Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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A few hours after Peter and his daughter had left the city, Miss Alida was sitting with an open book in her hand. Her life had not been without love and lovers, and she was remembering rather than reading when she saw Harry coming up the steps to the door. She knew that he expected to take lunch with Adriana and then go with her to the Railway Station; and she smiled faintly at the disappointment in store for him. As he came near the parlor door, she let her eyes fall upon the book, and she did not lift them until Harry said:
“Reading, Cousin Alida! Pray, what interests you so early in the day?”
“For my sins, I am reading a philosophical novel. Our very story-tellers are getting serious and instructive; and as I read for amusement, I shall turn to Talmage’s sermons.”
“Where is Yanna?”
“Yanna left for Woodsome early this morning. She is at home by this time.”
“That is too bad! She promised to let me go to the train with her.”
“She expected you last night.”
“I could not possibly come. I was ever so sorry.”
“Why could you not come?”
“I was engaged – unexpectedly – and I was not feeling right. You know very well there are things that a man must attend to, whether he wants to do so or not.”
“Harry Filmer! You are a worse moral coward than the first of your kind. You cannot even say: ‘The woman beguiled me.’ Generally speaking, a man in a 179 mess can get out of it by throwing the blame on the woman with him.”
“Oh, if it comes to that, I hope I am not cad enough to put my sin on any woman. How much do you know, Miss Van Hoosen? Who has been telling tales?”
“We were in the Park yesterday afternoon, and we met you driving with – ”
“I know. Was Yanna with you?”
“Yanna was with me.”
“Confusion! What did she say?”
“Not much. She went home by the first train this morning.”
“She will never forgive me!”
“I should say, never.”
“I did not mean that. She will be angry, of course, but she will not be angry forever. I am awfully sorry to-day. But how can I tell her so? What would you do? Come now, cousin, you are a sensible woman, and you know men must have a little latitude – and really, I was caught so suddenly – and if you would listen, you would understand that there is some excuse for me.”
“None at all, sir! What is temptation for but to resist?”
“I thought I would just take a short drive, and be here to dinner, but I was not very well.”
“You mean that you dined and drank wine with Madame Z – , and that you could not come afterwards.”
“She would not let me leave her, and so – ”
“I thought you would get as far as Adam before you were through with your apology. ‘She would not let me!’ Just so.”
“It is too bad to take me up so quickly, when I am distracted with shame and sorrow. What shall I do?”
“I would advise you to go to Woodsome and tell Yanna so. She may forgive you, but I doubt if she will ever love you again.”
“She cannot help loving me.And if she loves, she will forgive.”
“Do not be too sure of that. Yanna has the stubbornness of the Dutch moral character, and her conscience is strictly Calvinistic. She finds it very hard to forgive her own little peccadillos.”
“Are you also angry, cousin? You have seen life, and you ought to make allowances.”
“Right is right, Harry Filmer; and wrong is wrong, even to me; and I am angry and greatly disappointed with you. I have looked forward with so much pleasure to your marriage with Yanna, for you see, sir, it was to me not only a union of hearts and hands, but a union of lands. Yanna is to have all I possess, and if you inherit your father’s land, old Peter Van Hoosen’s estate will be nearly intact again. Now that simple, conscientious old Dutchman is my hero. His likeness hangs in my private sitting-room, and I have constantly promised him that I would try and put the land he loved all right before I joined him. You need not look at me, Harry, as if you thought I were crazy. I can tell you that there is a motive in working to please the dead, which working for the living has nothing to match. Anyway, they are not always overturning your best-laid plans.”
“I was only astonished, cousin.”
“Whenever I manage to buy back an acre, I feel it to be a joy beyond most earthly joys to stand before the mighty-looking old burgomaster and say: ‘Another 181 acre put right, Father Peter.’ And the canvas speaks to me, and I dream of the old man, and I know that he knows; and that is all about it! So then, you see, I am not the only one you have disappointed. I am sure your ancestor is thoroughly ashamed of you this day.”
Miss Alida spoke with a singular calm intensity, and Harry was affected by it. Some one tugged at his heart-strings whom he had never before thought of, and he said humbly: “I am sorry! I am very sorry! I will go and see Yanna to-day.”
“Not to-day. Wait a little. Write to her first. She must have time to understand herself. I expect my friend Selina Zabriski to-morrow, and after her arrival I shall not be long in the city. When I return to Woodsome, I will speak to Yanna for you. I do not say she ought to forgive you, but I will ask her to do so. And I do not thank you, Harry Filmer, for making me plead such a case. And you need not thank me, for I am afraid there is more expediency than sympathy in my offer.”
Fortunately, a man’s own soul is his best oracle, if he will but listen to it; and Harry’s inmost feeling was that he ought to go and see Yanna. He went by the first train, the next morning; and walking up to the Van Hoosen house, he came unexpectedly upon Peter, who was standing by a large oval bed of magnificent tulips.
“Sir,” said Harry, “I want to speak to you. I must tell you something at once, or perhaps I may not have the courage to tell you at all. I have offended Yanna; and she has a right to be very angry with me. I made an engagement to dine with her on the last evening she was in the city, and instead of keeping it 182 I went driving with another lady, and afterwards dined with her. I have no excuse to offer. I was simply met by a sudden temptation, and conquered by it. But I am sorry. I repent the folly most sincerely; and as far as I can promise for myself, I will never repeat it.”
Peter stood looking at the young man. He spoke with a nervous impetuosity, as if he feared he might not say all he wished unless he said it at once. His handsome face was flushed and serious, his voice full of feeling; and the hurry of his journey added to his general air of uncomfortable solicitude. There was something very attractive about the penitent youth; and such anger as Peter had felt melted under the warm, anxious gaze which accompanied his entreaty.
For even while Harry was saying: “I have no excuse to offer. I was met by a sudden temptation and was conquered by it,” the voice of the inner man was thus instructing Peter: “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted!”11
“Let us walk down the avenue, Harry. It is evident that while you were going quietly on your way, thinking no evil, temptation, for which you were quite unprepared, presented itself, and before you knew, you were in the dust, fallen. Well, then, you were ‘overtaken in a fault,’ and the large charity of the Law of Christ tells me that in such case the sinner is to be forgiven. It tells me, also, to forgive in the spirit of meekness; for anger is sin, Harry, and sin cannot drive out sin. I like your confession of fault; it comes 183 from a desire to be true; and I do not think you will find Yanna more unforgiving than you deserve.”
“I will try not to err in the same way again, sir.”
“Do not; for just as a noble character is slowly elaborated by a constant repetition of virtuous acts, so a base character is the result of a perpetual repetition of unworthy ones. You cannot, therefore, afford to do things which compel you to say frequently: ‘I have sinned, and I am sorry.’”
“I trust that I know the value of a good character, sir.”
“Indeed, Harry, character pure and high is the best thing a man can have. To have got it is to have got all; to have missed it is to have missed all.”
“I had no pleasure in my fault. I should have been infinitely happier with Yanna.”
“Pleasure seekers are never pleasure finders. Pleasure seekers are always selfish; and self never yet sufficed for self. The essence of all sin is the making of self the centre, round which we would have everything revolve. To be delivered from this desire is the turning-point in moral progress and in spiritual renewal.”
“I will try and do my whole duty in the future. I will, sir!”
“Duty! that is the great law. But it must be an ever-present consciousness. It must lie close to all your thoughts. It must haunt your very being. And I can tell you, Harry, that your sensual nature will shrink from such company. But be not discouraged, for when duty has become an habitual law, then obedience to it will be a choice and a delight.”
“Will you say a word to Yanna for me, sir.”
“I will walk with you to the door. That will be 184 sufficient. Speak for yourself; you speak to a tender heart.”
So they walked together through the garden, Peter delaying a little at the various beds of spring blossoms, for he wished Adriana to see that he had quite forgiven Harry’s offence, and taken him into favor again. And such forgivenesses are better thus understood; nothing is gained by discussing faults which are admitted, and for which there is no apology but the pitiful one of an unconquerable temptation. Peter’s talk was of the flowers, and of the fine spring weather, but Harry was hardly conscious of what he said; for he felt that his future had been brought to the fine turning-point of a single word. Would Yanna speak it?
Peter led him into the parlor and called Yanna. Then he said something about the strawberry beds and left the lover to plead his own cause. There was a few minutes’ delay, which Harry employed in walking about the room; then the door opened, and was softly closed, and Yanna stood in his presence, pale as a lily, but lovelier in his sight than she had ever before been.
He held out his hands to her. His eager face was a prayer. And though she stood very still, her heart was stirring and throbbing and sweetly urging: “Forgive him! Forgive him!” Then her eyes filled with a soft, blue light; and a smile that you might have felt in the dark spread like sunshine over her white face – and her hand clasped his hands – she was within his arms – something wonderful and instantaneous took place – everything was confessed in a look, and forgiven in a kiss, and love was satisfied without a word.
And the bliss and the strength of the next two hours 185 convinced Harry that he could no longer bear to be separated from a woman so near to his best self, and so necessary to it. He prayed Yanna to marry him at once, that day – well then, that week – or, if not, then certainly that month – when Miss Alida came back to Woodsome, and not a day later. And just how it happened neither knew, but when Harry went back to New York it was with Yanna’s promise to make their wedding day at a very early date.
On the journey he naturally thought of his mother, and he resolved to face her anger at once. “The day has been fortunate; I will take all it can give me,” he said. And so, as soon as he reached his home, he inquired for Mrs. Filmer. She had been making calls all the afternoon, and the woman who can return from that social duty in a state of serenity has not yet been evolved from nineteenth century conditions. Mrs. Filmer was not only tired, she was cross. “I feel as if I had been turned into a pincushion,” she said. “All the afternoon the wind blew the dust into my face, and the women pricked me in every place they thought a pin-point could hurt. They have condoled with me about Rose’s marriage until I could scarcely keep the tears in my heart, and congratulated me on it until my face burned like a flame. I never before knew that words could be stillettos. But if you had only been with me, Harry, it would have been different. Where have you been all day? I called on Miss Van Hoosen, and she had not seen you.”
“I have been to Woodsome.”
“It was unnecessary. Your father was there two days ago. All is ready for us.”
“I went to see Yanna. I want to induce Yanna to marry me very soon – in fact, this month.”
“I must be going crazy. Another marriage this month! Another marriage into that Van Hoosen family! I will not hear of such a thing! I will not listen to you! It is outrageous!”
“I feel that Yanna is necessary to my best interests. She keeps me right. I am ashamed to say that I fell under the Z – ’s spell again last Thursday. I lost money, too, after the opera, at cards; I lost far more than money – I lost my veracity, my honor, and my self-respect. Yanna only can keep me out of temptation.”
“It seems even she fails.”
“You ought to be glad, mother, that Yanna is willing to marry me, and help me to do what is right.”
“I am profoundly sorry and angry. Pray, where are you going to live? That woman shall not enter any house of which I am the mistress. I will have nothing to do with her – nor with you either.”
At this point Harry heard his father going through the hall. He called him into the room and re-stated his intentions.
“Well, Harry,” answered Mr. Filmer, “if you choose to make your mother ill and miserable, I cannot prevent you doing so. But it does occur to me that we have had quite a surfeit of the Van Hoosens lately.”
“You ought not to speak of Antony in that way, sir. You know the circumstances.”
“I think perhaps I do not know them. I think perhaps that your mother was right, and too much was made of the circumstances. However, I must say that I do not feel equal to another wedding. My work has been thrown back and out of order, and I did hope and look for a little peace and comfort now.”
His air was worried and yet decisive, and as he sat 187 down by Mrs. Filmer and began to talk of their removal to Woodsome, Harry perceived that his affairs had been dismissed. He rose, went to his room, dressed for the evening, and then went to call upon Miss Alida. Her friend Selina Zabriski had just returned, but she was weary and invisible, and so Harry had Miss Alida’s company without interruption. She wondered at his visit, but instantly connected it with Adriana. “Have you written to her?” she asked, with a knowing smile.
“I have been to see her. She is going to marry me as soon as you return to Woodsome.”
“I told you to write. Why did you not follow my advice?”
“I bettered it.”
“That is yet to be seen. Is Cousin Peter willing?”
“Yes. But my mother is very angry indeed, and greatly to my surprise, father is almost equally so.”
“Henry Filmer has only a certain amount of good sense; he used it up on his daughter’s affairs. Pray, what has Mrs. Filmer to say against your marriage?”
“She says I am her only son, and that it is very hard to have me taken away from her.”
“She took Henry Filmer, who was an only son, from his father and mother.”
“She does not like Yanna.”
“It is not she who has to marry Yanna.”
“She does not like the Van Hoosens.”
“The Van Hoosens live and flourish without her liking. Now, Harry, what do you wish me to do?”
“We wish you to be glad with us – to approve our marriage.”
“Your marriage suits me exactly. I am politely sorry it does not suit Mr. and Mrs. Filmer, but I like 188 it. The sooner it takes place, the better I shall like it. When is it to be?”
“In Woodsome. I was much pleased with the description Yanna’s father gave of his wedding in the old Dutch church there; and we have resolved to have the same kind of simple ceremony.”
“I am glad of that. I will stand by you. You are a couple of foolish young people; but your folly fits my wisdom, and so is warrantable. Where are you going to live?”
“We have not considered that question yet.”
“The sparrows and the tom-tits have more sense than you have. They do build a nest before they go to house-keeping.”
“We shall find a nest.”
“What faith! You will find a nest! Go, then, and buy the rings, and get your wedding suits, and speak to the Dominie, and look to Providence for a roof to cover you. You may say ‘good night’ now, Harry. Lovers never know the clock. They come too soon, and they go too late, and they talk about months when they mean ten or eleven days. Good night, sir!”
But as it is ordained that lovers, like other men, have only feet and hands, and not wings, Harry could not accomplish his marriage as soon as he desired. There was law, as well as love, to consult; there were also milliners and dressmakers to wait upon, and domestic and financial matters to consider; so that it was the middle of June before the wedding day arrived. It might have been still later, had not Miss Alida suddenly resolved to spend the summer in Europe. This resolve left her handsome house vacant, and she said 189 frankly to Harry that “it would be a great kindness to her if he would borrow it for his summer residence.” Nothing could have been more delightful, and it simplified other considerations at once, and gave to the bride and bridegroom an idyllic retreat for a long honeymoon.
“I said there would be a nest found for us!” cried Harry joyfully; and Miss Alida laughingly answered “that she had been driven from house and home, and sent to wander over the face of the earth, in order to find them a nest.” But, in reality, the arrangement was convenient and pleasant on both sides.
The wedding day was one of royal sunshine, and the little church was crowded with sympathetic neighbors and acquaintances. People generally forget to be envious and ill-natured at a wedding, for the very presence of visible love seems to hold in abeyance evil thoughts and feelings. So, when Adriana, in a brave white satin dress, slashed with sunshine, walked up the aisle on her father’s arm, and Harry followed with Miss Alida on his arm, there was a murmur of admiration and good will. The bride was so lovely and the bridegroom so handsome, and both were so radiantly happy, that every one present caught joy from them.
Through the open windows came the scent of lilacs and the twitter of birds, and the old pines, like mystical trees, waved to and fro in the open spaces. The breath and the hope of the morning hours were yet in the air; the minister’s smiling face and strong, cheerful words, went to the heart like wine; and an air of religious joy sanctified the rite. Blessed even to tears, the new husband and wife turned to each other, and then to the world, with hopes bright as the morning and purposes holy as their vows.
There was a large wedding breakfast at Miss Alida’s, and then she had but just time to catch the train which would serve her steamer; and after her departure, one by one the visitors went away; so that, before sunset, Harry and Adriana were alone in their new home. Only one thing had marred the pleasure of the day; Harry’s parents had refused to share it. Mr. Filmer had no special dislike to Adriana, but his wife had; and Mr. Filmer wisely considered that his summer’s comfort and peace probably depended on his apparent sympathy. And with his great book on hand, how could he face the prospect of a prolonged disagreement on a subject so much beyond his control?
So he was investigating the Plantagenet influence on the social life of England while his son was being married, and he quite forgot all about the circumstance. But Mrs. Filmer was fretting in every room of her fine house, and feeling the ceremony in every nerve of her body and pulse of her heart. Her restlessness indeed became so great that she drove through the village in the afternoon, determined to be very gracious to any one who could talk to her on the subject. She met no one who could do so; though, for some time, society in Woodsome divided itself very broadly into Mrs. Henry Filmer’s friends and Mrs. Harry Filmer’s friends.
Anyway, the Filmers, old and young, kept the village folk and the summer residents in delightful gossip and partisanship; for when a lady was tired of one side, or considered herself slighted by one side, she easily turned to the other; and thus, and so, the Filmer controversy lived on through the season. At the close of it, the old Filmers were in the ascendant. Mrs. Henry had given many fine entertainments, and people 191 liked them, for each fresh invitation contained the possibility of being a reconciliation party; and each failure of this hope renewed the life of the old grievance and the interesting discussion of it.
On the contrary, Harry and Adriana were provokingly satisfied with their own company. They were seen driving or riding together; and people caught glimpses of them strolling among the flowers and shrubs, or sitting together on the shady galleries; but they gave no balls, or lawn parties, or afternoon teas, and they did not seem to care whether friends called upon them or not. For new married couples have generally a contempt for the rest of the world, and to love and to be wise at the same time is a blessing rarely granted.
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