“I should not like to have her talk of me as she talks of some people whom I think a great deal better than she is.”
“Let her talk. What she says will be no scandal,” returned Mr. Leland.
“Even admit that, I don’t want to be on bad terms with a neighbor. If she were to remove from the neighborhood, the thing would assume a different aspect. As it is, I cannot do as I please.”
“Can’t you indeed? Then I think we had better move forthwith, in order that you may be free to act right. There is one thing that I intend doing, immediately, in any event, and that is, to forbid Jane from associating any longer with Mary Halloran.”
“She cannot help herself. Mary calls for her every day.”
“She can help going out with her and returning her calls; and this she must do.”
“I wish it could be prevented. But I am afraid of harsh measures.”
“I am more afraid of the consequences to our daughter. We know not into what company this indiscreet young lady may introduce, nor how deeply she may corrupt her. Our duty to our child requires us at once to break up all intercourse with the family.”
The necessity Mrs. Leland saw clearly enough, but she hesitated. Her husband, however, was not a man to hold back when his duty was before him. Neither fear nor favor governed him in his actions toward others. When satisfied that a thing ought to be done, he entered fearlessly upon the work, leaving consequences to take care of themselves.
While they were yet conversing Jane came to the door, accompanied by a young gallant. Mr. Leland happened to be sitting near the window and saw him.
“Bless my heart!” he said, in an excited voice.
“Here she is now, in company with that good-for-nothing son of Mr. Clement. She might almost as well associate with Satan himself.”
“With John Clement?” asked Mrs. Leland, in surprise.
“It is too true; and the fellow had the assurance to kiss his hand to her. This matter has gone quite far enough now, in all conscience, and must be stopped, if half the world become offended.”
Mrs. Leland doubted and hesitated no longer. The young man who had come home with Jane bore a notoriously bad character. It was little less than disgrace, in the eyes of virtuous people, for a lady to be seen in the street with him. Mr. and Mrs. Leland were shocked and distressed at the appearance of things; and mutually resolved that all intercourse with Mrs. Halloran and her daughter should cease. This could not be effected without giving offence; but no matter, offence would have to be given.
On that very afternoon Mrs. Halloran called in. But Mrs. Leland sent her word that she was engaged.
“Engaged, indeed!” said the lady to the servant, tossing her head. “I’m never engaged to a neighbor.”
The servant repeated the words.
“Be engaged again, if she calls,” said Mr. Leland, when his wife mentioned the remark of her visitor. “It will raise an effectual barrier between you.”
Some serious conversation was had with Jane that day by her mother, but Jane was by no means submissive.
“Your father positively forbids any farther intimacy between you and Mary Halloran. I shall have nothing more to do with her mother.”
Jane met this declaration with a passionate gush of tears, and an intimation that she was not prepared to sacrifice the friendship of Mary, whom she believed to be quite as good as herself.
“It must be done, Jane. Your father has the best of reasons for desiring it, and I hope you will not think for a moment of opposing his wishes.”
“He doesn’t know Mary as I know her. His prejudices have no foundation in truth,” said Jane.
“No matter how pure she may be,” replied the mother, “she has already introduced you into bad company. A virtuous young lady should blush to be seen in the street with the man who came home with you to-day.”
“Who, Mr. Clement?” inquired Jane.
“Yes, John Clement. His bad conduct is so notorious as to exclude him entirely from the families of many persons, who have the independence to mark with just reprehension his evil deeds. It grieves me to think that you were not instinctively repelled by him the moment he approached you.”
Jane’s manner changed at these words. But the change did not clearly indicate to her mother what was passing in her mind. From that moment she met with silence nearly every thing that her mother said.
Early on the next day Mary Halloran called for Jane, as she was regularly in the habit of doing. Mrs. Leland purposely met her at the door, and when she inquired for Jane, asked her, with an air of cold politeness, to excuse her daughter, as she was engaged.
“Not engaged to _me_,” said Mary, evincing surprise.
“You must excuse her, Miss Halloran; she is engaged this morning,” returned the mother, with as much distance and formality as at first.
Mary Halloran turned away, evidently offended.
“Ah me!” sighed Mrs. Leland, as she closed the door upon the giddy young girl; “how much trouble has my indiscreetness cost me. My husband was right, and I felt that he was right; but, in the face of his better judgment, I sought the acquaintance of this woman, and now, where the consequences are to end, heaven only knows.”
“Was that Mary Halloran?” inquired Jane, who came down stairs as her mother returned along the passage.
“It was,” replied the mother.
“Why did she go away?”
“I told her you were engaged.”
“Why, mother!” Jane seemed greatly disturbed.
“It is your father’s wish as well as mine,” said Mrs. Leland calmly, “that all intercourse between you and this young lady cease, and for reasons that I have tried to explain to you. She is one whose company you cannot keep without injury.”
Jane answered with tears, and retired to her chamber, where she wrote a long and tender letter to Mary, explaining her position. This letter she got the chambermaid to deliver, and bribed her to secrecy. Mary replied, in an epistle full of sympathy for her unhappy condition, and full of indignation at the harsh judgment of her parents in regard to herself. The letter contained various suggestions in regard to the manner in which Jane ought to conduct herself, none of them at all favorable to submission and concluded with warm attestations of friendship.
From that time an active correspondence took place between the young ladies, and occasional meetings at times when the parents of Jane supposed her to be at the houses of some of their friends.
As for Mrs. Halloran, she was seriously offended at the sudden repulse both she and her daughter had met, and spared no pains, and let no opportunity go unimproved, for saying hard things of Mrs. Leland and her family. Even while Mary was carrying on a tender and confidential correspondence with Jane, she was hinting disreputable things against the thoughtless girl, and doing her a serious injury.
The first intimation that the parents had of any thing being wrong, was the fact that two very estimable ladies, for whom they had a high respect, and with whose daughters Jane was on terms of intimacy, twice gave Jane the same answer that Mrs. Leland had given Mary Halloran; thus virtually saying to her that they did not wish her to visit their daughters. Both Mr. and Mrs. Leland, when Jane mentioned these occurrences, left troubled. Not long after, a large party was given by one of the ladies, but no invitations were sent to either Mr. or Mrs. Leland, or their daughter. This was felt to be an intended omission.
After long and serious reflection on the subject, Mrs. Leland felt it to be her duty, as a parent, to see this lady, and frankly ask the reason of her conduct towards Jane, as well as toward her and her husband. She felt called upon to do this, in order to ascertain if there were not some things injurious to her daughter in common report. The lady seemed embarrassed on meeting Mrs. Leland, but the latter, without any excitement, or the appearance of being in the least offended, spoke of what had occurred, and then said–
“Now, there must be a reason for this. Will you honestly tell me what it is?”
The lady seemed confused and hesitated.
“Do not fear to speak plainly, my dear madam. Tell me the whole truth. There is something wrong, and I ought to know it. Put yourself in my place, and you will not long hesitate what to do.”
“It is a delicate and painful subject for me to speak of to you, Mrs. Leland.”
“No matter. Speak out without disguise.”
After some reflection, the lady said–
“I have daughters, and am tremblingly alive to their good. I feel it to be my duty to protect them from all associations likely to do them an injury. Am I not right in this?”
“There is one young man in this city whose very name should shock the ear of innocence and purity. I mean Clement.”
“You cannot think worse of him than I do.”
“And yet, I am told, Mrs. Leland, that your daughter may be seen on the street with him almost every day; and not only on the streeet, but at balls, concerts, and the theatre.”
“Who says so?”
“I have heard it from several,” replied the lady, speaking slower and more thoughtfully. “Mrs. Halloran mentioned it to the person who first told me; and, since then, I have frequently heard it spoken of.”
In answer to this, Mrs. Leland related the whole history of her intercourse with Mrs. Halloran, and the cause of its interruption. She then said–
“Once, only, are we aware of our daughter’s having met this young man. Since then, she has gone out but rarely, and has not been from home a single evening, unless in our company; so that the broad charge of association with Clement is unfounded, and has had its origin in a malignant spirit.”
“I understand it all, now, clearly,” replied the lady. “Mrs. Halloran is a woman of no principle. You have deeply offended her, and she takes this method of being revenged.”
“That is the simple truth. I was urged by my husband not to call upon her when she moved in our square, but I felt it to be only right to visit her as a neighbor.”
“A woman like Mrs. Halloran is not to be regarded as a neighbor,” replied the lady.
“So my husband argued, but I was blind enough to think differently, and to act as I thought. Dearly enough am I paying for my folly. Where the consequences will end is more than I can tell.”
“We may be able to counteract them to a certain extent,” said the lady. “Understanding as I now do, clearly, your position toward Mrs. Halloran, I will be able to neutralize a great deal that she says. But I am afraid your daughter is misleading you in some things, and giving color to what is said of her.”
“How so?” asked Mrs. Leland in surprise.
“Was she out yesterday?”
“Yes. She went to see her cousins in the morning.”
“One of my daughters says she met her in the street, in company with the very individual of whom we are speaking.”
“My daughter says she is not mistaken,” returned the lady.
Mrs. Leland’s distress of mind, as to this intelligence, may be imagined. On returning home, she found that Jane had gone out during her absence. She went up into her daughter’s room, and found a note addressed to Jane lying upon her table. After some reflection, she felt it to be her duty to open the note, which she did. It was from Mary Halloran, and in these words:–
“MY SWEET FRIEND,–I saw Mr. Clement last night at the opera. He had a great deal to say about you, and uttered many flattering compliments on your beauty. He says that he would like to meet you to-morrow evening, and will be at the corner of Eighth and Pine streets at half past seven o’clock. Can you get away at that time, without exciting suspicion? If you can, don’t fail to meet him, as he is very desirous that you should do so. I was delighted with the opera, and wished a hundred times that you were with me to enjoy it.
Mrs. Leland clasped her hands together, and leaned forward upon the bureau near which she had been standing, scarcely able to sustain her own weight. It was many minutes before she could think clearly. After much reflection, she thought it best not to say anything to Jane about the note. This course was approved by Mr. Leland, who believed with his wife, that it was better that Jane should be kept in ignorance of its contents, at least until the time mentioned for her joining Clement had passed. Both the parents were deeply troubled; and bitterly did Mrs. Leland repent her folly in making the acquaintance of their new neighbor, simply because she was a neighbor according to proximity.
It was after seven o’clock when the tea bell rang that evening. Mr. and Mrs. Leland descended to the dining-room, and took their places at the table.
“Where is Jane?” asked Mrs. Leland, after they had been seated a few moments.
“She went out five or ten minutes ago,” replied the waiter.
Both the mother and father started, with exclamations of surprise and alarm, from the table. Mr. Leland seized his hat and cane, and rushing from the house, ran at full speed toward the place which Clement had appointed for a meeting with his daughter. He arrived in time to see a lady hastily enter a carriage, followed by a man. The carriage drove off rapidly. A cab was passing near him at the time, to the driver of which he called in an excited voice.
“Do you see that carriage?” Mr. Leland said eagerly, as the man reined up his horse. “Keep within sight of it until it stops, and I will give you ten dollars.”
“Jump in,” returned the driver. “I’ll keep in sight.”
For nearly a quarter of an hour the wheels of the cab rattled in the ears of Mr. Leland. It then stopped, and the anxious father sprang out upon the pavement. The carriage had drawn up a little in advance, and a lady was descending from it, assisted by a man. Mr. Leland knew the form of his daughter. Ere the young lady and her attendant could cross the pavement, he had confronted them. Angry beyond the power of control, he seized the arm of Jane with one hand, and, as he drew away from her companion, knocked him down with a tremendous blow from the cane which he held in the other. Then dragging, or rather carrying, his frightened daughter to the cab, thrust her in, and, as he followed after, gave the driver the direction of his house, and ordered him to go there at the quickest speed. Jane either was, or affected to be, unconscious, when she arrived at home.
Two days after, this paragraph appeared in one of the daily papers.
“SAVED FROM THE BRINK OF RUIN.–A young man of notoriously bad character, yet connected with one of our first families, recently attempted to draw aside from virtue an innocent but thoughtless and unsuspecting girl, the daughter of a respectable citizen. He appointed a meeting with her in the street at night, and she was mad enough to join him at the hour mentioned. Fortunately it happened that the father, by some means, received intelligence of what was going on, and hurried to the place. He arrived in time to see them enter a carriage and drive off. He followed in another carriage, and when they stopped before a house, well known to be one of evil repute, he confronted them on the pavement, knocked the young villain down, and carried his daughter off home. We forbear to mention names, as it would do harm, rather than good, the young lady being innocent of any evil intent, and unsuspicious of wrong in her companion. We hope it will prove a lesson that she will never forget. She made a most fortunate escape.”
When Jane Leland was shown this paragraph, she shuddered and turned pale; and the shudder went deeper, and her cheek became still paler, a few weeks later when the sad intelligence came that Mary Halloran had fallen into the same snare that had been laid for her feet; a willing victim too many believed, for she was not ignorant of Clement’s real character.
By sad experience Mrs. Leland was taught the folly of any weak departure from what is clearly seen to be a right course of action; and she understood, better than she had ever done before, the oft-repeated remark of her husband that “only those whose principles and conduct we approve are to be considered, in any true sense, neighbors.”
NOT AT HOME.
JONAS BEBEE has one merit, if he possesses no other, and that is, the merit of being able to make himself completely at home with all his friends, male or female, high or low, rich or poor, under any and all circumstances. His good opinion of himself leaves no room for his imagination to conceive the idea, that possibly there may be, in his character, certain peculiarities not agreeable to all. It never occurs to him, that he may chance to make a _mal apropos_ visit, nor that the prolongation of a call may be a serious annoyance; for he is so entirely satisfied with himself that he is sure every one else must feel his presence as a kind of sunshine.
Of course, such being the character of Mr. Jonas Bebee, it may readily be inferred that he is very likely to commit an occasional mistake, and blunder, though unconsciously, into the commission of acts most terribly annoying to others. His evening calls upon ladies generally produce a marked effect upon those specially selected for the favor. The character of the effect will appear in the following little scene, which we briefly sketch–
“Gentleman in the parlor,” says a servant coming into a room where two or three young ladies sit sewing or reading.
“Who is he?” is the natural inquiry.
“Say we are not at home, Kitty.”
“No–no, Kitty, you mustn’t say that,” interposes one. “Tell him the ladies will be down in a little while.”
Kitty accordingly retires.
“I’m not going down,” says one, more self willed and independent than the rest.
You’ve as much right to be annoyed with him as we have,” is replied to this.
“I don’t care.”
“I wish he’d stay away from here. Nobody wants him.”
“He’s after you, Aggy.”
“After me!” replied Agnes. “Goodness knows I don’t want him. I hate the very sight of him!”
“It’s no use fretting ourselves over the annoyance, we’ve got to endure it,” says one of the young ladies. “So, come, let’s put on the best face possible.”
“You can go, Cara, if you choose, but I’m in no hurry; nor will he be in any haste to go. Say to him that I’ll be along in the course of half an hour.”
“No, you must all make your own apologies.”
In the meantime Mr. Bebee patiently awaits the arrival of the ladies, who make their appearance, one after the other, some time during the next half hour. He compliments them, asks them to sing and play, and leads the conversation until towards eleven o’clock, when he retires in the best possible humor with himself and the interesting young ladies favored with his presence. He has not even a distant suspicion of the real truth, that his visit was considered an almost unendurable infliction.
Mr. Bebee’s morning calls are often more unwelcome. He walks in, as a matter of course, takes his seat in the parlor, and sends up his name by the servant. If told that the lady is not at home, a suspicion that it may not be so does not cross his mind; for he cannot imagine it possible that any one would make such an excuse in order to avoid seeing _him_. Should the lady not be willing to utter an untruth, nor feel independent enough to send word that she is engaged, an hour’s waste of time, at least, must be her penalty; for Mr. Bebee’s morning calls are never of shorter duration. He knows, as well as any one, that visits of politeness should be brief; but he is on such familiar terms with all his friends, that he can waive all ceremony–and he generally does so, making himself “at home,” as he says, wherever he goes.
One day Mr. Jonas Bebee recollected that he had not called upon a certain Mrs. Fairview, for some weeks; and as the lady was, like most of his acquaintances, a particular friend, he felt that he was neglecting her. So he started forth to make her a call.
It was Saturday, and Mrs. Fairview, after having been, for the greater part of the morning, in the kitchen making cake, came up to the parlor to dust and re-arrange some of the articles there a little more to her liking. Her hair was in papers, and her morning wrapper not in a very elegant condition, having suffered a little during the cake-making process. It was twelve o’clock, and Mrs. Fairview was about leaving the parlor, when some one rung the bell. Gliding noiselessly to the window, she obtained a view of Mr. Bebee.
“O, dear!” she sighed, “am I to have this infliction to-day? But it’s no use; I won’t see him!”
By this time the servant was moving along the passage towards the door.
“Hannah!” called the lady, in a whisper, beckoning at the same time with her hand.
Hannah came into the parlor.
“Say I’m not at home, Hannah.”
“Yes, ma’am,” replied the girl, who proceeded on towards the street door, while Mrs. Fairview remained in the parlor.
“Is Mrs. Fairview in?” the latter heard the visitor ask.
“No, sir,” replied Hannah.
“No, sir. She’s gone out.”
By this time Mr. Bebee stood within the vestibule.
“O, well; I reckon I’ll just drop in and wait awhile. No doubt she’ll be home, soon.”
“I don’t think she will return before two o’clock,” said Hannah, knowing that her mistress, looking more like a scarecrow than a genteel lady, was still in the parlor, and seeing that the visiter was disposed to pass her by and make himself a temporary occupant of the same room.
“No matter,” returned the gentleman, “I’ll just step in for a little while and enjoy myself by the parlor fire. It’s a bitter cold day–perhaps she will be home sooner.”
“O, no, sir. She told me that she would not come back until dinner-time,” said the anxious Hannah, who fully appreciated the dilemma in which her mistress would find herself, should Mr. Bebee make his way into the parlor.
“It’s no consequence. You can just say to her, if she does not return while I am here, that I called and made myself at home for half an hour or so.” And with this, Mr. Bebee passed by the girl, and made his way towards the parlor.
In despair, Hannah ran back to her place in the kitchen, wondering what her mistress would say or do when Mr. Bebee found that she was at home–and, moreover, in such a plight!
In the meantime, Mrs. Fairview, who had been eagerly listening to what passed between Hannah and the visiter, finding that he was about invading her parlor, and seeing no way of escape, retreated into a little room, or office, built off from and communicating only with the parlor. As she entered this room and shut the door, the cold air penetrated her garments and sent a chill through her frame. There was no carpet on the floor of this little box of a place, and it contained neither sofa, chair, nor anything else to sit upon. Moreover, it had but a single door, and that one led into the parlor. Escape, therefore, was cut off, entirely; and to remain long where she was could not be done except at the risk of taking a severe cold.
Through the openings in a Venitian blind that was hung against the glass door, Mrs. Fairview saw the self-satisfied Mr. Bebee draw up the large cushioned chair before the grate, and with a book in his hand, seat himself comfortably and begin to make himself entirely “at home.” The prospect was, that he would thus remain “at home,” for at least the next half hour, if not longer. What was she to do? The thermometer was almost down to zero, and she was dressed for a temperature of seventy.
“I shall catch my death a cold,” she sighed, as the chilly air penetrated her garments, and sent a shudder through her frame.
Comfortably, and as much at home as if he were in his own parlor, sat Mr. Bebee in front of the roaring grate, rocking himself in the great arm-chair, and enjoying a new book which he had found upon the table.
As Mrs. Fairview looked at him, and saw the complete repose and satisfaction of his manner, she began to feel in utter despair. Already her teeth were beginning to chatter, and she was shivering as if attacked by a fit of ague. Five, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes elapsed–but there sat the visiter, deeply absorbed in his book; and there stood the unfortunate lady who was “not at home,” so benumbed with cold as almost to have lost the sense of bodily feeling. A certain feeling in the throat warned her that she was taking cold, and would, in all probability, suffer from inflammation of the windpipe and chest. Five, ten, fifteen minutes more went by; but Mr. Beebe did not move from his place. He was far too comfortable to think of that.
At last after remaining in prison for nearly an hour, Mrs. Fairview, who by this time was beginning to suffer, besides excessive fatigue, from a sharp pain through her breast to her left shoulder blade, and who was painfully aware that she had taken a cold that would, in all probability, put her in bed for a week, determined to make her escape at all hazards. Mr. Beebe showed no disposition to go, and might remain for an hour longer. Throwing an apron over her head and face, she softly opened the door, and gliding past her visiter, escaped into the hall, and ran panting up stairs. Mr. Beebe raised his head at this unexpected invasion of the parlor, but on reflection concluded that the person who so suddenly appeared and disappeared was merely a servant in the family.
About an hour afterwards, finding that Mrs. Fairview did not return, Mr. Beebe left his card on the table, and departed in his usual comfortable state of mind.
Poor Mrs. Fairview paid dearly for her part in this transaction. A severe attack of inflammation of the lungs followed, which came near resulting in death. It was nearly three weeks before she was able to leave her room, and then her physician said she must not venture out before the mild weather of the opening spring.
A few days after the lady was able to go about the house again, Mr. Bebee called to congratulate her on her recovery. Two of her children were in the parlor; one eleven years old, and the other a child in her fourth year.
“O, you naughty man, you!” exclaimed the latter, the moment she saw Mr. Bebee. The oldest of the two children, who understood in a moment what her little sister meant, whispered: “H-u-s-h!–h-u-s-h! Mary!”
“What am I naughty about, my little sis?” said Mr. Bebee.
“O, because you are a naughty man! You made my mother sick, so you did! And mother says she never wants to look in your face again. You are a naughty man!”
“Mary! Mary! Hush! hush!” exclaimed the elder sister, trying to stop the child.
“Made your mother sick?” said Mr. Bebee. “How did I do that?”
“Why, you shut her up in that little room there, all in the cold, when you were here and staid so long, one day. And it made her sick–so it did.”
“Shut her up in that room! what does the child mean?” said Mr. Bebee, speaking to the elder sister.
“Mary! Mary! I’m ashamed of you. Come away!” was the only response made to this.
Mr. Bebee was puzzled. He asked himself as to the meaning of this strange language. All at once, he remembered that after he had been sitting in the parlor for an hour, on the occasion referred to, some one had come out of the little room referred to by the child, and swept past him almost as quick as a flash. But it had never once occurred to him that this was the lady he had called to visit, who, according to the servant, was not at home.
“I didn’t shut your mother up in that room, Mary,” said he, to the child.
“O, but you did. And she got cold, and almost died.”
At this the elder sister, finding that she could do nothing with little Mary, escaped from the parlor, and running up stairs, made a report to her mother of what was going on below.
“Mercy!” exclaimed the lady, in painful surprise.
“She told him that you said you never wanted to look upon his face again,” said the little girl.
“Yes. And she is telling him a great deal more. I tried my best to make her stop, but couldn’t.”
“Rachel! Go down and bring that child out of the parlor!” said Mrs. Fairview, to a servant. “It is too bad! I had no idea that the little witch knew anything about it. So much for talking before children!”
“And so much for not being at home when you are,” remarked a sister of Mrs. Fairview, who happened to be present.
“So much for having an acquaintance who makes himself at home in your house, whether you want him or not.”
“No doubt you are both sufficiently well punished.”
“I have been, I know.”
The heavy jar of the street door was heard at this moment.
“He’s gone, I do believe!”
And so it proved. What else little Mary said to him was never known, as the violent scolding she received when her mother got hold of her, sealed her lips on the subject, or drove all impressions relating thereto from her memory.
Mr. Bebee never called again.
THE FATAL ERROR.
“CLINTON!” said Margaret Hubert, with a look of supreme contempt. Don’t speak of him to me, Lizzy. His very name is an offence to my ears!” and the lady’s whole manner became disturbed.
“He will be at the ball to-night, of course, and will renew his attentions,” said the friend, in an earnest, yet quiet voice. “Now, for all your expressions of dislike, I have thought that you were really far from being indifferent to Mr. Clinton, and affected a repugnance at variance with your true feelings.”
“Lizzy, you will offend me if you make use of such language. I tell you he is hateful to me,” replied Miss Hubert.
“Of course, you ought to know your own state of mind best,” said Lizzy Edgar. “If it is really as you say, I must confess that my observation has not been accurate. As to there being anything in Mr. Clinton to inspire an emotion of contempt, or create so strong a dislike as you express, I have yet to see it. To me he has ever appeared in the light of a gentleman.”
“Then suppose you make yourself agreeable to him, Lizzy,” said Miss Hubert.
“I try to make myself agreeable to every one,” replied the even-minded girl. “That is a duty I owe to those with whom I associate.”
“Whether you like them or not?”
“It doesn’t follow, because I do not happen to like a person, that I should render myself disagreeable to him.”
“I never tolerate people that I don’t like,” said Miss Hubert.
“We needn’t associate too intimately with those who are disagreeable to us,” returned her friend; “but when we are thrown together in society, the least we can do is to be civil.”
“You may be able to disguise your real feelings, but I cannot. Whatever emotion passes over my mind is seen in my face and discovered in my tone of voice. All who know me see me as I am.”
And yet, notwithstanding this affirmation, Margaret Hubert did not, at all times, display her real feelings. And her friend Lizzy Edgar was right in assuming that she was by no means indifferent to Mr. Clinton. The appearance of dislike was assumed as a mask, and the distance and reserve she displayed towards him were the offspring of a false pride and unwomanly self-esteem. The truth was, her heart had, almost unsought, been won. The manly bearing, personal grace and brilliant mind of Philip Clinton, had captivated her feelings and awakened an emotion of love ere she was conscious that her heart was in danger. And she had even leaned towards him instinctively, and so apparently that the young man observed it, and was attracted thereby. The moment, however, he became at all marked in his attentions, the whole manner of Margaret changed. She was then aware of the rashness she had displayed, and her pride instantly took the alarm. Reserve, dignity, and even hauteur, characterized her bearing towards Clinton; and to those who spoke of him as a lover, she replied in terms nearly similar to what she used to her friend Lizzy Edgar, on the occasion to which reference has just been made.
All this evidenced weakness of mind as well as pride. She wished to be sought before she was won–at least, that was the language she used to herself. Her lover must come, like a knight of old, and sue on bended knee for favor.
Clinton observed the marked change in her manner. Fortunately for his peace of mind, he was not so deeply in love as to be very seriously distressed. He had admired her beauty, her accomplishments, and the winning grace of her manners; and more, had felt his heart beginning to warm towards her. But the charm with which she had been invested, faded away the moment the change of which we have spoken became apparent. He was not a man of strong, ungovernable impulses; all his passions were under the control of right reason, and this gave him a clear judgment. Consequently, he was the last person in the world for an experiment such as Margaret Hubert was making. At first he thought there must be some mistake, and continued to offer the young lady polite attentions, coldly and distantly as they were received. He even went farther than his real feelings bore him out in going, and made particular advances, in order to be perfectly satisfied that there was no mistake about her dislike or repugnance.
But there was one thing which at first Clinton did not understand. It was this. Frequently, when in company where Margaret was present, he would, if he turned his eyes suddenly upon her, find that she was looking at him with an expression which told him plainly that he was not indifferent to her. This occurred so often, and was so frequently attended with evident confusion on her part, that he began to have a suspicion of the real truth, and to feel disgust at so marked an exhibition of insincerity. Besides, the thought of being experimented upon in this way, did not in the least tend to soften his feelings towards the fair one. He believed in frankness, honesty and reciprocal sincerity. He liked a truthful, ingenuous mind, and turned instinctively from all artifice, coquetry or affectation.
The game which Miss Hubert was playing had been in progress only a short time, when her friend Lizzy Edgar, who was on terms of close intimacy, spent the day with her, occupying most of the time in preparation for a fancy ball that was to come off that night. The two young ladies attired themselves with much care, each with a view to effect. Margaret looked particularly to the assumption of a certain dignity, and her costume for the evening had been chosen with that end in view. A ruff, and her grand-mother’s rich silk brocade, did give to her tall person all the dignity she could have desired.
At the proper time the father of Miss Hubert accompanied the young ladies to the ball, preparations for which had for some time been in progress. As soon almost as Margaret entered the room, her eyes began to wander about in search of Mr. Clinton. It was not long before she discovered him–nor long before his eyes rested upon and recognized her stately figure.
“If she be playing a part, as I more than half suspect,” said the young man to himself, “her performance will end to-night, so far as I am concerned.”
And with the remark, he moved towards that part of the room where the two young ladies were standing. Lizzy returned his salutations with a frank and easy grace, but Margaret drew herself up coldly, and replied to his remarks with brief formality. Clinton remained with them only long enough to pass a few compliments, and then moved away and mingled with the crowd in another part of the large saloon, where the gay company were assembled. During the next hour, he took occasion now and then to search out Margaret in the crowd, and more than once he found that her eyes were upon him.
“Once more,” he said, crossing the room and going up to where she was leaning upon the arm of an acquaintance.
“May I have the pleasure of dancing with you in the next set?”
“Thank you, sir,” replied Margaret, with unbending dignity; “I am already engaged.”
Clinton bowed and turned away. The fate of the maiden was sealed. She had carried her experiment too far. As the young man moved across the room, he saw Lizzy Edgar sitting alone, her face lit up with interest as she noted the various costumes, and observed the ever-forming and dissolving tableaux that filled the saloon, and presented to the eye a living kaleidoscope.
“Alone,” he said, pausing before the warm-hearted, even tempered girl.
“One cannot be alone here,” she replied, with a sweet smile irradiating her countenance. “What a fairy scene it is,” she added, as her eyes wandered from the face of Clinton and again fell upon the brilliant groups around them.
“Have you danced this evening?” asked Clinton.
“In one set,” answered Lizzy.
“Are you engaged for the next in which you may feel disposed to take the floor?”
“Then may I claim you for my partner?”
“If it is your pleasure to do so,” replied Lizzy, smiling.
In a cotillion formed soon afterward in that part of the room, were Margaret Hubert and her sweet friend Lizzy Edgar. Margaret had a warmer color on her cheeks than usual, and her dignity towered up into an air of haughtiness, all of which Clinton observed. Its effect was to make his heart cold towards her, instead of awakening an ardent desire to win a proud and distant beauty.
In vain did Margaret look for the young man to press forward, the moment the cotillion was dissolved, and claim her for the next. He lingered by the side of Miss Edgar, more charmed with her than he had ever been, until some one else came and engaged the hand of Miss Hubert. The disappointed and unhappy girl now unbent herself from the cold dignity that had marked her bearing since her entrance into the ball-room, and sought to win him to her side by the flashing brilliancy of her manners; but her efforts were unavailing. Clinton had felt the sweeter, purer, stronger attractions of one free from all artifice; and when he left her side, he had no wish to pass to that of one whose coldness had repelled, and whose haughtiness had insulted him.
On the next day, when Lizzy called upon her friend, she found her in a very unhappy state of mind. As to the ball and the people who attended, she was exceedingly captious in all her remarks. When Clinton was mentioned, she spoke of him with a sneer. Lizzy hardly knew how to take her. Why the young man should be so offensive, she was at a loss to imagine, and honestly came to the conclusion that she had been mistaken in her previous supposition that Margaret really felt an interest in him.
A few evenings only elapsed before Clinton called upon Miss Edgar, and from that time visited her regularly. An offer of marriage was the final result. This offer Lizzy accepted.
The five or six months that elapsed from the time Clinton became particular in his attentions to Miss Edgar, until he formally declared himself a lover, passed with Margaret Herbert in one long-continued and wild struggle with her feelings. Conscious of her error, and madly conscious, because conviction had come too late, she wrestled vigorously, but in vain, with a passion that, but for her own folly, would have met a free and full return. Lizzy spoke to her of Clinton’s marked attentions, but did not know how, like heavy and painful strokes, every word she uttered fell upon her heart. She saw that Margaret was far from being happy, and often tenderly urged her to tell the cause, but little dreamed of the real nature of her sufferings.
At last Lizzy told her, with a glowing cheek, that Clinton had owned his love for her, and claimed her hand in marriage. For some moments after this communication was made, Margaret could offer no reply. Her heart trembled faintly in her bosom and almost ceased to beat; but she rallied herself, and concealed what she felt under warm congratulations. Lizzy was deceived, though in her friend’s manner there was something that she could not fully comprehend.
“You must be my bridesmaid,” said the happy girl, a month or two afterwards.
“Why not choose some one else?” asked Margaret.
“Because I love you better than any friend I have,” replied Lizzy, putting an arm around the neck of Margaret and kissing her.
“No, no; I cannot–I cannot!” was the unexpressed thought of Margaret–while something like a shudder went over her. But the eyes of her friend did not penetrate the sad secret of her heart.
“Come, dear, say yes. Why do you hesitate? I would hardly believe myself married if you were not by my side when the nuptial pledge was given.”
“It shall be as you wish,” replied Margaret.
“Perhaps you misunderstood me,” said Lizzy, playfully; “I was not speaking of my funeral, but of my wedding.”
This sportive sally gave Margaret an opportunity to recover herself, which she did promptly; and never once, from that time until the wedding day of her friend arrived, did she by look or word betray what was in her heart.
Intense was the struggle that went on in the mind of Margaret Hubert. But it was of no avail; she loved Clinton with a wild intensity that was only the more fervid from its hopelessness. But pride and a determined will concealed what neither could destroy.
At last the wedding night of Lizzy Edgar arrived, and a large company assembled to witness the holy rite that was to be performed, and to celebrate the occasion with appropriate festivities. Margaret, when the morning of that day broke coldly and drearily upon her, felt so sad at heart that she wept, and, weeping, wished that she could die. There had been full time for reflection since, by her own acts, she had repulsed one in whom her heart felt a deep interest, and repulsed him with such imprudent force that he never returned to her again. Suffering had chastened her spirit, although it could not still the throbbings of pain. As the time approached when she must stand beside her friend and listen to vows of perpetual love that she would have given all the world, were it in her possession, to hear as her own, she felt that she was about entering upon a trial for which her strength would be little more than adequate.
But there was no retreat now. The ordeal had to be passed through. At last the time of trial came, and she descended with her friend, and stood up with her before the minister of God, who was to say the fitting words and receive the solemn vows required in the marriage covenant. From the time Margaret took her place on the floor, she felt her power over herself failing. Most earnestly did she struggle for calmness and self-control, but the very fear that inspired this struggle made it ineffectual. When the minister in a deeply impressive voice, said, “I pronounce you husband and wife,” her eyes grew dim, and her limbs trembled and failed; she sunk forward, and was only kept from falling by the arm of the minister, which was extended in time to save her.
Twenty years have passed since that unhappy evening, and Margaret Hubert is yet unmarried. It was long before she could quench the fire that had burned so fiercely in her heart. When it did go out, the desolate hearth it left remained ever after cold and dark.
FOLLOWING THE FASHIONS.
“WHAT is this?” asked Henry Grove of his sister Mary, lifting, as he spoke, a print from the centre-table.
“A fashion plate,” was the quiet reply.
“A fashion plate? What in the name of wonder, are you doing with a fashion plate?”
“To see what the fashions are.”
“And what then?”
“To follow them, of course.”
“Mary, is it possible you are so weak? I thought better of my sister.”
“Explain yourself, Mr. Censor,” replied Mary with an arch look, and a manner perfectly self-possessed.
“There is nothing I despise so much as a heartless woman of fashion.”
“Such an individual is certainly, not much to be admired, Henry. But there is a vast difference you must recollect, between a lady who regards the prevailing mode of dress and a _heartless_ woman, be she attired in the latest style, or in the costume of the times of good queen Bess. A fashionably dressed woman need not, of necessity, be heartless.”
“O no, of course not; nor did I mean to say so. But it is very certain, to my mind, that any one who follows the fashions cannot be very sound in the head. And where there is not much head, it seems to me there is never a superabundance of heart.”
“Quite a philosopher!”
“You needn’t try to beat me off by ridicule, Mary. I am in earnest.”
“In condemning this blind slavery to fashion.”
“You follow the fashions.”
“No, Mary, I do not.”
“Your looks very much belie you, then.”
“Nonsense! Don’t look so grave. What I say is true. You follow the fashion as much as I do.”
“I am sure I never examined a plate of fashions in my life.”
“If you have not, your tailor has for you, many a time.”
“I don’t believe a word of it. I don’t have my clothes cut in the height of the fashion. They are made plain and comfortable. There is nothing about them that is put on merely because it is fashionable.”
“I beg your pardon, sir.”
“It is a fact.”
“Why do you have your lappels made to roll three button-holes instead of two. There’s father’s old coat, made, I don’t know when, that roll but two.”
“Because, I suppose, its now the fash–“
“Ah, exactly! Didn’t I get you there nicely?”
“No, but Mary, that’s the tailor’s business, not mine.”
“Of course,–you trust to him to make you clothes according to the fashion, while I choose to see if the fashions are just such as suits my stature, shape, and complexion, that I may adopt them fullly, or deviate from them in a just and rational manner. So there is this difference between us; you follow the fashions blindly, and I with judgment and discrimination!”
“Indeed, Mary, you are too bad.”
“Do I speak anything but the truth?”
“I should be very sorry, indeed, if your deductions were true in regard to my following the fashions so blindly, if indeed at all.”
“But don’t you follow them?”
“I never think about them.”
“If you don’t, somehow or other, you manage to be always about even with the prevailing modes. I don’t see any difference between your dress and that of other young men.”
“I don’t care a fig for the fashions, Mary!” rejoined Henry, speaking with some warmth.
“So you say.”
“And so I mean.”
“Then why do you wear fashionable clothes?”
“I don’t wear fashionable clothes–that is–I—-“
“You have figured silk or cut velvet buttons, on your coat, I believe. Let me see? Yes. Now, lasting buttons are more durable, and I remember very well when you wore them. But they are out of fashion! And here is your collar turned down over your black satin stock, (where, by the by, have all the white cravats gone, that were a few years ago so fashionable?) as smooth as a puritan’s! Don’t you remember how much trouble you used to have, sometimes, to get your collar to stand up just so? Ah, brother, you are an incorrigible follower of the fashions!”
“But, Mary, it is a great deal less trouble to turn the collar over the stock.”
“I know it is, now that it is fashionable to do so.”
“It is, though, in fact.”
“But when it was fashionable to have the collar standing, you were very willing to take the trouble.”
“You would not have me affect singularity, sister?”
“Me? No, indeed! I would have you continue to follow the fashions as you are now doing. I would have you dress like other people. And there is one other thing that I would like to see in you.”
“What is that.”
“I would like to see you willing to allow me the same privilege.”
“You have managed your case so ingeniously, Mary,” her brother now said, “as to have beaten me in argument, though I am very sure that I am right, and you in error, in regard to the general principle. I hold it to be morally wrong to follow the fashions. They are unreasonable and arbitrary in their requirements, and it is a species of miserable folly, to be led about by them. I have conversed a good deal with old aunt Abigail on the subject, and she perfectly agrees with me. Her opinions, you can not, of course, treat with indifference?”
“No, not my aunt’s. But for all that, I do not think that either she or uncle Absalom is perfectly orthodox on all matters.”
“I think that they can both prove to you beyond a doubt that it is a most egregious folly to be ever changing with the fashions.”
“And I think that I can prove to them that they are not at all uninfluenced by the fickle goddess.”
“Do so, and I will give up the point. Do so and I will avow myself an advocate of fashion.”
“As you are now in fact. But I accept your challenge, even though the odds of age and numbers are against me. I am very much mistaken, indeed, if I cannot maintain my side of the argument, at least to my own satisfaction.”
“You may do that probably; but certainly not to ours.”
“We will see,” was the laughing reply.
It was a few evenings after, that Henry Grove and his sister called in to see uncle Absalom and aunt Abigail, who were of the old school, and rather ultra-puritanical in their habits and notions. Mary could not but feel, as she came into their presence, that it would be rowing against wind and tide to maintain her point with them–confirmed as they were in their own views of things, and with the respect due to age to give weight to their opinions. Nevertheless, she determined resolutely to maintain her own side of the question, and to use all the weapons, offensive and defensive, that came to her hand. She was a light-hearted girl, with a high flow of spirits, and a quick and discriminating mind. All these were in her favor. The contest was not long delayed, for Henry, feeling that he had powerful auxiliaries on his side, was eager to see his own positions triumph, as he was sure that they must. The welcome words that greeted their entrance had not long been said, before he asked, turning to his aunt,–
“What do you think I found on Mary’s table, the other day, Aunt Abigail?”
“I don’t know, Henry. What was it?”
“You will be surprised to hear,–a fashion plate! And that is not all. By her own confession, she was studying it in order to conform to the prevailing style of dress. Hadn’t you a better opinion of her?”
“I certainly had,” was aunt Abigail’s half smiling, half grave reply.
“Why, what harm is there in following the fashions, aunt?” Mary asked.
“A great deal, my dear. It is following after the vanities of this life. The apostle tells us not to be conformed to this world.”
“I know he does; but what has that to do with the fashions? He doesn’t say that you shall not wear fashionable garments; at least I never saw the passage.”
“But that is clearly what he means, Mary.”
“I doubt it. Let us hear what he further says; perhaps that will guide us to a truer meaning?”
“He says: ‘But be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds.’ That elucidates and gives force to what goes before.”
“So I think, clearly upsetting your position. The apostle evidently has reference to a deeper work than mere _external_ non-conformity in regard to the cut of the coat, or the fashion of the dress. Be ye not conformed to this world in its selfish, principles and maxims–be ye not as the world, lovers of self more than lovers of God–but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds. That is the way I understand him.”
“Then you understand him wrong, Mary,” uncle Absalom spoke up. “If he had meant that, he would have said it in plain terms.”
“And so he has, it seems to me. But I am not disposed to excuse my adherence to fashion upon any passage that allows of two interpretations. I argue for it upon rational grounds.”
“Fashion and rationality! The idea is absurd, Mary!” said uncle Absalom, with warmth. “They are antipodes.”
“Not by any means, uncle, and I think I can make it plain to you.”
Uncle Absalom shook his head, and aunt Abigail fidgeted in her chair.
“You remember the celebrated John Wesley–the founder of that once unfashionable people, the Methodists?” Mary asked.
“What would you think if I proved to you that he was an advocate for fashion upon rational principles?”
“You can’t do it.”
“I can. On one occasion, it is related of him, that he called upon a tailor to make him a coat. ‘How will you have it made?’ asked the tailor. ‘O, make it like other people’s,’ was the reply. ‘Will you have the sleeves in the new fashion?’ ‘I don’t know, what is it?’ ‘They have been made very tight, you know, for some time,’ the tailor said, ‘but the newest fashion is loose sleeves.’ ‘Loose sleeves, ah? Well, they will be a great deal more comfortable than these. Make mine loose.’ What do you think of that, uncle? Do you see no rationality there?”
“Yes, but Mary,” replied aunt Abigail, “fashion and comfort hardly ever go together.”
“There you are mistaken, aunt. Most fashionable dress-makers aim at producing garments comfortable to the wearers; and those fashions which are most comfortable, are most readily adopted by the largest numbers.”
“You certainly do not pretend to say, Mary,” Henry interposed, “that all changes in fashions are improvements in comfort?”
“O no, certainly not. Many, nay, most of the changes are unimportant in that respect.”
“And are the inventions and whims of fashion makers,” added aunt Abigail with warmth.
“No doubt of it,” Mary readily admitted.
“And you are such a weak, foolish girl, as to adopt, eagerly, every trifling variation in fashion?” continued aunt Abigail.
“No, not eagerly, aunt.”
“But at all?”
“I adopt a great many, certainly, for no other reason than because they are fashionable.”
“For shame, Mary, to make such an admission! I really thought better of you.”
“But don’t you follow the fashions, aunt?”
“Why Mary,” exclaimed both uncle Absalom and her brother, at once.
“Me follow the fashions, Mary?” broke in aunt Abigail, as soon as she could recover her breath, for the question struck her almost speechless. “Me follow the fashions? Why, what can the girl mean?”
“I asked the question,” said Mary. “And if you can’t answer it, I can.”
“And how will you answer it, pray?”
“In the affirmative, of course.”
“You are trifling, now, Mary,” said uncle Absalom, gravely.
“Indeed I am not, uncle. I can prove to her satisfaction and yours, too, that aunt Abigail is almost as much a follower of the fashions as I am.”
“For shame, child!”
“I can though, uncle; so prepare yourself to be convinced. Did you never see aunt wear a different shaped cap from the one she now has on?”
“O yes, I suppose so. I don’t take much notice of such things. But I believe she has changed the pattern of her cap a good many times.”
“And what if I have, pray?” asked aunt Abigail, fidgeting uneasily.
“O, nothing, only that in doing so, you were following some new fashion,” replied Mary.
“It is no such thing!” said aunt Abigail.
“I can prove it.”
“Yes I can, and I will. Don’t you remember when the high crowns were worn?”
“Of course I do.”
“And you wore them, of course.”
“Well, suppose I did?”
“And then came the close, low-crowned cap. I remember the very time you adopted that fashion, and thought it so much more becoming than the great tower of lace on the back part of the head.”
“And so it was.”
“But why didn’t you think so before,” asked Mary, looking archly into the face of her aunt.
“O, I can tell you, so you needn’t search all over the world for a reason. It was because the high crowns were fashionable. Come out plain and aboveboard and say so.”
“Indeed, I won’t say any such thing.”
“Then what was the reason?”
“Every body wore them, and their unsightly appearance had not been made apparent by contrast.”
“Exactly! They were fashionable. But when a new fashion laughed them out of countenance, you cast them aside, as I do an old fashion for a new one. Then came the quilled border all around. Do you remember that change? and how, in a little while after, the plain piece of lace over your forehead disappeared? Why was that, aunt Abigail? Was there no regard for fashion there? And now, at this very time your cap is one that exhibits the latest and neatest style for old ladies’ caps. I could go on and prove to your satisfaction, or at least to my own, that you have followed the fashion almost as steadily as I have. But I have sufficiently made out my case. Don’t you think so, Henry?”
Thus appealed to, her brother, who had been surprised at the turn the conversation had taken, not expecting to see Mary carry the war home so directly as she had done, hardly knew how to reply. He, however, gave a reluctant
“But there is some sense in your aunt’s adoption of fashion,” said uncle Absalom.
“Though not much, it would seem in yours, if you estimate fashion by use,” retorted Mary.
“What does the girl mean?” asked aunt Abigail in surprise.
“Of what use, uncle, are those two buttons on the back of your coat?”
“I am sure I don’t know.”
“Then why do you wear them if you don’t know their use, unless it be that you wish to be in the fashion? Then there are two more at the bottom of the skirt, half hid, half seen, as if they were ashamed to be found so much out of their place. Then, can you enlighten me as to the use of these two pieces of cloth here, called, I believe, flaps?”
“To give strength to that part of the coat, I presume.”
“And yet it is only a year or two since it was the fashion to have no flaps at all. I do not remember ever to have seen a coat torn there, do you? It is no use, uncle–you might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion. And old people feel this as well as young. They have their fashions, and we have ours, and they are as much the votaries of their peculiar modes as we are of our. The only difference is, that, as our states of mind change more rapidly, there is a corresponding and more rapid change in our fashions. You change as well as we do–but slower.”
“How could you talk to uncle Absalom and aunt Abigail as you did?” said Henry Grove to his sister, as they walked slowly home together.
“Didn’t I make out my point? Didn’t I prove that they too were votaries of the fickle goddess?”
“I think you did, in a measure.”
“And in a good measure too. So give up your point, as you promised, and confess yourself an advocate of fashion.”
“I don’t see clearly how I can do that, notwithstanding all that has passed to-night; for I do not rationally perceive the use of all these changes in dress.”
“I am not certain that I can enlighten you fully on the subject; but think that I may, perhaps in a degree, if you will allow my views their proper weight in your mind.”
“I will try to do so; but shall not promise to be convinced.”
“No matter. Convinced or not convinced you will still be carried along by the current. As to the primary cause of the change in fashion it strikes me that it is one of the visible effects of that process of change ever going on in the human mind. The fashion of dress that prevails may not be the true exponent of the internal and invisible states, because they must necessarily be modified in various ways by the interests and false tastes of such individuals as promulgate them. Still, this does not affect the primary cause.”
“Granting your position to be true, Mary, which I am not fully prepared to admit or deny–why should we blindly follow these fashions?”
“We need not _blindly_. For my part, I am sure that I do not blindly follow them.”
“You do when you adopt a fashion without thinking it becoming.”
“That I never do.”
“But, surely, you do not pretend to say that all fashions are becoming?”
“All that prevail to any extent, appear so, during the time of their prevalence, unless they involve an improper exposure of the person, or are injurious to health.”
“That is singular.”
“But is it not true.”
“Perhaps it is. But how do you account for it?”
“On the principle that there are both external and internal causes at work, modifying the mind’s perceptions of the appropriate and beautiful.”
“Mostly external, I should think, such as a desire to be in the fashion, etc.”
“That feeling has its influence no doubt, and operates very strongly.”
“But is it a right feeling?”
“It is right or wrong, according to the end in view. If fashion be followed from no higher view than a selfish love of being admired, then the feeling is wrong.”
“Can we follow fashion with any other end?”
“Answer the question yourself. You follow the fashions.”
“I think but little about them, Mary.”
“And yet you dress very much like people who do.”
“That may be so. The reason is, I do not wish to be singular.”
“For this reason. A man who affects any singularity of dress or manners, loses his true influence in society. People begin to think that there must be within, a mind not truly balanced and therefore do not suffer his opinions, no matter how sound, to have their true weight.”
“A very strong and just argument why we should adopt prevailing usages and fashions, if not immoral or injurious to health. They are the badges by which we are known–diplomas which give to our opinions their legitimate value. I could present this subject in many other points of view. But it would be of little avail, if you are determined not to be convinced.”
“I am not so determined, Mary. What you have already said, greatly modifies my view of the subject. I shall, at least, not ridicule your adherence to fashion, if I do not give much thought to it myself.”
“I will present one more view. A right attention to dress looks to the development of that which is appropriate and beautiful to the eye. This is a universal benefit. For no one can look upon a truly beautiful object in nature or art without having his mind correspondingly elevated and impressed with beautiful images, and these do not pass away like spectrums, but remain ever after more or less distinct, bearing with them an elevating influence upon the whole character. Changes in fashion, so far as they present new and beautiful forms, new arrangements, and new and appropriate combination of colors, are the dictates of a true taste, and so far do they tend to benefit society.”
“But fashion is not always so directed by true taste.”
“A just remark. And likewise a reason why all who have a right appreciation of the truly beautiful should give some attention to the prevailing fashion in dress, and endeavor to correct errors, and develop the true and the beautiful here as in other branches of art.”
A DOLLAR ON THE CONSCIENCE.
“FIFTY-FIVE cents a yard, I believe you said?” The customer was opening her purse.
Now fifty cents a yard was the price of the goods, and so Mr. Levering had informed the lady. She misunderstood him, however.
In the community, Mr. Levering had the reputation of being a conscientious, high-minded man. He knew that he was thus estimated, and self-complacently appropriated the good opinion as clearly his due.
It came instantly to the lip of Mr. Levering to say, “Yes, fifty-five.” The love of gain was strong in his mind, and ever ready to accede to new plans for adding dollar to dollar. But, ere the words were uttered, a disturbing perception of something wrong restrained him.
“I wish twenty yards,” said the customer taking it for granted that fifty-five cents was the price of the goods.
Mr. Levering was still silent; though he commenced promptly to measure off the goods.
“Not dear at that price,” remarked the lady.
“I think not,” said the storekeeper. “I bought the case of goods from which this piece was taken very low.”
“Twenty yards at fifty-five cents! Just eleven dollars.” The customer opened her purse as she thus spoke, and counted out the sum in glittering gold dollars. “That is right, I believe,” and she pushed the money towards Mr. Levering, who, with a kind of automatic movement of his hand, drew forward the coin and swept it into his till.
“Send the bundle to No. 300 Argyle Street,” said the lady, with a bland smile, as she turned from the counter, and the half-bewildered store-keeper.
“Stay, madam! there is a slight mistake!” The words were in Mr. Levering’s thoughts, and on the point of gaining utterance, but he had not the courage to speak. He had gained a dollar in the transaction beyond his due, and already it was lying heavily on his conscience. Willingly would he have thrown it off; but when about to do so, the quick suggestion came, that, in acknowledging to the lady the fact of her having paid five cents a yard too much, he might falter in his explanation, and thus betray his attempt to do her wrong. And so he kept silence, and let her depart beyond recall.
Any thing gained at the price of virtuous self-respect is acquired at too large a cost. A single dollar on the conscience may press so heavily as to bear down a man’s spirits, and rob him of all the delights of life. It was so in the present case. Vain was it that Mr. Levering sought self-justification. Argue the matter as he would, he found it impossible to escape the smarting conviction that he had unjustly exacted a dollar from one of his customers. Many times through the day he found himself in a musing, abstracted state, and on rousing himself therefrom, became conscious, in his external thought, that it was the dollar by which he was troubled.
“I’m very foolish,” said he, mentally, as he walked homeward, after closing his store for the evening. “Very foolish to worry myself about a trifle like this. The goods were cheap enough at fifty-five, and she is quite as well contented with her bargain as if she had paid only fifty.”
But it would not do. The dollar was on his conscience, and he sought in vain to remove it by efforts of this kind.
Mr. Levering had a wife and three pleasant children. They were the sunlight of his home. When the business of the day was over, he usually returned to his own fireside with buoyant feeling. It was not so on this occasion. There was a pressure on his bosom–a sense of discomfort–a want of self-satisfaction. The kiss of his wife, and the clinging arms of his children, as they were twined around his neck, did not bring the old delight.
“What is the matter with you this evening, dear? Are you not well?” inquired Mrs. Levering, breaking in upon the thoughtful mood of her husband, as he sat in unwonted silence.
I’m perfectly well,” he replied, rousing himself, and forcing a smile.
“You look sober.”
“Do I?” Another forced smile.
“Something troubles you, I’m afraid.”
“O no; it’s all in your imagination.”
“Are you sick, papa?” now asks a bright little fellow, clambering upon his knee.
“Why no, love, I’m not sick. Why do you think so?”
“Because you don’t play horses with me.”
“Oh dear! Is that the ground of your suspicion?” replied the father, laughing. “Come! we’ll soon scatter them to the winds.”
And Mr. Levering commenced a game of romps with the children. But he tired long before they grew weary, nor did he, from the beginning, enter into this sport with his usual zest.
“Does your head ache, pa?” inquired the child who had previously suggested sickness, as he saw his father leave the floor, and seat himself, with some gravity of manner, on a chair.
“Not this evening, dear,” answered Mr. Levering.
“Why don’t you play longer, then?”
“Oh pa!” exclaimed another child, speaking from a sudden thought, “you don’t know what a time we had at school to-day.”
“Ah! what was the cause?”
“Oh! you’ll hardly believe it. But Eddy Jones stole a dollar from Maggy Enfield!”
“Stole a dollar!” ejaculated Mr. Levering. His voice was husky, and he felt a cold thrill passing along every nerve.
“Yes, pa! he stole a dollar! Oh, wasn’t it dreadful?”
“Perhaps he was wrongly accused,” suggested Mrs. Levering.
“Emma Wilson saw him do it, and they found the dollar in his pocket. Oh! he looked so pale, and it made me almost sick to hear him cry as if his heart would break.”
“What did they do with him?” asked Mrs. Levering.
“They sent for his mother, and she took him home. Wasn’t it dreadful?”
“It must have been dreadful for his poor mother,” Mr. Levering ventured to remark.
“But more dreadful for him,” said Mrs. Levering. “Will he ever forget his crime and disgrace? Will the pressure of that dollar on his conscience ever be removed? He may never do so wicked an act again; but the memory of this wrong deed cannot be wholly effaced from his mind.”
How rebukingly fell all these words on the ears of Mr. Levering. Ah! what would he not then have given to have the weight of that dollar removed? Its pressure was so great as almost to suffocate him. It was all in vain that he tried to be cheerful, or to take an interest in what was passing immediately around him. The innocent prattle of his children had lost its wonted charm, and there seemed an accusing expression in the eye of his wife, as, in the concern his changed aspect had occasioned, she looked soberly upon him. Unable to bear all this, Mr. Levering went out, something unusual for him, and walked the streets for an hour. On his return, the children were in bed, and he had regained sufficient self-control to meet his wife with a less disturbed appearance.
On the next morning, Mr. Levering felt something better. Sleep had left his mind more tranquil. Still there was a pressure on his feelings, which thought could trace to that unlucky dollar. About an hour after going to his store, Mr. Levering saw his customer of the day previous enter, and move along towards the place where he stood behind his counter. His heart gave a sudden bound, and the color rose to his face. An accusing conscience was quick to conclude as to the object of her visit. But he soon saw that no suspicion of wrong dealing was in the lady’s mind. With a pleasant half recognition, she asked to look at certain articles, from which she made purchases, and in paying for them, placed a ten dollar bill in the hand of the storekeeper.
“That weight shall be off my conscience,” said Mr. Levering to himself, as he began counting out the change due his customer; and, purposely, he gave her one dollar more than was justly hers in that transaction. The lady glanced her eyes over the money, and seemed slightly bewildered. Then, much to the storekeeper’s relief, opened her purse and dropped it therein.
“All right again!” was the mental ejaculation of Mr. Levering, as he saw the purse disappear in the lady’s pocket, while his breast expanded with a sense of relief.
The customer turned from the counter, and had nearly gained the door, when she paused, drew out her purse, and emptying the contents of one end into her hand, carefully noted the amount. Then walking back, she said, with a thoughtful air–
“I think you ‘ve made a mistake in the change, Mr. Levering.”
“I presume not, ma’am. I gave you four and thirty-five,” was the quick reply.
“Four, thirty-five,” said the lady, musingly.
“Yes, here is just four, thirty-five.”
“That’s right; yes, that’s right,” Mr. Levering spoke, somewhat nervously.
“The article came to six dollars and sixty-five cents, I believe?”
“Yes, yes; that was it!”
“Then three dollars and thirty-five cents will be my right change,” said the lady, placing a small gold coin on the counter. “You gave me too much.”
The customer turned away and retired from the store, leaving that dollar still on the conscience of Mr. Levering.
“I’ll throw it into the street,” said he to himself, impatiently. “Or give it to the first beggar that comes along.”
But conscience whispered that the dollar wasn’t his, either to give away or to throw away. Such prodigality, or impulsive benevolence, would be at the expense of another, and this could not mend the matter.
“This is all squeamishness,” said Mr. Levering trying to argue against his convictions. But it was of no avail. His convictions remained as clear and rebuking as ever.
The next day was the Sabbath, and Mr. Levering went to church, as usual, with his family. Scarcely had he taken a seat in his pew, when, on raising his eyes, they rested on the countenance of the lady from whom he had abstracted the dollar. How quickly his cheek flushed! How troubled became, instantly, the beatings of his heart! Unhappy Mr. Levering! He could not make the usual responses that day, in the services; and when the congregation joined in the swelling hymn of praise, his voice was heard not in the general thanksgiving. Scarcely a word of the eloquent sermon reached his ears, except something about “dishonest dealing;” he was too deeply engaged in discussing the question, whether or no he should get rid of the troublesome dollar by dropping it into the contribution box, at the close of the morning service, to listen to the words of the preacher. This question was not settled when the box came round, but, as a kind of desperate alternative, he cast the money into the treasury.
For a short time, Mr. Levering felt considerable relief of mind. But this disposition of the money proved only a temporary palliative. There was a pressure on his feelings; still a weight on his conscience that gradually became heavier. Poor man! What was he to do? How was he to get this dollar removed from his conscience? He could not send it back to the lady and tell her the whole truth. Such an exposure of himself would not only be humiliating, but hurtful to his character. It would be seeking to do right, in the infliction of a wrong to himself.
At last, Mr. Levering, who had ascertained the lady’s name and residence, inclosed her a dollar, anonymously, stating that it was her due; that the writer had obtained it from her, unjustly, in a transaction which he did not care to name, and could not rest until he had made restitution.
Ah! the humiliation of spirit suffered by Mr. Levering in thus seeking to get ease for his conscience! It was one of his bitterest life experiences. The longer the dollar remained in his possession, the heavier became its pressure, until he could endure it no longer. He felt not only disgraced in his own eyes, but humbled in the presence of his wife and children. Not for worlds would he have suffered them to look into his heart.
If a simple act of restitution could have covered all the past, happy would it have been for Mr. Levering. But this was not possible. The deed was entered in the book of his life, and nothing could efface the record. Though obscured by the accumulating dust of time, now and then a hand sweeps unexpectedly over the page, and the writing is revealed. Though that dollar has been removed from his conscience, and he is now guiltless of wrong, yet there are times when the old pressure is felt with painful distinctness.
Earnest seeker after this world’s goods, take warning by Mr. Levering, and beware how, in a moment of weak yielding, you get a dollar on your conscience. One of two evils must follow. It will give you pain and trouble, or make callous the spot where it rests. And the latter of these evils is that which is most to be deplored.
AUNT MARY’S SUGGESTION.
“JOHN THOMAS!” Mr. Belknap spoke in a firm, rather authoritative voice. It was evident that he anticipated some reluctance on the boy’s part, and therefore, assumed, in the outset, a very decided manner.
John Thomas, a lad between twelve and thirteen years of age, was seated on the doorstep, reading. A slight movement of the body indicated that he heard; but he did not lift his eyes from the book, nor make any verbal response.
“John Thomas!” This time the voice of Mr. Belknap was loud, sharp, and imperative.
“Sir,” responded the boy, dropping the volume in his lap, and looking up with a slightly flushed, but sullen face.
“Did n’t you hear me when I first spoke?” said Mr. Belknap, angrily.
“Then, why did n’t you answer me? Always respond when you are spoken to. I’m tired of this ill-mannerd, disrespectful way of yours.”
The boy stood up, looking, now, dogged, as well as sullen.
“Go get your hat and jacket.” This was said in a tone of command, accompanied by a side toss of the head, by the way of enforcing the order.
“What for?” asked John Thomas, not moving a pace from where he stood.
“Go and do what I tell you. Get your hat and jacket.”
The boy moved slowly and with a very reluctant air from the room.
“Now, don’t be all day,” Mr. Belknap called after him, “I’m in a hurry. Move briskly.”
How powerless the father’s words died upon the air. The motions of John Thomas were not quickened in the slightest degree. Like a soulless automaton passed he out into the passage and up the stairs; while the impatient Mr. Belknap could with difficulty restrain an impulse to follow after, and hasten the sulky boy’s movements with blows. He controlled himself, however, and resumed the perusal of his newspaper. Five, ten minutes passed, and John Thomas had not yet appeared to do the errand upon which his father designed to send him. Suddenly Mr. Belknap dropped his paper, and going hastily to the bottom of the stairs, called out:
“You John! John Thomas!”
“Sir!” came a provokingly indifferent voice from one of the chambers.
“Did n’t I tell you to hurry–say?”
“I can’t find my jacket.”
“You don’t want to find it. Where did you lay it when you took it off last night?”
“I don’t know. I forget.”
“If you’re not down here, with your jacket on, in one minute, I’ll warm your shoulders well for you.”
Mr. Belknap was quite in earnest in this threat, a fact plainly enough apparent to John Thomas in the tone of his father’s voice. Not just wishing to have matters proceed to this extremity, the boy opened a closet, and, singularly enough, there hung his jacket in full view. At the expiration of the minute, he was standing before his disturbed father, with his jacket on, and buttoned up to the chin.
“Where’s your hat?” now asked Mr. Belknap.
“I don’t know, sir.”
“Well, find it, then.”
“I’ve looked everywhere.”
“Look again. There! What is that on the hat rack, just under my coat?”
The boy answered not, but walked moodily to the rack, and took his hat therefrom.
“Ready at last. I declare I’m out of all patience with your slow movements and sulky manner. What do you stand there for, knitting your brows and pouting your lips? Straighten out your face, sir! I won’t have a boy of mine put on such a countenance.”
The lad, thus angrily and insultingly rated, made a feeble effort to throw a few rays of sunshine into his face. But, the effort died fruitless. All was too dark, sullen, and rebellious within his bosom.
“See here.” Mr. Belknap still spoke in that peculiar tone of command which always stifles self-respect in the one to whom it is addressed.
“Do you go down to Leslie’s and tell him to send me a good claw hammer and three pounds of eightpenny nails. And go quickly.”
The boy turned off without a word of reply, and was slowly moving away, when his father said, sharply:
“Look here, sir!”
John Thomas paused and looked back.
“Did you hear me?”
“What did I tell you to do?”
“Go get a claw hammer and three pounds of eightpenny nails.”
“Very well. Why did n’t you indicate, in some way, that you heard me? Have n’t I already this morning read you a lecture about this very thing? Now, go quickly. I’m in a hurry.”
For all this impatience and authority on the part of Mr. Belknap, John Thomas moved away at a snail’s pace; and as the former in a state of considerable irritability, gazed after the boy, he felt strongly tempted to call him back, and give him a good flogging in order that he might clearly comprehend the fact of his being in earnest. But as this flogging was an unpleasant kind of business, and had, on all previous occasions, been succeeded by a repentant and self-accusing state, Mr. Belknap restrained his indignant impulses.
“If that stubborn, incorrigible boy returns in half an hour, it will be a wonder,” muttered Mr. Belknap, as he came back into the sitting-room. “I wish I knew what to do with him. There is no respect or obedience in him. I never saw such a boy. He knows that I’m in a hurry; and yet he goes creeping along like a tortoise, and ten chances to one, if he does n’t forget his errand altogether before he is halfway to Leslie’s. What is to be done with him, Aunt Mary?”
Mr. Belknap turned, as he spoke to an elderly lady, with a mild, open face, and clear blue eyes, from which goodness looked forth as an angel. She was a valued relative, who was paying him a brief visit.
Aunt Mary let her knitting rest in her lap, and turned her mild, thoughtful eyes upon the speaker.
“What is to be done with that boy, Aunt Mary?” Mr. Belknap repeated his words. “I’ve tried everything with him; but he remains incorrigible.”
“Have you tried–“
Aunt Mary paused, and seemed half in doubt whether it were best to give utterance to what was in her mind.
“Tried what?” asked Mr. Belknap.
“May I speak plainly?” said Aunt Mary.
“To me? Why yes! The plainer the better.”
“Have you tried a kind, affectionate, unimpassioned manner with the boy? Since I have been here, I notice that you speak to him in a cold, indifferent, or authoritative tone. Under such treatment, some natures, that soften quickly in the sunshine of affection, grow hard and stubborn.”
The blood mounted to the cheeks and brow of Mr. Belknap.
“Forgive me, if I have spoken too plainly,” said Aunt Mary.