Not Great, But Happy by T. S. Arthur
How pure and sweet is the love of young hearts! How little does it
contain of earth—how much of heaven! No selfish passions mar its
beauty. Its tenderness, its pathos, its devotion, who does not
remember, even when the sere leaves of autumn are rustling beneath
his feet? How little does it regard the cold and calculating
objections of worldly-mindedness. They are heard but as a passing
murmur. The deep, unswerving confidence of young love, what a blessed
thing it is! Heart answers to heart without an unequal throb. The
world around is bright and beautiful: the atmosphere is filled with
spring's most delicious perfumes.
From this dream—why should we call it a dream?—Is it not a
blessed reality?—Is not young, fervent love, true love? Alas! this is
an evil world, and man's heart is evil. From this dream there is too
often a tearful awaking. Often, too often, hearts are suddenly torn
asunder, and wounds are made that never heal, or, healing, leave
hard, disfiguring scars. But this is not always so. Pure love
sometimes finds its own sweet reward. I will relate one precious
The Baron Holbein, after having passed ten years of active life in
a large metropolitan city of Europe, retired to his estate in a
beautiful and fertile valley, far away from the gay circle of
fashion—far away from the sounds of political rancor with which he
had been too long familiar—far away from the strife of selfish men
and contending interests. He had an only child, Nina, just fifteen
years of age. For her sake, as well as to indulge his love of quiet
and nature, he had retired from the world. Her mother had been with
the angels for some years. Without her wise counsels and watchful
care, the father feared to leave his innocent-minded child exposed to
the temptations that must gather around her in a large city.
For a time Nina missed her young companions, and pined to be with
them. The old castle was lonely, and the villagers did not interest
her. Her father urged her to go among the peasantry, and, as an
inducement, placed a considerable sum of money at her command, to be
used as she might see best in works of benevolence. Nina's heart was
warm, and her impulses generous. The idea pleased her, and she acted
upon it. She soon found employment enough both for her time and the
money placed at her disposal. Among the villagers was a woman named
Blanche Delebarre, a widow, whose only son had been from home since
his tenth year, under the care of an uncle, who had offered to
educate him, and fit him for a life of higher usefulness than that of
a mere peasant. There was a gentleness about this woman, and something
that marked her as superior to her class. Yet she was an humble
villager, dependent upon the labor of her own hands, and claimed no
Nina became acquainted with Blanche soon after the commencement of
her residence at the castle. When she communicated to her the wishes
of her father, and mentioned the money that had been placed at her
disposal, the woman took her hand and said, while a beautiful light
beamed from her countenance—
"It is more blessed to give than to receive, my child. Happy are
they who have the power to confer benefits, and who do so with
willing hearts. I fear, however, that you will find your task a
difficult one. Everywhere are the idle and undeserving, and these are
more apt to force themselves forward as objects of benevolence than
the truly needy and meritorious. As I know every one in the village,
perhaps I may be able to guide you to such objects as deserve
"My good mother," replied Nina, "I will confide in your judgment. I
will make you my almoner."
"No, my dear young lady, it will be better for you to dispense with
your own hands. I will merely aid you to make a wise dispensation."
"I am ready to begin. Show me but the way."
"Do you see that company of children on the green?" said Blanche.
"Yes. And a wild company they are."
"For hours each day they assemble as you see them, and spend their
time in idle sports. Sometimes they disagree and quarrel. That is
worse than idleness. Now, come here. Do you see that little cottage
yonder on the hill-side, with vines clustering around the door?"
"An aged mother and her daughter reside there. The labor of the
daughter's hands provides food and raiment for both. These children
need instruction, and Jennet Fleury is fully qualified to impart it.
Their parents cannot, or will not, pay to send them to school, and
Jennet must receive some return for her labors, whatever they be."
"I see it all," cried Nina with animation. "There must be a school
in the village. Jennet shall be the teacher."
"If this can be done, it will be a great blessing," said Blanche.
"It shall be done. Let us go over to that sweet little cottage at
once and see Jennet."
The good Blanche Delebarre made no objection. In a little while
they entered the cottage. Every thing was homely, but neat and clean.
Jennet was busy at her reel when they entered. She knew the lady of
Castle Holbein, and arose up quickly and in some confusion. But she
soon recovered herself, and welcomed, with a low courtesy, the
visitors who had come to grace her humble abode. When the object of
this visit was made known, Jennet replied that the condition of the
village children had often pained her, and that she had more than
once prayed that some way would open by which they could receive
instruction. She readily accepted the proposal of Nina to become
their teacher, and wished to receive no more for the service than
what she could now earn by reeling silk.
It did not take long to get the proposed school in operation. The
parents were willing to send their children, the teacher was willing
to receive them, and the young lady patroness was willing to meet the
Nina said nothing to her father of what she was doing. She wished
to surprise him some day, after every thing was going on prosperously.
But a matter of so much interest to the neighborhood could not remain
a secret. The school had not been in operation two days before the
baron heard all about it. But he said nothing to his daughter. He
wished to leave her the pleasure which he knew she desired, that of
telling him herself.
At the end of a month Nina presented her father with an account of
what she had done with the money he had placed in her hands. The
expenditure had been moderate enough, but the good done was far
beyond the baron's anticipations. Thirty children were receiving
daily instructions; nurses had been employed, and medicines bought
for the sick; needy persons, who had no employment, were set to work
in making up clothing for children, who, for want of such as was
suitable, could not attend the school. Besides, many other things had
been done. The account was looked over by the Baron Holbein, and each
item noted with sincere pleasure. He warmly commended Nina for what
she had done; he praised the prudence with which she had managed what
she had undertaken; and begged her to persevere in the good work.
For the space of more than a year did Nina submit to her father,
for approval, every month an accurate statement of what she had done,
with a minute account of all the moneys expended. But after that time
she failed to render this account, although she received the usual
supply, and was as actively engaged as before in works of benevolence
among the poor peasantry. The father often wondered at this, but did
not inquire the cause. He had never asked an account: to render it had
been a voluntary act, and he could not, therefore, ask why it was
withheld. He noticed, however, a change in Nina. She was more
thoughtful, and conversed less openly than before. If he looked at her
intently, her eyes would sink to the floor, and the color deepen on
her cheek. She remained longer in her own room, alone, than she had
done since their removal to the castle. Every day she went out, and
almost always took the direction of Blanche Delebarre's cottage, where
she spent several hours.
Intelligence of his daughter's good deeds did not, so often as
before, reach the old baron's ears; and yet Nina drew as much money
as before, and had twice asked to have the sum doubled. The father
could not understand the meaning of all this. He did not believe that
any thing was wrong—he had too much confidence in Nina—but he was
puzzled. We will briefly apprise the reader of the cause of this
One day—it was nearly a year from the time Nina had become a
constant visitor at Blanche Delebarre's—the young lady sat reading a
book in the matron's cottage. She was alone—Blanche having gone out
to visit a sick neighbor at Nina's request. A form suddenly darkened
the door, and some one entered hurriedly. Nina raised her eyes, and
met the gaze of a youthful strange, who had paused and stood looking
at her with surprise and admiration. With more confusion, but with not
less of wonder and admiration, did Nina return the stranger's gaze.
"Is not this the cottage of Blanche Delebarre?" asked he, after a
moment's pause. His voice was low and musical.
"It is," replied Nina. "She has gone to visit a sick neighbor, but
will return shortly."
"Is my mother well?" asked the youth.
Nina rose to her feet. This, then, was Pierre Delebarre, of whom
his mother had so often spoke. The heart of the maiden fluttered.
"The good Blanche is well," was her simple reply. "I will go and
say to her that her son has come home. It will make her heart glad."
"My dear young lady, no!" said Pierre. "Do not disturb my mother in
her good work. Let her come home and meet me here—the surprise will
add to the pleasure. Sit down again. Pardon my rudeness—but are not
you the young lady from the castle, of whom my mother so often writes
to me as the good angel of the village? I am sure you must be, or you
would not be alone in my mother's cottage."
Nina's blushes deepened, but she answered without disguise that she
was from the castle.
A full half hour passed before Blanche returned. The young and
artless couple did not talk of love with their lips during that time,
but their eyes beamed with a mutual passion. When the mother entered,
so much were they interested in each other, that they did not hear her
approaching footstep. She surprised them leaning toward each other in
The joy of the mother's heart was great on meeting her son. He was
wonderfully improved since she last saw him—had grown several
inches, and had about him the air of one born of gentle blood, rather
than the air of a peasant. Nina staid only a very short time after
Blanche returned, and then hurried away from the cottage.
The brief interview held with young Pierre sealed the maiden's
fate. She knew nothing of love before the beautiful youth stood before
her—her heart was as pure as an infant's—she was artlessness
itself. She had heard him so often spoken of by his mother, that she
had learned to think of Pierre as the kindest and best of youths. She
saw him, for the first time, as one to love. His face, his tones, the
air of refinement and intelligence that was about him, all conspired
to win her young affections. But of the true nature of her feelings,
Nina was as yet ignorant. She did not think of love. She did not,
therefore, hesitate as to the propriety of continuing her visits at
the cottage of Blanche Delebarre, nor did she feel any reserve in the
presence of Pierre. Not until the enamored youth presumed to whisper
the passion her presence had awakened in his bosom, did she fully
understand the cause of the delight she always felt while by his side.
After Pierre had been home a few weeks, he ventured to explain to
his mother the cause of his unexpected and unannounced return. He had
disagreed with his uucle, who, in a passion, had reminded him of his
dependence. This the high-spirited youth could not bear, and he left
his uncle's house within twenty-four hours, with a fixed resolution
never to return. He had come back to the village, resolved, he said,
to lead a peasant's life of toil, rather than live with a relative who
could so far forget himself as to remind him of his dependence. Poor
Blanche was deeply grieved. All her fond hopes for her son were at an
end. She looked at his small, delicate hands and slender pro-
portions, and wept when she thought of a peasant's life of hard
A very long time did not pass before Nina made a proposition to
Blanche, that relieved, in some measure, the painful depression under
which she labored. It was this. Pierre had, from a child, exhibited a
decided talent for painting. This talent had been cultivated by the
uncle, and Pierre was, already, quite a respectable artist. But he
needed at least a year's study of the old masters, and more accurate
instruction than he had yet received, before he would be able to adopt
the painter's calling as one by which he could take an independent
position in society as a man. Understanding this fully, Nina said that
Pierre must go to Florence, and remain there a year, in order to
perfect himself in the art, and that she would claim the privilege of
bearing all the expense. For a time, the young man's proud spirit
shrunk from an acceptance of this generous offer; but Nina and the
mother overruled all his objections, and almost forced him to go.
It may readily be understood, now, why Nina ceased to render
accurate accounts of her charitable expenditures to her father. The
baron entertained not the slightest suspicion of the real state of
affairs, until about a year afterward, when a fine looking youth
presented himself one day, and boldly preferred a claim to his
daughter's hand. The old man was astounded.
"Who, pray, are you," he said, "that presume to make such a
"I am the son of a peasant," replied Pierre, bowing, and casting
his eyes to the ground, "and you may think it presumption, indeed, for
me to aspire to the hand of your noble daughter. But a peasant's love
is as pure as the love of a prince; and a peasant's heart may beat
with as high emotions."
"Young man," returned the baron, angrily, "your assurance deserves
punishment. But go—never dare cross my threshold again! You ask an
impossibility. When my daughter weds, she will not think of stooping
to a presumptuous peasant. Go, sir!"
Pierre retired, overwhelmed with confusion. He had been weak enough
to hope that the Baron Holbein would at least consider his suit, and
give him some chance of showing himself worthy of his daughter's
hand. But this repulse dashed every hope the earth.
As soon as he parted with the young man, the father sent a servant
for Nina. She was not in her chamber—nor in the house. It was nearly
two hours before she came home. When she entered the presence of her
father, he saw, by her countenance, that all was not right with her.
"Who was the youth that came here some hours ago?" he asked,
Nina looked up with a frightened air, but did not answer.
"Did you know that he was coming?" said the father.
The maiden's eyes drooped to the ground, and her lips remained
"A base-born peasant! to dare—"
"Oh, father! he is not base! His heart is noble," replied Nina,
speaking from a sudden impulse.
"He confessed himself the son of a peasant! Who is he?"
"He is the son of Blanche Delebarre," returned Nina, timidly. "He
has just returned from Florence, an artist of high merit. There is
nothing base about him, father!"
"The son of a peasant, and an artist, to dare approach me and claim
the hand of my child! And worse, that child to so far forget her
birth and position as to favor the suit! Madness! And this is your
good Blanche!—your guide in all works of benevolence! She shall be
punished for this base betrayal of the confidence I have reposed in
Nina fell upon her knees before her father, and with tears and
earnest entreaties pleaded for the mother of Pierre; but the old man
was wild and mad with anger. He uttered passionate maledictions on
the head of Blanche and her presumptuous son, and positively forbade
Nina again leaving the castle on any pretext whatever, under the
penalty of never being permitted to return.
Had so broad an interdiction not been made, there would have been
some glimmer of light in Nina's dark horizon; she would have hoped
for some change—would have, at least, been blessed with short, even
if stolen, interviews with Pierre. But not to leave the castle on any
pretext—not to see Pierre again! This was robbing life of every
charm. For more than a year she had loved the young man with an
affection to which every day added tenderness and fervor. Could this
be blotted out in an instant by a word of command? No! That love must
burn on the same.
The Baron Holbein loved his daughter; she was the bright spot in
life. To make her happy, he would sacrifice almost anything. A
residence of many years in the world had shown him its pretensions,
its heartlessness, the worth of all its titles and distinctions. He
did not value them too highly. But, when a peasant approached and
asked the hand of his daughter, the old man's pride, that was
smouldering in the ashes, burned up with a sudden blaze. He could
hardly find words to express his indignation. It took but a few days
for this indignation to burn low. Not that he felt more favorable to
the peasant—but, less angry with his daughter. It is not certain
that time would not have done something favorable for the lovers in
the baron's mind. But they could not wait for time. Nina, from the
violence and decision displayed by her father, felt hopeless of any
change, and sought an early opportunity to steal away from the castle
and meet Pierre, notwithstanding the positive commands that had been
issued on the subject. The young man, in the thoughtless enthusiasm of
youth, urged their flight.
"I am master of my art," he said, with a proud air. "We can live in
Florence, where I have many friends."
The youth did not find it hard to bring the confiding, artless girl
into his wishes. In less than a month the baron missed his child. A
letter explained all. She had been wedded to the young peasant, and
they had left for Florence. The letter contained this clause, signed
by both Pierre and Nina:—
"When our father will forgive us, and permit our return, we shall
be truly happy—but not till then."
The indignant old man saw nothing but impertinent assurance in
this. He tore up the letter, and trampled it under his feet, in a
rage. He swore to renounce his child forever!
For the Baron Holbein, the next twelve months were the saddest of
his life. Too deeply was the image of his child impressed upon his
heart, for passion to efface it. As the first ebullitions subsided,
and the atmosphere of his mind grew clear again, the sweet face of
his child was before him, and her tender eyes looking into his own.
As the months passed away, he grew more and more restless and
unhappy. There was an aching void in bosom. Night after night he
would dream of his child, and awake in the morning and sigh that the
dream was not reality. But pride was strong—he would not countenance
More than a year had passed away, and not one word had come from
his absent one, who grew dearer to his heart every day. Once or twice
he had seen the name of Pierre Delebarre in the journals, as a young
artist residing Florence, who was destined, to become eminent. The
pleasure these announcements gave him was greater than he would
confess, even to himself.
One day he was sitting in his library endeavoring to banish the
images that haunted him too continually, when two of his servants
entered, bearing a large square box in their arms, marked for the
Baron Holbein. When the box was opened, it was found to contain a
large picture, enveloped in a cloth. This was removed and placed
against the wall, and the servants retired with the box. The baron,
with unsteady hands, and a heart beating rapidly, commenced removing
the cloth that still held the picture from view. In a few moments a
family group was before him. There sat Nina, his lovely, loving and
beloved child, as perfect, almost, as if the blood were glowing in
her veins. Her eyes were bent fondly upon a sleeping cherub that lay
in her arms. By her side sat Pierre, gazing upon her face in silent
joy. For only a single instant did the old man gaze upon this scene,
before the tears were gushing over his cheeks and falling to the
floor like rain. This wild storm of feeling soon subsided, and, in
the sweet calm that followed, the father gazed with unspeakable
tenderness for a long time upon the face of his lovely child, and
with a new and sweeter feeling upon the babe that lay, the
impersonation of innocence, in her arms. While in this state of mind,
he saw, for the first time, written on the bottom of the picture—"NOT
GREAT, BUT HAPPY."
A week from the day on which the picture was received, the Baron
Holbein entered Florence. On inquiring for Pierre Delebarre, he found
that every one knew the young artist.
"Come," said one, "let me go with you to the exhibition, and show
you his picture that has taken the prize. It is a noble production.
All Florence is alive with its praise."
The baron went to the exhibition. The first picture that met his
eyes on entering the door was a counterpart of the one he had
received, but larger, and, in the admirable lights in which it was
arranged, looked even more like life.
"Isn't it a grand production?" said the baron's conductor.
"My sweet, sweet child!" murmured the old man, in a low thrilling
voice. Then turning, he said, abruptly—
"Show me where I can find this Pierre Delebarre."
"With pleasure. His house is near at hand," said his companion.
A few minutes walk brought them to the artist's dwelling.
"That is an humble roof," said the man, pointing to where Pierre
lived, "but it contains a noble man." He turned away, and the baron
entered alone. He did not pause to summon any one, but walked in
through the open door. All was silent. Through a neat vestibule, in
which were rare flowers, and pictures upon the wall, he passed into a
small apartment, and through that to the door of an inner chamber It
was half open. He looked in. Was it another picture? No, it was in
very truth his child; and her babe lay in her arms, as he had just
seen it, and Pierre sat before her looking tenderly in her face. He
could restrain himself no longer. Opening the door, he stepped
hurriedly forward, and, throwing his arms around the group, said in
broken voice—"God bless you, my children!"
The tears that were shed; the smiles that beamed from glad faces;
the tender words that were spoken, and repeated again and again; why
need we tell of all these? Or why relate how happy the old man was
when the dove that had flown from her nest came back with her mate by
her side The dark year had passed, and there was sunshine again in his
dwelling, brighter sunshine than before. Pierre never painted so good
a picture again as the one that took the prize—that was his
The Young Baron Holbein has an immense picture gallery, and is a
munificient patron of the arts. There is one composition on his walls
he prizes above all the rest. The wealth of India could not purchase
it. It is the same that took the prize when he was but a babe and lay
in his mother's arms. The mother who held him so tenderly, and the
father who gazed so lovingly upon her pure young brow have passed
away, but they live before him daily, and he feels their gentle
presence ever about him for good.