"I see that the house next door has been taken," remarked Mr. Leland to his wife, as they sat alone one pleasant summer evening.
"Yes. The family moved in to-day," returned Mrs. Leland.
"Do you know their name?"
"It is Halloran."
"Halloran, Halloran," said Mr. Leland, musingly. "I wonder if it's the same family that lived in Parker Street."
"Yes, the same; and I wish they had stayed there."
"Their moving in next door need not trouble us, Jane. They are not on our list of acquaintances."
"But I shall have to call upon Mrs. Haloran; and Emma upon her grown-up daughter Mary."
"I do not see how that is to follow as a consequence of their removal into our neighborhood."
"Politeness requires us to visit them as neighbors."
"Are they really our neighbors?" asked Mr. Leland, significantly.
"Certainly they are. How strange that you should ask the question!"
"What constitutes them such? Not mere proximity, certainly. Because a person happens to live in a house near by, can that make him or her really a neighbor, and entitled to the attention and consideration due a neighbor?"
This remark caused Mrs. Leland to look thoughtful. "It ought not," she said, after sitting silent a little while, "but still, it does."
"I do not think so. A neighbor--that is, one to whom kind offices is due--ought to come with higher claims than the mere fact of living in a certain house located near by the dwelling in which we reside. If mere location is to make any one a neighbor, we have no protection against the annoyance and intrusions of persons we do not like; nay, against evil-minded persons, who would delight more in doing us injury than good. These Hallorans for instance. They move in good society; but they are not persons to our mind. I should not like to see you on terms of intimacy with Mrs. Halloran, or Jane with her daughter. In fact, the latter I should feel, did it exist, to be a calamity."
"Still they are our neighbors," Mrs. Leland said. "I do not see how we can avoid calling upon them."
"Perhaps," remarked the husband, "you have not thought seriously enough on the subject.
"Who is my neighbor? is a question of importance, and ought to be answered in every mind. Something more than living in the same street, or block of houses, is evidently implied in the word neighbor. It clearly involves a reciprocity of good feelings. Mere proximity in space cannot effect this. It requires another kind of nearness--the nearness of similar affections; and these must, necessarily, be unselfish; for in selfishness there is no reciprocity. Under this view, could you consider yourself the neighbor of such a person as Mrs. Halloran?"
"No matter what the character, we should be kind to all. Every one should be our neighbor, so far as this is concerned. Do you not think so?"
"I do not, Jane."
"Should we not be kind to every one?"
"Yes, kind; but not in the acceptation of the word as you have used it. There is a false, as well as a true kindness. And it often happens that true kindness appears to be any thing but what it really is. In order to be kind to another, we are not always required to exhibit flattering attentions. These often injure where distance and reserve would do good. Besides, they too frequently give power to such as are evil-disposed--a power that is exercised injuriously to others."
"But the simple fact of my calling upon Mrs. Halloran cannot, possibly, give her the power of injuring me or any one else."
"I think differently. The fact that you have called upon her will be a reason for some others to do the same; for, you know, there are persons who never act from a distinct sense of right, but merely follow in the wake of others. Thus the influence of a selfish, censorious, evil-minded woman will be extended. So far as you are concerned, the danger may be greater than you imagine. Is Mary Halloran, in your estimation, a fit companion for our daughter? Could she become intimate with her, and not suffer a moral deterioration?"
"I think not."
"Are you sure that a call upon Mrs. Halloran will not lead to this result?"
"No, I am not sure. Still, I do not apprehend any danger."
"I should be very much afraid of the experiment."
"But, do you not think, husband, that, apart from all these fears, I am bound to extend to Mrs. Halloran the courtesies due a neighbor?"
"I cannot, in the true sense of the word, consider her a neighbor; and, therefore, do not see that you owe her the courtesies to which you allude. It is the good in any one that really makes the neighbor. This good should ever be regarded. But, to show attentions, and give eminence and consideration to an evil-minded person, is to make evil, instead of good, the neighbor.--It is to give that power to evil which is ever exercised in injury to others."
Mrs. Leland's mind perceived only in a small degree the force of what her husband said.--She was not a woman who troubled herself about the characters of those who stood upon a certain level in society. Mrs. Halloran claimed her place from wealth and family connexions, and this place was rather above than below that occupied by Mrs. Leland. The temptation to call upon her was, therefore, pretty strong. It was not so much a regard for her new neighbor, as a desire to make her acquaintance, that influenced her.--Acting in opposition to her husband's judgment, in a few days she called upon Mrs. Halloran.
She found her, to use her own words, a "charming woman." The next move was for the daughter to call upon Mary Halloran. Before the week passed, these calls had been returned. In a month the two families--that is, the female members of them--had become quite intimate. This intimacy troubled Mr. Leland. He was a man of pure principles, and could tolerate no deviation from them. Deeply did he regret any association that might tend to weaken the respect for such principles with which he had sought to inspire the mind of his daughter. In them he knew lay the power that was to protect her in the world. But he could not interfere, arbitrarily, with his wife; that he would have considered more dangerous than to let her act in freedom. But he felt concerned for the consequence, and frequently urged her not to be too intimate with her new neighbor.
"Some evil, I am sure, will grow out of it," he would say, whenever allusion was in any way made to the subject of his wife's intimacy with Mrs. Halloran. "No one can touch pitch and not be defiled."
"I really must blame you," Mrs. Leland replied to a remark like this, "for your blind opposition to Mrs. Halloran. The more I see of her, the better I like her. She is a perfect lady. So kind, so affable, so--so"--
Mr. Leland shook his head.
"The mere gloss of polite society," he returned. "There is no soundness in her heart. We know that, for the tree is judged by its fruit."
"We have seen no evil fruit," said the wife.
"Others have, and we know that others have.--Her conduct in the case of the Percys is notorious."
"Common report is always exaggerated."
"Though it usually has some foundation in truth. But granting all the exaggeration and false judgment that usually appertain to common report, is it not wiser to act as if common report were true, until we know it to be false?"
But it was useless for Mr. Leland to talk.--His wife was charmed with the fascinating neighbor, and would hear nothing against her. Jane, too, had become intimate with Mary Halloran, a bold-faced girl, who spent half of her time in the street, and talked of little else but beaux and dress. Jane was eighteen, and before her acquaintance with Mary, had been but little into company. Her intimacy with Mary soon put new notions into her head. She began to think more of dress, and scarcely a day passed that she did not go out with her very intimate and pleasant friend. Mrs. Leland did not like this. Much as she was pleased Mrs. Halloran, she never fancied the daughter a great deal, and would have been much better satisfied if the two young ladies had not become quite so intimate.
"Where are you going?" she said to Jane, who came down stairs dressed to go out, one morning.
"Mary and I are going to make some calls," she replied.
"You were out making calls, yesterday, with Mary, and the day before also. This is too great a waste of time, Jane. I would rather see you at home more."
"I don't know why you should wish to confine me down to the house. Mary Halloran goes and comes when she pleases."
"Mary Halloran is in the street a great deal too much. I am far from wishing to see you imitate her example."
"But what harm is there in it, mother?"
"A great deal, Jane. It gives idle habits, and makes the mind dissatisfied with the more sober duties of life."
"I am too young for the sober duties of life," said Jane, rather pertly.
"That is, doubtless, one of your friend Mary's sentiments; and it is worthy of her."
This was true, and Jane did not deny it.
"Go now," said Mrs. Leland, with much sobriety of manner. "But remember that I disapprove of this gadding about, and object to its continuance. I should be very sorry to have your father know to what extent you are carrying it."
Jane went out and called for Mary, and the two young ladies made a few calls, and then walked the streets until dinner time; not, however, alone, but accompanied by a dashing young fellow, who had been introduced to Mary a few evenings before, and now made bold to follow up the acquaintance, encouraged by a glance from the young lady's bright, inviting eyes.
Mrs. Leland, in the mean time, felt unhappy. Her daughter was changing, and the change troubled her. The intimacy formed with Mary Halloran, it was clear, was doing her no good, but harm. By this time, too, she had noticed some things in the mother that were by no means to her taste. There was a coarseness, vulgarity and want of delicacy about her, that showed itself more and more every day, traits of character particularly offensive to Mrs. Leland, who was a woman of refined sentiments. Besides, Mrs. Halloran's conversation involved topics neither interesting nor instructing to her neighbors; and often of a decidedly objectionable kind. In fact, she liked her less and less every day, and felt her too frequently repeated visits as an annoyance; and though "Why don't you come in to see me oftener?" was repeated almost daily, she did not return more than one out of every half dozen calls she received.
"I've seen Jane in the street with that Mary Halloran no less than three times this week," said Mr. Leland, one day, "and on two of these occasions there was a beau accompanying each of the young ladies."
"She goes out too often, I know," returned Mrs. Leland seriously. "I have objected to it several times, but the girl's head seems turned with that Mary Halloran. I do wish she had never known her."
"So do I, from my heart. We knew what she was, and never should have permitted Jane to make her acquaintance, if it had been in our power to prevent it."
"It is too late now, and can't be helped."
"Too late to prevent the acquaintance, but not too late to prevent some of the evil consequences likely to grow out of such an improper intimacy, which must cease from the present time."
"It will be a difficult matter to break it off now."
"No matter how difficult it may be, it must be done. The first step toward it you will have to make, in being less intimate with the mother, whom I like less and less the oftener I meet her."
"That step, so far as I am concerned, has already been taken. I have ceased visiting Mrs. Halloran almost entirely; but she is here just as often, and sadly annoys me. I dislike her more and more every day."
"If I saw as much in any one to object to as you see in Mrs. Halloran, I would soon make visiting a thing by no means agreeable. You can easily get rid of her intrusive familiarity if you think proper."
"Yes, by offending her, and getting the ill-will of a low-minded unprincipled woman; a thing that no one wants."
"Better offend her than suffer, as we are likely to suffer, from a continuance of the acquaintance. Offend the mother, I say, and thus you get rid of the daughter."
But Mrs. Leland was not prepared for this step, yet. From having been fascinated by Mrs. Halloran, she now began to fear her.
"I should not like to have her talk of me as she talks of some people whom I think a great deal better than she is."
"Let her talk. What she says will be no scandal," returned Mr. Leland.
"Even admit that, I don't want to be on bad terms with a neighbor. If she were to remove from the neighborhood, the thing would assume a different aspect. As it is, I cannot do as I please."
"Can't you indeed? Then I think we had better move forthwith, in order that you may be free to act right. There is one thing that I intend doing, immediately, in any event, and that is, to forbid Jane from associating any longer with Mary Halloran."
"She cannot help herself. Mary calls for her every day."
"She can help going out with her and returning her calls; and this she must do."
"I wish it could be prevented. But I am afraid of harsh measures."
"I am more afraid of the consequences to our daughter. We know not into what company this indiscreet young lady may introduce, nor how deeply she may corrupt her. Our duty to our child requires us at once to break up all intercourse with the family."
The necessity Mrs. Leland saw clearly enough, but she hesitated. Her husband, however, was not a man to hold back when his duty was before him. Neither fear nor favor governed him in his actions toward others. When satisfied that a thing ought to be done, he entered fearlessly upon the work, leaving consequences to take care of themselves.
While they were yet conversing Jane came to the door, accompanied by a young gallant. Mr. Leland happened to be sitting near the window and saw him.
"Bless my heart!" he said, in an excited voice.
"Here she is now, in company with that good-for-nothing son of Mr. Clement. She might almost as well associate with Satan himself."
"With John Clement?" asked Mrs. Leland, in surprise.
"It is too true; and the fellow had the assurance to kiss his hand to her. This matter has gone quite far enough now, in all conscience, and must be stopped, if half the world become offended."
Mrs. Leland doubted and hesitated no longer. The young man who had come home with Jane bore a notoriously bad character. It was little less than disgrace, in the eyes of virtuous people, for a lady to be seen in the street with him. Mr. and Mrs. Leland were shocked and distressed at the appearance of things; and mutually resolved that all intercourse with Mrs. Halloran and her daughter should cease. This could not be effected without giving offence; but no matter, offence would have to be given.
On that very afternoon Mrs. Halloran called in. But Mrs. Leland sent her word that she was engaged.
"Engaged, indeed!" said the lady to the servant, tossing her head. "I'm never engaged to a neighbor."
The servant repeated the words.
"Be engaged again, if she calls," said Mr. Leland, when his wife mentioned the remark of her visitor. "It will raise an effectual barrier between you."
Some serious conversation was had with Jane that day by her mother, but Jane was by no means submissive.
"Your father positively forbids any farther intimacy between you and Mary Halloran. I shall have nothing more to do with her mother."
Jane met this declaration with a passionate gush of tears, and an intimation that she was not prepared to sacrifice the friendship of Mary, whom she believed to be quite as good as herself.
"It must be done, Jane. Your father has the best of reasons for desiring it, and I hope you will not think for a moment of opposing his wishes."
"He doesn't know Mary as I know her. His prejudices have no foundation in truth," said Jane.
"No matter how pure she may be," replied the mother, "she has already introduced you into bad company. A virtuous young lady should blush to be seen in the street with the man who came home with you to-day."
"Who, Mr. Clement?" inquired Jane.
"Yes, John Clement. His bad conduct is so notorious as to exclude him entirely from the families of many persons, who have the independence to mark with just reprehension his evil deeds. It grieves me to think that you were not instinctively repelled by him the moment he approached you."
Jane's manner changed at these words. But the change did not clearly indicate to her mother what was passing in her mind. From that moment she met with silence nearly every thing that her mother said.
Early on the next day Mary Halloran called for Jane, as she was regularly in the habit of doing. Mrs. Leland purposely met her at the door, and when she inquired for Jane, asked her, with an air of cold politeness, to excuse her daughter, as she was engaged.
"Not engaged to me," said Mary, evincing surprise.
"You must excuse her, Miss Halloran; she is engaged this morning," returned the mother, with as much distance and formality as at first.
Mary Halloran turned away, evidently offended.
"Ah me!" sighed Mrs. Leland, as she closed the door upon the giddy young girl; "how much trouble has my indiscreetness cost me. My husband was right, and I felt that he was right; but, in the face of his better judgment, I sought the acquaintance of this woman, and now, where the consequences are to end, heaven only knows."
"Was that Mary Halloran?" inquired Jane, who came down stairs as her mother returned along the passage.
"It was," replied the mother.
"Why did she go away?"
"I told her you were engaged."
"Why, mother!" Jane seemed greatly disturbed.
"It is your father's wish as well as mine," said Mrs. Leland calmly, "that all intercourse between you and this young lady cease, and for reasons that I have tried to explain to you. She is one whose company you cannot keep without injury."
Jane answered with tears, and retired to her chamber, where she wrote a long and tender letter to Mary, explaining her position. This letter she got the chambermaid to deliver, and bribed her to secrecy. Mary replied, in an epistle full of sympathy for her unhappy condition, and full of indignation at the harsh judgment of her parents in regard to herself. The letter contained various suggestions in regard to the manner in which Jane ought to conduct herself, none of them at all favorable to submission and concluded with warm attestations of friendship.
From that time an active correspondence took place between the young ladies, and occasional meetings at times when the parents of Jane supposed her to be at the houses of some of their friends.
As for Mrs. Halloran, she was seriously offended at the sudden repulse both she and her daughter had met, and spared no pains, and let no opportunity go unimproved, for saying hard things of Mrs. Leland and her family. Even while Mary was carrying on a tender and confidential correspondence with Jane, she was hinting disreputable things against the thoughtless girl, and doing her a serious injury.
The first intimation that the parents had of any thing being wrong, was the fact that two very estimable ladies, for whom they had a high respect, and with whose daughters Jane was on terms of intimacy, twice gave Jane the same answer that Mrs. Leland had given Mary Halloran; thus virtually saying to her that they did not wish her to visit their daughters. Both Mr. and Mrs. Leland, when Jane mentioned these occurrences, left troubled. Not long after, a large party was given by one of the ladies, but no invitations were sent to either Mr. or Mrs. Leland, or their daughter. This was felt to be an intended omission.
After long and serious reflection on the subject, Mrs. Leland felt it to be her duty, as a parent, to see this lady, and frankly ask the reason of her conduct towards Jane, as well as toward her and her husband. She felt called upon to do this, in order to ascertain if there were not some things injurious to her daughter in common report. The lady seemed embarrassed on meeting Mrs. Leland, but the latter, without any excitement, or the appearance of being in the least offended, spoke of what had occurred, and then said--
"Now, there must be a reason for this. Will you honestly tell me what it is?"
The lady seemed confused and hesitated.
"Do not fear to speak plainly, my dear madam. Tell me the whole truth. There is something wrong, and I ought to know it. Put yourself in my place, and you will not long hesitate what to do."
"It is a delicate and painful subject for me to speak of to you, Mrs. Leland."
"No matter. Speak out without disguise."
After some reflection, the lady said--
"I have daughters, and am tremblingly alive to their good. I feel it to be my duty to protect them from all associations likely to do them an injury. Am I not right in this?"
"There is one young man in this city whose very name should shock the ear of innocence and purity. I mean Clement."
"You cannot think worse of him than I do."
"And yet, I am told, Mrs. Leland, that your daughter may be seen on the street with him almost every day; and not only on the streeet, but at balls, concerts, and the theatre."
"Who says so?"
"I have heard it from several," replied the lady, speaking slower and more thoughtfully. "Mrs. Halloran mentioned it to the person who first told me; and, since then, I have frequently heard it spoken of."
In answer to this, Mrs. Leland related the whole history of her intercourse with Mrs. Halloran, and the cause of its interruption. She then said--
"Once, only, are we aware of our daughter's having met this young man. Since then, she has gone out but rarely, and has not been from home a single evening, unless in our company; so that the broad charge of association with Clement is unfounded, and has had its origin in a malignant spirit."
"I understand it all, now, clearly," replied the lady. "Mrs. Halloran is a woman of no principle. You have deeply offended her, and she takes this method of being revenged."
"That is the simple truth. I was urged by my husband not to call upon her when she moved in our square, but I felt it to be only right to visit her as a neighbor."
"A woman like Mrs. Halloran is not to be regarded as a neighbor," replied the lady.
"So my husband argued, but I was blind enough to think differently, and to act as I thought. Dearly enough am I paying for my folly. Where the consequences will end is more than I can tell."
"We may be able to counteract them to a certain extent," said the lady. "Understanding as I now do, clearly, your position toward Mrs. Halloran, I will be able to neutralize a great deal that she says. But I am afraid your daughter is misleading you in some things, and giving color to what is said of her."
"How so?" asked Mrs. Leland in surprise.
"Was she out yesterday?"
"Yes. She went to see her cousins in the morning."
"One of my daughters says she met her in the street, in company with the very individual of whom we are speaking."
"My daughter says she is not mistaken," returned the lady.
Mrs. Leland's distress of mind, as to this intelligence, may be imagined. On returning home, she found that Jane had gone out during her absence. She went up into her daughter's room, and found a note addressed to Jane lying upon her table. After some reflection, she felt it to be her duty to open the note, which she did. It was from Mary Halloran, and in these words:--
"MY SWEET FRIEND,--I saw Mr. Clement last night at the opera. He had a great deal to say about you, and uttered many flattering compliments on your beauty. He says that he would like to meet you to-morrow evening, and will be at the corner of Eighth and Pine streets at half past seven o'clock. Can you get away at that time, without exciting suspicion? If you can, don't fail to meet him, as he is very desirous that you should do so. I was delighted with the opera, and wished a hundred times that you were with me to enjoy it.
Mrs. Leland clasped her hands together, and leaned forward upon the bureau near which she had been standing, scarcely able to sustain her own weight. It was many minutes before she could think clearly. After much reflection, she thought it best not to say anything to Jane about the note. This course was approved by Mr. Leland, who believed with his wife, that it was better that Jane should be kept in ignorance of its contents, at least until the time mentioned for her joining Clement had passed. Both the parents were deeply troubled; and bitterly did Mrs. Leland repent her folly in making the acquaintance of their new neighbor, simply because she was a neighbor according to proximity.
It was after seven o'clock when the tea bell rang that evening. Mr. and Mrs. Leland descended to the dining-room, and took their places at the table.
"Where is Jane?" asked Mrs. Leland, after they had been seated a few moments.
"She went out five or ten minutes ago," replied the waiter.
Both the mother and father started, with exclamations of surprise and alarm, from the table. Mr. Leland seized his hat and cane, and rushing from the house, ran at full speed toward the place which Clement had appointed for a meeting with his daughter. He arrived in time to see a lady hastily enter a carriage, followed by a man. The carriage drove off rapidly. A cab was passing near him at the time, to the driver of which he called in an excited voice.
"Do you see that carriage?" Mr. Leland said eagerly, as the man reined up his horse. "Keep within sight of it until it stops, and I will give you ten dollars."
"Jump in," returned the driver. "I'll keep in sight."
For nearly a quarter of an hour the wheels of the cab rattled in the ears of Mr. Leland. It then stopped, and the anxious father sprang out upon the pavement. The carriage had drawn up a little in advance, and a lady was descending from it, assisted by a man. Mr. Leland knew the form of his daughter. Ere the young lady and her attendant could cross the pavement, he had confronted them. Angry beyond the power of control, he seized the arm of Jane with one hand, and, as he drew away from her companion, knocked him down with a tremendous blow from the cane which he held in the other. Then dragging, or rather carrying, his frightened daughter to the cab, thrust her in, and, as he followed after, gave the driver the direction of his house, and ordered him to go there at the quickest speed. Jane either was, or affected to be, unconscious, when she arrived at home.
Two days after, this paragraph appeared in one of the daily papers.
"SAVED FROM THE BRINK OF RUIN.--A young man of notoriously bad character, yet connected with one of our first families, recently attempted to draw aside from virtue an innocent but thoughtless and unsuspecting girl, the daughter of a respectable citizen. He appointed a meeting with her in the street at night, and she was mad enough to join him at the hour mentioned. Fortunately it happened that the father, by some means, received intelligence of what was going on, and hurried to the place. He arrived in time to see them enter a carriage and drive off. He followed in another carriage, and when they stopped before a house, well known to be one of evil repute, he confronted them on the pavement, knocked the young villain down, and carried his daughter off home. We forbear to mention names, as it would do harm, rather than good, the young lady being innocent of any evil intent, and unsuspicious of wrong in her companion. We hope it will prove a lesson that she will never forget. She made a most fortunate escape."
When Jane Leland was shown this paragraph, she shuddered and turned pale; and the shudder went deeper, and her cheek became still paler, a few weeks later when the sad intelligence came that Mary Halloran had fallen into the same snare that had been laid for her feet; a willing victim too many believed, for she was not ignorant of Clement's real character.
By sad experience Mrs. Leland was taught the folly of any weak departure from what is clearly seen to be a right course of action; and she understood, better than she had ever done before, the oft-repeated remark of her husband that "only those whose principles and conduct we approve are to be considered, in any true sense, neighbors."