"Well, I'll try to-morrow, John," said Grace, patiently. "There is Mrs. Atkins,—she is a very nice woman."
"Oh, exactly! just the thing," said John. "Yes, we'll get her to take all Lillie's things every week; That settles it."
"Do you know, John, at the prices that Mrs. Atkins asks, you will have to pay more than for all your family service together? What we have this week would be twenty dollars, at the least computation; and it is worth it too,—the work of getting up is so elaborate."
John opened his eyes, and looked grave. Like all stable New-England families, the Seymours, while they practised the broadest liberality, had instincts of great sobriety in expense. Needless profusion shocked them as out of taste; and a quiet and decent reticence in matters of self-indulgence was habitual with them.
Such a price for the fine linen of his little angel rather staggered him; but he gulped it down.
"Well, well, Oracle," he said, "cost what it may, she must have it as she likes it. The little creature, you see, has never been accustomed to calculate or reflect in these matters; and it is trial enough to come down to our stupid way of living,—so different, you know, from the gay life she has been leading."
Miss Seymour's saintship was somewhat rudely tested by this remark. That anybody should think it a sacrifice to be John's wife, and a trial to accept the homestead at Springdale, with all its tranquillity and comforts,—that John, under her influence, should speak of the Springdale life as stupid,—was a little drop too much in her cup. A bright streak appeared in either cheek, as she said,—
"Well, John, I never knew you found Springdale stupid before. I'm sure, we have been happy here,"—and her voice quavered.
"Pshaw, Gracie! you know what I mean. I don't mean that I find it stupid. I don't like the kind of rattle-brained life we've been leading this six weeks. But, then, it just suits Lillie; and it's so sweet and patient of her to come here and give it all up, and say not a word of regret; and then, you see, I shall be just up to my ears in business now, and can't give up all my time to her, as I have. There's ever so much law business coming on, and all the factory matters at Spindlewood; and I can see that Lillie will have rather a hard time of it. You must devote yourself to her, Gracie, like a dear, good soul, as you always were, and try to get her interested in our kind of life. Of course, all our set will call, and that will be something; and then—there will be some invitations out."
"Oh, yes, John! we'll manage it," said Grace, who had by this time swallowed her anger, and shouldered her cross once more with a womanly perseverance. "Oh, yes! the Fergusons, and the Wilcoxes, and the Lennoxes, will all call; and we shall have picnics, and lawn teas, and musicals, and parties."
"Yes, yes, I see," said John. "Gracie, isn't she a dear little thing? Didn't she look cunning in that white wrapper this morning? How do women do those things, I wonder?" said John. "Don't you think her manners are lovely?"
"They are very sweet, and she is charmingly pretty," said Grace; "and I love her dearly."
"And so affectionate! Don't you think so?" continued John. "She's a person that you can do any thing with through her heart. She's all heart, and very little head. I ought not to say that, either. I think she has fair natural abilities, had they ever been cultivated."
"My dear John," said Grace, "you forget what time it is. Good-night!"
WILL SHE LIKE IT?
"John," said Grace, "when are you going out again to our Sunday school at Spindlewood? They are all asking after you. Do you know it is now two months since they have seen you?"
"I know it," said John. "I am going to-morrow. You see, Gracie, I couldn't well before."
"Oh! I have told them all about it, and I have kept things up; but then there are so many who want to see you, and so many things that you alone could settle and manage."
"Oh, yes! I'll go to-morrow," said John. "And, after this, I shall be steady at it. I wonder if we could get Lillie to go," said he, doubtfully.
Grace did not answer. Lillie was a subject on which it was always embarrassing to her to be appealed to. She was so afraid of appearing jealous or unappreciative; and her opinions were so different from those of her brother, that it was rather difficult to say any thing.
"Do you think she would like it, Grace?"
"Indeed, John, you must know better than I. If anybody could make her take an interest in it, it would be you."
Before his marriage, John had always had the idea that pretty, affectionate little women were religious and self-denying at heart, as matters of course. No matter through what labyrinths of fashionable follies and dissipation they had been wandering, still a talent for saintship was lying dormant in their natures, which it needed only the touch of love to develop. The wings of the angel were always concealed under the fashionable attire of the belle, and would unfold themselves when the hour came. A nearer acquaintance with Lillie, he was forced to confess, had not, so far, confirmed this idea. Though hers was a face so fair and pure that, when he first knew her, it suggested ideas of prayer, and communion with angels, yet he could not disguise from himself that, in all near acquaintance with her, she had proved to be most remarkably "of the earth, earthy." She was alive and fervent about fashionable gossip,—of who is who, and what does what; she was alive to equipages, to dress, to sightseeing, to dancing, to any thing of which the whole stimulus and excitement was earthly and physical. At times, too, he remembered that she had talked a sort of pensive sentimentalism, of a slightly religious nature; but the least idea of a moral purpose in life—of self-denial, and devotion to something higher than immediate self-gratification—seemed never to have entered her head. What is more, John had found his attempts to introduce such topics with her always unsuccessful. Lillie either gaped in his face, and asked him what time it was; or playfully pulled his whiskers, and asked him why he didn't take to the ministry; or adroitly turned the conversation with kissing and compliments.
Sunday morning came, shining down gloriously through the dewy elm-arches of Springdale. The green turf on either side of the wide streets was mottled and flecked with vivid flashes and glimmers of emerald, like the sheen of a changeable silk, as here and there long arrows of sunlight darted down through the leaves and touched the ground.
The gardens between the great shady houses that flanked the street were full of tall white and crimson phloxes in all the majesty of their summer bloom, and the air was filled with fragrance; and Lillie, after a two hours' toilet, came forth from her chamber fresh and lovely as the bride in the Canticles. "Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." She was killingly dressed in the rural-simplicity style. All her robes and sashes were of purest white; and a knot of field-daisies and grasses, with French dew-drops on them, twinkled in an infinitesimal bonnet on her little head, and her hair was all creped into a filmy golden aureole round her face. In short, dear reader, she was a perfectly got-up angel, and wanted only some tulle clouds and an opening heaven to have gone up at once, as similar angels do from the Parisian stage.
"You like me, don't you?" she said, as she saw the delight in John's eyes.
John was tempted to lay hold of his plaything.
"Don't, now,—you'll crumple me," she said, fighting him off with a dainty parasol. "Positively you shan't touch me till after church."
John laid the little white hand on his arm with pride, and looked down at her over his shoulder all the way to church. He felt proud of her. They would look at her, and see how pretty she was, he thought. And so they did. Lillie had been used to admiration in church. It was one of her fields of triumph. She had received compliments on her toilet even from young clergymen, who, in the course of their preaching and praying, found leisure to observe the beauties of nature and grace in their congregation. She had been quite used to knowing of young men who got good seats in church simply for the purpose of seeing her; consequently, going to church had not the moral advantages for her that it has for people who go simply to pray and be instructed. John saw the turning of heads, and the little movements and whispers of admiration; and his heart was glad within him. The thought of her mingled with prayer and hymn; even when he closed his eyes, and bowed his head, she was there.
Perhaps this was not exactly as it should be; yet let us hope the angels look tenderly down on the sins of too much love. John felt as if he would be glad of a chance to die for her; and, when he thought of her in his prayers, it was because he loved her better than himself.
As to Lillie, there was an extraordinary sympathy of sentiment between them at that moment. John was thinking only of her; and she was thinking only of herself, as was her usual habit,—herself, the one object of her life, the one idol of her love.
Not that she knew, in so many words, that she, the little, frail bit of dust and ashes that she was, was her own idol, and that she appeared before her Maker, in those solemn walls, to draw to herself the homage and the attention that was due to God alone; but yet it was true that, for years and years, Lillie's unconfessed yet only motive for appearing in church had been the display of herself, and the winning of admiration.
But is she so much worse than others?—than the clergyman who uses the pulpit and the sacred office to show off his talents?—than the singers who sing God's praises to show their voices,—who intone the agonies of their Redeemer, or the glories of the Te Deum, confident on the comments of the newspaper press on their performance the next week? No: Lillie may be a little sinner, but not above others in this matter.
"Lillie," said John to her after dinner, assuming a careless, matter-of-course air, "would you like to drive with me over to Spindlewood, and see my Sunday school?"
"Your Sunday school, John? Why, bless me! do you teach Sunday school?"
"Certainly I do. Grace and I have a school of two hundred children and young people belonging to our factories. I am superintendent."
"I never did hear of any thing so odd!" said Lillie. "What in the world can you want to take all that trouble for,—go basking over there in the hot sun, and be shut up with a room full of those ill-smelling factory-people? Why, I'm sure it can't be your duty! I wouldn't do it for the world. Nothing would tempt me. Why, gracious, John, you might catch small-pox or something!"
"Pooh! Lillie, child, you don't know any thing about them. They are just as cleanly and respectable as anybody."
"Oh, well! they may be. But these Irish and Germans and Swedes and Danes, and all that low class, do smell so,—you needn't tell me, now!—that working-class smell is a thing that can't be disguised."
"But, Lillie, these are our people. They are the laborers from whose toils our wealth comes; and we owe them something."
"Well! you pay them something, don't you?"
"I mean morally. We owe our efforts to instruct their children, and to elevate and guide them. Lillie, I feel that it is wrong for us to use wealth merely as a means of self-gratification. We ought to labor for those who labor for us. We ought to deny ourselves, and make some sacrifices of ease for their good."
"You dear old preachy creature!" said Lillie. "How good you must be! But, really, I haven't the smallest vocation to be a missionary,—not the smallest. I can't think of any thing that would induce me to take a long, hot ride in the sun, and to sit in that stived-up room with those common creatures."
John looked grave. "Lillie," he said, "you shouldn't speak of any of your fellow-beings in that heartless way."
"Well now, if you are going to scold me, I'm sure I don't want to go. I'm sure, if everybody that stays at home, and has comfortable times, Sundays, instead of going out on missions, is heartless, there are a good many heartless people in the world."
"I beg your pardon, my darling. I didn't mean, dear, that you were heartless, but that what you said sounded so. I knew you didn't really mean it. I didn't ask you, dear, to go to work,—only to be company for me."
"And I ask you to stay at home, and be company for me. I'm sure it is lonesome enough here, and you are off on business almost all your days; and you might stay with me Sundays. You could hire some poor, pious young man to do all the work over there. There are plenty of them, dear knows, that it would be a real charity to help, and that could preach and pray better than you can, I know. I don't think a man that is busy all the week ought to work Sundays. It is breaking the Sabbath."
"But, Lillie, I am interested in my Sunday school. I know all my people, and they know me; and no one else in the world could do for them what I could."
"Well, I should think you might be interested in me: nobody else can do for me what you can, and I want you to stay with me. That's just the way with you men: you don't care any thing about us after you get us."
"Now, Lillie, darling, you know that isn't so."
"It's just so. You care more for your old missionary work, now, than you do for me. I'm sure I never knew that I'd married a home-missionary."
"Darling, please, now, don't laugh at me, and try to make me selfish and worldly. You have such power over me, you ought to be my inspiration."
"I'll be your common-sense, John. When you get on stilts, and run benevolence into the ground, I'll pull you down. Now, I know it must be bad for a man, that has as much as you do to occupy his mind all the week, to go out and work Sundays; and it's foolish, when you could perfectly well hire somebody else to do it, and stay at home, and have a good time."
"But, Lillie, I need it myself."
"Need it,—what for? I can't imagine."
"To keep me from becoming a mere selfish, worldly man, and living for mere material good and pleasure."
"You dear old Don Quixote! Well, you are altogether in the clouds above me. I can't understand a word of all that."
"Well, good-by, darling," said John, kissing her, and hastening out of the room, to cut short the interview.
Milton has described the peculiar influence of woman over man, in lowering his moral tone, and bringing him down to what he considered the peculiarly womanly level. "You women," he said to his wife, when she tried to induce him to seek favors at court by some concession of principle,—"you women never care for any thing but to be fine, and to ride in your coaches." In Father Adam's description of the original Eve, he says,—
"All higher knowledge in her presence falls Degraded; wisdom, in discourse with her, Loses, discountenanced, and like folly shows."
Something like this effect was always produced on John's mind when he tried to settle questions relating to his higher nature with Lillie. He seemed, somehow, always to get the worst of it. All her womanly graces and fascinations, so powerful over his senses and imagination, arrayed themselves formidably against him, and for the time seemed to strike him dumb. What he believed, and believed with enthusiasm, when he was alone, or with Grace, seemed to drizzle away, and be belittled, when he undertook to convince her of it. Lest John should be called a muff and a spoon for this peculiarity, we cite once more the high authority aforesaid, where Milton makes poor Adam tell the angel,—
"Yet when I approach Her loveliness, so absolute she seems And in herself complete, so well to know Her own, that what she wills to do or say Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best."
John went out from Lillie's presence rather humbled and over-crowed. When the woman that a man loves laughs at his moral enthusiasms, it is like a black frost on the delicate tips of budding trees. It is up-hill work, as we all know, to battle with indolence and selfishness, and self-seeking and hard-hearted worldliness. Then the highest and holiest part of our nature has a bashfulness of its own. It is a heavenly stranger, and easily shamed. A nimble-tongued, skilful woman can so easily show the ridiculous side of what seemed heroism; and what is called common-sense, so generally, is only some neatly put phase of selfishness. Poor John needed the angel at his elbow, to give him the caution which he is represented as giving to Father Adam:—
"What transports thee so? An outside?—fair, no doubt, and worthy well Thy cherishing, thy honor, and thy love, Not thy subjection. Weigh her with thyself, Then value. Oft-times nothing profits more Than self-esteem, grounded on just and right Well managed: of that skill the more them knowest, The more she will acknowledge thee her head, And to realities yield all her shows."
But John had no angel at his elbow. He was a fellow with a great heart,—good as gold,—with upward aspirations, but with slow speech; and, when not sympathized with, he became confused and incoherent, and even dumb. So his only way with his little pink and white empress was immediate and precipitate flight.
Lillie ran to the window when he was gone, and saw him and Grace get into the carriage together; and then she saw them drive to the old Ferguson House, and Rose Ferguson came out and got in with them. "Well," she said to herself, "he shan't do that many times more,—I'm resolved."
No, she did not say it. It would be well for us all if we did put into words, plain and explicit, many instinctive resolves and purposes that arise in our hearts, and which, for want of being so expressed, influence us undetected and unchallenged. If we would say out boldly, "I don't care for right or wrong, or good or evil, or anybody's rights or anybody's happiness, or the general good, or God himself,—all I care for, or feel the least interest in, is to have a good time myself, and I mean to do it, come what may,"—we should be only expressing a feeling which often lies in the dark back-room of the human heart; and saying it might alarm us from the drugged sleep of life. It might rouse us to shake off the slow, creeping paralysis of selfishness and sin before it is for ever too late.
But Lillie was a creature who had lost the power of self-knowledge. She was, my dear sir, what you suppose the true woman to be,—a bundle of blind instincts; and among these the strongest was that of property in her husband, and power over him. She had lived in her power over men; it was her field of ambition. She knew them thoroughly. Women are called ivy; and the ivy has a hundred little fingers in every inch of its length, that strike at every flaw and crack and weak place in the strong wall they mean to overgrow; and so had Lillie. She saw, at a glance, that the sober, thoughtful, Christian life of Springdale was wholly opposed to the life she wanted to lead, and in which John was to be her instrument. She saw that, if such women as Grace and Rose had power with him, she should not have; and her husband should be hers alone. He should do her will, and be her subject,—so she thought, smiling at herself as she looked in the looking-glass, and then curled herself peacefully and languidly down in the corner of the sofa, and drew forth the French novel that was her usual Sunday companion.
Lillie liked French novels. There was an atmosphere of things in them that suited her. The young married women had lovers and admirers; and there was the constant stimulus of being courted and adored, under the safe protection of a good-natured "mari."
In France, the flirting is all done after marriage, and the young girl looks forward to it as her introduction to a career of conquest. In America, so great is our democratic liberality, that we think of uniting the two systems. We are getting on in that way fast. A knowledge of French is beginning to be considered as the pearl of great price, to gain which, all else must be sold. The girls must go to the French theatre, and be stared at by French debauchees, who laugh at them while they pretend they understand what, thank Heaven, they cannot. Then we are to have series of French novels, carefully translated, and puffed and praised even by the religious press, written by the corps of French female reformers, which will show them exactly how the naughty French women manage their cards; so that, by and by, we shall have the latest phase of eclecticism,—the union of American and French manners. The girl will flirt till twenty a l'Americaine, and then marry and flirt till forty a la Francaise. This was about Lillie's plan of life. Could she hope to carry it out in Springdale?
It seemed a little like old times to Grace, to be once more going with Rose and John over the pretty romantic road to Spindlewood.
John did not reflect upon how little she now saw of him, and how much of a trial the separation was; but he noticed how bright and almost gay she was, when they were by themselves once more. He was gay too.
In the congenial atmosphere of sympathy, his confidence in himself, and his own right in the little controversy that had occurred, returned. Not that he said a word of it; he did not do so, and would not have done so for the world. Grace and Rose were full of anecdotes of this, that, and the other of their scholars; and all the particulars of some of their new movements were discussed. The people had, of their own accord, raised a subscription for a library, which was to be presented to John that day, with a request that he would select the books.
"Gracie, that must be your work," said John; "you know I shall have an important case next week."
"Oh, yes! Rose and I will settle it," said Grace. "Rose, we'll get the catalogues from all the book-stores, and mark the things."
"We'll want books for the children just beginning to read; and then books for the young men in John's Bible-class, and all the way between," said Rose. "It will be quite a work to select."
"And then to bargain with the book-stores, and make the money go 'far as possible,'" said Grace.
"And then there'll be the covering of the books," said Rose. "I'll tell you. I think I'll manage to have a lawn tea at our house; and the girls shall all come early, and get the books covered,—that'll be charming."
"I think Lillie would like that," put in John.
"I should be so glad!" said Rose. "What a lovely little thing she is! I hope she'll like it. I wanted to get up something pretty for her. I think, at this time of the year, lawn teas are a little variety."
"Oh, she'll like it of course!" said John, with some sinking of heart about the Sunday-school books.
There were so many pressing to shake hands with John, and congratulate him, so many histories to tell, so many cases presented for consultation, that it was quite late before they got away; and tea had been waiting for them more than an hour when they returned.
Lillie looked pensive, and had that indescribable air of patient martyrdom which some women know how to make so very effective. Lillie had good general knowledge of the science of martyrdom,—a little spice and flavor of it had been gently infused at times into her demeanor ever since she had been at Springdale. She could do the uncomplaining sufferer with the happiest effect. She contrived to insinuate at times how she didn't complain,—how dull and slow she found her life, and yet how she endeavored to be cheerful.
"I know," she said to John when they were by themselves, "that you and Grace both think I'm a horrid creature."
"Why, no, dearest; indeed we don't."
"But you do, though; oh, I feel it! The fact is, John, I haven't a particle of constitution; and, if I should try to go on as Grace does, it would kill me in a month. Ma never would let me try to do any thing; and, if I did, I was sure to break all down under it: but, if you say so, I'll try to go into this school."
"Oh, no, Lillie! I don't want you to go in. I know, darling, you could not stand any fatigue. I only wanted you to take an interest,—just to go and see them for my sake."
"Well, John, if you must go, and must keep it up, I must try to go. I'll go with you next Sunday. It will make my head ache perhaps; but no matter, if you wish it. You don't think badly of me, do you?" she said coaxingly, playing with his whiskers.
"No, darling, not the least."
"I suppose it would be a great deal better for you if you had married a strong, energetic woman, like your sister. I do admire her so; but it discourages me."
"Darling, I'd a thousand times rather have you what you are," said John; for—
"What she wills to do, Seems wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best."
"O John! come, you ought to be sincere."
"Sincere, Lillie! I am sincere."
"You really would rather have poor, poor little me than a woman like Gracie,—a great, strong, energetic woman?" And Lillie laid her soft cheek down on his arm in pensive humility.
"Yes, a thousand million times," said John in his enthusiasm, catching her in his arms and kissing her. "I wouldn't for the world have you any thing but the darling little Lillie you are. I love your faults more than the virtues of other women. You are a thousand times better than I am. I am a great, coarse blockhead, compared to you. I hope I didn't hurt your feelings this noon; you know, Lillie, I'm hasty, and apt to be inconsiderate. I don't really know that I ought to let you go over next Sunday."
"O John, you are so good! Certainly if you go I ought to; and I shall try my best." Then John told her all about the books and the lawn tea, and Lillie listened approvingly.
So they had a lawn tea at the Fergusons that week, where Lillie was the cynosure of all eyes. Mr. Mathews, the new young clergyman of Springdale, was there. Mr. Mathews had been credited as one of the admirers of Rose Ferguson; but on this occasion he promenaded and talked with Lillie, and Lillie alone, with an exclusive devotion.
"What a lovely young creature your new sister is!" he said to Grace. "She seems to have so much religious sensibility."
"I say, Lillie," said John, "Mathews seemed to be smitten with you. I had a notion of interfering."
"Did you ever see any thing like it, John? I couldn't shake the creature off. I was so thankful when you came up and took me. He's Rose's admirer, and he hardly spoke a word to her. I think it's shameful."
The next Sunday, Lillie rode over to Spindlewood with John and Rose and Mr. Mathews.
Never had the picturesque of religion received more lustre than from her presence. John was delighted to see how they all gazed at her and wondered. Lillie looked like a first-rate French picture of the youthful Madonna,—white, pure, and patient. The day was hot, and the hall crowded; and John noticed, what he never did before, the close smell and confined air, and it made him uneasy. When we are feeling with the nerves of some one else, we notice every roughness and inconvenience. John thought he had never seen his school appear so little to advantage. Yet Lillie was an image of patient endurance, trying to be pleased; and John thought her, as she sat and did nothing, more of a saint than Rose and Grace, who were laboriously sorting books, and gathering around them large classes of factory boys, to whom they talked with an exhausting devotedness.
When all was over, Lillie sat back on the carriage-cushions, and smelled at her gold vinaigrette.
"You are all worn out, dear," said John, tenderly.
"It's no matter," she said faintly.
"O Lillie darling! does your head ache?"
"A little,—you know it was close in there. I'm very sensitive to such things. I don't think they affect others as they do me," said Lillie, with the voice of a dying zephyr.
"Lillie, it is not your duty to go" said John; "if you are not made ill by this, I never will take you again; you are too precious to be risked."
"How can you say so, John? I'm a poor little creature,—no use to anybody."
Hereupon John told her that her only use in life was to be lovely and to be loved,—that a thing of beauty was a joy forever, &c., &c. But Lillie was too much exhausted, on her return, to appear at the tea-table. She took to her bed at once with sick headache, to the poignant remorse of John. "You see how it is, Gracie," he said. "Poor dear little thing, she is willing enough, but there's nothing of her. We mustn't allow her to exert herself; her feelings always carry her away."
The next Sunday, John sat at home with Lillie, who found herself too unwell to go to church, and was in a state of such low spirits as to require constant soothing to keep her quiet.
"It is fortunate that I have you and Rose to trust the school with," said John; "you see, it's my first duty to take care of Lillie."
One of the shrewdest and most subtle modern French writers has given his views of womankind in the following passage:—
"There are few women who have not found themselves, at least once in their lives, in regard to some incontestable fact, faced down by precise, keen, searching inquiry,—one of those questions pitilessly put by their husbands, the very idea of which gives a slight chill, and the first word of which enters the heart like a stroke of a dagger. Hence comes the maxim, Every woman lies—obliging lies—venial lies—sublime lies—horrible lies—but always the obligation of lying.
"This obligation once admitted, must it not be a necessity to know how to lie well? In France, the women lie admirably. Our customs instruct them so well in imposture. And woman is so naively impertinent, so pretty, so graceful, so true, in her lying! They so well understand its usefulness in social life for avoiding those violent shocks which would destroy happiness,—it is like the cotton in which they pack their jewelry.
"Lying is to them the very foundation of language, and truth is only the exception; they speak it, as they are virtuous, from caprice or for a purpose. According to their character, some women laugh when they lie, and some cry; some become grave, and others get angry. Having begun life by pretending perfect insensibility to that homage which flatters them most, they often finish by lying even to themselves. Who has not admired their apparent superiority and calm, at the moment when they were trembling for the mysterious treasures of their love? Who has not studied their ease and facility, their presence of mind in the midst of the most critical embarrassments of social life? There is nothing awkward about it; their deception flows as softly as the snow falls from heaven.
"Yet there are men that have the presumption to expect to get the better of the Parisian woman!—of the woman who possesses thirty-seven thousand ways of saying 'No,' and incommensurable variations in saying 'Yes.'"
This is a Frenchman's view of life in a country where women are trained more systematically for the mere purposes of attraction than in any other country, and where the pursuit of admiration and the excitement of winning lovers are represented by its authors as constituting the main staple of woman's existence. France, unfortunately, is becoming the great society-teacher of the world. What with French theatres, French operas, French novels, and the universal rush of American women for travel, France is becoming so powerful on American fashionable society, that the things said of the Parisian woman begin in some cases to apply to some women in America.
Lillie was as precisely the woman here described as if she had been born and bred in Paris. She had all the thirty-seven thousand ways of saying "No," and the incommensurable variations in saying "Yes," as completely as the best French teaching could have given it. She possessed, and had used, all that graceful facility, in the story of herself that she had told John in the days of courtship. Her power over him was based on a dangerous foundation of unreality. Hence, during the first few weeks of her wedded life, came a critical scene, in which she was brought in collision with one of those "pitiless questions" our author speaks of.
Her wedding-presents, manifold and brilliant, had remained at home, in the charge of her mother, during the wedding-journey. One bright day, a few weeks after her arrival in Springdale, the boxes containing the treasures were landed there; and John, with all enthusiasm, busied himself with the work of unpacking these boxes, and drawing forth the treasures.
Now, it so happened that Lillie's maternal grandfather, a nice, pious old gentleman, had taken the occasion to make her the edifying and suggestive present of a large, elegantly bound family Bible.
The binding was unexceptionable; and Lillie assigned it a proper place of honor among her wedding-gear. Alas! she had not looked into it, nor seen what dangers to her power were lodged between its leaves.
But John, who was curious in the matter of books, sat quietly down in a corner to examine it; and on the middle page, under the head "Family Record," he found, in a large, bold hand, the date of the birth of "Lillie Ellis" in figures of the most uncompromising plainness; and thence, with one flash of his well-trained arithmetical sense, came the perception that, instead of being twenty years old, she was in fact twenty-seven,—and that of course she had lied to him.
It was a horrid and a hard word for an American young man to have suggested in relation to his wife. If we may believe the French romancer, a Frenchman would simply have smiled in amusement on detecting this petty feminine ruse of his beloved. But American men are in the habit of expecting the truth from respectable women as a matter of course; and the want of it in the smallest degree strikes them as shocking. Only an Englishman or an American can understand the dreadful pain of that discovery to John.
The Anglo-Saxon race have, so to speak, a worship of truth; and they hate and abhor lying with an energy which leaves no power of tolerance.
The Celtic races have a certain sympathy with deception. They have a certain appreciation of the value of lying as a fine art, which has never been more skilfully shown than in the passage from De Balzac we have quoted. The woman who is described by him as lying so sweetly and skilfully is represented as one of those women "qui ont je ne sais quoi de saint et de sacre, qui inspirent tant de respect que l'amour,"—"a woman who has an indescribable something of holiness and purity which inspires respect as well as love." It was no detraction from the character of Jesus, according to the estimate of Renan, to represent him as consenting to a benevolent fraud, and seeming to work miracles when he did not work them, by way of increasing his good influence over the multitude.
But John was the offspring of a generation of men for hundreds of years, who would any of them have gone to the stake rather than have told the smallest untruth; and for him who had been watched and guarded and catechised against this sin from his cradle, till he was as true and pure as a crystal rock, to have his faith shattered in the woman he loved, was a terrible thing.
As he read the fatal figures, a mist swam before his eyes,—a sort of faintness came over him. It seemed for a moment as if his very life was sinking down through his boots into the carpet. He threw down the book hastily, and, turning, stepped through an open window into the garden, and walked quickly off.
"Where in the world is John going?" said Lillie, running to the door, and calling after him in imperative tones.
"John, John, come back. I haven't done with you yet;" but John never turned his head.
"How very odd! what in the world is the matter with him?" she said to herself.
John was gone all the afternoon. He took a long, long walk, all by himself, and thought the matter over. He remembered that fresh, childlike, almost infantine face, that looked up into his with such a bewitching air of frankness and candor, as she professed to be telling all about herself and her history; and now which or what of it was true? It seemed as if he loathed her; and yet he couldn't help loving her, while he despised himself for doing it.
When he came home to supper, he was silent and morose. Lillie came running to meet him; but he threw her off, saying he was tired. She was frightened; she had never seen him look like that.
"John, what is the matter with you?" said Grace at the tea-table. "You are upsetting every thing, and don't drink your tea."
"Nothing—only—I have some troublesome business to settle," he said, getting up to go out again. "You needn't wait for me; I shall be out late."
"What can be the matter?"
Lillie, indeed, had not the remotest idea. Yet she remembered his jumping up suddenly, and throwing down the Bible; and mechanically she went to it, and opened it. She turned it over; and the record met her eye.
"Provoking!" she said. "Stupid old creature! must needs go and put that out in full." Lillie took a paper-folder, and cut the leaf out quite neatly; then folded and burned it.
She knew now what was the matter. John was angry at her; but she couldn't help wondering that he should be so angry. If he had laughed at her, teased her, taxed her with the trick, she would have understood what to do. But this terrible gloom, this awful commotion of the elements, frightened her.
She went to her room, saying that she had a headache, and would go to bed. But she did not. She took her French novel, and read till she heard him coming; and then she threw down her book, and began to cry. He came into the room, and saw her leaning like a little white snow-wreath over the table, sobbing as if her heart would break. To do her justice, Lillie's sobs were not affected. She was lonesome and thoroughly frightened; and, when she heard him coming, her nerves gave out. John's heart yearned towards her. His short-lived anger had burned out; and he was perfectly longing for a reconciliation. He felt as if he must have her to love, no matter what she was. He came up to her, and stroked her hair. "O Lillie!" he said, "why couldn't you have told me the truth? What made you deceive me?"
"I was afraid you wouldn't like me if I did," said Lillie, in her sobs.
"O Lillie! I should have liked you, no matter how old you were,—only you should have told me the truth."
"I know it—I know it—oh, it was wrong of me!" and Lillie sobbed, and seemed in danger of falling into convulsions; and John's heart gave out. He gathered her in his arms. "I can't help loving you; and I can't live without you," he said, "be you what you may!"
Lillie's little heart beat with triumph under all her sobs: she had got him, and should hold him yet.
"There can be no confidence between husband and wife, Lillie," said John, gravely, "unless we are perfectly true with each other. Promise me, dear, that you will never deceive me again."
Lillie promised with ready fervor. "O John!" she said, "I never should have done so wrong if I had only come under your influence earlier. The fact is, I have been under the worst influences all my life. I never had anybody like you to guide me."
John may of course be excused for feeling that his flattering little penitent was more to him than ever; and as to Lillie, she gave a sigh of relief. That was over, "anyway;" and she had him not only safe, but more completely hers than before.
A generous man is entirely unnerved by a frank confession. If Lillie had said one word in defence, if she had raised the slightest shadow of an argument, John would have roused up all his moral principle to oppose her; but this poor little white water-sprite, dissolving in a rain of penitent tears, quite washed away all his anger and all his heroism.
The next morning, Lillie, all fresh in a ravishing toilet, with field-daisies in her hair, was in a condition to laugh gently at John for his emotion of yesterday. She triumphed softly, not too obviously, in her power. He couldn't do without her,—do what she might,—that was plain.
"Now, John," she said, "don't you think we poor women are judged rather hardly? Men, you know, tell all sorts of lies to carry on their great politics and their ambition, and nobody thinks it so dreadful of them"
"I do—I should," interposed John.
"Oh, well! you—you are an exception. It is not one man in a hundred that is so good as you are. Now, we women have only one poor little ambition,—to be pretty, to please you men; and, as soon as you know we are getting old, you don't like us. And can you think it's so very shocking if we don't come square up to the dreadful truth about our age? Youth and beauty is all there is to us, you know."
"O Lillie! don't say so," said John, who felt the necessity of being instructive, and of improving the occasion to elevate the moral tone of his little elf. "Goodness lasts, my dear, when beauty fades."
"Oh, nonsense! Now, John, don't talk humbug. I'd like to see you following goodness when beauty is gone. I've known lots of plain old maids that were perfect saints and angels; and yet men crowded and jostled by them to get the pretty sinners. I dare say now," she added, with a bewitching look over her shoulder at him, "you'd rather have me than Miss Almira Carraway,—hadn't you, now?"
And Lillie put her white arm round his neck, and her downy cheek to his, and said archly, "Come, now, confess."
Then John told her that she was a bad, naughty girl; and she laughed; and, on the whole, the pair were more hilarious and loving than usual.
But yet, when John was away at his office, he thought of it again, and found there was still a sore spot in his heart.
She had cheated him once; would she cheat him again? And she could cheat so prettily, so serenely, and with such a candid face, it was a dangerous talent.
No: she wasn't like his mother, he thought with a sigh. The "je ne sais quoi de saint et de sacre," which had so captivated his imagination, did not cover the saintly and sacred nature; it was a mere outward purity of complexion and outline. And then Grace,—she must not be left to find out what he knew about Lillie. He had told Grace that she was only twenty,—told it on her authority; and now must he become an accomplice? If called on to speak of his wife's age, must he accommodate the truth to her story, or must he palter and evade? Here was another brick laid on the wall of separation between his sister and himself. It was rising daily. Here was another subject on which he could never speak frankly with Grace; for he must defend Lillie,—every impulse of his heart rushed to protect her.
But it is a terrible truth, and one that it will not hurt any of us to bear in mind, that our judgments of our friends are involuntary.
We may long with all our hearts to confide; we may be fascinated, entangled, and wish to be blinded; but blind we cannot be. The friend that has lied to us once, we may long to believe; but we cannot. Nay, more; it is the worse for us, if, in our desire to hold the dear deceiver in our hearts, we begin to chip and hammer on the great foundations of right and honor, and to say within ourselves, "After all, why be so particular?" Then, when we have searched about for all the reasons and apologies and extenuations for wrong-doing, are we sure that in our human weakness we shall not be pulling down the moral barriers in ourselves? The habit of excusing evil, and finding apologies, and wishing to stand with one who stands on a lower moral plane, is not a wholesome one for the soul.
As fate would have it, the very next day after this little scene, who should walk into the parlor where Lillie, John, and Grace were sitting, but that terror of American democracy, the census-taker. Armed with the whole power of the republic, this official steps with elegant ease into the most sacred privacies of the family. Flutterings and denials are in vain. Bridget and Katy and Anne, no less than Seraphina and Isabella, must give up the critical secrets of their lives.
John took the paper into the kitchen. Honest old Bridget gave in her age with effrontery as "twinty-five." Anne giggled and flounced, and declared on her word she didn't know,—they could put it down as they liked. "But, Anne, you must tell, or you may be sent to jail, you know."
Anne giggled still harder, and tossed her head: "Then it's to jail I'll have to go; for I don't know."
"Dear me," said Lillie, with an air of edifying candor, "what a fuss they make! Set down my age 'twenty-seven,' John," she added.
Grace started, and looked at John; he met her eye, and blushed to the roots of his hair.
"Why, what's the matter?" said Lillie, "are you embarrassed at telling your age?"
"Oh, nothing!" said John, writing down the numbers hastily; and then, finding a sudden occasion to give directions in the garden, he darted out. "It's so silly to be ashamed of our age!" said Lillie, as the census-taker withdrew.
"Of course," said Grace; and she had the humanity never to allude to the subject with her brother.
SCENE.—A chamber at the Seymour House. Little discovered weeping. John rushing in with empressement.
"Lillie, you shall tell me what ails you."
"Nothing ails me, John."
"Yes, there does; you were crying when I came in."
"Oh, well, that's nothing!"
"Oh, but it is a great deal! What is the matter? I can see that you are not happy."
"Oh, pshaw, John! I am as happy as I ought to be, I dare say; there isn't much the matter with me, only a little blue, and I don't feel quite strong."
"You don't feel strong! I've noticed it, Lillie."
"Well, you see, John, the fact is, that I never have got through this month without going to the sea-side. Mamma always took me. The doctors told her that my constitution was such that I couldn't get along without it; but I dare say I shall do well enough in time, you know."
"But, Lillie," said John, "if you do need sea-air, you must go. I can't leave my business; that's the trouble."
"Oh, no, John! don't think of it. I ought to make an effort to get along. You see, it's very foolish in me, but places affect my spirits so. It's perfectly absurd how I am affected."
"Well, Lillie, I hope this place doesn't affect you unpleasantly," said John.
"It's a nice, darling place, John, and it's very silly in me; but it is a fact that this house somehow has a depressing effect on my spirits. You know it's not like the houses I've been used to. It has a sort of old look; and I can't help feeling that it puts me in mind of those who are dead and gone; and then I think I shall be dead and gone too, some day, and it makes me cry so. Isn't it silly of me, John?"
"Poor little pussy!" said John.
"You see, John, our rooms are lovely; but they aren't modern and cheerful, like those I've been accustomed to. They make me feel pensive and sad all the time; but I'm trying to get over it."
"Why, Lillie!" said John, "would you like the rooms refurnished? It can easily be done if you wish it."
"Oh, no, no, dear! You are too good; and I'm sure the rooms are lovely, and it would hurt Gracie's feelings to change them. No: I must try and get over it. I know just how silly it is, and I shall try to overcome it. If I had only more strength, I believe I could."
"Well, darling, you must go to the sea-side. I shall have you sent right off to Newport. Gracie can go with you."
"Oh, no, John! not for the world. Gracie must stay, and keep house for you. She's such a help to you, that it would be a shame to take her away. But I think mamma would go with me,—if you could take me there, and engage my rooms and all that, why, mamma could stay with me, you know. To be sure, it would be a trial not to have you there; but then if I could get up my strength, you know,"—
"Exactly, certainly; and, Lillie, how would you like the parlors arranged if you had your own way?"
"Oh, John! don't think of it."
"But I just want to know for curiosity. Now, how would you have them if you could?"
"Well, then, John, don't you think it would be lovely to have them frescoed? Did you ever see the Folingsbees' rooms in New York? They were so lovely!—one was all in blue, and the other in crimson, opening into each other; with carved furniture, and those marquetrie tables, and all sorts of little French things. They had such a gay and cheerful look."
"Now, Lillie, if you want our rooms like that, you shall have them."
"O John, you are too good! I couldn't ask such a sacrifice."
"Oh, pshaw! it isn't a sacrifice. I don't doubt I shall like them better myself. Your taste is perfect, Lillie; and, now I think of it, I wonder that I thought of bringing you here without consulting you in every particular. A woman ought to be queen in her own house, I am sure."
"But, Gracie! Now, John, I know she has associations with all the things in this house, and it would be cruel to her," said Lillie, with a sigh.
"Pshaw! Gracie is a good, sensible girl, and ready to make any rational change. I suppose we have been living rather behind the times, and are somewhat rusty, that's a fact; but Gracie will enjoy new things as much as anybody, I dare say."
"Well, John, since you are set on it, there's Charlie Ferrola, one of my particular friends; he's an architect, and does all about arranging rooms and houses and furniture. He did the Folingsbees', and the Hortons', and the Jeromes', and no end of real nobby people's houses; and made them perfectly lovely. People say that one wouldn't know that they weren't in Paris, in houses that he does."
Now, our John was by nature a good solid chip of the old Anglo-Saxon block; and, if there was any thing that he had no special affinity for, it was for French things. He had small opinion of French morals, and French ways in general; but then at this moment he saw his Lillie, whom, but half an hour before, he found all pale and tear-drenched, now radiant and joyous, sleek as a humming-bird, with the light in her eyes, and the rattle on the tip of her tongue; and he felt so delighted to see her bright and gay and joyous, that he would have turned his house into the Jardin Mabille, if that were possible.
Lillie had the prettiest little caressing tricks and graces imaginable; and she perched herself on his knee, and laughed and chatted so gayly, and pulled his whiskers so saucily, and then, springing up, began arraying herself in such an astonishing daintiness of device, and fluttering before him with such a variety of well-assorted plumage, that John was quite taken off his feet. He did not care so much whether what she willed to do were, "Wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best," as feel that what she wished to do must be done at any rate.
"Why, darling!" he said in his rapture; "why didn't you tell me all this before? Here you have been growing sad and blue, and losing your vivacity and spirits, and never told me why!"
"I thought it was my duty, John, to try to bear it," said Lillie, with the sweet look of a virgin saint. "I thought perhaps I should get used to things in time; and I think it is a wife's duty to accommodate herself to her husband's circumstances."
"No, it's a husband's duty to accommodate himself to his wife's wishes," said John. "What's that fellow's address? I'll write to him about doing our house, forthwith."
"But, John, do pray tell Gracie that it's your wish. I don't want her to think that it's I that am doing this. Now, pray do think whether you really want it yourself. You see it must be so natural for you to like the old things! They must have associations, and I wouldn't for the world, now, be the one to change them; and, after all, how silly it was of me to feel blue!"
"Don't say any more, Lillie. Let me see,—next week," he said, taking out his pocket-book, and looking over his memoranda,—"next week I'll take you down to Newport; and you write to-day to your mother to meet you there, and be your guest. I'll write and engage the rooms at once."
"I don't know what I shall do without you, John."
"Oh, well, I couldn't stay possibly! But I may run down now and then, for a night, you know."
"Well, we must make that do," said Lillie, with a pensive sigh.
Thus two very important moves on Miss Lillie's checker-board of life were skilfully made. The house was to be refitted, and the Newport precedent established.
Now, dear friends, don't think Lillie a pirate, or a conspirator, or a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, or any thing else but what she was,—a pretty little, selfish woman; undeveloped in her conscience and affections, and strong in her instincts and perceptions; in a blind way using what means were most in her line to carry her purposes. Lillie had always found her prettiness, her littleness, her helplessness, and her tears so very useful in carrying her points in life that she resorted to them as her lawful stock in trade. Neither were her blues entirely shamming. There comes a time after marriage, when a husband, if he be any thing of a man, has something else to do than make direct love to his wife. He cannot be on duty at all hours to fan her, and shawl her, and admire her. His love must express itself through other channels. He must be a full man for her sake; and, as a man, must go forth to a whole world of interests that takes him from her. Now what in this case shall a woman do, whose only life lies in petting and adoration and display?
Springdale had no beau monde, no fashionable circle, no Bois de Boulogne, and no beaux, to make amends for a husband's engrossments. Grace was sisterly and kind; but what on earth had they in common to talk about? Lillie's wardrobe was in all the freshness of bridal exuberance, and there was nothing more to be got, and so, for the moment, no stimulus in this line. But then where to wear all these fine French dresses? Lillie had been called on, and invited once to little social evening parties, through the whole round of old, respectable families that lived under the elm-arches of Springdale; and she had found it rather stupid. There was not a man to make an admirer of, except the young minister, who, after the first afternoon of seeing her, returned to his devotion to Rose Ferguson.
You know, ladies, Aesop has a pretty little fable as follows: A young man fell desperately in love with a cat, and prayed to Jupiter to change her to a woman for his sake. Jupiter was so obliging as to grant his prayer; and, behold, a soft, satin-skinned, purring, graceful woman was given into his arms.
But the legend goes on to say that, while he was delighting in her charms, she heard the sound of mice behind the wainscot, and left him forthwith to rush after her congenial prey.
Lillie had heard afar the sound of mice at Newport, and she longed to be after them once more. Had she not a prestige now as a rich young married lady? Had she not jewels and gems to show? Had she not any number of mouse-traps, in the way of ravishing toilets? She thought it all over, till she was sick with longing, and was sure that nothing but the sea-air could do her any good; and so she fell to crying, and kissing her faithful John, till she gained her end, like a veritable little cat as she was.
NEWPORT; OR, THE PARADISE OF NOTHING TO DO.
Behold, now, our Lillie at the height of her heart's desire, installed in fashionable apartments at Newport, under the placid chaperonship of dear mamma, who never saw the least harm in any earthly thing her Lillie chose to do.
All the dash and flash and furbelow of upper-tendom were there; and Lillie now felt the full power and glory of being a rich, pretty, young married woman, with oceans of money to spend, and nothing on earth to do but follow the fancies of the passing hour.
This was Lillie's highest ideal of happiness; and didn't she enjoy it?
Wasn't it something to flame forth in wondrous toilets in the eyes of Belle Trevors and Margy Silloway and Lottie Cavers, who were not married; and before the Simpkinses and the Tomkinses and the Jenkinses, who, last year, had said hateful things about her, and intimated that she had gone off in her looks, and was on the way to be an old maid?
And wasn't it a triumph when all her old beaux came flocking round her, and her parlors became a daily resort and lounging-place for all the idle swains, both of her former acquaintance and of the newcomers, who drifted with the tide of fashion? Never had she been so much the rage; never had she been declared so "stunning." The effect of all this good fortune on her health was immediate. We all know how the spirits affect the bodily welfare; and hence, my dear gentlemen, we desire it to be solemnly impressed on you, that there is nothing so good for a woman's health as to give her her own way.
Lillie now, from this simple cause, received enormous accessions of vigor. While at home with plain, sober John, trying to walk in the quiet paths of domesticity, how did her spirits droop! If you only could have had a vision of her brain and spinal system, you would have seen how there was no nervous fluid there, and how all the fine little cords and fibres that string the muscles were wilting like flowers out of water; but now she could bathe the longest and the strongest of any one, could ride on the beach half the day, and dance the German into the small hours of the night, with a degree of vigor which showed conclusively what a fine thing for her the Newport air was. Her dancing-list was always over-crowded with applicants; bouquets were showered on her; and the most superb "turn-outs," with their masters for charioteers, were at her daily disposal.
All this made talk. The world doesn't forgive success; and the ancients informed us that even the gods were envious of happy people. It is astonishing to see the quantity of very proper and rational moral reflection that is excited in the breast of society, by any sort of success in life. How it shows them the vanity of earthly enjoyments, the impropriety of setting one's heart on it! How does a successful married flirt impress all her friends with the gross impropriety of having one's head set on gentlemen's attentions!
"I must say," said Belle Trevors, "that dear Lillie does astonish me. Now, I shouldn't want to have that dissipated Danforth lounging in my rooms every day, as he does in Lillie's: and then taking her out driving day after day; for my part, I don't think it's respectable."
"Why don't you speak to her?" said Lottie Cavers.
"Oh, my dear! she wouldn't mind me. Lillie always was the most imprudent creature; and, if she goes on so, she'll certainly get awfully talked about. That Danforth is a horrid creature; I know all about him."
As Miss Belle had herself been driving with the "horrid creature" only the week before Lillie came, it must be confessed that her opportunities for observation were of an authentic kind.
Lillie, as queen in her own parlor, was all grace and indulgence. Hers was now to be the sisterly role, or, as she laughingly styled it, the maternal. With a ravishing morning-dress, and with a killing little cap of about three inches in extent on her head, she enacted the young matron, and gave full permission to Tom, Dick, and Harry to make themselves at home in her room, and smoke their cigars there in peace. She "adored the smell;" in fact, she accepted the present of a fancy box of cigarettes from Danforth with graciousness, and would sometimes smoke one purely for good company. She also encouraged her followers to unveil the tender secrets of their souls confidentially to her, and offered gracious mediations on their behalf with any of the flitting Newport fair ones. When they, as in duty bound, said that they saw nobody whom they cared about now she was married, that she was the only woman on earth for them,—she rapped their knuckles briskly with her fan, and bid them mind their manners. All this mode of proceeding gave her an immense success.
But, as we said before, all this was talked about; and ladies in their letters, chronicling the events of the passing hour, sent the tidings up and down the country; and so Miss Letitia Ferguson got a letter from Mrs. Wilcox with full pictures and comments; and she brought the same to Grace Seymour.
"I dare say," said Letitia, "these things have been exaggerated; they always are: still it does seem desirable that your brother should go there, and be with her."
"He can't go and be with her," said Grace, "without neglecting his business, already too much neglected. Then the house is all in confusion under the hands of painters; and there is that young artist up there,—very elegant gentleman,—giving orders to right and left, every one of which involves further confusion and deeper expense; for my part, I see no end to it. Poor John has got 'the Old Man of the Sea' on his back in the shape of this woman; and I expect she'll be the ruin of him yet. I can't want to break up his illusion about her; because, what good will it do? He has married her, and must live with her; and, for Heaven's sake, let the illusion last while it can! I'm going to draw off, and leave them to each other; there's no other way."
"You are, Gracie?"
"Yes; you see John came to me, all stammering and embarrassment, about this making over of the old place; but I put him at ease at once. 'The most natural thing in the world, John,' said I. 'Of course Lillie has her taste; and it's her right to have the house arranged to suit it.' And then I proposed to take all the old family things, and furnish the house that I own on Elm Street, and live there, and let John and Lillie keep house by themselves. You see there is no helping the thing. Married people must be left to themselves; nobody can help them. They must make their own discoveries, fight their own battles, sink or swim, together; and I have determined that not by the winking of an eye will I interfere between them."
"Well, but do you think John wants you to go?"
"He feels badly about it; and yet I have convinced him that it's best. Poor fellow! all these changes are not a bit to his taste. He liked the old place as it was, and the old ways; but John is so unselfish. He has got it in his head that Lillie is very sensitive and peculiar, and that her spirits require all these changes, as well as Newport air."
"Well," said Letitia, "if a man begins to say A in that line, he must say B."
"Of course," said Grace; "and also C and D, and so on, down to X, Y, Z. A woman, armed with sick-headaches, nervousness, debility, presentiments, fears, horrors, and all sorts of imaginary and real diseases, has an eternal armory of weapons of subjugation. What can a man do? Can he tell her that she is lying and shamming? Half the time she isn't; she can actually work herself into about any physical state she chooses. The fortnight before Lillie went to Newport, she really looked pale, and ate next to nothing; and she managed admirably to seem to be trying to keep up, and not to complain,—yet you see how she can go on at Newport."
"It seems a pity John couldn't understand her."
"My dear, I wouldn't have him for the world. Whenever he does, he will despise her; and then he will be wretched. For John is no hypocrite, any more than I am. No, I earnestly pray that his soap-bubble may not break."
"Well, then," said Letitia, "at least, he might go down to Newport for a day or two; and his presence there might set some things right: it might at least check reports. You might just suggest to him that unfriendly things were being said."
"Well, I'll see what I can do," said Grace.
So, by a little feminine tact in suggestion, Grace despatched her brother to spend a day or two in Newport.
His coming and presence interrupted the lounging hours in Lillie's room; the introduction to "my husband" shortened the interviews. John was courteous and affable; but he neither smoked nor drank, and there was a mutual repulsion between him and many of Lillie's habitues.
"I say, Dan," said Bill Sanders to Danforth, as they were smoking on one end of the veranda, "you are driven out of your lodgings since Seymour came."
"No more than the rest of you," said Danforth.
"I don't know about that, Dan. I think you might have been taken for master of those premises. Look here now, Dan, why didn't you take little Lill yourself? Everybody thought you were going to last year."
"Didn't want her; knew too much," said Danforth. "Didn't want to keep her; she's too cursedly extravagant. It's jolly to have this sort of concern on hand; but I'd rather Seymour'd pay her bills than I."
"Who thought you were so practical, Dan?"
"Practical! that I am; I'm an old bird. Take my advice, boys, now: keep shy of the girls, and flirt with the married ones,—then you don't get roped in."
"I say, boys," said Tom Nichols, "isn't she a case, now? What a head she has! I bet she can smoke equal to any of us."
"Yes; I keep her in cigarettes," said Danforth; "she's got a box of them somewhere under her ruffles now."
"What if Seymour should find them?" said Tom.
"Seymour? pooh! he's a muff and a prig. I bet you he won't find her out; she's the jolliest little humbugger there is going. She'd cheat a fellow out of the sight of his eyes. It's perfectly wonderful."
"How came Seymour to marry her?"
"He? Why, he's a pious youth, green as grass itself; and I suppose she talked religion to him. Did you ever hear her talk religion?"
A roar of laughter followed this, out of which Danforth went on. "By George, boys, she gave me a prayer-book once! I've got it yet."
"Well, if that isn't the best thing I ever heard!" said Nichols.
"It was at the time she was laying siege to me, you see. She undertook the part of guardian angel, and used to talk lots of sentiment. The girls get lots of that out of George Sand's novels about the holiness of doing just as you've a mind to, and all that," said Danforth.
"By George, Dan, you oughtn't to laugh. She may have more good in her than you think."
"Oh, humbug! don't I know her?"
"Well, at any rate she's a wonderful creature to hold her looks. By George! how she does hold out! You'd say, now, she wasn't more than twenty."
"Yes; she understands getting herself up," said Danforth, "and touches up her cheeks a bit now and then."
"She don't paint, though?"
"Don't paint! Don't she? I'd like to know if she don't; but she does it like an artist, like an old master, in fact."
"Or like a young mistress," said Tom, and then laughed at his own wit.
Now, it so happened that John was sitting at an open window above, and heard occasional snatches of this conversation quite sufficient to impress him disagreeably. He had not heard enough to know exactly what had been said, but enough to feel that a set of coarse, low-minded men were making quite free with the name and reputation of his Lillie; and he was indignant.
"She is so pretty, so frank, and so impulsive," he said. "Such women are always misconstrued. I'm resolved to caution her."
"Lillie," he said, "who is this Danforth?"
"Charlie Danforth—oh! he's a millionnaire that I refused. He was wild about me,—is now, for that matter. He perfectly haunts my rooms, and is always teasing me to ride with him."
"Well, Lillie, if I were you, I wouldn't have any thing to do with him."
"John, I don't mean to, any more than I can help. I try to keep him off all I can; but one doesn't want to be rude, you know."
"My darling," said John, "you little know the wickedness of the world, and the cruel things that men will allow themselves to say of women who are meaning no harm. You can't be too careful, Lillie."
"Oh! I am careful. Mamma is here, you know, all the while; and I never receive except she is present."
John sat abstractedly fingering the various objects on the table; then he opened a drawer in the same mechanical manner.
"Why, Lillie! what's this? what in the world are these?"
"O John! sure enough! well, there is something I was going to ask you about. Danforth used always to be sending me things, you know, before we were married,—flowers and confectionery, and one thing or other; and, since I have been here now, he has done the same, and I really didn't know what to do about it. You know I didn't want to quarrel with him, or get his ill-will; he's a high-spirited fellow, and a man one doesn't want for an enemy; so I have just passed it over easy as I could."
"But, Lillie, a box of cigarettes!—of course, they can be of no use to you."
"Of course: they are only a sort of curiosity that he imports from Spain with his cigars."
"I've a great mind to send them back to him myself," said John.
"Oh, don't, John! why, how it would look! as if you were angry, or thought he meant something wrong. No; I'll contrive a way to give 'em back without offending him. I am up to all such little ways."
"Come, now," she added, "don't let's be cross just the little time you have to stay with me. I do wish our house were not all torn up, so that I could go home with you, and leave Newport and all its bothers behind."
"Well, Lillie, you could go, and stay with me at Gracie's," said John, brightening at this proposition.
"Dear Gracie,—so she has got a house all to herself; how I shall miss her! but, really, John, I think she will be happier. Since you would insist on revolutionizing our house, you know"—
"But, Lillie, it was to please you."
"Oh, I know it! but you know I begged you not to. Well, John, I don't think I should like to go in and settle down on Grace; perhaps, as I am here, and the sea-air and bathing strengthens me so, we may as well put it through. I will come home as soon as the house is done."
"But perhaps you would want to go with me to New York to select the furniture?"
"Oh, the artist does all that! Charlie Ferrola will give his orders to Simon & Sauls, and they will do every thing up complete. It's the way they all do—saves lots of trouble."
John went home, after three days spent in Newport, feeling that Lillie was somehow an injured fair one, and that the envious world bore down always on beauty and prosperity.
But incidentally he heard and overheard much that made him uneasy. He heard her admired as a "bully" girl, a "fast one;" he heard of her smoking, he overheard something about "painting."
The time was that John thought Lillie an embryo angel,—an angel a little bewildered and gone astray, and with wings a trifle the worse for the world's wear,—but essentially an angel of the same nature with his own revered mother.
Gradually the mercury had been falling in the tube of his estimation. He had given up the angel; and now to himself he called her "a silly little pussy," but he did it with a smile. It was such a neat, white, graceful pussy; and all his own pussy too, and purred and rubbed its little head on no coat-sleeve but his,—of that he was certain. Only a bit silly. She would still fib a little, John feared, especially when he looked back to the chapter about her age,—and then, perhaps, about the cigarettes.
Well, she might, perhaps, in a wild, excited hour, have smoked one or two, just for fun, and the thing had been exaggerated. She had promised fairly to return those cigarettes,—he dared not say to himself that he feared she would not. He kept saying to himself that she would. It was necessary to say this often to make himself believe it.
As to painting—well, John didn't like to ask her, because, what if she shouldn't tell him the truth? And, if she did paint, was it so great a sin, poor little thing? he would watch, and bring her out of it. After all, when the house was all finished and arranged, and he got her back from Newport, there would be a long, quiet, domestic winter at Springdale; and they would get up their reading-circles, and he would set her to improving her mind, and gradually the vision of this empty, fashionable life would die out of her horizon, and she would come into his ways of thinking and doing.
But, after all, John managed to be proud of her. When he read in the columns of "The Herald" the account of the Splandangerous ball in Newport, and of the entrancingly beautiful Mrs. J.S., who appeared in a radiant dress of silvery gauze made a la nuage, &c., &c., John was rather pleased than otherwise. Lillie danced till daylight,—it showed that she must be getting back her strength,—and she was voted the belle of the scene. Who wouldn't take the comfort that is to be got in any thing? John owned this fashionable meteor,—why shouldn't he rejoice in it?
Two years ago, had anybody told him that one day he should have a wife that told fibs, and painted, and smoked cigarettes, and danced all night at Newport, and yet that he should love her, and be proud of her, he would have said, Is thy servant a dog? He was then a considerate, thoughtful John, serious and careful in his life-plans; and the wife that was to be his companion was something celestial. But so it is. By degrees, we accommodate ourselves to the actual and existing. To all intents and purposes, for us it is the inevitable.
HOME A LA POMPADOUR.
Well, Lillie came back at last; and John conducted her over the transformed Seymour mansion, where literally old things had passed away, and all things become new.
There was not a relic of the past. The house was furbished and resplendent—it was gilded—it was frescoed—it was a la Pompadour, and a la Louis Quinze and Louis Quatorze, and a la every thing Frenchy and pretty, and gay and glistening. For, though the parlors at first were the only apartments contemplated in this renaissance, yet it came to pass that the parlors, when all tricked out, cast such invidious reflections on the chambers that the chambers felt themselves old and rubbishy, and prayed and stretched out hands of imploration to have something done for them!
So the spare chamber was first included in the glorification programme; but, when the spare chamber was once made into a Pompadour pavilion, it so flouted and despised the other old-fashioned Yankee chambers, that they were ready to die with envy; and, in short, there was no way to produce a sense of artistic unity, peace, and quietness, but to do the whole thing over, which was done triumphantly.
The French Emperor, Louis Napoleon, who was a shrewd sort of a man in his day and way, used to talk a great deal about the "logic of events;" which language, being interpreted, my dear gentlemen, means a good deal in domestic life. It means, for instance, that when you drive the first nail, or tear down the first board, in the way of alteration of an old house, you will have to make over every room and corner in it, and pay as much again for it as if you built a new one.
John was able to sympathize with Lillie in her childish delight in the new house, because he loved her, and was able to put himself and his own wishes out of the question for her sake; but, when all the bills connected with this change came in, he had emotions with which Lillie could not sympathize: first, because she knew nothing about figures, and was resolved never to know any thing; and, like all people who know nothing about them, she cared nothing;—and, second, because she did not love John.
Now, the truth is, Lillie would have been quite astonished to have been told this. She, and many other women, suppose that they love their husbands, when, unfortunately, they have not the beginning of an idea what love is. Let me explain it to you, my dear lady. Loving to be admired by a man, loving to be petted by him, loving to be caressed by him, and loving to be praised by him, is not loving a man. All these may be when a woman has no power of loving at all,—they may all be simply because she loves herself, and loves to be flattered, praised, caressed, coaxed; as a cat likes to be coaxed and stroked, and fed with cream, and have a warm corner.
But all this is not love. It may exist, to be sure, where there is love; it generally does. But it may also exist where there is no love. Love, my dear ladies, is self-sacrifice; it is a life out of self and in another. Its very essence is the preferring of the comfort, the ease, the wishes of another to one's own, for the love we bear them. Love is giving, and not receiving. Love is not a sheet of blotting-paper or a sponge, sucking in every thing to itself; it is an out-springing fountain, giving from itself. Love's motto has been dropped in this world as a chance gem of great price by the loveliest, the fairest, the purest, the strongest of Lovers that ever trod this mortal earth, of whom it is recorded that He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Now, in love, there are ten receivers to one giver. There are ten persons in this world who like to be loved and love love, where there is one who knows how to love. That, O my dear ladies, is a nobler attainment than all your French and music and dancing. You may lose the very power of it by smothering it under a load of early self-indulgence. By living just as you are all wanting to live,—living to be petted, to be flattered, to be admired, to be praised, to have your own way, and to do only that which is easy and agreeable,—you may lose the power of self-denial and self-sacrifice; you may lose the power of loving nobly and worthily, and become a mere sheet of blotting-paper all your life.
You will please to observe that, in all the married life of these two, as thus far told, all the accommodations, compliances, changes, have been made by John for Lillie.
He has been, step by step, giving up to her his ideal of life, and trying, as far as so different a nature can, to accommodate his to hers; and she accepts all this as her right and due.
She sees no particular cause of gratitude in it,—it is what she expected when she married. Her own specialty, the thing which she has always cultivated, is to get that sort of power over man, by which she can carry her own points and purposes, and make him flexible to her will; nor does a suspicion of the utter worthlessness and selfishness of such a life ever darken the horizon of her thoughts.
John's bills were graver than he expected. It is true he was rich; but riches is a relative term. As related to the style of living hitherto practised in his establishment, John's income was princely, and left a large balance to be devoted to works of general benevolence; but he perceived that, in this year, that balance would be all absorbed; and this troubled him.
Then, again, his establishment being now given up by his sister must be reorganized, with Lillie at its head; and Lillie declared in the outset that she could not, and would not, take any trouble about any thing.
"John would have to get servants; and the servants would have to see to things:" she "was resolved, for one thing, that she wasn't going to be a slave to house-keeping."
By great pains and importunity, and an offer of high wages, Grace and John retained Bridget in the establishment, and secured from New York a seamstress and a waitress, and other members to make out a domestic staff.
This sisterhood were from the isle of Erin, and not an unfavorable specimen of that important portion of our domestic life. They were quick-witted, well-versed in a certain degree of household and domestic skill, guided in well-doing more by impulsive good feeling than by any very enlightened principle. The dominant idea with them all appeared to be, that they were living in the house of a millionnaire, where money flowed through the establishment in a golden stream, out of which all might drink freely and rejoicingly, with no questions asked. Mrs. Lillie concerned herself only with results, and paid no attention to ways and means. She wanted a dainty and generous table to be spread for her, at all proper hours, with every pleasing and agreeable variety; to which she should come as she would to the table of a boarding-house, without troubling her head where any thing came from or went to. Bridget, having been for some years under the training and surveillance of Grace Seymour, was more than usually competent as cook and provider; but Bridget had abundance of the Irish astuteness, which led her to feel the genius of circumstances, and to shape her course accordingly.
With Grace, she had been accurate, saving, and economical; for Miss Grace was so. Bridget had felt, under her sway, the beauty of that economy which saves because saving is in itself so fitting and so respectable; and because, in this way, a power for a wise generosity is accumulated. She was sympathetic with the ruling spirit of the establishment.
But, under the new mistress, Bridget declined in virtue. The announcement that the mistress of a family isn't going to give herself any trouble, nor bother her head with care about any thing, is one the influence of which is felt downward in every department. Why should Bridget give herself any trouble to save and economize for a mistress who took none for herself? She had worked hard all her life, why not take it easy? And it was so much easier to send daily a basket of cold victuals to her cousin on Vine Street than to contrive ways of making the most of things, that Bridget felt perfectly justified in doing it. If, once in a while, a little tea and a paper of sugar found their way into the same basket, who would ever miss it?
The seamstress was an elegant lady. She kept all Lillie's dresses and laces and wardrobe, and had something ready for her to put on when she changed her toilet every day. If this very fine lady wore her mistress's skirts and sashes, and laces and jewelry, on the sly, to evening parties among the upper servant circles of Springdale, who was to know it? Mrs. John Seymour knew nothing about where her things were, nor what was their condition, and never wanted to trouble herself to inquire.
It may therefore be inferred that when John began to settle up accounts, and look into financial matters, they seemed to him not to be going exactly in the most promising way.
He thought he would give Lillie a little practical insight into his business,—show her exactly what his income was, and make some estimates of his expenses, just that she might have some little idea how things were going.
So John, with great care, prepared a nice little account-book, prefaced by a table of figures, showing the income of the Spindlewood property, and the income of his law business, and his income from other sources. Against this, he placed the necessary out-goes of his business, and showed what balance might be left. Then he showed what had hitherto been spent for various benevolent purposes connected with the schools and his establishments at Spindlewood. He showed what had been the bills for the refitting of the house, and what were now the running current expenses of the family.
He hoped that he had made all these so plain and simple, that Lillie might easily be made to understand them, and that thus some clear financial boundaries might appear in her mind. Then he seized a favorable hour, and produced his book.
"Lillie," he said, "I want to make you understand a little about our expenditures and income."
"Oh, dreadful, John! don't, pray! I never had any head for things of that kind."
"But, Lillie, please let me show you," persisted John. "I've made it just as simple as can be."
"O John! now—I just—can't—there now! Don't bring that book now; it'll just make me low-spirited and cross. I never had the least head for figures; mamma always said so; and if there is any thing that seems to me perfectly dreadful, it is accounts. I don't think it's any of a woman's business—it's all man's work, and men have got to see to it. Now, please don't," she added, coming to him coaxingly, and putting her arm round his neck.
"But, you see, Lillie," John persevered, in a pleading tone,—"you see, all these alterations that have been made in the house have involved very serious expenses; and then, too, we are living at a very different rate of expense from what we ever lived before"—
"There it is, John! Now, you oughtn't to reproach me with it; for you know it was your own idea. I didn't want the alterations made; but you would insist on it. I didn't think it was best; but you would have them."
"But, Lillie, it was all because you wanted them."
"Well, I dare say; but I shouldn't have wanted them if I thought it was going to bring in all this bother and trouble, and make me have to look over old accounts, and all such things. I'd rather never have had any thing!" And here Lillie began to cry.
"Come, now, my darling, do be a sensible woman, and not act like a baby."
"There, John! it's just as I knew it would be; I always said you wanted a different sort of a woman for a wife. Now, you knew when you took me that I wasn't in the least strong-minded or sensible, but a poor little helpless thing; and you are beginning to get tired of me already. You wish you had married a woman like Grace, I know you do."
"Lillie, how silly! Please do listen, now. You have no idea how simple and easy what I want to explain to you is."
"Well, John, I can't to-night, anyhow, because I have a headache. Just this talk has got my head to thumping so,—it's really dreadful! and I'm so low-spirited! I do wish you had a wife that would suit you better." And forthwith Mrs. Lillie dissolved in tears; and John stroked her head, and petted her, and called her a nice little pussy, and begged her pardon for being so rough with her, and, in short, acted like a fool generally.
"If that woman was my wife now," I fancy I hear some youth with a promising moustache remark, "I'd make her behave!"
Well, sir, supposing she was your wife, what are you going to do about it?
What are you going to do when accounts give your wife a sick headache, so that she cannot possibly attend to them? Are you going to enact the Blue Beard, and rage and storm, and threaten to cut her head off? What good would that do? Cutting off a wrong little head would not turn it into a right one. An ancient proverb significantly remarks, "You can't have more of a cat than her skin,"—and no amount of fuming and storming can make any thing more of a woman than she is. Such as your wife is, sir, you must take her, and make the best of it. Perhaps you want your own way. Don't you wish you could get it?
But didn't she promise to obey? Didn't she? Of course. Then why is it that I must be all the while yielding points, and she never? Well, sir, that is for you to settle. The marriage service gives you authority; so does the law of the land. John could lock up Mrs. Lillie till she learned her lessons; he could do any of twenty other things that no gentleman would ever think of doing, and the law would support him in it. But, because John is a gentleman, and not Paddy from Cork, he strokes his wife's head, and submits.
We understand that our brethren, the Methodists, have recently decided to leave the word "obey" out of the marriage-service. Our friends are, as all the world knows, a most wise and prudent denomination, and guided by a very practical sense in their arrangements. If they have left the word "obey" out, it is because they have concluded that it does no good to put it in,—a decision that John's experience would go a long way to justify.
"My dear Lillie," quoth John one morning, "next week Wednesday is my birthday."
"Is it? How charming! What shall we do?"
"Well, Lillie, it has always been our custom—Grace's and mine—to give a grand fete here to all our work-people. We invite them all over en masse, and have the house and grounds all open, and devote ourselves to giving them a good time."
Lillie's countenance fell.
"Now, really, John, how trying! what shall we do? You don't really propose to bring all those low, dirty, little factory children in Spindlewood through our elegant new house? Just look at that satin furniture, and think what it will be when a whole parcel of freckled, tow-headed, snubby-nosed children have eaten bread and butter and doughnuts over it! Now, John, there is reason in all things; this house is not made for a missionary asylum."
John, thus admonished, looked at his house, and was fain to admit that there was the usual amount of that good, selfish, hard grit—called common sense—in Lillie's remarks.
Rooms have their atmosphere, their necessities, their artistic proprieties. Apartments a la Louis Quatorze represent the ideas and the sympathies of a period when the rich lived by themselves in luxury, and the poor were trodden down in the gutter; when there was only aristocratic contempt and domination on one side, and servility and smothered curses on the other. With the change of the apartments to the style of that past era, seemed to come its maxims and morals, as artistically indicated for its completeness. So John walked up and down in his Louis Quinze salon, and into his Pompadour boudoir, and out again into the Louis Quatorze dining-rooms, and reflected. He had had many reflections in those apartments before. Of all ill-adapted and unsuitable pieces of furniture in them, he had always felt himself the most unsuitable and ill-adapted. He had never felt at home in them. He never felt like lolling at ease on any of those elegant sofas, as of old he used to cast himself into the motherly arms of the great chintz one that filled the recess. His Lillie, with her smart paraphernalia of hoops and puffs and ruffles and pinkings and bows, seemed a perfectly natural and indigenous production there; but he himself seemed always to be out of place. His Lillie might have been any of Balzac's charming duchesses, with their "thirty-seven thousand ways of saying 'Yes;'" but, as to himself, he must have been taken for her steward or gardener, who had accidentally strayed in, and was fraying her satin surroundings with rough coats and heavy boots. There was not, in fact, in all the reorganized house, a place where he felt himself to be at all the proper thing; nowhere where he could lounge, and read his newspaper, without a feeling of impropriety; nowhere that he could indulge in any of the slight Hottentot-isms wherein unrenewed male nature delights,—without a feeling of rebuke.
John had not philosophized on the causes of this. He knew, in a general and unconfessed way, that he was not comfortable in his new arrangements; but he supposed it was his own fault. He had fallen into rusty, old-fashioned, bachelor ways; and, like other things that are not agreeable to the natural man, he supposed his trim, resplendent, genteel house was good for him, and that he ought to like it, and by grace should attain to liking it, if he only tried long enough.
Only he took long rests every day while he went to Grace's, on Elm Street, and stretched himself on the old sofa, and sat in his mother's old arm-chair, and told Grace how very elegant their house was, and how much taste the architect had shown, and how much Lillie was delighted with it.
But this silent walk of John's, up and down his brilliant apartments, opened his eyes to another troublesome prospect. He was a Christian man, with a high aim and ideal in life. He believed in the Sermon on the Mount, and other radical preaching of that nature; and he was a very honest man, and hated humbug in every shape. Nothing seemed meaner to him than to profess a sham. But it began in a cloudy way to appear to him that there is a manner of arranging one's houses that makes it difficult—yes, well-nigh impossible—to act out in them any of the brotherhood principles of those discourses.
There are houses where the self-respecting poor, or the honest laboring man and woman, cannot be made to enter or to feel at home. They are made for the selfish luxury of the privileged few. Then John reflected, uneasily, that this change in his house had absorbed that whole balance which usually remained on his accounts to be devoted to benevolent purposes, and with which this year he had proposed to erect a reading-room for his work-people.
"Lillie," said John, as he walked uneasily up and down, "I wish you would try to help me in this thing. I always have done it,—my father and mother did it before me,—and I don't want all of a sudden to depart from it. It may seem a little thing, but it does a great deal of good. It produces kind feeling; it refines and educates and softens them."
"Oh, well, John! if you say so, I must, I suppose," said Lillie, with a sigh. "I can have the carpets and furniture all covered, I suppose; it'll be no end of trouble, but I'll try. But I must say, I think all this kind of petting of the working-classes does no sort of good; it only makes them uppish and exacting: you never get any gratitude for it."
"But you know, dearie, what is said about doing good, 'hoping for nothing again,'" said John.
"Now, John, please don't preach, of all things. Haven't I told you that I'll try my best? I am going to,—I'll work with all my strength,—you know that isn't much,—but I shall exert myself to the utmost if you say so."