Here is the first character in the story, the recipient of this letter. He was not quite twenty when he received it from his older and wiser sister-in-law, Tillie.
The other person mentioned in the letter, Clara, is the second-youngest sibling of John.
The stage is set for this surprising letter from Tillie to her young brother-in-law. He is in school in Clarksville, Tennessee, while she, a widow of eight years, with a young son, Norman, is living in her in-laws’ home territory of Bryan, Texas.
Feb. 24, 1883
Thanks for your kind letter. No sweeter balm to human woes was ever offered than is an act of loving remembrance, to me. Kindness is the Good of life, the elixir of joy, unkindness, starvation, or worse far ‘tis the poison that embitters all.
I was sorry to hear of your illness- tho’ not surprised for I had heard through Beulah’s letters that you were studying very closely. These written examinations are so taxing to the student. They draw so heavily on his emotional nervous system as well as upon his mind that I doubt whether their advantages over-balance their disadvantages. I trust you passed with honor. Doubtless you know ere this your standing.
At first ere I had opened your letter I thought it was a valentine- when I had read it, I concluded you had outstepped time and written me an April Fool. But more serious reflection convinced me that there may an inkling of truth in your astounding proposition. The one fact that makes me believe this is a remembrance that you and I generally communed in earnest, however much we might jest with others. Mother tried to joke me by telling me you were going to bring “a girl” home with you, but I fortunately remembered Miss Howerton’s visit in time to escape the trap of words she had so cunningly laid. She certainly is “a girl”, but could not be termed ‘a better half;’ and besides I know her to be a decided “cookist”- so she certainly is not the “congenial companion” to begin a “retired country life” with. So there is some one else, “a dearer one yet, and a nearer one” whom you are promising to bring to Texas for me to love. “Love the one you do,” indeed in deed I will, knowing that your choice would only be satisfied with the noble, the true, the beautiful. But, oh, John however worthy she may be, however tempting may be the thought of having your cares brightened by her dear presence, be warned, by the past, and remember too the vows you have made of single misery, till prepared for double happiness. You feel “like a man”, but you are not one, the feeling is an illusion. You are only a serious, unlocated youth whose life for many years has been shielded by college walls and a kind father’s providence, from the toils, cares, and provision for the wants of life. Were you married your father would probably keep you waiting longer than you wished ere you could become located, and then you would wish all that had been settled before there were two instead of one, to exist upon uncertain till. Sherd is getting very impatient himself- in spite of his long sickness and great weakness, to “know what he is going to do”.
“What would Father think of it”? I am sure I cannot say- pray ask him and let me know. Doubtless have an “angel” for a daughter in law would be an inducement few men could resist- and he, wise and prudent as he may be, would probably yield to the honor, if you presented it as forcibly to him as you did to me. By the way written descriptions are charming, but pictured images are more to the point. Why did you not enclose one that I might feast my eyes upon your celestial charmer? May I guess why? You remember two pictures we saw last summer and that Sherd and Clara both have photos of a certain charming dainty little lady. Am I not right? Now pray write me a serious unequivocal and not ambiguous letter when you have read these uncertain pages; and let me know if you really are in earnest- if I really am to look out for my “next sister in law” my last too remember that. It may alter some of my plans if that be the case. I don’t think I ever wrote you that Maria was thinking again of coming out with you this summer. It’s all talk tho, I expect.
What about the trouble with your Prof. I am curious to know what you could have disagreed with him about on the two topics concerning a teacher’s jurisdiction- study and deportment. Which one of the belligerent parties was “apt to get into unpleasant situations” when a renewal of the subject & there again your words were so subtly woven as to leave me in doubt, which had been the offender.
Now let me acknowledge the same sad predicament. Yesterday I was summoned before the board of Trustees to receive from various parties such a character as makes me unwilling to retain my position- consequently tomorrow I hand in my resignation. In times past this would have been a bitter disappointment, but alas, I have received in the latter days of my life such severe cruel lessons, as to human expectations, especially where we have most right to realize them, that I just take it, that is all. Now don’t mention this unless I write you again, for I may not resign.
Norman is well and delighted with his letter- the corrections are all his own. He does well in school except in writing.
I enjoyed my first visit out home last week going out to Sherd’s and Mary’s birthday. The dear old place seems just the same except for Mrs. Feeny’s absence. I missed her so much, and John, I was shocked at the change in her prim tidy room. Clara had it for hers and such laughing, chatting, romping and general uproariousness as took place in it, was enough to bring her ghost back to stop matters. Clara says she feels no better. I do not think she looks as well as when she returned from Va.
Bessie will be home soon, I trust permanently restored.
All are well. We are much exercised about the Smallpox which is at Hearne, Hempstead, and in the Bottom. Ne’theless we are actually preparing to celebrate Mardigras in our little city. Is not that a rise in the world?
Love to Tom and Mark. I never hear of the latter, what is he doing?
Truly dear John, do I pray that in all things you may know the right and knowing, dare maintain, whether it be in connection with your ladylove or your Prof.
God bless you dear, and keep you a comfort, a stay to us all.
Now that you’ve read Tillie’s letter, can anyone tell me what Tillie meant by calling Miss Howerton a “cookist”?
Another interesting term is “unlocated”. By this she means ‘not yet having decided on a profession or line of work’.
Sherd is short for Sheridan, my great-grandfather. He had a twin sister, Mary Ann. When Tillie refers to going “out home”, she means John’s parents’ home, Elm Grove.
I wonder if the Maria she mentions possibly coming with John from Tennessee to visit Tillie is actually Tillie’s sister? And I wonder if Tom and Mark are Tillie’s brothers back in Tennessee?