On the evening of the 13th of February, 1850, two young men sat in a comfortably furnished room in a large New York boarding-house. A bright fire glowed in the grate, well-chosen engravings adorned the walls, and a bright light was diffused about the room from an Argand burner.
Let us introduce the occupants of the apartments as Tom Stacy and John Wilbur, young men of twenty-five or thereabouts, who were known in business circles as Stacy & Wilbur, retail dry goods dealers, No.— Broadway. They had not been in business long, but were already doing unusually well. They had taken apartments together, one of which is now presented to the reader.
“Has it occurred to you, Wilbur,” asked his partner, removing his cigar, and knocking away the ashes, “to-morrow is St. Valentine’ s day?”
“Yes I thought of it this afternoon, as I was walking up from the store.”
“So did I, and to some purpose, too, as I will show you.”
Tom Stacy went to the drawer, and drew out a gorgeous valentine, an elaborate combination of hearts, doves, &c.
“What do you think I gave for that?” he asked.
“I don’t know, I’m sure. It appears to be very elegant?”
“It cost me ten dollars.”
“Whew!” whistled Wilbur. “it strikes me you are either very extravagant or very devoted. May I know what fair damsel is to be made glad by the receipt of this elegant missive?”
“That’s my secret,” said Tom, laughing. “I don’t mind telling you, however. It’s to go to Edith Castleton.”
“I presume you feel particularly interested in the young lady?”
“Not at all. But I told her I would send her a valentine, et la voila! Shan’t you conform to the custom of the day?”
“I had not thought of it,” said John, thoughtfully, “but I believe I will.”
“And what fair lady will you select as the recipient?”
“You remember the poor seamstress who occupies an attic in the house.”
“Yes, I have met her on the steps two or three times.”
“She looks as if times were hard with her. I think I’ll send her a valentine.”
“And what good do you think it will do her?” asked Stacy, in surprise.
“Wait till you see the kind of valentine I will send.”
Wilbur went to his desk and taking out a sheet of paper, drew from his porte-manteaux a ten-dollar bill, wrapped it in the paper on which he had previously written “From St. Valentine,” and placed the whole in an envelope.
“There,” said he, “my valentine has cost as much as yours, and I venture to say that it will be as welcome.”
“You are right. I wish I had not bought this costly trifle. However, as it is purchased, I will send it.”
The next day dawned clear and frosty. It was lively enough for those who sat by comfortable fires and dined at luxurious tables, but for the poor who shared none of these advantages it was indeed a bitter day.
In an attic room meanly furnished, sat a young girl, pale and thin. She was cowering over a scanty wood fire, the best she could afford, which heated the room very deficiently. She was sewing steadily, shivering from time to time as the cold blast shook the window and found its way through the crevices.
Poor child! Life had a very black aspect for her on that winter day. She was alone in the world. There was absolutely no one on whom she could call for assistance, through she needed it sorely enough. The thought came to her more than once in her discomfort, “Is it worth while living any longer?” but she recoiled from the sin of suicide. She might starve to death, but she would not take the life god had given her.
Plunged in gloomy thought she continued to work. All at once a step was heard ascending the staircase which led to her room. Then there was a knock at her door. She arose in some surprise and opened it, thinking It must be the landlady or one of the servants.
She was right. It was a servant.
“Here’s a letter for you that the post-boy just brought, Miss Morris.”
“A letter for me!” repeated Helen Morris, in surprise, taking it from the servant’s hand. “who can have written to me?”
“Maybe its a valentine, Miss,” said the girl laughing. ” You know this is valentine’s day. More by token, I’ve got two myself, this morning. One’s a karakter [caricature] so mistress calls it. Just look at it.”
Bright displayed a highly embellished pictorial representation of a female hard at work at the wash-tub, the cast of beauty being decidedly Hibernian.
Helen Morris laughed absently, but did not open her letter while Bridget remained— a little to the disappointment of that curious damsel.
Helen slowly opened the envelope. A bank note for ten dollars dropped from it to the floor.
She eagerly read the few words on the paper. “From St. Valentine.”
“Heaven be praised!” she said, folding her hands gratefully. “The sum will enable me to carry out the plan I had in view.”
Eight years passed away. Eight years with their lights and shadows, their joys and sorrows. They brought with them the merry voices of children—they brought with them new-made graves—happiness to some and grief to others.
Towards the last they brought the great commercial crisis of ’57, when houses that seemed built on a rock tottered all at once to their fall. Do not many remember that time all too well, when merchants with anxious faces, ran from one to another to solicit help, and met only averted faces and distrustful looks? And how was it in that time of universal famine with our friends— Stacy & Wilbur?
Up to 1857 these had been doing an excellent business. They had gradually enlarged the sphere of their operations, and were rapidly growing rich, when this crash came.
They immediately took in sail. Both were prudent and both felt that this was the time when this quality was urgently needed.
By great efforts they had succeeded in keeping up till the 14th of February, 1858. On that morning a note of two thousand dollars came due. This was their last peril. That surmounted, they would be able to go on with assured confidence.
But, this alas! This was the rock on which they had most apprehension. They had taxed their resources to the utmost. They had called upon their friends, but their friends were employed in taking care of themselves, and the selfish policy was the one required then. “Look out for number one,” superceded the golden rule for the time being. As I have said, two thousand dollars were due on the 1st of February.
“How much have you got toward it?” asked Wilbur, as Stacy came in at half-past eleven.
“Three hundred and seventy-five dollars,” was the dispirited reply.
“Was that all you could raise?” inquired his partner, turning pale. “Are you sure you thought of everybody?”
“I have been everywhere. I’m fagged to death,” was the weary reply to Stacy, as he sank exhausted into a chair.
“Then the crash must come,” said Wilbur, with a gloomy resignation.
“I suppose it must.”
There was a silence. Neither felt inclined to say anything. For six months they had been struggling with the tide. They could see shore, but in sight of it they must go down.
At this moment a note was brought in by a boy. There was no postmark. Evidently he was a special messenger.
It was opened at once by Mr. Wilbur, to whom it was directed. It contained these few words only:
“If Mr. John Wilbur will call immediately at No—Fifth avenue, he will learn something to his great advantage.”
There was no signature.
John Wilbur read it with surprise, and passed it to his partner. “What does it mean, do you think?”
“I don’t know,” was the reply, “but I advise you to go at once.”
“It seems to be in feminine handwriting,” said Wilbur, thoughtfully.
“Yes, don’t you know any lady on Fifth avenue?”
“Well, it is worth noticing. We have met with so little to our advantage, lately, that it will be a refreshing variety.”
In five minutes John Wilbur jumped into a horse car, and was on his way to No.— Fifth avenue.
He walked up to the door of a magnificent brown stone house and rang the bell. He was instantly admitted, and shown into the drawing-room, superbly furnished.
He did not have to wait long. An elegantly dressed lady, scarcely thirty, entered, and bowing said, “You do not remember me, Mr. Wilbur?”
“No, madam,” said he, in perplexity.
“We will waive that, then, and proceed to business. How has your house borne the crisis in which so many of our large firms have gone down?”
John Wilbur smiled bitterly.
“We have struggled successfully till today,” he answered. “but the end has come. Unless we can raise a certain sum of money by two, we are ruined.”
“What sum will save you?” was the lady’s question.
“The note due is two thousand dollars. Towards this we have but three hundred and seventy-five.”
“Excuse me a moment,” said the hostess. She left the room, but quickly returned.
“There,” said she, handing a small strip of paper to John Wilbur, ” is my cheek for two thousand dollars. You can repay it at your convenience. If you should require more, come to me again.”
“Madam, you have saved us,” exclaimed Wilbur, springing to his feet in delight. “What can have inspired in you such a benevolent interest in our prosperity?”
“Do you remember, Mr. Wilbur ,” said the lady, ‘ a certain valentine, containing a ten dollar note, which you sent to a young girl occupying an attic room in your lodging-house eight years since?”
“I do, distinctly. I have often wondered what became of the young girl. I think her name was Helen Morris.”
“She stands before you,” was the quiet response.
“You Helen Morris!” exclaimed Wilbur starting back in amazement. “You surrounded with luxury!”
“No wonder you are surprised. Life has strange contrasts. The money which you sent me seemed to come from God. I was on the brink of despair. With it I put my wardrobe in repair, and made application for the post of companion to a wealthy lady. I fortunately obtained it. I had been with her but two years when a gentleman in her circle, immensely wealthy, offered me his hand in marriage. I esteemed him. He was satisfied with that. I married him. A year since he died, leaving me this house and an immense fortune. I have never forgotten you, having accidentally learned that my timely succor came from you. I resolved, if fortune ever put it in my power, I would befriend you as you befriended me. That time has come. I have paid the first Installment of my debt. Helen Eustace remembers the obligations of Helen Morris.”
John Wilbur advanced and respectfully took her hand. “You have nobly repaid me,” he said. “Will you also award me the privilege of occasionally calling upon you?”
” I shall be most happy,” said Mrs. Eustase, cordially.
John took a hurried leave, and returned to his store as the clock struck one. He showed his delighted partner the cheek which he had just received. “I haven’t time to explain,” he said; ” this must at once be cashed.”
Two o’clock came, and the firm was saved—saved from their last peril. Henceforth they met with nothing but prosperous gales.
Helen Eustace has again changed her name; she is now Helen Wilbur, and her husband now lives at No— Fifth Avenue.
And all this came of a valentine.
Vincennes [IN] Weekly Western Sun 29 July 1865
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A most edifying story with the moral: “Always be kind to seamstresses.” One does so like a happy ending to this sort of tale. “Prosperous gales,” indeed. How delightful that none of the characters puts a single foot wrong: Helen Morris recoils from the sin of suicide; Mr Eustace was content with her “esteem;” Mr Wilbur thinks instantly of charity on Valentine’s Day; the prudent choice of an Argand burner. And that marvel: two young men with “well-chosen engravings” on the wall of their boarding-house rooms! One does wonder about Mr Stacy and his impulsive purchase made in an attempt to impress Miss Castleton. Did he not remember that he could have bought a lavish valentine wholesale?
Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers the happiness of loving and being loved. And of being presented with needed capital just in the nick of time by a deus ex special messenger.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.