Pride and Principle
Which Makes the Lady?
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1850
O, no, my dear! Never go to the hall-door. That's the waiter's business," said Mrs. Pimlico, laying her hand, as she spoke, upon the arm of her daughter Helen.
"But it's only Jane and Lizzy Malcolm, and John is away up in the fourth story. I can let them in before he gets half way down."
"No, my dear!" the mother replied, with dignity. "It's the waiter's place to answer the bell. No lady or gentleman ever goes to the door to admit a visitor!"
"Mrs. Henry does, sometimes, for he opened the door for me the last time I called at her house to see Mary."
"Then Mrs. Henry was not raised a lady, that's all I have to say."
"I don't know how that is, mother; everybody seems to like Mrs. Henry; and I have heard some speak of her as a perfect lady. But why in the world doesn't John answer the bell? He certainly hasn't heard it. I will go and call him." And Helen made a movement to leave the room, but her mother again checked her, saying, "Why don't you keep quiet, child? A lady never runs after the waiter to tell him that visitors are at the door. It's his place to hear the bell."
"But, suppose, Mother, as in the present case, he does not hear it, and you do?"
"Let the visitors ring again, as ours are doing at this moment."
Nearly a minute passed after the bell had been rung a second time, and yet John did not go to the door. He was engaged up in the fourth story, and did not hear the sound.
"Strange that John does not come!" Helen said "Doesn't you think I'd better let the girls in, Mother. I'm afraid they'll go away, and I want to see them very much. And, besides, you know it is a long walk up here for them, and especially fatiguing for Lizzy, who has only been out once or twice since her severe illness. I would not have them go away for anything."
"No, Helen, you cannot! Haven't I already told you that no lady ever answers the door-bell. That reason, one would think sufficient."
"But surely, Mother, there are certain circumstances under which the violation of such a rule, would be no treason against social etiquette."
"No lady, I tell you, Helen, ever breaks that rule, and you must not. But ring the bell, dear, for a servant."
The bell was rung, and to the servant who appeared a few moments after, Mrs. Pimlico said,
"Go and see where the waiter is, and tell him to attend the street door."
But, before John could be found, the young ladies had departed. They lived in a part of the city distant from that in which Mrs. Pimlico resided, and had come out expressly to call upon Helen. Lizzy Malcolm, as was intimated by Miss Pimlico, had but recently recovered from a very severe illness. She was still weak, and able to bear but little fatigue.
"There is no one at the door," John said, entering the parlor, nearly five minutes after the direction to call him had been given by Mrs. Pimlico.
"Very well, John. But another time be more attentive. Through your negligence of duty, our visitors have been forced to go away. This must not occur again."
"Just as I feared," Helen said, with disappointment and concern, as soon as John had left the room. "I wished to see Lizzy Malcolm, particularly. But that is a matter of little importance, compared with the consequences to herself that may be occasioned by excessive fatigue. To walk this far, and her health so feeble as it is, must have been a great effort. How will she possibly be able to get home, without either rest or refreshment? Indeed, Mother, etiquette or no etiquette--I think we were wrong! It seems to me, that one leading characteristic of a lady, is to be considerate of others to seek the happiness and the good of others--not to be all deference to mere external rules and forms, to the death of genuine lady-like principles."
"How foolish you talk, Helen! If you expect to move in well-bred society, you must show yourself to be a well-bred woman. And no well-bred woman ever violates the prescribed rules of etiquette. I am as sorry as you can be, that necessity compelled us to let the Misses Malcolm go away from our door without admission. But I would not admit the President's daughter myself, nor allow you to do it, even if the waiter could not be found. No lady, as I have often tried to impress upon your mind, ever opens her own door to admit anyone. Let visitors go away, if necessary, but stand by the good customs of your station."
"But what harm could have arisen from my just opening the door, and letting in Lizzy and her sister. No one from the street would have seen me."
"Would the Misses Malcolm have seen you?"
"Very well. Don't you suppose they would have blazoned it about? Certainly they would, to your loss of social standing!"
"I am, no doubt, exceedingly dull, and exceedingly vulgar, Mother. But, for my life, I cannot understand how the mere opening of a door, or the calling of a servant, can in any way affect a lady or a gentleman's social standing among sensible people, who are supposed to have the faculty of discriminating moral worth, and the virtue to estimate every one according to his real inner quality. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I would not have the slightest objection to its being known everywhere that I visit, that I have opened the front door a dozen times every week during the last four years!"
Thus far the conversation had been conducted, on the part of the mother, in a perfectly calm and dignified manner. The avoidance of all appearance of excitement was as much a rule of external observance, as the cutting of a lemon or coconut pudding with a spoon, or the saturating of her bread in the gravy and sauce of her dinner plate, and thus conveying them to the masticatory cavity, instead of using so ungenteel an instrument as a knife in eating. But the bold declaration of such unheard-of opinions in genteel society, and that from her own daughter, broke down the spell of composure that had been so well assumed.
"Fool! Fool that I was!" ejaculated Mrs. Pimlico, rising quickly to her feet, and walking backwards and forwards in an agitated manner, "ever to have permitted you to become the guest of your Aunt Mary's family! I always knew that she was a woman of no breeding, but I forgot that her lack of gentility might, unhappily, be transferred to my own daughter."
"Mother!" said Helen, in a firm voice, "if there ever was a lady--Aunt Mary is one!"
Mrs. Pimlico stopped suddenly in her nervous ramble, and stared at her daughter with a look of blank amazement.
"To think that I should ever hear a child of mine make such a declaration!" she at length said, half mournfully. "Your Aunt Mary, a lady! She is one neither by birth nor education, let me tell you, Helen. She never is, and never will be a lady, although a very good woman in her way. But if she were a saint, that would not constitute her a lady. I wish you would learn to make a just discrimination between a woman of kind feelings, excellent moral character, and intelligence, all of which my brother's wife possesses--and a lady. The former we meet with in all classes, but the thorough-bred lady is not of every-day occurrence."
"I would really like to know what constitutes a lady, Mother," Helen replied. "Since I have come home, I find that, on this subject, all my previous ideas go for nothing. I thought I had been fully instructed on this subject; but it seems I have been mistaken."
"Instructed? By whom?"
"By my aunt, and by my own common sense."
"By your aunt!" (with an expression of contempt). "Would you go to a blacksmith to learn music?"
"A residence of four years with my aunt has made me so well acquainted with her character, as to cause me to love her tenderly. I cannot, therefore, hear her lightly spoken of without pain," Helen said, with much feeling.
A cutting retort trembled upon Mrs. Pimlico's tongue; but she all at once remembered that to exhibit feeling of any kind, was unfitting in a well-bred woman. She therefore contented herself with merely saying, in a cold voice,
"I never admired your aunt; you must not, therefore, be offended, if I give my reasons for not liking her."
Mrs. Pimlico was a thorough-bred woman of the world. She was a lady, in the conventional sense of that term, and belonged to that portion of society which passes not over one jot or tittle of the law of etiquette. All were judged by one unvarying standard. No matter how virtuous, how high-minded, how self-sacrificing for the good of others, any person might be--they were looked upon by her as unfit to mingle in "good society," if they were detected in any deviation, through manifest ignorance, from the social statute. An instance or two of her rigid adherence to conventional rules, will illustrate her character.
"I want to introduce you to Mr. Lionel, my dear," said Mr. Pimlico to her one evening, while they were in a large company.
"You must excuse me, Mr. Pimlico," she replied, drawing herself up with dignity. "He is not a gentleman."
"Mr. Lionel not a gentleman!" said her husband, in surprise.
"No. Didn't you notice him at Mr. Elmwood's dinner party eating fish with a knife. Who ever heard of such a thing? And worse than that: when asked by Mr. Elmwood to carve a turkey, he actually pushed back his chair, and stood up to it!"
Mr. Pimlico said no more. He knew his wife well enough, to understand that she was in earnest.
On another occasion she refused to be introduced to a gentleman, because, at a dinner party, in handing his plate to a waiter, he had laid his knife and fork straight, instead of crossed, upon it; and, after concluding the meal, instead of placing his knife and fork in parallel lines beside his plate, he had been so vulgar as to leave both knife and fork upon his plate. The lady who presided at the table on the occasion, was likewise voted by her, as not a well-bred woman, because she used a knife instead of a spoon to serve a coconut pudding, which resembles a pie, and is so treated by nearly every one. The suspicion of lack of clear pretensions to gentility in both herself and husband, was corroborated in various ways. As, for instance, the carving-knives placed by the dishes containing fowls were not short-bladed, and of the peculiar construction required the dessert-knives were of fine polished steel, instead of silver; and, worse than all, steel forks were actually placed beside each plate, as well as silver ones, thus providing for that most vulgar practice, the use of a steel fork as a fork, instead of a silver one as a spoon, or a scoop-shovel.
Her only daughter, Helen, had resided for four years in the family of Mrs. Pimlico's brother, who lived in the city where she had been sent to a celebrated school for young ladies. How far, in thus permitting Helen to reside from home for so many years, Mrs. Pimlico had been governed by a simple regard for the good of her child, we cannot pretend to guess. She was a proud, cold-hearted woman of fashion--one who esteemed herself better than others, just in the degree that she possessed a more minute knowledge of the arbitrary rules of etiquette, and observed them with undeviating precision. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Goodwin, as the reader has already learned, was no favorite with her, though she had been willing to let Helen remain an inhabitant of her family for four years. The reason of her lack of a very affectionate regard for Mrs. Goodwin, grew out of the fact of their characters and ends of action being diametrically opposite. Pride ruled the one Principle the other. One was ambitious of being considered a thorough-bred woman in high life--the other of doing good. The one thought of herself, and sought to be courted and admired--the other was humble-minded, seeking not her own glory, or the praise of men, but striving to bless all around her by kind acts, kind words, and cheerful smiles. Like oil and water, therefore, they could not mingle.
Helen had completed her period of instruction and returned home about six months previous to the time of the opening of our story. It was not long before Mrs. Pimlico discovered that she was alarmingly deficient in those fine points of observance by which a thorough-bred woman is at once distinguished. This was, to her, a source of great concern and mortification. Of the nature and strength of the principles which governed her, she thought but little. These were secondary to her external accomplishments.
From the time of her return to her father's house, Helen's fellowship with her mother had not been pleasant to her. She had lived long enough with her aunt to become familiar with and to love higher and nobler ends--than those which govern a mere woman of fashion, such as she discovered her mother to be. And as she was ever violating some unmeaning rule of so-called propriety, and meeting the penalty of censure, without being sufficiently conscious of wrong to repent and amend--her days passed far less happily than those which had been spent with her aunt, where some precept of true wisdom, or some living expression of true affection, marked each peaceful hour.
Still, she loved her mother, and, for her sake, strove to act by line and rule. But the impulses of a warm and generous heart, the habit of thinking little of herself, and of being governed by the rule of right under all circumstances--were constantly leading her into some little act or other, which provoked a maternal rebuke.
"I'm really afraid this walk will be too much for you," the mother of Lizzy Malcolm said, looking into her daughter's pale face, as the latter came down from her chamber, dressed to go out, and accompanied by her sister Jane.
"Oh no, Mother. I feel quite strong this morning and the day is so fine. We will walk slowly, and then sit a good while at Mrs. Pimlico's. I promised Helen Pimlico that I would see her today."
"Well, go along, child but take care of yourself. Over-fatigue may throw you back again, and keep you confined to the house all this fall and winter."
"Don't be uneasy, Mother. I'll take good care of myself," Lizzy said, smiling, as she turned away.
The day, though bright, was cool for the season. Lizzy Malcolm had not walked many squares, before she felt a good deal fatigued, as well as chilled by the cold, penetrating atmosphere. She had miscalculated her strength. By the time they reached Mrs. Pimlico's, she was so faint that she had to lean against the door for support, while her sister rang the bell.
"I cannot stand a minute longer, sister," she said, after they had rang twice and waited for a good while. "I shall faint if they don't open the door soon."
Jane listened intently for a moment or two for the sound of someone approaching from within, then drawing her arm around Lizzy, and supporting her, she said, in a half-vexed tone,
"Come! The footman is probably asleep. And no one else dare open the door!"
As Lizzy descended the steps, and commenced walking, the change from a perfectly quiet, standing position, produced, temporarily, a healthier action of the vital functions, and threw the sluggish blood more quickly to the surface and extremities of the body, so that she had merely to lean heavily upon the arm of Jane, through which she had drawn her own on gaining the pavement, to be able to walk quite steadily. Still, she felt exceedingly fatigued and heavy in every limb, and, yet worse, had not gone far before a severe and blinding headache commenced, accompanied with nausea, to her, too sure a precursor of a sick day.
"How do you feel now?" Jane asked, for the tenth time, in a concerned voice, after they had walked along for several squares.
"I feel very sick," was the reply. "Every little while, a faintness comes over me. and I seem just as if I were going to fall to the ground. I'm afraid I won't be able to keep up much longer. What shall I do? I wouldn't like to faint here in the street!"
"We are not far now from Mrs. Henry's," Jane said. "Try and keep up--we will soon be there."
"Bless me! If there aren't Lizzy Malcolm and her sister!" exclaimed the lady of whom Jane had just spoken, rising from her seat at the window of a richly furnished parlor. "I didn't know she had been out since her severe illness. How pale she looks! She is no doubt fatigued with so long a walk, and mustn't be kept waiting at the door an instant."
As she said this, Mrs. Henry stepped quickly from the parlor, where she had been conversing with a visitor of some distinction in society, and went to the street-door, which she opened and held in her hand until the two young ladies had ascended the steps and entered the hall. Lizzy was too much exhausted to speak, which Mrs. Henry instantly perceiving, she drew her arm around her and assisted Jane to support her into the parlor, which she had only time to gain before she sank, fainting, upon a sofa. It was more than an hour before she recovered from this state of unconsciousness, and then she was too ill to sit up. Mrs. Henry had her removed to her chamber and bed, and Jane went home for her mother, who soon came, and, after consultation with Mrs. Henry, deemed it best to send for their family physician. The doctor found his patient with considerable fever, a strong tendency of blood to the head, and partial delirium. After prescribing as he deemed requisite, he advised the immediate removal of Lizzy to her own home, which was done. The cause of her illness, he said, arose altogether from over-fatigue, which had brought on what threatened to be a relapse into the disease from which she had so recently and but partially recovered. In this last fear, he was right. A long and painful illness was the consequence, from which she at last slowly recovered, but with, it was feared by both medical attendant and family, a shattered constitution.
During this sickness, Helen Pimlico visited the patient frequently. Her heart always smote her when she looked upon her pale face and emaciated form, and remembered that all this was in consequence of her having been permitted to go away from the door of her house, merely because it would have been, according to her mother's code, a violation of etiquette for any one to admit her, but the waiter.
"If I must obey such rules to be called a lady," she sighed to herself as she left the house of the sick girl one day, "then I do not wish to be honored by the empty title! I do not wish to be a lady--let me rather be a woman--a true woman, like my Aunt Mary."
On going home that day, she found that her mother had received a letter from her sister-in-law, informing her that she intended visiting Philadelphia in about two weeks, to spend a month or so in the city.
"Oh, I am so glad!" exclaimed Helen, clapping her hands with delight, and actually taking one or two bounds from the floor. But she stopped suddenly on seeing her mother's look of surprise, rebuke, and mortification.
"Really, Helen, I'm discouraged with you!" said Mrs. Pimlico "utterly discouraged! I did hope that my daughter would become a well-bred woman, a lady in the true sense of that term. But I am in despair. Your Aunt Goodwin has utterly ruined you!"
"What have I done?" asked Helen, with a look of blank amazement. "I am sure I meant nothing wrong."
"Who ever saw anyone in good society, enact a scene like that? Jumping up and clapping your hands like a vulgar country tomboy! Will you never learn to practice that dignified repose, which is undisturbed by any intelligence?"
"Undisturbed by any intelligence! Would you have me become as immovable as a statue?"
"Yes, as immovable as a statue--rather than as agitated and disorderly as a monkey!"
Nature forcibly asserted her right, and caused Mrs. Pimlico to show a little--a very little though still a well-defined excitement, as she uttered the last sentence, thus exhibiting a gleam of the woman, shining through a crack in the conventional crust of good-breeding. She was conscious of this, and regained, by a well-timed effort, her calm and dignified exterior.
"A true gentlewoman," she added, "never enacts a scene under any circumstances. News of the greatest misfortune that could befall her, is received with the same calmness and apparent indifference, as the intelligence of some distinguished favor, or happy event. Her business is to be composed under all circumstances. This being one of the invariable standards by which she is known, there is no difficulty in distinguishing a lady from a mere ordinary woman. You, my dear, are not sufficiently composed. Suppose anyone had seen you jump up and clap your hands as you did just now at the bare news that a woman like your Aunt Mary was going to pay us a visit--what would they have thought of you? It would have effectually destroyed your prospects in life!"
Helen could not understand how her expression of joy, at the news of her aunt's visit, even if it had been seen by others, was going to affect her prospects in life. But she did not say so--for opposition to, or questions as to the correctness of any of her mother's opinions--always grieved her. She, therefore, remained silent, while her mother gave her another of her long and tedious lectures on etiquette.
Mr. Goodwin, the brother of Mrs. Pimlico, was a lawyer of eminence, residing in a city some three or four hundred miles from that which had the honor of numbering his sister among the members of its most distinguished and fashionable votaries. He was a real gentleman, that is, one from the heart. And his wife was a real American woman, inside and out. Both were respected and loved in the circle of true refinement and intelligence where they moved. Not for their calm, cold exterior, not because of their strict observance of every fine law in the code of etiquette--but for their genuine goodwill towards all, that never permitted them to say or do anything to offend good sense, real good-breeding, or virtuous principles.
Mrs. Goodwin, like Mrs. Pimlico, went much into company, and sought, like her, positions of influence. But, with what different ends! While the artificial gentlewoman sought praise and glory--Mrs. Goodwin sought to inspire all around her with elevated sentiments and correct principles of action. While the former looked for deference to herself--the latter forgot herself in her efforts to make others pleased and happy. Thus it was, that a principle of good will to all, made Mrs. Goodwin a lady; while pride and self-love, gave to Mrs. Pimlico merely the external semblance of one.
The residence of Helen with her aunt and uncle, had been a blessing both to them and to herself. They had no children of their own. Their love for her was, in consequence, of a tenderer character than it otherwise would have been. In the few years that she spent with them, her mind expanded rapidly in its advance to maturity; and they had the unspeakable pleasure of guiding and protecting this expansion--and seeing Helen's character taking that true form which distinguishes the real woman of worth, from the conventional lady. In parting with her, they found that they had loved her even more tenderly than they had imagined; that she seemed so much like their own child, as to make the separation, which was to be a permanent one, deeply painful. During the few months which had elapsed since her return home, a regular correspondence had been kept up between Helen and her aunt, in which the former had hinted only vaguely at her mother's excessive deference to the smallest social forms, too many of which were, to her, perfectly unmeaning. But, enough was apparent to one so well acquainted with Mrs. Pimlico's peculiarities as Mrs. Goodwin, to make her fully aware of the trying, if not dangerous, position in which Helen was placed.
"I really think we shall have to make your sister a visit," Mrs. Goodwin said, one day, about six months after Helen had returned home. "I cannot tell you how much I desire to see our dear Helen."
"That will hardly be possible," Mr. Goodwin replied. "Three or four hundred miles is a long journey. And just at this time, my business requires close attention."
Mrs. Goodwin sat, thoughtful, for some time. and then said in a quiet, but serious voice,
"Apart from the pleasure it would give me to see the dear girl again, I think duty really calls upon me to make some sacrifices for her sake. She has been with her mother for about six months of the most critical portion of her life. We both know, too well, the false standard she sets up, and the pertinacity with which she will seek to make Helen square her conduct by that standard; instead of guiding her into the living principles of right conduct in life, from which flow, as a pure stream from a pure fountain--the highest forms of social fellowship those which have governed the best, the wisest, and the most refined men and women of this or any other age. Helen is young, and, we know, loves her mother tenderly; and we cannot tell how the latter may insinuate into her mind, her own false notions, and cause her to act from them. If she had not entrusted Helen to our care for so many years, thus throwing upon us the duty of guiding her opening mind, and sowing there the seeds that are to spring up and produce fruit in after age; and if Helen were not now of a rational and therefore individually responsible age, I would deem any act that looked to the destruction of her mother's peculiar influence over her, as decidedly wrong. But we have a certain responsibility in regard to her. It fell to our duty to implant good seed in her mind, and now, it seems to me that we would be blameable, if we did not do our best to prevent evil seed from being sown, and springing up in luxuriant vegetation, to the weakening or extermination of the good. Does it not so present itself to your mind?"
"Perhaps you are right," Mr. Goodwin said, thoughtfully. "But what can you do by a mere visit of a few days or a few weeks, to counteract the daily and hourly influence of her mother?"
"Not much, if Helen has already yielded herself up blindly to her influence. But this, I don't believe to be the case. I think she is still struggling against mere prescription, and seeking to discover the good and the true in everything. I do not propose to myself, to take any distinct counter-positions to her mother, to array myself in open opposition to her, in her own sphere of action; but to strengthen and sustain Helen by my example, to let her come within the attractive impulses of another and a different sphere. If still firm in her love of principles in action, my presence for a little while may be of great use to her. If she is wavering, I may be able to exhibit to her a truer standard than the one about to be adopted."
To this, Mr. Goodwin did not reply for some time. At length he said,
"You are right, Mary. If, in the order of divine Providence, it becomes our duty to sow good seed--then we ought, as far as it is in our power, to seek to water that seed, and protect it, as it springs up, from poisonous plants. In the
present case, we cannot do much; nor would it be right to attempt to do much. But I think you had better make my sister a visit, and spend a few weeks with her. It will not be in my power to accompany you. But you can go alone."
"I would rather not go alone," Mrs. Goodwin said, looking up into her husband's face with a glance of affection. "I am not a favorite with your sister, and shall not feel comfortable unless you are along."
"I wish it were in my power to go, Mary, but it is not at this time. I have two or three cases on hand which require my attention. But the end which you propose to yourself is one involving a serious duty. If we set out to act from right principles, we will sometimes be required to do violence to our feelings. But this you have already learned."
"True. Then you think I ought to visit Philadelphia, even if I have to go alone?"
"I do. If I can possibly leave home at the termination of your visit, I will come on for you."
This matter decided, a letter was written to Mrs. Pimlico, announcing that her sister-in-law would be in Philadelphia in a few weeks. The receipt of this letter, as has been seen, occasioned some little excitement in the minds of both the mother and daughter. The former was really not much gratified by the news; while the latter was in ecstasies that it required all her self-possession to control.
"Your aunt will be here today, Helen," Mrs. Pimlico said to her daughter, a few hours before the time at which Mrs. Goodwin was expected to arrive. "And I shall expect to see you conduct yourself, when she makes her appearance, with a due sense of propriety. Do not offend me by any vulgar excitement, with exclamations and embraces like a stage actress. Receive your aunt as every lady receives even her dearest friend--with calmness and dignity. A smile, a gentle salutation, and a quiet pressure of the hand, constitute the true mode. To deviate from these materially, is vulgar in the extreme!"
Helen was silent. She felt that it would be utterly impossible for her to follow the prescription of her mother. She loved her aunt with a fervent love; and when she thought of meeting her so soon, she could with difficulty keep back the tears of joy. She knew that, when she did appear, she could no more refrain from throwing herself into her arms and weeping with intense delight, than she could still the pulsations of her heart by an effort of the will.
"Remember," resumed Mrs. Pimlico, seeing that her daughter made no reply, and guessing pretty correctly the reason, "that if you do not govern yourself by my directions, I shall be deeply offended. You have now arrived at a woman's age, and should act like a woman--not like a young and foolish school-girl!"
"But suppose, Mother, I shall not be able to govern myself? I love my aunt, for the affection she so uniformly showed me through all the time I was a member of her family; and when I meet her, I do not see how I can refrain from expressing all that I feel. Is it wrong to feel for my aunt, both gratitude and affection?"
"No, I suppose not."
"Then, if it be not wrong to feel this, how can it be wrong to show it? My aunt has always told me that the natural expression of a good affection cannot be wrong; that, in fact, unless good affections are allowed to come out into ultimate action, they will perish."
"Your aunt, I have before told you, is not governed by the rules which belong to good society. She knows nothing of them. If you persist in making her antiquated notions, a standard of action, you will soon be driven to the outside of the circle into which I am striving to introduce you. So far from this rule of feeling coming out into action, being true, at least for well-bred women, the very reverse is the fact. A true lady never exhibits the slightest feeling on any occasion. She has, at least to all appearance, no feelings whatever."
"Then, it seems to me," Helen said, "that a woman and a lady, are two different things."
"Undoubtedly!" was the reply of Mrs. Pimlico. "Women are to be met with in every circle--but a lady is of rare occurrence."
Poor Helen was deeply disturbed by this conversation. Her mother's doctrine, she could neither comprehend nor approve. The truth of all Mrs. Goodwin's precepts, had been fully apparent. They accorded with her own rational perceptions; but her mother's code of ethics and rules for conduct in society, were, to her straight-forward, sincere mind--wide deviations from true grounds of action. The last, positively uttered axiom, decided her to keep silence, and endeavor, for her mother's sake, to be as composed as it was possible for her to be when her aunt should appear. A few hours brought the trial of this composure. Her aunt came at the time she was expected to arrive. A carriage, with baggage lashed on behind, stopped before the house, and, in a moment after, the bell was rang loudly.
"Oh! There's Aunt Mary!" exclaimed Helen, springing up, and moving quickly towards the door. Her name, uttered in a firm, reproving tone, and a steady glance from Mrs. Pimlico, made her pause, and then slowly retrace her steps and seat herself in the spot from which she had arisen, her heart throbbing heavily. The door soon was opened, there was the sound of quick footsteps in the passage and, in a moment after, Mrs. Goodwin entered. Mrs. Pimlico rose with quiet dignity, and advanced to meet her.
"Sister Mary, I bid you welcome," she murmured, in a calm, yet sweetly-modulated voice, taking the hand extended by Mrs. Goodwin, and bending to salute her.
"Aunt Mary!" said Helen, coming towards her, not with a quick, eager movement, but with forced composure. She could do no more than utter the beloved name. Her heart too full of joy, was repressed by her mother's presence. The effort to give utterance to that joy, would have destroyed her self-control.
"My dear Helen! How glad I am to see you!" Mrs. Goodwin exclaimed, starting forward a few paces to meet her niece, and extending her arms to embrace her.
For a single instant, Helen struggled with her feelings, and then, with the tears of joy gushing from her eyes, she flung herself upon the bosom of her beloved relative, and wept and sobbed like a child.
Of course, such an exhibition of feeling was an outrage upon Mrs. Pimlico.
"Helen!" she said, somewhat sternly, as soon as the maiden's emotion had subsided; "your conduct is altogether unfitting a daughter of mine. I have told you over and over again, that to enact a scene is highly improper. No well-bred woman ever allows herself to be betrayed into any such vulgarities. Why do you oblige me to allude so frequently to these matters? And why mar the pleasure of your aunt's visit, by compelling me to reprove you during the first few minutes that have passed since her entrance into my house?"
"Helen, it seems to me, has done nothing worthy of reproof," Mrs. Goodwin said, after her niece, whose heart was too full to utter a word, had hastily retired from the room, and she had gone up with Mrs. Pimlico to the chamber assigned to her. "I saw only the natural expression of innocent and amiable feelings such as I would encourage, rather than check, in a child of mine."
"Such things may do well enough for ordinary people, sister Mary," Mrs. Pimlico replied, with much dignity of tone and manner. "But I wish to make Helen a well-bred woman, and well-bred women never exhibit any feeling."
"Why not?" asked Mrs. Goodwin.
"Because," was the reply, "well-bred people understand so thoroughly the true philosophy of life, that they never permit anything which occurs, to disturb them. The news of the loss of a penny, or the loss of an estate, is received with like composure by a man of true breeding. And a gentlewoman exhibits, on all occasions, the same absence of excitement. True dignity resides in calmness. To be disturbed by every event, marks the weak and vulgar mind."
"Suppose, however, you are really disturbed by an event?"
"Conceal that inward turbulence, by all means. Assume a virtue, if you have it not," Mrs. Pimlico said, dogmatically.
"Then, to indulge a wrong feeling is nothing. The evil lies in permitting it to be seen. The form is rendered of more consequence than the substance. The cause is of secondary consideration. It may be allowed to exist, if the effect can be concealed. I cannot believe such a philosophy, to be the true one. It seems to me to strike at the foundation of all real virtue. It would make a community of hypocrites."
"That is because you have not a just idea of what is meant by a well-bred woman. She need not be a hypocrite. Let her, as she really should, be internally unexcited, no matter what may transpire. Excitement does no good--then why indulge it? It ever, as I have said, marks a vulgar mind. Events take place independent of our control--why fret about them, if adverse? or allow them to betray us into a school-girl's excitement, if prosperous or happy?"
Mrs. Goodwin did not reply to this for some moments; then she said,
"I can see little in all this, but the pride of being thought what we are not. As you have justly said, it is the assumption of a virtue which does not exist. You and I, and everyone around us, even the most well-bred stoic, in appearance, that there is--know too well, that the inner calmness you would assume, does not, and cannot exist in this life. We are, in reality, creatures of excitement. We have joy today, and grief tomorrow. Now, emotions of pleasure swell in our bosoms; and then, we are oppressed by pain. All these have their natural language, and, unless allowed to speak out in some degree, will act injuriously on mind and body.
"A striking fact in illustration of the injurious effects of suppressed emotions upon the body, is given in some medical reports to which my husband called my attention recently. Army surgeons who have seen much service on the field of battle, state, that a much larger proportion of French than English soldiers who are wounded in battle, recover. The French are not ashamed to cry out and groan, and writhe their bodies from pain; while the English think it unfitting and unmanly to exhibit any strong indications of suffering. The free expression of the pain of body and anguish of mind they feel, which is but the natural language of suffering, being orderly--tends to health. While the suppression of all external signs of what is felt, being a disorderly and constrained state--tends to internal congestion of the vital organs, and consequently, renders the condition of the sufferer worse by many degrees."
"But I cannot see how this applies to, or condemns exterior calmness in ordinary life."
"It is a strong example, illustrative of a true principle; and applies, I think, with much force to the moral condition of society. If, from the mere pride of exterior composure, all natural emotions be subdued--it cannot but happen that violence will be done to the mind, as in the case of the soldier, it was done to the body. Men and women, who thus suppress, from no higher ends than to appear what they are not, the natural language of the feelings--may, perhaps, stifle all really good and generous emotions. They may become cold and heartless, but they will find, in the end, when these external motives cease to influence them, that the surface of their lives can be ruffled not by the gentle summer breezes, but by the chilling blasts of a dreary autumn. Depend upon it, the life you would have your daughter live, is a false life, and its consequences will be lamentable. Violence is never done to nature--that she does not react upon that violence, sooner or later with pain. It is true of the body, and just as true of the mind, from which the body exists, and which employs the body as its medium of communication with the visible things of creation in the material universe.
"Do not, therefore, rebuke in her what is innocent and orderly. If she feels a generous affection for anyone, let it appear in the tone of her voice, the brightening of her eye, and even in warmly-spoken words--for these are innocent. If she is in pain, let her weep--it will do her good. Let the internal excitement that is innocent, come into external manifestation and pass off--then it can do her no harm. Imprison this excitement, and it will be in her bosom like a hidden serpent!"
But Mrs. Pimlico neither understood nor approved Mrs. Goodwin's mode of reasoning. Her replies were only repeated declarations of the social doctrine, that excitement was vulgar, and never indulged by a well-bred woman. Pride was her rule, and this never listens to the claims of mere Principle.
The rebuke which Mrs. Pimlico gave Helen for her lack of lady-like composure, instead of producing the desired effect, only caused a more violent, though different kind of excitement. On leaving the presence of her mother and aunt, she retired to her room, and there gave way to a fit of weeping, which agitated her whole frame. It was fully an hour afterwards, before she could so command her feelings as to venture to make her appearance. And even then, marks of tears were upon her cheeks, and her face wore a sober, subdued expression. She found her aunt alone in the parlor.
"I promised myself so much happiness, dear aunt!" she said, with a trembling voice, and suffused eyes, "in seeing you again. But the last hour has been one of the most wretched in my whole life. My mother's doctrine may be true, but if it is, I, for one, cannot live up to it. Such violence to my feelings would kill me. Tenderly do I love my mother, and often do I feel like throwing myself into her arms, and shedding tears of affection upon her bosom--but I dare not do this. Nothing would offend her more than such a lack of decorum, as she would call it."
To this, Mrs. Goodwin hardly knew what to reply. She did not think it right openly to condemn the mother's unhealthy notions of the external conduct to her child; and yet, she felt it to be her duty to impart some strength to one who saw the truer way, and wished to walk in it, and who looked up to her eagerly for words of encouragement. Before she had time to reply, Mrs. Pimlico entered. A few minutes after, visitors came in. They were a Mr. and Mrs. Glanville, who stood among the first in the most accomplished and intelligent circles in the city. They had a son and daughter, both of age, and both favorites in society. The son was a very handsome young man, and a thorough gentleman both exteriorly and interiorly. Mrs. Pimlico had often thought of him as the man of all others, whom she would rather see the husband of Helen. And she had not scrupled to use all the little arts in her power, to draw Albert Glanville's attention towards her daughter. Helen's lack of true refinement, annoyed her particularly on this account. Albert was a thorough-bred gentleman, and could not, of course, tolerate, for a moment, vulgarity in a wife. And yet, it could not be concealed. Helen was extremely vulgar, and remained so in spite of all Mrs. Pimlico's efforts to give her social polish.
When Mr. and Mrs. Glanville were announced, Mrs. Pimlico was, at least internally, much disturbed. They were people of social rank, and thorough good-breeding--while Mrs. Goodwin was only a common woman; and yet she must, of necessity, introduce her to them, and as her sister-in-law. This she did, with the manner that befit a lady, and soon an interesting conversation was entered into with Mrs. Goodwin, whose intelligence, sweet temper, and sound sentiments, charmed both of the visitors. How they were affected by the presence of Helen's Aunt Mary, their conversation on leaving the house will indicate.
"Really," said Mr. Glanville, with warmth, "that Mrs. Goodwin is a charming woman. It is a rare treat to meet such a one, so different from your cold, artificial ladies, of whom Mrs. Pimlico is the representative."
"You express my own thoughts precisely," Mrs. Glanville replied. "How simple, and yet how charming are her manners! There is a summer warmth about them. And her face--did you ever see a countenance which expressed so much? It was ever varying to the play of her thoughts and feelings, and gave peculiar force and charm to her animated conversation. I could not help marking the contrast between her and Mrs. Pimlico--the peculiar calm, lifeless manner of the latter never appeared to me in such an unfavorable light. She is a well-bred lady. But Mrs. Goodwin is one by nature."
"Mrs. Goodwin is the aunt with whom Helen has lived for the last few years, I believe?"
"Yes. And what is more, her character is evidently formed upon her model, rather than her mother's. Did you not observe with what a pleased interest she listened to her aunt's conversation, and how coldly and strangely she looked at her mother when she spoke?"
"I did observe something of the kind. And no wonder. There was substance in form in what was uttered by the one--and form without substance in what was uttered by the other."
"A just distinction, indeed," remarked Mrs. Glanville. "Glad am I, that we have not a preponderance in our best circles of such artificial women as Mrs. Pimlico; who are, at best, the mere apes of good-breeding, of which they talk so much. Women who estimate the standing and worth of another, by the way she uses her knife and fork; the peculiar manner in which she enters a room; or by her use of the words street-door instead of front-door or, going to a party, instead of attending a party. Deviations in these unimportant matters are outrages against social etiquette, and considered offences heinous enough to exclude anyone from their charmed social circle."
"No doubt, then, Mrs. Pimlico esteems you a very vulgar woman," Mr. Glanville said, smiling, "for you asked her if she would attend the concert next week."
"Did I, indeed! How unfortunate! I am really afraid I shall lose social standing!"
"And worse than that, you were so much of an American as to say cotillion, instead of quadrille!"
"True! So I did! Well, I trust to be forgiven this time, if I mend my manners in future. I must be more on my guard. I find no difficulty in being kind and considerate towards all I meet, for then I act as I feel. But I cannot always remember the finer shades of arbitrary observances; though to sin against these is esteemed, by far too many, much worse than to pick a pocket!"
Mr. Glanville smiled at this remark, and then changed the subject.
On the day following that on which Mr. and Mrs. Glanville had called, notes of invitation came from the Glanvilles to Mr. and Mrs. Pimlico, Helen, and Mrs. Goodwin--asking the honor of their company for an evening in the coming week. The appearance of these gave Mrs. Pimlico both pleasure and pain, pleasure, because Helen would again be brought into the company of Albert Glanville; and pain, lest Mrs. Goodwin's lack of true polish should so disgust the Glanvilles--as to cause them to avoid an alliance with her daughter.
Under the influence of these conflicting emotions, the time passed until the appointed evening. During that period, the mother was instant in season and out of season, in endeavoring to instruct Helen in the most refined shades in the law of social etiquette appertaining to evening parties, nor did she omit to give Mrs. Goodwin certain hints as to proper conduct on such occasions.
But these were altogether lost, for Mrs. Goodwin had mingled in good society as well as she, and understood well enough how to conduct herself, though her code was based upon a principle of good-will towards all, and a desire to please in order to benefit; while Mrs. Pimlico was influenced merely by the pride of being thought well-bred.
When the time finally arrived, the little family party was kept an hour later than Mr. Pimlico, who was a man of good sense and good feelings, deemed it right to go, because Mrs. Pimlico could not be persuaded to appear before ten o'clock. Well-bred people, she said, never went before ten. At ten, punctually, their carriage set them down before the beautiful dwelling of Mr. Glanville. A few minutes afterwards, they entered the already crowded rooms, crowded with the "best-bred" people of the city, where, according to a certain writer, "purity of blood" is the passport into the finest circles. Unfortunately for Mrs. Pimlico, the crowd was too great for her to exhibit the perfect grace and propriety with which a lady should enter a drawing-room and fortunately, she thought, too great for her vulgar sister-in-law to attract attention.
As for Helen, she felt constrained. She had been lectured so much during the week, and had heard so much of the absolute importance of a certain well-bred ease, and a strict adherence to certain forms and observances--that her freedom was entirely gone. She felt awkward, and, what was worse, acted awkwardly. This, the watchful eye of her mother did not fail to perceive, and its real, though not apparent effect, was to disturb her deeply, notwithstanding her doctrine that a real gentlewoman, as she esteemed herself, should have no feeling.
Their entrance was soon perceived by Mrs. Glanville, who took especial pains to introduce Mrs. Goodwin to the "first people," who had honored her with their company. The fact that she was the sister-in-law of Mrs. Pimlico, gave her instant attention; and it was not long before she formed the center of a select group of ladies, each of whom Mrs. Pimlico considered among the first in social rank. This put the latter, well-bred and perfectly composed under all circumstances, as she was, on, as it is very vulgarly said, nettles. She trembled for the disgrace that must inevitably fall upon her family.
"Mrs. Goodwin seems to be already a favorite," said Mr. Glanville, coming up to Mrs. Pimlico, whose sensitive nerves would not permit her to make one with the group surrounding her sister-in-law. It was enough for her to know that she was disgraced, without being compelled to witness every shade and variety of that disgrace.
To the remark of Mr. Glanville, she hardly knew what to reply. It was evidently meant to relieve her mind, though uttered with the full consciousness that Mrs. Goodwin was not a fit woman to mingle in the polished circle he had invited to his house.
"My sister-in-law is a very excellent person in her way," she said, after a momentary embarrassment, "though no one is more fully aware than myself, of her ignorance in regard to those social accomplishments which mark the well-bred woman. I trust, however, that--"
"But, my dear madam," interrupted Mr Glanville, with some surprise in his manner, "you do Mrs. Goodwin injustice. If I am any judge, I would pronounce her as perfect a lady as is here tonight. I have met no one for a long time, who has interested me so much as she has done. Combined with a high degree of intelligence, she unites manners charmingly natural, and in genuine good taste. She is a woman who thinks and feels, and, what is best of all, thinks right and feels right. She is, at this moment, delighting everyone around her."
This relieved, and at the same time chagrined, Mrs. Pimlico. She was relieved to think she was not disgraced, and chagrined that Mrs. Goodwin was really eclipsing her. At the instance of Mr. Glanville, she joined the pleasant circle of which Mrs. Goodwin was a prominent member. The conversation had just taken a personal turn, which was resumed, as soon as the formalities attending Mrs. Pimlico's presence had been observed. The personality of the conversation merely consisted in an allusion, by a lady, to Lizzy Malcolm, who was present, and still bore traces of her recent illness.
"How pale and feeble Miss Malcolm looks," was the remark that turned the current of thought into a new channel.
"Yes," was the reply, "very pale and very feeble. She has suffered much in her recent illness, which had nearly proved fatal."
"She had a relapse, I believe?" said one.
"Yes," replied the first speaker, "and it was that which had well-near cost her her life."
"By the way," said another, "I have heard a curious story in connection with this matter, which I can hardly believe; and yet there are some people who are weak enough, and ignorant enough, to do anything. It is said that she had recovered from her first attack, and ventured out one fine day to make a call at some distance from home. When she arrived at the house where she had proposed to make her visit, it appears that the waiter was asleep, or out of the way, and she rang the bell in vain. Both the lady and her daughter, upon whom the call was made, saw her at the door, and knew that she had been ill, and was very feeble. But neither of them would open the street-door for her, nor allow a female servant to do so, because that would have exposed them, so they imagined, to the suspicion of being mere vulgar people. Before the waiter could be found, the almost fainting girl had to leave the door, and with trembling steps, a fluttering pulse, and a sudden blinding pain in the head, attempt the almost impossible task of wending her way homeward. A few squares of the distance had been accomplished, when she fortunately thought of a friend who lived near where she was. As she drew near to the lady's house, who stood really higher in the social circle than the other, she saw her from her window. Knowing that Miss Malcolm had been recently ill, and perceiving instantly that she walked with feeble steps, she ran to the door, opened it herself, and, meeting her halfway down the steps, assisted her to ascend them, and supported her into her parlor, upon gaining which she sank, fainting, upon a sofa. It was the relapse brought on by that over-fatigue, which so nearly terminated fatally."
"Is that really true?" asked Mr. Glanville. "I heard something of it before, but thought it an idle story. I did not believe that any, claiming to be ladies, could have acted so little like the character to which they aspired."
Mrs. Pimlico, as may well be supposed, found it a very hard task to maintain perfect external composure while such remarks were made--and she the real subject of them. In spite of all she could do, the blood mounted rapidly to her face.
"There is no question of its truth," said one, "for I had it from Lizzy Malcolm herself. She would not tell who the ladies were, only one of whom, however, was to blame.
The daughter, she said, was anxious to go to the door and admit her, as she had since learned; but her mother positively interdicted so ill-bred an act, as answering the bell in place of the waiter."
"It is really inconceivable," Mrs. Goodwin remarked at this stage of the conversation, "how anyone can make so gross a mistake as that, while striving after true external conduct. To be a lady, is not to be tied hand and foot by a set of rules, as immutable as the laws of the Medes and Persians. A true gentlewoman is one who never thinks of rules, much less talks about them, or regulates her conduct by them. She regards the happiness of every one, and, in her social fellowship, perceives instantly what she ought to do or say in order to avoid offending or injuring others; while, at the same time, she seeks to make them pleased with themselves, and all around them. Her movement is not in one unvarying orbit. Her conduct, always upright and governed by principle, is never alike to everyone. She accommodates herself to innocent prejudices, and makes liberal allowances for defects of education, in all with whom she comes in contact; ever looking, primarily, to uprightness of character, rather than to external accomplishments. In a word, a true lady is governed in all her actions, by this high consideration this purest law of etiquette: Is it right? What others may think of her, or how others may estimate her, never enters her thoughts. Is it right? decides all doubtful questions."
"Happy indeed would it be, if all around us were governed by such a law!" said Mr. Glanville, with warmth. "Then we should not have had our ears pained by the recital of so gross an outrage upon good-feeling, good-breeding, and every generous impulse of the human heart, as that just alluded to!"
As Mr. Glanville uttered this sentence, he fixed his eyes upon Mrs. Pimlico, not with design, but more by accident than anything else. He was surprised and startled to see her look of pain and confusion, and the sudden crimson mantling her face. The truth instantly flashed upon his mind, and he paused in deep embarrassment. All eyes were instantly turned upon Mrs. Pimlico, and all understood, in a moment, that she was the one who had acted with such singular folly. The first impulse of Mr. Glanville was to apologize; but what could he say? Before he could recover himself, however, Mrs. Pimlico arose in an agitated manner, and swept hurriedly from the room. Here was a scene! and the perfect gentlewoman, Mrs. Pimlico, the chief actor! The members of the little circle in which a place was made vacant by her sudden withdrawal, looked at each other for a moment or two in mute surprise. Mrs. Goodwin was deeply pained by this sudden and unlocked for exposure of her sister-in-law. Her position was embarrassing in a high degree. She was, however, the first to break the oppressive silence, by saying, in a calm, quiet voice, as she arose to her feet
"I must, of course, follow my sister-in-law, and leave with her, if such, as I presume it is, be her intention. We cannot blame her for being deeply hurt at what has been said, although all are, I am assured, alike innocent of any intention of singling her out, and wounding her feelings by harsh and censorious remarks. The circumstance may be a lesson to us all, teaching us the danger of alluding to acts of unknown people, in loose assemblies."
As Mrs. Goodwin gracefully bowed to the group of ladies, and turned to leave them, Mr. Glanville came to her side, and, offering his arm, conducted her from the drawing-room, expressing, as he did so, his deep and painful regret at the circumstance which had just occurred, and assuring her of his entire ignorance of the fact that Mrs. Pimlico was the individual to whom allusion had been made.
"When we deliberately purpose to wound another's feelings," Mrs. Goodwin said, "then we are to be censured. But where an act is done with no such intent, and the injury could not have been guarded against by ordinary foresight--we are to suppose that the circumstance has been permitted to occur for some good end. I have no doubt that such is the case in the present instance. The violent shock my sister's feelings have sustained, will, I trust, give her clearer views in regard to her social duties. If this is the result, none of us need blame ourselves very deeply."
"I think not," Mr. Glanville replied, a good deal relieved by the calm, philosophical way in which Mrs. Goodwin alluded to the unpleasant subject. By this time, they had gained the room to which Mrs. Pimlico had retired. She was already more than half-attired for departure.
"May I trouble you to ask my husband to step here," she said to Mr. Glanville, with remarkable self-composure, considering the little time that had passed since the unpleasant scene in the drawing-room.
Mr. Glanville bowed, and withdrew in silence to fulfill her request. To Mr. Pimlico he briefly explained, as well as he could, the unpleasant circumstance, and then went in search of his wife, to whom he communicated, more comprehensively, the incident that had occurred so inopportunely. Mrs. Glanville was much disturbed. She attended, however, the offended lady, and endeavored to prevail upon her not to leave so abruptly, but without effect.
"You are not going without Helen?" Mrs. Goodwin said, as Mrs. Pimlico moved towards the door.
"The carriage can return for her," was the reply. "If you will remain, and accompany her home, you will oblige me."
Mrs. Goodwin readily assented to this arrangement, greatly to the satisfaction of Mrs. Glanville, who was charmed with her manners, as much as her husband had been with her conversation.
"Helen must not be informed of this," she said, as she drew her arm within that of Mrs. Goodwin, and descended to join the company. "Her mother will hardly allude to the subject herself, and, as Helen is innocent in the matter, though in some sense an actor, I do not think her feelings should be wounded by a knowledge of what has occurred tonight."
"From my heart I thank you for that kind thought and kind intention," Mrs. Goodwin said. "Of course that dear girl is innocent. She has been like a daughter to me for the last four years, and I know her to be as different from what that act would represent her, as day is from night. If ever there was a lovely disposition, hers is one. And with her sweetness and innocence, there is a force of character, and a love of the truth for its own sake, rarely to be found. There are few, Mrs. Glanville, so worthy of esteem and love, as Helen Pimlico."
"I believe you," was the simple, but earnest reply, as the two entered the crowded rooms below.
"I shall have to scold Albert a little, I'm afraid," Mrs. Glanville remarked, in a laughing way, to Mrs. Goodwin, as the two moved amid the mirthful throng. "See! He is still monopolizing Helen. And that I don't think quite fair, particularly as he is in his own house, and therefore bound to be more general in his attentions."
Mrs. Goodwin smiled, but made no reply. She had heard her sister-in-law, more than once, allude to Albert Glanville in terms of as warm approval as she allowed herself to bestow on anyone. This had rather tended to prejudice her mind against him, than impress her favorably. The discovery that his father and mother were well-bred in the genuine sense, tended, however, to modify her almost involuntary opinion, and caused her to feel a glow of pleasure at the remark of Mrs. Glanville, which plainly indicated that her son was more than ordinarily pleased with Helen.
"Martin," said Mrs. Glanville, a moment after, to a young man whose side she had gained, "you see Albert and Miss Pimlico, there?"
"I do," was the smiling reply, accompanied by an arch look.
"Very well. I want you to ask Helen to dance with you in the next cotillion. Do you understand?"
"O yes! Perfectly."
"And you will do it?"
"Of course I will. The fact is, Albert has not acted fairly in monopolizing, as he has done, the sweetest girl in the room."
"Come, come, Martin, that won't do. Such distinctions, openly expressed, and especially to a partial mother, are out of place. Remember, that I have a daughter in the room."
The color rose to the young man's face, as he replied quickly,
"Pardon me, Mrs. Glanville. I spoke but half in earnest. Still--" and his voice was serious, "there is no disguising the fact, that Helen Pimlico is a lovely girl. Lovely in person, mind, and manner; although to me not half so lovely as--"
The name was spoken in a tone so low that it was heard only by the ear for which it was intended.
"Hush, Martin! You are forgetting yourself all around," Mrs. Glanville returned, pleasantly. "But go, and do as I wish you. Let me see you in the next set with Helen for your partner."
The young man gave a smiling assent, and turned away towards the part of the room where Albert and Helen were standing.
All this passed while Mrs. Goodwin was by the side of Mrs. Glanville. Of course she heard the whole conversation.
"Your niece is quite a favorite, you see," the latter remarked, as the young man she had addressed moved away. "And, let me add, deservedly so. Even my own son is so far forgetting himself, as to be negligent of his attentions to others, in the pleasure he derives from her society. This cannot but be gratifying to you, who love her so well."
"To me, it is doubly gratifying," replied Mrs. Goodwin. "The attentions she wins are but a just tribute to her real worth. To see them bestowed, is very pleasant. But the gratification I feel has a deeper source. My aim, in all my instruction and example, has been to imbue her mind with those genuine graces, which, when they flow forth into external life, are lovely far beyond any mere artificial accomplishments that can be given. I have constantly striven to give her the spirit of those external graces which make our conduct in life beautiful to be seen. Opposed to this, since her return, has been her mother's system, of which I have heard much during my visit. A rigid adherence to fixed and arbitrary social rules, without a thought of anything beneath them, is the all-in-all of this system. I have been told, that no one is received into good society, who is not thus refined--the outside of whose cup and platter is not thoroughly clean. What is inside, it seems is of little or no importance. But I have seen and heard enough this evening to satisfy me that in your higher circles, there prevails a just appreciation of those external beauties of conduct which spring spontaneously from an overflowing good will to all, united with a refined taste, and an intellect highly cultivated."
"And ever may such an appreciation of internal worth remain," replied Mrs. Glanville. "Mere rules of etiquette are for those, and those alone, who have no innate perception of how a lady or gentleman ought to act in social fellowship. For such, these are necessary, and an observance of these rules makes them tolerable. Without them, they would give offence to good taste on all occasions."
"The evil is, that they are so often substituted for the real gold," returned Mrs. Goodwin. "The counterfeit passes current with far too many, who cannot tell the real coin from the spurious; who are dazzled with the gilded surface of the one, while they turn away from the less showy but genuine exterior of the other."
"We have far too many of the class you designate," Mrs. Glanville said, in reply to this. "But their number is, I believe, fast diminishing. Good sense is becoming daily more fashionable. We have among us men and women, whose standing gives them consideration, who dare to think for themselves, and act for themselves, independent of all arbitrary forms, or the dictates of any mere prevailing custom. These exert a silent, but powerful, and beneficial influence. In a few years, I trust that a mere servile imitation of the foreign man and woman of fashion, will be esteemed a disgrace in American society; that, to be well-bred, will mean t be a gentleman and lady in heart. But I must not, in thus discoursing of what is right in external deportment, forget that all here require attentions alike."
As Mrs. Glanville said this, she led Mrs. Goodwin to a group of ladies, presented her, introduced a subject of conversation, and then turned away to see that others of her guests were enjoying themselves as well as these.
The young man whom Mrs. Glanville had called Martin, soon had Helen Pimlico for a partner, not much, however, to the satisfaction of Albert Glanville, who, in spite of himself, felt stupid the moment he found it incumbent on him to make himself agreeable to other young ladies. Although he had, already, danced twice with Helen, he watched for the opportunity of asking her to become his partner again, so soon as the cotillion in which she was engaged to Martin should be finished. But he was not quick enough. Her hand was secured before he could make his way to her side. And so it continued throughout the evening. He was not again favored with her as a partner either in dancing, promenading, or at the supper-table. He could not conceal from himself, that he felt strangely dull, and that it required his utmost efforts to compel himself to be agreeable to other young ladies.
As for Helen, she was pleased with his attentions, but in no way disappointed when others asked her hand in the dance, or lingered with pleased interest by her side. Her young heart beat in unison with the happy circle of which she made a part. It was a festive occasion, and she entered into it with a glad spirit.
Mrs. Pimlico returned home silent and gloomy. She had not taken half a dozen steps on leaving the little circle, whose free expression of opinion upon her conduct had excited and wounded her, before she was painfully conscious that she had forfeited her claims to being well-bred, by enacting a scene. The manner of Mr. Glanville satisfied her that he was innocent of any intention of insulting her. There was, therefore, no excuse for her loss of self-possession, which she ought, as a lady, to have maintained under all circumstances. The consciousness of this painfully mortified her, even more than the censure that had been passed upon her conduct. What she had done, had been done in accordance with the requisitions of a law of etiquette. She had acted in obedience to that law, and there rested her justification. Still, there was a common-sense truthfulness about Mrs. Goodwin's remarks, which had been received with evident satisfaction and full assent by all who had heard her; and among these were those who stood high as exponents of true social laws. The fact that they approved these sentiments, gave them a force in her mind, far above what the mere annunciation of them by her sister-in-law could possibly have had, especially as they were strongly condemnatory of her conduct, which was merely the offspring of pride. These facts awoke in her mind conflicting thoughts, with suddenly awakening doubts as to whether she were not, in her eager desire to be a thorough-bred gentlewoman, actually violating the real principles from which every lady ought to act.
Thus mortified, pained, and perplexed, did Mrs. Pimlico return to her home, after leaving the brilliant and happy company at Mrs Glanvilles. The fact, that her sister, of whose vulgarity she had been ashamed, should have made such a favorable impression, and have been pronounced by one whose opinion in such matters none would think of questioning, a genuine lady--stung her a good deal, more especially as she had not attracted any attention at first, and had been finally condemned by all who had expressed an opinion, as having acted in most gross violation of lady-like principles.
In silence she rode home, in silence entered the house, and in silence retired to her chamber and her bed; but not to sleep. Her mind was in a tumult, that seemed less and less disposed to subside, the more her thoughts dwelt upon the events of the evening. For, the more abstractly and intently she reflected upon what had taken place, and pondered over what had been said, the less satisfied did she become with herself. Every now and then a truth, opposed to her peculiar notions of things, would gleam up distinctly in her mind, contrasted with her opposite views, and cause her heart to bound with a quicker pulsation, and the blood to burn upon her cheeks. The consequences of her conduct towards the Misses Malcolm, as much as she tried to persuade herself that she had acted right, too palpably demonstrated the folly of making arbitrary laws superior to common perceptions of right. But what tended partially to dash the scales from her eyes, was the fact, that, while she had built so much upon a strict adherence to form, under all circumstances, the very people whom she had supposed equally tenacious with herself, did not hesitate to declare, that the internal spirit of kindness to all was superior to the mere dead external. That they were right, some remains of common sense plainly told her, although she but half believed this kind of vulgar testimony.
On the next morning, she met Mrs. Goodwin and Helen, with perfect self-possession, and with her usual calm manner. The latter was entirely ignorant of the reason of her mother's withdrawal from the party. In fact, she was not aware that she had gone home until about to go herself, and then the remark that her mother had wished to leave at an earlier hour, satisfied her. Mrs. Pimlico avoided any allusion to the previous evening; and Helen, fearful that some breach of propriety had been observed by her, shunned any allusion herself, lest a rebuke and lecture should follow. As for Mrs. Goodwin, she was too much of a lady to touch upon any subject that she knew would give another pain. The party at Mrs. Glanville's, was, there fore, by tacit consent, an disallowed subject.
Much to Helen's relief, the day passed without any allusion to the Glanvilles, or any rebuke for violated laws of social fellowship.
On the fourth day, a good deal to Mrs. Goodwin's surprise, the carriage was ordered, and Mrs. Pimlico gave notice that she was about to call upon Mrs. Glanville, and wished her sister-in-law and Helen to accompany her. They went, of course. Mrs. Pimlico met Mrs. Glanville, and even her husband, who happened to be at home, with the most perfect ease and self-possession, sat for some ten or twenty minutes, conversing freely all the while, and then returned to her carriage with Mrs. Goodwin and Helen, and proceeded to make several other calls, and, among others, upon one or two of the ladies who had made so free to condemn her conduct. With these, she was as self-possessed as she had been at Mrs. Glanville's, and interchanged with them, the compliments of the day, and entered into the passing gossip of the hour as freely as she had ever done before.
At all this, Mrs. Goodwin was somewhat surprised. She could not but admire the perfect acting of Mrs. Pimlico, which involved a most powerful effort of self-control. Few women could have so admirably sustained a part in life as difficult to perform; but pride was a powerful motive in the bosom of Mrs. Pimlico, and carried her safely over the trying effort to break down the barrier that her own lack of self-possession had thrown up.
But, from that time she was a changed woman. Conscious that she had carried her rigid practice of rules of conduct to an extreme that had attracted toward her annoying attention, and stirred up in the minds of even the most fastidious a question as to the superiority of form over substance--she deemed it but prudent to take an unobtrusive course, and thus allow matters quietly to come back to a state of equilibrium. Satisfied in her own mind that Helen knew all about the occurrence at Mrs. Glanville's, she avoided saying anything further to her about the observance of all the arbitrary forms of an over-strained etiquette; and, in a little while, her daughter began to feel more freedom, and to act with the ease, grace, and propriety so natural to her. This was a source of much gratification to Mrs. Goodwin.
A few weeks passed away, and the time for Aunt Mary to return home arrived.
"I am no doubt a little selfish," she said to Mrs. Pimlico, a few days before her departure; "but I cannot help wishing to rob you of Helen, even though she has been with you so short a time. Don't you think you could spare her for a month or two, or three?"
"I hardly know what to say, about that," was the somewhat indifferent reply of the mother, who had given up all idea of gaining Albert Glanville for her daughter's husband, since her own unfortunate blunder. "You must sound Mr. Pimlico on that subject. I don't know what he will say. But, as far as I am concerned, if it is Helen's wish, I shall not object to her return with you for a short time."
Mr. Pimlico, after some reflection, consented, and much to Helen's delight, she learned that she was, once more, even though for but a short period, to become a member of her aunt's quiet and well-arranged household.
"It seems that we are going to lose Helen Pimlico, just as we have become so well acquainted with her as to admire her for her elevated character and simple manners, and love her for her purity of heart," Mrs. Glanville said, one evening, after the tea things had been removed, and the family had assembled for social fellowship.
"How so?" asked her son Albert in a voice that betrayed some surprise and disappointment, and a good deal of interest.
"Mrs. Goodwin called today, and mentioned that Helen was going to return with her and spend a few months in Bolton," replied Mrs. Glanville.
"I wish her aunt were her mother," Albert said, half to himself, yet aloud.
"Why so, my son?"
The young man looked up with a slight air of confusion into his mother's face, and said,
"Because, her aunt is a real lady, while her mother is only one in appearance, and not always even in that, as much parade and pretension as she makes."
"But what has that to do with Helen?" asked Mrs. Glanville, looking steadily at her son.
"Oh! as to that it's a pity for any young lady, not to have a true gentlewoman for a mother, that is all," Albert returned, smiling with recovered ease and self-possession.
"So I think myself," Mr. Glanville remarked. "But a good aunt is an excellent substitute in the case, especially if a niece has the privilege of residing with her, even for a short period. I am glad Helen is going home with her aunt, even if we do lose the pleasure of her society. She is better with Mrs. Goodwin than with her mother."
"Perhaps so," was the rather absent reply of Albert Glanville, who had thought a good deal more about Helen in the last few weeks, than he cared that anyone should know.
Mr. and Mrs. Glanville exchanged quiet, intelligent glances with each other, and then changed the theme of conversation.
On the afternoon of the next day, Albert Glanville went into his mother's room, and seating himself by her side, asked, in a voice intended to be careless and unconcerned, but which, nevertheless, was far enough from being so,
"What do you think of Helen Pimlico, mother?"
"Why do you ask, my son? Or rather, in what that respects her, do you wish my opinion?"
"O, of nothing particular. But what is your general opinion of her character? Do you think well of her? But I needn't ask that, for I know you do. What, then, do you I mean that is--"
"Nonsense, Albert! Speak out like a man."
"Well, then, to speak out like a man, as you say--I have taken quite a fancy to Helen. What do you think of that?"
"I can't say that I much wonder at it. Everybody is pleased with her, and it would be a little strange if you formed the exception."
"But I am particularly pleased with her. That is, pleased with her in a particular way."
"Are you indeed!" Mrs. Glanville said, with a smile that set the young man's heart at rest as far as she was concerned. "But, are you not aware," she resumed, with affected seriousness, "that Helen is not the pink of good-breeding? that she betrays, at times, the fact that she has a warm and generous heart?"
"I am well aware of that defect, or peculiar merit, just as you please to consider it. She certainly is not quite so high-bred as her mother; but as society is fast degenerating in this respect, it won't matter a great deal. Her lack of true polish will not attract very marked notice. Seriously, however, I wish to consult with you, as my mother, in regard to Helen. I have never seen anyone whose character has so pleased me; nor anyone whose person and accomplishments so won my admiration. There is something so pure about her feelings, and something so chaste and appropriate in all she says and does, that I never meet her without being charmed. Tell me, then, in a word, how you would like to have her for a daughter-in-law?"
"Then you are really serious in this matter?"
"I am indeed."
"I know of no reason, my son," Mrs. Glanville said, "why I should make the slightest opposition, so far as Helen is concerned. I love her already almost as tenderly as if she were my daughter. Her mother, however, does not please my fancy, altogether. Her outrageous violation of true lady-like conduct in the case of Lizzy Malcolm and her sister, I can neither forget nor forgive."
"I have thought of all that," replied Albert, "and found it hard to get over. But it seems to me scarcely right to visit the mother's sins upon the child."
"It certainly is not. And if you are willing to tolerate Mrs. Pimlico, I, of course, ought not to object. But Helen is going to leave us, as you are aware, in a day or two."
"I know that. And this is why I have introduced the subject to you just at this time."
"Do you wish to prevent her going?"
Albert paused some time before he replied. He then said,
"No I believe I do not care to do so. I will let her go, and then think more seriously of the matter. If my mind retains its present preference, I will write to her, and thus ascertain how far my regard is reciprocated."
Mrs. Glanville fully approved this course.
"In her aunt," she said, "she has a perfect pattern. You need have no fear for her, while under the roof of Mrs. Goodwin. Indeed, seeing that matters have taken this turn, I cannot but feel glad that Helen is going to spend a few months with her. She is just now at that age when her habits and principles are beginning to harden into permanent forms. The molding hand of Mrs. Goodwin, will be everything to her."
"You are right," the young man returned. "Let her go. It will be best for her in any event."
A few days afterwards, Helen parted with her father and mother--and went back with her aunt. To the father, this was a strong trial. The short period that had elapsed since his daughter's return, after having completed her course of instruction, had served to make him better acquainted with her character, and the affectionate sweetness of her disposition, than he had ever been. But he was a man of sense, and saw that his wife was not the one to bring to a healthy maturity, Helen's rapidly developing mind. In Mrs. Goodwin he had full confidence; and for the sake of his child, he was willing to make some temporary sacrifices. As for Mrs. Pimlico, she deemed all hope of making an impression upon young Glanville at an end. Helen, she could not conceal from herself, was becoming less and less refined every day, according to her standard. That calm, dignified exterior under all circumstances, which was so essential to a well-bred woman, it was too lamentably apparent, Helen did not possess. She had feelings, and what was more, let those feelings too often express themselves in inappropriate language. Under these circumstances, she was rather pleased than otherwise, at Mrs. Goodwin's proposition for Helen to return with her. In parting, some natural emotions were felt, but nothing in the expression of her countenance, or tone of her voice, betrayed them. She was still resolved to be a lady, even if she had, once in her life, been betrayed into the enactment of a scene.
About three weeks after Helen had become again a member of Mr. and Mrs. Goodwin's family, her uncle handed her, one evening, when he came in from his office, a letter, directed in, to her, an unknown hand. She broke the seal, and, glancing at the signature, perceived the name of Albert Glanville. A quick throb of the heart sent the blood to her cheeks, and produced a slight agitation. Perceiving that she had lost her self-possession, she arose and retired to her chamber, there to read her letter alone. Of its contents, we need say but little, except that it contained, among other things, a direct offer of marriage. Neither need we present Helen under the various aspects of a pondering, consulting, and finally consenting maiden. Matters like these are better left to the reader's imagination, who will dress them according to his or her own taste.
No less surprised was Mrs. Pimlico, a few weeks afterwards, to learn from her husband that a formal application had been made to him for the hand of their daughter, by Albert Glanville. She could hardly credit the fact. It seemed improbable that so highly polished and refined a young man could prefer Helen, of whose defects in regard to external accomplishments, no one was more conscious than herself, even if she were her mother.
But the early return of Helen, and the subsequent brilliant marriage festivities, finally expelled all doubts. And while, as a mother, she could not help feeling deeply gratified at the event, yet, as a lady, she was compelled to mourn over the melancholy declension that had taken place in regard to those high-bred customs which so palpably distinguish the true gentlewoman, from the mere upstart. Had this not been the case, a woman like Mrs Goodwin could never have eclipsed one so refined and polished as herself; nor could her conduct in the case of the Misses Malcolm have been so broadly condemned; and last, though not least, in these palpable evidences of declension, a man of Mr. Glanville's standing, polish and pretensions, would never have chosen her daughter for a wife, if a strange disregard to well-bred forms had not begun to prevail in society to an alarming extent!
All these plain indications of a change, were, to Mrs. Pimlico, sources of deep regret. As a high-bred woman, she felt her power and influence. No one possessed a more minute knowledge of social forms and fashionable life, than herself. And no one could act them out with more ease or graceful self-possession. But to act the lady from genuine good-will towards all, and in doing so, even to vary from social prescription, and know how to do so without compromising the conventional lady, was a task too hard for her. Any woman of fine feelings could, at this rate, be a lady, and that she was not prepared to admit. A lady, in her eyes, as she had often said, was something far above the woman yes, even above the Christian. There were a few who considered her a perfect exponent of her own doctrines, and not without cause, as the reader will be able to determine from what he has already seen. And now, he will, doubtless, be able to determine for himself the question PRIDE, OR PRINCIPLE, WHICH MAKES THE LADY?