Mr friend Mansfield Humphreys has written me the following letter, which, with some remorse of conscience, — in the old English phrase, “ again-bite of inwit,”—I lay before the readers of The Atlantic: —
TOPPINGTON PRIORY,—SHIRE, 21st October, 1833.
MY DEAR MR. GRANT WHITE,&emdash Everybody has gone to church, this morning, as usual; but as I have been there frequently, I made an excuse, and remained at home: not, however,chiefly for the reason which I have assigned, but that I might write you this letter.
Others may pardon you for giving in The Atlantic of July, 1883, an account of that luncheon party at the Priory ; whether I can do so, I have not yet quite determined. The story has been read here and commented upon quite freely ; and an Edinburgh publisher has actually issued the thing as a little book. All this would he well enough ; but it seems that you so awkwardly worded your story that some people have suspected, and indeed do actually believe, that there is no Mr. Washington Adams, and that I — I, Mansfield Humphreys, — am the “ real American ” who was the object of interest on that occasion. Grievous are the wounds received at the hands of a friend; and your careless pen has scratched me deeply. What will my clients and my fellow directors think of my figuring in such a masquerade ? And to what grave misconstruction on the part of our friends at the Priory did you expose me by your thoughtless ambiguity of phrase ! Pardon me for suggesting that it would be well for you to serve a brief apprenticeship in a lawyer’s office, that you may learn to express yourself with clearness and precision.
Well, that will do, I suppose, for an indignant protest; but as to the truth of the affair, there is of course no need for any words between you and me. I had half a dozen hearty laughs at the expense of Professor Schlamm and the rest, with some compunctions, I will confess, for bringing such a bear as Mr, Washington Adams into the garden of our charming hostess; of whose fine womanly personality you must remember that I, like you, was before entirely ignorant. For the rest I cared little, except perhaps for Lord Toppingham himself, who, notwithstanding a slight stiffness of the mental joints (with all his liberalism), is one of the cleverest and sweetest-natured men I ever met. But she, the countess, was so serenely gentle, so divinely complaisant, with all her lovely dignity of mien, that I was more than once almost disconcerted, and came near breaking down. I was kept up by the consciousness of the eyes of the motley crowd around me. If she and Lord Toppingham only had been present, I verily believe that I should have fallen at her feet,1 confessed my imposture, and begged her pardon. Would she have given it? You shall see. But it is one thing to play a practical joke and enjoy it, and quite another to have one’s escapade paraded to the world. I have, however, this consolation : you are the chief sufferer, and have already been pretty roughly handled. The British lion is apt to growl and lash his sides, and sometimes those of other people, when he discovers that men have been laughing at him behind sober faces.
A few days after you had left this neighborhood, I determined to call at the Priory. I rode over ; and on sending up my card, I was soon ushered into Lady Toppingham’s morning parlor, — a very different sort of place from the corresponding room at Boreham Hall, as you described it. Although it was about as large as an ordinary Boston or New York drawing-room, it produced a sense of mingled daintiness and coziness. Why or how, I can hardly tell, for there was nothing unusual in it, — nothing that you would not find in a similar room in New England or New York ; but, as in many such rooms there, gentlewoman and elegant comfort were written all over it in alternating interwoven characters. Lady Toppingham rose and gave me her hand, which, please remember, if you should ever venture to write again about the manners and customs of the inhabitants of this island, is, contrary to the common notion, the custom here, unless the caller does not appear as a social acquaintance, and the interview is more or less of a business character. I must confess that I enjoy this distinction, and wish that, with some other habits of life in England, it could be carried into “ the States.”
A nursery-maid was standing half behind my hostess’s chair, and on the floor, playing about her feet, was a boy-baby, about a year and a half old, so radiant with all glory possible to infancy that
I can only call him splendid. To anticipate a little, in a few minutes lie was on my knee, alternately cooing and crowing and kicking and pulling my whiskers, until, after a few fond maternal remonstrances, he was sent back to the nursery. I found him as firm and as springy as a just-landed trout.
“ Lord Toppingham is out this morning, shooting, with my cousin, Captain Surcingle,” said my hostess, as I took my seat. “ I am sorry it should have happened so : he does n’t go out quite so often as most men do here. He will regret it himself. We hoped to have the pleasure of seeing you ere this at the Priory. You have not called before, I believe ? ” with a slight, searching look that flashed into my eye like a reflection from a mischievous boy’s bit of lookingglass.
“ No, madam; unless, indeed, I may be considered to have called after a fashion, when I took the liberty of giving my card to Mr. Washington Adams.”
“ Mr. Adams is a friend of yours ? ”
“ I can hardly call him a friend. Indeed, I am inclined to think that I have many better friends than he is. Hardly more than a slight acquaintance, I should say ; for I am sure that many persons know much more of me than he does, and much more of him than I do.”
“ Then I may venture to say, without at all implying that his call was uninteresting, that he is a very extraordinary person. Have you many men of his sort in the States? ”
“ Too many of his sort, I must confess ; although not many quite so pronounced in style as he is. I fear you may have found him somewhat rude.”
“ Not in the least, if rudeness consists in offensive intention. He was very well meaning, very considerate, and very self-possessed. But he appeared to be quite ignorant of what we should call the ways of society. Did you ever happen to see Mr. Adams in society, Mr. Humphreys ? ”
“Indeed, madam, I can’t say that I ever did; and you must therefore pardon me if you were a little shocked.” This I said in a careless, smiling way ; but I felt that the feminine toils were closing round me. For that, however, I was prepared in a measure, or I should not have ventured into the lioness’s den. For Lady Toppingham alone, I believe, of all the company, was quite sure that something was wrong.
You may wonder that such an extravagant creature as my Mr. Washington Adams, one who in Boston or Philadelphia, or hardly in Chicago, could not be found with a lantern, should pass muster among people of ordinary information, in any part of Europe, as a representative American, on five minutes’ inspection. But if you do so wonder, you merely show that you have failed to apprehend the vagueness of their notions, and their credulity about us, and their fidgety curiosity to find something in “ America and the Americans ” which is new, peculiar, and above all unpleasant. You are such a lover of England and English folk, and you were treated with such kindness here by every human creature that you met, even casually as a stranger, that this assertion as to their ignorance of our country and ourselves, and as to their feeling toward them, may be received by you with some incredulity.1 And if you judge them only by certain narrow but prominent classes, you have some reason for your incredulity. The superior part of the men in political life, the publicists, the traveled and intelligent among the mercantile and manufacturing class, and above all the journalists, have passed out of this dense stage of ignorance ; but only to enter into a confusing twilight, the result of a struggle between limited knowledge and unlimited prejudice. They see; but they are colorblind to the few and faintly characteristic traits of the men and women who are the real products and the real representatives of generations of American training. They start with the postulate that what is English cannot be American : although why it cannot, none of these uneasy mortals have yet been able to show. From their false startingpoint, they of course proceed to false conclusions. No one will dispute that there are certain differences in the general aspect of the two peoples (in so far as either of them can be said to have a general aspect), in their manners, their habits* and their speech ; but these varying shades are merely on the surface, and are caused by varying circumstances; most of them transitory as well as superficial ; none of them tending to any change of nature. What will be the result of the great emigration from Ireland and from Germany, which has taken place mostly within your and my remembrance, and the settlement of the Far West, also the work of the last twenty-five or thirty years, remains to be seen ; and I leave it out of the question, as I did in my railway talk with Lord Toppingham. But here I am, lecturing you again, just as I lectured him. I doubt that you will he half so courteously tolerant of me and my fad as he was.
To return to my lady and her gentle catechising. I saw at once that in apologizing for Mr. Washington Adams’s possible failures in conduct, I had opened a seam in my armor. She saw it, too, and instantly took advantage of it.
“ Why, Mr. Humphreys, if you never saw Mr. Adams in society, what reason have you for supposing that he did n’t know how to behave himself ? Are we to assume that there is danger of that with all Americans, except,” with a slight, gracious bend of her head, “ Mr. Mansfield Humphreys ? ” This without even a curve of her lip or a twinkle of her eyelid.
“ Indeed, notwithstanding your keenedged compliment, I am willing to own that there are a great many of my countrymen who would be very much out of place in the drawing-room or at the dinner - table of Toppington Priory. Are there not as many of your own fish who would be just as much out of water here ? Would you like to cast out a drag-net into the streets of London, or the waste places of England, and haul into the Priory whatever you might catch ? ”
“ No, certainly not; but that’s quite impossible with us, you know,” smiling. but sitting a little straighter. Then, with a slight increase of impressiveness in manner, “ But you seem to have a strange mixture of knowledge and of ignorance about this — this American — gentleman whom you introduced to Lord Toppingham. You fear, and you doubt, and you talk about drag-nets, and ” —
“ Pardon me, madam,” I broke in ; “ but loosely as we all use that word ‘ gentleman,’ nowadays, I cannot but protest when I hear a gentlewoman speak of a creature like Mr. Washington Adams as an American gentleman.”
“ You admit, then, sir, that you introduced to Lord Toppingham and to his wife a person who is not a gentleman, even in America ! ” As my fair hostess said this, she bent upon me a look full of confident intelligence and, as I thought, of gentle triumph ; but that may have been merely because I felt that I was beaten. I remember my grateful consciousness that there was no severe displeasure in her clear blue eyes. But my time had come.
“ Lady Toppingham,” I said, rising, “ I can withstand you no longer. I am here to make a confession and an apology. Unless a bit of acting with a better purpose than a mere joke degrades me from the position with which you have just honored me, I introduced to your society no one who was unworthy of it. I was Mr. Washington Adams.”
My hostess rose quickly, with a flush upon her face, saying, “ And you came, sir, a stranger, into this house under a feigned name, to hoax an English earl, and — his wife, and their guests ! Looking at you as you stand there, it is hard to believe it.”
“ Unhappily, madam, it is true: unhappily, if it brings upon me your displeasure. Yet I came not exactly as a stranger. You probably know that I had had the pleasure of a morning’s talk with Lord Toppingham, the agreeable result of which to me was the honor of an invitation to the Priory on my own poor merits, and when he did not know that I bore a letter of introduction to him from Dr. Tooptoe. As to my little masquerade, for that I must throw myself upon your mercy. I regarded it as hardly more than a continuation, with a living illustration, of our colloquy on the rails. I was tempted to show Lord Toppingham and his friends a specimen of the only sort of American which they, or at least most of their countrymen, recognize as genuine ; the only one in which they seem to take any real interest. If in doing so I have violated the rights of hospitality, or if I have offended Lady Toppingham, I can only hear the burden and the blame of my offense, ask pardon, and bid you good-morning.”
I bowed, and stepped backward ; but I saw in her eye that she did not mean to let me go. There was awakened in her woman’s nature the hunter’s greed; a feeling corresponding to that with which a man follows up the wild beast which he has roused, or that with which an angler lusts after the trout that is making his reel sing and his pole bend double. While I was wondering what would he her next word, her attitude towards me and the expression of her eye suddenly changed, and she broke into a gentle but merry and hearty fit of laughter. She fell into her chair again, and laughed, still looking at me, until, as I stood before her, I felt myself blushing to my very forehead.
After a moment she said, “ Pray be seated, Mr. Humphreys. Please don’t stand there with that penitent ail’, or I shall be tempted to laugh at you, instead of laughing with you, as I am doing now, I assure you. It was a tremendous farce; as good as a play. How you must have enjoyed the general mystification It was indeed rather a bold thing to do, if you ’ll permit me to say so ; but where there is no wrong and no offense, success is an excuse.” Then, as if our interview had thus far been of the most ordinary nature, “ Would you mind touching the bell for me ? ”
I did so, and a man-servant quickly entered. “ Tell Jackson to bring Lady Charlotte here ; ” and going to a vase of flowers she busied herself with them a moment, till a nursery-maid appeared with a little girl, about a year and a half older than the boy whom I had found with her on my entrance. She took the child upon her lap, and the maid retired to a window on the other side of the room. I wonder if there is an instinct in a young mother that teaches her that the presence of her child in her arms not only enhances all her womanly attractions, but adds to her dignity, and makes every true man her humble servant.
The child looked at me with infantine approval, and the mother said, “ This has been rather a strange interview for a first morning call ; but,” smiling, “ I forget, — it is a second. I must tell you, then, that we do not feel toward you quite as if you were a stranger ; for not only did dear old Dr. Tooptoe write most kindly of you in a private letter to my lord, but your friend, whom we saw a good deal of before he left our country, spoke of you so often and in such a way that we felt as if we knew you, and looked for your coming with pleasure.”
“ Did he hint ” —
“ Not a word.”
“ Did Lord Toppingham suspect ? ”
“ No; I’m inclined to think not. He was mystified, of course, and suspected something; but not, I believe, that you were Mr. Washington Adams. You may think it odd, but I did not tell him what I myself suspected in a vague sort of way ; for you ’ll remember, I had never seen you. I rather enjoyed Lord Toppingham’s bewilderment; and I felt sure that you would be here soon, and that it would all be settled, one way or another. But indeed, Mr. Humphreys, you tried me rather sorely that morning ; did you not ? Are you in the habit of such performances, — a professed practical joker ? ”
“ Never before, I assure you, did I do such a thing. That was my first appearance in such a character; and it shall be my last. I feel like saying, with the school-boy brought up for discipline, ‘I didn’t do it; and I’ll never do it again.’ ”
“ But how came you to present us, as an American, such a monstrous creature, such a libel, I am sure, upon your countrymen ? ”
“ A little too sure, perhaps; for Mr. Washington Adams was no monster, no libel, but, as you saw him, a portrait, a real man ; a little highly charged, to be sure, but no more so than Mr. Du Maurier’s figures in his social sketches.”
“ And the Americans are like Mr. Washington Adams ? ”
“I did not say so. Your phrase is general, universal. Some are.”
“Men who go about whittling?”
“ Verily, my lady, there be Americans that whittle.”
“ And carry bowie-knives and pistols in that dreadful way ? ”
“ There are many men in America who carry bowie-knives and pistols, and handle them as freely as others, both here and there, handle canes and ridingwhips. But if you went to America you would have to look far to find them. In all my life I have never seen one.”
“ And who,” drawing down the corners of her mouth, “ spit tobacco as you ” —
“ Pardon me, madam, I did no such thing, as you might have known before if you had asked your servants.”
“ Well,, then, as you pretended to.”
“ I am sorry to be obliged to confess that my portrait would have been very imperfect if that feature of it had been omitted. You would find that, much more easily than the whittling and the pistol-carrying, although not in any private house where you would be likely to be a visitor. But in railway cars, and in hotels, except in your own rooms and those of your friends, you would have difficulty in escaping it. Indeed, one of the peculiarities of American public atmosphere in winter is a singular and unmistakable odor, produced by such narcotic expectorations upon the heated surface of a stove. Pray, excuse me; although I can hardly forgive myself for speaking so plainly of something the very memory of which is nauseous.”
“ And then Mr. Washington Adams was, or represented, a real man, — a real American, after all ; and we are not so much out of the way as you would have us believe.”
“ Let me explain. I was tempted into the escapade which you have so kindly passed over by the frequent, the almost incessant, presentation by British writers of all sorts — dramatists, novelists, journalists, travelers — of a creature whom they offer to you, and generally in so many words, as the American ; and who is accepted by you — most of you — as ’ the American.’ A man who behaves himself decently, and who is a fair representative of the well bred and well educated — I will not say the cultivated — American, you pass by without remark ; and if you wish to characterize American society, you choose for the purpose a man who speaks and acts like Mr. Washington Adams. You look upon us, in the first place, as one homogeneous lot or lump of nondescript human creatures ; and of that congregation you make Mr. Washington Adams the representative. I ‘m not speaking now of the few better informed and more kindly iutentioned among you, but of the majority who are full of ignorance and of prejudice, and of those who serve their interest and gratify their feelings by pandering to the combined ignorance and prejudice of others. Your whole current literature, particularly your newspapers, to this very day are full of such perversion and misrepresentation. Any queer, coarse, grotesque slang, which may have been heard in some part of America, or picked out of some American newspaper, and which is never used by decent, educated men, is repeated, with the remark ’ as the Americans say.’ All this, and the uneasy desire, so commonly manifested by your travelers and by your writers on social subjects, not to see things simply as they are in America, but to find something new and strange, if not ridiculous, in speech or habits of life, provoked me, after my talk with Lord Toppingham, to play my prank, and make a little fun of you before your own eyes. In playing it, I presented, of course, a highly charged portrait, not of any American that you would be likely to meet, but of such a one as most of your countrymen seem to be desirous of meeting: although, as my good friend Captain Surcingle said to me, not ‘ as a wegla thing.’ ”
“ Poor, dear old Jack,” said Lady Toppingham: “ he can be an awful goose ; but there is something in him, after all. No man could ride to hounds as he does, and not be a good fellow.”
“ Indeed, I’m sure you ’re right as well as kind about the captain, — although I’m not enough of a Nimrod to see the connection between goodness and riding to hounds. But as to my Washington Adams, again ; my sword, as I have already confessed to you, was double edged, and cut both ways. There was not a trait of manners or of speech in my figure, I am sure, which was not a truthful representation, slightly highlighted and dark - shadowed, of what might be seen and heard in some part of America, among certain people. The sense of monstrosity which you had was due less to any exaggeration than to the presentation of all these traits in one man and in the course of an hour or so ; as a dramatist will crowd the important events of years or of a life into five acts, which can be presented in one evening. You had your not uncommon British notion of ‘ the Americans ’ concentrated into human pemmican. No wonder that you found it rather highly seasoned. And let me ask you, If I were to offer to the world as a representation of the manners and customs of the English, what I might see at the Toppingham Arms in the village on Saturday night, would not Lord Toppingham, and Sir Charles Boreham, and Dr. Tooptoe, and Mr. Grimstone, be likely to scout it, and perhaps even to resent it a little ? ”
“ That would be absurd. I ’m sure you wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be at all fair.”
While tins talk was going on, the little Lady Charlotte had slid down from her mother’s lap, and had toddled over to me and begun to play with the seal and key upon my watch-ribbon. Soon I took her, too, upon my knee, to her apparent satisfaction, and with the evident approbation of the mother. As she sat there, a voice was heard, which even I recognized, and my hostess said, “ There ’s Lord Toppingham ; ” and, after a moment’s hesitation, “ Shall I tell him ? ”
“ No, please don’t. Let me do that myself.”
“ As you wish, of course ; but why ? ”
“ My offense, if it were one, was personal to Lord Toppingham ; and with all thanks to you, madam, and feeling fully what must be the strength of your advocacy, I don’t quite like to seek shelter behind a woman’s — fan.” I had almost used another word, although I had not begun it, and a little blush and a sparkle of the eye showed me that the lady had read my thought.
A few moments passed : then enter Lord Toppingham in his shooting gear. As he opened the door he saw the pretty burden of my knee, and exclaimed,
“ Why, Chartie, darling, where have you got ? ” before he was well in the room. He came quickly to me, and giving me a cordial grasp of the hand said, “I’m sure we ’re glad to see you, at last. Heard you were here, and only stopped to wash the powder off my hands. You ’ve got on famously, I see, with one very important member of this household,” glancing at his little daughter, who was now with her mother; “ and that, I see,” looking into his wife’s bright, sweet face, “ has done you no harm in another quarter.” And then he, too, gave me to understand how you had prepared for me such a frank and warm reception.
We passed pleasantly enough through the unavoidable few minutes of commonplace talk which open a first interview, during which he mentioned that his companion had gone home with a bit of percussion cap in his cheek. “ His first wound,” be added ; “ his baptism of fire, as that sham Louis Napoleon said about his poor little Prince Imperial.”
“ For shame, Toppingham ! Is poor Jack hurt ? ”
“ Not half so much as he might be by his own razor, or a woman’s hair-pin. It’ll just give him an opportunity for a becomin’ mouche.” Then to me, “ He was very much taken by your friend, Mr. Washington Adams, — was n’t he Kate ? You must have observed it. Most extraord’nary person, that! Do tell us somethin’ about him. Never saw such a queer-actin’ person in my life ! ”
“ Come, come,” said Lady Toppingham, “don’t trouble Mr. Humphreys about that now. He has explained and apologized for all Mr. Adams’s peculiarities ; and we ’ye had quite enough of that sort of American,” with an emphasis and a glance that gave me a little consolation.
“ You ’ll stop to dinner with us, of course: pray do ; ” and my hostess heartily confirmed the invitation.
I excused myself; said that I had brought a horse with me, and glanced at my costume.
“ Never mind that. Your horse will stop, too ; he ’ll be well looked after in the stables. And as to your morning coat, never mind that, either. I can send you everything else that you ’ll require. Do stop. We ’re quite alone for a day or two ; somethin’ not very common at this season of the year. You ’ll save Lady Toppin’ham and me from playin’ Darby and Joan.”
Just then a servant entered, and said, “Miss Duffield is here, mv lady. She’s stopping a moment to talk with Mrs. Timmins,” who, I discovered, was the housekeeper.
“ Oh, I’m glad she’s come,” said Lady Toppingham. “ Now I’m sure you’ll stay,” with the slightest possible side turn of the head. “ Gentlemen always do stay where Margaret Duffield is. Although I don’t know but you ’re so spoiled with your wonderful American beauties, we hear so much about, that you may prove unimpressible. Lord Toppingham’s her guardian. She’s quite at home here, — comes and goes just as she pleases ; may not show herself for a while yet.”
She did, however, show herself at that moment, entering with a charming union of modesty and self-possession ; and after greeting and kissing Lady Toppingham, she gave her hand and offered her cheek to her guardian. As there were only four of us, I was introduced by the mere mention of my name. This and her greetings brought light to her eyes and an enchanting accession of color to her cheek. She fully justified Lady Toppingham. I have rarely seen so beautiful a girl; never, one so lovely. You will imagine a fair, rosy, blue-eyed, golden-haired young woman, round and radiant, with all the soft white splendor of what is called Anglo-Saxon beauty. But you will be wrong. That beauty is found in England, but it is far from being so common as is generally supposed ; not so common as in New England, I have sometimes thought. Not noticeably tall, Miss Duffield was yet a little above the average height of women, and the eye-alluring charms of her perfect figure were enhanced by what I saw at a second glance was a gown a little shorter-waisted than the fashion. That sharp, hard line, which seems to be defined by some mechanical force, and to divide harshly the upper from the lower half of the figure, was absent; and this added not a little both to the dignity and the grace of her bearing. Her broad, low brow was as white as marble, and so was her neck. Her eyes would have been black but for a slight olive tint that enriched and softened them ; and her hair, which was not banged or brutified in any way, but parted and drawn gently above her pink-tipped ears to a knot, seemed black upon her full white temples, but where the light shone on it of a warmer hue. Her nose was saved from being perfect Grecian by a slight upward curve from the thin nostril, a type of that feature somewhat more common here than it is with us, although, generally speaking, England is not distinguished as a country of fine noses. Of the winning beauty of her mouth I shall not venture to attempt to give you an idea. It was no little rosebud, but nobly lined, and full and rich with promise ; the teeth and their setting seeming to have been furnished by Hygeia. Briefly, imagine a dark-eyed, dark-haired Hebe, with an expression of intelligence and character which are not Hebe’s peculiar attributes, and you will have an approximate idea of Miss Duffield. Her dress was perfect: dark olive-green from throat to ankles, including her very gloves, with a light gray broad-leafed hat and feather. Some Englishwomen dress so admirably that it is all the more unaccountable that so many of them dress ill.
My little friend Chartie made for the new-comer as soon as she entered the room, calling her Aunt Peggy, climbing into her willing lap, and lavishing upon her the somewhat oppressive although gentle caresses of a petted, loving child, and managing, during a few moments which were occupied with desultory talk, to push back her hat, and so to disarrange her hair that, although the general result seemed to me more admirable than the most elaborate hairdressing I had ever observed, the young lady withdrew, accompanied by my hostess, to repair damages.
“ Lady Toppingham told me that Miss Duffield is your ward.”
“ Yes ; she is my wife’s cousin, the orphan daughter of her mother’s younger sister, who was married to a gentleman of moderate estate, which, on his early death without a male heir, went to a distant relative. She is a dear, good girl, although somewhat wayward; as lovable as she is beautiful. I could not love her more if she were my younger sister or my daughter.”
“ I cannot doubt it.”
“ When I say wayward, I don’t mean that she’s inclined to be fast and slangish, like so many of our girls, although she does n’t lack spirit. Far from it. But she’s quietly set in her own ways: not very fond of gayety, although she can be the merriest and most companionable creature in the world ; likes to he a good deal by herself, with her music and her books, and to take long walks ; knows all the old women and the young mothers in the cottages about here, and they all worship her.”
“ Strange that such a girl as she is has not been married ere this.”
“Yes, indeed; but she doesn’t appear at all inclined to marriage. Poor Madge! she has only one hundred and fifty pounds a year ; but she seems perfectly content. She might have been Marchioness of Tipton, and outranked her cousin. She might have had Sir John Acrelipp, who has thirty thousand a year, if she had only held up her finger; but she would n’t. Jack Surcingle is awfully cut up about her, and although he is only a second son he has a thousand a year from his mother and his uncle, besides his allowance and his pay ; but she laughs and talks with Jack, and is as kind as kind can be ; and yet I can see that on this subject she keeps him at arm’s-length.”
“ A musician, you say ? ”
“Yes, indeed ; which I’m not, I ’m glad to own. Can’t see the use of it. She does n’t sing much, only a few little airs and ballads for me and the children ; but she’s what Hans Breitmann would call a biano-blayer, and quite awful in the way of Bach and Beethoven, and opuses and things.”
“ Rather a remarkable girl, it seems to me.”
“ Well you may say so ; but, with all her sweetness, somewhat troublesome to a guardian. I don’t know what we shall do with her ; such a mixture of attractiveness and reserve, of poverty and content. She makes us anxious, sometimes, for her future.”
“ Lord Toppingham,” I said here, rising suddenly, “ I’ve a confession to make to you, and an apology.”
He rose also, and looked inquiringly into my face. Then I repeated to him what I had said to Lady Toppingham ; telling him how I had been tempted to it by our long colloquy in the railway carriage, and adding that I could not remain under his roof and leave him ignorant of what I had done, nor if he felt that I had given him just cause of offense.
He took a turn up and down the room, and then stopping before me said, “Frankly, it was carrying a practical joke rather far, upon a first acquaintance, as I ’m glad to see that you feel yourself; and if I had discovered it without your confession, I own that I might have been offended. But I see just how it was : I think I can understand your motive, and I certainly honor your candor. And — well, let us forget everything but the fun of it,” and with a pleasant smile he held out his hand.
In a moment or two Lady Toppingham returned, saying, as she entered, “ Will Mr. Humphreys stay to dinner ? ”
“ Thanks ; since you ’re so kind as to ask me, and you seem quite ready to excuse my morning rig, and to take me as I am, I will.”
“ We shall be most happy. I thought you’d stop. You ’re very good,” with the least perceptible spark of merriment in her eye, and something in her manner that gave me the notion that she would have been glad to drop me a little mock curtsey ; but she did n’t.
Now came five o’clock tea, and with it Miss Duffield. Needless to tell you how we chatted through this delightful goûter: delightful, thus taken with two or three, or half a dozen, pleasant companions in the lady’s parlor or the “ living ” drawing-room of a country house ; but a bore, — I confess it, an unmitigated bore, —when it is made the occasion of a small and early entertainment in the city, where thirty or forty people, or more, come and go in costly morning dresses, the women with their bonnets on, tinkle teacups and spoons, and gabble the commonplaces of society.
Our talk gradually subsided into a silence, which we were not ready to break, while the rays of the sun slanted through a pretty oriel window, as the great light-giver sank behind a heavy mass of clouds. In the course of our conversation I had spoken about music to the ladies in a way that revealed, as I intended it should, my love for the mysterious art, half sensuous, half emotional, which, as you know, is one of the chief pleasures of my life. “ Come, Margaret,” said Lady Toppingham, suddenly breaking the silence, “ go to the piano, and give Mr. Humphreys some music.”
She rose immediately, and saying only, “ With pleasure,” went to the instrument. Lord Toppingham rose and left the room, and looking in again in a moment said to the countess, “ Kate, Mr. Humphreys will excuse you for a little while ; I want to say a word to you.”
Miss Duffield sat down before the piano, which I opened for her, and the deft fingers of her right hand, not small, but lithe, well rounded, white, and rosytipped, ran lightly up little chromatic scales here and there upon the keyboard. Invariable this, with all musicians : they feel and coax their instruments, whether piano-fortes, or violins, or what not, before they set earnestly to work. As she did this little preliminary trick, her left hand lying in her lap, she turned to me and asked, “Are you of the Humphreys of Dorset ? ”
“No ; my people came from this county. But that was a long while ago. Don’t you know that I’m an American, from Massachusetts, — what you, and we too, call a Yankee ? I’ve some cousins at home named Duffield.”
Her hand fell lightly down beside its fellow, and for one precious appreciable instant she bent upon my eyes a look which I had seen in others of her countrywomen, when I told the same to them ; only it was softer, less like a stave ; there was a mingling of sorrow, almost of pleading, with its gentle wonder.
Did you ever ask yourself if such women truly feel, really are, what they undesigningly express; whether there is in fact any necessary connection between their outer and their inner selves? I have sometimes doubted it. And if there is such a relation between soul and body in them, what becomes of the poor women who have not eyes and lips like Miss Duffleld’s ? I remember coming suddenly upon a good homely girl who I thought was in distress, and about to weep. Alas, poor young woman ! if I had entered only a few minutes before, I should have known that she was more than usually happy, and that that distortion of her face was her way of smiling. As the thought that suggests this flashed across my mind, Miss Duffield sat quickly up, and took half a dozen double handfuls of roaring chords out of the instrument, which trembled under her aggressive touch. After a moment’s silence she played one of Schubert’s airs; and Schubert himself would have thanked her as heartily as I did. I asked for more ; and without a word she played reminiscences, of her own arranging, I suspect, of the garden music in Gounod’s Faust. The happy wires sang love under her persuasive fingers. For this I did not thank her, and we sat a few moments without speaking. Then reaching from the music-rack a book which had caught my eye, I opened it, and put it before her, saying, “ What you have done is charming, indeed ; but I know that you must like something better. Please, will you not play me one of these ?”
“That! That’s Bach,” she said,with surprise in her face. “ Do you like Bach ? ”
“ Why not?”
“ Why, you ’re an American, you say, and I should n’t think of playing Bach to an American. I know you have Italian opera over there, with Patti and Nilsson and all the rest. But Bach ! It’s only of late years even here that people generally begun to like Bach ; except the real musicians, you know.”
“ But I learned to like Bach in America when I was a little boy, before Patti and Nilsson were heard of. Just as few people in America as in England really like and understand Bach ; but in my boyhood I was one of a sort of club that met every week to enjoy Bach and Beethoven, and there are many other such in America. I know of one which began in the last generation, and has met weekly for thirty-five years.”
She said no more, but played one of those sonatas in which the great master of the antique school makes a fugue sing the passion of a broken heart amid all the intricacies of counterpoint. And then she played another, and yet another, and another, until the twilight began to fall upon us ; and rising hastily, she said, “ Excuse me ; I must dress for dinner,” and left me in the darkling room.
As this parlor was not used at night, it was not lighted, and I sat undisturbed, musing happily under the influence of the music, for nearly half an hour, before a servant entered with a candle, and a message: “My lady sent me to show you your room, sir, if you’d like to go to it now.” But going out I met Lord Toppingham himself, who said, “ I’ve been lookin’ for you in the drawin’-room. What made you sit here in the dark ? ” Then he kindly accompanied me to my room, with an air of welcome, and hoping that I would ask for anything I wanted (but all was amply provided) he left me to the valeting of my solicitous attendant, and I soon went down to him and the ladies.
Of course, in such a little party of four, I took my hostess in to dinner, which she had wisely ordered to be served at a rouud table standing at the edge of a huge bay-window of the dining-room. Our dinner was chatty and pleasant; but although Miss Duffield was directly opposite to me, she said hardly a word to me during dinner, directing most of her conversation to her guardian. Before we returned to the drawing-room the afternoon clouds had gathered overhead, and were pouring rain. “ Of course you ’ll not go wandering off about the country in such a night as this,’ my hostess said. “ You ’ll stop till to-morrow. What a blessing that some one was sent to keep us from boring each other to death! Really, Mr. Humphreys, you ’re quite a merciful dispensation.”
I stayed over till next morning at the Priory, and far into the next day, and departed only from necessity, and with a hearty and accepted invitation to return directly for a visit of some days, on which I was promised a meeting with some pleasant people. There were some eight or a dozen guests all the time, who shot and dined, and dined and shot; and they were pleasant enough; but what they were is not to my present purpose. I enjoyed it all, but most the society of my hostess and her cousin. They charmed me more than any other women I had ever met. Well-bred, simple, unaffected, sensible, well-educated women I had seen before; but never women who to all these qualities added a sweet feminine meekness of manner, combined with a capacity to show spirit, and even to be bold, upon occasion. This muliebrity seems to me the crowning charm of the sex in England. With it these ladies, into whose close companionship I was gradually drawn, fed fat the hunger of my soul. Our common love for music, and the likeness of our love, brought me very near to Miss Duffield ; this nearness being much favored by her evident lack of sympathy with most of the men around her, and by her independence. We were thus often alone, and never more alone than at times when there were others near us. You know my love for walking in the country, which at home I have generally to enjoy in solitude. She rivaled me, and allowed me to accompany her on some of her strolls, and even on some of her charitable missions. On one of these I discovered the reason of the reserve that awakened her guardian’s anxiety. Our talk had gradually led up to it, and she exclaimed, —
“ Oh, I ’m weary of seeing men around me doing nothing, thinking nothing, and leading such petty, selfish lives ! Of course I know there are able men enough and busy men enough in England ; but I’ve been to London only once since I was a child, and I see nothing of that sort of man, but men that shoot, and hunt, and play billiards, and gamble, or vanish away to the Continent on some shameful business, like those-; ” and she mentioned two or three noble families, whose names were well known in the divorce court. “ Either these, or else a dull squire. My dear guardian is worth a regiment of such men. There’s Surcingle: he does n’t gamble, and he ’s good. But what do you think he said,” she added, laughing, “ one day when I told him he did nothing but play billiards ? That he did : that he hunted, and shot, and ate, and smoked, and played cricket, and made — talked to me ; and although he is n’t the wisest, he’s about the best of them. And yet I detest prigs and pedants. I know I ’m only a woman, but I can’t help thinking; and it seems to me that the way in which our society is organized tends to make such men ; for most men are selfish and indolent, except about their own pleasures.”
I stayed ten days at the Priory, which were the happiest of my life ; and at last took myself off, for very shame. But erelong I returned to my little inn at B—, and again visited the Priory frequently, although without sleeping there.
One morning I went over early, and was walking through the park by a little dell, or shaw, about three quarters ot‘ a mile from the house, when my attention was attracted by what was plainly a splash of blood upon the path; then drops large and frequent stretched on before me, and they were fresh. I followed them quickly, and after a rod or two I came upon a sight that made my heart stand still. Miss Duffield lay across the path, with a little pool of blood by her side. She was pale, but conscious. A gleam of joy came from her eyes, as I sprang forward to help her.
Briefly, this had happened: On one of her walks, she had seen, on a dwarf tree at the edge of. the shaw, a little cluster of leaves, beautifully discolored by some caprice of nature; but the twig on which it grew was so tough, and stretched so far over the edge, that although she could touch she could not break it. Therefore this morning she had brought with her one of those little clasp pruning-knives which are used by amateur gardeners of her sex ; and leaning forward she was able to cut off the twig, which she at once thrust into the buttoned opening of the waist of her walking-dress, and was about shutting the knife, when the turf yielded on the edge where she was standing, and she fell forward into the shaw. The fall would have been of little importance, although she was somewhat bruised and strained ; but the knife was driven into her left wrist. As she drew it out, it was followed by a spurt of blood. In terror and pain she managed to scramble up to the path, and started to run home ; but the wound bled freely, and after running a few yards she fell fainting to the ground. As the loss of blood had not yet been very great, the horizontal position, acting upon one of her high health and strength, brought her to her senses just before I appeared.
I saw at once, from the bright color of the blood and its regular gush, that she had cut an artery clean in two. Grasping her arm firmly, I said, " You must let me help you, or — Will you trust yourself to me ? ”
“ Oh, yes, yes ! ”
And now my experience as an amateur assistant in our soldiers’ hospitals, in my youth, stood me in good stead. Cutting her sleeve open to the shoulder with my pocket-knife, I soon made an extempore tourniquet with my handkerchief and a small pebble, using as a lever a stout twig that I found hard by ; and it was hardly more than a minute from the time when I found her before I had the brachial artery compressed and the flow of blood stopped. But what to do ! I could not leave her; and although I could carry her a little way, but with danger of opening the artery again, of what good was that ? Not a living creature was within sight, and we were three quarters of a mile from the house. Before this I had thought of the isolation of these great English houses ; but now it came upon me with horror, and with cursings in my heart. She did not speak one word, but looked at me in silence.
I saw a little knoll near by, which would give me a farther view. I raised her as gently as I could, and laid her by the side of the path, with my coat under her head. I ran up the knoll, and looked about: in vain. I called out with all my strength. My voice sounded to me faint and hollow and ghostly. I came down again to watch my patient. She lay quiet, and, opening her eyes, looked at me with calm confidence. Then stretching out her uuwounded arm, she pressed my hand, but did not speak. Again I went upon the knoll, and, peering about, what joy to see in the distance a young rustic fellow crossing an open in the park ! I shouted and threw up my hands, and managed to attract his attention, and to turn his steps toward me. But with what leaden feet he came ! Yet I did soon bring him to quickening his pace, and when he had come near I rushed upon him, saying, “ My lad, don’t be frightened. Here’s a lady hurt. You understand me?”
“ It’s Miss Duffield, Lady Toppingham’s cousin. You know her ? ”
“ Ees, oi knaw un. She do bo t’ koindest leddy yereabaout.”
“ Well, she ’ll die if she is not helped. Get a wagon, a cart, anything on wheels, just as quick as lightning. You understand ? ”
“ Ees : I be to get cairt to cairt un up to aouse.”
I was about to offer him money ; but although slow of speech, he was ready in action, and was off on a run.
My patient I found doing as well as I could hope for. We neither of us spoke. There was no water near; I had nothing to give her. She stretched out her right band to me again : I held it, and watched my tourniquet in silence. Such a silence I had never known before. I heard the beating of my heart, of hers. I heard the light breeze sighing a sad monotone ; the little creakings of the tiny insects around us. It seemed to me that I heard the grass grow. I saw all trifling things : the dry twigs, the odd shape of some of the leaves upon the shrubs, the very grains of sand in the path. I saw the beauty of her arm, and remember tracing the course of a blue vein down its inner side. I saw that the little cluster of leaves which was the cause of all this woe still remained in her corsage.
All at once the sound of quick hoofs and of wheels, — not farm-cart wheels, but light wheels, moving rapidly, thank God ! — and in a few moments they stopped where the path went out of the copse upon the road, and help appeared with the manly form and troubled face of Captain Surcingle. He had been driving through the park in a light dogcart, on some jockeyish business, when he was seen and stopped by my messenger.
Goose as his cousin called him, the captain could not have behaved better. He was silent, sympathetic, attentive, helpful, doing without a word just what I bade him. Keeping Miss Duffield’s wounded arm across her body, we carried her carefully to the dog-cart, and lilted her into it. I told her that I should have to place her upon the bottom of the cart, and rest her head upon my knee. She laid it there without a word. I wrote a few lines on the blank leaf of an old letter, stating the case, and gave it to my rustic messenger, telling him to get it to the village surgeon as soon as possible. The captain mounted his seat and gathered up the reins, when, turning his head, he saw the position of my patient.
“ Oh, I say, Mr. Humfweys, p’waps you would n’t mind dwivin’. I should n’t mind havin’ you. You see, you und’stand hawses in ’Mewica, mebbe, but you don’t und’stand sittin’ in dog-cahts, you know.”
“ If you wish, and if Miss Duffield wishes ” —
The weary eyes opened on me with a piteous look; and she said faintly, “ Thanks, dear Jack; but please don’t have me moved again.” I don’t know whether dear Jack could have heard her, but I cried out, —
“ Never mind, captain ; no time for that. Drive on, please ! Gently, now.”
The good fellow distinguished himself as a whip, and took us swiftly to the house, and as softly as if we were driving over velvet. Indeed, his knowledge of the park enabled him to cut off turns and corners, and to take almost a straight line over the grass
Needless to tell you the commotion at the Priory. Miss Duffield was soon in bed ; and erelong the surgeon arrived on horseback. The artery must be taken up, of course. He needed help, and asked for the gentleman who applied that tourniquet. The consequence was that I assisted at the little operation, while Lady Toppingham held the patient’s other hand, and Mrs. Timmins stood by to give any help that might be necessary. She underwent the operation in perfect silence. I did not look at her while it was performed, and after the bandage was applied I immediately left the room. As I passed around the foot of the bed she opened her eyes and smiled ; I bowed silently, and have not seen her since. But from that time I have been at the Priory, Dr. Catlin having expressed a wish that I should remain for two or three days.
This happened last Monday morning ; and every day the report has been that she was doing as well as possible. Indeed, as it turned out, the accident which might have been mortal was really of no grave consequence. Therefore, this morning, all the household went to church, leaving her in the care of nurse and housekeeper, while I shut myself in my room to write to you.
After a while I was interrupted by a gentle knock at my door. It was the maid who, at the Priory, specially waits on her; for she has no maid of her own.
“ Please, sir,” she said, “ Miss Duffield’s compliments, and she’s very much better this morning. Nothing now only a little weakness. She thought she would put her arm in a sling, and come down ; but the doctor would n’t pummit. An’ please, sir, would you find her a nice book. An’ she sends you this,” holding out to me what I recognized as the cluster of leaves which I had seen in her corsage that morning. On one of the leaves was a little drop of blood, which I have not washed off.
This is all I have to tell you now. Should there be anything more hereafter which would interest you, I shall write. Faithfully yours,
W. MANSFIELD HUMPHREYS.
NOTE. It is difficult for me to discover the relation of the latter part of Mr. Mansfield Humphreys’ letter to Mr. Washington Adams’s visit to Toppingtnn Priory, or to the subject of my friend’s colloquy with Lord Toppingham in the railway ear. Doubtless the incidents which he relates were of profound interest to the parties directly concerned in theni; and they have art obvious tendency to complications of which we may possibly learn something hereafter. The publication in England, to which he refers, of the account given in The Atlantic of the colloquy and the visit, as a little book, was entirely at the suggestion and request of the publisher, with whom I had had no previous communication, and who proposed it because he thought that it would be the means of diffusing some useful and much-needed information. It has been the subject of some animadversions by a writer in a well-known London publication, which are of such a nature that a very brief examination of a few of them may be profitable. The little book seems to have disturbed the digestion, and certainly to have deranged the intellect, of the critic. He has even been wholly unable to apprehend its purpose. “ It is meant,” he says, “to give, so far as it goes, an essentially accurate picture of what English society actually is.” This is amazing. Such a picture its writer had, indeed, endeavored to paint in a previous book, England Without and Within, which has been found by some British critics almost too flattering. The purpose of Mr. Washington Adams, on the contrary, was solely to give to ths many British readers of The Atlantic some information (as simply and baldly true as that two and two are four) about “ America and the Americans,” which, as its intelligent and enterprising Edinburgh publisher saw, was really much needed by a very’ considerable part of the British public. That the ignorance thus assumed does really exist, even among many of the most cultivated, best bred, and most estimable members of that society, no one acquainted with it can doubt.
On one or two special points the critic referred to takes exceptions, as to which it may be we’ll that he should be put to his purgation. One of these is. that a man of Lord Tnppingham’s rank and breeding is represented as dropping his final g ’s in ing and the r in words like pardon. The language of the personages in Mr. Washington Adams was put into their mouths merely from my own observation; but on looking into the matter there is the best British authority for it. Punch is not without examples of such talk by such people; audit could not otherwise be faithful. For example, Punch, September 6, 1873, under the heading Evil Communications, etc. Scene, a pastry cook’s; a governess, with her young masculine charge.
“ Lord Reginald. Ain’t yer goin’ to have some puddin’, Miss Richards ’? It’s so jolly.
“ Governess. There again, Reginald’. Puddin’, — goin’, — Ain’t yer ! That’s the way Jim Bates and Dolly Maple speak ; and Jim’s a stable-boy, and Dolly’s a dairv-maid.
“ Lord Reginald. Ah! but that’s the way father and mother speak, too! And father’s a duke, and mother’s a duchess ! So, there ! ”
And again, the same volume, under the heading, Fragment of Fashionable Conversation: Scene, a first-class railway carriage, —
“Little Swell No. 1. Huntin’, to-day,” etc.
Indeed, the point is indisputable. There is no more authoritative observer upon this subject than Mr. Alexander Ellis, F. R. S., etc., the eminent author of the great work on English Pronunciation ; and he represents (Part IV., p. 1211), no less a person than Professor Jowett, Master of Balliol College, Oxford, as saying in one of his lectures, “attachin’ ’imself to ‘im,” instead of “attaching himself to him.” All this, however, is probably, as I have already conjecturally indicated in England Without and Within, but a relic of the good usage of a not remote past.
As to the dropped r, the same high authority (Mr. Ellis) records the following examples (idem, pp. 1212, 1213). Dr. Hooper, president of the British Association, said “eitha, neitha, undataken ” (for either, neither, undertaken); a peer, “ obse’ving, brighta, conve’sant, dircc’tn, pa’cels ” (for observing, brighter, conversant, parcels); certain professional and commercial men, “futsha boa’d, rema’ks ” (for future, board, remarks), [I look only to the consonants, and ask Mr. Ellis’s pahdon, if I have thus misrepresented his vowel sounds.] This point may be dismissed without further consideration. But I admit with pleasure that I never heard a well-born, well-bred person in England say “yer” for you ; possibly, Mr. Punch might suggest, because the range of my social observation stopped one grade below the ducal rank.
Lady Boreham and the society at. Boreham llall seem chiefly to afflict this critic. He appears to resent as a personal insult this little passing glimpse of one limited variety of life in England; and although it is a mere link, a coupling between the first and the second parts of the little sketch, only an incidental bit of machinery to make the rest work together, he devotes most of his attention to it, and will have it that the Boreham people are set forth as “the English,” just as the Washington Adams’s have been held tip for half a century in England as “ the Americans.” He is woeful because Lady Boreham is represented “almost exactly’ as the French caricature Englishwomen.” The coincidence is remarkable, and somewhat significant ; for I have never been in France ; nor have I ever seen any French caricatures of English people, except those in Gavarni’s London, in which I remember no such figure as Lady Boreham. She is as exact a picture as I could make, in the little time and space that I could give to her, of a sort of woman who is not very uncommon in England, but to whom this little sketch portrait is my first and only’ reference. I grieve that my reviewer takes her so sorely to heart; and if he really believes that she was presented as the typical Englishwoman, I sympathize with him cordially. For I do not say here for the first time how charming I found the sex in England, whatever their rank or condition. But is it not permitted to hint that there is one woman in England who is not absolute in feminine charm ? And have our British friends become so sensitive, are their mental integuments so excoriated, that they cannot have it said that there is one household in England which is characterized by dull respectability ? Truly it makes a difference when, the name being changed, of thee the fable is narrated. My critic seems, as he read, to have taken off his skin and sat in his nerves.
One grievance heavily alleged is that this lady “drops all her h’t his being done in a way that conveys a notion that her speech is the representative speech of the book, — an old and not very admirable device of injurious criticism. Moreover, the assertion is absolutely untrue. If I had so represented Lady Boreham’s speech, I should have been guilty of deliberate slander. The truth is that she, the least important personage of all that appear, speaks just six times! In only one instance does she utter more than a dozen words! She uses words beginning with h only eleven times in all; and all of these, every one, she aspirates, just as the other personages do, except two, home and hotel ! Now if any general assertion may’ be safely made as to English-speaking in England, it is that only a very few among the highest bred and most thoroughly educated persons say home and hotel. A man who is so precise in his aspirations as to say /tumorous (which thirty years ago no one said) will vet say ‘otel always, and ‘ome whenever the word is preceded by’ a consonant. Even the women, whose speech, in almost all conditions of life, it is worth a voyage to hear, say ’ome and ’otel.
My critic, however, makes one admission which atones for all his misrepresentation, intentional or unintentional. He says that my friend Humphreys, in his masquerade, “ deliberately makes a beast of himself.” I don’t agree with him any more than Lady Toppingham does, or my’ correspondents do. Humphrey’s merely’ showed the company at the Priory a concentrated representation of certain rude, grotesque forms of life. But the personage which he “ disfigured or presented ” is not new to the British public, but a very’ old acquaintance, indeed. He is merely the man who has figured on their stage, in their fiction, in their serial literature, in their illustrated books, for more than half a century as “ the American;” and my reviewer thus admits that during that time British authors and journalists and arti-ts (sec Punch passim) have been presenting “the Americans” to their world as — beasts. The word is his, not mine. With Phèdre I can say C’est toi qui l’as nominé. He has fully justified Mansfield Humphreys.
Richard Grant White.
- On the margin; “ metaphorically, you know.”↩
- Not at all. My good friend Humphreys forgets certain passages of the book, in which that admiration which he and others have found so glowing is tempered by the expression of opinions much like his own, and, moreover, by the record of evidence of just such ignorance as he himself has found.↩