Cuspadores by Unknown
There is probably no human weakness that awakens more derisive contempt
than a false assumption of superior knowledge. The vanity of young
people frequently leads them into ludicrous positions, and sometimes
even into serious difficulties, through a pretence of knowing things of
which they are really ignorant. The experience of one of my young
friends is a case in point.
Silvia Morden is a girl of sixteen. She is both bright and pretty. Her
worst fault was the one I have mentioned,–a most ridiculous mania for
wishing to appear well acquainted with all subjects.
The flattery of her companions at Miss Hall's "Young Ladies' Academy" no
doubt had something to do with this folly; for she was generous, end a
great favorite with her schoolmates. It often led her into difficulties,
as falsehood in any form always does, and Silvia was really becoming a
confirmed liar when the little episode I am about to relate, checked her
on the very brink of the precipice.
The craze for "high art decorations" had spread from the great city
centres to the country town of Atwood, where Silvia's parents lived. Of
course every one understands that "high art" becomes very much diluted
in its country progress, and when it appears in out-of-the-way places,
where the people are neither wealthy nor well read, it is apt to
degenerate into very low art, indeed.
But the Atwood girls did what they could to follow the fashions. Old
ginger-jars were dragged down, covered with paint, and pasted over with
beetles, and birds, and flowers, in utter disregard of the unities. Here
Egyptian scarabæi were perched on an Alpine mountain; there a clay
amphora, of the shape of the Greeks or Romans, was adorned with gaudy
plates cut out of fashion magazines.
The merchants in Atwood, taking advantage of this furore, sent for all
shapes of pottery, but they could not import the taste to decorate it.
Atwood, however, was satisfied with its own style of art, and that was
Silvia's decorations were rather better than those of her acquaintances.
She read everything she could on the subject, but, with her usual
self-conceit, refused to ask any questions of those who might have
enlightened her, and in fact, set herself up as an oracle on art
One day, she saw in a city paper a list of articles for decoration,
among which were "cuspadores."
"What on earth is a 'cuspadore'?" she asked herself.
Of course, something lovely, she judged, from the name. It was
high-sounding, and seemed classical. She concluded it must be one of
those lovely vases she had read descriptions of, and she determined to
buy one that very evening, for of course Morris had them among his new
lot of potteries.
She went to school that morning with her head full of cuspadores. She
missed all her lessons, and got a bad mark for inattention, but the
thought of a cuspadore kept her from worrying over her misfortunes.
"I do hope Miss Hall isn't going to keep us all the afternoon bothering
over that rhetoric," she said to her friend Anna Lee. "I want to go up
town this evening, and must go, if it's dark when I get home."
"What are you so crazy to go up town for?" asked Anna.
"Oh, I want to go to Morris's store to get a cuspadore."
"Cuspa—what?" inquired her amazed companion. "What on earth is that?"
"You'll see when I get it," was the evasive answer.
"Oh, bother your mysteries! You needn't make a secret of it, Just tell
me what it is and what it's for."
With all her heart, Silvia wished that she could answer that question.
Thinking she could not be very far wrong, she ventured to say,–
"It's a lovely antique vase. I'm going to put a running border of roses
and pansies on it,–the sweetest pictures you ever saw,–and I'll put it
on the mantel for flowers."
"I never heard of them before," persisted Anna. "Where did you see them,
Another falsehood was required.
"I saw a great many pretty things when I was in the city last March, and
cuspadores were among them."
"Well, I'll wait and see yours," answered unsuspicious Anna. "If I like
it, I'll get one too. Now mind you show it to me first when you've
As soon as school was dismissed, Silvia hurried through Atwood to the
store of Mr. Morris.
The clerk who came bowing to her was a young man for whom she had a
special dislike,–"a conceited idiot," she called him to her companions,
"with an offensive familiarity of manner." In reality, Tom Jordan was a
well-meaning young man, though rather silly, but his vanity and conceit
happened to jar upon the same marked characteristics in Miss Silvia.
"What shall I show you this evening, Miss Silvia?" rubbing his hands and
"Are none of the other clerks disengaged?" she asked, loftily.
The young man's smile faded away. "I'm afraid, Miss Morden, they're all
busy. Can I show you anything?"
"Have you any cuspadores among your new pottery?"
"What did you say?" asked Tom.
"I said cuspadores. I presume you know what they are."
Now Jordan didn't know any better than she what cuspadores are. But he,
too, had a reputation to support for knowing everything in his line of
business. He was not going to peril it at a counter full of gaping
customers by acknowledging his ignorance.
He would question her a little, to find out what it was.
He put his finger to his forehead, and shut his eyes, as if trying to
remember where the cuspadores were placed.
"What style do you wish? The fact is, there are so many different shapes
in vogue now."
"Oh, the most antique, of course. I doat on those queer antique things."
His head in a whirl, Tom rushed into the back room, leaving Silvia
conversing with some acquaintances who had come in. From the back room
he ran into an office where the book-keeper, who was lately from
Philadelphia, was absorbed over a column of figures.
"Ralston, what under the sun is a cuspadore?" he cried.
"It's a spittoon,–a spit-box,–you ninny! If you interrupt me again,
I'll shy mine at your head!"
"Whew!" whistled Tom. "Who'd have thought that 'toploftical' young miss,
with her airs and graces, used tobacco? I s'pose she rubs, or maybe she
smokes. One never knows, Ralston, what girls are up to."
"But I know what I'll be up to if you don't clear out!" cried the angry
Tom rummaged the warehouse, and found a common earthenware spittoon,
which he dragged out in triumph.
"I wonder if she thinks she can buy spittoons by a new-fangled name," he
muttered, "and nobody know what she wants 'em for? I'll let her know she
can't put her finger in my eye. That's why she wanted another clerk."
With a flourish and a smirk, Tom deposited the spittoon on the counter
under Silvia's astonished eyes.
"Here's a cuspadore, Miss Morden; not the very finest article, but it
serves every purpose. Cleans easy, too, and that's the great thing,
after all. Shall I send you a pair?"
Utterly astonished and struck dumb, Silvia stood gazing at the hideous
"And look here, Miss Morden," dropping his voice to a confidential
whisper, "we've got the finest lot of tobacco and the best snuff you
ever used. Oh, I know,–I'll not mention it. Young ladies, of course,
have their little secrets,–I understand that, and I'll be upon honor,
'pon my word I will."
"You insulting creature!" Silvia gasped.
Her look and tone caused Tom to back, and bump his head so violently
against a shelf that, for a minute, he was blind. When he recovered his
sight, Silvia had left the store, and the people at the counter were
gazing with wide-open eyes on the scene.
"What did you say to Miss Morden, that she flew off in such a rage?"
asked a tall, gaunt, spectacled old maid,–Miss James,–who was the
terror of the town for her ill-natured gossip and interfering ways.
"Upon my word, ma'am, I said nothing insulting," replied the angered
clerk. "Miss Silvia asked for a spittoon, and I showed her one. Of
course people do not want spittoons unless they use tobacco, do they? I
am sure I meant no harm. I only wanted to accommodate a customer."
"Of course, of course," said his grim listener. "Judge Morden and her ma
don't dream of their daughter's goings-on, I'm sure of that. I'm a
friend, and they'll know it before I'm an hour older."
She stalked out of the store, and down to Judge Morden's house. Without
ringing, she marched into the sitting-room, where Mrs. Morden was at
"Clara Morden," she said, in her sharpest tones, for she was an old
acquaintance of the lady, "how have you brought up your daughter, that
she's disgracing you?"
"Disgracing! Are you talking of Silvia?"
Gentle Mrs. Morden's face was pale as she turned her startled eyes on
"Who else? Don't you think it a disgrace for a girl to use tobacco? and
that's what Sil does, and goes and buys a spittoon before the whole
town! I'd tobacco her! But everybody knows it by this time, and whether
she gives it up or not, people will keep on thinking she uses it. You
always did give that girl too much head, I've told you so time and
again, and now you see you'd better have taken my advice."
Mrs. Morden had regained her calmness by this time.
"There is certainly some mistake," she said, coolly. "I will ask Silvia
about it when she comes in."
"You'll find it no mistake," said her visitor. "At least half-a-dozen
people were in Morris's this evening when she asked for the spittoon,
and then got mad with the clerk about something."
The explanation Silvia was compelled to make that evening, though it
acquitted her of the first charge, left a most painful impression upon
her mother that the habit of falsehood had grown upon her daughter.
"I will not add to your punishment by re-proof," she said, gravely,
"because I foresee the mortification that this is going to bring to you.
No explanation will convince half the gossips in town that you have not
the filthy habit of using tobacco, and the story will cling to you for
"That's harsh and unjust!" Silvia cried, hotly. "It was a mistake
anybody might have made."
"Yes, anybody who pretends to know what you are ignorant of. There is a
strong likeness in the family of lies, and it is neither hard nor unjust
that we should be punished for them. Your humiliation I hope may prove a
It did. Silvia is rarely tempted now to her old pretences of superior
knowledge. The cuspadore story brought her such pain and mortifition
that the scars remain yet.