The Estrangement

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851


It is but rarely that fathers are entirely satisfied with the men chosen by their daughters for husbands; and the father who has but one daughter, is, in most cases, fated to peculiar trials in this particular. The suitor for her hand must have more than human perfection, if he pleases in everything.

Mr. Freeland had three sons, and an only daughter. Effie was, of course, tenderly beloved by her father; the more so, as she was his youngest child, and had grown up a most lovely young woman lovely in mind as well as person.

That Effie would, sooner or later, have a lover; and that this lover would be more to her than even her father, Mr. Freeland knew very well, or ought to have know. But, when such a thought intruded itself upon his mind, he thrust it aside with jealous displeasure. Still, for all this, young men could not help being attracted by the charming girl, nor help showing that they were so attracted. But of all the candidates for her favor, none pleased the fancy of Mr. Freeland, when thought of as the future husband of Effie and such a thought would now and then arise.

One day, while Mr. Freeland was alone in his office, a young attorney, named Elliot, who had a few weeks before, been admitted to the bar, called in to see him. This young man was boyish in his appearance, considering his age, and had never attracted much notice from Mr. Freeland, although he had often seen him in the office of a Counselor with whom he had frequent business fellowship.

"Well, Edward," said Mr. Freeland, indifferently, and without rising, as the young man came in.

Elliot looked slightly embarrassed, and his voice was not marked by its usual steadiness, as he said, "I would like to speak a word with you, Mr. Freeland."

"Very well, take a chair what can I do for you?"

The young man sat down, still exhibiting a lack of self-possession, and some time elapsed before he spoke. Then he said, as with a sudden and forced effort, "Mr. Freeland, I am, and have been for some time, sincerely attached to your daughter, and I now ask for the privilege of addressing her."

Had a bombshell exploded in the room, or his house tumbled down over his head, Mr. Freeland could not have been more astounded than by this declaration.

"I wish to act honorably and above-board," Elliot was going on to remark, when Mr. Freeland, whose face instantly reddened, arose from his chair, and pointing to the door, said, in an angry and insulting tone, "Please walk out of my house!"

The young man did not pause for a second invitation of the kind. He possessed a nice sense of honor and had a sensitive spirit. The first brought him thus formally, to ask of the father the privilege of addressing his daughter, before he had signified to her the sentiment that was in his heart; and the second caused him to shrink away from the touch of rudeness and insult. As young as he was, and even boyish in his appearance, there was a stratum of pure gold in his character, and his mind was one gifted with more than ordinary native ability. He felt that the germs of success were in him, and that sooner or later he would play his part on the world's arena. But Mr. Freeland saw only his unimposing exterior, and permitted a feeling of contempt to find a place in his mind. The presumption of asking for the hand of his daughter outraged him beyond all forbearance, and led him, as has been seen, to treat the young suitor with most unjustifiable rudeness, not to call it even by a harsher name.

Edward retreated with his mind in a perfect whirl, and left Mr. Freeland little less disturbed in feeling. Hiding himself in his office, he there tried to compose himself for reflection. Pride, anger, and even a feeling of revenge, were all aroused in his mind, and for a season he moved about his little room in a high state of excitement. He sat down and penned a note to Mr. Freeland, in which he reproved him for his conduct in terms which, while they were perfectly just, made him still more angry with the young presumptuous.

It so happened, that by some accident, this note dropped from the pocket of Mr. Freeland, and came into the hands of Effie, thus letting her into a secret of which she was before ignorant; for though Elliot loved her, he had not yet whispered the story in her ears. The letter was intelligible to her mind. It told of his affection, and rude repulse.

The next time the young couple met in company, Elliot made it a point to avoid Effie as much as possible. But every time his eyes turned to where she was, he found her looking at him, and with an expression of tender interest on her face, that his heart did not fail to interpret aright. He correctly inferred that she had by some means learned the application he had made, and that she was by no means indifferent to the sentiment he had avowed on the occasion.

Elliot was far from being so unworthy the hand of Effie, as Mr. Freeland, deciding without reflection, had supposed. He had judged him from mere appearances, and condemned him without knowing what was in him.

Perceiving, after one or two meetings with Effie, like the one just referred to, that so far from being indifferent to him, he occupied really the first place in her feelings, and adjudging her father as entitled, by his ungentlemanly conduct, to no further consideration or respect Elliot yielded to the genuineness of the sentiment felt for the charming girl, and drew to her side whenever an opportunity offered, regardless whether Mr. Freeland happened to be present or not.

The displeasure of Effie's father was great when he saw this, and he immediately sought, by disparaging remarks, to create in the mind of his daughter, a prejudice against the presumptuous suitor. Effie heard him in silence, but with a manner which told him too plainly, that his words made no impression. Then, unable to act calmly in the matter, he angrily forbade her, on pain of his strong displeasure, having any interaction with the young man whatever.

This was folly, and Mr. Freeland ought to have known it. Such conduct only adds fuel to a flame like that enkindled in the young girl's bosom. A week did not elapse before the lovers were thrown into each other's society, and met as before. The father was present maddened by such an entire disregard of his feelings and wishes, he took another step, marked by still greater folly than any he had yet taken in regard to the matter. He called at Elliot's office, on the next day, and threatened to cowhide him in the street, if he even knew him to speak to his daughter. To this the young man replied, by ordering him peremptorily to leave his office, and in doing so, exhibited a fiery determination that, to some extent, changed the estimate which Mr. Freeland entertained of his character. A personal collision would, most likely, have taken place, had not an individual entered the office at the moment, when Mr. Freeland prudently retired.

On that very evening, young Elliot met Effie at a party, where her father and mother were present, and danced with her. Yet, for all this, Mr. Freeland did not attempt the personal violence he had threatened. It was well he did not, for the high-tempered, resolute young man, had armed himself, and, in the blindness of his anger, might have used his deadly weapon.

Thus, under most unhappy auspices, began the intimacy of Elliot and his future bride. Both were worthy of each other, and the former was in every way worthy to assume toward Mr. Freeland, that relation he had sought to form in the most open and honorable manner. But a foregone conclusion in regard to the young man's character, which had its basis in a mere prejudice, closed the mind of Mr. Freeland to anything like a calm investigation of his merits, and the indignant manner with which Elliot flung back the insult he had offered him the moment there was an opportunity of doing so, fixed his dislike of him in to angry resentment.

Meantime, disregarding all opposition, the young couple met whenever opportunity offered. The very fact of opposition, led the way to an early declaration of his sentiments on the part of Elliot, which were unhesitatingly responded to by Effie. A regular correspondence then commenced, and frequent meetings at the house of a mutual friend ensued. This went on for about a year; at the close of which period, Elliot removed to the city of New York, there to take part in the business of a well-established attorney, whose large practice required him to call in aid. He had met Elliot frequently, and seeing the ability that he possessed, made him highly advantageous offers, which were immediately accepted. About six months after his removal, Mr. Freeland received from him the following note:

SIR, My marriage with your daughter will take place on the 20th of this month. It will rest with you to say, whether the ceremony shall be performed at your house or not.

Respectfully,

Edward Elliot"

Although fully aware that such an event would take place sooner or later, Mr. Freeland was almost maddened at what seemed the cool defiance of this note. Taking it in his hand, he went to his daughter, and assuming that it was sent as a gross insult, made to her a most passionate appeal on the strength of this assumption. But Effie was immovable.

Could it be otherwise? She saw all that was excellent in her betrothed, and knew that in deference to her wishes and feelings, he had sent the letter to her father.

Opposition being hopeless, Mr. Freeland, for the sake of appearances, yielded to the wishes of every member of his family, all of whom saw with a clearer vision than he did, and consented that the marriage of his daughter would take place at home. Tearfully did Effie urge both her lover and father to become reconciled to each other, before the nuptial rites were solemnized. But neither was in a state to make overtures. Elliot felt that he had been grossly insulted without cause, and Mr. Freeland was not going to make any concessions to a "presumptuous, beardless boy." And so the rite was said, and the daughter passed away from the home of her father, whom she loved fondly, without his blessing on her married life.

Neither the husband nor the father of Effie, was disposed to yield a position when once taken, and this made their estrangement entire. They did not speak, nor look at each other on the occasion of the wedding; and when Elliot, on the eve of his return to New York, received from the arms of her father his weeping bride, he did so with an averted face.

Five years passed, and yet there was no reconciliation. In that time, in conjunction with his partner, Elliot had conducted three or four suits of great importance in the New York courts, to a successful outcome, and in doing so, had attracted attention as a young lawyer of singular ability and great promise in his profession. He had proved, in every way, that Mr. Freeland had misjudged him, and in throwing him off with contempt, had committed one of the most serious errors of his life. A few times Effie had visited her father, for whom she had a most tender affection, but she loved her husband deeply and devotedly, and she knew how worthy he was of such love; and she could not feel like going often, where his presence would be unwelcome.

But for this sad estrangement, Effie would have been one of the happiest of women. That, however, marred every pleasure, and threw a perpetual shadow across the sunshine of her life. Often she urged her husband to such a reconciliation; but on that subject, he always heard her with evidences of impatience, and she at length ceased to refer to it at all.

Ever since their children were old enough to enter into and enjoy a scene of social festivity, Mr. and Mrs. Freeland had given them a little entertainment on New Year's night. As they grew older, this entertainment took a higher character, and after the marriage of Effie's brothers, they constituted a sort of family reunion. Since Effie passed from under the paternal roof as the wife of Elliot, her place had been vacant at the annual reunion. But, though absent, she was with the loved ones of her old home in spirit.

Why he had a always found Effie in tears on New Year's night, her husband could not tell. He did not know of these dear reunions, hallowed by the earliest and tenderest associations. The first time this occurred, they had a few friends to tea; missing Effie from the parlor longer than seemed proper under the circumstances, her husband sought her in her chamber, where he found her lying upon the bed weeping. Failing in the effort to rally her spirits, he was at length compelled to ask their company to excuse her for the evening, as she had become suddenly indisposed. On the next New Year's day, Effie's thoughts were again turned towards home. With a strong effort she kept up her spirits through the day, and received the complimentary calls of the season; but when evening came, she was unable longer to control her feelings, and again hid herself in her chamber to think of home and weep. It was the same on the third year, and also on the fourth. Her husband thought it very strange; though he inquired earnestly for the cause, Effie concealed it in her own bosom.

As New Year's day once more approached, Elliot thought he saw the spirit of his wife again begin to droop.

"What can it mean?" said he to himself, thoughtfully. While yet musing on the subject, accident threw in his way an open letter directed to Effie, and seeing that it was from her mother, he felt constrained to read it. It was as follows:

"My Dear Effie: In two weeks, New Year's night will be here again. We meet, as of old, but not with our old feelings. To me, these reunions have become inexpressibly sad yet, for the sake of those who gather about us, I put on a cheerful face. But I think only of you, my dear, dear absent one! And it is so with your father. After all have gone, we sit together and weep in silence. And must this be so again? Effie, my child! It seems as if I could not bear it. I am growing older, and my heart gets softer as the years press me down. And it is so with your father. I often hear him breathing your name in sleep. He was wrong towards Edward, and he knows it. But he is a proud man. I have heard him say that Edward was an ornament to his profession. Oh! if Edward would only yield a little! He should reflect that, for an only daughter, a father might well feel a jealous pride; and that, if it led him into error, it is not a sin past forgiveness. I am sure, if Edward would only make the first advance step all would be reconciled. Ah, me! that so much unhappiness should spring from the error of a moment. We are not happy, and you cannot be. I have urged your father to write to Edward. He says nothing in reply. I sometimes hope he will do so. But, I know his spirit, and I fear he will break rather than bend.

"Oh! if we could only have you with us on the coming New Year's night, how happy we would be. Your dear little Flora, you say, grows sweeter every day. Oh, how we do want to see her! When I read to your father what you said of her in your last letter, he burst into tears and left the room. If Edward will not accompany you, will you not come yourself, with dear, sweet Flora, and make us happy for once?"

The reading of this letter touched Mr. Elliot deeply, and turned his thoughts into a new channel. He now understood, fully, the reason why his young wife had been so much dispirited on every New Year's night since their marriage. A few days after reading the letter, he said to her

"Effie, I have business in Philadelphia next week. How would you like to go on there with me, and spend a few days?"

"I would like it very much, Edward," said Effie, her face instantly brightening.

"Would you take Flora along?"

"Yes. Mother has not seen her since she was six months old."

"Very well. We will go on next Thursday morning. Friday is New Year's day, and you will thus escape the annoyance of receiving calls."

The sober face that Effie had worn for several days, was changed to one of brightness. Still, there yet remained a pressure upon her heart. She would see her father and mother, and others whom she tenderly loved, but she could not join in the annual family reunion, because, in doing so, she would have to be separated from her husband; and to that, she would not consent. It was on her lips a dozen times, to urge Edward, once more, to seek to heal the breach which existed; but, ever as she came to the point, her heart failed her. Many times she thought that she would place her mother's letter in his hands; but a doubt of the result would cause her to hesitate.

At last, the Thursday of her departure came, and they started for Philadelphia, taking with them little Flora, who had nearly entered her fifth year. Effie had written to her mother that she was coming, and had given the letter to her husband to mail. From some cause, however, he had neglected doing so, or else the letter had miscarried, for, on the evening of the day on which their daughter left New York, Mr. and Mrs. Freeland sat alone, talking of her, the mother wondering why Effie had not written.

"I am almost sorry," remarked Mrs. Freeland, "that we set out to have the children at home tomorrow night, as usual. These used to be the happiest seasons; but they are so to me no longer. I lose more than half the joy experienced in seeing those who are present for thinking of the one who is absent."

A deep sigh was the only answer made by Mr. Freeland. He felt that he had been most to blame for the misery they had all endured for years. He had, in a moment of angry false judgment, flung from him, with biting insult the lover of his child, and that lover, as proud as himself, had indignantly resented the outrage, and up to this day there had been no reconciliation.

He sighed, and remained silent. It was hard, he thought, if he was to be punished through life with unforgiveness. And he thought, too, that if he would only make a single advance towards Edward all might be at once and forever reconciled. Yet he was not fully prepared for that. Edward had repelled insult with insult; and since that time, had maintained a cold and repulsive exterior; and he did not see how, at his age, he could stoop to one so young.

Another deep sigh struggled up from his bosom, as his mind came to this old view of the case.

Just then, someone was admitted by the servant, and the sound of feet was heard in the hall. A moment more, and Effie entered, leading a beautiful little girl by the hand. Close behind her was Elliot, looking as calm, kind, and self-possessed, as if no angry feelings had ever found a place in his bosom. He could not have come at a more favorable moment.

"Edward!" exclaimed old Mr. Freeland, rising quickly, and passing his daughter, that he might first offer the hand of reconciliation to her husband.

"Edward! Edward!" His voice trembled, "Let us forget the unhappy past!"

The young man grasped the extended hand.

"It is forgotten!" said he.

"I wronged you, Edward."

"Have we not agreed to forget the past?" interrupted the young man, smiling.

At that moment, Effie threw herself, weeping tears of joy, upon the bosom of her father, murmuring

"Oh! I am so happy!"

Little Flora was in the arms of her grandmother, and wondering what all this sudden excitement could mean, and why a lady she did not remember to have seen before, should hug her so wildly to her bosom, and half smother her with kisses.

The day that followed was, indeed, a happy New Year to all; and the reunion that then took place was the most joyful they had ever known.

So ended the strife of passion the angry estrangement of years; the feeling, but little less than hatred, which had kept asunder those who possessed all the qualities requisite to a lasting friendship.

A tornado destroys in a minute what it may take years to restore; and so it is with the tempest of anger. Let us be careful how we misjudge; and far more careful how we allow that misjudgment to influence our actions.