Chapter XIII.

When I found myself once more in the possession of Bobbinet & Co., I fancied that I might anticipate a long residence in their drawers, my freshness, as an article, having been somewhat tarnished by the appearance at Mrs. Trotter’s ball. In this I was mistaken, the next day bringing about a release, and a restoration to my proper place in society.

The very morning after I was again in the drawer, a female voice was heard asking for “worked French pocket-handkerchiefs.” As I clearly came within this category — alas, poor Adrienne! — in half a minute I found myself, along with fifty fellows or fellowesses, lying on the counter. The instant I heard the voice, I knew that the speaker was not “mamma,” but “my child,” and I now saw that she was fair. Julia Monson was not as brilliantly handsome as my late owner, but she had more feeling and refinement in the expression of her countenance. Still there was an uneasy worldly glancing of the eye, that denoted how much she lived out of herself, in the less favorable understanding of the term; an expression of countenance that I have had occasion to remark in most of those who think a very expensive handkerchief necessary to their happiness. It is, in fact, the natural indication that the mind dwells more on show than on substantial things, and a proof that the possessor of this quality is not content to rely altogether on the higher moral feelings and attainments for her claims to deference. In a word, it is some such trait as that which distinguishes the beautiful plumage of the peacock, from the motive that incites the bird to display his feathers.

In company with Miss Monson was another young lady of about her own age, and of a very similar appearance as to dress and station. Still, a first glance discovered an essential difference in character. This companion, who was addressed as Mary, and whose family name was Warren, had none of the uneasiness of demeanor that belonged to her friend, and obviously cared less what others thought of every thing she said or did. When the handkerchiefs were laid on the counter, Julia Monson seized on one with avidity, while Mary Warren regarded us all with a look of cold indifference, if not one of downright displeasure.

“What beauties!” exclaimed the first, the clerk at that moment quitting them to hand some gloves to another customer — “What delightful needle-work! Mary, do you purchase one to keep me in countenance, and I will purchase another. I know your mother gave you the money this very morning.”

“Not for that object, Julia. My dear mother little thinks I shall do any such thing.”

“And why not? A rich pocket-handkerchief is a stylish thing!”

“I question if style, as you call it, is just the thing for a young woman, under any circumstances; but, to confess the truth, I think a pocket-handkerchief that is to be looked at and which is not to be used, vulgar.”

“Not in Sir Walter Scott’s signification, my dear,” answered Julia laughing, “for it is not so very common. Every body cannot have a worked French pocket-handkerchief.”

{Sir Walter Scott = British novelist and poet (1771-1832), often compared with Cooper — I have not located his definition of “vulgar”}

“Sir Walter Scott’s definition of what is vulgar is open to criticism, I fancy. The word comes from the common mind, or common practices, beyond a question, but it now means what is common as opposed to what is cultivated and refined. It is an absurdity, too, to make a thing respectable because it is common. A fib is one of the commonest things in the world, and yet it is scarcely respectable.”

“Oh! Every one says you are a philosopher ess, Mary, and I ought to have expected some such answer. But a handkerchief I am determined to have, and it shall be the very handsomest I can find.”

“And the dearest? Well, you will have a very lady-like wardrobe with one pocket-handkerchief in it! I wonder you do not purchase a single shoe.”

“Because I have two feet,” replied Julia with spirit, though she laughed good-naturedly — “but here is the clerk, and he must not hear our quarrels. Have the goodness, sir, to show me the handsomest pocket-handkerchief in your shop.”

I was drawn from beneath the pile and laid before the bright black eyes of Julia, with an air of solemn dignity, by the young dealer in finery.

“That, ma’am,” he said, “is the very finest and most elegant article not only that we have, but which is to be found in America. It was brought out by ‘our Mr. Silky,’ the last voyage; he said Paris cannot produce its equal.”

“This is beautiful, sir, one must admit! What is the price?”

“Why, ma’am, we ought in justice to ourselves to have $120 for that article; but, to our regular customers I believe Mr. Bobbinet has determined to ask only $100.”

This sounded exceedingly liberal — to ask only $100 for that for which there was a sort of moral obligation to ask $120! — and Julia having come out with the intent to throw away a hundred-dollar note that her mother had given her that morning, the bargain was concluded. I was wrapped up carefully in paper, put into Miss Monson’s muff, and once more took my departure from the empire of Col. Silky. I no longer occupied a false position.

“Now, I hope you are happy, Julia,” quietly observed Mary Warren, as the two girls took their seats side by side in Mrs. Monson’s chariot. “The surprise to me is, that you forgot to purchase this ne plus ultra of elegance while in Paris last summer.”

{chariot = a light, four-wheeled carriage with only back seats; ne plus ultra = peak, ultimate}

“My father said he could not afford it; we spent a great deal of money, as you may suppose, in running about, seeing sights, and laying in curiosities, and when I hinted the matter to my mother, she said we must wait until another half year’s rents had come round. After all, Mary, there is one person at home to whom I shall be ashamed to show this purchase.”

“At home! — is there, indeed? Had you merely said ‘in town’ I could have understood you. Your father and mother approving of what you have done, I do not see who there is at home to alarm you.”

Julia blushed when her friend said “in town,” and her conscious feelings immediately conjured up the image of a certain Betts Shoreham, as the person in her companion’s mind’s eye. I detected it all easily enough, being actually within six inches of her throbbing heart at that very moment, though concealed in the muff.

“It is not what you suppose, Mary, nor whom you suppose,” answered my mistress; “I mean Mademoiselle Hennequin — I confess I do dread the glance of her reproving eye.”

“It is odd enough that you should dread reproval from the governess of your sisters when you do not dread it from your own mother! But Mademoiselle Hennequin has nothing to do with you. You were educated and out before she entered your family, and it is singular that a person not older than yourself, who was engaged in Paris so recently, should have obtained so much influence over the mind of one who never was her pupil.”

“I am not afraid of her in most things,” rejoined Julia, “but I confess I am in all that relates to taste; particularly in what relates to extravagance.”

“I have greatly misunderstood the character of Mademoiselle Hennequin if she ventured to interfere with you in either! A governess ought not to push her control beyond her proper duties.”

“Nor has Mademoiselle Hennequin,” answered Julia honestly. “Still I cannot but hear the lessons she gives my sisters, and — yes — to own the truth, I dread the glance she cannot avoid throwing on my purchase. It will say, ‘of what use are all my excellent lessons in taste and prudence, if an elder sister’s example is to counteract them?’ It is that I dread.”

Mary was silent for fully a minute; then she smiled archly, as girls will smile when certain thoughts cross their playful imaginations, and continued the discourse.

“And Betts Shoreham has nothing to do with all this dread?”

“What is Betts Shoreham to me, or what am I to Betts Shoreham? I am sure the circumstances that we happened to come from Europe in the same packet, and that he continues to visit us now we are at home, do not entitle him to have a veto, as they call it, on my wardrobe.”

“Not yet, certainly, my dear. Still they may entitle him to have this veto, in petto.”

{ in petto = in private (Italian)}

I thought a shade passed over the features of the pretty Julia Monson as she answered her friend, with a seriousness to show that she was now in earnest, and with a propriety that proved she had great good sense at bottom, as well as strong womanly feeling.

“If I have learned nothing else by visiting Europe,” she said, “I have learned to see how inconsiderate we girls are in America, in talking so much, openly, of this sort of thing. A woman’s delicacy is like that of a tender flower, and it must suffer by having her name coupled with that of any man, except him that she is to marry.”

“Julia, dear, I will never speak of Mr. Shoreham again. I should not have done it now had I not thought his attentions were acceptable to you, as I am sure they are to your parents. Certainly, they are very marked — at least, so others think as well as myself.”

“I know it seems so to the world,” answered Julia in a subdued, thoughtful tone, “but it scarcely seems so to me. Betts Shoreham is very agreeable, every way a suitable connection for any of us, and that is the reason people are so ready to fancy him in earnest.”

“In earnest! If Mr. Shoreham pays attentions that are pointed, and is not in earnest, he is a very different person from what I took him to be.”

Julia’s voice grew still more gentle, and it was easy enough to see that her feelings were enlisted in the subject.

“It is no more than justice to Betts Shoreham,” she continued, “to say that he has not been pointed in his attentions to me. We females are said to be quick in discovering such matters, and I am not more blind than the rest of our sex. He is a young man of good family, and has some fortune, and that makes him welcome in most houses in town, while he is agreeable, well-looking, and thoroughly amiable. He met us abroad, and it is natural for him to keep up an intimacy that recalls pleasant recollections. You will remember, Mary, that before he can be accused of trifling, he must trifle. I think him far more attentive to my mother, my father — nay, to my two little sisters — than he is to me. Even Mademoiselle Hennequin is quite as much if not more of a favorite than I am!”

As Mary Warren saw that her friend was serious she changed the subject; soon after, we were set down at Mr. Monson’s door. Here the friends parted, Mary Warren preferring to walk home, while Julia and I entered the house together.

“Well, mother,” cried Julia, as she entered Mrs. Monson’s room, “I have found the most beautiful thing you ever beheld, and have bought it. Here it is; what do you think of my choice?”

Mrs. Monson was a kind-hearted, easy, indulgent parent, who had brought her husband a good fortune, and who had married rich in the bargain. Accustomed all her life to a free use of money, and of her own money, too, (for this is a country in which very many persons cast the substance of others right and left,) and when her eldest daughter expressed a wish to possess an elaborate specimen of our race, she had consented from a pure disinclination to deny her child any gratification that might be deemed innocent. Still, she knew that prudence was a virtue, and that Julia had thrown away money that might have been much better employed.

“This is certainly a very beautiful handkerchief,” observed the mother, after examining me carefully, and with somewhat of the manner of a connoisseur, “surprisingly beautiful; and yet I almost wish, my child, you had not purchased it. A hundred dollars sounds frightfully en prince for us poor simple people, who live in nutshells of houses, five and twenty feet front, and fifty-six deep, to pay for a pocket-handkerchief. The jewel-box of a young lady who has such handkerchiefs ought to cost thousands, to be in keeping.”

{ en prince = princely; nutshells of houses = Cooper was frequently critical of New York City’s cramped townhouses}

“But, mother, I have only one, you will remember, and so my jewels may be limited to hundreds.”

One pocket-handkerchief has a mean, sound, too. Even one hat is not very superfluous.”

“That is so like Mary Warren, mother. If you did not wish me to make the purchase, you had only to say it; I am sure your wish would have been my law.”

“I know it, love; and I am afraid it is your dutiful behavior that has made me careless, in this instance. Your happiness and interests are ever uppermost in my mind, and sometimes they seem to conflict. What young man will dare to choose a wife from among young ladies who expend so much money on their pocket-handkerchiefs?”

This was said smilingly, but there was a touch of tenderness and natural concern in the voice and manner of the speaker that made an impression on the daughter.

“I am afraid now, mother, you are thinking of Betts Shoreham,” said Julia, blushing, though she struggled powerfully to appear unconcerned. “I do not know why it is, but both you and Mary Warren appear to be always thinking of Mr. Shoreham.”

The mother smiled; and she was not quite ingenuous when she said in answer to the remark,

“Shoreham was not in my mouth; and you ought not to suppose he was in my mind. Nevertheless, I do not believe he would admire you, or any one else, the more for being the owner of so expensive an article of dress. He is wealthy, but very prudent in his opinions and habits.”

“Betts Shoreham was born to an estate, and his father before him,” said Julia firmly; “and such men know how to distinguish between the cant of economy, and those elegancies of life that become people of refinement.”

“No one can better understand the difference between cant in economy as well as cant in some other things, and true taste as well as true morals, than young Shoreham; but there are indulgences that become persons in no class.”

“After all, mother, we are making a trifle a very serious matter. It is but a pocket-handkerchief.”

“Very true, my love; and it cost only one hundred dollars, and so we’ll say no more about it; bien entendu, that you are not to purchase six dozen at the same price.”

{ bien entendu = it being understood}

This terminated the dialogue, Julia retiring to her own room, carrying me with her. I was thrown upon the bed, and soon after my mistress opened a door, and summoned her two younger sisters, who were studying on the same floor, to join her. I shall not repeat all the delightful exclamations, and other signs of approbation, that so naturally escaped the two pretty little creatures, to whom I may be said to have now been introduced, when my beauty came under examination. I do not thus speak of myself out of any weakness, for pocket-handkerchiefs are wholly without vanity, but simply because I am impelled to utter nothing but truth. Julia had too much consideration to let her young sisters into the secret of my price — for this would have been teaching a premature lesson in extravagance; but, having permitted them to gratify their curiosity, she exacted of them both promises not to speak of me to their governess.

“But why not, Julia?” asked the inquisitive little Jane, “Mademoiselle Hennequin is so good and so kind, that she would be glad to hear of your good fortune.”

Julia had an indistinct view of her own motive, but she could not avow it to any one, not even to herself. Jealousy would be too strong, perhaps too indelicate a word, but she alone had detected Betts Shoreham’s admiration of the governess; and it was painful to her to permit one who stood in this relation to her own weakness in favor of the young man, to be a witness of an act of extravagance to which she had only half consented in committing it, and of which she already more than half repented. From the first, therefore, she determined that Mademoiselle Hennequin should never see me.