Aunt Maria came into the parlor where Eva and Alice were chatting over their embroidery. A glance showed that she had been occupied in that sensible and time-honored method of keeping up the social virtues, which is called making calls. She was all plumed and rustling in flowers and laces, and had on her calling manners. She had evidently been smiling and bowing and inquiring after people's health, and saying pretty and obliging things, till the very soul within her was quite dried up and exhausted. For it must be admitted that to be obliged to remember and inquire for every uncle, aunt and grandmother, every baby, and young master and miss in a circle of one's three hundred particular friends, is an exercise of Christian benevolence very fatiguing. Aunt Maria, however, always went through with it with exhaustive thoroughness, so that everybody said, What a kind-hearted, pleasant woman that Mrs. Wouverman is.

"Well, there!" she said, throwing herself into an arm-chair, "I've nearly cleared my list, thank heaven! I think Lent is a grand good season to get these matters off your mind. You know Mr. Selwyn said last Sunday, that it was the time to bring ourselves up to the disagreeable duties."

"How many have you made, aunty?" said Eva.

"Just three dozen, my dear. You see I chose a nice day when a good many are sure to be out. That shortens matters a good deal. Well, girls, I've been to the Elmore's. You ought to see what a state they are in! In all my experience I never saw people so perfectly tipped over, and beside themselves with delight. I'm sure if I were they I wouldn't show it quite so plain."

"I suppose," said Alice, "they are quite benignant and patronizing to us now."

"Patronizing! Well, I wish you could have seen Poll Elmore and her airs! You would have thought her a duchess from the Faubourg St. Germain, and no less! She was so very sweet and engaging! Dear me, she patronized me within an inch of my life; and 'How are your dear girls?' she said. 'All the world is expecting to hear some news of Miss Eva, should we soon have an opportunity of returning congratulations?'"

"Oh, pshaw! aunt," said Eva uneasily, "what did you say?"

"Oh! I told her that Eva was in no hurry, that she was very reticent of her private affairs, and did not think it in good taste to proclaim them. 'Ah, then, there really is something in it,' said she. I was telling my girls perhaps after all it is mere report; people say so many things. 'The thing was reported about Maria,' she said, 'long before there was any truth in it'; and then she went on to tell me how much Maria had been admired, and how many offers she had rejected, and among other things she said that Mr. Sidney had been at her disposal,—only she couldn't fancy him. 'You know,' she said with a sentimental air, that 'the heart is all in such cases.'"

"How perfectly absurd of her," said Eva.

"I know," said Alice eagerly, "that Wat Sidney doesn't like Maria Elmore. She was perfectly wild after him, and used to behave so that it really disgusted him."

"Oh, well," said Eva, "all these things are excessively disagreeable to me; it seems to me where such matters are handled and talked about and bandied about, they become like shop-worn goods, utterly disgusting. Who wants every fool and fop and every gossip who has nothing better to do talking over what ought to be the most private and delicate affairs of one's own heart!"

"Well, dear, you can't help it in society. Why, every person where I have called inquired about your engagement to Wat Sidney. You see you can't keep a thing of this sort private. Of course you can't. You are in the world, and the world will have you do as others do. Of course I didn't announce it, because I have no authority; but the thing is just as much out as if I had. There was old Mrs. Ellis, dear old soul, said to me, 'Give my love to dear Eva, and tell her I hope she'll be happy. I suppose,' she added, 'I may send congratulations, though it isn't announced.' Oh, said I, Eva doesn't like to have matters of this sort talked about."

"But aunty," said Eva, who had been coloring with vexation, "this is all gratuitous—you are all engaging and marrying me in spite of my screams as appears. I am not engaged to Mr. Sidney, and never expect to be; he is gone off on a long Southern tour, and I hope out of sight will be out of mind, and people will stop talking."

"But my dear Eva, really now you ought not to treat a nice man like him in that way."

"Treat him in what way?" said Eva.

"Why, keep him along in this undecided manner without giving him a definite answer."

"He might have had a definite answer any time in the last three months if he had asked for it. It isn't my business to speak till I'm spoken to."

"You don't mean, Eva, that he has gone off without saying anything definite—bringing matters to a point."

"I do mean just that, Aunty, and what's more I'm glad he's gone, and I hope before he comes back he'll see somebody that he likes better, and then it'll be all off; and, Aunty, if any one speaks to you about it you'll oblige me by saying decidedly there is nothing in it."

"Well, I shan't say there never has been anything in it. I shall say you refused him."

"And why so? I am not anxious to have the credit of it, and besides I think it is indelicate when a man has paid a lady the highest possible compliment he can pay, to make a public parade of it. Its sufficient to say there is nothing in it and never will be; its nobody's business how it happened."

"Oh, come Eva, don't say there never will be anything in it. That is a subject on which girls are licensed to change their minds."

"For my part," said Alice, "I only wish it were I. I'd have him in a minute. Aunty, did you see that nobby phæton he was driving the last day he was on the park; those horses, and that white fur lap-robe, with the long pluffy hair like silver? I must say, Eva, I think you are a little goose."

"I've no objection to the park phæton, or horses or lap-robe; but it isn't those I'm to marry, you see."

"But Eva," said Aunt Maria, "if you wouldn't fancy such a match as Wat Sidney, who would you? he is a man of correct and temperate habits, and that's more than you can say of half the men."

"But a woman doesn't necessarily want to make her most intimate and personal friend of a man merely because he doesn't drink," said Eva.

"But he's good looking."

"So they say, but not to me, not my style. In short, aunty, I don't love him, and never should; and if I were tied too close to him might end by hating him. As it is, he and I are the best friends possible. I hope we always shall stay so."

"Well, I should like to know whoever will suit you Eva," said Aunt Maria.

"Oh, he will come along, Aunty, never fear! I shall know him when I see him, and I dare say everybody will wonder what in the world possessed me, but I shall be content. I know exactly what I want, I'm like the old party in the Ancient Mariner. I shall know when I see him 'the man that must have me,' and then I shall 'hold him with my glittering eye.'"

"Well, Eva, you must remember one thing. There are not many men able to keep you in the way you always have lived."

"Then, when the right one comes I shall live as he is able to keep me."

"Go to housekeeping in three rooms, perhaps. You look like it."

"Yes; and do my own cooking. I'm rather fond of cooking; I have decided genius that way too. Ask Jane down in the kitchen if I don't make splendid fritters. The fact is, Aunty, I have so much superfluous activity and energy that I should be quite thrown away on a rich man. A poor country rector, very devout, with dark eyes like Longfellow's Kavanah is rather my ideal. I would get up his surplices myself, and make him such lovely frontals and altar cloths! Why doesn't somebody of that sort come after me? I'm quite impatient to have a sphere and show what I can do."

"Well," said Alice, "you don't catch me marrying a poor man. Not I. No home missionaries, nor poor rectors, nor distressed artists need apply at this office."

"Now, girls," said Aunt Maria, "let me tell you it's all very pretty at your turn of life to dream about love in a cottage and all that, but when you have seen all of life that I have, you will know the worth of the solid; when one has been used to a certain way of living, for example, one can't change; and if you married the angel Gabriel without money, you would soon repent it."

"Well," said Eva, "I'd risk it if Gabriel would have me, and I'd even try it with some man a little lower than the angels; so prepare your mind to endure it, Aunty, for one of these days everybody will be holding up their hands and saying, What, Eva Van Arsdel engaged to him! Why, what could have possessed her? That's just the way I heard Lottie Simmons talking last week about Belle St. John's engagement. She is going to marry a college professor in New Haven on one of those very homœopathic doses of salary that people give to really fine men that have talent and education, and she's just as happy as she can be about it, and the girls are all scraping their throats, 'oh-ing and ah-ing' and wondering what could have led her to it. No engagement ring to show! private wedding! and just going off together up to his mother's in Vermont instead of making the bridal tour of all the watering places! It must be so charming, you see, to be exhibited as a new bride, along with all the other new brides at Trenton and Niagara and the White Mountains, so that everybody may have a chance to compare your finery with everybody else's, also to see how you conduct yourself in new circumstances. For my part I shall be very glad if my poor rector can't afford it."

"By the by, speaking of that girl," said Aunt Maria, "what are you going to wear to the wedding. It's quite time you were attending to that. I called in at Tullegig's, and of course she was all in a whirl, but I put in for you. 'Now, Madame,' said I, 'you must leave a place in your mind for my girls,' and of course she went on with her usual French rodomontade, but I assure you you'll have to look after her. Tullegig has no conscience, and will put you off with anything she can make you take, unless you give your mind to it and follow her up."

"Well, I'm sure, aunty, I don't feel equal to getting a new dress out of Tullegig," said Eva, with a sigh, "and I have dresses enough, any one of which will do. I am blasée with dresses, and I think weddings are a drug. If there's anything that I think downright vulgar and disagreeable it's this style of blaring, flaring, noisy, crowded disagreeable modern weddings. It is a crush of finery; a smash of china; a confusion of voices; and everybody has the headache after it; it's a perfect infliction to think of being obliged to go to another. For my part I believe I am going to leave all those cares to Alice; she is come out now, and I am only Queen Dowager."

"Oh pshaw, Eva, don't talk so," said Aunt Maria, "and now I think of it you don't look well, you ought to take a tonic in the Spring. Let me see, Calisaya Bark and iron is just the thing. I'll send you in a bottleful from Jennings as I go home, and you must take a tablespoonful three times a day after eating, and be very particular not to fatigue yourself."

"I think," said Alice, "that Eva gets tired going to all those early services."

"Oh my dear child, yes; how can you think of such a thing? It's very inconsiderate in Mr. Selwyn, I think, to have so many services when he must know many weddings and things are coming off just after Easter. People will be all fagged out, just as Eva is. Now I believe in the church as much as anybody, but in our day I think there is danger in running religion to extremes."

"Ah!" said Eva, "I suppose there is no danger of one running to extremes in anything but religion—in dress or parties for instance?"

"But you know one has these things to attend to, my dear; one must keep up a certain style; and of course, there is a proper medium that I hold to as much as anybody. Nobody is more particular about religion in its place than I am. I keep Sunday strictly; very few people more so. I never ride in the park Sundays, nor write a letter, though I have seen people who called themselves religious that would. No. I believe in giving full observance to the Lord's day, but then I think one ought to have the week clear for action. That belongs to us, as I view it, and our old rector was very easy with us about all the Saint's days, and week-day services, and things in the prayer-book. To be sure there are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. One, of course, should attend to these, that is no more than is proper, but the way Mr. Selwyn goes on! why, one wouldn't be able to think of much else than religion if he had his way."

"What a dreadful state of society that would bring on!" said Eva.

"But come, Aunty," said Alice, "don't talk theology, tell us what discoveries you made at the Elmore's. I know they showed you everything."

"Oh, of course they did. Well there's the wedding veil, cost two thousand dollars; for my part I thought it looked ordinary after all; it's so thick and stiff with embroidery, you see, no lightness to it."

"I wouldn't take it as a gift," said Eva. "I think such expensive things are simply vulgar."

"Go on, Aunty," said Alice, "what next?"

"Well, then the dress has a new style of trimming, and really is very elegant. I must do it the justice to say that it's something quite recherché. And then they took me up stairs to see the trousseau, and there was a perfect bazar! all her things laid out by dozens and tied up with pink ribbons,—you would have thought it got for the Empress. Those Elmores are the most worldly family I ever did hear of; all for dash and show! They seemed to be perfectly transported with these things,—and that reminds me, Eva, I noticed last Sunday at church your new poplin suit was made with quillings; now they are not going to wear quillings any more. I noticed none of those Paris dresses had it. You should have Jacobs alter yours at once, and substitute fringes; fringes is the style now."

"And, Aunty, what do you suppose would happen to me if I should wear quillings when They don't?" said Eva.

"Well, of course, you don't want to be odd, child. There is a certain propriety in all these things. I will speak to Jacobs about it, and send him up here. Shall I?"

"Well, Aunty, anything to suit you. You may take off quillings, or put on fringe, if you won't insist on marrying me to anybody," said Eva; "only I do wish any one fashion would last long enough to give one time to breathe and turn round before it has to be altered, but the Bible says the fashion of this world passeth quickly away, and so I suppose one must put up with it."

"Eva, do you correspond with Mr. Sydney?" said Aunt Maria, after a moment's reflection.

"Correspond? No, to be sure I don't. What should I do that for?"

"He writes to mamma, though," said Alice, laughing.

"It's his own affair, if he does," said Eva. "I told him, before he went, I never corresponded with gentlemen. I believe that is the correct thing to say. I never mean to, either, unless it's with one whose letters are particularly interesting to me."

"How do you like that young Henderson?"

"What, Ida's admirer?" said Eva, coloring. "Oh, we think him nice enough. Don't we Alice?—rather jolly, in fact."

"And does Ida continue gracious?"

"Certainly. They are the best of friends," said Eva. "The fact is, he is quite a fine fellow; and he reads things to Ida, and she advises him about his style, you know."

"He and Jim Fellows always come together," said Alice; "and I think they are both nice—in fact, rather better than the average. He isn't quite such a rattle-cap as Jim, but one trusts him more."

"Well," said Eva, "I don't like a professed joker. A man that never is in earnest ought to wear the cap and bells, as the court fools used to do in old times."

"O, bless you, child," said Alice, "that's what Jim is for; he always makes me laugh, and I like to laugh."

"Don't you think that Mr. Henderson would do nicely for Ida," said Aunt Maria.

"Oh, as to that," said Alice, "neither he nor Jim Fellows are marrying men. You see they haven't anything, and of course that they can't be thinking of such things."

"But," said Aunt Maria, "Ida is just the wife for a poor man. She has a turn for economy, and doesn't care for dress and show; and could rub and scrub along, and help to support the family. I really think she likes work for the sake of it. I wish to mercy she could be engaged, and get all these dreadful queer plans and notions out of her head. I am always so puzzled what in the world to tell people when they ask why she doesn't visit and go into society."

"Why not tell the truth," said Eva, "that she prefers to help papa in his business."

"Because, love, that's so odd. People can't understand it."

"They can't understand," said Eva, "that a woman may be tired of leading a lazy life, and want to use her faculties. Well, I'm sure I can understand it. I'd give all the world to feel that I was of as much real use to anybody as Ida is to papa; and I think papa likes it too. Poor, dear old papa, with his lovely old white head, who just toils and slaves for us. I wish I could help him too."

"Well, dear, I can tell you how you can help him."


"Marry Wat Sydney."

"Nonsense, Aunt, what has that to do with papa?"

"It would have more to do than you think," said Aunt Maria, shaking her head, mysteriously.

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