The Tell-Tale by Eliza Leslie
"How all occasions do inform against me!"
ROSAMOND EVERING was one of those indiscreet mischievous girls who are
in the daily practice of repeating every thing they see and hear;
particularly all the unpleasant remarks, and unfavourable opinions that
happen to be unguardedly expressed in their presence. She did not
content herself with relating only as much as she actually saw and
heard; but (as is always the case with tell-tales) she dealt greatly in
exaggeration, and her stories never failed to exceed the reality in all
their worst points.
This unamiable and dangerous propensity of their daughter, gave great
pain to Mr. and Mrs. Evering, who tried in vain to correct it. They
represented to her that as parents cannot be constantly on their guard
in presence of their own family, and that as grown persons do not
always remember or observe when children are in the room, many things
are inadvertently said, which, though of little consequence as long as
they remain unknown, may be of great and unfortunate importance if
disclosed and exaggerated. And as children are incapable of forming an
accurate judgment as to what may be told with safety, or what ought to
be kept secret, their wisest and most proper course is to repeat no
remarks and to relate no conversations whatever; but more particularly
those which they may chance to hear from persons older than themselves.
But neither reproof nor punishment seemed to make any lasting impression
on Rosamond Evering; and scarce a day passed that she did not exhibit
some vexatious specimen of her besetting sin. A few instances will
Mrs. Evering had a very
cook, a black woman,
that had lived with her more than six years, and whom she considered an
invaluable servant. One morning, when Venus (for that was her name) had
just left the parlour, after receiving her orders for dinner, Mr.
Evering remarked, in a low voice, to his lady, "Certainly, the name of
Venus was never so unsuitably bestowed as on this poor woman. I have
rarely seen a negro whose face had a greater resemblance to that of a
baboon." In this remark Mrs. Evering acquiesced.
Rosamond was at this time sitting in a corner, looking over her lessons.
Just before she went to school, her mother thought of a change in the
preparations for dinner, and not wishing to give the old cook the
trouble of coming up from the kitchen a second time, she desired
Rosamond to go down and tell Venus she would have the turkey boiled
rather than roasted. Rosamond went down and delivered the message; but
fixing her eyes on the cook's face, she thought she had never seen Venus
look so ugly, and she said to her, "Venus, my father thinks you are the
ugliest negro he ever saw (even for a negro) and he says your face is
just like a monkey's, only worse." Having made this agreeable
communication, Rosamond went out of the kitchen and departed for school,
leaving Venus speechless with anger and astonishment; for though in
other respects a very good woman, she was extremely vain, and had always
considered herself among the handsomest of her race.
As soon as Venus found herself able to speak, she went into the parlour
with her eyes flashing fire, and told Mrs. Evering that she must provide
herself with another cook, as she was determined to leave her that very
day. Mrs. Evering with much surprise inquired the reason, and Venus
replied, that "she would not live in any house where she was called an
ugly neger, the ugliest even of all negers, and likened to a brute
Mrs. Evering, who had forgotten her husband's remark, asked the cook
what she meant; and Venus explained by repeating all that Rosamond had
told her. Mrs. Evering endeavoured to pacify her, but in vain. Ignorant
people when once offended are very difficult to appease, and Venus had
been hurt on the tenderest point. She would listen to nothing that Mrs.
Evering could urge to induce her to stay; but exclaimed in a high
passion, "I never was called a neger before. I am not a neger but a
coloured woman. I was born and raised on a great plantation in Virginny
where there was hundreds of slaves, all among the Randolphs and sich
like quality, and nobody never called me a neger. And now when I'm free,
and come here to Philadelphy where nobody has no servants without they
hires them, lo! and behold, I'm called a neger, and an ugly neger too,
and a neger-monkey besides. No, no, I'll not stay; and Nancy the
chambermaid may do the cooking till you get somebody else. And a pretty
way she'll do it in. I'm glad I shan't be here to eat Nancy's cooking. I
never know'd any white trash that could cook; much less Irish."
Finally, Mrs. Evering was obliged to give Venus her wages and let here
go at once, as she protested "she would never eat another meal's
victuals in the house."
When Rosamond came from school, her mother reprimanded her severely; and
when her father heard of the mischief she had caused, he would not
permit her to accompany the family to a concert that evening, as she had
been promised the day before.
After the departure of Venus, it was a long time before Mrs. Evering
could suit herself with a cook. Several were tried in succession but
none were good; and to Rosamond's great regret, they were never able to
get a woman whose skill in making pies, and puddings, and cakes, bore
any comparison to that of Venus.
Still this lesson did not cure her fault; she still told tales, and
still suffered in consequence.
One day, Mrs. Renwick, a lady who lived next door, sent a message to
Mrs. Evering, requesting that she would lend her a pot of red currant
jelly, as she was quite out of that article, of which she shortly
intended making a supply; and as Mr. Renwick had invited some company to
dinner, some jelly would be wanted to eat with the canvass-back ducks.
Mrs. Evering lent her a pot, and as soon as currants were in the market,
Mrs. Renwick sent her in return some jelly of her own making. It was not
nice, and Mrs. Evering observed to her sister, Mrs. Norwood, who
happened to be present: "I do not think Mrs. Renwick has been very
successful with her jelly. It is so thin it is almost liquid, and so
dark that it looks as if made of black currants. I suspect she has
boiled it too long, and has not put in sugar enough."
Next day as they were coming from school together, Mrs. Renwick's little
daughter, Marianne, said to Rosamond, "My mother made some currant jelly
on Tuesday, and yesterday when it was cold, she gave me a whole
saucer-full to eat with my slice of bread, at twelve o'clock."
"She might well give you a whole saucer-full," replied Rosamond, "for I
do not think it was worth saving for any better purpose. She sent in a
pot to my mother, in return for some she had borrowed of her. Now my
mother's jelly is always so firm that you might cut it with a knife, and
so bright and sparkling that it dazzles your eyes. I heard her tell my
aunt Norwood, that Mrs. Renwick's jelly was the worst she had ever seen,
that it was as thin and sour as plain currant juice, and dark and
Marianne Renwick was much displeased at the disrespectful manner in
which her mother's jelly had been spoken of. She let go Rosamond's arm,
and turning up another street, walked home by herself, swelling with
resentment, and told her mother all that had passed.
Mrs. Renwick was a lady very easily offended; and she always signified
her anger as soon as she felt it. She immediately sent to a
confectioner's for a pot of the very best red currant jelly, and had it
carried into Mrs. Evering; accompanied by a note implying "that she
regretted to hear that her jelly had not been so fortunate as to meet
the approbation of so competent a judge of sweetmeats; but that, as she
would be sorry if Mrs. Evering should lose any thing by it, she had sent
her a pot made by one of the very first confectioners in the city; and
she hoped it would be found an ample equivalent for that she had most
Rosamond was in the parlour when the note and the pot of jelly arrived,
and she coloured and looked so confused, that her mother immediately
guessed she had been the cause of Mrs. Renwick's having taken offence.
Reproof had no effect on Rosamond except for a moment; but that she
might frequently be reminded of her fault, she was not allowed to taste
currant jelly till the next summer. Mrs. Renwick, however, remained
implacable; and could never be prevailed on to visit Mrs. Evering again.
Mr. Evering had an aunt, the widow of a western merchant who had made a
large fortune in business. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Marbury
had removed to Philadelphia, which was her native place; and, being very
plain in her habits and ideas, she had bought a small neat house in a
retired street, where she kept but two servants, and expended more money
in presents to her relations, than in any superfluities for herself. She
generally went to a place of worship in her own neighbourhood; but
hearing that a very celebrated minister from Boston was to preach one
Sunday in the church to which her nephew's family belonged, she sent a
message to Mr. Evering requesting that he would call for her with his
carriage and give her a seat in his pew, that she might have an
opportunity of hearing this distinguished stranger. Mr. and Mrs. Evering
were both out when the message arrived, so that no answer could be sent
till their return; which was not till evening.
It was dusk, and the lamps not being yet lighted, they did not perceive
that Rosamond was lying on an ottoman in one of the recesses, or they
would not have spoken as they did while she was present.
"I am very sorry," said Mrs. Evering, "that Mrs. Marbury has fixed on
to-morrow for going to church with us, for I intended asking Miss
Leeson, who will be delighted to have an opportunity of hearing this
celebrated preacher; and his discourse, however excellent, will be lost
on aunt Marbury, who always falls asleep soon after she has heard the
text, that being all she ever remembers of a sermon. So that in reality,
one preacher is the same to her as another; though she goes regularly to
church twice a-day, and never could be convinced that she sleeps half
the time. And then she is unfortunately so fat, and takes up so much
room in the pew."
"My dear," said Mr. Evering, "we must show Mrs. Marbury as much kindness
and civility as we possibly can, for she is a most excellent woman, is
very liberal to us now, and at her death will undoubtedly leave us the
greatest part of her large property. Even if we had no personal regard
for the good old lady, it would be very impolitic in us to offend her."
When the room was lighted, Mr. and Mrs. Evering saw Rosamond on the
ottoman, and felt so much uneasiness at her having heard their
conversation, that they thought it best to caution her against repeating
it. "Oh!" exclaimed Rosamond, "do you think I would be so wicked as to
tell aunt Marbury what you have just been saying about her?"
"You have often," said Mrs. Evering, "told things almost as improper to
"But never with any bad intention," replied Rosamond, "I am sure my
feelings are always good."
"I know not," said her father, "how it is possible that people with good
feelings and good intentions can take pleasure in repeating whatever
they hear to a person's disadvantage, and above all to the very object
of the unfavourable remarks. Beside the cruelty of causing them poignant
and unnecessary pain, and wounding their self-love, there is the
wickedness of embroiling them with their friends; or at least destroying
their confidence, and imbittering their hearts. And all these
consequences have frequently ensued from the tattling of a tell-tale
The next morning was Saturday; and the servants being all very busy,
Mrs. Evering desired Rosamond to stop, as she returned from taking her
music-lesson, and inform her aunt Marbury that they would be happy to
accommodate her with a seat in their pew on Sunday morning; and that
they would call for her in the carriage, as she had requested.
"Now, Rosamond," said Mrs. Evering, "can I trust you? Will you, for
once, be discreet, and refrain from repeating to your aunt Marbury, what
you unluckily overheard last evening?"
"O! indeed, dear mother," replied Rosamond, "bad as you think me, I am
not quite wicked enough for that."
"But I fear the force of habit," said Mrs. Evering. "I believe I had
better send Peter with the message."
"No," answered Rosamond, "I am anxious to retrieve my character. Rely on
me this once; and you will see how prudent and honourable I can be."
On her way home from her music-lesson, Rosamond stopped at her aunt's,
and delivered the message, exactly as it had been given to her.
While Rosamond was eating a piece of the nice plum-cake that her aunt
always kept in the house for the gratification of her young visitors,
Mrs. Marbury said to her, "This weather is quite too warm for the
season; should it continue, it will be very oppressive in church
"No doubt," answered Rosamond, "and most probably our church will be
crowded in every part. I wonder, aunt, that you are anxious to go, as
you certainly must be, when you sent so long beforehand to engage a
seat in our pew."
"In truth," returned Mrs. Marbury, "I am willing to suffer some
inconvenience from the heat, for the sake of hearing this great
"But, aunt," said Rosamond, "if you get sleepy, you will not hear him
"O!" replied Mrs. Marbury, "I am never sleepy in church. I am always so
attentive that I never feel in the least drowsy."
"O! indeed, aunt, I have often seen you asleep in church," exclaimed
"Impossible, Rosamond, impossible," cried Mrs. Marbury. "You are
entirely mistaken. It must have been merely your own imagination."
"Why, dear aunt," said Rosamond, "my father and mother, as well as
myself, have all seen you asleep in church. If it was not true, the
whole family could not imagine it. It was but last evening, I heard my
mother say, that she wished you had not taken a notion to go to church
with us on Sunday, as it would prevent her from inviting Miss Leeson,
whom she likes far better than you. She said, beside, that fat people
take up so much room, that they are always encumbrances every where; and
that there was no use at all in your going to church, as you slept
soundly all the time you were there, and even breathed so hard as to
disturb the congregation."
"And what did your father say to all this?" asked Mrs. Marbury, turning
very pale, and looking much shocked and mortified.
"My father," answered Rosamond, "said that, on account of your money, we
must endure you, and all the inconveniences belonging to you; for if you
were kept in good humour, he had no doubt of your leaving him all your
property when you die."
Mrs. Marbury looked aghast. She burst into tears, and Rosamond, finding
that she had gone quite too far, vainly attempted to pacify her.
"You may go home, child," exclaimed Mrs. Marbury, sobbing with anger,
"you may go home, and tell your father and mother that I shall not
trouble them with my company at church or any where else; and when I
die, I shall leave my money to the hospital or to some other
institution. How have I been deceived! But I shall take care in future
not to bestow my affection on those that have any expectations from me."
Rosamond, now very much frightened, declared that she could not take
such a message to her parents; and begged her aunt to screen her from
their displeasure, by not informing them of the communication she had so
Her alarm and agitation were so great, that Mrs. Marbury consented, out
of pity, not to betray her to her father and mother; and to excuse
herself from going to church with them (which she declared she could
never do again) by alleging the heat of the weather, and the probable
"And now, Rosamond," said her aunt Marbury, "do not think that I feel at
all obliged to you for having opened my eyes as to the manner in which
your parents really regard me. Their behaviour to me, as far as I could
judge for myself, has always been exactly what I wished it; and if
their kindness was not sincere, I still thought it so, and was happy in
being deceived. And now, after what you have told me, how can I again
think of them as I have hitherto done? You have acted basely towards
them in repeating their private conversation, and cruelly to your kind
aunt, in giving her unnecessary pain and mortification. You have caused
much mischief; and who has been the gainer? Not yourself certainly. You
have lost my good opinion, for I can never like a tell-tale. I had heard
something of your being addicted to this vice; but till now I could not
believe it. I shall not betray you to your parents, though you have so
shamefully betrayed them to me. But you may rely on it, that sooner
or later the discovery will be made, to your utter shame and confusion.
Now you may go home, with the assurance that you can no longer be a
welcome visitor at my house."
Rosamond departed, overwhelmed with compunction; and in the resolution
(which she had so often made and so often broken) never again to be
guilty of a similar fault. She gave her aunt's message to her parents,
and Miss Leeson was invited to accompany them next day to church.
Two days after, Mrs. Evering went to visit Mrs. Marbury, and to her
great surprise heard from the servants that she had left town with some
western friends who were returning home; and that she purposed being
absent from Philadelphia five or six months; dividing her time among
various places on the other side of the Alleghanies, and probably
extending her tour to Louisiana, where she owned some land.
Her going away so suddenly without apprising them of her intention, was
totally inexplicable to Mr. and Mrs. Evering; and they justly concluded
that she must have taken some offence. Rosamond well knew the cause, and
rightly supposed that her aunt finding herself unable to meet the family
with her former feelings towards them, had thought it best to avoid
seeing them for a very long time.
The confusion visible in Rosamond's face and manner when Mrs. Marbury
was spoken of, aroused the suspicions of her father and mother: and on
their questioning her closely, she confessed, with many tears, that she
had really informed her aunt of what had passed on the subject of her
accompanying them to church. But as tell-tales have very little candour
where themselves are concerned, and as tale-telling always leads to
lying, she steadily denied that she had been guilty of the slightest
exaggeration in her report to Mrs. Marbury; protesting that she had told
her nothing but the simple truth.
From that time, Rosamond was not allowed to visit or call at any house
unaccompanied by her mother, who was almost afraid to trust her out of
her sight. Her parents avoided discussing any thing of the least
consequence in her presence; always remembering to send her out of the
room. This mode of treatment very much mortified her; but she could not
help acknowledging that she deserved it.
Her father received no intelligence from Mrs. Marbury. He and Mrs.
Evering both wrote to her at different times, endeavouring to mollify
her displeasure; but not knowing exactly where she was, the letters were
not directed to the right places, and did not reach her.
For a long time Rosamond was so unusually discreet, that her parents
began to hope that her odious fault was entirely cured.
One day, her chamber having been washed in the afternoon, it was found
too damp for her to sleep in with safety to her health; and her mother
told her that she must, that night, occupy the room adjoining hers. This
room, which was but seldom used, was separated from Mrs. Evering's
apartment by a very thin partition; and communicated with it by a door
which was almost always kept closed; the bed in each of these chambers
being placed against it.
Rosamond, having been awakened in the night by the fighting of some cats
in the yard, heard her father and mother in earnest conversation. They
had totally forgotten her vicinity to them; and as tell-tales are never
wanting in curiosity, she sat up in her bed and applying her ear to the
key-hole of the door, she distinctly heard every word they said, though
they were speaking in a low voice.
She was soon able to comprehend the subject of their conversation. Mr.
Evering was lamenting that the failure of a friend for whom he had
endorsed to a large amount, had brought him into unexpected
difficulties; but he hoped that he would be able to go on till the sums
due to him by some western merchants should arrive.
Next evening, Rosamond was permitted to go to a juvenile cotillon-party,
held once a fortnight, at the ball-room of her dancing-master. To this
place her mother always accompanied her; and while Mrs. Evering was
sitting in conversation with some ladies, a boy named George Granby, who
was frequently the partner of Rosamond at these balls, came up and
asked her to dance. They were obliged to go to the farthest end of the
room before they could get places in a cotillon; and while they were
waiting for the music to begin, George, who thought Rosamond a very
pretty girl, asked her if she would also be his partner in the
country-dance. She replied that Henry Harford had engaged her, at the
last ball, for this country-dance.
"Oh!" replied George Granby, "Henry Harford will not be here to-night;
his father failed yesterday."
"True," said Rosamond, "I wonder I should have forgotten Mr. Harford's
failure, when my father lost so much by him. But when the fathers fail,
must the children stay away from balls?"
"Certainly," replied George, "it would be considered very improper for
the family to be seen in any place of amusement when its head is in so
much trouble, and when they have lost all they possessed."
"O then," exclaimed Rosamond, "I hope my father will not fail till the
cotillon-parties are over for the season. There are but two more, and I
should be very sorry to give them up. I hope he will be able to go on,
at least till after that time. How sorry I shall be when he does
"I believe you," said George; "but what makes you talk about your
father's failing? I thought he was considered safe enough."
"Ah! you know but little about it," answered Rosamond. "I heard him tell
my mother last night, that he was in hourly dread of failing, in
consequence of the great losses by Mr. Harford, and of his own business
having gone on badly for a long time. However, say nothing about it, for
such things ought not to be told."
"They ought not, indeed," said the boy.
As soon as George Granby went home, he repeated what he had heard from
Rosamond, to his father, who was one of Mr. Evering's creditors. The
consequence was, that Mr. Granby and all the principal creditors took
immediate measures to secure themselves; and Mr. Evering (who could have
gone on till he got through his difficulties, had he been allowed time,
and had the state of his affairs remained unsuspected,) became a
bankrupt through the worse than indiscretion of his daughter. Had Mrs.
Marbury been in town, or where he could have had speedy communication
with her, he doubted not that she would have lent him assistance to
ward off the impending blow. But she had gone away in a fit of
displeasure, occasioned, also, by the tattling of Rosamond.
Mr. Granby, who was the chief creditor and a man of contracted feelings
and great severity, showed no liberality on the occasion; and proceeded
to the utmost extremity that the law would warrant. Every article of Mr.
Evering's property was taken; and indeed, since it had come to this, his
principles would not allow him to reserve any thing whatever from his
The scene that ensued in the Evering family, on the day following the
ball, can better be imagined than described. Mr. Granby had at once
informed Mr. Evering of the source from whence he had derived his
information with respect to the posture of his affairs; and when
Rosamond found this new and terrible proof of the fatal effects of her
predominant vice, she went into an hysteric fit, and was so ill all
night, that her parents, in addition to their other troubles, had to
fear for the life of their daughter. The sufferings of her mind brought
on a fever; and it was more than a week before she was able to leave her
Her father and mother kindly forgave her, and avoided all reference to
her fault. But she could not forgive herself, and on the day that they
left their handsome residence in one of the principal streets, and
removed to a small mean-looking house in the suburbs, her agony was more
than words can express. All their furniture was sold at auction, even
Rosamond's piano, and her mother's work-table. Their most expensive
articles of clothing were put away, as in their present circumstances it
would be improper to wear them. The house they now inhabited, contained
only one little parlour with a kitchen back of it, and three small rooms
upstairs. Their furniture was limited to what was barely useful, and of
the cheapest kind. Their table was as plain as possible; and their only
servant a very young half-grown girl.
This sad change in their way of living, added to the stings of
self-reproach, almost broke Rosamond's heart; and her pride was much
shocked when she found that her father had applied for the situation of
clerk in a counting-house, as a means of supporting his family till
something better should offer.
At length Mrs. Marbury returned; having hurried back to Philadelphia as
soon as the intelligence of her nephew's failure had reached her. How
did she blame herself for having taken such serious offence at what now
appeared to her almost too trifling to remember. All her former regard
for the Evering family returned. She sought them immediately in their
humble retreat, and offered Mr. Evering her assistance to the utmost
farthing she could command.
To conclude, Mr. Evering's affairs were again put in train. He resumed
his business; and a few years restored him to his former situation.
This sad, but salutary lesson produced a lasting effect on Rosamond; and
from that time, she kept so strict a watch over her ruling passion, that
she succeeded in entirely eradicating it. She grew up a discreet and
amiable girl; and no one who knew her in after years, could have
believed that till the age of fourteen she had been an incorrigible