A Day in a Railroad Car

Title

A Day in a Railroad Car

Subject

New England, railroads, travel, women, orphans

Description

The protagonist of the story encounters a peculiar young girl traveling alone by the name of Lizzy Dale when she takes a train car into Boston to see an old friend.

Creator

Sedgwick, Catharine M.
Author of "Hope Leslie," "Home", "Letters from Abroad," &c.

Source

Tales and Sketches, second series

Publisher

Harper & Brothers

Date

1844

Contributor

L. Damon-Bach

Language

English

Type

Document

Text

A long period must elapse before the accumulation of human existences and the progress of society shall carry the New-England people forward to that philosophical indifference to individual character and history which characterizes an older civilization. They are as yet but an extended family circle. Even our huge railroad cars, which very nearly reduce humanity to floating particles, have not yet divested our travellers of their customary social charities and interests. I was struck with some illustrations of this truth during a day’s travel over the railroad that traverses Massachusetts. This road passes through the most populous part of our state after its magnificent passage over the hills of Berkshire, where a work of immense labour and beautiful art is brought into striking contrast with savage nature, and set off with the accessories of fir-covered hills, wild glens, and headlong mountain streams. Along this road some of the peculiarities of our stirring population are manifested. At each village there is a swarm of fresh passengers, and at each station a dispersion; and however brief their transit may be,

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there is some trifling intercommunication that discloses the condition and objects of the parties. In a similar situation in Europe, the individuals, each comprising in his own existence a world of interests, purposes, and hopes, would make their entrances and exits without exciting more sensation or inquiry than the luggage thrown into the baggage-car.
I like this social life; it is the beating of a healthy human heart that sends pulsations throughout the frame of society. It may occasionally license idle and inconvenient curiosity, but this is a trifling evil, and so considerably mitigated by the progress of civilization, that, since the death of the Dutchman who, according to the veracious chronicler of such matters, Diedrich Knickerbocker, was put to the question by a Yankee, we have never heard of its involving fatal consequences.
On the occasion to which I have alluded, a young friend and myself started from Pittsfield for Boston. In a few minutes we had glided from a neighbourhood where each house and tree has the familiar look of an old acquaintance. The passengers were all strangers to us, and we probably betrayed the stiffness and reserve incident to a new position; for one of those active-minded people, who assume to themselves the breaking down of all conventional fences, took pity on us, and, looking over my companion’s shoulder at a volume of Childe Harold which she was reading, ask-

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ed her “if she were fond of poetry?” The sort of smile that accompanied her inaudible answer did not encourage him to proceed, and he broke ground with me by asking me “if I knew a young person in black who was sitting alone at the end of the car?” “I had never seen her before.” “So I expected, ma’am,” said he; “I don’t think there is any one in the car does know her, for I have asked several. The conductor says she came aboard at Albany. I asked her if she lived there. ‘No,’ she said. I asked her where she did live. She seemed to sigh, as it were, and said she had lived Far West. She is alone, and so bashful that I did not love to ask her many questions; maybe you will be able to find her out, ma’am.” As I looked again at the timid girl, and caught the expression of a face of most striking sweetness and modesty, I secretly wished I might.
But my friend’s lively interests did not all settle down on this pretty young creature. “You know that old gentleman, of course, ma’am?” he said, pointing to an elderly gentleman a little in advance and on one side of us, with a velvet cap on his head, and an eye, remarkable for its acuteness, riveted to the newspaper he was reading. I confessed I did not. “Why, is it possible! He is the ex-President, Mr. Adams!” I naturally manifested so much pleasure at this information, and gazed at the venerated statesman with such excited attention, that my new friend offered

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to introduce me to him! I rather impertinently asked if he were acquainted with him. “Not much,” he said; “I got into the car at Pittsfield only; but I have had some talk with him upon the petition question, and find him quite sociable.” I was saved the pain of refusing the proffered hospitality by a call for the Westfield passengers; and my new friend left us, regretting so much the sudden disruption of our acquaintance, that if we should ever meet again, it will probably be on the most intimate footing.
Mr. Adams was not left long in the quiet enjoyment of his newspaper; the rumor of the great presence had spread through all the passenger-cars, and a lady, attended by some dozen men and women, came from a forward car into ours, and, while her companions stood in the vacant space above the stove, made her way between furred cloaks and Macintoshes to Mr. Adams. “She could not lose so good an opportunity,” she said, “to express her admiration of his course in Congress; all her friends admired it; she read every one of his speeches, and she made her children read them, and her son John knew a great many passages by heart - her son’s name was John Quincy Adams!” All this was urbanely received, and as the lady turned to go to her place, her eyes fell on the little girl in black, who had moved her seat to a chair near us. “Oh, how do you do, my dear?” said she; “I did not know you

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had come on to-day: so, you did not find your friends in Albany?” “No, ma’am.” “Dear me! ‘twas a trial to you, was not it?” The girl made no answer, except by a slight quivering of her lips, and the good-natured woman proceeded to propose she should migrate into the next car with her. “The places are all full there, to be sure,” she said; “but I’ll ask Mr. Smith to take your place here; and it will be so much more sociable for you to be with those you are acquainted with.” It was quite evident the young person was not inclined to this mode of sociability. She made a pretext of some luggage she had by her for not wishing to quit her seat, and declined moving. I made a bold push, and arresting the stranger-lady for a moment, said, in a whisper, “You are acquainted with that young person?” “Oh, yes - that is, she rode in the car with us from Utica to Albany. I live in Utica; my father is one of the oldest inhabitants.” She was proceeding to give me the statistics of Utica, when I again recurred to the pretty stranger. “You have only, then, a three hours’ acquaintance with her?” “Not much more; she went into the hotel with me at Albany, and left me to look up some relations - on the father’s side, I think she said - I guess she is an orphan. Somehow I did not like to ask her direct; but orphans, you know, always have a peculiar look. Amanda-Anne asked her her name - Amanda-Anne is my daughter - she took such

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an interest in her, and so did Miss Gilchrist - Miss Gilchrist, of Bond-street -” “What is her name?” I asked. “Oh, yes, I was speaking of that; her name is Lizzy Dale. It is not a distinguished, sounding name - do you think it is, ma’am? however, my interest in her was the same: it must be a trial to travel alone so far.” “Far! do you know where she comes from?” “Not exactly; she told us she came down Lake Erie, so it must be to the west of that. Excuse me, ma’am, I seem to be in the conductor’s way here.” It was no seeming; our whispered confab was broken off; and the good lady returned to her car, much to the conductor’s relief.
We stopped an age, by railroad time, at Springfield - that is, some half hour. Some of the passengers went, post-haste, to steam down a dinner at the hotel; other flocked to a feeding-house close at hand; and Lizzy Dale, my friend, and myself, were left alone in the car. We begged her to partake our substantial sandwiches. She took the offer in kindness, not as an intrusion, thanked us very sweetly, but declined, saying she had no appetite, and taking a biscuit from the little basket she carried in her lap, she said she “ate only to get rid of a sensation of faintness.” We fell into conversation on the convenient neutral ground of strangers, the weather, the beauty of the country, &c. She expressed herself with a propriety and delicacy that indicated educa-

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tion, and increased my interest in her. My companion and myself referred to old friends in Springfield, and pointed out places familiar to us. Lizzy Dale sighed, and said, half to herself, “I wish I could see any place I have ever seen before.” I involuntarily looked at her, hoping for something farther from her. She turned away, went to a window on the opposite side, and put her handkerchief to her eyes. Just then there came a rattling up to the car an open barouche, bringing a gentleman to be forwarded to Boston, as it appeared, a grandfather, whose wife, and daughter-in-law with three or four lovely children, had come to see him off. It was evident they were not familiar with railroads, and this was a marked moment in the family history. “Is this a car, grandpa?” exclaimed one of the little girls, scrambling over the sofas and chairs; “it seems more like a house.” “Julia, my dear,” called out the mother, “keep close by the door; they won’t give us a minute’s time to get off.” “Oh, let the children enjoy themselves,” said the good grandpa; “you’ll have ample warning.” “My dear,” said his careful wife, “are you sure this is the safest car?” “I take it for granted it is,” he replied, half bowing to us, “for I see the ladies are here: I always trust to their looking out for the safe places.” “My dear husband, you should select one of the last passenger-cars, for I read all the railroad accidents, and they always es-

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cape; and you must sit about in the middle of the car, to avoid some danger, I forget what it is -” “And near a window, to avoid some other,” replied the husband, laughing; “I forget what that is - suffocation, probably; but I’ll keep a good look-out, rely on’t.”
“Oh, don’t look out! that is the most dangerous of all. You remember that dreadful accident?”
“Yes, I remember them all.”
“Ah! you may laugh now; but promise me one thing: you’ll be prepared for a collision - now pray don’t laugh again - I mean, be on your guard - keep it in mind.”
“I have pleasanter things, my dear, to keep in mind. Hal, take good care of the chickens while I am gone.”
“Yes, sir, I will; and I don’t mean to ask you to bring me anything, grandpa; but if you should see a drum - I don’t ask you to buy it, sir - but if you should happen to try it, and it makes a good thumping sound -”
“Then you would like it, Hal?”
“Yes, sir, I should.”
“Ah, Annie, come here,” said the grandfather to a little girl, apparently not more than three years old, who, with the instinctive sympathy of childhood, had crept onto the seat beside Lizzy Dale, and, putting her arm over her shoulder, was saying, “What are you so sorry for?” “Excuse the child, my dear,” he added, with a glance at Lizzy Dale’s blushing face that involuntarily expressed the same inquiry.

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There began to be some movement preparatory to the resumption of our journey, and, after many huggings and kissings, the family parted, and the wagon drove off, and as long as we could see them the little people were waving handkerchiefs and kissing hands to grandpa; and I did not wonder he was so cherished when I looked in his fresh, kindly face, which indicated that the goodly fruits the heart bears were all ripened, none decayed. He too, like the rest of us, was attracted by the little magnet, Lizzy Dale, and opening a basket, which he informed us his grandchildren had prepared for his refreshment, he discovered among fine pears and apples a single bunch of grapes. “Now that’s pretty,” said he; “The boy you saw here, my Hal, has picked the only bunch of grapes on his vine - the dog shall have his drum - take them, my dear,” to Lizzy: “you refuse the pears and apples; you can’t refuse these - they were put here on purpose for you.” Lizzy Dale took them; and I believe, if she had followed the bidding of her heart, she would have laid her head on his kind bosom and “cried it out,” so much was the solitary girl evidently touched by his fatherly tone and manner. But this was neither a time nor place for such demonstrations. The cars filled up, and a young woman, with a profusion of pink ribands on a blue silk bonnet, and flowers of all colours resting on plump cheeks that outbloomed them all, dashing earrings,

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and a painted brooch - an American imitation of Roman mosaic - dropped into a seat beside Lizzy Dale; first, however, carefully stowing away a bandbox and parasol, and arranging on her lap a basket, a reticule, and a pocket-handkerchief trimmed with broad Swiss lace. She was alone too, but so self-sufficient and self-protecting a person as to save us from painful sympathy. One could hardly look at her and Lizzy Dale, brought into this accidental juxtaposition, without thinking of the china and earthen jars of the fable. The earthen jar soon began sundry knocks in the guise of questions, such as, “Do you know that young gentleman in a frock-coat, with whiskers? Do you admire whiskers? Is not that tuft of hair what they call an imperial, or is it a mousetache? Do you know who that young lady is in a Leg’orn? Do you think Leg’orns, or Tuscans, or Rutland braid, will be fashionable next summer? Did you ever work in a factory? Do you like tending the looms, or spinning best? Oh, I didn’t understand you - you ain’t acquainted with either? Perhaps you prefer the paper business?” Getting very brief and negative answers to this torrent of questions, she changed to the narrative style, and proceeded to detail her own experience. She stated the relative advantages of a residence at North Adams, Chicopee, and Lowell; enumerated their several educational advantages and “society privileges,” and concluded

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with a digression on the profits of female factory labour, rather implying that hers was performed en amateur.
To this part of her discourse Lizzy Dale lent an attentive ear, and in return asked several questions. “Were there private boarding-houses where a young person might be retired when not at work? Could she name any widow, or elderly persons keeping such a boarding-house? Could a person quite unacquainted with that sort of labour soon learn it?” These questions, though uttered in a low and tremulous voice, were distinctly heard by our good grandpa. Hearing in some cases is wonderfully preserved by keeping the heart free from incrustation. He sat directly before Lizzy Dale, and after fidgeting on his seat, he turned to her and said, “My dear, my dear, factory business is a very good business: there’s no one respects our factory girls more than I do; they are an honour to the country. It is a very suitable business for those - for those it’s suitable to. But I would not advise you, my dear, to be thinking of it: excuse me, my dear, I speak to you as if you were my child - old folks, you know, take liberties.”
“Oh, sir, I am sure it’s no liberty, and you are very, very kind.” And from that moment the poor child looked less timid, less desolate; at least till we were entering the Boston depôt, when the factory girl said to her, “My cousin

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Ferdinand Pease will be at the depôt; I suppose there’ll be some one expecting you?”
“No one expects me,” she replied.
“Well, good-night,” said the factory lady, marching off with her bandbox to put herself in cousin Ferdinand’s field of vision. “The conductor will take care of you; he takes care of everybody that’s got nobody to take care of them.”
“That’s not your case, my dear,” said Lizzy’s friend. “We old people are not good for much, but we are the safest protectors for pretty young girls. I am going to get a carriage to take me to my lodgings, and you must let me set you down at your stopping-place.”
Lizzy Dale replied with many thanks, that she was afraid it was too far; that she was going to a boarding-house in Charlestown, kept by a lady her father had once known. “So much the better, my dear; I want a little ride after being shut up here, and we shall get better acquainted;” and off he ran, active as a boy, for the carriage. I imitated the good man so far as to give Lizzy Dale my card, and beg her to come and see me, and we went away to our different destinations.
I seized upon the next morning as unappropriated time to make a visit to a very old friend of my family, Miss Stuart, familiarly known to three generations as Miss Priscy, a name that always strikes a chord of cheer-

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ful and most pleasant vibrations. I had not seen her for many years, and in the mean while time and chance had done some of their unkindest work upon her, stripping her of her nearest kindred, diminishing her little fortune to a mere pittance, and maiming her by the incurable fracture of one of her limbs, besides heaping on her the common infirmities of age. I confess I wished the meeting over; I dreaded seeing her with her hopeful temper vanquished, and her pleasant stream of cheerfulness all dried away. She lived alone, in a boarding-house, the most desolate of all lives. The servant who opened the door said, if I were not a stranger Miss Priscy would thank me to walk up stairs, as it was troublesome for her to get up and down. “Here I am, a wreck,” she said, after the first salutations were over; “but I keep my flag flying, as my uncle, the old commodore, used to say he would, as long as there was a timber of his ship floating.” Miss Priscy has had her day of harmless vanities and innocent triumphs, and there are tokens that they still dwell pleasantly in her memory in the rose-coloured ribands on her cap, and the earrings she still wears when even our young beauties have discarded these barbaric ornaments. She spoke of her losses since we had last met, but without complaint or repining. “I find it difficult getting about,” she said, “but I have few friends left to go and see, and so that does not much matter.

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My little income has dwindled; but you know the poet says, ‘Man wants but little here below’ and I am sure woman wants less, especially a lone woman like me, who has no one to share it with. And then there is such a pleasure in making a little last; in having all your calculations come out right; in paying your debts as they come due - a luxury nowadays that seems left to poor people; and in having a little something over for those that want it more than you do. I sometimes feel like a monument written all over with the names of the departed - but they are the names of the good and loved; and one at threescore and ten must expect to be journeying on alone, and thankful if they can look up to the celestial city and see their people gathered there. But make the best of it, my dear; this loneliness is cold and sad.” A tear stole down the furrows of her cheek. I asked her if she had not a niece that could live with her. “You forget,” she said, “how time flies: the girls are all married long ago. No, I must rough it out alone as well as I can; but,” she added, as if to check my too sad sympathy, “I have not got into the ‘Dismal Swamp’ yet; I live among the living; come down stairs with me, and see my little parlour. This is not a boarding-house; I have my own rooms and a maid, and a privilege in the kitchen; so that I can keep my tea-table, and have something like a home, and house-keeping, and hos-

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pitality. Boarding-house life is too much on the community plan. I believe the association people reckon some sixteen hundred individuals to a perfect being; and to tell you the truth, I think a woman who passes her life in a boarding-house is about the sixteen hundredth part of the mistress of a well-ordered household.”
“You seem not to approve, my dear Miss Priscy, of this mode of living in community which is just going into operation in your neighbourhood, under such high auspices.”
“I don’t, my dear, I don’t. There’s no use in trying to be wiser than Providence. ‘God set the solitary in families,’ and I think it is the prettiest contrivance for happiness and virtue that ever was hit upon.” She hobbled down stairs slowly, her tongue going much faster than her feet, and opening the door into her little parlour, “Here,” she said, “is many a memorial of family life and love, which keep alive and fresh in my heart the sense of home - a solitary old woman as I am, I dwell in its atmosphere. There is the picture of my grandfather: how well I remember him in his judicial robes: there are no such men nowadays. This is the picture of my mother; she was the beauty of her time. As I remember her, she was not so young, nor quite so beautiful, but I think no one ever had so sweet a look.” Thanks to Him who “set the solitary in families,” thought I, that unequalled sweet

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look belongs to most mothers. “This,” she said, pointing to one of Copley’s most brilliant portraits, “was my eldest sister Esther: she was painted in her bridal dress. That white brocade, with that single maiden-blush rose in her bosom - it would not seem quite the thing nowadays to wear a dress made like that, but then it was the custom, and custom is everything. There never was a lovelier woman to look at, or a modester: I believe she would have blushed at an immodest thought passing through another person’s mind.”
This rather ultra proof of modesty caused me to look more attentively at the beautiful face of the young bride, separate from her dress; which being painted in Copley’s most elaborate style, rather impaired the effect of a face of such exquisite delicacy that it might have been taken for that of an ideal vestal. I was struck with its resemblance to some face I had recently seen, but before I had time to arrest the floating image and verify the fancied resemblance, Miss Priscy passed on to another picture, and another, and another, illustrating each with some family trait or anecdote. “I am never alone in this room,” said she; “they are not pictures to me. I talk to them, and if they don’t answer me, I am sure they hear me.” She drew me to a corner of the room where stood a little round mahogany table covered with family relics. “Here,” said she, opening a rich old ebony

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knife-case, inlaid with ivory, “here are the first silver forks that ever came into the Province of Massachusetts. Ah! there has been many a pleasant gathering round this table. I remember when first Esther made tea at it - my father called her the little Queen - there’s nothing to compare with her nowadays. Here is one more thing you must examine.” She drew to the window a high-backed chair, covered with a patch she had recently made of relics of the family brocades, and in the centre of the upright back, the family heraldry, emblazoned in silver embroidery. There is nothing that brings back the past to a woman’s memory more vividly than bits of gowns worn on family festivals or great social epochs; but just at the moment Miss Priscy was dilating on them, my attention was caught (we were standing at the window) by two figures crossing the street: the one was an elderly gentleman, holding by one hand, with a sort of Roger de Coverley courtesy, a young girl, and in the other a large paper parcel from which two drum-sticks peeped! My friend’s eyes followed the direction of mine. “Do you know those people?” she asked. “Yes - that is, I came to town in the car with them.” “Ah!” said she, and reverted to the chair, and my car acquaintances disappeared turning round the house which made the corner of the street. Presently there was a ringing of the door-bell, and a moment after

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Miss Priscy’s maid brought in Lizzy Dale. Her face lighted up on seeing me, but after we had shaken hands and exchanged greetings, she looked more sad and embarrassed than I had seen her at any moment on the previous day. “I am sorry, my dear,” said Miss Priscy, “that I don’t recollect you, but you must not mind that; tell me your grandmother’s name, and I dare say I shall; I tell all the girls, I knew your grandmothers, girls; a generation (turning to me), like Jonah’s gourd, grows up in one day and perished the next, but I should know you, my child; your face comes over me somehow like an old song.”
“My name is Dale, ma’am - Lizzy Dale.”
“Dale! Dale! I have heard that name, but when or where I can’t remember. Dale!”
“You will remember my mother’s name, ma’am better. Esther Vassal, the second daughter of Miss Stuart’s sister, Esther Stuart.”
My old friend sunk down into the patch-chair, took both Lizzy’s hands, and “fell to perusing of her face” with deep and silent emotion. After a brief space, “Kiss me, my dear little girl,” she said; “I see through it all. Is she not the image of that picture!” Copley’s lovely bride.
“I thought so,” I said, “when first I saw it.”
“Did you, now? well how providential! You are not so handsome though, my dear;

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grandchildren never are so handsome as their grandparents. Take off your bonnet and shawl, my dear. You are mine for to-day, at any rate.”
I rose to go.
“Don’t you wish to stay and hear her story?” asked my friend.
“She will tell it better to you alone,” I replied.
“So she will - that’s natural; but come soon again, and I will tell you all about her.”
I whispered a congratulation to Lizzy upon having found so kind a relative, and came away, leaving Miss Priscy in the antique patch-chair, and Lizzy on a low ottoman at her feet, a picture ready for a painter’s hand.
In the evening I received the following note from Miss Stuart.

“My dear friend: - I feel how happy the woman in Scripture was when she found her lost piece of silver. I cannot sleep till I tell you about my found treasure. The story of my little angel (I must call her so to you), if it were written by Charles Dickens, would, bating that Lizzy is living, be as heart-breaking as Nelly’s. You must come and hear it. All that I can say at present is, that we lost sight of my sister Esther’s children, she dying in England, and leaving them young among her husband’s relations. One of her daughters married her music-master, one Dale, a worth-

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less man - this poor Lizzy did not tell me, though - and they came, when Lizzy was twelve years old, to New-Orleans; her mother died there, and from that time her father has been going with her from pillar to post, and finally he died in St. Louis, and left her with nothing under heaven but a harp and a piano.
“Some good people there turned them into money, and advising her to come to Boston and look up her mother’s relations, they forwarded her on, and hither she came, by stagecoaches, steamers, and rail-cars, without meeting with accident, insult, or impertinence - this beautiful, young, unprotected girl. It brought to my mind certain lines. You know I was fond of committing poetry in my youth.
‘So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity,
That when a soul is found sincerely so,
A thousand liveried angels lackey her?’
“Well, thanks to a kind Providence, she is here, and here she shall stay - my sofa-bed fits her as if it were made for her. It was of no use to me before, and I hate useless things. In fact, she seems to fit in everywhere. She will be eyes, feet, memory to me; how have I lived without her! She is so bright and happy to-night that I can hardly keep my eyes off from her. She is - almost - as handsome as her grandmother. Come and drink tea with us before you leave town, and see how happy we are - how grateful I am.
“Ever yours affectionately,
Priscy S - .

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“P.S. - I forgot to tell you that Lizzy’s father, who never gave her anything else, did give her a first-rate musical education; and that my kind friend Mrs. Lee, who has just been in here, has promised her the instruction of her little girls; so that, if I grow old and crusty, she will never have the pain of dependance on me:”

My friend is certainly a living proof that the Italian proverb is not always true:
“Il piu sapienti è il piu beato.”
“The wisest is the most blessed.”

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Collection

Citation

Sedgwick, Catharine M. Author of "Hope Leslie," "Home", "Letters from Abroad," &c., “A Day in a Railroad Car,” Sedgwick Stories: The Periodical Writings of Catharine Maria Sedgwick, accessed September 27, 2021, https://sedgwickstories.omeka.net/items/show/17.

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