Pencil Sketches; or, Outlines of Character and Manners, page 7
JOHN W. ROBERTSON.
A TALE OF A CENT.
"Some there be that shadows kiss."--SHAKSPEARE.
Selina Mansel was only sixteen when she took charge of her father'shouse, and he delegated to her the arduous task of doing as she pleased:provided always that she duly attended to his chief injunction, never toallow herself to incur a debt, however trifling, and to purchase nothingthat she could not pay for on the spot. To the observance of this rule,which he had laid down for himself in early life, Mr. Mansel attributedall his success in business, and his ability to retire at the age offifty with a handsome competence.
Since the death of his wife, Mr. Mansel's sister had presided over hisfamily, and had taken much interest in instructing Selina in what shejustly termed the most useful part of a woman's education. Such was MissEleanor Mansel's devotion to her brother and his daughter, that she hadhesitated for twelve years about returning an intelligible answer to thelove-letters which she received quarterly from Mr. Waitstill Wonderly, agentleman whose dwelling-place was in the far, far east. Every two yearsthis paragon of patience came in person: his home being at a distance ofseveral hundred miles, and his habits by no means so itinerant as thoseof the generality of his countrymen.
On his sixth avatar, Miss Mansel consented to reward with her hand theconstancy of her inamorato; as Selina had, within the last twelvemonth,made up two pieces of linen for her father, prepared the annual quantityof pickles and preserves, and superintended two house-cleanings, allherself--thus giving proof positive that she was fully competent tosucceed her aunt Eleanor as mistress of the establishment.
Selina Mansel was a very good and a very pretty girl. Though living in alarge and flourishing provincial town, which we shall denominateSomerford, she had been brought up in comparative retirement, and hadscarcely yet begun to go into company, as it is called. Herunderstanding was naturally excellent; but she was timid, sensitive,easily disconcerted, and likely to appear to considerable disadvantagein any situation that was the least embarrassing.
About two months after the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Wonderly, the wholeborough of Somerford was thrown into commotion by the unexpected arrivalof an old townsman, who had made his fortune in New Orleans. This personwas called in his youth Jack Robinson. After twenty years of successfuladventure, he now returned as John W. Robertson, Esq., and concluded toastonish for a while the natives of his own birth-place, and perhapspass the summer among them. Therefore, he took two of the bestapartments in the chief hotel; and having grown very tired of oldbachelorship, and entertaining a great predilection for all theproductions of his native town, he determined to select a wife fromamong the belles of Somerford.
Now Mr. Robertson was a man in whose face and figure the most amiableportrait-painter could have found nothing to commend. He was not what iscalled a fine-looking man, for though sufficiently tall, he was gauntand ill-proportioned. He was not a handsome man, for every feature wasugly; and his complexion, as well as his hair, was all of oneash-colour; though his eyes were much lighter than his skin. He wasfully aware of his deficiency in beauty; but it was some consolation tohim that he had been a very pretty baby, as he frequently took occasionto mention. With all this, he was extremely ambitious of marrying abeautiful woman, and resolutely determined that she should "love him forhimself alone." Though in the habit of talking ostentatiously of hiswealth, yet he sometimes considered this wealth as a sort of thorn inhis path to matrimony; for he could not avoid the intrusion of a veryuncomfortable surmise, that were he still poor Jack Robinson, he wouldundoubtedly be "cut dead" by the same ladies who were now assiduouslyangling for a word or a look from John W. Robertson, Esq. It is truethat, being habitually cautious, he proceeded warily, and dispensed hisnotice to the ladies with much economy, finding that, in the words ofcharity advertisements, "the smallest donations were thankfullyreceived."
Having once read a novel, and it being one in which the heroine blushesall through the book, he concluded that confusion and suffusion wereinfallible signs of love, and that whenever the bloom on a lady's cheeksdeepens at the sight of a gentleman, there can be no doubt of thesincerity and disinterestedness of her regard, and that she certainlyloves him for himself alone. Adopting this theory, Mr. Robertsondetermined not to owe his success to any adventitious circumstances; andhe accordingly disdained that attention to his toilet usually observedby gentlemen in the Coelebs line. Therefore, as the season was summer,he walked about all the morning in a long loose gown of broad-stripedgingham, buckskin shoes, and an enormous Leghorn hat, the brim turned upbehind and down before. In the afternoon, his flying joseph wasexchanged for a round jacket of sea-grass: and in the evening hegenerally appeared in a seersucker coat. But he was invited everywhere.
The mothers flattered him, and the daughters smiled on him, yet still hesaw no blushes. He looked in vain for the "sweet confusion, rosyterror," which he supposed to be always evinced by a young lady in thepresence of the man of her heart. The young ladies that _he_ met with,had all their wits about them; and if on seeing him they covered theirfaces, it was only to giggle behind their fans. Instead of shrinkingmodestly back at his approach, they followed him everywhere; and he hasmore than once been seen perambulating the main street of Somerford atthe head of half a dozen young ladies, like a locomotive engine drawinga train of cars.
With the exception of two professed novel-readers who treated our herowith ill-concealed contempt, because they could find in him noresemblance to Lord St. Orville or to Thaddeus of Warsaw, Selina Manselwas almost the only lady in Somerford that took Mr. Robertson quietly.The truth was, she never thought of him at all: and it was this evidentindifference, so strikingly contrasted with the unremitting solicitudeof her companions, that first attracted his attention towards Selina,rather than her superiority in beauty or accomplishments; for MissMadderlake had redder cheeks, Miss Tightscrew a smaller waist, MissDeathscream sung louder, and Miss Twirlfoot danced higher.
Selina Mansel was the youngest of the Somerford belles, and had scarcelyyet come out. It never entered her mind that a man of Mr. Robertson'sage could think of marrying a girl of sixteen. How little she knew ofold bachelors!
Having always heard herself termed "the child," by her father and heraunt, she still retained the habit of considering herself as such; andstrange to tell, the idea of a lover had not yet found its way into herhead or her heart. Accordingly, on meeting Mr. Robertson for the firsttime (it was at a small party), she thought she passed the eveningpleasantly enough in sitting between two matrons, and hearing from themthe praises of her aunt Wonderly's notability--accompanied by numeroussuggestions of improvements in confectionery, and in the management ofservants; these hints being kindly intended for her benefit as a younghousekeeper.
Mr. Robertson, who proceeded cautiously in everything, after gazing atSelina across the room, satisfied himself that she was very handsome andvery unaffected, and requested an introduction to her from the gentlemanof the house, adding--"But not just now--any time in the course of theevening. You know, when ladies are in question, it is very impolitic ingentlemen to show too much eagerness."
The introduction eventually took place, and Mr. Robertson talked of theweather, then of the westerly winds, which he informed Selina werefavourable to vessels going out to Europe, but dead ahead to those thatwere coming home. He then commenced a long story about the veryprofitable voyage of one of his ships, but told it in languageunintelligible to any but a merchant.
Selina grew very tired, and having tried to listen quite as long as shethought due to civility, she renewed her conversation with one of theladies that sat beside her, and Mr. Robertson, in some vexation, turnedaway and carried his dullness to the other end of the room, where prettyMiss Holdhimfast sat, the image of delighted attention, her eyes smilingwith pleasure, and her lips parted in intense interest, while he talkedto her of assorted cargoes, bills of lading, and customhouse bonds. Attimes, he looked round, over his shoulder, to see if Selina evinced anydiscomposure at
Mr. Mansel having renewed his acquaintance with Mr. Robertson, our herocalled next morning to pay a visit to the father of Selina, though hischief motive was the expectation of seeing the young lady, who since thepreceding evening had occupied as much of his mind and thoughts as athorough-going business man ever devotes to a woman.
Selina was in the parlour, and sat quietly at her sewing, not perceivingthat, though Mr. Robertson talked to her father all the time about theBank of the United States, he looked almost continually at her. Onhearing the clock strike, she rose, put up her work, and repaired to herown room--recollecting that it was her day for writing to Mrs. Wonderly,and that the mail would close in two hours, which Selina had alwaysfound the shortest possible time for filling a large sheet of paperclosely written--such being the missive that she despatched every weekto her beloved aunt.
Mr. Robertson, after prolonging his visit to an unreasonable period,departed in no very good humour at Selina's not returning to theparlour: for though he saw through the designs of the other ladies, hewas somewhat piqued that our young and handsome heroine should have nodesign at all.
In the afternoon Selina went out on a shopping expedition. Mr. Robertsonhappened to overtake her, and she looked so very pretty, and trippedalong so lightly and gracefully, that he could not refrain from joiningher, instead of making his bow and passing on, as had been his firstintention.
In the course of conversation, Selina was informed by Mr. Robertson(who, though no longer in business, still made the price-current hisdaily study) that, by the last advices from New York, tallow was calm,and hides were drooping--that pots were lively, and that pearls werelooking up; and that there was a better feeling towards mackerel.
He accompanied Selina to the principal fancy-store, and when the younglady had completed her purchases, and had been persuaded by Mr.Stretchlace to take several additional articles, she found, on examiningher purse, that she had nearly exhausted its contents, and that evenwith putting all her small change together, she still wanted one cent.Mr. Stretchlace assured her that he considered a cent as of noconsequence; but Selina, who had been brought up in the strictest ideasof integrity, replied that, as she had agreed to pay as much for thearticle as he had asked her, she could not allow him to lose a singlefarthing. Mr. Stretchlace smiled, and reminded her that she could easilystop in and give him the cent, at any time when she happened to bepassing his store. Selina, recollecting her father's rule of never goingin debt to a shopkeeper, even to the most trifling amount, proposedleaving a pair of gloves (her last purchase) till she came again. Mr.Robertson, to put an end to the difficulty, took a cent from his purse,and requested permission to lend it to Miss Mansel. Selina coloured, butafter some hesitation accepted the loan, resolving to repay itimmediately. Having this intention on her mind, she was rather glad whenshe found that Mr. Robertson intended walking home with her, as it wouldgive her an opportunity of liquidating the debt--and he entertained heron the way with the history of a transaction in uplands, and another insea-islands.
They arrived at Mr. Mansel's door, and her companion was taking hisleave, when Selina, thinking only of the cent, asked him if he would notcome in. Of course, she had no motive but to induce him to wait till shehad procured the little coin in question. He found the invitation tooflattering to be resisted, and smirkingly followed her into the frontparlour. Selina was disappointed at not finding her father there.Desiring Mr. Robertson to excuse her for a moment, she went to her ownroom in quest of some change--but found nothing less than a five dollarnote.
A young lady of more experience and more self-possession, would, atonce, have thought of extricating herself from the dilemma by applyingto one of the servants for the loan of a cent; but at this time no suchidea entered Selina's head. Therefore, calling Ovid, her black man, shedespatched him with the note to get changed, and then returned herselfto the parlour.
Taking her seat near the centre-table, Selina endeavoured to engage herguest in conversation, lest he should go away without his money. But,too little accustomed to the world and its contingencies to feel at allat her ease on this occasion, not having courage to mention the cent,and afraid every moment that Mr. Robertson would rise to take his leave,she became more and more embarrassed, sat uneasily on her chair, kepther eyes on the floor, except when she stole glances at her visiter tosee if he showed any symptoms of departure, and looked frequentlytowards the door, hoping the arrival of Ovid.
Unconscious of what she was doing, our heroine took a camellia japonicafrom a vase that stood on the table, and having smelled it a dozentimes (though it is a flower that has no perfume) she began to pick itto pieces. Mr. Robertson stopped frequently in the midst of a long storyabout a speculation in sperm oil, his attention being continuallyengaged by the evident perturbation of the young lady. But when he sawher picking to pieces the camellia which she had pressed to her nose andto her lips, he was taken with a sudden access of gallantry, andstalking up to her, and awkwardly stretching out his hand at arm'slength, he said, in a voice intended to be very sweet--"Miss Mansel,will you favour me with that flower?"
Selina, not thinking of what she did, hastily dropped the camellia intohis out-spread palm, and ran to meet her servant Ovid, whom she saw atthat moment coming into the house. She stopped him in the hall, andeagerly held out her hand, while Ovid slowly and carefully counted intoit, one by one, ten half dollars, telling her that he had been nearlyall over town with the note, as "change is always _scace_ of anafternoon."
"How vexatious!" said Selina, in a low voice--"You have brought me nocents. It was particularly a cent that I wanted--a cent above allthings. Did I not tell you so?--I am sure I thought I did."
Ovid persisted in declaring that she had merely desired him to get thenote changed, and that he thought "nobody needn't wish for better changethan all big silver,"--but feeling in his pocket, he said "he believed,if Miss Selina would let him, he could lend her a cent." However, aftersearching all his pockets, he found only a quarter of a dollar. "But,"added he, "I can go in the kitchen and ax if the women hav'n't got nocoppers. Ah! Miss Selina--your departed aunt always kept her pocketfull."
Selina then desired him to go immediately and inquire for a cent amongthe women. She then returned to the parlour, and Mr. Robertson, havingnothing more to say, rose to take his leave. During her absence from theroom, he had torn off the back of a letter, folded in it thehalf-demolished camellia japonica, and deposited it in his waistcoatpocket.
Selina begged him to stay a few minutes longer, and she went into thekitchen to inquire in person about the cent.
"Apparently," thought Robertson, "she finds it hard to part with me. Andcertainly she _has_ seemed confused and agitated, during the whole of myvisit."
On making her inquiry among the denizens of the kitchen, Selina foundthat none of the women had any probable coppers, excepting Violet, theblack cook, who was fat and lame, and who intended, as soon as she haddone making some cakes for tea, to ascend to her attic, and search forone among her hoards.
"La! Miss Selina," said Violet, "what can put you in such a pheeze abouta cent?"
"I have borrowed a cent of Mr. Robertson," replied Selina, "and I wishto return it immediately."
"Well, now, if ever!" exclaimed Violet; "why, if that's all, I count itthe same as nothing, and samer. To be sure he is too much of a gentlemanto take a cent from a lady. Why, what's a cent?"
"I hope," replied Selina, "that he is too much of a gentleman to_refuse_ to take it."
"I lay you what you please," resumed Violet, "that if you go to offerhim that cent, you'll 'front him out of the house. Why, when any of usborrows a copper of Ovid, we never thinks of paying him."
"True enough," said Ovid, half aside; "and that's the reason I mostalways take care never to have no coppers about me."
Selina now heard her father's voice in the parlour; and glad that he hadcome home, she hastened to obtain from him the much-desired coin. Shefound him
When her father returned from escorting his guest to the door, herecollected her request, and said--"What were you asking me, Selina? Ithink I heard you say something about money. But never interrupt me whenI am talking of the bank."
Selina then made her explanation.
"You know," replied Mr. Mansel, "that I have always told you to avoid adebt as you would a sin; and I have also cautioned you never to allowyourself to be without all the varieties of small change."
He then gave her a handful of this convenient article, including half adozen cents, saying, "There, now, do not forget to pay Mr. Robertson thefirst time you see him."
"Certainly, I will not forget it," replied Selina; "for, trifle as itis, I shall not feel at peace while it remains on my mind."
On the following afternoon Selina went out with her father to take aride on horseback; and when they returned they found on the centre tablethe card of John W. Robertson. "Another _contre-tems_," cried Selina."He has been here again, and I have not seen him to pay him the cent!"
"Send it to him by Ovid," said Mr. Mansel.
"_Send_ such a trifle to a gentleman!" exclaimed Selina.
"Certainly," replied her father. "Even in the smallest trifles, it isbest to be correct and punctual. You know I have always told you so."
Selina left the room for the purpose of despatching Ovid with the cent,but Ovid had gone out on some affairs of his own, and when she returnedto the parlour she found two young ladies there, whose visit was notover till nearly dusk. By that time Ovid was engaged in setting thetea-table; a business from which nothing could ever withdraw him tillall its details were slowly and minutely accomplished.
"It will be time enough after tea," said Selina, who, like most younghousekeepers, was somewhat in awe of her servants. When tea was overboth in parlour and kitchen (and by the members of the lower house thatbusiness was never accomplished without a long session), Ovid wasdespatched to the hotel with "Miss Mansel's compliments to Mr.Robertson, and the cent that she had borrowed of him." It was longbefore Ovid came back, and he then brought word that Mr. Robertson wasout, but that he had left the cent with Mr. Muddler, the barkeeper.
"Of course," said Selina, "the barkeeper will give it to Mr. Robertsonas soon as he returns."
"I have my doubts," replied Ovid.
"Why?" asked Selina; "why should you suppose otherwise?"
"Because," answered Ovid, "Mr. Muddler is a very doubty sort of man.That is, he's always to be doubted of. I lived at the hotel once, and Iknow all about him. He don't mind trifles, and he never remembersnothing. I guess Mr. Robertson won't be apt to get the cent: for afore Ileft the bar, I saw Muddler give it away in change to a man that camefor a glass of punch. And I'm sure that Muddler won't never think nomore about it. I could be as good as qualified that he won't."
"How very provoking!" cried Selina.
"You should have sealed it up in a piece of paper, and directed it toMr. Robertson," said her father, raising his eyes from the newspaper inwhich he had been absorbed for the last hour. "Whatever is to be done atall, should always be done thoroughly."
"Yes, miss," said Ovid, "you know that's what your departed aunt alwaystold you: partikaly when you were stoning reasons for plum-cake."
Selina was now at a complete loss what course to pursue. The cent was initself a trifle; but there had been so much difficulty about it, that itseemed to have swelled into an object of importance: and from this timeher repugnance to speaking of it to Mr. Robertson, or to any one else,became almost insurmountable.
On the following morning, her father told her that he had met Mr.Robertson at the Post Office, and had been told by him that he should dohimself the pleasure of making a morning call. "Therefore, Selina, Ishall leave you to entertain him," said Mr. Mansel, "for I have made anappointment with Mr. Thinwall this morning, to go with him to look at ablock of houses he is anxious to sell me."
Selina repaired to her room to get her sewing: and taking a cent fromher purse, she laid it in her work-basket and went down stairs to beready for the visit of Mr. Robertson. While waiting for him, shehappened to look at the cent, and perceived that it was one of the veryearliest coinage, the date being 1793. She had heard these centsdescribed, but had never before seen one. The head of Liberty wascharacterized by the lawless freedom of her hair, the flakes of whichwere all flying wildly back from her forehead and cheek, and seemed tobe blowing away in a strong north-wester; and she carried over hershoulder a staff surmounted with a cap. On the reverse, there was(instead of the olive wreath) a circular chain, whose links signifiedthe union of the States. Our heroine was making a collection of curiouscoins, and she was so strongly tempted by the opportunity of adding thisto the number, that she determined on keeping it for that purpose. Shewas just rising to go up stairs and get another as a substitute, whenMr. Robertson entered the parlour.
Selina was glad to see him, hoping that this visit would make a finalsettlement of the eternal cent. But she was also struck with the ideathat it would be very awkward to ask him if the barkeeper had given himthe one she had transmitted to him the evening before. She feared thatthe gentleman might reply in the affirmative, even if he had not reallyreceived it, and she felt a persuasion that it had entirely escaped thememory of Mr. Muddler. Not having sufficient self-possession to help herout of the difficulty, she hastily slipped the old cent back into herwork-basket, and looked confused and foolish, and answered incoherentlyto Mr. Robertson's salutation. He saw her embarrassment, and auguredfavourably from it: but he cautiously determined not to allow himself toproceed too rapidly.
He commenced the conversation by informing her that sugars had declineda shade, but that coffee was active, and cotton firm; and he then prosedoff into a long mercantile story, of which Selina heard and understoodnothing: her ideas, when in presence of Mr. Robertson, being now unableto take any other form than that of a piece of copper.
Longing to go for another cent, and regretting that she had not broughtdown her purse, she sat uneasy and disconcerted: the delighted Robertsonpausing in the midst of his tierces of rice, seroons of indigo, carboysof tar, and quintals of codfish, to look at the heightened colour of hercheek, and to give it the interpretation he most desired.
Selina had never thought him so tiresome. Just then came in MissPeepabout and Miss Doublesight, who, having seen Mr. Robertson throughthe window, had a curiosity to ascertain what he was saying and doing atMr. Mansel's. These two ladies were our hero's peculiar aversion, asthey had both presumed to lay siege to him, notwithstanding that theywere neither young nor handsome. Therefore, he rose immediately and tookhis leave: though Selina, in the hope of still finding an opportunity todischarge her debt, said to him, anxiously: "Do not go yet, Mr.Robertson." This request nearly elevated the lover to paradise, but notwishing to spoil her by too much compliance, he persevered in departing.
That evening Selina met him at a party given by Mrs. Vincent, one of theleading ladies of Somerford. Thinking of this possibility, and the ideaof Mr. Robertson and a cent having now become synonymous, our heroinetied a bright new one in the corner of her pocket-handkerchief,determined to go fully prepared for an opportunity of presenting it tohim. When, on arriving at Mrs. Vincent's house, she was shown to theladies' room, Selina discovered that the cent had vanished, havingslipped out from its fastening; and after an ineffectual search on thefloor and on the staircase, she concluded that she must have dropped itin the street. The night was very fine, and Mrs. Vincent's residence wa
Our heroine was dressed with much taste, and looked unusually well. Mr.Robertson's inclination would have led him to attach himself to Selinafor the whole evening; but convinced of the depth and sincerity of herregard (as he perceived that she now never saw him without blushing), hedeemed it politic to hold back, and not allow himself to be consideredtoo cheap a conquest. Therefore, after making his bow, and informing herthat soap was heavy, but that raisins were animated, and that there wasa good feeling towards Havana cigars, he withdrew to the opposite sideof the room.
But though he divided his tediousness pretty equally among the otherladies, he could not prevent his eyes from wandering almost incessantlytowards Selina, particularly when he perceived a remarkably handsomeyoung man, Henry Wynslade, engaged in a very lively conversation withher. Mr. Wynslade, who had recently returned from India, lodged, for thepresent, at the hotel in which Robertson had located himself;consequently, our hero had some acquaintance with him.
Mrs. Vincent having taken away Wynslade to introduce him to her niece,Mr. Robertson immediately strode across the room, and presented himselfin front of Selina. To do him justice, he had entirely forgotten thecent: and he meant not the most distant allusion to it, when, at the endof a long narrative about a very close and fortunate bargain he had oncemade in rough turpentine, he introduced the well-known adages of "apenny saved is a penny got," and "take care of the pence and the poundswill take care of themselves."
"Pence and cents are nearly the same," thought the conscious Selina. Shehad on her plate some of the little printed rhymes that, beingaccompanied by bonbons, and enveloped in coloured paper, go under thedenomination of secrets or mottoes. These delectable distichs were mostprobably the leisure effusions of the poet kept by Mr. and Mrs.Packwood, of razor-strop celebrity, and from their ludicrous sillinessfrequently cause much diversion among the younger part of the company.
In her confusion on hearing Mr. Robertson talk of pence, Selina began todistribute her mottoes among the ladies in her vicinity, and, withoutlooking at it, she unthinkingly presented one to her admirer, as hestood stiff before her. A moment after he was led away by Mr. Vincent,to be introduced to a stranger: and in a short time the companyadjourned to the supper-room.
The ladies were all seated, and the gentlemen were standing round, andSelina was not aware of her proximity to Mr. Robertson till sheoverheard him say to young Wynslade--"A most extraordinary circumstancehas happened to me this evening."
"What is it?" cried Wynslade.
"I have received a declaration."
"A declaration! Of what?"
"I have indeed," pursued Robertson, "a declaration of love. To be sure,I have been somewhat prepared for it. When a lady blushes, and showsevident signs of confusion, whenever she meets a gentleman, there isgood reason to believe that her heart is really touched. Is there not?"
"I suppose so," said Wynslade, smiling.
"You conclude then that the lady must love him for himself, and not forhis property?" inquired Robertson.
"Ladies who are influenced only by mercenary considerations," repliedWynslade, "seldom feel much embarrassment in the presence of anygentleman."
"There is no forcing a blush--is there?" asked Robertson.
"I should think not," answered Wynslade, wondering to what all thiswould tend.
"To tell you a secret," resumed Robertson, "I have proof positive that Ihave made a serious impression on a very beautiful young lady. You neednot smile, Mr. Wynslade, for I can show you something that was presentedto me the other day by herself, after first pressing it repeatedly toher lips."
He then took out of his waistcoat pocket the paper that contained theremnant of the camellia japonica, adding, "I can assure you that thisflower was given me by the prettiest girl in the room."
The eyes of Wynslade were involuntarily directed to Selina.
"You are right," resumed Robertson. "That is the very lady, Miss SelinaMansel."
"Can it be possible!" exclaimed Wynslade. "Is this the lady that blushesat you? Did _she_ give you the flower?"
"Yes, she did," replied Robertson. "A true bill, I assure you. Theflower was her gift, and she has just presented me with a piece ofpoetry that is still more pointed. And yet, between ourselves, I thinkit strange that so young a lady should not have had patience to wait fora declaration on my part. I wonder that she should be the first to breakthe ice. However, I suppose it is only a stronger evidence of herpartiality."
"And what are you going to do?" asked Wynslade.
"Oh! I shall take her," answered Robertson. "At least I think I shall.To be sure, I have been so short a time in Somerford, that I havescarcely yet had an opportunity of ascertaining the state of the market.But, besides her being an only child, with a father that is likely tocome down handsomely, she is very young and very pretty, and will inevery respect suit me exactly. However, I shall proceed with duecircumspection. It is bad policy to be too alert on these occasions. Itwill be most prudent to keep her in suspense awhile."
"Insufferable coxcomb!" thought Wynslade. However, he checked hiscontempt and indignation so far as to say with tolerable calmness--"Mr.Robertson, there must be certainly some mistake. Before I went to India,I knew something of Miss Mansel and her family, and I reproach myselffor not having sought to renew my acquaintance with them immediately onmy return. She was a mere child when I last saw her before my departure.Still, I know from the manner in which she has been brought up, that itis utterly impossible she should have given you any real cause tosuspect her of a partiality, which, after all, you seem incapable ofappreciating."
"Suspect!" exclaimed Robertson, warmly; "suspect, indeed! Blushes andconfusion you acknowledge to be certain signs. And then there is theflower--and then--"
"Where is the piece of poetry you talked of?" said Wynslade.
"Here," replied Robertson, showing him the motto--"here it is--read--andconfess it to be proof positive."
Wynslade took the slip, and read on it--
"To gain a look of your sweet face, I'd walk three times round the market-place."
"Ridiculous!" he exclaimed, as he returned the couplet to Robertson, thecourse of his ideas changing in a moment. The whole affair now appearedto him in so ludicrous a light that he erroneously imagined Selina tohave been all the time diverting herself at Mr. Robertson's expense. Helooked towards her with a smile of intelligence, and was surprised tofind that she had set down her almost untasted ice-cream, and waschanging colour, from red to pale, evidently overwhelmed with confusion.
"There," said Robertson, looking significantly from Selina to Wynslade,"I told you so--only see her cheeks. No doubt she has overheard all wehave been saying."
Selina had, indeed, overheard the whole; for notwithstanding the talkingof the ladies who were near her, her attention had been the whole timeriveted to the conversation that was going on between Robertson andWynslade. Her first impulse was to quit her seat, to go at once toRobertson, and to explain to him his mistake. But she felt thedifficulty of making such an effort in a room full of company, and tothe youthful simplicity of her mind that difficulty was enhanced by thewant of a cent to put into his hand at the same time.
Still, she was so extremely discomfited, that every moment seemed to heran age till she could have an opportunity of undeceiving him. She satpale and silent till Robertson stepped up and informed her that sheseemed quite below par; and Wynslade, who followed him, observed that"Miss Mansel was probably incommoded by the heat of the room."
"Oh, yes!" she exclaimed, scarcely conscious of what she was saying; "itis, indeed, too warm--and here is such a crowd--and I am so fatigued--Iwish it were eleven o'clock--I wish my father was
Both gentlemen at once volunteered their services; but Selina, struckwith the idea that during their walk she should have a full opportunityof making her explanation to Mr. Robertson, immediately started up, andsaid she would avail herself of _his_ offer. Robertson now cast atriumphant glance at Wynslade, who returned it with a look of disgust,and walked away, saying to himself, "What an incomprehensible being iswoman!--I begin to despise the whole sex!"
Selina then took leave of her hostess, and in a few minutes foundherself on her way home with Mr. Robertson.
"Mr. Robertson," said she, in a hurried voice, "I have somethingparticular to say to you."
"Now it is coming," thought Robertson; "but I will take care not to meether half way." Then speaking aloud--"It is a fine moonlight evening,"said he: "that is probably what you are going to observe."
"You are under a serious mistake," continued Selina.
"I believe not," pursued Robertson, looking up. "The sky is quite clear,and the moon is at the full."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Selina.
"I am fond of moonlight," persisted Robertson; "and I am extremelyflattered at your giving me an opportunity of enjoying it with you."Here he stopped short, fearing that he had said too much.
"My only motive," said Selina, "for accepting your offer of escorting mehome, was that I might have an opportunity of explaining to you." Hereshe paused.
"Take your time, Miss Selina," said Robertson, trying to soften hisvoice. "I do not wish you to hurry yourself. I can wait very well forthe explanation till to-morrow."
"No, you shall not," said Selina; "I must make it at once, for I shallbe unable to sleep to-night till I have relieved my mind from it."
"Surely," thought Robertson to himself, "young ladies now-a-days areremarkably forward." "Well, then, Miss Mansel," speaking aloud, "proceedat once to the point. I am all attention."
Selina still hesitated--"Really," said she, "I know not how to expressmyself."
"No doubt of it," he replied; "young ladies, I suppose, are notaccustomed to being very explicit on these occasions. However, I canunderstand--'A word to the wise,' you know: but the truth is, for my ownpart, I have not quite made up my mind. You are sensible that ouracquaintance is of very recent date: a wife is not a bill to be acceptedat sight You know the proverb--'Marry in haste and repent at leisure.'However, I think you may draw on me at sixty days. And now that I haveacknowledged the receipt of your addresses"----
Selina interrupted him with vehemence--"Mr. Robertson, what are youtalking about? You are certainly not in your senses. You are mistaken, Itell you--it is no such thing."
"Come, Miss Mansel," said Robertson, "do not fly from your offer: it istoo late for what they call coquetry--actions speak louder than words.If I must be plain, why so much embarrassment whenever we meet? To saynothing of the flower you gave me--and that little verse, which speaksvolumes"----
"Speaks nonsense!" cried Selina: "Is it possible you can be so absurd asto suppose"----Then bursting into tears of vexation, she exclaimed--"Ohthat I had a cent!"
"A cent!" said Robertson, much surprised. "Is it possible you are cryingfor a cent?"
"Yes, I am," answered Selina; "just now, that is all I want on earth!"
"Well, then," said Robertson, taking one out of his pocket, "you shallcry for it no longer: here's one for you."
"This won't do--this won't do!" sobbed Selina.
"Why, I am sure it is a good cent," said Robertson, "just like anyother."
"No," cried Selina, "your giving me another cent only makes thingsworse."
By this time they were in sight of Mr. Mansel's door, and Selinaperceived something on the pavement glittering in the moonlight. "Ah!"she exclaimed, taking it up, "this must be the very cent I dropped on myway to Mrs. Vincent's. I know it by its being quite a new one. How gladI am to find it!"
"Well," said Robertson, "I have heard of ladies taking cents to church;but I never knew before that they had any occasion for them attea-parties. And, by-the-bye (as I have often told my friend Pennychinkthe vestryman), that practice of handing a money-box round the church inservice-time, is one of the meanest things I know, and I wonder how anyman that is a gentleman can bring himself to do it."
"And now, Mr. Robertson," said Selina, hastily wiping her eyes, "haveyou forgotten that I borrowed a cent of you the other day at Mr.Stretchlace's store?"
"I _had_ forgotten it," answered Robertson; "but I recollect it now."
"That cent was never returned to you," said Selina.
"It was not," replied Robertson, looking surprised.
"There it is," continued our heroine, as she gave it to him. "Now that Isee it in your hand, I have courage to explain all. My father and myaunt have taught me to dread contracting even the smallest debt.Therefore, I could not feel at ease till I had repaid your cent. Severaluntoward circumstances have since prevented my giving it to you, thoughI can assure you, that whenever we met it was seldom absent from mymind. This was the real cause of the embarrassment or confusion you talkof. When I gave you the flower, and afterwards that foolish motto, I wasthinking so much of the unlucky cent as to be scarcely conscious of whatI was doing. Believe me when I repeat to you that this is the wholetruth of what you have so strangely misinterpreted."
"Is it possible!" exclaimed Robertson: "and was there nothing in it buta paltry bit of copper, when I thought all the time that I had at lastmet with a young lady who loved me for myself, and not for mybank-stock, and my real estate, and my railroad shares!"
"For neither, I can assure you," said Selina, gayly; "but I shall bevery glad to hear that yourself, and your bank-stock, and your realestate, and your railroad shares, have become the property of a lady ofbetter taste than myself."
They had been for some time on the steps of Mr. Mansel's door, andbefore he rung the bell, Robertson said to Selina: "Well, however, youknow I did not actually come to a proposal?"
"Not exactly," replied Selina, smiling.
"Therefore, you will not tell everybody that you refused me?"
"I will not, indeed," answered Selina. "And now, then, allow me to bidyou adieu in the words of the song--'Good night--all's well!'"
She then tripped into the parlour, where she found her father justpreparing to come for her; and having made him very merry with heraccount of the events of the evening, she went to bed with a lightheart.
Mr. Robertson returned sullenly to his hotel, as much chagrined as a manof his obtuse feelings could possibly be. And he was the more vexed atlosing Selina, as he conceived that a woman who could give herself somuch uneasiness on account of a cent, would consequently make a goodwife. The more he thought of this, the better he liked her: and nextmorning, when Henry Wynslade inquired of him the progress of wooing,Robertson not having invention enough to gloss over the truth, told himthe facts as they really were, and asked his companion's opinion of thepossibility of yet obtaining Miss Mansel.
"Try again by all means," said Wynslade, who was curious to see how thisbusiness would end. "There is no knowing what may be the effect of adirect proposal--the ladies never like us the better for proceedingslowly and cautiously: so now for a point-blank shot."
"It shall be conveyed in a letter, then," replied Robertson; "I havealways found it best, in matters of business, to put down everything inblack and white."
"Do it at once, then," said Wynslade: "I have some thoughts of MissMansel myself, and perhaps I may cut you out."
"I doubt that," replied Robertson; "you are but commencing business, and_my_ fortune is already made."
"I thought," observed Wynslade, "you would marry only on condition ofbeing loved for yourself alone."
"I have given up that hope," answered Robertson, with a sort of sigh:"however, I was certainly a very pretty baby. I fear I must now becontent to take a wife on the usual terms."
"Be quick, then, with your proposal," said Wynslade, "for I am impatientto make mine."
Wynslade then departed, and Robert
"MISS SELINA MANSEL:--Your statement last night was duly attended to; but further consideration may give another turn to the business. The following terms are the best I think proper to offer:
"One Town House--1 Country House--4 Servants--2 Horses--1 Carriage--1 Chaise--1 Set of Jewels--1 New Dress per Month--4 Bonnets per Ann.--1 Tea-party on your Birthday--Ditto on mine--1 Dinner-party on each anniversary of our Wedding-day, till further orders--2 Plays per Season--and half an Opera.
"If you are not satisfied with the T. H. and the C. H. you may take 1 trip per summer to the Springs or the Sea-shore. If the Parties on the B.D.'s and the W. D. are not deemed sufficient, you may have sundry others.
"On your part I only stipulate for a dish of rice always at dinner, black tea, 6 cigars per day, to be smoked by me without remark from you--newspapers, chess, and sundries. Your politics to be always the same as mine. No gentlemen under fifty to be received, except at parties. No musician to be allowed to enter the house; nor any young doctor.
"If you conclude to close with these conditions, let me have advice of it as soon as convenient, that I may wait upon you without loss of time.
"Your most obt. servt.
"JOHN W. ROBERTSON.
"N.B. It may be well to mention, that with respect to furniture, I cannot allow a piano, considering them as nuisances. Shall not object to any reasonable number of sofas and rocking-chairs.--Astral lamps at discretion.--Beg to call your attention to the allowance of gowns and bonnets.--Consider it remarkably liberal.--With respect to dress, sundries of course."
* * * * *
To this letter half an hour brought a concise answer, containing a civilbut decided refusal, which Mr. Robertson, though quite crest-fallen,could not forbear showing to Wynslade, telling him that he now withdrewfrom the market. On the following morning our hero left Somerford on atour to Canada.
Wynslade immediately laid siege to Selina Mansel, and being young,handsome, intelligent, and very much in love, he found little difficultyin obtaining her heart and hand.
After their marriage the young couple continued to live with Mr. Mansel,who since the affair of Robertson has taken especial care that Selinashall always be well supplied with cents, frequently procuring her fromthe bank five dollars' worth at a time.
John W. Robertson finally established himself in one of the largeAtlantic cities; and in process of time his vanity recovered from theshock that had been given it by Miss Mansel. He has lately married ayoung widow, who being dependent with her five children on the bounty ofher sister's husband, in whose house she lived with all her family, hadaddress enough to persuade him that she loved him for himself alone.