University of Virginia Library




Mabel Wynne was the topmost sparkle on the crest of the
first wave of luxury that swept over New York. Up to her time,
the aristocratic houses were furnished with high buffets, high-backed
and hair-bottomed mahogany chairs, one or two family portraits,
and a silver tray on the side-board, containing cordials and
brandy for morning callers. In the centre of the room hung a
chandelier of colored lamps, and the lighting of this and the
hiring of three negroes (to “fatigue,” as the French say, a
clarionet, a base-viol, and a violin) were the only preparations
necessary for the most distinguished ball. About the time that
Mabel left school, however, some adventurous pioneer of the
Dutch haut ton ventured upon lamp stands for the corners of the
rooms, stuffed red benches along the walls, and chalked floors;
and upon this a French family of great beauty, residing in the
lower part of Broadway, ventured upon a fancy ball with wax-candles
instead of lamps, French dishes and sweatmeats instead
of pickled oysters and pink champagne; and, the door thus
opened, luxury came in like a flood. Houses were built on a
new plan of sumptuous arrangement, the ceiling stained in fresco,
and the columns of the doors within painted in imitation of bronze


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and marble; and at last the climax was topped by Mr. Wynne,
who sent the dimensions of every room in his new house to an
upholsterer, in Paris, with carte blanche as to costliness and style,
and the fournisseur to come out himself and see to the arrangement
and decoration.

It was Manhattan tea-time, old style, and while Mr. Wynne,
who had the luxury of a little plain furniture in the basement,
was comfortably taking his toast and hyson below stairs, Miss
Wynne was just announced as “at home,” by the black footman,
and two of her admirers made their highly-scented entrée. They
were led through a suite of superb rooms, lighted with lamps hid
in alabaster vases, and ushered in at a mirror-door beyond,
where, in a tent of fluted silk, with ottomans and draperies of the
same stuff, exquisitely arranged, the imperious Mabel held her
court of 'teens.

Mabel Wynne was one of those accidents of sovereign beauty
which nature seems to take delight in misplacing in the world—
like the superb lobelia flashing among the sedges, or the golden
oriole pluming his dazzling wings in the depth of a wilderness. She
was no less than royal in all her belongings. Her features expressed
consciousness of sway—a sway whose dictates had been from
infancy anticipated. Never a surprise had startled those languishing
eyelids from their deliberateness—never a suffusion
other than the humid cloud of a tender and pensive hour had
dimmed those adorable dark eyes. Or, so at least it seemed!

She was a fine creature, nevertheless—Mabel Wynne! But
she looked to others like a specimen of such fragile and costly
workmanship that nothing beneath a palace would be a becoming
home for her


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“For the present,” said Mr. Bellallure, one of the gentlemen
who entered, “the bird has a fitting cage.”

Miss Wynne only smiled in reply, and the other gentleman
took upon himself to be the interpreter of her unexpressed

“The cage is the accessory—not the bird,” said Mr. Blythe,
“and, for my part, I think Miss Wynne would show better the
humbler her surroundings. As Perdita upon the greensward,
and open to a shepherd's wooing, I should inevitably sling my
heart upon a crook—”

“And forswear that formidable, impregnable vow of celibacy?”
interrupted Miss Wynne.

“I am only supposing a case, and you are not likely to be a
shepherdess on the green.” But Mr. Blythe's smile ended in a
look of clouded revery, and after a few minutes' conversation, ill
sustained by the gentlemen, who seemed each in the other's way,
they rose and took their leave—Mr. Bellallure lingering last, for
he was a lover avowed.

As the door closed upon her admirer, Miss Wynne drew a letter
from her portfolio, and turning it over and over with a smile
of abstracted curiosity, opened and read it for the second time.
She had received it that morning from an unknown source, and as
it was rather a striking communication, perhaps the reader had
better know something of it before we go on.

It commenced without preface, thus:—

“On a summer morning, twelve years ago, a chimney sweep,
after doing his work and singing his song, commenced his descent.
It was the chimney of a large house, and becoming embarrassed
among the flues, he lost his way and found himself on the hearth


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of a sleeping-chamber occupied by a child. The sun was just
breaking through the curtains of the room, a vacated bed showed
that some one had risen lately, probably the nurse, and the
sweep, with an irresistible impulse, approached the unconscious
little sleeper. She lay with her head upon a round arm buried
in flaxen curls, and the smile of a dream on her rosy and parted
lips. It was a picture of singular loveliness, and something in
the heart of that boy-sweep, as he stood and looked upon the
child, knelt to it with an agony of worship. The tears gushed to
his eyes. He stripped the sooty blanket from his breast, and
looked at the skin white upon his side. The contrast between
his condition and that of the fair child sleeping before him brought
the blood to his blackened brow with the hot rush of lava. He
knelt beside the bed on which she slept, took her hand in his
sooty grasp, and with a kiss upon the white and dewy fingers,
poured his whole soul with passionate earnestness into a resolve.

“Hereafter you may learn, if you wish, the first struggles of
that boy in the attempt to diminish the distance between yourself
and him—for you will have understood that you were the beautiful
child he saw asleep. I repeat that it is twelve years since he
stood in your chamber. He has seen you almost daily since
then—watched your going out and coming in—fed his eyes and
heart on your expanding beauty, and informed himself of every
change and development in your mind and character. With this
intimate knowledge of you, and with the expansion of his own
intellect, his passion has deepened and strengthened. It possesses
him now as life does his heart, and will endure as long.
But his views with regard to you are changed, nevertheless.

“You will pardon the presumption of my first feeling—that to
attain my wishes I had only to become your equal. It was a


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natural error—for my agony at realizing the difference of our
conditions in life was enough to absorb me at the time—but it is
surprising to me how long that delusion lasted. I am rich now.
I have lately added to my fortune the last acquisition I thought
desirable. But with the thought of the next thing to be done,
came like a thunderbolt upon me the fear that after all my efforts
you might be destined for another! The thought is simple
enough. You would think that it would have haunted me from
the beginning. But I have either unconsciously shut my eyes
to it, or I have been so absorbed in educating and enriching myself,
that that goal only was visible to me. It was perhaps fortunate
for my perseverance that I was so blinded. Of my midnight
studies, of my labors, of all my plans, self-denials, and anxieties,
you have seemed the reward! I have never gained a thought,
never learned a refinement, never turned over gold and silver,
that it was not a step nearer to Mabel Wynne. And now, that
in worldly advantages, after twelve years of effort and trial, I
stand by your side at last, a thousand men who never thought of
you till yesterday are equal competitors with me for your hand!

“But, as I said, my views with regard to you have changed.
I have with bitter effort, conquered the selfishness of this one
life-time ambition. I am devoted to you, as I have been from the
moment I first saw you—life and fortune. These are still yours
—but without the price at which you might spurn them. My
person is plain and unattractive. You have seen me, and shown
me no preference. There are others whom you receive with
favor. And with your glorious beauty, and sweet, admirably
sweet qualities of character, it would be an outrage to nature that
you should not choose freely, and be mated with something of
your kind. Of those who now surround you I see no one


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worthy of you—but he may come! Jealousy shall not blind me
to his merits. The first mark of your favor (and I shall be
aware of it) will turn upon him my closest, yet most candid scrutiny.
He must love you well—for I shall measure his love by
my own. He must have manly beauty, and delicacy, and honor
—he must be worthy of you, in short—but he need not be rich.
He who steps between me and you takes the fortune I had
amassed for you. I tell you this that you may have no limit in
your choice—for the worthiest of a woman's lovers is often
barred from her by poverty.

“Of course I have made no vow against seeking your favor.
On the contrary, I shall lose no opportunity of making myself
agreeable to you. It is against my nature to abandon hope, though
I am painfully conscious of my inferiority to other men in the qualities
which please a woman. All I have done is to deprive my
pursuit of its selfishness—to make it subservient to your happiness
purely—as it still would be were I the object of your preference.
You will hear from me at any crisis of your feelings.
Pardon my being a spy upon you. I know you well enough to
be sure that this letter will be a secret—since I wish it. Adieu.”

Mabel laid her cheek in the hollow of her hand and mused
long on this singular communication. It stirred her romance,
but it awakened still more her curiosity. Who was he? She
had “seen him and shown him no preference!” Which could it
be of the hundred of her chance-made acquaintances? She conjectured
at some disadvantage, for “she had come out” within
the past year only, and her mother having long been dead, the
visitors to the house were all but recently made known to her.
She could set aside two-thirds of them, as sons of families well


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known, but there were at least a score of others, any one of
whom might, twelve years before, have been as obscure as her
anonymous lover. Whoever he might be, Mabel thought he
could hardly come into her presence again without betraying himself,
and with a pleased smile at the thought of the discovery, she
again locked up the letter.

Those were days (to be regretted or not, as you please, dear
reader!) when the notable society of New York revolved in one
self-complacent and clearly-defined circle. Call it a wheel, and
say that the centre was a belle and the radii were beaux—(the
periphery of course composed of those who could “down with the
dust”). And on the fifteenth of July regularly and imperatively,
this fashionable wheel rolled off to Saratoga.

“Mabel! my daughter!” said old Wynne, as he bade her
good night the evening before starting for the Springs, “it is useless
to be blind to the fact that among your many admirers you
have several very pressing lovers—suiters for your hand I may
safely say. Now, I do not wish to put any unnecessary restraint
upon your choice, but as you are going to a gay place, where you
are likely to decide the matter in your own mind, I wish to express
an opinion. You may give it what weight you think a father's
judgment should have in such matters. I do not like Mr. Bellallure—for,
beside my prejudice against the man, we know
nothing of his previous life, and he may be a swindler or anything
else. I do like Mr. Blythe—for I have known him many
years—he comes of a most respectable family, and he is wealthy
and worthy. These two seem to me the most earnest, and you
apparently give them the most of your time. If the decision is
to be between them, you have my choice. “Good night, my


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Some people think it is owing to the Saratoga water. I differ
from them. The water is an “alterative,” it is true—but I
think people do not so much alter as develop at Saratoga.
The fact is clear enough—that at the Springs we change
our opinions of almost every body—but (though it seems a bold
supposition at first glance) I am inclined to believe it is because
we see so much more of them! Knowing people in the city and
knowing them at the Springs is very much in the same line of
proof as tasting wine and drinking a bottle. Why, what is a
week's history of a city acquaintance? A morning call thrice a
week, a diurnal bow in Broadway, and perhaps a quadrille or two
in the party season. What chance in that to ruffle a temper or
try a weakness? At the Springs, now, dear lady, you wear a
man all day like a shoe. Down at the platform with him to
drink the waters before breakfast—strolls on the portico with
him till ten—drives with him to Barheight's till dinner—lounges
in the drawing-room with him till tea—dancing and promenading
with him till midnight—very little short altogether of absolute
matrimony; and like matrimony, it is a very severe trial. Your
“best fellow” is sure to be found out, and so is your plausible
fellow, your egotist, and your “spoon.”

Mr. Beverly Bellallure had cultivated the male attractions
with marked success. At times he probably thought himself a
plain man, and an artist who should only paint what could be
measured with a rule, would have made a plain portrait of Mr.
Bellallure. But—the atmosphere of the man! There is a
physiognomy in movement—there is aspect in the harmonious
link between mood and posture—there is expression in the face
of which the features are as much a portrait as a bagpipe
is a copy of a Scotch song. Beauty, my dear artist, can not


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always be translated by canvass and oils. You must paint “the
magnetic fluid” to get a portrait of some men. Sir Thomas
Lawrence seldom painted anything else—as you may see by his
picture of Lady Blessington, which is like her without having
copied a single feature of her face. Yet an artist would be very
much surprised if you should offer to sit to him for your magnetic
atmosphere—though it expresses (does it not?) exactly
what you want when you order a picture! You wish to be
painted as you appear to those who love you—a picture altogether
unrecognizable by those who love you not.

Mr. Bellallure, then, was magnetically handsome—positively
plain. He dressed with an art beyond detection. He spent his
money as if he could dip it at will out of Pactolus. He was intimate
with nobody, and so nobody knew his history; but he wrote
himself on the register of Congress Hall as “from New York,”
and he threw all his forces into one unmistakeable demonstration
—the pursuit of Miss Mabel Wynne.

But Mr. Bellallure had a formidable rival. Mr. Blythe was
as much in earnest as he, though he played his game with a touch-and-go
freedom, as if he was prepared to lose it. And Mr.
Blythe had very much surprised those people at Saratoga who
did not know that between a very plain man and a very elegant
man there is often but the adding of the rose-leaf to the brimming
jar. He was perhaps a little gayer than in New York, certainly
a little more dressed, certainly a little more prominent in
general conversation—but without any difference that you could
swear to, Mr. Blythe, the plain and reliable business man, whom
everybody esteemed without particularly admiring, had become
Mr. Blythe the model of elegance and ease, the gentleman and


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conversationist par excellence. And nobody could tell how the
statue could have lain so long unsuspected in the marble.

The race for Miss Wynne's hand and fortune was a general
sweepstakes, and there were a hundred men at the Springs ready
to take advantage of any falling back on the part of the two on
the lead; but with Blythe and Bellallure Miss Wynne herself
seemed fully occupied. The latter had a “friend at court”—
the belief, kept secret in the fair Mabel's heart, that he was the
romantic lover of whose life and fortune she had been the inspiration.
She was an eminently romantic girl, with all her strong
sense; and the devotion which had proved itself so deep and controlling
was in reality the dominant spell upon her heart. She
felt that she must love that man, whatever his outside might be,
and she construed the impenetrable silence of which Bellallure
received her occasional hints as to his identity, into a magnanimous
determination to win her without any advantage from the
romance of his position.

Yet she sometimes wished it had been Mr. Blythe! The opinion
of her father had great weight with her; but, more than that,
she felt instinctively that he was the safer man to be intrusted with
a woman's happiness. If there had been a doubt—if her father
had not assured her that “Mr. Blythe came of a most respectable
family”—if the secret had wavered between them—she would
have given up to Bellallure without a sigh. Blythe was everything
she admired and wished for in a husband—but the man who
had made himself for her, by a devotion unparalleled even in her
reading of fiction, held captive her dazzled imagination, if not her
grateful heart. She made constant efforts to think only of Bellallure,
but the efforts were preceded ominously with a sigh.

And now Bellallure's star seemed in the ascendant—for urgent


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business called Mr. Wynne to the city, and on the succeeding day
Mr. Blythe followed him, though with an assurance of speedy
return. Mabel was left under the care of an indulgent chaperon,
who took a pleasure in promoting the happiness of the supposed
lovers; and driving, lounging, waltzing, and promenading, Bellallure
pushed his suit with ardor unremitted. He was a skillful
master of the art of wooing, and it would have been a difficult
woman indeed who would not have been pleased with his society
—but the secret in Mabel's breast was the spell by which he held

A week elapsed, and Bellallure pleaded the receipt of unexpected
news, and left suddenly for New York—to Mabel's surprise
exacting no promise at parting, though she felt that she
should have given it with reluctance. The mail of the second
day following brought her a brief letter from her father, requesting
her immediate return; and more important still, a note from
her incognito lover. It ran thus:—

“You will recognize my handwriting again. I have little to
say—for I abandon the intention I had formed to comment on
your apparent preference. Your happiness is in your own hands.
Circumstances which will be explained to you, and which will
excuse this abrupt forwardness, compel me to urge you to an immediate
choice. On your arrival at home, you will meet me in
your father's house, where I shall call to await you. I confess,
tremblingly, that I still cherish a hope. If I am not deceived—
if you can consent to love me—if my long devotion is to be rewarded—take
my hand when you meet me. That moment will
decide the value of my life. But be prepared also to name
another, if you love him—for there is a necessity, which I cannot


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explain to you till you have chosen your husband, that this choice
should be made on your arrival. Trust and forgive one who has
so long loved you!”

Mabel pondered long on this strange letter. Her spirits at
moments revolted against its apparent dictation, but there was
the assurance, which she could not resist trusting, that it could
be explained and forgiven. At all events, she was at liberty to
fulfill its requisitions or not—and she would decide when the time
came. Happy was Mabel—unconsciously happy—in the generosity
and delicacy of her unnamed lover! Her father, by one
of the sudden reverses of mercantile fortune, had been stripped
of his wealth in a day! Stunned and heart-broken, he knew not
how to break it to his daughter, but he had written for her to return.
His sumptuous house had been sold over his head, yet the
purchaser, whom he did not know, had liberally offered the use
of it till his affairs were settled. And, meantime, his ruin was
made public. The news of it, indeed, had reached Saratoga before
the departure of Mabel—but there were none willing to
wound her by speaking of it.

The day was one of the sweetest of summer, and as the boat
ploughed her way down the Hudson, Mabel sat on the deck lost
in thought. Her father's opinion of Bellallure, and his probable
displeasure at her choice, weighed uncomfortably on her mind.
She turned her thoughts upon Mr. Blythe, and felt surprised at the
pleasure with which she remembered his kind manners and his
trust inspiring look. She began to reason with herself more
calmly than she had power to do with her lovers around her. She
confessed to herself that Bellallure might have the romantic perseverance


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shown in the career of the chimney-sweep, and still be
deficient in qualities necessary to domestic happiness. There
seemed to her something false about Bellallure. She could not
say in what—but he had so impressed her. A long day's silent
reflection deepened this impression, and Mabel arrived at the city
with changed feelings. She prepared herself to meet him at her
father's house, and show him by her manner that she could accept
neither his hand nor his fortune.

Mr. Wynne was at the door to receive his daughter, and Mabel
felt relieved, for she thought that his presence would bar all explanation
between herself and Bellallure. The old man embraced
her with an effusion of tears, which she did not quite understand,
but he led her to the drawing-room and closed the door. Mr.
Blythe stood before her!

Forgetting the letter—dissociated wholly as it was, in her mind,
with Mr. Blythe—Mabel ran to him with frank cordiality and gave
him her hand! Blythe stood a moment—his hand trembling in
hers—and as a suspicion of the truth flashed suddenly on Mabel's
mind, the generous lover drew her to his bosom and folded her
passionately in his embrace. Mabel's struggles were slight, and
her happiness unexpectedly complete.

The marriage was like other marriages.

Mr. Wynne had drawn a little on his imagination in recommending
Mr. Blythe to his daughter as “a young man of most respectable

Mr. Blythe was the purchaser of Mr. Wynne's superb house,
and the old man ended his days under its roof—happy to the last
in the society of the Blythes, large and little.

Mr. Bellallure turned out to be a clever adventurer, and had


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Mabel married him, she would have been Mrs. Bellallure No. 2—
possibly No. 4. He thought himself too nice a young man for

I think my story is told—if your imagination has filled up the
interstices, that is to say.