By Timothy Shay Arthur, 1853
Kate Harbell, a high-spirited girl, who had a pretty strong will of her own, was about being married. Like a great many others of her age and gender who approach the matrimonial altar, Kate's notions of the marriage relation were not the clearest in the world.
Ferdinand Leighton, the betrothed of Kate, a quiet, sensitive young man, had, perhaps, as strong a will as the young lady herself, though it was more under the control of reason. He was naturally impatient of dictation or force, and a strong love of approbation made him feel keenly anything like satire, ridicule or censure. To point a fault out to him, was to wound, if not offend him. Here lay the weakness of his character. All this, on the other side, was counterbalanced by kind feelings, good sense, and manly principles. He was above all baseness or dishonor.
Of course, Kate did not fully understand his character. Such a thing as a young girl's accurate knowledge of the character of the man she is about to marry, is of very rare occurrence. She saw enough of good qualities to make her love him with tenderness and devotion; but she also saw personal defects which were disagreeable in the object of her affections. But she did not in the least doubt that all these, she could easily correct in him after she became his wife.
From a defect of education, or from a natural lack of neatness and order, Ferdinand Leighton was inclined to carelessness in his attire; and also exhibited a certain lack of polish in his manners and address which was, at times, particularly annoying to Kate.
"I'll break him of that, when I get him!" said the young lady to a married friend, alluding to some little peculiarity both had noticed.
"Don't be too certain," returned the lady, smiling.
Kate tossed her head in a resolute way.
"I'll see you disappointed."
"Wait a little while. Before I'm his wife six months, you'll hardly know the man, there'll be such a change!"
"The change is far more likely to take place in you."
"Why do you say that, Mrs. Morton?" inquired Kate, looking grave.
"Because I think so. Men are not so easily brought into order, and the attempt at reformation and correction by a young wife, generally ends in painful disappointment. If you begin this work, you will, in all probability, find yourself tasked beyond your ability. I speak from some experience, having been married for about ten years, and having seen a good many young girls come up into our ranks from the walks of single blessedness. Take my advice, and look away from Frederick's faults and disagreeable peculiarities as much as possible, and think more of his manly traits of character — his fine sentiments, and honorable principles."
"I do look at them, and love them," replied Kate, with animation. "These won my heart at first, and now unite me to him in bonds which cannot be broken. But if on a precious gem there is a slight blemish which mars its beauty — shall we not seek to remove the defect, and thus give the jewel a higher luster? Will you say, no?"
"I will, if in the act there is danger of injuring the gem."
"I don't understand you, Mrs. Morton?"
"Reflect for a moment, and see if my meaning is not apparent."
"You think I will offend him, if I point out a fault, or seek to correct it?"
"A result most likely to follow."
"I will not think so poorly of his good sense," answered Kate, with some gravity of manner. The suggestion half offended her.
"None are perfect, my young friend; don't forget that," said Mrs. Morton, with equal seriousness. "To think differently, is a common mistake of persons circumstanced as you are."
"It's no mistake of mine, let me assure you," replied Kate. "I can see faults as quickly as anyone. Love can't blind me. It is because I see defects in Frederick, that I wish to correct them."
"And you trust to his good sense, to take the work of correction kindly?"
"Certainly I do."
"Then you most probably think him more perfect, than he really is. Very few people can bear to be told of their faults — and fewer still to be told of them by those they love. Love is expected to be blind to defects; therefore, when it is seen looking at and pointing them out — the feeling produced is, in the very nature of things, a disagreeable one. Take my advice, and let Frederick's faults alone, at least for a year after you are married; and even then, put your hand on them very lightly, and as if by accident."
"Do you think I could see him lounge, or, rather, slide down in his chair in that ungraceful way, and not speak to him about it? Not I! It makes me nervous now; and, if I wasn't afraid he might take it unkindly, would call his attention to it."
"Do you think he will be less likely to take it unkindly after marriage?"
"Certainly. Then I will have a right to speak to him about it."
"Then marriage will give you certain rights over your husband?"
"It will give him rights over me — and a very poor rule that is which doesn't work both ways. Marriage will make him my husband; and, surely, a wife may tell her husband that he is not perfect, without offending him."
"Kate, Kate; you don't know what you are talking about, child!"
"I think I do."
"And I know you don't."
"Oh, well, Mrs. Morton, we won't quarrel about it," said Kate, laughing. "I mean to make one of the best of wives, and have one of the best of husbands to be found. He will require a little fixing up to make him just to my mind, but don't you fear but what I'll do it in the gentlest possible manner. Women have more taste than men, you know, and a man never looks and acts just right, until he gets a woman to take charge of him."
A happy bride Kate became, a few months after this little conversation took place, and Ferdinand Leighton thought himself the most fortunate of men, in obtaining such a lovely, accomplished, and right-minded woman for a wife. Swiftly glided away the sweet honeymoon, without a jar of discord, though, during the time, Kate saw a good many things not exactly to her mind, and which she set down as needing correction.
One evening, it was just five weeks after the marriage, and when they were snugly settled in their own house, Frederick was seated before the grate, in a handsome rocking-chair, his body in a position that it would have required a stretch of language to pronounce graceful or befitting. He had drawn off one of his boots, that was lying on the floor, and the leg from which it had been taken was hanging over an arm of his chair. He had slipped forward in the chair — his ordinary mode of sitting, or, rather, lying — so far that his head, which, if he had been upright, would have been even with the top of the back, was at least twelve inches below it. To add to the effect of his position, he was swinging the bootless leg which hung across the arm of the chair with a rapid, circling motion. He had been reclining in this inelegant position for about ten minutes, when Kate, who had permitted herself to become a good deal annoyed by it, said to him, rather earnestly —
"Do, Frederick, sit up straight, and try and be a little more graceful in your positions."
"What's that?" inquired the young man, as if he had not heard distinctly.
"Can't you sit up straight?"
Kate smiled; but Leighton saw that it was a forced smile.
"Oh, yes," he answered, indifferently. "I can sit up as straight as an arrow, but I find this position most agreeable."
"If you knew how you looked," said Kate.
"How do I look?" asked the young man, playfully.
"Oh! you look — you look more like a country clod-hopper than anything else."
There was a sharpness in Kate's tones which fell unpleasantly on the ears of the young man.
"Do I, indeed!" was his rather cold remark. Yet he did not change his position.
"Indeed, you do!" said the wife, who was, by this time, beginning to feel a good deal of irritation; for she saw that Frederick was not inclined to respond in the way she had hoped, to her very reasonable desire that he would assume a more graceful position. "The fact is," she continued, impelled to further utterance by the excited state of her feelings, although she was conscious of having already said more than was agreeable to her husband, "you ought to correct yourself of these ungraceful and undignified habits. It shows a lack of — "
Kate stopped suddenly. She felt that she was about using words which would inevitably give offence.
"A lack of what?" inquired Leighton, in a low, firm voice, while he continued to look his young wife steadily in the face.
Kate's eyes fell to the floor and she remained silent.
"Ungraceful and undignified. Humph!"
Leighton was evidently hurt at this allegation, as the tone in which he repeated the words clearly showed.
"Do you call your present attitude graceful?" Kate asked, rallying herself under the reflection that she was right.
"It is comfortable for me; and, therefore, ought to be graceful in your eyes," was the young man's cold answer. Not the slightest change had yet taken place in his position.
This was beyond what the high-spirited lady could bear, and she retorted with more feeling than discretion:
"Love is not blind in my case, I can assure you, Frederick, and never will be! You are very ungraceful and untidy — and annoy me, sometimes, excessively. I wish you would try to correct these things."
There was something cool and provoking in the way Leighton said this.
"I do, Frederick, and I'm in earnest!"
The cheeks of Kate were in a glow, and her eyes lit up, and her lips quivering.
"How long since you made the discovery that I was only a country clod-hopper?" said Leighton, who was particularly annoyed by Kate's unexpected charges against his good-breeding.
"I didn't say you were only a country clod-hopper," replied Kate.
"I believe you used the words. My ears rarely deceive me. I must own to feeling highly complimented!"
"Do sit up straight, Frederick! Do take your leg from over the arm of that chair! You make me so nervous that I can hardly contain myself."
"Really! I thought a man was privileged to sit in any position he pleased, in his own house."
The excitement of Kate's mind had, by this time, reached a crisis. Bursting into tears, she hurried from the room, and went sobbing up to her chamber.
Here was a fine state of affairs, indeed! Was ever a man so obstinate and unreasonable?
Did Frederick follow, quickly, his weeping wife? No; his pride was too deeply wounded for that.
"A country clod-hopper! Undignified and ungraceful! Upon my word!" Such were some of his mental ejaculations. And then, as his feelings grew excited, he started up from his chair and began pacing the floor, muttering, as he did so —
"It is rather late in the day to make this discovery! Why didn't she find it out before? Humph!"
Meanwhile, Kate had thrown herself across her bed, where she lay, weeping bitterly.
What a storm had suddenly been blown about their ears!
It was fully an hour before Frederick's disturbed feelings began to run at all clear. He was both surprised and offended. What could all this mean? What had all at once come over his young wife?
"A country clod-hopper!" he muttered to himself over and over again.
"Ungraceful — ungenteel, and all that! Very complimentary, indeed!"
When Leighton joined his wife in their chamber, two hours after she had left him, he found that she had retired to bed and was sleeping.
On the next morning both looked very sober, and both were cold and distant. A few words only, passed between them. It was the same when they met at dinner-time, and the same when Frederick came home in the evening. During the whole of this day, the thought of each was upon the other; but it was not a forgiving thought. Kate cherished angry feelings toward her husband; and Leighton continued to be offended at the freedom of expression which his young wife had ventured to use toward him. Of course, both were very unhappy.
The formal fellowship of the tea-table having ended, Leighton, feeling little inclined to pass the evening with his reserved and sober-looking partner, put on his hat, and merely remarking that he would not return until bed-time — left the house. This act startled Kate. With the jar of the closing door, came a gush of tears. The evening was passed alone. How wretched she felt as the hours moved slowly on!
It was nearly eleven o'clock when Leighton came home. By that time, the mind of Kate was in an agony of suspense. More than once, the thought that he had abandoned her intruded itself, and filled her with fear and anguish. What a relief to her feelings it was, when she heard the rattle of his night-key in the lock! But she could not meet him with a smile. She could not throw her arms around his neck, and press her hot cheek to his. No, for she felt that he was angry with her without just cause, and had visited a light offence with unjust severity — if, so far as she was concerned, her act were worthy to be even called an offence.
And so they looked coldly upon each other when they met, and then averted their eyes.
The morning broke, but with no fairer promise of a sunny day. Clouds obscured their whole horizon. Coldly they parted after the brief and scarcely tasted meal. How wretched they were!
During the forenoon, Mrs. Morton, the friend of Kate, called in to see her young friend.
"Why, Kate! What has happened?" she exclaimed, the moment she saw her.
Kate tried to smile and look indifferent, as she answered —
"Happened? Why do you say that?"
"You look as if you hadn't a friend left in the world!"
"And I don't know that I have," said Kate, losing, all at once, her self-command, and permitting the ready tears to gush forth.
"Why, Kate, dear!" exclaimed Mrs. Morton, drawing her arm around the neck of her young friend. "What is the meaning of all this? Is something wrong with Frederick?"
Kate was silent.
Mrs. Morton reflected for a moment, and then said —
"Been trying to correct some of his faults, ha?"
No answer. But the sobbing became less violent.
"Ah, Kate! Kate! I warned you of this."
"Warned me of what?"
Kate lifted her head, and tried to assume an air of dignity as she spoke.
"I warned you that Frederick would not bear it, if you attempted to lay your hand upon his faults."
Kate raised her head higher, and compressed her lips. Still she did not answer.
"A young husband, naturally enough, thinks himself faultless — at least in the eyes of his wife."
"Very far from faultless is Frederick in my eyes," said Kate. "My love is not blind, and so I told him."
"Yes, I did, and in so many words!" replied Kate, with spirit.
"Ah, silly child!" returned her friend. "Already you have the reward of your folly. I forewarned you how it would be."
"Are my wishes, feelings, and taste — to be of no account whatever?" said Kate, warmly. "Frederick is to be and do just what he pleases, and I must say nothing, do nothing — and bear everything. Was this the contract between us? No, Mrs. Morton!"
The bright eyes of Kate flashed with indignant fire.
"Come, come, Katy, dear! Don't let that impulsive heart of yours lead you too far aside from the path of prudence and safety. I am sure that Frederick is no self-willed, exacting, domestic tyrant. I could not have been so deceived in him. But tell me the particular cause of your trouble. What has been said and done? You have given offence, and he has become offended. Tell me the whole story, Kate, and then I'll know what to say and do for the restoration of your peace."
"You are aware," said Kate, after a brief pause, and with a deepening flush on her cheeks, "how awkward and untidy Frederick is at times — how he lounges in his chair, and throws his body into all manner of ungraceful positions."
"This, as you know, has always annoyed me sadly. The night before last, I felt so nervous with him, that I could not help speaking right out."
"Ah! when you were annoyed?"
"Of course. If I hadn't felt annoyed, I wouldn't have said anything."
"Indeed! Well, what did you say? Was your tone of voice low and full of love, and your words as gentle as the falling dew?"
There was a half-angry, indignant expression in the voice of Kate.
"Did you lay your hand lightly, like the touch of a feather, upon the fault you designed to correct — or did you grasp it crudely and angrily?"
Kate's eyes drooped beneath those of her friend.
"You were annoyed and excited," continued Mrs. Morton. "This by your own acknowledgment, and, in such a frame of mind, you charged with faults, the one who had vainly thought himself, at least in your eyes, perfect. And he, as a natural consequence, was hurt and offended. But what did you say to him?"
"I hardly know what I said, now," returned Kate. "But I know I used the words ungraceful, undignified, and country clod-hopper."
"Why, Kate! I am surprised at you! And this to so excellent a man as Frederick, who, from all the fair and gentle ones around him — chose you to be his bosom friend and life companion. Kate, Kate! That was unworthy of you. That was unkind to him. I do not wonder that he was hurt and offended."
"Perhaps I was wrong, Mrs. Morton," said Kate, as tears began to flow again. "But Frederick's lack of order, grace, and neatness, is dreadful. I cannot tell you how much it annoys me."
"You saw all this before you were married."
"Not all of it."
"You saw enough to enable you to judge of the rest."
"True; but then I always meant to correct these things in him. They were but blemishes on a jewel of surpassing value."
"Ah, Kate, you have proved the truth of what I told you before your marriage. It is not so easy a thing to correct the faults of a husband — faults confirmed by long habit. Whenever a wife attempts this, she puts in jeopardy, for the time being at least, her happiness, as you have done. A man is but little pleased to make the discovery that his wife thinks him no better than a country clod-hopper; and it is no wonder that he should be offended, if she, with indiscreetness and lack of tact, tells him in plain terms what she thinks. Your husband is sensitive, Kate."
"I know he is."
"And keenly sensitive to ridicule and correction."
"I am not aware of that."
"Then your reading of his character is less accurate than mine.
Moreover, he has a pretty good opinion of himself."
"We all have that."
"And a strong will — even as quiet as he is in exterior."
"Not stronger, perhaps, than I have."
"Take my advice, Kate," said Mrs. Morton, seriously, "and don't bring your will in direct opposition to his."
"And why not? Am I not his equal? He is no master of mine. I did not sell myself as his slave, that his will should be my law!"
"Silly child! How madly you talk!" said Mrs. Morton. "Not for the world, would I have Frederick hear such utterance from your lips. Does he not love you tenderly? Has he not, in every way, sought your happiness thus far in your brief married life? Is he not a man of high moral virtue? Does not your alliance with him rather elevate than depress you in the social rank? And yet, forsooth, because he lounges in his chair, and permits his body, at times, to assume ungraceful positions — you must throw the apple of discord into your pleasant home to mar its beautiful harmonies."
"Surely, a wife may be permitted to speak to her husband, and even seek to correct his faults," said Kate.
"Better shut her eyes to his faults — if seeing them is to make them both unhappy. You are in a very contentious mood, Kate."
"Am I?" returned Mrs. Leighton, querulously.
"You are; and the quicker it passes away, the better for both yourself and husband."
"I don't know how soon it will pass away," sighed Kate, moodily.
"Good-day," said Mrs. Morton, rising and making a motion to depart.
"Surely you are not going so soon?"
Kate glanced up with a look of surprise.
"Yes; I am afraid to stay here any longer," was the affected serious reply. "I might catch something of your spirit, and then my husband would find a change in his pleasant home. Good-day. May I see you in a better state of mind when we meet again."
And saying this, Mrs. Morton passed from the room so quickly that Kate could not arrest the movement; so she remained seated, though a little disturbed by her friend and monitor's sudden departure.
What Mrs. Morton had said, although it seemed not to impress the mind of her young friend, yet lingered there, and now began gradually to do its work.
As for Frederick, he was unhappy enough. The words of Kate had stung him severely.
"And so, in her eyes, I am no better than a country clod-hopper!"
Almost every hour was this repeated — sometimes mentally and sometimes aloud; and at each repetition, it disturbed his feelings and awakened an unforgiving spirit.
"A clod-hopper, indeed! Wonder she never made this discovery before marriage!"
This was the thought of Leighton as he left his place of business to return home, on the evening of the day on which Mrs. Morton called upon Kate. Why would he not look away from this? Why would he ponder over and magnify the offence of Kate? Why would he keep this ever before his eyes? His self-love had been wounded. His pride had been touched. The weapon of ridicule had been used against him; and to ridicule, he was morbidly sensitive. Kate should have read his character more closely, and should have understood it better. But she was ignorant of his weaknesses, and bore heavily upon them, before aware of their existence.
It was in this brooding, clouded, and unforgiving state of mind that Frederick took his way homeward. On entering his dwelling, which he did almost noiselessly, he went into the parlor and seated himself in the very place where he was sitting earlier, when Kate began, so unexpectedly to him, her unsuccessful work of reformation. Everything around reminded him of that unfortunate evening — even the lounging position he so naturally assumed, sliding down, as he did, in the chair, and throwing one of his legs over the arm.
"It is comfortable for me," said he, moodily to himself; "and it's my own house. If she doesn't like it, let her — "
He did not finish the sentence, for he felt that his state of mind was not what it should be, and that to speak thus of his wife, was neither just nor kind.
Unhappy young man! Is it thus you visit the light offence — for it was light, in reality — of the loving and gentle young creature who has given her happiness, her very life into your keeping? Could you not bear a word of reproof from her? Are you so perfect — that her eyes must see no defect? Is she never to dare, on penalty of your stern displeasure, to correct a fault — to seek to lift you, by her purer and better taste, above the ungraceful and unmanly habits consequent upon a neglected boyhood? What if her hand was laid rather heavily upon you? What if her feelings did prompt her to use words that had better been left unsaid? It was the young wife's pride in her husband which warmed her into undue excitement, and this you should have at once comprehended.
If Frederick Leighton did not think precisely as we have written, his thoughts gradually inclined in that direction. Still he felt moody, and his feelings warmed but little toward Kate.
Thus he sat for some ten or fifteen minutes. At the end of this time, he heard light footsteps coming down the stairs. He knew them to be those of his wife. He did not move nor make a sound, but rather crouched lower in his chair, the back of which was turned toward the door. But his thought was on his wife. He saw her with the eyes of his mind — saw her with her clouded countenance. His heart throbbed heavily against his side, and he partially held his breath.
Now her footsteps moved along the passage, and now he was conscious that she had entered the room where he sat. Not the slightest movement did he make — not a sign did he give of his presence. There he sat, shrinking down in his chair — moody, gloomy, and angry with Kate in his heart.
Was she aware of his presence? Had she heard him enter the house?
Such were the questioning thoughts that were in his mind.
Footsteps moved across the room. Now Kate was at the mantel-piece, a few feet from the chair he occupied, for he heard her lay a book thereon. Now she passed to the back window, and throwing it up, pushed open the shutters, giving freer entrance to the waning light.
A deep silence followed. Now the stillness is broken by a gentle sigh that floats faintly through the room. How rebukingly smote that sigh upon the ears of Leighton! How it softened his heart toward Kate, the young and loving wife of his bosom! A slower movement in the current of his angry feelings followed this.
Then it became still. There is a pause.
But where is Kate? Has she left the room? He listens for some movement, but not the slightest sound meets his ear.
"Kate!" No, he did not utter the word aloud, in tender accents, though it was in his heart and on his tongue. Nor did he start up or move. No, as if spell-bound, he remained crouching down in his chair.
All at once he was conscious that someone is bending above him, and, in the next moment, warm lips touch his forehead, gently, hesitatingly, yet with a lingering pressure.
"Kate! Dear Kate!"
He sprang to his feet, and his arms are flung around his wife.
"Forgive me, Frederick, if I seemed unkind to you," sobbed Kate, as soon as she could command her voice. "There was no unkindness in my heart — only love."
"It is I who most need to ask forgiveness," replied Frederick. "I who have — "
"Hush! Not a word of that now," quickly returned Kate, placing her hand upon his mouth. "Let the past be forgotten."
"And forgiven, too," said Leighton, as he pressed his lips eagerly to those of his wife.
How happy they were at this moment of reconciliation! How light seemed the causes which had risen up to mar the beautiful harmony of their lives! How weak and foolish both had been — as their acts now appeared in eyes from which had fallen the scales of anger!
Both were now wiser than in the aforetime. Kate tried to look away, as much as possible, from the little faults which at first so much annoyed her; while her husband turned his thoughts more narrowly upon himself, at the same time that he made observation of other men, and was soon well convinced that sundry changes in his habits and manners might be made with great advantage. The more his eyes were opened to these little personal defects, the more fully did he forgive Kate for having in the beginning laid her hand upon them, though not in the gentlest manner.
"Six months have passed since you were married," said Mrs. Morton one day to Kate.
"Yes, six months have flown on wings of perfume," replied the happy wife.
"I saw Frederick yesterday."
"Yes; and I knew him the moment my eyes rested upon him."
"Knew him! Why wouldn't you know him?"
Kate looked a little surprised.
"I thought he was to be so changed under your hands in six months, that I would hardly recognize him."
There was an arch look in Mrs. Morton's eyes, and a merry flutter in her voice.
"Mrs. Morton! Now that is too bad!"
"Your experiment failed, did it not, dear?"
The door of the room in which the ladies were sitting opened at the moment, and Frederick entered.
"Not entirely," whispered Kate, as she bent to the ear of her friend. "He is vastly improved — at least, in my eyes."
"And in others' eyes, too," thought Mrs. Morton, as she arose and returned the young man's smiling salutation.