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cousin's answer.

" All I mean, Eve,"" she said, after a pause,
u is, that one ought not to expect, in a town as
new as this, the improvements that one sees in
an older state of society."

" And have Mademoiselle Viefville or I ever
been so weak as to suppose that New York is
Paris, or Rome, or Vienna ?"

Grace was still less satisfied, for, unknown
to herself, she had hoped Mrs. Houston's ball
might be quite equal to a ball in either of those
ancient capitals, and she was now vexed that her


cousin considered it so much as a matter of
course that it should not be. But there was
no time for explanation, as the carriage now

The noise, confusion, calling out, swearing,
and rude clamour before the door of Mrs.
Houston, said little for this part of the arrange
ment. Coachmen are nowhere a particularly
silent and civil class, but the uncouth Euro
pean peasants who have been preferred to the
honours of the whip in New York, added to
the usual feelings of competition and conten
tion that distinguish the occupation the senti
ment that is so well known to distinguish " the
beggar on horseback." The imposing equi
pages of our party, however, had that effect on
most of these rude brawlers that a display of
wealth is known to produce on the vulgar-mind
ed ; and the ladies got into the house through
a lane of coachmen, by yielding a little to a
chevaux-de-frise of whips, without any serious

" One hardly knows which is the most terri
fic," said Eve, involuntarily, as soon as the


door closed on them " the noise within, or
the noise without."

This was spoken rapidly and in French to
Mademoiselle Viefville, but Grace heard and
understood it, and for the first time in her life
she perceived that Mrs. Houston's company
was not composed of nightingales. The sur
prise is, that the discovery should have come
so late.

" I am delighted at having got into this
house," said Sir George, who, having thrown
his cloak to his own servant, stood with the two
other gentlemen waiting the descent of the
ladies from the upper room, where the bad
arrangements of the house compelled them to
uncloak and to put aside their shawls, " as I
am told it is the best house in town to see the
other sex."

" To hear them would be nearer the truth,
perhaps," returned John Effingham, in his dry
manner; " as for pretty women, one can hardly
go amiss in New York ; and one of your senses
now tells you that they do not come into the
world to be seen only."


The baronet smiled, but he was too well-
bred to contradict or to assent. Mademoiselle
Viefville, unconscious that she was violating
the proprieties, walked into the rooms by her
self as soon as she descended, followed by Eve ;
but Grace shrank to the side of John Effing-
ham, whose arm she took, as a step necessary
even to decorum.

Mrs. Houston received her guests with ease
and dignity. She was one of those females that
the American calls gay; in other words, she
opened her own house to a very promiscuous
society, ten or a dozen times in a winter, and
accepted the greater part of the invitations she
received to other people's. Still, in most other
countries, as a fashionable woman, she would
have been esteemed a model of devotion to the
duties of a wife and a mother, for she paid
personal attention to her household, and had
actually taught all her children the Lord's
Prayer, the creed, and the ten commandments.
She attended church twice every Sunday, and
stayed at home from the evening lectures, only
that the domestics might have an opportunity


of going (which, by the way, they never did,)
in her stead. Feminine, well-mannered, rich,
pretty, of a very positive social condition, and
naturally kind-hearted arid disposed to sociabi
lity, Mrs. Houston, supported by an indulgent
husband, who so much liked to see people with
the appearance of happiness that he was not
particular as to the means, had found no diffi
culty in rising to the pinnacle of fashion, and
of having her name in the mouths of all those
who found it necessary to talk of a somebody,
in order that they might seem to be somebodies
themselves. All this contributed to Mrs. Hous
ton's happiness, or she fancied it did ; and as
every passion is known to increase by indul
gence, she had insensibly gone on in her much-
envied career, until, as has just been said, she
reached the summit.

" These rooms are very crowded," said Sir
George, glancing his eyes around two very
pretty little narrow drawing-rooms, that were
beautifully, not to say richly, furnished : " it is
surprising that the same contracted style of
building should be so very general in a town


that increases so rapidly as this, and where
fashion has no fixed abode, and land is so abun

" Mrs. Bloomfield would tell you," said
Eve, " that these houses are types of the so
cial state of the country, in which no one is
permitted to occupy more than his own share
of ground."

"But there are reasonably large dwellings
in the place Mrs. Hawker has a good house,
and your father's, for instance, would be thought
so, too, even in London ; and yet, I think you
will agree with me in saying that a good room
is almost unseen in New York."

" I certainly agree with you in this parti
cular ; to meet with a good room, we must go
into the houses that were built thirty years ago.
We have inherited these snuggeries, however,
for London has not much to boast of in the
way of houses."

" In the way of town residences, I perfect
ly agree with you, as a whole, though we have
some capital exceptions : still, I do not think
we are quite so compact as this. Do you not


fancy the noise increased in consequence of its
being so confined ?"

Eve laughed, and shook her head most po

" What would it be, if fairly let out ?" she
said. " We must not lose the precious moments,
however, but turn our eyes about us in quest
of the belles. Grace, you who are so much
at home must be our cicerone, and tell us
which are the idols we are to worship. 1 '

" Dites-moi, premierement , que veut dire une
belle, a New York ?" demanded Mademoiselle
Viefville. " Apparemment tout le monde est

" A belle, Mademoiselle," returned John
Effingham, " is not necessarily beautiful, the
qualifications for the character being various
and a little contradictory. One may be a belle
by means of money, a tongue, an eye, a foot,
teeth, a laugh, or any other separate feature or
grace ; though no woman was ever yet a belle, I
believe, by means of the head, considered collec
tively. But why deal in description when the
thing itself confronts us ? The young lady


standing directly before us is a bell of the most
approved stamp, and silvery tone. Is it not
Miss Ring, Grace ?"

The answer was in the affirmative, and the
eyes of the whole party turned towards the sub
ject of this remark. The young lady in question
was about twenty, rather tall for an American
woman, not conspicuously handsome, but like
most around her of delicate features and frame,
and with such a physique as, under proper
training, would have rendered her the beau
ideal of feminine delicacy and gentleness. She
had natural spirit, it is true, as appeared in her
clear blue eye, and moreover she had the spirit
to be a belle.

Around this young creature were clustered
no less than five young men, dressed in the
height of the fashion, all of whom seemed to be
entranced with the words that fell from her
lips, and each of them evidently anxious to say
something clever in return. They all laughed,
the lady most, and sometimes all spoke at once.
Notwithstanding these outbreakings, Miss Ring
did most of the talking, and once or twice, as a



young man would gape after a most exhi
larating show of merriment, and discover an in
clination to retreat, she managed to recall him
to his allegiance by some remark particularly
pertinent to himself or to his feelings.

" Qui est cette dame?" asked Mademoiselle
Yiefville, very much as one would put a similar
question, on seeing a man enter a church, dur
ing service, with his hat on.

" EHe est demoiselle," returned Eve,

" Quelk horreur !"

" Nay, nay, Mademoiselle, I will not allow
you to set up France as immaculate on this
point either," said John Effingham, looking
at the last speaker with an affected frown " a
young lady may have a tongue, and she may
even speak to a young gentleman, and not be
guilty of felony, although I will admit that five
tongues are unnecessary, and that five listeners
are more than sufficient for the wisdom of
twenty in petticoats."

" C?est une horreur /"

" I dare say Miss Ring would think it a
greater horror to be obliged to pass an evening


in a row of girls unspoken to, except to be
asked to dance, and admired only in the dis
tance. But let us take seats on this sofa, and
then we may go beyond the pantomime, and
become partakers in the sentiment of the

Grace and Eve were now led off to dance,
and the others did as John Effingham had sug
gested. In the eyes of the belle and her ad
mirers they who had passed thirty were of no
account, and our listeners succeeded in esta
blishing themselves quietly within ear-shot
and this was almost at duelling distance too,
without at all interrupting the regular action of
the piece. We extract a little of the dialogue,
by way of giving a more dramatic representa
tion of what passed.

" Do you not think the youngest Miss Dan-
vers beautiful ?" asked the belle, while her eye
wandered in search of a sixth gentleman to
" entertain," as the phrase is. " In my opi
nion she is absolutely the prettiest female in the
rooms of Mrs. Houston to-night."

The young men, one and all, protested


against this judgment, and with perfect truth,
for Miss Ring was much too original to point
out charms that every one else could see.

" They say it will not be a match between
her and Mr. Egbert, after everybody has sup
posed it all settled so long. What is your opi
nion, Mr. Edson ?"

This timely question prevented Mr. Edson's
retreat, for he had actually got so far in this
important evolution as to have gaped and
turned his back. Recalled, as it were, by the
sound of the bugle, Mr. Edson was compelled
to say something, a sore affliction to him al

" Oh ! I'm quite of your way of thinking ;
they have certainly courted too long ever to
think of marrying."

" I detest long courtships ; they must be
perfect antidotes to love ; are they not, Mr.
Moreland ?"

A truant glance of Mr. Moreland's eye was
rebuked by this appeal, and instead of looking
for a place of refuge, he now merely looked
sheepish. He, however, entirely agreed with


the young lady, as the surest and promptest
way of getting out of the difficulty.

" Pray, Mr. Summerfield, how do you like
the last hajji Miss Eve Effingham ? To my
notion she is prettyish, though by no means as
well as her cousin Miss Van Courtlandt, who is
really rather good-looking."

As Eve and Grace were the two most truly
lovely young women in the rooms, this opinion,
as well as the loud tone in which it was given,
startled Mademoiselle Viefville quite as much as
the subjects that the belle had selected for this
public discussion. She would have moved, as
listening to a conversation that was not meant
for their ears, but John Effingham quietly as
sured her that Miss Ring seldom spoke in com
pany without intending as many persons as
possible to hear her. There would be no use
in changing their seats, moreover, the whole
action of the piece consisting principally of
private opinions uttered in a public manner.

" Miss Effingham is very plainly dressed for
an only daughter," continued the young lady,
" though that lace of her cousin's is real point !


I'll engage it cost every cent of ten dollars a
yard ! They are both engaged to be married,
I hear."

" del!" exclaimed Mademoiselle Viefville.

" Oh ! that is nothing," observed John Ef-
fingham, coolly. " Wait a moment, and you
will hear that they have been privately married
these six months, if, indeed, you hear no

" Of course this is but an idle tale ?" said
Sir George Templemore, with a concern, which ,
in despite of his good breeding, compelled
him to put a question that, under other cir
cumstances, would scarcely have been per

" As true as the gospel. But listen to the
bell it is ringing for the good of the whole

" The affair between Miss Effingham and
Mr. Morpeth, who knew her abroad, I under
stand is entirely broken off; some say the fa
ther objected to Mr. Morpeth 's want of for
tune, others that the lady was fickle, while
some accuse the gentleman of the same vice.


Don't you think it shocking to jilt, in either
sex, Mr. Mosely ?"

The retiring Mr. Mosely was drawn again
within the circle, and was obliged to confess
that he thought it was very shocking in either
sex to jilt.

" If I were a man," continued the belle, " I
should never think of a young woman who had
once jilted a lover. To my mind it bespeaks a
bad heart, and a woman with a bad heart can
not make a very amiable wife."

" What an exceedingly clever creature she
is," whispered Mr. Mosely to Mr. Moreland,
and he made up his mind to remain and be
66 entertained " some time longer.

" I think poor Mr. Morpeth greatly to be
pitied, for no man can be so silly as to be atten
tive, seriously, to a lady, without encourage
ment. Encouragement is the ne plus ultra of
courtship : are you not of my opinion, Mr.
Wai worth?"

Mr. Walworth was number five of the enter-
tainees, and he did understand Latin, of which
the young lady, though fond of using scraps,


knew nothing. He smiled an assent, therefore,
and the belle felicitated herself on having " en
tertained " him effectually, nor was she much

c< Indeed, they say Miss Effingham had seve
ral affairs of the heart while she was in Eu
rope, but it seems she was unfortunate in them

" Mais ceci est trop fort! Je ne veux plus

" My dear Mademoiselle, compose yourself.
The crisis is not yet arrived.""

" I understand she still corresponds with a
German baron and an Italian marquis, though
both engagements are absolutely broken off.
Some people say she walks into company alone,
unsupported by any gentleman, by way of an
nouncing her firm determination to remain
single for life."

A common exclamation from the young men
proclaimed their disapprobation, and that night
three of them actually repeated the thing as a
well-established truth ; and two of the three,
failing of something better to talk about, also


announced the additional information that Eve
was engaged to be married.

" There is something extremely indelicate in
a young lady's moving about a room without
having a gentleman's arm to lean on ! I always
feel as if such a person was out of place, and
ought to be in the kitchen."

"But Miss Ring, what well-bred person
does it ?" sputtered Mr. Moreland. " No
one ever heard of such a thing in good society."

" "Tis quite shocking ! altogether unprece
dented !"

" It strikes me as being excessively coarse !"

" Oh ! manifestly, quite rustic !" exclaim
ed Mr. Edson.

" What can possibly be more vulgar ?" add
ed Mr. Walworth.

" I never heard of such a thing, among the
right sort !" said Mr. Mosely.

" A young lady who can be so brazen as to
come into a room, without a gentleman's arm
to lean on, is, in my judgment, at least but in
differently educated, Hajji, or no Hajji. Mr.
Edson, have you ever felt the tender passion ?


I know you have been desperately in love once
at least ; do describe to me some of the sym
ptoms, in order that I may know when I am
attacked myself, seriously, with the disease."

" Mais, ceci est ridicule ! U enfant s'est
sauvee du Charenton de New York."

" From the nursery rather, Mademoiselle ;
you perceive she does not yet know how to
walk alone."

Mr. Edson now protested that he was too
stupid to feel a passion so intellectual as that
of love, and that he was afraid he was destined
by nature to remain as insensible as a block.

" One never knows, Mr. Edson," said the
young lady encouragingly " several of my
acquaintances who thought themselves quite
safe, have been seized suddenly, and, though
none have actually died, more than one has
been roughly treated, I assure you."

Here the young men, one and all, protested
that she was excessively clever ! Then succeed
ed a pause, for Miss Ring was inviting, by her
eyes, a number six to join her circle, her ambi
tion being dissatisfied with five entertainees, as


she saw that Miss Trumpet, a rival belle, had
managed to get together exactly that number,
also, in the other room. All the gentlemen
availed themselves of the cessation in wit to
gape, and Mr. Edson took the occasion to re
mark to Mr. Summerfield that he understood
" lots had been sold in seven hundreth street
that morning as high as two hundred dollars a

The quadrille now ende^ and Eve returned
towards her friends. As she approached, the
whole party unavoidably compared her quiet,
simple, feminine, and yet dignified air, with the
restless, beau-catching, and worldly look of the
belle, and wondered by what law of nature, or
of fashion, the one could possibly become the
subject of the other's comments. Eve never ap
peared better than on that evening. Her dress
had all the accuracy and finish of a Parisian
toilette, being equally removed, from exaggera
tion and neglect, and it was worn with the ease
of one accustomed to be always elegantly attir
ed and yet never decked with finery. Her step,
even, was that of a lady, having neither the


mincing tread of a Paris grisette, (a manner
that sometimes ascends even to the bourgeoise,)
the march of a cockneyess, nor the tiptoe swing
of a belle; but it was the natural though regu
lated step of a trained and delicate woman.
Walk alone she could certainly, and always
did, except on those occasions of ceremony that
demanded a partner. Her countenance, also,
across which an unworthy thought had never
left a trace, was an|jndex to the purity, high
principles, and womanly self-respect that con
trolled all her actions, and in these particulars
was the very opposite of the feverish, half-hoy-
denish, half-affected expression of that of Miss

" They may say what they please," muttered
Captain Truck, clenching his fist, for he had
been a silent but wondering witness of all that
passed ; " she is worth as many of them as
could be stowed into the Montauk's lower

Miss Ring, perceiving Eve approach, was de
sirous of saying something to her, for there was
an 6clat about a Hajji, after all, that rendered


an acquaintance, or even an intimacy, desirable ;
and she smiled and curtsied. Eve returned the
salutation, but as she did not care to approach
a group of six, of which no less than five were
men, she continued to move towards her own
party. This reserve induced Miss Ring to ad
vance a step or two, when Eve was compelled
to stop. Curtseying to her partner, she thank
ed him for his attention, relinquished his arm,
and turned to meet the lady. At the same in
stant the five " entertainees" escaped in a body,
equally rejoiced at their release and proud of
their captivity.

M I have been dying to come and speak to
you, Miss Effingham," commenced Miss Ring ;
" but these Jive giants " (she emphasized the
word we have put in Italics) " so beset me, that
escape was quite impossible. There ought to
be a law that but one gentleman should speak
to a lady at a time."

" I thought there was such a law already,"
said Eve, smiling.

" You mean in the code of good breeding ;
but no one thinks of these antiquated laws


now-a-days. Are you beginning to be recon
ciled a little to your own country ?"

" It is not easy to effect a reconciliation
where there has been no misunderstanding ; I
hope I have not quarrelled with my country,
nor my country with me."

" Oh ! it is not exactly that I mean. Can
not one need a reconciliation without a quarrel ?
What do you say to this, Mr. Edson ?"

Miss Ring, having detected some symptoms
of desertion in the gentleman addressed, had
thrown in this question by way of recall ; when,
turning to note its effect, she perceived that all
ofherclientelle had escaped. A look of sur
prise, and mortification, and vexation, it was
not in her power to suppress ; and then came
one of horror.

" How conspicuous we have made ourselves,
and it is all my fault ! v she said, for the first
time that evening permitting her voice to fall
to a becoming tone. " Why, here we actually
are, two ladies conversing together, and no
gentleman near us !"

" Is that being conspicuous ?" asked Eve,


with a simplicity that was entirely natu

" I am sure. Miss Effingham, one who has
seen as much of society as you, can scarcely ask
that question seriously. I do not think I have
done so improper a thing since I was fifteen ;
and dear' me ! dear me! how to escape is
the question ? You have permitted your part
ner to go, and I do not see a gentleman of my
acquaintance near us to give me his arm I"

" As your distress is occasioned by my com
pany," said Eve, " it is fortunately in my
power to relieve it :" thus saying, she quietly
walked across the room, and took her seat next
to Mademoiselle Viefville.

Miss Ring held up her hands in amazement,
and then, fortunately perceiving one of the
truants gaping at no great distance, she beck
oned him to her side.

" Have the extreme goodness to give me
your arm, Mr. Summerfield," she said; " I am
dying to get out of this unpleasantly conspi
cuous situation ; but you are the first gentle
man that has approached me this twelvemonth.


I would not, for the world, do so brazen a thing
as Miss Effingham has just achieved. Would
you believe it ? she positively went from this
spot to her seat quite alone !"

" The Hajjis are privileged, and surprisingly

" They make themselves so. But every
body knows how bold and unwomanly the
French females are, One could wish, how
ever, that our own people would not import
their audacious ways into this country."

" 'Tis a thousand pities that Mr. Clay, in his
compromise, neglected to make an exception
against that article. A tariff on impudence
would not be at all sectional."

" It might interfere with the manufacture at
home, notwithstanding," said John Effingham,
for the lungs were strong, and the rooms of
Mrs. Houston so small, that little was said
that evening which was not heard by any who
chose to listen. But Miss Ring never listened,
it being no part of the vocation of a belle to
perform that inferior office ; and, sustained by
the protecting arm of Mr. Summerfield, she


advanced more boldly into the crowd, where she
soon contrived to catch another group of even
six " entertainees." As for Mr. Summerfield,
he lived a twelvemonth on the reputation of the
exceedingly clever thing he had just uttered.

" There come Ned and Aristobulus," said
John Effingham, as soon as the tones of Miss
Ring's voice were lost in the din of fifty others,
pitched to the same key. " A present, Made
moiselle, je vais nous venger"

As John Effingham uttered this, he took
Captain Truck by the arm, and went to meet
his cousin and the land-agent. The latter he
soon separated from Mr. Effingham, and with
this new recruit he managed to get so near
Miss Ring as to attract her attention. Al
though fifty, John Effingham was known to be
a bachelor, well connected, and to have seven
teen thousand a year. In addition, he was well
preserved and singularly handsome, besides
having an air that set all pretending gentility
at defiance. These were qualities that no belle
despised, and ill assorted matches were, more
over, just coming into fashion in New York



Miss Ring had an intuitive knowledge that he
wished to speak to her, and she was not slow in
offering the opportunity. The superior tone of
John Effingham, his caustic wit and his know
ledge of the world, dispersed the five beaux in
continently ; for these persons have a natural

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Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperEve Effingham : or, Home → online text (page 6 of 13)