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Page 155


Little Mrs. Staples was one of the neatest, prettiest,
and most sensible women in the world; and she had a
husband who loved her very dearly, and who strove by
every means in his power to make her happy. But
there was a lion in little Mrs. Staples' path, — a voracious
and hungry lion, waiting at every step to destory
her. Not really to destroy her, but her domestic
happiness, which is the life of a true woman. That lion
was jealousy; an insidious, lurking, and crafty monster,
that Shakespeare endows with green eyes; but of this
I know nothing, deeming it, however, very probable, as
cats have eyes of a greenish cast. She was jealous, and
did not know it; and was all the time conjuring up the
queerest fancies about Staples, in which there was a
chaotic blending of other lips and eyes and curls than
her own, with no distinctness of arrangement; mostly
fancies, as indeed were sundry nods and winks, which
that same blind horse, Fancy, detected and construed
into positive kicks at the domestic peace of little Mrs.

Little Mrs. Staples loved her husband, Jeremiah, with
as much love as she had to bestow; but it was not the
love that so fills the heart as to crowd out all fear or
doubt of the one beloved; a love which would sacrifice
even its own happiness, in order to secure the happiness


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of its object. Hers was no more unselfish than is
the love of nine-tenths of the world's people, which insists
upon an equivalent for its sacrifices. But this is a
point too nice for our present purpose, as we are only
to deal with things just as they are; and little Mrs. Staples
was jealous. Of whom? Of no one in particular;
of woman-kind in general, I believe. Jeremiah could
not speak of a female without an instant imagining of
all possible things by the little woman, who, in her
pride, deemed that her husband was such a fine-looking
fellow that he had but to look at a woman, — the
finest, grandest in the world, — and she was his, like a
fly caught with molasses. He was, however, but an
ordinary specimen of a man to look at, and was by no
means a “lady's man,” as the world understands the
term. True he had many lady friends, and esteemed
them for qualities of mind or soul that were congenial
with his own; but, so far from being objects of Mrs.
Staples' jealousy, they were of a character to subdue
such feeling in that estimable lady's heart, had she
given them credit for like feelings of honesty and virtue
with herself. But it is unfortunately the case with
jealous people that the standard of virtue is raised
very high by them, and they themselves come up to
its requirements in the same degree that the suspected
ones fall off. It was astonishing what trivial things
would provoke whole chapters of theories in that little
woman's brain. A ravelling of calico, a hair, a scrap of
paper, anything was sufficient to hang a theory upon,
which was speedily and satisfactorily prepared and laid
away in some pigeon-hole of her mind for future reference;
for little Mrs. Staples did not make much parade
of her feelings, and, save an occasional spasm, when
Jeremiah was away for an evening in a manner that


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seemed mysterious, the domesticity of Jeremiah Staples
was placid. But the theories laid away in the pigeon-holes
must be brought out.

“Who was that lady your husband was walking with,
this afternoon, in Washington-street?” said Mrs. Spigh
to little Mrs. Staples, one day.

“I am sure I don't know,” said the little woman, covering
her face with her apron to hide her tears that
suddenly gushed out, and sobbing as though her poor
heart would break.

“Well, I am sorry I asked,” said the estimable Mrs.
Spigh, who had the key to the happiness of the whole
neighborhood in her possession, and judiciously dashed
a sprinkling of discord around it, now and then, in order
that people might remember that they were not in
heaven, — a thing very likely to occur where her
voice was heard. “I am really sorry I asked,” continued
she, “since it affects you so; but I always think it
a favor if anybody 'll tell me when they see Spigh walking
with anybody. I think it 's a duty we owe one
another, Mrs. Staples, when men is so wicked and so
inconstable. Mr. Staples was a walking with a light
complected woman; and she was a smiling on to him
in a manner that I did n't think becoming, a bit. I even
see her squeeze his arm in a manner that no decent
woman would another woman's husband. But you are
the patientiest woman alive.” She went out with a
tender and commiserating sigh.

The apron had not been removed from the face, nor
the weeping suspended, from the time when Mrs. Spigh
went out and Jeremiah came in to his supper, and
found it not ready.

“Hallo!” said he, in a boisterously good-natured
tone; “what 's the matter, little wife? What 's broke


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now? What 's for supper?” at the same time, playfully
trying to remove the apron from her head, evidently
deeming it some sort of affectionate bo-peep,
where he was to discover a pair of bright eyes laughing
out upon him, and a pair of soft, warm lips to bid
him welcome, and seal the welcome with a kiss.

No reply but a sob. The poor fellow felt badly, and
asked, in a soothing tone, what was the matter.

“Nun-nun-nun-nothing,” came at length from beneath
the apron, in a tone of the deepest grief; and then he
knew that something was the matter, and resolutely
took away the apron, and looked at the red, weeping
eyes it concealed.

“Now, wife,” said he, “I insist on knowing what
is the matter. Your sorrow pains me, and I want to
relieve it.”

“Yes,” said she, still sobbing, though speaking now
with an emotion of temper mingling with her quiet
tones, “yes, you care — very much — for me — I dare
say — when you can spend the time — away from me —
in waiting upon — other women!” The last two words
were uttered with startling energy.

“Ah,” said he, smiling, “the wind sets in that quarter,
does it? My friend Mrs. Spigh has been here, has she?
I saw her, and thought she would come. Now, I have
a great mind to torment you and that excellent neighbor
into a fever, by not explaining anything; but, little
wife, I love you too well to torment you, though you
think I do not. Here, wifey, is the cause of your
trouble: my sister Jenny, from Illinois, the little girl
who went away, — the beautiful woman who has come
back. I got a despatch from New York, to meet her at
the cars, and intended a joyful surprise for you; and


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now see what a scene you have made of it, — no supper,
no welcome!”

“Yes, Jere dear, yes,” cried she, springing up, and,
in her joy, kissing her husband and his sister over and
over again; “yes, yes, a thousand welcomes, a thousand
welcomes! I was mad to doubt you, my dear Jere,
— very mad. Please, dear sister Jenny, believe me,
you are very, very welcome!” She wrung her hand
again, and kissed her again, and bustled about, in the
cheerfulness of restored confidence, to get her evening
meal, for the little wife did not know the luxury of a

“I came in to see,” said Mrs. Spigh, opening the door
very noiselessly and looking in, “if your husband has
got home, Mrs. Staples, because I want to know if he
has seen anything of my husband.” She was evidently
surprised, and appeared somewhat miserable, at finding
her little neighbor so cheerful under her wrong; and
looked at her in a manner that said, “Well, you 're the
most cheerful martyr I ever saw.”

“You can ask husband, yourself,” said Mrs. Staples,
with her face radiant with the fire-light and the smile
that played about it; “and you will find him in the
next room.” She pointed to the little parlor, the door
of which was snugly closed, and Mrs. Spigh softly
entered, like a cat.

No wonder she at first started back, for there upon
the sofa was Jeremiah Staples, — the husband of little
Mrs. Staples, the martyr now in the kitchen, — sitting
upon the sofa, his arm about her waist, with the identical
“light-complected woman” she had seen with him
in Washington-street! And so shameless was he, that
he did n't change his position on her entrance, and
looked up with a brazen effrontery that in the eyes of


Page 160
that excellent neighbor was horrifying. Recovering
her speech, at last, she said,

“Mr. Staples, have you seen my husband since

“No, ma'am,” said he, “I have not; but some prying,
spying old woman has, perhaps, and may run in, by
and by, to tell you where she has seen him.”

Mrs. Spigh passed away; and the slamming of the
outside door denoted an energy that was remarkable,
which Mr. Staples smiled to hear.

Mrs. Spigh moved from that sorrowing neighborhood
with the wrong done her fresh in her mind, and refused
to be reconciled; and a whole year had elapsed with
nothing transpiring to mar the tranquillity of the Stapleses.
Jenny had gone again to Illinois, and little
Mrs. Staples was left to her own domestic duties and

There were no babies in the home of the Stapleses,
though they would have been most welcome there; and
there were times when a feeling akin to envy would
awaken in the breast of the little woman, in her comfortable
home, as she thought of the homes of the poor,
where the children were counted by pairs and by sevens,
with misery and want for an inheritance. To add
to this feeling, her husband never saw a pretty child
about their door that he did not call it in and pet it;
and a visit to their house by any one with a baby, —
and little Mrs. Staples had several married cousins, all
proprietors of fat, chubby babies, with plump arms and
legs, and ball-buttery cheeks, and putty noses, who were
delighted to exhibit their pets on the pleasant days, —
was a great occasion, and the Stapleses were in their
glory, making it a matter of talk for days afterwards.

Mrs. Staples, about this time, read the life of Josephine,


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and she was struck very much with the resemblance
between herself and that excellent personage;
likewise, the resemblance between Napoleon and her
husband, though others might have waited a good while
before they saw the likeness. It was all summed up
in the fact that neither party had any children. Poor
little Mrs. Staples once more began to imagine vain
things; again her husband's occasional absence from
home looked mysterious; again his clothes were
watched for straggling threads; again his pockets
turned wrong side out for tell-tale papers; again she
became miserably jealous!

Poor Staples saw the change in her, and was unhappy.
With no direct complaint from her, he could say nothing,
and each day he watched the progress of the insidious
disease that was preying upon her peace. One day
she was out for a walk, and thought she would call upon
her husband at his room in Court-square; for the name
of Staples was borne upon a shingle in that locality, he
being of the ancient fraternity of lawyers. Approaching
his door through an ante-room, she was attracted
by her husband's voice, saying,

“I love her as dearly as ever man loved woman, and
—” Here his voice fell to a murmur, and she heard no
more of the sentence; but heard a man's voice say, as
if in reply,

“Does your wife suspect anything about the child?”

Then her husband replied,

“Not one word.”

She heard the sound of a subdued laugh, and heard
no more; for she left as silently as she had entered, in
a state of mind bordering on distraction. She had
fallen by accident upon a secret that she would have
given the world not to have become the recipient of.


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She went through the streets unheeding anything or
anybody; until, nearing the street that led to her once
happy, but never more to be happy, home, she was
arrested by the sound of her name, pronounced by a
familiar voice, and her old neighbor, Mrs. Spigh, stood
before her.

“Why, I declare,” said that estimable woman, without
any particular reason for the declaration, “if this is not
Miss Staples! I 've been a great many times coming to
see you, but somehow or other could n't make up my
mind to, after — Well, men are very curious, Miss Staples.
I hope you are happy. Are your children well?
O, I remember, you never had any. Well, well, some
is n't blessed in that way. Rachel mourning for her
children that would n't be comfited, you know, and
that 's scriptur.”

Mrs. Spigh stopped, and poor little Mrs. Staples replied
but generally to her, because her little heart was
too full to admit of her speaking. Mrs. Spigh continued
by her side, like a disagreeable shadow, to her own
door, and, as she entered, the dark shadow entered with

“I declare,” said the shadow, “how natural it seems
for me to be setting here! I have n't been here since
that night when the young woman — I mean since —
Well, well, 't is n't best to remember everything. Forget
and forgive should be our motto, though we have
many things to try us.”

Little Mrs. Staples fell into a chair, and, unhearing
and uncaring for her visitor, went to crying as hard
as she could, swinging her body backward and forward,
and wringing her hands in the very bitterness
of grief.

Mrs. Spigh looked on, with great benevolence in her


Page 163
expression, as much as if she were exclaiming to herself,
“Ah! poor soul, I know just how to pity you.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?” said she, at
length. On being informed that there was not, she
said, in a croaking tone: “Well, well, it is, I suppose,
our lot to suffer and obey. Our feelings may be outridged,
but we must n't say nothing; our bosoms may
be lacerated, but we must n't say nothing; our firesides
may be pervaded, but we must n't say nothing; our
moral sensibilities may be blasphemed, but we must n't
say nothing. I suppose it is all right; and I don't
want to arrange Providence by calling it wrong.”

She folded her hands meekly, and waited for little
Mrs. Staples to “revulge” to her the secret woe that
bowed her down. At last the salt grief became slightly
acidulated by an infusion of Spigh, and an effervescence
took place, bubbling up into words and sentences.

“Jere 's found some woman he loves better than
me —”

“Of course,” said the attendant croaker.

“And he has got a child hid somewheres —”

“Very probable,” said the croaker.

“I heard it this day from his own lips. O! that I
had died before I heard it!”

The dear little woman! How she sobbed and sobbed,
and swayed backward and forward, and wrung her
hands as she finished; and how the shadow fell upon her,
as Mrs. Spigh, like a huge raven, moved here and there,
croaking of the falsehood of man, and exhorting submission
to his tyranny, even though he indulged in all
imagined departures from the virtuous limits to which
they were by law circumscribed, as though it would be
different were such restrictions removed! She at last
left her victim in a hopeful state, — had got her reduced


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to the calmness of despair, — with a promise that she
would drop in the next day, and see how she did.

It was a fearfully long afternoon to little Mrs. Staples,
as she sat waiting for the return of her perfidious husband.
So she called him, in her trouble. And there
she sat, “nursing her grief,” and thinking how she
should meet the man who had so wronged her — with
what expression she should greet him. She would
show him a true specimen of womanly greatness;
would reproach him with his baseness, and then give
him up to the sting of his own conscience. How calm
she would be! He should never suspect the bitterness
that lay at her heart. She would tell him that she
knew his secret, and then forgive him, and win him
back by her generous love. Her own heart prompted
this. She would keep the secret as an object of terror
for him in years to come, when she should cease to love
to reproach him withal, and make his life miserable!
How she would taunt him about THE BABY, till
he would cower before her glance, and bury his burning
face in his hands and cry for mercy. And would
she grant it? — she, the injured, the slighted, the contemned,
would she? How she patted her little foot
as she said this in her thoughts!

In the midst of her reflections the door softly opened,
and, glancing her eyes upwards from the carpet, they
met those of her husband, beaming on her with the
light of a serene and sincere affection.

Away with plans of action! away with premeditated
feeling! The heart, if true, must act on its immediate
impulse. Starting to her feet, little Mrs. Staples
threw herself into her husband's arms; but in an
instant her wrongs crowded upon her, and, falling back
upon the seat she had just left, she swooned away with


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the pressure of conflicting feelings. When she recovered,
she found herself on the bed, by the side of which
her husband was tenderly watching.

Poor little Mrs. Staples! How pale she looked!
Recognizing her watcher, she took his hand, and told
him that she did not think she should live (in a sweet,
trembling voice); that she had, that day, become acquainted,
by accident, with a momentous secret, and
could not die in peace without imparting it to him.
She had, she said, been near him when he had told his
friend of his secret love, — as dear as ever man bore
for woman, — and of the child, that she knew was to
crown his life with a joy he so much craved; but she
felt that she could give him up, — (particularly as she
herself was so soon to have no special need for him), —
and begged of him to think of her when she was gone,
as one that he had once loved, who would from the
spheres still have an eye over him, in an angelic way,
and seek for his happiness alone. No jealousy now
tormented the dying little Mrs. Staples, so white and
pale there amid the pillows.

“And are you strong enough, my love,” said he, with
a grave smile on his face, that seemed strange at such a
time; “and are you able to hear the one named that I
love so strongly, of whom I was speaking when you
overheard me telling my friend Badger? Are you?”

She assured him she was able; and her face assumed
a flush with much more of life than death in it, as she
spoke. He took her hand and held it a moment to his

“Then listen,” said he. “I was telling my friend of
a little jealous and unhappy woman, that was tormenting
herself to death on my account, at home, whom I
loved very dearly, but who would not believe it; and


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then I told him of a great scheme of mine for winning
her to faith in me by a gift, — the most strange that
ever entered the heart of man to procure, — and which
— (Mr. Badger, please step here a moment) — is ready
to be presented to you.”

He hid her eyes with his hands as the door opened,
and when she could see, the room was lighted, and a
woman and a man stood by her bedside, and the woman
bore something on her arm, nicely hidden, which, on
being uncovered, revealed the features of a plump and
beautiful babe.

“Here,” said Mr. Badger, “is a present that I was
deputized to give you. This is the mother, who freely
resigns it, under writing, to your loving care, its father
being dead. Take it, my dear madam, and may it long
live to bless and comfort you!”

“And my blessing goes with it,” said the woman,
tenderly kissing it; “and I know my darling Rose is in
hands where no mother's care will be missed. God
bless you, my dear madam; and if ever I come this
way again, may I look upon her sweet face once more?
though I 'll never tell her who was her mother, and
shall cry to look at her.”

There never was such a time about the bedside of a
dying woman, and no dying woman ever had interest in
life more suddenly renewed. Little Mrs. Staples rose
from her bed, and her first duty was to throw her arms
around her husband's neck, begging his forgiveness for
doubting his truth, and promising him she never would
do so again, like a school-girl. Then she took the baby
in her arms, and kissed it over and over again, and
admired its fingers, and its toes, and its eyes, and its
nose, and thought there never was such a sweet baby


Page 167
born, vowing to love it dearly, and hugged it in such a
way that the mother was quite affected.

It was quite a young baby; and, as so few were in the
secret, it was deemed to be a matter of the quietest and
slyest scheming in the world, to have the baby pass as
a genuine home production, and so it was resolved.
The next day it was announced that Mr. Staples was
the possessor of a bran-new baby. A girl was employed,
and the mother installed as nurse until such
time as little Mrs. Staples should get the hang of the
thing. The milkman was surprised to be told that he
must not make a noise, because he would disturb the
baby. So with the butcher; and an order left for oatmeal
at the grocer's was brought over by the grocer
himself, who was a family man, and did n't quite believe
the obscure hint that Staples had thrown out, about
some folks having babies as well as some folks. So it
went on, and every one expressed astonishment that no
one had ever suspected anything about it, coming to
the conclusion, however, that everything was just as it
should be, and they were glad of it.

In the afternoon Mrs. Spigh was surprised to have
her summons at the bell responded to by a servant-girl,
and was thunderstruck, speaking figuratively, to hear
the reply to her inquiry for little Mrs. Staples, that she
was up stairs with the baby.

“Whose baby?” said that sympathizing female, in a
tone of great wonder.

“Her'n, ma'am; come last night, ma'am,” replied the

“Poor creatur!” cried she; “more sorror, more
sorror! Well, our backs are fitted to our burdens.
Tell her, young woman, that Mrs. Spigh is here, and
would like to sympathize with her.”


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The domestic went as directed.

“A baby!” said that lady to herself. “I wonder if
any accident happened; I hope it is n't deformed, or
anything, though it must be a poor unhappy creatur';
I hope it won't be punished for its father's wickedness
to the fourth generation —”

Her reflections were cut short by the return of the
servant, who assured Mrs. Spigh that her mistress was
grateful for her sympathy, but that Mr. Staples, who was
up stairs, thought she had better bestow all she had
somewhere else.

“Ah, that poor creatur'!” said she, as she went out;
“how she must suffer with such a brute of a man!”

In due time little Rose was passed round for inspection,
and never in the rounds of Babydom had such
another been seen. Some shook their heads, and some
remarked, “How old-fashioned!” but it was Staples'
baby, and it became an immense favorite. The mother
never returned, having married in California.

There was no more jealousy in the home of the
Stapleses. The baby was a bond of union between them
that never relaxed its power; and though it was but a
little plant from another parterre, it was loved none the