Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Love and Life online

. (page 1 of 24)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeLove and Life → online text (page 1 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by Doug Levy


An Old Story in Eighteenth Century Costume

By Charlotte M. Yonge

Transcriber's note: There are numerous examples throughout this text
of words appearing in alternate spellings: madame/madam, practise/
practice, Ladyship/ladyship, &c. We can only wonder what the publisher
had in mind. I have left them unchanged. - D.L.


The first edition of this tale was put forth without explaining the
old fable on which it was founded - a fable recurring again and again in
fairy myths, though not traceable in the classic world till a very late
period, when it appeared among the tales of Apuleius, of the province
of Africa, sometimes called the earliest novelist. There are, however,
fragments of the same story in the popular tales of all countries, so
that it is probable that Apuleius availed himself of an early form of
one of these. They are to be found from India to Scandinavia, adapted to
the manners and fancy of every country in turn, _Beauty and the Beast_
and the _Black Bull of Norroway_ are the most familiar forms of the
tale, and it seemed to me one of those legends of such universal
property that it was quite fair to put it into 18th century English

Some have seen in it a remnant of the custom of some barbarous tribes,
that the wife should not behold her husband for a year after marriage,
and to this the Indian versions lend themselves; but Apuleius himself
either found it, or adapted it to the idea of the Soul (the Life)
awakened by Love, grasping too soon and impatiently, then losing it,
and, unable to rest, struggling on through severe toils and labours till
her hopes are crowned even at the gates of death. Psyche, the soul or
life, whose emblem is the butterfly, thus even in heathen philosophy
strained towards the higher Love, just glimpsed at for a while.

Christians gave a higher meaning to the fable, and saw in it the Soul,
or the Church, to whom her Bridegroom has been for a while made known,
striving after Him through many trials, to be made one with Him after
passing through Death. The Spanish poet Calderon made it the theme of
two sacred dramas, in which the lesson of Faith, not Sight, was taught,
with special reference to the Holy Eucharist.

English poetry has, however, only taken up its simple classical aspect.
In the early part of the century, Mrs. Tighe wrote a poem in Spenserian
stanza, called _Psyche_, which was much admired at the time; and Mr.
Morris has more lately sung the story in his _Earthly Paradise_. This
must be my excuse for supposing the outline of the tale to be familiar
to most readers.

The fable is briefly thus: -

Venus was jealous of the beauty of a maiden named Psyche, the youngest
of three daughters of a king. She sent misery on the land and family,
and caused an oracle to declare that the only remedy was to deck his
youngest daughter as a bride, and leave her in a lonely place to become
the prey of a monster. Cupid was commissioned by his mother to destroy
her. He is here represented not as a child, but as a youth, who on
seeing Psyche's charms, became enamoured of her, and resolved to save
her from his mother and make her his own. He therefore caused Zephyr to
transport her to a palace where everything delightful and valuable was
at her service, feasts spread, music playing, all her wishes fulfilled,
but all by invisible hands. At night in the dark, she was conscious of
a presence who called himself her husband, showed the fondest affection
for her, and promised her all sorts of glory and bliss, if she would be
patient and obedient for a time.

This lasted till yearnings awoke to see her family. She obtained consent
with much difficulty and many warnings. Then the splendour in which she
lived excited the jealousy of her sisters, and they persuaded her that
her visitor was really the monster who would deceive her and devour her.
They thus induced her to accept a lamp with which to gaze on him when
asleep. She obeyed them, then beholding the exquisite beauty of the
sleeping god of love, she hung over him in rapture till a drop of the
hot oil fell on his shoulder and awoke him. He sprang up, sorrowfully
reproached her with having ruined herself and him, and flew away,
letting her fall as she clung to him.

The palace was broken up, the wrath of Venus pursued her; Ceres and all
the other deities chased her from their temples; even when she would
have drowned herself, the river god took her in his arms, and laid her
on the bank. Only Pan had pity on her, and counselled her to submit to
Venus, and do her bidding implicitly as the only hope of regaining her
lost husband.

Venus spurned her at first, and then made her a slave, setting her first
to sort a huge heap of every kind of grain in a single day. The ants,
secretly commanded by Cupid, did this for her. Next, she was to get
a lock of golden wool from a ram feeding in a valley closed in by
inaccessible rocks; but this was procured for her by an eagle; and
lastly, Venus, declaring that her own beauty had been impaired by
attendance on her injured son, commanded Psyche to visit the Infernal
Regions and obtain from Proserpine a closed box of cosmetic which was on
no account to be opened. Psyche thought death alone could bring her to
these realms, and was about to throw herself from a tower, when a voice
instructed her how to enter a cavern, and propitiate Cerberus with cakes
after the approved fashion.

She thus reached Proserpine's throne, and obtained the casket, but when
she had again reached the earth, she reflected that if Venus's beauty
were impaired by anxiety, her own must have suffered far more; and
the prohibition having of course been only intended to stimulate her
curiosity, she opened the casket, out of which came the baneful fumes of
Death! Just, however, as she fell down overpowered, her husband, who had
been shut up by Venus, came to the rescue, and finding himself unable
to restore her, cried aloud to Jupiter, who heard his prayer, reanimated
Psyche, and gave her a place among the gods.





Oft had I shadowed such a group
Of beauties that were born
In teacup times of hood and hoop,
And when the patch was worn;
And legs and arms with love-knots gay.
About me leaped and laughed
The modish Cupid of the day,
And shrilled his tinselled shaft. - Tennyson.

If times differ, human nature and national character vary but little;
and thus, in looking back on former times, we are by turns startled
by what is curiously like, and curiously unlike, our own sayings and

The feelings of a retired officer of the nineteenth century expecting
the return of his daughters from the first gaiety of the youngest
darling, are probably not dissimilar to those of Major Delavie, in the
earlier half of the seventeen hundreds, as he sat in the deep bay window
of his bed-room; though he wore a green velvet nightcap; and his whole
provision of mental food consisted of half a dozen worn numbers of the
_Tatler_, and a _Gazette_ a fortnight old. The chair on which he sat was
elbowed, and made easy with cushions and pillows, but that on which
his lame foot rested was stiff and angular. The cushion was exquisitely
worked in chain-stich, as were the quilt and curtains of the great
four-post bed, and the only carpeting consisted of three or four narrow
strips of wool-work. The walls were plain plaster, white-washed, and
wholly undecorated, except that the mantelpiece was carved with the
hideous caryatides of the early Stewart days, and over it were suspended
a long cavalry sabre, and the accompanying spurs and pistols; above them
the miniature of an exquisitely lovely woman, with a white rose in her
hair and a white favour on her breast.

The window was a deep one projecting far into the narrow garden below,
for in truth the place was one of those old manor houses which their
wealthy owners were fast deserting in favour of new specimens of
classical architecture as understood by Louis XIV., and the room in
which the Major sat was one of the few kept in habitable repair. The
garden was rich with white pinks, peonies, lilies of the valley, and
early roses, and there was a flagged path down the centre, between the
front door and a wicket-gate into a long lane bordered with hawthorn
hedges, the blossoms beginning to blush with the advance of the season.
Beyond, rose dimly the spires and towers of a cathedral town, one of
those county capitals to which the provincial magnates were wont to
resort during the winter, keeping a mansion there for the purpose, and
providing entertainment for the gentry of the place and neighbourhood.

Twilight was setting in when the Major began to catch glimpses of the
laced hats of coachman and footmen over the hedges, a lumbering made
itself heard, and by and by the vehicle halted at the gate. Such
a coach! It was only the second best, and the glories of its
landscape - painted sides were somewhat dimmed, the green and silver of
the fittings a little tarnished to a critical eye; yet it was a splendid
article, commodious and capacious, though ill-provided with air and
light. However, nobody cared for stuffiness, certainly not the three
young ladies, who, fan in hand, came tripping down the steps that
were unrolled for them. The eldest paused to administer a fee to their
entertainer's servants who had brought them home, and the coach rolled
on to dispose of the remainder of the freight.

The father waved greetings from one window, a rosy little audacious
figure in a night-dress peeped out furtively from another, and the
house-door was opened by a tall old soldier-servant, stiff as a ramrod,
with hair tightly tied and plastered up into a queue, and a blue and
brown livery which sat like a uniform.

"Well, young ladies," he said, "I hope you enjoyed yourselves."

"Vastly, thank you, Corporal Palmer. And how has it been with my father
in our absence?"

"Purely, Miss Harriet. He relished the Friar's chicken that Miss Delavie
left for him, and he amused himself for an hour with Master Eugene,
after which he did me the honour to play two plays at backgammon."

"I hope," said the eldest sister, coming up, "that the little rogue whom
I saw peeping from the window has not been troublesome."

"He has been as good as gold, madam. He played in master's room till
Nannerl called him to his bed, when he went at once, 'true to his
orders,' says the master. 'A fine soldier he will make,' says I to my

Therewith the sisters mounted the uncarpeted but well-polished oak
stair, knocked at the father's door, and entered one by one, each
dropping her curtsey, and, though the eldest was five-and-twenty,
neither speaking nor sitting till they were greeted with a hearty,
"Come, my young maids, sit you down and tell your old father your gay

The eldest took the only unoccupied chair, while the other two placed
themselves on the window-seat, all bolt upright, with both little high
heels on the floor, in none of the easy attitudes of damsels of later
date, talking over a party. All three were complete gentlewomen in air
and manners, though Betty had high cheek-bones, a large nose, rough
complexion, and red hair, and her countenance was more loveable and
trustworthy than symmetrical. The dainty decorations of youth looked
grotesque upon her, and she was so well aware of the fact as to put on
no more than was absolutely essential to a lady of birth and breeding.
Harriet (pronounced Hawyot), the next in age, had a small well-set head,
a pretty neck, and fine dark eyes, but the small-pox had made havoc
of her bloom, and left its traces on cheek and brow. The wreck of her
beauty had given her a discontented, fretful expression, which rendered
her far less pleasing than honest, homely Betty, though she employed
all the devices of the toilette to conceal the ravages of the malady and
enhance her remaining advantages of shape and carriage.

There was an air of vexation about her as her father asked, "Well, how
many conquests has my little Aurelia made?" She could not but recollect
how triumphantly she had listened to the same inquiry after her own
first appearance, scarcely three short years ago. Yet she grudged
nothing to Aurelia, her junior by five years, who was for the first
time arrayed as a full-grown belle, in a pale blue, tight-sleeved,
long-waisted silk, open and looped up over a primrose skirt, embroidered
by her own hands with tiny blue butterflies hovering over harebells.
There were blue silk shoes, likewise home-made, with silver buckles, and
the long mittens and deep lace ruffles were of Betty's fabrication.
Even the dress itself had been cut by Harriet from old wedding hoards
of their mother's, and made up after the last mode imported by Madam
Churchill at the Deanery.

The only part of the equipment not of domestic handiwork was the
structure on the head. The Carminster hairdresser had been making his
rounds since daylight, taking his most distinguished customers last; and
as the Misses Delavie were not high on the roll, Harriet and Aurelia had
been under his hands at nine A.M. From that time till three, when the
coach called for them, they had sat captive on low stools under a tent
of table-cloth over tall chair-backs to keep the dust out of the frosted
edifice constructed out of their rich dark hair, of the peculiar tint
then called mouse-colour. Betty had refused to submit to this durance.
"What sort of dinner would be on my father's table-cloth if I were to
sit under one all day?" said she in answer to Harriet's representation
of the fitness of things. "La, my dear, what matters it what an old
scarecrow like me puts on?"

Old maidenhood set in much earlier in those days than at present; the
sisters acquiesced, and Betty had run about as usual all the morning in
her mob-cap, and chintz gown tucked through her pocket-holes, and only
at the last submitted her head to the manipulations of Corporal Palmer,
who daily powdered his master's wig.

Strange and unnatural as was the whitening of the hair, it was effective
in enhancing the beauty of Aurelia's dark arched brows, the soft
brilliance of her large velvety brown eyes, and the exquisite carnation
and white of her colouring. Her features were delicately chiselled, and
her face had that peculiar fresh, innocent, soft, untouched bloom and
undisturbed repose which form the special charm and glory of the first
dawn of womanhood. Her little head was well poised on a slender neck,
just now curving a little to one side with the fatigue of the hours
during which it had sustained her headgear. This consisted of a
tiny flat hat, fastened on by long pins, and adorned by a cluster of
campanulas like those on her dress, with a similar blue butterfly on an
invisible wire above them, the dainty handiwork of Harriet.

The inquiry about conquests was a matter of course after a young lady's
first party, but Aurelia looked too childish for it, and Betty made
haste to reply.

"Aurelia was a very good girl. No one could have curtsied or bridled
more prettily when we paid our respects to my Lady Herries and Mrs.
Churchill, and the Dean highly commended her dancing."

"You danced? Fine doings! I thought you were merely invited to look on
at the game at bowls. Who had the best of the match?"

"The first game was won by Canon Boltby, the second by the Dean," said
Betty; "but when they would have played the conqueror, Lady Herries
interfered and said the gentlemen had kept the field long enough, and
now it was our turn. So a cow was driven on the bowling-green, with a
bell round her neck and pink ribbons on her horns."

"A cow! What will they have next?"

"They say 'tis all the mode in London," interposed Harriet.

"Pray was the cow to instruct you in dancing?" continued the Major.

"No, sir," said Aurelia, whom he had addressed; "she was to be milked
into the bowl of syllabub."

This was received with a great "Ho! ho!" and a demand who was to act as

"That was the best of it," said Aurelia. "Soon came Miss Herries in
a straw hat, and the prettiest green petticoat under a white gown and
apron, as a dairy-maid, but the cow would not stand still, for all the
man who led her kept scolding her and saying 'Coop! coop!' No sooner had
Miss Herries seated herself on the stool than Moolly swerved away, and
it was a mercy that the fine china bowl escaped. Every one was laughing,
and poor Miss Herries was ready to cry, when forth steps my sister,
coaxes the cow, bids the man lend his apron, sits down on the stool, and
has the bowl frothing in a moment."

"I would not have done so for worlds," said Harriet; "I dreaded every
moment to be asked where Miss Delavie learnt to be a milk-maid."

"You were welcome to reply, in her own yard," said Betty. "You may thank
me for your syllabub."

"Which, after all, you forbade poor Aura to taste!"

"Assuredly. I was not going to have her turn sick on my hands. She may
think herself beholden to me for her dance with that fine young beau.
Who was he, Aura?"

"How now!" said the Major, in a tone of banter, while Harriet indulged
in a suppressed giggle. "You let Aura dance with a stranger! Where was
your circumspection, Mrs. Betty?" Aurelia coloured to the roots of her
hair and faltered, "It was Lady Herries who presented him."

"Yes, the child is not to blame," said Betty; "I left her in charge
of Mrs. Churchill while I went to wash my hands after milking the cow,
which these fine folk seemed to suppose could be done without soiling a

"That's the way with Chloe and Phyllida in Arcadia," said her father.

"But not here," said Betty. "In the house, I was detained a little
while, for the housekeeper wanted me to explain my recipe for taking out
the grease spots."

"A little while, sister?" said Harriet. "It was through the dancing of
three minuets, and the country dance had long been begun."

"I was too busy to heed the time," said Betty, "for I obtained the
recipe for those delicious almond-cakes, and showed Mrs. Waldron the
Vienna mode of clearing coffee. When I came back the fiddles were
playing, and Aurelia going down the middle with a young gentleman in a
scarlet coat. Poor little Robert Rowe was too bashful to find a partner,
though he longed to dance; so I made another couple with him, and thus
missed further speech, save that as we took our leave, both Sir George
and the Dean complimented me, and said what there is no occasion to
repeat just now, sir, when I ought to be fetching your supper."

"Ha! Is it too flattering for little Aura?" asked her father. "Come,
never spare. She will hear worse than that in her day, I'll warrant."

"It was merely," said Betty, reluctantly, "that the Dean called her the
star of the evening, and declared that her dancing equalled her face."

"Well said of his reverence! And his honour the baronet, what said he?"

"He said, sir, that so comely and debonnaire a couple had not been seen
in these parts since you came home from Flanders and led off the assize
ball with Mistress Urania Delavie."

"There, Aura, 'tis my turn to blush!" cried the Major, comically hiding
his face behind Betty's fan. "But all this time you have never told me
who was this young spark."

"That I cannot tell, sir," returned Betty. "We were sent home in
the coach with Mistress Duckworth and her daughters, who talked so
incessantly that we could not open our lips. Who was he, Aura?"

"My Lady Herries only presented him as Sir Amyas, sister," replied

"Sir Amyas!" cried her auditors, all together.

"Nothing more," said Aurelia. "Indeed she made as though he and I must
be acquainted, and I suppose that she took me for Harriet, but I knew
not how to explain."

"No doubt," said Harriet. "I was sick of the music and folly, and had
retired to the summerhouse with Peggy Duckworth, who had brought a sweet
sonnet of Mr. Ambrose Phillips, 'Defying Cupid.'"

Her father burst into a chuckling laugh, much to her mortification,
though she would not seem to understand it, and Betty took up the moral.

"Sir Amyas! Are you positive that you caught the name, child?"

"I thought so, sister," said Aurelia, with the insecurity produced by
such cross-questioning; "but I may have been mistaken, since, of course,
the true Sir Amyas Belamour would never be here without my father's

"Nor is there any other of the name," said her father, "except that
melancholic uncle of his who never leaves his dark chamber."

"Depend upon it," said Harriet, "Lady Herries said Sir Ambrose. No doubt
it was Sir Ambrose Watford."

"Nay, Harriet, I demur to that," said her father drolly. "I flatter
myself I was a more personable youth than to be likened to Watford with
his swollen nose. What like was your cavalier, Aura?"

"Indeed, sir, I cannot describe him. I was so much terrified lest he
should speak to me that I had much ado to mind my steps. I know he had
white gloves and diamond shoe-buckles, and that his feet moved by no
means like those of Sir Ambrose."

"Aura is a modest child, and does credit to her breeding," said Betty.
"Thus much I saw, that the young gentleman was tall and personable
enough to bear comparison even to you, sir, not more than nineteen or
twenty years of age, in a laced scarlet uniform, as I think, of the
Dragoon Guards, and with a little powder, but not enough to disguise
that his hair was entire gold."

"That all points to his being indeed young Belamour," said her father;
"age, military appearance, and all - I wonder what this portends!"

"What a disaster!" exclaimed Harriet, "that my sister and I should have
been out of the way, and only a chit like Aura be there to be presented
to him."

"If young ladies _will_ defy Cupid," began her father; - but at that
moment Corporal Palmer knocked at the door, bringing a basin of soup for
his master, and announcing "Supper is served, young ladies."

Each of the three bent her knee to receive her father's blessing and
kiss, then curtseying at the door, departed, Betty lingering behind her
two juniors to see her father taste his soup and to make sure that he
relished it.


All his Paphian mother fear;
Empress! all thy sway revere!
EURIPEDES (Anstice).

The parlour where the supper was laid was oak panelled, but painted
white. Like a little island in the vast polished slippery floor lay a
square much-worn carpet, just big enough to accommodate a moderate-sized
table and the surrounding high-backed chairs. There was a tent-stitch
rug before the Dutch-tiled fireplace, and on the walls hung two framed
prints, - one representing the stately and graceful Duke of Marlborough;
the other, the small, dark, pinched, but fiery Prince Eugene. On the
spotless white cloth was spread a frugal meal of bread, butter, cheese,
and lettuce; a jug of milk, another of water, and a bottle of cowslip
wine; for the habits of the family were more than usually frugal and

Frugality and health alike obliged Major Delavie to observe a careful
regimen. He had served in all Marlborough's campaigns, and had
afterwards entered the Austrian army, and fought in the Turkish war,
until he had been disabled before Belgrade by a terrible wound, of which
he still felt the effects. Returning home with his wife, the daughter of
a Jacobite exile, he had become a kind of agent in managing the family

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeLove and Life → online text (page 1 of 24)