I find something moving or witty or original or nostalgic in almost ALL of the letters that I have opened and transcribed from The Box so far - but this letter from Springfield, Illinois in 1883 by the letter writer Nellie to her far away brother Doug on the occasion of the death of their Aunt Jane is one of the most poignant ones so far.
"Who But God can tell which one of us will be the next to go."
Springfield, Jan. 10th
My Dear Douglas
A cold wind & snowstorm is raging that would do credit to Kansas. I am sitting close to the stove trying in vain to keep warm. Kate is at school. I hope she will lunch at cousin Connie’s and come home in the storm. She is pretty well now has just retured from Chicago where she passed two pleasant weeks with George’s family. They all spoke of Uncle Doug.
Douglas I think I wrote you before Christmas that Aunt Jane was very ill & for some weeks she has been growing weaker and after lying in a semi-conscious state for four days she passed away to a better world. Where there is neither suffering nor sorrow. She died last Thursday & on Saturday she was buried. Her funeral was largely attended & everything was well arranged. George sent some beautiful flowers. Eleven carriages were required to accommodate the relatives alone. Aunt Jane will be so much missed. Her children are heartbroken & feel that they can never be reconciled to losing their tender loving Mother. I feel so sorry for them & for Mr. Ridgely. He has his eldest daughter Mrs. Dodge with him & we hope she will stay all winter. Mrs. Bea has gone home as her husband is quite sick. Poor Aunt Nancy feels as though her last prop is removed. She will miss her kind and thoughtful sister. She & Aunt Harriet are tolerably well though they are very very sad. Aunt Nancy was much pleased with your picture, which we all like. I sent the others to you, did you get them safely? Please let me know at once.
Nonie Mimms is still here but will return to St. Albans in a few weeks. Howard Ridgely (Kate’s youngest brother) has been home from Detroit for some time. George, their eldest brother, has been very sick & has gone South for his health. Kate Webster says you owed her a letter & she won’t write again ‘till you answer it. She saw all her friends in Chicago & was well treated by every one – Ellie included. George took her to see the celebrated Mrs. Langtry. Little Em W. is still troubled with her eyes & is unable to go to school. Doug & I have several books for you that Erin sent us, also “Green’s History of the English People” that Cousin Bernie Ridgely gave me for you. When do you wish me to send them? If you have plenty of reading matter in hand I will wait awhile.
Aunt Jane said to me several weeks before she died that she was glad to have seen & talked with you for she might never see you again. She talked so much about Mother and of their early life together. Let us hope and pray that we may all meet in that “better land”. Who but God can tell which one of us will be the next to go. We must try to be prepared to meet death at any hour. For “in the midst of life, we are in death.”
Dear Doug, I wish you did not live so far off in that wild country. Do take care of your health. Are you comfortable this winter?
Write soon to your boring sister – 10005 S. 6th Street
Have you had a cold Winter? We have.
Is this "Kate" who Nellie mentions here as having visited New York in 1883 and was taken to see "Mrs. Langtry" (the English actress Lillie Langtry who would move to America 14 years after this letter was written and become the famous 'Jersey Lil'), the same "Kate" whose belongings were being shipped out of the Dakota by Hallie J. Hall after her passing in 1910 in the letter I posted last week?
It seems likely.
Only twenty-seven years had passed, so Kate seems to have sadly died young. Like a puzzle of a thousand pieces, the portrait of this family's life and death at the turn of the last century as revealed in these letters starts to come gradually into focus.