Fiction: The Young Wife

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Written for the Lady's Book.

THE YOUNG WIFE.

BY MRS. HARRISON SMITH.

"If you allow any passion, even though it be es teemed innocent, to acquire an absolute ascendant, your inward peace will be impaired. But if any which has the taint of guilt, take early possession of your mind, you may date from that moment the ruin of your tranqillity." Blair's Sermons.

It was a stormy morning, the rain poured down in torrents, and the wind was so cold that, although in the midst of summer, a blazing fire was a luxury. The two ladies continued seated by the breakfast table, even after the cloth was removed, and the servant withdrawn, instead of separating as they usually did, for their morning occupation.

Mrs. Murray sent for her work-basket, put on her spectacles and busily plied her needle, though not without frequent intermissions, when she would look up from her work to speak--yet would hesitate--pause, and then resume her work with out uttering a word. The younger, Mrs. Mur ray, had taken up a Review that lay on the man tel-piece, and throwing herself in an arm chair, seemed absorbed in its perusal. For a long while the silence was uninterrupted, although it was evident that the elder lady was struggling to give utterance to something pressing on her mind; on again looking up with this intention, she perceived her daughter-in-law was not read ing--that she did not turn a leaf of the book she held in her hand, and though her eyes were fix ed on the page, her mind seemed far away.

"Mary," said Mrs. Muray.

"Mother!" exclaimed she, starting from her reverie.

"I never saw you so absent, Mary, nor, I may say, so indolent, at this, your usually most busy hour."

Mary coloured, and with some hesitation, re plied,-

"I had something on my mind, about which I would consult you--but I cannot now--another time will do."

"You have stated my case precisely, Mary; for several days have I been wishing to speak to you of something that weighed heavily on my mind--but it is so seldom we are alone. You keep yourself so shut up in your room," she paused--but receiving no reply, continued,

"Is it kind, Mary?--is it hospitable, thus to seclude yourself, when you have a visitor in the house?"

"I mean no unkindness to Mr. Lovel."

"Mr. Lovel!" repeated Mrs. Murray, "and is there no want of kindness in that term? Your husband calls him brother, or Charles--or dear Charles, and on his arrival, presented him as such to you, recommending him to your sisterly care and affection--and as such you received him--oh, how kindly did you treat my poor boy for the few first weeks. You brought your work into the parlour, and sat the whole morning while he read to you, or accompanied your piano with his flute--you rode with him--you walked with him--yes, you treated him with the kindness and frankness of a sister. Oh, Mary, how hap py this made me! I looked on his reform as certain. After three wretched years of absence, of ceaseless anxiety--knowing nothing of my erring, but still darling child, but that he was im mersed in scenes of riot and dissipation--wast ing his time and talents in vicious pursuits, the prodigal son returned to his widowed mother,- my heart, my arms opened to welcome him. I, a dependent on a step-son's bounty, had not even a crust of bread to bestow on my sick and re pentant child. But your husband, who has ever been to me as an own son--yes, William, wel comed the wandered back with more than a bro ther's kindness, and in a manner not to be resist ed, bade him feel himself at home. My poor boy, who with all his faults has a generous na ture, as frankly accepted, as in similar circum stances he would have made such an offer. Under your's and William's kind care, how rapidly did he recover--his glazed and sunburnt eyes re sumed all their brightness--his cold, pallid cheek was warmed with the flush of health--his list lessness and languor yielded to your animating influence--his countenance beamed with content ment--and with that joy a mother only can know I felt as though my son, who had been lost, was found, that he who had been dead, was made alive. And it was to you, Mary, and your ex cellent husband that I owed this invaluable bless ing. His old pursuits, his old companions were all forsaken--for more than a month nothing has seduced him from a home, where he seemed hap pier than I ever knew him to be in his happiest moods."

She paused, but Mary spoke not. Wiping the tears from her aged cheeks, the fond mother deeply sighed as she exclaimed,-

"But of late what a change has taken place- no longer do I see those smiles, which were sun shine to my soul--no longer do I see him inno cently and usefully occupied by your side, while I sat by listening with pride as well as pleasure to his intelligent conversation or sportive sallies. You now absolutely shun him; you shut yourself up in your room, or, when forced to join the fa mily circle, you scarcely reply when he speaks to you--you turn back when you meet him in your walks--you scarcely deign to look at him. Mary, indeed Mary, you are most unkind."

Hitherto Mary had listened wtihout replying to any of the charges thus urged against her. She had not even by a look responded to the ap peal made to her feelings--but when Mrs. Mur ray ceased to speak--when she wept outright, her daughter-in-law looked up, and with evident embarrassment attempted to vindicate her con duct.

"When he first came," said she, "I consider ed him as a stranger, and left my usual occupa tions to attend to him; but now that he has be come one of our family and is completely domes ticated, I treat him as I do my own brother when he is with us."

"No, no," exclaimed Mrs. Murray, shaking her head, "no, Mary, you do not deceive your self, nor can you deceive me--you no longer treat him as a brother. Oh wretched woman that I am," continued she, clasping her hands- "after such hopes what will become of me if Charles returns to his old habits--why do you drive him to the precipice?"

"You are unjust and unkind, mother. I have

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done and am willing to do, every thing consisten with my duty, to mke this house agreeable to my husband’s friend and uour son; but to give up all my time and regular occupations to amuse him, is more than you can expect.” “True, true,” said the weeping mother, “I have no right to claim a hundredth part of the kindness that you have shown me and my son. Age produces querulousness-dependence creates suspicion-excuse me, my child.” She covered her face with her handkerchief, and would feign have concealed the tears she could not repress. For a while Mary continued silent, perplexed, and irresolute. Her colour went and came, and her voice troubled as she said “My dear mother, I am very yuoung, and very inexperienced-but there is something within that tells me Charles Lovel is not my brother-nor myhusband’s brother-that-that-not being a relation, I should not trust him as one,—but____: “You need say no more, “ interrupted Mrs. Murray, “am I not suffieiently humbled ? Think you that I forget that when his father married me, I entered the family a portionless widow, burdened with a son—think yu that I forget that my late husband recovered from a fraudulent guardian a large fortune for that son—that I forget the unwearied cares bestowed on his education, making no difference between him and his own son. Or can i forget that William, but a few years older than my boy, received him into his affectioins as a brother-bore with all the violence of Charles’ temper- the irregularity of his habits-concealed his faults-supplied wants created by his extravagance, and was to him the most faithful of friends!” A shuddering crept over Mary as she listened to this enumeration of her husband’s kindnesses to Charles Lovel, but speak she could not, although she perceived Mrs. Murray waited for a reply. “Or think you,” continued the old lady, with increasing warmth and asperity, “that I forget when my husband died, instead of allowing me to go forth among strangers, William insisted on my remaining in this, his paternal mansion, and bade me continue its mistress, and he to him a mother! No, no—these are things I can never forgt—they are present with me at my lying down and my rising up. And when he brought you here a blooming bride, I fredeived you as a daughter sent by providence to supply the place of my long absent—or, as I feared, my lost son. I looked to you to comfort me for all the heartaches his sad courses inflicted on me. And it is only of late, Mary, that I have felt that you were not my daughter.” But I will be to you a daughter!” excalimed Mary, throwing her arms around the old lady’s neck. “I have no mother but you!”.

Then, Mary, my son must be to you as a brother.” Mary withdrew her arms, and rsumed her seat. “Yes,” continued Mrs. Murray, “if you would be to me a daughter, you must be to him a sister. Remember the homely but expressive proverb, love me, love my dog; if general humanity

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Murray’s displeasure soon yielded to tenderer emotion, and weeping anew, she lamented her sad condition—without a home of her own in which she could receive her returning prodigal. Mary soothed her agitation, and when the servant entered to spread the table for dinner, withdrew more perplexed than ever. The purity of Mary’s mind had never been tarnished by association with vice, even under its most seductive form of elegance and fashion. The license allowed to married women in the higher circles, where the European system of gallantry is insidiously undermining the morals, and transforming the simple and rigid forms of our society, was unknown to those secluded, but lovely women. She could not have comprehended had she heard the term of Married Belle, now so commonly in use in fashionable circles, or had it been explained, she would have revolted from the idea, as one allied with guilt and shame. Flirtation of a married woman! — her lovers! — such things she had never heard of in our country, though she had read of them as existing in the licentious courts of Europe—these, however, were so remote that she felt them not as realities, but thought of them rather as fictions, and shrunk from them as profanations, not only of purity but of truth. Unacquainted with the world, on whose theatre the passions play such tremendous parts; unacquainted even with their inseperable existence with human nature, she was the more exposed to their assaults. A garrison, aware of the enemies by which it is beleagured, might avert the threatened attack by prudence and vigilance, when, though brave and faithful, it might be lost from mere ignorance of its danger and a reliance on its supposed security. Loved from childhood, the pure and. placid affections of Mary’s bosom had never been perturbed by strong or powerful emotions. Yet her nature was as ardent as it was tender and susceptible; and to love and be beloved, seemed as necessary to her life as to her happiness. Love was her natural element, the only one on which she could live; from coldness and unkindness she suffered, as a tropical plant would do if transplanted to the polar regions. Keenly did she feel the reproaches of her mother-in-law — she felt they were undeserved—that when she avoidaed the society of Charles, the solicitations of her own heart had been sacrificed to an instinctive sense of duty—a feeling which she scarecely understood, yet obeyed. But how explain to his mother feelings to herself incomprehensible. “Hate Charles Lovel,” exclaimed Mary, as she entered her chamber, and threw herself into a large chair that stood by the window. “Hate Charles Lovel! I could almost wish I did. How is it possible his mother can be so deceived? But she suspects not—oh, she cannot suspect the too tender, too absorbing interest he has excited, and that my avoidance of him resulted form an instictive fear of danger. And yet, why this fear? His mother, my husband desire me to show him every kindness—to allure him by the charms of home, from the haunts of vice. Can a nobler task be asigned me? Whence then this internal consciousness of wrong? My children, my little darling, how comes it to pass that you do not conitnue to cccupy every thought, —that I do not feel the impatience and anxiety I used to feel when separated from you—that I can now contentedly resign you to the care of a hireling, and pass whole mornings—nay, sometimes whole days, without listening to your sweet prattle and your fond caresses! Whence is it that I no longer find the hours of separation from my husband tedious—that I no longer watch the clock, or run to the window to see if he is returning. Happy in the absence of my husband and children. There was a time when I would not have believed this to be possible. When is this change? Surely this is wrong—Strange! I am a mystery to myself. Dear little creatures, surely I do not love you less, why then cannot I find the same pleasure in giving you your lessons? I catch myself hurrying them over, sometimes, even, irritated by your playfulness and inattention. More impatient than yourselves to get through your morning tasks. Tasks! I did not use to call them tasks, they wer my chief delight. What means this? How is it possible that the society of a stranger can have a more powerful attraction for me than that of my children, for whom, without a moment’s hesitation, I would cheerfully suffer pain, or death itself, to save them from suffering. How my mind expands while I talk to him! — such floods of thought rush in, that it seems to me I could converse for days together without exhaustion of ideas. I feel as if my soul had been sleeping and that his voice, his look, had awaked the sleeper, and roused all its latent powers. And is there any thing wrong in this? my mother would answer no! Yet I feel it is not right! these feelings have prompted me to shun him. My avoidance, his mother says, may injure, may ruin him—then it must be wrong; what higher duty can I have than to save a fellow being from vice, not from suffering only, but from vice? Surely my duty here is plain, and yet, what—what shall I do? “Searcher of hearts, direct, enlighten my bewildered mind; let they divine light guide my steps; thy divine strength fortify my mind.

If I am right thy grace impart, Still in the right to stay, If I am wrong, oh! teach my heart To find the better way.”

Calmed and strengthened by this uplifting of her soul to the throne of grace—this feeling of God’s protecting power, she returned to the family circle, and yielding to the entreaties of Mrs. Murray, resumed her former intercourse with her son. *. *. *. * On Charles Lovel’s first arrival, the extravagant joy and affection exhibitied by his mother—the genuine affection and cordial warmth evinced by her husband, could not fail of impressing the mind of Mary with the most favourable of opinion of their new inmate. The pallidness and emaciation of his appearance, the deep dejection of his spirits, awakened a tender and generous compassion, which, independently of the express desires of her husband, prompted her to receive the stranger with the most marked kindness, and

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to use her best endeavours to restore his health and cheerfulness. The faults of his character and errors of his life, if not totally concealed, were at least so palliated by the partial affection of his mother and the generous nature of her husband, that she looked upon him as "more sinned against than sinning," and pitied, more than she blamed the frailties of a too impetuous, too ardent temper. His apearance was more than pleasing--it was interesting--it did not elicit admiration, but excited sympathy, the most irresistible of all attractions. The exuberance of his imagination--the quickness of his perceptions had at College obtained him the reputation of genius--but his deficiency in sound judgment and practical common sense, had deprived him of the advantages such a reputation might have gained, and left him the sport of his passions and his fancies. Mary had hitherto been the inseparable companion of her children; she was not only their instructress, but their playmate. As their noise and restlessness evidently disturbed the shattered nerves of the invalid, after giving them their lessons, Mary consigned them to the care of their nurse, while with her work-stand placed beside the cushioned chair in which Charles reclined, she passed most of the day in reading to or conversing with him, whilst his fond mother sat by, proud of the talent her son displayed. She dared to make no enquiries into late occurrences, nor indulge herself in reminiscences of the past, and therefore said little herself, but watched with delight the kind attentions lavished on him by Mary. When she read, Charles leaning back in his chair, and shading his eyes with his hands, would gaze on her sweet, expressive face, that mirrored every emotion described by the poet or the novelist. And then her voice! How soothingly did its soft tones fall on the perturbed spirits of the invalid! What power has the voice! Can the forms or colours of beauty so sway the soul-exalting, exciting, soothing its every emotion? Charles Lovel had known woman only in her most frail and frivolous aspect. The daughters of fashion and folly and frailty. He had admired, loved and followed, but never respected them. He looked on the whole sex as alike weak and vain--the slaves of caprice and inclination, and thought virtue but a name. The endearing attentions Mary bestowed, with all the frankness of a sister, he mistook for evidences of less pure and holy feelins, and therefore yielded unresistingly to the delightful sensations such tender cares excited. To the infinite gratification of his mother his health rapidly improved. The dejection of his spirits had fled, and been succeeded by the most animating cheerfulness. His dimmed eye regained all its sparkling intelligence, and spoke more eloquently than his tongue. Mrs. Murray had feared that with renovated health his desire for company and amusement would have revived, and she saw with surprise her restless, pleasure-seeking son contentedly passing days and weeks in their quiet family circle without even evincing a wish for change or variety. Mr. Murray, buried in his office among his dusty books and papers, wholly engrossed with his professional duties, seldom or ever joined his family except at meals. The tea-table detained him longest; he would then sometimes forget business, and linger to talk over with his friend the scenes of their boyhood, always recalling such incidents as exhibited the character of Charles in the fairest point of view. "I never envied you but once," said he one evening, "though you so often bore off from me the College honours, and that was the moment when you fearlessly plunged into the water to rescue a poor boy who had fallen through the ice. Yes, when you brought him ashore and was hailed by the acclamations of our companions, a sensation of bitter envy stung my bosom. But thank God it was short-lived. I loved you too well for it to last long. But once did I say? Alas! I remember one other rash, weak and criminal moment. It was on an occasion when you were unjustly accused at school, and rather than betray the real culprit, you bore a severe flogging to save the poor little fellow. I felt every stroke in my heart's core, and wept bitterly, but when I witnessed the enthusiastic admiration of the scholars, who were aware of the truth, and the passionate gratitude of the real offender, I envied you the strokes, for which I had before wept, and was jealous of the popularity you acquired. Charles I am still your debtor," continued he, stretching out his hand and cordially grasping that of his friend. "But, my dear fellow, you forget all the shocking tricks I played you--all my mad frolics, in which you suffered much more than your share, were the account fairly cast up. It is I, who ever was, and ever must remain your debtor." The candour and frankness of his confessions, added to the traits of courage and generosity, related by her husband, could not fail of charming and interesting Mary. As Mr. Lovel's health returned, walks and rides through the beautiful country which surrounded the village where they lived, most pleasantly diversified their quiet lives. The innocent and artless Mary, sincerely attached as she was to her worthy husband, continued long unconscious of the new feelings awakened in her bosom. She never dreamed that too much tenderness could be felt by a wife or mother, for one she called her brother. Her intuitive delicacy made her shrink from the liberties which, under this title, Charles sometimes attempted to take. Free as were his opinions and habits respecting the sex, her unpretending simplicity and purity had a restraining influence which secured her from any avowal of the unhallowed sentiments he cherished, and thus unconscious of the danger that lurked beneath the flowery path she trod, she pursued her way, delighting and delighted. Her sense of duty, however, was [unimpaired]; and when she perceived that her constant cares and attendance were no longer necessary, now that Mr. Lovel's health was perfectly restored, she determined to resume her usual occupations. But she was surprised to find that they no longer had the interest that they once had; surprised that her thoughts often wandered from her book--that she felt an impatience she had never before felt while instructing her children--that she was annoyed by their prattle when,

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with her book lying in her lap, she sat lost in reverie. She felt astonished at the pleasure she experienced when called to the parlour, as formerly it had been with regret that she quitted the retirement of her own apartment. But the fact was so--and a startling fact it was. She became conscious that her most agreeable hours were those passed with their interesting inmate. She felt bewildered for a while by the opposition of her duties--the newness of her sensations--the change in her mind, which no longer found any satisfaction in solitary study--she was alarmed by her growing indifference for those things that had once constituted her whole of happiness. This anxious, disturbing consciousness haunted her solitary hours--yet why or wherefore she could not define. She tried to explain herself to her husband, who she looked on as her best and truest, as well as dearest friend; and accused herself to him of finding more pleasure in the company of his friend, Charles Lovel, than she found in that of her children. Her husband smiled at what he called her scrupulosity, and asked her what could be more natural than for a mind cultivated like her's, to find more enjoyment in an intercourse with a congenial mind, than in the prattle of children. Was not Charles the same as a brother, and had she ever reproached herself with the preference she had given to her brother Henry's society when he visited them. Had Mr. Murray known more of the world, or of human nature--had his own experience taught him the dangerous force of the passions--the deceitfulness of the human heart, he would not have argued thus, nor would he have introduced such an inmate into his family. Virtuous and dispassionate himself--calm and constant in his affections, he never conceived of the possibility, nay, of the existence of a sentiment in the bosom of his wife, inimical to the sacred tie by which they were united. Would that this possibility did not exist--would that the affections were as unalienable, as unchangeable as the marriagae bond. But as the common experience of mankind--the annals of human life--the records of courts of justice abound in fatal examples of the inconstancy of the affections, let religion and reason, let prudence and vigilance, guard this sacred fountain of domestic happiness and virtue. Neither ignorance or innocence afford sufficient protection against this insidious foe, which must be known in order to be guarded against. Temptation must be avoided--exposure to danger prevented. But is this done? On the contrary, have we not daily examples in the most virtuous and prudent families, of inmates being admitted, sometimes of one, sometimes the other sex, whose domestication has proved fatal to the peace, and too often the virtue of the husband or the wife. Miss Edgeworth, in her story of Leonora, has given a powerful and affecting exposition of the fatal consequences resulting from the admission of an artful woman into a happy family. Doubtless her experience might have furnished many examples, where young and undesigning female friends have unintentionally wrought the same mischief--that of alienating the affections of a husband from his wife. My observation of human life, though far more restricted, would afford many sad instances of the fallibility and inconstancy of the human heart, and it is a warning to those who are not aware of the danger of domesticating young and attractive guests in the bosoms of their families, that I have been induced to write this narrative and disclose facts made known to me by one now released from suffering and sorrow. But to return from this long digression. As we have said, though a good and kind husband, Mr. Murray was no fit counsellor for a tender and inexperienced creature like his Mary. Left then solely to her own guidance, what would have been the consequence of the perilous situation in which she was now placed, if her native purity had not guarded her simplicity, if she had not habitually regulated her thoughts and feelings by the highest of all standards, that of the gospel! Educated by her pious parents in the strictest principles of our holy religion, constantly had her mother from her earliest childhood impressed on her mind the omnipotence of God, from which there was no escape; his omniscience from which there could be no concealment. That the darkness and solitude of midnight could not veil any action--nor the deepest recesses of the heart conceal any feeling. Often had she emphatically pointed out to her the difference between the human and divind tribunal to which men are amenable. The first can take cognizance only of actions. And as action may be concealed, its laws may be evaded--its punishment escaped. But not so with that divine tribunal, before which thought is action. Thus "the felt presence of Deity" had always exercised a controlling and purifying influence--guarding her in the hour of temptation--supporting her in the hour of affliction. Oh, ye wise men of the world--ye Legislators and Philosophers, compared with this divine aegis, what are all your laws, your prison walls, bars and bolts, your theories, your maxims and restrictions? The sternest and most sanguinary decrees ever passed by Constantine and other sovereigns, were less effective in the preservation of conjugal fidelity and virgini purity than this sublime sentiment--"The felt presence of Deity." Actual, personal guilt, was an idea that never entered the mind of Mary--to her the violation of the seventh commandment seemed as impossible as that of the sixth, and there is no virtuous woman, to whom, I presume, the commission of murder does not feel like an impossibility. No, the preference she felt for the society of Charles over that of her children--the growing indifference to her duties and former occupations, were the only causes of the alarm and uneasiness she suffered. But now since she had disclosed the state of her mind to her husband, and he had dissipated her scruples, she felt relieved. "No longer," thought she, "shall his good mother reproach me with unkindness to her son." As instinctive sense of propriety had induced the virtuous Mary to seclude herself from the too pleasing society of Charles Lovel. A sense of duty now made her resolve to resume her late intimate intercourse. Ah, her instinct was the safest guide! She had not only pained, but if

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