The Neglected One
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"I never was a favorite;
My mother never smiled
On me with half the tenderness
That blessed her fairer child."
"Christine, do be obliging for once, and sew this button on my glove, won't you?" cried Ann Lambert, impatiently, throwing a white kid glove in her sister's lap. "I am in such a flurry! I won't be ready to go to the concert in two or three hours. Mr. Darcet has been waiting in the parlor an age. I don't know what the reason is — but I never can find anything I want, when I look for it; whenever I don't want a thing, it is always in the way. Have you sewed it on yet?" she asked, looking around from the bureau, where she was turning everything topsy-turvy, in the most vigorous manner. Christine was quietly looking out of the window, yawning and gazing listlessly up at the moon and stars.
"O no matter if you have no button on," was her reply; "I really don't feel like moving my fingers just now. You must wait on yourself. I always do."
"I shouldn't have expected anything but your usual idle selfishness, even when I most need your assistance," replied Ann, in a cool, bitter tone; the curve of her beautiful lip, and the calm scorn of the look she bent on Christine, betrayed her haughty, passionate character, and it also told that she was conscious of a certain power and strength of mind, which when roused, could and would bend others to her will. A slight, contemptuous smile was on her lip, as she picked up the glove which had fallen on the floor.
"I'll sew the button on, Ann," said Christine, taking it from her, and looking up seriously — but with a compressed expression about her face. Her cheeks burned; there was a reproof in her steady gaze, before which Ann's scornful smile vanished. "No, Christine, I will wait on myself," she answered in a rigid tone.
"Very well," and Christine turned to the window again. She had not quailed before her sister's look — but its bitter contempt rankled in her heart, and poisoned the current of her thoughts. Not a word was spoken, when Ann with her bonnet on, left their apartment. The front door closed; Christine listened to the sound of her sister's voice in the street a moment, then rose from her chair, and threw herself upon the bed, sobbing violently.
"Oh! why has God made me as I am?" she murmured. "No one loves me. They do not know me; they know how bad I am — but, oh! they never dream how often I weep, and pray for the affection that is denied me. How Ann is caressed by everybody, and how indifferently am I greeted! There is no one in the wide world who takes a deep interest in me. I am only secondary with father and mother; they are so proud of Ann's beauty and talent, they do not think to see whether I am possessed of talent or not. They think I am cold and heartless, because they have taught me to restrain my warmest feelings; they have turned me back upon myself, they have forced me to shut up in my own heart, its bitterness, its prayers for affection, its sorrow. They have made me selfish, disobliging, and disagreeable, because I am too proud to act as if I would beg the love they are so careless of bestowing. And yet, why am I so proud and so bitter? I was not so at school; then I was gentle and mirthful; then I too was a favorite; they called me amiable. I am not so now. Then I dwelt in an atmosphere of love, only the best impulses of my nature were called out. Now — oh! I did not know I could so change; I did not know that there was room in my heart for envy and jealousy. I did not know myself!"
Christine wept, until her head ached, and her forehead felt as if it was swelled almost to bursting. "After a storm, there comes a calm," is a truism well known. In about half an hour, she was sleeping profoundly, from mere exhaustion of feeling. But her face was pale, and sad to look upon, even in her sleep.
When Ann returned home, at a late hour, she glanced hastily at the bed, to see if she had retired, and was sleeping. More than once during the evening her heart had reproached her for the part she had acted. With a noiseless step she approached Christine, and bent over her. The tear-drop upon her pale cheek, revealed the unconscious girl to her in a new character. How her conscience smote her, for the grief upon that countenance, now so subdued by the spirit of sleep! Its meek sadness and tenderness stirred in her bosom, feelings she had seldom experienced. She felt and understood better than ever before, her sister's proud reserve with herself, as well as everyone else. She kissed away the tear, and knelt at the bedside in prayer, a thing she had not done for years. A flood of tender and self-reproachful feelings came over her; the spring was touched, and she wept aloud. Christine started up, and murmured a few broken sentences, before she was fully conscious of the meaning of the scene.
"What is the matter, Ann, are you crying?" she at length asked, as her sister lifted up her face. Ann arose from her knees; she hesitated, she felt as if she could throw herself into Christine's arms, and weep freely as she asked forgiveness for her conduct. She felt that she would be affectionately pardoned. And yet she stood silent; her heart brimming with tenderness all the while — something held her back; a something that too often chills a pure impulse, a gush of holy feeling. It was pride. She could not bring herself to speak words of penitence and humility. But she did not turn away from the anxious gaze riveted upon her; she drooped her eyes, and the tears rolled slowly down her face.
"Oh, Ann, dear Ann, this does not seem like you!" said Christine, tenderly approaching her. "I am your sister; if you have any sorrow, why may I not sympathize with you? How can 'you' be sorrowful? you never meet with neglect, and," the young girl paused hastily, with a suddenly flushed face; she had inadvertently betrayed what she had previously so carefully concealed under the mask of callous indifference — she had shown that she felt keenly her own position, and that of her sister as a favorite.
Ann was proud of her intellect and fascinating beauty; she was selfishly fond of admiration. She knew that her sister was really as gifted as herself, if not more so; she had heard her converse at times, when her cheek glowed, and her eye kindled with enthusiasm. She had seen her, very rarely — but still she had seen her, when 'expression' had lit up her face with a positive beauty — when the soul, the life of beauty beamed forth, and went to the heart with a thrill that acknowledged its power. She knew that she would have been brilliant and fascinating — if she had not been repressed; with all her faults, there was a more feminine yieldingness about her, than about herself. There was an affectionate pathos in her voice, a tender grace in her demeanor, when she asked to sympathize in her sorrow. Ann felt for the first time fully, that she was one to love, and be beloved in the social circle. She felt that she had been most ungenerous to absorb all the attention of her friends, instead of bringing forward the reserved, sensitive Christine.
The sisters had never been much together; they had never made confidants of each other — Ann was the eldest, and all in all with her parents, while Christine was a sort of appendage. Ann felt the unintentional reproach conveyed in her last words; she marked how quickly she stopped, and seemed to retire within herself again; she scanned her face closely, and generous feelings triumphed.
"Dear Christine!" she said in a low voice, passing her arm around her. "We have never been to each other what sisters ought to be. I have been too thoughtless and careless; I have not remembered as I should have done, that you returned from school, a stranger to the majority of our friends and acquaintances. You are so reserved, even here at home; you never talk and laugh with father and mother as I do."
"Do you know why I appear cold, Ann? I am not so by nature. They do not seem to care when I speak, and I am not yet humble enough to have what I say, treated with perfect indifference."
"Why, Christine, you are too sensitive," said Ann, half impatiently. "Be as noisy and lively as I am; entertain father, and say what will please mother; then you will be as great a pet as I."
"Even if I should value love, based upon my powers of pleasing, instead of the intrinsic worth of my character, I could not gain it, Ann. I came home, after my long absence, as merry and light-hearted, as full of hope, of love towards you all, as ever a happy school-girl did. Then I was seventeen; it seems as if long years had elapsed since the day I sprang into your arms so joyfully — since father and mother kissed me. Home, sweet home, how musical those words were to me! how often I had dreamed of nestling at father's side, your hand locked in mine, and mother's smile upon us both. It was not long before I was awakened from the dream I had cherished so long. I thought my heart would break when the reality that I was unloved, came upon me. Then I learned how deep were the fountains of tenderness within me. My heart overflowed with an intense desire for affection, when I saw that I did not possess it. Oh! how often I looked upon mother's face, unobserved, and felt that my love for her was but a wasted shower.
At that time of bitterness, how sad was the revelation that came up from the very depths of my soul, teaching me a truth fraught with suffering — that affection is life itself! I felt that it was my destiny never to be cheered by its blessed light and warmth. Months passed away, and I closed up my heart; a coldness, a stoic apathy came over me, which was sometimes broken by a slight thing; the flood-gates of feeling gave way, and I wept with a passionate sorrow — over my own sinfulness — over my own lonely heart, without one joy to shed a glow on its rude desolation. Oh! then, when I was softened, when I could pray, and feel that the Lord listened to me, I would have been a different being, if mother's hand had been laid fondly upon my head, if her eyes had filled with tears, and I could have leaned upon her bosom and wept. But I was unloved — and my heart grew hard again."
"Don't say that you are unloved," interrupted Ann, pressing Christine to her heart, and sobbing with an abandonment of feeling. "Forgive me, dear, dear sister! my heart shall be your home — we will love each other always; I will never again be as I have been. Don't weep so, Christine, can't you believe me? I am selfish, I am heartless sometimes — but a change has come over me tonight; to 'you' I can never be heartless again!"
At that moment, few would have recognized the haughty Miss Lambert in the tearful girl, whose head drooped on Christine's shoulder, while her white hand was clasped and held in meek affection to her lips. If we could read the private history of many an apparently cold, heartless being — we would be more charitable in our opinions of others. We would see that there are times when the better feelings, which God has given as a pure inheritance, are touched. We would see the inner life from Him, flowing down from its home in the hidden recesses of the soul, breaking and scattering the clouds of evil, which had impeded its descent — we would see the hard heart melted, though perhaps briefly, beneath angel influences. We would see that all alike are the beloved creations of the Almighty's hand, and we would weep over ourselves, as well as others, to feel how seldom we yield to the voice that would ever lead us aright.
Ann Lambert, as her heart overflowed with pure affection, thought sincerely that no selfish action of hers would ever sadden Christine. She felt that she was unworthy, that she had been cruel and selfish — but she imagined her strong emotions of repentance had uprooted the evils, which had only been shaken.
Christine dried her tears, and looked earnestly and inquiringly in her sister's face, as if she suspected there was some hidden sorrow with which she was unacquainted. Ann answered her look by saying,
"You wonder what I was weeping for, when you awoke, Christine. I had met with no sorrow; but when I looked at you — the course of conduct I had pursued towards you came up before me vividly: I felt how unsisterly I had been,"
"Say nothing about it," interrupted Christine, with delicate generosity, "let the past be forgotten, the future shall be all brightness, dearest Ann. We will pour out our hearts to each other, and each will strengthen the other in better purposes. I am no longer alone, you love me and I am happy."
That night, the dreams of the sisters were pure and peaceful. One happy week passed away with Christine; Ann was affectionate and gentle, and only went out when accompanied by her. They were inseparable; they read, wrote, studied, and sewed together. For the time, Ann seemed to have laid aside her usual character; she yielded to her purest feelings; no incident had yet occurred to mar her tranquility. One evening, when she was reading aloud to Christine in their own apartment, a servant girl threw open the door and exclaimed, "Miss Ann, there are two gentlemen waiting in the parlor to see you; Mr. Darcet and Mr. Burns!"
"Very well," replied Ann, rising, and giving the book to Christine; but she took it away in the instant, and said, "Come, Crissy, go down with me!"
"Oh, no matter," replied her sister, "I am not acquainted with them, and I would rather stay up here, and read. Mother will be in the parlor."
"Suit yourself," returned Ann, half carelessly, as she smoothed her hair. "When you get tired of reading, come down."
"I'll see about it," said Christine, as the door closed.
Ann looked beautiful indeed, as she entered the parlor, her features lit up with a smile of graceful welcome. After a little easy trifling, the conversation turned upon subjects which she knew Christine would be interested in. Under a kind impulse, she left the room, and hastened to her.
"Come down into the parlor, Christine," she exclaimed, laying her hand affectionately upon her shoulder, as she approached. "Mr. Darcet is telling about his travels in Europe, and I am sure you will be interested. There is no need of your being so unsociable. Come, dear!"
Christine raised her face with an eloquent smile; she went with Ann without speaking — but her heart was filled with a sweet happiness, from this proof of thoughtful affection. When she was introduced to Ann's friends, there was a most lovely expression on her face, breathing forth from a pure joyfulness within.
"I was not aware that you had a sister, Miss Lambert," said Mr. Darcet, turning to Ann, when they were quietly seated after a brief admiring gaze at Christine.
"Perhaps I have been too much of a recluse," replied Christine quickly, in order to relieve the embarrassment of Ann, which was manifested by a deep blush. "I have yielded to sister Ann's persuasions this time to be a little sociable, and I think I shall make this a beginning of sociabilities."
"I hope so," returned Darcet; "do you think being much secluded, has a beneficial effect upon the mind and feelings?"
"I do not," was the young girl's brief answer. The color came to her cheek, and a painful expression crossed her brow for an instant. "But sometimes," the sentence was left unfinished. Darcet's curiosity was awakened by the sudden quiver of Christine's lip, and forgetful of what he was about, he perused her countenance longer, and more eagerly, than was perfectly polite or delicate. She felt his scrutiny, and was vexed with her tell-tale face. There was a silence which Mrs. Lambert interrupted by saying, with a smile, "We should like to hear more of your adventures, Mr. Darcet, if it is agreeable to you."
"Oh! certainly!" he replied. And he whiled an hour quickly away. Ann was then urged to play and sing, which she did — but there was a little haughtiness mingled with her usual grace.
"Don't you sing, Miss Christine?" asked Darcet, leaving the piano, and approaching the window where she sat, listening attentively to Ann.
"I do sometimes," answered Christine, smiling, "but Ann sings far better."
"Let others judge of that. Isn't that fair?"
"We often err in thinking we do better than other people — but I think we generally hit the truth, when we discover that in some things, at least, we are not quite as perfect as others."
"Certainly — but it is the custom to speak of ourselves, as if we were inferior to those whom we really regard as beneath us in many respects. There is no true humility in that; we depart from the truth."
"Custom sanctions many falsehoods; to speak the truth always, would make us many enemies. But we might better have them, than to contradict the truth; what do you think?" Christine looked up with an earnest seriousness.
"Truth, and truth alone, should govern us in every situation, let the consequences be what they may," said Darcet, in a tone that sounded almost stern; then more gently he added, "Before all things, I prize a frank spirit; for Heaven may be reflected there. With all, this upright candor must in a measure be acquired. Yet, I think frankness to our own souls is acquired with far more labor. We shrink from a severe scrutiny into our tangled motives."
"And when these motives are forced upon our notice, we endeavor to palliate and excuse them. I am sure it is so," exclaimed Christine earnestly, for her own young heart's history came up before her, and she remembered that she had excused herself for acting and feeling wrong, on the plea that others had not done right, by her. "But" — she continued after a pause, "you cannot think it is well always to express the sentiments which circumstances may give rise to. Such a course might prevent us from doing a great deal of good."
"Certainly it might. The end in view should be regarded. Good sense, and a pure heart — will show us the best way in most cases."
There is a power deep and silent, exerted by good people, the folded blossoms of the heart slowly open in their presence, and are refreshed. A new impulse, a pure aspiration for a higher life, a yearning after the perfecting of our nature, may be sown as a seed in hearts that are young in the work of self-conquest. Thus it was with Christine. The influence of Darcet strengthened all that was good within her; and as they remained long engaged in deep and earnest conversation, the elevation and purity of his sentiments gave clearness and strength to ideas that had been obscure to her before, because unexpressed. Her peculiar situation had made her far more thoughtful than many of her years. She thought she had lost the mirthful buoyancy of her childhood — but she was mistaken. She was one to profit by lessons that pressed down the bounding lightness of her spirit; she was yet to learn that she could grow young in glad feelings, as years rolled over her head. There was a subdued joy in her heart, that was new to her, and gave a sweetness to her manner, as she poured forth the guileless thoughts that first rose to her lips.
It seemed strange to meet with the ardent sympathy which Darcet manifested by every look of his intelligent face; she could scarcely realize that it was herself, that anybody really felt interested in the thoughts and imaginings that had clustered around her solitary hours. At parting, he said with warm interest, as he slightly pressed her hand, "I hope, Miss Christine, we may have many conversations on the subjects we have touched upon tonight."
"Oh! I hope so," replied Christine, with a frank, bright smile. After the gentlemen had gone, Christine threw her arm around her sister, and said gayly, "Haven't we had a pleasant evening, Ann, my dear?"
"Pleasant enough," said Ann, trying to yawn, "but I felt rather stupid, as I often do."
"Stupid! Is it possible?" exclaimed the astonished girl. "You were talking with Mr. Burns; well, he didn't look as if he would ever set the North River afire with his energies, it is true."
Ann smiled very slightly, then rather pettishly disengaged herself from the detaining hand of Christine, and taking a light, retired without saying anything — but a brief good-night to her mother. Christine soon followed, wondering what made Ann so mute and sharp in her actions. "Why, Ann, are you angry with me?" she asked, going up to her, as soon as she entered the room.
"I don't know what I would be angry for," was the impatient reply. "Can't a person be a little short when sleepy, without being tormented with questions about it?"
"Oh, yes, I won't trouble you any more." And making due allowance for Ann's quick temper, Christine occupied herself good-humouredly with her own thoughts. The secret of Ann's shortness and sleepiness lay here. Her vanity was wounded to think, that Christine was more interesting than her own beautiful self.
"Well, he is a sort of a puritan, and now I begin to understand Christine, better, I think she is too," thought Ann, after she had mused her irritation away a little. "He is very polite and agreeable, and it was very pleasant to have him always ready to take me out when I wanted to go — but I never felt perfectly easy in his company; I was always afraid I might say something dreadful; something that would shock his wonderful goodness. But Christine seemed perfectly at home. How bright and lovely she looked! I will not allow evil thoughts to triumph over me. I will not be vexed simply because she eclipsed me, where no one ever did before. She is a dear, affectionate girl, and I made a vow before God to love her always, never to be to her as I was once."
A fervent prayer brought back to Ann all her former tranquility, and she pressed a kiss upon Christine's forehead, full of repentant affection. Just before she went to sleep, she thought to herself, "Well, if I may trust my woman's perception, Darcet will be exclaiming, after he has seen Christine a few times more, "Oh! love, young love, bound in your rosy bands."
Ann's perception proved correct. About a year after these cogitations, Christine became Mrs. Darcet. The sisters were much changed — but Christine the most so. There was a child-like simplicity and sweetness beaming from her young face, which Ann needed. Yet had much haughtiness faded from the brow of that beautiful girl; she had grown better; but as yet, her heart had not been schooled in suffering as Christine's had. There was deep affection in the warm tears that fell upon the bride's cheek, as poor Ann felt that she had indeed gone to bless another with her tender goodness. Christine's warm heart grew yet more sunny in her own happy little home, and her feelings more open and expansive, beneath the genial influence of friendly eyes.