Chapter XI. {XXXIV}

“’Whence this delay?

Along the crowded street

 A funeral comes, and with unusual pomp.’” ROGERS.

{Samuel Rogers (English poet, 1763-1855), Italy:“A Funeral” lines 1- 2}

IT is a common remark, that important events seldom occur singly; and they seem indeed often to follow each other with startling rapidity, like the sharpest flashes of lightning and the loudest peals of thunder from the dark clouds of a summer shower. On arriving in New York, the Wyllyses found that Tallman Taylor had been taken suddenly and dangerously ill, during the previous night, the consequence of a stroke of the sun; having exposed himself imprudently, by crossing the bay to Staten-Island for a dinner party, in an open boat, when the thermometer stood at 95 {degrees} in the shade. He was believed in imminent danger, and was too ill to recognize his wife when she arrived. Miss Wyllys and Elinor remained in town, at the urgent request of Jane, who was in great distress; while Mr. Wyllys returned home with Mrs. Stanley and Mary Van Alstyne.

{Susan’s father, James Fenimore Cooper, twice suffered from sunstroke, in 1823 and 1825, while sailing a small boat near New York City, and she later wrote of the attacks of delirium that followed}

After twenty-four hours of high delirium, the physicians succeeded in subduing the worst symptoms; but the attack took the character of a bilious fever, and the patient’s recovery was thought very doubtful from the first. Poor Jane sat listlessly in the sick-room, looking on and weeping, unheeded by her husband, who would allow no one but his mother to come near him, not even his wife or his sisters; he would not, indeed, permit his mother to leave his sight for a moment, his eyes following every movement of her’s with the feverish restlessness of disease, and the helpless dependence of a child. Jane mourned and wept; Adeline had at least the merit of activity, and made herself useful as an assistant nurse, in preparing whatever was needed by her brother. These two young women, who had been so often together in brilliant scenes of gaiety, were now, for the first time, united under a roof of sorrow and suffering.

“That lovely young creature is a perfect picture of helpless grief!” thought one of the physicians, as he looked at Jane.

For a week, Tallman Taylor continued in the same state. Occasionally, as he talked with the wild incoherency of delirium, he uttered sentences painful to hear, as they recalled deeds of folly and vice; words passed his lips which were distressing to all present, but which sunk deep into the heart of the sick man’s mother. At length he fell into a stupor, and after lingering for a day or two in that state, he expired, without having fully recovered his consciousness for a moment. The handsome, reckless, dashing son of the rich merchant lay on his bier; a career of selfish enjoyment and guilty folly was suddenly closed by the grave.

Miss Agnes’s heart sunk within her as she stood, silent, beside the coffin of Jane’s husband, remembering how lately she had seen the young man, full of life and vigour, thoughtlessly devoting the best energies of body and soul to culpable self-indulgence. It is melancholy indeed, to record such a close to such a life; and yet it is an event repeated in the gay world with every year that passes. It is to be feared there were companions of Tallman Taylor’s, pursuing the same course of wicked folly, which had been so suddenly interrupted before their eyes, who yet never gave one serious thought to the subject: if they paused, it was only for a moment, while they followed their friend to the grave; from thence hurrying again to the same ungrateful, reckless abuse of life, and its highest blessings.

Jane was doubly afflicted at this moment; her baby sickened soon after its return to town, and died only a few days after her husband; the young father and his infant boy were laid in the same grave.

Jane herself was ill for a time, and when she partially recovered, was very anxious to accompany Miss Agnes and Elinor to Wyllys-Roof — a spot where she had passed so many peaceful hours, that she longed again to seek shelter there. She had loved her husband, as far as it was in her nature to love; but her attachments were never very strong or very tender, and Tallman Taylor’s neglect and unkindness during the past year, had in some measure chilled her first feelings for him. She now, however, looked upon herself as the most afflicted of human beings; the death of her baby had indeed touched the keenest chord in her bosom — she wept over it bitterly.

Adeline thought more seriously at the time of her brother’s death than she had ever done before: and even Emma Taylor’s spirits were sobered for a moment. Mr. Taylor, the father, no doubt felt the loss of his eldest son, though far less than many parents would have done; he was not so much overwhelmed by grief, but what he could order a very handsome funeral, and project an expensive marble monument — a fashionable tomb-stoneof Italian marble. He was soon able to resume all his usual pursuits, and even the tenor of his thoughts seemed little changed, for his mind was as much occupied as usual with Wall-Street affairs, carrying out old plans, or laying new schemes of profit. He had now been a rich man for several years, yet he was in fact less happy than when he began his career, and had everything to look forward to. Still he continued the pursuits of business, for without the exciting fears and hopes of loss and gain, life would have appeared a monotonous scene to him; leisure could only prove a burthen, for it would be merely idleness, since he had no tastes to make it either pleasant or useful. His schemes of late had not been so brilliantly successful as at the commencement of his course of speculation; fortune seemed coquetting with her old favourite; he had recently made several investments which had proved but indifferent in their results. Not that he had met with serious losses; on the contrary, he was still a gainer at the game of speculation; but the amount was very trifling. He had rapidly advanced to a certain distance on the road to wealth, but it now seemed as if he could not pass that point; the brilliant dreams in which he had indulged were only half-realized. There seemed no good way of accounting for this pause in his career, but such was the fact; he was just as shrewd and calculating, just as enterprising now as he had been ten years before, but certainly he was not so successful.

On commencing an examination of his son’s affairs, he found that Tallman Taylor’s extravagance and folly had left his widow and child worse than penniless, for he had died heavily in debt. Returning one afternoon from Wall-Street, Mr. Taylor talked over this matter with his wife. Of all Tallman Taylor’s surviving friends, his mother was the one who most deeply felt his death; she was heart-stricken, and shed bitter tears over the young man.

“There is nothing left, Hester, for the child or her mother,” said the merchant, sitting down in a rocking-chair in his wife’s room. “All gone; all wasted; five times the capital I had to begin with. I have just made an investment, of which I shall give the profits to Tallman’s lady; four lots that were offered to me last week; if that turns out well, I shall go on, and it may perhaps make up a pretty property for the child, in time.”

“Oh, husband, don’t talk to me about such things now; I can’t think of anything but my poor boy’s death!”

“It was an unexpected calamity, Hester,” said the father, with one natural look of sorrow; “but we cannot always escape trouble in this world.”

“I feel as if we had not done our duty by him!” said the poor mother.

“Why not?-he was very handsomely set up in business,” remonstrated Mt. Taylor.

“I was not thinking of money,” replied his wife, shaking her head. “But it seems as if we only took him away from my brother’s, in the country, just to throw him in the way of temptation as he was growing up, and let him run wild, and do everything he took a fancy to.”

“We did no more than other parents, in taking him home with us, to give him a better education than he could have got at your brother’s.”

“Husband, husband! — it is but a poor education that don’t teach a child to do what is right! I feel as if we had never taught him what we ought to. I did not know he had got so many bad ways until lately; and now that I do know it, my heart is broken!”

“Tallman was not so bad as you make him out. He was no worse than a dozen other young gentlemen I could name at this very minute.”

“Oh; I would give everything we are worth to bring him back! — but it is too late — too late!”

“No use in talking now, Hester.”

“We ought to have taken more pains with him. He didn’t know the danger he was in, and we did, or we ought to have known it. Taking a young man of a sudden, from a quiet, minister’s family in the country, like my brother’s, and giving him all the money he wanted, and turning him out into temptation. — Oh, it’s dreadful!”

“All the pains in the world, Hester, won’t help a young man, unless he chooses himself. What could I do, or you either? Didn’t we send him to school and to college? — didn’t we give him an opportunity of beginning life with a fine property, and married to one of the handsomest girls in the country, daughter of one of the best families, too? What more can you do for a young man? He must do the rest himself; you can’t expect to keep him tied to your apron-string all his life.”

“Oh, no; but husband, while he was young we ought to have taken more pains to teach him not to think so much about the ways of the world. There are other things besides getting money and spending money, to do; it seems to me now as if money had only helped my poor boy to his ruin!”

“Your notions are too gloomy, Mrs. Taylor. Such calamities will happen, and we should not let them weigh us down too much.”

“If I was to live a hundred years longer, I never could feel as I did before our son’s death. Oh, to think what a beautiful, innocent child he was twenty years ago, this time!”

“You shouldn’t let your mind run so much on him that’s gone. It’s unjust to the living.”

The poor woman made no answer, but wept bitterly for some time.

“It’s my only comfort now,” she said, at length, “to think that we have learned wisdom by what’s passed. As long as I live, day and night, I shall labour to teach our younger children not to set their hearts upon the world; not to think so much about riches.”

“Well, I must say, Hester, if you think all poor people are saints, I calculate you make a mistake.”

“I don’t say that, husband; but it seems to me that we have never yet thought enough of the temptations of riches, more especially to young people, to young men — above all, when it comes so sudden as it did to our poor boy. What good did money ever do him? — it only brought him into trouble!”

“Because Tallman didn’t make the most of his opportunities, that is no reason why another should not. If I had wasted money as he did, before I could afford it, I never should have made a fortune either. The other boys will do better, I reckon; they will look more to business than he did, and turn out rich men themselves.”

“It isn’t the money! — it isn’t the money I am thinking of!” exclaimed the poor mother, almost in despair at her husband’s blindness to her feelings.

“What is it then you take so much to heart?”

“It’s remembering that we never warned our poor child; we put him in the way of temptation, where he only learned to think everything of the world and its ways; we didn’t take pains enough to do our duty, as parents, by him!”

“Well, Hester, I must say you are a very unreasonable lady!” exclaimed Mr. Taylor, who was getting impatient under his wife’s observations. “One would think it was all my fault; do you mean to say it was wrong in me to grow rich?”

“I am afraid it would have been better for us, and for our children, if you hadn’t made so much money,” replied the wife. “The happiest time of our life was the first ten years after we were married, when we had enough to be comfortable, and we didn’t care so much about show. I am sure money hasn’t made me happy; I don’t believe it can make anybody happy!”

Mr. Taylor listened in amazement; but his straightforward, quiet wife, had been for several years gradually coming to the opinion she had just expressed, and the death of her eldest son had affected her deeply. The merchant, finding that he was not very good at consolation, soon changed the conversation; giving up the hope of lessening the mother’s grief, or of bringing her to what he considered more rational views of the all-importance of wealth.

As soon as Jane felt equal to the exertion, she accompanied Miss Agnes and Elinor to Wyllys-Roof. During the three years of her married life she had never been there, having passed most of the time either at Charleston or New Orleans. Many changes had occurred in that short period; changes of outward circumstances, and of secret feeling. Her last visit to Wyllys-Roof had taken place just after her return from France, when she was tacitly engaged to young Taylor; at a moment when she had been more gay, more brilliantly handsome than at any other period of her life. Now, she returned there, a weeping, mourning widow, wretchedly depressed in spirits, and feeble in health. She was still very lovely, however; the elevated style of her beauty was such, that it appeared finer under the shadow of grief, than in the sunshine of gaiety; and it is only beauty of the very highest order which will bear this test. Her deep mourning dress was in harmony with her whole appearance and expression; and it was not possible to see her at this moment, without being struck by her exceeding loveliness. Jane was only seen by the family, however, and one or two very intimate friends; she remained entirely in the privacy of her own room, where Elinor was generally at her side, endeavouring to soothe her cousin’s grief, by the gentle balm of sympathy and affection.