Chapter XVII.

“May this be so?” SHAKSPEARE.

{William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, III.ii.117}

WHILE the family at Wyllys-Roof were in this distress, Miss Agnes had received the parting visit of the Taylors. The porticos of Colonnade Manor rose before closed windows; the house was abandoned for the winter; while Mr. Taylor and Miss Adeline were engaged in putting the finishing touch to the elegance of No. five hundred and —, Broadway, preparatory to the display of the winter.

Mr. Taylor was getting at home in New York. The atmosphere of a large town, thoroughly commercial, was just fitted to his nature. He had certainly every reason to be satisfied with the rapidity with which he had mounted towards the top of the Wall-Street ladder. He was already cheek-by-jowl with certain heavy men of the place; he walked down Broadway of a morning with “Mr. A. of the Ocean,” and up again of an afternoon with “Mr. B. of the Hoboken;” he knew something of most of the great men of the commercial world; and as for the rest of the community, he cared little enough for them or their interests. His house was as handsome and as finely furnished as he could wish, his children were as expensively dressed, as expensively schooled, as any in the land. He had become accustomed to the first burst of luxury, and began already to look upon a hundred things as necessaries, of the uses of which he had been ignorant five years before. He thought New York a commercial paradise; not only the place to make a fortune, but the very spot to spend it in. He wondered at Mr. Hubbard, who could be satisfied to retire from business so early, and was content to live at Longbridge, the village where he was born. Mr. Taylor looked upon himself as already a great man, but he intended to be a greater man still, by a million, or more.

About a week after the Taylors arrived in town, they gave a party — quite a small affair, very sociable, some eighty or ninety people only. The following morning, Mrs. Taylor, fatigued with the toils and cares of gaiety, went to her own room to refresh herself by darning more stockings than usual; while Mr. Taylor, who had laboured hard the evening before by endeavouring to be very ‘affable’ to some twenty new acquaintances, sought the relief of his counting-house. As he walked down Broadway, his thoughts were divided between two subjects. He had purchased some lots the previous week, which proved so indifferent a bargain, that he was anxious to persuade a particular friend to take them off his hands. He had also just received letter from his son, lately Tom Taylor, now T. Tallman Taylor, Esquire. The young man had made very heavy demands upon his father’s banker lately. Mr. Taylor was perfectly satisfied that his son should spend his money freely, and had given him a very liberal allowance, that he might be enabled to cut a figure among his countrymen in Paris. But his progress in acquiring habits of extravagance had become of late rather more rapid than was desirable. As he was to return, however, in the course of a few weeks, his father hoped that he would be able to play the dandy in New York at less cost than in Paris.

Mr. Taylor’s meditations were interrupted by Mrs. Hilson, who stopped to speak to him as he passed; she wished to inquire if Miss Adeline were at home, as she was anxious to see her, having a piece of news to communicate. Having given a satisfactory answer, the merchant pursued his course towards the regions of commerce, at one extremity of Broadway, and the city-lady went her way towards the regions of fashion in the opposite direction.

Mrs. Hilson had already returned to her suite of apartments, and her intimate friend, Mrs. Bagman. At the boarding-house she patronised; and every morning between the hours of twelve and three, she might be seen at the window of the drawing-room, if it rained, or flitting up and down Broadway if the sun shone, generally attended by Captain Kockney, the long {sic} Englishman, whom she took great pleasure in showing off to the public. On the present occasion she was alone however, and fortunate enough to find Miss Adeline and the French furniture visible, for it was the first time she had been in the new house. The rose-coloured damask, and the pea-green satin of the two drawing-rooms was much admired, and many compliments were lavished upon the gilt clocks, the Sèvres vases, &c., when Mrs. Hilson remembered she had a piece of news to share with Miss Taylor.

“And such news — so unexpected to us all; you will be so surprised! The engagement between Miss Wyllys and Mr. Hazlehurst is actually broken off!”

Adeline was not so much astonished as Mrs. Hilson supposed she would be.

“I am very quick at seeing such things,” she said. “I was sure it would come to that; though Miss Wyllys did not seem to suspect anything herself. But no wonder — an engagement of two years is too long for anybody. I am sure that in two years I should get tired of the handsomest beau in New York.”

The ladies had each their surmises as to which of the parties had taken the first step, and what was probably the cause; but although Miss Taylor had a pretty correct idea of the state of things, she did not express her opinion on the subject very decidedly. Mrs. Hilson soon made her curtsey, expressing the hope that they should see each other very often during the winter; a hope which Miss Adeline was determined not to gratify, for Mrs. Hilson’s standing was not sufficiently fashionable to satisfy her. The visitor had no sooner left the room, than she ran up stairs to put on her last Paris hat, and her handsomest cashmere, and then hurried off to Barclay-Street to enjoy a confidential meeting with Jane.

The young ladies were closeted together for an hour. We have no authority for revealing what passed, and can only observe that Jane returned to the drawing-room with a heightened colour, and there was a certain expression of mystery still lingering about Miss Adeline’s face.

“Have you any commands for Boston, Mrs. Graham?” the young lady inquired in her usual flippant manner. “I think I shall go there next week, to pay a short visit to a friend of mine; I wish I could hear of an escort.”

Mrs. Graham thanked her civilly, but declined the offer of her services.

“Have you really made up your mind to go to Boston?” asked Jane.

“Why, not positively. It depends, as I said before, upon my finding an escort. I have six pressing invitations from different quarters, most of them acquaintances that I made last summer at Saratoga; and I have been hesitating between Albany, Boston, or Baltimore. I am determined to go somewhere to spend the next three weeks, till the gaiety begins in earnest, and Tallman comes back.”

“Is your brother expected so soon?” asked Mrs. Graham.

“Yes, he must have sailed now. We heard from him last night; he will be here next month, I hope, just in time for the first great parties. What would you advise me to do, Jane, to get rid of the time until then?”

“I had much rather you would stay at home; if you go, I shall miss you very much.”

“But then we shall have the pleasure of corresponding — I like the excitement of receiving a good long letter, full of nonsense, above all things.”

“You must not forget to let me know which way you are really going,” said Jane. “I will write, though I can’t promise you a long letter; I never wrote a long letter in my life.”

“Well, you must write, at any rate, I shall see you half-a-dozen times between this and Monday. I rather think I shall decide upon Boston. Miss Lawrence says there are some delightful young gentlemen there, and has promised to give me a ball. If I go, I shall try hard to bring Miss Lawrence back with me. Mind, Jane, you don’t make too many conquests while I am gone. You must reserve yourself for the one I have recommended to you. Oh, by-the-bye, Mrs. Graham, I forgot to tell you the news; I am astonished you have not heard it already.”

“Pray, what is it?” asked Mrs. Graham.

“It seems the engagement between Miss Wyllys and Mr. Hazlehurst has been broken off.”

“You are mistaken, surely! We have heard nothing of it, and it is highly improbable. If there be such a story, let me beg you will not mention it again, Miss Taylor!”

“Oh, there is no mistake, I’m quite sure. I have heard it three times already this morning, from Longbridge people; first Mrs. Hilson told me, and then I met John Bibbs, and Edward Tibbs, who said the same thing. Mrs. George Wyllys, it seems, contradicted the engagement openly; Miss Hubbard heard her, and wrote it to her sister.”

“How grieved I should be if this story were to prove true; you surely never remarked anything, Jane?”

“Elinor seemed to me just as usual; but Adeline thinks there has been some change,” said Jane, a little embarrassed.

“Oh, yes, give me credit for being quick-sighted; I suspected something the first time I saw them together after Mr. Hazlehurst came back.”

“It is what none of their other friends appear to have done, Miss Taylor,” said Mrs. Graham, a little severely.

“I dare say not; but I am very quick at seeing such things. If Jane has any mysteries, she had better not pretend to keep them from me. But it is no wonder that the engagement was broken off — I don’t believe in long engagements. We must not let Jane drag matters on at that rate when her turn comes;” and then kissing her friend tenderly, and making a curtsey to Mrs. Graham, without remarking the disapproving expression of that lady’s face, the lively Adeline left the mother and daughter alone.

“I dislike that Miss Taylor, excessively, Jane,” observed her mother, “she is very disagreeable to me; I wish you would find some better companion while we are in New York. There are the Howards, and de Vaux’s — very amiable, pleasant girls, and for a great many reasons far better associates for you.”

“But I don’t know them so well. Adeline is a great belle, mamma, as much so as any girl in town.”

“She is not at all to my taste, I confess. Your father, too, dislikes the Taylors very much. The way in which she spoke of this story about Elinor’s engagement was really unfeeling. Not that I believe it; but breaking off an engagement without good reason, is no such trifle in my opinion, as it seems to be in that of Miss Taylor.”

Jane looked quite agitated; she blushed so much that her mother would probably have remarked it, had she not been, at the moment, stooping over her little invalid boy, who was lying on the sofa near her.

“Miss Taylor has no claim whatever upon you, that I can see,” continued Mrs. Graham. “It is true she was kind to you when you were ill with the whooping-cough at school; but so were your other companions — and I am sure she has not been half so considerate and good to you as Elinor, and yet you seem to prefer Miss Adeline now.”

Poor Jane looked down, and coloured still more.

“Adeline would do anything for me, mother,” she said, in a low voice; “You don’t know how much she is attached to me; I can’t help liking her,” and Jane began to shed a few tears.

“Foolish child!” said her mother, beginning to relent, as she usually did on such occasions, “I don’t wish you to be uncivil to her; but I should like you to be more with Kate Howard, and Anne de Vaux;” and the conversation ended, as several others of the same description had done, by leaving things precisely as they were before. Mrs. Graham, indeed, looked upon herself as having showed much decision on the occasion, and acted as a watchful mother, by having made these objections, fruitless as they proved to be.

The report that the engagement between Elinor and Harry had been broken off, was soon known to be correct. It caused some surprise to all who knew them, and much regret to their friends. Mrs. Stanley, who felt a warm interest in both Harry and Elinor, was grieved and disappointed. The Grahams, and Mrs. Robert Hazlehurst, felt very unpleasantly when the cause of the rupture came to be suspected. Mrs. Graham was, however, relieved by finding that there was no understanding between Harry and her daughter — thus far at least all was right; no explanation had taken place between them, and Jane even assured her mother that when in Paris, she had had no idea that Hazlehurst was attached to her. Still there were many blushes whenever the subject was alluded to, there were confidential meetings with Adeline, and other symptoms which left little doubt to her friends that Jane’s feelings were interested. Mrs. Graham was obliged to console herself with the idea, that the mischief had, at least, been unintentional on the part of her daughter.

Harry, himself, was much mortified by the reception of Elinor’s note, which, by showing the full consequence of his conduct, made it appear more culpable in his own eyes than he had yet been willing to believe it. He even wrote a second time, begging Elinor to re-consider her decision. Full as his fancy was of Jane, yet his regard, one might say his affection, for Elinor, was too well-founded, and of too long standing, for him to endure quietly the idea of having trifled with her. She remained firm, however; her second answer was as decided as the first. Harry’s self-reproach was sincere, at least, and he had never before felt so much dissatisfied with himself.

He was less eager than one might suppose, to profit by his newly- acquired liberty. He was in no hurry to offer Jane the attentions which had so lately been Elinor’s due. It is true that his position was rather awkward; it is not every faithless swain who is obliged to play the lover to two different individuals, within so short a period, before the same witnesses. At length, after doing penance for a while, by encouraging humiliating reflections, some fear of a rival carried Hazlehurst on to New York, in his new character of Jane’s admirer. The first meeting was rather awkward, and Harry was obliged to call up all his good-breeding and cleverness, to make it pass off without leaving an unpleasant impression. “Ce n’est que le premier pas qui coûte,” however, as everybody knows. The sight of Jane’s lovely face, with a brighter colour than usual, and a few half-timid and embarrassed glances from her beautiful dark eyes, had a surprising effect in soothing Harry’s conscience, and convincing his reason that after all he had not acted so unwisely. He soon showed himself very much in earnest in seeking Jane’s favour; though he persuaded himself that he must always do justice to Elinor’s excellence. “She is just the woman for a friend,” he observed to himself, “and friends I trust we shall be, when the past is forgotten. But Jane, with her transcendant { sic} beauty, her gentle helplessness, is the very creature that fancy would paint for a wife!”

{” Ce n’est que le premier ... .” = it’s only the first step that hurts (French)}