Elizabeth Peabody, seeing the two together, experienced a little uneasiness. It was already obvious that Hawthorne had fallen under the wonderful influence of Sophia. It would be dreadful if he came to love her, for marriage was out of the question with such a hopeless invalid. The Peabodys had had practically every doctor in America to pronounce on Sophia's case, and they had failed to do her any good at all.
Sophia, on her good days, was able to exercise a charming natural talent for drawing, and on Hawthorne's third visit she showed him a sketch she had made of "The Gentle Boy." Hawthorne gazed at it for some time, and then said in a subdued tone, "He will always look so to me, now."
After a while, Miss Elizabeth Peabody had to go away to nurse a sick brother, and consequently on Sophia, in accordance with the American custom, fell the duty of entertaining visitors to the house, for Dr. and Mrs. Peabody were busy working hard for their living. Sophia's letters to Elizabeth at this time are enchanting reading. Brought up to consider marriage an impossibility, she could be perfectly natural without fear of misinterpretation, and into almost every letter Hawthorne enters very largely :
"I was provoked that I should have to smooth my hair and dress while he was being wasted downstairs. He looked extremely handsome, with sufficient sweetness in his face to supply the rest of the world, and still leave the normal share to himself." One day she heard the bell ring, and, as she tells her sister, immediately felt quite certain it was Hawthorne. "What a beautiful smile he has ! You know, in 'annie's Ramble,' he says that if there is anything he prides himself upon, it is on having a smile that children love. I should think they would, indeed. He stayed no more than an hour. Father came in, and he immediately got up and said he must go."
Elizabeth by this time must have been getting anxious. Sophia went to call on the Hawthorne sisters, who seemed pleased to see her, and refused to let her go. "I stayed in the house an hour," - a very long time now, apparently, though it was a very short time when Hawthorne called on her. Next day she writes that he had called. "I was glad he seemed a little provoked he was not at home yesterday." Elizabeth sent him some country flowers, which his elder sister promptly appropriated, writing that he did not care for flowers, and very indignantly Sophia writes : "I do not believe he does not care for flowers ! " When he had to go away to Boston, she wrote that when he turned to say farewell he looked like the sun shining through a silver mist.
Elizabeth Peabody can by this time have been in little doubt as to what wind it was that was blowing where it listed across Sophia's life, and apparently Hawthorne's sisters also saw how things were going, and, in fact, about this time, when Hawthorne took up a dull, uncongenial employment in the Custom House in Boston, the two came to an under-standing. Sophia refused him utterly at first, but in the end they were engaged, on the absolute understanding that she would never marry him unless her health became normal. This, at the time, seemed like saying that they would marry at the Greek Kalends.
The engagement was kept a secret be-cause Hawthorne's sisters represented to him that i t would u n -doubtedly kill his mother to be told that he wanted to marry such an invalid as Sophia. This was their exceedingly i n -genious way of trying to keep him from marrying. They were jealous, although they had never done much to make his home comfortable for him. In the end, a three years' secrecy was due to them, during which time they did their best to break the engagement. And, after all, when Madam Hawthorne was told about it, she had known it all along, had seen the way things were going before the young people did themselves, and had been wondering why on earth nothing came of it. Everybody concerned felt a little foolish at this sign of robustness on the part of a lady who had been expected to expire when the news was told, and Hawthorne wrote that Sophia's instinct to tell her had, of course, been right, and he might have known that her judgment would be unerring in such a matter.
The charming romance of this famous 'author s life is, indeed, a love story "such as the angels might take delight to hear"
From a painting by C. G. Thompson
During these three years Hawthorne wrote the love-letters to Sophia which, carefully prepared for publication by his son, who cut out all the more intimate and sacred parts of them, give us such a picture of devotion, of noble feeling, of the whole gamut of moods known to the loved, from playfulness and tenderness to the deepest reverence and solemnity, as can hardly be equalled even by the Browning love-letters. He coined enchanting names for her - dearissima, and belovedest, and other adorably ungramm a t i c a 1 epi-thets. One letter ends with two postscripts :
"P.S. - I love you, I love you, I love you. "P.S. 2. - Do you love me at all ? "
In other moods he wrote: "I never till now had a friend who could give me repose, but peace overflows from your heart into mine." " And so you have been ill, and I cannot take care of you. Oh, my dearest, do let our love be powerful enough to make you well. . . . Partake of my health and strength, be-loved. Are they not your own, as well as mine? Yes, and your illness is mine as well as yours, and with all the pain it gives me, the whole world should not buy my right to share in it." "I always feel as if your letters were too sacred to be read in the midst of people, and (you will smile) I never read them without first washing my hands." At length, however, the miracle was wrought. Sophie's health improved rapidly, with the result that, three years after her engagement, the wedding was arranged. And on that day she was, for the first time since early infancy, in normal health. It can be well understood, therefore, that these two did not marry light-heartedly. They felt the awe of people who have seen God; and, as it were, they put the shoes from off their feet, for they stood on holy ground. Ten days before they were married Nathaniel wrote : "Nothing can part us now, for God Himself hath ordained that we shall be one. Year by year we shall grow closer to each other, and a thousand years hence we shall only be in the honeymoon of our marriage." Her elder sister wrote that before they met they were " two self-sufficing worlds, and this gave a peculiar dignity, without taking away the tender freshness, to their union, for it was first love for both of them, though the flower bloomed on the summit of the mountain of their life, and not in the early morning; and it was therefore perhaps that it was amaranthine in its nature."