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MALVINA; OR, NOT MAD, BUT BAD.
BY MRS. BUSHBY.
WHAT miseries are there not occasioned in this world by the want of self-control! Of all qualities it is the most necessary for the happiness of life in general, and more particularly of married life. To bear and to forbear, to do to others as you would be done by, to exercise that self-denial without which we can never hope to promote the comfort of those we love, or those with whom we are placed in every-day contact-all this is comprehended in the attainment and practice of self-control. Alas! that this most important of lessons should be so frequently neglected in the moral education of the young!
To learn self-control is also to acquire worldly wisdom. For he who aspires to power-to lead, to guide, or to govern othersmust first have learned to govern his own passions and feelings: nay, even to carry out selfish wishes, one must have learned to repress those wishes to a certain extent, or at least to seem to curb them. In the intercourse of society self-control is constantly called into action, and its exercise is demanded by the most common rules of politeness. It is therefore a duty enjoined by religion, as may be gathered by many exhortations to it in the Bible, though not under the identical name of self-control-morality, the opinions of the generality of mankind, expediency, and the accepted usages of society.
In families residing under the parental roof, and brought up together from infancy, there is generally one common interest, some one centre in the domestic system around which all revolve; habit is the one chain that links them together, and dispositions and feelings dovetail into each other so as to form generally a not inharmonious whole. But when the circumstances of life separate the members of a family, when each goes forth into the world to be responsible for his or her own individual actions, then it is that the power of self-control becomes of the first importance, and more particularly, we repeat, in married life.
A young man and a young woman become acquainted; in the course of a few years, or a few months, or it may even be a few weeks, they think fit to marry. They had probably never seen each other in situations where the temper was tried, or deeply
seated feelings were aroused. Jealousy had not yet jaundiced the eye, selfishness had been restrained with a strong effort, and a veil had been sedulously drawn across all that was unattractive or likely to give annoyance.
They marry; they take each other for better and for worse, not to part until death! In many cases what a fearful contract, fraught with lifelong evil!
It is no joking matter, yet one cannot help remembering the story of a poor negro man who was induced by the exhortations of a missionary preacher, and the promise of a barrel of salt pork, to marry a certain negro woman. Shortly after the wedding, he applied to the missionary to "unmarry" him."
"It cannot be done," said the minister. "Don't you remember, Quaco, you took her for better and for worse?"
"Es, Mass' Parson!" replied Quaco. "But you see, sar, she all worser and no better, so me want to get rid of she."
Poor Quaco! But doubtless he does not stand alone in the lottery of marriage. It is to be feared that there are not a few white Quacos into whose matrimonial element enters much more of the "worser" than the "better." It is dreadful when, after the Gordian knot has been tied, the veil or mask is dropped, selfishness asserts its sway, and jealousy views the most innocent act with a scowling and distempered glance! Let women watch well their own hearts! For theirs is the most important part. They are the guardians of all that constitutes the cheerfulness, the comfort, and the sanctity of home. Let them remember that the Tempter, as in the first of days, when earth was an Eden, and goodness and beauty and happiness reigned around, is ever ready to creep in and blast the fairest hopes; for bad passions, bad feelings, and bad temper are all prompted by the Evil One.
Malvina Selfe was an only daughter, an only child indeed, as her brothers had died in infancy. Her father and her mother were both what is called good sort of people—an epithet rather difficult to define, seeing that no two persons exactly agree in their ideas of what is conveyed by the term, further than it is on all hands admitted to denote rather negative than positive qualities. These two good sort of people did not lead the happiest of lives, because both had peculiar notions, and neither felt disposed to sacrifice their whims on the altar of domestic concord.
Mrs. Selfe, acting under "a sense of duty," for she was to a certain extent a religious woman, yielded most, and when, in consequence of meeting with a severe accident, Mr. Selfe fell into bad health, she became-still from "a sense of duty," not from any sincere sorrow for his sufferings-quite subservient to him in everything, though she grumbled and fretted not a little at his
caprices. Malvina, who was also in some degree subjected to her father's crossness, disliked him extremely; but she learned to despise her "mean-spirited mother," as she termed her.
Mr. Selfe died, and his daughter could with difficulty be prevailed on to see him in his last moments, which were embittered by her look of stony indifference. After his death the emancipated widow might have become once more a free agent, had not the father's mantle fallen upon the daughter. She speedily assumed the upper hand; she was considered extremely clever by her mother, and by the few elderly individuals who formed their sole circle; for the Selfes lived in the country, and seldom emerged from the shades of their rural habitation in a remote part of a not very densely-populated neighbourhood. Miss Selfe learned to
look upon herself as a genius of the first water. She was supreme at "New Forest," as their property was called, and had she chanced to take a cannibal longing for human flesh, her mother would infallibly, but for her "sense of duty," have had a cow-herd or shepherd boy caught and roasted for her.
From her childhood Malvina had been of a peculiar disposition. Most children, little girls especially, are shocked and frightened at scenes of violence, but she delighted in them. Nothing charmed her so much as to see two dogs fighting, or, better still, two boys attacking each other fiercely. When she saw the blood flowing from their noses, or wounds in their faces or heads, she would clap her hands in an ecstasy of joy, and cry, "Oh, that's capital fun-that's delightful! I wish they would tear each other's eyes out!"
And this taste for sights of cruelty never left her. She wished to go to Spain, not to see that beautiful land, nor the reflections of the past glories of the Alhambra, but to witness the bull-fights; and she often said that she would like to have lived in those days when malefactors were forced into the arena to contend with wild beasts. In fact, she had very much the nature of a wild beast herself, and was not unlike the hyæna in the Jardin des Plantes at Paris, which, having nothing else to vent its fury upon, bit off its own leg in an access of ill temper and rage.
Horses, donkeys, dogs, cats, squirrels, monkeys, and birds of all kinds, were bought and kept for her amusement. She had a
small menagerie and an aviary, and she was in the habit of going about the house with three or four little kittens stuffed into her pocket. But Miss Malvina was now out of her teens, and she began to think that a husband would be better worth having than any or all of the above-named pets.
Fortune favoured her wishes; a young man visiting in the neighbourhood happened to be introduced to her and her mother under circumstances which led to speedy intimacy; his father and
Malvina's father had been friends in former years, and much together before each married. The damsel "marked him for her own," and, guided by unerring instinct, took no small pains to please him. She was good-looking, with fair hair, blue eyes, pearly teeth, pretty features, and a clear complexion, but somewhat gauche. However, the gentleman persuaded himself that this was pleasing simplicity. He had seen a good deal of town coquetry, and felt not disinclined to ally himself to country artlessness.
His family resided in New York; Malvina had a strong desire to visit that fine city, which she had merely once passed through when making an excursion with her parents to the principal eastern towns. The reminiscences of this journey which dwelled most in her mind were the shops in Broadway and the canvasback ducks at Philadelphia.
Young ladies do not generally care about good eating, but Miss Selfe was an exception to this rule. No idle young officer could have cared more about his dinner than she did about hers; however, it was the quantity rather than the quality of which she thought. But perceiving that Edward Courteney-for that was the name of the poor moth that was fluttering round this false light-was a small eater, and remembering Lord Byron's dislike to seeing ladies eat, she was wise enough or cunning enough to make a hearty meal before she took her place at the dinner-table. Little did Edward Courteney think that his fair neighbour at table, who seemed to have such a delicate appetite, had just devoured a considerable portion of a leg of roasted pork-one of her favourite dishes-in some mysterious chamber sacred to her gastronomic tendencies.
Edward Courteney easily obtained an invitation for Malvina from his mother, and presented her to his parents, his sisters, and his younger brothers, with all of whom she professed to be much pleased. She was delighted to parade in Broadway, and to purchase articles of finery in the handsome shops there. Helen and Dora Courteney had rather a hard task to manage her toilette and her steps; but they were good-tempered, good-hearted girls, and tried to make their country guest at ease, and appear to the best advantage.
She spent a month at Mrs. Courteney's, she parted with the family on the most amicable terms, and not long after she returned to New York the bride of Edward Courteney.
MALVINA was in possession of everything she might have desired to make her happy. She might visit her mother in the country, or receive her in town when she pleased; she had a wellfurnished house, a suitable establishment of servants, though she changed them almost every week; a carriage, independent means if not wealth; and through her young husband's family, an introduction to the best society in New York. Yet she was peevish and discontented. She took a strong dislike to Mrs. Courteney because the poor woman was much attached to her eldest son, and they were on very friendly terms with each other. She disliked Edward's cousins because "he flirted with the young ladies," and the young men did not attempt to "flirt with her." She had no vivacity, and solemn flirtation is rather dreary work. She was jealous of Edward's sisters because they played and sang, drew and danced well. She received their kindnesses and services as matters of course, quite her due; and repaid them by rude speeches to themselves, and abuse of them behind their backs. In short, before she had been many months married, "envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness," seemed to have fixed themselves in her ill-regulated mind
Edward Courteney was a good-natured young man, he made every allowance for her having been a spoiled child, and for the petulance which he was willing to ascribe to the total change which, of necessity, had taken place in her mode of life. But he was distressed at her aversion to his nearest relations, and annoyed that she had the bad taste to abuse them to him. He had been accustomed to spend very sociable evenings at the houses of his father and one or two uncles, who had large families, and not feeling inclined to relinquish entirely these little soirées for a constant tête-à-tête with his uninteresting wife, he continued to visit his relations occasionally, even though Malvina would seldom accompany him.
But this was a source of great vexation to her; she considered herself neglected, and blamed his family and connexions for endeavouring, as she said, to withdraw her husband's affections from her. Her sorrows were poured into the sympathising ears of her mother, who wept over her wrongs, and judiciously encouraged her daughter's hostility to all her husband's relatives, and every one he liked.
"It was cruel," the mother said, "that her poor Malvina should be treated so ill; her sisters-in-law behaved shamefully to her, and quite a conspiracy was got up against her."