EVERY day, and twice a day, came Mr. Sampson, — though I have not said much about it; and now it was only a week before our marriage. This evening he came in very weary with his day’s work, — getting a wretched man off from hanging, who probably deserved it richly. (It is said, women are always for hanging: and that is very likely. I remember, when there had been a terrible murder in our parlors, as it were, and it was doubtful for some time whether the murderer would be convicted, Mrs. Harris said, plaintively, “ Oh, do hang somebody !”) Mr. Sampson did not think so, apparently, but sat on the sofa by the window, dull and abstracted.
If I had been his wife, I should have done as I always do now in sucli a case : walked up to him, settled the sofa-cushion, and said,— “Here, now! lie down, and don’t speak a word for two hours. Meantime I will tell you who has been here, and everything.” Thus I should rest and divert him by idle chatter, bathing his tired brain with good Cologne; and if, in the middle of my best story and funniest joke, he fairly dropped off to sleep, I should just fan him softly, keep the flies away, say in my heart, “ Bless him! there he goes ! hands couldn’t mend him!” — and then look at him with as much more pride and satisfaction than at any other common wide-awake face as it is possible to conceive.
However, not being married, and having a whole week more to be silly in, I was both silly and suspicious. This was partly his fault. He was reserved, naturally and habitually; and as he didn’t tell me he was tired and soul-weary, I never thought of that. Instead, as he sat on the sofa, I took a long string of knitting-work and seated myself across the room, — partly so that he might come to me, where there was a good seat. Then, as he did not cross the room, but still sat quietly on the sofa, I began to wonder and suspect. Did he work too hard? Did he dread undertaking matrimony ? Did he wish he could get off? Why did he not come and speak to me? What had I done? Nothing! Nothing!
Here Laura came in to say she was going to Mrs. Harris’s to get the newest news about sleeves. Mrs. Harris for sleeves; Mrs. Gore for bonnets ; and for housekeeping, recipes, and all that, who but Mrs. Parker, who knew that, and a hundred other things? Many-sided are we all: talking sentiment with this one, housekeeping with that, and to a third saying what wild horses would not tear from us to the two first!
Laura went. And presently he said, wearily, but I thought drearily, —
“ Delphine, are you all ready to be married ? ”
The blood flushed from my heart to my forehead and back again. So, then, he thought I was ready and waiting to drop like a ripe plum into his mouth, without his asking me ! Am I ready, indeed ? And suppose I am not ? Perhaps I, too, may have my misgivings. A woman’s place is not a sinecure. Troubles, annoyances, as the sparks fly upward ! Buttons to begin with, and everything to end with ! What did Mrs. Hemans say, poor woman ?
And patient smiles to wear through suffering's hour,
And sumless riches from affection’s deep
To pour on ” — something — “a Wasted shower! ”
Yes, wasted, indeed! I hadn’t answered a word to his question.
“It seems warm in this room,” said he again, languidly; “shall we walk on the piazza ? ”
“I think not,” I answered, curtly; “I am not warm.”
Even that did not bring him to me. He still leaned his head on his hand for a minute or two, and then rose from the sofa and sat by the window, looking at the western sky, where the sun had long gone down. I could see his profile against the outer light, however, and it did not look placid. His brow was knit and mouth compressed. So, then, it was all very likely !
Having set out on my race of suspecting, my steeds did not lag. They were winged already, and I goaded them continually with memories. There was nothing I did not think of or accuse him of,— especially, the last and worst sin of breaking off our engagement at the eleventh hour!— and I, who had suffered silently, secretly, untold torments about that name of his, — nobody, no man, could ever guess how keenly, because no man can ever feel as a woman does about such things ! Men, — they would as soon marry Tabitha as Juliana, They could call her “ Wife.” It made no matter to them. What did any man care, provided she chronicled small beer, whether she had taste, feeling, sentiment, anything ?
Here I was wrong, as most passionate people are at some time in their lives. Some men do care.
At the moment I had reached the topmost pinnacle of my wrath, and was darting lightnings on all mankind, Polly showed in Lieutenant Herbert, with his book of promised engravings.
With a natural revulsion of temper, I descended rapidly from my pinnacle, and, stepping half-way across the room, met the Lieutenant with unusual cordiality. Mr. Sampson bowed slightly and sat still. I drew two chairs towards the centre-table, lighted the argand, and seated myself with the young officer to examine and admire the beautiful forms in which the gifted artist has clothed the words rather than the thoughts of the writer,—out of the coarse real, lifting the scenes into the sweet ideal, — and out of the commonest, rudest New-England life, bringing the purest and most charming idyllic song. We did not say this.
I looked across at the window, where still sat the figure, motionless. Not a word from him. I looked at Lieutenant Herbert. He was really very handsome, with an imperial brow, and roseate lips like a girl’s. Somehow he made me think of Claverhouse, — so feminine in feature, so martial in action ! Then he talked, — talked really quite well,—reflected my own ideas in an animated and eloquent manner.
Why it was, — whether Herbert suspected we had had a lovers’ quarrel,—or whether his vanity was flattered at my attention to him, which was entirely unusual,— or whether my own excited, nervous condition led me to express the most joyous life and good-humor, and shut down all my angry sorrow and indignant suspicions, while I smiled and danced over their sepulchre, — however it was, I know not, — but a new sparkle came into the blue eyes of the young militaire. He was positively entertaining. Conscious that he was talking well, he talked better. He recited poetry ; he was even witty, or seemed so. With the magnetism of cordial sympathy, I called out from his memory treasures new and old. He became not only animated, but devoted.
All this time the figure at the window sat calm and composed, it was intensely, madly provoking. He was so very sure of me, it appeared, he would not take the trouble to enter the lists to shiver a lance with this elegant young man with the beautiful name, the beautiful lips, and with, for the last half-hour at least, the beautiful tongue. He would not trouble himself to entertain his future wife. He would not trouble himself even to speak. Very well! Very well indeed ! Did the Lieutenant like music ? If “ he ” did not care a jot for me, perhaps others did. My heart beat very fast now; my checks burned, and my lips were parched. A glass of water restored me to calmness, and I sat at the piano. Herbert turned over the music, while I rattled off whatever came to my fingers’ ends,—I did not mind or know what. It was very fine, I dare say. He whispered that it was “ so beautiful!” — and I answered nothing, but kept on playing, playing, playing, as the little girl in the Danish story keeps on dancing, dancing, dancing, with the fairy red shoes on. Should I play on forever? In the church,— out of it,— up the street, — down the street,— out in the fields,— under the trees,— by the wood, — by the water, — in cathedrals, — I heard something murmuring,—something softly, softly in my ear. Still I played on and on, and still something murmured softly, softly in my ear. I looked at the window. The head was leaned down, and resting on both arms. Fast asleep, probably. Then I played louder, and faster, and wilder.
Then, for the first time, as deaf persons are said to hear well in the noise of a crowded street, or in a rail-car, so did I hear in the musical tumult, for the first time, the words of Herbert. They had been whispered, and I had heard, but not perceived them, till this moment.
I turned towards him, looked him full in the face, and dropped both hands into my lap. Well might I be astonished! He started and blushed violently, but said nothing. As for me, I was never more calm in my life. In the face of a real mistake, all imaginary ones fell to the ground, motionless as so many men of straw. With an instinct that went before thought, and was born of my complete love and perfect reliance on my future husband, I pushed back the musicstool, and walked straight across the room to the window.
His head was indeed leaned on his arms ; but he was white and insensible.
“ Come here ! ” I said, sternly and commandingly, to Herbert, who stood where I had left him. “Now, if you can, hold him, while I wheel this sofa; — and now, ring the bell, if you please.”
We placed him on the couch, and Polly came running in.
“Now, good-night, Sir; we can take care of him. With very many thanks for your politeness,” I added, coldly; “and I will send home the book to-morrow.”
He muttered something about keeping it as long as I wished, and I turned my back on him.
“ Oh! oh ! — what had he thought all this time ? — what had he suffered ? How his heart must have been agonized! — how terribly he must have felt the mortification,— the distress ! Oh ! ”
We recovered him at length from the dead faint into which he had fallen. Polly, who thought but of the body, insisted on bringing him “ a good heavy glass of Port-wine sangaree, with toasted crackers in it”; and wouldn’t let him speak till he had drunken and eaten. Then she went out of the room, and left me alone with my justly incensed lover.
I took a brioche, and sat down humbly at the head of the Sofa. He held out his hand, which I took and pressed in mine,— silently, to be sure; but then no words could tell how I had felt, and now felt, — how humiliated ! how grieved! How wrongly I must have seemed to feel and to act! how wrongly I must have acted,— though my conscience excused me from feeling wrongly, —so to have deluded Herbert !
At last I murmured something regretful and tearful about Lieutenant Herbert. — Herbert! how I had admired that name ! — and now, this Ithuriel touch, how it had changed it and him forever to me! What was in a name? — sure enough! As I gazed on the pale face on the couch, I should not have cared, if it had been named Alligator, — so elevated was I beyond all I had thought or called trouble of that sort! so real was the trouble that could affect the feelings, the sensitiveness, of the noble being before me!
At length he spoke, very calmly and quietly, setting down the empty tumbler. I trembled, for I knew it must come.
“I was so glad that fool came in, Del! For,to tell the truth, I felt really too weak to talk. I haven’t slept for two nights, and have been on my feet and talking for four hours, — then I have had no dinner ”—
“ Oh ! ”
“And a damned intelligent jury, (I beg your pardon, but it’s a great comfort to swear, sometimes,) that I can’t humbug. But I must! I must, to-morrow ! ” he exclaimed, springing up from the sofa and walking hurriedly across the room.
“ Oh, do sit down, if you are so tired ! ”
“ I cannot sit down, unless you will let me stop thinking. I have but one idea constantly.”
“ But if the man is guilty, why do you want to clear him ? ” said I.
Not a word had he been thinking of me or of Herbert all this time ! But then he had been thinking of a matter of life and death. How all, all my foolish feelings took to flight ! It was some comfort that my lover had not either seen or suspected them. He thought he must have been nearly senseless for some time. The last he remembered was, we were looking at some pictures.
Laura came in from Mrs. Harris’s, and, hearing how the case was, insisted on having a chicken broiled, and that he should eat some green-apple tarts, of her own cooking, — not sentimental, nor even wholesome, but they suited the occasion ; and we sat, after t hat, all three talking, till past twelve o’clock. No danger now, Laura said, of bad dreams, if he did go to bed.
“ But why do you care so very much, if you don’t get him off?—you suppose him guilty, you say ? ”
“Because, Delphine, his punishment is abominably disproportioned to his offence. This letter of the law killeth. And then I would get him off, if possible, for the sake of his son and the family. And besides all that, Del, it is not for me to judge, you know, but to defend him.”
“ Yes,— but if you do your best? ” I inquired.
“ A lawyer never does his best,” he replied, hastily, “ unless he succeeds. He must set his client’s case, or get him off.
I must get some sleep to-night,” he added, “and take another pull. There ‘s a man on the jury,— he is the only one who holds out. I know I don’t get him. And I know why. I see it in the cold steel of his eyes. His sister was left, within a week of their marriage-day, by a scoundrel,—left, too, to disgrace, as well as desertion,— and his heart is bitter towards all offences of the sort. I must get that man somehow! ”
He was standing on the steps, as he spoke, and bidding me good-night; but I saw his head and heart were both full of his case, and nothing else.
The words rang in my ear after he went away : “ Within a week of their marriage-day ! ” In a week we were to have been married. Thank Heaven, we were still to be married in a week. And he had spoken of the man as “ a scoundrel,” who left her. America, indeed ! what matters it ? Still, there would be the same head, the same heart, the same manliness, strength, nobleness,— all that a woman can truly honor and love. Not military, and not—a scoundrel ; but plain, massive, gentle, direct. He would do. And a sense of full happiness pressed up to my very lips, and bubbled over in laughter.
“You are a happy girl, Del. Mrs. Harris says the court and everybody is talking of Mr. Sampson’s great plea in that Shore case. Whether he gets it or not, his fortune is made. They say there hasn’t been such an argument since Webster’s time,—so irresistible. It took every body off their feet.”
I did not answer a word, — only clothed my soul with sackcloth and ashes, and called it good enough for me.
We went to bed. But in the middle of the night I waked Laura.
“ What’s the matter?” said she, springing out of bed.
“ Don’t, Laura !—nothing,” said I.
“ Oh, I thought you were ill! I ’ve been sleeping with one eye open, and just dropped away. What is it ? ”
“ Do lie down, then. I only wanted to ask you a question.”
“ Oh, do go to sleep ! It’s after three o’clock now. We never shall get up. Haven’t you been asleep yet? ”
“ No,—I’ve been thinking all the time. But you are impatient. It’s no matter. Wait till to-morrow morning.”
“ No. I am awake now. Tell me, and be done with it, Del.”
“ But I shall want your opinion, you know.”
“ Oh, will you tell me, Del ? ”
“ Well, it is this. How do you think a handsome, a very handsome chess-table would do ? ”
“ Do ! — for what ? ”
“Why, — for my aunt’s wedding-gift, you know.”
“ Oh, that! And you have waked me up, at this time of night, from the nicest dream! You cruel thing!”
“ I am so sorry, Laura ! But now that you are awake, just tell me how you like the idea;—I won’t ask you another word.”
“ Very well,—very good,—excellent,” murmured Laura.
In the course of the next ten minutes, however, I remembered that Laura never played chess, and that I had heard Mr. Sampson say once that he never played now, — that it was too easy for work, and too hard for amusement. So I put the chess-table entirely aside, and began again.
A position for sleep is, unluckily, the one that is sure to keep one awake. Lying down, all the blood in my body kept rushing to my brain, keeping up perpetual images of noun substantives. If I could have spent my fifty dollars in verbs, in taking a journey, in giving a fête champêtre ! (Garden lighted with Chinese lanterns, of course,— house covered inside and out with roses.) Things enough, indeed, there were to be bought. But the right thing !
A house, a park, a pair of horses, a curricle, a pony-phaëton. But how many feet of ground would fifty dollars buy? — and scarcely the hoof of a horse.
There was a diamond ring. Not for me ; because “ he ” had been too poor to offer me one. But I could give it to him. No, — that wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t wear it, — nor a pin of ditto, He had said, simplicity in dress was good economy and always good taste. No. Then something else, — that wouldn’t wear, wouldn’t tear, wouldn’t lose, rust, break.
As to clothes, to which I swung back in despair,—this very Aunt Allen had always sent us all our clothes. So it would only be getting more, and wouldn’t seem to be anything. She was an odd kind of woman, —generous in spots, as most people are, I believe. Laura and I both said, (to each other,) that, if she would allow us a hundred dollars a year each, we could dress well and suitably on it. But, instead of that, she sent us every year, with her best love, a trunk full of her own clothes, made for herself, and only a little worn,— always to he altered, and retrimmed, and refurbished: so that, although worth at first perhaps even more than two hundred dollars, they came, by their unfitness and non-fitness, to be worth to us only three-quarters of that sum ; and Laura and I reckoned that we lost exactly fifty dollars a year by Aunt Allen’s queerness. So much for our gratitude! Laura and I concluded it would be a good lesson to us about giving; and she had whispered to me something of the same sort, when I insisted on dressing Betsy Ann Hemtnenway, a little mulatto, in an Oriental caftan and trousers, and had promised her a red sash for her waist To be sure, Mrs. Hemmenway despised the whole thing, and said she “ wouldn’t let Betsy Ann be dressed up like a circusrider, for nobody ” ; and that she should “wear a bonnet and mantilly, like the rest of mankind.” Which, indeed, she did, — and her bonnet rivalled the coiffures of Paris in brilliancy and procrastination ; for it never came in sight till long after its little mistress, However, of that by-and-by. I was only too glad that Aunt Allen had not sent me another silk gown “ with her best love, ami, as she was only seventy, perhaps it might be useful.” No,—here was the fifty-dollar note, thank Plutus!
But then, what to do with it? Sleeping, that was the question. Waking, that was the same.
At twelve o'clock Mr. Sampson came to dine with us, and to say he was the happiest of men.
“ That is, of course, I shall be, next week,” said he, smiling and correcting himself. “But I am rather happy now ; for I ’ve got my case, and Shore has sailed for Australia. Good riddance, and may he never touch these shores any more! ”
He had been shaking hands with everybody, he said, — and was so glad to be out of it!
“ Now that it is all over, I wish you would tell me why you are so glad, when you honestly believe the man guilty,” said I.
“ Oh, my child, you are supposing the law to be perfect. Suppose the old English law to be in force now, making stealing a capital offence. You wouldn’t hang a starving woman or child who stole the baker’s loaf from your window-sill this morning before Polly had time to take it in, would you ? Yet this was the law until quite lately.”
“ After all, I don’t quite see either how you can bear to defend him, if you think him guilty, or be glad to have him escape, if he is,— I mean, supposing the punishment to be a fair one.”
“ Because I am a frail and erring man, Delphine, and like to get my case. If my client is guilty, — as we will suppose, for the sake of argument, he is, — he will not be likely to stop his evil career merely because he has got off now, and will be caught and hanged next time, possibly. If he does stop sinning, why, so much the better to have time for repentance, you know.”
“Don’t laugh, — now be serious.”
“ I am. Once, I made up my mind as to my client’s guilt from what he told and did not tell me, and went into court with a heavy heart. However, in the course of the trial, evidence, totally unexpected to all of us, was brought forward, and my client’s innocence fully established. it was a good lesson to me.
I learned by experience that the business of counsel is to defend or to prosecute, and not to judge. The judge and jury are stereoscopic and see the whole figure." How wise and nice it sounded ! Any way, I wasn’t a stereoscope, for I saw but one side, — the one “he ’ was on.
Monday morning. And we were to be married in the evening,—by ourselves, — nobody else. That was all the stipulation my lover made.
“I will be married morning, noon, or night, as you say, and dress and behave as you say ; but not in a crowd of even three persons.”
“ Not even Laura ? ”
“ Oh, yes! Laura.”
“ Not even Polly ? ”
“ Oh, yes ! the household.”
And then he said, softly, that, if I wanted to please him, — and he knew his darling Del did,— I would dress in a white gown of some sort, and put a tea-rose in my beautiful dark hair, and have nobody by but just the family and old Mr. Price, the Boynton minister.
“I know that isn’t what you thought of, exactly. You thought of being married in church ”—
“Oh, dear, dear! old Mr. Price!” — but I did not speak.
“ But if you would be willing ? ”—
“I supposed it would be more convenrent,” I muttered.
Visions of myself walking up the aisle, with a white silk on, tulle veil, orangeflowers, of course, (so becoming !) house crowded with friends, collation, walking under the trees, — all faded ofl with a mournful cry.
It was of no use talking. Whatever he thought best, I should do, if it were to be married by the headsman, supposing there were such a person. This was all settled, then, and had been for a week.
Nobody need say that lovers, or even married lovers, have but one mind. They have two minds always. And that is sometimes the best of it; since the perpetual sacrifices made to each other are made no sacrifices, but sweet triumphs, by their love. Still, just as much as green is composed of yellow and blue, and purple of red and blue, the rays can any time be separated, and they always have a conscious life of their own. Of course,
I had a sort of pleasure even in giving up my marriage in church ; but I kept my blue rays, lor all that,—and told Laura I dreaded the long, long prayer in that evening’s service, and that I hoped in mercy old Mr. Price would have his wits about him, and not preach a funeral discourse.
“ Old Mr. Price is eighty-nine years old, Laura says,” said I.
“ Yes. He was the minister who married my father and mother, and has always been our minister,” answered my lover.
And so it was settled.
Laura was rolling up tape, Monday morning, as quietly as if there were to be no wedding, lor my part, I wandered up and down, and could not set myself about anything.
“ Old Mr. Price ! and a great long prayer ! And that is to be the end ot it! My wedding-dress all made, and not to be worn ! Flowers ditto ! Nowhere to go, and so I shall stay at home, He has no house; so Taffy is to come to mine !”
And here I burst out laughing; for it was as well to laugh as cry ; and besides, I said a great many things on purpose to have Laura say what she always did,— and which, after all, it was sweet to me to hear. Those wore silly days !
“No, Del,—that is not the end of it, — only the beginning of it, — of a happy, useful, good life,—your path growing brighter and broader every year, — and — and — we won’t talk of the garlands, dear; but your heart will have bridalblossoms, whether your head has or not.”
Laura kissed me, with tears in her sisterly eyes. She never talks fine, and went directly out of the room after this.
I thought that women shouldn’t swear at all, or, if they did, should break their oaths as gracefully as I did mine, when I whispered it was ”so good of him, to be willing I should stay in the cottage where I had always lived, and where every rose-tree and lilac knew me ! ” And that was true, too. But not all the truth. What need to be telling truths all the time ? And what had women tongues for, but to hold them sometimes? Perhaps “ he,” too, would have preferred a journey to Europe, and a house on the Mill-Dam.
Things gradually settled themselves. My troubles seemed coming to a close by mechanical pressure. As to the name, it was better than Fire, Famine, and Slaughter,— and I was to take it into consideration, any way, and get used to it, it I could. The other trouble I put aside for the moment. After it was concluded on that the wedding should he strictly private, it was not necessary to buy my aunt’s present under a few days, and I could have the decided advantage, in that way, of avoiding a duplicate.
The Monday of my marriage sped away swiftly. Polly had come up early to say to “ Laury” (for Polly was a free and independent American girl of fortyfive) that “ there’d be so much goin’ to the door, and such, Betsy Ann had best be handy by, to answer the bell. Fin’ly, she ’s down there with her bunnet off, and goin’ to stay.”
As usual, Polly's plans were excellent, and adopted. There would be all the wedding-presents to arrive, congratulatory notes, etc. Everything to arrange, and a thousand and one things that neither one nor three pairs of hands could do. How I wished Betsy Ann would consent to dress like an Oriental child, and look pretty and picturesque, — like a Barbary slave bearing vessels of gold and silver chalices, instead of her silly pointed waist and “ mantilly,” which she persisted in wearing, and which, of course, gave the look only of a stranger and sojourner in the land !
I hoped she was a careful child,— there were so many things which might be spoiled, even if they came in boxes. Betsy Ann was instructed, on pain of — almost death, to he very, very careful, and to put everything on the table in the library. She was by no means to unpack an article, not even a bouquet. Laura and myself preferred to arrange everything ourselves. We proposed to place each of the presents, for that evening only, in the library, and spread them out as usual; but the very next day, we determined, they should all be put away, wherever they were to go, — of course, we could not tell where, till we saw them. That was Laura’s taste, and had come, on reflection, to be mine.
Laura said she should make me presents only of innumerable stitches: which she had done. Polly, whom it is both impossible and irrelevant to describe, took the opportunity to scrub the house from top to bottom. Her own wedding-present to me, homely though it was, I wrapped in silver paper, and showed it to her lying in state on the library-table, to her infinite amusement.
Like the North American Indian, the race of Pollies is fast going out of American life. You read an advertisement of “ an American servant who wants a place in a genteel family,” and virions of something common in American households, when you were children, come up to your mind’s eye. Without considering the absurdity of an American girl calling herself by such a name, your eyes fill with tears at the thought of the faithful and loving service of years ago, when neither sickness, nor sorrow, nor death itself separated the members of the household, but the nurse-maid was the beloved friend, living and dying under the same roof that witnessed her untiring and faithful devotion.
So, when you look after this “ American servant,” you find alien blood, lipservice, a surface-warmth that flatters, but does not delude, — a fidelity that fails you in sickness, or increased toil, or the prospect of higher wages; and you say to the “ American servant,”—
“How long have you been in Boston ? ”
“Born in Boston, Ma’m, — in Eliot Street, Ma’m.”
So was not Polly. Polly had lived with us always. She had a farm of her own, and needn’t have “lived out” five minutes, unless she had chosen. But she did choose it, and chose to keep her place. And that was a true friend, — in a humble position, possibly, yet one of her own choosing. She rejoiced and wept with us, knew all about us, — corresponded regularly with us when away, and wrote poetry. She had a fair mind, great shrewdness, and kept a journal of facts. We loved her dearly,— next to each other, and a hundred times better than we did Aunt Allen or any of them.
Of course, as the day wore on, and afternoon came, and then almost night came, and still the bell had not once rung,— not once! — Polly was not the person to express or to permit the least surprise. Not Caleb Balderstone himself had a sharper eye to the “ honor of the family.” Why it was was left to the doctrine of chances to decide. That it was grew clearer and clearer every hour, as every hour came slowly by, unladen with box or package, even a bouquet.
Betsy Ann had grinned a great many times, and asked Polly over and over, “ Where the presents all was ? ” and, “ When I was to Miss Russell’s, and Miss Sally was merried, the things come in with a rush, — silver, and gold, and money, ever so much ! ”
However, here Polly snubbed her, and told her to “shet up her head quick. Most of the presents was come long ago.”
“ Such a piece of work as I hed to shet up that critter’s mouth !” said Polly, laughing, as she assisted Laura in putting the last graces to my simple toilet before tea.
“ There, now, Miss Sampson to be ! I declare to man, you never looked better.
Pinks is pootty, and so be you.’ ”
“ How did you shut it, Polly ? ” said Laura, who was very much surprised, like myself, at the non-arrivals, and who constantly imagined she heard the bell. Ten arrivals we had both counted on,— ten, certainly, — fifteen, probably.
“ Well, I told her the presents was all locked up; and if she was a clever, good child, and went to school regular, and got her learnin’ good, I ’d certain show ’em to her some time. I told her,” added Polly, whimperingly, and holding her hand over her mouth to keep from loud laughter,— “I told her I ’d seen a couple on ’em done up in beautiful silver paper!'’
The bell rang at last, and we all sprang as with an electric shock. It was old Mr. Price, led in reverently by Mr. Sampson. Tea was ready; so we all sat down to it.
I don’t know what other people think of, when they are going to be married,— I mean at the moment. Books are eloquent on the subject. For my part, I must confess, I thought of nothing. And let that encourage the next bride, who will imagine herself a dunce, because she isn’t thinking of something line and solemn. Perhaps I had so many ideas pressing in, in all directions, that the mind itself couldn’t act. Be it as it may, I stood as if stupefied, — while old Mr. Price talked and prayed, it seemed, an age. I was roused, however, and glad enough I wasn’t in church, wdien he called out,— “Ameriky ! do you take this woman for your wedded wife?” and still more rejoiced when he added, sternly,—
“ Delphiny ! ” (using the long i,) “do you take Ameriky ?”
We both said “ Yes.” And then he commended us affectionately and reverently to the protection and love of Him who had himself conic to a wedding. He then came to a close, to Polly’s delight, who said she “ had expected nothin’ but what the old gentleman would hold on an hour, — missionaries to China, and all.”
Old Mr. Price took a piece of cake and a full glass of wine, and wished us joy. He was fast passing away, and with him the old-class ministers, now only traditional, who drank their half-mug of flip at funerals, went to balls to look benignantly on the scene of pleasure, came home at ten o’clock to. write “the improvement” to their Sunday’s sermon, took the other halt-mug, and went to bed peaceably and in charity with the whole parish. They have gone, with the stagecoaches and country - newspapers ; and the places that knew them will know them no more.
Betsy Ann, who was mercifully admitted to the wedding, pronounced it without hesitation the “flattest thing she ever see,” — and was straightway dismissed by Polly, with an extra frosted cake, and a charge to “ get along home with herself.” Then Mr. Sampson walked slowly home with Mr. Price, and Laura and myself were left looking at each other.
“Delplnny!” said Laura.
“ Ameriky ! ” said I.
“Well, — it ’s over now. If you had happened to be Mrs. Conant’s daughter, you know, your name would have been Keren-happuch! ”
“ On the whole, I am glad it wasn’t in church,” said I.
Mr. Sampson returned before we had finished talking of that. And then Laura said, suddenly,—
“ But you must decide on Aunt Allen’s gift, Del. What shall it be? What will be pretty ? ”
“ You shall decide,” said I, amiably, turning to my husband.
“ Oh, I have no notion of what is pretty,— at least of but one thing, — and that is not in Aunt Allen’s gift.”
He laughed, and I blushed, of course, as he pointed the compliment straight at me.
“ But you must think. I cannot decide. I have thought of five hundred things already.”
“ Well, Laura, — what do you say ? ” said he.
“ I think a silver salver would be pretty, and useful, too.”
“ Pretty and useful. Then let it be a silver salver, and be done with it,” said he.
This notion of being “ done with it ” is so mannish ! Here was my Gordian knot cut at once! However, there was no help for it, — though now, more than ever, since there was no danger of a duplicate, did I long for the fifty thousand different beautiful things the fifty dollars would buy.
Circumstances aided us, too, in coming to a conclusion. I was rather tired of rocking on these billows of uncertainty, even with the chance of plucking gems from the depths. And Mrs. Harris was coming the next day to tea, and to go away early to sec Piccolomini sing and sparkle.
When we sat down that next day at the table, I poured the tea into a cup, and placed it on the prettiest little silver tray, and Polly handed it to Mrs. Harris as if she had done that particular thing all her life.
“Beautiful!” said Mrs. Harris, as it sparkled along back ; “ one of your wedding-gifts ? ”
“ Yes,” I answered, carelessly,—“ Aunt Allen’s.”
So much was well got over. My hope was that Mrs. Harris, who talked well, and was never weary of that sort of welldoing, would keep on her own subjects of interest, to the exclusion of mine. Therefore, when she said pleasantly, en passant, —
“ By the way, Delphine, I see you have taken my advice about wedding-presents. You know I always abominated that parading of gifts.”
Laura hastened to the rescue, saying,—
“ Yes, we quite agree with you, and remember your decided opinions on that subject. Did you say you had been to the Aquarial Gardens ? ”
How I wished I had been self-possessed enough to tell the whole story, with its ridiculous side out, and make a good laugh over it, as it deserved!—for Mrs. Harris wouldn’t stay in the Aquarial Gardens, which she pronounced a disgusting exhibition of “ Creep and Crawl,” and that it was all a set of little horrors; but swung back to wedding-gifts and wedding-times.
it wasn’t fashionable, or, I should say, necessary, to buy something for a bride,” said Mrs. Harris, meditatively, and looking back — as we could see by her eyes — a long way.
For my part, I thought she had much better choose some other subject, considering everything. Certainly she had been one of the ten I had counted on. But she suddenly collected herself.
“ I never look at a great needle-book, (‘housewife,’ we used to call it,) full of all possible and impossible contrivances and conveniences, without recalling my Aunt Hovey’s patient smile when she gave it to me. She was rheumatic, and confined for twenty years to her chair; and these ‘housewives’ she made exquisitely, and each of her young friends on her wedding-day might count on one. Then Sebiah Collins,—she brought me a bag of holders,—poor old soul! And Aunt Patty Hobbs gave me a bundle of rags! She said, ‘ Young housekeepers was allers awantin’ rags, and, in course, there wa’n’t nothin’ but what was bran’-new out of the store.’ Can I ever forget the Hill children, with their mysterious movements, their hidings, and their unaccountable absences? and then the work-basket on my toilet-table, on my wedding-morning ! the little pin-cushions and emery-sacks, the fantastic thimble-cases, and the fishshaped needle-books! all as nice as their handy little fingers could make, and every stitch telling of their earnest love and bright faces!—Every one of those children is dead. But I keep the workbasket sacred. I don’t know whether it is more pleasure or pain.”
She looked up again, as if before her passed a long procession. I had often seen that expression in the eyes of old, and even of middle-aged persons, who had had much mental vicissitude, but I had not interpreted it till now. It was only for a moment; and she added, cheerfully, —
“ The future is always pleasant; so we will look that way.”
Just then a gentleman wished to see Mr. Sampson on business, and they two went into the library.
Mrs. Harris talked on, and I led the way to the parlor. She said she should be called for presently ; and then Laura lighted the argand, and dropped the muslin curtains.
“ Oh, isn’t this sweet ? ” exclaimed Mrs. Harris, rapturously, approaching the table. “ How the best work of Art pales before Nature!”
It was only a tall small vase of ground glass, holding a pond-lily, fully opened. But it was perfect in its way, and I knew by the smile on Laura’s lips that it was her gift.
“Mine is in that corner, Delphine,” said Mrs. Harris. “ I wouldn’t have it brought here till to-night, when I could see Laura, for fear you should have a duplicate. So here is my Mercury, that I have looked at till I love it. I wouldn’t give you one that had only the odor of the shop about it ; but you will never look at this, Del, without thoughts of our little cozy room and your old friend.”
“ Beautiful ! No, indeed! Always ! ” murmured I.
She drew a little box from her pocket, and took out of it a taper-stand of chased silver.
“ Mrs. Gore asked me to bring it to you, with her love. She wouldn’t send it yesterday, she said, because it would look so like nothing by the side of costly gifts. Pretty, graceful little thing! isn’t it? It is an evening-primrose, I think,—‘ love's own light,’ — hey, Delphine ?”
We had scarcely half admired the taper-stand and the Mercury when the carriage came for Mrs. Harris, who insisted on taking away Laura with her to the opera.
“ No matter whether you thought of going or not; and, happily, there ’s no danger of Delphine being lonely. ‘ Two are company,’ you know Emerson says,
‘ but three are a congregation.’ So they will be glad to spare you. There, now! that is all you want, — and this shawl.”
After they went, I sat listening for nearly half an hour to the low murmurs in the next room, and wishing the stranger would only go, so that I might exhibit my new treasures. At last the strange gentleman opened the door softly, talking all the way, across the room, through the entry, and finally whispering himself fairly out-of-doors. When my husband came in, I was eager to show him the Mercury, and the lily, and the taper-stand.
“And do you know, after all, I hadn't the real nobleness and truthfulness and right-mindedness to tell Mrs. Harris that these and Aunt Allen’s gift were all I had received ! I am ashamed of myself, to have such a mean mortification about what is really of no importance. Certainly, if my friends don’t care enough for me to send me something, I ought to be above caring for it.”
“ I don’t know that, Del. Your mortification is very natural. How can we help caring? Do you like your Aunt Allen very much ? ” added he, abruptly.
“ Because she gave me fifty dollars ? Yes, I begin to think I do,” said I, laughing.
He looked at me quickly.
“Your Aunt Allen is very rich, is she not ? ”
“I believe so. Why? You look very serious. I neither respect nor love her for her riches; and I haven’t seen her these ten years.”
He looked sober and abstracted; but when I spoke, he smiled a little.
“ Do you remember Elia’s chapter on Old China?” said he, sitting down on the sofa, and — I don’t mind saying — putting one arm round my waist.
“ Do you remember Bridget’s plaintive regret that they had no longer the good old times when they were poor ? and about the delights of the shilling gallery ? ”
“ Yes, — what made you think of it ? ”
“What a beautiful chapter that is! — their gentle sorrow that they could no longer make nice bargains for books ! and his wearing new, neat, black clothes, alas! instead of the overworn suit that was made to hang on a few weeks longer, that he might buy the old folio of Beaumont and Fletcher! Do you remember it, Delphine ? ”
“ Yes, I do. And I think there is a deal of pleasure in considering and contriving,— though it ’s prettier in a book ” —
“ For my part,” interrupted my husband, as though he had not heard me speak, — “for my part, 1 am sorry one cannot have such an exquisite appreciation of pleasure but through pain; for — I am tired of labor — and privation — and, in short, poverty. To work so hard, and so constantly! — with such a long, weary vista before one !— and these petty gains ! Don’t you think poverty is the one thing hateful, Delphine?”
He sprang up suddenly, and began walking up and down the room,—up and down, — up and down; and without speaking any more, or seeming to wish me to answer.
“ Why, what is it ? What do you mean ?” said I, faintly ; for my heart felt like lead in my bosom.
He did not answer at first, but walked towards me; then, turning suddenly away, sprang out of the window at the side of the room, saying, with a constrained laugh, —
“I shall he in again, presently. In the mean time I leave you to meditations on the shilling gallery !”
What a strange taunting sound his voice had ! There was no insane blood among the Sampsons, or I might have thought he had suddenly gone crazy. Or if I had believed in demoniacal presences, I might have thought the murmuring, whispering old man was some tempter. Some evil influence certainly had been exerted over him. Scarcely less than deranged could I consider him now, to be willing thus to address me. It was true, he was poor, — that he had struggled with poverty. But had it not been my pride, as I thought it was his, that his battle was bravely borne, and would be bravely won ? I could not, even to myself, express the cruel cowardice of such words as he had used to his helpless wife. That he felt deeply and gallingly his poverty was plain. Even in that there was a weakness which induced more of contempt than pity for him; but was it not base to tell me of it now ? Now, when his load was doubled, he complained of the burden ! Why, I would have lain down and died far sooner than he should have guessed it of me. And he had thought it — and — said it!
There are emotions that seem, to crowd and supersede each other, so that the order of time is inverted. I came to the point of disdainful composure, even before the struggle and distress began. I sat quietly where my husband left me,— such a long, long time ! It seemed hours. I remembered how thoughtful I had determined to be of all our expenses,— the little account-book in which I had already entered some items; how I had thought of various ways in which I could assist him; yes, even little I was to be the most efficient and helpful of wives. Had I not taken writing-lessons secretly, and formed a thorough business-hand, and would I not earn many half-eagles with my eagle’s quill ? I remembered how I had thought, though I had not said it, (and how glad now I was I had not!) that we would help each other in sickness and health, — that we would toil up that weary hill where wealth stands so lusciously and goldenly shining. But then, hand in hand we were to have toiled, — hopefully, smilingly, lovingly, — not with this cold recrimination, nor, hardest of all, with — reproach !
Suddenly, a strange suspicion fell over me. It fell down on me like a pall. I shuddered with the cold of it.
I knew it wasn’t so. I knew he loved me, — that he meant nothing,— that it
was a passing discontent, a hateful feeling engendered by the sight of the costly trifles before us. Yes, — I knew that. But, good heavens! to tell his wife of it !
I sat, with my head throbbing, and holding my hands, utterly tearless; for tears were no expression of the distressful pain, and blank disappointment of a life, that I felt. I said I felt tins damp, dark suspicion. It was there like a presence, but it was as indefinite as dark; and I had a sort of control, in the midst of the tumult in my brain and heart, as to what thoughts I would let come to me. Not that! Faults there might be, — great ones,— but not that, the greatest! At least, if I could not respect, I could forgive,— for he loved me. Surely, surely, that must be true !
It would come, that flash, like lightning, or the unwilling memories of the drowning. I remembered the rich Miss Kate Stuart, who, they said, liked him, and that her father would have been glad to have him for a son-in-law. And I had asked him once about it, in the careless gayety of happy love. He had said, he supposed it might have happened — perhaps— who knows? — if he had not seen me. But he had seen me ! Could it be that he was thinking of?
My calmness was giving way. As soon as I spoke, though it was only in a word of ejaculation, my pity for myself broke all the flood-gates down, and I fell ou my face in a paroxysm of sobs.
A very calm, loving voice, and a strong arm raising me, brought me back at once from the wild ocean of passion on which I was tossing. I had not heard him come in. I was too proud and grieved to speak or to weep. So I dried my tears and sat stiffly silent.
“ You are tired, dear! ” said my husband, tenderly.
“ No, — it’s no matter.”
“ Everything is matter to me that concerns you. You know that, — you believe that, Delphine ? ”
“ Why, what a strange sound ! just as it used to sound ! ” I said to myself, whisperingly.
I know not what possessed me ; but I was determined to have the truth, and the whole truth. I turned towards him and looked straight into his eyes.
“ Tell me, truly, as you hope God will save you at your utmost need, do you love me ? Did you marry me from any motive but that of pure, true love ? ”
“ From no other,” answered he, with a face of unutterable surprise; and then added, solemnly, “ And may God take me, Delphine, when you cease to love me ! ”
It was enough. There was truth in every breath, in every glance of his deep eyes. A delicious languor took the place of the horrible tension that had been on every faculty, — a repose so sweet and perfect, that, if reason had placed the clearest possible proofs of my husband’s perfidy before me, I should simply have smiled and fallen asleep on his true heart, as I did.
When I opened my eyes, I met his anxious look.
“ Why, what has come over you, Del ? I did not know you were nervous.”
And then remembering, that, although I might be weakest among the weak, yet that it was his wisdom that was to sustain and comfort me, I said,—
“ By-and-by I will tell you all about it, — certainly I will. I must tell you some time, but not to-night.”
“And—I had thought to keep a secret from you, to-night, Del; but, on the whole, I shall feel better to tell you.”
“ Yes, — perhaps, — perhaps.”
“ Oh, yes ! Secrets are safest, told. First, then, Del, I will tell you this secret. I am very foolish. Don’t tell of it, will you ? See here ! ”
He held up his closed hand before my face, laughingly.
“ That man’s name, Del, is Drake”-----
“And not the Devil!” said I to myself.
“ Solitude Drake.”
“ Really? Is that it, truly ? What’s in your hand ? ”
“ Truly,—really. He lives in Albany. He is the son of a queer man, and is something of a humorist himself. I have seen one of his sons. He has two. One’s name is Paraclete, and the other Preserved. His daughter is pretty, very, and her name is Deliverance. They call her Del, for short. They do, on my word ! Worse than Delphine, is it not ? ”
“Why, don’t you like my name?” stammered I, with astonishment,
“ Yes, very well. I don’t care much about names. But I can tell you, Uncle Zabdiel and Aunt Jerusha, ‘from whom I have expectations,’ Del, think it is ‘just about the poorest kind of a name that ever a girl had.’ And our Cousin Abijah thought you were named Delilah, and that it was a good match for Sampson ! I rectified him there; but he still insists on your being called ‘Finy,’ in the family, to distinguish you from the Midianitish woman.”
“ And so Uncle Zabdiel thinks I have a poor name ? ” said I, laughing heartily. “ The shield looks neither gold nor silver, from which side soever we gaze. But I think he might put up with my name ! ”
My husband never knew exactly what I was laughing at. And why should he ? I was fast overcoming my weakness about names, and thinking they were nothing, compared to things, after all.
When our laugh (for his was sympathetic) had subsided into a quiet cheerfulness, he said, again holding up his hand,—
“Not at all curious, Del? You don't ask what Mr. Solitude Drake wanted ?”
“ I don’t think I care what he wanted : company, I suppose.”
And I went on making bad puns about solitude sweetened, and ducks and drakes, as happy people do, whose hearts are quite at ease.
“ And you don’t want to know at all, Del?” said he, laughing a little nervously, and dropping from his hand an open paper into mine, “ It shall be my wedding-present to you. It is Mr. Drake’s retainer. Pretty stout one, is it not? This is what made me jump out of the window, — this and one other thing.”
“ Why, this is a draft for five hundred dollars !” said I, reading and staring stupidly at the paper.
“ Yes, and I am retained in that great Albany land-case. It involves millions of property. That is all, Del. But I was so glad, so happy, that I was likely to do well at last, and that I could gratify all the wishes, reasonable and unreasonable, of my darling ! ”
“Is it a good deal?” said I, simply; for, after all, five hundred dollars did not seem such an Arabian fortune.
“ Yes, Del, a good deal. Whichever way it is decided, it will make my fortune. And now — the other thing. You are sure you are very calm, and all this won’t make you sleepless ? ”
“ Oh, no! I am calm as a clock.”
“Well, then, — your Aunt Allen is dead,”
“Dead! Is she? Did she leave us all her money ? ”
“ Why, no, you little cormorant. She has left it all about: Legacies, and Antioch College, and Destitute Societies. But I believe you have some clothes left to you and Laura. Any way, the will is in there, in the library: Mr. Drake had a copy of it. And the best of all is, I am to he the executor, which is enough better than residuary legatee.”
“ It is very strange ! ” said I, thinking of the multitude of old gowns I should have to alter over.
“ Yes, it is, indeed, very strange. One of the strangest things about the matter
is, that my good friend Solitude was so taken with ‘my queer name,’ as he calls
it, that he ‘took a fancy to me out of hand.’ To be sure, he listened through my argument in the Shore case, and that may have helped his opinion of me as a lawyer.—Here comes Laura. Who would have thought it was one o’clock ? ”
And who would have thought that my little ugly chrysalis of troubles would have turned out such beautiful butterflies of blessings ?