THE season at Newport closed, and the summer birds of fashion flitted away. But Mrs. Dexter still remained, and in a feeble condition. It was as late as November before the physician in attendance would consent to her removal. She was then taken home, but so changed that even her nearest friends failed to recognize in her wan, sad, dreary face, anything of its old expression.
No man could have been kinder--no man could have lavished warmer attentions on another than were lavished on his wife by Mr. Dexter. With love-like assiduity, he sought to awaken her feelings to some interest in life; not tiring, though she remained as coldly passive as marble. But she gave him back no sign. There was neither self-will, perverseness, nor antagonism, in this; but paralysis instead. Emotion had died.
It was Christmas before Mrs. Dexter left her room--and then she was so weak as to need a supporting arm. Tonics only were administered by her physician; but if they acted at all, it was so feebly that scarcely any good result appeared. The cause of weakness lay far beyond the reach of his medicines.
With the slow return of bodily strength and mental activity, was developed in the mind of Mrs. Dexter a feeling of repugnance to her husband that went on increasing. She did not struggle against this feeling, because she knew, by instinct, that all resistance would be vain. It was something over which she could not possibly have control; the stern protest of nature against an alliance unblessed by love.
One day, during mid-winter, her best friend, Mrs. De Lisle, in making one of her usual visits, found her sitting alone, and in tears. It was the first sign of struggling emotion that she had yet seen, and she gladly recognized the tokens of returning life.
"Showers for the heart," she said, almost smiling, as she kissed the pale invalid. "May the green grass and the sweet smiling violets soon appear."
Mrs. Dexter did not reply, but with unusual signs of feeling, hid her face in the garments of her friend.
"How are you to-day?" asked Mrs. De Lisle, after she had given time for emotion to subside.
"About as usual," was answered, and Mrs. Dexter looked with regaining calmness into her face.
"I have not seen you so disturbed for weeks," said Mrs. De Lisle.
"I have not felt so wild a strife in my soul for months," was answered. "Oh, that I could die! It was this prayer that unlocked the long closed fountain of tears."
"With God are the issues of life," said Mrs. De Lisle. "We must each of us wait His good time--patiently, hopefully, self-denyingly wait."
"I know! I know!" replied Mrs. Dexter. "But I cannot look along the way that lies before me without a shudder. The path is too difficult."
"You will surely receive strength."
"I would rather die!" A slight convulsion ran through her frame.
"Don't look into the future, dear young friend! Only to-day's duties are required; and strength ever comes with the duty."
"Not even God can give strength for mine," said Mrs. Dexter, almost wildly.
"Hush! hush! the thought is impious!" Mrs. De Lisle spoke in warning tones.
"Not impious, but true. God did not lay these heavy burdens on me. My own hands placed them there. If I drag a pillar down upon myself, will God make my bones iron so that they shall not be broken? No, Mrs. De Lisle; there is only one hope for me, and that is in death; and I pray for it daily."
"You state the case too strongly," said Mrs. De Lisle. "God prevides as well as provides. His providence determining what is best for us; and His previdence counteracts our ignorance, self-will, or evil purposes, and saves us from the destruction we would blindly meet. He never permits any act in His creatures, for which He does not previde an agency that turns the evil that would follow into good. Your case is parallel to thousands. As a free woman, you took this most important step. God could not have prevented it without destroying that freedom which (sic) constitues your individuality, and makes you a recipient of life from Him. But He can sustain you in the duties and trials you have assumed; and He will do it, if you permit Him to substitute His divine strength for your human weakness. In all trial, affliction, calamity, suffering, there is a germ of angelic life. It is through much tribulation that the Kingdom of Heaven is gained. Some spirits require intenser fires for purification than others; and yours may be of this genus. God is the refiner and the purifier; and He will not suffer any of the gold and silver to be lost. Dear friend! do not shrink away from the ordeal."
"I am not strong enough yet." It was all the reply Mrs. Dexter made. Her voice was mournful in the extreme.
"Wait for strength. As your day is, so shall it be."
Mrs. Dexter shook her head.
"What more can I say?" Mrs. De Lisle spoke almost sadly, for she could not see that her earnestly spoken counsel had wrought any good effect.
"Nothing! nothing! dear friend!" answered Mrs. Dexter, still very mournfully.
A little while she was silent; and seemed in debate with herself. At length she said--
"Dear Mrs. De Lisle! To you I have unveiled my heart more than to any other human being. And I am constrained to draw the veil a little farther aside. To speak will give relief; and as you are wiser, help may come. At Saratoga, I confided to you something on that most delicate of all subjects, my feelings towards my husband. I have yet more to say! Shall I go farther in these painful, almost forbidden revelations?"
"Say on," was the answer, "I shall listen with no vain curiosity."
"I am conscious," Mrs. Dexter began, "of a new feeling towards my husband. I call it new, for, if only the fuller development of an old impression, it has all the vividness of a new-born emotion. Before my illness, I saw many things in him to which I could attach myself; and I was successful, in a great measure, in depressing what was repellant, and in magnifying the attractive. But now I seem to have been gifted with a faculty of sight that enables me to look through the surface as if it were only transparent glass; and I see qualities, dispositions, affections, and tendencies, against which all my soul revolts. I do not say that they are evil; but they are all of the earth earthy. Nor do I claim to be purer and better than he is--only so different, that I prefer death to union. It is in vain to struggle against my feelings, and I have ceased to struggle."
"You are still weak in body and mind," answered Mrs. De Lisle. "All the pulses of returning life are feeble. Do not attempt this struggle now."
"It must be now, or never," was returned. "The current is bearing me away. A little while, and the most agonizing strife with wave and tempest will prove of no avail."
"Look aloft, dear friend! Look aloft!" said Mrs. De Lisle. "Do not listen to the maddening dash of waters below, nor gaze at the shuddering bark; but upwards, upwards, through cloud-rifts, into heaven!"
"I have tried to look upwards--I have looked upwards--but the sight of heaven only makes earth more terrible by contrast."
"Who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb?" asked Mrs. De Lisle, in a deep, earnest voice. A pause, and then--"They who have come up through great tribulation! Think of this, dear friend. Heaven may be beautiful in your eyes, but the way to heaven is by earthly paths. You cannot get there, except by the way of duty; and your duty is not to turn away from, but to your husband, in the fulfillment of your marriage vows--to the letter. I say nothing of the spirit, but the letter of this law you must keep. Mr. Dexter is not an evil-minded man. He is a good citizen, and desires to be a good husband. His life, to the world, is irreproachable. The want of harmony in taste, feeling and character, is no reason for disseverance. You cannot leave him, and be guiltless in the eyes of God or man."
"I did not speak of leaving him," said Mrs. Dexter, looking up strangely into the face of Mrs. De Lisle.
"But you have thought of it," was answered. A flush dyed the pale face of Mrs. Dexter. "Oh, my friend, beware of evil counsellors! Mrs. Anthony"--
"Has never looked into my heart. It is shut and fastened with clasps of iron when she is near," returned Mrs. Dexter.
"The presence of such a woman suggests rebellion," said Mrs. De Lisle; "her thoughts are communicated by another way than speech. Is it not so?"
"Perhaps it is. I feel the spirit of antagonism rising whenever I am with her. I grow restive--impatient of these bonds--indignant towards my husband; though the subject is never mentioned."
"Be on your guard against her, my young friend. Her principles are not religiously sound. This I say to you, because duty requires me to say it. Placed in your position, and with your feelings towards her husband, if no personal and selfish consideration came in to restrain her, she would not hesitate at separation--nay, I fear, not even at a guilty compact with another."
"You shock me!" said Mrs. Dexter.
"I speak to you my real sentiments; and in warning. In your present state of mind, be very reserved towards her. You are not strong enough to meet her quick intelligence, nor able to guard yourself against her subtle insinuations. When was she here last?"
A sudden thought prompted the question.
"She left just before you came in," answered Mrs. Dexter.
"And your mind has been disturbed, not tranquillized, by her visit?"
"I am disturbed, as you see."
"On what subject did she speak?" asked Mrs. De Lisle.
"You know her usual theme?"
"I do not wonder that you were disturbed. How could it be otherwise?"
"She gives utterance to many truths," said Mrs. Dexter.
"But even truth may be so spoken as to have all the evil effect of error," was promptly answered.
"Can truth ever do harm? Is it not the mind's light? Truth shows us the way in which we may walk safely," said Mrs. Dexter, with some earnestness of manner.
"Light, by which the eye sees, will become a minister of destruction, if the eye is inflamed. A mind diseased cannot bear strong gleams of truth. They will blind and deceive, rather than illustrate. The rays must be softened. Of the many truths to which Mrs. Anthony gave utterance this morning, which most affected your mind?"
"She spoke," said Mrs. Dexter, after a little reflection, "of natural affinities and repulsions, which take on sometimes the extreme condition of idiosyncrasies. Of conjunctions of soul in true marriages, and of disjunction and disgust where no true marriage exists."
"Did she explain what she understood by a true marriage?" asked Mrs. De Lisle.
"I do not remember any formal explanation. But her meaning was obvious."
"What, then, did she mean?"
A little while Mrs. Dexter thought, and then answered--
"She thinks that men and women are born partners, and that only they who are fortunate enough to meet are ever happy in marriage--are, in fact, really married."
"How is a woman to know that she is rightly mated?" asked Mrs. De Lisle.
"By the law of affinities. The instincts of our nature are never at fault."
"So the thief who steals your watch will say the instincts of his nature all prompted to the act. If our lives were orderly as in the beginning, Mrs. Dexter, we might safely follow the soul's unerring instincts. But, unfortunately, this is not the case; and instinct needs the law of revelation and the law of reason for its guide."
"You believe in true, interior marriages?" said Mrs. Dexter.
"Yes, marriages for eternity."
"And that they are made here?"
Mrs. De Lisle did not answer immediately.
"The preparation for eternal marriage is here," she said, speaking thoughtfully.
Mrs. Dexter looked at her like one in doubt as to the meaning of what she heard. She then said:
"In a true marriage, souls must conjoin by virtue of an original affinity. In a word, the male and the female must be born for each other."
"There are a great many vague notions afloat on this subject," said Mrs. De Lisle; "and a great deal of flippant talk. If there are men and women born for each other, one thing is very certain, both need a great deal of alteration before they can unite perfectly; and the trial will, in most cases, not so fully prove this theory of quality in sexual creation as you might suppose. 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity!' If this were not true of every one, there might be a little more hope for happiness in marriage. Let us imagine the union of two persons, born with that original containing affinity of which you speak--and the existence of which I do not deny. We will suppose that the man inherits from his ancestors certain evil and selfish qualities; and that the woman inherits from her ancestors certain evil and selfish qualities also. They marry young, and before either is disciplined by right principle, or regenerated by Divine truth. Now, this being the case, do you suppose that, in the beginning, their pulses will beat in perfect harmony? That there will be no jarring in the machinery of their lives?"
Mrs. De Lisle paused, but received no answer.
"In just the degree," she continued, "that each is selfish, and fails to repress that selfishness, will the other suffer pain or feel repulsion? And they will not come into the true accordance of their lives until both are purified through a denial of self, and an elevation of the spiritual above the natural. For it is in the spiritual plane where true marriages take place; and only with those who are regenerated. All that goes before is preparation."
Mrs. Dexter continued looking earnestly into the face of Mrs. De Lisle.
"Does your thought follow me?" asked the latter.
"Yes," was all the answer.
"If true marriages are for eternity, each of the partners must be born into spiritual life; and that birth is always with pain. The husband, instead of being a mere natural and selfish man, must be a lover of higher and purer things. He must be a seeker after Divine intelligence, that he may be lifted with wisdom coming from the infinite Source of wisdom. And the wife, elevating her affections through self-denial and repression of the natural, must acquire a love for the spiritual wisdom of her husband before her soul can make one with his. Do you comprehend this?"
"Dimly. He must be wise in heavenly love; and she a lover of heavenly wisdom."
"There must be something more," said Mrs. De Lisle.
"No two masculine souls are alike, and heavenly wisdom is infinite. The finite mind receives only a portion of the Divine intelligence. Each, therefore, is in the love of growing wise in a certain degree or direction. The feminine soul, to make conjunction perfect, must be a lover of wisdom in that degree, or direction."
"You bewilder me," said Mrs. Dexter.
"Let me rather enlighten. The great truth I wish to make clear to you is that there can be no marriage in the higher sense without spiritual regeneration. By nature we are evil--that is selfish; for self love is the very essence of all evil--and until heavenly life is born in us there can be no interior marriage conjunction. It is possible, then--and I want you to look the proposition fairly in the face--for two who are created for each other, to live very unhappily together during the first years of their married life. Do you ask why? Because both are selfish by nature; and self seeks its own delight. I have sometimes thought," continued Mrs. De Lisle, "in pondering this subject, that those who are born for each other are not often permitted to struggle together in painful antagonism during the stern ordeals through which so many have to pass ere self is subdued, and the fires of Divine love kindled on the heart's altars."
"Meeting life's discipline apart, or in strife with an alien," said Mrs. Dexter.
"As you will. But the lesson, I trust, is clear. Only they who bear the cross can wear the crown. The robes must be made white in the blood of the Lamb. And now, dear friend! if you would be worthy of an eternal marriage, take up your cross. If there is a noble, manly soul to which you would be conjoined forever, set earnestly about the task of preparation for that union. The wedding garment must be wrought; the lamps trimmed and burning. Not in neglect of duty; not in weak repinings, or helpless despondency is this work done; but in daily duty. The soul of your husband is precious in the eyes of God as your own. Never forget this. And it may be a part of your heaven-assigned work--nay, is--to help him to rise into a higher life. May you grow angel-minded in the good work!"
"How tranquil I have become," said Mrs. Dexter, a little while afterwards. "The heavy pressure on heart and brain is removed."
"You have not been thinking of yourself; and that has brought a change in your state of feeling. Cease to struggle in your bonds; but rise up and go forward with brave heart, and be true as steel to all your obligations. The way may look dark, the burdens heavy; but fear not. Move on, and Divine light will fall upon your path; stoop to the burden, and Divine strength will be given. So I counsel you, dear sister! And I pray you heed the counsel."
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