Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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“It is so hard to be good, and yet I do so long to be good!” she muttered; and then, because it had been her life-long custom, she fell upon her knees and clasped her hands; and a sacred fear suddenly encompassed her, and she was quite silent. Nevertheless, the struggling soul – sleepless and foreseeing – cried out to the All-Merciful; and so, though she knew it not, she prayed.
Miss Alida might well congratulate herself on the interesting entanglements which she had voluntarily brought into her own placid life. Day by day, they grew into her heart, and gave that human zest to her employments and amusements, that their mere forms could never have done. A ball-room in which Rose was to watch, and Antony was to advise or sympathize with, was something more than a space for dancing. In the theatre or opera, there was a personal drama under her observation, in which she played no subordinate part; and even at her own fireside and table, she found that in many ways she could direct and advise and control events, to the end she thought most desirable.
For she had definitely made up her mind that the marriage of Rose to Antony would be the girl’s salvation; and she was resolved to accomplish it. That Mrs. Filmer actively, and Mr. Filmer mildly, disapproved the union only filliped her design onward to its completion. She believed Emma Filmer’s affections to have “undergone the world” and become dead to all but worldly considerations of position and money. And as for Henry Filmer’s opinions on any living question, she thought it might be as profitable to consult a medi?val ghost. In both of these conclusions she was wrong; but it would have been very difficult to have convinced her of her error.
Adriana’s affairs in some respects gave her less trouble. Adriana felt no special interest in any of the 139 gentlemen inclined to feel a special interest in her. Only to Professor Snowdon did she show herself in that sweet home abandon which was her great charm; to all others, she was grave, tideless-blooded, calm and cool. The ordinary young man was a little uncomfortable in her presence. She had none of the ready platitudes which were the current coin of his conversation; and in the spaciousness of her nature, he got bewildered and lost.
This attitude was a trifle provoking sometimes. “You are too large-minded, Adriana,” said Miss Alida to her one morning, as they sat talking. “That comes of measuring yourself by Cousin Peter all the time. But though it is right that old people should think for themselves, youth ought to be conventional. What harm is there in dancing? And why can you not go to the Filmers’ dance?”
“There is not, perhaps, any harm in the act of dancing; but father says no one can dance and think at the same time, and that way mischief lies. When you dance, your brains are in your toes, and you let consideration slip. You are at the mercy of your emotions also; and that is a kind of thing to rot the moral fibre.I quote father, and you need not hold up your hands at my ‘consideration.’ As for going to Mrs. Filmer’s, I have a personal reluctance to do so. She practically bowed me out of her house not so long ago.”
“But Rose did not know it. And Emma Filmer is a woman of the world, and appreciates people according to the company they keep. As far as I have known her, she periodically deserts her old friends for more eligible new ones. She thought she had done with you, and she wished to be done with you, because you interfered with Harry.”
“So, then, if I go to Rose’s dance, she will be sure I have done so for an opportunity to interfere with Harry once more.”
“Then go for that very purpose. I would. I am provoked to death with the young man. He has refused all my invitations – very sorry to do so – but – ”
“But he did not want to come. He evidently does not care to meet me again. It is very humiliating.”
“He fears to meet you again. And I think, Yanna, you made him drink a very humble cup. Men do not readily forgive such wounds to their self-esteem.”
“Harry has disappointed me. I hear nothing good of him.”
“I wouldn’t quite believe all Rose said on that subject. It is true that he is running a fast rig with a lot of gilded goslings, whose money came from industrious, economical ancestors. And it is also true that Harry has but a small inherited income, and must depend largely upon the results of his transactions in Wall Street; and that, therefore, he is simply going to poverty in very swagger company. But nothing else will cure him of his folly; not his father’s advice, nor his mother’s tears, nor love, nor honor, nor any good thing. Only poverty cures extravagance. Some day he will doubtless be sorry enough. Harry’s great want in life is a friend who will make him do what he can do.”
“It is a want we all share.”
“Then be a friend, and make me do what I can do.”
“You can do the thing you sketched out for yourself and others to Professor Snowdon. Bring together all the pure Dutch gentlewomen you know. Then begin your benevolent Holland Society. You are a fine 141 organizer, and excel in setting every one around you either to work or play.”
“Now, Yanna, it is my turn. Your duty is to forgive Emma Filmer, and to do good to her just because she did evil to you – which is a nice way of saying, go to the Filmer ball, and be as lovely to Harry as possible.”
“You know father does not like me to go to dances; and Mrs. Filmer will not understand my presence in the light you put it. She does not think I have been badly used, and she would not consider my being ‘lovely to Harry’ a kindness. I would rather talk no more on that subject.”
“Very well.” Miss Alida said the words with an air of disappointment, and then walked to the window to recover herself. In a few minutes she turned round, and said pleasantly:
“What will you do with your afternoon, Adriana?”
“I thought of going to see sister Augusta. I have not been near her for nearly two weeks. Antony spoke of one of the children being unwell.”
“Would you like me to drive you there? I can do so as I go for Mrs. Daly.”
“No, cousin. Augusta would think I was putting on airs, and would scold me for it. I will take the cars or walk.”
“Give my remembrance to her, and ask if she will join our society.”
In half-an-hour Adriana was ready for her visit, and Miss Alida watched her going down the avenue, walking swiftly and erect, with her head well up, and her neatly-folded umbrella in her hand. The afternoon was bright and pleasant, warm for the season, and Adriana was much exhilarated by the walk, when she 142 reached her destination. It was in that part of Second Avenue which still retains many traces of its former aristocracy, – a brick house at the corner of a street leading down to the East River. The whole first floor of the building was occupied by her brother-in-law’s grocery, the dwelling was immediately above it. An air of definite cleanliness pervaded the stairway to it, and as soon as she entered the house the prim spotlessness assailed her like a force; the presence of a wind could not have been more tangible.
Augusta herself, with her fair, rosy face, her smoothly braided hair, and her exquisite, neat dress, might have been the genius of domestic order. Her whole house had the air of having been polished from one end to the other; and the table-cloth in which Augusta was darning “a thin place” was whiter than snow, and ironed as if for a palace. She kissed Adriana with affection, but also with that air of superiority which her position as an eldest sister gave her. Then they sat down and talked over their home affairs – of the brothers in Florida, who were doing so well, of their sister Gertrude, who had bad health, of Antony, of their father, and of John Van Nostrand’s election to the Assembly. In a little while, the children came in from school – six rosy, orderly boys and girls, who knew better than to bring in a speck of dust, or to move a chair one inch out of its proper place.
The eldest girl soon began to lay a table with the utmost neatness and despatch, and the eldest boy having said a short grace, all sat quietly down and waited for their portions. Then Augusta put aside her sewing, and standing among her children, cut them beef and bread, and poured into the christening cups of each child its measure of milk; while they 143 talked gaily to her of their lessons and their play. One little girl showed her the medal on her breast, and received a smile and pat on her curly head for the honor; and a little lad of ten years old shyly exhibited a tear in his jacket, which he had got in a fight about his skates. The mother heard what he had to say, and looked gravely at him. “Did you whip Gustav Bok for changing your skates?” she asked. “Not to-day, mother; but I will whip him to-morrow.” “After that I will mend your coat,” she answered. “You must, of course, punish him, Adrian.” The little dialogue was a matter only for Adrian and his mother, the other children took no part in it. The whole scene was one of unconscious beauty, and Adriana thought she had never beheld anything fairer than Augusta among her children, with the loaf of bread or the pitcher of milk in her hands. So confidently were the little faces lifted to her; while her countenance – large, fair, and benignant – looked a blessing into each.
Suddenly, as Adriana watched her, she remembered her cousin’s message, and gave it. Augusta listened to the proposed plan of the new society with patience, but without a shadow of interest; and when Adriana ceased speaking, she waved her hands slightly, and answered:
“You see for yourself. I have my children, and my house, and my good John Van Nostrand to look after. With my cleaning, and my baking, and my sewing, and my cooking, these hands are full. Shall I neglect one duty, which is my own duty, to do another duty I know not who for? No. I will not do that. It is very well for Miss Van Hoosen, who has no duties such as I have, to look after the poor Dutch women and children, and the stranger Dutch who come here and 144 who have no friends. I say it is right for Miss Van Hoosen, and for you also, Adriana, if you are not going to marry yourself to some good man. What for do you not marry yourself?”
“Good men are now scarce, Augusta.”
“It is now, as it ever was, and always will be; good and bad men, and good and bad women, and as many good as bad. In our family, it is so, is it not? Theodore got himself a very good wife, and I have got myself a very good husband.”
“But what of Gertrude?”
“Gertrude does very well. She does not see more faults than she can help. Wives should remember they have eyelids as well as eyes.”
“Is Gertrude’s husband kind to her?”
“Can I know? If Gertrude has picked up a crooked stick, she does not go about telling everybody so.”
“Then there is brother George. He is making money, but you can tell from his letters that he is not happy with his wife.”
“I am not sorry for George,” answered Augusta. “When you were at college, George came here, and he told my John about his wife. He thought she had money, and she thought he had money, and both of them were mistaken; so – as my John said to me – when the rag doll and the stuffed elephant got married, they found each other out. But John and I married for love; and so must you marry, Adriana.”
“There is so much trouble in any marriage, Augusta.” And Augusta again waved her hands over her boys and girls, and answered with unspeakable pride: “There are the children! Husbands you must take your chance with; but the little children! You make of them what you will.”
“Then you will not join Cousin Alida’s club?”
“I will not. John has three clubs; and the money is spent, and the time is spent, and who is the better for it? I have my own club with my boys and girls; and for them, all I can do is too little.”
As soon as the short winter afternoon began to close in, Adriana bade her sister “good-bye,” and turned westward. She took the quietest streets, and felt a little thrill of vague wonder and fear, as she puzzled her way through Gramercy Park and Madison Square to Fifth Avenue. There she encountered life and bustle, and the confusion of many vehicles of many kinds going northward. As she waited for an opportunity to cross the street, some one came to her side; some one said:
“Yanna! Dear Yanna!”
The recognition was instant; they met before they knew it, in each other’s eyes; hand slipped into hand, and almost unconsciously Harry led her across the street. Then he leaned towards her and whispered:
“At last, dear Yanna! At last!”
“But why not before, Harry? It is your fault.”
“Ah, I have been so weak! I have been so wicked, Yanna. Pass it by without a word. No words can explain or justify me. I have nothing to trust to but your gentleness and love. Do you yet love me?”
She looked at him, and he understood the light on her face, and the heavenly smile on her lips. It grew dark, but they knew it not; it grew cold, but they felt it not; the busy thoroughfare became empty and still, but they were aware of nothing but the song in their hearts. What they said to each other they could not afterwards remember at all. In the delicious, stumbling 146 patois of love, so much was said, and so much understood that was beyond their power to reduce to mere syllables. Only, when at last they parted, a great weight had been rolled from each heart.
For Harry had spoken freely, as soon as he found Yanna willing to listen. All his burdens and temptations, his remorses, his resolutions, and his inevitable slips again and again into sensual mire were confessed; and in spite of all, he had been made to feel that life still had the lustre of divine dignity around it, and of divine duty before it. He left Adriana full of hope, and she stood a minute at the door to listen to the clear ring of his steps on the pavement; for steps are words, and Harry’s steps were those of a man who has been turned into the right road, confident and purposeful.
Then she ran lightly to her own room. She stood quiet there, with clasped hands and radiant face, and told herself in so many audible words: “He loves me yet! He loves me yet! Oh, fluttering heart, be still! Be still!” And constantly, as she bathed her face and dressed her hair and put on her evening gown, she chided herself as tenderly as a mother the restless babe she loves, saying softly, “Be still! Be still!” And she was lovelier that night than she had been for a long time, for since her parting with Harry at Woodsome, her life had been out of harmony; but now heart and life were in tune, and she could live melodious days once more.
After leaving Adriana, Harry walked rapidly towards his home. He did not think of calling a cab; there was a necessity for motion in his condition, and walking is the natural tranquillizer of mental agitation. He had not gone far before he met Antony Van 147 Hoosen. Now, the young men were still warm friends, though the exigencies of society had kept them more apart than at first seemed necessary. But Harry affected a set of young men outside of Antony’s toleration; and their social engagements very rarely brought them together. At this hour, however, Harry was particularly delighted to meet Antony, and as they were in the neighborhood of a good hotel, he urged him to enter.
“Let us dine together, Antony,” he said. “I want to tell you something particularly good – for me. I have just left Yanna.”
Antony heard him with singular indifference. “Harry,” he answered, “I will go with you, for indeed I have something particular to tell you. I wish I could say it was good, but it is not.”
“Then do not tell me anything about it, Antony. I am so happy to-night.”
“But I ought to tell you. It relates to your sister.”
Harry was instantly speechless.
“Will you come back with me to Miss Van Hoosen’s? We can reach my room without disturbing the ladies.”
“No. If you are not cold, we will walk here. What have you to tell me about Rose?”
“You know that I love her?”
“I have known that a long time.”
“Well, every man loves in his own way; and mine is a way you may not understand. However, I cannot live if Rose is long out of my sight; and so I have seen some things – Oh, dear Harry! need I tell you?”
Harry shook his head, and was gloomily silent.
“I saw Rose go into Delmonico’s this afternoon, after the matinee. There was a person with her who 148 has often been with her lately – that is, when Rose is without Mrs. Filmer’s company.”
“Who is he?”
“I do not know him. I have not liked to ask any questions about him. He is tall, with a supple, languid figure. He has the face of a fallen angel, handsome and wicked. I have noticed his eyes particularly, because, though he is dark as a Mexican, the eyes are a calm frosty blue – cold and cruel.”
“I know whom you mean. His name is Duval. So Rose was with him to-day?”
“You see what a position this confidence places me in – an informer against the girl I would die for. But I do not speak without good reason. I followed them into the restaurant. They had a bottle of champagne; then this scoundrel rang for another, though it was evident Rose had already taken quite enough.”
“Well, Antony? Speak out, man.”
“I went up, then, to Rose. I said, ‘Miss Filmer, I am sent for you. You must return at once. There is no time to lose.’”
“She trembled, and asked: ‘Is my father ill? Has anything happened to Harry? What is the matter, Mr. Van Hoosen?’ And I said, ‘You had better hasten home, Miss Filmer.’”
“What did Duval say?”
“He bowed and palavered, and got out of the way as quickly as possible. Poor little Rose was sick and white with fear; he understood my meaning well enough. I left Rose at her own door. I did not wish to explain to Mrs. Filmer then. But I must speak to you, Harry, for Rose is in danger. I love her, and will devote my life to her welfare. She loves me, 149 though she will not trust her heart when it tells her so. To-morrow I am going to see your father and mother, and make an offer for your sister’s hand. But I find it impossible to point out the danger in which this dear little Rose lives. Yet they should know it, for, oh, Harry! her salvation may depend upon their knowledge, and their willingness that she may be taken out of temptation.”
“Can you do this?”
“Will you do it?”
“I will. I shall live for her, and her alone.”
“Pardon me, Antony, if I suggest that cash may have a great deal to do with this proposal.”
“I am rich. I shall spend all I have to save her. I shall take her to Europe for a year. All that love and money can do to make her strong shall be done.”
Then Harry let his hand seek Antony’s hand, and they understood each other, without words. But Harry was very unhappy and also very angry. His betrothal to Adriana had been interfered with because it was supposed to be inimical to the social interests of his sister; and now the joy of his reconciliation to his love was shadowed by Rose’s misconduct. Yet he felt that some steps must be taken at once to prevent the evils which would certainly result from her selfish weakness, if it were unchecked. For, after all, the sin resolved itself into the black one of selfishness; Rose was determined to have the pleasure she desired, though she should tear it through, the hearts of all who loved her, though it should bring her personally only misery and shame.
Such thoughts were natural enough to Harry, and they irritated as well as wounded him. It scarcely 150 needed his mother’s look of reproach and querulous question as to “why he had forgotten the dinner hour,” to make him speak the truth, with almost brutal frankness.
“Where is father?” he asked, impatiently.
“Your father has been all day hard at work in the Astor Library. He came home perfectly worn out, and had his dinner served in his study. He did not feel able to dress for the table to-night.”
“It is perfectly absurd. Father has some duties to his family, I think. For instance, if he would remember he had a daughter. Where is Rose?”
“Rose is with that angelic young person, Miss Van Hoosen. And it is not your place to call your father ‘absurd.’ Some day, you will be proud of him.”
“My dear mother, Rose is not with Yanna.”
“Yanna! Rose told me that she was going to the matinee with Miss Van Hoosen. I suppose she is spending the evening with her also.”
“Rose is at home. She was brought home by Antony Van Hoosen, in a cab. He took her from that fellow Duval. They were taking wine together in a restaurant. Now do you understand?” He spoke with gathering passion, and Mrs. Filmer looked frightened and anxious, but she answered scornfully:
“No, I do not. You must speak more plainly. Is Rose sick? Is she hurt? Why should Mr. Van Hoosen interfere with Miss Filmer?”
“Mother, go and ask Rose ‘why.’ I cannot say what I intended to say. I shall go to father; perhaps I can talk to him, if he will listen to me.”
Mr. Filmer was surrounded by slips of paper which he was arranging with so much absorbing interest that he did not at once look up. But as Harry 151 remained standing before him, he said fretfully: “I have to arrange these data while the facts are fresh in my mind. What do you want, Harry?”
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