NOTWITHSTANDING the earnest injunction that Maria had given to Mr. Delafield to continue where she left him, until her return, she expressed no surprise at not finding him in the room. The countenance of this young lady exhibited a droll mixture of playful mirth and sadness; she glanced her eyes once around the apartment, and perceiving it was occupied only by her friend, she said, laughing--
"Well, Charlotte, when is it to be? I think I retired in very good season."
"Perhaps you did, Maria," returned the other, without raising her face from the reflecting attitude in which she stood--"I believe it is all very well."
"Well! you little philosopher--I should think it was excellent--that--that is--if I were in your place. I suspected this from the moment you met."
"What have you suspected, Maria?--what is it you imagine has occurred?"
"What! why Seymour Delafield has been stammering--then he looked doleful--then he sighed--then he hemmed--then he said you were an angel--nay, you need not look prudish, and affect to deny it; he got as far as that before I left the room--then he turned to see if I were not coming back again to surprise him--then he fell on his knees--then he stretched out his handsome hand-- it is too handsome for a man's hand!--and said take it, take me, take my name, and take my three hundred thousand dollars!--Now don't deny a syllable of it till I tell your answer."
Charlotte smiled, and taking her work, quietly seated herself at her table before she replied--
"You go through Cupid's exercise so dexterously, Maria, one is led to suspect you have seen some service."
"Not under such an officer, girl! Ah! Colonel Delafield, or General--no, Field Marshal Delafield, is an officer that might teach"--as Miss Osgood spoke with short interruptions between her epithets, as if in search of proper terms, she dwelt a moment on the last word in such a manner as to give it a particular emphasis--Charlotte started, more perhaps from the manner than the expression, and turning her glowing face towards her friend, she cried involuntarily--
"Is it possible that you could have overheard--"
"Let me tell you, Miss Prude, it is in such nonsense, however, that the happiness or misery of us poor sports of fortune, called women, in a great measure blooms or fades--now that I call poetical!--but for your answer: first you said--indeed, Mr. Delafield, this is SO unexpected---though you knew well enough what was coming--then you blushed as you did a little while ago, and said I am so young--I-- am but poor seventeen--then he swore you were seventy--no, no,--but he said you are old enough to be his ruling star--his destiny--his idol--his object of WORSHIP--ha! I do hit the right epithet now and then. Well--then you said you had parents, as if the poor man did not know that already, and that they must be consulted; and he desired you to ask the whole city--he defied them all to say aught against him--he was regular at church--subscribed to the widow's society, and the assembly; and in short, was called a 'good' young man, even in Wall- street."
"All this is very amusing, Maria--but--"
"It is all very true. Then he was pressing, and you were coy, until finally he extorted your definitive answer, which was--" Maria paused, and seemed to be intensely studying the looks of the other--Miss Henley smiled as she turned her placid, ingenuous features to her gaze, and continued the conversation by repeating,
"NO; irretrievable--unanswerable--unalterable NO."
"I have not authorized you to suspect any part of this rhapsody to be true--I have not said you were right in a single particular."
"Excuse me, Miss Henley, you have said all, and Seymour Delafield told me the same as we passed each other at the street door."
"Is it possible!"
"It could not be otherwise. His mouth was shut, it is true, and his tongue might have been in his pocket, for any thing I know: but his eyes and his head, his walk, and even his nose were downcast, and spoke mortification. On the other hand, your little body looks an inch higher, your eyes look resolute, as much as to say, 'Avaunt, false one! your whole appearance is that of determined denial, mingled--"
"Mingled with what, trifler?"
"Mingled with a little secret, woman's pride, that you have had an opportunity of showing your absolute character."
"You know these feelings from experience, do you?"
"No child, my very nature is charity; if the request had been made to me, I should have sent the desponding youth to my father, and if he refused, to my mother--"
"And if she refused?"
"Why then I should have said, two negatives make an affirmative."
Charlotte laughed, and in this manner the serious explanation which, between friends so intimate might have been expected, was avoided. Maria, at the same time, that she fell and manifested a deep interest in the TETE-A-TETE that she had promoted, always avoided any thing like a grave explanation, and we have failed in giving the desired view of the character of Miss Henley, if our readers deem it probable that she would ever touch on the subject voluntarily.
The winter passed by in the ordinary manner in which other winters pass in this climate, being a mixture of mild, delightful days, clear sky, and invigorating sun, and of intense, cold, raw winds, and snow storms. The two latter seemed to try the constitution of poor George Morton to the utmost. The severe cold that he took in his charitable excursion lingered about him through the cold months, and before the genial warmth of May occurred to relieve him, his physicians pronounced that his lungs were irremediably affected. During the period of doubt and apprehension which preceded the annunciation of this opinion, and of distress and agony which succeeded it, the family of Mr. Henley warmly sympathized in the feelings of their neighbours. The long intimacy that had existed between George and Charlotte and their parents, removed all superfluous forms, and the latter passed a great deal of her time with Mrs. Morton, or by the side of the invalid. Her presence gave him such manifest and lively pleasure, that it would have been cruel to have denied him what the other appeared to grant spontaneously. Charlotte had gradually withdrawn herself from society as the illness of George increased, and his danger became more apparent; and at the expiration of the month of April, she was seldom visible to those who are called the world, with the exception of the immediate connexions of her family, and her friend Maria 0sgood. In the beginning of May both Mr. Morton and his neighbour withdrew to their country houses, and thus the retirement from the world and the intercourse between the two families became more complete.
Delafield had made one or two efforts to renew his addresses to Charlotte, but finding them in every instance firmly, though mildly rejected, he endeavoured to discover such imperfections in the object of his regard as might justify him in disliking her. The more he reflected on her conduct, however, the more he became sensible of the propriety and simplicity of her deportment; and had not the impression she had made on the young man proceeded rather from the effect on his fancy, than from having touched his heart, the consequences of his conviction of her purity and truth might have been more lasting and deplorable. As it was, his heated imagination gradually ceased to glow with the beauties of an image that was, however perfect in itself, extravagantly coloured by his own youthful imagination, and in time, if he thought at all of Charlotte Henley, he thought of her as a beautiful object, it is true, but as of one that brought somewhat mortifying reflections along with it. This might not have been manly or generous, perhaps, but we believe it is the manner in nine cases out of ten in which such sudden emotions expire, especially if the ardour of the youth has precipitated a declaration that the more chastened feelings of the damsel are not yet prepared to reciprocate. While the image of Charlotte was still lingering in his mind, he was in the habit of visiting Maria Osgood almost daily, to ask questions about her, and perhaps with a secret expectation of their meeting her at the house of her friend. The gay trifling of Miss Osgood aided greatly both in cooling his spleen and removing his melancholy, till in the course of a month he even proceeded so far as to make her the confidant of what she already knew, though only by conjecture and inference. Delafield at this time was so urgent, and secretly so determined to prevail, in order that his pride if not his affections might be soothed, that in an unguarded moment he induced the inconsiderate Maria to betray, we will not say the confidence of her friend, but such facts as could only have come to her knowledge by the intimacy of unaffected association. If there were any thing to extenuate this breach of decorum by Maria, it was the manner in which it was effected. Miss Osgood had just returned from one of her frequent visits to the villa of Mr. Henley, when Delafield made his customary morning call: the absence of Maria, and the object of her visit, had been well known to him, and as it was a time when he began to speak of Miss Henley without much emotion, and but little love, he could not avoid yielding so far to his pique as to express himself as follows:
"So, Miss Maria, you have just returned from paying another visit to your beautiful little friend without any heart."
"My little friend without any heart! Of whom do you speak? and what do you mean!"
"I speak of Miss Charlotte Henley, the nun,--she who has all of heaven about her but its love--that brilliant casket without its jewels--that woman-- yes, that YOUNG woman without any heart."
"Upon my word, sir, this is a very pretty poem you have been reciting! but in my opinion, your conclusion is wrong. As she refused to give you her heart, it is the more probable that she has it yet in that brilliant casket you speak of--"
"No--she never had one. She wants the greatest charm that nature can give to a woman--a warm, grateful, and affectionate heart."
"And pray, sir," said Maria, bending her eyes inquisitively toward the youth, "if she want it, what has she done with it!"
"She never had one, Miss Osgood. I will grant you that she is lovely, exquisitely lovely! pure, gentle, amiable, every epithet you may wish to apply, that indicates nothing but acquired excellence: but as to natural feelings, she is as cold as an icicle--in short she is destitute of HEART--the thing of all others I most prize in a woman, and for which I admire you so much."
Maria laughed, but she coloured also. It had long been obvious to herself, and to the world too, that Delafield sought her society, now that he was not admitted at Mr. Henley's, much more than that of my other young woman in the city; but she thought that she well understood the secret reason for this preference, though the world might not. How gratifying this speech was to the feelings of the gay girl, the sequel of our tale must show. The young man however did not judge her too favourably, when he supposed her to possess those kindred sensations that unite us with our fellow- beings, and he might have added a good deal of generosity to the catalogue of her virtues. After a pause of a moment she replied--
"I suppose I must thank you, Delafield, for the pretty compliment you have just paid me, but I am so unused to this sort of thing, that I really feel as bashful as sweet fifteen, though I am at mature twenty."
"That is because you DO feel, Miss Osgood; I might have said as much to Charlotte Henley without exciting the least emotion in her, or of even bringing one tinge of that bright blush over her features which makes you look so handsome."
"Mercy! mercy! have mercy, I entreat you," cried Maria, averting her face, "or I shall soon be as red as the cook. But I cannot, I will not consent to hear my friend traduced in such a manner; so far from wanting feeling, Charlotte Henley is all heart. To use your own language," she added, turning her eyes towards him archly, "it is for her heart that I most love her."
"You deceive yourself. Early attachment, and long association, and your own generous, warm feelings deceive you. She is accustomed to show gentle and kind civilities to all around her, and you mistake habit for affection."
"She is accustomed to do all that, I own; but to do it in a manner that adds to its value by her simple unaffected feelings. She is not, I must acknowledge, like certain people of my acquaintance, a bundle of tinder to take fire at every spark that approaches, but she loves all she should love, and I fear she loves one too well that she should not love."
"Love one that she should not love?" cried Delafield: "what, is her heart then engaged to another! Is it possible that Miss Henley, the cold, prudish Miss Henley, can indulge an improper attachment after all?"
"Mr. Delafield," said Miss Osgood, gravely, "I am not apt to betray what I ought to conceal, although I am the giddy creature that I seem. But I have spoken unguardedly, and must explain: in the first place, I would not have you suppose that Charlotte Henley and I talk of our hearts and our lovers to each other, like two girls at a boarding school. If I know that she has such a thing as a heart at all, it is not from herself but from my own observation; and as for lovers, though she may have had dozens for any thing I know, to ME they are absolutely strangers.--Don't interrupt me, I am not begging one. After this explanation I will say, trusting, Delafield entirely in your honour, which I do believe you to possess in a high--"
"You may--you may," interrupted the young man eagerly: "I will never betray your confidence--you might trust yourself to my honour and good faith--"
"I wish you would not be bringing yourself and myself constantly into the conversation," said the lady, compressing her lips to conceal a smile; "we are talking of Charlotte Henley, and of her only. She was brought up in the daily habit of seeing much of George Morton, who, I believe, even you will own has a heart, for it will cost him his life."
"I fear so; nay, it is without hope. The cold he took in carrying the poor sufferer to the hospital last winter has thrown him into a decline. I do believe that Charlotte Henley is fond of him; but mind, I do not say that she is in love--if appears to be less of passion than of intense affection."
"Yes, such as she would feel for a brother."
"She has no brother. I do not intend to define the passions: but I do believe that if he were to live and offer himself, she would marry him, and make him such a wife as any man might envy."
"What! do you think she loves him unasked, and yet refuse me who begged her hand like her slave."
"It is not unasked; he has known her all her life-- has ever shown a preference for her--has been kind to her and to all others in her presence--he has long anticipated her wishes, in trifles, and--and--in short, he has done just what he ought to do, to gain her love."
"Then you think I erred in the manner in which I made my advances?"
"Your advances, as you call them, would have succeeded with nine girls in ten, though not with Miss Henley--besides, you are too late."
"Certainly not too late when no declaration had been made by any other."
"I am not about to discuss the proprieties of courtship with you, Mr. Delafield," cried Maria, laughing and rising from her chair. "Come, let us walk; it is a sin to shut ourselves up on such a morning. The subject must now he changed and the scene too."
He accepted her challenge, and they proceeded through the streets together; but she evaded every subsequent attempt he made to renew the discourse. Perhaps she felt that she had gone too far--perhaps there was something in it that was painful to her own feelings.
The explanation, however, had a great tendency to destroy the remains of what Delafield mistook for love. Instead of having his affections seriously engaged in a short intercourse with Miss Henley, our readers may easily perceive that it was nothing but his imagination that was excited, and which had kept his brain filled with images still more lovely than the original: but now that the wan features of George Morton were constantly brought into the picture by the side of the deity he had worshipped, the contemplation of these fancied beauties become hourly less pleasant, and in a short time he ceased to dwell on the subject altogether.
A consequence, however, grew out of his short-lived inclination, that was as unlooked for by himself as by the others interested in the result. He became so much accustomed to the society of Maria Osgood, that at length he fell it was necessary to his comfort. To the surprise of the whole city, the handsome, rich, witty, and accomplished Mr. Seymour Delafield declared himself in form before the spring had expired to one of the plain daughters of Mr. Osgood, a man with a large family, and but little money. Maria had a difficult task to conceal the pleasure she felt, as she listened to, not the passionate declaration of her admirer, but to his warm solicitation that she would unite her destinies to his own. She did conceal it, however, and would only consent to receive his visits for a time, on the condition that he was not to consider her as at all engaged by the permission.Next