Chapter XXI.
 

Weeks passed after this second visit to the Allen House, but the call was not returned by Mrs. Dewey. We talked the matter over, occasionally, and concluded that, for some reason best known to herself, the friendly overtures of Constance were not agreeable to the lady. She was not often seen abroad, and when she did appear, the closed windows of her carriage usually hid her face from careful observation.

Of late, Mr. Dewey was away from S----more than usual, business connected with the firm of which he was a member requiring his frequent presence in New York. He did not remain absent over two or three days at a time.

Nearly opposite to where I resided lived Mr. Joshua Kling, the Cashier of the new Clinton Bank. He and Mr. Dewey seemed to be on particularly friendly terms. Often I noticed the visits of Mr. Dewey to the Cashier's house after bank hours, and many times in paying evening calls would I meet the two gentlemen, arm in arm, engaged in close conversation.

It was pretty generally understood in S----that the Clinton Bank was in the hands or parties in New York, and that a large proportion of the discounts made were of paper bearing the endorsement of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co., which was passed by the directors as the legitimate business paper received by that house in its extensive business operations; or of paper drawn to the order of John Floyd & Co., given in payment of goods manufactured at the mills in S----. It was also generally conceded that as, through their partner, Mr. Dewey, this firm of Floyd, Lawson, Lee, & Co., had invested a large amount of capital in S----, and by their liberality and enterprise greatly benefited the town, they were entitled to all the favors it was in the power of the bank to give; more particularly as the firm was one of great wealth--"solid as gold"--and the interests of the stockholders would, therefore, be best served by keeping the line of discount mainly in so safe a channel.

Now and then a disappointed storekeeper, whose small offerings were thrown out, would inveigh bitterly against the directors, calling hard names, and prophesying "a grand explosion one of these days;" but these invectives and predictions hardly ever found a repetition beyond the narrow limits of his place of business.

And so the splendid schemes of Ralph Dewey and Company went on prospering, while he grew daily in self-importance, and in offensive superciliousness toward men from whom he had nothing to expect. In my own case I had little to complain of, as my contact with him was generally professional, and under circumstances that caused a natural deference to my skill as a physician.

Nothing out of the ordinary range of things transpired until towards Christmas, when my wife received a note from Mrs. Dewey, asking her as a special favor to call at the Allen House. She was there in half an hour after the note came to hand.

I was at home when she returned, and saw the moment I looked into her face that she had been the witness of something that had moved her deeply.

"Is anything wrong with Mrs. Dewey?" I asked.

"Yes." Her countenance took on a more serious aspect.

"In what respect?"

"The story cannot be told in a sentence. I received a note from her as you are aware. Its earnest brevity forewarned me that the call involved something of serious import; and I was not mistaken in this conclusion. On calling, and asking for Mrs. Dewey, I noticed an air of irresolution about the servant. 'Mrs. Dewey is not well,' she said, 'and I hardly think can see company to-day.'

"'She is not ill, I hope?' said I.

"'No, ma'am; not ill exactly, but--' and she hesitated and looked embarrassed.

"'She will see me,' I spoke confidently. 'Take her my name, and I will wait here in the parlor.'

"In a few minutes the girl returned and asked me to walk up stairs. I followed her to Mrs. Dewey's room. She tapped lightly on the door, which was opened. I passed in, and found myself alone with Delia. She grasped my arm tightly as she shut the door and locked it, saying as she did so, in a voice so altered from her usual tone, that it sounded strangely in my ears--

"'Thank you, my friend, for coming so soon. I am in deep trouble, and need a counselor as well as a comforter. I can trust you for both.'

"I drew my arm around her, so that by act I could give more than the assurance of words, and walked from the door with her to a lounge between the windows, where we sat down. Her face had a shrunken aspect, like the face of one who had been sick; and it showed also the marks of great suffering.

"'You may trust me as your own sister, Delia,' said I, 'and if in my power to counsel or to comfort, both will be freely accorded.'

"I called her Delia, instead of Mrs. Dewey; not from design, but because the old name by which I had known her was first on my lips.

"I thought there was a sudden lifting of her eyes as I pronounced this name. The effect, if any followed, was not to repel, but to draw her closer.

"'I am standing,' she said, speaking slowly and solemnly, 'at the edge of a deep abyss, my way hedged up on both sides, and enemies coming on behind. I have not strength to spring over; and to fall is destruction. In my weakness and despair, I turn to you for help. If there is help in any mortal arm, something tells me it is in yours.'

"She did not weep, nor show strong emotion. But her face was almost colorless, and presented an image of woe such as never met my eyes, except in pictures.

"'You have heard, no doubt,' she went on, 'some of the stories to my discredit which have been circulated in S----. That I was gay and imprudent at Saratoga, cannot be denied--gay and imprudent as are too many fashionable women, under the exciting allurements of the place. Little fond flirtations with gentlemen made up a part of our pastime there. But as for sin--it was not in my thoughts!' She said this with an emphasis that assured me of its truth. 'A mere life of fashionable pleasure is a great exhauster of resources. One tires of this excitement and of that, pushing them aside, as a child does an old or broken toy, to grasp after something new. It is not surprising, therefore, that mere pleasure-seeking women forget at times the just proprieties of life, and, before they are aware of danger, find themselves in very equivocal positions. This was simply my case. Nothing more--nothing less.'

"She paused and looked earnestly into my face, to see if I credited this assertion.

"'I have never believed any thing else,' said I.

"A faint, sad smile flitted across her wan face.

"'The consequences of this error on my part,' she went on, 'threaten to be of the most disastrous kind. My husband has ever since conducted himself towards me as if I were a guilty and disgraced thing. We occupy separate apartments; and though we sit together at the same table, words rarely pass between us. Occasionally he comes home under the influence of wine, and then his abuse of me is fearful to think of. If any thing could waken a thoughtless creature sleeping on enchanted ground, it was this.'

"'There has never been anything more than the semblance of love between us,' she continued. 'The more intimately I came to know him, after our marriage, the more did my soul separate itself from him, until the antipodes were not farther apart than we. So we lived on; I seeking a poor compensation in fashionable emulations and social triumphs; and he in grand business enterprises--castles in the air perhaps. Living thus, we have come to this point in our journey; and now the crisis has arrived!'

"She paused.

"' What crisis?' I asked.

"'He demands a separation.' Her voice choked--'a divorce--'

"'On what ground?'

"'On legal ground.' She bent down, covered her face, and uttered a groan so full of mental anguish, that I almost shuddered as the sound penetrated my ears.

"'I am to remain passive,' she resumed, while he charges me before the proper court, with infidelity, and gains a divorce through failure on my part to stand forth and defend myself. This, or a public trial of the case, at which he pledges himself to have witnesses who will prove me criminal, is my dreadful alternative. If he gains a divorce quietly on the charge of infidelity, I am wronged and disgraced; and if successful in a public trial, through perjured witnesses, the wrong and disgrace will be more terrible. Oh, my friend! pity and counsel me.'

"'There is one,' said I, 'better able to stand your friend in a crisis like this than I am.'

"'Who?' She looked up anxiously.

"'Your father.'

"A shadow fell over her face, and she answered mournfully,

"'Even he is against me. How it is I cannot tell; but my husband seems to have my father completely under his influence.'

"'Your mother?' I suggested.

"'Can only weep with me. I have no adviser, and my heart beats so wildly all the time, that thought confuses itself whenever it makes an effort to see the right direction. Fear of a public trial suggests passive endurance of wrong on my part; but an innate sense of justice cries out against this course, and urges me to resistance.'

"'If you are innocent,' said I, firmly, 'in the name and strength of innocence defend yourself! All that a woman holds dearest is at stake. If they drive you to this great extremity, do not shrink from the trial.'

"'But what hope have I in such a trial if false witnesses come up against me?'

"'God and justice are stronger than all the powers of evil,' said I.

"'They might be, in your case,' she answered, mournfully; 'for you have made God your friend, and justice your strong tower. But I--what have I to hope for in God? He has not been in all my thoughts; and now will He not mock at my calamity?'

"'No--no, my unhappy friend!' I answered. 'He never turns from any; it is we who turn from Him. His tender mercy is over all His works. All human souls are alike precious in His eyes. If you trust in Him, you need not fear your bitterest enemies.'

"'How shall I trust in him?'

"She bent towards me eagerly.

"'In the simple work of doing right,' said I.

"'Doing right?'

"She did not clearly understand me.

"Do you think it would be right to let a charge of crime lie, unrepelled, against you; a great crime, such as is alleged--destroying your good name, and throwing a shadow of disgrace over your children!'

"'No,' was her unhesitating reply.

"'Then it would be wrong for you to suffer a divorce to issue on the ground of infidelity, without a defence of yourself by every legal means in your power. Do right, then, in so defending yourself, and trust in God for the result.'

"I shudder at the bare thought of a public trial,' she answered.

"'Don't think of anything but right action, said I. If you would have the Hosts of Heaven on your side, give them power by doing the right; and they will surely achieve for you the victory over all your enemies. Have any steps been taken by Mr. Dewey?'

"'I fear so.'

"'How long is it since your husband entertained this purpose?'

"'I think it has been growing in his mind ever since that unhappy affair at Saratoga.'

"As she said this, her thoughts seemed to turn aside upon something else, and she sat looking down upon the floor in a state of deep abstraction. At last, taking a long breath, she looked up, and said with trembling lips and a husky voice,

"'I have something more to tell you. There is another aspect to this miserable affair.'

"And she drew forth a crumpled letter.

"'I found this, sealed, and directed, lying on the floor of my husband's room, two days ago. It is in his hand writing; addressed to a lady in New York, and signed R. D. I will read you its contents.' And she unfolded the letter, and read:

"'My dearest Caroline,' it began; and then went on for a few paragraphs, in a lover-like strain; after which, the divorce from the writer's wife was referred to as a thing of speedy attainment, there being little fear of opposition on her part, as he had given her to understand that he had witnesses ready to prove her criminal conduct; if she dared to resist his will in the matter. 'A few months of patient waiting, dearest Caroline,' was the concluding sentence, 'and then for that happy consummation we have so long desired.'

"'What do you think of that?' asked poor Delia, looking almost wildly into my face.

"'I think,' said I, 'that you hold in your hands the means of safety. Your husband will not dare to force you into a defensive position, when he learns that you have this document in your possession. It would tell strongly against him and his perjured witnesses if produced in court. Then take heart, my friend. This worst evil that you dreaded will not come to pass. If a divorce is granted, it will have to be on some different allegation.'

"She grasped my hand, and said, 'Oh, do you think so? Do you think so?'"

"'I am sure of it,' was my confident answer. 'Sure of it. Why the man would only damage his cause, and disgrace himself, by venturing into a trial with a witness like this against him.'"

"'Oh, bless you for such confidently assuring words!' and the poor creature threw herself forward, and laid her face upon my bosom. For the first time she wept, and for a season, oh how wildly! You will not wonder that my tears fell almost as fast as hers.

"'I turned in my despair to you,' she said, on growing calm, 'you whom I loved, and almost revered, in the earlier and better days of my life, and my heart tells me that I have not turned in vain. Into the darkness that surrounded me like the pall of death, a little light has already penetrated.'"

"May it shine unto the perfect day!" I answered fervently.

"And, dear husband! it will shine," said Constance, a glow of enthusiasm lighting up her face, and giving it a new beauty, "even unto the perfect day! Not the perfect day of earthly bliss--for I think the sun of that day has gone down never to rise again for her--but the perfect day of that higher life, which to many comes not, except through the gates of tribulation."