I have often had occasion to admire the philosophical justice of popular phrases. The ordinary cant phraseology of life generally represents a homely truth because it has grown upon reality like a lichen upon a rock. "Falling in love" is a phrase of this kind; it represents just that phenomenon which is all the time happening among the sons and daughters of Adam in most unforeseen times and seasons, and often when the subject least intends it, and even intends something quite the contrary.

The popular phrase "falling in love" denotes something that comes unexpectedly. One may walk into love preparedly, advisedly, with the eyes of one's understanding open; but one falls in love as one falls down stairs in a dark entry, simply because the foot is set where there is nothing for it to stand on, which I take to be a simile of most philosophical good resolutions.

I flattered myself at this period of my existence, that I was a thorough-paced philosopher; a man that had outlived the snares and illusions of youth, and held himself and all his passions and affections under most perfect control.

The time had not yet come marked out in my supreme wisdom for me to meditate matrimonial ideas: in the mean while, I resolved to make the most of that pleasant and convenient arbor on the Hill Difficulty which is commonly called Friendship.

Concerning this arbor I have certain observations to make. It is most commodiously situated, and commands charming prospects. We are informed of some, that on a clear day one can see from it quite plainly as far as to the Delectable Mountains. From my own experience I have no doubt of this fact. For a young man of five-and-twenty or thereabouts, not at present in circumstances to marry, what is more charming than to become the intimate friend in a circle of vivacious and interesting young ladies, in easy circumstances, who live in a palace surrounded by all the elegancies, refinements, and comforts of life?

More blissful still, if he be welcomed to these bowers of beauty by a charming and courteous mamma who hopes he will make himself at home, and assures him that they will treat him quite as one of the family. This means, of course, that perfect confidence is reposed in his discretion. He is labeled—"Safe." He is to gaze on all these charms, with a disinterested spirit, without a thought of personal appropriation. Of course he is not to stand in the way of eligible establishments that may offer, but meanwhile he can make himself generally agreeable and useful. He may advise the fair charmers as to their reading and superintend the cultivation of their minds; he may be on hand whenever an escort is needed to a party, he may brighten up dull evenings by reading aloud, and in short may be that useful individual that is looked on "quite as a brother, you know."

Young men who glide into this position in families, generally, I believe, enjoy it quite as much as the moth-millers who seem to derive such pleasure from the light and beat of the evening lamp, and with somewhat similar results. But though thousands of these unsophisticated insects singe their wings every evening, the thousand-and-first one comes to the charge with a light heart in his bosom, and quite as satisfied of his good fortune as I was when Mrs. Van Arsdel with the sweetest and most motherly tones said to me, "I know, Mr. Henderson, the lonely life you young men must lead when you first come to cities; you have been accustomed to the home circle, to mother and sisters, and it must be very dreary. Pray, make this a sort of home; drop in at any time, our parlors are always open, and some of us about; or if not, why, there are the pictures and the books, you know, and there is the library where you can write."

Surely it was impossible for a young man to turn away from all this allurement. It was the old classic story:—

"The mother Circe with the Syrens three,

Among the flowery kirtled Naïdes."

Mrs. Van Arsdel, as I said, was one of three fair sisters who had attained a great celebrity, in the small provincial town where they were born, for their personal charms. They were known far and near as the beautiful Miss Askotts. Their father was a man rather in the lower walks of life, and the fortunes of the family were made solely by the personal attractions of the daughters.

The oldest of these, Maria Askott, married into one of the so-called first New York families. The match was deemed in the day of it a very brilliant one. Tom Wouverman was rich, showy, and dissipated; and in a very few years ran through both with his property and constitution, and left his wife the task of maintaining a genteel standing on very limited means.

The second sister, Ellen, married Mr. Van Arsdel when he was in quite modest circumstances, and had been carried up steadily by his business ability to the higher circles of New York life. The third had married a rich Southern planter whose fortunes have nothing to do with my story.

The Van Arsdel household, like most American families, was substantially under feminine rule. Mr. Van Arsdel was a quiet, silent man, whose whole soul was absorbed in business, and who left to his wife the whole charge of all that concerned the household and his children.

Mrs. Van Arsdel, however, was under the control of her elder sister. There are born dictators as well as born poets. Certain people come into the world with the instinct and talent for ruling and teaching, and certain others with the desire and instinct of being taught and ruled over. There are people born with such a superfluous talent for management and dictation that they always, instinctively and as a matter of course, arrange not only their own affairs but those of their friends and relations, in the most efficient and complete manner possible. Such is the tendency of things to adaptation and harmony, that where such persons exist we are sure to find them surrounded by those who take delight in being guided, who like to learn and to look up. Such a domestic ruler was Mrs. Maria Wouverman, commonly known in the Van Arsdel circle as "Aunt Maria," a name of might and authority anxiously interrogated and quoted in all passages of family history.

Now the fact is quite striking that the persons who hold this position in domestic policy are often not particularly strong or wise. The governing mind of many a circle is not by any means the mind best fitted either mentally or morally to govern. It is neither the best nor the cleverest individual of a given number who influences their opinions and conduct, but the person the most perseveringly self-asserting. It is amusing in looking at the world to see how much people are taken at their own valuation. The persons who always have an opinion on every possible subject ready made, and put up and labeled for immediate use, concerning which they have no shadow of a doubt or hesitation, are from that very quality born rulers. This positiveness, and preparedness, and readiness may spring from a universal shallowness of nature, but it is none the less efficient. While people of deeper perceptions and more insight are wavering in delicate distresses, balancing testimony and praying for light, this common-place obtuseness comes in and leads all captive, by mere force of knowing exactly what it wants, and being incapable of seeing beyond the issues of the moment.

Mrs. Maria Wouverman was all this. She always believed in herself, from the cradle. The watchwords of her conversation were always of a positive nature. "To be sure," "certainly," "of course," "I see," and "I told you so."

Correspondingly to this, Mrs. Van Arsdel, her next sister, was one who said habitually, "What would you do, and how would you do it?" and so the domestic duet was complete. Mrs. Wouverman did not succeed in governing or reclaiming her husband, but she was none the less self-confident for that; and having seen him comfortably into his grave, she had nothing to do but get together the small remains of the estate and devote herself to "dear Ellen and her children." Mrs. Wouverman managed her own house, where everything was arranged with the strictest attention and economy, and to the making a genteel appearance on a small sum, and yet found abundance of time to direct sister Ellen and her children.

She was a good natured, pleasant-mannered woman, fond of her nieces and nephews; and her perfect faith in herself, the decision of all her announcements, and the habitual attitude of consultation in which the mother of the family stood towards her, led the Van Arsdel children as they grew up to consider "Aunt Maria," like the Bible or civil government, as one of the great ready-made facts of society, to be accepted without dispute or injury.

Mrs. Wouverman had her own idea of the summum bonum, that great obscure point about which philosophers have groped in vain. Had Plato or Anaxagoras or any of those ancient worthies appealed to her, she would have smiled on them benignantly and said: "Why yes, of course, don't you see? the thing is very simple. You must keep the best society and make a good appearance."

Mrs. Van Arsdel had been steadily guided by her in the paths of fashionable progression. Having married into a rich old family, Aunt Maria was believed to have mysterious and incommunicable secrets of gentility at her command. She was always supposed to have an early insight into the secret counsels of that sublime, awful, mysterious "they," who give the law in fashionable life. "They don't wear bonnets that way, now!" "My love, they wear gloves sewed with colored silks, now!" or, "they have done with hoops and flowing sleeves," or, "they are beginning to wear hoops again! They are going to wear long trains," or, "they have done with silver powder now!" All which announcements were made with a calm solemnity of manner calculated to impress the youthful mind with a sense of their profound importance.

Mr. Van Arsdel followed Aunt Maria's lead with that unquestioning meekness which is so edifying a trait in our American gentlemen. In fact he considered the household and all its works and ways as an insoluble mystery which he was well pleased to leave to his wife; and if his wife chose to be guided by "Maria" he had no objection. So long as his business talent continued yearly to enlarge his means of satisfying the desires and aspirations of his family, so long he was content quietly and silently to ascend in the scale of luxurious living, to have his house moved from quarter to quarter until he reached a Fifth Avenue palace, to fill it with pictures and statuary, of which he knew little and cared less.

Under Aunt Maria's directions Mrs. Van Arsdel aspired to be a leader in fashionable society. No house was to be so attractive as her's, no parties so brilliant, no daughters in greater demand. Nature had generously seconded her desires. Her daughters were all gifted with fine personal points as well as a more than common share of that spicy genial originality of mind which is as a general thing rather a characteristic of young American girls.

Mr. Van Arsdel had had his say about the education of his sons and daughters. No expense had been spared. They had been sent to the very best schools that money could procure, and had improved their advantages. The consequences of education had been as usual to increase the difficulties of controlling the subject.

The horror and dismay of Mrs. Van Arsdel and of Aunt Maria cannot be imagined when they discovered almost immediately on the introduction of Ida Van Arsdel into society that they had on their hands an actual specimen of the strong minded young woman of the period; a person who looked beyond shows, who did her own thinking, and who despised or approved with full vigor without consulting accepted standards, and was resolutely resolved not to walk in the ways her pastors or masters had hitherto considered the only appointed ones for young ladies of good condition.

To work embroidery, go to parties, entertain idlers and wait to be chosen in marriage, seemed to a girl who had spent six years in earnest study a most lame and impotent conclusion to all that effort; and when Ida Van Arsdel declared her resolution to devote herself to professional studies, Aunt Maria's indignation and disgust is not to be described.

"So shocking and indelicate! For my part I can't imagine how anybody can want to think on such subjects! I'm sure it gives me a turn just to look into a work on physiology, and all those dreadful pictures of what is inside of us! I think the less we know about such subjects the better; women were made to be wives and mothers, and not to trouble their heads about such matters; and to think of Ida, of all things, whose father is rich enough to keep her like a princess whether she ever does a thing or not! Why should she go into it? Why, Ida is not bad looking. She is quite pretty, in fact; there are a dozen girls with not half her advantages that have made good matches, but it's no use talking to her. That girl is obstinate as the everlasting hills, and her father backs her up in it. Well, we must let her go, and take care of the others. Eva is my god-child, and we must at any rate secure something for her." Something, meant of course a splendid establishment.

The time of my introduction into the family circle was a critical one.

In the race for fashionable leadership Mrs. Van Arsdel had one rival whose successes were as stimulating and as vexatious to her as the good fortune of Mordecai the Jew was to Haman in Old Testament times.

All her good fortune and successes were spoiled by the good fortune and successes of another woman, who was sure to be a little ahead of her in everything that she attempted; and this was the more trying as this individual began life with her, and was a sort of family connection.

In days of her youth there was one Polly Sanders, a remote cousin of the Askotts, who was reputed a beauty by some. Polly was what is called in New England "smart." She was one who never lost an opportunity, and, as the vulgar saying is, could make every edge cut. Her charms were far less than those of the Misses Askott, and she was in far more straitened circumstances; but she went at the problem of life in a sort of tooth-and-nail fashion, which often is extremely successful. She worked first in a factory, till she made a little money, with which she put herself to school—acquired showy accomplishments, and went up like a balloon; married a man with much the same talent for getting along in the world as herself; went to Paris and returned a traveled, accomplished woman, and the pair set up for first society people in New York; and to the infinite astonishment of Mrs. Wouverman, were soon in a position to patronize her, and to run a race, neck and neck, with the Van Arsdels.

What woman's Christian principles are adequate to support her under such trials? Nothing ever impressed Aunt Maria with such a sense of the evils of worldliness as Polly Elmore's career. She was fond of speaking of her familiarly as "Polly;" and recalling the time when she was only a factory-girl. According to Aunt Maria, such grasping, unscrupulous devotion to things seen and temporal, had never been known in anybody as in the case of Polly. Aunt Maria, of course, did not consider herself as worldly. Nobody ever does. You do not, I presume, my dear madam. When your minister preaches about worldly people, your mind immediately reverts to the Joneses and the Simpsons round the corner, and you rather wonder how they take it. In the same manner Aunt Maria's eyes were always being rolled up, and she was always in a shocked state at something these dreadful, worldly, dressy Elmores were doing. But still they went on from conquering to conquer. Mrs. Elmore was a dashing leader of fashion—spoke French like a book—was credibly reported to have skated with the Emperor at the Bois de Boulogne—and, in short, there was no saying what feathers she didn't wear in her cap.

The Van Arsdels no sooner did a thing than the Elmores did more. The Van Arsdels had a house in Fifth Avenue; the Elmores set up a French chateau on the Park. The Van Arsdels piqued themselves on recherché society. The Elmores made it a point to court all the literati and distinguished people. Hence, rising young men were of great value as ornaments to the salons of the respective houses—if they had brought with them a name in the literary world, so much the more was their value—it was important to attach them to our salon, lest they should go to swell the triumphs of the enemy.

The crowning, culminating triumph of the Elmores was the engagement, just declared, of Maria, the eldest daughter, to young Rivington, of Rivington Manor, concerning which Aunt Maria and Mrs. Van Arsdel were greatly moved.

The engagement was declared, and brilliant wedding preparations on foot that should eclipse all former New York grandeurs; and what luminary was there in the Van Arsdel horizon to draw attention to that quarter?

"Positively, Ellen," said Aunt Maria, "the engagement between Eva and Wat Sydney must come out. It provokes me to see the absurd and indelicate airs the Elmores gives themselves about this Rivington match. It's really in shocking taste. I'm sure I don't envy them Sam Rivington. There are shocking stories told about him. They say he is a perfect roué—has been taken home by the police night after night. How Polly, with all her worldliness, can make such an utter sacrifice of her daughter is what I can't see. Now Sydney everybody knows is a strictly correct man. Ellen, this thing ought to come out."

"But, dear me, Maria, Eva is such a strange child. She won't admit that there is any engagement."

"She must admit it, Ellen—of course she must. It's Ida that puts her up to all her strange ideas, and will end by making her as odd as she is herself. There's that new young man, that Henderson—why don't we turn him to account? Ida has taken a fancy to him, I hear, and it's exactly the thing. Only get Ida's thoughts running that way and she'll let Eva alone, and stop putting notions into her head. Henderson is a gentleman, and would be a very proper match for Ida. He is literary, and she is literary. He is for all the modern ideas, and so is she. I'm sure, I go with all my heart for encouraging him. It's exactly the thing."

And Aunt Maria

"Shook her ambrosial curls and gave the nod,"

with a magnificence equal to Jupiter in the old Homeric days.

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