Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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“What a brave countenance!” he cried. “How honest, and thoughtful, and kindly! And what a pleasant shrewdness in the eyes! It is a perfect English face.”
“Oh, indeed!” said a scholarly man who stood by Miss Alida; “if Browning had an English body, his soul was that of some thirteenth-century Italian painter. Does he not say of himself:
Now it is a prejudice with me, that if an Englishman is to open his heart to us, we ought to find England written there. Shakespeare, who is at home with all people, is never so mighty and so lovable as when depicting the sweet-natured English ladies who became his ‘Imogenes,’ ‘Perditas,’ and ‘Helenas,’ or dallying with his own country wild-flowers, or in any way exalting England’s life and loveliness, majesty and power.”
“And pray, sir,” asked the Professor, “who but a man with an English heart could have written that home-yearning song:
“There is somewhere a still finer home-thought,” said Harry. “I remember learning it when I was at college;” and as Adriana looked backward and smiled, and the Professor nodded approval, and Miss Alida said, “Let us have the lines, Harry,” he repeated them without much self-consciousness, and with a great deal of spirit:
There was a hearty response to Harry’s effort, and then Miss Alida’s favorite minister – who had been silent during the whole discussion, much to her disappointment – spoke.
“A poet’s nature,” he said, “needs that high reverence which is to the spirit what iron is to the blood; it needs, most of all, the revelation of Christianity, because of its peculiar temptations, doubts, fears, yearnings, and obstinate questionings. Mr. Browning has this reverence, and accepts this revelation. He is 262 not half-ashamed, as are some poets, to mention God and Christ; and he never takes the name of either in vain. He does not set up a kind of pantheistic worship. No one has ever told us, as Browning has in his poem of ‘Christmas Eve and Easter Day,’ how hard it is to be a Christian.Do you remember its tremendous dream of the Judgment Day:
And who can read the pleading of the youth who has chosen the world, and not recognize the amiable young man of to-day, unable to put the cup of pleasure utterly away, but resolving to let
Do you want to know the end of this choice? Browning has told us in words no young man should be ignorant of.”
“Go on, Doctor,” said the Professor. “It will do us all good.”
“God reserves many great sinners for the most awful of all punishments – impunity. We can despise the other life, until we are refused it. This youth got the world he desired. A Voice tells him it is —
He is made welcome to so rate earth, and never to know
So he tries the world, tries all its ways, its intellect, and art; and at last, when everything else fails, he tries love. Surely love will not offend; and he looks upward to The Form at his side for approval. But its face is as the face of the headsman, who shoulders the axe to make an end. Love? Asking for love, when He so loved the world as to give His only beloved Son to die for love. Then lost and bewildered, and weary to death, the youth cowers deprecatingly, and prays that at least he may not know all is lost; that he may go on, and on, still hoping ‘one eve to reach the better land.’” And the minister’s eyes were full of tears, and his voice was full of despair, and there was a moment’s intense silence. Harry broke it. “Surely, sir,” he said, “the poet did not leave the youth in such hopeless distress?”
“He knew his God better,” was the answer. “I will tell you in the youth’s own words what happened:
“If you are not tired of Browning,” said the Professor, in a singularly soft voice for him, “I will give you from him a picture of the world in the highest mood it has ever known, or perhaps ever will know – under the Cross. It is only the ‘Epitaph in the Catacombs’:
Could any picture be more perfect? Christ has made of the poor sick slave a hero; and he speaks dispassionately from the other side. At last his release was earned. He was some time in being burned. Sergius writes – it is not he – he has forgot it all. These words light up an infinite picture, and surely the poet, who with one light stroke can smite such a statute from the rock, is a Master crowned, and worthy of our love.”
Every face was illuminated, every soul expanded, and the Professor, burning with his own enthusiasm, laid down the book. Then Miss Alida, smiling, but yet with tears in her large gray eyes, turned to a pretty young woman who had a roll of music in her lap. “Mrs. Dunreath,” she said, “we cannot bear any more of Mr. Browning’s strong wine; give us one of your songs of Old Ireland – some that you found in Munster, among the good lay monks and brothers. And the lady lifted her mandolin, and touched a few strings to her strange musical recitative:
The song made a charming let-down from the loftier tension; and some one said that it was just the sweet lament for the good time past, suitable for a race which like the Irish “had seen better days.” “But,” said Miss Alida, “you would never find an old Dutch or Norse song so destitute of hope or self-reliance. Their spirit is one that does not look back to the dead and gone; or even forward for some expected Helper. They sing the present, and the best possible present. That is the noblest kind of song, and there will be hope for Ireland when she sings no longer about the having been, but determines to be.”
However, in spite of all diversions, Browning had the evening; for no one could escape from his influence. And all the way home Harry spoke of Miss Alida’s minister, and of the poem he had quoted from. He was longing to say, “How strangely the experience of the youth in the poem fitted into Hannah Young’s fear that Christ would go away and not forgive her, until the moment of pardon revealed Him through the 266 dread disguise a God of mercy and forgiveness!” He wished also to speak for himself, but it was very difficult to do. In the first place, Adriana was tremblingly afraid of explanations. She passed from one person to another, and one subject to another with so much haste and interest that it was finally clear to Harry she did not wish him to allude to the great event of the day.
But his heart was full of love and sorrow, and as he walked by her side from the carriage to the drawing-room he came to a decision. Adriana stood a moment before the fire, and there Harry unclasped her cloak, drew her head towards him, and kissed her fondly.
“Yanna!” he whispered, “Yanna, truest and best of wives! I love you, and I love only you! I have wandered often, but never have I been happy away from you. Forgive me once more. The things I have heard to-day I shall never forget. Never will I be less worthy of your love than I am at this hour; never again!”
And she put her arms around his neck and kissed him. No earthly words were loving enough and happy enough, but something exquisite and certain passed from eye to eye, and from heart to heart – some assurance in that language of love whose sweet symbols happiness uses so well. And Adriana knew that her true affection and noble patience had conquered; and that the slow, calm years would flow on henceforth in glad content, bringing them in their season all things good.
The next morning Adriana called on her mother-in-law. In her wedding Bible, Peter had written the words of the pious Raguel – “Honor thy father and thy mother-in-law, which are now thy parents; that I may hear a good report of thee” – and she had conscientiously tried to fulfil this domestic law. But Harry’s marriage had never been quite forgiven by his parents, and in some way both of them had convinced themselves that Harry was not to blame for it. Adriana had cast some spell over him – or won some advantage – or Miss Alida, to further her own plans, had used some underhand influence which they felt it as hard to understand as to forgive. But Mrs. Filmer was much too polite and conventional to permit the public to share her dissatisfaction. However cold and formal she was to Adriana, she talked of her daughter-in-law to her acquaintances as “a most suitable person for her son’s wife.”
“The match is the realization of my husband’s desire to unite the two branches of the family and consolidate its wealth,” she said to every one. And in her heart she did acknowledge not only this advantage, but also the many virtues and charms of Adriana; for it was not her reason that was disappointed; it was her maternal jealousy that was offended.
On this morning she was unusually pleasant to Adriana. She had not seen her for some months; she had brought her some handsome souvenirs, and been 268 soothed by her satisfaction and gratitude; and she was very desirous to make peace between Adriana and Rose, and so induce Adriana to give Rose the benefit of her influence and countenance in society. The visit was, therefore, so confidential and affectionate that Adriana, in a moment of unguarded emotion, resolved to tell Mrs. Filmer about the change in Harry. Naturally she thought it would delight his mother; and she considered the momentary reluctance that assailed her as a selfish feeling.
“Mother,” she said, “I have something very good to tell you about Harry.”
“What is it? Gracious knows, I ought to hear something pleasant about Harry; for Rose’s affairs are enough to break my heart.” Her tone was querulous, rather than interested, and Adriana wished she had not spoken. A sudden fear that she was violating a sacred confidence troubled her, for where there is no sympathy, spiritual confidences are violated and wronged by being shared. It was, however, too late to be silent, but she involuntarily chose the person most removed for the opening of the conversation.
“Do you remember Cora Mitchin?”
“I remember nothing about such people.”
“Unfortunately, Harry knew her, and I have – ”
“Adriana, let me tell you one thing, a wise woman does not trouble herself about her husband’s private friends. Harry is kind to you. He keeps his home handsomely. He is seen at your side both in church and society, and it is quite possible to ask too much from a good husband. Harry is young yet – too young to have so many obligations and cares as he has.”
“I think you mistake me, mother. Have I made a complaint of Harry? Not one. I was only going to 269 tell you that the girl I spoke of has been genuinely reformed and has joined the Salvation Army.”
“I cannot believe in such reformations. I thought it was of Harry you had good news to tell.”
“The girl came to see me at our house, and as Harry came in while she was present, she told him about her conversation; and the circumstances have had a great influence upon him. I do not think Harry will err in that respect again.” But Adriana spoke coldly, and felt unable to enter into details; Mrs. Filmer’s face was so unresponsive and even angry.
“The girl came to your house! What an impertinence! And you received her and allowed her to talk about her – conversion! I am simply amazed at you, Adriana! And you think Harry will err no more? You poor deluded woman! The girl was probably hunting Harry up. I have no doubt she considers her visit to you a most excellent joke. Did you see no look of understanding between Harry and this converted young woman?”
“I left them alone to converse.”
“Excuse me, Adriana, but I cannot comprehend such romantic puddling folly – such quixotic generosity! It was wrong, both for Harry and for yourself.”
“I am sure it was not wrong, mother. I know that Harry was greatly moved by the girl’s experience. I can trust Harry for the future. With God’s help he is going to be a very different man. He told me so this morning. I believed him. And I did hope you would be glad to hear it.”
“Of course I am glad. If he keeps his intentions it will be a good thing – but men never do.”
“If they trust to themselves, they fail, of course; but Harry knows better than that.”
“I only hope he will not grow too good. One saint in the family is sufficient;” and with a smile which did not quite take away the sting of the mock compliment, Mrs. Filmer put Adriana – who had risen – back into her chair, saying:
“You must not go yet, Adriana. I want to consult you about Rose. Her affairs seem to be in a very bad way. We will waive all discussion of the causes for this condition at present, and just consider what is best to be done.”
“Antony will return for one word of contrition.”
“But if Rose will not say that word?”
“She ought to say it.”
“Never mind the ‘ought.’ We have to work with events as they are. Now, she is too much alone. I am afraid of solitude for her. She will be in danger of flying for comfort or oblivion, where it is destruction to go. You understand?”
“Yes. But ‘yes’ does not mend matters. She says she has not been out of her house for a month. That will not do. She must have the world round her. She must go to church. To go to church regularly will keep the world her friend; and I will see that she performs that duty. Can you not help me in other matters?”
“Rose has not spoken to me since – the day that her baby died. I do not think she will speak to me. I will do anything I can. What do you propose?”
“I want her to open her house – to give a few quiet receptions or dinners – such events as are quite proper in her circumstances. Of course I shall be with her, and if you could get Miss Alida Van Hoosen to come to her initial dinner, it would give the stamp necessary 271 for their respectability. Of course, you and Harry will be there.”
“Mother, I do not believe Rose will ask us; but if she does, we will overlook the past.”
“For heaven’s sake, do not talk about ‘overlooking’ things. Take up life where it was pleasantly dropped, and bury the interval. Will you get Miss Alida’s promise to endorse Rose?”
“I will ask for it. She is a very determined woman, and Rose has been obtrusively rude to her.”
“None of you seems to have understood Rose, or to have remembered how broken-hearted she was about baby’s death. Something may be excused on that account, I think. Will you go now and see Miss Alida? I should like to know who I can depend upon.”
Then Adriana went. The duty set her was not a pleasant one, especially as Mrs. Filmer was certain she ought to succeed in it. At this crisis she found it easy to recollect the tie of blood, and to expect from Miss Van Hoosen as a right what Adriana was doubtful of obtaining even as a favor.
She found Miss Alida in, but dressed ready for her drive, and in a radiantly good-natured mood. So Adriana, hoping everything from a woman so cheerful and affectionate, said at once:
“Cousin Alida, just give me five minutes, will you?”
“Ten, twenty, sixty, my dear, if you want them.”
“I have just left Mrs. Filmer.”
“Has she made you feel like a flayed woman in a furze bush?”
“She was very nice to me. She is wretched about Rose.”
“I should think she ought to be.”
“I can see that she fears Rose is – ”
“Drinking too much. Don’t mince the words, Yanna. They are ugly enough to make one hate the sin they describe.”
“Her mother thinks she is too solitary. She is going to make her go to church, and she hopes that you will stand by her in society.”
“I will do nothing of the kind.”
“Dear cousin, if she has a quiet little dinner party, and her mother and Harry and I are present, I am sure you will also go.”
“No! I shall not!”
“She is such a foolish, spoiled woman; it is not worth your while remembering her rudeness to you.”
“I care nothing about her rudeness to me. It is her treatment of Antony I resent. I shall not countenance her in any way until she confesses her sin to her husband, and he forgives her. If Antony can forgive her, I suppose I may try and endure her.”
“Dear cousin – ”
“Nonsense, Yanna! You know me well enough to understand that having made up my mind on this subject, I shall not unmake it for any other terms but the ones I have accepted as reasonable and right. Confession, my dear, and then forgiveness. Everything must be done in its proper order. Do you not find me in a remarkably happy temper? Do you not want to know the reason? Harry has been here this morning, and he has told me a very wonderful story. I don’t know when I have been so pleased. I have been saying to myself ever since that there is no change in Our Redeemer. The world outgrows its creeds, but it is still blessedly true that they who ‘seek for Him with all their heart find Him.’ My dear, I feel to-day that there is a God. I always know it, but to-day I feel it. 273 That is the reason I am so happy. I like that woman Hannah Young. I am going this day to the Salvation Army Headquarters to find her. The devil gave her the means to make her mother and sisters happy; and I intend to show her that God can do more, and better, than the devil.”
“Have you no pity for Rose?”
“Not for Rose proud and wicked and unrepentant. When Rose is sorry for her sins, when God forgives her, I shall have no right to be angry. And what do you ask me to do? The worst possible thing for a woman like Rose – surround her with circumstances that enable her to forget what she ought not to forget for one moment. I – will – not – do – it!”
This disappointment did not, however, deter Mrs. Filmer from carrying out her plan; and invitations were duly sent to such of Rose’s old friends as it was supposed would give prestige and dignity to the occasion of her first dinner. Miss Alida sent a curt refusal; and all of the people whose presence was most desired did likewise, with varying politeness. Some “regretted very much,” and others simply “regretted.” Some had “previous engagements,” others did not lay this flattering excuse to the wound of their declining; but the fine dinner was, after all, prepared for guests who had been asked as “secondaries,” and whose absence would not have been regretted. In some way – probably through the kitchen door – the true story of Antony’s absence had been blown about by every wind of gossip; and Rose’s dinners, however she might regard them, were not important affairs to a class of people to whom dinners meant lofty and irreproachable social intercourse.
Mrs. Filmer was greatly humiliated by this failure, 274 but not inclined to abandon her plan; and Rose pretended to be well pleased that she had been “cut by such a dreary crowd of purple and fine linen Pharisees. However,” she said, “as I have opened my house, I intend to fill it. Young men and young women who want to dance will go anywhere, if there is a good floor, with good music and plenty of wines and ices. If I cannot be exclusive, I can at least be popular. If you do not like my company, mamma, you need not endorse it. I shall take no offence at your scruples. As for Harry and his excellent wife, I never will pretend to be glad to see them any more as long as I live. When society declines to accept Mrs. Antony Van Hoosen, you cannot make it accept her, mamma.”
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