The Good Match!
By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
"My heart is now at rest," remarked Mrs. Presstman to her sister, Mrs. Markland. "Florence has done so well. The match is such a good one."
Mrs. Presstman spoke with animation, but her sister's countenance remained rather grave.
"Mr. Barker is worth at least eighty thousand dollars," resumed Mrs. Presstman. "And my husband says, that if he prospers in business as he has done for the last ten years — he will be the richest merchant in the city. Don't you think we have been fortunate in marrying Florence so well?"
"So far as the securing of wealth goes, Florence has certainly done very well," returned Mrs. Markland. "But, surely, sister, you have a higher idea of marriage than to suppose that wealth in a husband is the primary thing. The quality of his mind and heart is of much more importance."
"Oh, certainly, that is not to be lost sight of. Mr. Barker is an excellent man. Everyone speaks well of him. No one stands higher in the community than he does."
"That may be. But the general estimation in which a man is held does not, by any means, determine his fitness to become the husband of one like Florence. I think that when I was here last spring, there was some talk of her preference for a young physician. Was such really the case?"
"There was something of that kind," replied Mrs. Presstman, the color becoming a very little deeper on her cheek — "a foolish notion of the girl's. But that was broken off long ago. It would not do. We could not afford to let her marry a young doctor with a poor practice. We knew her to be worthy something much higher, as the result has shown."
"Doctor Estill, I believe, was his name?"
"I remember him very well — and liked him much. Was Mr. Barker preferred by Florence to Doctor Estill?"
"Why, yes — no — not at first," half-stammered Mrs. Presstman. "That is, you know, she was foolish, like all young girls, and thought she loved him. But that passed away. She is now as happy as she can be."
Mrs. Markland felt that it was not exactly right to press this matter now that the mischief, if any there were, had been done, and so remarked no further upon the subject. But the admission made in her sister's reply to her last question pained her. It corroborated a suspicion that crossed her mind, when she saw her niece, that all was not right within — that the good match which had been made was only good in external appearance. She had loved Florence for the innocence, purity, and elevation of soul which so sweetly characterized her. She knew her to be susceptible of tender impressions, and capable of loving deeply, an object really worthy of her love. This tender plant had been, she feared, removed from the warm green-house of home, where the earth had touched tenderly its delicate roots, while its leaves put forth in a genial air, and placed in a hard soil and a chilling atmosphere, still to live on — but with its beauty and fragrance gone. She might be mistaken. But appearances troubled her.
Mrs. Markland lived in a neighboring city, and was on a visit to her sister. During the two weeks that elapsed, while paying this visit, she heard a great deal about the excellent match that Florence had made. No one of the acquaintances of the family had anything to say that was not congratulatory. More than one mother of an unmarried daughter, she had good cause for concluding, envied her sister the happiness of having the rich Mr. Barker for a son-in-law. When she parted with her niece, on the eve of her return home, there were tears in her mild blue eyes. It was natural — for Florence loved her aunt, and to part with her was painful. Still, those tears troubled Mrs. Markland. She thought of them hours, and days, and months after — as a warning that all was not right in her gentle bosom.
Briefly let us now sketch a scene that passed twenty years from this period. Twenty years! That is a long time. Yes — but it is a period which tests the truth or falsity of the leading principles with which we set out in life. Twenty years! Ah! how many, even long before that time elapses, prove the fallaciousness of their hopes! discover the sandy foundation upon which they have built!
Let us introduce Mrs. Barker. Her husband has realized even more than he had hoped for, in the item of wealth. He is worth a million! Rather a small sum in his eye, it is true, now that he possesses it. And from this very fact, its smallness, he is not happy — for is not Mr. Thompson worth three millions of dollars? Mr. Thompson, who is no better, if as good as he is?
But what of Mrs. Barker? Ah, yes. Let us see how time has passed with her. Let us see if the hours have danced along with her to measures of joyful music — or in cadence with a pensive strain. Has hers indeed been a good match? We shall see.
Is that sedate-looking woman, with such a cold expression upon her face, who sits in that elaborately furnished parlor, dreamily looking into the glowing grate — Mrs. Barker? Yes, that is the woman who made such a good match. Can this indeed be so? I see, in imagination, a gentle, loving creature, whose eyes and ears are open to all things beautiful in creation, and whose heart is moved by all that is good and true. Impelled by the very nature into which she has been born — woman's nature — her spirit yearns for high, holy, heart companionship. She enters into that highest, holiest, most heart relationship — marriage. She must be purely happy. Is this so? Can the woman we have introduced at the end of twenty years, be the same being with this gentle girl?
Alas! that we should have it to say that it is so. There has been no affliction to produce this change — no misfortune. The children she has borne are all about her, and wealth has been poured liberally into her lap. No external wish has been ungratified. Why, then, should her face wear habitually so sad an expression as it does?
She had been seated for more than half an hour in an abstract mood, when someone came in. She knew the step. It was that of her husband. But she did not turn to him, nor seem conscious of his presence. He merely glanced toward his wife, and then sat down at some distance from her, and took up a newspaper. Thus they remained until a bell announced the evening meal, when both arose and passed in silence to the tea-room. There they were joined by their four children, the eldest at that lovely age when the girl has blushed into young womanhood. All arranged themselves about the table, the younger children conversing together in an undertone, but the father, and mother, and Florence, the oldest child, remaining silent, abstracted, and evidently unhappy from some cause.
The mother and daughter eat but little, and that forced. After the meal was finished, the latter retired to her own room, the other children remained with their books in the family sitting-room, and Mr. and Mrs. Barker returned to the parlor.
"I am really out of all patience with you and Florence!" the former said, angrily, as he seated himself beside his wife, in front of the grate. "One would think some terrible calamity were about to happen!"
Mrs. Barker made no reply to this. In a moment or two her husband went on, in a dogmatic tone.
"It's the very best match the city affords. Show me another in any way comparable. Is not Lorimer worth at least two million? — and is not Harman his only son and heir? Surely you and the girl must both be beside yourselves to think of objecting for a single moment!"
"A good match is not always made so by wealth," Mrs. Barker returned, in a firm voice, compressing her lips tightly, as she closed the brief sentence.
"You are beside yourself!" said the husband, half sneeringly.
"Perhaps I am," somewhat meekly replied Mrs. Barker. Then becoming suddenly excited from the quick glancing of certain thoughts through her mind, she retorted angrily. Her husband did not hesitate to reply in a like spirit. Then ensued a war of words, which ended in a positive declaration that Florence would marry Harman Lorimer. At this, the mother burst into tears and left the room.
After that declaration was made, Mrs. Barker knew that further opposition on her part was useless. Florence was gradually brought over by the force of angry threats, persuasions, and arguments — so as finally to consent to become the wife of a man from whom her heart turned with instinctive aversion. But every one called it such a good match, and congratulated the father and mother upon the fortunate outcome.
What Mrs. Barker suffered before, during, and after the brilliant festivities which accompanied her tenderly-loved daughter's sacrifice, cannot all be known. Her own heart's history for twenty long years came up before her, and every page of that history she read over, with a weeping spirit, as the history of her sweet child for the dreary future. How many a leaf in her heart had been touched by the frost — had withered, shrunk, and dropped from affection's stem! How many a bud had failed to show its promised petals! How many a blossom had drooped and died before the tender germ in its bosom could come forth into hardy existence. Inanimate golden leaves, and buds, and blossoms — nay, even fruits were a poor substitute for these. A woman's heart cannot be satisfied with them.
In her own mind, obduracy and coldness had supervened to the first states of disappointed affection. But her heart had rebelled through long, long years against the violence to which it had been subjected — and the calmness, or rather indifference, which at last followed was only like ice upon the surface of a stream — the water still flowing on beneath. Death would have been the mother's willing sacrifice, could it have saved her child from the living death that she had suffered for the past twenty years! But it would not. The father was a resolute tyrant. Money was his god, and to that god he offered up even his child in sacrifice.
Need the rambling hints contained in this brief sketch — this dim outline — be followed by any enforcing reflections? An opposite picture, full of light and warmth, might be drawn, but would it tend to bring the truth to clearer perception, where mothers — true mothers — mothers in heart as well as in name — are those to whom we hold up the first picture? We think not.
Wealth, fame, honors, high intelligence in a man — all or either of these — do not constitute him a good match for your child. Marriage is of the heart — the blending of affection with affection, and thought with thought. How, then, can one who loves all that is innocent, and pure, and holy — become interiorly conjoined with a man who is a worldly, selfish sensualist? a man who finds happiness only in the external possession of wealth, or honors, or in the indulgence of luxuries? It is impossible! Take away these, and give her, in their stead, one with whom her affections can blend in perfect harmony — one with whom she can become united as one — and earth will be to her, a little Heaven.
In the opposite course, alas! the evil does not always stop with your own child. The curse is too often continued unto the third and fourth generation — yes, even through long succeeding ages — to eternity itself! Who can calculate the evil which may flow from a single perversion of the marriage union — that is, a marriage entered into from other than the true motives? None but God himself!