Chapter IX.

“How taught shall I return?” CRABBE.

{George Crabbe (English poet, 1754-1832), Posthumous Tales: “VI The Farewell and Return” line I.62}

OF course, Harry was established at Wyllys-Roof. And, after a few days passed with her parents at Longbridge, Elinor persuaded Jane to pay her a short visit.

It is a pleasant moment for people of mature years, when they can sit idly by, as affectionate observers, while a gay party of young people, in whom they are interested, are chatting familiarly together, with the lively tone and light spirits of youth, free alike from the restraints of childhood, and the cares of middle age. Every varied shade of character, unconsciously betrayed by the young group ... the playful remark ... the just observation ... the pleasing acquirement ... an act of good-nature ... a graceful motion ... the bright eye and the careless smile ... ay, even the proof of inexperience and want of worldly wisdom ... all is attractive to the partial friends. They feel such a moment to be the reward of many a previous hour of care and anxiety; it is their happy privilege to mark each improvement in person, mind and heart ... the fruit of past labours and prayers ... the cheering promise amid the doubts of the future. Happy they, who can look upon the young people committed to their charge, with the consciousness that no important duty towards them has been neglected; happy the young person, who, with a clear conscience and an open countenance, can meet the approving smile of a parent; thrice happy the youth, who, having taken a false step at the beginning of his career, has had the courage and wisdom to turn, ere too late; that precious approbation of wise and true friends, may still be fully his; he has turned from danger, temptation and shame, into the sure and safe path that leads to everything most to be valued, even in this world.

As for our friends at Wyllys-Roof, the joy of re-union, after a long absence, gave additional zest to the first pleasant meetings of the young people, in whom Miss Agnes and Mr. Wyllys were so warmly interested. Elinor was in gay spirits ... even Jane was more animated than usual, in her expressions and manners. As for Harry, he was decidedly improved; the last two years had done a great deal for him. He was now a clever, well-educated, agreeable young man of three- and-twenty, whose judgment and taste were much improved by travelling.

“A very good-looking fellow, too, Agnes,” remarked Mr. Wyllys.

It was easy to gather, from the natural, healthful tone of his conversation, that in more important points, while he had gained much, he had lost nothing by wider observation of the world.

As for Jane, Miss Agnes had not expected much from her, and she was pleased with the changes she observed. Her young kinswoman’s temper seemed to have become more even than formerly, and she was quite as much pleased to return to her family, as she ought to have been. It appeared natural, that everybody who saw Jane should be satisfied with looking at her. Beauty like hers disarmed their attempts at severity, and disposed them to indulgence. It seemed scarcely reasonable to expect any striking quality, or great virtue, with beauty so rare. But if the Wyllyses had thought her beautiful before she left them, they were really astonished to find how much it had been possible for her to gain in appearance. Her face was now perfectly lovely, in the finest style of beauty. Miss Wyllys was pleased to find her manners much improved; a change from the society of Adeline Taylor, and her lively young friends, to that of older and better-bred people, had been of great advantage. Jane’s labours of liveliness had annoyed Miss Agnes not a little; and more than once she had ventured a remark on the subject; but her young relative had been too well advised, by Adeline and her school-companions, to believe that Miss Wyllys could possibly know, as well as themselves, what were the fashionable airs and graces of the day. Since her visit to Paris, however, Jane’s manner, without her being aware of it herself, had become much more quiet and natural. During the last twelvemonth, she had not found it necessary to make perpetual exertions to attract, or retain admirers. She had learned to look upon the attentions of society as a matter of course.

The observations of Mr. Wyllys and his daughter were not all confined to the two young travellers; they watched the graceful movements of Elinor, and listened with interest to the gay remarks made in her pleasant voice. She had never been in better spirits, and was evidently happy. Elinor was really attached to Jane; and yet, never were two girls less alike, not only in person, but in mind and disposition. Jane’s beauty was a great charm, in Elinor’s eyes. The homeliness of her own features only increased her admiration for those of her cousin, who had always filled, with her, the place of a younger sister and pet, although the difference in their ages was very trifling. If these feelings were not returned as warmly as they deserved, Elinor had never seemed to expect that they should be; it was not in Jane’s nature to do so. That Harry’s arrival should have made her happy, was, of course, only natural; she betrayed, at times, a touch of embarrassment towards him, when Aunt Agnes had smiled too openly, or Mr. Wyllys had rallied too strongly; but it was graceful, like every shade in her manner.

Miss Agnes was well aware that the last two years had not been lost with Elinor, although passed in quiet every-day life. She knew, from close observation, that the character of her adopted child had been gradually approaching nearer to all she wished it to be. As the two young girls sat chatting together, Miss Wyllys could not but mark the striking difference in their appearance; but she also felt that if Jane’s loveliness were a charm, even to her, knowing Elinor thoroughly, she loved her far more deeply for the want of beauty. But, of course, the world would have decided differently.

The morning after Jane’s arrival at Wyllys-Roof, the young people were engaged in one of the gay conversations we have alluded to, when Mr. Wyllys called off Hazlehurst’s attention.

“Harry, what was that clumsy contrivance about the French horses, you were describing to Van Horne, last night? I wanted to ask you, at the time, but you began to talk with Miss Patsey. You said something about a wooden collar, I think.”

Harry changed his seat, for one nearer Mr. Wyllys, and began a long explanation of the harness used by the French teamsters.

“I have several engravings in my trunks, that will show you my meaning, sir, better than words can do.”

“I should like to see them. But, are these wooden wings to the collars, as you describe them, used throughout France, or only in Normandy, and the neighbourhood of Paris?”

“We saw them wherever we went. All the carters and farmers seem to use them. They have, besides, a great deal of clumsy, useless ornament, and they contrive to want twice as much tackle as we do.”

The gentlemen continued to discuss the subject of horses and harness, Harry relating, for Mr. Wyllys’s amusement, many observations he had made, on these matters, in the different countries where he had been.

Jane had brought down, from her room, an arm-full of pretty things, evidently Parisian. She had just given Elinor a very pretty bag, which Miss Agnes was called upon to admire.

“My dear Aunt,” cried Elinor, “do look at this; Jane, I think we must call it a sac ... ’bag’ sounds too heavy. Look at the material... the finest cachemere. And then the colour, so rich and so delicate at the same time.”

“Yes; it is a very pretty shade of ponceau,” said Jane.

{” ponceau“ = poppy red (French)}

“And then the shape! so Parisian! And the ornaments... ”

“It is very pretty,” said Miss Wyllys, after due examination.

“That is the way with everything that comes from Paris,” said Elinor; “it is always so complete; not one part good and others clumsy... or good in quality, but ugly in form and colour. The French seem to have an instinct about these things; they throw a grace about everything.”

“Yes; they have a perfect taste,” said Jane.

“While I was up-stairs, with Louisa, yesterday,” said Elinor, “we talked over Paris all the morning, Aunt Agnes. I was amused with a great deal she told me. Louisa says, there is a fitness in all that a French-woman does and says, and even in everything she wears... that her dress is always consistent... always appropriate to the occasion.”

“That is true,” replied Jane; “their dress is always of a piece.”

“And yet, Louisa insists upon it, that they do not bestow more time and thought upon the subject, than the women of other countries... and, certainly, not so much money.”

“Everything is so easy to be had, and so much cheaper, in Paris,” said Jane.

“But, she remarked, that they are never ashamed to wear a pretty thing merely because it is cheap; nor to make themselves comfortable, by wearing thick shoes in the mud, and a coarse, warm shawl in a fog.”

“We have not much mud or fog to trouble us, in this country;” said Miss Agnes.

“No, aunt; but we have hard showers in summer, and cold weather in winter; in spite of which, you know, our ladies must always be dressed like fairies.”

“I have often heard Madame de Bessières praise the good sense of her countrywomen, on those subjects,” observed Miss Wyllys.

“Louisa maintains that the French-women have a great deal of common sense; she says, that is the foundation of their good taste; and, I suppose, after all, good taste is only good sense refined.”

“I suppose it is, my dear. Louisa seems to have come back even more of a French-woman than you, Jane,” observed Miss Agnes.

“Oh! I like the French very well, Aunt Agnes.”

“But Louisa is quite eloquent on the subject.”

“She was so very fortunate, Aunt, in having so kind a friend in Paris, as Madame de Bessières. Louisa describes the de Bessières as living in a delightful set of people... she mentioned half a dozen persons whom she met habitually there, as not only amiable, and highly accomplished, and well-bred, but high-principled, too. She says she used often to wish you could know them, Aunt Agnes.”

“I can readily believe anything good of the intimate friends of Madame de Bessières, for I never knew a woman whose character was more worthy of respect. It was a great loss to us, when she returned to France. She was very fond of you, Elinor.”

“How kind in a person of Madame de Bessières’ age, to remember me! I long to see the letter she wrote me; Robert says I shall have it, certainly, to-morrow, when all their baggage will be at Longbridge.”

“Madame de Bessières often spoke of you, Elinor,” said Jane. “She bid me ask if you remembered all the pet names she used to call you, but I forgot to mention it when I wrote.”

“Just as you forget many other things, naughty girl; I must say you are anything but a model correspondent, Jenny, dear.”

“Well, I can’t help it... I do dislike so to write!”

“You need not tell me that,” said Elinor, laughing. “But I do remember all Madame de Bessières’ kind names very well. It was sometimes, mon lapin, mon lapin doré, mon chou, ma mère... they all sounded pleasantly to me, she spoke them so kindly. But sometimes to vex me, the other children ... Master Harry among others ... used to translate them; and, though rabbit, and golden rabbit, sounded very well in English, I did not care to be called cabbage.”

{” mon lapin“ = my rabbit; ” mon chou“ = my cabbage, a term of endearment; ” doré“ = golden; ” ma mère“ = my mother (French)}

“Did you like the young people you met in Paris, Jane?” asked Miss Wyllys.

“Oh, yes; the young men don’t trouble you to entertain them, and the girls are very good-natured and pleasant.”

“Louisa seems to think the French girls are charming ... so graceful, and pleasing, and modest; really accomplished, and well educated, too, she says ... all that young women ought to be.”

“Yes, she says that she hopes her little girls will be as well educated as Madame de Bessières’ grand-daughters,” said Jane.

“Well, I hope my little namesake may answer her mother’s expectations. She is a sweet little puss now, at any rate. Louisa was quite vexed yesterday, with Mrs. Van Horne, who asked her if the French girls were not all artful, and hypocritical. She answered her, that, on the contrary, those she saw the most frequently, were modest, ingenuous, and thoroughly well-principled in every way, besides being very accomplished. She laid great stress on one point, the respect invariably paid by the young to the old, not only among the women, but the men, too.”

“Yes,” observed Miss Agnes; “I remember to have heard the same remark from Madame de Bessières; she observed, that after having been in many different countries, she could justly claim for her own, that in no other was so much deference paid to age as in France.”

“That agrees precisely with Louisa’s opinion. She says it is a striking feature in French society, and appears thoroughly part of their character ... not at all assumed for appearance sake.”

“It is a duty too little remembered in this country. It seems to be only in our very best families that the subject is properly attended to,” said Miss Agnes.

“Louisa likes the manners of the men for the same reason; she says that in society they are always respectful and obliging, whatever other agreeable or disagreeable qualities they may have. She remarked, that she had never met with a rude Frenchman in society; but she had, repeatedly, met with rude Englishmen, in very good company.”

“What fault, pray, did Louisa find with the Englishmen you met, Jane?” asked Miss Agnes.

“There is a certain set, who say and do rude things.”

“I should not have thought that;” said Miss Wyllys.

“Oh, they have a way of making themselves disagreeable; now, a Frenchman never tries to be disagreeable.”

“One would think no one would try that,” said Elinor.

“The English do, though, I assure you; at least a certain set. I don’t believe any other people do. I remember one evening, Harry was very angry with a certain Mr. Ellery, son of a Lord Greystone, who used to come to our house quite often last spring. Do you remember him, Harry?” she added, as Hazlehurst again approached the table covered with French knicknacks { sic}, where the girls were sitting.

“Whom were you talking about?” he asked.

“Mr. Ellery; ... do you remember his manner?”

“Ellery? ... To be sure I do! ... Insufferable coxcomb!”

“Pray, what was his great offence?” asked Elinor, laughing.

Harry coloured violently. “Oh, it was his intolerable English manner. I have known him stretch himself out nearly full length on a sofa, on which Jane or Louisa was sitting, and stare at them, with the most sickening expression, for half an hour at a time.”

“Half an hour, Harry! how can you talk so? Half a minute, you mean.”

“Well, until he drove you away, at any rate. I was often surprised that you could endure it as long as you did. But happily, Louisa cooled him off after a while; though I had a strong inclination to undertake the job myself.”

“It was much better as it was; it was Louisa’s place to do it,” observed Miss Agnes.

“But I thought you liked the English,” said Elinor, with some surprise. “You were speaking very highly of several of your English friends, last night.”

“I do like the better sort very much. They are fine, manly fellows, as ever breathed.”

“What people did you like best?” asked Miss Agnes.

“A man who does not cherish prejudice, must naturally like the best qualities and the best individuals of all nations.”

“But have you no preference?”

“There cannot be a doubt, that society is more agreeable in France, in Paris, than elsewhere.”

“Are not the French too artificial?”

“I honestly do not think them more so than the English. English simplicity often has a very artificial twist; with the French it is just the reverse; art becomes a second-nature, with them.”

“We hear the French accused of selfishness ... ”

“I think you would find both French and English more selfish than we are. But they have different ways of showing it. The Englishman is exclusive, and reserved; the Frenchman egotistical. Reserve may seem dignified; but it often covers a great deal of cold self-love; while French egotism ... not egoïsme ... is often mingled with much naïvete and bonhommie { sic}. Both nations, however, are more selfish than the Italians, or Germans, I should say.”

“Still, you seem to like the French the best of the two.”

“Well, the French generally treat Americans more civilly than the English. John Bull is very fond of giving himself airs of superiority, after a disagreeable fashion of his own. Now a Frenchman fancies himself so much more civilized than the rest of the world, that he has a good-natured feeling towards everybody but John Bull: he thinks he can afford to be amiable and friendly.”

“If you are speaking of the best people in each country, however,” said Mr. Wyllys; “that is not the surest way of judging national character. We must take the average.”

“I am aware of that, sir.”

“At any rate, you don’t seem to have liked this Mr. Ellery,” said Elinor.

“Not in the least; I used to think him excessively impertinent,” exclaimed Harry, and as his choler rose, while certain recollections passed through his mind, he coloured again. To change the subject, he took up the bag the young ladies had been admiring.

“What fanciful name may belong to this piece of finery; for, of course, it is not a bag?” he asked.

“Oh, it is too useful, not to have a straight-forward, common name; you may call it a sac, though, if you like. I could not think of anything more imaginative; can you, Jane?”

“I dare say, there is another name; but I have forgotten it; everything has a name of its own, in Paris.”

“Your table looks like a fancy-shop, Aunt Agnes,” continued Hazlehurst; “gloves, bags, purses, boxes, muslins, portfolios, and twenty other things, jumbled together.”

“What sort of wood is the work-box that you chose for Miss Patsey?” asked Elinor. “I am very glad you thought of her.”

“Harry does not seem to have forgotten any of his friends, while in Paris,” said Miss Agnes.

Hazlehurst looked down.

“It is some dark wood; not rose-wood, however. It is rather plain; but a serviceable-looking box,” he said.

“Just the thing for Miss Patsey,” observed Elinor.

“Here, Elinor,” said Jane, “is the cape I spoke of;” and she unfolded a paper, and drew from it a piece of muslin which had evidently received a very pretty shape, fine embroidery, and tasteful bows of riband from some Parisian hand. “This is the one I spoke of. ... Is it not much prettier than any you have seen?”

Elinor received the cape from her cousin, who was unusually animated in its praises; it was held up to the light; then laid on the table; the delicacy of the work was admired; then the form, and the ribands; and, at last, Elinor threw it over Jane’s shoulders, observing, at the same time, that it was particularly becoming to her. Harry seemed determined not to look; and, in order to resist any inclination he may have felt, to do so, he resolutely took up a Review, and began turning over its pages. The young ladies’ admiration of the cape lasted several minutes, and, at length, Elinor called upon the rest of the party to admire how becoming it was.

“Well, really,” exclaimed Harry, looking rather cross, probably at being disturbed in his reading, “young ladies’ love of finery seems quite inexhaustible; it is sometimes incomprehensible to the duller perceptions of the male sex.”

“Don’t be saucy!” said Elinor.

“Why, you can’t deny the fact, that you and Jane have been doing nothing else, all the morning, but tumble over this Paris finery?”

“I beg your pardon ... we have been talking quite sensibly, too; have we not, Aunt Agnes?”

“Much as usual, I believe, my dear,” replied Miss Wyllys.

“Pray observe, that the table contains something besides finery; here are some very good French and Italian books; but, I suppose, Jane will say, those you selected yourself.”

“I certainly did,” said Harry; “and the music, too.”

“Well, I have half a mind not to tell you, that we like the books and the music quite as well as anything here,” said Elinor, colouring; and then, as if almost fearing that she had betrayed her feelings, she continued, in a gay tone. “But, why are you so severe upon us this morning?”

“Unpalatable truth, I suppose,” said Harry, shrugging his shoulders.

“Pray, remember, sir, that if finery be thrown away upon the noble sex, at the present day, it was not always so. Let me refer you to certain kings, who, not content with studying their own dresses, have condescended to compose those of their queens, too. Remember how many great heroes ... your Turennes and Marlboroughs ... have appeared in diamonds and satin, velvet and feathers!”

{“Turenne” = Henri de la Tour d’Auvergne, Vicomte de Turenne (1611-1675), a famous French military commander; “Marlborough” = John Churchill Marlborough, Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722), a famous British military commander}

“But that was two hundred years ago.”

“They were heroes, nevertheless; and, I suppose, une fois caporal, toujours caporal. But, if you prefer something nearer to our own time, figure to yourself Horace Walpole, and General Conway, some half- century since, consulting, in their correspondence, upon the particular shade of satin best suited to their complexions ... whether pea-green, or white, were the most favourable.”

{” une foi caporal ... .” = once a corporal, always a corporal (French); “Walpole” = Horace Walpole (1717-1797), English author; “Conway” = General Henry Conway (1721-1795), English general and politician}

Hazlehurst laughed.

“There it is, in white and black!” said Elinor. “Just remember Goldsmith, strutting about Temple Gardens, in his blush-coloured satin, and fancying everybody in love with him, too!”

{“Goldsmith” = Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1775), British author; “Temple Gardens” = in London on the Thames River, next to The Temple (an ancient English school of law)}

“Quarter! quarter! Nelly,” cried her grandfather, laughing.

“True, I must confess,” said Harry, smiling; “but that was more than fifty years ago. The world has grown wiser, now.”

“Has it?”

“Look at our sober coats, to-day ... the last Paris fashions, too!”

“Yes ... but what is the reason?” cried Elinor, laughing herself. “You have just found out that finery, and a showy exterior, are of no use to you ... they do not increase your influence with the ladies! We do not value a man more for a showy exterior!”

“I submit,” said Harry; but he coloured, and seemed to Miss Agnes, more embarrassed by Elinor’s remark than was necessary. He threw down his book, however, and crossed the room to take a place near her.

“What are you going to do this morning?” he said, quietly.

A walk was proposed, and soon after the young people, accompanied by Bruno, set out together.