"My dear, I don't want you to injure yourself!"
"Oh! I don't mind," said Lillie, with the air of a martyr. "The servants, I suppose, will make a fuss about it; and I shouldn't wonder if it was the means of sending them every one off in a body, and leaving me without any help in the house, just as the Follingsbees and the Simpkinses are coming to visit us."
"I didn't know that you had invited the Follingsbees and Simpkinses," said John.
"Didn't I tell you? I meant to," said Mrs. Lillie, innocently.
"I don't like those Follingsbees, Lillie. He is a man I have no respect for; he is one of those shoddy upstarts, not at all our sort of folks. I'm sorry you asked him."
"But his wife is my particular friend," said Lillie, "and they were very polite to mamma and me at Newport; and we really owe them some attention."
"Well, Lillie, since you have asked them, I will be polite to them; and I will try and do every thing to save you care in this entertainment. I'll speak to Bridget myself; she knows our ways, and has been used to managing."
And so, as John was greatly beloved by Bridget, and as all the domestic staff had the true Irish fealty to the man of the house, and would run themselves off their feet in his service any day,—it came to pass that the fete was holden, as of yore, in the grounds. Grace was there and helped, and so were Letitia and Rose Ferguson; and all passed off better than could be expected. But John did not enjoy it. He felt all the while that he was dragging Lillie as a thousand-pound weight after him; and he inly resolved that, once out of that day's festival, he would never try to have it again.
Lillie went to bed with sick headache, and lay two days after it, during which she cried and lamented incessantly. She "knew she was not the wife for John;" she "always told him he wouldn't be satisfied with her, and now she saw he wasn't; but she had tried her very best, and now it was cruel to think she should not succeed any better."
"My dearest child," said John, who, to say the truth, was beginning to find this thing less charming than it used to be, "I am satisfied. I am much obliged to you. I'm sure you have done all that could be asked."
"Well, I'm sure I hope those folks of yours were pleased," quoth Lillie, as she lay looking like a martyr, with a cloth wet in ice-water bound round her head. "They ought to be; they have left grease-spots all over the sofa in my boudoir, from one end to the other; and cake and raisins have been trodden into the carpets; and the turf around the oval is all cut up; and they have broken my little Diana; and such a din as there was!—oh, me! it makes my head ache to think of it."
"Never mind, Lillie, I'll see to it, and set it all right."
"No, you can't. One of the children broke that model of the Leaning Tower too. I found it. You can't teach such children to let things alone. Oh, dear me! my head!"
"There, there, pussy! only don't worry," said John, in soothing tones.
"Don't think me horrid, please don't," said Lillie, piteously. "I did try to have things go right; didn't I?"
"Certainly you did, dearie; so don't worry. I'll get all the spots taken out, and all the things mended, and make every thing right."
So John called Rosa, on his way downstairs. "Show me the sofa that they spoiled," said he.
"Sofa?" said Rosa.
"Yes; I understand the children greased the sofa in Mrs. Seymour's boudoir."
"Oh, dear, no! nothing of the sort; I've been putting every thing to rights in all the rooms, and they look beautifully."
"Didn't they break something?"
"Oh, no, nothing! The little things were good as could be."
"That Leaning Tower, and that little Diana," suggested John.
"Oh, dear me, no! I broke those a month ago, and showed them to Mrs. Seymour, and promised to mend them. Oh! she knows all about that."
"Ah!" said John, "I didn't know that. Well, Rosa, put every thing up nicely, and divide this money among the girls for extra trouble," he added, slipping a bill into her hand.
"I'm sure there's no trouble," said Rosa. "We all enjoyed it; and I believe everybody did; only I'm sorry it was too much for Mrs. Seymour; she is very delicate."
"Yes, she is," said John, as he turned away, drawing a long, slow sigh.
That long, slow sigh had become a frequent and unconscious occurrence with him of late. When our ideals are sick unto death; when they are slowly dying and passing away from us, we sigh thus. John said to himself softly,—no matter what; but he felt the pang of knowing again what he had known so often of late, that his Lillie's word was not golden. What she said would not bear close examination. Therefore, why examine?
"Evidently, she is determined that this thing shall not go on," said John. "Well, I shall never try again; it's of no use;" and John went up to his sister's, and threw himself down upon the old chintz sofa as if it had been his mother's bosom. His sister sat there, sewing. The sun came twinkling through a rustic frame-work of ivy which it had been the pride of her heart to arrange the week before. All the old family pictures and heirlooms, and sketches and pencillings, were arranged in the most charming way, so that her rooms seemed a reproduction of the old home.
"Hang it all!" said John, with a great flounce as he turned over on the sofa. "I'm not up to par this morning."
Now, Grace had that perfect intuitive knowledge of just what the matter was with her brother, that women always have who have grown up in intimacy with a man. These fine female eyes see farther between the rough cracks and ridges of the oak bark of manhood than men themselves. Nothing would have been easier, had Grace been a jealous exigeante woman, than to have passed a fine probe of sisterly inquiry into the weak places where the ties between John and Lillie were growing slack, and untied and loosened them more and more. She could have done it so tenderly, so conscientiously, so pityingly,—encouraging John to talk and to complain, and taking part with him,—till there should come to be two parties in the family, the brother and sister against the wife.
How strong the temptation was, those may feel who reflect that this one subject caused an almost total eclipse of the life-long habit of confidence which had existed between Grace and her brother, and that her brother was her life and her world.
But Grace was one of those women formed under the kindly severe discipline of Puritan New England, to act not from blind impulse or instinct, but from high principle. The habit of self-examination and self-inspection, for which the religious teaching of New England has been peculiar, produced a race of women who rose superior to those mere feminine caprices and impulses which often hurry very generous and kindly-natured persons into ungenerous and dishonorable conduct. Grace had been trained, by a father and mother whose marriage union was an ideal of mutual love, honor, and respect, to feel that marriage was the holiest and most awful of obligations. To her, the idea of a husband or a wife betraying each other's weaknesses or faults by complaints to a third party seemed something sacrilegious; and she used all her womanly tact and skill to prevent any conversation that might lead to such a result.
"Lillie is entirely knocked up by the affair yesterday; she had a terrible headache this morning," said John.
"Poor child! She is a delicate little thing," said Grace.
"She couldn't have had any labor," continued John, "for I saw to every thing and provided every thing myself; and Bridget and Rosa and all the girls entered into it with real spirit, and Lillie did the best she could, poor girl! but I could see all the time she was worrying about her new fizgigs and folderols in the house. Hang it! I wish they were all in the Red Sea!" burst out John, glad to find something to vent himself upon. "If I had known that making the house over was going to be such a restraint on a fellow, I would never have done it."
"Oh, well! never mind that now," said Grace. "Your house will get rubbed down by and by, and the new gloss taken off; and so will your wife, and you will all be cosey and easy as an old shoe. Young mistresses, you see, have nerves all over their house at first. They tremble at every dent in their furniture, and wink when you come near it, as if you were going to hit it a blow; but that wears off in time, and they learn to take it easy."
John looked relieved; but after a minute broke out again:—
"I say, Gracie, Lillie has gone and invited the Simpkinses and the Follingsbees here this fall. Just think of it!"
"Well, I suppose you expect your wife to have the right of inviting her company," said Grace.
"But, you know, Gracie, they are not at all our sort of folks," said John. "None of our set would ever think of visiting them, and it'll seem so odd to see them here. Follingsbee is a vulgar sharper, who has made his money out of our country by dishonest contracts during the war. I don't know much about his wife. Lillie says she is her intimate friend."
"Oh, well, John! we must get over it in the quietest way possible. It wouldn't be handsome not to make the agreeable to your wife's company; and if you don't like the quality of it, why, you are a good deal nearer to her than any one else can be,—you can gradually detach her from them."
"Then you think I ought to put a good face on their coming?" said John, with a sigh of relief.
"Oh, certainly! of course. What else can you do? It's one of the things to be expected with a young wife."
"And do you think the Wilcoxes and the Fergusons and the rest of our set will be civil?"
"Why, of course they will," said Grace. "Rose and Letitia will, certainly; and the others will follow suit. After all, John, perhaps we old families, as we call ourselves, are a little bit pharisaical and self-righteous, and too apt to thank God that we are not as other men are. It'll do us good to be obliged to come a little out of our crinkles."
"It isn't any old family feeling about Follingsbee," said John. "But I feel that that man deserves to be in State's prison much more than many a poor dog that is there now."
"And that may be true of many another, even in the selectest circles of good society," said Grace; "but we are not called on to play Providence, nor pronounce judgments. The common courtesies of life do not commit us one way or the other. The Lord himself does not express his opinion of the wicked, but allows all an equal share in his kindliness."
"Well, Gracie, you are right; and I'll constrain myself to do the thing handsomely," said John.
"The thing with you men," said Grace, "is, that you want your wives to see with your eyes, all in a minute, what has got to come with years and intimacy, and the gradual growing closer and closer together. The husband and wife, of themselves, drop many friendships and associations that at first were mutually distasteful, simply because their tastes have grown insensibly to be the same."
John hoped it would be so with himself and Lillie; for he was still very much in love with her; and it comforted him to have Grace speak so cheerfully, as if it were possible.
"You think Lillie will grow into our ways by and by?"—he said inquiringly.
"Well, if we have patience, and give her time. You know, John, that you knew when you took her that she had not been brought up in our ways of living and thinking. Lillie comes from an entirely different set of people from any we are accustomed to; but a man must face all the consequences of his marriage honestly and honorably."
"I know it," said John, with a sigh. "I say, Gracie, do you think the Fergusons like Lillie? I want her to be intimate with them."
"Well, I think they admire her," said Grace, evasively, "and feel disposed to be as intimate as she will let them."
"Because," said John, "Rose Ferguson is such a splendid girl; she is so strong, and so generous, and so perfectly true and reliable,—it would be the joy of my heart if Lillie would choose her for a friend."
"Then, pray don't tell her so," said Grace, earnestly; "and don't praise her to Lillie,—and, above all things, never hold her up as a pattern, unless you want your wife to hate her."
John opened his eyes very wide.
"So!" said he, slowly, "I never thought of that. You think she would be jealous?" and John smiled, as men do at the idea that their wives may be jealous, not disliking it on the whole.
"I know I shouldn't be in much charity with a woman my husband proposed to me as a model; that is to say, supposing I had one," said Grace.
"That reminds me," said John, suddenly rising up from the sofa. "Do you know, Gracie, that Colonel Sydenham has come back from his cruise?"
"I had heard of it," said Grace, quietly. "Now, John, don't interrupt me. I'm just going to turn this corner, and must count,—'one, two, three, four, five, six,'"—
John looked at his sister. "How handsome she looks when her cheeks have that color!" he thought. "I wonder if there ever was any thing in that affair between them."
A GREAT MORAL CONFLICT.
"Now, John dear, I have something very particular that I want you to promise me," said Mrs. Lillie, a day or two after the scenes last recorded. Our Lillie had recovered her spirits, and got over her headache, and had come down and done her best to be delightful; and when a very pretty woman, who has all her life studied the art of pleasing, does that, she generally succeeds.
John thought to himself he "didn't care what she was, he loved her;" and that she certainly was the prettiest, most bewitching little creature on earth. He flung his sighs and his doubts and fears to the wind, and suffered himself to be coaxed, and cajoled, and led captive, in the most amiable manner possible.
His fair one had a point to carry,—a point that instinct told her was to be managed with great adroitness.
"Well," said John, over his newspaper, "what is this something so very particular?"
"First, sir, put down that paper, and listen to me," said Mrs. Lillie, coming up and seating herself on his knee, and sweeping down the offending paper with an air of authority.
"Yes'm," said John, submissively. "Let's see,—how was that in the marriage service? I promised to obey, didn't I?"
"Of course you did; that service is always interpreted by contraries,—ever since Eve made Adam mind her in the beginning," said Mrs. Lillie, laughing.
"And got things into a pretty mess in that way," said John; "but come, now, what is it?"
"Well, John, you know the Follingsbees are coming next week?"
"I know it," said John, looking amiable and conciliatory.
"Well, dear, there are some things about our establishment that are not just as I should feel pleased to receive them to."
"Ah!" said John; "why, Lillie, I thought we were fine as a fiddle, from the top of the house to the bottom."
'"Oh! it's not the house; the house is splendid. I shouldn't be in the least ashamed to show it to anybody; but about the table arrangements."
"Now, really, Lillie, what can one have more than real old china and heavy silver plate? I rather pique myself on that; I think it has quite a good, rich, solid old air."
"Well, John, to say the truth, why do we never have any wine? I don't care for it,—I never drink it; but the decanters, and the different colored glasses, and all the apparatus, are such an adornment; and then the Follingsbees are such judges of wine. He imports his own from Spain."
John's face had been hardening down into a firm, decided look, while Lillie, stroking his whiskers and playing with his collar, went on with this address.
At last he said, "Lillie, I have done almost every thing you ever asked; but this one thing I cannot do,—it is a matter of principle. I never drink wine, never have it on my table, never give it, because I have pledged myself not to do it."
"Now, John, here is some more of your Quixotism, isn't it?"
"Well, Lillie, I suppose you will call it so," said John; "but listen to me patiently. My father and I labored for a long time to root out drinking from our village at Spindlewood. It seemed, for the time, as if it would be the destruction of every thing there. The fact was, there was rum in every family; the parents took it daily, the children learned to love and long after it, by seeing the parents, and drinking little sweetened remains at the bottoms of tumblers. There were, every year, families broken up and destroyed, and fine fellows going to the very devil, with this thing; and so we made a movement to form a temperance society. I paid lecturers, and finally lectured myself. At last they said to me: 'It's all very well for you rich people, that have twice as fine houses and twice as many pleasures as we poor folks, to pick on us for having a little something comfortable to drink in our houses. If we could afford your fine nice wines, and all that, we wouldn't drink whiskey. You must all have your wine on the table; whiskey is the poor man's wine.'"
"I think," said Lillie, "they were abominably impertinent to talk so to you. I should have told them so."
"Perhaps they thought I was impertinent in talking to them about their private affairs," said John; "but I will tell you what I said to them. I said, 'My good fellows, I will clear my house and table of wine, if you will clear yours of rum.' On this agreement I formed a temperance society; my father and I put our names at the head of the list, and we got every man and boy in Spindlewood. It was a complete victory; and, since then, there hasn't been a more temperate, thrifty set of people in these United States."
"Didn't your mother object?"
"My mother! no, indeed; I wish you could have known my mother. It was no small sacrifice to her and father. Not that they cared a penny for the wine itself; but the poetry and hospitality of the thing, the fine old cheery associations connected with it, were a real sacrifice. But when we told my mother how it was, she never hesitated a moment. All our cellar of fine old wines was sent round as presents to hospitals, except a little that we keep for sickness."
"Well, really!" said Lillie, in a dry, cool tone, "I suppose it was very good of you, perfectly saint-like and all that; but it does seem a great pity. Why couldn't these people take care of themselves? I don't see why you should go on denying yourself, just to keep them in the ways of virtue."
"Oh, it's no self-denial now! I'm quite used to it," said John, cheerily. "I am young and strong, and just as well as I can be, and don't need wine; in fact, I never think of it. The Fergusons, who are with us in the Spindlewood business, took just the same view of it, and did just as we did; and the Wilcoxes joined us; in fact, all the good old families of our set came into it."
"Well, couldn't you, just while the Follingsbees are here, do differently?"
"No, Lillie; there's my pledge, you see. No; it's really impossible."
Lillie frowned and looked disconsolate.
"John, I really do think you are selfish; you don't seem to have any consideration for me at all. It's going to make it so disagreeable and uncomfortable for me. The Follingsbees are accustomed to wine every day. I'm perfectly ashamed not to give it to them."
"Do 'em good to fast awhile, then," said John, laughing like a hard-hearted monster. "You'll see they won't suffer materially. Bridget makes splendid coffee."
"It's a shame to laugh at what troubles me, John. The Follingsbees are my friends, and of course I want to treat them handsomely."
"We will treat them just as handsomely as we treat ourselves," said John, "and mortal man or woman ought not to ask more."
"I don't care," said Lillie, after a pause. "I hate all these moral movements and society questions. They are always in the way of people's having a good time; and I believe the world would wag just as well as it does, if nobody had ever thought of them. People will call you a real muff, John."
"How very terrible!" said John, laughing. "What shall I do if I am called a muff? and what a jolly little Mrs. Muff you will be!" he said, pinching her cheek.
"You needn't laugh, John," said Lillie, pouting. "You don't know how things look in fashionable circles. The Follingsbees are in the very highest circle. They have lived in Paris, and been invited by the Emperor."
"I haven't much opinion of Americans who live in Paris and are invited by the Emperor," said John. "But, be that as it may, I shall do the best I can for them, and Mr. Young says, 'angels could no more;' so, good-by, puss: I must go to my office; and don't let's talk about this any more."
And John put on his cap and squared his broad shoulders, and, marching off with a resolute stride, went to his office, and had a most uncomfortable morning of it. You see, my dear friends, that though Nature has set the seal of sovereignty on man, in broad shoulders and bushy beard; though he fortify and incase himself in rough overcoats and heavy boots, and walk with a dashing air, and whistle like a freeman, we all know it is not an easy thing to wage a warfare with a pretty little creature in lace cap and tiny slippers, who has a faculty of looking very pensive and grieved, and making up a sad little mouth, as if her heart were breaking.
John never doubted that he was right, and in the way of duty; and yet, though he braved it out so stoutly with Lillie, and though he marched out from her presence victoriously, as it were, with drums beating and colors flying, yet there was a dismal sinking of heart under it.
"I'm right; I know I am. Of course I can't give up here; it's a matter of principle, of honor," he said over and over to himself. "Perhaps if Lillie had been here I never should have taken such a pledge; but as I have, there's no help for it."
Then he thought of what Lillie had suggested about it's looking niggardly in hospitality, and was angry with himself for feeling uncomfortable. "What do I care what Dick Follingsbee thinks?" said he to himself: "a man that I despise; a cheat, and a swindler,—a man of no principle. Lillie doesn't know the sacrifice it is to me to have such people in my house at all. Hang it all! I wish Lillie was a little more like the women I've been used to,—like Grace and Rose and my mother. But, poor thing, I oughtn't to blame her, after all, for her unfortunate bringing up. But it's so nice to be with women that can understand the grounds you go on. A man never wants to fight a woman. I'd rather give up, hook and line, and let Lillie have her own way in every thing. But then it won't do; a fellow must stop somewhere. Well, I'll make it up in being a model of civility to these confounded people that I wish were in the Red Sea. Let's see, I'll ask Lillie if she don't want to give a party for them when they come. By George! she shall have every thing her own way there,—send to New York for the supper, turn the house topsy-turvy, illuminate the grounds, and do any thing else she can think of. Yes, yes, she shall have carte blanche for every thing!"
All which John told Mrs. Lillie when he returned to dinner and found her enacting the depressed wife in a most becoming lace cap and wrapper that made her look like a suffering angel; and the treaty was sealed with many kisses.
"You shall have carte blanche, dearest," he said, "for every thing but what we were speaking of; and that will content you, won't it?"
And Lillie, with lingering pensiveness, very graciously acknowledged that it would; and seemed so touchingly resigned, and made such a merit of her resignation, that John told her she was an angel; in fact, he had a sort of indistinct remorseful feeling that he was a sort of cruel monster to deny her any thing. Lillie had sense enough to see when she could do a thing, and when she couldn't. She had given up the case when John went out in the morning, and so accepted the treaty of peace with a good degree of cheerfulness; and she was soon busy discussing the matter. "You see, we've been invited everywhere, and haven't given any thing," she said; "and this will do up our social obligations to everybody here. And then we can show off our rooms; they really are made to give parties in."
"Yes, so they are," said John, delighted to see her smile again; "they seem adapted to that, and I don't doubt you'll make a brilliant affair of it, Lillie."
"Trust me for that, John," said Lillie. "I'll show the Follingsbees that something can be done here in Springdale as well as in New York." And so the great question was settled.
THE FOLLINGSBEES ARRIVE.
Next week the Follingsbees alighted, so to speak, from a cloud of glory. They came in their own carriage, and with their own horses; all in silk and silver, purple and fine linen, "with rings on their fingers and bells on their toes," as the old song has it. We pause to caution our readers that this last clause is to be interpreted metaphorically.
Springdale stood astonished. The quiet, respectable old town had not seen any thing like it for many a long day; the ostlers at the hotel talked of it; the boys followed the carriage, and hung on the slats of the fence to see the party alight, and said to one another in their artless vocabulary, "Golly! ain't it bully?"
There was Mr. Dick Follingsbee, with a pair of waxed, tow-colored moustaches like the French emperor's, and ever so much longer. He was a little, thin, light-colored man, with a yellow complexion and sandy hair; who, with the appendages aforesaid, looked like some kind of large insect, with very long antennae. There was Mrs. Follingsbee,—a tall, handsome, dark-eyed, dark-haired, dashing woman, French dressed from the tip of her lace parasol to the toe of her boot. There was Mademoiselle Therese, the French maid, an inexpressibly fine lady; and there was la petite Marie, Mrs. Follingsbee's three-year-old hopeful, a lean, bright-eyed little thing, with a great scarlet bow on her back that made her look like a walking butterfly. On the whole, the tableau of arrival was so impressive, that Bridget and Annie, Rosa and all the kitchen cabinet, were in a breathless state of excitement.
"How do I find you, ma chere?" said Mrs. Follingsbee, folding Lillie rapturously to her breast. "I've been just dying to see you! How lovely every thing looks! Oh, ciel! how like dear Paris!" she said, as she was conducted into the parlor, and sunk upon the sofa.
"Pretty well done, too, for America!" said Mr. Follingsbee, gazing round, and settling his collar. Mr. Follingsbee was one of the class of returned travellers who always speak condescendingly of any thing American; as, "so-so," or "tolerable," or "pretty fair,"—a considerateness which goes a long way towards keeping up the spirits of the country.
"I say, Dick," said his lady, "have you seen to the bags and wraps?"
"All right, madam."
"And my basket of medicines and the books?"
"O.K.," replied Dick, sententiously.
"Oh! how often must I tell you not to use those odious slang terms?" said his wife, reprovingly.
"Oh! Mrs. John Seymour knows me of old," said Mr. Follingsbee, winking facetiously at Lillie. "We've had many a jolly lark together; haven't we, Lill?"
"Certainly we have," said Lillie, affably. "But come, darling," she added to Mrs. Follingsbee, "don't you want to be shown your room?"
"Go it, then, my dearie; and I'll toddle up with the fol-de-rols and what-you-may-calls," said the incorrigible Dick. "There, wife, Mrs. John Seymour shall go first, so that you shan't be jealous of her and me. You know we came pretty near being in interesting relations ourselves at one time; didn't we, now?" he said with another wink.
It is said that a thorough-paced naturalist can reconstruct a whole animal from one specimen bone. In like manner, we imagine that, from these few words of dialogue, our expert readers can reconstruct Mr. and Mrs. Follingsbee: he, vulgar, shallow, sharp, keen at a bargain, and utterly without scruples; with a sort of hilarious, animal good nature that was in a state of constant ebullition. He was, as Richard Baxter said of a better man, "always in that state of hilarity that another would be in when he hath taken a cup too much."
Dick Follingsbee began life as a peddler. He was now reputed to be master of untold wealth, kept a yacht and race-horses, ran his own theatre, and patronized the whole world and creation in general with a jocular freedom. Mrs. Follingsbee had been a country girl, with small early advantages, but considerable ambition. She had married Dick Follingsbee, and helped him up in the world, as a clever, ambitious woman may. The last few years she had been spending in Paris, improving her mind and manners in reading Dumas' and Madame George Sand's novels, and availing herself of such outskirt advantages of the court of the Tuileries as industrious, pains-taking Americans, not embarrassed by self-respect, may command.
Mrs. Follingsbee, like many another of our republicans who besieged the purlieus of the late empire, felt that a residence near the court, at a time when every thing good and decent in France was hiding in obscure corners, and every thing parvenu was wide awake and active, entitled her to speak as one having authority concerning French character, French manners and customs. This lady assumed the sentimental literary role. She was always cultivating herself in her own way; that is to say, she was assiduous in what she called keeping up her French.
In the opinion of many of her class of thinkers, French is the key of the kingdom of heaven; and, of course, it is worth one's while to sell all that one has to be possessed of it. Mrs. Follingsbee had not been in the least backward to do this; but, as to getting the golden key, she had not succeeded. She had formed the acquaintance of many disreputable people; she had read French novels and French plays such as no well-bred French woman would suffer in her family; she had lost such innocence and purity of mind as she had to lose, and, after all, had not got the French language.
However, there are losses that do not trouble the subject of them, because they bring insensibility. Just as Mrs. Follingsbee's ear was not delicate enough to perceive that her rapid and confident French was not Parisian, so also her conscience and moral sense were not delicate enough to know that she had spent her labor for "that which was not bread." She had only succeeded in acquiring such an air that, on a careless survey, she might have been taken for one of the demi-monde of Paris; while secretly she imagined herself the fascinating heroine of a French romance.
The friendship between Mrs. Follingsbee and Lillie was of the most impassioned nature; though, as both of them were women of a good solid perception in regard to their own material interests, there were excellent reasons on both sides for this enthusiasm.
Notwithstanding the immense wealth of the Follingsbees, there were circles to which Mrs. Follingsbee found it difficult to be admitted. With the usual human perversity, these, of course, became exactly the ones, and the only ones, she particularly cared for. Her ambition was to pass beyond the ranks of the "shoddy" aristocracy to those of the old-established families. Now, the Seymours, the Fergusons, and the Wilcoxes were families of this sort; and none of them had ever cared to conceal the fact, that they did not intend to know the Follingsbees. The marriage of Lillie into the Seymour family was the opening of a door; and Mrs. Follingsbee had been at Lillie's feet during her Newport campaign. On the other hand, Lillie, having taken the sense of the situation at Springdale, had cast her thoughts forward like a discreet young woman, and perceived in advance of her a very dull domestic winter, enlivened only by reading-circles and such slow tea-parties as unsophisticated Springdale found agreeable. The idea of a long visit to the New-York alhambra of the Follingsbees in the winter, with balls, parties, unlimited opera-boxes, was not a thing to be disregarded; and so, when Mrs. Follingsbee "ma chered" Lillie, Lillie "my deared" Mrs. Follingsbee: and the pair are to be seen at this blessed moment sitting with their arms tenderly round each other's waists on a causeuse in Mrs. Follingsbee's dressing-room.
"You don't know, mignonne," said Mrs. Follingsbee, "how perfectly ravissante these apartments are! I'm so glad poor Charlie did them so well for you. I laid my commands on him, poor fellow!"
"Pray, how does your affair with him get on?" said Lillie.
"O dearest! you've no conception what a trial it is to me to keep him in the bounds of reason. He has such struggles of mind about that stupid wife of his. Think of it, my dear! a man like Charlie Ferrola, all poetry, romance, ideality, tied to a woman who thinks of nothing but her children's teeth and bowels, and turns the whole house into a nursery! Oh, I've no patience with such people."
"Well, poor fellow! it's a pity he ever got married," said Lillie.
"Well, it would be all well enough if this sort of woman ever would be reasonable; but they won't. They don't in the least comprehend the necessities of genius. They want to yoke Pegasus to a cart, you see. Now, I understand Charlie perfectly. I could give him that which he needs. I appreciate him. I make a bower of peace and enjoyment for him, where his artistic nature finds the repose it craves."
"And she pitches into him about you," said Lillie, not slow to perceive the true literal rendering of all this.
"Of course, ma chere,—tears him, rends him, lacerates his soul; sometimes he comes to me in the most dreadful states. Really, dear, I have apprehended something quite awful! I shouldn't in the least be surprised if he should blow his brains out!"
And Mrs. Follingsbee sighed deeply, gave a glance at herself in an opposite mirror, and smoothed down a bow pensively, as the prima donna at the grand opera generally does when her lover is getting ready to stab himself.
"Oh! I don't think he's going to kill himself," said Mrs. Lillie, who, it must be understood, was secretly somewhat sceptical about the power of her friend's charms, and looked on this little French romance with the eye of an outsider: "never you believe that, dearest. These men make dreadful tearings, and shocking eyes and mouths; but they take pretty good care to keep in the world, after all. You see, if a man's dead, there's an end of all things; and I fancy they think of that before they quite come to any thing decisive."
"Chere etourdie," said Mrs. Follingsbee, regarding Lillie with a pensive smile: "you are just your old self, I see; you are now at the height of your power,—'jeune Madame, un mari qui vous adore,' ready to put all things under your feet. How can you feel for a worn, lonely heart like mine, that sighs for congeniality?"
"Bless me, now," said Lillie, briskly; "you don't tell me that you're going to be so silly as to get in love with Charlie yourself! It's all well enough to keep these fellows on the tragic high ropes; but, if a woman falls in love herself, there's an end of her power. And, darling, just think of it: you wouldn't have married that creature if you could; he's poor as a rat, and always will be; these desperately interesting fellows always are. Now you have money without end; and of course you have position; and your husband is a man you can get any thing in the world out of."
"Oh! as to that, I don't complain of Dick," said Mrs. Follingsbee: "he's coarse and vulgar, to be sure, but he never stands in my way, and I never stand in his; and, as you say, he's free about money. But still, darling, sometimes it seems to me such a weary thing to live without sympathy of soul! A marriage without congeniality, mon Dieu, what is it? And then the harsh, cold laws of human society prevent any relief. They forbid natures that are made for each other from being to each other what they can be."
"You mean that people will talk about you," said Lillie. "Well, I assure you, dearest, they will talk awfully, if you are not very careful. I say this to you frankly, as your friend, you know."
"Ah, ma petite! you don't need to tell me that. I am careful," said Mrs. Follingsbee. "I am always lecturing Charlie, and showing him that we must keep up les convenances; but is it not hard on us poor women to lead always this repressed, secretive life?"
"What made you marry Mr. Follingsbee?" said Lillie, with apparent artlessness.
"Darling, I was but a child. I was ignorant of the mysteries of my own nature, of my capabilities. As Charlie said to me the other day, we never learn what we are till some congenial soul unlocks the secret door of our hearts. The fact is, dearest, that American society, with its strait-laced, puritanical notions, bears terribly hard on woman's heart. Poor Charlie! he is no less one of the victims of society."
"Oh, nonsense!" said Lillie. "You take it too much to heart. You mustn't mind all these men say. They are always being desperate and tragic. Charlie has talked just so to me, time and time again. I understand it all. He talked exactly so to me when he came to Newport last summer. You must take matters easy, my dear,—you, with your beauty, and your style, and your money. Why, you can lead all New York captive! Forty fellows like Charlie are not worth spoiling one's dinner for. Come, cheer up; positively I shan't let you be blue, ma reine. Let me ring for your maid to dress you for dinner. Au revoir."
The fact was, that Mrs. Lillie, having formerly set down this lovely Charlie on the list of her own adorers, had small sympathy with the sentimental romance of her friend.
"What a fool she makes of herself!" she thought, as she contemplated her own sylph-like figure and wonderful freshness of complexion in the glass. "Don't I know Charlie Ferrola? he wants her to get him into fashionable life, and knows the way to do it. To think of that stout, middle-aged party imagining that Charlie Ferrola's going to die for her charms! it's too funny! How stout the dear old thing does get, to be sure!"
It will be observed here that our dear Lillie did not want for perspicacity. There is nothing so absolutely clear-sighted, in certain directions, as selfishness. Entire want of sympathy with others clears up one's vision astonishingly, and enables us to see all the weak points and ridiculous places of our neighbors in the most accurate manner possible.
As to Mr. Charlie Ferrola, our Lillie was certainly in the right in respect to him. He was one of those blossoms of male humanity that seem as expressly designed by nature for the ornamentation of ladies' boudoirs, as an Italian greyhound: he had precisely the same graceful, shivery adaptation to live by petting and caresses. His tastes were all so exquisite that it was the most difficult thing in the world to keep him out of misery a moment. He was in a chronic state of disgust with something or other in our lower world from morning till night.
His profession was nominally that of architecture and landscape gardening; but, in point of fact, consisted in telling certain rich, blase, stupid, fashionable people how they could quickest get rid of their money. He ruled despotically in the Follingsbee halls: he bought and rejected pictures and jewelry, ordered and sent off furniture, with the air of an absolute master; amusing himself meanwhile with running a French romance with the handsome mistress of the establishment. As a consequence, he had not only opportunities for much quiet feathering of his own nest, but the eclat of always having the use of the Follingsbees' carriages, horses, and opera-boxes, and being the acknowledged and supreme head of fashionable dictation. Ladies sometimes pull caps for such charming individuals, as we have seen in the case of Mrs. Follingsbee and Lillie.
For it is not to be supposed that Mrs. Follingsbee, though she had assumed the gushing style with her young friend, wanted spirit or perception on her part. Her darling Lillie had left a nettle in her bosom which rankled there.
"The vanity of these thin, light, watery blondes!" she said to herself, as she looked into her own great dark eyes in the mirror,—"thinking Charlie Ferrola cares for her! I know just what he thinks of her, thank heaven! Poor thing! Don't you think Mrs. John Seymour has gone off astonishingly since her marriage?" she said to Therese.
"Mon Dieu, madame, q'oui," said the obedient tire-woman, scraping the very back of her throat in her zeal. "Madame Seymour has the real American maigreur. These thin women, madame, they have no substance; there is noting to them. For young girl, they are charming; but, as woman, they are just noting at all. Now, you will see, madame, what I tell you. In a year or two, people shall ask, 'Was she ever handsome?' But you, madame, you come to your prime like great rose! Oh, dere is no comparison of you to Mrs. John Seymour!"
And Therese found her words highly acceptable, after the manner of all her tribe, who prophesy smooth things unto their mistresses.
It may be imagined that the entertaining of Dick Follingsbee was no small strain on the conjugal endurance of our faithful John; but he was on duty, and endured without flinching that gentleman's free and easy jokes and patronizing civilities.
"I do wish, darling, you'd teach that creature not to call you 'Lillie' in that abominably free manner," he said to his wife, the first day, after dinner.
"Mercy on us, John! what can I do? All the world knows that Dick Follingsbee's an oddity; and everybody agrees to take what he says for what it's worth. If I should go to putting on any airs, he'd behave ten times worse than he does: the only way is, to pass it over quietly, and not to seem to notice any thing he says or does. My way is, to smile, and look gracious, and act as if I hadn't heard any thing but what is perfectly proper."
"It's a tremendous infliction, Lillie!"
"Poor man! is it?" said Lillie, putting her arm round his neck, and stroking his whiskers. "Well, now, he's a good man to bear it so well, so he is; and they shan't plague him long. But, John, you must confess Mrs. Follingsbee is nice: poor woman! she is mortified with the way Dick will go on; but she can't do any thing with him."
"Yes, I can get on with her," said John. In fact, John was one of the men so loyal to women that his path of virtue in regard to them always ran down hill. Mrs. Follingsbee was handsome, and had a gift in language, and some considerable tact in adapting herself to her society; and, as she put forth all her powers to win his admiration, she succeeded.
Grace had done her part to assist John in his hospitable intents, by securing the prompt co-operation of the Fergusons. The very first evening after their arrival, old Mrs. Ferguson, with Letitia and Rose, called, not formally but socially, as had always been the custom of the two families. Dick Follingsbee was out, enjoying an evening cigar,—a circumstance on which John secretly congratulated himself as a favorable feature in the case. He felt instinctively a sort of uneasy responsibility for his guests; and, judging the Fergusons by himself, felt that their call was in some sort an act of self-abnegation on his account; and he was anxious to make it as easy as possible. Mrs. Follingsbee was presentable, so he thought; but he dreaded the irrepressible Dick, and had much the same feeling about him that one has on presenting a pet spaniel or pointer in a lady's parlor,—there was no answering for what he might say or do.
The Fergusons were disposed to make themselves most amiable to Mrs. Follingsbee; and, with this intent. Miss Letitia started the subject of her Parisian experiences, as being probably one where she would feel herself especially at home. Mrs. Follingsbee of course expanded in rapturous description, and was quite clever and interesting.
"You must feel quite a difference between that country and this, in regard to facilities of living," said Miss Letitia.
"Ah, indeed! do I not?" said Mrs. Follingsbee, casting up her eyes. "Life here in America is in a state of perfect disorganization."
"We are a young people here, madam," said John. "We haven't had time to organize the smaller conveniences of life."
"Yes, that's what I mean," said Mrs. Follingsbee. "Now, you men don't feel it so very much; but it bears hard on us poor women. Life here in America is perfect slavery to women,—a perfect dead grind. You see there's no career at all for a married woman in this country, as there is in France. Marriage there opens a brilliant prospect before a girl: it introduces her to the world; it gives her wings. In America, it is clipping her wings, chaining her down, shutting her up,—no more gayety, no more admiration; nothing but cradles and cribs, and bibs and tuckers, little narrowing, wearing, domestic cares, hard, vulgar domestic slaveries: and so our women lose their bloom and health and freshness, and are moped to death."
"I can't see the thing in that light, Mrs. Follingsbee," said old Mrs. Ferguson. "I don't understand this modern talk. I am sure, for one, I can say I have had all the career I wanted ever since I married. You know, dear, when one begins to have children, one's heart goes into them: we find nothing hard that we do for the dear little things. I've heard that the Parisian ladies never nurse their own babies. From my very heart, I pity them."
"Oh, my dear madam!" said Mrs. Follingsbee, "why insist upon it that a cultivated, intelligent woman shall waste some of the most beautiful years of her life in a mere animal function, that, after all, any healthy peasant can perform better than she? The French are a philosophical nation; and, in Paris, you see, this thing is all systematic: it's altogether better for the child. It's taken to the country, and put to nurse with a good strong woman, who makes that her only business. She just lives to be a good animal, you see, and so is a better one than a more intellectual being can be; thus she gives the child a strong constitution, which is the main thing."
"Yes," said Miss Letitia; "I was told, when in Paris, that this system is universal. The dressmaker, who works at so much a day, sends her child out to nurse as certainly as the woman of rank and fashion. There are no babies, as a rule, in French households."
"And you see how good this is for the mother," said Mrs. Follingsbee. "The first year or two of a child's life it is nothing but a little animal; and one person can do for it about as well as another: and all this time, while it is growing physically, the mother has for art, for self-cultivation, for society, and for literature. Of course she keeps her eye on her child, and visits it often enough to know that all goes right with it."
"Yes," said Miss Letitia; "and the same philosophical spirit regulates the education of the child throughout. An American gentleman, who wished to live in Paris, told me that, having searched all over it, he could not accommodate his family, including himself and wife and two children, without taking two of the suites that are usually let to one family. The reason, he inferred, was the perfection of the system which keeps the French family reduced in numbers. The babies are out at nurse, sometimes till two, and sometimes till three years of age; and, at seven or eight, the girl goes into a pension, and the boy into a college, till they are ready to be taken out,—the girl to be married, and the boy to enter a profession: so the leisure of parents for literature, art, and society is preserved."
"It seems to me the most perfectly dreary, dreadful way of living I ever heard of," said Mrs. Ferguson, with unwonted energy. "How I pity people who know so little of real happiness!"
"Yet the French are dotingly fond of children," said Mrs. Follingsbee. "It's a national peculiarity; you can see it in all their literature. Don't you remember Victor Hugo's exquisite description of a mother's feelings for a little child in 'Notre Dame de Paris'? I never read any thing more affecting; it's perfectly subduing."
"They can't love their children as I did mine," said Mrs. Ferguson: "it's impossible; and, if that's what's called organizing society, I hope our society in America never will be organized. It can't be that children are well taken care of on that system. I always attended to every thing for my babies myself; because I felt God had put them into my hands perfectly helpless; and, if there is any thing difficult or disagreeable in the case, how can I expect to hire a woman for money to be faithful in what I cannot do for love?"
"But don't you think, dear madam, that this system of personal devotion to children may be carried too far?" said Mrs. Follingsbee. "Perhaps in France they may go to an extreme; but don't our American women, as a rule, sacrifice themselves too much to their families?"
"Sacrifice"! said Mrs. Ferguson. "How can we? Our children are our new life. We live in them a thousand times more than we could in ourselves. No, I think a mother that doesn't take care of her own baby misses the greatest happiness a woman can know. A baby isn't a mere animal; and it is a great and solemn thing to see the coming of an immortal soul into it from day to day. My very happiest hours have been spent with my babies in my arms."
"There may be women constituted so as to enjoy it," said Mrs. Follingsbee; "but you must allow that there is a vast difference among women."
"There certainly is," said Mrs. Ferguson, as she rose with a frigid courtesy, and shortened the call. "My dear girls," said the old lady to her daughters, when they returned home, "I disapprove of that woman. I am very sorry that pretty little Mrs. Seymour has so bad a friend and adviser. Why, the woman talks like a Fejee Islander! Baby a mere animal, to be sure! it puts me out of temper to hear such talk. The woman talks as if she had never heard of such a thing as love in her life, and don't know what it means."
"Oh, well, mamma!" said Rose, "you know we are old-fashioned folks, and not up to modern improvements."
"Well," said Miss Letitia, "I should think that that poor little weird child of Mrs. Follingsbee's, with the great red bow on her back, had been brought up on this system. Yesterday afternoon I saw her in the garden, with that maid of hers, apparently enjoying a free fight. They looked like a pair of goblins,—an old and a young one. I never saw any thing like it."
"What a pity!" said Rose; "for she's a smart, bright little thing; and it's cunning to hear her talk French."
"Well," said Mrs. Ferguson, straightening her back, and sitting up with a grand air: "I am one of eight children that my mother nursed herself at her own breast, and lived to a good honorable old age after it. People called her a handsome woman at sixty: she could ride and walk and dance with the best; and nobody kept up a keener interest in reading or general literature. Her conversation was sought by the most eminent men of the day as something remarkable. She was always with her children: we always knew we had her to run to at any moment; and we were the first thing with her. She lived a happy, loving, useful life; and her children rose up and called her blessed."
"As we do you, dear mamma," said Rose, kissing her: "so don't be oratorical, darling mammy; because we are all of your mind here."
MRS. JOHN SEYMOUR'S PARTY, AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Mrs. John Seymour's party marked an era in the annals of Springdale. Of this, you may be sure, my dear reader, when you consider that it was projected and arranged by Mrs. Lillie, in strict counsel with her friend Mrs. Follingsbee, who had lived in Paris, and been to balls at the Tuileries. Of course, it was a tip-top New-York-Paris party, with all the new, fashionable, unspeakable crinkles and wrinkles, all the high, divine, spick and span new ways of doing things; which, however, like the Eleusinian mysteries, being in their very nature incommunicable except to the elect, must be left to the imagination.
A French artiste, whom Mrs. Follingsbee patronized as "my confectioner," came in state to Springdale, with a retinue of appendages and servants sufficient for a circus; took formal possession of the Seymour mansion, and became, for the time being, absolute dictator, as was customary in the old Roman Republic in times of emergency.
Mr. Follingsbee was forward, fussy, and advisory, in his own peculiar free-and-easy fashion; and Mrs. Follingsbee was instructive and patronizing to the very last degree. Lillie had bewailed in her sympathizing bosom John's unaccountable and most singular moral Quixotism in regard to the wine question, and been comforted by her appreciative discourse. Mrs. Follingsbee had a sort of indefinite faith in French phrases for mending all the broken places in life. A thing said partly in French became at once in her view elucidated, even though the words meant no more than the same in English; so she consoled Lillie as follows:—
"Oh, ma chere! I understand perfectly: your husband may be 'un peu borne' as they say in Paris, but still 'un homme tres respectable' (Mrs. Follingsbee here scraped her throat emphatically, just as her French maid did),—a sublime example of the virtues; and let me tell you, darling, you are very fortunate to get such a man. It is not often that a woman can get an establishment like yours, and a good man into the bargain; so, if the goodness is a little ennuyeuse, one must put up with it. Then, again, people of old established standing may do about what they like socially: their position is made. People only say, 'Well, that is their way; the Seymours will do so and so.' Now, we have to do twice as much of every thing to make our position, as certain other people do. We might flood our place with champagne and Burgundy, and get all the young fellows drunk, as we generally do; and yet people will call our parties 'bourgeois' and yours 'recherche', if you give them nothing but tea and biscuit. Now, there's my Dick: he respects your husband; you can see he does. In his odious slang way, he says he's 'some,' and 'a brick;' and he's a little anxious to please him, though he professes not to care for anybody. Now, Dick has pretty sharp sense, after all, or he'd never have been just where he is."
Our friend John, during these days preceding the party, the party itself, and the clearing up after it, enacted submissively that part of unconditional surrender which the master of the house, if well trained, generally acts on such occasions. He resembled the prize ox, which is led forth adorned with garlands, ribbons, and docility, to grace a triumphal procession. He went where he was told, did as he was bid, marched to the right, marched to the left, put on gloves and cravat, and took them off, entirely submissive to the word of his little general; and exhibited, in short, an edifying spectacle of that pleasant domestic animal, a tame husband. He had to make atonement for being a reformer, and for endeavoring to live like a Christian, by conceding to his wife all this latitude of indulgence; and he meant to go through it like a man and a philosopher. To be sure, in his eyes, it was all so much unutterable bosh and nonsense; and bosh and nonsense for which he was eventually to settle the bills: but he armed himself with the patient reflection that all things have their end in time,—that fireworks and Chinese lanterns, bands of music and kid gloves, ruffs and puffs, and pinkings and quillings, and all sorts of unspeakable eatables with French names, would ere long float down the stream of time, and leave their record only in a few bad colds and days of indigestion, which also time would mercifully cure.
So John steadied his soul with a view of that comfortable future, when all this fuss should be over, and the coast cleared for something better. Moreover, John found this good result of his patience: that he learned a little something in a Christian way by it. Men of elevated principle and moral honesty often treat themselves to such large slices of contempt and indignation, in regard to the rogues of society, as to forget a common brotherhood of pity. It is sometimes wholesome for such men to be obliged to tolerate a scamp to the extent of exchanging with him the ordinary benevolences of social life.
John, in discharging the duty of a host to Dick Follingsbee, found himself, after a while, looking on him with pity, as a poor creature, like the rich fool in the Gospels, without faith, or love, or prayer; spending life as a moth does,—in vain attempts to burn himself up in the candle, and knowing nothing better. In fact, after a while, the stiff, tow-colored moustache, smart stride, and flippant air of this poor little man struck him somewhere in the region between a smile and a tear; and his enforced hospitality began to wear a tincture of real kindness. There is no less pathos in moral than in physical imbecility.
It is an observable social phenomenon that, when any family in a community makes an advance very greatly ahead of its neighbors in style of living or splendor of entertainments, the fact causes great searchings of spirit in all the region round about, and abundance of talk, wherein the thoughts of many hearts are revealed.
Springdale was a country town, containing a choice knot of the old, respectable, true-blue, Boston-aristocracy families. Two or three of them had winter houses in Beacon Street, and went there, after Christmas, to enjoy the lectures, concerts, and select gayeties of the modern Athens; others, like the Fergusons and Seymours, were in intimate relationship with the same circle.
Now, it is well known that the real old true-blue, Simon-pure, Boston family is one whose claims to be considered "the thing," and the only thing, are somewhat like the claim of apostolic succession in ancient churches. It is easy to see why certain affluent, cultivated, and eminently well-conducted people should be considered "the thing" in their day and generation; but why they should be considered as the "only thing" is the point insoluble to human reason, and to be received by faith alone; also, why certain other people, equally affluent, cultivated, and well-conducted are not "the thing" is one of the divine mysteries, about which whoso observes Boston society will do well not too curiously to exercise his reason.
These "true-blue" families, however, have claims to respectability; which make them, on the whole, quite a venerable and pleasurable feature of society in our young, topsy-turvy, American community. Some of them have family records extending clearly back to the settlement of Massachusetts Bay; and the family estate is still on grounds first cleared up by aboriginal settlers. Being of a Puritan nobility, they have an ancestral record, affording more legitimate subject of family self-esteem than most other nobility. Their history runs back to an ancestry of unworldly faith and prayer and self-denial, of incorruptible public virtue, sturdy resistance of evil, and pursuit of good.
There is also a literary aroma pervading their circles. Dim suggestions of "The North American Review," of "The Dial," of Cambridge,—a sort of vague "miel-fleur" of authorship and poetry,—is supposed to float in the air around them; and it is generally understood that in their homes exist tastes and appreciations denied to less favored regions. Almost every one of them has its great man,—its father, grandfather, cousin, or great uncle, who wrote a book, or edited a review, or was a president of the United States, or minister to England, whose opinions are referred to by the family in any discussion, as good Christians quote the Bible.
It is true that, in some few instances, the pleroma of aristocratic dignity undergoes a sort of acetic fermentation, and comes out in ungenial qualities. Now and then, at a public watering-place, a man or woman appears no otherwise distinguished than by a remarkable talent for being disagreeable; and it is amusing to find, on inquiry, that this repulsiveness of demeanor is entirely on account of belonging to an ancient family.
Such is the tendency of democracy to a general mingling of elements, that this frigidity is deemed necessary by these good souls to prevent the commonalty from being attracted by them, and sticking to them, as straws and bits of paper do to amber. But more generally the "true-blue" old families are simple and urbane in their manners; and their pretensions are, as Miss Edgeworth says, presented rather intaglio than in cameo. Of course, they most thoroughly believe in themselves, but in a bland and genial way. "Noblesse oblige" is with them a secret spring of gentle address and social suavity. They prefer their own set and their own ways, and are comfortably sure that what they do not know is not worth knowing, and what they have not been in the habit of doing is not worth doing; but still they are indulgent of the existence of human nature outside of their own circle.
The Seymours and the Fergusons belonged to this sort of people; and, of course, Mr. John Seymour's marriage afforded them opportunity for some wholesome moral discipline. The Ferguson girls were frank, social, magnanimous young women; of that class, to whom the saying or doing of a rude or unhandsome thing by any human being was an utter impossibility, and whose cheeks would flush at the mere idea of asserting personal superiority over any one. Nevertheless, they trod the earth firmly, as girls who felt that they were born to a certain position. Judge Ferguson was a gentleman of the old school, devoted to past ideas, fond of the English classics, and with small faith in any literature later than Dr. Johnson. He confessed to a toleration for Scott's novels, and had been detected by his children both laughing and crying over the stories of Charles Dickens; for the amiable weaknesses of human nature still remain in the best regulated mind. To women and children, the judge was benignity itself, imitating the Grand Monarque, who bowed even to a chambermaid. He believed in good, orderly, respectable, old ways and entertainments, and had a quiet horror of all that is loud or noisy or pretentious; which sometimes made his social duties a trial to him, as was the case in regard to the Seymour party.
The arrangements of the party, including the preparations for an extensive illumination of the grounds, and fireworks, were on so unusual a scale as to rouse the whole community of Springdale to a fever of excitement; of course, the Wilcoxes and the Lennoxes were astonished and disgusted. When had it been known that any of their set had done any thing of the kind? How horribly out of taste! Just the result of John Seymour's marrying into that class of society! Mrs. Lennox was of opinion that she ought not to go. She was of the determined and spicy order of human beings, and often, like a certain French countess, felt disposed to thank Heaven that she generally succeeded in being rude when the occasion required. Mrs. Lennox regarded "snubbing" in the light of a moral duty devolving on people of condition, when the foundations of things were in danger of being removed by the inroads of the vulgar commonalty. On the present occasion, Mrs. Lennox was of opinion that quiet, respectable people, of good family, ought to ignore this kind of proceeding, and not think of encouraging such things by their presence.
Mrs. Wilcox generally shaped her course by Mrs. Lennox: still she had promised Letitia Ferguson to be gracious to the Seymours in their exigency, and to call on the Follingsbees; so there was a confusion all round. The young people of both families declared that they were going, just to see the fun. Bob Lennox, with the usual vivacity of Young America, said he didn't "care a hang who set a ball rolling, if only something was kept stirring." The subject was discussed when Mrs. Lennox and Mrs. Wilcox were making a morning call upon the Fergusons.
"For my part," said Mrs. Lennox, "I'm principled on this subject. Those Follingsbees are not proper people. They are of just that vulgar, pushing class, against which I feel it my duty to set my face like a flint; and I'm astonished that a man like John Seymour should go into relations with them. You see it puts all his friends in a most embarrassing position."
"Dear Mrs. Lennox," said Rose Ferguson, "indeed, it is not Mr. Seymour's fault. These persons are invited by his wife."
"Well, what business has he to allow his wife to invite them? A man should be master in his own house."
"But, my dear Mrs. Lennox," said Mrs. Ferguson, "such a pretty young creature, and just married! of course it would be unhandsome not to allow her to have her friends."
"Certainly," said Judge Ferguson, "a gentleman cannot be rude to his wife's invited guests; for my part, I think Seymour is putting the best face he can on it; and we must all do what we can to help him. We shall all attend the Seymour party."
"Well," said Mrs. Wilcox, "I think we shall go. To be sure, it is not what I should like to do. I don't approve of these Follingsbees. Mr. Wilcox was saying, this morning, that his money was made by frauds on the government, which ought to have put him in the State Prison."
"Now, I say," said Mrs. Lennox, "such people ought to be put down socially: I have no patience with their airs. And that Mrs. Follingsbee, I have heard that she was a milliner, or shop-girl, or some such thing; and to see the airs she gives herself! One would think it was the Empress Eugenie herself, come to queen it over us in America. I can't help thinking we ought to take a stand. I really do."
"But, dear Mrs. Lennox, we are not obliged to cultivate further relations with people, simply from exchanging ordinary civilities with them on one evening," said Judge Ferguson.
"But, my dear sir, these pushing, vulgar, rich people take advantage of every opening. Give them an inch, and they will take an ell," said Mrs. Lennox. "Now, if I go, they will be claiming acquaintance with me in Newport next summer. Well, I shall cut them,—dead."
"Trust you for that," said Miss Letitia, laughing; "indeed, Mrs. Lennox, I think you may go wherever you please with perfect safety. People will never saddle themselves on you longer than you want them; so you might as well go to the party with the rest of us."
"And besides, you know," said Mrs. Wilcox, "all our young people will go, whether we go or not. Your Tom was at my house yesterday; and he is going with my girls: they are all just as wild about it as they can be, and say that it is the greatest fun that has been heard of this summer."
In fact, there was not a man, woman, or child, in a circle of fifteen miles round, who could show shade or color of an invitation, who was not out in full dress at Mrs. John Seymour's party. People in a city may pick and choose their entertainments, and she who gives a party there may reckon on a falling off of about one-third, for various other attractions; but in the country, where there is nothing else stirring, one may be sure that not one person able to stand on his feet will be missing. A party in a good old sleepy, respectable country place is a godsend. It is equal to an earthquake, for suggesting materials of conversation; and in so many ways does it awaken and vivify the community, that one may doubt whether, after all, it is not a moral benefaction, and the giver of it one to be ranked in the noble army of martyrs.
Everybody went. Even Mrs. Lennox, when she had sufficiently swallowed her moral principles, sent in all haste to New York for an elegant spick and span new dress from Madame de Tullegig's, expressly for the occasion. Was she to be outshone by unprincipled upstarts? Perish the thought! It was treason to the cause of virtue, and the standing order of society. Of course, the best thing to be done is to put certain people down, if you can; but, if you cannot do that, the next best thing is to outshine them in their own way. It may be very naughty for them to be so dressy and extravagant, and very absurd, improper, immoral, unnecessary, and in bad taste; but still, if you cannot help it, you may as well try to do the same, and do a little more of it. Mrs. Lennox was in a feverish state till all her trappings came from New York. The bill was something stunning; but, then, it was voted by the young people that she had never looked so splendidly in her life; and she comforted herself with marking out a certain sublime distance and reserve of manner to be observed towards Mrs. Seymour and the Follingsbees.
The young people, however, came home delighted. Tom, aged twenty-two, instructed his mother that Follingsbee was a brick, and a real jolly fellow; and he had accepted an invitation to go on a yachting cruise with him the next month. Jane Lennox, moreover, began besetting her mother to have certain details in their house rearranged, with an eye to the Seymour glorification.
"Now, Jane dear, that's just the result of allowing you to visit in this flash, vulgar genteel society," said the troubled mamma.
"Bless your heart, mamma, the world moves on, you know; and we must move with it a little, or be left behind. For my part, I'm perfectly ashamed of the way we let things go at our house. It really is not respectable. Now, I like Mrs. Follingsbee, for my part: she's clever and amusing. It was fun to hear all about the balls at the Tuileries, and the opera and things in Paris. Mamma, when are we going to Paris?"
"Oh! I don't know, my dear; you must ask your father. He is very unwilling to go abroad."
"Papa is so slow and conservative in his notions!" said the young lady. "For my part, I cannot see what is the use of all this talk about the Follingsbees. He is good-natured and funny; and, I am sure, I think she's a splendid woman: and, by the way, she gave me the address of lots of places in New York where we can get French things. Did you notice her lace? It is superb; and she told me where lace just like it could be bought one-third less than they sell at Stewart's."
Thus we see how the starting-out of an old, respectable family in any new ebullition of fancy and fashion is like a dandelion going to seed. You have not only the airy, fairy globe; but every feathery particle thereof bears a germ which will cause similar feather bubbles all over the country; and thus old, respectable grass-plots become, in time, half dandelion. It is to be observed that, in all questions of life and fashion, "the world and the flesh," to say nothing of the third partner of that ancient firm, have us at decided advantage. It is easy to see the flash of jewelry, the dazzle of color, the rush and glitter of equipage, and to be dizzied by the babble and gayety of fashionable life; while it is not easy to see justice, patience, temperance, self-denial. These are things belonging to the invisible and the eternal, and to be seen with other eyes than those of the body.
Then, again, there is no one thing in all the items which go to make up fashionable extravagance, which, taken separately and by itself, is not in some point of view a good or pretty or desirable thing; and so, whenever the forces of invisible morality begin an encounter with the troops of fashion and folly, the world and the flesh, as we have just said, generally have the best of it.
It may be very shocking and dreadful to get money by cheating and lying; but when the money thus got is put into the forms of yachts, operas, pictures, statues, and splendid entertainments, of which you are freely offered a share if you will only cultivate the acquaintance of a sharper, will you not then begin to say, "Everybody is going, why not I? As to countenancing Dives, why he is countenanced; and my holding out does no good. What is the use of my sitting in my corner and sulking? Nobody minds me." Thus Dives gains one after another to follow his chariot, and make up his court.
Our friend John, simply by being a loving, indulgent husband, had come into the position, in some measure, of demoralizing the public conscience, of bringing in luxury and extravagance, and countenancing people who really ought not to be countenanced. He had a sort of uneasy perception of this fact; yet, at each particular step, he seemed to himself to be doing no more than was right or reasonable. It was a fact that, through all Springdale, people were beginning to be uneasy and uncomfortable in houses that used to seem to them nice enough, and ashamed of a style of dress and entertainment and living that used to content them perfectly, simply because of the changes of style and living in the John-Seymour mansion.
Of old, the Seymour family had always been a bulwark on the side of a temperate self-restraint and reticence in worldly indulgence; of a kind that parents find most useful to strengthen their hands when children are urging them on to expenses beyond their means: for they could say, "The Seymours are richer than we are, and you see they don't change their carpets, nor get new sofas, nor give extravagant parties; and they give simple, reasonable, quiet entertainments, and do not go into any modern follies." So the Seymours kept up the Fergusons, and the Fergusons the Seymours; and the Wilcoxes and the Lennoxes encouraged each other in a style of quiet, reasonable living, saving money for charity, and time for reading and self-cultivation, and by moderation and simplicity keeping up the courage of less wealthy neighbors to hold their own with them.
The John-Seymour party, therefore, was like the bursting of a great dam, which floods a whole region. There was not a family who had not some trouble with the inundation, even where, like Rose and Letitia Ferguson, they swept it out merrily, and thought no more of it.
"It was all very pretty and pleasant, and I'm glad it went off so well," said Rose Ferguson the next day; "but I have not the smallest desire to repeat any thing of the kind. We who live in the country, and have such a world of beautiful things around us every day, and so many charming engagements in riding, walking, and rambling, and so much to do, cannot afford to go into this sort of thing: we really have not time for it."
"That pretty creature," said Mrs. Ferguson, speaking of Lillie, "is really a charming object. I hope she will settle down now to domestic life. She will soon find better things to care for, I trust: a baby would be her best teacher. I am sure I hope she will have one."
"A baby is mamma's infallible recipe for strengthening the character," said Rose, laughing.
"Well, as the saying is, they bring love with them," said Mrs. Ferguson; "and love always brings wisdom."
AFTER THE BATTLE.
"Well, Grace, the Follingsbees are gone at last, I am thankful to say," said John, as he stretched himself out on the sofa in Grace's parlor with a sigh of relief. "If ever I am caught in such a scrape again, I shall know it."
"Yes, it is all well over," said Grace.
"Over! I wish you would look at the bills. Why, Gracie! I had not the least idea, when I gave Lillie leave to get what she chose, what it would come to, with those people at her elbow, to put things into her head. I could not interfere, you know, after the thing was started; and I thought I would not spoil Lillie's pleasure, especially as I had to stand firm in not allowing wine. It was well I did; for if wine had been given, and taken with the reckless freedom that all the rest was, it might have ended in a general riot."
"As some of the great fashionable parties do, where young women get merry with champagne, and young men get drunk," said Grace.
"Well," said John, "I don't exactly like the whole turn of the way things have been going at our house lately. I don't like the influence of it on others. It is not in the line of the life I want to lead, and that we have all been trying to lead."
"Well," said Gracie, "things will be settled now quietly, I hope."
"I say," said John, "could not we start our little reading sociables, that were so pleasant last year? You know we want to keep some little pleasant thing going, and draw Lillie in with us. When a girl has been used to lively society, she can't come down to mere nothing; and I am afraid she will be wanting to rush off to New York, and visit the Follingsbees."
"Well," said Grace, "Letitia and Rose were speaking the other day of that, and wanting to begin. You know we were to read Froude together, as soon as the evenings got a little longer."
"Oh, yes! that will be capital," said John.
"Do you think Lillie will be interested in Froude?" asked Grace.
"I really can't say," said John, with some doubting of heart; "perhaps it would be well to begin with something a little lighter at first."
"Any thing you please, John. What shall it be?"
"But I don't want to hold you all back on my account," said John.
"Well, then again, John, there's our old study-club. The Fergusons and Mr. Mathews were talking it over the other night, and wondering when you would be ready to join us. We were going to take up Lecky's 'History of Morals,' and have our sessions Tuesday evenings,—one Tuesday at their house, and the other at mine, you know."
"I should enjoy that, of all things," said John; "but I know it is of no use to ask Lillie: it would only be the most dreadful bore to her."
"And you couldn't come without her, of course," said Grace.
"Of course not; that would be too cruel, to leave the poor little thing at home alone."
"Lillie strikes me as being naturally clever," said Grace; "if she only would bring her mind to enter into your tastes a little, I'm sure you would find her capable."
"But, Gracie, you've no conception how very different her sphere of thought is, how entirely out of the line of our ways of thinking. I'll tell you," said John, "don't wait for me. You have your Tuesdays, and go on with your Lecky; and I will keep a copy at home, and read up with you. And I will bring Lillie in the evening, after the reading is over; and we will have a little music and lively talk, and a dance or charade, you know: then perhaps her mind will wake up by degrees."
SCENE.—After tea in the Seymour parlor. John at a table, reading. Lillie in a corner, embroidering.
Lillie. "Look here, John, I want to ask you something."
John,—putting down his book, and crossing to her, "Well, dear?"
Lillie. "There, would you make a green leaf there, or a brown one?"
John,—endeavoring to look wise, "Well, a brown one."
Lillie. "That's just like you, John; now, don't you see that a brown one would just spoil the effect?"
"Oh! would it?" said John, innocently. "Well, what did you ask me for?"
"Why, you tiresome creature! I wanted you to say something. What are you sitting moping over a book for? You don't entertain me a bit."
"Dear Lillie, I have been talking about every thing I could think of," said John, apologetically.
"Well, I want you to keep on talking, and put up that great heavy book. What is it, any way?"
"Lecky's 'History of Morals,'" said John.
"How dreadful! do you really mean to read it?"
"Certainly; we are all reading it."
"Why, Gracie, and Letitia and Rose Ferguson."
"Rose Ferguson? I don't believe it. Why, Rose isn't twenty yet! She cannot care about such stuff."
"She does care, and enjoys it too," said John, eagerly.
"It is a pity, then, you didn't get her for a wife instead of me," said Lillie, in a tone of pique.
Now, this sort of thing does well enough occasionally, said by a pretty woman, perfectly sure of her ground, in the early days of the honey-moon; but for steady domestic diet is not to be recommended. Husbands get tired of swearing allegiance over and over; and John returned to his book quietly, without reply. He did not like the suggestion; and he thought that it was in very poor taste. Lillie embroidered in silence a few minutes, and then threw down her work pettishly.
"How close this room is!"
John read on.
"John, do open the door!"
John rose, opened the door, and returned to his book.
"Now, there's that draft from the hall-window. John, you'll have to shut the door."
John shut it, and read on.
"Oh, dear me!" said Lillie, throwing herself down with a portentous yawn. "I do think this is dreadful!"
"What is dreadful?" said John, looking up.
"It is dreadful to be buried alive here in this gloomy town of Springdale, where there is nothing to see, and nowhere to go, and nothing going on."
"We have always flattered ourselves that Springdale was a most attractive place," said John. "I don't know of any place where there are more beautiful walks and rambles."
"But I detest walking in the country. What is there to see? And you get your shoes muddy, and burrs on your clothes, and don't meet a creature! I got so tired the other day when Grace and Rose Ferguson would drag me off to what they call 'the glen.' They kept oh-ing and ah-ing and exclaiming to each other about some stupid thing every step of the way,—old pokey nutgalls, bare twigs of trees, and red and yellow leaves, and ferns! I do wish you could have seen the armful of trash that those two girls carried into their respective houses. I would not have such stuff in mine for any thing. I am tired of all this talk about Nature. I am free to confess that I don't like Nature, and do like art; and I wish we only lived in New York, where there is something to amuse one."
"Well, Lillie dear, I am sorry; but we don't live in New York, and are not likely to," said John.
"Why can't we? Mrs. Follingsbee said that a man in your profession, and with your talents, could command a fortune in New York."
"If it would give me the mines of Golconda, I would not go there," said John.
"How stupid of you! You know you would, though."
"No, Lillie; I would not leave Springdale for any money."
"That is because you think of nobody but yourself," said Lillie. "Men are always selfish."
"On the contrary, it is because I have so many here depending on me, of whom I am bound to think more than myself," said John.
"That dreadful mission-work of yours, I suppose," said Lillie; "that always stands in the way of having a good time."
"Lillie," said John, shutting his book, and looking at her, "what is your ideal of a good time?"
"Why, having something amusing going on all the time,—something bright and lively, to keep one in good spirits," said Lillie.
"I thought that you would have enough of that with your party and all," said John.
"Well, now it's all over, and duller than ever," said Lillie. "I think a little spirt of gayety makes it seem duller by contrast."
"Yet, Lillie," said John, "you see there are women, who live right here in Springdale, who are all the time busy, interested, and happy, with only such sources of enjoyment as are to be found here. Their time does not hang heavy on their hands; in fact, it is too short for all they wish to do."
"They are different from me," said Lillie.
"Then, since you must live here," said John, "could you not learn to be like them? could you not acquire some of these tastes that make simple country life agreeable?"
"No, I can't; I never could," said Lillie, pettishly.
"Then," said John, "I don't see that anybody can help your being unhappy." And, opening his book, he sat down, and began to read.
Lillie pouted awhile, and then drew from under the sofa-pillow a copy of "Indiana;" and, establishing her feet on the fender, she began to read.
Lillie had acquired at school the doubtful talent of reading French with facility, and was soon deep in the fascinating pages, whose theme is the usual one of French novels,—a young wife, tired of domestic monotony, with an unappreciative husband, solacing herself with the devotion of a lover. Lillie felt a sort of pique with her husband. He was evidently unappreciative: he was thinking of all sorts of things more than of her, and growing stupid, as husbands in French romances generally do. She thought of her handsome Cousin Harry, the only man that she ever came anywhere near being in love with; and the image of his dark, handsome eyes and glossy curls gave a sort of piquancy to the story.
John got deeply interested in his book; and, looking up from time to time, was relieved to find that Lillie had something to employ her.
"I may as well make a beginning," he said to himself. "I must have my time for reading; and she must learn to amuse herself."
After a while, however, he peeped over her shoulder.
"Why, darling!" he said, "where did you get that?"
"It is Mrs. Follingsbee's," said Lillie.
"Dear, it is a bad book," said John. "Don't read it."
"It amuses me, and helps pass away time," said Lillie; "and I don't think it is bad: it is beautiful. Besides, you read what amuses you; and it is a pity if I can't read what amuses me."
"I am glad to see you like to read French," continued John; "and I can get you some delightful French stories, which are not only pretty and witty, but have nothing in them that tend to pull down one's moral principles. Edmond About's 'Mariages de Paris' and 'Tolla' are charming French things; and, as he says, they might be read aloud by a man between his mother and his sister, without a shade of offence."