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- The Potiphar Papers - 6/24 -
very true, but he knows perfectly well that he has a hankering for artificial flowers, and that, for his part, he prefers the Doctor to any preacher he ever heard "because," he says, "I can go quietly to sleep, confident that he will say nothing that might not be preached from every well-regulated pulpit; whereas, if we should let Cream Cheese into the desk, I should have to keep awake to be on the look-out for some of these new-fangled idolatries: and, Polly Potiphar, I, for one, am determined to have nothing to do with the Scarlet Woman."
Darling Caroline--I don't care much--but did he ever have anything to do with a Scarlet Woman?
After he said that about artificial flowers, I ordered from Martelle the sweetest sprig of _immortelle_ he had in his shop, and sent it anonymously on St. Valentine's day. Of course I didn't wish to do anything secret from my husband, that might make people talk, so I wrote--"Rev. Cream Cheese; from his grateful _Skim-milk._" I marked the last words, and hope he understood that I meant to express my thanks for his advice about the pale-blue cover. You don't think it was too romantice, do you, dear?
You can imagine how pleasantly Lent is passing since I see so much of him: and then it is so appropriate to Lent to be intimate with a minister. He goes with me to church a great deal; for Mr. Potiphar, of course, has no time for that, except on Sundays; and it is really delightful to see such piety. He makes the responses in the most musical manner; and when he kneels upon entering the pew, he is the admiration of the whole church. He buries his face entirely in a cloud of cambric pocket-handkerchief, with his initial embroidered at the corner; and his hair is beautifully parted down behind, which is very fortunate, as otherwise it would look so badly, when only half his head showed. I feel _so_ good when I sit by his side; and when the Doctor (as Mr. P. says) "blows up" those terrible sinners in Babylon and the other Bible towns, I always find the Rev. Cream's eyes fixed upon me, with so much sweet sadness, that I am very, very sorry for the naughty people the Doctor talks about. Why did they do so, do you suppose, dear Caroline? How thankful we ought to be that we live now with so many churches, and such fine ones, and with such gentlemanly ministers as Mr. Cheese. And how nicely it's arranged that, after dancing and dining for two or three months constantly, during which, of course, we can only go to church Sundays, there comes a time for stopping, when we're tired out, and for going to church every day, and (as Mr. P. says) "striking a balance;" and thinking about being good, and all those things. We don't lose a great deal, you know. It makes a variety, and we all see each other, just the same, only we don't dance. I do think it would be better if we took our lorgnettes with us, however, for it was only last Wednesday, at nine o'clock prayers, that I saw Sheena Silke across the church in their little pew at the corner, and I am sure that she had a new bonnet on; and yet, though I looked at it all the time trying to find out, prayers were fairly over before I discovered whether it was really new, or only that old white one made over with a few new flowers. Now, if I had had my glass, I could have told in a moment, and shouldn't have been obliged to lose all the prayers.
But, as I was saying, those poor old people in Babylon and Nineveh! only think, if they had had the privileges of prayers for six or seven weeks in Lent, and regular preaching the rest of the year, except, of course, in the summer--(by the by, I wonder if they all had some kind of Saratoga or Newport to go to?--I mean to ask Mr. Cheese)--they might have been good, and all have been happy. It's quite awful to hear how eloquent and earnest the Doctor is when he preaches against Babylon. Mr. P. says he likes to have him "pitch into those old sinners; it does 'em so much good;" and then he looks quite fierce. Mr. Cheese is going to read me a sermon he has written upon the maidenhood of Lot's wife. He says that he quotes a great deal of poetry in it, and that I must _dam_ up the fount of my tears when he reads it. It was an odd expression for a minister, wasn't it? and I was obliged to say, "Mr. Cheese, you forget yourself." He replied, "Dear Mrs. Potiphar, I will explain;" and he did so; so that I admired him more than ever.
Dearest Caroline,--if you should only like him! He asked one day about you; and when I told him what a dear, good girl you are, he said: "And her father has worldly possessions, has he not?"
I answered, yes; that your father was very rich. Then he sighed, and said that he could never marry an heiress unless he clearly saw it to be his duty. Isn't it a beautiful resignation?
I had no idea of saying so much about him, but you know it's proper, when writing a letter in Lent, to talk about religious matters. And, I must confess, there is something comfortable in having to do with such things. Don't you feel better, when you've been dancing all the week, and dining, and going to the opera, and flirting and flying around, to go to church on Sundays? I do. It seems, somehow, as if we ought to go. But I do wish Mrs. Croesus would sit somewhere else than just in front of us, for her new bonnets and her splendid collars and capes makes me quite miserable: and then she puts me out of conceit of my things by talking about Lawson, or somebody, as I told you in the beginning.
Mr. Potiphar has sent out for the new carpets. I had only two spoiled at my ball, you know, and that was very little. One always expects to sacrifice at least two carpets upon occasion of seeing one's friends. That handsome one in the supper room was entirely ruined. Would you believe that Mr. P. when he went downstairs the next morning, found our Fred and his cousin hoeing it with their little toes? It was entirely matted with preserves and things, and the boys said that they were scraping it clean for breakfast. The other spoiled carpet was in the gentlemen's dressing-room where the punch-bowl was. Young Gauche Boosey, a very gentlemanly fellow, you know, ran up after polking, and was so confused with the light and heat that he went quite unsteadily, and as he was trying to fill a glass with the silver ladle (which is rather heavy), he somehow leaned too hard upon the table, and down went the whole thing, table, bowl, punch, and Boosey, and ended my poor carpet. I was sorry for that, and also for the bowl, which was a very handsome one, imported from China by my father's partner--a wedding gift to me--and for the table, a delicate rosewood stand, which was a work table of my sister Lucy's--whom you never knew, and who died long and long ago. However, I was amply repaid by Boosey's drollery afterward. He is a very witty young man, and when he got up from the floor, saturated with punch (his clothes I mean), he looked down at the carpet and said:
"Well, I've given that such a punch it will want some _lemon-aid_ to recover."
I suppose he had some idea about lemon acid taking out spots.
But, the best thing was what he said to me. He is so droll that he insisted upon coming down, and finishing the dance just as he was. The funny fellow brushed against all the dresses in his way, and, finally said to me, as he pointed to a lemon-seed upon his coat:
"I feel so very _lemon-choly_ for what I have done."
I laughed very much (you were in the other room), but Mr. P. stepped up and ordered him to leave the house. Boosey said he would do no such thing; and I have no doubt we should have had a scene, if Mr. P. had not marched him straight to the door, and put him into a carriage, and told the driver where to take him. Mr. P. was red enough when he came back.
"No man shall insult me or my guests, by getting drunk in my house," said he; and he has since asked me not to invite Boosey nor "any of his kind," as he calls them, to our house. However, I think it will pass over. I tell him that all young men of spirit get a little excited with wine sometimes, and he mustn't be too hard upon them.
"Madame," said he to me, the first time I ventured to say that, "no man with genuine self-respect ever gets drunk twice; and, if you had the faintest idea of the misery which a little elegant intoxication has produced in scores of families that you know, you would never insinuate again that a little excitement from wine is an agreeable thing. There's your friend Mrs. Croesus (he thinks she's my friend, because we call each other 'dear'!); she is delighted to be a fashionable woman, and to be described as the 'peerless and accomplished Mrs. Croesus' in letters from the Watering-places to the Herald; but I tell you, if anything of the woman or the mother is left in the fashionable Mrs. Croesus, I could wring her heart as it never was wrung--and never shall be by me--by showing her the places that young Timon Croesus haunts, the people with whom he associates and the drunkenness, gambling, and worse dissipations of which he is guilty.
"Timon Croesus is eighteen or nineteen, or, perhaps, twenty years old; and Polly, I tell you, he is actually _blasť_, worn out with dissipation, the companion of blacklegs, the chevalier of Cyprians, tipsy every night, and haggard every morning. Timon Croesus is the puny caricature of a man, mentally, morally, and physically. He gets 'elegantly intoxicated' at your parties; he goes off to sup with Gauche Boosey; you and Mrs. Croesus think them young men of spirit,--it is an exhilarating case of sowing wildcats, you fancy,--and, when, at twenty-five, Timon Croesus stands ruined in the world, without aims or capacities, without the esteem of a single man or his own self-respect--youth, health, hope, and energy, all gone forever--then you and your dear Mrs. Croesus will probably wonder at the horrible harvest. Mrs. Potiphar, ask the Rev. Cream Cheese to omit his sermon upon the maidenhood of Lot's wife, and preach from this text: 'They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.' Good heavens! Polly, fancy our Fred growing up to such a life! I'd rather bury him to-morrow!"
I never saw Mr. P. so much excited. He fairly put his handkerchief to his eyes, and I really believe he cried! But I think he exaggerates these things: and as he had a very dear friend that went worse and worse, until he died frightfully, a drunkard, it is not strange he should speak so warmly about it. But as Mrs. Croesus says:
"What can you do? You can't curb these boys, you don't want to break their spirits, you don't want to make them milk-sops."
When I repeated this speech to Mr. P., he said to me with a kind of solemnity:
"Tell Mrs. Croesus that I am not here to judge nor dictate: but she may be well assured, that every parent is responsible for every child of his to the utmost of the influence he can exert, whether he chooses to consider himself so or not; and if not now, in this world, yet somewhere and somehow, he must hear and heed the voice that called to Cain in the garden, 'Where is Abel, thy brother?'"
I can't bear to hear Mr.P. talk in that way; it sounds so like preaching. Not precisely like what I hear at church but like what we mean when we say "preaching," without referring to any particular sermon. However, he grants that young Timon is an extreme case: but, he says, it is the result that proves the principle, and a state of feeling which not only allows, but indirectly fosters, that result, is frightful to think of.
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