Engaged at Sixteen!

By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
 

"Mrs. Lee is quite fortunate with her daughters," remarked a visitor to Mrs. Wyman, whose oldest child, a well grown girl of fifteen, was sitting by.

"Yes, Kate and Harriet went off in good time. She has only Fanny left."

"And she is to be married this winter."

"Fanny?"

"Yes, she is engaged to Henry Florence."

"Indeed! And she is only just turned of sixteen. How fortunate, truly! Some people have their daughters on their hands until they are in their mid-twenties, when the chances for good matches are very low. I was only sixteen when I was married."

"Certainly; and by then I had rejected two or three young men. There is nothing like early marriages, depend upon it, Mrs. Clayton. They always turn out the best. The most desirable young men take their pick of the youngest girls, and leave the older ones for second-rate claimants."

"Do you hear that, Anna?" Mrs. Clayton said, laughing, as she turned to Mrs. Wyman's daughter. "I hope you will not remain a moment later than your mother did upon the maiden list."

Anna blushed slightly, but did not reply. What had been said, however, made its impression on her mind. She felt that to be engaged early, was a matter greatly to be desired.

"My mother was married at sixteen, and here am I fifteen, and without a lover." So thought Anna, as she paused over the page of a new novel, some hours after she had listened to the conversation that passed between her mother and Mrs. Clayton, and mused of love and matrimony.

From that time, Anna Wyman was another girl. The sweet simplicity of manner, the unconscious innocence peculiar to her age, gradually vanished. Her eye, which was so clear and soft with the light of girlhood's pleasant dreams, grew earnest and restless, and, at times, intensely bright. The whole expression of her countenance was new. It was no longer a placid sky, with scarcely a cloud floating in its quiet depths, but as changeful as April, with its tears and smiles blending in strange beauty. Her heart, which had long beat tranquilly, would now bound at a thought, and send the bright crimson to her cheek it would flutter at the sight of the very individual whom she, a short time before, would meet without a single wave ruffling the surface of her feelings. The woman had suddenly displaced the girl! A sisterly regard, which pure affection which an innocent maiden's heart has for all around her, had expired on the altar where was kindling up the deep passion called love. And yet Anna Wyman had not reached her sixteenth year!

All at once, she became restless, capricious, and unhappy. She had been at school up to this period, but now insisted that she was too old for that; her mother seconded this view of the matter, and her father, a man of pretty good sense, had to yield.

"We must give Anna a party now," said Mrs. Wyman, after their daughter had left school.

"Why so?" asked the father.

"Oh because it is time that she was beginning to come out."

"Come out, how?"

"You are so dull. Come out in the list of young ladies. Go into company."

"But she is a mere child, yet not sixteen."

"Not sixteen! And how old was I, when you married me?"

The husband did not reply.

"How old was I, Mr. Wyman?"

"About sixteen, I believe."

"Well, and was I a mere child?"

"You were rather young to marry, at least," Mr. Wyman ventured to say. This remark was made rather too feelingly.

"Too young to marry!" ejaculated the wife, in a tone of surprise and indignation "too young to marry; and my husband to say so, too! Mr. Wyman, do you mean to intimate do you mean to say? Mr. Wyman, what do you mean by that remark?"

"Oh, nothing at all," soothingly replied the husband; "only that I "

"What?"

"That I don't, as a general thing, approve of very early marriages. The character of a young lady is not formed before twenty-one or two; nor has she gained that experience and knowledge of the world which will enable her to choose with wisdom."

"You don't pretend to say that my character was not formed at sixteen?" This was accompanied by a threatening look.

Whatever his thoughts were, Mr. Wyman took good care not to express them. He merely said

"I believe, Margaret, that I haven't volunteered any allusion to you."

"Yes, but you don't approve of early marriages."

"True."

"Well, didn't I marry at sixteen? And isn't your opinion a reflection upon your wife?"

"Circumstances alter cases," smilingly returned Mr. Wyman. "Few women at sixteen were like you. Very certainly, your daughter is not."

"There I differ with you, Mr. Wyman. I believe our Anna would make as good a wife now, as I did at sixteen. She is as much of a woman in appearance; her mind is more matured, and her education advanced far beyond what mine was. She deserves a good husband, and must have one before the lapse of another year."

"How can you talk so, Margaret? For my part, I do not wish to see her married for at least five years."

"Preposterous! I wouldn't give a cent for a marriage that takes place after seventeen or eighteen. They are always indifferent affairs, and rarely ever turn out well. The earlier the better, depend upon it. First love and first lover, is my motto."

"Well, Margaret, I suppose you will have these matters your own way; but I don't agree with you for all."

"Anna must have a party."

"You can do as you like."

"But you must assent to it."

"How can I do that, if I don't approve?"

"But you must approve."

And Mrs. Wyman persevered until she made him approve at least do so apparently. And so a party was given to Anna, at which she was introduced to several dashing young men, whose attentions almost turned her young head. In two weeks she had a confidante, a young lady named Clara Spenser, not much older than herself. The progress already made by Anna in love matters will appear in the following conversation held in secret with Clara.

"Did you say Mr. Carpenter had been to see you since the party?" asked Clara.

"Yes, indeed," was the animated reply.

"He's a love of a man! the very one of all others that I would set my cap for, if there was any hope. But you will, no doubt, carry him off."

Anna colored to the temples, half with confusion and half with delight.

"He used to pay attention to Jane Sherman, I'm told."

"Yes; but you've cut her out entirely. Didn't you notice how unhappy she seemed at the party whenever he was with you?"

"No, was she?"

"Oh, yes; everybody noticed it. But you can carry off all of her beaux; she's a mere drab of a girl. And, besides, she's getting on the old maids' list; I'm told she's more than twenty."

"She is?"

"It's true."

"Oh, dear; there's no fear of her then. If I were to be over sixteen before I married, I would be frightened to death."

"Suppose Carpenter offers himself?"

"I hope he won't just yet."

"Why?"

"I need two or three strings to my bow. It would be dangerous to reject one, unless I had another in my eye."

"Reject? Nonsense! Why should you reject an offer?"

"My mother had three offers before she was sixteen, and rejected two of them."

"Was she married so early?"

"Oh, yes; she was a wife at sixteen, and I'm not going to be a day later, if possible. I'd like to decline three offers and get married into the bargain before a year passes. Wouldn't that be admirable? It would be something to boast of all my life."

Pretty well advanced! the reader no doubt exclaims; and so our young lady certainly was. When a very young girl gets into love matters, she "does them up," as the saying is, quite fast; she doesn't mince matters at all. A maiden of twenty is cooler, more thoughtful, and more cautious. She thinks a good deal, and is very careful how she lets anyone even her confidante, if she should happen to have one, (which is doubtful) know much beyond her mere external thoughts. Four or five years make a good deal of difference in these things. But this need hardly have been said.

"You are going to Mrs. Ashton's on Wednesday evening, of course?" said Clara Spenser to Anna, on visiting her one morning, some weeks after the introduction to Carpenter had taken place.

"Oh, certainly; their parties, I'm told, are elegant affairs."

"Indeed they are; I've been to two of them. Fine music, pleasant company, and so much freedom with young men oh, they are delightful!"

"Did you ever see Mr. Carpenter there?"

"Oh, yes; he always attends."

"I shall enjoy myself highly."

"That you will the young men are so attentive."

Wednesday night soon came round, and Anna was permitted to go, unattended by either of her parents, to the so-called soiree at Mrs. Ashton's. As she had hoped and believed, Carpenter was there. His attentions to her were constant and flattering; he poured many compliments into her ears, talking to her all the time in a low, musical tone. Anna's heart fluttered in her bosom with pleasure; she felt that she had made a conquest. But the fact of bringing so charming a young man to her feet, and that so speedily, quickened her pride, and made it seem the easiest thing in the world to be able to reject three lovers and yet be engaged, or even married, at sixteen.

Besides Carpenter, there was another present who saw attractions about Anna Wyman. He wore a moustache, and made quite a dashing appearance. In the language of many young ladies, who admired him, he was an elegant-looking young man just the one to be proud of as a beau. His name was Elliott.

As soon as he could get access to the ear of the young and inexperienced girl, he charmed it with a deeper charm than Carpenter had been able to impart. She felt almost like one within a magic circle. His eye fascinated her, and his voice murmured in her ear like low, sweet music.

A short time before parting from her, he said

"Miss Wyman, may I have the pleasure of calling upon you at your father's house?"

"Oh, yes, sir; I shall be most happy to see you." She spoke with feeling.

"Then I shall visit you frequently. In your society I promise myself much happiness."

Anna's eyes fell to the floor, and the color deepened on her cheeks. When she looked up, Elliott was gazing steadily in her face, with an expression of admiration and love.

Her heart was lost. Carpenter, that love of a man, was not thought of or, only as one of her rejected lovers.

When Anna laid her head upon her pillow that night, it was not to sleep. Her mind was too full of pleasant images, central to all of which was the elegant, accomplished, handsome Mr. Elliott. He had, she conceived, as good as offered himself, and she, much as she wished to reject three lovers before she accepted one, felt strongly inclined to accept him, and so end the matter.

Now, who was Mr. Thomas Elliott? A few words will portray him. Mr. Elliott was twenty-six; he kept a store in the city; had been in business for some years, but was not very successful. His habits of life were not good; his principles had no sound, moral basis. He was, in fact, just the man to make a silly child like Anna Wyman wretched for life. But why did he seek for one like her? That is easily explained. Mr. Wyman was reputed to be pretty well off in the world, and Mr. Elliott's affairs were in rather a precarious condition; but he managed to keep so good a face upon the matter, that none suspected his real condition.

After visiting Anna for a short time, he offered his hand. If it had not been that her sixteenth birthday was so near, Anna would have declined the offer, for Thomas Elliott did not grow dearer to her every day. There were young men whom she liked much better; and if they had only come forward and presented their claims to favor, she would have declined the offer from Elliott. But time was rapidly passing away. Anna was ambitious of being engaged before she was sixteen, and married, if possible. Her mother had rejected two offers, and she was anxious to do as much. Here was a chance for one rejection but was she sure of another offer in time? No! There was the difficulty. For some days she debated the question, and then laid it before her mother. Mrs. Wyman consulted her husband, who did not much like Elliott; but the mother felt the necessity of an early marriage, and overruled all objections. Her advice to Anna was to accept the offer, and it was accepted, accordingly.

A fond, wayward child of sixteen may chance to marry and do well, spite of all the drawbacks she will meet. But this is only in case she happen to marry a man of good sense, warm affections, and great kindness, who can bear with her as a father bears with a capricious child; can forgive much and love much. But give the happiness of such a creature into the keeping of a cold, narrow-minded, selfish, petulant man and her cup of sorrow will soon run over. Bitter, indeed, will be her lot in life.

Just such a man was Thomas Elliott. He had sought only his own pleasures, and had owned no law but his own will. For more than ten years he had been living without other external restraints than those social laws which all must observe who desire to keep a fair reputation. He came in when he pleased and went out when he pleased. He required service from all, and gave it to none that is, so far as he needed service, he exacted it from those under him; but was not in the habit of making personal sacrifices for the sake of others. Thus, his natural selfishness was confirmed. When he married, it was with an end to the good he should derive from the union not from a generous desire to make another happy in himself. Anna was young, vivacious, and more than ordinarily intelligent and pretty. There was much about her that was attractive, and Elliott really imagined that he loved her; but it was himself that he loved in her fascinating qualities. These were all to minister to his pleasure. He never once thought of devoting himself to her happiness.

On the night of the wedding, which took place soon after Anna's sixteenth birthday, the bride was in that bewildered state of mind which destroys all the rational perceptions of the mind. Her whole soul was in a pleasing tumult, and yet she did not feel happy; and why? In spite of the solemn promise she had made to love and honor her husband above all men, she felt that there were others whom she could have loved and honored more than him, were they in his place. But this, reason told her, was folly. They had not presented themselves and he had. They could be nothing to her he must be everything. To secure a husband early was the great point, and that had been gained. This thought, whenever it crossed her mind, would cause her to look around upon her maiden companions with proud self-complacency. They were still upon the shores of expectancy. She had launched her boat upon the sunny sea of matrimony, and was already moving steadily away under a pleasant breeze.

Alas! young bride, your marriage altar is an altar of sacrifice. Love is not the deity who is presiding there. Little do they dream who have led you, poor lamb! garlanded with flowers, to that altar how innocent, how true, how good a heart they were offering up upon its strange fires. But they will know in time and you will know when it is too late.

Two years from the period of their marriage, Elliott and his wife were seated in a small room moderately well furnished. He was leaning back in a chair, with arms folded, and his chin resting on his bosom. His face was contracted into a gloomy scowl. Anna, who looked pale and troubled, was sewing and touching with her foot a cradle, in which was a babe. The little one seemed restless. Every now and then it would start and moan, or cry out. After a time it awoke and commenced screaming. The mother lifted it from the cradle and tried to hush it upon her bosom, but the babe still cried on. It was evidently in pain.

"Confound you! why don't you keep that child quiet!" exclaimed the husband, impatiently casting at the same time an angry look upon his wife.

Anna made no reply, but turned half away from him, evidently to conceal the tears that suddenly started from her eyes, and strove more earnestly to quiet the child. In this she soon succeeded.

"I believe you let her cry on purpose, whenever I am in the house, just to annoy me," her husband resumed in an ill-natured tone.

"No, Thomas, you know that I do not," Anna said.

"Why don't you call me am a liar!"

"Oh, Thomas, how can you speak so to me?" And his young wife turned toward him an earnest, tearful look.

"Bah! don't try to melt me with your crying. I never believed in it.

Women can cry at any moment."

There was a convulsive motion of Mrs. Elliott's head as she turned quickly away, and a choking sound in her throat. She remained silent, ten minutes passed, when her husband said in a firm voice,

"Anna, I'm going to give up!"

Mrs. Elliott glanced around with a startled air.

"It's true, just what I say your father may think that I'm going to make a slave of myself to support you, but he's mistaken. He's refused to help me in my business one single penny, though he's able enough. And now I've taken my resolution. You can go back to him as quick as you like."

Before the brutal husband had half finished the sentence, his wife was on her feet, with a cheek deadly pale, and eyes almost starting from her head. Thomas Elliott was her husband and the father of her babe, and as such she had loved him with a far deeper love than he had deserved. This had caused her to bear with coldness and neglect, and even his great unkindness without a complaint. Sacredly had she kept from her mother even a hint of the truth. Thus had she gone on almost from the first; for only a few months elapsed before she discovered that her image was dim on her husband's heart.

"You needn't stand there staring at me like one moon-struck" he said, with bitter sarcasm and a curl of the lip. "What I say is the truth. I'm going to give up, and you've got to go home to those who are more able to support you than I am; and who have a better right, too, I'm thinking."

There was something so heartless and chilling in the words and manner of her husband, that Mrs. Elliott made no attempt to reply. Covering her face with her hands, she sank back into the chair from which she had risen, more deeply miserable than she had ever been in her life. From this state she was aroused by the imperative question,

"Anna, what do you intend doing?"

"That is for you to say" was her murmured reply.

"Then, I say, go home to your father, and at once!"

Without a word the wife rose from her chair, with her infant in her arms, and pausing only long enough to put on her shawl and bonnet, left the house.

Mr. and Mrs. Wyman were sitting alone late on the afternoon of the same day, thinking about and conversing of their child. Neither of them felt too well satisfied with the result of her marriage. It required not even the close observation of a parent's eye, to discover that she was far from happy.

"I wish she were only single" Mr. Wyman at length said. "She married much too young only eighteen now, and with a cold-hearted and, I fear, unprincipled and neglectful husband. It is sad to think of it."

"But I was married as young as she was."

"Yes, but I flatter myself that you made a better choice. Your condition at eighteen was very different from what hers is now. As I said before, I only wish she were single, and then I wouldn't care to see her married for two or three years to come."

"I can't help wishing she had refused Mr. Elliott. If she had done so, she might have been married to a much better man long before this. Mr. Carpenter is worth a dozen of him. Oh dear! this marriage is all a lottery, after all. Few prizes and many blanks. Poor Anna! she is not happy."

At this moment the door opened, and the child of whom they were speaking, with her infant in her arms, came hurriedly in. Her face was deadly pale, her lips tightly compressed, and her eyes widely distended and fixed.

"Anna!" exclaimed the mother, starting up quickly and springing toward her.

"My child, what ails you?" was eagerly asked by the father, as he, too, rose up hastily.

But there was no reply. The heart of the child was too full. She could not utter the truth. She had been sent back to her parents by her husband, but her tongue could not declare that! Pride, shame, wounded affections combined to hold back her words. Her only reply was to lay her babe in her mother's arms, and then fling herself upon the bosom of her father.

All was mystery then, but time soon unveiled the cause of their daughter's strange and sudden appearance, and her deep anguish. The truth gradually came out that she had been deserted by her husband; or, what seemed to Mrs. Wyman more disgraceful still, had been sent home by him. Bitterly did she execrate him, but it availed nothing. Her ardent wish had been gratified. Anna was engaged at sixteen, and married soon after; but at eighteen, alas! she had come home a deserted wife and mother!

And so she remained. Her husband never afterward came near her. And now, at thirty, with a daughter well grown, she remains in her father's house a quiet, thoughtful, serious woman, who sees little in life that is attractive, and who rarely stirs beyond the threshold of the house that shelters her. There are those who will recognize this picture.

So much for being engaged at sixteen!