This is a long and revealing letter from one close friend to another in Tennessee in 1871. The author’s hometown is Lebanon, where Tillie lives with the Fite family and teaches, but the author, Alice, is now married and living some distance away in Union City, where her husband practices law.
Alice and her husband rent a room in a boarding house, which is also where they take their meals. Evidently, they also rent a horse and buggy when those are needed. When Alice refers to ‘housekeeping’, she means owning their own home.
Alice wrote on creamy notepaper embossed with “B” for her married name, Bentley, and her ink is black. The handwriting is fairly clear and consistent. I tried to underline everything she had underlined and I kept her punctuation and spelling as best I could.
Tillie Norman, the recipient of this letter, will eventually become the mother of Norman Cavitt, the college-aged recipient of the 1893 letter in the previous post.
This letter holds a surprise! Imagine getting dropped off at a stranger’s cabin and spending the afternoon and mealtime with the resident until you are fetched in the evening.
Home, Dec 19th, 1871.
No doubt you’ve been quarreling with me for not having answered sooner, but various little things have interfered with my writing. I always devote a long time, to your letters, and have been waiting for a ‘good opportunity’ to continue uninterrupted. I think, this morning, that I have that opportunity and I’m very sure I intend to profit by it. I’ve just finished cleaning up my room, have dressed myself in my maroon robe, whose pocket, by the way, is endeared to me because you made it. Well, I’ve thrown on more wood to my fire, and it crackles, sparkles, and throws a warm, rich red glow all over the wall and furniture. I do love you so this morning, and if I could only see you, I’d sit close up to you, and take that little hand and squeeze it, I’d be perfectly happy. When I’m thrown in the company of any of these ladies down here, do you know, dear Tillie, that you are made the subject of comparison, a thousand times, I say to myself: “now Tillie is so different”! Of course they are the sufferers by the comparison. There is only one drawback to me, in being married; and it is that I can’t be with you as often as I wish. I think of you every day, and am mad with myself, because I never dream about you. I think I see you now; sitting in your school room with those troublesome little chaps around you. I’m going to insist upon Mrs. Jones giving you a three weeks holiday when I come home. Mr. Bentley tells me I must not stay any longer than 3 weeks! He says he’s right lonesome when he thinks of my going away. I’ve promised him I wouldn’t leave until the session closed, in Lebanon. Don’t fail to tell me exactly when that is, for if it’s too long off, I can’t begin to wait. Tillie, that part of your letters, referring to Mr. Ellis made me right sad; and I’m sure I cannot see why it did; for I’m glad I’m not his wife, and I never could have loved him, though I fancied at one time that I did. Poor fellow! I find myself almost crying, sometimes, when I think of him, though I’m not presumptuous enough to think he will not get over it very soon, but it grieves me to think that my memory cannot always be a pleasant one to him. And you have positively broken off with Mr. Houston! Tillie you must tell me whether you regret it. I hardly know what I think of it. I’m sorry and yet I am not. I don’t want you to marry any one; for when I go to housekeeping, I want you to stay all the time with me, and if you will teach, you, perhaps, could do it here, if you would. Mr. Bentley frequently intimates that it won’t be very long before we can go to housekeeping, but the thought of it is not very pleasant, if it were not for one thing, and that is, to have my friends come down to see me. I don’t feel as lonesome way off down here as I thought I would. I was born, I know, to be a married woman and to appreciate and enjoy the many little comforts and pleasures of married life. You used to say of me, that I “never gossiped”. I do not now, in its worst sense, but I take such a keen interest in every thing around me, and enjoy a chat with anybody. If I can like these people, then, how much more do I love you all, at home! The lady I believe I told you about as being so sweet and cultivated, grows more and more in my friendship. Our Episcopalian Bishop (Quintard) was in Union City for a few days and Mrs. Gibbs had, Mr. Ford, Mr. Bentley and me, out there to dine with him. I spent such a pleasant day; but Tillie, I had to sit up so dignified that I longed to be at home in our little room, and in one arm chair. Mr. Bentley says he was wishing all day, for the same thing. Every time I feel disposed to go, Mr. Bentley gets a buggy and me out to Mrs. Gibbs, and stay some hours. I want to see those little children of hers, and am going again soon. You know how fond I am of little children; the first time I did, almost, in coming to Union City, was to make friends with about half a dozen of them. You musn’t let Allie forget me; remind him of me, and tell him Miss Alice is going to bring him the biggest stick of red candy she can find. I hear of “May she” from Aunt Betty. She writes Mrs. A. that she “could not have done without her fine clothes.” I am so glad she is happy and pleased with her new home. If her letters to you are as full of “Mr. Darby” as mine are of “Mr. Bentley”, I expect you get very tired of us. And Sallie Dismukes is in Lebanon, and a belle, of course. Tillie be sure and give her my love and a kiss, and tell her she must stay until I come up. I want to see her so much for I’ve always loved her. Tillie, I am Mr. Bentley’s partner, not only in a social sense, but in a legal; I’ve been out with him taking “depositions.” One morning last week after he’d been gown [sic] a little while to town, he drove up in a nice new buggy and asked me if I didn’t want to take a short drive of twelve miles! Though ‘twas a cold day, I undertook the journey, for I can’t bear to be left alone all day. Our horse was a swift traveler, but before we reached our destination, I became so chilled through that Mr. Bentley had to put me out at a farm house on the road-side, and go the rest of the trip without me. When I saw the unpromising log cabin, for such it was, I fairly shuddered; but the old lady (whom I’d never seen before) came out, and gave me a most cordial welcome. She and her husband live there alone, and the outside of the house looked most desolate. She had a bright warm fire, and gave me a glass of white grape wine, which was delightful. While I was warming, I was also looking around; and noticed that there were some articles of furniture that were fine; and there was a shelf of fine books. These, with the easy manners and good language of the old lady, spoke of better days. She gave me a most delightful dinner. We became on such good terms in the course of the evening that she told me her history; of the yankees having burned her house, and everything she had, and of her having to live in the negro cabins, and in poverty. She has had a great deal of education, and though living way off out there, takes several papers, and is posted in regard to all the current news of the day, and has a most charming manner of talking. I spent the evening so pleasantly that I was right sorry when Mr. Bentley came for me. He told me on our way home that the Pierce family were the wealthiest people in that part of the country before the war. Mrs. Pierce made me promise to come back and see her. She said she would teach me how to cook everything. Since I last wrote to you, we’ve changed our boarding house. Mrs. Edward’s health became so delicate that she told us she was compelled to give us up. Though I had become attached to my little room, I was not sorry to leave. Mr. Bentley had long been dissatisfied. They cooked in the dining room, and the smell and mess, generally, were intolerable. You know he couldn’t stand that! He came off and engaged boarding at Dr. Massengill’s, a house very highly recommended. Instead of a little room, we have a great, large room, but very comfortable. It is a considerable job to sweep it, but the exercise is good for me. Mrs. Massengill has a nice piano. She is well educated, and full of life and energy, and is very kind to us. She keeps such a nice table, and everything is neat and clean. I do wish I could be home Christmas; are you all going to have any gayety then? We are to have a concert down here, next Friday, and as ‘tis free of charge, I tell Mr. Bentley we must go by all means. I’ve been teasing Mr. Bentley to tell me what he’s going to give me for a Christmas present. He says “nothing.” He gave me my first money since I’ve been married, the other day. It is $17, and a handful of nickels. I make him pay all my little accounts, and am hoarding my money. He is so sweet and good, and I do love him. So kind, gentle and considerate he is with me, I hope your husband, when you marry, will be just like him. Now Tillie, I’ve written you a long letter. Don’t treat me like you did last time. Kiss Allie for me and give my love to Mrs. Fite, but more to yourself that to anyone I know of.
Don’t forget to tell me what day the law school closes. Give my love to Mr. Cavitt when you see him, and tell him I haven’t forgotten my promise about the picture. A.