Abbildungen der Seite

How comes this hair undone ?
Its wandering strings must be what blind me so,

And yet I tied it fast! Yes, such was the character assumed by Mrs. Swansdowne on her second appearance. Had she stood before me twelve feet high the wonder would have been less - less than the transformation that had taken place. She, alas, who had been attired “as ladies wish to be," although wishes may sometimes fail of success—who seemed inspired by an unerring taste, and had made millinery look sublime-to whom elegance appeared natural, and neatness (eclipsing even magnificence) indispensable :—she was now in the last stage of unmitigated, undisguisable slovenliness.

Yet, cup in hand, she smiled complacently, and seemed conscious of of no unseemliness. Her attire, for aught that appeared, was as tasteful and becoming in her eyes as the garb she had last worn-brilliant as a court-dress. Her hair betraying traces of disorder, “ her zone unbound,” her slippered feet, and dingy drapery huddled on as if by accident, or in the dark, presented a picture only to be adequately seen by the light which contrast throws upon it. The genius for adornment showed off admirably the vast talent for disfigurement possessed by the female head of the Swansdownes.

And what slippers ! what a morning wrapper ! what soiled white, what faded yellow, what dreary pink! Spirit of mortal beauty, how may mortal ugliness enshroud you !

Ye powers of propriety, that govern times and seasons, and regulate the eternal fitness of things, what has a crumpled nightcap to do with the broad, bright sunshine!

If a mermaid had been destined to be so be-decked, the green one must have blushed red at the first peep into the glass. Had Venus risen from the sea's watery bed in such a costume, she must have instantly sought a watery grave in despair, and under coroner Neptune's direction, a verdict of « found drowned” would have been recorded.

There sat the tasteful, “ stylish” Mrs. Swansdowne, and so sat she, morning after morning, by the side of girls almost equally adapted, by an ingenious unsightliness of costume, to frighten crows out of their wits.

And where sat poor S. all the time ? Oh, in the “bosom of his family.” There he also sat, morning after morning, in the midst ; himself smart and spruce, “ neat, trimly dressed, and his beard new-reaped,”—a plant of promise among luxuriant weeds,-a bit of modern stucco-work amidst splendid dilapidations, making disorder more disorderly by his primness.

One who was himself point devise, could not but note the disregard to appearances around him; but, whatever he thought, he said nothing; his eyes made no silent complaint to his partner, nor did they give sign, by the slightest dimunition of their fond admiration, of a consciousness that his out-door divinity was a dowdy in doors, and that his fine bird, after all, required fine feathers. His thoughts seemed fixed on the pearl in his oyster, and he was blind to the dirty, rough outside of the shell.

But it may be supposed that, bad as the slatternly habit was, it disappeared at least with the breakfast. This, however, entirely depended on the arrangements for the day. If visiters were to be seen, or if visits were to be paid, Mrs. Swansdowne was quite another woman, and her girls were not the same girls. The cares of the toilet then became the first of duties; the very prettiest articles of dress and decoration were brought out, the nicest taste was evinced in the choice of colours, every thing becoming came readily to the lady's hand, and she was as a golden pheasant in its feathers, compared with the same thing out of them. She had the happy art, while complying with the caprices of fashion, so as never to look singular, to shape and modify them to her own style, so that what to many were disguises, were embellishments to her; and all this she did so easily, and as though by instinct, that it was the more surprising she should ever take the trouble to be a sloven.

Such was the domestic practice for weeks and months. Mrs. Swansdowne was never neat, never near the point of visibility, in the morning; and unless somebody was expected, she hardly got nearer to it at night.

“It's hardly worth while to dress, girls," she would say, “nobody will see us but your father. My dear Joseph," she would add, on his arrival, “ I am in the most odious and frightful disorder, as you perceive. Now, did you ever see such a dress !-look at my hair-here's a shoe-positively I must go and look for a pin, for this bodice has hardly any fastening at all, but you know, my dear, I was aware we should be alone, and one ought not to mind being an abominable fright to you. If any body had been coming in with you indeed-but, as the the dear girls said, it's only papa.”.

By slow degrees, the inebriating fumes of early love cleared away from the brain of Swansdowne, and he began to see a flaw in this reasoning. Nothing yet did he say, but sometimes his eyes would wander over the careless, “ untidy" person of his wife, with a consciousness that the domestic angel may be effectually hidden in a loose gown and dabbled ribbons. There was certainly less of rapture and admiration in his looks on these occasions ; nor was the old feeling brought back by his glance falling on the girls.

At length he found that this domestic doctrine relative to appearance, was a false doctrine. He plainly saw, what had been visible all along, that the beauty of his home was a delusion, and that to possess a treasure which is never used, is to be practically without it. Others had greater pleasure in it than he had. They could perceive the grace and loveliness of his wife ; he, save at intervals, had to dwell upon the reverse of the picture. To them she was an enchantress—to him, a breaker of sweet spells; gorgeous tapestry to them-to him, rags.

The daily compliment now lost its effect—“With you, what does it signify how one looks!” “I thought this dress would do, as we should be by ourselves!" No, these expressions, which he at first accepted as endearments, however false the reasoning they implied, now became distasteful.

Why so fond of being a fright to him, he might reasonably argue! The compliment was more expensive than pleasant. In all other eyes the desire of her heart was to look lovely. No matter how insignificant the persons, no matter even how disliked, for them she would put on her brightest and best in their sight, she would be as the star of the morn

ing. To please those for whom she did not care a rush she took bound. less pains; to look well in the eyes of affection she never dreamed of making an effort. By the Stranger over the way she would not have been caught in untidy attire for the world; by Love, in whose fidelity and partiality she lived, she never for an instant cared how she might be seen!

Ah! what multitudes of foolish and cruel mistakes of this kind, have in all ages innocently planted thorns in the pillow of wedded life. They originate possibly in the idea, which in some heads is a conviction, that love is blind. There never was such an enormous mistake as this, the parent of others. Love may possibly be blind now and then (partially so) before marriage; but when he has once paid his visit to the matrimonial altar, how he opens his

eyes. Love blind! Why, married love is astonishingly keen-eyed, and can see right through the full moon into next month.

How should even simple Mr. Swansdowne, with love looking out from his lids, fail at last to perceive the grave distinction between neatness and negligence! But thousands of women still living have no faith in this fact of perception. They cannot or will not understand what a wonderful oculist matrimony is, and that a gold ring has a magic cure for Cupid's defective vision. They go on like Mrs. Swansdowne-charming every body but their husbands; dressing for nobodies, delighting strangers, looking eminently becoming when the one pair of eyes are away; but for him whose taste should be most studied, “Oh, any thing will do !"

They have woven the spell of youth and beauty around him, and they foolishly imagine that it will work enchantments, when its bright hues fade into the neutral tints of midlife, or the drab-colour of the slattern. They came, saw, and conquered--and now they forget to secure the prize, and provide against defeat. They stamped the image of elegance and order upon his mind, and forget that the obverse of that image is quite as easily impressed.

The reasoning of these fair conquerors (every one of them is in imminent danger of a fall) amounts to this :

“ He prefers me to all the world, therefore I shall take no pains to please him."

“ His opinion is of more importance to me than any thing else in existence, therefore there is no necessity to look well in his eyes."

“ He has devoted to me his love and his life, and therefore I shall lavish the pleasant allurements of my finery upon other people—any thing will do for dear Joe !"

Mrs. Swansdowne the beautiful, found to her cost that her adoring lover, afterwards her admiring husband, could turn caustic critic in due season, and sharp were the remonstrances of tongue as well as look which every day brought forth. Sometimes they had their effect-girls and mamma were “fit to be seen” before breakfast; at others, they would show their respect for his opinion, by a tremendous scamper, and general clearing up of litters, as he knocked at the door ; reappearing after a short absence, with manifest symptoms about them of a recent and rapid ordeal at the toilet.

The bad habit was checked, not cured; so the girls were sent off to school, to be instructed in the art of running shoes down at heel, pin

ning up holes in muslin, and fastening hair upon a plan favourable to its becoming agreeably loose or gracefully undone. Mrs. Swansdowne staid at home cultivating the mystery of tossing one thing here and another there, then sweeping all into a corner) at the first note of an arrival, and rushing upstairs to render her ill-used beauty presentable.

Swansdowne, unable to work a reform, surveyed his late idol with indifference. When she “got herself up” for society, and looked lovely as of old, he saw no trace of the temporary divinity, but recognised only the habitual slattern. He saw but the wife of his home, not the wife of the world.

At length, as he could not improve her, he resolved to deteriorate himself-so that, by a more equal balance of faults, they might be more on a footing. He therefore took fervently to drinking, as the vice most proper to the man who marries a sloven. But his taste for neatness did not desert him here; he took even his liquors neat—as a constant, delicate, and final rebuke to his wife: who, however, for her part, far gone in disfigurement as she was, could not be persuaded to take to sackcloth and ashes.

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

The tenants who succeeded these, were the Fitzeagle family. They took possession with an air of condescension and dignity, as though the castle built for their progenitors, before the Conquest was dreamed of, was undergoing repair. With what a proud step they trod the floor, and what more than independence, what affluence was in their looks!

Great people visited them, and sometimes they visited great people. When they thus went forth, aristocracy was afoot, proud in its humility. Their looks fell upon the surrounding neighbourhood as on persons and places remote from all their associations, and parts of an inferior order of things.

One thing was pretty clear—they must have ample means of living. Want seemed to be a century's march behind them; labour could never have soiled a finger of that family since Adam dug his garden. Independent, if not superfluously rich, they must unquestionably be; they lived well, past all doubt, though how they lived exactly, nobody exactly knew; they were proud, and any thing but poor-s0 said all.

But had these knowing people been shut up with the Fitzeagles for a single day in that family apartment, could they have taken a point of survey from the keyhole, the tale must have had a different termination. What a deadly, sickening, starving struggle between poverty and pride must then have been laid bare, in all its hourly and momentarily extremities of anguish and horror, to the eyes of living witnesses. But on those scenes no man ever looked-of their existence no one ever dreamed,

To what a strait was the haughty, famished father reduced ! Plenty had once been his ;—fortune, inferior to his birth, yet a solid wall and barrier between him and need. It crumbled away, and then fell—and the icy waters of penury rolled in upon him, steeping him to the lips. All the energy left to life then, was exercised in the great struggle for appearance; to keep up appearances demanded the sacrifice of nights


as well as days. The whole after business of existence was merged in hourly experiments to solve the grand problem-how little life could subsist upon, and how much it could conceal. To go without a dinner was the easiest part of it; to seem to have had a good one, under such circumstances, was the difficulty. Nobody knew they had not dined, but the sense of their own guilt looked pallidly out of their faces.

The instant some grand visiter had taken his departure, the hard labour appointed for each day of the dreary week was resumed. The needle was again plied, assiduously and long, by the fair, soft, tired fingers to which necessity had taught skill; the little drawing, or the trifling ornament, or the child's toy, was proceeded with, though with a heart desponding over the thought that at the meanest possible price its sale might yet be difficult to effect; and the pen was once more seized, in the vague, wild hope that another anonymous translation from Lucretius or Horace, another treatise on abstruse subjects by an unknown hand, might, if offered at once to the bookseller, prove “luckier than the

And when the miserable pittance came—if by blessed fortune, it came at all,-how few of the bare necessaries of life could they afford to buy! Poorer than the poorest, luxuries were necessaries to them. They must provide at any cost for external effect—they must buy for daily wear, abroad or at home, more than absolute want required — they must feast the world's eye with tokens that the fell tooth of hateful, hungry, wolfish Poverty was not gnawing their hearts within them, and calling ravenous looks into their eyes, which they could ill subdue.

Nay more; they must provide the small stock of wine, the inexpensive, yet not easily obtained delicacy, for the unsuspecting visiter known in better times; who, as the door closed upon him, must have died almost of humiliation and pity, could he have possibly surmised the havoc he had made in their little hospitable store-could he have seen how, when he was gone, poverty took pride's place, and collected the scanty fragments of the repast, as things precious in the sight of want, sparing them from present appetite, however sharp; could he have dreamed that the very remnants of what they had proffered their guest, were more than they dare allow to themselves.

And if to the needful meal which home so rarely provided, they were happily invited abr ad, which often happened, was this a source of practical relief? Never; and very rarely could the apparent benefit be accepted. The one sumptuous dinner, free of charge, involved expenses greater than the cost of many weeks' living; the very gratuity to a servant would exceed the price of some daily meals : for those who give by the standard of pride instead of poverty, give the more largely because they are poor; and to many, at some period or turn of life, must the reflection have come—“ If I could well afford to spend this guinea as I here must do, there would be no occasion to spend one sixpence of it.”

It is parted with because it is wanted.

The horrible, unceasing, heart-wearing struggle continued ; but it became sterner and more difficult. Pride grew

more and more out at elbows, and poverty the more plainly grinned through the holes. The contrast between the out-door and the in-door man was less and less; to

« ZurückWeiter »