The Wife by T.S. Arthur
"I am hopeless!" said the young man, in a voice that was painfully desponding. "Utterly hopeless! Heaven knows I have tried hard to get employment! But no one has need of my service. The pittance doled out by your father, and which comes with a sense of humiliation that is absolutely heart-crushing, is scarcely sufficient to provide this miserable abode, and keep hunger from our door. But for your sake, I would not touch a shilling of his money if I starved."
"Hush, dear Edward!" returned the gentle girl, who had left father, mother, and a pleasant home, to share the lot of him she loved; and she laid a finger on his lips, while she drew her arm around him.
"Agnes," said the young man, "I cannot endure this life much longer. The native independence of my character revolts at our present condition. Months have elapsed, and yet the ability I possess finds no employment. In this country every avenue is crowded."
The room in which they were overlooked the sea.
"But there is another land, where, if what we hear be true, ability finds employment and talent a sure reward." And, as Agnes said this, in a voice of encouragement, she pointed from the window towards the expansive waters that stretched far away towards the south and west.
"America!" The word was uttered in a quick, earnest voice.
"Agnes, I thank you for this suggestion! Return to the pleasant home you left for one who cannot procure for you even the plainest comforts of life, and I will cross the ocean to seek a better fortune in that land of promise. The separation, painful to both, will not, I trust, be long."
"Edward," replied the young wife with enthusiasm, as she drew her arm more tightly about his neck, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee! Where thou goest I will go, and where thou liest I will lie. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
"Would you forsake all," said Edward, in surprise, "and go far away with me into a strange land?"
"It will be no stranger to me than it will be to you, Edward."
"No, no, Agnes! I will not think of that," said Edward Marvel, in a positive, voice. "If I go to that land of promise, it must first be alone."
"Alone!" A shadow fell over the face of Agnes. "Alone! It cannot--it must not be!"
"But think, Agnes. If I go alone, it will cost me but a small sum to live until I find some business, which may not be for weeks, or even months after I arrive in the New World."
"What if you were to be sick?" The frame of Agnes slightly quivered as she made this suggestion.
"We will not think of that."
"I cannot help thinking of it, Edward. Therefore entreat me not to leave thee, nor to return from following after thee. Where thou goest, I will go."
Marvel's countenance became more serious.
"Agnes," said the young man, after he had reflected for some time, "let us think no more about this. I cannot take you far away to this strange country. We will go back to London. Perhaps another trial there may be more successful."
After a feeble opposition on the part of Agnes, it was finally agreed that Edward should go once more to London, while she made a brief visit to her parents. If he found employment, she was to join him immediately; if not successful, they were then to talk further of the journey to America.
With painful reluctance, Agnes went back to her father's house, the door of which ever stood open to receive her; and she went back alone. The pride of her husband would not permit him to cross the threshold of a dwelling where his presence was not a welcome one. In eager suspense, she waited for a whole week ere a letter came from Edward. The tone of this letter was as cheerful and as hopeful as it was possible for the young man to write. But, as yet, he had found no employment. A week elapsed before another came. It opened in these words:--
"MY DEAR, DEAR AGNES! Hopeless of doing anything here, I have turned my thoughts once more to the land of promise; and, when you receive this, I will be on my journey thitherward. Brief, very brief, I trust, will be our separation. The moment I obtain employment, I will send for you, and then our re-union will take place with a fulness of delight such as we have not yet experienced."
Long, tender, and hopeful was the letter; but it brought a burden of grief and heart-sickness to the tender young creature, who felt almost as if she had been deserted by the one who was dear to her as her own life.
Only a few days had Edward Marvel been at sea, when he became seriously indisposed, and, for the remaining part of the voyage, was so ill as to be unable to rise from his berth. He had embarked in a packet ship from Liverpool bound for New York, where he arrived, at the expiration of five weeks. Then he was removed to the sick wards of the hospital on Staten Island, and it was the opinion of the physicians there that he would die.
"Have you friends in this country?" inquired a nurse who was attending the young man. This question was asked on the day after he had become an inmate of the hospital.
"None," was the feebly uttered reply.
"You are very ill," said the nurse.
The sick man looked anxiously into the face of his attendant.
"You have friends in England?"
"Have you any communication to make to them?"
Marvel closed his eyes, and remained for some time silent.
"If you will get me a pen and some paper, I will write a few lines," said he at length.
"I'm afraid you are too weak for the effort," replied the nurse.
"Let me try," was briefly answered.
The attendant left the room.
"Is there any one in your part of the house named Marvel?" asked a physician, meeting the nurse soon after she had left the sick man's room. "There's a young woman down in the office inquiring for a person of that name."
"Marvel--Marvel?" the nurse shook her head.
"Are you certain?" remarked the physician.
"I'm certain there is no one by that name for whom any here would make inquiries. There's a young Englishman who came over in the last packet, whose name is something like that you mention. But he has no friends in this country."
The physician passed on without further remark.
Soon after, the nurse returned to Marvel with the writing materials for which he had asked. She drew a table to the side of his bed, and supported him as he leaned over and tried, with an unsteady hand, to write.
"Have you a wife at home?" asked the nurse; her eyes had rested on the first words he wrote.
"Yes," sighed the young man, as the pen dropped from his fingers, and he leaned back heavily, exhausted by even the slight effort he had made.
"Your name is Marvel?"
"A young woman was here just now inquiring if we had a patient by that name."
"By my name?" There was a slight indication of surprise.
Marvel closed his eyes, and did not speak for some moments.
"Did you see her?" he asked at length, evincing some interest.
"Did she find the one for whom she was seeking?"
"There is no person here, except yourself, whose name came near to the one she mentioned. As you said you had no friends in this country, we did not suppose that you were meant."
"No, no." And the sick man shook his head slowly. "There is none to ask for me. Did you say it was a young woman?" he inquired, soon after. His mind dwelt on the occurrence.
"Yes. A young woman with a fair complexion and deep blue eyes."
Marvel looked up quickly into the face of the attendant, while a flush came into his cheeks.
"She was a slender young girl, with light hair, and her face was pale, as from trouble."
"Agnes! Agnes!" exclaimed Marvel, rising up. "But, no, no," he added, mournfully, sinking back again upon the bed; "that cannot be. I left her far away over the wide ocean."
"Will you write?" said the nurse after some moments.
The invalid, without unclosing his eyes, slowly shook his head. A little while the attendant lingered in his room, and then retired.
"Dear, dear Agnes!" murmured Edward Marvel, closing his eyes, and letting his thoughts go, swift-winged, across the billow sea. "Shall I never look on your sweet face again? Never feel your light arms about my neck, or your breath warm on my cheek? Oh, that I had never left you! Heaven give thee strength to bear the trouble in store!"
For many minutes he lay thus, alone, with his eyes closed, in sad self-communion. Then he heard the door open and close softly; but he did not look up. His thoughts were far, far away. Light feet approached quickly; but he scarcely heeded them. A form bent over him; but his eyes remained shut, nor did he open them until warm lips were pressed against his own, and a low voice, thrilling through his whole being, said--
"Agnes!" was his quick response, while his arms were thrown eagerly around the neck of his wife, "Agnes! Agnes! Have I awakened from a fearful dream?"
Yes, it was indeed her of whom he had been thinking. The moment she received his letter, informing her that he had left for the United States, she resolved to follow him in the next steamer that sailed. This purpose she immediately avowed to her parents. At first, they would not listen to her; but, finding that she would, most probably, elude their vigilance, and get away in spite of all efforts to prevent her, they deemed it more wise and prudent to provide her with everything necessary for the voyage, and to place her in the care of the captain of the steamship in which she was to go. In New York they had friends, to whom they gave her letters fully explanatory of her mission, and earnestly commending her to their care and protection.
Two weeks before the ship in which Edward Marvel sailed reached her destination, Agnes was in New York. Before her departure, she had sought, but in vain, to discover the name of the vessel in which her husband had embarked. On arriving in the New World, she was therefore uncertain whether he had preceded her in a steamer, or was still lingering on the way.
The friends to whom Agnes brought letters received her with great kindness, and gave her all the advice and assistance needed under the circumstances. But two weeks went by without a word of intelligence on the one subject that absorbed all her thoughts. Sadly was her health beginning to suffer. Sunken eyes and pale cheeks attested the weight of suffering that was on her.
One day it was announced that a Liverpool packet had arrived with the ship fever on board, and that several of the passengers had been removed to the hospital.
A thrill of fear went through the heart of the anxious wife. It was soon ascertained that Marvel had been a passenger on board of this vessel; but, from some cause, nothing in regard to him beyond this fact could she learn. Against all persuasion, she started for the hospital, her heart oppressed with a fearful presentiment that he was either dead or struggling in the grasp of a fatal malady. On making inquiry at the hospital, she was told the one she sought was not there, and she was about returning to the city, when the truth reached her ears.
"Is he very ill?" she asked, struggling to compose herself.
"Yes, he is extremely ill," was the reply. "And it might not be well for you, under the circumstances, to see him at present."
"Not well for his wife to see him?" returned Agnes. Tears sprung to her eyes at the thought of not being permitted to come near in his extremity. "Do not say that. Oh, take me to him! I will save his life."
"You must be very calm," said the nurse; for it was with her she was talking. "The least excitement may be fatal."
"Oh, I will be calm and prudent." Yet, even while she spoke, her frame quivered with excitement.
But she controlled herself when the moment of meeting came, and, though her unexpected appearance produced a shock, it was salutary rather than injurious.
"My dear, dear Agnes!" said Edward Marvel, a month from this time, as they sat alone in the chamber of a pleasant house in New York, "I owe you my life. But for your prompt resolution to follow me across the sea, I would, in all probability, now be sleeping the sleep of death. Oh, what would I not suffer for your sake!"
As Marvel uttered the last sentence, a troubled expression flitted over his countenance. Agnes gazed tenderly into his face, and asked--
"Why this look of doubt and anxiety?"
"Need I answer the question?" returned the young man. "It is, thus far, no better with me than when we left our old home. Though health is coming back through every fibre, and my heart is filled with an eager desire to relieve these kind friends of the burden of our support, yet no prospect opens."
No cloud came stealing darkly over the face of the young wife. The sunshine, so far from being dimmed, was brighter.
"Let not your heart be troubled," said she, with a beautiful smile. "All will come out right."
"Right, Agnes? It is not right for me thus to depend on strangers."
"You need depend but a little while longer. I have already made warm friends here, and, through them, secured for you employment. A good place awaits you so soon as strength to fill it comes back to your weakened frame."
"Angel!" exclaimed the young man, overcome with emotion at so unexpected a declaration.
"No, not an angel," calmly replied Agnes, "only a wife. And now, dear Edward," she added, "never again, in any extremity, think for a moment of meeting trials or enduring privations alone. Having taken a wife, you cannot move safely on your journey unless she moves by your side."
"Angel! Yes, you are my good angel," repeated Edward.
"Call me what you will," said Agnes, with a sweet smile, as she brushed, with her delicate hand, the hair from his temples; "but let me be your wife. I ask no better name, no higher station."