Story type: Literature
MR. JAMES WINKLEMAN shut the door with a jar, as he left the house, and moved down the street, in the direction of his office, with a quick, firm step, and the air of a man slightly disturbed in mind.
“Things are getting better fast,” said he, with a touch of irony in his voice, as he almost flung himself into his leather-cushioned chair. “It’s rather hard when a man has to pick his words in his own house, as carefully as if he were picking diamonds, and tread as softly as if he was stepping on eggs. I don’t like it. Mary gets weaker and more foolish every day, and puts a breadth of meaning on my words that I never intended them to have. I’ve not been used to this conning over of sentences and picking out of all doubtful expressions ere venturing to speak, and I’m too old to begin now. Mary took me for what I am, and she must make the most of her bargain. I’m past the age for learning new tricks.”
With these and many other justifying sentences, did Mr. Winkleman seek to obtain a feeling of self-approval. But, for all this, he could not shut out the image of a tearful face, nor get rid of an annoying conviction that he had acted thoughtlessly, to say the least of it, in speaking to his wife as he had done.
But what was all this trouble about? Clouds were in the sky that bent over the home of Mr. Winkleman, and it is plain that Mr. Winkleman himself had his own share in the work of producing these clouds. Only a few unguarded words had been spoken. Only words! And was that all?
Words are little things, but they sometimes strike hard. We wield them so easily that we are apt to forget their hidden power. Fitly spoken, they fall like the sunshine, the dew, and the fertilizing rain; but, when unfitly, like the frost, the hail, and the desolating tempest. Some men speak as they feel or think, without calculating the force of what they say; and then seem very much surprised if any one is hurt or offended. To this class belonged Mr. Winkleman. His wife was a loving, sincere woman, quick to feel. Words, to her, were indeed things. They never fell upon her ears as idle sounds. How often was her poor heart bruised by them!
On this particular morning, Mrs. Winkleman, whose health was feeble, found herself in a weak, nervous state. It was only by an effort that she could rise above the morbid irritability that afflicted her. Earnestly did she strive to repress the disturbed beatings of her heart, but she strove in vain. And it seemed to her, as it often does in such cases, that everything went wrong. The children were fretful, the cook dilatory and cross, and Mr. Winkleman impatient, because sundry little matters pertaining to his wardrobe were not just to his mind.
“Eight o’clock, and no breakfast yet,” said Mr. Winkleman, as he drew out his watch, on completing his own toilet. Mrs. Winkleman was in the act of dressing the last of five children, all of whom had passed under her hands. Each had been captious, cross, or unruly, sorely trying the mother’s patience. Twice had she been in the kitchen, to see how breakfast was progressing, and to enjoin the careful preparation of a favourite dish with which she had purposed to surprise her husband.
“It will be ready in a few minutes,” said Mrs. Winkleman. “The fire hasn’t burned freely this morning.”
“If it isn’t one thing, it is another,” growled the husband. “I’m getting tired of this irregularity. There’d soon be no breakfast to get, if I were always behind time in business matters.”
Mrs. Winkleman bent lower over the child she was dressing, to conceal the expression of her face. What a sharp pain now throbbed through her temples! Mr. Winkleman commenced walking the floor impatiently, little imagining that every jarring footfall was like a blow on the sensitive, aching brain of his wife.
“Too bad! too bad!” he had just ejaculated when the bell rung.
“At last!” he muttered, and strode towards the breakfast-room. The children followed in considerable disorder, and Mrs. Winkleman, after hastily arranging her hair, and putting on a morning cap, joined them at the table. It took some moments to restore order among the little ones.
The dish that Mrs. Winkleman had been at considerable pains to provide for her husband, was set beside his plate. It was his favourite among many, and his wife looked for a pleased recognition thereof, and a lighting up of his clouded brow. But he did not seem even to notice it. After supplying the children, Mr. Winkleman helped himself in silence. At the first mouthful he threw down his knife and fork, and pushed his plate from him.
“What’s the matter?” inquired his wife.
“You didn’t trust Bridget to cook this, I hope?” was the response.
“What ails it?” Mrs. Winkleman’s eyes were filling with tears.
“Oh! it’s of no consequence,” answered Mr. Winkleman, coldly; “anything will do for me.”
“James!” There was a touching sadness blended with rebuke in the tones of his wife; and, as she uttered his name, tears gushed over her cheeks.
Mr. Winkleman didn’t like tears. They always annoyed him. At the present time, he was in no mood to bear with them. So, on the impulse of the moment, he arose from the table, and taking up his hat, left the house.
Self-justification was tried, though not, as has been seen, with complete success. The calmer grew the mind of Mr. Winkleman, and the clearer his thoughts, the less satisfied did he feel with the part he had taken in the morning’s drama. By an inversion of thought, not usual among men of his temperament, he had been presented with a vivid realization of his wife’s side of the question. The consequence was, that, by dinner-time, he felt a good deal ashamed of himself, and grieved for the pain he knew his hasty words had occasioned.
It was in this better state of mind that Mr. Winkleman returned home. The house seemed still as he entered. As he proceeded up stairs, he heard the children’s voices, pitched to a low key, in the nursery. He listened, but could not hear the tones of his wife. So he passed into the front chamber, which was darkened. As soon as he could see clearly in the feeble light, he perceived that his wife was lying on the bed. Her eyes were closed, and her thin face looked so pale and death-like, that Mr. Winkleman felt a cold shudder creep through his heart. Coming to the bed-side, he leaned over and gazed down upon her. At first, he was in doubt whether she really breathed or not; and he felt a heavy weight removed when he saw that her chest rose and fell in feeble respiration.
“Mary!” He spoke in a low, tender voice.
Instantly the fringed eyelids parted, and Mrs. Winkleman gazed up into her husband’s face in partial bewilderment.
Obeying the moment’s impulse, Mr. Winkleman bent down and left a kiss upon her pale lips. As if moved by an electric thrill, the wife’s arms were flung around the husband’s neck.
“I am sorry to find you so ill,” said Mr. Winkleman, in a voice of sympathy. “What is the matter?”
“Only a sick-headache,” replied Mrs. Winkleman. “But I’ve had a good sleep, and feel better now. I didn’t know it was so late,” she added, her tone changing slightly, and a look of concern coming into her countenance. “I’m afraid your dinner is not ready;” and she attempted to rise. But her husband bore her gently back with his hand, saying,
“Never mind about dinner. It will come in good time. If you feel better, lie perfectly quiet. Have you suffered much pain?”
“Yes.” The word did not part her lips sadly, but came with a softly wreathing smile. Already the wan hue of her cheeks was giving place to a warmer tint, and the dull eyes brightening. What a healing power was in his tender tones and considerate words! And that kiss–it had thrilled along every nerve–it had been as nectar to the drooping spirit. “But I feel so much better, that I will get up,” she added, now rising from her pillow.
And Mrs. Winkleman was entirely free from pain. As she stepped upon the carpet, and moved across the room, it was with a firm tread. Every muscle was elastic, and the blood leaped along her veins with a new and healthier impulse.
No trial of Mr. Winkleman’s patience, in a late dinner, was in store for him. In a few minutes the bell summoned the family; and he took his place at the table so tranquil in mind, that he almost wondered at the change in, his feelings. How different was the scene from that presented at the morning meal!
And was there power in a few simple words to effect so great a change as this! Yes, in simple words, fragrant with the odours of kindness.
A few gleams of light shone into the mind of Mr. Winkleman, as he returned musing to his office, and he saw that he was often to blame for the clouds that darkened so often over the sky of home.
“Mary is foolish,” he said, in partial self-justification, “to take my hasty words so much to heart. I speak often without meaning half what I say. She ought to know me better. And yet,” he added, as his step became slower, for he was thinking closer than usual, “it may be easier for me to choose my words more carefully, and to repress the unkindness of tone that gives them a double force, than for her to help feeling pain at their utterance.”
Right, Mr. Winkleman! That is the common sense of the whole matter. It is easier to strike, than to help feeling or showing signs of pain, under the infliction of a blow. Look well to your words, all ye members of a home circle. And especially look well to your words, ye whose words have the most weight, and fall, if dealt in passion, with the heaviest force.