Chapter XIV.

And now comes an exhibition of my mesmeritic powers, always “handkerchiefly speaking,” that may surprise those who have not attended to the modern science of invisible fluids. It is by this means, however, that I am enabled to perceive a great deal of that which passes under the roof where I may happen to be, without absolutely seeing it. Much escapes me, of course — for even a pocket-handkerchief cannot hear or see every thing; but enough is learned to enable me to furnish a very clear outline of that which occurs near me; more especially if it happen to be within walls of brick. In wooden edifices I find my powers much diminished — the fluids, doubtless, escaping through the pores of the material.

That evening, then, at the usual hour, and while I lay snugly ensconced in a most fragrant and convenient drawer, among various other beings of my species, though not of my family, alas! the inmates of the house assembled in the front drawing-room to take a few cups of tea. Mr. and Mrs. Monson, with their only son, John Monson, their three daughters, the governess, and Betts Shoreham, were all present; the latter having dropped in with a new novel for the ladies.

“I do really wish one could see a little advance in the way of real refinement and true elegance among all the vast improvements we are making in frippery and follies,” cried Mr. Monson, throwing down an evening paper in a pettish manner, that sufficiently denoted discontent. “We are always puffing our own progress in America, without exactly knowing whether a good deal of the road is not to be traveled over again, by way of undoing much that we have done. Here, now, is a specimen of our march in folly, in an advertisement of Bobbinett’s, who has pocket-handkerchiefs at $75.”

“By the dozen, the gross, sir?” demanded Betts Shoreham, quickly.

“Oh, singly — seventy-five dollars each.”

“Nay, that must be a mistake, sir! who, even in this extravagant and reckless country, could be found to pay such a price? One can fancy such a thing in a princess, with hundreds of thousands of income, but scarcely of any one else. How could such a thing be used, for instance?”

“Oh,” cried John Monson, “to hide the blushes of the simpleton who had thrown away her money on it. I heard a story this very afternoon, of some person of the name of Halfacre’s having failed yesterday, and whose daughter purchased even a higher priced handkerchief than that the very same day.”

“His failure is not surprising, then,” put in Betts Shoreham. “For myself, I do not think that I — “

“Well, what do you think, Mr. Shoreham?” asked Mrs. Monson, smiling, for she saw that Julia was too much mortified to speak, and who assumed more than half the blame of her own daughter’s extravagance. “You were about to favor us with some magnificent resolution.”

“I was about to utter an impertinence, I confess, ma’am, but recollected in time, that young men’s protestations of what they would do by way of reforming the world, is not of half the importance to others that they so often fancy; so I shall spare you the infliction. Seventy-five dollars, Mademoiselle Hennequin, would be a high price for such a thing, even in Paris, I fancy.”

The answer was given in imperfect English, a circumstance that rendered the sweet round tones of the speaker very agreeable to the ear, and lent the charm of piquancy to what she said. I could not distinguish countenances from the drawer, but I fancied young Shoreham to be a handsome youth, the governess to be pale and slightly ugly, though very agreeable in manner, and Julia excessively embarrassed, but determined to defend her purchase, should it become necessary.

“Seventy-five dollars sound like a high price, monsieur,” answered Mademoiselle Hennequin; “but the ladies of Paris do not grudge their gold for ornaments to decorate their persons.”

“Ay,” put in John Monson, “but they are consistent. Now I’ll engage this Mrs. Hundredacres, or Halfacre, or whatever her name may be, overlooked her own household work, kept no housekeeper, higgled about flour and butter, and lived half her time in her basement. Think of such a woman’s giving her daughter a hundred-dollar pocket-handkerchief.”

Now Mrs. Monson did keep a housekeeper; she was not a mere upper-servant in her own family, and Julia was gratified that, in this instance, her fastidious brother could not reproach her at least.

“Well, Jack, that is a queer reason of yours;” cried the father, “for not indulging in a luxury; because the good woman is careful in some things, she is not to be a little extravagant in others. What do YOU say to such logic, Mr. Shoreham?”

“To own the truth, sir, I am much of Monson’s way of thinking. It is as necessary to begin at the bottom in constructing a scheme of domestic refinement, as in building a house. Fitness is entitled to a place in every thing that relates to taste, at all events; and as a laced and embroidered pocket-handkerchief is altogether for appearance, it becomes necessary that other things should be in keeping. If the ladies will excuse me, I will say that I never yet saw a woman in America, in a sufficiently high dress to justify such an appendage as that which Monson has just mentioned. The handkerchief ought not to cost more than the rest of the toilette.”

“It is true, Mr. Shoreham,” put in Julia, with vivacity, if not with spirit, “that our women do not dress as women of rank sometimes dress in Europe; but, on the whole, I do not know that we are so much behind them in appearance.”

“Very far from it, my dear Miss Monson — as far as possible — I am the last man to decry my beautiful countrywomen, who are second to no others in appearance, certainly; if they do not dress as richly, it is because they do not need it. Mademoiselle Hennequin has no reason to deprecate comparisons — and — but — “

“Certainly,” answered the governess, when she found the young man hesitated about proceeding, “certainly; I am not so bigoted, or so blind, as to wish to deny that the American ladies are very handsome — handsomer, as a whole, than those of my own country. It would be idle to deny it — so are those of England and Italy.”

“This is being very liberal, Mademoiselle Hennequin, and more than you are required to admit,” observed Mrs. Monson, in the kindest possible tone of voice, and I make no manner of doubt with a most benevolent smile, though I could not see her. “Some of the most brilliantly beautiful women I have ever seen, have been French — perhaps the most brilliantly beautiful.”

“That is true, also, madame; but such is not the rule, I think. Both the English and Americans seem to me handsomer, as a whole, than my own countrywomen.” Now, nothing could be sweeter, or softer, or gentler, than the voice that made this great concession — for great it certainly was, as coming from a woman. It appeared to me that the admission, too, was more than commonly generous, from the circumstance that the governess was not particularly pretty in her own person. It is true, I had not yet seen her, but my mesmeritic impulses induced me to fancy as much.

“What say the young gentlemen to this?” asked Mr. Monson, laughing. “This is a question not to be settled altogether by ladies, old or young.”

“Betts Shoreham has substantially told you what he thinks; and now I claim a right to give my opinion,” cried John Monson. “Like Betts, I will not decry my countrywomen, but I shall protest against the doctrine of their having all the beauty in the world. By Jove! I have seen in one opera-house at Rome, more beautiful women than I ever saw together, before or since, in any other place. Broadway never equals the corso, of a carnival.”

{corso, of a carnival = the Corso, a main street in Rome, at Carnival time}

“This is not sticking to the subject,” observed Mrs. Monson. “Pocket-handkerchiefs and housekeepers are our themes, and not pretty women. Mademoiselle Hennequin, you are French enough, I am sure, to like more sugar in your tea.”

This changed the subject, which became a desultory discourse on the news of the day. I could not understand half that was said, laboring under the disadvantage of being shut up in a close drawer, on another floor; and that, too, with six dozen of chattering French gloves lying within a foot of me. Still I saw plainly enough, that Mademoiselle Hennequin, notwithstanding she was a governess, was a favorite in the family; and, I may add, out of it also — Betts Shoreham being no sort of a connection of the Monsons. I thought, moreover, that I discovered signs of cross-purposes, as between the young people, though I think a pocket-handkerchief subject to those general laws, concerning secrets, that are recognized among all honorable persons. Not having been actually present on this occasion, should I proceed to relate all that passed, or that I fancied passed, it would be degrading myself to the level of those newspapers which are in the habit of retailing private conversations, and which, like most small dealers in such things, never retail fairly.

I saw no more of my mistress for a week. I have reason to think that she had determined never to use me; but female resolutions, in matters of dress, are not of the most inflexible nature. There was a certain Mrs. Leamington, in New York, who gave a great ball about this time, and being in the same set as the Monsons, the family was invited as a matter of course. It would have surpassed the powers of self-denial to keep me in the back-ground on such an occasion; and Julia, having first cleared the way by owning her folly to a very indulgent father, and a very tormenting brother, determined nobly to bring me out, let the effect on Betts Shoreham be what it might. As the father had no female friends to trouble him, he was asked to join the Monsons — the intimacy fully warranting the step.

Julia never looked more lovely than she did that night. She anticipated much pleasure, and her smiles were in proportion to her anticipations. When all was ready, she took me from the drawer, let a single drop of lavender fall in my bosom, and tripped down stairs toward the drawing-room; Betts Shoreham and Mademoiselle Hennequin were together, and, for a novelty, alone. I say, for a novelty, because the governess had few opportunities to see any one without the presence of a third person, and because her habits, as an unmarried and well educated French woman, indisposed her to tête-à-têtes with the other sex. My mistress was lynx-eyed in all that related to Betts Shoreham and the governess. A single glance told her that their recent conversation had been more than usually interesting; nor could I help seeing it myself — the face of the governess being red, or in that condition which, were she aught but a governess, would be called suffused with blushes. Julia felt uncomfortable — she felt herself to be de trop; and making an incoherent excuse, she had scarcely taken a seat on a sofa, before she arose, left the room, and ran up stairs again. In doing so, however, the poor girl left me inadvertently on the sofa she had so suddenly quitted herself.

{ de trop = one too many}

Betts Shoreham manifested no concern at this movement, though Mademoiselle Hennequin precipitately changed her seat, which had been quite near — approximately near, as one might say — to the chair occupied by the gentleman. This new evolution placed the governess close at my side. Now whatever might have been the subject of discourse between these two young persons — for Mademoiselle Hennequin was quite as youthful as my mistress, let her beauty be as it might — it was not continued in my presence; on the contrary, the young lady turned her eyes on me, instead of looking at her companion, and then she raised me in her hand, and commenced a critical examination of my person.

“That is a very beautiful handkerchief, Mademoiselle Hennequin,” said Betts Shoreham, making the remark an excuse for following the young lady to the sofa. “Had we heard of its existence, our remarks the other night, on such a luxury, might have been more guarded.”

No answer was given. The governess gazed on me intently, and tears began to course down her cheeks, notwithstanding it was evident she wished to conceal them. Ashamed of her weakness, she endeavored to smile them away, and to appear cheerful.

“What is there in that pocket-handkerchief, dear Mademoiselle Hennequin,” asked Betts Shoreham, who had a pernicious habit of calling young ladies with whom he was on terms of tolerable intimacy, “dear,” — a habit that sometimes misled persons as to the degree of interest he felt in his companions — “what can there be in that pocket-handkerchief to excite tears from a mind and a heart like yours?”

“My mind and heart, Mr. Shoreham, are not as faultless, perhaps, as your goodness would make them out to be. Envy is a very natural feeling for a woman in matters of dress, they say; and, certainly, I am not the owner of so beautiful a pocket-handkerchief — pardon me, Mr. Shoreham; I cannot command myself, and must be guilty of the rudeness of leaving you alone, if — “

Mademoiselle Hennequin uttered no more, but rushed from the room, with an impetuosity of manner and feeling that I have often had occasion to remark in young French women. As a matter of course, I was left alone with Betts Shoreham.

I shall conceal nothing that ought to be told. Betts Shoreham, notwithstanding her dependent situation, and his own better fortunes, loved the governess, and the governess loved Betts Shoreham. These were facts that I discovered at a later day, though I began to suspect the truth from that moment. Neither, however, knew of the other’s passion, though each hoped as an innocent and youthful love will hope, and each trembled as each hoped. Nothing explicit had been said that evening; but much, very much, in the way of sympathy and feeling had been revealed, and but for the inopportune entrance of Julia and myself, all might have been told.