Shadows by T.S. Arthur
A happy-hearted child was Madeline Henry, for the glad sunshine ever lay upon the threshold of her early home. Her father, a cheerful, unselfish man, left the world and its business cares behind him when he placed his hand upon the door of entrance to his household treasures. Like other men, he had his anxieties, his hopes and losses, his disappointments and troubles; but he wisely and humanely strove to banish these from his thoughts, when he entered the home-sanctuary, lest his presence should bring a shadow instead of sunshine.
Madeline was just twenty years of age, when, as the wife of Edward Leslie, she left this warm down-covered nest, and was borne to a new and more elegant home.
Mr. Leslie was her senior by eight or nine years. He began his business life at the age of twenty-two, as partner in a well established mercantile house, and, as he was able to place ten thousand dollars in the concern, his position, in the matter of profits, was good from the beginning. Yet, for all this, notwithstanding more than one loving-hearted girl, in whose eyes he might have found favor, crossed his path, he resolutely turned his thoughts away, lest the fascination should be too strong for him. He resolved not to marry until he felt able to maintain a certain style of living.
Thus were the heart's impulses checked; thus were the first tender leaves of affection frozen in the cold breath of mere calculation. He wronged himself in this; yet, in his worldliness and ignorance, did he feel proud of being above, what he called, the weaknesses of other men.
It was but natural that Mr. Leslie should become, in a measure, reserved towards others. Should assume a statelier step, and more set forms of speech. Should repress, more and more, his heart's impulses.
In Leslie, the love of money was strong; yet there was in his character a firmly laid basis of integrity. Though shrewd in his dealings, he never stooped to a system of overreaching. He was not long, therefore, in establishing a good reputation among business men. In social circles, where he occasionally appeared, almost as a matter of course he became an object of interest.
Observation, as it regards character, is, by far, too superficial. With most persons, merely what strikes the eye is sufficient ground for an opinion; and this opinion is freely and positively expressed. Thus, a good reputation comes, as a natural consequence, to a man who lives in the practice of most of the apparent social virtues, while he may possess no real kindness of heart, may be selfish to an extreme degree.
Thus it was with Mr. Leslie. He was generally regarded as a model of a man; and when he, at length, approached Madeline Henry as a lover, the friends of the young lady regarded her as particularly fortunate.
As for Madeline, she rather shrunk, at first, from his advances. There was a coldness in his sphere that chilled her; a rigid propriety of speech and action that inspired too much respect and deference. Gradually, however, love for the maiden, (if by such a term it might be called) fused his hard exterior, and his manner became so softened, gentle and affectionate, that she yielded up to him a most precious treasure--the love of her young and trusting heart.
Just twenty years old, as we have said, was Madeline when she passed, as the bride of Mr. Leslie, from the warm home-nest in which she had reposed so happily, to become the mistress of an elegant mansion. Though in age a woman, she was, in many things, but a child in feelings. Tenderly cared for and petted by her father, her spirit had been, in a measure, sustained by love as an aliment.
One like Madeline is not fit to be the wife of such a man as Edward Leslie. For him, a cold, calculating woman of the world were a better companion. One who has her own selfish ends to gain; and who can find, in fashion, gaiety, or personal indulgence, full compensation for a husband's love.
Madeline was scarcely the bride of a week, ere shadows began to fall upon her heart; and the form that interposed itself between her and the sunlight, was the form of her husband. As a daughter, love had ever gone forth in lavish expression. This had been encouraged by all the associations of home. But, from the beginning of her wedded life, she felt the manner of her husband like the weight of a hand on her bosom, repressing her heart's outgushing impulses.
It was on the fifth evening of their marriage, about the early twilight hour, and Madeline, alone, almost for the first time since morning, sat awaiting the return of her husband. Full of pleasant thoughts was her mind, and warm with love her heart. A few hours of separation from Edward had made her impatient to meet him again. When, at length, she heard him enter, she sprang to meet him, and, with an exclamation of delight, threw her arms about his neck.
There was a cold dignity in the way this act was received by Edward Leslie, that chilled the feelings of his wife. Quickly disengaging her arms, she assumed a more guarded exterior; yet, trying all the while, to be cheerful in manner. We say "trying;" for a shadow had fallen on her young heart--and, to seem cheerful was from an effort. They sat down, side by side, in the pensive twilight close to the windows, through which came fragrant airs; and Madeline laid her hand upon that of her husband. Checked in the first gush of feelings, she now remained silent, yet with her yearning spirit intently listening for words of tenderness and endearment.
"I have been greatly vexed to-day."
These were the very words he uttered. How chilly they fell upon the ears of his expectant wife.
"What has happened?" she asked, in a voice of concern.
"Oh, nothing in reality more than usual. Men in business are exposed to a thousand annoyances. If all the world were honest, trade would be pleasant enough. But you have to watch every one you deal with as closely as if he were a rogue. A man, whom I had confided in and befriended, tried to overreach me today, and it has hurt me a good deal. I couldn't have believed it of him."
Nothing more was said on either side for several minutes. Leslie, absorbed in thoughts of business, so far forgot the presence of his wife, as to withdraw the hand upon which her's was laid. How palpable to her was the coldness of his heart! She felt it as an atmosphere around him.
After tea, Leslie remarked, as he arose from the table, that he wished to see a friend on some matter of business; but would be home early. Not even a kiss did he leave with Madeline to cheer her during his absence. His selfish dignity could not stoop to such childishness.
The young bride passed the evening with no companionship but her tears. When Leslie came home, and looked upon her sober face, he was not struck with its aspect as being unusual. It did not enter his imagination that she could be otherwise than happy. Was she not his wife? And had she not, around her, every thing to make the heart satisfied? He verily believed that she had. He spoke to her kindly, yet, as she felt, indifferently, while her heart was pining for words of warm affection.
This was the first shadow that fell, darkly, across the young wife's path. For hours after her husband's senses were locked in slumber, she lay wakeful and weeping. He understood not, if he remarked the fact, why her cheeks had less color and her eyes less brightness on the morning that succeeded to this, on Madeline's part, never forgotten evening.
We need not present a scene from the sixth, the seventh, or even the twentieth day of Madeline's married life. All moved on with a kind of even tenor. Order--we might almost say, mercantile order--reigned throughout the household. And yet, shadows were filling more and more heavily over the young wife's feelings. To be loved, was an element of her existence--to be loved with expression. But, expressive fondness was not one of the cold, dignified Mr. Leslie's weaknesses. He loved Madeline--as much as he was capable of loving anything out of himself. And he had given her the highest possible evidence of this love, by making her his wife.--What more could she ask? It never occurred to his unsentimental thought, that words and acts of endearment were absolutely essential to her happiness. That her world of interest was a world of affections, and that without his companionship in this world, her heart would feel an aching void.
Who will wonder that, as weeks and months went by, shadows were more apparent on the sunny face of Madeline? Yet, such shadows, when they became visible to casual eyes, did excite wonder. What was there to break the play of sunshine on her countenance?
"The more some people have, the more dissatisfied they are," remarked one superficial observer to another, in reply to some communication touching Mrs. Leslie's want of spirits.
"Yes," was answered. "Nothing but real trouble ever brings such persons to their senses."
Ah! Is not heart-trouble the most real of all with which we are visited? There comes to it, so rarely, a balm of healing. To those external evils which merely affect the personal comfort, the mind quickly accommodates itself. We may find happiness in either prosperity or adversity. But, what true happiness is there for a loving heart, if, from the only source of reciprocation, there is but an imperfect response? A strong mind may accommodate itself, in the exercise of a firm religious philosophy, to even these circumstances, and like the wisely discriminating bee, extract honey from even the most unpromising flower. But, it is hard--nay, almost impossible--for one like Madeline, reared as she was in so warm an atmosphere of love, to fall back upon and find a sustaining power, in such a philosophy. Her spirit first must droop. There must be a passing through the fire, with painful purification. Alas! How many perish in the ordeal!--How many gentle, loving ones, unequally mated, die, daily, around us; moving on to the grave, so far as the world knows, by the way of some fatal bodily ailment; yet, in truth, failing by a heart-sickness that has dried up the fountains of life.
And so it was with the wife of Edward Leslie. Greatly her husband wondered at the shadows which fell, more and more heavily, on Madeline--wondered as time wore on, at the paleness of her cheeks--the sadness which, often, she could not repress when he was by; the variableness of her spirits--all tending to destroy the balance of her nervous system, and, finally, ending in confirmed ill-health, that demanded, imperiously, the diversion of his thoughts from business and worldly schemes to the means of prolonging her life.
Alas! What a sad picture to look upon, would it be, were we to sketch, even in outline, the passing events of the ten years that preceded this conviction on the part of Mr. Leslie. To Madeline, his cold, hard, impatient, and, too frequently, cruel re-actions upon what he thought her unreasonable, captious, dissatisfied states of mind, having no ground but in her imagination, were heavy heart-strokes--or, as a discordant hand dashed among her life-chords, putting them forever out of tune. Oh! The wretchedness, struggling with patience and concealment, of those weary years. The days and days, during which her husband maintained towards her a moody silence, that it seemed would kill her. And yet, so far as the world went, Mr. Leslie was among the best of husbands. How little does the world, so called, look beneath the surface of things!
With the weakness of failing health, came, to Madeline, the loss of mental energy. She had less and less self-control. A brooding melancholy settled upon her feelings; and she often spent days in her chamber, refusing to see any one except members of her own family, and weeping if she were spoken to.
"You will die, Madeline. You will kill yourself!" said her husband, repeating, one day, the form of speech so often used when he found his wife in these states of abandonment. He spoke with more than his usual tenderness, for, to his unimaginative mind had come a quickly passing, but vivid realization, of what he would lose if she were taken from him.
"The loss will scarcely be felt," was her murmured answer.
"Your children will, at least, feel it," said Mr. Leslie, in a more captious and meaning tone than, upon reflection, he would have used. He felt her words as expressing indifference for himself, and his quick retort involved, palpably, the same impression in regard to his wife.
Madeline answered not farther, but her husband's words were not forgotten--"My children will feel my loss." This thought became so present to her mind, that none other could, for a space, come into manifest perception. The mother's heart began quickening into life a sense of the mother's duty. Thus it was, when her oldest child--named for herself, and with as loving and dependent a nature--opened the chamber door, and coming up to her father, made some request that he did not approve. To the mother's mind, her desire was one that ought to have been granted; and, she felt, in an instant, that the manner, as well as the fact of the father's denial, were both unkind, and that Madeline's heart would be almost broken. She did not err in this. The child went sobbing from the room.
How distinctly came before the mind of Mrs. Leslie a picture of the past. She was, for a time, back in her father's house; and she felt, for a time, the ever-present, considerate, loving kindness of one who had made all sunshine in that early home. Slowly came back the mind of Mrs. Leslie to the present, and she said to herself, not passively, like one borne on the current of a down-rushing stream, but resolutely, as one with a purpose to struggle--to suffer, and yet be strong--
"Yes; my children will feel my loss. I could pass away and be at rest. I could lie me down and sleep sweetly in the grave. But, is all my work done? Can I leave these little ones to his tender mer--"
She checked herself in the mental utterance of this sentiment, which referred to her husband. But, the feeling was in her heart; and it inspired her with a new purpose. Her thought, turned from herself, and fixed, with a yearning love upon her children, gave to the blood a quicker motion through the veins, and to her mind a new activity. She could no longer remain passive, as she had been for hours, brooding over her own unhappy state, but arose and left her chamber. In another room she found her unhappy child, who had gone off to brood alone over her disappointment, and to weep where none could see her.
"Madeline, dear!" said the mother, in a loving, sympathetic voice.
Instantly the child flung herself into her arms, and laid her face, sobbing, upon her bosom.
Gently, yet wisely--for there came, in that moment, to Mrs. Leslie, a clear perception of all her duty--did the mother seek to soften Madeline's disappointment, and to inspire her with fortitude to bear. Beyond her own expectation came success in this effort. The reason she invented or imagined, for the father's refusal, satisfied the child; and soon the clouded brow was lit up by the heart's sunshine.
From that hour, Mrs. Leslie was changed. From that hour, a new purpose filled her heart. She could not leave her children, nor could she take them with her if she passed away; and so, she resolved to live for them, to forget her own suffering, in the tenderness of maternal care. The mother had risen superior to the unhappy, unappreciated wife.
All marked the change; yet in none did it awaken more surprise than in Mr. Leslie. He never fully understood its meaning; and, no wonder, for he had never understood her from the beginning. He was too cold and selfish to be able fully to appreciate her character or relation to him as a wife.
Yet, for all this change--though the long drooping form of Mrs. Leslie regained something of its erectness, and her exhausted system a degree of tension--the shadow passed not from her heart or brow; nor did her cheeks grow warm again with the glow of health. The delight of her life had failed; and now, she lived only for the children whom God had given her.
A man of Mr. Leslie's stamp of character too rarely grows wiser in the true sense. Himself the centre of his world, it is but seldom that he is able to think enough out of himself to scan the effect of his daily actions upon others. If collisions take place, he thinks only of the pain he feels, not of the pain he gives. He is ever censuring; but rarely takes blame. During the earlier portions of his married life, Mr. Leslie's mind had chafed a good deal at what seemed to him Madeline's unreasonable and unwomanly conduct; the soreness of this was felt even after the change in her exterior that we have noticed, and he often indulged in the habit of mentally writing bitter things against her. He had well nigh broken her heart; and was yet impatient because she gave signs indicative of pain.
And so, as years wore on, the distance grew wider instead of becoming less and less. The husband had many things to draw him forth into the busy world, where he established various interests, and sought pleasure in their pursuits, while the wife, seldom seen abroad, buried herself at home, and gave her very life for her children.
But, even maternal love could not feed for very many years the flame of her life. The oil was too nearly exhausted when that new supply came. For a time, the light burned clearly; then it began to fail, and ere the mother's tasks were half done, it went out in darkness.
How heavy the shadows which then fell upon the household and upon the heart of Edward Leslie! As he stood, alone, in the chamber of death, with his eyes fixed upon the pale, wasted countenance, no more to quicken with life, and felt on his neck the clinging arms that were thrown around it a few moments before the last sigh of mortality was breathed; and still heard the eager, "Kiss me, Edward, once, before I die!"--a new light broke upon him,--and he was suddenly stung by sharp and self-reproaching thoughts. Had he not killed her, and, by the slowest and most agonizing process by which murder can be committed? There was in his mind a startling perception that such was the awful crime of which he had been guilty.
Yes, there were shadows on the heart of Edward Leslie; shadows that never entirely passed away.