Sunday, 23 March 2014

28 July 1900 - 'The Law of Order and How Beryl Came to Observe it' Chapter 4 - Letter-Writting, Etiquette for a Fiancee

“Aunt Hester, I have a good many questions I want to ask you, and if there are other things besides the answers to them which I ought to know, you will tell  me, I am sure.  What made me first think of asking you about it all was that May bought some new letter and note paper the other day and I did not like it at all.  Some of it had little bunches of flowers and orchids embossed in the corner, and the others had views, and I did not like it.  It struck me that I had never noticed nice people using anything so fanciful.”

Mother smiled.

“For a school-girl like May it is really of no consequence, Beryl, but for an older girl it is not in good taste.  A girl may have her Christian name on her paper – never on the envelope – and she may sometimes use coloured paper if it happens to be the fashion at the time to do.  For older people it is not considered in good taste to have a Christian name on paper, but they may have coloured paper.  As a rule though, plain paper and envelopes is considered in the best style, and you should use that of a good quality.  Paper is cheap in these days, and a lady should be careful not only to se what is good, but she should always get paper and envelopes to match exactly.  It looks very untidy to see large paper folded several times into a small envelope, or a large envelope used for small paper.”

“Should the address be printed or stamped on one’s paper?”

“Yes, in clear letters, either in white or coloured.  If people are in mourning, the stamping should be in black.  By the way, Beryl, I think I need hardly tell you that letters should never be crossed.”

“I do cross mine sometimes,” admitted Beryl, and mother pretended to look severe.

“Crossed letters are extremely difficult to read,” said mother, “and I hardly think that one should inflict the trouble of doing so upon the receiver of the letter.  In the olden days, when postage was so dear, there might possibly be some excuse for it, but in these days there is none.”

“I had not thought much about it before,” said Beryl.

“Another bit of advice I must give you is, never to answer an annoying letter when you are still angry.  Always sleep over the matter, Beryl, and do more than that – ask guidance in the matter from the One Who will most assuredly give it to those who seek it.”

Later on, when Beryl became engaged to Ernest Trevor, I remember Beryl saying, “Clare, dear, what about letters declaring an engagement?”

“If a girl has a mother she is the person who tells people of the engagement,” I answered.  “I know mother did it in my case and said it was correct to do so, but as you have not the blessing of a mother, your father can tell them.”

“But he is out all day and never pays visits; he will not come across the people.”

“Can I be of use, as I am your cousin?”

“Oh do, Clare, please, that will be lovely,” said Beryl.  “I haven’t told you yet – Mr and Mrs Trevor called on us yesterday.”

“Then, dear, you must return the visit very soon, and you will also get letters, I am sure, from his sisters and brother.”

“Yes.  Ernest said they would write.”

“Those letters must be answered at once.”

“The Trevors were so nice to me,” said Beryl.  “They have actually brought Ernest up, as he lost his parents when he was a child, and his brother and sisters were brought up by other relations.  I think I shall like my ‘in-laws’ from all I have heard of them.”

“I am always so glad that the old-fashioned ideas which obtained about engaged people have been somewhat modified nowadays.”

“What do you mean?” inquired Beryl. 

“When mother was engaged to my father, they were never allowed to be together without a chaperon.”

“How dreadful!” exclaimed Beryl.  “They must have hated it.”

“Yes; but as most engaged people in their class of life were subjected to the same restrictions, they made the best of it.  They never rode, drove or walked out together either.  Many people even nowadays cling to this plan, and a very absurd one it seems.  People who are to spend their lives together as husband and wife must have a good deal to say to each other in private and every right, I should say, to claim a certain amount of liberty in these respects.”

“I am very glad, I am sure,” said Beryl, “for of course I want to see all I can of Ernest, and yet I  know father would strongly object to my doing anything that was not usual amongst gentlepeople, nor should I wish it myself.”

“You should not, however, go to places of public amusement without a chaperon,” I said; “that you will remember.”

“Yes.  Ernest and I are very likely to meet often as we know so many of the same people.”

“If you meet at a dinner party, you will be sent in together,” I remarked, “but at parties you must be careful, Beryl, not to make yourself conspicuous by sitting very much together.”

“I have been told that engaged girls do not go out much.  Is that the case?” inquired Beryl.

“It all depends upon the length of the engagement.  If it is a short one, then it is better to go out as little as possible; if a long one, then of course they are more free to go out.  But in either case if an engaged couple meet often in general society, they should remember that good taste required that they should make themselves as little conspicuous as possible.”

“I am sure that I should naturally shrink from being conspicuous,” said Beryl, and I was sure that she meant what she said.

Beryl seemed very happy, and we were all very much pleased at her engagement to Ernest.  He was such a high-principled young fellow, and his aunt and uncle were as devoted to him as he was to them.  I think, from what Beryl said afterwards, that it was his manifest affection for his uncle and aunt and his charming manners when with them that attracted her at first.  Whoever might be there, he never neglected them, and never seemed to find it a trouble to play chess with his uncle or listen to Mrs Trevor’s stories, which, I most confess, are sometimes rather tedious, as she repeats herself over and over again.

Carelessness in regard to the small observances of social life, the inattention to details of courtesy, the brusque manner, are all very offensive.  Much of it may be caused by want of thought certainly, but it is a thing greatly to be deprecated.  Many girls in these days show little or no respect to their elders; their way of speaking to their parents is offensive in the extreme.  They contradict them, assert their own opinions, ignore them just as they please, never showing them all those little attentions which parents have a right to expect from their children of whatever age.

I have seen homes where the daughters never forgot the deference due to their parents.  They were ready always to spare them all trouble, get what they wanted, open the door for their mothers, carry things for her and render her every service in their power, and it has been very charming.  Brothers and sisters too, among themselves should cultivate polite manners to each other, and not think that their close relationship dispenses them from courtesy and civility towards each other.  Sisters ought to let their brothers wait upon them, not vice versa, and the manliest of boys and young men are often the most careful of their sisters, eager to pay them the very same attentions that they would pay to their own friends.

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