A New Home: Who'll Follow
Life in the Clearings
First published in 1839
for an index to the chapters of A New Home.
Miss Eloise Fidler
An addition to our Montacute first circle had lately appeared in the
person of Miss Eloise Fidler, an elder sister of Mrs. Rivers, who was
to spend some months "in this peaceful retreat,"—to borrow one of
her favorite expressions.
This young lady was not as handsome as she would fain have been, if I
may judge by the cataracts of ash-colored ringlets which shaded her cheeks,
and the exceeding straitness of the stays which restrained her somewhat
exuberant proportions. Her age was at a stand; but I could never discover
exactly where, for this point proved an exception to the general communicativeness
of her disposition. I guessed it at eight-and-twenty; but perhaps she
would have judged this uncharitable, so I will not insist. Certain it
is that it must have taken a good while to read as many novels and commit
to memory as much poetry, as lined the head and exalted the sensibilities
of our fair visitant.
Her dress was in the height of fashion, and all her accoutrements point
de vice. A gold pencil-case of the most delicate proportions was suspended
by a kindred chain round a neck which might be called whitey-brown; and
a note-book of corresponding lady-like-ness was peeping from the pocket
of her highly-useful apron of blue silk—ever ready to secure a passing
thought or an elegant quotation. Her album—she was just the person
to have an album—was resplendent in gold and satin, and the verses
which meandered over its emblazoned pages were of the most unexeceptionable
quality, overlaid with flowers and gems—love and despair. To find
any degree of appropriateness in these various offerings, one must allow
the fortunate possessor of the purple volume, at least all the various
perfections of an Admirable Crichton, allayed in some small measure by
the trifling faults of coldness, fickleness, and deceit; and to judge
of Miss Fidler's friends by their hand-writing, they must have been able
to offer an edifying variety of bumps to the fingers of the phrenologist.
But here is the very book itself at my elbow, waiting these three months,
I blush to say, for a contribution which has yet to be pumped up from
my unwilling brains; and I have a mind to steal a few specimens from its
already loaded pages, for the benefit of the distressed who may, like
myself, be at their wits' end for something to put in just such a book.
The first page, rich with embossed lilies, bears the invocation, written
in a great black spattering hand, and wearing the air of defiance. It
If among the names of the stainless few
Thine own hath maintain'd a place,
Come dip thy pen in the sable dew
And with it this volume grace.
But oh! is thy soul e'er encouraged a thought
Which purity's self might blame,
Close quickly the volume, and venture not
To sully its snows with thy name.
Then we come to a wreath of flowers of gorgeous hues, within whose circle
appears in a miminee piminee hand, evidently a young lady's—
THE WREATH OF SLEEP
Oh let me twine this glowing wreath
Amid those rings of golden hair,
'T will soothe thee with its odorous breath
To sweet forgetfulness of care.
'T is form'd of every scented flower
That flings its fragrance o'er the night;
And gifted with a fairy power
To fill thy dreams with forms of light.
'T was braided by an angel boy
When fresh from Paradise he came
To fill our earth-born hearts with joy—
Ah! need I tell the cherub's name?
This contributor I have settled in my own mind to be a descendant of
Anna Matilda, the high-priestess of the Della-Cruscan order. The next
blazon is an interesting view of a young lady, combing her hair. As she
seems not to have been long out of bed, the lines which follow are rather
appropriate, though I feel sure they come from the expert fingers of a
merchant's clerk—from the finished elegance, and very sweeping tails
of the chirography.
Awake! arise! art thou slumbering still?
When the sun is above the mapled hill,
And the shadows are flitting fast away,
And the dews are diamond beneath his ray,
And every bird in our vine-roofed bower
Is waked into song by the joyous hour;
Come, banish sleep from thy gentle eyes,
Sister! sweet sister! awake! arise!
Yet I love to gaze on thy lids of pearl,
and to mark the wave of the single curl
That shades in its beauty thy brow of snow,
And the cheek that lies like a rose below
And to list to the murmuring notes that fall
From thy lips, like music in fairy hall.
But it must not be—the sweet morning flies
Ere thou hast enjoyed it! awake! arise!
There is balm on the wings of this freshen'd air;
'T will make thine eyes brighter, thy brow more fair,
And a deep, deep rose on thy cheek shall be
The meed of an early walk with me.
We will seek the shade by the green hill side,
Or follow the clear brook's whispering tide;
And brush the dew from the violet's eyes—
Sister! sweet sister! awake! arise!
This I transcribe for the good advice which it contains. And what have
we here? It is tastefully headed by an engraving of Hero and Ursula in
the "pleached bower," and Beatrice running "like a lap-wing" in the background.
It begins ominously.
Oh, look upon this pallid brow!
Say, canst thou there discern one trace
Of that proud soul which oft ere now
Thou'st sworn shed radiance o'er my face?
Chill'd is that soul—its darling themes,
Thy manly honour, virtue, truth
Prove now to be but fleeting dreams,
Like other lovely thoughts of youth.
Meet, if the coward spirit dare,
This sunken eye; say, dost thou see
The rays thou saidst were sparkling there
When first its gaze was turn'd on thee?
That eye's young light is quench'd forever;
No change its radiance can repair:
Will Joy's keen touch relume it? Never!
It gleams the watch-light of Despair.
I find myself growing hoarse by sympathy, and I shall venture only a
single extract more, and this because Miss Fidler declares it, without
exception, the sweetest thing she ever read. It is written with a crow-quill,
and has other marks of femininity. Its vignette is a little girl and boy
playing at battle-door.
The deadly strife was over, and across the field of fame,
With anguish in his haughty eye, the Moor Almanzor came;
He prick'd his fiery courser on among the scatter'd dead,
Till he came at last to what he sought, a sever'd human head.
It might have seem'd a maiden's, so pale it was, and fair;
But the lip and chin were shaded till they match'd the raven hair.
There lingered yet upon the brow a spirit bold and high,
And the stroke of death had scarcely closed the piercing eagle eye.
Almanzor grasp'd the flowing locks, and he staid not in his flight,
Till he reach'd a lonely castle's gate where stood a lady bright.
"Inez! behold thy paramour!" he loud and sternly cried,
And threw his ghastly burden down, close at the lady's side.
"I sought thy bower at even-tide, thou syren, false as fair!
"And would that I had rather died! I found yon stripling there.
"I turn'd me from the hated spot, but I swore by yon dread Heaven,
"To know no rest until my sword the traitor's life had riven."
The lady stood like stone until he turn'd to ride away,
And then she oped her marble lips, and wildly did she say,
"Alas, alas! thou cruel Moor, what is it thou hast done?
"This was my brother Rodriquez, my father's only son."
And then before his frenzied eyes, like a crush'd lily bell,
Lifeless upon the bleeding head, the gentle Inez fell.
He drew his glittering ataghan—he sheath'd it in his side—
And for his Spanish lady-love the Moor Almanzor died.
This is not a very novel incident, but young ladies like stories of love
and murder, and Miss Fidler's tastes were peculiarly young-lady-like.
She praised Ainsworth and James, but thought Bulwer's works "very immoral,"
though I never could discover that she had more than skimmed the story
from any of them. Cooper she found "pretty;" Miss Sedgwick, "pretty well,
only her characters are such common sort of people."
Miss Fidler wrote her own poetry, so that she had ample employment for
her time while with us in the woods. It was unfortunate that she could
not walk out much on account of her shoes. She was obliged to make out
with diluted inspiration. The nearest approach she usually made to the
study of Nature, was to sit on the wood-pile, under a girdled tree, and
there, with her gold pencil in hand, and her "eyne, grey as glas," rolled
upwards, poefy by the hour. Several people, and especially one marriageable
lady of a certain age, felt afraid Miss Fidler was "kind o' crazy."
And, standing marvel of Montacute, no guest at morning or night ever
found the fair Eloise ungloved. Think of it! In the very wilds to be always
like a cat in nutshells, alone useless where all are so busy! I do not
wonder our good neighbors thought the damsel a little touched. And then
her shoes! "Saint Crispin Crispianus" never had so self-sacrificing a
votary. No shoemaker this side of New York could make a sole papery enough;
no tannery out of France could produce materials for this piece of exquisite
feminine foppery. Eternal imprisonment within doors, except in the warmest
and driest weather, was indeed somewhat of a price to pay, but it was
ungrudged. The sofa and its footstool, finery and novels, would have made
a delicious world for Miss Eloise Fidler, if—
But, alas! "all this availeth me nothing," has been ever the song of
poor human nature. The mention of that unfortunate name includes the only
real, personal, pungent distress which had as yet shaded the lot of my
interesting heroine. Fidler! In the mortification adhering to so unpoetical,
so unromantic, so inelegant a surname—a name irredeemable even by
the highly classical elegance of the Eloise, or the fair lady herself
pronounced it, "Elovees;" in this lay all her woe; and the grand study
of her life had been to sink this hated cognomen in one more congenial
to her taste. Perhaps this very anxiety had defeated itself; at any rate,
here she was at—I did not mean to touch on the ungrateful guess
again, but at least at mateable years; neither married, nor particularly
likely to be married.
Mrs. Rivers was the object of absolute envy to the pining Eloise. "Anna
had been so fortunate," she said; "Rivers was the sweetest name! and Harley
was such an elegant fellow!"
We thought poor Anna had been anything but fortunate. She might better
have been Fidler or Fiddle-string all her life than to have taken the
name of an indifferent and dissipated husband. But not so thought Miss
Fidler. It was not long after the arrival of the elegant Eloise, that
the Montacute Lyceum held its first meeting in Mr. Simeon Jenkin's shop,
lighted by three candles, supported by candelabra of scooped potatoes;
Mr. Jenkins himself sitting on the head of a barrel as president. At first
the debates of the institute were held with closed doors; but after the
youthful or less practised speakers had tried their powers for a few evenings,
the Lyceum was thrown open to the world every Tuesday evening, at six
o'clock. The list of members was not very select as to age, character,
or standing; and it soon included the entire gentility of the town, and
some who scarce claimed rank elsewhere. The attendance of the ladies was
particularly requested; and the whole fair sex of Montacute made a point
of showing occasionally the interest they undoubtedly felt in the gallant
knights who tilted in this field of honor.
But I must not be too diffuse—I was speaking of Miss Fidler. One
evening—I hope that beginning prepares the reader for something
highly interesting—one evening the question to be debated was the
equally novel and striking one which regards the comparative mental capacity
of the sexes; and as it was expected that some of the best speakers on
both sides would be drawn out by the interesting nature of the subject,
everybody was anxious to attend.
Among the rest was Miss Fidler, much to the surprise of her sister and
myself, who had hitherto been so unfashionable as to deny ourselves this
"What new whim possesses you, Eloise?" said Mrs. Rivers; "you who never
go out in the day-time.'
"Oh, just per passy le tong,"said the young lady, who was a great French
scholar; and go she would and did.
The debate was interesting to absolute breathlessness, both of speakers
and hearers, and was gallantly decided in favor of the fair by a youthful
member who occupied the barrel as president for the evening. He gave it
as his decided opinion, that if the natural and social disadvantages under
which woman labored and must ever continue to labor, could be removed;
if their education could be entirely different, and their position in
society the reverse of what it is at present, they would be very nearly,
if not quite, equal to the nobler sex, in all but strength of mind, in
which very useful quality it was his opinion that man would still have
the advantage, especially in those communities whose energies were developed
by the aid of debating societies.
This decision was hailed with acclamations, and as soon as the question
for the ensuing debate, "which is the more useful animal the ox or the
ass?" was announced, Miss Eloise Fidler returned home to rave of the elegant
young man who sat on the barrel, whom she had decided to be one of "Nature's
aristocracy," and whom she had discovered to bear the spendid appellative
of Dacre, "Edward Dacre," said she, "for I heard the rude creature Jenkins
call him Ed."
The next morning witnessed another departure from Miss Fidler's usual
habits. She proposed a walk; and observed that she had never yet bought
an article at the store, and really felt as if she ought to purchase something.
Mrs. Rivers chancing to be somewhat occupied, Miss Fidler did me the honor
of a call, as she could not think of walking without a chaperon.
Behind the counter at Skinner's I saw for the first time a spruce young
clerk, a really well-looking young man, who made his very best bow to
Miss Fidler, and served us with much assiduity. The young lady's purchases
occupied some time, and I was obliged gently to hint home-affairs before
she could decide between two pieces of muslin, which she declared to be
so nearly alike, that it was almost impossible to say which was the best.
When we were at length on our return, I was closely questioned as to
my knowledge of "that gentleman," and on my observing that he seemed to
be a very decent young man, Miss Fidler warmly justified him from any
such opinion, and after a glowing eulogium on his firm countenance, his
elegant manners and his grace as a debater, concluded by informing me,
as if to cap the climax, that his name was Edward Dacre.
I had though no more of the matter for some time, though I knew Mr. Dacre
had become a frequent visitor at Mr. Rivers', when Mrs. Rivers came to
me one morning with a perplexed brow, and confided to me her sisterly
fears that Eloise was about to make a fool of herself, as she had done
more than once before.
"My father," she said, "hoped in this remote corner of creation Eloise
might forget her nonsense and act like other people; but I verily believe
she is bent upon encouraging this low fellow, whose principal charm in
her bewildered eyes is his name."
"His name?" said I, "pray explain;" for I had not then learned all the
boundless absurdity of this new Cherubina's fancies.
"Edward Dacre!" said my friend, "this is what enchants my sister, who
is absolutely mad on the subject of her own homely appellation."
"Oh, is that all?" said I, "send her to me then; and I engage to dismiss
And Miss Fidler came to spend the day. We talked of all novels without
exception, and all poetry of all magazines, and Miss Fidler asked me if
I had read the "Young Duke." Upon my confessing as much, she asked my
opinion of the heroine, and then if I had ever heard so sweet a name.
"May Dacre—May Dacre," she repeated, as if to solace her delighted
"Only think how such names are murdered in this country," said I, tossing
carelessly before her an account of Mr. Skinner's which bore, "Edkins
Daker," below the receipt. I never saw a change equal to that which seemed
to "come o'er the spirit of her dream." I went on with my citations of
murdered names, telling how Rogers was turned into Rudgers, Conway into
Coniway, and Montague into Montaig, but poor Miss Fidler was no longer
in talking mood; and, long before the day was out, she complained of a
head-ache and returned to her sister's. Mr. Daker found her "not at home"
that evening; and when I called next morning, the young lady was in bed,
steeping her long ringlets in tears, real tears.
To hasten to the catastrophe: it was discovered ere long that Mr. Edkins
Daker's handsome face, and really pleasant manners, had fairly vanquished
Miss Fidler's romance, and she had responded to his professions of attachment
with a truth and sincerity, which while it vexed her family inexpressibly,
seemed to me to atone for all her follies. Mr. Daker's prospects were
by no means despicable, since a small capital employed in merchandize
in Michigan, is very apt to confer upon the industrious and fortunate
possessor that crowning charm, without which handsome faces, and even
handsome names, are quite worthless in our western eyes.
Some little disparity of age existed between Miss Fidler and her adorer;
but this was conceded by all to be abundantly made up for by the superabounding
gentility of the lady; and when Mr. Daker returned from New-York with
his new stock of goods and his stylish bride, I thought I had seldom seen
a happier or better mated couple. And at this present writing, I do not
believe Eloise, with all her whims, would exchange her very nice Edkins
for the proudest Dacre of the British Peerage.
for an index to the chapters of A New Home.