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A Bad Habit
by [?]


“Oh, how much more doth beauty beauteous seem
By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!
The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem
For that sweet odour which doth in it live.”


My godmother, Lady Elizabeth, used to say, “Most things are matters of habit. Good habits and bad habits.” And she generally added, “Your bad habit, Selina, is a habit of grumbling.”

I was always accustomed to seeing great respect paid to anything my godmother said or did. In the first place, she was what Mrs. Arthur James Johnson called “a fine lady,” and what the maids called “a real lady.” She was an old friend and, I think, a relative of my father, who had married a little below his own rank–my mother being the daughter of a rich manufacturer. My father had died before I can remember things, and Joseph and I lived with our mother and her friends. At least, we were with our mother when she could bear the noise; and for the rest of our time, when we were tired of playing games together, we sat with the maids.

“That is where you learned your little toss and your trick of grumbling, my dear,” my godmother said, planting her gold eye-glasses on her high nose; “and that is why your mouth is growing out of shape, and your forehead getting puckered, and your chin poked, and–and your boots bulged crooked.”

My boots, godmother?”

“Your boots, my dear. No boots will keep in shape if you shake your hips and kick with your heels like a servant out Sunday walking. When little girls flounce on the high road, it only looks ridiculous; but when you grow up, you’ll never have a clean petticoat, or be known for a well-bred woman behind your back, unless you learn to walk as if your legs and your feelings were under your own control. That is why the sergeant is coming to-morrow and every week-day morning to drill you and Joseph from ten to eleven whilst you remain here.”

And my godmother pressed the leaves of the journal on her lap, and cut them quite straight and very decisively with a heavy ivory paper-knife.

I had never been taught that it is bad manners to mutter–nurse always talked to herself when she was “put out”–and, as I stood in much awe of Lady Elizabeth, I did not like to complain aloud of her arrangements. So I turned my doll with a sharp flounce in my arms, and muttered behind her tarlatan skirts that “I did think we were to have had whole holidays out visiting.”

I believe my godmother heard me; but she only looked at me for a moment over the top of her gold eye-glasses, and then went on reading the paper through them.

After a few moments, she laid it down on her lap with her left hand, and with her right hand took off her eye-glasses and held them between her fingers.

“I shall be sorry if you don’t grow up nice-looking, Selina,” she said. “It’s a great advantage to a woman–indeed, to anyone–to be good-looking. Your mother was a pretty woman, too; and your father–“

Lady Elizabeth stopped, and then, seeming suddenly to see that I was watching her and waiting, put her glasses before her eyes again, and continued–

“Your father was a very good-looking gentleman, with a fine face and a fine figure, beautiful eyes and mouth, very attractive hands, and most fascinating manners. It will be a pity if you don’t grow up nice-looking.”

I grew crimson, partly with mortification and partly with astonishment. I had a strong natural desire to be pretty, but I felt sure I had been taught somehow that it was much more meritorious not to care about it. It certainly did not please me when (if I had offended them) the maids said I should never be as pretty as Maud Mary Ibbetson, my bosom friend; but when nurse took the good looking-glass out of the nursery, and hung up the wavy one which used to be in her room instead, to keep me from growing vain, I did not dispute her statement that “the less little girls looked in the glass the better.” And when I went to see Maud Mary (who was the only child of rich parents, and had a cheval-glass in her own bed-room), it was a just satisfaction to me to feel that if she was prettier, and could see herself full length, she was probably vainer than I.