Every attic counts old love-letters among its treasures, and when the rain beats on the roof and gray swirls of water are blown against the pane, one may sit among old trunks and boxes and bring to light the loves of days gone by.
The little haircloth trunk, with its rusty lock and broken hinges, brings to mind a rosy-cheeked girl in a poke bonnet, who went a-visiting in the stagecoach. Inside is the bonnet itself— white, with a gorgeous trimming of pink "lutestring" ribbon, which has faded into ashes of roses at the touch of the kindly years.
From the trunk comes a musty fragrance— lavender, sweet clover, rosemary, thyme, and the dried petals of roses that have long since crumbled to dust. Scraps of brocade and taffeta, yellowed lingerie, and a quaint old wedding gown, daguerreotypes in ornate cases, and then the letters, tied with faded ribbon, in a package by themselves.
The fingers unconsciously soften to their task, for the letters are old and yellow, and the ink has faded to brown. Every one was cut open with the scissors, not hastily torn, according to our modern fashion, but in a slow and seemly manner, as befits a solemn occasion.
Perhaps the sweet face of a greatgrandmother grew much perplexed at the sight of a letter in an unfamiliar hand, and perhaps, too, as is the way of womankind, she studied the outside a long time before she opened it. As the months passed by, the handwriting became familiar, but a coquettish greatgrandmother may have flirted a bit with the letter, and put it aside—until she could be alone.
All the important letters are in the package, from that first formal note, asking permission to call, which a womanly instinct bade the maiden put aside, to the last letter, written when twilight lay upon the long road they had travelled together, but still beginning: "My Dear and Honoured Wife."
Bits of rosemary and geranium, lemon verbena, tuberose, and heliotrope, fragile and whitened but still sweet, fall from the opened letters and rustle softly as they fall. Far away, in the peace which passeth all understanding, the writer of the letters sleeps, but the old love keeps a fragrance that outlives the heart in which it bloomed.
At night, when the fires below are lighted and childish voices make the old house ring with laughter, Memory steals to the attic to sing softly of the past, as a mother croons to her child.
Rocking in a quaint old attic chair, with the dear, familiar things of home gathered all about her, Memory's voice is sweet, like a harp tuned in the minor mode when the south wind sweeps the strings. Bunches of herbs swing from the rafters and fill the room with the wholesome scent of an old-fashioned garden, where rue and heart's-ease grew. With the fragrance comes a breath from that Garden of Mnemosyne, where the simples for heartache nod beside the River of Forgetfulness.
In a flash the world is forgotten, and into the attic come dear faces from that distant land of childhood, where a strange enchantment glorified the commonplace and made the dreams of night seem real. Footsteps that have long been silent are heard upon the attic floor, and voices, hushed for years, whisper from the shadows at the other end of the room.
A moonbeam creeps into the attic and transfigures the haunted chamber with a sheen of silver mist. From the spinning-wheel comes a soft hum and a delicate whir; then a long-lost voice breathes the first notes of an old, old song. The melody changes to a minuet and the lady in the portrait moves, smiling, from the tarnished gilt frame that surrounds her — then a childish voice says: '' Mother, are you asleep ?''
Down the street the postman passes,
bearing his burden of joy and pain. Letters from far-off islands, where the Stars and Stripes gleam against a forest of palms; from the snow-bound fastness of the North, where men are searching for gold; from rose-scented valleys and violet-fields, where the sun forever shines, and from lands across the sea, where men speak an alien tongue—single messages, from one to another.
Letters that plead for pardon cross the paths of those that are meant to stab; letters written in jest find grim earnest at the end of their journey, and letters written in all tenderness meet misunderstanding and pain, when the postman brings them home.
Letters that deal with affairs of state and shape the destiny of a nation; tidings of happiness and sorrow, birth and death, love and trust and the thousand pangs of trust betrayed: an hundred joys and as many griefs, are all in the postman's hands.
No wonder, then, that there is a stir in the house, that eyes brighten, hearts beat quickly, and eager steps hasten to the door of destiny, when the postman rings the bell!
Romance and the Postman
By MYRTLE REED
Ruth had several other reforms in mind, but deemed it best to wait. After breakfast, she remembered the lamp in the window and went up to put it out.
It was still burning when she reached it, though the oil was almost gone, and, placing it by the stairway, that she might not forget o have it filled, she determined to explore the attic to her heart's content.
The sunlight streamed through the east window and searched the farthest corners of the room. The floor was bare and worn, but carefully swept, and the things that were stored there were huddled together far back under the eaves, as if to make room for others.
It was not idle curiosity, but delicate sentiment, that made Ruth eager to open the trunks and dresser drawers, and to turn over the contents of the boxes that were piled together and covered with dust. The interest of the lower part of the house paled in comparison with the first real attic she had ever been in.
After all, why not? Miss Hathaway was her aunt,—her mother's only sister,— and the house was in her care. There was no earthly reason why she should not amuse herself in her own way. Ruth's instincts were against it, but Reason triumphed.
The bunches of dried herbs, hanging from the rafters and swaying back and forth in ghostly fashion, gave out a wholesome fragrance, and when she opened trunks whose
lids creaked on their rusty hinges, dried rosemary, lavender, and sweet clover filled the room with that long-stored sweetness which is the gracious handmaiden of Memory.
Miss Hathaway was a thrifty soul, but she never stored discarded clothing that might be of use to any one, and so Ruth found no moth-eaten garments of bygone pattern, but only things which seemed to be kept for the sake of their tender associations.
There were letters, on whose yellowed pages the words had long since faded, a dogeared primer, and several well worn schoolbooks, each having on its fly-leaf: "Jane Hathaway, Her Book"; scraps of lace, brocade and rustling taffeta, quilt patterns, needlebooks, and all of the eloquent treasures that a well stored attic can yield.
As she replaced them, singing softly to herself, a folded newspaper slipped to the floor. It was yellow and worn, like the letters, and she unfolded it carefully. It was over thirty years old, and around a paragraph on the last page a faint line still lingered. It was an announcement of the marriage of Charles G. Winfield, captain of the schooner Mary, to Miss Abigail Weatherby.
'' Abigail Weatherby," she said aloud. The name had a sweet, old-fashioned sound. "They must have been Aunt Jane's friends." She closed the trunk and pushed it back to its place, under the eaves.
In a distant corner was the old cedar chest, heavily carved. She pulled it out into the light, her cheeks glowing with quiet happiness, and sat down on the floor beside it. It was evidently Miss Hathaway's treasure box, put away in the attic when spinsterhood was confirmed by the fleeting years.
On top, folded carefully in a sheet, was a gown of white brocade, short-waisted and quaint, trimmed with pearl passementerie. The neck was square, cut modestly low, and filled in with lace of a delicate, frosty pattern — Point d'Alencon. Underneath the gown lay piles of lingerie, all of the finest linen, daintily made by hand. Some of it was trimmed with real lace, some with crocheted edging, and the rest with hemstitched ruffles and feather-stitching.
There was another gown, much worn, of soft blue cashmere, some sea-shells, a necklace of uncut turquoises, the colour changed to green, a prayer-book, a little hymnal, and a bundle of letters, tied with a faded blue ribbon, which she did not touch. There was but one picture — an ambrotype, in an ornate case, of a handsome young man, with that dashing, dare-devil look in his eyes which has ever been attractive to women.
Ruth smiled as she put the treasures away, thinking that, had Fate thrown the dice another way, the young man might have been her esteemed and respected uncle. Then, all at once, it came to her that she had unthinkingly stumbled upon her aunt's romance.
She was not a woman to pry into others' secrets, and felt guilty as she fled from the attic, taking the lamp with her. Afterward, as she sat on the narrow piazza, basking in the warm Spring sunshine, she pieced out the love affair of Jane Hathaway's early girlhood after her own fashion.
Lavender and Old Lace
Lavender and Old Lace