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 sufficient.

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 decorations.

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, Sil?"

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 finished it."

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 smiling blandly.

"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 book-keeper.

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 thing.

"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 work.

"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 her visitor.

"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 years."

"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 salutary lesson."

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.