Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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“I am not able to endure the fatigue of house-hunting, Harry; and baby is very poorly and cross. He has a high fever to-night.”
“Mother told me I would find you unwilling to do anything.”
“She did not ask me.”
“She had no opportunity. You left the room.”
“If she told you so much, Harry, I hope she was honest enough to tell you why I left the room.”
“Well, Yanna, if you will listen to idle reports, and 206 then fret mother about them, you cannot expect her to join you in complaints against me and my conduct. She at least trusts me!” Then Harry, with a magnificent air of being wrongly accused, rose; and Adriana saw that he was about to leave the room.
“Harry,” she cried, “was that really what mother told you? How could she? How could she?”
“I shall not return until late. Do not wait for me.”
And so, with this evil impression – without caring for her explanation – Harry was gone. He had evidently been inspired with a sense of wrong, and he showed it; he had been led to believe that Adriana doubted and complained of him, and he was determined to make her feel that he resented her complaining. And oh! how bitter were the hours she sat alone, pondering the cruel situation in which the wickedness of others had placed her! Nor could she help a feeling of resentment against Rose. In every crisis of her life this girl had interfered to bring her sorrow. “She is my evil genius,” she said angrily, “and not only mine, but Antony’s also. Poor Antony! He has to suffer like me every wrong and injustice, and yet to hold his peace.” And her heart was heavy, and she felt a dark despair and a fretful anger striving with her prudence and affection, and urging her at all risks to set herself clear in Harry’s eyes. “But to what purpose?” she asked. “He does not believe – that is, he does not want to believe me. My patience has brought me only injustice; and in vain, in vain, have I washed my hands in innocency.”
But youth finds it possible to hope that such dark hours must be followed by day, and after a sleep Adriana thought, “Things will wear themselves right by to-morrow.” They did not. It was an unfortunate 207 time for a dispute. Harry was looking for a house for Rose, and was nearly constantly with his mother, and all his sympathies were enlisted for his “poor dear sister.” He was working for her comfort, and therefore he loved her; and nothing was in his heart or on his tongue for the following week but Rose, and a house for Rose, and when it was secured, the preparations necessary to make it suitable for her habitation.
As the time approached for the arrival of the steamer, it was a continual sending and looking for telegrams. Mrs. Filmer was in a fever of expectation. She spent the last day in doubting, fearing and watching, until she was almost hysterical. That she had a husband who ought at such times to be her stay did not seem to enter her mind; and Harry was kept at his mother’s side, or sent off to the dock or the shipping office, continually.
“The steamer is expected to be at her dock about ten o’clock, and you had better be at Rose’s house to welcome her there,” said Harry, as he took his early and hurried breakfast, and kept every one fidgety by his haste.
“I cannot do that and do my duty to my own house and child, Harry.The doctor will not call to see baby until eleven.”
“The doctor and the nurse are surely enough for one morning. I shall feel it to be a great slight to Rose if you are not there to welcome her.”
“Very well, if you wish it, I will leave baby and go to Rose.”
“And do try and be kind and sympathetic, and let the dear girl feel that she is welcome home again.”
“I shall not fail, Harry.”
Then he came back and kissed her; and she smiled 208 with a sad pleasure as she took her way to the nursery, and went over and over to the woman in authority there the symptoms to be detailed and the questions to be asked when the physician arrived.
Then she dressed herself with care, and drove to the house which had been prepared for Mrs. Antony Van Hoosen. It was large and in a fashionable locality, and there were fires in all the splendid rooms, and a full staff of servants in possession. Adriana disturbed their elaborate breakfast, and they were inclined at first to be impertinent and injured. But her manner soon convinced them of her authority, and she occupied the waiting hours in altering this cushion, and that picture, and in trying to give an air of home to mere upholstery and bric-a-brac.
She expected the travelers by noon, but some delay occurred, and it was two o’clock when they came up the silent Sabbath street, with carriages and express wagons, and a certain clatter and ?clat which brought every one, far and near, to their windows. Antony was the first to alight, though Harry immediately followed. Harry assisted his mother, Antony took Rose on his arm and tenderly helped her up the low, broad steps. They were both greatly changed; Antony looked ten years older, and also as if grief, and not age, had robbed him of his youth. Rose was still beautiful, but her face had lost its childlikeness, and gained something more dominant. She was thin and restless; but quite the woman of the world. As soon as Antony had placed her on a sofa he went back rapidly to a third carriage, and took from the arms of a French nurse within it a little bundle of white silk and swan’s-down.
His gentleness and care, his encircling arms, his face 209 bent with such infinite love, made Adriana’s eyes fill with tears. She went to meet him, and, with inexpressible pride, he withdrew the veil that covered the small face. “Oh, what a lovely child!” This was the exclamation from every one present. Indeed, the babe was exquisitely beautiful, as it lay smiling in Antony’s arms, dimpled and rosy, with large blue eyes full of heavenly memories, and soft little rings of golden curls, lying like sunshine on its brow. Mrs. Filmer cried over the beauty of the infant, and Harry kissed it again and again; and Adriana felt her heart swell with tenderness. And while they were all doing homage to the infant, Mr. Filmer came in; and he let slip all his acquired restraints, and forgot every other consideration in the child. He would have it in his arms. He would kiss its tiny hands and its rosy mouth, and he said it was “the loveliest image of humanity he had ever seen!”
And in spite of herself, all this enthusiasm depressed Adriana. Her own child had never been much noticed, she thought even Harry had given Rose’s baby more admiration than he had given his own. To be sure, little Harry was not lovely, as little Emma was lovely; but Harry was a boy, and also he had in his sturdy, large-limbed babyhood more resemblance to the Van Hoosens than to the more refined Filmers. Being a mother and a woman, she could not avoid feeling these things; but having a nature thoroughly just and loving, she speedily put down all thoughts that were not unselfish and worthy to be entertained.
Rose’s attitude also pained her. She was indifferent and even proud, and she seemed to take a pleasure in snubbing Antony before her family. So Adriana made her adieus as quickly as possible, and hastened back to 210 her child; for he was just then cutting his teeth at the peril of his life. Never had the little one been so precious to her. She did not permit her lips to utter a complaint, but there was a great unspoken sense of injustice at her heart; and she was hardly comforted by Harry’s return to dinner in high good temper; for he could talk of nothing but Rose, and Rose’s baby, and the beautiful presents she had brought for every one.
This was but the beginning of a life which did not promise anything but a constant trial of patience to Adriana; for Rose had that power which some women possess of engaging every man they know to do them service. “There is only Harry that can help me in arranging my social affairs,” she said. “Antony employs his whole time in nursing me and the baby. Sometimes I wish for a reasonable husband, such as you are, Harry. How Yanna must enjoy being left to herself sometimes!” she cried; and then, with a cunning little laugh, “Mamma tells me you are just as naughty as ever! For shame, sir!” And Harry laughed back, not unpleasantly; and then he offered to help his sister in any way he could.
“Mamma says that Yanna refused to ask that old maid to get me into her set, but I would not be in her set for anything. It is too stupid, and it is proper beyond endurance. We want something Frenchy and funny, and just a little rapid; nothing wrong, of course, Harry, the proper road; only a gallop, and not a crawl, on it.”
On these lines dinner followed dinner, and dance followed dance; and pretty Mrs. Van Hoosen became the leader in the set her ambitions leaned towards. The giddiest girls, the young sporting men equally 211 frivolous, who lived only to have what they called “a good time,” gathered round her. To such entertainments it was the merest form to ask Adriana, and as her health was delicate, she had a suitable excuse without bringing her principles forward to be made a matter of mirth. But with Antony it was different.
“It is a long watch, and a weary one, for I am on guard day and night, Yanna,” he said to his sister one afternoon. They had met in a fashionable store, where Rose was shopping; and standing a little apart, it had been possible to answer thus Adriana’s query, “Why do you not come to see me, Antony?”
“Why do you permit – ”
“Ask me no questions, Yanna. A doctor cannot prevent symptoms, he can only watch for them, and be ready to fight danger when he sees it. I am in that position, hour after hour. That is all.”
“But it is misery for you.”
“Yes; but I am watching for the soul of one I love better than myself.”
“How long is it to last?”
“God knows; to the end of my life, if needs be.”
Then Rose called Yanna sharply, and both went to her side. “I am coming to see you to-morrow, Yanna,” she said. “I have something to tell you, dear,” and she spoke with the old bewitching smile; and Yanna answered:
“Do come, Rose. You have never yet seen my baby.”
Then at a word Rose turned to her purchases, and apparently forgot both her husband and her sister-in-law. Adriana had no heart to buy what she had come to buy. She passed out into the cold, dirty street, and drove back at once to her home.
It was fully two weeks before Rose remembered her promise; then she came suddenly one morning when Harry had gone away “queer” and the baby was suffering and cross, and the whole house a little affected by the tone of the heads of it. Rose was also cross, though she was sumptuously clothed in green velvet and golden beaver. She looked rather contemptuously round Adriana’s parlor. “I wonder you put up with this house, Yanna,” she said. “Harry ought to be ashamed of himself.”
“I am very well pleased with my house, Rose; and very happy in it. You have grown used to palaces abroad. And Antony is so much richer than Harry.”
“Harry could do better than he does. I do not understand how you endure his behavior.”
“Rose, if you love me, say nothing wrong of Harry.”
“He behaves too badly for anything. Mamma says the money he spends is dreadful! How do you bear it? I am sorry for you!”
“I am not the only one who has to bear. Constantly, I feel sorry for Antony.”
“What do you mean? What has Antony told you? At least Antony is true as gold to me. I would not suffer a husband like Harry. I would divorce him. Why, Cora – ”
“Rose! You must cease at once, or I must leave you. You have nothing to do with my husband.”
“He is my brother, and the whole town talks of him.”
Then Yanna left her sister-in-law, and in a few minutes she heard her carriage go clattering up the street; but she sat still and tearless in the little low chair which stood by the nursery fire. Her boy was 213 taking a drive with his nurse, and she was quite alone in the room sacred to his innocent life. She kept the anger in her heart behind her closed lips, but she reflected that patience might cease to be a virtue; and that the time had come to demand from Harry some explanation of the rumors and accusations that had reached her.
“Mr. Van Hoosen is here, ma’am, and wishes to see you,” said a servant.
Adriana thought of her brother with a sense of comfort. She felt that she could open her heart to him. But it was not Antony, it was Antony’s father who came towards her with outstretched hands, and a blessing that fell like rain upon her hot heart.
“God has sent you, father,” she said solemnly; “for I am in a strait, in such a strait as no one but you can help me out of.” Then she told him all her sorrow; and it was evident to Peter that the sting of her grief was her husband’s frailty. “If Harry were only good!” she cried despairingly. “I could bear the loss of his love.”
“But, Yanna, my dearest one! what man is good? Was any one ever exempt from sin but the Son of the Virgin?”
“Oh, father!” she cried passionately, “will you be like the rest of the world, and take a man’s view of this question, just because you are a man?”
“My dear one, neither must you take a woman’s view just because you are a woman. The common law and the social law may regard sex; the commands of God are issued to man and woman alike; though our merciful Creator, no doubt, will judge us according to our circumstances and our temptations.”
“If Harry wrongs me, or I wrong Harry, the sin is the same against God.”
“It is. But it is not the same against each other. Harry could never wrong you as you could wrong Harry.”
“Oh, father! How can you say such a thing?”
“Think a moment. The infidelity of a husband injures a wife’s good name far less than the infidelity of a wife injures her husband’s good name. In one case the wife is only visited by the pity of her acquaintances, in the other case the husband is an object of derision; yes; in every age the world has thought the deceived husband worthy to be derided and sneered at. Socially then your sin would hurt Harry worse than his sin could hurt you. Between a man and his Maker, and a woman and her Maker, the cases are to judge; but between a man and his wife infidelity to marriage vows is not as hard on the wife as it is on the husband. I am speaking now, Yanna, as the sin affects daily life.”
“Oh, what must I do? What must I do?”
“You must be patient and forgiving. If the Holy One, in whose sight heaven itself is impure, can bear with Harry, can you not also bear? Have you fulfilled the seventy-and-seven times given for a brother’s forbearance, and was there any limit given for a wife’s forbearance? Has Harry yet done a wrong that your pardon cannot reach? Are you more strict to mark his offences than his Maker is? To be sure, you are blameless where Harry is guilty, but, oh, Yanna! is chastity the only conjugal virtue? Where are charity, patience, sweet temper, cheerfulness? In these pleasant home virtues have you never failed? My dear one, there is an egotism of wifely sorrow that drives a man to sin. Your mother made me unhappy very often with just such jealous affection.”
“You are very hard, father. I thought you would stand by me.”
“Not yet, not yet, Yanna! You must stand for yourself; stand on your own merits, your beauty, your rights; stand on Harry’s love for you, and your great, patient love for him; stand on your faith in God, your desires for the happiness of others, and your measureless charity for all. Oh, Adriana, when a wife cannot lean on her husband, she must stand alone until she can! Interferers only bring sorrow.”
“It is all so dark and void and lonely, father.”
“Put your hand out into the darkness, and you will find The Hand that you can safely clasp; that will lead you and Harry into confident and satisfied affection. There is much good in Harry; there are many years of great love and happiness in store for you both, if you, Yanna, do not get weary in well-doing. Is there any sin for which a man may not be pardoned? Is not the Gospel built on unlimited forgiveness?”
As Peter was speaking Miss Alida entered. She looked at him, and then at Yanna, and shrugged her shoulders with an understanding glance at the pale, troubled woman. “Well, Cousin Peter,” she said, “I am glad to see you; but I doubt if you are the best adviser for Yanna, at this time. Suppose you leave us a little. I have some words for my girl that I do not want you to contradict until she has had time to think them over.” Then Peter went out, and Miss Alida set her chair down with a vigorous little thump close to Yanna’s side. “I called on Rose this morning,” she said, “and I heard from Antony that she had come here, so I guessed what she had come to say. Now, Yanna, we are going to have some straight, sensible talk, and then, if you make a little fool of yourself 216 afterwards, it will not be Alida Van Hoosen’s fault. Rose told you about Harry’s fondness for certain society?”
“And made more of her information than there was need to – that of course. What have you been telling Cousin Peter?”
“I said to father that Harry would make a great complaint if I behaved with certain gay men as he behaves with certain gay women. I told him I thought the sin in both cases just alike, and that I was tired of bearing wrongs which would send Harry to the divorce court.”
“Hum – m – m! What did your father say?”
“He said Harry’s sin towards God was the same as my sin would be in like circumstances; but that Harry’s sin to me was less than the same sin on my part would be towards him. And he told me to pray, and forgive, and hope, and wait, and so on,” she added with a weary sigh.
“Good, as far as it goes. We are going further, and we must not look in a one-eyed manner at the question. To begin at the beginning, none of us supposed, not you, nor I, not yet your father, that Harry was before his marriage to you, a model of morality. Before your marriage, antecedent purity was not pretended on Harry’s side; and your family never inquired after it, I dare say. Unfortunately, though early marriage is rare, early depravity is not rare; and I will venture to doubt if one youth in one hundred struggles unpolluted out of the temptations that assail youth. Whatever future obligations were imposed on Harry by his marriage, nobody thought of blaming him for the past.”
“I do not permit myself to consider Harry’s past. In our marriage he was bound by the same vows and obligations as I was. When he breaks them he is precisely as guilty as I would be if I should break them.”
“Not quite so. The offence of a married woman changes purity to impurity; the offence of a married man usually only makes what was impure a little more so. That is one difference. Your father pointed out the social difference – pity for the woman, scorn and derision for the man. I will go still further, and remind you that society in blaming the woman so much more than the man acts on a great physiological truth, affecting not only racial and family characteristics, but the proper heirship of large properties and the successions to vast estates. The infidelity of the husband inflicts no spurious children on his wife. If a woman has no other married privilege, she has that of knowing her own children.”
“That is not the whole of the question. A bad man may not be able to impose spurious children on his wife; but that does not prevent him from imposing them on his friend and neighbor.”
“That is a case between man and man, not between a man and his wife; and we have nothing to do with it. I am only trying to convince you that Harry is not as bad as you think he is.”
“And I say that it is wrong to expect purity from wives and not also from their husbands.”
“My dear Yanna, we shall have to call justice to our aid. There are certain virtues that belong peculiarly to men, and others which belong peculiarly to women. For instance, bravery is to a man all that chastity is to a woman. The want of courage that disgraces a man is no slur to a woman. If a ship is going to pieces, 218 men postpone their own deliverance until all the women have been saved; and if they did not, they would be infamous forever in the eyes of their fellow men. In the hour of death or danger, women faint and cry out, and it is no shame to them, it is only womanly, and they are loved the more for it; but if men were to so far forget themselves, what a measure of contempt would be justly given them! Yet men do not complain of this apparent unfairness; they know that being men, they must suffer as men, and not claim the privilege of a woman’s immunity.”
“One sin cannot excuse another, Cousin Alida.”
“It is not only one, there are many other points, which are just as remarkable; for instance, there is the dishonor of being found out cheating at cards. Men laugh at the fault in women; they call them ‘pretty little frauds,’ and go on with the game. But if a man is caught in the same act, he is quickly sent to Coventry, or to Halifax, or to some other shameful limbo.”
“Women are proverbially weak, and men assume to be their superiors in strength of character. They ought to prove it.”
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