Chapter XV. {XXXVIII}

“But by the stealth

 Of our own vanity, we’re left so poor.” HABINGTON.

{William Habington (English poet and dramatist, 1605-1664), CastaraI.20-21}

Now that Harry had left the house, Mrs. Creighton’s attention was chiefly given to Mr. Wyllys; although she had as usual, smiles, both arch and sweet, sayings, both piquant and agreeable, for each and all of the gentlemen from Broadlawn, who were frequent visiters at Wyllys-Roof. Mr. Stryker, indeed, was there half the time. It was evident that the lady was extremely interested in Hazlehurst’s difficulties; she was constant in her inquiries as to the progress of affairs, and listened anxiously to the many different prognostics as to the result. Miss Agnes remarked indeed, one day, when Mr. Ellsworth thought he had succeeded in obtaining an all-important clue, in tracing the previous career of Harry’s opponent, that his sister seemed much elated — she sent an extremely amiable message to Hazlehurst in her brother’s letter. It afterwards appeared, however, on farther inquiry, that this very point turned out entirely in favour of the sailor, actually proving that nine years previously he had sailed in one of the Havre packets, under the name of William Stanley. Mrs. Creighton that evening expressed her good wishes for Harry, in a much calmer tone, before a roomfull { sic} of company.

“Ladies, have you no sympathizing message for Hazlehurst?” inquired Mr. Ellsworth, as he folded a letter he had been writing.

“Oh, certainly; we were sorry to hear the bad news;” and she then turned immediately, and began an animated, laughing conversation with Hubert de Vaux.

’What a difference in character between the brother and sister,’ thought Miss Agnes, whose good opinion of Mr. Ellsworth had been raised higher than ever, by the earnest devotion to his friend’s interest, which appeared throughout his whole management of the case.

The family at Wyllys-Roof were careful to show, by their friendly attention to the Hubbards, that their respect and regard for them had not suffered at all by the steps Mr. Clapp had taken. Miss Agnes and Elinor visited the cottage as frequently as ever. One morning, shortly after the wedding, Miss Wyllys went to inquire after Mrs. Hubbard, as she was in the habit of doing. She found Mary Hubbard, the youngest daughter, there, and was struck on entering, by the expression of Miss Patsey’s face, , ,very different from her usual calm, pleasant aspect.

“Oh, Miss Wyllys!” she exclaimed, in answer to an inquiry of Miss Agnes’s. “I am just going to Longbridge! My poor, kind uncle Joseph! — but he was always too weak and indulgent to those girls!”

“What has happened?” asked Miss Wyllys, anxiously.

“Dreadful news, indeed; Mrs. Hilson has disgraced herself! — Her husband has left her and applied for a divorce! But I do not believe it is half as bad as most people think; Julianna has been shamefully imprudent, but I cannot think her guilty!”

{“Her husband has left her ... ” = this incident seems to reflect the unhappy marriage between Henry Nicholas Cruger (1800-1867) ... a close friend of the Cooper family ... and the free-wheeling Harriet Douglas (1790-1872). After their 1833 marriage, Harriet Douglas insisted on living her own life ... often in Europe; Cruger eventually left her and in 1843 began a lengthy and highly public divorce action based on desertion. The Cooper family strongly disapproved of Harriet Douglas, and she is believed to have been an inspiration for the free- wheeling Mary Monson in James Fenimore Cooper’s last novel, The Ways of the Hour (1850). For details, see Angus Davidson, Miss Douglas of New York: A Biography (New York: The Viking Press, 1953)}

Miss Wyllys was grieved to hear such a bad account of her old neighbour’s daughter.

“Her husband has left her, you say; where is she now?”

“Her father brought her home with him. He went after her to Newport, where she had gone in the same party with this man... this Mr. de Montbrun, and a person who lives in the same boarding-house, a Mrs. Bagman, who has done a great deal of harm to Julianna.”

“Sad, indeed!” exclaimed Miss Agnes.

“Charles says it is heart-rending, to see my poor uncle, who was so proud of his good name... thought so much of his daughters! Often have I heard him say: ‘Let them enjoy life, Patsey, while they are young; girls can’t do much harm; I love to see them look pretty and merry.’ They never received any solid instruction, and since her marriage, Julianna seems to have been in bad company. She had no children to think about, and Mr. Hilson’s time is always given to his business; her head was full of nonsense from morning till night; I was afraid no good would come of it.”

“It is at least a great point, that she should have come back with her father.”

“Yes, indeed; I am thankful for it, from the bottom of my heart. Oh, Miss Wyllys, what a dreadful thing it is, to see young people going on, from one bad way to another!” exclaimed Miss Patsey.

“We must hope that her eyes will be opened, now.”

“If she had only taken warning from what Charles told her about this Mr. de Montbrun; he had seen him at Rome, and though he had no positive proofs, knew he was a bad man, and told Mrs. Hilson so. It is surely wrong, Miss Wyllys, to let all kinds of strangers from foreign countries into our families, without knowing anything about them.”

“I have often thought it very wrong,” said Miss Agnes, earnestly.

“But Mrs. Hilson wouldn’t believe a word Charles said. She talked a great deal about aristocratic fashions; said she wouldn’t be a slave to prudish notions — just as she always talks.”

“Where was her husband, all this time?”

“He was in New York. They had not agreed well for some time, on account of her spending so much money, and flirting with everybody. At last he heard how his wife was behaving, and went to Saratoga. He found everybody who knew her, was talking about Julianna and this Frenchman. They had a violent quarrel, and he brought her back to town, but gave her warning, if ever she spoke again to that man he would leave her. Would you believe it! in less than a week, she went to the theatre with him and this Mrs. Bagman! You know Mr. Hilson is a quiet man in general, but when he has made up his mind to anything, he never changes it: when he came in from his business, and found where his wife had gone, he wrote a letter to Uncle Joseph, and left the house.”

“But what does Mrs. Hilson say? Does she show any feeling?”

“She cries a great deal, but talks just as usual; says she is a victim to her husband’s brutality and jealousy. It seems impossible to make her see things in their right light. I hope and pray that her eyes may be opened, but I am afraid it will be a long time before they are. But it is hard, Miss Wyllys, to open the eyes of the blind and deluded! It is more than mortal man can do!”

“Yes; we feel at such times our miserable weakness, and the influence of evil upon human nature, more, perhaps, than at any other moment!”

“That is true, indeed. I have often thought, Miss Wyllys, that those who have watched over a large family of children and young people, have better notions about the true state of human nature, than your great philosophers. That has been the difficulty with Uncle Hubbard; he said girls in a respectable family were in no danger of doing what was wrong; that he hated preaching and scolding, and could not bear to make young people gloomy, by talking to them about serious subjects. My father always taught me to think very differently; he believed that the only way to help young people to be really happy and cheerful, was to teach them to do their duty.”

“It would be well, if all those who have charge of young persons thought so!” exclaimed Miss Agnes.

“But, oh, Miss Wyllys, I dread seeing my poor uncle! Charles writes me word that he is quite changed, , ,pale and care-worn, , ,so different from his usual look; he says my uncle has grown ten years older in the last week. And such a kind, indulgent father as he has been!”

Tears filled Miss Wyllys’s eyes. “Is his daughter Emmeline at home?” she asked.

“Yes; and Emmeline seems more sobered by this terrible business, than Mrs. Hilson herself. She sent for me, thinking I might be of some service to Julianna, and persuade her to stay at home, and not return to Mrs. Bagman, as she threatens to do.”

A wagon was waiting to carry Miss Patsey to Longbridge, and Miss Agnes begging that she might not detain her, she set out on her painful duty. On arriving at her uncle’s house, she almost dreaded to cross the threshold. She found Mr. Hubbard in the dining-room; he paid no attention to her as she opened the door, but continued walking up and down. She scarcely knew how to address him; the common phrases of greeting that rose to her lips seemed misplaced. He either did not see her, or would not notice her. She then walked quite near to him, and holding out her hand, said in a calm tone:

“Uncle, I have come to see Julianna.”

The muscles of his face moved, but he made no answer.

“I have come to stay with her, if you wish it.”

“Thank you,” he said, in a thick voice.

“Is there anything I can do for you?”

“What can be done?” he said, bitterly, and almost roughly.

“Do you wish me to stay?”

“Yes; I am obliged to you for coming to see a woman of bad reputation.”

Patsey left him for the present. She found her cousins together; Emmeline’s eyes were red, as if she had just been weeping; Mrs. Hilson was stretched on a sofa, in a very elegant morning-gown, reading a novel of very doubtful morality.

Patsey offered her hand, which was taken quite cavalierly.

“Well, Patsey,” she said, “I hope you have not come to be a spy upon me.”

“I have come to see you, because I wish to be of service to you, Julianna.”

“Then, my dear child, you must bring his High-Mightiness, my jealous husband to reason,” said the lady, smoothing a fold in her dress. Patsey made no answer, and Mrs. Hilson looked up. “If you are going to join the rest of them against me, why I shall have nothing to do with you; all the prim prudes in the world won’t subdue me, as my good-man might have found out already.”

“Where is your husband?” asked Miss Patsey, gravely, but quietly.

“I am sure I don’t know; he has been pleased to abandon me, for no reason whatever, but because I chose to enjoy the liberty of all women of fortune in aristocratic circles. I would not submit to be made a slave, like most ladies in this country, as Mrs. Bagman says. I choose to associate with whom I please, gentlemen or ladies. What is it makes the patrician orders so delightful in Europe?, , ,all those who know anything about it, will tell you that it is because the married women are not slaves; they have full liberty, and do just as they fancy, and have as many admirers as they please; this very book that I am reading says so. That is the way things are managed in high life in Europe.”

“What sort of liberty is it you wish for, Julianna? The liberty to do wrong? Or the liberty to trifle with your reputation?”

Mrs. Hilson pouted, but made no answer.

“I cannot think the kind of liberty you speak of is common among good women anywhere,” continued Patsey, “and I don’t think you can know so much about what you call high lifein Europe, Julianna, for you have never been there. I am sure at least, that in this country the sort of liberty you seem to be talking about, is only common in very low life; you will find enough of it even here, among the most ignorant and worst sort of people,” said Miss Patsey, quietly.

Mrs. Hilson looked provoked. “Well, you are civil, I must say, Miss Patsey Hubbard; of all the brutal speeches that have been made me of late, I must say that yours is the worst!”

“I speak the truth, though I speak plainly, Julianna.”

“Yes plainly enough; very different from the refinement of Mrs. Bagman, I can assure you; she would be the last person to come and tyrannize over me, when I am a victim to my husband’s jealousy. But I have not a creature near me to sympathize with me!”

“Do not say that; your father is down-stairs, grown old with grief during the last week!”

Mrs. Hilson did not answer.

“You have known me all your life, from the time you were a child,” added Miss Patsey, taking her cousin’s passive hand in her own; “and I ask, if you have ever known me to deceive you by an untruth?”

“I am sure I don’t know,” replied her cousin, carelessly.

“Yes, you do know it, Julianna. Trust me, then; do not shut your ears and your eyes to the truth! You are in a very dangerous situation; look upon me as your friend; let me stay with you; let me help you! My only motive is your own good; even if I believed you really guilty, I should have come to you; but I do not believe you guilty!”

“I am much obliged to you,” said her cousin, lightly. “But I happen to know myself that I have committed no such high crime and misdemeanour.”

“Yes, you have trifled so far with your reputation, that the world believes you guilty, Julianna.”

“Not fashionable people. I might have gone on for years, enjoying the friendship of an elegant lady like Mrs. Bagman, and receiving the polite attentions of a French nobleman, had it not been for the countrified notions of Pa and Mr. Hilson; and now, I am torn from my friends, I am calumniated, and the Baron accused of being an impostor! But the fact is, as Mrs. Bagman says, Mr. Hilson never has understood me!”

Patsey closed her eyes that night with a heavy heart. She did not seem to have produced the least impression on Mrs. Hilson.

How few people are aware of the great dangers of that common foible, vanity! And yet it is the light feather that wings many a poisoned dart; it is the harlequin leader of a vile crew of evils. Generally, vanity is looked upon as merely a harmless weakness, whose only penalty is ridicule; but examine its true character, and you will find it to be one of the most dangerous, and at the same time one of the most contemptible failings of humanity. There is not a vice with which it has not been, time and again, connected; there is not a virtue that has not been tainted by its touch. Men are vain of their vices, vain of their virtues; and although pride and vanity have been declared incompatible, probably there never lived a proud man, who was not vain of his very pride. A generous aspect is, however, sometimes assumed by pride; but vanity is inalterably contemptible in its selfish littleness, its restless greediness. Who shall tell its victims? who shall set bounds to its triumphs? Reason is more easily blinded by vanity than by sophistry; time and again has vanity misdirected feeling; often has vanity roused the most violent passions. Many have been enticed on to ruin, step by step, with the restless lure of vanity, until they became actually guilty of crimes, attributed to some more sudden, and stronger impulse. How many people run into extravagance, and waste their means, merely from vanity! How many young men commence a career of folly and wickedness, impelled by the miserable vanity of daring what others dare! How many women have trifled with their own peace, their own reputation, merely because vanity led them to receive the first treacherous homage of criminal admiration, when whispered in the tones of false sentiment and flattery! The triumphs of vanity would form a melancholy picture, indeed, but it is one the world will never pause to look at.

The eldest daughter of Mr. Hubbard, the worthy Longbridge merchant, without strong passions, without strong temptations, was completely the victim of puerile vanity. The details of her folly are too unpleasant to dwell on; but the silly ambition of playing the fine lady, after the pattern of certain European novels, themselves chiefly representing the worst members of the class they claim to depict, was the cause of her ruin. She had so recklessly trifled with her reputation, that although her immediate friends did not believe the worst, yet with the world her character was irretrievably lost. At five-and-twenty she had already sacrificed her own peace; she had brought shame on her husband’s name, and had filled with the bitterest grief, the heart of an indulgent father. Happily, her mother was in the grave, and she had no children to injure by her misconduct.

Patsey Hubbard continued unwearied in her kind endeavours to be of service to her kinswoman; anxious to awaken her to a sense of her folly, and to withdraw her from the influence of bad associates.

“It is right that society should discountenance a woman who behaves as Julianna has done,” said she one day, to Mrs. Hubbard, on returning home; “but, oh, mother, her own family surely, should never give her up while there is breath in her body!”