THE TWO VALENTINES
By Mary Forman
“It is such a bother to be poor!” There had been a long interval of silence in Mrs. Jameson’s little sitting-room, when Gertie made this exclamation. “What is the new bother, Gertie?” The pleased voice and look of kindly inquiry made the young girl blush deeply, as she replied:— “O mamma, never mind. I was only thinking aloud.” “Thinking of what?” “Of some velvet flowers I saw yesterday at Lee’s, which just matched this ribbon,” and Gertie held up a bonnet she was trimming. “Velvet flowers are so lovely for a winter bonnet, and this one needs something.” “I am sure it looks very nice , Gertie.” “Nice !” said the girl, with scornful emphasis; “yes, it is very nice , and that turned silk is nice , and the short sack made out of your old cloak is nice , and cleaned gloves are nice , and” —
“Why, Gertie!” cried her mother, in a voice of amazement.
“But there is nothing stylish or handsome in cleaned gloves, and retrimmed bonnets, and old cloaks turned into sacks, and so I say poverty is a bother.”
“Gertie, put away the bonnet, and come here. Now, little daughter,” said the widow, gently, “tell me the meaning of this sudden tirade against poverty; of the restless tossing I heard from your room last night; of the nervous unquiet of my contented little girl since yesterday?”
There was no answer.
“Gertie, what did Leon Payne say to you last evening?”
“He asked me to be his wife.” The words were jerked out, hastily.
“And you answered…”
“Jane came in to shut up the parlor, not knowing he was there, and she stayed; so he had no answer at all.”
“But he must be answered, Gertie. He has spoken to me, and I told him it must rest with you.”
“Mamma!” this was after a long, deep silence. “He is very rich. When he marries, his wife can have very luxury. If— if it is me, we can have you with us, and Jane need not teach in that horrid school any longer. We were on—– Street the other day, and stopped to look in a jeweller’s window , and he pointed out the kind of jewels he would wish his wife to wear. I need not wear old silks then, mamma!”
“Then you intend to accept his offer?”
“I don’t know. You see, there is Harry.”
“But Harry cannot offer you jewels .”
“No, poor Harry! If he had only three thousand dollars, Mr. Ingraham would take him into the firm. He told me all about it last week. But think how long it will take him to save three thousand dollars, and of course his wife must save, and pinch, and economize, till he is able to spend more freely.”
“Yes, dear, there would be no variation on the turned cloth and retrimmed bonnets; no velvet flowers, no jewels .”
“But such a noble, true heart; such tender love!”
“Leon Payne loves you.”
“As much as he loves anything beyond his own pleasure and comfort. He is so thoroughly selfish, so hard, and thinks so much of himself. It is his wife that must be handsomely dressed, ride in her carriage, and reflect credit upon his choice. Mamma, he loves me because I am pretty and can sing well, and can manage his house nicely. Harry loves me because it is me .”
There was a sudden violent jerk at the door bell at that instant, that called Gertie to the door. She came back with flying feet. “Two Valentines, mamma! I had forgotten it was the fourteenth!”
“Yes! O mamma, look!” She had torn off the cover from a dainty package in her hand, and opened a morocco case inside. Upon the black velvet lining lay a parure of glittering diamonds flashing up where a stray sunbeam fell upon them into a glorious sea of color. “Leon Payne!” cried Gertie. “Are they not exquisite?”
Mrs. Jameson’s lip quivered a little as she looked at her daughter’s flushed face and bright eyes, and her heart sent up a silent but fervent prayer for the future trembling before her eyes. “Look at the other,” she said, quietly.
“Only a copy of verses,” said Gertie. “Violet eyes, and all that sort of thing. But, are not these diamonds magnificent? It is the very set I admired so much when we were out the other day.”
“Gertie, it is eleven o’clock, and I must go to Mrs. Lewis’. Little daughter, you may have callers while I am out;” she drew her child into her arms, and looked with anxious love into her eyes, “Gertie, my darling, be true to your own heart.” And so she left her.
True to her own heart. Gertie Jameson sat down to ponder over the words. The diamonds flashed out their glorious waves of light before her eyes; the copy of verses lay open upon the little work-table, and Gertie sat musing.
Pictures of the past came in rapid succession into her memory. It was ten years ago, but she could still remember the day, since her father had been called to the shadow land. The luxurious country home where she and Jane, her elder sister, were born was sold, and they had come to the city. Her mother, one of the finest amateur pianists of her time, had begun to teach music, and they had lived upon her earnings, until Jane was old enough to take the French class in a large seminary, and Gertie to have singing scholars at home; but even with these additions, their income was very limited. Close economy, self-denial, humble fare, and quiet dress, Gertie could recall much more distinctly than the wealth her father had squandered and lost.
Where did Harry Clarke come upon the scene? Gertie scarcely knew. He was a step-son of her mother’s brother, and had come to the city to make his fortune. Far away in the central part of Pennsylvania nestled a small farm where Harry was born, where father and mother had died, and which was the boy’s sole patrimony. The rent of this domain scarcely sufficed to clothe the young clerk, but he had been winning his way in the house of Ingraham & Co., and now, if he could make three thousand dollars, might be a partner. The farm might sell for part of that sum, but where was the rest to come from? queried Gertie. Yet, over Harry’s memory picture the little maiden lingered lovingly. There was no part of her life so pleasant to dwell upon as that where he figured. Long walks and talks, duets over the old piano, chats by fire-light, moonlight, and gas-light. He was so tender and loving, so honorable and true; so respectful to her mother, so tender to Jane, and so ready to advise or assist Jane’s betrothed, a fellow clerk, who was waiting the turn in fortune’s wheel that would enable him to marry. Was not such love as he offered worth any sacrifice?
Leon Payne came in only six months before this musing fit fell upon Gertie. She had met him at a musical party. She had bewitched him by her pretty, piquant beauty, her grace and her voice; he had dazzled her by his handsome face— Harry was not handsome, poor fellow, Gertie sighed— and wealthy. But the young girl knew with a woman’s intuition, that under the courtly manner, flattering attentions, and devoted air, there was a hard, selfish nature, a cruel jealousy, and a suspicious and hot temper. Yet, he was so rich, and Gertie knew all the torture and mistery of genteel poverty.
“Be true to my own heart!” She said the words aloud, as she rose and walked across the room. “Do I love Leon Payne? If he should lose his wealth, would I be a true, loving wife to him still? Could I wear old bonnets and turned dresses for his sake?” She took up the diamonds, and put them on while she spoke. They flashed brilliantly against the deep crimson of her neat dress, and heightened the effect of her young, fresh beauty. “If he were poor and ill, could I work for him as— as I could do for Harry?” It burst from her lips in a sort of cry, and she tore off the jewels and replaced them on their velvet bed. “I could bear all this for Harry, but not for Leon Payne. I will be true to my own heart.”
The winter was gliding into spring, when Mrs. Jameson sat in a luxurious house on —– Street, waiting the home coming of two brides. The parlor in which she waited was richly furnished. Velvet carpets covered the floors, velvet curtains draped the windows, long mirrors threw back the light of large chandeliers, costly pictures in heavily gilt frames hung upon the walls. Above, large bed-rooms were filled with handsomely appointed furniture. In one room laces, velvets, flowers, and silks fit for a royal trousseau , filled drawers and wardrobe; the dining-room was spread for a rich and varied repast, and the widow’s own dress, though only black silk, was rich and handsomely made.
“My little Gertie,” said Mrs. Jameson, softly, “how will she reign over this palace?” A quieter home, but pleasant, too, was waiting for Jane, whose husband had received an anonymous gift, that enabled him to accept a business opening long looked upon as an unattainable felicity. But Jane was to spend a few days with Gertie before going to her own home, and the mother looked for two brides, as I said before.
It was nearly midnight when the carriage drove up. Gertie was first in her mother’s arms, and then, as Jane took her place, the little bride stood in the centre of the long parlors pale with astonishment. She had tossed off her bonnet, and the simple straw lay upon the velvet carpet, while the soft gray dress of the mistress of the house seemed oddly out of place.
“Where am I?” she gasped, at last.
“At home , darling.” And her husband passed his arm round her waist. “Home!” “It is not a very long story,” he said, looking down into her wondering eyes; “but I did not tell you before because I wanted to see if you loved me .”
She nestled close to him, letting her head fall upon his bosom. “The farm, Gertie,” he said, softly, “was full of oil.” “Oil?” “Petroleum! I sold it for more money than Leon Payne ever possessed. Now, pet, run up stairs, mother will show you the room, and let me see how some of the finery there suits you.”
“But it is nearly midnight.” “Never mind. We want a queen to preside over the supper.”
Mrs. Jameson led her away, while Jane and her husband stood as bewildered as Gertie had been. Suddenly the bridegroom started forward to grasp Harry’s hand.
“Then it was you ,” he said, “who sent me the bundle of greenbacks?” “Are we not brothers ?” said Harry, quietly. There was a little talk then, with husky voices and moist eyes, and Jane was still looking gratefully into Harry’s face, when the door opened and Gertie flashed in. All the light had come back to her eyes, the rich color to her cheeks; and the shining silk revealed snowy arms and shoulders, while rich lace fell in full folds round the sweeping skirts. Upon her clustering curls rested a wreath of white flowers, and rare bracelets clasped her wrists. She made a low reverence to her husband.
“Lovely!” he cried. “But, pet, wear the diamonds to-night.”
“The ones I sent you for a Valentine.”
“You sent me! Harry! I sent them back to Leon Payne.”
It was certainly ten years later, when one evening at one of Mrs. Clarke’s receptions, Mrs. Leon Payne said to her, pointing to her jewels:— “It was the oddest thing about these diamonds. Somebody sent them to Leon for a Valentine, years ago. He could never guess where they came from, for of course the lady must have been wealthy; though why she sent a lady’s parure to a gentleman is a mystery. Are they not lovely, Mrs. Clarke?”
“Very lovely,” and Gertie smiled, as she thought of the day ten years before, when she was true to her own heart .
Godey’s Lady’s Book February 1867
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is certain that all of her readers will take this salutary Valentine lesson to their bosoms: Always be true to your heart! It would also not do any harm to have a quiet geological survey done of the Beloved’s rustic farm.
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 anecdotes
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.