Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
MR., MRS., AND MISS WYLDER.
A new experience had come to Mrs. Wylder. Her passion over the death of her son; her constant and prolonged contention with her husband; her protest against him whom she called the Almighty; the public consequence of the same; these, and the reaction from all these, had resulted in a sudden sinking of the vital forces, so that she who had been like a burning fiery furnace, was now like a heap of cooling ashes on a hearth, with the daylight coming in. She had not only never known what illness was, she did not even know what it was to feel unfit. Her consciousness of health was so clear, so unmixed, so unencountered, that she had never had a conception, a thought, a notion of what even that health was. Power and strength had so constantly seemed part of her known self, that she never thought of them: they were never far enough from her to be seen by her; she did not suspect them as other than herself, or dream that they could be disjoined from her. She could think only in the person of a strong woman; she was aware only of the being of a strong woman. Even after she had been some time helpless in bed, as often as she thought of anything she would like to do, it was the act of trying to get up and do it that made her aware afresh that she was no more the woman corresponding to her consciousness of herself. For her consciousness had never yet presented her as she really was, but always through the conditional and non-essential, so that by accidents only was she characterized to herself. Now she was too feeble even to care for the loss of her strength; her weakness went too deep to be felt as an oppression, for it met with no antagonism. Her inability to move was now no prison, and her attendant was no slave with tardy feet, but an angel of God.
For her Bab was now the mother's one delight. Her love for her lost twin had been in great part favouritism, partisanship, defence, opposition; her love for Barbara was all tenderness and no pride. In her self-lack she clung to her--as lordly dame, who had taken her castle for part of herself, and impregnable, but, its walls crumbling under the shot of the enemy, found herself defenceless before her captors, might turn and clasp her little maid, suppliant for protection. Good is it that we are not what we seem to ourselves "in our hours of ease," for then we should never seek the Father! The loss of all that the world counts first things is a thousandfold repaid in the mere waking to higher need. It proves the presence of the divine in the lower good, that its loss is so potent. A man may send his gaze over the clear heaven, and suspect no God; when the stifling cloud comes down, folds itself about him, shuts from him the expanse of the universe, he begins to long for a hand, a sign, some shadow of presence. Mrs. Wylder had not got so far as this yet, but she had sought refuge in love; and what is the love of child, or mother, or dog, but the love of God, shining through another being--which is a being just because he shines through it. This was the one important result of her illness, that, finding refuge in the love of her daughter, she loved her daughter. The next point in her eternal growth would be to love the God who made the child she loved, and whose love shone upon her through the child. By nature she was a strong woman whom passion made weak. It sucked at her will till first it hardened it to a more selfish determination, then pulped it to a helpless obstinacy. The persistence that goes with inclination has its force only from the weakness of pride and the mean worship of self; it is the opposite of that free will which is the reflex of the divine will, and the ministering servant-power to all freedom, which resists and subdues the self of inclination, and is obedient only to the self of duty. Where the temple of God has no windows, earthquake must rend the roof, that the sunlight may enter. Barbara's mother lay broken on her couch that the spirit of the daughter might enter the soul of her mother--and with it the spirit of him who, in the heart of her daughter, made her that which she was.
Her illness had lasted a month, when one day her husband, at Barbara's prayer coming to see her, she feebly put out her hand asking for his, and for a moment the divine child in the man opened its heavenly eyes. He took the offered hand kindly, faltered a gentle-sounding commonplace or two, and left her happier, with a strange little bird fluttering in his own bosom. There are eggs of all the heavenly birds in our bosoms, and the history of man is the incubation and hatching of these eggs.
She began to recover, but the recovery was a long one. As soon as she thought her well enough, Barbara told her that Mr. Wingfold had been to inquire after her almost every day, and asked whether she would not like to see him. Mrs. Wylder was in a quiescent condition, non-combatant, involving no real betterment, occasioned only by the absence of impulse. But such a condition gives opportunity for the good, the gentle, the loving, to be felt, and so recognized. The sufferer resembles a child that has not been tempted, whose trial is yet to come. With recovery, fresh claim will be put in by the powers of good. This claim will be resisted by old habit, resuming its force in the return of physical and psychical health,--and then comes the tug of war. For no one can be saved, as he who knows his master would be saved, without the will being supreme in the matter, without the choosing to fulfill all righteousness, to resist the wrong, to do the right. Wingfold never built much on bed-repentance. The aphorism of the devil sick and the devil well, is only too true. But he welcomed the fresh opportunity for a beginning. He knew that pain and sickness do rub some dirt from the windows toward the infinite, and that things of the old unknown world whence we came, do sometimes look in at them, a moment now, and a moment then, waking new old things that lie in every child born into the world. I seem to see the great marshes where the souls go wandering about after the bog-fires; a kiss blown from the walls of the city comes wavering down among them; it flits hither and thither with the dead-lights; it finds a soul with a spot on which it can alight; it settles there; and kisses it alive. God is the God of patience, and waits and waits for the child who keeps him waiting and will not open the door.
Wingfold went to see her, but took good care to press nothing upon her. He let her give him the lead. She spoke of her weakness, and the parson drew out her moan. She praised her Barbara, and the parson praised her again in words that opened the mother's eyes to new beauties in her daughter. She mentioned her weariness, and the parson spoke of the fields and the soft wind and the yellow shine of the butter-cups in the grass. Her heart was gently drawn to the man whose eyes were so keen, whose voice was so mellow and strong, and whose words were so lovely sweet, saying the things that were in her own heart, but would not come out.
One day he proposed to read something, and she consented. I will not say what he read, for I would avoid waking controversy as to fitness. He thought he knew what he was about. The good in a true book, he would say, is the best protection against what may not be so good in it; its wrong as well as its right may wake the conscience: the thoughts of a book accuse and excuse one another. In saying so, he took the true reader for granted; to an untrue reader the truth itself is untrue. The general sense of honour, he would say, has been stimulated not a little by the story of the treachery of Jael. Nor was it any wonder he should succeed in interesting Mrs. Wylder, for she had a strong brain as well as a big heart. More than half her faults came of an indignant sense of wrong. She had passionately loved her husband once, but he had soon ceased even the show of returning her affection,
And to be wroth with one we love Doth work like madness in the brain.
After a fierce struggle against the lessons life would have her taught, a struggle continued to her fortieth year, she was now at length a pupil in another school, where the schoolroom was her bed, the book of Quiet her first study, her two attendants a clergyman and her own daughter, and her one teacher, God himself. In that schoolroom, the world began to open to her a little. Among men who could, without seeming to aim at it, make another think, I have not met the equal of Wingfold. His mode was that of the open-hearted apostle, who took men by guile. He called out the thoughts lurking in their souls, and set them dealing with those thoughts, not with him: they were slow to discover that he was a divine musician, playing upon the holy strings of their hearts; they thought the tunes came alive in their own air--as indeed they did, only another hand woke them. To work thus, he had to lay bare not a little of his own feeling, but where it was brotherly to show feeling, he counted it unchristian to hide it. Feeling by itself, however, that came and went without correspondent action, he counted not only weak and mawkish, but tending to the devilish.
Barbara was happy all day long. Life seemed about to blossom into a great flower of scarlet and gold. She had learned from the parson that the bookbinder was gone, but was at the time too busy and too anxious to question him as to the cause of his going. Till her mother was well, it was enough to know that Richard had wanted to see her, doubtless to tell her all about it. She often thought of him, what he had done for her, and what she had tried to do for him, and was certain he would one day believe in God. She did not suspect any quarrel with the people at Mortgrange. She thought perhaps the secret concerning him had come out, and he did not choose to remain in a house the head of which, if lady Ann's tale was true, had so bitterly wronged his mother. As soon as she was able she would go and hear of him from his grandfather! There was no hurry! She would certainly see him again before long! And he would be sure to write! It did not occur to her that a man in his position would hardly venture to approach her again, without some renewed approach on her part; and for a long time she was nowise uneasy.
The hope alive in Wingfold made him a true consoler; and the very sight of him was a strength to Barbara. She regarded him with profound reverence, and his wife as most enviable of women: could she not learn from his mouth the rights of a thing, the instant she opened hers to ask them? Barbara did not know how much the sympathy, directness, and dear common sense of Helen, had helped to keep awake, support, and nourish the insight of her husband. She did not know, good and powerful as Wingfold must have been had he never married, how much wiser, more useful, and more aspiring he had grown because Helen was Helen, and his wife, sent as certainly as ever angel in the old time. The one fault she had in the eyes of her husband was, that she was so indignant with affectation or humbug of any sort, as hardly to give the better thing that might coexist with it, the needful chance.
So long as evil comes to the front, it appears an interminable, unconquerable thing. But all the time there may be a change, positive as inexplicable, at the very door. How is it that a child begins to be good? Upon what fulcrum rests the knife-edge of alteration? As undistinguishable is the moment in which the turn takes place; equally perplexing to keenest investigation the part of the being in which the renovation commences. Who shall analyze repentance, as a force, or as a phenomenon! You cannot see it coming! Before you know, there it is, and the man is no more what he was; his life is upon other lines! The wind hath blown. We saw not whence it came, or whither it went, but the new birth is there. It began in the spiritual infinitesimal, where all beginnings are. The change was begun in Mrs. Wylder. But the tug of her war was to come.
Lady Ann had not once been to see her since first calling when she arrived. Naturally she did not take to her. In the eyes of lady Ann, Mrs. Wylder was insufferable--a vulgar, arrogant, fierce woman, purse-proud and ignorant. But a keen moral eye would have perceived lady Ann vastly inferior to Mrs. Wylder in everything right-womanly. Lady Ann was the superior by the changeless dignity of her carriage, but her self-assured pre-eminence was offensive, and her drawling deliberation far more objectionable than Mrs. Wylder's abrupt movements, or the rough and ready speech that accompanied her eager dart at the gist of a matter. Even the look that would kill a man if it could, never roused such hate as sprang to meet the icy stare of her passionless ladyship. Many a man with no admiration of the florid, would have sought refuge in Mrs. Wylder's plump face, vivid with an irritable humanity, from the moveless pallor of lady Ann's delicately formed cheek, and the pinched thinness of her fine, poverty-stricken nose. Oh those pinched nostrils, the very outcry of inward meanness! will they ever open to the full tide of a surging breath? What vital interweaving of gladness and grief will at length make strong and brave and unselfish the heart that sent out those nostrils? Less than a divine shame will never make it the heart of a fearless, bountiful, redeeming woman.
Mrs. Wylder was nowise annoyed that lady Ann did not call a second time. She did not care enough to mind, and preferred not seeing her. They had in common as near nothing as humanity permitted. "Stuck-up kangaroo!" she cried her.
"I'll lay you my best sapphire," she said to her daughter, in the hearing of Wingfold, whose presence she had forgotten, "that for the last three hundred years not a woman of her family has suckled her own young!"
Neither mother nor daughter had shown the least deference to lady Ann's exalted position. The first movement of her dislike to Mrs. Wylder was caused by her laughing and talking as unrestrainedly in her presence as in that of the doctor's wife, who happened to be in the room when lady Ann entered. But now that danger, not to say ruin, appeared in the distance, she must, for the sake of her son, wronged by his father's having married another woman before his mother, neglect no chance! Arthur had been to Wylder Hall repeatedly, but Barbara had not seen him! She must go herself, and pay some court to the young heiress! She was anxious also to learn whether any chagrin was concerned in her continuous absence from Mortgrange.
Barbara received her heartily, and they talked a little, lady Ann imagining herself very pleasing: she rarely condescended to make herself agreeable, and measured her success by her exertion. She found Barbara in such good spirits that she pronounced her heartless--not to her son, or to any but herself, who would not have come near her but for the money to be got with her. She begged her, notwithstanding, for the sake of her complexion, to leave her mother an hour or two now and then, and ride over to Mortgrange. Incessant watching would injure her health, and health was essential to beauty! Barbara protested that nothing ever hurt her; that she was the only person she knew fit to be a nurse, because she was never ill. When her ladyship, for once oblivious of her manners, grew importunate, Barbara flatly refused.
"You must pardon me, lady Ann," she said; "I cannot, and I will not leave my mother."
Then lady Ann thought it might be wise to make a little more of the mother to whom she seemed so devoted. She had imagined the daughter of the coarse woman must feel toward her as she did, and suspected a coarser grain in the daughter than she had supposed, because she was not disgusted with her mother. She did not know that eyes of love see the true being where other eyes see only its shadow; and shadows differ a good deal from their bodies.
But meeting Mr. Wylder in the avenue as she returned, and stopping her carriage to speak to him, lady Ann changed her mind, and resolved to curry favour with the husband instead of the wife. For hitherto she had scarcely seen Mr. Wylder, and knew about him only by unfavourable hearsay; but she was charmed with him now, and drew from him a promise to go and dine at Mortgrange.
Bab went singing back to her mother, who was never so ill that she did not like to hear her voice. She could not always bear it in the room, but outside she was never tired of it. So Bab went about the house singing like a mavis. But she never passed a servant, male or female, without ceasing her song to say a kind word; and her mother, who, now that she had got on a little, lay listening with her keenest of ears, knew by the checks and changes of Bab's song, something of what was going on in the house. If one asked Bab what made her so happy, she would answer that she had nothing to make her unhappy; and there was more philosophy in the answer than may at first appear. For certainly the normal condition of humanity is happiness, and the thing that should be enough to make us happy, is simply the absence of anything to make us unhappy.
"Everything," she would answer another time, "is making me happy."
"I think I am happiness," she said once.
How could she naturally be other than happy, seeing she came of happiness! "Il lieto fattore," says Dante; "whose happy-making sight," says Milton.
Mr. Wylder went and dined with sir Wilton and lady Ann. The latter did her poor best to please him, and was successful. It had always been an annoyance to Mr. Wylder that his wife was not a lady. In the bush he did not feel it; but now he saw, as well as knew, wherein she was inferior, and did not see wherein she excelled. It was the more consolation to him that lady Ann praised his daughter, her beauty, her manners, her wit--praised her for everything, in short, that she thought hers, and for some things she thought were not hers. But she hinted that it would be of the greatest benefit to Barbara to have the next season in London. The girl had met nobody, and might, in her ignorance and innocence, being such an eager, impetuous, warm-hearted creature, with her powers of discrimination of course but little cultivated, make unsuitable friendships that would lead to entanglement; while, well chaperoned, she might become one of the first ladies in the county. She took care to let her father know at the same time, or think he knew, that, although her son would be only a baronet, he would be rich, for the estates were in excellent condition and free of encumbrance; and hinted that there was now a fine chance of enlarging the property, neighbouring land being in the market at a low price.
Mr. Wylder had indeed hoped for a higher match, but lady Ann, being an earl's daughter, had influence with him. The remaining twin was so delicate that it was very doubtful if he would succeed: if he did not, and land could be had between to connect the two properties of Mortgrange and Wylder, the estate would be far the finest in the county; when, as lady Ann hinted, means might be used to draw down the favour of Providence in the form of a patent of nobility.
To lady Ann, London was the centre of love-making, and Arthur, she said to herself, would show to better advantage there than in the country. The place where she had herself been nearest to falling in love, was a ball-room: the heat apparently had half thawed her.
Mr. Wylder thought lady Ann was right, and the best thing for Barbara would be to go to London: lady Ann would present her at court, and she would doubtless be the belle of the season. Her chance would be none the worse of making a better match than with Arthur Lestrange.
It may seem odd that a like reflection did not occur to lady Ann: far more eligible men than her son might well be drawn to such a bit of sunshine as Barbara; but just what in Barbara was most attractive, lady Ann was least capable of appreciating.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.