Chapter XX.

“Thy young and innocent heart,  

How is it beating? Has it no regrets?

 Discoverest thou no weakness lurking there?” ROGERS.

{Samuel Rogers (English poet, 1763-1855), Italy:“The Nun” lines 71-73}

SISTERS’ children, though bearing different names, and classed by the world in different families, are generally much more alike than those of brothers; they are apt to have more habits, tastes, and feelings in common. And the reason is evident; it is usually the mother who controls the internal family policy, who gives the colouring to what may be called the family atmosphere. The father may pass a statute once in a while, but the common-law which regulates the every-day proceedings of the little community flows from the mother; and we all know that the character is moulded rather by daily practice in trifles, than by a few isolated actions of greater importance in themselves. The aims and views which people carry with them through life, generally spring up from seeds received in the nursery, or at the family fire-side. Even with men this is the case. The father may inculcate this or that political creed into his son, he may direct his choice to this or that profession; but the manner in which the youth carries out his political principles, the way in which he fills his profession, will depend on the impulses and motives cultivated in childhood, and early youth; for it is then that the character receives its bias. The mother’s influence and example are often to be traced in those minute shades of taste and opinion, which are the foundation of our partialities, or our dislikes; and, of course, the daughters of a family, from being more constantly subject to this influence, imbibe a larger share of it. It is immaterial whether the mother be aware of the importance of her duties, of the weight of this responsibility, or not; for good or for evil, the effect will still be felt, though varying, of course, in different circumstances.

Elinor had not seen her cousin, Mary Van Alstyne, her mother’s niece, for several years, and she now met her in Philadelphia with great pleasure. Miss Van Alstyne was some five or six years older than herself; this difference in years had, indeed, been the chief reason why they had never yet been very intimate. But the same distance which separates girls of twelve and eighteen, is, of course, less thought of at twenty and six-and-twenty, when both are fairly launched into the world. Mary Van Alstyne and Elinor found much to like in each other on a closer acquaintance; and Miss Wyllys observing that the two cousins suited each other so well, drew them together as much as possible, in order that Elinor might have some one to fill the empty places of her former companions, Jane and Harry.

Mrs. Robert Hazlehurst was a near neighbour of the Wyllyses in Philadelphia; but Elinor had too much dread of meeting Harry, to go there often; and it was only when she knew that he was in New York, that she went to his brother’s. The change in their position was too recent to allow of her seeing him with composure; their family connexion, and the intimate terms upon which they had hitherto lived, only made their present estrangement much more awkward than usual. Elinor tried to think it fortunate that he should now be so often in New York.

The first time he was in Philadelphia after the Wyllyses were settled there for the winter, Elinor escaped seeing him. As she came in one morning from a ride with her grandfather, she found his card on the table. It told the whole story of what had passed; for she could not remember his having ever left a card at their house before; he had been as much at home there as herself, until the last six weeks. The sight of it caused her a very painful feeling, and did away all the good effect of the pleasant ride she had just taken on the banks of the Schuylkill. As she walked slowly up-stairs to change her habit, her eyes filled with tears; and had she been endowed with the proper degree of romance for a regular heroine, she would probably have passed the morning in hysterical sobs. But as she had quite as much good sense, as fancy and feeling, she was by no means romantic; she had never fainted but once in her life; and although it must be confessed she had wept during the last few weeks, yet it was always in spite of herself, at moments when the tears were forced from her by some sudden recollection of the past, or some distressing glimpse of the future. On the present occasion, instead of encouraging solitary grief, she returned to the drawing-room, and read aloud to her aunt, who was busy with her needle.

But Harry’s second visit to Philadelphia was not to pass without their meeting. Mr. Wyllys, Miss Agnes, and Elinor were spending the evening at the house of a friend, when, to the surprise and regret of all parties, Hazlehurst walked in with one of the young men of the family, with whom he was intimate. It was the first time they had met since the alarm on the piazza at Wyllys-Roof. Poor Elinor, at the first glance, when the door opened, turned deadly pale, as she always did when agitated. Harry, as he crossed the room to make his bow to the lady of the house, felt excessively uncomfortable; when he turned, not a little embarrassed, towards the rest of the party, he received a slight and cool movement of recognition from Mr. Wyllys, who was standing at a corner of the fire-place. Miss Agnes made an effort to say good evening, in her usual tone; and Harry replied that he was very glad to find they were to be in Philadelphia for the winter, words which were as far from the truth as possible. Elinor would have given much to look and speak as calmly as her aunt; but she could only bow in silence, for at the moment she dared not trust her voice. The lady of the house, who knew very well how to account for a meeting which seemed very ceremonious between near connexions, who had always been so intimate, did her best to make matters go off well; and her son, who was also in the secret, rattled away to Elinor to the best of his ability. But there was a very perceptible touch of cool disapprobation in Mr. Wyllys’s manner, and a something that was not quite natural, in the tones of Miss Agnes’s voice. Harry felt as if he were doing penance, and he felt, moreover, as if he richly deserved it. But the worst was to come. There was another lady present, a New Yorker, who had lately seen Hazlehurst very often with the Grahams, in his character of Jane’s admirer, and she innocently asked him when he was going to return to New York. “In a day or two,” he replied. “You will not leave the post vacant very long, I dare say,” observed the lady. Harry’s answer was not very distinctly heard, and he coloured as much as it is in the power of man to do. The lady happily observed how much he was annoyed, and changed the conversation. Hazlehurst was not in a mood to pay a long visit: he soon rose to take leave. Elinor, in the mean time, made a great effort for self-command. She knew that she was the injured party, and yet she felt superior to all the littleness of resentment — she acquitted Harry and Jane of all intentional trifling with her feelings. The gentle, quiet dignity of her manner gradually expressed what was passing in her mind. As Harry passed near her, and bowed, collecting all her self-possession, she wished him good-evening, with a calm, sweet voice.

It was now Hazlehurst’s turn to be much the most embarrassed of the two; he bowed, and muttered something about calling, in a voice much less clear than her’s had been; then fairly giving up the matter in despair, he quitted the ground with another bow. On leaving the house, he walked rapidly down Walnut-Street, very much dissatisfied with himself, and out of humour with his friend, for having brought him into such an awkward scene.

The next day, when Elinor thought over what had passed, she felt relieved that the first meeting, which she had so much dreaded, was over; although she knew it must he a long time before she could see Jane and Harry with perfect composure; she knew there must be other unpleasant moments in store for her. There was no danger but that Elinor would do all in her power to subdue her feelings for Harry, and yet she sometimes reproached herself with having done too little; her interest in him was still too strong. She shrunk sensitively from longer encouraging any weakness for him; it had now become a want of delicacy to do so, it would soon be almost sinful. She knew that if she did not succeed in the endeavour it would be her own fault only; for her whole education had taught her that there was no passion, of whatever nature, too strong to be conquered by reason and religion, when their aid was honestly sought.

Miss Agnes, on the contrary, who knew how unexpectedly, and how deeply, Elinor’s feelings had been wounded, was fearful that her adopted child was making too great an effort for self-control; with a girl of her principles and disposition there was danger of this. Elinor, since the first day or two, had sensitively avoided every approach to the subject when conversing with her aunt. Miss Agnes knew that time alone could teach her the lesson of forgetfulness, and she now dreaded some reaction; although admiring Elinor’s courage and resolution, she wished her occasionally to give a more natural vent to her feelings. It struck her that the time for one open conversation on the subject had come, and the result proved that her opinion was correct. Elinor threw off a constraint that was not natural to her character, and which had been kept up from an exaggerated sense of duty. She now spoke with perfect frankness, nothing was concealed; grief, regrets, struggles, all were confided to her aunt, whose sympathy was grateful to her, while the advice given with kindness and good sense, was of real service.

Many young people who knew Miss Wyllys, would have smiled at the idea of her being a good counsellor on such an occasion, for her own life, though useful and happy, had been quite uneventful. The death of her mother, and the marriage of her brothers and sister, had left her, when still a young and pretty woman, the only companion and solace of her father. These duties were soon increased by the charge of her orphan niece, and her time and attention had since then seemed engrossed by these cares and pleasures. Miss Wyllys was actually never known to have had a regular suitor. Whether she might not have had her share of declared admirers had she chosen to be encouraging, we cannot say; it is a subject upon which we have no authorities.

Of course Miss Agnes could not be expected to know anything about love, beyond what she had learned from books, or from observation. She was, nevertheless, a much better adviser than many a younger and more experienced friend. Where the head and the heart are both in the right place, instinct soon teaches us how to sympathize with our fellows in all troubles that really belong to our nature.

It appeared to Elinor as if, in future, there would be an additional tie between her aunt and herself; for she looked forward to leading a single life, hoping to pass her days like Miss Agnes, in that sphere of contented usefulness which seemed allotted to her.

When Elinor had returned to her own room, after the conversation to which we have alluded, she went to a writing-desk, and drew from it a letter. It was the same she had received on her seventeenth birth-day. It was from her mother. During the lingering illness which caused her death, Mrs. Wyllys, deeply anxious for the welfare of her orphan daughter, had written several of these letters, adapted to her child’s capacity at different ages, and placed them in the hands of Miss Agnes, with the request they might be given to Elinor at the dates marked on the envelope of each. They had proved a precious legacy for the young girl, and a guide to Miss Agnes in her education; for the aunt had never forgotten that she was the mother’s representative only; Elinor having always been taught to give the first place to her parent’s memory. It seemed, indeed, as if her mother’s spirit had never ceased to linger near her, exerting its silent influence. The letter to which Elinor attached so high a value is given below.

Wyllys-Roof, August13 th, 18 — .


“You will not receive this letter until you have reached the age of womanhood, years after your mother has been laid in her grave.

“To separate from you, my darling child, has cost your mother a bitter pang. There is no severer trial of faith to a Christian woman, than to leave her little ones behind her, in a world exposed to evil and sorrow; and yet, although so near death myself, it is my wish that you may live, dearest, to taste all that is good in life. Few mothers are blessed in death, as I am, with the power of leaving their orphans to such kind and judicious guardians as your grandfather and aunt; should they be spared, you will scarcely feel the loss of your parents. Oh, how fervent is my prayer that they may live to guard, to cherish you! And when the task they have so piously assumed is fully completed, may they long enjoy the fruits of their cares!

“It is with singular feelings that I write to you as a woman, my child, and appeal to thoughts and sentiments, of which you are at this moment so utterly unconscious; sitting, as you now are, at my feet, amid your playthings, too busy with a doll, to notice the tears that fall upon these last lines I shall ever have it in my power to address to you. But the hope that this letter may, one day, long after I have left you, be a tie between us, my Elinor, is grateful to your mother’s heart, and urges me to continue my task. I have a double object in writing these letters; I wish to be remembered by you, dear, and I wish to serve you.

“During the last few months, since my health has failed, and since you, my child, have been the chief object of interest to me in this world, I have often endeavoured to pass over in my mind, the next dozen years, that I might fancy my child, what I trust she will then be, qualified in every essential point to act for herself, in the position to which she belongs. I trust that when this, my last letter, is placed in your hands, you will already have learned to feel and acknowledge the important truths that I have endeavoured to impress on you, in those you have previously received. You are already convinced, I trust, that without a religious foundation, any superstructure whatever must be comparatively worthless. I should he miserable, indeed, at this moment, if I could not hope that sincere, single-hearted piety will be the chief influence of your life; without it, you could never know true happiness, or even peace. Rest assured, my child, that while it sweetens every blessing, it soothes under every evil. Many have given the same testimony when they stood, like your mother, within the shadow of death. I have every reason, my beloved daughter, to hope that under the guidance of an humble, sincere Christian, like your aunt, you also will arrive at the same blessed conviction; I know that so long as she lives, her example, her prayers, her vigilance will never be wanting. I have every reason to believe that you will be led to seek that which is never earnestly sought in vain.

“I must be brief, dear child, lest my strength should fail. From the many thoughts that crowd upon me, I can only select a few, which my own experience has taught me to value as important. In the first place, let me warn you never to forget the difference between Christian education, and all others. Remember that Christian education has for its foundation the heart-felt conviction of the weakness of human nature; for a being bearing the name of a Christian to lose sight of this truth, is the grossest of all inconsistencies. The great and the learned among those who are merely philosophers, preach, as though to know what is good, and to practise it, were equally easy to mankind. But the Christian alone knows that he must look beyond himself for guidance, and for support. He knows only too well, that there are times when the practice of some plain and evident duty, costs his feeble nature a severe struggle — in no instance will he dare trust his own strength alone. He knows that even in those cases where duly is also a pleasure, he must still be watchful and humble, lest he fall. One would think this truth so obvious, from daily observation, as to be undeniable; but it is now the fashion to laud human nature, to paint flattering pictures only. Humility is thought debasing; but Truth alone is honourable, and Humility is Truth. You will find the actions of those who acknowledge this truth, more honourable to the human race, than the deeds of those who deny it. The true dignity of human nature consists, not in shutting our eyes to the evil, but in restraining it; which, with our Maker’s help, we may all do, for the blessing of our Creator is still within our reach, still vouchsafed to the humble Christian. If such be your views, my daughter, you will be prepared to find difficulties in acquiring and practising those virtues which it is the duty of life to cultivate; you will be prepared to meet those difficulties with the sincere humility of a Christian, and with Christian exertion.

“My child, love the Truth, and the Truth only.

“Cultivate daily a pious, thankful, humble disposition.

“Love those near you heartily; live for them as well as for yourself.

“Eschew all envy, and petty jealousies, and rivalries; there is perhaps no other evil that so often poisons our daily blessings.

“Cultivate your judgment. Never forget the difference between things of importance and trifles; yet remember that trifles have also their value. Never lose sight of the difference between form and spirit; yet remember that in this material world, the two should seldom be put asunder. The true substance will naturally have its shadow also.

“Cultivate a sweet, frank, cheerful temper, for your own sake, and for the sake of those you love.

“Cultivate your abilities in every way that comes naturally within your reach; it is seldom worth while for a woman to do more than this. In all you learn, aim at giving pleasure to others, aim at being useful to them, as well as at improving your own faculties.

“Enjoy thankfully all the blessings of life; and they are innumerable.

“There is one subject, of some importance to you individually, my child, which I have not yet alluded to in either of my letters; I have purposely deferred it until you will be better fitted to understand me. You will have one personal evil to contend against, my dear Elinor; your face will be plain, your features will be homely, darling. It is a weakness, my child, and yet I regret you should suffer from this disadvantage; rest assured, that in every little mortification to which you may be exposed, your mother, had she lived, would have felt with you. I trust that this will be the first time your attention will be seriously fixed upon the subject, and that as a child you will scarcely have thought upon it. Let us then, dear, look upon the matter together for a moment, calmly and steadily; we will not blind ourselves to the advantages of beauty, neither will we exaggerate the evils of a want of it. You will soon discover, from your own observation, that beauty in women, as in children, is delightful in itself; it throws a charm over the words and actions of the favoured person. In a worldly sense it is also a woman’s power; where other qualifications are equal, you may often observe that beauty alone confers a striking superiority. In some respects its advantages are even greater than are usually allowed, in others again they are far less. Were we to judge by the space it fills in general observation, and in conversation, we should believe it the one all-important qualification in women, that nothing else can be compared with it. But to adopt this opinion would be grossly to exaggerate its importance. Nor can we believe, on the other hand, what some prudent writers for the young have affirmed, that the superiority of beauty is only momentary; that the eyes tire of a beautiful face which they see daily, that in all cases it vanishes with early youth. No, my child, I do not wish you to believe this, for I cannot believe it myself. For years, the beauty of my sister Elizabeth has been a daily source of pleasure to me, and I doubt not to others also. My aunt, Mrs. Graham, though past fifty, is still a handsome woman, and her appearance must be pleasing to every one who meets her; while, on the contrary, people still amuse themselves at the expense of Miss Townley, whose face is strikingly plain. Hundreds of examples might be cited to prove that the charm of beauty does not generally vanish so soon, that one does not tire of it so easily. And then if a woman lose her beauty entirely, still the reputation of having once possessed it, gives her a sort of advantage in the eyes of the world. If mere notoriety be an advantage, and in the opinion of the worldly it is so, the superiority of beauty over ugliness lasts longer than life; many women are remembered, who had nothing but beauty to recommend them to the notice of posterity. But observe, my child, that if these advantages are evident, they are chiefly of a worldly nature. A beautiful woman may receive general admiration, and that homage which gratifies vanity, but she must depend on other qualities if she wish to be respected, if she wish to be loved through life. I hope, my child, you will always be superior to that miserable vanity which thirsts for common admiration, which is flattered by every offering, however low, however trivial. I trust that the mere applause of the world will have no influence upon your heart or your understanding. Remember what it is that we call the world — it is a ground governed by a compromise between the weaknesses of the good among us, and the virtues of the bad; the largest portion of vanity and folly — sometimes even vice — mingled with the least portion of purity and wisdom that a community bearing a Christian name will tolerate. You, I trust, will learn to seek a higher standard.

“If borne in a right spirit, my dear Elinor, the very want of beauty, or of any other earthly good, may be the means of giving you the benefit of far higher blessings. If it make you more free from vanity, from selfishness, it will make you far happier, even in daily life. It may dispose you to enjoy more thankfully those blessings actually in your possession, and to make a better use of them.

“Under this and every other disadvantage, my child, remember two things: to give the evil its just importance only, and to make a right use of it.

“I trust that your temper will be such, that you will not for a moment feel any inclination to repine that others should enjoy a blessing denied to you, my love. Refrain even from wishing for that which Providence has withheld; if you have a right faith, you will be cheerful and contented; if you are really humble, you will be truly thankful.

“Do all in your power, my Elinor, towards making your home, wherever it may be, a happy one; it is our natural shelter from the world. If in public you meet with indifference and neglect, you can surely preserve the respect of those who know you; and the affection of your friends may always be gained by those quiet, simple virtues, within the reach of every one.

“In one way, my dearest child, the want of beauty may affect your whole career in life — it will very probably be the cause of your remaining single. If I thought you would be united to a husband worthy of your respect and affection, I should wish you to marry; for such has been my own lot in life — I have been happy as a wife and a mother. But I am well aware that this wish may be a weakness; the blessings of Providence are not reserved for this or that particular sphere. The duties and sorrows of married life are often the heaviest that our nature knows. Other cares and other pleasures may be reserved for you, my child. In every civilized Christian community there have always been numbers of single women; and where they have been properly educated, as a class they have been respectable — never more so than at the present day. They often discharge many of the most amiable and praiseworthy duties of life. Understand me, my child; I do not wish to urge your remaining single; that is a point which every woman must decide for herself, when arrived at years of discretion; but I would have you view a single life with sufficient favour to follow it cheerfully, rather than to sacrifice yourself by becoming the wife of a man whom you cannot sincerely respect. Enter life prepared to follow, with unwavering faith in Providence, and with thankfulness, whichever course may be allotted to you. If you remain single, remember that your peace is more in your own hands than if married — much more will depend solely on the views and dispositions you encourage. As appearance has generally so much influence over men, and marriage is therefore a less probable event to you than to others, my love, let your mother caution you to watch your feelings with double care; be slow to believe any man attached to you, unless you have the strongest proof of it.

“Whatever be your position, never lose sight, even on trifling occasions, of common sense, and good-feeling. Remember, in any case, to guard carefully against the peculiar temptations of your lot, to bear patiently its evils, and to enjoy thankfully its peculiar blessings.

“There are many things that I should still wish to say to you, my beloved daughter; and yet I know that the cautions I give may be unnecessary, while other evils, which I have never feared, may befall you. My inability to guide you as I wish, my darling child, directs us both to a higher source of wisdom and love. Let us both, at all times, implicitly place our trust where it can never fail, though blessings be not bestowed in the way we fond creatures would choose.”

[Here followed a sentence, in words too solemn to be transferred to pages as light as these.]

“Love your aunt, your second mother, truly and gratefully. She has already bestowed on you many proofs of kindness, and she has always been a faithful friend to your father, and to your mother. Love the memory of your parents, my child; think of us sometimes — think of your father — think of your mother. Honour their memory by a recollection of their instructions, by a well-spent life. Since your birth, my child, I have scarcely had a hope or a fear, unconnected with you; if I were to ask to live, it would be only for your sake, my darling daughter.

“Your mother’s tenderest blessing rests upon you, my beloved Elinor, through life!


This letter had been often read and studied by Elinor, with the gratitude and respect it deserved, as a legacy from her mother; but lately she had been disposed to enter more fully into the feelings by which it had been dictated. Every word which applied to her present situation, sunk deeply into her heart.