The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
The marriage of Delia Floyd was an event in our quiet town. It was celebrated at the house of her father, in the presence of a large company, who were invited to witness the ceremony, and take part in the attendant festivities. The match was regarded generally as a most desirable one for the young lady; and there was more than one mother present who envied the good fortune which had given such a son-in-law to Mrs. Floyd. I heard many snatches of conversation, half aside, in which marvelous things were related, or suggested, touching the bridegroom's fortune and the splendid home he had prepared for his bride. He was looked upon as a prospective millionaire, and imagination pictured Delia as the jeweled mistress of a palace home. Few seemed to think of any thing beyond the promised worldly advantage.
"I am glad that your daughter has married so well."
"Let me congratulate you, Squire Floyd, on this splendid match."
"It is not often, Mrs. Floyd, that a mother sees her daughter go forth into the world with such brilliant prospects."
"You have all that your heart can desire, so far as Delia is concerned, Mrs. Floyd."
"You are the envy of mothers."
And so I heard the changes rung on all sides of me, and from the lips of people who might have looked deeper if they had taken the trouble to use their eyes.
To me, the wedding was full of sad suggestions. It was one of those social self-sacrifices, as common now as then, in which the victim goes self-impelled to the altar, and lays upon its consuming fires the richest dower of womanhood.
I listened to the vows that were made on this occasion, and felt a low thrill of repulsion as words of such solemn import trembled on the air, for too well I knew that a union of souls in a true marriage, such as Delia Floyd might consummate, was impossible here. Could she be happy in this marriage? I gave to my own question an emphatic "No!" She might have a gay, brilliant, exciting life; but to that deep peace which is given to loving hearts, and which, in hours of isolation and loneliness, she would desire with an irrepressible longing, she must forever be a stranger.
I looked into her beautiful young face as she stood receiving the congratulations of friends, and felt as I had never felt before on such an occasion. Instinctively my thought ran questioning along the future. But no hopeful answer was returned. How was she to advance in that inner-life development through which the true woman is perfected? I pushed the question aside. It was too painful. Had she been one of the great company of almost soulless women--if I may use such strong language--who pass, yearly, through legal forms into the mere semblance of a marriage, I might have looked on with indifference, for then, the realization would, in all probability, be equal to the promise. But Delia Floyd was of a different spiritual organization. She had higher capabilities and nobler aspirations; and if the one found no true sphere of development, while the other was doomed to beat its wings vainly amid the lower atmospheres of life, was happiness in the case even a possibility?
Among the guests was Wallingford. It was six months, almost to a day, since the dearest hope in life he had ever cherished went suddenly out, and left him, for a season, in the darkness of despair. I did not expect to see him on this occasion; and there was another, I think, who as little anticipated his presence--I mean the bride. But he had shared in the invitations, and came up to witness the sacrifice. To see, what a few months before was to him the most precious thing in life, pass into the full possession of another. Had not the fine gold grown dim in his eyes? It had--dim with the tarnish that better natures receive when they consent to dwell with inferior spirits, and breathe in an atmosphere loaded with earthly exhalations. It would have been the highest delight of his life to have ascended with her into the pure regions, where thought builds tabernacles and establishes its dwelling-places. To have walked onward, side by side, in a dear life companionship, towards the goal of eternal spiritual oneness. But she had willed it otherwise; and now he had come, resolutely, to bear the pain of a final sundering of all bonds, that his soul might free itself from her soul completely and forever.
I first noticed him as the bridal party entered the room, and took their places in front of the clergyman who was to officiate on the occasion. He occupied a position that gave him a clear view of Delia's face, while he was removed from general observation. Almost from the commencement to the ending of the ceremony his gaze rested on her countenance. His head was thrown a little forward, his brows slightly contracted, his lips firmly set, and his eyes fixed as if the object upon which he was gazing held him by an irresistible fascination. I was so much interested in him that I scarcely looked at the bride during the ceremony. At last, the minister, in conclusion, announced the twain to be husband and wife. I saw Wallingford give a slight start as if a tensely strung chord of feeling had been jarred. A moment more and the spell was broken! Every lineament of his countenance showed this. The stern aspect gave way--light trembled over the softening features--the body stood more erect as if a great pressure had been removed.
I noticed that he did not hold back in the excitement of congratulation that followed the ceremony. I was near him when he took the hand of Delia, and heard him say--not--"I congratulate you"--but "May your life be a happy one." The tone was earnest and feeling, such as a brother might use to a beloved sister. I held that tone long afterwards in my memory, studying its signification. It had in it nothing of regret, or pain, or sadness, as if he were losing something, but simply expressed the regard and tender interest of a sincere well wisher. And so that great trial was at an end for him. He had struggled manfully with a great enemy to his peace, and this was his hour of triumph.
With the bride's state of mind, as read in external signs, I was far from being satisfied. Marriage, in any case, to one who thinks and feels, is a thing of serious import; and even the habitually thoughtless can hardly take its solemn vows upon their lips without falling into a sober mood. We are, therefore, not surprised to see emotion put on signs of pain--like April showers that weep away into sunshine. But in Delia's face I saw something that went deeper than all this.
"There is no one here," said I, taking her hand, and holding it tightly in mine, "who wishes you well in the future more sincerely than I do."
"I know it, Doctor," she answered, returning the warm grasp I gave her. Her eyes rested steadily in mine, and saw a shadow in them.
"We are sorry to lose you from S----. Indeed we cannot afford to lose you."
"She is wanted," spoke up her young husband a little proudly, "to grace a wider and more brilliant sphere of life."
"It is not the brilliant sphere that is always the happiest," said I. "Life's truest pleasures come oftener to quiet home circles even among the lowly, than to gilded palaces where fortune's favorites reside."
"It is not to external condition," the bride remarked, "that we are to look for happiness." I thought her voice had in it a pensive tone, as if she were not wholly satisfied with the brilliant promise that lay before her. "You know, Doctor, we have talked that over more than once in our lives."
"Yes, Delia; and it is a truth which we ought never to forget--one that I trust you and your husband will lay up in your hearts."
I turned to the young man desiring my admonition to reach him also.
"Perhaps I might differ something from this sage conclusion," he answered a little flippantly. "As far as I can see, the external condition has a great deal to do with our happiness. I am very sure, that if I were situated as some people are whom I know, I would be miserable. So you see, Doctor, I have my doubts touching this theory of yours and Delia's."
"Time, I think, will demonstrate its truth," I said, in a graver tone, and turned from them to give place to those who could talk in a lighter strain than was possible for me on the occasion.
During the evening I saw Wallingford more than once in conversation with the bride; but only when she happened to be a little separated from her husband, towards whom his manner was coldly polite. The two young men, after the scene in Judge Bigelow's office, only kept up, for the sake of others, the shadow of acquaintanceship. Between them there was a strong mutual repulsion which neither sought to overcome.
As I remarked I saw Wallingford more than once in conversation with the bride. But nothing in his
manner indicated any sentiment beyond that of friendship. He was polite, cheerful, and at his ease. But it was different with her. She was not at her ease in his company, and yet, I could see that his attention was grateful--even pleasant.
The augury was not good. As I read the signs, Delia Floyd, when she passed from maidenhood to wifehood, departed from the path that led to happiness in this world. And I said to myself as I pondered her future--"May the disappointments and sorrows that are almost sure to come, turn her feet aside into the right way at last!"