Welcome to PhiloLogic  
   home |  the ARTFL project |  download |  documentation |  sample databases |   
Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
To look up a word in a dictionary, select the word with your mouse and press 'd' on your keyboard.

Previous section

Next section


Who scoffs these sympathies,
Makes mock of the divinity within;
Nor feels he gently through his breathing soul
The universal spirit.
R. H. Dana.

[figure description] Page 133.[end figure description]

Among the engagements of the following week, there was
one of a somewhat different character from the gay assemblies
which constituted the chief social enjoyment of Mabel's circle.
This was a party given on occasion of some family anniversary,
by a lady of high position, whose wealth, accomplishments, and
superior cultivation, gave her an undisputed preëminence in the
eyes both of people of consequence and of those who considered
themselves such.

Even Mr. Vaughan was induced to accept an invitation to a
house where he would be sure to meet many guests of his own
age, and no small number of persons distinguished in the literary
and political world. Louise was not willing to lose the
honor of being present at an entertainment where the company
would undeniably be the most select the city afforded. Harry,
while he voted these old Knickerbocker affairs pretty slow concerns,
declared it an object to see things done up in good shape
once in a while; and Mabel, for all these reasons combined,
and, perhaps, also from the knowledge that the hostess was a
near connection of Dudley's, looked forward to the evening
with unusual interest.

Miss Sabiah was seldom included in the numerous invitations
received by her brother's family, not from any intentional
slight, but because she had systematically avoided becoming
generally known as an inmate of the household, and had nervously
shrunk from being found in the drawing-room on reception
days. She would never have dreamed, however, of

-- 134 --

[figure description] Page 134.[end figure description]

mingling in society; and was satisfied, for her part, with the simple
enjoyment derived from the sight of her favorite Mabel, richly
attired, and appearing on each new occasion more beautiful in
the eyes of her aunt. Therefore, on the evening in question,
she experienced no small satisfaction from the survey of a
superb dress, worn for the first time by Mabel, and her elation
reached its height as she observed the ill-concealed envy which
it awakened in Louise, who entered the dressing-room just as
her sister's toilette was completed. It was no wonder that the
partisan spirit of the aunt was gratified, for Mabel certainly
outshone herself.

She wore a white flounced silk, each flounce being bordered
with a pattern of delicately wrought green leaves and half-blown
roses, and the graceful garland of flowers on her hair
was in perfect harmony with the Parisian fabric. The waist
fitted closely to the throat, where a collar of point lace was
fastened with a brilliant spray of diamonds; and sleeves of the
same delicate material as the collar, lightly draped her wellrounded

Louise, whose little, fairy-like form never looked so well as
in the light and gossamer fabrics in which she floated or
whirled through the dance, felt a sharp pang of jealousy, as
she noted the almost regal figure of her sister, set off to advantage
by the closely-fitting and heavy material which would
have severely tested a less exquisite shape than Mabel's.

“I hate to go to these half-and-half parties,” said she, in a
sharp and irritable tone, as she drew out the folds of her velvet
dress to give it a more graceful flow, and straitening her
figure at the mirror, tried to believe herself just the right
height, and Mabel a little too tall. “One has to dress up as
if afraid of the rheumatism, and no wonder, for if ever people
do take cold, it is from standing round in corners, as we shall
do to-night. It will be shockingly stupid. I've half a mind
not to go;” and although she could not resolve to stay away
from an entertainment which anybody else thought worth attending,
Louise contrived by her ill-humor to make herself
and every one about her so uncomfortable, that her friends

-- 135 --

[figure description] Page 135.[end figure description]

were glad at last to arrive at their destination, and to see her
established in one of the corners she had spoken of, where,
with Victoria Vannecker, and a little knot of companions, she
amused herself with making comments upon the company.

The assembly was not large, and there was no music, but,
as Harry had foreseen, everything was conducted in good taste,
and spacious and superb as were the house and furniture,
nothing gave evidence of extraneous ornament, or an attempt
at display.

Some of the company had evidently been their hostess'
guests at dinner, and coffee was passed round promiscously at
quite a late hour.

This circumstance, and the fact that the size and number of
the rooms thrown open afforded opportunity for the dispersion
of the visitors into little knots, gave the whole assemblage
the air of a somewhat overgrown tea-party. A few
elderly gentlemen, grouped together on the hearth-rug and
occasionally sipping their coffee, were holding a political discussion;
and a similar association of literary friends were
laughing heartily at a series of amusing anecdotes related by
one of their number. A travelled lady and a boyish artist
were examining a book of etchings together; and a group of
youths and girls, scarcely beyond childhood, had taken possession
of the music room, and while one played the piano, the
rest were having a merry dance.

These, and various other social scenes, were indicative of
the different ages, tastes, and characters, which were blended
in the company; and although nonsense, scandal and ill-natured
criticism, were not without their representatives, they instinetively
felt themselves out of their sphere, and kept in the background;
while the assembly, as a whole, was eminently distinguished
for harmony, elegance, good breeding, and refinement.

Mabel felt, from the first moment of her entrance, the total
dissimilarity between this and most of the fashionable parties
which she frequented; but, unlike Louise, at once recognized
its superiority. Nor, although the youthful circle which claimed
her as its ornament could assemble here but a small number

-- 136 --

[figure description] Page 136.[end figure description]

of its members, did she find herself by any means destitute of

Dudley's partiality had not only awakened her ambition for
cultivated society, but had, to some degree, gratified this preference,
and already, through his introduction, had she been
brought into occasional intercourse with persons of distinction,
taste, and learning.

Politicians, artists, noted travellers, titled foreigners, and
literary lions in every department, were included in Lincoln
Dudley's extensive circle of friends; and more than one individual
of some distinction among the present company, now
seized the opportunity to revive and strengthen his knowledge
of the beautiful girl, whose naturalness of manner, freshness
of feeling, and exuberance of thought and fancy, had
increased the admiration inspired by her personal charms.

But, although this species of homage was an undoubted
triumph, there was no evidence of gratified pride in the demeanor
of Mabel, whose sparkling eye and intelligent smile
denoted an eager interest and an animated pleasure in the
conversation of a select group, of which she was the central
attraction. Conscious, as she could not fail to be, of her power
of pleasing, she, nevertheless, employed it without affectation
or artifice; and in whatever estimation her success might be
held, no one could fail to acknowledge that it was fairly won.

Unwilling as Dudley was to yield allegiance to any single
object, and often as he absented himself from her neighborhood,
to pay his addresses elsewhere, an irresistible attraction
drew him back, and a short interval only would elapse, before
his clear tones would mingle again in the conversation of the
little group, to which his racy and eloquent, or occasionally
abrupt and ironical, contributions invariably imparted additional
zest; nor did the consciousness of his vicinity fail to
give an added glow to Mabel's features, and a renewed lustre
to her eye.

“Do you see that magnificent girl yonder?” said an elderly
painter of repute, to one whom he knew to be a lover of his
art. “I will paint her picture, before the winter is over. I

-- 137 --

[figure description] Page 137.[end figure description]

promise you I shall accomplish the point, and obtain a sitting.
How superb she would be as Corinne crowned in the temple!”

“There is talent there,” exclaimed a first-rate lawyer, significantly
glancing at Mabel, with whom he had been conversing.
“She has beat me in an argument, just now, good-naturedly,
and without pedantry, too, and before I knew what
she was at.”

“I would not trust myself against her before a jury, independently
of argument,” replied the gentleman to whom the
remark was addressed.

“Your sister is a young lady to be proud of,” said a somewhat
taciturn old bachelor, who, standing near Louise, had
been silently observing Mabel. “I see she is amiable, as well
as agreeable, and dispenses her smiles with equal favor upon

“Rather too much so, I should think,” said Louise, with a
short laugh, “judging from some of her friends. Pray, who is
that Father Noah whom she seems to find so interesting?”

“That thin gentleman in the long-bodied coat? I forget his
name,—a clergyman, I believe.”

Louise now turned to Miss Vannecker, and exclaimed, in a
low and half-confidential tone: “It is very ridiculous for Mabel
to stand there, directly in the centre of the room, and talk to
everybody that chooses to be introduced to her. She'll make
some most absurd acquaintances!”

A little later in the evening, when Mabel was listening, in a
reverential manner, to the conversation of the interesting clergyman,
Louise and Miss Vannecker paused as they were
crossing the room, and the former remarked abruptly to her
sister: “You have chosen a conspicuous place for holding your
court, this evening, my dear; the news-papers to-morrow will
describe the assembly room, and say the centre ornament was
a flower-piece of exquisite form, consisting of successive tiers
of rose-wreaths, surmounted with a garland?”

“Besides,” added Miss Vannecker, as if taking it for granted
that Louise's remark was designed to be censorious, “it is

-- 138 --

[figure description] Page 138.[end figure description]

very unbecoming to stand directly beneath the gas-light.” And
having thus rebuked her vanity, they passed on.

Mabel blushed and looked somewhat disconcerted, but innocent
of any intention at display, maintained a dignified composure,
and, covering her vexation with a smile, confirmed the
good opinion already formed of her by her new friend.

Dudley chanced to be standing near, and overheard the
rude speeches of Louise and her companion. Always courteous
himself, he could not endure rudeness in others, especially
when its motive was as palpable as in the present instance;
for his knowledge of Louise's character, at once suggested to
his discerning mind the jealousy by which she was actuated.

Anxious, therefore, to free Mabel from the slight embarrassment
which he detected in spite of her assumed serenity, he
availed himself of the first opportunity to invite her to visit
the conservatory, which contained a choice collection of plants.
Mabel, relieved by the proposal, the thoughtful delicacy of
which she fully appreciated, gladly accepted his offered arm
for the purpose.

Dudley was just enough of a botanist and florist to make his
observations upon flowers attractive and charming; he forbore
the use of scientific terms, called them all by their simple and
expressive names, and, without sentimentality, understood and
expatiated on the poetic and touching language which they
were capable of conveying.

There might be minds to which these gifts of nature appealed
with deeper significance, but few who could more gracefully
express the gratification afforded by them to a refined sense of
the beautiful.

While admiring, however, his knowledge of every species of
plant, including the rarest exotics, and sympathizing in most
of his preferences, Mabel was astonished at his indifference to
many of her favorites, especially among the common wild
flowers of our fields and woods. She could not resist paying
the tribute of affection to these wayside friends, and in answer
to his inquiry—which of all the summer blossoms she preferred?
she answered frankly, “If you ask me which I love the best,

-- 139 --

[figure description] Page 139.[end figure description]

I must confess, though you will wonder to hear me say so,—
the dandelion—the friendly, yellow dandelion.”

Dudley smiled incredulously.

“I truly mean so,” said Mabel, earnestly; “it comes so early
and stays so long. It is earth's golden star of promise, speaking
of warmth, and sunshine, and summer. It has such sweet
associations, too. Why, did you never,” exclaimed she, forgetting
for the moment that she was addressing the polished man
of the world,—“did you never sit on the grass and make long
chains of the hollow stems, and sigh to think how frail they

“Never,” replied Dudley with decision.

“Nor tear them to shreds with idle fingers, and float them
in the brook to watch how they would curl? Nor pluck the
downy seed-vessels, on your way from school, and blow on
them three times to see if your mother wanted you?”

“Never,” replied Dudley again, in a tone which intimated
that his childish reminiscences included no such follies.

“Then you cannot imagine,” said Mabel, her enthusiasm a
little damped by his manner, “how many happy hours I associate
with their common, familiar faces.”

“I suppose not; but I nevertheless love flowers for the sake
of association,” said Dudley; and, stooping down, he picked
up a sprig of mignonette, which she had held in her hand a
moment before and then thrown negligently away.

Mabel blushed as she observed the action, and if at the same
moment she did not feel absolutely ashamed of her love for
dandelions, she was ready to confess it a childish folly, for
which she had no right to expect the sympathy of grown

In the criticism of works of art Dudley was even more
skilled than in the analysis of the floral kingdom; and he next
directed Mabel's attention to a number of paintings and statues
which adorned the spacious hall adjoining the conservatory.
Under his tutelage Mabel had already acquired some little
skill in judging of an artist's merit, and almost fancied that she
could distinguish between the works of rival schools. She was

-- 140 --

[figure description] Page 140.[end figure description]

still so unsophisticated, however, as always to bestow her first
thoughts on the subject, rather than the execution of a piece;
and her attention was at once attracted by an ancient-looking
picture, representing an angel-messenger bearing to Heaven
the tidings of a sinner's repentance. The seraphic beauty of
the countenance, the joy, love, and holy triumph which it depicted,
inspired in Mabel an emotion of religious awe. She
gazed at it a moment in silence, then turned from it to her
companion, with a look which bespoke her admiration.

“Miserable thing!” observed he, without appearing to notice
the sentiment it had awakened in Mabel. I never can see it
without smiling at the absurd discussion it has caused. You
must know that my honored cousin—he here lowered his
voice expressively and looked over his shoulder to see if any
of the family were within hearing—has the vanity, or the
credulity, to believe that picture a work of one of the old masters.
No one, with the slightest knowledge of paintings, could
cherish such a supposition for a moment. It is unquestionably
a counterfeit, or at most a mere copy.”

Whether copy or counterfeit it had its value, as was evident
from the emotion it had awakened in Mabel; but she had no
further opportunity to examine it. The seraph face having
been pronounced the guilty medium of a deception, she was
hurried away from it by Dudley, who assured her that it was
a daub—a mere imposture, not worth a moment's study.

So, also, in passing judgment on the statues. Two figures
of Mercy and Truth absorbed Mabel's notice, and were, in
many respects, the finest in the collection; but Dudley could
see nothing in the former but a most remarkable distortion in
the little finger; and the latter, unless his eye was more incorrect
than usual, betrayed a slight disproportion in the size of
the throat.

No one could dispute, however, the accuracy with which he
pointed out the exquisite finish observable in the painting of a
Dutch kitchen, the work of a celebrated artist, or the justice
with which he commented upon the remarkable lightness of limb
portrayed in a favorite bronze Mercury. For the true

-- 141 --

[figure description] Page 141.[end figure description]

enjoyment of art, Dudley evidently considered it necessary to comprehend
it in detail. He had no conception of the highest
power which it is capable of exercising, restricting its influence,
as he did, to the enlightened and aristocratic few, and wholly
ignoring its agency in ennobling and elevating the masses.

The conversation naturally passed from art to artists; and
as Dudley had an intimate acquaintance with many persons
of this profession, he was able to impart much curious and interesting
information concerning the labors and struggles, the
triumphs and failures of genius.

They now occupied a position where the company, most of
whom were promenading the hall, passed successively under
their review; and, forsaking abstract topics, he proceeded to
entertain her for some time with his comments upon various
individuals—their peculiar characteristics, family histories, or
public services.

She listened with interested and often amused attention, but
at length her eye wandered to the farther end of the hall; and
Dudley, observing the direction of her earnest gaze, perceived
at once the object that had attracted her notice. An elderly
lady, accompanied by a stout and stately military gentleman,
had entered the hall at its farther extremity, and was slowly
approaching the spot where they stood. She was considerably
above the ordinary height of woman, with an erect and imposing
figure, while her manner and bearing at once commanded
respect by their composed and serene dignity. There was
nothing forbidding, however, in her mild and benignant face,
shaded and softened by the snowy flutings of her widow's cap,
and her features were such as must in youth have rendered
her preëminently beautiful. Nor had time had power to dispossess
her of personal charms, although she had numbered
nearly threescore years and ten. Her skin was still fair, her
eye bright, and her silver hair, which was smoothly parted on
her forehead, escaped from her cap in the form of a few soft
and shining curls, which hung over either cheek. Her step,
too, was firm—almost elastic—and her hand rested lightly
on the arm of the portly officer

-- 142 --

[figure description] Page 142.[end figure description]

Mabel's eye followed her with curiosity not unmixed with
respectful admiration, as moving leisurely up the hall she
acknowledged the courtesies of numerous friends, and at length
approached the spot which Dudley had chosen as a favorable
point of observation.

“Here comes the salt of the earth, miss Vaughan,” said he,
in a tone of irony; she is leaning on an arm, too, of the highest

“They are a noble-looking couple,” said Mabel with warmth,
at the same time turning to him with an inquiring eye, as if
she would gladly hear more concerning them.

“That woman,” continued Dudley, “is generallissimo of the
forces of modern innovation—the chief of a battalion of amazonian
philanthropists who carry all before them; she will
drag us before a court-martial,” exclaimed he, feigning a sudden
alarm as she drew near. “How shall we escape? We
shall be caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced in less than five

“She seems to carry only peaceable weapons,” said Mabel
with a smile; “and allowing it were otherwise, what have we
done to expose ourselves to an attack?”

“We are fair subjects for it,” replied Dudley; “yourself
especially. Do you not see that she is on the recruiting service?”

The venerable lady of whom Dudley ventured to speak so
lightly had just encountered some young girls, who were crossing
the hall, and as she stood for a moment conversing with
the more sprightly of the two, her hand rested tenderly on
the head of the other, a slight, fair-haired creature, who looked
up at her aged friend with a countenance full of affectionate

It had seemed to Mabel, as she saw the evident affection the
old lady inspired, that nothing would delight her more than
to be honored with her friendship; and although Dudley's
manner somewhat damped her enthusiasm, she could not resist
watching every motion of one whose appearance seemed to
rebuke ridicule.

-- 143 --

[figure description] Page 143.[end figure description]

“You see,” continued he, “Madam Percival is supreme
among her subalterns. Her energies are unparalleled, and her
valor invariably places her in the front rank of every quixotic
enterprise. She carries a current coin of golden opinions, and
her credit is unlimited. It is astonishing what capital can be
made now-a-days out of the sufferings of the poorer classes.”

Mabel still continued silent, revolving her companions words,
and waiting to hear more.

“She wears the same uniform as ever, I see,” said Dudley,
after a pause—“black satin and brussels lace, and has the
same military escort; the gentleman with her is her step-son,
General Percival, of the regular army. They have appeared
together on parade for these twenty years. It tells vastly well
for family concord and unanimity under trying relations; I
have heard, however, that there was great difficulty in settling
the family estate.”

Dudley lowered his voice, as he concluded, for the subject
of his remarks was now within a few steps of them, and, as if
in confirmation of his fears, had fixed her eye upon him intelligently.

“Shall you venture to meet the charge, and be victimized?”
asked Dudley, in an understone, and at the same time looking
about him, as if for a place of refuge.

“I have no fears,” answered Mabel, “I am not the object
of her notice.”

“You will allow me, then,” said he, with ready tact, “to
hand you some refreshment;” and he darted off in pursuit of
a servant, who was passing with a tray of ices, thus avoiding
the necessity of the apparently dreaded recognition.

There was such a mingling of humor and satire throughout
this conversation, that Mabel could not possibly determine
whether a single word of it was spoken in earnest; nor was
she convinced that Dudley's anxiety to avoid the lady was
otherwise than feigned. Still his words and conduct were not
without effect, and her generous, confiding disposition was
tinged with unpleasant conjectures. So impressed was she,
indeed, with a suspicion of the old lady's eccentricities, that

-- 144 --

[figure description] Page 144.[end figure description]

when the latter paused directly in front of her, she was fully
prepared to be addressed, without the ceremony of an introduction,
and was consequently somewhat disconcerted when
a person seated behind her, and whom she was unconsciously
obscuring, laid a hand upon her arm and said, in a gentle voice,
“I think that lady is looking for me: will you please move a
little to the right?” Mabel instantly stepped aside, and as she
did so, brushed against a pair of crutches, which, falling to the
floor, revealed the helplessness of the object of her seeming

As she stooped and restored the crutches to their owner, at
the same time apologizing for her unintentional rudeness, the
sincere grace of her manner called forth an approving smile
from Madam Percival, who, however, took no further notice of
her, but entered into conversation with the interesting lame
lady, and before Dudley returned with the iced sherbet, accompanied
her and Gen. Percival into another room.

Later in the evening Mabel accepted, with her usual good
nature, an invitation to join the youthful dancers, who had
taken possession of the music room and wanted one more
couple to complete their set. Young as she was, they were
nearly all her juniors, privileged to be present on this occasion,
which partook of the character of a family jubilee, and
her boyish partner scarcely equalled her in height. She
entered with ready glee, however, into their juvenile gaiety,
and won the hearts of the youthful company by her sympathy
in their enjoyment. It was an old-fashioned country dance,
and Mabel, after faithfully fulfilling her part, reached the bottom
laughing and out of breath.

“Your dance is going off gloriously, grandmama!” exclaimed
her partner, stepping gaily within the open door of an adjoining
room, and addressing Madam Percival, who, while watching
the progress of the dance with evident pleasure and
interest, was conversing in an animated manner with the gentleman
in the long-bodied coat, whom Louise had denominated
Father Noah. She smiled and nodded pleasantly in acknowledgment
of the boy's congratulations; and Mabel observed

-- 145 --

[figure description] Page 145.[end figure description]

that each successive couple, as they came down the dance,
exchanged with her similar tokens of satisfaction.

“This performance was undertaken for grandmother's benefit,”
said Mabel's partner to her, by way of explanation. It
was danced at our hostess's wedding twenty-five years ago.
My mother was bridesmaid on the occasion, and grandmother
proposed the dance to-night, for the sake of old times.” As
the boy named his mother he glanced affectionately towards
the lady who was presiding at the piano, and Mabel, for the
first time, observed that the owner of the crutches had been
furnishing the youthful party with music.

What a charming bond of sympathy subsists among these
people, thought she; and that remarkable old lady is evidently
the connecting link. Can there be hypocrisy beneath such a
countenance as hers? Mr. Dudley must have been joking.

This latter conviction was still further strengthened in the
cloak room, where she had an opportunity of witnessing the
affectionate care which Madam Percival bestowed on her lame
friend, declining for herself the attentions to which her years
entitled her, and anxious only for the comfort of the invalid.
“Offer your arm to your mother, my dear,” said she to her
grandson, who came to the head of the stairs to escort them to
their carriage; and General Percival not being in sight, the
venerably lady herself followed, unattended.

“She is a noble woman! I am sure of it,” thought Mabel,
“but what could Mr. Dudley have meant?”

The ingenuous tribute of praise, and the intruding inquiry
which followed it, were alike indicative of Mabel's impressible
character. In the former her heart spoke out, in the latter
might be detected the haunting influence of an enkindled
doubt. Alas, what a shadow may be flung over the fairest
things by a single whisper from the brooding demon of distrust!

-- --

Previous section

Next section

Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
Powered by PhiloLogic