Something Suitable:1889

SOMETHING SUITABLE.

By E.B.W.

“Here is your invitation at last, Margaret!” Mrs. Darton exclaimed, as she pushed open the door of the kitchen, where her youngest daughter sat by the table peeling and slicing the apples her sister Mary was converting, -with dough and paste-cutter, into substantial tarts for half-a-dozen hungry school-boys.

“Hurrah!” and Margaret joyfully waved above her head a long, ribbonlike strip of green and crimson peel. “This is good news, mamma! Blessings light on Aunt Bessie for remembering me, though she has been a long time about it.”

“Three weeks,” said Mrs. Darton, smiling at her daughter’s enthusiasm. “It is no more since she landed in England, and I met her at Gravesend. She accounts in this note for her silence. Business detained her in London for a week, since when she has been looking for a house. She has been advised to take one on the south coast till she and her daughters are hardened to our changeable climate; so many years in India makes them dread an English winter.”

Margaret’s face lengthened.

“Is Aunt Bessie going to bury herself in the country? I thought–that is I hoped–she would settle near town.”

“She has decided on a house at Torquay; but, as it will not be ready for her till the end of next month, she proposes spending the interval at Brighton, and you are to go to her there.”

“Brighton in the heart of the autumn season ! Delicious !” ejaculated Margaret, springing up to waltz her mother round the kitchen, attempting to repeat the dance with her laughing sister, who kept her at bay -with the rolling-pin. “What a lucky girl I am to have a rich aunt, good-natured enough to give me such a delightful change! There’s one drawback, and that is leaving home. Why doesn’t she invite you too, mother dear, and Mary?”

“As if I could leave papa and the boys!” cried Mrs. Darton.

“Or as if I could be spared,” added Mary. “At five-and-twenty one feels too sober for much holiday making. I shall have a day’s blackberry-picking with the youngsters, and go to the cathedral town for the choral festival, and to the park for the annual picnic of the townspeople; and that is all the dissipation I care for.”

“Query. Shall I be as content, at twenty-five, as my sister?” asked Margaret, demurely, “Perhaps I shall, if I have an amiable young curate to strengthen my resolves with his praises. Don’t blush, Mary, and don’t menace me with such a dangerous weapon. It might fly out of your hand, and I could not go to aunt Bessie’s with a bruised cheek or a black eye. By the way, what day am I to start?”

“Next Monday. Her maid will meet you at King’s Cross.”

“And I shall say adieu to the flats of Cambridgeshire for one short, sweet, too fleeting month! But oh, mother dear, the great question of all has yet to be discussed. What am I to wear? I should not like to go shabby; but I know you will not be justified in asking papa for money just as he has been at such heavy expense in articling Will to Messrs. Stapylton.”

“It’s all right,” replied Mrs. Darton, cheerfully. ” Your Aunt Bessie thought of this before I did, and promised to send you something suitable to wear.”

Margaret winced, for she was young and proud.

“It’s very kind of her, she murmured, slowly; “but it makes me feel like a pauper.”

“I don’t think you need say that, my dear,” her mother made answer. “Before my sister left England, to become the second wife of Judge Laurence, your father had given her the advantage of his time and talents, and enabled her to get possession of some property withheld by a very knavish attorney. Papa positively refused to be paid for his services, and she remembers this, and rejoices to requite him through his children. She is going to send Maurice to college as soon as he is old enough. I am so thankful; for a country doctor, with a large family like ours, cannot always give his sons as thorough an education as he wishes.”

“If Aunt Bessie is going to be a fairy godmother to the boys, I shall love her dearly. And now to commence preparations for my journey. Don’t laugh. Mistress Mary; there is a great deal to be done. When a lady’s wardrobe is a limited one, it is necessary to make the most of it; and as soon as the ‘something to wear’ arrives that is promised me, we shall have to set to work at dressmaking in right earnest.”

Mrs. Darton referred to the note she held in her hand.

“I forgot to look for a postscript. Oh, here it is! Listen to it. ‘I selected two or three things for your little girl when I was doing my own shopping, and ordered the parcel to be sent off to you directly.'”

“And here comes Carrier Cripps with it!” exclaimed Margaret, with a skip and a jump. “How can you go on, Mary, so placidly rolling out paste, whilst I am in a flutter of expectation?”

Away she ran to meet the little covered cart in which an apple-faced old man jogged to and fro the market-town and the station three times in the week; received from Master Cripps the important package that bore the stamp of a West-End linen-draper, and hurried with it to the dining-room, whither her mother and sister followed her.

Too impatient to untie knots, Margaret cut the string, tore open the brown paper, and then eyed the contents askance.

Were these the fairy gifts she had expected to receive?–the pretty, if not actually expensive, gowns that were to enable her to make a good appearance beside her more fortunate cousins?

What she really found was a roll of stout, serviceable calico for under-garments; a dress-length of coarse, strong navy serge, and another of a neat chocolate cambric, and these were all.

Margaret looked from these things to her silent, troubled mother, and back again, tossed them into a heap, and ran away to throw herself on her bed and weep bitter tears of disappointment.

“I don’t understand it at all,” sighed Mrs. Darton, in confidence to her sympathizing elder daughter. “Unless your aunt thought it would be wiser to make her present plain and useful, than to encourage in Margaret a love of dress, which, in our circumstances, it is more prudent to repress.”

“Perhaps Aunt Bessie dresses very simply herself,” Mary suggested.

“A rich widow, who had discarded her crape when she landed, and is evidently not in the habit of denying herself any luxury! No, no, Mary, my sister Bessie does not clothe herself in coarse serge and common print. But what is to be done? your father will be vexed if this invitation is declined; yet to bid Margaret go, arrayed in a garb that would mark her as the poor relation, I cannot.”

However, Mr. Darton, rendered irritable by overwork and the anxiety of making a small income meet the wants of a large family, angrily pooh-poohed the mothers objections.

“Decline so kind an offer simply because our sister’s good sense prompted her to send useful articles instead of finery! You shall do nothing so foolish. Margaret is to go to Brighton, I insist on it, and let her remember that by behaving rudely or ungratefully she may ruin the prospects of her brothers. If anything should happen to me, pray what friend have you in the world besides Mrs. Laurence?”

“If papa insists, of course I must obey,” said Margaret, gulping down a sob. “And for Maurice’s sake I will try to be civil and all that; but I shall take care not to stay longer than I can help. and wear those horrid things I will not. The serge can be cut into blouses for the boys.”

“But, my dear child, you are so poorly provided for such a visit,” sighed Mrs. Darton.

“Do not I know that, and writhe at the thought of displaying my poverty to my rich relatives! Yet if they were not ashamed to insult it, why should I care? Not even to please papa will I put on Aunt Bessie’s ‘something suitable.'”

And to this resolution Margaret adhered. Her loving mother would have sold a small quantity of lace she possessed, and made a few additions to her daughter’s wardrobe with the price obtained for it, but her purpose was discovered and forbidden. It was, therefore, with a very small amount of luggage–the gray cashmere, just made up for Sunday wear, the dark green worn all last winter, and an Indian muslin embroidered for her by Mary at the beginning of the summer that Margaret went away, to be convoyed to Brighton by the highly respectable, middle-aged woman in black silk and furred mantle, who introduced herself to the young lady as Mrs. Laurence’s personal attendant.

Some of Margaret’s resentment melted beneath the warmth of her reception, for Mrs. Laurence, a handsome, energetic, middle-aged woman, came into the hall to meet her niece, and tell her, with a hug and a kiss, that she was almost as pretty as her mother used to be at her age.

Then she was hurried upstairs, to be introduced to Emma and Marion, sallow, sickly looking girls of thirteen and fourteen, whose time seemed to be spent in ceaseless squabbling with the brisk little French governess, who was endeavoring to arouse them from their indolence.

There was not much companionship to be expected from them, and for the first three or four days after her arrival at Brighton, Margaret scarcely saw her aunt, except at lunch. Mrs. Laurence breakfasted in her own room, came to the luncheon-tray with her hands full of papers, over which she pored, or made notes while she ate a few biscuits. The carriage bore her off directly after, and she merely returned in time to dress for a dinner-party, being overwhelmed with invitations from friends and relatives of her late husband.

Perhaps Margaret preferred that it should be so. She felt no desire to improve her acquaintance with the lady who had made her feel so keenly that she was a poor relation; but, at the same time, she was in no hurry to return home. Gossiping neighbors might whisper that she had been sent back in disgrace; and her father, whom press of work often rendered unjust, would be sure to suspect her of having given way to temper, and forgetting that any act of rudeness on her part might mar the future of those she loved.

So Margaret resolved not to do anything hastily. Mademoiselle, when set free from her duties in the schoolroom, was a vivacious, intelligent companion; and the gaiety of Brighton was as delightful as it was new to the young girl, who had never before left the village in one of the midland counties where her parents resided.

To stroll along the King’s Road, watching the ever-changing groups that came and went; to sit on the pier, listening to the choicest music; or to venture as close to the waves as could be done with safety, and thrill with mingled pleasure and awe as they rolled on; these were amusements enough for such a novice, and the first week of Margaret’s stay in Blank Crescent glided away with astonishing rapidity. But one morning Mrs. Laurence came to luncheon without the usual budget of papers. “At last I am free,” she said to Margaret, “and I shall have time to attend to you. Poor child, how I have had to neglect you! I have had a whole family on my hands,” she proceeded to explain; “a family in which my dear husband, the Judge, was very much interested. I found them out as soon as I got here; and, as two of the sons were going on in a very unsatisfactory way, I suggested their all emigrating; so they start to-morrow. It has been a tremendous undertaking to get them all off with a clergyman who has promised to look after them; but it is done, and I can repose on my laurels and transfer my attentions to you.

“Have you been dull, my love? No? You shall go with me to a conversazione this evening. To-morrow I have a reception here, and a couple of engagements for the following night, both of which include you. Remember, you must be dressed by seven. I have promised to look in at the theater on our way, and see the first act of the new opera. Jones shall get you some flowers and do your hair.”

But Margaret proudly declined the lady’s-maid’s assistance. She did not choose to be under the inquisitive eyes of that important personage while she shook out the skirts of her only evening-gown, and fastened at her throat her only ornament, a bunch of crimson rosebuds. Mademoiselle whispered in her ear that she was toute-a-faite charmante, and Mrs. Laurence, regal in black velvet and lace, and diamond stars, nodded approval of the simple girlish costume.

Nor did Margaret feel as much embarrassed by the inquisitive or admiring glances of a throng of strangers as she had feared she should, for the first face on which her eyes rested was a familiar one.

When Mr. Darton’s family was smaller and his children younger he had taken pupils and was wont to congratulate himself that the students who commenced their medical education under his tuition had invariably turned out well.

The cleverest of them all—Gordon Evrington—was now practicing at London-super-Mare, where he was steadily rising to the top of his profession. It was not often that he could spare an evening for amusement, but he felt himself repaid when he recognized in the graceful little creature, whose eyes sparkled with pleasure at sight of him, the pretty child whose willing slave he had been in the long ago.

Dr. Evrington soon found his way to the back of Margaret’s chair; and if she had some trouble in keeping back her tears when he talked affectionately of her mother, and recalled the scenes and spots so dear to the young girl now she was so far away from them, still she was sorry when a call upon his attention compelled him to leave her.

“But I shall see you again,” he said “I have the pleasure of knowing Mrs Laurence. You will make a long stay with her?”

“Oh! no; I hope not! That is, I think not. I came reluctantly; and though my aunt is kind, I—”

Here Margaret stopped, afraid of saying too much; and Gordon Evrington went away mystified; but determined to see more of one who came nearer to his fancy-portrait of what a maiden of seventeen should be, than the more fashionable young ladies angling so openly for the hand of the clever physician.

Mrs. Laurence, who saw them meet, asked a few questions in her brisk fashion; then, in the important business of going with her daughters to the dentist, appeared to forget Margaret till both were dressed for dinner on the following day, and met on the stairs just as the first guests arrived.

A swift scrutiny may have shown her that the embroidered muslin was not as fresh as it had been, but she made no remark; and by the aid of a good-natured housemaid, who ironed it out, it even passed muster once again; but this third time of wearing was at a juvenile party, and Margaret, whose gaiety and good-nature caused her to be much in request, came home with her once immaculate skirts so smudged and so soiled by the sticky caresses of some of her small admirers, that nothing but the labors of the laundress could renovate it.

And Mrs. Laurence had issued cards for a soiree; Dr. Evrington would be amongst the guests, and Margaret, alas! would have to stay up-stairs, to miss the pleasant chat he had warned her, during a chance rencontre in the street, that he was looking forward to.

If her lips were tremulous that day, and she found it difficult to appear in her usual spirits, no one appeared to notice it. Mademoiselle was suffering with tooth-ache, and, in the hurry and bustle of preparing for so large a party, no one appeared to see that Mrs. Laurence’s pretty niece shut herself in her room early in the afternoon, and had not emerged from it when the guests began to arrive.

It was verging on ten o’clock when Margaret’s door was thrown open and Mrs. Laurence came in. The room was dark, but crouching at the window she saw a little figure, and hurried toward it.

“Why, what does this mean, child? Are you ill? No, your skin is not feverish. Have you had bad news from home? But of course not! You would have told me directly. Then why are you sitting here in this melancholy fashion? I insist on knowing.”

“I should like to go home, aunt Bessie.”

“For what reason? Be frank, and tell me. What, silent? I did not know one of your dear mother’s children could be sullen. However, I can not–will not–leave you moping here.” And Mrs. Laurence rang imperatively for lights. “Now, dress yourself, Margaret, and come down with me.”

“It is impossible, madam, for”– the truth was told with proud reluctance “for I have nothing to wear.”

“Nothing! Did you not have the gowns made up that I sent you? Was there not time? You should have told me so as soon as you came. I am surprised that, your mother–”

“Do not blame her!” cried Margaret. “She would have sold her lace to fit me out respectably, but how could I let her?”

“How, indeed, poor soul! But surely with what I sent you, child, you ought to have done very well. Where are those dresses? Of course you brought them with you unmade? No! What is the meaning of this? Were you too proud to accept my gifts, or was your vanity wounded by their simplicity? You do not reply. You are beginning to make me feel ashamed of you! How can you display such temper such ingratitude? I bought for you, as I would for my own daughters, and–”

But now Margaret broke in impetuously:

“And would you have had me appear before your guests to-night in coarse serge, or a calico gown?”

“What are you saying?” exclaimed her aunt, looking positively startled. “I begin to think there has been some mistake. I purchased for you a cream surah and pale blue nun’s veiling to be made up for evening wear, a dinner-dress of biscuit cashmere, and a pretty stripe for walking. Did you not receive them?”

Then Margaret described the contents of the package she had received, and Mrs. Laurence threw herself into a chair, and laughed long and heartily.

“My dear, you must forgive me,” she said, when she could speak, “for it is not I who have been in fault, but the shopman, who has evidently put the wrong addresses on the parcels intrusted to him to dispatch. When I was shopping I bought that serge, etc., for a young girl for whom I had procured a situation. I knew she was flighty and had a bad mother, who would have spent the sum I promised for her outfit in useless finery; so I very prudently, as I thought, laid it out myself. And now I can account for the rapturous tone of the letter of thanks I have received, and the assurance that the lovely things that I have sent Sarah Dobbs will make quite a lady of her. What must her mistress have thought of me? And you too, poor child! Now I can understand why you have shrunk from me and not seemed happy here.”

Margaret spent the rest of that evening in her room, but it was in a very different state of mind. She had no more reservations from Aunt Bessie, and not only stayed willingly at Brighton till Mrs. Laurence moved to Torquay, but accompanied her thither.

Only for a brief term, however. Dr. Evrington has won from her a promise to be his, and ere long he will seek his bride at the house of her father, Aunt Bessie having promised, ‘midst laughter and tears, to give her “something suitable,” both for her dowry and her trousseau.

The Daily Republican [Monongahela PA] 19 June 1889: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One does so like a happy ending, especially when a young woman has not only been bitterly disappointed in the contents of a parcel, but finds the weight of her brothers’ fortunes resting squarely on her embroidered-muslin-clad shoulders.

The contrast of dress materials for “lady” and “servant” is a sobering one. Still, one fears for the flighty Sarah Dobbs in that pretty stripe for walking….

 

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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