The Allen House, or Twenty Years Ago and Now by T.S. Arthur
No;--there had been no strife with the heavenly messenger. As a child falls asleep in its mother's arms, so fell Mrs. Montgomery asleep in the arms of an angel--tranquil, peaceful, happy. I say happy--for in lapsing away into that mortal sleep, of which our natural sleep is but an image, shall the world-weary who have in trial and suffering grown heavenly minded, sink into unconsciousness with less of tranquil delight than the babe pillowed against its mother's bosom? I think not.
As I gazed upon her dead face, where the parting soul had left its sign of peace, I prayed that, when I passed from my labors, there might be as few stains of earth upon my garments.
"Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, Yea, saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labors, and their works do follow them."
I found myself repeating these holy words, as I stood looking at the white, shrunken features of the departed.
It was not until the next day that I saw Blanche. But Constance was with her immediately after the sad news jarred upon her sympathizing heart.
"How did you leave her?" was my anxious query, on meeting my wife at home.
"Calm," was the brief answer.
How much the word included!
"Did you talk with her?"
"Not a great deal; she did not seem inclined to talk, like some who seek relief through expression. I found her alone in the room next to the one in which the body of her mother was lying. She was sitting by a table, with one hand pressed over her eyes, as I entered. 'Oh, my friend! my dear friend!' she said, in a tone of grief, rising and coming a step or two to meet me. I drew my arms around her, and she laid her head against me and sobbed three or four times, while the tears ran down and dropped upon the floor. 'It is well with her!' I said.
"'Oh, yes, my friend, it is well with her,' she answered, mournfully, 'well with her, but not with me. How shall I walk onward in life's difficult ways, without my mother's arm to lean upon? My steps already hesitate.'
"'You have another arm to lean upon,' I ventured to suggest.
"'Yes, a strong arm upon which I can lean in unfaltering trust. In this God has been good to me. But my wise, patient mother--how shall I live without her?'
"'She is only removed from you as to bodily presence,' said I. 'Love conjoins your souls as intimately as ever.'
"'Ah, yes, I know this must be. Too many times have I heard that comforting truth from her lips ever to forget it. But while we are in the body, the mind will not rest satisfied with any thing less than bodily presence.'
"I did not press the point, for I knew that in all sorrow the heart is its own best comforter, and gathers for itself themes of consolation that even the nearest friend would fail to suggest. We went in together to look at the frail tabernacle from which the pure spirit of her mother had departed forever! How sweetly the smile left upon the lips in the last kiss of parting, lingered there still, fixed in human marble with more than a sculptor's art! There was no passionate weeping, as we stood by the lifeless clay. Very calm and silent she was; but oh, what a look of intense love went out from her sad eyes! Not despairing but hopeful love. The curtain of death hid from her no land of shadows and mystery; but a world of spiritual realities. Her mother had not gone shrinking and trembling into regions of darkness and doubt; but in the blessed assurance of a peaceful reception in the house of her friends.
"How a true faith," said I, strongly impressed by the images which were presented to my mind, "strips from death its old terrors! When the Apostle exclaimed, 'Oh, grave, where is thy victory? oh, death, where is thy sting?' his mind looked deeper into the mystery of dying, and saw farther into the world beyond, than do our modern Christians, who frighten us with images of terror. 'I will lay me down in peace and sleep,' when the time of my departure comes, should be the heart-language of every one who takes upon himself the name of Him who said, 'In my Father's house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, ye may be also.'"
"Since I knew Mrs. Montgomery, and felt the sphere of her quality," said Constance, "my perceptions of life and duty here, and their connection with life and happiness hereafter, have been elevated to a higher region. I see no longer as in a glass darkly, but in the light of reason, made clear by the more interior light of Revelation."
"And the same is true with me," I replied. "We may well say that it was good to have known her. She was so true, so just, so unconscious of self, that truth, justice, and unselfishness were always lovelier in your eyes for having seen them illustrated in her person. And there was no pious cant about her. No parade of her unworthiness; no solemn aspects, nor obtrusive writings of bitter things against herself. But always an effort to repress what was evil in her nature; and a state of quiet, religious trust, which said, 'I know in whom I have believed.'"
"Ah," said Constance, "if there was only more of such religion in the world!"
"It would be a happier world than it is," I answered.
"By the impress of a life like hers, what lasting good is done!" said my wife. "Such are the salt of the earth. Cities set upon hills. Lights in candlesticks. They live not in vain!'"
I did not see Blanche until the day of burial. Her beautiful face was calm, but very pale. It bore strongly the impress of sorrow, but not of that hopeless sorrow which we so often see on these mournful occasions. It was very plain that her thoughts were not lingering around the shrouded and coffined form of what was once her mother's body, but were following her into the world beyond our mortal vision, as we follow a dear friend who has gone from us on a long journey.
And thus it was that Blanche Montgomery entered upon her new life. Death's shadow fell upon the torch of Hymen. There was a rain of grief just as the sun of love poured forth his brightest beams, and the bow which spanned the horizon gave, in that hour of grief, sweet promise for the future.
These exciting events in the experience of our young friends had come upon us so suddenly, that our minds were half bewildered. A few weeks served, however, to bring all things into a right adjustment with our own daily life and thought, and Ivy Cottage became one of the places that grew dearer to us for the accumulating memories of pleasant hours spent there with true-hearted ones who were living for something more than the unreal things of this world.
How many times was the life that beat so feverishly in the Allen House, and that which moved to such even pulsings in Ivy Cottage, contrasted in my observation! Ten years of a marriage such as Delia Floyd so unwisely consummated, had not served for the development of her inner life to any right purpose. She had kept on in the wrong way taken by her feet in the beginning, growing purse proud, vain, ambitious of external pre-eminence, worldly-minded, and self-indulgent. She had four children, who were given up almost wholly to the care of hirelings. There was, consequent upon neglect, ignorance, and bad regimen, a great deal of sickness among them, and I was frequently called in to interpose my skill for their relief. Poor little suffering ones! how often I pitied them An occasional warning was thrown in, but it was scarcely heeded by the mother, who had put on towards me a reserved stateliness, that precluded all friendly remonstrance.
At least two months of every summer Mrs. Dewey was absent from S----, intermitting between Saratoga and Newport, where she abandoned herself to all the excitements of fashionable dissipation. Regularly each year we saw her name in the New York correspondence of the Herald, as the "fascinating Mrs. D----;" the "charming wife of Mr. D----;" or in some like style of reference. At last, coupled with one of these allusions, was an intimation that "it might be well if some discreet friend would whisper in the lady's ear that she was a little too intimate with men of doubtful reputation; particularly in the absence of her husband."
This paragraph was pointed out to me by one of my patients. I read it with a throb of pain. A little while afterwards I passed Mr. Floyd and Mr. Dewey in the street. They were walking rapidly, and conversing in an excited manner. I saw them take the direction of the depot.
"Here is trouble!" I said, sighing to myself. "Trouble that gold cannot gild, nor the sparkle of diamonds hide. Alas! alas! that a human soul, in which was so fair a promise, should get so far astray!"
I met Mr. Floyd half an hour later. His face was pale and troubled, and his eyes upon the ground. He did not see me--or care to see me--and so we passed without recognition.
Before night the little warning sentence, written by the Saratoga correspondent, was running from lip to lip all over S----. Some pitied, some blamed, and not a few were glad in their hearts of the disgrace; for Mrs. Dewey had so carried herself among us as to destroy all friendly feeling.
There was an expectant pause for several days. Then it was noised through the town that Mr. Dewey had returned, bringing his wife home with him. I met him in the street on the day after. There was a heavy cloud on his brow. Various rumors were afloat. One was--it came from a person just arrived from Saratoga--that Mr. Dewey surprised his wife in a moonlight walk with a young man for whom he had no particular fancy, and under such lover-like relations, that he took the liberty of caning the gentleman on the spot. Great excitement followed. The young man resisted--Mrs. Dewey screamed in terror--people flocked to the place--and mortifying exposure followed. This story was in part corroborated by the following paragraph in the Herald's Saratoga correspondence:
"We had a spicy scene, a little out of the regular performance, last evening; no less than the caning of a New York sprig of fashion, who made himself rather more agreeable to a certain married lady who dashes about here in a queenly way than was agreeable to her husband. The affair was hushed up. This morning I missed the lady from her usual place at the breakfast-table. Later in the day I learned that her husband had taken her home. If he'll accept my advice, he will keep her there."
"Poor Mrs. Floyd!" It was the mother's deep sorrow and humiliation that touched the heart of my Constance when this disgraceful exposure reached her. "She has worn to me a troubled look for this long while," she added. "The handsome new house which the Squire built, and into which they moved last year, has not, with all its elegant accompaniments, made her any more cheerful than she was before. Mrs. Dean told me that her sister was very much opposed to leaving her old home; but the Squire has grown rich so fast that he must have everything in the external to correspond with his improved circumstances. Ah me! If, with riches, troubles so deep must come, give me poverty as a blessing."
A week passed, and no one that I happened to meet knew, certainly, whether Mrs. Dewey was at home or not. Then she suddenly made her appearance riding about in her stylish carriage, and looking as self-assured as of old.
"That was a strange story about Mrs. Dewey," said I to a lady whom I was visiting professionally. I knew her to be of Mrs. Dewey's set. Don't smile, reader; we had risen to the dignity of having a fashionable "set," in S----, and Mrs. Dewey was the leader.
The lady shrugged her shoulders, drew up her eyebrows, and looked knowing and mysterious. I had expected this, for I knew my subject very well.
"You were at Saratoga," I added; "and must know whether rumor has exaggerated her conduct."
"Well, Doctor," said the lady, dropping her voice, and putting on the air of one who spoke in confidence. "I must say that our friend was not as discreet as she might have been. Nothing wrong--that is, criminal--of course. But the truth is, she is too fond of admiration, and encourages the attentions of young men a great deal more than is discreet for any married woman."
"There was an actual rencontre between Mr. Dewey and a person he thought too familiar with his wife?" said I.
"Oh, yes. Why, it was in the newspapers!"
"How was it made up between the parties?"
"It isn't made up at all, I believe; There's been some talk of a duel."
"A sad affair," said I. "How could Mrs. Dewey have been so thoughtless?"
"She isn't prudent, by any means," answered this intimate friend. "I often look at the way she conducts herself at public places, and wonder at her folly."
"Folly, indeed, if her conduct strikes at the root of domestic happiness."
The lady shook her head in a quiet, meaning way.
I waited for her to put her thoughts into words, which she did in a few moments after this fashion:
"There's not much domestic happiness to spoil, Doctor, so far as I can see. I don't think she cares a farthing for her husband; and he seems to have his mind so full of grand business schemes as to have no place left for the image of his wife. At least, so I read him."
"How has this matter affected their relation one to the other?"
"I have not seen them together since her return, and therefore cannot speak from actual observation," she replied.
There was nothing very definite in all this, yet it revealed such an utter abandonment of life's best hopes--such a desolation of love's pleasant land--such a dark future for one who might have been so nobly blest in a true marriage union, that I turned from the theme with a sad heart.