I WANT an excuse to myself for writing my own life; an excuse for the indulgence of going it all over again, as I have so often gone over bits. It has not been more remarkable than thousands of others. Yet every life has in it a thread of present truth and possible glory. Let me follow out the truth to the glory.
The first bright years of my childhood I will pass. They were childishly bright. They lasted till my eleventh summer. Then the light of heavenly truth was woven in with the web of my mortal existence; and whatever the rest of the web has been, those golden threads have always run through it all the rest of the way. Just as I reached my birthday that summer and was ten years old, I became a Christian.
For the rest of that summer I was a glad child. The brightness of those days is a treasure safe locked up in a chamber of my memory. I have known other glad times too in my life; other times of even higher enjoyment. But among all the dried flowers of my memory, there is not one that keeps a fresher perfume or a stronger scent of its life than this one. Those were the days without cloud; before life shadows had begun to cast their blackness over the landscape. And even though such shadows do go as well as come, and leave the intervals as sunlit as ever; yet after that change of the first life shadow is once seen, it is impossible to forget that it may come again and darken the sun. I do not mean that the days of that summer were absolutely without things to trouble me; I had changes of light and shade; but, on the whole, nothing that did not heighten the light. They were pleasant days that I had in Juanita's cottage at the time when my ankle was broken; there were hours of sweetness with crippled Molly; and it was simply delight I had all alone with my pony Loupe, driving over the sunny and shady roads, free to do as I liked and go where I liked. And how I enjoyed studying English history with my cousin Preston. It is all stowed away in my heart, as fresh and sweet as at first. I will not pull it out now. The change, and my first real life shadow came, when my father was thrown from his horse and injured his head. Then the doctors decided he must go abroad and travel, and mamma decided that it was best that I should go to Magnolia with Aunt Gary and have a governess.
There is no pleasure in thinking of those weeks. They went very slowly, and yet very fast; while I counted every minute and noted every step in the preparations. They were all over at last; my little world was gone from me; and I was left alone with Aunt Gary.
Her preparations had been made too; and the day after the steamer sailed we set off on our journey to the south. I do not know much about that journey. The things by the way were like objects in a mist to me and no more clearly discerned. Now and then there came a rift in the mist; something woke me up out of my sorrow-dream; and of those points and of what struck my eyes at those minutes I have a most intense and vivid recollection. I can feel yet the still air of one early morning's start, and hear the talk between my aunt and the hotel people about the luggage. My aunt was a great traveller and wanted no one to help her or manage for her. I remember acutely a beggar who spoke to us on the sidewalk at Washington. We stayed over a few days in Washington, and then hurried on; for when she was on the road my Aunt Gary lost not a minute. We went, I presume, as fast as we could without travelling all night; and our last day's journey added that too.
By that time my head was getting steadied, perhaps, from the grief which had bewildered it; or grief was settling down and taking its proper place at the bottom of my heart, leaving the surface as usual. For twelve hours that day we went by a slow railway train through a country of weary monotony. Endless forests of pine seemed all that was to be seen; scarce ever a village; here and there a miserable clearing and forlorn-looking house; here and there stoppages of a few minutes to let somebody out or take somebody in; once, to my great surprise, a stop of rather more than a few minutes to accommodate a lady who wanted some flowers gathered for her. I was surprised to see flowers wild in the woods at that time of year, and much struck with the politeness of the railway train that was willing to delay for such a reason. We got out of the car for dinner, or for a short rest at dinner-time. My aunt had brought her lunch in a basket. Then the forests and the rumble of the cars began again. At one time the pine forests were exchanged for oak, I remember; after that, nothing but pine.
It was late in the day, when we left the cars at one of those solitary wayside station-houses. I shall never forget the look and feeling of the place. We had been for some miles going through a region of swamp or swampy woods, where sometimes the rails were laid on piles in the water. This little station-house was in the midst of such a region. The woods were thick and tangled with vines everywhere beyond the edge of the clearing; the ground was wet beneath them, and in places showed standing water. There was scarcely a clearing; the forest was all round the house; with only the two breaks in it where on one side and on the other the iron rail track ran off into the distance. It was a lonely place; almost nobody was there waiting for the train; one or two forlorn coloured people and a long lank-looking countryman, were all. Except what at first prevented my seeing anything else – my cousin Preston. He met me just as I was going to get down from the car; lifted me to the platform, and then with his looks and words almost broke up the composure which for several days had been growing upon me. It was not hardened yet to bear attacks. I was like a poor shell-fish, which, having lost one coat of armour and defence, craves a place of hiding and shelter for itself until its new coat be grown. While he was begging me to come into the station-house and rest, I stood still looking up the long line of railway by which we had come, feeling as if my life lay at the other end of it, out of sight and quite beyond reach. Yet I asked him not to call me "poor" Daisy. I was very tired, and I suppose my nerves not very steady. Preston said we must wait at that place for another train; there was a fork in the road beyond, and this train would not go the right way. It would not take us to Baytown. So he had me into the station-house.
It wearied me and so did all that my eyes lighted upon, strange though it was. The bare room, not clean; the board partition, with swinging doors, behind which, Preston said, were the cook and the baker! the untidy waiting girls that came and went, with scant gowns and coarse shoes, and no thread of white collar to relieve the dusky throat and head rising out of the dark gown, and no apron at all. Preston did what he could. He sent away the girls with their trays of eatables; he had a table pulled out from the wall and wiped off, and then he ordered a supper of eggs, and johnny cake, and all sorts of things. But I could not eat. As soon as supper was over I went out on the platform to watch the long lines of railway running off through the forest, and wait for the coming train. The evening fell while we looked; the train was late; and at last when it came I could only know it in the distance by the red spark of its locomotive gleaming like a firefly.
It was a freight train, there was but one passenger car, and that was full. We got seats with difficulty, and apart from each other. I hardly know whether that, or anything, could have made me more forlorn. I was already stiff and weary with the twelve hours of travelling we had gone through that day; inexpressibly weary in heart. It seemed to me that I could not long endure the rumble and the jar and the closeness of this last car. The passengers, too, had habits which made me draw my clothes as tight around me as I could, and shrink away mentally into the smallest compass possible. I had noticed the like, to be sure, ever since we left Washington; but to-night, in my weary, faint, and tired-out state of mind and body every unseemly sight or sound struck my nerves with a sense of pain that was hardly endurable. I wondered if the train would go on all night; it went very slowly. And I noticed that nobody seemed impatient or had the air of expecting that it would soon find its journey's end. I felt as if I could not bear it many half hours. My next neighbour was a fat, good-natured, old lady, who rather made matters worse by putting her arm round me and hugging me up, and begging me to make a pillow of her and go to sleep. My nerves were twitching with impatience and the desire for relief; when suddenly the thought came to me that I might please the Lord by being patient. I remember what a lull the thought of Him brought; and yet how difficult it was not to be impatient, till I fixed my mind on some Bible words – they were the words of the twenty-third Psalm – and began to think and pray them over. So good they were, that by and by they rested me. I dropped asleep and forgot my aches and weariness until the train arrived at Baytown.
They took me to a hotel, then, and put me to bed, and I did not get up for several days. I must have been feverish, for my fancies wandered incessantly in unknown places with papa, in regions of the old world; and sometimes, I think, took both him and myself to rest and home where wanderings are over. After a few days this passed away. I was able to come downstairs, and both Preston and his mother did their best to take good care of me. Especially Preston. He brought me books, and fruit, and birds to tempt me to eat, and was my kind and constant companion when his mother was out, and indeed when she was in, too. So I got better by the help of oranges and rice-birds. I could have got better faster, but for my dread of a governess which was hanging over me. I heard nothing about her and could not bear to ask. One day Preston brought the matter up and asked if Daisy was going to have a school-mistress?
"Certainly," my Aunt Gary said. "She must be educated, you know."
"I don't know," said Preston; "but if they say so, I suppose she must. Who is it to be, mamma?"
"You do not know anything about it," said Aunt Gary. "If my son was going to marry the greatest heiress in the State; and she is very nearly that – goodness! I did not see you were there, Daisy, my dear; but it makes no difference; – I should think it proper that she should be educated."
"I can't see what her being an heiress should have to do with it," said Preston, "except rather to make it unnecessary as well as a bore. Who is it, mamma?"
"I have recommended Miss Pinshon."
"Oh, then, it is not fixed yet."
"Yes, it is fixed. Miss Pinshon is coming as soon as we get to Magnolia."
"I'll be off before that," said Preston. "Who is Miss Pinshon?"
"How should you know? She has lived at Jessamine Bank, – educated the Dalzell girls."
"What sort of a person, mamma!"
"What sort of a person?" said my Aunt Gary; "why a governess sort of a person. What sort should she be."
"Any other sort in the world," said Preston, "for my money. That is just the sort to worry poor little Daisy out of her life."
"You are a foolish boy!" said Aunt Gary. "Of course if you fill Daisy's head with notions, she will not get them out again. If you have anything of that sort to say, you had better say it where she will not hear."
"Daisy has eyes – and a head," said Preston.
As soon as I was able for it Preston took me out for short walks; and as I grew stronger he made the walks longer. The city was a strange place to me; very unlike New York; there was much to see and many a story to hear; and Preston and I enjoyed ourselves. Aunt Gary was busy making visits, I think. There was a beautiful walk by the sea which I liked best of all; and when it was not too cold my greatest pleasure was to sit there looking over the dark waters and sending my whole soul across them to that unknown spot where my father and mother were. "Home," that spot was to me. Preston did not know what I liked the Esplanade for; he sometimes laughed at me for being poetic and meditative; when I was only sending my heart over the water. But he was glad to please me in all that he could; and whenever it was not too cold, our walks always took me there.
One day, sitting there, I remember we had a great argument about studying. Preston began with saying that I must not mind this governess that was coming, nor do anything she bade me unless I liked it. As I gave him no answer, he repeated what he had said.
"You know, Daisy, you are not obliged to care what she thinks."
I said I thought I was.
"What for?" said Preston.
"I have a great deal to learn you know," I said, feeling it very gravely indeed in my little heart.
"What do you want to know so much?" said Preston.
I said, everything. I was very ignorant.
"You are no such thing," said Preston. "Your head is full this minute. I think you have about as much knowledge as is good for you. I mean to take care that you do not get too much."
"O Preston," said I, "that is very wrong. I have not any knowledge scarcely."
"There is no occasion," said Preston stoutly. "I hate learned women."
"Don't you like to learn things?"
"That's another matter," said he. "A man must know things, or he can't get along. Women are different."
"But I think it is nice to know things too," said I. "I don't see how it is different."
"Why, a woman need not be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a professor," said Preston; "all she need do, is to have good sense and dress herself nicely."
"Is dressing so important?" said I, with a new light breaking over me.
"Certainly. Ribbons of the wrong colour will half kill a woman. And I have heard Aunt Randolph say that a particular lady was ruined by her gloves."
"Ruined by her gloves!" said I. "Did she buy so many?"
Preston went into such a laugh at that, I had to wait some time before I could go on. I saw I had made some mistake, and I would not renew that subject.
"Do you mean to be anything of that sort?" I said, with some want of connection.
"What sort? Ruined by my gloves? Not if I know it."