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The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 03, No. 19, May, 1859 online

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Prissy. "It wants a little taken in here on the shoulders, and a
little under the arms. The biases are all right; the sleeves will want
altering, Miss Scudder. I hope you will have a hot iron ready for
pressing."

Mrs. Scudder rose immediately, to see the command obeyed; and as her
back was turned, Miss Prissy went on in a low tone, -

"Now, _I_, for my part, don't think there's a word of truth in that
story about James Marvyn and Jane Spencer; for I was down there at work
one day when he called, and I _know_ there couldn't have been anything
between them, - besides, Miss Spencer, her mother, told me there
wasn't. - There, Miss Scudder, you see that is a good fit. It's
astonishing how near it comes to fitting, just as it was. I didn't think
Mary was so near what you were, when you were a girl, Miss Scudder. The
other day, when I was up to General Wilcox's, the General he was in the
room when I was a-trying on Miss Wilcox's cherry velvet, and she was
asking couldn't I come this week for her, and I mentioned I was coming
to Miss Scudder, and the General says he, - 'I used to know her when she
was a girl. I tell you, she was one of the handsomest girls in Newport,
by George!' says he. And says I, - 'General, you ought to see her
daughter.' And the General, - you know his jolly way, - he laughed, and
says he, - 'If she is as handsome as her mother was, I don't want to see
her,' says he. 'I tell you, wife,' says he, 'I but just missed falling
in love with Katy Stephens.'"

"I could have told her more than that," said Mrs. Scudder, with a
flash of her old coquette girlhood for a moment lighting her eyes and
straightening her lithe form. "I guess, if I should show a letter he
wrote me once - - But what am I talking about?" she said, suddenly
stiffening back into a sensible woman. "Miss Prissy, do you think it
will be necessary to cut it off at the bottom? It seems a pity to cut
such rich silk."

"So it does, I declare. Well, I believe it will do to turn it up."

"I depend on you to put it a little into modern fashion, you know," said
Mrs. Scudder. "It is many a year, you know, since it was made."

"Oh, never you fear! You leave all that to me," said Miss Prissy. "Now,
there never was anything so lucky as, that, just before all these
wedding-dresses had to be fixed, I got a letter from my sister Martha,
that works for all the first families of Boston. And Martha she is
really unusually privileged, because she works for Miss Cranch, and Miss
Cranch gets letters from Miss Adams, - you know Mr. Adams is Ambassador
now at the Court of St. James, and Miss Adams writes home all the
particulars about the court-dresses; and Martha she heard one of the
letters read, and she told Miss Cranch that she would give the best
five-pound-note she had, if she could just copy that description to send
to Prissy. Well, Miss Cranch let her do it, and I've got a copy of the
letter here in my work-pocket. I read it up to Miss General Wilcox's,
and to Major Seaforth's, and I'll read it to you."

Mrs. Katy Scudder was a born subject of a crown, and, though now a
republican matron, had not outlived the reverence, from childhood
implanted, for the high and stately doings of courts, lords, ladies,
queens, and princesses, and therefore it was not without some awe that
she saw Miss Prissy produce from her little black work-bag the well-worn
epistle.

"Here it is," said Miss Prissy, at last. "I only copied out the parts
about being presented at Court. She says: -

"'One is obliged here to attend the circles of the Queen, which are held
once a fortnight; and what renders it very expensive is, that you cannot
go twice in the same dress, and a court-dress you cannot make use of
elsewhere. I directed my mantua-maker to let my dress be elegant, but
plain as I could possibly appear with decency. Accordingly, it is white
lutestring, covered and full-trimmed with white crape, festooned with
lilac ribbon and mock point-lace, over a hoop of enormous size. There
is only a narrow train, about three yards in length to the gown-waist,
which is put into a ribbon on the left side, - the Queen only having her
train borne. Ruffled cuffs for married ladies, - treble lace ruffles, a
very dress cap with long lace lappets, two white plumes, and a blonde
lace handkerchief. This is my rigging.'"

Miss Prissy here stopped to adjust her spectacles. Her audience
expressed a breathless interest.

"You see," she said, "I used to know her when she was Nabby Smith. She
was Parson Smith's daughter, at Weymouth, and as handsome a girl as
ever I wanted to see, - just as graceful as a sweet-brier bush. I don't
believe any of those English ladies looked one bit better than she did.
She was always a master-hand at writing. Everything she writes about,
she puts it right before you. You feel as if you'd been there. Now, here
she goes on to tell about her daughter's dress. She says: -

"'My head is dressed for St. James's, and in my opinion looks very
tasty. Whilst my daughter is undergoing the same operation, I set myself
down composedly to write you a few lines. Well, methinks I hear Betsey
and Lucy say, "What is cousin's dress?" _White_, my dear girls, like
your aunt's, only differently trimmed and ornamented, - her train being
wholly of white crape, and trimmed with white ribbon; the petticoat,
which is the most showy part of the dress, covered and drawn up in
what are called festoons, with light wreaths of beautiful flowers; the
sleeves, white crape drawn over the silk, with a row of lace round the
sleeve near the shoulder, another half-way down the arm, and a third
upon the top of the ruffle, - a little stuck between, - a kind of hat-cap
with three large feathers and a bunch of flowers, - a wreath of flowers
on the hair.'"

Miss Prissy concluded this relishing description with a little smack of
the lips, such as people sometimes give when reading things that are
particularly to their taste.

"Now, I was a-thinking," she added, "that it would be an excellent way
to trim Mary's sleeves, - three rows of lace, with a sprig to each row."

All this while, our Mary, with her white short-gown and blue
stuff-petticoat, her shining pale brown hair and serious large blue
eyes, sat innocently looking first at her mother, then at Miss Prissy,
and then at the finery.

We do not claim for her any superhuman exemption from girlish feelings.
She was innocently dazzled with the vision of courtly halls and princely
splendors, and thought Mrs. Adams's descriptions almost a perfect
realization of things she had read in "Sir Charles Grandison." If her
mother thought it right and proper she should be dressed and made fine,
she was glad of it; only there came a heavy, leaden feeling in her
little heart, which she did not understand, but we who know womankind
will translate for you: it was, that a certain pair of dark eyes would
not see her after she was dressed; and so, after all, what was the use
of looking pretty?

"I wonder what James _would_ think," passed through her head; for Mary
had never changed a ribbon, or altered the braid of her hair, or pinned
a flower in her bosom, that she had not quickly seen the effect of the
change mirrored in those dark eyes. It was a pity, of course, now she
had found out that she ought not to think about him, that so many
thought-strings were twisted round him.

So while Miss Prissy turned over her papers, and read out of others
extracts about Lord Caermarthen and Sir Clement Cotterel Dormer and the
Princess Royal and Princess Augusta, in black and silver, with a silver
netting upon the coat, and a head stuck full of diamond pins, - and Lady
Salisbury and Lady Talbot and the Duchess of Devonshire, and scarlet
satin sacks and diamonds and ostrich-plumes, and the King's kissing Mrs.
Adams, - little Mary's blue eyes grew larger and larger, seeing far off
on the salt green sea, and her ears heard only the ripple and murmur of
those waters that earned her heart away, - till, by-and-by, Miss Prissy
gave her a smart little tap, which awakened her to the fact that she was
wanted again to try on the dress which Miss Prissy's nimble fingers had
basted.

So passed the day, - Miss Prissy busily chattering, clipping,
basting, - Mary patiently trying on to an unheard-of extent, - and Mrs.
Scudder's neat room whipped into a perfect froth and foam of gauze,
lace, artificial flowers, linings, and other aids, accessories, and
abetments.

At dinner, the Doctor, who had been all the morning studying out his
Treatise on the Millennium, discoursed tranquilly as usual, innocently
ignorant of the unusual cares which were distracting the minds of his
listeners. What should he know of dress-makers, good soul? Encouraged
by the respectful silence of his auditors, he calmly expanded and
soliloquized on his favorite topic, the last golden age of Time, the
Marriage-Supper of the Lamb, when the purified Earth, like a repentant
Psyche, shall be restored to the long-lost favor of a celestial
Bridegroom, and glorified saints and angels shall walk familiarly as
wedding-guests among men.

"Sakes alive!" said little Miss Prissy, after dinner, "did I ever hear
any one go on like that blessed man? - such a spiritual mind! Oh, Miss
Scudder, how you are privileged in having him here! I do really think it
is a shame such a blessed man a'n't thought more of. Why, I could just
sit and hear him talk all day. Miss Scudder, I wish sometimes you'd just
let me make a ruffled shirt for him, and do it all up myself, and put a
stitch in the hem that I learned from my sister Martha, who learned it
from a French young lady who was educated in a convent; - nuns, you know,
poor things, can do _some_ things right; and I think _I_ never saw such
hemstitching as they do there; - and I should like to hemstitch the
Doctor's ruffles; he is _so_ spiritually-minded, it really makes me love
him. Why, hearing him talk put me in mind of a real beautiful song of
Mr. Watts, - I don't know as I could remember the tune."

And Miss Prissy, whose musical talent was one of her special _fortes_,
tuned her voice, a little cracked and quavering, and sang, with a
vigorous accent on each accented syllable, -

"From _the_ third heaven, where God resides,
That holy, happy place,
The New Jerusalem comes down,
Adorned with shining grace.

"Attending angels shout for joy,
And the bright armies sing, -
'Mortals! behold the sacred seat
Of your descending King!'"

"Take care, Miss Scudder! - that silk must be cut exactly on the bias";
and Miss Prissy, hastily finishing her last quaver, caught the silk and
the scissors out of Mrs. Scudder's hand, and fell down at once from
the Millennium into a discourse on her own particular way of covering
piping-cord.

So we go, dear reader, - so long as we have a body and a soul. Two worlds
must mingle, - the great and the little, the solemn and the trivial,
wreathing in and out, like the grotesque carvings on a Gothic
shrine; - only, did we know it rightly, nothing is trivial; since the
human soul, with its awful shadow, makes all things sacred. Have not
ribbons, cast-off flowers, soiled bits of gauze, trivial, trashy
fragments of millinery, sometimes had an awful meaning, a deadly power,
when they belonged to one who should wear them no more, and whose
beautiful form, frail and crushed as they, is a hidden and a vanished
thing for all time? For so sacred and individual is a human being, that,
of all the million-peopled earth, no one form ever restores another.
The mould of each mortal type is broken at the grave; and never, never,
though you look through all the faces on earth, shall the exact form you
mourn ever meet your eyes again! You are living your daily life among
trifles that one death-stroke may make relics. One false step, one
luckless accident, an obstacle on the track of a train, the tangling of
the cord in shifting a sail, and the penknife, the pen, the papers, the
trivial articles of dress and clothing, which to-day you toss idly and
jestingly from hand to hand, may become dread memorials of that awful
tragedy whose deep abyss ever underlies our common life.


CHAPTER XIII.

THE PARTY.


Well, let us proceed to tell how the eventful evening drew on, - how
Mary, by Miss Prissy's care, stood at last in a long-waisted gown
flowered with rose-buds and violets, opening in front to display a white
satin skirt trimmed with lace and flowers, - how her little feet were
put into high-heeled shoes, and a little jaunty cap with a wreath of
moss-rose-buds was fastened over her shining hair, - and how Miss Prissy,
delighted, turned her round and round, and then declared that she must
go and get the Doctor to look at her. She knew he must be a man of
taste, he talked so beautifully about the Millennium; and so, bursting
into his study, she actually chattered him back into the visible world,
and, leading the blushing Mary to the door, asked him, point-blank, if
he ever saw anything prettier.

The Doctor, being now wide awake, gravely gave his mind to the subject,
and, after some consideration, said, gravely, "No, - he didn't think he
ever did." For the Doctor was not a man of compliment, and had a habit
of always thinking, before he spoke, whether what he was going to say
was exactly true; and having lived some time in the family of President
Edwards, renowned for beautiful daughters, he naturally thought them
over.

The Doctor looked innocent and helpless, while Miss Prissy, having
got him now quite into her power, went on volubly to expatiate on the
difficulties overcome in adapting the ancient wedding-dress to its
present modern fit. He told her that it was very nice, - said, "Yes,
Ma'am," at proper places, - and, being a very obliging man, looked at
whatever he was directed to, with round, blank eyes; but ended all with
a long gaze on the laughing, blushing face, that, half in shame and
half in perplexed mirth, appeared and disappeared as Miss Prissy in her
warmth turned her round and showed her.

"Now, don't she look beautiful?" Miss Prissy reiterated for the
twentieth time, as Mary left the room.

The Doctor, looking after her musingly, said to himself, - "'The king's
daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold; she
shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework.'"

"Now, did I ever?" said Miss Prissy, rushing out. "How that good man
does turn everything! I believe you couldn't get anything, that he
wouldn't find a text right out of the Bible about it. I mean to get the
linen for that shirt this very week, with the Miss Wilcox's money; they
always pay well, those Wilcoxes, - and I've worked for them, off and on,
sixteen days and a quarter. To be sure, Miss Scudder, there's no
real need of my doing it, for I must say you keep him looking like a
pink, - but only I feel as if I must do something for such a good man."

The good Doctor was brushed up for the evening with zealous care and
energy; and if he did _not_ look like a pink, it was certainly no fault
of his hostess.

Well, we cannot reproduce in detail the faded glories of that
entertainment, nor relate how the Wilcox Manor and gardens were
illuminated, - how the bride wore a veil of real point-lace, - how
carriages rolled and grated on the gravel works, and negro servants, in
white kid gloves, handed out ladies in velvet and satin.

To Mary's inexperienced eye it seemed like an enchanted dream, - a
realization of all she had dreamed of grand and high society. She had
her little triumph of an evening; for everybody asked who that beautiful
girl was, and more than one gallant of the old Newport first families
felt himself adorned and distinguished to walk with her on his arm.
Busy, officious dowagers repeated to Mrs. Scudder the applauding
whispers that followed her wherever she went.

"Really, Mrs. Scudder," said gallant old General Wilcox, "where have you
kept such a beauty all this time? It's a sin and a shame to hide such a
light under a bushel."

And Mrs. Scudder, though, of course, like you and me, sensible reader,
properly apprised of the perishable nature of such fleeting honors, was,
like us, too, but a mortal, and smiled condescendingly on the follies of
the scene.

The house was divided by a wide hall opening by doors, the front one
upon the street, the back into a large garden, the broad central walk
of which, edged on each side with high clipped hedges of box, now
resplendent with colored lamps, seemed to continue the prospect in a
brilliant vista.

The old-fashioned garden was lighted in every part, and the company
dispersed themselves about it in picturesque groups.

We have the image in our mind of Mary as she stood with her little hat
and wreath of rose-buds, her fluttering ribbons and rich brocade, as it
were a picture framed in the door-way, with her back to the illuminated
garden, and her calm, innocent face regarding with a pleased wonder the
unaccustomed gayeties within.

Her dress, which, under Miss Prissy's forming hand, had been made to
assume that appearance of style and fashion which more particularly
characterized the mode of those times, formed a singular, but not
unpleasing, contrast to the sort of dewy freshness of air and mien which
was characteristic of her style of beauty. It seemed so to represent
a being who was in the world, yet not of it, - who, though living
habitually in a higher region of thought and feeling, was artlessly
curious, and innocently pleased with a fresh experience in an altogether
untried sphere. The feeling of being in a circle to which she did not
belong, where her presence was in a manner an accident, and where she
felt none of the responsibilities which come from being a component part
of a society, gave to her a quiet, disengaged air, which produced all
the effect of the perfect ease of high breeding.

While she stands there, there comes out of the door of the bridal
reception-room a gentleman with a stylishly-dressed lady on either arm,
with whom he seems wholly absorbed. He is of middle height, peculiarly
graceful in form and moulding, with that indescribable air of
high breeding which marks the polished man of the world. His
beautifully-formed head, delicate profile, fascinating sweetness of
smile, and, above all, an eye which seemed to have an almost mesmeric
power of attraction, were traits which distinguished one of the most
celebrated men of the time, and one whose peculiar history yet lives
not only in our national records, but in the private annals of many an
American family.

"Good Heavens!" he said, suddenly pausing in conversation, as his eye
accidentally fell upon Mary. "Who is that lovely creature?"

"Oh, that," said Mrs. Wilcox, - "why, that is Mary Scudder. Her father
was a family connection of the General's. The family are in rather
modest circumstances, but highly respectable."

After a few moments more of ordinary chit-chat, in which from time to
time he darted upon her glances of rapid and piercing observation, the
gentleman might have been observed to disembarrass himself of one of the
ladies on his arm, by passing her with a compliment and a bow to another
gallant, and, after a few moments more, he spoke something to Mrs.
Wilcox, in a low voice, and with that gentle air of deferential
sweetness which always made everybody well satisfied to do his will. The
consequence was, that in a few moments Mary was startled from her calm
speculations by the voice of Mrs. Wilcox, saying at her elbow, in a
formal tone, -

"Miss Scudder, I have the honor to present to your acquaintance Colonel
Burr, of the United States Senate."

(To be continued.)




THE WALKER OF THE SNOW.


Speed on, speed on, good master!
The camp lies far away; -
We must cross the haunted valley
Before the close of day.

How the snow-blight came upon me
I will tell you as we go, -
The blight of the shadow hunter
Who walks the midnight snow.

To the cold December heaven
Came the pale moon and the stars,
As the yellow sun was sinking
Behind the purple bars.

The snow was deeply drifted
Upon the ridges drear
That lay for miles between me
And the camp for which we steer.

'Twas silent on the hill-side,
And by the solemn wood
No sound of life or motion
To break the solitude,

Save the wailing of the moose-bird
With a plaintive note and low,
And the skating of the red leaf
Upon the frozen snow.

And said I, - "Though dark is falling,
And far the camp must be,
Yet my heart it would be lightsome,
If I had but company."

And then I sang and shouted,
Keeping measure, as I sped,
To the harp-twang of the snow-shoe
As it sprang beneath my tread.

Nor far into the valley
Had I dipped upon my way,
When a dusky figure joined me,
In a capuchon of gray,

Bending upon the snow-shoes
With a long and limber stride;
And I hailed the dusky stranger,
As we travelled side by side.

But no token of communion
Gave he by word or look,
And the fear-chill fell upon me
At the crossing of the brook.

For I saw by the sickly moonlight,
As I followed, bending low,
That the walking of the stranger
Left no foot-marks on the snow.

Then the fear-chill gathered o'er me,
Like a shroud around me cast,
As I sank upon the snow-drift
Where the shadow hunter passed.

And the otter-trappers found me,
Before the break of day,
With my dark hair blanched and whitened
As the snow in which I lay.

But they spoke not, as they raised me;
For they knew that in the night
I had seen the shadow hunter,
And had withered in his blight.

Sancta Maria speed us!
The sun is falling low, -
Before us lies the Valley
Of the Walker of the Snow!




REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.


_A New History of the Conquest of Mexico._ In which Las Casas'
Denunciations of the Popular Historians of that War are fully
vindicated. By ROBERT ANDERSON WILSON, Counsellor at Law; Author of
"Mexico and its Religion," etc., Philadelphia: James Challen & Son.
Boston: Crosby, Nichols, & Co.

(SECOND NOTICE.)

According to the well-authenticated legend of the martyrdom of Saint
Lawrence, the Saint, as he lay upon the grid-iron, conscious that he
had been sufficiently done on one side, begged the cooks, if it were
a matter of indifference to them, to turn him on the other. Common
humanity demanded compliance with so reasonable a request. We fancy that
we hear Mr. Wilson, preferring a similar petition; and we hope we are
too good-natured to be insensible to the appeal. We cannot, at this
moment, indeed, think of him otherwise than good-naturedly. With many
things in his book we have been highly pleased. The number, the
novelty, and the variety of his blunders have given us a very favorable
impression of his ingenuity, and have afforded us constant entertainment
in what we feared was to be a drudgery and a task. We had intended to
cull some of these beauties for the amusement of our readers and
the personal gratification of Mr. Wilson himself. But, as children,
gathering shells on the sea-shore, resign, one after another, the
treasures which they have collected, and grasp at newer, and, therefore,
more pleasing specimens, which are abandoned in their turn, so we,
finding our stores accumulate beyond our means of transportation, and
tantalized by a richness that made the task of selection an impossible
one, have been forced to relinquish the prize and come away with empty
hands. If there be, in the compass of what the author calls "these
volumes," - though to us, perhaps from inability to distinguish between
unity and duality, his work appears to be comprised in a single tome, - a
sentence decently constructed, a foreign name correctly spelt, a
punctuation-mark rightly placed, a fact clearly and accurately stated,
or an argument that is not capable of an easy reduction to the absurd,
we have not been so unfortunate as to discover it. Mr. Wilson is a man
who, to use Carlyle's favorite expression, has "swallowed all formulas."
The principles that have generally been held to govern the use of
language appear to him mere arbitrary rules, invented by the "sevenfold
censorship" and the Spanish Inquisition, for the purpose of preventing
the free communication of ideas. All such trammels he rejects; and,
accordingly, we have to thank him, so far as mere style is concerned,
for an uninterrupted flow of pleasure in the perusal of his book,
adorned as it is with "graces" that are very far indeed "beyond the
reach of Art."

We come now to those important questions which Mr. Wilson was not,


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