Gentility by T.
"Didn't I see you walking up the street with a young lady
yesterday, William?" said Anna Enfield to her brother, who had but a
few days before returned from New York, after an absence of some
"Perhaps you did; I was in company with a young lady in the
afternoon," replied the brother.
"Well, who was she? I did not see you until after you had passed
the store I was in, and then I could not see her face."
"It was Caroline Murry; you know her, I suppose."
"Caroline Murry! Why, brother! what were you doing in her company?"
and Anna's face expressed unfeigned astonishment.
"Why, really, you surprise me, sister! I hope there is no blemish
on her character. But what is the matter? I feel concerned to know."
"There's nothing much the matter, brother; but, then, Caroline
Murry is not genteel. We don't think of keeping her company."
"Indeed! and you don't associate with her because she is not
genteel. Well, if I am any judge of gentility, Anna, Caroline Murry is
about as genteel and lady-like as any girl I know, always excepting,
of course, my own dear sister."
"Why, brother, how you talk! You don't certainly pretend to compare
her with Ernestine Eberly and Zepherine Fitzwilliams, whom you have
seen here several times?"
"No, I do not," replied the brother, emphatically.
"Well, they're what I call genteel; and Caroline Murry wouldn't be
tolerated in the society where they visit."
"And why not, sister?"
"Havn't I told you? Because she is not considered genteel; that is
"But I don't understand what you consider genteel, Anna. If I know
what gentility means, Caroline, as far as that is concerned, is in
every way superior to Ernestine Eberly and Zepherine Fitzwilliams."
"Now, William, that is too bad! If any other man had said so to me,
I would never have spoken to him again as long as I lived."
"But seriously, Anna, what do you mean by gentility?" asked the
"That's a question more easily asked than answered; but you know,
as well as I do, what is meant by gentility. Every body knows."
"I know what I mean by it, Anna. But it seems that we don't agree
on the subject; for I call Caroline Murry genteel, and you don't: so
you see that different things may be called by the same name. Now,
what I wish to know is, what precise meaning you attach to the word?
or, why you do not think Caroline genteel?"
"Why, in the first place, she don't go into genteel company. People
of the first rank won't associate with her."
Here ensued a pause, and the brother said —
"Well, why won't they associate with her, Anna? I hope she has not
been guilty of improper or immoral conduct."
"O, no! nothing of that. I never heard the slightest reflection on
her character," replied the sister. "But, then, genteel young ladies
don't work in the kitchen, like hired servants; and she does. And,
besides this, call on her when you will, and she is always doing
something. Why, I am told that she has even been seen at the chamber
windows, fronting on the public street, with her head tied up,
sweeping and making the beds! And Clarrissa Spiggler says that she saw
her once, with the parlor windows open, sweeping and dusting like a
servant! Nobody is going to associate, or be seen in the street with
any one who hasn't the spirit to be above the condition of a
hireling. And, besides this, whenever she was invited to balls or
parties, she never would stay later than ten or eleven o'clock, which
every one knows to be vulgar. Somebody had to go home with her, of
course; and the choicest beau in the company was almost sure to have
his good nature and his politeness taxed for this purpose. Once I
heard her say, that she considered the theatre an unfit place for any
young lady; she offended the whole company, and has never been invited
to a party among genteel people since."
"And is that all?" said William Enfield, taking a long breath.
"Yes, and I should think that was enough, in all conscience,"
replied the sister.
"So should I, Anna, to make me respect her."
"But seriously, William, you cannot be in earnest?"
"And seriously, Anna, are you in earnest?"
"Of course I am."
"Well, sister, I'm afraid my old fashioned notions, for such I
suppose you will call them, and your new fangled notions, for such I
must call them, will not chime well together. All that I have heard
you allege against Caroline Murry, raises, instead of lowering her in
my estimation. So far as a gentle, and truly lady-like deportment is
concerned, I think her greatly superior to the two friends you have
named as the pinks of gentility."
Anna looked into the face of her brother for some moments, her
countenance exhibiting a mingled expression of surprise and
"But you are not going to walk with her in the street any more, I
hope," she at length said.
"And why not, Anna?"
"Because, as I have said before, she is not gen —"
"Genteel, you were going to say. But that allegation, you perceive,
Anna, has no weight with me; I do not consider it a true one."
"Well, we won't talk any more about it just now, for it would be no
use," said the sister, changing her voice and manner; "and so I will
change the subject. I want you to make a call or two with me this
"On Miss Eberly and Miss Fitzwilliams."
"It wouldn't be right for me to do so, would it? You know I don't
consider them genteel," said the brother, with affected gravity.
"O nonsense, brother? why will you trifle so?"
"But, seriously, Anna, I do not consider that those young ladies
have any very strong claims to gentility; and, like you, I have no
wish to associate with those who are not genteel."
"If you talk in that way, William, I shall get angry with you, I
cannot hear my most intimate friends spoken of so lightly; and, at the
same time accused of a want of gentility. You must remember that you
are reflecting upon your sister's associates."
"You must not, and I know you will not, get angry with me, sister,
for speaking plainly; and you must do me the justice to believe that
in speaking as I do I am in earnest. And you must also remember,
that, in saying what you did of Caroline Murry, you spoke of one with
whom your brother has associated, and with whom he is still willing
Anna looked very serious at this, nor could she frame in her own
mind a reply that was satisfactory to her. At last she said —
"But, seriously, brother William, won't you call on those young
ladies with me?"
"Yes, on one condition."
"Well, what is that?"
"Why, on condition that you will, afterwards, call with me, and see
"I cannot do that, William," she replied, in a positive tone.
"And why not, Anna?"
"I have already told you."
"I cannot perceive the force of that reason, Anna. But, if you will
not go with me, I must decline going with you. The society of Miss
Murry cannot be more repulsive to you, than is that of the Misses
Eberly and Fitzwilliams to me."
"You don't know what you are talking about, William."
"That is my own impression about you. But come, now, sister, let us
both be rational to each other. I am willing to go with you, if you
will go with me."
"Yes, but, William, you don't reflect, that, in doing as you desire
me, I will be in danger of losing my present position in society.
Caroline Murry is not esteemed genteel in the circle in which I move,
and if it should be known that I visit her, I will be considered on a
level with her. I would do any thing to oblige you, but, indeed, I
would be risking too much here."
"You would only be breaking loose," replied the brother, "from the
slavery you are now in to false notions of what is truly genteel. If
any one esteems you less for being kind, attentive, and courteous, to
one against whom suspicion has never dared to breathe a word, and
whose whole life is a bright example of the pure and high-toned
principles that govern her, that one is unworthy of your regard. True
gentility does not exist, my sister, merely in a studied and
artificial elegance of behavior, but in inward purity and taste, and a
true sense of what is right, all exhibiting themselves in their
natural external expression. The real lady judges of others from what
they are, and neglects none but the wilfully depraved. True, there
are distinctions in society, and there are lines of social demarcation
— and all this is right. But we should be careful into what social
sphere we are drawn, and how we suffer ourselves to be influenced by
the false notions of real worth which prevail in some circles that
profess a high degree of gentility. I hold that every one, no matter
what may be his or her condition in life, fails to act a true part if
not engaged in doing something that is useful. Let me put it to your
natural good sense, which do you think the most deserving of praise,
Caroline Murry, who spends her time in `doing something' useful to her
whole family; or your friends, the Misses Eberly and Fitzwilliams,
and those constituting their particuler circle, who expect service
from others, but never think of rendering any, and who carry their
prejudices so far as to despise those who work?"
Anna did not reply, and her brother said —
"I am in earnest, sister, when I say, that you cannot confer a
greater favor upon your brother, than to go with him to see Caroline
Murry. Cannot I induce you to comply with my wishes?"
"I will go," she replied to this appeal, and then hurried away,
evidently no little disturbed in her feelings.
In half an hour she was ready, and, taking her brother's arm, was
soon on the way to Miss Ernestine Eberly's residence. That young lady
received them with all the graces and fashionable airs she could
assume, and entertained them with the idle gossip of the day,
interspersed with an occasional spice of envious and ill-natured
remark. Knowing that her brother was a close discriminator, and
knowing that he was by no means prepossessed in her friends favor,
Anna herself observed her more narrowly, and, as it were, with his
eyes. It seemed to her that Miss Eberly never was so uninteresting, or
so mal-apropos in what she said. The call on Zepherine Fitzwilliams
came next in turn. Scanning her also with other eyes than her own,
Anna was disappointed in her very dear friend. She looked through her,
and was pained to see that there was a hollowness and want of any
thing like true strength or excellence of character about her.
Particularly was she displeased at a gratuitous sneer thrown out at
the expense of Caroline Murry.
And now, with a reluctance which she could not overcome, Anna
turned with her brother, towards the residence of the young lady who
had caste, because she had good sense and was industrious.
"I know my sister's lady-like character will prompt her to right
action, in our next call," said the brother, looking into Anna's face
with an encouraging smile.
She did not reply, yet she felt somehow or other pleased with the
remark. A few minutes walk brought them to the door, and they were
presently ushered into a neat parlor in which was the young lady they
were seeking. She sat near a window, and was sewing. She was plainly
dressed in comparison with the young ladies just called upon; but in
neatness, and in all that constitutes the lady in air and appearance,
in every way their superior.
"I believe you know my sister," said Enfield, on presenting Anna.
"We have met a few times," she replied with a pleasant,
unembarrassed smile, extending at the same time her hand.
Miss Enfield took the offered hand with less reluctance than she
had imagined she could, but a few hours before. Somehow or other,
Caroline seemed to her to be very much changed for the better in
manner and appearance. And she could not help, during all the visit,
drawing contrasts between her and the two very dear friends she had
just called upon; and the contrast was in no way favorable to the
latter. The conversation was on topics of ordinary interest, but did
not once degenerate into frivolity or censoriousness. Good sense
manifested itself in almost every sentence that Caroline uttered, and
this was so apparent to Anna, that she could not help frequently
noticing and involuntarily approving it. "What a pity," Anna once or
twice remarked to herself, "that she will be so singular."
The call was but a brief one. Anna parted with Caroline under a
different impression of her character than she had ever before
entertained. After her return with her brother, he asked her this
"Which of the young ladies, Anna, of the three we called upon this
morning, would you prefer to call your sister?"
Anna looked up, bewildered and surprised, into the face of her
brother, for a few moments, and then said;
"I don't understand you, brother William."
"Why, I thought I asked a very plain question. But I will make it
plainer. Which one of the three young ladies we called upon this
morning, would you advise me to marry?"
"Neither," replied Anna promptly.
"That is only jumping the question," he said, smiling. "But, to
corner you so that there can be no escape, I will confess that I have
made up my mind to marry one of the three. Now tell me which you
would rather it would be."
"Caroline Murry, said Anna, emphatically, while her cheeks burned,
and her eyes became slightly suffused.
William Enfield did not reply to the hoped for, though rather
unexpected admission, but stooping down, he kissed her glowing cheek,
and whispered in her ear,
"Then she shall be your sister, and I know you will love one
He said truly. In a few months he claimed Caroline Murry as his
bride, and her good sense, and winning gentleness of character,
influenced Anna, and effectually counteracted the false notions which
were beginning to corrupt a good heart and to overshadow a sound
judgment. It was not long before she was fully sensible of the real
difference which there was between the character of her two friends,
and that of her brother's wife; and also between true and false
gentility. Although Caroline Murry had been proscribed by a certain
circle in which false pride, instead of principle, was the governing
motive, she had still been esteemed among those who knew how to look
beyond the surface. As the wife of Enfield, she at once took a
position in circles where those who had passed her by as unworthy
would have sought in vain for admission, and in those circles she
shone as a bright particular star.