WANTED— A WIFE.
BY S. ANNIE FROST.
“I wonder,” said pretty Lizzie Thorndyke, looking up from a newspaper, whose columns had held her attention for nearly half an hour, “I wonder if any of these matrimonial advertisements are ever put in the papers in good faith? Here are no less than five, commencing, ‘Wanted— a wife.”‘
“I should think,” responded Anna Green, cousin to Lizzie, “that if a man wanted a wife very badly, his best plan was to go court one. There are plenty of nice girls to be won.”
“Just fancy advertising for a husband, Anna.”
“Can’t. My imagination cannot compass such an absurdity. But what makes you so interested to-day? I’m sure that trash has been in the papers for years.”
“Why, three of these enterprising gentlemen are modest enough to ask for photographs, and I was thinking it would be fun to send some of those in the box Bob left up stairs.”
“Have you never seen it? You know Bob learned to photograph just before he left for California, to be able to take views of scenery. He took lessons of the foreman at Wright & Hill’s, who were burnt out just before Bob left. Bob was at the fire, trying to save all he could, and amongst other things he rescued a box of pictures that they told him to keep. There is the greatest mix of stuff in it— copies of pictures and statues, groups, heads, and quite a lot of pretty faces.”
“But we might send some picture of a person who would get into trouble by it.”
“Oh, no! I wouldn’t send anything but a fancy head; there are plenty of those. I’ll get the box and let you see them.”
The box proved to be a treasure for passing time. It was quite large and well filled, and the two girls found the morning slipping away rapidly as they examined the contents. Suddenly Anna gave a cry of admiration.
“What an exquisite face!”
“That is one of the fancy heads,” said Lizzie, taking the picture from her cousin’s hand.
“Are you certain, Lizzie? It is very lifelike.”
“But very fanciful, Anna. Nobody in these days sits for a photograph with a wreath of field daisies and green leaves round their head, and who ever saw such hair? Why, there is enough to start a chignon factory in flourishing business.”
Anna looked again at the picture. It certainly was fanciful enough to justify Lizzie’s assertion, although the face had an animated expression rarely attained by the pencil. There was only the head set in a framework of clouds, the dimpled shoulders rising from the fleecy clusters, and the sweet face encircled by them. The regular features, exquisite mouth, and large, soft eyes were framed in masses of heavy curls, just caught from the low brow and little ears by a wreath of field daisies, grasses, and leaves.
“It is a lovely, lovely face, Lizzie, is it not?”
“Yes. I think,” said Lizzie, musingly, “that I will send this to Mr. Edgar Holmes; ain’t that the name? Yes,” she added, after a reference to the paper. “Mr. Edgar Holmes, Box No. 47, Waterford, Illinois. Illinois is a good ways from Hilton, Massachusetts, Anna, so I guess he will not come to look for the original very soon. There! how does that look?” and she tossed the picture to her cousin, having written on the margin, “Ever yours, with love, Ida.”
“But, Lizzie, suppose, after all, this should be a real portrait?”
“Nonsense! We certainly know everybody in Hilton.”
“I don’t half like it, Lizzie.”
“Oh, pshaw! You are always fussy. I mean to get some answers from Mr. Edgar Holmes & Co. It will be real fun. Here is one from California and one from New York; pick out two more pictures. O Anna, here is that hateful old maid, Matilda Truefit. I have half a mind to send her.”
“No, I won’t let you, Lizzie. Send only fancy heads.”
“Well, just as you say. Now for the letters. See how nicely I can disguise my hand,” and she wrote a few lines in a stiff, angular hand as legible and almost as unrecognizable as print.
“Anybody can see that it is a disguised hand.”
“Of course they can; but that’s of no consequence. I shall only write a few lines at first, professing deep interest and a desire for further acquaintance. You are as grave as a deacon, Anna.”
“Because it seems to me foolish, a waste of time, to say the best of it, and it may get you into trouble, Lizzie.”
“I’m not afraid. It is all for fun. I shall sign them all ‘Ida,’ and have the answers directed to the same name.”
An hour passed away, almost in silence. Lizzie wrote three letters of the character she had described, while Anna pondered over the pictures, read the newspaper which had inspired her cousin with the new piece of mischief, and perused the letters as they were finished and tossed over to her for criticism.
There were not two prettier girls in Hilton than these cousins— one a resident of the village from her birth, the other a regular visitor for the summer months. Lizzie Thorndyke was a brown-eyed, dark-haired beauty, with a short, plump figure, fair complexion, a tongue that was the terror of every dull-witted youth in the village, and a love of mischief and excitement that made her the leader in every picnic, festival, and frolic for miles around. Anna, a tall, slender blonde, was more quiet and reserved, a resident of Boston, fond of music and literature, but yet ready to enjoy heartily all the pleasures offered during a visit to Hilton in the summer months. Twice her father had taken herself and Lizzie for a trip to Niagara, the lakes, and the White Mountains; but generally Anna spent the summer in Hilton, and Lizzie a portion of each winter in Boston. Many a heedless prank originating in Lizzie’s busy brain Anna had checked in time to prevent mischief and confusion, while her own graver nature was cheered and made happier by intercourse with her lively little cousin. She sat, now, rather soberly perusing Lizzie’s daring epistles, very doubtful of the results of sending them away, yet not trusting her own powers of persuasion to prevent a freak which she saw had taken strong hold of her cousin’s imagination. The letters were all sealed and directed at last, and depositing them in the post-office being postponed for an afternoon walk. Lizzie yawned, declared she was tired to death, and threw herself upon the sofa for a nap, while Anna took up an intricate piece of knitting to pass the time before dinner. One of the letters only is of interest to our readers, and that we will follow to its destination. It was directed to “Mr. Edgar Holmes, Waterford, Illinois,” and contained the beautiful photograph of the girl crowned with field daisies. Lying upon the table, in a neatly-furnished lawyer’s office, half-hidden by a number of other epistles, it was there found by two young gentlemen, who came in chatting and laughing soon after the office-boy had brought the mail from the post-office.
“More answers to my matrimonial advertisement, Al,” said one of the gentlemen, a handsome, bright-eyed young fellow, whose sunny face spoke of a life free from care, and formed, quite a contrast to that of his companion, who was evidently an earnest man, a deep thinker, and of a grave, rather reserved nature.
“How can you tell before opening them?” he inquired, courteously, but evidently feeling no interest in the matter.
“Oh! they are so daintily enveloped and directed, and I can feel the photograph cards.”
As he spoke he was rapidly breaking open his batch of letters, whilst his companion scanned the columns of a morning paper. Suddenly a cry broke from the lips of the younger man.
“What an exquisite face! It cannot be a portrait, but it is lovely. Direct ‘Ida, Hilton, Massachusetts.’ Look at it, Al.”
Albert Clayton languidly stretched out his hand for the card, but the instant his eyes fell upon the picture the whole expression of his face changed. In the place of the look of indifference, there now flashed from his eyes a look, first of utter surprise, then bitter anger, and finally a contempt that was the strongest of all. Once he turned the card to see the name of the artist, and then slowly there gathered upon his brow and round his lip a set, determined look that it was painful to see.
“Why, Al, what ails you?” suddenly cried his friend. “One would think Miss Ida’s was a gorgon’s head.” The forced smile of answer would never have deceived a keener observer, but Edgar Holmes was satisfied with it.
“Let me see the letter, Ned?”
“Certainly. You can be reading it while I am in court. Shall I find you here when I return?”
“Yes. I shall wait for you, for I must leave this evening, you know, for home.”
“I know. I shall miss you constantly. Well, good-morning!”
Left alone, Albert Clayton, after reading the letter signed “Ida,” drew from his vest pocket a card-case, and from its folds a photograph, an exact copy of the daisy-crowned beauty. Well remembered he the day when the lovely face had been so crowned. The original of the picture was his promised wife, into whose keeping he had put the whole treasure of his love, to whom he had given a heart, which, sorely tried by suffering, had never before bowed before the charms of a woman. Educated in a different school, Albert Clayton might have been a trusting, frank nature, but he had been trained from childhood to suspect and question all around him. He had worshipped his parents, and his father, a wealthy Western lawyer, had given him love for love. When that father died, he was a boy at school, and returned for a summer vacation less than two years from the time he was left fatherless to find his mother again married, and to a man whom he had every reason to believe unworthy of any good woman’s affection. Too fully were all his fears for the future realized. His own share of his father’s property was squandered by the new guardian before he was of an age to claim it; his mother, oppressed and ill-treated, died broken-hearted; and his only sister, driven to desperation, eloped with a young scamp, attracted to her by her father’s wealth.
Orphaned and almost penniless before he was quite twenty-one, Albert was offered a home and an opportunity to continue the study of law by his father’s partner, continuing with him long after he knew that he was a mere drudge, half-paid for services his own intellect and hard study soon made valuable to his employer. The practice of his profession was not calculated to increase the young lawyer’s faith in mankind; and when, at the age of thirty, he opened an office of his own in Cincinnati, he had acquired a reputation as a shrewd, long-headed lawyer, impossible to cheat, but a hard, reserved man, devoid of affection for any one. This was the man who, coming one summer to Hilton to investigate a law case in his care, met there Sadie Elkington, the niece of his client, paying a summer visit to her aunt. Something in the pure, sweet face of the young girl, just stepping into womanhood, attracted first the world-hardened man. Watching her jealously, he found a nature open and frank, yet modest, full of all womanly grace and sweetness, and the closed portals of his heart opened, at last, to fold in a close embrace this true woman, who, in winning his love, all unconsciously had given him her own.
It was pronounced rather a dull summer at Hilton. Many of the young people were away, the cousins Lizzie Thorndyke and Anna Green were at Niagara, and picnics, drives, and dances were “few and far between.” But the month occupied by Albert Clayton in the investigation of old Mrs. Elkington’s papers flew by on gilded wings; and when he returned to Cincinnati, Sadie to her father’s home in Boston, it was with mutual promises of constancy, and bright hopes for the future.
Well did Albert Clayton remember the day when the lovely photograph was taken at his request. They had been for a long ramble in the fields, and he had crowned her with daisies, making her so beautiful in his loving eyes that he would not rest until she consented to allow him to carry away the picture of her face as he had adorned it. One year of betrothal, and the wedding day was set for a certain seventh of October, when, again absent from home on a professional visit, Albert found the face of the woman he had loved almost to idolatry inclosed in a letter answering a matrimonial advertisement.
It is impossible to describe the shock given to the fastidious, suspicious nature of this man. He had given, for the first time in many years, the confidence of his heart to another’s keeping. He had thrown aside the suspicions of all human nature, that had warped his own character, to give a trusting, perfect love to one woman. In her he had found all that his starved heart craved of gentleness, affection, and modesty. All her letters were filled with a spirit of devotion, toned down by a sweet, maidenly reserve, that had commanded his respect as well as his affection. Loving faithfully, trusting utterly, he had looked forward to his future happiness as a thing assured and certain.
And now, to find this woman, his promised wife, his ideal of modest refinement, answering a vulgar matrimonial advertisement, sending the picture, for which he had been forced to plead and petition for hours, to be the sport of an unknown man, writing a letter that was an invitation for future correspondence, and covering all only by the flimsy veil of a disguised hand, and a post-office address a few miles from home. Some friend in Hilton, probably, mailed this precious letter, and would call for the answer. Well, his dream was over. He brooded for a long time over his duplicate pictures, then, tossing one back upon young Holmes’ pile of letters, he inclosed the one he had carried over his heart for a twelve-month in a short letter, directed and sealed it, and, taking up his hat, left the office. His return to Cincinnati the same evening had been settled before the receipt of the momentous letter, so his friend was prepared for his departure, though scarcely for his abrupt and hasty farewell.
And while strangers and her dearest were thus ruthlessly destroying Sadie Elkington’s love dream and hopes of happiness, she was living her life of peaceful daily duty, making the sunshine of home, and looking forward to a future of married bliss. Already there were piles of snowy linen, daintily embroidered by her own skilful fingers, lying in readiness for the trousseau , and daily some such needlework passed through her busy hands, while she sat and dreamed of Albert, his love, and her own powers of rendering him happy. It was a very pure, unselfish love this fair young girl had given to her betrothed. With quick, womanly instinct she had read the character of the reserved suspicious man, penetrated the crust of his proud reticence, and knew that her love was to him almost his sole hopes of faith in any human excellence. She knew also, that from this hard mistrust and cynicism, it was often but one step to positive infidelity, and it was her earnest prayer that she might be permitted so to soften this noble heart as to let in upon it a fuller light and higher faith than it could ever know whilst clouded by doubts of all mankind. Sadie Elkington would have smiled had any one suggested to her that there was any sacrifice in her prospects for the future. She loved Albert Clayton with all the fervor of a first love, and it had never occurred to her to contrast her own home with the one awaiting her. The eldest of a family of nine children, she had learned early to make all the little sacrifices of her own comfort daily required from the oldest sister in a large family. Her father almost worshipped her, while her mother could scarcely endure the prospect of seeing this loving, tender daughter leave the home she had brightened so long, for one so far away. Yet hiding away their own grief, the loving parents were aiding in the preparation of a bridal outfit that was to be as perfect as ample means, taste, and loving care could make it. The mother and daughter were in the sitting-room just before the dinner hour, discussing the merits of a new collar pattern, when Mr. Elkington came to the door, holding a bundle in one hand, a letter in the other.
“There, Miss Sadie,” he said, opening the paper to unroll a piece of superb blue silk, “see if you can get a petticoat out of that. Mamma, there, will lend you some old cotton lace to trim it.”
“Not a yard,” laughed his wife. “Why, you extravagant man, this is the third Irish poplin.”
“Fully paid for by the kisses Sadie has just given me. What are you gazing at this letter for, Sadie? Women are never satisfied. Give them finery and they want flattery. Well, there is your sugar plum.”
It was a startled cry from the mother that broke the interval of silence following the opening of the letter. The young girl tried to answer the cry, but the stiff white lips were powerless to move, and with a moan of pain she fainted, falling heavily upon the dress just received with warm, shy blushes, and representing so much thoughtful love.
Mr. Elkington took up the letter which had fallen from the nerveless hand, and while his wife was trying to restore life to the insensible girl, he was seeking the cause of her sudden fall.
“Sadie’s picture! Valueless when shared with others! Trusts her new love may prove more agreeable than the old! Shocked at her want of maidenly modesty! What does the fellow mean, mother? How dare he insult our Sadie by such a letter. Useless to answer, as he intends to leave Cincinnati at once. Well for him! He had better get beyond the reach of my horsewhip, for my arm is not yet too weak to thrash the scoundrel!”
“Hush, father; she is recovering,” said Mrs. Elkington, interrupting the passionate exclamations and bitter readings from the letter.
Sadie was, indeed, reviving, and trying to realize her own position.
“Father,” she said, as her father came to her with the fatal letter still in his hand, “what does he mean? How can he write so cruelly to me?”
“He is a rascal!” said the angry old gentleman; “a scoundrel! He has found some newer face to flatter, and tries to make you to blame for his inconstancy. Why, the letter is perfectly absurd upon the face of it. Accusing you of having another love, and giving your photograph to some one else! You, who have lived like a nun ever since Sir Jealousy condescended to bestow his regards upon you! You, who are such a model of reserve and devotion, that your own old father has been jealous fifty times of your fiancé, to be accused of a want of maidenly modesty! I should like to wring the fellow’s neck.”
“There is some terrible mistake, father.”
“Mistake! I should think there was a mistake! There was a mistake when we all believed him an honorable, upright gentleman, if he was a grumpy, sulky companion; and a grand mistake when we believed him capable of appreciating our Sadie, and making her an affectionate husband.”
“But, father, I am sure he has been deceived in some way.”
“He deceived! I think it is we who have been deceived! Well, there, don’t look at me so pitifully. I won’t rave any more. Here, mother, you talk to her.” And, conscious of his own inability to talk quietly, the angry, insulted father went off to the library to march up and down, and work off his wrath in solitude. Poor Sadie! It was in vain she read the cruel letter over and over to try to find some solution of the mystery. She could not accept her father’s theory of Albert’s voluntary renunciation of her love. Some influence had been at work upon his jealous, suspicious nature, she felt convinced, though what it was, she could not divine. It was a hard blow, and her cross seemed almost too heavy to carry, but she put out of sight the pretty clothing collected with so much care, and full of such loving associations, locked up the letters that she had welcomed so eagerly, responded to so faithfully, and bravely crushing her own sorrow out of sight, was always the loving child, the devoted sister to the home circle, fully appreciating the tender care her mother bestowed upon her, and the delicacy which kept back all her father’s expressions of anger. She was not one to parade her grief or bare her heart for any eye, and the effort to appear calm and cheerful was rewarded by a real feeling of resignation. She had done no wrong, and perhaps at some future time Albert might learn how truly and faithfully she had loved him; in the mean time she would try to find happiness in her home, her parents’ love, and her friends’ society. A very dull commonplace view of the matter, perhaps, but one that required more real unselfish heroism than many an act admired by the world. Four years passed away with many changes, and Albert Clayton returned from a prolonged European trip to Cincinnati, and again opened an office for the practice of law. Amongst the many friends who came to offer him a word of welcome, he was surprised one morning to receive a call from Edgar Holmes.
“When I heard you had left Cincinnati, Al, I thought I would come for a while, and see if some of your clients would not fancy me for a substitute.”
“I hope you have done well!” said Albert, politely.
“Oh, yes, pretty well. You must drop in when you are passing and see how the old office looks. By the way, you know I am a married man, don’t you?”
“No, indeed! Did you marry Miss Elkington?”
The name seemed almost to choke him, spoken for the first time in four long years.
“Miss Elkington? Never heard of her in my life. What put that into your head?”
“I— was she not the lady who answered your advertisement for a wife?”
“O Al, I must tell you all about that. Can you listen to a long story?”
“Well, about two years ago, I had business which called me to Boston, and amongst other gentlemen friends there, was one Mr. Green, who made me welcome to a very pleasant home, and introduced me to a pretty daughter and an equally pretty niece, Miss Lizzie Thorndyke, of Hilton, Mass. Miss Lizzie was in Boston purchasing her bridal finery, being engaged to a young gentleman from New York. It was not long before I noticed that the young lady avoided me as much as possible, seeming half afraid of me when thrown into my company. My business was soon transacted, but my heart was yielding to the charms of Anna Green, and I lingered in the city, trying to win an answering affection. I succeeded, and won the father’s consent to my suit. The day was set for a double wedding, the cousins wishing to be married at the same time. You look bored, Al!”
“Oh no, go on,” said Albert, who certainly did look bored.
“Well, to make a long story short, Lizzie’s fiancé, Mr. Moreton, came on from New York, preparations were going on for the wedding, and everything was pleasant, when one evening we were all seated in the parlor chatting. Amongst other subjects, the one of matrimonial advertisements came up. I saw that Lizzie looked distressed, but suspecting nothing, I laughed about my correspondent Ida, and read two or three of her last letters— warm enough they were, too— for the benefit of the party. Mr. Moreton expressed his opinion on the indelicacy of such a correspondence in no measured terms, finally declaring that he would disown his own sister if she was guilty of such a proceeding. Fancy our amazement when Lizzie, as white as ashes, started to her feet, crying out:—
“‘O Robert, don’t, don’t say so! I am Ida!’ and fell in a dead faint upon the floor.”
“But the picture?” said Albert Clayton, himself as pale as a corpse .
“That was a fancy head her brother picked up in some photograph gallery in Hilton. Are you going to faint, Al?”
“No, no,” he said, rousing himself by a great effort; “finish your story.” “There is not much more to tell. Robert, touched by Lizzie’s distress, and influenced by Anna’s entreaties, forgave her, but there came into his manner a reserve and coolness of which he, himself, I think, was unconscious, but which grated terribly on Lizzie’s sensitive, high strung spirit. For a week or two there was a sort of enforced peace, and then the engagement was broken by mutual consent, Lizzie returning to Hilton, and Mr. Moreton to New York, before the wedding day which gave me the dearest wife in the world. I was half afraid I should lose her for my share in the correspondence, but she never referred to it, and you may be sure I did not. Ten o’clock! I must go. You will come soon to see us, Al? No.— Fourth Street.”
He was gone at last. For hours Albert Clayton paced his office floor, now and then sighing out:—
“O Sadie, Sadie, can you ever forgive me?”
Then he sat down to write to her whom he had so cruelly misjudged; but letter after letter was tossed into the fire, till, finally, giving up that task, he packed a valise and started for Boston. It was not Sadie’s nature to be unforgiving when he pleaded for pardon. He should have known her better, she thought, but she made all allowance for the strong evidence against her. It was not so easy to win the old gentleman over; he growled and scolded, made sarcastic speeches, and was altogether most impenetrable, till Sadie’s pleading face and great pitiful eyes silenced him.
“You really think you can forgive him, and trust your happiness to him?” he asked.
“Yes, father,” was the quiet answer, but the expressive face lighted with pleasure.
“Well, get out your finery again, and I —”
“Will go buy more Irish poplins,” laughed his wife.
Nobody ever knew exactly how the story got to Hilton, but Lizzie— still Miss Thorndyke— found all eyes would turn upon her if, in company, any allusion was made to the advertisements headed, “Wanted, a Wife.”
Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] March 1871
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Strong evidence? Indeed, no matter how fastidious and suspicious his nature, the lover should have known her better and any lawyer worth his fee should have thought her innocent until proven guilty. At the very least, he should have given her the chance to look at the “evidence” and refute it. Why did he not call upon a graphology expert? And even at this early date, fingerprints could have been revealed by iodine fumes and compared with Miss Elkington’s. One wonders how accomplished a lawyer Clayton actually was. He seems to have lacked the ability to examine the case against his beloved in a scrupulously fair manner, yet possessed the imagination of a fiend when it came to believing her guilty. Mrs Daffodil hopes that they lived happily ever after and that he devoted his life to making amends for his vile suspicions, but is not sanguine.
Mrs Daffodil has written before about the imprudence of the promiscuous sending of photographs.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales