"There, I am thankful!" exclaimed Mrs. Everett, as she seated herself at her very inviting tea-table, on the evening previous to our New England festival. The cloth was of dazzling whiteness; the tea service, though not costly, of glittering purity; and her own matronly figure was very becomingly arrayed. Yet the good lady was manifestly thinking of something above and beneath this agreeable picture, of which she was the successful artist; for she immediately added, "For the first time since we were married, Thanksgiving will find us with a house in perfect order, from attic to cellar."
Mrs. Everett had been a housekeeper for fifteen years, yet the statement she had just made was literally true. Blame her not too severely. The task of keeping a domestic establishment in faultless condition, is one requiring if not the strength of a Hercules, yet a far higher degree of minute and patient care than any of his world-famous achievements.
Mrs. Everett had rightly stated the order of her improvements, for she had begun with the superstructure, and had but just reached the foundation of the temple of domestic comfort. Character and poverty were her only dowry when she wedded, and having been for years dependent upon wealthy relatives, she had acquired a taste for expensive luxuries, and a love of display that was not very consistently manifested. The household duties were performed at first with the aid of one very young and inexperienced servant, and while the tasteful fingers of the mistress wrought ottomans and other fancy articles for the parlor, the poor little maid presided with sorry dignity over a very slatternly kitchen cabinet.
Mr. Everett had been slightly epicurean in his tastes, but this trait of character soon vanished before the daily abominations that were the results of her juvenile administration. His wardrobe, too, experienced some neglect. His clean linen, when such he wore, sometimes protruded from the elbow of his coat, and embroidered slippers were an indifferent apology for his very disreputable hosiery.
The residence of the Everetts was in a flourishing village, which boasted a fair supply of aristocracy, within whose charmed circle it was Mrs. Everett's chief ambition to gain admittance. Yet for some years her very zeal to compass this end defeated itself, for while she received very few calls at home, she sent daily into the street a placard, on which some of her grossest failings were advertised — that is, her good husband, with his unbrushed coat, soiled linen, and ragged gloves.
"Why have you never called upon Mrs. Everett?" asked Mrs. Leslie, one day, of Mrs. Grant. (Both ladies were decidedly of the upper class.) "I have met her several times, and she seems to me to possess some taste and cultivation. She is very skillful in needle-work, and she showed me a drawing, which, when finished, will be positively an ornament to any parlor."
"I know very little of the lady in question," replied Mrs. Grant; "but I think her needle is not very frequently employed upon her husband's clothes; he is decidedly the shabbiest-looking man in the whole street."
"That may be his own fault, perhaps."
"It probably is so in part, but not altogether; and although I have seen none of Mrs. Everett's paintings, yet in passing her door I have repeatedly caught glimpses of a very uninviting description."
The good-natured apologist was silent.
Within the first five years of her married life, Mrs. Everett became the happy mother of three beautiful little girls, and again her nimble fingers were busied with trimmings and embroideries, to enable the darlings to appear in public like those who she fondly hoped might be their future associates. If her husband remonstrated, she reminded him that this finery cost him very little. It did, however, cost him a large deduction from his personal comforts during many weary years.
Time rolled on, and a lucky combination of circumstances procured the Everetts the honor of dining at Mr. Leslie's, with some very agreeable guests. Alas, that our gratified desires should always give birth to new ones! Mrs. Everett thenceforward sighed perpetually for damask napkins and silver forks. It was vain to speak of limited means; she knew a remedy for that evil. There was a book-bindery in the vicinity, and she and her girls might acquire in a quiet way, by folding and stitching, a sum quite sufficient for their purpose. Her husband sighed in secret, but he knew that remonstrance was in vain. The task was commenced, and well near accomplished — they were, indeed, at their last day's work, with the household more neglected than ever, when, oh, horror! Mr. Leslie called upon important business. The child who admitted him gratified his expressed wish to see her mother, by taking him directly to the kitchen, and his quick eye took in at a glance the whole condition of the premises. Mrs. Everett received him with a face of scarlet, but she was too proud to apologize, and indeed apology was useless.
After this unpleasant interruption, the mortified group returned to their task with flagging fingers; yet it was in due time completed, and the intended purchases made. They felt, however, that they had paid a heavy price in the loss of comfort and self-respect, and of that very reputation which they were so anxious to maintain.
Another misfortune followed. A malicious neighbor, who envied Mrs. Everett her empty and unsatisfied ambition (what will not mortals envy!), gave vent to her bitterness by circulating a calumnious report. The scandal was unfounded, for, to do justice to our aspiring friend, it was only in the minor morals that she was deficient. Yet, during the prevalence of the rumor, she was kindly informed that Mr. Leslie had said on hearing it, "I dislike to encourage scandal, but I can believe almost anything of a woman whose public attire is fresh and faultless — yet who honors her fireside with soiled dress, neglected teeth, and dusty hair, quite in keeping with the surrounding scene."
The public were soon undeceived with regard to the calumny, but Mrs. Everett never forgot that her real errors had lent a coloring to the statement. She felt that, like the wife of Caesar, she should have been above suspicion. She perceived that she had missed the substance in pursuing a shadow, and with characteristic energy she resolved on an immediate reform. She determined thenceforward to devote her first attention to her domestic duties, leaving her social position to find its own natural level. A thorough indoors revolution was what she aimed at, and she found a pleasure in the task that compensated her for the loss of some ambitious visions.
Circumstances favored her. She was in the prime of life, with three budding daughters, who inherited her own force of character; and their united energies, once rightly directed, were speedily followed by gratifying results. The husband gave his cordial support to the new order of things, and as day by day some time-honored nuisance of the establishment disappeared, he regained his cheerfulness, and was even betrayed into acts of unusual liberality.
At length the new purpose was achieved. Thanksgiving Eve had arrived, and throughout those regenerated premises, "from a thread even to a shoe-latchet" — nothing was misplaced or neglected.
We will now leave the household to enjoy the charm of their novel and interesting position, for although we know not their Thursday's bill of fare, we doubt not its luxuries will be fully enjoyed by calm and thankful hearts.
Sweet sisters mine, there are many of us who have erred, more or less, after the fashion of Mrs. Everett. If, under less favorable circumstances, we cannot hope for complete success in our endeavors to reform, let us all do something more for those whose comfort depends upon our fidelity, and resolve that, in some respects at least, our domestic circles shall have cause for a future perpetual thanksgiving.