Timothy Shay Arthur
It was to be a quiet wedding. Fannie would have it so; only his relations would be there. She, poor thing, was an orphan, and no parents could gather around her on this great era of her life.
The bride entered the large, sunny parlor, leaning upon the arm of her stately husband. Her white lace robe, and the fleecy veil upon her head, floated cloud-like around her fragile, almost child-like form. Peace hovered like a white dove over her pure brow, and a truthful earnestness dwelt in the dark brown eyes.
On one side of the room nearest the bay-windows, where the sunset kept shining and shining between the old hawthorn blossoms and branches so green, stood the eight brothers of the groom. All tall, dark, stately men, pride in ever black glancing eye; the same curl upon every finely formed lip, harsh upon some, softer upon others, yet still there, tracing the same blood through all; the same inherent qualities of the father transmitted to the sons. One brother was a type of all, differing only as pictures and copies--in the shade and touch.
Upon the opposite aside were seated the five sisters of the groom, not so like one another. One had blue eyes, another auburn curls, one a round nose, a fourth was fresh and rosy, a fifth round-faced; still the same pride had found a resting-place on some fine feature of each face, and stamped it with the seal of sisterhood. The same sap ran in all the branches, and each branch put forth the same leaves.
The thirteen faces had been stern and cold--but when their youngest brother and his lovely bride came in, affection and curiosity softened their eyes, as for the first time she appeared before them. Some thought her too delicate, others too young; the sisters, that Harwood could have looked higher; but all felt drawn to that shrinking form and pale countenance; each hand had a warm grasp for hers, each curling lip a sweet smile, and the manly voices softened to welcome her into their proud family. Gracefully she received all, happy and joyful as a child. But the first shadow fell with the sunlight.
"Brothers and sisters," said Harwood pleadingly, "upon this my wedding day cast aside your bitterness of spirit forever, and become as one--"
"Harwood!" replied quickly the elder sister, "upon this--this happy day, we hide all feelings called forth by the malice and unbrother-like conduct of our brothers--but only for the present; we can never become reconciled with our brothers!"
A silence fell upon all; strange as it may seem, the sisters were colder and sterner than the brothers. A frown settled upon every brow; the lips curled with contempt. A storm was tossing the waves--but peace breathed upon the waters and all was calm. The presence of the bride restrained angry expressions of feeling.
This was the first knowledge that Fannie had of the family feud; tears stood in her soft eyes, and the rosy lips trembled; but her husband's bright glance, and gentle pressure of her hand, reassured her. There was no more warmth that day--during the ceremony and the brief stay of the newly married. The sisters gathered around the young wife, and the brothers around Harwood. Occasional words were interchanged; but there reigned an invisible barrier, which seemed to say "so far shall you come, but no farther."
When the carriage stood at the door and Fannie and Harwood stepped in, she stretched out her pretty hand and beckoned to the elder brother and sister; they approached; she took a hand of each, saying in a trembling voice:
"You both breathe the same air; the same beautiful sunlight shines upon you; you pray to the same God, both say 'forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.' Be examples for those younger--let me join your hands--" But the sister, with a frown, threw aside the little hand rudely, the brother pressed the one he held--but laughed maliciously. The carriage drove on, and the fair head rested sobbing upon the shoulder of her husband.
Sadly did he relate to her the family feud, a quarrel of ten years' standing; sisters against brothers, resting on a belief of unfairness in the disposition of the will of a relation. The sisters passed the brothers upon the street without speaking, and refused them admittance to their house. Harwood being the youngest, was too young to take part in the quarrel, and had never been expected to do so.
Poor Fannie wept bitterly; but tears more bitter yet were in store for her.
Upon her return from the bridal tour, no sooner was Fannie settled in her new home, than the family feud endeavored to draw her from her quiet course, to take part for or against. Numberless were the grievances related to her. All that could be said or done, to convince her that the sisters were "sinned against--instead of sinning themselves," were brought forward.
"Well, Fannie," said the elder brother, one day, "I met my perfect elder sister, just coming out of your door. Has she been giving you a catalogue of our fraternal sins? She would not speak to me. She carries her head high. It maddens me to think how contemptuously we are treated, and being food for slander beside."
Fannie hesitated; she could not reply, for Jessie had been venting a fit of ill humor upon him, which it would be only adding fuel to the fire, to repeat.
"Say, Fannie, what did the old maid say? That it was a pity we were not all dead?"
"Oh! hush," she replied, holding up her hand reprovingly. "I am very unhappy at your continued disagreements. If," she continued, timidly, "you would but take a little advice--I know I am young, but--"
"Let me have it," he returned, quickly, turning away from the pleading eyes.
"You will not be angry with me?"
"No, no; let me hear your advice!"
"You are the eldest; your example, is followed by the seven brothers; your influence with them is great; you give 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.' Jessie and the others may have a foundation for their ill-will. You have never endeavored to discover what this is. Your pride took offence, and you say to yourself that can never bend. Was this right?"
Her voice trembled, her head drooped, and in spite of her self-command, she burst into tears.
"Fannie! sister Fannie!"
"Don't mind me; I am weak, nervous, foolish. I shall soon be better; but it makes me so very unhappy to see you all at enmity. I had hoped, when I came among you, to have been the olive branch, but--"
"Fannie! dear sister Fannie!" he exclaimed, walking up and down the room, "You have said all that anyone could have said; yes, and done all that could be done; never repeated any malicious speech, selected all the wheat that could be culled from the chaff. You have softened my obdurate heart. I have done wrong; you have shown me to the way of return. If Jessie will come forward and forgive and forget--then will I."
But Fannie knew that it was not so easy to make Jessie be the first to own her errors and forgive. The brothers had done much to make the division wider, in the way of hints and malicious whisperings. Fannie continued weeping so that the elder brother endeavored to console her, and was glad when Harwood came, and lifting her in his arms, carried her up to her room.
When he returned, the elder brother still stood by the fire-place.
He turned and spoke.
"Fannie is very fragile and pale. Is she not well?"
"Not very. This family feud troubles her. She has taken it to heart. When we were first married, she told me a dozen plans she had made for your reunion, and made me a party to them--but now--" and he just sighed.
The elder brother sighed more deeply, and then returned home. Where were the thoughts of that elder brother later that night in dreamland? They were wandering among the graves of the past. In his imagination, the names on the tomb-stones were familiar; the thirteen siblings were all there; twelve dead, and he alone remaining alive. Fannie stood before him, her face pale and tearful. She pointed to the graves, and said, sadly, "This is the end of all earthly things."
That night he knocked at the door of his sister's mansion, but gained no admittance.
A couple of years later, in the same house, the eight brothers, with faces of stern grief in the same old corner, side by side; the five sisters sobbing, tearful and quite overwhelmed with sorrow, sat opposite corner. Their eyes were fixed upon the same pair. Harwood knelt beside a couch in the middle of the room, and there lay Fannie; but how changed! They had all been summoned there, to see that new sister-in-law depart for another world; to see the young breath grow fainter and fainter; the bright eyes close forever on them and their love.
Oh! mystery of Life! you we can know and understand. We walk to the verge of the valley of the shadow of death, with those we love; but there our steps are stopped, and we look into the black void with wonder and despair.
Thus felt the thirteen; all older, care-worn, world-weary, standing beside the mere child-sister of the family, whose star of life was setting from their view behind an impassable mountain.
The sweet face was calm--but a hectic flush lay upon the cheek, as though some life-chord still bound her to earth.
"My child," said the old white-haired physician, "if you have anything to say, speak now."
"My darling Fannie," said the kneeling Harwood, "for my sake let no thoughts of earth disturb you; all will be well if--"
His voice was broken. He bowed his head upon the wasted hand he held, and wept.
"All will be well," she said, smiling faintly. "I feel it now. Jessie, and you, elder brother, come near; nearer yet. I love you both, love you all. Having no relatives of my own, my husband's are doubly mine. My heart, since our marriage-day, has been living in the hope of your reconciliation. I was too young; I undertook too much. I wept when my health began to fail; I did not then know that God was giving me my wish. I would have died to have seen you all happy. He has heard my prayer; the sacrifice is made; I go happy. Jessie, my dying wish is to see you once more the forgiving girl you were, when you knelt with your brothers at your mother's knee. Oh! the chain of family love is never so crudely broken, but it can be renewed. Your beloved deceased parents would whisper, 'love your brother as yourself.' He who bore the cross said 'Father forgive them.' Jessie, a weak, dying girl begs you, for her sake, to be forgive one another."
Jessie fell upon her brother's neck, and wept. One universal sob arose from lip to lip. Brothers and sisters so long estranged, rushed into each other's arms. Some cried aloud, others' tears flowed silently: some there were, whose calm joys betrayed the disquietude of long years of disunion. They were all recalled by Harwood's voice.
"Fannie! Fannie! This excitement will kill her!"
Half raised in the bed, her cheeks scarlet and eyes glowing with perfect delight, the sunlight making a halo around her head, was the young wife. She drank the medicine which the old physician gave her, with her eyes fixed on her husband. She murmured, "Now let you your servant depart in peace!"
With a sigh she dropped back upon the pillow; the eyes closed, the face became waxen white. Soon, those who watched could not tell her slumber from the sleep of death.
Day was dawning in the watch room; the lamp was dying away, the thirteen with pale expectant faces, now shadowed by fear, now lighted with hope, were motionless. With his face bowed upon his arms, Harwood had neither looked up nor spoken since Fannie slept. The old clock had struck each hour from the dial of time into the abyss of the past. Never before had time seemed to them so precious, worth so much.
The physician with his fingers upon the patient's pulse had sat all night; once he placed his hand over her mouth, and rising with a puzzled look, walked to the window and thrust his head into the vines; then drawing his hand over his eyes, he resumed his place, and all was silent again, except the clock with its monotonous tick, tick, tick, beating as calmly as, though human passions were trifles, and the passing away of a soul from earth, only the falling of the niches of eternity.
The sun arose, and a little bird alighting on a spray near the window, poured a flood of melody into the room. The sleeper smiled; the doctor could have sworn it was so. Her breath comes more quickly, you could see it now, fluttering between her lips; she opened her eyes and fixed them on Harwood; he took her hand and gave her the cordial prepared by the physician.
"She is saved!" was telegraphed through the apartment. The brothers prepared to go to their duties. The sisters divided, part to go home, the rest to stay and watch Fannie. Harwood, with a radiant yet anxious face, could not be persuaded to lie down--but still held the little hand and counted the life beats of her heart.
"Ah! well!" said the old doctor to the elder brother, as he buttoned his coat and pressed his hat down upon his head. "Well; there was one great doubt upon my mind--in spite of all favorable symptoms--she was too good for earth;--and it kept coming into my mind all the night long--Blessed are the peace-makers, for they shall be called the children of God."