THE FORMAL social life of the Washington season had no charms for Eva. If she could have had her own way she would have taken little part in it. This was not possible, for her father's position was official and there were duties as well as pleasures in the constant round of social functions. The house was made gay and attractive by the beauty and charm of an older sister, so that Eva was drawn into the stream in spite of her natural disinclination. The American girl of the eighties was deeply Victorian in her reactions; her daring was still on feminine lines. Certainly her coming out into society she viewed as a campaign, and herself a valiant little general marshalling her forces of courage and coquetry to meet the world. It was a serious business; if she had her triumphs, she also had her defeats. Who will blame her for seizing her points of vantage? There were exigencies, captives, victories; renunciations were not a part of the code.
None of this was even comprehensible to Eva. She stood without it, not because she would not have enjoyed "success," but because the armory of ordinary girlhood was unknown to her. Coquetry was not in her consciousness; she was considered cold and reserved. Reserved she was, but not cold.
The impossibility to adjust herself to her environment was a keen distress to her. Color and life and joyousness were all about her, and she could not make them her own. Youth is tragic; the currents of life run so strong. Fashionable social life was an unfought Waterloo to this little Napoleon; deeply galling to a nature not unambitious or unconscious of power. If the renunciation of the world could have come at this time it would, perhaps, have been simple, but the time had not yet come for the call, and when it did, she had already found a place and a work for herself which were hard to give up. It is for this reason, perhaps, that the Mother of the Transfiguration sometimes says that if one has vocation it is much happier to find it early.
The early spring of 1883 was spent in Paris under the chaperonage of her aunt, Mrs. Webb. They passed a few delightful weeks in an interesting French family, studying the language and enjoying the familiar everyday life of a foreign people, when their occupations were interrupted by a summons home on account of the dangerous illness of the youngest brother, Paul. The failure in her mother's health began at this time, hastened by nursing Paul for six weeks through this desperate case of pneumonia and abcess of the lungs. After his recovery, and her death two years later, he felt that his life had been given back at a great price and was no longer his own. He gave up his intention of following the law in his father's footsteps and entered the Princeton Theological Seminary, intending to be ordained as a Presbyterian minister. It was reading Lightfoot's Notes on the Christian Ministry that first opened his mind to the possibility of a visible, historic Church, not necessarily Roman, and a short time afterward he removed to the General Theological Seminary in New York, and began his studies for the priesthood.
Eva, in the meantime, was nearing the goal by means of her unconscious experiments in Catholic practice rather than by the historical appeal. Her mother's death had opened her eyes to the reasonableness of the Friday fast, though the too sudden illumination had startled her back, temporarily, into the dark. While this was the case with regard to fasting, there was one Catholic practice which she began at this time, never to discontinue--that of prayers for the dead. On the night of that dreadful day of the first sorrow, when she knelt beside her bed, she found that she could pray for nothing but that beloved departed soul, and rose from her knees in trepidation. She paced her room for some time in an agony of indecision. To pray for the dead seemed to her mind, steeped in Calvinis-tic Protestantism, a reprehensible Romish superstition. Yet there was another horn to her dilemma. She realized vividly that unless she could pray for her beloved mother, she would never pray again. Her heart prompted her. She knelt and prayed, and never again doubted of the doctrine.
The summer of 1885 was spent quietly at Oakencroft, the old home at Glendale, and a few letters written to her father while he was away on circuit show that the sorrow, which had taken so deep a hold upon her own life, was kept in the background, and that she strove to fill her days with homely and unselfish cares and companionship, gardening with one sister, sketching with another, and lovingly eager to fill the great blank in her father's life with the small humorous incidents of every day.
Oakencroft, June 22, 1885.
I know from experience that you will begin to look for letters immediately upon your arrival in Cleveland, and that you may not be disappointed, I am writing this afternoon, though I suppose you are not much more than half way there. I have had a very busy time since you left. The first thing I did was to go into the kitchen and make some real sugar kisses such as darling Mamma excelled in for Mortimer's birthday gift; there are twenty-seven with one to grow on. I worked very hard over them and they are quite a success. J--in the meantime had seen Marianna and persuaded her to bring Mortimer over to tea, and we are going to have the kisses as a surprise. I had better mention that there will be a few other things also.
After dinner J--and I went down to the flower garden and spent an hour and a half hoeing and trowelling among the flowers. I have pulled at oars, I have ridden horseback, but I do not think anything can come near gardening for giving backache and stiff joints and general soreness. I came in feeling very much as old Martin Fogarty looks, and found G--seated sketching in elegant leisure, and the abominable child there and then wanted me to sit down and take a drawing lesson! Badger--the dog--of course had insisted upon helping us with our gardening, always choosing the places we had carefully finished for his labors. After I had nearly succeeded in decapitating him with my trowel, he was bundled off into the stable, there to meditate upon his delinquencies, which he seems to have done with satisfactory results; for upon reappearing mysteriously he devoted himself to a recently discovered bone, and J-- and I finished our labors in peace. In spite of getting so tired there is a fascination about gardening, the earth has such a wholesome smell, the sunshine and fresh air are so invigorating--and luckily there were no worms.
I think I have now told you everything we have done since you left, and as really we have not had time to think, you will have to be content with the former. The children would join me in love if they were here, but Paul is out playing lawn tennis, J--is napping after her labors, and G--is somewhere in the village having at last summoned up courage for a walk. I do not need one, hence this letter. Take good care of yourself, my dearest.
Your very loving daughter,
Again she writes:
I have just come from the kitchen where I have been converting into jam the most gorgeous blackberries you ever saw--ten jars of jam black as the ace of spades is the result of my endeavors, and you cannot know with what fond pride I regard them. The reason that I have the sole honor of them is that just as the blackberries made their appearance Mr. R--was announced, and so J--and G--have devoted themselves to his entertainment, leaving me, much to my satisfaction, sole queen of the kitchen, with Ellen as prime minister, as well as a whole kingdom full of subjects. I cannot help speculating however as to why the unfortunate youth comes here so often, certainly much oftener than mere politeness would demand, and yet there is no indication in his appearance of any secret emotion preying upon his soul. I indulged in such meditations as these over my jam on purpose to give additional sweetness and flavor to it. I want you to notice next winter and see if you can detect any such extra touch! M--and the babies are spending the day at Mrs. P--'s, so the house is deeply quiet, for the addition of Mr. R--rather adds to the brooding Sabbath stillness.
What do you think of Austria's rejection of our minister?
We are having quite a drought and the grass and flowers are looking poorly, but the fields of grain are in their glory and the farmers are harvesting at their leisure with no fear of rain. A favorite season--yellow fields with the reapers in them or perhaps already swept bare of their summer's burden, giving a clear view across country. How I luxuriate in summer and hate to see it go!
The last of these letters of the summer of '85 was written for her father's birthday:
My dearest Papa:
Your birthday comes next Tuesday, if J--'s calendar is right, and since you will not be here for birthday kisses, and we cannot very well send you presents, we are going to write you birthday letters so that the day may not go all unmarked.
I wish we could have you with us so that we might all keep it together, for darling Papa, we all love you so very much and I don't believe we have ever told you half often enough. I was reading today in Kingsley's life how happy girls should be who have a great man for their father, and in my heart I said Amen, most heartily, and how doubly happy we are to be so proud of both father and mother.
Whether the great qualities of our parents ever come out in us or not, the ennobling love of those nobler than ourselves is ours, and I think it has had a stronger influence in moulding our characters than you or we are aware of. You would think this a long letter if you could read between the lines all that I have thought while writing it but would not put down for fear you would think me foolish and fanciful. I am afraid I am very full of fancies, and what makes it a hopeless case is that they seem like real substantial truth to me. Sixty-one kisses, Papa.
During her mother's life time Eva had felt no need for any other than mother and family love; they were all sufficient. She never had a lover. One young man who found her intellectually interesting and sought her out said that she seemed to want him to go away, so he went!
Hers was a life of the imagination, full of romance but never with self as the center.
One and another sonnet or bit of verse show how she loved to weave pleasant fictions about the lives of sisters and brothers, but with the withdrawing of her mother's presence the very breath of life left her. Her letters show only the effort of a healthy mind to subordinate her own feeling to the good of others; her verse shows her dwelling place in loss.
My soul sits silent and with folded wing
Within her narrow chamber, cold and bare,
Alone with Sorrow who came wandering
Upon a day and found a lodgment there;
And will not forth, but still doth darkly fling
Her shadow over every fancy fair.
Naught knows my soul of daylight free and fair,
But when Night stretches forth her purple wing
She stealeth forth beneath the heavens bare
And keepeth tryst with fairy folk who fling
Themselves into mad dances there,
Watched by the pale Moon faint with wandering.
Weary my soul with such vain wandering
And cold the elfin mirth, tho' wild and fair,
Yet tarrieth she her homeward way to wing--
For veiled Sorrow sits and broodeth there.
She may not thus the shadow from her fling--
Lo! Sorrow follows o'er the meadows bare.
And Sorrow leads with forehead pure and bare
Through dim paths widely wandering
Unto a land most strangely, sweetly fair,
Where gentle presences their dear arms fling
About my soul that nestles fondly there
As little bird beneath its mother's wing.
And grown a gracious Angel white of wing,
The dark veil dropped from head and shoulders bare.
Sweet Sorrow stoops and leads me wandering,
Back to my home, to rest in silence there,
And over that still chamber she doth fling
A charm that haunts my soul with visions fair.
So I have opened wide my chamber fair
Unto an angel visitor whose wing
Shelters my heart too easily laid bare
To pains and buffets wanton chances fling.
From heaven she came, an exile wandering,
Men call her Pain--her name is Patience, there.
Angel of Pain, fling off thy veil, and bare
Thy brow, that here, though earthly wandering
Hath broke thy wing, men yet may see thee fair.
The simple life of the country was health and healing to Eva, but with the return to Washington in the fall where there were no duties, and so for her few pleasures, she gave up the struggle with grief and sank too willingly into melancholy. She lived much alone. Her Calvinistic faith was no help in her sorrow.
The presence of one in her mother's place had a fearful effect upon her sensitive physical nature. [Judge Matthews had married a second time.] With spiritual starvation her health began to fail, and her father, alarmed, sent her to Princeton to be with her brother Paul, who at that time was studying for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. There she remained, keeping house for him and reading Hebrew and Greek and gradually regaining her lost tone in warm, sisterly companionship, until his change of faith.
Eva was not able to follow her brother in his intellectual volte face--it was to be the mystical, not the historical, appeal which was to win her. When Paul left Princeton for the General Theological Seminary, she made her home with her younger sister, who had married in 1888 and was living with her husband at Oakencroft. Paul, however, did not give up a well denned intention to convert Eva to the Catholic faith, and I remember his writing in one of his letters: "I hope, dear sister, that you may some day experience the joy of an objective religion." "What does he mean?" the sisters asked one another. It was a dead language to them, and meant nothing.
Eva was doing her duty at this time in the Presbyterian congregation in Glendale as an intelligent Calvinist, with some adaptations of Catholic practice taken unconsciously from the "objective religion." Her life was calm and pleasant in the midst of dear associations, with enough work to keep her contented, good and benevolent deeds to do, a household affectionate and congenial, and leisure in which to write.
In December, 1888, she went to Washington on account of the illness of her father, and remained there until March 22d of the following year, when he died. The time that she was not in the sick room she gave to the Associated Charities of the city, Washington being one of the first cities to try the experiment of cooperation in its benevolences. She worked too in connection with the Presbyterian Church of the Covenant. On December 7th she wrote to her sister:
I called this week at the homes of all my sewing pupils and had some interesting experiences. At one house, which I had expected, from the appearance of the little girl, always neat and rather well-bred, to be quite superior, I was ushered into the kitchen because it had the only fire in the house. It was a little place about twelve feet square and it contained, besides myself, two women, one of them a jolly, plump little person as deaf as a post, ironing, and the other seated at a quilting frame quilting a petticoat; a baby two months old trying to extract milk from an empty bottle, and a child of four sewing upon some mysterious garment for an almost invisible doll. I was made very welcome and seated in the warmest corner by the stove, an attention a little unnecessary with my furs, and was soon deep in conversation as if I had known them for years, in the course of which I learned that the two women were no kin to one another, the one quilting, a grey-haired woman with a sweet strong face, finding a home with Mrs. Turvey, being nursed and cared for when she was sick, and in return giving her time and strength and love to the children, of whom she spoke with almost as much affection as if they had been her own; and the most singular thing about it is, that one of the women is a Roman Catholic and the other a Protestant.
This visit was such a contrast to the next that I must tell you about that too. I had sat with Mrs. Turvey in her hospitable kitchen for over half an hour, and when I rose to go I was assailed with: Where's your hurry? and, Can't you sit a little longer? with invitations to come again. In the next house, separated by only a thin partition wall from the hospitable Turveys, I was ushered into a small, frigid parlor with clothes heaped upon the sofa and chairs and the furniture disarranged, and my hostess, far more pretentious than her modest neighbors, made feeble apologies for the disorder and seemed a little annoyed that I had found her in such a plight, though evidently pleased that I had taken the trouble to call. I could not help making the comparison between the kitchen and the parlor. In the kitchen you get near to people's hearts--their real selves--and in the parlor you are held at arm's length. That is the reason I think that ordinary social life is so distasteful to me. I have never gotten beyond the parlor stage, and there is more real satisfaction in a half hour of real human life, however humble, with its hopes and its fears, its experiences all genuine, than in days of carefully dusted bric-a-brac that people try to persuade you is their life. Well, I too may cry peccavi, in that respect, but I have discovered my error and am trying to rectify it.
After her father's death, on March 22, 1889, Eva settled down as a member of the Glendale household, while Paul, the younger brother, finished his course at the General.
The year of 1889 is marked as a year of rhyming. Every little family event served as the pretext for some sweet or humorous verse, and sonnet and rondeau and ballad followed each other in quick succession. Her rhyming was rather the fleeting expression of her lively personality than a literary gift not to be denied, and perhaps for this reason each one felt a natural partiality for the rhyme or sonnet addressed to himself! Certainly it is not my intention to make myself the critic of her verse--it is quite out of date--but only to use such of her poems as throw light upon the development of her life and character. Three sonnets written during this peaceful period, when her struggle towards the Faith was in abeyance, show how, even then, the young Calvinist was being gently led towards the sisterhood life. Those of us today who are neither spiritualists nor therapeutic psychologists are apt to hide away within some inner shrine of consciousness the most precious pearls of our personal experience. We do not want them either explained away, or vulgarized as mediumistic material; but these inner experiences, however explained, are the great motive forces of our lives. It is a pity that we cannot be more simple in the acceptance of the supernatural, to say with St. Paul "The Spirit prevented me"; with Daniel: "I saw in the visions of my head upon my bed."
Eva ever had been a dreamer, as was her mother before her. Sudden illuminations had come to her in early life, and after the death of her mother several times distinct messages of needed comfort were borne to her by that loved presence in the hours of the dark. She often dreamed tenderly of her mother, and woke with the sense of having been with her, but these several manifestations were quite different. A sudden appearance with the vivid coloring and reality of vision, and always bringing some distinct and needed message of assurance which her tortured mind could not frame for itself, so in this quiet interval she was not left without her call.
Two vivid dreams pointed again her way, and like swift lightning opened the dark; and though it closed again, her mind retained the pointing of the finger of light and she followed until the light grew and the way became plain. St. Columba had always been a favorite of hers among the saints; his strong youth, his adventurous spirit, his very human sainthood, made this appeal, and it was curious that it was through a vision or dream of him that her first distinct call came to her own life of vows. The three sonnets written during the year 1889 are interesting as the production of a de jure Presbyterian of twenty-seven years. She has told me since, that at the time she believed Columba was a Presbyterian!
From royal lineage of Ireland's kings he came,
But his young spirit yearned for better things--
A higher kingship than of earthly kings--
And stripped him of his purple and his name.
A lowly monk hid from all thought of blame,
He lived a spotless life, which beauty flings
Upon that gentle bird of silver wings
He chose as symbol of his heavenly aim,
O noble heart! In whose fine harmony
Purple and serge take but an equal place,
So far above them both thy life doth lie;
What need hast thou of fair and royal grace?
What need hast thou of stern austerity?
Thy gentle soul dwells beyond reach of praise.
THE CLOISTERED LIFE
He came by night, the saint of elder days--
Columba, famed throughout Iona's isle,
With serious, pure eyes and tender smile
That lightened all the grandeur of his face.
My soul was troubled at his steadfast gaze.
Why comes he thus to me? I mused the while.
No wan, rapt nun am I, so to beguile
A vision from the very gates of praise--
The cloister, with its sad and pensive shade,
Has never closed my life in virginhood--
And yet--perchance the choice has now been made;
God's choosing, not mine own, to solitude
The life apart, alone, bow woman's head,
Learn woman's heart, to know His choice is good.
I slept and dreamed. Methought within a field
Widespread and fair with lilies white, I stood,
Myself a lily; in that sisterhood
Spotless and tender, comforted and healed.
Above me stretched the heavens far, where wheeled
On their dark orbits a bright multitude
Of stars, and each his chosen course pursued,
Each in his own high majesty revealed.
After the white glory of that hour
The darkness of my waking was a pain,
Until I thought: The lilybud must strain
Through the dark earth to reach its perfect flower,
And dark must be the sky e'er stars are seen.
First struggle, and then beauty, and then power.
The late fall and early winter of '89 she spent in Washington, visiting her sister Jane, who, in the previous June, had been married to Horace Gray, associate justice of the Supreme Court.
When her brother finished his course at the General Theological Seminary, she spent the next winter with him in lodgings at Oxford, England. The few months spent with him in that ecclesiastical atmosphere brought about her complete acceptance of the Anglo-Catholic position, the three hours' watch by the cross on Good Friday being the culminating act which brought conviction. She did not come to this conviction without a human struggle. She wrote from Oxford in the early winter:
I am growing a little uneasy about having taken this step without your approval, the more, as I am beginning to be afraid now--to think of my coming to use that word!--of Paul's converting me. The truth is he presents his arguments in such a biblical light, and our reading together in the Acts seems to support his proposition so obviously, that I am slowly becoming convinced that he is right and I am wrong; but the more convincing his arguments are, the more rebellious I grow. I do not want to believe--I ought to be ashamed to say it--I am afraid of the consequences of believing.
Once thoroughly convinced, she was always willing to admit a mistake, throw it overboard, and set her sail for the new and undiscovered country. There were no half measures with Eva; she took the consequences of her ventures of faith. She was ready now for the next step, taking marching orders from her brother in the Catholic Life. They made their plans together for the next fall. On her return she was confirmed in the Episcopal Church by Bishop Vincent.
A part of the summer of '91 was spent with her sister, Mrs. Gray, at Beverly Farms and in a short visit to old friends at York Harbor. On August nth she wrote to her sister in Ohio:
I came back from York Harbor several days sooner than I had expected on account of Judge Gray's illness proving to be typhoid fever. When I left we supposed that it was merely the result of a cold, and Jane thought of going with him to North East Harbor to visit Mrs. Pruyn. As soon as I heard that it was typhoid I came back, for though I cannot do anything really to help, it is a pleasure for Jane to have me about to give advice and sympathy, the latter of which she is always glad to take. Jane has a nurse who takes the care at night, while she is with him all day, only coming out of his room when he is asleep, and then we have our little talks together. I had a pleasant time at York Harbor, but was glad after all to get back. Hotel life is bewildering to me; I always feel out of my element with a lot of gay girls just having a good time. I have been out of that atmosphere now for so long that it was a surprise to find Nina and Lillie still in it, just the same true hearted, beautiful girls they were when we first met them eight or nine years ago.
I left York Harbor Monday morning before seven o'clock on the hottest day we have had since my leaving you, now three long weeks ago. I had arranged for a close connection at Salem where we were to change cars, too close as it proved, for our train was late and we came into the station just as the other rolled out. And there was I on a hot, breathless morning, done up in the warm clothes which have been absolutely necessary most of the time, eager to see Jeanie, only five miles from Beverly Farms, for two hours and a half. Isn't that just like New England?
After I had picked myself up from that crushing information, and had made sure of it beyond all doubt by having it repeated by three different officials who could have had no possible collusion with one another, I remembered that there were things in Salem to see, so, depositing my hand luggage in the care of the baggage master, I started up town in search of adventure. Having traversed several squares without seeing the least fragment of a policeman, I at last accosted a gentleman of elderly appearance and sedate demeanor, asking him where the museum was. You ought to have seen the way he lighted up as he scented the unacquainted tourist, and the volume of information he poured out upon me would have stunned me if I had been capable of being stunned twice in one morning. I got out of him all that I wanted, however, if accompanied with some superfluous information, and found my way to the museum without difficulty. Here I was well rewarded for my pains, for it was far more interesting than I had expected. It is small enough not to be fatiguing and the collection is of a kind not to be duplicated, made chiefly by the traders and captains of Salem in the palmy days of its trade with the Indies and the South Sea Islands. I hung fascinated over the case containing the war clubs of the Fiji and Friendly Islanders, richly and curiously carved and of every variety of size and shape, and recalled the fierce battles of the pirate traders and the cannibal feasts so vividly portrayed in Coral Island.
The portraits too were very interesting. There was old Joseph Orme, Cousin Nat's* great uncle, and William Gray, Judge Gray's grandfather, and a pastel portrait of such beauty that though I knew nothing about the man it held me for some time studying it. So the long waiting passed almost without my realizing it, and has been the occasion of an unconscionably long letter to you. Give kisses twenty more than plenty to my dear little Stanley.
The summer turned out happily, as Justice Gray recovered after a mild attack. Before leaving, Eva made a short excursion to Nahant to meet his family.
A day or two later she was on her way to a new and completely different life.
So quickly had she come to the "Great Divide," the jumping off place, that she herself was hardly aware of all she was leaving behind--her own natural place, a life in the world among the most fortunate, those more interested in culture and achievement than in money or pleasure; and in herself the satisfactions of a literary life and very probable leadership among the marked women in our world today--all self-satisfaction, self-culture, ambitions for self were left behind as she turned her face steadily otherward and westward.