Elinor Wyllys

Elinor Wyllys


"Now, really; if I am to dance, I prefer Mrs. 'Ilson."

And, accordingly, the Captain, by no means sorry to be forced to dance, rose with a victim-like look, half strode, half sidled towards Mrs. Hilson, and putting his elbow in her face by way of an invitation, led her to the quadrille. The contrast between these two couples, placed opposite to each other, was striking, and yet common enough in a mixed ballroom. Captain Kockney was desperately nonchalant, his partner full of airs and graces; their conversation was silly, ignorant, and conceited, beyond the reach of imagination--such things must be heard to be believed.

Young Van Horne was clever, and appeared to less advantage in dancing than in most things. Elinor the reader knows already; it was a pleasure to follow her as she moved about with the happy grace which belonged to her nature. Her partner, half in joke, half in earnest, was engaging her interest with his father in behalf of the visit to Europe. Elinor promised to do all in her power; and they chatted away cheerfully and gaily, for they were young and light-hearted; and yet, even in a ball-room, they meant what they said, and knew what they were talking about, for both were sensible and well educated. Jane and young Bernard were next to Mrs. Hilson; Adeline and Charlie Hubbard next to Elinor. Miss Taylor had declared that she would allow no one but herself to fill the place opposite to Jane, causing by her decision no little flirtation, and rattling merriment; but, of course, this was just what the young lady aimed at. These two pretty, thoughtless creatures, the belle and the beauty, held a middle position between Mrs. Hilson and Elinor. Frivolous as they were, there was more latent good about them, than could be found in the 'city lady,' who was one frothy compound of ignorant vanity, and vulgar affectation. The class she represented was fortunately as small in its extreme folly, as that to which Elinor belonged, in its simple excellence.

Any one, indifferent to dancing or speculation, seeking amusement as a looker-on, would have been struck, at Uncle Josie's house-warming, with the generally feminine and pleasing appearance of the women; there were few faces, indeed, that could be called positively ugly. Then, again, one remarked, that puerile as the general tone might be, mixed as the company was, there were no traces whatever of coarseness, none of that bold vulgarity which is so revolting.

There was a certain proportion of elderly men collected on the occasion--they were seen, with a few exceptions, standing in knots, talking great speculations and little politics, and looking rather anxious for supper, and the boned turkey. Of the mothers and chaperons, who filled the sofas, as representatives of a half-forgotten custom, some were watching the flirtations, others looking on and enjoying the gaiety of the young people.

Both fathers and mothers, however, were very decidedly in the minority, and, according to American principles, they allowed the majority undisputed sway. The young people, in general, held little communication with their elders, and amused themselves after their own fashion; the young ladies' bouquets afforded a favourite subject for small-talk; they were all carefully analysed--not botanically, but according to the last edition of that elegant work, the Language of Flowers, which afforded, of course, a wide field for the exercise of gallantry and flirtation.

{Probably, Frederic Shoberl (1775-1853), "The Language of Flowers," (numerous editions, some published by the Cooper family's regular publisher in Philadelphia)--but there were many similar books on the "poetic meaning" of different flowers}

Among the dancers, the four young ladies we have pointed out were acknowledged the most conspicuous. According to Mrs. Tibbs and Mrs. Bibbs, Jane's was the most beautiful face in the room, although there were two or three competitors for the title;Adeline was pronounced the most successful of the rival belles; Mrs. Hilson the most elegant and airy; Elinor the plainest of the gay troop. Probably, most of those who thought about the matter, would have decided as the Longbridge ladies did--although, on the point of Mrs. Hilson's elegance, many would have protested. There was one person, at least, who followed Elinor's graceful figure with partial interest; Miss Agnes found so much that was pleasing to her, in the fresh, youthful appearance of her adopted child--in the simple good-taste of her white dress--in the intelligence and character of her expression--in her engaging manner, that she forgot to regret her want of beauty; she no longer wondered, as she had sometimes done, that Harry should so early have appreciated her niece. Those who knew Elinor thoroughly, loved her for the excellence of her character; strangers neglected her for any pretty face at her side; but every one thrown in her society, must have acknowledged the charm of her manner. This pleasing manner, however, so frank, yet so feminine, so simple, yet so graceful, was only the natural result of her character, and her very want of beauty. She was never troubled by the fluttering hopes and fears of vanity; she never seemed to think of effect; when in society, her attention was always given in the simplest and most amiable way to others.