The Maiden's Choice
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1852
"Two offers at once! You are truly a favored maiden, Rose," said Annette Lewis to her young friend Rose Lilton, in a mirthful tone. "It is husband or no husband, with most of us; but you have a choice between two!"
"And happy shall I be, if I have the wisdom to choose rightly," was the reply of Rose.
"If it were my case, I don't think that I should have much difficulty in making a choice."
"Don't you? Suppose, then, you give me the benefit of your preference."
"Oh, no, not for the world!" replied Annette, laughing. "I'm afraid you might be jealous of me afterwards."
"Never fear. I am not of a jealous disposition."
"No, I won't commit myself in regard to your lovers. But, if they were mine, I would soon let it be known where my preference lay."
"Then you won't assist me in coming to a decision? Surely I am entitled to this act of friendship."
"If you put it upon that ground, Rose, I do not see how I can refuse."
"I do put it upon that ground, Annette. And now I ask you, as a friend — to give me your opinion of the two young men, James Hambleton and Marcus Gray, who have seen such wonderful attractions in my humble self — as to become suitors for my hand at the same time."
"Decidedly, then, Rose, I would prefer Marcus Gray."
"There is about him, certainly, Annette, much to attract a maiden's eye and to captivate her heart — but it has occurred to me, that the most glittering surface does not always indicate the purest gold beneath. I remember once to have seen a massive chain, wrought from pure gold, placed beside another that was far inferior in quality, but with a surface of ten times richer hue. Had I not been told the difference, I would have chosen the latter as in every way more valuable; but when it was explained that one bore the hue of genuine gold, while the other had been colored by a process known to jewelers — I was struck with the lesson it taught."
"What lesson, Rose?"
"That the richest substance, has not always the most glittering exterior. That real worth, satisfied with the consciousness of interior soundness of principle, assumes few imposing exterior aspects and forms."
"And that rule, you apply to these two young men?"
"By that rule I wish to be guided, in some degree, in my choice, Annette. I wish to keep my mind so balanced, that it may not be swayed from a sound discrimination by anything of imposing exterior."
"But is not the exterior — that which meets the eye — all that we can judge from? Is not the exterior, a true expression of what is within?"
"Not by any means, Annette. I grant that it should be — but it is not. Look at the fact I have just named, respecting the gold chains."
"But they were inanimate substances. They were not faces, where thoughts, feelings, and principles find expression."
"Do you suppose, Annette, that fake gold would ever have been colored so as to look even more beautiful than that which is genuine, if there had not been men who assumed exterior graces and virtues that were not in their minds? No. The very fact you adduce, strengthens my position. The time was, in the earlier and purer ages — the golden ages of the world's existence — when the countenance was the true index to the mind. Then it was a well-tuned instrument, and the mind within a skillful player; to whose touch every muscle, and chord, and minute fibre gave answering melody. That time has passed. Men now train their faces to deception; it is an art which nearly all practice — I and you too often. We study to hide our real feelings; to appear, in a certain sense, what we are not. Look at some men whom we meet every day, with faces whose calmness, I would rather say rigidity, gives no evidence that a single emotion ever crosses the waveless ocean of their minds. But it is not so; the mind within is active with thought and feelings; but the instrument formed for it to play upon, has lost its tune, or bears only relaxed or broken chords."
"You have a strange, visionary way of talking sometimes, Rose," replied Annette, as her friend ceased speaking. "All that may do for your philosophers, or whatever you call them; but it won't do when you come down to the practical matter-of-fact business of life."
"To me, it seems eminently a practical principle, Annette. We must act, in all important matters in life, with a just discrimination; and how can we truly discriminate, if we are not versed in those principles upon which, and only upon which, right discriminations can be made?"
"I must confess, Rose," replied her young friend, "that I do not see much bearing that all this has upon the matter under discussion; or, at least, I cannot see the truth of its application. Gold never assumes a leaden exterior."
"We need not be very eminent philosophers to tell one from the other."
"No, of course not."
"Very well. Here is Marcus Gray, with a genuine golden exterior, and James Hambleton with a leaden one."
"I do not grant the position, Annette. It is true that Mr. Hambleton is not so brilliant and showy; but I have found in him one quality that I have not yet discovered in the other."
"What is that?"
"Depth of feeling, and high moral principle."
"You certainly do not pretend to affirm that Mr. Gray has neither feeling nor principle?"
"Of course I do not. I only say that I have never yet perceived any very strong indications of their existence."
"I am in earnest, Annette. I doubt not that he possesses both, and, I trust, in a high degree. But he seems to be so constantly acting a brilliant and effective part — that nature, unadorned and simple, has no chance to speak out. It is not so with Mr. Hambleton. Every word he utters shows that he is speaking what he really feels; and often, though not so highly polished in speech as Mr. Gray, have I heard him utter sentiments of genuine truth and humanity, in a tone that made my heart bound with pleasure at recognizing the simple eloquence of nature. His character, Annette, I find it no way difficult to read; but that of Marcus Gray puzzles my closest scrutiny."
"I certainly cannot sympathize with you in your singular notions, Rose," her friend replied. "I have never discovered either of the peculiarities in these young men that you seem to make of so much importance. As for Mr. Gray, he is a man of whom any woman might feel proud; for he combines intelligence with courteous manners and fine polished appearance: while this Hambleton is, to me, insufferably stupid. And no one, I am sure, can call his address and manners anything like polished. Indeed, I should pronounce him downright boorish and awkward. Who would want a man for a husband of whom she would be ashamed? Not I, certainly!"
"I will readily grant you, Annette," said Rose, as her friend ceased speaking, "that Mr. Hambleton's exterior attractions are not to be compared with those of Mr. Gray; but, as I said before, in a matter like this, where it is the quality of the mind, and not the external appearance of the man alone — which is to give happiness, it behooves a maiden to look beneath the surface, as I am trying to do now."
"But I could not love a man like Mr. Hambleton, unless, indeed, there were no possibility of getting anyone else. In that case, I would make a choice of evils between single blessedness — and such a husband. But to have two such offers as these, Rose, and hesitate to make a choice, strikes me as singular indeed!"
"I do not hesitate, Annette," was the quiet reply.
"Have you, then, indeed decided, Rose?"
"I have — and this conversation has caused me to decide; for, as it has progressed, my mind has been enabled to see truly the real difference in the characters of my suitors."
"You have, then, decided in favor of Mr. Gray?"
"Indeed I have not, Annette. Though I admire his fine talents and his polished exterior — yet I have never been able to perceive in him those inner qualities upon which my heart can rest in confidence. He may possess these in even a higher degree than Mr. Hambleton, but I am afraid to run so great a risk. In the latter, I know there are moral qualities that I can love, and that I can repose upon."
"But he is so dull, Rose."
"I really do not think so, Annette. There is not so much flash about him, if I may use the word, as about Mr. Gray. But as to his being dull, I must beg to differ with you. To me, his conversation is always interesting."
"It never is so to me. And, besides all that, his tastes and mine are as widely different as the poles. Why, Rose, if you become his wife — you will sink into obscurity at once. He never can make any impression on society. It is not in him."
"Rather make no impression on society at all, than a false or disgraceful one, say I," was the firm reply of Rose.
"You cannot, certainly, mean to say," returned her friend, "that the impression made upon society by Mr. Gray, is either a false or disgraceful one."
"I would be sorry to make that assertion, for I do not believe such to be the case," Rose replied. "What I mean is, that I can read Mr. Hambleton's true character, and I know it to be based upon fixed and high-toned moral principles. These can never make the woman who truly loves him, unhappy. They give place to no moral contingencies, by which hopes are so often wrecked, and hearts broken. Now, in regard to Mr. Gray, there is nothing in his character, so far as I can read it, upon which to predicate safe calculations of this kind. He is intelligent, and highly interesting as a companion. His personal appearance and his address are attractive. But all below the exterior is hidden. The moral qualities of the man, never show themselves. I feel that to give my heart to such a one, would be risking too much. Of course, I must decline his offer."
"Indeed, indeed, Rose, I think you are very foolish!"
"Time will show, Annette."
"Yes, time will show," was the prophetic response. And time did show that Rose made a right choice, when she accepted the offer of James Hambleton, and gave him, with her hand — a warm, true heart!