“The Green Velvet Dress” on Proverbs 15:17, is written by Charlotte Maria Tucker (A.L.O.E.) is from “Precepts in Practice,” and is about deceitfulness of riches.
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”—Proverbs 15:17.
“Wrap your cloak tight round you, my lass; for the wind’s bitter cold this morning: and here—see—you wouldn’t be the worse of my bit of a shawl under it.”
“Oh! but, mother, remember your rheumatics.”
“I’m a’most right again, Jenny, and I ben’t out in the cold,” said the poor woman, stirring the few glowing embers which scarcely gave even the appearance of a fire.
“And come back soon again, Jenny dear,” cried a pale, bare-footed little boy, running from the corner; “I hope the grand lady won’t keep you long.”
“I must seek for early violets in the hedges for you, Tommy.”
“No, I don’t want the violets, I want you back;” and the little thin arms were thrown round her neck, and the child’s lips pressed to her cheek.
“Oh, Tommy! I wish I were a grand lady!—I wish I had plenty of money! Shouldn’t you have meat enough, and all kinds of food, to make you strong and hearty again!”
“And new shoes!” suggested the child.
“And a blazing fire, and—”
“Hush, my children!” said the mother, gently, “and don’t let your thoughts go running after what God Almighty has not seen good to give us. We’ve a-many blessings in this little cot of ours, and I always say that the three prime ones, sunshine for the eyes, hope for the heart, and love in the home, are as free to the poor as to the rich.”
The sharp, cutting cold of a March wind, which drove the icy sleet against her face, did not tend to make little Jenny share her mother’s spirit of contentment. She hastened up the long hill, holding her bonnet to keep it on, and wishing that she had some better protection against the blast than her thin cloak or her mother’s thread-bare shawl. She was to call at the house of a milliner, for whom she was accustomed to run errands and to do little pieces of plain work, in order to carry a parcel from her to a lady who lived at the Hall about three miles distant.
Jenny arrived at the milliner’s, her cheeks glowing with exercise and the cold.
“Take a seat by the fire, and warm your self, Jenny; I’ve just a stitch more to put to this trimming, and the dress will be ready for you to take to Lady Grange in two minutes.”
So Jenny sat down and looked on with admiring eyes, as the finishing touch was given to a dress which, to her, appeared the very perfection of beauty and splendor.
“It must be a pleasure,” thought the girl, “even to touch that lovely soft green velvet; and what must it be to wear it! I could not fancy any one’s ever feeling unhappy in such a dress!”
It was a very foolish thought certainly; but I have known people older than Jenny Green who have made reflections just as foolish. Those who suffer from the pressure of poverty are apt to forget that there are other and worse evils in the world; and that just as heavy a heart may, and often does, beat under a robe of velvet as beneath a thread bare cloak.
The dress was finished, folded, wrapped up in linen, and confided to the girl, with many an injunction to carry it carefully, and not to loiter on the way; injunctions which Jenny conscientiously obeyed, being duly impressed with the importance of her errand, and the amount of confidence reposed in her. The size of her parcel occasioned her some inconvenience: she had no longer a hand free to hold on her bonnet, which, blown back on her shoulders, only hung by its faded ribbons, while the gale made sad untidy work with her hair. Jenny’s shoes were very old, and the road steep and stony,—she became both foot-sore and tired; but her worst trouble was the uneasy, discontented thoughts, which seemed to flow into her bosom from the parcel which she carried.
“How nice and warm and comfortable it feels! I don’t believe that the lady who will wear it ever knows what it is to be hungry or cold. She is never tired, for she has a fine coach to ride in,—oh! how grand it must be to ride in a coach! And then to dress like a queen, and feast on good things every day! How very, very happy she must be! I wish that I were a lady, that I do! I’d have a velvet dress of a different color for every day in the week; and dear Tommy should have a white pony to ride on; and mother, oh! darling mother! should have everything nice that I could think of,—she should never have time to wish for anything: how happy we should all be together! But there’s no use thinking about it,” added Jenny sadly, as on the crest of the hill a sudden gust of wind almost carried her off her feet; “I shall never be rich, nor a lady; I shall have to work and to want all my life through.”
The road now led down into the valley, where the way was comparatively sheltered. Jenny felt this to be a pleasant change, though the view was not so grand or extensive as it appeared from the higher ground. She was not, however, enough of a philosopher to remark, even had she known enough of the world to perceive, that in life, as in nature, some of the sharpest blasts are felt by those who stand on the top of the hill.
Jenny arrived at length at the grand outer gate, and passed with a timid step through the park, where the tall trees yet stretched leafless branches, though the tiny wild flowers at their feet were already opening their blossoms to the spring. There was a beautiful garden in front of the house; and along its smooth gravel walks, wrapt up in velvet and furs, sauntered the lady who was mistress of the place.
She stopped to speak to the little messenger. Her manner was gracious and gentle; but Jenny could not help noticing how mournful was its tone; and when she ventured to raise her eyes to the face of the lady, she saw on it an expression of melancholy and care, which raised a feeling of pity as well as of surprise. Is it upon the brow of the poor alone that we see the deep lines of sorrow? is it the cheek of the poor alone that is furrowed by tears? Are the merriest faces those that look from carriage windows? can wealth shut out sorrow, sickness, bereavement, disunion, or death?
Lady Grange noticed the tired looks of Jenny, and kindly ordered the maid whom she had summoned to receive the dress, to take the girl to the kitchen, that she might have a little rest and refreshment. As Jenny, after dropping a courtesy, turned to follow the servant, her attention was arrested by the sudden clatter of horses’ feet; and three young men, laughing and racing each other up the slope, dashed along to the entrance of the Hall, the hoofs tearing up the well-rolled gravel, and the loud merry voices strangely breaking the peaceful silence which had prevailed a few minutes before. Two of the horsemen reined up at a little distance from the lady; while the third, who was mounted on a splendid white horse, approached the spot where she stood.
“Mother,” said he, stroking the neck of his steed, which champed its bit and pawed on the ground, as if impatient to bound onward again; “mother, I’ve asked Jones and Wildrake to stop dinner today.”
Jenny happened to glance at Lady Grange. There was an anxious frown on the gentle face, a flush on the lately pale cheek, which gave an impression of keen suffering not unmixed with anger. What Lady Grange replied to her son, or whether she replied at all, Jenny did not know; for the lady’s-maid led her towards the kitchen.
The delicious, savory odor of that place; the ranges of tin pans on the shelves glittering like silver; the rows of innumerable plates and dishes,—above all, the enormous joint, slowly revolving before a fire larger than any that Jenny had ever dreamed of for the moment put everything out of her head but the thought that it must be delightful to be very rich! “How proud one would be, too, to have so many servants, some of them looking themselves so very grand!” thought Jenny, as she saw various members of the household, some engaged in different occupations, some appearing as though they had nothing to do but to loiter about and gossip. An aged woman, in black bonnet and shawl, was seated at the long deal table on which the stout cook was rolling out some tempting-looking pastry. She, as Jenny soon found from the conversation going on around her, was Mrs. Dale, a nurse who had attended Lady Grange in her childhood, and who had now come from some distance on a visit to that lady, Whom she had not seen since her marriage.
“Well, only think!” cried the lady’s-maid who had conducted Jenny into the kitchen; “only think! here’s Master Philip has brought down those two companions of his whom missus cannot abide the sight of; and they’re to stay dinner, and sleep here too, I’ll warrant you! I wonder what master will say to it when he comes home.”
“Mighty little peace there’ll be in the house,” observed the cook.
“Oh! as for peace, no one looks for it in this place!” observed the butler, who, with his hands behind him, was warming himself at the fire. “If you’d heard all I’ve heard, and seen all I’ve seen!” and he shook his head with an air of much meaning.
“I’m afraid my poor lady has not much comfort in her son?” said the nurse, in a tone of inquiry.
“Comfort! well, I can only say that high tempers and high words,—one pulling one way, and another another,—the father trying to bridle the son, the son kicking against the authority of the father,—debts to be paid, bills to be discharged—Sir Gilbert choosing to do neither, yet having at last to do both,—are not my notion of comfort!”
“Master Philip will break his mother’s heart,” said the lady’s-maid;—“you should see how she cries her eyes out when she’s in her own room!”
“Master Philip’s not such a bad fellow, after all,” remarked the butler; “he’d have done well enough if he hadn’t had the ill luck to be born heir to a large fortune!”
“Oh! he was spoilt from a baby!” cried the cook.
“’Tisn’t so much that,” said the moralizing butler, seating himself by the fire and leaning back on his chair. Jenny, who, while taking the cold meat with which she had been provided, could not avoid hearing what was passing, listened with wonder to the easy, and, as it seemed to her, the insolent manner in which the affairs of the Hall were discussed in the kitchen. She began quite to change her mind as to the advantage of keeping many servants; her simple, honest heart, revolted from the treachery of their gossiping with any stranger about the most private concerns of the family which they served. “I’m glad we’ve our own little cot to ourselves,” was the thought which crossed Jenny’s mind; “and that we have not a set of people about us to watch every look, listen to every word, and make our troubles known to all the world!”
“You see,” continued the butler, addressing himself to Mrs. Dale, “here’s the mischief of the thing: Young master found out that he was a person of mighty importance in the house, before he was high enough to look over the table. Wasn’t there fireworks on his birthday, and his health drunk with three times three at the tenants’ dinner at Christmas! I mind how he used to strut about, toss his head, and bully his nurse, and smash his toys when he got tired of them; and they never pleased him more than a day! He grew older, too old for a nurse, so mistress had a tutor for him. He didn’t like a tutor,—why should the heir to the estate be plagued with books and study? There was no peace till the tutor was sent off! Master found the boy getting beyond all bounds, with a mighty strong will of his own,—sent him to school. He didn’t like school,—why should the heir be tormented with schooling? He was brought back after the first half, to be a plague to himself and to every one near him! So he grew up, able to settle to nothing, never finishing anything that he began,—thinking of nothing but how to kill time! He must go to London and see something of life. So to London he went; and the sharpers crowded around him as the wasps round a ripe plum. They taught him to gamble and spend money,—he was apt enough at learning that! The heir to such a fortune was a bird worth the plucking; and such gentry as those that he has brought with him today will stick by him while there’s one golden feather left! So you see the truth of what I observed,” said the butler in conclusion;—“the worst luck which could have befallen young master was to be born the son of a man of fortune. If he’d had his own bread to earn, d’ye see, he’d have studied as a boy, and worked as a man, and thought of something besides pleasure; the sharpers would have left him alone; and he’d have turned out, may be, a mighty respectable member of society.”
Mrs. Dale nodded her head very thoughtfully. She was experienced in the management of children, and in her own nursery had always labored to maintain strict discipline, but she knew well the disadvantages which attend a rich man’s son and heir. She sat for a few moments; turning over the matter in her mind, as though the expression of her opinion on the subject could influence the future of the spoilt child of fortune. Then, with the decision of one who has maturely considered a difficult question, and has come to a satisfactory conclusion, she said, “If I were Lady Grange I know what I’d do. I’d send the boy to my own old home. Her brothers are both men of sense and spirit, who would stand no nonsense; and if they didn’t bring the young pickle to his senses, why I’m greatly mistaken in the matter.”
“Her brothers!” exclaimed cook and lady’s-maid in a breath. “Why,” said the butler, “don’t you know that neither of them ever enters this house?”
Mrs. Dale lifted up her hands in amazement: “Lady Grange quarrelled with her own brothers! impossible!”
“Oh! it’s not mistress, but master. The worry and the distress which she has had no words can tell. Why, I don’t believe that she may so much as write to her old home!”
“Dear! dear!” exclaimed the old nurse, looking really concerned; “and they were such a happy, united family; it was quite a picture to see them! Miss Clara was the darling of the house; her brothers never thought that they could make enough of their pet. Sure it must be just a heartbreak to her to be on bad terms with them now! How could such a shocking thing have happened?”
“Why, you see,” said the butler, laying the finger of his right hand on the palm of his left, and lowering his voice to a more confidential though not less audible tone, “you see it was all along of the marriage settlement. Master thought that mistress should have had more of the money—”
“Throw the money into the sea!” cried Mrs. Dale indignantly; “all the gold in the world is not worth the peace, and union, and love of a family!”
“Oh!” said the butler, “one can’t be much in life without seeing how very often money matters break that peace, and union, and love. The purse on one side, the heart on the other, depend on’t the purse wins the day.”
“There’s some truth in that,” observed the cook. “My last place was with three old ladies who lived very well and comfortably together, never separated for a day, till some one died and unluckily left them a large fortune to spend. Then they began to find out that their wills could never agree. Miss Jemima liked town, Miss Jessie the country, Miss Martha was all for the sea-side. One must travel this way for health, another that way for amusement;—before six months were over they were all divided, the establishment was broken up; and so I came here.”
“Ah!” cried Mrs. Dale sadly, “fortune isn’t always sent as a blessing; and where a bad use is made of it, it turns in the end to a curse! There are folk, I daresay, envying my poor lady, thinking that because she has a fine house, fine estate, fine carriage, she must be a happy woman. But well I know that—unless she be much changed from what she was as a child—she would gladly give them all up to see her son a steady, sensible, God-fearing man, and to be happy with her brothers again!”
Jenny having finished her cold meat, now rose and left the house,—left it with ideas how changed from those with which she had entered it! The feeling of envy was changed for the feeling of pity; and the young girl, as with light step she made her way towards the home where she was sure of kind smiles and a pleasant welcome, thought how much happier was her own lot than that of the lady of fortune. Even the robe of rich green velvet had lost its attractions for Jenny,—was it more beautiful than the fresh turf over which she sped with so light a heart? Her back being now turned to the wind, Jenny no longer felt its keenness; while a brilliant sun was shed ding warmth and cheerfulness around. Jenny did not forget to look in the hedges for violets for her little brother. “I daresay,” thought she, as she stooped to pluck one from beneath the large green leaves, “I daresay that this sweet little flower will give my Tommy as much pleasure as the rich man’s son ever found in his gilded toys. How foolish was I to wish for wealth! Who knows what effect it might have upon me! Mother is right,—the best blessings are as free to the poor as to the rich,—sunshine for the eyes, love in the home, and a good hope of heaven for the heart! Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred there with!”
Ne’er will I sigh for wealth,
Such wealth as coffers can hold:
Contentment, union, and health,
Are not to be bought for gold!
The costly treasures I prize
Are treasures of family love,—
A happy home here, and the hope so dear
Of a happier home above!
Equally shines the beam
On palace or cottage wall,
The golden rays they stream
To brighten and gladden all!
But, oh! the sunshine I prize
Is the sunshine of family love,—
A happy home here, and the hope so dear
Of a happier home above!
The poor no flatterers fear,
They dread no plunderer’s art:
When the voice of kindness they hear,
They feel it comes from the heart!
Oh! ask the blessing from Heaven,
The blessing of family love,—
A happy home here, and the hope so dear
Of a happier home above!