More by Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr

It was the fourth year of the captivity of New York, and the beleaguered city, in spite of military pomp and display, could not hide the desolations incident to her warlike occupation. The beautiful trees and groves which once shaded her streets and adorned her suburbs had been cut down by the army sappers; her gardens and lawns upturned for entrenchments and indented by artillery wheels; and some of the best parts of the city blackened and mutilated by fire. Her churches had been turned into prisons and hospitals, and were centres of indescribable suffering and poisonous infection; while over the burnt district there had sprung up a town of tents inhabited by criminals and by miserable wretches whom starvation and despair had turned into highwaymen. But these conditions were the work of man. Nature still lavished upon the captive city a glory of sunshine and blue skies, and winds, full of the freshness and sparkle of the great sea, blew through all her sickly streets. Wherever the gardens had not been destroyed, there was the scent of mays and laburnums, and the indescribable beauty of apple blossoms on the first day of their birth. In front of one of these fortunate enclosures, belonging to a little house on Queen Street, an old gentleman was standing, looking wistfully in at a trellis of small red roses. He turned away with a sigh as a man dressed like a sailor touched him on the arm, saying, as he did so: "Well, then, Elder, a good afternoon to you? I am just from Boston, and I have brought you a letter from your son."
Beyond Thirsk and Northallerton, through the Cleveland Hills to the sea eastward, and by Roseberry Topping, northward, there is a lovely, lonely district, very little known even at the present day. The winds stream through its hills, as cool and fresh as living water; and whatever beauty there is of mountain, valley, or moorland, Farndale and Westerdale can show it; while no part of England is so rich in those picturesque manor-houses which have been the homes of the same families for twenty generations.

The inhabitants of this region are the incarnation of its health, strength, and beauty,–a tall, comely race; bold, steadfast, and thrifty, with very positive opinions on all subjects. There are no Laodiceans among the men and women of the North-Riding; they are one thing or another–Episcopalians or Calvinists; Conservatives or Radicals; friends or enemies. For friendship they have a capacity closer than brotherhood. Once friends, they are friends forever, and can be relied on in any emergency to “aid, comfort, and abet,” legally or otherwise, with perhaps a special zest to give assistance, if it just smacks of the “otherwise.”

Of such elements, John Atheling, lord of the manors of Atheling and Belward, was “kindly mixed,” a man of towering form and great mental vigour, blunt of speech, single of purpose, leading, with great natural dignity, a sincere, unsophisticated life. He began this story one evening in the May of 1830; though when he left Atheling manor-house, he had no idea anything out of the customary order of events would happen. It is however just these mysterious conditions of everyday life that give it such gravity and interest; for what an hour will bring forth, no man can say; and when Squire Atheling rode up to the crowd on the village green, he had no presentiment that he was going to open a new chapter in his life.

I entered this incarnation on March the twenty-ninth, A.D. 1831, at the ancient town of Ulverston, Lancashire, England. My soul came with me. This is not always the case. Every observing mother of a large family knows that the period of spiritual possession varies. For days, even weeks, the child may be entirely of the flesh, and then suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, the mystery of the indwelling spirit is accomplished. This miracle comes not by observation; no mother ever saw it take place. She only knows that at one moment her child was ignorant of her; that at the next moment it was consciously smiling into her face, and that then, with an instinctive gladness, she called to the whole household, “the baby has begun to notice.”

I brought my soul with me—an eager soul, impatient for the loves and joys, the struggles and triumphs of the dear, unforgotten world. No doubt it had been aware of the earthly tabernacle which was being prepared for its home, and its helper in the new onward effort; and was waiting for the moment which would make them companions. The beautifully fashioned little body was already dear, and the wise soul would not suffer it to run the risks of a house left empty and unguarded. Some accident might mar its beauty, or cripple its powers, or still more baneful, some alien soul might usurp the tenement, and therefore never be able effectually to control, or righteously use it.

I was a very fortunate child, for I was “possessed by a good spirit, yea rather being good, my spirit came into a body undefiled and perfect” (Wisdom of Solomon, 8:20). Also, my environments were fair and favorable; for my parents, though not rich, were in the possession of an income sufficient for the modest comforts and refinements they desired. My father was the son of Captain John Henry Huddleston, who was lost on some unknown sea, with all who sailed in his company. His brother, Captain Thomas Henry Huddleston, had a similar fate. His ship, The Great Harry, carrying home troops from America, was dashed to pieces on the Scarlet Rocks, just outside Castletown, the capital of the Isle of Man. When the storm had subsided the bodies of the Captain and his son Henry were found clasped in each other’s arms, and they were buried together in Kirk Malew churchyard. During the years 1843 and 1844 I was living in Castletown, and frequently visited the large grave with its upright stone, on which was carved the story of the tragedy. Fifteen years ago my sister Alethia went purposely to Castletown to have the lettering on this stone cleared, and made readable; and I suppose that it stands there today, near the wall of the inclosure, on the left-hand side, not far from the main entrance.

ÊThere is a mountain called Seat-Sandal, between the Dunmail Raise and Grisedale Pass; and those who have stood upon its summit know that Grasmere vale and lake lie at their feet, and that Windermere, Esthwaite, and Coniston, with many arms of the sea, and a grand brotherhood of mountains, are all around them. There is also an old gray manor-house of the same name. It is some miles distant from the foot of the mountain, snugly sheltered in one of the loveliest valleys between Coniston and Torver. No one knows when the first stones of this house were laid. The Sandals were in Sandal-Side when the white-handed, waxen-faced Edward was building Westminster Abbey, and William the Norman was laying plans for the crown of England. Probably they came with those Norsemen who a century earlier made the Isle of Man their headquarters, and from it, landing on the opposite coast of Cumberland, settled themselves among valleys and lakes and mountains of primeval beauty, which must have strongly reminded them of their native land.

For the prevailing names of this district are all of the Norwegian type, especially such abounding suffixes and prefixes asseat from "set," a dwelling; dale from "dal," a valley; fell from "fjeld," a mountain; garth from "gard," an enclosure; andthwaite, from "thveit," a clearing. It is certain, also, that, in spite of much Anglo-Saxon admixture, the salt blood of the roving Viking is still in the Cumberland dalesman. Centuries of bucolic isolation have not obliterated it. Every now and then the sea calls some farmer or shepherd, and the restless drop in his veins gives him no peace till he has found his way over the hills and fells to the port of Whitehaven, and gone back to the cradling bosom that rocked his ancestors.

But in the main, this lovely spot was a northern Lotus-land to the Viking. The great hills shut him in from the sight of the sea. He built himself a "seat," and enclosed "thwaites" of greater or less extent; and, forgetting the world in his green paradise, was for centuries almost forgotten by the world. And if long descent and an ancient family have any special claim to be held honorable, it is among the Cumberland "statesmen," or freeholders, it must be looked for in England.

The Sandals have been wise and fortunate owners of the acres which Lšgberg Sandal cleared for his descendants. They have a family tradition that he came from Iceland in his own galley; and a late generation has written out portions of a saga,Ñlong orally transmitted,Ñwhich relates the incidents of his voyage. All the Sandals believe implicitly in its authenticity; and, indeed, though it is full of fighting, of the plunder of gold and rich raiment, and the carrying off of fair women, there is nothingimprobable in its relations, considering the people and the time whose story it professes to tell.

Aspatria was born at Seat-Ambar, an old house in Allerdale. It had Skiddaw to shelter it on the northwest; and it looked boldly out across the Solway, and into that sequestered valley in Furness known as “the Vale of the Deadly Nightshade.” The plant still grew there abundantly, and the villagers still kept the knowledge of its medical value taught them by the old monks of Furness. For these curious, patient herbalists had discovered the blessing hidden in the fair, poisonous amaryllis, long before modern physicians called it “belladonna.”

The plant, with all its lovely relations, had settled in the garden at Seat-Ambar. Aspatria’s mother had loved them all: the girl could still remember her thin white hands clasping the golden jonquils in her coffin. This memory was in her heart, as she hastened through the lonely place one evening in spring. It ought to have been a pleasant spot, for it was full of snowdrops and daffodils, and many sweet old-fashioned shrubs and flowers; but it was a stormy night, and the blossoms were plashed and downcast, and all the birds in hiding from the fierce wind and driving rain.

She was glad to get out of the gray, wet, shivery atmosphere, and to come into the large hall, ruddy and glowing with fire and candle-light. Her brothers William and Brune sat at the table. Will was counting money; it stood in small gold and silver pillars before him. Brune was making fishing-flies. Both looked up at her entrance; they did not think words necessary for such a little maid. Yet both loved her; she was their only sister, and both gave her the respect to which she was entitled as co-heir with them of the Ambar estate.

She was just sixteen, and not yet beautiful. She was too young for beauty. Her form was not developed; she would probably gain two or three inches in height; and her face, though exquisitely modelled, wanted the refining which comes either from a multitude of complex emotions or is given at once by some great heart-sorrow. Yet she had fascination for those capable of feeling her charm. Her large brown eyes had their childlike clearness; they looked every one in the face with its security of good-will. Her mouth was a tempting mouth; the lips had not lost their bow-shape; they were red and pouting, but withal ever ready to part. She might have been born with a smile. Her hair, soft and dark, had that rarest quality of soft hair,—a tendency to make itself into little curls and tendrils and stray down the white throat and over the white brow; yet it was carefully parted and confined in two long braids, tied at the ends with a black ribbon.

In A. D. sixteen hundred and ninety-two, a few Franciscan monks began to build a city. The site chosen was a lovely wilderness hundreds of miles away from civilization on every side, and surrounded by savage and warlike tribes. But the spot was as beautiful as the garden of God. It was shielded by picturesque mountains, watered by two rivers, carpeted with flowers innumerable, shaded by noble trees joyful with the notes of a multitude of singing birds. To breathe the balmy atmosphere was to be conscious of some rarer and finer life, and the beauty of the sunny skies—marvellous at dawn and eve with tints of saffron and amethyst and opal—was like a dream of heaven. One of the rivers was fed by a hundred springs situated in the midst of charming bowers. The monks called it the San Antonio; and on its banks they built three noble Missions. The shining white stone of the neighborhood rose in graceful domes and spires above the green trees. Sculptures, basso-relievos, and lines of gorgeous coloring adorned the exteriors. Within, were splendid altars and the appealing charms of incense, fine vestures and fine music; while from the belfreys, bells sweet and resonant called to the savages, who paused spell-bound and half-afraid to listen. Certainly these priests had to fight as well as to pray. The Indians did not suffer them to take possession of their Eden without passionate and practical protest. But what the monks had taken, they kept; and the fort and the soldier followed the priest and the Cross. Ere long, the beautiful Mission became a beautiful city, about which a sort of fame full of romance and mystery gathered. Throughout the south and west, up the great highway of the Mississippi, on the busy streets of New York, and among the silent hills of New England, men spoke of San Antonio, as in the seventeenth century they spoke of Peru; as in the eighteenth century they spoke of Delhi, and Agra, and the Great Mogul. Sanguine French traders carried thither rich ventures in fancy wares from New Orleans; and Spanish dons from the wealthy cities of Central Mexico, and from the splendid homes of Chihuahua, came there to buy. And from the villages of Connecticut, and the woods of Tennessee, and the lagoons of Mississippi, adventurous Americans entered the Texan territory at Nacogdoches. They went through the land, buying horses and lending their ready rifles and stout hearts to every effort of that constantly increasing body of Texans, who, even in their swaddling bands, had begun to cry Freedom! At length this cry became a clamor that shook even the old viceroyal palace in Mexico; while in San Antonio it gave a certain pitch to all conversation, and made men wear their cloaks, and set their beavers, and display their arms, with that demonstrative air of independence they called los Americano. For, though the Americans were numerically few, they were like the pinch of salt in a pottage—they gave the snap and savor to the whole community. Over this Franciscan-Moorish city the sun set with an incomparable glory one evening in May, eighteen thirty-five. The white, flat-roofed, terraced houses—each one in its flowery court—and the domes and spires of the Missions, with their gilded crosses, had a mirage-like beauty in the rare, soft atmosphere, as if a dream of Old Spain had been materialized in a wilderness of the New World. But human life in all its essentials was in San Antonio, as it was and has been in all other cities since the world began. Women were in their homes, dressing and cooking, nursing their children and dreaming of their lovers. Men were in the market-places, buying and selling, talking of politics and anticipating war. And yet in spite of these fixed attributes, San Antonio was a city penetrated with romantic elements, and constantly picturesque.
THE thing that I know least about is my beginning. For it is possible to introduce Ethel Rawdon in so many picturesque ways that the choice is embarrassing, and forces me to the conclusion that the actual circumstances, though commonplace, may be the most suitable. Certainly the events that shape our lives are seldom ushered in with pomp or ceremony; they steal upon us unannounced, and begin their work without giving any premonition of their importance.

Consequently Ethel had no idea when she returned home one night from a rather stupid entertainment that she was about to open a new and important chapter of her life. Hitherto that life had been one of the sweetest and simplest character—the lessons and sports of childhood and girlhood had claimed her nineteen years; and Ethel was just at that wonderful age when, the brook and the river having met, she was feeling the first swell of those irresistible tides which would carry her day by day to the haven of all days.

It was Saturday night in the January of 1900, verging toward twelve o'clock. When she entered her room, she saw that one of the windows was open, and she stood a moment or two at it, looking across the straight miles of white lights, in whose illumined shadows thousands of sleepers were holding their lives in pause.

"It is not New York at all," she whispered, "it is some magical city that I have seen, but have never trod. It will vanish about six o'clock in the morning, and there will be only common streets, full of common people. Of course," and here she closed the window and leisurely removed her opera cloak, "of course, this is only dreaming, but to dream waking, or to dream sleeping, is very pleasant. In dreams we can have men as we like them, and women as we want them, and make all the world happy and beautiful."

She was in no hurry of feeling or movement. She had been in a crowd for some hours, and was glad to be quite alone and talk to herself a little. It was also so restful to gradually relinquish all the restraining gauds of fashionable attire, and as she leisurely performed these duties, she entered into conversation with her own heart—talked over with it the events of the past week, and decided that its fretless days, full of good things, had been, from the beginning to the end, sweet as a cup of new milk. For a woman's heart is very talkative, and requires little to make it eloquent in its own way.

©2021 GoogleSite Terms of ServicePrivacyDevelopersAbout Google|Location: United StatesLanguage: English (United States)
By purchasing this item, you are transacting with Google Payments and agreeing to the Google Payments Terms of Service and Privacy Notice.