Way Down East - A Romance of New England Life (Chapter 7)

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Chapter 7

A mother's love--how sweet the name!
What is a mother's love?
--A noble, pure and tender flame,
Enkindled from above,
To bless a heart of earthly mould;
The warmest love that can grow cold;
That is a mother's love.--James Montgomery.

It took all the medical skill of which the doctor was capable, and the
best part of twenty-four hours of hard work to rouse Anna from the
death-like lethargy into which she had fallen. Toward morning she
opened her eyes and turning to her mother, said appealingly: "Mother, you believe I am innocent, don't you?"

"Certainly, darling," Mrs. Moore replied, without knowing in the least
to what her daughter referred. The doctor, who was present at the
time, turned away. He knew more than the mother. It was one of those
tragedies of everyday life that meant for the woman the fleeing away
from old associations, like a guilty thing, long months of hiding, the
facing of death; and, if death was not to be, the beginning of life
over again branded with shame. And all this bitter injustice because
she had loved much and had faith in the man she loved. The doctor had
faced tragedies before in his professional life, but never had he felt
his duty so heavily laid upon him as when he begged Mrs. Moore for a
few minutes' private conversation in the gray dawn of that early

He felt that the life of his patient depended on his preparing her
mother for the worst. The girl, he knew, would probably confess all
during her convalescence, and the mother must be prepared, so that the
first burst of anguish would have expended itself before the girl
should have a chance to pour out the story of her misfortune.

"Tell me, doctor, is she going to die?" the mother asked, as she closed
the door of the little sitting-room and they were alone. The poor lady
had not thought of her own misfortunes since Anna's illness. The
selfishness of the woman of the world was completely obliterated by the
anxiety of the mother.

"No, she will not die, Mrs. Moore; that is, if you are able to control
your feelings sufficiently, after I have made a most distressing
disclosure, to give her the love and sympathy that only you can."

She looked at him with troubled eyes. "Why, doctor, what do you mean?
My daughter has always had my love and sympathy, and if of late I have
appeared somewhat engrossed by my own troubles, I assure you my
daughter is not likely to suffer from it during her illness."

"Her life depends on how you receive what I am going to tell you.
Should you upbraid her with her misfortune, or fail to stand by her as
only a mother can, I shall not answer for the consequences." Then he
told her Anna's secret.

The stricken woman did not cry out in her anguish, nor swoon away. She
raised a feebly protesting hand, as if to ward off a cruel blow; then
burying her face in her arms, she cowed before him. Not a sob shook
the frail, wasted figure. It was as if this most terrible misfortune
had dried up the well-springs of grief and robbed her of the blessed
gift of tears. The woman who in one brief year had lost everything
that life held dear to her--husband, home, wealth, position--everything
but this one child, could not believe the terrible sentence that had
been pronounced against her. Her Anna--her little girl! Why, she was
only a child! Oh, no, it could not be true. She never, never would
believe it.

Her brain whirled and seemed to stop. It refused to grasp so hideous a
proposition. The doctor was momentarily at a loss to know how to deal
with this terrible dry-eyed grief. The set look in her eyes, the
terrible calm of her demeanor were so much more alarming than the
wildest outpourings of grief would, have been.

"And this seizure, Mrs. Moore. Tell me exactly how it was brought
about," thinking to turn the current of her thoughts even for a moment.

She told him how Anna had gone out in the early afternoon, without
saying where she was going, and how she had returned to the house about
five o'clock, looking so pale and ill, that Hannah, an old family
servant who still lived with them, noticed it and begged her to sit
down while she went to fetch her a cup of tea. The maid left her
sitting by the fire-place reading a paper, and the next thing was the
terrible cry that brought them both. They found her lying on the floor
unconscious with the crumpled newspaper in her hand.

"See, here is the paper now, doctor," and he stooped to pick up the
crumpled sheet from which the girl had read her death warrant.
Together they went over it in the hope that it might furnish some clue.
Mrs. Moore's eyes were the first to fall on the fatal paragraph. She
read it through, then showed it to the doctor.

"That is undoubtedly the cause of the seizure," said the doctor.

"Oh, my poor, poor darling," moaned the mother, and the first tears

In the first bitterness of regret, Mrs. Moore imagined that in
selfishly abandoning herself to her own grief, she must have neglected
her daughter, and her remorse knew no bounds. Again and again she
bitterly denounced herself for giving way to sorrow that now seemed
light and trivial, compared to the black hopelessness of the present.

Anna's mind wandered in her delirium, and she would talk of her
marriage and beg Sanderson to let her tell her mother all. Then she
would fancy that she was again with Mrs. Tremont and she would go
through the pros and cons of the whole affair. Should she marry him
secretly, as he wished? Yes, it would be better for poor mama, who
needed so many comforts, but was it right? And then the passionate
appeal to Sanderson. Couldn't he realize her position?---"Yes, darling, it is all right. Mother understands," the heartbroken
woman would repeat over and over again, but the sick girl could not

And so the days wore on, till at last Anna's wandering mind turned back
to earth, and again took up the burden of living. There was nothing
for her to tell her mother. In her delirium she had told all, and the
mother was prepared to bravely face the worst for her daughter's sake.

The terrible blow brought mother and daughter closer together than they
had been for years. In their prosperity, the young girl had been busy
with her governess and instructors, while her mother had made a fine
art of her invalidism and spent the greater part of her time at health
resorts, baths and spas.

By mutual consent, they decided that it was better not to attempt to
seek redress from Sanderson. Anna's letters, written during her
convalescence, had remained unanswered, and any effort to force him,
either by persuasion or process of law, to right the terrible wrong he
had done, was equally repulsive to both mother and daughter.

Mrs. Standish Tremont was also equally out of the question, as a court
of final appeal. She had been so piqued with Anna for interfering with
her most cherished plans regarding Sanderson and Grace Tremont, that
Anna knew well enough that there would only be further humiliation in
seeking mercy from that quarter.

So mother and daughter prepared to face the inevitable alone. To this
end, Mrs. Moore sold the last of her jewelry. She had kept it,
thinking that Anna would perhaps marry some day and appreciate the
heirlooms; but such a contingent was no longer to be considered, and
the jewelry, and the last of the family silver, were sent to be sold,
together with every bit of furniture with which they could dispense,
and mother and daughter left the little cottage in Waltham, and went to
the town of Belden, New Hampshire,--a place so inconceivably remote,
that there was little chance of any of their former friends being able
to trace them, even if they should desire to do so.

As the summer days grew shorter, and the hour of Anna's ordeal grew
near, Mrs. Moore had but one prayer in her heart, and that was that her
life might be spared till her child's troubles were over. Since Anna's
illness in the early spring, she had utterly disregarded herself. No
complaint was heard to pass her lips. Her time was spent in one
unselfish effort to make her daughter's life less painful. But the
strain of it was telling, and she knew that life with her was but the
question of weeks, perhaps days. As her physical grasp grew weaker,
her mental hold increased proportionately, and she determined to live
till she had either closed her child's eyes in death, or left her with
something for which to struggle, as she herself was now struggling.

But the poor mother's last wish was not to be granted. In the
beginning of September, just when the earth was full of golden promise
of autumn, she felt herself going. She felt the icy hand of death at
her heart and the grim destroyer whispered in her ear: "Make ready."
Oh, the anguish of going just then, when she was needed so sorely by
her deceived and deserted child.

"Anna, darling," she called feebly, "I cannot be with you; I am
going--I have prayed to stay, but it was not to be. Your child will
comfort you, darling. There is nothing like a child's love, Anna, to
make a woman forget old sorrows--kiss me, dear----" She was gone.

And so Anna was to go down into the valley of the shadow of death
alone, and among strangers.

Previous Chapter
Next Chapter

Rate This Book

Current Rating: 2.9/5 (182 votes cast)

Review This Book or Post a Comment