The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter XIII
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Chapter XIII. "Society" at the Rich Man's Home
|Chapter XIV. An Old Acquaintance not "Forgot"→|
We change the scene to a fine new house, in a fashionable quarter of the city: Mrs.Finley alights from her own carriage, and meets her daughter at the door, her face full of something she had to communicate. "Oh, mamma," she exclaimed, "who was that that came into Morrison's thread and needle store just as you passed?—a lady with an ermine boa,—you bowed to her."
"Mrs. Kingson. Why, Sabina Jane?"
"The lady that was with her asked her, when they got into the shop, who she bowed to? She said, 'That Mrs. Finley that left her card at my house!'—'Does she keep a carriage?' asked the other lady; and then she took up her eye-glass and looked after you, and said, so everybody might have heard her in the shop, 'Liveries! and a coat of arms!—no wonder we are a laughing-stock to foreigners.'""Well," answered the perturbed and perplexed mother, "I do wonder what is the harm of liveries? It is next to impossible to find a servant that is willing to wear them; that's a proof they are genteel; and then, as to the coat of arms, I am sure the man that made the harness said it was the latest pattern he had in his shop. That coach," she continued, "has been nothing but a plague to me. Your father is always fretting about the expense, and complaining that the coachman cheats him; and John will do nothing but drive the horses; and everybody that has a coachman in livery has a footman, and your father thinks the waiter can turn into a footman when I want one, but he don't know how inconvenient that is. Nobody knows, but them that has them, the trials of keeping a carriage."
"Then, mama, why do you keep one?"
"Don't ask such silly questions, Sabina Jane."
A servant entered. "Mrs. Finley, here are the notes that have come in since you went out." Mrs. Finley took them eagerly. She had sent out invitations for a party, and she was anxious to know who had accepted and who refused. The first she opened was from the teacher of her only son Arthur William, informing her that Master Arthur was behind-hand in all his studies, and that, unless his lessons were superintended at home, he feared he must dismiss the boy, as the reputation of his school depended on the progress of his scholars.
"This is too bad," said Mrs. Finley; "I wonder what we pay him for but to teach? Mr. Beltam always said Arthur was a prodigy when he went to his school."
"But, mamma, you said Arthur could not read when he had been to Mr. Beltam's two years."
"What's that to the purpose, miss? Mr. Beltam never sent in any complaints. I will not make myself a slave to looking after your lessons at home; I have not health for it: besides, your father and I never studied Latin, and French, and philosophy, and them things."
"I wonder what you did study, mother?"
"For shame, Sabina Jane! I am sure your father understands every kind of arithmetic.""Does he, mother? I did not know he understood any thing."
It was difficult to decide whether this was said with simplicity or impertinence. Unfortunate, indeed, are those children who, with their acquisitions, acquire a contempt for their parents' ignorance. The next note opened was a polite notice to Mrs. Finley, from Mademoiselle A——, that a box of newly-arrived Parisian millinery would be opened for her patrons' inspection the next morning. "Very attentive in Mademoiselle!" said Mrs. Finley, when unfortunately the pleasure of being a patron was checked by one of the usual penalties for such distinctions. A bill had dropped from within the note, which the little girl handed to her mother, reading the amount, $57 45. "How very provoking!" exclaimed Mrs. Finley; "she might better have sent it at any other time: your father frets so about the expenses for the party. I am sure they are necessary; but I can't ask him for the money to pay Mademoiselle now, that's certain; so, throw the bill in the fire, Sabina Jane; and, when Mademoiselle sends for the money, I can say I haven't got the bill."
"Yes, mamma, and you can say it must have dropped out; it did drop, you know.""That's well thought of, Sabina Jane, and no lie either." Thus did this poor child receive from her weak mother a lesson in fraud, lying, and hypocrisy. Mrs. Finley proceeded in the examination of her notes. "'Mrs. Dilhurst accepts,' &c. Oh, I knew she would accept; I wonder when she ever refused? 'Mrs. Kingson regrets an engagement,' &c. What a shame it is for people to lie so! She cannot have an engagement a fortnight ahead!" We have not space to give the various returns Mrs. Finley then read and received in the course of the day. She had made a great effort to assemble a party of fashionable people: she had, to use the current word, cut those of her acquaintance that might be suspected of vulgarity; and she had left her cards at the houses of those who had been all their lives, and their parents before them, in the best society. She was sure Mrs. Kingson, at whose request she had repeatedly subscribed to societies, would accept; and, if Mrs. Kingson accepted, the Misses —— would, and then the Baron de —— would, and then the success of her party was secured. Presuming upon all this, no expense had been spared: the Kendall band had been engaged; and the party was to be as brilliant as music, lights, china, glass, and the luxuries of the season could make it. Finley, whose vanity was his next strongest passion to his cupidity, had been lavish of his money. Every thing his wife asked for he had granted, with one single reservation: he had stood at bay at a paté de foie gras, which his wife maintained to be essential. "What, thirty dollars," he said, "for what was nothing, after all, but a pie of geese's livers!—no, he could not go that!" and Mrs. Morris Finley, more prudent than some wives, never urged when morally certain of urging in vain.
Poor Mrs. Finley, until every luxury that money could buy, felt deeply mortified at the absence of that which money could not buy. There is a certain aristocracy in our city that is most carefully guarded. It is said that the barriers here may be as easily passed as the fences that enclose our fields, so mildly contrasting with the thorny hedges of the aristocracy, of the parent land. But it is not so. All that we would ask is, that the terms of admission might be settled on the, right ground. However, we leave this to be arranged by the parties concerned, and proceed to the facts in the case of Mrs. Morris Finley. Her husband cared nothing about the matter; but that it should appear. Morris Finley was among the first—good society (so called), he looked upon as a part of his money's worth—a fair return for his expenditure, and therefore he had his full part in his wife's mortification, when, after all her pushing, her arts and trucklings, her shirking this old acquaintance and cutting that relation, their empty places were not filled by bright names in the fashionable world.
Two or three stars wandered from their sphere into Mrs. Finley's orbit; some from motives arising from a business-relation with Finley, and others from good-nature peculiar to the individuals. But these few lights only served to show the general darkness. Such vain ambition as the Finleys' might be cured, if comments like the following were overheard.
"Mrs. Kingson, do you mean to accept Mrs. Finley's invitation?"
"No, my dear.""Why, aunt? they say it is to be something quite superb."
"So much the worse. Did she not let her poor mother toil away her life in a second-rate boarding-house? and she will not employ her worthy cousins who sew for me, because they are her cousins. No, I'll have nothing to do with such people as the Finleys."
"Mamma, do you mean to go to the Finleys'?"
"No, indeed; it was too impertinent of the woman to ask me. I never saw her except at Saratoga."
"Mrs. Smith, are you going to the Finleys'?"
"No; they are too ignorant and vulgar."
"But you visit the Fitzroys?"
"My dear, yot forget; Fitzroy is a junior partner of Mr. Smith."
"Oh, is he?"
"Mrs. Brown, do you go to the Finleys'?"
"No, I will not, when I can help it, visit the merely rich."
These reasons, and a hundred similar, were of course not alleged to Mrs. Finley, but veiled in the conventional "regrets," "previous engagements," &c. &c. So Mrs. Morris Finley gave her party to those for whom she did not think it worth the trouble; nor did her husband deem it worth the expense. The house was turned topsy-turvy, the servants overworked, the children made ill by surfeiting, and no one happy or grateful; the invited regarded Mrs. Finley with contempt, and the left out with resentment.
Which, we would ask, was the richest man, estimated by the hospitality exercised and enjoyed—Henry Aikin, or Morris Finley?
- One of these incidental trials was met by a ready ingenuity that deserves a more enduring preservation than we can give it. A gentleman told his coachman to bring him a pitcher of fresh water from the pump. "I can't, sir."—"Why not?"—"Tis not my business."—"What the deuse is your business?"—"Taking care of the carriage, sir."—"Bring up the carriage, then." The carriage came: "John" (to the waiter), "get into the carriage, and bring me a pitcher of fresh water from the pump."
- As we hope to have readers who never heard of a paté foie gras, we inform them that it is an eatable not very rare at evening parties. It is a pie imported from France, and costing, if we are correctly informed, from twenty to fifty dollars. An unnatural enlargement of the liver of geese is produced by confining the bird, and subjecting it to artificial heat. We hardly know which most to admire,—the mercy of the ingenious gastronomist who devised this luxury, or the taste of its consumers.