The Invalid Wife
by T. S. Arthur
An Extract From
Married Life, Its Shadows and Sunshine
"MY poor head! It seems as if it would burst!" murmured Mrs. Bain,
as she arose from a stooping position, and clasped her temples with
both hands. She was engaged in dressing a restless, fretful child,
some two or three years old. Two children had been washed and
dressed, and this was the last to be made ready for breakfast.
As Mrs. Bain stood, with pale face, closed eyes, and tightly
compressed lips, still clasping her throbbing temples, the bell
announcing the morning meal was rung. The sound caused her to start,
and she said, in a low and fretful voice—
"There's the breakfast bell; and Charley isn't ready yet; nor have
I combed my hair. How my head does ache! I am almost blind with the
Then she resumed her work of dressing Charley, who struggled,
cried, and resisted, until she was done.
Mr. Bain was already up and dressed. He was seated in the parlour,
enjoying his morning paper, when the breakfast bell rang. The moment
he heard the sound, he threw down his newspaper, and, leaving the
parlour, ascended to the dining-room. His two oldest children were
there, ready to take their places at the table.
"Where's your mother?" he inquired of one of them.
"She's dressing Charley," was answered.
"Never ready in time," said Mr. Bain, to himself, impatiently. He
spoke in an under tone.
For a few moments he stood with his hands on the back of his chair.
Then he walked twice the length of the dining-room; and then he went
to the door and called—
"Jane! Jane! Breakfast is on the table."
"I'll be there in a minute," was replied by Mrs. Bain.
"Oh, yes! I know something about your minutes." Mr. Bain said this
to himself. "This never being in time annoys me terribly. I'm always
ready. I'm always up to time. But there's no regard to time in this
Mrs. Bain was still struggling with her cross and troublesome
child, when the voice of her impatient husband reached her. The sound
caused a throb of intenser pain to pass through her aching head.
"Jane, make haste! Breakfast is all getting cold, and I'm in a
hurry to go away to business," was called once more.
"Do have a little patience. I'll be there in a moment," replied
"A moment! This is always the way."
And Mr. Bain once more paced backwards and forwards.
Meantime the wife hurriedly completed her own toilet, and then
repaired to the dining-room. She was just five minutes too late.
One glance at her pale, suffering face should have changed to
sympathy and pity the ill-humour of her thoughtless, impatient
husband. But it was not so. The moment she appeared, he said—
"This is too bad, Jane! I've told you, over and over, that I don't
like to wait after the bell rings. My mother was always promptly at
her place, and I'd like my wife to imitate so good an example."
Perhaps nothing could have hurt Mrs. Bain more than such a cruel
reference of her husband to his mother, coupled with so unfeeling a
declaration of his will concerning her—as if she were to be the mere
creature of his will.
A sharp reply was on the tongue of Mrs. Bain; but she kept it back.
The pain in her head subsided all at once; but a weight and
oppression in her breast followed that was almost suffocating.
Mr. Bain drank his coffee, and eat his steak and toast, with a
pretty fair relish; for he had a good appetite and a good
digestion—and was in a state of robust health. But Mrs. Bain ate
nothing. How could she eat? And yet, it is but the truth to say, that
her husband, who noticed the fact, attributed her abstinence from food
more to temper than want of appetite. He was aware that he had spoken
too freely, and attributed the consequent change in his wife's manner
to anger rather than a wounded spirit.
"Do you want any thing?" asked Mr. Bain, on rising from the table
and turning to leave the room. He spoke with more kindness than
"No," was the wife's brief answer, made without lifting her eyes to
her husband's face.
"In the sulks!"
Mr. Bain did not say this aloud, but such was his thought, as he
turned away and left the house. He did not feel altogether
comfortable, of course. No man feels comfortable while there is a
cloud upon the brow of his wife, whether it be occasioned by
peevishness, ill-temper, bodily or mental suffering. No, Mr. Bain did
not feel altogether comfortable, nor satisfied with himself, as he
walked along to his store; for there came across his mind a dim
recollection of having heard the baby fretting and crying during the
night; and also of having seen the form of his wife moving to and fro
in the chamber, while he lay snugly reposing in bed.
But these were unpleasant images, and Mr. Bain thrust them from his
While Mr. Bain took his morning walk to his store, his lungs freely
and pleasurably expanding in the pure, invigorating air, his wife, to
whose throbbing temples the anguish had returned, and whose relaxed
muscles had scarcely enough tension to support the weight of her
slender frame, slowly and painfully began the work of getting her two
oldest children ready for school. This done, the baby had to be washed
and dressed. It screamed during the whole operation, and when, at
last, it fell asleep upon her bosom, she was so completely exhausted,
that she had to lie down. Tears wet her pillow as she lay with her
babe upon her arm. He, to whom alone she had a right to look for
sympathy, for support, and for strength in her many trials, did not
appear to sympathize with her in the least. If she looked sober from
the pressure of pain, fatigue, or domestic trials, he became
impatient, and sometimes said, with cruel thoughtlessness, that he was
tired of clouds and rain, and would give the world for a wife who
could smile now and then. If, amid her many household cares and
duties, she happened to neglect some little matter that affected his
comfort, he failed not to express his annoyance, and not always in
carefully chosen words. No wonder that her woman's heart melted—no
wonder that hot tears were on her cheeks.
Mr. Bain had, as we have said, an excellent appetite; and he took
especial pleasure in its gratification. He liked his dinner
particularly, and his dinners were always good dinners. He went to
market himself. On his way to his store he passed through the market,
and his butcher sent home what he purchased.
"The marketing has come home," said the cook to Mrs. Bain, about
ten o'clock, arousing her from a brief slumber into which she had
fallen—a slumber that exhausted nature demanded, and which would
have done far more than medicine for the restoration of something
like a healthy tone to her system.
"Very well. I will come down in a little while," returned Mrs.
Bain, raising herself on her elbow, and see about dinner. What has Mr.
Bain sent home?"
"A calf's head."
"A calf's head."
"Very well. I will be down to see about it." Mrs. Bain repressed
any further remark.
Sick and exhausted as she felt, she must spend at least two hours
in the kitchen in making soup and dressing the calf's head for her
husband's dinner. Nothing of this could be trusted to the cook, for
to trust any part of its preparation to her was to have it spoiled.
With a sigh, Mrs. Bain arose from the bed. At first she staggered
across the room like one intoxicated, and the pain, which had
subsided during her brief slumber, returned again with added
violence. But, really sick as she felt, she went down to the kitchen
and passed full two hours there in the preparation of delicacies for
her husband's dinner. And what was her reward?
"This is the worst calf's head soup you ever made. What have you
done to it?" said Mr. Bain, pushing the plate of soup from before
him, with an expression of disgust on his face.
There were tears in the eyes of the suffering wife, and she lifted
them to her husband's countenance. Steadily she looked at him for a
few moments; then her lips quivered, and the tears fell over her
cheeks. Hastily rising, she left the dining room.
"It is rather hard that I can't speak without having a scene,"
muttered Mr. Bain, as he tried his soup once more. It did not suit
his taste at all; so he pushed it from him, and made his dinner of
As his wife had been pleased to go off up-stairs in a huff, just at
a word, Mr. Bain did not feel inclined to humour her. So, after
finishing his dinner, he took his hat and left the house, without so
much as seeking to offer a soothing word.
Does the reader wonder that, when Mr. Bain returned in the evening,
he found his wife so seriously ill as to make it necessary to send
for their family physician? No, the reader will not wonder at this.
But Mr. Bain felt a little surprised. He had not anticipated any
thing of the kind.
Mrs. Bain was not only ill, but delirious. Her feeble frame,
exhausted by maternal duties, and ever-beginning, never-ending
household cares, had yielded under the accumulation of burdens too
heavy to bear.
For a while after Mr. Bain's return, his wife talked much, but
incoherently; then she became quiet. But her fever remained high, and
inflammation tended strongly towards the brain. He was sitting by the
bedside about ten o'clock, alone with her, when she began to talk in
her wandering way again; but her words were distinct and coherent.
"I tried to do it right," said she, sadly; "but my head ached so
that I did not know what I was doing. Ah me! I never please him now
in any thing. I wish I could always look pleasant—cheerful. But I
can't. Well! well! it won't last for ever. I never feel
well—never—never—never! And I'm so faint and weak in the morning!
But he has no patience with me. He doesn't know what it is to
feel sick. Ah me!"
And her voice sighed itself away into silence.
With what a rebuking force did these words fall upon the ears of
Mr. Bain! He saw himself in a new light. He was the domestic tyrant,
and not the kind and thoughtful husband.
A few days, and Mrs. Bain was moving about her house and among her
children once more, pale as a shadow, and with lines of pain upon her
fore-head. How differently was she now treated by her husband! With
what considerate tenderness he regarded her! But, alas! he saw his
error too late! The gentle, loving creature, who had come to his side
ten years before, was not much longer to remain with him. A few brief
summers came and went, and then her frail body was laid amid the clods
of the valley.
Alas! how many, like Mrs. Bain, have thus passed away, who, if
truly loved and cared for, would have been the light of now darkened
hearths, and the blessing and joy of now motherless children and