April 18th 1864
My best and dearest friend,
Two weeks ago you were with me — that dreary rainy Monday, but it was not dreary to me. Oh, how happy I was — almost too happy to think or speak, afraid to move almost for fear I should waken from the blissful dream of your love and presence. But you went at last and I have yet no word of your safe arrival or subsequent pleasure, but I am very hopeful and know I will hear from you as soon as practicable.
I remained at Stacy farm until last Thursday, working, reading. and playing. Uncle Rufus brought me to town in the mud while I read for his edification the “New Gospel of Peace According to Saint Benjamin” — a history of the province of Unculpsalm.¹
Lib & Charley greeted me gaily as usual. Lib’ considers that the best joke of the season & avails herself of every opportunity of telling it. The next day Coz’s Russel and Dave’ & some of the Salem girls came in and we had one of the gayest evenings which extended far into the night as it was to be our last with the boys for three years maybe. [Cousin] Alice was sick so she could not come with them and I took it upon myself to console David feeling that I could sympathize with him deeply. We found it was very agreeable to exchange thoughts and he spoke very freely, saying ‘Twas all in the family’ anyway. That’s the key to his confidence which he gave me.
Uncle Gilbert [Alden] came in in the evening and brought me a letter from you, one from [my] bro’ John, and one from my pretty friend Kenney. Yours was the second one you wrote after reaching Iowa and just before you started here. ‘Tis well enough I did not get that before you came for it would have made me miserable sure. How could I have helped being miserable to know that you were not happy & that I was the cause of it when I might as well have pleased you. Oh Lot, don’t you know that your happiness is mine, that your will & pleasure — if I only knew them — would be my law, and yet you stop to think if it would “look well’ before you give me the privilege of doing my greatest pleasure, what would contribute to your happiness. What has looks to do with our heart communings as long as we follow virtue’s path? But enough!
Saturday morning we had a hasty foot race to see the boys on the cars and off again to the war. I was sorry to see them go for they are dear good boys but ’twas not like seeing you go. I came immediately from the cars and went on the steamer. Uncle B. Gilbert put me in care of a Mr. Bess who was coming to Wheeling in company with his daughter so I had care and company both of which I found very agreeable & handy when we landed in a strange city in the middle of the night. Yesterday I found my aunt and little cousin Adda. Uncle John Clark has gone into the army again, has tried it twice before. Aunt has a very neat little home here and ’tis very quiet with only her and little Adda — a sprightly little thing of eight years.
I took her over to Wheeling today and had her likeness taken. This I shall enjoy a week or so here first rate but by that time I expect I shall want to hear from the Salem Post office so badly as draw me down the river again. Wheeling is a black, dirty, string town — nothing handsome about it but the suspension bridge, the island, ³ and the range of hills behind. Martinsville is opposite the upper end of the city and is quite much scattered over a long side hill and bench. I’ll prize my own clean prairie home all the more after seeing the sights in eastern Ohio and West Virginia. I hardly know where to direct so my letters may reach you but I’ll try to let them meet you on the way someplace. I remain — as for years I have been — your own, — Neal¹ The New Gospel of Peace, according to St. Benjamin, was published in 1863 by New York Publisher Sinclair Tousey. It is a political (Anti-Copperhead) humorous satire that tells the tale of Lee’s invasion into Pennsylvania in mock biblical language. ² Though she does not identify her by name, the aunt that Neal visited in Martinsville, Ohio, was Malvina Charlotte (Alden) Clark (1836-1904), the wife of John Septimus Clark whom she married in August 1860. Malvina had two girls by her first husband, Caleb Oliver Robinson (1830-1858). The girls were Frances Dudley Robinson (1854-1860) and Addie Elenora Robinson (1856-19xx). John and Malvina had one child named Ethel May Clark, born in Belmont, Ohio on April 28, 1864 — just days after Neal’s visit.
³ The suspension bridge over the Ohio River at Wheeling was completed in 1849. The island has been called by various names throughout its history, including Zanes Island and Madison Island. It is now referred to as Wheeling Island. It is a large island in the Ohio River near Wheeling.