|Rights||No Copyright - United States (NoC-US)|
|Publisher||Digitized by J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah|
REDEEMED. The fact is, we were both too young to marry. She was eighteen, I was barely in my majority, but she was a poor, desolate little orphan, sent out into the cold world to do the best she could for herself as a governess; I was madly in love with her, and I was my own master; we had no wiser heads to advise us and no more experienced hands to guide us -so we took our own way, as was but natural, and married on my clerkship of three hundred a year. I need scarcely say that we were happy. For the first two years, indeed, it seemed to me as if I had never really lived until now. Our pretty little home in Kilburn was bright and cheerful. Edith was always affectionate, always good tempered, and like Annabel Lee, seemed to live with no thought than to be beloved by me. My work sat on me easily, and being young people of moderate tastes we had money enough for all we wanted. There was not a flaw anywhere, and the days were scarcely long enough for the joy that filled them with sunshine from beginning to end. All this continued for two years, and then my wife became a mother. This was the first break in our manner of life, the first shadow cast over the brightness of our happy love. It changed the whole order of things, and the change told heavily against me. Edith was no longer my companion as she had been. The baby was delicate, and her health also gave way. She was obliged to go to her own room quite early in the evening, sometimes at seven oclock or so, and the long evenings hung on me heavy and long. I was no student in those days. I was social, and if not inordinately, yet undoubtedly, fond of amusement, hence, sitting alone for all those hours after my solitary dinner -for Edith dined early by the doctor's orders - was dreary work for me, and I grew daily more fretted by the dullness of my once sunshiny home. I tell this story just as it was, not to excuse myself, but to explain. Alas, too, the desire for more experience, natural to my age, began to make itself felt, and more than once I found myself confessing 'We were married too young. ' Yet I did not wish for dissipation; I was not conscious of a reserve of wild oats that I was longing to sow, but I did want a little change from the dead monotony of my spoiled home. I was yearning for the society of men of my own age and standing, and naturally the boy, though I loved him well enough, for all that, I thought him the ugliest and oddest little imp I had ever seen, was not to me what he was to his mother. To her indeed he was everything. The mother had superseded the wife, and the husband was nowhere in comparison with the child. Edith was angry too that I did not, as she phrased it, 'take to him more,' and I was angry that she took to him too much. May be that I was jealous. On looking back I should say that I was. Just when Bertie was three months old, a fellow in our office introduced me to Jack Langborne. Handsome, well mannered, rich, gay, good tempered, generous, Jack was just the man to fascinate a comparatively raw lad as I was still. He knew everything, being one of the kind who start at seventeen as men, and 'see life' systematically from that time. There was not an accomplishment to which he was not proficient; not a game he could not play, giving long odds and winning. He was lavish of his money and a gambler by inbred instinct. He was always staking his fate on chance, and hitherto it had been his friend. He used often to say that he had been too lucky, and that he should have to pay for it some day. Nevertheless, the day of payment gave no sign of dawning, and Jack went on staking and landing, backing the right color and the best horse as if he had a private Nostrodamus at his elbow, and could read the future as other men could read the past. I dare say many of my readers will laugh at me for the confession, but I had never seen a race until Jack took me down to the Derby on his drug. It was a day of both great enjoyment and great excitement to me, for under his auspices I netted fifty pounds, and I felt a millionaire. I was wild with pleasure; perhaps too, the champagne counted for something to my hilarity, as I took home to Edith a sixth of my yearly income made in fewer hours than it took me to earn my paltry diurnal guinea. Visions of fortune, golden and bright, passed before my eyes, and already I saw Edith queening it in the park with her high stepping bays and faultless turn out. Everything she should have that money could command. Whatever else my vision showed me, she was always foremost in my thoughts and highest in my hopes. But when I gave her the money she turned away from me coldly, and a minute after had buried her face in the pillow of the sofa, where she was lying and sobbing. I was a good deal surprised, a little shocked, and greatly hurt- I had better use the harder word and say vexed- at this outburst. I did not see the good of it, and I did not understand it. Besides it chills a man to be received with coldness and tears after such a day as I had spent. It makes the contrast between life inside and outside the home too sharp, and only sends him further off, instead of drawing him nearer. However, tears were too scarce yet for me to disregard them, so I kissed my wife, and did my best to soothe her, and by degrees brought her round so far that she left off crying and began to kiss the baby, as if it was something quite new, and she had never kissed it before. Though I was sorry to see her grieved, that vexed me again. She had not seen me all day, and she had had the boy. I thought she might have paid a little attention to the one who had been absent, to put it on no other ground. But when I remonstrated she only answered, "I know, George, you do not care for baby. You never cared for him, and if it were not for me he might die of neglect." I began to laugh at this. It struck me as too comical that a wife should reproach her husband for not taking care of the baby, for surely, if there is such a thing as "woman's work" in the world, and they are not meant by nature and the eternal fitness of things to be soldiers and sailors and lawyers and doctors, and the Lord knows what besides - that work is to be found in the home and nursery. But she was vexed because I laughed, and raising herself on her elbow drew such a picture of the infamy, ruin and degradation that were to follow on my taking to bad courses, founded on not caring for baby, and my having won fifty pounds at the Derby, that I seemed to be turning to a maniac, not the Edith I had left in the morning and had loved for so long. Perhaps I was too impatient, and ought to have remembered that if I found my life dull, hers was not too gay. I ought to have made allowance for the morbid nervousness and brooding fancies of a woman left alone for the whole day, but I was younger then than I am now, and the thing ended by our having our first grave quarrel, wherein we were both silly, both unjust, and neither of us would give way. The bad blood between us to-night [tonight] grew worse as time passed, and the circle we were in was vicious one. I kept away more and more from home, because my wife made it too miserable for me by her coldness, her tears, her complaints, her ill humor; and the more I kept away the more she resented it. She took away the more she resented it. She took an almost insane hatred of my friends and my actions, and did not scruple to accuse me and them of vices and crimes because I was sometime late, from no worse cause than playing pool or billiards. Her reproaches first wearied and then hardened, and by degrees a kind of fierce feeling took possession of me - a sort of revengeful determination that I would be what she imagined me to be and give her cause to denounce me as she did. Harmless pleasure became pleasure not so harmless, pretty little stakes of half a crown and a shilling grew to gold; the glass of beer became a glass of brandy and the facilis decensus had one more self-directed victim on its slippery way. Work was hateful to me. What I did I did badly, and I shirked all I could. I was sometimes late, I sometimes left too early; and my employers were really good and lenient. As it was, however, I wearied out their patience, and they remonstrated with me firmly but kindly. This sobered me for a moment, but I had gone too far to retreat, until I came out at the other side I must go on. The fortune which had so long befriended Jack Langborne deserted him now, and with his fortune his nerve. Where he had staked with judgment he backed wildly, recklessly, and the more he lost the more recklessly, he staked. His luck seemed to overshadow mine. Hitherto I had been very successful, now I lost more than I could afford, and soon more than I could pay, and so came face to face with ruin. During all this time the gulf between Edith and myself grew daily wider. She took the wrong method with me, and being a woman she kept it. She thought to dragoon me back to the quiet of my former life, and made my private actions personal to herself, she tried to force me to give an account of all my doings, and of every item of expenditure, taking it as an affront when I refused to answer her. But now there is no hope for it. I must perforce confess. With that writ out before me it was useless to attempt concealment, and if marriage is not feminine superiority, yet it is partnership. You may be sure it was a bitter moment for me when I had to tell my wife that all her worst fears were realized; that she had been right throughout, and I wrong; and that the destruction she had prophesied had overtaken us. In her temper of so many months, now it was doubly hard. But it appeared that I knew as little of her as she of me, and had miscalculated the depth of her goodness underneath all her wrong handedness, just as she had miscalculated my power of will and truth of love when fairly pulled up. She heard me out without making a sign. There was no interruption, no angry expression, no scornful look. I saw the hand with which she held the child tighten round him; the one playing with his curls tremble. That was all. When I had finished she looked up and said quietly, "It is better to know the worst, George, for then we can meet it. Now that I've heard the worst I know what to do." "And you do not reproach me, Edith?" I asked. She rose from her seat and came over to me. Her eyes were full of tears, her lips were quivering, and yet there was more love, more softness in her face through its sorrow than there had been for all these bad, dreary months, now passing into years. She slid the boy from her arms and pressed them round my neck. "Why should I reproach you?" she said. "Is not your burden heavy enough without that? While I thought I could keep you straight I tried, if clumsily and to no good, yet loyally. Now I know that all is over, I have only to try and help you, both by my work and my love." Something seemed to choke me while she spoke. It would have been hard enough if she had been angry, but this sudden return to the old love, this unexpected magnanimity, was too much for me. Still, I did not break down. "Will you trust me?" said I, in a tone so husky I scarcely recognized it as my own. "Love me as you used, be to me what you were, and I swear you shall never have cause to reproach me again. I am young, I can work, I can be resolute. I have bought my experience of life, and I find the taste too bitter in my mouth. A man may be a man, and yet be ashamed to think of his wife as well as of his pleasures, but I will think of you now." She sighed and then smiled. 'You come back to what you left, ' she said, in a tender, caressing way, that seemed as if it buried forever all that had gone wrong between us. Of course the struggle was a tremendous one. I lost my clerkship and every penny I possessed. My wife had to give lessons and I had to accept anything that would keep us from starvation, but we pulled through, and our suffering was perhaps a good thing in the end. It taught us to value each other in a truer manner than ever before, and it gave us a friend. For dear old Jack's luck turned, with his uncle's death, and he helped me to a situation that began at five hundred a year, and has steps upward in the future. Things have gone well with me since then. Edith's health has returned, and my boy is at the head of his class. I have taken to studying chemistry, and I think I am on the track of a discovery that will do me a great deal of good - make me a name and bring in lots of money. I find that as one grows older work is a more satisfying thing than pleasure, and knowledge goes further than excitement; and Edith finds that a wife's influence is greater when least visibly excited, and that when a woman abandons the persuasion of love for ill temper, she loses her power and only deepens the unhappiness she aims at preventing.