Misdirected Letters
The Maid of Maiden Lane
Author:Amelia E. Barr

The night so unhappy to Cornelia was very much more unhappy to Hyde. He had sent his letter to her before eleven in the morning, and if Fortune were kind to him, he expected an answer soon after leaving Madame Jacobus. Her departure from New York depressed him very much. She had been the good genius of his love, but he told himself that it had now "grown to perfection, and could, he hoped, stand in its own strength." Restlessly he watched the hours away, now blaming, now excusing, anon dreaming of his coming bliss, then fidgeting and fearing disappointment from being too forward in its demanding. When noon passed, and one o'clock struck, he rang for some refreshment; for he guessed very accurately the reason of delay.

"Cornelia has been visiting or shopping," he thought; "and if it were visiting, no one would part with her until the last moment; so then if she get home by dinner-time it is as much as I can expect. I may as well eat, and then wait in what patience I can, another hour or two--yes, it will be two hours. I will give her two hours--for she will be obliged to serve others before me. Well, well, patience is my penance."

But in truth he expected the letter to be in advance of three o'clock. "Twenty words will answer me," he thought; "yes, ten words; and she will find or make the time to write them;" and between this hope and the certainty of three o'clock, he worried the minutes away until three struck. Then there was a knock at his door and he went hastily to answer it. Balthazar stood there with the longed-for letter in his hand. He felt first of all that he must be quite alone with it. So he turned the key and then stood a moment to examine the outside. A letter from Cornelia! It was a joy to see his own name written by her hand. He kissed the superscription, and kissed the white seal, and sank into his chair with a sigh of delight to read it.

In a few moments a change beyond all expression came over his face-- perplexity, anger, despair cruelly as**sailed him. It was evident that some irreparable thing had ruined all his hopes. He was for some moments dumb. He felt what he could not express, for a great calamity had opened a chamber of feeling, which required new words to explain it. This trance of grief was followed by passionate imprecations and reproaches, wearing themselves away to an utter amazement and incredulity. He had flung the letter to the floor, but he lifted it again and went over the cruel words, forcing himself to read them slowly and aloud. Every period was like a fresh sentence of death.

"'YOUR LETTER HAS GIVEN ME VERY GREAT SORROW;' let me die if that is not what she says; 'VERY GREAT SORROW. YOU MUST HAVE KNOWN FOR WEEKS, EVEN MONTHS, THAT MARRIAGE BETWEEN US WAS IMPOSSIBLE;' am I perfectly in my senses? 'IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN AND ALWAYS WILL BE;' why, 'tis heart treason of the worst kind! Can I bear it? Can I bear it? Can I bear it? Oh Cornelia! Cornelia! 'WE HAVE BEEN SO HAPPY.' Oh it is piteous, sad. So young, so fair, so false! and she 'GRIEVES AT MY GOING AWAY,' and bids me on 'NO ACCOUNT CALL ON HER FATHER'--and takes pains to tell me the 'NO IS ABSOLUTE'--and I am not to 'BLAME HER.' Oh this is the vilest treachery! She might as well have played the coquette in speech as writing. It is Rem Van Ariens who is at the bottom of it. May the devil take the fellow! I shall need some heavenly power to keep my hands off him. This is a grief beyond all griefs--I believed she loved me so entirely. Fool! a thousand times fool! Have I not found all women of a piece? Did not Molly Trefuses throw me over for a duke? and Sarah Talbot tell me my love was only calf-love and had to be weaned? and Eliza Capel regret that I was too young to guide a wife, and so marry a cabinet minister old enough for her grandfather? Women are all just so, not a cherry stone to choose between them--I will never wonder again at anything a woman does--Was ever a lover so betrayed? Oh Cornelia! your ink should have frozen in your pen, ere you wrote such words to me."

Thus his passionate grief and anger tortured him until midnight. Then he had a high fever and a distracting headache, and, the physical torment being the most insistent and distressing, he gave way before it. With such agonizing tears as spring from despairing wounded love he threw himself upon his bed, and his craving, suffering heart at length found rest in sleep from the terrible egotism of its sorrow.

Never for one instant did he imagine this sorrow to be a mistaken and quite unnecessary one. Indeed it was almost impossible for him to conceive of a series of events, which though apparently accidental, had a fatality more pronounced than anything that could have been arranged. Not taking Rem Van Ariens seriously into his consideration, and not fearing his rival in any way, it was beyond all his suspicions that Rem should write to Cornelia in the same hour, and for the same purpose as himself. He had no knowledge of Rem's intention to go to Boston, and could not therefore imagine Cornelia "grieving" at any journey but his own impending one to England. And that she should be forced by circumstances to answer both Rem and himself in the same hour, and in the very stress and hurry of her great love and anxiety should misdirect the letters, were likelihoods outside his consciousness.

It was far otherwise with Rem. The moment he opened the letter brought him by Cornelia's messenger, in that very moment he knew that it was NOT his letter. He understood at once the position, and perceived that he held in his hand an instrument, which if affairs went as he desired, was likely to make trouble he could perchance turn to his own advantage. The fate that had favoured him so far would doubtless go further--if he let it alone. These thoughts sprang at once into his reflection, but were barely entertained before nobler ones displaced them. As a Christian gentleman he knew what he ought to do without cavil and without delay, and he rose to follow the benignant justice of his conscience. Into this obedience, however, there entered an hesitation of a second of time, and that infinitesimal period was sufficient for his evil genius.

"Why will you meddle?" it asked. "This is a very dubious matter, and common prudence suggests a little consideration. It will be far wiser to let Hyde take the first step. If the letter he has received is so worded, that he knows it is your letter, it is his place to make the transfer--and he will be sure to do it. Why should you continue the chase? let the favoured one look after his own affairs--being a lawyer, you may well tell yourself, that it is not your interest to move the question."

And he hesitated and then sat down, and as there is wickedness even in hesitating about a wicked act, Rem easily drifted from the negative to the positive of the crime contemplated.

"I had better keep it," he mused, "and see what will come of the keeping. All things are fair in love and war"--a stupid and slanderous as**sertion, as far as love is concerned, for love that is noble and true, will not justify anything which Christian ethics do not justify.

He suffered in this decision, suffered in his own way quite as much as Hyde did. Cornelia had been his dream from his youth up, and Hyde had been his aversion from the moment he first saw him. The words were not to seek with which he expressed himself, and they were such words as do not bear repeating. But of all revelations, the revelation of grief is the plainest. He saw clearly in that hour that Cornelia had never loved him, that his hopes had always been vain, and he experienced all the bitterness of being slighted and humbled for an enemy.

After a little while he remembered that Hyde might possibly do the thing which he had resolved not to do. Involuntarily he did Hyde this justice, and he said to himself, "if there is anything in the letter intended for me, which determines its ownership, Hyde will bring it. He will understand that I have the answer to his proposal, and demand it from me--and whether I shall feel in a mood to give it to him, will depend on the manner in which the demand is made. If he is in one of his lordly ways he will get no satisfaction from me. I am not apt to give myself, nor anything I have, away; in fact it will be best not to see him--if he holds a letter of mine he may keep it. I know its tenor and I am not eager to know the very words in which my lady says 'No.' HO! HO! HO!" he laughed, "I will go to the Swamp; my scented rival in his perfumed clothing, will hardly wish the smell of the tanning pits to come between him and his gentility."

The thought of Hyde's probable visit and this way of escaping it made him laugh again; but it was a laughter that had that something terrible in it which makes the laughter of the insane and drunken and cruel, worse than the bitterest lamentation. He felt a sudden haste to escape himself, and seizing his hat walked rapidly to his father's office. Peter looked up as he entered, and the question in his eyes hardly needed the simple interrogatary-"Well then?"

"It is 'No.' I shall go to Boston early in the morning. I wish to go over the business with Blume and Otis, and to possess myself of all particulars."

"I have just heard that General Hyde came back this morning. He is now the Right Honourable the Earl of Hyde, and his son is, as you know, Lord George Hyde. Has this made a difference?"

"It has not. Let us count up what is owing to us. After all there is a certain good in gold."

"That is the truth. I am an old man and I have seen what altitudes the want of gold can abase, and what impossible things it makes possible. In any adversity gold can find friends."

"I shall count every half-penny after Blume and Otis."

"Be not too strict--too far east is west. You may lose all by demanding all."

Then the two men spent several hours in going over their accounts, and during this time no one called on Rem and he received no message. When he returned home he found affairs just as he had left them. "So far good," he thought, "I will let sleeping dogs lie. Why should I set them baying about my affairs? I will not do it"--and with this determination in his heart he fell asleep.

But Rem's sleep was the sleep of pure matter; his soul never knew the expansion and enlightenment and discipline of the oracles that speak in darkness. The winged dreams had no message or comfort for him, and he took no counsel from his pillow. His sleep was the sleep of tired flesh and blood, and heavy as lead. But the waking from such sleep--if there is trouble to meet--is like being awakened with a blow. He leaped to his feet, and the thought of his loss and the shame of it, and the horror of the dishonourable thing he had done, as**sailed him with a brutal force and swiftness. He was stunned by the suddenness and the inexorable character of his trouble. And he told himself it was "best to run away from what he could not fight." He had no fear of Hyde's interference so early in the morning, and once in Boston all attacks would lose much of their hostile virulence, by the mere influence of distance. He knew these were cowardly thoughts, but when a man knows he is in the wrong, he does not challenge his thoughts, he excuses them. And as soon as he was well on the road to Boston, he even began to as**sume that Hyde, full of the glory of his new position, would doubtless be well disposed to let all old affairs drop quietly "and if so," he mused, "Cornelia will not be so dainty, and I may get 'Yes' where I got 'No.'"

He was of course arguing from altogether wrong premises, for Hyde at that hour was unconscious of his new dignity, and if he had been aware of it, would have been indifferent to its small honour. He had spent a miserable night, and a sense of almost intolerable desertion and injury awoke with him. His soul had been in desolate places, wandering in immense woods, vaguely apprehended as stretches of time before this life. He had called the lost Cornelia through all their loneliness, and answers faint as the faintest echo, had come back to that sense of spiritual hearing attuned in other worlds than this. But sad as such experience was, the sole effort had strengthened him. He was indeed in better case mentally than physically.

"I must get into the fresh air," he said. "I am faint and weak. I must have movement. I must see my mother. I will tell her everything." Then he went to his mirror, and looked with a grim smile at its reflection. "I have the face of a lover kicked out of doors," he continued scornfully. He took but small pains with his toilet, and calling for some breakfast sat down to eat it. Then for the first time in his life, he was conscious of that soul sickness which turns from all physical comfort; and of that singular obstruction in the throat which is the heart's sob, and which would not suffer him to swallow.

"I am most wretched," he said mournfully; "and no trouble comes alone. Of all the days in all the years, why should Madame Jacobus have to take herself out of town yesterday? It is almost incredible, and she could, and would have helped me. She would have sent for Cornelia. I might have pleaded my cause face to face with her." Then angrily--" Faith! can I yet care for a girl so cruel and so false? I am not to be pitied if I do. I will go to my dear mother. Mother-love is always sure, and always young. Whatever befalls, it keeps constant truth. I will go to my mother."

He rode rapidly through the city and spoke to no one, but when he reached his Grandfather Van Heemskirk's house, he saw him leaning over the half-door smoking his pipe. He drew rein then, and the old gentleman came to his side: "Why art thou here?" he asked. "Is thy father, or Lady Annie sick?"

"I know nothing new. There was no letter yesterday."

"Yesterday! Surely thou must know that they are now at home? Yesterday, very early in the morning, they landed."

"My father at home!"

"That is the truth. Where wert thou, not to know this?"

"I came to town yesterday morning. I had a great trouble. I was sick and kept my room."

"And sick thou art now, I can see that," said Madame Van Heemskirk coming forward--"What is the matter with thee, my Joris?"

"Cornelia has refused me. I know not how it is, that no woman will love me. Am I so very disagreeable?"

"Thou art as handsome and as charming as can be; and it is not Cornelia that has said 'no' to thee, it is her father. Now he will be sorry, for thy uncle is dead and thy father is Earl Hyde, and thou thyself art a lord."

"I care not for such things. I am a poor lord, if Cornelia be not my lady." "I wonder they sent not after thee!"

"They would be expecting me every hour. If there had been a letter I should have gone directly back with it, but it was beyond all surmising, that my father should return. Grandfather, will you see Doctor Moran for me? You can speak a word that will prevail."

"I will not, my Joris. If thy father were not here, that would be different. He is the right man to move in the matter. Ever thou art in too much of a hurry. Think now of thy life as a book of uncut leaves, and do not turn a page till thou hast read it to the very last word."

"I will see Cornelia for thee," said Madame Van Heernskirk. "I will ask the girl what she means. Very often she passes here, sometimes she comes in. I will say to her--why did thou throw my grandson's love away like an old shoe? Art thou not ashamed to be so light of love, for I know well thou said to my Joris, thou loved him. And she will tell me the truth. Yes, indeed, if into my house she comes, out of it she goes not, until I have the why, and the wherefore."

"Do not be unkind to her, grandmother--perhaps it is not her fault--if she had only said a few sorrowful words--Let me show you her letter."

"No," said Van Heernskirk." One thing at a time, Joris. Now it is the time to go and welcome thy father and thy cousin--too long has been the delay already."

"Then good-bye! Grandmother, you will speak or me?" And she smiled and nodded, and stood on her tiptoe while Joris stooped and kissed her-- "Fret not thyself at all. I will see Cornelia and speak for thee." And then he kissed her again and rode away.

Very near the great entrance gates of Hyde Manor he met his father and mother walking. Madame, the Right Honourable the Countess of Hyde, was pointing out the many improvements she had made; and the Earl looked pleased and happy. George threw himself off his horse with a loving impetuosity, and his mother questioned him about his manner of spending the previous day. "How could thou help knowing thy father had landed?" she asked." Was not the whole city talking of the circumstance?"

"I was not in the city, mother. I went to the post office and from there to Madame Jacobus. She was just leaving for Charleston, and I went with her to the boat."

"What an incredible thing! Madame Jacobus leaving New York! For what? For why?"

"She has gone to nurse her sister-in-law, who is dying. That is of all things the most likely--for she has a great heart."

"You say that--I know not."

"It is the truth itself. Afterwards I had my lunch and then came on a fever and a distracting headache, and I was compelled to keep my room; and so heard nothing at all until my grandfather told me the good news this morning."

"Madame Kippon was on the dock and saw thy father and cousin land. The news would be a hot coal in her mouth till she told it, and I am amazed she did not call at thy lodging. Now go forward; when thy father and I have been round the land, we will come to thee. Thy cousin Annie is here."

"That confounds me. I could hardly believe it true."

"She is frail, and her physicians thought the sea voyage might give her the vitality she needs. It was at least a chance, and she was determined to take it. Then thy father put all his own desires behind him, and came with her. We will talk more in a little while. I see thy dress is untidy, and I dare say thou art hungry. Go, eat and dress, by that time we shall be home."

But though his mother gave him a final charge "to make haste," he went slowly. The thought of Cornelia had returned to his memory with a sweet, strong insistence that carried all before it. He wondered what she was doing--how she was dressed--what she was thinking--what she was feeling-- -He wondered if she was suffering--if she thought he was suffering--if she was sorry for him--He made himself as wretched as possible, and then some voice of comfort anteceding all reasoning, told him to be of good cheer; for if Cornelia had ever loved him, she must love him still; and if she had only been amusing herself with his devotion, then what folly to break his heart for a girl who had no heart worth talking about.

Poor Cornelia! She was at that moment the most unhappy woman in New York. She had excused the "ten words" he might have written yesterday. She had found in the unexpected return of his father and cousin reason sufficient for his neglect; but it was now past ten o'clock of another day, and there was yet no word from him. Perhaps then he was coming. She sat at her tambour frame listening till all her senses and emotions seemed to have fled to her ear. And the ear has memory, it watches for an accustomed sound, it will not suffer us to forget the voice, the step of those we love. Many footsteps passed, but none stopped at the gate; none came up the garden path, and no one lifted the knocker. The house itself was painfully still; there was no sound but the faint noise made by Mrs. Moran as she put down her Dobbin or her scissors. The tension became distressing. She longed for her father--for a caller--for any one to break this unbearable pause in life.

Yet she could not give up hope. A score of excuses came into her mind; she was sure he would come in the afternoon. He MUST come. She read and reread his letter. She dressed herself with delightful care and sat down to watch for him. He came not. He sent no word, no token, and as hour after hour slipped away, she was compelled to drop her needle.

"Mother," she said, "I am not well. I must go upstairs." She had been holding despair at bay so many hours she could bear it no longer. For she was so young, and this was the first time she had been yoke-fellow with sorrow. She was amazed at her own suffering. It seemed so impossible. It had come upon her so swiftly, so suddenly, and as yet she was not able to seek any comfort or sympathy from God or man. For to do so, was to admit the impossibility of things yet turning out right; and this conclusion she would not admit; she was angry at a word or a look that suggested such a termination.

The next morning she called Balthazar to her and closely questioned him. It had struck her in the night, that the slave might have lost the letter, and be afraid to confess the accident. But Balthazar's manner and frank speech was beyond suspicion. He told her exactly what clothing Lieutenant Hyde was wearing, how he looked, what words he said, and then with a little hesitation took a silver crown piece from his pocket and added "he gave it to me. When he took the letter in his hand he looked down at it and laughed like he was very happy; and he gave me the money for bringing it to him; that is the truth, sure, Miss Cornelia."

She could not doubt it. There was then nothing to be done but wait in patience for the explanation she was certain would yet come. But on with what leaden motion the hours went by! For a few days she made a pretence of her usual employments, but at the end of a week her embroidery frame stood uncovered, her books were unopened her music silent, and she declared herself unable to take her customary walk. Her mother watched her with unspeakable sympathy, but Cornelia's grief was dumb; it made no audible moan, and preserved an attitude which repelled all discussion. As yet she would not acknowledge a doubt of her lover's faith; his conduct was certainly a mystery, but she told her heart with a passionate iteration that it would positively be cleared up.

Now and then the Doctor, or a visitor, made a remark which might have broken this implicit trust, and probably did facilitate that end; for it was evident from them, that Hyde was in health, and that he was taking his share in the usual routine of daily life:--thus, one day Mrs. Wiley while making a call said-"I met the new Countess and the Lady Annie Hyde, and I can tell you the new Countess is very much of a Countess. As for the Lady Annie," she added, "she was wrapped to her nose in furs, and you could see nothing of her but two large black eyes, that even at a distance made you feel sad and uncomfortable. However Lord George Hyde appeared to be very much her servant."

"There has been talk of a marriage between them," answered Mrs. Moran, for she was anxious to put her daughter out of all question. "I should think it would be a very proper marriage."

"Oh, indeed, 'proper marriages' seldom come off. Love marriages are the fashion at present."

"Are they not the most proper of all?"

"On the contrary, is there anything more indiscreet? Of a thousand couples who marry for love, hardly one will convince us that the thing can be done, and not repented of afterwards."

"I think you are mistaken," said Mrs. Moran coldly." Love should always seek its match, and that is love--or nothing."

"Oh indeed! It is you are mistaken," continued Mrs. Wiley." As the times go, Cupid has grown to cupidity, and seeks his match in money or station, or such things."

"Money, or station, or such things find their match in money, or station, or such things.--They are not love."

"Well then the three may go together in this case. But the girl has an uncanny, unworldlike face. Captain Wiley says he has seen mermaids with the same long look in their eyes. Do you know that Rem Van Ariens has gone to Boston?"

"We have heard so;"--and then the Doctor entered, and after the usual formalities said, "I have just met Earl Hyde and his Countess parading themselves in the fine carriage he brought with him, 'Tis a thousand pities the President did not wait in New York to see the sight."

"Was Lady Annie with them?" asked Mrs. Wiley, "we were just talking about her."

"Yes, but one forgets that she is there--or anywhere. She seems as if she were an accident."

"And the young lord?"

"The young lord affects the democratic."

Such conversations were not uncommon, and Mrs. Moran could not with any prudence put a sudden stop to them. They kept Cornelia full of wondering irritation, and gradually drove the doubt into her soul--the doubt of her lover's sincerity which was the one thing she could not fight against. It loosened all the props of life; she ceased to struggle and to hope. The world went on, but Cornelia's heart stood still; and at the end of the third week things came to this--her father looked at her keenly one morning and sent her instantly to bed. At the last the breakdown had come in a night, but it had found all ready for it.

"She has typhoid, or I am much mistaken," he said to the anxious mother. "Why have you said nothing to me? How has it come about? I have heard no complaining. To have let things go thus far without help is dreadful--it is almost murder."

"John! John! What could I do? She could not bear me to ask after her health. She said always that she was not sick. She would not hear of my speaking to you. I thought it was only sorrow and heart-ache."

"Only sorrow and heart-ache. Is not that enough to call typhoid or any other death? What is the trouble? Oh I need not ask, I know it is that young Hyde. I feel it. I saw this trouble coming; now let me know the whole truth."

He listened to it with angry amazement. He said he ought to have been told at the time--he threw aside all excuses--for being a man how could he understand why women put off, and hope, and suffer? He was sure the rascal ought to have been brought to explanation the very first day:-- and then he broke down and wept his wife's tears, and echoed all her piteous moan for her daughter's wronged love and breaking heart.

"What is left us now, is to try and save her dear life," said the miserable father." Suffering we cannot spare her. She must pass alone through the Valley of the Shadow; but it may be she will lose this sorrow in its dreadful paths. I have known this to happen often; for THERE the soul has to strip itself of all encumbrances, and fight for life, and life only."

This was the battle waged in Doctor Moran's house for many awful weeks. The girl lay at Death's door, and her father and mother watched every breath she drew. One day, while she was in extremity, the Doctor went himself to the apothecary's for medicine. This medicine was his last hope and he desired to prepare it himself. As be came out of the store with it in his hand, Hyde looked at him with a steady imploration. He had evidently been waiting his exit.

"Sir!" he said, "I have heard a report that I cannot, I dare not believe."

"Believe the worst--and stand aside, sir. I have neither patience nor words for you."

"I beseech you, sir--"

"Touch me not! Out of my sight! Broadway is not wide enough for us two, unless you take the other side."

"Your daughter? Oh sir, have some pity!"

"My daughter is dying."

"Then sir, let me tell you, that your behaviour has been so brutal to her, and to me, that the Almighty shows both kindness and intelligence in taking her away:"--and with these words uttered in a blazing passion of indignation and pity, the young lord crossed to the other side of the street, leaving the Doctor confounded by his words and manner.

"There is something strange here," he said to himself; "the fellow may be as bad as bad can be, but he neither looked nor spoke as if he had wronged Cornelia. If she lives I must get to the bottom of this affair. I should not wonder if it is the work of Dick Hyde--earl or general--as detestable a man as ever crossed my path."

With this admission and wonder, the thought of Hyde passed from his mind; for at that hour the issue he had to consider was one of life or death. And although it was beyond all hope or expectation, Cornelia came back to life; came back very slowly, but yet with a solemn calm and a certain air of conscious dignity, as of one victorious over death and the grave. But she was perilously delicate, and the Doctor began to consider the dangers of her convalescence.

"Ava," he said one evening when Cornelia had been downstairs awhile--"it will not do for the child to run the risk of meeting that man. I see him on the street frequently. The apothecary says he comes to his store to ask after her recovery nearly every day. He has not given her up, I am sure of that. He spoke to me once about her, and was outrageously impudent. There is something strange in the affair, but how can I move in it?"

"It is impossible. Can you quarrel with a man because he has deceived Cornelia? How cruel that would be to the child! You must bear and I must bear. Anything must be borne, rather than set the town wondering and talking."

"It is a terrible position. I see not how I can endure it."

"Put Cornelia before everything."

"The best plan is to remove Cornelia out of danger. Why not take her to visit your brother Joseph? He has long desired you to do so."

"Go to Philadelphia NOW! Joseph tells me Congress is in session, and the city gone mad over its new dignity. Nothing but balls and dinners are thought of; even the Quakers are to be seen in the finest modes and materials at entertainments; and Cornelia will hardly escape the fever of fashion and social gaiety. She has many acquaintances there."

"I do not wish her to escape it. A change of human beings is as necessary as a change of air, or diet. She has had too much of George Hyde, and Madame Jacobus, and Rem Van Ariens."

"I hear that Rem is greatly taken with Boston, and thinks of opening an office there."

"Very prudent of Rem. What chance has he in New York with Hamilton and Burr, to carry off all the big prey? Make your arrangements as soon as possible to leave New York."

"You are sure that you are right in choosing Philadelphia?"

"Yes--while Hyde is in New York. Write to your brother to-day; and as soon as Cornelia is a little stronger, I will go with you to Philadelphia."

"And stay with us?"

"That is not to be expected. I have too much to do here,"