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Full Online Book HomeShort StoriesCaroline; Or, A Lesson To Cure Vanity
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Caroline; Or, A Lesson To Cure Vanity Post by :spiky Category :Short Stories Author :M. (arnaud) Berquin Date :October 2011 Read :1011

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Caroline; Or, A Lesson To Cure Vanity

A plain white frock had hitherto been the only dress of Caroline; silver buckles in her red morocco shoes; and her ebon hair, which had never felt the torturing iron, flowed upon her shoulders in graceful ringlets, now and then disturbed by the gentle winds.

Being one day in company with some little girls, who, though no older than herself, were dressed in all the empty parade of fashion, the glare and glitter of those fine clothes raised in her heart a desire she had never before felt.

As soon as she got home, "My dear mamma," said she, "I have this afternoon seen Miss Flippant and her two sisters, whom you very well know. The eldest is not older than myself, and yet they were all dressed in the most elegant manner. Their parents must certainly have great pleasure in seeing them so finely dressed; and, as they are not richer than you, do, my dear mamma, let me have a fine silk slip, embroidered shoes like theirs, and let my hair be dressed by Mr. Frizzle, who is said to be a very capital man in his profession!"

Her mother replied, that she would have no objection to gratify her wishes, provided it would add to her happiness; but she was rather fearful it might have a contrary effect. As Miss Caroline could not give in to this mode of thinking, she requested her mamma to explain her reasons for what she had said.

"Because," said her mother, "you will be in continual fear of spotting your silk slip, and even rumpling it whenever you wear it. A dress like that of Miss Flippant will require the utmost care and attention to preserve it from accidents; for a single spot will spoil its beauty, and you very well know there is no washing of silks. However extensive my fortune may be, I assure you, it is not sufficient to purchase you silk gowns as often as you would wish to have them."

Miss Charlotte considered these arguments as very trifling, and promised to give her mamma no uneasiness as to her carelessness in wearing her fine clothes. Though her mamma consented to let her be dressed in the manner she requested, yet she desired her to remember the hints she had given her of the vexations to which her vanity would expose her.

Miss Caroline, on whom this good advice had no effect, lost not a moment in destroying all the pleasure and enjoyment of her infancy. Her hair, which before hung down in careless ringlets, was now twisted up in paper, and squeezed between a burning pair of tongs; that fine jet, which had hitherto so happily set off the whiteness of her forehead, was lost under a clod of powder and pomatum.

In a few days the mantua-maker arrived with a fine slip of pea-green taffety, with fine pink trimmings, and a pair of shoes, elegantly worked to answer the slip. The sight of them gave infinite pleasure to Caroline; but it was easily to be perceived, when she had them on, that her limbs were under great restraint, and her motions had lost their accustomed ease and freedom. That innocence and candour, which used to adorn her lovely countenance, began to be lost amidst the profusion of flowers, silks, gauzes, and ribands.

The novelty, however, of her appearance quite enchanted her. Her eyes, with uncommon eagerness, wandered over every part of her dress, and were seldom removed, unless to take a general survey of the whole in a pier glass. She prevailed on her mamma to let her send cards of invitation to all her acquaintances, in order to enjoy the inexpressible pleasure of being gazed at. As soon as they were met, she would walk backwards and forwards before them, like a peacock, and seemed to consider herself as the empress of the world, and they as her vassals.

All this triumph and consequence, however, met with many mortifying circumstances. The children who lived near her were one day permitted to ramble about the fields, when Caroline accompanied them, and led the way. What first attracted their attention was a beautiful meadow, enamelled with a variety of charming flowers; and butterflies, whose wings were of various colours, hovered over its surface. The little ladies amused themselves with hunting these butterflies, which they dexterously caught without hurting them; and, as soon as they had examined their beauties, let them fly again. Of the flowers that sprung beneath their feet they made nosegays, formed in the prettiest taste.

Though pride would not at first permit Miss Caroline to partake of these mean amusements, yet she at last wanted to share in the diversion; but they told her that the ground might be damp, which would infallibly stain her shoes, and hurt her silk slip. They had discovered her intention in thus bringing them together, which was only to show her fine clothes, and they were therefore resolved to mortify her vanity.

Miss Caroline was of course under the necessity of being solitary and inactive, while her companions sported on the grass, without fear of incommoding themselves. The pleasure she had lately taken in viewing her fine slip and shoes was, at this moment, but a poor compensation for the mirth and merriment she thereby lost.

On one side of the meadow grew a fine grove of trees, which resounded with the various notes of innumerable birds, and which seemed to invite every one that passed that way to retire thither, and partake of the indulgences of the shade. The little maidens entered this grove, jumping and sporting, without fearing any injury to their clothes. Miss Caroline would have followed them, but they advised her not, telling her, that the bushes would certainly tear her fine trimmings. She plainly saw that her friends, who were joyously sporting among the trees, were making themselves merry at her expense, and therefore grew peevish and ill-humoured.

The youngest of her visitors, however, had some sort of compassion on her. She had just discovered a corner, where a quantity of fine wild strawberries grew, when she called to Miss Caroline, and invited her to eat part of them. This she readily attempted; but no sooner had she entered the grove, than she was obliged to call out for help. Hereupon the children all gathered to the spot, and found poor Caroline fastened by the gauze of her hat to a branch of white-thorn, from which she could not disengage herself. They immediately took out the pins that fastened her hat; but, to add to her misfortunes, as her hair, which had been frizzed with so much labour, was also entangled with the branch of white-thorn, it cost her almost a whole lock before she could be set at liberty. Thus, in an instant, was all the boasted superstructure of her head-dress put into a state of confusion.

After what had passed, it cannot be difficult to suppose in what manner her playmates viewed this accident. Instead of consolation, of which Caroline stood in much need, they could not refrain laughing at the odd figure she made, and did actually torment her with a hundred witty jokes. After having put her a little into order, they quitted her in search of new amusements, and were soon seen at the top of a neighbouring hill.

Miss Caroline found it very difficult to reach this hill; for her fine shoes, that were made very tight, in order to set off her feet the better, greatly retarded her speed. Nor was this the only inconvenience; for her stays were drawn so close, that she could not properly breathe. She would very willingly have gone home to change her dress, in order to be more at ease; but she well knew that her friends would not give up their amusements to please her caprice.

Her playmates having reached the summit of the hill, enjoyed the beautiful prospect that surrounded them on all sides. On one hand were seen verdant meadows; on the other the riches of the harvest, with meandering streams that intersected the fields, and country seats and cottages scattered here and there. So grand a prospect could not fail of delighting them, and they danced about with joy; while poor Caroline found herself obliged to remain below, overwhelmed with sorrow, not being able to get up the hill.

In such a situation, she had leisure enough to make the most sorrowful reflections. "To what purpose," said she to herself, "am I dressed in these fine clothes? Of what a deal of pleasure do they debar me; and do not all my present sufferings arise merely from the possession of them?" She was giving up her mind to these distressing thoughts, when she suddenly saw her friends come running down the hill, and all crying out together as they passed her. "Run, run, Caroline! there is a terrible storm behind the hill, and it is coming towards us: if you do not make haste, your fine silk slip will be nicely soused!"

The fear of having her slip spoiled, recalled her strength; she forgot her weariness, pinched feet, and tight-laced waist, and made all the haste she could to get under cover. In spite of all her efforts, however, she could not run so fast as her companions, who were not incommoded by their dresses. Every moment produced some obstacle to her speed; at one time by her hoop and flounces, in the narrow paths she had to pass through; at another, by her train, of which the furzes frequently took hold; and at others by Mons. Pomatum and Powder's fine scaffold work about her head, on which the wind beat down the branches of such trees as she was obliged, in her progress home, to pass under.

At last, down came the storm with great fury, and hail and rain, mixed, fell in torrents. All her companions were safe at home before it began; and none were exposed to its rage but poor Caroline, who, indeed, got home at last, but in a most disastrous condition. She had left one of her fine shoes behind her in a large muddy hole, which in her precipitate flight, she had hurried over without observing; and, to fill up the measure of her misfortunes, just as she had got over the meadow, a sudden gust of wind made free with her hat, and blew it into a pond of stagnated and filthy water.

So completely soaked was every thing she had on, and the heat and rain had so glued her linen to her, that it was with some difficulty they got her undressed; as to her silk slip, it indeed afforded a miserable spectacle of fallen pride and vanity.

Her mother, seeing her in tears, jocosely said to her, "My dear, shall I have another slip made up for you against to-morrow?"--"Oh no, mamma," answered Caroline, kissing her, "I am perfectly convinced, from experience, that fine clothes cannot add to the happiness of the wearer. Let me again have my nice white frock, and no more powder and pomatum till I am at least ten years older; for I am ashamed of my folly and vanity."

Caroline soon appeared in her former dress, and with it she recovered her usual ease and freedom, looking more modest and pleasing than she ever did in her gaudy finery. Her mamma did not regret the loss she had sustained in the wreck of the slip, fine shoes, and hat, since it produced the means of bringing her daughter back to reason and prudence.

(The end)
M. (Arnaud) Berquin's short story: Caroline; Or, A Lesson To Cure Vanity

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