Our Life Romance
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1856
"Yes! yes! Everything is as beautiful as I could desire it! Every precious object takes a hue from the rose glow of my life!" and very gently was the foot-fall of Ada Ward pressed into the velvet carpets of her bridal home; very soft were the glances that rested upon the rich and graceful furniture, as though it were capable of making a part in her strange and wonderful happiness! — for the mysteries wrought in the quiet soul by love, are ever new, and more than strange and wonderful to the possessor of the enchanted life. And so the light figure of Mrs. Graham Ward, for the twentieth time, had been flitting from room to room, beginning at the top of the great house; her heart pronounced a benediction on everything, and when she stood within her magnificent parlors, her lips spoke the thoughts sleeping within.
"Yes!" she murmured, smilingly, "I believe if I did not look every day at all these things, and almost touch them — that I would think myself in some delirious, blissful dream. But I am awake, and Graham is my husband, and this beautiful home is as fresh to me as the love-lighted world I have come to dwell in. Ah! many dreams I have had, but no wandering in delicious dream-land ever equaled this: dim prophecies haunted me — a faint idea I had of the love that was to illuminate my soul — and I must be to Graham all that he is to me — sunshine! life! breath! Ah! I dare not tell him all my thoughts; he is so much older than I; and yet for all the world, I would not have him a day younger, for I could not feel that repose, that blessed assurance in looking up to him.
"And this is my boudoir!" she continued, entering a charming little room where the softened light fell through embroidered curtains, and lighted up with more brilliant touches the flowers her own hand had placed on the broad window-sill — then the same magic light struck out a richer crimson on her little favorite rocking-chair, and sought its rest upon warm crimson roses in the carpet. A dainty work-basket stood upon a zephyr table filled with pretty pretenses to industry, and two or three delicate notes of congratulation and love from "the girls;" intimate friends to whom her heart clung, and for whom she wished a happiness equal to her own.
Ada took her seat, and still looked around her; she did not care to sew, she was too happy to need the ministry of the choice authors in the book-case before her — but a new thought struck her — she would talk with her own soul, she would begin a journal, and keep imperishable the burning thoughts which rose, wave upon wave, within her — this unparalleled romance that came with such a glory to her young, girlish spirit, should be impressed upon paper, where in future years she could go to it, and live it over again, and know that it really happened. And so she drew pens and paper from the secretary, and in the afternoon shadows and the golden lights she wrote, and wrote, and poured forth the eloquence that welled up from her heart. While her pen was busy, and her cheek glowing, a timid hand rapped at her door.
"Oh, Betsy!" she exclaimed, a little impatiently, "what have you come here for?"
"But, mistress, dear!" said the girl, "if I only could get you to write a little word to my brother for me, I would be so thankful."
"I will; but not now, Betsy. I am busy now!"
"Oh, but Miss Ward, I need to send it for him."
"Well, Betsy, haven't I said that I am busy now?" And Ada closed the door, but her heart smote her for a moment before she went on weaving together her life romance. Poor Ada! she was too happy to lend a listening ear to others' hopes and wishes. Graham came home and entered the boudoir, where his wife, lovelier than ever, met him with outstretched hands, and eyes that half sought to hide their love-shining; he pressed the sweet mouth uplifted for his evening kiss, and passed his arm around her waist.
"Is tea ready, my dear?" he asked. "I will see! Must you go out tonight, Graham?"
"Yes! a man of business must be at his post, my dear!" and he pushed back the curls from her brow, and kissed it.
Ada left the room, and her husband stood musing alone. He was a man of thirty-five, with a handsome, haughty face, where a something reckless and imperative, not to say selfish, could be traced.
"A very pretty little creature she is, and she loves me so devotedly! A very pleasant thing it is to have such a pretty little wife to welcome me, and such a handsome fortune with her!" and the glances Graham cast around were very different from Ada's. "I intend to make the little thing happy — but then it must be done in a reasonable way. I can't think of giving up my evenings to be spent here alone. I'll do it sometimes, though."
Here Ada appeared, and laying her hand on her husband's arm, went with him to tea.
When he had gone, she sought her favorite room again, and from the window watched the twilight shadows.
A familiar carriage stopped at the door, and her mother's face looked from it, and smiled a mother's love. Ada hastened to the front door, and received the beloved visitor with kisses and embraces.
"Come into my sanctum, mother; this is such a dear, precious room, the very quintessence of my Eden home!" and her sweet, happy laugh, went like music to the fond mother's heart.
"Let me take off your bonnet, mother darling, and here, sit in my own little chair, and let me sit on this cushion — isn't it pretty? and lay my head on your lap, and tell you, oh! so much! I never can tell you how happy I am. Do you know, mother," — and she raised her head and looked into the beautiful, soft eyes above her, "do you know, mother, sometimes I think I shall not, cannot live very long, for this wild intense love must burn my heart out — but I don't care; I care for nothing, nothing but this happiness — it is enough; it swallows up my being. I could not love Graham more, and yet every hour I love him better. Mother, do you think that other people do, can love as I do? is it as beautiful to them?"
"Yes, my darling; there are thousands of hearts telling the same story today!"
"Oh, bless them! blessings on them in their happiness!"
"And blessings, all holy blessings on those who are walking in dark and dreadful paths, without any joy to help them through their lot! The happy-hearted should send their sunshine to these."
"Oh, yes!" murmured Ada; "but who can turn from their Heaven, to look on such burdensome pictures? Oh! mother, I am very, very selfish. I cannot bear that anything should break in upon this enchantment. I have almost forgotten that a day of reckoning will come. I am wicked, I know, but I want no better Heaven than I have!"
"My poor child! my poor child!" and a gentle hand stroked Ada's hair, while glistening tears fell upon it.
"Why do you say 'poor child,' mother?" asked Ada, raising her eyes, where unquenchable love and hope seemed to dwell. "Say instead — your rich and happy child!" and with smiles she drew down the beloved face and kissed away the drops. "Mother, dear, I feel within me the assurance that this happiness must be immortal. Oh! if Heaven is as blessed as my own Heaven, I shall ask no more!"
"But, dear child, it will not be as beautiful — unless you learn to be an angel here, and look with a true and tender love on others, besides those whom your own happiness is bound up in."
"Ah, true!" answered the young wife, and poor Betsy's imploring face came before her. "Mother, will you excuse me a few moments?" she asked, rising hastily.
"I must go myself, dear. I have stayed longer than I intended. Try tomorrow to call on poor Kate Suthington, and comfort her. You heard that Henry Williams had married in Europe?"
"No. Oh! Kate, dear Kate!"
"Well, good-bye, darling. Come and see us very soon."
"Yes, yes. Good-bye."
Ada bent her steps to the kitchen, and there she found Betsy sitting by the table, with her apron over her face, crying.
"What is the matter, Betsy?" she asked, very kindly.
"I am afraid the vessel will sail in the morning, and my brother cannot come over in it, unless I send the money to him in a letter."
"Is it too late, do you think?" and a great pang of self-reproach went through the heart of the young mistress.
"Perhaps not," answered the girl, with a look of hope.
Ada ran to her room, and brought utensils for writing, which she rapidly used. Then, after enclosing the money, she sealed the letter, saying,
"Now hurry, Betsy. Here is sixpence to get into the omnibus. You will reach the place in time."
But Betsy did not reach the place in time. She was half an hour too late, and her young brother, as well as herself, suffered from the sickness of hope deferred many long weeks, because the fair young bride, amid her joys, had not yet learned the beautiful life-lesson of serving others.
* * * * * *
A year, fraught with experience, has passed away, silently dropping into the book of life its records; and Ada Ward is within her favorite room. The broad moonbeams slant across the carpet, and fall upon the form lying there in the abjectness of despair. A pale cheek is pressed to the cushion. Ada has that day buried her little babe — and cold, black, ghastly shadows envelop her; colder and blacker than they might have been, because her husband, finding it so gloomy at home, has gone out for a walk.
"Oh, that it should be I!" she groaned, wringing her clasped hands, and pressing them upon her heart, as though she would quiet its great agony. "If I could die! If I could only die! Oh, that such woe should come to me! My glorious temple of love has been broken — dashed to pieces eternally! I must live years, ages, in this blackness of darkness — day after day pressing my hands upon my heart to keep it from bursting! If only we were parted, I think I could endure it better; but to gaze in his face and read no love there; to receive with a grave, repressed face, his acts of politeness; to know that I cannot charm him; that there is no winsome light in my eyes to him; nothing precious in my smile; to have no words pass between us, except those which are necessary; and to see often more smiling words addressed to others, than to me. Oh, my Father! why may I not die? Am I so unlovely, so unworthy of love? Is there no grace in me?
"My mother, my mother! oh, to lay my head on her sheltering bosom! She would weep her soul away to know that her cherished child was an unloved wife. It would strike to the core of my father's heart, to hear the cold words spoken to his 'little bird,' as he used to call me. I am no one's little bird now, only a miserable, blasted wretch, with the elixir of life forever dried up in my veins, and burning ashes heaped on my heart.
"Little babe! My little angel! you, too, are taken from me! If you were here, soft tears might perhaps allay this aching. If your dimpled hands could be laid upon my brow, I would think God was merciful to my pain — but He has left me no joy, no blessing! He has bereaved me awfully, cruelly. He has forgotten to be gracious. Ah! that I were stronger; that I could argue with the Almighty. I did not ask for the breath of life — and it is hateful to me now. Oh, this madness, this dreadful rebellion at my lot! This fearful life, without hope, and without God in the world! If only I could sleep, sleep on and get some rest, and grow resigned, and wear a placid face, and quietly tread my way downward to the grave! Perhaps I could bear up better if my health were as strong as it used to be. Oh! my Father and my God, forgive me! Be merciful to your wretched, lost, abandoned child! Shelter me until the storm be over-passed! I will endeavor to bear my cross, to wear my crown of thorns."
This battle with life went on in Ada's soul for months. Sometimes the evil and sometimes the good triumphed; most frequently, a cheerless despair dwelt within her. She saw nothing lovely, nothing to be desired on earth; but she wore a quiet face, and fulfilled the duties of wife and housekeeper. Friends thought she seemed rather pensive since the death of her babe, and not much inclined for society. Her husband thought she had grown to be "excessively sober." He did not remember in whose power it lay to dispel that soberness, or that he had freely and solemnly promised to study her happiness before that of any other mortal. Ada's soft eyes lighted with love when her parents were with her, more tender and caressing than ever; and she tasked herself to the utmost to be as cheerful as their Ada used to be. A thousand sweet and graceful acts of devotion, she performed for them; it was such a comfort to her to anticipate a want. Poor, forlorn one! this was one little fruit of her great sorrow. One day, when her parents had parted with her after a day's visit, her father remarked, earnestly,
"I think, dear, our Ada grows more angelic and thoughtful of our happiness every time we see her. She was always a lovely child, but not as she is now. Have you observed it, Mary?"
"Oh! yes," and the wife looked into her husband's beaming face with a smile, but a tear fell unobserved on her work. The mother remembered that her darling never told her now, how happy she was. When her head lay on her lap, she sometimes said,
"Mother, dear, tell me of all that is noble in life; how we may be purified by sorrow; it was a sorrow to lose my little babe."
And, with fast falling tears, the mother would talk, and Ada would weep quietly, very quietly and softly, until there was no bitterness within her. Then she would go to her splendid home, and with gentle patience give Betsy her accustomed lessons in reading and writing. When her head reposed on her pillow on such nights as these, the recording angel wrote, "Another deed of love is born from her great sorrow."
Ada rarely realized this. She realized that the gaunt demons of unbelief and despair were seeking after her soul, and that they had made a desolation there, and tempted every slumbering evil, while they had withered her every flower.
But the months went on, still silently dropping their records into the book of life, until another year had completed its cycle. Ada had sought her retreat after a busy day, and with a pensive smile had drawn forth her life romance. Thus she wrote —
"When these quiet evening hours come, and I am alone, a tide of great and irrepressible regret rushes through my soul. Sometimes it is terrible in its useless, devouring might — and again it flows more quietly and dreamily. I often fear the bird of resignation will never fold its wings above my heart. I shall never be really happy again; perhaps, alas! never content and capable of gratitude for the sad gift of existence. I wish to be; none know, but myself, how great are my efforts to banish the memories of that golden, gleaming vision, and to enter heartily into all that is about me. I think the greatest woe is past; that I have drank all that is most bitter in my life's cup; yet it seems very sad to know that the sweetness was all drained before; is all gone! hopelessly gone! Yet I ought to be thankful that it is less dreadful to exist; that I do not momently 'draw the breath of fear,' as I did when my self-deception was being dissolved; thankful that I know it is vain to make those heart-breaking efforts to win back that love; yes, thankful that I am in no suspense; sick no longer from hope deferred; in no new despair when his capricious tenderness vanishes into coldness.
"Certainly I know what to rely upon. I know that it is best for me to interest myself in others' welfare, to think as little of him and of myself as possible, as far as it is consistent with every duty. Another reason I have to be thankful — my anger towards him has ceased; my burning, maddening sense of injury. I have simply made a mistake. I thought he loved me for what I was; he probably thought he loved me somewhat, too; but it was only that my face was new, and bright with joyousness and love for him. It would, I think, have been the same with any other little maiden he had married. Then it is some consolation, that I spare another young and noble heart from this quiet breaking. Why should it not be I, as well as any other? Yes, I know that I can bear it, and perhaps it makes me a comforter to the suffering ones. Ah! I love them in their pain with a tenderness so infinite, compared with what it used to be. Today I went to see Kate Suthington. Ah! that her love should still have power to tear her heart like a vulture; she bears up before others with a noble dignity, and Henry Williams is a weak and erring man to her view, now; he has lost the key with which he unlocked a soul too noble for him. But in her own words —
"'Oh, Ada! that the world should have lost its loveliness; that I should only have learned what happiness, beauty, life were — to have lost them!'
"Then I talk to her from my soul's depths. I cast about to find some recompense for all this, and I believe words of great faith and wonderful hope break from my lips; words which charm me with some deep, strange, all-powerful feeling that God is doing all things well. I feel serene and very peaceful after this, when Kate lays her head on my bosom, folds her arms around me, and says,
"'You do me good, Ada! Yes, there may, there must be a something deep in all this, that we cannot see; perhaps when the ground has been broken and ploughed more deeply — gold may be found.'
"Then we take out our sewing, and talk of the books we have read, or one reads to the other, and we part with a cheerful glow thrown over our souls from this friendship."
* * * * * *
Five years later, one serene afternoon found Ada Ward within her favorite room. No outward changes of great consequence had befallen her, except that the furniture was not so fresh. One might have thought but a day had passed. Her lovely face was more spiritual; more assured and earnest in its expression; in her eyes, a world of trust and deep hopefulness might be found. At this moment they beamed upon Kate Suthington with a loving, laughing, triumphant look.
"Ah, Katy darling!" she said, "there is not a happier mortal on earth than you, as traitoress as you have been to your first love; and this new husband of yours, has he erected another Eden in your life?"
"Perhaps so," answered Katy, with a soul-illumined smile.
"And you have learned to believe with me, that the pain of life may be transition, but that happiness is a real entity; something that shall come some day to the earnest spirit; perhaps here; perhaps not until our life has opened amid the everlasting beauty."
"I believe it; and should I lose it again, I would simply wait, and strive to work diligently, that others, as well as myself, might gain their greatest good."
"It is very beautiful to see great happiness," said Ada, softly; "it is a pledge of our life in Heaven, and a revealing of what our natures are capable of. It enables us to measure God's love better, and gives us a glimpse of something divine."
After Kate had gone to her happy home, Ada wrote in her journal as follows:
"Katy darling has been here this afternoon; dear Katy, sweet Katy, happy Katy. I think she has no idea of the degree in which she brightens my life; it used to give me a pang when I saw happiness, such as mine was, one brief while — but it is so different now; it gives me a glow of such heartfelt pleasure. I say to myself, 'Not yet, a wise Father permits it to them; but you know your own heart, and God knows that you may need a discipline very different from theirs; but be patient and grateful — the joy is coming.' Oh! sometimes I feel a boundless hope and rapture when I look up to God, and realize the great love with which He has ordered my lot. I think I never would have taken a broad glance at life — never would properly have fitted myself for the eternal world — if this world had been as happy as I wished it. How differently do I write in this, my life romance, from what I expected to, when I began it! But with all its sad experience, I have found a wealth in life which makes me often wonder. I have wept with gratitude that this priceless gift has been given me, that it will never have an end. Oh! wonderful to live amid fresh recurring joys, forever; such as no pen can describe; to be bathed in love, and ever performing deeds of love! To be able, every day of my life, to strive, with God's help, to perfect and beautify my life, and sometimes to be able to arouse others to this noble strife!
"Ungrateful that I was — I once felt that my life was a blasted one. What does it signify if one suffers? I sometimes ask myself when the cross is folded to my heart heavily. I learn very soon that 'He who goes forth and weeps, bearing precious seed — shall doubtless return again, bringing his sheaves with him!' There are so many quiet pleasures given me, I look upon them sometimes as all extras. I think that this is the world where the battle must be fought, and yet so many little joys to cheer us. Eternally shall I thank God that he has taught me to fight this conflict — that the morning of my day was sorrowful, in order that a ripening eternity should be joyful. This morning I went to see one of my sick neighbors — she had lost a beloved husband. I said what I could to comfort her, but she answered,
"Ah! Mrs. Ward, I could speak to you, as you do to me — if I were young, rich, and happy — one of the favored of the earth!"
"I said that even I might make myself miserable, if I forgot what blessings I had — and that the 'favored of the earth, were not always the favored of Heaven.' But she would listen to nothing of this — her vision was bounded to a few fleeting years — they were life to her — she had no soaring hopes beyond. I came away thinking I was very rich, because I hoped I had an investment for a dearer, nobler life — yet I will try to open a vein of comfort for this afflicted one — perhaps she may in time believe how earnestly I desire her good. I meet with so many noble spirits, and often these dear ones confide to my ear, heart-stories full of interest and pathos, and it is a holy pleasure to weep and wonder, and forget my own heart-story for the while, or only remember what of worth has survived it. When I read books that go to my heart, I feel that, 'Life is richly worth living for!' It is true that my days are very much of one color, and household love does not bless me within my own home — yet it is noble to strive to be faithful amid all this, and to hope I am still of some use. My little life romance is of a gray shade, but it is only the first chapters I am writing here — it will be finished, where? In Heaven, I hope! Finished? Ah, never! Its beauty shall increase, its glory of life shall be too dazzling to be written with an earthly pen; nevertheless, the romance shall go on, and never reach its end, in the world that is eternal!"
Ada had written her last chapter on earth. The sunshine that awoke her, was amid the Everlasting Beauty. When she had put away her writing materials, a strange pain shot through her heart; and before she could leave the room, it had ceased to beat!