TSW Chapter 5.4

 

Festivities in Boston

Excerpt from “The English Orphans” 1855

By Mary Jane Holmes

 

     “Bring me my new dress, Jenny, I want to see if the Honiton lace on the cape is as wide as Ida Selden’s.”

     “What do you mean?” asked Jenny, turning quickly toward her sister, whose white, wasted face looked-fitter for a shroud than a gay party dress.

     “I mean what I say,” returned Rose, “I’m not going to be cooped up here any longer. I’m going to the party tomorrow night, if I never go again!”

     “Why, Rose Lincoln, are you crazy?” asked Jenny. “You haven’t been in the street yet, and how do you expect to go to-morrow night? Mother wouldn’t let you, if she were here.”

     “Well, thank fortune! She and father are both in Southbridge, and besides that I’m a great deal better, so hand me my dress.”

     Jenny complied, and reclining on pillows scarcely whiter than herself, Rose Lincoln examined and found fault with a thin gossamer fabric, little suited for anyone to wear on a cold, wintery night, and much less for her.

     “There, I knew it wasn’t as wide as Ida’s to an eighth of an inch,” said she, measuring with her finger the expensive lace. “I’ll have some new. Come, Jenny, suppose you go down street and get it, for I’m bent upon going.” and the thoughtless girl sprang lightly upon the floor, and chased half way across the room to show how well and strong she was.

     Jenny knew that further expostulation from her was useless, but she refused to go for the lace, and Sarah, the servant girl, was sent with a note from Rose saying she wanted a nice article, eight or ten dollars per yard.

     “I don’t believe father would like to have you make such a bill,” said Jenny, when Sarah was gone. “mother didn’t dare to tell him about your new dress, for he told her she mustn’t get anything charged, and he said, too, something about hard times. Perhaps he is going to fail. Wouldn’t that be dreadful?”

     If Rose heard the last part of this sentence, she did not heed it, for to her the idea of her father’s failing was preposterous. When the dinner bell rang she threw on a heavy shawl, and descending to the dining parlor, remained below stairs all the afternoon, forcing back her cough, and chatting merrily with a group of young girls who had called to see her, and congratulate her upon her improved health, for excitement lent a deep glow to her cheek, which would easily deceive the inexperienced. The next day, owing to overexertion, Rose’s temples were throbbing with pain, and more than once, she half-determined not to go, but her passion for society was strong, and Mrs. Russell’s party had so long been anticipated and talked about that she felt she would not miss it for the world, and, as she had confessed to Jenny, there was also a mean curiosity to see how Mary Howard would appear at a fashionable party.

     “Saturate my handkerchief with cologne, and put the vinaigrette where I can reach it while you arrange my hair.” she said to Sarah, who at the usual hour came up to dress her young mistress for the evening. “There, be careful and not brush so hard, for that ugly pain isn’t quite gone -- now bring me the glass and let me see if I do look like a ghost.”

     “Pale, delicate folks is always more interesting than red, hearty ones.” said the faltering servant, as she obeyed.

     “Mercy, how white I am!” exclaimed Rose, glancing at the ashen face reflected by the mirror. “Rub my cheeks with cologne, Sarah, and see if that won’t bring some color into them. There, that’ll do. Now hand me my dress. Oh, isn’t it beautiful?” she continued, as she threw aside the thickly-wedded double gown and assumed a light, thin dress, which fell in fleecy folds around her slight figure.

     “Faith, an’ ye looks sweet, God Bless you!” said Sarah, as she clasped the diamond bracelets around the snowy arms, and fastened the costly ornaments in the delicate ears.

     When her toilet was completed Rose stood up before the long mirror, and a glow of pride came to her cheeks as she saw how lovely she really was.

     “You’s enough slight handsomer than Miss Jenny.” whispered Sarah, as the door opened and Jenny appeared more simply arrayed than her sister, but looking as fresh and blooming as a rosebud.

     “How beautiful you are, Rose,” said she, “only it makes me shiver to look at your neck and arms. You’ll wear your woolen sack, besides your shawl and cloak, won’t you?”

     “Nonsense, I’m not going to be bundled up this way, for don’t you see it musses the lace.” said Rose, refusing the warm sack which Jenny had brought her.

     A rap at the door and a call from Henry that the carriage was waiting ended the conversation, and throwing on their cloaks and hoods the girls descended to the hall, where with unusual tenderness Henry caught up his invalid sister, and drawing her veil closely over her face, carried her to the covered sleigh, so that her feet might not touch the icy walk.

     “What? Rose Lincoln here?” exclaimed half a dozen voices as Rose bounded into the dressing room.

     “Yes, Rose Lincoln is here,” she replied, gayly, divesting herself of her wrappings. “I’m not going to die just yet, I guess, neither am I going to be housed up all winter. The fresh air has done me good already –- see.” she pointed to a bright round spot which burned upon her cheek.

     A young girl, whose family had one-by one fallen victims to the great New England plague, consumption, shuddered and turned away, for to her eye the glow which Rose called health was but the hello bloom of death.

     “How beautiful she is!” said more than one, as with her accustomed grace Rose entered the brilliant drawing-room. And truly Rose was beautiful that night, but like the gorgeous foliage of the fading autumn, ‘twas the beauty of decay, for death was written on her blue veined brow, and lurked amid the roses on her cheek. But little thought she of that, as with smiling lip and beaming eye she received the homage of the admiring throng.

     “Upon my word, you do look very well.” said Henry, coming for a moment to his sister’s side. “Why, you’d be the star of the evening, were it not for Ma Belle Ella. See, there she comes.” and he pointed to a group just entering the room.

     An expression of contempt curled Rose’s lip as she glanced at Ella, and thought of being outshone by her dollish figure and face. “I am in no danger, unless a more formidable rival than that silly thing appears.” thought she, and she drew up her slender form with a more queenly grace, and bowed somewhat haughtily to Ella, who came up to greet her, There was a world of affection in Ella’s soft hazel eyes as they looked eagerly up to Henry, who for the sake of torturing the young girl, feigned not to see her until she had stood near him some minutes. Then offering her his hand he said, with the utmost nonchalance, “Why, Ella, are you here? I was watching so anxiously for your sister that I did not notice your entrance.”

     Ella had dressed herself for the party with more than usual care, and as she smoothed down the folds of her delicate pink silk, and shook back her long glossy curls, she thought, “He cannot think Mary handsomer than I am tonight.” and now when the first remark he addressed to her was concerning her sister, she replied rather pettishly, “I believe you are always thinking about Mary.”

     “Now, don’t be jealous,” returned Henry, “I only wish to see the contrast between you.”

     Ella fancied that the preference would of course be in her favor, and casting aside all unpleasant feelings she exerted herself to the utmost to keep Henry at her side, asking him numberless questions, and suddenly recollecting something she wished to tell him, if he made a movement toward leaving her.

     “Confound it! How tight she sticks to a fellow,” thought he, “but I’ll get away from her yet.”

     Just then Ida and Mary were announced. Both Aunt Martha and Ida had taken great pains to have their young friend becomingly dressed, and she looked unusually well in the embroidered muslin skirt, and blonde bertha which Aunt Martha had insisted upon her present. The rich silken braids of her luxuriant hair were back of her finely formed head with a golden arrow, which, exception of a plain band of gold on each wrist was the only ornament she wore. This was her first introduction to the gay world but so keen was her perception of what was polite and proper that none would ever have suspected it, and yet there was about her something so fresh and unstudied, that she had hardly entered the room, ere many were struck with her easy, unaffected manners, so different from the practiced airs of the city belle:

     Ella watched her narrowly, whispering aside to Henry how sorry she felt for poor Mary, she was so verdant and really hoped she wouldn’t do anything-very awkward, for ‘twould mortify to death! “But look,” she added, “and see how many people Ida is introducing her to.”

     “Of course, why shouldn’t she?” asked Henry, and Ella replied:

     “I don’t know -- it seems so funny to see Mary here, don’t it?”

     Before Henry could answer, a young man of his acquaintance touched his shoulder saying, “Lincoln, who is that splendid-looking girl with Miss Selden? I haven’t seen a finer face in Boston for many a’day.”

     “That? Oh, that’s Miss Howard, from Chicopee. An intimate friend of our family. Allow me the pleasure of introducing you. and Henry walked away, leaving Ella to the tender mercies of Rose, who, as one after another quitted her side and went over to the “enemy”, grew very angry, wondering if folks were betwitched, and hoping Ida Selden felt better, now that she’d made so many notice her protégé.

     Later in the evening, William Bender came, and immediately Jenny began to talk to him of Mary, and the impression she was making. Placing her hand familiarly upon his arm, as though that were its natural resting place, she led him toward a group, of which Mary seemed the center of attraction. Near her stood Henry Lincoln, bending so low as to threaten serious injury to his fashionable pants. And redoubling his flattering compliments in proportion as Mary grew colder and more reserved in her manner toward him. Silly and conceited as he was, he could not help noticing how differently she received William Bender from what she had himself. “But all in good time.” thought he, glancing at Ella, to see how she was affected by his desertion of her, and his flirtation with her sister. She was standing a little apart from any one, and with her elbow resting upon a marble stand, her cheeks flushed, and her eyelashes moist with tears she dare not shed, she was watching him with feelings in which more of real pain than jealousy were mingled, for Ella was meek and simple-hearted, and loved Henry Lincoln far better than such as he deserved to be loved.

     “Of what are you thinking, Ella?” asked Rose, who, finding herself nearly alone, felt willing to converse with almost anyone.

     At the sound of her voice Ella looked up, and coming quickly to her side said, “It’s so dull and lonesome here I wish I’d stayed at home.”

     In her heart Rose wished so, too, but she was too proud to acknowledge it, and feeling unusually kind toward Ella, whose uneasiness she readily understood, she replied, “Oh, I see you are jealous of Henry, but he’s only trying to tease you, for he can’t be interested in that awkward thing.”

     “But he is, l almost know he is.” returned Ella, with a trembling of the voice she tried in vain to subdue, and then, fearing she could no longer restrain her emotion, she suddenly broke away from Rose, and ran hastily up to the dressing room.

     Nothing of this escaped Henry’s quick eye, and as sundry unpaid bills for wine, brandy, oyster suppers and livery came looming up before his mind, he thought proper to make some amends for his neglect. Accordingly when Ella returned to the drawing-room he offered her his arm, asking “What made her eyes so red.” and slyly pressing her hand, when she averted her face, saying:

     “Nothing -- they weren’t red.”

     Meantime, William Bender, having managed to drop Jenny from his arm, had asked Mary to accompany him to a small conservatory, which was separated from the reception rooms by a long and brilliantly lighted gallery. As they stood together, admiring a rare exotic, William’s manner suddenly changed, and drawing Mary closer to his side, he said distinctly, though hurriedly, “I notice, Mary, that you seem embarrassed in my presence, and I have, therefore, sought this opportunity to assure you that I shall not again distress you by a declaration of love, which, if returned, would give me more pain than pleasure, for as I told you at Mr. Selden’s, I am changed in more respects than one. It cost me a bitter struggle to give you up, but reason and judgment finally conquered, and now I can calmly think of you as sometime belonging to another, and with all a brother’s confidence can tell you that I, too, love another -- not as once I loved you, for that would be impossible, but with a calmer, more rational love.”

     All this time Mary had not spoken, though the hand which William had taken in his trembled like an imprisoned bird, but when he came to speak of loving another, she involuntarily raised his hand to her lips, exclaiming, “It’s Jenny, it’s Jenny.”

     “You have guessed rightly,” returned William, smiling at the earnestness of her manner, “it is Jenny, though how such a state of things ever came about is more than I can tell.”

     Mary thought of the old saying, “Love begets love.” but she said nothing, for just then Jenny herself joined them. Looking first at William, then at Mary, and finally passing her arm around the latter, she whispered, “I know he’s told you, and I’m glad, for somehow I couldn’t tell you myself.”

     Wisely thinking that his company could be dispensed with, William walked away, leaving the two girls alone. In her usual frank way Jenny rattled on, telling Mary how happy she was, and how funny it seemed to be engaged, and how frightened sue was when William asked her to marry him.

     Fearing-that they might, be missed they at last returned to the parlor, where they found Ella, seated at-the piano, and playing a very spirited polka.

     Henry, who boasted that he “could wind her around his little finger” had succeeded in coaxing her into a good humor, but not at all desiring her company for the rest of the evening, he asked her to play as the easiest way to be rid of her. She played unusually well, but when, at the close of the piece, she looked around for commendation from the one for whose ear alone she had played, she saw him across the room so wholly engrossed with her sister that he probably did not even know when the sound of the piano ceased.

     Poor Ella! It was with the saddest heartache she had ever known that she returned from a party which had promised her so much pleasure, and which had given her so much pain. Rose, too, was utterly disappointed. One by one her old admirers had left her for the society of the “pauper,” as she secretly styled Mary, and more than once during the evening had she heard the “beauty” and “grace” of her rival extolled by those for whose opinion she cared the most, and when at one o’clock in the morning she threw herself exhausted upon the sofa she declared “‘Twas the last party she’d ever attend.”

     Alas, for thee, Rose! That declaration proved too true!

 

 

 

 

 

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"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
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