Lotta Schmidt, by Anthony Trollope

Miss Ophelia Gledd.

WHO can say what is a lady? My intelligent and well-bred reader of either sex will at once declare that he and she knows very well who is a lady. So, I hope, do I. But the present question goes further than that. What is it, and whence does it come? Education does not give it, nor intelligence, nor birth, not even the highest. The thing, which in its presence or absence is so well known and understood, may be wanting to the most polished manners, to the sweetest disposition, to the truest heart. There are thousands among us who know it at a glance, and recognise its presence from the sound of a dozen words, but there is not one among us who can tell us what it is.

Miss Ophelia Gledd was a young lady of Boston, Massachusetts, and I should be glad to know whether in the estimation of my countrymen and countrywomen she is to be esteemed a lady.

An Englishman, even of the best class, is often at a loss to judge of the “ladyship” of a foreigner, unless he has really lived in foreign cities and foreign society; but I do not know that he is ever so much puzzled in this matter by any nationality as he is by the American.

American women speak his own language, read his own literature, and in many respects think his own thoughts; but there have crept into American society so many little social ways at variance with our social ways, there have been wafted thither so many social atoms which there fit into their places, but which with us would clog the wheels, that the words, and habits, and social carriage, of an American woman of the best class, too often offend the taste of an Englishman; as do, quite as strongly, those of the Englishwoman offend the American.

There are those who declare that there are no American ladies; but these are people who would probably declare the same of the French and the Italians, if the languages of France and Italy were as familiar to their ears as is the language of the States. They mean that American women do not grow up to be English ladies, not bethinking themselves that such a growth was hardly to be expected. Now I will tell my story, and ask my readers to answer this question, Was Miss Ophelia Gledd a lady?

When I knew her she was at any rate great in the society of Boston, Massachusetts, in which city she had been as well known for the last four or five years as the yellow dome of the State House. She was as pure and perfect a specimen of a Yankee girl as ever it was my fortune to know.

Standing about five feet eight, she seemed to be very tall, because she always carried herself at her full height. She was thin too, and rather narrower at the shoulders than the strictest rules of symmetry would have made her. Her waist was very slight; so much so, that to the eye it would seem that some unjust and injurious force had created its slender compass; but I have fair ground for stating my belief that no such force had been employed. But yet, though she was slight and thin, and even narrow, there was a vivacity and quickness about all her movements, and an easiness in her mode of moving which made it impossible to deny to her the merit of a pleasing figure.

No man would, I think, at first sight, declare her to be pretty, and certainly no woman would do so; and yet I have seldom known a face in the close presence of which it was more gratifying to sit, and talk, and listen. Her brown hair was always brushed close off from her forehead. Her brow was high, and her face narrow and thin; but that face was ever bright with motion, and her clear, deep, gray eyes, full of life and light, were always ready for some combat or some enterprise. Her nose and mouth were the best features in her face, and her teeth were perfect, miracles of perfection; but her lips were too thin for feminine beauty; and indeed such personal charms as she had were not the charms which men love most, sweet changing colour, soft full flowing lines of grace, and womanly gentleness in every movement. Ophelia Gledd had none of these. She was hard and sharp in shape, of a good brown steady colour, hard and sharp also in her gait; with no full flowing lines, with no softness; but she was bright as burnished steel.

And yet she was the belle of Boston. I do not know that any man of Boston, or any stranger knowing Boston, would have ever declared that she was the prettiest girl in the city; but this was certain almost to all, that she received more of that admiration which is generally given to beauty than did any other lady there; and that the upper social world of Boston had become so used to her appearance, such as it was, that no one ever seemed to question the fact of her being a beauty. She had been passed as a beauty by examiners whose certificate in that matter was held to be good, and had received high rank as a beauty in the drawing-rooms at Boston.

The fact was never questioned now, unless by some passing stranger who would be told in flat terms that he was wrong.

“Yes, Sir; you’ll find you’re wrong; you’ll find you aire, if you’ll bide here awhile.”

I did bide there awhile, and did find that I was wrong. Before I left I was prepared to allow that Miss Ophelia Gledd was a beauty. And moreover, which was more singular, all the women allowed it.

Ophelia Gledd, though the belle of Boston, was not hated by the other belles. The female feeling with regard to her was, I think, this, that the time had arrived in which she should choose her husband and settle down, so as to leave room for others less attractive than herself.

When I knew her she was very fond of men’s society; but I doubt if anyone could fairly say that Miss Gledd ever flirted. In the proper sense of the word she certainly never flirted. Interesting conversations with interesting young men at which none but themselves were present she had by the dozen. It was as common for her to walk up and down Beacon Street, the parade of Boston, with young Jones, or Smith, or more probably with young Mr. Optimus M. Opie, or young Mr. Hannibal H. Hoskins, as it is for our young Joneses, and young Smiths, and young Hoskinses, to saunter out together.

That is the way of the country, and no one took wider advantage of the ways of her own country than did Miss Ophelia Gledd. She told young men also when to call upon her, if she liked them; and in seeking or in avoiding their society, did very much as she pleased.

But these practices are right or wrong, not in accordance with a fixed rule of morality prevailing over all the earth, such a rule, for instance, as that which orders men not to steal; but they are right or wrong according to the usages of the country in which they are practised.

In Boston it is right that Miss Ophelia Gledd should walk up Beacon Street with Hannibal Hoskins the morning after she has met him at a ball, and that she should invite him to call upon her at twelve o’clock on the following day.

She had certainly a nasal twang in speaking. Before my intercourse with her was over, her voice had become pleasant in my ears, and it may be that that nasal twang which had at first been so detestable to me, had recommended itself to my sense of hearing. At different periods of my life I have learned to love an Irish brogue and a northern burr.

Be that as it may, I must acknowledge that Miss Ophelia Gledd spoke with a certain nasal twang. But then such is the manner of speech at Boston; and she only did that which the Joneses and Smiths, the Opies and Hoskinses, were doing around her.

Ophelia Gledd’s mother was, for a living being, the nearest thing to a nonentity that I ever met. Whether within her own house in Chesnut Street she exerted herself in her domestic duties and held authority over her maidens I cannot say, but neither in her dining parlour nor in her drawing-room did she hold any authority. Indeed, throughout the house, Ophelia was paramount, and it seemed as though her mother could not venture on a hint in opposition to her daughter’s behests.

Mrs. Gledd never went out, but her daughter frequented all balls, dinners, and assemblies, which she chose to honour. To all these she went alone, and had done since she was eighteen years of age. She went also to lectures, to meetings of wise men, for which the Western Athens is much noted, to political debates, and wherever her enterprising heart and enquiring head chose to carry her. But her mother never went anywhere; and it always seemed to me that Mrs. Gledd’s intercourse with her domestics must have been nearer, closer, and almost dearer to her, than any that she could have with her daughter.

Mr. Gledd had been a merchant all his life. When Ophelia Gledd first came before the Boston world he had been a rich merchant; and as she was an only child she had opened her campaign with all the advantages which attach to an heiress. But now, in these days, Mr. Gledd was known to be a merchant without riches. He still kept the same house, and lived apparently as he had always lived; but the world knew that he had been a broken merchant and was now again struggling. That Miss Gledd felt the disadvantage of this no one can, I suppose, doubt. But she never showed that she felt it. She spoke openly of her father’s poverty as of a thing that was known, and of her own. Where she had been exigeant before, she was exigeant now. Those she disliked when rich she disliked now that she was poor. Where she had been patronising before, she patronised now. Where she had loved, she still loved. In former days she had a carriage, and now she had none. Where she had worn silk, she now wore cotton. In her gloves, her laces, her little belongings, there was all the difference which money makes or the want of money; but in her manner there was none.

Nor was there any difference in the manner of others to her. The loss of wealth seemed to entail on Miss Gledd no other discomfort than the actual want of those things which hard money buys. To go in a coach might have been a luxury to her, and that she had lost; but she had lost none of her ascendency, none of her position, none of her sovereignty.

I remember well where, when, and how, I first met Miss Gledd. At that time her father’s fortune was probably already gone, but if so, she did not then know that it was gone.

It was in winter, towards the end of winter, when the passion for sleighing became ecstatic. I expect all my readers to know that sleighing is the grand winter amusement of Boston. And indeed it is not bad fun. There is the fashionable course for sleighing, the Brighton Road, and along that you drive, seated among furs, with a young lady beside you if you can get one to trust you; your horse or horses carry little bells, which add to the charms; the motion is rapid and pleasant, and, which is the great thing, you see and are seen by everybody. Of course it is expedient that the frost should be sound and perfect, so that the sleigh should run over a dry, smooth surface. But as the season draws to an end, and when sleighing intimacies have become close and warm, the horses are made to travel through slush and wet, and the scene becomes one of peril and discomfort, though one also of excitement, and not unfrequently of love.

Sleighing was fairly over at the time of which I now speak, so that the Brighton Road was deserted in its slush and sloppiness. Nevertheless, there was a possibility of sleighing; and as I was a stranger newly arrived, a young friend of mine took me, or rather allowed me to take him out, so that the glory of the charioteer might be mine.

“I guess we’re not alone,” said he, after we had passed the bridge out of the town. “There’s young Hoskins with Pheely Gledd just ahead of us.”

That was the first I had ever heard of Ophelia, and then as I pushed along after her, instigated by a foolish Briton’s ambition to pass the Yankee whip, I did hear a good deal about her; and in addition to what has already been told, I then heard that this Mr. Hannibal Hoskins, to pass whom on the road was now my only earthly desire, was Miss Gledd’s professed admirer; in point of fact, that it was known to all Boston that he had offered his hand to her more than once already.

“She has accepted him now, at any rate,” said I, looking at their close contiguity on the sleigh before me. But my friend explained to me that such was by no means probable; that Miss Gledd had twenty hangers-on of the same description, with any one of whom she might be seen sleighing, walking, or dancing; but that no argument as to any further purpose on her part was to be deduced from any such practice. “Our girls,” said my friend, “don’t go about tied to their mothers’ aprons, as girls do in the old country. Our free institutions,” &c., &c. I confessed my blunder, and acknowledged that a wide and perhaps salutary latitude was allowed to the feminine creation on his side of the Atlantic. But, do what I would, I couldn’t pass Hannibal Hoskins. Whether he guessed that I was an ambitious Englishman, or whether he had a general dislike to be passed on the road, I don’t know; but he raised his whip to his horses and went away from us suddenly and very quickly through the slush. The snow was half gone, and hard ridges of it remained across the road, so that his sleigh was bumped about most uncomfortably. I soon saw that his horses were running away, and that Hannibal Hoskins was in a fix. He was standing up, pulling at them with all his strength and weight, and the carriage was yawing about and across the road in a manner that made us fear it would go to pieces. Miss Ophelia Gledd, however, kept her seat, and there was no shrieking. In about five minutes they were well planted into a ditch, and we were alongside of them.

“You fixed that pretty straight, Hoskins,” said my friend.

“Darn them for horses,” said Hoskins, as he wiped the perspiration from his brow and looked down upon the fiercest of the quadrupeds, sprawling up to his withers in the snow. Then he turned to Miss Gledd, who was endeavouring to unroll herself from her furs.

“Oh, Miss Gledd, I am so sorry. What am I to say?”

“You’d better say that the horses ran away, I think,” said Miss Gledd. Then she stepped carefully out, on to a buffalo-robe, and moved across from that, quite dry-footed, on to our sleigh. As my friend and Hoskins were very intimate, and could, as I thought, get on very well by themselves with the debris in the ditch, I offered to drive Miss Gledd back to town. She looked at me with eyes which gave me, as I thought, no peculiar thanks, and then remarked that she had come out with Mr. Hoskins, and that she would go back with him.

“Oh, don’t mind me,” said Hoskins, who was at that time up to his middle in snow.

“Ah, but I do mind you,” said Ophelia. “Don’t you think we could go back and send some people to help these gentlemen?”

It was the coolest proposition that I had ever heard, but in two minutes Miss Gledd was putting it into execution. Hannibal Hoskins was driving her back in the sleigh which I had hired, and I was left with my friend to extricate those other two brutes from the ditch.

“That’s so like Pheely Gledd,” said my friend. “She always has her own way.”

Then it was that I questioned Miss Gledd’s beauty, and was told that before long I should find myself to be wrong. I had almost acknowledged myself to be wrong before that night was over.

I was at a tea-party that same evening at which Miss Gledd was present; it was called a tea-party, though I saw no tea. I did, however, see a large hot supper, and a very large assortment of long-necked bottles. I was standing rather listlessly near the door, being short of acquaintance, when a young Yankee dandy, with a very stiff neck, informed me that Miss Gledd wanted to speak to me. Having given me this intimation he took himself off, with an air of disgust, among the long-necked bottles.

“Mr. Green,” she said, I had just been introduced to her as she was being whisked away by Hoskins in my sleigh “Mr. Green, I believe I owe you an apology. When I took your sleigh from you I didn’t know you were a Britisher, I didn’t, indeed.”

I was a little nettled, and endeavoured to explain to her that an Englishman would be just as ready to give up his carriage to a lady as any American.

“Oh, dear, yes; of course,” she said. “I didn’t mean that; and now I’ve put my foot into it worse than ever; I thought you were at home here, and knew our ways, and if so you wouldn’t mind being left with a broken sleigh.”

I told her that I didn’t mind it. That what I had minded was the being robbed of the privilege of driving her home, which I had thought to be justly mine.

“Yes,” said she, “and I was to leave my friend in the ditch! That’s what I never do. You didn’t suffer any disgrace by remaining there till the men came.”

“I didn’t remain there till any men came. I got it out and drove it home.”

“What a wonderful man! But then you’re English. However, you can understand that if I had left my driver he would have been disgraced. If ever I go out anywhere with you, Mr. Green, I’ll come home with you. At any rate it sha’n’t be my fault if I don’t.” After that I couldn’t be angry with her, and so we became great friends.

Shortly afterwards the crash came; but Miss Gledd seemed to disregard the crash altogether, and held her own in Boston. As far as I could see there were just as many men desirous of marrying her as ever, and among the number Hannibal H. Hoskins was certainly no defaulter.

My acquaintance with Boston had become intimate; but, after awhile, I went away for twelve months, and when I returned, Miss Gledd was still Miss Gledd, “And what of Hoskins?” I said to ray friend, the same friend who had been with me in the sleighing expedition.

“He’s just on the old tack. I believe he proposes once a-year regularly. But they say now that she’s going to marry an Englishman.”

It was not long before I had an opportunity of renewing my friendship with Miss Gledd, for our acquaintance had latterly amounted to a friendship, and of seeing the Englishman with her. As it happened, he also was a friend of my own, an old friend, and the last man in the world whom I should have picked out as a husband for Ophelia. He was a literary man of some mark, fifteen years her senior, very sedate in his habits, not much given to love-making, and possessed of a small fortune sufficient for his own wants, but not sufficient to enable him to marry with what he would consider comfort. Such was Mr. Pryor, and I was given to understand that Mr. Pryor was a suppliant at the feet of Ophelia. He was a suppliant, too, with so much hope, that Hannibal Hoskins and the other suitors were up in arms against him. I saw them together at some evening assembly, and on the next morning I chanced to be in Miss Gledd’s drawing-room. On my entrance there were others there, but the first moment that we were alone, she turned round sharp upon me with a question,

“You know your countryman, Mr. Pryor; what sort of a man is he?”

“But you know him also,” I answered. “If the rumours in Boston are true, he is already a favourite in Chesnut Street.”

“Well, then, for once in a way the rumours in Boston are true, for he is a favourite. But that is no reason you shouldn’t tell me what sort of a man he is. You’ve known him these ten years.”

“Pretty nearly twenty,” I said. I had known him ten or twelve.

“Ah,” said she, “you want to make him out to be older than he is. I knew his age today.”

“And does he know yours?”

“He may if he wishes it. Everybody in Boston knows it, including yourself. Now tell me; what sort of man is Mr. Pryor?”

“He is a man highly esteemed in his own country.”

“So much I knew before; and he is highly esteemed here also. But I hardly understand what high estimation means in your country.”

“It is much the same thing in all countries, as I take it,” said I.

“There you are absolutely wrong. Here in the States, if a man be highly esteemed it amounts almost to everything; such estimation will carry him everywhere, and will carry his wife everywhere too, so as to give her a chance of making standing ground for herself.”

“But Mr. Pryor has not got a wife.”

“Don’t be stupid. Of course he hasn’t got a wife, and of course you know what I mean.

But I did not know what she meant. I knew that she was meditating whether or no it would be good for her to become Mrs. Pryor, and that she was endeavouring to get from me some information which might assist her in coming to a decision on that matter; but I did not understand the exact gist and point of her enquiry.

“You have so many prejudices of which we know nothing,” she continued. “Now don’t put your back up and fight for that blessed old country of yours, as though I were attacking it.”

“It is a blessed old country,” said I, patriotically.

“Quite so; very blessed, and very old, and very nice too, I’m sure. But you must admit that you have prejudices. You are very much the better, perhaps, for having them. I often wish that we had a few.” Then she stopped her tongue, and asked no further question about Mr. Pryor; but it seemed to me that she wanted me to go on with the conversation.

“I hate discussing the relative merits of the two countries,” said I; “and I especially hate to discuss them with you. You always begin as though you meant to be fair, and end by an amount of unfairness, that that——”

“Which would be insolent if I were not a woman, and which is pert as I am one. That is what you mean.”

“Something like it.”

“And yet I love your country so dearly, that I would sooner live there than in any other land in the world, if only I thought that I could be accepted. You English people,” she continued, “are certainly wanting in intelligence, or you would read in the anxiety of all we say about England how much we all think of you. What will England say of us? what will England think of us? what will England do in this or that matter as it concerns us? that is our first thought as to every matter that is of importance to us. We abuse you, and admire you. You abuse us, and despise us. That is the difference. So you won’t tell me anything about Mr. Pryor? Well, I sha’n’t ask you again. I never again ask a favour that has been refused.” Then she turned away to some old gentleman that was talking to her mother, and the conversation was at an end.

I must confess, that as I walked away from Chesnut Street into Beacon Street, and across the common, my anxiety was more keen with regard to Mr. Pryor than as concerned Miss Gledd. He was an Englishman and an old friend, and being also a man not much younger than myself, he was one regarding whom I might, perhaps, form some correct judgment as to what would and what would not suit him. Would he do well in taking Ophelia Gledd home to England with him as his wife? Would she be accepted there, as she herself had phrased it, accepted in such fashion as to make him contented? She was intelligent, so intelligent that few women whom she would meet in her proposed new country could beat her there; she was pleasant, good-humoured, true, as I believed; but would she be accepted in London? There was a freedom and easiness about her, a readiness to say anything that came into her mind, an absence of all reticence, which would go very hard with her in London. But I never had heard her say anything that she should not have said. Perhaps, after all, we have got our prejudices in England. When next I met Pryor, I spoke to him about Miss Gledd.

“The long and the short of it is,” I said, “that people say that you are going to many her.”

“What sort of people?”

“They were backing you against Hannibal Hoskins the other night at the club, and it seemed clear that you were the favourite.”

“The vulgarity of these people surpasses anything that I ever dreamed of,” said Pryor. “That is, of some of them. It’s all very well for you to talk, but could such a bet as that be proposed in the open room of any club in London? ”

“The clubs in London are too big, but I dare say it might down in the country. It would be just the thing for Little Pedlington.”

“But Boston is not Little Pedlington. Boston assumes to be the Athens of the States. I shall go home by the first boat next month.” He had said nothing to me about Miss Gledd, but it was clear that if he went home by the first boat next month, he would go home without a wife; and as I certainly thought that the suggested marriage was undesirable, I said nothing to persuade him to remain at Boston,

It was again sleighing time, and some few days after my meeting with Pryor I was out upon the Brighton Road in the thick of the crowd. Presently I saw the hat and back of Hannibal Hoskins, and by his side was Ophelia Gledd. Now, it must be understood that Hannibal Hoskins, though he was in many respects most unlike an English gentleman, was neither a fool nor a bad fellow. A fool he certainly was not. He had read much. He could speak glibly, as is the case with all Americans. He was scientific, classical, and poetical, probably not to any great depth. And he knew how to earn a large income with the full approbation of his fellow-citizens. I had always hated him since the day on which he had driven Miss Gledd home; but I had generally attributed my hatred to the manner in which he wore his hat on one side. I confess I had often felt amazed that Miss Gledd should have so far encouraged him. I think I may at any rate declare that he would not have been accepted in London, not accepted for much! And yet Hannibal Hoskins was not a bad fellow. His true devotion to Ophelia Gledd proved that.

“Miss Gledd,” said I, speaking to her from my sleigh, “do you remember your calamity? There is the very ditch not a hundred yards ahead of you.” u And here is the very knight that took me home in your sleigh,” said she, laughing.

Hoskins sat bolt upright and took off his hat. Why he took off his hat I don’t know, unless that thereby he got an opportunity of putting it on again a little more on one side.

“Mr. Hoskins would not have the goodness to upset you again, I suppose?” said I.

“No, Sir,” said Hoskins; and he raised the reins and squared up his elbows, meaning to lock like a knowing charioteer. “I guess we’ll go back; eh, Miss Gledd?”

“I guess we will,” said she. “But, Mr. Green, don’t you remember that I once told you if you’d take me out, I’d be sure to come home with you? You never tried me, and I take it bad of you.” So encouraged I made an engagement with her, and in two or three days’ time from that I had her beside me in my sleigh on the same road.

By this time I had quite become a convert to the general opinion, and was ready to confess in any presence, that Miss Gledd was a beauty. As I started with her out of the city warmly enveloped in buffalo furs, I could not but think how nice it would be to drive on and on, so that nobody should ever catch us. There was a sense of companionship about her in which no woman that I have ever —known excelled her. She had a way of adapting herself to the friend of the moment which was beyond anything winning. Her voice was decidedly very pleasant; and as to that nasal twang I am not sure that I was ever right about it. I wasn’t in love with her myself, and didn’t want to fall in love with her. But I felt that I should have liked to cross the Rocky Mountains with her, over to the Pacific, and to have come home round by California, Peru, and the Pampas. And for such a journey I should not at all have desired to hamper the party with the society either of Hannibal Hoskins or of Mr. Pryor! “I hope you feel that you’re having your revenge,” said she.

“But I don’t mean to upset you.”

“I almost wish you would, so as to make it even. And my poor friend Mr. Hoskins would feel himself so satisfied. He says you Englishmen are conceited about your driving.”

“No doubt, he thinks we are conceited about everything.”

“So you are, and so you should be. Poor Hannibal! He is wild with despair because——”

“Because what?”

“Oh, never mind. He is an excellent fellow, but I know you hate him.”

“Indeed, I don’t”

“Yes, you do; and so does Mr. Pryor. But he is so good! You can’t either understand or appreciate the kind of goodness which our young men have. Because he pulls his hat about, and can’t wear his gloves without looking stiff, you won’t remember that out of his hard earnings he gives his mother and sisters everything that they want.”

“I didn’t know anything of his mother and sisters.”

“No, of course you didn’t. But you know a great deal about his hat and gloves. You are too hard, and polished, and well-mannered in England to know anything about anybody’s mother or sisters, or indeed to know anything about anybody’s anything. It is nothing to you whether a man be moral, or affectionate, or industrious, or good-tempered. As long as he can wear his hat properly, and speak as though nothing on the earth, or over the earth, or under the earth, could ever move him, that is sufficient.”

“And yet I thought you were so fond of England?”

“So I am. I too like, nay, love that ease of manner which you all possess and which I cannot reach.”

Then there was silence between us for perhaps half a mile, and yet I was driving slow, as I did not wish to bring our journey to an end. I had fully made up my mind that it would be in every way better for my friend Pryor that he should give up all thoughts of this Western Aspasia, and yet I was anxious to talk to her about him as though such a marriage were still on the cards. It had seemed that lately she had thrown herself much into an intimacy with myself, and that she was anxious to speak openly to me if I would only allow it. But she had already declared, on a former occasion, that she would ask me no further question about Mr. Pryor. At last I plucked up courage, and put to her a direct proposition about the future tenor of her life. “After all that you have said about Mr. Hoskins, I suppose I may expect to hear that you have at last accepted him?” I could not have asked such a question of any English girl that I ever knew, not even of my own sister in these plain terms. And yet she took it not only without anger, but even without surprise. And she answered it, as though I had asked her the most ordinary question in the world.

“I wish I had,” she said. “That is, I think I wish I had. It is certainly what I ought to do.”

“Then why do you not do it?”

“Ah! why do I not? Why do we not all do just what we ought to do? But why am I to be cross-questioned by you? You would not answer me a question when I asked you the other day.”

“You tell me that you wish you had accepted Mr. Hoskins. Why do you not do so?” said I, continuing my cross-examination.

“Because I have a vain ambition, a foolish ambition, a silly, moth-like ambition, by which, if I indulge it, I shall only burn my wings. Because I am such an utter ass that I would fain make myself an Englishwoman.”

“I don’t see that you need burn your wings!”

“Yes; should I go there I shall find myself to be nobody, whereas here I am in good repute. Here I could make my husband a man of mark by dint of my own power. There I doubt whether even his esteem would so shield and cover me as to make me endurable. Do you think that I do not know the difference; that I am not aware of what makes social excellence there? And yet, though I know it all, and covet it, I despise it. Social distinction with us is given on sounder terms than it is with you, and is more frequently the deserved reward of merit. Tell me; if I go to London they will ask who was my grandfather?”

“Indeed, no; they will not ask even of your father unless you speak of him.”

“No; their manners are too good. But they will speak of their fathers, and how shall I talk with them? Not but what my grandfather was a good man; and you are not to suppose that I am ashamed of him because he stood in a store and sold leather with his own hands. Or rather, I am ashamed of it. I should tell my husband’s old friends and my new acquaintances that it was so because I am not a coward; and yet, as I told them, I should be ashamed. His brother is what you call a baronet.”

“Just so!”

“And what would the baronet’s wife say to me with all my sharp Boston notions? Can’t you see her looking at me over the length of the drawing-room? And can’t you fancy how pert I should be, and what snappish words I should say to the she baronet? Upon the whole, don’t you think I should do better with Mr. Hoskins?”

Again I sat silent for some time. She had now asked me a question to which I was bound to give her a true answer, an answer that should be true as to herself without reference to Pryor. She was sitting back in the sleigh, tamed as it were by her own thoughts, and she had looked at me as though she had really wanted counsel. “If I am to answer you in truth——” I said.

“You are to answer me in truth.”

“Then,” said I, “I can only bid you take him of the two whom you love; that is, if it be the case that you love either.”

“Love!” she said.

“And if it be the case,” I continued, “that you love neither, then leave them both as they are.”

“I am not then to think of the man’s happiness?”

“Certainly not by marrying him without affection.”

“Ah I but I may regret him, with affection.”

“And for which of them do you feel affection?” I asked. And as I asked, we were already within the streets of Boston.

She again remained silent, almost till I had placed her at her own door; then she looked at me with eyes full, not only of meaning, but of love also; with that in her eyes for which I had not hitherto given her credit.

“You know the two men,” she said, “and do you ask me that?” When these words were spoken, she jumped from the sleigh, and hurried up the steps to her father’s door. In very truth, the hat and gloves of Hannibal Hoskins had influenced her as they had influenced me, and they had done so although she knew how devoted he was as a son and a brother.

For a full month after that I had no further conversation with Miss Gledd or with Mr. Pryor on the subject. At this time I was living in habits of daily intimacy with Pryor, but as he did not speak to me about Ophelia, I did not often mention her name to him. I was aware that he was often with her, or at any rate often in her company. But I did not believe that he had any daily habit of going to the house, as he would have done had he been her accepted suitor. And indeed I believed him to be a man who would be very persevering in offering his love; but who, if persistently refused, would not probably tender it again. He still talked of returning to England, though he had fixed no day. I myself purposed doing so early in May, and used such influence as I had in endeavouring to keep him at Boston till that time. Miss Gledd, also, I constantly saw. Indeed, one could not live in the society of Boston without seeing her almost daily, and I was aware that Mr. Hoskins was frequently with her. But, as regarded her, this betokened nothing, as I have before endeavoured to explain. She never deserted a friend, and had no idea of being reserved in her manners with a man because it was reported that such man was her lover. She would be very gracious to Hannibal in Mr. Pryor’s presence; and yet it was evident, at any rate to me, that in doing so, she had no thought of grieving her English admirer.

I was one day seated in my room at the hotel when a servant brought me up a card. “Misther Hoskins; he’s a waiting below, and wants to see yer honour very partickler,” said the raw Irishman. Mr. Hoskins had never done me the honour of calling on me before, nor had I ever become intimate with him even at the club; but, nevertheless, as he had come to me, of course I was willing to see him, and so he was shown up into my room. When he entered, his hat was, I suppose, in his hand; but it looked as though it had been on one side of his head the moment before, and as though it would be on one side again the moment he left me.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Green,” said he. “Perhaps I ought not to intrude upon you here.”

“No intrusion at all. Won’t you take a chair, and put your hat down?” He did take a chair, but he wouldn’t put his hat down. I confess that I had been actuated by a foolish desire to see it placed for a few minutes in a properly perpendicular position.

“I’ve just come, I’ll tell you why I’ve come. There are some things, Mr. Green, in which a man doesn’t like to be interfered with.” I could not but agree with this, but in doing so I expressed a hope that Mr. Hoskins had not been interfered with to any very disagreeable extent. “Well!” I scorn to say that the Boston dandy said “wa’all,” but if this story were written by any Englishman less conscientious than myself, that latter form of letters is the one which he would adopt in his endeavour to convey the sound as uttered by Mr. Hoskins. “Well, I don’t quite know about that. Now, Mr. Green, I’m not a quarrelsome man. I don’t go about with six-shooters in my pocket, and I don’t want to fight, nohow, if I can help it.”

In answer to this I was obliged to tell him that I sincerely hoped that he would not have to fight; but that if fighting became necessary to him, I trusted that his fighting propensities would not be directed against any friend of mine.

“We don’t do much in that way on our side of the water,” said I.

“I am well aware of that,” said he. “I don’t want any one to teach me what are usages of genteel life in England. I was there the whole fall, two years ago.”

“As regards myself,” said I, “I don’t think much good was ever done by duelling.”

“That depends, Sir, on how things eventuate. But, Mr. Green, satisfaction of that description is not what I desiderate on the present occasion. I wish to know whether Mr. Pryor is, or is not, engaged to marry Miss Ophelia Gledd.”

“If he is, Mr. Hoskins, I don’t know it.”

“But, Sir, you are his friend.”

This I admitted, but again assured Mr. Hoskins that I knew nothing of any such engagement. He pleaded also that I was her friend as well as his. This, too, I admitted, but again declared that from neither side had I been made aware of the fact of any such engagement.

“Then, Mr. Green,” said he, “may I ask you for your own private opinion?”

Upon the whole I was inclined to think that he might not, and so I told him in what most courteous words I could find for the occasion. His bust at first grew very long and stiff, and his hat became more and still more sloped as he held it. I began to fear, that though he might not have a six-shooter in his pocket, he had nevertheless some kind of pistol in his thoughts. At last he started up on his feet and confronted me, as I thought, with a look of great anger. But his words when they came were no longer angry.

“Mr. Green,” said he, “if you knew all that I’ve done to get that girl!”

My heart was instantly softened to him.

“For aught that I know,” said I, “you may have her this moment for asking.”

“No,” said he, “no.” His voice was very melancholy, and as he spoke he looked into his sloping hat. “No; I’ve just come from Chesnut Street, and I think she’s rather more turned against me than ever.”

He was a tall man, good-looking after a fashion, dark, with thick black shiny hair, and huge bold moustachios. I myself do not like his style of appearance, but he certainly had a manly bearing. And in the society of Boston generally he was regarded as a stout fellow, well able to hold his own; as a man, by no means soft, or green, or feminine. And yet now, in the presence of me, a stranger to him, he was almost crying about his lady love. In England no man tells another that he has been rejected; but then in England so few men tell to others anything of their real feeling. As Ophelia had said to me, we are hard and polished, and nobody knows anything about anybody’s anything. What could I say to him? I did say something. I went so far as to assure him that I had heard Miss Gledd speak of him in the highest language; and at last perhaps I hinted, though I don’t think I did quite hint it, that if Pryor were out of the way, Hoskins might find the lady more kind. He soon became quite confidential, as though I were his bosom friend. He perceived, I think, that I was not anxious that Pryor should carry off the prize, and he wished me to teach Pryor that the prize was not such a prize as would suit him,

“She’s the very girl for Boston,” he said, in his energy; “but, I put it to you, Mr. Green, she hasn’t the gait of going that would suit London.”

Whether her gait of going would or would not suit our metropolis, I did not undertake to say in the presence of Mr. Hoskins, but I did at last say that I would speak to Pryor, so that the field might be left open for others if he had no intention of running for the cup himself.

I could not but be taken, and indeed charmed, by the honest strength of affection which Hannibal Hoskins felt for the object of his adoration. He had come into my room determined to display himself as a man of will, of courage, and of fashion. But he had broken down in all that, under his extreme desire to obtain assistance in getting the one thing which he wanted. When he parted with me he shook hands almost boisterously, while he offered me most exuberant thanks. And yet I had not suggested that I could do anything for him. I did think that Ophelia Gledd would accept his offer as soon as Pryor was gone; but I had not told him that I thought so.

About two days afterwards I had a very long and a very serious conversation with Pryor, and at that time I do not think that he had made up his mind as to what he intended to do. He was the very opposite to Hoskins in all his ways and all his moods. There was not only no swagger with him, but a propriety and quiescence of demeanour the very opposite to swagger. In conversation his most violent opposition was conveyed by a smile. He displayed no other energy than what might be shown in the slight curl of his upper lip. If he reproved you he did it by silence. There could be no greater contrast than that between him and Hoskins, and there could be no doubt which man would recommend himself most to our English world by his gait and demeanour. But I think there may be a doubt as to which was the best man, and a doubt also as to which would make the best husband. That my friend was not then engaged to Miss Gledd I did learn, but I learned nothing further, except this, that he would take his departure with me the first week in May, unless anything special occurred to keep him in Boston.

It was some time early in April that I got a note from Miss Gledd, asking me to call on her.

“Come at once,” she said, “as I want your advice above all things.” And she signed herself, “Yours in all truth, O. G.”

I had had many notes from her, but none written in this strain; and therefore, feeling that there was some circumstance to justify such instant notice, I got up and went to her then, at ten o’clock in the morning. She jumped up to meet me, giving me both her hands.

“Oh, Mr. Green,” she said to me, “I’m so glad you have come to me. It is all over.”

“What is over?“said I.

“My chance of escape from the she baronet. I gave in last night. Pray tell me that I was right. Yet I want you to tell me the truth. And yet, above all things, you must not tell me that I have been wrong.”

“Then you have accepted Mr. Pryor?”

“I could not help it,” she said. “The temptation was too much for me. I love the very cut of his coat, the turn of his lip, the tone of his voice. The very sound which he makes as he closes the door behind him is too much for me. I believe that I ought to have let him go, but I could not do it.”

“And what will Mr. Hoskins do?”

“I wrote to him immediately and told him everything. Of course I had John’s leave for doing so.”

This calling of my sedate friend by the name of John was, to my feeling, a most wonderful breaking down cf all proprieties.

“I told him the exact truth. This morning I got an answer from him saying that he should visit Russia. I am so sorry because of his mother and sisters.”

“And when is it to be?”

“Oh, at once, immediately. So John says. When we resolve on doing these things here, on taking the plunge, we never stand shilly-shallying on the brink as your girls do in England. And that is one reason why I have sent for you. You must promise to go over with us. Do you know I am half afraid of him, much more afraid of him than I am of you.”

They were to be married very early in May, and of course I promised to put off my return for a week or two to suit them.

“And then for the she baronet,” she said, “and for all the terrible grandeur of London!”

When I endeavoured to explain to her that she would encounter no great grandeur, she very quickly corrected me.

“It is not grandeur of that sort, but the grandeur of coldness that I mean. I fear that I shall not do for them. But, Mr. Green, I must tell you one thing. I have not cut off from myself all means of retreat.”

“Why, what do you mean? You have resolved to marry him.”

“Yes, I have promised to do so; but I did not promise till he had said that if I could not be made to suit his people in Old England, he would return here with me and teach himself to suit my people in New England. The task will be very much easier.”

They were married in Boston, not without some considerable splendour of ceremony, as far as the splendour of Boston went. She was so unusual a favourite that everyone wished to be at her wedding, and she had no idea of giving herself airs and denying her friends a favour. She was married with much élat, and, as far as I could judge, seemed to enjoy the marriage herself.

Now comes the question; will she or will she not be received in London as a lady, as such a lady as my friend Pryor might have been expected to take for his wife?


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01