Eager to prove that he was not a sycophant, Forester, when he returned home with his friend Henry, took every possible occasion to contradict him, with even more than his customary rigidity; nay, he went further still, to vindicate his sincerity.
Flora Campbell had never entirely recovered our hero’s esteem, since she had unwittingly expressed her love for Scotch reels; but she was happily unconscious of the crime she had committed, and was wholly intent upon pleasing her father and mother, her brother Henry, and herself. She had a constant flow of good spirits, and the charming domestic talent of making every trifle a source of amusement to herself and others: she was sprightly, without being frivolous; and the uniform sweetness of her temper showed, that she was not in the least in want of flattery, or dissipation, to support her gaiety. But Forester, as the friend of her brother, thought it incumbent upon him to discover faults in her which no one else could discover, and to assist in her education, though she was only one year younger than himself. She had amused herself, the morning that Forester and her brother were at the brewery, with painting a pasteboard covering for the flower-pot which held the poor little girl’s geranium. Flora had heard from her brother of his intention to place it in the middle of the supper-table, at the ball; and she flattered herself, that he would like to see it ornamented by her hands at his return. She produced it after dinner. Henry thanked her, and her father and mother were pleased to see her eagerness to oblige her brother. The cynical Forester alone refused his sympathy. He looked at the flower-pot with marked disdain. Archibald, who delighted to contrast himself with the unpolished Forester, and who remarked that Flora and her brother were both somewhat surprised at his unsociable silence, slyly said, “There’s something in this flower-pot Miss Campbell, which does not suit Mr. Forester’s correct taste; I wish he would allow us to profit by his criticisms.”
Forester vouchsafed not a reply.
“Don’t you like it, Forester?” said Henry.
“No, he does not like it,” said Flora, smiling; “don’t force him to say that he does.”
“Force me to say I like what I don’t like!” repeated Forester; “no, I defy any body to do that.”
“But why,” said Dr. Campbell, laughing, “why such a waste of energy and magnanimity about a trifle? If you were upon your trial for life or death, Mr. Forester, you could not look more resolutely guarded — more as if you had ‘worked up each corporal agent’ to the terrible feat!”
“Sir,” said Forester, who bore the laugh that was raised against him with the air of a martyr, “I can bear even your ridicule in the cause of truth.” The laugh continued at the solemnity with which he pronounced these words. “I think,” pursued Forester, “that those who do not respect truth in trifles, will never respect it in matters of consequence.”
Archibald Mackenzie laughed more loudly, and with affectation, at this speech: Henry and Dr. Campbell’s laughter instantly ceased.
“Do not mistake us,” said Dr. Campbell; “we did not laugh at your principles, we only laughed at your manner.”
“And are not principles of rather more consequence than manners?”
“Of infinitely more consequence,” said Dr. Campbell: “but why, to excellent principles, may we not add agreeable manners? Why should not truth be amiable, as well as respectable? You, who have such enlarged views for the good of the whole human race, are, I make no doubt, desirous that your fellow-creatures should love truth, as well as you love it yourself.”
“Certainly, I wish they did,” said Forester.
“And have your observations upon the feelings of others, and upon your own, led you to conclude, that we are most apt to like those things which always give us pain? And do you, upon this principle, wish to make truth as painful as possible, in order to increase our love for it?”
“I don’t wish to make truth painful,” said Forester; “but, at the same time, it is not my fault if people can’t bear pain. I think people who can’t bear pain, both of body and mind, cannot be good for any thing; for, in the first place, they will always,” said Forester, glancing his eye at Flora and her flower-pot — “they will always prefer flattery to truth, as all weak people do.”
At this sarcastic reflection, which seemed to be aimed at the sex, Lady Catherine, Mrs. Campbell, and all the ladies present, except Flora, began to speak at once in their own vindication.
As soon as there was any prospect of peace, Dr. Campbell resumed his argument in the calmest voice imaginable.
“But, Mr. Forester, without troubling ourselves for the present with the affairs of the ladies, or of weak people, may I ask what degree of unnecessary pain you think it the duty of a strong person, a moral Samson, to bear?”
“Unnecessary pain! I do not think it is any body’s duty to bear unnecessary pain.”
“Nor to make others bear it?”
“Nor to make others bear it.”
“Then we need argue no further. I congratulate you, Mr. Forester, upon your becoming so soon a proselyte to politeness.”
“To politeness!” said Forester, starting back.
“Yes, my good sir; real politeness only teaches us to save others from unnecessary pain; and this you have just allowed to be your wish. — And now for the grand affair of Flora’s flower-pot. You are not bound by politeness to tell any falsehoods; weak as she is, and a woman, I hope she can bear to hear the painful truth upon such an important occasion.”
“Why,” said Forester, who at last suffered his features to relax into a smile, “the truth then is, that I don’t know whether the flower-pot be pretty or ugly, but I was determined not to say it was pretty.”
“But why,” said Henry, “did you look so heroically severe about the matter?”
“The reason I looked grave,” said Forester, “was, because I was afraid your sister Flora would be spoiled by all the foolish compliments that were paid to her and her flower-pot.”
“You are very considerate; and Flora, I am sure, is much obliged to you,” said Dr. Campbell, smiling, “for being so clear-sighted to the dangers of female vanity. You would not then, with a safe conscience, trust the completion of her education to her mother, or to myself?”
“I am sure, sir,” said Forester, who now, for the first time, seemed sensible that he had not spoken with perfect propriety, “I would not interfere impertinently for the world. You are the best judges; only I thought parents were apt to be partial. Henry has saved my life, and I am interested for every thing that belongs to him. So I hope, if I said any thing rude, you will attribute it to a good motive. I wish the flower-pot had never made its appearance, for it has made me appear very impertinent.”
Flora laughed with so much good humour at this odd method of expressing his contrition, that even Forester acknowledged the influence of engaging manners and sweetness of temper. He lifted up the flower-pot, so as completely to screen his face, and, whilst he appeared to be examining it, he said, in a low voice, to Henry, “She is above the foibles of her sex.”
“Oh, Mr. Forester, take care!” cried Flora.
“Of what?” said Forester, starting.
“It is too late now,” said Flora.
And it was too late. Forester, in his awkward manner of lifting the flower-pot and its painted case, had put his thumbs into the mould, with which the flower-pot had been newly filled. It was quite soft and wet. Flora, when she called to him, saw the two black thumbs just ready to stamp themselves upon her work, and her warning only accelerated its fate; for, the instant she spoke, the thumbs closed upon the painted covering, and Forester was the last to perceive the mischief that he had done.
There was no possibility of effacing the stains, nor was there time to repair the damage, for the ball was to commence in a few hours, and Flora was obliged to send her disfigured work, without having had the satisfaction of hearing the ejaculation which Forester pronounced in her praise behind the flower-pot.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54