Thin Shoes by T.S. Arthur
"Why, Lizzy, dear!" exclaimed Uncle Thomas, to his pretty niece, Miss Walton, as she stepped upon the pavement from her mother's dwelling, one morning in midwinter--"You are not going in this trim?"
"In what trim?" said Lizzy, glancing first at her gloves, then upon her dress, and then placing her hand upon her neck and bosom to feel if all was right there. "Is any thing wrong with my dress, uncle?"
"Just look at your feet."
"At my feet!" And Lizzy's eyes fell to the ground. "I don't see any thing the matter with them."
"Why, child, you have nothing on your feet but paper-soled French lasting boots."
"They have thick soles, uncle."
"Thick! If you call them thick, you will have to find a new term for thinness. Go right back, and put on your leather boots."
"Leather boots!" Lizzy's voice and countenance showed an undisguised amazement.
"Yes, leather boots. You certainly wouldn't think of going out on a day like this without having your feet well protected with leather boots."
"Leather boots! Why, Uncle Thomas!"--and the musical laugh of Miss Walton echoed on the air--"who ever heard of such a thing?"
Uncle Thomas glanced involuntarily down at his own thick, double-soled, calfskin understandings.
"Boots like them!" exclaimed the merry girl, laughing again.
"But come along, my good uncle," she added more seriously, drawing her arm within his, and attempting to move away. "We'll have all the neighbourhood staring at us. You can't be in earnest, I'm sure, about my wearing clumsy leather boots. Nancy, the Irish cook, has a pair; but I"----
"And pray, Lizzy," returned the old gentleman, as he yielded to the impulse given him by his niece, and moved down the street beside her--"are you so much heartier than Nancy, so much stouter and stronger, that you can bear exposure to damp and even wet pavements, in thin shoes, while she will not venture out unless with feet well protected by leather boots?"
"My shoes are not thin, uncle," persisted Lizzy. "They have thick soles."
"Not thin! Thick soles! Look at mine."
Lizzy laughed aloud, as she glanced down at her uncle's heavy boots, at the thought of having her delicate feet encased in leather.
"Look at mine!" repeated Uncle Thomas. "And am I so much more delicate than you are?"
But Miss Walton replied to all this serious remonstrance of her uncle (who was on a visit from a neighbouring town) with laughing evasion.
A week of very severe weather had filled the gutters and blocked the crossings with ice. To this had succeeded rain, but not of long enough continuance to free the streets from their icy encumbrance. A clear, warm day for the season followed; and it was on this day that Miss Walton and her uncle went out for the purpose of calling on a friend or two, and then visiting the Art-Union Gallery.
Uncle Thomas Walton was the brother of Lizzy's father. The latter died some few years before, of pulmonary consumption. Lizzy, both in appearance and bodily constitution, resembled her father. She was now in her nineteenth year, her veins full of young life, and her spirits as buoyant as the opening spring. It was just four years since the last visit of Uncle Thomas to the city--four years since he had looked upon the fair face of his beautiful niece. Greatly had she changed in that time. When last he kissed her blushing cheek, she was a half-grown school-girl--now she burst upon him a lovely and accomplished young woman.
But Uncle Thomas did not fail to observe in his niece certain signs, that he understood too well as indications of a frail and susceptible constitution. Two lovely sisters, who had grown up by his side, their charms expanding like summer's sweetest flowers, had, all at once, drooped, faded, withered, and died. Long years had they been at rest; but their memory was still green in his heart. When he looked upon the pure face of his niece, it seemed to Uncle Thomas as if a long-lost sister were restored to him in the freshness and beauty of her young and happy life ere the breath of the destroyer was upon her. No wonder that he felt concern when he thought of the past. No wonder that he made remonstrance against her exposure, in thin shoes, to cold and damp pavements. But Lizzy had no fear. She understood not how fatal a predisposition lurked in her bosom.
The calls were made; the Art-Union Gallery visited, and then Uncle Thomas and his niece returned home. But the enjoyment of the former had only been partial; for he could think of little else, and see little else, besides Lizzy's thin shoes and the damp pavements.
The difficulty of crossing the streets, without stepping into the water, was very great; and, in spite of every precaution, Lizzy's feet dipped several times into little pools of ice-water, that instantly penetrated the light materials of which her shoes were made. In consequence, she had a slight hoarseness by the time she reached home, and Uncle Thomas noticed that the colour on her cheeks was very much heightened.
"Now go and change your shoes and stockings, immediately," said he, as soon as they entered the house. "Your feet must be thoroughly saturated."
"Oh no, indeed they are not," replied Lizzy. "At the most, they are only a little damp."
"A little damp!" said the old gentleman, seriously. "The grass waves over many a fair young girl, who, but for damp feet, would now be a source of joy to her friends."
"Why, uncle, how strangely you talk!" exclaimed Lizzy, becoming a little serious in turn. Just then Mrs. Walton came in.
"Do, sister," said the old gentleman, "see that this thoughtless girl of yours changes her wet stockings and shoes immediately. She smiles at my concern."
"Why, Lizzy dear," interposed Mrs. Walton, "how can you be so imprudent! Go and put on dry stockings at once."
Lizzy obeyed, and as she left the room, her uncle said--
"How can you permit that girl to go upon the street, in midwinter, with shoes almost as thin as paper."
"Her shoes have thick soles," replied Mrs. Walton. "You certainly don't think that I would let her wear thin shoes on a day like this."
Uncle Thomas was confounded. Thick shoes! French lasting, and soles of the thickness of half-a-dollar!
"She ought to have leather boots, sister," said the old gentleman earnestly. "Stout leather boots. Nothing less can be called a protection for the feet in damp, wintry weather."
Mrs. Walton seemed little less surprised than her daughter had been at the same suggestion.
"It is a damp, cold day," said Uncle Thomas.
"True, but Lizzy was warmly clad. I am very particular on this point, knowing the delicacy of her constitution. She never goes out in winter-time without her furs."
"Furs for the neck and hands, and lasting shoes and thin cotton stockings for the feet!"
"Thick-soled boots," said Mrs. Walton, quickly.
"There are thick-soled boots."
And the old gentleman thrust out both of his feet, well clad in heavy calfskin.
Mrs. Walton could not keep from laughing, as the image of her daughter's feet, thus encased, presented itself to her mind.
"Perhaps," said Uncle Thomas, just a little captiously, "Lizzy has a stronger constitution than I have, and can bear a great deal more. For my part, I would almost as lief take a small dose of poison as go out, on a day like this, with nothing on my feet but thin cotton stockings and lasting shoes."
"Boots," interposed Mrs. Walton.
"I call them boots," said the old gentleman, glancing down again at his stout double-soled calfskins.
But it was of no avail that Uncle Thomas entered his protest against thin shoes, when, in the estimation of city ladies, they were "thick." And so, in due time, he saw his error and gave up the argument.
When Lizzy came down from her room, her colour was still high--much higher than usual, and her voice, as she spoke, was a very little veiled. But she was in fine spirits, and talked away merrily. Uncle Thomas did not, however, fail to observe that every little while she cleared her throat with a low h-h-em; and he knew that this was occasioned by an increased secretion of mucus by the lining membrane of the throat, consequent upon slight inflammation. The cause he attributed to thin shoes and wet feet; and he was not far wrong. The warm boa and muff were not sufficient safeguards for the throat when the feet were exposed to cold and wet.
That evening, at tea-time, Mr. Walton observed that Lizzy eat scarcely any thing, and that her face was a little pale. He also noted an expression that indicated either mental or bodily suffering--not severe, but enough to make itself visible.
"Are you not well?" he asked.
"Oh yes, very well," was the quick reply.
"You are fatigued, then?"
"Go early to bed. A night's sleep will restore all."
Mr. Walton said this, rather because he hoped than believed that it would be so.
"Oh yes. A night's rest is all I want," replied Lizzy.
But she erred in this.
"Where is Lizzy?" asked Mr. Walton, on meeting his sister-in-law at the breakfast-table on the next morning. The face of the latter wore a sober expression.
"Not very well, I am sorry to say," was the answer.
"What ails her?"
"She has taken a bad cold; I hardly know how--perhaps from getting her feet wet yesterday; and is so hoarse this morning that she can scarcely speak above a whisper."
"I feared as much," was the old gentleman's reply. "Have you sent for your doctor?"
"Then do so immediately. A constitution like her's will not bear the shock of a bad cold, unless it is met instantly by appropriate remedies."
In due time the family physician came. He looked serious when he saw the condition of his patient.
"To what are you indebted for this?" he asked.
"To thin shoes," was the prompt reply of the uncle, who was present.
"I have warned you against this more than once," said the doctor, in a tone of gentle reproof.
"Oh, no; brother is mistaken," spoke up Mrs. Walton. "She wore thick-soled shoes. But the streets, as you know, were very wet yesterday, and it was impossible to keep the feet dry."
"If she had worn good, stout, sensible leather boots, as she ought to have done, the water would never have touched her feet," said Mr. Walton.
"You had on your gums?" remarked the physician, turning to Lizzy.
"They are so clumsy and unsightly--I never like to wear them," answered the patient, in a husky whisper, and then she coughed hoarsely.
The doctor made no reply to this, but looked more serious.
Medicine was prescribed and taken; and, for two weeks, the physician was in daily attendance. The inflammation first attacked Lizzy's throat--descended and lingered along the bronchial tubes, and finally fixed itself upon her lungs. From this dangerous place it was not dislodged, as an acute disease, until certain constitutional predispositions had been aroused into activity. In fact, the latent seeds of that fatal disease, known as consumption, were at this time vivified. Dormant they might have lain for years--perhaps through life--if all exciting causes had been shunned. Alas! the principle of vitality was now awakened.
Slowly, very slowly, did strength return to the body of Miss Walton. Not until the spring opened was she permitted to go forth into the open air. Then her pale cheek, and slow, feeble steps, showed too plainly the fearful shock her system had received.
A week or two after his remonstrance with his niece about her thin shoes, Mr. Walton returned home. Several letters received by him during the winter advised him of the state of Lizzy's health. In the spring her mother wrote to him--
"Lizzy is much better. The warm weather, I trust, will completely restore her."
But the old gentleman knew better. He had been a deeply interested party in a case like her's before. He knew that summer, with its warm and fragrant airs, would not bring back the bloom to her cheeks. In July came another epistle.
"The hot weather is so debilitating for Lizzy, that I am about taking her to the sea-shore."
Uncle Thomas sighed as he read this, permitted the letter to droop from before his eyes, and sat for some time gazing upon vacancy. Far back his thoughts had wandered, and before the eyes of his mind was the frail, fading form of a beloved sister, who had, years before, left her place and her mission upon the earth, and passed up higher.
"The doctor says that I must go South with Lizzy," wrote Mrs. Walton early in December, "and spend the winter. We leave for Charleston next Tuesday, and may pass over to Havana."
Uncle Thomas sighed as before, and then became lost in a sad reverie. He had been to Havana with both of his sisters. The warm South had been of use to them. It prolonged, but did not save their lives.
And so the months passed on--the seasons came and went--but health, alas! returned not to the veins of the lovely girl.
It was an autumn day, nearly two years after that fatal cold, taken in consequence of wearing thin shoes, that Mr. Walton received a letter sealed with a black seal.
"As I feared," he murmured, in a low, sad voice, gazing half-abstractedly upon the missive. He knew too well its contents. "Dear child! I saw this from the beginning."
And the old man's eyes became dim with moisture.
He had not erred in his conjecture. Lizzy Walton was dead.