It was, of course, necessary for me to make an explanation to my sister, and this I did. I explained the situation to her just as it was, but if I had expected sympathy, I was mistaken. My sister was displeased, very displeased; she showed it in her voice when she spoke.
"I can well understand that there is gossip; no wonder he is reported to be engaged to some one else. You have brought it upon yourself, you alone. And all this has gone on secretly while I was thinking everything was made up between you. You may have had some abstract ideas of reconciliation, but how was the poor man to guess that? You told him plainly you would not marry him, and when he laid his case before you as one of life and death, you remained obstinately silent. When he wrote to you tenderly pleading, it did not suit you to send him a line in reply. What is one to think of such conduct? Do you take him to be a man without any pride or self-respect? It is a wonder to me that he ever came near the house again. The mere fact that he did call is in my estimation enough proof of his honour and goodness."
"That may be true, but the manner in which he solicited my final decision plainly proved that he had no love for me."
"I do not see that you reason correctly. However deep a man's love may be, if he sees it is not reciprocated, he will certainly act accordingly. A man's self-respect does not permit him to speak in familiar terms to his fiancée when he sees she no longer desires him."
"But when he calmly informed me to look upon the matter simply in connection with the advantage or disadvantage I might receive from it and put the question of sentiment aside entirely, what would you have had me say? Was I to cast all better feelings to the winds and complacently reply: 'It does not matter in the least whether you love me or not, I will marry you because this marriage will be my gain'?"
"But you had wronged him, you had hurt his feelings. If you had acknowledged your mistake in order to remove his uncertainty, I do not really see how your self-respect would have been hurt. If, as you think, he adopted that indifferent way of speaking in order to extricate himself, even then you should have given him time to speak more plainly. As the matter stands he has been obliged to take the stand he has on account of your coldness. So far as I can see you alone are to blame."
I could not make my sister understand my action. According to her I had wantonly thrown away my only chance of happiness in life. The one object of a maiden's life is matrimony; she must be given to a desirable bridegroom, that is the goal of her existence. If she finds a worthy man who professes to love and is willing to marry her, she must consider that her future is assured, she has all that can make life dear. A husband's love truly is sufficient to counter-balance all the miseries that life can bring, but when that love is wanting what will constitute a woman's life?
My sister took the accepted view of the matter. Here was a desirable man who had offered to marry me, claimed to love me, would have made me a good husband; he was handsome and of good social standing; all this was thrown aside by a foolish imaginary sentiment on the part of a girl who was incapable of judging for herself. She would not allow me to explain to her that he had cut me short when I would have come to an understanding with him. The cold, matter-of-fact way in which my sister reproached me touched me to the quick, it made my heart ache. I tried to forgive her on the ground that it was after all only her devotion and solicitude for me that made her turn so severely upon me. Affection expressed in this way has seldom a soothing effect. It took away from me even the power to reply, my voice became choked with tears, and I could say no more.
Scarcely had the altercation ceased, than my brother-in-law appeared with an open letter in his hand. There was both surprise and indignation in his face, and dropping the letter into my sister's lap he asked her to read it.
"What does this mean?" he enquired.
My sister read the note and then handed it to me. I found it was as I had expected. Here was a carefully worded letter containing a formal proposal to break off the engagement and explaining that it was by my desire matters had come to this. The writer asked to be exonerated from all blame and placed himself in as favourable a light as possible.
Mv brother-in-law took the matter as men usually do, he expressed his contempt for the man in strong language.
"He has broken this engagement to marry Miss Mullick," he said. "Upon my honour I will call him to account for this."
But my sister calmed him. "What he says is not untrue," she explained. "It is due to Moni that the engagement has been broken."
"What! this engagement has been broken by Moni? Is it still on account of that affair in England? You told me they had come to an understanding on that point. What has taken possession of her? Has she gone mad?"
"I thought myself the difference had been settled, but I now find that such was not the case."
"O frailty, thy name is woman. Why so much ado about nothing? This is the broadmindedness produced by your education, the fruit of liberty! What is to be done now? The thing will drive me mad."
I tried hard to bear up in silence under all that was said against me. That all this had happened through my fault was true enough, but would my brother-in-law as a man consider this fault of mine unpardonable if he understood the circumstances of the case? Would not the nobler sentiment appeal to him? I could not possibly lay the matter in detail before him as I had done before my sister, nevertheless I picked up courage and spoke, although my voice was trembling as I did so.
"What alternative had I? What answer could I give him when he told me to decide whether I would marry him or not simply out of consideration for the damage I might cause myself if I rejected his suit, and without any thought of sentiment? If he had spoken in a milder tone, if he had allowed any feeling in the matter, I should not have rejected him."
My brother-in-law frowned, and replied, "The whole thing appears to me absurd. I am at a loss to understand it. The man really told you to consider whether you might not cause yourself some injury before deciding what course to take?"
My sister evidently thought still further explanation was necessary.
"But you should hear the true circumstances of the case before you judge," she said. "He pleaded for forgiveness from her in a very contrite manner just before going away, but he did not elicit from her one word of hope. He wrote to her during his absence entreating her to take a reasonable view of the matter, but she would not reply. What could the man do after that? Is there not a limit to human patience? I think it would be better if you had a conversation with him, asking him what his intentions really are. If this is all due to mere misunderstanding between them, it should be put right."
The situation became most painful to me, tears filled my eyes as I pleaded with my sister.
"Sister, I beseech you, don't let there be any more said on the subject. Is this a commercial affair that we should barter over it? If he loves me, he will himself broach the subject to me again. Do tell your husband not to speak further to him."
My brother-in-law was walking up and down the room, he was in a very perturbed state of mind. Before my sister could reply to my appeal he spoke.
"I don't know what is the right thing to do. I am disgusted with the whole affair. Let us wait and see whether he says any more himself. On the other hand I will collect all the information I can get regarding him. I met the doctor yesterday, and asked him to come and play tennis to-morrow. We will question him about the engagement in England, and can then form a correct estimate of the man. In the meantime, however, it will be very disagreeable for me to enter the Bar-Library to-morrow."
"What grieves me most is the thought of father," was my sister's anxious remark.
Yes, poor father, I, too, was thinking of him, and there lay the most painful part of the whole affair.