Chapter I.

“Enter the house, pr’ythee.” — ROGERS.

{Samuel Rogers (English poet, 1763-1855), Italy:“Genevra” line 19. Samuel Rogers befriended James Fenimore Cooper and his family during their visits to England in 1826-33}

HAD there been a predecessor of Mr. Downing in the country, some five-and-twenty year since, to criticise Wyllys-Roof, the home of our friend Elinor, his good taste would no doubt have suggested many improvements, not only in the house itself, but also in the grounds which surrounded it. The building had been erected long before the first Tudor cottage was transported, Loretto-like, across the Atlantic, and was even anterior to the days of Grecian porticoes. It was a comfortable, sensible-looking place, however, such as were planned some eighty or a hundred years since, by men who had fortune enough to do as they pleased, and education enough to be quite superior to all pretension. The house was a low, irregular, wooden building, of ample size for the tastes and habits of its inmates, with broad piazzas, which not only increased its dimensions, but added greatly to the comfort and pleasure of the family by whom it was occupied.

{“Downing” = Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), noted American rural architect and landscape gardener; “Loretto-like” = after Loreto, in Italy, where, according to tradition, a brick Holy House was miraculously conveyed through the air by angels in 1294}

The grounds were of the simplest kind. The lawn which surrounded the house was merely a better sort of meadow, from which the stones and briars had been removed with more care than usual, and which, on account of its position, received the attention of one additional mowing in the course of the summer. A fine wood, of a natural growth, approached quite near to the house on the northern side, partially sheltering it in that direction, while an avenue of weeping elms led from the gate to the principal entrance, and a row of locusts, planted at equal distances, lined the low, rude stone wall which shut out the highway. One piazza was shaded by noble willows, while another was faced by a row of cherry trees, flanked by peach and pear. Fruit trees, although so common and so lavish of their blessings in this climate, are often gathered about American country-houses, instead of being confined to gardens devoted to the purpose, as in Europe; a habit which pleasantly reminds us that civilization has made a recent conquest over the wilderness in this new world, and that our forefathers, only a few generations back, preferred the trees of the orchard to those of the forest, even for ornament. Fruit trees are indeed beautiful objects when gay with the blossoms of spring, or rich with the offerings of summer, and, mingled with others, are always desirable about a dwelling as simple and unpretending in its character as Wyllys-Roof. Beneath the windows were roses and other flowering shrubs; and these, with a few scattered natives of the soil — elm, hickory, sycamore, and tulip trees — farther from the house, were the only attempts at embellishment that had been made. The garden, surrounded by a white paling, was thought an ornamental object, and lay within full view of the drawing-room windows; and yet it was but a mixture of the useful and the beautiful, in which the former largely predominated. As a kitchen-garden it was certainly excellent; but the narrow flower-borders, which surrounded the ample beds of melons and strawberries, asparagus and cauliflowers, would have appeared meanly furnished in the eyes of a flower-fancier of the present day. There was not a hybrid among them, nor a single blossom but what bore a plain, honest name; and although there were lilies and roses, pinks and violets in abundance, they would probably have been all rooted out by your exclusive, fashionable gardener of the last summer, for they were the commonest varieties only. There were but two walks on the lawn; one of these was gravelled, and led to the garden-gate; the other was a common foot-path leading to the river, where the gentlemen of the family kept their boats, and where the cattle, who often grazed on the lawn, went to drink. The grounds were bounded on one side by a broad river, on the other by a sufficiently well-travelled highway. What particular river and highway these were, through what particular state and county they ran, we do not think it incumbent on us to reveal. It may easily be inferred, however, that Wyllys-Roof belonged to one of the older parts of the country, at no great distance from the seaboard, for the trees that shaded the house were of a growth that could not have been reached by any new plantation in a western settlement.

{“particular state ... ” = Longbridge, we learn, has steamboat connections to New York City, while steamboat connections to Philadelphia are from nearby Upper Lewiston; in the course of the story, one of the first railroads in America comes through town; this suggests, if anywhere, New Jersey. Judicial matters take place in Philadelphia, which would seem to place Longbridge in Pennsylvania. It is not clear, however, that the author had any specific location in mind}

The interior arrangements of Wyllys-Roof corresponded very naturally with the appearance of things outside. The ceilings were low, and the apartments small and numerous; much room had been thrown into broad, airy passages, while closets and cupboards abounded. The whole of the lower floor had originally been wainscoted, but Miss Agnes Wyllys was answerable for several innovations in the principal rooms. When Mr. Wyllys decided to make his country-place a permanent residence, his daughter, who was at the head of his establishment, fancied that the furniture they had brought from their house in town could not be advantageously disposed of, without cutting folding-doors between the drawing-rooms. It was fortunate that a couple of adjoining rooms admitted of this arrangement, for at that day, two drawing-rooms of equal size, united by wide folding-doors, were considered a necessary of life to all American families “on hospitable thought intent.” It seems to have been only very recently that any other arrangement has been found possible, an important discovery, which, like many others that have preceded it, was probably the happy effect of necessity, that mother of invention. Mr. Wyllys having cut through the partition, was next persuaded to take down the wainscoting, and put up in its place a French paper, very pretty in its way, certainly, but we fear that Miss Agnes had no better reason to give for these changes than the fact that she was doing as her neighbours had done before her. Miss Wyllys was, however, little influenced in general by mere fashion, and on more important matters could think for herself; this little weakness in favour of the folding- doors may therefore be forgiven, and justly ascribed to the character of the age in which she lived and gave tea-parties.

{“on hospitable thought intent” = John Milton (English poet, 1608- 1674), Paradise Lost, Book V, line 332}

For several years after they removed permanently to Wyllys-Roof, the family, strictly speaking, consisted of Mr. Wyllys, his unmarried daughter, and the usual domestics, only. They were seldom alone, however; they had generally some friend or relative with them, and in summer the house was often filled to overflowing, during the whole season, with parties of friends, or the different branches of a large family connection; for the Wyllyses had their full share of that free spirit of hospitality which seems characteristic of all classes of Americans. After a time, however, another member was received into the family. This was the orphan daughter of Mr. Wyllys’s eldest son, an engaging little girl, to whom her grandfather and aunt were called upon to fill the place of the father and mother she had lost. The little orphan was too young, at the time, to be aware, either of the great affliction which had befallen her, or of her happy lot in being committed to such kind guardians, in merely exchanging one home for another.

The arrival of the little Elinor at Wyllys-Roof was the only important event in the family for some ten or twelve years; the Wyllyses were not much given to change, and during that period things about them remained much as they have just been described. We defer presenting the family more especially to the reader’s notice until our young friend Elinor had reached her seventeenth birth-day, an event which was duly celebrated. There was to be a little party on the occasion, Miss Agnes having invited some half-dozen families of the neighbourhood to pass the evening at Wyllys-Roof.

The weather was very warm, as usual at the last of August; and as the expected guests were late in making their appearance, Mr. Wyllys had undertaken in the mean time to beat his daughter at a game of chess. Elinor, mounted on a footstool, was intent on arranging a sprig of clematis to the best advantage, in the beautiful dark hair of her cousin Jane Graham, who was standing for that purpose before a mirror. A good-looking youth, whom we introduce without farther ceremony as Harry Hazlehurst, was watching the chess-players with some interest. There were also two ladies sitting on a sofa, and as both happened at the time to be inmates of Wyllys-Roof, we may as well mention that the elderly gentlewoman in a cap was Mrs. Stanley, the widow of a connection from whom young Hazlehurst had inherited a large property. Her neighbour, a very pretty woman, neither young nor old, was Mrs. George Wyllys, their host’s daughter-in-law, and, as her mourning-dress bespoke her, also a widow. This lady was now on a visit to Wyllys-Roof with her young children, whom, as she frequently observed, she wished to be as much as possible under the influence of their father’s family.

Mr. Wyllys’s game was interrupted for a moment, just as he was about to make a very good move; a servant came to let him know that a drunken man had been found under a fence near the house. The fellow, according to Thomas’s story, could not be roused enough to give a straight account of himself, nor could he be made to move.

“Is it any one you know, Thomas?” asked Mr. Wyllys.

“No, sir, it’s no one from hereabouts. I shouldn’t wonder if he was a sailor, by the looks of his trowsers and jacket. I guess it is some loafer on his way to Longbridge.”

What could be done with him? was the question. The ladies did not seem to like the idea of having a drunken man, whom no one knew, brought into the house at night.

“I dare say it is the same person I heard asking the way to Wyllys- Roof this morning, when we stopped at the turnpike-gate,” observed Mrs. Stanley. “He looked at the time as if he had been drinking.”

Elinor suggested that possibly it might be some old sailor, who fancied he had a claim upon Mr. Wyllys’s kindness — Mr. George Wyllys having died a commander in the navy.

Harry volunteered to go out and take a look at him, and the party in the drawing-room awaited the result of this reconnoitring { sic}. At the end of five minutes Hazlehurst returned with his report.

“As far as I can judge by the help of moonlight and a lantern, it is no very prepossessing personage. He swore at me roundly for disturbing him, and I take it the fellow is really a sailor. I asked him what he wanted at Wyllys-Roof, but we could not make anything out of him. To keep him from mischief, we locked him up in one of the out-houses. It is to be hoped in the morning he will be sober enough to tell his errand.”

The matter thus settled, nothing farther was thought of it at the time, and in another moment the game of chess was won, and the flower secured in a becoming position. Mrs. Stanley had been watching Elinor’s movements with a smile.

“You are an expert hair-dresser; the flowers are much prettier as you have arranged them,” said the lady to her young friend.

“Is it not a great improvement? They looked heavy as Jane had arranged them before — I have taken out more than half,” replied Elinor.

Mrs. George Wyllys looked up from the newspaper she was reading, and suggested a change.

“I think the clematis would look better on the other side.”

“Do you really think so, Aunt Harriet? I flattered myself I had been very successful: it strikes me that it looks very well.”

“What is it that looks so well, ladies?” said Mr. Wyllys, rising from the chess-table and drawing near the young people. “The flower? Yes, the flower and the face are both very pretty, my dear. What is it? a honeysuckle?”

“No indeed, grandpapa,” answered Elinor, “it is a clematis... this is a honeysuckle, a monthly honeysuckle, which Jane had twisted with it; but to my fancy the clematis is prettier alone, especially as it is so precious — the very last one we could find.”

“Why don’t you put the honeysuckle in your own hair, Nelly? it is a very pretty flower. Being queen of the evening, you should certainly wear one yourself.”

“Oh, I never wear flowers, grandpapa; I cannot make them look well in my hair. This bouquet must proclaim my dignity to-night.”

“It is pretty enough, certainly, my child, for any dignity — ”

“Is it not rather large?” said Harry. “Why, Elinor, you have smothered my humble offering in a whole wilderness of sweets!”

“Not quite as bad as that,” said Elinor, smiling ... “I only put with yours, a few Aunt Agnes and Miss Patsey gave me ... look at Jane’s if you wish to see a bouquet of a reasonably fashionable size.”

“Bouquets are worn very large this summer,” said Jane Graham, in a languid tone, resting her beautiful eyes on the bunch in her hand.

“Fashion even in flowers!” exclaimed Mr. Wyllys.

“So it would seem,” replied Elinor, smiling.

“And, pray,” said Harry, taking a rose from a vase near him, “if a friend were to offer a flower for your belt, since you will not place one in your hair, would fashion permit it to be worn?”

“I don’t believe it would, Nelly,” said her grandfather.

Elinor looked just a little embarrassed, and a little pleased.

“Thank you,” she said, taking the rose Harry offered; and while securing it in her sash, she felt that she coloured. But the flush was scarcely observed on a cheek as dark as hers.

“Well, Agnes, it is high time your friends came, unless they expect a rout,” said Mr. Wyllys, stepping towards a window to look out. “Who are we to have?”

{“rout” = a large evening party}

“Your new neighbours, sir, the Taylors; your old friends, the Hubbards, Van Hornes, Bernards —”

“I hope you will like the Taylors, Agnes; but I don’t know much about them. I am glad you thought of asking them this evening, for he brought me a letter, you remember, from New York.”

{“letter” = a letter of introduction}

“As there is a young lady in the family, and a son just grown up, I thought they might like to dance,” replied Miss Agnes. She then turned to Mrs. Stanley, and asked that lady, who lived in New York, if she knew anything of these new neighbours of theirs.

“I never heard of them,” replied Mrs. Stanley. “But they may be very important people, and make a great deal of noise, for all that; as I only see my old friends, and live so quietly myself, I don’t even know the names of half the people who pass for fashionable.”

“I never suspected our new neighbours of being fashionable,” replied Mr. Wyllys; “but I hope they will turn out pleasant, sensible people, for your sake, ladies; and, then, if Taylor is a chess-player, that will leave nothing farther to be desired.”

“Here comes somebody, at last!” exclaimed Mrs. George Wyllys, hearing a carriage. “The Van Hornes, I suppose.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Hazlehurst, who was standing near the window, “that is the Taylor equipage; why the ‘tastiness’ of the Taylor barouche is visible even by moonlight.”

{“barouche” = four-wheeled carriage with room for four passengers inside}

The party in the carriage, consisting of father and mother, son and daughter, soon alighted, and appeared in the drawing-room. They were introduced by Mr. Wyllys, and received politely by his daughter and her niece.

“I am gratified, sir,” said the tall and thin Mr. Taylor, with a pompous tone, “in having so early an opportunity of making our ladies mutually acquainted.”

“We shall hope to see your family often, Mr. Taylor,” replied his host. “You must not forget that we are near neighbours; and we country folk think a great deal of neighbourhood, I assure you.”

“Yes; of course the restraints of society must be much greater in a city, than in a more sparsely settled section.”

“I hope your new purchase suits you on farther examination. The farm is certainly a very good one; but the house, I should think, must want repairs.”

“It does, sir; I calculate to build, however, next year. The present dwelling is much too small.”

“The house might suit us, I think,” observed Mrs. Taylor, who, with Miss Agnes, had taken a seat, while the young people were standing, chatting, near them. “If husband would put up a back-building, we should have room enough.”

Miss Wyllys remarked, that even a small addition, often increased very much the convenience of a house.

“Certainly, madam; but I apprehend, if I had added wings and a back- building to the premises, as I first intended, Mrs. Taylor would still have found the house not sufficiently spacious. Now our young ladies and gentlemen are growing up, we must have more room for company.”

“Well,” added his wife, “I expect to see a good deal of tea and dinner company, next summer, with the house as it is.”

“The young people will be much obliged to you for your kind intentions, Mrs. Taylor; ours is not a very gay neighbourhood,” said Miss Wyllys.

“So I should conclude,” remarked Mr. Taylor.

“I don’t know, Agnes,” said her father; “if you include Longbridge in the neighbourhood, I think we may call ourselves a gay set.”

“True, sir,” said Miss Agnes; “but as we seldom go there ourselves in the evening, it had not struck me in that light. But very possibly, Mrs. Taylor and her young ladies may be more enterprising than Elinor and myself.”

“Four miles, madam,” interposed Mr. Taylor, “with a good vehicle and good horses, is no great distance. Longbridge seems to be in a very flourishing condition, sir;” turning to Mr. Wyllys.

“Yes, the place is looking up; they are very busy just now. They are building a good deal, this summer.”

“I observed several tasty mansions, in what may be called the suburbs; in particular a brick edifice, being erected, I understand, by Joseph P. Hubbard.”

“The brick house near the bridge? Yes, it will be the largest about here. Hubbard is building it more to please his daughters than himself, I fancy.”

“It promises a great display of taste — I observe he has reserved half his lot, in front of the mansion, for a park.”

“Hem — Yes, there will be just half an acre in it. Does Hubbard call it a park?” asked Mr. Wyllys, with an amused expression about his eyes.

“I applied the term myself,” replied the knowing Mr. Taylor. “I was altogether much pleased with the appearance of your village, sir. It has a lively business for such a small place — things really look quite citified there. If I had seen Mr. Hubbard’s mansion, before concluding my bargain for my present location, I think I should have made him an offer.”

“I am very glad you did not, husband. I was brought up on a farm, Miss Wyllys, and I am very happy that we have got in the open country. Besides, Mr. Hubbard’s house will be too large for comfort.”

“Ha, ha!” faintly laughed Mr. Taylor; “you seem to like room out of doors better than within, Mrs. Taylor.”

At this moment two persons walked quietly into the room, and were received very kindly by Miss Wyllys and Elinor. One was a woman of about forty, plainly, but neatly dressed, with a pleasing face, remarkable for a simple expression of common sense and goodness. Her manners corresponded perfectly with her appearance; they were quiet and pleasant. The lad who accompanied her was a boy of sixteen, small, and slightly made, with good features, and an uncommonly spirited and intelligent countenance. They might very naturally have been taken for mother and son; but they were, in fact, brother and sister.

“Well, Charlie, my lad,” said Mr. Wyllys, placing a hand on the boy’s shoulder, “I hear the important matter is at last under full consideration.”

“Yes, sir; my friends have all but consented; even sister Patsey is coming round. It will be all settled next week, I hope.”

“I wish you joy of your success, Charlie,” cried Hazlehurst.

“Not yet, if you please, Mr. Hazlehurst,” said Miss Patsey Hubbard, smiling good-naturedly. “It is only a conditional consent, Charles, you must remember.” Then turning to Mr. Wyllys, she added ... “All our friends seem to agree with you, sir, and Miss Wyllys: my uncles think Charles ought to show what he has done to some experienced painters, and have their opinions. We feel very anxious on the subject.”

“Remember to persevere, young man, if you once begin,” said Mr. Wyllys.

“No danger but I shall, sir,” said the boy rather proudly.

“I fear, Charles, that half the fault of your obstinacy is thrown upon my shoulders,” said Elinor. “Those Lives of the Painters were an unfortunate present; they seem quite to have turned your head; I am afraid Miss Patsey will not soon forgive me.”

{“Lives of the Painters” = probably Giorgio Vasari (Italian writer, 1511-1574), Lives of the Most Excellent Architects, Painters and Sculptors (1550, rev. 1568), a famous and often reprinted series of biographies of Italian artists, also frequently cited as ” Lives of the Artists.”}

“I can’t thank you enough for them, Miss Elinor — you don’t know what pleasure I have had with them.”