Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"What are you doing here, miss?"
The young girl thus addressed was sitting by a center-table, upon which stood a lamp, in a handsomely furnished drawing-room. She laid aside the book she was reading, and, without making any reply, rose up quickly and retired. Two or three persons, members of the family, were present. All observed the effect of Mrs. Freeman's words, yet no one had heard what was said; nor would they have been aware that more than a request for some service had been made, but for the lady's remark as the girl left the room.
"I might as well begin at once, and let Jessie know her place!"
"What did you say to her, mother?" asked a young lady who sat swinging herself in a large rocking-chair.
"I simply asked her what she was doing here."
"What did she answer?"
"Nothing. The way in which I put the question fully explained my meaning. I am sorry that there should have arisen a necessity for hurting her feelings; but if the girl doesn't know her place, she must be told where it is!"
"I don't see that she was doing any great harm," remarked an old gentleman who sat in front of the grate.
"She was not in her place, brother," said Mrs. Freeman, with an air of dignity. "We employ her as a teacher in the family, not as a companion. Her own good sense should have taught her this."
"You wouldn't have us make an equal of Jessie Hampton, would you, uncle Edward?" inquired the young lady who sat in the rocking-chair.
"You cannot make her your equal, Fanny, in point of worldly blessings, for, in this matter, Providence has dealt more hardly with her than with you. As to companionship, I do not see that she is less worthy now than she was a year ago."
"You talk strangely, Edward," said Mrs. Freeman, in a tone of dissent.
"In what way, sister?"
"There has been a very great change in a year. Jessie's family no longer moves in our circle."
"True; but is Jessie any the less worthy to sit in your parlor than she was then?"
"I think so, and that must decide the matter," returned Mrs. Freeman, evincing some temper.
The old gentleman said no more; but Fanny remarked--"I was not in favor of taking Jessie, for I knew how it would be; but Mrs. Carlton recommended her so highly, and said so much in her favor, that no room was left for a refusal. As for Jessie herself, I have no particular objection to her; but the fact of her having once moved in the circle we are in, is against her; for it leaves room for her to step beyond her place, as she has already done, and puts upon us the unpleasant necessity of reminding her of her error."
"It doesn't seem to me," remarked Mr. Freeman, who had until now said nothing, "that Miss Hampton was doing anything worthy of reproof. She has been well raised, we know; is an educated, refined, and intelligent girl, and, therefore, has nothing about her to create repugnance or to make her presence disagreeable. It would be better, perhaps, if we looked more to what persons are, than to things merely external."
"It is all very well to talk in that way," said Mrs. Freeman. "But Miss Hampton is governess in our family, and it is only right that she should hold to us that relation and keep her place. What she has been, or that she is, beyond the fact of her present position here, is nothing to us."
Mr. Freeman knew from experience, that no particular good would grow out of a prolonged argument on this subject, and so said nothing further, although he could not force from his mind the image of the young girl as she rose up hastily and left the room, nor help thinking how sad a change it would be for one of his own children, if reduced suddenly to her poor condition.
A good deal more was said by Mrs. Freeman, who did not feel very comfortable, although she fully justified herself for what she had done.
The young girl, who had been reminded so harshly of the error into which she had fallen, went quickly up into her cold chamber, and there, with a burning cheek, sat down to think as calmly as her disturbed feelings would permit. The weakness of tears she did not indulge; self-respect, rather than pride, sustained her. Had she acted from the first impulse, she would have left the house immediately, never again to re-enter it; but reason soon told her that, however strong her impulses might be, duties and considerations far beyond mere feeling must come in to restrain them.
"Whatever I have been," she said to herself, as she sat and reflected, "I am now simply a governess of the children, and must steadily bear that in mind. In this house I am to receive no more consideration than a mere stranger. Have I a right to complain of this? Have I cause to be offended at Mrs. Freeman for reminding me of the fact? Her reproof was unkindly given; but false pride has in it no gentleness, no regard for another's feelings. Ah me! this is one more lesson of the many I have to learn; but let me bear up with a brave heart. There is one who knows my path, and who will see that nothing therein need cause my feet to stumble. From this moment I will think of all here as strangers. I will faithfully do what I have engaged to do, and expect therefor only the compensation agreed upon when I came. Have I a right to expect more?"
The bright color faded gradually from the flushed cheeks of Jessie Hampton, and with a calm, yet pensive face, she arose and went down into the room which had been set apart for her use when giving instruction to the children. It was warmed and lighted, and had in it a small library. Here she sat alone, reading and thinking, for a couple of hours, and then retired to her chamber for the night.
As was intimated in the conversation which arose upon her leaving the drawing-room, Jessie Hampton's circumstances had suffered, in a very short period, a great change. A year before, she was the equal and companion of Fanny Freeman, and more beloved and respected by those who knew her than Fanny was or ever could be; but unexpected financial reverses came. The relative who had been to her as a father for many years was suddenly deprived of all his worldly goods, and reduced so low as to be in need of the comforts of life. As soon as Jessie saw this, she saw plainly her duty.
"I cannot burden my uncle," said she resolutely to herself. "He has enough, and more than enough, to bear up under, without the addition of my weight." Thoughtfully she looked around her; but still in doubt what to do, she called upon a lady named Mrs. Carlton, who was among the few whose manner towards her had not changed with altered fortune, and frankly opened to her what was in her mind.
"What does your uncle say?" inquired Mrs. Carlton. "Does he approve the step?"
"He knows nothing of my purpose," returned Jessie.
"Then had you not better consult him?"
"He will not hear of it, I am certain; but, for all that, I am resolved to do as I propose. He has lost his property, and is now in great trouble. He is, in fact, struggling hard to keep his head above water--my weight might sink him. But, even if there were no danger of this, so long as I am able to sustain myself, I will not cling to him while he is tossed on the waves of adversity."
"I cannot but highly approve your decision," said Mrs. Carlton, her heart warm with admiration for the right-minded girl. "The fact that your uncle has been compelled to give up his elegant house, and retire with you to a boarding-house, shows the extremity to which he has been reduced. I understand that his fine business is entirely broken up, and that, burdened with debts, he has commenced the world again, a few hundred dollars all his capital in trade, resolved, if health and a sound mind be continued to him, to rise above all his present difficulties."
"And shall I," replied Jessie, "sit an idle witness of the honorable struggle, content to burden him with my support? No! Were I of such a spirit, I would be unworthy the relation I bear him. Much rather would I aid him, were it in my power, by any sacrifice."
"If I understand you aright," said Mrs. Carlton, after thinking for a few moments, "you would prefer a situation as governess in a private family."
"Yes; that would suit me best."
"How would you like to take charge of Mrs. Freeman's younger children? She mentioned to me, only yesterday, her wish to obtain a suitable instructor for them, and said she was willing to pay a liberal salary to a person who gave entire satisfaction."
Jessie's face became thoughtful.
"Mrs. Freeman is not the most agreeable person to be found, I know, Jessie," said her friend; "but the step you propose involves sacrifices from the beginning."
"It does, I know; and I must not forget this. Had I a choice, I certainly should not select the family of Mrs. Freeman as the one in which to begin the new life I am about entering upon. She and Fanny are among the few who have ceased to notice me, except with great coldness, since my uncle's misfortunes. But I will not think of this. If they will take me, I will go even into their house, and assume the humble duties of a governess."
Mrs. Carlton immediately called upon Mrs. Freeman, and mentioned Jessie. Some objection was made on the score of her being, an old acquaintance, who would expect more notice than one in her position was entitled to receive. This, however, was overruled by Mrs. Carlton, and, after an interview with Jessie, an engagement was entered into for a year, at a salary of four hundred dollars.
When Jessie mentioned the subject to her uncle, Mr. Hartman, he became a good deal excited, and said that she would do no such thing. But Jessie remained firm, and her uncle was at last compelled, though with great reluctance, to consent to what she proposed, regarding it only as a temporary measure.
The first day's experience of Jessie under the roof of Mrs. Freeman is known to the reader. It was a painful experience, but she bore it in the right spirit. After that, she was careful to confine herself to the part of the house assigned her as a servant and inferior, and never ventured upon the least familiarity with anyone. Her duty to the children who were committed to her charge was faithfully performed, and she received, regularly, her wages, according to contract, and there the relation between her and this family ceased. Day after day, week after week, and month after month, did Jessie Hampton, uncheered by an approving smile or friendly word, discharge her duties. But she had within, to sustain her, a consciousness that she was doing right, and a firm trust in an all-wise and merciful Divine Providence.
Mrs. Carlton remained her steady friend, and Jessie spent an evening at her house almost every week, and frequently met there many of her old acquaintances. Of her treatment in the house of Mrs. Freeman she never spoke, and when questioned on the subject avoided giving a direct answer.
Mr. Hartman's struggle proved to be a hard one. Harassed by claims that he could not pay off at once, his credit almost entirely gone, and the capital upon which he was doing business limited to a few hundred dollars, he found it almost impossible to make any headway. In a year from the time Jessie had relieved him from the burden of her support, so far from being encouraged by the result of his efforts, he felt like abandoning all as hopeless. There are always those who are ready to give small credits to a man whom they believe to be honest, even though once unfortunate in business; but for such favors Mr. Hartman could not have kept up thus far. Now the difficulty was to pay the few notes given as they matured.
A note of five hundred dollars was to fall due on the next day, and Mr. Hartman found himself with but a hundred dollars to meet it. The firm from which he had bought the goods for which the note was given, had trusted him when others refused credit to the amount of a single dollar, and had it in their power to forward his interests very greatly if he was punctual in his payments. It was the first bill of goods they had sold him, and Hartman could not go to them for assistance in lifting the note, for that would effectually cut off all hope of further credit. He could not borrow, for there was no one to lend him money. There was a time when he could have borrowed thousands on his word; but now he knew that it would be folly to ask for even hundreds.
In a state of deep discouragement, he left his store in the evening and went home. After tea, while sitting alone, Jessie, who came to see him often, tapped at his door.
"Are you not well?" she asked, with much concern, as soon as the smile with which he greeted her faded from his face, and she saw its drooping expression.
"Yes, dear," he replied, trying to arouse himself and appear cheerful; but the effort was in vain.
"Indeed, uncle, you are not well," remarked Jessie, breaking in upon a longer period of silent abstraction into which Mr. Hartman had fallen, after in vain trying to converse cheerfully with his niece.
"I am well enough in body, Jessie; but my mind is a little anxious just now," he replied.
"Isn't your business coming out as well as you expected?" inquired the affectionate girl.
"I am sorry to say that it is not," returned Mr. Hartman. "In fact, I see but little hope of succeeding. I have no capital, and the little credit I possess is likely to be destroyed through my inability to sustain it. I certainly did anticipate a better reward for my efforts, and am the more disappointed at this result. To think that, for the lack of three or four hundred dollars, the struggle of a whole year must prove in vain! As yet, even that small sum I cannot command."
The face of Jessie flushed instantly, as her uncle uttered the last two sentences.
"And will so small an amount as three or four hundred dollars save you from what you fear?" she asked, in a trembling voice.
"Yes, even so small an amount as that. But the sum might as well be thousands. I cannot command it."
"You can, uncle!" replied Jessie, with a glow of exultation on her cheek, and a spirit of joy in her voice. "I have the money. Oh! it is the happiest hour of my life!"
And sinking forward, she laid her now weeping face upon the bosom of her uncle. Her tears were the out-gushing waters of gladness.
"You have the money, child?" said Mr. Hartman, after the lapse of a few moments. "Where did you get it?"
"I have had no need to spend my salary."
"Your salary! Have you saved it all?"
"Every dollar. I had clothing sufficient, and there was no other need to take it from me. Dear uncle, how happy it makes me to think that I have it in my power to aid you! Would that the sum was tens of thousands!"
Mr. Hartman, as soon as the first surprise was over, said, with evident emotion--
"Jessie, I cannot express how much this incident has affected me. But, deeply grateful to you as I feel for such an evidence of your love, I must push back the hand that would force this aid upon me. I will not be unjust to you. I will not take your hard earnings to run the risk of losing them."
A shadow passed over the face of Jessie, and her voice was touched with something like grief as she replied--
"How can you speak to me thus, uncle? How can you push back my hand when, in love, it seeks to smooth the pillow upon which your troubled head is resting? Would you deny me a higher gratification than I have ever known? No--no--you cannot!"
Mr. Hartman was bewildered. He felt as if it would be a kind of sacrilege to take the money of his niece, yet how could he refuse to do so? Apart from the necessity of his circumstances, there was the cruelty of doing violence to the generous love which had so freely offered relief. In the end, all objections had to yield, and Mr. Hartman was saved from a second disaster, which would have entirely prostrated him, by the money that Jessie had earned and saved.
A short time after the occurrence of this circumstance, the Freemans gave a large party. Mrs. Carlton, who was present, said to Mrs. Freeman, an hour after the company had assembled--
"Where is Miss Hampton? I've been looking for her all the evening. Isn't she well?"
"What Miss Hampton do you mean?" asked Mrs. Freeman, drawing herself up with an air cold and dignified.
"Miss Jessie Hampton," replied Mrs. Carlton.
"Sure enough!" said a young man, who was sitting by, and who had been attentive to Fanny Freeman; "where is Miss Hampton? I haven't seen her for a long time. What can have become of her? Is she dead, or is she married?"
"Her uncle, I suppose you know, failed in business, and has become poor," replied Mrs. Carlton.
"True. I was perfectly aware of that, but didn't reflect that poverty was a social crime. And is it possible that so lovely a girl as Jessie Hampton has been excluded from the circle she so graced with her presence, because of this change in her uncle's circumstances?"
"It is true to a very great extent, Mr. Edgar," returned Mrs. Carlton, "though I am glad to say that there are a few who can appreciate the real gold of her character, and who love her as truly and esteem her as highly as ever they did."
"A worthy few, and if I were only so fortunate as to fall in company with her, I would be of the number. Is she here tonight?"
The young man looked at Mrs. Freeman, and became aware, from the expression of her face, that the subject was disagreeable to her. With easy politeness he changed the theme of conversation; but as soon as opportunity offered, sought out Mrs. Carlton, and asked a question or two more about Jessie.
"What has become of Miss Hampton? I would really like to know," he said.
Mrs. Carlton could only reply directly, and she answered,
"She is living in this family in the capacity of governess."
"Indeed! I have been visiting here, off and on, for a year, but have neither seen her nor heard her name mentioned. Are you sure?"
"Oh yes. I procured her the situation over a year ago, and see her almost every week."
"This being the case, and it also being plain that her worth is not appreciated here, our remarks a little while ago could not have been very pleasant to the ears of Mrs. Freeman."
"I presume not," was returned.
The young man became thoughtful, and, in a little while, withdrew from the crowded rooms and left the house. He was the son of a wealthy merchant, and had recently come into his father's business as a partner. It was to the firm of Edgar & Son that the note of Mr. Hartman, which Jessie had aided him to lift, had been due.
On the day following the party at Mrs. Freeman's, Mr. Hartman came in to purchase some goods, and, after selecting them, asked if he could have the usual credit.
"Certainly," replied old Mr. Edgar; "and to double the amount of the bill."
Hartman thanked the merchant, and retired.
"You know the five hundred dollar note that he paid last week?" said Mr. Edgar, speaking to his son, and alluding to Hartman, who had just left.
"Well, I heard something about that note this morning that really touched my feelings. Hartman spoke of the circumstances to a friend, and that friend--betraying, I think, the confidence reposed in him--related it to me, not knowing that we were the parties to which the note had been paid. On that note he came near failing again."
"Indeed! And yet you have just lent to him freely!"
"I have. But such are my feelings that I would risk five thousand dollars to keep him up. I know him to be a man of strict honesty."
"There is no doubt of that," replied the son.
"You remember his niece, I suppose?" said old Mr. Edgar.
"Oh, very well."
"When Mr. Hartman's circumstances became reduced, she, of her own free choice, relieved him of the burden of her support, and assumed the arduous and toilsome duties of a governess in one of our wealthy families, where she has ever since been. On the evening before the note of which I spoke was due, she called to see her uncle, and found him in trouble. For some time he concealed the cause but so earnest was she in her affectionate entreaties to know why he was unhappy, that he told her the reason. He was again embarrassed in his business, and, for lack of a few hundred dollars, which one, circumstanced as he was, could not borrow, was in danger of being again broken up. To his astonishment, Jessie announced the fact that she had the sum he needed, saved from her salary as governess. He at first refused to take it, but she would listen to no denial."
"Noble girl!" exclaimed the young man.
"She must be one in a thousand," said Mr. Edgar.
"She is one in ten thousand!" replied the son, enthusiastically. "And yet worth like hers is passed over for the tinsel of wealth. Do you know in whose family she is governess?"
"I do not."
"I can tell you. She is in the family of Mr. Freeman."
"Yes. You know they gave a party last night?"
"Miss Hampton was not present."
"As much as might have been inferred."
"And yet there was no young lady in the room her equal in all that goes to make up the character of a lovely woman."
"Well, my son," replied the old gentleman, "all I have to say is, that I look upon this young lady as possessing excellencies of character far outweighing all the endowments of wealth. Money! It may take to itself wings in a day; but virtue like hers is as abiding as eternity! If your heart is not otherwise interested, and you feel so inclined, win her if you can. Another like her may never cross your path. With such a woman as your wife, you need not tremble at the word adversity."
The young man did not reply. What his thoughts were, his actions subsequently attested.
After the party, to the distant coldness with which Mrs. Freeman had treated Jessie since she came into her house, were added certain signs of dislike, quickly perceived by the maiden. In addressing her, Mrs. Freeman exhibited, at times, a superciliousness that was particularly offensive. But Jessie checked the indignant feelings that arose in her bosom, and, in conscious rectitude of character, went on faithfully discharging her duties. Since the timely aid she had been able to bring her uncle, she had a new motive for effort, and went through her daily task with a more cheerful spirit.
One day, about six months after the occurrence of the party which has been mentioned, Jessie, a little to the surprise of Mrs. Freeman, gave that lady notice that, at a certain time not far off, she would terminate her engagement with her. The only reason she gave was, that the necessity which took her from home no longer remained. At the time mentioned, Jessie left, although Mrs. Freeman, urged by other members of the family, who could better appreciate the young lady's worth, offered a considerable increase of salary as an inducement to remain.
"What do you think?" exclaimed Fanny, about three weeks subsequently, throwing open the parlor door, where the family had assembled just before tea. "Jessie Hampton's married!"
"What!" ejaculated Mrs. Freeman. "Married?"
"Oh yes, sure enough," said Mr. Freeman, "I heard of it a little while before I left my counting-room. And, more surprising still, she is married to young Edgar!"
"Oh, no!" responded Mrs. Freeman, incredulously. "It's some mistake. Never! It cannot be."
"Oh, but it is a fact, mother," said Fanny, with ill-concealed chagrin. "Lizzy Martin was her bridesmaid. They were married at Mrs. Carlton's this morning, and the whole bridal party has gone off to Saratoga."
"He's got a good wife," remarked the brother of Mrs. Freeman, in his quiet way. "I always liked that young man, and like him better than ever now. I knew he was a fellow of good sense; but he has showed himself to possess more of that sterling material than I thought."
Mr. Freeman also gave his opinion, and in doing so, expressed himself pretty freely in regard to the treatment Jessie had received, while in the house.
As for his wife, when the truth assumed an undoubted form, she sunk into mortified silence, and Fanny felt even worse than her mother, and for reasons that lay nearer her heart.
In a little while the bride took her old place in society, and many who, in her seclusion, passed her coldly, or all unnoticed, met her now with smiles and with warm congratulations. Of all the changes that followed as a consequence of her marriage, there was none that filled her with so much delight as the improved prospects of her uncle, Mr. Hartman. Her husband became his fast friend, and sustained him through every difficulty. One home held them both. How purely and brightly the stream of Jessie's happiness flowed on, need not be told.
Virtue and integrity of character had met their just reward. In adversity she was not cast down--and when prosperity again smiled, she was not unduly elated. In either relation to society, she was a dispenser of blessings to those she loved.
It is a fact worthy of notice, that those who looked down upon Jessie, and passed her unnoticed while she was only a governess, now referred to the noble, self-sacrificing spirit that prompted her to act as she had done, and spoke of her conduct with admiration.