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"Why Venus, come here! What--what--what _is_ this?"
"Why, la, Missus!" exclaimed Venus, while every feature brightened with joyful surprise, "If there ain't my little comb, what I lost in the scuffle with Master Fred! Who would have thought to find it here!"
"Who, indeed!" ejaculated the old lady, in a voice scarcely audible.
My grandmother did not leave her room that evening, and we were told that she was ill; while it is scarcely necessary to add that Fred never again interfered with any of Venus' cookeries. When repeating the story, he always dwelt upon the ridiculous tableau presented by the horrified looks of the old lady, as she pointed to the suspicious-looking article--and the delight and surprise of Venus at recovering her lost property in such an unexpected manner. He possessed a great talent for drawing; and before long, a caricature appeared, which was a most life-like representation of the whole scene. My mother shook her head, and my father delivered a short, but expressive lecture upon the improper nature of mimicry; but in the midst of an edifying discourse Fred suddenly displayed the drawing in full view--at which all the children burst into peals of laughter, and my father abruptly closed his sermon, and frowning sternly, walked into the library; but we could perceive a nervous twitching about the corners of his mouth, which looked very much at variance with the frown upon his brow.
My mother too, fixed her eyes steadfastly upon her sewing, and refused to look up; which Fred saucily told her was only because she knew she would laugh if she did. We were then told that we had been naughty children, and sent out of the room; but somehow, we did not feel as though we had been _very_ bad, or that our parents were very angry with us, and skipping along through the garden-walks, we next sent Jane almost into convulsions of laughter by a display of the picture. Mamma, however, burned it before long; she said that it was highly improper to ridicule our grandmother, even if she _had_ faults, and that we must bear with her kindly, and not forget how few pleasures she enjoyed. Dear mamma! she was too kind--too good; and often met with the fate of such--imposition.
I once heard of a lady who went to a house to make a call, and stayed eleven years; this was somewhat similar to my grandmother's case--she came to pass the summer with us, and spent her life-time. Whenever she spoke of going back to the South, my father urged her to stay, and gave convincing reasons why she should prolong her visit; and my mother, too, kindly reflecting that the old lady had no near relatives and seemed to enjoy herself with us, added her entreaties. At last they told her that there was no reason why she should not stay altogether; and she appeared to think so too, for she stayed. As we grew more accustomed to her we liked her better than at first; she told us long stories about the South, and related anecdotes of the greatness, and wealth, and distinguished position of her own family, which she considered superior to any in the United States. Venus too came into more favor; and after a while we almost forgot the beef story.
Time passed on; I had almost reached my fifteenth birthday, and began to consider myself no longer a child. I was very tall for my age, and quite showy-looking; and gentlemen who visited at the house now treated me with all the attention due a young lady; which flattered my vanity very much, and made me think them very agreeable. I remember my father's once sending me from the room, on account of some gentleman's nonsense which he considered me too young to listen to; but I felt very much hurt at such treatment, and almost regarded myself as some heroine of romance imprisoned by cruel parents. Novels were a great injury to me, as indeed they are to every one. Their style was much more extravagant and unnatural than at the present day; and even at this early age, I had read the "Children of the Abbey," the "Mysteries of Udolpho," the "Scottish Chiefs," "Thaddeus of Warsaw," and many others of the same stamp.
But how did I obtain these, you ask? My mother, with her sense and discernment, would not have placed such books in my hands; and you are right. My grandmother was an inveterate novel-reader, but very careful that her books fell into no other hands; so that the only means of satisfying my taste for romantic reading was by stealth. Although novels were proscribed, no other books were placed in my hands; there were then scarcely any children's books published, and consumed as I was by an inordinate passion for reading, was determined to indulge it without being very particular about the means. How often have I watched my opportunity when my grandmother had left her apartment for an afternoon visit or drive, and then drawn forth the cherished volume from beneath the pillow and even from between the bed and sacking bottom! so carefully were they concealed from view. Sometimes, indeed, she locked the door of her room, and took the key with her; and then all ingress was impossible.
What wild, foolish dreams I indulged in!--What romantic-visions of the future that were never realized! How well I remember my sensations on reading the "Scottish Chiefs." Wallace appeared to me almost in the light of a god--so noble, so touching were all his acts and words, that I even envied Helen Mar the privilege of calling herself his wife, and then dying to lay her head in the same grave with him. I resolved to give up all the common-place of life, and cling unto the spiritual--to purify myself from every earth-born wish and habit, and live but in the hope of meeting with a second Wallace. I persevered in this resolution for a whole week; and then meeting with some equally delightful hero of an opposite nature, I changed from grave to gay. My mood during these periods of fascination was as variable as the different heroines I admired. Now I would imitate the pensiveness of Amanda, and go about with streaming tresses, and a softly modulated tone of voice--then I would read of some sprightly heroine who changed all by her vivacity and piquant sayings, and immediately commence springing down three stairs at a time, teazing all the children, and making some reply to everything that was said, which sometimes passed for wit but oftener for impudence--and then again some noble, self-sacrificing character would excite my admiration, and oh! how I longed for some opportunity to signalize myself! A bullet aimed at some loved one, whom I could protect by rushing forward and receiving it myself; but I was not to be killed, only sufficiently wounded to make me appear interesting--disabled in the arm, perhaps, without much suffering, for bodily pain never formed a prominent feature in my ideas of the romantic and striking--I was too great a coward; or else a plunge into the waves to rescue some drowning person from perishing, when I wished just to come near enough to death to elevate me into a heroine for after life.
I looked in the glass, and seeing large, dark eyes, a healthful bloom, and rather pretty features, I concluded that I need not belong to the plain and amiable order, and began to wish most enthusiastically for some romantic admirer; some one who would expose himself to the danger of a sore throat and influenza for the sake of serenading me--who would be rather glad than otherwise to risk his life by jumping down a precipice to bring me some descried wild flower, and who, when away from me, would pass his time in writing extravagant poetry, of which I was to be the bright divinity. Old as I am, I feel almost ashamed to repeat this nonsense now; and had I then possessed more sense myself, or made by mother the confidant of these flights of fancy, I need not now relate my own silly experience to warn you from the effects of novel-reading.
Charles Tracy did not at all realize my romantic ideas of a hero; and one bright day the dissatisfaction which had been gradually gathering in my mind expressed itself in words. I had gone down to a lake at the bottom of the garden to indulge in high-flown meditations; and Charles Tracy stood beside one of the boats which were always kept there.
"Come, Amy," said he, as I drew near, "it is a beautiful day--let us have a row across the lake."
"No," said I, twining my arm around one of the young trees near, "I prefer remaining here."
"You had better come with me," rejoined Charles, "instead of keeping company there with the snapping-turtles. Well," he added after a short pause, "if you will not come with me, why I must go alone."
"Go, then!" said I, bitterly, "you love your own pleasure a great deal better than you do me!"
"Why Amy!" he exclaimed, coming close to me as though doubtful of my sanity, "how very strangely you talk! You know that I love you very much," he continued, "for haven't we been together and quarrelled with each other ever since I can remember? And do I not now bear the marks of the time when you threw the cat in my face to end our childish dispute?
And the scar where you stuck the pen-knife in my arm? And don't you remember how you used to pull my hair out by handfuls? How can I help loving you when I call to mind all these tender recollections?"
This reply provoked me very much; and I answered energetically: "You do _not_ love me!--you do not know how to love I When did you ever make any sacrifices for me?" I continued in an excited manner, "When did I ever hear you singing beneath my window in a tone meant for no ear but mine?
When did you ever rush with me out of a burning house, or encounter any danger for my sake? When did you ever watch for a glimpse of my taper at midnight when all others were asleep?"
During the progress of this singular speech, Charles Tracy's countenance had gradually changed from the surprised to the amused; and when I had concluded he laughed--yes, he actually laughed! What a damper of sentiment!
"Laugh on," said I, in a dignified manner, as I turned my steps homeward, "that has now put an end to all."
He was but a boy--I, a _woman_, for should I not be fifteen to-morrow?
and I walked away from him in contempt; while he quietly jumped into the boat and rowed across the lake, whistling a tune. But I had not proceeded far before a loud "ha! ha!" from my brother Fred sounded close at my side; he had been an unobserved listener to the whole conversation, now enjoyed the pleasure of teasing me all the way home.
"That's right, Amy!" said he, "Keep up your dignity, child. What a rich scene! _'When did you ever watch for a glimpse of my taper at midnight when all others were asleep?'_ Rather a hopeless watch, I'm thinking, as you sleep in the middle room between mother's and the nursery; and between you and I, Amy, you know that you don't burn a taper, but a brass lamp; but that, of course, isn't quite so poetical to tell of.
Such an air, too!--what a rare tragic actress you'd make! Do say it over, won't you? I have almost forgotten the beginning."
I gave Fred a boxed ear, which must have stung for sometime afterwards; and running hastily into the house, locked myself up in my own room till tea-time. The next day was my birthday; and while my table was strewn with acceptable gifts from all the others, I perceived among them a very antiquated-looking cap and pair of spectacles, to the latter of which was attached a slip of paper, on which was written: "To improve the impaired sight of my dear sister Amy, produced by her declining years; also a cap to conceal the gray hairs of age, and 'Young's Night Thoughts' for the edification of her mind."
I was almost ready to cry from mortification; but I remembered that I was now fifteen, and took the articles down stairs for the purpose of exposing Master Fred, but what did I get for my pains? In justification he told the story of yesterday, in his own peculiarly humorous way; and when I saw myself thus reflected, the ridiculous tendency of my words and manner struck me forcibly, and I was almost ready to laugh. But the others did that abundantly for me, while wondering where I had picked up such notions; and Grandmother Chesbury, I verily believe, suspected that I had been at her novels, for after that I never could find one.
But although I was thus debarred from receiving any new impressions, the old ones still continued in full force; and at last came the long desired opportunity to signalize myself. I was then almost sixteen, and the treaty of peace with England had just been celebrated. I remember well the illuminations and festivities on the first night of the proclamation, which we spent in the city at a friend's house; the balconies were wreathed with flowers, lights blazed from every window, crowds of beautifully-dressed women filled the rooms, and the sounds of music and dancing were heard in every street. It was my first evening in company--my first experience of admiration; and completely carried away by the music, the lights, and the occasion, the old desire for some signalizing deed came thronging back in full force, till I grew almost bewildered. No opportunity offered that night; I could only join in the festivities, and listen to the feats and praises of others; but towards the latter part of the evening my eye was attracted by the brilliant uniform and handsome appearance of a young officer who passed through the rooms, and lingered a moment in a distant corner among a knot of friends who crowded eagerly about him. His commanding figure, beautiful features, and intellectual, yet sweet, expression, completely realized all my ideas of a novel-hero; I saw my father speaking to him, and immediately made signs to introduce him, but before I could catch his eye, the officer had disappeared. Papa told me that Major Arlington's father had been an old friend of his, and he would have introduced him to me, but business called him in another direction, and he could not stay a moment longer, but promised us a visit at an early day.
You need not smile, Miss Ella, and look so knowing at the mention of the name; how do you know that there were not two Arlingtons in the world?
How do you know but that it was his brother I married? How do you know--but never mind, I will go on with my story. It was several days after that eventful evening, which still left a vivid impression upon my mind; the desire to perform some wonderful deed remained in full force, mingled with visions of the young officer, and I wandered about, without paying much attention to my ordinary duties. Papa and mamma were both from home, and Grandmother Chesbury had locked herself up with a new novel; while I was roaming about the grounds not far from the front entrance.
A sound of wheels suddenly struck upon my ear; I supposed it was some visitor and paid not much attention to it; but before long there was a confused noise of voices--a sound of plunging and rearing--and a distinct crashing of some heavy vehicle. My evil genius led me to the spot; I beheld a handsome carriage, which the horses seemed striving to dash in pieces--caught a glimpse of a glittering uniform inside--and following a wild impulse, sprang forward and endeavored to seize the bridle. I heard some one say, "Take care of the young lady!" and then the officer jumped from the carriage, while I was thrown down close to the horses' feet. A confused hum sounded in my ears--and then followed a long blank.
When I awoke to consciousness I found myself lying on a sofa in a small sitting-room; but no one was bending tenderly over me--not even a mother's face met my eyes--but the gossip of two women servants grated painfully on my ear.
"What under the sun possessed Miss Amy to go and cut up such a caper as that!" said one of them, "All the mischief she's done this day won't be done away with for weeks to come."
"No, indeed!" rejoined the other, "that young officer is a fixture here for six weeks at least. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor are broken legs healed in ten minutes--and such a beauty as he is, too! It's shameful to think of!"
"If she'd only let him alone, he'd done well enough--but she must go and jump right under the horses' feet, so that, of course, he had to spring out to prevent her being killed, and that broke his leg, while she wasn't hurt a bit. Speaking of beauties, if Miss Amy could only have seen herself then!--spotted with mud from head to foot, and her hair flying in all directions!"
On hearing that I was not hurt, I sprang from the sofa and rushed to the glass, where I encountered the reflection of a most pitiable-looking figure. Even my face was daubed with mud and dirt, and I looked like a veritable fright. Shame, mortification, and sorrow for my heedless conduct almost overwhelmed me. In the selfish desire to signalize myself, I had hazarded the life of a fellow-being, and brought upon him weeks of suffering which no act of mine could now alleviate. The tears rolled down my cheeks; but having ascertained that my parents had not yet returned, I cut short the gossip of the servants, and ordering them to bring me some water, I arranged my disordered dress for a visit to the sufferer's apartment.
Doctor Irwin had been instantly sent for; and when I entered the room, he was seated by his patient's bedside, while Major Arlington lay with closed eyes and pallid features in a kind of sleep or stupor.
"Miss Amy," whispered the doctor, "this is a sad business--and your parents from home, too. What will be their feelings on their return?"
I glanced at the motionless figure of the young officer, and too much ashamed to reply, hung my head in silence.
"Are you sure that you were not at all hurt, my dear child?" he continued in a kind tone; "What a very wild proceeding it was to throw yourself into the melee! If two men could not manage the horses, could you suppose that your strength would be sufficient. You should have reasoned with yourself before taking such a step, for you see the unfortunate effects of it."
_Reason!_ there was not the least particle of reason in my whole composition; this was a wild, impulsive act, performed without the least thought for the probable consequences, and I now stood gazing on the wreck I had made, in silent bewilderment. My parents soon returned; and hurrying to the apartment with countenances of astonishment and fear, there realized a confirmation of the dreadful accounts they had been assailed with. "And who was the author of all this mischief? _Amy_." My eyes drooped under the stern, reproving glances I encountered, and I crept about the house like a guilty thing--fervently wishing for the bodily suffering I had brought upon the victim of my wild attempt, instead of the pain of mind with which I was tormented.
Days passed on, but the lapse of time was unheeded by me; my post was by the bedside of the sufferer--my employment to anticipate his slightest wish, and yield to every humor. As he grew better I read to him, sung to him, talked to him; and in return received the grateful glances of those expressive eyes, which followed me about whenever I moved from his side.
At length he could sit up in his apartment, and then walk slowly through the grounds, with the assistance of a heavy cane on one side and my arm on the other; till at last he was pronounced to be as well as other people; or, as Dr. Irwin expressed it, "as good as new." Your eyes are brightening up, Ella, in anticipation of a most sentimental love-tale; but I shall not gratify your desire of laughing at your grandmother's folly; but shall only say, that before he left, I had promised, with the consent of my parents, to become Mrs. Arlington. I was married at eighteen, and, strange to say, to one who appeared a realization of all my girlish fancies; he was noble-minded, warm-hearted, and almost as enthusiastic as myself--with a sweetness of temper which I have never seen raffled, except by some act of injustice or cruelty.
But do not flatter yourself, Ella, that life glided on with me like the pages of a romance; I was obliged to lay aside a great many silly theories which I had indulged in, and come to plain reality much oftener than suited my inclination. A _perfect_ person is not to be found upon earth; when disposed to murmur at not meeting with the sacrifices you expect, ask yourself if you would be willing to make these sacrifices for another--and then be not surprised that others are not more free from the dross of self-consideration than you are. Also, do not suppose that it was my hair-brained performance at our first meeting which attracted my husband's affections; no, often has the color mounted to my face at his reference to that scene, and his own impressions then.
"You reminded me, Amy," he would say, laughing, "of some reckless sprite from the kingdom of misrule, who had flown into the scene, determined to make all the trouble she could. It was very chivalrous of you, to be sure, and I ought to be very grateful--but I must own that I felt exceedingly provoked at being obliged to risk my life by springing out to rescue you from the horses' hoofs. But never mind, _chere amie_" he would add as he saw the hot tears starting to my eyes, while face, neck, and brow, were suffused with the hue of mortification, "there was an after-page in the sick-room, when I beheld, with surprise, my crazy heroine transformed into the demure, and gentle nurse, and learned to distinguish a soft-toned voice, which always lingered in my ears like pleasant music; so that after all, I am really indebted to you, Amy, for making me break my leg--for, if you had not done so, I am afraid I never should have discovered my jewel of a wife."
So much for my romance; but the scene generally ended with the kiss of reconciliation, and I, too, learned to smile at my act of girlish folly.
"My tale is told; my parents have long slept beside each other, where the long grass waves over them--my elder brothers are still living--my brother Henry is a beloved and venerated clergyman in one of our large cities--while the wild, hair-brained Fred became a talented lawyer in the same place where he is universally respected. The rest of my brothers are all dead; and we three only survive out of a family of nine. Perhaps at some future time I may give you an account of my residence in England; but I must now conclude my adventures for the present."
Here ended my grandmother's history, which had afforded us many evenings of amusement. We were both surprised and pleased at her frankness in speaking of her faults and mischievous acts; and could indeed hardly comprehend that the very sensible, dignified lady before us had ever been such an odd, harum-scarum sort of character--yet so it was, and she had kindly related her own experience for our improvement. The last chapter was intended more especially for my own particular edification; but we all laughed heartily at my grandmother's ideas of signalizing herself. That room is to us a charmed spot; and we look forward most anxiously to the time when she is to begin an account of her life in England.