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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBy The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 9
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By The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 9 Post by :astoller Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2257

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By The Light Of The Soul: A Novel - Chapter 9

Chapter IX

Harry and Ida Slome were to be married the Monday before Thanksgiving. The school would close on the Friday before.

Ida Slome possessed, along with an entire self-satisfaction, a vein of pitiless sense, which enabled her to see herself as others might see her, and which saved her from the follies often incident to the self-satisfied. She considered herself a beauty; she thought, and with reason, that she would be well worth looking at in her wedding-clothes, but she also told herself that it was quite possible that some remarks might be made to her disparagement if she had the wedding to which her inclination prompted her. She longed for a white gown, veil, bridesmaids, and the rest, but she knew better. She knew that more could be made of her beauty and her triumph if she curtailed her wish. She realized that Harry's wife had been dead only a little more than a year, and that, although still a beauty, she was not a young girl, and she steered clear of criticism and ridicule.

The ceremony was performed in the Presbyterian church Monday afternoon. Ida wore a prune-colored costume, and a hat trimmed with pansies. She was quite right in thinking that she was adorable in it, and there was also in the color, with its shade of purple, a delicate intimation of the remembrance of mourning in the midst of joy. The church was filled with people, but there were no bridesmaids. Some of Ida's scholars acted as ushers. Wollaston Lee was among them. To Maria's utter astonishment, he did not seem to realize his trying position as a rejected suitor. He was attired in a new suit, and wore a white rosebud in his coat, and Maria glanced at him with mingled admiration and disdain.

Maria sat directly in front of the pulpit, with Mrs. Jonas White and Lillian. Mrs. White had a new gown of some thin black stuff, profusely ornamented with jet, and Lillian had a new pink silk gown, and wore a great bunch of roses. The situation, with regard to Maria, in connection with the wedding ceremony and the bridal trip, had been a very perplexing one. Harry had some western cousins, far removed, both by blood and distance. Aunt Maria and her brother were the only relatives on his former wife's side. Aunt Maria had received an invitation, both from Harry and the prospective bride, to be present at the wedding and remain in the house with Maria until the return of the bridal couple from their short trip. She had declined in a few stilted words, although Harry had sent a check to cover the expenses of her trip, which was returned in her letter.

"The fact is, I don't know what to do with Maria," Harry said to Ida Slome, a week before the wedding. "Maria won't come, and neither will her brother's wife, and she can't be left alone, even with the new maid. We don't know the girl very well, and it won't do."

Ida Slome solved the problem with her usual precision and promptness.

"Then," said she, "she will have to board at Mrs. White's until we return. There is nothing else to do."

It was therefore decided that Maria was to board at Mrs. White's, although it involved some things which were not altogether satisfactory to Ida. Maria could not sit all alone in a pew, and watch her father being married to his second wife, that was obvious; and, since Mrs. Jonas White was going to take charge of her, there was nothing else to do but to place herself and daughter in a position of honored intimacy. Mrs. Jonas White said quite openly that she was not in any need of taking boarders, that she had only taken Mr. Edgham and Maria to oblige, and that she now was to take poor little Maria out of pity. She, in reality, did pity Maria, for a good many reasons. She was a shrewd woman, and she gauged Miss Ida Slome pitilessly. However, she had to admit that she had shown some consideration in one respect. In the midst of her teaching, and preparations for her wedding, she had planned a lovely dress for Maria. It was unquestionable but the realization of her own loveliness, and her new attire had an alleviating influence upon Maria. There was a faint buzz of admiration for her when she entered the church. She looked as if enveloped in a soft gray cloud. Ida had planned a dress of some gray stuff, and a soft gray hat, tied under her chin with wide ribbons, and a long gray plume floating over her golden-fleece of hair. Maria had never owned such a gown, and, in addition, she had her first pair of kid-gloves of gray, to match the dress, and long, gray coat, trimmed with angora fur. She was charming in it, and, moreover, the gray, as her step-mother's purple, suggested delicately, if one so chose to understand a dim yet pleasing melancholy, a shade, as it were, of remembrance.

Maria had been dressed at home, under Mrs. White's supervision. Maria had viewed herself in the new long mirror in her mother's room, which was now resplendent with its new furnishings, and she admitted to herself that she was lovelier than she had ever been, and that she had Miss Ida Slome to thank for it.

"I will say one thing," said Mrs. White, "she has looked out for you about your dress, and she has shown real good taste, too."

Maria turned herself about before the glass, which reflected her whole beautiful little person, and she loved herself so much that for the first time it seemed to her that she almost loved Ida. She was blushing and smiling with pleasure.

Mrs. White sighed. "Well, maybe it is for the best," said she. "One never knows about such things, how they will work out."

Maria listened, with a degree of indignation and awe, to the service. She felt her heart swelling with grief at the sight of this other woman being made her father's wife and put in the place of her own mother, and yet, as a musical refrain is the haunting and ever-recurrent part of a composition, so was her own charming appearance. She felt so sure that people were observing her, that she blushed and dared not look around. She was, in reality, much observed, and both admired and pitied.

People, both privately and outspokenly, did not believe that the step-mother would be, in a way, good to the child by the former marriage. Ida Slome was not exactly a favorite in Edgham. People acquiesced in her beauty and brilliancy, but they did not entirely believe in her or love her. She stood before the pulpit with her same perfect, set smile, displaying to the utmost the sweet curves of her lips. Her cheeks retained their lovely brilliancy of color. Harry trembled, and his face looked pale and self-conscious, but Ida displayed no such weakness. She replied with the utmost self-poise to the congratulations which she received after the ceremony. There was an informal reception in the church vestry. Cake and ice-cream and coffee were served, and Ida and Harry and Maria stood together. Ida had her arm around Maria most of the time, but Maria felt as if it were an arm of wood which encircled her. She heard Ida Slome addressed as Mrs. Edgham, and she wanted to jerk herself away and run. She lost the consciousness of herself in her new attire.

Once Harry looked around at her, and received a shock. Maria's face looked to him exactly like her mother's, although the coloring was so different. Maria was a blonde, and her mother had been dark. There was something about the excitement hardly restrained in her little face, which made the man realize that the dead wife yet lived and reigned triumphant in her child. He himself was conscious that he conducted himself rather awkwardly and foolishly. A red spot burned on either cheek. He spoke jerkily, and it seemed to him that everything he said was silly, and that people might repeat it and laugh. He was relieved when it was all over and he and Ida were in the cab, driving to the station. When they were rolling rapidly through a lonely part of the road, he put his arm around his new wife, and kissed her. She received his kiss, and looked at him with her set smile and the set sparkle in her beautiful eyes. Again the feeling of almost terror which he had experienced the night when Maria had torn the paper off in her mother's room, came over him. However, he made an effort and threw it off.

"Poor little Maria looked charming, thanks to you, dearest," he said, tenderly.

"Yes, I thought she did. That gray suit was just the thing for her, wasn't it? I never saw her look so pretty before," returned Ida, and her tone was full of self-praise for her goodness to Maria.

"Well, she will be a great deal happier," said Harry. "It was a lonesome life for a child to lead."

Harry Edgham had not an atom of tact. Any woman might have judged from his remarks that she had been married on account of Maria; but Ida only responded with her never-changing smile.

"Yes," said she, "I think myself that she will be much happier, dear." Privately she rather did resent her husband's speech, but she never lost sight of the fact that a smile is more becoming than a frown.

Maria remained boarding at Mrs. Jonas White's until her father and his new wife returned. She did not have a very happy time. In the first place, the rather effusive pity with which she was treated by the female portion of the White family, irritated her. She began to consider that, now her father had married, his wife was a member of her family, and not to be decried. Maria had a great deal of pride when those belonging to her were concerned. One day she retorted pertly when some covert remark, not altogether to her new mother's laudation, had been made by Lillian.

"I think she is perfectly lovely," said she, with a toss of her head.

Lillian and her mother looked at each other. Then Lillian, who was not her match for pertness, spoke.

"Have you made up your mind what to call her?" she asked. "Mummer, or mother?"

"I shall call her whatever I please," replied Maria; "it is nobody's business." Then she arose and went out of the room, with an absurd little strut.

"Lord a-massy!" observed Mrs. Jonas White, after she had gone.

"I guess Ida Slome will have her hands full with that young one," observed Lillian.

"I guess she will, too," assented her mother. "She was real sassy. Well, her mother had a temper of her own; guess she's got some of it."

Mr. Jonas White and Henry were a great alleviation of Maria's desolate estate during her father's absence. Somehow, the men seemed to understand better than the women just how she felt: that she would rather be let alone, now it was all over, than condoled with and pitied. Mr. Henry White took one of the market horses, hitched him into a light buggy, and took Maria out riding two evenings, when the market was closed. It was a warm November, and the moon was full. Maria quite enjoyed her drive with Mr. Henry White, and he never said one word about her father's marriage, and her new mother--her pronoun of a mother--all the way. Mr. Henry White had too long a neck, and too large a mouth, which was, moreover, too firmly set, otherwise Maria felt that, with slight encouragement, she might fall in love with him, since he showed so much delicacy. She counted up the probable difference in their ages, and estimated it as no more than was between her father and Her. However, Mr. Henry White gave her so little encouragement, and his neck was so much too long above his collar, that she decided to put it out of her mind.

"Poor little thing," Mr. Henry White said to his father, next day, "she's about wild, with mother and Lill harping on it all the time."

"They mean well," said Mr. White.

"Of course they do; but who's going to stand this eternal harping? If women folks would only stop being so durned kind, and let folks alone sometimes, they'd be a durned sight kinder."

"That's so," said Mr. Jonas White.

Maria's father and his bride reached home about seven on the Monday night after Thanksgiving. Maria re-entered her old home in the afternoon. Miss Zella Holmes, who was another teacher of hers, went with her. Ida had requested her to open the house. Ida's former boarding-house mistress had cooked a large turkey, and made some cakes and pies and bread. Miss Zella Holmes drove around for Maria in a livery carriage, and all these supplies were stowed in beside them. On the way they stopped at the station for the new maid, whose train was due then. She was a Hungarian girl, with a saturnine, almost savage visage. Maria felt an awe of her, both because she was to be their maid, and they had never kept one, and because of her personality.

When they reached home, Miss Zella Holmes, who was very lively and quick in her ways, though not at all pretty, gave orders to the maid in a way which astonished Maria. She was conscious of an astonishment at everything, which had not before possessed her. She looked at the kitchen, the dining-room, the sitting-room, the parlor, all the old apartments, and it was exactly as if she saw old friends with new heads. The sideboard in the dining-room glittered with the wedding silver and cut-glass. New pictures hung on the sitting-room and parlor walls, beside the new paper. Wedding gifts lay on the tables. There had been many wedding gifts. Miss Zella Holmes flew about the house, with the saturnine Hungarian in attendance. Maria, at Miss Holmes's bidding, began to lay the table. She got out some new table-linen, napkins, and table-cloth, which had been a wedding present. She set the table with some new china. She looked, with a numb feeling, at her mother's poor old blue-and-white dishes, which were put away on the top shelves.

"I think it would be a very good idea to pack away those dishes altogether, and put them in a box up in the garret," said Miss Holmes. Then she noticed Maria's face. "They will come in handy for your wedding outfit, little girl," she added, kindly and jocosely, but Maria did not laugh.

Every now and then Maria looked at the clock on the parlor shelf, that was also new. The old sitting-room clock had disappeared; Maria did not know where, but she missed the face of it as if it had been the face of a friend. Miss Holmes also glanced frequently at the new clock. There arose a fragrant odor of warming potatoes and gravy from the kitchen.

"It is almost time for them," said Miss Holmes.

She was very much dressed-up, Maria thought. She wore a red silk gown with a good many frills about the shoulders. She was very slight, and affected frills to conceal it. Out of this mass of red frills arose her little, alert head and face, homely, but full of vivacity. Maria thought her very nice. She would have liked her better for a mother than Ida. When Miss Zella Holmes smiled it seemed to come from within.

At last a carriage came rapidly up to their door, and Miss Holmes sprang to open it. Maria remained in the dining-room. Suddenly an uncanny fancy had seized her and terrified her. Suppose her father should look different, like everything else? Suppose it should be to her as if he had a new head? She therefore remained in the dining-room, trembling. She heard her father's voice, loud and merry. "Where is Maria?" Still, Maria did not stir. Then her father came hurrying into the room, and behind him she who had been Ida Slome, radiant and triumphant, in her plum-colored array, with the same smile with which she had departed on her beautiful face. Harry caught Maria in his arms, rubbed his cold face against her soft little one, and kissed her.

"How is father's little girl?" he asked, with a break in his voice.

"Pretty well, thank you," replied Maria. She gave a helpless little cling to her father, then she stood away.

"Speak to your new mother, darling," said Harry.

"How do _You do_?" said Maria, obediently, and Ida said, "You darling," and then kissed her exactly as if she had been an uncommonly well-constructed doll, with a clock-work system which fitted her to take such a part with perfect accuracy.

Harry watched his wife and daughter rather anxiously. He seized the first opportunity to ask Maria, aside, if she had been well, and if she had been happy and comfortable at Mrs. White's. Then he wound up with the rather wistful inquiry:

"You are going to love your new mother, aren't you, darling? Don't you think she is lovely?"

Ida had gone up-stairs with Miss Holmes, to remove her wraps.

"Yes, sir, I think She is lovely," replied Maria.

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Chapter XIda Edgham was, in some respects, a peculiar personality. She was as much stronger, in another way, than her husband, as her predecessor had been. She was that anomaly: a creature of supreme self-satisfaction, who is yet aware of its own limits. She was so unemotional as to be almost abnormal, but she had head enough to realize the fact that absolute unemotionlessness in a woman detracts from her charm. She therefore simulated emotion. She had a spiritual make-up, a panoply of paint and powder for the soul, as truly as any actress has her array of cosmetics for her
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Chapter VIIIWhen Maria's father returned that night, he came, as usual, straight to the room wherein she and Mrs. Addix were sitting. Maria regarded her father with a sort of contemptuous wonder, tinctured with unwilling admiration. Her father, on his return from his evenings spent with Miss Ida Slome, looked always years younger than Maria had ever seen him. There was the humidity of youth in his eyes, the flush of youth on his cheeks, the triumph of youth in his expression. Harry Edgham, in spite of lines on his face, in spite, even, of a shimmer of gray and thinness
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