from A New Home–Who’ll Follow? or, Glimpses of Western Life (1839) — Chapter XXVII

from A New Home–Who’ll Follow? or, Glimpses of Western Life (1839)

by Caroline Kirkland (AKA Mary Clavers)


Smelling so sweetly, all musk, and so rushling, I warrant you, in silk and gold; and in such alligant terms. Shakspeare —Merry Wives of Windsor.

Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague? Shakspeare.

My brain’s in a fever, my pulses beat quick; I shall die, or at least be exceedingly sick! O, what do you think! after all my romancing My visions of glory, my sighing, my glancing— Miss Biddy Fudge.


An addition to our Montacute first circle had lately appeared in the person of Miss Eloise Fidler, an elder sister of Mrs. Rivers, who was to spend some months ‘in this peaceful retreat.’—to borrow one of her favorite expressions.

This young lady was not as handsome as she would fain have been, if I may judge by the cataracts of ash-colored ringlets which shaded her cheeks, and the exceeding straitness of the stays which restrained her somewhat exuberant proportions. Her age was at a stand; but I could never discover exactly where, for this point proved an exception to the general communicativeness of her disposition. I guessed it at eight and twenty; but perhaps she would have judged this uncharitable; so I will not insist. Certain it is that it must have taken a good while to read as many novels and commit to memory as much poetry, as lined the head and exalted the sensibilities of our fair visitant.

Her dress was in the height of fashion, and all her accoutrements point de vice. A gold pencil-case of the most delicate proportions was suspended by a kindred chain round a neck which might be called whity-brown; and a note-book of lady-like-ness was peeping from the pocket of her highly-useful apron of blue silk—ever ready to secure a passing thought or an elegant quotation. Her album—she was just the person to have an album— was resplendent in gold and satin, and the verses which meandered over its emblazoned pages were of the most unexceptionable quality, overlaid with flowers and gems—love and despair. To find any degree of appropriateness in these various offerings, one must allow the fortunate possessor of the purple volume, at least all the various perfections of an admirable Crichton, allayed in some small measure by the trifling faults of coldness, fickleness, and deceit; and, to judge of Miss Fidler’s friends by their hand[1]writing, they must have been able to offer an edifying variety of bumps to the fingers of the phrenologist. But here is the very book itself at my elbow, waiting these three months, I blush to say, for a contribution which has yet to be pumped up from my unwilling brains; and I have a mind to steal a few specimens from its already loaded pages, for the benefit of the distressed, who may, like myself, be at their wit’s end for something to put in just such a book.

The first page, rich with embossed lilies, bears the invocation, written in a great black spattering hand, and wearing the air of a defiance. It runs thus:—

If among the names of the stainless few, Thine own hath maintained aa place, Come dip thy pen in the sable dew, And with it this volume grace.

But oh! if thy soul e’er encourag’d a thought Which purity’s self might blame, Close quickly the volume, and venture not To sully its snows with thy name.

Then we come to a wreath of flowers of gorgeous hues, within whose circle appears in a miminee piminee hand, evidently a young lady’s—

THE WREATH OF SLEEP. O let me twine this glowing wreath, Amid those rings of golden hair, ‘Twill soothe thee with its odorous breath To sweet forgetfulness of care.

‘Tis form’d of every scented flower That flings its fragrance o’er the night; And gifted with a fairy power To fill thy dreams with forms of light.

‘Twas braided by an angel boy When fresh from Paradise he came To fill our earth-born hearts with joy— Ah! need I tell the cherub’s name!

This contributor I have settled in my own mind to be a descendant of Anna Matilda, the high-priestess of the Della Cruscan order. The next blazon is an interesting view of a young lady, combing her hair. As she seems not to have been long out of bed, the lines which follow are rather appropriate, though I feel quite sure they come from the expert fingers of a merchant’s clerk—from the finished elegance, and very sweeping tails of the chirography.

MORNING. Awake! arise! art thou slumbering still? When the sun is above the mapled hill, And the shadows are flitting fast away, And the dews are diamond beneath his ray, And every bird in our vine-roofed bower Is waked into song by the joyous hour; Come, banish sleep from thy gentle eyes, Sister! sweet sister! awake! arise!

Yet I love to gaze on thy lids of pearl, And to mark the wave of the single curl, That shades in its beauty thy brow of snow, And the cheek that lies like a rose below; And to list to the murmuring notes that fall From thy lips, like music in fairy hall. But it must not be—the sweet morning flies Ere thou hast enjoyed it; awake! arise!

There is balm on the wings of this freshn’d air! ‘Twill make thine eye brighter, thy brow more fair, And a deep, deep rose on thy cheek shall be The meed of an early walk with me. We will seek the shade by the green hill side, Or follow the clear brook’s whispering tide; And brush the dew from the violet’s eyes— Sister! sweet sister! awake! arise!

This I transcribe for the good advice which it contains. And what have we here? It is tastefully headed by an engraving of Hero and Ursula in the ‘pleached bower,’ and Beatrice running ‘like a lap-wing’ in the background. It begins ominously.

TO—— —— Oh look upon this pallid brow! Say, canst thou there discern one trace of that proud soul, which oft ere now Thou’st sworn shed radiance o’er my face? Chill’d is that soul—its darling themes, Thy manly honor, virtue, truth, Prove now to be but fleeting dreams, Like other lovely thoughts of youth.

Meet, if thy coward spirit dare, This sunken eye; say, dost thou see The rays thou saidst were sparkling there When first its gazé was turn’d on thee? That eye’s young light is quench’d forever; No change its radiance can repair; Will Joy’s keen touch relume it? Never! It gleams the watch-light of Despair.

I find myself growing hoarse by sympathy, and I shall venture only a single extract more, and this because Miss Fidler declares it, without exception, the sweetest thing she ever read. It is written with a crow-quill, and has other marks of femininity. Its vignette is a little girl and boy playing at battledoor.

BALLAD. The deadly strife was over, and across the field of fame, With anguish in his haughty eye, the Moor Almanzor came; He prick’d his fiery courser on among the scatter’d dead, Till he came at last to what he sought, a sever’d human head.

It might have seem’d a maiden’s, so pale it was, and fair; But the lip and chin were shaded till they match’d the raven hair. There lingered yet upon the brow a spirit bold and high, And the stroke of death had scarcely closed the piercing eagle eye.

Almanzor grasp’d the plowing locks, and he staid not in his flight, Till he reach’d a lonely castle’s gate where stood a lady bright. ‘Inez! behold thy paramour!’ he loud and sternly cried, And threw his ghastly burden down, close at the lady’s side.

‘I sought thy bower at even-tide, thou syren, false as fair! ‘And, would that I had rather died! I found yon stripling there. ‘I turn’d me from the hated spot, but I swore by yon dread Heaven, ‘To know no rest until my sword the traitor’s life had riven.’

The lady stood like stone until he turn’d to ride away, And then she oped her marble lips, and wildly thus did say: ‘Alas, alas! thou cruel Moor, what is it thou hast done! ‘This was my brother Rodriguez, my father’s only son.’

And then his frenzied eyes, like a crush’d lily bell, Lifeless upon the bleeding head, the gentle Inez fell. He drew his glittering ataghan—he sheath’d it in his side— And for his Spanish ladye-love the Moor Almanzor died.

This is not a very novel incident, but young ladies like stories of love and murder, and Miss Fidler’s tastes were peculiarly young-lady-like. She praised Ainsworth and James, but thought Bulwer’s works ‘very immortal,’ though I could never discover that she had more than skimmed the stormy from any of them. Cooper she found ‘pretty;’ Miss Sedgwick ‘pretty well, only her characters are such common sort of people.’

Miss Fidler wrote her own poetry, so that she had ample employment for her time while with us in the woods. It was unfortunate that she could not walk out much on account of her shoes. She was obliged to make out with diluted inspiration. The nearest approach she usually made to the study of Nature was to sit on the wood-pile, under a girdled tree, and there, with her gold pencil in hand, and her ‘eyne, grey as glass,’ rolled upwards, poefy by the hour. Several people, and especially one marriageable lady of a certain age, felt afraid Miss Fidler was ‘kind o’ crazy.’

And, standing marvel of Montacute, no guest at morning or night ever found the fair Eloise ungloved. Think of it! In the very wilds to be always like a cat in nutshells, alone useless where all are so busy! I do not wonder our good neighbors thought the damsel a little touched. And then her shoes! ‘Saint Crispin Crispianus’ never had so self-sacrificing a votary. No shoemaker this side of New York could make a sole papery enough; no tannery out of France could produce materials for this piece of exquisite feminine foppery. Eternal imprisonment within doors, except in the warmest and driest weather, was indeed somewhat of a price to pay, but it was ungrudged. The sofa and its footstool, finery and novels, would have made a delicious world for Miss Eloise Fidler, if ——

But, alas! ‘all this availeth me nothing,’ has been ever the song of poor human nature. The mention of that unfortunate name includes the only real personal, pungent distress which had as yet shaded the lot of my interesting heroine. Fidler! In the mortification adhering to so unpoetical, so unromantic, so inelegant a surname—a name irredeemable even by the highly classical elegance of the Eloise, or as the fair lady herself pronounced it, ‘Elovees;’ in this lay all her wo; and the grand study of her life had been to sink this hated cognomen in one more congenial to her taste. Perhaps this very anxiety had defeated itself; at any rate, here she was at —— I did not mean to touch on the ungrateful guess again, but at least at mateable years; neither married, nor particularly likely to be married.

Mrs. Rivers was the object of absolute envy to the pining Eloise. ‘Anna had been so fortunate,’ she said; ‘Rivers was the sweetest name! and Harley was such an elegant fellow!’

We thought poor Anna had been any thing but fortunate. She might better have been Fidler or Fiddlestring all her life than to have taken the name of an indifferent and dissipated husband. But not so thought Miss Fidler. It was not long after the arrival of the elegant Eloise, that the Montacute Lyceum held its first meeting in Mr. Simeon Jenkins’s shop, lighted by three candles, supported by candelabra of scooped potatoes; Mr. Jenkins himself sitting on the head of a barrel, as president. At first the debates of the institute were held with closed doors; but after the youthful or less practised speakers had tried their powers for a few evenings, the Lyceum was thrown open to the world every Tuesday evening, at six o’clock. The list of members was not very select as to age, character, or standing; and it soon included the entire gentility, of the town, and some who scarce claimed rank elsewhere. The attendance of the ladies was particularly requested; and the whole fair sex of Montacute made a point of showing occasionally the interest they undoubtedly felt in the gallant knights who titled in this field of honor.

But I must not be too diffuse—I was speaking of Miss Fidler. One evening—I hope that beginning prepares the reader for something highly interesting—one evening the question to be debated was the equally novel and striking one which regards the comparative mental capacity of the sexes; and as it was expected that some of the best speakers on both sides would be drawn out by the interesting nature of the subject, every body was anxious to attend.

Among the rest was Miss Fidler, much to the surprise of her sister and myself, who had hitherto been so unfashionable as to deny ourselves this gratification.

‘What new whim possesses you, Eloise?’ said Mrs. Rivers; ‘you who never go out in the day-time.’

‘O, jus per passy le tong,’ said the young lady, who was a great French scholar; and go she would, and did.

The debate was interesting to absolute breathlessness both of speakers and hearers, and was gallantly decided in favor of the fair by a youthful member who occupied the barrel as president for the evening. He gave it as his decided opinion, that if the natural and social disadvantages under which women labored and must ever continue to labor, could be removed; if their education could be entirely different, and their position in society the reverse of what it is at present, they would be very nearly, if not quite equal to the nobler sex, in all but strength of mind, in which very useful quality it was his opinion that man would still have the advantage, especially in those communities whose energies were developed by the aid of debating societies.

This decision was hailed with acclamations, and as soon as the question for the ensuing debate, ‘which is the more useful animal, the ox or the ass?’ was announced, Miss Eloise Fidler returned home to rave of the elegant young man who sat on the barrel, whom she had decided to be one of ‘Nature’s aristocracy,’ and whom she has discovered to bear the splendid appellative of Dacre. ‘Edward Dacre,’ said she, ‘for I heard the rude creature Jenkins call him Ed.’

The next morning witnessed another departure from Miss Fidler’s usual habits. She proposed a walk; and observed that she had never yet bought an article at the store, and really felt as if she ought to purchase something. Mrs. Rivers chancing to be somewhat occupied, Miss Fidler did me then honor of a call, as she could not think of walking without a chaperon.

Behind the counter at Skinner’s I saw for the first time a spruce clerk, a really well[1]looking young man, who made his very best bow to Miss Fidler, and served us with much assiduity. The young lady’s purchases occupied some time, and I was obliged gently to hint home-affairs before she could decide between two pieces of muslin, which she declared to be so nearly alike, that it was almost impossible to say which was the best.

When we were at length on our return, I was closely questioned as to my knowledged of ‘that gentleman,’ and on my observing that he seemed to be a very decent young man, Miss Fidler warmly justified him from any such opinion, and after a glowing eulogium on his fine countenance, his elegant manners and his grace as a debater, concluded by informing me, as if to cap the climax, that his name was Edward Dacre.

I had thought no more of the matter for some time, thought I knew Mr. Dacre had become a frequent visitor at Mr. Rivers’, when Mrs. Rivers came to me one morning with a perplexed brow, and confided to me her sisterly fears that Eloise was about to make a fool of herself, as she had done more than once before.

‘My father,; she said, ‘hoped in this remote corner of creation Eloise might forget her nonsense and act like other people; but I verily believe she is bent upon encouraging this low fellow, whose principal charm in her bewildered eyes is his name.’

‘His name?’ said I, ‘pray explain;’ for I had not taken learned all the boundless absurdity of this new Cherubina’s fancies.

‘Edward Dacre!’ said my friend, ‘this is what enchants my sister, who is absolutely mad on the subject of her own homely appellation.’

‘O, is that all?’ said I, ‘send her to me, then; and I engage to dismiss her cured.’

And Miss Fidler came to spend the day. We talked of all novels without exception, and all poetry of all magazines, and Miss Fidler asked me if I had read the ‘Young Duke.’ Upon my confessing as much, she asked my opinion of the heroine, and then if I had ever heard so sweet a name. ‘May Dacre—May Dacre,’ she repeated, as if to solace her delighted ears.

‘Only think how such names are murdered in this country,’ said I, tossing carelessly before her an account of Mr. Skinner, which bore ‘Edkins Daker’ below the receipt. I never saw a change equal to that which seemed to ‘come o’er the spirit of her dream.’ I went on with my citations of murdered names, telling how Rodgers was turned into Rudgers, Conway into Coniway, and Montague into Montaig, but poor Miss Fidler was no longer in talking mood; and long before the day was out, she complained of a head-ache and returned to her sister’s. Mr. Daker found her ‘not at home’ that evening; and when I called next morning, the young lady was in bed, steeping her long ringlets in tears, real tears.

To hasten to the catastrophe; it was discovered ere long that Mr. Edkins’s Daker’s handsome face and really pleasant manners, had fairly vanquished Miss Fidler’s romance, and she had responded to his professions of attachment with a truth and sincerity, which, while it vexed her family inexpressibly, seemed to me to atone for all her follies. Mr. Daker’s prospects were by no means despicable, since a small capital employed in merchandize in Michigan, is very apt to confer upon the industrious and fortunate possessor that crowning charm, without which handsome faces, and even handsome names, are quite worthless in our Western eyes.

Some little disparity of age existed between Miss Fidler and her adorer; but this was conceded by all to be abundantly made up by the superabounding gentility of the lady; and when Mr. Daker returned from New York with his new stock of goods and his stylish bride, I thought I had seldom seen a happier or better mated couple. And at this present writing, I do not believe Eloise, with all her whims, would exchange her very nice Edkins for the proudest Dacre of the British Peerage.



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