For some time letters came regularly from him, and he was happy and prosperous. Then they ceased, and after two years of agonizing suspense, we heard that he had died of yellow fever in New Orleans. To us, this was dreadful, irreparable, and was wholly due to that iron-bedstead piety which permits no natural growth, but sets down all human loves and longings as of Satanic origin.
Soon after our removal to the village, grandfather’s estate was advertised for sheriff’s sale. Mother had the proceedings stayed, the executors dismissed, and took out letters of administration, which made it necessary for her to spend some portion of every month in the city. This threw the entire charge of house and store on me. As soon, therefore, as possible, she sent me to the city to school, where I realized my aspiration of studying ancient history and the piano, and devoured the contents of the text-book of natural philosophy with an avidity I had never known for a novel.
In April, 1830, I began to teach school, the only one in Wilkinsburg, and had plenty of pupils, young men and women, boys and girls, at two dollars and one dollar and a half a term. Taught seven hours a day, and Saturday forenoon, which was devoted to Bible reading and catechism. I was the first, I believe, in Allegheny Co., to teach children without beating them. I abolished corporeal punishment entirely, and was so successful that boys, ungovernable at home, were altogether tractable. This life was perfectly congenial, and I followed it for nearly six years. Mother started a Sabbath School, the only one in the village, and this, too, we continued for years.
One of the pupils was a girl of thirteen, daughter of a well-to-do farmer, who lived within a mile of the village. Her father had been converted at a camp-meeting and was a devout Methodist. The first day she attended, I asked her the question:
“How many Gods are there?”
She thought a moment, and then said, with an air of satisfaction:
I was shocked, and answered in the language of the Catechism:
“O Margaret! ‘There is but one only living and true God.’”
She hung her head, then nodded it, and with the emphasis of a judge who had weighed all the evidence, said:
“I am sure I ha’ hearn tell o’ more nur one of em.”
A young theological student came sometimes to stay over Sabbath and assist in the school. He led in family worship, and had quite a nice time, until one evening he read a chapter from the song of songs which was Solomon’s, when I bethought me that he was very much afraid of toads. I began to cultivate those bright-eyed creatures, so that it always seemed probable I had one in my pocket or sleeve. The path of that good young man became thorny until it diverged from mine.
I was almost fifteen, when I overheard a young lady say I was growing pretty. I went to my mirror and spent some moments in unalloyed happiness and triumph. Then I thought, “Pretty face, the worms will eat you. All the prettiest girls I know are silly, but you shall never make a fool of me. Helen’s beauty ruined Troy. Cleopatra was a wretch. So if you are pretty, I will be master, remember that.”