- PART SECOND.
- CHAPTER XXXI. THE ORDEAL.
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ONE morning about two weeks after the social, Sister Silea called to see Oreana. This occurrence was extraordinary of itself; but to make it still more so, Sister Silea was accompanied by Sister Martha, a sister wife, who had never before called upon Oreana.
Sister Martha prided herself upon her housekeeping skill. She had learned every culinary mystery, and the problems of domestic economy were as familiar as household words to her. Without Sister Martha's aid, the harem would have been a financial failure. Not even the prophet of the Lord, with all his revelations and inspired genius, could have carried it through.
Sister Martha, like many others, despised what she did not possess. Silea's literary talents and taste an- | | 282 noyed her, and she lost no opportunity to snub her sister wife.
As for Oreana, the active housewife looked upon her as a proud, lazy creature, whose influence was exceedingly prejudicial to the interests of the Church. Being a plain-spoken woman, she did not conceal her thoughts, and many a time Oreana felt the sharpness of Martha's tongue.
Great then was Oreana's surprise to receive a visit from these two, who scarcely speak to each other without quarreling, and whose dislike to her was so well known. Some new misery was about to enfold her: she could read her fate in their triumphant glances; but her calm dignity rather disconcerted the visitors, who looked and acted as if they didn't know exactly what to say. However, Silea, considering herself Sister Martha's superior in social matters, thought it fitting to make some excuse.
" I suppose, dear sister," she began, "we ought to apologize for negligence in calling; but really, what with Church responsibilities and literary work, you know."
"Excuse yourself, if you like, Silea; as for me, I don't think it is needed. Every one knows that my work leaves me no time for gadding, nor for fine dreaming either."
Silea took to herself this last remark, and hastened to cut short Martha's speech.
"Yes, indeed, we have but little time for social intercourse; but my dear Oreana, you seem to be suffering."
"Only a headache; a very common complaint with me."| | 283
"That is just because you haven't enough to do. A few days in my dairy would soon put you right."
"I am afraid not, Martha, for the reason I don't like such work."
"Don't like such work! No, you like better to dress, play the pianner, read and study all kinds of nonsense, which don't do nobody no good. That's what I used to tell my girls, and just look at them to-day, all in polygamy, and as comfortable and as happy as my cows. No nonsense about them: they find plenty to do, to keep them from headaches and miserableness. I do wish there were no books."
"O, Martha!" exclaimed Silea, "you forget the book of Mormon, and the Bible, and all the beautiful things written in the Millennial Star, and our many other Church works." The most beautiful of these things, in Silea's estimation, were the productions of her own pen!
" No, Silea, I don't forget. If the Lord chooses to write books, of course He can do it, as He does just what he pleases; and if He tells the apostles to write books, why that's all right. There must be books, I suppose, but I don't believe women have any right with them: 'taint their sphere. Women readers and women scribblers ain't no account--at least in the Church of Saints. Who are the rebellious wives, the women who complain of plurality, but these who bother their heads with what don't concern 'em? That's what I told my girls, and you won't catch any of them moping. But there! we are wasting time, and forgetting what we came for. We intend to celebrate to-day, don't you think we ought?"| | 284
"Why, to-day?" answered Oreana, finding she must say something.
"Why, to-day?" exclaimed Silea. "Why, because a marriage day should be a gala day. A Mormon wife should rejoice when her husband exalts another sister to eternal glory, and we of the President's household should be shining lights to the rest of the sisterhood; so we intend to celebrate to-day. When I mentioned it to the President, he thought it a very excellent idea."
"Well, Oreana, I don't know what you think of it, but Sister Silea has expressed my ideas exactly. Some time ago I told Brother Young that I thought it was high time he took another wife, and that when he did I should make a feast.
"Last Monday--yes, to-day is Wednesday--yes, 'twas last Monday, he came to me all smiling and said: 'Martha, Wednesday next Sister Laima will be sealed to me for time and eternity.' 'All right,' says I, 'we will celebrate.' Lor, didn't he look pleased! and this morning, while he was a-getting ready, he sang and laughed and danced just like a boy. I couldn't help thinking of King David, and I told him so. I always says just what I've a mind to Brother Young. Well, they are married by this time. I can't stay any longer. Why, what's the matter?"
Oreana had fallen with a dull thud on the floor.
"She has fainted," said Silea.
"Fainted! Why, I never fainted in all my life. What a woman!"
Silea did not reply at first. Her vengeance was greater than she had anticipated. She had expected a storm--tears, denunciations; this horrible, silent woe | | 285 did not suit her. The fact that some people actually felt those sentiments she so glibly talked about, became a truth. At last she said:
"Martha, call some one."
"Indeed I will; and now that we have had our triumph let's go. I can't stay here all day."
Sister Martha left, and in a very short time all the harem knew that the ex-favorite had fainted at the marriage news.
The desire for the fête dinner became greater.
The first one Oreana saw when consciousness returned, was Silea, who had stayed to see it all.
With the sight of her enemy came the thought that her misery was known--known to those that had planned it; they would triumph over her, they would pity her. She closed her eyes and sought strength in pride. The will that once made her the heroine of the desert must carry her through this frightful climax.
When she reopened her eyes, a smile played upon her lips. It was a sad smile, but it was better than a tear.
"I am better now," she said, "all right. Lately I have been subject to this weakness."
This declaration was untrue: but woman's pride dictated the fib.
"Don't be alarmed, Silea, I shall not miss your celebration. Your ideas about such things are excellent. Elsie, run and tell the governess to give the children a holiday, then return, I shall want you. And now, ladies, I will lie down for a little while; there is nothing like a nap for restoring strength."
With a smile, meant for a dismissal, Oreana arose. She could scarcely stand, but they must not see her | | 286 weakness. And they would not go. Was she a show for vulgar curiosity? It would seem so. Again she expressed her wish to be alone; but the women, under pretense of lending assistance, insisted upon staying.
Annoyance came to the aid of pride. With a violent effort, she steadied her limbs, and walked into her bed-room and fastened the door. The spur removed, her strength left her. She sank upon her couch, a weak, broken-hearted woman, thinking of nothing, caring for nothing, feeling nothing, save her great wretchedness.
But even wretchedness must pass away.
Oreana arose at last, all her misery concentered in one idea--the fête at which she must be present. Her will was not strong enough to bear her through those hours.
Faith and hope, powerful supporters, that formerly upheld that will, were now dead. The morning's effort of a few minutes had exhausted her. What, then, should she do during those long hours of torture, the anticipation of which made her writhe.
She must succumb, and her enemies would triumph. Her looking-glass confirmed her fears. Those hollow, lustreless eyes, encircled in black rings, those sunken cheeks, that drawn mouth--she was ugly. And he would compare her wanness with Laima's blooming charms. He would joke about it. O God! the thought stung her to madness. Was there nothing she could do? Could not factitious strength--artificial charms, be obtained? Yes, yes. A gleam of triumph, not of joy, lit up her face. She went to her purse--a hidden purse, in which she kept the superfluities of brighter days. The purse was well furnished. Next she took | | 287 pencil and paper, and placed it upon the table. Then she went to a book-case, and took from it some books on medicines or the properties of drugs. She looked over several, then she wrote a name on a piece of paper. Again she paused and laughed--a chilly laugh--then on another piece she wrote several orders. Taking these two pieces of paper and her purse, she entered the sitting-room, where Elsie sat reading.
"Elsie, take these orders to a drug-store, and have them filled as quickly as possible. Here is the money, so that you need not answer any questions."
Left alone, Oreana called her children, hoping to forget her sorrows in their prattle; but their naive remarks upon their father's last marriage were unendurable. She soon sent them away.
The dinner hour arrived, and the women of the harem, with their intimate friends, gathered in the reception-room, anxious in appearance to welcome the bride, but in reality to see how the ex-favorite would bear the ordeal. That this was the case the disjointed phrases that formed their conversation testified.
"She won't come."
"Yes she will, and you will see her the gayest of the gay."
"Not a bit of it; she is quite broken down."
"Yes, but she is awful proud,--she will come."
"That she will, and stand on her dignity."
"Like a statue of a queen."
The remarks stopped with the entrance of Oreana whose appearance disappointed all. A great change had taken place since the morning: the wrinkles had disappeared, a delicate bloom gave rotundity to the | | 288 cheek, a tranquil smile banished all sorrow from the mouth, and her eyes beamed with a dreamy, happy look, while the black circles so ghastly in the morning were scarcely visible. Her dress of gray silk and lace betokened extraordinary care in its arrangement. A rose japonica in her hair, and at her throat lent brightness to the toilette. Never had she appeared more beautiful.
But her manner created the most surprise. It showed neither the forced gaiety of concealed misery, nor the icy dignity of wounded pride. An air of blissful reverie pervaded her looks, words and actions. She welcomed the usurper of her joys with graceful sweetness; her dignity, beauty and gentleness disarmed her enemies, and forced all, even her brutal master, to treat her with deference.
True, she ate scarcely anything; and as the hours passed her conversation grew strange, her glance dull and fitful, but none noted the change. Oreana's triumph was complete. Alas! that triumph cost her dear. To obtain it she had sacrificed her womanhood, her future. The heroine, admirable in spite of her fanaticism, Oreana, majestic even in wrongdoing, we shall see no more. To drown sorrow, to secure the triumph of an hour, she had steeped her brain in opium vapors. She had reveled in intoxication, she yielded to its potent spell, and followed the mirage of happiness till she was lost.
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