Living like a Lady
Timothy Shay Arthur
Mr. Hamilton Burgess was a man of limited means — but having married a beautiful and amiable woman, he resolved to spare no expense in surrounding her with comforts, and in supporting her, as he said, "like a lady."
"My dear Ammy," said Mrs. Burgess, to her indulgent husband, about a year after their marriage — "My dear Ammy" — this was the name she called him by at home — "you are too kind to me, altogether. You are unwilling that I should work, or do anything towards our support, when I actually think that a little exertion on my part would not only serve to lighten your expenses — but be quite as good for my health and spirits as the occupations to which my time is now devoted."
"Oh, you industrious little bee!" exclaimed Mr. Burgess, "you have great notions of making yourself useful, I declare! But, Lizzie, I shall never consent to your propositions. I did not marry you to make you my slave. When you gave me this dear hand, I resolved that it should never be soiled and made rough by labor — and it never shall, as long as I am able to attend to my business."
Mrs. Burgess would not have done anything to displease her husband for the world, and she accordingly allowed him to have his way without offering farther remonstrance.
But Hamilton's business was dull, and it required the greatest exertion on his part, and the severest application, to raise sufficient money to meet the daily expenses of his family.
"My affairs will be in a better state next year," he said to himself, "and I must manage to struggle through this dull season some way or another. I will venture to run into debt a little, I think; for any way is preferable to reducing our household expenditures, which are by no means extravagant. At all events, Lizzie must not know what my circumstances are, for she would insist upon a change in our style of living, and revive the subject of her doing something towards our support."
Mr. Burgess then ventured to run into debt a little; he did not attempt to reduce the expenses of his housekeeping; he never gave his wife a hint respecting the true state of his business matters — but insisted upon her accepting, as usual, a liberal allowance of funds to meet her private expenses.
Lizzie seemed quite happy in her ignorance of her husband's circumstances, never spoke again of assisting to support the establishment — but seemed to devote herself to the pursuit of quiet pleasures, and to procuring Hamilton's happiness. But Mr. Burgess's circumstances, instead of improving, grew continually worse. His venture of "running into debt a little," resulted in running in debt a great deal. Thus the second year of his married life passed, and the dark shadows of disappointed hope and the traces of corroding care began to change the aspect of his brow.
One day a friend said to Hamilton — "I am surprised at
your conduct! Here you are, making a slave of yourself, while your
wife is playing the lady. She is not to blame; it is you. She would
gladly do something for her own support, if you would permit her; and it
would be better for her and for you. Remember the true saying —
Satan finds some mischief still
For idle hands to do!"
"What do you mean?" demanded Hamilton, reddening.
"I mean that, generally speaking, young wives of an ardent temperament, when left to themselves, with nothing but their pleasures to occupy their minds, are apt to forget their husbands, and find enjoyment in such society as he might not altogether approve."
"Sir, you do not know my wife," exclaimed Hamilton. "She, thank
Heaven, is not one of those."
"I hope not," was the quiet reply.
Although Hamilton Burgess had not a jealous nature, and would never have entertained unjust suspicions of his wife, these words of his friend set him to thinking. He remembered that Lizzie was always happy, however he might be oppressed with cares; and now he wondered how it was that she could be so unmindful of everything except pleasure, while he was so constantly harassed. Hamilton undoubtedly forgot that he had taken the utmost pains to conceal his circumstances from his wife.
It was in this state of mind that Mr. Burgess one day left his business, and went home unexpectedly. It was at an hour when Lizzie least thought of seeing him, and on this occasion she appeared considerably embarrassed; nor did Mr. Burgess fail to observe that she was very tardy in making her appearance in the sitting-room.
On another occasion, Mr. Burgess returned home under similar circumstances, and going directly to his wife's room, found, to his astonishment, that he could not gain admittance. After some delay, however, during which Hamilton heard footsteps hurrying to and fro within, and whispering, Mrs. Burgess opened the door, and, blushing very red, attempted to apologize for not admitting him before.
"Who was with you?" demanded Hamilton.
"With me?" cried Lizzie, much confused.
"Yes, madam. I heard whispering, and I am sure somebody just passed through that side door."
"Oh, that was nobody but Margaret!" exclaimed Mrs. Burgess, hastily.
Hamilton could ill conceal his vexation; but he did not intimate to his wife that he suspected her of equivocation, nor did she see fit to attempt a full exposition of the matter.
Nothing was said of this incident afterwards; but for many weeks it occupied Hamilton's mind. All this time he was harassed with cares of business, and his brow became more darkly shrouded in gloom as his perplexities thickened. At last the crisis came! Mr. Burgess saw the utter impossibility of longer continuing his almost profitless trade, under heavy expenses, which not only absorbed his small capital — but actually plunged him into debt. But one honest course was left for him to pursue; and he resolved to close up his affairs, and sell off what stock he had to pay his debts.
It was at this time that Mr. Burgess saw in its true light, the error of which he had been guilty, in opposing his wife's desire to economize, and devote a portion of her time to useful occupation.
"Had I allowed her to lighten our expenses in this way," thought he, "I might not have been driven to such extremities. And what has been the result of my folly? Why, I have kept her ignorant of our poverty until the very last, and now the sudden news that we are beggars, will well near kill her!"
Satisfied of the danger, if not the impossibility, of keeping the secret longer from his wife, Mr. Burgess went home one day, resolved to break the news to her without hesitation. Entering the house with his latch-key, he went directly to Lizzie's room, which he entered unceremoniously. To his surprise, he found on the table a gentleman's cap, of that peculiar fashion which he had seen worn by postmen and dandies about town. Anxious for an explanation, he looked around for his wife; but Lizzie was not in the room. Then hearing voices in another part of the house, he left the room by a different door from that by which he had entered, and hastened to the parlor, where he expected to find Mrs. Burgess in company with the owner of that cap. To his surprise, he found the parlor vacant, and meeting Margaret in the hall a moment after, he impatiently demanded his wife.
"She is in the room, sir," said the servant.
Without saying a word, Hamilton again hastened to Lizzie's room, where he found her reading a magazine with affected indifference!
"Madam," cried he, angrily, "what does this mean? Here I have been chasing you all over the house, without being able to catch you. What company have you just dismissed?"
"What company?" asked Lizzie.
"Yes, madam, what company?"
"Do not speak so angrily, dear Ammy. Why are you so impatient?"
"Because I wish to know what gentleman has been favoring you with such a confidential visit!"
Hamilton remembered other occasions when, on his coming home unexpectedly, his wife had shown signs of embarrassment; and, added to this, her present equivocation rendered him violently jealous. She appeared to shrink from him in fear, and became alternately red and pale, as she answered —
"There has been no gentleman here to see me!"
"No one, dear Ammy!"
Mr. Burgess was on the point of demanding to know who was the owner of the cap which he had seen on his wife's table, and which had now mysteriously disappeared; but emotion checked him, and he paced the floor in silence.
"This is too much!" he muttered, at length, in the bitterness of his heart. "I could endure poverty, without uttering a complaint for myself; I could endure anything but this!"
"Why, Ammy, what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Burgess, in alarm.
"Nothing — only we are beggars!" answered Hamilton, abruptly.
"Have you been unfortunate?" calmly asked his wife, affectionately taking him by the arm.
"Yes — the most unfortunate of men! I am ruined — we are beggars — but — "
"Dear Ammy, you must not let this cast you down. Business failures frequently happen — but they ought never to destroy domestic happiness. Come, how bad off are we? Are we really beggars?"
"My creditors will take everything," answered Hamilton, gloomily.
"They will not take us from each other," said Lizzie.
Mr. Burgess looked at his young wife with a bitter smile.
"Are you such a deceiver?" he muttered through his teeth. "Can you talk thus when you have just dismissed a lover?"
"Sir!" cried Mrs. Burgess, a glow of indignation lighting her fair face. "What do you mean?"
"Don't deny what I say!" replied Hamilton. "You were having an interview with a gentleman when I came in."
Lizzie trembled with indignation.
"I saw his cap on the table!"
Lizzie laughed outright. "Come here," she said, leading her husband away.
Hamilton followed her, and she went to a bureau, unlocked a deep drawer, and opening it, called her husband's attention to its contents.
It was half full of caps!
Hamilton looked at Lizzie in perplexity. Lizzie looked at Hamilton, and smiled.
"I suppose that you will now declare that there are twenty gentlemen in the house," said Mrs. Burgess.
"Lizzie!"' cried her husband, clasping her hands, "I am already ashamed of my suspicions. I ask your forgiveness. But explain this matter to me. I am dying in perplexity."
"Well", replied Lizzie, archly, "I made those caps."
"Certainly; that is, I and Margaret. I kept my work a secret from you, because you were opposed to my exerting myself, and although you have come near surprising me more than once, I have carried on my treasonable designs pretty successfully until today."
"But, dear Lizzie, how could you?"
"I can answer that question. I saw pretty clearly into your business affairs, and I knew that we could not live in this style long. So I thought I would disobey you. My cousin George, the hat manufacturer, liked my designs, and privately sent me caps to make, nearly a year ago."
Hamilton opened his eyes in astonishment.
"Surprising, isn't it? But this isn't all. You insisted on my keeping Margaret, when I might just as well have done my housework myself; I thought I would make her useful, and made her help me work on the caps. Besides, you were not satisfied if I neglected to use all the spending money you allowed me, and I pretended to use that, just to please you. Now, before you scold me for my disobedience, witness the results of my industry and economy."
Lizzie opened her desk, and displayed to Hamilton's bewildered sight, a pile of gold which filled him with greater astonishment than anything else.
"There," continued Lizzie, without allowing him to speak — "there are three hundred dollars. Of course, this little sum wouldn't make anybody rich — but I hope it will convince you that a wife's economy and industry are not to be despised."
"Lizzie! dear Lizzie!"
"Oh, this is nothing — only a sample of what I can do. Come, now, acknowledge your error, and say that I may have my own way in future."
Hamilton replied by clasping his wife in his arms.
"There, say nothing more about it," she continued. "Don't think of your misfortunes — but remember that we can be happy even if we both have to work hard. Poverty cannot crush us; and I hope I have already convinced you that work will not make me lose attraction in your sight."
The young husband's heart overflowed with gratitude and joy.
"How have I misunderstood you, dear Lizzie!" he exclaimed. "You are worth more to me than riches; and now that I know poverty cannot crush you, my mind is at ease. Lizzie, I am so happy!"
"And I may have my way?"
"Remember this!" cried Mrs. Burgess, archly.
With a lighter heart than he had felt for many months before,
Hamilton went about the settlement of his business affairs, while
Lizzie devoted herself to perfecting a new system of housekeeping.
When Mr. Burgess came home at night, he was surprised at the wonderful change which had taken place during his absence.
"Don't scold," said his wife, regarding him with a smile; "you said
I might have my way."
"True — but what have you done?"
"I have been making arrangements to rent half the house to Mr. Smith's family, who will move in next week. They are pleasant people, and as we had twice as much room as we actually needed, I thought it best to take them in. Then again, we shall not need so much furniture, and if you like, you can sell Mr. Smith some of what we have, at a fair price."
Mr. Burgess neither frowned nor looked displeased, nor did he ever afterwards oppose his wife's designs. He soon found his expenses so reduced, that, with the fruits of his wife's industry added to his own, they were able to live quite comfortably and happily; and, although he soon became engaged in more profitable business, he never again urged her to indulge in the folly of "living like a lady."