Loved Too Late
Timothy Shay Arthur
In one of the New England States, the little church-bell in Chester village rang merrily in the clear morning air of a bright summer's day. It was to call the people together, and they all obeyed its summons — for who among the aged, middle-aged, or the young, did not wish to witness the marriage ceremonies of their favorite, Ellen Lawton?
Before the tolling of the bell had ceased, the gray-haired man was leaning on the finger-worn ball of his staff, in the corner of his antiquated pew; the hale, healthy farmer came next; and then the seat was filled with rosy-cheeked boys and girls, till the dignified matron brought up the rear. The church became quiet, eager eyes were fastened upon the door. Presently a tall form entered, that of a handsome man, apparently about thirty years of age, on whose arm was leaning, in sweet childlike smiling trust, the young and beloved Ellen Lawton, whose rose-cheek delicately shaded the pale face, and who looked more beautiful in her angel loveliness than ever before, even to the eyes of the humble villagers, to whom she ever was but a "thing of beauty" and "a joy forever."
If thus she looked to familiar eyes, how transcendently beautiful must she have appeared to him, who this hour was to make her his own chosen bride, the wife of his bosom, the pride, the priceless jewel of his heart. They stood before the altar; he cast his dark eye upon her — she raised hers, beaming in their blue depths, all full of love and tenderness, and as they met his, the orange blossoms trembled slightly in her auburn tresses, and the rose-tint deepened on her cheek.
The voice of the man of God was heard, and soon Frederic Gorton had promised to "love, cherish, and protect;" and Ellen Lawton to "love, honor, and obey."
As it ever is, so it was there — an interesting occasion — one that might well cause the eye to fill with tears, the heart to hope, fearfully but earnestly hope, that that young girl's dreams may not too soon fade, that in him to whom she has given her heart she may ever find a firm friend, a ready Counselor, a kind and forbearing spirit, a sympathizing interest in all her thoughts and emotions. On this occasion many criticizing glances were thrown upon the handsome stranger, and many whispers were circulated.
"I fear," said one of the deacon's good ladies, "that he is too proud and self-willed for our gentle Ellen;" and she took off her spectacles, which she wiped with her silk handkerchief, as if she thought they were wearied of the long scrutiny, as her own very eyes.
Is there truth in the good lady's suspicion? Look at Frederic Gorton, as he stands there in his stateliness, towering above his bride, like the oak of the forest above the flower at its foot. His eye is very dark and very piercing, but how full of tenderness as he casts it upon Ellen's up-turned face! His brow is lofty, and pale, and stern, but partially covered with long dark hair, with which lady's finger had never toyed. His cheek was as if chiseled from marble, so perfect had the hand of nature formed it. In his mouth, there was about it that compression, so indicative of firmness, which, while it commands respect, as often wins love.
A perfect contrast to him, was the fairy thing at his side — as gentle as the floating breeze of evening, as trusting as true-hearted woman ever is, lovely, amiable, and beautiful — she was just one to win a strong man's love; for there is something agreeable to a proud man in having a delicate, gentle, confiding girl place all her love and trust in him, and making all her happiness derivable from his will and wish. Heaven's blessing rest upon him who fulfills faithfully that trust reposed in him — but woe be unto him who forgets his vows to love and to cherish!
The marriage service over, the friends of Ellen pressed eagerly around her, offering their many wishes for her long life and happiness. The gray-haired man, and aged mother in Israel, laid their hands on the young bride's fair head, and fervently prayed "God bless you;" and not a few there were who gave glances upward to Frederic Gorton, and impressively said, "Love as we have loved — the treasure God transfers to you."
The widowed mother of Ellen gazed upon the scene with mingled emotions. Ellen was her eldest child, and had been her pride, her joy, and delight since the death of her husband, many years before. She was giving her to a stranger, whose reputation as a man of talent, of worth, and honorable position in the world was unquestioned; but of whose private character she had no means of acquiring a knowledge. It was all uncertainty if a stern, business man of the world, would supply the tenderness and devoted love of a fond mother, to her whose wish had been hitherto scarcely ever disregarded. Yet it might be — she could only hope, and her trust was in "Him who does all things well."
For the two previous years Ellen had been at a female boarding school in a neighboring state, on the anniversaries of which she had taken an active part in the examinatory exercises. Frederic Gorton, who was one of the board, was so much pleased with her, that he made minute inquiries in regard to her character, which were answered entirely satisfactorily — for Ellen had been a general favorite at school, as well as in her own village. Afterward he called on her frequently, and on her final return home, Frederic Gorton, who had ever been so confident in his eternal bachelorship, accompanied her, and sought her from her mother as his bride. Seldom does one so gifted seek favor of lady in vain; and Ellen Lawton, hitherto unsought and unwon, yielded up in silent worship her whole heart, which had involuntarily bowed itself in his presence, and became as a child in reverence.
But Frederic Gorton had lived nearly thirty-five years of his life among men. His mother had died in his infancy, his father soon after — and he, an only child, had been educated in the family of an old bachelor uncle.
The influence of woman had never been exerted on his heart. In his boyhood he had formed, from reading works of fiction, an idea of woman as perfection in all things; but as he grew in years and in wisdom, and learned the falsity of many youthful ideas and dreams, he discarded that which he had entertained of woman, and knowing nothing of her, but by her general appearance of vanity and love of pleasure — he cherished for her not much respect, and regarded her as an inferior, to whom, he thought in his pride, he at least would never level himself by marriage. He smiled scornfully, on learning his appointment as trustee of the female school, and laughingly said to an old bachelor companion:
"They will make me to have care for the gentle weak ones, whether I will or not."
"O, yes," replied his friend, who was somewhat disposed to be satiric, "Depend upon it, this will be your initiation; you will surely, upon attendance there, be caught by the smiling graces of some pretty Venus — but, be careful; remember there is no escape when once caught! Ah, my friend, I consider you quite gone. I shall soon see in the morning daily — 'Married, on the 12th, to Miss Isabella, Mary, or Ellen Somebody, and then, be assured, my best friend, Fred, that I shall heave a sigh, not for myself only, but for you."
Some prophecies, jestfully uttered, are fulfilled — so were those of Frederic's friend; and when they next met, only one was a bachelor.
But we will return to that bright morning when the bell had rang merrily — when Ellen Lawton had returned from the village church to her childhood home as Ellen Gorton, and was to leave it for a new home. After entering the parlor, Frederic said,
"Now, Ellen, we will be ready to start in as few moments as possible."
"Yes," answered Ellen, "but I wish to go over to Aunt Mary's, just to bid her good-bye."
"But my dear," answered Frederic, "there is not time;" looking at his watch.
"Just a moment," persisted Ellen, "I will hurry. I promised Aunt Mary; she is sick and cannot leave her room."
And, as Frederic answered not, and as Ellen's eyes were brimful of tears, she could but half see the impatience expressed on his countenance, and hastily departed.
But, Aunt Mary had innumerable kisses to bestow upon her favorite, and many words and wishes to utter, brokenly, in a voice choked with tears; and it was many minutes before she could tear herself away, and on her return she met several loiterers from the church, who stopped her to look, as they said, upon her sweet face once more, and listen to her sweet voice again. She hurried on — Frederic met her at the door, and taking her hand, said, sternly,
"Ellen, I wish you not to delay a moment in bidding adieu to your friends — you have already kept me waiting too long!"
There was no tenderness in his voice as he uttered this, and it fell as a weight upon Ellen's heart, already saddened at the thought of the parting with her mother and home friends, which must be now, and which was soon over.
As the carriage rolled away, Ellen grieved bitterly. Frederic, who really loved Ellen sincerely and fondly, encircled her waist with his arm, and said, kindly,
"Do you feel, Ellen, that you have made too great a sacrifice in leaving home and friends for me?"
"O, no," answered Ellen, raising to his, her love-lit countenance, "no sacrifice could be too great to make for you; but do you not know I have left all I had to love, before I loved you? And they will miss me too at home, and will think of me, how often, too, when I shall be thinking of you only! Do not think it strange that I weep."
Nevertheless, Frederic did think it strange. He had no idea of the tender associations clustering around one's home. He had no idea of the depth and richness and sweetness of a mother's love, of a sister's yearning fondness — for they ever had been denied to him; consequently the emotions which thrilled the heart of his bride, could find no response and met with no sympathy in his own. It was rather with wonder, than with any other sensation, that he regarded her sorrow. Was she not entering upon a newer and higher sphere of life? Was she not to be the mistress of a splendid mansion? Was she not to be the envied of many a one who had attempted every attraction and exerted every effort for the station she was to assume; and should she weep with this in view?
Thus Frederic thought — as a man often reasons.
After having proceeded a little distance, they came within view of a humble cottage, when Ellen said,
"I must stop here, Frederic, and see Grandma Nichols (she was an elderly member of the church of which Ellen was a member), and when I was last to see her, she said, as she would not be able to walk to see me married, I must call on her, or she would think me heartless. I will stop for a moment — just a moment," she added, after a pause, observing he did not answer.
They were just opposite the cottage at that instant, yet he gave no orders to stop. With a fresh burst of tears, Ellen exclaimed,
"Please, Frederic, let me see her! I may never see her again, and she will think I did not care to bid her a last farewell."
But Frederic said,
"Really, Ellen, I am very much surprised at the apparent necessity of trifles to make your happiness. You went to see your aunt after I had assured you there was not time. I wish you to remember that your little wishes and whims, however important they may seem to you, cannot seem of such importance to me as to interfere with my arrangements. What does it matter if my bride does not say farewell to an old woman whom I never heard of, and shall never think of again, and who will soon probably die and cease to remember that you slighted her?"
And he laid Ellen's head upon his shoulder, and wiping the tears from her face, wondered of what incomprehensible nature she was.
But, it did matter to her in more respects than one, that she was not permitted to call at the cottage. A mind so sensitive as Ellen's feels the least neglect and the slightest reproof — and is equally pained by giving cause for pain, as receiving. Besides, how much was expressed in that last sentence of Frederic's, accompanying the denial of her simple request! How much contained in that denial, too! How plainly she read in it the future — how fully did it reveal the disposition of him by whose will she saw she was herself to be hereafter governed! Though her mind was full of these thoughts, there was no less of love for him — love in Ellen Lawton could never change, though she wondered, too, how he could refuse what seemed to her, so easy to grant. And so they both silently pursued their way, wondering in their hearts as to the nature of each other. This, however, did not continue long; and soon Ellen's tears ceased to flow, and she listened, delighted, to the eloquent words of her gifted husband, spoken in the most musical and rich of all voices.
Woman will have love for her husband so long as she has admiration, and Ellen knew she would never cease to admire the talents and brilliant acquirements of Frederic Gorton.
After several days travel through a delightfully romantic country, they reached the town of Manchester, where was the residence of Frederic. It was an elegant mansion, the exterior planned and finished in the most tasteful and handsome style — the interior equally so — and furnished with all that a young bride of most cultivated taste could desire. The eye of Ellen was delighted and surprised, even to tears, and inaudibly, but fervently in her heart she spoke softly, "how devotedly will I love him who has provided for me so much comfort and splendor, and how cheerfully will I make sacrifices of my feelings, 'my wishes and my whims,' for him who has loved me so much as to make me his wife!" and she gazed into her husband's face through her tears, and kissed reverently his hand.
"Why do you weep, my Ellen? Are you not pleased?"
"O, yes — but you have done too much for me. I can never repay you, only in my love, which is so boundless I have not dared to breathe it all to you, nor could I."
Frederic looked upon her in greater astonishment than before. Tears he had ever associated with sorrow; and surely, thought he, here is no occasion for tears, and he said,
"Well, if you love me, you will hasten to wipe away those tears, and let me see you in smiles. I do not often smile myself, therefore the more need for my lady to do so. Moreover, we may expect a multitude of callers; and think, Ellen, of the effect of any one's seeing the bride in tears."
Calling a servant to conduct her to her dressing-room, and expressing his wish for her to dress in her most befitting manner, he left her.
It is unnecessary to say that Ellen was admired and loved by all the friends of her husband, even by his brother judges and politicians. Herbert Lester, the particular friend of Frederic, whose prophecy had thus soon been verified, came many miles to express personally his 'sympathy and condolence'. These he changed to congratulations, when he felt the influence of the grace and beauty of the wife of his friend — and he declared that he would make an offer of his hand and heart — if he could find another Ellen.
Meanwhile time passed, and though Ellen was daily called upon to yield her own particular preferences to Frederic's, as she had done even on her bridal day, she was comparatively happy. Had she possessed less keenness of sensibility, she might have been happier; or had Frederic possessed more, that he could have understood her — many tears would have been spared her. Oftentimes, things comparatively trifling to him, would wound the sensitive nature of Ellen most painfully, and he of course would have no conception 'why' they should thus affect her.
Occupied as he was mostly with worldly transactions and political affairs; Ellen's mind often, in his absence, reverted to the scenes of her youth, and her childhood home, her mother, and the bright band of her young sisters; and longings would come up in her heart to behold them once more.
Two years having passed without her having seen one member of her family, she one day asked Frederic if it would not be convenient soon to make a visit to Chester. He answered that his arrangements would not admit of it at present — and coldly and cruelly asked her if she had yet heard of Grandma Nichols' decease. Ellen answered not, and bent her head over the face of her little Freddie, who was sleeping, to hide her tears. Perceiving her emotion, however, he added,
"Ellen, I assure you that it is impossible for me to comply with your wish, but I will write to your mother, and urge her to visit us — will not that do?"
Ellen's face brightened, as with a beam of sunshine, and springing to her husband's side, she laid her glowing cheek upon his, and then smiled upon him so sweetly, that even the cold heart of Frederic Gorton glowed with a warmth unusual.
* * * * *
Seven years passed away, leaving their shadows as the sun does. And Ellen realized that,
"But matron care, or lurking woe —
Her mirthful, innocent look had banished,
And from her cheek the roseate glow,
Of girlhood's balmy morn had vanished.
Within her eyes, upon her brow,
Lay something softer, fonder, deeper,
As if in dreams some visioned woe,
Has broke the fantasy of the sleeper!"
Never yet, since that bright bridal morn, had Ellen looked upon her native village, though scarcely three hundred miles separated her from it. Now her heart beat quick and joyfully, for her husband had told her that business would call him to that vicinity in a few days, and she might accompany him. With all the eagerness of a child she set her heart on that visit, and from morning till night, she would talk with her little boys of the journey to what seemed to her the brightest, most sacred spot on earth, next to her present home. And the home of one's childhood! no matter how sweet, how-dear and beloved the home the heart afterwards loves — it never forgets, it never ceases most fondly to turn back to the memories, and the scenes, and the friends of its early years.
One fault, if fault it might be called, among so many excellencies in Ellen's character, was that of putting off until tomorrow — what should be done today. This had troubled Frederic exceedingly, who, prompt himself, would naturally wish others to be so also, and notwithstanding his constant complaints, and Ellen's desire to please him — she had not yet overcome her nature in that respect, though she had greatly improved. The evening preceding the intended departure, Frederic said to his wife,
"Now, Ellen, I hope you will have everything in readiness for an early departure in the morning. Have the boys and yourself all ready the moment the carriage is at the door, for you know I do not like to be obliged to wait."
Almost before the stars had disappeared in the sky, Ellen was busy in her final preparations. She was sure she should have everything in place, and wondered how her husband could suppose otherwise, upon an occasion in which she had so much interest. Several minutes before the appointed time, Ellen had all in readiness for departure, the trunks all packed and locked, the children in their riding dresses and caps; and proceeding from her dressing-room to the front hall door, she was thinking that this time, certainly, she should not hear the so oft repeated complaint — "Ellen, you are always too late!" — when, to her dismay, she met Georgie, her youngest boy, dripping with mud and water from the brook, whence he had just come, where, he said, he had ventured in chase of a goose, which had impudently hissed at him — which insult the young boy, in his own conception a spirited knight, could not brook, and in his wrath had pursued the offender to his place of retreat, much to the detriment of his clothes.
Ellen was in consternation; but one thing was evident — Georgie's clothes must be changed. With trembling hands she unlocked a trunk, and sought for a change of clothes, while the waiting-maid proceeded to disrobe the child.
Just at this moment Frederic entered, saying the carriage was at the door. Various things had occurred that morning to perplex him, and he was in a bad humor. Seeing Ellen thus engaged with the trunk, as he thought, not half packed, various articles being upon the carpet, and Georgie in no way ready, the cloud came over his brow, and he said, harshly,
"I knew it would be thus, Ellen — I have never known you to be in readiness yet; but you must know I am not to be trifled with!"
And with this, not heeding the explanation she attempted to make, he seized his traveling bag and left the room. Jumping into the carriage, he commanded the driver to proceed.
Ellen heard the carriage rolling away in astonishment. She ran to the door, and watched it in the distance. But she thought it could not be possible he had gone without her — he would certainly return. She still kept watching at the door — but she waited in vain, for he returned not.
The excitement into which Ellen was thrown by the anticipation of meeting her friends once more, may be readily imagined by those similarly constituted with her, and the reaction occasioned by her disappointment, also. Her heart had been entirely fixed upon it, and what but cruelty was it in her husband to deprive her thus so unreasonably, of so great an enjoyment — to her so exquisite a pleasure?
In the sudden rush of her feelings, she recalled the last seven years of her life, and could recollect no instance in which she had failed doing all in her power to contribute to her husband's happiness. On the other hand, had he not often wounded her feelings unnecessarily? Had he ever denied himself anything for her sake, but required of her sacrifice of her own wishes, to his?
The day wore away, and the night found Ellen in a burning fever. The servant who went for the physician in the early morning, said she had raved during the latter part of the night. As the family physician entered the room, she said, mildly,
"O, do not go and, leave me! I am all ready — all ready. Do not go — it will kill me if you go!"
The doctor took her hand; it was very hot; and her brow was terribly throbbing and burning. He remained with her the greater part of the day, but the attack of fever on the brain had been so violent, that no attempt for relief was of avail.
She grew worse and about midnight, with the words —
"O, do not go, Frederic — do not go and leave me!" — her spirit took its flight.
And the morning dawned on Ellen in her death-sleep — dawned as beautiful as that bright one, when the bell rang merrily for her bridal. Now the dismal death-notes pealed forth the departure of her spirit to a brighter world. Would not even an angel weep to look upon the first morning — and then upon this morning?
The birds, from the cage in the window, poured forth their songs; but they fell unheeded on the ears they had so often delighted. The voices of little Freddie and Georgie, ever as music to the loving heart of the young mother, would fall thrillingly on her ear no more. She lay there, still and cold — her dreams over — her hopes all passed by — the sun of her young life set!
People came in, one after another, to look upon her — and wept that one so young and good should die. They closed her eyes — they laid her in her grave-clothes, and folded her pale hands — and there she lay!
And now we leave that chamber of the too-early dead. Frederic's feelings of anger soon subsided. In a few hours he felt oppressed with a sense of the grief Ellen would experience. His feelings prompted him to return for her. Several times he put his head out of the carriage window to order the driver to return — but, his, pride intervening, he as often desisted. Yet his mind was ill at ease. He, also, involuntarily, reviewed the period of his wedded life. He recalled the goodness, and patience, and sweetness, which Ellen had ever shown him — the warm love she had ever evinced for him — and his heart seemed to appreciate, for the first time, the value and character of Ellen. He felt how unjust and unkind he had often been to her — he wondered he could have been so — and resolved that, henceforth, he would show her more tenderness.
As he stopped for the night, at a public-house, his resolution was to return early in the morning. Yet, his business must be attended to. It was a case of emergency. He finally resolved to entrust it with a lawyer acquaintance, who lived a half day's ride distant from where he then was. Thus he did; and, about noon of the following day, returned homeward. He was surprised at his own uneasiness and impatience. He had never so longed to meet Ellen. He imagined his meeting with her — her joy at his return — her tears for her disappointment — his happiness in restoring her heart to happiness, by an increasing tenderness of manner, and by instantly gratifying her wish of a return home.
All day and night he traveled. It was early morning when he arrived at his own door. He was surprised at the trembling emotions and quickened beating of his heart, as he descended the steps of his carriage, and ascended those to his own door. He passed on to the room of his wife. The light gleamed through the small opening over the door, and he thought he heard whispers. Softly he opened the door. O! what a terrible, heart-rending scene was before him!
The others soon left the room; and Frederic stood alone, in speechless agony, before the being made voiceless by himself.
The sensibility so long slumbering within his worldly, hardened heart, was aroused to the very keenness of torture. And Ellen, gentle spirit that she was — how would she have grieved to have seen the heart she had loved — so overwhelmed with grief, regret, remorse, despair!
"Ellen! my own Ellen!"
But she could not hear!
"I have killed you, gentlest and best!"
But the kindness of her heart was not open now!
"I forgive you," could not fall from those lips so pale!
"I love you," could never come upon his ear again! 'Never' — 'NEVER!' thrilled his soul — every chord of which was strung to its intensity!
If anything could have added to the inconsolable grief of the man stricken in his sternness and pride — it was the grief of his two motherless boys, as they called on their mother's name in vain, and asked him why she slept so long!
Few knew why Ellen died so suddenly, and so young. But, while Frederic preserved in his heart her memory and her virtues, he remembered, and mourned in bitterness and unavailing anguish, that it was his own cruel unkindness, which laid her in her early grave.
Never again did the the smile come upon his face. And never, though lovely women flattered and praised him — did he wed again; for his heart was buried with his Ellen — whom he too late loved as he should have loved.
* * * * *
Washington Irving, in his beautiful "Affection for the Dead," says: "Go to the grave of buried love — and meditate. There settle the account with your conscience, for every past benefit unrequited, and every past endearment unregarded. Console yourself, if you can, with this simple, yet futile tribute of regret, and take warning by this, your unavailing sorrow for the dead. And henceforward be more faithful and affectionate in the discharge of your duties to the living!"