The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
The decision was as I expected it to be; and the old property came back into the family. There were few hearts in S----, that did not beat with pleasure, when it was known that Mr. Wallingford and his lovely wife were to pass from Ivy Cottage to the stately Allen House.
I think the strife between Mr. Dewey and the old executors was severe, and that he yielded only when he saw that they were immovable. An open rupture with Squire Floyd was a consequence of his persistent determination to have the Allen property transferred; and after the settlement of this business, they held no personal communication with each other.
The change in Mr. Dewey's appearance, after it became a settled thing that he must remove from the splendid mansion he had occupied for years, was remarkable. He lost the impressive swagger that always said, "I am the first man in S----;" and presented the appearance of one who had suffered some great misfortune, without growing better under the discipline. He did not meet you with the free, open, better-than-you look that previously characterized him, but with a half sidelong falling of the eyes, in which there was, to me, something very sinister.
As far as our observation went, Mr. Wallingford put on no new phase of character. There was about him the same quiet, thoughtful dignity of manner which had always commanded involuntary respect. He showed no unseemly haste in dispossessing Mr. Dewey of his elegant home. Two months after the title deeds had passed, I called in at Ivy Cottage, now one of the sweetest, little places in S----, for Constance, who had been passing the evening there. Not in any home, through all the region round, into which it was my privilege to enter, was there radiant, like a warm, enticing atmosphere that swelled your lungs with a new vitality, and gave all your pulses a freer beat, such pure love--maternal and conjugal--as pervaded this sanctuary of the heart. I say maternal, as well as conjugal, for two dear babes had brought into this home attendant angels from the higher heaven.
A soft astral lamp threw its mellow rays about the room. Mr. Wallingford had a book open in his hand, from which he had been reading aloud to his wife and Constance. He closed the volume as I entered, and rising, took my hand, saying, with even more than his usual cordiality--
"Now our circle is complete."
"Excuse me from rising, Doctor," said Mrs. Wallingford, a smile of welcome giving increased beauty to her countenance, as she offered the hand that was free--the other held her babe, just three months old, tenderly to her bosom.
"What have you been reading?" I asked, as I seated myself, and glanced towards the volume which Mr. Wallingford had closed and laid upon the table.
"A memorable relation of the Swedish Seer," he replied, smiling.
"Touching marriage in heaven," said I, smiling in return.
"Or, to speak more truly," he replied, "the union of two souls in heaven, into an eternal oneness. Yes, that was the subject, and it always interests me deeply. Our life here is but a span, and our brief union shadowed by care, pain, sickness, and the never-dying fear of parting. The sky of our being is not unclouded long. And therefore I cannot believe that the blessedness of married love dies forever at the end of this struggle to come into perfect form and beauty. No, Doctor; the end is not here. And so Blanche and I turn often with an eager delight to these relations, feeling, as we read, that they are not mere pictures of fancy, but heavenly verities. They teach us that if we would be united in the next world, we must become purified in this. That selfish love, which is of the person must give place to a love for spiritual qualities. That we must grow in the likeness and image of God, if we would make one angel in His heavenly kingdom."
His eyes rested upon Blanche, as he closed the sentence, with a look full of love; and she, as if she knew that the glance was coming, turned and received it into her heart.
I did not question the faith that carried them over the bounds of time, and gave them delicious foreshadowings of the blessedness beyond. As I looked at them, and marked how they seemed to grow daily into a oneness of spirit, could I doubt that there was for them an eternal union? No, no. Such doubts would have been false to the instincts of my own soul, and false to the instincts of every conscious being made to love and be loved.
"The laying aside of this earthly investiture," said Wallingford, resuming, "the passage from mortal to immortal life, cannot change our spirits, but only give to all their powers a freer and more perfect development. Love is not a quality of the body, but of the spirit, and will remain in full force, after the body is cast off like the shell of a chrysalis. Still existing, it will seek its object. And shall it seek forever and not find? God forbid! No! The love I bear my wife is not, I trust, all of the earth, earthy; but instinct with a heavenly perpetuity. And when we sleep the sleep of death, it will be in the confident assurance of a speedy and more perfect conjunction of our lives. On a subject of such deep concern, we are dissatisfied with the vague and conjectural; and this is why the record of things seen and heard in the spiritual world by Swedenborg--especially in what relates to marriages in heaven--has for us such an absorbing interest."
"Are you satisfied with the evidence?" I ventured to inquire, seeing him so confident.
He answered quietly, and with an assured manner.
"How do you reach a conclusion as to the truth of these things?"
"Something after the same way that you satisfy yourself that the sun shines."
"My eyes testify to me that fact. Seeing is believing," I answered.
"The spirit of a man has eyes as well as his body," said Wallingford. "And seeing is believing in another sense than you intimate. Now the bodily eyes see material objects, and the mind, receiving their testimony, is in no doubt as to the existence, quality, and relation of things in the outer world. The eyes of our spirits, on the other hand, see immaterial objects or truths; and presenting them to the rational and perceptive faculties, they are recognized as actual existences, and their quality as surely determined as the quality of a stone or metal. If you ask me how I know that this is quartz, or that iron; I answer, By the testimony of my eyes. And so, if you ask how I satisfy myself as to the truth of which I read in this book; I can only reply that I see it all so clearly that conviction is a necessity. There is no trouble in believing. To attempt disbelief, would be to illustrate the fable of Sisyphus."
He spoke calmly, like one whose mind had risen above doubt. I objected nothing further; for that would have been useless. And why attempt to throw questions into his mind? Was there anything evil in the faith which he had adopted as exhibited in his life? I could not say yes. On the contrary, taking his life as an illustration, good only was to be inferred. I remembered very well when his mind diverged into this new direction. Some years had intervened. I thought to see him grow visionary or enthusiastic. Not so, however. There was a change progressively visible; but it was in the direction of sound and rational views of life. A broader humanity showed itself in his words and actions. Then came the subtler vein of religious sentiments, running like pure gold through all that appertained to him.
If, therefore, he was progressing towards a higher life, why should I question as to the way being right for him? Why should I seek to turn him into another path when there was such a broad light for his eyes on the one he had chosen? "By their fruits ye shall know them." And by his fruits I knew him to be of that highest type of manhood, a Christian gentleman.
I noticed, while Mr. Wallingford spoke so confidently of their reunion in heaven, that his wife leaned towards, and looked at him, with eyes through which her soul seemed going forth into his.
As the conversation flowed on, it gradually involved other themes, and finally led to the question On my part, as to when they were going to leave Ivy Cottage.
"That is quite uncertain," replied Mr. Wallingford. "I shall not hurry the present occupant. We have been so happy here, that we feel more inclined to stay than to remove to a more ambitious home."
"I hear that Mr. Dewey is going to build," said I.
"He has been negotiating for the property on the elevation west of the Allen House."
"Yes. The price of the ground, five acres, is ten thousand dollars."
"The site is commanding and beautiful. The finest in S----, for one who thinks mainly of attracting the attention of others," said Mr. Wallingford.
"If he builds, we shall see something on a grander scale than anything yet attempted in our neighborhood. He will overshadow you."
"The rivalry must be on his side alone," was Mr. Wallingford's reply. "No elegance or imposing grandeur that he may assume, can disturb me in the smallest degree. I shall only feel pity for the defect of happiness that all his blandishments must hide."
"A splendid Italian villa is talked of."
Mr. Wallingford shook his head.
"You doubt all this?" said I.
"Not the man's ambitious pride; but his ability to do what pride suggests. He and his compeers are poorer, by a hundred thousand dollars, than they deemed themselves a few short months ago."
"Have they met with heavy losses?" I asked, not understanding the drift of his remark.
"The estate in trust has been withdrawn."
"How should that make them poorer?"
"It makes them poorer, in the first place, as to the means for carrying on business. And it makes them poorer, in the second place, in the loss of an estate, which, I am sorry to believe, Mr. Dewey and a part of his New York associates regarded as virtually their own.
"But the heir was approaching his majority," said I.
"And growing up a weak, vicious, self-indulgent young man, who, in the hands of a shrewd, unscrupulous villain, might easily be robbed of his fortune. You may depend upon it, Doctor, that somebody has suffered a terrible disappointment, and one from which he is not likely soon to recover. No--no! We shall see nothing of this princely Italian villa."
"I cannot believe," I replied, "that the executors who had the estate in trust were influenced by dishonorable motives. I know the men too well."
"Nor do I, Doctor," he answered, promptly. "But, as I have before said, they were almost wholly under the influence of Dewey, and I think that he was leading them into mazes from which honorable extrication would have been impossible."
"Have you given Dewey any notice of removal?" I inquired.
"No--and shall not, for some time. I am in no hurry to leave this place, in which the happiest days of my life have passed. Any seeming eagerness to dispossess him, would only chafe a spirit in which I would not needlessly excite evil passions. His pride must, I think, lead him at a very early day to remove, and thus make a plain way before me."
"How long will you wait?" I asked.
"Almost any reasonable time."
"You and he might not take the same view of what was reasonable," said I.
"Perhaps not. But, as I remarked just now, being in no hurry to leave our present home, I shall not disturb him for some months to come. No change will be made by us earlier than next spring. And if he wishes to spend the winter in his present abode, he is welcome to remain."
There was no assumed virtuous forbearance in all this; but a sincere regard for the feelings and comfort of Dewey. This was so apparent, that I did not question for a moment his generous consideration of a man who would not have hesitated, if the power were given, to crush him to the very earth.
Many thoughts passed in my mind, as I pondered the incidents and conversation of this evening. In looking back upon life, we see the sure progress of causes to effects; and in the effects, the quality of the causes. We no longer wonder at results--the only wonder is, that they were not foreseen. Wise maxims, some of the garnered grains of our fathers' experiences, are scattered through the books we read, and daily fall from the lips of teachers and friends; maxims which, if observed, would lead us to honor and happiness. But who gives them heed? Who makes them the rule of his conduct?
We might wonder less at the blind infatuation with which so many press onward in a course that all the wisdom of the past, as well as all the reason of the present, condemns, if it were possible to rub out our actions, as a child rubs from his slate a wrong sum, and begin the work of life over again. But this cannot be. We weave hourly the web that is to bind us in the future. Our to-days hold the fate of our to-morrows. What we do is done for ever, and in some degree will affect us throughout infinite ages.
"Poor Delia Floyd!" My thought had turned to her as I lay awake, long after the small hours of the morning, busy with incidents and reflections which had completely banished sleep from my eyes. In the strong pity of my heart, I spoke the words aloud.
"What of her?" said Constance, in a tone of surprise. And so intruding thought had kept her awake also!
"Nothing more than usual," I answered. "But I cannot sleep for thinking of her unhappy state, and what she might have been, if obeying her own heart's right impulses, and the reason God gave her, she had accepted a true man, instead of a specious villain for her husband. The scene in Ivy Cottage to-night stands in most remarkable contrast with some things I witnessed at the Allen House before she went out thence a wretched woman for life. She staked everything on a desperate venture, and has lost. God pity her! for there is no help in any human arm. To think of what she is, and what she might have been, is enough to veil her reason in midnight darkness."
"Amen! God pity her!" said Constance. "For truly there is no help for her in mortal arm."