Chapter IX.

I might have been a fortnight in the shop, when I heard a voice as gentle and lady-like as that of Adrienne, inquiring for pocket-handkerchiefs. My heart fairly beat for joy; for, to own the truth, I was getting to be wearied to death with the garrulous folly of my companions. They had so much of the couturières about them! not one of the whole party ever having been a regular employee in genteel life. Their niaisiries were endless, and there was just as much of the low bred anticipation as to their future purchases, as one sees at the balls of the Champs Elysée on the subject of partners. The word “pocket-handkerchief,” and that so sweetly pronounced, drew open our drawer, as it might be, instinctively. Two or three dozen of us, all of exquisite fineness, were laid upon the counter, myself and two or three more of the better class being kept a little in the back ground, as a skillful general holds his best troops in reserve.

{ couturiéres = dress makers; niaisiries = should read niaiseries, French for silliness}

The customers were sisters; that was visible at a glance. Both were pretty, almost beautiful — and there was an air of simplicity about their dress, a quiet and unobtrusive dignity in their manners, which at once announced them to be real ladies. Even the tones of their voices were polished, a circumstance that I think one is a little apt to notice in New York. I discovered, in the course of the conversation, that they were the daughters of a gentleman of very large estate, and belonged to the true élite of the country. The manner in which the clerks received them, indeed, proclaimed this; for, though their other claims might not have so promptly extracted this homage, their known wealth would.

Mr. Bobbinet attended these customers in person. Practiced in all that portion of human knowledge which appertains to a salesman, he let the sweet girls select two or three dozen handkerchiefs of great beauty, but totally without ornament, and even pay for them, before he said a word on the subject of the claims of his reserved corps. When he thought the proper moment had arrived, however, one of the least decorated of our party was offered to the consideration of the young ladies. The sisters were named Anne and Maria, and I could see by the pleasure that beamed in the soft blue eyes of the former, that she was quite enchanted with the beauty of the article laid before her so unexpectedly. I believe it is in female “human nature” to admire every thing that is graceful and handsome, and especially when it takes the form of needle-work. The sweet girls praised handkerchief after handkerchief, until I was laid before them, when their pleasure extracted exclamations of delight. All was done so quietly, however, and in so lady-like a manner, that the attention of no person in the shop was drawn to them by this natural indulgence of surprise. Still I observed that neither of the young lades inquired the prices, these being considerations that had no influence on the intrinsic value, in their eyes; while the circumstance caused my heart to sink within me, as it clearly proved they did not intend to purchase, and I longed to become the property of the gentle, serene-eyed Anne. After thanking Mr. Bobbinet for the trouble he had taken, they ordered their purchases sent home, and were about to quit the shop.

“Can’t I persuade you to take this?” demanded Bobbinet, as they were turning away. There is not its equal in America. Indeed, one of the house, our Colonel Silky, who has just returned from Paris, says it was worked expressly for the dauphine, who was prevented from getting it by the late revolution.”

“It is a pity so much lace and such exquisite work should be put on a pocket-handkerchief,” said Anne, almost involuntarily. “I fear if they were on something more suitable, I might buy them.”

A smile, a slight blush, and curtsy, concluded the interview; and the young ladies hastily left the shop. Mr. Bobbinet was disappointed, as, indeed, was Col. Silky, who was present, en amateur; but the matter could not be helped, as these were customers who acted and thought for themselves, and all the oily persuasion of shop-eloquence could not influence them.

{ en amateur = in the guise of a connoisseur}

“It is quite surprising, colonel,” observed Mr. Bobbinet, when his customers were properly out of hearing, “that these young ladies should let such an article slip through their fingers. Their father is one of the richest men we have; and yet they never even asked the price.”

“I fancy it was not so much the price that held ‘em back,” observed the colonel, in his elegant way, as something else. There are a sort of customers that don’t buy promiscuously; they do every thing by rule. They don’t believe that a nightcap is intended for a bed-quilt.”

Bobbinet & Co. did not exactly understand his more sophisticated partner; but before he had time to ask an explanation, the appearance of another customer caused his face to brighten, and changed the current of his thoughts. The person who now entered was an exceedingly brilliant looking girl of twenty, dressed in the height of fashion, and extremely well, though a severe critic might have thought she was over dressed for the streets, still she had alighted from a carriage. Her face was decidedly handsome, and her person exquisitely proportioned. As a whole, I had scarcely ever seen a young creature that could lay claim to more of the loveliness of her sex. Both the young ladies who had just left us were pleasing and pretty; and to own the truth, there was an air of modest refinement about them, that was not so apparent in this new visiter; but the dazzling appearance of the latter, at first, blinded me to her faults, and I saw nothing but her perfection. The interest manifested by the master — I beg his pardon, the boss of the store — and the agitation among the clerks, very plainly proved that much was expected from the visit of this young lady, who was addressed, with a certain air of shop-familiarity, as Miss Halfacre — a familiarity that showed she was an habituée of the place, and considered a good customer.

Luckily for the views of Bobbinet & Co., we were all still lying on the counter. This is deemed a fortunate circumstance in the contingencies of this species of trade, since it enables the dealer to offer his uncalled-for wares in the least suspicious and most natural manner. It was fortunate, also, that I lay at the bottom of the little pile — a climax being quite as essential in sustaining an extortionate price, as in terminating with due effect, a poem, a tragedy, or a romance.

“Good morning, Miss Halfacre,” said Mr. Bobbinet, bowing and smiling; if his face had been half as honest as it professed to be, it would have grinned. “I am glad you have come in at this moment, as we are about to put on sale some of the rarest articles, in the way of pocket-handkerchiefs, that have ever come to this market. The Misses Burton have just seen them, and they pronounce them the most beautiful articles of the sort they have ever seen; and I believe they have been over half the world.”

“And did they take any, Mr. Bobbinet? The Miss Burtons are thought to have taste.”

“They have not exactly purchased, but I believe each of them has a particular article in her eye. Here is one, ma’am, that is rather prettier than any you have yet seen in New York. The price is sixty dollars.”

The word sixty was emphasized in a way to show the importance that was attached to price — that being a test of more than common importance with the present customer. I sighed when I remembered that poor Adrienne had received but about ten dollars for me — an article worth so much more than that there exhibited.

“It is really very pretty, Mr. Bobbinet, very pretty, but Miss Monson bought one not quite as pretty, at Lace’s; and she payed sixty-five, if I am not mistaken.”

“I dare say; we have them at much higher prices. I showed you this only that you might see that our sixties are as handsome as Mr. Lace’s sixty- fives. What do you think of this?”

“That is a jewel! What is the price, Mr. Bobbinet?”

“Why, we will let you have it for seventy, though I do think it ought to bring five more.”

“Surely you do not abate on pocket-handkerchiefs! One doesn’t like to have such a thing too low.”

“Ah, I may as well come to the point at once with such a customer as yourself, Miss Halfacre; here is the article on which I pride myself. That article never was equalled in this market, and never will be.”

I cannot repeat half the exclamations of delight which escaped the fair Eudosia, when I first burst on her entranced eye. She turned me over and over, examined me with palpitating bosom, and once I thought she was about to kiss me; then, in a trembling voice, she demanded the price.

One hundred dollars, ma’am;” answered Bobbinet, solemnly. “Not a cent more, on my honor.”

“No, surely!” exclaimed Eudosia, with delight instead of alarm. “Not a hundred!”

One hundred, Miss Eudosia, to the last cent; then we scarcely make a living profit.”

“Why, Mr. Bobbinet, this is the highest priced handkerchief that was ever sold in New York.” This was said with a sort of rapture, the fair creature feeling all the advantage of having so good an opportunity of purchasing so dear an article.

“In America, ma’am. It is the highest priced handkerchief, by twenty dollars, that ever crossed the Atlantic. The celebrated Miss Jewel’s, of Boston, only cost seventy-nine.”

“Only! Oh, Mr. Bobbinet, I must have it. It is a perfect treasure!”

“Shall I send it, Miss Eudosia; or don’t you like to trust it out of your sight?”

“Not yet, sir. To own the truth, I have not so much money. I only came out to buy a few trifles, and brought but fifty dollars with me; and Pa insists on having no bills. I never knew any body as particular as Pa; but I will go instantly home and show him the importance of this purchase. You will not let the handkerchief be seen for one hour — only one hour — and then you shall hear from me.”

To this Bobbinet assented. The young lady tripped into her carriage, and was instantly whirled from the door. In precisely forty-three minutes, a maid entered, half out of breath, and laid a note on the counter. The latter contained Mr. Halfacre’s check for one hundred dollars, and a request from the fair Eudosia that I might be delivered to her messenger. Every thing was done as she had desired, and, in five minutes, I was going up Broadway as fast as Honor O’Flagherty’s (for such was the name of the messenger) little dumpy legs could carry me.