Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, p.1
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OUTLINES OF CHARACTER AND MANNERS.
BY MISS LESLIE.
INCLUDING "MRS. WASHINGTON POTTS," AND "MR. SMITH," WITH OTHER STORIES.
"So runs the world away."--SHAKSPEARE.
PHILADELPHIA: A. HART, LATE CAREY & HART, 126 CHESTNUT STREET. 1852.
Entered, according to the Act of Congress, in the year 1852, by A. HART, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States, in and for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
E. B. M EARS, STEREOTYPER. T. K. & P. G. COLLINS, PRINTERS.
The work from which the following is a selection, has been long out ofprint; and many inquiries have been made concerning it. Since its firstappearance, a new generation of young people has grown up; and they may,perhaps, find amusement and improvement in pictures of domestic life,that were recognised as such by their mothers.
The present volume will probably be succeeded by another, containing theremainder of the original Pencil Sketches, with additional stories.
UNITED STATES HOTEL, Philadelphia, March 25th, 1852.
MRS. WASHINGTON POTTS 13
MR. SMITH 50
UNCLE PHILIP 82
THE ALBUM 131
THE SET OF CHINA 147
LAURA LOVEL 157
JOHN W. ROBERTSON; A TALE OF A CENT 197
THE LADIES' BALL 217
THE RED BOX; OR, SCENES AT THE GENERAL WAYNE 240
THE OFFICERS; A STORY OF THE LAST WAR WITH ENGLAND 266
PETER JONES; A SKETCH FROM LIFE 297
THE OLD FARM-HOUSE 314
THAT GENTLEMAN; OR, PENCILLINGS ON SHIP-BOARD 333
THE SERENADES 358
SOCIABLE VISITING 376
COUNTRY LODGINGS 402
CONSTANCE ALLERTON; OR, THE MOURNING SUITS 415
MRS. WASHINGTON POTTS.
"The course of _parties_ never does run smooth."--SHAKSPEARE.
Bromley Cheston, an officer in the United States navy, had just returnedfrom a three years' cruise in the Mediterranean. His ship came into NewYork; and after he had spent a week with a sister that was married inBoston, he could not resist his inclination to pay a visit to hismaternal aunt, who had resided since her widowhood at one of the smalltowns on the banks of the Delaware.
The husband of Mrs. Marsden had not lived long enough to make hisfortune, and it was his last injunction that she should retire with herdaughter to the country, or at least to a country town. He feared thatif she remained in Philadelphia she would have too many temptations toexercise her taste for unnecessary expense: and that, in consequence,the very moderate income, which was all he was able to leave her, wouldsoon be found insufficient to supply her with comforts.
We will not venture to say that duty to his aunt Marsden was the younglieutenant's only incentive to this visit: as she had a beautifuldaughter about eighteen, for whom, since her earliest childhood, BromleyCheston had felt something a little more vivid than the usual degree ofregard that boys think sufficient for their cousins. His family hadformerly lived in Philadelphia, and till he went into the navy Bromleyand Albina were in habits of daily intercourse. Afterwards, on returningfrom sea, he always, as soon as he set his foot on American ground,began to devise means of seeing his pretty cousin, however short thetime and however great the distance. And it was in meditation onAlbina's beauty and sprightliness that he had often "while sailing onthe midnight deep," beguiled the long hours of the watch, and thusrendered more tolerable that dreariest part of a seaman's duty.
On arriving at the village, Lieutenant Cheston immediately establishedhis quarters at the hotel, fearing that to become an inmate of hisaunt's house might cause her some inconvenience. Though he had performedthe whole journey in a steamboat, he could not refrain from changing hiswaistcoat, brushing his coat sleeves, brushing his hat, brushing hishair, and altering the tie of his cravat. Though he had "never told hislove," it cannot be said that concealment had "preyed on his damaskcheek;" the only change in that damask having been effected by the sunand wind of the ocean.
Mrs. Marsden lived in a small modest-looking white house, with a greendoor and green venetian shutters. In early summer the porch was canopiedand perfumed with honeysuckle, and the windows with roses. In front wasa flower-garden, redolent of sweetness and beauty; behind was awell-stored _potager_, and a flourishing little orchard. The windowswere amply shaded by the light and graceful foliage of some beautifullocust trees.
"What a lovely spot!" exclaimed Cheston--andinnocence--modesty--candour--contentment--peace--simplepleasures--intellectual enjoyments--and various other delightful ideaschased each other rapidly through his mind.
When he knocked at the door, it was opened by a black girl named Drusa,who had been brought up in the family, and whose delight on seeing himwas so great that she could scarcely find it in her heart to tell himthat "the ladies were both out, or at least partly out." Cheston,however, more than suspected that they were wholly at home, for he sawhis aunt peeping over the bannisters, and had a glimpse of his cousinflitting into the back parlour; and besides, the whole domicile wasevidently in some great commotion, strongly resembling that horror ofall men, a house-cleaning. The carpets had been removed, and the hallwas filled with the parlour-chairs: half of them being turned bottomupwards on the others, with looking-glasses and pictures leaning againstthem; and he knew that, on such occasions, the ladies of a family inmiddle life are never among the missing.
"Go and give Lieutenant Cheston's compliments to your ladies," said he,"and let them know that he is waiting to see them."
Mrs. Marsden now ran down stairs in a wrapper and morning cap, and gaveher nephew a very cordial reception. "Our house is just now in suchconfusion," said she, "that I have no place to invite you to sit downin, except the back porch."--And there they accordingly took theirseats.
"Do not suppose," continued Mrs. Marsden, "that we are cleaning house:but we are going to have a party to-night, and therefore you are mostfortunate in your arrival, for I think I can promise you a very pleasantevening. We have sent invitations to all the most genteel familieswithin seven miles, and I can assure you there was a great deal oftrouble in getting the notes conveyed. We have also asked a number ofstrangers from the city, who happen to be boarding in the village; wecalled on them for that purpose. If all that are invited were to come,we should have a complete squeeze; but unluckily we have received anunusual number of regrets, and some have as yet returned no answers atall. However, we are sure of Mrs. Washington Potts."
"I see," said Cheston, "you are having your parlours papered."--"Yes,"replied Mrs. Marsden, "we could not p
"But where is Albina?" asked Cheston.
"The truth is," answered Mrs. Marsden, "she is very busy making cakes;as in this place we can buy none that are fit for a party. LuckilyAlbina is very clever at all such things, having been a pupil of Mrs.Goodfellow. But there is certainly a great deal of trouble in getting upa party in the country."
Just then the black girl, Drusa, made her appearance, and said to Mrs.Marsden, "I've been for that there bean you call wanilla, and Mr. Brownsays he never heard of such a thing."
"A man that keeps so large a store has no right to be so ignorant,"remarked Mrs. Marsden. "Then, Drusa, we must flavour the ice-cream withlemon."
"There a'n't no more lemons to be had," said the girl, "and we've justbarely enough for the lemonade."
"Then some of the lemons must be taken for the ice-cream," replied Mrs.Marsden, "and we must make out the lemonade with cream of tartar."
"I forgot to tell you," said Drusa, "that Mrs. Jones says she can'tspare no more cream, upon no account."
"How vexatious!" exclaimed Mrs. Marsden. "I wish we had two cows of ourown--one is not sufficient when we are about giving a party. Drusa, wemust make out the ice-cream by thickening some milk with eggs."
"Eggs are scace," replied the girl, "Miss Albinar uses up so many forthe cakes."
"She must spare some eggs from the cakes," said Mrs. Marsden, "and makeout the cakes by adding a little pearl-ash. Go directly and tell herso."
Cheston, though by no means _au fait_ to the mysteries of confectionary,could not help smiling at all this making out--"Really," said his aunt,"these things are very annoying. And as this party is given to Mrs.Washington Potts, it is extremely desirable that nothing should fail.There is no such thing now as having company, unless we can receive andentertain them in a certain style."
"I perfectly remember," said Cheston, "the last party at which I waspresent in your house. I was then a midshipman, and it was just before Isailed on my first cruise in the Pacific. I spent a delightful evening."
"Yes, I recollect that night," replied Mrs. Marsden. "In those days itwas not necessary for us to support a certain style, and parties werethen very simple things, except among people of the first rank. It wasthought sufficient to have two or three baskets of substantial cakes attea, some almonds, raisins, apples, and oranges, handed roundafterwards, with wine and cordial, and then a large-sized pound-cake atthe last. The company assembled at seven o'clock, and generally walked;for the ladies' dresses were only plain white muslin. We invited but asmany as could be accommodated with seats. The young people played atforfeits, and sung English and Scotch songs, and at the close of theevening danced to the piano. How Mrs. Washington Potts would be shockedif she was to find herself at one of those obsolete parties!"
"The calf-jelly won't be clear," said the black girl, again making herappearance. "Aunt Katy has strained it five times over through theflannen-bag."
"Go then and tell her to strain it five-and-twenty times," said Mrs.Marsden angrily--"It must and shall be clear. Nothing is more vulgarthan clouded jelly; Mrs. Washington Potts will not touch it unless it istransparent as amber."
"What, Nong tong paw again!" said Cheston. "Now do tell me who is Mrs.Washington Potts?"
"Is it possible you have not heard of her?" exclaimed Mrs. Marsden.
"Indeed I have not," replied Cheston. "You forget that for several yearsI have been cruising on classic ground, and I can assure you that thename of Mrs. Washington Potts has not yet reached the shores of theMediterranean."
"She is wife to a gentleman that has made a fortune in New Orleans,"pursued Mrs. Marsden. "They came last winter to live in Philadelphia,having first visited London and Paris. During the warm weather they tooklodgings in this village, and we have become quite intimate. So we haveconcluded to give them a party, previous to their return toPhiladelphia, which is to take place immediately. She is a charmingwoman, though she certainly makes strange mistakes in talking. You haveno idea how sociable she is, at least since she returned our call;which, to be sure, was not till the end of a week; and Albina and I hadsat up in full dress to receive her for no less than five days: that is,from twelve o'clock till three. At last she came, and it would havesurprised you to see how affably she behaved to us."
"Not at all," said Cheston, "I should not have expected that she wouldhave treated you rudely."
"She really," continued Mrs. Marsden, "grew quite intimate before hervisit was over, and took our hands at parting. And as she went outthrough the garden, she stopped to admire Albina's moss-roses: so wecould do no less than give her all that were blown. From that day shehas always sent to us when she wants flowers."
"No doubt of it," said Cheston.
"You cannot imagine," pursued Mrs. Marsden, "on what a familiar footingwe are. She has a high opinion of Albina's taste, and often gets her tomake up caps and do other little things for her. When any of herchildren are sick, she never sends anywhere else for currant jelly orpreserves. Albina makes gingerbread for them every Saturday. During theholidays she frequently sent her three boys to spend the day with us.There is the very place in the railing where Randolph broke out a stickto whip Jefferson with, because Jefferson had thrown in his face a hotbaked apple which the mischievous little rogue had stolen out of Katy'soven."
In the mean time Albina had taken off the brown holland bib apron whichshe had worn all day in the kitchen, and telling the cook to watchcarefully the plum-cake that was baking, she hastened to her room by aback staircase, and proceeded to take the pins out of her hair; forwhere is the young lady that on any emergency whatever, would appearbefore a young gentleman with her hair pinned up? Though, just now, theopening out of her curls was a considerable inconvenience to Albina, asshe had bestowed much time and pains on putting them up for the evening.
Finally she came down in "prime array;" and Cheston, who had left her aschool-girl, found her now grown to womanhood, and more beautiful thanever. Still he could not forbear reproving her for treating him so muchas a stranger, and not coming to him at once in her morning-dress.
"Mrs. Washington Potts," said Albina, "is of opinion that a young ladyshould never be seen in dishabille by a gentleman."
Cheston now found it very difficult to hear the name of Mrs. Potts withpatience.--"Albina," thought he, "is bewitched as well as her mother."
He spoke of his cruise in the Mediterranean; and Albina told him thatshe had seen a beautiful view of the bay of Naples in a souvenirbelonging to Mrs. Washington Potts.
"I have brought with me some sketches of Mediterranean scenery," pursuedCheston. "You know I draw a little. I promise myself great pleasure inshowing and explaining them to you."
"Oh! do send them this afternoon," exclaimed Albina. "They will be thevery things for the centre-table. I dare say the Montagues willrecognise some of the places they have seen in Italy, for they havetravelled all over the south of Europe."
"And who are the Montagues?" inquired Cheston.
"They are a very elegant English family," answered Mrs. Marsden,"cousins in some way to several noblemen."
"Perhaps so," said Cheston.
"Albina met with them at the lodgings of Mrs. Washington Potts," pursuedMrs. Marsden, "where they have been staying a week for the benefit ofcountry air; and so she enc
"You know the English are a very peculiar people," remarked Albina.
"And what other lions have you provided?" said Cheston.
"Oh! no others except a poet," replied Albina. "Have you never heard ofBewley Garvin Gandy?"
"Never!" answered Cheston. "Is that all one man?"
"Nonsense," replied Albina; "you know that poets generally have threenames. B. G, G. was formerly Mr. Gandy's signature when he wrote onlyfor the newspapers, but now since he has come out in the magazines, andannuals, and published his great poem of the World of Sorrow, he giveshis name at full length. He has tried law, physic, and divinity, and hasresigned all for the Muses. He is a great favourite of Mrs. WashingtonPotts."
"And now, Albina," said Cheston, "as I know you can have but littleleisure to-day, I will only detain you while you indulge me with 'Auldlang syne'--I see the piano has been moved out into the porch."
"Yes," said Mrs. Marsden, "on account of the parlour papering."
"Oh! Bromley Cheston," exclaimed Albina, "do not ask me to play any ofthose antediluvian Scotch songs. Mrs. Washington Potts cannot tolerateanything but Italian."
Cheston, who had no taste for Italian, immediately took his hat, andapologizing for the length of his stay, was going away with the thoughtthat Albina had much deteriorated in growing up.
"We shall see you this evening without the ceremony of a furtherinvitation?" said Albina.
"Of course," replied Cheston.
"I quite long to introduce you to Mrs. Washington Potts," said Mrs.Marsden.
"What simpletons these women are!" thought Cheston, as he hastily turnedto depart.
"The big plum-cake's burnt to a coal," said Drusa, putting her head outof the kitchen door.
Both the ladies were off in an instant to the scene of disaster. AndCheston returned to his hotel, thinking of Mrs. Potts (whom he had madeup his mind to dislike), of the old adage that "evil communicationcorrupts good manners," and of the almost irresistible contagion offolly and vanity. "I am disappointed in Albina," said he; "in future Iwill regard her only as my mother's niece, and more than a cousin sheshall never be to me."
Albina having assisted Mrs. Marsden in lamenting over the burnt cake,took off her silk frock, again pinned up her hair, and joinedassiduously in preparing another plum-cake to replace the first one. Afatality seemed to attend nearly all the confections, as is often thecase when particular importance is attached to their success. The jellyobstinately refused to clarify, and the blanc-mange was equallyunwilling to congeal. The maccaroons having run in baking, had neithershape nor feature, the kisses declined rising, and the sponge-cakecontradicted its name. Some of the things succeeded, but most werecomplete failures: probably because (as old Katy insisted) "there was aspell upon them." In a city these disasters could easily have beenremedied (even at the eleventh hour) by sending to a confectioner'sshop, but in the country there is no alternative. Some of thesemischances might perhaps have been attributed to the volunteeredassistance of a mantua-maker that had been sent for from the city tomake new dresses for the occasion, and who on this busy day, being "oneof the best creatures in the world," had declared her willingness toturn her hand to anything.
It was late in the afternoon before the papering was over, and thengreat indeed was the bustle in clearing away the litter, cleaning thefloors, putting down the carpets, and replacing the furniture. In themidst of the confusion, and while the ladies were earnestly engaged infixing the ornaments, Drusa came in to say that Dixon, the waiter thathad been hired for the evening, had just arrived, and falling to workimmediately he had poured all the blanc-mange down the sink, mistakingit for bonnyclabber. This intelligence was almost too much to bear,and Mrs. Marsden could scarcely speak for vexation.
[Footnote 1: Thick sour milk.]
"Drusa," said Albina, "you are a raven that has done nothing all day butcroak of disaster. Away, and show your face no more, let what willhappen."
Drusa departed, but in a few minutes she again put in her head at theparlour door and said, "Ma'am, may I jist speak one time more?"
"What now?" exclaimed Mrs. Marsden.
"Oh! there's nothing else spiled or flung down the sink, jist now," saidDrusa, "but something's at hand a heap worse than all. Missus's old AuntQuimby has jist landed from the boat, and is coming up the road withbaggage enough to last all summer."
"Aunt Quimby!" exclaimed Albina; "this indeed caps the climax!"
"Was there ever anything more provoking!" said Mrs. Marsden. "When Ilived in town she annoyed me sufficiently by coming every week to spenda day with me, and now she does not spend days but _weeks_. I would goto Alabama to get rid of her."
"And then," said Albina, "she would come and spend _months_ with us.However, to do her justice, she is a very respectable woman."
"All bores are respectable people," replied Mrs. Marsden; "if they wereotherwise, it would not be in their power to bore us, for we could cutthem and cast them off at once. How very unlucky! What will Mrs.Washington Potts think of her--and the Montagues too, if they _should_come? Still we must not affront her, as you know she is rich."
"What can her riches signify to us?" said Albina; "she has a marrieddaughter."
"True," replied Mrs. Marsden, "but you know riches should always commanda certain degree of respect, and there are such things as legacies."
"After all, according to the common saying, 'tis an ill wind that blowsno good;' the parlours having been freshly papered, we can easilypersuade Aunt Quimby that they are too damp for her to sit in, and so wecan make her stay up stairs all the evening."
At this moment the old lady's voice was heard at the door, dischargingthe porter who had brought her baggage on his wheelbarrow; and the nextminute she was in the front parlour. Mrs. Marsden and Albina wereproperly astonished, and, properly delighted at seeing her; but each,after a pause of recollection, suddenly seized the old lady by the armsand conveyed her into the entry, exclaiming, "Oh! Aunt Quimby! AuntQuimby! this is no place for you."
"What's the meaning of all this?" cried Mrs. Quimby; "why won't you letme stay in the parlour?"
"You'll get your death," answered Mrs. Marsden, "you'll get therheumatism. Both parlours have been newly papered to-day, and the wallsare quite wet."
"That's a bad thing," said Mrs. Quimby, "a very bad thing. I wish youhad put off your papering till next spring. Who'd have thought of yourdoing it this day of all days?"
"Oh! Aunt Quimby," said Albina, "why did you not let us know that youwere coming?"
"Why, I wanted to give you an agreeable surprise," replied the old lady."But tell me why the rooms are so decked out, with flowers hanging aboutthe looking-glasses and lamps, and why the candles are dressed with cutpaper, or something that looks like it?"
"We are going to have a party to-night," said Albina.
"A party! I'm glad of it. Then I'm come just in the nick of time."
"I thought you had long since given up parties," said Mrs. Marsden,turning pale.
"No, indeed--why should I--I always go when I am asked--to be sure Ican't make much figure at parties now, being in my seventy-fifth year.But Mrs. Howks and Mrs. Himes, and several others of my old friends,always invite me to their daughters' parties, along with Mary; and Ilike to sit there and look about me, and see people's new ways. Mary hada party herself last winter, and it went off very well, only that boththe children came out that night with the measles; and one of the lampsleaked, and the oil ran all over the side-board and streamed down on thecarpet; and, it being the first time we ever had ice-cream in the house,Peter, the stupid black boy, not only brought saucers to eat it in, butcups and saucers both."
The old lady was now hurried up stairs, and she showed muchdissatisfaction on being told that as the damp parlours would certainlygive her her death, there was no altern
It was now time for Albina and her mother to commence dressing, but Mrs.Marsden went down stairs again with 'more last words' to the servants,and Albina to make some change in the arrangement of the centre-table.
She was in a loose gown, her curls were pinned up, and to keep themclose and safe, she had tied over her head an old gauze handkerchief.While bending over the centre-table, and marking with rose-leaves someof the most beautiful of Mrs. Hemans' poems, and opening two or threesouvenirs at their finest plates, a knock was suddenly heard at thedoor, which proved to be the baker with the second plum-cake, it havingbeen consigned to _his_ oven. Albina desired him to bring it to her, andputting it on the silver waiter, she determined to divide it herselfinto slices, being afraid to trust that business to any one else, lestit should be awkwardly cut, or broken to pieces; it being quite warm.
The baker went out, leaving the front door open, and Albina, intent onher task of cutting the cake, did not look up till she heard the soundof footsteps in the parlour; and then what was her dismay on perceivingMr. and Mrs. Montague and their daughter.
Albina's first impulse was to run away, but she saw that it was now toolate; and, pale with confusion and vexation, she tried to summonsufficient self-command to enable her to pass off this _contre-tems_with something like address.
It was not yet dusk, the sun being scarcely down, and of all the personsinvited to the party, it was natural to suppose that the English familywould have come the latest.
Mr. Montague was a long-bodied short-legged man, with round gray eyes,that looked as if they had been put on the outside of his face, thesockets having no apparent concavity: a sort of eye that is rarely seenin an American. He had a long nose and a large heavy mouth withprojecting under-teeth, and altogether an unusual quantity of face;which face was bordered round with whiskers, that began at his eyes andmet under his chin, and resembled in texture the coarse wiry fur of ablack bear. He kept his hat under his arm, and his whole dress seemed asif modelled from one of the caricature prints of a London dandy.
Mrs. Montague (evidently some years older than her husband) was agigantic woman, with features that looked as if seen through amagnifying glass. She wore heavy piles of yellowish curls, and a crimsonvelvet tocque. Her daughter was a tall hard-faced girl of seventeen,meant for a child by her parents, but not meaning herself as such. Shewas dressed in a white muslin frock and trowsers, and had a mass ofblack hair curling on her neck and shoulders.
They all fixed their large eyes directly upon Albina, and it was nowonder that she quailed beneath their glance, or rather their stare,particularly when Mrs. Montague surveyed her through her eye-glass. Mr.Montague spoke first. "Your note did not specify the hour--Miss--MissMartin," said he, "and as you Americans are early people, we thought wewere complying with the simplicity of republican manners by comingbefore dark. We suppose that in general you adhere to the primitivemaxim of 'early to bed and early to rise.' I forget the remainder of therhyme, but _you_ know it undoubtedly."
Albina at that moment wished for the presence of Bromley Cheston. Shesaw from the significant looks that passed between the Montagues, thatthe unseasonable earliness of this visit did not arise from theirignorance of the customs of American society, but from premeditatedimpertinence. And she regretted still more having invited them, when Mr.Montague with impudent familiarity walked up to the cake (which she hadnicely cut into slices without altering its form) and took one of themout.--"Miss Martin," said he, "your cake looks so inviting that I cannotrefrain from helping myself to a piece. Mrs. Montague, give me leave topresent one to you. Miss Montague, will you try a slice?"
They sat down on the sofa, each with a piece of cake, and Albina sawthat they could scarcely refrain from laughing openly, not only at herdishabille, but at her disconcerted countenance.
Just at this moment, Drusa appeared at the door, and called out, "MissAlbinar, the presarved squinches are all working. Missus found 'em sowhen she opened the jar." Albina could bear no more, but hastilydarting out of the room, she ran up stairs almost crying with vexation.
Old Mrs. Quimby was loud in her invectives against Mr. Montague forspoiling the symmetry of the cake, and helping himself and his family sounceremoniously. "You may rely upon it," said she, "a man that will dosuch a thing in a strange house is no gentleman."
"On the contrary," observed Mrs. Marsden, "I have no doubt that inEngland these free and easy proceedings are high ton. Albina, have notyou read some such things in Vivian Grey?"
"I do not believe," said Mrs. Quimby, "that if this Englishman was inhis own country, he would dare to go and take other people's cakewithout leave or license. But he thinks any sort of behaviour goodenough for the Yankees, as they call us."
"I care not for the cake," said Albina, "although the pieces must now beput into baskets; I only think of the Montagues walking in withoutknocking, and catching me in complete dishabille: after I had kept poorBromley Cheston waiting half an hour this morning rather than he shouldsee me in my pink gingham gown and with my hair in pins."
"As sure as sixpence," remarked Mrs. Quimby, "this last shame has comeupon you as a punishment for your pride to your own cousin."
Mrs. Marsden having gone into the adjoining room to dress, Albinaremained in this, and placed herself before the glass for the samepurpose. "Heigho!" said she, "how pale and jaded I look! What afatiguing day I have had! I have been on my feet since five o'clock thismorning, and I feel now more fit to go to bed than to add to myweariness by the task of dressing, and then playing the agreeable forfour or five hours. I begin to think that parties (at least such partiesas are now in vogue) should only be given by persons who have largehouses, large purses, conveniences of every description, and servantsenough to do all that is necessary."
"Albina is talking quite sensibly," said Aunt Quimby to Mrs. Marsden,who came in to see if her daughter required her assistance in dressing.
"Pho!" said Mrs. Marsden, "think of the eclat of giving a party to Mrs.Washington Potts, and of having the Montagues among the guests! We shallfind the advantage of it when we visit the city again."
"Albina," said Aunt Quimby, "now we are about dressing, just quit for afew moments and help me on with my long stays and my new black silkgown, and let me have the glass awhile; I am going to wear my lace capwith the white satin riband. This dark calico gown and plain muslin capwon't do at all to sit here in, before all the ladies that are comingup."
"Oh! no matter," replied Albina, who was unwilling to relinquish theglass or to occupy any of her time by assisting her aunt in dressing(which was always a troublesome and tedious business with the old lady);and her mother had now gone down to be ready for the reception of thecompany, and to pay her compliments to the Montagues. "Oh! no matter,"said Albina, "your present dress looks perfectly well; and the ladieswill be too much engaged with themselves and their own dresses, toremark anything else. No one will observe whether your gown is calico orsilk, and whether your cap is muslin or lace. Elderly ladies are alwaysprivileged to wear what is most convenient to them."
Albina put on the new dress that the mantua-maker had made for her. Whenshe tried it on the preceding evening Miss Matson declared that "itfitted like wax." She now found that it was scarcely possible to get iton at all, and that one side of the forebody was larger than the other.Miss Matson was called up, and by dint of the pulling, stretching, andsmoothing well known to mantua-makers, and still more by means of herpertinacious assurances that the dress had no fault whatever, Alb
At last she was dressed--she went down stairs. The company arrived fast,and the party began.
Bromley Cheston had come early to assist in doing the honours, and as heled Albina to a seat, he saw that, in spite of her smiles, she lookedweary and out of spirits; and he pitied her. "After all," thought he,"there is much that is interesting about Albina Marsden."
The party was _very_ select, consisting of the elite of the village andits neighbourhood; but still, as is often the case, those whose presencewas most desirable had sent excuses, and those who were not wanted hadtaken care to come. And Miss Boreham (a young lady who, having nothingelse to recommend her, had been invited solely on account of the usualelegance of her attire, and whose dress was expected to add prodigiouslyto the effect of the rooms), came most unaccountably in an old fadedfrock of last year's fashion, with her hair quite plain, and tuckedbehind her ears with two side-combs. Could she have had a suspicion ofthe reason for which she was generally invited, and have thereforeperversely determined on a reaction?
The Montagues sat together in a corner, putting up their eye-glasses atevery one that entered the room, and criticising the company in loudwhispers to each other; poor Mrs. Marsden endeavouring to catchopportunities of paying her court to them.
About nine o'clock, appeared an immense cap of blond lace, gauze riband,and flowers; and under the cap was Mrs. Washington Potts, a little,thin, trifling-looking woman with a whitish freckled face, small sharpfeatures, and flaxen hair. She leaned on the arm of Mr. WashingtonPotts, who was nothing in company or anywhere else; and she led by thehand a little boy in a suit of scarlet, braided and frogged with blue: apale rat-looking child, whose name she pronounced Laughy-yet, meaning LaFayette; and who being the youngest scion of the house of Potts, alwayswent to parties with his mother, because he would not stay at home.
Bromley Cheston, on being introduced to Mrs. Washington Potts, wassurprised at the insignificance of her figure and face. He had imaginedher tall in stature, large in feature, loud in voice, and in short thevery counterpart to Mrs. Montague. He found her, however, as he hadsupposed, replete with vanity, pride, ignorance, and folly: to which sheadded a sickening affectation of sweetness and amiability, and a flimsypretension to extraordinary powers of conversation, founded on aconfused assemblage of incorrect and superficial ideas, which shemistook for a general knowledge of everything in the world.
Mrs. Potts was delighted with the handsome face and figure, and the verygenteel appearance of the young lieutenant, and she bestowed upon him alarge portion of her talk.
"I hear, sir," said she, "you have been in the Mediterranean Sea. Asweet pretty place, is it not?"
"Its shores," replied Cheston, "are certainly very beautiful."
"Yes, I should admire its chalky cliffs vastly," resumed Mrs. Potts;"they are quite poetical, you know. Pray, sir, which do you prefer,Byron or Bonaparte? I dote upon Byron; and considering what sweet verseshe wrote, 'tis a pity he was a corsair, and a vampyre pirate, and allsuch horrid things. As for Bonaparte, I never could endure him after Ifound that he had cut off poor old King George's head. Now, when we talkof great men, my husband is altogether for Washington. I laugh, and tellMr. Potts it's because he and Washington are namesakes. How do you likeLa Fayette?"--(pronouncing the name a la canaille).
"The man, or the name?" inquired Cheston.
"Oh! both to be sure. You see we have called our youngest blossom afterhim. Come here, La Fayette, stand forward, my dear; hold up your head,and make a bow to the gentleman."
"I won't," screamed La Fayette. "I'll never make a bow when you tellme."
"Something of the spirit of his ancestors," said Mrs. Potts, affectedlysmiling to Cheston, and patting the urchin on the head.
"His ancestors!" thought Cheston. "Who could they possibly have been?"
"Perhaps the dear fellow may be a little, a very little spoiled,"pursued Mrs. Potts. "But to make a comparison in the marine line (quitein your way, you know), it is as natural for a mother's heart to turn toher youngest darling, as it is for the needle to point out thelongitude. Now we talk of longitude, have you read Cooper's last novel,by the author of the Spy? It's a sweet book--Cooper is one of my pets. Isaw him in dear, delightful Paris. Are you musical, Mr. Cheston?--But ofcourse you are. Our whole aristocracy is musical now. How do you likePaganini? You must have heard him in Europe. It's a very expensive thingto hear Paganini.--Poor man! he is quite ghastly with his own playing.Well, as you have been in the Mediterranean, which do you prefer, theGreeks or the Poles?"
"The Poles, decidedly," answered Cheston, "from what I have heard of_them_, and seen of the Greeks."
"Well, for my part," resumed Mrs. Potts, "I confess I like the Greeks,as I have always been rather classical. They are so Grecian. Think oftheir beautiful statues and paintings by Rubens and Reynolds. Are youfond of paintings? At my house in the city, I can show you some veryfine ones."
"By what artists?" asked Cheston.
"Oh! by my daughter Harriet. She did them at drawing-school withtheorems. They are beautiful flower-pieces, all framed and hung up; theyare almost worthy of Sir Benjamin West."
[Footnote 2: The author takes this occasion to remark, that theillustrious artist to whom so many of his countrymen erroneously givethe title of Sir Benjamin West, never in reality had the compliment ofknighthood conferred on him. He lived and died _Mr._ West, as is wellknown to all who have any acquaintance with pictures and painters.]
In this manner Mrs. Potts ran on till the entrance of tea, and Chestontook that opportunity of escaping from her; while she imagined himdeeply imbued with admiration of her fluency, vivacity, and variety ofinformation. But in reality, he was thinking of the strange depravity oftaste that is sometimes found even in intelligent minds; for in no otherway could he account for Albina's predilection for Mrs. WashingtonPotts. "And yet," thought he, "is a young and inexperienced girl moreblameable for her blindness in friendship (or what she imagines to befriendship), than an acute, sensible, talented man for his blindness inlove? The master-spirits of the earth have almost proverbially marriedwomen of weak intellect, and almost as proverbially the children of suchmarriages resemble the mother rather than the father. A just punishmentfor choosing so absurdly. Albina, I must know you better."
The party went on, much as parties generally do where there are four orfive guests that are supposed to rank all the others. The patriciansevidently despised the plebeians, and the plebeians were offended atbeing despised; for in no American assemblage is any real inferiority ofrank ever felt or acknowledged. There was a general dullness, and ageneral restraint. Little was done, and little was said. La Fayettewandered about in everybody's way; having been kept wide awake all theevening by two cups of strong coffee, which his mother allowed him totake because he would have them.
There was always a group round the centre-table, listlessly turningover the souvenirs, albums, &c., and picking at the flowers; and LaFayette ate plum-cake over Cheston's beautiful drawings.
Albina played an Italian song extremely well, but the Montaguesexchanged glances at her music; and Mrs. Potts, to follow suit, hid herface behind her fan and simpered; though in truth she did not in realityknow Italian from French, or a semibreve from a semiquaver. All this wasa great annoyance to Cheston. At Albina's request, he led Miss Montagueto the piano. She ran her fingers over the instrument as if to try it;gave a shudder, and declared it most shockingly out of tune, and thenrose in horror from the music stool. This much surprised Mrs. Marsden,as a musician had been brought from the city only the day before for theexpress purpose of tuning this very instrument
"No," whispered Miss Montague, as she resumed her seat beside hermother, "I will not condescend to play before people who are incapableof understanding my style."
At this juncture (to the great consternation of Mrs. Marsden and herdaughter) who should make her appearance but Aunt Quimby in the calicogown which Albina now regretted having persuaded her to keep on. The oldlady was wrapped in a small shawl and two large ones, and her head wassecured from cold by a black silk handkerchief tied over her cap andunder her chin. She smiled and nodded all round to the company, andsaid--"How do you do, good people; I hope you are all enjoyingyourselves. I thought I _must_ come down and have a peep at you. Forafter I had seen all the ladies take off their hoods, and had my tea, Ifound it pretty dull work sitting up stairs with the mantua-maker, whohad no more manners than to fall asleep while I was talking."
Mrs. Marsden, much discomfited, led Aunt Quimby to a chair between twomatrons who were among "the unavoidably invited," and whose pretensionsto refinement were not very palpable. But the old lady had no idea ofremaining stationary all the evening between Mrs. Johnson and Mrs.Jackson. She wisely thought "she could see more of the party," if shefrequently changed her place, and being of what is called a sociabledisposition, she never hesitated to talk to any one that was near her,however high or however low.
"Dear mother," said Albina in an under-voice, "what can be the reasonthat every one, in tasting the ice-cream, immediately sets it aside asif it was not fit to eat? I am sure there is everything in it that oughtto be."
"And something more than ought to be," replied Mrs. Marsden, aftertrying a spoonful--"the salt that was laid round the freezer has gotinto the cream (I suppose by Dixon's carelessness), and it is _not_ fitto eat."
"And now," said Albina, starting, "I will show you a far worsemortification than the failure of the ice-cream. Only look--there sitsAunt Quimby between Mr. Montague and Mrs. Washington Potts."
"How in the world did she get there?" exclaimed Mrs. Marsden. "I daresay she walked up, and asked them to make room for her between them.There is nothing now to be done but to pass her off as well as we can,and to make the best of her. I will manage to get as near as possible,that I may hear what she is talking about, and take an opportunity ofpersuading her away."
As Mrs. Marsden approached within hearing distance, Mr. Montague wasleaning across Aunt Quimby, and giving Mrs. Potts an account ofsomething that had been said or done during a splendid entertainment atDevonshire House.--"Just at that moment," said he, "I was lounging intothe room with Lady Augusta Fitzhenry on my arm (unquestionably thefinest woman in England), and Mrs. Montague was a few steps in advance,leaning on my friend the Marquis of Elvington."
"Pray, sir," said Mrs. Quimby, "as you are from England, do you knowanything of Betsey Dempsey's husband?"
"I have not the honour of being acquainted with that person," repliedMr. Montague, after a withering stare.
"Well, that's strange," pursued Aunt Quimby, "considering that he hasbeen living in London at least eighteen years--or perhaps it is onlyseventeen. And yet I think it must be near eighteen, if not quite. Maybeseventeen and a half. Well it's best to be on the safe side, so I'll sayseventeen. Betsey Dempsey's mother was an old school-mate of mine. Herfather kept the Black Horse tavern. She was the only acquaintance I everhad that married an Englishman. He was a grocer, and in very goodbusiness; but he never liked America, and was always finding fault withit, and so he went home, and was to send for Betsey. But he never sentfor her at all; and for a very good reason; which was that he hadanother wife in England, as most of them have--no disparagement to you,sir."
Mrs. Marsden now came up, and informed Mrs. Potts in a whisper, that thegood old lady beside her, was a distant relation or rather connexion of_Mr._ Marsden's, and that, though a little primitive in appearance andmanner, she had considerable property in bank-stock. To Mrs. Marsden'sproposal that she should exchange her seat for a very pleasant one inthe other room next to her old friend, Mrs. Willis, Aunt Quimby repliednothing but "Thank you, I'm doing very well here."
Mrs. and Miss Montague, apparently heeding no one else, had talkednearly the whole evening to each other, but loudly enough to be heard byall around them. The young lady, though dressed as a child, talked likea woman, and she and her mother were now engaged in an argument whetherthe flirtation of the Duke of Risingham with Lady Georgiana Melburywould end seriously or not.
"To my certain knowledge," said Miss Montague, "his Grace has never yetdeclared himself to Lady Georgiana, or to any one else."
"I'll lay you two to one," said Mrs. Montague, "that he is married toher before we return to England."
"No," replied the daughter, "like all others of his sex he delights inkeeping the ladies in suspense."
"What you say, miss, is very true," said Aunt Quimby, leaning in herturn across Mr. Montague, "and, considering how young you are, you talkvery sensibly. Men certainly have a way of keeping women in suspense,and an unwillingness to answer questions, even when we ask them. There'smy son-in-law, Billy Fairfowl, that I live with. He married my daughterMary, eleven years ago the 23d of last April. He's as good a man as everbreathed, and an excellent provider too. He always goes to markethimself; and sometimes I can't help blaming him a little for hisextravagance. But his greatest fault is his being so unsatisfactory. Asfar back as last March, as I was sitting at my knitting in the littlefront parlour with the door open (for it was quite warm weather for thetime of the year), Billy Fairfowl came home, carrying in his hand a goodsized shad; and I called out to him to ask what he gave for it, for itwas the very beginning of the shad season; but he made not a word ofanswer; he just passed on, and left the shad in the kitchen, and thenwent to his store. At dinner we had the fish, and a very nice one itwas; and I asked him again how much he gave for it, but he stillavoided answering, and began to talk of something else; so I thought I'dlet it rest awhile. A week or two after, I again asked him; so then heactually said he had forgotten all about it. And to this day I don'tknow the price of that shad."
The Montagues looked at each other--almost laughed aloud, and drew backtheir chairs as far from Aunt Quimby as possible. So also did Mrs.Potts. Mrs. Marsden came up in an agony of vexation, and reminded heraunt in a low voice of the risk of renewing her rheumatism by staying solong between the damp, newly-papered walls. The old lady answeredaloud--"Oh! you need not fear, I am well wrapped up on purpose. Andindeed, considering that the parlours were only papered to-day, I thinkthe walls have dried wonderfully (putting her hand on the paper)--I amsure nobody could find out the damp if they were not told."
"What!" exclaimed the Montagues; "only papered to-day--(starting up andtestifying all that prudent fear of taking cold, so characteristic ofthe English). How barbarous to inveigle us into such a place!"
"I thought I felt strangely chilly all the evening," said Mrs. Potts,whose fan had scarcely been at rest five minutes.
The Montagues proposed going away immediately, and Mrs. Potts declaredshe was _most_ apprehensive for poor little La Fayette. Mrs. Marsden,who could not endure the idea of their departing till all therefreshments had been handed round (the best being yet to come), tookgreat pains to persuade them that there was no real cause of alarm, asshe had had large fires all the afternoon. They held a whisperedconsultation, in which they agreed to stay for the oysters and chickensalad, and Mrs. Marsden went out to send them their shawls, with one forLa Fayette.
By this time the secret of the newly-papered walls had spread round bothrooms; the conversation now turned entirely on colds and rheumatisms;there was much shivering and considerable coughing, and the demand forshawls increased. However, nobody actually went home in consequence.
"Papa," said Miss Montague, "let us all take French leave as soon as theoysters and chicken salad have gone round."
Albina now came up to Aunt Quimby (gladly perceiving that the old ladylooked tired), and proposed that she should return to her chamber,assuring her that the waiters should be punctually sent up to
But Aunt Quimby's idea of French leave was very different from the usualacceptation of the term; for having always heard that the French were avery polite people, she concluded that their manner of taking leave mustbe particularly respectful and ceremonious. Therefore, having paid herparting compliments to Mrs. Potts and the Montagues, she walked allround the room, curtsying to every body and shaking hands, and tellingthem she had come to take French leave. To put an end to this ridiculousscene, Bromley Cheston (who had been on assiduous duty all the evening)now came forward, and, taking the old lady's arm in his, offered toescort her up stairs. Aunt Quimby was much flattered by this unexpectedcivility from the finest-looking young man in the room, and shesmilingly departed with him, complimenting him on his politeness, andassuring him that he was a real gentleman; trying also to make out thedegree of relationship that existed between them.
"So much for Buckingham!" said Cheston, as he ran down stairs afterdepositing the old lady at the door of her room. "Fools of all ranks andof all ages are to me equally intolerable. I never can marry into such afamily."
The party went on.
"In the name of heaven, Mrs. Potts," said Mrs. Montague, "what inducesyou to patronize these people?"
"Why they are the only tolerable persons in the neighbourhood," answeredMrs. Potts, "and very kind and obliging in their way. I really thinkAlbina a very sweet girl, very sweet indeed: and Mrs. Marsden is ratheramiable too, quite amiable. And they are so grateful for any littlenotice I take of them, that it is really quite affecting. Poor things!how much trouble they have given themselves in getting up this party.They look as if they had had a hard day's work; and I have no doubt theywill be obliged, in consequence, to pinch them for months to come; for Ican assure you their means are very small--very small indeed. As to thisintolerable old aunt, I never saw her before; and as there is somethingrather genteel about Mrs. Marsden and her daughter--rather so at leastabout Albina--I did not suppose they had any such relations belonging tothem. I think, in future I must confine myself entirely to thearistocracy."
"We deliberated to the last moment," said Mrs. Montague, "whether weshould come. But as Mr. Montague is going to write his tour when wereturn to England, he thinks it expedient to make some sacrifices, forthe sake of seeing the varieties of American society."
"Oh! these people are not in society!" exclaimed Mrs. Potts eagerly. "Ican assure you these Marsdens have not the slightest pretensions tosociety. Oh! no--I beg you not to suppose that Mrs. Marsden and herdaughter are at all in society!"
This conversation was overheard by Bromley Cheston, and it gave him morepain than he was willing to acknowledge, even to himself.
At length all the refreshments had gone their rounds, and the Montagueshad taken real French leave; but Mrs. Washington Potts preferred aconspicuous departure, and therefore made her adieux with a view ofproducing great effect. This was the signal for the company to break up,and Mrs. Marsden gladly smiled them out; while Albina could have saidwith Gray's Prophetess--
"Now my weary lips I close, Leave me, leave me to repose."
But, according to Mrs. Marsden, the worst of all was the poet, theprofessedly eccentric Bewley Garvin Gandy, author of the World ofSorrow, Elegy on a Broken Heart, Lines on a Suppressed Sigh, Sonnet to aHidden Tear, Stanzas to Faded Hopes, &c. &c., and who was just nowengaged in a tale called "The Bewildered," and an Ode to the WaningMoon, which set him to wandering about the country, and "kept him outo'nights." The poet, not being a man of this world, did not make hisappearance at the party till the moment of the bustle occasioned by theexit of Mrs. Washington Potts. He then darted suddenly into the room,and looked wild.
We will not insinuate that he bore any resemblance to Sandy Clark. Hecertainly wore no chapeau, and his coat was not in the least a lamilitaire, for it was a dusky brown frock. His collar was open, in thefashion attributed to Byron, and much affected by scribblers who areincapable of imitating the noble bard in anything but his follies. Hishair looked as if he had just been tearing it, and his eyes seemed "ina fine frenzy rolling." He was on his return from one of his moonlightrambles on the banks of the river, and his pantaloons and coat-skirtshowed evident marks of having been deep among the cat-tails andsplatter-docks that grew in the mud on its margin.
Being a man that took no note of time, he wandered into Mrs. Marsden'shouse between eleven and twelve o'clock, and remained an hour after thecompany had gone; reclining at full length on a sofa, and discussingBarry Cornwall and Percy Bysshe Shelley, L. E. L. and Mrs. CornwallBaron Wilson. After which he gradually became classical, and poured intothe sleepy ears of Mrs. Marsden and Albina a parallel between Tibullusand Propertius, a dissertation on Alcaeus, and another on Menander.
Bromley Cheston, who had been escorting home two sets of young ladiesthat lived "far as the poles asunder," passed Mrs. Marsden's house onreturning to his hotel, and seeing the lights still gleaming, he went into see what was the matter, and kindly relieved his aunt and cousin byreminding the poet of the lateness of the hour, and "fairly carrying himoff."
Aunt Quimby had long since been asleep. But before Mrs. Marsden andAlbina could forget themselves in "tired nature's sweet restorer," theylay awake for an hour, discussing the fatigues and vexations of the day,and the mortifications of the evening. "After all," said Albina, "thisparty has cost us five times as much as it is worth, both in trouble andexpense, and I really cannot tell what pleasure we have derived fromit."
"No one expects pleasure at their own party," replied Mrs. Marsden. "Butyou may depend on it, this little compliment to Mrs. Washington Pottswill prove highly advantageous to us hereafter. And then it is_something_ to be the only family in the neighbourhood that couldpresume to do such a thing."
Next morning, Bromley Cheston received a letter which required hisimmediate presence in New York on business of importance. When he wentto take leave of his aunt and cousin, he found them busily engaged inclearing away and putting in order; a task which is nearly equal to thatof making the preparations for a party. They looked pale andspiritless, and Mrs. Washington Potts had just sent her three boys tospend the day with them.
When Cheston took Albina's hand at parting, he felt it tremble, and hereyes looked as if they were filling with tears. "After all," thought he,"she is a charming girl, and has both sense and sensibility."
"I am very nervous to-day," said Albina, "the party has been too muchfor me; and I have in prospect for to-morrow the pain of taking leave ofMrs. Washington Potts, who returns with all her family to Philadelphia."
"Strange infatuation!" thought Cheston, as he dropped Albina's hand, andmade his parting bow. "I must see more of this girl, before I canresolve to trust my happiness to her keeping; I cannot share her heartwith Mrs. Washington Potts. When I return from New York, I will talk toher seriously about that ridiculous woman, and I will also remonstratewith her mother on the folly of straining every nerve in the pursuit ofwhat she calls a certain style."
In the afternoon, Mrs. Potts did Albina the honour to send for her toassist in the preparations for to-morrow's removal to town; and in theevening, the three boys were all taken home sick, in consequence ofhaving laid violent hands on the fragments of the feast: which fragmentsthey had continued during the day to devour almost without intermission.Also Randolph had thrown Jefferson down stairs, and raised two greenbumps on his forehead, and Jefferson had pinched La Fayette's fingers inthe door till the blood came; not to mention various minor squabbles andhurts.
At parting, Mrs. Potts went so far as to kiss Albina, and made herpromise to let her know immediately, whenever she or her mother came tothe city.
In about two weeks, Aunt Quimby finished her visitation: and the
On the morning after their arrival, Mrs. Marsden and her daughter, intheir most costly dresses, went to visit Mrs. Potts, that she might beapprised of their arrival; and they found her in a spacious house,expensively and ostentatiously furnished.
After they had waited till even _their_ patience was nearly exhausted,Mrs. Potts came down stairs to them, but there was evidently a greatabatement in her affability. She seemed uneasy, looked frequentlytowards the door, got up several times and went to the window, andappeared fidgety when the bell rung. At last there came in two veryflaunting ladies, whom Mrs. Potts received as if she considered thempeople of consequence. They were not introduced to the Marsdens, who,after the entrance of these new visitors, sat awhile in the pitiablesituation of ciphers, and then took their leave. "Strange," said Mrs.Marsden, "that she did not say a word of her party."
Three days after their visit, Mrs. Washington Potts left cards for Mrs.and Miss Marsden, without inquiring if they were at home. And they heardfrom report that her party was fixed for the week after next, and thatit was expected to be very splendid, as it was to introduce herdaughter, who had just quitted boarding-school. The Marsdens had seenthis young lady, who had spent the August holidays with her parents. Shewas as silly as her mother, and as dull as her father, in the eyes ofall who were not blindly determined to think her otherwise, or who didnot consider it particularly expedient to uphold every one of the nameof Potts.
At length they heard that the invitations were going out for Mrs.Potts's party, and that though very large, it was not to be general;which meant that only one or two of the members were to be selected fromeach family with whom Mrs. Potts thought proper to acknowledge anacquaintance. From this moment Mrs. Marsden, who at the best of timeshad never really been treated with much respect by Mrs. Potts, gave upall hope of an invitation for herself; but she counted certainly on onefor Albina, and every ring at the door was expected to bring it. Therewere many rings, but no invitation; and poor Albina and her mother tookturns in watching at the window.
At last Bogle was seen to come up the steps with a handful of notes;and Albina, regardless of all rule, ran to the front-door herself. Theywere cards for a party, but not Mrs. Potts's, and were intended for twoother ladies that lodged in the house.
[Footnote 3: A celebrated coloured waiter in Philadelphia.]
Every time that Albina went out and came home, she inquired anxiouslyof all the servants if no note had been left for her. Still there wasnone. And her mother still insisted that the note _must_ have come, buthad been mislaid afterwards, or that Bogle had lost it in the street.
Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday passed over, and still noinvitation. Mrs. Marsden talked much of the carelessness of servants,and had no doubt of the habitual negligence of Messrs. Bogle, Shepherd,and other "fashionable party-men." Albina was almost sick with "hopedeferred." At last, when she came home on Monday morning from Secondstreet, her mother met her at the door with a delighted face, and showedher the long-desired note, which had just been brought by Mrs. Potts'sown man. The party was to take place in two days: and so great was nowAlbina's happiness, that she scarcely felt the fatigue of searching theshops for articles of attire that were very elegant, and yet not _too_expensive; and shopping with a limited purse is certainly no triflingexercise both of mind and body; so also is the task of going round amongfashionable mantua-makers, in the hope of coaxing one of them toundertake a dress at a short notice.
Next morning, Mrs. Potts sent for Albina immediately after breakfast,and told her that as she knew her to be very clever at all sorts ofthings, she wanted her to stay that day and assist in the preparationsfor the next. Mrs. Potts, like many other people who live in showyhouses and dress extravagantly, was very economical in servants. Shegave such low wages, that none would come to her who could get placesanywhere else, and she kept them on such limited allowance that nonewould stay with her who were worth having.
Fools are seldom consistent in their expenditure. They generally (to usea homely expression) strain at gnats and swallow camels.
About noon, Albina having occasion to consult Mrs. Potts concerningsomething that was to be done, found her in the front parlour with Mrs.and Miss Montague. After Albina had left the room, Mrs. Montague said toMrs. Potts--"Is not that the girl who lives with her mother at the placeon the river, I forget what you call it--I mean the niece of the aunt?"
"That is Albina Marsden," replied Mrs. Potts.
"Yes," pursued Mrs. Montague, "the people that made so great an exertionto give you a sort of party, and honoured Mr. and Miss Montague andmyself with invitations."
"She's not to be here to-morrow night, I hope!" exclaimed Miss Montague.
"Really," replied Mrs. Potts, "I could do no less than ask her. The poorthing did her very best to be civil to us all last summer."
"Oh!" said Mrs. Montague, "in the country one is willing sometimes totake up with such company as we should be very sorry to acknowledge intown. You assured me that your party to-morrow night would be extremely_recherche_. And as it is so early in the season you know that it isnecessary to be more particular now than at the close of the campaign,when every one is tired of parties, and unwilling to get new eveningdresses lest they should be out of fashion before they are wanted again.Excuse me, I speak only from what I have heard of American customs."
"I am always particular about my parties," said Mrs. Potts.
"A word in your ear," continued Mrs. Montague. "Is it not impolitic, orrather are you not afraid to bring forward so beautiful a girl as thisMiss Martin on the very night of your own daughter's _debut_?"
Mrs. Potts looked alarmed for a moment, and then recovering herselfsaid--"I have no fear of Miss Harriet Angelina Potts being thrown in theshade by a little country girl like this. Albina Marsden is prettyenough, to be sure--at least, rather pretty--but then there is a certainstyle--a certain air which she of course--in short, a certain style--"
"As to what you call a certain style," said Mrs. Montague, "I do notknow exactly what you mean. If it signifies the air and manner of alady, this Miss Martin has as much of it as any other American girl. Tome they are all nearly alike. I cannot distinguish those minute shadesof difference that you all make such a point of. In my unpractised eyesthe daughters of your mechanics and shopkeepers look as well and behaveas well as the daughters of your lawyers and doctors, for I find yournobility is chiefly made up of these two professions, with the additionof a few merchants; and you call every one a merchant that does not sellhis commodities by the single yard or the single quart."
"Mamma," whispered Miss Montague, "if that girl is to be here, I don'twish to come. I can't endure her."
"Take my advice," continued Mrs. Montague to Mrs. Potts, "and put offthis Miss Martin. If she was not so strikingly handsome, she might passunnoticed in the crowd. But her beauty will attract generalobservation, and you will be obliged to tell exactly who she is, whereyou picked her up, and to give or to hear an account of her family andall her connexions; and from the specimen we have had in the old aunt, Idoubt if they will bear a very minute scrutiny. So if she _is_ invited,endeavour to uninvite her."
"I am sure I would willingly do that," replied Mrs. Potts, "but I canreally think of no excuse."
"Oh! send her a note to-morrow," answered Mrs. Montague, carelessly, andrising to depart, "anything or nothing, so that you only signify to herthat she is not to come."
All day Mrs. Potts was revolving in her mind the most feasible means ofpreventing Albina from appearing at her party; and her conscience smoteher when she saw the unsuspecting girl so indefatigable in assistingwith the preparations. Before Albina went home, Mrs. Potts had com
Next morning, Mrs. Potts, who was on no occasion very ready with herpen, considering that she professed to be _au fait_ to everything,employed near an hour in manufacturing the following note to Albina.
"Mrs. Washington Potts' compliments to Miss Marsden, and she regretsbeing under the necessity of dispensing with Miss M.'s company, to jointhe social circle at her mansion-house this evening. Mrs. W. P. willexplain hereafter, hoping Mrs. and Miss M. are both well. Mr. W. P.requests his respects to both ladies, as well as Miss Potts, and theirfavourite little La Fayette desires his best love."
This billet arrived while Albina had gone to her mantua-maker, to haveher new dress fitted on for the last time. Her mother opened the noteand read it; a liberty which no parent should take with thecorrespondence of a grown-up daughter. Mrs. Marsden was shocked at itscontents, and at a loss to guess the motive of so strange aninterdiction. At first her only emotion was resentment against Mrs.Potts. Then she thought of the disappointment and mortification of poorAlbina, whom she pictured to herself passing a forlorn evening at home,perhaps crying in her own room. Next, she recollected the elegant newdress in which Albina would have looked so beautifully, and which wouldnow be useless.
"Oh!" soliloquized Mrs. Marsden, "what a pity this unaccountable notewas not dropped and lost in the street. But then, of course some onewould have found and read it, and that would have been worse than all.How could Mrs. Potts be guilty of such abominable rudeness, as to desirepoor Albina not to come, after she had been invited? But great peoplethink they may do anything. I wish the note had fallen into the firebefore it came to my hands; then Albina would have known nothing of it;she would have gone to the party, looking more charmingly than ever shedid in her life; and she would be seen there, and admired, and make newacquaintances, and Mrs. Potts could do no otherwise than behave to herpolitely in her own house. Nobody would know of this vile billet (whichperhaps after all is only a joke), and Mrs. Potts would suppose, that ofcourse Albina had not received it; besides, I have no doubt that Mrs.Potts will send for her to-morrow, and make a satisfactory explanation.But then, to-night; if Albina could but get there to-night. What harmcan possible arrive from my not showing her the note till to-morrow? Whyshould the dear girl be deprived of all the pleasure she anticipatedthis evening? And even if she expected no enjoyment whatever, still howgreat will be the advantage of having her seen at Mrs. WashingtonPotts's select party; it will at once get her on in the world. Of courseMrs. Potts will conclude that the note had miscarried, and will treather as if it had never been sent. I am really most strongly tempted tosuppress it, and let Albina go."
The more Mrs. Marsden thought of this project, the less objectionable itappeared to her. When she saw Albina come home, delighted with her newdress, which fitted her exactly, and when she heard her impatientlywishing that evening was come, this weak and ill-judging mother couldnot resolve (as she afterwards said) to dash all her pleasantanticipations to the ground, and demolish her castles in the air. "Mydaughter shall be happy to-night," thought she, "whatever may be theevent of to-morrow." She hastily concealed the note, and kept herresolution of not mentioning it to Albina.
Evening came, and Albina's beautiful hair was arranged and decorated bya fashionable French barber. She was dressed, and she looked charmingly.
Albina knew that Mrs. Potts had sent an invitation to the United StatesHotel for Lieutenant Cheston, who was daily expected, but had not yetreturned from New York, and she regretted much that she could not go tothe party under his escort. She knew no one else of the company, and shehad no alternative but to send for a carriage, and proceeded thither byherself, after her mother had despatched repeated messages to the hotelto know if Mr. Cheston had yet arrived, for he was certainly expectedback that evening.
As Albina drove to the house, she felt all the terrors of diffidencecoming upon her, and already repented that she had ventured on thisenterprise alone. On arriving, she did not go into the ladies' room, butgave her hood and cloak at once to a servant, and tremulously requestedanother attendant to inform Mr. Potts that a lady wished to see him. Mr.Potts accordingly came out into the hall, and looked surprised atfinding Albina there, for he had heard his wife and daughter talking ofthe note of interdiction. But concluding, as he often did, that it wasin vain for him to try to comprehend the proceedings of women, hethought it best to say nothing.
On Albina requesting him to accompany her on her entrance, he gave herhis arm in silence, and with a very perplexed face escorted her into theprincipal room. As he led her up to his wife, his countenance graduallychanged from perplexity to something like fright. Albina paid hercompliments to Mrs. Potts, who received her with evident amazement, andwithout replying. Mrs. Montague, who sat next to the lady of themansion, opened still wider her immense eyes, and then, "to makeassurance doubly sure," applied her opera-glass. Miss Montague firststared and then laughed.
Albina, much disconcerted, turned to look for a seat, Mr. Potts havingwithdrawn his arm. As she retired to the only vacant chair, she heard ahalf whisper running along the line of ladies, and though she could notdistinguish the words so as to make any connected sense of them, shefelt that they alluded to her.
"Can I believe my eyes?" said Mrs. Potts.
"The assurance of American girls is astonishing," said Mrs. Montague.
"She was forbidden to come," said Miss Montague to a young lady besideher. "Mrs. Potts herself forbade her to come."
"She was actually prohibited," resumed Mrs. Montague, leaning over toMrs. Jones.
"I sent her myself a note of prohibition," said Mrs. Potts, leaning overto Mrs. Smith. "I had serious objections to having her here."
"I never saw such downright impudence," pursued Mrs. Montague. "This Isuppose is one of the consequences of the liberty, and freedom andindependence that you Americans are always talking about. I must tellMr. Montague, for really this is too good to lose."
And beckoning her husband to come to her--"My dear," said she, "put downin your memorandum-book, that when American married ladies invite youngladies to parties, they on second thoughts forbid them to come, and thatthe said American young ladies boldly persist in coming in spite of theforbiddance."
And she then related to him the whole affair, at full length, and withnumerous embellishments, looking all the time at poor Albina.
The story was soon circulated round the room in whispers and murmurs,and no one had candour or kindness to suggest the possibility of MissMarsden's having never received the note.
Albina soon perceived herself to be an object of remark andanimadversion, and she was sadly at a loss to divine the cause. The twoladies that were nearest to her, rose up and left their seats, while twoothers edged their chairs farther off. She knew no one, she wasintroduced to no one, but she saw that every one was looking at her asshe sat by herself, alone, conspicuous, and abashed. Tea was waiting fora lady that came always last, and the whole company seemed to haveleisure to gaze on poor Albina, and to whisper about her.
Her situation now became intolerable. She felt that there was nothingleft for her but to go home. Unluckily she had ordered the carriage ateleven o'clock. At last she resolved on making a great effort, and onplea of a violent headache (a plea which by this time was literallytrue) to ask Mrs. Po
After several attempts, she rose for this purpose; but she saw at thesame moment that all eyes were turned upon her. She tremblingly, andwith downcast looks, advanced till she got into the middle of the room,and then all her courage deserted her at once, when she heard some onesay, "I wonder what she is going to do next."
She stopped suddenly, and stood motionless, and she saw Miss Pottsgiggle, and heard her say to a school-girl near her, "I suppose she isgoing to speak a speech." She turned very pale, and felt as if she couldgladly sink into the floor, when suddenly some one took her hand, andthe voice of Bromley Cheston said to her, "Albina--Miss Marsden--I willconduct you wherever you wish to go"--and then, lowering his tone, heasked her, "Why this agitation--what has happened to distress you?"
Cheston had just arrived from New York, having been detained on the wayby an accident that happened to one of the boats, and finding that Mrs.Marsden was in town, and had that day sent several messages for him, herepaired immediately to her lodgings. He had intended declining theinvitation of Mrs. Potts, but when he found that Albina had gonethither, he hastily changed his dress and went to the party. When heentered, what was his amazement to see her standing alone in the centreof the room, and the company whispering and gazing at her.
Albina, on hearing the voice of a friend, the voice of Bromley Cheston,was completely overcome, and she covered her face and burst into tears."Albina," said Cheston, "I will not now ask an explanation; I see that,whatever may have happened, you had best go home."
"Oh! most gladly, most thankfully," she exclaimed, in a voice almostinarticulate with sobs.
Cheston drew her arm within his, and bowing to Mrs. Potts, he led Albinaout of the apartment, and conducted her to the staircase, whence shewent to the ladies' room to compose herself a little, and prepare forher departure.
Cheston then sent one servant for a carriage, and another to tell Mr.Potts that he desired to speak with him in the hall. Potts came out witha pale, frightened face, and said--"Indeed, sir--indeed, I had nothingto do with it; ask the women. It was all them entirely. It was thewomen that laughed at Miss Albina, and whispered about her."
"For what?" demanded the lieutenant. "I insist on knowing for whatcause."
"Why, sir," replied Potts, "she came here to my wife's party, after Mrs.Potts had sent a note desiring her to stay away; which was certainly anodd thing for a young lady to do."
"There is some mistake," exclaimed Cheston; "I'll stake my life that shenever saw the note. And now, for what reason did Mrs. Potts write such anote? How did she dare--"
"Oh!" replied Potts, stammering and hesitating, "women will have theirnotions; men are not half so particular about their company. Somehow,after Mrs. Potts had invited Miss Albina, she thought, on fartherconsideration, that poor Miss Albina was not quite genteel enough forher party. You know all the women now make a great point of beinggenteel. But, indeed, sir (observing the storm that was gathering onCheston's brow), indeed, sir--_I_ was not in the least to blame. It wasaltogether the fault of my wife."
The indignation of the lieutenant was so highly excited, that nothingcould have checked it but the recollection that Potts was in his ownhouse. At this moment, Albina came down stairs, and Cheston took herhand and said to her: "Albina, did you receive a note from Mrs. Pottsinterdicting your presence at the party?"--"Oh! no, indeed!" exclaimedAlbina, amazed at the question. "Surely she did not send me such anote."--"Yes she did, though," said Potts, quickly.--"Is it, then,necessary for me to say," said Albina, indignantly, "that, under thosecircumstances, nothing could have induced me to enter this house, now orever! I saw or heard nothing of this note. And is this the reason that Ihave been treated so rudely--so cruelly--"
Upon this, Mr. Potts made his escape, and Cheston, having put Albinainto the carriage, desired the coachman to wait a few moments. He thenreturned to the drawing-room and approached Mrs. Potts, who was standingwith half the company collected round her, and explaining with greatvolubility the whole history of Albina Marsden. On the appearance ofCheston, she stopped short, and all her auditors looked foolish.
The young officer advanced into the centre of the circle, and, firstaddressing Mrs. Potts, he said to her--"In justice to Miss Marsden, Ihave returned, madam, to inform you that your note of interdiction, withwhich you have so kindly made all the company acquainted, was till thismoment unknown to that young lady. But, even had she come wilfully, andin the full knowledge of your prohibition, no circumstances whatevercould justify the rudeness with which I find she has been treated. Ihave now only to say that, if any gentleman presumes, either here orhereafter, to cast a reflection on the conduct of Miss Albina Marsden,in this or in any other instance, he must answer to me for theconsequences. And if I find that any lady has invidiously misrepresentedthis occurrence, I shall insist on an atonement from her husband, herbrother, or her admirer."
He then bowed and departed, and the company looked still more foolish.
"This lesson," thought Cheston, "will have the salutary effect of curingAlbina of her predominant follies. She is a lovely girl, after all, andwhen withdrawn from the influence of her mother, will make a charmingwoman and an excellent wife."
Before the carriage stopped at the residence of Mrs. Marsden, Chestonhad made Albina an offer of his heart and hand, and the offer was notrefused.
Mrs. Marsden was scarcely surprised at the earliness of Albina's returnfrom the party, for she had a secret misgiving that all was not right,that the suppression of the note would not eventuate well, and shebitterly regretted having done it. When her daughter related to her thestory of the evening, Mrs. Marsden was overwhelmed with compunction;and, though Cheston was present, she could not refrain fromacknowledging at once her culpability, for it certainly deserved nosofter name. Cheston and Albina were shocked at this disclosure; but, incompassion to Mrs. Marsden, they forbore to add to her distress by asingle comment. Cheston shortly after took his leave, saying to Albinaas he departed, "I hope you are done for ever with Mrs. WashingtonPotts."
Next morning, Cheston seriously but kindly expostulated with Albina andher mother on the folly and absurdity of sacrificing their comfort,their time, their money, and, indeed, their self-respect, to the paltrydistinction of being capriciously noticed by a few vain, silly,heartless people, inferior to themselves in everything but in wealth andin a slight tincture of soi-disant fashion; and who, after all, onlytook them on or threw them off as it suited their own convenience.
"What you say is very true, Bromley," replied Mrs. Marsden. "I begin toview these things in their proper light, and as Albina remarks, we oughtto profit by this last lesson. To tell the exact truth, I have heardsince I came to town that Mrs. Washington Potts is, after all, by nomeans in the first circle, and it is whispered that she and her husbandare both of very low origin."
"No matter for her circle or her origin," said Cheston, "in our countrythe only acknowledged distinction should be that which is denoted bysuperiority of mind and manners."
Next day Lieutenant Cheston escorted Mrs. Marsden and Albina back totheir own home--and a week afterwards he was sent unexpectedly on acruise in the West Indies.
He returned in the spring, and found Mrs. Marsden more rational than hehad ever known her, and Albina highly improved by a judicious course ofreading which he had marked out for her, and still more by her intimacywith a truly genteel, highly talented, and very amiable family from theeastward, who had recently bought a house in the village, and in whosesociety she often wondered at the infatuation which had led her to fancysuch a woman as Mrs. Washington Potts, with whom, of course, she neverhad any farther communication.
A recent and very large bequest to Bromley Cheston from a distantrelation, made it no longer necessary that the young lieutenant shouldwait for promotion before he married Albina; and accordingly their uniontook place immediately on his return.
Before the Montagues left Philadelphia to prosecute their journey to thesouth, there