Our lovely moon of moons had now waned, and the time drew on when, like Adam and Eve, we were hand in hand to turn our backs on Paradise and set our faces toward the battle of life.

"The world was all before us where to choose." In just this crisis we got the following from Aunt Maria:

My Dear Eva:—Notwithstanding all that has passed, I cannot help writing to show that interest in your affairs, which it may be presumed, as your aunt and godmother, I have some right to feel, and though I know that my advice always has been disregarded, still I think it my duty to speak, and shall speak.

Of course, as I have not been consulted or taken into your confidence at all, this may seem like interference, but I overheard Mr. Fellows talking with Alice about looking for houses for you, and I must tell you that I am astonished that you should think of such a thing. Housekeeping is very expensive, if you keep house with the least attention to appearance; and genteel board can be obtained at a far less figure. Then as to your investing the little that your grandmother left you in a house, it is something that shows such childish ignorance as really is pitiable. I don't suppose either you or your husband ever priced an article of furniture at David and Saul's in your lives, and have not the smallest idea of the cost of all those things which a house makes at once indispensable. You fancy a house arranged as you have always seen your father's, and do not know that the kind of marriage you have chosen places all these luxuries wholly out of your reach. Then as to the house itself, the whole of your little property would go but a small way toward giving you a dwelling any way respectable for you to live in.

It is true there are cheap little houses in New York, but where, and on what streets? You would not want to live among mechanics and dentists, small clerks, and people of that description. Everything when one is first married depends on taking a right stand in the beginning. Of course, since the ruin that has come on your father, and with which you will see I never reproach you, though you might have prevented it, it is necessary for all of us to be doubly careful. Everybody is very kind and considerate, and people have called and continue to invite us, and we may maintain our footing as before, if we give our whole mind to it, as evidently it is our duty to do, paying proper attention to appearances. I have partially engaged a place for you, subject of course to your and your husband's approval, at Mivart's, which is a place that can be spoken of—a place where the best sort of people are. Mrs. Mivart is a protégée of mine, and is willing to take you at a considerable reduction, if you take a small back room. Thus you will have no cares, and no obligations of hospitality, and be able to turn your resources all to keeping up the proper air and appearances, which with the present shocking prices for everything, silks, gloves, shoes, etc., and the requirements of the times, are something quite frightful to contemplate.

The course of conduct I have indicated seems specially necessary in view of Alice's future. The blight that comes on all her prospects in this dreadful calamity of your father's is something that lies with weight on my mind. A year ago Alice might have commanded the very best of offers, and we had every reason to hope such an establishment for her as her beauty and accomplishments ought to bring. It is a mercy to think that she will still be invited and have her chances, though she will have to struggle with her limited means to keep up a proper style; but with energy and attention it can be done. I have known girls capable of making, in secret, dresses and bonnets that were ascribed to the first artists. The puffed tulle in which Sallie Morton came to your last German was wholly of her own make—although of course this was told me in confidence by her mother and ought to go no farther. But if you take a mean little house among ordinary low classes, and live in a poor, cheap, and scrubby way, of course you cut yourself off from society, and you see it degrades the whole family. I am sure, as I told your mother, nothing but your inexperience would lead you to think of it, and your husband being a literary man naturally would not understand considerations of this nature. I have seen a good deal of life, and I give it as the result of my observation that there are two things that very materially influence standing in society; the part of the city we live in, and the church we go to. Of course, I presume you will not think of leaving your church, which has in it the most select circles of New York. A wife's religious consolations are things no husband should interfere with, and I trust you will not fling away your money on a mean little house in a fit of childish ignorance. You will want the income of that money for your dress, and carriages for calls and other items essential to keep up life.

I suppose you have heard that the Elmores are making extensive preparations for Sophie's wedding in the Fall. When I see the vanity and instability of earthly riches, I cannot but be glad that there is a better world; the consolations of religion at times are all one has to turn to. Be careful of your health, my dear child, and don't wet your feet. From your letters I should infer that you were needlessly going into very damp unpleasant places. Write me immediately what I am to tell them at Mivart's.

Your affectionate aunt,

Maria Wouvermans.

It was as good as a play to see my wife's face as she read this letter, with flushed cheeks and an impatient tapping of her little foot that foreboded an outburst.

"Just like her for all the world," she said, tossing the letter to me, which I read with vast amusement.

"We'll have a house of our own as quick as we can get one," she said. "I think I see myself gossipping in a boarding house, hanging on to the outskirts of fashion in the way she plans, making puffed tulle dresses in secret places and wearing out life to look as if I were as rich as I am not, and trying to keep step with people of five times our income. If you catch Eva Van Arsdel at that game, then tell me!"

"Eva Van Arsdel is a being of the past, fortunately for me, darling."

"Well, Eva Van Arsdel Henderson, then," said she. "That compound personage is stronger and more defiant of worldly nonsense than the old Eva dared to be."

"And I think your aunt has no idea of what there is developing in Alice."

"To be sure she hasn't; not the remotest. Alice is proud and sensible, proud in the proper way I mean. She was full willing to take the goods the gods provided while she had them, but she never will stoop to all the worries, and cares, and little mean artifices of genteel poverty. She never will dress and go out on hunting expeditions to catch a rich husband. I always said Alice's mind lay in two strata, the upper one worldly and ambitious, the second generous and high minded. Our fall from wealth has been like a land slide, the upper stratum has slid off and left the lower. Alice will now show that she is both a strong and noble woman. Our engagement and marriage has wholly converted her, and she has stood by me like a little Trojan all along."

"Well," said I, "about this letter?"

"Oh! you answer it for me. It's time Aunt Maria learned that there is a man to the fore; besides you are not vexed, you are only amused, and you can write a diplomatic letter."

"And tell her sweetly and politely, with all ruffles and trimmings, that it is none of her business?" said I.

"Yes, just that, but of course with all possible homage of your high consideration. Then tell we can find a house. I suppose we can find nice country board for the hot months near New York, where you can come out every night on the railroad and stay Sundays."

"Exactly. I have the place all thought of and terms arranged long ago. A charming Quaker family where you will find the best of fruit, and the nicest of board, and the quietest and gentlest of hosts, all for a sum quite within our means."

"And then," said she, "by Fall I trust we shall find a house to suit us."

"Certainly," said I. "I have faith that such a house is all waiting for us somewhere in the unknown future. We are traveling toward it, and shall know it when we see it."

"Just think," said my wife, "of Aunt Maria as suggesting that we should board so that we could shirk all obligations of hospitality! What's life good for if you can't have your friends with you, and make people happy under your roof?"

"And who would think of counting the money spent in hospitality?" said I.

"Yet I have heard of people who purposely plan to have no spare room in their house," answered Eva. "I remember, now, Aunt Maria's speaking of Mrs. Jacobs with approbation for just this piece of economy."

"By which she secures money for party dresses and a brilliant annual entertainment I suppose," said I.

"Well," said Eva, "I have always imagined my home with friends in it. A warm peculiar corner for each one of yours and mine. It is the very charm of the prospect when I figure this, that, and the other one enjoying with us, and then I have the great essential of "help" secured. Do you know that there was one Mary McClellan married from our house years ago who was a perfect adorer at my shrine and always begged me to be married that she might come and live with me? Now she is a widow with a little girl eight years old, and it is the desire of her heart to get a place where she can have her child with her. It will fit exactly. The little cub, under my training, can wait on the table and tend the door, and Mary will be meanwhile a mother to me in my inexperience."

"Capital!" said I. "I am sure our star is in the ascendant, and we shall hear from our house before the summer is through."

One day, near the first of October, while up for a Sunday at our country boarding-place, I got the following letter from Jim Fellows:

My Dear Old Boy:—I think we have got it, I mean got the house. I am not quite sure what your wife will say, but I happened to meet Miss Alice last night and I told her, and she says she is sure it will do. Hear and understand.

Coming down town yesterday I bought the Herald and read to my joy that Jack Fergus had been appointed Consul to Algiers. To say the truth we fellows have thought the game was pretty much up with poor Jack; his throat and lungs are so bad, and his family consumptive. So I said when I read it, 'Good! there's a thing that'll do.' I went right round to congratulate him and found three or four of our fellows doing the same thing. Jack was pleased, said it was all right, but still I could see there was a hitch somewhere, and that in fact it was not all right, and when the other fellows went away I staid, and then it came out. He said at once that he was glad of the appointment, but that he had no money; the place at Algiers does not support a man. He will have to give up his bank salary, and unless he could sell his house for ready money he could do nothing. I never knew he had any house. Heaven knows none of the rest of us have got any houses. But it seems some aunt of his, an old Knickerbocker, left him one. Well, I asked him why he didn't sell it. He said he couldn't. He had had two agents there that morning. They wouldn't give him any encouragement till the whole place was sold together. They wouldn't offer anything, and would only say they would advertise it on his account. You see it is one of those betwixt and between places which is going to be a business place, but isn't yet. So he said; and it was that which made me think of you and your wife.

I asked where it was, and he told me. It is one of those little streets that lead out of Varick street, if you know where that is, I'll bet Mrs. Henderson a dozen pair that she doesn't. Well, I went with him to see it when the bank closed, for I still thought of you. By George, I think you will like it. It is the last house in a block, the street is dull enough but is inhabited by decent quiet people, who mind their own business. Of course the respectable Mrs. Wouverman's would think it an unknown horror to live there; and be quite sure they were all Jews or sorcerers, or some other sort of come-outers. Well, this house itself is not like the rest of the block—having been built by this old Aunt Martila, or Van Beest, or whatever else her name was, for her own use. It is a brick house, with a queer stoop, two and a half stories high (the house, not the stoop), with a bay-window on the end, going out on a sort of a church-yard, across which you look to what is, I believe, St. John's Park[1]—a place with trees, and English sparrows, and bird-houses and things. Jack and his wife have made the place look quite cosy, and managed to get a deal of comfort out of it. I wish I could buy it and take my wife there if only I had one. This place Jack will sell for eight thousand dollars—four thousand down and four thousand on mortgage. I call that dirt cheap, and Livingstone, our head book-keeper, who used to be a house-broker, tells me it is a bargain such as he never heard of, and that you can sell it at any time for more than that. I have taken the refusal for three days, so come down, both of you, bright and early Monday and look at it.

So down we came; we saw; we bought. In a few days we were ready, key in hand, to open and walk into "Our House."

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook