Page images
PDF
EPUB
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
[graphic]

URING the few weeks past, some of the hitherto disconnected threads of this nar rative have become curiously entangled, It is typical, perhaps, of the way in which lives and characters, apparently the most remote, will be found to have been intimate in relation and reciprocal in influence, when the day of knowing as we are known shall enlighten our souls.

To make you understand it all, I must go back to a certain morning near the end of August. What a morning it was! There had been a shower in the night, and the earth still fair with undimmed summer greenness and glory-seemed as daintily fresh and sweet as a newlywashed babe. The sight stirred Mrs. Prescott's instincts of neatness into renewed activity. Soon after breakfast, I heard her energetic footsteps overhead in the garret, mingled with enlivening sounds of brushing and scrubbing; and the staircase was quickly monopolized by a procession of brooms, dustpans, mops, pails of water, etc., of which Alice acted as the unwilling marshal, A little later, I heard the busy household reformer's voice projected from the garret window toward Mrs. Divine at the well-curb.

"You have no idea, mother, how nasty this garret is! I shouldn't suppose it had had a thorough cleaning out

since the year One. The dust is half an inch thick under the eaves, and there's cobweb enough hanging from the rafters to make a carpet for the floor, if 'twas all spun and Wove!"

"Um!" returned Mrs. Divine, in a tone to indicate that her mind was busy with some other subject, and declined to quit it for the consideration of the one thus brought to her notice.

"For my part," pursued Mrs. Prescott, seeing that no further response was to be hoped for, and with a slight accession of sharpness in her tone, "if there's anything I like, it's to be clean. I can't abide nastiness. I don't mean to wallow in the dirt till I'm buried in it. And that's the worst thing about being buried, to my mind; I'd rather be burnt up, or dissolved in a barrel of aqua fortis."

"Priscilla," remarked Mrs. Divine, mildly, yet not without a certain decision in her tone, "the garret's clean enough for my purpose, just as 'tis; if it ain't for yours, you've got the privilege of scrubbing it till it's suited to your mind. But don't expect me to bother about it; I've got my soap to attend to,-which you use up faster than I can make it. I reckon dirt is only one of the miseries that Eve brought on us by eating the apple, and I don't mean to spend all my strength in fighting that, so I shan't have any to bring to bear on the rest. When the earth gets too filthy for decent folks to live in, perhaps the Lord'll be good enough to send another deluge, and give it a good washing out."

"He's more likely to send a fire," rejoined Mrs. Prescott, grimly." And that reminds me, there's the greatest lot of old, useless trumpery up here that was ever got together; if I had my way, I'd make a bonfire of it. I can't think what you're saving it all for! Do let me clear some of it out!"

Mrs. Divine quickly let go the dripping bucket, and mounted the stairs, in terror for the safety of her cherished

accumulations. Some of that "trumpery," doubtless, was very closely entwined with her heart-strings. Time, while making it vulgar, dingy, and ridiculous to others, had apotheosized it to her sight. Moreover, it was better than a chronological table of her life.

At the foot of the garret stairs she stopped, as if struck by a sudden thought, and called out to me ;-"Miss Frost, if you've a mind to step up garret a minute, I guess I can show you something that'll interest you. There's a whole secretary full of curiosities up there, that brother Horace brought home from sea."

The secretary proved to be a time-battered combination of desk and bureau, such as was in vogue a century ago, minus two claw-feet, half the brass rings that did the duty of modern knobs, and the lid which had been convertible into a writing-table. The top was composed of the oddest little drawers and pigeon-holes; enough, it would seem, hopelessly to confuse the memory of whoever sought to make use of them ;—even a ghostly owner (and it must have had more than one) would need all his spiritual attributes to discover in which of them he had deposited his mortal secrets. Altogether, it looked just fit to be the repository of the curious medley stored within it,-shells, corals, uncut gems, coins, medals, buckles, amulets, seeds, weapons, African fetishes, and whatever of rare or curious the deceased captain (who appears to have had a very pretty taste in such matters) had been able to pick up during his lifelong employment, in one capacity or another, in the merchant service. Many an odd or obsolete knickknack, for which a virtuoso would give half his fortune, was here hidden; and likely to remain so till the dryrotted rafters overhead should fall and bury them in their ruins.

I was vainly trying to pick out and comprehend the curiously-recondite stitch of a piece of Fejeean embroidery, while listening to Mrs. Divine's animated rendition of ant

odd legend attached to it; when she broke off abruptly, and uttered an exclamation that instantly drew my atten tion. She was holding a letter up to the light—a large, thick letter, written on a sheet of extraordinary size, and folded and sealed as was customary before envelopes came. into use. The paper was yellow as parchment, and the seal was unbroken.

"If that don't beat all!" she cried.

"Here I've found

a letter stuck fast in the crack between the back and the bottom of that drawer; and the direction is in Horace's handwriting; and it's never been opened! And he died fifteen year ago, last spring! Can you make out that direction, Miss Frost? My spectacles don't seem to see quite so well as they used to."

I took the letter, and read, "Frederick Thorne, Esq., No. 49 Street, New Orleans.".

"Why, that's stranger yet!" exclaimed she, staring at me in great amaze. "That must be Mrs. Thorne's husband, who died eight or ten year ago, at least,—and I never heard Horace mention his name, and didn't suppose he knew him! A letter from a dead man to a dead man, and the seal never broke-it's not quite comfortable!" And Mrs. Divine looked around as if she half-expected one or the other of the interested parties to gather up his bones and his ashes, and whatever shadowy habiliments came to hand, and come forth from the dimmest corner of the garret to claim his forgotten property.

"What's the use of wasting so much time on the outside?" demanded Mrs. Prescott, impatiently. "Open it, and see what is in it."

Mrs. Divine looked at her, meditatively. "I don't feel certain I've got any right to do that," she answered slowly; "I reckon Mrs. Thorne or Rick's got the best right to open Mr. Thorne's letters."

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mrs. Prescott,-"when the person the letter is written to, is dead, it's always sent back to the writer."

"When he's alive," returned Mrs. Divine,-" but, you see, Horace ain't. And it's beat into my mind, somehow, that he never wrote to Mr. Thorne, except on Thorne's own business. And I don't feel no call to pry into that man's affairs, dead or alive."

Mrs. Prescott launched another suggestion. "Most likely Horace concluded not to send it, after 'twas written."

Mrs. Divine gave it a momentary consideration, and shook her head. "If he had, he would have destroyed it. No, no, Priscilla; either he thought 'twas sent; or he was taken away before he had a chance to send it. You remember he died on a return voyage, within sight of port."

The matter was finally referred to Uncle True. Having turned the letter over and over, spelled out its address, weighed it on his palm, and balanced it on his forefinger, the wood-pile philosopher decided thus:

"If a man's doin's died with him, and was buried five foot under ground, as he is,-the best thing to do with such a letter as this, 'ud be to put it right inter the middle of a good, hot fire, and look t'other way while the ashes was agoin' up chimney. But we're all links in a chain, and it don't do to let go of one on 'em till it's hitched on to another. A man's papers gen'rally does that. There's one chance to nine that this letter was meant to do suthin' o' that sort. And we mustn't send that chance a scurryin' up chimney in smoke. Put on your bonnet, Hannah, and go up to Mis' Thorne, and you and she open the letter together."

Mrs. Divine looked aghast. "Land sakes! I can't do any such thing! I'm right in the thick of soapmaking."

66

Wall, send Priscilly, then."

It was Mrs Prescott's turn to demur.

"What! and leave all that muss on the stairs and up garret! Not for forty letters! I shan't stop and dress up

« PreviousContinue »