Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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“I wonder if I ought to call on Rose,” said Adriana to her father, as she laid down the paper announcing the long heralded arrivals. “I believe it would only be good form to do so.”
“Under the circumstances, I would not call first, Yanna. Keep your place, until you are asked out of it.”
“I am quite willing to do so. My own home is a very good place, father.”
“Home is a blessed freedom, Yanna. At your own fireside, you can be a law unto yourself. You can speak the thing you like, from morning to night.”
“The papers say the Filmers are Woodsome people. Do you remember them?”
“I never saw the present Mr. Filmer until I made my contract with him. I can just recollect his father, old Dominie Filmer, in his flowered dressing-gown, and his velvet cap. We did not sit in his church; but Adam Kors talks a great deal about him. He says he preached sermons hard to understand, and full of sharp words. I dare say he was a good man, for Adam tells of him being puzzled and troubled at living longer than the orthodox Scriptural three-score-years-and-ten. But he died at last – pretty well off.”
“Most ministers die poorly off.”
“Dominie Filmer was wise in his generation. He not only looked for mansions in the sky, he had also a reasonable respect for the land around Woodsome – and for shares in the railways, and things of that kind. But no one in his day could speak ill of him; and his children and grandchildren speak very well of him. And this friend of yours, Rose Filmer, will be his granddaughter.”
“Yes. I hope she will call soon. If she delays too long, it will be no kindness. If she does not call at all, I think I shall hate her.”
“No, Yanna. Anger and hate are not for you to bother with. They are such a dreadful waste of life. Why should you let a person whom you dislike, or despise, take possession of you, and of your mind, and occupy your thoughts, and run your precious time to their idea? That is a poor business, Yanna.”
Here the conversation ceased, but the next morning Adriana was on the watch for her friend. And about noon Rose came. She was driving herself in a pretty dog-cart, for she had determined as she dressed for her visit, to take no servant. She did not know what kind of a house Adriana lived in, or in what situation she might find her. For Rose’s experience of life had not given her any precedent by which she could judge of the social environments of a stone-builder; and she said softly as she pinned on her hat: “Yes, I shall go alone. It will be kinder to Yanna. Servants will talk. They might even wonder if she is not one of our relations; these Woodsome people have made such a stir about our being ‘native.’”
She drove well, and was charmed and excited by her rapid movement down the hills, and through the 17 wooded lanes. Entering the village, she asked for Mr. Van Hoosen’s house, and it was readily pointed out. She was a little astonished. It was a roomy, colonial dwelling, surrounded by well-kept grounds.Horse-chestnuts arched the wide avenues, and the house stood in a grove of flowering fruit trees. A boy who was rolling turf took her horse’s head, and she stepped to the spotless door stone, with a decided access of affection. Adriana came running down the stairs to meet her. They kissed each other, and buried in the kiss all their small differences and offences.
“What a charming old house, Yanna!” cried Rose.
“What a perfect costume you have on, Rose!” cried Adriana.
“I knew you would like it. Put on your hat, Yanna. I want you all day, and all day to-morrow, and every other day you can spare.”
“I must tell father. I shall be delighted to go with you, Rose; but I cannot do so without his knowledge.”
“Certainly. I saw an old gentleman tacking up vines, as I drove through the garden.”
“That was father.”
“You can find him in two minutes and a half, I know.”
In very little more, Adriana came back with the old gentleman. He looked so kindly at Rose that she could not help being pleased, and she set herself to win the old Dutchman. She made him talk about his flowers, and she listened with that air of being charmed and instructed which even when it is merely a cultivated grace is an irresistible one. She praised Yanna. She said with a frank enthusiasm, “I love Yanna dearly,” and while entreating for her company she acknowledged “it was a great favor to ask.”
Peter said “it was.” He assured Rose that Yanna “was the sunshine of his life, but that to make them both happy, he would gladly give up his own pleasure.” She thanked him with many pretty speeches, and when Adriana came down ready for her visit, Peter helped the girls into their seats, and put the reins into Rose’s hands. Then he watched them out of sight, with a face beaming with satisfaction.
From this excited and exalted tone, it was impossible to fall at once. Rose gave herself up to it. She patted Yanna’s hands; and as they went through the woods kissed her many times. Then the new house was to be gone through, and exclamations and adjectives were the only possible speech, so that everything naturally enough conduced to an emotional condition. At last Rose said, “I have not shown you my apartments yet, Yanna. They are a picture in pinks;” and she led her into a suite that was lovely with peach-bloom papers and hangings, with snow-white willow chairs cushioned with pink silk, and pink silk draperies trimmed with white lace. “I have chosen for you the room just across the hall,” she added, “so we shall be very near to each other. Listen! that is the lunch-bell. Come and see mamma. In the afternoon we can talk over things.”
Mrs. Filmer was very pleasant and good-natured. She chatted with the girls, and ate a salad, and then went away with her housekeeper: “Only a part of the house is in order yet,” she explained to Adriana; “and neither workmen nor servants seem able to do without me. What will you girls talk about until seven o’clock?”
“Oh!” cried Rose, “we shall have a long, delightful afternoon.” And probably to Rose it was delightful, 19 for she told Yanna the tale of ball-rooms, in which Rose Filmer had been chief among a thousand beauties; she showed the photographs of many youths, who were her adorers; and she read specially eloquent sentences from her many love letters. Indeed, after a long session of this kind, Rose said heartily, “I declare, I have not had such a sweet time since you left me at college. But really we must rest an hour before dinner. I always do. Come, I will take you to your room.”
Adriana was glad to rest, and the soft, dim light of the carefully-shaded room tempted her to complete physical relaxation; but her mind was actively curious and alert. She had been hearing of a life entirely new to her, “a pretty lute-string kind of a life, quite within the verge of the Ten Commandments,” she thought; “yet I do not believe it would please me long. Its feverish unrest, its small anxieties and petty aims have told already on Rose. Her mind has sunk to the level of what engages it. She no longer plans for study and self-improvement; she talks of her duties to society instead, and of its claims upon her. After all” – she thought a few moments, and then added emphatically – “after all, I am satisfied with my lot! Even upon the testimony of so prejudiced a witness as Rose, fashionable life is not a lofty thing. Its two principal standards appear to be money and smartness; and I do believe the world has a far higher ideal. It is only a very small minority who worship the great goddess Fashion, and the image which the Parisian Jupiter sends over here; the true ?lite of the world have always been those whose greatness was in themselves. There’s father! In any kind of clothes, or in any company, he would always be one of the ?lite. 20 I never could be ashamed of him. But I might be, if I saw him haunting the gay places of the world, criticising ballet girls, and shuffling cards.” She indulged this train of thought, and lived over again the fantasy of life Rose had shaped in her imagination.
A knock at the door roused her from it. A maid was there with some flowers, and an offer of her services, if Miss Van Hoosen wished them. The flowers were welcome, but the service would have been an embarrassment. Adriana knew her good points, and was quite able to do them justice. In her case, it was not the modiste that made the woman.
When she was dressed she went to the drawing-room. It was full of flowers and bric-a-brac, but there was not a book to be seen. No one was in the room; no one was apparently downstairs; she was evidently early, which at least was better than being late. So she walked about, looking at this and that, and speculating as to where the curios came from, and what queer histories they might have. Opposite one entrance to the parlor, there was a large mirror, and before this mirror a small gilded table. As Adriana passed it, she noticed that it held a portfolio; and the ribbons which fastened it being untied, she threw back the cover, and saw that it was full of photographs. Some faces were young and pretty; others, middle-aged and old, graven all over with the sharp tools of worldly strife, sorrow, thought, and experience of various kinds. The aged faces pleased her most; they were not merely calendars of so many years old, they had most of them a story to tell.
Presently she came to the pictured face of a young man which was very attractive. The countenance was full of force, and though the personality was at a 21 stand-still, “pulled up” for the second in which it was taken, it was both an expressive and an impressive personality. For the bit of prepared paper had caught something of that fiery particle, that “little more” which in the real man was doubtless a power going from him and drawing others to him, in spite of their own resolves and inclinations.
She held the photograph in her hand, and looked earnestly at it. As she did so, Harry Filmer stepped between the folds of pale blue plush which shielded the doorway. He stood motionless and watched Adriana. The mirror showed him at a glance beauty of a high and unusual kind. He took rapid note of every element of it – the thick dark hair drawn backward from the broad white brow – the white drooping eyelids, heavily fringed – the richly-colored oval face – the bow-shaped lips – the rounded chin – the straight white throat – the tall figure robed in soft, white silk, with purple pansies at the bosom and belt – and most of all, the air of freshness and of grave harmonious loveliness which environed her. He could have gazed his heart away; but in a few moments Adriana felt the unseen influence and turned. The presentment was still in her hand; the living man stood before her.
She put the picture back into the portfolio, and advanced a step or two. Harry bowed, and was at her side in a moment.
“I am sure you are Miss Van Hoosen,” he said, with a pleasant smile; “mother told me about you. And Rose has told me a great deal about you. So, you see, we are old acquaintances. Is it not a most perfect day? Have you been riding, or walking? Or has Rose kept you all day ‘talking over things’?”
He was really nervous under Adriana’s smiling 22 eyes, and he felt it easier to go on talking than to take the next step. Fortunately Rose entered at the proper moment, and put every one conventionally at ease. And if people eating a good dinner together cannot get agreeably familiar, then there is something radically wrong with one-half the company, and perhaps also with the other.
Now, women are undoubtedly different beings in the presence of men. Adriana was a new Adriana to Rose. She was more mentally alert, more assured and dignified in manner, and she even contradicted Harry in many things. But then she had an agreeable way of dealing with those from whom she disagreed; and Harry was only stimulated by her opposition to his views. The dinner went delightfully to the chatter of tongues and the light clash of crystal and china, and when it was over, Harry exclaimed:
“What a charming meal we have had! I had almost forgotten how very pleasant it is to eat with one’s own family!”
“Quite as pleasant as to dine at a club, I should think, Harry,” said Rose.
“Talking of clubs, it is the ladies who run clubs nowadays, Miss Van Hoosen. Has Rose told you how many she belongs to? Most of the married men I know have had to resign their memberships; the candle cannot be burned at both ends, and, of course, the ladies’ end must not be put out.”
“Clubs are a new-fangled notion to women yet, Harry. They will soon tire of their own company. You may be sure of that,” said Mrs. Filmer.
“Not so very ‘new-fangled,’ mother,” continued Harry. “Women’s clubs have existed for centuries in Persia and Turkey. They call them ‘The Bath,’ but 23 the ‘bath’ is only an excuse for getting together to talk gossip, and eat sweetmeats, and drink coffee. And if you like, I will lend you Aristophanes, mother, and you may read what came of women imitating such masculine ideas among those clever old Greeks.”
“I have no time to read such ancient books. And they would have to be very clever Greeks indeed to write anything the New York women of to-day would care to read. My dear Harry, they are a few thousand years behind the time.”
“Harry forgets,” said Rose, softly, “that if one of a family have to retire from Club pleasures, justice decides against the man. It is not a matter of courtesy at all; men have had their day. I assure you, Woman is the Coming Man.”
“Oh! I think we may claim club privileges on much higher grounds,” said Adriana. “Every woman’s club has before it the realization of some high purpose, or the redressing of some wrong. I never heard of a woman’s club in New York on the oriental plan of tattle and gossip and eating sweetmeats.”
“Two of the clubs to which I belong,” continued Rose, “have very important subjects under discussion. One is the Domestic Symposium, and we consider topics relating to Household Economy. At present, we are trying to solve the Servant Girl Question.”
“Oh!” cried Harry, with a hearty laugh, “if you indeed solve that problem, Rose, men will give you the suffrage, and leave the currency, and the tariff, and all such small financial and political questions to you.”
“Thanks, Harry! It is likely we may voluntarily take them into consideration. This is an age of majorities. If we accomplish the suffrage, women will have a majority on all questions; and the reduction of man 24 becomes a mere matter of time. I was going to remark, that another of my clubs occupies itself with the criticism of the highest poets of the age.”
“Who are they?” asked Adriana.
“That is the point we have been arguing all last winter. We have had difficulties. Mrs. Johnstone Miller raised objections to the consideration of any but American poets; and it took two months’ sittings to settle that question. You would be astonished at the strength of some people’s prejudices!” ejaculated Rose, holding up her pretty hands to emphasize her own astonishment.
“Not at all,” answered Harry. “They call their prejudices ‘principles,’ and then, of course, they cannot be decently relinquished.”
“Mrs. Johnstone Miller is a very superior woman. It is a great thing to hear her criticise Longfellow, Whittier, Eugene Field, Will Carlton, and the rest. I am sure she believes that she could easily excel each in their own department, if she were not prevented by her high-bred exclusiveness.”
“Not unlikely, Rose; there is no impertinence like the impertinence of mediocrity.”
“Mediocrity! Why, Harry, Mrs. Johnstone Miller is worth all of three million dollars, and it is very good of her to interest herself about literature at all.” And with these words Mrs. Filmer rose, and Harry gave her his arm, and the little party strolled slowly round the piazzas, and so through the blue porti?res into the drawing-room. And as Adriana did so, she had a vivid memory of Harry Filmer as she first saw him, standing between the pale draperies. They had emphasized his black hair and eyes and garments very distinctly; for the young man was physically “dark,” 25 even the vivid coloring of his face being laid upon a skin more brown than white.
Mrs. Filmer made herself comfortable in the easiest of easy chairs, and began mechanically to turn and change the many rings upon her fingers; the act being evidently a habit, conducive to reflection or rest. She told Harry to “go away and smoke his cigar”; but the young man said he “was saving the pleasure until the moon rose; and in the meantime,” he added, “he should expect the ladies to amuse him. Rose was talking of the greatest poets of the age,” he said, “but I am wondering what possible use we can have for poetry. Our age is so distinctively material and epicurean.”
Then Adriana asserted that it was precisely in such conditions poetry became an absolute necessity. Poetry only could refine views that would become gross without it; and give a tinge of romance to manners ready to become heartless and artificial. The discussion was kept up with much spirit and cleverness, though diverging continually to all kinds of “asides,” and Mrs. Filmer, with half-closed eyes, watched and listened, and occupied her mind with far different speculations.
Then there was some music; Rose played in her faultlessly brilliant manner; and Harry sang The Standard Bearer, and Adriana sang a couple of ballads. And by this time the moon had risen, and Harry brought woolen wraps, and the two girls walked with him, while he smoked more than one cigar. At first, the promenade was to a quickstep of chatter and laughter; but as the glorious moonshine turned earth into heaven, their steps became slower, their laughter died away, feeling grew apace, speech did not seem 26 necessary, and a divine silence that felt even motion to be a wrong was just beginning to enthrall each young, impressible heart.
At that moment Mrs. Filmer broke the dangerous charm by an imperative assertion that “it was high time the house was locked up for the night. She had been asleep and forgotten herself,” she said, and there was a tone of hurry and worry in her voice. So emotion, and romance, and young love’s dreaming were locked out in the moonshine; and there was a commonplace saying of “good-nights.” At their bedroom doors, Rose and Adriana kissed each other, and Rose said:
“I have been thinking of poor Dick Duval. Poor Dick! He loves me so much!”
“Then love him in return, Rose.”
“Impossible! He is poor.”
With a sad smile, and a deep sigh, Rose shut her door. It was characteristic of her, that she had not thought of Adriana and Harry. But Harry could not sleep for thought – for a sweet, pervading, drifting thought, that had no definite character, and would indeed have been less sweet if it had been more definite. He could only tell himself that he had found a new kind of woman; that her beauty filled his heart; and that her voice – whether she spoke or sang – set him vibrating from head to feet.
As for Adriana she was serious, almost sorrowful, and she wondered at the mood, finding it nevertheless quite beyond her control. Had she been wiser in love lore she would have feared it; for there is a gloom in the beginnings of a great love, as there is gloom in deep water; a silence which suspends expression; an attitude shy and almost reverent, it being the nature of true love to purify the temple in which it burns.
The next morning Harry went to New York. Mrs. Filmer, Rose, and Adriana stood on the piazza and watched him leap into the dog-cart, gather up the reins, and drive away at a rate supposed to be necessary in order to “catch the train.” He looked very handsome and resolute, and the house felt empty without his predominating presence.
“Harry promises to be home again at five o’clock; then, if we are ready, he will drive with us,” said Rose; and towards this hour all the day’s hopes and happiness verged. For already Harry stole sweetly into Adriana’s imaginations, and to Rose his return was interesting, because he was to bring back with him his friend Neil Gordon. Neil was not Rose’s ideal lover; but he was unconquered, and therefore provoking and supposable; and as environment has much to do with love, Rose hoped that the heart, hard as flint to her charms in the city, might become submissive and tender among the roses and syringas.
Harry was on time, but he was alone. “Neil did not keep his engagement,” he explained, “and as I wished to keep mine, I did not wait for him. I think we can do without Neil Gordon.” Rose said he was not at all necessary; but she suddenly lost her spirits and grumbled at the sunshine and the dust, and did not appear to enjoy her drive in the least. They went twice through the village, and passed Adriana’s home 28 each time. Peter was in his garden, and he saw them, and straightened himself that he might lift his hat to Harry’s salute, and to the kiss his handsome daughter sent him from her finger tips. The event pleased him, but he was not unnaturally or unadvisedly proud of it. He considered the circumstance as a result of giving his girl a fine education, and he hoped some of the rich, miserly men of the village would see and understand the object lesson. In the evening he walked down to the post-office. He expected his neighbors to notice the affair, and he had a few wise, modest words ready on the duty of parents to educate their daughters for refined society. He intended to say “it was natural for girls to look for the best, and that they ought to be fitted for the best;” and so on, as far as he was led or supported.
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