Chapter XI.

And here I will digress a moment to make a single remark on a subject of which popular feeling, in America, under the influence of popular habits, is apt to take an exparte view. Accomplishments are derided as useless, in comparison with what is considered household virtues. The accomplishment of a cook is to make good dishes; of a seamstress to sew well, and of a lady to possess refined tastes, a cultivated mind, and agreeable and intellectual habits. The real virtues of all are the same, though subject to laws peculiar to their station; but it is a very different thing when we come to the mere accomplishments. To deride all the refined attainments of human skill denotes ignorance of the means of human happiness, nor is it any evidence of acquaintance with the intricate machinery of social greatness and a lofty civilization. These gradations in attainments are inseparable from civilized society, and if the skill of the ingenious and laborious is indispensable to a solid foundation, without the tastes and habits of the refined and cultivated, it never can be graceful or pleasing.

{ exparte = should be ex parte — one-sided (Latin)}

Eudosia had some indistinct glimmerings of this fact, though it was not often that she came to sound and discriminating decisions even in matters less complicated. In the present instance she saw this truth only by halves, and that, too, in its most commonplace aspect, as will appear by the remark she made on the occasion.

“Then, Clara, as to the price I have paid for this handkerchief,” she said, “you ought to remember what the laws of political economy lay down on such subjects. I suppose your Pa makes you study political economy, my dear?”

“Indeed he does not. I hardly know what it means.”

“Well, that is singular; for Pa says, in this age of the world, it is the only way to be rich. Now, it is by means of a trade in lots, and political economy, generally, that he has succeeded so wonderfully; for, to own the truth to you, Clara, Pa hasn’t always been rich.”

“No?” answered Clara, with a half-suppressed smile, she knowing the fact already perfectly well.

“Oh, no — far from it — but we don’t speak of this publicly, it being a sort of disgrace in New York, you know, not to be thought worth at least half a million. I dare say your Pa is worth as much as that?”

“I have not the least idea he is worth a fourth of it, though I do not pretend to know. To me half a million of dollars seems a great deal of money, and I know my father considers himself poor — poor, at least, for one of his station. But what were you about to say of political economy? I am curious to hear how that can have any thing to do with your handkerchief.”

“Why, my dear, in this manner. You know a distribution of labor is the source of all civilization — that trade is an exchange of equivalents — that custom-houses fetter these equivalents — that nothing which is fettered is free — ”

“My dear Eudosia, what is your tongue running on?”

“You will not deny, Clara, that any thing which is fettered is not free? And that freedom is the greatest blessing of this happy country; and that trade ought to be as free as any thing else?”

All this was gibberish to Clara Caverly, who understood the phrases, notwithstanding, quite as well as the friend who was using them. Political economy is especially a science of terms; and free trade, as a branch of it is called, is just the portion of it which is indebted to them the most. But Clara had not patience to hear any more of the unintelligible jargon which has got possession of the world to-day, much as Mr. Pitt’s celebrated sinking-fund scheme for paying off the national debt of Great Britain did, half a century since, and under very much the same influences; and she desired her friend to come at once to the point, as connected with the pocket-handkerchief.

{Mr. Pitt’s celebrated sinking-fund = Sir William Pitt “the younger” (1759-1806), when he became Prime Minister in 1784, sought to raise taxes in order to pay off the British national debt}

“Well, then,” resumed Eudosia, “it is connected in this way. The luxuries of the rich give employment to the poor, and cause money to circulate. Now this handkerchief of mine, no doubt, has given employment to some poor French girl for four or five months, and, of course, food and raiment. She has earned, no doubt, fifty of the hundred dollars I have paid. Then the custom-house — ah, Clara, if it were not for that vile custom-house, I might have had the handkerchief for at least five-and-twenty dollars lower — !”

“In which case you would have prized it five-and-twenty times less,” answered Clara, smiling archly.

That is true; yes, free trade, after all, does not apply to pocket-handkerchiefs.”

“And yet,” interrupted Clara, laughing, “if one can believe what one reads, it applies to hackney-coaches, ferry-boats, doctors, lawyers, and even the clergy. My father says it is — “

“What? I am curious to know, Clara, what as plain speaking a man as Mr. Caverly calls it.”

“He is plain speaking enough to call it a------ humbug,” said the daughter, endeavoring to mouth the word in a theatrical manner. “But, as Othello says, the handkerchief.”

{Othello says ... = “Fetch me the handkerchief,” Shakespeare, Othello, Act III, Scene 4, line 98}

“Oh! Fifty dollars go to the poor girl who does the work, twenty-five more to the odious custom-house, some fifteen to rent, fuel, lights, and ten, perhaps, to Mr. Bobbinet, as profits. Now all this is very good, and very useful to society, as you must own.”

Alas, poor Adrienne! Thou didst not receive for me as many francs as this fair calculation gave thee dollars; and richer wouldst thou have been, and, oh, how much happier, hadst thou kept the money paid for me, sold the lace even at a loss, and spared thyself so many, many hours of painful and anxious toil! But it is thus with human calculations, The propositions seem plausible, and the reasoning fair, while stern truth lies behind all to level the pride of understanding, and prove the fallacy of the wisdom of men. The reader may wish to see how closely Eudosia’s account of profit and loss came to the fact, and I shall, consequently, make up the statement from the private books of the firm that had the honor of once owning me, viz.:

Super-extraordinary Pocket-handkerchief, &c., in account with Bobbinet & Co.

DR. To money paid, first cost, francs 100, at 5.25, — $19.04 To interest on same for ninety days, at 7 per cent., — 00.33 To portion of passage money, — 00.04 To porterage, — 00.00 1/4 To washing and making up, — 00.25 — ------------ $19 66 1/4

CR. By cash paid by Miss Thimble, — $1.00 By cash paid for article, — 100.00 By washerwoman’s deduction, — 00.05 — ------------ 101.05 — ------------ By profit, — $81.39 3/4

As Clara Caverly had yet to see Mrs. Thoughtful, and pay Eudosia’s subscription, the former now took her leave. I was thus left alone with my new employer, for the first time, and had an opportunity of learning something of her true character, without the interposition of third persons; for, let a friend have what hold he or she may on your heart, it has a few secrets that are strictly its own. If admiration of myself could win my favor, I had every reason to be satisfied with the hands into which fortune had now thrown me. There were many things to admire in Eudosia — a defective education being the great evil with which she had to contend. Owing to this education, if it really deserved such a name, she had superficial accomplishments, superficially acquired — principles that scarce extended beyond the retenue and morals of her sex — tastes that had been imbibed from questionable models — and hopes that proceeded from a false estimate of the very false position into which she had been accidentally and suddenly thrown. Still Eudosia had a heart. She could scarcely be a woman, and escape the influence of this portion of the female frame. By means of the mesmeritic power of a pocket-handkerchief, I soon discovered that there was a certain Morgan Morely in New York, to whom she longed to exhibit my perfection, as second to the wish to exhibit her own.

{ retenue = discretion}

I scarcely know whether to felicitate myself or not, on the circumstance that I was brought out the very first evening I passed in the possession of Eudosia Halfacre. The beautiful girl was dressed and ready for Mrs. Trotter’s ball by eight; and her admiring mother thought it impossible for the heart of Morgan Morely, a reputed six figure fortune, to hold out any longer. By some accident or other, Mr. Halfacre did not appear — he had not dined at home; and the two females had all the joys of anticipation to themselves.

“I wonder what has become of your father,” said Mrs. Halfacre, after inquiring for her husband for the tenth time. “It is so like him to forget an engagement to a ball. I believe he thinks of nothing but his lots. It is really a great trial, Dosie, to be so rich. I sometimes wish we weren’t worth more than a million, for, after all, I suspect true happiness is to be found in these little fortunes. Heigho! It’s ten o’clock, and we must go, if we mean to be there at all; for Mrs. Caverly once said, in my presence, that she thought it as vulgar to be too late, as too early.”

The carriage was ordered, and we all three got in, leaving a message for Mr. Halfacre to follow us. As the rumor that a “three-figure” pocket-handkerchief was to be at the ball, had preceded my appearance, a general buzz announced my arrival in the sallé à manger-salons. I have no intention of describing fashionable society in the GREAT EMPORIUM of the western world. Every body understands that it is on the best possible footing — grace, ease, high breeding and common sense being so blended together, that it is exceedingly difficult to analyze them, or, indeed, to tell which is which. It is this moral fusion that renders the whole perfect, as the harmony of fine coloring throws a glow of glory on the pictures of Claude, or, for that matter, on those of Cole, too. Still, as envious and evil disposed persons have dared to call in question the elegance, and more especially the retenue of a Manhattanese rout, I feel myself impelled, if not by that high sentiment, patriotism, at least by a feeling of gratitude for the great consideration that is attached to pocket-handkerchiefs, just to declare that it is all scandal. If I have any fault to find with New York society, it is on account of its formal and almost priggish quiet — the female voice being usually quite lost in it — thus leaving a void in the ear, not to say the heart, that is painful to endure. Could a few young ladies, too, be persuaded to become a little more prominent, and quit their mother’s apron-strings, it would add vastly to the grouping, and relieve the stiffness of the “shin-pieces” of formal rows of dark-looking men, and of the flounces of pretty women. These two slight faults repaired, New York society might rival that of Paris; especially in the Chausse d’Autin. More than this I do not wish to say, and less than this I cannot in honor write, for I have made some of the warmest and truest-hearted friends in New York that it ever fell to the lot of a pocket-handkerchief to enjoy.

{ sallé à manger-salons = should be salle — dining room-parlors; GREAT EMPORIUM [capitals in original] = New York City; Claude = Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), French landscape painter; Cole = Thomas Cole (1801-1848), American landscape painter; rout = evening party; Chausse d’Autin = Chaussée d’Antin, a fashionable Parisian street and neighborhood}

It has been said that my arrival produced a general buzz. In less than a minute Eudosia had made her curtsy, and was surrounded, in a corner, by a bevy of young friends, all silent together, and all dying to see me. To deny the deep gratification I felt at the encomiums I received, would be hypocrisy. They went from my borders to my centre — from the lace to the hem — and from the hem to the minutest fibre of my exquisite texture. In a word, I was the first hundred-dollar pocket-handkerchief that had then appeared in their circles; and had I been a Polish count, with two sets of moustaches, I could not have been more flattered and “entertained.” My fame soon spread through the rooms, as two little apartments, with a door between them that made each an alcove of the other, were called; and even the men, the young ones in particular, began to take an interest in me. This latter interest, it is true, did not descend to the minutiae of trimmings and work, or even of fineness, but the “three figure” had a surprising effect. An elderly lady sent to borrow me for a moment. It was a queer thing to borrow a pocket-handkerchief, some will think; but I was lent to twenty people that night; and while in her hands, I overheard the following little aside, between two young fashionables, who were quite unconscious of the acuteness of the senses of our family.

“This must be a rich old chap, this Halfacre, to be able to give his daughter a hundred-dollar pocket-handkerchief, Tom; one might do well to get introduced.”

“If you’ll take my advice, Ned, you’ll keep where you are,” was the answer. “You’ve been to the surrogate’s office, and have seen the will of old Simonds, and know that he has left his daughter seventy-eight thousand dollars; and, after all, this pocket-handkerchief may be only a sign. I always distrust people who throw out such lures.”

“Oh, rely on it, there is no sham here; Charley Pray told me of this girl last week, when no one had ever heard of her pocket-handkerchief.”

“Why don’t Charley, then, take her himself? I’m sure, if I had his imperial, I could pick and choose among all the second-class heiresses in town.”

{imperial = wealth (from a Russian gold coin)}

“Ay, there’s the rub, Tom; one is obliged in our business to put up with the second class. Why can’t we aim higher at once, and get such girls as the Burtons, for instance?”

“The Burtons have, or have had, a mother.”

“And haven’t all girls mothers? Who ever heard of a man or a woman without a mother!”

“True, physically; but I mean morally. Now this very Eudosia Halfacre has no more mother, in the last sense, than you have a wet-nurse. She has an old woman to help her make a fool of herself; but, in the way of a mother, she would be better off with a pair of good gum-shoes. A creature that is just to tell a girl not to wet her feet, and when to cloak and uncloak, and to help tear the check-book out of money, is no more of a mother than old Simonds was of a Solomon, when he made that will which every one of us knows by heart quite as well as he knows the constitution.”

Here a buzz in the room drew the two young men a little aside, and for a minute I heard nothing but indistinct phrases, in which “removal of deposites,” “panic,” “General Jackson,” and “revolution,” were the only words I could fairly understand. Presently, however, the young men dropped back into their former position, and the dialogue proceeded.

{General Jackson ... = President Andrew Jackson in 1833 withdrew the federal government deposits from the Bank of the United States, leading to a major financial panic}

“There!” exclaimed Ned, in a voice louder than was prudent, “that is what I call an escape! That cursed handkerchief was very near taking me in. I call it swindling to make such false pretensions.”

“It might be very awkward with one who was not properly on his guard; but with the right sort there is very little danger.”

Here the two elégants led out a couple of heiresses to dance; and I heard no more of them or of their escapes. Lest the reader, however, should be misled, I wish to add, that these two worthies are not to be taken as specimens of New York morality at all — no place on earth being more free from fortune-hunters, or of a higher tone of social morals in this delicate particular. As I am writing for American readers, I wish to say, that all they are told of the vices of old countries, on the other side of the Atlantic, is strictly true; while all that is said, directly, implication, of the vices and faults of this happy young country, is just so much calumny. The many excellent friends I have made, since my arrival in this hemisphere, has bound my heart to them to all eternity; and I will now proceed with my philosophical and profound disquisitions on what I have seen, with a perfect confidence that I shall receive credit, and an independence of opinion that is much too dear to me to consent to place it in question. But to return to facts.

{ elégants = should be élégants — dandies}

I was restored to Eudosia, with a cold, reserved look, by a lady into whose hands I had passed, that struck me as singular, as shown to the owner of such an article. It was not long, however, before I discovered, to use a homely phrase, that something had happened; and I was not altogether without curiosity to know what that something was. It was apparent enough, that Eudosia was the subject of general observation, and of general conversation, though, so long as she held me in her hand, it exceeded all my acuteness of hearing to learn what was said. The poor girl fancied her pocket-handkerchief was the common theme; and in this she was not far from right, though it was in a way she little suspected. At length Clara Caverly drew near, and borrowed me of her friend, under a pretext of showing me to her mother, who was in the room, though, in fact, it was merely to get me out of sight; for Clara was much too well-bred to render any part of another’s dress the subject of her discussions in general society. As if impatient to get me out of sight, I was thrown on a sofa, among a little pile of conœsœurs, (if there is such a word,) for a gathering had been made, while our pretty hostesses were dancing, in order to compare our beauty. There we lay quite an hour, a congress of pocket-handkerchiefs, making our comments on the company, and gossiping in our own fashion. It was only the next day that I discovered the reason we were thus neglected; for, to own the truth, something had occurred which suddenly brought “three-figure,” and even “two-figure” people of our class into temporary disrepute. I shall explain that reason at the proper moment.

{ consœœurs = fellow sisters}

The conversation among the handkerchiefs on the sofa, ran principally on the subject of our comparative market value. I soon discovered that there was a good deal of envy against me, on account of my “three figures,” although, I confess, I thought I cut a “poor figure,” lying as I did, neglected in a corner, on the very first evening of my appearance in the fashionable world. But some of the opinions uttered on this occasion — always in the mesmeritic manner, be it remembered — will be seen in the following dialogue.

“Well!” exclaimed $25, “this is the first ball I have been at that I was not thought good enough to have a place in the quadrille. You see all the canaille are in the hands of their owners, while we, the elite of pocket-handkerchiefs, are left here in a corner, like so many cloaks.”

{canaille = riff-raff}

“There must be a reason for this, certainly,” answered $45, “though you have been flourished about these two winters, in a way that ought to satisfy one of YOUR pretensions.”

An animated reply was about to set us all in commotion, when $80, who, next to myself, had the highest claims of any in the party, changed the current of feeling, by remarking —

“It is no secret that we are out of favor for a night or two, in consequence of three figures having been paid for one of us, this very day, by a bossess, whose father stopped payment within three hours after he signed the cheque that was to pay the importer. I overheard the whole story, half an hour since, and thus, you see, every one is afraid to be seen with an aristocratic handkerchief, just at this moment. But — bless you! in a day or two all will be forgotten, and we shall come more into favor than ever. All is always forgotten in New York in a week.”

Such was, indeed, the truth. One General Jackson had “removed the deposits,” as I afterwards learned, though I never could understand exactly what that meant; but, it suddenly made money scarce, more especially with those who had none; and every body that was “extended” began to quake in their shoes. Mr. Halfacre happened to be in this awkward predicament, and he broke down in the effort to sustain himself. His energy had over-reached itself, like the tumbler who breaks his neck in throwing seventeen hundred somersets backwards.