Romance and Reality
Timothy Shay Arthur
"I met with a most splendid girl last evening," remarked to his friend a young man, whose fine, intellectual forehead, and clear bright eye, gave indications of more than ordinary mental endowments.
"Who is she?" was the friend's brief question.
"Her name is Adelaide Merton. Have you ever seen her?"
"No, but I have often heard of the young lady."
"As a girl of more than ordinary intelligence?"
"O yes. Don't you remember the beautiful little gems of poetry that used to appear in the Gazette, under the signature of Adelaide?"
"Very well. Some of them were exquisite, and all indicative of a fine mind. Was she their author?"
"So I have been told."
"I can very readily believe it; for never have I met with a woman who possessed such a brilliant intellect. Her power of expression is almost unbounded. Her sentences are perfect pictures of the scenes she describes. If she speaks of a landscape, not one of its most minute features is lost — nor one of the accessories to its perfection as a whole overlooked. And so of everything else, in the higher regions of the intellect, or in the lower forms of nature. For my own part, I was lost in admiration of her qualities. She will yet shine in the world."
The young man who thus expressed himself in regard to Adelaide Merton, was named Charles Fenwick. He possessed a brilliant mind, which had been well stored. But his views of life were altogether perverted and erroneous, and his ends deeply tinctured with the love of distinction, for its own sake. A few tolerably successful literary efforts, had been met by injudicious over praise, leading him to the vain conclusion that his abilities were of so high a character, that no field of action was for him a worthy one, which had anything to do with what he was pleased to term, the ordinary groveling pursuits of life. Of course, all mere mechanical employments were despised, and as a natural consequence, the men who were engaged in them. Likewise with merchandising, and also with the various branches of productive enterprise. They were mere servants of the base physical needs of our nature. His mind took in higher aims than these!
His father was a merchant in moderate circumstances, engaged in a calling which was of course despised by the son, notwithstanding he was indebted to his father's constant devotion to that calling, for his education, and all the means of comfort and supposed distinction, that he enjoyed.
The first intention of the elder Mr. Fenwick had been to qualify his son, thoroughly, for the calling of a merchant, that he might enter into business with him and receive the benefits of his experience and facilities in trade. But about the age of seventeen, while yet at college, young Fenwick made the unfortunate discovery that he could produce a species of composition, which he called poetry. His efforts were praised — and this induced him to go on; until he learned the art of tolerably smooth versification. This would all have been well enough, had he not imagined himself to be, in consequence — of vastly increased importance.
Stimulated by this idea, he prosecuted his collegiate studies with renewed diligence, storing a strong and comprehensive mind with facts and principles in science and philosophy, that would have given him, in after life, no ordinary power of usefulness as a literary and professional man — had not his selfish ends paralyzed and perverted the natural energies of a good intellect.
The father's intention of making him a merchant was, of course, opposed by the son, who chose one of the learned professions as more honorable — not more useful; a profession that would give him distinction — not enable him to fill his right place in society. In this he was gratified. At the time of his introduction to the reader, he was known as a young physician without a patient. He had graduated, but had not yet seen any occasion for taking an office, as his father's purse supplied all his needs. His pursuits were mainly literary — consisting of essays and reviews for some of the periodicals, intermixed with a liberal seasoning of pretty fair rhymes which rose occasionally to the dignity of poetry — or, as he supposed, to the lofty strains of a Milton or a Dante. Occasionally a lecture before some literary association brought his name into the newspapers in connection with remarks that kindled his vanity into a flame. Debating clubs afforded another field for display, and he made liberal use of the facility. So much for Charles Fenwick.
Of Adelaide Merton, we may remark, that she was just the kind of a woman to captivate a young man of Fenwick's character. She was showy in her style of conversation, but exceedingly superficial. Her reading consisted principally of poetry and the popular light literature of the day, with a smattering of history. She could repeat, in quite an attractive style, many fine passages from Homer, Virgil, Milton, Shakespear, Pope, Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, and a host of lesser lights in the poetic hemisphere — and could quote from and criticize the philosophy and style of Bulwer, with the most edifying self-satisfaction imaginable — not to enumerate her many other remarkable characteristics.
A second visit to Adelaide, confirmed the first favorable impression made upon the mind of Fenwick. At the third visit, he was half in love with her, and she more than half in love with him. A fourth interview completed the work on both sides. At the fifth, the following conversation terminated the pleasant fellowship of the evening. They were seated on a sofa, and had been talking of poetry, and birds, and flowers, green fields, and smiling landscapes, and a dozen other things not necessary to be repeated at present. A pause of some moments finally followed, and each seemed deeply absorbed in thought.
"Adelaide," at length the young man said in a low, musical tone, full of richness and pathos — "Do you not feel, sometimes, when your mind rises into the region of pure thoughts, and ranges free among the beautiful and glorious images which then come and go like angel visitants — a sense of loneliness, because another cannot share what brings to you such exquisite delight?"
"Yes — often and often," replied the maiden lifting her eyes to those of Fenwick, and gazing at him with a tender expression.
"And yet few there are, Adelaide, few indeed who could share such elevating pleasures."
"Few, indeed," was the response.
"Pardon me, for saying," resumed the young man, "that to you I have been indebted for such added delights. Rarely, indeed, have I been able to find, especially among your gentler gender, one who could rise with me into the refining, elevating, exquisite pleasures of the imagination. But you have seemed fully to appreciate my sentiments, and fully to sympathize with them."
To this, Adelaide held down her head for a moment or two, the position causing the blood to deepen in her cheeks and forehead. Then looking up with an expression of lofty poetic feeling she said —
"And, until I met you, Mr. Fenwick, I must be frank in saying, that I have known no one, whose current of thought and feeling — no one whose love of the beautiful in the ideal or natural — has seemed so perfect a reflection of my own."
To this followed another pause, longer and more thoughtful than the first. It was at length broken by Fenwick, who said, in a voice that trembled perceptibly.
"I have an inward consciousness, which sprang into activity when the first low murmur of your voice fell upon my ear, that you were to me, a kindred spirit. Since that moment, this consciousness has grown daily more and more distinct, and now I feel impelled, by a movement which I cannot resist, to declare its existence. First pardon this freedom, Adelaide, and then say if you understand and appreciate what I have uttered in all frankness and sincerity?"
Not long did our young friend wait for an answer which made him happier than he had ever been in his life — happy in the first thrilling consciousness of love deeply and fervently reciprocated. To both of them, there was a degree of romance about this brief courtship, which fully accorded with their views of love, truly so called. The ordinary cold matter-of-fact way of coming together, including a cautious and even at times a suspicious investigation of character, they despised as a mere mockery of the high, spontaneous confidence which those who are truly capable of loving, feel in each other — a confidence which nothing can shake. And thus did they pledge themselves without either having thought of the other's moral qualities; or either of them having formed any distinct ideas in regard to the true nature of the marriage relation.
A few months sufficed to consummate their union, when, in accordance with the mirthful young couple's desire, old Mr. Fenwick furnished them out handsomely, at a pretty heavy expense, in a house of their own. As Charles Fenwick had not, heretofore, shown any inclination to enter upon the practice of the profession he had chosen — his father gently urged upon him the necessity of now doing so. But the idea of becoming a practical doctor, was one that Charles could not tolerate. He had no objection to the title, for that sounded quite musical to his ear; but no farther than that did, his fancy lead him.
"Why didn't I choose the law as a profession?" he would sometimes say to his young wife. "Then I might have shone. But to bury myself as a physician, stealing about from house to house, and moping over sick beds — is a sacrifice of my talents which I cannot think of, without turning from the picture with disgust."
"Nor can I," would be the wife's reply. "And what is more, I never will consent to such a perversion of your talents."
"Why cannot you study law, even now, Charles?" she asked of him one day. "With your acquirements, and habits of thought, I am sure you would soon be able to pass an examination."
"I think that is a good suggestion, Adelaide," her husband replied, thoughtfully. "I would only need a year or eighteen months for preparation, and then I could soon place myself in the front rank of the profession."
The suggestion of Charles Fenwick's wife, was promptly adopted. A course of legal studies was entered upon, and completed in about two years. Up to this time, everything had gone on with our young couple as smoothly as a summer sea. A beautifully furnished house, well kept through the attention of two or three servants, gave to their indoor enjoyments a very important accessory. For money there was no care, as the elder Mr. Fenwick's purse-strings relaxed as readily to the hand of Charles, as to his own. A pleasant round of intelligent company, mostly of a literary character, with a full supply of all the new publications and leading periodicals of the day, kept their minds elevated into the region of intellectual enjoyments, and caused them still more to look down upon the ordinary pursuits of life — as far beneath them.
But all this could not last forever. On the day Charles was admitted to the bar, he received a note from his father, requesting an immediate interview. He repaired at once to his counting room, in answer to the parental summons.
"Charles," said the old man, when they were alone, "I have, up to this time, supplied all your wants, and have done it cheerfully. In order to prepare you for taking your right place in society, I have spared no expense in your education, bearing you, after your term of college life had expired, through two professional courses, so that, as either a physician or a lawyer, you are fully equal to the task of sustaining yourself and family.
"As far as I am concerned — the tide of prosperity has evidently turned against me. For two years, I have felt myself gradually going back, instead of forward, notwithstanding my most earnest struggles to maintain at least the position already gained. Today, the notice of a heavy loss completes my inability to bear the burden of your support — and that of my own family. You must, therefore, Charles, enter the world for yourself, and there struggle as I have done, and as all do around you, for a living. But, as I know that it will be impossible for you to obtain sufficient practice at once in either law or medicine to maintain yourself, I will spare you out of my income, which will now be small in comparison to what it has been, four hundred dollars a year, for the next two years. You must yourself make up the deficiency, and no doubt you can easily do so."
"But, father," replied the young man, his face turning pale, "I cannot, possibly, make up the deficiency. Our rent alone, you know, is four hundred dollars."
"I am aware of that, Charles. But what then? You must get a house at one half that rent, and reduce your style of living, proportionably, in other respects."
"What! And compromise my standing in society? I can never do that, father!"
"Charles," said the old man, looking at his son with a sterner countenance than he had ever yet put on when speaking to him, "remember that you have no standing in society, which you can truly call your own. I have, heretofore, held you up, and now that my sustaining hand is about to be withdrawn, you must fall or rise to your own level. And I am satisfied, that the sooner you are permitted to do so, the better."
The fact was, that the selfish, and to old Mr. Fenwick, the heartless manner in which Charles had received the communication of his changed circumstances — had wounded him exceedingly, and suddenly opened his eyes to the false relation which his son was holding to society.
"You certainly cannot be in earnest, father," the son replied, after a few moments of hurried and painful thought, "in declaring your intention of throwing me off with a meager pittance of four hundred dollars, before I have had a chance to do anything for myself. How can I possibly get along on that sum?"
"I do not expect you to live on that, Charles. But the difference you will have to make up yourself. You have talents and acquirements. Bring them into useful activity, and you will need little of my assistance. As for me, as I have already told you, the tide of success is against me, and I am gradually moving down the stream. Four hundred dollars is the extent of what I can give you, and how long the ability to do that may last, Heaven only knows."
Reluctantly, the young couple were compelled to give up their elegantly arranged dwelling, and move into a house of about one half of its dimensions. In this, there was a fixed, cold, common place reality, which shocked the sensibilities of both, even though throughout the progress of the change, each had remained passive in the hands of the elder Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick, who had to choose a house for them, and attend to all the arrangements of moving and refitting the new home. For Charles to have engaged in the vulgar business of moving household furniture, would have been felt as a disgrace! And as for Adelaide, she didn't know how to do anything in regard to the matter, and even if she had, would have esteemed such an employment as entirely beneath her.
While the packing up was going on under the direction of her husband's mother, Adelaide, with an elegant shawl thrown carelessly about her shoulders, her feet drawn up and her body reclining upon a sofa, was deeply buried in the last new novel, while her babe lay in the arms of a nurse, who was thus prevented from rendering any assistance to those engaged in preparing the furniture for removal. As for her husband, he was away, in some professional friend's office, holding a learned discussion upon the relative merits of Byron and Shelley.
After the removal had been accomplished, and the neat little dwelling put, as the elder Mrs. Fenwick termed it, into "apple-pie order" the following conversation took place between her and her daughter-in-law.
"Adelaide, it will now be necessary for you to let both your nurse and chambermaid go. Charles cannot possibly afford the expense, as things now are."
"Let my nurse and chambermaid go!" exclaimed Adelaide, with a look and tone of profound astonishment.
"Certainly, Adelaide," was the firm reply. "You cannot now afford to keep three servants."
"But how am I to get along without them? You do not, certainly, suppose that I can be my own nurse and chambermaid?"
"With your small family," was Mrs. Fenwick's reply, "you can readily have the assistance of your cook for a portion of the morning in your chamber and parlors. And as to the nursing part, I would think that you would desire no higher pleasure, than having all the care of dear little Anna. I was always my own nurse, and never had assistance beyond that of a little girl."
"It's no use to speak in that way, mother; I cannot do without a nurse," said Adelaide, bursting into tears. "I couldn't even dress the baby!"
"The sooner you learn, child, the better," was the persevering reply of Mrs. Fenwick.
But Adelaide had no idea of dispensing with either nurse or chambermaid, both of whom were retained in spite of the remonstrances and entreaties of the mother-in-law.
Driven to the absolute necessity of doing so, Charles Fenwick opened an office, and advertised for business. Those who have attempted to make their way, at first, in a large city, at the bar, can well understand the disappointment and chagrin of Fenwick, on finding that he did not rise at once to distinction, as he had fondly imagined he would, when he turned his attention, with strong reasons for desiring success, to the practice of his profession. A few petty cases, the trifling fees of which he rejected as of no consideration — were all that he obtained during the first three months. At the end of this time, he found himself in debt to the baker, butcher, milkman, tailor, dry-goods merchants, and to the three servants still pertinaciously retained by his wife.
And, as a climax to the whole, his father's business was brought to a termination by bankruptcy, and the old man, in the decline of life, with still a large family dependent upon him for support, thrown upon the world, to struggle, almost powerless, for a subsistence. Fortunately, the Presidency of an Insurance Company was offered him, with a salary of fifteen hundred dollars per annum. On this, he could barely support those dependent upon him, leaving Charles the whole task of maintaining himself, his wife, and their child.
To be pressed for money was more than the young man could endure with any kind of patience. But creditors had no scruples in regard to these matters, and bills came, consequently, thick and fast, until poor Charles was irritated beyond measure. Cold, and sometimes impatient, and half insulting answers to applications for money, were not to be endured by the eager applicants for what was justly their own. Warrants soon followed, as a matter of course, which had to be answered by a personal appearance before city magistrates, thus causing the infliction of a deeper mortification than had yet assailed him. Added to these, came the importunities of his landlord, which was met by a response which was deemed insulting; and then came a notice to appear in court. The help of the father, saved the son this utter prostration and disgrace.
The effect of all this, was to drive far away from their dwelling, the sweet angel of peace and contentment. Fretted and troubled deeply in regard to his present condition and future prospects — Charles had no smiling words for his wife. This, of course, pained her deeply. But she readily found relief from present reality in the world of pure romance. The more powerful fictions of the day, especially the highly wrought idealities of Bulwer, and those of his class, introduced her into a world above that in which she dwelt — and there she lingered the greatest portion of her time, unconscious of the calls of duty, or the claims of affection.
A single year sufficed to financially break them up entirely. Expenses far beyond their income, which rose to about three hundred dollars during the first year of Charles' practice at the bar, brought warrants and executions, which the father had no power to stay. To satisfy these, furniture and library had to be sold, and Charles and his wife, child and nurse, which latter Adelaide would retain, were thrown upon old Mr. Fenwick, for support.
For four years did they remain a burden upon the father, during which time, unstimulated to exertion by pressing necessities, Charles made but little progress as a lawyer. Petty cases he despised, and generally refused to undertake, and those of more importance, were not trusted to one who had yet to prove himself worthy of a high degree of legal confidence. At the end of that time, both his father and mother were suddenly removed to the eternal world — and Charles was again thrown entirely upon his own resources.
With no one now to check them in anything, Charles and his wife, after calculating the results of the next year's legal efforts, felt fully justified in renting a handsome house, and furnishing it on credit. The proceeds of the year's practice rose but little above four hundred dollars, and at its conclusion they found themselves involved in a new debt of three thousand dollars. Then came another financial breaking up, with all of its harrowing consequences — consequences which to people of their habits and mode of thinking, are so deeply mortifying — followed by their shrinking away, with a meager remnant of their furniture, into a couple of rooms, in an obscure part of the town.
"Adelaide," said the husband, one morning, as he roused himself from a painful reverie.
"Well, what do you want?" she asked abstractedly, lifting her eyes with reluctant air from the pages of a novel.
"I want to talk to you for a little while; so shut your book, if you please."
"Won't some other time do as well? I have just got into the middle of a most interesting scene."
"No — I wish to talk with you now."
"Well, say on," the wife rejoined, closing the book in her hand, with her thumb resting upon the page that still retained her thoughts, and assuming an attitude of reluctant attention.
"There is a school vacant at Putnam, some twenty miles from the city. The salary is eight hundred dollars a year, with a house and garden included. I can get the situation, if I will accept of it."
"And sink to the condition of a miserable country pedagogue?"
"And support my family comfortably and honestly," Fenwick replied in a tone of bitterness.
"Precious little comfort will your family experience, immured in an obscure country village, without a single congenial associate! What in the name of wonder, has put that into your head?"
"Adelaide! I cannot succeed at the bar — at least, not for years. Of that I am fully satisfied. It is absolutely necessary, therefore, that I should turn my attention to something which will supply the pressing demands of my family."
"But surely you can get into something better than the office of schoolmaster, to the sons of clods."
"I'm sure that I cannot tell. That is a matter for you to think about," and so saying, Mrs. Fenwick re-opened her book, and commenced poring again over the pages of the delightful novel she held in her hand.
Irritated, and half disgusted at this, a severe reproof trembled on his tongue, but he suppressed it. In a few minutes after he arose, and left the room without his wife seeming to notice the movement.
"Good morning, Mr. Fenwick!" said a well known individual, coming into the lawyer's office a few minutes after he had himself entered.
"That trial comes on this afternoon at four o'clock."
"Well, John, I can't help it. The debt is a just one, but I have no means of meeting it now."
"Try and do so if you can, Mr. Fenwick, for the plaintiff is a good deal irritated about the matter, and will push the thing to extremities."
"I would be sorry for that. But if so, let him use his own pleasure. Take nothing from nothing — and nothing remains."
"You had better come then with security, Mr. Fenwick, for my orders are, to have an execution issued against your person, as soon as the case is decided."
"You are not in earnest, John?" suddenly ejaculated the lawyer, rising to his feet, and looking at the humble minister of the law with a pale cheek and quivering lip. "Surely Mr. Danielson is not going to push matters to so uncalled-for, to such an extremity!"
"Such, he positively declares, is his fixed determination. So hold yourself prepared, sir, to meet even this unpleasant event."
The debt for which the warrant had been issued against Mr. Fenwick, amounted to ninety dollars.
The whole of the remaining part of that day was spent in the effort to obtain security in the case. But in vain. His friends knew too well, his inability to protect them from certain loss, should they step between him and the law. Talents, education, brilliant addresses, fine poetry, and all that, turned to no good and useful ends — he found availed him nothing now. Even many of those with whom he had been in intimate literary association, shrank away from the penniless individual; and those who did not actually shun him, had lost much of their former cordiality.
The idea of being sent to jail for debt, was to him a terrible one. And he turned from it with a sinking at the heart. He said nothing to Adelaide on returning home in the evening, for the high communion of spirit, in which they had promised themselves such deep and exquisite delight — had long ago given place to coldness, and a state of non-sympathy. He found her deeply buried, as usual, in some volume of romance, while everything around her was in disorder, and full of unmitigated realities. They were living alone in two small rooms, and the duty of keeping them in order and providing their frugal meals, devolved as a heavy task upon Adelaide — so heavy, that she found it utterly impossible to do it justice.
The fire — that essential preliminary to household operations — had not even been made, when Fenwick reached home, and the dinner table remained still with its unwashed dishes strewn over it, in admirable confusion.
With a sigh, Adelaide resigned her book, soon after her husband came in, and commenced preparations for the evening meal. This was soon ready, and despatched in silence, except so far as the aimless prattle of their little girl interrupted it. Tea over, Mrs. Fenwick put Anna to bed, much against her will, and then drew up to the table again with her novel.
Cheerless and companionless, did her husband feel as he let his eye fall upon her, buried in selfish enjoyment, while his own heart was wrung with the bitterest recollections and the most heart-sickening anticipations.
Thoughts of the gambling table passed through his mind, and with the thought — he placed his hand involuntarily upon his pocket. It was empty. Sometimes his mind would rise into a state of vigorous activity, with the internal consciousness of a power to do anything. But, alas — it was strength without skill — intellectual power without the knowledge to direct it aright.
Late on the next morning, he arose from a pillow that had been blessed with but little sleep, and that unrefreshing. It was past eleven o'clock before Adelaide had breakfast on the table. This over, she, without even dressing Anna or arranging her own person — sat down to her novel, while he gave himself to the most gloomy and desponding reflections. He feared to go out, lest the first man he should meet, should prove an officer with an execution for his arrest.
About one o'clock, sick and weary of such a comfortless home, he went out, glad of any change. Ten steps from his own door, he was met by a constable who conveyed him to prison.
Several hours passed, before his crushed feelings were aroused sufficiently to cause him even to think of any means of extrication. When his mind did act, it was with clearness, vigor, and decision. The walls of a jail had something too nearly like reality about them, to leave much of the false sentiment which had hitherto marred his prospects in life. There was, too, something deeply humiliating in his condition of an imprisoned debtor.
"What shall I do?" he asked himself, towards the close of the day, with a strong resolution to discover the best course of action, and to pursue that course, unswayed by any extraneous influences. The thought of his wife came across his mind.
"Shall I send her word where I am?" — A pause of some moments followed this question.
"No," he at length said, half aloud, while an expression of pain flitted over his countenance. "It is of little consequence to her, where I am or what I suffer. She is, I believe, perfectly heartless."
But Fenwick was mistaken in this. She needed, as well as himself, some powerful shock to awaken her to true consciousness. That shock proved to be the knowledge of her husband's imprisonment for debt, which she learned early on the next morning, after the passage of an anxious and sleepless night, full of strange forebodings of approaching evil. She repaired, instantly, to the prison, her heart melted down into true feeling. The interview between herself and husband was full of tenderness, bringing out from each heart the mutual affections which had been sleeping there, alas! too long.
But one right course presented itself to the mind of either of them, and that was naturally approved by both, as the only proper one. It was for Fenwick to come out of prison under the act of bankruptcy, and thus free himself from the trammels of past obligations, which could not possibly be met.
This was soon accomplished, the requisite security for his personal appearance to interrogatories being readily obtained.
"And now, Adelaide, what is to be done?" he asked of his wife, as he sat holding her hand in his, during the first hour of his release from imprisonment. His own mind had already decided — still he was anxious for her suggestion, if she had any to make.
"Can you still obtain that school you spoke of?" she asked with much interest in her tone.
"Yes. The offer is still open."
"Then take it, Charles, by all means. One such lesson as we have had, is enough for a life time. Satisfied am I, now — that we have not sought for happiness in the right paths."
The school was accordingly taken, and with humbled feelings, modest expectations, and a mutual resolution to be satisfied with little — did Charles Fenwick and his wife re-commence the world at the bottom of the ladder. That he was sincere in his new formed resolutions, is evident from the fact, that in a few years he became the principal of a popular literary institution, for which office he was fully qualified. She, too, learned, by degrees, to act well her part in all her relations, social and domestic — and now finds far more pleasure in the realities — than she ever did in the romance of life!