Chapter XVII.

Five minutes later, Tom Thurston entered, and Julia Monson came down to receive him, her pique not interfering, and it being rather stylish to be disengaged on the morning of the day when the household was in all the confusion of a premeditated rout.

{premeditated rout = planned party}

“This is so good of you, Miss Monson,” said Tom, as he made his bow — I heard it all, being still on the sofa — “This is so good of you, when your time must have so many demands on it.”

“Not in the least, Mr. Thurston — mamma and the housekeeper have settled every thing, and I am really pleased to see you, as you can give me the history of the new play — “

“Ah! Miss Monson, my heart — my faculties — my ideas — ” Tom was getting bothered, and he made a desperate effort to extricate himself — “In short, my judgment is so confused and monopolized, that I have no powers left to think or speak of plays. In a word, I was not there.”

“That explains it, then — and what has thus confused your mind, Mr. Thurston?”

“The approach of this awful night. You will be surrounded by a host of admirers, pouring into your ears their admiration and love, and then what shall I have to support me, but that ‘yes,’ with which you once raised me from the depths of despair to an elevation of happiness that was high as the highest pinnacle of the caverns of Kentucky; raising me from the depths of Chimborazo.”

{caverns of Kentucky = Mammoth Cave; Chimborazo = a 20,500 foot volcano in Ecuador}

Tom meant to reverse this image, but love is proverbially desperate in its figures of speech, and any thing was better than appearing to hesitate. Nevertheless, Miss Monson was too well instructed, and had too much real taste, not to feel surprise at all this extravagance of diction and poetry.

“I am not certain, Mr. Thurston, that I rightly understand you,” she said. “Chimborazo is not particularly low, nor are the caverns of Kentucky so strikingly elevated.”

“Ascribe it all to that fatal, heart-thrilling, hope-inspiring ‘yes,’ loveliest of human females,” continued Tom, kneeling with some caution, lest the straps of his pantaloons should give way — “Impute all to your own lucid ambiguity, and to the torments of hope that I experience. Repeat that ‘yes,’ lovely, consolatory, imaginative being, and raise me from the thrill of depression, to the liveliest pulsations of all human acmes.”

“Hang it,” thought Tom, “if she stand that, I shall presently be ashore. Genius, itself, can invent nothing finer.”

But Julia did stand it. She admired Tom for his exterior, but the admiration of no moderately sensible woman could overlook rodomontade so exceedingly desperate. It was trespassing too boldly on the proprieties to utter such nonsense to a gentlewoman, and Tom, who had got his practice in a very low school, was doomed to discover that he had overreached himself.

“I am not certain I quite understand you, Mr. Thurston, answered the half-irritated, half-amused young lady; “your language is so very extraordinary — your images so unusual — “

“Say, rather, that it is your own image, loveliest incorporation of perceptible incarnations,” interrupted Tom, determined to go for the whole, and recalling some rare specimens of magazine eloquence — “Talk not of images, obdurate maid, when you are nothing but an image yourself.”

“I! Mr. Thurston — and of what is it your pleasure to accuse me of being the image?”

“O! unutterable wo — yes, inexorable girl, your vacillating ‘yes’ has rendered me the impersonation of that oppressive sentiment, of which your beauty and excellence have become the mocking reality. Alas, alas! that bearded men,” — Tom’s face was covered with hair — “Alas, alas! that bearded men should be brought to weep over the contrarieties of womanly caprice.”

Here Tom bowed his head, and after a grunting sob or two, he raised his handkerchief in a very pathetic manner to his face, and thought to himself — “Well, if she stand that, the Lord only knows what I shall say next.”

As for Julia, she was amused, though at first she had been a little frightened. The girl had a good deal of spirit, and she had tant soit peu of mother Eve’s love of mischief in her. She determined to “make capital” out of the affair, as the Americans say, in shop-keeping slang.

{ tant soit peu = an ever so tiny amount}

“What is the ‘yes,’ of which you speak,” she inquired, “and, on which you seem to lay so much stress?”

“That ‘yes’ has been my bane and antidote,” answered Tom, rallying for a new and still more desperate charge. “When first pronounced by your rubicund lips, it thrilled on my amazed senses like a beacon of light — “

“Mr. Thurston — Mr. Thurston — what do you mean?”

“Ah, d------n it,” thought Tom, “I should have said humid light’ — how the deuce did I come to forget that word — it would have rounded the sentence beautifully.”

“What do I mean, angel of ‘humid light,’” answered Tom, aloud; “I mean all I say, and lots of feeling besides. When the heart is anguished with unutterable emotion, it speaks in accents that deaden all the nerves, and thrill the ears.” Tom was getting to be animated, and when that was the case, his ideas flowed like a torrent after a thunder-shower, or in volumes, and a little muddily. “What do I mean, indeed; I mean to have you,” he thought, “and at least, eighty thousand dollars, or dictionaries, Webster’s inclusive, were made in vain.”

“This is very extraordinary, Mr. Thurston,” rejoined Julia, whose sense of womanly propriety began to take the alarm; “and I must insist on an explanation. Your language would seem to infer — really, I do not know, what it does not seem to infer. Will you have the goodness to explain what you mean by that ‘yes?’”

“Simply, loveliest and most benign of your sex, that once already, in answer to a demand of your hand, you deigned to reply with that energetic and encouraging monosyllable, yes — dear and categorical affirmative — ” exclaimed Tom, going off again at half-cock, highly impressed with the notion that rhapsody, instead of music, was the food of love — “Yes, dear and categorical affirmative, with what ecstasy did not my drowsy ears drink in the melodious sounds — what extravagance of delight my throbbing heart echo its notes, on the wings of the unseen winds — in short, what considerable satisfaction your consent gave my pulsating mind!”

“Consent! — Consent is a strong word, Mr. Thurston!”

“It is, indeed, adorable Julia, and it is also a strong thing. I’ve known terrible consequences arise from the denial of a consent, not half as explicit as your own.”

“Consequences! — may I ask, sir, to what consequences you allude?”

“The consequences, Miss Monson — that is, the consequences of a violated troth, I mean — they may be divided into three parts — ” here, Tom got up, brushed his knees, each in succession, with his pocket-handkerchief, and began to count on his fingers, like a lawyer who is summing up an argument — “Yes, Miss Julia, into three parts. First come the pangs of unrequited love; on these I propose to enlarge presently. Next come the legal effects, always supposing that the wronged party can summon heart enough to carry on a suit, with bruised affections — ” “hang it,” thought Tom, “why did I not think of that word ‘bruised’ while on my knees; it would tell like a stiletto — ” “Yes, Miss Julia, if ‘bruised affections’ would permit the soul to descend to such preliminaries. The last consequence is, the despair of hope deferred.”

“All this is so extraordinary, Mr. Thurston, that I insist on knowing why you have presumed to address such language to me — yes, sir, insist on knowing your reason.”

Tom was dumbfounded. Now, that he was up, and looking about him, he had an opportunity of perceiving that his mistress was offended, and that he had somewhat overdone the sublime, poetical and affecting. With a sudden revulsion of feeling and tactics, he determined to throw himself, at once, into the penitent and candid.

“Ah, Miss Monson,” he cried, somewhat more naturally — “I see I have offended and alarmed you. But, impute it all to love. The strength of my passion is such, that I became desperate, and was resolved to try any expedient that I thought might lead to success.”

“That might be pardoned, sir, were it not for the extraordinary character of the expedient. Surely, you have never seen in me any taste for the very extraordinary images and figures of speech you have used, on this occasion.”

“This handkerchief,” — said Tom, taking me from the sofa — “this handkerchief must bear all the blame. But for this, I should not have dreamt of running so much on the high-pressure principle; but love, you know, Miss Julia, is a calculation, like any other great event of life, and must be carried on consistently.”

“And, pray, sir, how can that handkerchief have brought about any such result?”

“Ah! Miss Monson, you ask me to use a most killing frankness! Had we not better remain under the influence of the poetical star?”

“If you wish to ensure my respect, or esteem, Mr. Thurston, it is necessary to deal with me in perfect sincerity. Nothing but truth will ever be pleasing to me.”

“Hang it,” thought Tom, again, “who knows? She is whimsical, and may really like to have the truth. It’s quite clear her heart is as insensible to eloquence and poetry, as a Potter’s Field wall, and it might answer to try her with a little truth. Your $80,000 girls get such notions in their heads, that there’s no analogy, as one might say, between them and the rest of the species. Miss Julia,” continuing aloud, “my nature is all plain-dealing, and I am delighted to find a congenial spirit. You must have observed something very peculiar in my language, at the commencement of this exceedingly interesting dialogue?”

“I will not deny it, Mr. Thurston; your language was, to say the least, very peculiar.”

“Lucid, but ambiguous; pathetic, but amusing; poetical, but comprehensive; prosaical, but full of emphasis. That’s my nature. Plain-dealing, too, is my nature, and I adore the same quality in others; most especially in those I could wish to marry.”

“Does this wish, then, extend to the plural number?” asked Julia, smiling a little maliciously.

“Certainly; when the heart is devoted to virtuous intentions, it wishes for a union with virtue, where-ever it is to be found. Competence and virtue are my mottoes, Miss Julia.”

“This shows that you are, in truth, a lover of plain-dealing, Mr. Thurston — and now, as to the handkerchief?”

“Why, Miss Julia, perceiving that you are sincere, I shall be equally frank. You own this handkerchief?”

“Certainly, sir. I should hardly use an article of dress that is the property of another.”

“Independent, and the fruit of independence. Well, Miss Monson, it struck me that the mistress of such a handkerchief must like poetry — that is, flights of the imagination — that is, eloquence and pathos, as it might be engrafted on passion and sentiment.”

“I believe I understand you, sir; you wish to say that common sense seemed misapplied to the owner of such a handkerchief.”

“Far from that, adorable young lady; but, that poetry, and eloquence, and flights of imagination, seem well applied. A very simple calculation will demonstrate what I mean. But, possibly, you do not wish to hear the calculation — ladies, generally, dislike figures?”

“I am an exception, Mr. Thurston; I beg you will lay the whole matter before me, therefore, without reserve.”

“It is simply this, ma’am. This handkerchief cost every cent of $100 — “

“One hundred and twenty-five,” said Julia quickly.

“Bless me,” thought Tom, “what a rich old d------l her father must be. I will not give her up; and as poetry and sentiment do not seem to be favorites, here goes for frankness — some women are furious for plain matter-of-fact fellows, and this must be one of the number. One hundred and twenty-five dollars is a great deal of money,” he added, aloud, “and the interest, at 7 per cent, will come to $1.75. Including first cost and washing, the annual expense of this handkerchief may be set down at $2. But, the thing will not last now five years, if one includes fashion, wear and tear, &c., and this will bring the whole expense up to $27 per annum. We will suppose your fortune to be $50,000, Miss Julia — “

Here Tom paused, and cast a curious glance at the young lady, in the hope of hearing something explicit. Julia could hardly keep her countenance, but she was resolved to go to the bottom of all this plain-dealing.

“Well, sir,” she answered, “we will suppose it, as you say, $50,000.”

“The interest, then, would be $3,500. Now 27 multiplied by 130 — ” here Tom took out his pencil and began to cypher — “make just 3510, or rather more than the whole amount of the interest. Well, when you come to deduct taxes, charges, losses and other things, the best invested estate of $3,500 per annum, will not yield more than $3,000, nett. Suppose a marriage, and the husband has only $1,000 for his pocket, this would bring down the ways and means to $2,000 per annum; or less than a hundredth part of the expense of keeping one pocket-handkerchief; and when you come to include rent, fuel, marketing, and other necessaries, you see, my dear Miss Monson, there is a great deal of poetry in paying so much for a pocket-handkerchief.”

“I believe I understand you, sir, and shall endeavor to profit by the lesson. As I am wanted, you will now excuse me, Mr. Thurston — my father’s step is in the hall — ” so Julia, in common with all other Manhattanese, called a passage, or entry, five feet wide — ” and to him I must refer you.”

This was said merely as an excuse for quitting the room. But Tom received it literally and figuratively, at the same time.