“The Beautiful Villa” on Proverbs 31:30, is written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is from “Precepts in Practice,” and is about inner beauty.
“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.”—Proverbs 31:30.
Jessy Warner stood before a pier-glass, gazing on the image reflected in it with silent delight. And truly the image was a very pretty one, though perhaps not all the world would have admired it as much as the vain young lady. She had twined a wreath of flowers in her luxuriant tresses, and smoothed every ringlet till it lay on her fair neck bright as burnished gold. She was smiling at the form in the mirror, which smiled again, displaying an even row of pearly teeth; and Jessy was evidently too much charmed with her occupation to give a thought to the pile of lesson-books which lay unopened on the table, or the unfinished jacket beside it, which her lazy little fingers had failed in a whole month to complete.
Mrs. Warner entered unobserved by Jessy, and that which made the young daughter smile cost the mother a sigh.
“My poor child is so much engaged in contemplating her own pretty face, that everything else is neglected and forgotten!” Such were the reflections of Mrs. Warner. “Oh! how shall I teach her the comparative worthlessness of that which is only skin-deep,—that which time must impair, and any hour may destroy!”
She moved forward a few steps, and her reflection in the glass first made Jessy aware of her presence.
“Oh! mamma!” she exclaimed, “I did not know that you were there!” and a blush rose to Jessy’s cheek at being discovered in the act of admiring her own beauty. Mrs. Warner glanced at the books and the work, but made no observation on the subject and merely asked her daughter if she were inclined for a walk, and would like to accompany her to a house at some distance, where she was about to pay a visit on business.
“I should like it of all things!” cried Jessy, hastily divesting her head of its gay wreath—so hastily that many of the flower-petals were strewed on the floor.
“These were very bright and beautiful today,—what will they be tomorrow?” observed the lady.
Jessy made no reply, but hastened to put on her bonnet and shawl.
Mrs. Warner gave her daughter an allowance for her dress; Jessy was therefore able to choose it herself, and please her own taste in the selection. It must be owned that her attire was more remarkable for the gaiety of its colors than for the goodness of its materials,—that more attention was paid to its being be coming than to its being comfortable; and that money was often wasted upon some expensive piece of finery, when some necessary article of dress was required Jessy’s bonnet was now radiant with pink bows and flowers, and pretty bracelets adorned her arms; while her gloves were so old that the fingers looked through them, and her shoes were so much trodden down at heel that she could not help shuffling as she walked. Jessy was in actual want of a good common dress, in which she could run about the garden, and play with her young companions without fear of causing rent or stain; but she had chosen one of a tint so delicate, and a fabric so fragile, that she never, while wearing it, felt at her ease.
Mrs. Warner and her daughter pursued their way along green shady lanes, and across daisy-dotted meadows, with nothing to mar the pleasure of their walk, except the brambles in the former, which were always catching in poor Jessy’s flounces, and the stiles in the latter, which her tight dress made her find difficulty in crossing. Jessy and her mother arrived at last at an exceedingly beautiful spot. On an emerald lawn, embosomed in trees, stood a villa which might have been the abode of a fairy, so tasteful was its form, so graceful its fanciful minarets, so elegant its windows of stained glass overhung with clusters of roses and jasmine. A splendid passion-flower twined round one of the slender carved pillars of the porch; another was half hidden by clematis. In the centre of the building rose an ornamental clock-tower, whose gilded pinnacle glittered in the sun! In her admiration of its fanciful beauty, Jessy did not notice that the hands of the gay clock pointed to a wrong hour, for its works were motionless and out of order.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, “what a lovely place! How delightful it would be to live here! How proud one would be if it were one’s own!”
“It is pretty enough on the outside,” said Mrs. Warner, rather drily; “but with houses, as with those who live in them, it is not sufficient to look only at the face,—we must examine further before we decide whether they are subjects either for pride or for admiration.”
They entered the pretty porch, and Mrs. Warner pulled the bell-handle. It was broken, and came off in her hand; so, seeing that the door was open, the lady walked into the house.
Strangely different from what the exterior had led her to expect, Jessy found the inside of the dwelling. It bore every token of neglect and disrepair, as if either uninhabited or occupied by those who paid no attention to neatness and comfort. The plaster had partly peeled from the walls; there was not a carpet upon the floors, and the dust lay so thick upon them that the visitors’ footsteps left prints behind! There was a sad lack of chairs and tables, even of the commonest kind in the sitting-room, which Mrs. Warner entered in hopes of finding a more efficient bell. Jessy sat down on a bench, and had a narrow escape of falling to the ground,—for one of the legs gave way beneath even her light weight!
“What a shame to furnish such a pretty house so badly!” she exclaimed. “I never saw a place so neglected! Just look at the dull spotted picture-frames, and the dirty cobwebs across the corners of the room! What is the use of having a beautiful house, if no thing but rubbish is in it?”
“What is the use indeed!” replied Mrs. Warner, trying again the effect of pulling the old bell-rope. “But houses are not the only things which need furnishing; and yet I fancy that there is some one not far from me who occasionally acts as though she thought that it matters not how empty a head may be, so that it looks well to the eye!”
“Oh! mamma!” cried Jessy laughing, yet half vexed, “heads and houses are such different things!”
“To my idea,” replied Mrs. Warner, “an unfurnished mind is much like an unfurnished house, only a much sadder object. Youth is the time above all other to fit up the intellect richly. We may then lay in an almost boundless store of valuable information, in creasing with every day of our lives, for none are too old to learn.”
“But study is so tiresome!” sighed Jessy.
“It costs us something, my dear; like rich furniture, it is not to be had for the mere wishing! But it is well worth the trouble which it costs. And remember, Jessy, with the mind, as with the house, it cannot be entirely empty. Where knowledge is neglected folly will come,—the dust gathers, the spider spins her web. If we are not learning we are losing,—a mind left to itself is a mind left to decay!”
“I wonder if any one lives here!” said Jessy, who was rather desirous to turn the conversation. “No one takes the trouble to answer the bell.”
“I believe that we shall find Madame L’Ame in one of the upper rooms,” replied her mother. “She knows me well, and therefore will not regard my visit as an intrusion; besides, today she expects me, as I have to speak to her on important business, regarding a large property to which she is heir.”
Mrs. Warner, therefore, followed by her daughter, proceeded up the dusty uncarpeted stair, Jessy feeling some curiosity to see the mistress of the beautiful but neglected mansion. They reached the landing-place, where Mrs. Warner knocked at the door of one of the upper rooms. As the sound brought no answer, the lady knocked again, when a shrill voice bade her “come in;” and she and Jessy entered an apartment as unsightly as the rest of the interior of the house. There was not, perhaps, the same deficiency of furniture, but everything was in confusion and disorder, as it might be heaped together in the warehouse of a broker. At one corner of the room a maid servant on her knees was engaged in cutting out pictures from old magazines of fashion, figures of slender-waisted belles and coxcomical-looking beaux, and pasting them on a large screen. This Jessy observed when she had a little leisure to look around her, but at first her attention was engaged by the mistress of the house, who advanced to meet Mrs. Warner.
Madame L’Ame was very much stunted in size, so much so as to appear almost a dwarf; and she looked shorter than she really was from a habit of constant stooping. She seldom raised her eyes from the ground, but moved them restlessly to and fro, as if always searching for something on the floor. Her mouth, which she usually kept a little open, had a vacant, silly expression; which gave Jessy an idea, at first sight, that the lady possessed a very small share of sense. The young girl was confirmed in this impression by Madame L’Ame’s conduct during the whole of the visit.
Notwithstanding the very serious and important business upon which Mrs. Warner soon entered,—business which concerned the lady’s title to succeed to an immense property, and even her claim to all that she then possessed,—Madame L’Ame appeared as though she thought the subject not worthy a moment’s attention. She was constantly interrupting Mrs. Warner with some frivolous remark which had nothing to do with the question at issue. She was far more taken up with the tricks and gambols of Plaisir, her petted and pampered monkey, than she was with business on which might depend her future wealth or absolute beggary. The screen also occupied much of her attention, and Madame L’Ame often interrupted the flow of her childish gossip to give directions to the maid about placing the pictures upon it.
“My dear Madam,” said Mrs. Warner, earnestly, after concluding a statement which would have appeared interesting to any one but the person chiefly concerned, “it is now high time for you to take a decided part. Your enemies are powerful and active, your claim doubtful,”—
“Now, does he not look droll?” exclaimed Madame L’Ame, who had twisted a gauze scarf over the head of her favorite, and was laughing at his efforts to free himself from his veil.
“Really this is no time for trifling,” said the visitor, “when so much is at stake; I have been informed that—”
“Mabel, Mabel!” cried the lady to her maid, “bring these dancing figures more to the front,—there! and the colored flowers to form a pretty border round them!” and she started up from her seat to show the exact spot on the screen which she wished to have decorated by the woodcuts.
Mrs. Warner’s usually serene countenance showed signs of impatience and annoyance; they had quite passed away, however, before the lady returned to her seat.
“I really must beg for half an hour of your earnest, undivided attention,” said the visitor. “I have walked some distance on purpose to let you know the full extent of the evil which threatens you.”
Madame L’Ame’s eyes were wandering curiously over the dress of Jessy,—her bonnet, her bracelets, her flounces; and at the first pause in her visitor’s address she inquired, “Pray who is your milliner, my dear?”
Mrs. Warner rose in despair; she had given up all hope of engaging the mind of her weak and frivolous acquaintance on anything beyond the trifles of the hour. She quitted the apartment and the house, but not before Madame L’Ame had detailed to her all the petty gossip of the neighborhood, and asked her opinion on various subjects such as the fit of a glove, or the tint of a ribbon.
“Mamma!” exclaimed Jessy, when they stepped out into the open air, glad to escape from society so insipid, “who would ever have believed Madame L’Ame to be the owner of so beautiful a house! Surely she is quite out of her mind!”
“She is weak in her intellect, I fear.”
“Weak!—oh! mamma! I do not believe that she has any intellect at all! She seemed to think more of that monkey than of all the splendid fortune of which you were telling her; and I do believe that she would care more about losing a few of her paltry beads and pictures than for forfeiting a kingdom, if she had one! I never saw any one so silly!”
“Ah! my child,” said Mrs. Warner, quietly, “let us take care that we ourselves are not betrayed into greater and more fatal folly. If it is sad to see the mere outward appearance alone regarded, the furnishing of the mind neglected, how much sadder to see the soul, unworthy mistress of a beautiful mansion, itself unlovely and stunted, devoted to trifles unworthy its regard, while its highest interests are forgotten! Have we never met with one to whom the most important of all subjects appeared tedious and uninteresting? who cared more for the amusement of the moment than the happiness of ages to come? whom serious conversation only wearied, though it might regard a future crown to be inherited or lost, and who would rather listen to any tale of idle gossip than to a message of glad tidings from heaven?”
Jessy walked home silent and reflecting. For the first time in her life she thoughtless of the “cottage of clay” which she had so delighted to adorn, than of the dweller therein, the immortal soul!
Many years passed away before Jessy had occasion again to revisit the beautiful villa embosomed in trees. It looked changed, for the season was that of winter. The lovely creepers showed neither blossoms nor leaves; the gilded pinnacle of the clock-tower had been blown down by a gale; but the clock itself had been long since repaired, and was keeping good time, and striking the hour on its silvery bell, like a brave spirit on a round of daily duty. And cheerfully blazed the fires in the neat and well-furnished rooms. Their former occupant had died in poverty many years before; her very memory had almost passed away from the place in which she had dwelt. A happy, united family now in habited the beautiful home; the ringing laugh of childhood was heard there, pleasant and sweet to the ear; but not so pleasant or sweet as the sound of the hymn which rose morning and eve from the happy abode, to Him from whom all happiness flows!
The house was much changed when Jessy revisited it; but Jessy herself was more changed than the house. The pretty child, as often happens, had not grown into the beautiful woman; and sickness, time, and care, had robbed her of all trace of good looks. The rounded cheek has become hollow, the rose-color has faded, the sparkling eyes have lost all their brightness! And yet Jessy is now far more agreeable as a companion, and far more valuable as a friend; more loved in her family, more happy in her own mind, than she ever was when lovely and young. A gentle, cheerful, loving spirit dwells in the faded form, and sheds a light on homely features which makes them more than fair. The beauty which passes away like a flower is exchanged for the beauty of holiness, which never fades, which never dies, but finds its perfection in heaven! Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
The unsightly shell
A pearl may enshrine,—
In homely form dwell
A spirit divine.
Oh! favor’s deceitful,
And beauty is vain;
But virtue’s the pearl
Which will precious remain!
The weed’s scarlet dye
Outshineth the corn,
Yet gladdens no eye,
To no garner is borne.
Oh! favor’s deceitful,
And beauty is vain;
But virtue’s rich harvest
Will precious remain!
What matters what hue
To the eye has been given,
If the soul that looks through
Wear the beauty of heaven!
Oh! favour’s deceitful,
And comeliness vain;
But virtue for ever
Will lovely remain!