Mrs. Edward Leigh
THE DINNER.-THE COQUETTE ANSWERED
I am really afraid that in spite of all my endeavors I shall get to be a flirt again; for to-day I have been flirting, the whole live long day, with-my husband! Has any one any objections? Yes, I am sure Miss Dean has. Well, I cannot help that; he is mine, mine, mine!
Aunt Tabitha sent word of course she would come.-About ten o'clock I went for her, and told her all about Edward's meeting with his old sweetheart, and his description of me. The old lady was indignant, and did precisely as I expected and wished she would do. She asked me to repeat the description. I did so. She muttered to herself: 'False teeth! That suits. A wig! yes, I wear one. Scolds! certainly I can. He has described me as his wife, and it is no more than right that he should claim me as such, for one day only; it would kill me to put on the wife for a longer time than that. Ella, dear, you can take my name for to-day, Miss Leigh, for it suits you better than it does me, and I will be Mrs. Leigh. The children call you Ella, and you know they as often call me mother as any thing else. Your friends you can tell, and it will be quite as easy for the gentlemen to say Miss as Mrs. Leigh, and the ladies all call you Ella any way.'
By this time we had reached the hotel, and sent in our cards. Miss Dean was at home.
Aunt Tabitha, on account of her superior age and gracefulness, as she told Edward, advanced to meet her. Miss Dean was very happy to see Mrs. Leigh. (Aside, 'the fool no wonder she is jealous. But she has a real kind motherly face. Won't I make her heart ache to-day.')
'My niece,' said Aunt Tabitha presenting me.
Miss dean was very happy to meet Miss Leigh. She supposed she was Mr. Leigh's niece?
How I trembled for Aunt's answer.
'No', said she, 'Ella is no blood relation to either of us, although she bears the same name at present' (with a sly laugh, as if I would change it soon.) 'But she was quite a favorite of mine before marriage, and I am sure I like her still better now. Edward thinks she is perfect.'
Miss Dean thought, not quite so jealous as Edward would have me think, if she allows that girl to remain long in the house with him; and turning to me said, 'Do you reside in the city?'
'Yes', answered I, 'Macon has been my home for many long years.'
'Not many years, dear,' said Aunt Tabitha, 'for remember you are some two or three years younger than I am, and we were both born here; I am sure it was not so many years ago.'
Miss Dean expressed a wish to call upon her before she left the city; would it be difficult to find Miss Leigh's home?
'No', answered Aunt Tabitha, 'you will have the pleasure of her company to-day, and at any time you may please to honor us with your company. Ella has lived with Edward ever since his marriage. He would never consent to her living any where else but at his house. And poor fellow he is naturally so sad, I like to see him with lively company to cheer his heart. But come, Miss Dean, it is time to go; make your preparations, my dear, and spend a few days with us, can't you? Edward and Ella too will be delighted to have you do so.'
She replied, 'no I think you Mrs. Leigh it will be impossible for me to do so now, for I expect some friends from Savannah to meet me at the Hotel to-night, so I must be here then. However, I will accept your kind invitation for some other time, and will spend the two or three days with you before I leave the city.'
As Miss Dean left the parlor to get her hat, I clasped Aunt Tabitha's hand, and exclaimed,
"What an actress you are Aunt! I could never, without telling a positive untruth, get around things as you do!'
'Yes, dear,' said she, 'I can act as well as I can scold, but the best part is to come yet. Wait until I get home, and to-day I will show you how to keep house.'
I had prepared four notes, one for each of the gentlemen, and had directed Robert to give them before my friends entered the drawing room, and to request that they should be read immediately.
The ladies I would usher into the dressing room myself, as the impromptu, Mrs. Leigh, would, I knew, devote herself to the stranger guest; but Edward, how in the world could I manage to let him know the change in his household affairs? As Miss Dean then entered the parlor, I could not mention my fears to Aunt Tabitha, and at a venture, not knowing what would be the result, I trusted to chance, and to Aunt Tabitha, to make the important fact known to him.
Kind reader bear with pity, now, my great failing, the only one Edward says that his wife has. When I saw Miss Dean looking so very handsome, for she really was a rare specimen of a woman, and I knew by Edward's own confession, that he once loved her, and as I have not the least vanity about my own personal attractions, I could not help being in a slight degree jealous, so little, as Aunt Tabitha afterwards told Edward, that it only showed itself in my burning cheeks and not in my actions, which served to make me appear remarkably good looking. Friends do you blame me? If any lady has a handsome husband, (and mine is very handsome) she will answer no; indeed it is never pleasant to see one's husband paying much attention to any handsome lady, especially to his old sweetheart.
The gentlemen may draw themselves up in their dignity, and say it is all nonsense; but like the frog in the pond, it may be fun for them, but it is death to us. Let them imagine how they would feel to see their wives devoting themselves to some old beaux, very fine looking, when they, the husbands, are as ugly as sin.
We reached home safely, and at the gate, Tom, the driver, wished to know if mistress, addressing Aunt Tabitha, wanted the carriage during the afternoon. She told him yes, about five o'clock.
As Tom had not been let into our family secret or the change of wives, we considered that a good omen, and that our plan would succeed. The children rushed to the gate to meet us, but on seeing the stranger, they hung back abashed, until I called them to me. They loved Aunt Tabitha very dearly, and held up their little mouths to be kissed. The little one called her, Ma, but the eldest, who was very timid, said Aunty.
Miss Dean caught the word and asked if she was not Mrs. Leigh's child. 'Yes', I answered, 'they are all four Mrs. Leigh's children'; and then Aunt Tabitha came to the rescue. With a toss of her glossy wig, and a smile, which showed her false teeth, gold and all, she said, 'You know Miss Dean it makes a young mother look so old to be called mother but such large children, so these little ones are taught by their father to call me Aunty before strangers.'
I saw Miss Dean mutter between her set teeth. 'Vain too, so I have found a way to gain her heart.'
Soon the company arrived. The ladies were delighted to have a part to play, and the gentlemen were very smiling when they entered the parlor. Miss Ella was kindly greeted, and it required no effort to be extraordinarily polite to Aunt Tabitha, for she is a great favorite.
I was near Miss Dean as the company spoke to Aunt Tabitha, and she could not refrain from remarking, 'What a favorite your Aunt seems to be'!
'Yes', I answered, 'every one loves her.'
'And Edward', she asked then correcting herself, 'Mr. Leigh'?
'Oh', answered I, 'he is devoted to her, she is so kind and good to all around her'. She did not seem very well pleased with my answer, and as I saw Edward coming down the street, I gave my place to Mr. Hunt, who I saw was more than willing to take it, and told Aunt Tabitha.
She placed my hat upon her head, and rushed to the gate to meet him. They always kiss when they meet; so much, so good.
They remained a few minutes at the gate in earnest conversation, and then Aunt, taking Edward's arm, they came to the house lovingly together. The love between the two was so real that their affection did not seem at all counterfeited, although Mr. Hunt declares he heard the word 'disgusting' from some one.
I met them on the steps, and Edward gave me his usual kiss. Miss Dean saw it from her window, and remarked to Mr. Hunt, that Mr. Leigh seemed very fond of Miss Ella.
'Yes', he answered, 'and "thereby hangs a tale." As I see Mr. Leigh coming this way, I will tell you about it, some time during the day." Mr. Hunt had commenced playing the part I had given him.
Edward welcomed his guest with the polite suavity of manners for which he is justly distinguished.
And now Aunt Tabitha commenced playing her part; the jealous wife. She stuck to Miss Dean like wax, when Edward was near her, but suffered him to pay unnoticed, any attentions to me, or any of the other ladies, until she saw, or seemed to see, and feel ashamed of her unjust suspicions, that Edward was not anxious to be with Miss Dean, when she quietly left them alone, and went bustling out to see about dinner.
For the first time in her life, Miss Dean was at a loss for something to say. She hesitated, stammered, and then made to Edward a passing remark about the beauty of the house and grounds, and how tastefully all were arranged, and how well kept they were. She supposed there his exquisite taste was exhibited.
No, he answered, his wife attended to such things, and her taste is unquestionable.
Just then we heard a voice, certainly not as sweet as if from the spirit land, in fierce altercation with Beppo (the dog). The others knew the name, but of course Miss Dean did not. So she was a virago. The voice came nearer, and now we could distinguish the words. 'Go out you dog, and never let me see your face until you can learn to obey my orders. It is from your master's indulgence, and I will not put up with it.'
Poor Edward colored violently, and said in almost a whisper, 'She might have spared me that exhibition of spite.'
Then Miss Dean's tongue was loosed, so Edward told us after she left, and she told him how much she regretted driving him by her unkind treatment, to take such a step as this, and if in any way in the future she could serve to ameliorate his condition, she would gladly do so. She only wished she lived in Macon, so when his house got too warm, he could take refuge with her.
He sighed, and said the past could not be re-called, but he would be happier if he had a bright hope to cheer his lonely way.
She blushed and looked down, but did not answer.
Edward did not wish to be too pointed in his attentions, and gave his place to Mr. Hunt.
How I wished to be near them; but I knew Mr. Hunt would tell me all that was said; and so he did.
They spoke first of Macon; its many handsome residences, and its society in general. Interesting and never-failing topic.
And then Mr. Hunt made some remark about the hostess. What a kind, good, motherly soul she was.
'Yes', Miss Dean thought Mrs. Leigh a very fine looking old lady; but did not Mr. Hunt think the match unequal?
'Yes', he replied, 'it was considered so at first by many, who were well acquainted with both parties. Mr. Leigh, as, perhaps Miss Dean was well aware, was rather a sedate, grave man, while his wife was formerly the leader of a fashionable circle of this place, and was considered a flirt, but every one is now willing to own that the match was an excellent one. Mrs. Leigh has not only sobered down into a plain matter of fact woman, but has succeeded in drawing Mr. Leigh out into the fashionable world. Some times she accompanies him to places of amusement, but oftener you will find her at this pleasant home, surrounded by a few select friends.
Miss Dean could not speak for very amazement. Mrs. Leigh, that old thing, a flirt, as leader of the ton! and really a much loved wife! she could not believe it. 'But please be kind enough to tell me now about Miss Ella', who she would judge, if actions spoke, that Mr. Leigh admired more than he did his wife?
Mr. Hunt looked sad. 'Ah, there Miss Dean you have touched the only thing in this marriage that can be regretted.' So that you can have more charity for the parties, I must go back some years. Mr. Leigh once loved deeply, truly, and devotedly a beautiful flirt.'
Miss Dean started, and became very much interested in his narrative. 'He loved her as his noble nature is capable of loving, and would willingly have lain down his life on her altar. And how do you think she received his worship? She told him that he was too poor for her to marry. He left her, and from that moment, blotted the memory of her forever from his heart and mind. He came home, met Miss Ella, and loved her. Now mark the difference. Although she was devoted to him, she told him that his attractions would win a rich bride; that she could never marry him so long as she was so poor.' That was true; for when Edward first addressed me, I had no property but the little sum Mr. King left me. But before we were married, a wealthy uncle of mine died, and left me quite a snug little estate at my disposal.
'He was driven', so Mr. Hunt continued, 'to the verge of despair and married the rich widow. Ella has made this house her home ever since the marriage. She is now rich, and for many comforts you see here Edward is indebted to her generosity. Her life is one of self-denial, and she lives only for Edward and his children.'[
'But', said Miss Dean, 'I should think Mrs. Leigh would be jealous of her, and that people would talk.'
'Yes," said Mr. Hunt, 'that is the strangest part of the affair. Never has the malicious world touched her name, with its slanderous tongue. Look at her face now, she is speaking to Edward. Think you that pure soul could be guilty of anything wrong? No indeed, the bare possibility of such a thing is preposterous. And as for Mrs. Leigh, she is never contented when Miss Ella is away from this house, and she frequently spends weeks away and leaves Edward and Ella here to attend to the children and keep house. To appreciate Miss Tabitha you must know her well, for she is, without doubt, one of the most noble women that ever lived.'
Miss Dean could not be satisfied. Edward had either deceived her most outrageously or was really unhappy. When she studied the matter over, he had deceived her in one thing at least. She had never seen a better arranged house, or one kept with greater neatness. She longed for dinner to arrive so she could see if the food was nicely prepared. Mr. Hunt led Miss Dean to the piano. She was an elegant performer. Her touch was bold and masculine, while her voice would have suited better the stage than a private parlor. She played some very difficult operatic pieces with brilliant execution. As she finished, dinner was announced, and Edward escorted her into the dining room.
Really my cook had surpassed herself: The soup was exquisite; the fish as fine as it could be; the turkey, chicken, pork, &c., all elegantly prepared, while the extra dishes surpassed them all. And then the dessert, that was really delicious. As praise is allowed in war times, when extra dinners are so unusual, Miss Dean complimented every thing and seemed really to enjoy her dinner. At last she asked Aunt Tabitha to give her a recipe for making some dish she enjoyed very much. Aunt colored and looked confused for a moment, and then boldly confessed that she did not worry herself about the cooking, only to order the articles she wished, that Ella had charge of that department, and would with pleasure instruct Miss Dean in the art.
'Certainly,' I answered, 'with pleasure. After dinner I will write it down for you'; and I did so.
With the wine and dessert, the spirits of all parties seemed to grow more lively, and the conversation became general. Mr. Troy was telling Edward of the marriage of an old friend of theirs. It was a marriage of convenience. The lady was beautiful, but poor, while the gentleman was very old and immensely wealthy.
Mr. Hunt pitied both parties sincerely. Such marriages, he said, could not be productive of happiness.
Miss Dean could not refrain from remarking, that she thought it must be much more unpleasant to be the wife of a man younger than herself. That an old man with a young wife did not seem so strange or disgusting as an old wife with a young husband. That she thought a man ought to be at least ten years older than the lady of his choice.
Edward smiled quietly, and answered, 'yes, in a general case it was so, she was right, but he could cite an instance where a marriage of that kind had been productive of nothing but happiness-his own. He had always thought that he could never marry a widow, or a woman older than himself; (I was just a week the older,) but he had done both, and there was only one thing he regretted about it.
'And what is that?' asked Miss Dean.
'Why', answered Edward, 'that I had not met and married her years ago.'
Miss Dean was silent a few moments, and then led the conversation into a different channel. The whole party seemed to enjoy the good viands and each other's society amazingly. Throughout the whole of Miss Dean's stay, however, there was a deportment visible in her, springing from a compassionate tenderness towards Edward. To these barely perceptible demonstrations he was, apparently, blind. I could not refrain from asking myself, would it be so if they were thrown together away from his home? Aunt Tabitha and I were as kind and attentive to the beauteous stranger as if we had loved her for years; and the usual amount of kissing between old friends was smacked at the door, when the friends of a day parted. Fannie remained after the other guests bade us good day, to tell me that she was engaged to Mr. Hunt's brother. I wish this Mr. Hunt would fall in love with Miss Dean.