Chapter IV.

“Farewell, my lord!

Good wishes, praise, and prayers,  

Shall Suffolk ever have of Margaret.” Henry VI.

{William Shakespeare, 1 Henry VI, V.iii.173-174}

THE arrival of letters from Harry, often accompanied by something pretty or useful, as a souvenir for herself, were the principal events of the next winter, to Elinor. Several months of the cold weather were passed, as usual, by Mr. Wyllys and his family, in Philadelphia; and Miss Agnes thought it time that her niece should make her appearance in society. But Elinor found less pleasure, than most girls, in the gay world. She was seldom appreciated, in mixed company; she was too young, at that time, and too modest, for her intelligence to be generally known or cared for; while her personal appearance exposed her to be entirely overlooked and neglected by strangers; it had indeed occasionally been the cause of mortifications, more deeply felt by Miss Agnes, than by Elinor herself. People talk so lightly, in what is called general society; heartless remarks are uttered with so much careless indifference on all sides, that it was not surprising some unkind observations should have reached her ear. It was not until the season that she had been introduced into a larger circle, that Elinor became better aware of her disadvantages in this respect. She had been so tenderly loved and watched over by her grandfather and aunt; she was so generally liked by those who had been hitherto her companions, that she had not been aware of all the consequences of her position. She knew that her appearance was not attractive, while her young friends were more or less pretty; still, she had thought but little on the subject, until her introduction into a larger circle led her to remark the great importance which the world attaches to mere beauty, in women, at least. But, with this reflection, came also the gratifying recollection of Harry’s regard for her; and it served indeed to increase very much her attachment to him, by giving it an additional feeling of gratitude.

Harry’s letters were kind and affectionate, and Elinor thought them very amusing. It was impossible that an intelligent, well-educated young man, suddenly transported from the New, to the Old World, should not find a great deal to say; and Harry told his adventures very agreeably. His letters to Elinor were almost as straight-forward and matter-of-fact, as they might have been if she had already become his wife. His brother’s health was improving; so much so, that they were talking of leaving Mrs. Hazlehurst, and her children, in Paris, while Harry and the invalid made a six weeks’ excursion to England. Madame de Bessières had been all kindness, and they were delighted with the society they met at her house. “Madame de Bessières remembers you perfectly,” said Harry, in one of his letters, “and as she is sure, under Aunt Agnes’ care, you must have grown up with all the good and agreeable qualities that she loved you for when a child, she agrees with your humble servant, in thinking him a very lucky fellow, and very prudent, in having secured you before he left home. She is really a most excellent and charming woman, as kind as possible to Louisa. Her American friends have every reason to be satisfied with her recollections of them, especially Mr. Wyllys and Aunt Agnes, whom she evidently appreciates. Her nephew, young de Guivres, and I, are very good friends already, and often take a gallop together in the Bois de Boulogne. It is a settled thing, Elinor, dear, that I am to bring you to France, one of these days; that is to say, if you have no objections; which, of course, you will not have. Tom Taylor is here still, and his progressive steps in civilization are quite amusing, to a looker-on; every time I see him, I am struck with some new change — some fresh growth in elegance. I was going to say, that he will turn out a regular dandy; but he would have to go to London for that; he will prove rather a sort of second-rate petit-maître à la Parisienne; which is entirely a different creature. It would do your heart good to see Robert; he eats like a ploughman, if ploughmen ever devour poulets à la Marengo, or ortolans à la Provençale. I wish I could give as good an account of Creighton, who arrived in the last packet; poor fellow, he has not revived at all, and, I fear, will never be better. His wife is with him; as pretty and agreeable as ever. I hope Bruno behaves well, and remembers that it is now his chief duty to devote himself to your service.”

{“petit-maître à la Parisienne” = a ridiculously pretentious dandy, Parisian-style; ” poulets à la Marengo“ = chicken Marengo, a recipe supposedly invented by Napoleon’s chef after the Battle of Marengo in 1800; ” ortolans à la Provencale“ = ortolans (a variety of bunting) in the style of southern France (Provence) (French)}

This was the last letter Elinor received in Philadelphia, for early in the spring the family returned to the country. She was never happier than at Wyllys-Roof, and resumed with delight occupations and amusements, which would have appeared very insipid to many elegant belles whom she left behind her — since the mornings were to be passed without visiting or shopping, the evenings without parties or flirtations. In a quiet country house, with no other young person in the family, there was of course, at Wyllys-Roof, very little excitement — that necessary ingredient of life to many people; and yet, Elinor had never passed a tedious day there. On the longest summer morning, or winter evening, she always found enough to occupy her time and attention.

To her, Wyllys-Roof was home; and that is a word of a broader and more varied meaning in the country than in a town. The cares, the sympathies of a country home, embrace a wide circle, and bring with them pleasures of their own. People know enough of all their neighbours, to take part in any interesting event that may befall them; we are sorry to hear that A., the shoemaker, is going to move away; we are glad to find that B., the butcher, has made money enough to build a new house. One has some acquaintance with everybody, from the clergyman to the loafer; few are the faces that one does not know. Even the four-footed animals of the neighbourhood are not strangers: this is the Doctor’s Newfoundland dog; that is some old lady’s tortoise- shell cat. One knows the horses, as well as the little urchins who ride them to water; the cows, and those who milk them. And then, country-folks are nature’s freeholders; they enjoy a full portion of the earth, the air, the sky, with the thousand charms an ever-merciful Creator has lavished on them. Every inanimate object — this hill, that wood, the brook, the bridge, C.’s farm-house, and D.’s barn — to the very highway, as far as eye can reach, all form pleasing parts of a country home. In a city, on the contrary, we live surrounded by strangers. Home is entirely restricted to our own fire-side. One knows a neighbour’s card, perhaps, but not his face. There may have been a funeral or a wedding next-door, and we learn it only from the morning paper. Then, even if a fixture oneself, how is it possible for human sensibilities to cling very closely to the row of brick houses opposite, which are predestined to be burned or pulled down in a few years? Nor can one be supposed to look with much pleasure at the omnibus horses, or half-starved pigs that may belong to one’s street. No doubt, that with hearts warm and true, we may have a firesidein town; but HOME with its thousand pleasant accessories — home, in its fullest meaning, belongs especially to the country.

Elinor was a country girl, born and bred. Though banished from Chesnut { sic} Street, she would have been well satisfied with the usual occupations of a country life, varied only by quiet walks with her aunt, rides with her grandfather, chatty meetings with a few young companions, or long visits from old friends, whose names and faces had been familiar to her all her life. The first few weeks after her return to Wyllys-Roof, she had, of course, more than usual to see and hear. Elinor had been absent from home but a few months; yet, even in that short space, she found changes had occurred in the neighbourhood — varied, as usual — some of a sad, some of a pleasant nature. Miss Agnes and her niece found one place vacant among those whom they were in the habit of seeing often; the father of a family who lived within sight of their own windows, had died suddenly, and left a widow and children to struggle with the world: but they were neither friendless nor repining, and submitted with humble resignation to their severe affliction, prepared to meet with faith and hope the additional cares and toils allotted to them. One of Elinor’s young friends, too, was lying on a sick-bed at Longbridge — a beautiful girl of her own age — wasted by consumption; but she was calm and peaceful, though without hope this side the grave. We shall scarcely forgive ourselves for making even a distant allusion to one portion of Elinor’s pleasures and labours, although more especially connected with home; since none could perform their religious duties with less ostentation, with more single-hearted sincerity — none could more carefully follow the precept, to “give with simplicity,” than Miss Wyllys, and the niece she had educated.

{“Chesnut Street” = Chestnut Street, a fashionable street in Philadelphia}

Of course, the ladies had immediately resumed their intercourse with their old friends; and they had many neighbourly visits to pay. Not your formal, fashionable morning calls, lasting just three minutes, when you are so unfortunate as to find at home the individual you are paying off; no, indeed; good, honest visits of nearly an hour’s length, giving time to exchange many kindly inquiries as to the health of all the members of the family, the condition of the garden, and promises of the crops; and even occasionally allowing Mr. Wyllys to take a look at some addition to the live-stock, in the shape of calves, colts, or pigs. Then, Mrs. Bernard had just moved into a new house, whose comforts and conveniences must certainly be shown by herself, and appreciated by her friends. Then, Elinor had to kiss, and make acquaintance with several tiny pieces of humanity, in white frocks and lace caps — little creatures born during the past winter; of course, the finest babies one could wish to see, and the delight of their parents’ hearts. Then, Alida Van Horne was going to be married; as Elinor was to be her bridesmaid, a great deal of talking and consulting took place on the occasion, as a matter of course. But, although her time was fully occupied in many different ways, no day was too pleasant or too busy for more than one thought to be given to Harry Hazlehurst.