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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

A Sentimentalist’s Second Marriage

By Miriam Coles Harris (1834–1925)

[Born on Dosoris Island, L. I. Sound, N. Y., 1834. Died in Pau, France, 1925. A Perfect Adonis. 1875.]

THERE was a second wedding-day; this time no white silk and orange blossoms; no dull elderly people in the way, and no smell of fried oysters. Dorla and Felix walked down the long aisle of a silent, crowded church. (To fill it had been Harriet’s business and pleasure.) There might have been ten or ten thousand people, it would have been the same to Dorla; she walked beside the man she loved through this gay crowd, as she would have walked through a forest, or through a flowering garden. There was a dreamy look on her face; she plainly was not occupied with the thought of how her dress hung, nor how her back hair would look from the chancel steps. She even forgot to hold her bouquet in a tight grasp against her waist, but walked past the attentive spectators, with the unfortunate flowers trailing against her dress, as they hung in her hand. She wore pearl-color, and her dress was beautiful.

“She looks youngish for a person of her age,” said Abby to a cavalier beside her, who was gaping after the beautiful apparition on her way to the foot of the altar.

Abby had not dared to speak while they passed her, but now, under cover of the prayers, she talked incessantly. She hated the prayers, and meant to laugh at everything; she no longer looked as if the world lay before her, but as if she had passed through one very dreary and hateful part of it, and as if she were resolved to gain a reckless enjoyment from the present. She looked years older than she was, and much like other women now, for prettiness. The charm of freshness was quite gone. During the benediction, she talked in a stage whisper about the bride’s bonnet; but when they passed down the aisle beside her, she drew her breath quick; that Quebec experience had gone deep. There walked the man to whom in his perfect beauty she had given her heart; and in a certain way, a woman has but one heart to give. She did not love him now; but she could never be the same again, for having loved him.

When the newly married people had passed out of the church, the assembly relaxed its attention, and broke up in babble and confusion. Miss Greyson, in a waterproof suit and felt hat, was joined by Mr. Oliver, well preserved, and unimpaired by time or by emotion. Miss Greyson’s father had failed, and she had been permitted to teach school, and to attend medical lectures, and to do every strong-minded thing that her soul delighted in. She held Dorla in great contempt.

“Well, Mr. Oliver,” she said, “you see what it is to be constant.”

“Yes, Miss Greyson,” he returned. “It has been the error of my life to take the first answer.”

And so on, pages of old-bachelory talk. He felt sure Miss Greyson did not know that he had once offered himself to Dorla; indeed he could hardly believe it now himself. It was quite safe to talk to Miss Greyson in this way. He had talked so forty times, indeed he always talked so, and no one would suspect where the truth lay.

Mr. Davis, who had been married several years, and whose wife was dowdy, made his way over to them, and said with a sigh: “Ah, Miss Greyson, it doesn’t seem like six years since that morning in the Conneshaugh! Who would have thought it! But Mrs. Rothermel, I beg her pardon, Mrs. Varian, doesn’t look a day older than she did then.”

This was not pleasant to Miss Greyson in her felt hat, who knew that lectures and teaching, blissful as they were, did not tend to youthful looks.

“Nor a day wiser,” said she with contempt.

“I don’t know about that,” said Davis. “I think marrying Varian is a step beyond marrying Rothermel in point of wisdom.”

Then the dowdy beckoned him away to look up the carriage. She was always recalling him, and that he did not get very far away was owing as much to her assiduity as to his want of ingenuity.

Mrs. Bishop was crying a good deal, and got out of a side door with the help of a nephew (not Henry). Poor Henry was now in South America trying to learn the ways of a great mercantile house, and saving up beetles and butterflies for Missy; working with one part of his brain, and dreaming with the other. He could not get over the habit of loving his love with a C. Mrs. Bishop had not more than half forgiven Dorla, but it was very necessary to her to have some friends who were not weary of her age, and who would fill up the many empty hours of her days, and Dorla was the most conscientious friend she had, and so she had to be forgiven, wholly or in part. Felix was quite resolved this sort of thing should not go on, after he had power to stop it. “This sort of thing” was a daily visit of Mrs. Rothermel to Mrs. Bishop, and endless arrangements for her comfort or pleasure. It was naturally not all that a lover could ask, to have the drive in the park daily spoiled by the addition of a cross child or a querulous old lady. But a man who marries a conscientious woman must make up his mind to this sort of thing, till he has power to put a stop to it.

Possibly he felt as if the time had come to put a stop to one nuisance at least, when, an hour after the benediction had been said over Dorla’s head and his, he stood in the hall waiting for her to come from her room, where he knew she was saying good-bye to Missy. The carriage was at the door; the trunks had long been sent away; Dorla in her travelling-dress at last came down the stairs. There had been a tempest, he knew. But all was silent now, and Dorla was very pale. She had just reached the foot of the stairs, and Felix was saying with a smile, “Do people ever get left on their wedding journeys?” when there was a rush of pursuer and pursued, and Missy, with a white face, slid down the stairs like a spirit, and flung herself upon her mother with a cry.

“Mamma! Mamma!”

“Missy, you will kill me!” cried poor Dorla, putting her hands up to her face.

Missy got her tiny, fierce fingers clutched in her mother’s dress; she was like a little maniac; all attempts to take her away without positive violence were unavailing. It was pitiful to see her. Her wedding finery had not been taken off. She was white to her fingers’ ends. Her short, pale hair stood out in a frizz about her poor, passionate little face; her light eyes were full of an expression of violent emotion, strange on such baby features. The servants who had come into the hall to see their mistress’s departure, stood around in perplexity and dismay. The nurse coaxed, wrestled, was despairing.

At last Felix, opening the hall door, said, “We shall be late,” and stepped outside.

Dorla said hoarsely, “Missy, I must go; good-bye,” and stooping down, with her own hands attempted to release herself from the child’s grasp, and made a movement towards the open door.

Then poor little Missy, with a great cry, sprang before her, and flung herself upon the ground across the threshold.

“For shame, Missy, get up, for shame!” cried the nurse, stooping to interfere. Dorla bent down and tried to lift her up; but she clutched the sill of the door with all her strength, and screaming and sobbing, lay face down, a barrier between her mother and the outer world. Felix standing outside with lips compressed, looked on a moment silently.

“Dorla,” he said, at last, and put out his hand.

She took it, and stepping over Missy as she lay, followed him down the steps and into the carriage without a look behind. The servants picked up the little figure and hustled her off into the house, before the carriage-door shut after Felix.

But what a beginning for a wedding journey! For two minutes Dorla tried to command herself, but then she either stopped trying, or it was no use, and she burst into tears.

“Felix,” she said, “be good to me this once; I never will be so weak again; just let me go back. It will kill the child. I know she will be ill to-night. All alone with servants—and they do not love her—think of it, Felix. How can I go away and leave her?”

Then Felix’s face grew very cold, and he did not take the hand that she put out to him.

“You are not angry,” she said, frightened.

“Yes, I am afraid I am,” he answered, gravely. Then she turned away her face, and tried to stop her tears. This made him feel sorry for her, and he said:

“We cannot go back; you must see that is impossible. But we need not stay very long away, nor go far off from the city. You shall have a telegram every hour while we are away, if that will comfort you.”

“You must think me so unreasonable,” said Dorla, in her tears.

“Well, I can’t deny I do,” he returned.

“But, Felix,” she said, timidly, “it would comfort me to have a telegram to-night, to know whether they have got her pacified, if you won’t be very much ashamed of me.”

So Felix called to the coachman, and stopped at an office, and had arrangements made by which a telegram should reach them by the hour of nine; and it is to be presumed he felt wrathful and mortified to have to give the order. But when he went back to the carriage, he found Dorla looking relieved. It had taken a great load off her heart to know that she should hear again from Missy that night; the separation would not seem so monstrous; she would yet watch over her going to sleep, as she had never failed to do.

“It’s a bad beginning,” he said, trying to smile as he shut the carriage-door, “but I have sent a telegram at the same time, countermanding my orders to Philadelphia. We will just go over to ——— and maybe we can get some decent rooms, and maybe we can’t. But you’ll have the happiness of knowing that you can get to Missy in an hour, if she does not enjoy her bread and milk without you.”

“Felix!” cried Dorla, reddening with shame, while at the same time a weight was lifted from her heart. “You are better to me than I deserve. You must think me so unreasonable; but I can’t tell you how cruel it seemed to me to be going away, and leaving poor Missy there crying in her jealousy and misery.”

“She has often cried so before, and it hasn’t killed her.”

“Ah, yes! but, Felix, it wasn’t the same thing; you know I wasn’t going away from her. She realized it all.”

“She realized that she had a little extra work to do, and she did it. You see she conquered.”

“I don’t call it conquering,” said Dorla, crying a little at the thought, “to have me walk over her and go away with you. Ah, dear! It was like S. Jane Frances de Chantal and her boy.”

“What was S. Jane Frances de Chantal going to do?” said Felix, relenting, with a little caress. “Had she been getting married?”

“O, no,” exclaimed Dorla, with a faint shudder.

“I suppose saints don’t do that?”

“She was going away—to found an order of nuns. Ah! it was very different from me.”

“Yes, I should hope it was,” said Felix cynically. “I may be a terrible fate, but I hope I’m not as bad as bread and water, and stone floors, and hard beds, and a nagging lot of women.”

“Ah, Felix! You do not understand.”

“Then you really wish you were on your way now to found an order of nuns?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“What did you say, then?”

“I said you didn’t understand.”

“Maybe I don’t. But it is too late now for you to change your mind. You must make the best you can of what you’ve done, and try to be contented.”

“Ah! I am afraid it will be only too easy!” said Dorla, with another sigh.

“Well,” said Felix, “you may add again, that I do not understand. For I’m sure I don’t.”

“This you may understand, at least,” said Dorla, “that I am not fit to be a nun, or I suppose I should have been one. I am a failure, don’t you see, Felix. I’ve spoiled Missy. I’ve never been able to make a good housekeeper. I am afraid I never helped poor Harry any. I don’t know that I was ever any comfort to mamma. And I wasn’t—I—And perhaps, I shall not make you happy after all. I can’t see what I was created for.”

“I can’t either, except to make people want to possess you. To have and to hold you,” he said, with a fierce sort of satisfaction.

“But—” said Dorla.

“But—” said Felix, kissing her.

And then she forgot all about S. Jane Frances de Chantal, and the Order of the Visitation, and for the moment about poor Missy, too.

It is a blessing that when you are a failure, you can forget it sometimes for a while. But the fact remains the same.