[Moral Tales] “Miss Before Teens,” by Giles M’Quiggen (from The Youth’s Companion, September 23, 1847; p. 81)
Mama, will you please to spread
A little sugar on my bread,
And mama, dearest, if you please,
To cut a little bit of cheese,
Just a very little bit;
I’m grown too large now to be carried,
To-morrow, ma, mayn’t I be married?
“Come Helen,” said Mrs. Henderson to her daughter, aged eleven, “put up your beads and trinkets, and prepare for bed—it’s almost eight o’clock.”
“Indeed, ma, I cannot afford to do any such thing as to go to bed so soon,” replied the young lady, “I’m entirely too old to be talked to in such childish language, and besides, Mr. Kingston is to be here at half past eight, there’s his card in the rack now.”
Mrs. Henderson was dumb in astonishment for a few moments after her womanish daughter had done speaking, and prompted by curiosity, she examined the card rack, and sure enough the “compliments of Mr. George Kingston” were there in old English letters, on a beautiful embossed card. Mr. George Kingston had just turned his 12th year, he wore a stock, and flourished a silver headed cane. Mrs. Henderson amused herself a short time with the little emblem of the children’s precocity, when replacing it in the rack, and seating herself near Miss Helen, she resumed the conversation by saying:—
“And so George Kingston is to be here at half past eight, is he?”
“Yes, ma, when he sent his card up this morning, the message accompanying it was that he would be here at that hour.”
“And for what purpose?”
“Why ma, to talk about everything, like other people do.”
“What sort of everything?”
“Why the balls, and the theatre, Hannington’s Dioramas and the Ravels, and,—”
“Poh, child, hush, and bustle off to bed—you are a pretty minx to talk of entertaining a beau with ball and nonsense; come, off with you.”
“Minx, ma, what do you mean by that? Do you remember that I have been to boarding school?”
“Yes, child, I remember that you’ve been to dancing school, there’s where you met with Mr. George Kingston, I suppose.”
“Yes, ma, you know there’s always a few moments’ leisure between the setts, and then the ladies and gentlemen promenade and talk about the weather and a thousand pretty things.”
“And what sort of pretty things do you and George Kingston talk about?”
“George Kingston! Ma, it’s Mr. Kingston; he’s as much right to be called Mr. as anybody. He rattaned Henry Cuthbert for slighting me in the waltz, and I don’t like to hear him spoken of so disrespectfully.”
“Highty tighty, Miss Henderson! and so I suppose we may expect a courtship soon!”
“Courtship, indeed! we are not so foolish as to waste time in courtship, I can tell you, madam—and if you must know it, we have been engaged two months.”
This was a secret worth knowing, and Mrs. Henderson, as soon as she received the information, prompted by curiosity, determined to await the arrival of Mr. George Kingston, to see how these youthful lovers would demean themselves in her presence. In due time the little hero was announced, and after a few handsome flourishes of his silver topped cane, he seated himself, and began to play the man.
“How do you like the manner in which Miss Fustion behaved the other evening, Miss Helen?” asked the infant wooer.
“At the ball—O horrible, she’s the most ill-behaved young lady in the world, and she’s to be married in four weeks, did you know it, Mr. Kingston?”
“I heard it at the theatre last night; you should have been there, Miss Helen; the play was excellent, and Miss Eustice fainted. You cannot conceive how interesting she looked.”
“Fainted! O my gracious! What made her faint, Mr. Kingston?”
“She was so affected at Virginia’s being stabbed by her father, Miss Helen.”
“Well, I don’t wonder at it, anything at the theatre looks so natural, and she’s a chicken-hearted creature. Did you ever see one so frightened as she was at the diorama?”
“She was very much frightened, Miss Helen, and tore some of the buttons off Mr. Wise’s coat in clinging to him for support. She is to be married to Mr. Wise in the spring.”
“To be married in the spring, and so young, Mr. Kingston? Why, ma says I shan’t these four years.”
“She’s a fortune, they say, Miss Helen, and Henry Howell’s mother says he must strike when the iron is hot.”
“The young lady was courted years ago, Mr. Kingston, and her first lover died; she’s been melancholy ever since, and some say she’s in a decline; I wonder if it is true?”
“Don’t know, indeed; but the Ravels, the Ravels, Miss Helen, they’re going away next week, and we must see them before they leave us; when can you go?”
“I can’t tell exactly, Mr. Kingston, may’be Monday night, I’ll ask ma, may’be she’ll go with us—it will be so fine to have ma go with us. Will you go with us ma?”
“What are you talking about, child?” asked the mother, lifting her eyes from a book which she was pretending to read, though in truth she had been a listener to all that had been said, and a trial it was to preserve her gravity during the very animated and interesting discussion[.]
“Why,” said Mr. George Kingston, “I have invited Miss Helen to go and see the Ravels, and she requests that you will accompany us, madam—will you be so kind?”
“O yes, ma, do, it will be so fine, you on one side of Mr. Kingston, and I on the other; I guess Miss Fustian and Miss St. Eustace would feel very flat; both their mothers forbid their beaus coming to their house any more, and they are obliged to meet away from home—do ma, go with us, will you?”
Mrs. Henderson had been exceedingly amused at their chit chat, and she could scarcely suppress a smile when she remembered that “that they had been engaged these two months;” truly, thought she they will make a lovely couple, he thirteen, and she eleven, and they conversing with as much interest and freedom as if they were twenty; she laid her book aside for a moment, and soberly exclaimed—“Well, I wonder what this world is coming to?”
The little lovers were completely thrown off the track of their tete-a-tete, for it was evident that the surprise of Helen’s mother had arisen from their conversation, and her movement had too much meaning in it for them to be mistaken. Miss Helen looked at her mother with a fearful frown, and Mr. George Kingston shrugged up his shoulders and looked towards his hat. Discretion on his part was doubtless the better part of valor:
For he that loves and runs away,
May live to love another day.
And after he had flourished his silver mounted cane, and pulled his watch from his pocket, and adjusted his stock and collar, he arose to take his departure.
From that time forth, Miss Helen was forced to retire to bed at eight o’clock.
[And it would be a great deal better for many other young Misses to retire to bed at eight o[’]clock, than to attend balls and theatres, late at night, where by dressing thin, and exposing their health to the night air, they contract colds, causing consumptions, even if they do not form improper associations, of which there is much danger.]