A JEU D'ESPRIT.
By Charles Reade
THIS jeu d'esprit was written some years ago, before the Author was so fortunate as to establish friendly relations with American Publishers, and, may he venture to say? with the American Public. He has a reason for wishing this to be known. C. R.
LONDON, September, 1857.
JOHN COURTENAY was the son of Richard Courtenay. Richard was the younger son of a good Devonshire family. His elder brother inherited four thousand a year--he fifteen hundred pounds down, from the same relative, his father--vive l'Angleterre!
His fifteen hundred pounds wouldn't do in a genteel country like England, so he went to America and commerce. He died richer than the owner of Courtenay Court.
John, his son, was richer still by the same honorable means.
He was also a stanch republican. The unparalleled rise and grandeur of the United States might well recommend their institutions to any candid mind; and John Courtenay spent his leisure moments in taking the gloss off John Bull's hide. He was not so spiteful against him as some of those gentry who owe their cleverness to themselves, but their existence to Bull, and forget it. His line was rather cool contempt; the old country was worn out and decayed--progressing like a crab instead of going ahead, etc., etc., etc., etc.
For all this, one fine day something seemed to crack inside John Courtenay's bosom when he saw an announcement from the modest pen of Robins that Courtenay Court was in the market.
He did not think such an advertisement would have interested him any more than Consols 96 and a half--but it did.
This gentleman was at the moment working a loan at five per cent with Kentucky, and he had promised himself to be in it to the tune of £50,000; but all this day he took more snuff than was good for him, and the next day, after breakfast and a reverie, be suddenly burst out, "Pshaw! the worst investment, in the worst country; a sinking interest in a sinking kingdom. "
"Papa!" said a musical voice, "your paying me no attention will, I fear, end in your being worried."
This worrying meant a certain violent system of kissing, with which the speaker used to fall upon John Courtenay when he was very good, or very bad. She used it indifferently as a reward or punishment.
This time, to her surprise, the old gentleman answered her smiling threat by opening his arms in a minute and saying, "My child!"
In another moment Caroline Courtenay was in his arms; he pressed his lips to her brow and said, "I will do it! I will do it!"
"What will you do, papa?"
"That is my business, I reckon," said he, recovering the statesman and man of business with rather a brusk reaction; and off he bustled to Wall Street, "where merchants most do congregate." Shakespeare hem!
Caroline stood irresolute and had a mind to whimper. She thought her affection had been for once half repulsed.
Caroline! doubt anything--everything--but a parent's love for his only child.
IN three weeks after this the hammer came to Courtenay Court; and that hammer was wielded (I use the term he would have selected) by the St. George of the auction room.
Need I say the wood and water of the estate had previously been painted in language as flowing as the one and as exuberant as the foliage of the other?
In the large hall were two fire-places, where piles of beech log blazed and crackled.
Mr. Robins made his bow and up went Courtenay Court, manor, and lordship, in a single lot.
There were present, besides farmers, some forty country gentlemen, many of whom looked business. They had not examined their own horizon, as John Courtenay, merchant, had. Land was in vogue with them.
I don't wonder at it. Certainly a landed estate is "an animal with its mouth always open." But compare the physical perception and enjoyment of landed wealth with that of consols and securities.
Can I get me rosy cheeks, health, and good-humor riding up and down my Peruvian bonds? can I go out shooting upon my parchment, or in summer sit under the shadow of my mortgage deed and bob for commas and troll for semicolons in my river of ink that meanders through my meadow of sheepskin?
Wherefore I really think land will always tempt even the knowing ones, until some vital change shall take place in society; for instance, till the globe makes its exit in smoke, and the blue curtain comes down on the creation.
Three or four gentlemen held the bidding up till about thirty thousand pounds; it then became flat.
And now one Adam Eaves, a farmer, pushed sheepishly forward, made an advance on the bidding, and looked ashamed.
Why lookest thou ashamed, oh, yeoman, Bulwark of our Isle?
This is why: Adam Eaves farmed two farms; and he had for three years been praying both his landlords for decrease of rent, upon grounds that nowise tallied with his little offer of thirty thousand one hundred pounds down on the nail for Courtenay Manor; and therefore looked he ashamed, the simple-minded yeoman, Bulwark of our Isle.
Joshua Tanner, linen-draper in the market town, he whose cry for ten years had been the decay of retail trade, was so surprised at this, that, thrown off his guard, he bid a hundred more; but, the mask once thrown off, he blushed not, but sprinkled insulting arrogance on all around.
Both these worthies, who, unlike us writers, had for years announced themselves beneath their true value, gave way to heavier metal, and the estate began to reach its real worth; it was at £38,000.
There was a pause. St. George looked jocose, and felt uneasy. Were they running cunning like their own hounds, these south country gentlemen?
He now looked carefully all round the room: a long, attenuated figure with a broad-brimmed hat on, standing by a distant window, met his eye, and, as if to oblige him, now for the first time made a cool, nonchalant bid by nodding his head; round went all the company on their heels with their backs to the auctioneer, as when, in the last row of the Pit, two personages of this our day go to fisticuffs, I have seen the audience turn its back on the quarrel of Brutus and Cassius, or Melantius and Amyntor.
Forty two, three, four thousand were reached; two country gentlemen bidders turned red and white--the pin bid on, rhythmically, at measured intervals, like a chaff-cutting machine, unconscious of opposition, indifferent to result.
The estate was now at thirty years purchase; a hum that went round the room announced this fact without a word spoken. All the hounds had tailed off but one. He went on; the two bidders were strangely contrasted; it seemed odd they could both want the same thing. In shape one was like a pin; the other a pin-cushion.
Our friend at the window was all one color, like wash-leather, or an actor by daylight; the other, with his head of white hair as thick as a boy's, and his red brown cheeks, and his bright eye, reflected comfort as brightly as Hampton Court with its red brick and white facings, and cheered the eye like old Sun and old Frost battling for a December day.
At last the thin and sallow personage uttered these words: "Forty-seven thousand pounds!" in a nasal twang, that seemed absurdly unjust to the grand ideas such words excite in elegant minds conscious how many refined pleasures can be had for £47,000.
His antagonist's head sunk for a moment.
He sighed, and, instead of bidding higher, or holding his tongue, the two business alternatives open to him, he said, "Then it will never be mine!"
He said this so simply, yet with so much pain, that some of those good souls, who, unless they have two days to think it over with their wives or sisters, are sure to take the pathetic for the ludicrous, horse-laughed at him.
He turned away. Mr. Robins did not waste a second in idle flourishes; "When a thing is settled, end it," thought he; he knocked the lot down now as he would a china teapot in a sale of 200 lots--and the old oaks of Courtenay bowed their heads to a Yankee merchant.
The buyer stepped up to the auctioneer.
Mr. Ralph Seymour, the last bidder, made for the door; at the door he buttoned with difficulty his coat over his breast, for his heart was swelling and his eye glistened--it was a bitter disappointment--we who live in towns can hardly think how bitter. Such sales do not come every day in the country: his estate marched for a mile and a half with the Courtenays. He had counted on no competition but that of his neighbors: he had bought it from them: but a man who happened to want an estate had come from London, or, as it was now whispered, from New York. Any other estate would have suited him as well, but he would have this.
Poor old gentleman! He had told Mrs. Seymour she should walk this evening under the great birch-trees of the Courtenays--and they be hers!
They had been married forty years, and he had never broken his word to her before.
The auctioneer read the buyer's card.
"Sold to Mr. Jonathan Sims," said he, responding to the open curiosity of the company.
"Ugh!" went one or two provincials, and then dead silence.
"Acting," continued the auctioneer, "for Mr. John Courtenay of New York."
There was a pause--a hurried buzz--and then, to Mr. Sims's surprise, a thundering "Hurrah!" burst out that made the rafters ring and the windows rattle.
"It's Master Richard's son," shouted Adam Eaves. "My father's ridden many's the time with Master Richard, he rode the mule, and father the jenny-ass after Squire Courtenay's hounds, HURRAH!"
The thorough-bred old John Bull at the door, Mr. Ralph Seymour, seemed glad of an excuse to get rid of some bile foreign to his nature. In three strides he was alongside Jonathan, and had he been French it was plain he would have said something worth repeating, but as he was only English he grasped Mr. Sims's hand like a vise, and--asked him to dinner!
That is the English idea--you must ask a gentleman to dinner, and you must give a poor man a day's work--that wins him.
John Courtenay came home: I coolly omit the objections he took cheminfaisant to things in the old country. They would fill a volume with just remonstrance.
He came to his own lodge gate---the old man who opened it sung out--
"Oh! Master John, how like you be to Master Richard, surely."
Courtenay was astonished; he found this old boy had been thinking of him all that way off for sixty years, ever since his birth transpired.
The old housekeeper welcomed him with tears in her eyes.
He dined in a room enriched with massive old carvings; he walked after dinner under his avenue of birches with silver stems of gigantic thickness and patriarchal age. The housekeeper put him in a bed his father had slept in when a boy.
Soon the country gentlemen made acquaintance with him. The strong idea of distributive justice he had brought from Commerce, and his business habits, caused him to be consulted and valued.
It is a fact that after some months in Devonshire he developed a trait or two of Toryism; but they could not make him believe that nations are the property of kings, and countries their home farms. They did all they could think of to corrupt him. They made him perforce a justice of the peace; he remonstrated and poohpoohed, but was no sooner one than he infused fresh blood into the withered veins of justice in his district.
He became a referee in all nice matters of rural equity. In short his neighbors had all overcome any little prejudice, and had learned his value when they lost him. His time was come to close an honorable life by a peaceful death.
Short as had been his career among them, the whole county followed him to his resting-place among the Courtenays in Conyton Church vault.
He left all his land and all his money by will to his daughter; to his will he attached a paper containing some requests.
One was that she would provide for the aged housekeeper, and lodge-keeper, who knew her father and welcomed him home--he called it home! But there was nothing about where he wished her to live: he did not decide the great little question, is America or England the right place for us globules to swell and burst in?
In other words, when he wrote these memoranda, John Courtenay was dying, and thought less about the kingdom whence came his root, or the state where his flowers had bloomed, than of a country he had learned to look toward by being neither Yankee nor Briton so much as an honest, God-fearing man. So his thoughts were now upon a land, older than Little England, broader than the Great United States; a land where Americans and English are brothers.
And I warn them, and all men, to be brothers here, lest they never see that land.
Caroline Courtenay remained at New York. There was little to tempt her to leave her birthplace, and visit the country which seemed to her to have robbed her of her father.
It happened, however, almost three years after Mr. Courtenay's death, that a fresh circumstance changed her feeling in that respect.
Young Reginald Seymour, who had come to see the States, had brought letters of introduction to her, and had prolonged his stay from a fortnight to eight months: and he was eloquent in praise of Courtenay Court, and of his father's place which adjoined it; and what Reginald praised Caroline desired to see.
Miss Courtenay combined two qualities which are generally seen in opposition--beauty and wit. On her wit, however, she had latterly cast some doubt by a trick she had fallen into. She had been detected thinking for herself--ay, more than once. This came of being left an orphan, poor thing; she had no one to warn her day by day against this habit, which is said always to lead her sex into trouble--when they venture upon it: luckily they don't do it very often.
Wealth, wit, and beauty, meeting with young blood, were enough to spoil a character: all they had done in this case was to give her a more decided one than most young ladies of her age have, or could carry without spilling.
It so happened one day that a question much agitated in parts of the United States occupied a semicircle of ladies, of whom Miss Courtenay was one. This was a new costume, introduced by a highly respectable lady, the editor of a paper called the Lily, and wife of a lawyer of some eminence at Seneca Falls.
The company generally were very severe on this costume, and proceeded upward from the pantelets to the morals of the inventor, which, though approved at Seneca by simple observation, were depreciated at New York by intelligent inference.
When the conversation began, Miss Courtenay looked down on the Bloomer costume with supercilious contempt.
But its vituperators shook her opinion, by a very simple process--they gave their reasons!!!!
"It is awkward and absurd," said one, as by way of contrast she glided majestically to the piano to sing: as she spoke her foot went through her dress to the surprise of--nobody.
"It is highly indelicate to expose any portion of the--in short--the, the, the--ankle," continued the lady, seating herself.
"It is! Miss Jemima," purred a smooth, deferential gentleman, looking over her; his eye dwelt complacently on two snowy hemispheres.
A little extravagance injures a good cause.
At last Miss Courtenay, fired by opposition and unreasonable reasons, began to favor the general theory of Bloomer.
Next she converted several friends; still to the theory only. This got wind, and a general attack was made on her by her well-wishers. Their arguments and sneers completed the business; and she was bloomerized at heart, when the following scene took place in her own kitchen.
Eliza the cook was making pastry on the long oak table; her face was redder than her work accounted for.
"Well, Eliza," said Mrs. Primmer, the housekeeper, "your tongue won't stop of itself; of course not; so I'll stop it."
"Do, ma'am," suggested Eliza, with meek incredulity.
"You shan't wear them here," said Mrs. Primmer.
"La', ma'am," said the housemaid Angelina, "she had better wear them in the house than in the street with two hundred boys at her heels."
"That is not my meaning," answered Mrs. Primmer. "I hired you for a female cook, and the moment you put on things that don't belong to a woman--our bargain's broke, and you go."
"Well, it is an indelicate dress," observed Angelina: then turning to John Giles, Eliza's sweetheart, who was eating pork at the dresser, "don't you think so, Mr. Giles?" inquired she, affectedly.
"I does!" said Giles, with his mouth full. Giles was a Briton in the suite of young Seymour.
"Vulgar!" suggested Angelina.
"And no mistake," said Giles--"it's as vulgar as be blowed," added he, clinching the nail with his polished hammer.
"And who asked your opinion?" inquired Eliza, sharply.
"Angelina!" replied Giles--Giles was matter-of-fact.
Eliza. "I mean to wear it for as vulgar as 'tis."
Giles. "Then you had better look out for another man." (Applause.)
Eliza. "Oh, they are always to be had without looking out. So long as there's pickled pork in the kitchen, they'll look in."
Angelina. "Well, I think a woman should dress to gratify the men" (with an oeillade at Giles): "not to imitate them."
Eliza. "The men! so long as we sweep the streets for them with our skirts, they are all right. You talk of delicacy: is dirt delicacy?"
On this she whipped off a chair by the fire a gown that had met with a misfortune: it had been out walking on a wet day. Eliza put it viciously under Angelina's nose, who recoiled. An accurate description of it would soil these pages.
"Is that pretty?" continued the cook, "to carry a hundred-weight of muck wherever you go?"
"Dirt can't be helped," retorted Primmer. "Indecency can."
"Indecent?" cried Eliza, with a face like scarlet. "Who's going to be indecent in this kitchen?"
"The gals," suggested Angelina, "who wear--who wear--"
"'Small-clothes," put in Giles.
A grateful glance repaid him for extricating the fair from a conventional difficulty.
"What, it's indecent because it shows your instep, I suppose. You go into the drawing-room this evening and the young ladies shall show you more than ever a Bloomer will. 'Women's delicacy'!" said Eliza, putting her hand under the paste and bringing it down on the reverse with a whack. "Gammon! Fashion is what we care for, not delicacy. If it was the fashion to tie our right foot to our left ear, wouldn't you do it?"
"No!" said Angelina, with her little hesitation.
"Then I would!" cried Eliza, sacrificing herself to her argument. "What did they wear last year," continued this orator. "Eh? answer me that whisking to and fro as they walked and drawing everybody's attention."
In speaking, Eliza was worse than I am in writing, she never punctuated at all.
"So you mean to wear them?" inquired Mrs. Primmer, coming back from the argument to the point.
Eliza. "Yes, I do!"
Observe! at the beginning of the argument she had no such intention.
Mrs. Primmer. "Then I give you a months' warning, here (and now), Eliza Staunton!"
Eliza. "And I won't take it from you, Mrs. Primmer."
Mrs. Primmer. "Who will you take it from then?"
Eliza. "The mistress or nobody."
Angelina. "La! Lisa! You know she never speaks to a servant."
Eliza. "She speaks to Mrs. Primmer, don't she?"
Mrs. Primmer. "Am I a servant, hussy? Am I a servant?"
Eliza. "Yes! you are; we are all servants here: some is paid for doing the work, and other some for looking on and interrupting it here and there."
Mrs. Primmer (gasping). "Leave the kitchen, young woman."
Eliza. "The kitchen's mine and the housekeeper's room is yours, old woman."
"Go to the mistress and tell her I want to come and speak to her!" gasped the insulted housekeeper, deprived of motion by her fury.
Angelina took but one step before Eliza caught her, held the roller high above her head, and saying, "If you offer to go there I'll roll ye up into my paste," pushed her down into a chair, where she roared and blubbered.
"Oh, you rude, brutal-behaved woman," cried Primmer, "I shall faint."
Helps have an insolence all their own: they say the most cutting things with a tone of extra sweetness and courtesy, that has the effect of fire quenched with sweet oil, or brandy softened with oil of vitriol.
With such sweet and measured tones Eliza said, half under her breath: "Giles! you go--into the housekeeper's room--and look behind the door--and you'll find the biggest brandy bottle you ever did see: Mrs. Primmer wants it!!!!!"
This dry little speech was hartshorn: some spring seemed to have been pressed, so erect bounced Mrs. Primmer!
She bustled up to Eliza, and, with a spite that threatened annihilation, gave her an infinitesimal pat on the back of her head, and retired precipitately with a face in which misgiving already took the place of fury.
Eliza put down the roller quite leisurely and cleaned her fingers slowly of the dough.
"It is lucky for you," said she, firmly, "that you are the same age as my mother, or down you'd go on those bricks. Oh! oh! oh! oh! oh!" and down went she on a chair opposite Angelina, and her apron over her head: for these women who are going to tear the house down and to stand like Mercury on the debris (in a Bloomer), with a finger pointing to truth and a toe to futurity, are just two shades more faint-hearted at bottom than the others.
So Eliza and Angelina kept up the bawl with great want of spirit, bursting out in turns, after the manner of strophe and antistrophe--
"Et ululare pares et despondere paratæ."
Meantime the man-of-one-idea-at-a-time, Giles, was obeying orders, and going after the bottle specified by Eliza, and had his hand on the door of the housekeeper's room.
"Giles!" screamed the proprietor. He stood petrified. "There is no such thing in my room," said she, with sudden calmness.
Giles returned to the dresser.
The present scene had lately received an addition that made it perfect--a satirical spectator.
The pantry window which looked into the kitchen was opened by a footman, whose head had been previously seen bobbing wildly up and down as he cleaned his plate.
This footman had admired Eliza, but, outweighed by the solid virtues and limbs of Giles, was furtively looking out for a chance of disturbing the balance.
Eliza and Angelina were now sobbing placidly.
Mr. Giles stretched his legs slowly out before him, and said very slowly, and with really an appearance of reflection, "Now all this here-- bobbery-- comes from a woman--making up her mind--to wear --the--B--ughahah oh, oh! Ugh!"
Eliza had bounced up in a rage and dabbed the paste right over his mouth, nose, eyes, face, and temples. He should have spoken quicker.
It was nearly his death. However, with horrible noises and distortions he got clear of it.
The footman roared with laughter: he thought he never had seen so truly funny a thing done in his life--none of your vulgar jokes--"legitimate humor" thought John. (Giles being my rival.) Turning suddenly grave he said--
"Well, you are drawing it mild, you are--here's the mistress coming to see whose cat's dead." So saying he slammed the window, and his head went bobbing again over his spoons.
At this announcement histrionics commenced. "Mrs. Primmer, madam," began Eliza, demurely, with a total change of manner, "I'm sure, ma'am, you wouldn't take away a poor girl's place that's three thousand miles away from home--all for a word, ma'am!"
"You may pack up your box, Eliza, for you won't sleep in this house," was the grim answer.
"Oh, Mrs. Primmer," remonstrated Eliza, tearfully, "if you have no heart for poor servants, where do you expect to go to?"
"I shall go nowhere," replied the dignitary, "I shall stay here, it's you that shall march." Then, hearing a light step approach, she astonished them all by suddenly rising into a wild, sonorous recitative.
"I have my mistress's confidence, and will deserve it."
Miss Courtenay stood on the threshold.
Mrs. Primmer's game was not to see her. She intoned a little louder.
"No woman shall stay a day in this house--"
"Well, I never!" gasped, Angelina, looking toward the door.
"Hold your tongue! no woman shall stay a day in this house, who thinks to put on that immoral, ondelicate, ondecent-- Ah! ah! ah!" Primmer screamed, put her nose out straight in the air, put on her spectacles, and screamed again.
Miss Courtenay stood at the door in a suit of "propria quæ maribus."
"Propria quæ maribus tribuuntur, mascula dicas." -- Eton Latin Grammar.
THE world up to that moment had never seen so smart a fella* as caused Primmer's recitative to die in a quaver. h/she stood on the threshold erect yet lithe; the serpentine lines of youthful female beauty veiled yet not disguised in vest and pantaloons of marvelous cut, neat little collar; dapper shoes, and gaiters: delicious purple broadcloth.
*Observe the female termination.
"Giles!" groaned Mrs. Primmer, "you may go for what Eliza said. Anybody may do anything now! I nursed her on these knees," whined the poor woman, with the piteous tone that always accompanies this favorite statement.
"Primmer!" said the Courtenay, coldly, "theatrical exhibitions amuse, but do not deceive; be yourself."
"Yes, ma'am," answered Primmer, coldly, dropping her histrionics directly, and taking up her tact.
"Hearing cries of distress from my household, I came to see if I could be of any service to you: what is the matter?"
"If you please, ma'am," put in Eliza, hastily, "it is all along of Mrs. Primmer being so hard upon the Bloomers, ma'am."
A short explanation followed.
Eliza was asked why she had defended this costume.
Eliza, having found such a backer, was fluent in defense of the new costume.
The rest looked unutterable things, but could say nothing.
In the middle of one of her long sentences, her mistress cut her short, congratulated her demurely on her sense, informed her that she wished one of the servants to assist her in a little scheme for recommending the dress; that she should have hesitated to propose it, but, having found one already so disposed, would use her services.
"On my bed you will find a costume: put it on immediately, and come to me for further instructions." So saying, she vanished with a slight smile.
Eliza watched her departing form with a rueful face. She discovered when too late that she had never for a moment intended to wear the thing, and had only defended it out of contrariness; she moved toward the door like a lamb to sacrifice.
"Ahem!" said Mrs. Primmer, "you can go into the street dressed like a hobbadehoy, if you like, Miss Staunton; but, if I might ask a favor, it is that you won't tell the people what house you came out of: because, you see, I come of decent people in the neighborhood that might feel hurt and leave the town, owing to such a thing being seen come out of the house where I am; that's all, ma'am; and I am a regular attendant on public and family worship."
This was said very politely.
"Well, ma'am," answered Eliza, beginning as politely, but heating so much per sentence, "I don't know as Bloomers are so like what you mention, ma'am, as your own gown would be, ma'am, if it was a bit cleaner, ma'am: but whenever I meet a new-married couple coming from church, I'll step up to the bride, and I'll say, 'Mrs. Primmer requests you would be so good as not to put on your nightgown before supper next time--she's turned so devilish modest all of a sudden.'"
So saying, Eliza flounced out in a rage, and, her blood being put up, burned now to go through with it.
REGINALD SEYMOUR was a handsome, gentlemanly fellow, heir apparent of the unsuccessful bidder for Courtenay Court.
He had been for six months the declared lover of the heiress; and his sister Harriet, warmly invited by Miss Courtenay, had at length taken advantage of an escort offered by an English family, and was a guest of the fiancée.
If Reginald had a fault, it was too strong a consciousness of the antiquity and importance of the Seymours; and, as that was combined with a determination to hand down their name as pure as they had received it, it was a very excusable weakness.
He was perhaps rather more formal and stately than suited his youth.
It was in the dusk of the evening. Harriet Seymour, full dressed, came into a sort of antechamber with a bouquet of choice flowers in her hand, and there encountered Caroline, for whom in fact she was looking. At sight of her friend, Harriet did not at first comprehend: all she realized was that Caroline was not the thing.
"What! not dressed yet, Caroline?" said she, "it is very late."
"I am dressed, dear."
"Why, of course, I see you have some clothes on for fun--he, he--but it is to be a ball, dear!"
"My feet will be as unembarrassed as yours, dear!" replied Caroline, quietly.
Harriet gave her the bouquet, and said with much meaning: "Reginald sends you these. Of course you did not know he was returned."
"Of course I did," was the reply; "he is to be here."
Harriet. "Oh, Reginald loves you, Caroline. "
Caroline. "So he pretends."
Harriet. "He loves you with all the force of an honest heart--and I love you for his sake and your own: give me the privilege of a sister: let me advise you."
Caroline. "With all my heart."
Harriet. "Yes! but advice is apt to be ill received."
Caroline. "That is because it is given hastily and harshly; but true friends like you! and me--oh, fie!"
Harriet. "Promise then not to be angry with me."
Caroline. "Certainly; only you must promise not to be angry if I am too silly or self-willed to take it."
Harriet. "I should not be angry, love, though I might be grieved on your own account."
Caroline. "Well, then, dear."
Harriet. "Well, then, dear--do not receive society in this costume. I will never tell Reginald; and do not you let him know you ever wore it."
Caroline. "But how can I help it, when he is going to see me in it?"
Harriet. "It is for your delicacy, your feminine qualities, he has loved you."
Caroline. "Has he?" (looking down.) "Well, those qualities reside in our souls, not our--habiliments."
Harriet. "Not in such habiliments as those. He will be shocked."
Caroline. "No, only surprised a little, he! he!"
Harriet. "He will be grieved, Caroline.
Caroline. "I shall console him."
Harriet (with color heightening). "He will be indignant."
Caroline (with color rising). "I shall laugh at him."
Harriet. "He will be disgusted."
Caroline. "Ah--then I shall dismiss him. "
Harriet. "I see I speak to no purpose, Miss Courtenay."
Caroline. "To very little, Miss Seymour."
Harriet. "I shall say no more, madam."
Caroline. "You have said enough, madam. "
Harriet. "Since you despise my advice, please yourself."
Caroline. "I shall take your advice at present."
Harriet. "But you will never be my brother's wife."
Caroline. "Then I shall always be mistress in my own house."
Harriet, who was at the door, returned as if to speak, but she was too angry; gave it up, and retired half choking.
A sacred joy filled Caroline's bosom--she had had the last word!
As she was about to pass out of the room, who should enter hastily but Reginald Seymour? --her back was toward him.
He called to her: "Can you tell me where I shall find Miss Courtenay, sir?"
Caroline bit her lips, but she turned sharply round, and said: "She is in this room, madam!"
"Oh!" said Reginald. He added, "Oh, Caroline!" and looked pained.
Caroline blushed, and if heavenly looks and little female artifice could have softened censure, they were not wanting.
"What beautiful flowers you have sent me!" said she. "See, I threw away my formal bouquet for your nosegay."
"You do me honor," said the young gentleman, uneasily.
"Honor!--no! but justice; a single violet from you deserves to be preferred to roses and camellias."
"Dear Caroline! I withdraw--you are not dressed yet, and people will soon arrive."
Caroline saw there was no real way of escape, so with great external calmness she said sweetly--"I am dressed, dear Reginald. "
"I beg your pardon," said he, as not understanding her.
"I forgive you," said the sly thing, taking him up, "there are so many who do not see the beauty of all this: I have promised to wear it to-night," continued she (not allowing him to get in a word), "and to compare it calmly and candidly with other costumes; you will be so amused; and we shall arrive at a real judgment instead of violent prejudices, which you are above; at least I give you credit. I should not admire you so much as I do if I doubted that. "
"Caroline"' said the young gentleman, gravely.
"Dear Caroline, do you believe I love you?"
"Better than I deserve, I dare say," said Caroline.
"No! as you deserve. I will not own my love inferior even to your merit. Do you believe that when we are one my life will be devoted to your happiness?"
"I am sometimes goose enough to hope so," murmured Caroline, averting her head.
"Shall you think ill of me then, if, before marriage, I ask a favor, perhaps a sacrifice of you? I feel I shall not be ungrateful."
"There," thought Caroline, "I am not to wear it--that is plain."
Reginald continued: "If you wear this dress, you will give me pain beyond any pleasure you can derive."
"Reginald," said the poor girl, "I wish to wear it--now and then; indeed, I had set my heart on making a few, a very few--converts to it; see how pretty it is" (no answer); "but for your sake, when I take it off to-night, I will give it away; and it shall never, never offend any more. "
Reginald kissed her hand.
There was a pause.
"Caroline," said he, stammering, "you do not quite understand me; it is to-day I beg you on no account to wear it."
"Oh, to-day," said she, hastily, "I have promised to wear it."
"I entreat you," said he; "consider; if you once show yourself to people from every part of New York in this costume, what more remains to be done?"
"Reginald! be reasonable," said Caroline, more coldly. "I stand engaged to some sixty persons to wear this dress tonight. I have made you a concession, and with pleasure, because I make it to you. It is your turn now: you must think of me as well as of yourself, dear Reginald. I am afraid you must shut your eyes on me for a few hours: that will spoil all my pleasure; or you must fancy, as many a lover has been able to do, that I consecrate a dress, not that a dress has power to lower me."
"Oh, Caroline, do you value my respect?"
"Yes! and therefore I shall keep my word, and so you will feel sure I shall keep my word to you, too, if ever I promise something about" (blushes and smiles) "Love--honor--and obey."
A battle took place in the young man's mind.
He took several strides backward and forward.
At last he burst out: "There are feelings too strong to be conquered by our wishes. I cannot bear that my wife should do what three-fourths of her sex think indelicate. We never differed in opinion before, we never shall again. If we do, be assured I will bow to you. I would yield here if I could: but I cannot. I think you can; if you can, have pity on me, and add one more claim to my life-long gratitude."
The balance trembled: the tears were in Caroline's eyes; her bosom fluttered: when the Demon of Discord inspired her proud nature with this idea.
"He loves his prejudices better than you," said Discord; "and this is tyranny--coaxing tyranny, if you will, but still tyranny."
On this hint spake Caroline.
"I find I have rivals."
"In your prejudices! Reginald, neither person nor thing shall ever be my rival. Show me at once which you love with the deeper affection, Mr. Seymour's prejudices, or Caroline Courtenay. I shall wear this dress to-night--only for a few hours--consider! you will be here and keep me in countenance--or you don't love me."
"No! Caroline!" said Reginald, sadly and firmly. "I have spoken; our future life now rests in your hands. I shall not come--I shall arrange so that if you degrade yourself (I still cling to the hope you will not) I shall hear of it, and leave the country that minute. Were I to see it, by Heaven, I should leave the world." He said this in great heat, but, recovering himself, said: "Forgive me!" kissed her hand, and went despondently away.
Caroline, on his departure, wished he had gone away in a pet instead of sorrowful; wished he had been her husband to cut the matter short by carrying her in his arms and securing her in his dressing-room till the ball was over; wished she had never seen the Bloomer costume; wished she could hide and cry in an attic till all was over.
On her meditations entered a plump figure with all manner of expressions chasing one another over her countenance: this was Eliza, who courtesied to attract attention, and, failing, presumed that her deportment had not corresponded with her costume: so bowed instead, and ducked, and as a last resource gave a pull at the top of her head.
Eliza. "If you please, ma'am--but, if you please, ma'am, am I to say ma'am or sir now, ma'am?"
Caroline. "Madam will do for the present. "
Eliza. "If you please, ma'am, Kitty the housemaid, that was to wear the short-waisted gown before the company; says she won't put it on for a double dollar."
Caroline. "Promise her four dollars, then."
Caroline. "The girl's mother would have been as loath to wear a long waist."
Caroline. "And to-morrow morning tell Primmer to discharge her."
Eliza. "Yes-m! Oho," thought Eliza, "then now is the time to trim that old fagot Primmer."
"If you please, ma'am, I have the greatest respect for Mrs. Primmer, because she has been here longer than I have, and is a good servant, ma'am, there's no denying it; but, if you please, 'm, there's no putting Mrs. Primmer out of her turnpike road, as the saying is. She says, if I don't make the jellies and blamonge, she'll make you turn me off, ma'am; now how can I when I've got to learn off all those words you gave me; if you please, ma'am, am I to take your orders or Mrs. Primmer's, 'm?"
Caroline. "Now I must ask you a question--who are you?"
Eliza. "La, ma'am! I am Eliza, mum! Cook, mum! I make the Guava jelly that you like so, ma'am."
Caroline. "Very well! then, Eliza Cook, for six hours you are my lieutenant here, and queen in the kitchen; give your orders, and discharge Primmer, and every man and woman in the house that disobeys you, and I'll confirm all you do."
Eliza. "Yes-m (with flashing eyes).
Caroline. "And, if you abuse your authority, you shall be the first victim!"
Eliza. "Yes-m" (crestfallen).
"There," said Eliza to herself, as she absconded with a modest reverence, "I've been and given you a dig in your old ribs with my rolling-pin, Mrs. Primmer."
"Until to-day," thought her mistress, "a look from me was law, and now every creature high and low thwarts and opposes me--ever since I put these vile things on."
Now some would have carried the reasoning out thus--ergo--take these vile things off!
But this sweet creature never dreamed of that path of inference.
"Of this there can be but one consequence," said she, "I shall do it ten times the more."
She then burst out crying; which was an unfair advantage the Bloomer took over poor Reginald; for after a shower of tears pretty flowers are invigorated.
Rat a tat! tat a tat, tat! tat! tat! tat!
The guests arrived. We shall only particularize one: Mr. Fitzpatrick, an Irish gentleman, who had retained the delightful qualities of his nation, and rubbed off its ignorance and down its prejudices.
Handsome, gay, and, though not varnished, polished, he was as charming a companion as either a man or woman could desire.
Fitzpatrick's flattery was agreeable to the ladies; it was so very sincere--he really saw en beau both them and all their ways.
At sight of Miss Courtenay in a Bloomer, he was ravished.
"Oh, Miss Caroline, but that's a beautiful costoome ye've invented; the few of us that's left standing will fall to-night: ye've no conscience at all. "
"I did not invent the hideous thing; it is Bloomer."
"Bloomer? ye're joking. What! is it this that they've been running down? Oh, the haythen barbarians!!! Ye were a rainbow at the last ball, but now ye're a sunbeam--ye'll not be for dancing the first dance with an uncouth Celt?"
"You will not be for waiting till the seventh, Mr. Fitzpatrick!"
"Is it only six ye're engaged? Oh, but I'm in luck to-night."
Mr. Fitzpatrick had been for some time puzzled which he loved most--Harriet Seymour or Caroline Courtenay; but last week he had decided in favor of the latter, without prejudice to the former.
The dancing was kept up with some spirit for two hours; and then Caroline's associates were observed to steal out and to make for various apartments in her very large house on the doors of which their respective names were written in chalk.
Results, not processes, are for the public eye.
Suffice it to say at present, in excuse of Caroline's obstinacy, that she had been at no small trouble and expense to carry out her little idea. She had also read, drawn, composed, and written. Others that saw the work had given her credit for some talent, great talent of course they said; and she was mortified to think her lover would not give her this opportunity of showing him her wit, on which she secretly valued herself more than on her beauty.
A polka concluded. A tide of servants poured in. A semicircle of seats sprung up. A pulpit rose like an exhalation, and, almost before her guests could seat themselves, Caroline was a lecturer wearing over her Bloomer a B. C. L. gown from Oxford, and the four-cornered cap of that University on her head.
L'Effrontée! Of whom think you she had borrowed this two days before? Of Reginald!
The optimist Fitzpatrick was enchanted.
She was more beautiful in this than even in a Bloomer. And indeed it became her; the gravity of the dress made a keen contrast with her archness. She was like a vivid flower springing unexpectedly from some time-stained wall--dancing, vanity, wit, pique at Reginald, and the flattery of others, made her cheek flush, her eyes flash.
"Ahem!" said she, in the dry-as-dust tone of a lecturer. "Ladies and gentlemen: as you will have to bear with many costumes this evening, permit me to begin with this:
"I wear it, ladies and gentlemen, because it is supposed to confer a right to be tedious, ahem!
"I am here to attack two principal errors.
"One is that such fashions as embarrass the limbs are of a nature to last upon earth.
"The other is that pantaloons are essentially masculine, and sweeping robes feminine.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we women can only predict the Future by examining the Past--moles and rabbits may have some other way, though I think not. Eliza,
"'Call back past facts with lessons fraught
To teach us--if we can be taught.'"
Eliza opened the door.
Miss Spilman the musical associate splashed a magnificent chord on the piano, and in sailed Queen Elizabeth! I mean a lady in the exact costume in which that queen went into the city to return thanks for the destruction of the Spanish Armada.
Set a stomacher three feet long between two monstrous jelly bags, upon a bloated bell, and there you have this queen and her successor in New York.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the lecturer.
"Common sense fell flatter than Spain, the day Royalty appeared thus!
"Could a duck make a doll this would be the result.
"Yet this costume, as much admired once as ours is now, is only the principle of our own carried a step further: at the head of our principle is the sack, in which rustics jump at a fair--next comes Queen Bess, and then come we.
"With us motion is embarrassed.
"With Queen Bess motion is impeded.
"With the sack motion is obstructed.
"In rational and therefore permanent costumes motion is free--Vide Time and the World."
With a multiplicity of affectation in came a courtier the point of whose shoes touched his knees, and he seemed proud of them.
No remark was made: this thing spoke for itself.
Next a noise was heard, and with infinite difficulty a lady was squeezed in who wore the genuine hoop.
Two short-waisted ladies came in.
Everybody laughed at the sight of them.
Her success taking this form, one of them burst out a crying: this was Kitty, who was instantly attempted to be consoled (as the papers phrase it) by Mr. Fitzpatrick; he told her nothing could disguise her comeliness; and really thought so at the moment.
This dress set people talking; those who had worn it confessed to the younger ones that they had thought it beautiful, and had anticipated the destruction of Nature as soon as the demise of this phase of the unnatural.
Then followed jigot sleeves.
Two chords were struck on the piano, and Miss Courtenay resumed her lecture thus
"All these good people when they were here thought they must be here forever.
Or as long as men and women and Primrose Hill and the Mississippi River.
But they proved more like the flower than the hill that bears its name.
And, instead of the great Mississippi, they were bubbles floating down that same."
"Such fashions are like poppies spread:
You seize the flower, the bloom is fled:
Or like a snowflake on a river,
A moment seen then gone forever."
"We have shown you the costumes that could not stand the shock of time; you shall now see what sort of costumes have stood the brunt of centuries: compare the Bloomers with each in turn, and you will be on the path of truth."
Armenian, Polish, and Sicilian peasants were then introduced, whose limbs were free enough, goodness knows: they ranged themselves in a line opposite their stiff competitors, and a Bloomer took up the recitative.
"All these, unlike the Bloomer, confine the limbs and make the ribs to crack.
All those, like Bloomers, free the mind, the body, and the back.
So hail to great Amelia, who takes a sex out of a sack."
"For grace is motion unconfined,
Like rippling sea or sweeping wind,
Free as the waves of yellow corn
That bows to greet the breezy morn."
The applause had but just subsided, when a clear, rich, quaint voice arose, and to the surprise of the company, trilled forth the following stanza to some fossil tune--Chevy Chase, we really believe.
"The ass with four legs has the wit
None of those four to tether,
But there's a greater ass with two
That ties those two together."
While the others sat aghast at this stanza, Fitzpatrick was gratified. "Now that was like honey dropping from the comb," observed he.
"Now you know, Mr. Fitzpatrick, it was like vinegar distilling from a cruet," replied Miss Courtenay.
"There was an agreeable acidulation, compared with yours, Miss Courtenay, but, in itself, delicious!" retorted the optimist.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said the modern Portia, "the first head of my lecture is before you. I am now to prove that pantaloons are not necessarily masculine, nor long skirts feminine."
On this entered two Persian women in gorgeous costume and very spacious trousers.
They salaamed to Caroline and the Bloomers, but seemed staggered by the other figures. While they whispered and eyed the company, Caroline lectured.
"Ladies, this costume is worn by half the well-dressed women in the world; and we must not flatter ourselves we are more feminine than Mussulwomen. On the contrary, these pantalooned females practice a reserve, compared with which the modesty of Europe is masculine impudence."
A Lady. "Make them speak. I don't think they are women at all."
Caroline. "They are women, I assure you, Miss White; for one of them has just borrowed a pin of me."
Miss W. "Then why don't they talk?"
Caroline. "He! he! the inference is just. They are going to speak unless they have forgotten all I--"
Zuleima. They have feet and even legs. Oh, Holy Prophet, here are women who muffle their feet, and reveal their necks to the gaze of man."
Fatima. "What dirt has this people eaten? Can this be the great Frank nation whose ships subdue every sea, and whose wisdom and probity are such that the evil spirit himself cannot get the better of them in making bargains? are these sea-kings sprung from lunatics, who hide their feet which were made for show and motion, and reveal their faces and necks, which is unlawful?"
Zuleima. "Daughter of the Commander of the Faithful, your slave has an idea!!!!"
Fatima (startled). "Bismillah! In the name of the Prophet, let me hear it."
Zuleima. "Three revolutions of the moon are completed since we sailed in ships from Istanboul: in the meantime Sheitan has doubtless obtained permission to derange this people's intellects, that so they may be converted to the true faith, the faith of Islam. Thus, their brains being confounded, they muffle their feet and reveal their necks without shame to the gaze of man. Your slave has spoken!!"
Fatima. "It is well spoken: it is also a nation which sups on opium, and drinks hot wine as a camel sucks water in the desert. We will therefore sit on ottomans and laugh."
Zuleima. "Bechishm! on my eyes be it."
Fatima. "Seven days."
Zuleima. "And seven nights."
Fatima. "At these chilaren. "
Zuleima. "Of burned fathers."
Fatima and Zuleima. "We will laugh--
And seven nights
At these children
Of burned fathers!"
They then sat like little tailors on two ottomans opposite each other, and, nodding like mandarins, laughed mechanically, as became people who were going to make seven nights of it.
Caroline. "Adsis, oh, Cato! Call him, Eliza. "
Eliza. "If you please, 'um, would you say them words again."
Caroline. "Adsis, oh, Cato."
Eliza. "Assist us, old King Cole!"
Cato swept in with a magnificent toga.
"Adsum," said he, "quis me vocat?"
Caroline. "Be pleased, sir, to tell us which are the most masculine and which the most feminine of these souls."
Cato folded his arms and took three antique strides. "These cackling creatures," said he, "are Persian women, this" (Eliza) "is a native I believe of some barbarous country not yet under the dominion of Rome."
Eliza. "Nor don't mean to."
Cato. "These with black plasters stuck to them are of the genus simii, or apes. The rest with togæ but no beards are, I suppose, of the Epicene gender--dismiss me."
Cato. "Abeo" (chord) "excedo" (chord) "evado" (chord) "erumpo." Four strides, one for each verb, took him out with a sharp and pleasing effect.
This ended the lecture; and a dance of all ages and climes was proposed.
"I can't hop, as you do nowadays," remonstrated the hoop. "I was taught to dance."
"Grace was in all my steps," said the courtier.
Said Caroline: "Dance in your own way, dress in your own way, and let your neighbors have their way; that is the best way!"
A dance was then played with no very marked accent; and mighty pleasant it was to see couples polking, couples gavotting with all the superstition of antiquated grace--and waltzes and jigs and tarantula: the sanctified solemnity with which polite people frisk was for this once exchanged for sly gravity and little bursts of merriment. BOOM!
A gun at sea.
The great steamer was starting for England.
It was a brilliant moonlight. There was a general move to the supper-room, which had four windows looking seaward.
One old lady lingered a moment to convey to her host her opinion of the lecture.
"You are a very clever young lady! your lecture was very ingenious."
"I am fortunate in your friendly consideration of it, madam," said Caroline.
"The women in trousers were funny!"
"If it gave my friends a smile, Miss Ruth."
"It will make Bloomers, I believe. It was as good as a play, Miss Courtenay; and I shall never enter your house again, madam!" With this conclusion, Miss Ruth became a vertical rod and marched off.
The next moment a servant brought Caroline a letter; she opened it. A smile with which she was listening to Fitzpatrick's admiration became a stone smile as her eyes fixed themselves on the paper. She gave a cry like one wounded, and, stretching out her hands with a tender helplessness that at once gave the lie to her dress, she sank insensible into Mr. Fitzpatrick's arms.
The steamboat was taking Reginald past her window to England.
SEVERAL months after this event, a young gentleman was seated in a study, book in hand, but by no effort could he give his mind to the book: he sighed; turned the leaves, and gave it up in despair--this was Reginald Seymour, whose offended dignity and delicacy had borne him stiffly up for five months, but could support him no longer.
He had now had leisure to remember the many high qualities of her whose one fault he had thought unpardonable. He had flung away a jewel for a single flaw: jewels are rare: he began to think he had been a fool, and to know he was wretched.
What was to be done? he had been silent so long that now he was ashamed to write, and when he had, with a great struggle, determined to make the first overtures, a letter from his sister had given him a mysterious hint that it would now be too late to attempt an accommodation.
Reginald was not one of those who babble their griefs, and cure themselves in ten days by tormenting all their friends.
He was silent, distracted, reserved.
His own family, who guessed the cause of his low spirits, respected him too much to approach the subject or to let strangers into the secret.
They permitted him to be miserable in peace.
He thanked them in his heart, and availed himself to the full of their kind permission.
He took possession of a room whose windows looked on Courtenay Court, and in that room, in the company of the immortal dead--il s'ennuyait.
One of these painful reveries was interrupted by a visitor, an old gentleman in black gaiters and a white head; it was the Reverend James Tremaine, Perpetual Curate of Conyton. An old and true friend of both houses, and Reginald's tutor for many years, Mr. Tremaine had not seen his depression without interest. He was acquainted with the cause. The Seymours had few secrets from him. Certain features in every story vary according to the side we hear it from; and Mr. Tremaine secretly congratulated Reginald on his escape from a strong-minded woman; he called, not to keep his pupil's mind fixed on the subject, but to divert him from it.
After noticing with regret the young man's depression, he asked permission to be his physician.
"I see," said he, "what it is, you want some fixed intellectual pursuit; will you allow me to recommend you one?"
"As many as you like, dear sir," said Reginald, "for I am wearied of my life. I have nothing to do," added he, thinking he was throwing dust in his mentor's eyes.
Mr. Tremaine took his cue, and then and there proposed to his late pupil's attention an interesting pursuit--suited to that part of the country--Geology. "It is a science," said he, "which lifts you out of this ignorant present, and transports you into various stages of this earth's existence; you learn on its threshold what a mushroom in this world's great story is the author of the Pyramids.
"You find that the earth was red-hot for millions of years, and spouted liquid stone like a whale--in that stone look for no signs of vegetation, and still fewer of life. Then for millions of years the upper crust has been cooling, and water depositing rubbish which has coagulated into stone; and in this stratified stone you shall find things that lived or grew very late in the world's history, in fact within a few million years of mammoths, who preceded man by a few thousand years only; at least I think so, since the flesh of mammoths has been found in ice in our own day."
The old gentleman then hinted, with a twinkle of the eye, that this science has also its prose; that, by breaking stones with iron in them, men have repaired their shattered fortunes; that coal, silver, iron, and even gold are as common as dirt, only not quite so superficial; and that geology, really mastered, would teach its proficient the signs of their presence, that it would be better to circulate over the face of Devonshire with hammer and book, than to be a prey to weariness without the excuse of work.
Mr. Tremaine had not observed what we have, that snobs in fustian jackets, without a single hard word to their backs, find all the gold and all the coal that is found, and science finds the crustaceorii dun culoe.
As for botany, Mr. Tremaine recommended it only as a relaxation of the more useful study; at the same time he hinted it was amusing to be able to classify plants, not by their properties, but their petals, and to call everything by its long name that belongs to twenty other things as well, instead of knowing each by a peculiar title, as the vulgar unscientific do.
"Oh, le plaisant projet!" exclaims my reader, "he knows the boy is in love, and prescribes geology and botany."
Well, is not one folly best cured by another? But is this sort of thing folly, especially in a youth born to fortune?
Experience is our only safe guide in all things--and experience proves that geology and botany are roads to happiness.
Other things are constantly tried in vain--these seldom fail.
Ambition is raging agitation followed by bitter disappointment.
Wit, an unruly engine, recoils on him that plays it.
Politics, love, theology--art, are full of thorns; but when you see a man perched like a crow on a rock, chipping it, you see a happy dog. You who are on the lookout for beauty find irregular features or lack-luster dolls--you who love wit are brained with puns or ill-nature, the two forms of wit that exist out of books: but the hammerist can jump out of his gig at any turn of the road and find that which his soul desires; the meanest stone a boy throws at a robin is millions of years older than the Farnese Hercules, and has a history and a sermon to it.
Stones are curious things. If a man is paid for breaking them he is wretched: but if he can bring his mind to do it gratis he is at the summit of content.
With these men life is a felicitous dream--they are not subject to low spirits; they smile away their human day; and when they are to die they are content. Is it because they can take anything easy by giving it a hard name? is the grave to them a cretaceous or argillaceous or ferrugineous bed?
No! It is because their hobbies have been innocent; and other men's hobbies are often full of vice.
They have broken stones while egotists have been breaking human hearts.
Mr. Tremaine was enlarging on such topics with more eloquence and method than I, when his patient became animated with a sudden expression of surprise, hope, joy.
He looked out of the window.
The old gentleman looked too. "Ah!" cried he, "I see! Yes! Reginald! that is better than science and beyond the power of art."
"Yes," said Reginald.
"That glorious breadth of golden sunlight that streams across that foliage," continued the savant.
"Sunshine and leaves!" cried Reginald, "it is something of more importance I am looking at."
"More importance than sunshine," said the old gentleman, faintly.
"Yes! see! the smoke from those chimneys!!"
Mr. Tremaine looked, and Courtenay Court was smoking from a dozen chimneys at once. He was taken off his guard.
"She must be come home," said he, "or coming."
Reginald seized him by the hand.
MR. TREMAINE was right, Caroline was expected at Courtenay Court. The next day she arrived, bringing Miss Seymour, who went to her father's house.
They had been escorted across the water by Mr. Fitzpatrick, but he remained in town. Before they left New York this gentleman had declared himself Caroline's professed admirer. Caroline asked him with some archness which he loved best, her or Miss Seymour. The question staggered him for a moment--but he said, "Can you ask?" Cross-examined, however, he was brought to this, that he liked Caroline a shade better than Harriet.
During the voyage home Mr. Fitzpatrick lost a portion of his gayety, and was seen at times to be grave and perplexed--novel phenomenon.,
Harriet Seymour and Caroline had got over their tiff, and indeed Harriet for months past had sided rather with her friend than her brother. "Caroline was wrong," said she; "but Reginald was more wrong. He ought to have forgiven a woman a caprice." Harriet, therefore, spent the evening of her arrival at home, but early next morning she rode over to Courtenay Court to bear her friend company. She was the more eager to lend her her countenance because others were so hard upon her. For the evening of her arrival Caroline was discussed at Seymour Hall. The old people, including Mr. Tremaine, spoke of her with horror. Tomboy, vixen, and even strong-minded woman, from which Heaven defend males! They congratulated themselves and Reginald on his escape from her. Reginald maintained a dogged silence. But when Harriet stoutly defended his late sweetheart, and declared that her faults were only on the surface, he cast a look of gratitude at her, that she caught and comprehended. Nor was her defense quite lost on others. Mr. Tremaine asked her quietly: "Has Miss Courtenay really anything good about her?"
"Judge for yourself," replied Harriet, with a toss of the bead; "call on her--she is your parishioner."
"Humph! I don't like strong-minded women; they say she can swim into the bargain; but I certainly will call on her."
To return, Caroline and Harriet were walking in the grounds of Courtenay Court, at some distance from the house; Harriet was lionizing the mistress, showing her her beauties, the famous old yew tree, the narrow but deep water that meandered through her grounds, and each admired view and nook. It was charming; and both ladies did loud admiration, and did not care a button for it all.
Harriet. Is Mr. Fitzpatrick coming to-day?"
Caroline. I don't know. What a curious bridge! It looks like a long gate--shall we cross it?"
Harriet. "Not for the world--the water is ever so deep."
Caroline. "I do not mean cross the water, only the bridge."
Harriet. "But see how crazy it is: the wood is so old: Nobody has lived here ever so long: and then it is so hard to keep on it, too."
Caroline looked wistfully at the primitive bridge. "If I had my Bloomer on I would soon be over it," said she; "but this appendage would catch my feet and draggle in the water at every step."
Harriet implored her friend never to mention that word again. "Bloomer! It is the cause why we are all unhappy."
"What! are you unhappy? What about? Oh, he will be here to-day, dear--ten to one."
"Mr. Fitzpatrick is your lover, not mine," said Harriet, coloring all over.
"So he is: I forgot! Oh, look at the tail of your gown--three straws, two sticks, and such a long briar."
Harriet. "Put your foot on it, dear! These lawyers are the plague of this county."
Harriet. "I forgot, you don't know our country terms; we call these long briars lawyers, because when once they get hold of you--"
Caroline. "I understand. All to be avoided by a little Bloomer."
Harriet. "Now, Caroline, don't! I wish the woman had never been born! Let us go into the shade."
An observer of the sex might have noticed the same languor and the same restlessness in both these ladies, though one was Yankee and one English.
At last they fell into silence. It was Caroline who broke this silence.
"Nobody comes to welcome me, or even sends. How hospitable these British are! If I had quarreled with any one in their own country, and then they came to mine, I should be generous: I should make that an excuse for holding out the hand, and being friends anyway, if I could be nothing more. But the people here are not of my mind. All the worse for them. Much I care. I shall go and see where they have buried my father (I don't believe he would have died if he had not come here), and then I shall go back home across the water to my country, where men know how to quarrel, ay, and fight, too, and then drop it when it is done with."
Thus spake the Yankee girl. The English girl colored up; but she did not answer back, except by turning brimming eyes and a look of gentle reproach on her.
On this, partly because she was unhappy, partly because this mild look pricked her great though wayward heart, the Yankee girl began to cry bitterly.
On this the English girl flung her arms round the Yankee girl's neck, and cried with her.
"Dearest, he loves you still."
"Still--he never loved me, Harriet! Oh, no, he never loved me! Oh! oh!"
"You forget--I have been home--I have seen him. He is pale--he is sad."
"That is a c-c-comfort--I w-w-wish he was at d-d-death's door!"
"He is far more unhappy than you are."
"I am so glad. I don't believe it."
"You may believe it. I have seen it."
At this moment a servant was seen approaching; he came up, touched his hand to Caroline with a world of obsequiousness, and informed her the parson had called to see her and was in the drawing-room.
"The Reverend Mr. Tremaine, miss."
"A great friend of our family," explained Harriet.
"Ah, tell me all about him as we go along."
Mr. Tremaine. "Will she receive me in a Bloomer?"'
Harriet. "I don't know. I hope not. She was decent a minute ago."
Tremaine. "Perhaps she has gone to put one on."
Harriet gave a start, and had a misgiving, Caroline being a devil. "Heaven forbid," she cried. "I will go and see."
The next minute a young lady of singular beauty and grace glided into the room. She was dressed richly, but very plainly. Mr. Tremaine looked at her with surprise. "Are you Miss Courtenay?"
She smiled sweetly, and told him she was Miss Courtenay. She added that Mr. Tremaine was no stranger to her--she had often heard of him and his virtues, in happier days. After that she thanked him for being the first to welcome her home.
"We shall all feel flattered at your calling it home, Miss Courtenay; we must try and keep you here after that."
In about ten minutes the intelligent young beauty had not only dissolved Mr. Tremaine's prejudices against her, but had substituted a tolerably strong prejudice in her favor.
"This quiet, lady-like, dignified, gentle, amiable, beautiful young woman a tomboy?" said he to himself. "I don't believe it. It surpasses belief; it is false."
There was a pause.
"Miss Courtenay," began the old gentleman, "your late father, during the short time be was among us, gained the respect of the whole county. I cannot help thinking you will be his successor in our esteem as well as in Courtenay Court."
Miss Courtenay bowed with quiet dignity.
"The worst of it is, we are an old-fashioned people here in Devonshire. We are strait-laced, perhaps too strait-laced--ahem! in short, shall I be presuming too far on our short acquaintance if (pray give me credit for friendly motives) I ask permission to put you a question? But no--when I look at you--it is impossible."
"What is impossible, sir?"
"That you can ever have--by the by, they say you can swim, Miss Courtenay;" and the old gentleman colored a bit.
"A little, not worth boasting of," replied Caroline, modestly. "I think I could make shift to swim across this room, if the sea was in it."
"Oh, no farther than that? well, there is not much harm in that. But they do say you have done us the honor, ahem, to wear male habiliments. Is that true?"
"Indeed, Mr. Tremaine, I have. Let--me---see! I think it was at a fancy ball; in my own house; at New York." The words were said with assumed carelessness and candor.
"What! on no other occasion?"
"On no other public occasion. Why?"
"Then really I think too much has been made of it. But you are said to advocate the Bloomer costume."
"I have often advocated it in words, sir; but wearing it is a different matter, you know."
"Very different, very different indeed," said Tremaine, hastily.
"I could not help advocating it, its adversaries argued so weakly against it. Shall I repeat their arguments, and my own?"
"If you please."
Caroline then, with the calm indifference of a judge, stated the usual arguments pro and con, and did not fail to dwell upon the trousers of Eastern women. Mr. Tremaine took her up: "There is a flaw in your reasoning, I think," said he. "Those Eastern women distinguish themselves from men by a thick veil. They all wear a thick veil.
"It appears to me that the true argument against Bloomer has never been laid before you. It is this. In every civilized nation the entire sex is distinguished by some marked costume. But Bloomer proposes that one-third of the women should be at variance with the other two-thirds."
"Oh, no, sir; she is for dressing them all in Bloomer."
"No. Excuse me; how would old women and fat women look in a Bloomer? how would young matrons look at that period when a woman is most a woman? No; the dress of women must clearly be some dress that becomes all women, at all times and occasions of life. There are plenty of boys of sixteen or seventeen, who could be dressed as women and eclipse all the women in a ball-room; but it would be indelicate and unmanly; you, with your youthful symmetrical figure, could eclipse most young men in their own habiliments; but it would be indelicate and unwomanly. Forgive me--I distress you."
"No, sir, but you convince me, and that is new to me. I admit this argument at once, and so I would have done six months ago; but no one had the intelligence to put the matter to me so," said the sly thing.
"You seem to be a very reasonable young lady."
"I try to be; it is the only merit I have."
"There, I must contradict you again, and stoutly. Well, then, since the Bloomer difficulty is dispatched, let me have the honor and happiness of reconciling an honorable young man to the most charming young lady I have met with this many a day."
The charming young lady froze directly.
"I will not affect to misunderstand you, sir. But the difference between Mr. Seymour and myself lies deeper than this paltry dress--lies too deep for you to cure. The Bloomer was a mere pretext. Mr. Seymour did not love me."
"Excuse me. I know better."
"When we love people, we forgive their faults. We forgive their virtues even."
Mr. Tremaine looked at her with some surprise! The Devonshire ladies had not tongues so pointed as the fair Yankees.
"He did love you; he does love you!"
"No, Mr. Tremaine! no! Was that a fault for any one, who really loved me, to quarrel out and out with a spoiled child for?" Here two tears, the one real, the other crocodile, ran down her lovely cheeks and did the poor old gentleman's business entirely.
"He deserves to be hanged," cried he, jumping up in great heat. "Young fool! but he does love you, tenderly, sincerely! He has never been happy since. He never will be happy till you are reconciled to him. He is waiting in great anxiety for my return. I shall tell him to ride over here, and just go down--on--his--knees to you and ask your forgiveness. If he does, will you forgive him?"
"I will try, sir," said Caroline, doubtfully; "but he owes much to his advocate, and so you must tell him."
"I shall be vain enough to tell him so, you may depend;" and away went Mr. Tremaine, Caroline's devoted champion through thick and thin from this hour. As he rode away, zeal and benevolence shining through him, Caroline said dryly to herself : "I am your friend for life, old boy." Harriet came in and heard the news. She was delighted.
"Reginald will be here as fast as his horse's feet can carry him. Mr. Tremaine, is all-powerful in our house."
"So I concluded from what you told me," said Caroline, demurely, "and I--hem--will you excuse me for half an hour?"
"Yes, dear, you will find me on the lawn."
Full three-quarters of an hour had elapsed, and Harriet was beginning to wonder what had become of her friend, when a musical laugh rang behind her. She turned round and beheld a sight that made her scream with terror and dismay--there stood Caroline in propria quæ maribus, as bold as brass.
THE face of uneasy defiance Caroline got up, when Harriet faced her, was truly delicious. "It is all over," gasped Harriet, "you are incurable."
"He loves me," explained Caroline. "When I felt like giving in, I didn't think he loved me."
Harriet made no reply. She marched off stiffly. The Bloomer followed, and tried to appease her by reminding her how hard it was to give in as long as a chance of victory remained.
"Hard? it is impossible--it hurts!" No answer.
"It was all that dear old man's fault, for letting out that he loves me still and is unhappy: so then he is in my power, and I can't give in now; and I won't. No! let us see whether it is me or my clothes he loves. Ah! ah. Oh, my dear girl, here he comes! let me get behind you. Oh, dear, I wish I hadn't!"
Sure enough Reginald was coming down to the other side of the stream.
Caroline got half behind Harriet.
Reginald came along the bridge to join them.
"I wish it would break down," said Caroline, "and then I'd run home, and I know what I would do."
The words were out of her mouth and no more, when some portion of the rotten wood gave way, and splash went Reginald into the water. Harriet screamed. Caroline laughed; but her laughter was soon turned to dismay. Reginald sank. He came up and struggled toward the woodwork, but in vain; the current had carried him a yard or two from it, and even that small space he could not recover. He was too proud to cry for help, but he was drowning.
"He can't swim," cried Caroline, and she dashed into the stream like a water spaniel; in two strokes she was beside him and seized him by the hair. One stroke took her to the remnant of the bridge. "Lay hold of that, Reginald," she cried; he obeyed, and while she swam ashore he worked along the wooden bridge to the bank. The moment she saw him safe she began to laugh again, and then what does my lady do but sets off running home full pelt before he could say a word to her. He followed her, crying: "Caroline, Caroline!" It was no use, she was in her Bloomer, and ran like a doe.
"Oh, Reginald, go home and change your clothes," cried the tender Harriet.
"What, go home, before I have thanked my guardian angel--my beloved?"
"Your guardian angel must change her clothes (they are spoiled forever now, that is one comfort), and you must change yours--you will catch your death."
"At least tell her she shall wear what she pleases--tell her--"
"I will tell her nothing; come and tell it her yourself in dry clothes; frightening me so!"
Reginald ran to the stables, got his horse, galloped home; dressed himself, and galloped back, and came into Caroline's drawing-room, open-mouthed: "Wear what you like, dear Caroline; why, where is the Bloomer gone? you're in a gown! No matter--forgive me--oh, forgive me--I have been ungrateful once--I never will again, my beloved--what, did I not owe you enough before, that you must save my life? Oh, Caroline! one word! can the devotion of a life restore me the treasure I once had and trifled with?" Then he fell to kissing her hands and her gown.
Then she, seeing him quite overcome, turned all woman.
"Reginald," she murmured, and sank upon his neck, all her archness dissolving for one sacred moment in tears and love.
"What did you say about Bloomer, Reginald, dear?"
"I said you should wear whatever you liked, sweet one."
"Oh, then we are never to agree; for I mean to wear whatever you like."
This was "the way to take her," one of that sort.
They are to be made slaves of just as easily as the hen-hearted ones. But ye must not show them the chain.
Mr. Fitzpatrick came in the afternoon.
Caroline. "Mr. Fitzpatrick, will you come here?"
Fitzpatrick. "I will." N. B. An Irishman always consents, and never says "Yes."
Caroline (with a twinkle in her eye). Will you do me a favor?"
Fitz. "I will."
Carol. "Do you see that lady sitting there?" (Harriet.)
Fitz. "I do" (coloring).
Carol. "Go and marry her." And she gave him a push that seemed less than a feather, but somehow it propelled Fitz all across the room and sent him down on his knees before Harriet. There were only these three in the room.
Mr. Tremaine married two couples in one day--Reginald and Caroline, Fitzpatrick and Harriet. I ought to explain to those who have not seen it that during the voyage Fitz had discovered it was Harriet he loved a shade the best of the two.
At the wedding breakfast, arrayed in white and adorned with wreaths, both the Yankee and the English beauty were intolerably lovely. No one seemed more conscious of this double fact than Fitz. Caroline observed his looks, and said to him, confidentially: "Wouldn't you like to have married both ladies now? tell the truth!!!!"
"Indeed and I would," replied the candid Celt, unconscious of any satire in the question.
America takes two hundred thousand English every year: we have got this one Yankee in return, and we mean to keep her.
A year after they had been married she wanted to give her Bloomer to one of the stable boys.
"What, the dress you saved my life in?" cried Reginald. "I would not part with it to a prince for the price of a king's ransom."
Lads and lasses, this story is what I have called it, a jeu d'esprit: written for your amusement, and intended not to improve you, instruct you, or elevate your morals. Receive it so! and when next we meet, majora canamus!
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