[Moral Tales] “My Fortune’s Made: An Amusing Sketch,” by Mary Alexina Smith (from The Youth’s Companion, 23 November 1848; pp. 117-118)
My young friend, Cora Lee, was a gay, dashing girl, fond of dress, and looking always, to use a common saying, just as if out of a band-box. Cora was a belle, of course, and had many admirers. Among the number of these was a young man named Edward Douglass, who was the very pink of neatness in all matters pertaining to dress, and exceeding particular in the observance of the little proprieties of life.
I saw from the first, that if Douglass pressed his suit, Cora’s heart would be an easy conquest; and so it proved.
“How admirably they are fitted for each other,” I remarked to my husband on the night of the wedding. “Their tastes are similar, and their habits so much alike, that no violence will be done the feelings of either, in the more intimate associations that marriage brings. Both are neat in person, and orderly by instinct, and both have good principles.”
“From all present appearances, the match may be a good one,” replied my husband. I thought there was something like reservation in his tone.
“Do you really think so?” said I, a little ironically, for MR. Smith’s approval of the marriage was hardly warm enough to suit my fancy.
“Oh, certainly; why not?” he replied.
I felt a little fretted at my husband’s mode of speaking; but made no further remark on the subject. He is never very enthusiastic or sanguine; and did not mean in this instance, to doubt the fitness of the parties for happiness in the marriage state, as I half imagined. For myself, I warmly approved my friend’s choice, and called her husband a lucky man to secure for his companion through life, a woman so admirably fitted to make one like him happy. But a visit which I paid to Cora one day, about six weeks after the honey moon had expired, lessened my enthusiasm, and awakened some unpleasant doubts. It happened that I called soon after breakfast. Cora met me in the parlor, looking like a very fright. She wore a soiled and rumpled morning wrapper; her hair was in papers, and she had on dirty stockings, and a pair of old slippers, down at the heels.
“Bless me, Cora,” said I, “what is the matter—have you been sick?”
“No. Why do you ask? Is my dishabille rather on the extreme?”
“Candidly, I think it is, Cora,” was my frank answer.
“Oh well, no matter,” she carelessly replied, “my fortune’s made.”
“I don’t clearly understand you,” said I.
“I’m married, you know.”
“Yes, I am aware of that fact.”
“No need of being so particular in dress now.”
“Did’nt I just say,” replied Cora, “My fortune’s made. I’ve got a husband.”
Beneath an air of jesting, was apparent the real earnestness of my friend.
“You dressed with a careful regard to taste and neatness, in order to win Edward’s love?” said I.
“Certainly I did.”
“And should you not do the same in order to retain it?”
“Why Mrs. Smith! Do you think my husband’s affection goes no deeper than my dress? I should be sorry to think that. He loves me for myself.”
“No doubt of that in the world, Cora. But remember that he cannot see what is in your mind, except by what you do or say. If he admires your taste, for instance, it is not from any abstract appreciation of it, but because the taste manifests itself in what you do. And depend upon it, he will find it a very hard matter to admire and approve your taste in dress, for instance, when you appear before him so often in your present unattractive attire. If you do not dress well for your husband’s eyes, for whose eyes, pray, do you dress? You are as neat when abroad as youw ere before your marriage.”
“As to that, Mrs. Smith, common decency requires that when I go up the street or into company, I shall dress well—to say nothing of the pride oen feels in looking well.”
“And does not common decency and natural pride argue as strongly in favor of your dressing well at home, and for the eye of your husband, whose approval and admiration must be dearer than the approval and admiration of the whole world?”
“But he doesn’t want to see me rigged out in silks and satins all the time. A pretty bill my dressmaker would have against him in that event. Edward has more sense than that, I flatter myself.”
“Street or ball room attire is one thing, Cora—and becoming home apparel another. We look for both in their place.”
Thus I argued with the thoughtless young wife, but my words made no impression. When abroad, she dressed with exquisite taste, and was lovely to look upon; but at home she was careless and slovenly, and made it almost impossible for those who saw her, to realize that she was the brilliant beauty that they had met in company but a short time before. But even this did not last long. I noticed after a few months, that the habits of home were confirming themselves, and becoming apparent abroad. Her fortune was made, and why should she now waste time, or employ her thoughts about matters of personal appearance?
The habits of Mr. Douglass on the contrary, did not change. He was orderly as before, and dressed with the same regard to neatness. He never appeared at the breakfast table in the morning, without being shaved—nor did he lounge about in the evening in his shirt sleeves. The slovenly habits into which Cora had fallen, annoyed him seriously, and still more, when her carelessness about her appearance began to manifest itself abroad as well as at home. When he hinted anything on the subject, she did not hesitate to reply in a jesting manner that her fortune was made, and she need not trouble herself any longer about how she looked.
Douglass did not feel very much complimented, but as he had his share of good sense, he saw that to assume a cold and offended manner, would do no good.
“If your fortune is made, so is mine,” he replied, on one occasion, quite coolly, and indifferently. Next morning he made his appearance at the breakfast table, with a beard of twenty-four hours’ growth.
“You haven’t shaved this morning, dear,” said Cora, to whose eyes the dirty looking face of her husband was particularly unpleasant.
“No,” he replied carelessly. “It’s a serious trouble to shave every day.”
“But you look so much better with a cleanly shaved face.”
“Looks are nothing—ease and comfort is everything,” said Douglass.
“But common decency, Edward.”
“I see nothing indecent in a long beard,” replied the husband.
Still Cora argued, but in vain. Her husband went off to his business with his unshaven face.
“I don’t know whether to shave or not,” said Douglass, next morning, running over his rough face, upon which was a beard of forty-hours’ growth. His wife had hastily thrown on a wrapper, with slip-shod feet, and head like a mop, was lounging in a large rocking chair, awaiting the breakfast bell.
“For mercy’s sake, Edward, don’t go any longer with that shocking dirty face,” spoke up Cora. “If you knew how dreadfully you looked!”
“Looks are nothing,” replied Edward, stroking his beard.
“What has come over you all at once?”
“Nothing; only it’s such a trouble to shave every day.”
“But you didn’t shave yesterday.”
“I know it; I am just as well off to-day, as if I had. So much saved, at any rate.”
But Cora urged the matter, and her husband finally yielded, and mowed down the luxuriant growth of beard.
“How much better you do look?” said the young wife. “Now don’t go another day without shaving.”
“But why should I take so much trouble about mere looks? I’m just as good with a long beard as with a short one. It’s a good deal of trouble to shave every day. You can love me just as well, and what need I care about what others may say or think?”
On the following morning, Douglass appeared not only with a long beard, but with a bosom and collar that were soiled and rumpled.
“Why, Edward, how you do look!” said Cora. “You’ve neither shaved nor put on a clean shirt.”
Edward stroked his face, and run his fingers along the edge of his collar, remarking indifferently, as he did so—
“It’s no matter—I look well enough. This being so very particular in dress is a waste of time, and I’m getting tired of it.”
And in this trim, Douglass went off to his business much to the annoyance of his wife, who could not bear to see her husband looking so slovenly.
Gradually, the declension from neatness went on, until Edward was quite a match for his wife, and yet, strange
to say, Cora had not taken the hint, broad as it was. In her own person she was as untidy as ever.
About six months after their marriage, we invited a few friends to spend a social evening with us, Cora and her husband among the number. Cora came alone, quite early, and said that her husband was very much engaged, and could not come till after tea. My young friend had not taken much pains with her attire. Indeed, her appearance mortified me, as it contrasted so decidedly with that of the other ladies who were present; and I could not help suggesting to her that she was wrong in being so indifferent about her dress. But she laughingly replied to me—
“You know my fortune’s made now, Mrs. Smith. I can afford to be negligent in these matters. It’s a great waste of time to dress so much.”
I tried to argue against this, but could make no impression upon her.
About an hour after tea, and while we were all engaged in pleasant conversation, the door of the parlor opened, and in walked Mr. Douglass. At first glance, I thought I must be mistaken. But no, it was Edward himself. But what a figure he did cut. His uncombed hair was standing up in stiff pikes, in almost an hundred different directions; his face could not have felt the touch of a razor for two or three days; and he was guiltless of a clean linen for at least the same length of time. His vest was soiled, his boots unblacked, and there was an unmistakeable hole in one of his elbows.
“Why, Edward!” exclaimed his wife, with a look of mortification and distress, as her husband came across the room, with a face in which no consciousness of the figure he cut, could be detected.
“Why, my dear fellow! what is the matter?” said my husband, frankly, for he perceived that the ladies were beginning to titter, and that the gentlemen were looking at each other and trying to repress their risible tendencies, and therefore deemed it best to throw off all reserve on the subject.
“The matter? Nothing’s the matter, I believe; why do you ask?” Douglass looked grave.
“Well may he ask what’s the matter?” broke in Cora, energetically. “How could youc me here in such a plight?”
“In such a plight?” and Edward looked down at himself; felt his beard, and run his fingers through his hair. “What’s the matter? Is anything wrong?”
“You look as if you had just waked up from a nap of a week with your clothes on, and come off without washing your face or combing your hair,” said my husband.
“Oh!” and Edward’s countenance brightened a little. Then he said with much gravity of manner:—
“I’ve been extremely hurried of late, and only left my store a few moments ago. I hardly thought it worth while to go home and dress up. I knew we were all friends here. Besides, “as my fortune is made,” (and he glanced with a look not to be mistaken, towards his wife)—I don’t feel called upon to give as much attention to dress as formerly. Before I was married, it was necessary to be particular in these matters, but now it’s of no consequence.”
I turned toward Cora. Her face was like crimson. In a few moments she arose and went quickly from the room. I followed her, and Edward came after us, pretty soon. He found his wife in tears and sobbing hysterically.
“I’ve got a carriage at the door,” he said to me aside, half laughing, half serious. “So help her on with her things, and we’ll retire in disorder.”
“But it’s too bad in you, Mr. Douglass,” replied I.
“Forgive me for making your house the scene of this lesson to Cora,” he whispered.
“It had to be given, and I thought I could venture to trespass on your forbearance.”
“I’ll think about that,” said I in return.
In a few minutes Cora and her husband retired, and in spite of good breeding, and everything else, we all had a hearty laugh over the matter, on my return to the parlor, where I explained the curious little scene that had just occurred.
How Cora and her husband settled the affair between themselves, I never inquired. But one thing is certain—I never saw her in a slovenly dress afterwards, at home or abroad. She was cured.