Miss Ellery was sufficiently mistress of herself, and of circumstances, to close our little pastoral in the most graceful and amiable manner possible.

I received a beautiful rose-scented note from her, saying that the very kind interest in her happiness which I always had expressed, and the extremely pleasant friendship which had arisen between us, made her desirous of informing me, &c., &c. Thereupon followed the announcement of her engagement, terminating with the assurance that whatever new ties she might form, or scenes she might visit, she should ever cherish a pleasant remembrance of the delightful hours spent beneath the elms of X., and indulge the kindest wishes for my future success and happiness.

I, of course, crushed the rose-scented missive in my hand, in the most approved tragical style, and felt that I had been deceived, betrayed and undone. I passed forthwith into that cynical state of young manhood, in which one learns for the first time what a mere unimportant drop his own most terribly earnest and excited feelings may be in the tumbling ocean of the existing world.

This is a valley of humiliation, which lies, in very many cases, just a day's walk beyond the palace, beautiful with all its fascinations.

The moral geographer, John Bunyan, to whom we are indebted for much wholesome information, tells us that while it is extremely difficult to descend gracefully into this valley, and pilgrims generally accomplish it at the expense of many a sore trip and stumble, yet when once they are fairly down, it presents many advantages of climate and soil not other where found.

The shivering to pieces of the first ideal, while it breaks ruthlessly and scatters much that is really and honestly good and worthy, breaks up no less a certain stock of unconscious self conceit, which young people are none the worse for having lessened.

The very assumption, so common in the early days of life, that we have feelings of a peculiar sacredness above the comprehension of the common herd, and for which only the selectest sympathy is possible, is one savoring a little too much of the unregenerate natural man, to be safely let alone to grow and thrive.

Natures, in particular, where ideality is largely in the ascendant, are apt to begin life with the scheme of building a high and thick stone wall of reticence around themselves, and enthroning therein an idol, whose rites and service are to be performed with a contemptuous indifference to all the rest of mankind.

When this idol is suddenly disenchanted by some stroke of inevitable reality, and we discern that the image which we had supposed to be the shrine of a divinity, is only a very earthly doll, stuffed with saw-dust, one's pinnacles and battlements—the whole temple in short, that we have prided ourselves on, comes tumbling down about us like the walls of Jericho, not without a certain sense of the ridiculous. Though, like other afflictions, this is not for the present joyous, still the space thus cleared in our mind may be so cultivated as afterwards to bring forth peaceable fruits of righteousness.

In my case, my idol was utterly defaced and destroyed in my eyes, because I could not conceal from myself that she was making a marriage wholly without the one element that above all others marriage requires.

Miss Ellery was perfectly well aware of the mental inferiority of poor Bill Marshall, and had listened unreprovingly to the half-contemptuous pity with which it was customary among us to speak of him. I remembered how patronizingly I had often talked of him to her, "Really not a bad fellow—only a little weak, you see;" and the pretty, graceful drollery in her eyes. I remembered things that these same eyes had looked at me, when he blundered and miscalled words in conversation, and a thousand sayings and intimations, each by itself indefinite as the boundary between two tints of the rainbow, by which she showed a superior sense of pleasure in my conversation and society.

And was all this acting and insincerity? I thought not. I was and am fully convinced that had I only been possessed of the wealth of Bill Marshall, Miss Ellery would infinitely have preferred me as a life companion; and it was no very serious amount of youthful vanity to imagine that I should have proved a more entertaining one. I can easily imagine that she made the decision with some gentle regret at first,—regret dried up like morning dew in the full sunlight of wedding diamonds, and capable of being put completely to sleep upon a couch of cashmere shawls.

With what indignant bitterness did I listen to all the details of the impending wedding from fluent Jim Fellows, who, being from Portland and well posted in all the gossip of the circle in which she moved, enlightened our entry with daily and weekly bulletins of the grandeur and splendors that were being, and to be.

"Boys, only think! Her wedding present from him is a set of diamonds valued at twenty-five thousand dollars. Bob Rivers saw them on exhibition at Tiffany's. Then she has three of the most splendid cashmere shawls that ever were imported into Maine. Captain Sautelle got them from an Indian Prince, and there's no saying what they would have cost at usual rates. I tell you Bill is going it in style, and they are going to be married with drums and trumpets, cymbals and dances; such a wedding as will make old Portland stare; and then off they are going to travel no end of time in Europe, and see all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them."

Now, I suppose none of us doubted that could Miss Ellery have attained the diamonds and the cashmeres and the fortune, with all its possibilities of luxury and self-indulgence, without the addition of the husband, nothing would have been wanting to complete her good fortune; but it is a condition in the way of a woman's making a fortune by marriage, as it was with Faust's compact with an unmentionable party, that it can only be ratified by the sacrifice of herself—herself, and for life! A sacrifice most awful and holy when made in pure love, and most fearful when made for any other consideration. The fact that Miss Ellery could make it was immediate and complete disenchantment to me.

Mine is not, I suppose, the only case where the ideal which has been formed under the brooding influence of a noble mother is shattered by the hand of a woman. Some woman, armed with the sacramental power of beauty, enkindles the highest manliness of the youth, and is, in his eyes, the incarnate form of purity and unworldly virtue, the high prize and incitement to valor, patience, constancy and courage, in the great life-battle.

But she sells herself before his eyes, for diamonds and laces, and trinkets and perfumes; for the liberty of walking on soft carpets and singing in gilded cages; and all the world laughs at his simplicity in supposing that, a fair chance given, any woman would ever do otherwise. Is not beauty woman's capital in trade, the price put into her hand to get whatever she needs; and are not the most beautiful, as a matter of course, destined prizes of the richest?

Miss Ellery's marriage was to me a great awakening, a coming out of a life of pure ideas and sentiment into one of external realities. Hitherto, I had lived only with people all whose measures and valuations had been those relating to the character—the intellect and the heart. Never in my father's house had I heard the gaining of money spoken of as success in life, except as far as money was needed to advance education, and education was a means for doing good. My father had his zeal, his earnestness, his exultations, but they all related to things to be done in his life-work; the saving of souls, the conversion of sinners, the gathering of churches, the repression of intemperance and immorality, the advancement of education. My elder brothers had successfully entered the ministry under his influence, and in counsels with them where to settle, I had never heard the question of salary or worldly support even discussed. The first, the only question I ever heard considered, was What work was needed to be done, and what fitness for the doing of it; taking for granted the record, that where the Kingdom of God and its righteousness were first sought, all things would be added.

Thus all my visions of future life had in them something of the innocent verdancy of the golden age, when noble men strove for the favor of fair women, by pureness, by knowledge, by heroism,—and the bravest won the crown from the hand of the most beautiful.

And suddenly to my awakened eyes the whole rushing cavalcade of fashionable life swept by, bearing my princess, amid waving feathers and flashing jewels and dazzling robes and merry laughs and jests, leaving me by the way-side dazed and covered with dust, to plod on alone.

Now first I felt the shame which comes over a young man, that he has not known the world as old wordlings know it.

In the discussions among the boys, relating to this marriage, I first learned the power of that temptation which comes upon every young man to look on wealth as the first object in a life race.

Woman is by order of nature the conservator of the ideal. Formed of finer clay, with nicer perceptions, and refined fiber, she is the appointed priestess to guard the poetry of life from sacrilege; but if she be bribed to betray the shrine, what hope for us? "If the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?"

My acquaintance with Miss Ellery had brought me out of my scholastic retirement, and made me an acquaintance of the whole bevy of the girls of X. Miss Ellery had been invited and fêted in all the families, and her special train of adorers had followed her, and thus I was "au courant" of all the existing girl-world of our little town. It was curious to remark what a silken flutter of wings, what an endless volubility of tongues there was, about this engagement and marriage, and how, on the whole, it was treated as the height of splendor and good fortune. My rosy-faced friend, Miss Dotha, was invited to the festival as bridesmaid, and returned thereafter "trailing clouds of glory" into the primitive circles of X; and my cynical bitterness of soul took a sort of perverse pleasure in the amplifications and discussions that I constantly heard in the tea-drinking circles of the town.

"Oh, girls, you've no idea about those diamonds," said Miss Dotha; "great big diamonds as large as peas, and just as clear as water! Bill Marshall made them send orders to Europe specially for the purpose; then she had a pearl set that his mother gave, and his sister gave an amethyst set for a breakfast suit! and you ought to have seen the presents! It was a perfect bazar! The Marshalls are an enormously rich family, and they all came down splendidly: old uncle Tom Marshall gave a solid silver dining set embossed with gold, and old Aunt Tabitha Marshall gave a real Sévres china tea-set, that was taken out of one of the royal palaces in France, at the time of the French Revolution. Captain Atkins was in France about the time they were sacking palaces, and doing all such things, and he brought away quite a number of things that found their way into some of these rich old Portland families. Her wedding veil was given by old Grandmamma Marshall, and was said to have been one that belonged to Queen Marie Antoinette, taken by some of those horrid women when they sacked the Tuilleries, and sold to Captain Atkins; at any rate, it was the most wonderful point lace, just like an old picture."

Fancy the drawing of breaths, the exclamations, the groans of delight, from a knot of pretty, well-dressed, nice country girls, at these wonderful glimpses into Paradise.

"After all," I said, "I think this custom of loading down a woman with finery just at her marriage hour, is giving it when she is least able to appreciate it. Why distract her with gew-gaws at the very moment when her heart must be so full of a new affection that she cares for nothing else? Miss Ellery is probably so lost in her love for Mr. Marshall, that she scarcely gives a thought to these things, and really forgets that she has them. It would be much more in point to give them to some girl that hasn't a lover."

I spoke with a simple, serious air, as if I had most perfect faith in my words, and a general gentle smile of amusement went round the circle, rippling into a laugh out-right, on the faces of some of the gayer girls. Miss Dotha said:

"Oh, come, now, Mr. Henderson, you are too severe."

"Severe!" said I; "I can't understand what you mean, Miss Dotha. You don't mean, of course, to intimate that Miss Ellery is not in love with the man she has married?"

"Oh, now!" said Miss Dotha, laughing, "you know perfectly, Mr. Henderson—we all know—it's pretty well understood, that this wasn't exactly what you call a love-match; in fact, I know," she added with the assurance of a confidant, "that she had great difficulty in making up her mind; but her family were very anxious for the match, and his family thought it would be such a good thing for him to marry and settle down, you know, so one way and another she concluded to take him."

"And, after all, Will Marshall is a good-natured creature," said Miss Smith.

"And going to Europe is such a temptation," said Miss Brown.

"And she must marry some time," said Miss Jones, "and one can't have every thing, you know. Will is certain to be kind to her, and let her have her own way."

"For my part," said pretty Miss Green, "I'm free to say that I don't blame any girl that has a chance to get such a fortune, for doing it as Miss Ellery has. I've always been poor, and pinched and plagued; never can go any where, or see anything, or dress as I want to; and if I had a chance, such as Miss Ellery had, I think I should be a fool not to take it."

"Well," said Miss Black, reflectively, "the only question is, couldn't Miss Ellery have waited and found a man who had more intellect, and more culture, whom she could respect and love, and who had money, too? She had such extraordinary beauty and such popular manners, I should have thought she might."

"Oh, well," said Miss Dotha, "she was getting on—she was three-and-twenty already—and nobody of just the right sort had turned up—'a bird in the hand'—you know. After all, I dare say she can love Will Marshall well enough."

Well enough! The cool philosophic tone of this phrase smote on my ear curiously.

"And pray, fair ladies, how much is 'well enough?'" said I.

"Well enough to keep the peace," said Miss Green, "and each let the other alone, to go their own ways and have no fighting."

Miss Green was a pretty, spicy little body, with a pair of provoking hazel eyes; who talked like an unprincipled little pirate, though she generally acted like a nice woman. In less than a year after, by the by, she married a home missionary, in Maine, and has been a devoted wife and mother in a little parish somewhere in the region of Skowhegan, ever since.

But I returned to my room gloriously misanthropic, and for some time my thoughts, like bees, were busy gathering bitter honey. I gave up visiting in the tea-drinking circles of X. I got myself a dark sombrero hat, which I slouched down over my eyes in bandit style when I walked the street and met with any of my former gentle acquaintances. I wrote my mother most sublime and awful letters on the inconceivable vanity and nothingness of human life. I read Plato and Æschylus, and Emerson's Essays, and began to think myself an old Philosopher risen from the dead. There was a melancholy gravity about all my college exercises, and I began to look down on young freshmen and sophomores with a serene compassion, as a sage who has passed through the vale of years and learned that all is vanity.

The valley of humiliation may have its charms—it is said that there are many flowers that grow there, and nowhere else, but for all that, a young fellow, so far as I know, generally walks through the first part of it in rather a surly and unamiable state.

To be sure, had I been wise, I should have been ready to return thanks on my knees for my disappointment. True, the doll was stuffed with saw-dust, but it was not my doll. I had not learned the cheat when it was forever too late to help myself, and was not condemned to spend life in vain attempts to make a warm, living friend of a cold marble statue. Many a man has succeeded in getting his first ideal, and been a miserable man always thereafter, and therefore.

I have lived to hear very tranquilly of Mrs. Will Marshall's soirées and parties, as she reigns in the aristocratic circles of New York; and to see her, still like a polished looking-glass, gracefully reflecting every one's whims and tastes and opinions with charming suavity, and forgetting them when their backs are turned; and to think that she is the right thing in the right place—a crowned Queen of Vanity Fair.

I have become, too, very tolerant and indulgent to the women who do as she did,—use their own charms as the coin wherewith to buy the riches and honors of the world.

The world has been busy for some centuries in shutting and locking every door through which a woman could step into wealth, except the door of marriage. All vigor and energy, such as men put forth to get this golden key of life, is condemned and scouted as unfeminine; and a woman belonging to the upper classes, who undertakes to get wealth by honest exertion and independent industry, loses caste, and is condemned by a thousand voices as an oddity and a deranged person. A woman gifted with beauty, who sells it to buy wealth, is far more leniently handled. That way of getting money is not called unwomanly; and so long as the whole force of the world goes that way, such marriages as Miss Ellery's and Bill Marshall's will be considered en régle.

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