good
Shepherd," in a larger and finer print than I had ever seen. Six or
eight gentlemen in New York, who, when they were dirty babies from the
gutter, had been in Helen Touro's hands, had sent her a portfolio of
beautiful prints, each with this same idea, of seeking what was lost.
This one she had chosen for the sitting-room.
And, on the fourth side, was that dashing group of Horace Vernet's,
"Gideon crossing Jordan," with the motto wrought into the frame, "Faint,
yet pursuing." These four pictures are all presents to the "girls," as I
find I still call them; and, on the easel, Miss Peters had put her copy
of "The Tribute Money." There were other pictures in the room; but these
five unconsciously told its story.
The five "girls" were always all together at Christmas; but, in
practice, each of them lived here only two-fifths of her time. "We make
that a rule," said Ellen laughing. "If anybody comes for anybody when
there are only two here, those two are engaged to each other; and we
stay. Not but what they can come and stay here if we cannot go to them."
In practice, if any of us in the immense circles which these saints had
befriended were in a scrape,--as, if a mother was called away from home,
and there were some children left, or if scarlet fever got into a house,
or if the children had nobody to go to Mt. Desert with them, or if the
new house were to be set in order, and nobody knew how,--in any of the
trials of well-ordered families, why, we rode over to the Saints' Rest
to see if we could not induce one of the five to come and put things
through. So that, in practice, there were seldom more than two on the
But we do not get to the Christmas dinner. There were covers for four
and twenty; and all the children besides were in a room upstairs,
presided over by Maria Munro, who was in her element there. Then our
party of twenty-four included men and women of a thousand romances, who
had learned and had shown the nobility of service. One or two of us were
invited as novices, in the hope perhaps that we might learn.
Scarcely was the soup served when the door-bell rang. Nothing else ever
made Huldah look nervous. Bartlett, who was there, said in an aside to
me, that he had seen her more calm when there was volley firing within
hearing of her store-room. Then it rang again. Helen Touro talked more
vehemently; and Mrs. Bartlett at her end, started a great laugh. But,
when it rang the third time, something had to be said; and Huldah asked
one of the girls, who was waiting, if there were no one attending at the
"Yes 'm, Mr. Corbet."
But the bell rang a fourth time, and a fifth.
"Isabel, you can go to the door. Mr. Corbet must have stepped out."
So Isabel went out, but returned with a face as broad as a soup-plate.
"Mr. Corbet is there, ma'am."
Sixth door-bell peal,--seventh, and eighth.
"Mary, I think you had better see if Mr. Corbet has gone away."
Mary returns, face one broad grin.
"No, ma'am, Mr. Corbet is there."
Heavy steps in the red parlor. Side door-bell--a little gong, begins to
ring. Front bell rings ninth time, tenth, and eleventh.
Saint John, as we call him, had seen that something was amiss, and had
kindly pitched in with a dissertation on the passage of the Red-River
Dam, in which the gravy-boats were steamships, and the cranberry was
General Banks, and the aids were spoons. But, when both door-bells rang
together, and there were more steps in the hall, Huldah said, "If you
will excuse me," and rose from the table.
"No, no, we will not excuse you," cried Clara Hastings. "Nobody will
excuse you. This is the one day of the year when you are not to work.
Let me go." So Clara went out. And after Clara went out, the door-bells
rang no more. I think she cut the bell-wires. She soon came back, and
said a man was inquiring his way to the "Smells;" and they directed him
to "Wait's Mills," which she hoped would do. And so Huldah's and Grace's
stupendous housekeeping went on in its solid order, reminding one of
those well-proportioned Worcester teas which are, perhaps, the crown and
glory of the New England science in this matter. I ventured to ask Sam
Root, who sat by me, if the Marlborough were not equal to his mother's.
And we sat long; and we laughed loud. We talked war and poetry and
genealogy. We rallied Helen Touro about her housekeeping; and Dr.
Worster pretended to give a list of Surgeons and Majors and
Major-Generals who had made love to Huldah. By and by, when the grapes
and the bonbons came, the sixteen children were led in by Maria Munro,
who had, till now, kept them at games of string and hunt the slipper.
And, at last, Seth Corbet flung open the door into the red parlor to
announce "The Tree."
Sure enough, there was the tree, as the five saints had prepared it for
the invited children,--glorious in gold, and white with wreaths of
snow-flakes, and blazing with candles. Sam Root kissed Grace, and said,
"O Grace! do you remember?" But the tree itself did not surprise the
children as much as the five tables at the right and the left, behind
and before, amazed the Sainted Five, who were indeed the children now. A
box of the vin rouge de Bourgogne, from Louis, was the first thing my
eye lighted on, and above it a little banner read, "Huldah's table." And
then I saw that there were these five tables, heaped with the Christmas
offerings to the five saints. It proved that everybody, the world over,
had heard that they had settled down. Everybody in the four
hemispheres,--if there be four,--who had remembered the unselfish
service of these five, had thought this a fit time for commemorating
such unselfish love, were it only by such a present as a lump of coal.
Almost everybody, I think, had made Seth Corbet a confidant; and so,
while the five saints were planning their pretty tree for the sixteen
children, the North and the South, and the East and the West, were
sending myrrh and frankincense and gold to them. The pictures were hung
with Southern moss from Barthow. Boys, who were now men, had sent coral
from India, pearl from Ceylon, and would have been glad to send ice from
Greenland, had Christmas come in midsummer; there were diamonds from
Brazil, and silver from Nevada, from those who lived there; there were
books, in the choicest binding, in memory of copies of the same word,
worn by travel, or dabbled in blood; there were pictures, either by the
hand of near friendship, or by the master hand of genius, which brought
back the memories, perhaps, of some old adventure in "The
Service,"--perhaps, as the Kaulbach did, of one of those histories which
makes all service sacred. In five and twenty years of life, these women
had so surrounded themselves, without knowing it or thinking of it, with
loyal, yes, adoring friends, that the accident of their finding a fixed
home had called in all at once this wealth of acknowledgment from those
whom they might have forgotten, but who would never forget them. And, by
the accident of our coming together, we saw, in these heaps on heaps of
offerings of love, some faint record of the lives they had enlivened,
the wounds they had stanched, the tears they had wiped away, and the
homes they had cheered. For themselves, the five saints--as I have
called them--were laughing and crying together, quite upset in the
surprise. For ourselves, there was not one of us who, in this little
visible display of the range of years of service, did not take in
something more of the meaning of,--
"He who will be chief among you, let him be your servant."
The surprise, the excitement, the laughter, and the tears found vent in
the children's eagerness to be led to their tree; and, in three minutes,
Ellen was opening boxes, and Huldah pulling fire-crackers, as if they
had not been thrown off their balance. But, when each boy and girl had
two arms full, and the fir balsam sent down from New Durham was nearly
bare, Edgar Bartlett pointed to the top bough, where was a brilliant
not noticed before. No one had noticed it,--not Seth himself,--who had
most of the other secrets of that house in his possession. I am sure
that no man, woman, or child knew how the thing came there: but Seth
lifted the little discoverer high in air, and he brought it down
triumphant. It was a parcel made up in shining silvered paper. Seth cut
It contained twelve Maltese crosses of gold, with as many jewels, one in
the heart of each,--I think the blazing twelve of the Revelations. They
were displayed on ribbons of blue and white, six of which bore Huldah's,
Helen's, Ellen Philbrick's, Hannah's, Miss Peters's, and Seth Corbet's
names. The other six had no names; but on the gold of these was
marked,--"From Huldah, to ----" "From Helen, to -----" and so on, as if
these were decorations which they were to pass along. The saints
themselves were the last to understand the decorations; but the rest of
us caught the idea, and pinned them on their breasts. As we did so, the
ribbons unfolded, and displayed the motto of the order:--
"Henceforth I call you not servants, I have called you friends."
It was at that Christmas that the "ORDER OF LOVING SERVICE" was born.