And who art thou that, in the littleness
Of thine own selfish purpose, would'st set bounds
To the free current of all noble thought
And generous action, bidding its bright waves
Be stay'd, and flow no further?
[figure description] Page 146.[end figure description]
It was not strange that Mabel was susceptible to the subtle
influence of Dudley's insinuations, for she possessed a quick
and active mind, ever open to the teachings of those whose
knowledge and experience might entitle them to be the guides
of youth. It was, indeed, one of her sweetest, gentlest, and
most womanly qualities, which made her thus open to conviction;
and great, therefore, was the responsibility incurred by
any who presumed to check the genuine impulses of her
nature. Not that Mabel was alike destitute of character and
principle, ready, like the pliant wax, to be moulded by every
fluctuating circumstance. On the contrary, she had a high
sense of duty, a stern reverence for virtue, and a noble desire
to excel, while certain fixed principles of right served as the
outposts to guard the citadel of her conscience.
But duty does not always assert itself with a force which
may not be evaded; the standards of virtue and excellence
are capable of variation; and the citadel which would repel
an open attack, may, insiduously, be undermined. Thus, although
Mabel's temper might occasionally be irritated, and her
good nature put to the proof by Louise's flagrant and open
violations of truth and justice, her character stood in far less
danger from this source, than from the plausible, specious,
and yet pernicious opinions and principles which Dudley
intimated, rather than openly avowed.
The day succeeding the evening above described, was that -- 147 --
[figure description] Page 147.[end figure description]
on which Mabel held a weekly reception for guests, when, as
usual, she was assisted by Louise, who seldom failed to be
present, to share the honors and responsibilities which might
accrue. There had been an unusual number of guests, but
all had left save Dudley. Mr. Vaughan, contrary to his usual
custom, was to give a dinner party that evening, and Dudley,
who was to make one of the guests, had come early, bringing
with him some very rare and valuable prints. These consisted
of accurate and beautiful representations of foreign costumes,
and Dudley, Mrs. Leroy, and Mabel, were examining
them with interest, for the purpose of selecting characters for
an approaching fancy ball, when there was a sudden ring of
the door bell.
It was too late to expect morning visitors, and too early for
the arrival of the strangers who were to constitute the dinner
“Who can that be at this hour?” said Mabel, and with
girlish curiosity she stepped within the shadow of a bay window,
and looked out into the street. “There is no carriage
here,” said she; “it must be father or Harry.”
As she turned from the window, however, she observed
Mrs. Leroy carelessly twirling a card round her forefinger,
and at the same time giving a hasty message to the footman
from whom she had received it.
As the man withdrew into the hall, Louise flung the card
upon the table, exclaiming, “Was there ever anything so ridiculous?
Father Noah will be coming here next!” and she
glanced reproachfully at Mabel.
The latter, slightly coloring, took up the card and read,
“Mrs. Abraham Percival.”
A ray of manifest pleasure shone on her face, as she ejaculated,
in a low voice, and a manner full of expectation, “Oh!
that beautiful old lady!”
Louise, with a scornful expression, resumed the study of the -- 148 --
plates, while Mabel, apprehensive of some rudeness on her
sister's part, walked towards the door to receive her guest, her
[figure description] Page 148.[end figure description]
countenance evincing some surprise and embarrassment at the
After waiting a moment, however, she heard the hall door
close, and the footman retreat into the back passage. A new
light seemed to break in upon her at these significant indications,
and she turned upon Louise with the sudden inquiry,
“Can she have gone?”
“I suppose so,” replied Louise, feigning astonishment at the
question; “you surely would not have had her admitted!—
Though there is no knowing what you might do,” added she,
with a contemptuous laugh, “you seem to have such a fancy
“I have,” said Mabel, decidedly; “did she ask for me?”
“She certainly did,” answered Louise, assuming a somewhat
defiant manner, as she observed the color mount into Mabel's
cheek, “and I did you good service, and saved you from a most
intolerable bore, by sending word that Miss Vaughan was not
at home,—for which, I think, you might at least thank me.”
“Louise!” exclaimed Mabel, expressing in the simple enunciation
of her sister's name all the amazement, regret, and
mortification which were roused by this cool declaration—for
there was not even the conventional excuse for the falsehood,
it being Mabel's reception day.
Louise, who, however much she might be in fault, was always
ready with a retort, met Mabel's indignant expression of censure
with the retaliating and cutting observation, “Do not be
so angry, my dear, Mr. Dudley will think you are a vixen.
When father Noah comes,” added she, in a mockingly soothing
tone, “you shall give your own orders, and have his society all
to yourself, for I trust I shall not be present to share the honor,”
and with her usual light laugh and tripping air, the little lady
stepped to the open piano and commenced playing a lively
tune, accompanying it with the words, “Oh, no, I shall not be
The righteous indignation which had overspread Mabel's -- 149 --
face, and given rise to her sister's accusation of anger, now
yielded to an expression of grieved and wounded feeling, and
[figure description] Page 149.[end figure description]
a tear glistened in her eye, as she said, with a mildness that
was truly dignified, “I am not angry, Louise, but I am sorry
on every account;” and then, embarassed at the consciousness
that Dudley's eye was upon her, she hastily walked to the bay
window, and, half hid beneath the shadow of its heavy curtains,
watched the retreating figure of Madam Percival, who, in
serene unconsciousness of irreverent treatment, was moving
leisurely down the street.
Mabel still stood engaged in painful meditation, when she
was slightly startled by Dudley's voice close beside her, saying,
in a low and sympathetic tone, “I am sorry, too.”
“Sory for what?” asked Mabel, confusedly.
“That you should have been so disturbed. It was very
unfair, certainly,—there can be no question who ought to be
“Oh, it was not that,” said Mabel, quickly; “I beg you not
to think me so childish;” and her eye again followed Madam
Pereival,—“but she is so much older than I, and she came
on foot, too,—besides,” added she, with simplicity, “I am at
“Very true,” said Dudley; and then ensued a momentary
pause; for to condemn Louise was scarcely to satisfy Mabel,
and it seemed impossible to give the matter an agreeable turn.
Dudley found means, however, to place it in a new light.
“A most unchivalrous mode of escape, without doubt,” said he,
meditatively; an artifice such as you would have scorned to
employ, Miss Mabel; but, while questioning the means, I cannot
help congratulating you on the deliverance.”
“Do you count it as a fortunate escape?” asked Mabel,
looking at him with some surprise. “The visit seems to me a
most unmerited, as it was unexpected, honor.”
“Unexpected to you,” said Dudley, with a meaning smile, -- 150 --
and his peculiar and expressive shrug of the shoulders, “but I
felt assured you would be too valuable a recruit to be over-looked.
I have trembled for you ever since I observed that
you had attracted the attention of the gentleman whom Mrs.
Leroy styles Father Noah. He is a minister at large, which
[figure description] Page 150.[end figure description]
means a recruiting sergeant. He has, no doubt, reported you
to the commander-in-chief, who would scarcely overlook the
auxiliary forces you would be able to bring into the field.”
“Yes, certainly; have you not time, influence, and money,
all at command?”
Mabel's countenance fell, and a shadow passed over her face.
“It was not myself, then,” thought she, “who was capable of
inspiring interest, but my father's position, and the length of
“Yes, certainly,” continued Dudley, in a self-gratulatory
tone; “my mind is relieved, I assure you, from many distressing
visions which that lady's card conjured up. I had already
imagined you in the sober gray uniform of a professor in some
foundling educational institute, rapping the heads of unruly
members with the knuckles of one hand, and holding up the
forefinger of the other, in a monitory manner, while you cried,
“Or, attired in a long apron of factory cotton, and armed
with a huge pair of shears, officiating as assistant directress in
a scientific cutting-and-basting academy, for the elevation of
indigent needle-women;—or, with a pen behind your ear, and
a huge account-book under your arm, your brow wrinkled with
the responsible duties of treasurer to the corporation for encouraging
the emigration of foreign paupers.”
Mabel laughed outright at the ludicrous and, in point of
taste, repulsive picture thus represented.
“Come!” exclaimed Louise, rising from the piano, “why
don't we go on selecting our characters? I have almost made
up my mind to be comedy, if you will only be tragedy,
“I have been suggesting tragic characters to your sister,” -- 151 --
said Dudley, with readiness, “but I do not think any of them
exactly meet her approbation. Some fifty years hence,” added
he, in a side voice, to Mabel, “will surely be time enough to
[figure description] Page 151.[end figure description]
hide your smiles behind the black hood of a sister of charity.
In the mean time, let us seek something more attractive.”
And in the indulgence of idle fancies that succeeded, the
venerable Christian matron and her noble schemes of usefulness
passed from Mabel's mind; or, if remembered, the former
was henceforward dimly characterized as one who had desired
to divert Mr. Vaughan's wealth to her own quixotic enterprises,
and decoy his daughter into sacrificing her youth to
painful and, at best, unprofitable labors.
It was not until nearly a month after Madam Percival's
visit, that Mabel bethought herself of the necessity of acknowledging
the civility; and this she did by merely leaving a card
at her address.
Such is the power of ridicule and wounded self-love.
At the commencement of dinner, Louise's want of truth and
decorum found another opportunity for display, and here, also,
Dudley acted as mediator. Miss Sabiah was being handed in
to dinner by a grave, elderly gentleman, who naturally looked
upon her as the hostess, when Louise, accompanied by a more
youthful escort, brushed past them and took the lead, saying,
over her shoulder, as she did so, “by your leave, aunt; father
desires me to preside to-day;” and the next moment found her
seated at the head of her father's table, gracefully and unblushingly
filling the post always heretofore occupied by Miss
It would have been amusing, if it had been one whit less
provoking, to witness the audacious effrontery of this usurpation.
It was lost upon most of the company, who were strangers
in the city; but Mabel, who overheard this second barefaced
falsehood, and stood aghast at the presumption of her
sister, could scarcely contain her agitation and annoyance;
while Harry's eye flashed angrily from the opposite end of the
table, and Mr. Vaughan's mild countenance betrayed signs of
As for Miss Sabiah, her nervous distress was such as must -- 152 --
have attracted the notice of any one in her neighborhood, had
not Dudley, who chanced to sit next to her, covered her
[figure description] Page 152.[end figure description]
confusion, by engaging her for a few minutes in a conversation of
which he bore the whole burden himself, thus giving her time
to rally her usual stiff and formal self-possession.
This high-bred facility in playing the part of a gentleman,
which always imparted to Dudley an extremely obliging air,
was never more appreciated by Mabel than in this instance;
for her indignation at the conduct of Louise was only equalled
by grief at her aunt's wounded feelings. She could not thank
him in words, but her grateful smile sufficiently indicated her
sense of his considerate kindness. His seat was between her's
and her aunt's and as he turned from the latter and met Mabel's
approving glance, he remarked, in a low voice, “Miss Vaughan's
nerves are sensitive.”
“Very,” said Mabel, glancing anxiously at Miss Sabiah, who
was now attempting monosyllabic replies to her next neighbor
on the other side.
“We are all creatures of habit,” remarked Dudley, “and I
notice that elderly ladies love the little dignities of office. If
called upon to resign them, they ought at least to have the satisfaction
of seeing the heir apparent installed in their place.”
His countenance plainly expressed it as his opinion, that of
the two sisters, Mabel was best entitled to the place at the head
of her father's table, and he even expressed himself more plainly
in the words, “Miss Vaughan is, I presume, a visitor merely,
and scarcely endowed with the qualifications for playing the
part of a hostess,—but Miss Mabel is unquestionably the presiding
genius here, and we naturally look to see her enthroned
in the chair of state.”
“He is right,” thought Mabel; and for the first time she
realized her aunt's awkwardness and ignorance of society, felt
her own competence to shine in the position Miss Vaughan had
hitherto occupied, and half regretted the generous, and, as it
now seemed, inconsiderate impulse, which had prompted her,
on her first return home, unhesitatingly, to resign it.
Who shall venture to say how far self-love mingled in this -- 153 --
regret, and how much of her natural reverence for old
[figure description] Page 153.[end figure description]
associations and superior years was extinguished in the cold calculations
But this was not the only, nor the most vital form in which
her sentiments of veneration were this day destined to be assailed.
Mabel had a sincere love of her native country, a
strong faith in its republican institutions, and its Heavendesigned
destiny among nations, and when the conversation of
some talented members of the company took a political turn,
her interest and attention were at once awakened.
More than one political party were ably represented, but the
discussion was conducted in an amicable though earnest spirit,
and all were united in the depth of their patriotic zeal for the
honor and welfare of their country, and a deep conviction of
the influence she was destined to exercise in the establishment
of liberal principles throughout the world.
Mabel's face glowed, and her eyes sparkled, as she listened
to the hopeful and stirring prophecy of one, who, having survived
several administrations, watched the working of our governmental
system, and exulted in the growth of truth and
justice in the national heart, ventured to predict, that the day
would come at last, when, purged from the stain of entailed
abuses, she would become a perfect model for future republics.
“You are a politician, I see, Miss Vaughan,” said Dudley,
who had watched her with an interest equal to that with which
she had watched the speaker.
“I!” exclaimed Mabel, turning suddenly towards him and
blushing, as she always did at the consciousness of her betrayed
enthusiasm, “Oh, no!”
“A female patroit, then?”
“Hardly that,” replied Mabel. “I am afraid I have not the
heroism of a patriot, but I do hope that prophesied day of glory
will come at last, and that I shall live to see it.”
“I hope,” said Dudley, with a tone that was calculated to -- 154 --
chill the ardor of her feelings, “that you will not, on the other
hand, see this much-boasted confederacy sink as low in the
scale of nations as my fears predict. The elements of disorganization
and failure are already at work; it is astonishing to
[figure description] Page 154.[end figure description]
see the blind confidence with which these self-styled statesmen
endeavor to uphold, with high-sounding words, the crumbling
edifice of national prosperity;” and, turning to the individual
whose eloquence had inspired Mabel with a kindred zeal, he
begged a solution of some of those difficult and intricate problems
in the future career of the republic which distract the
common mind and tax the best abilities of the wisest.
The question called forth a response, which, in its turn, gave
rise to a short but spirited debate, conducted ably on both sides,
but with especial skill on the part of Dudley, whose opponent
was no match for him in clearness of argument and subtle force
of reasoning; and not Mabel alone, but older and wiser heads
than hers, were compelled to acknowledge the justness of his
apprehensions, and almost felt the social fabric totter beneath
them, as he enlarged upon the imminent peril which threatened
It was neither his taste nor his policy, however, to push the
controversy beyond the interchange of a few prominent ideas
and suggestions, and he gracefully and ingeniously waived the
continuance of a subject ill-suited to the time and place, even
suffering his antagonist to enjoy the benefit of the last word,
which was to the effect, that no one could foresee how these
things would terminate,—that Mr. Dudley's queries were,
doubtless, unanswerable—but, as he had said before, he had
confidence in the nation at large, and the over-ruling Providence
which had thus far sustained it.
“The gentleman has an astonishing confidence in the elements
of which this community is composed,” said Dudley to
Mabel, when conversation around the table had again become
general; “he seems to place great reliance too on the Divine
partiality. Does he think the American Republic superior in
intelligence to those of classic Greece and Rome? or that the
former is destined to perennial growth, while the latter were
doomed to decay?”
The inquiry was specious, and acted powerfully upon Mabel's -- 155 --
mind, for there was no one to suggest the reply,—that in the
[figure description] Page 155.[end figure description]
Christianity of the nation lay the true safety of its children, and
the hope of its future glory.
It was not strange that Dudley should cherish dark and
gloomy doubts of a triumph whose germ he totally overlooked.
Alas, how much he overlooked in this world, so rich to him in
its arts, its sciences, its wealth, its knowledge, and its pride!
How poor are all these treasures in comparison with that pearl
of price, which he, in his self-reliance, scornfully disdains, and
scorning it himself, hesitates not to despoil another of that child-like
simplicity and trust, which invest earth with a halo of
heavenly brightness, and constitute the choicest gem in her
And what shall he give her in return?
He may ransack the stores of learning, exhaust the mines of
knowledge, or drain to their utmost depths the resources of
fancy, wit, and imagination—but he can never give her back
the holy joy that springs from the love of common things, the
cherishing of natural sentiment, the faith in human virtue and
the providence of God.
The time is coming when she will need them all. Ah!
what shall atone for their fatal loss, when her heart crieth out
in its bitter agony and no answering voice replieth?
Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 , Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].