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CHAPTER XXVIII
In March my husband wrote a letter of warm congratulation upon my success in gathering all our children together, and sent me a sum to be used in sending them to school. That I might aid my husband to mend our fortunes, I persuaded seven of my neighbors' children to take music lessons from me. The boys were entered to Mr. Gordon McCabe—the accomplished gentleman and scholar so well known and so popular in England as well as at home. My daughter Gordon entered an excellent school of which Professor Davis was principal. The older children had been taught by the Rev. William Hoge, who had been pastor of the Brick Church on Fifth Avenue, New York. They were well instructed in Greek, Latin, and mathematics, and eagerly embraced their new opportunities. Before we left Virginia Gordon graduated in her school, and the boys took honors of their accomplished preceptor,—Theo winning the first prize—the Pegram prize, ordained to commemorate Mr. McCabe's colonel, "who died with all his wounds in front." The children's father longed all the more—were that possible—for his home. He writes March 15:—

"Beg Gordon to apply herself diligently to my books—or what is left of them. She must read Wilson's 'Essay on Burns,' Macaulay's essays—Jeffrey, Wilson, and Sydney 292Smith. She must study Russell's 'Modern Europe,' and must read Pope, Cowper, and other poets. I wish her to be the most brilliant girl of the day. These accomplishments may stand her in better stead than others of mere display. McCabe will push the boys.

"I know I have written you despondent letters, but I do not despair! I am only depressed by my physical weakness and by my very great difficulties, but here I mean to stay! It is my last cast in the game of life, and if I fail now, all is lost. I am writing again for the News. I need the money to support us. The Law is so slow—so uncertain that I almost despair. If I had a little farm in the country and barely enough for existence, I would be content, provided I could have my family and the enjoyment of their society. You can have no idea how miserable is my life here. It is enough to make me crazy. I can hardly endure it. I do trust your Christian fortitude enables you to bear our misfortunes better than I can. You have the children! Roger has written me a sweet letter, for which I thank him. I trust they all care a little for me! Poor papa, so lonely and sad without his home! Kiss them all for me. I love them more than all the world."

The hour before the dawn is always, we are told, a dark hour. This was a dark hour indeed, but the dawn was near. Alas, there were yet many nights of darkness, many mornings of fitful dawning, before the sun rose clearly on better days! My husband's sensitive spirit responded as quickly to the humor of a situation as to pathos and tragedy. Very soon after the mournful letter I received the following:—

"'The Rebel Pryor' has had 'a rap' at last—a rap with no uncertain significance. I have had a call from a bona fide client! 293 "Quite unexpectedly this morning a stalwart and evidently brusque person entered, and accosting me asked, 'Is your name Pryor?' I had to acknowledge the damaging fact! 'Well,' he said, 'my name is "France." Ben Wood has sent me to you to argue a case I have in Court. Now I have as many lawsuits as any man in the United States, and experience has taught me never to retain a lawyer until we have agreed upon all I am to pay for his services.'

"To this I assented, but added that as I did not know what his case might be, I could not indicate any terms of employment.

"He replied, 'I live in Baltimore. I am at the head of all the Lottery business in the United States. My business has failed, and I'm trying to get discharge under your Two Thirds Act.' Now I had never heard of the Two Thirds Act, and had no notion what he meant, but this fact, you may be sure, I did not communicate to my intending client. At this point I made a bad break. I said, 'Mr. France, you know I have been practising in New York a very short time, and of course I am quite ignorant of the rate of charges here.' Instantly it occurred to me that he would draw an inference not only of my ignorance of fees, but of the law itself. Fortunately the reflection seemed to escape him. My object was, of course, to avoid designating the amount of the fee myself. I wanted to ask him fifty dollars, but I had a dreadful fear that the proposition would drive him out of the office, and I would not get even twenty-five,—which I would gladly have accepted. I begged him to name the fee, with the assurance of whatever it might be I would accept it.

"He answered, 'I never prize' (this he pronounced price) 'any man's labor.' Still I persisted in the endeavor to throw the burden of the offer upon him. He became angered, and fumed a bit, but finally said:—

"'Little Owen' (a very able English solicitor who has settled 294in New York in the practice of Bankruptcy and Insolvency proceedings)—'Little Owen has served all the citations and prepared all the other necessary papers, and all you will have to do will be to argue the question of my discharge on the return day of the motion, three weeks hence. Now—I will make with you the same agreement that I have made with Mr. Owen—which is five hundred dollars cash, and one thousand if you procure my application.'

"With the utmost dignity and appearance of reluctance I said, 'Mr. France, you have my word that I would accept any offer you might make, and of course I will agree to this sum, however inadequate the compensation may be.' Going down into his pockets he drew out five hundred dollars in notes, which he gave me, and which I am sending you through Bob McIlwane. Let me know when you receive it. I mean to win the thousand! Expect no more long letters! Between this hour and the day of argument I shall think of, dream of, no subject on earth but the Two Thirds Act!"

He argued the motion and won it. The court and lawyers treated him kindly, and the judge said, "It is a great privilege to hear a good argument from an able lawyer!" He was soon employed in other cases. His letters now exhibited the most hopeful temper. "I am overwhelmed," he wrote me, "with business for the Southern Express Company. It keeps me employed night and day, but so far has yielded me no money. I hope, however, eventually to get a fee that shall compensate me for all my labor, so I am encouraged to work on. I am sure of success! I feel it in me. Let us crowd all sail, and not languish in despair. Did you ever know any one who lived honestly, worked hard, and exerted competent talent to fail in any enterprise 295of life? I think we have competent ability; as for the rest I am certain; my health is perfect. The debility which so oppressed me is succeeded by perfect health and vigor."

And all because of the one-thousand-dollar fee (half of which he already owed) from Mr. France, the lottery dealer! Wherever he is,—and I trust he lives to read these words,—I have for him, now and always, my grateful blessing.

As for the Express Company,—the brilliant hopes from that quarter melted as does the baseless fabric of a dream. The company became hopelessly insolvent, and for the promised fee of three thousand dollars paid its hard-worked counsel nothing.

The winter of 1866-1867 was marked with fluctuating hopes and disappointments. The great labor in the interests of the Express Company had yielded nothing.

"The Express Company is insolvent beyond redemption [my husband wrote me]. This involves a loss to me of $3000—and again delays indefinitely the reunion with my family here. I am not dismayed, however, au contraire! My present impulse is to retrieve the loss by extraordinary exertions. Work, work, work, is my duty and destiny; your welfare the goal that beckons me on. I contemplate nothing else—I desire nothing else. I have been unanimously elected a member of the Manhattan Club,—an association for the purpose of social enjoyment,—but of course the expense is a formidable bar to me. I sometimes attend as Mr. Schell's guest, and I am received with great kindness.

"I have met Miss Augusta Evans, the authoress, and I am impressed with the goodness of her heart and her devotion 296to learning. Her appearance is extremely pleasing—brown hair, the color of yours—fair complexion—blue eyes (I think), a fine brow and well-developed head, a figure slight and graceful, and of your height. The expression of her countenance is serious, almost sad, though it lights up with the animation of talk. She is good, modest, sincere, pious. Her devotion to the 'lost cause' is fanatical. I think her mind is irregularly developed, but she has infinite ambition and will improve.

"I have also had the great pleasure of seeing Ristori and of being presented to her behind the scenes. Her acting is a revelation. I could not understand one word of her language, but her voice, her exquisite articulation, her expressive countenance and gestures, told the story eloquently to my uninstructed eyes and ears. How I longed for you! All pleasure must be, in your absence, poisoned for me.

"I have agreed to accept the defence of an unhappy Episcopal minister who was arrested in an omnibus for picking a lady's pocket! He was about to leave the stage when a voice arrested him: 'Stop that man! He has stolen my pocket-book.' The pocket-book was found upon him. It is by no means impossible that the thief may have dropped it in my client's pocket. So although he is miserably poor and can pay me nothing for my trouble, my sympathies are enlisted, and I shall do my best for him. Think of it! An Episcopal minister!"

Later:—

"My wretched client is bailed at last. I am more and more persuaded of his innocence, but whether I can make it appear in the trial is another thing. The evidence is almost conclusive against him. The case is so bad I can hardly expect the judge to discharge him. I can acquit him, however, before a jury."

297 Two months later he wrote:—

"I have refused to be further connected in the case of the Episcopal minister, for reasons which it is not proper I should disclose even to you. He is now committed to the protecting care of a lawyer whose defence will be insanity!

"Some of the papers made haste to announce that 'the Rebel Pryor has been superseded in the criminal case of — by other lawyers,' and it was suspected the publication had emanated from the prisoner's friends to escape an imaginary prejudice against a 'Rebel' advocate. The truth is, I learned facts from my client which made me withdraw from the case—facts in writing. I indignantly refused any further connection with —. His friends wrote me imploring me to stand by him, and it is suspected that when they found me obstinate, they instigated the newspaper assertion! If so, they have behaved with the basest ingratitude, for but for me—services which nobody but myself could have rendered—he would long ago have been in State's Prison. I voluntarily, and against their remonstrance, renounced his case—and for other reasons than an absence of reward. What my reasons are neither you nor any other person shall ever know. They are in writing, however, and in my possession. Of course they know I will be silent unless I am forced to act otherwise."

The name of this unhappy clergyman is withheld lest the innocent may suffer. He was accused of being an accomplished thief, and of concealing in his left hand a small pair of scissors, which he manipulated with such skill that he cut into the pockets (then worn in the ample skirts of women's dresses) and cleverly extracted purses and wallets. His case was postponed from month to month—and 298finally he was allowed to leave the city for his home at the South, where he soon after died—the presumption being, I imagine, that he was insane.

The close of the year 1866 brought no new hopes for the sorely distressed little family in Petersburg. By the closest economy, the most diligent work,—teaching by day, and sewing at night,—the wolf was kept from the door, and the school bills of the boys paid. Small sums came occasionally from the heartsick worker in New York,—heart-sick because of his own impaired strength and health and the loss of many days from pain and illness, and also his keen anxieties about the future of his native state.

But at Christmas we were all refreshed by a visit from him, and improved the hour by entreating that he should abandon the plan of living in New York. We were most averse to it. There was small hope of our ever being able to exist in that city of costly living and high house-rents. My husband forbore to grieve me, at this sacred time, by opposing me. After he returned to New York, he wrote me:—

"New York, Jan. 23d, 1867.

"My Dearest,

"I am sending you $200, with one hundred and ninety-seven of which you must take up a note due Ashwell, the Northern sutler. This is what remains of money due him to redeem the silver tray from which you parted to purchase shoes for the prisoners. Get a receipt in full from him, get the tray, and restore it to its place in the service. To raise this amount I am sorely pressed. We have had a terribly dull season. I am comforted by the good reports of the children. Tell them that I rejoice to hear of the 299good progress in their studies, and am particularly delighted with Theo's 'perfect' circular. My heart's desire is that the children be perfect in all things. Pray write often about them. Gordon writes charmingly, but her letters cannot be substituted for yours. Indeed I love you all more and more every day of my life, and I would sacrifice everything to be with you. Next spring you must join me. Do let us make the experiment. By hard work and strict economy we may contrive to tide over our difficulties. We must remember that we are poor, and must act accordingly. We must be content to live humbly. Anything is more tolerable than the life we now live. Business of every kind is extremely dull here, but I get some practice. I argued on a 'Demurrer' the other day and was greatly complimented—the Chief Justice again remarking; 'it is refreshing to hear a good argument by a good lawyer.'

"Devotedly, R. A. P."

"March 5th, 1867.

"My Dearest,—To-morrow I will send you a certified cheque for $50. Would it were more! For a month I have been extremely pressed for money, but I still hope for easier times. My income is very precarious. Don't imagine I have the least idea of abandoning my experiment here. 'I mean to fight it out on this line' to the end of the struggle. My practice increases slowly but surely, and is based, I believe, on a conviction of my competency. Thank God what I have accomplished, though small, has been achieved by my own unaided exertions, and without the least obligation to a human being. I have no patron. I have never solicited business. My only arts are, work and devotion to study. These expedients may be slow of operation, but they are sure, and they leave my dignity and self-respect uncompromised. I am not conscious of having received a favor since my residence in New York—and 300when the victory is achieved, I shall feel inexpressible gratification in saying, with Coriolanus, 'Alone I did it!' When I speak of 'favor' I mean in the way of my profession. Of personal kindness I have been the grateful recipient—though not in many instances. Judge — was perpetually obtruding his promises upon me until at last I told him I needed no help and would accept no succor. Of course he is offended. Let him be! All his professions of regard are developed to be an interested scheme to press me into his service.

"And now one more word. You must come to me. I cannot live without you. Is not poverty better than such an existence? May we not live here humbly, but content in one another's presence? I do not see that it is possible for me to get employment in Virginia. Let us abate something of our pride and ambition, and be content to live poorly and obscurely. We can at least be sustained by our mutual love and admiration. What care we for the world?

"Devotedly, R. A. P."

A very dull season succeeded these brave words. My poor general suffered greatly from neuralgic pains in his head; no new cases came into his office. He writes:—

"I cannot account for it! Everything looks so much less promising—but really now I must remain here. I have no money to get away! Never before have I been so sick at heart. I often fear I can bear no more. I would come to you—supremely wretched as I am—but for the fact that I am without money to pay my expenses. In truth I haven't a cent in the world! Yesterday I had one dollar, but meeting a poor little boy about Willy's size with an arm just broken, I gave him the last of my 301fortune. Why my landlord trusts me, I know not. But he seems to have faith in me, and is willing to wait until I earn something."

This letter was soon followed by another,—indeed he wrote me every day,—and he hastened to say:—

"I felt ashamed of my last letter, but the truth is my 'business' is oppressively stagnant—from what particular cause, I cannot conjecture. Whether it be the result of accident, or of causes which portend an ultimate failure, I cannot pretend to affirm. If a breeze does not come soon, I shall be at a standstill. What then? My family is dependent exclusively upon my scant earnings. If they fail, I see no hope in another quarter. This is the apprehension that kills the soul within me. The catastrophe haunts me like a spectre, and clouds my spirit with a perpetual gloom. God only knows what the event will be—but I should not talk in this strain. I shall relax no effort. On the contrary, I never worked as strenuously in my life. God willing, my earnest efforts to subsist my darling family may yet be successful. It is for them I toil, and richly do they deserve every blessing. This thought, above all else, encourages me. May God bless them!

"Devotedly, R. A. P.

"P.S. I see I repeated the sin for which I sought excuses. The present lull in my practice I attribute to the general stagnation of business. Mayhap the breeze will come before long.

"An unwelcome breeze of another kind is now busy near me. An immense fire is raging in rather close proximity to the 'Waverly,' and I have some apprehensions of a move. The Winter Garden Theatre and the Southern Hotel are in flames. How the boys would enjoy the 302spectacle! I suppose there are fifty steam-engines spouting their streams and thousands of people looking on. To-day, for the first time, we have an indication of approaching spring, and as they are painting my office, I mean to stroll about the city in enjoyment of the sunshine."

He had now lived in New York a year and a half—and had borne the intense heat of summer in the crowded district. Except for one visit to Virginia, and an occasional Sunday to Fordham to visit his old comrade in Congress, Mr. Haskins, he had not left his narrow quarters for any recreation whatever.


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