Marrying a Count
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Is anybody dead?"
"Yes, somebody dies every second."
"So they say. But I don't mean that. Why are you looking so solemn?"
"I am not aware that I look so very solemn."
"You do, then, as solemn as the grave."
"Then I must be a grave subject." The young man affected to smile.
"You smile like a death's head, Abel. What is the matter?"
Abel Lee took his interrogator by the arm, and drew him aside. When they were a little apart from the company, he said in a low voice —
"You know that I have taken a fancy to Arabella Jones?"
"Yes, you told me that a month ago."
"She is here tonight."
"So I see."
"And is as cold to me as an icicle."
"For a very plain reason."
"Yes, too plain."
"Whiskers and moustaches are driving all before them. The man is nothing now; hair is everything. Glover will carry off the prize unless you can hit upon some plan to win back the favor of Miss Arabella. You must come forward with higher attractions than this rival can bring."
Lee drew his fingers involuntarily over his smooth lip and chin, a movement which his friend observed and comprehended.
"Before the hair can grow, Arabella will be won," he said.
"Do you think I would make such a fool of myself."
"Fool of yourself! What do you mean by that? You say you love Arabella Jones. If you wish to win her, you must make yourself attractive in her eyes. To make yourself attractive, you have only to grow whiskers, moustaches, and present a more luxuriant crop than Glover. The whole matter is very simple, and comprised in a nut-shell. The only difficulty in the way is the loss of time consequent upon the raising of this hairy crop. It is plain, in fact, that you must take a shorter way; you must purchase what you haven't time to grow. Hide yourself for a week or two, and then make your appearance with enough hair upon your face to conceal one-half or two-thirds of your features, and your way to the heart of Miss Jones is direct."
"I feel too serious on the subject to make it a matter of jesting," said Lee, not by any means relishing the levity of his friend.
"But, my dear sir," urged the friend, "what I propose is your only chance. Glover will have it all his own way, if you do not take some means to head him off. The matter is plain enough. In the days of chivalry, a knight would do almost any unreasonable thing — enter upon almost any mad adventure — to secure the favor of his lady-love; and will you hesitate when nothing of more importance than the donning of false whiskers and moustaches is concerned? You don't deserve to be thought of by Miss Jones."
"Jest away, Marston, if it is so pleasant to you," remarked Lee, with a slightly offended air.
"No, but my dear fellow, I am in earnest. I really wish to serve you. Still if the only plan at all likely to succeed is so repugnant to your feelings, you must let the whole matter go. Depend upon it, there is no other chance for you with the lady."
"Then she must go. I would not make a fool of myself for the Queen of Sheba. A man who sacrifices his own self-respect in order to secure the love of a woman, becomes unworthy of her love."
"Well said, Abel Lee! That is the sentiment of a right mind, and proves to me that Arabella Jones is unworthy of you. Let her go to the whiskers, and do you try to find someone who has soul enough to love the man."
The young men separated, to mingle with the company. Marston could not help noticing Miss Arabella Jones more particularly than before, and perceived that she was coldly polite to all the young men who ventured to approach her, but warm and smiling as a June morning to an individual named Glover who had been abroad and returned home rich in hairy honors, if in nothing else. The manners of this Glover distinguished him as much as his appearance.
"To think that a woman could be attracted by a thing like that!" he said to himself a little pettishly, as he saw the alacrity with which Arabella seized the offered arm of Glover to accompany him to the supper table.
Marston was a fellow of a good deal of humor, and relished practical joking rather more than was consistent with the comfort of other people. We cannot commend him for this trait of character. But it was one of his faults, and all men have their failings. It would have given him great pleasure, could he have induced Abel Lee to set up a rivalry in the moustache and whisker line; but Abel had too much good sense for that, and Marston, be it said to his credit, was rejoiced to find that his friend was so sensible. Still, the idea having once entered his head, he could not drive it away. He had a most unconquerable desire to see someone start in opposition to Glover, and was half tempted to do it himself, for the mere fun of the thing. But this was rather more trouble than he wished to take.
Not very long after this, a young stranger made his appearance in fashionable circles, and created quite a flutter among the ladies. He had, besides larger whiskers, larger moustache than Glover, a superb goatee, and a decided foreign accent. He soon threw the American in the shade, especially as a whisper got out that he was a French Count traveling through the country, who purposely concealed his title. The object of his visit, it was also said, was the selection of a wife from among the lovely and unsophisticated daughters of America. He wished to find someone who had never breathed the artificial air of the higher circles in his own country; who would love him for himself alone, and become his loving companion through life.
How all these important facts in relation to him got wind, few paused to inquire. Young ladies forgot their shaven-faced, untitled, vulgar lovers, and put on their best looks and most winning graces for the Count. For a time he carried all before him. Daily might he be seen in Chestnut Street, gallanting some favored belle, with the elegant air of a dancing-master, and the grimace of a monkey. Stayed citizens stopped to look at him, and plain old ladies were half in doubt whether he were a man or a monkey.
At last the Count's more particular attentions were directed toward Miss Arabella Jones, and from that time the favored Glover found that his star had passed its zenith. It was in vain that he curled his moustache more fiercely, and hid his chin in a goatee fully as large as the Count's; all was of no avail. The ladies generally, and Miss Arabella in particular, looked coldly upon him.
As for Abel Lee, the bitterness of his disappointment was already past. The conduct of Arabella had disgusted him, and he therefore looked calmly on and marked the progress of events.
At length the Count, from paying marked attention to Arabella in company, began to visit her occasionally at her father's house, little to the satisfaction of Mr. Jones, the father, who had never worn a whisker in his life, and had a most bitter aversion to moustaches. This being the case, the course of Arabella's love did not, it may be supposed, run very smooth, for her father told her very decidedly that he was not going to have "that monkey-faced fellow" coming about his house. Shocked at such vulgar language, Arabella replied —
"Gracious me, father! Don't speak in that way of Mr. De Courci. He's a French Count, traveling in disguise."
"A French monkey! What on earth put that nonsense into your head?"
"Everybody knows it, father. Mr. De Courci tried to conceal his rank, but his English valet betrayed the secret. He is said to be connected with one of the oldest families in France, and to have immense estates near Paris."
"The largest estates he possesses are in Whiskerando, if you ever heard of that place. A French Count! Preposterous!"
"I know it to be true," said Arabella, emphatically.
"How do you know it, Miss Confidence?"
"I know it from the fact that I hinted to him, delicately, my knowledge of his rank abroad, and he did not deny it. His looks and his manner betrayed what he was attempting to conceal."
"Arabella!" said Mr. Jones, with a good deal of sternness, "if you were silly enough to hint to this fellow what you say you did, and he was impostor enough not to deny it on the spot in the most unequivocal terms, then he adds the character of a designing villain, to that of a senseless fop. In the name of American common sense, can you not see, as plain as daylight, that he is no nearer akin to a foreign nobleman, than his barber or boot-black may be?"
Arabella was silenced because it was folly to contend in this matter with her father, who was a blunt, common-sense, clear-seeing man; but she was not in the least convinced Mr. De Courci was not a French Count for all he might say, and, what was better, evidently saw attractions in her, superior to those of which any of her fair compeers could boast.
"My dear Miss Jones," said the Count, when they next met, speaking in that delightful foreign accent, so pleasant to the ear of the young lady, and with the frankness peculiar to his nature, "I cannot withhold from you the honest expression of my sentiments. It would be unjust to myself, and unjust to you; for those sentiments too nearly involve my own peace, and, it may be, yours."
The Count hesitated, and looked interesting. Arabella blushed and trembled. The words, "You will speak to my father," were on the young lady's tongue. But she checked herself, and remained silent. It would not do to make that reference of the subject.
Then came a gentle pressure of hair upon her cheek, and a gentle pressure from the gloved hand in which her own was resting.
"My dear young lady, am I understood?"
Arabella answered, delicately, by returning the gentle pressure of her hand, and leaning perceptibly nearer the Count De Courci.
"I am the happiest of men!" said the Count, enthusiastically.
"And I the happiest of women," responded Arabella, not audibly, but in spirit.
"Your father?" said De Courci. "Shall I see him?"
"It will not be well yet," replied the maiden, evincing a good deal of confusion. "My father is — "
"Is what?" asked the nobleman, slightly elevating his person.
"Is a man of some peculiar notions. Is, in fact, too rigidly American. He does not like — "
"Doesn't like foreigners. Ah! I comprehend," and the Count shrugged his shoulders and looked dignified; that is, as dignified as a man whose face is covered with hair can look.
"I am sorry to say that he has unfounded prejudices against everything not vulgarly American."
"He will not consent, then?"
"I fear not, Mr. De Courci."
"Hum-m. Ah!" and the Count thought for some moments. "Will not consent. What then? Arabella!" and he warmed in his manner — "Arabella, shall an unfounded prejudice interpose with its icy barriers? Shall hearts that are ready to melt into one, be kept apart by the mere word of a prejudiced man? Forbid it, love! But suppose I go to him?"
"It will be useless! He is as unbending as iron."
Such being the case, the Count proposed an elopement, to which Arabella agreed, after the expression of as much reluctance as seemed to be called for. A few weeks subsequently, Mr. Jones received a letter from some person unknown, advising him of the fact that if at a certain hour on that evening he would go to a certain place, he would intercept Mr. De Courci in the act of running away with his daughter. This intelligence half maddened the father. He hurried home, intending to confront Arabella with the letter he had received, and then lock her up in her room. But she had gone out an hour before. Pacing the floor in a state of strong excitement, he awaited her return until the shadows of evening began to fall. Darkness closed over all things, but still she was away, and it soon became evident that she did not mean to come back.
It was arranged between De Courci and Arabella that he was to wait for her with a carriage at a retired place in the suburbs, where she was to join him. They were then to drive to a minister's, get the marriage ceremony performed, and proceed thence to take possession of an elegant suite of rooms which had been engaged in one of the most fashionable hotels in the city. To escape all danger of interference with her movements, the young lady had left home some hours before evening, and spent the time between that and the blissful period looked for with such trembling delight, in the company of a young friend and confidante.
Darkness at length threw a veil over all things, and under cover of this veil, Arabella went forth alone, and hurried to the appointed place of meeting. A lamp showed her the carriage in waiting, and a man pacing slowly the pavement near by, while she was a considerable distance off. Her heart beat wildly, the breath came heavily up from her bosom. She quickened her pace, but soon stopped suddenly in alarm, for she saw a man advancing rapidly from another quarter. It a few moments this individual came up to the person who was walking before the carriage, and whom she saw to be her lover. Loud words instantly followed, and she was near enough to hear an angry voice say —
"Ill Count you, you base scoundrel!"
It was the voice of her father! Fearful lest violence should be done to her lover, Arabella screamed and flew to the spot. Already was the hand of Mr. Jones at De Courci's throat, but the Count in disguise, not relishing the rough grasp of the indignant father, disengaged himself and fled ingloriously, leaving poor Arabella to the unbroken fury of her father's ire. Without much ceremony, he thrust her into the waiting carriage, and, giving the driver a few hurried directions, entered himself. What passed between the disappointed Countess to be, and her excited father, it is not our business to relate.
Not content with having interrupted this clandestine little matrimonial arrangement, Mr. Jones called at the hotel where De Courci put up, early on the next morning. But the elegant foreigner had not occupied his rooms during the night. He called a few hours later, but he had not yet made his appearance; in the morning, but De Courci was still away. On the next morning the following notice appeared in one of the daily newspapers:
"NIPPED IN THE BUD. — Fashionable people will remember a whiskered, mustachioed fellow with a foreign accent, named De Courci, who has been turning the heads of half the silly young girls in town for the last two months. He permitted it to leak out, we believe, that he was a French Count, with immense estates near Paris, who had come to this country in order to look for a wife. This was of course believed, for there are people willing to credit the most improbable stories in the world. Very soon a love affair came on, and he was about running off with the silly daughter of a good substantial citizen. By some means, the father got wind of the matter, and went to the appointed place of meeting just in time. He found De Courci and a carriage in waiting. Without much ceremony, he laid violent hands on the Count, who thought it better to run than to fight, and therefore fled ingloriously, just as the daughter arrived on the ground. He has not been heard of since. We could write a column by way of commentary upon this circumstance, but think that the facts in the case speak so plainly for themselves, that not a single remark is needed to give them force. We wish the lady joy at her escape, for the Count in disguise is no doubt a scheming villain at heart."
Poor Arabella was dreadfully cut down when this notice met her eye. It was a long time before she ventured into company again, and ever after had a mortal aversion to mustaches and whiskers. The Count never after made his appearance in Philadelphia.
The young man named Marston, who had jested with Abel Lee about the loss of his lady-love, was seated in his room some ten minutes after the sudden appearance of Mr. Jones at the place of meeting between the lovers, when his door was thrown open, and in bounded De Courci, hair and all! Cloak, hat, and hair were instantly thrown aside, and a smooth, young, laughing face revealed itself from behind whiskers, moustaches, and goatee.
"Where's the Countess?" asked Marston, in a merry voice. "Did she faint?"
"Who knows. That sturdy old American father of hers got me by the throat before I could say Jack Robinson, and I was glad to make off with a whole skin. Arabella arrived at the moment, and gave a glorious scream. Of anything further, I know nothing."
"She'll be cured of moustaches, or I'm no prophet."
"I guess she will. But the fact is, Marston," and the young man looked serious, "I'm afraid this joke has been carried too far."
"Not at all. The moral effect will tell upon our silly young ladies, whose heads are turned with a foreign accent and a hairy lip. You acted the whiskered fop to a charm. No one could have dreamed that all was counterfeit."
"So far as the general effect is concerned, I have no doubt; but I'm afraid it was wrong to victimize Miss Arabella for the benefit of the whole race of weak-minded girls. The effect upon her may be more serious than we apprehend."
"No, I think not. The woman who could pass by as true a young man as Abel Lee, for a foreign Count in disguise, hasn't heart enough to receive a deep injury. She will be terribly mortified, but that will do her good."
"If it turns out no worse than that, I shall be glad. But I must own, now that the whole thing is over, that I am not as well satisfied with myself as I thought I would be. I don't know what my good sisters at the South would say, if they knew I had been engaged in such a mad-cap affair. But I lay all the blame upon you. You, with your cool head, ought to have known better than to start a young hot-brained fellow like me, just let loose from college, upon such a wild adventure. I'm afraid that if Mr. Jones had once got me fairly into his clutches, he would have made daylight shine through me."
"Ha! ha! No doubt of it. But come, don't begin to look long-faced. We will keep our own counsel, and no one need be the wiser for our participation in this matter. Wait a while, and let us enjoy the nine days' wonder that will follow."
But the young man, who was a relative of Marston, and who had come to the city fresh from college, just in the nick of time for the latter — felt, now that the excitement of his wild prank was over, a great deal more sober about the matter than he had expected to feel. Reason and reflection told him that he had no right to trifle with anyone, as he had trifled with Arabella Jones. But it was too late to mend the matter. No great harm, however, came of it; and perhaps, good; for a year subsequently, Abel Lee conducted his old flame to the altar, and she makes him a loving and faithful wife.