Mrs. P. P. Bonney contributed several stories to The Youth’s Companion; “The Would-Be Lady and the True One” explores a theme common in early 19th-century American works for children: that leisure is more shameful than work. In literature for the U. S.’s classless society, the ideal citizen could do his or her own work even if it was possible to hire servants, and many a heroine did her housework without getting at all sweaty or mussed.


http://www.merrycoz.org/yc/LADY.xhtml
“The Would-be Lady and the True One,” by Mrs. P. P. Bonney (from The Youth’s Companion, March 16, 1865; p. 42)

“Georgiana! Georgiana!”

The decision with which the last call was intoned brought out a pretty, but far from tidy, young lady from the sly corner in which she was poring over a novel.

“O! there you are, and reading this time o’ day. Look at this room, will you? Was there ever such a mess? Get your broom this moment. I can’t be spending my time to hunt you up every half hour. Step along!”

The way in which Miss Georgie trailed herself across the room, with lowered brows and under lip pushed out, was aggravating.

“O! you do try me so, child. Look at that torn dress.”

“Work! work!” muttered Georgie. “Nelson says pa ought to keep me like a lady.”

“Nonsense! your cousin fills your head with silly compliments, and you are fool enough to believe them.”

Georgiana’s fair face flushed, but she did not deny the charge.

She had just commenced putting the parlor in order when a ring at the door bell startled her, and she ran to peep through the blind. “O, mercy on me!” she exclaimed, “it’s Dr. Conrad. I wouldn’t have him see me at work for the whole world. How I look, too, with that great slit in my dress, and,” [sic]

“Yes, sirr, Miss Georgiana’s at home, sirr, walk in,” answered Bridge, throwing the parlor door wide open; then recovering from her surprise at the empty parlor, Bridge drew a chair from the confused heap in the centre of the room, and civilly asked the young man to sit down.

“She’s stepped out. I’ll go call her, sir.”

The shadow of a smile curled the young doctor’s expressive mouth, and danced in his keen eyes. He had heard the rustling of garments and the slamming of doors which preceded his entrance, and thought, uneasily, “I shall lose that train while Miss Lewis is making her toilette.”

“Miss Georgian! Miss Georgian!” sounded from afar, and echo answered,—gian, gian! and there was silence.

“Then Mrs. Lewis’s voice was heard in softer, but firmer accents; “Georgiana! Georgiana!”

No answer.

“Dear, dear,” exclaimed the flurried mother. “Do Bridget run up stairs and find her, I can’t leave this baking.”

Away tramped the willing feet, while Mrs. Lewis eyed dubiously the pile of unwashed dishes she had left.

“Miss Georgiana’s out intirely, ma’am; she’s not in her chamber, nor ayther in the attics; I’ve been to the top of the house, jist.”

“Run down the orchard lane, do, and call once more.” Bridget obeyed to the letter, and came back breathless.

“She’s beyont the hearing of me, ma’am, thin.”

“Who wants her, Bridget?”

“The strange doctor, ma’am, the fine tall man wid the black hair all over his head.”

Mrs. Lewis laughed in spite of her annoyances. “O! it’s Dr. Conrad; well, well, how can I spend time to go in?”

Bridget shook her head with sympathizing perplexity; while Mrs. Lewis hastily brushed off the flour, and pulled down her sleeves. It cost her more effort to smooth away the vexed look that Georgiana’s behavior had brought to her face, but she did it, and entered the parlor. Here a new mortification awaited her; the parlor was a sight to behold.

“Georgie has gone out, Dr. Conrad,” said she, courteously. “She will be sorry to lose your call.”

“I should be happy to await her return, but I go out in the ten o’clock train, and must beg you to excuse me. I called to say good-by, and take some books which she assured me she had read and would have in readiness for me.”

“And she expected you?” Mrs. Lewis could go no farther; her flushed face said the rest.

“Give yourself no uneasiness on my account, Mrs. Lewis,” entreated the young man, politely.

“I can at least look for the books. They must be in this closet,” and she stepped to it, in all haste to look for them. But there was to be no end of vexation upon this unhappy morning; the door stuck and hung unaccountably.

“Let me assist you,[”] exclaimed the polite young man, suiting the action to the word, and placing a firm hand on the obstinate knob, he threw the door open with a jerk that sent Miss Georgiana spinning out of the closet like a spring Jack out of a box. O! the ludicrous figure she made, her hair hanging loose from her comb, angry tears in her eyes, and an old cotton handkerchief on her head, while confronting her stood the admired, the handsome doctor, whose attentions had been so flattering. He was making a superhuman effort to restrain his mirth, and politeness might have been conquered, if Mrs. Lewis had not broken into a peal of laughter, that the flying Georgiana heard echoed by a manly, but irresistibly hearty cachinnation. Never did slip-shod feet make better time up a staircase, nor did Mrs. Lewis ever after fail to point a moral upon slackness, by a sly allusion to Dr. Conrad’s call.

“Ah, poor Georgie!” thought the doctor, as he sped towards the station, and then came a sounding peal of mirthfulness. “Poor girl!” he went on, “did she think I should mind her being at work? Ah, no! but I do mind her evident untidiness and thoughtlessness of her mother’s comfort. Good-by!” added he, half pensively, “but better so than if I had betrayed feelings that your sweet face was fast leading me to.”

Now, whenever he told this story, he added another, which he always related with great gusto.

“One Monday morning,” he would begin, “just as I was about leaving Bangor, I went to call upon a young lady whom I had met several times during my stay in that city. As her father was reputed to be wealthy, and they kept a number of servants, I supposed that she would be quite at leisure, but when I was shown into the parlor she had just swept it, and was flourishing her duster with skilful, I thought, graceful alacrity. I felt so awkwardly conscious that I had chosen an unfortunate time for my first call, that I actually blushed. She had not heard me enter, for she was singing sweetly, and stood with her back towards me. ‘Thank fortune, she is as presentable as a morning rose,’ thought I, admiringly, ‘but when I venture to speak her name she will either scream, run away, or faint.’ Just then she turned, and caught my embarrassed eye. Her face lighted with a happy smile of recognition, she drew off her old glove, and extended her hand cordially, and without a shadow of affectation, gave me a seat and sat down near me, quietly removing the white handkerchief which screened her smoothly banded hair, and there she sat, talking as only she could talk, without one word of apology, or one deprecating glance around the disordered room. I hope I shall be pardoned, but I made an unmercifully long call. I could not get away,” laughed the doctor. “Why, I had never met such a perfect lady before. Now I think the true reason of her self-possession was, that she did not feel ashamed of her occupation, and for that I honored her, and shall continue to as long as I live.[”]

Copyright 1999-2017, Pat Pflieger
To “Nineteenth-Century American Children & What They Read
Some of the children | Some of their books | Some of their magazines
To “Voices from 19th-Century America
Some works for adults, 1800-1872
To Titles at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.