Timothy Shay Arthur
There she sat, with both little hands covering her face. It was twilight, and beyond the little finger glanced a watchful eye towards the door, to see if Theodore would go. She didn't think he would. He came back.
"Is the little child crying?" he asked, relentingly, as he took the pretty fingers, one by one, away from the youthful face, as hard as she tried to keep them there. At last she gave up, and broke into a merry laugh.
"You little hypocrite!" said her husband, in rather an incensed tone of voice — men do hate to be befooled into soothing a laughing wife.
"Well! can't I go?" pleaded the enchanting little creature, looking up into his eyes so beseechingly.
"Why, Nellie, it isn't becoming for you to go without me."
"Yes, it is!" she answered, in a very low way, as if she hardly dared say it, and at the same time running her forefinger through the hem of her silk apron. "May I go?" and she lifted up her eyes in the same beseeching way again.
"Why are you so anxious to go, tonight?"
"But that is not a good reason!"
"Well, I want to dance a little!"
"Nellie, I can't possibly go with you, tonight. You are very young — you know nothing of the world and its malice — "
"But I can go with Mr. and Mrs. Williams, next door."
"I can't consent to your going without me."
Nellie put her apron up to her face, and actually did succeed in squeezing two tears into her eyes. She instantly dropped her apron after this was accomplished, and looked reproachfully into her husband's face. Suddenly a thought darted into her head. "When will you come home?" she asked, with quiet melancholy of manner.
"I fear not before ten or eleven, dear. Good-bye! I am late, now!"
He went away, and Nellie sat down and soliloquized.
"Business! old business! If there is anything I hate, beyond all human expression, it is this business. I know it was never intended there should be such a thing. Adam and Eve were put right in a garden, and that shows that it was meant we should play around, and have fun, and live in the country, and cultivate flowers and vegetables to live on. I have always felt so, and I always shall. I don't know that I'd be so particular about living in the country; but the playing part, that's what I'm particular about. If we lived on a farm, I suppose Theodore would wear cowhide boots, and pants too tight and short for him, and a swallow-tailed coat. I declare! I'm afraid I never should have loved him, if I had seen him in such gear, although I have said forty times that I would have known we were created for each other, if we had met under any circumstances; but I didn't think what a difference clothes make! Isn't he a magnificent-looking man! Wouldn't anybody have been glad to have got him? I think it's the most wonderful thing in the world how he ever thought of such a giddy little thing as I am! Such a great man, and so much older than I am! Thirty-two years old! No wonder he knows so much! Well, I must stop thinking of this! 'To be, or not to be, that is the question!' Shall I go — or shall I not? Would he be very mad about it, or would he not? Let me see! He won't be home before ten or eleven. I can dress and go with Mrs. Williams, and then Fred shall bring me home before ten o'clock; and after a few days, some time when Theodore is in a most delicious humor, and perfectly carried away with my bewitchments, I'll gradually disclose the matter to him, and say I'll never do the like again, and it's among the things of the past, an error which repentance or tears cannot efface; but the painful results will never be forgotten, namely, his look of disapprobation. I wonder if that will do!"
Nellie broke into a low, mirthful laugh. She was a spoiled child; from her cradle she had been idolized, and taught that she could not be blamed for anything. But she buried her face in her hands, and reflected. That day she had received a note from a young gentleman, saying,
"Dear Nellie, Will you come to the ball tonight? I have not seen Alice yet. I am on the rack, in excruciating torture. Your family and your husband don't like me — but you have known me from childhood. You ought to show mercy, rather than cruelty. Will you come? Frederick Orton."
Nellie had read the letter, drowned in tears. How would she have
felt, if her family had been so unjustly prejudiced against
Theodore? Wouldn't she have expected some help from dear sister Alice? And shouldn't she help Alice in her extremity, even if
Theodore should be vexed a little about it? Why did Theodore hate Fred Orton? He never said so; but she knew he didn't like him. Nellie wrote to Mr. Orton:
"Poor, Dear Fred, I'll come to the ball and speak with you, if I can. I'll always be your friend, even if my own flesh and blood don't do you justice. If you only knew how good father and mother really are, and that they have heard wrong stories about you, you wouldn't mind it. Nellie."
Nellie, dressed in white, looked like a veritable little angel, and went to the ball with Mr. and Mrs. Williams. She spoke with Fred, danced with him, took a letter for Alice, and told him how her precious sister was almost dying of a broken heart. Then, thinking she had spoken rather strongly, she added: "You know she feels so some of the time." When Fred came the second time to ask Nellie to dance, she thought his motion was slightly wavering. She attributed it to the agitation of his heart on hearing about Alice, and he led her out on the floor. His breath was tinctured with brandy. Nellie grew white, and begged him to take her back to her seat. He laughingly — but positively refused. "Good gracious!" she mentally ejaculated, "I shall die with shame to be dancing with a drunken man, and Theodore not here! I never would have believed the stories about Fred, if I hadn't been convinced with my own eyes and nose. Oh! what will Theodore say to me? Oh! if I had only done as he advised. If I had stayed at home — oh! I am so sorry I came! Shall I ever be able to tell Theodore? Suppose it should make trouble between us. Oh! I know now that I am such a miserable, willful, perverse wife. I was born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward!" Nellie besought Mr. Williams to convey her home, the instant her agonizing dance was over. He did so. She entered the parlor with beating heart, with green veil on her head, with crape shawl thrown around her pretty figure. Theodore sat there.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands with a startle, and then standing as motionless as if she had been shot. Theodore glared at her with a pale face, set lips, and flashing eyes. She said, with quivering lip, "I shall die, if you are going to look at me that way long! Oh, dear! I'm so miserable! I'm always getting my own head snapped off to accommodate other people."
"You have not injured yourself by accommodating me!" responded a deep, ferocious voice.
"It wasn't for my own gratification that I went, Theodore."
"For whose gratification was it, madam?" — There was a shade less of ferocity in the tone.
"For my sister's!"
"Why didn't you tell me why you wanted to go, madam?"
"It was a secret between Alice and me; and I rather thought you liked me, and I might impose on you, as I used to do on the girls at school that liked me. I don't mean impose — "I mean — "
"What do you mean, Nellie Grenly?"
"I thought I could do just as I wished, and you'd make up just as the girls used to do."
"You thought your husband was like a girl, did you — did you?"
"Yes! I hoped so!"
"Well, madam, you will soon find out that you are married to a man who is not to be trifled with in this way."
"Oh, gracious Peter! what'll you do with me?"
"I'll send you back to your father's — to your pinafores — to your nursery — and I'll leave the country for two or three years, until a divorce can be obtained for separation. You may obtain the divorce, madam. I shall never want to hold one of your treacherous gender in my arms again. Women are one vast bundle of folly!"
"I am a vast bundle of folly," sobbed Nellie, spasmodically, "but all of them are not — they're not — I can prove it."
"I desire no proof from a woman of your — of your — of your caliber."
"I never was so sorry for anything in my life, Theodore. If you'll forgive me this time, I'll try and make you such a good wife. I won't disregard your advice, nor anything — nor — "
Mrs. Grenly wiped her tears on the corner of her shawl, and took occasion to look at her husband as she did so.
"You may come here, madam!"
Madam went, knowing the victory was won; her tears were dry in a moment.
"Nellie Grenly, look me right in the eyes!"
And she concentrated her glorious laughing eyes upon him, trying very hard not to make a display of rebellious dimples. He began to doubt whether he had made a judicious request.
"Now, promise me," he said, "that as long as you live, you never will do anything I disapprove of; because it's clear you are a perfect baby."
"Oh! I can see myself in your eyes, just as plain as day!"
"Did you know that your eyes were not all blue — but streaked — and streaked. What's the nature of the eye, tell me? What are its functions? You are always talking about duty, and functions, and all that."
"What?" very sweetly. "Oh! I guess I'll go and get a drink."
"No! you won't stir a step, until you solemnly assure me that you never will go to any place that I advise you against."
"Oh! I hate to make such a promise."
"The reason I ask it, is because thousands of innocent women have been misjudged for innocent actions; and I would not have my little Nellie misjudged, when she is as pure as an angel."
"How did you feel, Nellie, when I threatened a separation?"
"I felt as if you couldn't be coaxed into it."
"Get down, this instant!"
And down went Nellie, with a little delicious peal of laughter. A profound silence of four minutes continuance.
"I don't know that I care if you come back."
And back went Nellie, keeping her bewitching little mouth closed, until she could drop her face upon her husband's shoulder, and laugh to her heart's content.
"Do you know, Nellie, that some men would have sulked a month over your conduct tonight? Haven't you got an indulgent husband?"
"That I have. You don't thrust wrong constructions on my folly; and that is the very reason I am going to try and be as good and innocent as you think me. I feel as if I have been acting so wrongly."