The Young Music Teacher
by Timothy Shay Arthur, 1855
Mr. Wells was a widower with two daughters — Jane and Mary. The former twenty, and the latter eighteen. He had been accounted a man in easy circumstances, from the fact that he lived in a very comfortable style, and gave his children the best education that money could procure. But, in doing this, he lived fully up to his income. Death suddenly removed him, and left his two daughters without fortune or home. An uncle, Mr. Hendee, was the only relative they had. He was what is called, well off in the world; possessing a very handsome property. But, as he had a young and expensive family, his regular income was never much beyond his needs. As soon as Mr. Hendee, who administered on Mr. Wells's estate, ascertained that nothing would be left after paying off the debts, he informed Jane and Mary of the fact, and, at the same time, offered them a home.
For some weeks after their father's death, the two young ladies remained in the house where they had been living, all the domestic arrangements continuing the same as during his lifetime. They had no suspicion of the real state of their father's affairs, and were only affected with almost inconsolable grief at his loss. When their uncle unfolded to them the true position in which they stood, they were at first overwhelmed with alarm. His prompt and kind offer of a home, soothed their anxious feelings, and left their minds in a calmer frame.
"How kind and generous our uncle is," Jane remarked on the day after he had proposed to the sisters to consider his house their future dwelling place.
"Truly so," Mary replied with warmth, while a glow of genuine gratitude lit up her sober face.
"We shall feel almost as much at home with uncle Hendee, as we did in our own father's house."
"Do you think it right for us to go there?" asked Mary, looking at her sister with a serious expression of countenance.
"Right! What can you mean, sister?"
"We have no claims upon him."
"He is our father's brother."
"But not our father, Jane."
Mary's sister looked at her for some moments, utterly at a loss to comprehend the drift of her remarks.
"He is our uncle, and has offered us a home," she at length said. "It would be a strange act in us to refuse to accept of it because we have no claims upon him; especially, when there is no other threshold over which we can pass."
"But he has a large family of his own to support."
"And is able enough to support them and us."
"Perhaps so. But that does not alter our position in the least. While our father lived, his house was our home by natural right. Now that he is taken from us, will it be right for us to lean upon any other arm?"
"We must lean upon some arm, now that we have his no longer."
"Yes — but should not each of us lean upon her own arm? Is not a mere state of dependence upon a relation, a wrong position for a young lady to hold?"
"Lean upon our own arms! How are we to do that, Mary?"
"There are many young women who support themselves genteelly. Why may not we? The truth is, I have been thinking about this ever since Uncle Hendee was here yesterday, and the more I turn it over in my mind, the more reluctant am I to accept of his generous offer. I do not feel as if it would be just for me to do so. I have a good education, and could readily support myself as a French teacher; or by giving lessons in music."
"A French teacher! Lessons in music! Mary, you cannot be in earnest!"
"Indeed, sister, I am sure that I can never go into Uncle Hendee's house, and accept the home he has so kindly offered, without feeling self-condemned, and losing my self-respect. A state of mere dependence, would be deeply galling to me. As a music or French teacher, I should be far happier."
"Mary, you must not think of it. Do not, on any account, breathe such a thing to Uncle Hendee. It would wound severely the generous feelings he has so nobly expressed."
Thus opposed, Mary said no more. But she thought over the matter constantly; and the more she thought about it, the more dissatisfied was she at the idea of becoming a dependent upon her Uncle's bounty.
A few days afterwards, Mr. Hendee informed his two nieces, that he must give up the house in which they lived, and sell off their father's furniture. Their aunt came in her carriage, and, with many kind assurances of her love for them, took them to her own home, and bade them, henceforth, consider it as theirs. Tears of natural regret at leaving the place where they had spent so many pleasant seasons, mingled with heart-drops of sorrow, as they remembered the kind father they would see no more in this world. For the first few days after they had entered the hospitable mansion of their uncle and aunt, the sisters felt much depressed in spirits. After that, Jane gradually became more cheerful. But Mary continued thoughtful, and, evidently, troubled in mind.
"Try, my dear child," said her aunt to her, a few weeks after she had come into her house, "to feel more cheerful. Do not look back with grief, but forward with hope. Let us be to you all that you have lost. We love you and Jane, and desire to think of you, and feel towards you, as if you were our own children."
Mary was affected to tears. She drew her arms around the neck of her aunt; kissed her cheek, and wept upon her bosom.
"Your generous kindness I shall never forget," she said, as soon as her emotion would permit her to speak. "But, my good aunt, it is my position here, which troubles me more than anything else."
"My dear child! what do you mean?" asked Mrs. Hendee, in surprise.
"I have no right to burden you!"
"Mary!" Her aunt seemed hurt by the tone of her voice.
"Do not misunderstand me, aunt," Mary quickly said. "I mean not to insinuate, that I feel that you think I am a burden to you. Oh, no. Your noble conduct towards us fills my bosom with a glow of grateful emotions. It is not that. But, now that my father is dead, up to whom I had a natural right to look, I do not feel that I can, with justice, become dependent upon anyone but myself. Do you understand me, aunt?"
"I believe I do, Mary. But dismiss such thoughts. If your father's brother is willing to take your father's place, you have no need to make any nice distinctions between his relation and that of your father. He is both able and willing to do all we have proposed."
"I have thought all that over very carefully, aunt," Mary said. "But it does not unburden my mind. Every day, it becomes with me more and more a matter of conscience not to remain dependent. I have the ability to maintain myself; and I believe I ought to do it."
Mrs. Hendee was silent with surprise and admiration of the noble minded girl, whose true feelings she began to perceive clearly.
"You seem to be really in earnest," was her smiling reply, after the lapse of nearly a minute.
The changed manner of Mrs. Hendee made the heart of Mary bound.
"Indeed I am, aunt," she said, her countenance lighting up, yet still retaining its serious look. "I do not mean to wound you, by declining your generous offer; for I know that it is made in good faith, and my heart blesses you for it. But, to accept of your bounty, would be to do violence to what I think right principles."
"What do you propose to do?" asked Mrs. Hendee, gravely, her manner having again changed.
"I think, as a French teacher in some school, I might easily support myself; or, I could give lessons in music."
"True. But, think, Mary, how your doing so would affect your station. As a teacher, you could not expect to occupy in all respects your present position in society."
"I would be as worthy of confidence and regard, aunt."
"True. But something more than mere personal excellence is required. It is not worth alone, which gives either a man or woman a place in good society. As a member of our family, you will occupy the same position you have ever held; but, as a mere teacher of French or music, you will not be able to maintain your present place."
"Ought that consideration to govern me?"
"I think it should have its due weight."
"So do I. But a consideration of what is right, should have the first influence upon my actions. Now, I do not think it would be right for me to become a dependent upon my uncle's generosity. I believe that I am in duty bound to support myself. Ought I for a moment to weigh this clear consciousness, against any fears of losing social standing?"
Mrs. Hendee did not reply for some moments. She felt a glow of admiration for the honest, independent spirit of her niece, and yet, could not bring her mind to think for an instant of letting the high minded girl act as she proposed.
"You must talk with your uncle," she said, after puzzling with her own thoughts for a time. "I am sure, however, that he will never hear to your doing what you suggest."
"I wish you would speak to him about it, aunt. I cannot."
"Oh! certainly. But you must not be surprised at his decided opposition."
"I am sure Uncle Hendee will not oppose me in an act that he must see to be clearly right."
"But I am not so sure that he will be able to see it exactly as you do," replied her aunt.
This conversation took place without the knowledge of Jane Wells, who was quietly enjoying the pleasant home that had been offered them. She did not appreciate either her sister's motives or feelings, and, therefore, since the first conversation Mary had held with her upon the subject, she had not made any allusion to it.
When Mrs. Hendee mentioned to her husband what had taken place between her and Mary — he was too much surprised to see at once, clearly, the spirit which actuated his niece. But this soon became apparent to his mind.
"Noble girl!" he could not help exclaiming. "She has her father's independent spirit, and I honor it in her."
"But you will not, I am sure, humor her strange desire to become a teacher, instead of a resident of our family."
"We must not do violence to such high and true principles of action which she evinces. It was our duty to offer to both her and her sister a home. This we have done cheerfully. But, if Mary feels that it would be right for her to depend upon herself, we ought not to oppose her too strongly."
As early as possible, Mr. Hendee sought an interview with his niece. He found that her ideas were clear, and based upon abstract principles of right.
"There is a view of the subject," he said, while conversing with her, "that I hardly think you have taken, Mary, and one that you should weigh well."
"What is that, Uncle?" she asked.
"It is this. By education, habits, and association, your mind has been formed for a social sphere above what you will be able to occupy, if you become a teacher of music or anything else. By remaining where you are as one of my family — all that is congenial to your taste and character will be secured to you. You will marry, of course, when of a proper age, should one you can approve, claim your hand. But if you place yourself out of the circle of those who are of like tastes and feelings with yourself, you cannot hope to form such an alliance as will most fully secure your happiness in after life. Forgive, the seeming indelicacy of an allusion like this, my dear niece. I have to make it, in order to let you see all the consequences of the act you propose. Remain where you are — keep your present position in the circle in which you are worthy to move, and in a few years, as the wife of a man of wealth and standing — you will be placed far above the feeling of dependence which now seems so galling to you."
Mary did not reply to her uncle immediately. She sat in deep thought, with her eyes upon the floor. At length, breathing heavily, she looked up, and replied in a voice that was at first tremulous, but soon became firm.
"I have carefully weighed all this. But it does not change my views. It is for me to act right in the present, and leave all else to be arranged for my good, by Him who allows not, unnoted, a sparrow to fall to the ground. I cannot, with a clear conscience, sit down here, in mere dependence. It would be wrong."
"But, my dear child, I have enough and to spare. I do not feel your support a burden. To provide a home for my brother's children, I look upon as a sacred privilege. Do not deprive me of the sweet delight it affords me."
This appeal touched the heart of Mary, and brought from her eyes pure drops of feeling.
"I know, my dear uncle," she said, "that it will give you pleasure to have me stay with you, and pain to depart. But can I secure a good conscience — life's best blessing, if I do not follow the clear dictates of right?"
"You cannot, certainly."
"Then I must leave my present position of dependence, and provide, by my own labor, the means of support. It is, I can plainly see, the duty of every one, to engage in some useful employment. While our father lived, my sister and I kept his house, and made up for him a home circle. We were necessary to his happiness; and he was our natural provider and protector. Our sphere of action was at home — our duties lay there. But it is different now.
Upon you we have no natural claim. Your home circle is formed. We are not necessary to your happiness, and only remain here as partakers of your bounty. This is the plain light in which I view it, and you must acknowledge it to be the true light."
Mr. Hendee used various arguments to convince Mary that she was wrong to throw herself as she proposed, upon her own resources; but his arguments were weak when opposed to her common sense conviction, and clear perceptions of what was right. Jane, when she found that Mary had been declaring to her uncle and aunt the views she had previously expressed to her; and not only that, but was bent on acting them out — was much incensed, and strove hard to divert her from what seemed to her mind a most insane act. But, as might well be supposed, her opposition had no effect. Mary was not governed by any impulse, or whim, but by deeply fixed principles. When Mr. and Mrs. Hendee found that neither argument nor persuasion could move the honest-hearted girl from her purpose, they begged that she would, at least, make their house her home, if she did not solely depend upon them.
"I will, on one consideration," was her half smiling, yet earnest reply.
"Name it," said Mr. Hendee.
"That I be allowed to become my cousins' instructor in music, so long as you think me competent to give them lessons."
"It shall be as you desire."
The prompt acceptance of this proposition, brought the tears to Mary's eyes.
"From my heart, I thank you," she said, with emotion. "I do not want to go from under your protection. Here I will be happier than anywhere else, for I shall be with those I love most and prize highest in the world."
Just about this time, an advertisement appeared in the newspapers for a lady to take the situation of music teacher in a well known school. At Mary's earnest request, Mr. Hendee made application for, and was successful in obtaining the place for her. She entered cheerfully upon the duties of this new position, and discharged them with energy and ability. It required the devotion of four hours each day in order to do justice to the classes placed under her care. At home, she gave two or three hours every day to the music of her cousins, and with marked evidences of success. Besides this, many hours were spent in practice and study, in order to increase her ability for the duties she had voluntarily assumed.
Mary's choice did not fail to have the effect which her uncle and aunt had predicted. It quickly became known that she was only a teacher in Madame Lacroix' school. The young ladies, who had before been on terms of intimacy with her, finding that she was the instructress of their younger sisters, began to grow cold towards her, and numbers failed to recognize her in the street. This was a severe trial to her young spirit — but conscious rectitude of purpose sustained her. She had put her hands to the plough, and could not look back.
What grieved her most, was the unkindness of Jane. Mary's conduct affected her sister in two ways. In the first place, it detracted from her standing in the eyes of many, and, in the second place, it was a daily rebuke of her lack of the same honest independence. In her aunt and uncle, however, the heroic girl found unchanging friends. They not only admired her for her excellence of character, but loved her for the sweetness of her disposition. Not without pain, did they perceive that all their fears in regard to the consequences of her independent course, were becoming daily realized. Gradually, even the most intimate of Mary's young friends were ceasing to visit her, and when she ventured with the family into company, she was neglected except by a very few.
The consequence was, that before six months had elapsed, Mary Wells was rarely seen beyond the walls of the school in which she taught, and the sweet seclusion of home. Her sister rarely asked her to accompany her when she went out, and never spoke of her to anyone, unless she were specially asked for. By the end of a year, none would have thought that the mirthful girl who daily went forth to make fashionable calls upon fashionable friends, and the quiet, thoughtful maiden modestly attired, who regularly left the house of Mr. Hendee and came back at stated hours, were sisters.
Things went on in this way for about two years, by which time Mary was pretty well forgotten in her old circle of friends. Within that time, the members of that circle had changed materially. New faces were to be seen, and many old faces were missing. Among the new-comers was a young man who had returned from college a year before, and who had immediately entered into business with his father, a merchant of wealth and standing. His name was Cleveland. Young Cleveland had been educated with great care by his father, who was a man of independent feelings, and sound views of life. As his son grew up, he carefully instilled into his mind a love of truth for its own sake, and taught him to estimate all things by intrinsic worth, rather than fictitious appearances. As Hartly Cleveland emerged from youth into early manhood, that most critical period in life, his father had the gratification of seeing in him a realization of his most ardent wishes. The principles taught him had been deeply planted, and they had sprung up, and produced good fruits.
This young man met Jane Wells frequently in company, and found himself becoming more and more biased in her favor, the oftener he saw her. Almost involuntarily, he paid her more than ordinary attentions, which were far from being unpleasing to her. After some months, he would occasionally call in at Mr. Hendee's and spend an evening with her. Whenever he did so, if Mary happened to be in the parlor, she would immediately retire, always without being introduced — as Jane would have thought it an egregious folly to introduce her sister to any of her fashionable friends.
The attentions of Hartly Cleveland soon stirred into inquietude the bosom of Jane Wells. There was everything about him to interest the heart of a maiden. He was handsome in person, his tastes highly cultivated, his mind richly stored, his principles firmly based, and with all, he belonged to a respectable and wealthy family. No wonder that Jane could not withstand such attractions.
It was not long, before the young man became more marked in his attentions. He called at Mr. Hendee's at least once every week, and regularly accompanied Jane to all the concerts and fashionable amusements of the season. One evening he came in and found no one in the parlor but Mary. Jane was dressing to go out with him to a concert. Mary's first impulse was to retire, but she felt that this it would not be polite to do. She therefore remained; but did not feel free to make any remarks. This she had no need to do, for Mr. Cleveland readily introduced subjects of conversation, and drew her forth to speak. At first she did so with a reluctant timidity; but what she said inspired the young man with a wish to penetrate deeper into her mind. Unconsciously to herself, he led her out, and induced her to give her views on many subjects, which she did with a beauty of expression, and a clearness of thought, which charmed him. In the midst of this, Jane came in, all ready to walk, and Mary glided from the room, with a strange warmth and tremulousness in her bosom. It was nearly two years since she had spent ten minutes in conversation with a young man of intelligence and winning manners. The sensation was to her new and pleasing. A new chord was awakened in her heart, which was not inclined to sleep again.
She retired to her room, and took up a favorite volume. But she could not comprehend the words of the author. Her
thoughts returned to the parlor, and to the interesting young stranger with whom she had passed a quarter of an hour of most delightful conversation. At length, she became conscious of the folly she was committing in thus allowing this little incident to make so deep an impression upon her. She strove to shut out from her mind, the image of Mr. Cleveland, but in vain. She still saw his fine, animated face; his voice still sounded in her ears, and the sentiments he had uttered, still lived in her recollection.
"What young lady is that with whom I was conversing, when you came down?" young Cleveland asked of Jane, as soon as they had left the house.
"She gives lessons in music to my cousins," was answered, after a moment's hesitation.
"Ah!" was Cleveland's only reply; there was disappointment in the tone of his voice.
Three weeks elapsed, during which both the young man and Mary found it very difficult to keep from thinking about each other. He had called several times to see Jane, with the secret hope in his mind of again meeting the interesting young music teacher. But she did not happen to be present. At last, however, he could not conceal from himself the pleasure he felt, on being shown into the parlor, and finding no one there but Mary. Instinctively, she arose, and made a movement to leave the room. Jane had spoken rather sharply to her for her former indiscreet act, as she called it.
"You will not leave me here alone," Cleveland said, in a respectful, half-familiar voice. Mary paused, and resumed her seat, her heart beating with a quick irregular motion. The conversation which the young man had previously held with her, gave him some idea of the character of her mind, and guided him at once into the selection of suitable themes. He soon succeeded in again drawing her out into an expression of her opinions upon the topics under review, which she did with a soundness of thought and a beauty of expression, which again charmed him.
"Can this be only a music teacher?" he could not help asking himself. It so happened, that the servant who admitted Mr. Cleveland, mistook Mary, who was in the parlor, for Jane, and therefore did not go up to the room of the latter to notify her that there was a visitor below. On this account, Cleveland and Mary spent a full half hour together, when the latter, recollecting herself, said,
"The servant must have omitted to inform Jane that you were here."
As she spoke, she arose quickly and left the room. In a few moments Jane entered the parlor, and apologized for having kept him waiting, on the ground that she had not been informed of his presence.
"As some compensation," he replied, "I have been quite agreeably entertained by this young music teacher you have in the family. She seems as shy as a fawn, and I had almost to compel her to remain in the parlor. But, when she had forgotten herself, she proved to be a most interesting companion. She cannot, certainly, be moving in that sphere, for which education and taste have fitted her."
To this, Jane made some evasive reply. Her manner of doing so was noticed by Cleveland, who did not altogether like it. It implied contempt for the interesting girl, who, as he supposed, held, in the family, the subordinate position of an instructor in music. From that moment, the charm that had been thrown around Jane Wells, gradually passed away. As it did so, the image of the quiet, intelligent, refined, and delicate stranger he had met at Mr. Hendee's, took a more distinct and permanent place in his mind. "Who is she?" "What is she?" were questions often asked. Though he called, nearly as often as before, upon Jane, it was really with the hope of again falling in with the music teacher. But this fortunate occurrence did not again happen.
One evening he met Mr. Hendee in the parlor, alone. The ardent desire he felt to learn something certain about the individual who had interested him, caused him to say, during a pause in the conversation —
"Pardon me, Mr. Hendee, for the seeming intrusiveness of the question I am about to ask. You have a young lady in your family, employed as music teacher?"
"Excuse me, Mr. Cleveland," Mr. Hendee said, interrupting him — "but you are under some mistake. There is no such person in my family as you allude to."
Cleveland looked confounded.
"I certainly must be under some mistake, then," he replied. "But I have twice met in the parlor a very interesting young lady who is, as I have understood, an instructor of music to your children."
"Oh! you mean my niece," Mr. Hendee said, with a smile.
"Yes. Mary Wells, the sister of Jane. I thought you knew her."
"No, sir," was the grave reply. "I have twice fallen in with her by accident. Then as soon as anyone entered the parlor — she glided away. No one introduced her to me."
"Not even her sister?"
Mr. Hendee looked upon the floor thoughtfully.
"Why does she keep herself so secluded?" at length asked young Cleveland. "She is certainly fitted to shine in any circle."
"That she is. A lovelier girl, I have never seen. But it is her real worth which excludes her. Society, as it is now constituted, is not worthy of so noble minded a creature."
"Your words puzzle me," the young man said.
"I will then give you fully her history, and let you judge her by the best and truest standard — her own life as it stands forth in pristine beauty."
Mr. Hendee then related, with the warmth his deep admiration of her virtues, gave to his words and manner, the noble conduct of Mary Wells. Mr. Cleveland listened with intense admiration.
"Noble girl!" he exclaimed, as soon as the narrative had been finished.
"Yes, she is nobleness itself," was the earnest response of the uncle.
"May I beg to be introduced to one for whom I now feel a respect amounting almost to reverence?" asked the young man.
The bell was rung, and a servant entered.
"Tell Mary that I wish to see her in the parlor."
The servant left the room, and in a few moments Mary entered, dressed in a simple but neat attire.
"Come, my dear, let me introduce you to my excellent young friend, Mr. Cleveland," Mr. Hendee said, taking Mary's hand, and leading her forward.
The color deepened on Mary's cheek when she met the steady, admiring gaze of the young man, but her self-possession remained.
"My niece excludes herself far too much. She is over-modest — worth's peculiar fault," Mr. Hendee added, as Mary took a seat on the sofa.
At that moment Jane entered and came forward, Mr. Cleveland met her with a manner much more formal than usual. She was no longer beautiful or interesting in his eyes. The superior loveliness of Mary, had altogether eclipsed her. The surprise and displeasure she felt at seeing Mary in the parlor, and in conversation with Mr. Cleveland, tended in no way to give additional charms to those already surrounding her. He saw clearly her state of mind; and it took away all the admiration, and even warmer feelings, he had ever felt for her.
Encouraged by her uncle, and led on to converse by the admiring young man, Mary shone through the evening with a luster that surprised, while it delighted Mr. Hendee.
From that time, Cleveland became a lover. He would not listen to Mary's remaining any longer in seclusion, and much against her will, almost compelled her to accompany him to a large ball, gotten up by the exclusives. She dressed herself in pure white, and presented a sweet contrast with the gaudily attired belles who flaunted about, and sought the admiration she unconsciously won.
"What lovely creature is that on the arm of Cleveland?" asked a young man, coming up to his sister, who was among a bevy of half a dozen young girls.
"Look! Don't you see — near that pillar."
"Oh! yes. That? Why, as I live, that is Mary Wells, my old music teacher! What in the world is she doing here, and with Hartly Cleveland? He cannot know the company he is keeping."
This little bit of news quickly spread through the company, and Cleveland soon found both himself and Mary the subject of observation and remark. And not only so; but actually proscribed — for in endeavoring to make up a cotillion in which he proposed to dance with Mary, the attempt failed, only two or three couples consenting to take the floor.
Deeply incensed at this, he withdrew from the room with Mary Wells, and left the house. Jane was also at the ball, and saw all this — -not without a feeling of pleasure, for now she hoped to regain the attentions she had lost. But she was in error. On the way home, Cleveland offered Mary his hand; which, after reflection and consultation with her uncle and aunt, she accepted.
The wedding party was the largest and most brilliant that had been given for two or three years. The young ladies who had refused to dance a cotillion with the music teacher, somehow or other, forgot the circumstance, and caressed the bride most affectionately. Even Jane could begin to see her real worth, now that it was perceived and acknowledged by others.
The true history of Mary became a subject of general conversation, and those who had looked down upon her as a humble music teacher, now that her real character was seen, lauded her in every way.
We can admire and love virtuous self-denial in others, though we have not the moral courage to go through the trying ordeal ourselves.