Rich and Rare Were the Gems She Wore
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1869
"Have you noticed Miss Harvey's diamonds?" said a friend, directing my attention, as she spoke, to a young lady who stood at the lower end of the room. I looked towards Miss Harvey, and as I did so, my eyes received the sparkle of her gems.
"Brilliant as dew-drops in the morning sunbeams!" I remarked.
"Only less brilliant," was my friend's response to this. "Only less brilliant. Nothing holds the sunlight in its bosom so perfectly as a drop of dew. Next, the diamond. I am told that the diamond pin, now flashing back the light, cost one thousand dollars. The public, you know, are very apt to find out the money-value of fine jewelry."
"Miss Harvey is beautiful," said I, "and could afford to depend less on the superficial aid of ornament."
"If she had dazzled us with that splendid diamond pin alone," returned my friend, "we might never have been tempted to look beneath the jewel, far down into the wearer's heart. But, diamond earrings, and a diamond bracelet, added — we know their value to be just twelve hundred dollars; the public is specially inquisitive — suggest some weakness or perversion of feeling, and we become eagle-eyed. But for the blaze of light with which Miss Harvey has surrounded herself, I, for one, would not have been led to observe her closely. There is no object in nature which has not its own peculiar signification; which does not correspond to some quality, affection, or attribute of the mind. This is true of gems; and it is but natural, that we should look for those qualities in the wearer of them, to which the gems correspond."
I admitted the proposition, and my friend went on.
"Gold is the most precious of all metals, and it must, therefore, correspond to the most precious attribute, or quality of the mind. What is that attribute? — and what is that quality?"
"Love," said I, after a pause, "Love is the most precious attribute of the mind — goodness the highest quality."
"Then, it is no mere imagination to say that gold corresponds to love, or goodness. It is pure, and pliable, and warm in color, like love; while silver is harder, and white and shining, like truth. Gold and silver in nature are, then, as goodness and truth in the human soul. In one we find the riches of this world, in the other divine riches. And if gold and silver correspond to precious things of the mind, so must brilliant jewels. The diamond! How wonderful is its affection for light — taking in the rays eagerly, dissolving them, and sending them forth again to gladden the eyes in rich prismatic beauty! And to what mental quality must the diamond correspond? As it loves the sun's rays, in which are heat and light — must it not correspond to the affection of things good and true? — heat being of love, and light of truth or wisdom? The wearer of diamonds, then, should have in her heart the heavenly affection to which they correspond. She should be loving and wise."
"It will not do to make an estimate in this way," said I. "The measure is too exacting."
"I will admit that. But we cannot help thinking of the quality, when we look upon its sign. With a beautiful face, when first seen — do we not always associate a beautiful soul? And when a lady adorns herself with the most beautiful and costly things in nature, how can we help looking, to see whether they correspond to things in her mind! For one, I cannot; and so, almost involuntarily, I keep turning my eyes upon Miss Harvey, and looking for signs of her quality."
"And how do you read the lady?" I inquired.
My friend shook his head.
"The observation is not favorable."
"Not favorable," he replied. "No, not favorable. She thinks of her jewels — she is vain of them."
"The temptation is great," I said.
"The fact of so loading herself with costly jewels, is in itself indicative of vanity — "
A third party joining us at this moment, we dropped the subject of Miss Harvey. But, enough had been said to make me observe her closely during the evening.
The opening line of Moore's charming lyric, "Rich and rare were the gems she wore," kept chiming in my thoughts, whenever I glanced towards her, and saw the glitter of her diamonds. Yet, past the gems my vision now went, and I searched the fair girl's countenance for the sparkle of other and richer jewels. Did I find them? We shall see.
"Helen," I heard a lady say to Miss Harvey, "is not that Mary Gardiner?"
"I believe so," was her indifferent answer.
"Have you spoken to her this evening?"
"Mary Gardiner and I were never very congenial. We have not been thrown together for some time; and now, I do not care to renew the acquaintance."
I obtained a single glance of the young lady's face. It was proud and haughty in expression, and her eyes had in them a cold glitter which awoke in me a feeling of repulsion.
"I wish you were more congenial," the lady said, speaking partly to herself.
"We are not, aunt," was Miss Harvey's reply; and she assumed the air of one who felt herself far superior to another with whom she had been brought into comparison.
"The gems do not correspond, I fear," said I to myself, as I moved to another part of the room. "But who is Miss Gardiner?"
In the next moment, I was introduced to the young lady whose name was in my thought. The face into which I looked was of that fine oval which always pleases the eye, even where the countenance itself does not light up well with the changes of thought. But, in this case, a pair of calm, deep, living eyes, and lips of shape most exquisitely delicate and feminine — giving warrant of a beautiful soul — caused the face of Miss Gardiner to hold my vision as by a spell. Low and very musical was her voice, and there was a discrimination in her words, which lifted whatever she said above the common-place, even though the subjects were of the hour.
I do not remember how long it was after my introduction to Miss Gardiner, before I discovered that her only ornament was a small, exquisitely cut cameo breast-pin, set in a circlet of pearls. There was no obtrusive glitter about this. It lay more like an emblem than a jewel against her bosom. It never drew your attention from her face, nor dimmed, by contrast, the radiance of her soul-lit eyes. I was charmed, from the beginning, with this young lady. Her thoughts were real gems, rich and rare; and when she spoke, there was the flash of diamonds in her sentences; not the flash of mere brilliant sayings, like the gleaming of a polished sword, but of living truths, that lit up with their own pure radiance, every mind that received them.
Two or three times during the evening, Miss Harvey, radiant in her diamonds — they cost twenty-two hundred dollars — the price would intrude itself — and Miss Gardiner, almost guiltless of foreign ornament, were thrown into immediate contact. But Miss Gardiner was not recognized by the haughty wearer of gems. It was the old farce of pretense, seeking, by borrowed attractions, to outshine the imperishable radiance of truth. I looked on, and read the lesson her conduct gave, and wondered that any were deceived into even a transient admiration. "Rich and rare were the gems she wore," but they had in them no significance as applied to the wearer. It was Miss Gardiner who had the real gems — as beautiful as charity, and as pure as eternal truth. She wore them with a simple grace, which charmed every beholder who had eyes clear enough from earthy dust and smoke, to see them.
I never meet Miss Harvey, that I do not think of the pure and heavenly things of the mind to which diamonds correspond, nor without seeing some new evidence that she wears no priceless jewels in her soul.