Of Barbara Hicks
by Robert C. Meyers
When I looked under her bonnet I perceived a face that was more to my mind
than any face I had ever before seen. Perhaps it was wrong for me to think
so much about a face; but it was borne in upon me that such a well-favored
countenance must of necessity come from a still more well-favored manner
of life; for a face, to me, is only the reflex of the inner workings of
Life, and to this day I doubt if I could sit down and describe fully the
shape or moulding of any one particular feature of that face, for it was
not the face, but the expression that formed it, that inclined me toward
it. I was a stranger in the place, and but newly come, and my name had
forerun me in kindly writings from many friends, so that I may often have
been mentioned in households where I had never been seen. But I went to
Barbara Hicks's father, and informed him how considerably my mind inclined
me toward his daughter, and that I would, if he permitted me, ask to be
better known unto her. "Thee is over young to think of marriage, friend
Biddle," said he.
I felt a burning sensation mounting to my face, and I could only say in
reply, "Verily. But the heart of youth is lonely—more so than the heart
of age, and it looks upon all Nature for companionship."
"Thy mingling with the world's people has made thee glib of tongue," said
he, eyeing me, and smiling as much as was seemly.
"But I am not of the world's people, if thee means the flaunters of
various colors and loud-voiced nothings. And I do not think of
marriage—nay, will not—until thy daughter has taken me into full
acquaintanceship and approbation. Thee knows I am not advanced in the
world's wealth, and that I am but a beginner in manhood; thee knows that I
came here and set up as a lumberman; thee may or may not care to have thy
daughter to know me."
"I care as much as beseems any father to bethink him of his child's
welfare. Come with me, Samuel Biddle."
So he fetched me into the sizable sunny kitchen where Barbara was
preparing vegetables for the dinner.
"This is friend Samuel Biddle," said he.
"I am pleased to see thee," said she, "and if thee waits until I dry my
fingers I will shake hands with thee."
Youth is ever impetuous. In my haste or foolish confusion I took her hand
as it was, and had the mortified pride of seeing a long potato-paring
hanging about my thumb when she had resumed her occupation.
"Thee is overly quick," said her father, rather displeased, I thought.
"Thee must pardon me: it is a habit I have."
"Habits are bad things to have."
"Thank thee," I said.
I know that unnecessary words are wholly unlooked for amongst us Friends,
and that description of any part of the Lord's works is as unnecessary and
carries with it as little of what we mean as can be. Incidents are greater
than description, as the telling to me how a tree looked when it was in
full foliage is not near so incisive as that the tree fell with a great
crash during a storm in the night. Therefore it would be using needless
language, which a Friend's discipline enjoins him to beware of, for me to
say how friend Hicks's daughter might have seemed to those to whom I
wished to impart how she seemed to me; rather let some various incidents
provide their estimate of her. That one of the world's people might say
she was pleasant to look upon I have no doubt; but to me she was not
beautiful: she was only what I would have had her to be; and that which is
entirely as we would have it to be is never beautiful: it is too near us
to be that. I cared well to be with her while her father bided near and
talked to me of the community I had left, and which had given me my
certificate to friend Hicks's Meeting. And yet I fear me that I made
several dubious replies to his many trite questions as we sat on the porch
in the quiet of the evening, for friend Barbara's eyes were upon me, and
she had a little dint in either cheek which affected me amazingly. (I have
heard such dints called dimples—by whom, I cannot say.) She had a most
extraordinary way of miscomprehending all that I said, and frequently
appealing to her father; so I perforce must repeat all that I had before
said, which often forced me into much confusion of words, which seemed to
make her dints more deep than usual. Then the quiet of her home after a
busy day of traffic and bargaining and buying and selling was infinitely
composing to my mind. There were trees all about the house, and some
orderly flowers—more of the herb species, I think, than the decorative.
There were faint sounds coming from distant places, and when a great many
stars were come and the wind waved the branches of the trees, the stars
looked, as one might say, like tiny musical lamps set among the leaves,
they seemed so many and so bright there, and the distant sounds so
pleasant. I am not, as a usual thing, a noticing man, but while friend
Hicks's daughter was within a few feet of me it seemed I noticed
everything with considerable acuteness. I think this may be accounted for
on the score that I was trying to notice something which failed me as I
searched for it; and that was, if I were to Barbara what Barbara was to
me. She was too friendly, and yet I would have her friendly: she was too
cheerful, and yet I would have her cheerful. I bethink me that I would
rather that her friendliness and cheerfulness might in a measure depend
upon me for existence. I think I came too often to friend Hicks's house,
although he understood me.
"Thee is a most persistent young man," he said to me.
"Does thee think too much so?" I asked.
"Nay, friend Biddle: persistency is an excellent quality which is most
praiseworthy in youth."
"And does thee think that persistency will gain me a wife?"
"Thee had better depend upon thyself more than upon persistency in such an
issue," he said, with the corners of his mouth much depressed.
"Does thee think I might venture to offer myself to thy daughter for a
"Nay. A husband never offers himself to his wife: the gift should be so
valuable that she would willingly exchange herself for it."
"Will thy daughter think so?"
"May I be emboldened to ask her?"
"Thy mind must tell thee better than my lips," he said.
Then I watched him going down among the trees and the shadows, and I sat,
much perturbed in spirit, waiting for Barbara. When she did come I had not
one word to say. I only remember that I sat with one leg crossed over the
other, and wished I could perchance cross the right one over the left
instead of the left over the right, and yet I had not the power to do so.
I was sure my brain was playing me false, for things seemed utterly at
variance with possibilities.
"Thee seems shaken, friend Biddle," said she.
"Nay," I responded.
"Thee certainly is. I trust thy business is prospering, and that thy mind
is not set too much upon any one thing."
"Can I do anything for thee?"
So I could not say one word. Friend Barbara took up her knitting, and I
saw that she was rounding the heel of a stocking; and I trust I am
truthful, if volatile, when I remember me that I wished I were her
knitting-needle. She was very quiet: her ball of yarn slipped away,
lacking proper gravitation. "My!" said she, and went and fetched it.
"Has thee ill news from thy people?" she asked, rather restive under my
"They are happily easy," said I.
Then she was quiet.
I bethought me that I had my hat in my hand, and would rise to put it upon
my head and say farewell, but I could not.
"Thee does not seem so comfortable as thee might be," said she.
"I am comfortable," I said.
Then her yarn rolled away again. Again she said, "My!" and fetched it.
"Is thee waiting for father?" she asked.
"Nay," said I.
I think she grew more restive under the silence: I arose. "Farewell," said
"Farewell," said she; and the dints in her cheeks were extreme: they were
the only dints about her, everything else being so prim and gray and
well-ordered, while these were—quite different.
Her father came in just then. I went boldly to him. "Friend Hicks," I said
very loud, "will thee ask thy daughter to marry me?"
"Can thee not ask?"
"Nay: I have tried, but I fail. I never asked such a thing before, and,
belike, thee has."
"Necessarily," said he.
Then he asked Barbara. "Does thee quite approve friend Biddle?" asked she.
"Necessarily," he answered as before.
"Then, Samuel Biddle, I will be thy wife," said she.
"Thank thee, friend Barbara," I said, and shook hands with her father.
"Thee may shake hands with Barbara," said he.
And I did. I fear me that she looked with a less demure look into my face
as I did so: I think she might have cared to have me hold her hand a
little longer than I did.
But her father said, "Thee has attended to thy business: now bear me out
in mine. What is thy income? when can I see thy father and mother?"
It was most gratifying on next First Day to go to meeting and sit beside
friend Hicks. Far over on the women's side I think I knew which woman was
Barbara. And meeting was stiller than ever, and more like the Lord's
meaning of holiness; or it was the stillness upon my spirit that needed no
divine Feet to tread it down and say, "Peace, be still!" I had reached the
peace beyond understanding saving to those who likewise possess it:
something that was greater to me than myself had come to me and called
itself all my own. There was a most able discourse from friend Broomall
that day, but I heard so little of it I have scarce the right to criticise
some of his comments. The windows were all open, and the sound of the
breeze that flapped the casement and the far-away lowing of a cow were
very pleasant—indeed, almost grievingly pleasant. And butterflies came in
and out, and were bright and soothing. Friend Hicks was soothed and slept
profoundly all the while: he awoke and said that friend Broomall had been
most cogent in his reasoning. I, who had heard so little, said, "Verily."
After meeting, Barbara walked home, and I walked with her. I doubt if I
ever cared for flowers and blue skies and little singing birds as I did on
that placid First Day—my own First Day!
"Thee was most attentive during meeting, Samuel Biddle," said she.
"Thank thee. So was thee," said I.
"How does thee know?"
"I fear I watched thee."
"Thee might have been better employed."
"How did thee know that I was attentive?"
"Like thee, I think I watched thee."
"Thank thee, Barbara Hicks."
"The same to thee, Samuel Biddle."
I think all this made me most kindly disposed toward the whole world. We
reached home shortly, and Barbara poured tea for me during dinner-time,
and made it very sweet—sweeter than I had ever accustomed myself to take
tea, though I deemed it more than admirable. After dinner friend Hicks
said the flies were troublous that time of the day. We were on the porch,
friend Hicks, his daughter and myself. I suggested that he might be less
troubled did he cover his face with his handkerchief.
"Thee is thoughtful," said he, and did so with an odd look in his face;
and I saw that he had left a small corner of the handkerchief turned over,
so that his left eye was not out of view. Barbara was in a chair next to
mine, only considerably removed, and her father was on the other side of
me. We were very quiet, and Barbara said it was a most likely day. I said
yes—that I never remembered such another day. I heard friend Hicks give
infallible tokens of sleep; I knew the flies troubled him considerably; so
I thought it well to reach over and turn the corner of his handkerchief
over his exposed eye. Then I placed my chair closer to Barbara's.
Everybody knew we should marry each other from that First Day when I had
sat with friend Hicks and walked home with Barbara afterward. Friend
Broomall welcomed me to the Monthly Meeting with many cordial expressions,
and spoke conciliatingly of the marriage state. It was most pleasant to me
when I walked betimes to see friend Barbara, and mayhap conversed during
the entire evening with her father about the lumber business or the
tariff, or some such subject: at such times I think my mind was not within
my speech, and that as often as modesty permitted I would look toward
Barbara. I am fully cognizant that I often tried to change the current of
argument by sometimes turning and saying, "Is it not the opinion of thee,
friend Barbara?" at some trite words from her father. "Thee knows a woman
understands so little of these various themes," she would say; and I would
grow restive. Yet friend Hicks grew more well-disposed toward me, and
cared to talk much of himself to me; which always shows that a man thinks
well of thee. I bethink me that if Barbara's mother had lived some things
might have been different, and that perchance she might have claimed her
husband's attention away from me a little, and monopolized an hour or so
of his time each evening: women have a species of inner seeing which most
men lack to a great degree. And yet, to show my fuller confidence in
friend Hicks, I said to him once, "I wish thee to take charge of all my
savings and earnings. Thee knows I shall be a married man some time, and
till then I would much desire thee to care for these moneys."
"Can thee not take proper charge of what thee has collected?"
"Yea. But my wife's father should understand the state of my finances."
"Set not thy mind too much upon riches, Samuel Biddle."
"Is thy daughter not worth any mere worldly riches I could accumulate?"
"Favor is deceitful, and a woman should never put ill thoughts into a
"Did thee not hope for money as I do when thee was young and knew the
woman who would be thy wife?"
"Samuel Biddle, I will do this for thee, as thee asks. Thee has grown upon
me much of late, and even as I once hoped, so it is meet that thee should
So I gave my savings and earnings into his keeping; and when I had gone
away to the lumber-regions I sent the money just the same.
"I thank thee for trusting father so much," said Barbara when we met after
this, and quite smiled in my face.
"Thy father trusts me beyond my trust in him in letting thee into my
keeping," I said.
"My!" said she. And we stood together for some little time, looking at
nothing in particular. And yet it was borne in upon me that friend Barbara
rarely thought of me when I was not present with her. I doubt much that
this should have given annoyance, for why should we pry into another's
thoughts? And yet it rankled in my bosom, and I could but feel that I knew
the truth. I should have liked her to think much of me, in sooth: I should
have liked her to think of me while she knitted the stockings in the
bright leafy porch or walked among her garden-herbs, or when she was busy
over her household cares. It was the vain-glorious feeling of youth which
prompted this doubt in me, but in youth vain-glory is what wisdom is in
I bethink me that I have said "friend Barbara" at some parts of this
narration, at others simply "Barbara." I may do so again and yet again. It
is and will be just as she appeared to me at the times whereof I set it
About this time—say three months after the First Day whereof I have
spoken—a very advantageous business-offer reached me from the
lumber-regions: I was to go there for a matter of six months, and I
should, perchance, be well remunerated for the going. I turned this matter
well over in my mind before I let it slip into another mind, and when I
deemed that I was resolute in forming and retaining my own set opinion I
imparted the knowledge to friend Hicks.
"Thee will assuredly go?" said he.
"Verily," I replied, and looked at Barbara, and saw that she knitted just
as actively and deftly as usual. This did not please me quite, for I
should have liked to see her pause and look up with much interest
manifested. But nay: she was ever the same. I could not guard my vain
tongue as I should have done; so, forgetting even her father's presence, I
said, "Friend Barbara, is thee sorry to see me go?"
"Thee knows what is best for thee to do," said she.
"But is thee sorry?"
"I am not sorry."
"Perhaps thy mind is not inclined to me as much as I had hoped?" I said
with considerable hot-headedness.
"Thee is to me what thee has ever been—neither more nor less."
"Barbara!" said her father with a high-raised voice.
She started up before him, her face very much increased in color, and she
folded her arms above her kerchief. "Father," she said, "if thee thinks I
am old enough to marry, I think I am old enough to form an opinion of my
own. Had I been in Samuel Biddle's place, and an offer of change of
residence had been proffered to me, I should first have gone to the woman
who was to be my wife and told her the bearings of the case, and let her
tell her father: I should never have gone to her father first."
She would have gone from the room, but her father called her back and bade
her resume her sewing; which she did, though I saw her neckerchief rise
and fall as though her heart were unusually perturbed beneath it.
"Is thee grown perverse?" said her father angrily.
"Nay," she answered. "I am my father's daughter: my will is my own."
"This to me?" he said.
"Friend Hicks," said I, in much pain, "I pray thee let me go: I have
unwittingly caused this. It has been because I set my mind so wilfully
upon thy daughter that I forgot all else but her, and had not the courage
to say to her what I did to thee."
He spoke long and earnestly to me then, and when we looked around Barbara
had quietly quitted the room.
But as I went sore of spirit down the lane on my way home she suddenly
faced me. There were marks upon her face as of the stains of drops of
water, and her eyes, I perceived, were heavy and swollen. "Will thee
forgive me, Samuel Biddle?" said she.
"I should ask that of thee," I replied.
"Thee knows I was headstrong," she said, taking my sleeve in her hand.
"Not more so than I, for I made up my mind to marry thee, and, I fear me,
thought more of myself than of thee." She looked with compassion, I
thought, upon me.
"I would be thy wife, no matter what comes," said she.
"Feeling for me all that a wife should feel for her husband?"
Then I stood by Barbara while she wiped her eyes upon my sleeve.
For a day or so I felt constrained at friend Hicks's house, but when I saw
his daughter the same as usual, kind and considerate—perhaps more
considerate than usual to me—I bethought me that perchance a Friend is at
times a trifle too circumspect in his words, a trifle too circumscribed in
his actions. He must be seemly in his carriage and speech, must not allow
unbecoming emotion to prey upon him, must build the body from the spirit,
and not the spirit from the body. I had tried to do all these, and yet
there were times when sensation overpowered calculation, and it would have
afforded me peace to have held friend Barbara within my arms and said many
foolish and irrelevant words, and heard such words from her. Sometimes it
seems to me that three feet apart, two feet, one, two inches, one, is too
much from one who is exceedingly much to us: the mere touch of hand to
hand, unmeaning as such a thing is, may be infinitely more than a mere
gratification of sense. Still, I would not have it understood that I am a
militant spirit, fond of what stubborn folk term "progression," nor would
I throw aside any of the rules which have been mine and those of many
generations of ancestors who followed George Fox and knew his intents to
be pure withal.
But I was to go away East now, and my preparations were completed.
"I hope thee will bear in mind that I shall often think of thee, friend
Barbara," I said on the last evening I should see her for a long time.
The dints in her face looked very comely as she answered, "I shall, friend
"And thee will think of me?"
"I always do," she said. And yet this was not what I had much desired,
although I must perforce be contented. I knew, though, that distance would
only make her closer to me in spirit, and that I should be kinder to all
women for her sake—that I should pity all helplessness for her sake; for
where the mind inclineth most favorably, where gentleness and sweetness
for another is borne in upon us, we invariably associate that other with a
sort of tender helplessness which can only be made into perfect strength
by ourselves. And then I had grown to have a species of fear for Barbara:
it was as though she were greater than I, although I could reason down
this foolish ebullition in the calm knowledge that the Lord made all
beings equal. Mayhaps, had I been assured in my mind that she should not
only think of me from necessity, arising out of our long companionship
and near relation, but that she should care well to call to mind my
absent form and features and voice and presence, and her own want of me, I
should have left friend Hicks's house with lithesome spirit and much
happiness. However, I thought, my being away for six months might cause
her to miss me; and we never miss what is not of great account to us.
"May I write letters to thee, Barbara?" I asked.
"Thee must gain father's consent," she said.
So I asked friend Hicks—only I asked it in this way: "May Barbara write
letters to me?"
"I will write thee all that is necessary, as thee will write me: what
more is needful?" answered friend Hicks.
So, as I went away, and it was Seventh Day, and the world seemed expecting
the morrow, when the world's peace should be personified in public praise
and a cessation from labor and earthly thought, I stood in the shadow and
took friend Hicks's hand.
"I trust thee may be successful," said he.
"I think any man may be successful in this world's affairs," I said.
"There is such a thing as suffering and pain which the Lord sends."
"Nay, friend Hicks," I said, "I am lately thinking that peradventure the
Lord sends not pain to our earthly bodies, or else that pain would be a
trial and a punishment; whereas I may look around and see dumb animals and
little singing birds die of suffering and pain; and surely the Lord
inflicts no punishment on things he cannot be displeased with. Suffering
and pain are the worms of the earth, the penalties of earthly life, which
has more of the world in it than heaven."
"I trust thee will not be arbitrary in time, friend Biddle," said he,
But Barbara placed her hand in mine. "Samuel Biddle," said she, "may a
man's suffering and pain be a woman sometimes?"
"Belike," I answered, and could say no more.
"Then I say I trust thee shall be free from grievousness all thy life if I
can keep thee so."
"Thee can," I said.
"I will," she said.
"Fare thee well, friend Biddle."
I almost stumbled over a man as I hurried out by the gate. "I beg thy
pardon, friend," I said.
"I beg yours, sir," he answered. I looked, and saw that he was a hireling
minister with a white cloth at his neck and an unhappily-cut coat. And he
raised his hand to his hat and said, "I am but new in this neighborhood: I
am the pastor of the church newly erected here."
"Peace be unto thee, man of the Lord!" I said.
"And to you, my friend!" he answered.
And I had but time to reach the station and take my place in the car that
whirled me away from where my mind was so constantly set.
It was but natural and wholly consistent that I should choose an
unassuming and grave lodging-house on my arrival at the place of my
destination; for, apart from my predilection of religious tenets, quietude
is closely allied to much thought; and while my training had made me
desire the quietude as a part and portion of the best of life, friend
Barbara had made thought inexpressibly pleasant and wholesome to me. There
were men all around me who had, perhaps, little or no thought of
religion—that is, the emotion of religion, which is so often confounded
with religion itself—yet when I made known my wishes of a quiet home to
them they assisted me without the usual looking askance at my plain garb
and manner of speech. Was I not a man like themselves? were not my
functions as their own? Take away what each of us looked upon as faults in
the other, and we were equals and alike. I made my request boldly: had I
minced the matter and felt a shame in it, I might have merited all the
ridicule which men morally and physically strong, or men morally and
physically diseased, usually throw upon a conscious weakness which would
pass for something else. I was recommended to many houses, only they all
had the great drawback—many other lodgers. At last some one proposed Jane
Afton's house: that was quiet enough, they assured me, but the greatest
objection to any paled when in comparison with this: she had a demented
woman in charge—harmless, but wholly astray from sense.
"I assure thee," I said to friend Afton, "I fear not the minds of people:
the body does the harm in this world."
"In that case you have come to the right house," said she. "For Fanny
Jordan is a little, slight woman without strength, and her insanity is
And so on my first day in the place I found my lodging-house. It might
have been more conciliating to my mind had friend Afton not attempted the
use of the plain language, for she made but a sorry attempt at it at best.
"Thee's trunk is arrived, and thee's hat-box is smashed by the lout of a
boy that brought it," she said; and this is merely a specimen of her
manner. It was grating upon me, but I forbore to make remark, as I have no
doubt her principle was all that could be desired, although it was faulty
in its constructive carrying out. I may safely say that I did not remember
there was another lodger besides myself in her house when I retired for
the night, and I was sitting at the little table in my room moved by a
power of mind to think past many miles, even unto the home of friend
Hicks. I saw him sitting by the kitchen-fire that was so warm and large in
its dimensions—for it was cold weather now—and on the opposite side of
the hearth his daughter on a low chair was busy looking into the flame
that lit up the smooth bands of her hair that lay like satin of a soft
brown color upon her comely face. Her eyes were bright, her lips were
parting as one who jests, and—But I fear me I have run beyond sense
again. Suffice it to say that I sat there culpably lost in thought, when
a solemn voice like the voice of a prophet of old startled me and made me
"Out of tribulation comes patience; out of patience, hope," said the
voice; and then a low, scornful laugh. It was then I remembered the poor
demented woman, and I arose and opened my room-door. She was standing
inside her own room, a slight pale woman with a sadly-bereaved face: her
arms were stretched out above her as one in supplication. "False God!" she
cried in a voice cold and bitter, in which there was no trace of
tenderness or pitiful earnestness, "Thou hast made me a lie upon Thy cruel
earth. Tribulation Thou hast given me; patience the world forced upon me;
hope Thou hast denied me."
Still with her arms outstretched she spoke to the Lord and reviled Him.
She clenched her hands in anger at times as her speech waxed more
wrathful. In much compassion I would have gone in and closed the door, but
as I was on the point of doing so, she, with one of those quick and
nervous thrills that so often belong to dementia, saw me and pointed to
me. She would have spoken, but I saw friend Afton's hand suddenly close
about her waist, draw her forcibly from my view, and close the door
"The Lord is mighty," I said to myself, and called to mind that youth
among the tombs so long ago—that youth that they of old said was
possessed of devils, and whom the pitying Man of Sorrows called upon to be
free from torments.
In the morning friend Afton explained that I need have no fear.
"I think thee fails to comprehend that we Friends neglect one thing in our
training, and that is fear," said I.
"And poor Mrs. Jordan won't make thou look for another boarding-house,
sir?" asked she.
"Friend Jordan assuredly will not," said I, "but friend Afton may, if thee
will pardon my abruptness, which seems to wound thee."
"Thee has thy language, friend—I have mine. I do not stop to say 'you'
to thee because thy mode is not as mine: then thee might be as free with
me, and say 'you' to me, just as thee would if my plain garb were changed
for a Joseph's coat."
"I thought I was polite in doing it," said she.
"Thank thee. Thee may be that, but thee is scarcely truthful; and all due
politeness, as thee terms it, must be truthful, or it is called deceit."
She understood me, and she was natural thereafter.
Now perhaps I chafed in spirit at this time because I heard no word from
friend Hicks. I am convinced at this present moment that had he felt it
borne in upon him to indite me some words of homely comfort, I should have
been gratified exceedingly. But his mind lay otherwise presumably, for no
word came for a week.
Once during that week I saw friend Jordan walking wearisomely along the
passage-way of friend Afton's house. She gave me a quick look as she saw
me ascending the stair. "Ishmael!" she said.
"Nay," I responded: "no man's hand is against me, nor is mine against any
"And yet I am Hagar weeping in the wilderness."
"I pity thee."
"You are a Quaker."
"I am a Friend."
"And you believe in God?"
"Yea, verily. The voice of the Lord in the vineyard calleth me ever."
"Fool! There is no God."
"Nay, I am no fool. 'The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.'
And I never say that."
"I used to think that, but God has taken away my life, and left me the
life of the damned."
"The Lord taketh no man's life: He giveth, and man destroyeth."
"I like you, Quaker. You don't say 'Never mind,' and give me right in all
I say. Yes, I like you, Quaker."
"I thank thee, friend," I said, and passed by her and entered my room.
As time went on I grew accustomed to hearing her at all hours of the night
repeating passages from the Scriptures, and misapplying their calm
greatness. I could hear her open her window, and could see from mine that
she stood there talking to the stars, and asking them where was the woman
that had been she, and where was her own dear love and unalterable
affection? I could see that she wept often, and that the tears ran down
her white wan face all pinched by suffering, and that she supplicated the
night in tender words to bring back to her what had gone away—what had
I was alone in this place: the people were not such as would be my choice
of companions, for there were no Friends in the community, and I scarcely
think I ever was fitted for the society of the world's people. I care much
for silent meditation and in-looking, and the joys and pleasures of the
gayer people seemed but noisome, and not of a tone with Nature's silent
sunshine and green leaves, white snows and growing things. It is, I know,
my early training that has made me fitted only to see thus. I cared now
much to stay in my room after the tasks of the day were over and think of
the friends far off. Belike I am most domestic in my desires, and that may
be the cause why my mind travelled swiftly and surely to friend Hicks's
fireside, and dwelt so long and with all gentleness close beside his
daughter. And then I began, in my being so much alone, to inconsistently
connect friend Barbara with friend Jordan. The demented woman was always
calling out for those who were much to her, but who were far from her—was
always saying that her heart wanted the love that was denied it. I bethink
me that I more fully sympathized with her than was my wont, simply because
I cared so much for friend Barbara and heard so much of longing for
affection that had been denied. Therefore, as time passed on and the
letters from friend Hicks were very few, and always ended with "My
daughter sends her duty to thee"—never one word more or less—and I
could not with becoming grace say aught of her to her father when I
replied to his letters, which were strictly of a business nature and
acknowledged the receipt of various moneys which I sent him for the
keeping,—therefore, as time passed on, friend Jordan grew upon me. I
would leave my room-door open of nights, and take a chair and seat myself
upon the threshold; and as she walked up and down, up and down, restless
and discontented, repeating disconnected scraps of Bible verses, I would
often say a word to her in answer to some heedless and terrible question
of the goodness of the Lord. Friend Afton had less care of her at such
times, for she told me friend Jordan cared very well for me because I was
so quiet and orderly. Then when the woman was tired and could walk no
more, I would offer her my chair and would talk to her—not giving her
frivolous answer for frivolous question, but saying to her what I had to
say as earnestly as though I had been moved by Spirit in meeting to give
the assurances of my own heart. It is a wonder to me at this day how calm
she often became under my mode of speech. She fell into the way of looking
for me and expecting me, and often when I saw her, far in the night, at
her window holding out her very thin hands in supplication, I would softly
raise my own window and say kindly, "Don't thee think thee could sleep if
thee tried, friend Jordan?"—"I will try, Quaker," she would say, and go
in and close the window, and remain quiet for the rest of the night. It
was a sad contrast, I am sure—she wild and uncontrollable from
self-government, and I held in and still by discipline of many ancestors.
And then when she found that her cavilling against the Lord and His mighty
works was the opposite of pleasant to me, and made me sad of visage, she
after a while would content herself to say, "I used to say" so and so, as
the case might be, "but now I doubt myself;" which was more comforting.
But there came a letter from friend Hicks; and after much talk concerning
a certain lot of lumber and other matters of business, he said, "My
daughter is not looking healthful, and is not so well as could be
desired." I do not know what made me forget all the rest of his letter but
that one line. It seemed to me that I was stricken with pain with that
thin black miracle—pen-and-ink words. I wrote a letter to him instantly;
I put aside all modesty of demeanor and spoke only of Barbara, of my
desire to have her well and cheerful; I never once in all my lines
mentioned business. Friend Hicks must have been sensibly astonished. That
night when I went home friend Jordan for the first time grated upon me,
and I would fain have gone into my room and closed the door and thought
long and painfully. In my flighty mind I saw Barbara pining, and for me!
Never before had I thought she cared so well for me as now when she was
not in fair health. It is a sad happiness to think that some dear one is
far from thee, and heavy of heart all for thee. But I was selfish, for I
heard a sob at my closed door, and friend Jordan was crouched on the sill.
"Have you deserted me too?" she asked.
"Nay, friend," I replied, "but I had sad news which left me beyond much
"'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will
fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort
me,'" she said.
"Will thee touch my hand?" I tried to say, for my voice was quite broken.
And so we talked long and tirelessly: she seemed in her sanest mind, and
something in me appeared to make her look at me more than usual.
"Why do you not complain?" she asked me. And I told her that I had nothing
to complain of.
And to-night she told me that she had read the Scriptures
misunderstandingly all her life; that she had taken their truths to her in
affright; that their majesty had, instead of raising her up to their
height, debased her even below herself. I saw in all from the first, even
had friend Afton not told me, that what is called religion had wrecked her
mind, and in my own manner of understanding the Lord's way I could
scarcely comprehend it.
Although I had not much mind in my affairs after I had heard of Barbara's
illness, yet a week sped along before I had word again. And what word was
it that did come? I have read that to hear of the death of one who is
infinitely near to us in spirit is not the worst we can hear—that the
separation by death is not so eternal as the separation which life can
make. Barbara wrote me herself this time, unknown to her father; and I had
been away but a matter of three months. She said no word of her illness
nor of her father: she addressed herself in all honesty and ruth to me.
She had, somehow, in the place met with a man, one of the world's people,
whom she found much to her mind—far more than I had ever been, she said:
her father necessarily knew nothing of this, and she had chosen rather to
tell me of it first, as I had the best right to know first of all. (The
best right! I remembered the time when I had spoken to her father before I
had spoken to her of my intended coming to this place where I was.) She
asked me would I be willing to take as a wife a woman who could not care
for me solely, carrying guiltily into her married life the memory of her
great feeling for a man who was not her husband. She asked if it were not
better that she should tell me this, rather than to hold herself tied to a
false code of honor which should make her give herself to me because she
had promised to do so. She would, if I still chose to hold her to her
word, marry me, but it was best I should know; and she trusted I would say
no word to her father about this, as it was clearly between her and me.
She further said that did I refuse to give her up she would not compromise
me in the least, as she did not know if that other man cared at all for
her; and she was sure, as I must be, that she had never shown him that he
was aught to her.
This was the letter I was to answer unknown to her father. I saw her honor
standing out white and unassailable in it: I saw even her modesty, and,
above all, her truth and the womanly knowledge of what a wife should be to
her husband. I also saw that her father's will was her law; that her
father's will had influenced her ever; and that when I first proffered my
request of him for his daughter in marriage she took such a request as his
will: had he said No, her answer would have been likewise: as it was Yes,
she had acquiesced. But the pain of it! the pain of it!
I never once, from the minute the words clung to my mind like burning iron
to flesh, questioned as to how I must reply to the letter: the reply
shaped itself while I read her words. Could I take to myself a wife who
cared little for me? I cared too much for Barbara to have such a wife.
And yet when I had come to friend Afton's house and entered my room, I
closed and locked the door before I sat down to reply to the letter, as
though I were doing a guilty deed. My hand trembled: the words I wrote
were blurred. I heard a low knock at my door, but I answered it not: why
should even a demented woman see me as I was? I wrote and re-wrote my
answer before I found it fitted to my mind. My letter must have not myself
in it: it must be clean of all foolish extravagance. And yet I extenuated,
for I called for another letter from her. I wrote, Did she rightly know
her mind? was she firm in her reasoning? and who was the man? I had not
intended writing that last, but something forced me to it: it was not vain
curiosity, for curiosity is too far removed from pain to be a part of it.
But I could not see whom she could possibly know of all the inhabitants of
the place that could thus exercise her spirit. There were few people there
whom she had not known for years, and it was not likely she should have
known any one all this time and only now be awakened to a greater
knowledge. Perhaps a cruel feeling of jealousy actuated me in some
measure. Why, I reasoned, had friend Barbara thus led me on? But I stopped
there. Had she led me on? Nay. She had never given me reason to think that
I was aught to her: I had ever wrestled in spirit, hoping that she would
see in me what I saw so clearly in her—all that I could ever care to call
my own. She had never tried to deceive me by false words or looks or
actions: she had been true to her instincts as a woman in all this time,
and had been as I had seen her. Too truly I saw that the care had been
upon my side alone—that when I was most uplifted in spirit it was because
I had been blinded to anything save my own inordinate feeling and hope of
comfort. I forgot all else as I sat there with her letter in my hand; and
even my discipline was of little account when I folded my arms across the
table and let my head rest there for a little while.
How long I rested there I know not, but I was aroused by words of friend
Jordan, and she said those awful questionings from the Cross, "My God! my
God! why hast Thou forsaken me?" And I arose and raised my hand, and said
those same words too. Then I opened the door, and she sprang into my arms.
She was wild and excited, and friend Afton was with her, but powerless to
do anything. I let her weep close to me and cry out and laugh—do just as
she would until she sank exhausted. Then I talked with her calmly and
dispassionately, and she clung to me and would not be removed. For an hour
or so we rested there, and then friend Afton gave me a letter from friend
Hicks. I started, and would have put the letter in my pocket, but the eyes
of friend Jordan were upon me, and I thought to allay her suspicions of my
not acting toward her as I would toward others; so I opened and read the
letter. No need to send friend Barbara the letter now. Her father wrote me
that his daughter, much against his will, had formed the acquaintance of a
hireling minister, one Richard Jordan, who had charge of the new church
just built there, and that, though friend Barbara had never told of the
man, yet her father had seen her walking with him. Friend Hicks deemed
that her being promised to me gave only me the right to expostulate with
her upon this, and desired me to write to her forthwith, as he himself
had said no word to her. I had friend Barbara's letter and her father's:
which should I obey? The one coming from the friend who was nearest to me?
I afterward wrote to Barbara that I could not say one word of myself in
this matter, but that she must act as she thought best; only that she must
take all things into consideration, and must weigh one thing in the
balance with another—that did she make a mistake in going from her people
into the world, she might never rectify it to her own mind; but that if
she could justify her acts to herself, there was no need to call upon any
aid outside of what her own principles of right could afford her. I
thought it as well not to put myself at all in the letter, and to let her
think that it was as though I were writing as an interested friend to
another who scarcely knew what to do in a momentous time. Her father's
letter I passed entirely over. He never knew, nor does Barbara know to
this day, that I received it.
Yet that night, when I sat with friend Jordan in the hallway of friend
Afton's house, my mind seemed confused and full of uncertainty. I scarcely
noted the name which friend Hicks told me belonged to the man he had seen
his daughter walking with, and not until friend Afton called to the other
woman that she should retire for the night did the similarity of the names
bear upon me. The hireling minister was named Jordan, the demented woman's
name was Jordan: it might be a casual coincidence, but the man seemed
taking all away from me that had made my life pleasant and hopeful, while
the woman said I gave her new life, new hope, and all that life and hope
consisted of—a healthful belief in the Lord and His works—although I
knew that while she said so her lost mind was perhaps only being
influenced by a quiet and moderate one. Yet maybe there are moments of
what is called delusion which are the most sane constituents of a
lifetime. As it was, late in the night, as I lay awake and sore in spirit,
and wild with all things and almost with the Lord, sleepless and with
much yearning grown upon me, I heard the voice calling out in the night up
to the stars and the mystery of quiet for love and all that had been near
and dear to this one clouded mind; and I turned my face to the wall. And I
was like Ishmael indeed when I remembered, while that voice threw out its
plaint and the words were clear and cleaved the darkness, that when I had
last parted with Barbara, when I hurried from her presence fearful to look
back lest she might call me from manly order by a look or a smile, I had
thrown myself against a man outside the garden-gate, the man with a white
neckcloth and long black ill-cut coat, who had told me that he was the
minister of the church but newly erected, and that I had bidden peace go
with him, and he had bidden it back to me.
I bethink me that I was very much perturbed in my mind after this, albeit
I was exteriorly the quiet, drab-colored Quaker that all knew me to be.
Still, I have failed yet to ascertain what discipline that can govern
actions, looks and speech can make man's heart throb more sluggishly than
the feelings to which all Nature is prone must ever provoke. Thee knows a
Friend must be seemly to all, and that alone will inform thee that I
manifested no alteration in my demeanor. And my business qualifications
were not impaired because of the uprising in my mind, for what has worldly
business to do with spiritual? I could bargain and sell to the best
advantage, be wholly consistent in all things, and be termed a man whose
feelings were so schooled that no emotion ever dared come nigh them. Thee
may think, the world may think, that suppressed emotion is annihilated
emotion: I who wear drab know differently. And the silence between friend
Barbara and myself was not a silence to be broken by useless speech: it
was too closely allied to the end of something I had been brought to think
almost eternal. I still had letter after letter from friend Hicks, which I
replied to always—letters on purely business-matters, never once touched
by so much as the name of Barbara, for she no longer sent her duty to me;
and I could but realize how stern her father must be to her at home for
her dereliction, and I—pitied her. As the weeks went by and I heard
nothing of or from her, I may safely asseverate that the cruelly weak
feeling that had oppressed me at first left me by degrees, and I could see
far clearer than before, and could perchance blame myself for having
failed to see ere this that I was what I was to her. I began to weigh the
many chances of happiness against the many certainties of unhappiness, and
I could but understand that she had with a woman's keen insight found out
easily what it had cost me so considerably to know. I could not blame her:
why should I? She had acted most fairly to me: had I done as well to her?
In friend Afton's house I fought the battle which alone Friends approve of
and sanction—the battle of the spirit against the flesh; and I conquered
well, I am assured, although I could never cease to care for friend
Barbara as I had cared for her since I had known her: it would have been
entirely inconsistent with the principles of constancy and truth which had
been so early and late imbibed by me.
I must say now that my great comfort in these times was friend Jordan;
and, odd as it may appear, the similarity of her name with that of the man
whom friend Hicks's daughter had learned to regard so highly seemed to
call her closer to me than anything else at the same season might have
done. Of evenings we would take up our old manner, and she would say,
"Quaker, you are kinder than you know."
She had never learned my name, nor had expressed a desire to know it: what
were names of things to her who had lost the things themselves?
"Thank thee, friend Jordan," I would say; and then we would sit and talk.
Sometimes she would do all the talking: at other times she let me join
her. With her confused mind it was perhaps the best work I could have had,
to try to let in a little light where darkness had been so long.
"We always love those the most who give us the most pleasure, do we not?"
she asked me.
I could not give her the reply she wanted, for friend Hicks's daughter had
given me considerable happiness; so I remained quiet.
"Then next to those I love, and who nightly shine down to me in long, cool
reaches of light from the stars, I love you, Quaker," she said.
"I thank thee," I replied.
"You should never thank for love," she said, "for it is a gift that
requires as much as it bestows."
"And yet they call thee crazed!" I said, and placed my hand upon her wild
"But you Quakers never show any feeling," she went on, "and I suppose you
"Sometimes we do," said I.
She seemed to think I was made sorry by what she had spoken, for she
started. "What am I saying?" she exclaimed, "when you have shown me more
feeling than any one in the world; and maybe you love me a little."
"We should love our neighbors as ourselves."
"I want the stars," she began, weeping: "I want to reach them, to go to
them, to have the light in my mind that is gone out of it up to them."
I could say nothing, for my want was something akin to hers.
Many a wild night had she now, and friend Afton and I had often but sad
chances of keeping her within bounds: we had to watch her while she would
stand and call out to the far-off lights in the sky; and as, like a
prophet of old, she stood and repeated divine words of care and an
all-seeing love, she was grown softer and gentler, and her speech seemed
to come from one who understood what the words imparted to her hearers.
She was fond of saying the Psalms of David, and would weep at the touching
words of suffering, of joy and of exultation which that man, so many
thousand years dead, had been wont to sing as perchance he stood as she
now did, looking up to the same nightly skies and weeping as she now wept,
as his words rang through the ever-settled calmness of the night, and had
no answer borne to his ears, but only the quiet made even quieter by his
sorrow or his joy.
But I find that again I am using superfluous if not wholly irrelevant
speech. Let me say, however, that had I possessed more curiosity—or,
rather, if I had expressed more curiosity—friend Afton would have told
me, as she afterward did, that the woman was not so entirely alone as she
imagined herself to be, for that weekly letters reached friend Afton
wherein were goodly wages for the care of the stricken one.
That my affairs prospered I am glad to relate—that in the six months I
should be here I should accumulate an agreeable sum might have pleased me.
But what was that sum to me now, when I realized to what purpose I had
expected to put it? Yet my greed received a check. I had a letter from
friend Hicks. It was a most grievous letter: my money, all that he held in
trust for me (and it was my all), had been stolen from his keeping. The
theft had occurred more than a month ago, but as he had sedulously hoped
to detect the culprit, he had kept the fact from me for shame at what
might be termed his negligence of reposed trust. He had instigated
diligent search, but nothing had come of it: there was no one to accuse.
He had determined, however, to pay back to my account from his own moneys
the full amount, and had only informed me of the loss that there might be
no secrecy between us, and that I should never hear from outside parties
that this thing had occurred, and that he had used most reprehensive tact
to disguise the fact from me. I wrote a letter to him. I reminded him that
the money was of no account—that as it had been intended for the
well-known purpose, and as my marriage was to be at no set time, let it
rest to my loss, and not his, for that I would never accept of his money
to cover what was truthfully a theft from me.
I heard long afterward that he let his daughter read this letter, as he
knew that she was often with Richard Jordan, and he desired to acquaint
her that I meant to be well in all my principles. This was as I understood
The loss of this money gave me little concern, I assure thee; and now that
it would never be put to its originally-intended use, I perhaps cared less
than I ordinarily might have cared; for friend Barbara's long silence
could help me but to one conclusion, and that was that she would never be
my wife. For had she consented to be guided by her former promise, her
confession of much care for another man would have most effectively
debarred me from calling into requisition that promise so exactingly
obtained from her. My wife must have no fondness for another man than me.
And yet when, a few days after the receipt and reply of her father's
letter, another in friend Barbara's writing was placed in my hand, I can
but say that more joy than I had ever before experienced was mine, and I
thought of Miriam's song so full of triumph and gladness. And then the
wonderful words of the psalm came to me. "'Yea, though I walk through the
valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me,
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me,'" I said aloud, and thought of poor
friend Jordan as she had understood those words so short a time ago.
Suppose Barbara had written in answer to my letter to her—had owned that
her thought of the man was a delusion, and that she cared for me, and me
only, above all others in the world! I carried the letter by me for many
an hour, for it was business-time when I had it, and I let nothing
interfere with needful duties of the day. It lay within my pocket
pulseless, as a letter always is: its envelope had my name upon it
carefully and neatly inscribed. Then when I had an hour to myself I
walked, not more briskly than usual, to a sunny hollow surrounded by new
boards smelling most pleasantly of the rich forests they had helped to
form, and there, surrounded by deal that had held many a singing bird's
voice in its time, I broke the seal of Barbara's second letter to me. I
think I was vastly stricken as I read it—more stricken perhaps than life
can ever experience twice. Did she write as I had most hoped and desired?
It was a long letter, and I read it through twice to fully comprehend it.
She was a thief! she herself had stolen the money! She knew that her
father must have written me that the money was gone, and she did not wish
to see the blame rest on an innocent person. Her father had been harsher
than usual with her, and, when she would have asserted herself in many
ways, had always referred her to me, telling her that I was the rightful
one to say what might and what might not be: her father had refused to
hear her make mention of the man she had mentioned to me, and had not
recognized her being with him at all. (I could see in this that friend
Hicks had tried more than arbitrary means to reduce his daughter's mind to
the level of his wishes. But to the letter.) How could she, then, she
wrote, tell her father of the taking of the money? She trusted that I
might not think her overly bold, but if I did, it made no difference to
her, for she was rendered desperate on all sides. (Ah, friend Barbara! thy
father had ever such a cold reserve, that was not meant unkindly, but
nevertheless was overly severe.) She could trust me, for it was my own
money she had taken. (I bethink me it was but an odd trust at best.) She
had taken the money to send to the man she cared so much for: he was a
very poor man, and the congregation of which he was the hired preacher was
poor; and as they had built a church which they could not afford to pay
for, it was but in reason that they could not pay the minister of the
church. The church was what the world's people call "a split" from another
church—split because the people quarrelled about the Thirty-nine
Articles, whatever they be, one party wanting thirty-eight or forty, and
the other perhaps the original number. She knew that the minister was
woefully in debt; that no one would trust him any further; that he had
met and told her nothing at all of it; that he was duly polite to her,
and mentioned none of his affairs at all. (O Barbara! how thee shielded
him!) But she had questioned a woman who knew much of him, and the woman
had said that he must have money for a certain secret purpose, the nature
of which purpose the woman refused to tell, and that he was crazed for
money. Barbara had asked the woman if the purpose were a sinful or
shameful purpose, but the answer had been that it was the most holy one a
man could have. Then Barbara had looked upon his white face and knew of
his straits, and had pitied him. It was borne in upon her that she should
help him. "Thee would have felt so, I am assured," she wrote. Then looking
around her, confused by many and conflicting feelings, sad and grieving
for herself, having no one to go to in the greatest trial a woman can
have, she had seen but one thing to do: she called to mind Samuel Biddle,
and how generously he had acted toward her—more generously than she had
reason to suppose another man could ever do. Friend Biddle's letter to her
was couched in such kindly terms that she knew it had been no great
overthrow of feeling on his part to give her the liberty which she had
long debated with herself whether to accept or not; and had finally
concluded to do so. Then she had taken the money from her father's iron
safe. She had sent it anonymously to the man, though she feared that he
suspected from whom it came; and that was the saddest stroke of all, "for,
friend Biddle," she wrote, "I know not if I am anything unto him, but I do
assure thee he is much to me." (Poor friend Barbara! how I pitied thee for
This was all of the letter, and I read it through twice.
I had gotten over my foolish emotion of disappointment, as I have told
thee before this, and I went back to my office and indited a reply to the
epistle immediately. "Let it be as thee has done, and thee may think that
I fully sympathize with thee." That was my only reply.
And when I thought over the letter—her letter—from beginning to end, all
day long, I did not see that I could have indited a different reply.
Still, when I went home to friend Afton's house, and friend Afton came to
me and told me that friend Jordan had had a more miserable day than ever,
although my sympathy was fully aroused, yet it was with a sense of relief
that I entered my room and closed the door, for I bethought me that I had
much to ponder on. But my thought was interrupted: the poor demented woman
was weeping in her room. She was stormy in her grief, and I heard friend
Afton scolding. I opened my door. "Friend Jordan, is thee grieved?" I
"Oh, Quaker," she cried, running to me, "they are all in the sky calling
to me, and this woman will not let me reach them."
"She would have jumped out," whispered friend Afton, "and I had to nail
down the sash."
I nodded, and motioned for her to keep quiet. "Does thee think thee would
like to talk to me a while?" I asked.
"Not now, for I only want to talk with them. But tell me, Quaker—tell me
if you want one thing more than any other in this world, and I will ask
them to give it to you. Is there any one that you want to love you? For
they can easily help you, as they have made me love you, and made you be
good to me."
"Nay, friend," I said, "even the light from the stars cannot make one care
for me who would not."
Then she cried out that I was sorrowful, and that I made her heart
heavy—I who had always been a comfort and a guidance before.
"I will be so to thee now," I said.
"Then give me rest," she cried.
"The Lord knows I would give thee rest, O soul! if I could."
She looked at me most suddenly—I may say as a flash—and quickly glanced
in at my room.
"Then I think I can rest in your room," she said.
"Thee shall do so."
Then I put on my hat and prepared to go out, and friend Afton said it was
a relief to have one so obliging in the house.
"Farewell to thee," I said to friend Jordan.
She stood inside my doorway and looked at me. "'Come unto Me, all ye that
labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest,'" she said, and moved
like a spirit toward me, placed her lips upon my cheek, and went in and
closed the door. It was the first time any woman save my mother had ever
Those words made me feel that they applied to me, youth is so vain and
exacting even of the Lord's words. Nevertheless, as I went along the dark
streets I heard them ringing in my ears with such a benign meaning as I
never had understood in them before.
Long I walked the streets, lost in much thought and contemplation, and I
felt what was weakness leaving me, and I deemed how heavy were some yokes
compared to mine—friend Barbara's, for instance, she who must be
surrounded and held in by unsympathizing moods. I fain would have helped
her more than I did, but any further succor only meant a further offering
of my feeling for her, and that she was as powerless to accept as I was
to make her accept it. Long I walked the streets, and had the hopeful,
helping words around and within me. And late in the night I turned my
wearied steps toward friend Afton's, and once more was entering the house,
when, as though an angel—as though the Lord above—had spoken to me from
high overhead, in grave, solemn, holy voice came the words, "Come unto Me,
all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." And I
turned my eyes above as I hope to turn them on the last Vast Day, when
methinks those words may again be spoken and call forth a mighty response.
But what was that white form so far above, even upon the sill of my
window, three stories from the ground? With a great terror grown upon me I
rushed into the street, and saw far up there, far in the night, friend
Jordan standing out in the darkness with hands supplicating the stars,
saying those words. This was why she had desired to rest in my room: with
the cunning of insanity, she had known that the windows of her own room
were nailed down, and so on the instant had thought of mine as a possible
means of reaching to her stars. With every limb frozen, it seemed, by
sudden petrification, I had no power to unclose my lips, but I made a
sound like a groan, I know, and then I saw her reach up high, high toward
the sky and give a leap into the air. There came a crash of breaking
glass, and I saw a whirl of white garments far above me that came
fluttering down in a spiral motion. I rushed toward it ere it fell: there
came a sickening thud on the ground beside me, and a lifeless mass lay
I can scarcely narrate this calmly or well, but thee sees I have tried my
Then when friend Afton came to me, and in pardonable and much agitation
asked me to write to the friends of the dead woman, I complied, and
directed the letter to the Reverend Richard Jordan; and his address was
the place where friend Hicks sojourned, as likely thee has guessed.
"What was this man to the deceased? does thee know?" I asked friend Afton.
"No, sir. He placed her with me a year ago, and asked me to take the best
of care of her, and has always sent me money for her wants, and paid me
well besides. And, strange to say, I never could get her to mention him.
He seemed to be a good man, but poor in his dress—too young in the
profession to get a wealthy 'call.'"
So the Reverend Richard Jordan, who had cared for this woman, was the man
whom friend Barbara thought well of! This was what the money had been
wanted for—this was the secret which was "neither sinful nor shameful,
but the most holy that a man can have"!
When he came in at friend Afton's I went to him. "Who was the deceased?" I
asked—most bluntly, I fear me.
"She was my wife," he said sadly, and so altogether frankly that I knew he
was no guilty man, whatever else he might be.
"I grieve with thee," I said. "And before thee goes up to thy solemn
office of praying by thy dead wife's side, I would tell thee something. I
met thee—look at me!—months ago, when I almost stumbled against thee
outside of Benjamin Hicks's garden-gate. Thee was new to the place, thee
"I remember you," he said, and flushed painfully.
"Nay, do not redden," I said almost with anger. "I know all things about
thee, and nothing that is harmful."
"Nor ever has been harm," he said firmly.
"I know thee has had much money sent to thee, and thee does not know from
"I do," he said, "and am ashamed to say I accepted it. It came from your
friend Hicks's daughter, but it was for my poor wife—for her alone. I
could not help myself—I—"
"Thee has no need of shame for that. The Lord must have made it patent to
thee that we are placed here to help one another. And so much as friend
Hicks's daughter did for thee she did well, and she has my consent; for it
was my money that she sent thee."
"God bless you, man!" he said, holding his hand to his face, "for I am
nothing to you."
"And what is Benjamin Hicks's daughter to thee if thee is nothing to me?"
He looked at me in wonder: "She is to me a good woman who did her benefits
in secret. I never had much conversation with her, for we seldom met; but
she was ever kind, and I heard that she would marry soon. I never talked
much to any one, for my cares have been great to me, and that sorrow up
stairs has been a goodly portion."
"Go to thy sorrow," I said, "and let it comfort thee, as sorrow should,
that thee did the best thee could."
Was I cruel in having spoken to him as I had, and at this time?
Then I wrote all—everything of the past months, of to-day, of the
deceased woman's suffering, of her death, her husband's arrival, and all
that he had said to me. It was a considerably lengthy letter, but what of
that? It was for friend Barbara. I sent it at once. Then I must not
neglect my duties here, so I stayed the allotted time, receiving
occasional word from friend Hicks, but none from his daughter.
I think my mind was much inclined toward the hireling minister, for I
clearly saw, as thee no doubt does, that he never knew what Barbara
thought of him, and that he never could know, for he was a pure man and
the sad husband of a sad wife. And when he would have said words of thanks
to me when he left me I checked him: "Thee knows a Friend is not well
pleased with many words: let the many good deeds which thee will do act as
the many kind words thee would give me."
"With God's help I will," said he.
"Verily," I said; "and I bid peace be unto thee!"
"And unto you, friend!" he said. And the words that had been our first
parting at friend Barbara's father's gate were the words that were our
last as I left him at his wife's grave, from whence he was to go to a
church in a distant city.
And when the six months were over and I was at liberty to go, I wrote
another letter of a single line to Barbara, and this was it: "I am coming
to thy father's house." That was all, for I thought that maybe she might
not care overly much to greet me, all things considered, and might
peradventure choose to make a trifling visit to her cousin Ann Jones, to
whose house she as often as not went for those changes which most women
much incline toward. Yet when I entered upon the porch of friend Hicks's
house, and Barbara was there, and said, "I am pleased to see thee, friend
Biddle," and her father said, "How does thee do?" altogether as though I
had seen them but a day before, it was most agreeable to my mind and
soothing to my spirit. And when, after the dinner was over, before which
there was little chance at conversation, although I thought I detected a
slight pallor in friend Barbara's face where before the dints had been,
and when she had betaken herself to some place out of sight, and friend
Hicks was beginning to talk upon my loss in his suffering a theft on his
premises, I merely said, "Yea, friend Barbara took the money." Thee should
have seen his face: it must have afforded thee considerable amusement.
"Barbara?" he said with much difficulty.
"Yea," I answered. "I know all about it; and she gave it to Richard
Jordan, whom thee thought to frighten me with. He was poor, in need, and
had a wife whom he must care for. I was in the house where his wife was
ever since thee parted with me."
"Verily, friend Hicks. And she was a demented woman, whom her husband had
to take good care of, and she relied upon me for such poor comfort as I
could afford her. She is deceased, and it was myself who sent for her
husband. Maybe there was much secrecy which thy daughter and I kept
without thee, but mayhap we did it for the best. And thee must never
inquire anything more about it; and I regret thee had so much concern, and
thank thee for a most kind and generous friend."
"Samuel Biddle, I deemed that Barbara was not unto thee, nor thee unto
her, as both had been to one another."
"Thee must be at odds with reason, friend Hicks, for I never have cared
less for Barbara than I did at the first."
So I told the narrative to him; and although I strictly adhered to the
facts, I bethink me that had I made them a trifle straighter he might not
have comprehended them as he did. But he came to me as I sat there on the
porch, and he laid his hand on my arm: "I have been overly strict with
Barbara, friend Samuel, and thee must pardon me, for I only kept her for
thee. Thee is a good man; and although some of Barbara's and thy doings in
this matter, as thee has related it, are scarcely in accordance with an
understanding of the world such as I have, and such as thee may hope to
have in time, and most of what thee has done is rather removed from
orthodox, yet I hold myself in thy debt."
Then as I glanced up I saw a face looking narrowly from far off in the
hall: I fear me that Barbara must inevitably have heard every word.
However, it was rather warmish weather, and as she came out to the porch
with her knitting in her hands, she looked as though she were grateful to
me; and there were wet rings about her eyes which made me sad to see, and
I remembered the time in the lane, a long while ago, when I had seen just
such rings and stains about her eyes. We spake not a word, and she sat
down on one side of me and her father on the other. As in another time,
friend Hicks put his handkerchief over his face to protect him from the
air—the flies not being come yet—and I scarcely hesitate to say that he
covered his left eye as well as his right. Then I am positive that the
silence grew irksome to me, for I knew not what to think of Barbara's
manner, nor what to say. So I arose and stood on the edge of the porch,
and looked far over the large unbroken landscape, as all early spring
landscapes are. I could not have been there many minutes before a soft
touch made me turn about, and Barbara was beside me, and the rings about
her eyes were wetter than ever.
"Barbara!" I said softly.
"Hush!" she whispered most gently, glancing toward her father, now balmily
sleeping. "Samuel Biddle, I must thank thee: thee knows what for, so I
need not repeat it. I thank thee, not as I would have thanked thee six
months ago, but as—"
"As what, Barbara?"
"As thy wife soon to be, Samuel Biddle."
I placed her hand in mine. "And thee is not mistaken?" I said.
"Nay, not mistaken now. I never knew thee till I understood that all men
are not like thee. I never knew thee till I most foolishly thought that a
few words from another man on even trivial subjects meant more than thy
silence of devotion. I learned my own mind in many ways, Samuel, and then
I learned thee; for I had thought thee was in a measure thrust upon me,
and only because I had not seen thee before father's approval of thee.
That other man's care of his wife—a care that kept her affliction from
any and all eyes—showed me what thee was even, and what thee was for me.
I cannot rightly say all that I would, but I can only say this—that I
never cared overly much for thee at first, Samuel Biddle; but Richard
Jordan has taught me one thing, which perhaps no other man in the world
could have done."
"And that is—?"
"What love is."
"Yea, Samuel Biddle, what love is; for I love thee, I love thee, and but
only thee; and might never have told thee so, but I heard what thee said a
spell ago to father, and I knew that thee was not disgusted with me, but
cared for me as much as ever. Yea, a stranger man has taught me what love
And while I could but pat her head as it rested upon my shoulder, I said
gladly, "Barbara, more than man has taught me what love is, and to love
thee; but maybe a man can teach to woman what the Lord alone has taught to
"Let me think so, Samuel—that the Lord taught thee, and thee taught me
the knowledge fresh from the Lord."
Then I placed my lips upon Barbara's lips.
Robert C. Meyers.