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CHAPTER III. 


IT was quite early on the following morning, when Mr. Delafield rung at the door of the house in which the father of Miss Henly resided. The gentleman had obtained the permission of the young lady, the preceding evening, to put himself on the list of her visiting acquaintance, and a casual introduction to both of Charlotte's parents had smoothed the way to this intimacy. It is certain, that, much as Mr. and Mrs. Henly loved their child, neither of them entertained the selfish wish of monopolizing all of her affections to themselves during life. It was natural, and a thing to he expected, that Charlotte should marry; and among the whole of their acquaintance there appeared no one so unobjectionable as her new admirer. He was agreeable in person, in manners, and in temper; he was intelligent, witty, and a man of the world; and, moreover, he was worth--three hundred thousand dollars! What parent is there whose judgment would remain unbiassed by these solid reasons in favour of a candidate for the hand of his child? or what female is there whose heart could be steeled against such attractions in her suitor? Many were the hours of care that had been passed by the guardians of Charlotte's happiness, in ruminating on the event that was to yield their charge to the keeping of another; frequent were their discussions on this interesting subject, and innumerable their plans to protect her inexperience against falling into those errors that had blasted the peace of so many around them; but the appearance of Seymour Delafield seemed as the fulfilment of their most sanguine expectations. To his refinement of manners, they both thought that they could yield the sensitive delicacy of their child with confidence; in his travelled experience they anticipated the permanency of a corrected taste; nor, was it a disagreeable consideration to either, that as the silken cord of paternal discipline was to be loosened, it was to be succeeded by the fetters of hymen cast in polished gold. In what manner their daughter regarded the evident admiration of Mr. Delafield will appear, by her conclusion of our tale.

On entering the parlour, Delafield found George Morton seated in a chair near the fire, with his person more than usually well guarded against the cold, as if he were suffering under the effects of a serious indisposition. The salutations between the young men were a little embarrassed on both sides; the face of George growing even paler than before, while the fine colour on Delafield's cheek mounted to his very temples. After regarding for a moment, with much inward dissatisfaction, the apparent ease with which George was maintaining possession of the apartment by himself, Mr. Delafield overcame the sudden emotion created by the surprise, and spoke.

"I am sorry that you appear so ill, Mr. Morton, and I regret that you should have suffered so much in the cause of humanity, when one so much better able to undergo the fatigue, by constitution, should have remained an idle spectator, like myself."--

The silent bow of George might be interpreted into a desire to say nothing of his own conduct, or into an assent with the self-condemnation of the speaker. Delafield, however, took the chair which the other politely placed for him, and continued--

"But, Sir, you have your reward. The interest and admiration excited in Miss Henly, would compensate me for almost any privation or hardship that man could undergo."

"It is no hardship to ride a few miles in a comfortable coach," said George, with a feeble smile, "nor can I consider it a privation of enjoyment, to be able to assist the distressed,"--he hesitated a moment, and a flush gradually stole over his features as he continued, "It is true, Sir, that I prize the good opinion of Miss Henly highly, but I look to another quarter for approbation on such a subject."

"And very justly, George," said the soft voice of Charlotte, "such applause as mine can be but of little moment to one who performs such acts as yours."

The gentlemen were sitting with their faces towards the fire, and had not heard the light step of Miss Henly as she entered the apartment, but both instantly arose and paid their salutations; the invalid by a silent bow, and by handing a chair, and Delafield with many a graceful compliment on her good looks, and divers protestations concerning the pleasure he felt at being permitted to visit at her house. No two things could be more different than the manners of these gentlemen. That of the latter was very highly polished, insinuating, and although far from unpleasantly so, yet slightly artificial; while that of the former was simple, ingenuous, and in the presence of Miss Henly was apt to be at times a little constrained. Charlotte certainly perceived the difference, and she as certainly thought that it was not altogether to the advantage of George Morton. The idea seemed to give her pain, for she showed several little attentions to her old friend, that by their flattering, but unstudied particularity, were adapted to put any man at his ease and assure him of his welcome, still the embarrassment of George did not disappear, but he sat an uneasy listener to the conversation that occurred, as if reluctant to stay, and yet unwilling to depart. After a few observations on the entertainment of the preceding evening, Mr. Delafield continued--

"I was lamenting to Mr. Morton, as you entered, that he should have suffered so much from my want of thought, the day before yesterday; it requires a good constitution to endure exposure--"

"And such I often tell you, George, you do not possess," said Charlotte, kindly and with a little melancholy; "yet you neither seem to regard my warnings on the subject, nor those of any of your friends"--

"There is a warning that I have not disregarded," returned the youth, endeavouring to smile.

"And what is it?" asked Charlotte, struck with the melancholy resignation of his manner.

"That I am not fit company, just now, for hearts as gay as yours and Mr. Delafield's," he returned, and rising, he made a hasty bow and withdrew.

"What can he mean!" said Charlotte, in amazement, "George does not appear well, and latterly his manner is much altered--what can he mean, Mr. Delafield?"

"He is ill," said Delafield, far from feeling quite easy at the evident interest that the lady exhibited; "he is ill, and should be in his bed, instead of attending the morning levees of even Miss Henly."

"Indeed, he is too regardless of his health," said Charlotte in a low tone, fixing her eyes on the grate, where she continued gazing for some time. Every effort of Seymour was made to draw off the attention of the young lady from a subject, that, however melancholy, seemed to possess peculiar charms for her. In this undertaking the gentleman would not have succeeded but for the fortunate appearance of Miss Osgood, who came into the room very opportunely to keep alive the discourse.

"What, tete-a-tete!" exclaimed Maria; "you should discharge your footman, Charlotte, for saying that you were at home. A young lady is never supposed to be at home when she is alone--with a gentleman."

"I shall then know how to understand the servant of Mr. Osgood, when I inquire for his daughter," cried Seymour gayly.

"Ah! Mr. Delafield, it is seldom that I have an opportunity of hearing soft things, for I am never alone with a gentleman in my father's house"--

"And is Mrs. Osgood so rigid?" returned the gentleman; "surely the gravity of her daughter should create more confidence"--

"Most humbly I thank you, Sir,{"} said Maria, courtseying low before she took the chair that he handed; "but it is not the caution of Mrs. Osgood that prevents any solos in her mansion, unless it be on a harp or flute, or any possibility of a tete-a- tete."

"Now you have excited my curiosity to a degree that is painfully unpleasant," said Delafield, "I know you to be too generous not to allay it"--

"Oh! it is nothing more than a magical number, that frightens away all applicants for such a favour, unless indeed it may be such as would not be very likely to be successful were they to apply; and which even would render it physically impossible to have a tender interview within the four walls of the mansion"--

"It is a charmed number, indeed! and is it on the door? is it the number of the house?"

"Oh! not at all--only the number of the family, the baker's dozen, that I mentioned last evening; now in visiting Miss Henly there is no such interruption to be apprehended."

Charlotte could not refrain from smiling at the vivacity of her friend, who, perceiving that her wish to banish the look of care that clouded the brow of the other had vanished, changed the discourse as abruptly as she had introduced it.

"I met George Morton at the door, and chatted with him for several minutes. He appears quite ill, but I know he has gone two miles in the country for his mother this raw day; unless he is more careful of himself he will ruin his constitution, which is none of the best now."

Maria spoke with feeling, and with a manner that plainly showed that her ordinary levity was assumed, and that she had at the bottom, much better feelings than the trifling intercourse of the world would usually permit her to exhibit. Charlotte did not reply, but her brightening looks once more changed to that pensive softness which so well became her delicate features, and which gave to her countenance an expression such as might be supposed to shadow the glory of angels, when, from their abode of purity and love, they look down with pity on the sorrows of man.

The quick glance of Delafield not only watched, but easily detected, both the rapid transitions and the character of these opposite emotions. Under the sudden influence of passions, that probably will not escape our readers, he could not forbear uttering, in a tone in which pique might have been too apparent.

"Really, Mr. Morton is a happy fellow!"

The blue eyes of Charlotte were turned to the speaker with a look of innocent inquiry, but she continued silent. Maria, however, not only bestowed a glance at the youth from her laughing hazel ones, but found utterance for her tongue also.

"How so?" she asked--"He is not of a strong constitution, not immensely rich, nor over and above--that is, not particularly handsome. Why is he so happy?"

"Ah! I have discovered that a man may be happy without one of those qualifications."

"And miserable who has them all?"

"Nay, nay, Miss Osgood, my experience does not extend so far--I am not quite the puppy you think me."

Maria, in her turn, was silent; but she arose from her seat, and moved with an absent air to a distant part of the room, and for a short time seemed to be particularly occupied in examining the beauties of a port-folio of prints, with every one of which she was perfectly familiar. The conversation was resumed by her friend.

"You have mortified Miss Osgood, Mr. Delafield," said Charlotte; "she is too good natured to judge any one so harshly."

"Is her good nature, in this particular, infectious?" the young man rather whispered than uttered aloud--"Does her friend feel the same indulgence for the infirmities of a frail nature to which she really seems herself hardly to belong?"

"You compliment me, Mr. Delafield, at the expense of truth, if it really be a compliment to tell me that I am not a girl--a female; for if I am not a woman, I must be something worse."

"You are an angel!" said Delafield, with uncontrollable fervour.

Charlotte was startled by his manner and his words, and unconsciously turned to her friend, as if to seek her protecting presence; but to her astonishment, she beheld Maria in the act of closing the door as she was leaving the room.

"Maria!" she cried, "whither in such a hurry? I expected you to pass the morning with me."

"I shall see your mother and return," replied Miss Osgood, closing the door so rapidly as to prevent further remark. This short speech, however, gave Charlotte time to observe the change that something had produced in the countenance of her old companion, where, in place of the thoughtless gaiety that usually shone in her features, was to be seen an expression of painful mortification; and even the high glow that youth and health had imparted to her cheeks, was supplanted by a death- like paleness. Delafield had been endeavouring to peruse the countenance of Miss Henly in a vain effort to discover the effect produced by his warm exclamation; and these observations, which were made by the quick eye of friendship, entirely escaped his notice.

"Maria is not well, Mr. Delafield," Charlotte said hastily. "I know your goodness will excuse me while I follow her."

The young man bowed with a mortified air, and was somewhat ungraciously beginning to make a polite reply, when the door opened a short space, and the voice of Miss Osgood was once more heard, saying in a forced, but lively manner--

"I never was better in my life; I shall run into Mrs. Morton's for ten minutes; let me find you here, Mr. Delafield, when I return." Her footstep was heard tripping along the passage, and in a moment after, the street door of the house opened and shut. Charlotte perceiving that her friend was determined, for some inexplicable reason, to be alone, quietly resumed her seat. Her musing air was soon changed to one of surprise, by the following remark of her companion:

"You appear, Miss Henley," he said, "to be sensitively alive to the ailings of all you know but me."

"I did not know that you were ill, Mr. Delafield! Really, sir, I never met with any gentleman's looks which so belied him, if you are otherwise than both well and happy."

As much experience as Delafield possessed in the trifling manoeuvres of managers, or perhaps in the manifestations of feelings that are exhibited by every-day people, he was an absolute novice in the emotions of a pure, simple, ingenuous female heart. He was alive to the compliment to his acknowledged good looks, conveyed in this speech, but he was not able to appreciate the single- heartedness that prompted it. Perhaps his handsome face was as much illuminated by the consciousness of this emotion as by the deeper feeling he actually experienced, while he replied,--

"I am well, or ill, as you decree. Miss Henley; it is impossible that you should live in the world, and be seen, be known as you are, and must have been seen and known, and not long since learned the power you possess over the happiness of hundreds."

Though Charlotte was simple, unsuspecting, pure, and extremely modest, she was far from dull--she was not now to learn the difference between the language of ordinary trifling and general compliment, and that to which she now listened, and which, however vague, was still so particular as to induce her to remain silent. The looks and manner of the youthful female, at that moment, would have been a study to those who love to dwell on the better and purer beings of creation. She was silent, as we have already remarked, because she could make no answer to a speech that either meant every thing or nothing. The slight tinge that usually was seated on her cheek spreading over its whole surface like the faintest glow of sunset blending, by mellow degrees, with the surrounding clouds, was heightened to richness, and even diffused itself like a reflection, across her polished forehead, because she believed she was about to listen to a declaration that her years and her education united to tell her was never to approach female ears without slightly trespassing on the delicacy of her sex. Her mild blue eyes, beaming with the glow on her face, rose and fell from the carpet to the countenance of Delafield, but chiefly dwelt in open charity, and possibly in anxiety, on his own. In fact, there was thrown around her whole air, such a touch of exquisite and shrinking delicacy, so blended with feeling benevolence, and even tender interest, that it was no wonder that a man, handsome to perfection, young, intelligent, and rich, mistook her feelings.

"Pardon me, Miss Henley," he cried, and the apology was unconsciously paid to the commanding purity and dignity of her air, "if I overstep the rules of decorum, and hasten to declare that which I know years of trial would hardly justify my saying; but your beauty, your grace, your----your----where shall I find words to express it?--your loveliness, yes, that means every thing--your loveliness has not been seen with impunity."

This might have done very well for a sudden and unprepared declaration; but being a little indefinite, it failed to extract a reply, his listener giving a respectful, and, at times, a rather embarrassing attention to what he was to add. After a short pause, the youth, who found words as he proceeded, and with whom, as with all others, the first speech was the most difficult, continued--

"I have known you but a short time, Miss Henley; but to see you once is to see you always. You smile, Miss Henley, but give me leave to hope that time and assiduity will enable me to bring you to such a state of feeling, that in some degree, you may know how to appreciate my sensations."

"If I smile, Mr. Delafield," said Charlotte in a low but distinct voice, "it is not at you, but at myself. I, who have been for seventeen years constantly with Charlotte Henley, find each day something new in her, not to admire, but to reprehend." She paused a moment, and then added, smiling most sweetly as she spoke, "I will not affect to misunderstand you, Mr. Delafield; your language is not very intelligible, but it is such that I am sure you would not use to me if you were not serious, and did not feel, or rather think you feel what you utter."

"Think I feel?" he echoed. "Don't I know it? Can I be mistaken in my own sentiments? I may be misled in yours--may have flattered myself with being able to accomplish that at some distant day, which your obduracy may deny me, but in my own feelings I cannot be mistaken."

"Not where they are so very new; nay, do not start so eagerly--where they MUST be so very new. Surely your fancy only leads you to say so much, and to-morrow, or next day, your fancy, unless encouraged by you to dwell on my unworthy self, will lead you elsewhere."

"Now, Miss Henley, what I most admire in your character is its lovely ingenuousness, its simplicity, its HEART; and I will own I did not expect such an answer to a question put, like mine, in sincerity and truth."

"If I have failed to answer any question you have put to me, Mr. Delafield, it is because I am unconscious than any was asked; and if I have displayed disengenuousness, want of simplicity, or want of feeling, it has been unintentional, I do assure you; and only proves that I can be guilty of errors, without their being detected by one who has known me so long and so intimately."

"My impetuosity has deceived me and distressed you," said Delafield--"I would have said that I love you ardently, passionately, and constantly, and shall for ever love you. I should have asked your permission to say all this to your parents, to entreat them to permit me to see you often, to address you; and, if it were not impossible, to hope that in time they would consent to intrust me with their greatest treasure, and that you would not oppose their decree."

"This is certainly asking many questions in a breath," said Charlotte smiling, but without either irony or triumph; "and were it not for that word, breath, I should experience some uneasiness at what you say; I find great satisfaction, Mr. Delafield, in reflecting that our acquaintance is not a week old."

"A week is time enough to learn to adore such a being as you are, Miss Henley, though an age would not suffice to do justice to your merits. Say, have I your permission to speak to your father? I do not ask you yet to return my affection--nay, I question if you can ever love as I do."

"Perhaps not," said Charlotte; "I can love enough to feel a great and deep interest in those who are dear to me, but I never yet have experienced such emotions, as you describe--I believe, in this particular, you have formed a just opinion of me, Mr. Delafield; I suspect such passions are not in the compass of my feelings."

"They are, they must be, Miss Henley: allow me to see you often, to speak to your father, and at least to hope--may I not hope that in time you will learn to think me a man to be trusted with your happiness as your husband?"

The quiet which had governed the manner of Charlotte during this dialogue, was sensibly affected by this appeal, and for a short time she appeared too much embarrassed to reply. During this interval, Delafield gazed on her, in delight; for with the sanguine feelings of youth, he interpreted every symptom of emotion in his own favour. Finding, however, that she was distressed for a reply, he renewed his suit--

"Though I have known you but a few days, I feel as if I had known you for years. There are, I believe, Miss Henley, spirits in the world who commune with each other imperceptibly, who seem formed for each other, and who know and love each other as by instinct."

"I have no pretensions to belong to that class," said Charlotte; "I must know well to love a little, but I trust I feel kind sentiments to the whole human race."

"Ah, you do not know yourself. You have lived all your life in the neighbourhood of that Mr. Morton who just went out, and you feel pity for his illness. He does indeed look very ill--but you have yet to learn what it is to love. I ask the high favour of being permitted to attempt the office of--of--of--"

"Of teaching me!" said Charlotte with a smile."

{sic}

"No--that word is too presumptuous--too coarse--"

"Hear me, Mr. Delafield," said Miss Henley after a short pause, during which she seemed to have experienced some deep and perhaps painful emotions--"I cannot undertake to give you a reason for my conduct--very possibly I have no good one; but I feel that I should be doing you injustice by encouraging what you are pleased to call hopes--I wish to be understood now, as saying that I cannot consent to your expecting that I should ever become your wife."

Delafield was certainly astonished at this refusal, which was given in that still, decided manner that admits of little opposition. He had long been accustomed to apprehend a sudden acceptance, and had been in the habit of strictly guarding both his manner and his language, lest something that he did or said might justify expectations that would have been out of his power to fulfil; but now, when, for the first time, he had ventured a direct offer, he met with a rejection that possessed all the characteristics of sincerity, he was, in truth, utterly astounded. After taking a sufficient time to collect in some degree his faculties, he came to the conclusion that he had been too precipitate, and had urged the suit too far, and too hastily.

"Such may be your sentiments now, Miss Henley," he said, "but you may alter them in time: you are not called on for a definite answer."

"If not by you, I am by truth, Mr. Delafield. It would be wrong to lead you to expect what can never--"

"Never?" said Delafield--"you cannot speak so decidedly."

"I do, indeed I do," returned Charlotte firmly.

"I have not deceived myself in believing you to be disengaged, Miss Henley?"

"You have a right to require a definite answer to your questions, Mr. Delafield; but you have no right to exact my reasons for declining your very flattering offer--I am young, very young--but I know what is due to myself and to my sex--"

"By heavens! my suspicion is true--you are already betrothed!"

"It would be easy to say NO to that assertion, sir," added Charlotte, rising; "but your right to a reason in a matter where inclination is so material, is exactly the same as my right would be to ask you why you did not address me. I thank you for the preference you have shown me, Mr. Delafield. I have not so little of the woman about me, not to remember it always with gratitude; but I tell you plainly and firmly, for it is necessary that I should do so--I never can consent to receive your proposals."

"I understand you, madam--I understand you," said the young man with an offended air; "you wish my absence--nay, Miss Henley, hear me further."

"No further, Mr. Delafield," interrupted Charlotte, advancing to him with a kind, but unembarrassed air, and offering her hand--"we part friends at least; but I think, now we know each other's sentiments, we had better separate."

The gentleman seized the hand she offered, and kissed it more with the air of a lover, than of an offended man, and left the room. A few minutes after he had gone, Miss Osgood re-appeared.

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