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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 228, 29 December 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
HARRY WHITNEY'S INFATUATION. [continued.] Mis. Appleton, the rosy-cheeked matron, and Helen Alexander strolled out with parasol, shawl, and book, and in their search for a cool nook found Harry and Emily, he lying with his hat over his eyes and she reading Emerson, with long, dreamy pauses between the sentences.
" Have we appropriated the most inviting corner in the whole orchard ?" she said, looking up, as the two appeared. " There is room for you, too, if you will come. My husband is dozing and I am reading, so we shan't disturb you." Harry had thrown his hat from his eyes and rose quickly. " Certainly, be charitable and stay, if only to relieve us of the self-reproach of being selfish. Let me spread out your shawl, Miss Alexander."
The two accepted the invitation, and Helen arranged herself with an air of knowing quite well how to be comfortable and picturesque at the same time.
'•' What are you reading, please, Mrs. Whitney ?" she asked " Emerson ! Ah, I should know it. You have the thoughtful face which Emerson suits. As for me I like the sage of Concord none too well. I read him as an intellectual exercise, but his philosophy is too cold."
"Yes, I quite agree with you," said Mrs. Appleton, who was all affection and sensibilities. "It makes one fell eerie and lonesome to read essays of ' Friendship ' and ' Love.' Doesn't he say he uses his friends as he does his books ? That he would have them at hand, but seldom needs them ? That seems too dreadful. What is life worth if not lived with the people we love? And surely the closer the companionship the happier we are." " Ah, but I am afraid he is right there," said Miss Alexander. "It isn't safe to come near people ; you see all their little foibles with startling distinctness, and the romance wears away. Is it no so ?'' turning to Harry. " I can't say from an Emersonian point of view, because,, to tell the truth, I never read him. I like life itself too well to spend much time philosophizing over it, but from the standpoint of a very practical individual, I should say that a vast deal of common sense is needed in dealing with people. You can't expect romance to last, and the only thing to do is to accept others as being ordinary mortals like yourself, and make the best of them."
"Ah, but k\ takes the flavor away from life, and leaves an insipid taste in one's mouth, does it not Mrs. Whitney." Emily had been listening with a slightly amused smile. " I really cannot say. It may be for some, but for myself I think human nature sufficiently heroic. People seldom disappoint me, but it may be because I have low ideals."
" No, not that; but rather that you do not approach sufficiently near and see their inner selves. Some people, you know, touch hands and never come any nearer, while others are never satisfied till they have probed aIL the depth there is, and are forced to turn away, having found a limit. What fascination is there in a character after you have read it from a to z." " My dear, I think that is a sad thing to say," said Mrs. Appleton, soberly. "Do you mean that you tire of old friends and cast them off?'
" Not at all. I guard against it by not knowing any one too well, nor staking my hopes on any human being." Harry lay looking at her with an interested stare, and his wife, with her head bending forward, listened eagerly. She was like no other woman they had ever met, and her words were a continual surprise. They sat there till the twilight shadows began to lengthen, reading and talking at intervals. " Isn't it strange ?" said Harry to his wife, after they had gone in. " There is an odd sort of charm about her. You can't analyze it; you only know it is there."
She assented, but with a new and sudden thrill of pain. She had never before wished to be brilliant herself. She was not a self-conscious woman, and her own quiet personality never troubled her ; but it stirred her momentarily that another woman should be charming to her husband by reason of qualities d'ametrically opposite to her own.
Harry went away the next morning, but came again during the week. By some magnetic attraction Helen Alexander had become the centre of events at the springs. It was no new thing to her; she was accustomed to it, and took incense-burning as her right. With a strange interest Emily watched her husband becoming more and more fascinated.
It was not jealousy, because she believed in his love as fully as her own existence; but there arose a feeling of rebellion against herself that she could not be everything to him. There was a part of his nature which she had never satisfied. She could not blame Helen, who never went out of her way to please anyone, and in her cool carelessness lay half the charm. The whole matter was a problem to Emily, and she grew haggard over it day by day, which Harry did not notice until Mrs. Appleton said to him, " Your wife seems not to be benefitted by the springs. She looks pale and thinner than when she came." He started and looked at her as she sat wearily back in her chair, with a white shawl folded about her. " I'm afraid I have not noticed. She seemed so bright and cheerful, quite unlike herself," he said, hurriedly." " Do you think she is really ill ? " " Oh, no, perhaps not ill," said Mrs. Appleton, afraid of having innocently created a commotion. " Only she looks somewhat more delicate than usual. It is probably the very hot weather ; you know it affects us all." " I know; but how strange it is I didn't notice !" he went on, still troubled. " But the fact is, we have all been so happy this summer that I had forgotten anyone could be ill or tired." He crossed the room to his wife. " Emily, are you quite well ? " She looked up in a little surprise. " Yes, indeed. Why do you ask ? I
hope 1 haven't played the interesting invalid too successfully." " No ; but I saw just now for the first time that you had lost color. You are not discontented, and would not rather be at home than here?"
" Oh, no ! the place interests me ; I feel as if I was roused from a Rip Van Winkle sleep. I had forgotten that there were any people in the world but vou and me."
" Yes, we are fast becoming hermits. Do you not begin to see your books are are not the only things of value? That it is a great thing to live without thought or care ?—like her for instance," as Miss Alexander came in with an armful of trailing vines and flowers, her usually pale cheeks stained pink by exercise, and the brown lights dancing in her eves. " See how fully alive she is !"
" Yes ; but she is a student, too," said his wife, trying to speak fairly. " Do you not notice how well she talks on subjects above the ordinary level?'' " Yes ; but it is half intuition. Light seems to flash in on her without her going very far to seek it. And, don't you see ? she dosn't care for books because she likes thought, but because they translate human nature." " Yes, I think it is so," said Emily, slowly, looking at him in surprise. " How closely you have studied her !" came into her mind, but she did not utter it.
The weeks went on and Harry came for his vacation.
His wife watched him with a repressed eagerness and intense curiosity. He was unlike his old self, moody at times, and then animated by a fitful gaiety, but always influenced by Helen. His wife could see that he knew when the girl entered the room, whether he looked at her or not, that her singing and bright way swayed him against his will. That it troubled him and made him at war with himself was too evident. Yet both were silent ; she, because she would not confess there was anything to blame ; he, because he did not understand himself; and both from pride, if he had been an unmarried man he would probably have made self-confes-sion, "I am in love ;" as it was, he went no further than acknowledging " I am a fool."
One summer afternoon the three sat on the grass in the orchard. Mrs. Whitney had just finished a novel and closed it with a half sigh. " Why that sigli ?" said Helen. "It either expresses dissatisfaction or extreme pleasure, one can scarcely tell which."
" I believe it is the former. These modern novels put me quite out of patience, they are so shadowy, and made up of such delicate touches. The heroine analyzes her feelings until she is not quite sure whether she is in love or not, or with whom, and the hero lets conventionality and a thousand trivial circumstances separate them. I prefer the solid old romances, where people are constant through time and eternity."
It never occurred to her, until she had half finished, that such words might cut home, but, having spoken innocently, she had too much nerve and dignity to look self-conscious. " But, in point of fact, you know the modern idea is the true one," said Helen, carelessly. " Because to my thinking, there isn't any such thing as this changeless love, unless circumstances are kind and foster it continually. Let time or absence intervene between two people, and they are apt to let the past die and embrace the present." " Then there is nothing permanent in the world," cried Emily, almost passionately. " Are our friends only worth faith while it is easy to be true?" "No ; I shouldn't state it quite so broadly," said Helen, " only this I will say, never trust anyone too far. It isn't safe. Romance does very well as a phase in one's existence, but in point of fact it doesn't wear, if you use it every dav."
'" I cannot believe it," said Emily, in a low, pained tone. " Perhaps lam sentimental, but my ideas are real and living to me. If human nature is weak and unstable as you say, then every human being is absolutely alone and desolate in the world. When he clings to another it is but grasping a shadow which may vanish any instant." " You take it all too seriously. We look at things from such different points of view that what is true to me might be the greatest mistake for you. My temperament is the one which dabbles in sentiments and tastes, and then only long enough to take the first delicious, half impalpable flavor, because I know I could not be constant. Why, I could not really love a person if I tried—it would be impossible." Harry had not spoken before, and both women had forgotten his presence. Now he bent forward, and in a suppressed lone the words broke forth — " My God ! do you mean that ? and you a woman !"
The two turned with a start and looked at him. " You must remember that all women are by no means alike," said Helen, coolly.
He rose, and strode off towards the woods.
His wife did not go down to tea, but awaited him in their room. She knew the crisis had come, and there was no longer need of silence. She knelt by the window, and fiercely resolved that her calmness should not give way, " What have I done that this should come to me ? I have always been so happy, and now I am desperate." In the evening he came in, haggard and worn, and threw himself down in a chair opposite her. " Well ?" he said, doggedly.
She could not answer; a harsh and burning sensation in her throat choked her, and they looked at each other in silence. Then he spoke again : " Emily, do you suppose I don't know what a brute I am ? There is no word too vile for me. My honor as a man has been nothing before a devilish passion for that woman. Why don't you say something—tell me what lam?"
" I have nothing to say," she-an-swered, huskily; "I am not angryonly sorry," and then her voice died away again. The calmness affected him as no reproaches could have done, and he groaned aloud. After a paus.e : " You will do me the justice to believe vhat I did not go into this willingly,'' he. said.. "I did not fight down my admiration for her at
first, because it seemed as innocent as to admire a picture. But lately I have fought against it, and it has conquered me. I wish never to see her igain, but I am not the less dishonorable and degraded."
" And what shall I do ! " said Emily, clearly, at last. " Harry, let us talk of it as if it concerned other people, and think what is best to be done If you do not love me better than any other woman, so that no other has power to sway you, I am your wife only in name."
Her calm justice, the strength with which she could put aside her feelings, staggered him. " It seems to me we must have been mistaken in our relations to each other or to the world," she went on. "I do not quite know how, but we have been awakened. Perhaps we did not know what love was. Perhaps—" Her voice failed suddenly, and he saw how weak she was.
" You cannot talk of it to-night, Emily, only one thing more—shall we leave here to-morrow ? " " Yes."
There were many regrets that they must go soon, and Miss Alexander especially expressed hers in the warmest possible manner. When they reached home, Emily's strength gave way, and a fever followed. The disease had been creeping on, and the last excitement only hastened it.
Harry watched her in an agony of remorse and sorrow, but when she really grew better he could see she was changed. She shrank from him unconsciously, and his presence s was a burden rather than a delight to her. It galled and humiliated him, because it seemed as if her respect for him had died a violent death. One day, coming home and finding her on the piazza, he said, " Emily, the frm are anxious to send me to Europe for six months to arrange matters there. Shall Igo ?" After a moment, " Perhaps it will be better," she said, quietly. "You do not trust me," he went on j " I cannot blame you, but it is not very easy to bear." " No; nor ifor me," she said as quietly as before. " Harry, I do not distrust you ; only we do not know each other. If we are ever to be anything to each other again, it must be through a knowledge and clear judgment of our strength and weakness." He went, and through a determination not to return until he was welcome, the six months became a year. No lime of their lives had ever been worth so much to either. Emily, thoroughly aroused from her dreamy contefit, became an active woman, interested in people and events, partly from a. womanly longing to be more attractive to him when he came, and Harry had grown more thoughtful. Finally, a letter came, which ended in this wise :
" I saw Miss Alexander last night. She was the same, dazzling and bright, with the charm which is so much more than beauty; but it all struck me as being a fine work of art. " Friary, this fatal yielding to impulse is over; and, like a man who has once been degraded by intoxication, I loathe my former weakness. I was weak from very thoughtlessness. You I have lived together like two never knowing half the possibilities of- each other's natures, or what we might together become. The better part of myself appeals to you alone. "The business here is ended; when I come home will it be to my wife or a desolate hearth : I know my life's completion lies in you. Shall I find it ? " " I think you are coming home to me," she said, softly, flushing like a young girl at her lover's step ; and she was right. He came, and they happily lived out their lives together, capable, as they had never been before, of marking out their destiny, and avoiding the pitfall of which they were once wholly ignorant. — Boston Transcfipt.
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 228, 29 December 1880
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