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and met her prayers and remonstrances with insulU and sarcasms. She was obliged to return, widowed and childless, to her sister's home in the country; like a wounded panther tearing at the lance in his side, a fearful mixture of love and beauty, and rage and despair. It was well that she did return to her sister's house instead of her own home, for her husband, enraged at her persistence in visiting her brother against his consent, had ordered the servants to refuse her admittance should she present herself, and "to open the house door only with the chain across."
After balancing between reconciliation and prosecution, a divorce snit was decided on by her husband; expressly undertaken "because his wife would not return to him." By this suit, he attempted to prove that an old friend and patron, to whom he owed his present position and his former fortune, was the seducer of his wife. But the case broke down; and the jury, without leaving their box, gave a verdict in favor of the defendant—a gentleman of known honor and established reputation. The crowded court rang with cheers, such as it had rarely echoed to before, as the verdict was pronounced; friends in every degree of life, old friends and friends hitherto strangers, supported her with their warmest sympathy; and if the readiness of the world in general to be kindly honest, and to set right a proved wrong, could have acted directly upon the law, or could have essentially served her without its aid, she would have had ample redress. But it is the peculiar hardship of such a case that no aid but the aid of the law itself, remote and aloof, can give redress. The feelings may be soothed, but the wrongs remain.
And now began the most painful part of the sad epie, whose initiatory hymns had glided into a dirge: a dirge for ruined hopes and wasted youth, for a heart made desolate, and a home destroyed; a dirge for the shattered household gods and the fleetings of the fond visions of her heart.
The suit was ended, and the law had pronounced the accused wife innocent. But the law also pronounced the innocent mother without a claim to her own children. They were the father's property; absolutely and entirely. He placed them with his sister, a lady who shared his propensity for corporeal punishment; and who flogged the eldest child, a sensitive and delicate boy of six years old, for receiving and reading a letter from his mother. "To impress on his memory," she said, "that he was not to receive letters from her!" The yet younger was stripped naked and chastised with a riding-whip. Yet the law held back these children from their mother's love, and gave them to the charge of those who thought their education fitly carried on by such means. Time passed, and still the quarrel and the separation continued. By a small alteration in this same law of ours—this idol made by our hands, then deified and worshiped—she was at length permitted to see her boys. But only at stated times, and at certain
hours, and in the coldest manner. It was hi r husband's privilege to deny her all maternal intercourse with her sons, and he stretched his privilege to the utmost. No touch of pity dissolved the iron bars of the law, and no breath of mercy warmed the breast of the husband and master. Against the decree of the law, what was the protesting cry of nature? A hollow whistling among the reeds of a sandy waste, which no man heeded — which no voice answered.
Years trailed wearily on. Long years of taming down her proud heart, laden almost beyond its strength; long years of battle with the wild sorrow of her childless life; long years, when the mother's soul stood in the dark valley of death, where no light and no hope w ere. But the criminal law swept on the beaten track, and no one stopped to ask over whose heart this great car of our Juggernaut passed. The mother—she to whom God has delegated the care of her young—she on whom lie shame and dishonor if she neglect this duty for any self-advantage whatsoever; she—a man's wife, and a man's lawful chattel—had no right to those who had lain beneath her heart, and drunk of her life. The law in this respect is now changed; mainly, because this sufferer labored hard to show its cruelty. The misery inflicted upon her maternal love will be endured by no other English mother.
Pecuniary matters came in next, as further entanglement of this miserable web. By the marriage settlements a certain sum of money had been secured to the children; the principal of which, neither the husband nor his creditors could touch. It belonged to the children and the mother, emphatically and exclusively. After many years of separation, the husband applied to his wife for her consent to his raising a loan on this trust-fund for the improvement of his estate. She promised that consent, if he, on his part, would execute a deed of separation, and make her a certain allowance for life. Hitherto she B had mainly supported herself by authorship. After the demur of reducing the allowance she proposed, the agreement was entered into; and she then gave her consent that a loan should be raised on the trust-fund for her husband's sole advantage. She received in exchange a deed drawn up and signed by a lawyer and her husband, securing her the stipulated five hundred pounds a year for life . Three years after, her mother died, and the husband inherited the lifeinterest of his wife's portion from the father. At the same time a legacy of almost five hundred a year, carefully secured from her husband by every legal hindrance possible, fell to her also from her mother. When her husband knew ol this legacy, he wrote to her, telling her that he would not now continue his former allowance, which had been secured, as she believed, by solemn legal agreement. She objected to this novel manner of benefiting by a legacy; and refused to entertain the proposition of a reduction. Her husband quietly told her that she must either consent to his terms, or receive nothing; when
she urged the agreement, he answered her with the legal poetic tiction "that, by law, man and wife were one, and therefore could not contract with each other." The deed for which she had exchanged her power over the trust-fund was a mere worthless piece of paper.
This shameful breach of contract was followed by another law-suit, where judgment was given in open court, to the effect not only that the agreement in her behalf, signed by her husband and a legal witness, was valueless according to that stanza of the marriage idyl which proclaims that man and wife are one—not only that she had no claim on the allowance of five hundred a year; but that her husband could also seize every farthing of her earnings, and demand as his own the copyrights of her works and the sums paid for them. No deed of separation had been executed between them, and no divorce could be sued for by her; for she had once condoned or pardoned her husband, and had so shut herself out from the protection of the laws.
And all this is in the laws; the laws which throw a woman helplessly on the mercy of her husband, make no ways of escape and build no cities of refuge for her, and deliberately justify her being cheated and entrapped. All these are doings protected and allowed by our laws—and men stand by and say, "It is useless to complain. The laws must be obeyed. It is dangerous to meddle with the laws!"
This is a true story; those who run may read it—have read it more than once, perhaps, before now As an exemplification of some of the gravest wrongs of women, and as a proof how much they sometimes need protection even against those whose sworn office it is to cherish and support them, it is very noteworthy, indeed, in this country of Great Britain. Surely there is work waiting to be done in the marital code of England! Surely there are wrongs to be redressed and reforms to be made that have gone too long unmade! Surely we have here a righteous quarrel with the laws—more righteous than many that have excited louder cries.
Justice to women. No fanciful rights, no unreal advantages, no preposterous escape from womanly duty, for the restless, loud, and vain; no mingling of women with the broils of political life, nor opening to them of careers which Nature herself has pronounced them incapable of following; no high-flown assertion of equality in kind; but simple justice. The recognition of their individuality as wives, the recognition of their natural rights as mothers, the permission to them to live by their own honorable industry, untaxed by the legal Right and moral Wrong of any man to claim as his own that for which he has not wrought—reaping where he has not sown, and gathering where he has not strewed. Justice to women. This is what the phrase means; this is where the thing is truly wanted; here is an example of the great Injustice done to them, and of their maltreatment under the eyes of a whole nation, by the Law.
STORM AND REST. .
ALEADEN cloud hung like a heavy canopy over the broad sky—so heavy and so dense, that even the great wind which was bowing the strongest trees, and lashing the sea into boiling hills of foam, could not stir it; but still threatening, scowling, of this same unchangeable leaden hue, it spread immovable, as far as the eye could reach. It was an October day, bleak and chill, with not even the last saddest lingerings of summer—the fallen yellow leaves—remaining; for the wild wind seemed to have swept them up in its arms, leaving the bare country even unnaturally bare, and desolate, and cold.
Through the narrow streets of a seaport town, on the east coast, round sharp comers, and in at opened doors, the wind was sweeping, driving in its headlong course all things before it, dashing away the heavy rain which poured in dull torrents from those dark clouds, or catching it upward for an instant only to fling it back again with greater force upon the swimming pavements. Even in the town, on such a day, few would venture out: in the country round it would seem almost like madness to attempt it, for wind and rain were plowing the earth together, and over the whole extent of cultivated hill ground, spreading for miles along the coast, the mad hurricane was raging.
Yet there was one, and she but a young girl, who, defying rain and storm, heedless of the wild blast, insensible to the bitter cold, had set out alone upon this dreary morning from her cottage on the hill. And what is it that takes Annie Morton out on such a day as this? What is it that has thus blanched Annie Morton's check, and dulled her light, elastic step, and stolen the lustre of her bright blue eye, changing its merry laughter into this wild look of fear!
"Mother, the thought haunts me like a dream! Oh, mother, let me go down to the harbor, for I can't rest for thinking of him!" and half an hour ago, poor Annie had started suddenly up from her scat in the cottage window, and half sobbing out these words, had flung herself upon her bed-rid mother's neck, and burst into hysteric tears.
"You foolish child, you've been sitting looking out at that window till all sorts of fancies have come into your head," Mrs. Morton answered her, stroking the girl's brown curls softly, and speaking in the half-caressing, half-soothing tone one uses to a child. "Hush, dear, hush! Why, Annie, Harry will never come to-day."
"He will, mother! He said he'd come—he said the Valentine would be sure to sail last night. Oh, mother, I must go! If he should come, and any thing happen to him, with me not there—"
"Annie, Annie, you're a foolish woman! You're a greater coward than I ever was. Why, what kind of a sailor's wife do you think you'll make if you go on this way before you're ever married at all! I'd be ashamed that Harry should see your pale, frightened face now!" she said, laughing to cover her own anxiety.
A faint wintery smile passed across Annie's lips, too, but it vanished in a moment.
"Oh, mother, isn't it natural to be frightened?" she said, "when we haven't met these two months and more; and to think of him coming home in such a storm as this! I don't know what's the matter with me," she exclaimed hurriedly; "I feel so strange, as if something—Oh, mother, hark !—there's nine o'clock striking— I must go. It'll be an hour till I get to the tower, and surely there'll be some news of the boat before then. Mother, dear," and she bent down over the sick woman again. "Mother, dear, you won't cross me?"
"I won't, dear; take your own way—though It's a wild day for man or woman to be out—but we're all willful enough when we're in love, Annie. So God bless you, dear, and send you back with good news, and a lightened heart."
"Please God," poor Annie murmured; then kissing the pale face tenderly, she went.
It was a wild day, indeed, for a woman to be out, but Annie never paused or hesitated. Wrapped closely in her woolen cloak, with its hood drawn round her face, she left the cottage on the hill-side, and set boldly to breast the stormy wind, which, beating in her face, disputed with her every step she took. On she went, scarcely feeling the dashing rain around her, heeding so little on her own account the fury of the storm. On she went, straining her eyes in vain to catch the outline of a sail upon the great, wide, misty, foaming sea beneath her. So long each minute appeared—so slow the progress that she made: each step that she advanced her heart seemed to beat higher— to grow more sick beneath its fear and hope.
But at length a sobbing cry of agony burst from her; for suddenly, breaking from the mist, she saw a vessel making for the pier—making for it with terrible difficulty, for each wave on whose crest it rose, instead of bearing it forward, seemed only to crush it further back: yet still it bore on, hidden one moment, but rising again and again, still fighting desperately, unflinchingly, for the battle was for life or death.
Breathless, Annie rushed along the slippery, streaming roads—her cloak no longer wrapped around her, but flying open to the wind; her hands convulsively stretched out; her cheek as pale as death; her tearless eyes fixed where she knew, though now as she came nearer to the town she could no longer see it, that the sea lay; for a passionate fear that she could not conquer had taken hold upon her—a sudden spasm of terror—a wild, fearful conviction that the vessel struggling to gain the port was her lover's ship.
Wild as her figure was when she rushed upon the quay, no one heeded her, for there were figures as wild, and hearts as despairing gathered there before her; and even the cry which bursl from her as she sprang into the crowd, scarcely caused an eye to turn upon her, for the air around was being rent with women's cries. The vessel had gained the pier, and had struck upon it, and gone down with her crew. One man was struggling in the water still—struggling and crying out for help;
the voice rose even above the raging of the sea, and there was no help there. They stood and gazed upon him till he sank, like people frozen with horror.
A convulsive grasp was laid upon an officer's arm who stood among the crowd, looking anxiously through his glass out to sea, and a stifled voice asked,
"Was that the Valentine?"
The tone was so full of agony that, attracted by it, he turned round, and looking in the speaker's face answered kindly,
"The Valentine! No, my girl; there are no tidings of the Valentine yet."
Her hand still held his arm: he felt the thrill lhat ran through her whole frame as he spoke.
"Not the Valentine ?—not come yet!—Oh, my God!" she cried.
Her voice rang through the air, sounding so strangely in its hysterical joy, amidst the bitter cries of sorrow that were rising all around, that even the mourners turned, with half-reproackful looks, to gaze on her.
"My poor girl, you had better go and take shelter somewhere," the same officer said again, good-naturedly. "The Valentine mayn't be in for hours yet—not until Ihe storm's over, perhaps?"
"But she is due, Sir?" Annie exclaimed.
"Due?—why, yes—but in weather such as this we can't expect a vessel to be in at her ordinary time. Come, come, my girl, don't be putting a sad face upon it again; go away home, and keep up a good heart," and he turned from her, and readjusted his glass.
With her head bowed down upon her bosom, Annie turned too, and deaf to the voices of distress around her, like one walking in a dream, she threaded her way through the anxious crowd. No one noticed her, no one spoke to her; all eyes were stretched across the sea, all hearts were full, watching for those who might never come to them again. And still, wilder and wilder, the storm raged, higher and higher the frantic sea foamed up; still heavier and darker hung the leaden clouds; still thicker grew the misty vail that lay upon the water.
Where no human voices reached her, away from the harbor, on the bleak cold shore, Annie sat down to wait. The wind blew roughly over her, the heavy rain beat on her face, but she wrapped her cloak around her, and did not heed them; she heeded nothing but the boiling waves that were dashing at her feet, their spray sometimes leaping over her: covering her face then, as their thunder burst upon her, she would break into bitter sobs, wringing her hands, and calling out aloud in her distress. But no voice came to answer her, save the relentless, cruel, tempestvoice, which shrieked wilder and still wilder round her as the weary minutes passed.
Hour after hour, and no single speck on the misty ocean any where to tell her that there still was hope; no sign of sail or ship as far as the eye could see. Her heart was sick within her; her strength was failing, her faith was gone: she lay down upon the cold, wet beach, too wretched even to weep—too feeble even to pray. She lay shivering; for the damp, penetrating cold was creeping like ice, nearer and nearer to her heart, seeming to deaden every feeling in her— wrapping her in a misty dreaminess—leaving her only the dull, intuitive consciousness alone that she was utterly desolate and miserable.
What sound is that which breaks the sea's great roar—low, heavy, booming, deep, slow rolling over sea and land 1 Up, Annie, and look out!
Starting as if by magic from her trance, she springs up from the ground—her cheek on fire— her arms flung upward in the air, crying aloud, as though her feeble voice's answer could be heard—her eyes far straining seaward—but in vain —in vain !—upon the shrouded water still no vessel can be seen. Again tliat sound, deep wailing with the wild wind's roar—low-moaning on the white sea-crests; again and again still, at measured intervals, throughout a long, long hour.
And she stands through it all immovable, in an agony that words can not speak—a life-suspense in which the brain beats almost to bursting.
But it is broken at last. Suddenly, rolling back like a white curtain, the mist clears from the sea, and shows her the thing she seeks—a mastless ship, tossing upon the waters helplessly, like a toy in a great giant's grasp.
Sho gives one cry that rends the air; then back along the shore she rushes with frantic speed, as though her efforts were to save the ship—back to the harbor where the other boat had sunk. The quay was alive again with people—with pale-faced men and women, some rushing wildly up and down, calling each one to save their husbands, brothers, fathers; some standing, silent, and still; their blanched lips pressed together— their hands clasped tightly, watching as though fascinated, each movement of the doomed ship; some weeping loudly; some looking idly on; some few calm and self-possessed, taking counsel together what was to be done.
"They can't get men enough to man the lifeboat,'' some one near Annie said. "Well, it's no wonder—/ wouldn't go out in a quieter sea than this."
"No boat could reach her," another answered; "it would be throwing life away to try it."
"Ay, I think so. She must shift for herself— ten to one she'll strike upon the pier like the Minerva, this morning," the first man said again.
"But the Valentine's a tighter-built boat than ever the Minerva was," the other returned; "she'll stand a stouter shock than what sent the Minerva down."
"Not she, man; why, she's more than half a wreck already," was the half-careless, half-contemptuous answer. "If she takes the pier, she'll be at the bottom in five minutes' time afterward —trust my word for that."
Standing by their side, Annie heard the words. Xo one to man the life-boat! no one to make one effort to save the crew !—no one, among all who stood there! She gazed wildly round her; the same officer who had spoken kindly to her in the
morning, was standing with a group of gentlemen near. She was beside him in a moment, her hand grasping his arm again.
"The life-boat?—the life-boat!" she cried. "Will no one save them? Oh, go to them—go to them!—will nothing be done 1 Look! look! —they are sinking! Oh, God forgive you!" and she fell on her knees, covering her face.
"No, no, she's not sinking. Come, cheer up, my girl; it may all be well yet: whatever's possible will be done; but we can't launch the lifeboat. In such a sea it would be mere madness to attempt it."
"Then what are they to do?" she cried, despairingly; but the only answer was a quick, "Bo quiet, now, my good girl," as he shook her hand off, and turned away.
She was quiet, pressing her hands upon her bosom to still the terrible beating of her heart. No word, nor cry, nor sob fell from her; she stood motionless, entranced, like one turned into stone; her lips apart, her wild eyes fastened on the ship, her face livid like death.
Buffeted wildly to and fro, the boat yet came on, dashed forward on the crest of each swelling wave — onward and onward toward the great tongue pier that stretched a hundred feet out into the sea. All eyes were watching her: all hearts were standing still: many a voico as well as Annie's was hushed in this great moment of suspense. On, on, still!—another second now! Not yet—she is driven back—a retreating wave has caught her—her decks are under water; she is rising once more—a great sea lifts her up—it bears her forward—it flings her on the pier—she has struck—she has separated—she is sinking! A cry like the cry of one voice breaks from the whole assembled crowd—a wild shriek that spreads far oven over the raging sea—a shriek from wives who are made widows—from fathers and mothers who are made childless—from hearts which are made desolate. Who can save them—who can save them, struggling in those surging waters? A cry for help is rising there—a cry as wild, as full of agony as that which burst upon the shore, and has broken now into innumerable sounds of woe. But what avails it 1—who can save them? They aro going down—the waves are wrapping them in their strong, cruel arms— their cries aro coming up suffocating from amidst the raging waters.
One woman has broken from the crowd and rushed upon the pier. They try to hold her back, but, laughing wildly, she bursts from them: the wind is madly helping her on—on, on, she can not return: forward through the spray of the breaking waves—forward to the wreck of the Valentine. Wildly she rushes on—one name alone, repeated like a cry, upon her lips—one name, rising ringing on the wind, echoing amidst the waves' deep thunder, calling for an answer, with wrung hands—with pale, despairing eyes piercing the troubled sea.
Hark! Not in vain—oh, Annie, not in vain— thy prayer is heard—listen!—look down!
Faint, like an echo of her cry—feeble, like a failing breath, the answer comes; from the worn battler's dying lips, with passionate death tenderness, her name has broken, and upward-stretching arms arc calling to her. She sees—ah, hears: a shout of maniac laughter, wildly joyous—then a low sob—a moaning, trembling cry, and then a spring, and she is with him. Together they go down—together, locked in one another's arms they sink, and the water closes over them: the dark water wraps them in its arms for evermore.
The leaden storm-clouds break in the far west —one single cleft, through which a flood of crimson light shoots forth across the sea. The white foam sparkles up like silver, the tumultuous waves are glittering like hills of gold: there, where the lovers sank, the heaving sea appears to be on fire. Deep, intense, beautiful, the radiance falls around, playing like golden lightning on the water. They lie below, cold and dead, locked in that long, last, passionate embrace; but, as that crimson glory fades away, perhaps upon its wing it bears their spirits to enter with it through the golden gates.
Low watcher in the cottage on the hill, thou too didst see that sudden flood of light, and as it fell across thy bed, did no voice come to tell thee that it marked the moment of thy daughter's death? Watch no more; the night is coming on, she never can return. Beneath the wild waves now she sleeps with him she loved; yet think not of her lying there; think rather, when the golden sunlight streams upon thee, that she is looking down on thee through it.
THE GREEN RING AND THE GOLD RING.
THE story I have to tell, occurred less than eighty years ago, in the days of powder and pomade; of high heads and high heels; when beaux in pea-green coats lined with rose-color, attended on belles who steadied their dainty steps with jewel-headed canes; and when lettres-decachet lay like sachets-a-gants on toilet-tables among patches and rouge. Less than eighty years ago, when the fair Queen of France and her ladies of honor wielded these same lettres-decachet with much of the ease with which they IIuttered their fans. Less than eighty years ago, when the iron old Marquis do Mirabeau was writing to his brother the Commandeur de Malte those fearful letters, wherein the reader of the present day may trace, as in a map, the despotic powers then exercised by the seigneurs of France over their sons and daughters, as well as over their tenants and vassals. Hard, short-sighted, Marquis de Mirabeau! Little did ho reckon when he wrote those letters, or when he consigned his son, in the flush of youth, and hope, and love, to a prison-cell and to exile, that the family name was to be indebted to the fame of that vituperated son for its salvation from obscurity, or that the arbitrary powers he used so vilely were soon to be swept away forever.
Less than eighty years ago, then, before the Revolution was dreamed of in that part of France, there stood, in a long, straggling, picturesque
village of one of the southern provinces, a stoneand-mud cottage, less dirty and uninviting than those by which it was surrounded. There was no dirt-heap under the solitary window, no puddle before the door ^ which, unlike every other house in the village, possessed the luxury of an unfraetured door-step. No tidy cottage-gardens gave cheerful evidence of the leisure or taste of the inmates; for in those days the laboring populalation of France were too thoroughly beaten down by arbitrary exactions to have spare hours to devote to their own pursuits; but round the window of this particular cottage a nasturtium had been trained by strings; and, through its yellow and orange flowers one could, now and then, catch a glimpse of a pair of lustrous eyes.
The superior cleanliness of this little dwelling, the flowers, the decency of the family, were the work of one pair of hands belonging to a young girl named Alix Laroux, whose industry was the support of a younger brother and sister, and of a blear-eyed grandmother.
Now, Alix was a pretty, as well as a hardworking girl, yet it was neither to her beauty nor to her industry that she was indebted for becoming the heroine of our tale, although her success in finding work, when others could find none, had made envious tongues gossip about her. Village scandal is very like town scandal; as like as a silken masquerade costume is to its linseywoolsey original; the form is the same, the texture alone is different; and at the well of Beauregard, from which water was fetched and where the salad for supper was washed, it was whispered that Alix was a coquette, and that the remote cause of her prosperity was the influence which her bright eyes had obtained over the strong heart of the Bailiff of Beauregard. Every one wished that good might come of it, but—
But, in the mean while, good did come of it; for, thanks to the large black eyes that looked so frankly into his, and to the merry smile of the village beauty, Monsieur Reboul had come to the knowledge of Alix's cheerful steady activity; and a feeling of respect had mingled with his early admiration when he discovered that, while no one was more particular in the payment of lawful dues than the hard-working girl, no one resisted more strenuously any illegal exactions. At length the stricken bailiff—who, by-the-by, was double Alix's age—testified the sincerity of his feelings toward her by taking her brother Jean into the household at the castle, and even offered to have Alix herself admitted among the personal attendants of one of the young ladies of Beauregard, whose marriage had lately been celebrated with great magnificence in Paris.
But Alix shook her pretty head, and said, "No, she thanked him all the same," with a smile that showed her pearly teeth; and what man in love—though a bailiff—could resent a denial so sweetly accompanied? Monsieur Reboul was, indeed, for a moment, cast down, but his spirits were soon revived by some of those wonderful explanations which men in his predicament generally have at their command ; so he