The Unhappy Wife
by Timothy Shay Arthur, 1855
"You don't seem happy, Margaret," said Mr. Jones to his wife, in a kind voice, seating himself, as he spoke, beside his dejected-looking partner, whom he found upon the sofa in the parlor. He had just returned from his store, in the evening, after a day of more than usual business anxiety.
Tears came into the eyes of Mrs. Jones. But she made no reply.
"Has anything happened to give you pain?" asked the husband, in the same kind voice.
But there was no answer. The fact was, Mrs. Jones could not answer the question, for although she felt very unhappy, she did not know from whence her unhappiness proceeded. Her silence, while it convinced Mr. Jones that nothing more than usual had occurred to distress his wife, had the effect to oppress his own feelings with a heavy weight. He understood that she had fallen into one of her melancholy states, the cause of which he had yet been unable to determine, and for which he had not, of course, found any remedy.
A shadow fell gloomily over the feelings of Mr. Jones. He, in turn, became silent and depressed. During the whole day his mind had been more than usually anxious in regard to his business. Heavy payments were maturing fast, while the funds for meeting his obligations came in with unusual tardiness. This had disturbed his thoughts a good deal. But when he left his store in the evening, like a wise man, he left his cares behind him, and looked toward home with the pleasing expectation of there finding that sweet repose of mind which he so much needed. As has been seen, in this he was doomed to be disappointed.
Mrs. Jones had fallen into one of her periodic fits of melancholy, for which no cause was apparent to his mind, and which, for this very reason, distressed him the more. Ten years' experience had satisfied him that, when in this unhappy state, it was useless to make any effort to lift her out of it. Heretofore, every such effort had been perfectly futile. Like an attack of measles, it had its incipient stage, its climax, and its decline. Medicines seemed rather to exacerbate, than palliate the symptoms, and, therefore, like a wise physician, he chose rather to keep away, as far as possible, all exciting causes, and let the disease run its course.
The evening meal was passed in perfect silence. After it was over, Mr. Jones thought of asking his wife to go with him to hear a celebrated singer, who gave a concert that night. But, satisfied, from former experience, that "no" would be answered to his proposition, he wisely forebore doing so.
On the next morning, as Mr. Jones had expected, his wife did not rise. He asked, as in duty bound, how she felt? — if she were sick? — what he should get for her? etc., but received, as usual in such cases, no reply. He sat down to breakfast with his children; poured out the coffee for them, and attended to their needs at the table. He ate but a few mouthfuls himself. After giving directions to the cook about dinner, he went to his store with a heavy heart. Mr. Jones loved his wife. To see her unhappy, always oppressed his feelings. But, to see her unhappy without any knowledge of the cause, made him wretched.
Throughout that day, it seemed as if every event was of a nature calculated to disturb the mind of Mr. Jones. At dinner time his wife, in accordance with his expectations, was in bed. He spoke to her kindly, but received no answer. This did not surprise him. He had expected nothing else. The evening brought no change. Mrs. Jones was still in bed. The small portion of her face that could be seen above the pillow in which it was buried, did not make the husband very desirous of seeing more. That sample was enough to give him a very fair idea of the character of her whole countenance. After tea, everything being so still and gloomy at home, Mr. Jones went to a public house, where he drank a glass of ale, smoked a cigar, and talked politics for a couple of hours. He then came home and retired for the night.
Not until the afternoon of the next day, did Mrs. Jones leave her bed. When her husband came home to tea, be found her, much to his satisfaction, in the dining-room. But he said nothing. The disease had reached its highest point and was now on the decline. He was content to let it progress in due course, because he knew very well, that any attempt on his part to hasten its departure, would only retard that anxiously looked for event.
A day or two more, and all was again sunshine in Mr. Jones' dwelling. His wife went singing about as gaily as a bird.
"If it were only always so," sighed Mr. Jones to himself, "I would be the happiest man in existence. But where can lie the cause of these unhappy periods? Something is wrong. What can it be?"
To determine this question was, however, beyond the power of Mr. Jones. He could imagine no adequate cause.
"I think, dear," said his wife to him, one day, "that we would be a great deal happier in the country. I know it would be better for the children. Poor little things! They are so confined here. There we should have pure air and freedom. Instead of hot brick walls and filthy streets — we should have open fields, with trees, and flowers, and the sweet breath of Heaven. Oh, it would be delightful! I am sure I should be the happiest creature in the world."
The idea of making his wife happy, was sufficient to give almost any proposition a favorable aspect in the eyes of Mr. Jones. He was not himself fond of the country. Raised in a city from boyhood, his habits were formed for city life. His business, too, required him to be in town every day. Still, if it would make Margaret happy, that was sufficient to gain his approval. A pleasant house, with a garden and several acres of good land surrounding it, was rented, and his family removed to the country.
"Oh, this is delightful!" exclaimed Mrs. Jones, on alighting from the carriage that had conveyed her husband, herself and children to their new home, to which all the furniture had been removed and arranged by a competent person, while Mrs. Jones and her little ones remained for a couple of days at the house of a friend in the city. "I shall be as happy here as the day is long. How sweet the fragrance of that new hay! How rich these beds of flowers! How spirit-stirring the song of birds! How soothing the low hum of bees! This is indeed life! Who would be content to live in a pent up city?"
"It's pleasant, certainly, returned Mr. Jones, in a more quiet way. And it was pleasant to him. He perceived and enjoyed all the things to which his wife had alluded. They soothed his care-worn spirit, and refreshed his senses.
For a few days, Mrs. Jones was really happy. But she was the same woman as before. The causes of disquiet were internal — and not external. In leaving the city, she could not get away from herself. Change of scene, did not change the causes of unrest which lay hidden in her own bosom. After awhile she ceased to perceive the sweet fragrances which were borne upon the air. The warblings of merry songsters were unheard. The flowers, Spring's lovely children, were unseen. She grew lonely, and sighed for companionship.
With a sad heart, the husband soon saw that a country life was not the remedy for his wife's malady. All doubts on this head were removed at the end of a month, when she had an attack of melancholy, and kept her bed for a week. Her wish to return to the city in the fall, was not opposed by Mr. Jones. He preferred a town to a country life, although he had not said so.
As before, every few weeks Mrs. Jones would sink into a gloomy state, and remain so for several days; and, as before, the cause was altogether hidden from her husband. He was careful that she should be burdened as little as possible. He employed a waiter about the house; and permitted her to keep a nurse, a chambermaid, a seamstress and a cook. Every need she expressed was gratified, and much anticipated. But, instead of improving — Mrs. Jones grew worse and worse! It seemed as if the more of external good she possessed — the less she enjoyed.
In the hope of diverting her mind, Mr. Jones took her during the winter to many places of fashionable resort and amusement: such as assemblies, concerts, the theater, etc. He also encouraged her to give a large party, which laid her under a kind of obligation to attend to the necessary details. In this way the season passed amid a mirthful round of festivity and amusement, into which Mrs. Jones entered with a keen zest. Her husband had never seen her so full of life before. Two months had passed, and not once during that time had she felt depressed in spirits. Mr. Jones was much encouraged. It was evident, to his mind, that it was plenty of society that his wife needed — and this he meant to see was provided for her.
Towards spring, as fashionable assemblies became less and less frequent, Mr. Jones could see that old states were returning upon his wife. He would often find her, on returning home, sitting by herself, with a dreamy, absent look in her eyes. How to meet such states in their incipiency and throw them off, he did not certainly know. Sometimes he would propose going out to see a friend, or a visit to the theater. But these propositions were rarely accepted. Occasionally he could get her interested in the future prospects of their children; especially of Helen, their oldest girl, now between eight and nine years of age. But his resources were small, and even they not skillfully brought into action.
The fact was, Mr. Jones was a merchant in feeling as well as by profession. In other words, Mr. Jones took but little interest in anything that did not pertain to business. A poor boy, with few opportunities for the improvement of his mind, he was placed at an early age in a store. Intelligent and industrious, and, withal, ambitious to rise, he soon made himself of value to his employers. Little beyond the sphere of trade approached his mind near enough to affect it with any permanent interest. Books were resorted to but rarely. His reading was confined mainly to the newspapers, and the topics that took hold upon his mind were those connected with politics, and the passing events of the day. For a year or two after having attained his majority, he remained in the store where he had served his time.
Then he commenced business in connection with a young man who had a good cash capital, and credit to a large amount whenever it was needed. This young man was the son of a wealthy merchant who had become such by his own vigorous exertions. But, like too many similarly situated, he was content to have his children educated entirely at schools and colleges. He did not bring them occasionally in contact with real life, early, and let them feel its peculiar strong tendencies, standing beside them as he did so, and guarding and guiding their young minds into the truth made indelible by feeling experience. The consequence was, that, when they did enter upon life, at the age of twenty-one, the whole world was new to them. When they did take the rudder into their own hands, they knew nothing of the stream down which they were gliding. All was yet to be learned.
The partner of Mr. Jones had a sister named Margaret, a girl of fine taste, and good education. She had remained at school until her eighteenth year. During the last year of her school-girl days, she contracted an intimate friendship with a young lady of her own age, with whom nearly all her time not occupied in study was spent. Both were fond of reading novels, as might be expected. They not only read these together, but talked together of their contents, and of their own bright future, made brighter by their fond imaginations. To them the world into which they were entering was full of all their hearts could wish. In the most perfect sympathy with each other, did that last year of girlhood pass.
Margaret left school and returned home about the period at which her brother entered into business with Mr. Jones. The first time she met Mr. Jones, she thought him the dullest creature she had ever seen, and did not hesitate to laugh outright as soon as he had departed. Her brother mildly chided her, but this only provoked greater merriment, and caused her to launch against him sundry keen shafts of ridicule. Her estimation of Mr. Jones did not change much during the first year. In that time she met him occasionally, and as she knew him better, could perceive his good qualities. Still, her beau ideal of a young man was so different from Thomas Jones, that the mental contrast always produced a merry peal of laughter.
For Mr. Jones, to meet Margaret frequently, was to love her. Before a year rolled round, he felt that his happiness depended upon his being able to secure both heart and hand of the lovely girl. He had observed enough to satisfy him that Margaret did not look upon him with a very favorable eye, and that, sometimes, it was hard work for her to treat him with civility. But, "faint heart never won fair lady," was his motto. He determined to lay a siege, trusting to patient perseverance for the accomplishment of his end.
He was successful — but the siege was a long one, and vigorously prosecuted. When 'the fair one' at length yielded, it was not with a joyous impulse, but was, rather, a compromise with her objections. She would not have chosen Mr. Jones, but she did not see how she could longer refuse him. And so they were married. He made her a kind, devoted husband, for he loved her fervently. But there was little in his mind that she could love, and hers became not, therefore, a mirror in which his thoughts were reflected.
There did not take place that interior union of mind and heart, from which, and from which alone, comes happiness in marriage. As far as he was concerned, the lack of this was made up by the abstraction of his thoughts in business. He had a defined pursuit in life, and this absorbed the larger portion of his time. Not so his wife. She had nothing upon which to steadily fix her mind. In her household she had little care; everything was delegated to others. There was a servant to fill every department. She had, therefore, plenty of leisure, in which thought, instead of going out in pursuit of the means for the attainment of ends, could turn back, and corrode her own bosom like a canker. The daily return of her husband was not looked for with the interest which that return would have excited, had he been a man of cultivated taste, and with habits of mind at all congenial with her own. The genuine warmth of his manner always made, however, his return pleasant — always awakened a glow of pleasure in her heart.
From this brief history, the reader will be able, for himself, to determine, to some extent, the cause of Mrs. Jones' periodic fits of despondency. They showed themselves, at first, only in states of pensive abstraction of mind, which remained for a few days, and then passed off. Gradually, they became more and more defined, until they arrived at the stage already described.
And now we will resume the broken thread of our narrative. As spring advanced, Mrs. Jones relapsed into her old states of melancholy. Her husband became really discouraged. It seemed to him that his wife could have no real love for either himself or her children. If so, why would she indulge in such wretched feelings? Five years before, he had dissolved his connection with her brother, and was now acting alone. Her father had been dead three years. He left her a fortune of forty thousand dollars. Most of this was in her husband's business. This business, in spite of Mr. Jones' most devoted efforts, had been falling into financial embarrassment for some time, in consequence of over-trading and heavy losses. He had, therefore, anxious care through the day, and often the most wretched feelings when he came home at night, and found his wife in one of her gloomy conditions.
Spring passed away, and summer came.
"Mr. and Mrs. Lorman are going to make the tour of the Lakes this summer," Mrs. Jones said to her husband one evening. "I would dearly love to be of the party, if you could leave your business."
Mr. Jones could not well be absent from work. But nothing of this was intimated. He was so much concerned on his wife's account, that he was willing to submit to any sacrifice to meet an expressed desire. Making hasty, and consequently, imperfect arrangements, to leave his business, Mr. Jones declared himself ready to accompany his wife in the proposed tour. They started, in company with Mr. and Mrs. Lorman, taking with them their oldest child. After spending a week at Saratoga, the party went to the Falls of Niagara. From Buffalo, after another week, they embarked for Chicago. Thence they passed over to St. Louis, and down the river to the mouth of the Ohio. Louisville, Cincinnati, Wheeling and Pittsburgh, came next in their route, as they turned their faces homeward. Three days journey in stagecoach, rail-road and steamboat, brought them to the place from which they had started, all glad to get back, but none more so than Mrs. Jones.
She had felt miserable for a week. For three days she had not spoken to any one, not even so much as replying to her husband's oft-repeated question, if there was nothing that he could get or do for her. At Saratoga, Mrs. Jones had enjoyed herself wonderfully. The visit to Niagara was also delightful. But the first day's sail on the lake made her sick, and she was not able to hold up her head until their arrival at Chicago. The journey from thence to St. Louis had no attractions. For the first day, on leaving St. Louis, the river scenery interested her, but she tired of its sameness after that. From the mouth of the Ohio to Pittsburgh, but little had a charm for her eye, that, for a greater portion of the time, although it looked abroad, took intelligent observation of nothing. The retina was impressed, but the mind perceived it not. From the time of leaving Pittsburgh till their arrival at home, her spirits were down to the lowest ebb.
Poor Mr. Jones was in despair. If this state of things continued, he did not know how soon his wife's malady would take a permanent form in a confirmed mental derangement. But an inspection of his business on arriving at home, gave him other and more absorbing causes of concern. His paper had been dishonored, and his credit, in consequence, so severely shocked, that he found himself in imminent danger of ruin. Business had been suspended until his return, which would have taken place weeks before, had not his letters failed to reach him. A few days of anxious investigation, revealed to the trembling merchant the dreaded truth, that he was a ruined man. A meeting of creditors was called, and an assignment made of all his effects.
During the progress of these distressing events, Mr. Jones had not been able to summon sufficient courage to disclose the truth to his wife. For days after their return, she had been too much depressed in feeling — too really wretched — to notice the dark shadow which rested upon her husband's face. Her attention was first directed to him by noticing one night, that he walked the floor of their chamber in evident agitation of mind, for more than an hour after his usual time for retiring. Her thoughts once fixed upon an object out of herself, and that object her husband in apparent distress — her own undefined and undefinable state of dreamy wretchedness began to subside.
In the morning, her first thoughts were of her husband. He had already arisen, when she awoke, and left the chamber. For three days she had not met the family at table. The thought of this, connected with the remembrance of her husband's agitation, too plainly exhibited on the night before, quickened her conscience as by a painful sting. She had never before seen him so moved; for he had always carefully striven to conceal from her whatever trouble and anxiety he might feel.
Arising quickly and dressing herself, Mrs. Jones went to the nursery to look at the children, her first visit to them for three days. The little things crowded around her, climbing up into her lap, entwining their arms around her neck, and kissing, with childish fondness, her cheeks, lips, and forehead. Her bosom throbbed with a warm impulse of delight. She remained with them until the breakfast bell was rung, and then joined her husband at the table. He lifted his eyes to her face as she entered, and smiled faintly. Her heart bounded with a quick throb the moment she saw the expression of his countenance. To her a dreadful change had passed over it. His brow, ever so smooth and calm, was heavy and corrugated, as by intense, anxious thought — his lips were compressed to half their ordinary volume — and his eyes had a strange, fixed, troubled expression. He ate only a few mouthfuls, and then left the table and retired from the house, seeming to be altogether unconscious of the presence of anyone.
"Mercy! what can have happened?" ejaculated Mrs. Jones, rising involuntarily and leaving the breakfast room with two of the children seated at the table. Until dinner time, she had no thought but for her husband. He was evidently in deep trouble, and that awakened all her sympathies. He was nothing changed in appearance when he came home at dinner time. She spoke to him in a kind voice, and he looked up in evident surprise.
"What is the matter, husband?" she asked, laying her hand tenderly upon his arm, and looking him with anxious interest in the face.
There was something so affectionate and earnest in his wife's manner, that Mr. Jones was taken by surprise. He replied, without time for reflection:
"I am a ruined man, Margaret! But, were it not for you and the children, I would not care."
"Ruined! Ruined!" murmured Mrs. Jones, in a bewildered manner. "How? What?"
"During our Northern and Western tour, my business became embarrassed, and some of my paper was dishonored. It was too late, when I returned, to repair the injury. There was nothing left me but to call a meeting of my creditors, and assign all my effects into the hands of trustees. This latter is now about being done. I shall come out a ruined man; but still, with a fair character, unbroken spirits, and a knowledge of business that will, I trust, put me on my feet again in a few years."
"Then why despond?" asked Mrs. Jones, in a tone of confidence.
Her husband started, and looked her in the face for a moment, doubting if he had heard aright.
"I only despond for your sake," he replied, after a short pause.
"And why for my sake?"
"You will not be able to bear the change. All this elegance, and luxury, and ease, will pass away, Margaret." His voice trembled. "Ah! my poor wife! I fear that you will not be able to bear it."
"All we have possessed has, at least, not made me happy," the wife returned. Her voice trembled likewise, and was low and somewhat plaintive. Her feelings shrank instinctively at the change her husband had predicted. But she felt a new love for, and a new confidence in him, blended with something of that heroic spirit which sustains a wife amid the severest trials.
"Margaret!" said the husband at length, in a firm voice, "can you stand up bravely by my side in this trial? Will your love for me keep you up? Can you forsake all for the sake of your husband and children?"
"Try me!" was the firm reply.
"And you shall not be disappointed," she returned, leaning her head against his bosom.
From that moment, Mr. Jones had a cheerful, confident spirit. He passed through the trying ordeal of giving everything into the hands of his creditors, without once flinching. He had feared for his wife, when she should be called upon to abandon the luxury and elegance to which she had always been used. But he did not know what was in her. Ease had allowed the dust to accumulate upon her real internal character. But the stroke of misfortune's hammer had shivered off the dimming scales, and now she stood forth in the brightness of a woman's true nature.
They had three children, the youngest but two years old at the time the event occurred.
"We shall have to give up our waiter," Mr. Jones said, when they were prepared to move into a small house, far away from the fashionable neighborhood in which they had for years lived.
"Of course," was promptly replied. "And the nurse also. I must now take the entire charge of my children."
"But, I am afraid it will be too much for you."
"Do you think we can afford to keep three servants?"
"I do not," Mr. Jones said. "I shall enter again into my business. But it will be in a small way, and without capital. Our income will be most limited."
"That settles the matter at once. I must be my own nurse. I have been thinking seriously over this matter for some time, and it seems to me clearly wrong for any woman to delegate her duties so fully as I have done. Perhaps," and her voice faltered, "all this trouble has been sent upon us — that I might be made to see and do my duty as a woman and mother. You were called upon to suffer for my supineness."
In a few weeks they were settled down quietly in their new home. Mrs. Jones found enough to do for her husband and children, to keep head and hands both in constant occupation. She had no time for lowness of spirits — and, in fact, no cause. Her malady had arisen from a lack of active interest in others. This she now had. Her body was often wearied, but duties well done, left behind them a cheerful spirit. Mr. Jones found that it was as much as he could do, to meet the expense of his family. His children were growing up, and it cost no small sum to educate them. His wife was, in consequence, not allowed to relax in her efforts. And this was well for her. Constant occupation, and her portion of this world's cares and anxieties, were the remedies which her case required. When freely administered, they proved fully efficacious.