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Life's Vicissitudes- A Reverse of Fortune

 Victorian America

"Look, Fred! see what a blaze of beauty is approaching!" "Glorious!-divine! Who are they?" "Those are the fair stars of the season, the Misses Dresdon. Of course you have heard of Dresdon & Co., and these are the fair and only scions of the head of the firm. Shall I introduce you?"

"Indeed I hardly know if it would be wise for a man with a whole heart to approach too near such irresistibles." "Pshaw, man!- come along! Such opportunities are not met with often, I can tell you; and that fine figure of yours will meet with a most gracious reception, or I never read a woman's glance aright. Did you observe how admiringly the youngest of the two cast the brilliancy of her 'deep dark eyes' upon you, as she passed to the dance?"

"Nay, Warren, do not perpetrate your folly just now: such an angel at least should escape your jests." "Jests, man!- I never was more in earnest, and by my life I believe you are caught at last! Never before did I see you throw such a tribute of admiration from your expressive eyes."

"Nonsense, Warren! have done, will you? You know very well such divine beings are far above my humble fortunes, and that I am no trifle where woman is concerned." True, most severe of ball-room moralists! You do indeed keep your precious self most industriously aloof from 'Heaven's last, best gift;' but I always thought it was because you were waiting for an angel to drop in your way; and now here are two, heaven-sent, and you complain of their being above you."

"Above my fortune, I said. Blossoms so tenderly reared would soon wither if removed to a hardier clime than that in which they now so brilliantly bloom; and she will have but life's ordinary portion of worldly goods, who deigns to share my destiny, although it will be coupled with a true heart's devotion."

"That I'll engage; and I believe you are right respecting the beautiful belles. They have been brought up to breathe the atmosphere of wealth as freely as the air that gives life to us all. They are very highly educated too, I understand speak all sorts of languages, and play on all sorts of instruments; and of course they would be no more than parlor ornaments to plain men like us. I did once, myself, seriously think of addressing the tall and stately one, Isabel, as she is called, but I remembered in time that my shirt-buttons were apt to come off, and I don't think she could sew one on to save her life: the little one seems the most likely of the two to perform such 'labors of love.' But, see! the cotillion is over, and sweet Amy will think herself neglected if you do not seek a smile from her. She is not as proud as the tall one, and you will soon find yourself at home with her. So come along, man, and make your bow."

"As you will," and Frederick Lovel quietly followed his volatile friend. A short time found him conversing with Amy Dresdon as freely as if he had known her all his life. Madame De Stael says, "There is often in the heart some innate image of the beings we are to love, that lends to our first sight of them almost an air of recognition."

And so it proved with Amy and Lovel. Both felt an uncontrollable interest in each other, and both seemed inspired with a sudden and secret desire to form a nearer and dearer acquaintance. Amy was far superior in mind to the usual portion of her sex, and seemed to possess that energy of character which can rise above circumstances, and adapt itself to every situation in life. This, Lovel felt after a short conversation with her; and, for once in his life, he found a lovely and gifted woman moving in the highest sphere of life, unaccompanied by that close and baneful follower of beauty, affectation. In spite of the caution he had resolved upon, he felt, ere the evening was over, that the destiny of his affections was decided forever.

The same may be said of Amy. The handsome young doctor, as he was called, had made a deeper impression on her hitherto untouched heart, than she dared own even to herself; and when he called the next day to leave a book she had requested, she felt a livelier glow suffuse her cheek than its ordinary maiden blush and, in spite of all effort, an embarrassment came over her as unaccountable to herself as to her stately and ever self-possessed sister, who happened to be in the room at the time.

Visit succeeded visit, and yet Lovel shrank from the slightest acknowledgment to Amy of the burning flame that was consuming him, so far did he feel her wealthy position placed her above his own humble fortunes. An yet it was only by comparison they were humble; for, besides his profession which promised soon to yield him a handsome income, he enjoyed a small patrimony entirely independent of it, quite sufficient for all the necessaries and not a few of the comforts of life; and a fond and high-minded woman would not have hesitated, on account of his circumstances, to become the light of his home. Amy, above all others, was the very one most likely to disregard wealth, and find her happiness wholly in her husband's love; and yet Lovel foolishly hesitated, and raised an imaginary barrier which a few words would have easily dispelled.

One morning he sought her presence with marks of deep agitation on his countenance. After struggling for a time, the tale of his love burst forth; but the sweet blush of joy had hardly suffused the cheek of the happy Amy, when it was sent back to her heart with the fearful rush of despair for, in the same breath in which he told of his love, he also spoke of leaving for a long, long time, the blessed atmosphere of it. Nor was he so presumptuous as to ask or seek the slightest return. No: though her image was engraved forever upon his heart, and with her presence every joy of his life was left, he wooed her not to his modest home. The next day would find him far away on the deep sea, accompanying an invalid friend to a milder climate; and perhaps ere he again pressed the earth of his native city, Amy might bless some other home, where, if she were but deservedly beloved, he would ask no more. One kiss of her hand was all he sought and a moment after, she stood alone.

During his fervent and rapid address, Amy stood blushing and breathless, without the power of uttering a word in reply; and she had been some minutes alone before she could collect her scattered senses sufficiently to call him back; but it was too late he had gone, perhaps forever, and with a bursting heart, she sought her own room, where her long pent-up feelings soon found vent in a passionate gush of tears.

As her eye in its agony glanced round the gorgeous furniture of her chamber, it seemed but to renew her grief. "Oh, hateful wealth!" she exclaimed; "of what use are you to me but to part me from all I care for on earth? And these baubles, too," unclasping, as she spoke, the splendid bracelet that adorned her arm, and flinging it from her, "how more than vain you are! Do I sleep the sounder because my bedstead is of rosewood, and my coverlid of satin? No. Oh! how I hate you all! how I wish I was poor! Then I might live to some purpose, and my mind have some object worthy of it. Then he would not have hesitated, he might have. Oh! why does he not know me better than to think such vanities as surround me could form my happiness? Why does he not judge me more worthy of him than to suppose that mere wealth is to decide my choice? Ah! little he knows me. But I will never marry any one else. As you leave me, Frederick, so will you find me."

Isabel's step was heard on the stairs, and Amy hastily wiped her eyes, and flung herself on the bed just as she entered the room. "Where on earth have you been, Amy? Why, I declare you are not dressed for dinner yet, and the bell just ready to ring. Do you not know there are visitors to dine with us? Mr. Simms and Mr. Ridgly are already in the parlor; so do get up and let me help Anna to make you 'presentable.' "

"Thank you, Isabel, but I have a dreadful head-ache, and beg you to make my excuses at dinner. My eyes ache, and I really am not able to go down to-day." "Well, how unfortunate! But your eyes do look horrid! Go to sleep, if you can, and I will excuse you to the gentlemen."

Again the tears burst forth as soon as she was alone; but a gentle slumber at length stole over her excited frame, and when she awoke, composure was in some measure restored to her feelings. From that time forth a veil was flung over her heart that hid its beatings from every eye, and not even the penetrating Isabel could fathom its depths, though she strongly suspected something unusual was therein concealed.

But Amy kept well her own secret, and continued to busy herself among her books and flowers, as was her wont, only withdrawing more from society and showing a greater love for solitude. It was observed, too, that when her father would make her some costly present, she would lock up the gift with a kind of loathing, and in her heart she denounced the wealth that surrounded her with so many useless luxuries.

But a change was hastening that was little anticipated. A few months after Frederick Lovel's departure, business among all classes began to decline most rapidly. The merchants, of course, shared most deeply in the general gloom, and the failure of a large and responsible firm opened the door for a general rush into bankruptcy; but when the house of Dresdon & Co., that had so long stood firm amid several similar shocks, was added to the list, the public fairly stood aghast. Mr. Dresdon was half frantic at first; but as each of his partners, with himself, owned an ample property independent of their business capital, he hoped that by uniting together, and yielding up all, they might be enabled to meet the enormous demands against them, and go on with their business. But the other gentlemen had no such old fashioned notions, as they called them, and declared that what the funds of the firm could not meet, must go unpaid. They had suffered from the failures of others, and it was but to be expected that some should suffer through theirs.

In vain Mr. Dresdon entreated them to act more honorably. Their private property was sufficient to retire upon, and they had no idea of again entering business. All he could get was a just division of the debts; and after the funds of the firm had been fairly distributed among the creditors, he called his own share of them together, and without reserve, yielded up all the property he possessed. Even the costly robes and jewels of his daughters, and everything that could be converted into money, were freely relinquished. Only the few household articles allowed by law, and the plainest part of their wardrobe were retained. Too happy were they, when this sacrifice had been made, to find that every demand against them was fairly and honestly met; and Mr. Dresdon had the extreme satisfaction of holding in his hand not a mere discharge through the favor of his creditors, but a receipt, in full for every cent he had ever owed them. But, the evening of the day that gave him such honorable testimony, literally found him and his family without a shelter of their own in which to lay their heads; and they were obliged for a few days to accept the rather cold invitation of one of their former most frequent guests, who, according to the world, felt there was no need now of showing attention to the ruined family. Their day of returning benefits was over, and the sooner they sank into oblivion the better, said their fashionable friends and acquaintances. Isabel and Amy were no longer "the two sweet loves; "and the sooner they went about getting their living, the better," said the silly but highly fashionable Mrs. Upton, who used to think she could not exist if she did not see the "lovely blossoms" every day. Oh, wealth, how potent thou art! But one short month, and "the beautiful belles," as they had been styled, were quite forgotten in the gay world! And why? They had lost that cestus of power 'Wealth.'

It was truly touching to see how variously each member of the family was affected by the change in their circumstances. Mr. Dresdon seemed turned to the calm, cold stoic. Pale, collected, and firm, yet still courteous and polite, he never uttered a syllable more than was necessary. He seemed to lose all thought for himself and family, until his creditors were settled with; then indeed their totally destitute condition brought a burst of frenzy upon him; but it soon subsided and he resumed his calm demeanor.

His wife had long been an invalid, and now seemed fast sinking into imbecility. She took but little notice of anything that was going on, and only appeared to wonder at the unusual bustle about her. Isabel, the proud Isabel, seemed turned to stone. No word, no murmur, nor sign of grief, escaped her lips. In silence she gathered her costly possessions together, and brought them to the assembled creditors. But Amy seemed inspired with new life. Never was her step more light, or her countenance more radiant, than when she followed her sister and yielded her share to the hammer. Even the stern men who demanded the sacrifice from the sisters, were touched at the willingness with which she resigned her property to them, and they begged her to accept the jewel she prized the most, as a memento of their admiration of her conduct.

But the noble-hearted girl refused. "I have shared in my father's prosperity," she said, "and it is but proper I follow his example in meeting a reverse. All I have to ask of you is, to bear witness to the honorable and self-denying manner in which he has met your demands and returned you your own, should you ever hear men revile him, or associate him with those who have wronged you. Remember, an unsullied name is all he has left now, and his daughter entreats you to guard it."

And now it became necessary to seek some cheap tenement where they might retire, and by some means gain a living. Amy readily accompanied her father to seek one, and pleasantly chatted along the way, saying how comfortably they would soon be settled; and how, by all exerting themselves, they would realize a handsome support. Atlas! poor girl, she little knew what a world she was now cast upon, or through what tears and struggles the unfortunate have to make their way!

Many a bye street was threaded before they could find a place likely to suit their fallen fortunes, and at the same time not jar too harshly on the refined feelings which poverty only made the more sensitive. At last they were obliged to take up with part of a tenement owned and occupied by a widow and her daughter. Two small rooms on the first floor, one in the attic, and a kitchen, were now to accommodate the delicately-nurtured family who, but a few weeks before, had been inhabiting one of the stateliest mansions in the city.

But Amy declared that it would just suit their furniture, and Maria, the landlady's daughter, would be company for them; besides, they would be far removed from their fashionable acquaintances and would run no risk of having their feelings hurt by frequently meeting them. So the place was taken and Amy accompanied by her former maid, Anna, who was strongly attached to her, and who resolutely refused to leave her until the family were settled, proceeded to remove the furniture and put things "to rights."

Amy indeed knew but little about house-cleaning and "fixing," but she cheerfully followed Anna's directions, and soon had the delight of seeing how well the carpet fitted, and the table and chairs looked in their places; and how comfortable her parents' bed-room would be. The warmhearted Anna only regretted that there was no place for her to sleep in, else she would stay without any wages, whether the young ladies would let her or no, "for how could they get along without her? They never made a fire in their lives, and knew no more how to get breakfast than a babe, let alone the many other household things necessary to comfort. Stay she would, for a few days, if she had to sleep in the entry, and every week she would come and see about their washing." So spoke the noble girl, and Amy felt, as she enumerated the many things necessary to be done in house-keeping, that her maid was far superior to herself in all the knowledge that adds to the comfort of human beings, and she marveled how her parents had been so blind as to bring herself and sister up merely to adorn a parlor, when they lived in a world so precarious and changeable. Gladly would she have exchanged her many fashionable accomplishments for half the really useful knowledge of Anna; and gladly did she avail herself of the kind girl's readiness "to show her how to do things."

In the grateful assistance of Anna, Amy was but after all reaping the good seed she had once carelessly sown. Some years before, she had seen a young girl sitting on a stoop weeping, and though but a mere child, she could not pass on without inquiring into the cause of her grief. The girl had been all day vainly seeking employment. Her mother had long been bed-ridden, and her brother, whose labor supported them, had been sick with a fever many days. They were now entirely destitute, and the poor girl knew not what to do.

Amy soon brought her to her own home, and a short time found the wants of the wretched family fully administered to. The brother soon recovered, and again was enabled to support his mother as long as she lived. At her death, which took place in a few months. Anna came to live with Amy, and faithfully served her more for love than for money, though Amy freely lavished the latter upon her when in her power. And now the services of the grateful girl were worth all price to the humbled family.

The bread they "cast upon the waters," when they first assisted her, was now to return to them with full interest; while that which they had given to the prosperous and those who had it in their power to make a full return, seemed lost forever.

The first evening the Dresdons spent in their new abode was cheerless in the extreme. The father was as usual calm and silent, and the mother, after a few unintelligible expressions, sank into her usual half-dreamy state. Isabel, with the same cold fixedness in her face, poured out the tea, and took no notice whatever of Amy's endeavors to introduce something like conversation. At an early hour they separated for the night, but little did they think that upon one, the beautiful light of earth was never again to dawn!

The husband and father was released that night from the agonizing throes that, long unknown, had rioted within his heart and brain, until nature could bear no more. He was found in the morning with his head buried in his hands, stiff and cold. Every effort was made to restore him, but he had evidently been dead for hours. A rush of blood to the head had caused apoplexy, the physicians said. We must pass over the wild grief of his now truly wretched family, for such things cannot be well expressed in words. Too soon had they to arouse themselves to the stern necessity of finding some means to supply their daily food; and even Isabel seemed nerved to the painful task.

But what to do was the question. Hundreds had been spent upon their education, and they had always been thought highly accomplished. A school therefore was first proposed; but, alas! they had not been taught the art of teaching others, and were as ignorant as an infant how to turn their acquirements to account. Besides, in the first agony of their grief they shrank from the publicity of getting scholars, even if they had known how to succeed in such an occupation. The needle was the next thing thought of; but there they were more ignorant than in anything. Moderately skilful in embroidery and worsted-work, they knew not how to shape the simplest garment. Still, Amy thought that if they could get a few common shirts, with a pattern, they might be able to make one.

With the assistance of Anna they succeeded; but, alas! they found that their utmost endeavors would hardly bring them fifty cents a day. And this to get everything with would never answer. Isabel and Amy found that they would soon be without bread if they did not get some more profitable employment. After a night of painful thought, Isabel, who was a beautiful scribe, determined to apply to some lawyer for copying. With a choking heart she went on her errand, but it was long before she could find courage to enter any of the numerous offices by which she passed. At length, seeing an elderly gentleman of a benevolent countenance standing at the door of one, she took courage and entered it. As soon as she could command her trembling voice, she told her errand, and begged him, if in his power, to grant her request. He silently handed her a pen, and asked for a specimen of her writing. It seemed to satisfy him, and he told her she had not applied in vain; that if she would leave her name and number, he would send her a plentiful supply the next morning. With a slight tinge on her cheek, Isabel gave the desired information.

"Ah! I knew your noble father," he quickly replied. "You are happy in being the daughter of such a man. I will call myself upon you in the morning." And Isabel took her leave with a lighter heart than she had known since the first day of her misfortunes. But it was not the promise of employment that so thrilled her; it was the just and ready tribute given to the memory of her father. Oh! how much delight those few words gave the hearts of the afflicted daughters!

Mr. Heartly was as good as his word, and supplied the sisters with plenty of copying, paying them so well that they soon trebled their former gains, often calling upon them, and with kind and benevolent words cheering them on in their desolate path. Anna, in the meanwhile, took all the labor of the house-keeping off their hands, receiving her board in return, and doing needle-work, in which she was very expert, during her leisure. Thus nearly two years had passed, and the sisters had become quite reconciled to their fallen fortunes; and had it not been for the anxiety they felt for their poor mother who, day by day, gradually wasted away before their eyes, they might, in a great measure, have recovered more than their former happiness for the path of duty is adorned with thousands of unseen flowers, though its sharp thorns often for a while conceal them. But they who steadfastly persevere, are sure to find them at last; and then what a priceless treasure they prove to the toil-worn pilgrim!

Isabel and Amy had truly found it so; and now what formerly seemed to their blinded vision a hard and dreary fate, had become invested with a crown of beauty and glory; for the scales had fallen from their eyes, and they beheld the unerring hand of a wise Providence leading them on safely through quicksand's and whirlwinds, to a home of loveliness and joy, where none but the tried and purified might enter; and they gratefully blessed the hand that had brought them forth from the hot-bed of worldly vanities, even though it was through the furnace of affliction, and given them the hope of a glorious hereafter.

Not a little to this blessed change had their good friend, Mr. Heartly, contributed, and many a blessing from the sisters was secretly called upon his head. But a new grief now awaited them in the loss of their mother, who, in just two years after their father's death, was quietly laid beside him. Ah! how lonely those orphans felt then! but the hand of their Heavenly Father was still above and around them, and blessed days were coming that neither had ever dared hope for.

One day Isabel found it necessary to call at Mr. Heartly's office. Just as she was about leaving it, a young man entered. As his eye fell upon her he started, and, to her surprise, called her by name. "Is it Mr. Lovel?" she asked, half doubtingly. "It is," he replied; "and your sister, is she well?" I have been looking for you this week past. It is now eight days since I returned to the city, and I beg you will allow me to accompany you home."

Isabel hardly knew how to answer; but it suddenly struck her that Amy might have more to do with the visit than herself, and she at once consented. During their walk, Lovel expressed himself most feelingly on the change of their fortunes, which he for the first time heard after he landed; and yet when Isabel frankly owned how they had ceased to regret it, he seemed like one inspired with a sudden happiness which he could hardly contain. At length they reached home, and Lovel was once more in the presence of his beloved one.

"Amy!" he said, softly; but though her back was turned to the door, and she stood at the end of the room, the sound of that dear voice went to her heart like electricity, and she was soon folded to the breast of him who had so long reigned supremely within her own.

And now what need to tell the rest? How Amy soon became a happy bride, and a few months found the sisters moving in their proper sphere in society? How Isabel, too, was wooed and won by the nephew and heir of Mr. Heartly, and how the good old man ever found a true daughter in her? And how the sisters, never forgetting the lesson they had learned in their adversity, are bringing up their beautiful children as is meet for the dwellers of this changing and care-filled world; that, should they ever meet a reverse of fortune, they may not have to undergo also the painful experience of their mothers?

"Let us remember what we suffered through our want of useful knowledge," said Amy to Isabel, "and educate our daughters for something besides mere drawing-room appendages. Let us give them knowledge before accomplishments, the useful before the ornamental, and the blessing from above sought through all." And upon this rule they are steadfastly acting.


Website: The History
Article Name: Life's Vicissitudes: A Reverse of Fortune
Researcher/Transcriber: Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The American Historical Annual ; Publisher: John S. Taylor-New York 1853
Time & Date Stamp:  


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