THE WATKINSON EVENING
By Eliza Leslie (1787-1858)
Humorous Short Stories
[From Godey's Lady's Book, December, 1846.]
Mrs. Morland, a polished and accomplished woman, was the widow of a
distinguished senator from one of the western states, of which, also,
her husband had twice filled the office of governor. Her daughter
having completed her education at the best boarding-school in
Philadelphia, and her son being about to graduate at Princeton, the
mother had planned with her children a tour to Niagara and the lakes,
returning by way of Boston. On leaving Philadelphia, Mrs. Morland and
the delighted Caroline stopped at Princeton to be present at the
annual commencement, and had the happiness of seeing their beloved
Edward receive his diploma as bachelor of arts; after hearing him
deliver, with great applause, an oration on the beauties of the
American character. College youths are very prone to treat on subjects
that imply great experience of the world. But Edward Morland was full
of kind feeling for everything and everybody; and his views of life
had hitherto been tinted with a perpetual rose-color.
Mrs. Morland, not depending altogether upon the celebrity of her late
husband, and wishing that her children should see specimens of the
best society in the northern cities, had left home with numerous
letters of introduction. But when they arrived at New York, she found
to her great regret, that having unpacked and taken out her small
traveling desk, during her short stay in Philadelphia, she had
strangely left it behind in the closet of her room at the hotel. In
this desk were deposited all her letters, except two which had been
offered to her by friends in Philadelphia. The young people, impatient
to see the wonders of Niagara, had entreated her to stay but a day or
two in the city of New York, and thought these two letters would be
quite sufficient for the present. In the meantime she wrote back to
the hotel, requesting that the missing desk should be forwarded to New
York as soon as possible.
On the morning after their arrival at the great commercial metropolis
of America, the Morland family took a carriage to ride round through
the principal parts of the city, and to deliver their two letters at
the houses to which they were addressed, and which were both situated
in the region that lies between the upper part of Broadway and the
North River. In one of the most fashionable streets they found the
elegant mansion of Mrs. St. Leonard; but on stopping at the door, were
informed that its mistress was not at home. They then left the
introductory letter (which they had prepared for this mischance, by
enclosing it in an envelope with a card), and proceeding to another
street considerably farther up, they arrived at the dwelling of the
Watkinson family, to the mistress of which the other Philadelphia
letter was directed. It was one of a large block of houses all exactly
alike, and all shut up from top to bottom, according to a custom more
prevalent in New York than in any other city.
Here they were also unsuccessful; the servant who came to the door
telling them that the ladies were particularly engaged and could see
no company. So they left their second letter and card and drove off,
continuing their ride till they reached the Croton water works, which
they quitted the carriage to see and admire. On returning to the
hotel, with the intention after an hour or two of rest to go out
again, and walk till near dinner-time, they found waiting them a note
from Mrs. Watkinson, expressing her regret that she had not been able
to see them when they called; and explaining that her family duties
always obliged her to deny herself the pleasure of receiving morning
visitors, and that her servants had general orders to that effect. But
she requested their company for that evening (naming nine o'clock as
the hour), and particularly desired an immediate answer.
"I suppose," said Mrs. Morland, "she intends asking some of her
friends to meet us, in case we accept the invitation; and therefore is
naturally desirous of a reply as soon as possible. Of course we will
not keep her in suspense. Mrs. Denham, who volunteered the letter,
assured me that Mrs. Watkinson was one of the most estimable women in
New York, and a pattern to the circle in which she moved. It seems
that Mr. Denham and Mr. Watkinson are connected in business. Shall we
The young people assented, saying they had no doubt of passing a
The billet of acceptance having been written, it was sent off
immediately, entrusted to one of the errand-goers belonging to the
hotel, that it might be received in advance of the next hour for the
dispatch-post—and Edward Morland desired the man to get into an
omnibus with the note that no time might be lost in delivering it. "It
is but right"—said he to his mother—"that we should give Mrs.
Watkinson an ample opportunity of making her preparations, and sending
round to invite her friends."
"How considerate you are, dear Edward"—said Caroline—"always so
thoughtful of every one's convenience. Your college friends must have
"No"—said Edward—"they called me a prig." Just then a remarkably
handsome carriage drove up to the private door of the hotel. From it
alighted a very elegant woman, who in a few moments was ushered into
the drawing-room by the head waiter, and on his designating Mrs.
Morland's family, she advanced and gracefully announced herself as
Mrs. St. Leonard. This was the lady at whose house they had left the
first letter of introduction. She expressed regret at not having been
at home when they called; but said that on finding their letter, she
had immediately come down to see them, and to engage them for the
evening. "Tonight"—said Mrs. St. Leonard—"I expect as many friends
as I can collect for a summer party. The occasion is the recent
marriage of my niece, who with her husband has just returned from
their bridal excursion, and they will be soon on their way to their
residence in Baltimore. I think I can promise you an agreeable
evening, as I expect some very delightful people, with whom I shall be
most happy to make you acquainted."
Edward and Caroline exchanged glances, and could not refrain from
looking wistfully at their mother, on whose countenance a shade of
regret was very apparent. After a short pause she replied to Mrs. St.
Leonard—"I am truly sorry to say that we have just answered in the
affirmative a previous invitation for this very evening."
"I am indeed disappointed"—said Mrs. St. Leonard, who had been
looking approvingly at the prepossessing appearance of the two young
people. "Is there no way in which you can revoke your compliance with
this unfortunate first invitation—at least, I am sure, it is
unfortunate for me. What a vexatious contretemps that I should have
chanced to be out when you called; thus missing the pleasure of seeing
you at once, and securing that of your society for this evening? The
truth is, I was disappointed in some of the preparations that had been
sent home this morning, and I had to go myself and have the things
rectified, and was detained away longer than I expected. May I ask to
whom you are engaged this evening? Perhaps I know the lady—if so, I
should be very much tempted to go and beg you from her."
"The lady is Mrs. John Watkinson"—replied Mrs. Morland—"most
probably she will invite some of her friends to meet us."
"That of course"—answered Mrs. St. Leonard—"I am really very
sorry—and I regret to say that I do not know her at all."
"We shall have to abide by our first decision," said Mrs. Morland. "By
Mrs. Watkinson, mentioning in her note the hour of nine, it is to be
presumed she intends asking some other company. I cannot possibly
disappoint her. I can speak feelingly as to the annoyance (for I have
known it by my own experience) when after inviting a number of my
friends to meet some strangers, the strangers have sent an excuse
almost at the eleventh hour. I think no inducements, however strong,
could tempt me to do so myself."
"I confess that you are perfectly right," said Mrs. St. Leonard. "I
see you must go to Mrs. Watkinson. But can you not divide the evening,
by passing a part of it with her and then finishing with me?"
At this suggestion the eyes of the young people sparkled, for they had
become delighted with Mrs. St. Leonard, and imagined that a party at
her house must be every way charming. Also, parties were novelties to
both of them.
"If possible we will do so," answered Mrs. Morland, "and with what
pleasure I need not assure you. We leave New York to-morrow, but we
shall return this way in September, and will then be exceedingly happy
to see more of Mrs. St. Leonard."
After a little more conversation Mrs. St. Leonard took her leave,
repeating her hope of still seeing her new friends at her house that
night; and enjoining them to let her know as soon as they returned to
New York on their way home.
Edward Morland handed her to her carriage, and then joined his mother
and sister in their commendations of Mrs. St. Leonard, with whose
exceeding beauty were united a countenance beaming with intelligence,
and a manner that put every one at their ease immediately.
"She is an evidence," said Edward, "how superior our women of fashion
are to those of Europe."
"Wait, my dear son," said Mrs. Morland, "till you have been in Europe,
and had an opportunity of forming an opinion on that point (as on many
others) from actual observation. For my part, I believe that in all
civilized countries the upper classes of people are very much alike,
at least in their leading characteristics."
"Ah! here comes the man that was sent to Mrs. Watkinson," said
Caroline Morland. "I hope he could not find the house and has brought
the note back with him. We shall then be able to go at first to Mrs.
St. Leonard's, and pass the whole evening there."
The man reported that he had found the house, and had delivered the
note into Mrs. Watkinson's own hands, as she chanced to be crossing
the entry when the door was opened; and that she read it immediately,
and said "Very well."
"Are you certain that you made no mistake in the house," said Edward,
"and that you really did give it to Mrs. Watkinson?"
"And it's quite sure I am, sir," replied the man, "when I first came
over from the ould country I lived with them awhile, and though when
she saw me to-day, she did not let on that she remembered my doing
that same, she could not help calling me James. Yes, the rale words
she said when I handed her the billy-dux was, 'Very well, James.'"
"Come, come," said Edward, when they found themselves alone, "let us
look on the bright side. If we do not find a large party at Mrs.
Watkinson's, we may in all probability meet some very agreeable people
there, and enjoy the feast of reason and the flow of soul. We may find
the Watkinson house so pleasant as to leave it with regret even for
Mrs. St. Leonard's."
"I do not believe Mrs. Watkinson is in fashionable society," said
Caroline, "or Mrs. St. Leonard would have known her. I heard some of
the ladies here talking last evening of Mrs. St. Leonard, and I found
from what they said that she is among the élite of the lite."
"Even if she is," observed Mrs. Morland, "are polish of manners and
cultivation of mind confined exclusively to persons of that class?"
"Certainly not," said Edward, "the most talented and refined youth at
our college, and he in whose society I found the greatest pleasure,
was the son of a bricklayer."
In the ladies' drawing-room, after dinner, the Morlands heard a
conversation between several of the female guests, who all seemed to
know Mrs. St. Leonard very well by reputation, and they talked of her
party that was to "come off" on this evening.
"I hear," said one lady, "that Mrs. St. Leonard is to have an unusual
number of lions."
She then proceeded to name a gallant general, with his elegant wife
and accomplished daughter; a celebrated commander in the navy; two
highly distinguished members of Congress, and even an ex-president.
Also several of the most eminent among the American literati, and two
Edward Morland felt as if he could say, "Had I three ears I'd hear
"Such a woman as Mrs. St. Leonard can always command the best lions
that are to be found," observed another lady.
"And then," said a third, "I have been told that she has such
exquisite taste in lighting and embellishing her always elegant rooms.
And her supper table, whether for summer or winter parties, is so
beautifully arranged; all the viands are so delicious, and the
attendance of the servants so perfect—and Mrs. St. Leonard does the
honors with so much ease and tact."
"Some friends of mine that visit her," said a fourth lady, "describe
her parties as absolute perfection. She always manages to bring
together those persons that are best fitted to enjoy each other's
conversation. Still no one is overlooked or neglected. Then everything
at her reunions is so well proportioned—she has just enough of music,
and just enough of whatever amusement may add to the pleasure of her
guests; and still there is no appearance of design or management on
"And better than all," said the lady who had spoken firsts "Mrs. St.
Leonard is one of the kindest, most generous, and most benevolent of
women—she does good in every possible way."
"I can listen no longer," said Caroline to Edward, rising to change
her seat. "If I hear any more I shall absolutely hate the Watkinsons.
How provoking that they should have sent us the first invitation. If
we had only thought of waiting till we could hear from Mrs. St.
"For shame, Caroline," said her brother, "how can you talk so of
persons you have never seen, and to whom you ought to feel grateful
for the kindness of their invitation; even if it has interfered with
another party, that I must confess seems to offer unusual attractions.
Now I have a presentiment that we shall find the Watkinson part of the
evening very enjoyable."
As soon as tea was over, Mrs. Morland and her daughter repaired to
their toilettes. Fortunately, fashion as well as good taste, has
decided that, at a summer party, the costume of the ladies should
never go beyond an elegant simplicity. Therefore our two ladies in
preparing for their intended appearance at Mrs. St. Leonard's, were
enabled to attire themselves in a manner that would not seem out of
place in the smaller company they expected to meet at the Watkinsons.
Over an under-dress of lawn, Caroline Morland put on a white organdy
trimmed with lace, and decorated with bows of pink ribbon. At the back
of her head was a wreath of fresh and beautiful pink flowers, tied
with a similar ribbon. Mrs. Morland wore a black grenadine over a
satin, and a lace cap trimmed with white.
It was but a quarter past nine o'clock when their carriage stopped at
the Watkinson door. The front of the house looked very dark. Not a ray
gleamed through the Venetian shutters, and the glimmer beyond the
fan-light over the door was almost imperceptible. After the coachman
had rung several times, an Irish girl opened the door, cautiously (as
Irish girls always do), and admitted them into the entry, where one
light only was burning in a branch lamp. "Shall we go upstairs?" said
Mrs. Morland. "And what for would ye go upstairs?" said the girl in a
pert tone. "It's all dark there, and there's no preparations. Ye can
lave your things here a-hanging on the rack. It is a party ye're
expecting? Blessed are them what expects nothing."
The sanguine Edward Morland looked rather blank at this intelligence,
and his sister whispered to him, "We'll get off to Mrs. St. Leonard's
as soon as we possibly can. When did you tell the coachman to come for
"At half past ten," was the brother's reply.
"Oh! Edward, Edward!" she exclaimed, "And I dare say he will not be
punctual. He may keep us here till eleven."
"Courage, mes enfants," said their mother, "et parlez plus
The girl then ushered them into the back parlor, saying, "Here's the
The room was large and gloomy. A checquered mat covered the floor, and
all the furniture was encased in striped calico covers, and the lamps,
mirrors, etc. concealed under green gauze. The front parlor was
entirely dark, and in the back apartment was no other light than a
shaded lamp on a large centre table, round which was assembled a
circle of children of all sizes and ages. On a backless, cushionless
sofa sat Mrs. Watkinson, and a young lady, whom she introduced as her
daughter Jane. And Mrs. Morland in return presented Edward and
"Will you take the rocking-chair, ma'am?" inquired Mrs. Watkinson.
Mrs. Morland declining the offer, the hostess took it herself, and
see-sawed on it nearly the whole time. It was a very awkward,
high-legged, crouch-backed rocking-chair, and shamefully unprovided
with anything in the form of a footstool.
"My husband is away, at Boston, on business," said Mrs. Watkinson. "I
thought at first, ma'am, I should not be able to ask you here this
evening, for it is not our way to have company in his absence; but my
daughter Jane over-persuaded me to send for you."
"What a pity," thought Caroline.
"You must take us as you find us, ma'am," continued Mrs. Watkinson.
"We use no ceremony with anybody; and our rule is never to put
ourselves out of the way. We do not give parties [looking at the
dresses of the ladies]. Our first duty is to our children, and we
cannot waste our substance on fashion and folly. They'll have cause to
thank us for it when we die."
Something like a sob was heard from the centre table, at which the
children were sitting, and a boy was seen to hold his handkerchief to
"Joseph, my child," said his mother, "do not cry. You have no idea,
ma'am, what an extraordinary boy that is. You see how the bare mention
of such a thing as our deaths has overcome him."
There was another sob behind the handkerchief, and the Morlands
thought it now sounded very much like a smothered laugh.
"As I was saying, ma'am," continued Mrs. Watkinson, "we never give
parties. We leave all sinful things to the vain and foolish. My
daughter Jane has been telling me, that she heard this morning of a
party that is going on tonight at the widow St. Leonard's. It is only
fifteen years since her husband died. He was carried off with a three
days' illness, but two months after they were married. I have had a
domestic that lived with them at the time, so I know all about it. And
there she is now, living in an elegant house, and riding in her
carriage, and dressing and dashing, and giving parties, and enjoying
life, as she calls it. Poor creature, how I pity her! Thank heaven,
nobody that I know goes to her parties. If they did I would never wish
to see them again in my house. It is an encouragement to folly and
nonsense—and folly and nonsense are sinful. Do not you think so,
"If carried too far they may certainly become so," replied Mrs.
"We have heard," said Edward, "that Mrs. St. Leonard, though one of
the ornaments of the gay world, has a kind heart, a beneficent spirit
and a liberal hand."
"I know very little about her," replied Mrs. Watkinson, drawing up her
head, "and I have not the least desire to know any more. It is well
she has no children; they'd be lost sheep if brought up in her fold.
For my part, ma'am," she continued, turning to Mrs. Morland, "I am
quite satisfied with the quiet joys of a happy home. And no mother has
the least business with any other pleasures. My innocent babes know
nothing about plays, and balls, and parties; and they never shall. Do
they look as if they had been accustomed to a life of pleasure?"
They certainly did not! for when the Morlands took a glance at them,
they thought they had never seen youthful faces that were less gay,
and indeed less prepossessing.
There was not a good feature or a pleasant expression among them all.
Edward Morland recollected his having often read "that childhood is
always lovely." But he saw that the juvenile Watkinsons were an
exception to the rule.
"The first duty of a mother is to her children," repeated Mrs.
Watkinson. "Till nine o'clock, my daughter Jane and myself are
occupied every evening in hearing the lessons that they have learned
for to-morrow's school. Before that hour we can receive no visitors,
and we never have company to tea, as that would interfere too much
with our duties. We had just finished hearing these lessons when you
arrived. Afterwards the children are permitted to indulge themselves
in rational play, for I permit no amusement that is not also
instructive. My children are so well trained, that even when alone
their sports are always serious."
Two of the boys glanced slyly at each other, with what Edward Morland
comprehended as an expression of pitch-penny and marbles.
"They are now engaged at their game of astronomy," continued Mrs.
Watkinson. "They have also a sort of geography cards, and a set of
mathematical cards. It is a blessed discovery, the invention of these
educationary games; so that even the play-time of children can be
turned to account. And you have no idea, ma'am, how they enjoy them."
Just then the boy Joseph rose from the table, and stalking up to Mrs.
Watkinson, said to her, "Mamma, please to whip me."
At this unusual request the visitors looked much amazed, and Mrs.
Watkinson replied to him, "Whip you, my best Joseph—for what cause? I
have not seen you do anything wrong this evening, and you know my
anxiety induces me to watch my children all the time."
"You could not see me," answered Joseph, "for I have not done
anything very wrong. But I have had a bad thought, and you know Mr.
Ironrule says that a fault imagined is just as wicked as a fault
"You see, ma'am, what a good memory he has," said Mrs. Watkinson aside
to Mrs. Morland. "But my best Joseph, you make your mother tremble.
What fault have you imagined? What was your bad thought?"
"Ay," said another boy, "what's your thought like?"
"My thought," said Joseph, "was 'Confound all astronomy, and I could
see the man hanged that made this game.'"
"Oh! my child," exclaimed the mother, stopping her ears, "I am indeed
shocked. I am glad you repented so immediately."
"Yes," returned Joseph, "but I am afraid my repentance won't last. If
I am not whipped, I may have these bad thoughts whenever I play at
astronomy, and worse still at the geography game. Whip me, ma, and
punish me as I deserve. There's the rattan in the corner: I'll bring
it to you myself."
"Excellent boy!" said his mother. "You know I always pardon my
children when they are so candid as to confess their faults."
"So you do," said Joseph, "but a whipping will cure me better."
"I cannot resolve to punish so conscientious a child," said Mrs.
"Shall I take the trouble off your hands?" inquired Edward, losing all
patience in his disgust at the sanctimonious hypocrisy of this young
Blifil. "It is such a rarity for a boy to request a whipping, that so
remarkable a desire ought by all means to be gratified."
Joseph turned round and made a face at him.
"Give me the rattan," said Edward, half laughing, and offering to take
it out of his hand. "I'll use it to your full satisfaction."
The boy thought it most prudent to stride off and return to the table,
and ensconce himself among his brothers and sisters; some of whom were
staring with stupid surprise; others were whispering and giggling in
the hope of seeing Joseph get a real flogging.
Mrs. Watkinson having bestowed a bitter look on Edward, hastened to
turn the attention of his mother to something else. "Mrs. Morland,"
said she, "allow me to introduce you to my youngest hope." She pointed
to a sleepy boy about five years old, who with head thrown back and
mouth wide open, was slumbering in his chair.
Mrs. Watkinson's children were of that uncomfortable species who never
go to bed; at least never without all manner of resistance. All her
boasted authority was inadequate to compel them; they never would
confess themselves sleepy; always wanted to "sit up," and there was a
nightly scene of scolding, coaxing, threatening and manoeuvring to get
"I declare," said Mrs. Watkinson, "dear Benny is almost asleep. Shake
him up, Christopher. I want him to speak a speech. His school-mistress
takes great pains in teaching her little pupils to speak, and stands
up herself and shows them how."
The child having been shaken up hard (two or three others helping
Christopher), rubbed his eyes and began to whine. His mother went to
him, took him on her lap, hushed him up, and began to coax him. This
done, she stood him on his feet before Mrs. Morland, and desired him
to speak a speech for the company. The child put his thumb into his
mouth, and remained silent.
"Ma," said Jane Watkinson, "you had better tell him what speech to
"Speak Cato or Plato," said his mother. "Which do you call it? Come
now, Benny—how does it begin? 'You are quite right and reasonable,
Plato.' That's it."
"Speak Lucius," said his sister Jane. "Come now, Benny—say 'your
thoughts are turned on peace.'"
The little boy looked very much as if they were not, and as if
meditating an outbreak.
"No, no!" exclaimed Christopher, "let him say Hamlet. Come now,
Benny—'To be or not to be.'"
"It ain't to be at all," cried Benny, "and I won't speak the least bit
of it for any of you. I hate that speech!"
"Only see his obstinacy," said the solemn Joseph. "And is he to be
given up to?"
"Speak anything, Benny," said Mrs. Watkinson, "anything so that it is
only a speech."
All the Watkinson voices now began to clamor violently at the
obstinate child—"Speak a speech! speak a speech! speak a speech!" But
they had no more effect than the reiterated exhortations with which
nurses confuse the poor heads of babies, when they require them to
"shake a day-day—shake a day-day!"
Mrs. Morland now interfered, and begged that the sleepy little boy
might be excused; on which he screamed out that "he wasn't sleepy at
all, and would not go to bed ever."
"I never knew any of my children behave so before," said Mrs.
Watkinson. "They are always models of obedience, ma'am. A look is
sufficient for them. And I must say that they have in every way
profited by the education we are giving them. It is not our way,
ma'am, to waste our money in parties and fooleries, and fine furniture
and fine clothes, and rich food, and all such abominations. Our first
duty is to our children, and to make them learn everything that is
taught in the schools. If they go wrong, it will not be for want of
education. Hester, my dear, come and talk to Miss Morland in French."
Hester (unlike her little brother that would not speak a speech)
stepped boldly forward, and addressed Caroline Morland with:
"Parlez-vous Français, mademoiselle? Comment se va madame votre mère?
Aimez-vous la musique? Aimez-vous la danse? Bon jour—bon soir—bon
To this tirade, uttered with great volubility, Miss Morland made no
other reply than, "Oui—je comprens."
"Very well, Hester—very well indeed," said Mrs. Watkinson. "You see,
ma'am," turning to Mrs. Morland, "how very fluent she is in French;
and she has only been learning eleven quarters."
After considerable whispering between Jane and her mother, the former
withdrew, and sent in by the Irish girl a waiter with a basket of soda
biscuit, a pitcher of water, and some glasses. Mrs. Watkinson invited
her guests to consider themselves at home and help themselves freely,
saying: "We never let cakes, sweetmeats, confectionery, or any such
things enter the house, as they would be very unwholesome for the
children, and it would be sinful to put temptation in their way. I am
sure, ma'am, you will agree with me that the plainest food is the best
for everybody. People that want nice things may go to parties for
them; but they will never get any with me."
When the collation was over, and every child provided with a biscuit,
Mrs. Watkinson said to Mrs. Morland: "Now, ma'am, you shall have some
music from my daughter Jane, who is one of Mr. Bangwhanger's best
Jane Watkinson sat down to the piano and commenced a powerful piece of
six mortal pages, which she played out of time and out of tune; but
with tremendous force of hands; notwithstanding which, it had,
however, the good effect of putting most of the children to sleep.
To the Morlands the evening had seemed already five hours long. Still
it was only half past ten when Jane was in the midst of her piece. The
guests had all tacitly determined that it would be best not to let
Mrs. Watkinson know their intention to go directly from her house to
Mrs. St. Leonard's party; and the arrival of their carriage would have
been the signal of departure, even if Jane's piece had not reached its
termination. They stole glances at the clock on the mantel. It wanted
but a quarter of eleven, when Jane rose from the piano, and was
congratulated by her mother on the excellence of her music. Still no
carriage was heard to stop; no doorbell was heard to ring. Mrs.
Morland expressed her fears that the coachman had forgotten to come
"Has he been paid for bringing you here?" asked Mrs. Watkinson.
"I paid him when we came to the door," said Edward. "I thought perhaps
he might want the money for some purpose before he came for us."
"That was very kind in you, sir," said Mrs. Watkinson, "but not very
wise. There's no dependence on any coachman; and perhaps as he may be
sure of business enough this rainy night he may never come at
all—being already paid for bringing you here."
Now, the truth was that the coachman had come at the appointed time,
but the noise of Jane's piano had prevented his arrival being heard in
the back parlor. The Irish girl had gone to the door when he rang the
bell, and recognized in him what she called "an ould friend." Just
then a lady and gentleman who had been caught in the rain came running
along, and seeing a carriage drawing up at a door, the gentleman
inquired of the driver if he could not take them to Rutgers Place. The
driver replied that he had just come for two ladies and a gentleman
whom he had brought from the Astor House.
"Indeed and Patrick," said the girl who stood at the door, "if I was
you I'd be after making another penny to-night. Miss Jane is pounding
away at one of her long music pieces, and it won't be over before you
have time to get to Rutgers and back again. And if you do make them
wait awhile, where's the harm? They've a dry roof over their heads,
and I warrant it's not the first waiting they've ever had in their
lives; and it won't be the last neither."
"Exactly so," said the gentleman; and regardless of the propriety of
first sending to consult the persons who had engaged the carriage, he
told his wife to step in, and following her instantly himself, they
drove away to Rutgers Place.
Reader, if you were ever detained in a strange house by the
non-arrival of your carriage, you will easily understand the excessive
annoyance of finding that you are keeping a family out of their beds
beyond their usual hour. And in this case, there was a double
grievance; the guests being all impatience to get off to a better
place. The children, all crying when wakened from their sleep, were
finally taken to bed by two servant maids, and Jane Watkinson, who
never came back again. None were left but Hester, the great French
scholar, who, being one of those young imps that seem to have the
faculty of living without sleep, sat bolt upright with her eyes wide
open, watching the uncomfortable visitors.
The Morlands felt as if they could bear it no longer, and Edward
proposed sending for another carriage to the nearest livery stable.
"We don't keep a man now," said Mrs. Watkinson, who sat nodding in the
rocking-chair, attempting now and then a snatch of conversation, and
saying "ma'am" still more frequently than usual. "Men servants are
dreadful trials, ma'am, and we gave them up three years ago. And I
don't know how Mary or Katy are to go out this stormy night in search
of a livery stable."
"On no consideration could I allow the women to do so," replied
Edward. "If you will oblige me by the loan of an umbrella, I will go
Accordingly he set out on this business, but was unsuccessful at two
livery stables, the carriages being all out. At last he found one, and
was driven in it to Mr. Watkinson's house, where his mother and sister
were awaiting him, all quite ready, with their calashes and shawls on.
They gladly took their leave; Mrs. Watkinson rousing herself to hope
they had spent a pleasant evening, and that they would come and pass
another with her on their return to New York. In such cases how
difficult it is to reply even with what are called "words of course."
A kitchen lamp was brought to light them to the door, the entry lamp
having long since been extinguished. Fortunately the rain had ceased;
the stars began to reappear, and the Morlands, when they found
themselves in the carriage and on their way to Mrs. St. Leonard's,
felt as if they could breathe again. As may be supposed, they freely
discussed the annoyances of the evening; but now those troubles were
over they felt rather inclined to be merry about them.
"Dear mother," said Edward, "how I pitied you for having to endure
Mrs. Watkinson's perpetual 'ma'aming' and 'ma'aming'; for I know you
dislike the word."
"I wish," said Caroline, "I was not so prone to be taken with
ridiculous recollections. But really to-night I could not get that old
foolish child's play out of my head—
Here come three knights out of Spain
A-courting of your daughter Jane."
"I shall certainly never be one of those Spanish knights," said
Edward. "Her daughter Jane is in no danger of being ruled by any
'flattering tongue' of mine. But what a shame for us to be talking of
them in this manner."
They drove to Mrs. St. Leonard's, hoping to be yet in time to pass
half an hour there; though it was now near twelve o'clock and summer
parties never continue to a very late hour. But as they came into the
street in which she lived they were met by a number of coaches on
their way home, and on reaching the door of her brilliantly lighted
mansion, they saw the last of the guests driving off in the last of
the carriages, and several musicians coming down the steps with their
instruments in their hands.
"So there has been a dance, then!" sighed Caroline. "Oh, what we
have missed! It is really too provoking."
"So it is," said Edward; "but remember that to-morrow morning we set
off for Niagara."
"I will leave a note for Mrs. St. Leonard," said his mother,
"explaining that we were detained at Mrs. Watkinson's by our coachman
disappointing us. Let us console ourselves with the hope of seeing
more of this lady on our return. And now, dear Caroline, you must draw
a moral from the untoward events of to-day. When you are mistress of a
house, and wish to show civility to strangers, let the invitation be
always accompanied with a frank disclosure of what they are to expect.
And if you cannot conveniently invite company to meet them, tell them
at once that you will not insist on their keeping their engagement
with you if anything offers afterwards that they think they would
prefer; provided only that they apprize you in time of the change in
"Oh, mamma," replied Caroline, "you may be sure I shall always take
care not to betray my visitors into an engagement which they may have
cause to regret, particularly if they are strangers whose time is
limited. I shall certainly, as you say, tell them not to consider
themselves bound to me if they afterwards receive an invitation which
promises them more enjoyment. It will be a long while before I forget,
the Watkinson evening."