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"Drive to Mrs. Grantham's," said Mrs. Harley, as she issued from one of the fashionable Broadway stores, and entered her splendid carriage. In a few minutes the velvet covered steps were again let down, and she stopped at the door of her friend, with her card case already half opened in her hand, well knowing that it would be in requisition, as she had just seen Mrs. Grantham amid a group of ladies in the crowded promenade. "Wait here till I return; I am going to pay another visit," said she, as the Tbotman threw open the carriage door. With stately step she walked onward till she reached the nearest intersecting street, then drawing her veil closely over her face, and quickening her pace, she turned the corner, and was lost to the view of her watchful servants.
"I thought so," said the liveried coachman, with a knowing leer; "where do you think Mrs. Harley has gone, Wilson V
"How should I know?" was the careless reply.
"She's gone to see her old aunt, who keeps school in one of the up-town streets."
"Oh, ho! is that the game 1 poor relations! Well, I am glad that she has too much regard for her horses than to let them stand at the door of a beggarly school-madam."
Quite unconscious of the remarks of her saucy domestics, who assumed the privilege of conjecturing the truth at most convenient seasons, Mrs. Harley hurried on, and, after several turns and windings, taken to avoid publicity, found the place she sought. Her loud knock having procured her instant admissiojji she was ushered into an apartment, whicfr'could scarcely fail to awaken some early associations in the heart of the woman of fashion, for every article of its simple furiture had been familiar to her childhood. The tall chimney jars which adorned the narrow chimney-piece—the taller silver candlesticks beside them—the cumbrous mahogany chairs, with the clean but faded chintz covers—the straight-backed sofa—the spiderlegged tea-table, all were old friends. Even the worsted-worked tea-kettle holder, its original colors now blended in one dusky tint, held its accustomed place on one side of the fire; while a fly brush of peacock's feathers, the exact counterpart of the one whose hundred eyes had been the wonder of her childhood, still hung in the corner. Many a happy hour had Mrs. Harley spent m the very room where she now stood as a stranger, and in spite of herself, her feelings softened
memory retraced her past life. The entrance of the mistress of this old-fashioned mansion only served to revive with still greater vividness her recollections of the past, for in the mild countenance of Mrs. Wilkinson, she beheld the «ame kind expression which had won her childish affection. The years that had stolen the bloom from the cheek of the votary of fashion, and had robbed her form of its pliant grace, had left scarcely a trace of its progress on the elder lady. Her tall thin figure still retained its perpendicularity, and time had only deepened the furrows which grief had early traced upon her brow. Her closely-cut black silk dress—the square thin muslin pinned with so much precision over her bosom—her high-crowned cap, with its neatly crimped border, and the smooth braids of silver-sprinkled hair which crossed her high forehead, all were in exact resemblance to the picture traced upon Mrs. Harley's memory some twenty years earlier.
"I have come to ask you to pass the day with me, aunt," said Mrs. Harley, assuming her blandest tone, in answer to Mrs. Wilkinson's polite, but cold salutation. "Your duties and my constant engagements prevent us from meeting as often as we ought, but I am determined for the future, to arrange some plan by which we can have more of each other's society."
'• Your determination comes too late, madam," said the old lady, while a slight flush crossed her pale cheek; "had my duties and your engagements been the only barriers between us, they might easily have been removed. The true obstacles have been somewhat more insurmountable, and yet methinks even the distinction between poverty and riches might have been overlooked in favor of your few surviving relatives."
"Nay, aunt, you wrong me," said Mrs. Harley. "I am sure I have never failed in respect towards you."
"No; you have managed to treat me with total neglect, and yet, to be perfectly respectful, if, by any chance, we accidentally met. However, 1 wish not to reproach you, Caroline; your way through life has not been as ;ny way, and though both of us were nurtured in the same home, we have sought very different roads to our journey's end. When your mother—my only sister—named you by my name, and gave you into my arms as another claimant upon my affections, I received you as a precious gift from her hands; and when, two years later, she was borne to an early grave you can testify to the manner in which I fulfilled my duties to the little orphan. But times have altered; I was ther. prosperous and happy, the wife of a man eminent in his profession, and the mother of a family. I am now a lonely widow, compelled to eke out my diminished means of support by keeping school, and I ought not to be surprised to find friends changed as well as fortune."
"My dear madam, can you suppose that your altered circumstances have had any influence upon my feelings?" exclaimed Mrs. Harley, in well dissembled surprise.
"I do not speak from vague suspicion only, Caroline; I know what I say. When my daughter and myself undertook the charge of a private boarding-school, you gradually dropped all intercourse with us, for you had grown rich as we declined in fortunes, and you began to feel that the presence of' poor relations' might be rather inconvenient. When your daughter left the nursery, she was transferred to one of those pests of modern society, a fashionable boarding-school, not so much on account of my antiquated method of imparting real knowledge, instead of superficial accomplishments, as because the relationship between us would seem degrading in I he eyes of the world. Nay, you would even have denied that relationship when questioned on the subject, and I therefore can have no confidence in your professions of regard."
The self-possession of Mrs. Harley quite failed her as she listened to these bitter truths. Her brow crimsoned, and she bit her lips as she replied, "Well, aunt, you have chosen to misunderstand my motives, and re.ject my good will."
"No, Caroline, I do not reject your good will, but I cannot consent to accept your civilities; if I can serve you in any way, I am ready, but do not come to me with hollow professions. You have doubtless visited me on business this morning; let us therefore discuss it as strangers, or at least, mere acquaintances." . .
Nothing but Mrs. Harley's strong desire to acquire some information on a subject which nearly interested her, could have induced her to bear her aunt's severe remarks. She, however, repressed the angry feelings which rose within her breast, and with the bland curtesy for which she was remarkable, replied, " It shall be as you wish, madam; I will no. longer proffer any claim of kindred, but if it be not contrary to your ideas of propriety, will you be so good as to afford me some information respecting the character and temper of a young lady now under your charge l I mean Miss Eveline Morris."
Mrs. Wilkinson looked surprised. Mrs. Harley continued, "I did intend to include her in the invitation which I had the pleasure of offering to you, and the pain of hearing you reject; of course [ -wish my questions concerning her to be considered in the light of a confidential communication, and I should
be unwilling to have the interest I take in her made public."
"Will you oblige me by making known the reasons for such inquiry V asked Mrs. Wilkinson.
"Why, to tell you the truth, it is on my daughter's account that I feel interested in the child. Major Morris visits us very frequently, and I think is strongly disposed to admire my beautiful Mary."
"Major Morris!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilkinson; "pardon my surprise, Caroline, but if I retain my recollection of the very lovely girl whom I once saw with you, she can scarcely be more than eighteen years of age, while the Major is certainly past forty."
"You are quite right, aunt," replied Mrs. Harley in her most dulcet tones. "Mary is just eighteen, but the Major is a very younglooking man, and possesses many advantages."
"He is rich and fashionable, you mean, Caroline."
"It would certainly be a brilliant match for Mary; he is very distinguished in society."
"He is more than that, or I am much mistaken in him," said Mrs. Wilkinson, warmly. "He is a man of high-toned feeling, of elevated character, and of fine talents. I am not surprised that he should seek a second marriage, for I doubt whether his first was a happy one, but it is strange he should choose so young a wife."
"Mary is very beautiful, aunt, and I have taken great pains to destroy in her mind those youthful illusions which so often interfere with the prudent calculations of parents."
"What do you mean by youthful illusions?"
"Oh, those romantic ideas of love in a cot; tage, or disinterested affection, which generally fill a girl's head when she firsrenters society, and often induce her to throw herself away upon some penniless fellow, with black whiskers and a sentimental smile. Mary, though so young, has as much discretion as if she was thirty. She never reads novels, and her knowledge of the world is derived entirely from my experience. It has been my object to make her understand society as it actually exists. My own pre-conceived fancies of worldly happiness have given me some bitter hours, and I wished to save her from the pain which we all suffer, when bur early dreams fade into reality."
There was a touch of feeling in Mrs. Harley's manner, which softened the stern old lady. "Take care, Caroline," said she, "lest, in destroying the romance which grows up in the heart of every woman, you do not root up the generous impulses which are entwined
with it. She who enters upon life with warm and enthusiastic feelings, must necessarily encounter many sorrows, but that very discipline of grief renders her more capable of bearing her burden meekly; of sympathizing with the afflicted, of practising the disinterested kindness which is a peculiar privilege, and, in a word, of performing those feminine duties which are designed to make her a help-mate for man. I do not admire a calculating spirit in youth. It is so unnatural, so unsuited to the unsuspecting innocence which ought always to characterize that bright season in life, that, school-mistress as I am, I would rather see the errors of a generous mind, than theundeviating propriety of a perfectly selfish one, which is always correct from motives of interest."
"Well, aunt, for my part, I think those happiest who allow their affections to run in the freest channel."
"Those are happiest, who, having the greatest number of duties to do, perform them best. A woman is blest in proportion as she ministers to the comforts of others; she may have more sorrows, more calls upon her sympathy, but she has also more sources of enjoyment; for she thus exercises all her faculties—all her affections—and in this exercise consists the secret of a woman's happiness."
"I dare say you are right, madam," said Mrs. Harley, politely, suppressing a yawn, "but now let us talk of Eveline Morris. If Mary is to be her step-mother, as I hope she is, I should like to know how the ybung lady may best be managed."
Managed! How I detest the word," exclaimed Mrs. Wilkinson, warmly; "a child should never be managed. Management implies finesse, and trickery, and concealment, neither of which is necessary in the guidance of children. I have taught school for twenty years, arid have never found one who could not comprehend and appreciate plain, honest dealing. Teach young persons with candor, kindness and resolution, and you will never study the art of management.
"Is Miss Eveline accustomed to the exercise of her own will?"
"Yes, when she wills to do right, and when she is wrong a word of remonstrance is sufficient to subdue her. Eveline Morris must be governed only by the gentle influence of the affections, for although to kindness she is as docile as a lamb, she would be utterly untameable by harsh and severe treatment. But are you sure Major Morris is in love with your daughter?"
"I wish I was certain of that fact, my dear madam; but I do not despair of seeing him so; he admires the fresh and youthful beauty for which she is remarkable, he is charmed
with the simplicity of manners which I have taken such pains to teach her, and I think, with proper discretion on our parts, he may be led on to form a serious attachment. Excuse me for trespassing so long upon your valuable time," continued Mrs. Harley, looking at her watch. "So you will not be persuaded to bring your pupil to dine with me to-morrow?" The old lady coldly answered in the negative. "Well, good morning; the next time I call I will bring Mary with me to make the acquaintance of Miss Morris."
Mrs. Harley hurried away, and as she regained her carriage, she threw herself back upon the silken cushions with a feeling of discomfort, such as she did not often experience. "Thank Heaven," thought she, "that long lecture is at an end; the old lady has passed away an hour, and yet contrived to give me no actual information about this Eveline Morris; I dare say Mary will have trouble enough with her, unless her father can be persuaded to keep her at school."
Perhaps the manoeuvring mamma would have felt less sanguine in her schemes if she could have taken a peep into a certain back parlor, where sat the handsome and stately Major Morris, holding the hand of a delicate and graceful woman, in whose intellectual countenance the "freshness of youthful beauty" had long since given place to more lasting charms. He admired the beautiful Mary Harley, as he would have done a fine picture; but if he thought of her at all, it was only as • a child in comparison with himself. He was the friend of her father, without having the slightest idea of becoming the lover of the daughter, for his own good sense taught him, that in making a "second choice," his age and the future welfare of his child should be taken into consideration. This he had done; and even when Mrs. Harley was condescending to visit her poor relations, in order to further her plans with regard to the rich wid. ower, he had taken the liberty of calling upon , one of those humble relations with an offer of
■ his hand and heart. In less than three months after th,e double interview, the fashionable
. world were all su rprised by the announcement
1 estimate the true character of woman, and
- Mrs. Wilkinson—the poor relation of the
- aspiring Mrs. Harley. The close of the me; morable year of 1836, the year of bubbles, as
- it may emphatically be called, found the ma) jor and his pleasant family circle enjoying
the rational pleasure of Parisian life, while it r left Airs. Harley planning new schemes for ) the advancement of her daughter, and vainly ! regretting the neglect of her upoor relations.'" j * * * * *
It was the spring of 1840 When Major Morris returned to his native land. His daughter had grown up into an elegant and graceful girl; his wife had realized all his anticipations of domestic happiness; and he had learned to love old Mrs. Wilkinson with almost filial affection. They formed an united and affectionate family, studying the comfort of each other, and thus contributing most effectually to their own. They returned to take up their residence in the city of their birth, and the major's first care was to select such a dwelling as might become his permanent place of abode. He found no difficulty in procuring such. Many a splendid mansion, which, at his departure, was filled with aspiring and wealthy families, now stood untenanted and lonely in their magnificence. The spirit of speculation had proved itself but a juggling fiend—the gold which men had fancied within their grasps, like fairy treasures, had returned to its original worthlessness, and the millionaire of '36 was the bankrupt of'40.
Among others who had put in the sickle at harvest time, and reaped only tares, was Mr. Harley. Tempted by the opportunity of making a fortune in a night, he forgot that things of such gourd-like growth may wither even so quickly. Neglecting the business which was gradually heaping up wealth within Kis coffers, he threw himself into the midst of stock and land speculations, entered heart and hand into all the gambling schemes of the wildest projectors. We smile at the credulity of those, who, in the olden time, ruined themselves, and beggared their children, by their insane quest of the philosopher's stone; but will not posterity regard with the same contemptuous pity the mad and headlong career which men of our own time have followed, in their pursuits of wealth? We were smitten with avarice as with a pestilence— the strong and the weak—the wise and the ignorant—the virtuous and depraved—all fell victims to the plague, and many an untimely grave—many a broken heart, which "brokenly lives on," remains to attest the fearful ravages of the disease.
Mr. Harley had risked all and lost. From a condition of affluence and splendor, he was cast headlong into beggary. Everything was gone—his money—his credit—even his character, as a man of honor, was lost, in his vain attempt to sustain himself, and in the very crisis of his misfortunes he was found lying dead, on the floor of his counting-room. He had died in a fit of apoplexy produced by intense mental distress, but the good-natured world, of course, suggested that an event so judiciously timed, could scarcely be a natural one, and thus the cloud of suspicion rested even on the grave of the unhappy bankrupt.
Major Morris sought in vain to discover the retreat of the bereaved family. Whether from pride, or some accidental cause, they had left no trace of their course after the final sale of their furniture and effects, and Mrs. Wilkinson, whose sense of past wrong had long since been forgotten in sympathy for their misfortunes, in vain lamented her ignorance of their condition.
Some months had passed away, when Mrs. Wilkinson, having occasion to employ a seamstress, received information from a person who kept a sort of haberdashery store, that she could not perform a greater act of charity, than by giving work to a lady who lodged in the upper part of her house. Upon further inquiry, Mrs. Wilkinson ascertained that the person whom she was required to employ lived alone in great seclusion, and that her name was never mentioned to the ladies who gave her work. "The work is left with me, ma'am," said the woman, " and I am responsible for it; but the lady does not want to be known; I believe she was once very rich, and she's afraid some of her acquaintances will remember her."
"Has she a daughter?" inquired Mrs. Wilkinson.
"She has, ma'am, but the unnatural creature has left her mother, and gone off with a young Frenchman, who took a fancy to her pretty face."
"Was she very handsome?"
"Yes, ma'am, buteshe was no better than a beautiful wax figure—she did not seem to care for any body, and all she did was to dress herself in all the little finery she could get, and sit by the window to attract the attention of the gentlemen. Her mother was almost killed by her desertion, but it did not destroy the poor lady's pride; I believe she has gone without a dinner many a time, because she was too proud to let any one know her poverty.
Mrs. Wilkinson's interest was excited, and she insisted on being allowed to visit the nameless lady. In spite of the remonstrances of the kind-hearted shop-keeper, she made her way up the narrow stairs, and in the miserable apartment found, as she had expected, her bereaved and impoverished niece. Mrs. Morris did not insult her unhappy cousin by calling to see her in her carriage, nor yet did she make her way by stealth to the abode of poverty. A comfortable home, a competent provision for her comfort were provided, and then Mrs. Wilkinson conducted her daughter to the presence of her relative, whose claims to kindred were not now disavowed. Doubtless, of all the parties, Mrs. Harley felt, with the moat acuteness, the difference between poor relations in '36 and '40.