Chapter XVI.

“Weak and irresolute is man;  

The purpose of to-day  

Woven with pains into his plan,  

To-morrow rends away.” COWPER.

{William Cowper (English poet, 1731-1800), “Human Frailty” lines 1-4}

AFTER an absence of a week, or ten days, Harry returned to Wyllys- Roof, not at all sorry to hear that he was too late to see the Grahams, as they were going to New York the next morning. He was very attentive to Elinor — pointedly so. Once or twice, she was going to jest with him upon the subject, and inquire the cause of this studied gallantry; but observing he was still a little out of spirits, she contented herself with thanking him for the books he had brought her.

The next day proved so mild, so hazy, and Indian-summer-like, that Hazlehurst proposed to take advantage of it, to give the ladies a row on the river. They were out for a couple of hours, landed on the opposite bank, and paid a visit to their friends, the Bernards, who lived a mile or two below them. The air was delightful, the country looked beautiful — fresher, perhaps, than at midsummer; for the heat was no longer parching, and the September showers had washed away the dust, and brought out the green grass again. Harry had become interested in the conversation, and was particularly agreeable; Miss Agnes was pleased with his remarks, and Elinor thought she had never passed a pleasanter morning; she was little aware that it was to be followed by many anxious, painful days.

They landed, as usual, at the boat-house; and the ladies prepared to walk slowly across the lawn, while Harry secured the boat and oars. As they approached the house, they were surprised to see several of the servants collected on the piazza, listening so intently to a lad that they did not see the ladies. Old Hetty, a superannuated negro cook, who had lived all her life in the family, was wringing her hands and wiping her eyes with her apron; while Mammy Sarah, Elinor’s former nurse, a respectable white woman, was talking to the boy.

Elinor quickened her pace, and hastened before her aunt, to inquire into the cause of this distress.

“What is it, Mammy?” she asked, on reaching the piazza. “What is the matter?”

“Oh, dearie me; Miss Elly, Miss Elly!” exclaimed old Hetty; with a fresh burst of tears.

“Tell us — Hetty — Mammy — what has happened?” said Miss Wyllys, as she approached.

“Oh, Miss Aggess, Miss Aggess — dreadful news!” said the old negro woman, burying her face in her apron.

“My father?” asked Miss Agnes, faintly, and trembling with alarm.

“No, ma’am,” said Mammy Sarah, looking very sad, however; “Mr. Wyllys is very well, and we were hoping he would come in before you, so that we could get at the truth.”

“Let us hear what you have to say, at once, Mammy,” continued Miss Agnes, anxiously.

“Billy, here, has brought bad news from Longbridge.”

“Dreadful news!” interposed old Hetty. “Oh, Miss Aggess! Billy say Miss Jane — ”

“What is it? — Speak plainly!” cried Miss Wyllys.

“There’s an accident happened to the steamboat,” added Mammy.

“B’iler bust — dearie me — Miss Jane’s scall to death!” exclaimed Hetty.

A cry of horror burst from Elinor and her aunt, and they turned towards Mammy Sarah.

“I hope it isn’t quite so bad, ma’am,” said Mammy; “but Billy says the steamboat boiler did really burst after she had got only half a mile from the wharf.”

A second sufficed for Miss Agnes and Elinor to remember Hetty’s fondness for marvels and disasters, and they hoped ardently that the present account might be exaggerated. They turned to the boy: “What had he heard?” “Whom had he seen?” Billy reported that he had seen the boat himself; that he had heard the cries from her decks, which the people in the street thought had come from some horses on board, that must have been scalded; that another boat had gone out to the Longbridge steamer, and had towed her to a wharf a few rods from the spot where the accident happened; that he had seen, himself, a man on horseback, coming for the doctor; and the people told him five horses had been killed, two men badly hurt, and Mr. Graham’s eldest daughter was scalded so badly that she was not expected to live.

Miss Wyllys’s anxiety increased on hearing the boy’s story; she ordered the carriage instantly, determined that under any circumstances, it would be best to go to Longbridge at once, either to discover the truth, or to assist Mrs. Graham in nursing Jane, if she were really badly injured.

At this moment, Harry returned from the boat-house.

“What is the matter?” he exclaimed, springing up the piazza steps, and looking round upon the sad and anxious faces.

“We have heard bad news from Longbridge,” said Miss Wyllys; but before she could explain herself, old Hetty burst into tears again, and turning to Hazlehurst, exclaimed:

“Oh, Massa Harry! — dreadful news! — Miss Jane scall to death in steamboat!”

Miss Wyllys was so much struck with the effect of these words on Harry, that for an instant she forgot to say “she trusted the story had been exaggerated.” Hazlehurst lost all colour — stood speechless and motionless for a moment. Elinor was too much agitated herself to speak. Suddenly, Harry met Miss Agnes’ eye; he turned from her, rushed through the house, and continued walking rapidly up and down the avenue, apparently forgetful of everything but his own feelings. Amid all her anxiety for Jane, Miss Wyllys could not but remark Hazlehurst’s manner — he seemed entirely overcome by his emotion; and yet he had not asked one question, nor made one offer to do anything for Elinor, or herself; and one would have thought it more natural that at such a moment he should have remained with them, pained and distressed as they were. Elinor only thought that Hazlehurst’s feelings did credit to his heart; her own was full of grief for the suffering of her playfellow and companion, whom she had loved almost as a sister.

Some twenty minutes were passed in this manner by the aunt and niece, with feelings better understood than described. They were waiting for the carriage, and nothing could be done in the mean time; it seemed an age to Elinor before the coachman could be found, and the horses harnessed. While her aunt and herself were in tears, pacing the piazza together, they were surprised by the appearance, on the Longbridge road, of the old-fashioned chair in which Mr. Wyllys usually drove about his farm. Miss Agnes distinctly saw her father driving, with a lady at his side. They were approaching at a very steady, quiet pace. As they entered the gate, Miss Agnes and Elinor hastened to meet them; they saw Harry stopping to speak to Mr. Wyllys, and then Miss Wyllys heard her father’s voice calling to herself.

{“chair” = a light, one-horse carriage}

“All safe!” he cried. “It was a misunderstanding; Jane is quite well; though a poor young woman, bearing the same name, has been scalded.”

“We were in hopes the news had not reached you yet,” said Mrs. George Wyllys, who accompanied her father-in-law. “We were all dreadfully alarmed, at first, for the accident was very much exaggerated.”

Miss Wyllys and Elinor were too thankful for Jane’s escape, to express anything but the relief they felt on hearing of her safety.

“No one killed,” continued Mr. Wyllys. “They lost a couple of horses; two of the men were hurt, but not dangerously; and the new chambermaid, whose name is Jane Graham, had her feet badly scalded. But there is so little harm done, considering what might have happened, that we have reason to be very thankful for every one on board.”

“You may imagine how much alarmed I was,” continued Mrs. Wyllys; “for I happened to be sitting at my own window, which overlooks the river, you know, and I heard the noise and cries from the boat, and knew the Grahams were on board.”

Long explanations followed: Mr. Wyllys had had his fright too. He had heard at the saddler’s, that half Mr. Graham’s family were killed. Now, however, it only remained for them to be thankful that their friends had all escaped, and to hope Jane’s namesake would soon recover.

“But how long is it since you heard the story? why did you not send Harry off at once, to get at the truth?” asked Mr. Wyllys.

“We were going ourselves,” replied Miss Agnes.

“What has become of Harry? — Where is he?” asked her father.

But Harry had disappeared.

“He was much distressed at the news,” said Elinor.

“No wonder; it was a horrible idea. But he should have jumped on horseback, and rode over to Longbridge to find out the truth.”

Elinor looked round once more for Hazlehurst, as they entered the house; but he was certainly not there.

“And what are the Grahams going to do?” asked Miss Wyllys.

“They are off again this afternoon,” replied her father, taking a seat on the sofa.

Hazlehurst was not seen again all the morning. Dinner came, and he had not joined the family.

“He is in his room,” said Elinor; “I heard him walking as I passed his door. I am afraid he is not well.”

The servant who was sent to let him know that dinner was on table, returned with the answer, that Mr. Hazlehurst had a bad head-ache, and begged Miss Wyllys would excuse him.

“That long row in the sun must have given Harry a head-ache, Aunt Agnes,” said Elinor; “I am sorry we went so far.”

“Perhaps so,” said Miss Agnes; although she did not seem wholly to be of Elinor’s opinion.

“Hazlehurst is no such tender chicken, Nelly; you must not spoil him, child — do you hear?” said her grandfather, smiling in a way that made Elinor colour. Miss Agnes was silent during dinner; but as the whole family had scarcely recovered from the alarm of the morning, the shade of anxiety on her face was not remarked.

Harry remained in his room. As he had requested not to be disturbed, he was left alone. Once, however, in the course of the evening, a knock was heard at his door, and a servant appeared.

“Miss Elinor sends you a cup of tea, sir, and hopes your head is better,” said Thomas.

“Miss Elinor is very good — I am much obliged to her,” was Harry’s answer, in a low, thick voice; but the cup of tea remained untasted, while Hazlehurst resumed his walk across the room. When, shortly after, Elinor’s voice was heard singing her grandfather’s favourite air of Robin Adair in lower tones than usual, Harry again started from the table, where he had laid pen and paper preparatory to writing, and striking his hand against his forehead, he exclaimed:

{“Robin Adair” = Irish folksong, though often identified with Scotland, with words ca. 1750 by Lady Caroline Keppel; Elinor sings it (the only tune ever specified) at crucial moments in the novel. The words are:

What made th’Assembly shine — Robin Adair.  What made the Ball so fine — Robin was there.  What when the Play was o’er — What made my heart so sore.  Oh! it was parting with Robin Adair.    But now thou’rt cold to me — Robin Adair.  But now thou’rt cold to me — Robin Adair.  Yet him I lov’d so well — Still in my heart shall dwell.  Oh! I can ne’er forget, Robin Adair.    Yet would he love again — Robin Adair.  Yet would he love again — Robin Adair.  Then how happy I should live, Nothing my heart would grieve,  But be forever bless’d, with Robin Adair.}

“Ungrateful wretch, that I am!”

The next morning Elinor was up early, and taking the garden basket, she went out to gather all the late flowers she could find, to fill a jar for the drawing-room — singing gaily, as she went from bush to bush, and gathering here a sprig of honeysuckle, there violets or a late rose, blooming out of season, and a few other straggling blossoms. After loitering about the garden for half an hour, she returned to the house. She was surprised to see the coachman, at that early hour, driving up the avenue in the little wagon used for errands about the country.

“Where have you been, Williams?” she asked, as he drove past her towards the stable.

“To carry Mr. Hazlehurst over to Upper Lewiston, in time for the six o’clock boat, Miss.”

Elinor could scarcely believe what she had heard. At the same moment, Mr. Wyllys stepped out on the piazza.

“What is this, Elinor?” he asked. “They tell me Harry is off; — did you see him this morning?”

Elinor was obliged to say she had not.

“What can it mean! did he get any letters by last night’s mail?”

“Not that I know of,” said Elinor, much surprised, and a little alarmed.

They found Miss Agnes in the drawing-room; she, it seemed, already knew of Hazlehurst’s departure. She said little on the subject, but looked anxious and absent. Elinor scarcely knew what to think; she was afraid to trust herself to make any inquiries, preferring to wait until alone with her aunt after breakfast. The meal passed over in silence. Mr. Wyllys looked uneasy; Elinor was at a loss to know what to think; neither of the ladies paid much attention to the morning meal that day.

Miss Agnes rose from table, and went to her own room; Elinor, neglecting her usual task as housekeeper, hastened to follow her aunt, her mind filled with indistinct fears and anxieties. Miss Agnes was walking about her room, looking pained and distressed. Several letters were lying on a table near her; two were unopened; one she had been reading.

“Letters! — my dear Aunt, from whom? Tell me, I conjure you, what you know! Has anything happened to Louisa — to Jane? Did Harry leave no message for me?” cried Elinor, hurrying towards her aunt, whose face she watched for an answer to each question, as she asked it. Miss Wyllys made an effort to compose herself, and held out her hand to Elinor.

“My dearest Aunt! — pray tell me what distresses you — Ha! Harry’s handwriting!” she exclaimed, as her eye fell on the open letter by Miss Wyllys — “I know that letter is from Harry; do not conceal anything; is it for me?”

“This letter is to me, my child,” replied her aunt, taking up the one she had been reading; wishing to give Elinor all the preparation in her power, for a blow which she knew must fall heavily, since it was so entirely unexpected.

“But there are two other letters,” cried Elinor, “one of them is for me, I am sure. Let me see it at once, Aunt; you cannot deny that it is for me — and if it contain bad news, you know that I can command myself when necessary.”

Miss Agnes’s hand trembled as she took the letters.

“My child! My beloved Elinor!” she said.

“Dearest Aunt, you torture me! Tell me, I beseech you, what we have to fear!”

“You shall know all,” Miss Agnes replied, seating herself; and endeavouring to be calm. “You will be much distressed, my child; but I know that you will be now, what you always have been, reasonable, and true to yourself — to your grandfather — to me,” added Miss Wyllys, in a voice almost inarticulate.

A thousand indistinct ideas passed through Elinor’s mind with the rapidity of lightning, while her aunt was speaking; illness of some absent friend suggested itself — yet who could it be? Not Harry, surely, for he had gone over to Upper Lewiston that morning — yet her fears instinctively centred upon Hazlehurst.

“It is something relating to Harry, I am sure,” she said. “Is he ill? — is he in trouble?” she asked in a faint voice, while a prayer for resignation sprang from her heart, with the words.

“You are right,” replied Miss Wyllys, in a faltering voice; and seating herself by her niece, she continued, “He is well. If he is in trouble, it is from his own choice. Have you no suspicions, my dearest child, of what has happened?”

“Suspicions!” — exclaimed Elinor, in astonishment, “what is there for me to suspect? My dearest Aunt, I am more and more perplexed — explain it all yourself — who is it you are concerned for?”

“My only concern is for you, dearest; my only regret, that trouble should have been brought on you by those dear to you — by your grandfather, by myself, by your cousins.”

“By you! — by my cousins — what cousins?”

“Harry — Jane — Have you remarked nothing?”

“Harry! what can he have done?”

“You must forget him,” said Miss Wyllys; and as Elinor looked eagerly in her aunt’s eyes, she read there all that Miss Agnes had not courage to tell in words.

Half starting from her seat, she exclaimed, “Harry! — and Jane too!” and as a deadly paleness came over her face, she fell back, unconscious, on the sofa. Her faintness lasted but a moment; too short a time, indeed, to allow the impression of what she had heard to pass from her mind. She burst into tears. “Oh, Aunt Agnes! — Is it really true? — Can Harry have changed? can he have been so unkind to me? — And Jane, too!” she exclaimed at intervals.

Her aunt answered only by her caresses, silently pressing her lips upon Elinor’s forehead.

Elinor threw her arms about Miss Agnes’s neck, weeping bitterly.

“But is it really true? Is there not some mistake? Is it possible he felt so little for me? Oh, dearest Aunt! — and Jane, too!”

Miss Wyllys said that she knew nothing of Jane’s feelings; but that the manner of both Jane and Harry had struck her several times as singular; though now but too easily accounted for. During the last ten days, she had begun to fear something wrong.

“Never, for one second, had I a doubt of either!” cried Elinor. She now dreaded to receive the letter, she had before asked for so eagerly.

A package had been given by Harry to the chambermaid, that morning, requesting her to place it in Miss Agnes’s hands as soon as she left her room. It contained three letters. That to Miss Agnes herself, was full and explicit. He now wrote, he said, because he felt concealment to be no longer possible, after the manner in which he had betrayed himself on hearing of the steamboat accident. He felt convinced that his emotion had been observed by Miss Wyllys, and he almost hoped the suspicions of Elinor had been aroused. He hoped it, for he felt that longer concealment would be unworthy of Elinor, and of himself, since he had not been able to control his feelings. He acknowledged that a frank confession was now due to her.

“I know,” he said, “that you will reproach me severely for my want of faith, and I feel that I deserve far more than you will say. But do not think that I erred from deliberate forgetfulness of all that I owed to Elinor. I was for a long time unconscious of the state of my own feelings; and when at length I could no longer deceive myself, the discovery of my weakness was deeply painful and mortifying. You know what has been my situation since last spring — you know to what I have been exposed. Greater caution might no doubt have been used, had I not been misled by blindness, or self-confidence, or vanity, call it what you please. No one can reproach me as severely as I reproach myself. But although my feelings had escaped my own control before I knew it, yet I determined from the first that my actions should at least be worthy of Elinor. I instantly became more guarded. No human being, I believe, until to-day, suspected my folly. Do not reproach Jane. The fault is entirely with me; Jane has been blameless throughout.”

He concluded by hoping that his letter would not for a moment be considered by Miss Wyllys or Elinor, as an attempt to break his engagement, which he was still anxious to fulfil. But he thought that, now the explanation had been made, a separation for some time would be preferable for all parties. He proposed to travel for six months, and at the end of that time be hoped to have conquered his own weakness, and to be forgiven by Elinor.

Bitter tears were shed by Elinor, in reading this letter.

The note to herself was short. He had not the courage to repeat to her directly, what he had said to Miss Wyllys.

“I feel unworthy of you, Elinor, and I cannot endure longer to deceive so generous a temper as yours. You must have remarked my emotion this morning — Miss Wyllys now knows all; I refer you to her. I shall never cease to reproach myself for my unpardonable ingratitude. But painful as it is to confess it, it would have been intolerable to play the hypocrite any longer, by continuing to receive proofs of kindness which I no longer deserve. It is my hope, that in time you will forgive me; though I shall never forgive myself.

“H. H.”

There are said to be young ladies with hearts so tender, as to be capable of two or three different love affairs, and an unlimited number of flirtations, in the course of a twelvemonth; but Elinor’s disposition was of a very different stamp. Her feelings were all true and strong; her attachment for Harry little resembled that mixture of caprice and vanity to which some young people give the name of love. With something of fancy, and a share of the weakness, no doubt, it was yet an affection to which every better quality of her nature had contributed its share. Hazlehurst’s determination never to forgive himself for the sorrow he had caused her, was a just one. His fickleness had deeply wounded a heart, warm, true, and generous, as ever beat in a woman’s bosom.

Bitterly did Elinor weep, that first day of grief, humiliation, and disappointment. She did not hesitate, however, for a moment, as to the course to be pursued, and even felt indignant that Harry should have believed her capable of holding him to his engagement, with the feelings he had avowed. She answered his note as soon as she could command herself sufficiently to write.

“I do not blame you — your conduct was but natural; one more experienced, or more prudent than myself, would probably have foreseen it. Had you left me in ignorance of the truth until too late, I should then have been miserable indeed. My aunt will take the first opportunity of letting our mutual friends know the position in which it is best we should continue for the future. May you be happy with Jane.


Elinor, at this moment, felt keenly the disadvantages of homeliness, which she had hitherto borne so cheerfully, and had never yet considered an evil. Beauty now appeared to her as a blessed gift indeed.

“Had I not been so unfortunately plain,” thought Elinor, “surely Harry could not have forgotten me so soon. Oh,” she exclaimed, “had I but a small portion of that beauty which so many girls waste upon the world, upon mere vanity; which they are so ready to carry about to public places — through the very streets, to catch the eye of every passing stranger, how highly should I prize it, only for the sake of pleasing those I love! What a happy thought it must be to those blessed with beauty, that the eyes of their nearest and dearest friends never rest upon them but with pleasure! How willingly would I consent to remain plain to ugliness, plain as I am, in the eyes of the world, for the precious power of pleasing those I love!”

Mr. Wyllys and Miss Agnes, of course, approved the step Elinor had taken. They were both deeply pained by Harry’s conduct; they both regretted having allowed the engagement to take place so early, and at the moment of Harry’s absence. Miss Wyllys, indeed, blamed herself severely for not having used all her influence to prevent it. With her father, on the contrary, indignation against Harry was the strongest feeling.

“Heartless young coxcomb!” he exclaimed; “to dare to trifle with Elinor. I had a good opinion of him; I thought he had too much sense, and too much feeling, not to appreciate Elinor, though her face may not be as pretty as some others. Agnes, he must never be asked to Wyllys-Roof again. I can never forget his treatment of my grandchild.”