The following story, the simple and domestic
incidents of which may be deemed scarcely worth
relating, after such a lapse of time, awakened
some degree of interest, a hundred years ago, in a
principal seaport of the Bay Province. The rainy
twilight of an autumn day;—a parlor on the second
floor of a small house, plainly furnished, as
beseemed the middling circumstances of its
inhabitants, yet decorated with little curiosities
from beyond the sea, and a few delicate specimens
of Indian manufacture,—these are the only
particulars to be premised in regard to scene and
season. Two young and comely women sat together
by the fireside, nursing their mutual and peculiar
sorrows. They were the recent brides of two
brothers, a sailor and a landsman, and two
successive days had brought tidings of the death
of each, by the chances of Canadian warfare, and
the tempestuous Atlantic. The universal sympathy
excited by this bereavement drew numerous
condoling guests to the habitation of the widowed
sisters. Several, among whom was the minister,
had remained till the verge of evening, when, one
by one, whispering many comfortable passages of
Scripture that were answered by more abundant
tears, they took their leave and departed to their
own happier homes. The mourners, though not
insensible to the kindness of their friends, had
yearned to be left alone. United, as they had
been, by the relationship of the living, and now
more closely so by that of the dead, each felt as
if whatever consolation her grief admitted were
to be found in the bosom of the other. They
joined their hearts, and wept together silently.
But after an hour of such indulgence, one of the
sisters, all of whose emotions were influenced by
her mild, quiet, yet not feeble character, began
to recollect the precepts of resignation and
endurance which piety had taught her, when she
did not think to need them. Her misfortune,
besides, as earliest known, should earliest cease
to interfere with her regular course of duties;
accordingly, having placed the table before the
fire, and arranged a frugal meal, she took the
hand of her companion.
"Come, dearest sister; you have eaten not a morsel
to-day," she said. "Arise, I pray you, and let us
ask a blessing on that which is provided for us."
Her sister-in-law was of a lively and irritable
temperament, and the first pangs of her sorrow had
been expressed by shrieks and passionate
lamentation. She now shrunk from Mary's words,
like a wounded sufferer from a hand that revives
"There is no blessing left for me, neither will I
ask it," cried Margaret, with a fresh burst of
tears. "Would it were His will that I might never
taste food more."
Yet she trembled at these rebellious expressions,
almost as soon as they were uttered, and, by
degrees, Mary succeeded in bringing her sister's
mind nearer to the situation of her own. Time
went on, and their usual hour of repose arrived.
The brothers and their brides, entering the
married state with no more than the slender means
which then sanctioned such a step, had
confederated themselves in one household, with
equal rights to the parlor, and claiming exclusive
privileges in two sleeping rooms contiguous to it.
Thither the widowed ones retired, after heaping
ashes upon the dying embers of their fire, and
placing a lighted lamp upon the hearth. The doors
of both chambers were left open, so that a part of
the interior of each, and the beds with their
unclosed curtains, were reciprocally visible.
Sleep did not steal upon the sisters at one and
the same time. Mary experienced the effect often
consequent upon grief quietly borne, and soon sunk
into temporary forgetfulness, while Margaret
became more disturbed and feverish, in proportion
as the night advanced with its deepest and
stillest hours. She lay listening to the drops of
rain that came down in monotonous succession,
unswayed by a breath of wind; and a nervous
impulse continually caused her to lift her head
from the pillow, and gaze into Mary's chamber and
the intermediate apartment. The cold light of the
lamp threw the shadows of the furniture up against
the wall, stamping them immovably there, except
when they were shaken by a sudden flicker of the
flame. Two vacant arm-chairs were in their old
positions on opposite sides of the hearth, where
the brothers had been wont to sit in young and
laughing dignity, as heads of families; two
humbler seats were near them, the true thrones of
that little empire, where Mary and herself had
exercised in love a power that love had won. The
cheerful radiance of the fire had shone upon the
happy circle, and the dead glimmer of the lamp
might have befitted their reunion now. While
Margaret groaned in bitterness, she heard a knock
at the street-door.
"How would my heart have leapt at that sound but
yesterday!" thought she, remembering the anxiety
with which she had long awaited tidings from her
husband. "I care not for it now; let them begone,
for I will not arise."
But even while a sort of childish fretfulness made
her thus resolve, she was breathing hurriedly, and
straining her ears to catch a repetition of the
summons. It is difficult to be convinced of the
death of one whom we have deemed another self.
The knocking was now renewed in slow and regular
strokes, apparently given with the soft end of a
doubled fist, and was accompanied by words,
faintly heard through several thicknesses of wall.
Margaret looked to her sister's chamber, and
beheld her still lying in the depths of sleep.
She arose, placed her foot upon the floor, and
slightly arrayed herself, trembling between fear
and eagerness as she did so.
"Heaven help me!" sighed she. "I have nothing
left to fear, and methinks I am ten times more a
coward than ever."
Seizing the lamp from the hearth, she hastened to
the window that overlooked the street-door. It
was a lattice, turning upon hinges; and having
thrown it back, she stretched her head a little
way into the moist atmosphere. A lantern was
reddening the front of the house, and melting its
light in the neighboring puddles, while a deluge
of darkness overwhelmed every other object. As
the window grated on its hinges, a man in a broad
brimmed hat and blanket-coat, stepped from under
the shelter of the projecting story, and looked
upward to discover whom his application had
aroused. Margaret knew him as a friendly
innkeeper of the town.
"What would you have, Goodman Parker?" cried the
"Lack-a-day, is it you, Mistress Margaret?"
replied the innkeeper. "I was afraid it might be
your sister Mary; for I hate to see a young woman
in trouble, when I haven't a word of comfort to
"For Heaven's sake, what news do you bring?"
"Why, there has been an express through the town
within this half hour," said Goodman Parker,
"travelling from the eastern jurisdiction with
letters from the governor and council. He tarried
at my house to refresh himself with a drop and a
morsel, and I asked him what tidings on the
frontiers. He tells me we had the better in the
skirmish you wot of, and that thirteen men
reported slain are well and sound, and your
husband among them. Besides, he is appointed of
the escort to bring the captivated Frenchers and
Indians home to the province jail. I judged you
wouldn't mind being broke of your rest, and so I
stepped over to tell you. Good night."
So saying, the honest man departed; and his
lantern gleamed along the street, bringing to view
indistinct shapes of things, and the fragments of
a world, like order glimmering through chaos, or
memory roaming over the past. But Margaret stayed
not to watch these picturesque effects. Joy
flashed into her heart, and lighted it up at once,
and breathless, and with winged steps, she flew to
the bedside of her sister. She paused, however,
at the door of the chamber, while a thought of
pain broke in upon her.
"Poor Mary!" said she to herself. "Shall I waken
her, to feel her sorrow sharpened by my happiness?
No; I will keep it within my own bosom till the
She approached the bed to discover if Mary's sleep
were peaceful. Her face was turned partly inward
to the pillow, and had been hidden there to weep;
but a look of motionless contentment was now
visible upon it, as if her heart, like a deep
lake, had grown calm because its dead had sunk
down so far within. Happy is it, and strange,
that the lighter sorrows are those from which
dreams are chiefly fabricated. Margaret shrunk
from disturbing her sister-in-law, and felt as if
her own better fortune had rendered her
involuntarily unfaithful, and as if altered and
diminished affection must be the consequence of
the disclosure she had to make. With a sudden
step she turned away. But joy could not long be
repressed, even by circumstances that would have
excited heavy grief at another moment. Her mind
was thronged with delightful thoughts, till sleep
stole on and transformed them to visions, more
delightful and more wild, like the breath of
winter (but what a cold comparison!) working
fantastic tracery upon a window.
When the night was far advanced, Mary awoke with a
sudden start. A vivid dream had latterly involved
her in its unreal life, of which, however, she
could only remember that it had been broken in
upon at the most interesting point. For a little
time, slumber hung about her like a morning mist,
hindering her from perceiving the distinct outline
of her situation. She listened with imperfect
consciousness to two or three volleys of a rapid
and eager knocking; and first she deemed the noise
a matter of course, like the breath she drew;
next, it appeared a thing in which she had no
concern; and lastly, she became aware that it was
a summons necessary to be obeyed. At the same
moment, the pang of recollection darted into her
mind; the pall of sleep was thrown back from the
face of grief; the dim light of the chamber, and
the objects therein revealed, had retained all her
suspended ideas, and restored them as soon as she
unclosed her eyes. Again, there was a quick peal
upon the street-door. Fearing that her sister
would also be disturbed, Mary wrapped herself in a
cloak and hood, took the lamp from the hearth, and
hastened to the window. By some accident, it
had been left unhasped, and yielded easily to her
"Who's there?" asked Mary, trembling as she looked
The storm was over, and the moon was up; it shone
upon broken clouds above, and below upon houses
black with moisture, and upon little lakes of the
fallen rain, curling into silver beneath the quick
enchantment of a breeze. A young man in a
sailor's dress, wet as if he had come out of the
depths of the sea, stood alone under the window.
Mary recognized him as one whose livelihood was
gained by short voyages along the coast; nor did
she forget, that, previous to her marriage, he had
been an unsuccessful wooer of her own.
"What do you seek here, Stephen?" said she.
"Cheer up, Mary, for I seek to comfort you,"
answered the rejected lover. "You must know I got
home not ten minutes ago, and the first thing my
good mother told me was the news about your
husband. So, without saying a word to the old
woman, I clapped on my hat, and ran out of the
house. I couldn't have slept a wink before
speaking to you, Mary, for the sake of old times."
"Stephen, I thought better of you!" exclaimed the
widow, with gushing tears, and preparing to close
the lattice; for she was no whit inclined to
imitate the first wife of Zadig.
"But stop, and hear my story out," cried the young
sailor. "I tell you we spoke a brig yesterday
afternoon, bound in from Old England. And whom do
you think I saw standing on deck, well and hearty,
only a bit thinner than he was five months ago?"
Mary leaned from the window, but could not speak.
"Why, it was your husband himself," continued the
generous seaman. "He and three others saved
themselves on a spar when the Blessing turned
bottom upwards. The brig will beat into the bay
by daylight, with this wind, and you'll see him
here tomorrow. There's the comfort I bring you,
Mary, and so good night."
He hurried away, while Mary watched him with a
doubt of waking reality, that seemed stronger or
weaker as he alternately entered the shade of the
houses, or emerged into the broad streaks of
moonlight. Gradually, however, a blessed flood of
conviction swelled into her heart, in strength
enough to overwhelm her, had its increase been
more abrupt. Her first impulse was to rouse her
sister-in-law, and communicate the new-born-gladness.
She opened the chamber-door, which had
been closed in the course of the night, though not
latched, advanced to the bedside, and was about to
lay her hand upon the slumberer's shoulder. But
then she remembered that Margaret would awake to
thoughts of death and woe, rendered not the less
bitter by their contrast with her own felicity.
She suffered the rays of the lamp to fall upon the
unconscious form of the bereaved one. Margaret
lay in unquiet sleep, and the drapery was
displaced around her; her young cheek was
rosy-tinted, and her lips half opened in a vivid
smile; an expression of joy, debarred its passage
by her sealed eyelids, struggled forth like
incense from the whole countenance.
"My poor sister! you will waken too soon from
that happy dream," thought Mary.
Before retiring, she set down the lamp and
endeavored to arrange the bed-clothes, so that the
chill air might not do harm to the feverish
slumberer. But her hand trembled against
Margaret's neck, a tear also fell upon her cheek,
and she suddenly awoke.