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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., 1 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
Alone in her own little room, packing her scanty possessions, she burst out bitterly to herself — “ Oh, the wretchedness and wrong of shutting a young girl up in an office day after day for years with a young man no way, her superior except in the matter of money, and expecting her to look upon him as indifferently as upon the improved type writer at his elbow. Oh, the cruelty and the pity of it. I have had my dream. I will not call them foolish dreams; it was only the rose bush reaching towards the trellis. Every girl has dreams, and it is right that they should have. It makes no difference whether she is filling the position of a man or that of a woman—her heart is not changed by the work that her mind and body are engaged in. “My beautiful visions have faded into air as I have faded from a plump, pretty girl to a thin, wan, colorless old maid, and all the time he has been growing manly and strong and handsome, year by year. Yet he has been kind to me, in a way, and although constantly in society, with elegant ladies, he has remained single, and my woman’s heart has dared to hope that it might be for my sake. For the sake of me, his book-keeper ! How his proud mother and sisters would spurn the idea.” “ I had better have been a kitchen girl in some good family, or a cook, or a farmer’s wife, with rosy children in my armis and about my knees, than to be what I am, a recluse, with no friends or associates. A dissappointed woman, with her heart eaten out for a man who looks upon her only as a calculating machine.”
That night she arose from her bed, and, throwingashawl around her, looked out upon the tireless moon and stars, and upon the sleepless streets of the great city whose life is so abundant that it must go on by night as by day, but this thought did not occur to her now.; she was saying: “Had I been his wife be would not have allowed me to serve him as I have served him. To think of the nights I have sat up over those books ! saved him from bankruptcy, and in his gratitude he promoted me to be his confidential clerk! He was very grateful, and I am to blame for having thought that my life might grow fresh and beautiful with love like the lives we read of in books ? What hours I have spent, which should have been passed in sleep, in reading and study, that I might keep abreast with him in mental culture. He must remember me as one who has been a help to him. It is impossible that he should forget me. There is a modicum of comfort in the fact that a young man is to take my place. I could not bear to think of him; smiling over the top of his desk into the eyes of some other woman. If he marries I hope I shall never know it” -
. “ It is the nature of single women to ove the . unmarried men who treat them pleasantly and kindly, and with whom they are constantly associated. I wish it was in my power to put an end to every such unnatural relation. The people who are constantly crowding women into the places which should be filled by men, wilfully misunderstand this matter. Every woman who fills a man’s position is keeping some man out of a place of employment —keeping him from marrying, and so lessening her own chances of matrimony and of being mistress of a home. When will this problem be set right ? I have been guilty and must suffer; and yet should I dare speak these sentiments in public how I should be ridiculed by the so-called reformers ; and should I weave what I know of these shop and office flirtations into a readable newspaper article, there is no editor would give it a place because it would treat of an unpopular side of the subject, and because women can be hired for less money than men.” The,next morning she went early to church. There had been a funeral of one of the . members,. and they were bearing the coffin out as she entered. “I wish it were me,” she thought, looking at the mourners, headed by the stricken husband, walking, sorrowing, with bowed head, to the carriage.
As she sat in her accustomed seat that idea had such complete possession of her that she took no notice of the Opening services, in fact, comprehended nothing only that she wished that her life might go out then and there as a candle is blown out by the wind.
Then she heard the minister read : “ For it is not a vain thing for you because it is your life : and through this thing you shall prolong your days in-the land.” The sermon which followed was practical as well as spiritual, growing but of some circumstances in the life just ended, and Miss Clark left the Church) saying; “God has a right to my life, and therefore to serve him I must do my best with what he has given. I never looked at it in just that way before. I have seen my duty; I am glad I came. If, through this change which has been Wrought for me, I can prolong my days in the land I will go away cheerfully. And since I have no right to trouble Others with my trouble, I will take up my burden bravely, for I can never hope to leave it and hide it away in my heart ) and I will even call up a hope to take with me as I start out upon this new chapter of my history.” She told no one that she was going away. ; Indeed, there was no one to tell, for, aside . from the minister, not more than half a dozen people had addressed a word to her in all the years that She' had regularly attended the church, and now they were all away on vacation, or summer journeys, a stranger; to her filling the pulpit even. She doubled her weekly offering to a poor old woman who always stood while the congregation was dispersing, at the opening of a little alleyway a short distance from the church, and said “ Good-bye,” as she put the scrip the - withered, hand. She smiled rather bitterly as the thought asserted itself, “ All my going to that church has formed: that, single, easily-severed tie !” Then in her mind, trying to remember what had decided her to fix upon that particular church, and blushed when she had to confess that it was because he attended the church'just' and that she
often caught a sight of him going in or out, and sometimes he gave her a smile or a nod of recognition. The thought that she might see him in this way to-day, for a last look, had been a comfort all the morning, but now, when it came up to her again like the last lingering ray of sunshine in a clouded sky, she resolutely put it away and turned down another street.
At that very hour the object of that poor soul’s conflict with self was swinging in a hammock suspended from the spreading branches of a giant oak, on the Highlands, above the Hudson. There were four of these swaying crimson and yellow cradles hanging in the balmy air from the huge limbs of this massive tree ; and it was characteristic of these luxury-loving Bronsons that they had lounged here, looking up into its vast emerald dome, through the shining leaves of which filtered an occasional arrow of sunshine, while the clear-voiced church bell, only a few rods away, was summoning other people in carriages and on foot for miles, from farm and hill and meadow. The mother and the three sisters, four stylish society women, were all beaming now upon this black-whiskered Adonis who was their idol.
“What should you have said,” he asked, indifferently, after lying for a long time with his eyes closed and his white hands clasped beneath his shapely head, “ if I had married my accountant, the woman who has been so long in our office, you know ?” There was a little rustle of drapery and flutter of fans, then Marie, the youngest sister, began an indignant protest, which her brother checked by saying, “ Don’t excite yourself, Mane; the idea merely occurred to me as I was about to announce to you that she has been called away.”
“Is it possible !” exclaimed his mother, settling her grey frizzes and finger puffs, which the fresh breeze had slightly disarranged. “ What was her name ? I never saw her, but remember of hearing her spoken of in the matter of settling your poor father’s estate as a faithful creature —”
“ I should think so,” interrupted the young man; “ she saved the estate from bankruptcy, and your daughters from going out into the world in some capacity to earn their own living, as she did when her father died insolvent, leaving her without relatives.” Mrs. Bronson ignored the point, and went on in exactly the same key as before. “It is very unfortunate. What will you do my son ?” “ I have already hired a young man to fill the vacancy.”
“ Ten years ?” said Adelaide, the oldest sister, “ she has fairly grown grey in our service.”
“ Do you mean that white-faced girl in No. 5?” asked Sarah, and Mane, who was swinging in the same airy couch as the second sister, added, “ I never noticed anything about her.” “I thought you looked worn out,” said his mother, “and I heard you up in the night walking about your room. When did it happen ?” “ Yesterday.”
“Suddenly?” “ Very.” And the young man dismissed the subject by turning upon his side, crossing his elbow under one ear and reaching his long slim fingers around the back of his head and covering the other ear with the tip of them ; an old boyish habit of his when he wished to shut out the tiresome chat of his mother and sisters. They exchanged glances and smiles and let him alone while he was thinking, “ I didn’t say what had called her away, or where she had gone. Am Ito blame that they think she is dead ?”
“ Mr. Bronson took it upon himself all through the late summer and early autumn to open the mail. As usual, there were plenty of business letters from Sturtevant and Co., but none “ Per C.” After a time he ventured an inquiry, in a postscript, and received in reply : “ ‘ Per C.’ is recruiting.” After that the morning mail was left for the new clerk, who, happily, was all that was represented. Yet Mr. Bronson found an unwonted wearisomeness about the business that seemed to him would wear his very life out. Night after night he lay in his luxurious rooms at the St. Nicholas, for he had entirely given up going up the Hudson now, and dreamed tha;. he climbed the long, hard stairs up to No. 5 with a light hopeful step, and sitting down by his desk looked over the bisected back to meet the soft, blue, faithful eyes that had never failed him ; and then the fair face and smooth brown hair turned into a white lily, or rose, or a frost flower, or snow wreath, and faded away.” “Always into some emblem of purity, and fitly, too, he cried one night, when these dream pictures continually haunted and deluded him, leaving him in agony of remorseful sorrow. “ What am Itodo ? The old time can never return.” (7o be continued. }
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., 1 December 1880
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