[Letter from Eva Van Arsdel to Mrs. Courtney.]

My Dear Friend and Teacher:—I scarcely dare trust myself to look at the date of your kind letter. Can it really be that I have let it lie almost a year, hoping, meaning, sincerely intending to answer it, and yet doing nothing about it? Oh! my dear friend, I was a better girl while I was under your care than I am now; in those times I really did my duties; I never put off things, and I came somewhere near satisfying myself. Now, I live in a constant whirl—a whirl that never ceases. I am carried on from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, with nothing to show for it except a succession of what girls call "good times." I don't read any thing but stories; I don't study; I don't write; I don't sew; I don't draw, or play, or sing, to any real purpose. I just "go into society," as they call it. I am an idler, and the only thing I am good for is that I help to adorn a house for the entertainment of idlers; that is about all.

Now Lent has come, and I am thankful for the rest from parties and dancing; but yet Lent makes me blue, because it gives me some time to think; and besides that, when all this whirligig stops awhile, I feel how dizzy and tired it has made me. And then I think of all that you used to tell me about the real object of life, and all that I so sincerely resolved in my school-days that I would do and be, and I am quite in despair about myself.

It is three years since I really "came out," as the phrase goes. Up to that time I was far happier than I have been since, because I satisfied myself better. You always said, dear friend, that I was a good scholar, and faithful to every duty; and those days, when I had a definite duty for each hour, and did it well, were days when I liked myself better than now. I did enjoy study. I enjoyed our three years in Europe, too, for then, with much variety and many pleasures, I had regular studies; I was learning something, and did not feel that I was a mere do-nothing.

But since I have been going into company I am perfectly sick of myself. For the first year it was new to me, and I was light-headed and thought it glorious fun. It was excitement all the time—dressing, and going, and seeing, and being admired, and, well—flirting. I confess I liked it, and went into it with all my might,—parties, balls, opera, concerts all the winter in New York, and parties, balls, etc. at Newport and Saratoga in Summer. It was a sort of prolonged delirium. I didn't stop to think about anything, and lived like a butterfly, by the hour. Oh! the silly things I have said and done! I find myself blushing hot when I think of them, because, you see, I am so excitable, and sometimes am so carried away, that afterward I don't know what I may have said or done!

And now all this is coming to some end or other. This going into company can't last forever. We must be married—that's what we are for, they say; that's what all this dressing, and dancing, and flying about has got to end in. And so mamma and Aunt Maria are on thorns, to get me off their hands and well established. I have been out three seasons. I am twenty-three, and Alice has just come out, and it is expected, of course, that I retire with honor. I will not stop to tell you that I have rejected about the usual number of offers that young ladies in my position get, and I haven't seen anybody that I care a copper for.

Well, now, in this crisis, comes this Mr. Sidney, who proposed to me last Fall, and I refused point-blank, simply and only because I didn't love him, which seemed to me at that time reason enough. Then mamma and Aunt Maria took up the case, and told me that I was a foolish girl to throw away such an offer: a man of good character and standing, an excellent business man, and so immensely rich—with such a splendid place at Newport, and another in New York, and a fortune like Aladdin's lamp!

I said I didn't love him, and they said I hadn't tried; that I could love him if I only made up my mind to, and why wouldn't I try? Then papa turned in, who very seldom has anything to say to us girls, or about any family matters, and said how delighted he should be to see me married to a man so capable of taking care of me. So, among them all, I agreed that I would receive his visits and attentions as a friend, with a view to trying to love him; and ever since I have been banked up in flowers and confectionery, and daily drifting into relations of closer and closer intimacy.

Do I find myself in love? Not a bit. Frankly, dear friend, to tell the awful truth, the thing that weighs down my heart is, that if this man were not so rich, I know I shouldn't think of him. If he were a poor young man, just beginning business, I know I should not give him a second thought; neither would mother, nor Aunt Maria, nor any of us. But here are all these worldly advantages! I confess I am dazzled by them. I am silly, I am weak, I am ambitious. I like to feel that I may have the prize of the season—the greatest offer in the market. I know I am envied and, oh, dear me! though it's naughty, yet one does like to be envied. Besides, to tell the truth, though I am not in love with him, I am not in love with anybody else. I respect him, and esteem him, and all that, in a quiet, negative sort of way, and mother and Aunt Maria say everything else will come—after marriage. Will it? Is it right? Is this the way I ought to marry?

But then, you know, I must marry somebody—that, they say, is a fixed fact. It seems to be understood that I am a sort of helpless affair, to be taken care of, and that now is my time to be disposed of; and they tell me every day that if I let this chance go, I shall regret it all my life.

Do you know I wish there were convents that one could go out of the world into? Cousin Sophia Sewell has joined the Sisters of St. John, and says she never was so happy. She does look so cheerful, and she is so busy from morning till night, and has the comfort of doing so much good to a lot of those poor little children, that I envy her.

But I cannot become a Sister. What would mamma say if she knew I even thought of it? Everybody would think me crazy. Nobody would believe how much there is in me that never comes to light, nor how miserable it makes me to be the poor, half-hearted thing that I am.

You know, dear friend, about sister Ida's peculiar course, and how very much it has vexed mamma. Yet, really and truly, I can't help respecting Ida. It seems to me she shows a real strength of principle that I lack. She went into gay society only a little while before she gave it up, and her reasons, I think, were good ones. She said it weakened her health, weakened her mind; that there was no use in it, and that it was just making her physically and morally helpless, and that she wanted to live for a purpose of her own. She wanted to go to Paris, and study for the medical profession; but neither papa, nor mamma, nor any of the family would hear of it. But Ida persisted that she would do something, and finally papa took her into his business, to manage the foreign correspondence, which she does admirably, putting all her knowledge of languages to account. He gives her the salary of a confidential clerk, and she lays it up, with the intention finally of carrying her purpose.

Ida is a good, noble woman, of a strength and independence perfectly incomprehensible to me. I can desire, but I cannot do; I am weak and irresolute. People can talk me round, and do anything with me, and I cannot help myself.

Another thing makes me unhappy. Ida refused to be confirmed when I was, because, she said, confirmation was only a sham; that the girls were just as wholly worldly after as before, and that it did no earthly good.

Well, you see, I was confirmed; and, oh dear me! I was sincere, God knows. I wanted to be good—to live a higher, purer, nobler life than I have lived; and yet, after all, it is I, the child of the Church, that am living a life of folly, and show, and self-indulgence; and it is Ida, who doubts the Church, that is living a life of industry, and energy, and self-denial.

Why is it? The world that we promise to renounce, that our sponsors promised that we should renounce—what is it, and where is it? Do those vows mean anything? if so, what? I mean to do all that I ought to; but how to know what? There's Aunt Maria, my god-mother, she did the renouncing for me at my baptism, and promised solemnly that I should abjure "the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same; that I should not follow, or be led by them;" yet she has never, that I can see, had one thought of anything else but how to secure to me just exactly those very things. That I should be first in society, be admired, followed, flattered, and make a rich, splendid marriage, has been her very heart's desire and prayer; and if I should renounce the vain pomp and glory of the world, really and truly, she would be utterly heart-broken. So would mamma.

I don't mean to lay all the blame on them, either. I have been worldly, too, and ambitious, and wanted to shine, and been only too willing to fall in with all their views.

But it really is hard for a person like me to stand alone, against my own heart, and all my relatives, particularly when I don't know exactly, in each case, what to do, and what not; where to begin to resist, and where to yield.

Ida says that it is a sin to spend nights in dancing, so that one has to lie in bed like an invalid all the next day. She says it is a sin to run down one's health for no good purpose; and yet we girls all do it—everybody does it. We all go from party to party, from concert to ball, and from ball to something else. We dance the German three or four nights a week; and then, when Sunday comes, sometimes I find that there is the Holy Communion—and then I am afraid to go. I am like the man that had not on the wedding garment.

It seems to me that our church services were made for real Christians—people like the primitive Christians, who made a real thing of it; they gave up everything and went down and worshiped in the catacombs, for instance. I remember seeing those catacombs where they held their church far down under ground, when I was in Rome. There would be some meaning in such people's using our service, but when I try to go through with it I fear to take such words on my lips. I wonder that nobody seems to feel how awful those words are, and how much they must mean, if they mean anything. It seems to me so solemn to say to God, as we do say in the communion service, "Here we offer and present unto Thee, O, Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto Thee"——

I see so many saying this who never seem to think of it again; and, oh, my dear friend, I have said it myself, and been no better afterward, and now, alas, I too often turn away from the holy ordinance because I feel that it is only a mockery to utter them, living as I do.

About this marriage. Mr. Sydney is not at all a religious man; he is all for this world, and I don't think I shall grow much better by it.

I wish there were somebody that could strengthen me, and help me to be my better self. I have dreams of a sort of man like King Arthur, and the Knights of the Holy Grail—a man, noble, holy, and religious. Such an one I would follow if I broke away from everyone else; but, alas, no such are in our society, at least I never have met any. Yet I have it in me to love, even to death, if I found a real hero. I marked a place in a book the other day, which said:

"There is not so much difficulty in being willing to die for one, as finding one worth dying for."

I haven't, and they laugh at me as a romantic girl when I tell them what I would do if I found my ideal.

Well, I suppose you see how it's all likely to end. We drift, and drift and drift, and I shouldn't wonder if I drifted at last into this marriage. I see it all before me, just what it will be,—a wonderful wedding, that turns all New York topsy turvy—diamonds, laces, cashmeres, infinite flowers, and tuberoses of course, till one's head aches,—clang and ding, and bang and buzz;—triumphal processions to all the watering-places; tour in Europe, and then society life in New York, ad infinitum.

Oh, dear, if I only could get up some enthusiasm for him! He likes me, but he don't like the things that I like, and it is terribly slow work entertaining him—but when we are married we shan't see so much of each other, I suppose, and shall get on as other folks do. Papa and mamma hardly ever see much of each other, but I suppose they are all right. Aunt Maria says, love or no love at the beginning, it all comes to this sort of jog-trot at the end. The husband is the man that settles the bills, and takes care of the family, that's all.

Ida says—but I won't tell you what Ida says—she always makes me feel blue.

Do write me a good scolding letter; rouse me up; shame me, scold me, talk hard to me, and see if you can't make something of me. Perhaps it isn't too late.

Your affectionate bad girl,


[Letter from Mrs. Courtney to Eva Van Arsdel.]

My Dear Child:—You place me in an embarrassing position in asking me to speak on a subject, when your parents have already declared their wishes.

Nevertheless, my dear, I can but remind you that you are the child of an higher than any earthly mother, and in an affair of this moment you should take counsel of our holy Church. Take your prayer-book and read her solemn service, and see what those marriage vows are that you think of taking. Are these to be taken lightly and unadvisedly?

I recollect, when I was a young girl, we used to read Sir Charles Grandison, and one passage in the model Harriet Byron's letters I copied into my scrap-book. Speaking of one who had proposed to her, she says:

"He seems to want the mind that I would have the man blessed with that I am to vow to love and honor. I purpose whenever I marry to make a very good, and even dutiful wife; must I not vow obedience, and shall I break my marriage vow? I would not, therefore, on any consideration, marry a man whose want of knowledge might make me stagger in the performance of my duty to him; who would, perhaps, command from caprice or want of understanding what I think unreasonable to be complied with."

I quote this because I think it is old fashioned good sense, in a respectable old English novel, worth a dozen of the modern school. To me, there is indicated in your description of Mr. Sydney, just that lack of what you would need in a husband, which would make difficult, perhaps impossible, the performance of your marriage vows. It is evident that his mind does not impress yours or control yours, and that there are no mental sympathies between you.

That a man is a good business man; that he is fitted to secure the rent or taxes of the house one lives in, and to pay one's bills, is not all. Think, my child, that this man, for whom you can "get up no enthusiasm," whose company wearies you, is the one whom you are proposing to take by the hand before God's altar, and solemnly promise that forsaking all others, you will keep only unto him, so long as you both shall live, to love, to honor, and to obey. Can you do it?

You say you can get up no enthusiasm for this man, yet you have a conception of a man for whom you could leave all things; whom you could love unto the death.

It is out of just such marriages, made by girls with just such hearts as yours, that come all these troubles that are bringing holy marriage into disrepute in our times. A woman marries, thoughtlessly and unadvisedly, a man whom she consciously does not love, hoping that she shall love him, or that she shall do as well as others do; then by accident or chance she is thrown into the society of the very one whom she could have loved with enthusiasm, and married, for himself alone. The modern school of novels are full of these wretched stories, and people now are clamoring for free divorce, to get out of marriages that they never ought to have fallen into.

Amid all this confusion the Church stands from age to age and teaches. She shows you exactly what you are to promise; she warns you against promising lightly, or unadvisedly, and I can only refer my dear child to her mother's lessons. Marriage vows, like confirmation vows, are recorded in Heaven, and must not be broken.

The time for reflection is before they are made. Instead of clamoring for free divorce, as a purifier of marriage, all Christians should purify it as the church recommends, by the great care with which they enter into it. That is my doctrine, my love. I am a good old English Church-woman, and don't believe in any modern theories. The teachings of the prayer-book are enough for me. I know that, in spite of them all, there are thoughtless confirmation vows and marriage vows daily uttered in our church, but it is not for want of clear and solemn instruction. But you, my love, with your conscientiousness, and good sense, and really noble nature, will I am sure act worthily of yourself in this matter.

Another consideration I suggest to you. This man, whom I suppose to be a worthy and excellent man, has his rights. He has the right to the whole heart of the woman he marries—to whom at the altar he gives himself and all which he possesses. A woman who has what you call an enthusiasm for a man, can do much with him. She can bear with his faults; she can inspire and lead him; she can raise him in the scale of being. But without this enthusiasm, this real love, she can do nothing of the kind; it is a thing that cannot be dissembled, or affected. And after marriage, the man who does not find this in his wife, has the best reason to think himself defrauded.

Now, if for the sake of possessing a man's worldly goods, his advantages of fortune and station, you take that relation when you really are unable to give him your heart, you act dishonestly. You take and enjoy what you cannot pay for. Not only that, but you deprive him through all his life of the blessing of being really loved, which he might obtain with some other woman.

The fact is, you have been highly cultivated in certain departments; your tastes would lead you into the world of art and literature. He has been devoted to business, and in that way has amassed a fortune, but he has no knowledge, and no habits that would prepare him to sympathise with you.

I am not here undervaluing the worth of those strong, sterling qualities which belong to an upright and vigorous man. There are many women who are impressed by just that sort of power, and admire it in men, as they do physical strength and courage; it dazzles their imagination, and they fall in love accordingly. You happen to have another kind of fancy—he is not of your sort.

But there are doubtless women whom he would fully satisfy; who would find him a delightful companion who, in short, would be exactly what you are not, in love with him. My dear, men need wives who are in love with them. Simple tolerance is not enough to stand the strain of married life, and to marry when you cannot truly love is to commit an act of dishonesty and injustice. Remembering, therefore, that you are about to do what never can be undone, and what must make or mar your whole future, I speak this in all sincere plainness, because I am, and ever must be,

Your affectionate and true friend,

M. Courtney.

[Ida Van Arsdel to Mrs. Courtney.]

My Dear Friend:—I am glad you have written as you have to Eva. It is perfectly inexplicable to me that a girl of her general strength of character can be so undecided. Eva has been deteriorating ever since she came from Europe. This fashionable life is to mind and body just like a hotbed to tender plants in summer, it wilts everything down. Eva was a good scholar and I had great hopes of her. She had a warm heart; she has really high and noble aspirations, but for two or three years past she has done nothing but run down her health and fritter away her mind on trifles. She is not half the girl she was at school, either mentally or physically, and I am grieved and indignant at the waste. Her only chance of escape and salvation is to marry a true man.

But when people set out as a first requisite that the man must be rich, how many are the chances of finding that?

The rich men of America are either rich men's sons, who, from all I have seen of them, are poor trash enough, or business men, who have made wealth by their own exertions. But how few there are who make money, who do not sacrifice their spiritual and nobler natures to do it? How few with whom the making of money is not the beginning, middle, and end of life, and how little can such men do to uphold and elevate the moral nature of a wife!

Mr. Sydney is a man, heart, soul, and strength, interested in that mighty game of chance and skill by which, in America, money is made. He is a railroad king—a prince of stocks—a man going with a forty thousand steam power through New York waters. He wants a wife—a brilliant, attractive, showy, dressy wife, to keep his house and ornament his home; and he is at Eva's feet, because she is, on the whole, the belle of his circle. He chooses en Grand Seigneur, and undoubtedly he is as much in love with her as such a kind of man can be. But, in fact, he knows nothing about Eva; he does not even know enough to know the dangers of marrying such a woman. With all her fire, and all her softness, all her restless enthusiasms, her longings and aspirations and inconsistencies, what could he do with her? The man who marries Eva ought to know her better than she knows herself, but this man never would know her, if they lived together an age. He has no traits by which to estimate her, and the very best result of the marriage will be a mutual laisser aller of two people who agree not to quarrel, and to go their own separate ways, he to his world, and she to hers; and this sort of thing is what is called in our times a good marriage.

I am out of patience with Eva for her very virtues. It is her instinct to want to please and to comply, and because mamma and aunt Maria have set their heart on this match, and because she is empty-hearted and tired, and ennuyeuse, she has no strength to stand up for herself. Her very conscientiousness weakens her; she doubts, but does not decide. She has just enough of everything in her nature to get her into trouble, and not enough to get her out. A phrenologist told her she needed destructiveness. Well, she does. The pain-giving power is a most necessary part of a well organized human being. Nobody can ever do anything without the courage to be disagreeable at times, which I have plenty of. They do not try to control me, or enslave me. Why? Because I made my declaration of independence, and planted my guns, and got ready for war. This is dreadfully unamiable, but it did the thing; it secured peace; I am let alone. I am allowed my freedom, but everybody interferes with Eva. She is conquered territory—has no rights that anybody is bound to respect. It provokes me.

As to the religious part of your letter, dear friend, I thank you for it. I cannot see things as you do, however. To me it appears that in our day everything has got to be brought to the simple test of, What good does it do? If baptism, confirmation and eucharist make unworldly, self-denying, self-sacrificing people just as certainly as petunia-seed make petunias, why, then, nobody will have any doubt of their necessity, and the church will have its throngs. I don't see now that they do. Go into a fashionable party I have been in, and watch the girls, and see if you can tell who have been baptized and confirmed, and who have not.

The first Christians carried Christianity over all the pomp and power of the world simply by the unworldly life they lived. Nobody doubted where the true church was in those days. Christians were a set of people like nobody else in the world, and whenever and wherever and by whatever means that kind of character that they had is created, it will have power.

I like the Episcopal Church, but I cannot call it the church till I see evidences that it answers practically the purpose of a church better than any other. For my part I go to hear a dreadfully heretical preacher on Sunday, who lectures in a black-coat in a hall, simply because he talks to me on points of duty, which I am anxious to hear discussed. Eva, poor child, wears down her health and strength with night after night in society, and spends all her money on dress; doing no earthly thing for any living creature, except in the pleasure-giving way, like a bird or a flower, and then is shocked and worried about me because I read scientific works on Sunday.

I make conscience of good health, early hours, thick shoes, and mental and bodily drill, and subjection. Please God, I mean to do something worthy a Christian woman before I die, and to open a path through which weaker women shall walk out of this morass of fashion-slavery, and subjection, where they flounder now. I take for my motto that sentence from one of Dr. Johnson's allegories you once read to us: "No life pleasing to God that is not useful to man." I hope, my dear friend, I shall keep the spirit of Christ, though I wander from the letter. Such words as you have spoken to me, however, can never come amiss. Perhaps when I am old and wiser, like many another self-confident wanderer, I may be glad to come back to my mother's house, and then, perhaps, I shall be a stiff little church-woman. At all events I shall always be your loving and grateful pupil.


[Eva Van Arsdel to Isabel Convers.]

My Dear Belle: Thanks for your kind letter with all its congratulations and inquiries,—for though as yet I have no occasion for congratulation, and nothing to answer to inquiry, I appreciate these all the same.

No—Belle, the "old sixpence" is not gone yet,—you will have to keep to your friend a while longer. I am not engaged, and you have full liberty to contradict that report everywhere and anywhere.

Mr. Sydney is, of course, very polite, and very devoted, very much a friend of the family and all that, but I am not engaged to him, and you need never believe any such thing of me till you hear it directly, under my own hand and seal.

There have been a lot of engagements in our set lately. Lottie Trevillian is going to marry Sim Carrington, and Bessie Somers has at last decided to take old Watkins—though he is twenty-five years older than she,—and then there's Cousin Maria Elmore has just turned a splendid affair with young Livingstone, really the most brilliant match of the winter. I am positively ashamed of myself, under these circumstances, to be sitting still, and unable to report progress. My old infelicity in making up my mind seems to haunt me, and I dare say I shall live to be a dreadful example.

By the by, I have had a curious sort of an adventure lately. You know when I was up at Englewood visiting you last summer, I was just raving over those sonnets on Italy, which appeared in the "Milky Way" over the signature of "X." You remember those verses on "Fra Angelico" and the "Campanile," don't you? Well, I have found out who this X is. It's a Mr. Henderson that is now in New York, engaged on the staff of "The Great Democracy." We girls have noticed him once or twice walking with Jim Fellows—(you remember Jim;) Jim says he is a perfect hermit, devoted to study and writing, and never goes into society. Well, wasn't it odd that the fates should have thrown this hermit just in my way?

The other morning I came over from Brooklyn, where I had been spending three days with Sophia, and when I got into the car who should I see but this identical Mr. Henderson right opposite to me. I took a quiet note of him, between whiles thinking of one or two lines in his sonnet. He is nice-looking, manly, that is, and has fine dark eyes. Well, do you know, the most provoking thing, when I came to pay my fare I found that I had no tickets nor small change—what could have possessed me to come so I can't imagine, and mamma makes it all the worse by saying it's just like me. However, he interposed and arranged it for me in the nicest and quietest way in the world. I was going up to call at Jennings', the other side of the Astor House, to see about my laces, but by the time we got there, there came on such a rain as was perfectly dreadful. My dear, it was one of those shocking affairs peculiar to New York, which really come down by the bucketful, and I had nothing for it but to cross Broadway as quick as I could to catch a Fifth Avenue omnibus, and let my lace go till a more convenient season.

Well, as I stepped out into the storm, who should I find quite beside me but this gentleman, with his umbrella over my head. I could see at the moment that it had one of those quaint handles that they carve in Dieppe. We were among cars, and policemen, and trampling horses, and so on, but he got me safe into an up-town omnibus, and I felt so much obliged to him.

I supposed, of course, that there it might end, but, would you believe it, quite to my surprise, he got into the omnibus too! "After all," I said to myself, "perhaps his route lies up town like mine." He wasn't in the least presuming, and sat there very quietly, only saying, "Permit me," as he passed up a ticket for me when the fare was to be paid, so saving me that odious necessity of making change with my great awkward bill. I was mortified enough—but knowing who it was, had a sort of internal hope that one day I could apologize and make it all right, for, my dear, I determined on the spot that we would invite him to our receptions, and get Jim Fellows to make him come. I think there is no test of a gentleman like the manner in which he does a favor for a stranger lady whom the fates cast upon his protection. So many would be insufferably presuming and assuming—he was just right, so quiet, so simple, so unpretentious, yet so considerate.

He rode on very quietly till we were opposite our house, and then was on duty again with his umbrella, up to the very door of the house, and holding it over me while we were waiting. I couldn't help expressing my thanks, and asking him to walk in; but he excused himself, giving his card, and saying he would be happy to call and inquire after my health, etc.; and I gave him mine, with our Wednesday receptions on it, and told him how pleased mamma would be to have him call. It was all I could do to avoid calling him by his name, and letting him see how much I knew about him; but I didn't. It was rather awkward, wasn't it?

Now, I wonder if he will call on Wednesdays. Jim Fellows says he is so shy, and never goes out; and you know if there is anything that can't be had, that is the thing one is wild to get; so mamma and all of us are quite excited, and wondering if he will come. Mamma is all anxiety to apologize, and all that, for the trouble I have given him.

It's rather funny, isn't it—an adventure in prosaic old New York? I dare say, now, he has forgotten all about it, and never will think of coming into such a trifling set as we girls are. Well, I will let you know if he comes.

Ever your affectionate


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