The Opera Cloak” mingles economic responsibility—the necessity of paying one’s debts promptly and of spending money wisely—with social responsibility—the sense that the economically well-off should keep in mind the needs of those with less money. The chain of events sparked by Louise’s failure to pay is reflected in pieces in The Youth’s Companion and other children’s magazines of the time.
“The Opera Cloak” (reprinted from the Ladies’ Repository; from The Youth’s Companion, June 6, 1861; pp. 89-90)

“See my new opera cloak, Miss Maxwell! Is it not beautiful?” exclaimed a gay and lovely girl, as she came smiling into her governess’s room, carrying in her hand a cape of white merino, tastefully and elaborately embroidered.

“It is, indeed, my dear, a very beautiful and elegant article!” replied the lady, surveying with evident admiration the rich and fanciful garment, now laid upon the graceful shoulders of her pupil.

“I am so glad to get it to-day,” said the young lady, with animation; “I want it to wear to the concert this evening.”

“Of course it is paid for,” remarked Miss Maxwell, after a momentary pause.

“No, ma’am, not yet,” was the stammering avowal. “I have not the money till the first of the month, when I shall receive my allowance from papa.”

“Sit down, Louise,” said Miss Maxwell, gravely; then, taking the handsome cape, she folded and laid it on a side table, and, seating herself near her pupil, she asked,

“How has it happened, my dear, that you are without money to pay for this beautiful work?”

“Well, Miss Maxwell, I have not been more extravagant in my personal expenditures this month than usual,” pleaded Louise; “but there have been more demands of a charitable nature on my purse, which I could not refuse; and last Sunday, you know, the missionary collection was taken up in church, and the minister was so urgent, that I put all the money in my pocket on the plate. That was what left me short—and I know you will not blame me for giving to a good cause.”

“I never blame you, my love, for spending your money as you please, so long as you spend only your own; but in this case, I am sorry to say, you have not been quite honest.” Louise started. “It sounds severely,[”] continued Miss Maxwell, “but I wish you, dear, to see the matter in its true light. From the day on which you ordered that article, the price of it was no longer at your disposal; it remained with you, in trust for the workwoman, to be paid her when your order should be executed, and you have no right to expend it. It is well to give in the cause of charity—‘God loveth a cheerful giver’—but the laborer has the first claim on our consideration; the wages of work are legal dues, which should be satisfied before we can afford to be generous.”

“I am sorry that it has happened,” said Louise, “but it would have been worse if Miss Doyle had been a poor person who needed the money.”

“All are in need who work for hire,” responded the governess; “and their earnings are often as acceptable to persons of genteel appearance as if they were in the condition of those whom you designate poor. But the point at issue is not whether the employed party is an object of commiseration; what wages are earned should be freely and promptly paid; and more of the spirit of true charity is contained in this simple adherence to justice than the most profuse alms-giving displays.”

Miss Maxwell paused; and then, as was

p. 90

her wont when instructing her pupil in any principle or duty, she took her Bible, and opening it, handed it to Louise, designating a passage, and the young lady read in low tones, “The wages of him that is hired shall not abide with thee all night till the morning.” Without removing the book from her pupil’s hand, she turned over a few leaves, and Louise again read: “At his day thou shalt give him his hire, neither shall the sun go down upon it; for he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it; lest he cry against thee unto the Lord, and it be sin unto thee.”

“Such were the commands of God to his ancient people,” said the governess; “and that the Christian Church was bound by the same law we also see,” as, turning quickly to the Epistic of James, she pointed to a verse, handing the book to Louise, who read: “Behold the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.”

Miss Maxwell had nothing to add to the words of Scripture; and kissing her fair pupil, she dismissed the subject with a hope that the error would not occur again.

For some time the young lady sat still, evidently in deep thought. At length she spoke.

“I have been thinking, Miss Maxwell,” she said, “that perhaps Miss Doyle did require that money. Upon recalling the scene, it seems to me that her countenance expressed disappointment when I sait that I could not pay her to-day. Perhaps, ma’am”—and the rosy lips quivered, and the long lashes drooped over the downcast eyes as she continued—“perhaps you could kindly oblige me with the amount till—”

“Certainly, dear, I will gladly supply you,” said the governess, cheerfully.

“And, Miss Maxwell, I should like to go with the money myself and apologize to Miss Doyle, if it would not be troubling you too much to ask you to accompany me.”

“Indeed, my love, I shall go with much pleasure,” was the ready assurance; and pupil and preceptress were soon out upon the honest errand.

In a plain boarding-house in a retired street, the ladies found the embroiderer; and Louise’s heart sunk, when Miss Doyle appeared, to perceive that her eyes were red from recent weeping. The money was immediately tendered, accompanied by a frank apology; and then came a tale of difficulty which brought tears to the soft eyes of the child of prosperity.

Miss Doyle was not suffering from hunger or cold, but want of sufficient employment had left her in debt to her landlady, and the sum to be received for the opera cloak had been promised to defray this debt; but the work was finished, and the embroiderer brought home no money to her landlady. This tried the temper of the latter, who uttered some hard things against the honesty of her boarder; expressed a doubt that a rich man’s daughter could be without cash in her purse, intimated that the money had been received and disposed of in some other way, and over this insult the embroiderer had been weeping when her visitors arrived.

Louise asked to see the landlady, determined to take all the blame of this unpleasant affair upon herself; and then she learned that the poor woman owed a bill to her butcher, and, relying upon Miss Doyle’s expectancy, she had promised to pay him that day. But Miss Doyle failed to pay her; consequently, she was obliged to break her word with the butcher, who was so rudely abusive under the disappointment, that she became irritated to say to Miss Doyle more than she could have wished.

The lesson received that day by the fair daughter of fortune was of lasting avail; and now, as the wife of one of our most distinguished citizens, she is known, by all the working community, for honor in her dealings, and punctuality in her payments.—Ladies’ Repository.

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