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[Illustration: "My uncle followed his words with a brightening face,
and when they grew particularly mixed, he would exclaim, softly, 'It
is a great gift! a great gift!'"

The Victims of Dreams. Page 34.]




NOT PRETTY, BUT PRECIOUS, AND OTHER SHORT STORIES.

By

John Hay, Clara F. Guernsey, Margaret Hosmer, Harriet Prescott
Spofford, Lucy Hamilton Hooper, Etc.

Illustrated.


1872.




Contents.



Not Pretty, but Precious, _Margret Field_.
The Victims of Dreams, _Margaret Hosmer_.
The Cold Hand, _Clara F. Guernsey_.
The Blood Seedling, _John Hay_.
The Marquis, _Chauncey Hickox_.
Under False Colors, _Lucy Hamilton Hooper_.
The Hungry Heart, _J.W. De Forrest_.
"How Mother Did It," _J.R. Hadermann_.
The Red Fox, _Clara F. Guernsey_.
Louie, _Harriet Prescott Spofford_.
Old Sadler'S Resurrection, _R.D. Minor_.




Not Pretty, But Precious.



_Mille modi veneris!_


Part I.


Mr. Norval: It is now four weeks since your accident. I have made inquiry
of your physician whether news or business communications, however
important, brought to your attention, would be detrimental to you, cause
an accession of feverish symptoms or otherwise harm you. He assures me, On
the contrary, he is sure you have not been for years so free from disease
of any sort, with the sole exception of the broken bones, as now. This
being so, I venture to approach you upon a subject which I doubt not you
are quite as willing to have definitely arranged, and at once, as myself.
I can say what I mean, and as I mean it, so much better on paper than in
conversation - as I have so little self-possession, and am so readily put
out in the matter of argument - that I have determined to write to you,
thinking thus to be better able to make you understand and appreciate my
reasons and motives, since you can read them when and how you choose.

I have been your wife three weeks. The horrible strangeness of these words
is quite beyond me to compass; nevertheless, realize it or not, it is a
fact. I am your wife - you, my husband. Why I am your wife I wish simply to
rehearse here. Not that we do not both know why, but that we may know it
in the same way. You, a handsome, cultivated man, whose dictum is
considered law in the world of fashion in which you move and reign, with
an assured social position, a handsome fortune, and a popularity that
would have obtained for you the hand of any beautiful or wealthy woman
whom you sought, have deliberately chosen to make me, a poor, plain,
brown-faced little school-teacher, your wife. Not because you wanted _me_,
not because you thought or cared about _me_, one way or the other, but
simply because, in a time of urgent necessity, I was literally the only
available woman near you. It chanced, from many points of view and by a
chain of circumstances, that I was particularly available. So you married
me. The reasons for such a sacrifice of yourself were - you had behaved
badly, very badly, to a lady, compromising her name and causing a
separation between herself and her husband. Within a few months, her
husband having died, both herself and her father had determined to force
you to make her reparation by marriage. Going to work very warily, they
had taken an opportunity, after a very luxuriant and fast opera-supper,
when you were excited by your surroundings and flushed by the wine you had
been drinking, your head very light, your judgment very heavy, to draw
from you a promise of marriage at the expiration of the year of mourning
for her husband. As soon as you became aware of what you had done, you
ignominiously fled, and after a Western tour were about to sail for Europe
when this unfortunate accident overtook you. Your narrow escape from
death, upon having been thrown from the carriage of a distinguished
gentleman while driving with him behind a pair of celebrated racers, gave
such publicity to your adventure that your _amorata_ was at once aware of
your whereabouts. The fear of this had taken possession of you as soon as
you were able to think of anything, and the dread that she would follow
and marry you while you lay helpless was made a certainty by this telegram
from an intimate friend in New York, received the sixth day of your
illness:

"It's all up with you, old fellow. The R. has heard you're fast with a
broken leg, and she starts on Monday for Boston. Have the clergy ready,
for it's marriage."

Then in your bitter need you remembered having talked with me in this
hotel-parlor the very day of your accident. I had been a school-friend of
your dead sister, and for her sake, on the rare occasions of your seeing
me, you have always been polite and kindly patronized me. Now, lying
helpless and unable to extricate yourself from your dilemma, you recalled
the evident pleasure upon my foolish, tell-tale face at seeing you, the
delight I had betrayed in the attention you had shown me, such as finding
a seat at dinner for myself and my old lady friend, although some elegant
and fashionable girls were waiting with ill-suppressed eagerness for your
escort. Remembering all this, knowing as you did that I was poor, wearing
out my life in teaching, in your sore need you suddenly thought, "I wonder
if the girl wouldn't marry me? She'd make a good nurse, could look after
my traps, and, though she is as ugly as sin and a nobody, wouldn't be the
deuced disgrace to a fellow this Rollins woman will be. At all events,
she'll save me from that fate if she takes up with my offer. It's a choice
of evils, and this would be the least; and I'll try it." This, in plain,
unadorned speech, was what you thought. Then you sent for me, began very
pathetically to talk of your desolate state, your family all dead, and so
on; that it had been sadly brought home to you how alone you were while
lying sick, hour after hour, in this great hotel, with only your valet to
attend to you and take an interest in your well-being; and that, day after
day, as you lay thinking of your fate, my face had come before you,
recalling tender memories of your lost and dearly-loved sister. Then you
had remembered that as girl and boy we had been lovers, and really cared
very much for each other. As you got this far toward your _grande
dénouement_, something in my face, I suppose, made you realize that if you
were to compass your ends with me it must be by honesty only. Then you
blurted it all out - in, as I could not help thinking as I listened, as
school-boyish and abashed a way as if you had - well, as if you had not
been a consummate man of the world, rather noted for your _aplomb_.

It came across me (as I heard you in dumb amazement, with crimson face and
trembling frame) that even the best polish of years' laying on will crack
somewhere under very hard pressure. Well, you were honest and told me all,
never pretending, as you had at first essayed to do, that it was out of
any lingering regard for myself as your sister's friend that you sought me
now, but simply on account of my availability. Had there been some bright
young beauty with wealth and station at hand, no thought of me would ever
have entered your mind: all this I understood at once from your half
confessions - all this, I was glad to find, you had at least enough honor
to let me know, although you risked what to you in your actual situation
was very perilous - a refusal.

I asked until the next day to consider the matter - whether it would be
better to take service with you, exchange for my boarding, clothing and
incidental expenses the daily care of your comfort and pleasure, or earn
my bread in the old wearing way. And the second day after that we were
married. That is all. I believe that to be a simple statement of the facts
in your case: I am right, am I not?

The day after our marriage your lady-love and her paternal ancestor came.
At my own suggestion and with your eager consent I received them, and the
result you know.

Now for my own reasons for this strange marriage. You are aware that my
father was a professor of mathematics in various schools and colleges of
the city where he lived, teaching in the school, among others, in which
your sister and myself were pupils. I believe you know that when a young
man he had eloped with and married one of his scholars, the daughter of a
rich and proud family, who discarded her. For years she was a stranger to
them, until her husband had won a name and handsome fortune for himself:
then she was taken into favor again, her husband's distinction in the
scientific world being supposed to add lustre to the family name. Alas for
us! it was a favor that has cost us dear. I was their only child. When my
sweet, pretty mother lay dying she left to me, her sixteen-year-old child,
my dreamy, unworldly father as a legacy. "Take care of him: he knows no
guile, and your uncles will wrong him if they can," she said. And they
did, or one of them. Ere the bitter agony of my mother's death had enabled
him to return to his duties, it was discovered that one of her brothers
had forged his name and literally stripped him of everything.

Of course, then he went to work again to earn our daily bread - not with
his old love or ability, but in an inert, feeble way that was pitiful to
see. I think from the day my mother was buried he was dying. Some people,
you know, die hard - some part with life lightly, as if it was a faded robe
they shook off to don a brighter one. Others - my father was one, and I am
like him - see one by one their trusts, their hopes, their loves die: then
with a deathly throe sunder themselves from life. But pardon my
digression.

When I was twenty my father died. Since then, spite of expressions of
disapproval and offers of support from my mother's family, I have
maintained myself by teaching in the schools where my father had been
known, preferring to do without assistance so long as I had health. One of
my uncles desired to take me into his family, and thus wipe out the wrong
done my father by his brother, and my aunts proffered me an income out of
their private means. I mention this to do them every justice, but I think
even a man of fashion like yourself will acknowledge the impossibility of
my accepting, while I could avoid it, a life of dependence. I could not
accept favors from those who had treated my dear parents unkindly; so I
have e'en gone my own way for these last ten years, and led a not unhappy
life, if a busy and rather wearing one.

My gay cousins, all of whom you know well - the Wilber girls, Leta and
Jennie, pretty little Lou Barton, and another set of Wilbers whom I think
you do not know so well, who are married now - my gay cousins, then, most
of them beauties, all of them rich and fashionable, are somewhat ashamed
of me, and have let me feel it in every petty way that we women know so
well how to find. I am ugly and poor, my earning my own living is a spot
upon their gentility, and I have unfortunately, and quite against my will,
more than once given them cause for serious annoyance and apprehension.
Then, one of our uncles, who is a bachelor and very rich, has insisted
that I am never to be slighted - always to be invited to everything in the
shape of a party given by the family. If it lay with me, of course I would
never accept these invitations, but I have had it explained to me over and
over again that my not doing so is visited upon the party-givers in one
way or another by our masterful uncle Rufus. So, occasionally, very much
against my inclination, I leave my little third-story room, with its cozy
fire and humble adornments, and sit in the corner of their great rooms, a
"looker-on in Vienna" in every sense.

I have many kind friends: it would be strange if in all these years I had
not found some who did not care for outward advantages. I have dreamed my
sweet love-dream, and it is over, and the roses have grown above my buried
hopes.

Since then I have let one idea fill my life to the exclusion of everything
else, putting away from me all desires and thoughts of other needs; and
that too has left me. I call it an "idea" for lack of a better name. I had
put away all thought of marriage with my bright youth, but took into my
heart instead what I deemed would serve as well - a friendship for another
woman. For ten years we knew no separate life - I thought no separate
hopes. She had loved, been on the eve of marriage, her lover had died:
that was her heart's history, and henceforth the idea of love had fallen
out of both our lives - not the idea only, but the possibility of love. I
thought so - she _said_ so.

I trusted her and loved her with a perfect love. I wound my hopes about
her: I gave up all my life to her as if she had been my lover. I never
cared to form other friendships. I deprived myself of all possibilities of
making other ties of any sort, and with the first opportunity she whistled
me down the wind, and cared no more for me than if she had never professed
to love me. She had been my one bright thing - she was sweet and
winsome - the one golden gleam in my sombre life. My future was bound up in
her so completely that when she severed the fine, close cords (brittle,
yet so strong) which had bound us together for years, she cut into my
heart - nay more, wrested from me all my sweet trusts and faiths. If she is
false, who else in all God's earth is true? I pity myself very much. You,
of course, will not see why her marrying should make a difference if we
loved, and will call me selfish. Not so, not so! She might have married as
soon as it pleased her, and I should have been glad. It would have made a
difference, of course: she must in some sort have been parted from me, but
that I could have borne if it made her happy. But from her acceptance of
her lover - about whom we will say nothing, save that he was the sort of
man she had always held in abhorrence - she has coolly ignored my right to
any part or lot in her fate. She had told me (or I, poor fool! thought so)
every hope and fear of her life: now she told me what she chose, and was
astonished that I expected more - hurt that I seemed changed and did not
find my friendship flourish on crumbs after being nourished for years from
full loaves - was quite unhappy that I cared so little for the minor
concerns of her life, when, good lack! I did not know what I might or
might not ask and not be snubbed; for once she told me there were things
due to the man one is going to marry (at that time she had not got to the
extent of saying whom one loves) that could not be spoken of to me. Of
course she had only to mention the fact to me to make it perfectly plain,
and henceforth he and his doings, his belongings and himself, all of them
of the tamest sort at best, were a sealed book to me. And again she
quenched a feeble effort of mine to get back to my old place, by telling
me such topics she could discuss only with her sister, "her shadow sister"
she prettily called her. So I am desolate!

Knowing this, you may understand in some degree what could induce a little
waif like me to accept such an offer as yours. I think no one in all God's
earth is more desolate than I. In my heart I bear always that unforgotten
love in my life. I have only a barren waste to show. It is as if I had
started from a lovely, radiant garden in the fair morning of my life, in
which I had left the bright, sweet rose of my love, and walking along a
narrow, dark path, had clasped hands with, and drawn my light and warmth
from, a figure walking close beside me; and though from all sides as I
walked forms had come to me, offering me fair fruits and sweet flowers, I
declined them all without ever a word of thanks, being so content with my
one companion. And suddenly, when all my youth, all my prospects of other
things, had gone, this idealized one had withdrawn its hand-clasp, and
turning on me a face I did not know, faded into darkness, leaving me
nothing but my broken hopes, a wreath of withered flowers,

"Tangled down in chains about my feet."

You do not of course realize how the old French _émigré_ blood in my
veins, inherited from my father, makes this a very vital matter to me. We
cling to our hopes very tenaciously while they abide - then we are
distraught. We loved, my father and I, very few, but those with a clinging
oneness that is wellnigh pain: he loved my mother and myself - that was
all. Likewise I had my two: they having failed me, my life is a blank. I
have heard of empty-hearted people: I know now what the phrase means. I am
empty-hearted: I have not one hope, one particle of faith, one real,
honest desire, except to "drie my weir," as the Scotch say, doing my duty
as best I may, as it comes to me. But I have a woman's hatred of pity: my
cousins have long accorded me a contemptuous pity for being an old maid. I
laughed their pity to scorn while I had Esther Hooper. What more did I
need? We could enact over again the sweet old life of the Ladies of
Llangollen.

We had planned our lives a thousand times. Poor we both were, yet we would
put something away every year for our old age, and work cheerily on until
we could work no more, then creep to our nest like a couple of old
kittens, and cuddle down by our warm, pleasant fire - together, and
therefore content. Well, you see it was not to be: she had grown
affrighted, I suppose, at the thought of all that weary life with only me,
and has married a man who outrages all her delicate instincts and
traditions of an accordant husband. But why speak of him? He supports her,
and she has escaped the obloquy of old-maidism. She has married a
maintenance. She says she loves him, so of course she does.

For myself, my health, which has always been very rugged, has failed me
utterly this last year; but as my bread depends upon my ability to endure
daily and constant fatigue, I have forced myself to endeavor to get up the
amount of strength required for my winter's work by the present
expedition, planned for me by a friend. Bah! what do I talk of friendship
for? An old lady who was once a teacher in the school from which my father
had married my mother, and who, I think, had cared with more than
friendship for him, has in these last few years fallen heir to a small
property - not a very great deal, but enough to enable her to live in
comfort, and exercise her kindly heart in deeds of charity occasionally.
She has chosen for years to occupy rooms beneath my own, and has always
been a sort of mother to me. Most of the pretty things that have fallen
into my life, and most of its pleasures, have come to me through her. She
has many troublesome faults, as we all have, but she is old, and I have
always had Esther to talk them over and laugh them off with, so have borne
them easily. This year, because she saw I was dying, she took me with her
to the mountains of Vermont, and I have got a new lease of life, and new
capacities for suffering as well.

On our way back she was suddenly attacked with the illness which detained
us at this Boston hotel. Here your accident laid you up, and the rest came
as I have told.

You have married me to rid yourself of a union with a woman you detest,
being utterly indifferent to me. I have married you because I cannot bring
myself to go back to that old teaching-life, now so cold and gray. I think
I can earn my board in taking care of your belongings, and the having
saved you from a dreadful fate must compensate to you for the little of my
presence you will for the future be compelled to endure. It need not be
much or long continued if we start with a fair comprehension of each
other.

This brings me to the reason of all this long history. I have always
looked upon marriage without love as nothing more or less than legalized
vice. I think you, who are so intrinsically a man of the world, will have
imbibed the (so-called) sensible and popular views upon such subjects, and
will at once coincide with me that in such a union as ours - a literal
_mariage de convenance_ on both sides - my ideas are not unwise. Since upon
you will henceforth depend my maintenance (as I of course understand that
a wife who worked for her own support would be a disgrace to you: indeed,
I doubt whether the having married a girl who has already done so is not a
cause of shame), I ask that now, when Mrs. Keller is about to leave me,
and my arrangements as your wife must be finally made - when, in fact, her
giving up her room necessitates my coming to yours, her leaving compelling
me either to go with her, or come, as of course I must, to you - we may
have a definite understanding as to our future relations.

You have been kind enough to approve of the little I have been able to do
for you since our marriage - to say to Mrs. Keller you did not know what it
was to be taken care of in sickness; and to myself you have more than once
laughingly spoken of a wife as a good institution, adding, that had you
known how comfortable it was to have some one about you to think of and
care for you, you would have invested in the article before; and so on. I
am glad of this: I am pleased that my society has not proved repugnant to
you; for since it has been no annoyance in its first trial, I think we can
manage that it shall not be so in the future. I would ask, as an especial
piece of mercy to "your handmaiden," that you will grant her some favors
at the outset of our somewhat tangled fate. Please let me be your sister.
It is for your well-being the world should know me as your wife, and, the
Lord helping me, I will be a willing, faithful helpmeet to you, caring
most for your comfort and happiness, spending and being spent in your
service; never demanding or desiring your attention, except so much as is
due me in outward seeming; interfering with none of your pleasures or
pursuits, or thrusting my needs or feelings never before you. I have no
expectation of winning your love: it has been an understood thing from the
first - that is something neither expects from the other - therefore any
show of caressing fondness upon your part would be quite out of keeping
with our position. I have watched with some amusement, and a little pain
that you should imagine it requisite, your attempts at petting me during
these last two weeks. Poor, helpless man! it was a little hard to have to
pretend an interest and tenderness you did not feel. Will you let this
cease, with every other demonstration of affection, in our private
relations?

For the rest, claiming nothing from you, giving you nothing but the
services for which you render me a full equivalent, I grant you, as far as
I have a right to do so, the largest liberty of action. We are only
jealous of those we love: therefore all women will be as free to you as
they have hitherto been or their will accords, save that you have debarred
yourself for a time from offering any one of them marriage. I hope to be
so little trouble to you, and so serviceable to you in many ways, that you
shall realize to the full that if an unloving union could be so much more
comfortable than a bachelor's life, a life passed with a loving and
beloved wife would be bliss indeed, and so when my life has ended you will
not be sorry that I stopped in your path a few years. For I shall not
trouble you very long. I am a poor little perfumeless flower, having no
sweetness or beauty with which to charm the eye or senses, only fit to
grow among the kitchen herbs - rue and thyme, and such old-fashioned
things. But I need a great deal of sunshine, spite of my plainness, to
keep life in me. And now that all the heat and passion of love, all the
sunny hopes and glow of friendship, have left me, I shall just fade and
fade until some day you will find the poor little weed has dropped to
earth for ever.

I am but two years younger than yourself, and women, especially women with
a great sorrow, age cruelly fast. I look and feel older than I am - you
wear your years like a crown, and appear younger than you are. I have made
my little venture on life's ocean - made and failed: my barque, freighted
with a few cherished hopes, has been wrecked, and though I have reached a
rock to which I can cling for a time, yet I am terribly hurt, the waves
have buffeted me cruelly, and in a little while I shall let go my hold and
float out - out into the ocean of eternity. Ah! there is comfort after all:
life _is_ hard, but afterward there is peace and rest!

I am nearly through this long tirade. Pardon its length: it is my first,
and shall be my last, heart-outpouring to you; and if it make you
comprehend me, I shall not have written or you have read in vain.

Your income will not support the establishment your position in society


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