The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
Edited by Charlotte Mason.
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
From Mulberry Leaf to Satin.
A Story of Mistaken Aspiration.
By E. E. Kitton., Author of "Lost Dorothy," "Crosses and Losses," "With Truth and Loyalty," &c.
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 503
The row of mulberry trees and the silkworms that fed upon them were the sole wealth of their owner, and the sun shone and the rain fell upon them as though sun and rain existed for no other purpose.
The mulberry leaves as they were pierced and lacerated by the teeth of the worms wondered oftentimes, "To what purpose is this suffering?" and slowly the worms fed on and on, destroying the green glory of the trees. Beneath them walked their owner and his wife. They looked up and smiled contentedly as they repeated the proverb, "By patience and perseverance the mulberry leaf becomes satin." The trees looked down on them, and wondered and waited expectantly.
There came one day a lady, fair to look upon, and clad in a soft sheeny robe that gave back every friendly glimmer of the sun. She walked beneath the shade of the boughs, and the owner and his wife attended her; but with great humility. When she spoke they answered in meek accents, and when she sat they stood respectfully before her. "It is the satin," murmured the trees." Had it not as well remained a mulberry leaf?"
"Where is the mother, Johnny?" asked Stephen Taylor as he entered his house somewhat earlier than usual in the afternoon.
"Upstairs, father; helping Katie to pack."
"Well, leave your books for awhile, my lad, and run up to tell her that I have brought back a friend -- one who she will want to see."
Johnny put his school books together willingly enough, ran off upstairs, while his father installed the visitor in the one easy chair, the state chair of the apartment.
"Curiosity will bring her down," laughed Stephen, stirring the fire into more cheerful activity as he spoke. "Perhaps nothing but curiosity would fetch her away from Katie's packing' she just dotes upon that child.
"But Johnny is a fine boy," observed the visitor.
"You are right, sir," assented the father, heartily. "He is a fine boy, and a good boy, and he promises to be a comfort and a help to me, but the mother's heart is set solely on Katie. She thinks there was never such a wonderful child, too wonderful altogether to be tied down to our manner of life; she could not have her Katie serve in the bar of the Old Mulberry Tree Inn. I am fond enough and proud enough of the girl myself, God knows, but this fancy of her mother's has cost me a pretty penny already, and is like to cost me more."
"It was to please Alice, I suppose, that you started this private establishment?" said the stranger, looking round him.
"Yes, she would have it that a bringing up in the old inn parlour was bad for such a child as Katie. It was to no purpose that I urged that my mother and sisters had rown b up there into as good and honest women as ever paced this earth -- Katie was of quite another nature. So I had to quite take this place, with rooms about half the size of those she was used to, and let my wife and children "retire" to it, as she said. I had to hire a housekeeper and another man for the Mulberry Tree, for my wife scarcely ever found time to go near it, and if I wanted any of her company, I must pick my time for slipping away and must have some one to leave in my place when I did so. That increased the outgoings, and the incomings do not enlarge in proportion, for one housekeeper is idle, and they do not carry that authority in the kitchen and the bar-parlour that a mistress would, so that it is twice as hard to keep order as it used to be.
"And that, I suppose, is not all?"
"Why no. The child has been day boarder up till lately in the best school -- I mean, the most genteel school -- in the town, and now she is to be sent up to Miss Montmorency's college, just out of London. I thought when she went away to a regular school Alice would be able to come back and help at the inn, and we should pay the school bills out of the housekeeper's salary and the rent of this house; but she says no. It is more important than ever that Katie should be able to address her letters to a private house. She is going to be governess or companion in some high family one day and be quite the lady, so of course she must be kept respectable. I thought my mother and sisters were respectable," he ended ruefully.
"If they were not I do not know where you will go to find such," was the hearty response." If Miss Katie turns out as good as her aunts she will be a daughter to gladden your heart, and more of a lady she cannot need to be." "
Perhaps you and I have not the right notion of a lady," replied Stephen. "Anyway here comes Katie to answer for herself."
A pretty girl of about thirteen came into the room with her mother; a little shy and a little full of consequence, as was but natural under the circumstances, and half-way between sorrow at leaving her home and curiosity with regard to her next abode.
"George!" cried Mrs. Taylor with delight, "well, I am surprised to see you, and glad, I need not say. Johnny did not tell me who was here. You will drink tea with us. Katie! run and tell Jenny to get a chop for your uncle's tea at once."
"So that is my little niece," observed George, as Katie was thus safely disposed of. "A nice-looking maid, Alice, but mind you do not spoil her."
"Spoil her! Why I am bringing her up as any lady's daughter might be trained, and she is as gentle and nice in her ways as you could want. We are giving her the best of teaching, so that she may have a chance of making her way in the world."
"I thought to have seen her treading in her aunts' ways," said George, who had wedded and early lost one of those said aunts. "It is strange to me to find her brought up in a villa, but doubtless you know best, only do not train her to be so fine that she forgets father and mother."
"As if it was likely that our Katie should do that!" exclaimed Mrs. Taylor, indignantly. "I am improving the child, man, and not spoiling her.
"That is to be seen," rejoined George, sorrowfully. "It is possible to carry improvement too far."
Good Mrs. Taylor persevered in her plan. For the sake of the high education and the address to a private house, she pinched in one direction and another, and worked late and early. While Katie was away she spent the greater part of every day at the Mulberry Tree, supervising and checking housekeeper, and barmaid, and men, till dishonesty and idleness became well nigh impossible, and the business throve amazingly. When Katie was at home she ignored the inn and played the part of a private lady. The money so carefully laid apart was spent on equipping Katie for visits to the houses of the most eligible of her schoolmates, and in part on providing for a summer holiday at the seaside or some fashionable resort, on which occasions Katie was always instructed to provide herself with a companion from the same select circle. Some of these companions certainly thought Mrs. Taylor a little odd, but the secret of the Mulberry Tree never leaked out, and at the end of her schooldays Katie was charmed at being engaged to accompany some of her fellow pupils abroad as half companion, half attendant, while they completed their foreign education. Her letters home filled her mother's heart with delight, and won approval even from her still doubting father; the language was so correct, so elegant; the descriptions were so vivid, the sentiments so thoroughly what they should be. Besides, she was making acquaintance with here a graf and there a baronin, and the titles sounded sweet in Mrs. Taylor's ears.
Two years rolled by, and the stay in Germany came to an end. An English situation awaited Katie, but before entering upon it she paid a flying visit to her home. Stephen met his daughter at the station, and hardly recognised the elegant young lady who stepped out of the train, scanning the group on the platform with a somewhat anxious eye. She was, however, seemingly glad to be once more with her parents and the feeling of constraint soon wore off. Johnny was too much of a cub for her, it is true, but even he was tolerated under the parents, circumstances and for the short time. Her father would fain have taken her to the church, and tea party for the second of the two evenings mother planned a ngs of the visit; but Katie begged to be allowed to have the time "quite to ourselves, just happy and easy indoors together, some time before I have a chance of being with you both again." So that visit came to an end and a year passed by, and another, and another, and Katie found no time for a holiday.
At length came a somewhat distracted little letter from her. "Dear mother, -- I am in a little trouble. The Hartfords are making a country tour, and are coming into our county -- worse than that, they are coming to our own town, and will as likely as not make the Mulberry Tree their headquarters for a day or two. I have tried in vain to avoid coining with them, as they fancy -- and I have not contradicted them -- that I belong to the Taylors, of H----shire. Can you make it right with my father?"
This was a perplexing matter, for Stephen had never been initiated into the full mysteries of Katie's training, and had frequently expressed his disapproval of what he did know. That he should consent not to recognise his own daughter was more than could be expected of him. It cost his wife many tears and many arguments before she wrung a conditional promise from him.
As Katie had foreseen, the Hartfords, the distinguished family in which she acted as companion governess to the elder daughters, settled themselves for some days at the Mulberry Tree. The quaint, sleepy old town lying on the sunny bosom of a gentle hill, and the lovely wooded country round about it, pleased the elders of the party, and Miss Taylor was aware that her wishes would not be very highly regarded even if she dared to utter them. Mr. Hartford complained on the second morning of his stay that inquire as often as he would for the landlord he was always at his private house, and the son could not give all the information with regard to the history and antiquities of the neighbourhood that he expected to get from the elder man. Mr. Taylor was not ill, he was assured, and his made him suppose that he was singularly negligent with regard to his business. Katie said nothing; she knew too well he reason of her father's absence from his post.
That evening she managed upon some pretence to run down to the villa and fling her arms about her mother. Her father she feared to meet, though she felt that she loved him now more tenderly than ever. He came in upon them, and she turned timidly to greet him.
"No, no, my girl!" said he, putting her firmly from him. "It can't be so. I will not shame you by claiming you before your fine friends, but I cannot be father to you here and a stranger everywhere else. I will take care not to meet you where I must act a lie with regard to you, but I will not harbour you under my roof."
Prayers and tears were thrown away upon him, and Katie took her way back to the inn, weeping bitterly.
"Ah, Alice! Alice! your mulberry leaf is turned to satin with a vengeance," said Uncle George, whom chance had brought to the house in time to witness the conclusion of this interview.
Alice's eyes, too, were full of tears; tears of mortification as well as distress. She thought both George and her husband were a little hard, but she had not wherewithal to answer them.
Time went on again, and the Taylors knew but little of their daughter. She wrote, after some long interval, to tell them that a gentleman, a friend of the Hartfords', with whom she was still living, had asked her to marry him. She had refused, on the score of her inferiority of position, but he was insistent, and in such a case there could be no need for her to explain the real circumstances of her birth and extraction. He sought her for herself alone, he said, and why need she hesitate to take him at his word?
Mrs. Taylor saw no reason why, and marvelled at Stephen's scrupulous conscience when he wrote back to the effect that, as before, Katie must choose between him and her ambition. If she married this man with a lie standing between him and her, she must be prepared to take the consequences. For his part, he had always striven to lead an honest life, and she must not expect him to consent to a tacit fraud. He was not sure that he was fulfilling his whole duty in holding his tongue towards the man whom she proposed to marry, but he could not resolve to prevent the possible happiness of his daughter.
In vain Mrs. Taylor protested, and urged, and explained that it was by her exertions, her scheming, her self-denial, that Katie had been raised to this position. Stephen was still of opinion that Katie was his daughter, and as such ought to be subject to the same rule of right and wrong. He turned moodily away, sought more the society of Johnny, and that young wife of Johnny's, who now ruled the whole establishment at the Mulberry Tree, and Katie's illustrious wedding gained notice from the editors of the fashionable papers, but none from him. Mrs. Taylor devoured these notices with eagerness, and became an insatiable reader of all society scraps from that time forth. She woke twenty times a night from excitement, after reading that Katie had given a dance or a tennis party, and that such and such a celebrity was present. Sometimes the fashionable lady found time to write a letter to her mother.
Then came a blank time when letters and paragraphs in the papers alike gave no news to satisfy Mrs. Taylor's longings. For three long months she waited, and then one morning came a letter to Stephen.
"Dear father -- I am very ill and I want to ask you to forgive me for all I have done to vex you. You need not tell me how much that has been, for since I have been laid by thus helpless I have seen only too clearly what your daughter should have been, and was not. You were right in all ways, for like Tennyson's Lady Burleigh I have proved unequal to the burden of an honour unto which I was not born. I have told John the whole truth and he has forgiven me. Can you forgive me too, and let me come home again to win back my strength?"
So she came back, and they were full of tenderness towards one another, but the mulberry leaf had become so thoroughly satin that Katie could never any more be true daughter to Stephen and to Alice.
E. E. Kitton.
Typed by happi, January 2016