The Unloved One
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
......Fixed in his resolution to repel every manifestation of tenderness on the part of his wife, Percy Edwards maintained towards her the same cold formality, in spite of all her earnest efforts to break the icy crust of his feelings. He did not love her, and was not inclined to affect any show of affection; nay, she was absolutely repulsive to him, and he did not show any overt acts of unkindness towards her.
And thus disjoined, instead of united — Mr. and Mrs. Edwards moved along their way through life, envied by hundreds, who, in exchanging with them, would have left an Eden of happiness for a dreary wilderness.
A few months of such an existence completely broke down the spirits of Kate. She had no courage to sustain her. Thousands, as unloved as she, seek refuge in pride, pleasure, and a heartless worship at the gilded shrine of fashion. They meet coldness with a sharp disdain; and, finding nothing to love at home, turn to what the world has to offer, and become mere bubbles on the surface of society — prominent, brilliant, and useless. Nay, worse than useless; for they reflect the light of Heaven falsely, and create discontent in those who see only their glittering exterior, and vainly imagine it to be the correspondent of internal delight.
It was not so with Kate; for she was sincere, unselfish, and true-hearted, and could not seek a false pleasure, when the sources of real delight became dry. A naiad, at a fountain, the waters of which had failed, she turned not to another, but bent weeping over the spot, hoping, yet faint with a long desire to hear the murmur of the coming stream.
There fell, at last, a gleam of light across her path. In her dark and cloudy sky — arched, beautifully, a rainbow of promise. Hope, faint, yet sweet to her spirit, revived, and she looked to the future with a trembling heart. For a long time she locked in her own thoughts the dear secret she had discovered and pondered over it with a daily increasing pleasure. Then it was whispered, low and with a blushing cheek, to her husband. She was to become a mother!
From that moment she felt that there was a change. From that moment her husband's manner was different. He was still as polite and formal as before; but with these was blended a something that her heart interpreted as tenderness for his wife; and from this her fainting spirit drew the nourishment that sustained it. If, suddenly coming upon her now, he discovered her weeping, he did not turn away, silent and cold, as before; but would speak some word of apparent sympathy, which instantly dried up the fountains of grief.
And thus the time passed, until another being saw the light — until another voice sounded upon the air. Oh! with what a thrill of delight did the young mother take her new-born babe into her arms, and hail it as the bond that was to bind to hers the heart of her husband. How eagerly did she read the face of that husband — as he bent over and gazed upon the innocent being to which she had given birth — and marked its glow of pleasure. But, he did not look into her face — he had eyes only for his boy! The mother sighed faintly; but he did not hear the sigh. Her long lashes fell slowly upon her cheeks, and tears stole from beneath them; but he turned away without observing she wept.
The rainbow of promise, which had spanned the Heaven of her mind, faded away; and the light that had lain so warmly upon her path, grew dim. There was love in the heart of her husband only for his child, but none for her. That dreadful truth came with a shock, felt to the very center of her being; and, reacting upon her exhausted system, disturbed all its vital functions. Fever and delirium laid their hands upon her, and for many days the light of her life but flickered in the wind, which seemed every moment about to extinguish it.
When, at last, through the skill of her physician, the disease abated, and health, though feeble, began to flow once more through her veins; and when reason came back, and with it the outgushing tenderness of the young mother, she found that her babe had been laid upon another bosom, and that from another, it was to draw the sustenance which nature had supplied for it in her own bosom.
Against this, her heart arose in instant rebellion. But no freedom of choice was left her. The physician said that her health was too slender to admit of the exhaustion attendant upon nursing her own babe. The husband would not hear of such a thing for a moment. And her husband's mother, colder-hearted and more worldly-minded than even he, openly sneered at the idea of one in her position degrading herself into a mere child's nurse!
It was all in vain that Kate pleaded, tearfully, for the mother's highest privilege. Those who had the power, forced her into a compliance with their will; and the fountain in her bosom, that stirred at the voice of her babe, was suffered to become dry.
From that time, the health of Mrs. Edwards visibly declined; or, rather, was never restored to its previous condition. She became subject to fainting fits and long periods of depression, from which nothing could arouse her. The babe, instead of forming a link between her and her husband, became a rival in his affections. Mr. Edwards worshiped his boy; but, for his wife, had no feeling other than indifference, if not absolute dislike. All this Kate saw; and it extinguished her last and dearest hope.
To those who could only look upon the surface, Mr. Edwards was regarded as one of the kindest and most attentive of husbands; and when a rumor of his wife's fits of gloomy depression of spirits went abroad, the fault was attributed to herself, and laid to the charge of a naturally capricious and dissatisfied temper.
"If she had fewer of life's blessings," said one, "she would be happier. The very surplus of everything, makes her appetite pall."
"Any woman, situated as she is," remarked another, "who is not contented, deserves to be wretched. I have no sympathy for her. Her husband I know very well, and know him to be one of the kindest and most indulgent of men."
"He has indulged her too much," alleged another.
These impressions the elder Mrs. Edwards strengthened and confirmed, whenever she had occasion to say anything on the subject.
"Percy has rather a gloomy time of it," she would sometimes remark, when allusion was made to the subject; and then, when the inquisitive would ask as to the cause of Kate's strange conduct, she would shake her head gravely, and say —
"Over-indulgence has spoiled her."
"It's hard to tell what ails her, unless it be the desire for some impossible thing. Some minds are never content. To multiply their blessings, is but to multiply their misery."
"Heaven only, knows what ails her! Percy would give worlds for that knowledge, if with it came also the remedy."
The rapid decline in his wife's health, or rather its failure, after the birth of her child, to come back its old standard united to her lowness of spirits — naturally gave her husband some concern, and he consulted her physician as to the cause. He, as the profession generally do, assigned a physical cause, and recommended change of air.
"Let her go to the sea-shore, or among the Mountains," said he.
And this change was proposed to Kate.
"I saw Doctor Rawson today," said her husband, after the interview, "and he recommends a few weeks on the sea-shore, or somewhere among the mountains."
"I don't wish to go," replied Kate, in a low, sad voice.
"But your health, Kate," said Mr. Edwards.
"I shall be just as well at home," she replied.
"No, I will not admit that. Doctor Rawson is sure that a change of air will do you good; and what he says is reasonable."
Kate made no answer. Mr. Edwards continued to urge the matter upon her; but she had no more to say.
On the same evening, Percy called to see his mother.
"How is Kate?" inquired the latter.
"No better. I saw Doctor Rawson about her today, and he says a change of air is absolutely necessary, and recommends a few weeks at the Bedford Springs, or at Newport, or Cape May."
"No doubt it would do her much good."
"No doubt in the world. But, as in everything else of late, she is opposed to just what her friends recommend to her as best."
"She doesn't want to go?"
"No, of course not."
"Did you tell her that the doctor recommended the change?"
"Yes. But she insists upon it that she will be just as well at home."
"A compliment to the medical opinion of Doctor Rawson!
"Isn't it? I wish you would see her, and urge her to go somewhere."
"Very well; though I don't know that what I say will be of much use. I am not one of her favorites."
"See her, at any rate. It won't do to let her sink down and die, as she certainly will if something cannot be done to arouse her."
"I will call upon Mrs. Harrison and tell her what the doctor says. She has great influence over her; and can persuade her to go if any one can."
The mother of Kate heard what the doctor had said, and approved of his recommendation. She knew, better than anyone else, the true nature of the disease from which her daughter was suffering; and, although she did not hope for much from a change of scene, yet she believed the effect would be beneficial rather than otherwise. So she went to see her immediately. She found her, as usual, alone in her chamber, with a sad countenance, and a drooping, listless air. After inquiring, tenderly, about her health, she said —
"I understand that Doctor Rawson recommends a change of air."
"What all doctors recommend, when they do not know the cause and nature of a disease," replied Kate, with a faint smile.
"But I think, with Doctor Rawson, that a few weeks at the sea-shore will be of great benefit. The change will interest your mind as well as invigorate your body."
"A temporary benefit may be derived from such a change," said Kate; "but it cannot be permanent. When I return, I will sink again; and, perhaps, lower, from the unnatural excitement to which I have been subjected."
"Kate, my child, it is wrong for you to give up in this way. Your disease is more of the mind than of the body; and you have the power to arouse yourself and throw it off, if you will."
"The power, mother! I, the power!" exclaimed Kate, in a voice that made her mother startle.
"Have you not?" inquired Mrs. Harrison calmly.
"Has the bird, whose wing is broken, the power to fly?" asked Kate.
"Unless you make an effort to throw off your present state of mind, you cannot live. And are you willing to die, and leave this dear child in the hands of those who cannot love it as you do?"
"Has it not already been taken from me? Does it not draw its existence from another bosom?"
"But your health required . . . "
"My health! mother! My very life depended upon the privilege you have all denied me. Do you want the proof? Look at that shadowy hand" — and she held up the thin white member against the light, which almost shone through it — "and at this shrunken face," and she laid her hand upon her colorless cheek. "Restore the fountain that has been dried, and let my babe drink at it, and there is some hope. None without."
"That is impossible, Kate" —
"And just as impossible is my return to health through the means proposed."
"But, for the sake of your friends, you ought to be willing to try the means of restoration prescribed by a physician in whom we all have confidence."
"Friends?" said Kate, half to herself. "Friends? Have I any friends?"
"My child, why do you speak in this way?" asked her mother, in a voice half sorrowful, half reproving.
"Friends seek your good, not their own pleasure," continued Kate. "Have I any who may be called by so excellent a name?"
And she shook her head mournfully.
"Have you not a husband?" said Mrs. Harrison.
Kate again shook her head; and then, after a pause, replied —
"There is a man who calls himself my husband; but he is so only in name."
"Kate! Kate!" exclaimed her mother, "are you mad? How dare you utter such language?"
"A heart that is breaking, mother," said the unhappy creature, "may be pardoned, if, in a moment of intense suffering, it is betrayed into an expression of pain."
A long and gloomy silence followed this remark, which smote with the apparent force of a hammer upon the heart of Mrs. Harrison. No further attempt was made, at the time, to induce Kate to yield to the wishes of her friends. Her mother endeavored, rather, to draw off her mind from thoughts such as those to which she had just given utterance. But, she was none the less deeply impressed with the belief that the change proposed would be beneficial; nor did she intend abandoning her efforts to induce her daughter to go from home for a short season.
At the first opportunity she had an interview with Mr. Edwards, and held a conference with him on the subject of Kate's mental disease. She found him rather reserved, and disinclined to much conversation on the subject. But, on pressing the matter upon him, he was more free to say what was in his mind. To her expressions of concern for Kate, he responded with much apparent earnestness; said that it gave him great concern, and that he was satisfied she could not live over a few years if some change did not take place.
"Since the birth of our child," said he, "she has never regained her strength. That dangerous fever gave her system a terrible shock."
"I'm afraid," returned her mother, "that we erred in not permitting her to nurse her child — what she so earnestly desired to do. She cannot, it seems, get over that."
"She has never said so to me."
"But no later than yesterday she alluded to it while I talked with her, and in a way that satisfied me of her having taken the matter far more deeply to heart than I had imagined."
"That is a weakness, as you must yourself see, Mrs. Harrison. Apart from considerations of health, I would not have my wife a mere wet nurse; and I am surprised that she should have thought of such a thing."
"The desire was but a natural one," replied Mrs. Harrison. "As to there being anything degrading in the act of a mother giving nourishment to her own babe, as some strangely enough seem to think, I cannot see it. I drank at my mother's bosom, and my child, in turn, drank at mine; and, I believe, it would have been far better for Kate at this moment if she had done the same for her own off-spring. In this matter, people are going against nature; and whenever this is done, evil of some kind must inevitably follow."
"But, Mrs. Harrison," returned Edwards, "her state of health puts this out of the question. You know that she was dangerously ill, and that if a nurse had not been provided for the child, it would have died."
"I know all that. But, when the sudden illness abated, and she was able to give nourishment to her babe, all, with one accord, denied her a mother's privilege, though she plead for it day after day with tears. Ah, Percy! I fear that a great and irreparable wrong was then done."
"It may be so. But I cannot believe but that we acted rightly. Our motives were at least good."
"No one doubts that."
"I am sure, if she would consent to leave home for a few weeks, her health would improve," said Percy Edwards.
"It would, no doubt, benefit her. But she has an unconquerable reluctance to going. Still, I think we may induce her to do as we wish. Only we must act towards her with great tenderness. I am afraid — pardon me for speaking plainly — that you do not consider, sufficiently, her weak state. She needs to be treated with the gentleness and affection that we show to a child."
Mr. Edwards looked surprised at this remark.
"I am sure, Mrs. Harrison," he replied, "no man could do more for the happiness of a woman, than I do for that of Kate. How I could act differently, is more than I can imagine."
"It may be natural to you, Mr. Edwards," said Mrs. Harrison, "but you are lacking in that tenderness of manner so grateful, nay, so essential to the heart of a wife."
"I speak plainly, because the necessity for doing so is imperative. Your manner towards Kate has ever been respectful, polite, attentive, but not affectionate; and without the latter, the former never can satisfy the heart of a loving woman. I do not blame you for this. It may all be natural; but I feel it to be my duty to speak of it now, and to suggest, at least temporarily, a change."
Mr. Edwards did not reply for some moments. He then said —
"Mrs. Harrison, I must own that what you allege surprises me. You charge me, by implication at least, with lack of affection for my wife."
"No, Percy," returned the lady quickly. "I did not mean that. I only spoke of your manner towards her, which lacks the warmth a woman's heart requires. I have not said that you did not love her."
"I do not see how I can act differently; for I see no defect in my conduct," said the young man, with a repellant manner. "If my wife misinterprets the manner in which I treat her, and makes herself unhappy about it — that is no fault of mine. She ought to have the good sense to take me as I am, and not make herself wretched because I am not what I cannot be."
"You still misunderstand me, Percy," urged the the mother of Kate. "I did not say that your wife made herself wretched because your manner towards her was not different. I only suggested a modification of it, at least for the present, as a means of aiding in her return to a healthier state of mind. But we will say no more about this. I have frankly opened my mind to you, and thus far discharged my duty. You must now act as your own heart directs."
Percy showed no inclination to continue the subject. His manner plainly enough indicated that the conversation had given him no pleasure; and that he believed the mother of Kate to have exceeded the privilege of her position. When they parted, it was with the most formal politeness on both sides.
After Mrs. Harrison parted with Percy Edwards, the young man remained alone for nearly an hour. Sometimes he walked the floor with hurried steps, his manner greatly excited; sometimes he sat beside a table, with his head leaning upon his hand, so buried in thought as to be almost motionless; and sometimes he muttered to himself, as he aroused up from these fits of abstraction.
"Ah me!" he sighed, at last, rising slowly from his chair, and beginning to walk about, but with less agitation of manner than before exhibited. "This was a great mistake — the one great error of my life. How blind I was not to have foreseen just such a result as this! I never had the smallest impulse of affection for her, and never can have. Both are unhappy in our bonds, and both will be so, until death severs the unnatural tie. Ah me! A hundred thousand as a marriage portion, doubled on my own side, with half a million in prospect — does not put a single drop of honey in this cup, which grows more bitter with every draught. The worldly advantage is all very well. I am satisfied with that. But it comes at too heavy a cost. And poor Kate" — there was something of pity in the tone with which this was uttered — pity, not tenderness — "she has been the most wronged in this business. But the alliance was of her father's own seeking. His were the offered inducements, and I am not to be blamed if the temptation proved too strong for me. There are thorns in my pillow which can neither be covered nor removed. Ah me! I wish Kate would seek, as I do, in coldness and indifference, the protection she needs. Her mother's observation is correct. There is no tenderness in my manner — and I have not meant that there should be. I have not treated her unkindly, for I wished to avoid all cause for complaint or reproach. I wished to stand clear before the world — and I am clear. If she beats herself against the bars of her cage — am I to blame? No, no! Let her yield to the necessity of her position, as I do. Let her avail herself of all the sources of forgetfulness within her reach — and there are many — and live loveless, if not happy. But she will not. If some speedy change does not take place, she cannot live a year. The world is quick in its imputation of wrong; and a whisper from her friends may thrill a thousand hearts with a suspicion of foul play, if she goes down to the grave in so short a period after our marriage. And there is yet another consideration — my interest in her father's large estate. How will that be affected? Having sacrificed so much for this consideration, it must not be abandoned now."
Edwards continued to move about the room, in deep reflection, for a considerable time longer. Then he went slowly up to his wife's chamber. She was lying upon the bed, with her face buried in a pillow. She did not stir, although his footfall was distinct upon the floor. Edwards went to the bedside, and leaning over, said, with more affection in his voice than he had ever used since their marriage, taking her hand in his, with a gentle pressure, at the same time —
"Kate, it grieves me to see you so ill both in body and mind."
There was an instant quiver in every limb, before so motionless; but the sufferer neither arose nor made any reply.
"Unless something is done for your relief," continued Mr. Edwards, in the same tone, "you cannot live. You know how much we are all afflicted, and how anxious we all feel on account of your loss of health and spirits."
The hand of his wife was still in his, and he held it with the same gentle pressure, that was now as gently returned. The impulse of Mr. Edwards was to remove his hand the instant Kate showed this consciousness of a tenderer manifestation than he was accustomed to give; but he restrained himself, and still let his hand rest upon hers. He felt that she was listening to him, and that he had the ability to influence her as he would, if he used the power of a well-counterfeited regard. After a few moments of silence, he went on:
"I am sure that a change of air and a change of scene will do you good. This Doctor Rawson has already said, and you know that we all agree in the opinion. Now, will you not, to relieve the minds of your friends, even if you feel reluctant to leave this seclusion into which you have shrunk, make an effort? I am ready to go with you, at any moment. Come! arouse yourself; if not for your own sake, for ours, for mine."
The way in which this was said, more than the words themselves, acted like a charm upon Mrs. Edwards. The almost pulseless lethargy into which she had fallen passed off quickly, and rising up, she pushed back the matted hair from her face, and said, "I know you all think me perverse and unreasonable, and I may be so to some extent; but I will try to do as you wish. I feel as weak in mind and body as a child; and, like a child, I will submit myself to your direction. Only, Percy," — her voice had a most touching pathos as she said this — "love me as a child! Speak to me as gently, as tenderly as you did just now — and I will be the happiest being alive."
As she spoke, she leaned over towards her husband, and, burying her face on his bosom, sobbed aloud.
Cold-hearted as was Percy Edwards, this exhibition moved him. It was unexpected, and, therefore, he was not prepared to meet it in the way he would otherwise have done. As Kate lay weeping upon his bosom, and almost clinging to him, he experienced a change of feeling towards her. Pity melted into tenderness, and, on the impulse of the moment, he drew his arm around her, and, bending down, touched his lips to her forehead.
A happier moment the trembling wife had not known for years.
"You will make a short visit to Newport?" said Mr. Edwards, as Kate's feelings grew calmer.
"Oh, yes," she whispered, "if you wish me to do so."
"Only on account of your health," he replied, "I know it will do you good."
"Oh, certainly I will go. Forgive me for having before hesitated a moment; it was a childish weakness. But I will try hereafter to act with more reason."
The pressure of a tenderly spoken word, revealed to Percy Edwards a hidden treasure in the love of a woman, worthy, truly worthy of a full reciprocation. Her heart was open and panting before him. Alas! for the man, that he could not prize the untold wealth he had only to reach forth his hand and take. But the lover of himself and the world, is ever blind to what are life's real blessings. Thus blind was Percy Edwards.
Deluded into the belief that a genuine affection had been awakened in the heart of her husband, Kate felt the motions of a new life within her.
Satisfied that if he again fell back into his old habit of treating his wife, she would at once relapse into her former state of depression — Mr. Edwards maintained a certain appearance of affection, much as the effort cost him. It was wonderful to see the effect upon Mrs. Edwards. Her countenance became cheerful, her voice lost its even, passionless tone, and she evinced an interest in much that was passing around her. Preparations were immediately commenced for a visit to Newport, and in a week from the time she was aroused from the lethargy into which she had fallen, she left for that fashionable resort, in company with her husband and several friends.