Chapter VII.

“What tidings send our scouts? I pr’ythee, speak.” Henry VI.

{William Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, V.ii.10}

ABOUT the middle of the following March, the season, by courtesy called spring, but when winter sometimes reigns de facto, in the neighbourhood to which Wyllys-Roof belonged, Mr. Wyllys proposed, one morning, to drive his granddaughter to Longbridge, with the double object, of making the most of a late fall of snow, and procuring the mail an hour earlier than usual.

The light cutter slipped through a track in which there was quite as much mud as snow, and, it seemed, as if most people preferred staying at home, to moving over roads in that half-and-half condition: they met no one they knew, excepting Dr. Van Horne.

“I was sure you would be out this morning, Mr. Wyllys,” cried the Doctor, as they met, “your sleigh is always the first and the last on the road.”

“You generally keep me company, I find, doctor. I am going for the mail. How far have you been, this morning?”

“To Longbridge, sir; but, with this sun, the snow will hardly carry you there and home again; and yet, I dare say, you will find something worth having, in the mail, for I saw letters in your box; and there is a French packet in.”

“Indeed! We’ll make the best of our way, then, at once;” and, wishing the doctor good morning, Mr. Wyllys drove off. “We shall have letters from Paris, I hope, Nelly,” said her grandfather.

“Certainly, I hope so,” replied Elinor; “Jane’s last letter was shamefully short. I had half a mind not to answer it; and so I told her; but my scolding has not had time to reach her yet.”

“Jenny is no great letter-writer; and she is very busy enjoying her year in Paris, I suppose. But I shall be glad to have a sight of Harry’s handwriting again. Where was it he wrote from last, in December?”

“From Beyroot { sic}, sir. He was to be in Paris early in the spring.”

“Well, I hope we shall hear something from him to-day. Before long, I suppose, we shall have the young gentleman at Wyllys-Roof, trying to persuade you that he wants your help in reading Blackstone. But, don’t believe him, Nelly; I shan’t give you up for a year to come.”

{“Blackstone” = Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780), British jurist whose Commentaries on the Laws of Englandwas the principal text for aspiring young lawyers}

“There is time enough to think of all that,” said Elinor, blushing a little.

“Yes, time enough! and we can judge what sort of a lawyer he will make, by the way in which he handles the subject. As it is a bad cause, he ought to find a great deal to say on the occasion. Suppose he manages the matter so well, as to bring your aunt and myself over to his side, what would you say?”

“I can only say now, grandpapa, that I cannot bear to think of the time when I shall have to leave Aunt Agnes and yourself,” replied Elinor, with feeling. “Pray, don’t let us talk about it yet; I shall be very well satisfied with things as they are, for a long time to come.”

“Well, you may be satisfied to have Harry in Egypt; but I should like to see him here, once in a while. When is it they are to be home?”

“The last of the summer, sir. They sail in August, that Louisa may see Mrs. Graham before she goes south.”

“You have had a different sort of a winter, my child, from Harry and Jane.”

“It has been a pleasant winter to me, and to all three, I hope.”

“Yes; Jenny has had all the gaiety — Harry all the adventure — and you, all the sobriety. But it was your own wish, my dear, that has kept us in the country, this winter.”

The last six months had, indeed, passed very differently to the young people. Jane had been dancing away her evenings on the parquets of Paris; and dividing her mornings between walks to the Tuileries, drives to the Bois de Boulogne, and visits to the shops. As for the lessons which had, at one time, entered into the plan, they had never been even commenced. Jane was too indolent to take pleasure in anything of the kind; and her companions, the daughters of Mrs. Howard, led her into so much gaiety, that she really seemed to have little time for anything else. Mrs. Robert Hazlehurst thought, indeed, that her sister was quite too dissipated; still, Jane seemed to enjoy it so much, she looked so well and happy, and Mrs. Howard was such an obliging chaperon, that the same course was pursued, week after week; although Mrs. Hazlehurst, herself, who had an infant a few weeks old, seldom accompanied her.

Elinor, in the mean time, was passing the quietest of country lives at Wyllys-Roof, where the family remained all winter. Even the letters, which the previous year had given her so much pleasure, had been wanting during the past season. Jane never wrote oftener than was absolutely necessary; and only two of Hurry’s letters reached their destination. There was a package from Europe, however, in the Longbridge Post-Office, on the morning of the sleigh-drive we have alluded to. It contained a long letter from Harry, written at Smyrna, announcing that he hoped to be in Paris some time in March; and one from Mrs. Hazlehurst, informing her friends of their plans for the summer — including an excursion to Switzerland — after which they were to return home late in August.

The very day Elinor received these letters, Harry returned to Paris. After pitching his tent among Grecian ruins, and riding on camels over the sands of Egypt and Syria, he had returned to France through Turkey and Austria; thinking himself a very lucky fellow to have seen so much of what the world contains, worth seeing.

He found his brother entirely recovered, as well as he had been before the accident which had injured him. He was called upon to admire the little niece born during his absence; she was a sweet little baby, and Mrs. Hazlehurst had named her Elinor, after her future sister-in-law — a kind attention for which Harry was much obliged to her, and which, he declared, would make the child a favourite with him.

Jane was there, of course, and glad to see Harry, of course. Hazlehurst had scarcely taken possession of a comfortable fauteuil in his brother’s drawing-room, before the thought occurred to him, that all the party looked much as usual, excepting Jane. During the first evening, he became convinced that she was certainly altered by the air of Paris. How very much she had improved in appearance and manner! He had never before thought her so very beautiful as many others had done — but he must now retract all he had ever said on the subject. He supposed the good taste with which she was dressed must have some effect; but it seemed as if her beauty were now in its perfection. When he last saw her, there was something almost childish in her appearance and expression, which she had now lost entirely. He was struck with the air of finish about her whole person, from the rich glossy lustre on her dark hair, to the pearly tint of her complexion. She was, indeed, a beautiful creature. What a sensation such a face must create among the enthusiastic Parisians! Then, she must have more feeling than he had given her credit for; she had received him quite kindly, and seemed really glad to see him again.

{“fauteuil” = armchair (French)}

Daily observation, while living under the same roof, only confirmed Harry in this new opinion of Jane. He began to admire the languid grace of her movements; and he discovered that it is very possible to have too much warmth of manner, and that some women certainly fatigue one by their animation. He must tell the family at Wyllys-Roof how much Jane had improved. He found he was not mistaken in supposing that she must produce an impression wherever she was seen. Whether they were walking in the Tuileries of a morning, or went into society in the evening, the effect was always the same; he saw her everywhere followed by very evident and open admiration. And no wonder; her beauty threw a charm over all her actions: it was even a pleasure to accompany her in shopping excursions — which he used to look upon as the greatest tax that a lady could impose upon his gallantry; but then, few persons looked so beautiful as Jane, when selecting a muslin, or trying on a hat. He soon became proud of a place at her side, and much more vain of her beauty than she was herself.

“I must let them know at Longbridge,” he thought, “what a sensation Jane is making. She is, indeed, a beauty to be proud of. I saw nothing like her in Greece. She does credit to the country.” Harry thought it patriotic to admire her, and to lose no opportunity of enjoying the effect of her beauties among the gay world of Paris. American patriotism, as we all know, often takes singular shapes.

Jane and himself became more intimate, and on more friendly terms than they had ever yet been. She seemed, indeed, to prefer him, as a cavaliere servente, to any of her other admirers, American or European. But that might easily be accounted for, on the score of connexion. Of course, Harry was grateful for this preference, and after a while he even began to look upon the excessive devotion of one or two of her admirers, as impertinence on their part.

{” cavaliere servente“ = male escort (Italian)}

About this time — some weeks after his return — Hazlehurst gave himself very much to the study of æsthetics. The beautiful, the harmonious, alone attracted him; he could not endure anything approaching to coarseness. He wandered up and down the galleries of the Louvre, delighting more in the beautiful faces of the Italian masters, in the Nymphs and Muses of the old Greeks, than he had ever done before. He became quite a connoisseur. He had no taste for the merely pretty; perfect beauty he admired with his whole soul, but anything short of it was only to be tolerated. He felt the fact, if he did not reason on the discovery, that beauty in the very highest degree, carries with it — we do not say the expression — but the stamp of dignity, and even of intelligence. Such was the impression produced by Jane’s perfectly classical head and features. It was impossible, as you gazed upon her smooth polished forehead, and noble dark eyes, to believe her wanting in character, or intellect. Then, Harry remembered that talent of the highest order bears a calm aspect; not frothy, sparkling cleverness, which takes so well with the vulgar; not wit, exactly; but that result of a well-balanced mind, in which all the faculties harmonize so well, that they leave no one particularly prominent. He had been much struck, lately, with several remarks of Jane’s — they showed a depth of observation, a fund of good sense, which he had not formerly supposed her to possess; but then, of old, he used to be unpardonably unjust to Jane. She was certainly improved, too; her friends at Longbridge would be gratified by the change.

This course of æsthetics gradually carried Harry so far, that after a profound study of the subject in general, and of Jane’s features in particular, he became a convert to the opinion of the German philosopher, who affirms that “The Beautiful is greater than the Good.” There have been disputes, we believe, on the subject of this axiom, some critics giving it a deep mystical sense, others, again, attempting to explain it in different ways. Our friend Hazlehurst, though a pretty good German scholar, seemed disposed to adopt the idea in its simplest interpretation.

{“German philosopher” = I have been unable to identify with certainty the quotation, though the sentiment suggests Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854)}

Things were in this train, when the family set out for Switzerland.