CLARA---A MORMON STORY.
BY MARY KYLE DALLAS.
How many people marry their first loves ? One out of fifty, or less proportion. That is why so many married couples are wretched, I fancy. The vague regrets, the "might have beens" of life, haunt them. They are not the two halves of one soul united, as true lovers are.
The second love is a sort of patch put upon a broken life, better than nothing; bringing the outward show of happiness, but not the deep inward peace of perfect fulfillment.
Clara Hurst was Albert Holt's first love. He was hers. They were born for each other, and that wonderful instinct which dwells in the heart of youth told them so when they first met.
Love that does not come on the instant, and without any reasoning or calculating, or say-ing to one's self, "This will be the best thing I can do," for this or that reason is worth very little. The lover never reasons, he only loves.
Left to themselves, these two young people would have married and struggled on very happily through any amount of poverty, but prudence stood in the way.
The old people interfered. "Marrying on nothing" was madness. Vainly the young people declared that they wanted nothing, that love was both bread and honey to them, despite the old stanza that denies it.
Papa Hurst forbade Albert Holt the house, and Mamma Hurst took her daughter to Eu-rope, and kept her there three years ; and let-ters were intercepted and fibs told, and it was all over.
By and by, after five years had come and gone, Albert Holt, being then the poorly paid pastor of a country church, and being aware that he would not be happy as a bach-elor, found among his congregation a pretty, loving, white rose-bud of a girl, whom he wooed and married. Clare, more steadfast, married no one. The story of her engagement to a German baron, which had reached her lover's ears, was one of the fibs which had been told to Albert. She came from Germany, as from Italy and France, heart whole; her woman's soul kept its hope, its faith, its ten-derness until some one spoke of Albert Holt, and she learnt that he had a wife; then some sort of change passed over her. The sweetness went out of her life, out of her love. To love a married man was a crime. Clara knew it, but all her efforts could not drive his image from her soul. The love was bitter, but it was there. It would not die.
No one guessed that the handsome young lady who had refused so many offers had any hidden anguish, or any secret struggles, or anything more than what they saw, in her life. The Spartan boy's stolen fox might gnaw his flesh, but he made no sign; neither does many a woman utter any outcry over the wound she dies of. Meanwhile had he no remembrance ? Doubt-less. Yet he had not married without love. His home was happy. A quiet tenderness was given to the fair woman who was his wife, and who almost worshipped him. Babies—one, two, three—lay upon their mother's bosom. Two of them died, and over their graves the love of their parents grew greater.
In that little locked desk lay the miniature, the letters, the lock of hair; and a man can also lock in his heart all that troubles him of the past. So they lived apart who were meant to live for each other.
The clergyman never allowed himself to dwell upon the thought of his lost first love, save as upon the memory of one long dead. He was a kind husband; an adoring father; a thoughtful, conscientious man in every re-lation of life; but he was hard pressed for money most of the time ; suffered from all the troubles that beset poor gentlemen, and had not, on the whole, a very easy life of it.
So when certain excellent people resolved to convert all Mormondom, to bring even Brigham Young to a consciousness of his wickedness, and to break up polygamy alto-gether in Salt Lake City, it can scarcely be wondered at that Mr. Holt felt himself called upon to become one of the missionaries. He seriously abhorred the peculiar crime of the Mormons. He seriously desired to be an in-strument used for their conversion ; perhaps he even hoped for great results ; but it is to be doubted whether he could have been ex-pected to leave a large congregation and a fifteen thousand dollar salary behind him. One thousand not paid promptly—not paid at all, if the truth may be told—was a very dif-ferent thing. So he put his arm about his good little wife's waist and talked to her. He told her how much good a pure, earnest Chris-tian woman might do among the deluded women of Salt Lake City. He showed her how they were all living in crime, and how troops of ignorant girls were going every day to the Temple to be sealed to many-wived sinners, whom they considered saints; how men made an excuse of the abominable priv-ilege of their religion to cast from them faith-ful wives grown gray in their service, and to take in their places those fresher and younger than they. “And if we can help those in-jured women, and save those misguided girls, ought we not do so?" he asked.
She struggled with herself, and her own in-nocent, loving selfishness. Home was so dear! In this, her native land, dwelt her parents, her brothers and sisters; here were her chil-dren's graves. Yet others had gone even farther, even to worse danger; and he desired it who was her husband. Perhaps God im-pelled him to the sacrifice, and she, his help-meet, would not hold him back.
"I will go, Albert," she said, and then wept a little on his bosom, and no more was said.
With others bent on the same plans, filled with the same hopes, escaping from the same struggles, the clergyman and his wife soon found themselves on their way to Utah. There the little congregation was formed, and the missionary band set themselves to the task before them—the women most hopeful, most ardent, less conscious of the danger in which they stood ; the men for the most part doubt-ful of success, but borne up by something of the same spirit that animates the Wall street broker in his wildest speculations.
Wives who were not in favor came surrep-titiously to their meetings, but the harem fa-vorites did not. One or two "Saints " peeped in to see what actually was done. Before they had been upon the ground a month, one incautious member of the party had been shot, and one old bachelor had gone over to the Mormons, and was trying the novelty of a couple of wives. Blooming young females made eyes at the gentlemen who seemed to have room in their dwellings for more crino-line, and envious married ladies declared that these Down-east women took airs because they had no rivals, but that their turns would come in time.
Mrs. M, a delicate little woman, fell ill and died. Miss Y fell ill also, and lingered. Chil-dren bore the change of climate badly, and what with nursing and added duties the few women of the band found their hands full. They met in council, and having decided that more help was needed, sent to the Eastern States a prayer that other women would help them. Clergymen grew eloquent on the sub-ject, and the result was, that two ladies found themselves impelled to go to the aid of their struggling sisters. The news reached the little settlement. There was exultation. Places were prepared for them in the homes of those best able to entertain the new-com-ers. Mrs. Holt offered to accommodate one; Mrs. Grey the other. And so, one evening, the good little woman whom Albert Holt had married opened her door to welcome the lady who, wrapped in travelling shawl and vail, her husband had escorted from the dwelling where she had parted from her travelling companion. Neither had known her name be-fore her arrival, and when her husband said "Miss Hurst," it was a new name to Mrs. Holt; but he knew it well. It was Clara—once his Clara. His face was white; his voice had a cold, strange sound even to his own ears. All the way home he had been saying, "Avaunt, Satan!"
"What a wretched looking woman!" thought the wife; "and yet she is handsome."
It was the misery of meeting the man she loved thus that had written this expression on Clara's face. "Wretched " scarcely described it; but it had passed by the dawn of the next morning. She was herself again. And no word passed between the two, and yet each read the other's love—a love that now, alas! was shameful and criminal, but which had once been very pure and holy.
The wife knew nothing; she was utterly without jealousy. She would not have doubted her husband's love on an angel's testimony.
And their hands never touched. Words were never uttered that should not be. Only the hearts sinned; and only that mesmerism which always had existed between them told each how it was with the other.
Albert Holt held himself a sinner beyond pardon. For many days, for many weeks he knew that his roof should not shelter Clara Hurst. And she desired to go; but it was im-possible to arrange matters otherwise for a while, and in the end they grew to be con-tent.
Mrs. Holt fell ill, and Clara took her place at the table and in the house, her class in Sab-bath school. The wife was scarcely missed; and yet Albert was fond of his wife too. One night he took a long, long walk, and thought it all over. After all, were these Mormons so wrong ? He loved two women—one tenderly, one passionately. There they were beneath his own roof. If they were both his wives, he could be happy enough. Were the Mormons wrong? To desert his second love would be a crime; she was the mother of his child. But here was his first love; and again, were the Mormons wrong ?
He did not say Avaunt, Satan, this time; he welcomed him, for he gave pleasing coun-sel.
The woman did not think; she only trem-bled and feared, and wondered at herself. Meanwhile the little band was growing small-er instead of larger. Some returned home in disgust, some because of ill health. It was a band no longer. The church had no congre-gation, the Sabbath school no scholars. Mr. Holt took a house adjoining that of one of the principal Mormon Saints, and entered into certain speculations which paid better than preaching. His wife longed to return home. There seemed to be failure instead of success. Why did her husband linger? Still the days glided by ; the seasons followed each other. The sword hung over her head by a hair, and she knew it not. Another babe lay upon her bosom, and its life trembled in the balance. Her little girl, old enough for mischief, occu-pied her time also. She feared nothing; guessed nothing. And one moonlight night Albert Holt and Clara Hurst stood in the gar-den together, and he spoke at last.
"It is more than I can bear," he said.
She answered, "Yes, I am weak to stay here just to see you every day. I will go." Then he caught her hand—a mad man driv-en by his own passions from the knowledge of his own heart.
"Go!" he cried. "No! stay, stay! I have been deceived. I have been wrong. These people are right. One mistake need not ruin a man's life here. Stay; be my wife. We will be Mormons. Helen must bear it—others do. I will be very good to her. I love her; but I adore you—my first love, my only true love. God did not sunder us, but man. Let God bring us together; and in this happy coun-try, under its blessed laws, I can claim you and commit no crime." And he embraced her.
It was horrible, but both were mad; and she put her arms about his neck and kissed him. And then they sat quietly together, hand in hand, and in the silence the voice of the wronged wife, singing a lullaby to her babe, came to them through the open casement.
It parted them for the time; but the thing was done, the silence broken, the truth made plain.
Four days afterward, Helen Holt found a note lying on her work-basket, when she came from the upper room, where she had been hearing her little girl say her prayers ere she slept for the night.
She opened it without any thought of fear, and this is what she read. Let any wife pic-ture her emotions; they cannot be described.
"DEAR WIFE : Always my first wife. Remember that. Always most honored. Do not take it hard that I have yielded to the customs of this land—that I am about to be sealed to a second wife. I have chosen a companion worthy of you in Clara Hurst. We shall return together. " Yours ever, ALBERT."
The poor woman turned faint, and felt at her heart a terrible sensation, which she had had once or twice before under strong emo-tion. By an impulse which she could not have explained, she went to her husband's desk, and found it open. Within she found love-letters, dated ten years before; and the mini-ature of a fair young woman, still enough of a likeness to leave no doubt as to who was its original.
The story was told. She knew it as though it had been written for her word for word, but she was not so much grieved or angry as over-come by a strange dread. As though it had been given to her to save a soul, she sum-moned together all her strength. She knew where they had gone. The Mormon temple was in sight; perhaps even now she might not be too late. With her babe in her arms, she walked through the streets, her face white, her veins swollen, her eyes glittering strangely.
"Let me pass, please," she said to one at the temple door. "If he bade me come—my husband, I mean—it is right."
"She takes it coolly," thought the man, and let her in and pointed the way; and in a mo-ment more she stood with her babe between the greasy, hideous, depraved old sinner, who was about to set aside the laws of God and man as far as in him lay, and the mad man and woman, who dared not for all their mad-ness meet her eye.
"It is not done yet ?" she asked. "Not yet ?"
An elder advanced to seize her by the arm and thrust her forth, but Albert Holt cried out fiercely:
"Don't touch her—this is my wife!"
And he held back. And she knelt down before him, as she had never knelt to any but her God before.
"Not because of me," she said. "Not be-cause of my heart, Albert, that you have bro-ken—that you cannot heal—but for the sake of your soul, forego this crime. She was your first love—I know it now. I know—but I am your wife; the mother of your babes. Wait a little while—not long—only a little while. And for your own sake and for his, you, woman, whom I wronged without knowing it, when he married me loving you—for his sake, go. There is a name for this wicked mockery in the Bible. You know it. Do not take it upon yourself. Go!"
The little group of elders advanced with fierce words. But Albert Holt had taken his wife in his arms; he knelt by her, holding her head on his breast. She spoke no more. Her eyes turned upon him yet; but they were glazing. Her hands had loosed their hold of the babe upon her breast. One lay with its white dimpled knuckles against the floor.
Clara, with a wild scream, caught the infant in her arms, and with one faint struggle, Helen Holt gave up the ghost. A heart disease, quite unexpected save by herself, had been devel-oped by this agitation, and no wife's life lay between the two who had killed her, any longer. Nay, but her death lay between them. They parted without a word. He went home to bury his dead. Where she went he never knew. They never met again, nor sought to hear aught of each other. For her blood was upon their hands, and nothing could ever wash them clean enough for clasping. And while he lived, the eyes that glazed with that imploring look upon him haunted Albert Holt, so that no living eyes could ever fix his own, or win response from him.
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