It will be found that good young ladies, while of course they have all the innocence of the dove, do display upon emergencies a considerable share of the wisdom of the serpent. And on this same mother wit and wisdom, Rose called internally, when that day, about eleven o'clock, she was summoned to the library, to give Harry his audience.
Truth to say, she was in a state of excited womanhood vastly becoming to her general appearance, and entered the library with flushed cheeks and head erect, like one prepared to stand for herself and for her sex.
Harry, however, wore a mortified, semi-penitential air, that, on the first glance, rather mollified her. Still, however, she was not sufficiently clement to give him the least assistance in opening the conversation, by the suggestions of any of those nice little oily nothings with which ladies, when in a gracious mood, can smooth the path for a difficult confession.
She sat very quietly, with her hands before her, while Harry walked tumultuously up and down the room.
"Miss Ferguson," he said at last, abruptly, "I know you are thinking ill of me."
Miss Ferguson did not reply.
"I had hoped," he said, "that there had been a little something more than mere acquaintance between us. I had hoped you looked upon me as a friend."
"I did, Mr. Endicott," said Rose.
"And you do not now?"
"I cannot say that," she said, after a pause; "but, Mr. Endicott, if we are friends, you must give me the liberty to speak plainly."
"That's exactly what I want you to do!" he said impetuously; "that is just what I wish."
"Allow me to ask, then, if you are an early friend and family connection of Mrs. John Seymour?"
"I was an early friend, and am somewhat of a family connection."
"That is, I understand there has been a ground in your past history for you to be on a footing of a certain family intimacy with Mrs. Seymour; in that case, Mr. Endicott, I think you ought to have considered yourself the guardian of her honor and reputation, and not allowed her to be compromised on your account."
The blood flushed into Harry's face; and he stood abashed and silent. Rose went on,—
"I was shocked, I was astonished, last night, because I could not help overhearing the most disagreeable, the most painful remarks on you and her,—remarks most unjust, I am quite sure, but for which I fear you have given too much reason!"
"Miss Ferguson," said Harry, stopping as he walked up and down, "I confess I have been wrong and done wrong; but, if you knew all, you might see how I have been led into it. That woman has been the evil fate of my life. Years ago, when we were both young, I loved her as honestly as man could love a woman; and she professed to love me in return. But I was poor; and she would not marry me. She sent me off, yet she would not let me forget her. She would always write to me just enough to keep up hope and interest; and she knew for years that all my object in striving for fortune was to win her. At last, when a lucky stroke made me suddenly rich, and I came home to seek her, I found her married,—married, as she owns, without love,—married for wealth and ambition. I don't justify myself,—I don't pretend to; but when she met me with her old smiles and her old charms, and told me she loved me still, it roused the very devil in me. I wanted revenge. I wanted to humble her, and make her suffer all she had made me; and I didn't care what came of it."
Harry spoke, trembling with emotion; and Rose felt almost terrified with the storm she had raised.
"O Mr. Endicott!" she said, "was this worthy of you? was there nothing better, higher, more manly than this poor revenge? You men are stronger than we: you have the world in your hands; you have a thousand resources where we have only one. And you ought to be stronger and nobler according to your advantages; you ought to rise superior to the temptations that beset a poor, weak, ill-educated woman, whom everybody has been flattering from her cradle, and whom you, I dare say, have helped to flatter, turning her head with compliments, like all the rest of them. Come, now, is not there something in that?"
"Well, I suppose," said Harry, "that when Lillie and I were girl and boy together, I did flatter her, sincerely that is. Her beauty made a fool of me; and I helped make a fool of her."
"And I dare say," said Rose, "you told her that all she was made for was to be charming, and encouraged her to live the life of a butterfly or canary-bird. Did you ever try to strengthen her principles, to educate her mind, to make her strong? On the contrary, haven't you been bowing down and adoring her for being weak? It seems to me that Lillie is exactly the kind of woman that you men educate, by the way you look on women, and the way you treat them."
Harry sat in silence, ruminating.
"Now," said Rose, "it seems to me it's the most cowardly and unmanly thing in the world for men, with every advantage in their hands, with all the strength that their kind of education gives them, with all their opportunities,—a thousand to our one,—to hunt down these poor little silly women, whom society keeps stunted and dwarfed for their special amusement."
"Miss Ferguson, you are very severe," said Harry, his face flushing.
"Well," said Rose, "you have this advantage, Mr. Endicott: you know, if I am, the world will not be. Everybody will take your part; everybody will smile on you, and condemn her. That is generous, is it not? I think, after all, Noah Claypole isn't so very uncommon a picture of the way that your lordly sex turn round and cast all the blame on ours. You will never make me believe in a protracted flirtation between a gentleman and lady, where at least half the blame does not lie on his lordship's side. I always said that a woman had no need to have offers made her by a man she could not love, if she conducted herself properly; and I think the same is true in regard to men. But then, as I said before, you have the world on your side; nine persons out of ten see no possible harm in a man's taking every advantage of a woman, if she will let him."
"But I care more for the opinion of the tenth person than of the nine," said Harry; "I care more for what you think than any of them. Your words are severe; but I think they are just."
"O Mr. Endicott!" said Rose, "live for something higher than for what I think,—than for what any one thinks. Think how many glorious chances there are for a noble career for a young man with your fortune, with your leisure, with your influence! is it for you to waste life in this unworthy way? If I had your chances, I would try to do something worth doing."
Rose's face kindled with enthusiasm; and Harry looked at her with admiration.
"Tell me what I ought to do!" he said.
"I cannot tell you," said Rose; "but where there is a will there is a way: and, if you have the will, you will find the way. But, first, you must try and repair the mischief you have done to Lillie. By your own account of the matter, you have been encouraging and keeping up a sort of silly, romantic excitement in her. It is worse than silly; it is sinful. It is trifling with her best interests in this life and the life to come. And I think you must know that, if you had treated her like an honest, plain-spoken brother or cousin, without any trumpery of gallantry or sentiment, things would have never got to be as they are. You could have prevented all this; and you can put an end to it now."
"Honestly, I will try," said Harry. "I will begin, by confessing my faults like a good boy, and take the blame on myself where it belongs, and try to make Lillie see things like a good girl. But she is in bad surroundings; and, if I were her husband, I wouldn't let her stay there another day. There are no morals in that circle; it's all a perfect crush of decaying garbage."
"I think," said Rose, "that, if this thing goes no farther, it will gradually die out even in that circle; and, in the better circles of New York, I trust it will not be heard of. Mrs. Van Astrachan and I will appear publicly with Lillie; and if she is seen with us, and at this house, it will be sufficient to contradict a dozen slanders. She has the noblest, kindest husband,—one of the best men and truest gentlemen I ever knew."
"I pity him then," said Harry.
"He is to be pitied," said Rose; "but his work is before him. This woman, such as she is, with all her faults, he has taken for better or for worse; and all true friends and good people, both his and hers, should help both sides to make the best of it."
"I should say," said Harry, "that there is in this no best side."
"I think you do Lillie injustice," said Rose. "There is, and must be, good in every one; and gradually the good in him will overcome the evil in her."
"Let us hope so," said Harry. "And now, Miss Ferguson, may I hope that you won't quite cross my name out of your good book? You'll be friends with me, won't you?"
"Oh, certainly!" said Rose, with a frank smile.
"Well, let's shake hands on that," said Harry, rising to go.
Rose gave him her hand, and the two parted in all amity.
Harry went straightway from the interview to call upon Lillie, and had a conversation with her; in which he conducted himself like a sober, discreet, and rational man. It was one of those daylight, matter-of-fact kinds of talks, with no nonsense about them, in which things are called by their right names. He confessed his own sins, and took upon his own shoulders the blame that properly belonged there; and, having thus cleared his conscience, took occasion to give Lillie a deal of grandfatherly advice, of a very sedative tendency.
They had both been very silly, he said; and the next step to being silly very often was to be wicked. For his part, he thought she ought to be thankful for so good a husband; and, for his own part, he should lose no time in trying to find a good wife, who would help him to be a good man, and do something worth doing in the world. He had given people occasion to say ill-natured things about her; and he was sorry for it. But, if they stopped being imprudent, the world would in time stop talking. He hoped, some of these days, to bring his wife down to see her, and to make the acquaintance of her husband, whom he knew to be a capital fellow, and one that she ought to be proud of.
Thus, by the intervention of good angels, the little paper-nautilus bark of Lillie's fortunes was prevented from going down in the great ugly maelstrom, on the verge of which it had been so heedlessly sailing.
Harry was not slow in pushing the advantage of his treaty of friendship with Rose to its utmost limits; and, being a young gentleman of parts and proficiency, he made rapid progress.
The interview of course immediately bred the necessity for at least a dozen more; for he had to explain this thing, and qualify that, and, on reflection, would find by the next day that the explanation and qualification required a still further elucidation. Rose also, after the first conversation was over, was troubled at her own boldness, and at the things that she in her state of excitement had said; and so was only too glad to accord interviews and explanations as often as sought, and, on the whole, was in the most favorable state towards her penitent.
Hence came many calls, and many conferences with Rose in the library, to Mrs. Van Astrachan's great satisfaction, and concerning which Mr. Van Astrachan had many suppressed chuckles and knowing winks at Polly.
"Now, pa, don't you say a word," said Mrs. Van Astrachan.
"Oh, no, Polly! catch me! I see a great deal, but I say nothing," said the good gentleman, with a jocular quiver of his portly person. "I don't say any thing,—oh, no! by no manner of means."
Neither at present did Harry; neither do we.
SENTIMENT v. SENSIBILITY.
The poet has feelingly sung the condition of
"The banquet hall deserted, Whose lights are fled, and garlands dead," &c.,
and so we need not cast the daylight of minute description on the Follingsbee mansion.
Charlie Ferrola, however, was summoned away at early daylight, just as the last of the revellers were dispersing, by a hurried messenger from his wife; and, a few moments after he entered his house, he was standing beside his dying baby,—the little fellow whom we have seen brought down on Mrs. Ferrola's arm, to greet the call of Mrs. Follingsbee.
It is an awful thing for people of the flimsy, vain, pain-shunning, pleasure-seeking character of Charlie Ferrola, to be taken at times, as such people will be, in the grip of an inexorable power, and held face to face with the sternest, the most awful, the most frightful realities of life. Charlie Ferrola was one of those whose softness and pitifulness, like that of sentimentalists generally, was only one form of intense selfishness. The sight of suffering pained him; and his first impulse was to get out of the way of it. Suffering that he did not see was nothing to him; and, if his wife or children were in any trouble, he would have liked very well to have known nothing about it.
But here he was, by the bedside of this little creature, dying in the agonies of slow suffocation, rolling up its dark, imploring eyes, and lifting its poor little helpless hands; and Charlie Ferrola broke out into the most violent and extravagant demonstrations of grief.
The pale, firm little woman, who had watched all night, and in whose tranquil face a light as if from heaven was beaming, had to assume the care of him, in addition to that of her dying child. He was another helpless burden on her hands.
There came a day when the house was filled with white flowers, and people came and went, and holy words were spoken; and the fairest flower of all was carried out, to return to the house no more.
"That woman is a most unnatural and peculiar woman!" said Mrs. Follingsbee, who had been most active and patronizing in sending flowers, and attending to the scenic arrangements of the funeral. "It is just what I always said: she is a perfect statue; she's no kind of feeling. There was Charlie, poor fellow! so sick that he had to go to bed, perfectly overcome, and have somebody to sit up with him; and there was that woman never shed a tear,—went round attending to every thing, just like a piece of clock-work. Well, I suppose people are happier for being made so; people that have no sensibility are better fitted to get through the world. But, gracious me! I can't understand such people. There she stood at the grave, looking so calm, when Charlie was sobbing so that he could hardly hold himself up. Well, it really wasn't respectable. I think, at least, I would keep my veil down, and keep my handkerchief up. Poor Charlie! he came to me at last; and I gave way. I was completely broken down, I must confess. Poor fellow! he told me there was no conceiving his misery. That baby was the very idol of his soul; all his hopes of life were centred in it. He really felt tempted to rebel at Providence. He said that he really could not talk with his wife on the subject. He could not enter into her submission at all; it seemed to him like a want of feeling. He said of course it wasn't her fault that she was made one way and he another."
In fact, Mr. Charlie Ferrola took to the pink satin boudoir with a more languishing persistency than ever, requiring to be stayed with flagons, and comforted with apples, and receiving sentimental calls of condolence from fair admirers, made aware of the intense poignancy of his grief. A lovely poem, called "My Withered Blossom," which appeared in a fashionable magazine shortly after, was the out-come of this experience, and increased the fashionable sympathy to the highest degree.
Honest Mrs. Van Astrachan, however, though not acquainted with Mrs. Ferrola, went to the funeral with Rose; and the next day her carriage was seen at Mrs. Ferrola's door.
"You poor little darling!" she said, as she came up and took Mrs. Ferrola in her arms. "You must let me come, and not mind me; for I know all about it. I lost the dearest little baby once; and I have never forgotten it. There! there, darling!" she said, as the little woman broke into sobs in her arms. "Yes, yes; do cry! it will do your little heart good."
There are people who, wherever they move, freeze the hearts of those they touch, and chill all demonstration of feeling; and there are warm natures, that unlock every fountain, and bid every feeling gush forth. The reader has seen these two types in this story.
"Wife," said Mr. Van Astrachan, coming to Mrs. V. confidentially a day or two after, "I wonder if you remember any of your French. What is a liaison?"
"Really, dear," said Mrs. Van Astrachan, whose reading of late years had been mostly confined to such memoirs as that of Mrs. Isabella Graham, Doddridge's "Rise and Progress," and Baxter's "Saint's Rest," "it's a great while since I read any French. What do you want to know for?"
"Well, there's Ben Stuyvesant was saying this morning, in Wall Street, that there's a great deal of talk about that Mrs. Follingsbee and that young fellow whose baby's funeral you went to. Ben says there's a liaison between her and him. I didn't ask him what 'twas; but it's something or other with a French name that makes talk, and I don't think it's respectable! I'm sorry that you and Rose went to her party; but then that can't be helped now. I'm afraid this Mrs. Follingsbee is no sort of a woman, after all."
"But, pa, I've been to call on Mrs. Ferrola, poor little afflicted thing!" said Mrs. Van Astrachan. "I couldn't help it! You know how we felt when little Willie died."
"Oh, certainly, Polly! call on the poor woman by all means, and do all you can to comfort her; but, from all I can find out, that handsome jackanapes of a husband of hers is just the poorest trash going. They say this Follingsbee woman half supports him. The time was in New York when such doings wouldn't be allowed; and I don't think calling things by French names makes them a bit better. So you just be careful, and steer as clear of her as you can."
"I will, pa, just as clear as I can; but you know Rose is a friend of Mrs. John Seymour; and Mrs. Seymour is visiting at Mrs. Follingsbee's."
"Her husband oughtn't to let her stay there another day," said Mr. Van Astrachan. "It's as much as any woman's reputation is worth to be staying with her. To think of that fellow being dancing and capering at that Jezebel's house the night his baby was dying!"
"Oh, but, pa, he didn't know it."
"Know it? he ought to have known it! What business has a man to get a woman with a lot of babies round her, and then go capering off? 'Twasn't the way I did, Polly, you know, when our babies were young. I was always on the spot there, ready to take the baby, and walk up and down with it nights, so that you might get your sleep; and I always had it my side of the bed half the night. I'd like to have seen myself out at a ball, and you sitting up with a sick baby! I tell you, that if I caught any of my boys up to such tricks, I'd cut them out of my will, and settle the money on their wives;—that's what I would!"
"Well, pa, I shall try and do all in my power for poor Mrs. Ferrola," said Mrs. Van Astrachan; "and you may be quite sure I won't take another step towards Mrs. Follingsbee's acquaintance."
"It's a pity," said Mr. Van Astrachan, "that somebody couldn't put it into Mr. John Seymour's head to send for his wife home.
"I don't see, for my part, what respectable women want to be gallivanting and high-flying on their own separate account for, away from their husbands! Goods that are sold shouldn't go back to the shop-windows," said the good gentleman, all whose views of life were of the most old-fashioned, domestic kind.
"Well, dear, we don't want to talk to Rose about any of this scandal," said his wife.
"No, no; it would be a pity to put any thing bad into a nice girl's head," said Mr. Van Astrachan. "You might caution her in a general way, you know; tell her, for instance, that I've heard of things that make me feel you ought to draw off. Why can't some bird of the air tell that little Seymour woman's husband to get her home?"
The little Seymour woman's husband, though not warned by any particular bird of the air, was not backward in taking steps for the recall of his wife, as shall hereafter appear.
Some weeks had passed in Springdale while these affairs had been going on in New York. The time for the marriage of Grace had been set; and she had gone to Boston to attend to that preparatory shopping which even the most sensible of the sex discover to be indispensable on such occasions.
Grace inclined, in the centre of her soul, to Bostonian rather than New-York preferences. She had the innocent impression that a classical severity and a rigid reticence of taste pervaded even the rebellious department of feminine millinery in the city of the Pilgrims,—an idea which we rather think young Boston would laugh down as an exploded superstition, young Boston's leading idea at the present hour being apparently to outdo New York in New York's imitation of Paris.
In fact, Grace found it very difficult to find a milliner who, if left to her own devices, would not befeather and beflower her past all self-recognition, giving to her that generally betousled and fly-away air which comes straight from the demi-monde of Paris.
We apprehend that the recent storms of tribulation which have beat upon those fairy islands of fashion may scatter this frail and fanciful population, and send them by shiploads on missions of civilization to our shores; in which case, the bustle and animation and the brilliant display on the old turnpike, spoken of familiarly as the "broad road," will be somewhat increased.
Grace however managed, by the exercise of a good individual taste, to come out of these shopping conflicts in good order,—a handsome, well-dressed, charming woman, with everybody's best wishes for, and sympathy in, her happiness.
Lillie was summoned home by urgent messages from her husband, calling her back to take her share in wedding festivities.
She left willingly; for the fact is that her last conversation with her cousin Harry had made the situation as uncomfortable to her as if he had unceremoniously deluged her with a pailful of cold water.
There is a chilly, disagreeable kind of article, called common sense, which is of all things most repulsive and antipathetical to all petted creatures whose life has consisted in flattery. It is the kind of talk which sisters are very apt to hear from brothers, and daughters from fathers and mothers, when fathers and mothers do their duty by them; which sets the world before them as it is, and not as it is painted by flatterers. Those women who prefer the society of gentlemen, and who have the faculty of bewitching their senses, never are in the way of hearing from this cold matter-of-fact region; for them it really does not exist. Every phrase that meets their ear is polished and softened, guarded and delicately turned, till there is not a particle of homely truth left in it. They pass their time in a world of illusions; they demand these illusions of all who approach them, as the sole condition of peace and favor. All gentlemen, by a sort of instinct, recognize the woman who lives by flattery, and give her her portion of meat in due season; and thus some poor women are hopelessly buried, as suicides used to be in Scotland, under a mountain of rubbish, to which each passer-by adds one stone. It is only by some extraordinary power of circumstances that a man can be found to invade the sovereignty of a pretty woman with any disagreeable tidings; or, as Junius says, "to instruct the throne in the language of truth." Harry was brought up to this point only by such a concurrence of circumstances. He was in love with another woman,—a ready cause for disenchantment. He was in some sort a family connection; and he saw Lillie's conduct at last, therefore, through the plain, unvarnished medium of common sense. Moreover, he felt a little pinched in his own conscience by the view which Rose seemed to take of his part in the matter, and, manlike, was strengthened in doing his duty by being a little galled and annoyed at the woman whose charms had tempted him into this dilemma. So he talked to Lillie like a brother; or, in other words, made himself disagreeably explicit,—showed her her sins, and told her her duties as a married woman. The charming fair ones who sentimentally desire gentlemen to regard them as sisters do not bargain for any of this sort of brotherly plainness; and yet they might do it with great advantage. A brother, who is not a brother, stationed near the ear of a fair friend, is commonly very careful not to compromise his position by telling unpleasant truths; but, on the present occasion, Harry made a literal use of the brevet of brotherhood which Lillie had bestowed on him, and talked to her as the generality of real brothers talk to their sisters, using great plainness of speech. He withered all her poor little trumpery array of hothouse flowers of sentiment, by treating them as so much garbage, as all men know they are. He set before her the gravity and dignity of marriage, and her duties to her husband. Last, and most unkind of all, he professed his admiration of Rose Ferguson, his unworthiness of her, and his determination to win her by a nobler and better life; and then showed himself to be a stupid blunderer by exhorting Lillie to make Rose her model, and seek to imitate her virtues.
Poor Lillie! the world looked dismal and dreary enough to her. She shrunk within herself. Every thing was withered and disenchanted. All her poor little stock of romance seemed to her as disgusting as the withered flowers and crumpled finery and half-melted ice-cream the morning after a ball.
In this state, when she got a warm, true letter from John, who always grew tender and affectionate when she was long away, couched in those terms of admiration and affection that were soothing to her ear, she really longed to go back to him. She shrunk from the dreary plainness of truth, and longed for flattery and petting and caresses once more; and she wrote to John an overflowingly tender letter, full of longings, which brought him at once to her side, the most delighted of men. When Lillie cried in his arms, and told him that she found New York perfectly hateful; when she declaimed on the heartlessness of fashionable life, and longed to go with him to their quiet home,—she was tolerably in earnest; and John was perfectly enchanted.
Poor John! Was he a muff, a spoon? We think not. We understand well that there is not a woman among our readers who has the slightest patience with Lillie, and that the most of them are half out of patience with John for his enduring tenderness towards her.
But men were born and organized by nature to be the protectors of women; and, generally speaking, the stronger and more thoroughly manly a man is, the more he has of what phrenologists call the "pet organ,"—the disposition which makes him the charmed servant of what is weak and dependent. John had a great share of this quality. He was made to be a protector. He loved to protect; he loved every thing that was helpless and weak,—young animals, young children, and delicate women.
He was a romantic adorer of womanhood, as a sort of divine mystery,—a never-ending poem; and when his wife was long enough away from him to give scope for imagination to work, when she no longer annoyed him with the friction of the sharp little edges of her cold and selfish nature, he was able to see her once more in the ideal light of first love. After all, she was his wife; and in that one word, to a good man, is every thing holy and sacred. He longed to believe in her and trust her wholly; and now that Grace was going from him, to belong to another, Lillie was more than ever his dependence.
On the whole, if we must admit that John was weak, he was weak where strong and noble natures may most gracefully be so,—weak through disinterestedness, faith, and the disposition to make the best of the wife he had chosen.
And so Lillie came home; and there was festivity and rejoicing. Grace found herself floated into matrimony on a tide bringing gifts and tokens of remembrance from everybody that had ever known her; for all were delighted with this opportunity of testifying a sense of her worth, and every hand was ready to help ring her wedding bells.
It is supposed by some that to become a mother is of itself a healing and saving dispensation; that of course the reign of selfishness ends, and the reign of better things begins, with the commencement of maternity.
But old things do not pass away and all things become new by any such rapid process of conversion. A whole life spent in self-seeking and self-pleasing is no preparation for the most august and austere of woman's sufferings and duties; and it is not to be wondered at if the untrained, untaught, and self-indulgent shrink from this ordeal, as Lillie did.
The next spring, while the gables of the new cottage on Elm Street were looking picturesquely through the blossoming cherry-trees, and the smoke was curling up from the chimneys where Grace and her husband were cosily settled down together, there came to John's house another little Lillie.
The little creature came in terror and trembling. For the mother had trifled fearfully with the great laws of her being before its birth; and the very shadow of death hung over her at the time the little new life began.
Lillie's mother, now a widow, was sent for, and by this event installed as a fixture in her daughter's dwelling; and for weeks the sympathies of all the neighborhood were concentrated upon the sufferer. Flowers and fruits were left daily at the door. Every one was forward in offering those kindly attentions which spring up so gracefully in rural neighborhoods. Everybody was interested for her. She was little and pretty and suffering; and people even forgot to blame her for the levities that had made her present trial more severe. As to John, he watched over her day and night with anxious assiduity, forgetting every fault and foible. She was now more than the wife of his youth; she was the mother of his child, enthroned and glorified in his eyes by the wonderful and mysterious experiences which had given this new little treasure to their dwelling.
To say the truth, Lillie was too sick and suffering for sentiment. It requires a certain amount of bodily strength and soundness to feel emotions of love; and, for a long time, the little Lillie had to be banished from the mother's apartment, as she lay weary in her darkened room, with only a consciousness of a varied succession of disagreeables and discomforts. Her general impression about herself was, that she was a much abused and most unfortunate woman; and that all that could ever be done by the utmost devotion of everybody in the house was insufficient to make up for such trials as had come upon her.
A nursing mother was found for the little Lillie in the person of a goodly Irish woman, fair, fat, and loving; and the real mother had none of those awakening influences, from the resting of the little head in her bosom, and the pressure of the little helpless fingers, which magnetize into existence the blessed power of love.
She had wasted in years of fashionable folly, and in a life led only for excitement and self-gratification, all the womanly power, all the capability of motherly giving and motherly loving that are the glory of womanhood. Kathleen, the white-armed, the gentle-bosomed, had all the simple pleasures, the tendernesses, the poetry of motherhood; while poor, faded, fretful Lillie had all the prose—the sad, hard, weary prose—of sickness and pain, unglorified by love.
John did not well know what to do with himself in Lillie's darkened room; where it seemed to him he was always in the way, always doing something wrong; where his feet always seemed too large and heavy, and his voice too loud; and where he was sure, in his anxious desire to be still and gentle, to upset something, or bring about some general catastrophe, and to go out feeling more like a criminal than ever.
The mother and the nurse, stationed there like a pair of chief mourners, spoke in tones which experienced feminine experts seem to keep for occasions like these, and which, as Hawthorne has said, give an effect as if the voice had been dyed black. It was a comfort and relief to pass from the funeral gloom to the little pink-ruffled chamber among the cherry-trees, where the birds were singing and the summer breezes blowing, and the pretty Kathleen was crooning her Irish songs, and invoking the holy virgin and all the saints to bless the "darlin'" baby.
"An' it's a blessin' they brings wid 'em to a house, sir; the angels comes down wid 'em. We can't see 'em, sir; but, bless the darlin', she can. And she smiles in her sleep when she sees 'em."
Rose and Grace came often to this bower with kisses and gifts and offerings, like a pair of nice fairy godmothers. They hung over the pretty little waxen miracle as she opened her great blue eyes with a silent, mysterious wonder; but, alas! all these delicious moments, this artless love of the new baby life, was not for the mother. She was not strong enough to enjoy it. Its cries made her nervous; and so she kept the uncheered solitude of her room without the blessing of the little angel.
People may mourn in lugubrious phrase about the Irish blood in our country. For our own part, we think the rich, tender, motherly nature of the Irish girl an element a thousand times more hopeful in our population than the faded, washed-out indifferentism of fashionable women, who have danced and flirted away all their womanly attributes, till there is neither warmth nor richness nor maternal fulness left in them,—mere paper-dolls, without milk in their bosoms or blood in their veins. Give us rich, tender, warm-hearted Bridgets and Kathleens, whose instincts teach them the real poetry of motherhood; who can love unto death, and bear trials and pains cheerfully for the joy that is set before them. We are not afraid for the republican citizens that such mothers will bear to us. They are the ones that will come to high places in our land, and that will possess the earth by right of the strongest.
Motherhood, to the woman who has lived only to be petted, and to be herself the centre of all things, is a virtual dethronement. Something weaker, fairer, more delicate than herself comes,—something for her to serve and to care for more than herself.
It would sometimes seem as if motherhood were a lovely artifice of the great Father, to wean the heart from selfishness by a peaceful and gradual process. The babe is self in another form. It is so interwoven and identified with the mother's life, that she passes by almost insensible gradations from herself to it; and day by day the distinctive love of self wanes as the child-love waxes, filling the heart with a thousand new springs of tenderness.
But that this benignant transformation of nature may be perfected, it must be wrought out in Nature's own way. Any artificial arrangement that takes the child away from the mother interrupts that wonderful system of contrivances whereby the mother's nature and being shade off into that of the child, and her heart enlarges to a new and heavenly power of loving.
When Lillie was sufficiently recovered to be fond of any thing, she found in her lovely baby only a new toy,—a source of pride and pleasure, and a charming occasion for the display of new devices of millinery. But she found Newport indispensable that summer to the re-establishment of her strength. "And really," she said, "the baby would be so much better off quietly at home with mamma and Kathleen. The fact is," she said, "she quite disregards me. She cries after Kathleen if I take her; so that it's quite provoking."
And so Lillie, free and unencumbered, had her gay season at Newport with the Follingsbees, and the Simpkinses, and the Tompkinses, and all the rest of the nice people, who have nothing to do but enjoy themselves; and everybody flattered her by being incredulous that one so young and charming could possibly be a mother.
If ever our readers have observed two chess-players, both ardent, skilful, determined, who have been carrying on noiselessly the moves of a game, they will understand the full significance of this decisive term.
Up to this point, there is hope, there is energy, there is enthusiasm; the pieces are marshalled and managed with good courage. At last, perhaps in an unexpected moment, one, two, three adverse moves follow each other, and the decisive words, check-mate, are uttered.
This is a symbol of what often goes on in the game of life.
Here is a man going on, indefinitely, conscious in his own heart that he is not happy in his domestic relations. There is a want of union between him and his wife. She is not the woman that meets his wants or his desires; and in the intercourse of life they constantly cross and annoy each other. But still he does not allow himself to look the matter fully in the face. He goes on and on, hoping that to-morrow will bring something better than to-day,—hoping that this thing or that thing or the other thing will bring a change, and that in some indefinite future all will round and fashion itself to his desires. It is very slowly that a man awakens from the illusions of his first love. It is very unwillingly that he ever comes to the final conclusion that he has made there the mistake of a whole lifetime, and that the woman to whom he gave his whole heart not only is not the woman that he supposed her to be, but never in any future time, nor by any change of circumstances, will become that woman; for then the difficulty seems radical and final and hopeless.
In "The Pilgrim's Progress," we read that the poor man, Christian, tried to persuade his wife to go with him on the pilgrimage to the celestial city; but that finally he had to make up his mind to go alone without her. Such is the lot of the man who is brought to the conclusion, positively and definitely, that his wife is always to be a hinderance, and never a help to him, in any upward aspiration; that whatever he does that is needful and right and true must be done, not by her influence, but in spite of it; that, if he has to swim against the hard, upward current of the river of life, he must do so with her hanging on his arm, and holding him back, and that he cannot influence and cannot control her.
Such hours of disclosure to a man are among the terrible hidden tragedies of life,—tragedies such as are never acted on the stage. Such a time of disclosure came to John the year after Grace's marriage; and it came in this way:—
The Spindlewood property had long been critically situated. Sundry financial changes which were going, on in the country had depreciated its profits, and affected it unfavorably. All now depended upon the permanency of one commercial house. John had been passing through an interval of great anxiety. He could not tell Lillie his trouble. He had been for months past nervously watching all the in-comings and outgoings of his family, arranged on a scale of reckless expenditure, which he felt entirely powerless to control. Lillie's wishes were importunate. She was nervous and hysterical, wholly incapable of listening to reason; and the least attempt to bring her to change any of her arrangements, or to restrict any of her pleasures, brought tears and faintings and distresses and scenes of domestic confusion which he shrank from. He often tried to set before her the possibility that they might be obliged, for a time at least, to live in a different manner; but she always resisted every such supposition as so frightful, so dreadful, that he was utterly discouraged, and put off and off, hoping that the evil day never might arrive.
But it did come at last. One morning, when he received by mail the tidings of the failure of the great house of Clapham & Co., he knew that the time had come when the thing could no longer be staved off. He was an indorser to a large amount on the paper of this house; and the crisis was inevitable.
It was inevitable also that he must acquaint Lillie with the state of his circumstances; for she was going on with large arrangements and calculations for a Newport campaign, and sending the usual orders to New York, to her milliner and dressmaker, for her summer outfit. It was a cruel thing for him to be obliged to interrupt all this; for she seemed perfectly cheerful and happy in it, as she always was when preparing to go on a pleasure-seeking expedition. But it could not be. All this luxury and indulgence must be cut off at a stroke. He must tell her that she could not go to Newport; that there was no money for new dresses or new finery; that they should probably be obliged to move out of their elegant house, and take a smaller one, and practise for some time a rigid economy.
John came into Lillie's elegant apartments, which glittered like a tulip-bed with many colored sashes and ribbons, with sheeny silks and misty laces, laid out in order to be surveyed before packing.
"Gracious me, John! what on earth is the matter with you to-day? How perfectly awful and solemn you do look!"
"I have had bad news, this morning, Lillie, which I must tell you."
"Oh, dear me, John! what is the matter? Nobody is dead, I hope!"
"No, Lillie; but I am afraid you will have to give up your Newport journey."
"Gracious, goodness, John! what for?"
"To say the truth, Lillie, I cannot afford it."
"Can't afford it? Why not? Why, John, what is the matter?"
"Well, Lillie, just read this letter!"
Lillie took it, and read it with her hands trembling.
"Well, dear me, John! I don't see any thing in this letter. If they have failed, I don't see what that is to you!"
"But, Lillie, I am indorser for them."
"How very silly of you, John! What made you indorse for them? Now that is too bad; it just makes me perfectly miserable to think of such things. I know I should not have done so; but I don't see why you need pay it. It is their business, anyhow."
"But, Lillie, I shall have to pay it. It is a matter of honor and honesty to do it; because I engaged to do it."
"Well, I don't see why that should be! It isn't your debt; it is their debt: and why need you do it? I am sure Dick Follingsbee said that there were ways in which people could put their property out of their hands when they got caught in such scrapes as this. Dick knows just how to manage. He told me of plenty of people that had done that, who were living splendidly, and who were received everywhere; and people thought just as much of them."
"O Lillie, Lillie! my child," said John; "you don't know any thing of what you are talking about! That would be dishonorable, and wholly out of the question. No, Lillie dear, the fact is," he said, with a great gulp, and a deep sigh,—"the fact is, I have failed; but I am going to fail honestly. If I have nothing else left, I will have my honor and my conscience. But we shall have to give up this house, and move into a smaller one. Every thing will have to be given up to the creditors to settle the business. And then, when all is arranged, we must try to live economically some way; and perhaps we can make it up again. But you see, dear, there can be no more of this kind of expenses at present," he said, pointing to the dresses and jewelry on the bed.
"Well, John, I am sure I had rather die!" said Lillie, gathering herself into a little white heap, and tumbling into the middle of the bed. "I am sure if we have got to rub and scrub and starve so, I had rather die and done with it; and I hope I shall."
John crossed his arms, and looked gloomily out of the window.
"Perhaps you had better," he said. "I am sure I should be glad to."
"Yes, I dare say!" said Lillie; "that is all you care for me. Now there is Dick Follingsbee, he would be taking care of his wife. Why, he has failed three or four times, and always come out richer than he was before!"
"He is a swindler and a rascal!" said John; "that is what he is."
"I don't care if he is," said Lillie, sobbing. "His wife has good times, and goes into the very first society in New York. People don't care, so long as you are rich, what you do. Well, I am sure I can't do any thing about it. I don't know how to live without money,—that's a fact! and I can't learn. I suppose you would be glad to see me rubbing around in old calico dresses, wouldn't you? and keeping only one girl, and going into the kitchen, like Miss Dotty Peabody? I think I see myself! And all just for one of your Quixotic notions, when you might just as well keep all your money as not. That is what it is to marry a reformer! I never have had any peace of my life on account of your conscience, always something or other turning up that you can't act like anybody else. I should think, at least, you might have contrived to settle this place on me and poor little Lillie, that we might have a house to put our heads in."
"Lillie, Lillie," said John, "this is too much! Don't you think that I suffer at all?"
"I don't see that you do," said Lillie, sobbing. "I dare say you are glad of it; it is just like you. Oh, dear, I wish I had never been married!"
"I certainly do," said John, fervently.
"I suppose so. You see, it is nothing to you men; you don't care any thing about these things. If you can get a musty old corner and your books, you are perfectly satisfied; and you don't know when things are pretty, and when they are not: and so you can talk grand about your honor and your conscience and all that. I suppose the carriages and horses have got to be sold too?"
"Certainly, Lillie," said John, hardening his heart and his tone.
"Well, well," she said, "I wish you would go now and send ma to me. I don't want to talk about it any more. My head aches as if it would split. Poor ma! She little thought when I married you that it was going to come to this."
John walked out of the room gloomily enough. He had received this morning his check-mate. All illusion was at an end. The woman that he had loved and idolized and caressed and petted and indulged, in whom he had been daily and hourly disappointed since he was married, but of whom he still hoped and hoped, he now felt was of a nature not only unlike, but opposed to his own. He felt that he could neither love nor respect her further. And yet she was his wife, and the mother of his daughter, and the only queen of his household; and he had solemnly promised at God's altar that "forsaking all others, he would keep only unto her, so long as they both should live, for better, for worse," John muttered to himself,—"for better, for worse. This is the worse; and oh, it is dreadful!"
In all John's hours of sorrow and trouble, the instinctive feeling of his heart was to go back to the memory of his mother; and the nearest to his mother was his sister Grace. In this hour of his blind sorrow, he walked directly over to the little cottage on Elm Street, which Grace and her husband had made a perfectly ideal home.
When he came into the parlor, Grace and Rose were sitting together with an open letter lying between them. It was evident that some crisis of tender confidence had passed between them; for the tears were hardly dry on Rose's cheeks. Yet it was not painful, whatever it was; for her face was radiant with smiles, and John thought he had never seen her look so lovely. At this moment the truth of her beautiful and lovely womanhood, her sweetness and nobleness of nature, came over him, in bitter contrast with the scene he had just passed through, and the woman he had left.
"What do you think, John?" said Grace; "we have some congratulations here to give! Rose is engaged to Harry Endicott."
"Indeed!" said John, "I wish her joy."
"But what is the matter, John?" said both women, looking up, and seeing something unusual in his face.
"Oh, trouble!" said John,—"trouble upon us all. Gracie and Rose, the Spindlewood Mills have failed."
"Is it possible?" was the exclamation of both.
"Yes, indeed!" said John; "you see, the thing has been running very close for the last six months; and the manufacturing business has been looking darker and darker. But still we could have stood it if the house of Clapham & Co. had stood; but they have gone to smash, Gracie. I had a letter this morning, telling me of it."
Both women stood a moment as if aghast; for the Ferguson property was equally involved.
"Poor papa!" said Rose; "this will come hard on him."
"I know it," said John, bitterly. "It is more for others that I feel than for myself,—for all that are involved must suffer with me."
"But, after all, John dear," said Rose, "don't feel so about us at any rate. We shall do very well. People that fail honorably always come right side up at last; and, John, how good it is to think, whatever you lose, you cannot lose your best treasure,—your true noble heart, and your true friends. I feel this minute that we shall all know each other better, and be more precious to each other for this very trouble."
John looked at her through his tears.
"Dear Rose," he said, "you are an angel; and from my soul I congratulate the man that has got you. He that has you would be rich, if he lost the whole world."
"You are too good to me, all of you," said Rose. "But now, John, about that bad news—let me break it to papa and mamma; I think I can do it best. I know when they feel brightest in the day; and I don't want it to come on them suddenly: but I can put it in the very best way. How fortunate that I am just engaged to Harry! Harry is a perfect prince in generosity. You don't know what a good heart he has; and it happens so fortunately that we have him to lean on just now. Oh, I'm sure we shall find a way out of these troubles, never fear." And Rose took the letter, and left John and Grace together.
"O Gracie, Gracie!" said John, throwing himself down on the old chintz sofa, and burying his face in his hands, "what a woman there is! O Gracie! I wish I was dead! Life is played out with me. I haven't the least desire to live. I can't get a step farther."
"O John, John! don't talk so!" said Grace, stooping over him. "Why, you will recover from this! You are young and strong. It will be settled; and you can work your way up again."
"It is not the money, Grace; I could let that go. It is that I have nothing to live for,—nobody and nothing. My wife, Gracie! she is worse than nothing,—worse, oh! infinitely worse than nothing! She is a chain and a shackle. She is my obstacle. She tortures me and hinders me every way and everywhere. There will never be a home for me where she is; and, because she is there, no other woman can make a home for me. Oh, I wish she would go away, and stay away! I would not care if I never saw her face again."
There was something shocking and terrible to Grace about this outpouring. It was dreadful to her to be the recipient of such a confidence, to hear these words spoken, and to more than suspect their truth. She was quite silent for a few moments, as he still lay with his face down, buried in the sofa-pillow.
Then she went to her writing-desk, took out a little ivory miniature of their mother, came and sat down by him, and laid her hand on his head.
"John," she said, "look at this."
He raised his head, took it from her hand, and looked at it. Soon she saw the tears dropping over it.
"John," she said, "let me say to you now what I think our mother would have said. The great object of life is not happiness; and, when we have lost our own personal happiness, we have not lost all that life is worth living for. No, John, the very best of life often lies beyond that. When we have learned to let ourselves go, then we may find that there is a better, a nobler, and a truer life for us."
"I have given up," said John in a husky voice. "I have lost all."
"Yes," replied Grace, steadily, "I know perfectly well that there is very little hope of personal and individual happiness for you in your marriage for years to come. Instead of a companion, a friend, and a helper, you have a moral invalid to take care of. But, John, if Lillie had been stricken with blindness, or insanity, or paralysis, you would not have shrunk from your duty to her; and, because the blindness and paralysis are moral, you will not shrink from it, will you? You sacrifice all your property to pay an indorsement for a debt that is not yours; and why do you do it? Because society rests on every man's faithfulness to his engagements. John, if you stand by a business engagement with this faithfulness, how much more should you stand by that great engagement which concerns all other families and the stability of all society. Lillie is your wife. You were free to choose; and you chose her. She is the mother of your child; and, John, what that daughter is to be depends very much on the steadiness with which you fulfil your duties to the mother. I know that Lillie is a most undeveloped and uncongenial person; I know how little you have in common: but your duties are the same as if she were the best and the most congenial of wives. It is every man's duty to make the best of his marriage."
"But, Gracie," said John, "is there any thing to be made of her?"
"You will never make me believe, John, that there are any human beings absolutely without the capability of good. They may be very dark, and very slow to learn, and very far from it; but steady patience and love and well-doing will at last tell upon any one."
"But, Gracie, if you could have heard how utterly without principle she is: urging me to put my property out of my hands dishonestly, to keep her in luxury!"
"Well, John, you must have patience with her. Consider that she has been unfortunate in her associates. Consider that she has been a petted child all her life, and that you have helped to pet her. Consider how much your sex always do to weaken the moral sense of women, by liking and admiring them for being weak and foolish and inconsequent, so long as it is pretty and does not come in your way. I do not mean you in particular, John; but I mean that the general course of society releases pretty women from any sense of obligation to be constant in duty, or brave in meeting emergencies. You yourself have encouraged Lillie to live very much like a little humming-bird."
"Well, I thought," said John, "that she would in time develop into something better."
"Well, there lies your mistake; you expected too much. The work of years is not to be undone in a moment; and you must take into account that this is Lillie's first adversity. You may as well make up your mind not to expect her to be reasonable. It seems to me that we can make up our minds to bear any thing that we know must come; and you may as well make up yours, that, for a long time, you will have to carry Lillie as a burden. But then, you must think that she is your daughter's mother, and that it is very important for the child that she should respect and honor her mother. You must treat her with respect and honor, even in her weaknesses. We all must. We all must help Lillie as we can to bear this trial, and sympathize with her in it, unreasonable as she may seem; because, after all, John, it is a real trial to her."
"I cannot see, for my part," said John, "that she loves any thing."
"The power of loving may be undeveloped in her, John; but it will come, perhaps, later in life. At all events take this comfort to yourself,—that, when you are doing your duty by your wife, when you are holding her in her place in the family, and teaching her child to respect and honor her, you are putting her in God's school of love. If we contend with and fly from our duties, simply because they gall us and burden us, we go against every thing; but if we take them up bravely, then every thing goes with us. God and good angels and good men and all good influences are working with us when we are working for the right. And in this way, John, you may come to happiness; or, if you do not come to personal happiness, you may come to something higher and better. You know that you think it nobler to be an honest man than a rich man; and I am sure that you will think it better to be a good man than to be a happy one. Now, dear John, it is not I that say these things, I think; but it seems to me it is what our mother would say, if she should speak to you from where she is. And then, dear brother, it will all be over soon, this life-battle; and the only thing is, to come out victorious."
"Gracie, you are right," said John, rising up: "I see it myself. I will brace up to my duty. Couldn't you try and pacify Lillie a little, poor girl? I suppose I have been rough with her."
"Oh, yes, John, I will go up and talk with Lillie, and condole with her; and perhaps we shall bring her round. And then when my husband comes home next week, we'll have a family palaver, and he will find some ways and means of setting this business straight, that it won't be so bad as it looks now. There may be arrangements made when the creditors come together. My impression is that, whenever people find a man really determined to arrange a matter of this kind honorably, they are all disposed to help him; so don't be cast down about the business. As for Lillie's discontent, treat it as you would the crying of your little daughter for its sugar-plums, and do not expect any thing more of her just now than there is."
* * * * *
We have brought our story up to this point. We informed our readers in the beginning that it was not a novel, but a story with a moral; and, as people pick all sorts of strange morals out of stories, we intend to put conspicuously into our story exactly what the moral of it is.
Well, then, it has been very surprising to us to see in these our times that some people, who really at heart have the interest of women upon their minds, have been so short-sighted and reckless as to clamor for an easy dissolution of the marriage-contract, as a means of righting their wrongs. Is it possible that they do not see that this is a liberty which, once granted, would always tell against the weaker sex? If the woman who finds that she has made a mistake, and married a man unkind or uncongenial, may, on the discovery of it, leave him and seek her fortune with another, so also may a man. And what will become of women like Lillie, when the first gilding begins to wear off, if the man who has taken one of them shall be at liberty to cast her off and seek another? Have we not enough now of miserable, broken-winged butterflies, that sink down, down, down into the mud of the street? But are women-reformers going to clamor for having every woman turned out helpless, when the man who has married her, and made her a mother, discovers that she has not the power to interest him, and to help his higher spiritual development? It was because woman is helpless and weak, and because Christ was her great Protector, that he made the law of marriage irrevocable. "Whosoever putteth away his wife causeth her to commit adultery." If the sacredness of the marriage-contract did not hold, if the Church and all good men and all good women did not uphold it with their might and main, it is easy to see where the career of many women like Lillie would end. Men have the power to reflect before the choice is made; and that is the only proper time for reflection. But, when once marriage is made and consummated, it should be as fixed a fact as the laws of nature. And they who suffer under its stringency should suffer as those who endure for the public good. "He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not, he shall enter into the tabernacle of the Lord."
AFTER THE STORM.
The painful and unfortunate crises of life often arise and darken like a thunder-storm, and seem for the moment perfectly terrific and overwhelming; but wait a little, and the cloud sweeps by, and the earth, which seemed about to be torn to pieces and destroyed, comes out as good as new. Not a bird is dead; not a flower killed: and the sun shines just as he did before. So it was with John's financial trouble. When it came to be investigated and looked into, it proved much less terrible than had been feared. It was not utter ruin. The high character which John bore for honor and probity, the general respect which was felt for him by all to whom he stood indebted, led to an arrangement by which the whole business was put into his hands, and time given him to work it through. His brother-in-law came to his aid, advancing money, and entering into the business with him. Our friend Harry Endicott was only too happy to prove his devotion to Rose by offers of financial assistance.
In short, there seemed every reason to hope that, after a period of somewhat close sailing, the property might be brought into clear water again, and go on even better than before.
To say the truth, too, John was really relieved by that terrible burst of confidence in his sister. It is a curious fact, that giving full expression to bitterness of feeling or indignation against one we love seems to be such a relief, that it always brings a revulsion of kindliness. John never loved his sister so much as when he heard her plead his wife's cause with him; for, though in some bitter, impatient hour a man may feel, which John did, as if he would be glad to sunder all ties, and tear himself away from an uncongenial wife, yet a good man never can forget the woman that once he loved, and who is the mother of his children. Those sweet, sacred visions and illusions of first love will return again and again, even after disenchantment; and the better and the purer the man is, the more sacred is the appeal to him of woman's weakness. Because he is strong, and she is weak, he feels that it would be unmanly to desert her; and, if there ever was any thing for which John thanked his sister, it was when she went over and spent hours with his wife, patiently listening to her complainings, and soothing her as if she had been a petted child. All the circle of friends, in a like manner, bore with her for his sake.
Thanks to the intervention of Grace's husband and of Harry, John was not put to the trial and humiliation of being obliged to sell the family place, although constrained to live in it under a system of more rigid economy. Lillie's mother, although quite a commonplace woman as a companion, had been an economist in her day; she had known how to make the most of straitened circumstances, and, being put to it, could do it again.
To be sure, there was an end of Newport gayeties; for Lillie vowed and declared that she would not go to Newport and take cheap board, and live without a carriage. She didn't want the Follingsbees and the Tompkinses and the Simpkinses talking about her, and saying that they had failed. Her mother worked like a servant for her in smartening her up, and tidying her old dresses, of which one would think that she had a stock to last for many years. And thus, with everybody sympathizing with her, and everybody helping her, Lillie subsided into enacting the part of a patient, persecuted saint. She was touchingly resigned, and wore an air of pleasing melancholy. John had asked her pardon for all the hasty words he said to her in the terrible interview; and she had forgiven him with edifying meekness. "Of course," she remarked to her mother, "she knew he would be sorry for the way he had spoken to her; and she was very glad that he had the grace to confess it."
So life went on and on with John. He never forgot his sister's words, but received them into his heart as a message from his mother in heaven. From that time, no one could have judged by any word, look, or action of his that his wife was not what she had always been to him.
Meanwhile Rose was happily married, and settled down in the Ferguson place; where her husband and she formed one family with her parents. It was a pleasant, cosey, social, friendly neighborhood. After all, John found that his cross was not so very heavy to carry, when once he had made up his mind that it must be borne. By never expecting much, he was never disappointed. Having made up his mind that he was to serve and to give without receiving, he did it, and began to find pleasure in it. By and by, the little Lillie, growing up by her mother's side, began to be a compensation for all he had suffered. The little creature inherited her mother's beauty, the dazzling delicacy of her complexion, the abundance of her golden hair; but there had been given to her also her father's magnanimous and generous nature. Lillie was a selfish, exacting mother; and such women often succeed in teaching to their children patience and self-denial. As soon as the little creature could walk, she was her father's constant play-fellow and companion. He took her with him everywhere. He was never weary of talking with her and playing with her; and gradually he relieved the mother of all care of her early training. When, in time, two others were added to the nursery troop, Lillie became a perfect model of a gracious, motherly, little older sister.
Did all this patience and devotion of the husband at last awaken any thing like love in the wife? Lillie was not naturally rich in emotion. Under the best education and development, she would have been rather wanting in the loving power; and the whole course of her education had been directed to suppress what little she had, and to concentrate all her feelings upon herself.
The factitious and unnatural life she had lived so many years had seriously undermined the stamina of her constitution; and, after the birth of her third child, her health failed altogether. Lillie thus became in time a chronic invalid, exacting, querulous, full of troubles and wants which tasked the patience of all around her. During all these trying years, her husband's faithfulness never faltered. As he gradually retrieved his circumstances, she was first in every calculation. Because he knew that here lay his greatest temptation, here he most rigidly performed his duty. Nothing that money could give to soften the weariness of sickness was withheld; and John was for hours and hours, whenever he could spare the time, himself a personal, assiduous, unwearied attendant in the sick-room.
THE NEW LILLIE.
We have but one scene more before our story closes. It is night now in Lillie's sick-room; and her mother is anxiously arranging the drapery, to keep the fire-light from her eyes, stepping noiselessly about the room. She lies there behind the curtains, on her pillow,—the wreck and remnant only of what was once so beautiful. During all these years, when the interests and pleasures of life have been slowly dropping, leaf by leaf, and passing away like fading flowers, Lillie has learned to do much thinking. It sometimes seems to take a stab, a thrust, a wound, to open in some hearts the capacity of deep feeling and deep thought. There are things taught by suffering that can be taught in no other way. By suffering sometimes is wrought out in a person the power of loving, and of appreciating love. During the first year, Lillie had often seemed to herself in a sort of wild, chaotic state. The coming in of a strange new spiritual life was something so inexplicable to her that it agitated and distressed her; and sometimes, when she appeared more petulant and fretful than usual, it was only the stir and vibration on her weak nerves of new feelings, which she wanted the power to express. These emotions at first were painful to her. She felt weak, miserable, and good for nothing. It seemed to her that her whole life had been a wretched cheat, and that she had ill repaid the devotion of her husband. At first these thoughts only made her bitter and angry; and she contended against them. But, as she sank from day to day, and grew weaker and weaker, she grew more gentle; and a better spirit seemed to enter into her.
On this evening that we speak of, she had made up her mind that she would try and tell her husband some of the things that were passing in her mind.
"Tell John I want to see him," she said to her mother. "I wish he would come and sit with me."
This was a summons for which John invariably left every thing. He laid down his book as the word was brought to him, and soon was treading noiselessly at her bedside.
"Well, Lillie dear," he said, "how are you?"
She put out her little wasted hand; "John dear," she said, "sit down; I have something that I want to say to you. I have been thinking, John, that this can't last much longer."
"What can't last, Lillie?" said John, trying to speak cheerfully.
"I mean, John, that I am going to leave you soon, for good and all; and I should not think you would be sorry either."
"Oh, come, come, my girl, it won't do to talk so!" said John, patting her hand. "You must not be blue."
"And so, John," said Lillie, going on without noticing this interruption, "I wanted just to tell you, before I got any weaker, that I know and feel just how patient and noble and good you have always been to me."
"O Lillie darling!" said John, "why shouldn't I be? Poor little girl, how much you have suffered!"
"Well, now, John, I know perfectly well that I have never been the wife that I ought to be to you. You know it too; so don't try to say anything about it. I was never the woman to have made you happy; and it was not fair in me to marry you. I have lived a dreadfully worldly, selfish life. And now, John, I am come to the end. You dear good man, your trials with me are almost over; but I want you to know that you really have succeeded. John, I do love you now with all my heart, though I did not love you when I married you. And, John, I do feel that God will take pity on me, poor and good for nothing as I am, just because I see how patient and kind you have always been to me when I have been so very provoking. You see it has made me think how good God must be,—because, dear, we know that he is better than the best of us."
"O Lillie, Lillie!" said John, leaning over her, and taking her in his arms, "do live, I want you to live. Don't leave me now, now that you really love me!"
"Oh, no, John! it is best as it is,—I think I should not have strength to be very good, if I were to get well; and you would still have your little cross to carry. No, dear, it is all right. And, John, you will have the best of me in our Lillie. She looks like me: but, John, she has your good heart; and she will be more to you than I could be. She is just as sweet and unselfish as I was selfish. I don't think I am quite so bad now; and I think, if I lived, I should try to be a great deal better."
"O Lillie! I cannot bear to part with you! I never have ceased to love you; and I never have loved any other woman."
"I know that, John. Oh! how much truer and better you are than I have been! But I like to think that you love me,—I like to think that you will be sorry when I am gone, bad as I am, or was; for I insist on it that I am a little better than I was. You remember that story of Undine you read me one day? It seems as if most of my life I have been like Undine before her soul came into her. But this last year I have felt the coming in of a soul. It has troubled me; it has come with a strange kind of pain. I have never suffered so much. But it has done me good—it has made me feel that I have an immortal soul, and that you and I, John, shall meet in some better place hereafter.—And there you will be rewarded for all your goodness to me."
As John sat there, and held the little frail hand, his thoughts went back to the time when the wild impulse of his heart had been to break away from this woman, and never see her face again; and he gave thanks to God, who had led him in a better way.
* * * * *
And so, at last, passed away the little story of Lillie's life. But in the home which she has left now grows another Lillie, fairer and sweeter than she,—the tender confidant, the trusted friend of her father. And often, when he lays his hand on her golden head, he says, "Dear child, how like your mother you look!"
Of all that was painful in that experience, nothing now remains. John thinks of her only as he thought of her in the fair illusion of first love,—the dearest and most sacred of all illusions.
The Lillie who guides his household, and is so motherly to the younger children; who shares every thought of his heart; who enters into every feeling and sympathy,—she is the pure reward of his faithfulness and constancy. She is a sacred and saintly Lillie, springing out of the sod where he laid her mother, forgetting all her faults for ever.