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Mark Meriden by Mrs. H. E. B. Stowe

 

"Come, Mark Meriden! don't settle down into an old grandfather before your time — a pretty wife's a pretty thing, Mark, and a pretty house is a pretty thing — but hang it! — one must have a little of life."

Mark Meriden stood at his desk, giving a last look at his books, while Ben Sanford — the roguish— the merry — the song singing — the Ben of all Bens, was thus urging on him the claims of a projected frolic that evening. Now Ben was precisely the messenger for such an embassy — there was fun in the twinkle of his blue eye, and a world of waggery in the turn of his head, and in a pair of broad roguish dimples that went merrily dodging in and out of his cheeks every time he spoke, and he had laid hold of Mark's arm to drag him away. But Mark shook off his hand, and finished summing up a column of figures — put the blotting paper into the book, and the book into the place, wiped his pen — all with an air of great thoughtfulness, and, at last, turning to Ben, said — "I think I won't go this time."

"Now why not?" said Ben, eagerly.

"Because — because," said Mark, smiling; "because I have an odd fancy that I should like Mrs. Meriden's company better this evening."

"Hang Mrs. Meriden — beg pardon, Mark, hang myself for saying so, but one don't like to see a fine fellow buried alive! come, take a real wake up with us."

"Thank you, Ben, but I hav'n't been asleep and don't need it. So I'll go home and see my wife" — and thereat Mark turned a resolute footstep homeward as a well-trained husband ought.

"Now," says one of our readers, "who was Mark Meriden?" You would not have asked, good reader, if you had lived in the town of —, when his name first appeared on the outside of one of its most fashionable shops `Mark Meriden,' surrounded by these waving insignia of grace and fashion that young belles need to have their eyes turned off from beholding. Every thing in the tasteful establishment told of well arranged business, and Mark himself, the mirror of fashion, faultless in every article of costume, quick, attentive, polite, was every day to be seen there winning "golden opinions from all sorts of people." Mark's store became the resort of high ton — the fashionable exchange, the promenade of beauty and wealth, who came there to be enlightened as to the ways and means of disposing of their surplus revenue — to see and to be seen. So attentive, polite, and considerate was Mark, so profound his bows, so bright his eyes, so unexceptionable his whiskers, that it might have proved a dangerous resort for the ladies, had not a neat, tasteful house, going up in the neighborhood, been currently reported as the future residence of an already elected Mrs. Meriden; and in a few months, the house neatly finished, and tastefully furnished, received a very pretty lady who called herself to that effect. She was as truly refined and lovely a woman as ever formed the centre flower in a domestic bouquet, and Mark might justly be pardoned for having as good again an opinion of himself for having been fortunate enough to secure her.

Mark had an extensive circle of business and pleasure acquaintances, for he had been one of the social, companionable sort, whose money generally found its way out of his pocket in very fair proportion to the rate it came in. In short, he was given to clubs, oyster suppers, and now and then a wine party, and various other social privileges for elevating one's spirits and depressing one's cash, that abound among enlightened communities.

But nevertheless, at the bottom of Mark's head, there was a very substantial stratum of a certain quality called common sense, a trait, which though it was never set down in any chart of phrenology, may very justly be called a faculty, and one too which makes a very striking difference among people as the world goes. In consequence of being thus constituted, Mark, when he found himself in love with, and engaged to a very pretty girl, began to reflect with more than ordinary seriousness on his habits, ways, and manners of life. He also took an accurate survey of his business, formed an average estimate of his future income on the soberest probabilities, and determined to live a little even within that. He also provided himself with a small account book, with which he intended to live in habits of very close acquaintance, and in this book he designed to note down all the savings consequent upon the retrenching of certain little extras, before alluded to, in which he had been in the habit of pretty freely indulging himself.

Upon the present occasion, it had cost him something of an effort to say "no," for Mark was one of your easy "clever fellows" to whom the enunciation of this little syllable causes as much trouble as all the gutturals of the German. However, when he came in sight of his parlor windows through which a bright fire was shining — when he entered and found a clean glowing hearth, the easy chair drawn up in front, and a pair of embroidered slippers waiting for him quite at their leisure, and above all, when he read the quick glance of welcome in a pair of very bright eyes, Mark forgot all about Ben Sanford, and all bachelor friends and allurements whatsoever, and thought himself the happiest fellow on earth.

The evening passed off rapidly by the help of music, and the little small talk of which newly married people generally find a supply, and the next morning saw Mark at early business hours with as steady a hand and as cool a head as if there had been no such things as bachelor frolicks in existence.

Late in the forenoon, Ben Sanford lounged in to ogle a few of the ladies, and above all, to rally Mark on losing the glorious fun of the evening before.

"Upon my word, Mark," he began, "we must have you put up for Selectman, you are becoming so extremely ancient and venerable in your ways— however, you are to be excused," he added, "circumstances considered; female influence! — ah! well! its a fine affair this marriage!"

"Better try it, Mr. Sanford," said a bright saucy girl, who, with her laughing companions, was standing by while Ben was speaking.

"Ah, madam! the wherewithal!" said Ben, rolling up his eyes with a tragic expression. "If some clever old fellow would be so obliging as to die now and leave me a few thousands, then, ladies! you should see!"

"But speaking of money," said Mark, when he saw the ladies busy over some laces he had just thrown on to the counter, "what did your `glorious fun' cost you?"

"Pooh! nothing! only a ten dollar bill — nothing in my purse, you know!"

"Nothing in your purse! not an uncommon incident after these occasions," said Mark, laughing.

"Oh, hang it all!" said Ben, "too true! I can get no remedy for this consumption of the purse, as old Falstaff says; however, the world owes me a living and so good morning!"

Ben Sanford was just one of that class of young men of whom common report goes, that they can do any thing they please, and who consider this point so well established, that they do not think it necessary to illustrate it by doing any thing at all. He was a lawyer of talents, and would have had an extensive run of business, had he not been one of the class of people never to be found when wanted. His law books and law office saw far less of him than certain fashionable places of resort, where his handsome person and various social accomplishments, always secured to him a welcome reception. Ben had some little property left him by his father, just enough as he used laughingly to quote, "to keep him in gloves and cologne water," and for the rest, he seemed vastly contented with his old maxim, "the world owes me a living," forgetting that the world can sometimes prove as poor a paymaster as the most fashionable young gentleman going.

But to return to Mark. When he had settled his accounts at night, he took from a pigeon-hole in his desk, the little book aforenamed, and entered as follows: "To one real wake up, $10," which being done, he locked his desk, and returned once more to Mrs. Meriden.

Days flew on, and the shop of Mark became increasingly popular, and still from time to time he was assailed by the temptation we have described. Now it was, "Mark, my dear fellow, do join us in a trip to G — 's;" and now, "Come, my old boy, let us have a spree at F — 's;" now it was the club, now the oyster supper — but still Mark was invincible and still as one or another gaily recounted the history of the scene, he silently committed the account of the expense to his little book. Yet was not mark cynical or unsocial. His refusals, though so firm, were invariably good natured, and though he could not be drawn abroad, yet he was unquestionably open handed and free in his own home. No house had so warm a welcome— no dinner table could be more bountiful or more freely open for the behoof of all gentlemen of the dining-out order — no tea-table presented more unexceptionable toast, and no evening lounge was more easy, home-like, and cheerful, than on the warm sofas in the snug parlors of Mark Meriden. They also gave evening parties, where all was brilliant, tasteful, and well ordered; and, in fine, notwithstanding his short comings, Mark was set down as a fine open-handed fellow after all.

At the end of the year, Mark cast up the account in his little book, and was mightily astonished at it, for with all his ideas of the power of numbers, he had no idea that the twos, and fives, and tens, and ones, which on greater or smaller occasions, had found their way into its columns, would mount up to a sum so considerable. Mark looked about him — the world was going well — his business machinery moving in exact touch and time — his house — where was there a prettier one? — where a place more replete with every home-drawing comfort? Had he lost any thing in pleasure the year past? Mark thought not, and therefore as he walked homeward, he stepped into a bookseller's and ordered some books of superb engravings for Mrs. Meriden, and spoke to a gardener to send some elegant flowering exotics for which he had heard her express an admiration some evenings before.

That same evening came in Ben Sanford, as he expressed it, "in the very depths of indigo," for young gentlemen whose worldly matters invariably go on wrong end foremost, will sometimes be found in this condition, however exuberant may be their stock of animal spirits.

"Pray Ben, what is the matter?" said Mark kindly, as the latter streched himself at length, in an arm-chair, groaning audibly.

"Oh, a bilious attack, Mark! shoemakers' bills! tailors' bills! boarding house bills! all sent in for new years' presents! hang 'em all!"

Mark was silent for a few moments, and Ben continued "Confound it, Mark! what's the sense of living, if a fellow is to be so cursedly poor! Here you, Mark, born in the same town with me, and younger than I by some two years — you have a house, as snug, as cosy, and comfortable as man need ask — a wife like an angel — peace and plenty by the bushed, and all comes of having a good run of luck in the money line" — and Ben kicked his slippers against the andiron most energetically.

"What has become of Emily P —?" asked Mark, after a pause.

"Poor soul!" said Ben, "there she is yet, with all sweetness and patience, waiting till such a luckless scapegrace as I can give her a home and a husband, I wish to my soul, for her sake, I could afford to be married, and have a home of my own; besides, to tell the truth, I am tired of this rambling, scrambling, out-at-elbow, slip-shod life."

"Why don't you get married?" said Mark.

"Why don't I? to be sure — use my tailors' bills for fuel, and my board bill for house rent, and my shoe bill for bread and butter — hey? Would you recommend a poor girl to try me, Mark — all things considered?" said Ben, bitterly.

Mark reflected awhile in silence, and then drew out his book — his little book, to which we have before alluded.

"Just look at this account, Ben," said he; "I know you hate figures, but just for once."

Ben glanced at it impatiently — laughed when he read over the two or three first items, but his face lengthened as he proceeded, and Mark detected a sort of whistle of astonishment as he read the sum total.

"Well, Mark!" he exclaimed, "what a very old gentlemanly considerate trick is this of yours— to sit behind your curtain so coolly noting down the `cost and come to' of all our little frolicks — really it is most edifying! How much you must have enjoyed your superior discretion and forethought," and Ben laughed, but not with his usual glee.

Nay, you mistake," said Mark. "I kept this account merely to see what I had been in the habit of spending myself, and as you and I have been always hand and glove in every thing, it answers equally for you. It was only yesterday that I summed up the account, and I assure you the result surprised myself; and now Ben, the sum here set down, and as much more as you please, is freely at your disposal, to clear off old scores for the year, provided you will accept with it this little book as a new year's gift, and use it one twelve-month as I have done; and if at the end of that time, you are not ready to introduce me to Mrs. Sanford, I am much mistaken."

Ben grasped his friend's hand — but just then the entrance of Mrs. Meriden prevented his reply— Mark however, saw with satisfaction that he put the book carefully in his vest pocket, and buttoned up his coat with the air of a man who is buttoning up a new resolution.

When they parted for the night, Mark said with a smile, "In case of bilious attacks, you know where to send for Medicine." Ben answered only by a fervent grasp of the hand, for his throat felt too full for him to answer.

Mark Meriden's book answered the purpose admirably. In less than two years Ben Sanford was the most popular lawyer in —, and as steady a householder as you might wish to see, and, in conclusion, we will just ask our readers their opinion on one point, and it is this:

If Mrs. Meriden had been a woman who understood what is called "catching a beau," better than securing a husband — if she had never curled her hair except for company, and thought it a degradation to know how to keep a house comfortable, would all these things have happened?

 
 
 

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