Read CHAPTER V - IN COUNCIL of Nobody , free online book, by Susan Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

Sauntering back to his hotel, Mr. Dillwyn’s thoughts were a good deal engaged with the impressions of the last hour.  It was odd, too; he had seen all varieties and descriptions of feminine fascination, or he thought he had; some of them in very high places, and with all the adventitious charms which wealth and place and breeding can add to those of nature’s giving.  Yet here was something new.  A novelty as fresh as one of the daisies Mrs. Wishart had spoken of.  He had seen daisies too before, he thought; and was not particularly fond of that style.  No; this was something other than a daisy.

Sauntering along and not heeding his surroundings, he was suddenly hailed by a joyful voice, and an arm was thrust within his own.

“Philip! where did you come from? and when did you come?”

“Only the other day ­from Egypt ­was coming to see you, but have been bothered with custom-house business.  How do you all do, Tom?”

“What are you bringing over? curiosities? or precious things?”

“Might be both.  How do you do, old boy?”

“Very much put out, just at present, by a notion of my mother’s; she will go to Florida to escape March winds.”

“Florida!  Well, Florida is a good place, when March is stalking abroad like this.  What are you put out for?  I don’t comprehend.”

“Yes, but you see, the month will be half over before she gets ready to be off; and what’s the use?  April will be here directly; she might just as well wait here for April.”

“You cannot pick oranges off the trees here in April.  You forget that.”

“Don’t want to pick ’em anywhere.  But come along, and see them at home.  They’ll be awfully glad to see you.”

It was not far, and talking of nothings the two strolled that way.  There was much rejoicing over Philip’s return, and much curiosity expressed as to where he had been and what he had been doing for a long time past.  Finally, Mrs. Caruthers proposed that he should go on to Florida with them.

“Yes, do!” cried Tom.  “You go, and I’ll stay.”

“My dear Tom!” said his mother, “I could not possibly do without you.”

“Take Julia.  I’ll look after the house, and Dillwyn will look after your baggage.”

“And who will look after you, you silly boy?” said his sister.  “You’re the worst charge of all.”

“What is the matter?” Philip asked now.

“Women’s notions,” said Tom.  “Women are always full of notions!  They can spy game at hawk’s distance; only they make a mistake sometimes, which the hawk don’t, I reckon; and think they see something when there is nothing.”

“We know what we see this time,” said his sister.  “Philip, he’s dreadfully caught.”

“Not the first time?” said Dillwyn humorously.  “No danger, is there?”

“There is real danger,” said Miss Julia.  “He is caught with an impossible country girl.”

“Caught by her?  Fie, Tom! aren’t you wiser?”

“That’s not fair!” cried Tom hotly.  “She catches nobody, nor tries it, in the way you mean.  I am not caught, either; that’s more; but you shouldn’t speak in that way.”

“Who is the lady?  It is very plain Tom isn’t caught.  But where is she?”

“She is a little country girl come to see the world for the first time.  Of course she makes great eyes; and the eyes are pretty; and Tom couldn’t stand it.”  Miss Julia spoke laughing, yet serious.

“I should not think a little country girl would be dangerous to Tom.”

“No, would you?  It’s vexatious, to have one’s confidence in one’s brother so shaken.”

“What’s the matter with her?” broke out Tom here.  “I am not caught, as you call it, neither by her nor with her; but if you want to discuss her, I say, what’s the matter with her?”

“Nothing, Tom!” said his mother soothingly; “there is nothing whatever the matter with her; and I have no doubt she is a nice girl.  But she has no education.”

“Hang education!” said Tom.  “Anybody can pick that up.  She can talk, I can tell you, better than anybody of all those you had round your table the other day.  She’s an uncommon good talker.”

“You are, you mean,” said his sister; “and she listens and makes big eyes.  Of course nothing can be more delightful.  But, Tom, she knows nothing at all; not so much as how to dress herself.”

“Wasn’t she well enough dressed the other day?”

“Somebody arranged that for her.”

“Well, somebody could do it again.  You girls think so much of dressing.  It isn’t the first thing about a woman, after all.”

“You men think enough about it, though.  What would tempt you to go out with me if I wasn’t assez bien mise? Or what would take any man down Broadway with his wife if she hadn’t a hoop on?”

“Doesn’t the lady in question wear a hoop?” inquired Philip.

“No, she don’t.”

“Singular want of taste!”

“Well, you don’t like them; but, after all, it’s the fashion, and one can’t help oneself.  And, as I said, you may not like them, but you wouldn’t walk with me if I hadn’t one.”

“Then, to sum up ­the deficiencies of this lady, as I understand, are, ­education and a hoop?  Is that all?”

“By no means!” cried Mrs. Caruthers.  “She is nobody, Philip.  She comes from a family in the country ­very respectable people, I have no doubt, but, ­well, she is nobody.  No connections, no habit of the world.  And no money.  They are quite poor people.”

“That is serious,” said Dillwyn.  “Tom is in such straitened circumstances himself.  I was thinking, he might be able to provide the hoop; but if she has no money, it is critical.”

“You may laugh!” said Miss Julia.  “That is all the comfort one gets from a man.  But he does not laugh when it comes to be his own case, and matters have gone too far to be mended, and he is feeling the consequences of his rashness.”

“You speak as if I were in danger!  But I do not see how it should come to be ‘my own case,’ as I never even saw the lady.  Who is she? and where is she? and how comes she ­so dangerous ­to be visiting you?”

All spoke now at once, and Philip heard a confused medley of “Mrs. Wishart” ­“Miss Lothrop” ­“staying with her” ­“poor cousin” ­“kind to her of course.”

Mr. Dillwyn’s countenance changed.

“Mrs. Wishart!” he echoed.  “Mrs. Wishart is irreproachable.”

“Certainly, but that does not put a penny in Miss Lothrop’s pocket, nor give her position, nor knowledge of the world.”

“What do you mean by knowledge of the world?” Mr. Dillwyn inquired with slow words.

“Why! you know.  Just the sort of thing that makes the difference between the raw and the manufactured article,” Miss Julia answered, laughing.  She was comfortably conscious of being thoroughly “manufactured” herself.  No crude ignorances or deficiencies there. ­“The sort of thing that makes a person at home and au fait everywhere, and in all companies, and shuts out awkwardnesses and inelegancies.

Does it shut them out?”

“Why, of course!  How can you ask?  What else will shut them out?  All that makes the difference between a woman of the world and a milkmaid.”

“This little girl, I understand, then, is awkward and inelegant?”

“She is nothing of the kind!” Tom burst out.  “Ridiculous!” But Dillwyn waited for Miss Julia’s answer.

“I cannot call her just awkward,” said Mrs. Caruthers.

“N-o,” said Julia, “perhaps not.  She has been living with Mrs. Wishart, you know, and has got accustomed to a certain set of things.  She does not strike you unpleasantly in society, seated at a lunch table, for instance; but of course all beyond the lunch table is like London to a Laplander.”

Tom flung himself out of the room.

“And that is what you are going to Florida for?” pursued Dillwyn.

“You have guessed it!  Yes, indeed.  Do you know, there seems to be nothing else to do.  Tom is in actual danger.  I know he goes very often to Mrs. Wishart’s; and you know Tom is impressible; and before we know it he might do something he would be sorry for.  The only thing is to get him away.”

“I think I will go to Mrs. Wishart’s too,” said Philip.  “Do you think there would be danger?”

“I don’t know!” said Miss Julia, arching her brows.  “I never can comprehend why the men take such furies of fancies for this girl or for that.  To me they do not seem so different.  I believe this girl takes just because she is not like the rest of what one sees every day.”

“That might be a recommendation.  Did it never strike you, Miss Julia, that there is a certain degree of sameness in our world?  Not in nature, for there the variety is simply endless; but in our ways of living.  Here the effort seems to be to fall in with one general pattern.  Houses and dresses; and entertainments, and even the routine of conversation.  Generally speaking, it is all one thing.”

“Well,” said Miss Julia, with spirit, “when anything is once recognized as the right thing, of course everybody wants to conform to it.”

“I have not recognized it as the right thing.”

“What?”

“This uniformity.”

“What would you have?”

“I think I would like to see, for a change, freedom and individuality.  Why should a woman with sharp features dress her hair in a manner that sets off their sharpness, because her neighbour with a classic head can draw it severely about her in close bands and coils, and so only the better show its nobility of contour?  Why may not a beautiful head of hair be dressed flowingly, because the fashion favours the people who have no hair at all?  Why may not a plain dress set off a fine figure, because the mode is to leave no unbroken line or sweeping drapery anywhere?  And I might go on endlessly.”

“I can’t tell, I am sure,” said Miss Julia; “but if one lives in the world, it won’t do to defy the world.  And that you know as well as I.”

“What would happen, I wonder?”

“The world would quietly drop you.  Unless you are a person of importance enough to set a new fashion.”

“Is there not some unworthy bondage about that?”

“You can’t help it, Philip Dillwyn, if there is.  We have got to take it as it is; and make the best of it.”

“And this new Fate of Tom’s ­this new Fancy rather, ­as I understand, she is quite out of the world?”

“Quite.  Lives in a village in New England somewhere, and grows onions.”

“For market?” said Philip, with a somewhat startled face.

“No, no!” said Julia, laughing ­“how could you think I meant that?  No; I don’t know anything about the onions; but she has lived among farmers and sailors all her life, and that is all she knows.  And it is perfectly ridiculous, but Tom is so smitten with her that all we can do is to get him away.  Fancy, Tom!”

“He has got to come back,” said Philip, rising.  “You had better get somebody to take the girl away.”

“Perhaps you will do that?” said Miss Julia, laughing.

“I’ll think of it,” said Dillwyn as he took leave.