Which Was Most the Lady?
by Timothy Shay Arthur
"Did you ever see such a strange looking figure?" exclaimed a young lady, speaking loud enough to be heard by the object of her remark. She was riding slowly along in an open carriage, a short distance from the city, accompanied by a relative. The young man, her companion, looked across the road at a woman, whose attire was certainly not in any way very near approach to the fashion of the day. She had on a faded calico dress, short in the waist; stout leather shoes; the remains of what had once been a red merino long shawl, and a dingy old Leghorn bonnet of the style of eighteen hundred and twenty.
As the young man turned to look at the woman, the latter raised her eyes and fixed them steadily upon the young lady who had so rudely directed towards her the attention of her companion. Her face, was not as old nor faded as the dress she wore. It was youthful, but plain; and the smallness of her eyes, which were close together and placed at the Mongolian angle, gave to her countenance a singular aspect.
"How do you do, old-timer?" said the young man gently drawing on the rein of his horse so as still further to diminish his speed.
The face of the young girl — for she was quite young — reddened, and she slackened her steps so as to fall behind the rude, unfeeling couple, who sought to amuse themselves at her expense.
"She is gypsy!" said the young lady, laughing.
"Grandmother! How are catnip and hoarhound, snakeroot and tansy, selling today?" joined the young man with increasing rudeness.
"That bonnet's from Noah's ark — ha! ha!"
"And was worn by the wife of Shem, Ham or Japheth. Ha! now I've got it! This is the great, great, great granddaughter of Noah! What a discovery!"
The poor girl made no answer to this cruel and cowardly assault, but turned her face away, and stood still, in order to let the carriage pass on.
"You look like a gentleman and a lady," said a man whom was riding by, and happened to overhear some of their last remarks; "and no doubt regard yourselves as such. But your conduct is anything but gentlemanly and lady-like; and if I had the pleasure of knowing your friends, I would advise them to keep away from you until you had sense and decency enough not to disgrace yourselves and them!"
A fiery spot burned instantly on the young man's face, and fierce anger shot from his eyes. But the one who had spoken so sharply fixed upon him a look of withering contempt, and riding close up to the carriage, handed him his card, remarking coldly, as he did so —
"I shall be pleased to meet you again, sir. May I ask your card in return?"
The young man thrust his hand indignantly into his pocket, and fumbled there for some moments, but without finding a card.
"No matter," said he, trying to speak fiercely; "you will hear from me in good time."
"And you from me on the spot, if I should happen to catch you at such mean and cowardly work as you were just now engaged in," said the stranger, no seeking to veil his contempt.
"The vulgar brute! O, he's horrid!" ejaculated the young lady as her rather crestfallen companion laid the whip upon his horse and dashed ahead. "How he frightened me!"
"Some greasy butcher or two-fisted blacksmith," said the elegant young man with contempt. "But," he added boastfully, "I'll teach him a lesson!"
Out into the beautiful country, with feeling a little less buoyant than when they started, rode our mirthful young couple. As the excitement of passion died away, both felt a little uncomfortable in mind, for certain unpleasant convictions intruded themselves, and certain precepts in the code of courtesy grew rather distinct in their memories. They had been thoughtless and rude, to say the least of it.
"But the girl looked so strange!" said the young lady. "I couldn't help laughing to save my life. Where on earth did she come from?"
Not very keen was their enjoyment of the afternoon's ride, although the day was particularly fine, and their way was amid some bits of charming scenery. After going out into the country some five or six miles, the horse's head was turned, and they took their way homeward. Wishing to avoid the monotony of a drive along the same road, the young man struck across the country in order to reach another avenue leading into the city, but missed his way and bewildered in a maze of winding country roads. While descending a steep hill, in a very secluded place, a wheel came off, and both were thrown from the carriage. The young man received only a slight bruise, but the girl was more seriously injured. Her head had struck against a stone with so strong a concussion, as to render her insensible.
Eagerly glancing around for aid, the young man saw, at no great distance from the road, a poor looking log tenement, from the mud chimney of which curled a thin column of smoke, giving signs of inhabitants. To call aloud was his first impulse, and he raised his voice with the cry of "Help!"
Scarcely had the sound died away, before he saw the door of the cabin flung open, and a woman and boy looked eagerly around.
"Help!" he cried again, and the sound of his voice directed their eyes towards him. Even in his distress, alarm, and bewilderment, the young man recognized instantly in the woman, the person they had so wantonly insulted only an hour or two before. As soon as she saw them, she ran forward hastily, and seeing the white face of the insensible girl, exclaimed, with pity and concern —
"O, sir! is she badly hurt?"
There was heart in that voice of peculiar sweetness.
"Poor lady!" she said, tenderly, as she untied the bonnet strings with gentle care, and placed her hand upon the clammy temples.
"Shall I help you to take her over to the house?" she added, drawing an arm beneath the form of the insensible girl.
"Thank you!" There was a tone of respect in the young man's voice. "But I can carry her myself;" and he raised the insensible form in his arms, and, following the young stranger, bore it into her humble dwelling. As he laid her upon a bed, he asked, eagerly —
"Is there a doctor near?"
"Yes, sir," replied the girl. "If you will come to the door, I will show you the doctor's house; and I think he must be at home, for I saw him go by only a quarter of an hour since. John will take care of your horse while you are away, and I will do my best for the poor lady."
The doctor's house, about a quarter of a mile distant, was pointed out, and the young man hurried off at a rapid speed. He was gone only a few minutes, when his insensible companion revived, and, starting up, looked wildly around her.
"Where am I? Where is George?" she asked, eagerly.
"He has gone for the doctor; but will be back very soon," said the young woman, in a kind, soothing voice.
"For the doctor! Who's injured?" She had clasped her hands across her forehead, and now, on removing them, saw on one, a wet stain of blood. With a frightened cry, she fell back upon the pillow from which she had risen.
"I don't think you are much hurt," was said, in a tone of encouragement, as with a damp cloth the gentle stranger wiped very tenderly her forehead. "The cut is not deep. Have you pain anywhere?"
"No," was faintly answered.
"You can move your arms; so they are uninjured. And now, won't you just step on to the floor, and see if you can bear your weight? Let me raise you up. There, put your foot down — now the other — now take a step — now another. There are no bones broken! How glad I am!"
How earnest, how gentle, how pleased she was. There was no acting in her manner. Every tone, expression, and gesture — showed that heart was in everything.
"O, I am glad!" she repeated. "It might have been so much worse."
The first glance into the young girl's face was one of identification; and even amid the terror that oppressed her heart, the unwilling visitor felt a sense of painful mortification. There was no mistaking that peculiar countenance. But how different she seemed! Her voice was singularly sweet, her manner gentle and full of kindness, and in her movements and attitude a certain ease that marked her as one not to be classed, even by the over-refined young lady who was so suddenly brought within her power, among the common herd.
All that assiduous care and kind attention could do for the unhappy girl, until the doctor's arrival, was done. After getting back to the bed from which she bad been induced to rise, in order to see if all her limbs were sound, she grew sick and faint, and remained so until the physician came. He gave it as his opinion, that she had received some internal injuries, and that it would not be safe to attempt her removal.
The young couple looked at each other with dismay pictured in their countenances.
"I wish it were in my power to make you more comfortable," said the kind-hearted girl, in whose humble abode they were. "What we have is at your service in welcome, and all that it is in my power to do, shall be done for you cheerfully. If father was only at home — but that can't be helped."
The young man gazed upon her in wonder and shame — wonder at the charm that now appeared in her singularly marked countenance, and shame for the disgraceful and cowardly cruelty with which he had a little while before so wantonly assailed her.
The doctor was positive about the matter, and so there was no alternative. After seeing his unhappy relative in as comfortable a condition as possible, the young man, with the doctor's aid, repaired his broken vehicle by the restoration of a linchpin, and started for the city to bear news of the sad accident, and bring out the mother of the injured girl.
Alone with the person towards whom she had only a short time before acted in such shameless violation of womanly kindness and lady-like propriety, our "nice young lady" did not feel more comfortable in mind than body. Every look — every word — every tone — every act of the kind-hearted girl — was a rebuke. The delicacy of her attentions, and the absence of everything like a desire to remind her of the recent unpleasant incident, marked her as possessing, even if her face and attire were plain, and her position humble — all the elements of a true lady.
Although the doctor, when he left, did not speak very encouragingly, the vigorous system of the young girl began to react and she grew better quite rapidly; so that when her parents arrived with the family physician, she was so much improved that it was at once decided to take her to the city.
For an hour before her parents came, she lay feigning to be in sleep, yet observing every movement and word of her gentle attendant. It was an hour of shame, self-reproaches, and repentance. She was not really bad at heart; but false estimates of things, trifling associations, and a thoughtless disregard of others — had made her far less a lady in act, than she imagined herself to be in quality. Her parents, when they arrived, overwhelmed the young girl with thankfulness; and the father, at parting, tried to induce her to accept a sum of money. But the offers seemed to disturb her.
"O, no, sir!" she said, drawing back, while a glow came into her pale face, and made it almost beautiful; "I have only done a simple duty."
"But you are poor," he urged, glancing around. "Take this, and let it make you more comfortable."
"We are contented with what God has given to us," she replied, cheerfully. "For what he gives, is always the best portion. No, sir; I cannot receive money for doing only a common duty."
"Your reward is great," said the father, touched with the noble answer, "may God bless you, my good girl! And if you will not receive my money, accept my grateful thanks."
As the daughter parted from the strange young girl, she bent down and kissed her hand; then looking up into her face, with tearful eyes, she whispered for her ears alone —
"I am punished, and you are vindicated. O, let your heart forgive me!"
"It was God whom you offended," was whispered back. "Get His forgiveness, and all will be right. You have my forgiveness, and also the prayer of my heart that you may be good and wise, for only such are happy."
The humbled girl grasped her hand tightly, and murmured, "I shall never forget you — never!"
Nor did she. If the direct offer of her father was declined, indirect benefits reached, through her means, the lonely log cottage, where everything in time put on a new and pleasant aspect; and the surroundings of the gentle spirit that presides there, were more in agreement with her true internal quality. To the thoughtless young couple, the incidents of that day were a life-lesson that never passed entirely from their remembrance. They obtained a glance below the surface of things, which surprised them, learning that, even in the humblest, there may be hearts in the right places — warm with pure feelings, and inspired by the noblest sentiments of humanity; and that as highly as they esteem themselves on account of their position, there was one, at least, standing below them so far as external advantages were concerned — who was their superior in all the higher qualities that go to make up the real lady and gentleman.