My Wife's Tempter





I



A PREDESTINED MARRIAGE



Elsie and I were to be married in less than a week. It was rather

a strange match, and I knew that some of our neighbors shook their

heads over it and said that no good would come. The way it came to

pass was thus.



I loved Elsie Burns for two years, during which time she refused me

three times. I could no more help asking her to have me, when the

chance offered, than I could help breathing or living. To love her

seemed natural to me as existence. I felt no shame, only sorrow,

when she rejected me; I felt no shame either when I renewed my

suit. The neighbors called me mean-spirited to take up with any

girl that had refused me as often as Elsie Burns had done; but what

cared I about the neighbors? If it is black weather, and the sun

is under a cloud every day for a month, is that any reason why the

poor farmer should not hope for the blue sky and the plentiful

burst of warm light when the dark month is over? I never entirely

lost heart. Do not, however, mistake me. I did not mope, and

moan, and grow pale, after the manner of poetical lovers. No such

thing. I went bravely about my business, ate and drank as usual,

laughed when the laugh went round, and slept soundly, and woke

refreshed. Yet all this time I loved--desperately loved--Elsie

Burns. I went wherever I hoped to meet her, but did not haunt her

with my attentions. I behaved to her as any friendly young man

would have behaved: I met her and parted from her cheerfully. She

was a good girl, too, and behaved well. She had me in her power--

how a woman in Elsie's situation could have mortified a man in

mine!--but she never took the slightest advantage of it. She

danced with me when I asked her, and had no foolish fears of

allowing me to see her home of nights, after a ball was over, or of

wandering with me through the pleasant New England fields when the

wild flowers made the paths like roads in fairyland.



On the several disastrous occasions when I presented my suit I did

it simply and manfully, telling her that I loved her very much, and

would do everything to make her happy if she would be my wife. I

made no fulsome protestations, and did not once allude to suicide.

She, on the other hand, calmly and gravely thanked me for my good

opinion, but with the same calm gravity rejected me. I used to

tell her that I was grieved; that I would not press her; that I

would wait and hope for some change in her feelings. She had an

esteem for me, she would say, but could not marry me. I never

asked her for any reasons. I hold it to be an insult to a woman of

sense to demand her reasons on such an occasion. Enough for me

that she did not then wish to be my wife; so that the old

intercourse went on--she cordial and polite as ever, I never for

one moment doubting that the day would come when my roof tree would

shelter her, and we should smile together over our fireside at my

long and indefatigable wooing.



I will confess that at times I felt a little jealous--jealous of a

man named Hammond Brake, who lived in our village. He was a weird,

saturnine fellow, who made no friends among the young men of the

neighborhood, but who loved to go alone, with his books and his own

thoughts for company. He was a studious and, I believe, a learned

young man, and there was no avoiding the fact that he possessed

considerable influence over Elsie. She liked to talk with him in

corners, or in secluded nooks of the forest, when we all went out

blackberry gathering or picnicking. She read books that he gave

her, and whenever a discussion arose relative to any topic higher

than those ordinary ones we usually canvassed, Elsie appealed to

Brake for his opinion, as a disciple consulting a beloved master.

I confess that for a time I feared this man as a rival. A little

closer observation, however, convinced me that my suspicions were

unfounded. The relations between Elsie and Hammond Brake were

purely intellectual. She reverenced his talents and acquirements,

but she did not love him. His influence over her, nevertheless,

was none the less decided.



In time--as I thought all along--Elsie yielded. I was what was

considered a most eligible match, being tolerably rich, and Elsie's

parents were most anxious to have me for a son-in-law. I was good-

looking and well educated enough, and the old people, I believe,

pertinaciously dinned all my advantages into my little girl's ears.

She battled against the marriage for a long time with a strange

persistence--all the more strange because she never alleged the

slightest personal dislike to me; but after a vigorous cannonading

from her own garrison (in which, I am proud to say, I did not in

any way join), she hoisted the white flag and surrendered.



I was very happy. I had no fear about being able to gain Elsie's

heart. I think--indeed I know--that she had liked me all along,

and that her refusals were dictated by other feelings than those of

a personal nature. I only guessed as much then. It was some time

before I knew all.



As the day approached for our wedding Elsie did not appear at all

stricken with woe. The village gossips had not the smallest

opportunity for establishing a romance, with a compulsory bride for

the heroine. Yet to me it seemed as if there was something strange

about her. A vague terror appeared to beset her. Even in her most

loving moments, when resting in my arms, she would shrink away from

me, and shudder as if some cold wind had suddenly struck upon her.

That it was caused by no aversion to me was evident, for she would

the moment after, as if to make amends, give me one of those

voluntary kisses that are sweeter than all others.



Once only did she show any emotion. When the solemn question was

put to her, the answer to which was to decide her destiny, I felt

her hand--which was in mine--tremble. As she gasped out a

convulsive "Yes," she gave one brief, imploring glance at the

gallery on the right. I placed the ring upon her finger, and

looked in the direction in which she gazed. Hammond Brake's dark

countenance was visible looking over the railings, and his eyes

were bent sternly on Elsie. I turned quickly round to my bride,

but her brief emotion, of whatever nature, had vanished. She was

looking at me anxiously, and smiling--somewhat sadly--through her

maiden's tears.



The months went by quickly, and we were very happy. I learned that

Elsie really loved me, and of my love for her she had proof long

ago. I will not say that there was no cloud upon our little

horizon. There was one, but it was so small, and appeared so

seldom, that I scarcely feared it. The old vague terror seemed

still to attack my wife. If I did not know her to be pure as

heaven's snow, I would have said it was a REMORSE. At times she

scarcely appeared to hear what I said, so deep would be her

reverie. Nor did those moods seem pleasant ones. When rapt in

such, her sweet features would contract, as if in a hopeless effort

to solve some mysterious problem. A sad pain, as it were, quivered

in her white, drooped eyelids. One thing I particularly remarked:

SHE SPENT HOURS AT A TIME GAZING AT THE WEST. There was a small

room in our house whose windows, every evening, flamed with the red

light of the setting sun. Here Elsie would sit and gaze westward,

so motionless and entranced that it seemed as if her soul was going

down with the day. Her conduct to me was curiously varied. She

apparently loved me very much, yet there were times when she

absolutely avoided me. I have seen her strolling through the

fields, and left the house with the intention of joining her, but

the moment she caught sight of me approaching she has fled into the

neighboring copse, with so evident a wish to avoid me that it would

have been absolutely cruel to follow.



Once or twice the old jealousy of Hammond Brake crossed my mind,

but I was obliged to dismiss it as a frivolous suspicion. Nothing

in my wife's conduct justified any such theory. Brake visited us

once or twice a week--in fact, when I returned from my business in

the village, I used to find him seated in the parlor with Elsie,

reading some favorite author, or conversing on some novel literary

topic; but there was no disposition to avoid my scrutiny. Brake

seemed to come as a matter of right; and the perfect

unconsciousness of furnishing any grounds for suspicion with which

he acted was a sufficient answer to my mind for any wild doubts

that my heart may have suggested.



Still I could not but remark that Brake's visits were in some

manner connected with Elsie's melancholy. On the days when he had

appeared and departed, the gloom seemed to hang more thickly than

ever over her head. She sat, on such occasions, all the evening at

the western window, silently gazing at the cleft in the hills

through which the sun passed to his repose.



At last I made up my mind to speak to her. It seemed to me to be

my duty, if she had a sorrow, to partake of it. I approached her

on the matter with the most perfect confidence that I had nothing

to learn beyond the existence of some girlish grief, which a

confession and a few loving kisses would exorcise forever.



"Elsie," I said to her one night, as she sat, according to her

custom, gazing westward, like those maidens of the old ballads of

chivalry watching for the knights that never came--"Elsie, what is

the matter with you, darling? I have noticed a strange melancholy

in you for some time past. Tell me all about it."



She turned quickly round and gazed at me with eyes wide open and

face filled with a sudden fear. "Why do you ask me that, Mark?"

she answered. "I have nothing to tell."



From the strange, startled manner in which this reply was given, I

felt convinced that she had something to tell, and instantly formed

a determination to discover what it was. A pang shot through my

heart as I thought that the woman whom I held dearer than anything

on earth hesitated to trust me with a petty secret.



I believed I understood. I was tolerably rich. I knew it could

not be any secret over milliners' bills or women's usual money

troubles. God help me! I felt sad enough at the moment, though I

kissed her back and ceased to question her. I felt sad, because my

instinct told me that she deceived me; and it is very hard to be

deceived, even in trifles, by those we love. I left her sitting at

her favorite window, and walked out into the fields. I wanted to

think.



I remained out until I saw lights in the parlor shining through the

dusky evening; then I returned slowly. As I passed the windows--

which were near the ground, our house being cottage-built--I looked

in. Hammond Brake was sitting with my wife. She was sitting in a

rocking chair opposite to him, holding a small volume open on her

lap. Brake was talking to her very earnestly, and she was

listening to him with an expression I had never before seen on her

countenance. Awe, fear, and admiration were all blent together in

those dilating eyes. She seemed absorbed, body and soul, in what

this man said. I shuddered at the sight. A vague terror seized

upon me; I hastened into the house. As I entered the room rather

suddenly, my wife started and hastily concealed the little volume

that lay on her lap in one of her wide pockets. As she did so, a

loose leaf escaped from the volume and slowly fluttered to the

floor unobserved by either her or her companion. But I had my eye

upon it. I felt that it was a clew.



"What new novel or philosophical wonder have you both been poring

over?" I asked quite gayly, stealthily watching at the same time

the telltale embarrassment under which Elsie was laboring.



Brake, who was not in the least discomposed, replied. "That," said

he, "is a secret which must be kept from you. It is an advance

copy, and is not to be shown to anyone except your wife."



"Ha!" cried I, "I know what it is. It is your volume of poems that

Ticknor is publishing. Well, I can wait until it is regularly for

sale."



I knew that Brake had a volume in the hands of the publishing house

I mentioned, with a vague promise of publication some time in the

present century. Hammond smiled significantly, but did not reply.

He evidently wished to cultivate this supposed impression of mine.

Elsie looked relieved, and heaved a deep sigh. I felt more than

ever convinced that a secret was beneath all this. So I drew my

chair over the fallen leaf that lay unnoticed on the carpet, and

talked and laughed with Hammond Brake gayly, as if nothing was on

my mind, while all the time a great load of suspicion lay heavily

at my heart.



At length Hammond Brake rose to go. I wished him good night, but

did not offer to accompany him to the door. My wife supplied this

omitted courtesy, as I had expected. The moment I was alone I

picked up the book leaf from the floor. It was NOT the leaf of a

volume of poems. Beyond that, however, I learned nothing. It

contained a string of paragraphs printed in the biblical fashion,

and the language was biblical in style. It seemed to be a portion

of some religious book. Was it possible that my wife was being

converted to the Romish faith? Yes, that was it. Brake was a

Jesuit in disguise--I had heard of such things--and had stolen into

the bosom of my family to plant there his destructive errors.

There could be no longer any doubt of it. This was some portion of

a Romish book--some infamous Popish publication. Fool that I was

not to see it all before! But there was yet time. I would forbid

him the house.



I had just formed this resolution when my wife entered. I put the

strange leaf in my pocket and took my hat.



"Why, you are not going out, surely?" cried Elsie, surprised.



"I have a headache," I answered. "I will take a short walk."



Elsie looked at me with a peculiar air of distrust. Her woman's

instinct told her that there was something wrong. Before she could

question me, however, I had left the room and was walking rapidly

on Hammond Brake's track.



He heard the footsteps, and I saw his figure, black against the

sky, stop and peer back through the dusk to see who was following

him.



"It is I, Brake," I called out. "Stop; I wish to speak with you."



He stopped, and in a minute or so we were walking side by side

along the road. My fingers itched at that moment to be on his

throat. I commenced the conversation.



"Brake," I said, "I'm a very plain sort of man, and I never say

anything without good reason. What I came after you to tell you

is, that I don't wish you to come to my house any more, or to speak

with Elsie any farther than the ordinary salutations go. It's no

joke. I'm quite in earnest."



Brake started, and, stopping short, faced me suddenly in the road.

"What have I done?" he asked. "You surely are too sensible a man

to be jealous, Dayton."



"Oh," I answered scornfully, "not jealous in the ordinary sense of

the word, a bit. But I don't think your company good company for

my wife, Brake. If you WILL have it out of me, I suspect you of

being a Roman Catholic, and of trying to convert my wife."



A smile shot across his face, and I saw his sharp white teeth gleam

for an instant in the dusk.



"Well, what if I am a Papist?" he said, with a strange tone of

triumph in his voice. "The faith is not criminal. Besides, what

proof have you that I was attempting to proselyte your wife?"



"This," said I, pulling the leaf from my pocket--"this leaf from

one of those devilish Papist books you and she were reading this

evening. I picked it up from the floor. Proof enough, I think!"



In an instant Brake had snatched the leaf from my hand and torn it

into atoms.



"You shall be obeyed," he said. "I will not speak with Elsie as

long as she is your wife. Good night. You think I'm a Papist,

then, Dayton? You're a clever fellow!"



And with rather a sneering chuckle he marched on along the road and

vanished into the darkness.





II



THE SECRET DISCOVERED





Brake came no more. I said nothing to Elsie about his prohibition,

and his name was never mentioned. It seemed strange to me that she

should not speak of his absence, and I was very much puzzled by her

silence. Her moodiness seemed to have increased, and, what was

most remarkable, in proportion as she grew more and more reserved,

the intenser were the bursts of affection which she exhibited for

me. She would strain me to her bosom and kiss me, as if she and I

were about to be parted forever. Then for hours she would remain

sitting at her window, silently gazing, with that terrible, wistful

gaze of hers, at the west.



I will confess to having watched my wife at this time. I could not

help it. That some mystery hung about her I felt convinced. I

must fathom it or die. Her honor I never for a moment doubted; yet

there seemed to weigh continually upon me the prophecy of some

awful domestic calamity. This time the prophecy was not in vain.



About three weeks after I had forbidden Brake my house, I was

strolling over my farm in the evening apparently inspecting my

agriculture, but in reality speculating on that topic which

latterly was ever present to me.



There was a little knoll covered with evergreen oaks at the end of

the lawn. It was a picturesque spot, for on one side the bank went

off into a sheer precipice of about eighty feet in depth, at the

bottom of which a pretty pool lay, that in the summer time was

fringed with white water-lilies. I had thought of building a

summer-house in this spot, and now my steps mechanically directed

themselves toward the place. As I approached I heard voices. I

stopped and listened eagerly. A few seconds enabled me to

ascertain that Hammond Brake and my wife were in the copse talking

together. She still followed him, then; and he, scoundrel that he

was, had broken his promise. A fury seemed to fill my veins as I

made this discovery. I felt the impulse strong upon me to rush

into the grove, and then and there strangle the villain who was

poisoning my peace. But with a powerful effort I restrained

myself. It was necessary that I should overhear what was said. I

threw myself flat on the grass, and so glided silently into the

copse until I was completely within earshot. This was what I

heard.



My wife was sobbing. "So soon--so soon? I--Hammond, give me a

little time!"



"I cannot, Elsie. My chief orders me to join him. You must

prepare to accompany me."



"No, no!" murmured Elsie. "He loves me so! And I love him. Our

child, too--how can I rob him of our unborn babe?"



"Another sheep for our flock," answered Brake solemnly. "Elsie, do

you forget your oath? Are you one of us, or are you a common

hypocrite, who will be of us until the hour of self-sacrifice, and

then fly like a coward? Elsie, you must leave to-night."



"Ah! my husband, my husband!" sobbed the unhappy woman.



"You have no husband, woman," cried Brake harshly. "I promised

Dayton not to speak to you as long as you were his wife, but the

vow was annulled before it was made. Your husband in God yet

awaits you. You will yet be blessed with the true spouse."



"I feel as if I were going to die," cried Elsie. "How can I ever

forsake him--he who was so good to me?"



"Nonsense! no weakness. He is not worthy of you. Go home and

prepare for your journey. You know where to meet me. I will have

everything ready, and by daybreak there shall be no trace of us

left. Beware of permitting your husband to suspect anything. He

is not very shrewd at such things--he thought I was a Jesuit in

disguise--but we had better be careful. Now go. You have been too

long here already. Bless you, sister."



A few faint sobs, a rustling of leaves, and I knew that Brake was

alone. I rose, and stepped silently into the open space in which

he stood. His back was toward me. His arms were lifted high over

his head with an exultant gesture, and I could see his profile, as

it slightly turned toward me, illuminated with a smile of scornful

triumph. I put my hand suddenly on his throat from behind, and

flung him on the ground before he could utter a cry.



"Not a word," I said, unclasping a short-bladed knife which I

carried; "answer my questions, or, by heaven, I will cut your

throat from ear to ear!"



He looked up into my face with an unflinching eye, and set his lips

as if resolved to suffer all.



"What are you? Who are you? What object have you in the seduction

of my wife?"



He smiled, but was silent.



"Ah! you won't answer. We'll see."



I pressed the knife slowly against his throat. His face contracted

spasmodically, but although a thin red thread of blood sprang out

along the edge of the blade, Brake remained mute. An idea suddenly

seized me. This sort of death had no terrors for him. I would try

another. There was the precipice. I was twice as powerful as he

was, so I seized him in my arms, and in a moment transported him to

the margin of the steep, smooth cliff, the edge of which was

garnished with the tough stems of the wild vine. He seemed to feel

it was useless to struggle with me, so allowed me passively to roll

him over the edge. When he was suspended in the air, I gave him a

vine stem to cling to and let him go. He swung at a height of

eighty feet, with face upturned and pale. He dared not look down.

I seated myself on the edge of the cliff, and with my knife began

to cut into the thick vine a foot or two above the place of his

grasp. I was correct in my calculation. This terror was too much

for him. As he saw the notch in the vine getting deeper and

deeper, his determination gave way.



"I'll answer you," he gasped out, gazing at me with starting

eyeballs; "what do you ask?"



"What are you?" was my question, as I ceased cutting at the stem.



"A Mormon," was the answer, uttered with a groan. "Take me up. My

hands are slipping. Quick!"



"And you wanted my wife to follow you to that infernal Salt Lake,

City, I suppose?"



"For God's sake, release me! I'll quit the place, never to come

back. Do help me up, Dayton--I'm falling!"



I felt mightily inclined to let the villain drop; but it did not

suit my purpose to be hung for murder, so I swung him back again on

the sward, where he fell panting and exhausted.



"Will you quit the place to-night?" I said. "You'd better. By

heaven, if you don't, I'll tell all the men in the village, and

we'll lynch you, as sure as your name is Brake."



"I'll go--I'll go," he groaned. "I swear never to trouble you

again."



"You ought to be hanged, you villain. Be off!"



He slunk away through the trees like a beaten dog; and I went home

in a state bordering on despair. I found Elsie crying. She was

sitting by the window as of old. I knew now why she gazed so

constantly at the west. It was her Mecca. Something in my face, I

suppose, told her that I was laboring under great excitement. She

rose startled as soon as I entered the room.



"Elsie," said I, "I am come to take you home."



"Home? Why, I AM at home, am I not? What do you mean?"



"No. This is no longer your home. You have deceived me. You are

a Mormon. I know all. You have become a convert to that apostle

of hell, Brigham Young, and you cannot live with me. I love you

still, Elsie, dearly; but--you must go and live with your father."





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