An Outcast/Chapter VI
If, generous reader, you had lived in Charleston, we would take it for granted that you need no further enlightening on any of our very select societies, especially the St. Cecilia; but you may not have enjoyed a residence so distinguished, rendering unnecessary a few explanatory remarks. You must know that we not only esteem ourselves the quintessence of refinement, as we have an undisputed right to do, but regard the world outside as exceedingly stupid in not knowing as much of us as we profess to know of ourselves. Abroad, we wonder we are not at once recognized as Carolinians; at home, we let the vulgar world know who we are. Indeed, we regard the outside world—of these States we mean—very much in that light which the Greeks of old were wont to view the Romans in. Did we but stop here, the weakness might be pardonable. But we lay claim to Grecian refinement of manners, while pluming all our mob-politicians Roman orators. There is a profanity about this we confess not to like; not that danger can befall it, but because it hath about it that which reminds us of the oyster found in the shell of gold. Condescending, then, to believe there exists outside of our State a few persons silly enough to read books, we will take it for granted, reader, that you are one of them, straightway proceeding with you to the St. Cecilia.
You have been a fashionable traveller in Europe? You say—yes! rummaged all the feudal castles of England, sought out the resting places of her kings, heard some one say "that is poet's corner," as we passed into Westminster Abbey, thought they couldn't be much to have such a corner,—"went to look" where Byron was buried, moistened the marble with a tear ere we were conscious of it, and saw open to us the gulf of death as we contemplated how greedy graveyard worms were banqueting on his greatness. A world of strange fancies came over us as we mused on England's poets. And we dined with several Dukes and a great many more Earls, declining no end of invitations of commoners. Very well! we reply, adding a sigh. And on your return to your home, that you may not be behind the fashion, you compare disparagingly everything that meets your eye. Nothing comes up to what you saw in Europe. A servant doesn't know how to be a servant here; and were we to see the opera at Covent Garden, we would be sure to stare our eyes out. It is become habitual to introduce your conversation with, "when I was in Europe." And you know you never write a letter that you don't in some way bring in the distinguished persons you met abroad. There is something (no matter what it is) that forcibly reminds you of what occurred at the table of my Lady Clarendon, with whom you twice had the pleasure and rare honor of dining. And by implication, you always give us a sort of lavender-water description of the very excellent persons you met there, and what they were kind enough to say of America, and how they complimented you, and made you the centre and all-absorbing object of attraction—in a word, a truly wonderful person. And you will not fail, now that it is become fashionable, to extol with fulsome breath the greatness of every European despot it hath been your good fortune to get a bow from. And you are just vain enough to forever keep this before your up-country cousins. You say, too, that you have looked in at Almacks. Almacks! alas! departed greatness. With the rise of the Casino hath it lain its aristocratic head in the dust.
Well!—the St. Cecilia you must know (its counterparts are to be found in all our great cities) is a miniature Almacks—a sort of leach-cloth, through which certain very respectable individuals must pass ere they can become the elite of our fashionable world. To become a member of the St. Cecilia—to enjoy its recherché assemblies—to luxuriate in the delicate perfumes of its votaries, is the besetting sin of a great many otherwise very sensible people. And to avenge their disappointment at not being admitted to its precious precincts, they are sure to be found in the front rank of scandal-mongers when anything in their line is up with a member. And it is seldom something is not up, for the society would seem to live and get lusty in an atmosphere of perpetual scandal. Any amount of duels have come of it; it hath made rich no end of milliners; it hath made bankrupt husbands by the dozen; it hath been the theatre of several distinguished romances; it hath witnessed the first throbbings of sundry hearts, since made happy in wedlock; it hath been the shibolath of sins that shall be nameless here. The reigning belles are all members (provided they belong to our first families) of the St. Cecilia, as is also the prettiest and most popular unmarried parson. And the parson being excellent material for scandal, Mother Rumor is sure to have a dash at him. Nor does this very busy old lady seem over-delicate about which of the belles she associates with the parson, so long as the scandal be fashionable enough to afford her a good traffic.
There is continually coming along some unknown but very distinguished foreigner, whom the society adopts as its own, flutters over, and smothers with attentions, and drops only when it is discovered he is an escaped convict. This, in deference to the reputation of the St. Cecilia, we acknowledge has only happened twice. It has been said with much truth that the St. Cecilia's worst sin, like the sins of its sister societies of New York, is a passion for smothering with the satin and Honiton of its assemblies a certain supercilious species of snobby Englishmen, who come over here, as they have it (gun and fishing-rod in hand), merely to get right into the woods where they can have plenty of bear-hunting, confidently believing New York a forest inhabited by such animals. As for our squaws, as Mr. Tom Toddleworth would say, (we shall speak more at length of Tom!) why! they have no very bad opinion of them, seeing that they belong to a race of semi-barbarians, whose sayings they delight to note down. Having no society at home, this species of gentry the more readily find themselves in high favor with ours. They are always Oxonians, as the sons of green grocers and fishmongers are sure to be when they come over here (so Mr. Toddleworth has it, and he is good authority), and we being an exceedingly impressible people, they kindly condescend to instruct us in all the high arts, now and then correcting our very bad English. They are clever fellows generally, being sure to get on the kind side of credulous mothers with very impressible-headed daughters.
There was, however, always a distinguished member of the St. Cecilia society who let out all that took place at its assemblies. The vulgar always knew what General danced with the lovely Miss A., and how they looked, and what they said to each other; how many jewels Miss A. wore, and the material her dress was made of; they knew who polkaed with the accomplished Miss B., and how like a duchess she bore herself; they had the exact name of the colonel who dashed along so like a knight with the graceful and much-admired Mrs. D., whose husband was abroad serving his country; what gallant captain of dragoons (captains of infantry were looked upon as not what they might be) promenaded so imperiously with the vivacious Miss E.; and what distinguished foreigner sat all night in the corner holding a suspicious and very improper conversation with Miss F., whose skirts never were free of scandal, and who had twice got the pretty parson into difficulty with his church. Hence there was a perpetual outgoing of scandal on the one side, and pelting of dirt on the other.
When Mr. Soloman sought the presence of Mrs. Swiggs and told her it was all up with the St. Cecilia, and when that august member of the society was so happily disappointed by his concluding with leaving it an undamaged reputation, the whole story was not let out. In truth the society was at that moment in a state of indignation, and its reputation as well-nigh the last stage of disgrace as it were possible to bring it without being entirely absorbed. The Baronet, who enjoyed a good joke, and was not over-scrupulous in measuring the latitude of our credulity, had, it seems, in addition to the little affair with Mrs. Constance, been imprudent enough to introduce at one of the assemblies of the St. Cecilia, a lady of exceedingly fair but frail import: this loveliest of creatures—this angel of fallen fame—this jewel, so much sought after in her own casket—this child of gentleness and beauty, before whom a dozen gallant knights were paying homage, and claiming her hand for the next waltz, turned out to be none other than the Anna Bonard we have described at the house of Madame Flamingo. The discovery sent the whole assembly into a fainting fit, and caused such a fluttering in the camp of fashion. Reader! you may rest assured back-doors and smelling-bottles were in great demand.
The Baronet had introduced her as his cousin; just arrived, he said, in the care of her father—the cousin whose beauty he had so often referred to. So complete was her toilet and disguise, that none but the most intimate associate could have detected the fraud. Do you ask us who was the betrayer, reader? We answer,—
One whose highest ambition did seem that of getting her from her paramour, George Mullholland. It was Judge Sleepyhorn. Reader! you will remember him—the venerable, snowy-haired man, sitting on the lounge at the house of Madame Flamingo, and on whom George Mullholland swore to have revenge. The judge of a criminal court, the admonisher of the erring, the sentencer of felons, the habitue of the house of Madame Flamingo—no libertine in disguise could be more scrupulous of his standing in society, or so sensitive of the opinion held of him by the virtuous fair, than was this daylight guardian of public morals.
The Baronet got himself nicely out of the affair, and Mr. Soloman Snivel, commonly called Mr. Soloman, the accommodation man, is at the house of Madame Flamingo, endeavoring to effect a reconciliation between the Judge and George Mullholland.