"Very well. But, surely this girl is not Mary Belgrave?"
"Yes. It was Mary Belgrave whom we met at the pawnbroker's sale."
"Mary Belgrave! Can it be possible? I knew the family had become poor; but not so poor as this!"
And Mr. Edwards, much disturbed in mind, walked uneasily about the floor. But soon pausing, he said—
"And so her mother is dead!"
"Yes. Her father died two years ago and her mother, who has been sick ever since, died last week in abject poverty, leaving Mary friendless, in a world where the poor and needy are but little regarded. The miniature which Mary had secretly pawned in order to supply the last earthly need of her mother, she sought by her labor to redeem; but ere she had been able to save up enough for the purpose, the time for which the pledge had been taken, expired, and the pawn broker refused to renew it. Under the faint hope that she might be able to buy it in with the little pittance of money she had saved, she attended the sale where we found her."
The merchant had resumed his seat, and although he had listened attentively to the Quaker's brief history, he did not make any reply, but soon became lost in thought. From this he was interrupted by his visitor, who said, as he moved towards the door—
"I will bid thee good morning, friend Edwards."
"One moment, if you please," said the merchant, arousing himself, and speaking earnestly, "Where does Mary Belgrave live?"
The Friend answered the question, and, as Mr. Edwards did not seem inclined to ask any more, and besides fell back again into an abstract state, he wished him good morning and retired.
The poor girl was sitting alone in her room sewing, late in the afternoon of the day on which the incident at the auction room occurred, musing, as she had mused for hours, upon the unexpected adventure. She did not, in the excitement of the moment, know Mr. Edwards when he first tendered her the miniature; but when he said with peculiar emphasis and earnestness, turning away as he spoke—"Keep it, in Heaven's name!" she recognized him fully. Since that moment, she had not been able to keep the thought of him from her mind. They had been intimate friends at one time; but this was while they were both very young. Then he had professed for her a boyish passion; and she had loved him with the childish fondness of a young school-girl. As they grew older, circumstances separated them more; and though no hearts were broken in consequence, both often thought of the early days of innocence and affection with pleasure.
Mary sat sewing, as we have said, late in the afternoon of the day on which the incident at the auction room occurred, when there was a tap at her door. On opening it, Mr. Edwards stood before her. She stepped back a pace or two in instant surprise and confusion, and he advanced into the desolate room. In a moment, however, Mary recovered herself, and with as much self-possession as, under the circumstances, she could assume, asked her unexpected visitor to take a chair, which she offered him.
Mr. Edwards sat down, feeling much oppressed. Mary was so changed in everything, except in the purity and beauty of her countenance, since he had seen her years before, that his feelings were completely borne down. But he soon recovered himself enough to speak to her of what was in his mind. He had an old aunt, who had been a friend of Mary's mother, and from her he brought a message and an offer of a home. Her carriage was at the door—it had been sent for her—and he urged her to go with him immediately. Mary had no good reason for declining so kind an offer. It was a home that she most of all needed; and she could not refuse one like this.
"There is another unredeemed pledge," said Mr. Edwards, significantly, as he sat conversing with Mary about a year after she had found a home in the house of his aunt. Allusion had been made to the miniature of Mary's mother.
"Ah!" was the simple response.
"Yes. Don't you remember," and he took Mary's unresisting hand—"the pledge of this hand which you made me, I cannot tell how many years ago?"
"That was a mere girlish pledge," ventured Mary, with drooping eyes.
"But one that the woman will redeem," said Edwards confidently, raising the hand to his lips at the same time, and kissing it.
Mary leaned involuntarily towards him; and he, perceiving the movement, drew his arm around her, and pressed his lips to her cheek.
It was no very long time afterwards before the pledge was redeemed.
DON'T MENTION IT.
"DON'T mention it again for your life."
"No, of course not. The least said about such things the better."
"Don't for the world. I have told you in perfect confidence, and you are the only one to whom I have breathed it. I wouldn't have it get out for any consideration."
"Give yourself no uneasiness. I shall not allude to the subject."
"I merely told you because I knew you were a friend, and would let it go no farther. But would you have thought it?"
"I certainly am very much surprised."
"So am I. But when things pass right before your eyes and ears, there is no gainsaying them."
"No. Seeing is said to be believing."
"Of course it is."
"But, Mrs. Grimes, are you very sure that you heard aright?"
"I am positive, Mrs. Raynor. It occurred only an hour ago, and the whole thing is distinctly remembered. I called in to see Mrs. Comegys, and while I was there, the bundle of goods came home. I was present when she opened it, and she showed me the lawn dress it contained. There were twelve yards in it. 'I must see if there is good measure,' she said, and she got a yard-stick and measured it off. There were fifteen yards instead of twelve. 'How is this?' she remarked. 'I am sure I paid for only twelve yards, and here are fifteen.' The yard-stick was applied again. There was no mistake; the lawn measured fifteen yards. 'What are you going to do with the surplus?' I asked. 'Keep it, of course,' said Mrs. Comegys. 'There is just enough to make little Julia a frock. Won't she look sweet in it?,' I was so confounded that I couldn't say a word. Indeed, I could hardly look her in the face. At first I thought of calling her attention to the dishonesty of the act; but then I reflected that, as it was none of my business, I might get her ill-will for meddling in what didn't concern me."
"And you really think, then, that she meant to keep the three yards without paying for them?
"Oh, certainly! But then I wouldn't say anything about it for the world. I wouldn't name it, on any consideration. Of course you will not repeat it."
"No. If I cannot find any good to tell of my friends, I try to refrain from saying anything evil."
"A most excellent rule, Mrs. Raynor, and one that I always follow. I never speak evil of my friends, for it always does more harm than good. No one can say that I ever tried to injure another."
"I hope Mrs. Comegys thought better of the matter, upon reflection," said Mrs. Raynor.
"So do I. But I am afraid not. Two or three little things occur to me now, that I have seen in my intercourse with her, which go to satisfy my mind that her moral perceptions are not the best in the world. Mrs. Comegys is a pleasant friend, and much esteemed by every one. It could do no good to spread this matter abroad, but harm."
After repeating over and over again her injunction to Mrs. Raynor not to repeat a word of what she had told her, Mrs. Grimes bade this lady, upon whom she had called, good morning, and went on her way. Ten minutes after, she was in the parlor of an acquaintance, named Mrs. Florence, entertaining her with the gossip she had picked up since their last meeting. She had not been there long, before, lowering her voice, she said in a confidential way—
"I was at Mrs. Comegys' to-day, and saw something that amazed me beyond every thing."
"Yes. You will be astonished when you hear it. Suppose you had purchased a dress and paid for a certain number of yards; and when the dress was sent home, you should find that the storekeeper had made a mistake and sent you three or four yards more than you had settled for. What would you do?"
"Send it back, of course."
"Of course, so say I. To act differently would not be honest. Do you think so?"
"It would not be honest for me."
"No, nor for any one. Now, would you have believed it? Mrs. Comegys not only thinks but acts differently."
"You must be mistaken, certainly, Mrs. Grimes."
"Seeing is believing, Mrs. Florence."
"So it is said, but I could hardly believe my eyes against Mrs. Comegys' integrity of character. I think I ought to know her well, for we have been very intimate for years."
"And I thought I knew her, too. But it seems that I was mistaken."
Mrs. Grimes then repeated the story of the lawn dress.
"Gracious me! Can it be possible?" exclaimed Mrs. Florence. "I can hardly credit it."
"It occurred just as I tell you. But Mrs. Florence, you mustn't tell it again for the world. I have mentioned it to you in the strictest confidence. But I need hardly say this to you, for I know how discreet you are."
"I shall not mention it."
"It could do no good."
"None in the world."
"Isn't it surprising, that a woman who is so well off in the world as Mrs. Comegys, should stoop to a petty act like this?"
"It is, certainly."
"Perhaps there is something wrong here," and Mrs. Grimes placed her finger to her forehead and looked sober.
"How do you mean?" asked the friend.
"You've heard of people's having a dishonest monomania. Don't you remember the case of Mrs. Y——?"
"She had every thing that heart could desire. Her husband was rich, and let her have as much money as she wanted. I wish we could all say that, Mrs. Florence, don't you?"
"It would be very pleasant, certainly, to have as much money as we wanted."
"But, notwithstanding all this, Mrs. Y—— had such a propensity to take things not her own, that she never went into a dry goods store without purloining something, and rarely took tea with a friend without slipping a teaspoon into her pocket. Mr. Y—— had a great deal of trouble with her, and, in several cases, paid handsomely to induce parties disposed to prosecute her for theft, to let the matter drop. Now do you know that it has occurred to me that, perhaps, Mrs. Comegys is afflicted in this way? I shouldn't at all wonder if it were so."
"I'm afraid it is as I suspect. A number of suspicious circumstances have happened when she has been about, that this would explain. But for your life, Mrs. Florence, don't repeat this to any mortal!"
"I shall certainly not speak of it, Mrs. Grimes. It is too serious a matter. I wish I had not heard of it, for I can never feel toward Mrs. Comegys as I have done. She is a very pleasant woman, and one with whom it is always agreeable and profitable to spend an hour."
"It is a little matter, after all," remarked Mrs. Grimes, "and, perhaps, we treat it too seriously."
"We should never think lightly of dishonest practices, Mrs. Grimes. Whoever is dishonest in little things, will be dishonest in great things, if a good opportunity offer. Mrs. Comegys can never be to me what she has been. That is impossible."
"Of course you will not speak of it again."
"You need have no fear of that."
A few days after, Mrs. Raynor made a call upon a friend, who said to her,
"Have you heard about Mrs. Comegys?"
"What about her?"
"I supposed you knew it. I've heard it from half a dozen persons. It is said that Perkins, through a mistake of one of his clerks, sent her home some fifteen or twenty yards of lawn more than she had paid for, and that, instead of sending it back, she kept it and made it up for her children. Did you ever hear of such a trick for an honest woman?"
"I don't think any honest woman would be guilty of such an act. Yes, I heard of it a few days ago as a great secret, and have not mentioned it to a living soul."
"Secret? bless me! it is no secret. It is in every one's mouth."
"Is it possible? I must say that Mrs. Grimes has been very indiscreet."
"Mrs. Grimes! Did it come from her in the first place?"
"Yes. She told me that she was present when the lawn came home, and saw Mrs. Comegys measure it, and heard her say that she meant to keep it."
"Which she has done. For I saw her in the street, yesterday, with a beautiful new lawn, and her little Julia was with her, wearing one precisely like it."
"How any woman can do so is more than I can understand."
"So it is, Mrs. Raynor. Just to think of dressing your child up in a frock as good as stolen! Isn't it dreadful?"
"It is, indeed!"
"Mrs. Comegys is not an honest woman. That is clear. I am told that this is not the first trick of the kind of which she has been guilty. They say that she has a natural propensity to take things that are not her own."
"I can hardly believe that."
"Nor can I. But it's no harder to believe this than to believe that she would cheat Perkins out of fifteen of twenty yards of lawn. It's a pity; for Mrs. Comegys, in every thing else, is certainly a very nice woman. In fact, I don't know any one I visit with so much pleasure."
Thus the circle of detraction widened, until there was scarcely a friend or acquaintance of Mrs. Comegys, near or remote, who had not heard of her having cheated a dry goods dealer out of several yards of lawn. Three, it had first been alleged; but the most common version of the story made it fifteen or twenty. Meantime, Mrs. Comegys remained in entire ignorance of what was alleged against her, although she noticed in two or three of her acquaintances, a trifling coldness that struck her as rather singular.
One day her husband, seeing that she looked quite sober, said—
"You seem quite dull to-day, dear. Don't you feel well?"
"Yes, I feel as well as usual, in body."
"But not in mind?"
"I do not feel quite comfortable in mind, certainly, though I don't know that I have any serious cause of uneasiness."
"Though a slight cause exists. May I ask what it is?"
"It is nothing more nor less than that I was coolly cut by an old friend to-day, whom I met in a store on Chesnut street. And as she is a woman that I highly esteem, both for the excellence of her character, and the agreeable qualities, as a friend, that she possesses. I cannot but feel a little bad about it. If she were one of that capricious class who get offended with you, once a month, for no just cause whatever, I should not care a fig. But Mrs. Markle is a woman of character, good sense and good feeling, whose friendship I have always prized."
"Was it Mrs. Markle?" said the husband, with some surprise.
"What can possibly be the cause?"
"I cannot tell."
"Have you thought over every thing?"
"Yes, I have turned and turned the matter in my mind, but can imagine no reason why she, of all others, could treat me coolly."
"Have you never spoken of her in a way to have your words misinterpreted by some evil-minded person—Mrs. Grimes, for instance—whose memory, or moral sense, one or the other, is very dull?"
"I have never spoken of her to any one, except in terms of praise. I could not do otherwise, for I look upon her as one of the most faultless women I know."
"She has at least shown that she possesses one fault."
"What is that?"
"If she has heard any thing against you of a character so serious as to make her wish to give up your acquaintance, she should at least have afforded you the chance of defending yourself before condemning you."
"I think that, myself."
"It may be that she did not see you," Mr. Comegys suggested.
"She looked me in the face, and nodded with cold formality."
"Perhaps her mind was abstracted."
"It might have been so. Mine would have been very abstracted, indeed, to keep me from a more cordial recognition of a friend."
"How would it do to call and see her?"
"I have been thinking of that. But my feelings naturally oppose it. I am not conscious of having done any thing to merit a withdrawal of the friendly sentiments she has held towards me; still, if she wishes to withdraw them, my pride says, let her do so."
"But pride, you know, is not always the best adviser."
"No. Perhaps the less regard we pay to its promptings, the better."
"I think so."
"It is rather awkward to go to a person and ask why you have been treated coldly."
"I know it is. But in a choice of evils, is it not always wisest to choose the least?"
"But is any one's bad opinion of you, if it be not correctly formed, an evil?"
"Certainly it is."
"I don't know. I have a kind of independence about me which says, 'Let people think what they please, so you are conscious of no wrong.'"
"Indifference to the world's good or bad opinion is all very well," replied the husband, "if the world will misjudge us. Still, as any thing that prejudices the minds of people against us, tends to destroy our usefulness, it is our duty to take all proper care of our reputations, even to the sacrifice of a little feeling in doing so."
Thus argued with by her husband, Mrs. Comegys, after turning the matter over in her mind, finally concluded to go and see Mrs. Markle. It was a pretty hard trial for her, but urged on by a sense of right, she called upon her two or three days after having been treated so coldly. She sent up her name by the servant. In about five minutes, Mrs. Markle descended to the parlor, where her visitor was awaiting her, and met her in a reserved and formal manner, that was altogether unlike her former cordiality. It was as much as Mrs. Comegys could do to keep from retiring instantly, and without a word, from the house. But she compelled herself to go through with what she had begun.
Mrs. Markle did, indeed, offer her hand; or rather the tips of her fingers; which Mrs. Comegys, in mere reciprocation of the formality, accepted. Then came an embarrassing pause, after which the latter said—
"I see that I was not mistaken in supposing that there was a marked coldness in your manner at our last meeting."
Mrs. Markle inclined her head slightly.
"Of course there is a cause for this. May I, in justice to myself as well as others, inquire what it is?"
"I did not suppose you would press an inquiry on the subject," replied Mrs. Markle. "But as you have done so, you are, of course, entitled to an answer."
There came another pause, after which, with a disturbed voice, Mrs. Markle said—
"For some time, I have heard a rumor in regard to you, that I could not credit. Of late it has been so often repeated that I felt it to be my duty to ascertain its truth or falsehood. On tracing, with some labor, the report to its origin, I am grieved to find that it is too true."
"Please say what it is," said Mrs. Comegys, in a firm voice.
"It is said that you bought a dress at a dry goods store in this city, and that on its being sent home, there proved to be some yards more in the piece of goods than you paid for and that instead of returning what was not your own, you kept it and had it made up for one of your children."
The face of Mrs. Comegys instantly became like crimson; and she turned her head away to hide the confusion into which this unexpected allegation had thrown her. As soon as she could command her voice, she said—
"You will, of course, give me the author of this charge."
"You are entitled to know, I suppose," replied Mrs. Markle. "The person who originated this report is Mrs. Grimes. And she says that she was present when the dress was sent home. That you measured it in her presence, and that, finding there were several yards over, you declared your intention to keep it and make of it a frock for your little girl. And, moreover, that she saw Julia wearing a frock afterwards, exactly like the pattern of the one you had, which she well remembers. This seems to me pretty conclusive evidence. At least it was so to my mind, and I acted accordingly."
Mrs. Comegys sat for the full space of a minute with her eyes upon the floor, without speaking. When she looked up, the flush that had covered her face had gone. It was very pale, instead. Rising from her chair, she bowed formally, and without saying a word, withdrew.
"Ah me! Isn't it sad?" murmured Mrs. Markle, as she heard the street door close upon her visitor. "So much that is agreeable and excellent, all dimmed by the want of principle. It seems hardly credible that a woman, with every thing she needs, could act dishonestly for so small a matter. A few yards of lawn against integrity and character! What a price to set upon virtue!"
Not more than half an hour after the departure of Mrs. Comegys, Mrs. Grimes called in to see Mrs. Markle.
"I hope," she said, shortly after she was seated, "that you won't say a word about what I told you a few days ago; I shouldn't have opened my lips on the subject if you hadn't asked me about it. I only mentioned it in the first place to a friend in whom I had the greatest confidence in the world. She has told some one, very improperly, for it was imparted to her as a secret, and in that way it has been spread abroad. I regret it exceedingly, for I would be the last person in the world to say a word to injure any one. I am particularly guarded in this."
"If it's the truth, Mrs. Grimes, I don't see that you need be so anxious about keeping it a secret," returned Mrs. Markle.
"The truth! Do you think I would utter a word that was not true?"
"I did not mean to infer that you would. I believe that what you said in regard to Mrs. Comegys was the fact."
"It certainly was. But then, it will do no good to make a disturbance about it. What has made me call in to see you is this; some one told me that, in consequence of this matter, you had dropped the acquaintance of Mrs. Comegys."
"It is true; I cannot associate on intimate terms with a woman who lacks honest principles."
"But don't you see that this will bring matters to a head, and that I shall be placed in a very awkward position?"
"You are ready to adhere to your statement in regard to Mrs. Comegys?"
"Oh, certainly; I have told nothing but the truth. But still, you can see that it will make me feel exceedingly unpleasant."
"Things of this kind are never very agreeable, I know, Mrs. Grimes. Still we must act as we think right, let what will follow. Mrs. Comegys has already called upon me to ask an explanation of my conduct wards her."
"She has!" Mrs. Grimes seemed sadly distressed. "What did you say to her?"
"I told her just what I had heard."
"Did she ask your author?" Mrs. Grimes was most pale with suspense.
"Of course you did not mention my name."
"She asked the author of the charge, and I named you."
"Oh dear, Mrs. Markle! I wish you hadn't done that. I shall be involved in a world of trouble, and the reputation of a tattler and mischief-maker. What did she say?"
"Not one word."
"She didn't deny it?"
"Of course she could not. Well, that is some satisfaction at least. She might have denied it, and tried make me out a liar, and there would have been plenty to believe her word against mine. I am glad she didn't deny it. She didn't say a word?"
"Did she look guilty?"
"You would have thought so, if you had seen her."
"What did she do?"
"She sat with her eyes upon the floor for some time, and then rose up, and without uttering a word, left the house."
"I wish she had said something. It would have been a satisfaction to know what she thought. But I suppose the poor woman was so confounded, that she didn't know what to say."
"So it appeared to me. She was completely stunned. I really pitied her from my heart. But want of principle should never be countenanced. If we are to have social integrity, we must mark with appropriate condemnation all deviations therefrom. It was exceedingly painful, but the path of duty was before me, and I walked in it without faltering."
Mrs. Grimes was neither so clear-sighted, nor so well satisfied with what she had done, as all this. She left the house of Mrs. Markle feeling very unhappy. Although she had been using her little unruly member against Mrs. Comegys with due industry, she was all the while on the most friendly terms with her, visiting at her house and being visited. It was only a few days, before that she had taken tea and spent an evening with her. Not that Mrs. Grimes was deliberately hypocritical, but she had a free tongue, and, like too many in society, more cautious about what they said than she, much better pleased to see evil than good in a neighbour. There are very few of us, perhaps, who have not something of this fault—an exceedingly bad fault, by the way. It seems to arise from a consciousness of our own imperfections and the pleasure we feel in making the discovery that others are as bad, if not worse than we are.
Two days after Mrs. Comegys had called on Mrs. Markle to ask for explanations, the latter received a note in the following words:
"MADAM.—I have no doubt you have acted according to your own views of right in dropping as suddenly as you have done, the acquaintance of an old friend. Perhaps, if you had called upon me and asked explanations, you might have acted a little differently. My present object in addressing you is to ask, as a matter of justice, that you will call at my house to-morrow at twelve o'clock. I think that I am entitled to speak a word in my own defense. After you have heard that I shall not complain of any course you may think it right to pursue.
Mrs. Markle, could do no less than call as she had been desired to. At twelve o'clock she rang the bell at Mrs. Comegys' door, and was shown into the parlor, where, to her no small surprise, she found about twenty ladies, most of them acquaintances, assembled, Mrs. Grimes among the number. In about ten minutes Mrs. Comegys came into the room, her countenance wearing a calm but sober aspect. She bowed slightly, but was not cordial toward, or familiar with, any one present. Without a pause she said—
"Ladies, I have learned within a few days, very greatly to my surprise and grief, that there is a report circulated among my friends, injurious to my character as a woman of honest principles. I have taken some pains to ascertain those with whom the report is familiar, and have invited all such to be here to-day. I learn from several sources, that the report originated with Mrs. Grimes, and that she has been very industrious in circulating it to my injury."
"Perhaps you wrong Mrs. Grimes there," spoke up Mrs. Markle. "She did not mention it to me until I inquired of her if the report was true. And then she told me that she had never told it but to a single person, in confidence, and that she had inadvertently alluded to it, and thus it became a common report. So I think that Mrs. Grimes cannot justly be charged with having sought to circulate the matter to your injury."
"Very well, we will see how far that statement is correct," said Mrs. Comegys. "Did she mention the subject to you, Mrs. Raynor?"
"She did," replied Mrs. Raynor. "But in strict confidence, and enjoining it upon me not to mention it to any one, as she had no wish to injure you."
"Did you tell it to any one?"
"No. It was but a little while afterward that it was told to me by some one else."
"Was it mentioned to you, Mrs. Florence?" proceeded Mrs. Comegys, turning to another of the ladies present.
"It was, ma'am."
"By Mrs. Grimes?"
"In confidence, I suppose?"
"I was requested to say nothing about it, for fear that it might create an unfavorable impression in regard to you."
"Very well; there are two already. How was it in your case, Mrs. Wheeler?"
This lady answered as the others had done. The question was then put to each lady in the room, when it appeared that out of the twenty, fifteen had received their information on the subject from Mrs. Grimes, and that upon every one secrecy had been enjoined, although not in every case maintained.
"So it seems, Mrs. Markle," said Mrs. Comegys, after she had finished her inquiries, "that Mrs. Grimes has, as I alleged, industriously circulated this matter to my injury."
"It certainly appears so," returned Mrs. Markle, coldly.
Thus brought into a corner, Mrs. Grimes bristled up like certain animals, which are good at running and skulking, but which, when fairly trapped, fight desperately.
"Telling it to a thousand is not half as bad as doing it, Mrs. Comegys," she said, angrily. "You needn't try to screen yourself from the consequences of your wrong doings, by raising a hue and cry against me. Go to the fact, madam! Go to the fact, and stand alongside of what you have done."
"I have no hesitation about doing that, Mrs. Grimes. Pray, what have I done?"
"It is very strange that you should ask, madam."
"But I am charged, I learn, with having committed a crime against society; and you are the author of the charge. What is the crime?"
"If it is any satisfaction to you, I will tell you. I was at your house when the pattern of the lawn dress you now have on was sent home. You measured it in my presence, and there were several yards in it more than you had bought and paid for"—
Mrs. Grimes looked confused, and stammered out, "I do not now exactly remember."
"How many did she tell you, Mrs. Raynor?"
"She said there were three yards."
"And you, Mrs. Fisher?"
"And you, Mrs. Florence?"
"Fifteen yards, I think."
"Oh, no, Mrs. Florence; you are entirely mistaken. You misunderstood me," said Mrs. Grimes, in extreme perturbation.
"Perhaps so. But that is my present impression," replied Mrs. Florence.
"That will do," said Mrs. Comegys. "Mrs. Grimes can now go on with her answer to my inquiry. I will remark, however, that the overplus was just two yards."
"Then you admit that the lawn overran what you had paid for?"
"Certainly I do. It overran just two yards."
"Very well. One yard or a dozen, the principle is just the same. I asked you what you meant to do with it, and you replied, 'keep it, of course.' Do you deny that?"
"No. It is very likely that I did say so, for it was my intention to keep it."
"Without paying for it?" asked Mrs. Markle.
Mrs. Comegys looked steadily into the face of her interrogator for some moments, a flush upon her cheek, an indignant light in her eye. Then, without replying to the question, she stepped to the wall and rang the parlor bell. In a few moments a servant came in.
"Ask the gentleman in the dining-room if he will be kind enough to step here." In a little while a step was heard along the passage, and then a young man entered.
"You are a clerk in Mr. Perkins' store?" said Mrs. Comegys.
"You remember my buying this lawn dress at your store?"
"Very well, ma'am. I should forget a good many incidents before I forgot that."
"What impressed it upon your memory?"
"This circumstance. I was very much hurried at the time when you bought it, and in measuring it off, made a mistake against myself of two yards. There should have been four dresses in the piece. One had been sold previous to yours. Not long after your dress had been sent home, two ladies came into the store and chose each a dress from the pattern. On measuring the piece, I discovered that it was two yards short, and lost the sale of the dresses in consequence, as the ladies wished them alike. An hour afterward you called to say that I had made a mistake and sent you home two yards more than you had paid for; but that as you liked the pattern very much, you would keep it and buy two yards more for a dress for your little girl."
"Yes; that is exactly the truth in regard to the dress. I am obliged to you, Mr. S——, for the trouble I have given you. I will not keep you any longer."
The young man bowed and withdrew.
The ladies immediately gathered around Mrs. Comegys, with a thousand apologies for having for a moment entertained the idea that she had been guilty of wrong, while Mrs. Grimes took refuge in a flood of tears.
"I have but one cause of complaint against you all," said the injured lady, "and it is this. A charge of so serious a nature should never have been made a subject of common report without my being offered a chance to defend myself. As for Mrs. Grimes, I can't readily understand how she fell into the error she did. But she never would have fallen into it if she had not been more willing to think evil than good of her friends. I do not say this to hurt her; but to state a truth that it may be well for her, and perhaps some of the rest of us, to lay to heart. It is a serious thing to speak evil of another, and should never be done except on the most unequivocal evidence. It never occurred to me to say to Mrs. Grimes that I would pay for the lawn; that I supposed she or any one else would have inferred, when I said I would keep it."
A great deal was said by all parties, and many apologies were made. Mrs. Grimes was particularly humble, and begged all present to forgive and forget what was past. She knew, she said, that she was apt to talk; it was a failing with her which she would try to correct. But that she didn't mean to do any one harm.
As to the latter averment, it can be believed or not as suits every one's fancy. All concerned in this affair felt that they had received a lesson they would not soon forget. And we doubt not, that some of our readers might lay it to heart with great advantage to themselves and benefit to others.
KATE DARLINGTON was a belle and a beauty; and had, as might be supposed, not a few admirers. Some were attracted by her person; some by her winning manners, and not a few by the wealth of her family. But though sweet Kate was both a belle and a beauty, she was a shrewd, clear-seeing girl, and had far more penetration into character than belles and beauties are generally thought to possess. For the whole tribe of American dandies, with their disfiguring moustaches and imperials, she had a most hearty contempt. Hair never made up, with her, for the lack of brains.
But, as she was an heiress in expectancy, and moved in the most fashionable society, and was, with all, a gay and sprightly girl, Kate, as a natural consequence, drew around her the gilded moths of society, not a few of whom got their wings scorched, on approaching too near.
Many aspired to be lovers, and some, more ardent than the rest, boldly pressed forward and claimed her hand. But Kate did not believe in the doctrine that love begets love in all cases. Were this so, it was clear that she would have to love half a dozen, for at least that number came kneeling to her with their hearts in their hands.
Mr. Darlington was a merchant. Among his clerks was the son of an old friend, who, in dying some years before, had earnestly solicited him to have some care over the lad, who at his death would become friendless. In accordance with this last request, Mr. Darlington took the boy into his counting-room; and, in order that he might, with more fidelity, redeem his promise to the dying father, also received him into his family.
Edwin Lee proved himself not ungrateful for the kindness. In a few years he became one of Mr. Darlington's most active, trustworthy and intelligent clerks; while his kind, modest, gentlemanly deportment at home, won the favor and confidence of all the family. With Edwin, Kate grew up as with a brother. Their intercourse was of the most frank and confiding character.
But there came, at last, a change. Kate from a graceful sweet-tempered, affectionate girl, stepped forth, almost in a day, it seemed to Edwin, a full-grown, lovely woman, into whose eyes he could not look as steadily as before, and on whose beautiful face he could no longer gaze with the calmness of feeling he had until now enjoyed.
For awhile, Edwin could not understand the reason of this change. Kate was the same to him; and yet not the same. There was no distance—no reserve on her part; and yet, when he came into her presence, he felt his heart beat more quickly; and when she looked him steadily in the face, his eyes would droop, involuntarily, beneath her gaze.
Suddenly, Edwin awoke to a full realization of the fact that Kate was to him more than a gentle friend or a sweet sister. From that moment, he became reserved in his intercourse with her; and, after a short time, firmly made up his mind that it was his duty to retire from the family of his benefactor. The thought of endeavoring to win the heart of the beautiful girl, whom he had always loved as a sister, and now almost worshipped, was not, for a moment entertained. To him there would have been so much of ingratitude in this, and so much that involved a base violation of Mr. Darlington's confidence, that he would have suffered anything rather than be guilty of such an act.
But he could not leave the home where he had been so kindly regarded for years, without offering some reason that would be satisfactory. The true reason, he could not, of course, give. After looking at the subject in various lights, and debating it for a long time, Edwin could see no way in which he could withdraw from the family of Mr. Darlington, without betraying his secret, unless he were to leave the city at the same time. He, therefore, sought and obtained the situation of supercargo in a vessel loading for Valparaiso.
When Edwin announced this fact to Mr. Darlington, the merchant was greatly surprised, and appeared hurt that the young man should take such a step without a word of consultation with him. Edwin tried to explain; but, as he had to conceal the real truth, his explanation rather tended to make things appear worse than better.
Kate heard the announcement with no less surprise than her father. The thing was so sudden, so unlooked for, and, moreover, so uncalled for, that she could not understand it. In order to take away any pecuniary reason for the step he was about to take, Mr. Darlington, after holding a long conversation with Edwin, made him offers far more advantageous than his proposed expedition could be to him, viewed in any light. But he made them in vain. Edwin acknowledged the kindness, in the warmest terms, but remained firm in his purpose to sail with the vessel.
"Why will you go away and leave us, Edwin?" said Kate, one evening when they happened to be alone, about two weeks before his expected departure. "I do think it very strange!"
Edwin had avoided, as much as possible, being alone with Kate, a fact which the observant maiden had not failed to notice. Their being alone now was from accident rather than design on his part.
"I think it right for me to go, Kate," the young man replied, as calmly as it was possible for him to speak under the circumstances. "And when I think it right to do a thing, I never hesitate or look back."
"You have a reason, for going, of course. Why, then, not tell it frankly? Are we not all your friends?"
Edwin was silent, and his eyes rested upon the floor, while a deeper flush than usual was upon his face. Kate looked at him fixedly. Suddenly a new thought flashed through her mind, and the color on her own cheeks grew warmer. Her voice from that moment was lower and more tender; and her eyes, as she conversed with the young man, were never a moment from his face. As for him, his embarrassment in her presence was never more complete, and he betrayed the secret that was in his heart even while he felt the most earnest to conceal it. Conscious of this, he excused himself and retired as soon as it was possible to do so.
Kate sat thoughtful for some time after he had left. Then rising up, she went, with a firm step to her father's room.
"I have found out," she said, speaking with great self-composure, "the reason why Edwin persists in going away."
"Ah! what is the reason, Kate? I would give much to know."
"He is in love," replied Kate, promptly.
"In love! How do you know that?"
"I made the discovery to-night."
"Love should keep him at home, not drive him away," said Mr. Darlington.
"But he loves hopelessly," returned the maiden. "He is poor, and the object of his regard belongs to a wealthy family."
"And her friends will have nothing to do with him."
"I am not so sure of that. But he formed an acquaintance with the young lady under circumstances that would make it mean, in his eyes, to urge any claims upon her regard."
"Then honor as well as love takes him away."
"Honor in fact; not love. Love would make him stay," replied the maiden with a sparkling eye, and something of proud elevation in the tones of her voice.
A faint suspicion of the truth now came stealing on the mind of Mr. Darlington.
"Does the lady know of his preference for her?" he asked.
"Not through any word or act of his, designed to communicate a knowledge of the fact," replied Kate, her eyes falling under the earnest look bent upon her by Mr. Darlington.
"Has he made you his confidante?"
"No, sir. I doubt if the secret has ever passed his lips." Kate's face was beginning to crimson, but she drove back the tell-tale blood with a strong effort of the will.
"Then how came you possessed of it," inquired the father.
The blood came back to her face with a rush, and she bent her head so that her dark glossy curls fell over and partly concealed it. In a moment or two she had regained her self-possession, and looking up she answered,
"Secrets like this do not always need oral or written language to make them known. Enough, father, that I have discovered the fact that his heart is deeply imbued with a passion for one who knows well his virtues—his pure, true heart—his manly sense of honor; with a passion for one who has looked upon him till now as a brother, but who henceforth must regard him with a different and higher feeling."
Kate's voice trembled. As she uttered the last few words, she lost control of herself, and bent forward, and hid her face upon her father's arm.
Mr. Darlington, as might well be supposed, was taken altogether by surprise at so unexpected an announcement. The language used by his daughter needed no interpretation. She was the maiden beloved by his clerk.
"Kate," said he, after a moment or two of hurried reflection, "this is a very serious matter. Edwin is only a poor clerk, and you—"
"And I," said Kate, rising up, and taking the words from her father, "and I am the daughter of a man who can appreciate what is excellent in even those who are humblest in the eyes of the world. Father, is not Edwin far superior to the artificial men who flutter around every young lady who now makes her appearance in the circle where we move? Knowing him as you do, I am sure you will say yes."
"Father, don't let us argue this point. Do you want Edwin to go away?" And the young girl laid her hand upon her parent, and looked him in the face with unresisting affection.
"No dear; I certainly don't wish him to go."
"Nor do I," returned the maiden, as she leaned forward again, and laid her face upon his arm. In a little while she arose, and, with her countenance turned partly away, said—
"Tell him not to go, father——"
And with these words she retired from the room.
On the next evening, as Edwin was sitting alone in one of the drawing-rooms, thinking on the long night of absence that awaited him, Mr. Darlington came in, accompanied by Kate. They seated themselves near the young man, who showed some sense of embarrassment. There was no suspense, however, for Mr. Darlington said—
"Edwin, we none of us wish you to go away. You know that I have urged every consideration in my power, and now I have consented to unite with Kate in renewing a request for you to remain. Up to this time you have declined giving a satisfactory reason for your sudden resolution to leave; but a reason is due to us—to me in particular—and I now most earnestly conjure you to give it."
The young man, at this became greatly agitated, but did not venture to make a reply.
"You are still silent on the subject," said Mr. Darlington.
"He will not go, father," said Kate, in a tender, appealing voice. "I know he will not go. We cannot let him go. Kinder friends he will not find anywhere than he has here. And we shall miss him from our home circle. There will be a vacant place at our board. Will you be happier away, Edwin?"
The last sentence was uttered in a tone of sisterly affection.
"Happier!" exclaimed the young man, thrown off his guard. "Happier! I shall be wretched while away."
"Then why go?" returned Kate, tenderly.
At this stage of affairs, Mr. Darlington got up, and retired; and we think we had as well retire with the reader.
The good ship "Leonora" sailed in about ten days. She had a supercargo on board; but his name was not Edwin Lee.
Fashionable people were greatly surprised when the beautiful Kate Darlington married her father's clerk; and moustached dandies curled their lip, but it mattered not to Kate. She had married a man in whose worth, affection, and manliness of character, she could repose a rational confidence. If not a fashionable, she was a happy wife.