Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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“Can you think of anything? Have you not some idea where she is?”
“She was very tired and low-spirited. She may have gone to see her father, and then – being so tired – have taken a glass of wine, and lain down to rest in her own old room. I can think of nothing else.”
“She would not be likely to make calls?”
“Make calls so early! in a shopping costume! and without a carriage! She would not think of such a thing.”
“May she have gone to Yanna’s?”
“I should say not. She does not care for Yanna as she used to do.”
“Will you go home and see if she is in her old room resting? I have a strange, unhappy feeling about her.”
“I will go at once. I shall find her at home, no doubt.”
But though Mrs. Filmer spoke confidently, she was by no means sure of her affirmation. She went home with a trembling, sick heart, and found that Rose had not been there at all. For a moment or two she was unable to think or to act, and she was going blindly to Mr. Filmer’s study when she met Harry.
“Oh, my dear boy!” she cried, “you are just the one person needed. I am almost distracted, Harry. Rose went out this morning at ten o’clock; and she has not come home, and we are wretched about her.”
Harry took out his watch. “It is not quite three, mother. Rose has perhaps gone to see Yanna, or some of her acquaintances; or she may be at her dressmaker’s, or – ”
“Harry, there is something wrong. You cannot reason the certainty out of my heart. I am sick with fear.”
“Dear mother, there is nothing wrong at all. Go 234 and lie down, or talk to father, and I will bring you word that all is well in an hour. Sure.”
“Where are you going?”
“I am going home. Yanna will know something.”
He took a cab at the nearest stand, and drove rapidly to his own house. Adriana started, and stood up quickly, as he entered. “What is the matter, Harry?” she cried.
“Rose seems to have got herself out of the way. She left home at ten o’clock this morning, and has not returned. Mother is quite nervous and ill about her. Has she been here?”
For a minute Adriana stood motionless, as one by one the thoughts flashed across her mind which led her to the truth; and when she spoke, it was in the voice of a woman who had pulled herself together with the tightest rein. “Harry,” she answered, “while I put on my hat and cloak, have the carriage made ready. Do not lose a single moment.”
“Where are you going?”
“To pier sixteen, East River.”
“What in heaven are you going there for?”
“The Cuban steamer.”
“The Cuban steamer?”
“Have you forgotten? Duval is a Cuban. I know now who told Rose of a land all sunshine and flowers – and misery and cruelty,” she added passionately, as she ran to her room with a hurry that sent Harry to the stables with equal haste.
When the carriage came to the door, Adriana was waiting. Harry was stepping, to her side, but she shook her head positively.“You must go for Antony,” she said. “Bring him to the steamer. It is the only way.”
At a very rapid pace the carriage was driven to the foot of Wall Street. It was, however, to Adriana a tedious journey, and often interrupted; and she sat wringing her hands in impotent impatience at every delay. When she reached the pier, she found herself in all the tumult and hurry that attends a departing steamer; but the gangway was clear, and she went straight on board The Orizaba. The first persons she saw were Duval and Rose. They were leaning over the taffrail, with their backs to Adriana, and Duval was talking impetuously, holding Rose’s hand in his own. Her attitude was reluctant and hesitating, and when Adriana said, “Excuse me, Mr. Duval, I have come for Mrs. Van Hoosen,” Rose turned with a sharp cry, and put her hand in Yanna’s.
“Pardon, madame,” answered Duval in a passion, “Mrs. Van Hoosen chooses to remain with me.”
“Rose, dear Rose! think of your little daughter. Turn back, dear one, for God’s sake! turn back! Have you forgotten your mother and father, your brother and your loving husband? Rose, come with me. Fly for your life! Fly for your soul! Come! Come! There is no time to lose.”
Duval was urging the foolish, distracted woman at the same time, pleading his misery, and contrasting her dull, unhappy life in Woodsome village with all the joys he promised her in Cuba. And Rose was weeping bitterly. It was also evident that she had been taking wine, and very likely some drug in it. For her mind was dull, and her conscience was dull, and she seemed too inert to decide so momentous a question herself.
But as they stood thus together, and Rose was weakly clinging to Yanna’s arm, Antony came towards 236 them, swift and stern as Fate. He put his hand on Rose’s shoulder, and turned the dear wretched sinner round till she faced him. He had no need to speak. She looked piteously at Yanna, and said, “Tell Antony why I came – there is nothing wrong.” And then she laughed so foolishly that Adriana thought the laugh far more pitiful than tears.
“Mr. Duval is going to Cuba,” said Adriana to her brother. “We will now say ‘farewell’ to him.”
“Mrs. Van Hoosen is going to Cuba also,” said Duval, with a mocking air. “Come, Rose, my love!”
Then in his throat Antony gave him the lie, and with one back-handed blow, struck him in the mouth and sent him reeling backward like a drunken man.
Ere he could recover himself, Rose and Antony, followed by Adriana, were going down the gangway, and a sailor was ringing a bell, and bidding all not for the voyage to make for the shore. Duval did not make for the shore. He waited until Antony was putting Rose and Adriana in the carriage ere he shouted after Antony scandalous epithets, which he did not deign to notice. But they went like fire into his ears; and he looked into Rose’s apathetic face, sullen and angry, with a sense of such shame and misery as he had never before experienced.
Silently they drove to Adriana’s house, and then Antony kissed her, and said with some difficulty, “I can never thank you enough, Yanna,” and Yanna, smiling sadly in reply, turned to Rose and said, “Good-bye, Rose. I shall see you at Woodsome, I hope, soon.”
Rose did not respond in any way. Her eyes were cast down, she seemed to be lost to sense and feeling, except for a perceptible drawing away from her 237 husband when he took the seat which Yanna had vacated. Furtively she glanced into his face, and she was aware of, though she was not sorry for, its utter wretchedness. Indeed, in no way did she evince the slightest contrition for her offence. Antony, however, doubted whether she was in a condition to fully realize it. With soulless eyes, she gazed on the panorama of the streets, and if she had any just knowledge of sin committed, it lay in some corner of her conscience, far below the threshold of her present intelligence.
It seemed a never-ending ride to Antony. The familiar streets were strange to him, and his own house was like a house in a dream. He fancied the coachman looked curious and evilly intelligent. It was not that his body burned, his very soul burned with shame and pity and just anger. He gave Rose his arm, however, up the flight of steps, but she withdrew herself with a motion of impatience as soon as they entered the hall, and she was not at all aware of a feeling, an atmosphere, a sense of something sorrowful and unusual, which struck Antony as quickly as he passed the threshold. The next moment a door opened, and the family physician came forward.
Antony looked at him and divined what he was going to say. “She is worse, doctor?” he whispered.
“She is well, sir. Well, forever!”
Then, with such a cry as could only come from a wounded soul, Antony fled upstairs. Rose sank into the nearest chair. She had not yet any clear conception of her misery. But in a moment or two, Antony returned with his little dead daughter in his arms. He was weeping like a woman; nay, he was sobbing as men sob who have lost hope.
“Oh, my darling!” he cried. “My little comforter! 238 My lost angel!” and with every exclamation he kissed the lovely image of Death. Straight to the trembling, dazed mother he took the clay-cold form, which had already been dressed for its burial. And when Rose understood the fact, she was like one awakening from a dream – there was a moment’s stupor, a moment’s recollection, a moment’s passionate realization of her loss; and then shriek after shriek, from a mind that suddenly lost its balance and fell from earth to hell.
Fortunately, the physician was at hand, and for once Antony left Rose to his care. His sympathy seemed dead. He had borne until his capacity for suffering was exhausted. He lay down on the nursery couch, close to his dead child, and God sent him the sleep He gives to His beloved when the sorrow is too great for them. On awakening he found Mrs. Filmer at his side. She was weeping, and her tears made Antony blind also. He drew his hands across his eyes, and stood up, feeling weak and shattered, and ill from head to feet.
“Antony,” said Mrs. Filmer, “you have behaved nobly this day. I cannot thank you as I would like to.”
“Emma is dead!” he answered. “Dear mother, that is all I can bear to-night. Such a sad, little, suffering life! If I could only have suffered for her! If I could only have been with her at the hour. I watched for that favor. I grudged to leave her, even to eat or sleep – and I missed it after all! For I hoped at the moment of parting to have some vision or assurance that her tender little soul would not have to pass alone through the great outer space and darkness. Where is she now? Who is her Helper? Will Christ indeed carry her in his bosom until her small feet reach the fields of Paradise? Mother! mother! I am 239 broken-hearted this night. Who was with her when she died?”
“It seems that she died alone. The nurse thought she was asleep, and she went downstairs to make herself a cup of tea. When she came back Emma was dead. The doctor says she had a fit and died in it.”
“No one to help her! No one to kiss her! It is too cruel! My dear one would open her eyes at last and find no father – no mother – no one at all to say ‘good-bye’ to her!”
“Come, come, Antony! The doctor thinks she never recovered consciousness. He says she did not suffer. You have saved Rose. Go and say a word to her. She is in despair.”
“I will speak to her as soon as I can. I cannot see her until – until the child has been taken away from me.”
Mrs. Filmer pressed him no further. She thought it best to leave him much alone. His thin, worn cheeks, and sunken eyes – showing pain, anxiety, and sleepless nights – were touchingly human. They said plainer than any words could, “Trouble me no more until I am stronger; until my soul can reach that serene depth where it can say, ‘Thy will be done,’ until, indeed, I can turn to Romans, the eighth chapter and the twenty-eighth verse, and stand firmly with its grand charter of God’s deliverance in my hand.”
When the child was buried, Antony made an effort to speak to his wife. But she would not speak to him. She had assumed an attitude quite unexpected – that of an injured woman. She complained to her mother that an infamous advantage had been taken of a trifling escapade. “I simply went to see an old friend off to Cuba; and Yanna – because of a conversation I 240 had with her a few days previously – is sure I am going to desert my husband and child. She races down to the steamer, and makes a scene there; and Antony follows to bring on a grand climax! No! I will not forgive either Yanna or Antony.”
“What had you said to Yanna?”
“Just a little serious conversation – such as I wanted to be good, and so on – and I asked her if anything happened to me to look after baby. Feeling always makes a fool of me. I won’t feel any more. I won’t want to be good any more.”
“You had no necessity to ask that woman to look after baby. Was not I sufficient?”
“I was in one of my good moods. I wanted Yanna to think I was lovely. I do not care now what any one thinks.”
And she acted out this programme to its last letter. She was either despondently or mockingly indifferent to all that was proposed. After some delay, her father and mother went to Europe. Yanna and Harry went to stay with Miss Alida; and Antony made what preparations were necessary, and removed his household to the Filmer place at Woodsome. Rose took no part in the removal. When she perceived that the house was to be closed, she accompanied Antony to the country. But no good resulted from the change. She refused to see visitors; if she went out, it was entirely alone; and she passed Yanna and Miss Alida as if they were utter strangers to her. A spoiled, wilful girl, who had never felt the bit on her life, she had suddenly thrown off all control but that of the evil spirit which had taken possession of her.
Still she preserved a kind of decorum. There was a general impression that she had nearly lost her reason 241 about her child’s death; and people excused and pitied her aberrations in consequence, or if rumors of the real truth permeated society at Woodsome, it was quickly discredited. Men and women alike pointed to the devotion of Antony and refused to believe it; and in some way the sorrowful shake of Miss Alida’s head at Rose’s name, and Yanna’s painful silence, impressed on the community an idea of Rose’s suffering rather than of her wickedness. Sometimes a servant would say boldly that Mrs. Van Hoosen was ill-tempered and took too much wine, but no one credited the judgment, except those who hated Rose and wished to believe it.
Indeed, in the latter respect Rose’s temper had had a good result. Antony would have neither wine nor liquor of any kind in his house, and as Rose refused to visit, her opportunities for indulging the taste were limited. She did not appear to mind this deprivation as much as might have been expected. Her insane indulgence of temper swallowed up every other vice. She had drunk mainly to induce that exhilaration which she fancied added so much to her beauty, and to excite that boundless flow of repartee which made her the center of a crowd of silly young men who liked to have their small wits tickled, and who hoarded her jokes to retail as their own.
She had now no little circle to entertain; she did not care to please any one in Woodsome; she even took a pleasure in displeasing Antony, and her one daily excitement was to try to meet Yanna and Miss Alida driving, and embarrass their movements, or pass them with insolent disdain. Peter Van Hoosen was the only person she treated with her old kindness and charm. To him she was gentle and sad, and one morning she 242 wandered an hour with him in his garden, listening to his words of comfort about little Emma, until they were both ready to weep. So that when Peter saw his son next, he spoke sharply to him about Rose, and frankly told him he was not worthy to have the charge of such a little, proud, sensitive heart; indeed, Peter was quite sure that Rose would have been an excellent wife under such guidance as he would have given her.
So the summer went away and Rose had the satisfaction of feeling that she had made all her friends as wretched as she had made herself. Yet there was no apparent effort to do this; and there was no need of effort; for the power of those indirect influences which distil from a life are greater than effort, and Rose had only to wander about the house and grounds, a picture of woe, lonely and uncomplaining, to destroy the summer sunshine and set every one on the edge of quarreling about her. For she had really a strong personality, and her unhappy moods affected the household as perceptibly as rain affects the atmosphere.
For weeks Antony endeavored to understand and conquer this attitude. He followed her in her lonely walks, and she listened to what he said as if she heard him not. Or she permitted him to walk at her side, and yet behaved precisely as if he were not there. If he visited her in her own apartment, she made him just the same nonentity. She heard no question he asked; she answered no remark he made. Kind or reproachful words fell alike upon her consciousness, and she made no sign of being touched by them; for to Antony she had ceased even to pretend to be an angel.
In this abandonment of her duty there was but one hopeful sign – she never neglected herself or her 243 appearance. Whenever she permitted Antony to see her she was beautifully dressed. Her black and white garments were of the loveliest materials, and were so made and worn as to give an air of plaintive pathos and elegance to all her movements. Every day Antony, furtively watching her going out and her coming in, was touched and smitten afresh by loveliness so near and dear to him, and yet so far beyond his power to influence. And yet, every day he grew more hopeless, for Rose’s sin was now very different from what it had been. Her temptation to drink had been in his sight a deformity, a disease, a calamity, but while Rose sinned against her will he did not call it a sin; he was as ready to forgive as she was to be sorry. But this indulgence of a defiant temper in the face of her actual transgression, was a sin having its origin in the will; and it was, therefore, in all its essence and results devilish and sorrow-making.
Towards the close of this unhappy summer a lady in the vicinity gave a masked dance, and Antony and Rose received invitations. Antony regarded them as mere courtesies, for they were still in mourning, and it was hardly possible Rose would deny and defy all her summer attitude by accepting them. As she was passing him in the hall he said, “Rose, Mrs. Lawson has sent us invitations to her mask dance. Of course they are merely complimentary.”
There was no answer.
“Mrs. Lawson knows we are in mourning; and besides, we may be in the city before the twentieth.”
Rose was leisurely walking upstairs, but she heard the words, and a sudden resolve to cap all her contradictions by going to the dance entered her mind. It gave her such a fillip of mischievous pleasure as she 244 had not felt for a long time: and the following day she went into New York and bought what she desired for the occasion. Antony sent a polite refusal and thought no more of the matter. Indeed, on the day before the dance, he began to prepare for a return to the city; and on the twentieth he went into New York to make arrangements for the continuance of his lease, as his own house was not finished. He did not return until a later train than usual, and Rose was in hopes of escaping his notice until her object had been accomplished. Then, of course, there would be a scene; and she enjoyed the prospect of it. She was brewing a storm, and delighting herself in the hellish concoction.
When Antony came home he saw the carriage at the front door, and the coachman waiting by the horses. “Where are you going at this time of night, Clemens?” he asked.
“Mrs. Van Hoosen is going to Mrs. Lawson’s dance, sir.”
Then Antony turned into the parlor, and leaving open the door, waited for his wife’s approach. Very soon a maid ran down with her carriage wraps, and then there was a light step, with a vague waft of perfume, and Antony went to the foot of the staircase. Rose was descending with her mask in her hand. Her fair auburn hair was loose and crowned with poppies. Her short and scanty dress was of vivid scarlet and black, her hose were of scarlet silk, her slippers of black satin, and her arms covered to above the elbows with black gloves. She was, as she mockingly said, “a diablesse in scarlet and black.”
Antony looked at her, and his face burned with shame; then with a grasp she could not resist, he led her into the parlor, turned the key in the door, and 245 put it in his pocket. At that, she found it possible to speak to her husband.
“Let me out, sir!” she cried, passionately. “How dare you lock me in any room?” And she was wickedly beautiful as she imperiously ordered her own release. Sensitive to her influence, and trembling under her power, Antony defied it.
“You shall not leave this house to-night,” he answered. “You shall never leave it in such a shameless garb. You outrage yourself and all who love you by it.”
“As I intend to remain unknown, the precious self-respect of anybody that loves me will not be hurt. As for myself, it makes no matter. Give me the key, sir.”
“I will not.”
“Then I shall go out by the window.”
“You will do nothing of the kind. I am going to remain here with you. You will not surely compel me to use force.”
“You are brutal enough to use force.”
“Rose, I must save you from yourself. Some day you will thank me for it.”
“I wish you would let me alone. I do not want you to save me. I wish I had never seen you. I hate you from morning to night. I wish you would go where I could never see your face or hear your voice again!”
“You are angry now, Rose. But have you not been cross long enough? Come, sit down, and let us talk, not of the past, but of the future. Let us try and make it happier.”
He was approaching her as he spoke; and she put out her hands and waved him away. “Do not dare to come near me!” she cried. “Not one step further! 246 You shall not put a finger on me. I will not listen to your voice. Let me go away from your presence.”
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