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Best American Humorous Short Stories

Titbottom's Spectacles
BY GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS (1824-1892)
[From Putnam's Monthly, December, 1854. Republished in the volume, Prue and I
(1856), by George William Curtis (Harper & Brothers).]
In my mind's eye, Horatio.
Prue and I do not entertain much; our means forbid it. In truth, other people entertain for
us. We enjoy that hospitality of which no account is made. We see the show, and hear the
music, and smell the flowers of great festivities, tasting as it were the drippings from rich
dishes. Our own dinner service is remarkably plain, our dinners, even on state occasions,
are strictly in keeping, and almost our only guest is Titbottom. I buy a handful of roses as
I come up from the office, perhaps, and Prue arranges them so prettily in a glass dish for
the centre of the table that even when I have hurried out to see Aurelia step into her
carriage to go out to dine, I have thought that the bouquet she carried was not more
beautiful because it was more costly. I grant that it was more harmonious with her superb
beauty and her rich attire. And I have no doubt that if Aurelia knew the old man, whom
she must have seen so often watching her, and his wife, who ornaments her sex with as
much sweetness, although with less splendor, than Aurelia herself, she would also
acknowledge that the nosegay of roses was as fine and fit upon their table as her own
sumptuous bouquet is for herself. I have that faith in the perception of that lovely lady. It
is at least my habit--I hope I may say, my nature, to believe the best of people, rather than
the worst. If I thought that all this sparkling setting of beauty--this fine fashion--these
blazing jewels and lustrous silks and airy gauzes, embellished with gold-threaded
embroidery and wrought in a thousand exquisite elaborations, so that I cannot see one of
those lovely girls pass me by without thanking God for the vision--if I thought that this
was all, and that underneath her lace flounces and diamond bracelets Aurelia was a
sullen, selfish woman, then I should turn sadly homewards, for I should see that her
jewels were flashing scorn upon the object they adorned, and that her laces were of a
more exquisite loveliness than the woman whom they merely touched with a superficial
grace. It would be like a gaily decorated mausoleum--bright to see, but silent and dark
within.
"Great excellences, my dear Prue," I sometimes allow myself to say, "lie concealed in the
depths of character, like pearls at the bottom of the sea. Under the laughing, glancing
surface, how little they are suspected! Perhaps love is nothing else than the sight of them
by one person. Hence every man's mistress is apt to be an enigma to everybody else. I
have no doubt that when Aurelia is engaged, people will say that she is a most admirable
girl, certainly; but they cannot understand why any man should be in love with her. As if
it were at all necessary that they should! And her lover, like a boy who finds a pearl in the
public street, and wonders as much that others did not see it as that he did, will tremble
until he knows his passion is returned; feeling, of course, that the whole world must be in
love with this paragon who cannot possibly smile upon anything so unworthy as he."
 
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