The First and Last Quarrel
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
"I am his wife — I am not his slave!" said young Mrs. Huntley, indignantly. "It was more than he dared do a month ago."
"If you love me, Esther, don't talk in this way," said her aunt, Mrs. Carlisle.
"Am I his slave, aunt?" and the young bride drew herself up, while her eyes flashed.
"No, Esther, you are his wife."
"To be loved, and not commanded! That is the difference, and he has got to learn it."
"Were Edward to see and hear you now, do you think your words, manner, and expression would inspire him with any new affection for you?"
"I have nothing to do with that. I only express a just indignation, and that is a right I did not alienate when I consented to become his wife."
"You are a silly girl, Esther," said Mrs. Carlisle, "and I am afraid will pay dear for your folly. Edward has faults — and so have you. If you understood the duties and responsibilities of your position, and felt the true force of your marriage vows, you would seek to bend into better forms, the crooked branches of your husband's hereditary temper, rather than commit an irreparable injury by roughly breaking them. I was not pleased with Edward's manner of speaking; but I must admit that he had provocation — that you were first, and, therefore, most to blame."
"I objected to going with him to the opera, because I particularly wanted to call and see Anna Lewis tonight. I had made up my mind to this, and when I make up my mind to anything — I do not like to be turned from my purpose."
"Edward resembles you rather too much in that respect. Therefore, there must be a disposition to yielding and self-denial on one side or the other — or unhappiness will follow. Hitherto, as far as I have been able to see — the yielding has all been on the part of Edward, who has given up to you in everything. And now, when he shows that he has a will of his own — you become very indignant, and talk bout not being his slave."
"It is too bad for you to speak so, aunt! You never think I do anything right." And Esther burst into tears.
Meantime, Edward Huntley, the husband, was at the opera, listening to, but not enjoying, the beauties of 'Norma'. It was only a month since he had led to the altar his beautiful bride, and felt himself the happiest man in the world. Before marriage, he thought only of how he would please Esther. The preference of his own wishes to hers, was felt as no sacrifice. But, after the wedding contract had been gratified, his feelings began gradually to change. What he had yielded in kindness — was virtually demanded as a right, and against this, the moment it was perceived, his spirit rose in rebellion. In several instances, he gave way to what savored, much more than he liked, of imperiousness.
'Norma' had just been brought out, and received with unprecedented favor. The newspapers were filled with its praises, and the beauties of the opera were spoken of by everyone. A friend lauded it with more than usual enthusiasm, on the day it was advertised for a third performance.
"You haven't heard it yet!" said he, with surprise, on learning that Huntley had yet to enjoy that pleasure.
"No, but I think I will buy tickets for tonight."
"Do by all means! And get them at once, or you will not be able to secure a seat."
It was in the afternoon, and Huntley could not ask his young wife about it, unless he made a special errand home, which, as he lived some distance away from his office, would be inconvenient. Not in the least doubting, however, that Esther would be pleased to go to the opera, as she had more than once expressed a wish to see and hear 'Norma', he secured tickets and considered the matter settled.
Now that the gratification of hearing the opera was so near at hand, Huntley kept thinking of the enjoyment he was to have, and wishing for the time to pass more rapidly. He pictured, too, the pleasure that Esther would feel and express when she found that he had procured tickets. Half an hour earlier than usual, he was at home. He found Esther and her aunt, Mrs. Carlisle, with whom they were living, in the parlor.
"We are going to see 'Norma' tonight," said Huntley, in a mirthful voice, and with a broad smile upon his face, as he sat down beside Esther and took her hand.
The tone and look with which this was said, chilled the warm feelings of the young man.
"I am, at least," said he, in a changed voice.
"And I am not!" as promptly, and much more decidedly, replied Esther.
"Oh, yes you are!" This was said with a suddenly assumed, half playful, yet earnest manner. "I have bought tickets, and we will go tonight."
"The least you could have done was to have asked me before you bought tickets," returned Esther. "I wish to go somewhere else tonight."
"But, as I have the tickets now, you will go, of course. Tomorrow night will do as well for a visit."
"I wish to make it tonight!"
"Esther, you are unreasonable." Huntley knit his brows and compressed his lips.
"We are quite even then." The pretty lip of the bride curled.
"Esther!" said Huntley, assuming a calm but cold exterior, and speaking in a firm voice. "I have bought tickets for the opera tonight, thinking that to go would give you pleasure, and now my wish is that you accompany me."
"A wish that you will certainly not have gratified. I believe I am your wife — not your slave to command."
There was something so cutting in the way this was said, that Huntley could not bear it. Without a word he arose, and, taking his hat, left the house. In a fever of excitement he walked the street for an hour and a half, and then, scarcely reflecting upon what he did, went to the opera. But the music was discord in his ears, and he left before the performance was half over.
The moment Esther heard the street-door close upon her husband, she arose and went from the room where she was sitting with her aunt, moving erect and with a firm step. Mrs. Carlisle did not see her for two hours. The tea bell rang, but she did not come down from her chamber, where, as the aunt supposed, she was bitterly repenting what she had done. In this, however, she was mistaken, as was proved, when, on joining her in her room for the purpose of striving to console her, the conversation with which our story opens took place.
When the fit of weeping with which Esther received the reproof her aunt felt called upon to give, had subsided, Mrs. Carlisle said, in a most solemn and impressive manner,
"What has occurred this evening may prove the saddest event of your whole life. There is no calculating the result. No matter whose the fault — the consequences that follow may be alike disastrous to the happiness of both. Are you prepared, thus early, for a sundering of the sacred bonds that have united you? And yet, even this may follow. It has followed with others, and may follow with you. Oh! the consequences of a first quarrel! Who can anticipate them?"
The voice of Mrs. Carlisle trembled, and then sank almost into a sob. Her manner more than her words startled Esther.
"What do you mean, aunt?" said she.
But her aunt was too much disturbed to speak for some minutes.
"Esther," she at length said, speaking in a voice that still trembled, "I knew a girl, who, at your age, married an excellent, but proud-spirited young man. Like Edward, the lover yielded too much when, as the husband, he began to be a little less considerate, and to act as if he had a will of his own, his wife set herself against him just as you set yourself against Edward. This chafed him, although he strove to conceal his feelings. But, in an unguarded moment, when his young wife was unusually self-willed, a quarrel of no more serious character than the one that has occurred this evening, between you and Edward, took place. They parted in anger as you parted, and — "
The aunt was unable for some time to control her voice sufficiently to finish the sentence —
"And never met again," she at length said, with such visible emotion as betrayed more than she had wished to reveal.
"Never met again!" ejaculated Esther, a sudden fear trembling through her heart, and causing her cheeks to grow pale.
"Never!" was the solemn response.
"Why, dear aunt? Why?" eagerly inquired Esther.
"Pride caused him," said Mrs. Carlisle, recovering her self-possession, "after a breach had been made, to leave not only his home, but the city in which he lived. Repenting of her foolishness, his bride waited anxiously for his return at evening, but waited it vain. Sadly enough passed the lonely hours of that dreadful night, and morning found her a sleepless watcher. Days passed, but no word came from the unhappy wanderer from home and love. A week, and still all was silence and mystery. At the end of that time a letter was received from a neighboring city, which brought news to his friends that he was there, and lying dangerously ill. By the next conveyance, his almost frantic wife started for the purpose of joining him. Alas! she was too late. When she stood beside the bed upon which he lay, she looked only upon the inanimate form of her husband. Death had been there before her. Esther! thirty years have passed since then, but the anguish I felt when I stood and looked upon the cold, dead, face of my husband, in that terrible hour, time has not altogether obliterated!"
Esther had risen to her feet, and now stood with her pale lips parted, and her cheeks blanched to an ashy whiteness.
"Dear aunt, is all this true?" she asked hoarsely, while she grasped the arm of her relative.
"Heaven knows it is too true, my child! It was the first, and the last quarrel I had with my husband. And now, as you value your own and Edward's peace of mind, be warned by my sad example, and let the present unhappy difference that has occurred be quickly reconciled. Acknowledge your error the moment you see him, and make a firm resolution that you will, under no circumstances, permit the slightest misunderstanding again to take place. Yield to him, and you will find him as ready as before to yield to you. What he was not ready to give under the force of a demand, love will prompt him cheerfully to render."
"Oh! if Edward should never return!" Esther said, clasping her hands together. She had scarcely heard the last sentence of her aunt.
"You need not fear on that account, my child," replied Mrs. Carlisle, in a voice meant to inspire confidence. "Edward will no doubt return. Few men act so rashly as to separate themselves at the first misunderstanding, although, too often, the first quarrel is but the prelude to others of a more violent kind, that end in severing the most sacred of all bonds, or rendering the life that might have been one of the purest felicity — an existence of misery. When Edward comes home tonight, forget everything but your own error, and freely confess that. Then, all will be sunshine in a moment, although the light will fall and sparkle upon dewy tear-drops."
"I was mad to treat him so!" was Esther's response to this, as she paced the floor, with uneasy step. "Oh! if he should never return."
Once possessed with the idea that he would not return, the poor wife was in an agony of fear. No suggestion made by her aunt in the least relieved her mind. One thought — one fear — absorbed everything else. Thus passed the evening, until ten o'clock came. From that time Esther began to listen anxiously for her husband's return, but hour after hour went by, and she was still a tearful watcher.
"I shall go mad if I sit here any longer!" murmured Huntley to himself, as the music came rushing upon his agitated soul, in a wild tempest, toward the middle of the opera, and, rising abruptly, he retired from the theater. How still appeared the half deserted streets! Coldly the night air fell upon him, but the fever in his veins was unabated. He walked first up one street and then down another, with rapid steps, and this was continued for hours. Then the thought of going home crossed his mind. But he set his teeth firmly, and murmured audibly,
"Oh! to be defied, and charged with being a tyrant! And has it come to this so soon?"
The more Huntley brooded, in this unhappy mood, over his wife's words and conduct, the denser and more widely refracting became the medium through which he saw. His pride continually excited his mind, and threw a thick veil over all the gentler emotions of his heart. He was beside himself.
At one o'clock he found himself standing in front of the local hotel, his mind made up to desert the affectionate young creature, who, in a moment of thoughtlessness, had set her will in opposition to his — to leave the city, under an assumed name, by the earliest boat, and go, he knew not nor cared not where. Blind passion was his prompter and guide. In this feverish state, he entered the hotel and called for a bed.
Eleven, twelve, one o'clock came, and found Mrs. Huntley in a state of wild agitation. Edward had not yet returned. The silence and evident distress of Mrs. Carlisle struck down the heart of Esther, almost as much as her own fears. The too vivid recollection of one terrible event in her own life completely unbalanced the aunt's mind, and took away all power to sustain her niece.
"I will go in search of him, aunt!" exclaimed Esther, as the clock struck two. "He cannot leave the city before daylight. I will find him, and confess all my folly before it is too late."
"But where will you go, my child?" Mrs. Carlisle asked in a sad voice.
"Where — where shall I go?" eagerly inquired Mrs. Huntley.
"It is midnight, Esther. You cannot find him now."
"But I must see him before he leaves me, perhaps forever! It will kill me. If I wait until morning, it will be too late."
Mrs. Carlisle bent her eyes to the floor, and for the space of more than a minute remained in deep thought. She then said, in a calm voice,
"Esther, I cannot believe that Edward will desert you on so slight a provocation. For a few hours his mind may be blinded with passion, and be swayed by false judgment. But morning will find him cooler and more reflective. He will see his error, and repent of any mad act he may have contemplated. Still, to guard against the worst of consequences, should this beneficial change not take place, I think it would be best for you to go early to the boat, and by meeting him prevent a step that may cost you each a life of wretchedness."
"I will do it! He shall not go away! Oh! if I could once more meet him! all would be reconciled on the instant."
Confident in her own mind that Edward had determined to go away from the city in the morning, and fully resolved upon what she would do, Esther threw herself upon the bed, and in snatches of uneasy slumber passed the remainder of that dreadful night. At day-dawn she was up, and making preparations for going to the boat to intercept her husband.
"Be self-possessed, my dear niece," urged Mrs. Carlisle, in a voice that trembled so she could scarcely speak.
Esther tried to reply, but, though her lips and tongue moved, there was no utterance. Turning away, just as the sun threw his first rays into her chamber window, she went downstairs, and her aunt, no longer able to restrain herself, covered her face with her hands and wept.
On the day before, Esther had laid her gloves on one of the parlor mantels, and she went in to get them. It was so dark that she could not see, and she, therefore, opened a window and pushed back one of the shutters. As she did so, a sound between a sigh and a groan fell upon her ear, and caused her to turn with a start. There lay her husband — asleep upon one of the sofas! A wild cry that she could not restrain burst from her lips, and, springing toward him, she threw her arms about his neck as he arose, startled, from his recumbent position.
An hour's reflection, alone in the room he had taken at the hotel, satisfied Huntley that he was wrong in not going home. By the aid of his night key he entered, silently, at the very time his wife resolved to seek him in the morning, and, throwing himself upon a sofa in the parlor to think what he should next do, thought himself to sleep.
All was, of course, reconciled. With tears of joy and contrition, Esther acknowledged the error she had committed. Huntley had his own share of blame in his impatient temper, and this he was also ready to confess. He did not, however, own that he had thought of deserting his wife on such slight provocation, nor did she confess the fearful suspicion that had crossed her mind.
It was their first and last quarrel!