Chapter XVIII.

“Be patient, gentle Nell, forget this grief.” Henry VI.

{William Shakespeare, 2 Henry VI, II.iv.26}

THE Wyllyses remained later than they had intended in the country. Elinor, indeed, proposed to her aunt that they should pass the winter at Wyllys-Roof, but Miss Agnes and her grandfather were unwilling to do so. The variety of a life in town would be preferable for her sake to the quiet monotony of a country winter. They knew she had too much sense to wish to play the victim; but it was only natural to believe, that in a solitary country life, painful recollections would force themselves upon her oftener than among her friends in town, where she would he obliged to think less of herself, and more of others.

It had been a great relief to her to find, that Jane had not acted as unworthily as Miss Agnes had at first feared; in spite of what she herself had overheard at Miss Hubbard’s party, Elinor threw off all suspicion of her cousin, as soon as she learned that Jane denied any previous knowledge of the change in Harry’s feelings. Hazlehurst, himself, had said in his letter that she was blameless.

“Then,” she exclaimed, “I shall at least be able to love Jane as before!” She immediately sat down, and wrote her cousin a short, but affectionate letter, containing only a slight allusion to what had passed. Jane’s answer, of course, avoided wounding her feelings, and their intercourse was resumed.

“The time will come, I trust,” she thought, “when Harry, too, will be a friend again.” But she felt the hour had not yet arrived. She could not so soon forget the past. It was no easy task, suddenly to change the whole current of feeling which had filled her mind during the last two years. In spite of her earnest resolutions, during the first few weeks, thoughts and feelings of the past would recur too often. For some time Elinor was very unhappy; she felt that the strongest and deepest affections of her heart had been neglected, rejected, undervalued, by one whose opinion she had learned to prize too highly. She wept and blushed to think how much she had become attached to Harry, since she had looked upon him as her affianced husband. She could not but feel herself free from all reproach towards him; it was he who, unsought by her, had wished to draw a closer tie between them. He had succeeded but too well, and then he had forgotten her. The temptation which had proved too strong for him, would not have deserved the name, had the case been reversed, had she been exposed to it. And yet she did not reproach him; men think so much of beauty, and she was so very plain! It was but natural at such a moment, that she should be oppressed by an over-wrought humility. She accused herself of vanity, for having at one time believed it possible Harry could love one like herself. But how happy was Jane!

Her efforts to struggle against low spirits were the greater, for the sake of her aunt and her grandfather. She made it a duty to neglect no regular task, and much of her time was occupied as usual; but the feelings which she carried about to her employment, were very different from what they had been heretofore. It was her first taste of sorrow; well might her aunt deeply reproach Hazlehurst for his versatile conduct towards her beloved child. Elinor flattered herself that Miss Agnes knew not half of what she felt. In general she succeeded in being quite calm, and attentive to others; she was always sweet-tempered, and unrepining. But she could not read, herself, the expression of her own countenance, so tenderly watched by her aunt. She was not aware that the musical tones of her voice were no longer cheerful; that instead of the gay, easy conversation in which she used to bear her part, she was now at times absent, often silent; she whose graceful wit and youthful spirits had been until lately the joy of her family. Mr. Wyllys’s indignation against Hazlehurst would have been boundless, if he could have seen him at such moments, as was often now the case, sitting by the side of Jane, admiring the length of her eye-lashes, the pearly smoothness of her complexion, and the bright colour of her lips, as she uttered some very common-place remark. Such had now become Hazlehurst’s daily pleasure, his daily habit.

[“versatile” = inconstant, fickle}

Miss Agnes purposely left to her niece, this year, all the arrangements for their removal to town; and Elinor was obliged to be very busy. It happened too, quite opportunely, perhaps, that just at that time Mrs. George Wyllys was coming over oftener than usual, to consult her father-in-law and Miss Agnes. Against Mr. Wyllys’s advice, she had to withdraw her eldest boy from the school where he had been first placed, and now a new choice was to be made. Mr. Wyllys recommended a small establishment in their own neighbourhood, recently opened by Miss Patsey’s brother; he thought it equally good with the one she had in view, and with the additional advantage of more moderate terms, and a smaller number of boys. But Mrs. Wyllys had a great deal to say on the opposite side of the question; the low price was an objection in her eyes.

“There, my dear sir, you must allow me to differ from you. I have always intended to devote a large portion of my means to the education of my children; economy in such a case, I cannot look upon as economy at all.”

“Certainly, Harriet, you are perfectly right to secure to your children every advantage in your power. But this is not a case in point. Thomas Hubbard, you know, was a principal in the very school which you have in view, and only withdrew last spring on account of ill health. He still continues the same system, and has the same masters, with the advantage of only four boys besides Evert, to occupy his attention.”

This was too plain to be contradicted. “But in my opinion, sir, a large school is very much to be preferred for a boy. I have thought a great deal on the subject, since Evert has been of an age to leave me.”

“But what are your reasons for preferring a large school to a small one?”

“I think it a better preparation for their entrance into life. And then they have the advantage of choosing their intimates from a larger number of boys; Evert’s disposition will make it particularly desirable for him. I am sure, if he were shut up with two or three boys only, he would find it so dull that he would be disgusted.”

“Well, my dear, I view the matter in a different light,” replied Mr. Wyllys, who would never allow himself to be silenced, or forced to advise anything against his conscience; though many men would have been worried into it by such a woman. Unfortunately, Mrs. Wyllys was the only guardian of her children, and Mr. Wyllys was often obliged to see his daughter-in-law act in a manner that he thought ill-judged; but though very good-natured, he could never be talked into being a party to such plans. “It is precisely on account of Evert’s high spirits that I should like a small school for him. He would be less likely to get himself and others into scrapes; he would be more under his master’s eye.”

“I think, sir, from the conversation I had with Mr. Stone, he is just the man to obtain an influence over Evert.”

“You would like Hubbard still better, if you knew him.”

“I doubt it very much, sir; I am sick of the very name of Hubbard. Those Longbridge Hubbards are enough to spoil a paradise.”

“Well, Harriet,” said Mr. Wyllys, “you seem to have made up your mind; so have I; now what is to be done?”

“Of course, sir, your opinion has great weight with me; you know I am always guided by you.”

“Then the matter is settled, and Evert goes to Hubbard’s.”

Mr. Wyllys thought he had succeeded, on this occasion, in gaining his point, by taking his daughter-in-law at her word; but the very next morning she drove over to Wyllys-Roof, with a new view of the subject; and it was not until after half-a-dozen more conversations, that the matter was finally settled, by Mr. Wyllys refusing to give any more advice; when his daughter-in-law, of her own accord, determined to send her boy to Mr. Hubbard’s school. It must be confessed that some women, endowed too with certain good qualities, are very trying, and possess a most vexatious vein of caprice. In the mean time the child was taken sick; he was ill for several weeks, and Elinor assisted in nursing him.

Independently of these consultations, and cares about her little cousin, there were other claims upon Elinor’s attention at this time, and those the least romantic in the world. Within the last few weeks, all the men of Longbridge seemed to have their heads full of a new rail-road, one of the first that were made in this country. All the property Elinor had inherited from her father was in this village, and so placed as to have its value very much increased by this intended piece of internal improvement. Mr. Hubbard was one of those most interested in the project, which was of some importance to Mr. Wyllys, also. The gentlemen had many meetings on the subject, and Elinor was obliged to hear a great deal that was going on; which houses were to be pulled down, which streets widened, what engineer was to be employed, where the rails were to come from, at what time they hoped to get the act through the Assembly. Mr. Taylor, of course, was not the man to allow anything approaching to speculation, to take place in his neighbourhood without having something to do with it himself. He came over to Longbridge expressly to help matters on; and as Colonnade Manor was shut up, Mr. Wyllys, always hospitably inclined, asked him to his own house for a day or two. With such a spirit under their roof, little else was heard of besides stocks and lots, wharves and stores. Elinor’s property was known to be much interested in the affair, and Mr. Hubbard and Mr. Taylor thought it necessary to congratulate her. Mr. Taylor, indeed, would have been much shocked had he known how very little she cared about the matter.

{“a new rail-road” = The Camden and (Perth) Amboy line crossed New Jersey in 1833, and the Philadelphia and Columbia (Penn.) line opened in 1834}

“We shall have to consult you, Miss Elinor, in our proceedings,” said Mr. Hubbard, as they were sitting at the dinner-table; perhaps you don’t know it, but you will be one of our stockholders, and much interested in our success, I assure you.”

“My grandfather tried last night to give me some notions on the subject, Mr. Hubbard; but I am afraid he was not very successful.”

“Oh, I don’t know that,” said Mr. Wyllys; “I shall make quite a business woman of you, yet, Nelly.” In fact, her grandfather had taken the moment to assure Elinor that it was high time she should have some just ideas on such subjects, and insisted on her listening to all his explanations, and doing her best to comprehend them. Elinor tried to be a docile pupil, and really acquired some useful information, which may appear singular to romantic young ladies, who set up for broken- hearted; as her only object, however, was to gratify her grandfather, we hope she will be forgiven for anything so much out of character in a heroine.

“It is a beautiful speculation, Miss Wyllys,” observed Mr. Taylor. “I suppose you know enough about these things, to be glad to hear that in a year or two, you will probably realize two hundred per cent. on your lots in Water-Street, where the dépôt is to be built.”

“It all sounds very grandly, certainly,” said Elinor, smiling.

“We shall make a fortune for you, Miss Elinor,” added Mr. Hubbard. “You will be the great lady of Longbridge.”

“I dare say, Nelly, you will find some way of spending the money; young ladies know very well how to get rid of it, let it come ever so fast.”

“Yes, sir, my daughters are very expert at that; Emmeline thinks nothing of giving fifty dollars for a flimsy pocket-handkerchief, and as much for a flighty-looking hat. But I’ve no objections; I’ll tell you in confidence, that is what we make our money for, Miss Elinor — for our children to spend,” added Mr. Hubbard, smiling good-naturedly. “I dare say you will find a right use for some of yours. It will be in good hands, and I hope you may long enjoy it,” said he, making a bow to Elinor, as he drank off a glass of Madeira.

{“fifty dollars for a flimsy pocket-handkerchief” = this remark by Mr. Hubbard reflects James Fenimore Cooper’s little-known novelette, The Autobiography of a Pocket-Handkerchief (1843), as do many aspects of the greedy and ostentatious Taylor family whom Emmeline Hubbard seeks to emulate}

Mr. Taylor, though he joined in the toast with some “affable” remark, as usual, could not help regretting that so much money, and consequently the power of making so much more, should not be in the hands of one who could turn it to better account than Miss Elinor Wyllys. He had a very poor opinion of Mr. Wyllys’s money-making abilities, and thought him very “unenterprising.” That gentleman, on the contrary, when brought in closer contact with Mr. Taylor, began to have a clearer insight into his character, and while he found him uncommonly clever, discovered that several of his propositions betrayed anything but high principles. He began to believe that Mr. Graham’s dislike was not ill-founded.

Mr. Hubbard, in the mean time, who had known Elinor from a child, was thinking how he could say something agreeable about love and beaux, supposed always to be pleasant subjects to young ladies. He felt some doubts about hinting at Hazlehurst, for he thought he had heard the engagement was broken off. Happily for Elinor, the party rose from table before anything had suggested itself.

At length Mrs. Wyllys’s boy recovered, and was sent off to school; and this rail-road matter was also satisfactorily settled. As there was nothing more to detain the family in the country, the Wyllyses went to Philadelphia, and took possession of their lodgings for the winter.