"Do you intend going to Mrs. Walshingham's party, next week, Caroline?" asked Miss Melvina Fenton of her friend Caroline Gay. "It is said that it will be a splendid affair."
"I have not made up my mind, Melvina."
"O you'll go of course. I wouldn't miss it for the world."
"I am much inclined to think that I will stay at home or spend my evening in some less brilliant assemblage," Caroline Gay replied in a quiet tone.
"Nonsense, Caroline! There hasn't been such a chance to make a sensation this season."
"And why should I wish to make a sensation, Melvina?"
"Because it's the only way to attract attention. Now-a-days, the person who creates a sensation, secures the prize that a dozen quiet, retiring individuals are looking and longing after, in vain. We must dazzle if we would win."
"That is, we must put on false colors, and deceive not only ourselves, but others."
"How strangely you talk, Caroline! Every one now is attracted by show and eclat."
"Not every one, I hope, Melvina."
"Show me an exception."
Caroline smiled as she answered,
"Your friend Caroline, as you call her, I hope is one."
"Indeed! And I suppose I must believe you. But come, don't turn Puritan. You are almost behind the age, as it is, and if you don't take care, you will get clear out of date, and either live and die an old maid, or have to put up with one of your quiet inoffensive gentlemen who hardly dare look a real briliant belle in the face."
Caroline Gay could not help smiling at her friend's light bantering, even while she felt inclined to be serious in consideration of the false views of life that were influencing the conduct and affecting the future prospects of one, whose many good qualities of heart, won her love.
"And if I should get off," she said, "with one of those quiet gentlemen you allude to, it will be about the height of my expectation."
"Well, you are a queer kind of a girl, any how! But, do you know why I want to make a sensation at Mrs. Walshingham's?"
"No. I would be pleased to hear."
"Then I will just let you into a bit of a secret. I've set my heart on making a conquest of Henry Clarence."
"Indeed!" ejaculated Caroline, with an emphasis that would have attracted Melvina's attention, had her thoughts and feelings not been at the moment too much engaged.
"Yes, I have. He's so calm and cold, and rigidly polite to me whenever we meet, that I am chilled with the frigid temperature of the atmosphere that surrounds him. But as he is a prize worth the trouble of winning, I have set my heart on melting him down, and bringing him to my feet."
Caroline smiled as her friend paused, but did not reply.
"I know half a dozen girls now, who are breaking their hearts after him," continued the maiden. "But I'll disappoint them all, if there is power in a woman's winning ways to conquer. So you see, my lady Gay--Grave it should be--that I have some of the strongest reasons in the world, for wishing to be present at the 'come off' next week. Now you'll go, won't you?"
"Perhaps I will, if it's only to see the effect of your demonstrations on the heart of Henry Clarence. But he is one of your quiet, inoffensive gentlemen, Melvina. How comes it that you set him as a prize?"
"If he is quiet, there is fire in him. I've seen his eye flash, and his countenance brighten with thought too often, not to know of what kind of stuff he is made."
"And if I were to judge of his character, he is not one to be caugnt by effect," Caroline remarked.
"O, as to that, all men have their weak side. There isn't one, trust me, who can withstand the brilliant attractions of the belle of the ball room, such as, pardon my vanity, I hope to be on next Tuesday evening. I have seen a little of the world in my time, and have always observed, that whoever can eclipse all her fair compeers at one of these brilliant assemblages, possesses, for the time, a power that may be used to advantage. All the beaux flock around her, and vie with each other in kind attentions. If, then, she distinguish some individual of them above the rest, by her marked reciprocation of his attentions, he is won. The grateful fellow will never forsake her."
"Quite a reasoner, upon my word! And so in this way you intend winning Henry Clarence?"
"Of course I do. At least, I shall try hard."
"And you will fail, I am much disposed to think."
"I'm not sure of that. Henry Clarence is but a man."
"Yet he is too close an observer to be deceived into any strong admiration of a ball-room belle."
"You are behind the age, Caroline. Your quiet unobtrusiveness will I fear cause you to be passed by, while some one not half so worthy, will take the place which you should have held in the affections of a good husband."
"Perhaps so. But, I wish to be taken for what I am. I want no man, who has not the good sense and discrimination to judge of my real character."
"You will die an old maid, Caroline."
"That may be. But, in all sincerity, I must say that I hope not."
"You will go to the ball, of course?"
"I think I will, Melvina."
"Well, that settled, what are you going to wear?"
"Something plain and simple, of course. But I have not thought of that."
"O don't Caroline. You will make yourself singular."
"I hope not, for I dislike singularity. But how are you going to dress? Splendid, of course, as you expect to make a sensation."
"I'll try my best, I can assure you?"
"Well, what kind of a dress are you going to appear in?"
"I have ordered a robe of blue tulle, to be worn over blue silk. The robe to be open in front, of course, and confined to the silk-skirt with variegated roses."
"And your head-dress?"
"I shall have my hair ornamented with variegated roses, arranged over the brow like a coronet. Now, how do you like that?"
"Not at all."
"O, of course not. I might have known that your taste was too uneducated for that."
"And I hope it will ever remain so, Melvina."
"But how will you dress, Caroline. Do let me hear, that I may put you right if you fix on any thing outre."
"Well, really, Melvina, I have not given the subject a thought. But it never takes me long to choose. Let me see. A plain--"
"Not plain, Caroline, for mercy sake!"
"Yes. A plain white dress, of India muslin."
"Plain white! O, don't Caroline--let me beg of you."
"Yes, white it shall be."
"Plain white! Why nobody will see you!"
"O, yes. Among all you gay butterflies, I will become the observed of all observers," said Caroline, laughing.
"Don't flatter yourself. But you will have some pink trimming, will you not?"
"No, not a flower, nor ribbon, nor cord, nor tassel."
"You will be an object of ridicule."
"Not in a polite company of gentlemen and ladies, I hope!"
"No; but--. And your head-dress, Caroline. That I hope will atone for the rest."
"No, my own dark hair, plain--"
"For mercy sake, Caroline! Not plain."
"Yes, my hair plain."
"And no ornament!"
"O, yes--a very beautiful one."
"Ah, that may help a little. A ray of sunshine on a barren waste."
"A simple sprig of buds and half blown flowers."
"White, of course."
"You are an original, Caroline. But I suppose I can't make you change your taste?"
I hope not, Melvina."
"I am sorry that I shall be compelled to throw you so far in the shade, my little Quakeress friend. The world will never know half your real worth, Caroline. You are hiding your light.
"Many a gem of purest ray serene, The deep unfathomed caves of ocean bear-- Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air."
And as she repeated these lines, applying them to her friend, Melvina rose to depart.
"You are resolved on trying to make a sensation, then?" said Caroline.
"Of course, and what is more, I will succeed."
"And win Henry Clarence?"
"I hope so. He must be made of sterner stuff than I think him, if I do not."
"Well, we shall see."
"Yes, we will. But good-bye; I must go to the mantua-maker's this morning, to complete my orders."
After Melvina Felton had gone, Caroline Gay's manner changed a good deal. Her cheek, the color of which had heightened during her conversation with her friend, still retained its beautiful glow, but the expression of her usually calm face was changed, and slightly marked by what seemed troubled thoughts. She sat almost motionless for nearly two minutes, and then rose up slowly with a slight sigh, and went to her chamber.
It was early on the same evening that Henry Clarence, the subject of her conversation with Melvina, called in, as he not unfrequently did, to spend an hour in pleasant conversation with Caroline Gay. He found her in the parlor reading.
"At your books, I see," he remarked, in a pleasant tone, as he entered.
"Yes; I find my thoughts need exciting by contact with the thoughts of others. A good book helps us much sometimes."
"You were reading a book then. May I ask its author?"
"You are right in calling this a good book, Caroline," he said, glancing at the title page, to which she had opened, as she handed him the volume. "Self-education is a most important matter, and with such a guide as Degerando, few can go wrong."
"So I think. He is not so abstract, nor does he border on transcendentalism, like Coleridge, who notwithstanding these peculiarities I am yet fond of reading. Degerando opens for you your own heart, and not only opens it, but gives you the means of self-control at every point of your exploration."
The beautiful countenance of Caroline was lit up by pure thoughts, and Henry Clarence could not help gazing upon her with a lively feeling of admiration.
"I cannot but approve your taste," he said.--"But do you not also read the lighter works of the day?"
"I do not certainly pass all these by. I would lose much were I to do so. But I read only a few, and those emanating from such minds as James, Scott, and especially our own Miss Sedgwick. The latter is particularly my favorite. Her pictures, besides being true to nature, are pictures of home. The life she sketches, is the life that is passing all around us--perhaps in the family, unknown to us, who hold the relation of next door neighbors."
"Your discrimination is just. After reading Miss Sedgwick, our sympathies for our fellow creatures take a more humane range. We are moved by an impulse to do good--to relieve the suffering--to regulate our own action in regard to others by a higher and better rule. You are a reader of the poets, too--and like myself, I believe, are an admirer of Wordsworth's calm and deep sympathy with the better and nobler principles of our nature."
"The simple beauty of Wordsworth has ever charmed me. How much of the good and true, like precious jewels set in gold, are scattered thickly over his pages!"
"And Byron and Shelly--can you not enjoy them?" Clarence asked, with something of lively interest in her reply, expressed in his countenance.
"It were but an affectation to say that I can find nothing in them that is beautiful, nothing to please, nothing to admire. I have read many things in the writings of these men that were exquisitely beautiful. Many portions of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage are not surpassed for grandeur, beauty, and force, in the English language: and the Alastor of Shelly, is full of passages of exquisite tenderness and almost unequalled finish of versification. But I have never laid either of them down with feelings that I wished might remain. They excite the mind to a feverish and unhealthy action. We find little in them to deepen our sympathies with our fellows--little to make better the heart, or wiser the head."
"You discriminate with clearness, Caroline," he said; "I did not know that you looked so narrowly into the merits of the world's favorites. But to change the subject; do you intend going to Mrs. Walsingham's next week?"
"Yes, I think I will be there."
"Are you fond of such assemblages?" the young man asked.
"Not particularly so," Caroline replied. "But I think it right to mingle in society, although all of its forms are not pleasant to me."
"And why do you mingle in it then, if its sphere is uncongenial?"
"I cannot say, Mr. Clarence, that it is altogether uncongenial. Wherever we go, into society, we come in contact with much that is good. Beneath the false glitter, often assumed and worn without the heart's being in it, but from a weak spirit of conformity, lies much that is sound in principle, and healthy in moral life. In mingling, then, in society, we aid to develope and strengthen these good principles in others. We encourage, often, the weak and wavering, and bring back such as are beginning to wander from the simple dignity and truth of nature."
"But is there not danger of our becoming dazzled by the false glitter?"
"There may be. But we need not fear this, if we settle in our minds a right principle of action, and bind ourselves firmly to that principle."
A pause followed this last remark, and then the subject of conversation was again changed to one of a more general nature.
An evening or two after, Henry Clarence called in to see Melvina Fenton. Melvina was what may be called a showy girl. Her countenance, which was really beautiful, when animated, attracted every eye. She had a constant flow of spirits, had dipped into many books, and could make a little knowledge in these matters go a great way. Clarence could not conceal from himself that he admired Melvina, and, although his good sense and discrimination opposed this admiration, he could rarely spend an evening with Miss Fenton, without a strong prepossession in her favor. Still, with her, as with every one, he maintained a consistency of character that annoyed her. He could not be brought to flatter her in any way; and for this she thought him cold, and often felt under restraint in his society. One thing in her which he condemned, was her love of dress. Often he would express a wonder to himself, how a young woman of her good sense and information could be guilty of such a glaring departure from true taste.
On this evening she received him in her very best manner. And she was skilful at acting; so skilful, as even to deceive the keen eye of Henry Clarence. Fully resolved on making a conquest, she studied his character, and tried to adapt herself to it.
"I have your favorite here," she remarked, during the evening, lifting a copy of Wordsworth from the centre table.
"Ah, indeed! so you have. Do you ever look into him, Miss Fenton?"
"O yes. I did not know what a treasure was hid in this volume, until, from hearing your admiration of Wordsworth, I procured and read it with delighted interest."
"I am glad that you are not disappointed. If you have a taste for his peculiar style of thinking and writing, you have in that volume an inexhaustible source of pleasure."
"I have discovered that, Mr. Clarence, and must thank you for the delight I have received, and I hope I shall continue to receive."
Nearly two hours were spent by the young man in the company of Miss Fenton, when he went away, more prepossessed in her favor than he had yet been. She had played her part to admiration. The truth was, Wordsworth, except in a few pieces, she had voted a dull book. By tasking herself, she had mastered some passages, to which she referred during the evening, and thus obtained credit for being far more familiar with the poet of nature than she ever was or ever would be. She went upon the principle of making a sensation, and thus carrying hearts, or the heart she wished to assault, by storm.
"I believe that I really love that girl," Henry Clarence said, on the evening before the party at Mrs. Walsingham's to a young friend.
"Who, Melvina Fenton?"
"She is certainly a beautiful girl."
"And interesting and intelligent."
"Yes--I know of no one who, in comparison with her, bears off the palm."
"And still, there is one thing about her that I do not like. She is too fond of dress and display."
"O, that is only a little foible. No one is altogether perfect."
"True--and the fault with me is, in looking after perfection."
"Yes, I think you expect too much."
"She is affectionate, and that will make up for many deficiencies. And what is more, I can see plainly enough that her heart is interested. The brightening of her cheek, the peculiar expression of her eye, not to be mistaken, when certain subjects are glanced at, convince me that I have only to woo to win her."
"What do you think of Caroline Gay?" asked his friend.
"Well, really, I can hardly tell what to think of her. She has intelligence, good sense, and correct views on almost every subject. But she is the antipodes of Melvina in feeling. If she were not so calm and cold, I could love her; but I do not want a stoic for a wife. I want a heart that will leap to my own, and send its emotion to the cheek and eye."
"I am afraid you will not find an angel in this world," his friend said, smiling.
"No, nor do I want an angel. But I want as perfect a woman as I can get."
"You will have to take Melvina, then, for she has three exceeding good qualities, at least, overshadowing all others."
"And what are they?"
"An affectionate heart."
"Something to be desired above every thing else. And her next good quality?"
"Her father is worth a 'plum.'"
"I would dispense with that, were she less fond of show, and effect, and gay company."
"O, they are only the accompaniments of girlhood. As a woman and a wife, she will lay them all aside."
"I should certainly hope so, were I going to link my lot with hers."
"Why, I thought your mind was made up."
"Not positively. I must look on a little longer, and scan a little closer before I commit myself."
"Well, success to your marrying expedition. I belong yet to the free list."
In due time Mrs. Walshingham's splendid affair came off.
"Isn't she an elegant woman!" exclaimed a young man in an under tone, to a friend, who stood near Henry Clarence, as Melvina swept into the room dressed in a style of elegance and effect that attracted every eye.
"Beautiful!" responded his companion. "I must dance with her to-night. I always make a point to have one round at least with the belle of the ball-room."
The individual who last spoke, was well known to all in that room as the betrayer of innocence. And Henry Clarence felt his cheek burn and his heart bound with an indignant throb as he heard this remark.
"He will be disappointed, or I am mistaken," he said to himself as the two, who had been conversing near him, moved to another part of the room. "But if Melvina Fenton has so little of that sensitive innocence, that shrinks from the presence of guilt as to dance with him, and suffer her hand to be touched by his, my mind is made up. I will never marry her."
"She is the queen of beauty to-night, Clarence," said a friend coming to Henry's side, and speaking in an under tone.
"She is, indeed, very beautiful; but I cannot help thinking a little too showy. Her dress would be very good for the occasion were those variegated roses taken from their blue ground. Flowers never grow on such a soil; and her head dress is by far too conspicuous, and by no means in good taste."
"Why you are critical to-night, Clarence. I thought Melvina one of your favorites?"
"I must confess a little good will towards her, and perhaps that is the reason of my being somewhat particular in my observation of her style of dress. Certainly, she makes a most decided sensation here to-night; for every eye is upon her, and every tongue, that I have yet heard speak is teeming with words of admiration."
"That she does," responded the friend. "Every other girl in the room will be dying of envy or neglect before the evening is over."
"That would speak little for the gallantry of the men or the good sense of the young ladies," was the quiet reply.
Several times the eye of Henry Clarence wandered around the room in search of Caroline--but he did not see her in the gay assemblage.
"She told me she would be here," he mentally said, "and I should really like to mark the contrast between her and the brilliant Miss Fenton. Oh! there she is, as I live, leaning on the arm of her father, the very personification of innocence and beauty. But her face is too calm by half. I fear she is cold."
Truly was she as Henry Clarence had said, the personification of innocence and beauty. Her dress of snowy whiteness, made perfectly plain, and fitting well a figure that was rather delicate, but of exquisite symmetry, contrasted beautifully with the gay and flaunting attire of those around her. Her head could boast but a single ornament, besides her own tastefully arranged hair, and that was a sprig of buds and half-blown flowers as white as the dress she had chosen for the evening. Her calm sweet face looked sweeter and more innocent than ever, for the contrast of the whole scene relieved her peculiar beauty admirably.
"An angel?" ejaculated a young man by the side of Clarence, moving over towards the part of the room where Caroline stood, still leaning on the arm of her father.
"We wanted but you to make our tableau complete," he said, with a graceful bow. "Let me relieve you, Mr. Gay, of the care of this young lady," he added offering his arm to Caroline--and in the next minute he had joined the promenade with the sweetest creature in the room by his side.
The beautiful contrast that was evident to all, between Caroline, the plainest-dressed maiden in the room, and Melvina the gayest and most imposing, soon drew all eyes upon the former, and Melvina had the discrimination to perceive that she had a rival near the throne, in one whom she little dreamed of fearing; and whose innocent heart she knew too well to accuse of design.
Soon cotillion parties were formed, and among the first to offer his hand to Melvina, was a young man named Sheldon, the same alluded to as declaring that he would dance with her, as he always did with the belle of the ball room. Melvina knew his character well, and Henry Clarence was aware that she possessed this knowledge. His eye was upon her, and she knew it. But she did not know of the determination that he formed or else she would have hesitated.
"The most splendid man in the room, and the most graceful dancer," were the thoughts that glanced through her mind, as she smiled an assent to his invitation to become his partner. "I shall not yet lose my power."
And now all eyes were again upon the brilliant beauty threading the mazy circles, with glowing cheek and sparkling eye. And few thought of blaming her for dancing with Sheldon, whose character ought to have banished him from virtuous society. But there was one whose heart sickened as he looked on, and that one was Henry Clarence. He lingered near the group of dancers but a few minutes, and then wandered away to another room.
"Permit me to transfer my company, Mr. Clarence," said the young man who had thus far monopolized the society of Caroline Gay. "I will not be selfish; and besides, I fear I am becoming too dull for my fair friend here."
With a bow and a smile, Clarence received on his arm the fair girl. He felt for her a tenderer regard than had heretofore warmed his heart, as he strolled through the rooms and listened to her sweet, penetrating voice. And whenever he turned and looked her in the face, he saw that in the expression of her eyes which he had never marked before--something of tenderness that made his own heart beat with a quicker motion. As they drew near the dancers, they observed Sheldon with Melvina leaning on his arm, and two or three others, engaged in maikng up another cotillion.
"We want but one more couple, and here they are," said Sheldon, as Clarence and Caroline came up.
"Will you join this set?" asked Clarence, in a low tone.
"Not this one," she replied.
"Miss Gay does not wish to dance now," her companion said, and they moved away.
But the cotillion was speedily formed without them, and the dance proceeded.
Half an hour after, while Henry Clarence and Caroline were sitting on a lounge, engaged in close conversation, Sheldon came up, and bowing in his most graceful manner, and, with his blandest smile, said,
"Can I have the pleasure of dancing with Miss Gay, this evening?"
"No, sir," was the quiet, firm reply of the maiden, while she looked him steadily in the face.
Sheldon turned hurriedly away, for he understood the rebuke, the first he had yet met with in the refined, fashionable, virtuous society of one of the largest of the Atlantic cities.
The heart of Henry Clarence blessed the maiden by his side.
"You are not averse to dancing, Caroline?" he said.
"O no. But I do not dance with every one."
"In that you are right, and I honor your decision and independence of character."
During the remainder of the evening, she danced several times, more frequently with Henry than with any other, but never in a cotillion of which Sheldon was one of the partners. Much to the pain and alarm of Melvina, Clarence did not offer to dance with her once; and long before the gay assemblage broke up, her appearance had failed to produce any sensation. The eye tired of viewing her gaudy trapping, and turned away unsatisfied. But let Caroline go where she would, she was admired by all. None wearied of her chaste, simple and beautiful attire; none looked upon her mild, innocent face, without an expression, tacit or aloud, of admiration. Even the rebuked, and for a time angered, Sheldon, could not help ever and anon seeking her out amid the crowd, and gazing upon her with a feeling of respect that he tried in vain to subdue.
Melvina had sought to produce a "sensation" by gay and imposing attire, and after a brief and partial success, lost her power. But Caroline, with no wish to be noticed, much less to be the reigning belle of the evening, consulting her own pure taste, went in simple garments, and won the spontaneous admiration of all, and, what was more, the heart of Henry Clarence. He never, after that evening, could feel any thing of his former tenderness towards Melvina Felton. The veil had fallen from his eyes. He saw the difference between the desire of admiration, and a simple love of truth and honor, too plainly, to cause him to hesitate a moment longer in his choice between two so opposite in their characters. And yet, to the eye of an inattentive observer nothing occurred during the progress of Mrs. Walshingham's party more than ordinarily takes place on such occasions. All seemed pleased and happy, and Melvina the happiest of the whole. And yet she had signally failed in her well-laid scheme to take the heart of Henry Clarence--while Caroline, with no such design, and in simply following the promptings of a pure heart and a right taste, had won his affectionate regard.
It was some three or four months after the party at Mrs. Walshingham's, that Melvina Fenton and Caroline Gay were alone in the chamber of the latter, in close and interested conversation.
"I have expected as much," the former said, in answer to some communication made to her by the latter.
"Then you are not surprised?"
"Not at all."
"And I hope not pained by the intelligence?"
"No, Caroline, not now," her friend said, smiling; "though two or three months ago it would have almost killed me. I, too, have been wooed and won."
"Indeed! That is news. And who is it, Melvina? I am eager to know."
"A gentleman, and every way worthy of your hand. But how in the world comes it that so quiet and modest a young man as Martin has now the dashing belle?"
"It has occurred quite naturally, Caroline. The dashing belle has gained a little more good sense than she had a few months ago. She has not forgotten the party at Mrs. Walsaingham's. And by the bye, Caroline, how completely you out-generalled me on that occasion. I had a great mind for a while never to forgive you."
"You are altogether mistaken, Melvina," Caroline said, with a serious air. "I did not act a part on that occasion. I went but in my true character, and exhibited no other."
"It was nature, then, eclipsing art; truth of character outshining the glitter of false assumption. But all that is past, and I am wiser and better for it, I hope. You will be happy, I know, with Henry Clarence, for he is worthy of you, and can appreciate your real excellence; and I shall be happy, I trust, with the man of my choice."
"No doubt of it, Melvina. And by the way," Caroline said, laughing, "we shall make another 'sensation,' and then we must be content to retire into peaceful domestic obscurity. You will have a brilliant time, I suppose?"
"O yes. I must try my hand at creating one more sensation, the last and most imposing; and, as my wedding comes the first, you must be my bridesmaid. You will not refuse?"
"Not if we can agree as to how we are to dress. We ought to be alike in this, and yet I can never consent to appear in any thing but what is plain, and beautiful for its simplicity."
"You shall arrange all these. You beat me the last time in creating a sensation, and now I will give up to your better taste."
And rarely has a bride looked sweeter than did Melvina Fenton on her wedding-day. Still, she was eclipsed by Caroline, whose native grace accorded so well with her simple attire, that whoever looked upon her, looked again, and to admire. The "sensation" they created was not soon forgotten.
Caroline was married in a week after, and then the fair heroines of our story passed from the notice of the fashionable world, and were lost with the thousands who thus yearly desert the gay circles, and enter the quiet sphere and sweet obscurity of domestic life.