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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Woman’s Privilege: And the Charms of Snuff-Color
By James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860)
 
From ‘The Dutchman’s Fireside’

  HOW oft from color of men’s clothes
Is born a frightful train of woes!

OUR heroine was a delightful specimen of the sex; born, too, before the commencement of the brilliant era of public improvement and the progress of mind. I could never learn that she spoke either French or Italian, though she certainly did English and Dutch; and that with a voice of such persuasive music, such low, irresistible pathos, that Gilfillan often declared there was no occasion to understand what she said, to be drawn into anything. But in truth she was marvelously behind the present age of development. She had never in her life attended a lecture on chemistry—though she certainly understood the ingredients of a pudding; and was entirely ignorant of the happy art of murdering time in strolling up and down Broadway all the morning, brought to such exquisite perfection by the ladies of this precocious generation. Indeed, she was too kind-hearted to murder anything but beaux, and that she did unwittingly. Still, she was a woman, and could not altogether resist the contagion of the ridicule lavished on poor Sybrandt’s snuff-colored inexpressibles. Little did she expect the time would one day come when this would be the fashionable color for pantaloons, in which modern Corinthians would figure at balls and assemblies, to the delight of all beholders.  1
  Being a woman, then, she did not pause to inquire whether snuff-color was not in the abstract just as respectable as blue or red, or even imperial purple. She tried it by the laws of fashion, and it was found wanting. Now there is an inherent relation between a man and his apparel. As dress receives a grace sometimes from the person that wears it, so does it confer a similar benefit. They cannot be separated—they constitute one being; and hence some modern metaphysicians have been exceedingly puzzled to define the precise line of distinction between a dandy and his costume. It was through this mysterious blending of ideas that the fortunes of our hero came nigh to being utterly shipwrecked. Catalina confounded the obnoxious habiliments with the wearer thereof; and he too, for the few hours that the party lasted and the young lady remained under the influence of fashion, became ridiculous by the association.  2
  By degrees she found herself growing ashamed of her old admirer, whose attentions she received with a certain embarrassment and disdain, which he saw and felt immediately; for Sybrandt was no fool, although he did wear a suit made by a Dutch tailor. Neither did he lack one spark of the spirit becoming a man conscious of his innate superiority over the gilded swarm around him. The moment he saw the state of Catalina’s feelings, he met her more than half-way, and intrenched himself behind his old defenses of silent neglect and proud humility. He spoke to her no more that evening.  3
  Though Catalina was conscious in her heart that she merited this treatment, this was a very different thing from being satisfied with it. Gilfillan would not have behaved so, thought she, while she remembered how the worse she used him the more lowly and attentive he became. She mistook this submission to her whims or indifference for a proof of superior love, and therein fell into an error which has been fatal to the happiness of many a woman, and will be fatal to that of many more, in spite of all I can say on the subject. The error I would warn them against is that of confounding subserviency with affection. They know little of the hearts of men, if they are ignorant that the man who loves as he ought, and whose views are disinterested, will no more forget what is due to himself than what is due to his mistress. He will sink into the slave of no woman whom he does not intend to make a slave in return. It is only your fortune-hunters that become the willing victims of caprice, and submit to every species of mortification the ingenuity of wayward vanity can invent, in the hope that this degrading vassalage may be at length repaid, not by the possession of the lady, but by her money. It must be confessed that the event too often justifies the expectation.  4
  Be this as it may, before the conclusion of this important evening the company perceived evident signs of a coolness between the lovers; and Gilfillan, who watched them with the keen sagacity of a man of the world, redoubled his attentions. It is hardly necessary to say that our heroine received them with corresponding complacency,—for as I observed before, she was a woman; and what woman ever failed to repay the neglect of her lover, even though occasioned by a fault of her own, with ample interest? “If she thinks to make me jealous, she is very much mistaken,” thought Sybrandt, while he fretted in an agony of vexation.  5
  The next morning Sybrandt breakfasted at home, saying little and thinking a great deal,—the true secret of being stupid. Mrs. Aubineau asked him fifty questions about the ball, and especially about Miss Van Borsum. But she could get nothing out of him, except that he admired that young lady exceedingly. This was a bouncer, but “at lovers’ perjuries—” the quotation is somewhat musty. Catalina immediately launched out in praise of Gilfillan, and made the same declaration in reference to him. This was another bouncer. He amused her and administered to her vanity; but the truth is, she neither admired nor respected him. Still, the attentions of an aide-de-camp were what no mortal young lady of that age could bring herself voluntarily to relinquish, at least in New York. Our hero, though he had his mouth full of muffin at the moment Catalina expressed her approbation of Gilfillan, rose from the table abruptly, and seizing his hat, sailed forth into the street, though Mrs. Aubineau called after to say she had made an engagement for him that morning.  6
  “Catalina,” said Mrs. Aubineau, “do you mean to marry that stupid man in the snuff-colored clothes?”  7
  “He has a great many good qualities.”  8
  “But he wears snuff-colored breeches.”  9
  “He is brave, kind-hearted, generous, and possesses knowledge and talents.”  10
  “Well, but then he wears snuff-colored breeches.”  11
  “He has my father’s approbation, and—”  12
  “And yours?”  13
  “He had when I gave it.”  14
  “But you repent it now?” said Mrs. Aubineau, looking inquiringly into her face.  15
  “He saved my life,” replied Catalina.  16
  “Well, that calls for gratitude, not love.”  17
  “He saved it twice.”  18
  “Well, then you can be twice as grateful; that will balance the account.”  19
  “But he saved it four times.”  20
  “Well, double and quits again.”  21
  “But my dear madam, I—I believe—nay, I am sure that I love my cousin in my heart.”  22
  “What! in his snuff-colored suit?”  23
  “Why, I am not quite sure of that, at least here in New York among the fine red coats and bright epaulettes; but I am quite sure I could love him in the country.”  24
  “In his snuff-colors?”  25
  “In any colors, I believe. To tell you the truth, cousin, I am ashamed of the manner in which I received him after an absence of months, and of my treatment at the ball last night. I believe the evil spirit beset me.”  26
  “It was only the spirit of woman, my dear, whispering you to woo the bright prospect that beckons you. Do you know you can be a countess in prospective whenever you please?”  27
  “Perhaps I might; but I’d rather be a happy wife than a titled lady.”  28
  “You would!” exclaimed her cousin, lifting up her eyes and hands in astonishment.  29
  “Indeed I would.”  30
  “Then you must be more or less than woman,” cried the other, panting for breath.  31
  “Listen to me, my dear cousin. I know you meant it all for my happiness in giving encouragement to Sir Thicknesse and Colonel Gilfillan. But the truth is, I don’t like either of them, and I do like my cousin Sybrandt. Sir Thicknesse is a proud, stupid dolt, without heart or understanding; and Colonel Gilfillan, with a thousand good qualities, or rather impulses (for he is governed by them entirely), is not, I fear,—nay, I know,—a man of integrity or honor.”  32
  “Not a man of honor!” exclaimed Mrs. Aubineau again, with uplifted eyes and hands: “Why, he has fought six duels!”  33
  “But he neither pays his debts nor keeps his promises.”  34
  “He’d fight a fiery dragon.”  35
  “Yes, but there are men, and very peaceable men too, whom he is rather afraid of,” said Catalina, smiling,—“his tradesmen. The other day I was walking with him, and was very much surprised at his insisting we should turn down a dirty, narrow lane. Just as he had done so he changed his mind, and was equally importunate with me to turn into another. I did not think it necessary to comply with his wishes, and we soon met a tradesman who respectfully requested to speak with my colonel. ‘Go to the devil for an impudent scoundrel!’ cried he in a great passion, and lugged me almost rudely along, muttering, ‘An impudent rascal, to be dunning a gentleman in the street!’”  36
  “Well?”  37
  “Well—I know enough of these tradesmen to be satisfied that they would not venture to dun an officer in the street if they could meet with him elsewhere. The example of my dear father has taught me that one of the first of our duties is a compliance with the obligations of justice.”  38
  “Well, Catalina, I must say people get very odd notions in the country. What do you mean to do with your admirers?”  39
  “Why, from the behavior of Sir Thicknesse last night I hope I shall be troubled with him no more. If Colonel Gilfillan calls this morning, I shall take the opportunity of explaining to him frankly and explicitly the state of my obligations and affections. I will appeal to his sense of decorum and propriety for the discontinuance of his attentions; and if he still persists, take special care to keep out of his way until the state of the river will admit of my going home.”  40
  And I, thought Mrs. Aubineau, shall take special care to prevent all this. “But what do you mean to do with the man in the snuff-colored suit?”  41
  “Treat him as he merits. I have been much more to blame than he; it is but just, therefore, that I should make the first advances to a reconciliation. I shall seize the earliest occasion of doing so, for his sake as well as my own; for my feelings since our first meeting here convince me I cannot treat him with neglect or indifference without sharing in the consequences.”  42
  “Well, you are above my comprehension, Catalina; but I can’t help loving you. I can have no wish but for your happiness.”  43
  “Of that,” said Catalina good-humoredly, “I am perhaps old enough to judge for myself.”  44
  “I don’t know that, my dear. Women can hardly tell what is for their happiness until they have been married a twelvemonth. But what do you mean to do with yourself to-day?”  45
  “I mean to stay at home and wait the return of my cousin. The sooner we come to an understanding the better.”  46
  “And I shall go visiting, as I have no misapprehensions to settle with Mr. Aubineau. Good-morning—by the time I come back I suppose it will be all arranged. But, my dear Catalina,” added she, suddenly turning back, and addressing her with great earnestness,—“my dear friend, do try and persuade him to discard his snuff-colored suit, will you?”  47
  “I shall leave that to you, cousin; for my part, I mean to endure it as a punishment for my bad behavior to the owner.” But Catalina never had an opportunity of acting up to her heroic determination.  48
 
 
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