Mrs. Edward Leigh
CATOOSA SPRINGS IN 1856. THE VOLUPTUARY. MY MARRIAGE.
While I was carrying on these last three or four flirtations, I was considering what answer I should give to Walter King. I did not love him, and I told him so. That made no difference, he said, he did not require love on my side. He said I needed a friend, adviser, and protector, and he would prove himself worthy of the trust. He believed he could win my love after marriage. His family, I knew, was good, and urged on by the importunities of my Aunt, to marry Henry Peyton, I accepted Walter King; although even then I had no idea that I would marry him, trusting to some occurrences, which, I doubted not, would break off the engagement in due time.
During my engagement, I flirted more than ever, for the engagement lasted some months. I visited during the summer, some two or three places of fashionable summer resort, and there of course formed many new friends, and added a considerable number to my list of conquests. Certainly no man with a discriminating taste, would seek a wife, at the Springs. There, woman is seen in her most artificial, not to say, depraved phase. Their domestic tastes, and habits, their kind noble hearts, and in truth all that forms the true woman is left at home. There you see the empty casket, for no real woman would carry her heart, her only jewel, to be recklessly sold and bought, by the light-headed fops, and the cool, deliberate speculators, who frequent such places, to draw prizes from the matrimonial lottery.
Many of them laid down their hearts, so they said, to be my playthings, and I used the dainty toys, with some times too rough a touch. Once during the summer, I found I had reckoned without my host.' Charles Lowe, was a perfect Epicurean. His taste was perfect in regard to women, wine, and good eating. He chanced to fancy me, and I humored his fancy. He was from New Orleans, and inherited the impassioned nature from the French Creoles, from whom he was descended, although he certainly did not inherit the beauty of the race. Still, he was a large, fine looking man, with a commanding form. I became engaged to him during the first week of our acquaintance. He frequently insisted that I should kiss him. I refused each time, but promised that his wish should be gratified, before I left the Springs, with no idea of fulfilling my promise.
And now, my young friends, let me warn you, never promise when you feel, at the time, you do not intend to perform. In after years, that disappointed man will be tempted to say to his friends, There is a Lady in whose word no confidence can be placed.' Far better still, never make such a promise; but if made, better violate it, for a man can never have an exalted opinion of a woman who allows him, especially at a place of summer resort, to take even the slightest liberty with her.
Who does not remember the summer of 1856, at Catoosa Springs? I am sure the young remember it for the enjoyment, and the old for the shock given to their modesty, and sense of decorum, by the thoughtless conduct of the gayest and most frivolous throng, myself included, that were ever assembled there.
During the last week of my stay, the grand Tournament and Fancy Ball took place. Two Knights of the Ring kindly offered to lay their honors at my feet, if successful. But thinking that one might be the victor, I declined his proffered allegiance, as I had no wish to be Queen of the Ball, although I did not object to be called Queen of hearts. The other I had no idea would win one laurel, and he entered the lists wearing my colors.
Imagine my astonishment and consternation, when I heard him proclaimed a successful rider, and I was one of the maids of Honor. I could not refuse to act, and bore, with the best possible grace, the chagrin of my distinction.
Night came, clear, bright and beautiful. Fortune certainly favored us. Every thing looked beautiful to young, loving and unsophisticated eyes; and strange as it may seem, you may find such oddities even at the Springs, if you look beneath the surface.
The particolored lanterns which danced upon the trees, moved by every passing breeze, and the murmuring of the water in the yard, imparted magic to the scene. The planet Jupiter came up in the East soon after dark, and ascended to the zenith while the dance went on. While the beautiful forms gaily arrayed in fancy dresses, made it indeed a night long to be remembered. It is well that the young are not very critical in their tastes, and are satisfied with the mock article, where true gold cannot be found; for too true, alas, is the saying, All is not gold that glitters.' I remember but little about the dresses, but think there was one Night', two or three Flower girls,' a Juliet' and some eight or ten other characters. I personated Morning', while a gay married lady assumed the dress of Evening.' Our dresses were exactly alike, except one was pink, and the other was blue. Upon our heads were the morning and evening stars, while our dresses were bespangled with the minor jewels of the night. I describe these dresses, so the reader can imagine how conspicuous they would be, even in the darkest portion of the house; for it was all well lighted. Charles Lowe had been insisting for some days that I should give him a final answer, and I had promised to do so this night. He was very jealous, and even disliked to see me dance with any one but himself, and begged me to go with him to the piazza, where we could have a few moments' private conversation. He enveloped my head in a light shawl, for he was very careful, and thoughtful of my health; and placed chairs for us in the distant end of the piazza, where but one lantern was burning. There he poured into my excited ear, his impassioned tale of love; and there in the obscurity resembling twilight, he knelt like a knight of old to his lady love, and prayed that his suit should be accepted; and it was accepted. Then he prayed that I should seal the compact with a kiss. I could not, I said, bestow that privilege upon him, until our union was consented to by my parents. My hand was clasped in his, one arm encircled my waist. I felt the violent beating of his voluptuous heart, and was so dazzled by the magic of the scene, or intoxicated by the strength of his love, that I forgot myself, and before I was aware of it, my head was resting, unresisting, upon his handsome shoulder, while the arm grew tighter around my waist; and then thank God! the rustling of a dress and the sight of the bright planet above mentioned, re-called me to myself. I sprang from my seat, and called to the lady. She stood by my side in a moment the last woman in the world, had my choice been free, that I would have selected to call upon at such a moment; but I was thankful for any interruption. Charles, nothing daunted, turned defiantly to her and said:
Madam your interference is unsolicited. Ella is my promised bride; she has promised to give me a kiss, and by all that is sacred, and in defiance of heaven or hell, I will have it!' I had tried in vain to release my hand from his iron grasp, and now he drew me towards him, and in an instant had pressed upon my head, eyes, and lips, a dozen passionate and unholy kisses. I freed myself from his arms, and stamping my foot like a fury, exclaimed:
Mr. Charles Lowe, now hear my vow. I swear by all that is sacred never to be your wife; and for your comfort let me now tell you, that I am engaged to marry a man, who at least respects me, and who would, with one word from me, blow out your worthless brains, in the twinkling of an eye.' He strove to clasp me in his arms again, but I eluded him, and sprang into the open door, leaving him to make friends with the lady, with whom I afterwards learned he was almost too intimate; and that impelled by jealousy, she had followed us, just in time to hear his confession of love, and then, prompted by the little womanly generosity left in her heart, at my cry for help, she flew to my rescue. The Ball room had no charms for me, and I retired early in disgust. The next morning, I left for home; and from that day to this I have never heard of Charles Lowe.
On my return home, I received visits from a particular friend of my father's, a young widower, who had lost his wife during my stay at school. He said that I resembled his lost spouse, and then looked as mournful as if the crape on his hat was quite black, instead of being faded and old as the decaying leaves of autumn. I looked doleful too, and tried to console him; and then after he would leave the house, I would invariably make all manner of sport of him, to Father and Mother, until, as soon as they could, for laughing, they would order me to my room. I obeyed when I wished to do so. One of my little sisters was a remarkably bright child, a close observer of every thing, and remembered all she heard and saw. One day the Captain made a remark, that I had frequently repeated exactly as he did. My sister commenced laughing at this, and continued until she had no control of herself. Capt. Black asked her what she was laughing at, and like a little goose she answered,
Why sister Ella can say that big word just exactly like you do, and then Pa and Ma always laugh just as much as I am laughing now.' Capt. Black retired, in disgust, from that siege, never to resume it again.
Walter King had already asked, and gained the consent of my parents, and the time drew near for our marriage. How heavy was my heart! no iron could have been so hard and cold; but I had chosen my path, and felt compelled to walk in it. I would do so proudly, and, even to the end, no one should see my footsteps falter. I was married at the appointed time resignedly. Let me now draw a veil over all my wedded life, except my flirtations. Suffice it to say, that Walter King was at times as good and kind a husband, as any one could wish, and was always a devoted father to our children. Some times I even felt thankful to Providence that I had married him; but one word, gentle maiden never, never marry a man you do not love, hoping you may learn to love him after marriage. Marriage far oftener extinguishes genuine love which existed previously, than calls into being that which had no prior existence.
the day after my marriage, I received the following letter from my first
and only love:
do you swear if this letter had reached you a week ago, that you would
have married me, instead of this man?' I swear it,' I answered.
I had been reared a woman of the world and was totally unfit to be a wife, and mother. Thoughtless, gay, and ignorant. Often had Aunt Lucy said to my father,
Calvin you are rearing that child in such a way, that she can know literally nothing of sewing, cooking, housekeeping &c. All so essential to the comfort and happiness of a family.'
Lucy, I do not agree with you,' he would say, the lot of married women has many troubles. Let Ella enjoy herself while she can, and I will vouch for the truth of this statement: when the daughter of her mother, and my child, is compelled to attend to such things she will be no disgrace to the family.'
He was right in my case, for he knew that pride, if nothing else, would prompt me to excel. I was naturally inquisitive, and curiosity impelled me to find out from old house-keepers, their different methods of making clothing or preparing many nice dishes. My husband soon became justly proud of my reputation as a house-keeper, and would frequently invite his friends to try something excessively tempting, that I had been preparing for my table. At times I felt deeply my deplorable ignorance, and was almost discouraged at my first failure.
Walter laughed, and so did Aunt Lucy, for I had refused her offers of assistance in preparing the ruined dish; but mother King kindly told me not to give up trying, she was sure I would succeed, and then told me of many ridiculous blunders she made during her first year of married life. And now, she frequently says that although her daughters are notable house-keepers, she is obliged to own that Ella can make the neatest garment, and can get up the most elegant dinner, or supper, out of nothing, she ever saw. Still it was a slow, pains-taking, and disgusting process.
Mothers, teach your children such things, before they are unaided, called upon to take charge of a family. Not only by showing them, but by letting the children make a trial by themselves. If they fail, and it is ten chances to one that they will, patiently tell wherein the fault lies, and give them a chance to remedy the failure, by making a second, third, or even fiftieth trial. Your children will, always, remember the kindness, and in future years thank and bless you for it.
It was very gay in Macon during the first winter of my marriage, and, as a bride, I was drawn into a perfect vortex of fashionable folly. But I enjoyed it vastly. Walter was away from home on business, a great portion of the time, and I flirted constantly, for lack of better employment. I sought forgetfulness of the painful and dreary past, in threading the difficult and dangerous labyrinth of the affections of men, so easy to excite, so hard to baffle, and like the angler, to the end of which, I would cautiously allow them to make their uncouth, or graceful gambols, as the case might be. When I saw they were going too far, I would draw the line gently in. Like a menagerie keeper, I would sometimes stroke the bristling manes of my excited lions, most soothingly, and sometimes punch their ribs through the bars, with a poker, till their fury knew no bounds. When their excitement became too intense, I would close up the cage by the darkness of my displeasure, and if that did not tame them, I could easily dismiss them, forever, from my pageant.
When I thought a man worth my friendship, I would so act, that when he found my love could not be won, he would seek my friendship. With one or two exceptions, every true, noble, warm hearted friend I have, once aspired to win my love.
Dear Reader, should you chance to find out who Ella Leigh is, question in an off-hand manner some of her gentlemen friends: one and all will tell you, I am a very good and kind lady, although in a different manner. That dear old dodge' will declare to you, that child, Ella, is nothing but a grand humbug, a bundle of deceit. Ask him why he thinks so, and he will answer,
Why, she promised to kiss me four years ago, and nary a kiss has she ever given me, and what is more, she never will, but she did give me some mighty nice pickles though.'
Ask that silent man who says but little, and yet whose love for me, although secret, was strong, true, and lasting; (for even now the flame is burning brightly, if years have passed since the word of love was spoken,) he will answer, Mrs. Leigh is a noble woman,' and there the subject will drop, for he does not like to even speak of me. That handsome friend will tell you, that Miss Ella is the most imprudent woman in public, to be so prudish in private, he ever saw in his life.
Some, I thought too mean or insignificant to even flirt with, say, that Mrs. Leigh was once rather fast, and was one of the grandest flirts they ever saw. Ask them if they ever flirted with me! Their answer will invariably be no, I did not feel like it when we met,' and blushing they will change the subject. No, I imagine they did not feel like it, but they did feel, as they left the house, very much as a sneaking dog does, when he is caught sucking eggs. How the women hated me! and yet I was so popular, they dared not say a word about me, except to their husbands, and then I was sure to hear of it! For men dislike women's gossip and slander so much they are obliged to tell it, so as to foist off their disgust on some one else.
Dear little Gus Johnson! How devoted he was for three or four months after my marriage! And how many beautiful quotations he had stowed away in his dear little head, just to repeat to me! It was all very nice, the adoration of a young unsophisticated heart, still in its teens. It is true Gussie was one year older than I, but he seemed younger. Such a state of things could not last always, and when he declared his love, I kindly said:
dear, at home I have two little sisters; one five, and the other seven,
you can choose between them, if you wish!' I had trampled upon his boyish
dignity, and grossly insulted him. He drew himself up proudly and said:
Yes, and you always are Ella, but it is very hard indeed, for I love you truly, fondly, and devotedly. Good bye my darling,' said my boy lover, bending down and pressing his quivering lips upon my hair. Good bye and may God bless you!' He soon got over his little miff, and now tells his sisters my way of taking down the boys.