The Broken Heart
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1850
It is rarely that our sympathies are awakened for the poor who reside near us, and pass our dwellings daily. How indifferent are we to their condition — how regardless of their needs! Unless their sufferings and privations are forced upon our notice — we dream not of their existence. We read of misery in towns and villages far remote, and wonder that it could be allowed to exist; we even venture so far as to pass strong censure upon those who failed to relieve it, and think, "surely they must have known of its presence!" and yet, perhaps, in the low comfortless habitation beside our own dwelling — is one suffering almost to the extent of human endurance, and we know it not. While sympathizing with the far off distress, we forget that need and suffering are all around us.
Thus I mused, after passing from the poor, half furnished dwelling of the widow Morrison. She had lived a few doors away from my own home for years; and although I had often noticed her, sometimes with an armful of wood, sometimes with her pail of water — yet no feeling of interest in her, as one of the great human family, had ever been awakened in my bosom.
It was a cold morning in January, with a deep snow upon the ground, when I noticed, as I passed in the morning to my business, that the widow Morrison's windows were not open as usual. Why I observed this, I knew not, for I had never thought much about her. But, somehow or other, the fact of the windows being closed, haunted me all the while, and when I started to go home for dinner, I felt a nervous anxiety to know whether the windows were still closed. A chilling sensation ran through my nerves as I came in sight of the poor looking tenement, and saw that there was still no sign of life about the house. I did not, however, yet, feel interest enough in the poor widow, to call in to see why she was not stirring as usual.
There might be many reasons why she had not unclosed her windows. She might be away on a visit. And no doubt she is, I said to myself thus endeavoring to quiet the strange concern I felt.
I said nothing about it during dinner; and left as usual for my place of business; not, however, in passing, without casting an eye of concern upon the closed windows of the dwelling of the poor widow. Her image was present to my mind during all the afternoon; and as the day began to draw to a close, I grew so restless, that I could no longer restrain a desire to go at once and satisfy myself of her real condition. Once having made up my mind to do this, I lost no time in repairing to her humble home.
It was just before night-fall when I knocked at her door, but there was no answer from within. The noise was returned with a hollow deserted echo. I shook the latch rapidly, and then listened for a sound, but none came to my ear. Yes! there was a sound; a low, feeble, child-like murmur. But again, all was still. I knocked now louder than before, and shook the rattling door violently, for my mind had become strangely agitated. The weak fastening gave way, and in the next moment I stood, for the first time, within the humble dwelling of the poor widow.
Upon a low bed, with scanty clothing, lay the widow Morrison, cold and stiff in death. With his young cheek upon her pale, cold face, nestled on her arm, and almost within her bosom, was a sweet child, scarcely three years old. He lifted his little head as I entered thus abruptly, looked at me for a moment, and then laying his white hand upon her face, shook her head gently, and said
"Gramma, get up! Oh, gramma, get up! I'm so cold!"
For a moment my feelings overcame me, and my eyes filled with the first drops that had moistened them for months. Lifting, in the next moment, the dear child from his cold resting place, I carried him at once to my own house; and then, with some of my family, returned to perform the last offices for the dead. Our kindness had come too late for the released sufferer. How shocked were our feelings, to find, on examination, that there was in the house neither fuel nor food! Thus, almost at our next door, had one perished of cold and hunger!
From a friend of the widow, who was present at the burial, I gained many interesting particulars of her life. I have thrown them into form, and now present another leaf from the book of human life, though blotted and soiled with many tears.
In the years of light-hearted maidenhood, Mary Ellis was one of the happiest of the happy. The present was to her all brightness and bloom — and the future filled with glad anticipations. But like too many others, she reposed little confidence in the experience of the aged. Innocent as a child, she had never suspected anything but rectitude in the heart of another. Sadly, through many years of sorrow and disappointment, did she repent her early thoughtlessness.
Her parents, poor, but sensible people, looked with much concern upon their only child, just entering a world in which are thickly planted the seeds of sorrow, and where temptation is ready to meet the unwary at every step. Especially did they feel a lively anxiety for Mary, when she would attend any of the "parties" which were then so frequent among the young people; for she was lovely, and full of spirits — and they dreaded lest someone, unworthy of her in every way, should win her young and happy heart. The evenings when she would be thus absent, were evenings of little enjoyment to them; for always on such occasions, would their minds revert to the many instances of unhappy marriages which had fallen under their notice.
Let me introduce the old couple for a few minutes to the reader. Mary had gone to a party, and what was very unusual, instead of coming before nightfall, had waited until after dark, when she was called for by a mirthful looking young man, whom she introduced as Mr. Morrison.
The old couple sat for some time in silence after they were gone; at last the father remarked, in a slow, serious tone:
"I can't say that I feel altogether right about our Mary, tonight. To tell the truth, I never was, and am less now than ever, a friend of these parties."
"Those are just my own thoughts," replied Mrs. Ellis. "I do wish our Mary would stay at home. But, you know, Thomas, that we can't expect young folks to feel as we do."
"True, true. But then, we old folks can see danger — when they only know delight. I know Mary is a good girl; but she is thoughtless, and knows nothing of the world. But who is this Mr. Morrison? I cannot say that I like his looks. There is too much of the fop about him, and too little of the man." (Editor's note: A fop is a vain man whose ambition is to gain admiration by showy dress and much ostentation; a mirthful, trifling man.)
"In truth, Thomas, I cannot say. But when I think of poor Sarah Jones, and of her marriage with the mirthful but graceless Wilkins, who broke her heart in a year — I tremble for our own dear child. I want to know all about the man who steps beyond our door with Mary, and I not by their side. No stranger can ever gain my willing consent to her hand, unless innocence is written upon his face in characters that none can mistake.
"I agree with you there, my wife. But the young heart is wayward in its loves. We must not expect to find Mary with a judgment as matured as our own, or even willing to profit by our experience."
"That is the thing that troubles me," replied Mrs. Ellis. "The time may not be far off, when we may, perhaps, see her standing on the very edge, as it were, of a dreadful precipice, and yet be unable to open her eyes to her perilous situation; and have the agony to see her take the fatal leap, even while we are imploring her, by all the love that is in our hearts, to start back from her danger."
Tear after tear stole down from the eyes of Mrs. Ellis, as her feelings overcame her in view of so sorrowful a reality.
"I wonder," continued Mrs. Ellis, recovering herself, "that Mr. and Mrs. Jameson are willing to have promiscuous assemblages of young people at their house, when they have three daughters, each of whom is in danger of forming an unhappy intimacy with someone unsuited to her in every way."
"The three daughters, you may be sure, is the only reason for these parties. They are to be married off; and Mrs. Jameson is the very woman to plan schemes for getting them mated!"
"Strange, and unnatural!"
"Truly, it is so. But there are too many who have families, and yet do not understand how to take the right care of them. And the worst of it is, their own children are not alone, the sufferers."
"It seems to me, Thomas, that we are not discharging our duty to our child, when we allow her to mingle in such company, as we have too much reason to believe is to be found at Mrs. Jameson's."
"I have thought so myself, often," replied Mr. Ellis. "But have not yet found it in my heart to deny her a participation in the parties of young people, in which she seems to take so much pleasure."
From the anxious father and mother at home, waiting, lonely and troubled in spirits, for the return of the light of their countenances, even until the hour of midnight — let us turn to the mirthful assemblage of thoughtless young people, amid whom Mary Ellis is the center of attraction. Let us mingle with them, and see and hear what it is, which makes the time pass so pleasantly and so swiftly away.
It is a mild evening in June. We enter a room, brightly illuminated, the furniture of which is more showy than costly. This room is filled to overflowing with young people of both sexes. They seem to be in high spirits, if we may judge from the merry peals of laughter which fall from their lips. Let us trace out the cause of this hearty mirth. Ah! we have found it. A black waiter has handed a lady a glass of brandy in place of wine, and she has taken nearly the whole of it, before making the discovery.
But where is Mary Ellis? Oh! here she is, leaning, with too confiding an air, upon the arm of a gaily dressed young man, who is whispering something in her ear which seems to please her greatly. How sweetly she smiles! From the liquid depths of those soft eyes, look out the very soul of affection; and yet they are bright with a wealth of innocent joyfulness. In every movement there is grace, simple and natural; and her voice is music's own.
From a contemplation of her loveliness, we are startled by a vulgar laugh at one end of the room.
"Ha! ha! ha! Tom! Ha! ha! ha! Tom! She's more than a match for you!"
All eyes were turned to the scene of mirth.
"Why, what's the matter here?" asks a dozen voices; and one answers,
"Why, Tom, here, has attempted to clash wits with Miss Jameson, but she's more than a match for him. I tell you, though, she is hard to beat."
But see! all is again quiet, and interest and expectation sits on every face. Ah! the explanation is at hand. Here comes sundry waiters with wines, fruits, and desserts; the third round within an hour. See how earnestly they have all commenced eating, as though it were one of the chief pleasures of life. And their tongues are no less idle than their teeth.
This course of refreshments through, and all parties more or less stimulated by the wine, their merriment becomes more loud and less rational. The piano, which earlier in the evening was made to give out sweet and gentle music, now accompanies the "Lost Lover," "The Schoolmaster," or "Lord Lovel," followed by the half insane "bravos," and calls for a repetition of the piece.
As most of the assembly have conscientious scruples about dancing, and would be struck with pious horror at the sound of a violin — a promenade is substituted by way of variety.
"Will you take my arm, Miss Mary?" said young Morrison, as soon as he saw the movement; and in a few minutes they were in deep conversation, unnoticed, because in the promenade each individual was too much interested with his or her partner, to observe others.
Pressing her arm closely within his, Morrison, who was as really charmed with Mary as a thoroughly selfish man can be with a lovely woman — began to insinuate in more direct terms than he had ever yet done, that he felt for her a strong preference. Their acquaintance had been of but recent date; and with no knowledge of his character, a prudent girl would have at once thrown him from the subject, and left his company as early as possible. But Mary was excited by the circumstances surrounding her, and her rational perceptions had been rendered indistinct, by the frivolous nonsense which had flowed all around, and in which she had been a willing participant. She had already been turning over in her mind, the question whether Morrison did really love her, and whether he would say so at once, or keep her in suspense — when she perceived with a woman's quickness, the real meaning of his distant allusions. Her young heart trembled, and beat quickly and heavily against her bosom, she felt agitated, but it was with a joyful feeling, mingled, it is true, with doubt and fear, and an indistinct perception of wrong. More and more direct did he become in his allusions, until, at last, he ventured to tell her, in terms that could not be mistaken, that until he had seen her, he had never felt a preference for any particular woman.
Poor girl! she hardly knew where she was, or what to say. Scarcely seventeen, she was yet no guide to herself, and one with no fixed principles had now her heart. At a promiscuous party of the young and thoughtless, she had met him as a stranger; and at another assemblage of the kind, he had renewed the attentions offered on the evening of their first acquaintance; and thus again and again renewed them, until, finally, he had declared himself her lover, and was, without hesitation, reflection, or consultation, accepted!
In this brief relation, how many a thoughtless though innocent girl's history can be traced. Does it not seem strange that parents — parents who love their children with the most devoted affection, will allow their daughters, young girls from sixteen to twenty, unacquainted with the world and unsuspecting — to mingle, unattended by any one, to whisper a friendly caution — in scenes of which the imperfect sketch just given; is but a faint picture! It is strange, but alas! how true. Who does not remember the vision of some sweet young face that has dawned upon him amid the crowd of the thoughtless and the mirthful? How the wonder arose in the mind why she was there, who seemed less a woman than an angel? How the lovely face grew familiar, and how a sweet young voice thrilled on his ear with a strange but pleasant music?
Months would pass away, and at last she would be missed from the mirthful circles, and to the inquiry, would be answered, she has married the dashing young Mr. Webster, or the idle spendthrift Mr. Dudley.
At once, she is consigned to forgetfulness. But after the lapse of a few brief years, you meet her, perchance on the street, perchance at some friend's — a sad, pale, sorrow-stricken creature, the miserable wreck of her who once glanced before your eyes like a being from another world.
All large parties, especially those into which a particular station in life, and not character, becomes the passport — are dangerous places for young girls. It makes little difference whether the social grade, so called, is the lower, the middle, or the highest — unless character and morality form the standard of admission. Why will parents shut their eyes to this fact?
"How shall we introduce our daughters into company?" asks an intelligent person, who, in the main, has correct views. I will tell you. No longer indulge a selfish and recluse spirit. Because you are married and have a family, it is no reason why you should shut yourself out from the world. Do not, however, pass from the extreme of seclusion, to the other extreme of fashionable party-going. But endeavor to form a small social circle of those who have moral worth. Cultivate a feeling of goodwill towards each member of this circle, and endeavor to introduce a oneness of social aim, that you may all be as one. Into this circle, introduce your sons and your daughters. Let a lack of moral principle always exclude from admission, even if it cuts off some of the members of families who formed a part of the circle. You will not only by this course, cease to live a life of selfish seclusion, but you will diffuse around you a pure moral atmosphere; and one which your own children may breathe with healthy enjoyment.
The hours passed heavily away; and long after the clock had struck twelve, did the mother and father wait in anxious suspense for the return of their child. The next hour had nearly closed, when Mary came home, in company with Morrison. The quick ears of the parents, soon detected the low murmur of their voices, as they lingered for some time at the door, to say their last words over and over again. Mrs. Ellis' anxieties had been so keenly felt, that she could not sit quietly and hear the sound of Mary's voice in conversation with one who was to her a stranger, and that, too, at the hour of midnight. She went at once to the door, and as she turned the key, Morrison bade Mary a hasty good-bye, and was out of sight by the time the door was fairly opened.
The parents asked Mary no questions then, nor remarked upon the lateness of the hour, but they noticed, with a new and keen sensation of pain, that in her eye was an expression heretofore a stranger in that mirror of the thoughts and feelings. Mary slept as little that night as did her parents. But how different were their thoughts. Towards day she fell into a troubled sleep, and dreamed that one with the countenance of Morrison, though brilliant and superhuman in its expression, had called for her at her mother's to ride into the country; and that she had accompanied him, in simple confidence. But that after he had taken her far away from the sight of any habitations, his face suddenly changed to that of a demon, and while he was in the act of dashing her shrinking form over an immense precipice — she awoke in terror!
On the next morning, Mary's appearance added another weight to the burden that was resting upon the feelings of her mother. But neither of her parents through the day, for reasons weighing with themselves alone, made any allusion to the peculiar emotions, which had agitated their bosoms.
On the second evening after the party, Morrison called, and after a formal introduction to Mr. and Mrs. Ellis, spent a few hours in alternate conversation with them and Mary. How different were the impressions made on the minds of the parents and child. The parents felt a strong dislike to him, from his own exhibition of himself; while the young girl, looking at him through a different medium, found some new cause for admiration in every word and in every movement. Which does the reader imagine were capable of forming the most rational judgment — the parents or the child? But let the sequel show.
For some weeks, Mary hid in her own bosom, the secret that Morrison had formally declared himself her lover, and that she had not discouraged his preference. But the time soon came to reveal all.
One evening, when Mary was dressing to go to a party, the attendance on which had been partially and mildly opposed by her parents, her mother asked her if she were going alone. She replied that Mr. Morrison was going to call for her.
"Do you know anything about this Mr. Morrison, Mary?" inquired her mother, in a serious tone of voice.
"O yes, ma'am, I know a good deal about him."
"Well, Mary, I would like to hear what you do know about him; for I think one so young as you, should be sure of the real character of the man you allow to keep your company."
"Why, mother, I know he is a very fine young man. His manners, his appearance, all, show him to be a gentleman."
"Older heads than yours have erred, my child — and older eyes been deceived. Have you no further evidence than your own observation?"
"Why, everybody likes him. Mary Jones is jealous enough of his attentions to me; and Jane Williams said no longer ago than Thursday, that I was a forward girl, and all because Mr. Morrison took but little notice of her, while he kept with me nearly the whole of the evening."
"My dear child, that is all of no account. The preference of Mary Jones or Jane Williams to anyone — is no argument to prove his worth. I am not at all in favor of Mr. Morrison; and neither is your father. We can see deeper into his real character than you can. He is selfish, and lacks stability and manliness. Unless I am much mistaken, the woman who marries him, will eat her bread in bitterness of spirit!"
"Oh mother! mother! how can you talk so?" said Mary, bursting into tears. "You have entirely misapprehended his character. I am sure he is the reverse of all you have thought him."
Mrs. Ellis was truly alarmed at this exhibition of feeling. She had spoken to guard her daughter against allowing her affections to be influenced by a stranger, whose worth, and character she suspected, and lo! the fact that those affections were already deeply interested, was too plainly manifest. The embarrassed silence that ensued, told that the mother's perception of a right course of action was, for a time, perfectly clouded. She at length said,
"Mary, I see too plainly, that you have unwisely allowed yourself to indulge an undue preference for a stranger, without letting your mother, your only safe adviser, know of such a preference. Your own better judgment tells you, that in this you were wrong. Your pain of mind this evening, your tears — show that you have an internal conviction of wrong; for pain never follows a right action. Now, my child, what course is left for you? Why, this plain and simple one. Pause and reflect. Do not go out tonight. The matter under consideration is one that will affect for good or evil, for happiness or misery — your whole life! And, surely, one evening's privation is a small sacrifice to make where such great interests are involved."
Mary did not reply for some time. But there was an evident struggle between inclination and duty. There was something so reasonable in her mother's appeal to her, that it seemed almost like madness, even in her own view of the case, to go in opposition to it. But when the image of Morrison came up before her mind, and she saw him disappointed at not finding her ready to accompany him, she hesitated, wavered, and at last said,
"Mother, indeed you are too serious in this matter. I am sure you have mistaken the character of Mr. Morrison altogether. I have seen more of him than you have, and I know you are mistaken. I am sure there is no cause for concern on your part — and none why I should not go to the party tonight. I would like to go very much, and will be expected. Do, mother, lay aside your objections. I don't want to go against your consent."
"I cannot lay aside objections founded on such serious considerations. But I will not command you to stay at home. You can go tonight. But you must expect, hereafter, that both your father and myself will think it our duty to require you to mingle less frequently in these parties of idleness and dissipation."
With a heavy heart, Mary made her arrangements for going to the party that evening. And with a heart much heavier, did her mother observe the preparations. Knowing that Morrison's reception on that evening could not, in the nature of things, be very cordial, she got all ready to go before the hour when he should call, and knowing his knock, she met him at the door dressed to go out.
Morrison soon discovered that all was not right, and to his repeated question as to what troubled her, she at length mentioned to him the objections of her mother.
"That is generally the way," he said, with some warmth, "with all parents. They are jealous over their daughters; and yet, one can't blame them so much for it. But their jealousy is always capricious and unreasonable. I believe no one can allege anything against my character. I am sure I am willing to challenge the world to produce a dishonorable action against me."
"I never doubted you, Mr. Morrison — and never will," replied Mary, earnestly.
"Thank you for your confidence," said he, in a tender tone, pressing her hand within his. "You shall never have cause to repent."
"But I fear," said Mary, "that my parents will positively object to our keeping company. Would it not be best for you to go at once to my father, and seek his approval?"
"I do not know why I should beg him to think well of me. If he has unfounded prejudices against me — I am the one to complain of injustice, and not the one to basely seek for favor."
"But, is he not my father?" asked his companion, roused for a moment to a proper sense of her lover's ungenerous remark.
"True! true! But I never could seek the favor of anyone, much less where an ill-founded prejudice was entertained against me."
"I am still unconvinced," said Mary. "A parent has a right to be consulted in regard to the disposal of his daughter's hand. And, even if he has a prejudice against the person, and the prejudice is without foundation — it can easily be removed; and steps should at once be taken to have it removed. A child cannot be happy — if her parents object to her marriage."
"There may be some truth in what you say," was the modified reply of Morrison, who, as he really loved, or thought that he loved, Mary, had no idea of offending her. "And if you really think that I had better see your father — why, I suppose I must do so."
"Certainly, I see no other right course," was Mary's answer.
Their conversation gradually changed from this unpleasant subject, and by the time they had reached the house where they were to spend the evening, Mary was listening with a pleasant thrill of delight to the honeyed words of affection stealing into her ear, like refreshing dews into the cup of the half closed violet.
In a few evenings after, Morrison called at the house of Mr. Ellis, for the purpose of formally asking for his daughter. His reception was not very cordial. Mary, who knew the real design of the visit, soon made an excuse to withdraw, and left Morrison alone with her parents. After some time, spent in an embarrassed silence, or a more embarrassed effort to carry on a conversation, Morrison came boldly to the point, and made his distinct avowal of a preference for Mary.
"Mary is much too young to even think of marrying," was the prompt reply of Mrs. Ellis, made before her husband could even form a thought upon the subject.
"Many are married much younger, madam," said Morrison.
"That is an example of wrong-doing in others — instead of being an argument in favor of such wrong being imitated, is a strong reason for others to shun a like evil."
"We are not thoughtless in regard to our daughter, Mr. Morrison," said Mr. Ellis, having now sufficiently gathered his thoughts into form as to allow him to take a part; "and we have long ago made up our minds, neither to consent to a very early marriage, nor to approve of a union with a stranger."
"Your rule, Mr. Ellis, may be, as a general thing, a good one," replied Morrison, "but no rule can apply to all cases. Yet even if I am, to a certain degree, a stranger to you — still I am known in this city, and I can readily be inquired after."
Mr. Ellis, who had already made sufficient inquiries to convince him that Morrison was no suitable companion for Mary, now fixed his positive objection on the age of his child, from which no argument could move him. Morrison was deeply chagrined on leaving the house, and being forced to leave, too, without a private interview with Mary; for the parents, with a oneness of purpose, determined not to leave them together.
It is painful to record any instance of filial disobedience, but such disobedience did Mary Ellis practice towards her parents. Stolen interviews were frequently had, and the two finally resolved upon a clandestine marriage, which was entered into but two months after the rejection of Morrison's suit by Mr. and Mrs. Ellis.
Mary had gone out, professedly, to spend an afternoon with a friend. She was to have been home before evening. But at night-fall she had not made her appearance. When her father came in, concern was expressed by the mother in consequence of Mary's not having returned from her visit. Night closed darkly in — but she was still absent. An hour passed, and yet she came not. Still, they could only suppose that she was detained by some good cause. But, when hour after hour passed away, and the time stole on even to the hour of midnight, a chilling fear, unwhispered by either, gathered around their hearts; a fear that took no form, but was even the more painful from its uncertainty.
The weary hours passed on, and at last the dim morning twilight came coldly in upon them, while they were yet anxious watchers. She will now soon come, they thought; for they fed their hopes with the idea, that she had been over-persuaded to stay all night with a friend. Two hours had passed since the sun had risen, and as Mary was still absent, her father, with a heavy heart, prepared to go out in search of her. He was met at the door by a stranger, who placed a letter in his hand, and instantly retired. Tremblingly, he broke the seal and read a confirmation of his worst fears. Mary had risked all on a union with Morrison.
In silent anguish of spirit, Mr. Ellis handed the letter to his wife, and bitter were the tears they wept together over this token of Mary's sad infatuation. She was their only child. In her, were centered their fondest hopes. In one fearful moment, all these garnered hopes were scattered to the winds. Filial disobedience was no cause of the profound sorrow that settled like a dark shadow over their spirits. It lay in their yearning affection for the child who was, in their minds, willfully sowing the seeds that would produce, in after years, a fruitful harvest of inexpressible anguish. Unlike too many in their situation, who feel more of offended pride, and mortified ambition, than real concern — they lost no time in repairing to the residence of a Mrs. Lawson, where Mary said she was with her husband.
It was but an hour from the time that Mary dispatched her letter, until she was weeping on the bosom of her mother. And did that mother chide her for an act that could not be recalled? It never entered her heart to utter a word of reproach. But the shadow of unusual seriousness that rested on her face, and the fixed glance of her eye, which seemed with her inward perceptions scanning the future, troubled the heart of Mary.
"You have taken my child without my consent, Mr. Morrison!" were the father's first words. "But let that pass! Cherish her as a tender plant, and a father's heart shall bless you!" Then folding his daughter in his arms, in a long embrace, he could only say, "God bless you!" while a tear stole down his pale, time-furrowed cheek.
I will not mock the unutterable grief, which throbbed with a strong pulsation from heart to heart of the parents, by any attempt to picture it to the mind. It was such as cannot be imagined, and is never described when felt. The disobedient child had no conception of its real character. Relieved beyond measure at finding kindness and apparent oblivion, where she had expected reproach, and perhaps abandonment — she fondly hoped that there was less of real objection in her parents' minds, and less of sorrow in their hearts, than she had anticipated. Fond delusion! Not long to last. For, even she soon noted a change in her parents, which a closer observer would have known to be the failing spirit, where the cherished hope was blighted. One hope, the future welfare of their child, had been the life-spring of their existence for years; that had failed, and now they drooped in spirit, and none had the power to comfort them.
Mary and her husband were at once invited to come home, and live there. But Morrison preferred going to house-keeping immediately, and Mary readily acquiesced, not considering for a moment, how lonely her parents would be, and how much it would have gratified them if they had spent a few months under the paternal roof, before starting fairly out into the world.
Morrison, I will merely say, in passing, was at this time a junior partner in a retail dry goods store. His interest was but small, however, and his income limited. He had been for some years a clerk in this store, and had recently been offered an interest, which he accepted. He was an expert salesman, and a ready man of business, though fond of worldly pleasure. His partners were of the same stamp of character, so that there were in the firm, no checks or balances. They could make money in good times — and well they knew how to spend it!
A house was taken at a high rent, and filled with showy and expensive furniture. Little taste or neatness was displayed in its selection or arrangement; but as there was the fashionable quantity of fancy tables, sofas and looking glasses, astral lamps and mantle ornaments, brussels carpets, etc., etc., it was all right. Into this, Mary was introduced, and installed as mistress. How fondly did she look around upon all these things, and congratulate herself upon having made so good a choice, notwithstanding the mistaken notions of her parents!
But they saw all with different eyes. Too many like beginnings they had witnessed — and too many sad endings. They feared that her husband's means could not sustain an outlay of several thousand dollars for furniture, and the cost of maintaining a style of living such as his commencement indicated. But they said nothing. Admonition, they knew would be vain.
Mrs. Morrison was soon lost in the giddy whirlpool of fashionable visiting, and fashionable ambition. There were many to court her society, and to flatter her vanity; and too soon the simple-minded, pure-hearted maiden — had become the flippant, pleasure-seeking woman of fashion — a follower of the frivolities of the thoughtless and giddy.
Nor had she gained this position, without paying its penalty of domestic infelicity. Not that her husband disapproved of any display or pleasure — but because, in the very nature of things, the minds that can take an ardent delight in these, cannot understand nor practice the gentle and reciprocal virtues which make the marriage life a happy one. Often did she weep in the silence of her own chamber, at the indifference of her husband, or at his unfeeling remarks, indulged in at times — without reflecting, that in the life they led, the domestic virtues had no time to spring up and grow.
The unhappy parents saw all this, and it added but another weight to those already too heavy for them to bear. The stamina of their minds was completely gone, and with it was fast going their physical health. They tried hard, for the sake of their child, to keep up, but in vain. Scarcely two years had passed since her marriage, when, yielding to the touch of the pale messenger — they closed their eyes upon a world of disappointment and sorrow.
Roused from her dream of mirthful delusion, at so unexpected an event — Mrs. Morrison had time to pause and call back her scattered senses. The period of seclusion and mourning, gave leisure for reflection, and she began to have a faint perception of the ultimate tendency of her present vain course of action. The more she thought about it — the more did she see her error; and the clearer she saw her error — the more distinctly was her heart made sensible that she could not fall back upon the real affection of her husband. This was a startling discovery, and one that when made to a woman's heart, awakens it to dream no more.
The very necessity for excitement, after the mourning season had passed, threw her again into fashionable life. She was gayer than ever, and as insincere and heartless in her fashionable professions — as the gayest and most heartless. The neglect and indifference of her husband, had nearly extinguished in her bosom all affection for him — they merely tolerated each other. Each pursued the course of action, and followed the pleasure that each thought best. But, though Mr. Morrison could thus pursue a course of pleasure, thoughtless of his wife — it was in vain for her to attempt to be happy in the mere excitements of fashionable visitings and mirthful assemblies. She was still a woman — and a woman's sphere is one of affection. She must love — or be miserable.
About this time, Mrs. Morrison became a mother. A new feeling took possession of her heart as she looked upon the dear emblem of innocence which rested in sweet unconsciousness upon her bosom; but she needed one who could share with her, the love she bore her child. Her husband would come to the bedside and look upon it, but he was too selfish even to care much for his own child!
When Mrs. Morrison was again able to mingle in society, she felt the same desire to court admiration, and share excitements, with the gayest of her fashionable acquaintances. Her little Emeline was too often left for hours in the care of a hired nurse, who felt but little real affection for the tender infant entrusted to her charge.
Gradually the firm of which Mr. Morrison was a partner, enlarged its business, and showed greatly increased profits. This induced Morrison to indulge in a still more expensive style of living. Only in a desire for extravagance and show — did he assimilate at all to his wife in disposition. Here they met on neutral ground — here they were agreed. A large house, at a very high rent, was taken on Charles Street, and newly furnished, at great expense, and little taste. Cards of invitation were sent out to the elite — and crowded rooms of the mirthful, the thoughtless, and the fashionable, answered the summons.
"My dear Mrs. Morrison, what a paradise you have here!" said Mrs. Stanley, one of her dear friends, a lady whose husband was more prudent than to make a show beyond his means.
"Yes, we have everything our hearts can desire. Mr. Morrison never thinks anything expensive, which will add to my comfort."
Mrs. Stanley sighed, "My husband thinks too much of his business, and is always talking about prudence and caution," she remarked. "But I will bring him on by degrees. He has gotten rich lately, and has not yet lost his old fashioned habits of economy."
Now, be it known, that Mr. Stanley was keeping a retail dry goods' store, and might, probably, be worth ten thousand dollars. As an offset to this, the single item of Mrs. Stanley's dress on this evening, including jewelry, etc. — cost over one thousand dollars.
"Welcome to your new home!" said another lady acquaintance, coming up. "Why you have a palace to live in! Really, Mrs. Morrison, I must have a set of blue damask curtains just like yours. Aren't they beautiful, Mrs. Stanley?"
"The handsomest I have ever seen," replied that lady. "I have made up my mind to have a set, too."
"Were you at Mrs. Hone's party last week?" continued the first speaker.
"No," was the answer of Mrs. Morrison.
"Well, I am told that it was the grandest event this season. Quite an eclipse of anything we have seen! I wonder why we were not invited? However, I suppose Mrs. Hone begins to feel herself a grade higher than usual, since her husband has turned shipping merchant."
"Pride always has a fall," remarked Mrs. Morrison, "and her time will come one of these days."
"Of course," said the other two ladies.
"I don't care much how soon it does come," added Mrs. Stanley.
Just at that moment, Mrs. Morrison was called to the other end of the room, and the two ladies continued their conversation.
"And your turn will come, too — or I'm much mistaken!" remarked one of them, glancing towards her retreating form.
"She is getting up rather fast, Mrs. Webster," said Mrs. Stanley; "that's my opinion."
"Why, the fact is, Mrs. Stanley," replied Mrs. Webster, "her husband is only junior partner in the house of Collins & Co., and I've often heard my husband say, that they all carried more sail than ballast. The first storm will drive them under."
"Well, be that as it may," said the other; "I've had my own thoughts about her for some time. She affects an air of superiority that I can't tolerate! Her time will come one of these days. Ah! my dear Mrs. Morrison, we are not yet done admiring your beautiful establishment," said the talkative lady, as the object of her censures came up at that moment.
"Thank you, Mrs. Stanley! You are always pleased to admire my taste, and the style of my arrangements. Be sure it is to me highly gratifying. But there is Mrs. Nestle just come in; excuse me, ladies, again, I must welcome her to my new paradise, as you are pleased to call it."
"Now I am sure, Mrs. Webster," said Mrs. Stanley, "that these curtains are not half so beautiful as Mrs. Charland's. I'll have a set before long though, which will throw them both into the shade, and make Mrs. Morrison almost die with envy!"
There was but little difference as to substance and value — in the conversations passing through the richly furnished parlors of Mrs. Morrison. She had invited her dear friends to admire her new house and her new furniture — and they took their own way of doing it. Some, it is true, made it a point to make no allusion to them, but it was for the reason that they thought such allusion would be gratifying. Music, dancing and eating, made up the general enjoyment of the evening, and at a late hour the company separated, as is usual in all similar cases.
One month after this party, the house of Collins & Co. failed for a large amount, and everything was given up into the hands of a trustee, for the benefit of the creditors. All the personal property of the debtors shared the same fate — Mr. Morrison's costly furniture, and all.
And now began the downward course of Mrs. Morrison. She had passed the zenith of her fortune. In one hour, her husband was reduced to poverty. With his expensive habits, and her artificial 'needs' — the salary of one thousand dollars a year which he obtained as salesman in a dry goods store, went but a small way towards making them comfortable. All their splendor was gone, and neither of them was in any humor to make the best of the bare necessaries which the eager creditors of the firm had left them.
How lonely did she feel in her small house poorly furnished, and in a retired street. Day after day she waited and looked for a visit from her "dear Mrs. Stanley," her bosom friend; but that lady had quite forgotten her, as was shortly afterwards evident from her failing to recognize her on the street.
That was a severe blow for Mary Morrison. On this, she had not calculated. Although she had been insincere to all — she had been deceived by the professions of all, and particularly by the most heartless one of her fashionable friends.
Suddenly, about a year after this financial reverse, her anxieties were aroused by an alarming illness of her husband. He was taken with a prevailing fever, and life hung upon a feeble thread, which a breath might sever. All the passionate love she had borne him when first she allowed her young heart to invest him with perfections that, alas! existed only in imagination — returned upon her, as she stood by his bedside, and felt the painful reality that he must die. But it was of no avail now. The invisible arrow winged its unerring flight — and her husband closed his eyes forever upon this world.
And now trials came thick and fast upon her, which were to try her, as in a furnace of fire. Trials, which would either reveal the pure gold of her real character, hidden long under the exterior dross of fashionable habits — or consume the whole as vain and worthless.
After her husband had been buried out of her sight, the pressing necessity to consider well her situation and resources, diverted her mind from a vain and heart-sickening contrast of the past with the present; and kindled up a lively concern for the future. Her little girl was between two and three years old, and she had been sadly neglected. But for all that, she was a sweet-tempered child, and had been gradually winning an interest in her mother's heart, ever since her banishment from the fashionable circle in which she was at one time "a bright star." Now, when her eye rested upon the sweet, innocent, confiding face of her little one — her feelings were agitated with an affection more tender, more ardent, than she had ever felt. Her heart literally yearned over her child.
Upon a careful examination into the state of her affairs after the death of her husband, Mrs. Morrison found that she had not twenty dollars in money, besides her scanty household furniture. This was a startling discovery, and for a time she gave way to a feeling of despair which was indeed terrible. Not a single ray glimmered through the darkness and hopelessness of her thoughts, obscured as they were by a sense of weakness and ignorance of the world, and by a shrinking dread of the shame and disgrace of actual labor for money. But no suffering child of humanity is ever left to the dominion of idle and despairing thoughts, in the day of strong trial. The way of relief is not only always at hand, but there are invisible messengers of good ever ready, not only to stir the thoughts to inquiry, but to guide them aright, if there exists also, even a latent willingness to do the right. Nor did Mrs. Morrison long remain bowed down and hopeless.
Gradually, something like a faint light seemed to dart its feeble rays from afar off — true, it was again obscured, and all seemed darkness and doubt and despair. But steadily did she continue to fix her eye in the direction whence the kind ray had seemed to come; and soon a light, so dim, so faint that nothing could be seen, was diffused around her. Eagerly looking still, she could now distinctly see whence the light of hope had come. For the first time, she felt confidence within her.
Bringing out at once, her newly formed hopes and resolutions into action, she prudently set about disposing of everything which was really useless to her, or that would be useless in a single room. At auction, she obtained one hundred and fifty dollars for these. All of her jewelry had been retained at the time of her husband's failure, though the greater part of it had been subsequently disposed of; still, she had enough, with a watch, to sell readily for one hundred and fifty dollars more. Two hundred and fifty of this sum were deposited in the Savings' Bank, and with the balance in possession for immediate needs, she dismissed her servant, and moved into a comfortable room at a rent of three dollars a month. This was done before she had yet resolved upon any certain means of earning a support for herself and child. But she had acted wisely in beginning to do just what she saw to be right — without sitting down in despair to think about what she could not do.
It must not be supposed that after she had removed to her humble abode, that she did not keenly feel the heartless desertion of the friends of her better days. Sometimes in looking back, it seemed as if her feelings would drive her mad; nor could she gain any relief by trying to penetrate the future. Only in the present, was there a temporary repose of mind. But the bias of wrong habits of feeling and action had so warped her original character, that it was not now possible for any sudden change, to correct at once her evils. She would have to suffer much and suffer long, before a healthy reaction could possibly take place.
One day, some weeks after she had entered upon her new mode of living, in conversation with the woman from whom she rented her room, and who had proved a more sincere friend than she had found since she left her mother's house — she expressed a desire to do something by which she could earn enough to buy food for herself and child, and thus enable her to leave her money in the Savings' Bank untouched.
"What do you think you could do, child?" said the woman, in answer.
"Indeed, Mrs. Winter, I do not know. I have thought and thought, but I really know of nothing that I could do."
The old woman mused for some time. "Can you sew well?" she at length inquired.
"Yes ma'am. At least I can do fine work."
"Fine work, you will not be able to get all at once. But as you seem so willing, I think something can be gotten for you to do."
Little did Mrs. Morrison think, a few months before, that such words of encouragement, from such a source, would have been so soothing to her feelings. But now they were as oil to the troubled waters of her spirit.
"You cannot," continued Mrs. Winter, "make pantaloons for the tailors; neither can you make and fit dresses; nor do millinery work, nor bind shoes, nor hats. But still you might learn one of these trades, and after awhile be able to do very well for yourself."
"But how long would it take me to learn to do some of these?" she inquired eagerly.
"Why, child, when anyone is very motivated, they can easily learn to do almost anything."
"Well, what would you advise me to do, Mrs. Winter?"
"That I can hardly tell just now. I must think a little first, and look about me to see what can be done."
"How good you are!" said Mrs. Morrison almost involuntarily, her eyes filling with tears.
"I try to do unto others, my child — as I would like them to do unto me. It does me no injury to think a little for you, and assist you with my advice. You help me by renting my room, and thus lightening my burdens — so if I can help you a little with my advice, why we will be even, on the score of obligations. But this is not the proper light in which to look at these things. There is no situation in life in which we may be placed, where we cannot be useful to others; and the delight arising from the love of being useful to others, is the highest state of happiness to which the human mind is capable of advancing."
Mrs. Morrison listened to her kind adviser with a new feeling of interest. The sentiments uttered by her were so evidently true, that her mind almost appreciated them at once — yet they were so new, that she almost wondered if they were not spoken by inspiration.
"You have seen better days, Mrs. Winter?" she said, after musing for some moments over the last uttered sentiments.
"I cannot say that I have, Mrs. Morrison," she replied, "I have seen days of more worldly prosperity, it is true, but I cannot call them better days. I was once as familiar as you have been, with gaiety and dissipation — but it pleased Divine Providence, which is ever doing what is best for us, to cut off the springs of worldly splendor, and lo! the streams became suddenly dry. It was a sad trial to be forced out from among the old familiar friends, and to miss the old familiar faces — to meet those with whom I had been on terms of the closest intimacy, and find myself unrecognized. But in the school of adversity I learned wisdom, and found comfort where peace and contentment can alone be found; I mean, in a perfect, or, as far as possible, a perfect acknowledgment of the goodness and wisdom of the Divine Providence, and a calm trust in its operations towards me. I soon discovered, that, for years, I had been drinking at an impure fountain — and that my whole moral nature had become poisoned. Could I, in such a state, be happy? Your own experience will answer the question."
Although Mrs. Morrison could not possibly perceive the perfect beauty of Mrs. Winter's system of ethics — yet enough was apparent, to make her in love with it. But she had not yet put away from her the strong love of self which had ruled her for years, and consequently could not act from a pure love of the neighbor, at once. Still the desire to do so, was the beginning; and if brought out into action whenever occasion offered, would eventually tend to change the ruling affection from a love of self — to a love of neighbor.
True to her promise, Mrs. Winter thought carefully over many plans by which she might assist her new friend, in whom she felt a lively interest. She mentioned her situation to others whenever it seemed to promise any good result, and in various ways, endeavored to obtain for her some suitable employment.
"Mrs. Wellman was asking me yesterday, if I knew of any one who could do some hemming and ruffling very neatly for her," said a person to whom Mrs. Winter mentioned Mrs. Morrison's desire to obtain work.
"Did you name anyone to her," said Mrs. Winter.
"No, I did not, for I knew of no person who could do it neatly. I do a good deal of common sewing for the family."
"I wish then you would speak for Mrs. Morrison," said Mrs. Winter.
"Certainly. I am going again this afternoon, and will get the work for her."
True to her promise, she brought a large roll of fine laces and muslins, to hem, ruffle, insert, etc. Mrs. Wellman said that "they must be done very nice, and that if they pleased her, she would give her a good deal of work."
How joyfully, how thankfully, and with how patient a spirit, did Mrs. Morrison sit down to her work! In a few days it was all done, and beautifully done, too; at least so said Mrs. Winter.
A new and painful task was now to be performed, that of carrying home her work, and getting the hire of her labor. With keen emotions of pain, she shrank from the bare thought, as it flashed through her mind, for the first time, while surveying her finished task. She knew nothing of the person for whom the work was intended, not having even inquired her name.
On learning the name of the person for whom it was intended, she turned pale, and almost staggered to a chair. A Mrs. Wellman had been one of the most intimate of her former acquaintances. But she experienced a relief of mind from the fact, that the Mrs. Wellman, whose work she had been doing, lived in another part of the town from that where her former acquaintance resided. Much agitated in mind at the similarity of the name, and still fearing that there was but one Mrs. Wellman, she dressed herself in neat but plain attire, corresponding with her new condition, and taking the small bundle in her hand, went with a throbbing heart to carry it home. She pulled the bell of a house on Hanover Street, with a timid hand, which was answered by a servant who had many a time handed her to and from her carriage on her visits to Mrs. Wellman. But he did not recognize her, and to her low-toned inquiry for Mrs. Wellman, was shown into the parlor.
That lady soon made her appearance sweeping into the room with a with a prideful air.
"Here is some work you sent to me by Mrs. Mayfield," she said, in a faint, trembling tone, endeavoring to keep her face as much out of the light as possible.
Mrs. Wellman took the bundle from her hand, looking her steadily in the face for a few moments with a rude stare, and then, as if satisfied with the scrutiny, proceeded to examine the work.
Hem after hem, frill after frill, and even stitch after stitch, were looked into with a long and close examination; during all which time, Mrs. Morrison felt as if she would gladly have sank through the floor.
"This will do very well. I am pleased with your work, and will give you more. What is your name?" she added, looking her intently in the face.
"Morrison," was the reply, in a voice scarcely audible.
"Morrison — Morrison. That's a familiar name. But what's your first name?"
"Well, Mary, how much do you charge for this?"
Two dollars, ma'am."
"That is reasonable enough. Here is the amount. Come tomorrow, and I will have some more work prepared for you. Are you a single woman?"
"I am a widow, ma'am!"
"Ah! you look young. Have you any children?"
"I have one. A little girl about three years old."
"How long has your husband been dead?"
"Only a few months, ma'am."
"Why, I did not know. Did your husband ever do business in this city?"
"I remember there was a Morrison in the firm of Collins & Co. Was he your husband?"
"He was," quickly replied Mrs. Morrison, looking up with an eager countenance, expecting an instant and sympathizing recognition, by one who had been of her most intimate acquaintances. But Mrs. Wellman looked at her with a countenance expressive of the most perfect composure. No sign of recognition was visible in a single feature.
"I remember," she at length said, in a careless manner, "having heard you spoken of. You must find your change of fortune rather a distressing event."
Mrs. Morrison did not, for she could not, reply. But rose at once to go, saying, as calmly as she could, that she would call on the next day for the promised work.
Mrs. Morrison hardly knew how she arrived at home. But there she was met by one real friend, to whom she could tell all her painful feelings.
"You have much yet to learn of the selfishness and heartlessness of the world," said Mrs. Winter, after she had told her the manner is which Mrs. Wellman had treated her. "But you should think that a kind Providence — which delivered you from false friends, and allowed you to perceive that you were foolishly building your happiness upon the smiles and approval of the wicked or the vain, instead of upon a surer and more abiding foundation."
Thus did this kind friend ever correct, by gentle means, the evils which rendered Mrs. Morrison unfit to be contented in the sphere she now had to move in. And she was successful, far above what she had hoped.
Nothing of more than ordinary interest occurred, until Emeline sprang up and verged on to womanhood. Now all of Mrs. Morrison's anxieties became aroused. She remembered her own false step, and trembled for her glad-hearted but inexperienced child. She was, however, spared much trouble on this account, for one who was all in character she could have wished him — a young and industrious mechanic, first won upon the affections of Emeline, and continued to hold them until it was agreed on all sides that they should be married.
And they were married. Emeline Morrison became Mrs. Williams. For three or four years, everything went on pleasantly enough, and Mrs. Morrison's heart was happy in the affection of her daughter and son-in-law — and their two sweet babes. Though living in a very humble condition, by carefulness and prudence, the income of Mr. Williams was sufficient to make them comfortable.
But alas! a sad change began to show itself. In those times, everyone was in the habit of drinking strong liquors, and still there were but few cases of abandoned drunkenness. Occasionally, it is true, someone would fall a victim to the demon of alcohol — and one of these it seemed, was to be Mr. Williams. Several times he had come home from his work in a condition which showed that he had been indulging himself too freely; and gradually there was a diminishing of the weekly amount of earnings. Mrs. Morrison ventured a mild remonstrance, and for the first time received an unkind answer.
Emeline was not so keenly alive to the danger, as her mother — though she soon felt that all was not right; and many a tear wet her eyes in the silence of the night, though she hardly knew why she wept.
Ten years from the day that Mrs. Morrison gave the hand of her daughter to Mr. Williams, she saw her, with five small children, and an idle, drunken husband — turned out of her home, and all of her furniture sold for rent. A second time in her life, was she called upon to bring into action all the resources of a tried spirit. She still had preserved, untouched, her little treasure, now nearly thirty years since its deposit in a Savings' Bank. It had continued to accumulate, until there stood to her credit over seven hundred dollars. The time had come to draw upon it, and she did so for the purpose of buying some necessary articles of furniture for a small house, which she took for her daughter and grandchildren.
Since his family had been turned out of doors and only kept from immediate suffering by the kindness of a neighbor, Williams was not to be seen — but as soon as they were again tolerably comfortable, he walked into their little asylum, provided by Mrs. Morrison, with an air of perfect freedom. It was a sore trial for her to see an idle, drunken man, eating up the bread she had bought for his children, and thus hastening the time when she would be no longer able to meet their needs. But there was no redress. He had become unfeeling — even brutalized.
But a new and keener sorrow came upon the mother and daughter. All of the children were taken down with scarlet fever, and after great suffering, four of them died — one each day for four successive days. Two at a time were these little ones, escaped from the evil to come, borne out to the lonely graveyard. But for the living one, the last of the dear little flock — were now all their feelings interested. Hour after hour could be seen the mother and daughter seated, one on each side of the bed, where the little sufferer lay, eagerly watching every motion, every symptom — their hearts now trembling in hope, and now almost ceasing to beat in silent oppressing despair. The last of the jewels was a little girl, three years old, whose glad young face, and sweet bird-like voice, had often chased from both her mother and grandmother, the burden of care that oppressed the one, and of sorrow that weighed down the heart of the other.
It was midnight, and still they leaned over her, watching her dear face, and listening to her painful breathing. There was no sound, other than that which came faintly from the sufferer, to disturb the deep silence of the hour. In another room, the father slept in leaden insensibility. Suddenly the bright blue eyes of the little sufferer unclosed, and, looking first at the one, and then at the other of the anxious faces that bent over her — she closed them again, with a murmur of disappointment.
"What does little Emily want?" said her mother, in a tender tone.
"Where's father?" asked the child, again opening her eyes, and looking around.
"He's asleep, my dear," replied her mother, soothingly.
She closed her eyes again with a faint sigh, and lay for half an hour, as motionless as before. Again she lifted the dark lashes from those innocent orbs, again looked about, and again asked, "Where's father?"
"He's asleep, my child," said the mother. "Do you want him?"
"I want to see my father. Where is my father?" she asked eagerly.
Mrs. Williams left the bed-side of her sick child, and entered the room where her husband was asleep. She endeavored to rouse him from his deep slumber, but he answered her gentle effort to awaken him by a drunken growl, and turned himself over. She now shook him more violently. He opened his eyes, and with an angry exclamation, pushed her half across the room.
Sick at heart, she returned to the bedside of her suffering child, whose eager eyes, now widely and fixedly unclosed, sought her own.
"Mother, I want to see father;" she said, as her mother bent again over her. "Why doesn't father come?" Mrs. Williams burst into tears, and covering her face with her hands, sobbed as if her very heart would break.
"Don't cry, mother; father won't be cross any more. Father! where's my father?" She now called out in a loud, clear voice, "Father, come!"
That thrilling voice was heard, even by the drunkard in his slumber. The door suddenly opened, and the father stood by the bed-side of his sick child. The violence of the fever which had been consuming her, seemed now to have given way; her little hands were moist and cool, and her eyes shone with an unearthly brightness. She raised herself with an unexpected strength, and taking the hand of her father, she looked up to him with an expression that an angel's face might wear, and her voice that was strangely musical and sweet, stole out, and the words,
"Father, be good!" thrilled every heart-string with a wild emotion.
For a moment more, that sweet, earnest, appealing look was fixed in the face of her father, and then her eyes gradually closed, her muscles relaxed, and she sank back upon her pillow. The heart of the strong man was shaken, and the fountain of tears long sealed up, were touched. He bowed his head and wept bitter tears of repentance.
No look, no word, no sigh — beamed from the eye, or passed from the lips of the dear little sufferer through the hours that intervened until the dawning of the morning. As still as if death had parted the spirit from its earthly covering, did she lay. Mr. Williams, now wide awake both in mind and body, scarcely left the bedside a moment; but either sat or stood near the last one of his little flock, watching with intense interest for some living change to pass over the features of his child. But hour after hour, he looked in vain.
Forgetful of his accustomed alcohol in the morning, forgetful of everything but the insensible babe whose innocent thoughts, even in the extremity of life had been filled with his wrong doings — he continued to watch over her through all the day, scarcely induced to allow food to pass his lips.
Night, gloomy night, with lightning and storm, came on again. Hushed in a deep slumber, had Emily lain all the day, her breathing so low as scarcely to be distinguished. The physician had come in and looked at her, but had gone away, without remark on her condition, or prescription, simply saying that he would come again in the morning. Silently did they all gather round the bed, none thinking of rest, as the storm outside deepened into a tempest. The quick, intense flashes of lightning, came in through the uncurtained windows, paling the dim light, and seeming to play round the face of the innocent sufferer, giving it the livid, ghastly appearance of death. The deafening crash that would follow, was scarcely heard, as the three would bend nearer, startled at the deathlike expression that the fierce light had thrown upon the face of the child, to ascertain if she were still alive.
She was the last of five dear children — how could they give her up? Even to pray that she might be spared, did the mother presume — forgetful that the God of infinite Love and Wisdom, who sees all for the best — cannot be moved to grant a prayer that would change His merciful and wise providence.
The hearts of the parents were now oppressed — for they had almost ceased to hope. They could not hide from themselves the truth that Emily, in the last twenty-four hours, had failed rapidly. Now she lay before them, with a face only exceeded in whiteness, by the snowy pillow on which it lay and with a form shrunk to half its ordinary size. The motion of her chest was so slight, that it scarcely seemed to agitate the blanket which enclosed it, and, except for this, there was about the child no sign of life.
The pale light of the morning came in, and as it gained strength, revealed to the anxious watchers, more of death in the face of the hushed sleeper, than the dim lamps had shown. Each bent forward with a yearning fear about their hearts an intense oppression. But the tale was soon told. Once did the eye-lids slowly unclose — once did the orbs which had been hidden for hours, look up with their brightness undiminished — once did a feeble but sweet smile play round her lips — and then all was fixed in the rigidity of death!
In silence and in tears, did they bear out the body of their last babe, and lay it with the rest. As the heavy clods rattled upon the coffin lid, Williams inwardly swore to be again the industrious citizen, the tender husband, and the kind son-in-law that he had been in past years — now passed forever. But no sudden resolution can change the will. The shock of powerful affliction; the roused sense of evil doing, may for a time keep down the passions, strong by indulgence; but unless something beyond and above mere human resolves is called to the aid — the victim to a love of evil will again sink back, and again return to wallow in the mire of sensuality.
Ten years had rolled away since the never-to-be-forgotten night in which the last dear child passed into the world of spirits. In a small, poorly furnished room, was laid in her last moments, a pale-faced mother, who had but a few days before given birth to an infant. Suffering and privation had worn away her flesh, and she was little more than a breathing skeleton. Seated by the bedside was an old woman, also emaciated and care-worn, who bent her eyes, filled with glances of affection, upon the child of her many thoughts, now evidently drawing near the moment of death.
The reader will recognize in these two lonely women, the widow Morrison, and her long suffering child. But where, he asks, is Williams? Alas! his spasmodic repentance was soon followed by a moral collapse, and he speedily returned to the habits of a miserable drunkard. He had continued to eat his bread in idleness — bread earned by the patient and hard labor of his wife and her mother. Not long did the treasure she had laid up for sickness, extremity, or old age — last the widow Morrison. She could not see her own child lack. It had been exhausted years before this time of painful extremity.
Night had just closed in on a still evening in autumn. The breathing of the dying woman had grown less and less labored, and, as if passing into a gentle slumber, she had laid herself back upon the pillow with closed eyes, and a peaceful expression of countenance. With intense interest did Mrs. Morrison regard the face of her daughter, watching the feeble play of every muscle that showed the mind to be active, although the body was calm and almost motionless.
Suddenly the door was swung rudely open, and with a heavy step, came reeling in the drunken husband. The noise startled Mrs. Williams from her sweet dream, and she lifted herself with a wild expression and gesture from her pillow.
Mrs. Morrison's raised finger, and low "h-u-s-h," was answered by —
"Shut your trap, old woman! I want none of your back-talk! I should be allowed to hear my own feet in my own house!"
"O James! James!" said his wife, in a faint voice, "you will kill me!"
"Women are hard to kill. You've been saying that for the last ten years — but you are here yet. Come, get up! I want some supper!" and the drunken wretch actually caught her by the arm, and, but for the timely interference of her mother, would have dragged her out upon the floor.
This resistance was answered by a blow upon the face of Mrs. Morrison, so powerful as to knock her insensible upon the floor. This was more than the feeble body of Mrs. Williams could endure. With one loud, piercing shriek, that seemed to embody the agony of a broken heart — she fell back upon her pillow and was dead in an instant!
For an hour did Mrs. Morrison lay, void of sense or motion, upon the floor. The wretched father, when he saw the awful result of his drunken anger, was sobered instantly. But even in his sober moments — he had no thought, no affection for others. He thought only of himself, and precipitately left the house. When Mrs. Morrison recovered from the stunning effects of the blow and fall — she found the body of her daughter lying cold in death across the bed, and the infant under her, only protected from injury by a pillow, close beside which it lay in a gentle sleep.
Her cup of sorrow now seemed full, and for the first time for many years, all energy of mind forsook her. She seated herself by the bedside, and gave way to thoughts of despair. From this, she was roused by the entrance of a neighbor, who came in to see if she could be of any service for an hour or two, in relieving Mrs. Morrison from the care of her daughter. She found use for all her kind intentions.
It were needless to dwell on the oft-told scene of burial. Mrs. Williams' body was removed in due time. Her husband did not make his appearance, and none knew where to find him, or cared to have him present.
One week after the death of her daughter, while the widow Morrison was sitting in her lonely dwelling, holding in her arms all that now made life desirable — the door slowly opened, and a pale, haggard-looking man entered, and silently seated himself in a chair. There was a strange fear expressed in his face, and his eye glancing wildly and nervously about, occasionally looking with something like terror towards the door, as if he had just escaped from someone who sought his life. Presently he got up, and coming close to the alarmed widow, said, in a husky whisper
"You won't let them hurt me, will you? Hark! See! They are coming! Quick! hide me! hide me! There now! Don't move, nor tell them I am here!" And he crouched down behind her chair, in a paroxysm of terror, the large drops of perspiration streaming over his face and falling to the floor.
In speechless alarm, Mrs. Morrison looked at the terrified being, and all at once discovered that the pale, emaciated, horror-stricken wretch by her side — was none other than the husband of Emeline!
"Keep off! keep off!" he suddenly screamed out, "Go away oh! OH! OH!" in a loud, prolonged yell of agony. Then cowering down upon the floor, he hid his face in his hands and trembled in every limb.
"What is the matter, James?" said Mrs. Morrison, laying the child upon the bed, and regarding the terrified man, evidently bereft of his senses, with a look of pity mingled with fear.
"Oh mother! evil spirits in every form are after me. See! see! It comes! it comes!"
"What comes, James?"
"The great red dragon, with eyes of flame! See, he is coming down from the ceiling. Save me! save me! oh! o-h!" the last interjection prolonged into a wild scream of terror.
"It is gone!" he said, breathing more freely, and an expression of returning reason lighting up his face. "Oh mother! I shall die, if they are not kept off. Why did you let them in? There, now! one of them is pushing his head under the door. Be off! be off! You can't hurt me now! No, you know you can't."
The wretched man sprung from his recumbent position as if a knife had pierced his heart; flung himself upon the bed, and buried himself beneath the clothes. The infant narrowly escaped being crushed to death.
Mrs. Morrison, whose bewildered senses began to come back to her, picked up the child and ran with it into a neighbor's. Several men went into the house, and after trying in vain to quiet the alarmed and wretched being, laboring under an attack of alcoholic delirium tremens, had him conveyed to the Alms-House, where he rapidly grew worse, and died in less than a week.
Mrs. Morrison was now all alone with the child that had fallen to her charge. She was nearly sixty years old, and much enfeebled by constant toil and great mental suffering. She had no means with which to pay for nursing the child, and even if she had been able, she would still have been unwilling to have parted with it. No certain means were within her reach, for even a subsistence; but she did not give way to despondency. A kind neighbor who kept a cow supplied her with new milk twice a day for the infant, and between knitting, spinning, and doing coarse sewing for the shops, she managed to get enough food to supply her own needs, and to gather together the rent for the landlord whenever he should call for it.
For a year after her daughter died, the widow Morrison managed to get along without actual suffering. But her strength began now rapidly to fail, and of course, her slender income was diminished. Little Henry could now just totter about, and required even more of her attention than when, seated upon the floor, he used to amuse himself for hours. For another year she toiled on, but it was amid many sufferings and severe privations. Henry was often sick from his first to his second year, and required, in consequence, the most careful attention. He was now entering his third year, and Mrs. Morrison began to fear, from too apparent indications, that she should be unable long to bear up.
Winter soon came on, and she had nothing laid aside for the inclement season. And though she toiled on in pain and weakness, she could earn but little. Tea and coffee, which become so necessary from long use, to old people, she could now rarely procure. Unwilling to make her needs known, where relief would have been obtained, she struggled on, often stinting herself — that her dear little boy might have a hearty meal. Through it all, she managed to have her money ready on the day her landlord called. Some little bit, she continued to earn all along, but she called none of it her own, until she had laid aside just what the rent would amount to.
As the weather grew more severe, she found it very difficult to procure wood enough to keep them warm. Almost every night, as soon as it grew dark, would she retire to her bed with little Henry, to keep warm, and thus save wood and candles. Often when they thus retired, their supper had consumed every particle of food in the house. But she generally managed to economize her little resources so well, as to have still a few cents left to buy bread for breakfast; and through the following day she never failed to obtain something for work already finished. So constantly was her mind occupied with the duties devolving upon her — that she had no time to be unhappy. And the sore trials she had passed through, and the afflictions she had experienced, had elevated her affections above mere selfish and sensual things — and caused her to fix them upon a higher and more certain source of contentment.
There was one abiding principle of her mind that had, in all her long suffering, buoyed her up — it was a fixed confidence in the Divine Providence. She perceived, clearly, that, in the Divine Providence, eternal ends were always in view, and that all temporal affliction was of use, to enable its subject to see clearly where affection was wrongly placed.
Thus, had she gradually attained a state of preparation for another life, by the putting away of evils, through Divine assistance. The keen suffering she had endured showed how deeply seated had been the disease. Patiently, but fulfilling all her duties, she now waited for her change.
For the first time, one cold night in January, she retired to bed, after having consumed the last morsel, without anything left with which to buy food on the next morning. She had paid her rent on that day, and in doing so, parted with her last cent. She found herself through the day more feeble than usual, and to a neighbor who dropped in just about night-fall, she expressed herself as being conscious that she had nearly filled up the days of her earthly pilgrimage.
"I can hardly tell you," she said, "of how pleasantly my mind has been affected through the day, in looking back on a long and chequered life, and perceiving the hand of God in every event. It is all summed up for me now, and I can see the result. I know that I am near a peaceful end to all my wilderness wanderings; and standing now as I do upon the utmost verge of time, I bless the kind hand of Providence that has watched over me — and am thankful for all the affliction I have endured."
In a calm and holy frame of mind, did the Widow Morrison take her dear child in her arms, and resign herself to slumber. Sweetly, no doubt, did she sink away, like an infant on its mother's bosom. But the sleep that locked up her senses, proved to be a gentle lapsing away of life. When next she awoke — it was in the eternal world!
The rest has already been told.