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The speaker is the maiden aunt of Hetty Cuthbert, the pretty bride of an hour, whilst her interlocutor and morning visitor is a sensible - looking elderly gentleman, a general officer, and the godfather of the newly-married lady. He had been good-naturedly describing the wedding to his old stay-at-home friend, whose tongue wagged pleasurably over the exciting event in which she, for various pru-, dential reasons, had not considered herself qualified to bear a part.
“ Indeed, then, General," she said, “it must have been a pretty sight. The bridegroom so good-looking, and the six young ladies all alike. They were obleeging enough to show themselves to Mary and me on their way to church, and very sweet they looked. The whole street came out to have a stare at them.”
“Which was precisely, I suppose, what they wanted, and amply made up for the few extra creases which their good-nature entailed upon their flowing skirts,” said the rather cynical old bachelor, to whose ears the sound of wedding joy-bells (he had known so many shipwrecks of the frail barques that had in his time, with flowing sheets, set sail
“On the ocean of wedlock their fortune 10 try;")
sounded harsh and jarringly. “Ah, well-. they are married,” he added, “and we must hope the best. Cuthbert seems a good fellow, and is an honourable man, while as for her, -but, my dear Miss Gifford, you ought to know more of your niece than I do of my goddaughter, and can tell me whether I am at all right in the conclusion to which I have reluctantly come—that she is a vain little goose, with not very much besides her beauty to recommend her, and that unless a miracle should be worked in that poor young fellow's favour he will be repenting, before six months are over, in very dismal leisure, for the folly he has committed.”
They were old friends, those two, and given to speak their minds out frankly to each other, but for which state of things General Fordyce could hardly have ventured to-between two pinches of the snuff he loved-put so home a question to young Mrs. Gerald Cuthbert's aunt. He knew his ground, however, as well as he knew human nature—thoroughly, and could safely trust, not only to Miss Gifford's clear common sense, but to that small spice of vanity in his old friend's idiosyncrasy which would prompt her in this case to justify his high opinion of her discernment. Yes! kindly of nature though Miss Gifford was, and naturally
partial to her niece, the poverty of that pretty young person's mental resources was not likely, at the present juncture, to be by her aunt unduly glossed over or hidden.
With a little laugh, intended to put her querist thoroughly at his ease (for male visitors, owing to their rarity, are apt to be precious in the eyes of society-loving old maids, whose means are limited, and their one lodging-house “sittingroom” small and stuffy), Miss Gifford owned with regret that her old friend had, on the whole, formed a just estimate of Hetty's character.
“There is not much in her, certainly," she said; “but then what there is is good. She has been well brought up : my brother has been so particular ! Newspapers carefully kept out of her sight. You know they put dreadful things in them sometimes ; and as for waltzing and polk'ing, that has been altogether forbidden. Yes, indeed, as far as bringing up and principles go, Hetty has had every chance; while, as for sense—well, I do believe that nine men out of ten are of opinion that women are just as well without it!"
The General, as he rose to take leave (for by this time he had had enough of Miss Gifford's platitudes), shook his head slowly whilst giving utterance to the oracular remark that in the event of his hostess's axiom being a true one, it was devoutly, for Gerald Cuthbert's sake, to be hoped that he, being tied and bound to silly Hetty for life, might prove to be one of the nine by whom “sense” in a wife is not considered to be a sine quâ non.
But this, unfortunately for both parties, did not prove to be the case, and the good-looking young Guardsman all too soon made the discovery that the “rattle” by which he had been delighted was simply a wearying sound, and that the “straw," the tickling of which had been so agreeably exciting, became, when the pastime was carried into every-day life, the most tedious of inflictions. At twenty-three (and Gerald Cuthbert, when he committed the blunder by which all his life was blighted, counted no more years than these) there exist not, I fear, many men capable—after such a discovery as this not only of forming, but of carrying out wise and honourable plans for their future guidance in life. A sense of injury (unjust in the extreme, inasmuch as “choice” is free, and it is a man's own fault if, before he “looks," he “ leaps ”), together with the natural craving of the young for pleasure and excitement, induced Gerald Cuthbert- no uncommon case, as all
must be willing to allow—to return, far more than was either right or expedient, to many of the habits—not sinful ones in themselves, but unfortunately too often, as in the present case, the cause of sin in others—of his bachelor's life. Left, a very few months after a marriage which had promised to be a fairly happy one, to the very poor resources of her own scantily-furnished mind, with the wounds which what she felt to be neglect inflicted on her woman's vanity for ever rankling in her breast, and with, despite the restrictions early placed by well-meaning parents on her youthful pleasures, not much of high-toned principle to restrain her, is it altogether surprising that Esther Cuthbert, who had never either by example or precept been taught to curb her passions or consider others before herself, should—on discovering that her society was shunned, that her little playfulnesses were of none effect, and that the smiles which still disclosed the whitest of teeth “had lost,” for her husband, at least, “their charms ”_have, in her turn, sought in perilous pleasures for the excitement which her shallow nature craved, and have “stooped ”—poor soul! she had not far to bend—“to folly”?
These fleetly passing nineteenth century days of ours are not those in which the Hetty