Bear and Forbear
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
"Don't talk to me in such a serious strain, Aunt Hannah. One would really think, from what you say, that James and I would quarrel before we were married a month!"
"Not so soon as that, Maggy dear. Heaven grant that it may not come so soon as that! But, depend upon it, child, if you do not make 'bear and forbear' your motto, many months will not have passed, after your wedding-day, without the occurrence of some serious misunderstanding between you and your husband."
"If anybody else were to say that to me, Aunt Hannah, I would be very angry."
"For which you would be a very foolish girl. But it is generally the way that good advice is taken, it being an article of which none think they stand in need."
"But what in the world can there be for James and I to have differences about? I am sure that I love him most truly; and I am sure he loves me as fondly as I love him. In mutual love there can be no strife — no emulation, except in the performance of good offices. Indeed, aunt, I think you are far too serious."
"Over the bright sky bending above you, my dear niece, I would not, for the world, bring a cloud even as light as the filmy, almost viewless cobweb. But I know that clouds must hide its clear, calm, passionless blue — either earlier or later in life. And what I say now, is with the hope of giving you the foreknowledge required to avoid some of the storms that may threaten to break upon your head."
"Neither cloud nor storm will ever come from that quarter of the sky from which you seem to apprehend danger."
"Not if both you and James learn to bear and forbear in your conduct toward each other."
"We cannot act otherwise."
"Then there will be no danger."
Margaret Percival expressed herself sincerely. She could not believe that there was the slightest danger of a misunderstanding ever occurring between her and James Canning, to whom she was shortly to be married. The well-meant warning of her aunt, who had seen and felt more in life than she yet had, went therefore for nothing.
A month elapsed, and the young and lovely Maggy pledged her faith at the altar. As the bride of Canning, she felt that she was the happiest creature in the world. Before her was a path winding amid green and flowery places, and lingering by the side of still waters; while a sunny sky bent over all.
James Canning was a young lawyer of some talent, and the possessor of a good income independent of his profession. Like others, he had both his excellencies and his defects of character. Naturally, he was of a proud, impatient spirit, and, from a child, had been restless under dictation. As an offset to this, he was a man of strict integrity, generous in his feelings, and possessed of a warm heart. Aunt Hannah had known him since he was a boy, and understood his character thoroughly; and it was this knowledge which caused her to feel some concern for the future happiness of her niece, as well as to speak to her timely words of caution. But these words were not understood.
"We've not quarreled yet, Aunt Hannah, for all your fears," said the young wife, three or four months after her marriage.
"For which I am truly thankful," replied Aunt Hannah. "Still, I would say now, as I did before, 'Bear and forbear.'"
"That is, I must BEAR everything and FORBEAR in everything. I hardly think that just, aunt. I would say that James ought to do a little of this as well as me."
"Yes, it is his duty as well as yours. But you should not think of his duty to you — Maggy, only of your duty to him. That is the most dangerous error into which you can fall, and one that will be almost certain to produce unhappiness."
"Would you have a wife never think of herself?"
"The less she thinks of herself, perhaps, the better; for the more she thinks of herself, the more she will love herself. But the more she thinks of her husband, the more she will love him and seek to make him happy. The natural result of this will be, that her husband will feel the warmth and perceive the unselfishness of her love; this will cause him to lean toward her with still greater tenderness, and prompt him to yield to her what otherwise he might have claimed for himself."
"Then it is the wife who must act the generous, self-sacrificing part?"
"If I could speak as freely to James as I can speak to you, Maggy, I would not fail to point out his duty of bearing and forbearing, as plainly as I point out yours. All should be mutual, of course. But this can never be, if one waits for the other. If you see your duty, it is for you to do it — even if he should fail in his part."
"I don't know about that, aunt. I think, as you said just now, that all this is mutual."
"I am sorry you cannot or will not understand me, Maggy," replied Aunt Hannah.
"I am sorry too, aunt; but I certainly do not. However, don't, please, give yourself any serious concern about James and I. I assure you that we are getting along exceedingly well; and why this should not continue, is more than I can make out."
"Well, dear, I trust that it may. There is no good reason why it should not. You both have virtues enough to counterbalance all defects of character."
On the evening of that very day, as the young couple sat at the tea-table, James Canning said, as his wife felt, rather unkindly, at the same time that there was a slight contraction of his brow —
"You seem to be very much afraid of sugar, Maggy. I never get a cup of tea or coffee sweet enough for my taste."
"You must have a sweet palate. I am sure it is like syrup, for I put in several large lumps of sugar," replied Margaret, speaking in a slightly offended tone.
"Taste it, will you?" said Canning, pushing his cup across the table with an impatient air.
Margaret sipped a little from the spoon, and then, with an expression of disgust in her face, said —
"Pah! I'd as soon drink so much molasses! But here's the sugar bowl. Sweeten it to your taste."
Canning helped himself to more sugar. As he did so his wife noticed that his hand slightly trembled, and also that his brow was drawn down, and his lips more arched than usual.
"It's a little matter to get angry about," she thought to herself. "Things are coming to a pretty pass, if I'm not to be allowed to speak my viewpoint."
The meal was finished in silence. Margaret felt in no humor to break the oppressive reserve, although she would have been glad, indeed, to have heard a pleasant word from the lips of her husband. As for Canning, he permitted himself to brood over the words and manner of his wife, until he became exceedingly fretted. They were so unkind and so uncalled for. The evening passed unsocially. But morning found them both in a better state of mind. Sleep has a wonderful power in restoring to the mind its lost balance, and in calming down our blinding passions. During the day, our thoughts and feelings, according with our natural state, are more or less marked by the disturbances which selfish purposes ever bring; but in sleep, while the mind rests and our selfish ends lie dormant, we come into purer spiritual associations, and the soul, as well as the body, receives a healthier tone.
The morning, therefore, found Canning and his wife in better states of mind. They were as kind and as affectionate as usual in their words and conduct, although, when they sat down to the breakfast table, they each experienced a slight feeling of coldness on being reminded, too sensibly, of the unpleasant occurrence of the previous evening. Margaret thought she would be sure to please her husband in his coffee, and therefore put into his cup an extra quantity of sugar, making it so very sweet that he could with difficulty swallow it. But a too vivid recollection of what had taken place on the night before, caused him to be silent about it. The second cup was still sweeter. Canning managed to sip about one-third of this, but his stomach refused to take any more. Noticing that her husband's coffee, an article of which he was very fond, stood, nearly cup-full, beside his plate, after he had finished his breakfast, Margaret said —
"Didn't your coffee suit you?"
"It was very good; only a little too sweet."
"Then why didn't you say so?" she returned, in a tone that showed her to be hurt at this reaction upon what she had said on the previous evening. "Give me your cup, and let me pour you out some more."
"No thank you, Margaret, I don't care about any more."
"Yes, you do. Come, give me your cup. I shall be hurt if you don't. I'm sure there is no necessity for drinking the coffee, if not to your taste. I don't know what's come over you, James."
"And I'm sure I don't know what's come over you," Canning thought, but did not say. He handed up his cup, as his wife desired. After filling it with coffee, she handed it back, and then handed him the sugar and cream.
"Sweeten it to your own taste," she said, a little fretfully; "I'm sure I tried to make it right."
Canning did as he was desired, and then drank the coffee, but it was with the utmost difficulty that he could do so.
This was the first little cloud which darkened the sky of their wedded life; And it did not fairly pass away for nearly a week. Nor then did the days seem as bright as before. The cause was slight — very slight — but how small a thing will sometimes make the heart unhappy. How trifling are the occurrences upon which we often lay, as upon a foundation, a superstructure of misery! Had the earnestly urged precept of Aunt Hannah been regarded — had the lesson — "Bear and Forbear" been well learned and understood by Margaret, this cloud would have never dimmed the sun of their early love. A pleasant word, in answer to her husband's momentary impatience, would have made him sensible that he had not spoken with propriety, and caused him to be more careful in future. As it was, both were more circumspect, but it was from pride instead of love — and more to protect self rather than from a tender regard for each other.
Only a month or two passed before there was another slight collision. It made them both more unhappy than they were before. But the breach was quickly healed. Still scars remained, and there were times when the blood flowed into these wounds so feverishly, as to cause pain. Alas! wounds of the heart do not close any more perfectly than do wounds of the body — the scars remain forever!
And thus the weeks and months went by. Neither of the married partners had learned the true secret of happiness in their holy relation — neither of them felt the absolute necessity of bearing and forbearing. Little inequalities of character, instead of being smoothed off by gentle contact — were allowed to strike against each other, and produce, sometimes, deep and painful wounds — healing, too often, imperfectly; and too often remaining as festering sores.
And yet Canning and his wife loved each other tenderly, and felt, most of their time, that they were very happy. There were little things in each, that each wished the other would correct, but neither felt the necessity of self-correction.
The birth of a child drew them together at a time when there was some danger of a serious rupture. Dear little Lilian, or "Lilly," as she was called, was a chord of love to bind them in a closer union.
"I love you more than ever, Maggy," Canning could not help saying to his wife, as he kissed first her lips and then the soft cheek of his child, a month after the babe was born.
"And I am sure I love you better than I did, if that were possible," returned Margaret, looking into her husband's face with a glance of deep affection.
As the babe grew older, the parent's love for it continued to increase, and, with this increase, their happiness. The chord which had several times jarred harshly between them, slept in profound peace.
But, after this sweet calm, the surface of their feelings became again ruffled. One little incongruity of character after another showed itself in both, and there was no genuine spirit of forbearance in either of them to meet and neutralize any sudden effervescence of the mind. Lilly was not a year old, before they had a serious misunderstanding which made them both unhappy for weeks. It had its origin in a mere trifle, as such things usually have.
They had been taking tea and spending an evening with a friend, a widow lady, for whom Mrs. Canning had a particular friendship. As there was no gentleman present during the evening, the time passed rather heavily to Canning, who could not get interested in the conversation of the two ladies. Toward nine o'clock he began to feel restless and impatient, and to wonder if his wife would not soon be thinking about going home. But the time passed wearily until ten o'clock, and still the conversation between the two ladies was continued with undiminished interest, and, to all appearance, was likely to continue until midnight!
Canning at length became so restless and wearied, that he said, thinking that his wife did not probably know how late it was —
"Come, Margaret, isn't it almost time to go home?"
Mrs. Canning merely looked into her husband's face, but made no answer.
More earnestly than ever, the ladies now appeared to enter upon the various themes for conversation which presented themselves, all of which were very frivolous to the mind of Canning, who was exceedingly chafed by his wife's indifference to his suggestion about going home. He determined, however, to say no more, even if she stayed all night. Toward eleven o'clock, she made a movement to depart, and after lingering in the parlor before she went upstairs to put on her things, and in the chamber after her things were on, and on the stairs, in the passage, and at the door — she finally took the arm of her husband and started for home. Not a word was uttered by either until they had walked the distance of two squares, when Margaret, unable to keep back what she wanted to say any longer, spoke thus —
"James, I will thank you, another time, when we are spending an evening out, not to suggest as publicly as you did tonight, that it is time to go home. It's very bad manners, let me tell you, in the first place; and in the second place, I don't like it at all. I do not wish people to think that I have to come and go just at your beck or nod. I was about starting when you spoke to me, but sat an hour longer just on purpose."
The mind of Canning, already fretted, was set on fire by this.
"You did?" he said.
"Yes, I did! And I can tell you, once for all, that I wish this to be the last time you speak to me as you did tonight!"
It was as much as the impatient spirit of Canning could do to keep from replying —
"It's the last time I will ever speak to you at all!" and then leaving her in the street, with the intention of never seeing her again. But suddenly he thought of little Lilly, and the presence of the child in his mind kept back the mad words from his lips. Not one syllable did he utter during their walk home, although his wife said much to irritate rather than soothe him. Nor did a sentence pass his lips that night.
At the breakfast table on the next morning, the husband and wife were coldly polite to each other. When the meal was completed, Canning retired to his office, and his wife sought her chamber to weep. The latter half repented of what she had done, but her contrition was not hearty enough to prompt to a confession of her fault. The fact that she considered her husband to blame, stood in the way of this.
Reserve and coldness marked the fellowship of the unhappy couple for several weeks; and then the clouds began to break, and there were occasional glimpses of sunshine.
But, before there was a clear sky, some trifling occurrence put them again at variance. From this time, unhappily, one circumstance after another transpired to fret them with each other, and to separate, rather than unite them. Daily, Canning grew more cold and reserved, and his wife met him in a like uncompromising spirit. Even their lovely child — their darling blue-eyed Lilly — with her sweet little voice and smiling face, could not soften their hearts toward each other.
To add fuel to this rapidly enkindling fire of discord, was the fact that Mrs. Canning was on particularly intimate terms with the wife of a man toward whom her husband entertained a settled and well-grounded dislike, and visited her more frequently than she did any of her other friends. He did not interfere with her in the matter, but it annoyed him to hear her speak, occasionally, of meeting Mr. Richards at his house, and repeating the polite language he used to her — when he detested the character of Richards, and had not spoken to him for more than a year.
One day Mrs. Canning expressed a wish to go in the evening to a party.
"It will be impossible for me to go tonight, or, indeed, this week," Canning said. "I am engaged in a very important case, which will come up for trial on Friday, and it will take all my time properly to prepare for it. I shall be engaged every evening, and perhaps late every night."
Mrs. Canning looked disappointed, and said she thought he might spare her one evening.
"You know I would do so, Margaret, with pleasure," he replied, "but the case is one involving too much to be endangered by any consideration. Next week we will go to a party."
When Canning came home to tea, he found his wife dressed to go out.
"I'm going to the party — I'm sorry that you can't go with me," said she.
"Indeed! With whom are you going?"
"Mrs. Richards came in to see me after dinner, when I told her how much disappointed I was about not being able to go to the party tonight. She said that she and her husband were going, and that it would give them great pleasure to call for me. Am I not fortunate?"
"But you are not going with Mr. and Mrs. Richards?"
"Indeed I am! Why not?"
"Margaret! You must not go!"
"Must not, indeed! You speak in quite a tone of authority, Mr.
Canning;" and the wife drew herself up haughtily.
"Authority, or no authority, Margaret" — Canning now spoke calmly, but his lips were pale — "I will never consent that my wife shall be seen in a public assembly with Richards. You know my opinion of the man."
"I know you are prejudiced against him, though I believe unjustly."
"Madness!" exclaimed Canning, thrown off his guard. "And this from you?"
"I don't see that you have any cause for getting into a passion, Mr. Canning," said his wife, with provoking coolness. "And, I must say, that you interfere with my freedom rather more than a husband has any right to do. But, to cut this matter short, let me tell you, once for all, that I am going to the assembly tonight with Mr. and Mrs. Richards. Having promised to do so, I mean to keep my promise."
"Margaret, I positively forbid your going!" said Canning, in much excitement.
"I deny your right to command me! In consenting to become your wife, I did not make myself your slave; although it is clear from this, and other things that have occurred since our marriage, that you consider me as occupying that position!"
"Then it is your intention to go with this man?" said Canning, again speaking in a calm but deep voice.
"Certainly it is!"
"Very well. I will not make any threat of what I will do, Margaret. But this I can assure you, that as lightly as you may think of this matter, if persevered in, it will cause you more sorrow than you have ever known! Go! Go against my wish — against my command, if you will have it so — and when you feel the consequence, lay the blame upon no one but yourself! And now let me say to you, Margaret, that your conduct as a wife has tended rather to estrange your husband's heart from you, than to win his love. I say this now, because I may not have — "
"James! It is folly for you to talk to me after that fashion," exclaimed Margaret, breaking in upon him. "I — "
But before she could finish the sentence, Canning had left the room, slamming the door hard after him.
Just an hour from this time, Mr. and Mrs. Richards called in their carriage for Mrs. Canning, who went with them to the assembly. An hour was a long period for reflection, and ought to have afforded sufficient time for the wife of Canning to come to a wiser determination than that from which she acted.
Not half a dozen revolutions of the carriage wheels had been made, however, before Margaret repented of what she had done. But it was now too late. The pleasure of the entertainment passed before her, but it found no response in her bosom. She saw little but the pale, compressed lip and knit brow of her husband, and heard little but his word of disapproval. Oh! how she did long for the confused pageant that was moving before her, and the discordant mingling of voices and instruments, to pass away, that she might return and tell him that she repented of all that she had done.
At last the assembly broke up, and she was free to go back again to the home that had not, alas! proved as pleasant a spot to her, as her imagination had once pictured it.
"And that it has not been so," she murmured to herself, "he has not been all to blame."
On being left at the door, Mrs. Canning rang the bell impatiently. As soon as admitted, she flew upstairs to meet her husband, intending to confess her error, and beg him earnestly to forgive her for having acted so directly in opposition to his wishes. But she did not find him in the chamber. Throwing off her bonnet and shawl, she went down into the parlors, but found all dark there.
"Where is Mr. Canning?" she asked of a servant.
"He went away about ten o'clock, and has not returned yet," was replied.
This news caused Mrs. Canning to lean hard on the stair-railing for support. She felt in an instant, as weak almost as an infant.
Without further question, she went back to her chamber, and looked about fearfully on bureaus and tables for a letter addressed to her in her husband's handwriting. But nothing of this met her eye. Then she sat down to await her husband's return. But she waited long. Daylight found her an anxious watcher; he was still away.
The anguish of mind experienced during that unhappy night, it would be vain for us to attempt to picture. In the morning, on descending to the parlor, she found on one of the pier-tables, a letter bearing her name. She broke the seal tremblingly. It did not contain many words, but they fell upon her heart with an icy coldness.
"Margaret: Your conduct tonight has forced me to separate myself from a woman who I feel neither truly loves nor respects me. The outcome which I have for some time dreaded, has come. It is better for us to part, than to live in open discord. I shall arrange everything for your comfortable support, and then leave the city, perhaps forever. You need not tell our child that her father lives. I would rather she would think him dead, than at variance with her mother. James Canning."
These were the words. Their effect was paralyzing. Mrs. Canning had presence of mind enough to crush the fatal letter into her bosom, and strength enough to take her back to her chamber. When there, she sank powerless upon her bed, and remained throughout the day too weak in both body and mind, to rise or think. She could do little else but feel.
Five years from the day of that unhappy separation, we find Mrs. Canning in the unobtrusive home of Aunt Hannah, who took the almost heart-broken wife into the bosom of her own family, after the passage of nearly a year had made her almost hopeless of ever seeing him again. No one knew where he was. Only once did Margaret hear from him, and that was on the third day after he had parted from her, when he appeared in the court-room, and made a most powerful argument in favor of the client whose important case had prevented his going with his wife to the assembly. After that he disappeared, and no one could tell anything about him. A liberal annuity had been settled upon his wife, and the necessary papers to enable her to claim it transmitted to her under a blank envelope.
Five years had changed Margaret sadly. The high-spirited, blooming, happy woman — was now a meek, quiet, pale-faced sufferer. Lilly had grown finely, all unconscious of her mother's suffering, and was a very beautiful child. She attracted the notice of everyone.
"Aunt Hannah," said Margaret, one day after this long, long period of suffering, "I have what you will call a strange idea in my mind. It has been visiting me for weeks, and now I feel much inclined to act from its dictates. You know that Mr. and Mrs. Edwards are going to Paris next month. Ever since Mrs. Edwards mentioned it to me, I have felt a desire to go with them. I don't know why, but so it is. I think it would do me good to go to Paris and spend a few months there. When a young girl, I always had a great desire to see London and Paris; and this desire is again in my mind."
"I would go, then," said Aunt Hannah, who thought favorably of anything likely to divert the mind of her niece from the brooding melancholy in which it was shrouded.
To Paris, Mrs. Canning went, accompanied by her little daughter, who was the favorite of everyone on board the steamer in which they sailed. In this gray city, however, she did not attain as much relief of mind as she had anticipated. She found it almost impossible to take interest in anything, and soon began to long for the time to come when she could go back to the home and heart of her good Aunt Hannah. The greatest pleasure she took, was in going with Lilly to the Gardens of the Tuileries, and amid the crowd there, to feel alone with nature in some of her most beautiful aspects. Lilly was always delighted to get there, and never failed to bring something in her pocket for the pure white swans that floated so gracefully in the marble basin into which the water dashed cool and sparkling from beautiful fountains.
One day, while the child was playing at a short distance from her mother, a man seated beside a bronze statue, over which drooped a large orange tree, fixed his eyes upon her admiringly, as hundreds of others had done. Presently she came up and stood close to him, looking up into the face of the statue. The man said something to her in French, but Lilly only smiled and shook her head.
"What is your name, dear?" he then said in English.
"Lilly," replied the child.
A quick change passed over the man's face. With much more interest in his voice, he said —
"Where do you live? In London?"
"Oh no, sir; I live in America."
"What is your name besides Lilly?"
"Lilly Canning, sir."
The man now became strongly agitated. But he contended vigorously with his feelings.
"Where is your mother, dear?" he asked, taking her hand as he spoke, and gently pressing it between his own.
"She is here, sir," returned Lilly, looking inquiringly into the man's face.
"Yes, sir. We come here every day."
"Where is your mother now?"
"Just on the other side of the fountain. You can't see her because of the lime-tree in the way."
"Is your father here, also?" continued the man.
"No, I don't know where my father is."
"Is he dead?"
"No, sir; mother says he is not dead, and that she hopes he will come home soon. Oh! I wish he would come home. We would all love him so!"
The man rose up quickly, and turning from the child, walked hurriedly away. Lilly looked after him for a moment or two, and then ran back to her mother.
On the next day Lilly saw the same man sitting under the bronze statue. He beckoned to her, and she went to him.
"How long have you been in Paris, dear?" he asked.
"A good many weeks," she replied.
"Are you going to stay much longer?"
"I don't know. But mother wants to go home."
"Do you like to live in Paris?"
"No, sir. I would rather live at home with mother and Aunt Hannah."
"You live with Aunt Hannah, then?"
"Yes, sir. Do you know Aunt Hannah?" and the child looked up wonderingly into the man's face.
"I used to know her," he replied.
Just then Lilly heard her mother calling her, and she started and ran away in the direction from which the voice came. The man's face grew slightly pale, and he was evidently much agitated. As he had done on the evening previous, he rose up hastily and walked away. But in a short time he returned, and appeared to be carefully looking about for someone. At length he caught sight of Lilly's mother. She was sitting with her eyes upon the ground, the child leaning upon her, and looking into her face, which he saw was thin and pale, and overspread with a hue of sadness. Only for a few moments did he thus gaze upon her, and then he turned and walked hurriedly from the garden.
Mrs. Canning sat alone with her child that evening, in the handsomely-furnished apartments she had hired on arriving in Paris.
"He told you that he knew Aunt Hannah?" she said, rousing up from a state of deep thought.
"Yes, mother. He said he used to know her."
"I wonder — "
A servant opened the door, and said that a gentleman wished to see Mrs. Canning.
"Tell him to walk in," the mother of Lilly had just power to say. In breathless suspense she waited for the space of a few seconds, when the man who had spoken to Lilly in the Gardens of the Tuileries entered and closed the door after him.
Mrs. Canning raised her eyes to his face. It was her husband! She did not cry out nor spring forward. She had not the power to do either.
"That's him now, mother!" exclaimed Lilly.
"It's your father!" said Mrs. Canning, in a deeply breathed whisper.
The child sprang toward him with a quick bound, and was instantly clasped in his arms.
"Lilly, dear Lilly!" he sobbed, pressing his lips upon her brow and cheeks. "Yes! I am your father!"
The wife and mother sat motionless and tearless, with her eyes fixed upon the face of her husband. After a few passionate embraces, Canning drew the child's arms from about his neck, and setting her down upon the floor, advanced slowly toward his wife. Her eyes were still tearless, but large drops were rolling over his face.
"Margaret!" he said, uttering her name with great tenderness.
He was by her side in time to receive her upon his bosom, as she sank forward in a wild passion of tears.
All was reconciled. The desolate hearts were again peopled with living affections. The arid waste now smiled in greenness and beauty.
In their old home, bound by threefold cords of love, they now think only of the past as a severe lesson by which they have been taught the heavenly virtue of forbearance.
Five years of intense suffering changed them both, and left scars that after years can never efface. But selfish impatience and pride were all subdued, and their hearts melted into each other, until they became almost like one heart. Those who meet them now, and observe the deep, but unobtrusive affection with which they regard each other, would never imagine, did they not know their previous history, that love, during one period of that married life, had been so long and so totally eclipsed.