My Schoolmates: The Sensitive Plant” is one of six pieces by Abbie to be set in a girls’ seminary. Its trembling flower is found in many 19th-century works; what’s unusual, however, is that, instead of acting as a model of purity and goodness too good for our world, Amy overcomes her low self-esteem. The exploration of the reasons for Amy’s travails is more sophisticated than usually found in The Youth’s Companion.
[Moral Tales] “My Schoolmates, No. 6: The Sensitive Plant,” by Abbie (from The Youth’s Companion, July 9, 1846; pp. 37-38)

If you have seen the timid fawn tremble and start at the sound of human footsteps; if you have noticed the aspen tree as its leaves quiver at the lightest touch of the passing breeze; if you have heard the wind harp as it responds in its plaintive music to the zephyr’s softest kiss, or if you have watched the sensitive plant wither and shrink from your touch, you may form some conception of the character of Amy Tremlett. Just so timid, so susceptible, so sensitive was she. More tensely than the strings of the wind harp did the chords of her heart vibrate to the faintest breath of love, and sweeter than the harp’s richest music, was the answering response which that breath ever awoke from her lips; more instinctively than the leaf of the sensitive plant recoils from human touch, did her spirit shrink and wither at the look of reproach or the voice of blame. She was one of that rare class, whose spirits seem too finely toned for this matter-of-fact world, and whom saving the sweet lessons they teach us of meek, unresisting sufferance, under the real or imagined grievances of a wounded spirit, we could almost wish them transplanted to a brighter sphere, where they might expand under the genial influences of tenderness and love, and where reproachful glances, and words of blame, are unheard of, and unknown.

Amy Tremlett had been motherless, ever since she was five years of age, yet in the retrospection of her early childhood, she distinctly remembered the gentle being that had been the constant companion of her infantile years, and whose ministrations she treasured in her memory as pledges given on earth in token of the fulness of a mother’s love, which her guardian angel would redeem in heaven. While her mother lived, Amy though very timid, had been a bright, happy, playful child. Her mother’s fond embrace, and warm ardent kiss, her approving smile and loving voice were to the little Amy, as are the fertilizing dew and genial sunshine to the tender herb, making her infant spirit to bud and blossom with gladness. But her mother’s death cast its long deep shadow over her young life, and checked the streams of her happiness in their earliest flow. She had but one brother, six years her senior, a merry hearted, fun-loving boy, and though he was deeply attached to Amy, and ever sought to gratify and amuse her, the differences of their ages, and dismilarity of their pursuits, prevented that close and sympathetic companionship, which were most needed by Amy’s sensitive temperament.

Mr. Tremlett was devoted to the welfare of his children, but immersed in the cares of business, he spent but little time in their society, and had not, moreover, that penetrating discernment into their characters, by which he might have understood their mental and moral necessities, nor that nice tact which would have enabled him to adapt himself to their peculiarities, discover their feelings, thoughts, and springs of action, and win his way to the inner shrine of their hearts. When he returned, fatigued with the cares of the day, he would for a while amuse himself with the narrations of Arthur, or the more quiet endearments of his little daughter, but he did not so unbend himself to her capacities, as to overcome her reserve, and unlock the hidden treasures of her timid heart. For her earlier years, Amy had a careful nurse; and as she grew older, a competent governess; but these accomplished as an hireling their day. With a quick, active mind, ardent affections, warm and overflowing sympathies, her prevailing characteristic was her extreme sensitiveness to praise or blame. It was no love of mere flattery that she

p. 38

cherished, no vain conceitedness, whose gratification she craved. It was simply the approbation and encouragement of those she loved. To please those whose approbation she sought, she would have spared no pains, shrunk from no effort, and counted no sacrifice. An expression of encouragement, a smile of approbation was an ample reward for every effort, and the greatest stimulus that could have been presented her to future exertion. And if these were withheld, the warm current of her affections was checked in its sparkling flow, and sent back to waste its treasures on the heart whence it had risen.

It will be seen that the circumstances in which Amy’s childhood was passed were not such as to supply those approving and loving influences under which her spirit would have expanded into vigor and beauty. Carefully reproved when wrong, but seldom encouraged when right, doomed to find many of her best efforts to please result in entire failure, and some, through inconsideration of the motives which prompted them, met with decided disapprobation, she became disheartened, and gradually formed the conviction, that she was an unfortunate being, with whom no one could be pleased, and whom no one could love. This feeling, joined with her natural timidity, generated a distrust in her own efforts, a want of confidence in her own powers, whose natural effect was an awkward and embarrassed manner, and a settled reserve in the presence of others.

As Amy emerged from childhood to girlhood, her father became more and more painfully conscious of the defects of character and manner which she dev[e]loped, and attributing them solely to the seclusion in which her education had been conducted, resolved to place her in a school where she might acquire confidence and ease by mingling with companions of like age and pursuit with her own.

To poor Amy, with her secluded habits, conscious awkwardness of manner, and quivering sensitiveness of temperament, it was a most trying dispensation to become suddenly transplanted into the midst of a large company of wild, volatile school girls, whom she considered far better versed in the customs of society than herself, and among whom she trembled to appear. Trifles light as air were trials to Amy, and day by day was her spirit harassed by the fear of blame, or the dread of ridicule.

A class of practitioners had assembled for their drawing lesson. “Shall I trouble you to reach me those pencils, Miss Tremlett,” asked the teacher. Amy hasted to obey, but in her manifest trepidation, almost threw down the paint pallet of one of her companions, and in attempting to replace it, overset a vase containing a flower which another was copying. A stream of water immediately overspread the rare camelia blossom to which the painter was skilfully putting her finishing touches, injured several pencilled drawings, and mingled with the porcelain fragments upon the floor. A half suppressed laugh was joined with the expressions of regret which followed the occurrence, while the blushing author of the accident, begging to be excused, left the room.

“I never saw so awkward a girl as Amy Tremlett,” exclaimed one of her companions, as soon as recess gave freedom to tongues. “This morning at breakfast she was so embarrassed in passing a plate of biscuit, that she dropped one into Caroline’s cup, staining her dress, and filling her plate with coffee; and yesterday when I asked her to lend me her penknife, she cut her finger in shutting it, so great was her hurry to comply with my request.”

“I never dare to speak to her,” remarked another, [“]for she seems so frightened when addressed, that I absolutely fear to alarm her.”

“It amuses me to hear her recite,” said a third, “with awkward movements, trembling, blushing and stammering, she is a most comical figure, I assure you.”

The subject of these remarks was alone in her room. Could their thoughtless authors have looked upon her, as she sat with her head bowed upon her clasped hands, while the convulsive heavings of her bosom, and the tears that trickled through her fingers betrayed the conflict within, they would have shrunk from adding a feather’s weight to the anguish that thrilled her spirit. It was not for the broken vase and spoiled painting that she wept; the source of her tears lay deeper. It was that she feared she should never acquire that self-possession that would enable her to be understood and appreciated. She felt alone in the world, with none to love her, none to sympathize with her. She threw no shadow of blame upon any with whom she was connected, but attributed all the loneliness of her lot to herself. Yet Amy was not alone, for she trusted in the forgiving love of her heavenly Father, and as she felt his presence, how bright before her mental vision grew the radiant shore of that better land, “where the weary are at rest,” and how ardently did her prayer ascend that He would enable her to wait patiently his appointed time for her entrance there. Then there came over so vivid a remembrance, so real a mental perception of her mother’s approving smile and kiss, she felt that her prayer was answered, that an angel had strengthened her, and she arose calm and refreshed.

If any of my young readers have a companion, a brother, or a sister, whose exquisite sensibilities are betrayed by the bashful demeanor, blushing cheek, and tearful eye, beware how you grieve such a spirit. Perhaps its sojourn on earth may be short, and if you minister to it in gentleness and love, you may reap a tenfold reward, when in future years that same companion shall fold an angel’s white wings over your tempted spirit, and shield you from sin and sorrow.

“I really hope Mr. Lincoln will be pleased to-day,” soliloquized Amy, as one summer afternoon she proceeded to meet her music master. “At least I can play my last lesson so well that he will not find fault with it.” Amy’s last piece was unusually difficult, and feeling a little encouraged that she had been permitted to try it, she had bestowed upon it many additional hours of practice, and now felt quite sure that she could play it with ease. But as she entered the music room, her heart quailed within her, for instead of meeting Mr. Lincoln alone as usual, several of her companions were present. Amy seated herself at the instrument and commenced the practice of her lesson, but so great was her embarrassment, that her trembling fingers, entirely beyond her control, moved mechanically over the keys, and her music sounded so discordant and jarring that she wondered her teacher should allow her to proceed. Suddenly an occurrence in the street drew the attention of all present, and the consciousness of being unnoticed, restored Amy’s self-possession. She proceeded more confidently with her music, and had just finished one of its most difficult passages, when she was surprized by the voice of Mr. Lincoln, whom she had thought at the window, but who for several minutes had been intently watching her progress. “Finely, admirably done, Miss Tremlett,” said he, “I never had a pupil whose performance of that passage after only one lesson would compare with your own. You do yourself much credit.” How Amy’s countenance changed. Her large hazel eye brightened, her mouth lost its compressed expression, and the blush of painful embarrassment which so often crimsoned her cheek, was for once exchanged for that of happiness and hope. From that day her progress in music received a new impulse, and at the close of the term she received from her teacher that assurance that her proficiency had given him deep satisfaction. Sweet Amy Tremlett, how deep was the response of happiness that those words awakened in her heart. Approval and love were the natural aliment of her spirit, and it seemed hard that they should have been such chary gifts to her, who shrank to grieve another by lightest look or breath, whose heart was overflowing with love to every living thing, and whose life, had it not been for the extreme diffidence which her keen sensibilities awakened, would have been one graceful musical expression of that love.

A little before Amy’s school days were completed, a letter from her brother, who was settled in business in the city of P. informed her of his approaching marriage, and strongly urged her to make her arrangements to remain after the bridal festivities were over. “Make us a long visit, dear Amy,” he wrote, “that you may become fully acquainted with my Elinor, whom I know you will dearly love. For a long time it has been a bright anticipation connected with my marriage that its consummation would give you a sister and a companion, and that you would no longer be so lonely as heretofore, so I am confident you will not refuse the joint request of Elinor and myself.”

“Impossible,” said Amy to herself, as she folded her letter, “I am not a companion for any one, and least of all for Arthur’s wife, who I dare say is older than I, and is graceful, social, and excellent in every thing; for such I am sure she must be, if she pleases his fastidious taste. It cannot be. I should think Arthur would be half ashamed to present such a sister as I, and yet he wishes very much that I should visit him. It would disappoint him, should I refuse, for Arthur, I know, loves me,” and with a moistened eye at the thought of her brother’s love, she wrote an affirmative answer.

Although Amy’s character had been so little appreciated among her schoolmates, yet when the hour of her final departure from among them arrived, many a tearful eye and warm parting kiss gave token that the gentle being who had mingled so quietly and unobtrusively among them, had gained a place in many hearts.

The lapse of a few weeks brought the eventful wedding day, and Amy was duly presented to the bride elect as her future sister. “What a sweet girl,” was Amy’s first expression, “she has just such soft loving eyes as had my mother. I love her already,” and the fluttering conviction sprang up in her heart, “I think—I hope she will love me.” Amy’s impression was by no means a false one, for Elinor Greyson was indeed a lovely girl. She was one of those beings who find excellencies in everybody, who have an observant eye to all that is lovely and of good report, and yet are strangely absent minded to the dark spots of life, who discover in events, things, and persons more occasion of approval, admiration and love, than censure and reproach.

It is the day after the bridal pair were established in their new house, that Elinor, after having completed her morning directions and duties as housekeeper, invited Amy to her own room, remarking, “I want to alter several of the arrangements there, and if you will favor me so far, I should like your advice.”

“With the greatest pleasure, if I can be of any service to you,” replied Amy, as she followed Elinor up stairs.

An hour or two was spent in the unpacking and arrangement of apparel, the best location of furniture and the like, during which, Amy became so interested in her occupation, as quite to forget herself, and was several times surprised to find that she was conversing easily and pleasantly with one, to whom but a little time before she had been an entire stranger. Moreover in several instances, Elinor had asked her counsel, and approved of her plans better than those she had already devised, and the conviction gradually stole over Amy’s heart, that after all, she was not quite a blank in creation.

“Do you know, Amy,” said Elinor, as the dinner hour approached, “that I admire your style of dressing your hair. Now if you will consent to be my tire-woman but this once, and arrange mine in the same way, I can learn how it is done, and will be your humble servant for the rest of the day.”

Amy’s hand trembled as she commenced the task, for she feared she might not succeed. And when after the completion, Elinor approached the mirror, she eagerly waited to know if the little act had pleased her.

“Why, how much you have improved my appearance, Amy,” exclaimed Elinor, as she examined her sister’s arrangement. “I am really quite charmed with myself,” she continued with a naivette peculiarly her own, “and if Arthur compliments me upon my good looks, I shall tell him that you deserve all the credit of them.”

“You cannot know, Arthur,” said Elinor one evening, as the little party of three were gathered in the parlor, “how much I have enjoyed your favorite poet Coleridge this afternoon. Amy has been reading to me, and she is such a lover of his poetry, and reads so expressively that I have perceived delicate shades of thought and feeling which I never discovered before.”

A few weeks elapsed, and a great change had come over Amy Tremlett. Instead of her expression of apprehension and anxiety, her face wore the lineaments of cheerful and joy. She could observe the proprieties of life, and the conventional forms of etiquette, without committing embarrassing errors; and could converse intelligently without miscalling words, misplacing sentences, or blushing so painfully, as to bring tears to her eyes. The cause of the change was simple in itself, yet momentous in its effects upon Amy’s character. It was that the sunshine of approbation had dawned upon her soul, and, under the genial influences of its light and heat, her spirit was expanding into conscious strength, and beauty, and joy.

Several years had passed away, when at a grand levee given in the city of P. our school-mate, Grace Lester, observed a lady of singular sweetness of expression, whom she was conscious she had once known, though she found it impossible to recognize her. She was evidently a lady of attraction and intelligence, for her conversation was sought by several of the most distinguished gentlemen present. Miss Lester inquired her name. “That is Mrs. Edwards, the lady of one of the most talented lawyers in the city,” was the reply. But this left her as much in the dark as before, and at length she begged an introduction. “We were schoolmates, I think,” remarked Mrs. Edwards, after the usual compliments.

“I have been vainly endeavoring to recall where we have met before,” answered Miss Lester.

“Do you remember a painting that an awkward Miss once spoiled for you?” asked Mrs. Edwards.

“I never can forget it,” exclaimed Miss Lester, as the truth flashed upon her mind, “for I have still the two beautiful volumes you sent me as a token of your regret.”

A long conversation followed of school day retrospections, but at its close, Miss Lester found it impossible distinctly to identify the easy, intelligent, and polished Mrs. Edwards, with the bashful, blushing school girl, Amy Tremlett.



Copyright 1999-2024, 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 | Authors at this site | Subjects at this site | Works by date | Map of the site

Talk to me.