Printer Friendly

CHAPTER X. 


Mr. Henry Half acre was a speculator in town-lots--a profession that was, just then, in high repute in the city of New York. For farms, and all the more vulgar aspects of real estate, he had a sovereign contempt; but offer him a bit of land that could be measured by feet and inches, and he was your man. Mr. Halfacre inherited nothing; but he was a man of what are called energy and enterprise. In other words, he had a spirit for running in debt, and never shrunk from jeoparding property that, in truth, belonged to his creditors. The very morning that his eldest child, Eudosia, made her valuable acquisition, in my person, Henry Halfacre, Esq., was the owner of several hundred lots on the island of Manhattan; of one hundred and twenty-three in the city of Brooklyn; of nearly as many in Williamsburg; of large undivided interests in Milwaukie, Chicago, Rock River, Moonville, and other similar places; besides owning a considerable part of a place called Coney Island. In a word, the landed estate of Henry Halfacre, Esq., "inventoried," as he expressed it, just two millions, six hundred and twelve thousand dollars; a handsome sum, it must be confessed, for a man who, when he began his beneficent and energetic career in this branch of business, was just twenty-three thousand, four hundred and seventeen dollars worse than nothing. It is true, that there was some drawback on all this prosperity; Mr. Halfacre's bonds, notes, mortgages, and other liabilities, making a sum total that amounted to the odd six hundred thousand dollars; this still left him, however, a handsome paper balance of two millions.

Notwithstanding the amount of his "bills payable," Mr. Halfacre considered himself a very prudent man: first, because he insisted on having no book debts; second, because he always took another man's paper for a larger amount than he had given of his own, for any specific lot or lots; thirdly, and lastly, because he was careful to "extend himself," at the risk of other persons. There is no question, had all his lots been sold as he had inventoried them; had his debts been paid; and had he not spent his money a little faster than it was bona fide made, that Henry Halfacre, Esq. would have been a very rich man. As he managed, however, by means of getting portions of the paper he received discounted, to maintain a fine figure account in the bank, and to pay all current demands, he began to be known as the RICH Mr. Halfacre. But one of his children, the fair Eudosia, was out; and as she had some distance to make in the better society of the town, ere she could pass for aristocratic, it was wisely determined that a golden bridge should be thrown across the dividing chasm. A hundred-dollar pocket- handkerchief, it was hoped, would serve for the key-stone, and then all the ends of life would be attained. As to a husband, a pretty girl like Eudosia, and the daughter of a man of "four figure" lots, might get one any day.

{was out = was a debutante, had been presented to society}

Honor O'Flagherty was both short-legged and short-breathed. She felt the full importance of her mission; and having an extensive acquaintance among the other Milesians of the town, and of her class, she stopped no less than eleven times to communicate the magnitude of Miss Dosie's purchase. To two particular favorites she actually showed me, under solemn promise of secrecy; and to four others she promised a peep some day, after her bossee had fairly worn me. In this manner my arrival was circulated prematurely in certain coteries, the pretty mouths and fine voices that spoke of my marvels, being quite unconscious that they were circulating news that had reached their ears via Honor O'Flagherty, Biddy Noon, and Kathleen Brady.

{Milesians = slang for Irish (from Milesius, a mythical Spanish conqueror of Ireland); Miss Dosie = Miss Eudosia; bossee = humorous for a female boss; coteries = social sets}

Mr. Halfacre occupied a very GENTEEL residence in Broadway, where he and his enjoyed the full benefit of all the dust, noise, and commotion of that great thoroughfare. This house had been purchased and mortgaged, generally simultaneous operations with this great operator, as soon as he had "inventoried" half a million. It was a sort of patent of nobility to live in Broadway; and the acquisition of such a residence was like the purchase of a marquiseta in Italy. When Eudosia was fairly in possession of a hundred-dollar pocket-handkerchief, the great seal might be said to be attached to the document that was to elevate the Halfacres throughout all future time.

{marquiseta = presumably the residence or palace of a Marquis}

Now the beautiful Eudosia--for beautiful, and even lovely, this glorious- looking creature was, in spite of a very badly modulated voice, certain inroads upon the fitness of things in the way of expression, and a want of a knowledge of the finesse of fine life--now the beautiful Eudosia had an intimate friend named Clara Caverly, who was as unlike her as possible, in character, education, habits, and appearance; and yet who was firmly her friend. The attachment was one of childhood and accident--the two girls having been neighbors and school-fellows until they had got to like each other, after the manner in which young people form such friendships, to wear away under the friction of the world, and the pressure of time. Mr. Caverly was a lawyer of good practice, fair reputation, and respectable family. His wife happened to be a lady from her cradle; and the daughter had experienced the advantage of as great a blessing. Still Mr. Caverly was what the world of New York, in 1832, called poor; that is to say, he had no known bank-stock, did not own a lot on the island, was director of neither bank nor insurance company, and lived in a modest two-story house, in White street. It is true his practice supported his family, and enabled him to invest in bonds and mortgages two or three thousand a-year; and he owned the fee of some fifteen or eighteen farms in Orange county, that were falling in from three-lives leases, and which had been in his family ever since the seventeenth century. But, at a period of prosperity like that which prevailed in 1832, 3, 4, 5, and 6, the hereditary dollar was not worth more than twelve and a half cents, as compared with the "inventoried" dollar. As there is something, after all, in a historical name, and the Caverleys [sic] still had the best of it, in the way of society, Eudosia was permitted to continue the visits in White street, even after her own family were in full possession in Broadway, and Henry Halfacre, Esq., had got to be enumerated among the Manhattan nabobs. Clara Caverly was in Broadway when Honor O'Flagherty arrived with me, out of breath, in consequence of the shortness of her legs, and the necessity of making up for lost time.

{owned the fee...falling in from three-life leases = i.e., Mr. Caverly owned farms in Orange County that had been leased out for long periods (the lives of three persons named at the moment the lease was granted) but which were now about to revert to him--such long-term leases, in the Hudson Valley, led to the so-called anti-rent war that was breaking out at the time Cooper wrote this book; twelve and a half cents = an English shilling, still often used in conversation in America; nabobs = rich men (usually businessmen of recent affluence)}

"There, Miss Dosie," cried the exulting housemaid, for such was Honor's domestic rank, though preferred to so honorable and confidential a mission--"There, Miss Dosie, there it is, and it's a jewel."

{preferred = promoted}

"What has Honor brought you NOW?" asked Clara Caverly in her quiet way, for she saw by the brilliant eyes and flushed cheeks of her friend that it was something the other would have pleasure in conversing about. "You make so many purchases, dear Eudosia, that I should think you would weary of them."

"What, weary of beautiful dresses? Never, Clara, never! That might do for White street, but in Broadway one is never tired of such things-- see," laying me out at full length in her lap, "this is a pocket- handkerchief--I wish your opinion of it."

Clara examined me very closely, and, in spite of something like a frown, and an expression of dissatisfaction that gathered about her pretty face- -for Clara was pretty, too--I could detect some of the latent feelings of the sex, as she gazed at my exquisite lace, perfect ornamental work, and unequaled fineness. Still, her education and habits triumphed, and she would not commend what she regarded as ingenuity misspent, and tasteless, because senseless, luxury.

"This handkerchief cost ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS, Clara," said Eudosia, deliberately and with emphasis, imitating, as near as possible, the tone of Bobbinet & Co.

"Is it possible, Eudosia! What a sum to pay for so useless a thing!"

"Useless! Do you call a pocket-handkerchief useless?"

"Quite so, when it is made in a way to render it out of the question to put it to the uses for which it was designed. I should as soon think of trimming gum shoes with satin, as to trim a handkerchief in that style."

"Style? Yes, I flatter myself it IS style to have a handkerchief that cost a hundred dollars. Why, Clara Caverly, the highest priced thing of this sort that was ever before sold in New York only came to seventy-nine dollars. Mine is superior to all, by twenty-one dollars!"

Clara Caverly sighed. It was not with regret, or envy, or any unworthy feeling, however; it was a fair, honest, moral sigh, that had its birth in the thought of how much good a hundred dollars might have done, properly applied. It was under the influence of this feeling, too, that she said, somewhat inopportunely it must be confessed, though quite innocently--

"Well, Eudosia, I am glad you can afford such a luxury, at all events. Now is a good time to get your subscription to the Widows' and Orphans' Society. Mrs. Thoughtful has desired me to ask for it half a dozen times; I dare say it has escaped you that you are quite a twelvemonth in arrear."

"NOW a good time to ask for three dollars! What, just when I've paid a hundred dollars for a pocket-handkerchief? That was not said with your usual good sense, my dear. People must be MADE of money to pay out so much at one time."

"When may I tell Mrs. Thoughtful, then, that you will send it to her?"

"I am sure that is more than I can say. Pa will be in no hurry to give me more money soon, and I want, at this moment, near a hundred dollars' worth of articles of dress to make a decent appearance. The Society can be in no such hurry for its subscriptions; they must amount to a good deal."

"Not if never paid. Shall I lend you the money--my mother gave me ten dollars this morning, to make a few purchases, which I can very well do without until you can pay me."

"DO, dear girl--you are always one of the best creatures in the world. How much is it? three dollars I believe."

"Six, if you pay the past and present year. I will pay Mrs. Thoughtful before I go home. But, dear Eudosia, I wish you had not bought that foolish pocket-handkerchief."

"Foolish! Do you call a handkerchief with such lace, and all this magnificent work on it, and which cost a HUNDRED DOLLARS, foolish? Is it foolish to have money, or to be thought rich?"

"Certainly not the first, though it may be better not to be thought rich. I wish to see you always dressed with propriety, for you do credit to your dress; but this handkerchief is out of place."

"Out of place! Now, hear me, Clara, though it is to be a great secret. What do you think Pa is worth?"

"Bless me, these are things I never think of. I do not even know how much my own father is worth. Mother tells me how much I may spend, and I can want to learn no more."

"Well, Mr. Murray dined with Pa last week, and they sat over their wine until near ten. I overheard them talking, and got into this room to listen, for I thought I should get something new. At first they said nothing but 'lots--lots--up town--down town--twenty-five feet front--dollar, dollar, dollar.' La! child, you never heard such stuff in your life!"

"One gets used to these things, notwithstanding," observed Clara, drily.

"Yes, one DOES hear a great deal of it. I shall be glad when the gentlemen learn to talk of something else. But the best is to come. At last, Pa asked Mr. Murray if he had inventoried lately."

"Did he?"

"Yes, he did. Of course you know what that means?"

"It meant to FILL, as they call it, does it not?"

"So I thought at first, but it means no such thing. It means to count up, and set down how much one is worth. Mr. Murray said he did THAT every month, and of course he knew very well what HE was worth. I forget how much it was, for I didn't care, you know George Murray is not as old as I am, and so I listened to what Pa had inventoried. Now, how much do you guess?"

"Really, my dear, I haven't the least idea," answered Clara, slightly gaping--"a thousand dollars, perhaps."

"A thousand dollars! What, for a gentleman who keeps his coach--lives in Broadway--dresses his daughter as I dress, and gives her hundred- dollar handkerchiefs. Two hundred million, my dear; two hundred million!"

Eudosia had interpolated the word "hundred," quite innocently, for, as usually happens with those to whom money is new, her imagination ran ahead of her arithmetic. "Yes," she added, "two hundred millions; besides sixty millions of odd money!"

"That sounds like a great deal," observed Clara quietly; for, besides caring very little for these millions, she had not a profound respect for her friend's accuracy on such subjects.

"It IS a great deal. Ma says there are not ten richer men than Pa in the state. Now, does not this alter the matter about the pocket- handkerchief? It would be mean in me not to have a hundred-dollar handkerchief, when I could get one."

"It may alter the matter as to the extravagance; but it does not alter it as to the fitness. Of what USE is a pocket-handkerchief like this? A pocket-handkerchief is made for USE, my dear, not for show."

"You would not have a young lady use her pocket-handkerchief like a snuffy old nurse, Clara?"

"I would have her use it like a young lady, and in no other way. But it always strikes me as a proof of ignorance and a want of refinement when the uses of things are confounded. A pocket-handkerchief, at the best, is but a menial appliance, and it is bad taste to make it an object of attraction. FINE, it may be, for that conveys an idea of delicacy in its owner; but ornamented beyond reason, never. Look what a tawdry and vulgar thing an embroidered slipper is on a woman's foot."

"Yes, I grant you that, but everybody cannot have hundred-dollar handkerchiefs, though they may have embroidered slippers. I shall wear my purchase at Miss Trotter's ball to-night."

To this Clara made no objection, though she still looked disapprobation of her purchase. Now, the lovely Eudosia had not a bad heart; she had only received a bad education. Her parents had given her a smattering of the usual accomplishments, but here her superior instruction ended. Unable to discriminate themselves, for the want of this very education, they had been obliged to trust their daughter to the care of mercenaries, who fancied their duties discharged when they had taught their pupil to repeat like a parrot. All she acquired had been for effect, and not for the purpose of every-day use; in which her instruction and her pocket- handkerchief might be said to be of a piece.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters