The Home of Cornelia Moran
The Maid of Maiden Lane
Author:Amelia E. Barr

Never, in all its history, was the proud and opulent city of New York more glad and gay than in the bright spring days of Seventeen-Hundred- and-Ninety-One. It had put out of sight every trace of British rule and occupancy, all its homes had been restored and re-furnished, and its sacred places re-consecrated and adorned. Like a young giant ready to run a race, it stood on tiptoe, eager for adventure and discovery-- sending ships to the ends of the world, and round the world, on messages of commerce and friendship, and encouraging with applause and rewards that wonderful spirit of scientific invention, which was the Epic of the youthful nation. The skies of Italy were not bluer than the skies above it; the sunshine of Arcadia not brighter or more genial. It was a city of beautiful, and even splendid, homes; and all the length and breadth of its streets were shaded by trees, in whose green shadows dwelt and walked some of the greatest men of the century.

These gracious days of Seventeen-Hundred-and-Ninety-One were also the early days of the French Revolution, and fugitives from the French court--princes and nobles, statesmen and generals, sufficient for a new Iliad, loitered about the pleasant places of Broadway and Wall Street, Broad Street, and Maiden Lane. They were received with courtesy, and even with hospitality, although America at that date almost universally sympathized with the French Republicans, whom they believed to be the pioneers of political freedom on the aged side of the Atlantic. The merchants on Exchange, the Legislators in their Council Chambers, the working men on the wharves and streets, the loveliest women in their homes, and walks, and drives, alike wore the red co**ckade. The Marseillaise was sung with The Star Spangled Banner; and the notorious Carmagnole could be heard every hour of the day--on stated days, officially, at the Belvedere Club. Love for France, hatred for England, was the spirit of the age; it effected the trend of commerce, it dominated politics, it was the keynote of conversation wherever men and women congregated.

Yet the most pronounced public feeling always carries with it a note of dissent, and it was just at this day that dissenting opinion began to make itself heard. The horrors of Avignon, and of Paris, the brutality with which the royal family had been treated, and the abolition of all religious ties and duties, had many and bitter opponents. The clergy generally declared that "men had better be without liberty, than without God," and a prominent judge had ventured to say publicly that "Revolution was a dangerous chief justice."

In these days of wonderful hopes and fears there was, in Maiden Lane, a very handsome residence--an old house even in the days of Washington, for Peter Van Clyffe had built it early in the century as a bridal present to his daughter when she married Philip Moran, a lawyer who grew to eminence among colonial judges. The great linden trees which shaded the garden had been planted by Van Clyffe; so also had the high hedges of cut boxwood, and the wonderful sweet briar, which covered the porch and framed all the windows filling the open rooms in summer time with the airs of Paradise. On all these lovely things the old Dutchman had stamped his memory, so that, even to the third generation, he was remembered with an affection, that every springtime renewed.

One afternoon in April, 1791, two men were standing talking opposite to the entrance gates of this pleasant place. They were Captain Joris Van Heemskirk, a member of the Congress then sitting in Federal Hall, Broad Street, and Jacobus Van Ariens, a wealthy citizen, and a deacon in the Dutch Church. Van Heemskirk had helped to free his own country and was now eager to force the centuries and abolish all monarchies. Consequently, he believed in France; the tragedies she had been enacting in the holy name of Liberty, though they had saddened, had, hitherto, not discouraged him. He only pitied the more men who were trying to work out their social salvation, without faith in either God or man. But the news received that morning had almost killed his hopes for the spread of republican ideas in Europe, "Van Ariens," he said warmly, "this treatment of King Louis and his family is hardly to be believed. It is too much, and too far. If King George had been our prisoner we should have behaved towards him with humanity. After this, no one can foresee what may happen in France."

"That is the truth, my friend," answered Van Ariens. "The good Domine thinks that any one who can do so might also understand the Revelations. The French have gone mad. They are tigers, sir, and I care not whether tigers walk on four feet or on two. WE won our freedom without massacres."

"WE had Washington and Franklin, and other good and wise leaders who feared God and loved men."

"So I said to the Count de Moustier but one hour ago. But I did not speak to him of the Almighty, because he is an atheist. Yet if we were prudent and merciful it was because we are religious. When men are irreligious, the Lord forsakes them; and if bloodshed and bankruptcy follow it is not to be wondered at."

"That is true, Van Ariens; and it is also the policy of England to let France destroy herself." "Well, then, if France likes the policy of England, it is her own affair. But I am angry at France; she has stabbed Liberty in Europe for one thousand years. A French Republic! Bah! France is yet fit for nothing but a despotism. I wish the Assembly had more control--"

"The Assembly!" cried Van Heemskirk scornfully. "I wish that Catherine of Russia were now Queen of France in the place of that poor Marie Antoinette. Catherine would make Frenchmen write a different page in history. As to Paris, I think, then, the devil never sowed a million crimes in more fruitful ground."

"Look now, Captain, I am but a tanner and currier, as you know, but I have had experiences; and I do not believe in the future of a people who are without a God and without a religion."

"Well, so it is, Van Ariens. I will now be silent, and wait for the echo; but I fear that God has not yet said 'Let there be peace.' I saw you last night at Mr. Hamilton's with your son and daughter. You made a noble entrance."

"Well, then, the truth is the truth. My Arenta is worth looking at; and as for Rem, he was not made in a day. There are generations of Zealand sailors behind him; and, to be sure, you may see the ocean in his grey eyes and fresh open face. God is good, who gives us boys and girls to sit so near our hearts."

"And such a fair, free city for a home!" said Van Heemskirk as he looked up and down the sunshiny street. New York is not perfect, but we love her. Right or wrong, we love her; just as we love our mother, and our little children."

"That, also, is what the Domine says," answered Van Ariens; "and yet, he likes not that New York favours the French so much. When Liberty has no God, and no Sabbath day, and no heaven, and no hell, the Domine is not in favour of Liberty. He is uneasy for the country, and for his church; and if he could take his whole flock to heaven at once, that would please him most of all."

"He is a good man. With you, last night, was a little maid--a great beauty I thought her--but I knew her not. Is she then a stranger?"

"A stranger! Come, come! The little one is a very child of New York. She is the daughter of Dr. Moran--Dr. John, as we all call him."

"Well, look now, I thought in her face there was something that went to my heart and memory."

"And, as you know, that is his house across the street from us, and it was his father's house, and his grandfather's house; and before that, the Morans lived in Winckle Street; and before that, in the Lady's Valley; so, then, when Van Clyffe built this house for them, they only came back to their first home. Yes, it is so. The Morans have seen the birth of this city. Who, then, can be less of a stranger in it than the little beauty, Cornelia?"

"As you say, Van Ariens."

"And yet, in one way, she is a stranger. Such a little one she was, when the coming of the English sent the family apart and away. To the army went the Doctor, and there he stayed, till the war was over. Mrs. Moran took her child, and went to her father's home in Philadelphia. When those redcoats went away forever from New York, the Morans came back here, but the little girl they left in the school at Bethlehem, where those good Moravian Sisters have made her so sweet as themselves; so pure! so honest-hearted! so clever! It was only last month she came back to New York, and few people have seen her; and yet this is the truth-- she is the sweetest maid in Maiden Lane; though up this side, and down that side, are some beauties--the daughters of Peter Sylvester; and of Jacob Beckley; and of Claes Vandolsom. Oh, yes! and many others. I speak not of my Arenta. But look now! It is the little maid herself, that is coming down the street."

"And it is my grandson who is at her side. The rascal! He ought now to be reading his law books in Mr. Hamilton's office. But what will you? The race of young men with old heads on their shoulders is not yet born-- a God's mercy it is not!"

"We also have been young, Van Heemskirk."

"I forget not, my friend. My Joris sees not me, and I will not see him." Then the two old men were silent, but their eyes were fixed on the youth and maiden, who were slowly advancing towards them; the sun's westering rays making a kind of glory for them to walk in.

She might have stepped out of the folded leaves of a rosebud, so lovely was her face, framed in its dark curls, and shaded by a gypsy bonnet of straw tied under her chin with primrose-coloured ribbons. Her dress was of some soft, green material; and she carried in her hand a bunch of daffodils. She was small, but exquisitely formed, and she walked with fearlessness and distinction Yet there was around her an angelic gravity, and that indefinable air of solitude, which she had brought from innocent studies and long seclusion from the tumult and follies of life.

Of all this charming womanhood the young man at her side was profoundly conscious. He was the gallant gentleman of his day, hardly touching the tips of her fingers, but quite ready to fall on his knees before her. A tall, sunbrowned, military-looking young man, as handsome as a Greek god, with eyes of heroic form; lustrous, and richly fringed; and a beautiful mouth, at once sensitive and seductive. He was also very finely dressed, in the best and highest mode; and he wore his sword as if it were a part of himself. It was no more in his way than if it were his right arm. Indeed, all his movements were full of confidence and ease; and yet it was the vivacity, vitality, and ready response of his face that was most attractive.

His wonderful eyes were bent upon the maid at his side; he saw no other earthly thing. With a respectful eagerness, full of admiration, he talked to her; and she answered his words--whatever they were--with a smile that might have moved mountains. They passed the two old men without any consciousness of their presence, and Van Heemskirk smiled, and then sighed, and then said softly-"So much youth, and beauty, and happiness! It is a benediction to have seen it! I shall not reprove Joris at this time. But now I must go back to Federal Hall; the question of the Capital makes me very anxious. Every man of standing must feel so."

"And I must go to my tan pits, for it is the eye of the master that makes the good servant. You will vote for New York, Van Heemskirk?--that is a question I need not to ask?"

"Where else should the capital of our nation be? I think that Philadelphia has great presumptions to propose herself against New York:--this beautiful city between the two rivers, with the Atlantic Ocean at her feet!"

"You say what is true, Van Heemskirk. God has made New York the capital, and the capital she will be; and no man can prevent it. It was only yesterday that Senator Greyson from Virginia told me that the Southern States are against Philadelphia. She is very troublesome to the Southern States, day by day dogging them with her schemes for emancipation. It is the way to make us unfriends."

"I think this, Van Ariens: Philadelphia may win the vote at this time; she has the numbers, and she has 'persuasions'; but look you! NEW YORK HAS THE SHIPS AND THE COMMERCE, AND THE SEA WILL CROWN HER! 'The harvest of the rivers is her revenue; and she is the mart of nations.' That is what Domine Kunz said in the House this morning, and you may find the words in the prophecy of Isaiah, the twenty-third chapter."

During this conversation they had forgotten all else, and when their eyes turned to the Moran house the vision of youth and beauty had dissolved. Van Heemskirk's grandson, Lieutenant Hyde, was hastening towards Broadway; and the lovely Cornelia Moran was sauntering up the garden of her home, stooping occasionally to examine the pearl-powdered auriculas or to twine around its support some vine, straggling out of its proper place.

Then Van Ariens hurried down to his tanning pits in the swamp; and Van Heemskirk went thoughtfully to Broad Street; walking slowly, with his left arm laid across his back, and his broad, calm countenance beaming with that triumph which he foresaw for the city he loved. When he reached Federal Hall, he stood a minute in the doorway; and with inspired eyes looked at the splendid, moving picture; then he walked proudly toward the Hall of Representatives, saying to himself, with silent exultation as he went: "The Seat of Government! Let who will, have it; New York is the Crowning City. Her merchants shall be princes, her traffickers the honourable of the earth; the harvest of her rivers shall be her royal revenue, and the marts of all nations shall be in her streets."