[Moral Tales] “Jane Graham; or, ‘I Shant Marry That Man’ ” (from The Youth’s Companion, July 23, 1846; pp. 45-46)
“I shan’t do it.”
“Do what, you vixen?”
“Marry that man.”
“Who wants you to?”
“Great need of will about it, then?”
“Or rather a waste of the commodity, you may think.”
“Just so. From your tone I judge you are in earnest.”
“And so I am.”
“Yet nobody wants you.”
“Not so certain of that.”
“Some one, not worth taking?”
“Not that, either.”
“Pretty ado you make about nothing. You won’t marry somebody, who at the same time don’t want you.”
“Suit yourself about positions. But I say again I won’t marry that man.”
“Enlighten me. Who is it you are disposed to honor so highly by a refusal?”
“Has he proposed?”
“Rather premat[u]re in the refusal methinks.”
“This letter tells me he is on his way here for no other mortal reason.”
“Have you ever seen him?”
“Engaged by proxy?”
“Yes, an uncle of mine, blessed with more cash than sense, took it into his head that Charles and I would make a fine pair to torment each other, all that’s needful for this life, so he named us as equal heirs, in case we married. I fancy I am woman enough to choose my own husband, and if he was half a man he would say so in regard to his own partner for life.”
“Perhaps he is coming to look for himself, and tell you he is man enough for that.”
“He takes a deal of trouble, if his only object is to get a peep at the animal mentioned in the documents as an incumbrance.”
“Then you won’t see him?”
“Not if I can help it.”
“Has he written you?”
“Yes, there’s his letter.”
“Poor fellow—he has the worst of it, after all.”
“How so? Isn’t it bad enough to be speculated upon as a cash article? What can he have worse I pray?”
“If he is a man of delicacy, and his letter bespeaks it, he feels the awkwardness of the thing as much as you.”
“Let him prove it, then, that’s all. It looks to me vastly like wishing to secure a fortune.”
“What say you to playing him a trick, to try his spirit?”
“Anything on earth, if so be I am rid of him.”
“And you won’t marry him?”
“No. Shall I tell you again?”
“That’s sufficiently emphatic. By your voluntary relinquishment, I conclude whoever wins may wear?”
“Hear my plan, then. I’ll be Miss Jane Graham, for the time being, and you plain Anna Cleaveland. If it’s the fortune he wants, Miss Jane Graham pro tem will outwit him.”
“Good. By a little management we can make the plan work finely. Old Margaret don’t much fancy what she calls “selling a white body outright,” so she is safe; John must come into the secret, and then good bye to Mr. Charles Wentworth and his pretensions.”
“If he abide the trial, what then?”
“Fate will determine, I suppose.”
“When does he arrive?”
“To-morrow. Plenty of time to arrange matters.”
“Yes, and as fortune favors the brave, who knows but one of us will win.”
The merry girls clapped their hands for joy, at the bare idea of playing a trick upon our luckless hero, while he, poor fellow as innocent of all blame as need be, was only doing his part, because he felt obliged to. No wish of his led him to comply with his benefactor’s request. It was only a simple act of courtesy to the lady, and if she had a spark of delicacy, he was sure she would refuse, and both go their ways in peace. So reasoned Charles Wentworth. His ideas of women were too exalted to admit of her being an article of merchandise, consigned in a bill of sale, as one would a bale of cotton. Besides, as Jane Graham said a decent man would feel, he vastly preferred to choose for himself. He couldn’t love an angel, if selected for him by another, and he was sure Miss Graham was no angel. She might be sordid enough to wish to avail herself of the opportunity to possess at the same time a fortune and a husband; but he would not marry her, not he; or if he couldn’t in decency help it, he would apply for a divorce the hour after the ceremony was performed. What silly airs a body will assume when conscious of their own importance, and how often a body is made to swallow pretty strong speeches. Did Charles Wentworth keep his word? We shall see.
The girls found no difficulty in making old Margaret coincide with their wishes; but John, the coachman, could not bear to see his old master’s daughter only Anna Cleaveland. True, he loved Anna almost as well—still his reverence was too large to allow of such encroachments on family rights. At length, however, he came round, and on condition that the game should be short, agreed to transfer his service to the Miss Graham to be.
By a process almost as expeditious as the modern mode of telegraphing, they were informed of the arrival of Mr. Wentworth at the village inn. Soon after came his card desiring an interview with Miss Graham. As previously arranged, both girls were in the room when he was announced. the pro tem Miss Graham, with wonderful gravity introduced her friend Miss Cleaveland, who immediately assumed her part in the entertainment of the evening, which, despite the awkward errand they perfectly understood to be the cause of his visit, passed off pleasantly.
Surprised at the lateness of the hour, Wentworth took leave, with a request to be permitted to see Miss Graham on the morrow, and his eyes asked the same of Anna, but his lips did not. He was evidently exceedingly pleased with the latter, though his attentions were mostly confined to the to him Miss Graham.
“Are you sorry you changed conditions with me, Jane?” said Anna.
“Not a bit. I must confess, though, that he is very agreeable.”
“Just the man for me. He is frank, courteous, and agreeable—three very desirable qualities.”
“Perhaps you will regret your metamorphose?”
“Perhaps so. Yet if I’ve any skill in determining symptoms, I shall be but second best. The plain Anna Cleaveland will be the winner if she will.”
“She can be won for love, not money?”
“So be it, then; but remember if I forego the pleasure of winning a lover because I chance to wear your honors, shall deserve a bountiful recompense.”
“The fortune goes with the rejected. That you are welcome to.”
As Wentworth returned to his lodgings, his thoughts naturally remained with the ladies, whose society he had really enjoyed. Were it not for the awkward construction Miss Graham would put upon his motives, he could really fancy her. She was graceful, dignified, and complaisant; but her friend, Miss Cleaveland, charmed him with her frankness of manner, and brilliancy of wit. To make proposals to the former, involved mercenary motives. To the latter no such considerations could possibly accrue. His dreams that night were more or less influenced by the events of the evening, and it is no particular matter of wonder that he fancied himself the accepted suitor of the pretty Anna Cleaveland. Dream-land is thickly populated, everybody knows; and its density of inhabitants must account for the strange confusion which attends some of their more prominent actions. It’s well the laws of our land are not strictly enforced in that region—else some folks would find themselves arraigned for rather queer offences. At any rate, Charles Wentworth thanked his stars he was not accountable for the injudicious acts he knew himself to be guilty of while within its limits. What the particular crimes were, is not my province to relate; and if the culprit don’t confess, the world must go unenlightened. The sharers in his midnight wanderings fortunately lost all consciousness of them long before daylight even if they knew at all,—and were quite too busy with their own affairs to meddle with other people’s. Smith’s Philosophy of Dreams, with his descriptions of remarkable hallucinations, were for once thrown into the shade by the fancy lights of the sleepers in question that night. I’ll not answer for the half of them, and will be bound they could not either.
The next morning Charles Wentworth was an early visitor. Miss Graham was engaged, but her friend Anna helped to beguile the tedium of the morning. In fact, so interested did they become, that they forgot Miss Graham was absent till she apologised in person. That day Wentworth forgot to go for his dinner, having, by the bye, bespoken the same with the ladies he was visiting. The errand which he had journeyed so far to perform was again forgotten. And that night found him more enamored than before, with the merry, pretty Anna. She on her part congratulated herself that she was not obliged to receive his attentions as a consequent on the unlucky clause in her uncle’s will. By the deceit practised, she could learn more of his real character—and judge his moral worth without the drawback of constantly reflecting that she was, after all, but a consideration in trade.
Day after day passed without bringing matters much nearer a conclusion. Riding, walking, singing, and dancing, lent their aid, in the way of pleasant variety, till Wentworth found himself quite domesticated.
At length, as if for the first time aware of the impropriety of his course, he resolved on making the effort to broach matters to Miss Graham. His request for a private interview was followed by a speedy arrangement to that effect. He began by a brief allusion to the circumstances of her uncle’s decease, and the motives which prompted him to seek her society. He regretted the dilemma in which both were placed, and begged she would forgive him, if ought he had to say gave her offence. Under different and more favorable auspices, he could not say what his feelings might have been; as it was, the whole matter savored too much of a business transaction to suit the taste of either. From the agreeable acquaintance he had formed, he was led to cherish high respect for her as a lady, and would ever be proud to acknowledge her as a highly esteemed friend. But in the holy relationship proposed by the deceased, he must in all candor confess he had no wish to urge her to enter. The generous fortune connected with the gift of her hand under such circumstances, was no consideration, and he cheerfully relinquished all to her.
He could not bear that the sharer of his fortune should be a sort of dowry—neither could she, he was sure, be pleased with proffers of attachment from him, under circumstances that must necessarily make him appear mercenary, whatever his true motives might be. He was perfectly aware of the almost ungentlemanly conduct he must seem to be guilty of in thus yielding up a claim on her, for love or anything else, ere he had ascertained whether he had rendered himself agreeable. If she would pardon him for it all, he would assume the responsibility of the rejection, and bear the obloquy, if there were such in the eyes of the world. His agitation of manner, together with his respectful and feeling tone of voice, convinced his listener of his perfect sincerity, and while she keenly felt the almost unwomanly predicament in which she was placed, she assured him of the high regard she must ever cherish for his manly conduct. His feelings perfectly coincided with her own. She could never consent to be disposed of by the will of another; so that the rejection would be mutual. It would always afford her pleasure to be numbered among his friends, and now that the barrier to confidence and friendly attachment was removed, she would be happy to continue his acquaintance with the familiarity their mutual understanding would warrant.
As Wentworth rose to take leave, he begged the favor of a moment’s conversation with Miss Cleaveland, which was most cheerfully acceded to. He hardly knew how to begin, as his past interview with Miss Graham had completely disarranged him. Without the slightest disparagement to the charms of her friend, Miss Graham, he begged to be allowed to confess the deep interest he felt for her, and if it were not asking too much, he hlped she would allow him to believe he was not altogether indifferent to her. From the delightful companionship of the past days he had come to feel how much he could appreciate the same for life. It was premature for him to say that, but if she would only allow him to hope for her favor, he trusted he might be able to prove the sincerity of his regard, though quite sure a life-time would be too short to illustrate the depth and fervency of his attachment.
Poor Anna was overwhelmed by the earnest appeal thus made, as well as a sense of the false relation she had assumed. To him she was only Miss Cleaveland, and as such, received the highest honor a noble minded man can pay a woman. Convinced of his perfect honor, she reproached herself for the wrong she had done him—and this mingling of feeling kept her silence.
Unconscious of the mental operation through which she was passing, Wentworth waited with evident anxiety for a reply.
The tears that forced themselves through her fingers, in spite of Anna’s effort to hide them, betrayed her.
Construing them as tokens of sorrow, he approached her, begging her forgiveness, and reproaching himself as the most unfortunate of men. One word and he would leave her—though by so doing he cast aside all hope of happiness. His deep love would lead him to consult her wishes rather than his own; and this, he trusted, would convince her, that his words were not mere profession.
Thus appealed to who could resist? Not many; and Anna was not of the number. Placing her hand in that of Wentworth’s, she briefly related the whole manoevre of which she had been guilty. She would not take advantage of his ignorance; if he could love her for just what she was, she could ask no more.
“Not Anna! Not Anna!” repeated Wentworth. “To me you are such, and as such have I learned to love you. Speak my fate, and if need be, I am ready to say farewell.”
“There is no need of it, unless you choose.”
“Bless you for those words; but”—pshaw! the talk of lovers don’t look well in print.
* * * * * *
Anna Cleaveland, the rejected Miss Graham, is malicious enough to tell Wentworth to this day, that he was perfectly aware which was which, and that he undoubtedly discovered the “crock of gold”—as most men have wonderful penetration in such matters.
Reader, have you found out whether Jane Graham did marry that man? If so, let me assure you, he didn’t get a divorce the next day.—Phil. Courier.
[But the “manoevre” of which Jane was “guilty,” must have occasioned unpleasant feelings to herself and husband through life. How much better is frankness and sincerity, than deception?]—Ed. Y.C.