"And so, dear," said Mrs. Waring to her beautiful niece, Fanny Lovering, "you are about becoming a bride." The aunt spoke tenderly, and with a manner that instantly broke down all barriers of reserve.
"And a happy bride, I trust," returned the blushing girl, as she laid her hand in that of her aunt, and leaned upon her confidingly.
"Pray heaven it may be so, Fanny." Mrs. Waring's manner was slightly serious. "Marriage is a very important step; and in taking it the smallest error may become the fruitful source of unhappiness."
"I shall make no error, Aunt Mary," cried the lovely girl. "Edward Allen is one of the best of young men; and he loves me as purely and tenderly as any maiden could wish to be loved. Oh, I want you to see him so much!"
"I will have that pleasure soon, no doubt."
"Yes, very soon. He is here almost every evening."
"Your father, I understand, thinks very highly of him."
"Oh yes. He is quite a pet of father's," replied Fanny.
"He's in business, then, I suppose?"
"Yes. He keeps a fancy dry-goods' store, and is doing exceedingly well--so he says."
Mrs. Waring sat silent for some time, lost in a train of reflection suddenly started in her mind.
"You look serious, aunt. What are you thinking about?" said Fanny, a slight shadow flitting over her countenance.
Mrs. Waring smiled, as she answered--
"People at my age are easily led into serious thoughts. Indeed, I can never contemplate the marriage of a young girl like yourself, without the intrusion of such thoughts into my mind. I have seen many bright skies bending smilingly over young hearts on the morning of their married life, that long ere noon were draped in clouds."
"Don't talk so, dear aunt!" said the fair young girl. "I know that life, to all, comes in shadow as well as sunshine. But, while the sky is bright, why dim its brightness by thoughts of the time when it will be overcast. Is that true philosophy, Aunt Mary?"
"If such forethought will prevent the cloud, or provide a shelter ere the storm breaks, it may be called true philosophy. But, forgive me, dear, for thus throwing a shadow where no shadow ought to rest. I will believe your choice a wise one, and that a happy future awaits you."
"You cannot help believing this when you see Edward. He will be here to-night; then you will be able to estimate him truly."
As Fanny had said, the young man called in after tea, when Mrs. Waring was introduced. Allen responded to the introduction somewhat coldly. In fact he was too much interested in Fanny herself to think much, or care much for the stranger, even though named as a relative. But, though he noticed but casually, and passed only a few words with Mrs. Waring, that lady was observing him closely, and noting every phase of character that was presented for observation; and, ere he left her presence, had read him far deeper than he imagined.
"And now, Aunt Mary, tell me what you think of Edward," said Fanny Lovering, as soon as the young man had departed, and she was alone with Mrs. Waring.
"I must see him two or three times more ere I can make up my mind in regard to him," said Mrs. Waring with something evasive in her manner. "First impressions are not always to be relied on," she added, smiling.
"Ah! I understand you,"--Fanny spoke with a sudden gayety of manner--"you only wish to tease me a little. Now, confess at once, dear Aunt Mary, that you are charmed with Edward."
"I am not much given to quick prepossesions," answered Mrs. Waring. "It may be a defect in my character; but so it is. Mr. Allen, no doubt, is a most excellent young man. You are sure that you love him, Fanny?"
"Oh, Aunt Mary! How can you ask such a question? Are we not soon to be married?"
"True. And this being so, you certainly should love him. Now, can you tell me why you love him?"
"My question seems, no doubt, a strange one, Fanny. Yet, strange as it may appear to you, it is far from being lightly made. Calm your mind into reflection, and ask yourself, firmly and seriously, why you love Edward Allen. True love ever has an appreciating regard for moral excellence--and knowledge must precede appreciation. What do you know of the moral wisdom of this young man, into whose hands you are about placing the destinies of your being for time--it may be for eternity? Again let me put the question--Why do you love Edward Allen?"
Fanny looked bewildered. No searching interrogations like these had been addressed to her, even by her parents; and their effect was to throw her whole mind into painful confusion.
"I love him for his excellent qualities, and because he loves me," she at length said, yet with a kind of uncertain manner, as if the reply did not spring from a clear mental perception.
"What do you mean by excellent qualities?" further inquired Mrs. Waring.
Tears came into Fanny's sweet blue eyes, as she answered--
"A young girl like me, dear Aunt Mary, cannot penetrate very deeply into a man's character. We have neither the opportunity nor the experience upon which, coldly, to base an accurate judgment. The heart is our guide. In my own case its instincts, I am sure, have not betrayed me into a false estimate of my lover. I know him to be good and noble; and I am sure his tender regard for the maiden he has asked to become his bride, will ever lead him to seek her happiness, as she will seek his. Do not doubt him, aunt."
Yet, Mrs. Waring could not help doubting him. The young man had not impressed her favourably. No word had fallen from his lips during the evening unmarked by her--nor had a single act escaped observation. In vain had she looked, in his declarations of sentiments, for high moral purposes--for something elevated and manly in tone. In their place she found only exceeding worldliness, or the flippant commonplace.
"No basis there, I fear, on which to build," said Mrs. Waring, thoughtfully, after parting with her niece for the night. "Dear, loving, confiding child! The heart of a maiden is not always her best guide. Like the conscience, it needs to be instructed; must be furnished with tests of quality."
On the day following, Mrs. Waring went out alone. Without, seeming to have any purpose in her mind, she had asked the number of Mr. Allen's store, whither she went with the design of making a few purchases. As she had hoped it would be, the young man did not recognise her as the aunt of his betrothed. Among the articles, she wished to obtain was a silk dress. Several pieces of goods were shown to her, one of which suited exactly, both in colour and quality.
"What is the price of this?" she asked.
The answer was not prompt. First, the ticket-mark was consulted; then came a thoughtful pause; and then the young storekeeper said--
"I cannot afford to sell you this piece of goods for less than a dollar thirteen."
"A dollar thirty, did you say?" asked Mrs. Waring, examining the silk more closely.
"Ye--yes, ma'am," quickly replied Allen. "A dollar thirty. And it's a bargain at that, I do assure you."
Mrs. Waring raised her eyes and looked steadily for a moment or two into the young man's face.
"A dollar and thirty cents," she repeated.
"Yes, ma'am. A dollar thirty," was the now assured answer. "How many yards shall I measure off for you?"
"I want about twelve yards."
"There isn't a cheaper piece of goods in market," said the young man, as he put his scissors into the silk--"not a cheaper piece, I do assure you. I had a large stock of these silks at the opening of the season, and sold two-thirds of them at a dollar and a half. But, as they are nearly closed out, I am selling the remainder at a trifle above cost. Can I show you any thing else, ma'am?"
"Not to-day, I believe," replied Mrs. Waring, as she took out her purse. "How much does it come to?"
"Twelve yards at one dollar and thirty cents--just fifteen dollars and sixty cents," said Allen.
Mrs. Waring counted out the money, and, as she handed it to the young man, fixed her eyes again searchingly upon him.
"Shall I send it home for you?" he asked.
"No--I will take it myself," said Mrs. Waring, coldly.
"What have you been buying, aunt?" inquired Fanny, when Mrs. Waring had returned home with her purchase.
"A silk dress. And I want to know what you think of my bargain?"
The silk was opened, and Fanny and her mother examined and admired it.
"What did you pay for it, sister?" asked Mrs, Lovering, the mother of Fanny.
"A dollar and thirty cents," was answered.
"Not a dollar thirty?" Marked surprise was indicated.
"Yes. Don't you think it cheap?"
"Cheap!" said Fanny. "It isn't worth over a dollar at the outside. Mr. Allen has been selling the same goods at ninety and ninety-five."
"You must certainly be in error," replied Mrs. Waring.
"Not at all," was the positive assertion. "Where did you get the silk?"
A somewhat indefinite answer was given; to which Fanny returned--
"I only wish we had known your intention. Mother would have gone with you to Edward's store. It is too bad that you should have been so cheated. The person who sold you the silk is no better than downright swindler."
"If it is as you say," replied Mrs. Waring, calmly, "he is not an honest man. He saw that I was a stranger, ignorant of current prices, and he took advantage of the fact to do me a wrong. I am more grieved for his sake than my own. To me, he loss is only a few dollars; to him--alas! by what rule can we make the estimate?"
Much more was said, not needful here to repeat. In the evening, Edward Allen called to see Fanny, who spoke of the purchase made by Mrs. Waring. Her aunt was present. The silk was produced in evidence of the fact that she had been most shamefully wronged by some storekeeper.
"For what can you sell goods of a similar quality?" was the direct question of Fanny.
The moment Allen saw the piece of silk, he recognised it as the same he had sold in the morning. Turning quickly, and with a flushing countenance, to that part of the room where Mrs. Waring sat, partly in the shadow, he became at once conscious of the fact that she was the purchaser. The eyes of Fanny followed those of the lover, and then came back to his face. She saw the o'ermantling blush; the sudden loss of self-possession, the quailing of his glance beneath the fixed look of Mrs. Waring. At once the whole truth flashed upon her mind, and starting up, she said, in a blended voice of grief and indignation--
"Surely, surely, Edward, you are not the man!"
Before Allen could reply, Mrs. Waring said firmly: "Yes, it is too true. He is the man!"
At this, Fanny grew deadly pale, staggered toward her mother, and sunk, sobbing wildly, upon her bosom.
Too much excited and confused for coherent explanation, and too clearly conscious of his mean dishonesty toward a stranger, Allen attempted no vindication nor excuse, lest matters should assume even a worse aspect. A moment or two he stood irresolute, and then retired from the house. As he did so, Mr. Lovering entered the room where this little scene had just transpired, and was quite startled at the aspect of affairs.
"What's this? What has happened? Fanny, child, what in the name of wonder is the matter? Where's Edward?"
Mr. Lovering spoke hurriedly. As soon as practicable, the whole affair was related.
"And is that all?" exclaimed Mr. Lovering, in surprise. "Pooh! pooh! I'm really astonished! I thought that some dreadful thing had happened."
"Don't you regard this as a very serious matter?" inquired Mrs. Waring.
"Serious? No! It's a thing of every day occurrence. If you are not a judge of the goods you attempt to purchase, you must expect to pay for your ignorance. Shopkeepers have to make up their ratio of profits in the aggregate sales of the day. Sometimes they have to sell a sharp customer at cost, rather than lose the sale; and this must be made up on some one like you."
"Not a serious matter," replied Fanny's aunt, "to discover that the betrothed of your daughter is a dishonest man?"
"Nonsense! nonsense! you don't know what you are talking about," said Mr. Lovering, fretfully. "He's shrewd and sharp, as every business-man who expects to succeed must be. As to his trade operations, Fanny has nothing to do with them. He'll make her a kind husband, and provide for her handsomely. What more can she ask?"
"A great deal more," replied Mrs. Waring, firmly.
"What more, pray?"
"A husband, in whose high moral virtues, and unselfish regard for the right, she can unerringly confide. One who will never, in his eager desire to secure for himself some personal end or gratification, forget what is due to the tender, confiding wife who has placed all that is dear to her in his guardianship. Brother, depend upon it, the man who deliberately wrongs another to gain an advantage to himself, will never, in marriage, make a truly virtuous woman happy. This I speak thoughtfully and solemnly; and I pray you take it to heart, ere conviction of what I assert comes upon you too late. But, I may have said too much. Forgive my plain speaking. From the fulness of the heart is this utterance."
And so saying, Mrs. Waring passed from the room, and left the parents of Fanny alone with their weeping child. Few words were spoken by either Mr. or Mrs. Lovering. Something in the last remarks of Mrs. Waring had startled their minds into new convictions. As for the daughter, she soon retired to her own apartment, and did not join the family again until the next morning. Then, her sad eyes and colorless face too plainly evidenced a night of sleeplessness and suffering.
By a kind of tacit consent on the part of each member of the family, no allusion, whatever, was made to the occurrences of the day previous. Evening came, but not as usual came Edward Allen. The next day, and the next went by, without his accustomed appearance. For a whole week his visits were omitted.
Grievous was the change which, in that time, had become visible in Fanny Lovering. The very light of her life seemed to go out suddenly; and, for a while, she had groped about in thick darkness. A few feeble rays were again becoming visible; but from a quarter of the heavens where she had not expected light. Wisely, gently, and unobtrusively had Mrs. Waring, during this period of gloom and distress, cast high truths into the mind of her suffering niece--and from these, as stars in the firmament of thought, came the rays by which she was able to see a path opening before her. When, at the end of the tenth day of uncertainty, came a note from Allen, in these brief words: "If it is Miss Lovering's wish to be free from her engagement, a word will annul the contract"--she replied, within ten minutes, "Let the contract be annulled; you are free."
Two weeks later, and Mr. Lovering brought home the intelligence that Allen was to be married in a few days to a certain Miss Jerrold, daughter of a man reputed wealthy.
"To Miss Jerrold! It cannot be!" said Mrs. Lovering in surprise.
"I will not believe it, father." Fanny spoke with quivering lips and a choking voice.
"Who is Miss Jerrold?" asked Mrs. Waring.
"A coarse, vulgar-minded girl, of whom many light things have been said," replied Mrs. Lovering, indignantly. "But her father is rich, and she is an only child."
"He never loved you, dear," said Mrs. Waring to Fanny about a week later, as the yet suffering girl laid her tearful face on her bosom. The news had just come that Miss Jerrold was the bride of Allen. The frame of the girl thrilled for a moment or two; then all was calm, and she replied--
"Not as I wished to be loved. O aunt! what an escape I have made! I look down the fearful gulf on the very brink of which my feet were arrested, and shudder to the heart's core. If he could take her, he never could have appreciated me. Something more than maiden purity and virtue attracted him. Ah! how could my instincts have been so at fault!"
"Dear child," said Mrs. Waring, earnestly, "there can be no true love, as I have before said to you, without an appreciation of quality. A fine person, agreeable manners, social position--in a word, all external advantages and attractions are nothing, unless virtue be in the heart. It is a man's virtues that a woman must love, if she loves truly. If she assumes the possession of moral wisdom, without undoubting evidence, she is false to herself. To marry under such circumstances is to take a fearful risk. Alas! how many have repented through a long life of wretchedness. Can a true woman love a man who lacks principle--who will sacrifice honour for a few paltry dollars--who will debase himself for gain--whose gross sensuality suffocates all high, spiritual love? No! no! It is impossible! And she who unites herself with such a man, must either shrink, grovelling, down to his mean level, or be inconceivably wretched."
Two years later, and results amply justified the timely interposition of Mrs. Waring, and demonstrated the truth of her positions. Her beautiful, true-hearted niece has become the bride of a man possessing all the external advantages sought to be obtained by Mr. and Mrs. Lovering in the proposed marriage with Mr. Allen; and what is more and better, of one whose love of truth and goodness is genuine, and whose appreciation of his wife rests on a perception of her womanly virtues. As years pass, and their knowledge of each other becomes more intimate, their union will become closer and closer, until affection and thought become so blended, that they will act in all their mutual life-relations as one.
Alas! how different it is already with Edward Allen and the woman he led to the altar, where each made false vows the one to the other. There were no qualities to be loved; and to each, person and principles soon grew repellant. Through sharp practices in business, Allen is rapidly adding to the fortune already acquired by trade and marriage; but, apart from the love of accumulation, which keeps his mind active and excited during business hours, he has no pleasure in life. He does not love the woman who presides in his elegant home, and she affects nothing in regard to him. They only tolerate each other for appearance sake. Sometimes, Fanny Lovering, now Mrs.----, meets them in public; but never without an almost audibly breathed "Thank God, that I am not in her place!" as her eyes rest upon the countenance of Allen, in which evil and selfish purposes have already stamped their unmistakable meanings.