For the Fun of it!
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Just look at those young lovers," said Harry Meade, glancing from his companion to a young man and maiden, who, for the moment unconscious that they were in the midst of a large company, were leaning towards each other, and looking into each other's faces in rather a remarkable manner. "Isn't it ridiculous? I thought Fisher had more sense than to do so. As to Clara Grant, she always was a little weak."
The friend looked at the couple an smiled. "It is ridiculous, certainly," he remarked. "Why haven't they sense enough to keep these little love-passages for private occasions?"
"Clara, with all her silliness, used to be a right pleasant companion," said Meade. "But since this love affair between her and Fisher, she has become intolerably dull and uninteresting. She doesn't care a fig for anybody but him, and really appears to think it a task to be even polite to an old acquaintance. I don't think she has cause to be quite so elated with her conquest as this comes to; nor to feel that, in possessing the love of a man like Fisher, she is independent of the world, and may show off the indifference she feels to everyone. Fisher is clever enough, but he is neither a Socrates nor a saint."
"He will suit her very well, I imagine."
"Yes, they will make a passable Darby and Joan, no doubt. Still, it always vexes me to see people, who pretend to any sense, acting in this way."
"I think it is more her fault than his."
"So do I. She has shown a disposition to coo from the first. At Mangum's party, last week, she made me sick. I tried to get her hand for a dance, but no. Close to the side of Fisher she adhered, like a fixture, and could hardly force her lips into a smile for anyone else. The gipsy! I'd punish her for all this, if I could just hit upon a good plan for doing it."
"Let me see," remarked the friend, dropping his head into a thoughtful position, "can't we devise a scheme for worrying her a little? She is certainly a fair subject. It would be fine fun."
"Yes, it would."
"She evidently thinks Fisher to be perfection."
"Oh, yes! There never was such a man before! She actually said to Caroline Lee, who was trying to jest with her a little, that Fisher was one of the most pure-minded, honorable young men alive."
"It is a fact."
"Was she serious?"
"Yes, indeed! Serious as the grave. Caroline was laughing to me about it. Nearly everyone notices the silliness of her conduct, and the weakness she displays in forever talking about and praising him."
"I would like to run him down a little when she could overhear me, just for the fun of the thing."
"So would I. Capital! That will do, exactly. We must watch an opportunity, and if we can get within earshot of her, any time that she is by herself — we must abuse Fisher right and left, without appearing to notice that she is listening to what we say, or, indeed, anywhere near us."
"Right! That's the very thing. It will be capital fun."
Thus, the thoughtless young men, meddling themselves in a matter that did not concern them, determined upon a very questionable piece of folly. All that they said of the lovers was exaggeration. It was true that they did show rather more preference for each other in company than just accorded with good taste; but this, while it provoked a smile from the many, irritated only the few.
Clara Grant, notwithstanding the light manner in which the two young men had spoken of her, was a girl of good sense, good principles, and deep feeling. She had been several times addressed by young men before Fisher offered his hand; but, with all their attractions, there were defects about them, which her habits of close observation enabled her to see, which caused her to repel their advances, and in two instances to decline apparently very advantageous offers of marriage. In the integrity of Fisher's character, she had the most unbounded confidence; and she really believed, as she had said to Caroline Lee and others, that he was one of the purest-minded, most honorable young men living.
Judge, then, with what feelings she overheard, about half an hour after the plan to disturb her peace had been formed, the following conversation between Meade and his companion, carried on in low tones and in a confidential manner. She was sitting close to one side of the folding-doors that communicated between the parlors, and they were in the adjoining room, concealed from her by the half-partition, yet so close that every word they uttered was distinctly heard. Her attention was first arrested by hearing one of them say —
"If she knew Fisher as well as I do — "
To which the other responded —
"Yes, or as well as I do. But, poor girl! it isn't expected that she is to know everything about young men who visit her. It is better that she should not."
"Still, I am rather surprised that common report should not have given her more information about Fisher than she seems to possess."
"So am I. But she'll know him better one of these days!"
"I'll warrant you that! Perhaps to her sorrow; though I hope things will turn out differently from what they now promise. Do you think he is done sowing his wild oats?"
"Possibly. But time will tell."
"Yes, time proves all things."
Someone joining the young men at this point of their conversation, the subject was changed. Greatly amused at what they had done, they little thought how sad the effects of their unguarded words would be.
Five minutes afterwards, the young man named Meade, curious to see how Clara had been affected by what he knew she must have heard, moved to another part of the room, in order to observe her without attracting her attention. But she had left the place where she was sitting. His eye ranged around the room, but she was nowhere to be seen.
"I'm afraid we've hurt Clara more than we intended," he said, rejoining his friend. "She has vanished."
"Ah! Where's Fisher?"
"He's at the other end of the room."
"We didn't say anything against the young man."
"Not in particular. We made no specifications. There was nothing that she could take hold of."
"No, of course not. But I wonder what is going to be the consequence of the matter?"
"Nothing very serious, I apprehend."
"No. I suppose she will go home and cry her eyes half out, and then conclude that, whatever Fisher may have been — he's perfection now. It's a first-rate joke, isn't it?"
Clara Grant had not only left the parlors, but soon after quietly left the house, and alone returned to her home. When her lover, shortly afterwards, searched through the rooms for her, she was nowhere to be seen.
"Where is Clara?" he asked of one and another. The answer was —
"I saw her here a moment ago."
But it was soon very apparent that she was nowhere in the rooms now. Fisher moved about uneasy for half an hour. Still, not seeing her, he became anxious lest a sudden illness had caused her to retire from the company. More particular inquiries were made of the lady who had given the entertainment. She immediately ascertained for him, that Clara was not in the house. One of the servants reported that a lady had gone away alone half an hour before. Fisher did not remain a single moment after receiving this news, but went directly to the house of Clara's aunt, with whom she lived, and there ascertained that she had come home and retired to her room without seeing any of the family.
His inquiry whether she were ill, the servant could not answer.
"Have you seen anything of Clara yet?" asked the friend of Meade, with a smile, as they met about an hour after they had disturbed the peace of a trusting, innocent-minded girl, just for the fun of it.
"I have not," replied Meade.
"He is gone also."
"Ah, indeed! I'm sorry the matter was taken so seriously by the young lady. It was only a joke."
"Yes. That was all — and she ought to have known it."
On the next day, Fisher, who had spent a restless night, called to ask for Clara as early as he could do so with propriety.
"She wishes you to excuse her," said the servant, who had taken up his name to the young lady.
"Is she not well?" asked Fisher.
"She has not been out of her room this morning. I don't think she is very well."
The young man retired with a troubled feeling at his heart. In the evening he called again; but Clara sent him word, as she had done in the morning, that she wished to be excused.
In the mean time, the young lady was a prey to the most distressing doubts. What she had heard, as vague as it was, fell like ice upon her heart. She had no reason to question what had been said, for it was, as far as appeared to her, the mere expression of a fact made in confidence by friend to friend without there being an object in view. If anyone had come to her and talked to her after that manner — she would have rejected the allegations indignantly, and confidently pronounced them false. But they had met her in a shape so unexpected, and with so much seeming truth, that she was left no alternative but to believe.
Fisher called a third time; but still Clara declined seeing him. On the day after this last attempt, he received a note from her in these, to him, strange words:
"Dear Sir: Since I last met you, I have become satisfied that a marriage between us cannot prove a happy one. This conclusion is far more painful to me than it can possibly be to you. You, I trust, will soon be able to feel coldly towards her whose fickleness, as you will call it, so soon led her to change her mind; but a life-shadow is upon my heart. If you can forget me, do so, in justice to yourself. As for me, I feel that — but why should say this? Charles, do not seek to change the resolution I have taken, for you cannot; do not ask for explanations, for I can give none. May you be happier than I can ever be! Farewell. CLARA."
"Madness!" exclaimed Charles Fisher, as he crumpled this letter in his hand. "What is wrong with the woman!"
He sought no explanation; he made no effort to change her resolution; he merely returned this brief answer —
"Clara, you are free."
It was quickly known among the circle of their friends, that the engagement between Fisher and Clara had been broken off. Meade and his friend, it may be supposed, did not feel very comfortable when they heard this.
"I didn't think the silly girl would take it so seriously," remarked one to the other.
"No, it was a mere joke."
"But has turned out a very serious one."
"I guess they'll make it up again before long."
"I hope so. Who would have believed it was in her to take the matter so much at heart, or to act with so much decision and firmness? I really think better of the girl than I did before, although I pity her from my heart."
"Hadn't we better make an effort to undo the wrong we have done?"
"And expose ourselves? Oh, no! We must be as still as death on the subject. It is too serious an affair. We might get ourselves into trouble."
"True. But I cannot bear to think that others are suffering from an act of mine."
"It is not a pleasant consciousness, certainly. But still, to confess what we have done, would place us in a very awkward position. In fact, not for the world would I have an exposure of our little act of folly take place. It would affect me in a certain quarter — where, I need not mention to you — in a way which might be exceedingly disagreeable."
"I didn't think of that. Yes, I agree with you that we had best keep quiet about it. I'm sorry — but it can't be helped now."
And so the matter was dismissed.
No one saw Clara Grant in company for the space of twelve months. When she did appear, all her old friends were struck with the great change in her appearance. As for Fisher, he had left the city some months before, and gone off to a Southern town, where, it was said, he was in good business.
The cause of estrangement between the lovers remained a mystery to everyone. To all questions on the subject, Clara was silent. But that she was a sufferer, everyone could see.
"I wish that girl would fall in love with somebody and get married," Meade remarked to his friend, about two years after they had passed their good joke off upon Clara. "Her pale, quiet, suffering face haunts me wherever I go."
"So do I. Who could have believed that a mere joke would turn out so seriously?"
"I wonder if Charles is married yet?"
"It's doubtful. He appeared to take the matter quite as hard as she does."
"Well, it's a lesson to me."
"And to me, also."
And, with this not very satisfactory conclusion, the two friends dropped the subject. Both, since destroying, by a few words spoken in jest, the happiness of a loving couple — had wooed and won the maidens of their choice, and were now married. Both, up to this time, had carefully concealed from their wives, the act of which they had been guilty.
After returning home from a pleasant company, one evening, at which Clara was present, the wife of Meade said to him —
"You did not seem to enjoy yourself tonight. Are you not well?"
"Oh, yes, I feel quite well," returned Meade.
"Why, then, did you look so sober?"
"I was not aware that I looked more so than usual."
"You did. And you look sober now. There must be some cause for this. What is it, dear?"
Meade was by no means ignorant of the fact that he felt sober. The presence of Clara distressed him more, instead of less, the oftener he met her. The question of his wife made him feel half inclined to tell her the truth. After thinking for a moment, he said —
"I have felt rather graver than usual tonight. Something brought to my recollection, too vividly, a little act of folly that has been attended with serious consequences."
His wife looked slightly alarmed.
"It was only a joke — just done for the fun of the thing; but it was taken, much to my surprise, very seriously. I was innocent of any desire to wound; but a few light words of mine have made two hearts wretched."
Mrs. Meade looked at her husband with surprise. He continued —
"Do you remember the strange misunderstanding which took place between Clara Grant and young Fisher, about two years ago?"
"Very well. Poor Clara has never been like herself since that time."
"I was the cause of it."
"You!" said the wife, in astonishment.
"Yes. Clara used to make herself quite conspicuous by the way she acted towards Fisher, with whom she was under an engagement of marriage. She hardly saw anybody in company but him. And, besides, she made bold to declare that he was about as near to perfection as it was possible for a young man to come. She was always talking about him to her young female friends, and praising him to the skies. Her silly speeches were every now and then reported, much to the amusement of young men to whose ears they happened to find their way.
"One evening, at a large party, she was, as usual, anchored by the side of her lover, and showing off her fondness for him in rather a ridiculous manner. A young friend and myself, who were rather amused at this, determined, in a thoughtless moment, that we would, just for the fun of the thing, run Fisher down in a confidential undertone to each other, yet loud enough for her to hear us, if a good opportunity for doing so offered. Before long, we noticed her sitting alone in a corner near one of the folding-doors. We managed to get near, yet so as not to appear to notice her, and then indulged in some light remarks about her lover, mainly to the effect that if his sweetheart knew him as well as we did, she might not think him quite so near perfection as she appeared to do. Shortly afterwards, I searched through the rooms for her in vain. From that night, the lovers never again met. Clara refused to see Fisher when he called on her the next day, and shortly afterwards requested him, in writing, to release her from her marriage-contract, without giving any reason for her change of mind."
"Henry!" exclaimed Mrs. Meade, her voice and countenance expressing the painful surprise she felt, "why did you not immediately repair the wrong you had done?"
"How could I, without exposing myself, and causing perhaps a serious collision between me and Fisher?"
"You should have braved every consequence," replied Mrs. Meade, firmly, "rather than permitted two loving hearts to remain severed, when a word from you would have reunited them. How could you have hesitated a moment, as to what was right to do? But it may not be too late yet. Clara must know the truth."
"Think what may be the consequence," said Meade.
"Think, rather, what have been the consequences," was the wife's reply.
It was in vain that Meade argued with his wife about the policy of letting the matter rest where it was. She was a woman, and could only feel how deeply Clara had been wronged, as well as the necessity for an immediate reparation of that wrong. For more than an hour, she argued the matter with her husband, who finally consented that she should see Clara, and correct the serious error under which she had been laboring. Early on the next day, Mrs. Meade called upon the unhappy girl. A closer observation of her face than she had before made, revealed deep marks of suffering.
"And all this 'for the fun of it!'" she could not help saying to herself with a feeling of sorrow. After conversing a short time with Clara, Mrs. Meade said —
"I heard something, last night, so nearly affecting your peace, that I have lost no time in seeing you."
"What is that?" asked Clara, a flush passing over her face.
"Two years ago, you were engaged in marriage to Mr. Fisher?"
Clara made no reply, but the flush faded from her face and her lips quivered slightly for a moment.
"From hearing two people who were conversing about him make disparaging remarks — you were led to break off that engagement."
The face of Clara grew still paler, but she continued silent.
"By one of them, I am authorized to tell you that all they said was in mere jest. They knew you could hear what they said, and made the remarks purposely for your ear, in order to have a little fun. They never dreamed of your taking it so seriously."
A deep groan heaved the bosom of Clara; her head fell back, and her body drooped nervelessly. Mrs. Meade extended her hands quickly and saved her from falling to the floor.
"This, too, 'for the fun of it!'" she said to herself, bitterly, as she lifted the inanimate body of the poor girl in her arms, and laid it upon the sofa.
Without summoning any of the family, Mrs. Meade made use of every effort in her power to restore the circle of life. In this she was at last successful. When the mind of Clara had become again active, and measurably calm, she said to her —
"It was a cruel jest, and the consequences have been most painful. But I trust it is not yet too late to repair the wrong thus done, although no compensation can be made for the suffering to which you have been subjected."
"It is too late, Mrs. Meade — too late!" replied Clara, in a mournful voice.
"Say not so, my dear young friend."
But Clara shook her head.
It was in vain that Mrs. Meade strove earnestly to lift up her drooping heart. The calmness with which she had been able to bear the destruction of all her hopes, because there had seemed an adequate cause for the sacrifice she had made, was all gone now. There had been no adequate cause for the sacrifice. Her lover was as excellent and honorable as she at first believed him to be, and she had cast him off on the authority of a heartless jest. To all that her friend could say, she had but one reply to make —
"It is too late now!"
"Not too late, I trust," said Mr. Meade, a good deal disturbed by his wife's relation of her interview with Clara. "I must ascertain where Fisher is, and write to him on the subject. Did she say anything that led you to believe that she recognized the voices of the people whom she heard conversing? Do you think she suspects me in the matter?"
"I do not think she does."
"So much the better."
The effect upon Clara of the information she had received, was very serious. As deeply as she had been afflicted, the consciousness of having done right in refusing to marry a man who was destitute of virtuous principles, as she had accidentally discovered — sustained her. But now it was revealed to her that he was as excellent as she had at first believed him, and that she had been made the victim of a joke! There was no longer anything to hold her up, and accordingly her spirits completely forsook her, and in less than two weeks she was seriously ill.
The news of this deeply disturbed Mr. Meade, who had written to Fisher, and was waiting impatiently for an answer.
"I am afraid we have made the matter worse," he said to his wife, who, on returning from a visit to Clara, reported that, so far from improving, she was too evidently sinking daily. "If Fisher has entered into another engagement, or, if his pride has taken fire at being thrown off on what may appear to him such slight grounds — I really tremble for the consequences."
"Let us hope for the best," returned Mrs. Meade, "as we have acted for the best. It was plainly our duty to do as we have done. On that subject I have no doubt."
Two more weeks of painful suspense and anxiety passed. Clara did not improve in the least. Mrs. Meade called to see her every few days, but dared not venture to tell her that her husband had written to Fisher. She was afraid to fill her mind with this hope, lest it should fail, and the shock prove too severe. But, even as it was, life seemed to be rapidly ebbing away.
At length there came a change. Nature rallied, and life flowed, though feebly still, in healthier currents through the veins of Clara Grant. In a week from the time this change took place, she was able to leave her bed and sit up for a few hours each day. But all who looked into her young face, were grieved at the sight. There were no deep lines of distress there — but the marks of patient, yet hopeless suffering.
One day, she sat alone, in a dreamy, musing state, with a book lying upon her lap. She had been trying to read, but found it impossible to take any interest in the pages over which her eyes passed, while her mind scarcely apprehended the sense. Someone opened the door; but she did not look around. The person, whoever it was, remained only for a moment or two, and then withdrew. In a little while the door opened again, and someone entered and came towards her with the tread of a man. She startled to her feet, while her heart gave a sudden bound. As she turned, her eyes fell upon the form of her long absent lover. For an instant, perhaps longer, she looked into his face to read it as the index of his heart, and then she lay quivering on his bosom.
A few weeks later, Clara became the bride of Charles Fisher, and left with him for the South. Neither of them ever knew the authors of the wrong which they had suffered. It was better, perhaps, that in this, they should remain ignorant.
So much 'for the fun of it!'