BEAUTY!

Timothy Shay Arthur, 1848

 

"Beautiful?" exclaimed Mary Marvel, with a toss of the head and a slight curl of her cherry lips. "There isn't a good feature in her face."

"And yet, I think her beautiful," was the calm reply of Mrs. Hartley.

"Why, Aunt! Where are your eyes?"

"Just where they have always been, my child!"

"Agnes is a good girl," said Mary, speaking in a less confident manner. Every one knows this; but, as to being pretty, that is altogether another thing."

"Is there not a beauty in goodness, Mary?" asked Mrs. Hartley, in her low, quiet way, as she looked, with her calm, penetrating eyes, into the young girl's face.

"Oh yes, of course there is, aunt. But, beauty of goodness is one thing, and beauty of face another."

"The former generally makes itself visible in the latter. In a pure, unselfish, loving heart lives the very essence of beauty."

"Oh yes, aunt. All that we know. But, let the heart be ever so beautiful, it cannot re-mold the homely countenance; the ill-formed mouth, the ugly nose, the wedge-shaped chin must remain to offend the eye of taste."

"Do you think Miss Williams very homely?" asked Mrs. Hartley.

"She is deformed, aunt."

"Well?"

"She has no personal beauty whatever."

"Do you think of this when you are with her?"

"No. But when I first saw her, she so offended my eyes, that I could hardly remain in the room where she was."

"You do not see her deformity now."

"I never think of it."

"The spirit of beauty in her heart, has thrown a veil over her person."

"It may be so, aunt. One thing is certain, I do love her."

"More than you do Ellen Lawson?"

"I can't bear Ellen Lawson!" The whole manner of the young girl expressed repugnance.

"And yet Ellen, by common consent, is acknowledged to be beautiful."

"She is pretty enough; but I don't like her. Proud, vain, ill-tempered. Oh dear! these spoil everything!"

"In other words, the deformity of her heart throws a veil over the beauty of her person."

"Explain it as you will, aunt. Enough that Ellen Lawson is no favorite of mine. Ever as I gaze into her brilliant eyes, a something looks out of them that causes me to shrink from her."

The conversation between Mary Marvel and her aunt was interrupted, at this point, by the entrance of a visitor.

Mary was passing through her twentieth summer. She was pretty and she knew it. No wonder, then, that she was vain of her good looks. And being vain, no wonder that, in attiring her person, she thought less of maidenly good taste, than of that effect which quickly attracts the eye.

She had beautiful hair, which curled naturally, and so, when dressed for company, a perfect shower of glossy ringlets played ostentatiously about her freely exposed snowy neck and shoulders, causing the eyes of many to rest upon and follow her whose eyes a modest maiden might wish to be turned away. In fact, Mary's attire, which was generally a little in excess, so set off her showy person, that it was scarcely possible for her to be in company, without becoming the observed of all observers, and drawing around her a group of mirthful young men, ever ready to offer flattering attentions and deal in flattering words where such things are taken in the place of truth and sincerity.

Such, with a groundwork of good sense, good principles, and purity of character was Mary Marvel.

Some few days after the conversation with which this sketch opens occurred, Mary was engaged in dressing for an evening party, when her aunt came into her room.

"How do I look, aunt?" inquired Mary, who had nearly completed her make-up.

Mrs. Hartley shook her head and looked grave.

"What is the matter, aunt? Am I over-dressed, as you say, again?"

"I would rather say, under-dressed," replied the aunt. "But you certainly are not going in this style?"

"How do you mean?" And Mary threw a glance of satisfaction into her mirror.

"You intend wearing your lace-cape?"

"Oh dear, no!"

Mary's neck and shoulders were too beautiful to be hidden even under a film of gossamer.

"Nor under-sleeves?"

"Why, aunt! How you do talk!"

"Where are your combs?"

Mary tossed her head until every free ringlet danced in the brilliant light, and fluttered around her spotless neck and bosom.

"Ah, child!" sighed Mrs. Hartley; "this is all an error, depend upon it. Attire like yours never won for any maiden, that respect for which the heart has reason to be proud."

"Oh, aunt! Why will you talk so? Do you really think I am so weak as to dress with the mere end of attracting attention? You pay me a poor compliment!"

"Then why do you dress in a manner so immodest?"

"I think it very befitting?" And Mary threw her eyes again upon the mirror.

"Time, I trust, will correct your error," said Mrs. Hartley, speaking partly to herself; for experience had taught her how futile it was to attempt to influence her niece in a matter like this.

And so, in her "undress," as Mrs. Hartley made free to call her scanty garments, Mary went to spend the evening in a fashionable company, her head filled with the vain notion that she would, on that occasion, at least, carry off the palm of beauty. And something more than simple vanity was stirring in her heart. There was to be a guest at the party in whose eyes she especially desired to appear lovely and that was a young man named Percival, whom she had met a few times, and who was just such a one as a maiden might well wish to draw to her side. At a recent meeting, Percival had shown Mary more than ordinary attentions. In fact, the beauty of her person and graces of her mind, had made upon his feelings, more than a passing impression.

On entering the rooms, where a large portion of the company were already assembled, Mary produced, as she had expected and desired, some little sensation, and was soon surrounded by a circle of mirthful young men. Among these, however, she met not Percival. It was, perhaps, half an hour subsequent to her arrival, that Mary's eyes rested on the form of him she had been looking forever since her entrance. He was standing, alone, in a distant part of the room, and was evidently regarding her with fixed attention. She blushed, and her heart beat quicker as she discovered this. Almost instantly a group of young people came between her and Percival, and she did not see him again for some twenty minutes. Then he was sitting by the side of Agnes Gray, the young lady to whom her aunt referred as being beautiful, and whom she regarded with very different ideas. Agnes wore a plainly made sprigged muslin dress, which fitted close to the neck; her beautiful hair was neatly but not showily arranged, and had a single ornament, which was not conspicuous.

For the first time, an impression of beauty in Agnes affected the mind of Miss Marvel. She had been listening to something said by Mr. Percival, and was just in the act of replying, when Mary's eyes rested upon her; and then the inward beauty of her pure heart so filled every feature of her face, that she looked the very impersonation of loveliness. A sigh heaved the bosom of Mary Marvel, and, from that moment, her proud self-satisfaction vanished.

An hour passed, and yet Percival did not seek her in the crowd, though, during that time, he had danced not only with Agnes Gray, but with one or two others.

It was towards the close of the evening, and Mary, dispirited and weary, was sitting near one of the doors that opened from the drawing-room, when she heard her name mentioned in an undertone by a person standing in the hall. She listened involuntarily. The remark was

"I hardly know whether to pronounce Miss Marvel beautiful or not."

The person answering this remark was Percival; and his words were

"I once thought her beautiful. But that was before I met one more truly beautiful."

"Ah! Who has carried off the palm in your eyes?"

"You have seen Agnes Gray?"

"Oh yes. But she is not so pretty as Miss Marvel."

"She has not such regular features; but the more beautiful heart within shines forth so radiantly as to throw around her person the very atmosphere of beauty. So artless, so pure, so innocent! To me, she is the realization of my best dreams of maiden loveliness."

"Miss Marvel," remarked the other, "spoils everything by her vanity and love of display. She dresses in shocking bad taste."

"Shocking to me!" said Percival. "Really, her arms, neck, and bosom, tonight, are so much exposed that I cannot go near her. I would almost blush to look into her face; and yet, I respect and esteem her highly. What a pity, that personal vanity should spoil one who has so many good qualities so much to win our love and admiration."

The young men moved away, and Mary heard no more. Enough, however, had reached her ears to overwhelm her with pain and mortification. She soon, after retired from the company. The rest of the night was spent in weeping.

The lesson was severe, but beneficial. When Percival next met Mary Marvel, her dress and manners were much more to his taste; but she had changed too late to win him to her side, for his heart now worshiped at another shrine.