Part 13 (1/2)

Mattie had never for a moment entertained the thought that her father would knowingly wrong these old people. Her heart was too pure, her nature too trusting, to entertain a suspicion of wrong. She had seen him engaged in transactions she did not understand; she had seen him a.s.sociate with men she did not like, but she never enquired what his motive for so doing was. How he became acquainted with, and what his business with Topman and Gusher was, had been a mystery to her. The object was clear enough to her now. The conversation she had overheard one night between her father and Topman, relative to a meeting at Hanz's house, and getting him to sign a paper purporting to sell them a secret, was all explained. This conversation put a powerful weapon in her hand, and if used skilfully she could save her father from trouble and also protect old Hanz. Indeed, her mind ran back over a train of curious circ.u.mstances, which now became clearer and clearer, and when linked together discovered the object they were intended to effect. There was no mistaking the motive. Still, like a true and loving daughter, she saw her father only in the light of innocence and truth. The more she contemplated the matter the more sincerely did she believe him an instrument in the hands of Topman and Gusher, of whose designs she had heard others speak.

CHAPTER XXII.

THE CHAPMANS MOVE INTO THE CITY

Chapman had developed Nyack pretty thoroughly, had made money enough to feel independent, and attributed it all to his own virtues. He had got up no end of quarrels, invented new religions, established a hotel on principles of high moral economy, advocated broad and advanced ideas in everything, and kept the settlement in a state of excitement generally.

Chapman was indeed a great human accident. There was no confining him to any one thing, either in religion, politics, or finance. He had a morality of his own, which he said belonged to the world's advanced ideas, and it was not his fault if there were so few persons enlightened enough to understand and appreciate it in its true sense.

Chapman was indeed not one of those men who carry blessings into a community with them, but rather one of those who seem to delight in planting curses wherever they go, and leaving their victims to reap the bitter fruit in poverty and ruin. Himself a mental deformity, none of his enterprises had been of any real benefit to the community, while his last and most reprehensible one had resulted in emptying the pockets of the old Dutch settlers, and leaving them bits of worthless paper to remember him by.

And yet this man could talk of himself like a very saint. He had the power, too, of making many of those who had suffered by his acts believe him honest. Indeed, while one portion of the community was cursing him for a knave, another was defending him as a really useful man--an opinion Mrs. Chapman was always ready to endorse. In short, Chapman had supporters in Nyack who would have sent him to Congress out of sheer love for his talents, which they were sure would have found a happy field for their development. Mrs. Chapman always sought to conciliate these friends, and would invite them to tea. On these little occasions, after discussing the merits of cider-vinegar and homemade pumpkin pies, and the care respectable people should exercise over the company they kept, for there was pure New England ”grit” in the lady, she would recur to her dear husband.

”All Nyack will confess how intellectually great he is,” she would say; ”and show me the person who has done more to elevate the moral respectability of Nyack. Nyack was such a dull, sleepy place when--when we first honored it with our company. See what it now is. My dear husband worked up these low Dutch people so; yes, and he improved their morals. And I flatter myself I have elevated its society--a little.”

Chapman had now thoroughly developed Nyack, financially and religiously.

He had saved up a nice little fortune, enough with care and good management to keep him comfortable and give Mrs. Chapman a wider field for the exercise of her love of display. There was now little chance of making any more money out of Nyack, either by getting up quarrels between neighbors or inventing new religions. So the Chapmans resolved to go into the city and set up for very respectable people. As n.o.body wanted the big house for a church Chapman rented it to t.i.tus Bright for an inn, and as nothing was said about moral restrictions, that worthy friend of the thirsty and weary traveller kept it in the good old-fas.h.i.+oned way of giving customers what they wanted and asking no questions. He would much rather, Chapman said, have seen it put to a less profane use, but as Bright was a responsible tenant, and could pay more rent than any one else, the morality had to sink in the necessity.

A few months pa.s.sed and the Chapmans were set up in New York, in a s.p.a.cious and well-furnished house on the east side of Bowling Green.

Chapman was soon busy looking after the affairs of the great firm of Topman and Gusher, which I need scarcely tell the reader was a creation of his. Mrs. Chapman soon had enough to do at pus.h.i.+ng her way into society. But the more she pushed the more did little social obstructions seem to rise up and defeat her efforts. She would a.s.sociate with first-rate society, she said, or none; and Mattie should be introduced and s.h.i.+ne in the ”upper circles.”

Bowling Green stood on its dignity in those days. There were very nice and very old families living there then, and they kept themselves rolled up in their wealth and comfort, and looked coldly down on all new and pretentious people. West Bowling Green, too, put on airs of superiority over East Bowling Green, which it affected to designate with the term ”rather vulgar.” They were quiet, well brought up people on the West side, people who had made a family name and were proud of it, whose superior enterprise and genius had raised them above ordinary people, and who had acquired wealth by honorable means.

There was, indeed, a charm about these families, made more attractive by the simplicity and gentleness of their manners, for they were refined, and entertained their friends generously. In short, West Bowling Green and a portion of the Battery had at that day a social empire of its own, which had a flavor of rich old wine about it, and was as distinct as distinguished in all its surroundings. It rode in its own carriage, had orderly and well-dressed coachmen, wore an air of great circ.u.mspection, dined at five o'clock, and lived like a well-bred gentleman.

East Bowling Green had begun to lose cast, and, indeed, was under a cloud socially. Its society was made up of new, fast, and somewhat showy people, whose antecedents it was difficult to get at, (at least West Bowling Green said so,) and who, for want of a family reputation, put on the airs of a vulgarian. These people spent their money freely, and seemed to have enough of it, but they aspired to make a show rather than secure real enjoyment. They a.s.sociated with third-rate people, and vied with each other in giving parties and b.a.l.l.s to which all the young swells in town were invited. In fine, East Bowling Green had a cheap, retail flavor about it which all its show and extravagance failed either to conceal or atone for.

Mrs. Chapman had resided three months in Bowling Green, and yet first-cla.s.s society had kept its doors closed--did not even condescend a smile. This was very mortifying to a lady whose pretentions were quite equal to her dimensions. A few second and third-rate people had made a formal call, or left a card. But it was merely as a matter of ceremony.

Mr. Pinks, the elegant old beau of the Green, who was looked up to by first-rate society everywhere, and considered himself born to stand guard over it and protect it from vulgar contact, and who was accepted as authority in all matters of etiquette, and had standing invitations to dinner with all the best families, had called to pay his respects and congratulate the lady. But Pinks considered this strictly a matter of duty--to make an observation.

When Beau Pinks reported the result of his call to the Warburton family, who were first-rate people, and the Warburton family spread it through West Bowling Green, there was great amus.e.m.e.nt in the neighborhood.

”Won't do, the lady won't,” said Pinks, lowering his voice to a whisper, and shaking his head. ”Lady weighs two hundred pounds and more. A dead weight on the back of any society. Very pretentious, but makes shocking work of the King's English, and discovers low origin in her conversation generally. Puts on finery without regard to color or complexion, told me how many new dresses she had making, has big, fat hands, and wears common gold rings. Worse than all,” continued Pinks, raising his hands, ”the lady wanted to know if I could tell her how to reform servants, and if I liked rhubarb pies for breakfast.”

With such a report from Pinks it was no wonder first-rate society did not take kindly to the lady. The rhubarb pies for breakfast settled the question in Pinks' mind, and he never called again, though he kept up a bowing acquaintance with the lady. Mrs. Chapman now fell back on a reception. A reception would be the thing to make Bowling Green surrender. The day was set and cards sent out, and notwithstanding Mr.

Gusher, who was her standing ornament and idol, a.s.sisted her in drumming up recruits, the affair turned out to be very unsatisfactory. The nice people she invited sent regrets; and those who did come were second and third-rate people, who never miss a reception on any account, seeing that it affords them the cheapest means of showing themselves. There were cheap people then, just as there are cheap people now, ready enough to put in an appearance at a lady's reception, especially if she gave nice suppers and had daughters to be admired. Nor was it an uncommon thing, even at that day, for a pretentious woman who had just set up in society, and taken to the business of reception-giving, to find herself made the target of a little innocent satire by the nice young gentlemen she had invited to pay her homage.

Chapman differed from his wife, inasmuch as he regarded society as a great bore. Mrs. Chapman, however, was not a little disappointed at the way things had turned. They were flashy and rather fast people who came to her reception; people whom n.o.body of established respectability knew or cared to know--thoughtless young men, overdressed young women with matrimonial expectations, and a few needy foreigners with small t.i.tles.

To make the matter worse, some of the lady's guests wore eye-gla.s.ses, through which they persisted in gazing at her, and conducted themselves very unbecomingly. Indeed, they eat up all her supper, spoiled her carpet, insulted her servants, and paid her certain left-handed compliments because she had neither coffee nor wine on her side-board.

The foreigners, too, were inclined to be merry at the lady's circ.u.mference, and at the awkwardness of her movements, as well as to be severe on the style of her dress and the way she wore her hair.

”Who are these people?” enquired a young man, adjusting his eye-gla.s.s.

”Very new people,” whispered another in reply.

”Vulgar, evidently--just set up to be somebody--don't understand it,”

rejoined a third, shrugging his shoulders.