Read CHAPTER III of The Woman Who Dared , free online book, by Epes Sargent, on ReadCentral.com.

THE MOTHER'S STORY.

That evening, when the feast of strawberries
Had been partaken, and the happy three
Sat down together, Linda asked: “And now,
May I not hear the rest?” “To-morrow, Linda,
You shall hear all,” said Percival; “but now,
That brain of yours must tranquillize itself
Before you try to sleep; and so, to-night,
Let us have ‘Annie Laurie,’ ‘Bonnie Doon,’
And songs that most affront the dainty ear
Of modern fashion.” Linda played and sang
A full half-hour; then, turning on her chair,
Said, “Now shall mother sing that cradle ditty
You made for me, an infant. Mother, mine,
Imagine you are rocking me to sleep,
As in those far-off days.”

Replied the mother:
“O the dear days! yet not more dear than these!
For frugal Linda brings along with her
All of her past; the infant’s purity,
The child’s confiding love, and now, at last,
The maiden’s free and quick intelligence!
Be ever thus, my Linda; for the pure
In heart shall carry an immortal youth
Into the great to-come. That little song
Well I remember the delightful time
When ’twas extemporized; when, with my pen,
I noted down the words, while, by your crib,
Your father sat, and you, with little fists
Drawn tight, would spring and start, as infants will,
Crowing the while, and chuckling at the words
Not comprehended yet, save in the smiles
That with them went! ’Twas at the mellow close
Of an autumnal day, and we were staying
In a secluded village, where a brook
Babbled beneath our window, and the hum
Of insects soothed us, while a louder note
From the hoarse frog’s bassoon would, now and then,
Break on the cricket’s sleepy monotone
And startle laughter.” Here the matron paused;
Then sweeping, with a firm, elastic touch,
The ivory keys, sang

Linda’s lullaby.

I.

Murmur low, little rivulet flowing!
For to sleep our dear Linda is going;
All good little lambs be reposing,
For Linda one eyelid is closing.

II.

O frogs! what a noise you are making!
O crickets! now don’t keep her waking!
Stop barking, you little dog Rover,
Till Linda can get half-seas over.

III.

Little birds, let our word of love reach you,
Go to bed, go to sleep, I beseech you;
On her little white coverlet lying,
To sleep our dear Linda is trying.

IV.

Hush! sing just as softly as may be;
Sing lullaby, lullaby, baby!
Now to sleep this dear Linda is going,
Murmur low, little rivulet flowing!

The next day, when the heat kept all at home,
And they were gathered in the library,
Where fitfully a lazy southern breeze
Would stir the languid curtains, Percival
Said, turning to the mother: “Mary, now
Your story best will supplement my own;
Tell it.” She answered: “Let it be so, then;
My life is but the affluent to yours,
In which it found its amplitude and rest.

“My parents dwelt in Liverpool; my father,
A prosperous merchant, gave to business
His time and active thoughts, and let his wife
Rule all beside with rigor absolute.
My maiden name was Mary Merivale.
There were eight daughters of us, and of these
I was the fourth. We lived in liberal style,
And did not lack the best society
The city could afford. My heedful mother,
With eight undowered girls to be disposed of,
Fearfully healthy all, and clamorous
For clothes and rations, entered on a plan
To which she steadily adhered: it was,
To send the younger fry to boarding-schools,
And keep one virgin only, at a time,
And she the oldest, on her hands to marry.
So they came forward in their order: Julia,
And Isabel, and Caroline; until
I was dragged forth from maps and lexicons,
Slate-pencils and arithmetics, and put
Candidate Number Four, upon the list.

“My elder sisters had been all ‘well-married’;
That is, to parties able to provide
Establishments that Fashion would not scorn;
What more could be desired by loving parents?
As for resistance to her will, when once
She set her heart upon a match, my mother
Would no more bear it than a general
Would bear demur from a subordinate
When ordered into action. If a daughter,
When her chance offered, and was checked as good,
Presumed, from any scruple of dislike,
To block the way for her successor, then
Woe to that daughter, and no peace for her
Did she not, with an utter selfishness,
Stand in her younger sister’s light? imperil
The poor child’s welfare? doom her possibly
To an old maid’s forlorn and cheerless lot?

“And so, with an imperious will, my mother
Would sweep away all hindrances, all doubts.
She was, besides, the slave of system; having
Adopted once the plan of bringing forward
No daughter till the previous one was mated,
It was a sacred custom; ’twas her own!
It had worked well; must not be broken through.
So my poor sisters went; and some of them
With doubting hearts.

“In me, my zealous mother
Found metal not so malleable quite.
One of my teachers at the boarding-school,
A little woman who got scanty pay
For teaching us in French and German, fed
Her lonely heart with dreams of what, some day,
Shall lift her sex to nobler life. She took
A journal called ‘The Good Time Coming,’ filled
With pleadings for reform of many kinds,
In education, physical and mental,
Marriage, the rights of women, modes of living.
Weekly I had the reading of it all;
Some of it crude enough, some apt and just,
Forcibly put, and charged with vital facts.
At last these had for me a fascination
That quite eclipsed the novels of the day.

“I learnt, that, bound up in the moral law,
Are laws of health and physical control,
Unheeded in the family and school;
How fashion, stupid pride, and love of show,
The greed of gain, or the pursuit of pleasure,
Empty and frivolous, make men and women
False to their natures, cruel to each other
And to the unborn offspring they devote
To misery through ill-assorted unions,
Or habits reckless of maternal dues;
How marriage, sacredest of mortal steps,
Is entered on from motives all unworthy;
Social ambition, mercenary aims,
The dread of poverty, of singleness,
The object of uniting families,
And momentary passion fatuous.
So I resolved, God helping, to be true
To my own self, and that way true to all.

“The fête that signalized my coming out
Was, so my mother said, the costliest yet.
Whole greenhouses were emptied to adorn
Our rooms with flowers; a band played in the hall;
The supper-table flashed with plate and silver
And Dresden ware and bright Bohemian glass;
The wines and viands were profuse and rare;
And everybody said, ’twas a grand ball.

“But what of her, for whom it was the flourish
Of trumpets blown to celebrate her entrance
Into society? Let others speak!
These the remarks I had to overhear:
‘She’s rather pretty.’ ’Pretty is the word.’
‘But not so dashing as the elder sisters.’
’Cleverer though, perhaps,’ ’She takes it coolly.
Her heart’s not in the ball; that’s evident.’
‘Where is it? Is she bookish?’ ’So I’ve heard.’
’Unlike the rest, then.’ ’That straw-colored silk
Should have had flounces.’ ’Is that hair her own?’
’I think so?’ ’She’s no dancer.’ ’Apathetic
As any duchess.’ ’The young men seem shy;
She doesn’t put them at their ease, ‘tis plain.’
’See, the old woman chides her; she deserves it;
She’ll not pick up admirers if she plays
My Lady Cool so grandly. Watch mamma.
The hook is nicely baited; where are all
The gudgeons it should lure? I marvel not
Mamma is in a fluster; tap, tap, tap,
See her fan go! No strategy, no effort,
No dandy-killing shot from languid eyes,
On that girl’s part! And all this fuss for her!’

“The gossips, in these random whisperings,
Made some good shots, that failed not of the mark.
The lights, the roses, the voluptuous music,
The shining robes, the jewels, the bright faces
Engrossed me not so much as one pale face,
Youthful but pinched, which I had seen a moment,
An hour before, reflected in the mirror
At which I stood while nimble dressing-maids
Helped to array me. A poor girl had brought
The bodice of my silken robe, on which
She had been working closely; and my mother
Chided her for delay; but no reply
Was made, save only what the pleading eyes
Could not withhold. Then tendering a scrap
Of paper, record of her paltry charge,
She meekly stood. ‘Pooh! bring it here next week,’
My mother said. ‘No!’ turning round, I cried;
’Let her be paid at once; there must be money
In the house somewhere; it may be a loss,
An inconvenience, for her to come back
Just for a trifling sum.’ ’Impertinent!’
My mother kindling, cried. ‘Do you rule here?’
‘I can return,’ timidly said the girl.
Then a gold thimble from my drawer I took,
And offered it, remarking, ’Keep or sell it,
To hold you good for all your wasted time.’
‘My time, what is it worth?’ replied the girl,
Motioning her refusal, but with smiles
Of speechless gratitude, and then escaping
Before I could prevent her.

“’Novel-reading
Has brought you to this insipidity,’
My mother said: ’such sentimental pap,
You never got from me. Come, hurry down;
Put off that sullen look. The carriages
Begin to roll; the guests are on the stairs.
Learn to command your smiles, my dear. Now go.’

“So down I went, but in no conquering mood.
I did not scrutinize the festive dresses;
Of the sad hearts I thought, the poor thin hands
That put of life somewhat in every stitch
For a grudged pittance. All disguises fell;
Voices betrayed the speakers in their tones,
Despite of flattering words; and smiles revealed
The weariness or hatred they would hide.
And so, preoccupied and grave, I looked
On all the gayety; and reigning belles
Took heart to find in me no coming rival.

“Lent now was near; the time of all diversion
And visiting was over; and my mother
Summed up her griefs in this one lamentation:
’The season gone, and not one offer yet!
You, Mary, are the first one of my daughters
Whose coming-out so flat a failure proved.
Think of your sister Julia; her first winter
Brought Hammersley to her feet. A splendid match!
First cousin to a lord! How envious
Were all the dowagers at my success!
If I’ve not done all that a mother could,
Tell me wherein I’ve failed. Yet one year more
I shall allow you for your trial. Then,
If you have made no step in the direction
Of matrimony, why, you must go off
To Ireland, to America, or France,
And leave the field for your next younger
For Susan.’ ’She is welcome to it now,’
I said, with something like disdain, I fear,
In my cold smile. ’My plans are laid, you know,’
Replied my mother; ’find your duty in
A simple acquiescence; I know best.’

“’Tis said the woman always is to blame
If a man ventures to commit himself
In a proposal unacceptable.
The rule has its exceptions; for I gave
No word, no inkling of encouragement
To Captain Dudley; yet I had an offer
From Captain Dudley. Young, and elegant,
Though of a stock somewhat attenuate;
Rich, though a younger son; a gentleman,
A scholar, what good reason could I give
For saying Nay to such an applicant?
‘Explain!’ my mother cried, with brow severe;
‘Is not his character without a flaw?’
‘So far as known to me.’ ’Is he a fool?’
‘Far from it; culture and good sense are his.’
’Could you not love him?’ ’Very tenderly,
Perhaps, with time to aid.’ ’Has any one
Preoccupied your heart?’ ’My heart is free,
And has been always free.’ ’Indeed? Then why
Refuse to be the wife of this young man?’
’Simply because he’s not the man I’d choose
To be the father of a child of mine.’

“If I had put a pistol at her head,
My lady mother would not so have started.
’What! a mere girl and you can entertain
Such thoughts! so selfish, gross, unmaidenly!’
‘If,’ I replied, ’I’m old enough to dream
Of marriage, as you bid me, then ’tis time
For me to think of all the risk I run.
Selfish, you call it; gross, unmaidenly;
Is it unmaidenly to hesitate
In the surrender of my maiden state?
Your epithets belong to those who fail
To think at all, or only think of this:
What’s the man’s income? Will he let me have
A house in the right quarter? Keep a carriage?
And is he in society? Such women
Plant nightshade, and affect to wonder why
The growth is not of lilies and carnations!’

“‘So! just let loose from school,’ replied my mother,
’You’d teach me what is womanly! Pert minx!
Tell me in simple English what you mean
By your objections to this match, so largely
Above your merits?’ ’This is what I mean:
For reasons that are instincts more than reasons,
And therefore not to be explained to those
Who in them do not share, as you do not,
I would not wed this man, not if I loved him.’
’Enough! You’ve had your turn; and now prepare
To make a visit to your father’s cousin
In Nova Scotia; there, perhaps, you may
Find a congenial mate among the clowns
And roughs provincial. Go and pack your trunk.
Fool your own opportunities away;
You shall not thrust your sister out of hers.’

“I did not pack my trunk; another suitor,
One twice as rich as Dudley, kindled hopes
Anew in my poor mother’s breast; and so
Susan was kept at school another season,
And I was put upon the course once more,
My training perfect and my harness new!

“Who could object to Arthur Pennington?
Son of a wealthy manufacturer,
A type he was of English adolescence,
Trained by harmonious culture to the fulness
Of all that Nature had supplied; a person
That did not lack one manly grace; a mind
Which took the mould that social pressure gave,
Without one protest native to itself.
In the accepted, the conventional,
He looked for Truth, nor ever had a doubt
Whether she might not hide in some deep well
Rather than flaunt her modest purity
In dusty highways. With my disposition
To challenge all that human dogmatism
Imperious would impose upon my thought,
What pretty yoke-fellows for life should we,
Arthur and I, have been! Misled by hopes
Which were inspired too fondly by my mother,
He, too, proposed, and was of course rejected.

“Then the storm broke! The cup of my offences
Was overflowed at last. Now must I go
Go, where she cared not; only disappear
From her domain; she washed her hands of me!
Hundreds of pounds had been invested in me,
My dresses, jewelry, and entertainments,
And here was the result! But no more money,
From her, must I expect; my father’s income
Had not for years been equal to his outlays.
Any day he might be compelled to change
His style of living; all had been kept up
For the advantage of myself and sisters;
And here was all the gratitude I showed!

“This time my mother was in earnest; so
Now must I lay my plans to go at once.
Whither? to seek a transient home with one
Of my own married sisters? Ah! the thought
Of being dependent galled me like a spur.
No! go to work, a voice within me said:
Think of the many thousands of your sex
Who, young and giddy, not equipped like you,
Are thrown upon the world to battle with it
As best they may! Now try your closet virtue;
See if your theory can stand the proof,
If trial will not warp your sense of right.
When Poverty shall dog your every step,
And at your scanty or unwholesome meal
Sit down, or with you, in your thin attire,
Go shivering home at night from ill-paid toil,
Then see if you can keep your feet from straying;
Then choose as only Conscience bids you choose!

“The sewing-girl who worked upon my dress,
The day of the great ball, was Lucy Merle;
I found her saving up her petty means
To go to London, to get better wages,
And said: ‘Well, Lucy, let us go together.’
She sold some jewels for me, and we went.

“In London! two unfriended girls in London!
We hired a room, and got employment soon,
Such as it was; but small the recompense!
Though Lucy, quicker at her work than I,
Could earn enough to live upon almost.
For her the change was slight.

“A year we toiled
In company; and I’ll not tell you all
The hardships, trials, wrongs, we underwent.
In my blue trunk you’ll find a little pistol,
Got for our joint protection in those days.
May it be near you, should you ever need it!
Finding, at length, I could no longer earn
My share of our expenses by the needle,
I sought a situation as a nurse.
And in ‘The Times’ I advertised my ‘Want.’
An answer came, directing me to call
Upon the writer at a certain hour.
I went. I met a man of middle age
Whose name was Percival. I thought his manner
Was coldly kind.

“‘You’re very young,’ he said,
’To fill the situation of a nurse.
What reference have you?’ Not a distant thought
Of such a need had ever troubled me!
‘I bring,’ said I, ’no reference.’ ’That’s a pity.
What pledge have I of character?’ ’Not any.’
And then, impatient at this let, I cried:
’Look in my face, and if you find not there
Pledge of my truth, Heaven help me, for ’tis all
All I can give!’ ’Ah! my poor child,’ said he,
’Such warrant have I learnt to take with doubt;
For I have known a face, too beautiful,
With look of innocence and shining candor,
Prove but the ambush of duplicity,
Pitiless and impure. But let me not
Distrust too far.’ Then he turned up the gas,
And, with a scrutiny intent and grave,
Perused my face. ‘What is your name?’ he asked,
After a silence. ’Mary Merivale.’
’Well, Mary, I engage you; come at once.
In the next room asleep reclines our patient.
As for your wages, we will say two guineas
A week, if you’re content.’ ’O, perfectly!’

“So, groping in my darkness, I at length
Hit on the door that issued into light.
Long talks between the patient and his friend
Were frequent, and they heeded not my presence.
Little by little Percival soon told
The story that you’ve heard, and more which you
May never hear in earthly interviews.
An eager listener, I would treasure up
Each word, each look; and on my soul at last
Dawned the pure ray by which I saw those traits,
The spirit’s own, that harmonized so well
With all the outward showed of good and noble.
Strange that he took no notice of the way
My very life was drifting! But to him
I seemed a child, and his paternal airs
Froze me and checked.

“A paragraph, ‘The Times’

Had published, when the accident took place,
Mentioned that Kenrick was a millionnaire,
Though quite a young man still.

“A month went by

And he was able to sit up awhile;
And soon, with me beside him in the carriage,
To take a drive; when one day, Percival
Said to me: ’Mary, you and I must try
The span to-day; our patient shall keep house.’
My heart beat wildly; Kenrick looked as if
Approving the arrangement; so we went.
‘I wished,’ said Percival, ’to talk with you
In private; do not answer if I put
Questions that may embarrass or annoy;
It is no idle curiosity,
Prompting me now. We see that you were born
To something better than this drudgery:
If not reluctant, tell me who you are.’
‘O, willingly!’ I said.

“And so I told him
All, from the first. He heard me patiently;
And then remarked: ’But do you never long
For that secure and easy life at home?
You will go back to Liverpool, perchance,
When you’ve had quite enough of servitude
And toil precarious.’ ’I go not back,’
Said I, ’while health and liberty are left.
The home that’s grudged is not the home for me.
Give me but love, and like the reed I yield;
Deal with me harshly, you may break, not bend me.’
‘Ah! there is something wrong in all these things,’
Replied he, musing.

“‘Yes,’ I said; ’consider
What I’ve been telling of my mother’s way
Of marrying her daughters; well, my mother
Is but the product of that social system,
Hollow and false, which leaves for dowerless girls
Few honorable outlooks for support
Excepting marriage. Poor, dependent, helpless,
Untaught in any craft that could be made
To yield emolument, our average women,
What can they do but take the common path
Which my poor mother would have made me try,
And lead some honest man to think that they
Are wedding him, and not his bank-account?
Let woman, equally with man, be bred
To learn with thoroughness some craft or trade
By which she may support herself at least,
You place her more at liberty to shun
Unions, no priest, no church can sanctify!’

“Percival eyed me with a puzzled look,
Then said: ’The time is on its way, I hope,
When from her thraldom woman will come forth,
And in her own hands take her own redress;
When laws disabling her shall not be made
Under the cowardly, untested plea
That man is better qualified than woman
To estimate her needs and do her justice.
Justice to her shall be to man advancement;
And woman’s wit can best heal woman’s wrongs.
Accelerate that time, all women true
To their own sex, yet not so much to that
As to themselves and all the human race!
But pardon me; I wander from the point,
Following you. Now tell me, could you make
America your home?’

“The sudden question
Made my heart leap, and the hot crimson rush
Up to my brow. Silent I bowed my head,
And he continued thus: ’If it should be,
That one, not wholly alien to your tastes,
A man not quite so young as you, perhaps,
But not beyond his prime, an honest man,
I will not say with ample means, for that
Would jar upon your heart, one who could make
Your home a plentiful and happy one,
Should offer you his hand, would it deter you
To know that in America your lot
Must henceforth be?’

“My breath came quick, my eyes
Turned swift away, lest he should mark their joy
And count his prize too cheaply won. I sighed,
But did not speak. ‘May I go on?’ he asked.
A ‘yes’ distinct, though faint, flew from my lips.
‘May I,’ said he, ‘tell Kenrick he may hope?’
‘What!’ cried I, looking up, with something fiercer
Than mere chagrin in my unguarded frown.”

Linda broke in upon the story here,
And turning to her father with a smile
Tender as dawning light, yet arch and gay,
Cried, “Fie, my father! Could you be so dull?
How could you treat my future mother so?”
“Nay, do not blame me hastily,” said he,
With glad paternal eyes regarding her;
“How could a modest man and I was one
Suppose that youth and wealth, and gracious gifts
Of person, such as Kenrick wore so well,
Could fail to win? Truly I did not dream,
Spite of the proverb, Love could be so blind.”

Tossing her head with mock vindictive air,
Like sweet sixteen, the mother then resumed:
“Kenrick, it seems, being a bashful man,
And somewhat shy, perhaps, because I knew
He was but recently in mad pursuit
Of an unfaithful spouse, a runaway,
Commissioned Percival to try the ground,
Obscure and doubtful, of my woman’s will.
My absolute ‘What!’ was unequivocal.
Then turning to the coachman, Percival,
Said, ‘Home, now, home! and quickly!’

“Home we rattled,
And both were silent to our journey’s end.
An eager glance he gave me as he touched
My hand to help me from the carriage. He
Has told me since that I returned the look
With one which, if not actually scorn,
Was next of kin to scorn, and much resembling:
All the chimera of his guilty conscience.

“Kenrick next day renewed his suit by letter;
He begged I would not give a hasty ‘No,’
But wait and grant him opportunities
To prove that he was worthy and sincere,
And to procure the requisite divorce.
While I was answering his letter, he
Drove out with Percival. My brief reply
Told him there could be no decision other
Than a complete and final negative.

“Then I sat down and ran my fingers over
The keys of the piano; and my mood
At length expressed itself in that wild burst
Of a melodious anguish, which Edgardo
Gives vent to in ‘Lucia.’ Words could add
Nothing to magnify the utter heart-break
Of that despair; and Donizetti’s score
Has made the cry audible through the ages.
Less from the instrument than from my heart
Was wrung the passionate music.

“At its close,

A long-drawn breath made me look round, and there
Whom should I see but Percival, as if
Transfixed in mute surprise! ’I did not know
There was a listener, had supposed you gone,’
Said I; and he replied: ’I thought you’d have
Some word for Kenrick: so our drive was short.’
‘Nothing but this.’ I handed him my letter;
He took it, bowed, and left me.

“The next day

I learnt that Kenrick had engaged his passage
In Wednesday’s steamer for New York. My stay
Must now be brief; my services no longer
Could be of any use; and so I wrote
Some formal lines, addressed to Percival,
Asking for my dismissal, and conveying
To both the gentlemen my thanks sincere
For all their kindness and munificence.
Two days I waited, but no answer came.

“The third day Kenrick sought an interview.
We met, and freely talked of this and that.
Said he, at last: ’Into what false, false ways
We plunge because we do not care to think!
We shudder at Chinese morality
When it allows a parent to destroy
Superfluous female children. Look at home!
Have we no ancient social superstitions
Born of the same old barbarous family?
My life, Miss Merivale, has been so crowded
That I’ve had little time to trace opinion
Down to its root before accepting it.
In giving opportunity for thought,
Sickness has been a brisk iconoclast.
Behold the world’s ideal of a wife!
’Tis something like to this:

“’She marries young,
Perhaps in meek submission to the will
Parental, or in hope of a support;
In a few years, as heart and brain mature,
And knowledge widens, finds her lord and master
Is a wrong-headed churl, a selfish tyrant,
A miser, or a blockhead, or a brute;
Her love for him, if love there ever was,
Is turned to hatred or indifference:
What shall she do? The world has one reply:
You made your bed, and you must lie in it;
True, you were heedless seventeen no matter!
True, a false sense of duty urged you on,
And you were wrongly influenced no matter!
Be his wife still; stand by him to the last;
Do not rebel against his cruelty;
The more he plays the ruffian, the more merit
In your endurance! Suffering is your lot;
It is the badge and jewel of a woman.
Shun not contamination from his touch;
Keep having children by him, that his traits
And his bad blood may be continuous.
Think that you love him still; and feed your heart
With all the lies you can, to keep it passive!

“’So say the bellwethers who lead the many
Over stone walls into the thorns and ditches,
Because their fathers took that way before them.
Such is the popular morality!
But is it moral? Nay; when man or woman
Can look up, with the heart of prayer, and say,
Forbid it, Heaven, forbid it, self-respect,
Forbid it, merciful regard for others,
That this one should be parent to my child,
That moment should the intimate relations
Of marriage end, and a release be found!

“’How many blunder in mistaking Passion,
Mixed with a little sentiment, for Love!
Passion may lead to Love, as it may lead
Away from Love, but Passion is not Love;
It may exist with Hate; too often leads
Its victim blindfold into hateful bonds,
Under the wild delusion that Love leads.
Love’s bonds are adamant, and Love a slave;
And yet Love’s service must be perfect freedom.
Candor it craves, for Love is innocent,
But no enforced fidelity, no ties
Such as the harem shelters. Dupes are they
Who think that Love can ever be compelled!
Only what’s lovely Love can truly love,
And fickleness and falsehood are deformed.
Reveal their features, Love may mourn indeed,
But will not rave. Love, even when abandoned,
Feels pity and not anger for the heart
That could not prize Love’s warm fidelity.
But Passion, selfish, proud, and murderous,
Seizes the pistol or the knife, and kills;
And cozened juries make a heroine
Of her who, stung with jealousy or pride,
Or, by some meaner motive, hurled a wreck,
Assassinates her too inconstant wooer.

“’Now do I see how little, in my case,
There was of actual love, how much of passion!
Love’s day for me, if it may ever come
In this brief stage, is yet to dawn. You smile;
Love must have hope, a ray of hope, at least,
To catch the hue of life; and so, Miss Mary,
I’ll not profess to love you; all I say
Is, that a little hope from you would make me!
But, since we can’t be lovers, let’s be friends;
Here, in this little wallet, is a check
For an amount that will secure your future
From serious want, a sum I shall not miss.
But which ’

“With many thanks I answered ‘No!’
‘What can I do?’ he asked, ’to show my debt
To you and Percival?’ I shook my head,
And something in the sadness of my smile
Arrested his attention. But that moment
A girl rushed in with cry of ’O, he’s killed
Killed, the poor man!’ ’Who?’ ’Mr. Percival!’
The name was like a blow upon my heart,
And Kenrick saw it, and supported me.

“But in a moment I was strong. I heard
A scuffling noise of people at the door,
And then a form ’twas Percival’s was borne
Into a room, and placed upon a bed.
Pale and insensible he lay; a surgeon
Came in; at last we got an explanation:
In rescuing from a frightened horse the child
Of a poor woman, Percival had been
Thrown down, an arm been broken, and the pain
Had made him faint. My nervous laugh of joy,
When I was sure that this was the extreme
Of injury, betrayed my reckless heart,
And Kenrick had my secret. Percival
Was soon himself; the broken limb was set,
And I, engaged to stay another week
To wait on the new patient nothing loath.

“The day of his departure, Kenrick drew me
Aside, and, in a whisper, said, ‘He loves you!’
‘Loves me?’ With palms held tightly on my breast
To keep my heart down, I repeated, ‘Loves me?’
’Twas hard to credit. ‘Pardon me,’ said Kenrick,
’If by communication of your secret,
I changed the desolation of his life
To sudden bloom and fragrance, for a moment.’
’A moment only?’ ’Soon his scruples rose:
It cannot be! he said; two mountains lie
Between my fate and hers. Two bubbles rather!
Retorted I; let’s take their altitude.
One is my age. That mountain is already
Tunnelled or levelled, since she sees it not.
The other is that infamous decree
Against me at the period of my suit,
Granting the guilty party a divorce,
But me prohibiting to wed again.
Well, that decree (I answered bitterly)
Would have with me the weight of a request
That I’d hereafter quaff at common puddles
And not at one pure fount; I’d heed the bar
As I would heed the grass-webbed gossamer;
I’d sooner balk a bench of drivellers
Than outrage sacred nature. If that bench
Could have you up for bigamy, what then?
The dear old dames! they should not have the means
To prove it on me: for the pact should be
’Twixt me and her who would accept my troth
Freely before high heaven and all its angels:
Witnesses which the sheriff could not summon,
Could not, at least, produce. But, Kenrick, you
Do not consider all the risk and pain;
The social stigma, and, should children come,
The grief, the shame, the disrepute to them.
To which I answered: God’s great gift of life,
Coming through parentage select and pure,
To me is such a sacred, sacred thing,
So precious, so inestimably precious,
That your objections seem of small account;
Since only stunted hearts and slavish minds
Could visit on your children disrepute,
Who fitly could ignore such Brahmanism,
Since they’d be born, most probably, with brains.

“’When the neglect of form, if ’tis neglected,
Is all in honor, purged of selfishness,
Where shall the heart and reason lay the blame?
But understand me: Would I cheapen form?
Nay, I should fear that those who would evade it,
Without a reason potent as your own,
Trifled with danger. But I cannot make
A god of form, an idol crushing me.
Unlike the church, I look on marriage as
A civil contract, not a sacrament,
Indissoluble, spite of every wrong;
The high and holy purposes of marriage
Are not fulfilled in instances where each
Helps to demoralize or blight the other;
Let it then stand, like other contracts, on
A basis purely personal and legal.

“’Oh! how we hug the fictions we are born to!
Challenging never, never testing them;
Accepting them as irreversible;
Part of God’s order, not to be improved;
Placing the form above the informing spirit,
The outward show above the inward life;
A hollow lie, well varnished, well played out,
Above the pure, the everlasting truth;
Fancying Nature is not Nature still,
Because repressed, or cheated, or concealed;
Juggling ourselves with frauds a very child,
Yet unperverted, readily would pierce!

“’Consider my own case: a month ago,
See me a maniac, rushing forth to find
A wife who loved me not; my heart all swollen
With rage against the man to whom I owed
Exposure of her falsehood; ah, how blind!
To chase a form from which the soul had fled!
If I grew sane at length, you, Percival,
And the mere presence of our little nurse
Have brought me light and healing. I am cured,
Thank Heaven, and can exult at my release.

“’Here I paused. Percival made no reply,
But sat like one absorbed. I paced the floor
Awhile, and then confronting him resumed:
Your scruples daunt you still; well, there’s a way
To free you from the meshes of the law:
On my return, I’ll go to Albany,
Where war’s financial sinews, as you know,
Are those of legislation equally;
I’ll have a law put through to meet your case;
To strip away these toils. I can; I will!
Percival almost stunned me with his No!
Make me a gutter, adding more pollution
To the fount of public justice? Never! No!
I would not feed corruption with a bribe,
To win release to-morrow. Such a cure
Would be, my friend, far worse than the disease.
Then there’s no way, said I; and so, farewell!
The carriage waits to take me to the station.
I shall not say farewell until we part
Beside the carriage-door, said he: you’ll take
Your leave of Mary? Yes, I go to seek her.
And this, Miss Mary, is a full report
Of all that passed between my friend and me.’

“Here Kenrick ended. He had been, methought,
Thus copious, in the hope his argument
Would make me look as scornfully as he
On obstacles that Percival would raise.
I thanked him for his courtesy, and then,
Not without some emotion, we two parted.
When the last sound of the retiring wheels
Was drowned in other noises, Percival
Came in, and found me waiting in the parlor.
‘Now let me have a talk with you,’ he said.
So, in the little parlor we sat down.
I see it now, all vividly before me!
The carpet ay, its very hues and figures:
The chandelier, the sofa, the engraving
Of Wellington that hung above the mantel;
The little bookcase, holding Scott and Irving,
And Gibbon’s Rome, and Eloisa’s Letters;
And, in a vase, upon the marble stand,
An opening rose-bud I had plucked that day
Type of my own unfolding, rosy hope!

“Said Percival: ’We’ll not amuse each other
With words indifferent; and we’ll allow
Small opportunity for hearts to speak:
We know what they would utter, might we dare
To give them audience. Let Reason rule.
What I propose is this: that we now part
Part for two years; and when that term shall end,
If we are still in heart disposed as now,
Then can we orient ourselves anew,
And shape our course as wary conscience bids.
Till then, no meeting and no correspondence!

“’Now for conditions more particular:
You have a sister Mrs. Hammersley
Julia, I think you said, an elder sister,
Resident here, and in society,
But fretted by her lord’s extravagance
And her own impecuniosity.
You at her house shall be a visitor,
But not without the means of aiding her;
And who but I can now supply the means?
Here’s the dilemma: how can you be free
If you’re my debtor? Yet you must be free,
And promise to be free; nor let my gift
Sway you one jot in trammelling your heart.
Two years you’ll spend with Mrs. Hammersley;
Accepting all Society can offer
To welcome youth and beauty to its lap;
Keeping your heart as open as you can
To influences and impressions new;
For, Mary, bear in mind how young you are!
So much for you. On my part, I’ll return
To my own country, and endeavor there
Once more to rectify the wretched wrong
That circumscribes me. I shall fail perhaps
But we can be prepared for either issue.’

“Here he was silent, and I said: ’You’re right,
And I accept your terms without reserve.’
We parted, and except a clasp of hands
That lingered in each other, and a glance
That flashed farewell from eyes enthroning truth,
There was no outward token of our love.

“Two years (the longest of my life were they!)
Emptied their sands at last, and then I wrote
A letter to him, to the Barings’ care,
Containing one word only; this: ‘Unchanged.
In the same old familiar room we met:
Eager I gave my hand; but he drew back,
Folded his arms, and said, with half a smile:
‘’Tis not for me; still am I under ban!’
‘I’m glad of that!’ cried I; ’’twill help to show
How slight, to love like mine, impediments
Injustice can pile up!’

“He took my hand,
And, for the first time, we exchanged a kiss.
Then we sat down and freely talked. Said he:
’Baffled in all my efforts to procure
Reversal of my sentence, I resolved
To terminate one misery at least:
Yearly the court compelled me, through my bondsmen,
To render an account of all my income,
Of which the larger portion must be paid
For the support of my betrayer, and
The child, called, by a legal fiction, mine.
To this annoyance of an annual dealing
With her attorney, I would put an end;
And so I compromised by giving up
Two thirds of all my property at once.
This leaves me free from all entanglement
With her or hers, though with diminished means.

“’And now, since still you venture to confide
Wholly in me, my Mary Merivale,
And since you would intrust your happiness
To one who can but give you love for love,
To make our income certain, ’tis my plan
Straightway my little remnant to convert
Into a joint annuity, to last
During our natural lives: this will secure
A fair, though not munificent support.
And since for me you put the gay world by,
And since for you I make no sacrifice,
Now shape our way of life as you may choose.’

“This I disclaimed; but we at last arranged
That on the morrow, in the presence of
My poor friend Lucy, and my sister Julia,
We two should take each other by the hand
As emblem of a pledge including all
Of sacred and inviolable, all
Of holy and sincere, that man and woman,
Uniting for connubial purposes,
And with no purpose foreign to right love,
Can, with responsible intelligence,
Give to each other in the face of God,
And before human witnesses.

“And so
The simple rite if such it could be called
Took place. A formal kiss was interchanged,
And then we all knelt down, and Percival
Met our hearts’ need with such a simple prayer
As by its quickening and inspiring faith
Made us forget it was another’s voice,
Not our own hearts, that spoke. My sister Julia
Wept, not for me, but for herself, poor child!
The chill, the gloom of an unhappy future
Crept on her lot already, like a mist
Foreshadowing the storm; she saw, not distant,
All the despair of a regretful marriage
Menacing her and driving forth her children.
It did not long delay. Her spendthrift lord,
After a squander of his own estate,
And after swindling my confiding father
Of a large sum, deserted wife and children,
To play the chevalier of industry
At Baden, or at Homburg, and put on
More of the aspect of the beast each day.
Three children have his blood to strive against.
Poor Julia! What she has to live on now
Was given by Linda’s father. We found means,
Also, to set up our poor sewing-girl,
My old companion, Lucy, in a trade
In which she thrives, she and a worthy husband.

“What said my parents? Well, I wrote them soon,
Relating all the facts without reserve,
And asking, ’Would it be agreeable to them
To have a visit from us?’ They replied,
’It will not be agreeable, for our house
Is one of good repute.’ Not three years after,
A joint appeal came to us for their aid
To the amount of seven hundred pounds.
We sent the money, and it helped to smooth
Their latter days; perhaps to mitigate
The anger they had felt; and yet not they:
Of the ungenerous words addressed to us
My father never knew.

“We met my sisters,
Through Julia’s urging, I believe, and proudly
I let them see what sort of man I’d chosen.
We travelled for a time in England; then,
In travel and in study, spent three years
Upon the Continent; and sailed at last
For the great land to which my thoughts had turned
So often for America. Arriving
Here in New York, we took this little house,
Scene of so many joys and one great woe;
And yet a woe so full of heavenly life
We should not call it by a mournful name.

“At length our Linda came to make all bright;
And I can say, should the great summoner
Call me this day to leave you, liberal Heaven
More than my share of mortal bliss already
Would have bestowed. Yes, little Linda came!
To spoil us for all happiness but that
In which she too could share the dear beguiler!
And with the sceptre of her love she ruled us,
And with a happy spirit’s charm she charmed us,
Artfully conquering by shunning conquest,
And by obeying making us obey.
And so, one day, one happy day in June,
We all sat down together, and her mother
Told her the story which here terminates.”