THE BETTER WAY;
Or, The Wife's Victory
A Tale of Domestic Trials
The husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is head of the Church;
The Better Way;
Or, The Wife's Victory
Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
What thou bid'st
"I would not have him, though he owned all the mines of Golconda," said bright Kate Gleason to her sister, Mrs. Lindal.
"And why not, pray?" said gentle Mary Lindal.
"Oh! because he has got such a horrible temper."
"How do you know that?"
"By a great many signs; by the shape of his head and the colour of his hair, the glance of his eye, the curl of his nose, and the set of his mouth—"
"Oh! stop, stop, stop; of whom are you speaking? That incomparable man, in philanthropy a Howard, in wisdom a Newton, in patriotism a Washington, in—"
"Temper a Bluebeard."
"Kate! I will not hear another word of this. You are speaking of—of—" and Mary Lindal blushed.
"Out with it! of Grenville Dormer Leslie, your future husband. But I give you fair warning, Mary, that though you may feel a vocation to become Mrs. Bluebeard, I am not particularly inspired to play 'Anne! sister Anne!' and run the risk of catching my death of cold by standing on a windy tower, to 'see if anybody is coming,' when he is about to slay you for your disobedience."
"But perhaps I shall not be disobedient," said Mary.
"Perhaps you shall not be disobedient," repeated Kate, with a withering sneer. "Well, for my part, when I am married, if ever my husband ventures to lay a command on me, I shall make a point of breaking it, at whatever cost of convenience, by way of asserting my independence."
"Not if you love, Kate."
"Either way, either way. Now, I like Lem Dunn very well; and if neither of us change our minds, we may be married when he returns from sea; but fancy Lem Dunn playing husband a la Grand Turque, and daring to say, 'you shall' and 'you shall not!' really, if I were in a good humour I should laugh in his face, and if in a bad one, I should be apt to box his ears."
"I must believe you are jesting, Catherine."
"Then I will be as serious as His Eminence Archbishop Leslie himself, and say that I really cannot see why we women should be called upon to 'honour and obey' so implicitly, unless we could be first convinced of their superior excellence by whom such honour and obedience are claimed."
"We are not. We should be first convinced of men's superiority, before we give them that 'right Divine' to control our actions and destinies, which by all Christian and human law is the just prerogative of a husband, whether or not he be mentally or morally superior to his wife."
"Pooh! nonsense! fiddlestick! with your Divine prerogative and the rest of it. If a woman marries a fool, I suppose she is bound to obey him!"
"When a woman marries a man whom she feels she cannot respect, she places herself in a false position, from which nothing can extricate her; and, however repugnant, however galling they may become, the same duties of submission and obedience are incumbent upon her, in all cases where they do not clash with the laws of God. A woman, in such a case, is an object of deep commiseration, although, having brought the evil upon herself, by a desecration of all her most holy instincts, she suffers but a just and most fitting expiation of her fault. I could not love, and would not give myself away to a man on whose wisdom I could not rely as on God's, to whose will I could not submit as to God's."
"Idolater! Would you set up an earthly God, and fall down and worship him?"
"'Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands as to the Lord!' There is Scripture for the idolatry, if you choose to call it so."
"Pshaw! If you were not talking foolishly, you would be talking wickedly. 'Satan can quote Scripture for his purpose.'"
"So he can. I am now quite convinced of that fact. But do not let us trifle with such holy and beautiful mysteries, dear Kate. There is another text of Scripture to the same purpose—"
"Oh, yes! There are hundreds; pray don't recite them."
"Just this one, Kate, I love it so much. 'The head of the woman is man; the head of the man is Christ; and the head of Christ is God.' Is it not a lovely chain, a beautiful climax, from weakness to Omnipotence; like Jacob's ladder from earth to heaven?"
"Sweet Providence! You have put my brains in a complete whirl,
with heaven and earth, and chains and ladders, and heads and husbands;
but out of the chaos one fact and feeling stands very distinctly. If
Lem Dunn expects any such sub-
ordination from me, he will find himself very much mistaken; but he is not so presuming, poor Lem Dunn."
"I think you will find yourself mistaken in your estimate of his character and expectations."
"Well, perhaps so; in that case, I shall only have a little more trouble in breaking him in. But suppose now, only for argument, that you are deceived in Leslie; suppose his temper to be violent?"
"I will take care not to arouse it."
"His will unbending?"
"I shall not waste my strength nor risk my peace by seeking to bend it."
"His nature selfish?"
"Methinks, as I love and esteem him more highly than myself, I should only unite with him in his self-worship."
"His heart and mind unprincipled and depraved?"
"Impossible! impossible!" exclaimed Mary indignantly. "I will not for a single instant suppose such a thing, even for argument's sake. I have seen my error in permitting you to go on so long. Leslie has none of the bad qualities you have named. He is every way worthy of the highest esteem."
"And if he were not so?"
"If I were his wife, my duties would not be less incumbent upon me—would not be less scrupulously performed. But I shall not find myself in the degrading position of a wife who cannot reverence her husband, in giving myself to Leslie. I obey a Divine instinct that will not mislead me; in loving him, I shall offer the best worship, and in obeying him the most acceptable service to the Deity."
Mary and Catherine Gleason had lost their parents during their
infancy, and had become the charge of their grandfather, old Captain
Gleason, a retired merchant. At the time Captain Gleason received his
granddaughters into his house, he was mourning the loss of his younger
son, who was supposed to have perished at sea, on his passage home
from Europe. The ship
in which he was to have taken passage had never been heard of since her setting sail from Liverpool, and was now believed to have been wrecked. Years flew by, and no clue was obtained to the fate of the lost ship or the lost son.
Mary Gleason, at the age of sixteen, had, in obedience to her grandfather, given her hand to Mr. Lindal, a wealthy merchant, some twenty years her senior. In the second year of her marriage, she became the mother of a lovely little girl. Soon after the birth of the little Sylvia, the failure and death of Mr. Lindal left Mary again dependent on the bounty of her grandfather, who received her and her child with the deepest sympathy and affection. Little Sylvia soon became the especial pet and plaything of the whole household.
Although Mary Lindal had faithfully discharged her duties as a wife, she had never loved her husband, except as a friend. Her whole affections centered upon her child, the little Sylvia. She was her constant companion, in doors and out doors, in parlour, chamber, and street, by day; and at night she slept encircled in her arms, pressed to her bosom. At the age of four years, Sylvia had been attacked with a violent and contagious fever. No words can describe the anguish of the mother, as she watched, day after day, and night after night, for weeks, beside the bed of the little sufferer; no pen can portray the joy when, at last, her darling was pronounced out of danger.
Mrs. Lindal was very beautiful, graceful, and accomplished, and a co-heiress with her sister Catherine; consequently, she was much followed and flattered. Notwithstanding her numerous admirers, and some very eligible offers, the seventh year of her widowhood had passed away, and she was still unmarried. In the mean time, Catherine Gleason had grown up to womanhood, more radiantly beautiful than her sister had ever been.
At length, in the twenty-fifth year of her age, Mrs. Lindal became
acquainted with Mr. Leslie, the subject of the conversa-
tion with which this sketch opens. Mr. Leslie was a man of great personal attractions, pure morals, and distinguished talents. Mary Lindal ever listened to his brilliant conversation with delighted attention. Convinced by his clear-sighted views and able exposition of truth, she had insensibly acquired a habit of shaping her opinions by his own. There was one circumstance about their acquaintance that peculiarly attracted Mary. It was this: He never flattered her, never by any chance paid her a compliment, excepting this—the most, the only acceptable one, of constantly seeking her society.
I think it was that agreeable giber, Rochefoucault, who somewhere asserted that any woman may be safely flattered on any subject, from the profundity of her understanding to the exquisite taste of her fan. Without venturing to differ from such authority, I will simply assert that Mary Lindal was an exception to this rule.
* * *
At the end of a twelvemonth's acquaintance, Grenville Dormer Leslie and Mary Lindal were married, and took possession of a handsome house, in a fashionable quarter of the city.
An event occurred soon after their marriage, that greatly pained
the affectionate heart of Mary. This was the death of her grandfather.
The old gentleman had made a will, leaving his property equally
divided between the sisters, Mary and Catherine. This property,
however, as is frequently the case, was not half so large as had been
reported, and his granddaughters inherited only about twenty thousand
dollars apiece. A few moments before his death, while holding little
Sylvia's hand within his own, Captain Gleason turned his dim eyes on
Leslie, and said, "I have been thinking of this poor child, Leslie; if
time were allowed me, I would alter my will, giving her mother's share
of the property to her at her mother's death, or perhaps at her own
marriage. You are wealthy,
Leslie, and your children, if you shall have any, will be handsomely provided for, while poor Sylvia—"
"Shall fare as one of my own," said Leslie.
"I believe you, and I thank you; now call Mary."
Leslie summoned his wife.
"Mary," said the dying man, as she came up to the bedside, "I leave you a certain sum; I wish you and Leslie to consider it as intrusted to your care for the future use of Sylvia. You will, of course, have the use of it for—for many years to come." The old man spoke with difficulty. Turning his fast-failing eyes once more on Mr. and Mrs. Leslie, he added, "I have been so strangely thoughtless of this poor child's future—but now promise to do as I ask you." Mary promised, through her tears, while Leslie assured him that his wishes should be scrupulously fulfilled.
The old man soon after breathed his last.
* * *
Six months after the death of Captain Gleason, Mrs. Leslie and Catherine Gleason, who was an inmate of her house, were sitting together in the parlour, engaged in needlework, and talking of the expected return of Lieutenant Lemuel Dunn, the affianced husband of Catherine, whose marriage was to take place upon the promotion of the lieutenant to a captaincy. There was a ring at the hall door, and a few minutes after—
"Mr. Gleason" was announced.
Both ladies rose to receive him, looking strangely at each other, and at him.
"I suppose it is impossible, ladies, that you should remember or recognise a relative who left his native country while you were yet in the nursery. I am Henry Willis Gleason, at your service."
Mrs. Leslie and Miss Gleason stood speechless with surprise and incredulity for an instant, but, quickly recovering their self-possession, greeted their new-found relative with the warmest affection.
"But my father! girls, my dear old father. Where is he! How is he?" The ladies wept. At last, Catherine found words to say—
"It is six months since grandfather went to Heaven."
"Oh! that he had lived to see this day!" exclaimed Mary. "Oh! that he could have lived to be blessed in your return."
"He believed me dead?" questioned Gleason.
"Yes," said Mary, "for the last ten years he has believed you dead."
The reason for his protracted absence and apparent death was now demanded and explained. It was a long story, in substance the following: Ten years before, he had left his native shores, to make a voyage to Europe and a tour of the Continent. After having travelled over the greater part of Europe, he visited the city of St. Petersburg and the court of Russia, where, after a residence of some months, he was so unfortunate as to give offence in some unknown manner to the Emperor, for which he was banished to Siberia for a term of ten years; and these ten years had actually been passed among the everlasting snows of Asiatic Russia. Upon his return to St. Petersburg, after receiving his discharge, he met with some travelling countrymen of his own, who furnished him with money and everything requisite for his comfortable return home. Gleason had but just concluded his narrative, when Leslie entered, who, on being introduced to him, expressed the most sincere satisfaction at his unexpected return.
* * *
"Mary," said Mr. Leslie, entering his wife's room, on the morning succeeding that of Gleason's arrival, "Mary, I wish to hold a few moments' counsel with you."
Mrs. Leslie, who, with a flushed cheek and kindling eye, was
gazing upon an exquisite picture upon the easel before her, while the
brush was half raised in her hand to give another touch to the piece,
did not immediately hear the entrance or
remark of her husband, and she started with surprise and pain, as an impatient voice exclaimed at her side—
"I wish, madam, you would not consume so much time over that paltry daubing, nor become so engrossed in it as to be utterly unconscious of all that is going on around you."
Mary instantly laid down her brush (and it was years before she again resumed it), and turned with a gentle and cheerful smile to listen to what her husband had to say.
"At the time that Captain Gleason made his will, he supposed his son to be deceased, did he not?"
"Yes; from the loss of the ship, and as Uncle Henry did not return or write."
"And, if he had known that his son was living, he would, of course, have left him the bulk of his property?"
"Then you must see, as I do, that the property should and must be restored to him, as the rightful heir."
"The whole of it?"
"Of course, the whole of it."
"Catherine will not agree to it."
"Catherine may do as she pleases with that which she may choose to consider is justly as well as legally her own, but the portion left to us must be given to the proper inheritor."
"The portion left to Sylvia, you mean," amended the mother, gently.
"I mean nothing of the kind," said Leslie, with cold gravity.
"Surely you remember your promise," said Mary.
"Surely, madam, I remember the promise given to a dying father,
who little thought when he exacted it that he had a living son, or
that the promise ever would be urged as an excuse for keeping that son
out of his just inheritance. I am pained to see, madam, that your
feelings as a mother somewhat obscure your sense of justice. I shall
be glad to obtain your
cheerful co-operation in this matter, but if that is impossible I must act without it."
Mary, who saw that she had been wrong, and that a cloud had gathered upon the brow of her irritable lord, hastened to dissipate it by saying, "Yes, my motherly love has made me wish to be unjust; forgive me, and do whatever seems to you to be right; my dear husband, I will subscribe to all."
"Thank you, dear Mary; and now I will confess to you that the giving up of that money will be as great a sacrifice on my part as it is on yours in behalf of your daughter; for just at this time my business is greatly embarrassed, and the use of twenty thousand dollars for a year or so would be of incalculable benefit to me. But the sacrifice must be made, notwithstanding."
"Yes, it must be made. You are right, as you always are." But the child's interest was sacrificed, not so much to the mother's sense of justice as to her wifely duty—to her husband's will.
"Mary Leslie!" said Catherine, bursting into her sister's bedroom, with a heated and angry brow, "I hope you have not really consented to sign away all that property you had in trust for little Sylvia?"
"Yes," said Mary, quietly.
"And why? why? why have you made your child a beggar?"
"My husband thought it right to give up the property, and I obey his wishes."
"Spaniel!" exclaimed Catherine, with a withering sneer, and flung out of the room.
The necessary arrangements were soon made, and Gleason put in
possession of one half the wealth of his deceased father. Mary Leslie
saw that her child's only chance of independence was cut off for ever;
but she was a loyal Christian and a loving wife, and she reposed
trustingly under the shadow of the goodness of God, and in the
righteousness of the husband to whom
he had given her. And even though it did sometimes painfully cross her mind, that Leslie might have been a little more gentle with her, in a controversy in which her maternal feelings were so deeply involved, she considered that his somewhat overbearing temper was the sole defect in an otherwise excellent character, and she prayed for patience and strength to "overcome evil with good." She remembered with pride and pleasure the purity and strength of principle that had forced him to alienate a sum which, however finally disposed of, would just now have so materially assisted him in his business. With Kate, however, she had much ado to keep her temper; and she looked forward, with secret joy, to the time when "Lem Dunn's" promotion should deliver her from the trial. Kate often indulged in a recreation which she herself denominated "speaking her mind," and which was anything but an amusement to Mrs. Leslie; so that Mary could not always refrain from repaying her in kind; for, in her love for Kate, there was not, of course, that feminine instinct of submission that characterized her love for her husband. With Mary, love was religion; and her love to God and to her husband always acted upon and augmented each other. Mary Leslie could not, therefore, be unhappy; on the contrary, her daily sacrifice of obedience would have been a source of the greatest heart happiness, but that her husband, from real or seeming insensibility, never noticed the offering, by commending the votary.
But the greatest trial and the greatest triumph of the wife were now at hand.
Twelve months succeeding the events recorded above, Mrs. Leslie
sat in her parlour. It was eight o'clock in the evening, the snow was
falling fast without, within everything wore an air of the greatest
possible comfort. A coal fire was glowing in the grate, a snow-white
cloth was laid for tea. Mrs. Leslie reclined upon a lounging chair,
near the fire; her face was somewhat paler and thinner than when we
noticed her last,
but scarcely less attractive. Her large, tender eyes wore an expression of holy and meditative love that was very beautiful. Her work (an embroidered slip) had fallen from her hands upon the carpet. Sylvia sat on a low stool at her feet, dressing a doll. Catherine reclined upon a distant sofa, absorbed in a novel (her constant occupation, when not visiting, dressing or disputing).
"Who are you making this for, mamma?" inquired Sylvia, taking up the little dress.
"For whom. You should try to speak correctly, darling," said her mother, coaxingly.
"Well, then, for whom, mamma, are you working this little frock?" persisted Sylvia.
"First find out what rule of grammar you have just now transgressed, and then perhaps I may tell you, darling."
"Why can't you tell the child? For my part I don't see the use of mystifying children," exclaimed Kate, throwing aside her book, and coming to the fire.
The front door was now heard to open, and in another instant Mr. Leslie entered.
Going up to Mary, with more tenderness than we have ever yet seen him display, he took her hand, and pressing a kiss upon her brow, said—
"How are you, this evening, sweet wife? Nay, sit still. I will ring for tea, or Sylvia, do you do so. Why, Sylvia, an affectionate daughter should be ever on the watch to save her mother trouble."
Sylvia sprang to obey. Tea was soon brought in, and they gathered around the table.
"I bring you good tidings, Catherine. Lieutenant Dunn has received his promotion."
"Then I congratulate the lieutenants. There is one fool the less among their number," said Catherine, piqued, perhaps, that "Lem Dunn" had not hastened to her with the news himself.
"Capt. Dunn is now on duty, but will pay his respects to you to-morrow," said Leslie, divining her cause of dissatisfaction.
After the tea service was removed, the conversation became rather constrained. Catherine took up her everlasting novel, Mary resumed her seat and her needlework. Sylvia, bent on following up the hint of her step-father, began to arrange her mother's work-box, while Leslie walked up and down the floor, after the manner of a man who has done, or is about to do, something disagreeable. At last he took a seat, drew a letter from his pocket, examined the superscription, turned it over, glanced at Catherine, who had closed the book, and was now looking at him with quiet impudence, and finally replaced the letter in his pocket. He evidently had something to say, but was withheld by the presence of Catherine. I am really mortified to be obliged to record such a weakness on the part of the stately Mr. Leslie, but truth must come, and Mr. Leslie really stood in a little awe of Catherine. He had no sort of influence over her. She would do and say just exactly what she pleased, however disagreeable it might be, and he could not prevent her; nor could he decently turn her out of the house, nor would he descend to quarrel with her. Consequently, Mr. Leslie was ever on his guard to avoid any chance of controversy with Miss Gleason.
Fortunately, Mary, with her usual tact, saw the impatience of Leslie to unburden his mind, and, making an excuse to Catherine, retired early to her own room. Leslie followed her almost immediately.
Catherine's beautiful lips were disfigured by a mocking smile, as her glance followed Leslie from the room.
"Come, Sylvia, honey, let us go up stairs to bed. The Bashaw is meditating some new atrocity. I know it by his looks. He is afraid to let me know it, though."
"Ma'am?" said Sylvia, raising her large eyes to the face of her aunt.
"Yes; and I should not wonder if it was against you again, too. Perhaps he wants to black your face, and crisp your hair, and sell you for a negro. "
"Who—no—of whom are you speaking, Aunt Catherine?"
"Of His Infallibility the Grand Seignior, your step-father."
"Then, please do not speak of him in that way, Aunt Catherine, and call him bad names."
"Why not, miss?"
"Because mamma would not like it."
"Oh! your mamma is as great a ——. But what are you staring me in the face in that manner for? Don't you know it is very rude? Come along up stairs, child."
And they left the room.
* * *
"Something has disturbed you, Leslie," said Mary, after waiting for a few moments in vain for Leslie to open the conversation. "May I inquire, without indiscretion, what it is?"
"Certainly, Mary. I have not now, nor have I ever had, any concealments from you. I have never, from a false sentiment of tenderness, withheld from you any cause I might have for anxiety. I have several vexing cases just now. In one of them, you have an especial, perhaps you may think, an exclusive interest."
Leslie then drew the letter from his pocket, and added—
"This letter is from Madame D'Arblay, of New Orleans, now in this city, at the Astor House."
"Madame D' Arblay, the mother of the late Mr. Lindal, and the grandmother of your daughter, Sylvia."
"Oh! yes; I recollect now having heard that the mother of Mr. Lindal married the second time a Frenchman by the name of D'Arblay, and removed to New Orleans; but that was many years ago."
"Yes. And now she writes that she has been left, by the
recent death of Mr. D'Arblay, entirely alone, the sole mistress of a large fortune, without a relative on earth, except her grandchild, our daughter, Sylvia."
"Well?" questioned Mary, pale with a presentiment of what was coming.
"Madame D'Arblay makes us the very handsome proposal to make Sylvia her heiress, on condition that we allow her to return with her grandmother to New Orleans, and reside permanently beneath her roof."
"But I cannot part with Sylvia," said Mrs. Leslie.
"Do not decide hastily, Mary; you must consider in this matter your child's interests, not your own feelings," said Leslie, tenderly but gravely.
"I cannot! I cannot part with her. Indeed, indeed, I cannot," cried Mary, trembling.
"But this is childish, Mary."
"It would break Sylvia's heart to leave me."
"Not at all. By no means. Grief is very short-lived with children of her age."
"Yes! yes!" exclaimed Mary, passionately, "and affection, too! and impressions, too! She will soon forget her mother. She will only be consoled for her separation from, by ceasing to love, her mother!"
"You have not a mother's disinterestedness, Mary, or you would be willing to make any sacrifice of your own feelings to secure for your child the immense advantages offered by her grandmother."
"You did not seem to consider wealth such an immense advantage twelve months ago," said Mary, bitterly.
"Mrs. Leslie forgets herself, and forgets what is due to me," said Leslie, rising and walking towards the door, adding, as he was about to leave the room, "I will leave you, Mary, by reflection and solitude, to recover your lost recollection."
Mary sprang to his side, and, seizing his hand, exclaimed, as she burst into tears—
"Forgive me! forgive me! It is the first time; it shall be the last. But my heart is so wrung, so tortured; you do not know—you could not understand, unless you were a parent. But tell me, then, how you have decided; for that you have decided I know, and that your decision is immovable I know; therefore, tell me at once; it will save us a world of useless argument, controversy, and vexation. How have you decided?"
"That Sylvia shall return with her grandmother," said Leslie, gently but firmly.
Mary let fall the hand of her husband, and, growing very faint, sunk back on her chair.
"These are the reasons that have influenced my decision," said Leslie, resuming his seat by her side: "We have deprived Sylvia, justly and righteously, it is true, but we have deprived her, of the reversion of a sum that would have made her independent. At the period of that transaction, I believed that I should be able to secure for Sylvia every advantage which that money would have given, and, finally, to have given her a portion of equal amount. I will now admit, that the temporary possession of that sum led me into a speculation which failed by the sudden withdrawal of it. I have never recovered that failure, and I am now on the very brink of insolvency. Nothing but the strictest economy and the most careful financial diplomacy will save me. I have therefore great doubts of ever being able to carry out my plans for Sylvia; consequently, it becomes my duty, my painful duty, to determine that our daughter be given up to her grandmother."
"I did intend to say no more," murmured Mary, in a quivering voice, "yet—"
"Madame D'Arblay, is she a proper person, at her advanced age, to bring up a girl?"
"Read her letter," said Leslie, handing it. "You will find no
infirmity there; and for the rest, you have doubtless
heard enough of her piety and intelligence to feel secure that the moral and intellectual welfare of your daughter will be safe, while her vast wealth will insure her all the more worldly advantages of which she is now deprived."
"But is it not very sickly at New Orleans?"
"You have not yet read Madame D'Arblay's letter through, or you would see that she spends her summers at her villa on the Gulf, which, she says, is remarkably healthy in its location."
"When shall we have an interview with Madame D'Arblay?"
"I was thinking to-morrow, about twelve o'clock, you had better make her a call."
"And do you know—do you know how long she will stay in the city? I mean, how long shall I yet have dear Sylvia with me?" And the mother burst into tears.
"I do not know, of course, as I have not yet seen Madame D'Arblay. But we will talk no more at present, Mary; you must compose yourself. I will leave you for that purpose for a few moments. On my return, let me find you quiet." And Leslie descended the stairs.
Mary threw herself on her knees, and prayed long and earnestly, then arose calmly, and retired to rest.
"See here, Mr. Leslie," exclaimed Kate Gleason, as she entered the breakfast parlour the next morning, "What have you been saying to Mary? She is up in her chamber in tears, and Sylvia is sobbing by her side. I can't get anything out of her, but I know you are at the bottom of it. Now, what is it all about?"
"I have no explanations to make you, Miss Gleason," replied Leslie, taking his hat, and leaving the room to evade a quarrel.
"I'll make Lem Dunn call you out for that, sir!" cried Kate, as he went out.
Kate looked the very idea of a beautiful scold, as she stood
there, her bosom heaving, her cheeks glowing, eyes sparkling,
lips curling and quivering, and the tangled masses of jet-black ringlets falling in tear-sprinkled disorder about her face and neck.
"Captain Dunn!" announced a servant, throwing open the door, and Captain Dunn entered.
"Ah! I'm glad you've come! I'm very glad you've come. You're come in excellent times. Go after that man! Go after him! He's—he's"—Kate was out of breath.
"What man, dear Kate? What is the matter?" inquired Captain Dunn, in surprise.
"Leslie! Why, what has he done?"
"He has abused his wife, and insulted me; that is, he has made her weep, and treated me with contempt."
"Tell me all about it, Kate—tell me all about it; and if he has been wanting in proper respect to my little betrothed—I'll—I'll annihilate him," said Captain Dunn, laughing; for he had known Leslie too long and too well to imagine that there could be any real cause of complaint. Unfortunately, Catherine could tell him but little about it, and that little was not very much to her credit.
"He's a terrible fellow, Kate," laughed Captain Dunn, as she concluded her account, "a very terrible fellow, indeed. Upon second thought, I should rather not fight him. He would shoot at me—he might hit me—in which case, I might be mortally wounded, and the service would lose"—
"A coward! an arrant coward! a poltroon, who will one day bring disgrace upon the flag, if he is not hung before that day comes!" exclaimed Kate, as she flounced out of the room, in a great passion, passing Leslie, who was about to re-enter.
Captain Dunn was laughing heartily.
"You laugh now, my dear Dunn," said Leslie, smiling, "but will you laugh a year hence?"
"Yes! oh, yes! that is, I hope to do so."
"Have you no misgivings concerning your future peace?" asked Leslie, seriously.
"For my peace? I don't know; for my happiness, not one. Kate's temper amuses me beyond measure."
"Yet, I heard some ugly names called, as I came in."
"Yes! yes! Oh! I've no doubt Kate will have given me twenty beatings before this time next year."
"You will weary of it."
"Well, when the blows grow unpleasant, I have only to catch the little shrew in my arms, and hold her very tight, until she becomes quiet and good," said Dunn, laughing.
"Ah! and then—do you know what she will do?"
"Try to frighten you to death, by going into a hysteric fit, or worse—falling into a swoon."
"Ha! ha! ha! Is that Mrs. Leslie's method!"
"No! Bless dear Mary! Don't jest with her name, Dunn."
"I'll be hanged if I don't, just as much as I please. What! Haven't you been jesting with Kate's? 'It's a bad rule that won't work both ways. "
Mrs. Leslie entered at this moment, equipped for a drive, and Leslie excused himself, and attended his wife to her carriage.
Mrs. Leslie drove to the Astor House, and was shown into the
private parlour of Madame D'Arblay. Madame D'Arblay was at this time
in her sixty-fifth year. Her tall, graceful, and majestic figure and
stately carriage would have rather repulsed the gentle Mary, had not
her face been so sweetly prepossessing. Her countenance wore an
expression of holy calm, of heavenly goodness, very beautiful to look
upon. Mary was at once reassured by her countenance and demeanor. They
conversed a long time, the subject being a recapitulation of and
enlargement upon the plan proposed in her letter. She made many
inquiries, however, about Sylvia, and expressed a great desire to see
her. At Mary's earnest entreaty, Madame
D'Arblay consented to leave her apartments at Astor's, and take up her abode for the period of her visit at Mrs. Leslie's.
The next hour, Madame D'Arblay was comfortably ensconced in Mary's large easy chair, by the parlour fireside. Sylvia who had fallen in love with her at first sight, was nestling at her feet. Mrs. Leslie sat with her back to the light, to shade as much as possible her tear-stained face. Kate was sulking in her own room, and "would not be entreated" to come down and be sociable. There was so much in the pious and intelligent conversation of Madame D'Arblay to set the fears of Mary at rest on the subject of the welfare of her child, that when the dinner hour arrived, and Leslie, Captain Dunn, "Uncle Gleason," and Kate, had joined them, Mary had actually become cheerful.
The month of Madame D'Arblay's visit drew to a close. Mary, after a severe struggle with herself, and much prayer, had grown composed, and tranquilly prepared Sylvia for her journey. Leslie was unusually attentive and tender towards her; Madame D'Arblay mentally condemned the seeming indifference of Mrs. Leslie to the departure of her child, but she quietly ascribed it to the influence of her second marriage. Kate, with whom Sylvia was a great pet, had out-scolded her prototype and namesake, and was now not upon speaking terms with any of the family, and had banished "Lem Dunn" into perpetual exile—until recalled. Sylvia, child-like, was delighted with her new dresses, new books, and new toys, and the prospect of a long journey and new scenes, and had no room in her heart for painful sensations.
* * *
The last evening of Madame D'Arblay's stay arrived.
"Oh! Aunt Catherine! Aunt Catherine!" exclaimed Sylvia, bursting into Kate's sanctum, "to-morrow we're going. I'm so glad. Mamma has just laid out my new blue pelisse and velvet hood, and my nice chinchilla muff, all ready for tomorrow at six."
"Yes, miss!" said Kate, severely, "you seem very much delighted to leave your poor, pale, sick mother, who is grieving herself to death at the idea of parting with you, who do not care for her."
A thunderbolt fell upon the child's gladness, and destroyed it all at once. She burst into tears.
"Oh! Aunt Catherine, is mamma sorry? Doesn't she want me to go? I thought she wanted me to go. I forgot I had to leave mamma; I only thought of the fun. I will run now and tell mamma that I won't go; no, that I won't:" And Sylvia made for the door.
"Mr. Leslie will compel you, miss," said Catherine. The name that was a spell to all the household arrested the flying steps of Sylvia for an instant, then saying—
"I will speak with mamma," she ran out.
* * *
Mary Leslie, who had nerved her gentle heart to go through the impending trial, was in her own room, still engaged in laying out such articles of dress as would be needed by Sylvia for the next morning. Mrs. Leslie's tranquillity was entirely overthrown by the impetuosity of Sylvia, who now burst into her presence, exclaiming, as she threw herself into her mother's arms, "Mamma! mamma! I can't leave you; I don't want to go any longer, now I know you do not wish it. I love you, mamma, better than fine clothes, and grandmothers, and journeys; and so, mamma, I cannot go, and I will not go."
Mrs. Leslie was quite unprepared for this outburst; Sylvia had been so tractable and so cheerful up to this time. She repressed her tears with difficulty, and replied, with an effort—
"Cannot and will not, Sylvia! why, what manner of words are those, and where learnt you them? You will, of course, do as your parents wish you."
"Aunt Catherine says that if they send me away from you, mamma, it will break your heart, for that you don't want me to go."
"Catherine is mistaken; listen to me, my darling Sylvia. I do want you to go; and though I may be very sorry to part with my dear little girl, yet I shall soon get over the grief, because I know it will be for her benefit. And now," added the mother, with an effort at cheerfulness, "let us talk about the fine ride in the cars you will have, and look at the pretty things I have put in your nice little travelling basket."
"No, no, mamma! No, no, mamma! I don't care for the ride in the cars, and don't want the travelling basket. I love you! I want to stay with you," exclaimed Sylvia, bursting into tears. "Oh, mamma, don't let me go! don't, please don't. I did not think about parting from you before, and I know I can't! indeed I can't!"
There was grief, there was agony, on the mother's countenance, as she crushed back the rising emotions of her heart, and choked back her tears. She struggled to speak, but could not do so with the calmness requisite to soothe her child. She could only press her closer to her bosom in silence. Neither spoke for some moments; at length—
"Mamma, do you know the night you were married, when I slept alone in my little bed? Well, mamma, I cried all night; I could not sleep, because I was away from you. I knew that I should see you soon in the morning, but still I wept; yes, and I wept many nights, too, although you did not know it, and although you were not further off than the next room, and I could see you every day. Now, so many days must come and go, and so many nights pass, and—and—no mother to—to—" and Sylvia, breaking from her mother's hold, threw herself, in a fit of hysterical sobbing, upon the carpet.
"Oh! God, have mercy on me, and give me strength," exclaimed the
mother, in strong emotion, as she went toward Sylvia, stood for an
instant to gain self-control, then took her child in her arms, and,
reseating herself, pressed her to her bosom, smoothed back the shining
ringlets of her hair, and
imprinted kiss after kiss upon her fair brow, as she talked gently and soothingly to her, and, rocking her to and fro, finally succeeded in subduing her emotion. Exhaustion, after so much excitement, soon put Sylvia to sleep; yet still the mother rocked and sung, even as she had done when the little girl in her arms was a babe—thinking, perhaps, that it might be the last time she should ever hold her thus. At last she arose, and, laying Sylvia on the bed, sunk upon her knees, and poured out her whole soul in prayer to her Creator—first, that this trial might yet be spared her, "if possible;" then, that if it were not, she might have strength and resignation to bear it cheerfully. How earnestly, passionately, fervently, she prayed! And when emotion became so great that words failed, the upturned, straining eye, the clasped hands, and heaving sighs, bore up the silent prayer; and at last, when the weary head sunk upon the folded hands, and thought no longer took the form of words, the heart, the untiring heart, still bore up the prayer, in one intense, absorbing yearning after mercy. Unknown to Mary, there was one spectator to this scene. Leslie was standing within the door. He had entered, silently and unobserved, at the moment that Mary had lain the sleeping Sylvia on the bed, and sunk down by her side in prayer. The first words of the prayer arrested his intention of coming forward or speaking. He had seen, and had heard—and never before had the pure and holy heart of his wife been so unveiled as in that prayer; and while it yet ascended, in all its Christian beauty and eloquence, he quietly withdrew from the room, murmuring, "The angel, the angel, how blind I have been! I must save her this trial; there is but one way, for I must save her without sacrificing Sylvia." He passed to the door of Madame D'Arblay's room, and knocked. The pleasant voice of the old lady bade him enter; he did so, and merely saying—"Will you come with me to Mary's chamber, Madame? She seems much distressed at the thought of parting with her daughter tomorrow." He
accompanied her thither, and withdrew. Mary's voice was still heard, but in low, interrupted, and quivering tones. Her tears were falling like rain, and her hands wringing and twisting over each other; but the words of Mary's prayer, breathed, as she deemed, to the ear of God alone, unfolded the most secret thoughts and feelings of Mary's profoundly pious heart.
"Oh, God!" exclaimed Madame D' Arblay, "I did not dream of this. Mary, Mary, my dear child, arise. Your prayer is heard and answered."
Mary started in surprise to her feet, and was caught to the bosom of the old lady. "Mary, my dear daughter," said she, "your child shall not be taken from you, neither shall she lose anything by remaining with you. Oh! Mary, how little did I know you! How unjustly have I judged you, when I condemned the indifference with which you seemed to regard a separation from your child. But, Mary, how could you suppose that I would have taken my granddaughter away, had I not thought that you were willing, nay, anxious, for her removal to my abode? Forgive me, Mary, but I fancied that your second marriage had unnaturally alienated your heart from your child; I was therefore the more anxious to receive her. But, Mary, why did you not make me acquainted with your feelings on the subject?"
Mary, who during this long speech had had time to collect herself, replied,—"Mr. Leslie, Madame, had determined that Sylvia should go with you. He thought that her residence beneath your roof would be a solace to you, and an advantage to herself. I could not seek to thwart his purpose, by making an appeal to your sympathies, you know, Madame."
"You were right, my daughter, perfectly right. You have won my
deepest love, my highest esteem, Mary Leslie! You have won it by your
self-control. You have established yourself firmly and permanently in
your husband's respect and affection; more than that, you have proved
and known the
power of faith and prayer. Never forget it, my child! Now, Mary, I must tell you my improvised plan. Though I will not take Sylvia away, neither will I leave her. I am glad this has happened. I like you so much, Mary, I want to live with you. I have been so solitary; and, after all, a little girl is not company enough for an old woman. So, Mary, if you will give me an easy chair by your fireside, and a place at your table, I will even spend the close of my life with you. I will do everything for Sylvia here, that I would have done at home; and when I die, I will leave her all I possess; and if she marries before that event, I will dower her handsomely. What say you, Mary?"
"Oh, Madame!" exclaimed Mary, seizing her aged hands, and pressing them to her bosom and her lips, "if I have been silent, it has been from deep emotion. Words will not convey my thanks. It will take a lifetime to live my gratitude." At this moment the supper-bell rang, and its alarum awoke Sylvia from her deep sleep, who, when informed of the change in her grandmother's project, was delighted beyond measure; and, after bestowing many caresses on her grandmother and her mamma, ran to tell "Aunt Catherine" the good news. What effect the "good news" had upon Kate may be gathered from the following circumstance: Kate took pen and paper from her desk, and wrote a note. Meeting the errand-boy on the stairs as she descended to supper, she gave him the note, telling him to carry it to Captain Dunn, on board the store ship Endymion, promising to give him a half-dollar if he returned with an answer very quickly. Kate's note ran thus—
"Will you be so kind as to call at Harpers', and get 'Forest Days' for me. It is just out. Bring it to me this evening. Yours, &c.
for Kate, with all her impetuosity, exercised a precaution which
I would recommend to all young ladies, and would not commit herself, by writing love-letters or billets-doux; for she said, "I might change my mind, or he might change his; and then—there!" Captain Dunn answered the note in person, and took his seat with the happy family at the supper table. Kate's good-humour was entirely restored. She welcomed back her exile with affectionate frankness. Sylvia's bright eyes were glancing and flashing from one face to another, each countenance seeming to reflect its own gladness. Madame D'Arblay regarded the scene with a look of quiet self-complacency, that seemed to say, "I have made them all happy!" Mary's countenance expressed quiet and grateful happiness. Leslie's eyes were occasionally fixed upon the face of his wife, with looks of ineffable and holy tenderness. Leslie never subjected her love to another trial. He was deeply moved by the gentle resignation, the tender submission, with which she had yielded up the dearest object of her affections and her most cherished wishes, to be dealt with according to his good pleasure. That submission had given her a place in and an influence over his heart, that no beauty, grace, or accomplishments—no, nor intellectual nor moral excellence without it—could have secured.
A month from this time, a gay party was assembled at Mr. Leslie's to honour the nuptials of Captain Lemuel Dunn, U. S. N., and Miss Catherine Gleason.
The married life of Kate Gleason, who entered upon her duties with views and feelings so opposite to those of Mary, which we have endeavoured to illustrate, will form the subject of another chapter.