Oh, that men should put an enemy in
Their mouths, to steal away their brains! that we
Should, with joy, pleasure, revel and applause,
Transform ourselves to beasts.
[figure description] Page 167.[end figure description]
There is a species of brutish self-indulgence which takes
possession of the poor, the hard-working and the untaught
nature. It revels in the low, degarding, and under-ground
haunts of vice. It walks both by night and day, striding before
the eyes of men in all its unglossed deformity, telling of starvation
and rags, of wayside gutters and unmarked graves. It
excites the disgust of the refined worldling, and the efforts
of the brave philanthropist.
There is another, and a like species of consuming demon,
which treads the high places of the earth, its ugliness clothed
in the garments of pride, and its depravity hid beneath the veil
of luxury. Wealth ministers to its grasping influence, and
oftentimes, youthful beauty and woman's smile foster the devouring
flame. Not until its fell work is well-nigh done, does the
world take note of the destruction which lies in its path; but
the record of its fearful march is written on many a bowed
head and broken heart, while secret tears and midnight watchings,
and the unuttered groans of disappointed hope, sap the
very life-springs of a mourning household.
The friend of humanity spares no effort to baffle the brutish -- 168 --
wayside enemy which drags the once honest and industrious
laborer down to idleness, poverty, and ruin. Shall no voice,
then, be lifted up to warn, threaten, and perchance to save,
the victim of that far more insidious and equally ruinous foe,
which walks hand in hand with pleasure, is sanctioned by fashion
and encouraged by wealth, but which leaves behind it,
[figure description] Page 168.[end figure description]
when its easy victory is won, a blighted intellect, a shattered
frame, and all the conscious degradation of an abused and
Oh, that the silent and secret agony which has wrung so
many an innocent heart could find for itself an utterance!
that the vioceless and anguished groan of the repentant spirit
could give vent to its warning cry! Then might the youth
just launched on a career of dissipation, vice and folly, be
startled betimes by the fearful knell of disappointed hope, which
rings out from the shoals and quicksands that are scattered
amid the sea of pleasure.
But, alas! the ill-fated victim who learns his first lessens in
self-indulgence within the charmed ring of fashionable conviviality,
and plunges thence into the deeper haunts of iniquity
and vice, comes not back to shake the skeleton finger at those
who yet linger on the threshold. Lost to self-respect, and
banished from the courts which lured him on to ruin, he sinks
into disgraceful oblivion, while the hearts that his misconduct
has broken, betray him not with a cry.
It was no sudden bound which had brought Harry to the -- 169 --
verge of this dark gulf. Freedom from parental restraint,
unlimited supplies of money, and a naturally gay and adventurous
disposition, had early exposed him to the temptations which
beset boyhood and youth. The love of mischief that resulted
in his banishment from West Point, had been succeeded by
a course of foolish extravagance, which was, however, in some
degree checked by the simple mode of life that prevailed in
the German university which he next attended, and the interest
in literary and scientific pursuits which was there awakened.
The two following years of travel served to make him well
acquainted with men and manners; and amid the various trials
and tests to which the youth was subjected, it must be acknowledged
that he sometimes overleaped the bounds of prudence
and sobriety. Fortunately the excitement of journeying, and
the generous aspirations which it awakened, furnished a vent
to the ardor and impetuosity of his disposition, and tempered
the exposures which threatened him on every hand; still his
[figure description] Page 169.[end figure description]
character became gradually marked by a certain recklessness
and self-indulgence which boded ill for the future.
But it was not until his return to his native city that he gave
himself up to a life of pleasure, and relinquished nobler pursuits
for the petty gratifications of the day and hour. Idleness,
however, the difficulty in choosing a profession, and the satiety
of his present mode of life, all combined to undermine his
strength of manly purpose; while his convivial traits and command
of money, caused his society to be appreciated, and his
presence sought by those who were alike skilled in administering
flattery and in contaminating the heart.
The point where a man loses his self-respect, usually precedes
that in which he loses the respect of others.
Mabel became conscious that a barrier had arisen between
herself and her brother, before she suspected its cause.
Perhaps, had she been less engaged with a new sentiment,
she would have felt more keenly the gradual withdrawal of
Harry's confidence, and would have probed more deeply the
secret of his seemingly diminished affection; at least, she would
have asked herself why it was that their pleasures, interests,
and tastes, which had hitherto lain in the same direction, had
ceased to be in harmony.
As it was, the conviction that Harry was in some degree
supplanted in her own heart, forbade her to question too closely
any want of devotion on his part; and if she occasionally felt
wounded at his reposing less trust in her than formerly, she
doubted her right to complain of a reserve which she knew to
be in some degree mutual.
But if the consciousness of his own unworthiness caused -- 170 --
Harry to dread his sister's scrutiny, the barrier between them
was doubled now that she had come to share this knowledge.
He no longer had occasion to avoid the eye which nervously
shrunk from encountering his, or dread any expression of those
suspicions on her part which, though they were ever on the
alert, she sought only to hide from his observation. And yet,
while Mabel had no anxiety so great as to conceal from him
her participation in his fatal secret, her very anxiety betrayed
[figure description] Page 170.[end figure description]
her; and he became instinctively conscious that his innocent
sister was suffering for his misdeeds.
The consequence was, a painful and daily increasing estrangement;
not the estrangement which springs from harsh looks,
angry words, and mutual accusations; there were none of these.
Scarcely less bitter to Mabel's heart, however, were the averted
or stealthy glance, the unexplained absence, the constrained
silence, or the ill-timed hilarity, which proclaimed a mind ill at
How far Mr. Vaughan and his sister shared her solicitude, it
was difficult to determine. The former, in spite of his daily
increasing abstraction of mind, now and then cast on his son a
look of deep concern and serutiny; and the puzzled air with
which Sabiah was wont to regard her nephew, occasionally
gave place to a sharp glance of reproof, as she observed his
growing indifference to the happiness and convenience of the
whole household. No further utterance, however, was given to
their thoughts, nor was there as yet any positive evidence that
the indications of misconduct in Harry had not wholly escaped
their observation. Still, it could not be denied that an air of
constraint had gradually crept over the family, while whatever
might be the apparent subject of interest, an under current of
feeling evidently pervaded their little circle.
To shun the society of her aunt and father became at length
scarcely less an object with Mabel, than to avoid encountering
the eye of Harry. She never paused to ask herself whether
it was wise or right to shrink from meeting, face to face, the
calamity which she saw no way to avert; but blindly following
the instinct of nature, she sought to flee from the harrowing
dread which, nevertheless, pursued her like a shadow.
Thus she now rushed more recklessly than ever into that life
of excitement and fashion which, in reality, had lost for her
the charm that it once possessed, seeking in the gay and heartless
whirl of society to drown the bitter fears and forebodings
which pressed painfully upon her in her home.
It must be confessed, too, that her first agony of regret at -- 171 --
Harry's disgrace had been succeeded by a less disinterested
[figure description] Page 171.[end figure description]
emotion, as she thought of the mortification it would entail
upon herself; and, shrinking from the companionship of her
brother, she almost unconsciously gave the preference to those
scenes of gaiety from which he would be sure to absent himself.
The time had been when Mabel would have repelled every
pleasure or honor which Harry might not share, and would
have scorned to possess any interest distinct and separate from
his. The school-girl of six months ago would boldly have
declared, that in the face of all the world she and her brother
would fall or rise together. But the Mabel of to-day, be it
remembered, was not the simple-hearted pupil of Mrs. Herbert.
She had recently been trained in another school, and
had unconsciously imbibed other maxims. It was not the
influence of fashionable life; for that, though it might engross
her time with frivolous pursuits, had failed to corrupt the
generous emotions of her heart. It was the deeper, subtler
influence of one who, knowing no disinterested sentiments,
and believing the rest of the world as false and hollow as himself,
had insidiously contaminated her innocent and affectionate
nature with that refined species of selfishness which shrinks
from contact with the rough edges of this world's experience,
and wards off with shrinking dread the realizing sense of
aught that might interfere with its luxurious repose.
Thus striving, as she did, to free herself from the consequences
of Harry's misconduct, the gulf between the brother
and sister was widening day by day; and Mabel, if not aiding
in the downfall of the misguided youth, was lending no
hand to rescue him from ruin.
Nor did she escape the mortification which she was so -- 172 --
anxious to evade. Frequently did her cheek blanch, and the
light word tremble on her lip, as she suddenly became conscious
of Harry's unexpected presence on an occasion when
she had least apprehended his approach. Sometimes he would
enter the assembly-room at a late hour, his face flushed with
wine, and his voice elevated a pitch above its usual tone;
sometimes she would meet him on her drives, careering
[figure description] Page 172.[end figure description]
through one of the avenues in an open gig, drawn by a steed
noted on the race-course; and more than once he had attracted
attention to her opera-box, by the boisterous conversation and
merriment with which he had disturbed the rest of the audience.
In the eyes of some of Mabel's fashionable companions
these might be evidence of spirit; but—to her credit be it
said—her good sense, no less than her sensitive affection,
were keenly alive to the disgrace and censure which they
Such experiences, and the apprehension of them, were sufficient -- 173 --
to cloud her joyousness. But this was not all. Other
evils soon followed in their train. Mabel's excitable, and apparently
inconsistent demeanor, exposed her to misconstruction,
and that, too, in a quarter where she was most anxious that
her conduct should be favorably interpreted. In the early
stages of her acquaintance with Dudley, when he merely
sought a mental stimulus in the satisfaction of awakening her
genius and developing her intellectual nature, he had felt no
disposition to put a check upon her lighter enjoyments, and
had been coolly indifferent to competition. But, in proportion
as he realized the power he had gained over her mind and
heart, did he become jealous of any interference, real or
imaginary. He made no open profession of that deeper
interest with which she had inspired him—an interest which
had awakened in his sophisticated soul something like a genuine
emotion. He even refused to acknowledge to himself
the force of the feelings by which he was actuated. Their
manifestation, however, took precisely the form which might
have been anticipated from one of his distrustful character;
and often did Mabel find herself controlled by a jealous tyranny
which she could not understand, or grieved by a displeasure
for which she could not account. It was easy, however, to
submit to a tyranny which usually took the form of watchful
devotion, and to allay a displeasure which was seldom more
than momentary; and until the period when Mabel's mind
[figure description] Page 173.[end figure description]
became harassed by contending emotions, no serious cause of
alienation had arisen between herself and Dudley.
But experience now proved that, although there was no one
who could so effectually win her from the painful thoughts by
which she was oppressed, Dudley was not her most efficient
aid in moments of sudden agitation. Her only refuge, then,
was in assumed gaiety; and it often happened that there was
an individual in her vicinity who possessed at once the ability
and the will to second her efforts at animation, and afford her
the most easy and obvious means of concealing and overcoming
her mortification and chagrin. This was a young man of lively
temperament, unfailing spirits, and proverbial good nature, who
was ever ready to join in a playful war of words, laugh at a
pleasant joke, or take the lead in those popular and fashionable
dances in which he excelled. These available qualities were
always at Mabel's disposal, for Mr. Marston was one of a
numerous throng who perseveringly sought to render themselves
acceptable to the belle of the season.
Anxious only to maintain her composure, at any cost, Mabel
did not realize the undue encouragement she was bestowing
on her highly flattered admirer, or the severity with which
Dudley inwardly commented upon her coquetry and frivolity.
One evening, however, when, being more than usually
oppressed by anxiety, she had sought to divert her feelings
and ward off the observation of others, by accepting Mr.
Marston's invitation to join in a rapid and giddy dance, she
was startled, on coming to a pause, by perceiving Dudley
standing directly opposite to her, with an expression of unmistakable
scorn upon his features, while Harry was at the same
moment rendering himself conspieuous, by bestowing upon
Miss Vannecker, in an audible tone, a series of absurd compliments,
which he would never have uttered in his sober
Half fainting from a conflict of painful emotions, she sank -- 174 --
upon a chair, and her agitation reached its height when Dudley
crossed the room, and addressed her in the sarcastic tone
which he so well knew how to assume: “Miss Vaughan,”
[figure description] Page 174.[end figure description]
said he, “I am glad to see you in such spirits to-night;
the recollection of your animated enjoyment of this scene will
cheer me during my absence from the city.” And with a
frigid bow he left the room.
He despises me, thought Mabel, for my frivolity and seeming
indifference to what every one must perceive. But, too
proud to bend beneath the weight of his displeasure, she
returned his salutation with haughty coldness, and accepted
Mr. Marston's invitation to take another turn in the dance.
Bitter, almost heart-breaking, were Mabel's reflections that
night. For the first time, she began to doubt the wisdom, the
propriety even, of the course she had thought proper to adopt,
in order to veil her actual sufferings from the eye of the world.
Even Dudley, thought she, believes me heartless; for attributing
to him a worthier motive than that by which he was
really actuated, she never doubted that it was his warm friendship
for Harry which caused him to be shocked at her levity;
nor dreamed that it was an overwrought and involuntary jealousy
on his own account, which prompted his sarcastic comment
upon her apparent enjoyment of Mr. Marston's society.
And thus mistaking, as she did, the cause of his disapprobation,
nothing could exceed her regret at having given offence
to the friend who, valued as he had long been, was never so
deeply prized as in this her time of painful and humiliating
sorrow. His desertion of her at this crisis seemed more than
she could bear.
Disappointed in her brother, blamed and forsaken by him
whose voice had hitherto been a charm against utter despondency,
and dreading the watchful eyes of her father and
aunt, she dared not fathom her own unhappiness; but, continuing
her customary round of engagements, performed her
part with automaton accuracy, masking her face in smiles, and
crushing down the emotions to which she dared not give way.
Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 , Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].