Read CHAPTER I of Richard Vandermarck, free online book, by Miriam Coles Harris, on


O for one spot of living green,
One little spot where leaves can grow,
To love unblamed, to walk unseen,
To dream above, to sleep below!


There are in this loud stunning tide,
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of th’ everlasting chime;

And to wise hearts this certain hope is given;
“No mist that man may raise, shall hide the eye of Heaven.”


I never knew exactly how the invitation came; I felt very much honored by it, though I think now, very likely the honor was felt to be upon the other side. I was exceedingly young, and exceedingly ignorant, not seventeen, and an orphan, living in the house of an uncle, an unmarried man of nearly seventy, wholly absorbed in business, and not much more interested in me than in his clerks and servants.

I had come under his protection, a little girl of two years old, and had been in his house ever since. I had had as good care as a very ordinary class of servants could give me, and was supplied with some one to teach me, and had as much money to spend as was good for me perhaps more; and I do not feel inclined to say my uncle did not do his duty, for I do not think he knew of anything further to do; and strictly speaking, I had no claim on him, for I was only a great-niece, and there were those living who were more nearly related to me, and who were abundantly able to provide for me, if they had been willing to do it.

When I came in to the household, its wants were attended to by a cook and a man-servant, who had lived many years with my uncle. A third person was employed as my nurse, and a great deal of quarrelling was the result of her coming. I quite wonder my uncle did not put me away at board somewhere, rather than be disturbed. But in truth, I do not believe that the quarrelling disturbed him much, or that he paid much attention to the matter, and so the matter settled itself. My nurses were changed very often, by will of the cook and old Peter, and I never was happy enough to have one who had very high principle, or was more than ordinarily good-tempered.

I don’t know who selected my teachers; probably they applied for employment and were received. They were very business-like and unsuggestive people. I was of no more interest to them than a bale of goods, I believe. Indeed, I seemed likely to go a bale of goods through life; everything that was done for me was done for money, and with a view to the benefit of the person serving me. I was not sent to school, which was a very great pity; it was owing to the fact, no doubt, that somebody applied to my uncle to teach me at home, and so the system was inaugurated, and never received a second thought, and I went on being taught at home till I was seventeen.

The “home” was as follows; a large dark house on the unsunny side of a dull street; furniture that had not been changed for forty years, walls that were seldom repainted, windows that were rarely opened. The neighborhood had been for many years unfashionable and undesirable, and, by the time I was grown up, nobody would have lived in it, who had cared to have a cheerful home, I might almost have said, a respectable one, I fancy ours was nearly the only house in the block occupied by its owner; the others, equally large, were rented for tenement houses, or boarding-houses, and perhaps for many things worse. It was probably owing to this fact, that my uncle gave orders, once for all, I was never to go into the street alone; and I believe, in my whole life, I had never taken a walk unaccompanied by a servant, or one of my teachers.

A very dull life indeed. I wonder how I endured it. The rooms were so dismal, the windows so uneventful. If it had not been for a room in the garret where I had my playthings, and where the sun came all day long, I am sure I should have been a much worse and more unhappy child. As I grew older, I tried to adorn my room (my own respectable sleeping room, I mean), with engravings, and the little ornaments that I could buy. But it was a hopeless attempt. The walls were so high and so dingy, the little pictures were lost upon them; and the vases on the great black mantel-shelf looked so insignificant, I felt ashamed of them, and owned the unfitness of decorating such a room. No flowers would grow in those cold north windows no bird would sing in sight of such a street. I gave it up with a sigh; and there was one good instinct lost.

When I was about eleven, I fell foul of some good books. If it had not been for them, I truly do not see how I could have known that I was not to lie or steal, and that God was to be worshipped. Certainly, I had had hands slapped many times for taking things I had been forbidden to touch, and had had many a battle in consequence of “telling stories,” with the servants of the house, but I had always recognized the personal spite of the punishments, and they had not carried with them any moral lesson.

I had sometimes gone to church; but the sermons in large city churches are not generally elementary, and I did not understand those that I heard at all. Occasionally I went with the nurse to Vespers, and that I thought delightful. I was enraptured with the pictures, the music, the rich clothes of the priests; if it had not been for the bad odor of the neighboring worshippers, I think I might have rushed into the bosom of the Church of Rome. But that offended sense restrained me. And so, as I said, if I had not obtained access to some books of holy and pure influence, and been starved by the dullness of the life around me into taking hold of them with eagerness, I should have led the life of a little heathen in the midst of light. Of course the books were not written for my especial case, nor were they books for children, and so, much was supposed, and not expressed, and consequently the truth they imparted to me was but fragmentary. But it was truth, and the influence was holy.

I was driven to books; I do not believe I had any more desire than most vivid, palpitating, fluttering young things of my sex, to pore over a dull black and white page; but this black and white gate opened to me golden fields of happiness, while I was perishing of hunger in a life of dreary fact.

When I was about sixteen, however, an outside human influence, not written in black and white, came into the current of my existence. About that time, my uncle took into his firm, as junior partner, a young man who had long been a clerk in the house. After his promotion he often came home with my uncle to dinner. I think this was done, perhaps, with a view of civil treatment, on the first occasion; but afterward, it was continued because my uncle could not bear to leave business when he left the office, and because he could talk on the matters which were dearer to him than his dinner, with this junior, in whom he took unqualified delight. He often wrote letters in the evening, which my uncle dictated, and he sometimes did not go away till eleven o’clock at night. The first time he came, I did not notice him very much. It was not unusual for Uncle Leonard to be accompanied by some gentleman who talked business with him during dinner; and being naturally shy, and moreover, on this occasion, in the middle of a very interesting book, at once timid and indifferent, I slipped away from the table the moment that I could. But upon the third or fourth occasion of his being there, I became interested, finding often a pair of handsome eyes fixed on me, and being occasionally addressed and made a partner in the conversation. Uncle Leonard very rarely talked to me, and I think found me in the way when Richard Vandermarck made the talk extend to me.

But this was the beginning of a very much improved era for me. I lost my shyness, and my fear of Uncle Leonard, and indeed, I think, my frantic thirst for books, and became quite a young lady. We were great friends; he brought me books, he told me about other people, he opened a thousand doors of interest and pleasure to me. I never can enumerate all I owed to him. My dull life was changed, and the house owed him gratitude.

We began to have the gas lighted in the parlor, and even Uncle Leonard came in there sometimes and sat after dinner, before he went up into that dreary library above. I think he rather enjoyed hearing us talk gayly across his sombre board; he certainly became softer and more human toward me after Richard came to be so constantly a guest. He gave me more money to spend, (that was always the expression of his feelings, his language, so to speak;) he made various inquiries and improvements about the house. The dinners themselves were improved, for a horrible monotony had crept into the soups and sauces of forty years; and Uncle Leonard was no epicure; he seemed to have no more stomach than he had heart; brain and pocket made the man.

I think unconsciously he was much influenced by Richard, whose business talent had charmed him, and to whom he looked for much that he knew he must soon lose. He was glad to make the house seem pleasant to him, and he was much gratified by his frequent coming. And Richard was peculiarly a man to like and to lean upon. Not in any way brilliant, and with no literary tastes, he was well educated enough, and very well informed; a thorough business man. I think he was ordinarily reserved, but our intercourse had been so unconventional, that I did not think him so at all. He was rather good-looking, tall and square-shouldered, with light-brown hair and fine dark-blue eyes; he had a great many points of advantage.

One day, long after he had become almost a member of the household, he told me he wanted me to know his sister, and that she would come the next day to see me, if I would like it. I did like it, and waited for her with impatience. He had told me a great deal about her, and I was full of curiosity to see her. She was a little older than Richard, and the only sister; very pretty, and quite a person of consequence in society. She had made an unfortunate marriage, though of that Richard said very little to me; but with better luck than attends most unfortunately-married, women, she was released by her husband’s early death, and was free to be happy again, with some pretty boys, a moderate fortune, and two brothers to look after her investments, and do her little errands for her. She considered herself fortunate; and was a widow of rare discretion, in that she was wedded to her unexpected independence, and never intended to be wedded to anything or anybody else. She was naturally cool and calculating, and was in no danger of being betrayed by her feelings into any other course of life than the one she had marked out as most expedient. If she was worldly, she was also useful, intelligent, and popular, and a paragon in her brother’s partial eyes.