His Only Child. Mr Doty’s Scheme for Retaining His Only Daughter, Charles Dana Gibson
MY DAUGHTER MINNIE
A few years ago—well, it is not less than forty—my little home flock was led, in the matter of years, by my daughter Minnie— a pretty name, I always thought. Minnie was a good child, and being the first born, was half maternal in her management of the latter comers, even down to little “Pigeon,” the latest and tiniest of all.
The picture of Minnie is just as fresh in my memory as though the forty years which have simmered and evaporated since, had been weeks instead. But it is a father’s eye that looks over these years at Minnie, and the beauty may be half fancy—a sort of affectional illusion. Those who love are transparent, if you know—we who imagine it is surface tint and surface light of which we are thinking.
This much I know, Minnie was the best, most affectionate and wildest of daughters —one of those spirited but industrious little creatures upon whose enterprise and tact the greatest and strongest of us will involuntarily lean.
‘Minnie, shall I want five or six breadths in this skirt?’ her mother would say.
Looking up, with just a little knitting of the forehead, after a moment’s thought Minnie would answer:
‘I think five will do, mother;’ and five it was.
I can hear, even now, the voice of Minnie’s mother–she has been gone twenty years, dear heart!—calling from the head of the stairs:
‘What shall we have for dinner to-day?’
‘You are tired, mother; let’s have a little ham and some eggs, with some peas from the garden, and bread.’ That settled the bill of fare.
And so it was through the livelong day; for in all the domestic policy Minnie, though only prime minister, possessed regal power.
At this time—these forty years ago—I was, of course, in the prime of life, and full of the cares and responsibilities which cluster and cling to one’s manhood.
I was largely engaged in the active business, received some light evidences of public confidence, saw a large family coming up about me—from all of which my natural positiveness and force of character received more or less strengthening.
One night, when the last candle had been extinguished and all was hushed, my wife said, with some anxiety of tone.
‘Husband, I feel uneasy about our Minnie.’
‘Minnie? Why, what is the matter? Is she sick?’
‘No; she isn’t sick, but—’
‘But what, wife?’
‘Why, Minnie is—I mean, she seems to be—well, I’m afraid she likes Jemmy Brun.’
‘Jemmy Brun! She’d better not.’ And I leaped to the floor and walked to the window. ‘Jemmy Brun and our Minnie!—a pretty match!’
‘I was afraid you would be disturbed, dear; but don’t take it so much to heart husband. I dare say we can put a stop to it.’ And motherly sobs came from the pillow.
‘Put a stop to it! I guess I will. Jemmy Brun and our Minnie!—I guess I will put a stop to it.’
And who was Jemmy Brun? A young man of some twenty-two years’ residence in the neighborhood, of good habits as far as I know, but altogether and diametrically opposed to my taste, to my ideal of manliness. I had always worshipped business tact and enterprise.
It had taken me, when a penniless boy, and brought me up through numberless difficulties to a position of influence. That which was found in my nature when young, was thus nourished and rooted through all the after years of struggle ripening into triumph.
The young man was of literary turn of mind; and taught in an academy; was a writer, it was said, for one or two periodicals. There was an air of sentiment about him, in his looks and manners, which came precisely within the scope of my contempt. I had known it in others—in strong business men—this utter contempt for the least possible manifestations of sentiment; for those unthrifty fellows who have never an eye or business, but hang upon the skirts of thought, clasp imagery, and ride upon rhythm. You may see it now every day in commercial antagonism of fact and fancy—of the figures which dot the pages of the ledger and those which illumine the lines of the poet. ‘The muses frowned on me,’ said a German poet, ‘for keeping account books.’ Undoubtedly. Nor is the knight of the balance sheet less intolerant toward those miserable fellows whose entire stock in trade can be stored within a very little cavity just behind the frontal bone.
My good wife had a time of it cooling me down, and prevented the adoption of most violent measures. Even when I had formally surrendered to her superior discretion, I chafed by times like a bear in harness. If wife had not been almost a Rarey [a famous horse whisperer] in fact, I should certainly have broken into plunging even sooner than I did.
Minnie was taken one day into solemn conference by her mother, with only pussy in the doorway as auditor. But the child, though she blushed very much, moved about from seat to seat, and tore pieces of paper into bits, declared that she was heart whole yet—as why shouldn’t she be?—for Jemmy Brun had never said a word to her which any man might not have said to any maiden. So wife and I got easy again.
But what should I see, one evening at twilight, while sauntering out under the shadows of my own grove of forest oaks, not far from the house, but two figures “flitting hither and thither among the distant trees.’ Like a knave, as I was, I sat on the ground and watched them; watched them nervously, glaringly, till I saw Jemmy Brun give Minnie a kiss on her lips, and looked lovingly after her as she slipped away.
I was reclining upon the sward by her path. Determined to meet and confront them, I sat and watched her coming.
Certainly Minnie’s face never wore that expression before. It was not gleeful, but it was radiant, and her eyes which were on the ground, and hence only visible as she came very near me, had a light and depth which I never saw before. She passed me: so utterly was the child absorbed in her own emotions.
‘Minnie!’ I said, in a tone which startled myself scarcely less than my child.
‘Oh!’ and she sprang from the path as though the sound had been a rattle among the grass.
I raised myself slowly—I am very slow when very angry, and standing stiffly before her glowered down into her eyes—Minnie’s beautiful, living eyes—with a sternness which had never failed to terrify. But the child, though she trembled like an aspen at first, brought her father’ s angry face with great composure.
I shall not repeat the words that followed; they never must be written; and would to God they had never been spoken!
Minnie had given him her heart, and would give her hand. How could she help it? Even her father’s anger would not prevent her fulfilling her word; for was not Jemmy Brun worthy, and was not her father’ s anger unreasonable and unjust? All this she said to me with the deep calmness of a perfect heroine, while I stood there almost as much astonished as angry.
“Wife, it’s all up with Minnie,” said I, striding into the sitting room, and breaking in upon a most delightful afternoon reverie, only relieved by the solemn ticking of the clock and the busy click of the knitting needles.
“Lord! what’s the matter?” and the ball of yarn rolled across the floor, while a flower pot on the window fell, spilling and crashing on the bricks outside, “there goes the flower pot—tell me quick—you look as pale as a sheet,”
‘Minnie has promised to marry that scapegrace in spite of us; she says she will to me, in the face of my absolute commands.’ Thereupon I walked the floor, wife staring at me the while. ‘I’ll never forgive her— never!’
‘Husband, stop and think. He—’
‘I won’t stop and think. I say I’ll never forgive her; and I won’t. Call her in.’
Wife left the room in search of Minnie. At length they came; both tearful. We sat down together, a constrained group; Minnie very tearful, but very sweet and beautiful. The interview was short, and these were the closing words:
‘Father, I have always been a dutiful child—you will do me that justice. But I love this man. You grant that his character is unimpeachable, but you forbid our marriage because you have a prejudice against him. I love and honor you, father . You cannot doubt that; but in this case I must follow the dictates of my own heart.’
‘Do so, if you will; but remember, your father will never forgive you.’
Thus ended the interview, wife sobbing distressfully, Minnie weeping quietly, and I sitting grim and angry.
Minnie kept her word and became the wife of Jemmy Brun.
I did not forbid them the house, as most angry fathers are said to do, but I told Minnie again that she had lost my love and care. Then I was so foolish as to see Jemmy Brun; and in a very silly speech inform him that since he was taking my daughter from her father without his consent, he need expect no gifts or favors now or henceforth. She would not be allowed to share in the family inheritance, nor should I render the least assistance if they ‘should come to want.’ I shall never forget the queer look the young man gave—a glance in which pride seemed almost vainly struggling with a cluster of mirth sparkles.
‘Very well, sir, we will try not to “come to want.” That was all he said; but the cool, self-possession of his manner made me feel as though I had undertaken to drive a nail and had pounded my fingers.
I had always been demonstrative toward my children—the elder as well as the younger Minnie had never lost her right to her father’s knee, nor did she ever meet me in the morning or part from me at night without a kiss. This was denied her now. Poor child! It was the sorest trial of all. Once or twice she clung tearfully to me in my sternness, and reaching up to clasp my neck with her white arms, tried to bend my lips to hers. No, I promised her never a kiss while I lived.
Women are strange creatures. There was my wife, who had entirely sympathized with me, as I supposed, absolutely giving aid and comfort to our recreant daughter. I verily believe that long before the wedding day came she was as thoroughly interested in the whole affair as though Minnie had been about to marry the best business man in town. Little use was it for me to tighten my purse strings and direct that the child should have no marriage outfit of wardrobes, pillowcases, counterpanes and the thousand and one et et ceteras in which mothers take such pride and pleasure.
In spite of me, but surreptitiously, Minnie was well provided for, I am sure. I remember that the shopman’s bills for some ten months thereafter seemed unusually full, both in number of items and footing of column; and I shrewdly suspect that my wife had arranged, with the tradesman to have the articles scattered along through the months. She was always a good financer.
The ceremony was performed in church, I was present, lest my absence should give too much great notoriety to the family jar. Useless. The whole town having long since been made acquainted with the state of affairs, the bride’s beauty and the bride-groom’s popularity, set many eyes on me with a sparkle of criticism in them.
‘He needn’t look so savage like,’ muttered a gruff old yeoman behind me; ‘there ain’t a likelier young fellow anywheres hereabout than Jemmy Brun; an’ though Minnie be purty as pink, it’s a good match, I say—a real even bargain—so.’
Long, long months went by after the marriage, tedious, unhappy months for me. I knew I was being soured by this self-imposed restraint on the affectional part of my nature. Minnie came to her old home sometimes. Once or twice she begged for the return of the old love, the old home kiss. No. My daughter was happy in her husband, happy in her home. But I saw very plainly that the bliss of the old home was lost to her.
Nearly two years went back into the past, shadowed in this manner, when a little human blossom was laid in its cradle. A little struggling wee thing—another Minnie. Poor me! Here was another influence to be stemmed, as boats stem another wave and another gust. But I braced myself; and when I had been forced into Minnie’s chamber, stood over the poor child with the little one on her arm, and heard the faint voice add to the sweetly beseeching look, ‘do kiss me, father !” I shook my head and went out.
One day a strange change came over the young mother, alarming the experienced, and giving to the physician that ominous air of grave mystery which strikes into the soul of the loving. I moved about, full of fear and guilty distress. The symptoms became more and more alarming—she was sinking. I was called to her bedside, as that of my first dying child. As I bent over the white face, almost translucent with meekness illuminated, by eyes all undimmed by illness, my Minnie gave me an old time glance of love, and throwing up her hands as if to clasp my neck, said faintly, but oh! so earnestly—
‘Kiss me father!’
I bent down to my daughter, my first-born, and we wept long together—the strong father and the faintly breathing child.
What do you think Minnie did? Why, she got well again, and in two months was as musical as a lark, and as gay, looking after the little Minnie like a pretty mother as she was.
However, the ice was fairly broken, and I was my old fatherly self ever after. Minnie even ventured, after a time, to make merry at my expense, over the fact that not only was Jemmy Brun the best of husbands, but of the well-known American writers.
I think I was a very great fool.
The Vincennes [IN] Gazette 15 December 1860
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is inclined to agree with the gentleman. But how delightful it is to find a self-important Victorian paterfamilias owning himself in the wrong! Perhaps Mrs Daffodil is too suspicious, but she suspects a certain collusion between Minnie, Mama, and the doctor. And why not? A little innocent deception may lead to happy endings all round. Mrs Daffodil wishes all of her readers who are doting Papas, a very happy Father’s Day.
A comical post for a previous Father’s Day may be found here, and a tragic one (Mrs Daffodil will warn her readers that the story is utterly heart-rending) here.
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.