The Way of Transgressors
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Do not go out tonight, Amanda. The pavements are damp, and the air is loaded with cold vapor."
"Indeed, mother, I must go."
"Amanda, there is no necessity for your attending this party; and very urgent reasons why you should stay at home. Your cough is still troublesome, and a little exposure might give it permanency. You know that from your father, you inherit a predisposition to disease of the lungs."
"You only say that to alarm me."
"Not so, my child; I know your constitution, and know how fatally the exposure of a night like this may affect you."
"But I'll wrap up warmly, and put on my overshoes."
"A necessary precaution, if you will go out, Amanda. But I wish I could persuade you to be guided by me. You know that the Bible says, the way of transgressors is hard."
"I don't know how you will apply that to me, mother. I am transgressing no law of divine appointment."
"Be not sure of that, Amanda."
"I do not understand you, mother."
"I will try and make my meaning clear. In our creation, as organized beings, we were so constituted as to bear a certain relation to everything around us, and our bodily health was made dependent upon this relation. Here then, we have a law of health, which may be called a divine law — for there is nothing good that does not flow from the Divine Creator. If we violate this law, we become transgressors, and shall certainly prove the way we have chosen, in so doing, to be a hard one."
"Oh, is that all?" said the daughter, looking up with a smile, and breathing more freely. "I'll risk the consequences of breaking the law you have announced."
"Don't be so serious, mother. I will wrap up close and have my feet well protected. There is not the least danger of my taking cold."
"Well, you must do as you please. Still I cannot approve of your going, for I see that there is danger. But you are fully of age, and I will not seek to control you."
So strong was Amanda's desire to attend a large but select party, that she went, in company with a young man who called for her, notwithstanding the atmosphere was so humid and dense with fog, that breathing became oppressive.
The rooms were crowded, and the air in them so warm as to cause the perspiration to start from the fair brows of the merry dancers, among whom none was more lovely or more lively than Amanda Beaufort. At eleven, after having passed an evening of much pleasure, she started for home with her companion. She was so well wrapped up, that she did not feel the cold, and her feet were protected from the damp pavement by the impervious overshoes.
"I'm safe home, mother, after all!" she exclaimed with her merry ringing laugh, as she bounded into the chamber where her ever-watchful and interested mother sat awaiting her daughter's return.
"I am glad to see you back, Amanda," said Mrs. Beaufort kindly, "and hope that no ill consequences will follow what I must still call a very imprudent act."
"Oh I'm just as well as ever, and have not taken the least cold. How could I, wrapped up so warm?"
Still, on the next morning, unaccountable as it was to Amanda, she was quite hoarse, and was much troubled by a cough occasioned by a slight but constant tickling in her throat. Accompanying these symptoms was a pale anxious face and a general feeling of lassitude.
"I feared all this, Amanda," said her mother, with manifest concern.
"It's only a slight cold, mother. And, anyhow, I don't believe it was occasioned by going out last night, I was wrapped up so warm. I must have got the bed-clothes off of me in the night."
"What to one is a slight cold, my daughter, is a very serious affair to another; and you are one of those who can never take a slight cold without shocking the whole system. Your pale face and your evident debility this morning show how much even this slight cold, as you call it, has affected you. That you have this cold is to me no subject of wonder. You were well wrapped up, it is true, and your feet protected. Still, your face was exposed, and every particle of air you inhaled was teeming with moisture. From dancing in a warm room, the pores of your skin were all opened, and the striking of moist chilly air upon your face could hardly fail of producing some degree of cold. The most susceptible parts of your body are your throat and lungs, and to these any shock which is received by the system is directly conveyed. You cannot take cold in your hand or foot or face, or any other part of your body, without your chest hurting — that you are hoarse, and have a slight cough, then, is to me in no way surprising."
Amanda tried to make light of this, but every hour she felt worse and worse. Her hoarseness, instead of diminishing, increased, and her cough grew more and more troublesome. Finally, she was compelled to go to bed, and have the physician called in. "Is there any danger?" asked Mrs. Beaufort, with an anxious and troubled countenance, as the physician, after prescribing among other things a stimulating application to the throat externally, was about leaving the house.
"Is your daughter subject to these fits of hoarseness, ma'am?" he asked.
"Yes, sir, whenever she takes cold."
"And does that frequent irritating cough always attend the recurrence of hoarseness?"
"Then, madam, it is but right that you should know, that such results, following a slight cold, indicate a very great tendency to pulmonary or bronchial infections. The predisposition existing, very great care should be taken to prevent all exciting causes. With care, your daughter may retain her health until she passes over the most critical portion in the life of every one with such a constitution as hers — that is, from twenty years of age until thirty or thirty-five. Without great care and prudence during that time, her constitution may be shattered so as to set all remedial efforts at defiance."
"But, doctor, how is she now?" was Mrs. Beaufort's anxious inquiry.
"Not dangerous, madam, but still in a condition requiring care and skill to prevent unfavorable consequences."
"Then do your best for her, doctor."
"You can rely on me for that, Mrs. Beaufort. Good day."
With a heavy heart the mother returned to the sick chamber of her daughter, and sat down by the bedside, thoughtfully, for a few moments, while she held Amanda's hand, which was hot with fever. Then recollecting herself, she left the room to prepare the stimulating application which had been ordered.
It is remarkable how the whole system will sympathize with one diseased part. The cold which Amanda had taken concentrated its active effects upon her respiratory organs; but it was felt also in every member, prostrating the whole body, and giving a sensation of general suffering. Her head ached violently, and a burning fever diffused itself over the entire surface of her body.
How sadly was she proving the truth of her mother's warning, when she said to her, in the language of divine authority, "The way of transgressors is hard."
She had violated a law of health, and in that violation, as in the violation of every physical or moral law, the penalty of transgression followed too surely.
It was a week before Amanda was able to go about again, and then her pale cheeks, and debilitated frame indicated but too plainly the sad consequences of a single imprudent act.
A few weeks after she had become restored apparently to her usual health, as Amanda was dressing one morning to go out, her mother said —
"Your clothes are a great deal too tight, Amanda."
"Oh no, I am not tight at all, mother. Julia Mason laces as tight again. She gets her sister to draw her lacings for her, and she has to pull with all her strength."
"That is wrong in Julia Mason, and yet half the pressure that she can bear would seriously injure you."
"How can that be, mother? I am as healthy as she is."
"I will tell you, Amanda. She has a full round chest, giving free play to the lungs; while your chest is narrow and flat. Without any compression, the action of your lungs is not so free and healthy as hers would be, laced as tightly as you say she laces. But when to your natural conformation you add artificial pressure, the action of your lungs becomes not only enfeebled, but the unhealthy action induced tends to develop that peculiar form of disease, the predisposition to which you inherit."
"That is only an idea of yours, mother. I am sure I have quite a full bust," said Amanda, glancing down at her chest, and embracing it with her hands.
"There you are mistaken. I have noticed this defect, with much anxiety, ever since you were a child; and having had my attention called to it, have frequently made comparisons, and have found that you are remarkably narrow and flat, and what is more, have a tendency to stoop, which still lessens the size of the cavity in which the lungs play."
"Well, mother, my clothes are not tight. Just see here."
Mrs. Beaufort tried her clothes, and found them to be much tighter than in her judgment was good for health.
"You are still unwilling, Amanda, to be governed by your mother, where her wishes come in opposition to your pride or inclinations. I know that you are compressing your chest too much, but you are not willing to yield to my judgment. And yet I prescribe no arbitrary rules, but endeavor to guide you by a rational consideration of true principles. These you will not see; and the consequences that must follow their violation will be the transgressor's reward."
"Indeed, indeed, mother, you are too serious. You are frightened at a shadow. Not one of my friends enjoys better general health than I do."
"And so might the graceful maple say of the sturdy oak in the first years of their existence. But long after the first had been humbled beneath the hand of decay, the other would stand with its roots more firmly imbedded in the earth, and its limbs battling the storms as vigorously as ever."
Amanda made no reply to this, for she was suddenly struck with its force. Still she only pretended to loosen her stays to satisfy her mother, while the lacings remained as tense as ever.
It is unnecessary to trace, step by step, the folly of Amanda Beaufort through a series of years — years that caused her mother much and painful anxiety — up to her twenty-sixth summer, when, as a wife and mother, she was suffering the penalty of her indiscretion, proving too clearly the truth, that the way of transgressors is hard. In spite of all her mother's warnings and remonstrances, she had continued to expose herself to the night air in damp weather — to attend balls thinly clad, and remain at them to a very late hour, and to lace herself so tightly as to seriously retard the healthy action of the vital organs.
At the age of twenty-three she married. A year after, the birth of a child gave her whole system, which had indicated long before its feebleness, a powerful shock, from which the reaction was slow and unsteady. The color never came back to her cheek, nor the elasticity to her frame. She had so long subjected herself to the pressure of an artificial external support, that she could not leave off her stays without experiencing such a sinking, sickening sensation, as she called it, that she was compelled to continue, however reluctantly, the compression and support of tightly-laced corsets. And from frequently taking cold, through imprudence, the susceptibility had become so great, that the slightest dampness of the feet or the exposure to a light draught of air was sure to bring on a cough of hoarseness. Her nervous system, too, was sadly shattered. Indeed, every indication presented, foreshadowed a rapid and premature decline — consequent, solely, upon her thoughtless imprudence in earlier years.
"Shall I never feel any better, mother?" asked Amanda, one day, as a faint sickness came over her, compelling her to resign her dear little babe into the arms of its nurse, looking up at the same time so earnestly and appealingly into her mother's face, that Mrs. Beaufort's heart was touched with especial sorrow and tenderness.
"I hope so, Amanda," was replied, but in a tone that, though meant to encourage, conveyed little hope to the bosom of her child.
"Every time little Anna nurses, I feel so sick and faint, that, sometimes, it seems that I must give up. And yet the thought of letting the dear little angel draw her food from another bosom than mine, makes me fainter and sicker still. Can nothing be done to help me, mother?"
"We must see the doctor and consult with him. Perhaps he can do something," Mrs. Beaufort replied, in an abstracted tone.
That day the family physician was called in, and a long consultation held. The result was, a decision that Amanda must get a nurse for her child, and then try the effect upon her system of a change of air and the use of medicinal waters. In a word, she must put away her child and go to the Springs.
"Indeed, doctor, I cannot give up little Anna," said the invalid mother, while the tears started to her eyes. "I will be very careful of myself, and teach her to take a little food early, so as to relieve me as much as possible. It seems as if it would kill me, were I forced to resign to a stranger a mother's dearest privilege and holiest duty."
"I can but honor your devotion to your child, Amanda," the old family physician said, with a tenderness unusual to one whose daily interaction was with suffering in its varied forms. "Still, I am satisfied, that for every month you nurse that babe — a year is taken from your life."
There was in the tone and manner of the doctor a solemn emphasis, that instantly aroused the young husband's liveliest fears, and sent a chill to the heart of Mrs. Beaufort.
For a moment or two, Amanda's thoughts were turned inward, and then looking up with a smile of strange meaning, while her eyes grew brighter, and something like a glow kindled upon her thin, pale cheek, she said, drawing her babe at the same time closer to her bosom —
"I will risk all, doctor. I cannot forego a mother's duty."
"A mother's duty, my dear young friend," the physician replied, with increased tenderness, for his heart was touched, "is to prolong, by every possible means, her own life, for the sake of her offspring. There are duties which none but a mother can perform. Reserve yourself for these, Amanda, and let others do for your babe all that can be done as well as you can perform it. Take my advice. Leave little Anna at home with your mother and a careful nurse; and then, with your husband and some female friend, upon whose judicious care you can rely, go to the Springs and spend a few weeks."
The advice of the physician was taken, and the young mother, with clinging, though lacerated affections, resigned to the care of a hired nurse the babe over which her heart yearned with unutterable tenderness.
Three weeks were spent at one of the Virginia springs, but little apparent benefit was the result. The young mother grieved for the loss of her babe so deeply and constantly, often giving way to tears, that the renovating effects of changed air and medicinal waters were counteracted, and she returned home, drooping in body and depressed in spirits. Her infant seemed but half restored to her, as she clasped it to a bosom in which the current of its young life had been dried up. Sad, sad indeed was her realization of the immutable truth, that the way of transgressors is hard!
Two years more of a painful and anxious existence were eked out, and Amanda again became a mother.
From this additional shock she partially recovered; but it soon became evident to all, that her shattered and enfeebled constitution was rapidly giving way. Her last babe was but four months old, when the pale messenger passed by, and gave his fearful summons.
It was toward the close of one of those calm days in September, when nature seems pausing to note the first few traces of decay which autumn has thrown upon garden, field, and forest, that Mrs. Beaufort, and the husband of her daughter, with a few friends, were gathered in the chamber of their beloved one, to see her die. How sad, how very sad is the death-bed of the young, sinking beneath premature decay! In the passing away of one who has met the storms of life, and battled with them through vigorous maturity, and sinks at last in the course of old age — there is little to pain the feelings. But when the young and beautiful die, with all their tenderest and earliest ties clinging to them — an event so unlooked for, so out of the true order of nature — we can only turn away and weep. We can extract from such an affliction, but few thoughts of comfort. All is dreary, and blank, and desolate.
"Bring me my children," the dying mother said, rousing up from a state of partial slumber, with an earnest emphasis, that brought both her mother and her husband to her bedside.
"What did you want, dear Amanda?" asked the husband, laying his hand gently upon her white forehead, which was damp with the dews of coming dissolution.
"My dear babes," she replied in a changed tone, rising up with an effort. "My Anna and Mary. Who will be a mother to them, when I am laid at rest? Oh, that I could take them with me!"
Tears came to the relief of her overwrought feelings, and leaning her head upon the bosom of her husband, she wept and sobbed aloud. The infant was brought in by her mother, and laid in her arms, when she had a little recovered herself.
"Oh, my baby! my sweet baby!" she said, with tender animation. "My sweet, sweet baby! I cannot give you up!" And she clasped it to her bosom with an energy of affection, while the large drops rolled over her pale cheek. "And Anna, dear little girl! where is my Anna?" she asked.
Anna, a beautiful child, a few months past her second birthday, was brought in and lifted upon the bed.
"Don't cry, mother," said the little thing, seeing the tears upon her mother's cheeks, "don't cry; I'll always be good."
"Heaven bless you and keep you, my child!" the mother sobbed, eagerly kissing the sweet lips that were turned up to hers; and then clasped the child to her bosom in a strong embrace.
The children were, after a time, removed, but the thoughts of the dying mother were still upon them; and with these thoughts were self-reproach, that made her pillow one of thorns.
"I now see and feel," said she, looking up into the face of her mother, after having lain with closed eyes for about ten minutes, "that all my sufferings, and this early death, which will soon be upon me, would have been avoided, if I had only permitted myself to be guided by you. I do not wonder now that my constitution gave way. How could it have been otherwise, when I so disregarded all the laws of health? But, my dear mother, the past is beyond recall; and now I leave to you the dear little ones from whom I must soon part forever. I feel calmer than I have felt for some time. The bitterness of the last agony seems over. But I do not see you, dear husband! Give me your hands. Here, let my head rest on your bosom. It is sweet to lie thus — Anna — dear child! Mary — sweet, sweet babe!"
The lips of the young wife and mother moved feebly, and inarticulate whispers fell faintly from her tongue for some moments, and then she sank to sleep — and it was a sleep from which none awake in the body.
Thus, at the age of twenty-six, abused and exhausted nature gave up the struggle; and the mother, who had violated the laws of health, sank to the earth just at the moment when her tenderest and holiest duties called loudest for performance.
Who, in this brief and imperfect sketch, does not recognize familiar features? Amanda Beaufort is but one of a class which has far too many representatives. These are in every town and village, in every street and neighborhood. Why do we see so many pale-faced mothers? Why are our young and lovely females so soon broken down under their maternal duties? The answer, in far too many cases, may be found in their early and persevering transgression of the most beneficial laws of health. The violation of these is ever followed, sooner or later, in a greater or less degree, by painful consequences. Sometimes life is spared to the young mother, and she is allowed to linger on through years of suffering which the heart aches to think of. Often death terminates early her pains, and her babes are left a legacy to the cold charities of an unfeeling world. How sad, how painful the picture! Alas! that it is a true one.