My husband did not reply for some time. My words appeared to have made considerable impression on his mind.
“Do you know where Polly lives?” he inquired at length.
“No; but I will ask the girl.” And immediately ringing the bell, I made inquiries as to where Polly lived; but no one in the house knew.
“It cannot be helped now,” said my husband, in a tone of regret. “But I would be more thoughtful in future. The poor always have need of their money. Their daily labour rarely does more than supply their daily wants. I can never forget a circumstance that occurred when I was a boy. My mother was left a widow when I was but nine years old–and she was poor. It was by the labour of her hands that she obtained shelter and food for herself and three little ones.
“Once, I remember the occurrence as if it had taken place yesterday, we were out of money and food. At breakfast-time our last morsel was eaten, and we went through the long day without a mouthful of bread. We all grew very hungry by night; but our mother encouraged us to be patient a little and a little while longer, until she finished the garment she was making, when she would take that and some other work home to a lady who would pay her for the work. Then, she said, we should have a nice supper. At last the work was finished, and I went with my mother to help carry it home, for she was weak and sickly, and even a light burden fatigued her. The lady for whom she had made the garment was in good circumstances, and had no want unmet that money could supply. When we came into her presence, she took the work, and, after glancing at it carelessly, said,
“‘It will do very well.’
“My mother lingered; perceiving which, the lady said, rather rudely,
“‘You want your money, I suppose. How much does the work come to?’
“‘Two dollars,’ replied my mother. The lady took out her purse; and, after looking through a small parcel of bills, said,
“‘I haven’t the change this evening. Call over anytime, and you shall have it.’
“And without giving my mother time more earnestly to urge her request, turned from us and left the room. I never shall forget the night that followed. My mother’s feelings were sensitive and independent. She could not make known her want. An hour after our return home, she sat weeping with her children around her, when a neighbour came in, and, learning our situation, supplied the present need.”
This relation did not make me feel any the more comfortable. Anxiously I waited, on the next morning, the arrival of Polly. As soon as she came I sent for her, and, handing her the money she had earned on the day before, said,
“I’m sorry I hadn’t the change for you last night, Polly. I hope you didn’t want it very badly.”
Polly hesitated a little, and then replied,
“Well, ma’am, I did want it very much, or I wouldn’t have asked for it. My poor daughter Hetty is sick, and I wanted to get her something nice to eat.”
“I’m very sorry,” said I, with sincere regret. “How is Hetty this morning?”
“She isn’t so well, ma’am. And I feel very bad about her.”
“Come up to me in half an hour, Polly,” said I.
The old woman went down-stairs. When she appeared again, according to my desire, I had a basket for her, in which were some wine, sugar, fruit, and various little matters that I thought her daughter would relish, and told her to go at once and take them to the sick girl. Her expressions of gratitude touched my feelings deeply. Never since have I omitted, under any pretence, to pay the poor their wages as soon as earned.
OLD MAIDS’ CHILDREN.
“IF that were my child, I’d soon break him of such airs and capers. Only manage him right, and he’ll be as good a boy as can be found anywhere.”
“Very few people appear to have any right government over their children.”
“Very few. Here is my sister; a sensible woman enough, and one would think the very person to raise, in order and obedience, a family of eight children. But she doesn’t manage them rightly; and, what is remarkable, is exceedingly sensitive, and won’t take kindly the slightest hint from me on the subject. If I say to her, ‘If that were my child, Sarah, I would do so and so,’ she will be almost sure to retort something about old maids’ children.”
“Yes, that’s the way. No matter how defective the family government of any one may be, she will not allow others to suggest improvements.”
“It would not be so with me. If I had a family of children, I should not only see their faults, but gladly receive hints from all sides as to their correction.”
“It’s the easiest thing in the world to govern children, if you go the right way about it.”
“I know. There is nothing easier. And yet my sister will say, sometimes, that she is perfectly at a loss what to do. But no wonder. Like hundreds of others, she has let her children get completely ahead of her. If they don’t break her heart in the end, I shall be glad.”
The immediate cause of this conversation between Miss Martha Spencer and a maiden lady who had been twenty-five for some ten or fifteen years–Miss Spencer could not be accused of extensive juvenility–was the refractory conduct of Mrs. Fleetwood’s oldest child, a boy between six and seven years of age, by which a pleasant conversation had been interrupted, and the mother obliged to leave the room for a short period.
“I think, with you,” said Miss Jones, the visitor, “that Mrs. Fleetwood errs very greatly in the management of her children.”
“Management! She has no management at all,” interrupted Miss Spencer.
“In not managing her children, then, if you will.”
“So I have told her, over and over again, but to no good purpose. She never receives it kindly. Why, if I had a child, I would never suffer it to cry after it was six months old. It is the easiest thing in the world to prevent it. And yet, one of Sarah’s children does little else but fret and cry all the time. She insists upon it that it can’t feel well. And suppose this to be the case?–crying does it no good, but, in reality, a great deal of harm. If it is sick, it has made itself so by crying.”
“Very likely. I’ve known many such instances,” remarked Miss Jones.
Mrs. Fleetwood, returning at the moment, checked this train of conversation. She did not allude to the circumstance that caused her to leave the room, but endeavoured to withdraw attention from it by some pleasant remarks calculated to interest the visitor and give the thoughts of all a new direction.
“I hope you punished Earnest, as he deserved to be,” said her sister, as soon as Miss Jones had retired. “I never saw such a child!”
“He certainly behaved badly,” returned Mrs. Fleetwood, speaking in an absent manner.
“He behaved outrageously! If I had a child, and he were to act as Earnest did this morning, I’d teach him a lesson that he would not forget in a year.”
“No doubt your children will be under very good government, Martha,” said Mrs. Fleetwood, a little sarcastically.
“If they are not under better government than yours, I’ll send them all to the House of Refuge,” retorted Miss Martha.
The colour on Mrs. Fleetwood’s cheeks grew warmer at this remark, but she thought it best not to reply in a manner likely to provoke a further insulting retort, and merely said–
“If ever you come to have children of your own, sister, you will be able to understand, better than you now do, a mother’s trials, doubts, and difficulties. At present, you think you know a great deal about managing children, but you know nothing.”
“I know,” replied Martha, “that I could manage my own children a great deal better than you manage yours.”
“If such should prove to be the case, no one will be more rejoiced at the result than I. But I look, rather, to see your children, if you should ever become a mother, worse governed than most people’s.”
“Yes, I do.”
“And why, pray?”
“Because my own observation tells me, that those persons who are most inclined to see defects in family government, and to find fault with other people’s management of their children, are apt to have the most unruly young scape-graces in their houses to be found anywhere.”
“That’s all nonsense. The fact that a person observes and reflects ought to make that person better qualified to act.”
“Right observation and reflection, no doubt, will. But right observation and reflection in regard to children will make any one modest and fearful on the subject of their right government, rather than bold and boastful. Those who, like you, think themselves so well qualified to manage children, usually make the worst managers.”
“It’s all very well for you to talk in that way,” said Martha, tossing her head. “But, if I ever have children of my own, I’ll show you whether I have the worst young scape-graces to be found anywhere.”
A low, fretful cry, or rather whine, had been heard from a child near the door of the room, for some time. It was one of those annoying, irritating cries, that proceed more from a fretful state of mind than from any adequate external exciting cause. Martha paused a moment, and then added–
“Do you think I would suffer a child to cry about the house half of its time, as Ellen does? No, indeed. I’d soon settle that.”
“How would you do it?”
“I’d make her stop crying.”
“Suppose you couldn’t?”
“Couldn’t! That’s not the way for a mother to talk.”
“Excuse me, Martha,” said Mrs. Fleetwood, rising. “I would rather not hear such remarks from you, and now repeat what I have before said, more than once, that I wish you to leave me free to do what I think right in my own family; as I undoubtedly will leave you free, if ever you should have one.”
And Mrs. Fleetwood left the room, and taking the little girl who was crying at the door by the hand, led her up stairs.
“What is the matter, Ellen?” she asked as calmly and as soothingly as the irritating nature of Ellen’s peculiar cry or whine would permit her.
“Earnest won’t play with me,” replied the child, still crying.
“Come up into my room, and see if there isn’t something pretty there to play with.”
“No–I don’t want to,” was the crying answer.
“Yes; come.” And Mrs. Fleetwood led along the resisting child.
“No–no–no–I don’t want to go. I want Earnest to play with me.”
“Humph! I’d stop that pretty quick!” remarked Miss Spencer to herself, as the petulant cry of the child grew louder. “I’d never allow a child of mine to go on like that.”
Mrs. Fleetwood felt disturbed. But experience had taught her that whenever she spoke from an irritated state, her words rather increased than allayed the evil she sought to correct. So she drew the child along with her, using some force in order to do it, until she reached her chamber. Her strongest impulse, on being alone with Ellen, who still continued crying, was to silence her instantly by the most summary process to which parental authority usually has resort in such cases; but her mother’s heart suggested the better plan of diverting Ellen’s mind, if possible, and thus getting it into a happier state. In order to do this, she tried various means, but without effect. The child still cried on, and in a manner so disturbing to the mother, that she found it almost impossible to keep from enforcing silence by a stern threat of instant punishment. But, she kept on, patiently doing what she thought to be right, and was finally successful in soothing the unhappy child. To her husband, with whom she was conversing on that evening about the state into which Ellen had fallen, she said–
“I find it very hard to get along with her. She tires my patience almost beyond endurance. Sometimes it is impossible to bear with her crying, and I silence it by punishment. But I observe that if I can produce a cheerful state by amusing her and getting her interested in some play or employment, she retains her even temper much longer than when she has been stopped from crying by threats or punishment. If I only had patience with her, I could get along better. But it is so hard to have patience with a fretful, ever crying child.”
Of the mental exercises through which Mrs. Fleetwood passed, Miss Martha Spencer knew nothing. She saw only the real and supposed errors of her mode of government, and strongly condemned them. Her doctrine was, in governing children, “implicit obedience must be had at all hazards.” At all hazards, as she generally expressed or thought it was only meant for extreme or extraordinary cases. Obedience she believed to be a thing easily obtained by any one who chose to enforce it. No where, it must be owned, did she see children as orderly and obedient as she thought they should be. But that she did not hesitate to set down to the fault of the parents. Her influence in the family of her sister was not good. To some extent she destroyed the freedom of Mrs. Fleetwood, and to some extent disturbed the government of her children by interfering with it, and attempting to make the little ones do as she thought best. Her interference was borne about as well as it could be by her sister, who now and then gave her a “piece of her mind,” and in plain, straight forward terms. Mrs. Fleetwood’s usual remark, when Martha talked about what she would do, if she had children, was a good humoured one, and generally something after this fashion–
“Old maids’ children are the best in the world, I know. They never cry, are never disobedient, and never act disorderly.”
Martha hardly relished this mode of “stopping her off,” but it was generally effective, though sometimes it produced a slight ebullition.
At last, though the chances in favour of matrimony had become alarmingly few, Martha was wooed, won, and married to a gentleman named Laurie, who removed with her to the West.
“There is some prospect at last,” Mrs. Fleetwood said to her husband, with a smile, on the occasion of Martha’s wedding, “of sister’s being able to bring into practice her theories in regard to family government. I only hope the mother’s children may be as good as the old maid’s.”
“I doubt if they will,” remarked the husband, smiling in turn.
“We shall see.”
Years passed, and Martha, now Mrs. Laurie, remained in the West. Her sister frequently heard from her by letter, and every now and then received the announcement of a fine babe born to the proud mother; who as often spoke of her resolution to do her duty towards her children, and especially in the matter of enforcing obedience. She still talked eloquently of the right modes of domestic government, and the high and holy duties of parents.
“Let me be blamable in what I may,” said she, in one of these letters, “it shall not be a disregard to the best interests of my children.”
“I hope not, indeed,” said Mrs. Fleetwood, after reading the passage to her husband. “But those who really understand the true character of children, and are sensible of the fact that they inherit from their parents all the evil and disorderly tendencies not fully overcome in themselves, feel too deeply the almost hopeless task they assume, to boast much of what they will do with _their_ children. A humble, reserved, even trembling consciousness of the difficulties in the way of the parent, is the most promising state in which a parent can assume his or her responsibilities. To look for perfect order and obedience is to look for what never comes. Our duty is to sow good seed in the minds of our children, and to see that the ground be kept as free from evil weeds as possible. The time of fruit is not until reason is developed; and we err in expecting fruit at an early period. There will come the tender blade, green and pleasant to the eye, and the firm, upright stalk, with its leaves and its branches; and flowers, too, after a while, beautiful, sweet-smelling flowers; but the fruit of all our labour, of all our careful culture, appears not until reason takes the place of mere obedience, and the child becomes the man. This view saves me from many discouragements; and leads me, in calm and patient hope, to persevere, even though through months, and, I might almost say, years, little prospect of ultimate fruit becomes apparent. But, good seed must bring forth good fruit.”
After a while, Mrs. Laurie ceased to write in her old strain. She sometimes spoke of her two eldest sons as fine boys, and of her two little girls as dear, sweet creatures; but generally omitted saying any thing more about her family than that all were in good health.
Ten years after Martha’s marriage and removal to the West, during which time the sisters had not met, business required Mr. Fleetwood to go to Cincinnati, and he proposed that his wife should accompany him, and pay a visit to Mrs. Laurie, who lived in Springfield, Ohio. Mrs. Fleetwood readily consented, and they started in the pleasant month of October.
On arriving at Springfield, they were met by Mr. Laurie at the stage-office and taken to his house, where the sisters met, overjoyed at seeing each other once more.
“Is that one of your children?” asked Mrs. Fleetwood, after she had laid aside her bonnet and riding-dress, and seated herself in her sister’s chamber. A red-faced boy, with pouting lips, and a brow naturally or artificially so heavy as almost to conceal his organs of vision, stood holding on to one side of the door, and swinging himself in and out, all the while eyeing fixedly his aunt, of whose intended visit he had been advised.
“Yes, that is my oldest. Henry, come here and speak to your aunty.”
But Henry did not change either attitude, motion, nor expression, any more than if he had been a swinging automaton.
“Did you hear me?” Mrs. Laurie spoke with a slight change in her voice and manner.
The boy remained as impassive as before.
“Come, dear, and shake hands with me,” said Mrs. Fleetwood.
Henry now put one of his thumbs into his mouth, but neither looked nor acted less savagely than at first.
Mrs. Laurie was fretted at this unfavourable exhibition of himself by her son. She felt as if she would like to get hold of him and box his ears until they burned for a week.
“Henry! Come here!” She spoke in a tone of command. The door was quite as much impressed as her son.
“Either come and speak to your aunty, or go down-stairs immediately.”
The boy moved not.
This was too much for Mrs. Laurie, and she started towards him. Henry let go of the door, and went down-stairs about as quietly as a horse would have gone.
“He’s such a strange, shy boy,” said Mrs. Laurie, apologetically. “But he has a good heart, and you can do almost any thing with him. How is Earnest? the dear little fellow.”
“Earnest is almost a man. He is as large as I am,” replied Mrs. Fleetwood.
“Indeed! I can’t think of him as any thing but a bright little boy, not so large as my Henry.”
As she said this, her Henry, who had gone clattering down-stairs a few moments before, presented himself at the door again, and commenced swinging himself, and taking observations of the state of affairs within the chamber. The mother and aunt both concluded within their own minds that it was as well not to take any notice of him, and therefore went on with their conversation. Presently a happy, singing voice was heard upon the stairs.
“There comes my little Martha, the light of the whole house,” said Mrs. Laurie. In a few moments, a sweet-faced child presented herself, and was about entering, when Henry stepped into the door, and, putting a foot against each side, blocked up the way. Martha attempted to pass the rude boy, and, in doing so, fell over one of his feet, and struck her face a severe blow upon the floor. The loud scream of the hurt child, the clattering of Henry down-stairs, and the excited exclamation of the mother as she sprang forward, were simultaneous. Mr. Laurie and Mr. Fleetwood came running up from the room below, and arrived in time to see a gush of blood from the nose of Martha, as her mother raised her from the floor.
“Isn’t it too much!” exclaimed Mrs. Laurie. “I think that it is the worst boy I ever saw in my life!”
The application of a little cold water soon staunched the flow of blood, and a few kind words soothed the feelings of the child, who sat in her mother’s lap, and answered her aunt when she spoke to her, like a little lady, as she was.
“Where are the rest of your children?” asked Mrs. Fleetwood. The gentlemen were now seated with the ladies.
“You’ve had a pretty fair sample of them,” replied Mr. Laurie, smiling good humouredly, “and may as well be content with that for the present. To say the best of them, they are about as wild a set of young scape-graces as ever made each other miserable, and their parents, too, sometimes.”
“Why, Mr. Laurie!” exclaimed his wife, who had not forgotten her old opinions, freely expressed, about the ease with which children could be governed. “I’m sure you needn’t say that. I think our children quite as good as other people’s, and a little better than some I could name.”
“Well, perhaps they are, and nothing to brag of at that,” replied Mr. Laurie. “Children are children, and you can’t make any thing more out of them.”
“But children should be made orderly and obedient,” said Mrs. Laurie, with some dignity of expression.
“If they can,” pleasantly returned the father. “So far, we, at least, have not succeeded to our wishes in this respect. As to order and obedience, they seem to be cardinal sins rather than cardinal virtues, at present. But I hope better things after a while.”
As this was said, some one was heard tumbling rather than walking up-stairs, and, in a moment after, in bolted a boy about seven years old, crying out–
“Hen’ says Uncle and Aunt Fleetwood have come! Have they, mom?”
The boy stopped short on perceiving that strangers were present.
“Yes, my son, your Uncle and Aunt Fleetwood are here,” said Mr. Fleetwood, reaching out his hand to the little fellow. Remembering Martha’s former rigid notions about the government of children, he felt so much amused by what he saw, that he could hardly help laughing out immoderately. “Come here,” he added, “and let me talk to you.”
The boy went without hesitation to his uncle, who took him by the hand and said, with a half wicked glance at the mother, yet with a broad good humoured smile upon his face,
“That must be a very knowing hen of yours. I should like to have some of her chickens.”
“What hen?” asked the boy, with a serious air.
“Why, the hen that told you we were here.”
“No hen told me that.” The boy looked mystified.
“Oh! I thought you said Hen’ told you so.”
“No, it was Henry.”
“Say, no _sir_, my son.” Mrs. Laurie’s face was not pale, certainly, as she said this.
The boy did not think it worth while to repeat the formality.
“Oh! it was your brother Henry,” replied Mr. Fleetwood, with affected seriousness. “I thought that must have been a very knowing hen.” The boy, and his sister who had recovered from the pain of her fall, laughed heartily. “Now tell me your name?”
“Say John, _sir_. Where are your manners?” spoke up the mother, who remembered that, with all her sister’s imperfect management of her children, she had succeeded in teaching them to be very respectful in their replies to older persons, and that Earnest, when she last saw him, was a little gentleman in his manners when amy one spoke to him.
“Mo-_ther_!” came now ringing up the stairs, in a loud, screeching little voice. “Mo-_ther_! Hen’ won’t let me come up.”
“I declare! That boy is too bad! He’s a perfect torment!” said Mrs. Laurie, fretfully. “I’m out of all heart with him.”
The father stepped to the head of the stairs, and spoke rather sternly to the rebellious Henry. Little feet, were soon heard pattering up, and the youngest of the young hopefuls made her appearance, and, soon after, Henry pushed his really repulsive face into the door and commenced grimacing at the other children, thereby succeeding in what he desired to do, viz., starting little Maggy, the youngest, into a whining, fretful cry, because “Hen’ was making faces” at her. This cry, once commenced, was never known to end without the application of something more decided in its effects than words. It was in vain that the mother used every persuasive, diverting and soothing means in her power: the crying, loud enough to drown all conversation, continued, until, taking the child up hurriedly in her arms, she bore her into another room, where she applied some pretty severe silencing measures, which had, however, the contrary effect to that desired. The child cried on, but louder than before. For nearly ten minutes, she sought by scolding and whipping to silence her, but all was in vain. It is doubtful, after the means used to enforce silence, whether the child could have stopped if she had tried. At last, the mother locked her in a closet, and came, with a flushed face and mortified feelings, back to the room from which she had retired with Maggy.
The moment Mrs. Laurie left, her husband, with a word and a look, brought the three children into order and quietness. Henry was told, in a low voice, and in a tone of authority, that he never thought of questioning, to go up into the garret and remain there until he sent for him. The boy retired without the slightest hesitation.
When Mrs. Laurie returned, Mr. Fleetwood, who was a man of frank, free, and pleasant manners, could not resist the temptation he felt to remind her of the past; he, therefore, said, laughingly,
“You have doubtless found out, by this time, Martha, that old maids’ children are the best.”
This sally had just the effect he designed it to have. It was an apology for the children, as it classed them with other real children, in contradistinction to the imaginary offspring of the unmarried, that are known by every one to be faultless specimens of juvenility.
“Come! That is too bad, Mr. Fleetwood,” replied Mrs. Laurie, feeling an immediate sense of relief. “But, I own to the error I committed before marriage. It seemed to me the easiest thing in the world to manage children, when I thought about it, and saw where parents erred, or appeared to err, in their modes of government. I did not then know what was _in_ children. All their perverseness I laid to the account of bad management. Alas! I have had some sad experiences in regard to my error. Still, I cannot but own that children are made worse by injudicious treatment, and also, that mine ought to be a great deal better than they are.”
“Like the rest of us,” returned Mr. Fleetwood, “you have no doubt discovered, that it is one thing to _think_ about the government of children, and another thing to be in the midst of their disturbing sphere, and yet act as if you did not feel it. Theory and practice are two things. It seems, when we think coolly, that nothing can be easier than to cause the one exactly to correspond to the other. But whoever makes the trial, especially where the right government of children is concerned, will find it a most difficult matter. What makes the government of their children so hard a thing for parents, is the fact that the evils of the children have been inherited from them, and therefore the reaction of these evils upon themselves is the more disturbing. We haven’t as much patience with the faults of our own children, often, as other people have. They fret and annoy us, and take away our ability to speak in a proper tone and act with becoming dignity toward them, and thus destroy their respect for us.”
“Nothing can be truer,” said Mrs. Laurie. “I stand rebuked. I am self-condemned, every day, on this very account. I used to think that your government and that of Sarah’s over your children very defective. But it was far better than the government that I have been able to exercise over mine. Ah me!”
“Don’t sigh over the matter so terribly, Martha,” spoke up the husband. “We shall get them right in the end. Never give up the ship, is my motto in this and every thing else. But I wouldn’t have our brother and sister here think for a moment that the scenes they have witnessed are enacted every day. Their visit is an occasion of some excitement to our young folks, and they had to show off a little. They will cool down again, and we shall get on pleasantly enough.”
“That is all very true,” said Mrs. Laurie, more cheerfully. “I never saw them act quite so outrageously before, when any one came in. There is much good in them, and you will see it before you leave us.”
“No doubt in the world of that,” replied Mr. Fleetwood; “there is good in all children, and it is our duty to exercise great forbearance towards their evils, and be careful lest, by what we do or say, we strengthen, rather than break them.”
And the good that was in Mrs. Laurie’s children was clearly seen by Mr. and Mrs. Fleetwood during their stay; but, that good was, alas! not strengthened as it might have been, nor were the evils they inherited kept quiescent, as they would to a great extent have remained, had the mother been more patient and forbearing–had her practice been as good as her theory.
It is easy for us to see how others ought to act toward their children, but very hard for us to act right toward our own.
THE MOTHER AND BOY.
“TOM, let that alone!” exclaimed a mother, petulantly, to a boy seven years old, who was playing with a tassel that hung from one of the window-blinds, to the imminent danger of its destruction.
The boy did not seem to hear, but kept on fingering the tassel.
“Let that be, I tell you! Must I speak a hundred times? Why don’t you mind at once?”
The child slowly relinquished his hold of the tassel, and commenced running his hand up and down the venitian blind.
“There! there! Do for gracious sake let them blinds alone. Go ‘way from the window this moment, and try and keep your hands off of things. I declare! you are the most trying child I ever saw.”
Tom left the window and threw himself at full length into the cradle, where he commenced rocking himself with a force and rapidity that made every thing crack again.
“Get out of that cradle! What do you mean? The child really seems possessed!” And the mother caught him by the arm and jerked him from the cradle.
Tom said nothing, but, with the most imperturbable air in the world, walked twice around the room, and then pushing a chair up before the dressing-bureau, took therefrom a bottle of hair lustral, and, pouring the palm of his little hand full of the liquid, commenced rubbing it upon his head. Twice had this operation been performed, and Tom was pulling open a drawer to get the hair-brush, when the odour of the oily compound reached the nostrils of the lad’s mother, who was sitting with her back toward him. Turning quickly, she saw what was going on.
“You!” fell angrily from her lips, as she dropped the baby in the cradle. “Isn’t it too much!” she continued, as she swept across the room to where Tom was standing before the bureau-dressing-glass.
“There, sir!” and the child’s ear rang with the box he received. “There, sir!” and the box was repeated. “Haven’t I told you a hundred times not to touch that hair-oil? Just see what a spot of grease you’ve made on the carpet! Look at your hands!”
Tom looked at his hands, and, seeing them full of oil, clapped them quickly down upon his jacket, and tried to rub them clean.
“There! stop! mercy! Now see your new jacket that you put on this morning. Grease from top to bottom! Isn’t it too bad! I am in despair!” And the mother let her hands fall by her side, and her body drop into a chair.
“It’s no use to try,” she continued; “I’ll give up. Just see that jacket! it’s totally ruined; and that carpet, too. Was there ever such a trying boy! Go down-stairs this instant, and tell Jane to come up here.”
Tom had reason to know that his mother was not in a mood to be trifled with, so he went off briskly and called Jane, who was directed to get some fuller’s earth and put upon the carpet where oil had been spilled.
Not at all liking the atmosphere of his mother’s room, Tom, being once in the kitchen, felt no inclination to return. His first work there, after delivering his message to Jane, was to commence turning the coffee-mill.
“Tommy,” said the cook, mildly, yet firmly, “you know I’ve told you that it was wrong to touch the coffee-mill. See here, on the floor, where you have scattered the coffee about, and now I must get a broom and sweep it up. If you do so, I can’t let you come down here.”
The boy stood and looked at the cook seriously, while she got the broom and swept up the dirt he had made.
“It’s all clean again now,” said the cook, pleasantly. “And you won’t do so any more, will you?”
“No, I won’t touch the coffee-mill.” And, as Tom said this, he sidled up to the knife-box that stood upon the dresser, and made a dive into it with his hand.
“Oh, no, no, no, Tommy! that won’t do, either,” said the cook. “The knives have all been cleaned, and they are to go on the table to eat with.”
“Then what can I play with, Margaret?” asked the child, as he left the dresser. “I want something to play with.”
The cook thought a moment, and then went to a closet and brought out a little basket filled with clothes-pins. As she held them in her hand, she said–“Tommy, if you will be careful not to break any of these, nor scatter them about, you may have them to play with. But remember, now, that as soon as you begin to throw them around the room, I will put them up again.”
“Oh, no, I won’t throw them about,” said the little fellow, with brightening eyes, as he reached out for the basket of pins.
In a little while he had a circle formed on the table, which he called his fort; and inside of this he had men, cannon, sentry-boxes, and other things that were suggested to his fancy.
“Where’s Thomas?” asked his mother, about the time he had become fairly interested in his fort.
“I left him down in the kitchen,” replied Jane.
“Go down and tell him to come up here instantly.”
Down went Jane.
“Come along up-stairs to your mother,” said she.
“No, I won’t,” replied the boy.
“Very well, mister! You can do as you like; but your mother sent for you.”
“Tell mother I am playing here so good. I’m not in any mischief. Am I, Margaret?”
“No, Tommy; but your mother has sent for you, and you had better go.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Just as you like,” said Jane, indifferently, as she left the kitchen and went up-stairs.
“Where’s Thomas?” was the question with which she was met on returning to the chamber.
“He won’t come, ma’am.”
“Go and tell him that if he doesn’t come up to me instantly, I will put on his night-clothes and shut him up in the closet.”
The threat of the closet was generally uttered ten times where it was executed once; it made but little impression upon the child, who was all absorbed in his fort.
Jane returned. In a few moments afterward, the quick, angry voice of the mother was heard ringing down the stairway.
“You, Tom! come up here this instant.”
“I’m not troubling any thing, mother.”
“Come up, I say!”
“Margaret says I may play with the clothes-pins. I’m only building a fort with them.”
“Do you hear me?”
“Tom! if you don’t come to me this instant, I’ll almost skin you. Margaret! take them clothes-pins away. Pretty playthings, indeed, for you to give a boy like him! No wonder I have to get a dozen new ones every two or three months.”
Margaret now spoke.
“Tommy, you must go up to your mother.”
She now took the clothes-pins and commenced putting them into the basket where they belonged. Her words and action had a more instant effect than all the mother’s storm of passion. The boy left the kitchen in tears, and went slowly up-stairs.
“Why didn’t you come when I called you? Say!”
The mother seized her little boy by the arm the moment he came in reach of her, and dragged rather than led him up-stairs, uttering such exclamations as these by the way:
“I never saw such a child! You might as well talk to the wind! I’m in despair! I’ll give up! Humph! clothes-pins, indeed! Pretty playthings to give a child! Every thing goes to rack and ruin! There!”
And, as the last word was uttered, Tommy was thrust into his mother’s room with a force that nearly threw him prostrate.
“Now take off them clothes, sir.”
“What for, mother? I haven’t done any thing! I didn’t hurt the clothes-pins; Margaret said I might play with them.”
“D’ye hear? take off them clothes, I say!”
“I didn’t do any thing, mother.”
“A word more, and I’ll box your ears until they ring for a month. Take off them clothes, I say! I’ll teach you to come when I send for you! I’ll let you know whether I am to be minded or not!”
Tommy slowly disrobed himself, while his mother, fretted to the point of resolution, eyed him with unrelenting aspect. The jacket and trousers were removed, and his night-clothes put on in their stead, Tommy all the while protesting tearfully that he had done nothing.
“Will you hush?” was all the satisfaction he received for his protestations.
“Now, Jane, take him up-stairs to bed; he’s got to lie there all the afternoon.”
It was then four, and the sun did not set until near eight o’clock. Up-stairs the poor child had to go, and then his mother found some quiet. Her babe slept soundly in the cradle, undisturbed by Tommy’s racket, and she enjoyed a new novel to the extent of almost entirely forgetting her lonely boy shut up in the chamber above.
“Where’s Tommy?” asked a friend, who dropped in about six o’clock.
“In bed,” said the mother, with a sigh.
“What’s the matter? Is he sick?”
“Oh, no. I almost wish he were.”
“What a strange wish! Why do you wish so?”
“Oh, because he is like a little angel when he is sick–as good as he can be. I had to send him to bed as a punishment for disobedience. He is a hard child to manage; I think I never saw one just like him; but, you know, obedience is every thing. It is our duty to require a strict regard to this in our children.”
“Certainly. If they do not obey their parents as children, they will not obey the laws as men.”
“That is precisely the view I take; and I make it a point to require implicit obedience in my boy. This is my duty as a parent; but I find it hard work.”
“It is hard, doubtless. Still we must persevere, and, in patience, possessing our souls.”
“To be patient with a boy like mine is a hard task. Sometimes I feel as if I should go wild.” said the mother.
“But, under the influence of such a feeling,” remarked the friend, “what we say makes little or no impression. A calmly uttered word, in which there is an expression of interest in and sympathy for the child, does more than the sternest commands. This I have long since discovered. I never scold my children; scolding does no good, but harm. My oldest boy is restless, excitable, and impulsive. If I were not to provide him with the means of employing himself, or in other ways divert him, his hands would be on every thing in the house, and both he and I made unhappy.”
“But how can you interest him?”
“In various ways. Sometimes I read to him; sometimes I set him to doing things by way of assisting me. I take him out when I can, and let him go with the girls when I send them on errands. I provide him with playthings that are suited to his age. In a word, I try to keep him in my mind; and, therefore, find it not very difficult to meet his varying states. I never thrust him aside, and say I am too busy to attend to him, when he comes with a request. If I cannot grant it, I try not to say ‘no,’ for that word comes too coldly upon the eager desire of an ardent-minded boy.”
“But how can you help saying ‘no,’ if the request is one you cannot grant?”
“Sometimes I ask if something else will not do as well; and sometimes I endeavour to create a new interest in his mind. There are various ways in which it may be done, that readily suggest themselves to those desirous for the good of their children. It is affection that inspires thought. The love of children always brings a quick intelligence touching their good.”
Much more was said, not needful here to repeat. When the friend went away, Tommy’s mother, whose heart convicted her of wrong to her little boy, went up to the room where she had sent him to spend four or five lonely hours as a punishment for what was, in reality, her own fault, and not his. Three hours of the weary time had already passed. She did not remember to have heard a sound from him, since she drove him away with angry words. In fact, she had been too deeply interested in the new book she was reading, to have heard any noise that was not of an extraordinary character.
At the door of the chamber she stood and listened for a moment. All was silent within. The mother’s heart beat with a heavy motion. On entering, she found the order of the room undisturbed; not even a chair was out of place. Tommy was asleep on the bed. As his mother bent over him, she saw that tears were upon his cheeks and eyelids, and that the pillow was wet. A choking sigh struggled up from her bosom; she felt a rebuking consciousness of having wronged her child. She laid her hand upon his red cheek, but drew it back instantly; it was hot with fever. She caught up his hand; it was also in a burning glow. Alarm took the place of grief for having wronged her boy. She tried to awaken him, but he only moaned and muttered. The excitement had brought on a fever.
When the father came home and laid his hand upon the hot cheek of his sleeping boy, he uttered an exclamation of alarm, and started off instantly for a physician. All night the wretched mother watched by her sick child, unable, from fear and self-reproaches, to sleep. When the morning broke, and Thomas looked up into her face with a gleam of trusting affection, his fever was gone and his pulse was calm. The mother laid her cheek thankfully against that of her boy, and prayed to Heaven for strength to bear with him, and wisdom to guide her feet aright; and as she did so, in the silence of her overflowing heart, the lad drew his arms around her neck, and, kissing her, said–“Mother, I do love you!”
That tears came gushing over the mother’s face is no cause of wonder, nor that she returned, half wildly, the embrace and kiss of her child.
Let us hope that, in her future conduct towards her ardent, restless boy, she may be able to control herself; for then she will not find it hard to bring him under subjection to what is right.
THE CHRISTMAS PARTY.
CHRISTMAS had come round again–merry old Christmas, with his smiling face and wealth of good cheer; and every preparation had been made by the Arlingtons for their annual Christmas party, which was always a gay time for the young friends of the family.
Some hundreds of miles away, in a quiet New-England village, lived Mr. Archer, an uncle of Mr. Arlington. He was a good man; but being a minister of the old school, and well advanced in years, he was strongly prejudiced against all “fashionable follies,” as he called nearly every form of social recreation. Life was, in his eyes, too solemn a thing to be wasted in any kind of trifling. In preaching and praying, in pious meditation, and in going about to do good, much of his time was passed; and another portion of it was spent in reflecting upon and mourning over the thoughtless follies of the world. He had no time for pleasure-taking; no heart to smile at the passing foibles or merry humours of his fellow-men.
Such was the Rev. Mr. Jason Archer–a good man, but with his mind sadly warped through early prejudices, long confirmed. For years he had talked of a journey to the city where his niece, to whom he was much attached, resided. This purpose was finally carried out. It was the day before Christmas, when Mrs. Arlington received a letter from the old gentleman, announcing the fact that she might expect to see him in a few hours, as he was about starting to pay her and her family the long-intended visit.
“Uncle Archer will be here to-morrow,” said Mrs. Arlington to her husband, as soon as she met him after receiving her letter.
“Indeed! And so the good old gentleman has made a move at last?”
“Yes; he’s going to eat his Christmas dinner with us, he says.”
“So much the better. The pleasure of meeting him will increase the joy of the occasion.”
“I am not so sure of that,” replied Mrs. Arlington, looking a little serious. “It would have been more pleasant to have received this visit at almost any other time in the year.”
“You know his strong prejudices?”
“Oh, against dancing, and all that?”
“Yes; he thinks it a sin to dance.”
“Though I do not.”
“No; but it will take away half my pleasure to see him grieved at any thing that takes place in my house.”
“He’ll not be so weak as that.”
“He thinks it sin, and will be sadly pained at its occurrence. Is it not possible to omit dancing for once?”
“At the party to-morrow night?”
Mr. Arlington shook his head, as he replied–
“Don’t think of such a thing. We will receive him with true kindness, because we feel it towards the good old man. But we must not cease to do what we know to be right, thus disappointing and marring the pleasure of many, out of deference to a mere prejudice of education in a single person. When we go to see him, we do not expect that any change will be made out of deference to our prejudices or peculiar opinions; and when he comes to see us, he must be willing to tolerate what takes place in our family, even if it does not meet his full approval. No, no; let us not think for a moment of any change in affairs on this account. Uncle Archer hasn’t been present at a gay party nor seen dancing for almost half a century. It may do him good to witness it now. At any rate, I feel curious to see the experiment tried.”
Mrs. Arlington still argued for a little yielding in favour of the good parson’s prejudices, but her husband would not listen to such a thing for a moment. Every thing, he said, must go on as usual.
“A guest who comes into a family,” he remarked, “should always conform himself to the family order; then there is no reaction upon him, and all are comfortable and happy. He is not felt as a thing foreign and incongruous, but as homogeneous. To break up the usual order, and to bend all to meet his personal prejudices and peculiarities, is only to so disturb the family sphere as to make it actually repellent. He is then felt as an unassimilated foreign body, and all secretly desire his removal.”
“But something is due to old age!” urged Mrs. Arlington.
“Yes; much. But, if age have not softened a man’s prejudices against a good thing in itself, I doubt very much if a deference to his prejudice, such as you propose, will in the least benefit him. Better let him come in contact with a happy circle, exhilarated by music and dancing; and the chances are, that his heart will melt in the scene rather than grow colder and harder. The fact is, as I think of it more and more, the better pleased am I that Uncle Archer is coming just at this time.”
But Mrs. Arlington felt troubled about the matter. Early on Christmas morning, the old gentleman arrived, and was welcomed with sincere affection by every member of the family. Mr. and Mrs. Arlington had a daughter, named Grace, who was just entering her eighteenth year. She was gentle and affectionate in disposition, and drew to the side of Uncle Archer in a way that touched the old man’s feelings. He had not seen her before this, since she was a little girl; and now, he could not keep his eyes off of her as she sat by him, or moved about the room in his presence.
“What a dear girl that is!” was his remark to her mother, many times through the day.
“She’s a good girl,” would simply reply Mrs. Arlington, speaking almost without thought. Grace was a good girl; her mother felt this, and from her heart her lips found utterance.
It seemed, all through the day, that Grace could not do enough for the old man’s comfort. Once she drew him into her room, as he was passing her door, to show him some pictures that she had painted. As he sat looking at them, he noticed a small, handsomely bound Bible on her table. Taking it up, he said–
“Do you read this, Grace?”
“Oh, yes,” she replied, “every day.” And there was such a light of goodness in her eyes, as she looked up into his face, that Mr. Archer felt, for a moment or two, as if the countenance of an angel was before him.
“Why do you read it?” he continued after a pause.
“It teaches us the way to heaven,” said Grace.
“And you are trying to live for heaven?”
“I try to shun all evil as sin. Can I do more?”
All the minister’s creeds, and doctrines, and confessions of faith, which he had ever considered the foundations upon which Christian life was to be built, seemed, for a moment or two, useless lumber before the simple creed of this loving, pure-hearted maiden. To seek to disturb this state of innocence and obedience by moody polemics, he felt, instinctively, to be wrong.
“Perhaps not,” was his half abstracted reply; “perhaps not. Yes, yes; shun what is evil, and the Lord will adjoin the good.”
“Yes, yes; she _is_ a good girl, as her mother says,” was frequently repeated by Uncle Archer during the day, when he would think of Grace.
Evening came, and young and old began to gather in the parlours. The minister was introduced to one and another, as they arrived, and was much gratified with the respect and attention shown to him by all. Grace soon drew around him three or four of her young friends, who listened to what he had to say with an interest that gratified his feelings. Nothing had been said to Grace of her uncle’s prejudice against dancing; she was, therefore, no little surprised to see the sudden change in his manner, when she said to a young lady in the group around him–
“Come! you must play some cotillions for us. We’re going to have a dance.”
After going with the young lady to the piano, and opening it for her, Grace went back to her uncle, whose face she found deeply clouded.
“A’n’t you well, uncle?” she asked, affectionately.
“Oh yes, child, I am well enough in body,” was replied.
“But something troubles you, uncle–what is it?”
By this time a number of couples were on the floor, and at the moment, a young man came up to Grace, and said–
“Shall I have the pleasure of dancing with you this evening?”
“Not in the first set,” replied Grace; “but I will consider myself engaged for the second, unless you can find a more agreeable partner.”
“Do you dance, then?” asked Uncle Arthur, gravely, after the young man had turned away.
“Dance?” Grace was in doubt whether she had clearly understood him.
“Certainly I do, uncle. You don’t think there is harm in dancing?”
“I do, my child. And, I am sure that, after what you said about reading your Bible and trying to live for heaven, your admission greatly surprises me. Religion and dancing! How can they have an affinity?”
“Good and evil can have no affinity,” said Grace, in reply to this remark. “Evil, I have always understood to be in a purpose to do wrong. Now, I can dance with a good purpose; and, surely, then, dancing cannot be evil to me.”
“Dance with a good purpose! How can you do that, my dear?”
“I have often danced with the sole end of contributing my share to the general enjoyment of a company.”
“Strange enjoyment!” sighed the old parson.
“The timing of steps, and the orderly movement of the body in concert with musical harmonies, often affects the mind with exquisite delight, uncle. I have enjoyed this over and over again, and have felt better and happier afterwards.”
“Child! child!” replied the old man; “how it grieves me to hear you say this.”
“If there is sin in dancing, uncle,” said Grace, seriously, “tell me wherein it lies. Look at the countenances of those now on the floor; do they express evil or good affection?–here, as I have been taught, lies the sin.”
“It is a foolish waste of time,” returned the old man; “a foolish waste of time; and it is an evil thing to waste the precious time that God has given to us.”
“We cannot always work or read. Both mind and body become wearied.”
“Then we have time for meditation.”
“But even thought will grow burdensome at times, and the mind sink into listlessness and inactivity. Then we need recreation, in order that we may afterwards both work and think better. Music and dancing, in which mind and body find an innocent delight, effect such a recreation. I know it is so in my case; and I know it is so in the case of others. You do not say that dancing is a thing evil in itself?”
“No.” This was admitted rather reluctantly.
“Then if it be made to serve a good end, it is a good thing.”
“But is often made to serve evil,” said the minister.
“Then it is an evil thing,” promptly answered Grace; “and so every good gift of heaven may be made an evil thing to those who use it for an evil purpose. You know it is said that a spider extracts poison from the same flower where the bee gets honey. The deadly nightshade draws life from the same rain and sunshine that nourishes and matures the wheat, from which our bread is made. It is the purpose, uncle, that makes a thing evil.”
“Could you pray on going to bed, after an evening spent in dancing?” asked the old man, confident that he had put a question that would clearly show his niece her error. To his surprise, Grace answered, with a beautiful smile on her face–
“Oh, yes; and I have so prayed, many and many a time; not failing to return thanks for the pleasure I had been permitted to enjoy.”
“Thanks for mere carnal pleasure!”
“All things are good that are filled with good affections,” said Grace. “We are in a natural world, where all pleasure and pain affect us in the natural degree most sensibly. We must come down, that we may go up. We must let our natural joy and gladness have free course, innocently, that they may be changed into a joy that is higher and spiritual. Is it not so, uncle?”
Now, the old man had not expected to find such a nice head on so young a body; nor did he expect to be called upon to answer a question, which came in a form that he was not prepared either to negative or affirm. He had put all natural pleasures under the ban, as flowing from the carnal mind; and, therefore, evil. As to filling natural pleasures with spiritual life, that was a new position in theology. He had preached against natural pleasures as evil, and, therefore, to be abandoned by all who would lead a heavenly life. Before he could collect his thoughts for an answer satisfactory to himself, two or three ladies gathered around them, and he discreetly forebore to make any further remarks on the subject. But he felt, as may be supposed, very uncomfortable.
After the first set was danced, one of the young ladies who had been on the floor, and who had previously been introduced to the old gentleman by Grace, came, with colour heightened by excitement, and her beautiful face in a glow of pleasure, and sat down by his side. Mr. Archer would have received her with becoming gravity, had it been in his power to, do so; but the smile on her face was so innocent, and she bent towards him so kindly and affectionately, that he could not find it in his heart to meet her with even a silent reproof. This young lady was really charming his ear, when a gentleman came up to her, and said–
“Anna, I want you to dance with me.”
“With pleasure,” replied the girl. “You will excuse me for a while, Mr. Archer,” said she, and she was about rising as she spoke, but the old man placed his hand upon her arm, and gently detained her.
“You’re not going to leave me?”
“No, not if my company will give you any pleasure,” replied the young girl, with a gentle smile. “Please excuse me.” This she addressed to the person who had asked her to dance. He bowed, and turned away.
“I am glad to keep you by my side,” said Mr. Archer, with some seriousness in his manner.
“And I am glad to stay here,” was promptly answered, “if my company will give you any pleasure. It does me good to contribute to others’ happiness.”
The old man was touched by this reply, for he felt that it was from the heart. It sounded strangely to his ears from the lips of one who had just been whirling in the mazy dance.
“There is no real pleasure in any thing selfish,” he remarked. “Yes, you say truly, it does us good to contribute to the happiness of others.”
“For this reason,” said Anna, “I like dancing as a social recreation. It is a mutual pleasure. We give and receive enjoyment.”
The old minister’s face grew serious.
“I have been to three or four parties,” continued the young girl, “where dancing was excluded, under some strange idea that it was wrong; and I must say that so much evil-speaking and censoriousness it has never been my lot to encounter in any company. The time, instead of being improved as a season of mental and bodily recreation, was worse than wasted. I know that I was worse instead of better on returning from each of these companies, for I insensibly fell into the prevailing spirit.”
“That was very bad, certainly,” remarked Mr. Archer, before whose mind arose some pictures of social gatherings, in which had prevailed the very spirit condemned by his young companion. “But I don’t see how you are going to make dancing a sovereign remedy for the evil.”
“It is not a sovereign remedy,” was answered, “but it is a concert of feeling and action, in which the mind is exhilarated, and in which a mutual good-will is produced. You cannot dance without being pleased, to a greater or less extent, with your partners on the floor. Often and often have I had a prejudice against persons wear off as we moved together in the dances, and I have afterwards discovered in them good qualities to which I was before blinded.”
“Uncle,” said Grace to the old man, just at this moment, bending to his ear as she spoke, and taking his hand in hers,–“come! I want to show you something.”
Grace drew him into the adjoining parlour, where another set was on the floor. Two children, her younger brother and sister, were in it.
“Now, just look at Ada and Willy,” whispered Grace in his ear, as she brought him in view of the young dancers. Ada was a lovely child, and the old uncle’s heart had already taken her in. She was a graceful little dancer, and moved in the figures with the lightness of a fairy. It was a beautiful sight, and in the face of all the prejudices which half a century had worn into him, he felt that it was beautiful. As he looked upon it, he could keep the dimness from his eyes only by a strong effort.
“Is there evil in that, uncle?” asked Grace, drawing her arm within that of the old man’s.
“Is it good?” he replied.
“Yes; it is good,” said Grace, emphatically, as she lifted her eyes to his.
Mr. Archer did not gainsay her words. He at least felt that it was not evil, though he could not admit that it was good.
Spite of the dancing, which soon ceased to offend the good old man, he passed a pleasant evening. Perhaps, he enjoyed the Christmas party as much as any one there.
Nothing was said, on the next day, by any one, on the subject of dancing; though Mr. Archer, especially, thought a great deal about the matter. Some ideas had come into his mind that were new there, and he was pondering them attentively. On the third day of his arrival, he had a severe attack of rheumatism, from which he suffered great pain, besides a confinement to his room for a couple of weeks. During that time, the untiring devotion and tender solicitude of Grace touched the old man’s heart deeply. When the pain had sufficiently abated to let his mind attain composure, she sought to interest him in various ways. Sometimes she would read to him by the hour; sometimes she would entertain him with cheerful conversation; and sometimes she would bring in one or two of her young friends whom he had met at the Christmas party.
With these, he had more than one discussion, in his sick room, on the subject of dancing, and the old minister found these gay young girls rather more than a match for him. During a discussion of this kind, Grace left the room. In her absence, one of her companions said to him–
“Grace is a good girl.”
A quick light went over the old man’s countenance; and he replied, with evident feeling–
“Good? Yes; I look at her, sometimes, and think her almost an angel.”
The old man sighed.
“She is a Christian.”
“I wish there were more such in the world,” said he, unhesitatingly.
“And yet she dances.”
“My dear child,” said Mr. Archer, turning with an affectionate smile towards his young interlocutor, “don’t take such an advantage of me in the argument.”
“Then it is settled,” was continued, in triumph, “that if dancing is not a Christian grace, a maiden may dance and yet be a Christian?”
“God bless you, and keep you from all the evil of the world,” said the old man, fervently, as he took the young girl’s hand and pressed it between his own. “It may be all right! it may be all right!”
Grace came back at the moment, and he ceased speaking.
From that time the venerable minister said no more on the subject, and it is but fair to believe that when he returned home he had very serious doubts in regard to the sin of dancing, which had once been as fairly held as if it had been an article in the Confession of Faith.
IS SHE A LADY?
“MRS. TUDOR is a perfect lady,” said my wife, Mrs. Sunderland, to me one day, after having received a visit from the individual she named.
“She may have the manners of a lady,” I replied, “when abroad; but whether she be a lady at home or not, is more than I can tell. It is easy to put on the exterior of a lady; but to be a lady is a very different thing.”
“All that is true enough; but why do you connect such remarks with the name of Mrs. Tudor? Do you know any thing to the contrary of her being a lady?–a lady at home, as you say, for instance?”
“No, I can’t say that I do; but, somehow or other, I am a little inclined to be doubtful of the genuineness of Mrs. Tudor’s claims to being a lady. Once or twice I have thought that I perceived an air of superciliousness to persons who were considered inferior. This is a rigid but true test of any one’s claims to being either a lady or a gentleman. No true lady is less careful of the feelings of those below her than she is of those who are upon an equality.”
“But you only thought you saw this,” said Mrs. Sunderland.
“True, and my thought may be only a thought,” I returned, “and unjust to Mrs. Tudor, who may be as much of a lady at home and under all circumstances, as she appears to be when abroad.”
“What she is, I have not the least doubt,” said my wife.
I never altogether fancied this Mrs. Tudor, although Mrs. Sunderland liked her very much. Before we built our new house, Mrs. Tudor did not know us, notwithstanding the fact that our pews had adjoined for two or three years. But after that event, Mrs. Tudor found out that we had an existence, and became uncommonly gracious with my wife.
Not long after I had spoken out my mind in regard to Mrs. Tudor, that lady, in company with her husband, paid us a visit one evening, and after sitting an hour, invited us to come around and take tea with them on a certain evening in the ensuing week.
When the time came, as we had accepted the invitation, we went. We found about a dozen persons assembled, half of whom were entire strangers to us. Among these I soon perceived that there were two or three who, in the eyes of Mrs. Tudor, were a little superior to her other guests. On our entrance, we were introduced to them first, and with particular formality, our lady hostess pronouncing their names in a very distinct manner, while her articulation of ours was so low that they were scarcely, if at all, heard. During the hour that passed before tea was announced, Mrs. Tudor confined her attentions almost exclusively to these two or three individuals, who were evidently persons of more consequence than the rest of us. So apparent was all this, that most of those who were in the room, instead of joining in the conversation, sat looking at the more favoured guests.
“They must be persons of some importance,” I could not help saying to my wife in an undertone, in which her quick ear detected something of sarcasm.
“For mercy’s sake, Mr. Sunderland!” she replied, in a voice that only reached my own ears, “don’t make remarks upon any of the company.”
If she had said, “It is not gentlemanly to do so,” she could not have conveyed what she wished to utter more distinctly than she did.
I felt the force of her reproof, but could not resist the inclination I felt to reply.
“We have so good an example of what is polite and genteel, that it is not to be wondered if we profit a little.”
“Mr. Sunderland! Why, will you!” My wife seemed distressed.
I said no more on the subject, content with having let her know that I was noticing the conduct of her perfect lady. I believe, if I could have seen her thoughts, that among them I would have detected this one among the rest; that it was not exactly fair and gentlemanly in me to remind her so promptly of the error she had probably committed in her estimate of Mrs. Tudor’s character.
Fully absorbed as she was in showing attentions to her more favoured guests, Mrs. Tudor did not perceive the cold, uncomfortable, unsocial feeling that had crept over the rest of her company.
Tea was at last announced. I felt relieved at this, and so, I perceived, did most of those around me. At the tea-table I expected to find Mrs. Tudor more general in her attentions. But no. These favoured ones were served first, and “Mrs.–, will you have this?” and “Mrs.–, will you have that?” were almost exclusively confined to three persons at the table. Mr. Tudor, I remarked, noticed this, for he exerted himself in order to make all the rest feel at ease, which he succeeded in doing to some extent.
Waiting upon the table was a female domestic, a young girl of good manners and appearance. To her Mrs. Tudor uniformly spoke in a way that must have been felt as peculiarly disagreeable. The blandest smile; and the most winning expression of voice, would instantly change, when Lucy was addressed, to a cold, supercilious look, and an undertone of command. Several times I saw the blood mount to the girl’s forehead, as a word or tone more marked and offensive than usual would be given so loudly as to be perceived by all. Once or twice, at such times, I could not resist a glance at Mrs. Sunderland, which was generally met with a slight, rebuking contraction of her brow.
Through the efforts of Mr. Tudor, who certainly did his part well, the tea-table party was a good deal more social than had been the individuals composing it while in the parlour. The favoured guests, notwithstanding the incense offered them by our hostess, appeared in no way to esteem themselves as better than the rest, and, as soon as opportunity was afforded them, tried to be at home with every one. Once more in the parlours, and arranged there by a kind of social crystallization, I perceived that Mrs. Tudor was sitting between two of the ladies who were considered by her worthy of the most marked attention. There she sat during nearly the whole of the evening, except when refreshments were introduced, when she accompanied Lucy round the room, occasionally speaking to her in a tone of offensive command or cutting rebuke.
For one, I was glad when the time came to go home, and I rather think that all present were as much relieved, in getting away, as I was.
“What is your opinion now?” said I, triumphantly, to Mrs. Sunderland, the moment we were in the street.
“My opinion,” she replied, a little sharply, “is, that you did not act, in several instances, this evening, like a gentleman!”
“I did not!” I spoke with affected surprise only; for I thought I knew what it was she meant.
“No, I am sorry to say that you did not. Nothing could have been more improper than the notice you took of what was passing. A true gentlemanly spirit would have led you to look away from, rather than at the weakness of our hostess.”
“Look away from it, Mrs. Sunderland! How could I do that, pray? It was before my eyes all the time.”
“You ought to have shut your eyes, then.”
“Very far from it, Mr. Sunderland! You are ready enough to see the faults of other people!”–(in this, I must confess, my wife did not err very much)–“but quite willing to shut your eyes to your own. Now, I think you acted just as bad as Mrs. Tudor; and, in fact, worse.”
“Worse! You are complimentary, Mrs. Sunderland.”
“I can’t help it if I am. Mrs. Tudor was led by her weakness to conduct herself in an unlady-like manner; but you, with her example before your eyes, and in a mood to reflect, permitted yourself to remark upon her conduct in a way calculated to give pain.”
“In the name of wonder, what are you driving at, Mrs. Sunderland? No one but you heard any remark I made.”
“I wish I could think so.”
“Who, besides yourself, heard what I said?”
“He was sitting very near us when you so far forgot yourself as to notice, verbally, what was passing, and I am well satisfied, either heard distinctly what was said, or enough to enable him to understand the nature of all you said.”
“You are surely mistaken,” said I, feeling a good deal mortified, and perceiving much more clearly than I did before the nature of my offence against good manners and propriety of conduct.
“I wish I were. But I fear I am not. I know that Mr. Tudor looked around toward you suddenly, and I noticed that he was much more particular afterward in his attentions to the rest of the company. At table, you may have yourself remarked this.”
“Yes, I noticed it.”
“And yet, even at the table, when he was doing his best, you again hurt his feelings.”
“Yes, you. When Mrs. Tudor spoke harshly to Lucy, or did something or other that you thought out of the way, you must look your sarcasm at me, notwithstanding the eyes of her husband were upon you.”
“But he didn’t see me, then.”
“Yes, but he did. I saw him looking directly at you.”
“Oh, no! it cannot be.” I was unwilling to believe this.
“I wish it were not so for my husband’s sake,” returned Mrs. Sunderland. “But the evidence of my senses I generally find it necessary to credit.”
I must own that I felt considerably cut up, or cut down, whichever is the most mortifying state to be in. To look and whisper my censure in company, I had thought no great harm; but now that I had found I had been discovered in the act, I had a mortifying sense of its impropriety.
“Well, anyhow,” said I, rallying myself, and speaking with some lightness of tone, “it is clear that Mrs. Tudor is no lady, for all you thought her such a pattern-card of gentility.”
“And I have not the least doubt,” retorted my wife, “that it is equally clear to Mr. Tudor that you are no gentleman. So, on that score, the account stands fairly balanced between the two families.”
This was a pretty hard hit; and I felt a little “riled up,” as the Yankees say, but I concluded that the uttering of a few sharp sayings to my wife, under the circumstances, would not prove my claim to being a gentleman, especially against the facts of the case; so I cooled down, and walked home rather silently, and in not the best humour with myself.
On the next morning, I took up a little book from my wife’s bureau, and sat down to look over it while waiting for the breakfast bell. It was a book of aphorisms, and I opened at once to a page where a leaf was turned down. A slight dot with a pencil directed my eyes to a particular line, which read–
“_He who lives in a glass house shouldn’t throw stones_.”
I am not sure that Mrs. Sunderland turned down that leaf in the book, and marked the sentiment for my especial benefit; though I strongly suspected her. At any rate, I deemed it best not to ask the question.
GOING INTO MOURNING.
THE weeping mother bent over the beautiful form of innocent childhood–beautiful still, though its animating spirit had fled–and kissed the pale cheek of her dear departed one. When she lifted her head, a tear glistened on the cold brow of the babe. Then the father looked his last look, and, with an effort, controlled the emotion that wellnigh mastered him. The sisters came next, with audible sobs, and cheeks suffused with tears. A moment or two they gazed upon the expressionless face of their dear little playfellow, and then the coffin lid was shut down, while each one present experienced a momentary feeling of suffocation.
As the funeral procession came out of the door, and the family passed slowly across the pavement to the carriages, a few gossiping neighbours–such as, with no particular acquaintance with the principal members of a household, know all about the internal management of every dwelling in the square–assembled close by, and thus discoursed of the events connected with the burying.
“Poor Mrs. Condy,” said one, “how can she bear the loss of that sweet little fellow!”
“Other people have lost children as well as she,” remarked a sour-looking dame. “Rich people, thank heaven! have to feel as well as we poor folks.”
No one seemed disposed to reply to this; and there was a momentary silence.
“They’ve got up mourning mighty quick,” said a third speaker. “Little Willie only died yesterday morning.”
“It’s most all borrowed, I suppose,” responded a fourth.
“Hardly,” said the other.
“Yes, but I know that it is, though,” added the individual who made the allegation of borrowing; “because, you see, Lucy, the chambermaid, told me last night, that Mrs. Condy had sent her to borrow her sister’s black bombazine, and that the girls were all hard enough put to it to know where to get something decent to attend the funeral in.”
“No doubt, they thought more about mourning dresses, than they did about the dead child,” remarked the cynic of the group.
“It’s a shame, Mrs. Grime, for you to talk in that way about any one,” replied the woman who had first spoken.
“It’s the truth, Mrs. Myers,” retorted Mrs. Grime. “By their works ye shall know them. You needn’t tell me about people being so dreadful sorry at the loss of friends when they can make such a to-do about getting black to wear. These bombazine dresses and long black veils are truly enough called mourning–they are an excellent counterfeit, and deceive one half of the world. Ah, me! If all the money that was spent buying in mourning was given to the poor, there would be less misery in the world by a great deal.”
And while the little group, attracted by the solemn pageant, thus exercised the privilege of independent thought and free discussion, carriage after carriage was filled and moved off, and soon the whole passed out of sight.
It was near the hour of twilight when the afflicted family returned, and after partaking of supper, sparingly, and in silence, the different members retired to their chambers, and at an early hour sought relief to their troubled thoughts in sleep.
On the next morning, during the breakfast hour, Mrs. Condy broke the oppressive silence by asking of her husband the sum of fifty dollars.
“What for, Sarah?” said Mr. Condy, looking into her face with an expression of grave inquiry.
“It’s the middle of the week now, you know, and therefore no time is to be lost in getting mourning. At any rate, it will be as much as a bargain to get dresses made by Sunday. Jane and Mary will have to go out this morning and buy the goods.”
Mr. Condy did not immediately reply, but seemed lost in deep and somewhat painful thought. At length, he said, looking his wife steadily in the face, but with a kind expression on his countenance–
“Sarah, black dresses and an outside imposing show of mourning cannot make us any the more sorry for the loss of our dear little one,” and his voice gave way and slightly trembled at the last word, and the moisture dimmed his eyes.
“Yes, but, Mr. Condy, it would seem wicked and unfeeling not to put on mourning,” said his wife in an earnest voice, for the idea of non-conformity to the custom of society, so suddenly presented to her mind, obscured for the moment the heart-searching sorrow awakened by the loss of her youngest born and dearest. “How can you think of such a thing?”
“Why, father, it would never do in the world,” added the eldest daughter, Jane. “I should feel condemned as long as I lived, if I were to neglect so binding a duty.”
“And what would people say?” asked Mary, whose simple mind perceived at once the strongest motive that operated in favour of the mourning garments.
“I don’t see, Mary,” replied Mr. Condy, “that other people have any thing at all to do in this matter. We know our grief to be real, and need no artificial incitements to keep it alive. Black garments cannot add to our sorrow.”
But Mrs. Condy shook her head, and the daughters shook their heads, and the end of the matter was, Mr. Condy’s purse-strings were loosened, and the required amount of money handed over.
After thinking a good deal about the matter, Mary suggested, about an hour after breakfast, that it would not look well for her and Jane to be seen shopping, and Willie only buried the day before; and it was agreed to send for Ellen Maynard, who always sewed in the family when there was much to do, and get her to make the purchases. This determined, Lucy was despatched for Ellen.
The reader will transfer his mental vision to a small but neat and comfortable room in another part of the town. The inmates are two. One, with a pale, thin face, and large bright eyes, reclines upon a bed. The other is seated by a window, sewing.
“I think I will try to sit up a little, Ellen,” said the former, raising herself up with an effort.
“I wouldn’t, if I were you, Margaret,” replied the other, dropping her work and coming to the bedside. “You had better keep still, or that distressing cough may come back again.”
“Indeed, sister,” returned the invalid, “I feel so restless that it is almost impossible to lie here. Let me sit up a little while, and I am sure I shall feel better.”
Ellen did not oppose her further, but assisted her to a large rocking-chair, and, after placing a pillow at her back, resumed her work.
“I can’t help thinking of Mrs. Condy’s little Willie,” said Ellen, after a pause. “Dear little fellow! How much they must all feel his loss.”
“He is better off, though,” remarked the sister; but even that idea could not keep her eyes from glistening. The thought of death always referred itself to her own near approach to the thick shadows and the dark valley.
“Yes, he is with the angels,” was the brief response of Ellen.
Just at that moment the door opened, and Mrs. Condy’s chambermaid entered.
“Good morning, Lucy, how do you do?” said Ellen, rising. “How is Mrs. Condy and all the family?”
“They are very well, Miss Ellen,” replied Lucy. “Mrs. Condy wants you to come there this morning and go and buy the mourning for the family. And then they want you to come and sew all this week, and part of next, too.”
Ellen glanced at her sister, involuntarily, and then said–
“I am afraid, Lucy, that I can’t go. Margaret is very poorly, and I don’t see how I can possibly leave her.”
“O yes, you can go, Ellen,” said Margaret. “You can fix me what I want, and come home every night. I’ll do well enough.”
Ellen paused a few moments, and then turning to Lucy, said–
“Tell Mrs. Condy that I will come round in the course of half an hour.”
Lucy went away, and Ellen, after sitting irresolute for some minutes, said–
“I don’t think, sister, that I can do any thing more for Mrs. Condy than her shopping. I wouldn’t like to leave you alone. You know how bad your cough is sometimes.”
“I’ll do well enough through the day, Ellen,” replied Margaret, though her feeble voice and languid manner told too plainly that she could not do very well at any time. “You know that our rent will be due in two weeks, and that you haven’t yet got enough to pay it.”
“That is very true,” said Ellen, somewhat sadly. “Anyhow, I’ll go to Mrs. Condy’s, and will think about the matter.”
After dressing herself, Ellen insisted that her sister should lie down. She then placed a small table close to the bed, upon which was set a few articles of food, and a vial of cough medicine. After charging Margaret to keep very quiet, and to try to sleep, she turned upon her a look of deep and yearning affection, and then hurried away.
The sight of Ellen, and the necessary allusion to the recent afflicting loss, caused the tears of the mother and sisters to flow afresh. But these were soon dried up, and so much were the minds of each interested in the idea of the mourning dresses, and in the necessary directions to be given, that few traces of the real affliction which had wrung their hearts remained, for the time, perceptible. The orders received by Ellen were promptly filled at the store where the family usually purchased their dry-goods, and the various articles sent home. The bundles arrived about the same time that Ellen returned. Then came a careful examination of the shades of colour and quality of the goods. These proving satisfactory, Jane said–
“And now, Ellen, mother’s dress, and Mary’s, and mine must be done this week. We’ll all help you. Mary and I can make the skirts and bind cord for you, and do a good deal on the dresses. You can get them done, easily enough?”
“Indeed, Miss Jane,” replied Ellen, and her voice was not steady, “I hardly know what to say. Sister is worse than she has ever been; and I don’t see how I can leave her alone. She coughs terribly; and is so weak, that she can only sit up a little while. She has failed very fast within a week.”
“But you know this is a case particularly pressing,” said Mrs. Condy. “There seems to be no help for it. There is no one we can get but you, now; and you know we give you all our sewing, and depend on you. Lucy says that Margaret is willing to have you come, and says that she can get on very well.”
Ellen paused a moment or two, and then replied, with an expression of sadness in her voice–“I will make the dresses for you, Mrs. Condy, but you must all help me as much as you can, so that I can get home every evening. It won’t do to let Margaret be alone all night, for her cough is much worse in the evening, and before day in the morning.”
Neither Mrs. Condy nor her daughters replied to this. Mentally, they deemed it impossible for Ellen to go home at night. But they did not wish to say so. It was Wednesday, and all the afternoon was consumed in cutting, fitting, and basting the dresses. Night came, and Ellen, after tea, prepared to go home. Some slight objection was made; but she was resolute. It was some time after dark when she came in sight of her chamber window. It showed that there was no light within. Instantly she sprang forward, and soon bounded up the stairs and into the room.
“Margaret!–How are you, Margaret?” she said, pressing up to the bedside, and putting her hand upon the forehead of her sister. It was cold and clammy. A violent fit of coughing prevented a reply. A light was obtained in a few minutes, and showed the countenance of Margaret slightly distorted from difficult breathing, and her forehead perceptibly corrugated.
“You are worse, sister!” exclaimed Ellen, kissing her damp forehead.
“No, not much worse. My cough is only a little troublesome,” was the quiet reply.
“You have had no supper yet, of course,” said Ellen. “A cup of hot tea will do you good.”
This was soon prepared, and Margaret (sic) eat with a keen appetite. After tea, she was much better. The cold perspiration ceased, and her skin became dry and warm. A brief conversation passed between the sisters, when Margaret fell off into a pleasant slumber. On the next morning, with much reluctance and many misgivings as to whether it were right to leave her sister alone, Ellen went to Mrs. Condy’s. Before going, however, she asked the kind neighbour who lived below, to look in occasionally, and to see that Margaret had a good cup of tea for dinner. This was promised, and she felt lighter at heart.
Ellen worked hard through that day; but when night came, with all the help she had received, the first dress was not finished. Unless one dress were finished each day, the three could not be done by Sunday; and this not being the case on the first day, how could she go home that night? for if she worked a few hours longer, the garment would be ready for the wearer.
“I must run home a little while,” said she, mentally, “and then come back again. But how can I leave Margaret all night? She may die!” The thought caused her to shudder.
At length she said to Mrs. Condy–
“I can’t leave sister all night, madam. But I can take your dress home with me, and by sitting up late, I can easily finish it. You will have no objection to my doing this, I hope?”
Mrs. Condy paused a moment, for she did feel an objection to this being done; but humanity prevailed, and she consented. This relieved Ellen’s mind very greatly, and she bundled up the dress, and hurried away with it. Margaret appeared more feeble than she was in the morning; and her cough was very troublesome. It was nearly twelve o’clock when the last stitch was taken in Mrs. Condy’s dress. And then Ellen retired to her bed. But it was a long time before she could sleep. The nervous excitement, induced by protracted labour and great anxiety of mind, drove slumber from her eyelids for many hours. Towards morning she fell into a troubled sleep, and awoke at daylight unrefreshed.
This day was Friday, and Jane’s dress came next in turn. Ellen applied herself with even greater assiduity than she had used on the preceding day; but, as Jane’s dress required more trimming, and less assistance was given her on it, the progress she made towards its completion was in no way promising. After dinner her head began to ache, and continued its throbbing, almost blinding pain, until the evening twilight began to fall, and the darkness compelled her to suspend her work.
“Why, Ellen, Jane’s dress isn’t nigh done,” said Mary, in tones of surprise, on coming into the room, at the moment Ellen laid the garment aside.