Seated, reading by a shaded study-lamp, was a young woman of what I should call the Jeanie Deans order—one whose whole personal appearance indicated that sort of compact, efficient union of energy and simplicity characteristic of the Scottish heroine. Her hair, of a pretty curly brown, was cut short, à la Rosa Bonheur; her complexion glowed with a sort of a wholesome firmness, indicative of high health; her large, serious grey eyes had an expression of quiet resolution, united with careful observation. Her figure inclined to the short, stout and well-compacted order, which gave promise of vitality and power of endurance—without pretensions to beauty. There was a wholesome, thoughtful cheerfulness and good humor in the expression of the face that made it decidedly prepossessing and attractive.

The furniture of the room, too, was in contrast with all the other appointments of the house. It was old and worn, and of that primitive kind that betokened honest and respectable mediocrity. There was a quaint, old-fashioned writing-desk, with its array of drawers and pigeon-holes; there were old slippery wooden arm-chairs, unrelieved by cushions; while the floor was bare, excepting in front of the fire, where it was covered by a large square of what New England housekeepers call rag-carpet. The room, in fact, was furnished like the sitting-room of an old New England farm-house. A cheerful, bountiful wood-fire, burning on a pair of old-fashioned brass andirons, added to the resemblance.

"You see, Mr. Henderson," said Miss Eva, when I had been introduced and seated, "you are now in the presence of Miss Van Arsdel proper. This room is Papa's and Ida's joint territory, where their own tastes and notions have supreme sway; and so you see it is sacred to the memories of the past. There is all the old furniture that belonged to papa when he was married. Poor man! he has been pushed out into grandeur, step by step, till this was all that remained, and Ida opened an asylum for it. Do you know, this is the only room in the house Papa cares much for. You see, he was born on a farm, dear gentleman, and he has an inveterate yearning after primitive simplicity—huckleberries and milk, you know, and all that. Don't this look like the old 'keeping-room' style?"

"Yes," said I, "it looks like home. I know rooms just like it."

"But I like these old primitive things," said Ida. "I like hardness and simplicity. I am sick to death of softness and perfumed cushions and ease. We women are sweltered under down beds, and smothered with luxuries, in our modern day, till all the life dies out of us. I want to live while I live, and to keep myself in such trim that I can do something—and I won't pet myself nor be petted."

"There," said Eva, laughing, "blood will tell; there's the old Puritan broken loose in Ida. She don't believe any of their doctrines, but she goes on their track. She's just like a St. Bernard dog that she brought home once. As soon as snow came, he was wild to run out and search in it, and used to run off whole days in the woods, just because his ancestors were trained to hunt travelers. Ida is as bent on testifying and going against the world as any old Covenanter."

"The world needs going against," said Ida. "By the by, Mr. Henderson, you must allow me to thank you for your article on the 'Woman of our Times,' in the Milky Way. It is bracing, and will do good."

"And I," said Eva, kindling with a sort of flame-like vivacity, "have been perfectly dying to tell you that you don't know us fashionable girls, and that we are not, after all, such poor trash as you seem to think. All the out-of-jointness of society is not our fault."

"I protest, Miss Eva," said I, astonished at the eagerness of her manner. "I'm sure I don't know what I have said to give that impression."

"Oh, I dare say not. You have only used the good stock phrases and said the usual things. You reformers and moralists, and all that have got a way of setting us girls down as sinners as a matter of course, so that you never think when you do it. The 'Dolls of fashion,' the 'Butterflies,' &c., &c., are used to point the moral and adorn the tale. The girl of the period is the scapegoat for all the naughty things going. Now, I say the girl of the period isn't a particle worse than the boy of the period; and I think reformers had better turn their attention to him."

"But I don't remember," said I, astonished and confused at the sudden vivacity of this attack, "that I said anything."

"Oh, yes, but I do. You see it's the party that's hit that knows when a blow is struck. You see, Mr. Henderson, it isn't merely you, but everybody, from the London Spectator down, when they get on their preaching-caps, and come forth to right the wrongs of society, begin about us—our dressiness, our expensiveness, our idleness, our extravagance, our heartlessness. The men, poor, dear creatures, are led astray and ruined by us. It's the old story of Adam: 'The woman beguiled me.'"

"You see," said Ida, laughing, "Eva's conscience troubles her; that's why she's so sensitive."

"Well, that's the truth," said Eva. "I'm in the world, and Ida has gone out of it; and so she can sit by, all serene, when hits are made at us, and say, 'I told you so.' But, you see, I am in, and am all the while sure that about half what they say of us is true, and that makes me sensitive when they say too much. But, I insist upon it, it isn't all true; and if it is, it isn't our fault. We are in the world just as we are in a railroad-car, and we can't help its carrying us on, even if we don't like the places it takes us through."

"Unless you get out of it," said Ida.

"Yes, but it takes courage to get out alone, at some desolate way station, and set up your tent, and make your way, and have everybody in the cars screaming remonstrances or laughing at you. Ida has the courage to do it, but I haven't. I don't believe in myself enough to do it, so I stay in the car, and wish I didn't, and wish we were all going a better way than we do."

"No," said Ida; "women are brought up in a way to smother all the life out of them. All literature from the earliest ages teaches them that it is graceful to be pretty and helpless; they aspire to be superficial and showy. They are directed to look on themselves as flowers—

Gay without toil, and lovely without art,
They spring to cheer the sense, and warm the heart;
Nor blush, my fair, to be compared to these—
Your best, your noblest mission, is to please."

"Well," said Eva, flushing, "wasn't it a man that wrote that? and don't they always misunderstand us? We are soft—we are weak—we do love beauty, and ease, and comfort; but there is a something in us more than they give us credit for. Where is that place in Carlyle?" she said, rising with a hasty impulse, and taking down a volume, and running rapidly over the leaves—"Oh, here it is!" and she read with energy from Carlyle's Hero Worship:

'It is a calumny to say that men are nerved to heroic action by ease, hope of pleasure, recompense—sugar-plums of any kind—in this world or the next. In the meanest mortal there is something nobler. The poor, swearing soldier, hired to be shot, has his honor of a soldier different from drill, regulations, and the shilling a day. It is not to taste sweet things, but to do noble and true things, and vindicate himself under God's heaven as a God-made man, that the poorest son of Adam dimly longs. Show him the way of doing that, and the dullest drudge kindles into a hero.

'They wrong man greatly who say he is to be seduced by ease. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death, are allurements that act on the heart of man. Kindle the inner genial life of him, and you have a flame that burns up all lower considerations.'

"Now," she said, her face glowing, and bringing down her little fist with emphasis, "that is true of women as well as men. They wrong woman greatly who say she is to be seduced by ease. Difficulty, abnegation, martyrdom, death, are allurements that act on the heart of woman. Now, Mr. Henderson, every woman that is a woman, feels this in the depths of her heart, and it is this feeling suppressed that is at the bottom of a great deal of unhappiness in woman's life. You men have your chance to express it—that is your great good fortune. You are called to be heroes—your hour comes—but we are buried under eternal common-places and trifles."

"Yet, Miss Eva," said I, "I don't think we are so very much better off than you. The life of the great body of men is a succession of mere ignoble drudgeries, with nothing great or inspiring. Unless we learn to ennoble the common-place by a heroic spirit, most of us must pass through life with no expression of this aspiration; and I think that more women succeed in doing this than men—in fact, I think it is the distinctive prerogative of woman to idealize life by shedding an ennobling spirit upon its very trifles."

"That is true," she said, frankly; "but I confess it never occurred to me; yet don't you think it harder to be heroic in every-day affairs?"

"Certainly; but those that can inspire common-place drudgery with noble and heroic meanings are the true heroes. There was a carpenter once in Nazareth who worked thirty years quietly at his bench; but who doubts that every stroke of that work was inspired and heroic, as much as the three public years that followed? And there are women, like him, toiling in poverty—hard-working wives, long-suffering mothers, whose every breath is heroic. There can be no common-place where such noble creatures live and suffer."

"Yes, Mr. Henderson," said Ida, "heroism can be in any life that is a work-life—any life which includes energy and self-denial. But fashionable life is based on mere love of ease. All it seeks is pleasurable sensation and absence of care and trouble, and it starves this heroic capability; and that is the reason, as Eva says, why there is so much repressed unhappiness in women. It is the hunger of starving faculties. What are all these girls and women looking for? Amusement, excitement. What do they dread more than anything? Effort, industry, self-denial. Not one of them can read a serious book through—not because they are not able, but because it takes an effort. They read nothing but serial stories, and if there is much thought in them, they skip it, to get at the story. All the education they get in schools lies idle; they do nothing with it, as a general thing. They neither read, write, nor speak their French, Italian, or German—and what is the use of having got them? Men study languages as a key to literature, and use literature for some purpose; women study only to forget. It does not take four languages and all the ologies to enable them to dance the German and compose new styles of trimming. They might do all they do equally as well without these expensive educations as with——"

"There now, you have got sister Ida on her pet topic," said Eva, with heightened color; "she will take up her prophecy now, and give it to us wicked daughters of Zion; but, after all, it only makes one feel worried and bad, and one doesn't know what to do. We don't make the world; we are born into and find it ready made. We find certain things are customs—certain things are expected of us—and we begin to say A, and then we must say B, and so on through the whole alphabet. We don't want to say B, but we must because we have said A. It isn't every one that is brave and strong enough to know where to stop, and face the world, and say, 'No, I will not do it.' We must keep step with our neighbors."

"Well," said Ida, "who is it that says, 'Be not conformed to the world'?"

"Yes—I know," said Eva; "there's the Bible—there are all the lessons and prayers and hymns of the Church all going one way, and our lives all going the other—all our lives—everybody's life—even nice people's lives—all go the other way; except now and then one. There's our new rector, now, he is beginning to try to bring us up to live as the Church directs; but mamma and Aunt Maria, and all of them, cry out that he is High Church, and going to Popery, and all that; they say that if one is to live as he says, and go out to prayers morning and evening, and to Holy Communion every Sunday, it will just upset our whole plan of life, that one might as well go into a convent—and so it will. One can't be in parties all night, and go to prayers every morning; one can't go through that awful Holy Communion every Sunday, and live as we generally do through the week. All our rector is trying to do, is simply to make a reality of our profession; he wants us to carry out in good faith what is laid down in the Prayer-book; but you see we can't do it without giving up the world as we have it arranged now. For my part, I'm going to the daily services in Lent, if I don't any other time, and though it does make me feel dreadfully wicked and uncomfortable."

"Oh, you poor child!" said Ida; "why haven't you strength to do as you please?"

"Why haven't I the arm of a blacksmith? why can't I walk ten miles? There are differences of power in mind as well as body," said Eva.

The conversation was interrupted at this moment by Mr. Van Arsdel, who entered quietly, with his spectacles and newspapers.

"The children are having lively times in there," he said, "and I thought I'd just come here and sit where it's quiet, and read my papers."

"Papa says that every evening," said Eva.

"Well, the fact is, Mr. Henderson," said he, with a confiding sort of simplicity, "Ida and I feel at home in here, because it's just the little old place wife and I had when we began. You see, these are all my old things that we first went to housekeeping with, and I like them. I didn't want to have them sent off to auction, if they are old and clumsy."

"And he should have them, so he should, Pa-sey dear," said Eva, caressingly, putting her arm round his neck. "But come, Mr. Henderson, I suppose the gay world outside will expect us."

I had risen and was looking over the library. It was largely composed of modern scientific and physiological works.

"You see my light reading," said Ida, with a smile.

"Ida's books are a constant reproach to me," said Eva; "but I dip in now and then, and fish up some wonderful pearl out of them; however, I confess to just the fatal laziness she reprobates—I don't go through anything."

"Well, Mr. Henderson, we won't keep you from the world of the parlors," said Ida; "but consider you have the entrée here whenever you want a quiet talk; and we will be friends," she said, stretching out her hand with the air of a queen.

"You honor me too much, Miss Van Arsdel," said I.

"Come now, Mr. Henderson, we can't allow our principal literary lion to be kept in secret places," said Miss Eva. "You are expected to walk up and down and show yourself; there are half a dozen girls to whom I have promised to present you."

And in a moment I found myself standing in a brilliant circle of gay tropical birds of fashion, where beauty, or the equivalent of beauty, charmingness, was the rule, and not the exception. In foreign lands, my patriotic pride had often been fed by the enthusiasm excited by my countrywomen. The beauty and grace of American women their success in foreign circles, has passed into a proverb; and in a New York company of young girls one is really dazzled by prettiness. It is not the grave, grand, noble type of the Madonna and the Venus de Milo, but the delicate, brilliant, distracting prettiness of young birds, kittens, lambs, and flowers—something airy and fairy—belonging to youth and youthful feeling. You see few that promise to ripen and wax fairer in middle life; but almost all are like delicate, perfectly-blossomed flowers—fair, brilliant and graceful, with a fragile and evanescent beauty.

The manners of our girls have been criticised, from the foreign standpoint, somewhat severely. It is the very nature of republican institutions to give a sort of unconventional freedom to its women. There is no upper world of court and aristocracy to make laws for them, or press down a framework of etiquette upon them. Individual freedom of opinion and action pervades every school; it is breathed in the very air, and each one is, in a great degree, a law unto herself. Every American girl feels herself in the nobility; she feels adequate to the situation, and perfectly poised in it. She dares do many things not permitted in foreign lands, because she feels strong in herself, and perfectly sure of her power.

Yet he who should presume on this frank generosity of manner, will find that Diana has her arrows; and that her step is free only because she knows her strength, and understands herself perfectly, and is competent to any situation.

At present, the room was full of that battledore-and-shuttlecock conversation, in which everything in heaven above or earth beneath is bantered to and fro, flitting and flying here and there from one bright lip to another.

"Now, really and truly, girls, are you going to the early services this Lent? Oh, Mr. Selwyn is such a good man! and wasn't his pastoral letter beautiful? We really ought to go. But, girls, I can't get up—indeed, I can't; do you know, it's dreadful—seven o'clock—only think of it. You won't go, Eva?"

"Yes, I shall."

"I lay you a pair of gloves you won't, now," quoth a mouth, adorned with a long pair of waxed moustaches of a true Imperial type.

"See if I don't."

"Oh, mamma says I mustn't try," said another; "I haven't the strength."

"And I tell Eva she can't do it," said Mrs. Van Arsdel. "Eva is always over-doing; she worked herself to death in a mission class last year. The fact is, one can't do these things, and go into society."

"But what's the use of society, mamma?" said Eva.

"Oh, well; we can't all turn into monks and nuns, you know; and that's what these modern High Church doings would bring us to. I'm a good, old-fashioned Episcopalian; I believe in going to church on Sundays—and that's all we used to hear about."

"Do you know, Mr. Fellows, I saw you at St. Alban's," said Miss Alice.

"On your knees, too," said Miss Eva.

"Do you believe in bowing to the altar?" said a third; "I think it's quite Popish."

"Girls, what are going to be worn for hats this spring? have you been to Madame De Tullerigs? I declare it's a shame! but Lent is just the busiest time about one's clothes, one must have everything ready for Easter, you know. How do you like the new colors, Mr. Fellows?"

"What! the hell-fire colors?" said Jim.

"Oh, horrors! You dreadful creature, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" screamed in four or five voices.

"Am ashamed—sackcloth and ashes, and all that; eat nothing but codfish," said Jim. "But that's what they call 'em, any way—hell-fire colors."

"I never did hear such a profane creature. Girls, isn't he dreadful?"

"I say, Miss Alice," said Jim, "do you go to confession up there? 'Cause, you see, if that thing is getting about, I think I'll turn priest."

"I think you ought to go to confession," said she.

"I shall in the good times coming, when we have lady priests."

"Oh, Mr. Henderson, do you believe in women's rights?"


"Well, for my part, I have all the rights I want," said Miss Alice.

"I should think you did," said Jim Fellows; "but it's hard on us."

"Well, I think that is all infidelity," said another—"goes against the Bible. Do you think women ought to speak in public?"

"Ristori and Fanny Kemble, for instance," said I.

"Oh, well—they are speaking other people's words; but their own?"

"Why not as well as in private?"

"Oh, because—why, I think it's dreadful; don't you?"

"I can't perceive why. I am perfectly charmed to hear women speak, in public or private, who have anything good or agreeable to say."

"But the publicity is so shocking!"

"Is it any more public than waltzing at the great public balls?"

"Oh, well, I think lecturing is dreadful; you'll never convince me. I hate all those dreadful, raving, tearing, stramming women."

In which very logical and consecutive way the leading topics of the age were elegantly disposed of; and at eleven o'clock I found myself out on the pavement with the inexhaustible Jim, who went singing and whistling by my side as fresh as a morning blackbird. My head was in a pretty thorough whirl; but I was initiated into society,—to what purpose shall hereafter appear.

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