Was It Right to Forgive? A Domestic Romance
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She sat motionless, with eyes cast down, considering them; and schooling herself into such control of her passion as would compel Harry to respect her objections. She resolved also to say nothing of her plans to 56 Rose. Rose had a romantic fancy for the girl’s brother; and she was quite capable of justifying her own penchant behind Harry’s. As she pondered these things, she heard the carpenters from the village preparing the ball-room. They were tacking up bunting and wreaths of autumn leaves, but though the designs were her own, and she had been much interested in them, everything about the entertainment had suddenly become a weariness. She felt that until she had an understanding with Harry, she could do nothing; no, nor even care for what others were doing.
Fortunately, as she stood at the window, gloomily looking into a future her own sick fancy conjured, she saw Harry coming slowly up the avenue. He had the air of a man in suspense or anxiety, and she whispered, “There! I know he has done something awful! He looks like it. It is a shame that a strange girl should come into my home and make so much trouble. It is, really!”
Her intense recognition of Harry caused him to look up, and she made a motion which he hastened to answer. For here it must be admitted that Harry had a certain fear of his mother – a fear all compact of love – a fear of wounding or offending her – a fear of seeing her weeping or troubled – a tender fear, which was partly the habit of years, and very much the result of a generous estimate of her many excellences, and of his own indebtedness to them. And from the beginning of time, men have desired to worship a woman; some men take naturally to the worship of the Blessed Virgin; others turn their religion of woman to motherhood, and find that among the millions of earth-mothers, there is no mother like the mother that bore them. Harry was one of these disciples.
He had been insensible so long to the charms of maidenhood, because he gave all the tenderness of his nature to his mother; and even his love for Rose was not so much on the ground that she was his sister as that she was his mother’s daughter. And undoubtedly, this mother love had been hitherto the salt of his life. It had preserved him from all excesses that would grieve her, it had sanctified the idea of home in his heart; and if it had in a measure narrowed his nature, it had kept him from those gross vices men do not go from a mother’s side to practice.
He came into the room with a conscious alertness, blaming himself for not taking more interest in the coming entertainment. Yet he had felt it hard to do so; in the first place, Yanna would not be present, her father having positive convictions about the folly – perhaps the sin – of dancing. In the second place, he had really written to Yanna; the letter in the possession of Mrs. Filmer being a mild draft of the one actually sent; so that the air of anxiety was a very natural one. He perceived at once that his mother was much annoyed, and his face was instantly sympathetic.
“I knew this thing was going to be too much for you, dear mother,” he said, with an air of reproach.“I am so sorry you undertook it. It will be a bore altogether.”
“Harry, it is not the ball – it is you! Oh, Harry! Harry! Look at this letter. I found it in your room. Naturally, I read it; and, of course, having done so, I think it honorable to talk with you about it.”
Harry was fingering the letter his mother handed him, as she spoke, and when she ceased, he folded the paper and put it in his pocket. “Well, mother,” he said, “you have discovered what I intended to tell you 58 as soon as this miserable ball was over. I love Yanna. I intend to marry her – if she will marry me.”
“No fear of that. The girl has been doing her best to secure you all summer long.”
“You are mistaken, mother.”
“Oh, Harry, such a marriage is impossible! You know how I adore you! You are my life! I cannot give you up to this strange girl. Besides, dear Harry, you have taught me to rely upon you, to trust to you, in all my cares and troubles. You have been my right hand, ever since you were a little lad. You have enabled Rose to take her proper place in society. Without you, everything must go to destruction.”
“Dear mother, I do not see any reason for such calamity. You give me too much credit.”
“I do not give you enough. Look at your father. He is wonderfully clever, but has he ever been of any use in business? You have had everything to attend to. If I had had the remotest idea you would marry, I should never have permitted the building of this house. We have sunk a deal of money in it. Without your income, we shall be quite unable to keep it up. Then just imagine how we shall be laughed at by the Giffords and all our set! It makes me shivering sick.”
“You knew, mother, that I would be likely to marry sometime.”
“Oh, yes! but not just at this time. You could not have chosen a more cruel time. How am I to manage with two houses on my hands, and no one to help me? Then, there is your little sister Rose! I hoped to give her a fair chance this season, to let her entertain, to let her realize her ideas in dress. She has been promised these pleasures; how can I tell her you are going to leave us to fight the world alone! You know, Harry – yes, 59 you do know – that Rose gets a great many invitations for your sake. If your engagement becomes known – and such things sift through the air – farewell to the Lennox dinners and dances! farewell to the Manns, and the Storeys, and the Wolseys, and a great many others! In fact, there is no use in opening the New York house at all. We had better stay here. Thank goodness! we can make your father’s book the excuse.”
Mrs. Filmer’s eyes were brim full of tears, but she bravely held them back; and this bit of self-restraint touched Harry far more than if she had flown to pieces in hysteria. He looked much troubled, and sitting down at her side, he took her hand and said:
“Do you think I will desert you if I marry, mother? You have been the best half of my life. I could not live without you.”
“You think so, Harry. But I know better. When a man gets a wife, he leaves father and mother for her. But do not leave me just yet, Harry! Do not leave me, dear boy, while I have so much to do, and to worry about! If I deserve any love or gratitude from you, do not leave me just yet! Oh, Harry! Harry!”
“I will not, mother. If Yanna loves me, she will wait for me.”
“If she loves you, she will be glad to wait for you.”
“You do not object to Yanna herself, do you, mother? Love her, for my sake, dear mother! Let me tell her you will. Is she not all you could wish for me? Is she not good and lovely, beyond comparison?”
“Indeed, I think she is very unworthy of you. I cannot love her yet, Harry. If you were thinking of May Hervey, or Sarah Holles, I could bear the loss of you better. Either of these girls would marry you for 60 a word. May is worth all of a million and a half, and Sarah nearly a million. In these days, matrimony ought to mean money. My dear son, do not leave your mother just yet! And if you must engage yourself to a girl so unworthy your position, at any rate keep it a profound secret. Even Rose must not be told. Rose is subject to sentimental confidences, and she is a little conceited, and will not believe me, if I tell her she is asked out for your sake, and not for her own. Harry, I love you so much! Will you help me a little longer, my dear?”
She was trembling with emotion, she was weeping very quietly; but Harry could see the tears dropping upon her clasped hands. But she did not for a moment let her feelings overstep her faculties; she knew right well that a woman ever so little beyond herself is a fool. She knew also that the modern gentleman is wounded in his self-esteem by a scene, and is not to be tenderly moved by any signs of mere pathological distress.
Her self-restraint inspired Harry with respect; and he felt it impossible to throw off the habit of consideration for “mother above all others.” It had the growth of nearly thirty years; while his affection for Yanna was comparatively a thing of yesterday. He promised not to marry while his marriage would be injurious to his family; and he promised to keep his engagement a secret, if Yanna accepted him. Nor did he anticipate any difficulty in fulfilling these promises; while he told himself that, after all, it was only a little bit of self-denial, which would be amply repaid by his mother’s and sister’s happiness and welfare.
He did not think of Yanna, nor of how a secret engagement and a delayed marriage might affect her; 61 but he was annoyed because these conditions had not been alluded to in his letter to her. Yanna might suppose that he had purposely ignored them until her consent was gained; and such a supposition would not place him in a very honorable light.
The interview terminated in a decided victory for Mrs. Filmer, and there was something very like a tear in Harry’s eyes when he left his mother with a straight assurance of his continued help and sympathy. At the door he turned back and kissed her again; and then she went with him as far as the room which was being prepared for dancing. But she did not ask him to stay with her; she knew better than to push an advantage too far, and was wise enough to know that when necessary words have been spoken and accepted further exhortation is a kind of affront.
At lunch time the subject was totally ignored. Mr. Filmer came out of his study, apparently for the very purpose of being excessively pleasant to Harry, and of giving his wife anxious warnings about exhausting herself, and overdoing hospitality, “which, by-the-by,” he added, “is as bad a thing as underdoing it. Two days hence, you will not be able to forgive Emma Filmer for the trouble she has taken,” he said.
“I hope we have not annoyed you much, Henry.”
“I have calmly borne the upset, because I know this entertainment will be the first and the last of the series.”
He spoke to hearts already conscious; and Rose said petulantly, “The ball will, of course, be a failure; we have bespoken failure by anticipating it.”
“I never really wanted it, Rose,” said Harry.
“That is understandable,” she retorted. “Yanna does not dance; neither does she approve of dancing. 62 But all the sensible people are not Puritans, thank heaven! What are such ideas doing in an enlightened age? They ought to be buried with all other fossils of dead thought; and – ”
“You are going too fast, Rose,” corrected Mr. Filmer. “You may scoff at Puritanism, but it is the highest form of life ever yet assumed by the world. Emma, my dear, if that tap, tap, tapping could be arrested this afternoon I should be grateful.” Then he bowed to his family, and went back to the Middle Ages.
They watched his exit silently, and with admiration, and after it Rose sought the dressmaker, who in some upper chamber was composing a gown she meant to be astonishing and decisive; one that it would be impossible to imitate, or to criticise. Mrs. Filmer, knowing the value of that little sleep which ought to divide the morning from the afternoon, went into seclusion to accept it. Harry wandered about the piazzas smoking, but shivering and anxious, and longing for the hour at which he had told Yanna he would call for her answer.
The day, pleasantly chill in the morning, had become damp and gray, and full of the promise of rain. And as he drove through the fallen leaves of the bare woods, and felt the depressing drizzle, he thought of the many lovely days and glorious nights he had let slip; though the question asked at the end of them was precisely the question he wished to ask at the beginning. He wondered if he had missed his hour. He wondered if he had misunderstood Yanna’s smiles and attitudes. He lost heart so far that he drove twice past the house ere he felt brave enough to take manfully the possible “No” Yanna might give him. “Men 63 understand so little about women,” he thought, “and all her pleasantness may have been mere friendship.”
For the first time in all his acquaintance with the Van Hoosen family, the front door was shut. Usually it stood open wide, and he had been accustomed to walk forward to the sitting-room, and tap there with his riding whip, if it was empty; or to enter with a gay greeting, if Antony or Yanna was there to answer it. To be sure, the day was miserably damp and chill, but oh! why had he waited all the long summer for this uncomfortable sense of a closed door in his face?
He drove to the stable, and when he went back to the house Peter was on the threshold to receive him. “Come in, Mr. Filmer,” he said. “Antony has gone to New York. I believe in my heart, he has gone for fineries for your ball; though he called it ‘business.’”
“I am glad Antony is coming, although I fully respect Miss Van Hoosen’s scruples with regard to dancing.”
“Yes, yes! On a road full of danger it is good to have scruples. They are like a pebble in the shoe, you cannot walk on it without a constant painful reminder; and if you lift the foot, then, you do not walk on it at all. Yanna has had no fight to make, no life and death issues to meet every day; and to those who live ordinary lives, a creed, and a straight creed, is necessary, yes, as much so as a wall is to a wheat field. Without external rules, and strong bonds, very few would remain religious. But with Antony it is different. He was churchless for ten years; but on many a battle field and in many a desert camp God met and blessed him. Such men have larger liberty than even I durst claim.”
“I have talked much with Antony on religious subjects; I think it impossible to shake his faith.”
“Antony’s principles stand as firm as a Gothic wall. Duty, Faithfulness, Honor, and Honesty, are qualities independent of creed. You see, I am no bigot.”
“You read too much, and too widely, for that character, sir.”
“If I read nothing but the Bible, I should read a book that is at once the most learned and the most popular of all books. But at present you find me reading politics.”
“To be sure! The elections are coming on, and they will do, and cause to be done, all kinds of disagreeable things. I generally keep my eyes shut to their approach.” He had disliked to break in two a religious conversation with a personal question, but he had no such scruple about politics; and he added hurriedly, lest Peter should pursue the subject, “Where is Miss Van Hoosen? I hope she is well.”
“She is in the dining-room. Once every year my cousin, Alida Van Hoosen, pays us a visit; and she came this morning, without any warning.” As he spoke, a buggy was driven to the door, and there was a stir of some one departing through the front hall. Then Peter rose quickly, and said:
“Now you must excuse me, Mr. Filmer. Cousin always expects me to see her safely to the train. Yanna will be with you in a few minutes.”
As Peter went out of the room, Harry rose. He could no longer sit still. His heart leaped to the light, quick steps of Yanna; and when she entered, smiling and rosy, her eyes dancing with the excitement of her visitor, her whole body swaying to the music of love in her heart, he met her in the middle of the room 65 with outstretched hands. She put her own hands in them, and her eyes met his, in a frank, sweet gaze, which he understood better than words.
Who can translate the broken, kiss-divided sentences, in which two happy souls try to explain the joy of their meeting? All through the summer days, this love had been growing; and suddenly, in a moment, it had burst forth into blossom. The dull skies and the chill gray atmosphere did not touch a flower, whose roots were in celestial warmth and glory. They forgot all about such mere accidentals. There was a new sun, and a new moon; there was a new world, and new hopes, and a new life before them.
They walked up and down the large room, telling each other when, and how, they first began to love – excusing their misapprehensions, chiding sweetly their doubts, and explaining the little cross-purposes, which had given them so many sleepless nights and miserable days. All their troubles were now over. They were to trust each other through everything. They were to help each other to grow nobler and better, and more worthy of this wonderful love; which both alike felt to be more wonderful, more true, more sweet, than any other love ever bestowed upon mortal man and woman.
It was a little let-down to this exalted condition that it had to come within the social bonds of their common every-day lives. Harry said he “must speak to Mr. Van Hoosen,” and Yanna answered, “Yes, Harry, and at once. I cannot be perfectly happy until my father knows how happy I am.”
The first ecstasy of their condition had demanded motion; but when Harry spoke of the necessary formalities of their engagement, they sat down.
“Your father has a right to ask me some questions, dear Yanna, which I think I can answer to his satisfaction. There are only two things I fear.” She looked at him with an assuring smile, and he went on, “First, I cannot marry for a year at any rate, perhaps longer.”
“Father will not count that against you. Nor do I. He will miss me every hour of his life, when I leave him. He will be thankful to put off the separation – and he has done so much for me, and we have been so much to each other, that I think I ought to give him a little more of my life.”
Harry knit his brows. It already hurt him to think of Yanna giving thought and love to others, when he wanted every thought for himself. He drew her close to him, and with kisses and tender words vowed, “though it was dreadfully selfish, he should be wretched until he had taken her absolutely away from every other tie.” Perhaps she felt a moment’s pleasure in this singleness of her lover’s desire, but it was only momentary.
“That is wrong, Harry,” she answered. “It is a poor heart that has room for only one love. My love for father can never wrong you. He is the first memory I have. Before I was three years old, I remember him, carrying me in his arms every night until I fell asleep. When I was a school-girl he helped me with my lessons. He taught me how to skate, and to drive, and to row. We were always together. My mother did not care much for books and embroidery and drawing, but father watched my stitches and my pencil, and wondered all the time at his little girl’s cleverness. I knew he made too much of his little girl’s cleverness; but then, we love people who make 67 much of us in any way. And it is past believing how happy we have been since I left college! Oh, I love father so much, I never could love him less! Are your father and mother any less dear to you for loving me?”
This was a question Harry could not answer fairly. He remembered his mother’s appeal but a few hours previously. He knew that under it he had been unfaithful to Adriana – knew that he had been willing to sacrifice her happiness to gratify a mere social exigency – knew that he had put Rose’s interests before Adriana’s interests – knew that he had been absolutely considerate of the old ties, and that he was now seeking the new one, not as the first and the last, the be-all, and the end-all, of his existence; but as some fresh, delicious element to be lost in the old element, some quick and piquant spice, with which to make keener and sweeter the old tedious, monotonous experience, which, after all, he was not willing to lose in the joyousness of the new one. He answered Yanna’s question therefore guardedly; he had even a feeling that she ought not to have asked it.
“Of course, I love my family, Yanna, just the same as I ever did. My love for you is quite independent of that love. I have been practically the head of the house for many years, and to lose me is, therefore, like losing the head of the house.”
“Hardly so, Harry. I think Mr. Filmer is quite able to take care of his family’s interests, if it should be necessary for him to do so. Father said he never met a man at once so cautious and so honorable in business.”
“In a matter of buying and selling, father is more than equal to his circumstances. I am speaking of our social life. In society, he is a perfect child; in fact, we continually have to shield his mistakes behind his 68 learning. It is for this reason, my own sweet Yanna, that mother thinks we ought to keep our engagement secret.”
“Our engagement secret! Your mother thinks it! Did you ask Mrs. Filmer’s permission to offer yourself to me?” As she spoke, she gently withdrew from his embrace and looked with a steady countenance at him. Harry was like a man between two fires; his face burned, he felt almost irritable. Why couldn’t Yanna take what he had to offer, and be content?
“Mother lifted a book in my room,” he said, “and a copy of the letter I sent you fell out of it.”
“And she read one of your letters? I am glad you have told me. I certainly shall not write to you, Harry. I withdraw my promise.”
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