Chapter III.

“Her playmate from her youth.” ROGERS.

{Samuel Rogers (English poet, 1763-1855), Italy: “Genevra” line 55}

ELINOR had been in her room for some minutes, and was standing in thought, before an open window, when she turned toward a little table near her, and, opening a Bible, drew from it a letter. She raised it to her lips, and, moving toward a light unfolded the sheet. Tears soon blinded her sight; she was much agitated; then, becoming calmer, she continued to read. It was a letter of some length, and every line seemed deeply interesting to the reader. Once she paused, as if struck by some new thought, and then, again, she read with some anxiety. She had just finished the last words, when her door opened, and Miss Agnes entered the room.

“Be calm, my dear child,” said her aunt; “it is indeed a precious letter, and one which we both value highly; your feelings are only natural, dearest; but do not indulge them to excess.” Miss Wyllys, by her gentle, caressing manner, succeeded in calming Elinor, when, urging her not to sit up later, she left her niece for the night.

When Miss Agnes was gone, Elinor fell on her knees, with the letter still in her hand. She remained some time, apparently in prayer, and then rising calmly, she folded the sheet, and laid it on the Bible; and, before her head touched her pillow, the letter was again removed, and placed beneath it.

We have not the slightest wish to beguile the reader into believing that Elinor had a mysterious lover, or a clandestine correspondence; and we shall at once mention, that this letter was one written years previously, by the mother she had lost; and her good aunt, according to the direction, had placed it in her niece’s hands, on the morning of her seventeenth birthday.

When Mr. Wyllys went down to breakfast, the next morning, he inquired if their drunken visiter { sic — the Cooper family’s usual spelling of the word}, of the previous night, had shown himself again.

“I have just been out, sir, to look after him,” said Harry, “and the fellow does not seem to have liked his night’s lodgings. He broke jail, and was off before any of the men were up this morning; they found the door open, and the staple off — he must have kicked his way out; which could easily he done, as the lock was old.”

Elinor suggested that it was, perhaps, some one who was ashamed of the situation in which he had been found.

“More probably he was too much accustomed to a lock-up house, to find it pleasant. But if he really had any business here, we shall hear of him again, no doubt,” said Mr. Wyllys. The affair thus disposed of, the conversation took another turn.

Mr. Wyllys, Elinor’s grandfather, was decidedly a clever man. He had held a high position, in his profession, until he withdrew from it, and had, at one time, honourably distinguished himself as a politician. He was well educated, and well read; his library, at Wyllys-Roof, was, indeed, one of the best in the country. Moreover, Mr. Wyllys was a philosopher, a member of the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia; and the papers he read, before that honourable association, were generally much admired by his audience. It is even probable that Mr. Wyllys believed himself endowed with a good stock of observation and experience in human nature; but, in spite of all these advantages, we cannot help thinking that, although well-versed in natural philosophy, this excellent gentleman proved himself quite ignorant of boy and girl nature. Even his daughter, Miss Agnes, feared her father had been unwise and imprudent on an occasion which she considered of great importance.

A great deal might be said in favour of Harry Hazlehurst. Few young men, of his age, were more promising in character and abilities. He was clever, and good-tempered; and, with all the temptations of an easy fortune within his reach, he had always shown himself firm in principles. There was one trait in his character, however, which had already more than once brought him into boyish scrapes, and which threatened, if not corrected, to be injurious to his career through life. He was naturally high-spirited; and, having been indulged by his mother, and seldom controlled by his male guardian, a brother some ten years older than himself, Harry was rather disposed to be self- willed, and cherished some false notions regarding independence of character. His friends hoped, however, that as he grew older, he would become wiser. Something of this feeling had been mixed up with the motives which had lately led him to take a decided step for the future.

From a boy, Harry had been more or less the companion and play-fellow of Elinor Wyllys and Jane Graham, whom he looked upon as cousins, owing to a near family connexion. He had always felt very differently, however, towards the two girls. Jane, a little beauty from her birth, had been an indolent and peevish child, often annoying Harry by selfish interference with their plans and amusements. Elinor, on the contrary, had always been a favourite playmate. She was an intelligent, generous child, of an uncommonly fine temper and happy disposition. As for her plain face, the boy seldom remembered it. They were both gay, clever children, who suited each other remarkably well, in all their little ways and fancies. Now, within the last year, it had struck Harry that his brother Robert and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Hazlehurst, were very desirous of making a match between Jane Graham and himself. He had overheard some trifling remark on the subject, and had suffered an afternoon’s very stupid teasing and joking, about Jane, from a talkative old bachelor relation. This was quite sufficient to rouse the spirit of independence, in a youth of his years and disposition. When, at length, he heard a proposition that Jane should accompany them abroad, he went so far as to look upon it as something very like manœuvring { sic}. He was not a man to be led by others, in the choice of a wife. Jane might be a beauty — —no doubt she was — but he had no such extravagant admiration for mere beauty. There was Elinor, for instance; she was a very different girl, though without any beauty; she was just the kind of person he liked. She was so warm-hearted and generous in her feelings — without a bit of nonsense; she was so clever — could catch a thought in a moment, and always understood and enjoyed a good thing. Then her manners, too, were charming, so simple and natural; while Jane had no manners at all. Then, everybody said she was remarkably graceful, in a perfectly natural way; — how well she rode! Jane was even afraid to mount. And how pleasantly Elinor sang — and he was so fond of music. — Jane would do very well to sit and look at all day long; but, for walking, talking, riding, singing — ay, for thinking and feeling, Elinor would make precisely such a companion as a man of sense would wish for. By dint of dwelling on Elinor’s good qualities, and on what he fancied the plans of his brother and sister-in-law, he came to the conclusion that the only thing to be done, under the circumstances, by a man of any characte — by a man who had an opinion of his own, was to go immediately to Mr. Wyllys, and request his permission to address Elinor.

Harry was a great favourite with his uncle — from a child the young man had always given this title to Mr. Wyllys — and he had more than once expressed to his daughter, a wish that Hazlehurst and Elinor might, some years thence, take a fancy for each other. In the mean time he seemed to look upon them as children, and left matters to take care of themselves. Harry’s proposal was, therefore, quite unexpected at the moment, and took him by surprise; he seemed to think Hazlehurst decidedly too young, at present — he had not yet acquired his profession. This little difficulty in the opening of the affair, merely served to rouse Harry’s eloquence; and as his youth was really the only objection against him, he succeeded, before long, in obtaining Mr. Wyllys’s cheerful consent to his endeavouring, during the next two months, to interest Elinor in his behalf.

Miss Agnes, when informed of what had passed, was quite startled; she thought both parties too young to take so decided a step. But her father had given his formal consent, and she could not seriously oppose it; especially when she remembered that she, also, had more than once indulged the idea that some five or six years later, Harry would make a very good husband for her adopted daughter.

No one in the family was more surprised at Harry’s advances than Elinor herself. They had been so much together, ever since she could remember, and had always been such good friends, in an open, brother-and-sisterly way, that even in the last year or two, when indistinct ideas of love and matrimony had occasionally, like distant events, cast their shadows before, Harry had never once presented himself to her fancy in the light of a suitor. It required a day or two for her to comprehend the full meaning of Harry’s proceedings; she could say neither yes, nor no. This hesitation very much increased Hazlehurst’s perseverance; but her aunt, who looked on anxiously, had stipulated that nothing decided should be required of her, until Harry left them.

In the mean time, a day or two had been sufficient for Mr. Wyllys to become not only reconciled to the idea, but so well pleased with the appearance of things, that he amused himself with looking on at Harry in his new character of a lover; and generally once a day, had some little joke at the expense of Elinor’s embarrassment. But now, the two months had passed; Harry was to sail the next week for France — and Elinor, the morning after her birth-day, was to give a decided answer.

It was no longer very difficult to foresee that this answer would be favourable. In fact, Harry, who was thoroughly gentlemanly by nature and habit, had made his attentions just what they ought to have been under the circumstances; and, with the full approbation of her own friends, and all Harry’s good qualities appearing in their best light, the two months had proved sufficient to direct Elinor’s childish affection for him into another and a deeper channel. The letter she had received on the night of her birth-day, caused a moment’s indecision when, the next morning, after breakfast, as Mrs. Stanley and Mrs. George Wyllys left the room, her grandfather playfully asked her “what they should do with Harry?”

But she scarcely knew in what shape to express the thought that arose in her mind, and the feeling merely gave an additional touch of embarrassment to her manner, which was only looked upon as quite natural at the moment.

“I shall think myself very badly treated, Elinor,” said Harry, observing her hesitation, “if you turn me off like a common acquaintance, after we have been the best friends in the world for nobody knows how long.”

“Well, Nelly,” said her grandfather, “what is it, my child? Shall we tell Harry to go to Paris and cultivate his moustaches, and forget everything else?”

“Oh, no;” said Elinor, smiling as she held out her hand to Hazlehurst, though without looking up: “pray, don’t come back a dandy!”

The affair was settled. The young people parted with the understanding that when Hazlehurst returned from Europe, and had acquired his profession, they were to be married; and Harry went to Philadelphia, to join his brother, and make the last arrangements for their voyage.

Jane, too, left Elinor a few days later; and Miss Wyllys, who had charge of her — as Mr. and Mrs. Graham lived in Charleston — placed her at one of the fashionable boarding schools of New York. Miss Adeline Taylor had, in the mean time, informed her parents that she had changed her mind as to the school which was to have the honour of completing her education: she should notreturn to Mrs. A — ’s, but go to Mrs. G — ’s, which was a more fashionable establishment. Not that she had anything to complain of at Mrs. A — ’s; but she thought the young ladies at Mrs. G — ’s dressed more elegantly, and besides, she felt the impossibility of remaining separated from Jane Graham, her new bosom friend. These two young ladies had met twice previously to the evening they had passed together at Wyllys-Roof; Adeline had upon one occasion been in the same boat with Jane, going and coming, between New York and Longbridge, and she had already done all in her power towards getting up a desperate intimacy. Her mother, as a matter of course, did not interfere with the young lady’s preference for Mrs. G — ’s school — why should she? It was Adeline’s affair; she belonged to the submissive class of American parents, who think it an act of cruelty to influence or control their children, even long before they have arrived at years of discretion. As for Mr. Taylor, he had discovered that the daughters of several fashionable families were at Mrs. G — ’s, and was perfectly satisfied with the change; all he had to do was, to make out the cheques in one name instead of another. Adeline managed the whole affair herself; and having at last been to a young party, for which she had been waiting, and having satisfied some lingering scruples as to the colours of the silk dresses which composed the winter uniform of the school, and which she at first thought frightfully unbecoming to her particular style of beauty, Miss Taylor one morning presented herself at Mrs. G — ’s door, and was regularly admitted as one of the young band in fashionable training under that lady’s roof. Jane, it is true, did not show quite as much rapture at the meeting as Adeline could have wished; but, then, Miss Taylor had already discovered that this last bosom-friend was of a calmer disposition than the dozen who had preceded her.

Harry had not been a day in Philadelphia, before he announced to his brother, his engagement with Elinor; for he was much too frank by nature to have any taste for unnecessary mystery.

“I have a piece of news for you, Robert,” he said, as he entered the drawing-room before dinner, and found his brother lying on a sofa.

“Good news, I hope,” replied Mr. Robert Hazlehurst.

“May I not have my share of it?” asked Mrs. Hazlehurst, whom Harry had not observed.

“Certainly; it is a piece of good fortune to your humble servant, in which I hope you will both be interested.”

“Why, really, Harry,” said his sister-in-law, “there is a touch of importance, with a dash of self-complacency and mystery in your expression, that look a little lover-like. Have you come to announce that you are determined to offer yourself to some belle or other before we sail?”

“The deed is already done,” said Harry, colouring a little; as much, perhaps, from a mischievous satisfaction in the disappointment he foresaw, as from any other feeling.

“No!” said his brother, turning towards him with some anxiety. “Offered yourself — and accepted, then; or, of course, you would not mention it.”

“Pray, tell us, Harry, who is to be our new sister,” said Mrs. Hazlehurst, kindly, and with some interest.

“I have half a mind to tease you,” he replied, smiling.

“I never should guess,” said Mrs. Hazlehurst. “I had no idea you were attached to any one — had you, Robert?”

“Not I! It must be somebody at Longbridge — he has been there more than half his time lately. Come, tell us, Harry, like a man; who is it?” asked Robert Hazlehurst, naturally feeling interested in his younger brother’s choice.

“No one precisely at Longbridge,” said Harry, smiling.

“Who can it be? — And actually engaged?” added Mrs. Hazlehurst, who saw that Harry would not explain himself without being questioned.

“Engaged, very decidedly, and positively, I am happy to say. Is there anything so very wonderful in my having declared an attachment to Elinor; I am sure I have liked her better than any one else all my life.”

“Engaged to Elinor!” exclaimed Robert Hazlehurst, much relieved. “I am delighted to hear it. It is a wiser step than one would always expect from a young gentleman of your years.”

“Engaged to Elinor! I wish you joy with all my heart,” repeated his sister-in-law. “It had not occurred to me to think of any one so near and dear to us already; you could not have done better, Harry,” she added, with a perfectly frank, open smile.

To tell the truth, Hazlehurst was not a little surprised, and rather mortified by this decided approbation — since it proved he had been unjust, and that he had deceived himself as to what he had supposed the wishes of his brother, and the plans of his sister-in-law. He did not, however, for an instant, regret the step he had taken; his regard for Elinor was too sincere to allow of any other feeling than that of satisfaction, in remembering their engagement. But it had now become a matter of indifference whether Jane were to join the European party or not.

On the appointed day, the Hazlehursts sailed. They went abroad with more advantages than many others, for they carried with them good sense, good principles, and a good education, and were well prepared to enjoy the wide field of observation that lay before them. There was every reason to hope, from the encouraging opinions of his physicians, that Mr. Robert Hazlehurst’s health would be entirely restored by travelling; his wife looked forward to the excursion with much pleasure, and Harry was delighted with the plan. They had an old family friend in Paris, an excellent woman, who was in every way qualified to redeem the promises she had given, of soon making them feel at home in France. Madame de Bessières was the widow of a distinguished émigré, and had passed a long exile with her husband in America. They had been for years near neighbours of Mr. Wyllys, and this gentleman had had it in his power, at different times, to render services of some importance to his French friends. Madame de Bessières and her family were grateful for these acts of kindness: she had known the young people at Wyllys-Roof, and felt an interest in them all; for their own sakes, as well as from a sincere respect and regard for Mr. Wyllys and his daughter, this lady was anxious to show the Hazlehursts every friendly attention in her power. Under these agreeable auspices, the party left home, expecting to be absent for a couple of years.