Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, page 17
THE MOURNING SUITS.
"But I have that within which passeth show."--SHAKSPEARE.
Mr. Allerton, a merchant of Philadelphia, had for some years been doingbusiness to considerable advantage, when a sudden check was put to hisprosperity by the unexpected failure of a house for which he hadendorsed to a very large amount. There was no alternative but tosurrender everything to his creditors; and this he did literally andconscientiously. He brought down his mind to his circumstances; and as,at that juncture, the precarious state of the times did not authorizeany hope of success if he recommenced business (as he might have done)upon borrowed capital, he gladly availed himself of a vacant clerkshipin one of the principal banks of the city.
His salary, however, would have been scarcely adequate to the support ofhis family, had he not added something to his little stipend byemploying his leisure hours in keeping the books of a merchant. Heremoved with his wife and children to a small house in a remote part ofthe city; and they would, with all his exertions, have been obliged tolive in the constant exercise of the most painful economy, had it notbeen for the aid they derived from his sister Constance Allerton. Sincethe death of her parents, this young lady had resided at New Bedfordwith her maternal aunt, Mrs. Ilford, a quakeress, who left her a legacyof ten thousand dollars.
After the demise of her aunt, Miss Allerton took lodgings at a privatehouse in New Bedford; but on hearing of her brother's misfortunes, shewrote to know if it would be agreeable to him and to his family for herto remove to Philadelphia, and to live with them--supposing that the sumshe would pay for her accommodation might, in their presentdifficulties, prove a welcome addition to their income. This proposalwas joyfully acceded to, as Constance was much beloved by every memberof her brother's family, and had kept up a continual intercourse withthem by frequent letters, and by an annual visit of a few weeks toPhiladelphia.
At this period, Constance Allerton had just completed her twenty-thirdyear. She had a beautiful face, a fine graceful figure, and a highlycultivated mind. With warm feelings and deep sensibility, she possessedmuch energy of character--a qualification which, when called forth bycircumstances, is often found to be as useful in a woman as in a man.Affectionate, generous, and totally devoid of all selfishconsiderations, Constance had nothing so much at heart as the comfortand happiness of her brother's family; and to become an inmate of theirhouse was as gratifying to her as it was to them. She furnished her ownapartment, and shared it with little Louisa, the youngest of her threenieces, a lovely child about ten years old. She insisted on paying thequarter bills of her nephew Frederic Allerton, and volunteered tocomplete the education of his sisters, who were delighted to receivetheir daily lessons from an instructress so kind, so sensible, and socompetent. Exclusive of these arrangements, she bestowed on them manylittle presents, which were always well-timed and judiciously selected;though, to enable her to purchase these gifts, she was obliged, with herlimited income of six hundred dollars, to deny herself manygratifications, and, indeed, conveniences, to which she had hithertobeen accustomed, and the want of which she now passed over with acheerfulness and delicacy which was duly appreciated by the objects ofher kindness.
In this manner the family had been living about a twelvemonth, when Mr.Allerton was suddenly attacked by a violent and dangerous illness, whichwas soon accompanied by delirium; and in a few days it brought him tothe brink of the grave.
His disease baffled the skill of an excellent physician; and theunremitting cares of his wife and sister could only effect a slightalleviation of his sufferings. He expired on the fifth day, withoutrecovering his senses, and totally unconscious of the presence of theheart-struck mourners that were weeping round his bed.
When Mr. Allerton's last breath had departed, his wife was conveyed fromthe room in a fainting-fit. Constance endeavoured to repress her ownfeelings, till she had rendered the necessary assistance to Mrs.Allerton, and till she had somewhat calmed the agony of the children.She then retired to her own apartment, and gave vent to a burst ofgrief, such as can only be felt by those in whose minds and hearts thereis a union of sense and sensibility. With the weak and frivolous, sorrowis rarely either acute or lasting.
The immortal soul of Mr. Allerton had departed from its earthlytenement, and it was now necessary to think of the painful details thatbelonged to the disposal of his inanimate corpse. As soon as Constancecould command sufficient courage to allow her mind to dwell on thissubject, she went down to send a servant for Mr. Denman (an old friendof the family), whom she knew Mrs. Allerton would wish to take charge ofthe funeral. At the foot of the stairs, she met the physician, who, byher pale cheeks, and by the tears that streamed from her eyes at sightof him, saw that all was over. He pressed her hand in sympathy; and,perceiving that she was unable to answer his questions, he bowed andleft the house.
In a short time, Mr. Denman arrived; and Mrs. Allerton declaring herselfincompetent to the task, Constance saw the gentleman, and requested himto make every necessary arrangement for a plain but respectable funeral.
At such times, how every little circumstance seems to add a new pang tothe agonized feelings of the bereaved family! The closing of thewindow-shutters, the arrival of the woman whose gloomy business it is toprepare the corpse for interment, the undertaker coming to take measurefor the coffin, the removal of the bedding on which the deceased hasexpired, the gliding step, the half-whispered directions--all these sadindications that death is in the house, fail not, however quietly andcarefully managed, to reach the ears and hearts of the afflictedrelatives, assisted by the intuitive knowledge of what is so wellunderstood to be passing at these melancholy moments.
In the evening, after Louisa had cried herself to sleep, Constancerepaired to the apartment of her sister-in-law, whom, about an hourbefore, she had left exhausted and passive. Mrs. Allerton was extendedon the bed, pale and silent; her daughters, Isabella and Helen, were intears beside her; and Frederick had retired to his room.
In the fauteuil, near the head of the bed, sat Mrs. Bladen, who, in thedays of their prosperity, had been the next door neighbour of theAllerton family, and who still continued to favour them with frequentvisits. She was one of those busy people who seem almost to verify thejustly-censured maxim of Rochefoucault, that "in the misfortunes of ourbest friends, there is always something which is pleasing to us."
True it was that Mrs. Bladen, being a woman of great leisure, and of adisposition extremely officious, devoted most of her time and attentionto the concerns of others; and any circumstances that prevented herassociates from acting immediately for themselves, of course threw opena wider field for her interference.
"And now, my dear friends," said Mrs. Bladen, squeezing Mrs. Allerton'shand, and looking at Constance, who seated herself in an opposite chair,"as the funeral is to take place on Thursday, you know there is no timeto be lost. What have you fixed on respecting your mourning? I willcheerfully attend to it for you, and bespeak everything necessary."
At the words "funeral" and "mourning," tears gushed again from the eyesof the distressed family; and neither Mrs. Allerton nor Constance couldcommand themselves sufficiently to reply.
"Come, my dear creatures," continued Mrs. Bladen, "you must really makean effort to compose yourselves. Just try to be calm for a few minutes,till we have settled this business. Tell me what I shall order for you.However, there is but one rule on these occasions--crape and bombazine,and everything of the best. Nothing, you know, is more disreputable thanmean mourning."
"I fear, then," replied Mrs. Allerton, "that our mourning attire must bemean enough. The situation in which we are left will not allow us to goto any unnecessary expense in that, or in anything else. We had butlittle to live upon--we could lay by nothing. We have nothingbeforehand: we did not--we could not apprehend that this dreadful eventwas so near. And you know that his salary--that Mr. Allerton'ssalary--of course, expires with him."
"So I suppose, my dear
"We will borrow dresses to wear at the--to wear on Thursday," said Mrs.Allerton.
"And of whom will you borrow?"
"I do not know. I have not yet thought."
"The Liscom family are in black," observed Isabella; "no doubt theywould lend us dresses."
"Oh! none of their things will fit you at all," exclaimed Mrs. Bladen."None of the Liscoms have the least resemblance to any of you, either inheight or figure. You would look perfectly ridiculous in _their_things."
"Then there are Mrs. Patterson and her daughters," said Helen.
"The Pattersons," replied Mrs. Bladen, "are just going to leave offblack; and nothing that _they_ have looks either new or fresh. You knowhow soon black becomes rusty. You certainly would feel very muchmortified if you had to make a shabby appearance at Mr. Allerton'sfuneral. Besides, nobody now wears borrowed mourning--it can always bedetected in a moment. No--with a little exertion--and I repeat that I amwilling to do all in my power--there is time enough to provide the wholefamily with genteel and proper mourning suits. And as you _must_ getthem at last, it is certainly much better to have them at first, so asto appear handsomely at the funeral."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Allerton, sighing, "at such a time, whatconsequence can we possibly attach to our external appearance? How canwe for a moment think of it?"
"To be sure, my dear friend," said Mrs. Bladen, kissing her, "you havehad a very severe loss--very severe, indeed. It is really quiteirreparable; and I can sincerely sympathize in your feelings. Certainlyeverybody ought to feel on these occasions; but you know it isimpossible to devote every moment between this and the funeral to tearsand sobs. One cannot be crying all the time--nobody ever does. And, asto the mourning, that is of course indispensable, and a thing that_must_ be."
Mrs. Allerton wept bitterly. "Indeed, indeed!" said she, "I cannotdiscuss it now."
"And if it is not settled to-night," resumed Mrs. Bladen, "there willbe hardly time to-morrow to talk it over, and get the things, and sendto the mantua-maker's and milliner's. You had better get it off yourmind at once. Suppose you leave it entirely to me. I attended to all themourning for the Liscoms, and the Weldons, and the Nortons. It is abusiness I am quite used to. I pique myself on being rather clever atit."
"I will, then, trust to your judgment," replied Mrs. Allerton, anxiousto get rid of the subject, and of the light frivolous prattle of her_soi-disant_ dear friend. "Be kind enough to undertake it, and procurefor us whatever you think suitable--only let it not be too expensive."
"As to that," answered Mrs. Bladen, "crape is crape, and bombazine isbombazine; and as everybody likes to have these articles of goodquality, nothing otherwise is now imported for mourning. With regard toFrederick's black suit, Mr. Watson will send to take his measure, andthere will be no further difficulty about it. Let me see--there must bebombazine for five dresses: that is, for yourself, three daughters, andMiss Allerton."
"Not for me," said Constance, taking her handkerchief from her eyes. "Ishall not get a bombazine."
"My dear creature!" cried Mrs. Bladen; "not get a bombazine! Youastonish me! What else can you possibly have? Black gingham or blackchintz is only fit for wrappers; and black silk is no mourning at all."
"I shall wear no mourning," replied Constance, with a deep sigh.
"Not wear mourning!" ejaculated Mrs. Bladen. "What, no mourning at all!Not wear mourning for your own brother! Now you do indeed surprise me."
Mrs. Allerton and her daughters were also surprised; and they withdrewtheir handkerchiefs from their eyes, and gazed on Constance, as ifscarcely believing that they had understood her rightly.
"I have considered it well," resumed Miss Allerton; "and I have come toa conclusion to make no change in my dress. In short, to wear nomourning, even for my brother--well as I have loved him, and deeply as Ifeel his loss."
"This is very strange," said Mrs. Allerton.
"Excuse me, Miss Constance," said Mrs. Bladen, "but have you no respectfor his memory? He was certainly an excellent man."
"Respect for his memory!" exclaimed Constance, bursting into tears."Yes! I indeed respect his memory! And were he still living, there isnothing on earth I would not cheerfully do for him, if I thought itwould contribute to his happiness or comfort. But he is now in a landwhere all the forms and ceremonies of this world are of no avail; andwhere everything that speaks to the senses only, must appear like themimic trappings of a theatre. With him, all is now awful reality. To thedecaying inhabitant of the narrow and gloomy grave, or to thedisembodied spirit that has ascended to its Father in heaven, of whatconsequence is the colour that distinguishes the dress of those whosemourning is deep in the heart? What to him is the livery that fashionhas assigned to grief, when he knows how intense is the feeling itself,in the sorrowing bosoms of the family that loved him so well?"
"All this is very true," remarked Mrs. Bladen; "but still, custom iseverything, or fashion, as you are pleased to call it. You know you arenot a Quaker; and therefore I do not see how you can possibly venture togo without mourning on such an occasion as this. Surely, you would notset the usages of the world at defiance?"
"I would not," replied Constance, "in things of minor importance; but onthis subject I believe I can be firm."
"Of course," said Mrs. Bladen, "you will not go to the funeral withoutmourning."
"I cannot go to the funeral at all," answered Constance.
"Not go to the funeral!" exclaimed Mrs. Allerton. "Dear Constance, youamaze me!"
"I hope," observed Mrs. Bladen, looking very serious, "there can be noreason to doubt Miss Allerton's affection for her brother?"
"Oh! no! no! no!" cried the two girls indignantly. "If you had onlyseen," said Isabella, "how she nursed my dear father in his illness--howshe was with him day and night."
"And how much she always loved him," said Helen.
"My dear kind sister," said Mrs. Allerton, taking the hand of Constance,"I hope I shall never again see you distressed by such an intimation."
Mrs. Bladen reddened, looked down, and attentively examined theembroidered corners of her pocket handkerchief. There was a silence of afew moments, till Constance, making an effort to speak with composure,proceeded to explain herself.
"My brother," said she, "has finished his mortal existence. No humanpower, no human love, can aid him or soothe him now; and we willendeavour to submit with resignation to the will of Omnipotence. Ihope--I trust we shall be able to do so; but the shock is yet toorecent, and we cannot at once subdue the feelings of nature. It isdreadful to see the lifeless remains of one we have long and dearlyloved, removed from our sight for ever, and consigned to the darknessand loneliness of the grave. For my part, on this sad occasion I feel anutter repugnance to the idea of becoming an object of curiosity to thespectators that gaze from the windows, and to the vulgar and noisy crowdthat assembles about a burying-ground when an interment is to takeplace. I cannot expose my tears, my deep affliction, to the comments ofthe multitude; and I cannot have my feelings outraged by perhapsoverhearing their coarse remarks. I may be too fastidious--I may bewrong; but to be present at the funeral of my brother is an effort Icannot resolve to make. And, moreover--"
Here her voice for a few moments became inarticulate, and her sister andnieces sobbed audibly.
"And then," she continued, "I cannot stand beside that open grave--Icannot see the coffin let down into it, and the earth thrown upon thelid till it is covered up for ever. I cannot--indeed I cannot. In theseclusion of my own apartment I shall, of course, know that all this isgoing on, and I shall suffer most acutely; but there will be nostrangers to witness my sufferings. It is a dreadful custom, that offemales attending the funerals of their nearest relatives. I wish itwere abolished throughout our country, as it is in many parts ofEurope."
"But you know," said Mrs. Bladen, "that it
"Not when we are assured," replied Constance, "that the melancholyoffice can be properly performed without our presence or assistance.Duty requires of us no sacrifice by which neither the living nor thedead can be benefited. But I have said enough; and I cannot be presentat my brother's funeral."
She then rose and left the room, unable any longer to sustain aconversation so painful to her.
"Well, I am really astonished!" exclaimed Mrs. Bladen. "Not wearmourning for her brother! Not go to his funeral! However, I suppose shethinks she has a right to do as she pleases. But, she may depend on it,people will talk."
Just then a servant came to inform Mrs. Bladen that her husband waswaiting for her in the parlour.
"Well, my dear Mrs. Allerton," said she, as she rose to depart, "we havenot yet settled about the mourning. Of course, you are not going toadopt Miss Constance's strange whim of wearing none at all."
"What she has said on the subject appears to me very just," replied Mrs.Allerton.
"Aunt Constance is always right," remarked one of the girls.
"As to Miss Allerton," resumed Mrs. Bladen, "she is well known to beindependent in every sense of the word; and therefore she may do as shepleases--though she may rest assured that people will talk."
"What people?" asked Mrs. Allerton.
"Everybody--all the world."
Mrs. Allerton thought how very circumscribed was the world in which sheand her family had lived since the date of their fallen fortunes.
"It is well known," pursued Mrs. Bladen, "that Miss Constance is able towear mourning if she chooses it. But you may rely on it, Mrs. Allerton,that if you and your children do not appear in black, people will beill-natured enough to say that it is because you cannot afford it.Excuse my plainness."
"They will say rightly, then," replied Mrs. Allerton, with a sigh. "Wecertainly cannot afford it."
"How you talk!" said Mrs. Bladen. "Afford it or not, everybody has towear mourning, and everybody does, from the highest down to the lowest.Even my washerwoman put all her family (that is herself and her sixchildren) into black when her husband died; notwithstanding that he wasno great loss--for he was an idle, drunken Irishman, and beat them allround every day of his life. And my cook, a coloured woman, whosegrandfather died in the almshouse a few weeks ago, has as handsome asuit of mourning as any lady need desire to wear."
"May I request," said Mrs. Allerton, "that you will spare me on thissubject to-night? Indeed I can neither think nor talk about it."
"Well, then," replied Mrs. Bladen, kissing her, "I will hope to find youbetter in the morning. I shall be with you immediately after breakfast."
She then took her leave; and Constance, who had been weeping over thecorpse of Mr. Allerton, now returned to the apartment of hersister-in-law.
Released from the importunities of Mrs. Bladen, our heroine now mildlyand sensibly reasoned with the family on the great inconvenience, and,as she believed, the unnecessary expense of furnishing themselves withsuits of mourning in their present circumstances. The season was late inthe autumn, and they had recently supplied themselves with their winteroutfit, all of which would now be rendered useless if black must besubstituted. Her arguments had so much effect that Mrs. Allerton, withthe concurrence of her daughters, very nearly promised to give up allintention of making a general change in their dress. But they found itharder than they had supposed, to free themselves from the trammels ofcustom.
Mrs. Allerton and Constance passed a sleepless night, and the children"awoke to weep" at an early hour in the morning. They all met in tearsat the breakfast table. Little was eaten, and the table was scarcelycleared, when Mrs. Bladen came in, followed by two shop boys, onecarrying two rolls of bombazine, and the other two boxes of Italiancrape. Constance had just left the room.
After the first salutations were over, Mrs. Bladen informed Mrs.Allerton that she had breakfasted an hour earlier than usual, that shemight allow herself more time to go out, and transact the business ofthe morning.
"My dear friend," said she, "Mrs. Doubleprice has sent you, at myrequest, two pieces of bombazine, that you may choose for yourself.--Oneis more of a jet black than the other--but I think the blue black ratherthe finest. However, they are both of superb quality, and this seasonjet black is rather the most fashionable. I have been to Miss Facings,the mantua-maker, who is famous for mourning. Bombazines, when made upby her, have an air and a style about them, such as you will never seeif done by any one else. There is nothing more difficult than to make upmourning as it ought to be.--I have appointed Miss Facings to meet mehere--I wonder she has not arrived--she can tell you how much isnecessary for the four dresses. If Miss Allerton finally concludes to belike other people and put on black, I suppose she will attend to itherself. These very sensible young ladies are beyond my comprehension."
"I am sure," said Helen, "no one is more easy to understand, than mydear Aunt Constance."
"And here," continued Mrs. Bladen, "is the double-width crape for theveils. As it is of very superior quality, you had best have it to trimthe dresses, and for the neck handkerchiefs, and to border the blackcloth shawls that you will have to get."
We must remark to our readers, that at the period of our story, it wascustomary to trim mourning dresses with a very broad fold of crape,reaching nearly from the feet to the knees.
Mrs. Allerton on hearing the prices of the crape and bombazine, declaredthem too expensive.
"But only look at the quality," persisted Mrs. Bladen, "and you know thebest things are always the cheapest in the end--and, as I told you,nobody now wears economical mourning."
"We had best wear none of any description," said Mrs. Allerton.
"Ah!" cried Mrs. Bladen, "I see that Miss Constance has been tryingagain to make a convert of you. Yet, as you are not Quakers, I know nothow you will be able to show your faces in the world, if you do not puton black. Excuse me, but innovations on established customs ought onlyto be attempted by people of note--by persons so far up in society thatthey may feel at liberty to do any out-of-the-way thing with impunity."
"I wish, indeed," said Mrs. Allerton, "that some of those influentialpersons would be so public-spirited as to set the example of dispensingwith all customs that bear hard on people in narrow circumstances."
The mantua-maker now made her appearance, and Mrs. Bladen exclaimed,"Oh! Miss Facings, we have been waiting for you to tell us exactly howmuch of everything we are to get."
A long and earnest discussion now took place between Mrs. Bladen and thedressmaker, respecting the quality and quantity of the bombazine andcrape.
Miss Facings having calculated the number of yards, Mrs. Bladen inquiredif there was no yard-measure in the house. One was produced, and themeasuring commenced forthwith; Mrs. Allerton having no longer energy tooffer any further opposition. She sat with her handkerchief to her face,and her daughters wept also. Sirs. Bladen stepped up to her, andwhispered, "You are aware that it will not be necessary to pay the billsimmediately."
"Ah!" returned Mrs. Allerton, "I know not when they can be paid. But wewill strain every nerve to do it as soon as possible. I cannot bear theidea of remaining in debt for this mourning."
Their business being accomplished, the shop-boys departed, and MissFacings made her preparations for cutting out the dresses, taking anopportunity of assuring the weeping girls that nothing was more becomingto the figure than black bombazine, and that everybody looked their bestin a new suit of mourning.
At this juncture, Constance returned to the room, and was extremelysorry to find that the fear of singularity, and the officiousperseverance of Mrs. Bladen, had superseded the better sense of hersister-in-law. But as the evil was now past remedy, our heroine,according to her usual practice, refrained from any furtheranimadversions on the subject.
Little Louisa was now brought
Mrs. Allerton expressed great unwillingness to allowing hersister-in-law to take the trouble of making Louisa's dress. ButConstance whispered to her that she had always found occupation to beone of the best medicines for an afflicted mind, and that it would insome degree prevent her thoughts from dwelling incessantly on the samemelancholy subject. Taking Louisa with her, she retired to her ownapartment, and the frock was completed by next day: though theoverflowing eyes of poor Constance frequently obliged her to lay downher sewing. In reality, her chief motive in proposing to make the dress,was to save the expense of having it done by the mantua-maker.
Miss Facings took Mrs. Allerton's gown home with her, saying she wouldsend one of her girls for the two others; and Mrs. Bladen then began toplan the bonnets and shawls. She went off to a fashionable milliner, andengaged a mourning bonnet and four mourning caps for Mrs. Allerton, anda bonnet for each of her daughters. And she was going back and forwardsnearly all day with specimens of black cloth for the shawls, blackstockings, black gloves, &c.
The girls, at their aunt's suggestion, hemmed the crape veils, and onthe following morning, she assisted them in making and trimming theshawls. Still, Constance was well convinced that the expense of themourning (including the suit bespoken for Frederick) would be greaterthan they could possibly afford. The cost of the funeral she intended todefray from her own funds, and she took occasion to request Mr. Denmanto have nothing about it that should be unnecessarily expensive.
The hour arrived when the sorrowing family of Mr. Allerton were to beparted for ever from all that remained of the husband, the father, andthe brother. They had taken the last look of his fixed and lifelessfeatures, they had imprinted the last kiss on his cold and pallid lips;and from the chamber of death, they had to adjourn to the incongruoustask of attiring themselves in their mourning habits to appear at hisfuneral. How bitterly they wept as their friends assisted them inputting on their new dresses; and when they tied on their bonnets andtheir long veils, to follow to his grave the object of their fondestaffection!
Constance, with an almost breaking heart, sat in her chamber, and littleLouisa hung crying on her shoulder, declaring that she could not see herdear father buried. But Mrs. Bladen came in, protesting that all thechildren _must_ be present, and that people would _talk_ if even theyoungest child was to stay away. Mrs. Bladen then put on Louisa'smourning dress almost by force. When this was done, the little girlthrew her arms round the neck of her aunt and kissed her, saying with aburst of tears, "When I see you again, my dear dear father will becovered up in his grave." Mrs. Bladen then led, or rather dragged thechild to the room in which the family were assembled.
Constance threw herself on her bed in a paroxysm of grief. She heard theslow tread of the company as they came in, and she fancied that shecould distinguish the sound of the lid as it was laid on the coffin, andthe fastening of the screws that closed it for ever. She knew when itwas carried down stairs, and she listened in sympathetic agony to thesobs of the family as they descended after it. She heard the shutting ofthe hearse-door, and the gloomy vehicle slowly rolling off to giveplace to the carriages of the mourners. She started up, and casting hereyes towards an opening in the window-curtain, she saw Mr. Denmansupporting to the first coach the tottering steps of her half-faintingsister-in-law. She looked no longer, but sunk back on the bed and hidher face on the pillow. By all that she suffered when indulging hergrief alone and in the retirement of her chamber, she felt how dreadfulit would have been to her, had she accompanied the corpse of her brotherto its final resting-place.
In about an hour the family returned, pale, exhausted, and worn out withthe intensity of their feelings at the grave. And they could well havedispensed with the company of Mrs. Bladen, who came home and passed theevening with them; as she foolishly said that people in affliction oughtnot to be left to themselves.
After some days the violence of their grief settled into melancholysadness: they ceased to speak of him whom they had loved and lost, andthey felt as if they could never talk of him again.
The unfortunate family of Mr. Allerton now began to consider what theyshould do for their support. Constance was willing to share with themher little income even to the last farthing, but it was too small toenable them all to live on it with comfort. Great indeed are thesufferings, the unacknowledged and unimagined sufferings of that classwho "cannot dig, and to beg are ashamed"--whose children have beennursed in the lap of affluence, and who "every night have slept withsoft content about their heads"--who still retain a vivid recollectionof happier times, and who still feel that they themselves are the same,though all is changed around them.
Such was the condition of the Allerton family. "The world was all beforethem where to choose," and so low were now their finances, that it wasnecessary they should think and act promptly, and decide at once uponsome plan for their subsistence. Constance proposed a school, but thehouse they now occupied was in too remote a place to expect any success.A lady had already attempted establishing a seminary in the immediateneighbourhood, but it had proved an entire failure. Mrs. Allertonthought that in a better part of the town, and in a larger house, theymight have a fair chance of encouragement. But they were now destituteof the means of defraying the expense of a removal, and of purchasingsuch articles of furniture as would be indispensably necessary in a morecommodious dwelling; particularly if fitted up as a school.
Frederick Allerton, who was twelve years old, had just completed hislast quarter at the excellent academy in which he had been a pupil fromearly childhood, and it was now found necessary, after paying the bill,to take him away; as the present situation of the family did not seem towarrant them in continuing him there any longer. He was, however, veryforward in all his acquirements, having an excellent capacity, and beingextremely diligent. Still it was hard that so promising a boy should beobliged to stop short, when in a fair way of becoming an extraordinaryproficient in the principal branches appertaining to what is consideredan excellent education. Fortunately, however, a place was obtained forhim in a highly respectable book-store.
There was now a general retrenchment in the expenditures of the Allertonfamily. One of their servants was discharged, as they could no longerafford to keep two--and they were obliged to endure many privationswhich were but ill compensated by the idea that they were wearing verygenteel mourning. Again, as they had begun with black, it was necessaryto go through with it. They could not wear their bombazines continually,and as black ginghams and chintzes are always spoiled by washing, it wasthought better that their common dresses should be of Canton crape, anarticle that, though very durable, is at first of no trifling cost.
In the mean time, their only resource seemed to be that of literallysupporting themselves by the work of their hands. Constance undertookthe painful task of going round among their acquaintances, andannouncing their readiness to undertake any sort of needle-work that wasoffered to them. Nobody had any work to put out just then. Some promisednot to forget them when they had. Others said they were already suitedwith seamstresses. At this time the Ladies' Depository was not inexistence; that excellent establishment, where the feelings of theindustrious indigent who have seen better days are so delicately sparedby the secrecy with which its operations are conducted.
At length a piece of linen was sent to the Allerton family for thepurpose of being made up by them into shirts. And so great was their joyat the prospect of getting a little money, that it almost absorbed thepainful feelings with which for the first time they employed theirneedles in really working for their living.
They all sewed assiduously, little Louisa doing the easiest parts. Thelinen was soon made up, and they then obtained another piece, andafterwards some muslin work. Constance, wh
But to pay for the mourning of Mrs. Allerton and her children was anecessity that pressed heavily on them all, and they dreaded the soundof the door-bell, lest it should be followed by the presentation of thebills. The bills came, and were found to be considerably larger than wasanticipated. Yet they were paid in the course of the winter, though withmuch difficulty, and at the expense of much comfort. The unfortunateAllertons rose early and sat up late, kept scanty fires and a veryhumble table, and rarely went out of the house, except to church, or totake a little air and exercise at the close of the afternoon.
Most of their friends dropped off, and the few that seemed disposed tocontinue their acquaintance with people whose extreme indigence was nosecret, were so thoughtless as to make their visits in the morning, atime which is never convenient to families that cannot afford to beidle. Mrs. Bladen, who, though frivolous and inconsiderate, was really agood-natured woman, came frequently to see them; and another of theirvisiters was Mrs. Craycroft, whose chief incentive was curiosity to seehow the Allertons were going on, and a love of dictation which inducedher frequently to favour them with what she considered salutary counsel.Mrs. Craycroft was a hard, cold, heartless woman, who by dint of theclosest economy had helped her husband to amass a large fortune, andthey now had every sort of luxury at their command. The Craycrofts aswell as the Bladens had formerly been neighbours of Mr. and Mrs.Allerton.
Mrs. Bladen and Mrs. Craycroft happened to meet one morning in Mrs.Allerton's little sitting-room. Mrs. Craycroft came in last, and Mrs.Bladen, after stopping for a few minutes, pursued her discourse with herusual volubility. It was on the subject of Mrs. Allerton and herdaughter getting new pelisses, or coats as they are more commonly calledin Philadelphia.
"I can assure you," said she, "now that the weather has become so cold,people talk about your going to church in those three-corneredcloth-shawls, which you know are only single, and were merely intendedfor autumn and spring. They did very well when you first got them (forthe weather was then mild), but the season is now too far advanced towear shawls of any sort. You know everybody gets their new coats byChristmas, and it is now after New-Year's."
"We would be very glad to have coats," replied Mrs. Allerton, "but theyare too expensive."
"Not so very," answered Mrs. Bladen. "To be sure, fine black cloth orcassimere is the most fashionable for mourning coats. But many verygenteel people wear black levantine or black mode trimmed with crape.Handsome silk coats would scarcely cost above twenty or twenty-fivedollars apiece."
"We cannot afford them," said Mrs. Allerton. "We must only refrain fromgoing out when the weather is very cold. I acknowledge that our shawlsare not sufficiently warm."
"Did you not all get new olive-coloured silk coats, just before Mr.Allerton died?" inquired Mrs. Craycroft.
The abrupt mention of a name which they had long since found it almostimpossible to utter, brought tears into the eyes of the whole family.There was a general silence, and Mrs. Bladen rose to depart, saying, "Iwould recommend to you to get the coats as soon as possible, or thewinter will be over without them. And I can assure you as a friend, thatpeople do make their remarks. I am going into Second street; shall Ilook among the best stores for some black levantine? or would you ratherhave mode? But I had best bring you patterns of both: and shall I callon Miss Facings and bespeak her to make the coats for you?"
"We thank you much," replied Mrs. Allerton, "but we will not give youthe trouble either to look for the silk, or to engage the mantua-maker.We must for this winter dispense with new coats."
Mrs. Bladen then took her leave, saying, "Well, do as you please, butpeople think it very strange that you should be still wearing yourshawls, now that the cold weather has set in."
Constance was glad that Mrs. Bladen had not in this instance carriedher point. But she grieved to think that her sister and nieces could nothave the comfort of wearing their coats because the olive-colour did notcomport with their mourning bonnets. For herself, having made no attemptat mourning, Constance had no scruple as to appearing in hers.
When Mrs. Bladen was gone, Mrs. Craycroft spoke again, and said, "Iwonder how people can be so inconsiderate! But Mrs. Bladen never couldsee things in their proper light. She ought to be ashamed of giving yousuch advice. Now, I would recommend to you to have your olive silk coatsripped apart, and dyed black, and then you can make them up againyourselves. You know that if you were not in mourning, you might wearthem as they are; but as you have begun with black, I suppose it wouldnever do to be seen in coloured things also."
"I believe," replied Mrs. Allerton, "there is generally much trouble ingetting articles dyed--at least in this city, and that they arefrequently spoiled in the process."
"Your informants," said Mrs. Craycroft, "must have been peculiarlyunlucky in their dyers. I can recommend you to Mr. Copperas, who doesthings beautifully, so that they look quite as good as new. He dyes forMrs. Narrowskirt and for Mrs. Dingy. I advise you by all means to sendyour coats to him. And no doubt you have many other things, now lying byas useless, that would be serviceable if dyed black."
"I believe I will take your advice," answered Mrs. Allerton.
Mrs. Craycroft then proceeded: "Situated as you are, Mrs. Allerton, Ineed not say how much it behooves you to economize in everything youpossibly can; now for instance, I would suggest to you all to drink ryecoffee. And then as to tea, if you _must_ have tea of an evening, I knowa place where you can get it as low as half a dollar a pound--to be sureit is only Hyson Skin. In _your_ family a pound of tea ought to go agreat way, for now, of course, you do not make it strong. And then, Iwould advise you all to accustom yourselves to brown sugar in your tea;it is nothing when you are used to it. Of course you always take it inyour coffee. And there is a baker not far off, that makes large loavesof rye and Indian mixed. You will find it much cheaper than wheat. Ofcourse you are not so extravagant as to eat fresh bread. And as tobutter, if you cannot dispense with it altogether, I would suggest thatyou should use the potted butter from the grocery stores. Some of it isexcellent. I suppose that of course you have entirely given up allkinds of desserts, but if you should wish for anything of the kind onSundays, or after a cold dinner, you will find plain boiled ricesweetened with a very little molasses, almost as good as a pudding. Nodoubt the children will like it quite as well. You know, I suppose, thatif you defer going to market till near twelve o'clock you will alwaysget things much cheaper than if you go in the early part of the day; astowards noon the market people are impatient to get home, and in theirhurry to be off, will sell for almost nothing whatever they may chanceto have left. In buying wood, let me recommend to you always to get itas green as possible. To be sure green wood does not always make so gooda fire as that which is dry, neither does it kindle so well; but thenthe slower it burns the longer it lasts, and it is therefore thecheapest. And always get gum back-logs, for they scarcely burn at all. Isee you still keep your black woman Lucy. Now you will find it muchbetter to dismiss her, and take a bound girl about twelve or thirteen.Then you know you would have no wages to pay, and your daughters, ofcourse, would not mind helping her with the work."
During this harangue, the colour came into Mrs. Allerton's face, and shewas about to answer in a manner that showed how acutely she was woundedby the unfeeling impertinence of the speaker: but glancing at Constanceshe saw something in her countenance that resembled a smile, andperceived that she seemed rather amused than angry. Therefore Mrs.Allerton suppressed her resentment, and made no reply.
When Mrs. Craycroft had departed, the mother and daughters warmlydeprecated her rudeness and insolence; but Constance, being by
"After all," said Mrs. Allerton, "I think we will take Mrs. Craycroft'sadvice about the dyeing. The olive coats may thus be turned to very goodaccount, and so may several other things of which we cannot now make usebecause of their colour. It is true, that we can ill afford even theexpense of dyeing them; but still we are really very much in want ofsuch coats as we may wear in mourning."
Next day, the olive pelisses, which were very pretty and extremely wellmade, were carefully ripped apart, and the silk was conveyed to thedyer's, together with a small scarlet Canton crape shawl of Mrs.Allerton's, which she thought would be convenient in cold weather towear over her shoulders when at home. The _materiel_ of the dismemberedcoats was rolled up in as small a compass as possible, wrapped inpapers, and carried one afternoon by Isabella and Helen. Mr. Copperasinformed them that he only dyed on Thursdays, and as this was Fridayafternoon, they had come a day too late to have the things done thatweek. Therefore the articles could not be put into the dye before nextThursday, and then it would be another week before they could bedressed. Dressing, in the dyer's phraseology, means stiffening andironing; and very frequently ironing only.
This delay was extremely inconvenient, as Mrs. Allerton and herdaughters were absolutely very much in need of the coats; yet there wasno remedy but patience. At the appointed time, two of the girls went tobring home the silk, but were told by a small-featured, mild-spokenQuaker woman, employed to attend the customers, that "the things weredyed but not yet dressed."
"Will they be finished by to-morrow afternoon?" asked Isabella.
"I rather think they will not."
"By Saturday, then?"
"It's likely they will."
On Saturday, the girls went again. Still the articles, though dyed, werenot yet dressed: but they were promised for Tuesday--if nothing happenedto prevent.
Every few days, for near a fortnight, some of the Allerton familyrepaired to the dyer's (and it was a very long walk) but without anysuccess--the things, though always dyed, were never dressed. And whenthey expressed their disappointment, the Quaker woman regularly toldthem: "Thee knows I did not say positive--we should never be too certainof anything."
Finally, the silk was acknowledged to be dressed, and it was producedand paid for; but the crape shawl was missing. A search was made for it,but in vain; still the woman assured them that it could not be lost, asnothing ever _was_ lost in James Copperas's house, adding: "I partlypromise thee, that if I live, I will find it for thee by to-morrow."
Next day, when she had done sewing, little Louisa went again for theshawl. The woman now confessed that she had not been able to find it,and said to Louisa: "I think, child, I would not advise thee to troublethyself to come after it again. It seems a pity to wear out thy shoestoo much. One should not be too certain of anything in this life, andtherefore I am not free to say that thy shawl is lost; but it seems tome likely that it will never be found."
"My mother will be sorry," said Louisa, "for she really wants the shawl,and will regret to lose it."
The little girl then turned to depart, and had reached the front doorwhen the woman called her back, saying: "But thee'll pay for thedyeing?"
[Footnote 86: Fact.]
"What!" exclaimed Louisa, "after you have lost the shawl?"
"But I can assure thee it _was_ dyed," replied the woman. "It actually_was_ dyed, I can speak positive to that, and we cannot afford to losethe dyeing."
Louisa, child as she was, had acuteness enough to perceive the intendedimposition, and, without making an answer, she slipped out of the door:though the woman caught her by the skirt, and attempted to stop her,repeating: "But we can't afford to lose the dyeing."
Louisa, however, disengaged herself from her grasp, and ran down thestreet, for some distance, as fast as possible--afraid to look back lestthe Quaker woman should be coming after her for the money she hadbrought to pay for the shawl, and which she took care to hold tightly inher hand.
In attempting to make up the coats, it was found impossible to put thedifferent pieces together to the same advantage as before. Also, thesilk did not look well, being dyed of a dull brownish black, andstiffened to the consistence of paper. The skirts and sleeves had shrunkmuch in dyeing, and the pieces that composed the bodies had beenravelled, frayed, and pulled so crooked in dressing, that they had lostnearly all shape. It was impossible to make up the deficiencies bymatching the silk with new, as none was to be found that bore sufficientresemblance to it. "Ah!" thought Constance, "how well these coats lookedwhen in their original state! The shade of olive was so beautiful, thesilk so soft and glossy, and they fitted so perfectly well."
When put together under all these disadvantages, the coats looked sobadly that the girls were at first unwilling to wear them, except inextreme cold weather--particularly as in coming out of church theyoverheard whispers among the ladies in the crowd, of "That's a dyedsilk"--"Any one may see that those coats have been dyed."
They trimmed them with crape, in hopes of making them look better; butthe crape wore out almost immediately, and in fact it had to be takenoff before the final close of the cold weather.
Spring came at last, and the Allerton family, having struggled through amelancholy and comfortless winter, had taken a larger house in a betterpart of the town, and made arrangements for commencing their school, inwhich Constance was to be chief instructress. Isabella and Helen, whoseages were sixteen and fourteen, were to assist in teaching somebranches, but to continue receiving lessons in others. Louisa was to beone of the pupils.
About a fortnight before their intended removal to their new residence,one afternoon when none of the family were at home, except Constance,she was surprised by the visit of a friend from New Bedford, a younggentleman who had been absent three years on a whaling voyage, in a shipin which he had the chief interest, his father being owner of severalvessels in that line.
Edmund Lessingham was an admirer of ladies generally: but during hislong voyage he found by his thinking incessantly of Constance, and notat all of any other female, that he was undoubtedly in love with her; afact which he had not suspected till the last point of Massachusettsfaded from his view. He resolved to improve his intimacy with ourheroine, should he find her still at liberty, on his return to NewBedford; and if he perceived a probability of success, to make her atonce an offer of his hand. When Lessingham came home, he was muchdisappointed to hear that Constance Allerton had been living for morethan a twelvemonth in Philadelphia. However, he lost no time in comingon to see her.
When he was shown into the parlour, she was sitting with her head bentover her work. She started up on being accosted by his well-rememberedvoice. Not having heard of the death of her brother, and not seeing herin mourning, Edmund Lessingham was at a loss to account for the tearsthat filled her eyes, and for the emotion that suffocated her voice whenshe attempted to reply to his warm expressions of delight at seeing heragain. He perceived that she was thinner and paler than when he had lastseen her, and he feared that all was not right. She signed to him to sitdown, and was endeavouring to compose herself, when Mrs. Craycroft wasshown into the room. That lady stared with surprise at seeing a veryhandsome young gentleman with Constance, who hastily wiped her eyes andintroduced Mr. Lessingham.
Mrs. Craycroft took a seat, and producing two or three morning caps fromher reticule, she said in her usual loud voice, "Miss Allerton, I havebrought these caps for you to alter--I wish you to do them immediately,that they may be washed next week. I find the borders rather too broad,and the headpieces too large (though to be sure I did cut them outmyself), so I want you to rip them apart, and make the headpiecessmaller, and the borders narrower, and then whip them and sew them onagain. I was out the other day when you sent home my husband's shirtswith the bill, but when you have done the caps I will pay you for alltogether. What will you charge for making
The face of Lessingham became scarlet, and, starting from his chair, hetraversed the room in manifest perturbation; sympathizing with what hesupposed to be the confusion and mortification of Constance, andregretting that the sex of Mrs. Craycroft prevented him from knockingher down.
Constance, however, rallied, replying with apparent composure to Mrs.Craycroft on the points in question, and calmly settling the bargain forthe bird's-eye aprons--she knew that it is only in the eyes of thevulgar-minded and the foolish that a woman is degraded by exerting heringenuity or her talents as a means of support.
"Well," said Mrs. Craycroft, "you may send for the aprons to-morrow, andI wish you to hurry with them as fast as you can--when I give out work,I never like it to be kept long on hand. I will pay you for the otherthings when the aprons are done."
Mrs. Craycroft then took her leave, and Constance turned to the windowto conceal from Lessingham the tears that in spite of her self-commandwere now stealing down her cheeks.
Lessingham hastily went up to her, and taking her hand, he said, withmuch feeling: "Dear Constance--Miss Allerton I mean--what has happenedduring my absence? Why do I see you thus? But I fear that I distress youby inquiring. I perceive that you are not happy--that you have sufferedmuch, and that your circumstances are changed. Can I do nothing toconsole you or to improve your situation? Let me at once have a right todo so--let me persuade you to unite your fate with mine, and put an end,I hope for ever, to these unmerited, these intolerable humiliations."
"No, Mr. Lessingham," said Constance, deeply affected, "I will not takeadvantage of the generous impulse that has led you thus suddenly to makean offer, which, perhaps, in a calmer moment, and on coolerconsideration, you may think of with regret."
"Regret!" exclaimed Lessingham, pressing her hand between both of his,and surveying her with a look of the fondest admiration, "dearestConstance, how little you know your own value--how little you supposethat during our long separation--"
Here he was interrupted in his impassioned address by the entrance ofMrs. Allerton and her daughters. Constance hastily withdrew her hand andpresented him as Mr. Lessingham, a friend of hers from New Bedford.
Being much agitated, she in a few minutes retired to compose herself inher own apartment. The girls soon after withdrew, and Lessingham,frankly informing Mrs. Allerton that he was much and seriouslyinterested in her sister-in-law, begged to know some particulars of herpresent condition.
Mrs. Allerton, who felt it impossible to regard Mr. Lessingham as astranger, gave him a brief outline of the circumstances of Constance'sresidence with them, and spoke of her as the guardian-angel of thefamily. "She is not only," said her sister-in-law, "one of the mostamiable and affectionate, but also one of the most sensible andjudicious of women. Never, never have we in any instance acted contraryto her advice, without eventually finding cause to regret that we didso." And Mrs. Allerton could not forbear casting her eyes over hermourning dress.
Lessingham, though the praises of Constance were music in his ears, hadtact enough to take his leave, fearing that his visit was interferingwith the tea-hour of the family.
Next morning, the weather was so mild as to enable them to sit up stairswith their sewing; for latterly, the state of their fuel had not allowedthem to keep fire except in the parlour and kitchen. Lessingham calledand inquired for Constance. She came down, and saw him alone. Herenewed, in explicit terms, the offer he had so abruptly made her onthe preceding afternoon. Constance, whose heart had been with Lessinghamduring the whole of his long absence, had a severe struggle before shecould bring herself to insist on their union being postponed for atleast two years: during which time she wished, for the sake of thefamily, to remain with them, and get the school firmly established; hernieces, meanwhile, completing their education, and acquiring, under herguidance, a proficiency in the routine of teaching.
"But surely," said Lessingham, "you understand that I wish you to makeover to your sister-in-law the whole of your aunt Ilford's legacy? Youshall bring me nothing but your invaluable self."
Though grateful for the generosity and disinterestedness of her lover,Constance knew that the interest of her ten thousand dollars was, ofcourse, not sufficient to support Mrs. Allerton and her children withoutsome other source of income; and she was convinced that they would neverconsent to become pensioners on Lessingham's bounty, kind and liberal ashe was. She therefore adhered to her determination of remaining with hersister and nieces till she had seen them fairly afloat, and till shecould leave them in a prosperous condition. And Lessingham was obligedto yield to her conviction that she was acting rightly, and to consentthat the completion of his happiness should accordingly be deferred fortwo years.
He remained in Philadelphia till he had seen the Allerton familyestablished in their new habitation, and he managed with much delicacyto aid them in the expenses of fitting it up.
The school was commenced with a much larger number of pupils than hadbeen anticipated. It increased rapidly under the judicioussuperintendence of Constance: and in the course of two years she hadrendered Isabella and Helen so capable of filling her place, that allthe parents were perfectly satisfied to continue their children withthem. At the end of that time, Lessingham (who, in the interval, hadmade frequent visits to Philadelphia) came to claim the promised hand ofhis Constance. They were married--she having first transferred the wholeof her little property to her brother's widow.
At the earnest desire of Lessingham, Mrs. Allerton consented that Louisashould live in future with her beloved aunt Constance; and consequentlythe little girl accompanied them to New Bedford.
Mrs. Allerton and her family went on and prospered--her son waseverything that a parent could wish--her children all marriedadvantageously--and happily she has not yet had occasion to put inpractice her resolution of never again wearing mourning: thoughprinciple, and not necessity, is the motive which will henceforwarddeter her from complying with that custom.