Timothy Shay Arthur
(This is a sequel to Timothy Shay Arthur's "The Maiden". You will want to read that first!)
James Hartley had been married three weeks — three of the happiest weeks he had ever spent; but happier far was his lovely young bride. A form of affection, as every woman is, she could love more deeply, and feel a more intense delight in loving. The more closely she looked into her husband's mind, and the clearer she saw and understood the moral qualities by which it was adorned — the purer and more elevated was her love.
They sat alone, side by side, as the day was drawing to a close, the hand of the wife resting, confidingly, in that of her husband. They were yet in the family of the bride's father, who would not hear to their going away.
"It is plenty of time, these three or four months to come, for Anna to take upon herself the cares of domestic life," he would say, whenever any allusion was made by either his daughter or her husband to their intention of going to housekeeping for themselves.
But both James Hartley and his bride thought differently, as a conversation that passed between them some few days previously, will show.
"We have been married now for nearly a month, Anna," remarked Hartley; "and it is full time that we began our preparations for housekeeping."
"A thing, you know, that father will not consent to our doing."
"So it seems. But, is it right for us to remain here longer than is necessary to make proper arrangements for getting into our own house."
"Is there any reason why we should hurry these arrangements?" returned Anna.
"None in the least. We should make them deliberately and wisely."
"And may they not be made as well three months hence as now?"
"You shall answer that question yourself," replied Hartley, smiling. "We are now husband and wife."
A light, like the flitting of a sun-ray over the face of Anna, was the response to this affirmation.
"As such," continued the husband, "we occupy a new, peculiar, and distinct position in society. The sphere of our influence is a different one from what it was. All who approach us are affected differently from what they formerly were. Can you understand why this is so?"
"Clearly. All new relations make a corresponding impression on society. The influence of the maiden is one thing — and the influence of the wife another."
"And they act in different spheres."
"Yes. One is on the circumference of the family circle, so to speak, the other in the center."
"The exact truth. Now, what position does a wife occupy in a family circle of which she is not the center? An orderly one?"
Anna shook her head.
"If not an orderly one, then not the most useful one — not the true one."
"But I, as a wife, would make both center and circumference in the family circle, now. Or, rather, you and I would."
"Even admitting this, which is not exactly clear, we would both be in truer order than when on the circumference and not in the center at the same time. You will admit that."
"I cannot help doing so."
"And if in truer order, in a better way of acting usefully in the world."
"Then, as husband and wife, can we too soon take our true social position? I think not. Life's duties are not so few, that any of them can safely be neglected for a single day. It is very pleasant to live here, without a thought or care about external things. But I am not at all sure that it is good for either of us."
"Nor am I, now that I fully comprehend your views, which I see to be correct in every particular. Father and mother will regret our leaving them, I know. But you are now my husband, and I am ready, when I see truth in your rational mind, to stand up by your side in obedience to the truth, even though all the world should be offended."
"Which, of course, they will not be, at our doing so sensible a thing as going to housekeeping in a month or two after our marriage."
Anna smiled sweetly into her husband's face, as he replied thus playfully to her earnestly expressed sentiment.
From that time, their resolution was taken.
On the occasion referred to in the opening of this chapter, the subject of conversation was their intention of making early preparations for getting into their own house. On the day previous, they had conversed seriously with Anna's father and mother, who, much against their will, could not help yielding a rational consent to the reasons offered by their children for the resolution to take their true place in society.
"There is now a very good house on Walnut Street to rent, which, I think, will just suit us," remarked Hartley, while they sat, hand in hand, as we have seen. "I looked through it today, and find that it has every convenience that could be desired. It is just below street."
"One of those large, handsome houses?"
"Yes. You remember them?"
"Very well. What is the rent?"
"Seven hundred dollars per year."
Anna made no reply, but sat with her eyes cast thoughtfully to the floor. She not only had no wish to go into so large and expensive a house, but felt an instant reluctance at the thought of doing so. She had no certain knowledge in regard to her husband's financial circumstances, but she did not believe that he was rich. She had been living with her father in a plain and comfortable style, and did not think of anything greatly superior.
Hartley looked earnestly into the face of his young wife, and sought to read its expression.
"How do you like the house I mention?" he at length said.
Here came a trial for Anna, the trial of not agreeing with her husband. Her wish was to yield, in all things, her will to his; but, unless her judgment approved — she could not so yield with a clear conscience. In this matter, her judgment did not approve, and she felt an acute pain at the thought of objecting to his proposal. With an effort, and a look that asked forgiveness for opposition, she said —
"It is a very handsome house. But — "
And she hesitated, while a warm glow suffused her face.
"But what, dear?" The kindness with which this was spoken, re-assured Anna, who felt an inward dread of the effects of opposition. The idea that she should ever be called upon to differ from her husband in anything requiring concert of action, had, until now, never crossed her mind.
"Don't you think the rent too high?" she said, in a suggestive tone.
"Not for the house. It is a very excellent one, and there is not a more desirable situation, I think, in the city."
"But can we effort it, I mean?"
Hartley looked again earnestly into the face of his wife — so earnestly that her eyes dropped beneath his fixed gaze. Another silence followed; to Anna a troubled one.
"I don't know but that you are right," the husband said, with a frank smile. "Seven hundred dollars is rather a heavy rent for two young people like us to pay."
"But it is not only the rent, dear," returned Anna, brightening up. "A large and elegant house like that, must be furnished in a liberal and corresponding style. And then there would have to be a free expenditure of money to maintain such an establishment. For my part, I do not desire to come before the world as a young wife, in so imposing a manner."
Hartley returned, to this, an approving pressure of the hand he still held.
"Still," resumed Anna," if your circumstances justify such a style of living, and you desire it, I, as your wife, will not object for an instant."
This remark helped to set Hartley right. The firm in which he was partner, was doing a heavy business, and there was a prospect of making large profits. If this expectation should be realized, his division would be a handsome one. But if not? — That "if" had never before presented itself so distinctly to his mind as at this moment. In thinking about commencing housekeeping, he had felt ambitious to raise Anna to as elevated a condition as possible. To place her along side of the "best and proudest." All this was more from impulse and feeling, than reason. His pride, not his common sense was influencing him. At the first blush, although he did not let it be seen, he felt disappointed at the lack of cordial approval manifested by Anna, for whose sake, more than for his own, he had fixed upon the handsome house in Walnut Street. But the view she took of the subject, so soon as it came directly in front of the eye of his mind, he saw to be the true one.
"That may be a question," he said, in reply to her last remark, speaking thoughtfully. "It is true, that everything looks bright ahead; but it is also true, that clouds often come suddenly over the brightest skies. It was for your sake that I wished to rent that house. I felt a pride in the thought of making you its mistress."
"I shall be much happier, as the mistress of a less imposing residence. Let us begin the world without ostentation. As we are about to commence housekeeping from a sense of right, let us not consult appearances, but be governed throughout by the right ends which prompted our first decision. For my part, a house at half, or even less than half the rent of the one in Walnut Street, will meet all my expectations. To manage its internal arrangements will cost me less care and labor, and you less money. And it is needless to be too free with either, in the beginning of life."
"Well and wisely said, Anna. I fully agree with you. I yielded to a weakness when I set my heart upon the house I have mentioned. I will look further and see if I cannot find as many comforts as that presented, in a more compact, and less costly form."
"I am sure you will. And I am sure we will be happier than if we had made our debut in a much more imposing way."
And thus the matter was settled. The reader cannot but say, wisely, when he reflects, that James Hartley was without capital himself, and only a junior partner in a mercantile house, which, although it was doing a heavy business, might not at the end of the year, from causes against which ordinary foresight could not guard, divide anything more than very moderate profits. A woman with different views and feelings, would never have thought of objecting to become the mistress of an establishment like the one offered by Hartley; but Anna had no base pride or love of ostentation to gratify. She looked only to what was right — or, at least, ever sought to do so.
"You are going to housekeeping, I hear," said Mrs. Riston, a young friend, about a week after the conversation mentioned in the preceding chapter had taken place. Mrs. Riston had called in to see Anna, whose acquaintance she had recently made.
"Yes," was the smiling reply.
"You'll be sorry for it."
"Oh, it will bring you into a world of trouble. My husband has been teasing me to death about going to housekeeping ever since we have been married. But I won't hear to it."
"That is strange. I thought every married woman would like to be in her own house."
"Oh dear! no. I know dozens who would throw houses and all into the river if they could. It makes a slave of a woman, Mrs. Hartley. She is tied down to a certain routine of duties of the most irksome nature; and this, day in and day out, the year round. And what is worse, instead of her duties growing lighter, they are constantly increasing."
"But all these duties it is right for her to perform, is it not?"
"Not if she can get out of them, or delegate their performance to someone else, as I do. In a boarding-house you pay for having all this trouble taken off your hands. And I think our husbands may just as well pay for it as not. I have no notion of being a slave. I did not marry to become a mere drudge, so to speak, to anyone."
"It is a question in my mind, Mrs. Riston, whether it is right to delegate the duties which we are competent to perform," was Anna's mild reply.
"All nonsense! Get out of doing everything you can. At the best, you will have your hands full."
"No doubt I shall find plenty to do; but my labor will be lightened by the consciousness that it is done in order to make others happy."
"Others happy! Oh, ha! Who'll try to make you happy, I wonder?"
"My husband, I hope," said Anna, gravely.
"Humph! You will see. Husbands aren't the most unselfish creatures in the world. I believe they are not proverbial for sacrificing much to the happiness of their wives."
Anna felt shocked at this. But her young friend did not notice the effect her words produced, and continued to run on.
"You had better take my advice, and tell your husband, as I have told mine over and over again — that you are not going to become a domestic slave for him or anybody else."
Anna shook her head.
"Well! Just as you like. If you will go to housekeeping, so be it. It won't hurt me. Have you picked out your house yet?"
"We haven't exactly decided. Mr. Hartley thought, at first, of taking a very beautiful house in Walnut Street, at a rent of seven hundred dollars a year."
"But very soon thought better of it, I have no doubt."
"If I had not objected — he would have taken it."
"You objected? Why so?"
"I thought it would involve more expense and style than two young folks like us ought to indulge in."
"Upon my word! But you are a novice in the world! This is the first instance that has occurred among all my acquaintances, of such a thing as a wife objecting to style and expense. Precious few of us get the chance, I can assure you! And you'll soon wish, or I am mistaken, that you had taken your good man at his word!"
Anna felt a glow of indignation at this reflection upon her husband. But she forced herself to appear unmoved, merely replying,
"No, I shall never wish that. I shall never have any need, in his power to supply, that will not be readily met."
"So you may think now. But take my advice, and don't put any prudential and stingy notions into your husband's head. If he wants to carpet your floors with gold, let him do it. He'll never hurt himself by spending money on you or his household. Men rarely, if ever, do, let me tell you. As they grow older, they get to be tighter and tighter with their money, until, at last, you can get scarcely anything at all. The best time is at first. The first few years of marriage is the only golden harvest time a woman ever sees."
"You have not been married long enough to speak all this from experience."
"I have seen a good deal more of life than you have, child; and I have had my own experience. As far as it goes, it can witness fully to what I have said. And yet my husband is as good as the rest, and much better than the mass. I love him about as well, I suppose, as most women love their husbands; though I don't pretend to be blind to his faults. But what kind of a house do you prefer, seeing that the elegant one in Walnut Street is rather costly and stylish?"
"There is a house vacant close by. Perhaps you noticed the notice as you came up Eighth Street."
"Just around the corner?"
"Yes, the rent is three hundred dollars."
"It is a very good house, and quite genteel, with a great deal more room than we need."
"But, my dear, good madam, it is nothing but an ordinary house, built to rent. There is nothing elegant about it. Don't refuse to take the one in Walnut Street for so common an affair as this, if you can get it. Always go in for the best."
"I have been through it, and find it replete with every convenience for a moderate sized family. I have no wish to make a display. That could render me no happier. I go to housekeeping, because I think it right to take my true place as the mistress of a family; and for no other reason. Here I could be happy, without a care. On Walnut Street, I would be out of my true sphere."
"You are certainly the strangest creature I ever met," replied Mrs. Riston. "But a few years will take all this nonsense out of you."
The displeasure felt by Anna at Mrs. Riston's insinuations against her husband, began to give way, as she saw more clearly the lady's character, and began to understand that, although there was a good deal of earnestness in what was said, there was much more of talk for talk sake. She, therefore, merely replied in a laughing voice to Mrs. Riston's last remark, and sought to change the subject. Before they parted, the friend could not help saying —
"But, my dear Mrs. Hartley, I cannot get over your refusing that elegant house in Walnut Street. I would like, above all things, to see you in just such a dwelling, elegantly furnished. If I had refused the splendid offer that you did in Herbert Gardiner, I'd show him that I had lost nothing."
This very indelicate and ill-timed remark, caused the blood to rush to the brow of Anna, and her eyes to flash with honest indignation. Her volatile friend saw that she had gone a little too far, and attempted to make all right again, by begging "a thousand pardons." Anna's external composure soon returned, but she sought to change, entirely, the subject of conversation. But, in spite of all she could do, the lady would, ever and always, have something disparaging to say about husbands, and gently insinuate that Anna herself, before she was many years older, would find that all was not gold which glittered.
The warmth of Anna's feeling, gradually, in spite of herself, passed off, as she continued to converse with Mrs. Riston, until she became constrained in her manner. This affected her visitor, who perceived, with a woman's intuition, that her sentiments had not met with the approval they too often did from her lady friends. She tried, before she went away, to soften some things she had said, and laugh at others as having been uttered in jest. After Mrs. Riston's departure, Anna sat in a thoughtful mood for some time. The remarks she had just listened to, shocked her feelings more and more, the more she reflected on them.
"Can there be any happiness," she mused, "in marriage thus viewed? — in the marriage relation thus perverted? I can conceive of none. To me, such a union would be, of all things, a condition most miserable. No unity of sentiment or end — no confidence — no self-sacrifice for each other's good; but restrictions on the one hand, and encroachments on the other. Ah me! It makes me shudder to think of woman in circumstances so deplorable. To me death would be a thousand times preferable!"
While thus musing, another visitor called. It was Florence Armitage, whom the readers of the "Maiden" will remember. Since the severe lesson her heart had received, Florence was a good deal changed. Her thoughtlessness, which had come near involving her in a whole lifetime of misery; and her escape, effected by an incident at once strange and thrilling in its character, made her feel humble and thankful. She visited Anna frequently, and profited much more than formerly by her truthful precepts and life so purely accordant with all right principles.
On this occasion, Anna saw, after a few moments, that her friend was slightly agitated.
"You seem disturbed, Florence. What is the matter?" she said.
The color deepened on the maiden's face.
"Two things have disturbed me," she replied. "Who do you think I met in the street, just now?"
"I cannot tell."
"Yes. And he paused, as we approached each other, evidently with the design of speaking."
"But you did not speak to him?"
"In that, I need scarcely say, you were right. Your own heart will tell you that."
"And yet, Anna, I confess to you, that I was tempted to do so."
"Florence!" Anna's voice and countenance expressed strongly the surprise she felt.
"Do not condemn me until you hear all; until you know the cause of disturbance. I received a letter from him yesterday."
"Which you immediately returned, unanswered."
"No, I did not feel sure that I ought to do so, until I had seen and conversed with you about it."
"What does he say?"
"Here is his letter; read it."
Anna shrunk from touching the epistle, which Florence held towards her.
"Read it aloud, if you particularly wish me to know its contents," she merely said.
Florence did as requested. The letter contained a most solemn denial of charges brought against the writer by a certain individual, who was, he said, evidently not in her right mind, and whose statements should at least be taken with great caution. He knew that rumor had been busy with his name, and had magnified his faults into crimes; "and how easy it is," he urged, "to blast any man's character by false charges, if he is not permitted to refute them;" — with much more of the same tenor. Altogether, the letter was written with tact, force, and an air of great plausibility, and well calculated to create a doubt as to the correctness of the judgment which the general voice had passed upon him. He did not, he said, purpose to renew his suit for the hand of Florence; for that, he was well assured, would be useless. But, it was a duty he owed to himself and society to at least make an attempt to vindicate his character, and in the highest quarter.
After Florence had read the letter, she looked inquiringly into the face of Mrs. Hartley. Anna returned her steady look, but made no remark.
"There is, at least, an appearance of truth about this letter," Florence at length said.
Mrs. Hartley compressed her lips and shook her head, but did not speak.
"I am afraid, Anna, that you sometimes suffer your prejudices to obscure the otherwise clear perceptions of your mind."
"I trust that I have but few prejudices, Florence. Still, I am but a weak and erring mortal, and may fall into wrong judgments of others."
"We are all liable to err, Anna."
"True. But, if a woman's heart is in the right place — that is, has a love for all that is innocent and virtuous, and a deep abhorrence of everything opposite to these — she will not be very liable to form an erroneous judgment of any man who approaches her, no matter how many semblances of virtue he may put on. As for me, I do not pretend to have very acute perceptions, but from William Archer, you well know, I always shrunk with instinctive dislike."
"That arose, no doubt, from the estimate common report had caused you to form of his character."
"And are you prepared to doubt common report, on this head?"
"Somewhat, I must confess. You have heard his solemn denial."
"And Grace Leary's still more solemn affirmation."
"But she was, evidently, beside herself."
"Do you think so?" Mrs. Hartley said with emphasis. "Recall the whole scene that passed on the evening appointed for your marriage. Bring up Grace Leary before you, in imagination, as she then appeared, and as she then confronted Archer, and answer to your own heart whether she did not utter the truth. If she were deranged, that derangement brought no oblivion. She did not mistake her betrayer. Did a doubt cross your mind then, or the mind of anyone present? No!"
Still, Florence seemed unconvinced.
"What do you propose to yourself, in accrediting this letter?" Anna asked.
"Nothing at all."
"Are you sure?"
"I think I am. Perhaps to say that I propose nothing is too unqualified an expression. I certainly propose, at least, to treat the young man civilly, if no more, provided I can feel satisfied that he has been wrongfully accused."
"What will satisfy you? His mere denial?"
"You must see the proof?"
"Florence! I would think you had seen proofs enough. But, if not satisfied, a half hour's conversation with my mother will convince you that the writer of the letter you hold in your hand is quite as base as you had been led to believe him."
No reply was made. Florence folded the letter, and returned it to her pocket, with a deep sigh, breathed forth unconsciously.
Mrs. Hartley was deeply pained at observing this change in the mind of her young friend. But she said no more, trusting that the momentary weakness to which she was yielding would pass away, after conversing with her mother, who knew much more about Archer than the daughter wished to utter, or we record.
After the conversation between Mrs. Hartley and Florence had taken a new direction, the subject of going to housekeeping was introduced. Like Mrs. Riston, Florence was in favor of the large house in Walnut Street, and urged Anna very strongly to change her mind, and let her husband take it.
"He is able enough," she said.
"Are you right sure?"
"He ought to be. Isn't he in the firm of R. S. & Co."
"As a junior partner, I believe."
"He wished to take the house, you say?"
"At first he did."
"He ought to know better than anyone else whether he could afford to do so or not."
"True. But he now thinks, with me, that it will be wiser for us to commence housekeeping in a style less imposing."
"I must say," returned Florence, "that Mr. Hartley would have found very few women to object as you have done to a large and elegant house. I am sure the temptation would have been too much for me."
"Even if you had clearly seen that it was neither wise nor prudent to do so?"
"That might have altered the case. But I think few but yourself would have stopped to consider about wisdom and prudence."
"To their sorrow in the end, perhaps. I, for one, would much rather take an humble position in society and rise, if good fortune attend me, gradually; than, after taking a high position, be, in a few years, thrust down."
"If there is danger of that, your course was doubtless best. But why should you apprehend any such disaster?"
"I do not apprehend evil, I only act as I think wisely. My husband is a young man who has been in business only for a few years. There are now but two of us, and we do not need a very large house. For both of these reasons, it is plain to my mind that we ought to take our place in society without ostentation or lavish expenditure. It is possible that my husband may not find all his business expectations realized. I do not know what his prospects are, for I am in no way conversant with them. I only know that he had no capital of his own when he was taken into business. That he has told me. Now if he should be very successful, it will be easy for us to go up higher in a few years. If not, and we had come out in costly style — it would be a hard trial and a mortifying one to come down."
"Your good sense is always guiding you aright," Florence could not help saying. "It is best, no doubt, that you should do as you have proposed; but, there is not one in a hundred who would have exercised your prudent forethought; I am sure I could not have done it."
A few days after this, Hartley and Anna decided to take the house in Eighth Street. Then came the work of furnishing it. And here the prudent forethought of Anna was again seen. Her husband proposed to give up the whole business to a good cabinet-maker and an upholsterer, who would use their judgment and experience in such matters.
"As neither you nor I know much about these things, it will save us a world of trouble," he said.
Anna shook her head, and smiled at this remark.
A shadow instantly flitted over the brow of Hartley. It disappeared as quickly as it came, but Anna saw it. The smile vanished from her lips, and her eyes filled with tears. She felt, that, because she did not see in all things just as he did, he was annoyed.
"Am I self-willed! Do I differ with my husband from caprice?" were the self-examining questions of the young wife.
Hartley read her thoughts, and said quickly, in a voice of affection.
"You ought to know more about all these matters than I do, Anna; so you shall decide what is best to do."
"I wish to decide nothing, James. I only wish to see and decide with you in everything. You don't know how much it pains me to differ — but ought I to yield, passively, to what you suggest, if my own judgment does not approve? Ought we not to see eye to eye, in all things?"
"We ought, certainly. But I have been so long in the habit of consulting my own judgment about everything, that I am, thus early in our married life, forgetting that, now, there are two of us to decide questions of mutual interest. I thank you for so gently bringing this to my mind, and for doing so in the very outset. Without thinking whether it would meet your views or not to become the mistress of a very elegant house, I decided to rent and fit up an establishment that I already see would have afforded more trouble than comfort. Your wise objections prevented the occurrence of that evil. Again I have decided to fit up the house we have taken in a certain way, and so decided without consulting you about it. Here is my second error, and you have, like a true wife, in the gentlest possible way, given me to see that I was wrong. I thank you for these two lessons, that had much better be given now than at some future time."
Hartley bent down, and kissed the flushed cheek of his beautiful wife as he said this.
"And now, dear," he continued, "speak out freely, all you have to say. As before, your judgment will, I doubt not, show that mine was altogether at fault."
"Do not talk so, James," returned Anna, her face covered with blushes. "I desire only to see with you and act with you."
"I know that, dear; but I am not perfect. I am like all others, liable to err. And it is your duty when you clearly see me in error, to balance that error by declining to act passively with me. This I hope you will do."
Anna was humble-minded, and it pained her to hear such remarks from her husband, for whose moral and intellectual character she had the highest regard, while of herself she thought with meekness.
"Tell me, dear," Hartley said, after some time, "what is your objection to my plan of furnishing our house?"
"Mainly, to the expense."
"Do you think it would cost more than if we attended to it ourselves?"
"It would, probably, cost double, and not be arranged more perfectly, so far as comfort and convenience are concerned, than if we were to do it ourselves."
"I don't understand how that could be."
"Your cabinet-maker and upholsterer would wish to know if you wanted everything of the best; and you would assent. The best would be, no doubt, in their estimation the costliest. I saw a house once furnished in this way — a house no larger than the one we have taken. How much do you think it cost?"
"Three thousand, eight hundred dollars!"
"Yes. And I would agree to furnish a house with just as many comforts and conveniences on half the money."
Hartley's eyes were cast, thoughtfully, on the floor. It was some moments before anything more was said. The wife was first to speak. She did so in a timid, hesitating voice.
"Had we not better understand each other fully at once?" she said.
"By all means. The quicker we do so, the better. Is there anything in which we do not fully understand each other?"
"Before we take another step, ought not I, as your wife, to know exactly how you stand with the world in a business and financial relation? I feel that this is a very delicate subject for a wife to introduce. But can I know how to be governed in my desires — if I do not know to what extent they can be safely gratified?"
"I trust there is no desire that you can entertain, dear Anna, that I am not able and willing to gratify."
"That is altogether too vague," replied Anna, forcing a smile. "As your wife, I shall regulate the expense of your household — and I wish to do so wisely; and in order to this, it is necessary for me to have some idea of your probable income."
"It ought to be four or five thousand dollars a year; and will be, unless some unforeseen events transpire to affect our business."
Hartley seemed to say this with reluctance. And he did so, really. The inquiry grated on his feelings. It seemed to him that Anna should have felt confidence enough in him to believe that he would not propose any expenditure of money beyond what was prudent. He would hardly have thought in this way, if he had not actually proposed the very thing he tacitly condemned her for suspecting that he had done. He was not, really, so well established in the world as to be able to rent a house at seven hundred dollars, and furnish it in a costly style; nor even to give a carte blanche to a cabinet-maker and upholsterer to fit up, according to their ideas, the house he had decided to occupy.
The moment he allowed himself to think thus of his honest-minded wife, he felt an inward coldness toward her, which was perceived as quickly in her heart, as it was felt in his.
Conscious that Anna thus perceived his feelings, and unable, at the same time, to rise above them, and think with generous approval of her motives — he did not, for some time, make any effort to lift her up from the unhappy state into which she had fallen. One unkind thought was the creator of others.
"What can she mean?" he allowed himself to ask. "Is it possible that she has imagined I was rich; and now, a doubt having crossed her mind, can she be trying to find out the exact state of my affairs? I never could have dreamed this!"
Both their eyes were cast upon the floor. They sat silent, with hearts heavily oppressed. He allowing accusation after accusation to flow into his mind, and lodge there — and she deeply distressed, from a consciousness of having been misunderstood in a matter that she felt to be of great importance, and which she had endeavored to approach with the utmost delicacy.
Some minutes passed, when better feelings produced better thoughts in the mind of James Hartley. He saw that he had been ungenerous, even cruel in his suspicions. He imagined himself in her situation, and felt how deeply her heart must be wounded.
"She is right," he said, inwardly, lifting his head, with the intention of saying that which should at once relieve Anna's mind. The first thing that met his eye, was a tear falling upon her hand. His feelings reacted strongly. Drawing an arm quickly about her neck, he pressed her head against his bosom, and, bending over, murmured in her ear,
"I am not worthy of so good a wife as you, dear Anna! What evil has possessed me, that I, who love you so truly — should be the one to make you unhappy? Surely I have been beside myself!"
Anna released herself quickly from the arm that had been thrown around her neck, and turned up to the eyes of her husband a tearful, serious, but not unhappy face.
"Oh, James! dear James!" she said, in a low, earnest, eloquent voice. "Why do you speak so? I am only weak and foolish. It is enough that we love truly. If we find it a little difficult, at first, to understand each other fully, it is no great wonder. Love, true love, will in the end harmonize all differences, and make plain to each, the other's heart. Let us be patient and forbearing."
"That you are; but I have much to learn, and you shall be my tutor."
Hartley again kissed his bride. But she looked serious.
"Not so," she returned. "It is to your intelligence that I am to look for guidance. I am to learn of you, not you of me."
"Never mind," was smilingly replied, by Hartley. "We will reverse the order for a time, until my intelligence of domestic affairs is laid upon a truer basis than it seems now to be. But I think there will be no harm in our deferring all the matters now under consideration until tomorrow. Both of us will then be able to see more clearly, feel less acutely, and determine more wisely. Do you not think so?"
Anna gave a cheerful assent to this, and the subject of conversation was changed.
Conscious that he had wronged Anna in thought as well as in feeling — Hartley's words, tones and actions expressed towards her the tenderness that this consciousness awoke in his bosom. By every little art in his power, he strove to obliterate from her mind a recollection of what had passed.
As for Anna, she was grieved to find that her well-meant, indeed, her conscientious efforts, had been misunderstood. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for her to remain passive, and let her husband make all arrangements as his taste might dictate. But would this be right? That question she could not answer in the affirmative.
"He will think me self-willed," she said. "Twice, already, have I opposed his wishes, and how can he help feeling that I do this from an innate love of having things only my own way? Oh, if he but knew my heart! If he could see how gladly I would yield up everything to him, if it would be right for me to do so!"
While Anna thought thus, her husband was experiencing the good results of her firmness. He was closely examining his own ends of action; and asking himself many questions, the answers to which enabled him to see the true nature of the ground upon which he was standing. In his heart, he rendered his young wife full justice.
When next they recurred to the subject that had awakened a discordant string, it was seen in its true light by Hartley. He was the first to bring up the question about which there had been a difference of opinion — felt much more strongly than expressed. This was on the following day.
"I have been thinking a great deal about what took place, yesterday," he began by saying in a serious voice.
Anna's heart gave a sudden bound. She looked earnestly at her husband. He could see that her lip slightly quivered.
"You are right, and I am wrong," he continued. "All that concerns us should have our mutual consideration. As my wife, you ought to know exactly how I stand with the world, and I should not, through false pride, have any wish to conceal this from you. I have had many serious thoughts since yesterday, and today I feel that I am a wiser man. Will you forgive my ungenerous — "
"James! — dear James! I cannot hear you speak in this way," interposed Anna. "It is wrong for you to do so. Let what is past be forgotten. In the present let us live to good purpose; to the future let us look with hope."
"Very well. Let the past go with all its lights and shadows. Today — that is, now — in the present time — we must act. What is our first duty?"
Anna made no reply.
"We have rented a house, and must furnish it."
Anna still remained silent.
"How shall it be done? I proposed one way. But it did not seem to you to be the right way, and like a true wife you said so; and gave a capital reason. It was likely to involve a waste of money. You suggested, on the threshold of our married life, that we ought to understand each other folly. I have thought about that ever since. At first I could not bear to think of talking to you about the ordinary concerns of life — it seemed descending from a world of romance — to a world of vulgar realities. Your intimation that you ought to know something about my financial affairs, I confess did jar upon my feelings — and I could not help showing it. But, Anna, you were right. How could you, as you truly said, govern yourself in your desires, or regulate your expenditures — if you did not know how far I was able to meet them? It is right, then, that you should know, precisely, how I stand with the world, and in telling you the exact truth, I cannot but suffer a little from wounded pride; especially when the large house in Walnut Street comes up in my imagination. It is not to be concealed, that I am not in a situation to rent such a house, and incur the heavy expenses that it would involve. I thought that I was — or rather imagined, that I was bound to make my wife the mistress of a very handsome house, with costly furniture, and all that appertained to an elegant establishment. But my wife had the good sense to undeceive me in this, and I thank her most sincerely for it!
"To come down to the main point, then, without further preliminaries, I am, as you know, a partner in the firm of R. S. & Co., one of the most flourishing businesses in the city. But, I am a junior partner, and entitled only to a certain dividend on the profits. This dividend, I have every reason to believe, will be four or five thousand dollars a year. It may be less. I ought not to conceal from myself the fact, that a series of heavy losses would reduce my income much below the sum named — still, I do not really apprehend anything of the kind. To all human appearance, our customers are some of the safest in the country. But it is the part of wisdom to exercise a prudent forethought."
Anna listened with deep attention. She did not reply, although her husband paused some moments to give her an opportunity for doing so.
"There is every prospect, however," Hartley resumed, "of my acquiring wealth rapidly. Our firm has doubled its business in the last year, and if we go on increasing in the ratio that we have done for some time past, there will not be a richer firm in the city. My proportion of profit is to be increased to a fifth, at the expiration of five years from the time I was taken into the concern. That fifth ought to be ten or fifteen thousand dollars."
Hartley again paused; but Anna still continued silent.
"I have now told you all, freely," he said.
"For which I thank you!" Anna replied in a serious voice. "I can now move forward without a feeling of insecurity. I shall know the ground upon which I tread."
"You will not, I hope, feel that there is any necessity for a very close economy."
"All that either you or I need to make our condition as pleasant as would be desired, you are, I doubt not, fully able to afford. If there is no necessity for a very close economy, there is as little for a very free expenditure. Under all the circumstances, will it not be wise for us to set some limit to our wants?"
"In what way?"
"Determine how much, situated as we are, it would cost us in the year to live."
"I fully agree with you. Suppose, then, we say two thousand dollars."
"Too much or too little?" asked Hartley. "Too much, by at least five or six hundred dollars."
Hartley shook his head.
"We cannot live in a style that my business connections require that I should live in — on fourteen or even fifteen hundred dollars a year."
"I am not so sure of that. Fourteen or fifteen hundred dollars, if prudently expended, will go a great way. My father, I know, supported his family and sent three of us to school for a number of years on fifteen hundred dollars. And we lived as respectably then as we do now. We have rented a very good house. Let us furnish it well. After that is done, we shall find the lowest amount I have named quite sufficient for us. If not, it can be easily increased."
"Very true. I believe you see this whole matter in the best light. The furnishing of our house, as you have intimated, is now our first business. How and where shall we begin? As far as I am concerned, I know nothing at all about it."
"It is but little that I know," replied Anna, "but there is one on whose experience I can safely rely — my mother. If you think it best, I will consult her."
"That will be the wisest course. A moment's reflection would have taught me this at first."
"My father has usually left all things relating to the internal economy of the family to her judgment."
"As I should leave all such things to yours," said Hartley, with a smile.
"No, no. Don't misunderstand me!" quickly replied Anna. "My mother, as far as I can recollect, never bought anything of importance without referring to my father. Her familiarity with domestic affairs enabled her to judge correctly in regard to what was needed; but his taste was consulted, and what he approved I have noticed that my mother almost always selected. This set of chairs was bought about a year ago. I remember hearing mother say to father one day,
"If we can afford it, I think we should get a new set of chairs."
We were sitting in the parlor, here, when she said this. Father looked around and examined the chairs attentively for a little while.
"They do look rather worn," he answered, "I did not notice it before. Our new carpets really shame them. By all means we must have another set."
"The kind to be selected was then talked about. Mother proposed a plainer and cheaper style of chairs, but father thought they could afford a set like these, and mother acquiesced. On the next day they went together to a chair-maker's. I accompanied them. Four or five different patterns were shown; but mother made no choice, until she heard father express himself very much pleased with these. Without the slightest appearance of being governed by his taste, I saw that she inclined, gradually, to a choice of those my father had liked, and when she finally said which she liked best, it was done so delicately, that I am sure father did not suspect that his taste had guided hers. And yet it was so — or so appeared to me. I have witnessed the same deference to his taste frequently since. Now, just as my father leaves domestic affairs to my mother's judgment — do I wish that you would leave them to mine; and just as my mother consults my father's taste — do I wish to consult yours. Shall it not be so?"
"It shall!" was Hartley's instant reply, kissing, with warmth and tenderness, the sweet lips of his young wife, as he spoke.
On the next day, Hartley, accompanied by Anna and her mother, started out to select furniture. It must be told that Anna did not defer to the taste of her husband quite so fully as she had represented her mother as doing to Mr. Lee. At the cabinet-maker's, there were several pieces of furniture that she induced him to purchase, notwithstanding he had expressed a decided preference for a different style of the same article. The reason may be easily guessed. A difference of, perhaps, fifty dollars in a sofa; as much more in a set of chairs, or a pair of pier tables, not any better for the additional price, but only a little more showy, was the only cause for this lack of deference to her husband's taste on the part of Anna.
Sometimes, the very natural desire to have things his own way, and the disposition felt to make a show — caused Hartley to feel chafed. But his good sense, aided by the experience he had gained since marriage, brought his mind back again to its true balance. He could not but approve the motives of his wife, and acknowledge that she was acting with prudence.
After their parlor, and a part of their bedroom furniture, including carpets, had been selected — Hartley gave up all the rest into the hands of Anna.
In about two weeks the house was ready; the whole work of furnishing it having gone on under the direct supervision and instruction of Anna, aided by the wise counsel of her mother. When all was completed, the young couple took possession of their new home. Hartley was delighted with everything. The parlors were really beautiful.
"That sofa is much handsomer than I thought it was," he said, looking at it with pleasure. "It had a common appearance to me at the cabinet maker's."
"Because you saw it there in contrast with more showy ones," returned Anna. "I think it a real beauty, myself. I wouldn't ask a better one."
"Nor I, now that I can see what it really is. These chairs, too, are good enough for anyone. I don't know that a neater pattern could be found. In fact, everything looks better than I had any idea that it would."
"If we cannot be happy in a house furnished as well as this is — James, we cannot be happy anywhere," Anna said, leaning hard upon his arm, as she stood with her husband in the center of their parlor, from which position they had been looking around them. "We need nothing for the sake of display; but only what will make us comfortable, and enable us to maintain that social position in which we can best act for the good of all around us."
As soon as Mrs. Hartley had commenced housekeeping, she was visited, as a thing of course, by all her friends. Some admired everything. Some approved the young wife's taste, and commended her prudence, while others wondered why she chose a particular article of furniture instead of another that was more fashionable; or why she did not get Saxony instead of Brussels carpeting for her parlors, and a great deal more of a like tenor. Among these friends was Mrs. Riston.
"Ah, my dear! So you have done as you threatened," said this lady, meeting Anna with a free air, and then looking around with a scrutinizing eye.
"Yes," was replied. "I have made a fair start in the world, and hope I shall be able to keep steadily on to the end with a clear conscience."
"It is more than many of us will do, then, let me tell you. Clear consciences are rare things in these days. But let me see what kind of a beginning you have made. These are your parlors."
The lady looked around for a while, and then shook her head.
"What is the matter? Are not things to your taste?"
"What do you see wrong?"
"Nothing that can justly be called wrong; but much that is not at all in keeping with your husband's condition in life."
"I don't know about that. I think everything is in keeping."
"It is more than I do then. How much did you pay for your sofas?"
"One hundred and sixty dollars for the pair."
"I thought they were not above that price. What in the world possessed you to buy such common looking furniture? Or, did your husband think them plenty good enough?"
The blood mounted to Anna's face, at this reflection upon her husband.
"No, they were my own choice," she quickly replied. "He liked a pair at two hundred and twenty dollars, and would have taken them if I had wished it."
Mrs. Riston shook her head.
"You are a silly child, Anna; but you will know better after awhile. It makes me downright angry with you every time I think about that splendid house in Walnut Street, which you were foolish enough to refuse. But what else have you got? Solar lamps and candelabras! Why in the world didn't you have the gas brought into the house?"
"We did talk about it; but concluded to defer it for the present. It would have increased the cost of furnishing considerably."
"Cost of furnishing! Nonsense! Your husband is able enough to do it."
"That may be, but it is not always the best way to expend money too freely. We both prefer to gain a little more experience than we have, before we dash out too boldly."
"If you don't dash out now — you will never do it. Take my word for that."
"No matter. Happiness in this life doesn't consist in dashing out. I, for one, shall be far happier in this quiet little nook, than I would be if I were mistress of a palace!"
Mrs. Riston gave her head an incredulous toss, and said,
"All that is well enough — very good talk. But I do not believe that you are so far superior to the rest of your gender as not to be captivated by elegance and splendor."
"I could have had a very elegant house and furniture of the most costly kind, if I had said but the word."
"And a great fool you were for not saying the word. You will repent of it one of these days."
Anna could not help smiling at her friend's earnestness.
"A rare display you would make, no doubt," she remarked, playfully.
"Wouldn't I! If I had the purse-strings, I'd go to housekeeping tomorrow. Then I'd show you style! I'd make Philadelphians open their eyes."
Anna laughed outright.
"You may laugh. But I'd do it! Mr. Riston has been speaking to me for the last three weeks about getting into a house of our own. I'm half inclined to say yes."
"Why don't you?"
"I think I will; but on one condition — that I have full liberty to choose a house and furnish it just as I please."
"Will Mr. Riston agree to that??
"It's the only condition I'll give him a chance of agreeing to. If he makes a slave of me — then I am determined to have a palace for my prison."
"Whether your husband can afford a palace or not?"
"Afford!" Mrs. Riston's lip curled. "I hate to hear a woman utter that word! Afford, indeed! I'll make him afford it."
The manner in which this was said sent a chill through Mrs. Hartley. She shrunk back, involuntarily, a pace or two from her visitor.
"But come," resumed Mrs. Riston, "let me see your other rooms. There is nothing very wonderful here."
Anna led the way upstairs. Not a single article in the rooms met the lady's approval.
"Cheap — cheap — cheap!" she said, glancing around. "Ah me! when will women get sense? Everything as plain as a pikestaff. Have you no taste, Mrs. Hartley? No love for the beautiful? Has elegance no charm for your eyes?"
"No one can love external beautiful forms more truly than I do," Anna replied, seriously. "But at the same time, I love moral beauties. When there is a just relation between the elegancies of life and the ability to possess these elegancies — then the external beautiful forms are but the correspondents of moral beauties. But, if this correspondence does not exist, there can be no real enjoyment, no matter how beautiful the objects may be with which we are surrounded."
"All Greek to me, my dear! Give me the external beauties, and you may content yourself with the moralities, or whatever else you may choose to call them."
Anna made no further attempt to correct Mrs. Riston's false notions. She saw that it was useless. She permitted her to find fault with, and scold about everything in the house, and when she finally took her departure, bade her a smiling good day.
One day, some three or four weeks after Hartley had commenced housekeeping, a member of the firm of R. S. & Co. said to the senior partner, "I observe that James checked out, yesterday, two thousand dollars."
"Two thousand dollars! Are you sure?"
"Strange! what can he want with that sum of money?"
"You know he is married."
"Yes. But what has that to do with two thousand dollars?"
"He has gone to housekeeping."
"That explains it. He mentioned to me his intention of doing so some weeks ago."
"But don't you think he is pretty free with money? A young man like him should not expect to dash out in very elegant style."
"True. But it is a question whether two thousand dollars will furnish a house very elegantly."
"Two thousand dollars will not go very far towards accomplishing that end, certainly. But, it is more than probable, that the major part of his furniture has been bought on a regular credit of six months, and that the two thousand dollars have been taken to pay for sundries not included in the bills for cabinet-ware and carpets."
"That may be. At any rate, it will be just as well for us to know all about this matter. Suppose you make some excuse to call in upon the young couple some evening this week, and see how they look."
"I will do so."
"Most sincerely do I hope that you will find all right. That a just regard to James's situation in life will be apparent in everything around them. Too often it is the case, that, as soon as a young man is taken into business, he imagines his fortune made, and forthwith begins to spend money as freely as if it were water. Of this weakness, I never should have suspected Hartley. But, there is no telling what influence his wife, if she has a love of show and extravagance, may have over him. If any game of this kind is to be played, we will have to throw him over the wall the first chance that offers."
"Better, I think, to remonstrate with him first. If incorrigible, he will have to be cut off."
"All this, however, is assuming that he is running wild already. Let us be certain of this first. He has always showed himself a prudent young man."
"So he has. And it is hardly fair to suspect him too strongly upon the evidence we now have before us. Two thousand dollars may be for the whole expense of furnishing his house. If so, I do not think he has exceeded a prudent limit, when it is considered that his dividend on the profit ought to reach four or five thousand dollars per annum, as business now is."
As determined upon, one of the partners called in upon Hartley, and sat for half an hour with him, on the plea of a conference about some matter of business forgotten during the day.
"Did you see Hartley, last evening?" asked the other member of the firm, when they met next morning.
"Well? What was the result?"
"All right, I would think."
"I am glad to hear it. What is the appearance of things?"
"Yes, but not too costly."
"How were the parlors furnished?"
"With admirable taste, considering the outlay, which could not have been extravagant."
"I am really gratified. Then, the two thousand dollars must have been to meet the whole cost of their furniture?"
"Yes. If the rest of the house is in keeping with the parlors, which is no doubt the case, two thousand dollars is ample."
"I thought James had too much good sense to be led aside from prudence. Did you see his wife?"
"How did you like her?"
"Very much. I would call her a charming young creature."
"Is she pretty?"
"And a lady?"
"If she is not one, ladies are hard to find. Her face is very sweet; and, although she looks young, there is nothing childish about her."
"Who is she?"
"The daughter of old Mr. Lee, in the Insurance Company."
"Ah! Wasn't there a good deal of talk about her refusing a very advantageous marriage offer some time ago?"
"Yes. She refused the hand of Gardiner."
"So she did. I remember now; and that I, in opposition to a good many lady friends, applauded her course. She is a sensible girl, I take it."
"So do I. Sensible for refusing Gardiner, and accepting Hartley."
"Marriage usually makes or mars a young man's fortune," said the other. "I am happy to find that in our young friend's case, the former result is likely to occur. If he has a prudent, sensible wife — there need be no fear for him."
"That he has, I am ready to vouch," was confidently replied.
It was true, as Hartley's senior associates in business had supposed. Two thousand dollars paid all the bills that were made by Hartley in furnishing his house. Had he not been governed by his wife's better judgment in matters of domestic economy, the cost would have been nearly doubled. The way in which this would have affected his standing in the eyes of the principal members of his firm, the reader can easily guess.
Of all this careful observation of his conduct, Hartley had not the most remote suspicion. Had he married a woman whose love of display had seconded his desire to make an imposing appearance in the world — the first intimation of his error would have been, in all probability, a notice that he must curtail his expenses at least one-half, or leave the firm of which he was a partner. The mortification that this would have occasioned, need not be described. So far from a fine house and costly furniture producing happiness — they would have made both himself and wife miserable!
"I tell you, Mr. Riston, it's no use to talk to me. As I have told you a hundred times before — I am not going to let you nor anybody else make a slave of me!"
"But, Ellen, this is all folly. As a wife, you should be willing to discharge a wife's duties. You cannot expect your husband to be contented without having some place in the world that to him is really home."
"No doubt it would content his heart vastly to see me drudging away from morning till night in the kitchen."
"Don't talk so like a silly woman, Ellen! You know better."
"I am silly enough in your eyes, no doubt. A woman is usually estimated by everybody else higher than she is by her husband."
"If so, it is easily explained," Mr. Riston said, in a slightly sarcastic tone.
"How is it explained?" asked the wife, with a look of defiance.
"Because he knows her best," was coolly replied.
"Mr. Riston, I won't allow anybody to insult me!"
"Nor will I, Ellen. If anyone should insult you, let me know, and I will resent it on the instant."
"Your language and manner are insufferable, sir!"
"As is your unwife-like conduct, madam! I have borne with you until all patience is exhausted. I am sick to death of this way of living, and want to get into a house of my own. But you, from a selfish love of your own ease, refuse to perform the solemn pledges into which you entered at marriage. Your regard is all for yourself — and in no degree for your husband."
"And please, sir," retorted Mrs. Riston with spirit, "in what direction turns your regard? Is it towards me — or towards yourself? Just to gratify your peculiar notions, you would make your wife a domestic slave! Is that so very unselfish? Humph! You had better take the beam out of your own eye — before you endeavor to get the mote out of mine!"
"Ellen!" and Mr. Riston's voice was sterner, and his countenance darker than usual — "All this is the worst and vainest of trifling. For four years I have yielded to your pleasure in this matter. It has been a source of constant disturbance between us. I am resolved that it shall not remain so any longer. You may do as you like. But my course is determined. I shall go to housekeeping. If it does not suit you to become the mistress of my house, I shall hire a competent person, and confide to her the care of it."
"Oh dear!" Mrs. Riston laughed scornfully.
"Do not think, for a moment, that, in this matter, I am merely blustering," the husband said, with unusual seriousness. "It has taken me a long time to resolve upon this step. I have looked at the subject in every light. I have regarded your feelings and wishes up to the point where such a regard ceases to be a virtue. Now I feel that a woman who acts as you do, deserves not to be considered a moment by the man whom, in her marriage vows, she has cruelly deceived. I have already chosen a house."
"What!" Mrs. Riston started to her feet with a countenance deeply flushed.
"It is true, as I have told you," calmly replied her husband. "I have selected a house. If it does not meet your approval, I will defer to your wishes in the choice of one that does, if you think proper to join me in doing what I have told you it is my intention to do."
"I join you!" half shrieked the wife, bitter contempt and defiance in her tones. "I join you, indeed! No! I will die before any man shall force me into his arbitrary measure. You have mistaken your woman, let me tell you."
"And you, your man," was coldly returned.
A dead silence succeeded. The opposition and bickering of years had broken out at last into an open rupture. Mr. Riston's patience could hold out no longer against the selfishness of his wife, which did not permit her to regard his wishes or comforts in the least degree. Often before had he assumed an air of determination, in the hope that she would yield to his wishes, but with no good effect. Now, the determination was not assumed, but real. Mr. Riston had looked around him for a house, and had selected one with the fixed intention of renting and furnishing it, unless his wife should consent to go to housekeeping, and desire a different situation or style of house for a residence. The wife did not believe that he was in earnest — but in this she was mistaken. No good had resulted from yielding, on his part. He was at last resolved to use a different kind of influence.
Mrs. Riston, after the last remark of her husband, turned her back to him, and moved her chair so that she would not fall within the range of his eye. It was in the evening, and both sat moody and silent until bed-time. Mrs. Riston was indignant; and Mr. Riston firmly resolved to do what he had threatened.
On the next morning, before descending to breakfast, he said in a very calm voice — they were the first words spoken to his wife since the previous evening —
"Ellen, I wish you to consider all that I have said, as in earnest. I have the key of a house in Ninth Street, through which I went yesterday. That house I shall rent, unless you choose another, and consent to go with me into it. I will not compel you to go into any house that you do not like; but, if you do not yourself select a house, I will take the one of which I have the key, and furnish it."
Mrs. Riston made no reply. She did not even look towards her husband.
"I will give you three days to make up your mind. After that, if you still decide to persevere in your present course, I shall certainly take mine; and the evil resulting from it, must rest upon your own head."
The breakfast bell rang at the moment, and Mr. Riston left the chamber and descended to the dining room. His wife remained behind, and did not make her appearance at table during the meal.
"My dear Mrs. Riston, how do you do? I am delighted to see you so early this morning. But how grave you look! What has happened, my dear?"
This was said by Mrs. Leslie, one of the lady's particular friends, upon whom Mrs. Riston called to communicate her troubles, as soon after breakfast as she thought it right to make a call.
"O dear, Mrs. Leslie! I am in a world of trouble this morning."
"What is the matter, dear?"
"Oh, that husband of mine, the perverse creature has got into one of his tantrums again!"
"Indeed he has, and he seems worse than ever!"
"What new quirk is in his head?"
"New? I wish to goodness it was something new! But it's that old notion about housekeeping; and he is stark, staring mad about it."
"I declare, he worries the very life out of me, notwithstanding I have told him over and over again that if he talked until doomsday about it — I would not consent to become his slave. Go to housekeeping, indeed! I have seen too many women in that horrible situation to wish to get into it myself."
"If your mind is made up about it, why give yourself so much trouble? It is only necessary to stand by your resolution, and he cannot help himself."
"So I have believed. But, would you have thought it — he is actually going to rent a house and furnish it all himself!"
"But he can't put you into it by bodily force."
"No, but he says he will hire a housekeeper to take charge of it if I don't go with him."
"Humph! That would be a pretty piece of business."
"But you don't believe he is in earnest?"
"I am afraid he is. I never saw him in such a temper. I declare, his manner frightened me."
Mrs. Leslie did not know what to reply. While she sat with her eyes still upon the floor in a musing attitude, her friend resumed.
"If he does really mean to push things to extremities, I shall have to give in, because I wouldn't have people think, for the world, that we did not live upon the most affectionate terms. I am too proud to have myself the town talk. But, if he once gets the upper hand of me, there is no telling how far he may play the tyrant. That is the difficulty in the way, even after I have conquered my own will, which is no light task."
"Yes, that is to be well considered. If you give way an inch to some men, they will certainly exact the mile."
"And my husband is just one of those kind of men."
"You must yourself manage, if you do give an inch, to take three feet from somewhere else."
"That's it exactly, Mrs. Leslie! That is just what I have thought of doing. And it is to consult you about this that I have called in. But, the first question to settle is: shall I yield?"
"I think you have taken, already, a very sensible view of that subject. You do not wish to be the town talk."
"No, I do not. I dread that only a little more than giving up to my husband, a thing that a woman of spirit never should do if it is possible to avoid it. If the matter could be kept between him and I alone, I would die before I would yield an inch — but this has completely bewildered me!"
"So it would seem, if he means really to do what he says. Suppose you let him go on a little further. If he does take a house and furnish it, you can become its mistress at the last pinch, and so avoid the exposure you dread."
"Yes, but look here, Mrs. Leslie. If I consent to go to housekeeping — if I give that one inch, I must have my three feet, you know. Now where are they to come from?"
"That is for you to determine."
"With the assistance of your advice!"
"It shall be freely given; but I need some clue to your wishes."
"Let me see," mused Mrs. Riston. "How shall I thwart him? How shall I get the complete upper-hand? Where are the three feet to come from? Yes, I think I have it. He loves money, and hates to spend it; and I love it too, but only to spend it freely. If I go to housekeeping, I must have a splendid establishment."
"That's it, dear! put your hand deep into his pocket. If he will push matters so far — if the thing must be done, take care to have it done as you like."
"Trust me for that. He said if I didn't like the house he had taken, I was at liberty to choose one for myself."
"Did he? Then you have him."
"Yes! If I am to be a slave — then I will choose a splendid captivity. He shall pay for it. Before a year rolls around, if he isn't sick to death of housekeeping, I am no prophet."
Instead of wisely seeking to turn the current of Mrs. Riston's thoughts into a better channel, Mrs. Leslie encouraged her folly, and confirmed her in the mad resolution she had taken.
Mr. Riston did not make his appearance at dinnertime, preferring to get something to eat at one of the public dining-rooms — to meeting his perverse-minded wife. He did not know that she was prepared to give him a much pleasanter reception than he had every reason to believe that she would.
Evening came, and the unhappy husband — for unhappy, though resolute, he really was — took his way homeward. When he entered his boarding-house, he went to the public parlor, and sat down there to await the ringing of the tea-bell, instead of going up to his own room. At the supper table he met his wife for the first time since morning. They sat side by side. But he did not speak to her, nor even look into her face. He was not a little surprised when she asked, in the ordinary indifferent tone with which she usually spoke to him, why he had not come home to dinner. He replied that he was very busy, and preferred dining in town. Mrs. Riston did not believe this of course. It was acting on his part as well as hers — and both understood that it was. But Mr. Riston felt puzzled.
After tea, the husband and wife retired to their apartment. Mr. Riston made no attempt to introduce the subject about which they had jarred so heavily on the night before; but his wife dexterously brought it in, and then declared that, rather than there should be the exposure he threatened, she would submit, though with great reluctance. A few convenient tears watered this concession. Mr. Riston was softened.
"I cannot yield the point of going to housekeeping," he said. "But I am very willing to defer to your judgment in the selection of a house, and to let your taste govern in furnishing it."
"Where is the house you have fixed upon?" asked Mrs. Riston.
"In Ninth Street."
"What kind of a house is it?"
"A very good house. I have no doubt but that you will like it. Tomorrow we will walk round there. I have the key."
Mrs. Riston thought it just as well to reserve her objections until she saw the house, for then she could have something real upon which to ground them.
On the next day, after breakfast, in apparently a very good mood, Ellen started out with her husband to visit the house he had pitched upon.
"How much is the rent?" she thought proper to ask on the way.
"Three hundred and fifty dollars," replied Mr. Riston.
"It can't be much of a house at that price," quietly remarked the lady.
"I think it a very excellent house. In some situations it would rent for sixty guineas."
Mrs. Riston said no more, but walked on. Her mind was made up as to the game she would play. In thinking how she would thwart her husband, she felt a secret delight. At length they were at the door. The key was applied, and they entered the house. First they looked through the parlors.
"These are very fine rooms," said the husband.
"Miserable wall-paper!" said the wife.
"I don't know. I think it very good."
"Hardly fit for a garret. Isn't it astonishing that anybody could have the execrable taste to select such a pattern?"
"No doubt the landlord will give us new paper."
"And such mantelpieces! I wouldn't be forced to look at them every day for a month — if anybody would give me their weight in gold."
"I am sure, Ellen, that I don't see anything so offensive in them."
"Well, I do, then. But come; let us go up into the chambers."
Up they went.
"Just as I supposed it would be. No paper on the walls."
"The landlord will paper the chambers, if we ask him, I am sure."
"He may paper them with gold leaf, if he chooses, but I would not live in this house!"
"Why, Ellen! What do you mean?"
"Just what I have said. The fact is, I don't like the house at all, and can't imagine how you could have conceived, for a single moment, the idea of renting it!"
"I think it a very excellent house."
"Certainly. A very genteel, comfortable house."
"Genteel! Oh, ha! Your ideas of gentility and mine differ vastly. I can't live here, Mr. Riston. If I must go to housekeeping, I will be the mistress of something that suits my taste much better than this does."
"Suppose you look for a house yourself. I am willing. If you are not pleased with this one — see if you cannot find another that you like better."
This was gaining one point. Mrs. Riston agreed to look out herself. Two days afterwards she said to her husband,
"I think I have met with a house that is just the thing."
"I am glad to hear it. Where is it situated?"
"In Arch Street, above Tenth."
"What is the rent?"
"Only nine hundred dollars. It is a very cheap house, for so fine a one."
"Nine hundred dollars!" exclaimed Mr. Riston, in surprise.
"Yes, that is the rent."
"But you certainly do not think about our renting a house at nine hundred dollars?"
"Why not? It is just the thing; I know you will be delighted with it."
"Not at nine hundred dollars!"
"The rent is very reasonable, Mr. Riston. You don't know what an elegant house it is."
"No doubt it is elegant enough, my dear, but we can't afford to pay nine hundred dollars rent for a dwelling."
"How much do you pay for your store?"
"I pay a thousand dollars. But — "
"Very well, if you can pay a thousand dollars for a store, I see no reason why you can't pay nine hundred for a dwelling."
"But a store, Ellen, is a place of business; the rent of which is — "
"And a dwelling house is a place of residence. Where is the difference, please?"
"A very great difference. The rent of a store always depends upon the amount of business that can be done "
"Don't talk all that nonsense to me, Mr. Riston." I don't pretend to understand a word of it. To my mind there is no reason whatever why a man should pay more rent for a store than for a dwelling."
"But look at it for a moment in a common sense — "
"I don't pretend to know anything about common sense, Mr. Riston."
"Really, Ellen, you are the most unreasonable woman I ever met in my life!"
"Quite complimentary! No doubt you think so. But thank goodness — your opinion of me will never break my heart."
A pause in the coming tempest followed this fitful gust.
"You cannot be in earnest about the house you speak of in Arch Street?" at length resumed the husband.
"Why not, please?"
"I cannot afford such a rent, Ellen."
"You don't suppose, for a moment, that I believe that kind of nonsense," retorted the wife.
"I tell you, it is true!" Mr. Riston spoke with some warmth.
The lady tossed her head incredulously.
"As to paying nine hundred dollars for a house, I can assure you at the threshold, that the thing is not to be thought of for a moment!"
"Well, just as you like. You can go and rent that pigeon box in Ninth Street if you please, and keep bachelor's hall. I shall not go into it, nor into any such base house. When I go to housekeeping, if go I must, it will be in a decent way."
"Decent? Please, what do you call decent?"
"I call the house in Arch Street, a decent house."
Mr. Riston was angry and bewildered.
"It is no use for you to think of a house at nine hundred dollars, Ellen," he said. "The thing is out of the question. My circumstances are not such as to — "
"There, there, now, Mr. Riston, I don't want another word about your circumstances! I have heard nothing else I believe since we were married."
"But won't you listen to common sense, woman?"
"Wife, then, if that will sound any better to your ear, though a very strange kind of a wife you are, let me tell you!" This remark would have made Mrs. Riston very angry if it had been uttered under different circumstances. But her mind was intent upon thwarting her husband, and she knew that she was chafing him severely. Considering his temperament, she was neither surprised nor pained at his words.
For two or three days the contention about the house in Arch Street went on. The husband remained so firm, that Mrs. Riston, after several conferences with her friend Mrs. Leslie, deemed it best to yield a little on the rent of the house, with the determination of making it up in the furniture. The handsome dwelling in Walnut Street, which Mr. Hartley had wished to take, still remained vacant. The rent of this was seven hundred dollars per annum. With much tact, Mrs. Riston directed the thoughts of her husband to this house, and actually induced him, by seeming herself to be resolved on the house in Arch Street, to propose to rent this one. With apparent great reluctance the lady yielded, finally, her preference for the nine hundred dollar house.
The contention with his wife about the choice of a dwelling had been such a severe one, that when a new difference of opinion in regard to the style of furnishing it showed itself, Mr. Riston retired at once from a combat in which he felt that inglorious defeat awaited him. With a sigh, and a foreboding of evil, he resigned to her the task of selecting the furniture, not, however, until he had expressed a willingness to remain where they were, rather than be subjected to the heavy expense which he saw too plainly housekeeping would involve.
"Oh, no, no," was his lady's reply. "This is all of your own seeking. Things have gone too far now. We have already taken the house, and my heart is set upon having it fitted up in a delightful way. I am not one of your changeables. When I once set my mind upon doing a thing — I must go to the end."
Nothing was left but quiet submission — or a prolonged contention — the result of which in the husband's mind was very doubtful. He weakly chose the former, against all the higher dictates of his reason; thus giving to a self-willed, vain and unfeeling woman, a new and more dangerous power over him.
While the result of her contention with her husband was still doubtful, Mrs. Riston called upon none of her friends except Mrs. Leslie, who always encouraged her to do just what she wished to do, and whose advice was always such as to aid her in more effectually attaining her own ends. But, no sooner was it settled that she was to become the mistress of an elegant house, than she was on the wing. Among the first people on whom she called, was Mrs. Hartley. She could not restrain the desire she felt to let Anna know that she was herself to occupy the beautiful house she had been so foolish as to pass by.
"I have news to tell you, my dear," she said, with a brightening face, after she had been seated a few minutes.
"Ah? What is it?"
"You couldn't guess in a month!"
"Perhaps not. I never was very good at guessing."
"I am going to housekeeping!"
"To housekeeping! Aren't you surprised?"
"I am truly. What in the world has caused you to change your views?"
"Circumstances. My husband set his mind so determinedly upon it, that nothing was left me but to consent. Would you believe it? — the man actually set about renting a house and furnishing it himself, declaring that he would hire someone to keep it for him and live there alone, if I did not choose to go with him! It's a fact! Did you ever hear of such a thing?"
Mrs. Hartley looked at her visitor in mute amazement.
"Well may you look surprised!" resumed Mrs. Riston. "But, if I did consent, in the end, after a hard struggle to give up my freedom — it was only after stipulations honorable enough to my pride and ambition. He fought hard, but I conquered by perseverance."
It was impossible for Anna to say a single word, in the pause that followed this sentence. Her heart was shocked. But, of the real impression her communication had made, Mrs. Riston had no idea.
"My husband fixed upon a house very much like the one you have," the lady continued, "only somewhat more genteel; but I told him NO at once: that if I was forced to go to housekeeping, I must at least have a word to say in regard to the style in which I was to live. He yielded a little, and then I pushed him hard, for I knew that nothing else would do. At first I insisted upon having a house in Arch Street at nine hundred dollars."
"Indeed I did. He looked dumbfounded. I urged, but he said no, with such a resolute air, and plead inability so very hard, that I abated a little. You remember the house in Walnut Street that you were so silly as to refuse when your husband wanted to rent it? Well, that house still remained vacant, and I settled down upon it, determined not to descend a single step lower. My good man fought hard, but it was no use. I was immoveable. At last he consented, and we have the keys! Aren't you sorry now that you did not secure it?"
"No," was the simple reply of Mrs. Hartley.
"You will be, then. Wait until I get it furnished. I'll dazzle your eyes for you. Mr. Riston has left all to my taste."
"Without regard to expense?"
"He tried to limit me to a certain sum, but I told him it was no use. We had no children, and, therefore, no particular reason for being over-economical. Other people could live in handsome style who were no better off — and we had just as good a right to all the elegancies of life as anybody else. He preached about his not being able to bear the heavy expense: but I wouldn't listen to him a moment. I have heard about that ever since we were married. He would go to housekeeping, and now he shall have enough of it. Oh, but I'll show you style!"
Anna looked grave.
"What is the matter, my dear? Not envious, I hope, in anticipation?"
"No, Heaven knows that I am not!" Anna said, with a serious face and as serious a tone.
"What is the matter, then, child?"
"I am grieved at heart to hear any one speak of her husband as you are speaking, Mrs. Riston. Depend upon it — you are wrong."
"Wrong for a woman to assert her rights and maintain them."
"A woman has no rights independent of her husband."
"You are crazy, child! Must she be his passive slave?"
"No — nor should she attempt to play the tyrant over him."
"You do not mean to say that I attempt to play the tyrant over my husband?"
"Look closely into your own conduct, and answer that question for yourself, Mrs. Riston."
"I am not used to being spoken to in this way, madam!" An angry flush mounted to the brow of the visitor as she spoke, and a slight movement of the body showed that she was about to rise from her chair.
"Think, Mrs. Riston," replied Anna, "whether it would not be of use to you to know exactly what impression your words and conduct sometimes make upon the minds of unselfish friends."
"Ah! Well! Perhaps it would. Please let me have the benefits of your impressions." This was said in a quick, sneering voice.
"Not while you feel as you do now," Anna calmly said. "I have no unkindness in my heart towards you. I hope you will cherish none towards me. But I cannot help being affected, as I am, by your language. It gives me the most exquisite pain."
The manner in which this was said, caused the angry feelings of Mrs. Riston to subside.
"You are a strange woman, Mrs. Hartley."
"I strive always to do right."
"So do I; that is, to have everything my own way — which I think the right way."
"Acting in that spirit, you will rarely be in the right," Anna firmly said.
"Don't you think I am right in opposing my husband's stinginess?"
"You should first be very sure that what you call stinginess is not a just degree of prudence. What do you know of his affairs?"
"Nothing at all, except that he is very well off. As to the exact amount of his property, or how much he makes in a year, I don't concern myself. Of one thing I am very certain — my extravagance will never ruin him."
"I hope not. But you should not disregard his complaints that you spend money too freely."
"But you can't judge of this, Anna. You don't know how constantly it has been rung in my ears ever since we were married."
"Perhaps this is your fault? Perhaps you have, from the first, been disposed to spend money more freely than you should."
"I differ with you; and I ought to know best." This was coldly spoken.
Anna felt that it would do no good to proceed, and the subject was dropped there. The visitor did not stay long. Mrs. Hartley had made her feel very uncomfortable.
"I must say that I think that Anna Hartley a very strange woman," remarked Mrs. Riston, some ten minutes after she left her, to her very particular friend, Mrs. Leslie.
"I always knew that."
"Don't you think she had the coolness to take me to task this morning, because I made my husband rent the house in Walnut Street, that she was fool enough to let slip through her fingers?"
"Humph! She has repented of that, no doubt, a hundred times already!"
"And is only mad because I had spirit enough to insist upon having it. But I'll be revenged on her! I'll show her what she has missed, at the house warming! I'll make her heart sick of her own two-pence, half-penny affair! But her time is past. The honey-moon is long since over, and she will find her loving spouse very clear of gratifying the desire that I will create in her bosom. The conceited girl — to think of reading me a lesson in marital duty. I'll bet anything that, before six months are past, she and her husband will have many a little tiff, if not something worse."
"She is a prude."
"And as cold-hearted as an icicle. I wonder any man could like her."
"She has a pretty face."
"I differ with you. It may be regular; but it has no life — no vivacity."
"We won't quarrel about that. Some have called her really beautiful. Gardiner once thought so."
"When he played the love-sick fool to one who was not worthy of him. But he has expressed himself very differently to me, since."
"Has he? Sour grapes, perhaps. Gardiner wanted her very badly, and so did William Archer. By the way, speaking of Archer, I believe public opinion is rather too hard with him."
"You know I have always thought so."
"Yes, I am aware of that. He was here yesterday, and is quite serious about renewing his addresses to Florence Armitage, and claiming the fulfillment of her promise to marry him!"
"Will it be of any use?"
"I think so. Florence is a weak girl, and may be easily induced to look upon him once more with favorable eyes."
"Why does he feel so anxious about pressing his suit in that quarter? There are dozens of girls to pick among, who are far more lovable than Florence."
"For reasons best known to himself, no doubt. He wants me to aid him again, and I shall do it. Florence has called in, occasionally, of late, to see me. When next we meet, I will sound her on the subject. He has written her a letter, to which no answer has yet been returned. It will be very easy to lead her on to speak of this, and then I will urge her to reply to it."
"You can persuade her, easily enough, to do this."
"Yes, I presume I can. When she has once answered his letter, no matter what she says, her feelings will be more or less interested in him, in spite of all she can do. After that, it will be plain sailing for our friend Archer."
"So I would think."
"Unless the influence of Anna Hartley is stronger than I think it is."
"Is she attached to Anna?"
"Very closely; and she can do almost anything with her. But love for a man is stronger than love for a woman, in a maiden's heart. Here lies William Archer's strong ground of hope.
"She will be his wife before six months passes, Mrs. Leslie."
"Or three — if I may be allowed to prophecy."
"Success to his suit, say I. He is just as good as she is. Indeed, she ought to be glad to get him; for his family is far more respectable than hers."
"That is true. Her father is nobody. Who ever heard of him until a few years ago? And as for her mother, it would be a hard task to trace her pedigree, and not very flattering to her descendants, when it was done. If it wasn't for her father's money, I don't think William would take much to heart her failure to comply with her marriage promise."
"No, I suppose not."
We cannot follow these heartless, dangerous women, any further in their conversation. Enough of their characters and designs are apparent to the reader.
After Florence Armitage had left Mrs. Hartley on the day she showed her the letter which she had received from Archer, she did not see so clearly as while with her, the impropriety of making a reply. The image of the young man was constantly before her mind, and, scarcely conscious of it herself, she dwelt with pleasing emotions on that image.
When she went home, she shut herself up in her own room, and read over his letter again.
"I fear to wrong anyone," she sighed.
Then came up to the eyes of her mind, with vivid distinctness, the form of Grace Leary; and the whole scene on the night appointed for her wedding arose and passed before her. Shuddering, she strove to banish the blasting visions, but strove in vain. It seemed as if the wretched girl was in the room — and warning her not to give a moment's heed to the tempter!
The excitement, under which she had been for some time, at length subsided. But still her thoughts turned to William Archer. Resolutely did she strive to banish his image, but she strove without success. It was still present with her.
That night, before she retired to bed, she wrote three letters in answer to the one she had received, and destroyed them all. The first one seemed to her too cold and repulsive in style; and the two last, rather warmer than she thought it right to send.
For days and weeks a violent struggle went on in her mind. She saw Mrs. Hartley frequently during the time, but carefully avoided making any allusions to the subject. One day she met Mrs. Leslie in the street. She had not visited her for some time. That lady urged her so strongly to call upon her, that she promised to do so, and very soon fulfilled her promise. Dexterously did Mrs. Leslie manage to lead Florence to allude to the past.
"Have you never seen him since?" she asked, finally, alluding to Archer, and speaking in a tone that completely betrayed Florence into a misplaced confidence.
"But once," was replied.
"A few weeks ago I met him in the street."
"Did you speak to him?"
"Poor fellow! He has suffered severely."
"And so has Grace Leary. A thousand times more deeply than ever he has." Florence said this with something like indignant warmth.
"That may be — poor wretch! But, it is possible that he may be innocent of any wrong towards her."
"She solemnly accuses him; and charges the ruin of other victims upon him."
"Of all of which he may be guilty."
"Can there be any doubt of it?"
"There is always a doubt of guilt, where no positive evidence is given."
"But is there not positive evidence in this case?"
"There is the testimony of a wicked woman. How far do you think that ought to be taken?"
"It should be taken with allowance, certainly. But, in this case, her testimony is not the only proof. The wrong done to Grace Leary by William Archer has been a thing of notoriety for a long time."
"There has been a good deal of running gossip on the subject, I know; but a little tattle of this kind is too common to have much weight attached to it. The young man declares his innocence — and we should take good care that, in throwing him off, we do not wrong the innocent."
"What do you think? What is your opinion, Mrs. Leslie?" Florence asked, with a countenance and tone of voice that betrayed the interest her heart still retained in Archer.
"I believe he has been a wild young man — that, in the thoughtless ardor of youth, he may have been led astray in some things. But, of the errors of his youth, I believe he has sincerely repented, and that it is wrong to condemn him on their account."
Florence did not reply.
"That he suffers acutely in consequence of the present aspect of affairs, I know. He was deeply attached to you, and still is."
"Do not speak so to me, Mrs. Leslie," Florence said, with evident agitation.
"I speak but the truth. Surely you are not afraid to hear that."
"I do not know that Mr. Archer is innocent of the dreadful crime charged upon him in the most solemn manner — a manner that carried instant conviction to my heart, and to everyone present."
"And still all may have been but the mad ravings of an insane creature."
"No matter. It was a timely occurrence of so startling a nature as to warrant me in declining to fulfill my engagement with him, and Heaven knows, I have no desire now to renew it! In the interaction I had with him after I consented to become his wife, I saw deeper into his character. He is selfish and overbearing; and I was led to suspect, from evidence not to be educed, that there was more love for me on his tongue than in his heart!"
"You are certainly mistaken."
"I think not."
"Indeed you are."
"That is barely possible. I doubt it."
"But if you refuse to marry him, you need not refuse to speak to him."
"That is another question, and the only one about which I am undecided. I do not wish to wrong anyone — to wound anyone."
"Of course not. For this reason you should be well assured that there is good cause for the stand you have taken towards Archer, who, let me tell you, still loves you as truly and tenderly as ever."
"Mrs. Leslie! what do you mean?" quickly exclaimed Florence, with increased agitation. "I, have just told you that I believed his love for me to be only an empty profession."
"In which belief you have wronged him!"
"You speak with a strange confidence."
"I have a right to say so. Though so many have judged the young man with the harshest kind of judgment, and turned coldly from him, I have still remained his friend. To me, then, he might be expected to open his heart freely — and he has done so."
Mrs. Leslie looked attentively at Florence, to see the effect of her words, and then went on.
"The truth is, William Archer has himself told me that for you, he still has the purest regard — and if you never look at him, never speak to him — he will still love you, and you only — and love you until the end.
The effect of this was to make Florence turn pale, and tremble from head to foot! The words of the tempter were sinking into her heart. When she parted with this criminally injudicious friend, it was with a half-extorted promise that she would not refuse to speak to Archer, when next she met him. This promise, she was soon called upon to perform. On the next day, she passed the young man in the street. As they were approaching, their eyes met and were fixed. Florence inclined her head, but did not smile. A respectful bow was returned — and both passed on — one with a thrill of pleasure, the other with a wildly throbbing heart.
"What am I doing?" Florence asked herself, after her feelings had calmed down. "Where is this to end? I will call upon Anna and be guided by her. She always sees right."
But, conscious that Anna's advice would not accord with her feelings, she deferred calling to see her, day after day, and week after week.
The recognition of Archer by Florence, encouraged the young man. A visit to Mrs. Leslie soon after, and a half hour's conference with that lady gave him renewed hope.
Scarcely a month had elapsed before the thoughtless young girl was again on terms of intimacy with Archer, a man against whose character common report had not said one word too much.
With most consummate art did the sordid lover insinuate himself once more into favor. Florence and he met at the house of Mrs. Leslie, who did all in her power to forward his designs. At length Archer ventured to renew his vows of love, and to claim the fulfillment of a promise already given. The weak girl was fully in his toils. She yielded a trembling consent, for reason told her that she was acting wrong.
Thus far no one but Mrs. Leslie knew anything of the state of Florence's mind — not even her parents, who had not the most remote suspicion that she had met Archer since the occurrence of an event that has been more than once alluded to.
"How will your father and mother feel about this?" asked Archer, during one of their interviews, after he had become fully restored to favor with Florence. "Do you think it possible to disabuse their minds of the prejudice against me with which they are affected?"
"I can hardly tell. But they cannot be deaf to reason."
"Do they ever speak of me."
"No. Your name is never mentioned in our house."
"What do you think are their feelings towards me?"
"How shall we approach them on the subject that lays so near our hearts?"
"I cannot tell. I tremble whenever I think about it."
"Will there be any use in asking their consent?"
"I fear not. My father is set in his ways. When he once makes up his mind, it is almost impossible to move him."
"How about your mother?"
Anna shook her head.
"What is to be done?"
"I do not know," was the maiden's desponding reply.
"We cannot live without each other."
Florence leaned her head confidingly against her lover, and he drew his arm tenderly about her. There was a deep silence, that continued for many minutes.
The real truth was, Archer had everything to fear from a general knowledge of the fact that he had renewed his attentions to Florence. For this reason he did not, so far as he was concerned, wish the parents of Florence consulted at all in the matter. His own wish was, to marry clandestinely; and this he meant to propose, if he could see it safe to do so. The reader can now perceive the drift of his leading questions to the infatuated girl.
"Suppose," he suggested, "on making known our wishes to your parents, they should positively refuse me your hand? What will be our position?"
"I have told you," was replied, "that I love you more than life."
"And are you ready to forsake all for me, if called to such a trial?"
"Can you doubt it?"
"No. I would doubt my own heart if I did."
"You must not doubt it."
"If your parents will not consent to our union, as I fear they will not, what course shall we take?"
"It is for you to say that. I am ready to become your wife."
"But you will have to do it in the face of your parents' disapprobation. You will have to act in disobedience to them. Would it not be better to avoid that?"
"Can it be avoided?"
"I think so." And as Archer said this, he regarded the face of Florence with close attention. Its expression encouraged him to proceed.
"By a marriage at once, while they are still ignorant that we have met."
"I do not see that such a step will give matters an aspect any more favorable."
"I think it will. Take this view. We can be married privately, and then send a letter explaining why we took the step, laying particular stress upon the unconquerable reluctance we both felt to risking the danger of a refusal by asking consent. Depend upon it, our position will be much better, than if we get married after an expressed disapprobation. The act may be excused as a piece of folly, or madness, or whatever they may choose to call it. But it will have about it nothing of direct disobedience, a thing so hard for a parent to forget and forgive."
Florence felt the force of this. Mrs. Leslie was now referred to, and she seconded the views of Archer warmly. The bewildered, and really unhappy girl at length yielded a reluctant consent.
"When shall the marriage take place?" eagerly asked the lover.
Florence was silent.
"Name the earliest possible moment. No time is to be lost."
"No, not an hour," said Mrs. Leslie.
"Why need it be delayed at all. We are both ready to join hands as well as hearts. Why may it not take place this very night?"
"O no — no! That is too hasty," objected Florence. "I must have a little time to collect and compose my thoughts."
"You are willing to marry William?" said Mrs. Leslie.
"O yes. I have said so," she replied.
"And have little hope of gaining the consent of your parents?"
"I fear they would not give it."
"Then why delay what must take place?"
"Let me have a single day for preparation. I ask no more." Tears gushed from the eyes of the excited girl.
Neither Archer nor his friend could say a word more. It was then regularly arranged that the marriage should be celebrated privately, on the next night, at the house of Mrs. Leslie.
As Archer and Florence walked home that night, the latter noticed that a female, small in stature, and with a marked peculiarity of dress, passed them no less than four times. Each time she looked intently into the face of Florence, and once partly paused, and seemed about to speak. The countenance of this person was clearly seen by Florence as the light of a lamp fell upon it. It was strangely familiar. But where she had seen it, she tried in vain to think. Archer did not appear to notice this female, or, if he did, he made no allusion to her.
"Tomorrow night," he said, as he kissed the hand of Florence at her father's door, and then walked rapidly away.
"Cursed creature!" he muttered between his teeth, when a few paces distant — "you thwarted me once; but I defy you now! Tomorrow night I will be the husband of Florence, and then your revengeful spirit will have to seek out some new scheme. If you cross my path many times more, I will murder you!"
The clenched teeth and hands, and the dark face of the young man, showed plainly that he was really under the influence of demoniac passions. He hated the object of his censure, whoever it might be, with a murderous hatred!
Florence entered her father's house and hurried up to her chamber, without meeting either of her parents. Closing the door and locking it, she threw herself panting upon her bed. Her thoughts were all in confusion, and her heart oppressed with a suffocating burden.
"I believe I am mad!" she at length said, in a low, solemn voice, rising up and looking around her. "What have I been doing? What have I promised?"
Sinking down again she covered her face with her hands, and lay motionless for a long time. Is about half an hour, she arose with a deep sigh, and after walking the floor of her chamber for half an hour, retired to bed.
In the morning her mind was calmer, and she saw, with more accuracy than before, her true position, and the folly of the step she was about to take. But how could she a second time break her promise to the man whom, in spite of reason, she loved? She felt that she could not. As the day advanced, she grew more and more agitated. To conceal this from her mother, she pretended not to be well, and kept her room.
Sometimes she would feel strongly inclined to go to her mother and confess all. But this idea would be abandoned almost as quickly as it was conceived. Her parents, she believed, would hear to nothing but her total abandonment of all expectation of becoming the wife of Archer, and to this she was not prepared to submit.
In the afternoon the infatuated girl went, according to promise, to the house of Mrs. Leslie, there to await the hour appointed for the performance of the marriage rite, which was to stamp upon her whole life the seal of wretchedness. Mrs. Leslie received her warmly, and lavished upon her every attention. But Florence felt unhappy, because sensible that the step about to be taken was a wrong one. It was now, however, too late to think of retracting. She was ready to fulfill her promise, even under the clear conviction that in so doing she was acting insanely.
Half an hour after Florence left her home, a servant brought to Mrs. Armitage a letter which had just been handed in at the door. She broke the seal and read as follows:
"Madam — The wolf is again entering the sheep-fold. Beware! As you value the present and future happiness of your daughter, guard her more carefully. Last night I saw her in company with that arch-deceiver whose attempt to possess her hand in marriage, I once thwarted! Could you have believed it? No! But it is true. The hawk is again seeking to consort with the dove!"
With this letter open in her hand, Mrs. Armitage went, acting from the impulse of the moment, direct to the room of her daughter. Florence was not there. She called to her, but no answer came from any part of the house. On inquiry she learned that she had gone out.
With much anxiety, and a mind greatly disturbed, the mother awaited her daughter's return. But the afternoon wore away, and evening found her still absent. When Mr. Armitage came home, she showed him the singular communication she had received. It made him very angry.
"If that girl is really so insane as to encourage and keep company with such an unprincipled scoundrel — she deserves to be turned out of the house!" he said.
"It is no time, now, husband," was the reply of Mrs. Armitage, "to indulge our indignant feelings. Let us rather, looking solely to the safety of our child, strive to keep her away from this fiend."
"But, don't you see that all our striving will be no better than the striving of a weak man against a strong current? If she is so infatuated already as to meet him without our knowledge, she will marry him, if so disposed, without our consent."
"Let us not look at the worst side. And after all, perhaps this letter does not tell the truth. Perhaps it is the work of some cruel-minded person, whose delight it is to give pain to others."
"I believe the letter to be genuine."
"It may be. I fear it is."
"What steps ought we to take? We must act promptly if we act at all."
"The best thing is, I suppose, to show this letter to Florence as soon as she comes home, and judge from the impression it makes upon her, how far she has suffered her feelings to become again impressed favorably in regard to the young man. When we see the extent of the evil, we shall be better able to guard against it."
But they waited in vain. The warning had come too late. While they sat anxiously expecting her return, she was pledging herself to one who loved her — as the wolf loves the lamb.
On the next morning the newspapers announced the marriage of William Archer and Florence Armitage, to the astonishment and grief of all who knew them. As early as eight o'clock, a letter was received by Mr. and Mrs. Armitage, from their daughter and her husband. It set forth all their reasons for the hurried step they had taken, pretty much in the order that Archer had previously suggested to Florence, and begged to be taken into favor.
Mr. Armitage flung the letter from him, and left the house, declaring that they would never cross his threshold while he lived! Mrs. Armitage shut herself up in her room and wept all the morning.
When the father and mother again met, both were calm, and deeply thoughtful. Nothing was said about the communication which they had received. The meal passed in silence. Mr. Armitage went slowly back to his store, and Mrs. Armitage again shut herself up in her room.
"Poor Florence!" said Mrs. Armitage, thinking aloud, as she sat by the side of her husband after the tea things had been removed that evening.
Mr. Armitage sighed.
On the next morning, as her husband was about leaving with a gloomy countenance for the store — Mrs. Armitage remarked that they should not forget that Florence was still their child.
Her husband looked at her for a moment or two. His face was not stern. It wore an expression of mingled grief and tenderness. But he made no answer; only sighing, and then turning away and leaving the house.
During the morning another letter came from the young couple. It was humble in its tone, and expressed great anxiety for a reconciliation. It was in the hand-writing of Florence, and was soiled, in many places, with tears. The mother wept over it for an hour. When her husband came home, she placed it in his hands. He affected a sternness of manner, when he saw from whom it had come. But this soon gave way to the power of his real feelings. Mrs. Armitage watched him closely as he bent over the letter. Her heart trembled as she saw his hand, after he had read a few lines, go quickly to his eyes, and dash aside a tear that dimmed his vision. He read on; but, long before he reached the last line, he had thrown down the letter and was weeping like a child.
Before an hour passed, Florence was in her mother's arms.
"Have you looked over the morning paper?" said Hartley to his wife Anna, when he came home at dinner-time on the day the marriage of Archer and Florence had been publicly announced.
"Not particularly. Why?"
"A friend of yours is married." This was said without a smile.
"No!" Anna startled, and looked serious.
"It is, I am sorry to say, too true; and she has married that young scoundrel, Archer."
"It cannot be so, James. Surely there must be some mistake?"
"No. They went off together last night, and were married secretly. It is announced this morning in the papers. I am told that no one even suspected that they had met since the time their former engagement was broken."
"The girl must be insane!"
"How long is it since you saw her, Anna?"
"It is several weeks since she was here. Then she told me, as I mentioned to you at the time, that Archer had written to her, and that she felt inclined to believe public opinion judged him too severely."
"Which it has not done. He is just as bad as the general voice pronounces him — I believe worse! And this the poor girl will soon find to her sorrow."
"Did you hear at whose house the marriage took place? Or, did they go to a minister's?"
"It is said that the ceremony was performed by an alderman, at the residence of Mrs. Leslie."
"Now I understand. This is the work of that injudicious woman. Oh, what could she have been thinking about! She knew the character of Archer well."
"Few knew it better. But Mrs. Leslie is a thoughtless woman. Criminally thoughtless."
"I never felt any moral confidence in her, after I had known her for a short time. How much of evil such a woman can do; and yet move in the best society, and be well received there! Poor Florence! Most sincerely do I commiserate her."
"How will her parents act? Do you think they will be so much incensed at her conduct as to refuse to receive her with her husband?"
"I think not. They will be grieved sorely. It will be a painful affliction. But they will not cast off their child."
"I am glad of that, for her sake."
"Yes. A consciousness of having acted wrong, is grief enough, without anger and banishment added thereto."
"I suppose you will call and see her, and — "
"No, James. I do not intend calling upon her."
"Ah! Why not? You were friends. She may have acted wrong, but she is still the same."
"Not to me. She is no longer Florence Armitage, but the wife of William Archer, whose character I detest!"
"But, shall you, because his character is vile, cease to regard the good that is in his wife?"
"No. I may regard all that is good in her, still; but I cannot visit her. Would it be right for me to do it, if I could not speak to her husband if he were standing by her side? I think not. Reverse the case. Would it be right for me to receive the visits of a lady who would not speak to you?"
"That question is not very hard to answer. I do not think it would. But no lady could have the good reason for avoiding me, that you have for avoiding Archer."
"It matters not. Florence believes, no doubt, that her husband is innocent of the heinous sins laid to his charge, and therefore ought not to receive my visits while I treat him as if he were guilty. But more than this. I believe that no woman can love an evil man as her husband, and not suffer a moral perversion. This is another reason why I do not wish to be on terms of intimacy with the wife of Mr. Archer. And a still further reason is, that I ought not to visit freely in the family of a man so justly condemned by public opinion, lest he be thought one of my husband's friends."
"You would not feel bound to treat Florence coldly, if she were to call upon you?"
"No. But I could not return her call. She has shown herself, in this act, so destitute of true womanly feeling, that I do not wish to number her among those I call my friends."
"All will not appreciate your motives. You will be thought harsh and censorious."
"I cannot help it. I desire the good opinion of everyone, but not at the expense of my own self-respect. Florence has chosen her way in life; and it will, I fear, be a thorny one: but I cannot go along by her side; for I chose a different way."
"I hardly suppose that your visiting Florence occasionally would cause anyone to think improperly of me," said Hartley.
"It might have that effect; and, while I live, no act of mine shall cast even a flitting shadow over my husband's good name or fortune."
Anna spoke with a generous warmth that caused Hartley's bosom to glow.
"I freely approve of what you say," he returned. "Florence has chosen her path in life, and that path cannot run side by side with yours. If you detest the husband's principles so fully that you cannot speak to him, you ought not to be on terms of friendly fellowship with his wife."
"No; I feel that I ought not; and feeling, you know, is sometimes a woman's strongest reason."
Mrs. Riston's House-warming.
Mrs. Riston so disliked the plain way in which Anna spoke, that she did not again call to see her during the time she was engaged in purchasing furniture and fitting up her house. When all was ready, and she had taken possession, with more pride and triumph in her heart than a queen would feel in coming into her regal rights and honors — she did not forget Mrs. Hartley in her list of invitations to the splendid party she almost compelled her husband to consent that they should give.
This party did not cost less than eight hundred dollars, and was, certainly, one of the most brilliant affairs of the kind that had been seen in Philadelphia for a long time. Every room in the house, from the first to the third story, was decorated with hired or purchased ornaments, suited to the purpose, and all were thrown open to the company. At twelve o'clock a splendid supper was served to nearly three hundred people, the table literally crowded with everything delicate and exquisite that could be procured. The variety of confectionary displayed was wonderful. The wines were abundant, and the best and most costly that could be procured.
During the whole evening, Mrs. Riston moved among the company with the air and grace of a duchess. Her vanity led her to call the attention of almost everyone with whom she conversed, to this or that piece of furniture or ornament. She walked with her guests over the house, and listened with delight to their expressions of admiration. There were few present who did not flatter her vain heart, by approving all, and pronouncing her house the most perfect specimen they ever saw. One exception to this was Mrs. Hartley. But it must not be supposed that she was so unladylike in her deportment as not to call, even while talking with Mrs. Riston, everything around her beautiful; or as to appear cold and unapproving. She had too much delicacy of feeling for that. She had expected, when she left home, to find a house attired with unusual splendor. She did not think Mrs. Riston was right in indulging such an extravagant spirit — but, in her own house, and on a festive occasion, she had no right to show her disapproval.
But, if she had no right to do this — she was not called upon to flatter a weak, vain woman. As far as she believed it delicate for one lady to approve the taste of another lady in the selection of her furniture, and in its arrangement — she did so, but without appearing to be very profuse in her expressions of admiration.
Her manner, as may be supposed, did not please Mrs. Riston. To Mrs. Leslie, who was present, she said, with an ill-concealed sneer —
"Mrs. Hartley is dying of envy. Have you met her?"
"No — not yet. I cannot come across her in this crowd."
"I have been by her side three or four times, and she praises everything, but in such a cold way! Anyone can see that she is grieved to death for being such a fool as not to take this house when she could get it. What do you think she says about my gas chandeliers in the parlor?"
"I don't know, I am sure."
"She says they are very nice!"
"O dear! They are magnificent!"
"So says everybody, but her. And so does she say in her heart. I took her up into my chamber; but she only smiled a poor approval."
"She is a narrow-souled creature, Mrs. Riston. I always knew that. I almost wonder at your sending her an invitation."
"I don't think I would have done so, if I hadn't wished to mortify her."
"That you have done, it seems, effectually. She couldn't have dreamed of finding such a palace of a house as this. I must confess, that, as large as were my expectations, they fell far below the truth. But what does your dear, good, patient husband say to all this?"
"It will kill him, I am afraid. I have tumbled over him half a dozen times tonight, and it almost makes me laugh, to see how sober he looks. I don't believe he has smiled since the company began to assemble!"
"Are you not afraid that this will attract attention?"
"Yes. It worries me terribly when I think of it; but, then, I remember that he is quite boring at the best of times, and people know this. I wish, however, from my heart, that he wouldn't make such a fool of himself, and expose us to ridicule, as he certainly will."
"What did he say when he saw the elegant style in which the house was furnished?"
"He actually stood aghast! Everything, you know, was left to my taste. I had most of the furniture in, and the house nearly ready, before he could spare time from his business — that eternal business, business! — to look in upon my operations. When he saw the parlor, he turned pale! 'Ellen, are you insane?' he said. 'You know I can't afford this.'"
"'You would go to housekeeping,' I merely replied, as coolly as you please. 'It is all your own doings. I told you over and over again, that you would be killed at the outlay of money. But nothing would do. To housekeeping I must go — must become a domestic slave. I consented at last, and here, on the very threshold — before we even get into the house, you are fidgeting yourself to death about the expense. I am really ashamed of you!'"
"It will certainly be the death of him," laughed Mrs. Leslie. "But here he comes."
The object of their conversation came up at the moment, and Mrs. Riston glided away, leaving him with Mrs. Leslie. The lady noticed that, while he endeavored to be cheerful, his mind was really depressed.
"You have a brilliant company here tonight," said Mrs. Leslie.
"Yes," and Mr. Riston forced a smile. "The gayest company I have seen for a long time. I hope you are enjoying yourself."
"O yes. I always enjoy myself. I am one of your contented people."
"You are certainly fortunate in your temperament."
"So I have often thought. Let the world wag as it will — I always try to look at the bright side of things."
"I wish I could do the same."
"It is the easiest thing in the world. Good and evil come in spite of us. If we will only enjoy the good, and not fret ourselves at, but patiently bear the evil — we shall get on smoothly enough."
The conversation was here interrupted by the presence of others. But Mrs. Leslie saw, or imagined that she saw, in the manner of Mr. Riston, a deeper feeling of uneasiness than what would arise from the contemplation of an extravagant waste of money, because he loved money.
It was nearly two o'clock when Mr. and Mrs. Hartley retired. As they rode away, both remained silent. Anna sighed once or twice.
"Foolish — foolish woman!" she ejaculated, after they had reached home.
"You may well say that! And foolish, foolish man, to permit such extravagance!" replied Hartley.
"He could not help it, I suppose."
"You mean that he weakly yielded everything to his wife's extravagance."
"Yes. And that was wrong."
"Wrong? It was criminal under all the circumstances. He is not able to waste money after this fashion. Few men in business are pressed harder than he is to make his payments. Scarcely a week passes that we do not have to lend him one or two thousand dollars. And it is whispered about that he has already been compelled to go into the hands of fleecers. Still, I believe he would have been able to get over his present embarrassments, which are the result of two or three severe losses, had he not launched out into this extravagance. Now I have great fears for him. His situation is so well known among business men, that his credit will be shaken. He seemed conscious of this, I would think, for he looked wretched the whole evening — at least so it appeared to me. How he could feel otherwise, I cannot tell, when there were a dozen merchants present from whom he has to borrow money almost every day, and who, if they were to refuse to sell him goods, could make him a bankrupt in a month! If a single one of these withdraws his confidence, the alarm will be general, and poor Riston will fall to the ground like lead — "
"Ruined by his wife's extravagance!" — added Mrs. Hartley, finishing, significantly, the sentence uttered by her husband.
"Yes. That will be the truth. He now owes us six or seven thousand dollars, and buys more or less every week, besides borrowing freely. I do not think it will be wise for us to let our account against him get much larger."
"Oh, James! do not be the first to remove a stone from his tottering house, and thus throw it in ruins to the ground. Perhaps he may yet stand."
"That I do not wish to do. But, if Mr. Rawlings had not been one of the company tonight, I should have felt bound to open my mind freely on the subject to him and Mr. Swanson. But Rawlings is a shrewd man of the world, and will not hesitate to speak and act for what he thinks the true interest of our business. I should not at all wonder, if it were decided tomorrow, to ask of Riston such prices for goods as would drive him away from our store."
"Oh, James!" said Mrs. Hartley, "is it not sad to think how easily a thoughtless wife may ruin a husband's credit, and thus destroy him? I never saw the danger before."
"I never thought of it much, until recently. Since you so wisely saved me from dashing out as I foolishly wished to do, I have opened my ears to remarks that hitherto made little or no impression upon me. I find, that, where a man in business, whose capital is no larger than is needed safely and successfully to prosecute it, begins to make a show in his style of living — he is looked at with some suspicion, and that remarks detrimental to his credit float about, and often affect him seriously. From some things, casually said by Mr. Rawlings in my presence, since we went to housekeeping, I feel well satisfied that if we had taken the house, since rented by Mr. Riston, and furnished it elegantly, it would have done me no good, and might, in the end, have led to a separation from the firm."
"Oh no. Don't think so, James. I am sure that would not have taken place," said Anna, laying her hand upon her husband's forehead, and smoothing back his hair. This little act was only an effort to keep down the feelings that were struggling for expression, and ready to gush forth.
"It is the truth, dear. You are my angel-guide, sent from Heaven."
Anna's tears flowed freely. She could keep them back no longer.
"I will always seek to deserve your love and your confidence," she murmured, sinking into his arms. "You shall never find a single thorn in your path planted by my hand, if God will only endow me with wisdom to act well my part. But I tremble when I look ahead, and reflect, that I am liable, at almost every moment, through error of judgment, to go wrong."
"You will never go far wrong, Anna," was her husband's encouraging reply, "if you continue as you have begun, to seek for direction above — if a Christian principles are the life-germ of all your actions. For my own part, I have no fears. Come what may, no disaster which visits me will ever be traced to your selfishness and folly."
"I pray Heaven that it may not!" was the wife's fervent answer.
Mr. Riston tried his best to entertain, as far as his personal attentions were concerned, the mass of people he had, jointly with his wife, invited to be witnesses of his folly. But he felt like a criminal all the evening. There were more than a dozen people present to whom he was largely indebted, and upon whose confidence and forbearance towards him, depended everything. "How will all this effect them? was a question constantly in his mind. When, at a late hour in the morning, he shook hands with the last departing guest, and returned to his still brilliantly lighted, but deserted rooms — he threw himself upon a sofa with a heavily-drawn sigh.
"What ails you, man?" said his wife. "It won't kill you outright, I think. It is our first attempt at housekeeping, and we have opened handsomely."
"We have gone up like a rocket!" returned the husband, in a tone of bitterness.
Mrs. Riston looked at him with a slight curl of the lip.
"Soon to come down like the stick!" he added, still more bitterly.
"You talk very strangely. What am I to understand by such language?"
"Why, that, ten chances to one, this brilliant party of yours — not mine — will ruin me!"
"You are mad."
"I was insane, I confess, to let you make such a fool of yourself and me too. But I am sane enough now. I tried to tell you that I could not afford all this extravagant waste of money. But you shut your ears and would not hear me. You will both hear and feel before long. Your glory will be as short-lived as the early flower and the morning dew."
"You are raving mad, Mr. Riston!" said his wife, growing pale.
"I am not a man used to much extravagant speech. It would have been well for both of us, if you had made this discovery earlier; if you had believed me when I said I could not afford to spend money in certain ways proposed by you. I might as well have talked against the wind! But it is no use to upbraid you now. To throw your folly into your teeth. Necessity will do that soon enough; and Heaven grant that you may profit by the lesson you will receive."
"Mr. Riston, will you be kind enough to tell me what you mean? Speak out in plain and intelligible language?" This was said with an alarmed countenance, but in a steady voice; the wife looking fixedly at her husband. Her lips were firmly drawn together.
"The simplest language I can use is this," replied Mr. Riston; "and it is such as I have used over and over again without being heeded. I am not able to afford this style of living, nor to give an extravagant party such as you have given tonight. What is the natural consequence which follows, when a man expends more than he can afford to spend? Of course, he goes to the dogs, where I have now a very fair prospect of going, and that quite speedily. There were more than a dozen men here tonight, any of whom could make me a bankrupt in a week. It is only necessary to raise the cry that I am living beyond my means, which is a fact — and my credit is gone. Take that from me, and I am lost!"
"Credit! Have you nothing but credit?"
"Not much more, at present. I have lost ten thousand dollars by failures, in a year; and new my business is so clogged up that I am obliged to borrow large sums of money every day, in order to meet my payments. Destroy my credit — and you ruin me. That even you must see."
"But it is more than I can see, how this party or this house, is going to destroy your credit."
"A few weeks will probably open your eyes," Mr. Riston said, in an angry voice; and, rising, he left the room, and went up to his chamber.
"All very fine," he muttered, glancing around. "But these are frost-work luxuries. They will soon melt away."
The presence during the evening of so many of the very men on whose estimation of his standing in business depended his safety, had set Mr. Riston to thinking seriously about the ultimate effects of the extravagant expenditures apparent to every eye. It was this which had sobered him so much during the evening. The more closely he thought about it, the more he felt alarmed.
The next day was one of Mr. Riston's hard days. He had three heavy notes to pay, and two thousand dollars, borrowed money, to return. The thought of what was before him, kept him awake during the greater part of the night. He would not have been so uneasy, had he not felt that, after the extravagant display he had made, the effort to borrow money would be futile.
Everything wore a very different aspect at the breakfast table on the morning that followed to the splendid entertainment. Mr. Riston sat in thoughtful silence, and tried to eat, but every mouthful was taken with an effort. Mrs. Riston was the picture of distress. The solemn earnestness of her husband, more than his words, had alarmed her. If his affairs should be at the crisis he said they were — it would be, she felt, a terrible stroke. What! To give up her splendid mansion? To shrink back into a still deeper obscurity than that from which she had emerged? The thought alone almost drove her mad.
"You cannot be in earnest in what you told me last night, Mr. Riston," she said, unable to keep silence.
"If I was ever in earnest in my life, I am in earnest now," was replied. "I could have weathered through my difficulties, had I not insanely yielded to your miserable infatuation, and incurred all this expense, and what is worse, laid myself open to remarks and suspicions that will almost inevitably ruin me."
Mr. Riston spoke angrily. His wife made no answer; but burst into tears, and rising from the table left the room.
The unhappy man sat musing for some time, and then withdrew from the breakfast room and passed the parlors, where he looked around in order to satisfy himself by a new observation, in regard to the impression which must have been made upon the minds of certain individuals who were in his thoughts. A sigh escaped him as he turned away, and hurriedly left the house. It was nine o'clock when he reached the store. Two or three bills had arrived before him. One requested the return, on that day, of five hundred dollars, borrowed money, that he had not expected to be called on for in a week. The man who made this request had not been invited, with his wife, to the house-warming.
"But he has, no doubt, heard of it already," Mr. Riston said, mentally.
He opened another bill. It contained the confectioner's bill. The amount was — three hundred dollars! Crushing this bill in his hand, he thrust it into his pocket, with a muttered execration against his wife, and turned to his desk to examine into his affairs for the day. A few hurried calculations made all plain. To his mind, the aspect of things was appalling.
"If a breath of suspicion is whispered against me, I am gone!" he mentally said. "Nothing can save me. In a few weeks, if I can retain the confidence of everyone — I shall be safely past the crisis of my affairs, and on smooth water again. But can I retain it? Alas! I fear not. Confound this housekeeping folly, and this party! They will prove my ruin!"
But idle fears and vain regrets would accomplish nothing. There must be action, and prompt action. As early as half past ten, the merchant was on foot.
"Good morning, Riston!" said the first man on whom he called, extending his hand as the money-seeker entered his store. "Really! that was a magnificent affair of yours last night. I have never in my life been present at a more splendid entertainment. And what a lovely house you have got. What rent do you pay?"
"Seven hundred dollars."
The other shrugged his shoulders.
"Rather high, I must confess," Riston said. "But we have no children, and my wife must have something to see after. We can live in handsome style, and not be at a very heavy expense."
"True, that does make a difference. Children, especially half-grown daughters, are a great expense. Mine, I know, are terrible hard on money. But that party must have cost you a thousand dollars, Riston."
"Nonsense! It didn't cost one-fourth of it."
Riston was far from suspecting how near the bill would amount to the sum mentioned.
"If you get off with less than a thousand dollars, you may think yourself a fortunate man. Why, your confectioner's bill will be three hundred dollars, at least."
"How do you know?" asked Riston, with surprise.
"I heard it, somewhere, yesterday. I believe it came from your wife."
"My wife, to speak the truth, is a little too fond of making a display. To please her, I consented to give a party, and as I had enough of business matters to occupy my time, I left all the arrangements with her. I must own that she astonished me with the result of her preparations. Three hundred dollars for confectionary! That will never, never do."
"I heard, also, and I believe it came from as authentic a source, that your wines were two hundred and fifty dollars."
"Impossible! They did not cost one-half of that sum."
"My wife saw Mrs. Riston only day before yesterday, and had it from her own lips."
Riston was confounded. It seemed that his wife had not only indulged the most lavish expenditure, but had actually blazoned it about. It was impossible for him to ask this man to lend him money. He could not have looked him steadily in the face while he made such a request. As quickly as he could, he withdrew, and called upon another business friend. Here he was met by remarks of a similar kind, though made with rather more delicacy. Before leaving, he ventured to put the question —
"Can you spare me anything today?"
"Nothing at all to spare," was replied.
The same allusions to the splendid party he had given, met poor Riston, go where he would. He found it almost impossible to borrow money; everybody would have been happy to accommodate him, but nobody had anything to spare. At one o'clock he returned to his store, without having accomplished, comparatively, anything at all. He had still five thousand dollars to raise, and no certain prospect of doing it. He had gone the entire round and could get no adequate assistance. Everyone congratulated him on his brilliant entertainment and splendid house — but few had any money to lend him. Even those who had been most willing, before, to assist him — were now reserved, and, professedly, unable to do anything.
"I am a ruined man!" he said to himself, bitterly, as he sat down to collect his thoughts. "As I feared, this last act of folly has decided my fate!"
In the hope of sustaining himself by a heavy sacrifice, until he could get over his accumulated difficulties, Riston went, as a last resort, to a money-broker, and offered him three percent a month, besides a liberal commission, if he would get him the amount he wanted, on his own note of hand, at four months. The broker promised to do his best, but was not expectant. Two o'clock came; nothing had yet been done. Half-past two — the broker was not in his office. Riston was unable to compose himself sufficiently to sit down and wait for him — he walked the floor with agitated steps for ten minutes.
"All is lost!" he ejaculated, stopping suddenly and looking up at the clock — the time had passed on until it lacked but a quarter to three.
"Even if I had the money now, there would scarcely be time to pay the bills. Fool! fool that I was, not to have gone to the holders of them, and endeavored to make some arrangement. It would have been less disastrous than to have my bills dishonored."
While thinking thus, the broker entered quickly. Riston looked eagerly in his face. Hope died instantly.
"I can do nothing for you," said the agent, in a voice of regret. "Money is very tight."
Without a reply, Riston took the note he had placed in the broker's hands, put it into his pocket, and thanking him for the trouble he had taken, retired. He felt, to his own surprise, perfectly calm. The great struggle had ceased. The end had come. He yielded passively to the current, and let it bear him down. Returning to his store, he informed his principal clerk, in a few words, of the state of his affairs; and then gave directions to have all the books settled up with the utmost despatch, previous to a meeting of creditors, which he should call at the earliest possible day, that a full exhibit of his business could be made. He then took his way homeward. As he walked along, with his eyes upon the ground, he thought of his wife — not with anger, but with pity. It was his intention to inform her fully of what had occurred, and to make her see clearly that her extravagance had been the cause of his ruin. He knew that this must produce acute pain; but it would, he trusted, be beneficial.
For some time after her husband went out, Mrs. Riston suffered great distress of mind. The thought of having to give up her splendid house, was almost as terrible as the thought of death. If her husband should really fail in business, she felt that she could not survive the mortification.
"But I don't believe a word of it!" she roused herself by saying. "This is only a bug-bear that he has conjured up to frighten me."
In spite of her effort to believe this, she could not help feeling uneasy. About twelve o'clock, visitors began to drop in. Mrs. Riston was occupied with these for two or three hours. All, with flattering words, ministered to her vanity, and caused her to feel how intimately blended with her happiness, were the elegancies with which she was surrounded. But always the thought of what her husband had said, would pass through her mind, and produce the most acute pain.
At length she was alone again. It was past three o'clock, the hour for dining, but Mr. Riston had not yet returned. She dreaded to see him come in, and yet felt anxious about his prolonged absence, for it did not seem a precursor of good. The clock was striking four, when she heard his footsteps in the hall. He went into the parlor, but remained there only a moment. She next heard him ascending the stairs with a more deliberate step than usual. She looked up into his face with an anxious and inquiring eye, as he entered the chamber where she was sitting. Its expression startled her. There was something about it that she could not understand. She was not long in suspense.
"The worst has come to the worst, Ellen," he said, in a calm, cold voice, taking a chair by her side, and looking fixedly at her. "As I feared it would be, so it has turned out. I could hear of nothing, go where I would, but the splendid party, and the amount it must have, or really did cost; but nobody had any money to lend. Men who loaned me freely last week, and even yesterday, and who could have done it as easily today, had nothing to spare. From ten o'clock until three, I strove, with all the power I possessed, to get the amount of money needed to keep me from bankruptcy; but in vain. I am now a dishonored and broken merchant!"
A cry of anguish burst from the lips of his unhappy wife, as he said this.
"I do not upbraid you as the cause of my misfortune," he resumed, as soon as the excitement of Mrs. Riston's feelings had in some measure subsided. "That would avail nothing. But, it is only right for you to know that but for this house, and the style in which it is furnished, and the extravagant display made last night — my credit would have remained untarnished. The money needed to meet my payments today would have been easily procured, and in a few weeks my feet would have been on firm ground again. As it is, I shall have to give up all to my creditors, who will place my effects in the hands of trustees. Forced settlements will involve sacrifices, and the end will be, that I shall turn out to be an insolvent debtor, and be thrown penniless upon the world, to begin life again."
Mrs. Riston was stunned so much by this announcement, that she could not speak. Her face was pale as ashes, her hands clenched, and her eyes fixed like one in a spasm. So paralyzed was she, that she had to be carried to bed, scarcely sensible of anything that was passing around her.
A downward tendency is always rapid. Mr. Riston called a meeting of his creditors, and submitted, in a manly spirit, a statement of his affairs. Trustees were appointed, and all his effects placed in their hands. His elegant furniture was sold at public sale, within three weeks of the date of its purchase, and the cabinet-maker, upholsterer and others, as well as the wine merchant and confectioner, were compelled to await some ten or twelve months before receiving their final dividend on the bankrupt's assets, which left them minus thirty cents in the dollar on their claims.
Mrs. Riston retired to an obscure boarding-house, in the upper part of the city, in ten days after she had taken possession of her palace, as she had called it, with such lofty feelings. She retired a broken-spirited woman. Her husband's conduct in the trying ordeal through which he was compelled to pass, gained him the respect and regard of many, who were ready to assist him. He resumed business, after the lapse of two months, in a small way, and commenced again his upward struggle, fully resolved that his wife should never again have any control over him that was not the control of reason.
"If I feel able at any future time to go to housekeeping in a quiet, economical way, I shall not regard her objections," he said to himself, while thinking over his plans for the future. "She will have to be governed by my wishes now. I have yielded to her's long enough. I am willing to devote myself to business early and late, and to take upon myself all its attendant cares and anxieties for our mutual good. It is but right that she should fill the domestic sphere as fully as I do that of business. Had I insisted upon her doing so at first, her mind would never have become warped, nor her desires so extravagant. I might still have retained my good name — have still been engaged in a prosperous business. But the time past shall suffice. My clear convictions of right shall never yield one iota to her whims, passions or caprices."
Riston was as good as his word. He held, so to speak, a tight rein on his wife ever after. She, it must be said, was a more passive subject than before, and yielded to his wishes much easier. But she was not happy. She hardly ever went out, and scarcely any of her old friends cared about retaining her acquaintance. At home, she drooped about, and went through whatever domestic duties she had to perform, as if she were an automaton. She had no genuine love for her husband, and he felt it. Their meetings were cold, and their fellowship limited to a few common-place remarks, or questions and answers necessary to be made. Thus passed their days, neither of them caring how soon the time came for separation.
In presenting a contrast to the wise and prudent conduct of Mrs. Hartley — we have kept our leading character in the background for some time. We have done so for two reasons — in order to present the contrast; and, because we did not think it possible to give picture after picture, of the quiet life of Mr. and Mrs. Hartley, and preserve sufficient interest to compensate the reader.
Anna, it has been seen, acted in the very commencement of her married life, with an unselfish regard to the good of her husband. She could have yielded passively to his wishes, and become the mistress of an elegant house; and she had temptations to do so, that few women so situated, would have thought of resisting. But she did not love her husband blindly nor selfishly — but wisely. She thought of her duty as a wife, and manifested the quality of her love by the right performance of her duties from the first day of her marriage.
But, it was not alone in a due regard to external things, that Anna manifested the quality of her love. She sought to regulate the affections of her mind, and bring them into due subordination to the highest and purest principles. Her husband had his weaknesses, as have all men — he had his prejudices, and his passions. And she was not free from imperfections. Reason told her, that if evil overcame evil, in a contention between husband and wife — that victory would be as destructive to happiness as defeat. But, that if evil were overcome by good — both the victor and the vanquished would be wiser and better, and therefore happier for the contest.
In acting from this clear sense of right, Anna had many hard contentions with herself. When anything like an arbitrary, self-willed, or unamiable trait in her husband's character presented itself — her heart felt wounded, or inclined to meet self-will with self-will, or arbitrary words and conduct with stern opposition. But reflection, and a struggle with herself for the mastery over the tendencies of a naturally evil heart, would soon make her vision clear, and her mind calm. And then she could act the wife's true part, well and wisely.
Hartley was not so blind but that he could see all this in Anna. It made him feel humble in spirit, when, after some slight difference, in which he had spoken with a warmth bordering on unkindness — she would answer in gentle terms, that were redolent of a sweet, forbearing spirit; or, when he had opposed his wishes to hers — she would yield to his desires with a cheerful grace, that rebuked his own eager selfishness. He saw that, in every contention, she gained the real victory, even though he, in appearance, carried the point at issue.
"God bless her!" he ejaculated fervently, as he left his house one morning, the tears coming to his eyes. "She is an angel! She saves me from myself. I never dreamed that I was so self-willed, so unamiable, so much in the love of dominion as I am — until she caused me to see my own heart clearly reflected from the bright pure surface of her own. I can understand, now, how a wife's character elevates, or depresses that of her husband. Had she been different — had she been self-willed — even as self-willed as I am — had she been fond of dress, or display, or admiration — had she been, in fact, anything but what she is — a loving, almost faultless wife — I tremble to think of the unhappy influence she would have had upon me. I did not know that I had so many faults of character as I have; faults that a selfish wife would have confirmed, but which my own dear Anna helps me to remove at the same time that she does not appear to see them. God bless her! I say again."
This warmly-uttered tribute to the virtues of his wife, was occasioned by some one of the many instances of forbearance which Mrs. Hartley was compelled to exercise towards her husband, who, as excellent as he was, had his weak points, his faults and his foibles. But her manner towards him was always so gentle and kind — that it reproved him the instant he was betrayed into any act or word that was calculated to wound or disturb her.
They had been married for six months. During that time all external circumstances had conspired to make their life happy. The business prospects of Hartley were more flattering than at first. Trade was brisk, and sales heavier than usual. No wonder that they could live in sunshine, with but few light clouds to flit over their sky. But a change came. Let us see how it affects them.
When Hartley reached the store on the morning just referred to, he found both of his partners greatly disturbed in mind. On inquiring the cause, he learned that letters had just come to hand with the intelligence of three heavy failures in Cincinnati of firms indebted to the firm nearly fifty thousand dollars.
The effect of this disaster upon their business, Hartley at once saw. The same firm was also largely indebted to several firms in Philadelphia, whose condition was not thought to be sound, and those houses in turn, were debtors to R. S. & Co. in heavy amounts. Should the Cincinnati failures prove as bad as the first intelligence represented them to be, it was a matter of great doubt as to the ultimate consequences.
Mr. Rawlings was particularly dispirited, and Mr. Swanson was a man of much stronger nerves, was a good deal agitated.
"Bad, very bad, James," the latter said to Hartley. "I am afraid it will break us up."
The young man turned pale.
"Oh, no. Hardly so bad as that, Mr. Swanson?" he replied in a husky voice.
"There is no telling. We shall be crippled without doubt. There is a fair prospect of our losing sixty or seventy thousand dollars, by these failures. I need not tell you, that such a loss will shake us to the foundation. I must own, that I am deeply anxious about the consequences."
The heart of the young man sunk. To him, even if the firm stood firm, the effect would be severe. If sixty thousand dollars were lost, or even one-half that sum, it would reduce to a very small amount his dividend of the profits, if it left him anything at all. His first thought was of his wife, and, as her image arose in his mind, a pang went through his heart.
During the morning, a hundred floating rumors assailed the ears of Hartley and his associates in business, none of them at all encouraging. The whole prospect was dark. Everyone who had debtors in Cincinnati was alarmed. A dozen merchants, there, were talked of as affected by the failures that had already taken place, and in danger of ruin. Several of these were also customers of R. S. & Co., who held their paper to considerable amounts.
In this state of anxious uncertainty, the hours passed on, until it was time for Hartley to go home. He shrunk from the thought of meeting his wife. It was impossible for him to conceal what he felt; her quick eye would read the change in his feelings, the moment he came in.
With an effort to appear as cheerful and free from concern as usual, Hartley came into the presence of his wife at dinner time.
"James! What is the matter?" she exclaimed, the moment her eye rested upon his face. "Are you not well?"
His effort to put on the appearances of a quiet mind had proved vain. He had never had put on a pretense, and could not do it now. The eager questions of Anna, and her alarmed face, caused his own countenance to assume an expression of deep distress.
"Oh, James! What has happened?"
"Sit down, my love, and I will tell you all. But do not be alarmed. It may not be as bad as we fear."
Hartley said this in a voice meant to quiet the anxiety of his wife. But she grew deadly pale —
"My father — " she could but faintly utter.
"O no, no. Nothing of that," replied Hartley, comprehending the nature of her thoughts. "Your father and mother, and all belonging to them are well. I allude to my business affairs, which have suddenly assumed a threatening aspect."
"Is that all?" murmured Anna, in a faint voice, sinking into her husband's arms. "I feared that something dreadful had happened."
For an instant Hartley felt vexed at the indifference shown by his wife in a matter that went to his very heart. But the relief this seeming indifference afforded his own mind was so great, that he began to feel half-ashamed of himself for revealing so much agitation.
"That is all," he returned, after a short silence, in a calm voice. "But to me, it is a very serious matter."
"And if to you, is it not the same to me?"quickly replied Anna, perceiving in a moment, the impression her remark had made. "Vague fears were instantly excited by your looks and words, and they always create a paralyzed condition of mind. But, tell me, dear husband! what has happened? No matter what it is — no matter how it affects us externally, it shall find your wife unchanged. She will stand firmly by your side, if all the world forsakes you. Speak to me freely. Do not fear for me. Am I not your wife?"
"Yes — you are truly my wife — my angel-wife — my guide, my companion, my comforter. Feeling now, how rich I am in possessing the love of a true heart like yours, it hardly seems possible, that a little while ago, with the danger of the ruin of our firm by heavy failures in the West, looking me in the face, my spirits could have been so prostrated. But it was of you that I thought. I trembled at the prospect of a change that would affect you."
"Think not of me. Fear not for me. Come what will, if I retain your love and your confidence, I shall be happy. But what has happened, James? Don't hesitate to tell me all."
Hartley briefly related what the reader already knows in regard to the certain and probable losses that would be sustained by the Cincinnati failures.
"What the effect will be," he said, in conclusion, "cannot now be told. It may force us to close up our business and dissolve the firm. Most certainly, it will reduce my income for the next year very low, if not cut it off altogether."
In uttering the last sentence, Hartley's voice trembled.
"My dear husband," quickly replied Anna, with a smile, and speaking in a calm tone of voice. "You believe in an overruling divine Providence; and you know that whatever befalls us here, is of divine permission, and intended for our good."
"I know it, Anna, but it is hard to feel that it is so."
"And yet it is so. We know it is so. This is faith; but faith that is only in the understanding is nothing. The heart must give its affirmation as well as the thought. Let our hearts do this. We believe the threatened events, if they do take place, will be wisely ordered or permitted for our spiritual good. On this rock let us plant our feet, and the waters may rage around us in vain. Think, for a moment: if reverses are necessary, in order that our minds may be opened more towards Heaven, through trials and changes in our external lives — would you, if you had your choice, and your thoughts were clear and calm, hesitate to choose the rougher way in life? James, I am sure you would not hesitate! What is our brief day here in this world — compared to an eternal state hereafter? This is the way for us to think and feel."
"True, Anna; still it is hard, very hard, for me to feel as well as think so wisely. If my thoughts were clear and calm, and the choice were presented, I believe I would choose the better part. But, the great difficulty is, to keep off doubt and fear, which cloud and disturb the mind. If I could see it all as clear as I now do, it would be easy enough. But, the moment I direct my mind to the circumstances that surround me, and see the ruin of all my worldly prospects staring me in the face — I cannot help trembling. I am no longer looking up, but downward."
"Let it, then, be my task to point your eyes upward. You, mingling in the busy strife of men, and surrounded by the sphere of business, with its anxiety and care, and fears of the loss of worldly goods and worldly honors — must, necessarily, be influenced by the quality of this sphere, and have your mind affected with like anxieties, and cares, and fears. But I live in another sphere, I cannot be affected, daily, as you are. I can look up with a steadier eye. Mine, then, shall be the duty of holding up your hands. When cares oppress you, come to me, and I will show you how vain they are; if anxious, lean upon me, and I will make you to feel, that no one need be anxious, while the Lord rules in Heaven and earth. If we must take a lower position in life, I will take it with you, and encourage you, if you fear, in descending."
As Mrs. Hartley spoke, with a warmly eloquent voice, her face beamed in beauty that was not earthy. In the eyes of her husband, she had always borne a lovely countenance, but she was lovelier now than ever. Clasping her with tender earnestness in his arms, he said —
"May Heaven shower upon you its choicest blessings! You make me ashamed of my own weakness; of my own lack of trust in the divine Providence which I know governs all things well. With you by my side, life's journey can never be a very painful one; for you will make for me, all the rough places, even. Come what will, whether prosperity or adversity, I shall ever find your heart as true to love, as is the needle to the pole."
"Yes, ever," was the low, murmured reply.
Hartley returned to the store, after dinner, feeling much more as a man should feel, under circumstances of trial, than he did in the morning. The afternoon brought further news from the west. It was decisive. The firms which had suspended payment, would each make a most disastrous failure, and it was almost certain would carry two others with them, both of which were indebted to R. S. & Co.
When Hartley came home at night, his mind was again overshadowed. Anna had suffered a good deal during the afternoon, for her husband's sake. She could enter into and understand his feelings, and she therefore knew how hard a trial he had to bear in the threatened ruin of his bright hopes of worldly success. Nor was she indifferent, so far as herself was concerned. To all, prosperity and the temporal blessings it brings, is pleasant. And Mrs. Hartley could enjoy them as well as others. It was not, therefore, without an earnest struggle with herself, that she could rise, really, into that state of composure and trust in divine Providence, that she had so strongly urged upon her husband. When he came in, at the close of day, she saw that he was again depressed in spirits; and again she sought to raise his thoughts above the mere fact of present temporal losses, to a realization of the truth that all things are made, in the Divine Providence, to work together for good. In this, as before, she was successful, even though more recent news than that received in the morning, tended to confirm Hartley's worst fears.
On the day following, things looked still more gloomy. A week elapsed, and all yet remained dark and threatening. A month passed, and the firm of R. S. & Co., considered one of the most promising in the city, suspended payment, and commenced winding up its business. There was property enough to pay off all the debts, and leave something over. But, as Hartley had put in no capital, and all the profits and more than half of the capital had been lost, he went out of the concern with less than a hundred dollars in his pocket; the two senior partners remaining to close up everything. Requiring the services of someone, R. & S. offered Hartley a salary of one thousand dollars, which he gladly accepted, and from a merchant, with large expectations, fell back into his former capacity of a clerk.
It required all the young man's philosophy, aided by the hopeful, trusting spirit of his wife, to bear up with anything like fortitude. For the sake of her who was loved beyond what words could express, he grieved more deeply over this reverse, than he would have done had he stood alone in the world. She would have to bear half of the burden, and the thought of this touched him to the quick.
As soon as Anna knew that her husband had dissolved all connection with the firm in which he had been a partner, and that his income was fixed at one thousand dollars per annum, she said to him with a cheerful face and tone,
"We must look out for another house, James; the rent of this one is too high for us now."
"I don't know, Anna; I think I can still manage to pay three hundred dollars. I have partly engaged to post a set of books, which I can do by devoting a couple of hours to it every evening. If I will undertake them, it will increase my income nearly three hundred dollars. I would rather do it, than move. I can't bear the thought of that. We live so comfortably and genteelly here. It will be impossible to get a house that is respectable, for a rent low enough to make it an object to give up this one."
"So far as mere appearance is concerned, James," replied his wife, "I do not think we should consider that. What is right for us to do? That should be the question. Is it right to live up close to our income?"
"I think not," Hartley could not help replying.
"Can you, after being closely engaged all day, post books for two or three hours every evening, without affecting your health?" pursued Anna.
"I can hardly tell."
"Is it not reasonable to conclude that such incessant work would be injurious? I think so. How much better would it be to get a smaller house, farther from the center of the city, and reduce all of our expenses to the lowest scale. If divine Providence again smiles upon us, we can easily procure all we now relinquish. I am sure that I can be just as happy in a house that costs one hundred and fifty dollars, as I can be in one at five times the rent. Cannot you be?"
"I ought to be happy, anywhere, with you. But, the truth is, it wounds my pride to think of moving you to a lower condition. I would gladly place you on a throne, so to speak, if in my power."
"You cannot depress me below my true condition, nor elevate me above it," Mrs. Hartley said, half-smiling, half-serious. "There is One who sees the end from the beginning — One who governs all things with infinite wisdom — He will take care that I am ever in my right place. But I must be a co-worker with Providence, according to reason. The same is true, in regard to yourself. Let us then use the reason that has been given us, and act from its dictates, in perfect freedom from all selfishness or pride, or false views of our relations in life. If you seek my happiness, do it in this way, for in this way alone can you secure it."
Hartley could not withstand the force of truth from the lips of so eloquent a reasoner. Three weeks more elapsed. At the end of that time, a snug little house in the district of Spring Garden held the young couple. Were they less happy? No! Hartley's salary was ample, and he felt that he was still independent, and that his wife had every comfort she desired. Their house was no less tastefully arranged than the one they had left. It was only smaller. But what of that? They had room enough and to spare.
"Is it not much better to be here," Anna said, as they sat together one evening in their little parlor, before a cheerful grate, "than for me to be alone in a larger house, and you away toiling, wearily, beyond your strength, to get the means of keeping up appearances? I am sure it is."
"Yes, Anna, it is better!" Hartley replied. "We were no happier before, than we are now."
"Suppose we had rented the house in Walnut Street," Anna said, with an arch look.
"Hush!" and Hartley put his fingers on the lips of his wife, playfully. "Don't remind me of my weakness. If you had been a woman at all like Mrs. Riston — how quickly you might have ruined me!"
"And made you and myself both unhappy for life. I am not like her, James."
"No, thank God! You are like nobody but your own dear self! You are a wise and prudent woman, and a loving wife."
"I can bear to hear my praises spoken by your lips," Anna returned, leaning her head back upon the bosom of her husband, and looking up into his face with a fond, happy smile.
"It comes from the heart — be sure of that."
"And reaches the heart before the words are half-uttered," was the blushing reply.
Three months more elapsed, when an event, looked for with hope and trembling anxiety, transpired. A new chord vibrated in Anna's heart, and the music was sweeter far in her soul's ear, than any before heard. She was changed. Suddenly she felt that she was a new creature. Her bosom was filled with deeper, purer, and tenderer emotions. She was a mother! A babe had been born to her! A sweet pledge of love lay nestling by her side, and drawing its life from her bosom. She was happy — how happy cannot be told. A mother only can feel how happy she was on first realizing the new emotions that thrill in a young mother's heart.
As health gradually returned to her exhausted frame, and friends gathered around her with warm congratulations, Anna felt that she was indeed beginning a new life. Every hour her soul seemed to enlarge, and her mind to be filled with higher and purer thoughts. Before the birth of her babe, she suffered much more than even her husband had supposed, both in body and mind. Her spirits were often so depressed that it required her utmost effort to receive him with her accustomed cheerfulness at each period of his return. But, living as she did in the ever active endeavor to bless others — she strove daily and hourly to rise above every infirmity. Now, all was peace within — holy peace. There came a rest of deep, interior joy — which was sweet, unutterably sweet. Body and spirit entered into this rest. No wind ruffled the still, bright waters of her life. She was the same — and yet not the same.
"I cannot tell you, dear husband! how happy I am," she said, a few weeks after her babe was born. "Nor can I describe the different emotions which pervade my heart."
"Above all, is the mother blessed. She suffers much — her burden is hard to bear — the night is dark — but the morning that opens upon her is the brightest a human soul knows during its earthly pilgrimage. And no wonder. She has performed the highest and holiest of offices — she has given birth to an immortal being — and her reward is with her."
Hartley had loved his wife truly, deeply, tenderly. Every day, he saw more and more in her to admire. There was an order, truth, and harmony in her character as a wife, which won his admiration. In the few months they had passed since their marriage, she had filled her place to him, perfectly. Without seeming to reflect how she should regulate her conduct towards her husband, in every act of her wedded life she had displayed true wisdom, united with unvarying love. All this caused his heart to unite itself more and more closely with hers. But now, that she held to him the twofold relation of a wife and mother — his love was increased fourfold. He thought of her, and looked upon her, with increased tenderness.
"Mine, by a double tie," he said, with a full realization of his words, when he first pressed his lips upon the brow of his child, and then, with a fervor unfelt before, upon the lips of his wife. "As you have been a good wife — you will be a good mother," he added, with tender emotion.
Hereafter we must know Mrs. Hartley in the twofold character of wife and mother, for they are inextricably blended. Thus far, scarcely a year has passed since the maiden became the wife. But little presents itself in the first year of a woman's married history, of deep interest. Her life is more strongly marked internally than externally. She feels much, but the world sees little, and little can be brought forth to view. The little that we could present in the history of our gentle, true-hearted friend, with some strong contrasts, has been presented. Enough is apparent, we hope, to enable us to say to each young wife, "Go and do likewise." Enough to make all feel the loveliness of her example.
The change in her husband's external condition was good for them both. It tried their characters in the beginning, and, more than anything else that had occurred, made Hartley sensible of the real worth of a prudent and self-denying wife. Although months had elapsed since he was suddenly thrown down from a position so full of promise, into one comparatively discouraging to a man of an active, ambitious spirit — he still remained a clerk, with no prospect of rising above that condition. Had his wife seemed in the least degree to feel this change, it would have chafed him sorely. He would have been unhappy. But she was so cheerful and contented, and made everything so comfortable, and regulated her household expenses, without appearing to think about doing so, according to her husband's reduced income — that he was rarely ever more than half-conscious while at home, that he was not in the receipt of over one-third of his former income.
If we were to lift for the reader, a moment or two, the veil that hides Mr. Riston and his wife from the public eye — a very different picture from this would be seen. But we care not to do so.
The sayings and doings of Mrs. Riston have already filled more than a fair proportion of our pages. Their moral needs no further expositions to give them force.
Poor Florence Armitage has had reason, already, to repent of her marriage. But who will wonder at that? We may have cause to bring her again before the reader.
Please read the last volume of Timothy Shay Arthur's trilogy, "The Mother".