Guests in Eden


Twenty-five years ago I went to Amherst as a bride and met for the first time Madame Bianchi whose family had for three generations been neighbors and friends of my husband's family. From that time on for many years I spent long, lazy summers in Amherst behind the hedge in Tyler Place, and each summer "Madame Martha" came back from her winter's travels to THE EVERGREENS, the Austin Dickinson house on Main Street

Each summer when Amherst was deserted by students, and the faculty and many townspeople had departed for vacations elsewhere, we saw much of her in walks and drives and above all in long evenings, of bridge of which she and my mother, Mrs. John Mason Tyler, never tired. Madame Martha was always my partner playing against Mrs. Tyler and Alfred Leete Hampson, and the games grew steadily more hard fought and spirited as the evening progressed, especially if Madame Martha's luck was bad or her daring was out of proportion to the court cards in her hands.

Very early in that long association I fell under Madame Martha's spell, and she never ceased to fascinate me. She was brilliant in conversation, her life seemed to have always been exciting, she knew countless interesting people, and the talk in the Tyler garden or before the fire in the parlor on cooler evenings was an experience long to be remembered. Occasion­ally Father John's quiet chuckle and his "Now, Martha!" would bring some flight of fancy back to earth, and she would be reminded that, years before, one of the Tyler children had come home from THE EVERGREENS with the puzzled remark, "Madame Martha does exaggerate, doesn't she?"

In her own home, Madame Martha was, it seemed to me, utterly charming, and quite a different person on different occasions and in different rooms of the house. Parties in the drawing room were formal affairs and were presided over by an Old World hostess in floating chiffon draperies. The "Emily Room" with its books and manuscripts called forth a combination of the business-like authoress and the lady-of-

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008

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