The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: short story

“The Christmas Gathering” by Mrs. Joseph Clay Neal (Alice B. Neal)

The Christmas Gathering
By Mrs. J. C. Neal (Alice B. Neal, née Bradley)
From Godey’s Lady’s Book, December, 1849, pp. 440-441

     The people of New England rejoice in their “Thanksgiving;” but we of the Middle States make Christmas the holiday of the year, the anniversary on which long-separated friends meet once again, and families gather together to renew the bond of sympathy by social intercourse.
     They have gone out from the household one by one. The boy, who once hailed this merry morning by shouts and glad wishes, that roused the sleepers from their pleasant dreams, wakes not to hear his own little ones clamoring for a kiss, in return for a like salutation.
     His favorite sister has arranged her own Christmas Tree beneath another roof, and for children that smile with soft, blue eyes, so like her own; and the youngest, the pet, the darling of all, has waited until now to
         “Lay aside her maiden gladness,
         For a name and for a ring.”
     And on Christmas morn, memories will intrude of those who return no more. We should not say intrude, for a tender and softened recollection is ever present, of the dear ones who shared with us the blessings of childhood, who slept with arms entwined by ours, though now, alas, covered by the cold clod of the valley! No, it is not an intrusion, when these gentle spirits return, voiceless and viewless, with a presence felt in our inmost souls. Their seat by the fireside may be filled by another; but in our hearts we can still “keep a niche to hold our idols.”
     Why should such thoughts—for they are mournful, though sweet—rise up when we speak of this merry holiday? There is nothing of sadness, save this, in the gathering of children and children’s children in the old home. No seariness is the mellow light that glows through the cheerful room, that flashes outward from the ample hickory fire, or streams in subdued lustre upon broad mirrors and the gorgeous carpet, from the lofty chandelier. Christmas evergreens, with their shining berries, are wreathed about the picture-frames, and branches of fir loop back the heavy curtains. There sits the grandsire, with the child of his favorite daughter clasped to his heart, even as she had nestled in her babyhood; and the last namesake of his wife has crept to the good lad’s knee, with the confidence of an assured favorite.
     “Bless the child!” says the good dame to the mother, who is complacently listening to the praises of another juvenile member of the group. She can scarce believe that her own Mary is now the sedate, matronly woman, who counsels her young married sister with sage experiences in “teething” and the “whooping cough.” But so it is; and Annie has also little ones growing up beside her, who cling about her neck, or stand quietly at her side, with the shy, half timid air, that grandmamma can so well remember in their mother.
     And no one heeds the lovers. They are as much alone as though only their low whisper broke the silence of the room. And Lillian blushes and looks down, while those fond words are poured into her ear. She is thinking that, when another Christmas arrives, she will be among those who “come home” for its festivities. It is not a sorrowful thought—oh no!—but her heart flutters when she thinks of the bridal veil and the marriage service, and she heartily wishes it were all over.
     Her cousin Marie has also her own reveries, there close to grandpapa’s easy-chair, her favorite station. She knows she is not beautiful, and is less attractive than any of those by whom she is surrounded. But she is young and hopeful, and she is wondering if any one will—can love her well enough to overlook her lack of beauty, and cherish her for the earnest nature hidden under this plain exterior. Ay, dream on, maiden, for the meek and quiet spirit which cheers the lonely hours of old age so unselfishly, is an ornament outshining many graces, and sooner or later it shall have its reward. The orphan shall find a new home, and be loved for herself alone.
     Some one has said: “Christmas may well be the holiday of children, for it is the anniversary of that blessed day when our Lord became as one of them.” Little Alice has heard this, and as she basks in the firelight, with the kitten in her arms, her thoughts are far away from the pet she is caressing, or the gambols of old pussy at her feet. She has been trying to recall all that Aunt Lillian has said about Christmas this morning, and the beautiful tales she read from the large, old-fashioned Bible, with those curious pictures. It is a great thing for the little ones when they are permitted to look into that family relic, where their own birthday is recorded below that of their parents. “How beautiful it must have been,” thinks Alice, softly, “to look up into the sky and see all those angels, who came to tell that our Saviour was born! Oh, how sweetly they must have sun; like Aunt Lillian! I think she must be an angel, sometimes. And then our Saviour was laid in a manger, when my little brother has such a beautiful cradle, with white pillows instead of the hay. I wonder why he was not rich, when he might have been with wishing it!”
     Dear child, she will learn as she grows older, the lesson of our Master’s humility, and that he was the friend and the companion of the lowliest. And perhaps this is the reason why Christian people, on whom heaven has showered the gifts of fortune, feel a deeper sympathy, when this happy morning arrives, for the sufferings of those who “do lack, and suffer hunger,” for the wanderer and the homeless, who, like Him, “have not where to lay their heads.” It may be the remembrance of His poverty that opens their hearts to devise liberal things, to clothe the shivering little ones that have almost lost the image of His blessed childhood in the want and squalidness by which they are surrounded; to comfort the desolate mother who, like Mary of Bethlehem, watches over a new-born babe—though still unlike, inasmuch as she has no joyful hope, no blessed anticipations.
     Ah, yes, it must be this; and those who chide the celebration of this high Christian festival, or pass its social hours without a thought abstracted from the dull routine of business toil, have never felt their hearts beat high with the glow of gratitude and benevolence which such contemplations bring. They gather up the wealth of this world, but lose its keenest enjoyments; and while they forbear to recognize the coming of our Master as a little child, they are likewise in danger of forgetting, while the season brings it home forcibly to other hearts, that He has said, “The poor ye have always with you.”

The Pirate by Henry Poe-Part Two

This is my second and final installment of Henry Poe’s The Pirate. (I apologize that this had been put off so long until now.) You can read the first part here.

“The events of my boyhood I pass over–suffice it to say, I lost my parents at an early age, and was left to the care of a relation. I received a good education, and knew sorrow but by name until I had attained my eighteenth year. I then began a new existence–I was in love–Yes! if ever a man loved passionately–intensely,–I did. I was singular, romantic in my ideas, and Rosalie was equally so. I will pass over the few happy hours of our affection–they would be tedious, and I would not wish to bring them to my mind too foreibly–she promised me her hand, and declared that none but myself should ever possess it–Oh! my friend, you are young–but beware how you entrust your heart and happiness into the keeping of a woman!–it is this that has brought me to what I am–a wretched outcast–a murderer!–a broken-hearted, desperate being!”–The perspiration stood in large drops on his forehead–after a pause of a moment he continued:

“I was too much restricted by poverty to marry–but I believed that I possessed talents which would place me beyond the reach of its effects–I accordingly embraced an offer from a friend to engage in a trading voyage to the West Indies, and as my health was delicate, my friends considered the climate would restore my frame to its usual vigour. I bade a farewell to home and to Rosalie–that kiss!–that farewell kiss, was our last.

We were detained nearly a year trading to different ports, and altho’ I had written home every opportunity, had never received an answer. It was with such feelings of rapturous joy which language is incapable of defining, that I saw our vessel fast approaching my native land–a thousand endearing recollections rushed on my mind–the thought that my Rosalie was false, had never entered my brain–I would have blushed if it had done so.

It was night when our boast landed me at the wharf, and I flew with a beating heart towards her dwelling.

I forgot to mention the dagger–I purchased it with some other trinkets on account of its beauty, and had that day carelessly put it in my waistcoat pocket.

There were lights in the front of the house and I heard music–I wished to see her alone, and went to the garden gate–every thing reminded me of the blissful hours I had passed–I walked towards the servants’ houses, intending to get one of them to carry a message to Rose. The first one I met had often carried letters bewteen us–but she did not recognize me, until I spoke, when she exclaimed, “Oh Lord! Master Edgar is it you!–Miss Rose is to be married in half an hour!” and burst into tears. I have often since been surprised at my own firmness, for I listened calmly to her tale!–’twas short–a wealthy suitor had been proposed and was accepted. I asked if she could not procure me an interview–that, she said was impossible, but I would stand in the passage I might see her as she passed to the room. Thither I went, and as there was only a small lamp burning, I could not easily be discovered–I heard her laughing and talking gaily in her dressing room–strange feelings came over me–a thousand lights seemed to dance before my eyes–a difficulty of breathing, and a confused sensation of pain oppressed me–when I came to myself I was leaning against the wall and my hand convulsively grasping the dagger.

The door opened, and Rosalie with several others, came into the passage–I waited until she was nearly opposite to me, when I let fall the cloak with which I had concealed my face, and exclaimed “do you know me!–I am Edgar Leonard!”–She shrieked at the mention, and I buried my dagger in her bosom!”—-

He paused-his countenance was livid, and he bit his lip till the blood spouted on the table before him.–After a few moments he became more composed, and hastily swallowing a glass of wine, proceeded-

“I remember nothing afterwards until I found myself in the street–my hand felt stiff, and when I held it up in the moonlight, I discovered that it was blood–the truth flashed across my bewildered mind–’twas Rosalie’s life-blood! the dagger, too, looked dim–that too was stained with the blood of her, for whom, but one short hour previous to the fatal disclosure of her inconsistency, every drop in my own veins should have freely flowed!–I knew not how I got there, but I was in the boat, and I remember telling the men to land me on the opposite shore. I wished to fly, if possible, from thought, and embarked under a feigned name in a vessel for Colombia, intending to join the Patriots. On our passage we were captured by this vessel, and as I was now an outcast from society, I gladly joined them, and at the death of their captain I(?)* was chosen the commander.

I am weary of life, yet, although a murderer, I cannot commit suicide. I have courted death, but it shuns me–so true it is, that

“Life’s strange principle will longest lie
Deepest in those who wish the most die.”

You have now heard the history of my ill-fated life–but I have something more with you”–with this, he opened a chest and drew thence a bag of gold–“Take this,” said he,–“it may benefit you–me it never can–and yet,” he bitterly added, that at one time, perhaps, would have made me the happiest of mortals in the possession of my”–He stopped short–and suddenly clasping his hands to his forehead, he reeled and sunk senseless on the floor, ere I could recover from the bewildering maze which had seized upon my faculties.–He slowly recovered, and, when he seemed somewhat composed, I endeavored to persuade him to renounced his present mode of life, and again return to the bosom of civilized society–“Never!” exclaimed he, with a vehemence which made me shrink back with terror–“Never shall my outlawed foot pollute the soil of my much injured country–some speedy vengeance may here close my hated existence–but to bear in retirement those stings of remorse which which my guilt-stricken conscience is afflicted, would be worse than a thousand deaths on the ocean, where every nerve would be firmly strung in the conflict.” His firmness awed me into silence, and I felt no inclination to renew my endeavors to avert him from his purpose.

In a few days we fell in with a vessel bound to Charleston, in which I obtained a passage, and, after bidding an affectionate farewell to the youthful commander of the pirate, to whose attention and kindness I was mainly indebted for my restoration to health, we kept on our course homeward, and his little barque was soon beyond the reach of our observance. When the last glimpse was extinct, (and until then I stood motionless on the deck,) I retired to the cabin, where I found that not only my baggage had been safely and carefully delivered through his orders, but that the gold which I had intentionally left in the cabin of the corsair, was also placed in the hands of the captain, to be delivered to me.

After a pleasant run of five days we reached our destined port, and it being the sabbath day on which we landed, my first duty was fulfilled in repairing to the church and offering up my grateful acknowledgements for the signal display of the finger of providence in my behalf,–and in which a prayer for the unfortunate pirate was not forgotten.”

*I am unsure what this word is.