They sat together in the twilight conversing. Three years, with their alternations of joy and grief had swept over their married life, bringing their hearts into closer alliance, as each new emotion thrilled and upheaved the buried life within.
That night their souls seemed attuned to a richer melody than ever before; and as the twilight deepened, and one by one the stars appeared, the blessed baptism of a heavenly calm descended and rested upon their spirits.
"Then you think there are but very few harmonious marriages, Hugh?"
"My deep experience with human nature, and close observations of life, have led me to that conclusion. Our own, and a few happy exceptions beside, are but feeble offsets to the countless cases of unhappy unions."
"Unhappy; why?" he continued, talking more to himself than to the fair woman at his side; "people are only married fractionally, as a great thinker has written; and knowing so little of themselves, how can they know each other? The greatest strangers to each other whom I have ever met, have been parties bound together by the marriage laws!"
"But you would not sunder so holy a bond as that of marriage, Hugh?"
"I could not, and would not if I could. Whatever assimilates, whether of mind or matter, can not be sundered. I would only destroy false conditions, and build up in their places those of peace and harmony. While I fully appreciate the marriage covenant, I sorrow over the imperfect manhood which desecrates it. I question again and again, why persons so dissimilar in tastes and habits, are brought together; and then the question is partly, if not fully answered, by the great truth of God's economy, which brings the lesser unto the greater to receive, darkness unto light, that all may grow together. I almost know by seeing one party, what the other is. Thus are the weak and strong—not strength and might—coupled. Marriage should be a help, and not a hindrance. In the present state of society, we are too restricted to know what marriage is. Either one, or both of those united, are selfish and narrow, allowing no conditions in which each may grow."
"Do I limit you, Hugh?"
"No, dearest, no; I never meant it should be so, either. When I gave you my love, I did not surrender my individual life and right of action. All of my being which you can appropriate to yourself is yours; you can take no more. What I take from you, is your love and sympathy. I cannot exhaust or receive you wholly."
"But I give you all of myself."
"Yet I can only take what I can absorb or receive into my being. The qualities of a human soul are too mighty to be absorbed by any one."
"What matters it if I am content in your love that I wish for none other?"
"I have often feared, dear Alice, that your individual life was lost in your love for me."
"What matters it, if you give me yourself in return?"
"It matters much. If we are not strong for ourselves, we are not strength to each other. If we have no reserve force, we shall in time consume each other's life. We can never be wholly another's."
"Am I not wholly yours, dear Hugh?" she said, raising her eyes tenderly to his, in that summer twilight.
"Not all mine, but all that I can receive."
"It may be true, but it seems cold to me," she replied, a little sadly.
"Too much philosophy and not enough love for your tender woman nature, is it not, darling?"
"I think you have explained it. I feel as though you were drifting away from me, Hugh, when you talk as you do to-night. Although I dearly love progress and enlarged views of life, I do not like many of the questions that are being agitated in reference to marriage."
"Because you do not take comprehensive views of the matter. I can, I think, set you clear on the whole subject, and divorce from your mind the thought that liberty is license. Liberty, in its full, true meaning, is the pure action of a true manhood, in obedience to the laws of the individual. For a simple illustration, look at our neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Danforth. She, as you well know, is an ambitious woman; smart, and rather above the majority of her neighbors, intellectually, but not spiritually. Her husband is a kind-hearted man, content to fill an ordinary station in life, but spiritually far her superior. His nature is rich in affection; her nature is cold and intellectual. He knows nothing of other woman's views, consequently has no standard by which to form an estimate of those of his wife. If she was wise, as well as sharp, she would see that she is standing in her own light; for the man whom she wishes to look upon her, and her only, will soon be a pure negation, a mere machine, an echo of her own jealousy and selfish pride. Now, freedom, or his liberty, would give him the right to mingle and converse with other women; then he would know what his wife was to him, while he would retain himself and give to her his manhood, instead of the mere return of her own self. At present he dare not utter a word to which she does not fully subscribe. She talks of his 'love' for her; it should be his 'servility.' They live in too close relation to be all they might to each other. I have heard her proudly assert, that he never spent an evening from home! I think they are both to be pitied; but, am I making the subject of freedom in any degree clear to your mind, my patient wife?"
"Yes, I begin to see that it is higher and nobler to be free, and far purer than I supposed."
"Yes, dear one," he said, drawing her close to his heart, "we must at times go from what we most tenderly love, in order to be drawn closer. The closest links are those which do not bind at all. It is a great mistake to keep the marriage tie so binding, and to force upon society such a dearth of social life as we see around us daily. Give men and women liberty to enjoy themselves on high social planes, and we shall not have the debasing things which are occurring daily, and are constantly on the increase. If I should take a lady of culture and refinement to a concert, a lecture, or to a theatre, would not society lift up its hands in holy horror, and scandal-mongers go from house to house? If men and women come not together on high planes, they will meet on debasing ones. Give us more liberty, and we shall have more purity. I speak these words not impulsively; they are the result of long thinking, and were they my last, I would as strongly and as fearlessly utter them."
"I feel myself growing in thought, to-night, Hugh, and O, how proud I feel that the little being who is soon to claim our love, if all is well, will come into at least some knowledge of these things."
In a few weeks she expected to become a mother, and was looking hopefully forward to the event, as all women do, or should, who have pleasant homes and worthy husbands.
"I, too, am glad that we can give it the benefit of our experience, and shall be proud to welcome into the world a legitimate child."
"Why, Hugh! what do you mean? All children are legitimate, are they not, that are born in wedlock?"
"Very far from it. In very many cases they are wholly illegitimate."
His wife looked eagerly for an explanation.
"All persons who are not living in harmony and love, are bringing into the world illegitimate offspring. Children should be born because they are wanted. A welcome should greet every new-born child, and yet a mere physical relation is all that exists between thousands of parents and children, while thousands who have not given physical birth are more fitted by qualities of heart and soul to be the parents of these spiritual orphans than the blood relations, who claim them as their own. I often think that many in the other life will find, even though they may have had no offspring in this, that they have children by the ties of soul and heart-affinity, which constitutes after all the only relationship that is immortal."
Ten days after the above conversation, the eventful period came. All night she lingered in pain, and at daybreak a bright and beautiful daughter was laid at her side. But, alas! life here was not for her. Mother and babe were about to be separated, for the fast receding pulse told plainly to the watchful physician that her days were numbered. Her anguished husband read it in the hopeless features of the doctor, and leaning over the dear one he loved so well, be caught from her these last words,—
"Call her DAWN! for is she not a coming light to you? See, the day is breaking, Hugh,"—then the lips closed forever.
"Come back, come back to me, my loved, my darling one," broke from the anguished heart of the stricken husband, and falling on his knees beside the now lifeless form, he buried his face in his hands, and wept.
But even grief cannot always have its sway.
A low, wailing cry from the infant moved his heart with a strange thrill, he knew not whether of joy or pain, and rising from the posture in which grief had thrown him, he went and bowed himself over the silent form.
One gone, another come.
But the little being had her life in its veins, and slowly he felt himself drawn earthward by this new claim upon his love and sympathy.
A strange feeling came over him as the nurse took the little child, and laid upon the bed the robes its mother had prepared for it.
It was too much, and the heart-stricken man left the room, and locking himself in his library, where he had spent so many happy hours with his lost one, gave full vent to the deep anguish of his soul. He heard the kind physician's steps as he left, and no more. For hours he sat bowed in grief, and silent, while sorrow's bitter waters surged over him.
No more would her sweet smile light his home; no more her voice call his name in those tender tones, that had so often been music to his ears; no more could they walk or sit in the moonlight and converse. Was it really true? Had Alice gone, or was it not all a troubled dream?
Noon came, and his brow became more fevered. But there was no soft hand to soothe the pain away. Night came, and still he sat and mourned; and then the sound of voices reached his ears. He roused himself to meet the friends and relations of his dear departed one, and then all seemed vague, indefinite and dreamlike.
The funeral rites, the burial, the falling earth upon the coffin lid; these all passed before him, then like one in a stupor he went back to his home, and took up the broken threads of life again, and learned to live and smile for his bright-eyed, beautiful Dawn. May she be Dawn to the world, he said unto himself, as he looked into her heaven-blue eyes; then thanked God that his life was spared to guide her over life's rough seas, and each day brought fresh inspirations of hope, new aspirations of strength, and more confiding trust in Him whose ways are not as our ways.
Dawn grew to be very beautiful. Every day revealed some new charm, until Hugh feared she too might go and live with the angels. But there was a mission for her to perform on the earth, and she lived.
Each day he talked to her of her mother, and kept her memory alive to her beautiful traits, until the child grew so familiar with her being as to know no loss of her bodily presence, save in temporal affairs.
A faithful and efficient woman kept their house, and cared for Dawn's physical wants; her father attending to her needs, both mental and spiritual, until she reached the age of seven, when a change in his business required him to be so often away from home, that he advertised for a governess to superintend her studies and her daily deportment.
"What was mamma like?" asked Dawn of her father one evening as they sat in the moonlight together, "was she like the twilight?"
He turned upon the child with admiration, for to him nothing in nature could better be likened unto his lost and lovely Alice.
"Yes, darling," he said, kissing her again and again, "mamma was just like the twilight—sweet, tender, and soothing."
"Then I am not at all like mamma?" she remarked, a little sadly.
"Because I am strong and full of life. I always feel as though it was just daylight. I never feel tired, papa, I only feel hushed."
"Heaven grant my daughter may never be weary," he said, and stooped to kiss her, while he brushed away a tear which started as he did so.
"I shall never be weary while I have you, papa. You will never leave me, will you?"
"I hope to be spared many years to guard and love my charge."
A few days after, Dawn was surprised to find the governess, of whom her father had spoken, in the library, and her father with his carpet-bag packed, ready for a journey.
Am I not going too, papa?" she said, turning on him her face, as though her heart was ready to burst with grief. It was their first parting, and equally hard for parent and child.
"Not this time, darling, but in the summer we shall go to the sea-shore and the mountains, and take Miss Vernon with us. Come, this is your teacher, Dawn; I want you to be very good and obedient while I am away," and then, looking at his watch, he bade them both adieu.
He knew the child was weeping bitterly. All the way to the cars, and on the journey through that long, sunny day, he felt her calling him back. There could be no real separation between them, and it was painful to part, and keep both so drawn and attenuated in spirit.
In vain Miss Vernon exerted herself to make the child happy. It was of no use. Her delicate organism had received its first shock; but in due time her spirit broke through the clouds in its native brilliancy, and there was no lingering shadow left on her sky. Dawn was as bright and smiling as she had been sad and dispirited.
"I will gather some wild flowers and make the room all bright and lovely for papa," she said, and in a moment was far away.
"It's no use training her, you see, Miss," the good housekeeper asserted, as a sort of an apology for the child, whom she loved almost to idolatry, "might as well try to trap the sunlight or catch moonbeams. She'll have her way, and, somehow to me, her way seems always right. Will you please step out to tea, Miss, and then I will go and look after her; or, if you like, you can follow that little path that leads from the garden gate to the hill where she has gone for her flowers."
Miss Vernon was glad to go; and after a light supper, was on her way, almost fearful that the child might consider her an intruder, for she instinctively felt that she must work her way into the affections of her new charge.
She followed the path to the hill, and after walking for some time and not finding Dawn, was about to retrace her steps, when she heard a low, sweet voice, chanting an evening hymn. She sat upon a bed of grey moss until the chanting ceased, and then went in the direction from which the sound came.
There sat Dawn, with eyes uplifted, lips parted as though in conversation, and features glowing with intensest emotion. Then the eyes dropped, and her little hands were pressed to her heart, as though the effort had been too great.
Slowly Miss Vernon stepped towards her. Dawn caught her eye, and motioned her to come nearer.
"Are you not lonely here, child?" she asked.
"Lonely? O, no. I am not alone, Miss Vernon, God is here, and I am so full I sing, or I should die. Did you hear me?"
"I did. Who taught you that beautiful chant?"
"No one; it grew in me; just as the flowers grow on the plants."
"I have an instructor here, and one I shall find more interesting than tractable," mused the governess, as she looked upon the child. But Dawn was not learned in one day, as she afterwards found.
The sun sank behind the hills just as they entered the garden together. Dawn missed her father too much to be quite up to her usual point of life, and she went and laid herself down upon a couch in the library, and chatted away the hour before her bedtime. She missed him more than she could tell; and then she thought to herself, "Who can I tell how much I miss my father?"
"Did you ever have any body you loved go away, Miss Vernon?" she at last ventured to ask, and her voice told what she suffered.
"I have no near friends living, dear child."
"What! did they all die? Only my mamma is dead; but I don't miss her; I think she must be in the air, I feel her so. Have n't you any father, Miss Vernon?"
"No. He died when I was quite young, and then my mother, and before I came here I buried my last near relative-an aunt."
"But aunts don't know us, do they?"
"Why not? I don't quite understand you," she said, wishing to bring the child out.
"Why, they don't feel our souls. I have got aunts and cousins, but they seem away off, O, so far. They live here, but I don't feel them; and they make me, O, so tired. They never say anything that makes me thrill all over as papa does. Don't you see now what I mean?"
"Yes, I see. Will you tell me after I have been here awhile, if I make you tired?"
"I need not tell you in words. You will see me get tired."
"Very good. I hope I shall not weary you."
"I can tell by to-morrow, and if I do look tired you will go, won't you?"
"Certainly; and for fear I may weary you now, I will retire, if you will promise to go too."
She yielded willingly to Miss Vernon's wish, and was led to her room, where the sensitive, pure being was soon at rest.
It seemed almost too early for any one to be stirring, when Miss Vernon heard a little tap on her door, and the next moment beheld a childish face peeping in.
"May I come?"
"Certainly. I hope you have had pleasant dreams, Dawn. Can you tell me why they gave you such a strange name?"
"Strange? Why I am Dawn, that is the reason; and mamma was Twilight, only her mother did n't give her the right name."
"Have you slept well?"
"I did n't know anything till I woke up. Was that sleeping well?"
"I think it was. Now will you tell me at what hour you have breakfast, that I may prepare myself in season?"
"When papa is at home, at eight o'clock. This morning I am going to see Bessie, the new calf, and Minnie Day's kittens, and Percy Willard's new pony, so Aunt Sue says she can have breakfast any time."
Miss Vernon upon this concluded that she need make no hasty toilet, and sank back upon her pillow to think awhile of her new surroundings.
Breakfast waited, but no Dawn appeared. Aunt Sue, fearing that the toast and coffee might be spoiled, rang for Miss Vernon.
At eleven Dawn came in with soiled clothes and wet feet.
"O, Aunty, the pony was so wild, and the kittens so cunning, I could n't come before."
"And see your clothes, Dawn. I must work very hard to-day to wash and dry them. Now go to your room and change them all, and try to remember others when you are in your enjoyments, won't you?"
"Yes, and I won't soil them again, auntie."
"Until the next time, I fear," said the kind housekeeper, who was, perhaps, too forgiving with the strange, wild child.
The next day Dawn was filled with delight at her father's return. He came early in the morning, and found his pet awake and watching for his approach.
"O, papa, such a dream, a real dream, as I had last night. Sit right here by the window, please, while I tell it to you."
"Perhaps your dream will be so real that we shall not want anything more substantial for breakfast."
"O, it's better than food, papa."
"Well, go on, my pet."
"I was thinking how glad I should be to see my papa, when I went to sleep and had this beautiful dream:—
"I was walking in a garden all full of flowers and vines, when I saw my mother coming towards me, with something upon her arm. She came close, and then I saw it was a robe, O, such a white robe, whiter than snow. She put it on me, and it was too long. I asked if it was for me why it was so long. 'You will grow,' she said, 'tall and beautiful, and need the long garment.' Then she led the way, and motioned me to follow. She led me down a dismal lane, and into a damp, dreadful place, where the streets were all mud and dirt. 'O, my dress,' I said, 'my pure white robe.' 'No dust and dirt can stain it,' she replied, 'walk through that dark street and see.' I went, and looked back at each step, but my pure white robe was not soiled, and when I returned to her, it was as spotless as ever. Was it not a lovely dream, and what does it mean, papa?"
"A lesson too deep for your childhood to comprehend, and yet I will some day tell you. But here comes Miss Vernon, and the bell has rung for breakfast."
The next day, while Dawn wandered over the hills, her father conversed with Miss Vernon on what to his mind constituted an education.
"I know that all our growth is slow, but I wish to take the right steps if possible in the right direction; I wish my daughter to be wholly, not fractionally developed. There are certain parts of her nature which I shall trust to no one. Her daily lessons, a knowledge respecting domestic affairs, a thorough comprehension of the making and cost of wearing apparel, and a due regard to proper attire, I shall trust to you, if you are competent to fill such a position, and I think you are."
"I have seen so much misery," he continued, "resulting from the inability of some women to make a home happy, that I have resolved if my child lives to years of maturity, all accomplishments shall give way, if need be, to this one thing, a thorough knowledge of domestic affairs. Society is so at fault in these matters, and women generally have such false ideas of them, that I despair of reforming any one. If I can educate my daughter to live, or rather approximate in some degree, to my ideal of a true woman's life, it is all I can expect. Are you fond of domestic life, Miss Vernon?"
He turned so abruptly upon her that she feared her hesitation might be taken for a lack of feeling on the subject, and yet she could not bear the thought that one whose ideal was so near her own, did not fully comprehend her upon such a theme; but there was no mistaking her meaning when she replied,—
"I love home, and all that makes that spot holy. I only regret that my one-sided labor and my circumstances have kept me from mingling, to any great extent, in its joys and responsibilities. My ideal life would be to work, study and teach, but as no opportunities for doing so have been presented to me, and having had no home of my own, I have been obliged to work on in my one-sided way, unsatisfying as it has been."
"It shall be so no more, Miss Vernon. If you will call my house your home, so long as we harmonize, you shall have an opportunity to realize your wishes, and I will see that your services are well requited."
She was too full of gratitude to speak, but a tear started from her eye, and Mr. Wyman noticed that she turned aside to brush it away.
"You will stay with us, Miss Vernon, I am sure of that. Take Dawn into the kitchen every day, no matter if she rebels, as I fear she may, and slowly, but thoroughly educate her in all those seemingly minor details of household economy. Cause her to feel the importance of these things, and teach her to apply herself diligently to labor. I am not anxious that she should make any exhibition of her mental accomplishments, for I have learned to dislike parlor parades, and the showing off of children's acquirements. I do not want Dawn to dazzle with false how, but to be what she seems, and of use to the world. At the close of each day I shall question her about her studies, and show to her that I am interested not only in her books, but in her domestic attainments. Supply to her, as well as you can, that material, the want of which is so great a loss to a young girl, and your happiness shall be my study. Treat her as you would an own dear child, and when she gives you trouble, send her to me. I fear I may have wearied you, Miss Vernon, and as the day is so fine, had you not better take a walk?"
She was already too anxious to go by herself, and think of the happiness which was about opening for her. It seemed too much. All the years that had passed since her dear mother's death had been so lonely. No one had ever understood her nature, or seemed to think her anything but a machine to teach the children their daily lessons. But now what a prospective! How earnestly would she begin her new life; and burdened with this thought she walked to the edge of a green wood, and sat down to weep tears of pure joy.
When she returned she found her room filled with mosses and trailing vines, which Dawn had gathered for her. She was rapidly learning to love the child, and felt lonely when she was out of her sight.
In the evening they sat together,—father, child, and teacher, or companion, as she really was to them, in the library, communing in silence, no word breaking the spell, until Dawn did so by asking Miss Vernon if she played.
She glanced longingly at the beautiful instrument, which had not been opened since Mrs. Wyman's death, and said,—
"I do play and sing, but not as well as I hope to with opportunities for practice."
"Do open the piano, papa, it will spoil shut up so."
"So it will, Dawn. I will open it this moment," and he silently accused himself for keeping it closed so long.
"Do you love music, Dawn?" asked Miss Vernon, "can you sing?"
"You shall hear her, and then judge. Come, darling, while I play your favorite song;" and he commenced the prelude to a low, sweet air. She began at first tremulously, but gained confidence at each word, until at length her sweet, childish tones rose pure and clear above the voice of her father, who hummed rather than sang the song in his deep, rich bass.
His eyes were full of tears when they closed, for that hymn was his wife's favorite. He had taught it to Dawn, without telling her that her mother ever sung it.
"It seemed just as though mamma was here and sang too, papa, did n't it?"
"Mamma, no doubt, is with us. I am glad my little girl feels her presence, and always remember that she is with you, too, when you feel tempted to do wrong."
She nestled her head on his bosom and wept. Tears of joy or sorrow? Only they whose souls are finely and intensely strung, can know what made her weep.
"You must sing for us now, Miss Vernon," he said, and would have led her to the instrument, but for the burden of love, which was resting on his heart.
"I play only simple songs, Mr. Wyman, and, indeed, am quite out of practice."
"You have some gems stowed away, I know; please sing us one."
She arose, and after a few trembling notes, sang a sweet song with such pathos and richness that Mr. Wyman called again for more and more. Dawn was wild with joy, and then her father, after Miss Vernon declined to play more, proposed that they should sing an evening hymn.
In this they all joined, Miss Vernon's rich contralto blending sweetly with Dawn's pure soprano.
Their dreams were sweet and peaceful that night. Their souls had all met and harmonized, and harmony ever brings rest.
The following day Miss Vernon looked over Dawn's clothing, and laid aside whatever needed repairing. She was just folding some aprons, when the child rushed into the room, saying,—
"O, Miss Vernon, I must wear my blue dress to-day."
"Why that one?"
"Because I feel good, and blue is heavenly, so let me wear it, please, will you?"
"It's rather short, Dawn, but I suppose it will cover all your goodness for one day, will it not?"
"O, don't laugh, I feel truly good to-day, and any other dress would not do."
"You shall have it, Dawn. I am glad you like to dress according to your feelings. I do myself."
"Then how do you feel to-day, and what shall you dress in?"
"I feel very, very happy, but have no garment to symbolize my feelings."
"I don't want you to wear that grey dress, though, to-day?"
"Because it don't say anything."
"Nor my black?"
"O, no, no!"
"How will the drab with blue trimmings suit?"
"It's just the dress. You are silent, and have been rather sad, you know, Miss Vernon, and the blue is the glimmer of sky above your old, dull life. Do wear the drab with blue ribbons."
"I will, Dawn. My life is brighter, because I have some one to love;" and she pressed her lips warmly to the cheeks of her little charge.
When Mr. Wyman came in to dinner he thought he had never seen Dawn looking so fresh and beautiful, while his eyes rested in full satisfaction on Miss Vernon's lovely form, so becomingly arrayed. He liked the absence of the black dress, for its removal seemed to betoken a happier life, a life which he knew she needed, and which he mentally resolved she should possess, so far as he could contribute to it.
At the table, Mr. Wyman was talkative and gay, touching lightly here and there, upon subjects, without argument. It was conversation, not discussion, or an array of opinions, which flowed from the minds of those around the board, and of such a nature that all could join, from young to old.
Miss Vernon delighted in watching him as his eyes rested tenderly on his child. It was charming to witness such a tender relation existing between father and daughter.
The days flew swiftly by, and the still, peaceful Sabbath dawned.
How tranquil, and yet how full of life it seemed to Miss Vernon as she sat at her window and gazed on the scene of beauty before her. A lovely spring morning-the distant hills soft and mellow; the emerald fields glittering with dew-the tasseled pines nodding in the gentle breeze-and the whole atmosphere vibrating with the tones of the Sabbath bells.
"Surely," she said, "I need no form of worship. God is in all this. I wonder if I must go from all these beauties to a temple made with hands."
"Is n't this pleasanter than sitting in a bare walled church?" said Dawn, who had entered the room so softly that Miss Vernon was only made aware of her presence by this inquiry.
"I think it is. Do you go to church?"
"No. Papa does sometimes, but he never makes me go."
"I hope not."
"Shall you go to-day, Miss Vernon?"
"Not if I can act my pleasure."
"I am so glad, for papa said if you did not go, we would all take a walk, but if you wished to go, he would harness Swift and take you.
"I had much rather take the walk to-day. Some day, I shall want to go to your church."
"There, papa is ready, I hear him in the hall. Get your hat, Miss Vernon."
"But you forget he has not yet invited me."
"Dawn, ask Miss Vernon whether she will take a walk with us, or go to church?" said Mr. Wyman, at that moment calling from the foot of the stairs.
Miss Vernon was not long in making known her choice, for she sprang and put on her hat, and in a few moments the three were walking through the garden towards the woods and fields.
"Which direction, Miss Vernon, shall we take?"
"Any; it's all lovely."
"Then lead the way, Dawn, and mind you act as a good pilot, and do not get us into any brooks."
She ran gaily on before, and they soon found themselves on the verge of a rich, mossy dell.
"O, is it not beautiful, papa? I shall carry all this lovely moss home."
"No, Dawn, let it remain. Gather a few specimens from here and there, but do not mar the general beautiful effect. It is ours now; we can not make it more so by carrying it home to fade and die. Can we, darling?"
"No. You are always right and good, papa."
"To-morrow others may come here, and the lovely scene will be as pleasing to them as to us. There is a possession, Miss Vernon, other than that which the world recognizes; and it is always pleasant to me to think that though a man may build himself a palace, and call himself its proprietor, he alone really owns it whose eyes see the most of its beauties, and whose soul appropriates them. And so, a lovely spot like this, or the finest garden may belong to the passer-by whose purse does not contain a penny."
"How it smoothes in life the inequalities of station, and makes us content to admire, rather than strive for ownership."
"I see by your fervent enjoyment of the scene around us, Miss Vernon, that you, too, have discarded some of the old forms of worship, or rather found that a true worship of the divine is not limited by four walls."
"I have. For a long time I have seen so much bigotry, and so great a lack of all the Christian virtues, even in the most liberal churches, that I have felt I must seek my own mode of enjoying the Sabbath."
"I long ago found my true relation to all places and forms of devotion," remarked Mr. Wyman. "I do not for a moment ignore the church, nor what Christianity has done for us, yet while I see the good the church has accomplished, I also see its shortcomings and regret them. As an individual, I can say that I have done with most church organizations. I have heard good and earnest words spoken by clergymen in the pulpit once a week, and as good from the lips of working people at their tasks every day. I do not undervalue the influence that the forms of worship have on the masses. While they need them, they must remain where they are, and have them. I only want the church to be so liberal, that men and women who feel that they are getting life in another direction, will be recognized by it to be as good and true to their needs, as though they sat within its walls. How much have we at the present day of this? Who is large enough to feel that we cannot always draw from one fount? We are not machines, to be continually run in one direction."
"What do you think of our sabbath schools. Do they not need a new life, too?"
"Unquestionably. I think they need an infusion of dramatic life; something that interests while it instructs. Dry catechisms are not suited to the children of our day. We want the living present, and not the dead past. If I was called to superintend a sabbath school, I would have a little play enacted by a portion of the children, and then another portion, until all were actors in their turn."
"If you express your opinions, I fear you will wait a long time for a call?"
"I do not crave the position; I am only anxious to see the effect of my theory in practice. Children need demonstration; need muscular action. But I am, perhaps, wearying you."
"Go on. I am interested in all that relates to new phases of life."
"I should astonish some divines of the conservative order, were I to publish my views of social and religious life. I would sooner give money to build theatres, than churches. Everywhere I would cultivate a love for the drama, which is the highest and most impressive form of representing truth. My being is stirred to greater depths by good acting than it can possibly be by mere preaching. I shall be happy to see the day when religion is acknowledged to be the simple living out of individual lives, always toned, of course, by pure morality. I hope to see acts of kindness looked upon as religion, instead of a mere personal attendance upon worship. But I have talked too long. Where is Dawn?"
They walked on, and soon found her sitting on a moss-covered stone, twining a wreath of wild flowers. She looked like a queen, as she was for a time, of that beautiful dell.
"Have flowers souls, papa?" she asked, as he approached her.
"I hope they are immortal, at least in type. But why do you ask?"
"Because these flowers I have gathered will fade and die, and if they have souls they will not love me for gathering them, will they?"
"Perhaps all the sweetness of these flowers, when they die, passes into the soul of the one who gathers them."
"O, how pretty! That makes me think about the little girl who played with me one day and got angry. You told me that she was better for the bad feeling I had; that I had taken some of her evil, because I could overcome it-it with good."
"I am glad you remember so well what I tell you. Now as we cannot tell whether flowers have souls or not, we will believe that all their sweetness passes into ours."
"But if I should kill a serpent?"
"You must cover the evil with good."
"But, papa, people come to our house all full of evil things, like serpents. Don't they have enough good to cover them, or why do I feel them so plain?"
"I fear not; or, rather, their goodness has not been cultivated and made large enough to absorb the evil. We must go home now, or Aunt Susan will be waiting for us."
The three walked home together, in harmony with nature and themselves. They found their dinner waiting, and the simple meal neatly prepared, was graced with a vase of beautiful flowers.
In a few weeks the little neighborhood was duly aroused, and discussing the state of affairs at Mr. Wyman's. Each one considered herself called upon to pass judgment upon the daily proceedings.
"It's too ridiculous, right in the face and eyes of honest people, to see this woman and Mr. Wyman carrying on as they do," said Miss Gay, a lady of forty years, whose notions of the mingling of the sexes were of the strictest character.
"Why, how? Do tell us," chimed in her companion, a garrulous old lady.
"Why, they say that this young woman is going about with Mr. Wyman all the time. He takes her to ride almost every day, and they have interminable walks and daily confabs together."
"Well, I should think the child's lessons would come off slim, Miss Gay."
"O, that's only a subterfuge. They'll be married 'fore one year has gone by."
"I do not believe Hugh Wyman will ever marry again," said one who knew his character better than the others.
"Then what can he want of that young woman? No good, depend on that," and Mrs. Green shook her head as though she had more in it than she wished at that time to display.
While they chat and waste the hours, let us go and listen to the parties talked of, and judge for ourselves whether two earnest souls can not approach, enjoy each other, and yet be pure and blameless.
"I can scarcely believe, Mr. Wyman, that so brief a period could work such a change in my being. Before I came here, I thought all the world cold and heartless. You have taught me that friendship, even between men and women, may exist, and that the only true relations are of soul and not of blood. I can never by words tell you how grateful I feel to you for all these teachings," and she looked thoughtfully out on the summer scene before her.
"I am very glad that you are happy here, Miss Vernon, for when I first saw you I instinctively felt that you were just the companion for myself and daughter. I saw, too, the cloud which hung over you, and felt that my hand could lift it. You belong to Dawn and myself, and we shall keep you so long as you are happy."
"But what? I know your fears, and what this busy little neighborhood will say. I care no more for all its ideas of life than for the wind, while I feel right here," said Mr. Wyman, placing his hand upon his heart. "The time has come for all to live individual lives. I would not for a moment have your name sullied, but should you go, would gossip cease? No; stay here, Miss Vernon, and show to this little portion of the world that man and woman can live together sociably and honorably. I love you as a sister; no more. My dear Alice is now my wife, the same as when on earth. I speak as I do, knowing that you will meet with many sneers and frowns if you stay, but the consciousness of right will sustain you."
"How could you know what was in my mind? You have, indeed, expressed all my fears as regards this relation between us."
"Will you go or stay?"
"I shall stay."
"May you never regret the decision."
"Now may I ask you about this strange belief, that the departed are about us? Excuse me, if I seem curious, but when you spoke of your dear wife, my whole being quivered with a new and strange emotion. I only ask from deepest interest."
"I believe you. I wish I could transmit to your mind the proofs of my belief. I have almost daily positive proof of my wife's presence, sometimes by my own powers, and then again from those of my child."
"Then she, too, sees like yourself?"
"She does. And every day my experiences are too real and tangible for me to deny, or even doubt that the loved, and so-called 'lost,' are with us still. To my mind, there is nothing unnatural about it. Every day my faith deepens, and not for all the glory of this life would I change my belief. Death has brought myself and Alice nearer together. But I can only state to you my faith in this, my experience cannot be imparted. Each must seek, and find, and be convinced alone by personal experience and observation."
"I believe you, and your earnest words have sunk deep within my mind, yet in modern spiritualism I have little faith."
"Mere phenomenal spiritism is of course only designed to arrest the attention; its other form appeals to the soul, and becomes a part of the daily lives of those who realize it."
"But I have heard of so much that was contradictory, so much that cannot be reconciled."
"Neither can we reconcile the usual manifestations of life. Our daily experiences teach us that seeming absurdities abound on every hand."
"That is true. I sometimes think I shall never get the evidence which my nature requires to convince."
"In God's own time and way it will come, and when you are best fitted to receive it."
"But please go on, Mr. Wyman, and tell me more of your experience."
"I would I could tell you how often when I am weary, my dear Alice comes and watches over me at night; how truly I feel her thoughts, which she cannot express in words; and how, when the poor and needy are suffering, she leads me to where they dwell amid scenes of want. When my pure child speaks thoughts beyond herself, and describes to me some vision which I at the same time behold, with the exact look and gesture of her mother, I say I believe in spirit communion. I can well afford to let the world laugh; I know what I see and feel. And well do I know how much there is mixed with this modern spiritism, which has no origin save in the minds of the persons who substitute their hopes and thoughts for impressions. On this I have much to say to you at some future period. It is well that it is so, else we should not discriminate. Life is so full of adulterations, that which the world calls 'evil' is so mingled with that it calls 'good,' would it not be strange if this phase should come to us pure and unmixed?"
"It would not take you long to make me a convert to your faith; yet I hope sometime to have my own experiences. If there was not so much that conflicts with our reason, I think every one would naturally accept the belief you so fondly cherish."
"Without such conflicting experiences, we should be mere machines. We must grow in every direction, using every faculty for our guidance, yet ever remembering there are mightier realms than reason, and that the human soul must often go beyond that portal, to catch glimpses of the silent land."
"Life would indeed be blessed to me, could I feel an assurance that my mother was near me to strengthen me in my hours of weakness, and that she was interested in my labors."
"I know all our earnest longings are answered, and that sufficient proof will be given you. Say nothing of this conversation to Dawn. I have my reasons, and should not be surprised if, in a few days, she should give you a test of spirit presence."
"Can Dawn see as clearly as yourself?"
"She can, and far better. I do not force the gift upon her, or seek to overwork her powers. I want it to be natural and to unfold with all her other capacities. Never question her, let all come freely."
"I will remember; and here she comes laden as usual with flowers."
"O, Miss Vernon, O, papa, I have had such a good time!" she exclaimed out of breath and almost wild with excitement.
"What was it all about, child?"
"I was on the hill out here, getting flowers, when I seemed to hear music, all at once in the air. I think I went to sleep, but if it was a dream I know it means something, for I saw a tall, beautiful lady come to me, and on her forehead were the letters, M. V. Then she took a little box inlaid with gems, and drew from it a necklace of pearls, and then she went away, and as she turned-I saw these words come like a light-'Tell Florence.' Now, papa, what did it mean?"
Mr. Wyman turned to Miss Vernon who was weeping. He waited until her emotion subsided and then said,—
"Your mother, was it not?"
"They were my mother's initials. Her name was Mabel Vernon, and mine Florence."
"How strange. And the necklace, do you recognize that?"
"My mother gave me-on her dying bed-a pearl necklace in such a box as described by Dawn."
"And we did not know your name was Florence. We only knew you as Miss Vernon."
"Can it-can this be true? Ah, something tells me I may believe. I am too full now, Mr. Wyman, to talk. I must go."
"Call me Hugh, Florence, I am your brother—" and he led her gently to the house.
She remained in her room all that evening. Deep and strong was the tide which was setting into her new life. "If 't is true, 't is the greatest truth mortal has found," she said again and again to herself, as the old upheaved, and the new flowed into her soul. Life was becoming almost too full; her brain grew fevered, but at last sweet sleep, that soul refiner, came, and after a night's repose she awoke, calm and at rest.
After breakfast, Mr. Wyman informed Miss Vernon and Dawn that he should go away that day on business, and be absent perhaps two weeks.
"I have a book which I would like you to take to Miss Evans for me to-day," he said, addressing Miss Vernon.
"The lady who called here soon after I came?"
"I like her much, and should be pleased to see her again."
"I am glad you do. She is my ideal of a true woman, and one whom every young, earnest soul ought to know. You will go to-day?"
"Certainly; I am anxious to see her in her own home."
"She is queen of her domain, and entertains her friends in a most lady-like manner; but I must bid you both good-bye, and be off. Be happy, Miss Vernon, Florence, and let me find you full of good things to tell of yourself and Dawn, on my return. Good-bye."
"Good-bye, papa," rang out on the sweet summer air till he was out of sight, then the child's lid trembled, the lips quivered, and she laid her head on the bosom of her friend and teacher, and gave vent to the grief which ever wrung her at parting with her kind parent.
"I am glad you did not let your father see those tears. You are getting quite brave, Dawn."
"I feel so bad when he goes. Shall I ever be strong like you, and look calm after these partings? Perhaps you don't love papa; but every body does that knows him-you do, don't you?"
"Very much; but we will go to our lessons, now, dear."
"Can I bring my book into the hall, to-day? I like to stay where I saw him last."
"Certainly; and we will have a review to-day and see how well you remember your lessons. We shall have no interruptions this morning, and after dinner we will go together to see Miss Evans."
An hour passed, and the lessons were but half through, when a ring at the door caused them both to start, and they left the hall.
Aunt Susan answered the call, and ushered the visitors into the family sitting-room.
"Some ladies have called to see you, Miss Vernon," she said, thrusting her head into the doorway of the room where teacher and pupil sat close together with clasped hands, as though some invading force was about to wrest their lives apart.
"In a moment, Aunty, I will see them," and a strange shudder shook her frame.
"Where shall I go while they stay?" asked Dawn.
"Anywhere; only not far from home, as we intend to have an early dinner."
"Then I will stay here, and look over papa's folio of drawings."
Miss Vernon went to her room to see that her hair and dress were all right, and then slowly descended the stairs to the sitting-room. Her hand trembled violently as she turned the knob, and she almost resolved to go back to her room. "I am growing so sensitive of late," she said to herself, "but this will never do, I must go in," and she opened the door.
Three ladies hastily rose and bowed very formally, as she entered.
The tallest and most stylish of the three blandly inquired for her health, and after a few commonplace remarks, announced the object of their visit.
"We have come to you, Miss Vernon, to-day, as friends of our sex, to inform you of, as you may not fully comprehend, the character of the man whom you are serving."
Miss Vernon coolly signified her attention.
"We deemed it our duty to do so, being married women," broke in a little squeaky voice, belonging to the most demure-looking one of the party.
"Yes, we all decided, after long deliberation," added the third, "that no young woman who cared for her reputation, would tarry a day longer under this roof. This visit of ours is an act of the purest kindness, and we trust you will receive it as such, and in a kind spirit."
"Yes," resumed the first speaker, "it is no pleasant duty, and one we have long delayed performing, but we could not bear to see youth and innocence betrayed."
Miss Vernon at first seemed stunned. She knew not what to say, so many emotions filled her. She tried to speak, but her tongue lost its power, and all was silent. She made one more effort, and voice and courage returned, enabling her to address her "friends."
"Will you inform me, ladies, what grounds you have for your accusations against Mr. Wyman?"
"I beg pardon, Miss, we who have known him longer than yourself, of course know both sides of his character; indeed he has no reputation in B—, as all know."
She started involuntarily. What passed through her mind at that moment none can tell, but all can form some idea of the wild tremor of doubt which was gaining strength under their vile calumny and falsehood.
They saw their vantage ground, and followed close with such invectives as women only know how to hurl against whomsoever they assail.
"Strangers," she could not call them ladies, "I can only speak out of my own experience of this person who a few months ago was unknown to me. He has ever treated me with all delicacy and respect. I have ever found him to be a gentleman. I cannot, will not, believe your assertions," she said with emphasis, a sudden strength coming over her.
"If you do not believe us, then seek one proof of his wrong dealing, which you can find any day, at a small cottage near the uplands, on the road to L—. 'Tis only a mile from here, Miss, and we would advise you to acquaint yourself with the fact. Take our good advice and leave this house. That is all we can say to you. Of course, if you remain here, you will not be admitted into respectable society."
"I will not leave his house while he remains the friend and brother he is to me now."
"No virtuous woman will permit you, then, to enter her house; remember this, Miss Vernon," and the tall lady assumed an attitude of offended dignity.
"I see," she continued, "our visit has done but little save to arouse you. It may be at some future day, you will thank us for our advice to you this morning. We must go now. Good day, Miss."
"Good morning," replied Miss Vernon, rising and accompanying them to the door, scarce able to repel the strong tide of grief, or bear up under the weight of sadness that was bearing down her soul.
"My brief, happy days so soon, O, how soon, gone by, and over," she said, after she had closed the door; and she sank on her knees and prayed as only those have prayed before, in like trouble.
She knew not how long she knelt there, but she was roused by Dawn's sweet voice, which was always music to her soul, saying, "Please, may I come, Miss Vernon?"
She rose and held out her arms to receive the little one, who stood hesitatingly on the threshold of the library, then pressing the dear child to her heart, found a sweet sense of relief in doing so.
"I know what makes you feel so, Miss Vernon."
"What, Dawn, tell me all you feel," and she sank upon a seat and rested her face on her hand.
"I was looking over the drawings, and feeling very happy, when the room grew dark and cold, so cold I was frightened. Then I heard something say, 'Fear not, Dawn,' and I laid my head down upon the couch, and saw you standing in a damp, cold valley, on either side of which were beautiful green mountains, whose tops overlooked all the towns around. They were so steep that no one could climb them. While you stood there, a great cloud came directly over your head. It was full of rain, and it burst and flooded the whole valley. I feared you would be drowned; but you rose with the water, instead of its going over you, and when the tide was as high as the mountain, you stepped to its highest point, on the beautiful green grass, and sat down. Slowly the waters went down and left you on the mountain-top, where you could never have gone without the flood. Then I looked up, and the room was all full of sunshine just as it was before. I felt cold, and I heard the women go, and then-"
"Then what, Dawn?"
"Then I came to you. The cloud is over you now, but the high green mountain is more lovely than the valley, and overlooks all the pleasant vales and hills around. Do you care if the clouds burst now, Miss Vernon?"
"No, child, I will stand firm and sure while the rain descends. O, Dawn, so justly named, come and soothe my brow, for it aches so hard."
The child passed her soft, white hands over the forehead of Miss Vernon, and the throbbing pain passed away under her magic touch.
The bell rang for dinner long before they were ready for the summons, but they soon took their places at the table, yet with little appetite for food.
"A poor compliment you pay my dinner," said Aunt Susan, as she came to remove the dishes, and prepare for dessert. "I suppose you are both lonely without Mr. Wyman. I, too, miss his pleasant face and smile to-day."
How Miss Vernon wished she had not spoken his name just then.
The form of dinner over, Miss Vernon and Dawn dressed themselves for their walk, knowing that they must start in good season, as it was a long way to the house, and they would need to rest a little before their return.
"I almost question, Dawn, if I should go to Miss Evans while this cloud is over me," remarked Miss Vernon, feeling as though she was seeking counsel from one her superior in wisdom, rather than addressing a mere child.
"Why, Miss Evans is just what you need to-day. She is as calm as the lovely lake on which we sailed last week."
"Well, I need her to-day; but should I carry my state to her?"
"Why, she is like a great stream that carries all lesser streams to the ocean of truth," said Dawn, in a voice not her own, and so deep and thrilling that it made her teacher start and gaze with new wonder upon the child.
"Then we will go this very minute, Dawn; and through the pleasant fields, that we may avoid the dusty road."
Miss Evans sat quietly reading, when a gentle ring at the door, which seemed to reach her heart rather than her ears, aroused her from an intensely interesting chapter; but she laid the book aside, and promptly answered the call.
Her face looked the welcome her heart gave them, as she asked Dawn and her teacher into her cool, airy room. It was one of those snug, homelike spots, made bright by touches of beauty. Here a vase of flowers, there a basket of work; books, pictures, every chair and footstool betokened the taste of the occupant, and the air of home sacredness that pervaded all, soon made Miss Vernon at ease.
"We could n't help coming," said Dawn, as Miss Evans removed her hat and mantle, and her glowing features confirmed the assertion.
"Just the kind of visitors I like, fresh and spontaneous. We shall have a nice time, I know, this lovely afternoon."
"Can I walk in your garden, Miss Evans?"
"Certainly. But are you not too tired, now?"
"O, no," and Dawn was out of sight the next instant.
"I have brought you a book, Miss Evans, which Mr. Wyman requested me to bring, myself."
"O, yes," she said, glancing at the title, "the one he promised to loan me so long ago. Is he away from home?"
"He left this morning."
"You must miss him very much."
Miss Evans saw, with a woman's intuition, that something was weighing on the mind of her visitor, and kindly sought to divert her thoughts. The conversation brightened a little, yet it was apparent that Miss Vernon's interest flagged, and that her mind grew abstracted.
"I shall not relieve her, unless I probe the wound," said Miss Evans to herself, and she boldly ventured on grounds which her subtle penetration discovered to be the cause of her gloom.
"You find my friend, Mr. Wyman, an agreeable companion, I hope, Miss Vernon?"
"He has ever been so, and very kind and thoughtful."
"He is a true gentleman, and a man of honor, as well of refinement and noble character."
Miss Vernon breathed freer.
"You have made him very happy," resumed Miss Evans, "by consenting to remain with him and his daughter. They are both much attached to you."
A flush of pain she could not conceal passed over the face of the caller. "O, if I might but speak to you as I would," she said, almost fainting with emotion.
"Do tell me in words what you have already so plainly told me in your looks. Tell me freely the cause of the shadow that hangs over you."
In response to this appeal, Florence related the experience of the morning.
"I am not at all surprised at this," said Miss Evans, after the statement had been made, "for well I know the dark surmisings that the dwellers in this little village have worked up into imaginary evils. Sages would no doubt assert that all rumors have some degree of truth, however slight, for a foundation. This may be true; at least I will not deny that it is so, but the instigators of the cruel slanders in this case have nothing but ignorance upon which to base them. Hugh Wyman is what some might call eccentric. The fact is, he is so far beyond the majority of his fellow men that he stands alone, and is the cause of great clamor among those who do not know him. He expresses his views upon social questions freely but wisely. His opinions respecting the social relations that should exist between men and women, and their right to selfhood, are not his alone, but are held by the best minds in the world; and his home is often visited by men and women of the largest culture and ability, both as thinkers and writers. I do not wonder for a moment that your equilibrium was disturbed by these shallow-brained women. And now before I advocate my friend's honesty and virtue farther, I will tell you, what no one save myself and he knows, of one of the women who called upon you this morning. It is your due, after what has occurred, and belongs to this moment. I believe in such moments it is right to raise the veil of the past. Listen:—
"A few years ago, one of that number who came to you, sought by every subterfuge and art, to gain the affections of Hugh Wyman. Intellectually, spiritually, in every way his inferior, of course he could not for a moment desire her society. Yet she sought him at all times, and when, at last, he told her in words what he had all along so forcibly expressed by his acts, that he had not even respect for her, and bade her cease her maneuverings, she turned upon him in slander; and even on his wedding day asserted that his fair Alice was a woman of no repute—abandoned by her friends. Nor is this all;-one year after the marriage of Hugh, she gave birth to a child; it was laid at night at his door, and he was charged with being its father."
"But was she married, then?"
"No. She subsequently went to a small village in N—, and married."
"Did the town people believe her story?"
"A few-but proofs of his innocence long since established the falsity of the charge, except in the minds of those who seem to delight only in that which dispoils the character of another."
"But his wife? did she too suffer with doubt?"
"Never. Not for a moment was her faith in her husband clouded."
"And this child must be the one they spoke of to deceive me."
"It is. I will go with you some day to see him, and if your eyes can detect the slightest resemblance to Hugh Wyman, I shall think you are gifted with more than second sight. I do not wish to weary you, Miss Vernon, but my friend's character is too sacred to me to be thus assailed, and I not use all my powers to make known the truth, and prove him innocent."
"I believe his views upon marriage are rather radical, are they not, Miss Evans?"
"They are. I join him fully in all his ideas, for long have I seen that our system needs thorough reformation, and that while the marriage bond is holy, too many have desecrated it. I believe some of the most inharmonious offspring are brought into the world, under the sanction of marriage-children diseased, mentally and physically; and worse than orphans. I do not say this to countenance licentiousness. Indeed, I know that licentiousness is not all outside of wedlock. It is to purify and elevate the low, and not to give license to such, that earnest men and women are talking and writing to-day. I do not blame you, Miss Vernon, for wishing proof of Mr. Wyman's purity and honor. I like a mind that demands evidence. And now, tell me, have I scattered or broken the cloud that hung over you?"
"You have. I shall trust Mr. Wyman till I have some personal proof that he is not all I feel him to be."
"That is the true course to pursue, my friend. In that way alone you have your own life developed. If by word, look or deed he ever betrays your trust, I shall call my intuitions vain, and all my insight into human character mere idle conjecture."
"But I must go now, Miss Evans. I thank you much for the light which you have given me, and your sympathy, all of which I so much needed."
"Your position was indeed trying, but do you not feel that your character will be deeper and stronger for this disturbance?"
"I feel as though I had lived through a long period."
"I have one question to put to you, which you must answer from your soul's deep intuition, and not from your reason alone. Do you believe Hugh Wyman guilty of the crimes charged against him?"
"I do not."
There was no hesitation in the answer; their souls met on sympathetic ground, and those two women loved Hugh Wyman alike, with a pure sisterly affection.
There are pauses in every life; seasons of thought after outward experiences, when the soul questions, balances, and adjusts its emotions; weighs each act, condemns and justifies self in one breath, then throws itself hopefully into the future to await the incoming tide, whether of joy or sorrow it knows not.
In such a state Florence Vernon found herself a few days after her visit to Miss Evans. She thought when with her that no doubt could ever shadow her heart again; but fears had crept over her, even though she desired to be firm.
"Shall I stay and trust his nature, or go away and take up my old life, and be again desolate and lonely? Which?" She kept asking this again and again to herself. "I have been so happy here; but, if I go, it must be before he returns. No! I will not. I will stay and brave the talk, and-"
"Miss Vernon, please come down, papa has come!
"O, why did he come so soon? How I dread to meet him," were the words that Florence found springing to her lips; but not hearing his voice, she thought that Dawn must have been only in jest.
She listened again. Yes, Mr. Wyman was talking to Dawn in the hall. She sat very still, and soon heard them both go into the garden; then all was still. Again alone, she tried to analyze her emotions, and see whether her deepest feeling was that of peace and rest, the same she felt when she first entered the home of Mr. Wyman. It was there, as it had been, but so agitated that the effort to ascertain its presence gave back no deep trust to her questioning heart. The bell rang for tea. She would gladly have stayed away, but could fame no excuse, and after bathing her eyes, which were red and swollen, she went slowly down stairs.
"I suppose you are surprised, Florence, among the rest, at my unexpected presence. I did not myself expect to be at home so soon, but meeting one of the firm with whom my business was connected, I was but too glad to adjust it and return at once. I have felt very weary, too, since the first day I left home, as though some cloud was hanging over my home. My first thought was of Dawn, but her rosy, happy face soon put to flight the apprehensions I had for her; yet you, Florence, are not looking well; are you ill?"
"I am quite well, thank you."
He looked deeper than her words, and saw within a tumult of emotions. He did not notice her farther, but talked with Dawn during the remainder of the meal, and when they were through went alone to walk.
"He shuns me," she said, as she went into her room and sat down, sad and dejected, "what but wrong can make him appear so? But I will not leave it thus. I will know from him to-night whether these reports are true, and then if true, leave here forever. Happiness, like that I have experienced the past few months is too great to last."
He sat alone in the library; she rapped softly at his door.
"Come in," he said kindly, and rose to meet her as she entered.
She motioned him back to his seat. "Stay, do not rise," was all she could say, and fell at his feet.
He lifted her gently, as a mother might have raised a weary child, and placed her beside him. Then, taking her hand, cold with excitement, in his own, said,—
"I knew, Florence, by my depression, that your grief called me home. Some slander has reached your ears. Is it not so?"
"It is. I have trusted and doubted, until I scarce know my own mind."
"Do you feel most at rest when you trust me?"
"I think-yes, I know I do. Forgive me," she continued, "if these shadows had not fallen so suddenly on my path, I never should for a moment have lost my trust in you. I have been shaken, convulsed, and scarce know my best thoughts."
"You have, indeed. I know not who have thus disturbed you, but may they never suffer as we both have, and more especially yourself. I say I know not, and yet my suspicions may not be entirely without foundation. And now remember, Florence, the moment you feel that I am not what your ideal of a friend and brother should be, that moment we had better part."
She started, and grew pale.
"I do not allude to the present, or to the scandal which has unnerved and disturbed your state; nor can I expect you who are learning to trust impressions rather than experiences, to feel otherwise than you have. It was natural. I only wonder that you did not go at once. Your remaining has shown me your worth, and a trait of character which I admire. Now that the ordeal is passed, I shall feel that you are my friend, even though slander, vile and dark, may be hurled against me, as it is possible, for I have a battle to fight for you, my friend, and all womankind. The rights of woman, which have been ignored, or thought but lightly of, I shall strongly advocate, as opportunity occurs. I shall be misunderstood, over and underrated in the contest, but for that I care not. I only am too impatient to see the day when your sex shall not marry for mere shelter, and when labor of all kinds shall be open for their heads and hands, with remuneration commensurate with their efforts. I am anxiously looking for the time when their right to vote shall be admitted them, not grudgingly, but freely and willingly given; for is not woman God's highest work, and his best gift to man? Now, if the shadows come again, in shape of scandal, think you, you can trust me?"
"I can. I do, and can never doubt again. Forgive the past. I was weak-"
"There is nothing to forgive," said Mr. Wyman, as he leaned over and kissed her forehead.
The seal of brotherhood was set, and Hugh and Florence knew from that hour the bond which bound them, and that it was pure and spotless.
Mrs. Deane sat rocking, and casting impatient glances at the little clock upon the mantle. The book which she had an hour previous been deeply interested in, lay closed upon her lap, while the nervous glancing of her eye towards the door, told that she was anxiously awaiting the arrival of some one. The clock struck ten, and rising from her seat, she went to the window, and drawing the curtain aside, looked out on the soft summer night. It was one of those lovely evenings towards the close of the season, when the slightly chilled air reminds one of cosy firesides, and close companionship with those dearest to the heart. But her thoughts were not of a peaceful cast. She was alone, and jealous of him who had left her so. A moment later and the sound of footsteps was heard upon the piazza; a sound which in earlier years she had heard with thrills of pleasure. But to-night they only loosed the tension of long-pent passion, and selfish thoughts of neglect. She sank into a chair, and sat with the air of one deeply wronged, as her husband entered the room.
"What, up and waiting for me?" he said, going towards her, his face glowing with mental exhilaration.
She turned coldly from him, and took up her book. He drew it gently from her, saying,—
"Listen, Mabel, to me. I want to talk with you awhile. You can read when I am away."
"Yes, sir, I find ample opportunities for that," and she cast on him a look of keen rebuke.
"Don't, Mabel; listen to me."
"I am all attention; why do you not proceed?"
"Do you think I can talk while you are in such a frame of mind?"
"Why, what would you have me do? I am waiting for your words of wisdom, or, maybe, a lecture on the foibles of the sex in general, and myself in particular; proceed, it's quite a relief, I assure you, to hear a human voice after these lonely evenings, which seem interminable."
"Why, Mabel, what do you mean? I have not spent an evening away from you for nearly a year before this. My absence this evening has been purely accidental, although I have passed it very agreeably."
"And may I ask where you find such delightful entertainment, that kept you away till this late hour, for it is nearly midnight?"
"Yes. I have spent the evening with Miss Evans."
"That detestable strong-minded-"
"Mabel! I will not hear her spoken of in this manner."
"O, no indeed. All the men in L—are crazy after her society,—so refined, so progressive, so intelligent. I am sick of it all. I suppose you think we poor wives will submit to all this. No, no; I shall not, for one. You will spend your evenings at home with me. Howard Deane, you have no right to leave me for the society of any woman, as you have to-night."
Having thus expended her breath and wrath, she sank back into her hair and gave vent to her feelings in a flood of tears. To her limited sight, she was an injured woman. How different would she have felt could she have kindly listened to the words which he was longing to speak to her.
"O, Mabel, if you would only listen to me. To-night I have heard such glorious thoughts that my whole being longed to share them with you. Thoughts that would make any man or woman live a nobler and better life. O, Mabel, be my helpmate. Do not turn from one who loves you."
"A strange way to manifest your love for me, spending your hours with other women,—"
"Stop, Mabel. I will, at least, have myself heard, and be free to hear the thoughts of other women, as well as those of men. I begin to believe that the words of Hugh Wyman are too true, 'marriage, in nine cases out of ten, is a bondage-a yoke of tyranny, keeping two souls fretting and wearing each other's lives away.'"
He stopped, fearful that he had gone too far, and looked earnestly on the cold features of his wife. Forgive him, reader, he could not help comparing her then with Miss Evans, the latter so calm, earnest, and deep in her love for humanity and progressive life.
He stepped close to her side, and taking her hand as tenderly as a lover might, said,—
"Mabel, forgive me; I was excited, and said too much. I love you, as you well know, as I love no other woman, but I must have the innocent freedom of enjoying a friend's society, even though that friend be a woman.
"O, certainly, Mr. Deane. I would not for a moment debar you from social pleasures. I see I am not congenial, and do not attract you. Perhaps Miss Evans is your soul-affinity; if so, I beg you not to let me stand in your way. I can go to my father's, any day."
"Mabel!" It was all he could utter, and went out of the room.
Alone, and left to her own reflections, she became more calm. A tear of real penitence for her hasty words, stole down her cheek. "I will go and tell Howard I am sorry for my unkind remarks," she said, as she brushed it from her face, and she rose to do so. At that moment a short, quick ring of the doorbell shook away the resolve, and she trembled with fear, unable to answer the summons.
How thankful she felt to hear her husband's firm, manly step in the hall, and then his voice, low and rich as ever, welcoming her own parents. Why were they here? and what could have happened? were the questions which came to her mind, as her mother rushed into the room, followed by her father, with a carpet-bag and sundry packages.
"We have given you a surprise this time, I guess, Mabel," he said, kissing her as tenderly as he used to when she sat upon his knee, and listened to almost endless stories of his own making.
"But why is it that you are so late?" she asked, anxiously.
"The cars were delayed three hours by an accident, so instead of arriving in good time, we have come in rather out of order, but not unwelcome, Mabel, I know."
He did not see her face, or he might have feared that the welcome was not as warm as usual. She answered quickly:
"Why, yes, father, you and mother are welcome at any time of day or night," and yet she wished she was alone with Howard that moment.
"I told father," said her mother, looking at the clock, "that it was so late we had better go to a hotel, but he would come, saying, Howard would not mind getting up to give the old folks a welcome."
"We should have been very sorry to have had you done so. O, here comes Howard," and the husband of Mabel entered, looking very pale.
"Late hours don't agree with you, my son. What has kept you up so long?"
"Some winged messenger, I suspect, knowing you were coming; but you must be weary," and he offered the new-comers refreshments from the side board. Mabel, however, had flown to the dining-room and prepared them something more substantial in the way of cold meats, and a cup of tea, which she made in an incredibly short space of time.
It was a relief when she had shown them to their room. She went below and sat alone, hoping Howard would come to her. He had gone into his study, where he sometimes passed a greater part of the night in writing, for he was a lawyer by profession, being a man of more than average abilities, his services were sought for many miles around. Mabel waited, but he came not, and being unable longer to bear delay, she sought him in his retreat.
"Mabel, you ought to be in bed; its now half past one. You will scarce be able to entertain your father and mother, I fear, if you do not go now," and he resumed his writing.
"So cold! Well, I can live without his love," she said to herself, and turned to leave the room. He glanced at her lithe form, and all the lover-like feelings of early years came over him. He longed to fold her once more to his heart, and rose to follow her.
"Good night, sir," came from her lips in icy tones, and he returned to his labors, chilled, heart-sick and weary, where we will leave him and turn back one chapter to the cause of all this misconception, and see if we find in it aught but words of truth, and principles which should be understood by all.
Like too many women, Mrs. Deane had striven to keep her husband wholly to herself. She could not realize that one who is determined in her own way and time to get the whole, may not get even a part. She wanted him entirely for herself, ignorant of the fact, or if knowing, rebellious against it, that his being would flow to herself after a temporary receding, far richer in love. Alas, how many women are dwarfing noble men, and cheating themselves out of the highest enjoyments of life.
Of Miss Evans she knew nothing, save by report. Like the many, she allowed her prejudices to control her, and avoided all opportunities of making the acquaintance of a worthy woman, one who was fast becoming life and light to minds of a high order. The thoughts which had thrilled the heart and soul of her husband we will record for the benefit of those who may be struggling for light.
Howard Deane walked to the village post office that evening with no other thought than of receiving his papers and returning home. While there, he met Hugh Wyman, who requested him, as it was on his way, to take a magazine to Miss Evans. He did not hesitate to grant the request of his friend. Reaching her home he found her alone, and common courtesies led them into conversation. This at first touched only upon daily events, but soon it led into deeper channels, and their individual thoughts were brought out upon religious subjects, each receiving suggestions from the standpoint of the other.
"I am impatient, I know," said Miss Evans, as the subject warmed and brightened under the glow of words, "to see the day when my long cherished ideas will be wrought into actual life. Will it not be grand when religion shall no longer be an abstract, soulless science, a musty theology, but a living, vital truth, lived and acted, not merely professed and preached; when the human family shall be united in one bond, and man love to do his brother good; when he who is strong, shall care for him who is weak; when daily deeds of kindness shall be accepted as true worship; when the golden rule shall be the only creed of mankind, and woman shall throw upon her erring sisters the blessed veil of charity. The world is full of need to-day. It never so much needed the labor of every earnest man and woman as now. All can work for its advancement; some speak, some write, others act, and thus unitedly aid in ushering in the millenium of humanity. Religion is to me only a daily life of goodness. The church has little but form. We want vital christianity flowing from heart to heart; and prayers, not at stated times, but when souls mount heavenward, whether in words or deeds, to be recognized as true worship. When our churches shall be adorned by art; when the theatre, now so little understood, is employed as a lever of moral power, equal if not greater than the church, for reaching the heart, and enriching the intellect; when these two forces approach each other, then shall we have a real church and true worship. Art in every form must be acknowledged as the great mediator between God and man, and when this is done we shall have a completeness in our worship, which is little dreamed of now. To my mind, the drama appears as the great instructor of the coming time— greater than the church, more potent, hence more effectual, and will, I think, at some day occupy its place. I have talked long, but the fullness of the theme must be my excuse."
"I am but too glad to hear expressions of such thoughts from any one. I have been for a long time reaching for something more satisfactory than I have received. The forms of worship have long been dull and void of life to me."
"Too long have our minds been lumbered with doctrines, instead of principles," said Miss Evans, her face glowing with earnest thought, "but the signs of the times are now glorious. Men will no longer feed on husks and dry bones. The call is every day for light, more light, and theories are fast giving place to human experiences. A strong current of individual life, too, is setting in, which inspires every speaker and writer with high and noble thoughts, and they are forced to give bread and not stones to the multitude. We shall, I hope, Mr. Deane, live to see the coming of the new day, for surely we have little but darkness now, and yet all the light we could use, I suppose, else it would have come before."
"I trust we shall, and if men and women are true to the light they have, the day will soon be here. But, really, Miss Evans," he said, looking at his watch, "'t is almost ten o'clock; how rapidly the moments have flown."
"I lose all idea of time when I feel the beating and pulsing of a human soul," responded Miss Evans. "I hope you will come again and bring your wife; I only know her by features; I really wish to know her through her thoughts."
"I will, I thank you," and he left, full to overflowing, impatient to impart to his wife the thoughts of an earnest soul. We have met him in his home, and know the result,—the sharp reverse side of most of life's best experiences.
Mrs. Deane found the hours drag heavily while her parents remained. She was not like her former self, and they could not but notice the change.
It was the first time in their married life that she wished them at home. One hour alone with her husband would have set all right; but there were none, for business seemed to press in from all quarters, and every moment of his time, far into the night, was occupied in writing.
They saw nothing of each other save in the presence of their parents, for Mr. Deane only snatched a few hours' sleep at early dawn, and awoke just in time to prepare for breakfast. They were estranged, and circumstances to embitter the sad state of affairs seemed to daily multiply.
The fourth evening after the arrival, there was a slight pause in the pressure of his business, but feeling no inclination to join the family, knowing that Mabel and himself would be in feelings miles apart, he called again upon Miss Evans.
To his relief he found her alone, for he longed for another communion with a mind so comprehensive, and a soul so pure as her own. She noticed the look of sadness on his face, and was glad her own heart was light and her soul strong in trust, that she might administer to him.
Had he come last night, she said to herself, how little could I have done for him, for my own soul was dark with grief, my lips dumb. His face bore a more buoyant look as her words of hope and thoughtful sayings appealed to his good judgment, and before long it glowed with joy like her own. He forgot the cloud that had arisen over himself and Mabel; forgot her words that so wounded his soul; and only her best and true self was mirrored on his heart, as he listened to the vital truths which flowed from the lips of the noble woman in whose presence he sat.
"Our conversation the other night," he said, "awakened such new emotions, or rather aroused feelings which were dormant, that I could not resist the strong impulse I felt to call on you again and renew our conversation."
"I am very glad you have come, for it does my soul good to see others interested in these newly-developed views, and recognizing the great needs of humanity, and the imperative demands of our natures."
"I have felt," remarked Mr. Deane, "for a long time that the church, the subject of our last conversation, needs more life; that it must open its doors to all rays of light, and not longer admit only a few, and that those doors must be broad enough and high enough, that whatever is needed for the advancement of mankind may enter therein, come from whence it may, and called by whatever name it may be. In a word, the church must go on in advance of the people, or at least with them, else it will be left behind and looked upon as a worn out and useless institution."
"I am glad to hear you express your thoughts thus, and hope you will give them as freely at all times, for too many who entertain these views do not speak them, standing in fear of what their friends or the church may say or do. Of such there are tens of thousands. Give them utterance. Every honest man and woman should, and thus aid in hastening on the day of true life and perfect liberty. While I value associative effort, I would not for a moment lose sight of individual thinking and acting. We do not have enough of it. The church has much to adopt to bring it into a healthy condition. To-day it ignores many valuable truths which retired individuals hold, while it feeds its hearers on husks. Finding better food for their souls outside, they go, and cannot return, because the truths they hold would not be accepted."
"We have made rapid advances in art and science, Miss Evans, but the church has lagged behind, until at length we find that more christianity is found outside than inside its walls."
"True. The best men and women I have ever known, have never sat at the table of the Lord, so called, have never broken the bread and drank the wine, yet their souls have tasted life-everlasting when they have given in His name food to the hungry and clothing to the naked. Each soul is a temple and each heart a shrine. The only thing the church can do to-day is, to reach forth and take its life from the world. All the accessions of art must be unfolded, if she would keep alive. Fortify it with these things, and we shall not see, as we do now, in every town and city even, the whole burden of its support resting on one or two individuals. If it has life enough it will stand; if it refuse light, such persons only retard its progress, although strictly conscientious in their position. I think one of its greatest errors is in keeping one pastor too long. How can the people be fed, and draw life from one fount alone?"
"True," he said, "and is not that view applicable to our social and domestic as well as to our religious state? Can we draw life always from one person?"
"No; nor was it ever intended that men and women should so exhaust each other. The marriage law is too arbitrary; it allows no scope for individual action, and yet the subject is so delicate, so intricate, that none but the keenest and nicest balanced minds dare attempt to criticise, much less improve it. The misconstructions of a person's motives are so great that many who see its errors, tremble and fear to speak of them. But if we are to bring any good to the covenant, so sacred in its offices, we must point out its defects and seek to remedy them, and I sometimes think it will be my mission to help it to higher states. Although such a task would be far from enviable, I will willingly give my thoughts to those who are struggling, at the risk of being misunderstood nine times in ten, as I probably shall be."
"Then please give me your best thoughts, Miss Evans, for I need all the light I can get, not only for myself, but for others."
"I am but a scholar, like yourself, Mr. Deane, and I sometimes think that all I may hope to do will be but to lift the burden an instant from the pilgrim's shoulder, that deeper breath may be taken for the long and often dreary journey."
A sharp ring of the door-bell interrupted further conversation, and Mr. Deane, bowing to the intruder, as such she seemed at that moment to be, bade Miss Evans good evening, and departed.
The caller was a gossiping woman, who kept many domestic fires alive with her fuel of scandalous reports.
"Dear me, Miss Evans," she said, as soon as comfortably seated, "was n't that Mr. Deane? Yes, I thought so; but my eye-sight 'aint over good, and then he looked so sad-like; maybe he 'aint well," and she looked inquiringly to Miss Evans, who replied,—
"I think he is in his usual health; a little worn, perhaps, with business. How is your family, Mrs. Turner?"
"O, tol'rable, thank ye. But Mr. Deane did n't say anything, did he, about his folks?
"His folks? What do you mean, Mrs. Turner?"
"Law me, I might as well tell as not, now I've said what I have. Why you see Miss Moses who nusses Mrs. Baker, was up ter Mrs. Brown's last night, and Mrs. Deane's hired gal was there, and she told Mrs. Brown's man that Mr. Deane and his wife had some pretty hard words together, and that her folks-her father and mother-was 'goin ter take her home."
"Mrs. Turner, I have no interest in this gossip; we will change the subject if you please."
"Lor, don't be 'fended; I only-I mean I meant no harm."
"You may not; but this idle habit of retailing the sayings of others, is worse than folly. It's a great wrong to yourself and the individuals spoken of."
"Well, I did n't think to have such a lectur'," said the woman, affecting a feeling of good nature, "I say as I said afore, I meant no harm. I like Mr. and Mrs. Deane very much, and thought it was too bad for such things to be said."
"Is marm here?" inquired a coarse voice at the door, and a red, chubby face was thrust in the narrow opening.
"Why, Josiah Turner, I told you ter go ter bed an hour ago. Well, I must go, Miss Evans. I 'spose my boy won't go without me," and taking her son by the hand, she departed.
"A storm upon their domestic horizon, I fear, is coming, if not already there," said Miss Evans, setting down and resting her lead upon her hands. "I wish he had not come. Something may be charged to me-but why should I fear. I have said simply what I felt was right. I must expect to encounter many storms in this voyage whose haven of peace is-where? None knoweth."
She fastened her door, and after lifting her heart in prayer for guidance, retired.
Mr. Deane found his wife alone when he returned, and one could have seen by his manner how glad he was to find her so.
"It seems a month, Mabel, since I have seen you alone."
She only remarked that she feared her parents felt his absence from home.
"I do think, Howard," she continued, "that you could give us a little of your time. It is due to my parents. It must seem to them that you willingly absent yourself, and it is hard for me to convince them to the contrary."
"I am sorry that any such impression should have worked its way into their minds. They ought to know that it is quite a sacrifice for me to devote myself so closely to business. I hope, Mabel, you are wrongly impressed as regards them, and it may be that your own state has more to do with it than theirs. This is the first evening I have had to myself since they have been here."
"And why was this not spent at home?"
"Because I cannot assume to be what I am not, and you know I am not at rest; that our harmony is disturbed. Could I have seen you alone, I should have been at home before this."
"You have sought society, I suppose, more congenial?"
"Mabel, be careful. You may so unnerve me that I may say much that I shall be sorry for."