SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW;
FISHERMAN’S DAUGHTERS OF BRIGHTON.
A Patchwork Story.
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
BY THE AUTHOR OF LIGHT AND SHADE; EVERSFIELD ABBEY;
BANKS OF THE WYE; AUNT AND NIECE, &c. &c.
The first in native dignity surpass’d—
Artless and unadorn’d she pleas’d the more;
- - - -
The other dame seem’d e’en of fairer hue,
But bold her mien, unguarded mov’d her eye.
PRINTED AT THE
FOR A. K. NEWMAN AND CO.
SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW.
“And no two birds upon the farm
E’er prated with more joy than they.”
THREE days of quiet seclusion were beneficial to the health and spirits of Mary. Mrs. Ripley had kept to her word; she did not worry her with entreaties to go out, nor with apologies for leaving her to herself; in this respect only she seemed not to be considered, for in every thing which was requisite to her ease and comfort, Mrs. Ripley was mindful; and grateful for the friendliness of her reception, and willing to exert herself to appear so, Mary now declared that she was in a convalescent state, and offered to accompany her protectress to the evening’s party.
“Stay at home one night longer, my dear,” said Mrs. Ripley; “to-morrow I attend the concert, and there you shall make your debut; no amusement is less fatiguing; you have only to get a seat, and you may there be as quietly engaged with your own reflections as if you were at home; the cramming and squeezing of a rout might be too much for you at first, and a ball might be tantalizing, as perhaps you would not like to sit still; yet I believe you are scarcely strong enough to dance: but why did I see that arch smile on your countenance, when I said you might be quietly engaged at your own reflections in the concert-room? I begin to suspect that you were laughing at me.”
“I confess I smiled at observing that you never once took the music into the account,” said Mary.
“I never do, my dear; I have no taste for music; nay, I confess to you that I am not fond of it.”
“Dear ma’am, you surprise me!” said Mary; “then suffer me to ask why you attend the concerts?”
“I shall surprise you more, Miss Ellis, if I add, that I firmly believe half those who attend them are of my opinion, though they are not candid enough to avow it: this is the age of harmony, and those who do not profess to like music, are thought ‘fit for treason, stratagems, and spoils.’ You know there are professors in all sciences; but observe, no sooner will one of the long pieces of music begin to-morrow night, no sooner will the first chord be struck, than, with one consent, all the company will begin to talk—it would seem as if they were then called upon to break the spell of harmony, that they were then to begin their attack, and to wage war with music. A concert is to me a very dull thing, but I never say so, because I hate to be particular; I always try to act, to look, and to speak, like other people; and I cry ‘charming,’ and ‘beautiful,’ at proper places, and clap with my fan, when I see others do the same. I have a very particular reason for going to-morrow evening: the concert is for the benefit of a public charity, and it would be thought very singular in me to stay away—it would look niggardly, and I hate to be counted mean or shabby.”
“But if you were to send your benefaction to the charity?” said Mary.
“That would not answer the end, my dear, for were I to swear that I had done it, I would not be believed; besides, I do not like to go out of the beaten track; every body would be asking where Mrs. Ripley was?—one would have seen me out in the morning—another would have lost a crown to me the preceding evening; and then—‘how a woman of Mrs. Ripley’s prudence, and Mrs. Ripley’s regular mode of conduct, can answer it to her conscience for staying away from a charitable concert, is to me a matter of wonder and astonishment:’ this would be the language, my dear; I should be pointed at, and become a marked character:—no, no; I must go, and do a little penance, and undergo a little mortification, by sitting up like a mute at a funeral, in order to show myself.”
“Hard are the impositions of the world; a heavy tax is laid on those who live within its vortex,” said Mary.
“Not at all, my love,” replied Mrs. Ripley; “I am so used to all these things, that it is quite a matter of course; two charity concerts in the winter I look for, as naturally as for a fast-day before Lent; all Bath will be there, and it would not do for Mrs. Ripley to exclude herself.”
Mary listened to these sentiments without being a convert to them—“Mrs. Ripley lives indeed to the world,” thought she; “and without the motives by which its gay idols are usually actuated, she aspires neither at notoriety or eclat; her sole aim is to observe its laws, and to have respect unto its ceremonies—vain and futile labour! which thus engrosses every thought and every action of her life, and which she pursues with such persevering earnestness; for all that the world has to offer, neither to secure its applause, or to avert its ridicule, would I be thus chained down to the overbearing despot!”
The reflections of Mary were interrupted by a letter which was brought to her by the postman; the direction was evidently a female one, but the unformed hand, the uneven and cramped characters, proved that the writer was not practised in the employment; she broke the seal with some curiosity; it was dated from Elwyn Hall, and ran as follows:—
“MY DEAR MISS MARY,
“I take up my pen just to write a few lines to you, and to tell you I am very well, and very happy, and that I hope you are so likewise. I am not affronted that you went away from me, for I suppose you acted by Mr. Henry’s advice; but I was very much surprised, very so indeed; but he need not be afraid, I assure you, for indeed, Miss Mary, Mr. Timothy Piff is a very civil behaved young man, very so indeed, and clever and apprehensive; I thought him so, you may be sure, else I should not do as I have done; and sure, Miss Mary, you must allow that I was come to an age to chuse for myself, and to please myself; and Mr. Henry, he did not ask my consent; he married that Miss Lauretta all in private; and sure if he did not say any thing to me, I had no occasion to ask his consent; not that I believe I should ever have thought of Mr. Timothy, but only that when I first cast my eyes upon him, in his full suit of mourning, which he wore for poor dear Mr. Elwyn, he somehow put me in mind of his master, and certainly is rather like him about the chin and the mouth; he did put one in mind of poor Mr. Elwyn, very so indeed, for tears gushed to my eyes. Mr. Henry is very angry, I find; well, I can’t help it; he went away from me; he was no companion to his mother; I had lost my best friend; and as to the new Mrs. Elwyn, why you know, Miss Mary, my patchwork bed was ‘only fit to scare the crows:’ she must have a strange taste, I think, very so indeed, such a taste that I cannot well forget it; now, Mr. Timothy says he thinks all my patchwork is very beautiful, and very handsome indeed, and this he told me before I married him; so there now you see is the difference of tastes, Miss Mary. Well, I am not angry with you, Miss Mary, for may be, you would as soon have staid here as have gone to the sister of that comical and cross Mr. Munden; he was here when we came home, and he talked so odd, and was so full of jokes and earnest, that I hardly knew what to be at; and to be sure, poor Mr. Timothy was ready to creep into a corner, but law bless me! he had done nothing to be ashamed of. A queer wedding it turned out, to be sure, for all the servants, it seems, envious no doubt at Mr. Timothy’s advancement, chose to leave me, that was so good a mistress to ’em all, and this is the reward of my good-nature, and my bemeaning myself, as I always did, amongst ’em, without one bit of pride—well, let ’em go further, they may fare worse, that’s all I can say; Mr. Timothy was very well pleased at their going; now we keep only a couple of maids, and a man as he knew, and could recommend, and we find ’em quite enough; for we shall go out very little, and when I want the carriage, why Mr. Timothy can drive me himself. Miss Mary, I bear no ill will to you, and I hope you are better, and that you will excuse all blots and blunders. Mr. Piff desires his compliments. I remain your very humble servant, and sincere friend,
Mary had scarcely decyphered this curious epistle, when a servant put another letter into her hand; she recognised the writing of Henry Elwyn in the envelope, which ran thus:—
“MY DEAR MARY,
“I know you will be interested in the contents of our good friend Munden’s letter. I fear the credulous and foolish being, whom I have the misfortune of calling mother, will soon have cause to mourn her imprudent conduct. I preferred sending you the letter, to calling, because, as I have not the pleasure of knowing Mrs. Ripley, the verbal communication would have been repugnant to my feelings. Believe me always, dear Mary, your firmly-attached friend,
Mr. Munden’s letter followed:—
“I kept my station, as I told you I should, and with a book and a blazing fire, I awaited the return of Mr. and Mrs. Piff; at length their carriage drove up, and the foolish titter of madam assailed my ear as she came into the hall; she walked directly into the parlour where I was sitting, holding by the arm of Timothy. I wish I could give you an idea of the crest-fallen look of this exulting bridegroom—when I got up from my chair, and saluted the bride with—‘Madam, I wish you much joy,’ and a low bow, he loosened himself from his new incumbrance, but found it a hard matter to stand by himself; my lady curtsied, and bridled, and tossed, and did not know what to be at; Mr. Piff seemed to be leaving the room, and to be leaving her to hear me out—‘Not so fast, if you please, Mr. Timothy Piff,’ said I, and the foolish ninnyhammer returned, with that air of servile and hacknied obeisance with which he had been used to await the commands of his master. I entered upon my business at once, and told them, that you permitted them to remain at the Hall, and all that; but I informed Mr. Piff, that he must arrange his own establishment, for that his equals I found did not chuse to become his servants—‘As they please, sir, as they please,’ said he, shuffling, as if he still felt for the napkin under his arm; ‘Mrs. Piff and I shall make ourselves very agreeable to every thing.’—‘Very true, very proper, Mr. Piff, very much so indeed, sir,’ said his complimentary spouse. She stumbled out something about you, Harry, and about your not having consulted her, and about the desertion of your little ward; but I took that all upon myself—‘Faith, madam,’ said I, ‘in the topseyturvy confusion of this house, it might have been hard work for any one to keep in their proper place, so I thought it was best to send the girl under the care of my sister, who never stirs out of the beaten track, nor gets out of the perpendicular, but carries her dish even, go where she will.’—‘Well, just as you please, sir.’—‘It seems to have been just as you pleased, madam,’ answered I; so, giving Mr. Timothy to understand, in downright English, that Mrs. Piff would receive her jointure of five hundred per annum in quarterly payments at my hands, and that it behoved him to conduct himself with respect and attention towards her, as to her he must look for his maintenance, and having specified a few other things which I thought necessary, I bade adieu to the happy pair. I have since been making some inquiries into the character of this hopeful Timothy, and find that amongst his fellows he was always considered cross and selfish, very mean-spirited, crouching to his superiors, though a very tyrant where he could domineer and exert a little brief authority. What a fine old fool this mother of yours has been! before the honeymoon has elapsed, she will repent her bargain. Call me a croaking old bachelor; but so I mean to continue; while I see so much headstrong folly in one sex, so much weak credulity in the other, I mean to keep clear, if I can. I suppose this Mary Ellis, who really appears one of a thousand, I suppose she goes on soft and smoothly with madam Ripley; only let her keep quiet, and follow the lead of the other, and not traverse her schemes, nor alter her plan for the next day, and the day after, and so on to that day month, and she may jog on as quietly in the Bath round, as any horse in a mill; Mrs. Ripley will never draw her aside; and to this girl her perseverance in pleasure will do no harm, for I take it that the turn of her mind is above par.
“God bless you, dear Elwyn! Deuce take me, if I can think of one syllable time enough to say to your fine lady, who always overlooks blunt and homespun
“P.S. I will send my love to Mary Ellis. I have not forgiven you for giving up that respectable old mansion to Piff; what, in God’s name, will he do with it? five hundred a year can’t maintain it properly, though he ought not to have reckoned on one-fifth of that sum; and, in
God’s name, who will go to visit him? fine parlour company will never be seen in those rooms, where that girl’s friend, and every body’s friend, poor Clara—but no matter, for I have already prosed to the end of my paper.”
Amidst the unpleasant ideas which Mr. Munden’s description of Timothy Piff had called up in the mind of Mary, though there was something pleasing and consolatory to her heart, in the knowledge of possessing the regard and good opinion of this worthy man, yet she could have wished that he had restrained the bluntness of his manner, and not so obviously expressed his meaning with regard to Lauretta—“The quick apprehension of Henry,” thought she, “will instantly perceive that Mrs. Elwyn is not looked upon with so indulgent an eye by his friend as is Mary Ellis; this will wound his pride and his sensibility; I wish that Mr. Munden had withheld his pen—I wish that he had not mentioned my name. Mrs. Piff’s letter is characteristic; she is a weak and foolish woman—she means no harm; but she is vain and credulous—she is now likely to grow wiser from experience. It would be no comfort to Henry to see the letter of his mother; he could derive no satisfaction from it; on the contrary, he would find every unpleasant feeling recurring with the perusal—he must not read it.”
“Their only labour was to kill the time,
And labour dire it is, and weary woe.”
DISMISSING these subjects as much as possible from her mind, Mary arrayed herself in decent simplicity, and with a cheerful countenance, and the hue of rosy health returning to her cheek, she was ready to attend Mrs. Ripley to the concert—“I go tolerably early,” said that lady; “I hate to be particular; some people I believe carry their dinners in their pockets (their ridicules, I should say—I forgot that pockets were exploded), because they will have front seats; and others make a point of coming in when the room is crowded, and when the silence observed during a solo song of some favourite singer is considered a propitious moment for drawing on them the notice of the whole room; for my part, I have not patience for the first, or assurance for the last; I dislike singularity, and therefore I go time enough to get a seat near enough to the orchestra, in order to be able to hear what’s going on, if I like it.”
Mary agreed with Mrs. Ripley in thinking this middle course the best, and they got to the concert-room at the time they wished, and were pleasantly seated, very near the front of the orchestra.
The bench which they fixed on had vacancies only for two—“You are to go outside,” said Mrs. Ripley; “it is the custom for the young ladies to sit at the ends of the seats; they are then seen by the beaux as they lounge up the room.”
“Oh,” cried Mary, whose modest nature recoiled at the idea of placing herself purposely to be looked at, “if you please, madam, I would rather sit inside.”
“Oh, but indeed you must not,” answered her friend; “I assure you it is not the custom; and I never do any thing which may look particular, or different from other people.”
Mary acquiesced in silence; and was much amused at seeing the company enter, and in watching the gradual filling of the room: she had once attended a Bath concert with her beloved protectress, but she was then too young to make many remarks, and most of the present performers she had not heard. Mary was really fond of music, though she did not talk so much about it as many who were less sensible of its soothing and bewitching powers, and she anticipated much sublime delight from some of the choruses of the immortal Handel, and one or two of his chastely-pathetic songs, which she saw announced in the bill which she held in her hand; to Italian music she was not so partial; she did not understand the language, and her simple ear was not alive to its scientific beauties.
Mrs. Ripley amused herself with telling Mary the names of different persons as they passed in rotation up the room, with pointing out particular characters, and with curtseying to her own regular acquaintances, till the music began, when she was mute attention, whispering Mary—“You remember what I told you yesterday; I always make a point of seeming attentive; you shall hear me talk again, when this act is over; but if you should see me nodding, have the goodness to step upon my foot; it would not do to fall asleep—that would be too particular.”
Mary was much pleased; even in a long concerto, she found beauties, for the subject was pretty, and the variations were not complicated; but when, after a full and rich chorus of sacred melody, the “quelled thunder died upon the ear,” and Mrs. —— stood up with a voice and manner which did justice at once to the pathos, simplicity, and tender sweetness of “Farewell, ye limpid streams,” the full hear of Mary overflowed, and she became particular, for tears of tender, yet pensive, pleasure gushed from her eyes: luckily Mrs. Ripley did not observe her, but another did, for a loud laugh assailed her ear at the moment when she was wrapped in harmonious trance, and turning about, she saw Mrs. Elwyn; Lauretta’s eyes were fixed upon her, and the sarcastic look which accompanied the scornful toss of her head, as she scarcely deigned to notice the modest inclination of Mary’s, proved that she had been at once the object of her observation and her mirth.
Lauretta would have leant on a gentleman’s arm as she tried to walk up the crowded room, but finding it impracticable, she hastily relinquished it, saying—“Do, for Heaven’s sake, put a chair near the orchestra; I should be suffocated were I to try to get amongst this cram.”
The gentleman, who was a stranger to Mary, looked smiling obedience to the all-imposing commands of this sovereign lady; never did a smile more happily show two severed rows of pearl; the figure, the air, the manner of this beau, was that of a perfect Adonis; the care with which his flaxen hair was parted on his brow, the delicate carmine on his cheek, the nicely-disposed cravat, the elegant and sparkling broche which fastened his shirt, even the patch on his chin, was levelled at the ladies: warding off the crowd on either side of him with his huge opera hat, he moved with tip-top caution along; all the belles eyed him as he passed, many a fine eye languished to catch a glance of his, for the elegant, the charming, the beautiful Narcissus Finlater was the beauty of the present season.
With a half-languid, half-careless air, Lauretta let him precede her, and then catching the arm of another gentleman, who followed close behind her, she said, “do lend me your assistance; I have sent Finlater on to get me a seat.”
This gentleman, directed by the laugh of Lauretta, had followed the object of her rude observation; his eyes had fixed on the softened countenance of Mary, and they appeared to be rivetted upon it. Mary did not observe him, for she had been too much confused by the repulsive hauteur of Lauretta to venture another look towards her party; but Fitzallan, for he it was who followed Mrs. Elwyn, now caught her by the hand as he passed, saying—“Is it possible that I see Miss Ellis? this is an unexpected, an unhoped-for happiness.”
“You are very good in thus recognising me,” said Mary, with that air of freedom which the natural and ingenuous manner of Fitzallan called for.
“Pray make way,” said Lauretta, in a tone of impatience, which evinced that Fitzallan’s friendly notice of Mary Ellis did not contribute to her satisfaction, “I cannot stir a step.”
Fitzallan did make way, and other dashing belles, followed by splashing beaux, whom Mary did not know, seemed to follow as of the same party; in the rear came Henry Elwyn, escorting a fine bold-looking female, whose widely uncovered neck and shoulders displayed nothing delicate or attractive—“This is the deuce of a squeeze,” said the lady, in a loud and coarse tone of voice; “I shall not be cool again to-night.”
“You will have more room towards the orchestra,” said Elwyn; “I think Mrs. Elwyn has already got a seat.”
Elwyn did not see Mary; he moved on a few paces, and having procured a chair for his companion, she observed him addressed by Fitzallan; a look of pleased surprise illumined his countenance; and putting his arm through his friend’s, they both walked immediately towards Mary; lucky was it for her that the first act was closed, as it was not particular to talk.
Both Elwyn and Fitzallan were introduced by her to Mrs. Ripley, and their conversation, lively, sensible, and well-bred, impressed that lady in their favour.
The easy manner in which Mary addressed Elwyn, the tone of modest and unembarrassed familiarity in which she answered him, were observed by Fitzallan with the most undissembled satisfaction; and when, after chatting a few minutes, Elwyn returned to the party he had quitted, Fitzallan remained stationary at the side of Mary, and leaning on the end of her seat, and amusing both ladies with his animated remarks.
“Who is the lady whom Mr. Elwyn escorted up the room?” asked Mary.
“Why, you amaze me by the question,” replied Fitzallan; “I thought every body knew her.”
“But I am nobody,” said Mary, smiling.
“And this lady, whom you will allow to be somebody,” said he, “is lady Sawbridge.”
“Lady Sawbridge!” repeated Mary, Miss Letsom’s anecdote of that lady recurring to her memory.
“Lady Sawbridge,” said Mrs. Ripley, “has made herself very particular; she was much talked of in the lifetime of sir James, with lord Overton.”
“My dear madam, we must not be too particular,” said Fitzallan; “we must not look back; lady Sawbridge is now a rich and an unincumbered widow—lord Overton is married, and no lady is more followed in Bath.”
“I do not follow her,” said Mrs. Ripley, “because I think her a particular character; as far as I can, I make it one of my rules not to get acquainted with particular characters, or with particular-looking people; I no more like to have it said Mrs. Ripley was intimate with such a lady, after her faux-pas with lord such a one, than I would be pleased to have it asked me who that comical looking creature was that I chaperoned to a ball? I know a lady who really likes to get acquainted with oddities of all sorts, and all kinds; her routs always look to me like the Bath hospital, for I have seen the lame, the halt, and the blind there; and as to the conversation, it has resembled nothing but ‘confusion worse confounded,’ for she does not mind whether her guests come from east or west, from north and south, so they come to her; of divorced wives, and faithless husbands, Doctors’ Commons could not produce a better assemblage; and as to her lean authors, and half-starved poets, she appears to have had the whole range of Grub-street.”
“A charming mixture,” said Fitzallan, laughing.
“A very particular one, I think,” said Mrs. Ripley; “your people of genius, as they are called, are in general such odd out-of-the-way looking beings, that I always endeavour to keep clear of them.”
“Really, my dear madam,” returned Fitzallan, “in this place, and with this large exclusion, your acquaintance must be very limited.”
“By no means,” said Mrs. Ripley, “as Miss Ellis here can testify, by my engagements, and by the knocks at my door of a morning; no, no, I jog on very gently, with regular beings, who dress, play cards, and look, and speak, and move, like other people.”
“Pardon me,” said Fitzallan, “if I suggest that yours must be a flat collection; and I think would forcibly remind one of the three hundred and sixty-five wax-work figures at Mrs. Wright’s, who all came at a birth, as the story goes, and were all called John and Mary.”
“I will give you leave to laugh at me,” answered Mrs. Ripley, who was a good-humoured woman, “so that you do not call me eccentric, or particular; and I will give you an invitation to one of my routs, and you shall view my Johns and Marys.”
“If all of them are like the one I see at this moment,” said Fitzallan, with animation, “I should never tire of the charming prospect.”
“Well, that is very politely and promptly said, is it not, Miss Ellis?” said Mrs. Ripley.
“And, besides,” added Fitzallan, “under this obliging invitation, I find a great deal conveyed; remember, that I am not to understand myself as lame, or halt, or blind—neither a lean author, or an half-starved poet—a man of gallantry; or a man of genius,” and he bowed with an air of mock gratitude to Mrs. Ripley.
“I believe we must go into the tea-room, if we wish to get any tea,” said that lady; “and if I stay, perhaps you will make me recant my opinions; your genius seems to have a design that way.” Mrs. Ripley moved on, not displeased at having a beau, who was not particularly ill-looking, for her escort.
They easily procured a disengaged tea-table; and while Mary was amused by the lively rattle of Fitzallan, and Mrs. Ripley was preparing their beverage, amongst the crowd who passed in review before them was Mrs. Elwyn and her party; she was still escorted by the beautiful Mr. Finlater: Elwyn had relinquished the care of lady Sawbridge to another beau of the party, and followed close to Lauretta; with great nonchalance, Mrs. Elwyn tapped Fitzallan upon the shoulder with her fan, and in no very pleasant tone of voice, said—“You seem to have forsaken your party, sir.”
“Here is my apology,” said Fitzallan, pointing towards Mary, with easy gaiety; “I left you doubly guarded, and in attending to the ward of my friend, I considered myself to be obliging him.”
“And yourself at the same time, I suspect,” said Elwyn, as he good-humouredly shook the hand of Mary as he passed along.
“Who is that young lady?” asked Mr. Finlater, applying the glass to his eye, which was suspended from his neck by a wide black ribbon.
“Can you ask?” said lady Sawbridge; “surely, Narcissus, you must be blind; can you not see that she is a relative of Mrs. Elwyn?—and are you not deaf likewise, for you have just been told that Mr. Elwyn is her guardian?—and the likeness is so very apparent——”
“Very apparent, without doubt,” said Mrs. Elwyn, biting her lips, and trying to conceal her mortification by going on, but the crowd at that moment prevented her; turning to Mr. Finlater, she said—“You perceive this striking likeness, no doubt?”
“No, on my sacred honour,” said Finlater; “but, pardon me, if I think that Mr. Elwyn is trying to discover it.”
“Oh, he discovered it long ago,” said Lauretta, in a tone which was understood by Elwyn.
He gave a parting bow to Mary and to Fitzallan, and as he proceeded slowly on, his lingering look seemed to betray the pleasure which he would have felt in still remaining.
“How is it that Mrs. Elwyn is not more sociable with you?” asked Fitzallan.
“That question I cannot answer,” said Mary, colouring.
“Situated as you are,” said Mrs. Ripley, “it would be the most natural thing in the world for her to be on an intimate footing with you; and it would be proper and decorous, and it certainly looks particular not to be so.”
“Your guardian would wish it,” said Fitzallan, looking at Mary with that searching earnestness which would have read her inmost soul; but he found nothing there which “angels might not hear, and virgins tell.”
“The friendship and regard of Henry Elwyn,” said she, “I reckon amongst the greatest blessings of my life; you know, Mr. Fitzallan, and Mrs. Ripley also knows, that to the extraordinary kindness and benevolence of the deceased Mrs. Elwyn, I am indebted for every thing; but on the present lady I have no claims; she knows little of me——”
“And less she is inclined to know, it seems,” said Mrs. Ripley, interrupting her; “it would do her no harm, methinks, to pay you a little civility; but perhaps that is a coin which is not current with her; for my own part, I am not sorry for it; on my own account, I don’t wish to lose your company, for I am sure I find you very accommodating, and agreeable, and steady, and all that; and if Mrs. Elwyn took it into her head to be polite, I must come in for a little of it; and lady Lauretta Montgomery, I have been told, is a very particular character, and has made herself much talked of, both with regard to her airs of romance, and also for her fondness for that East-India general (Halifax); I am told she lives with him now; perhaps by-and-bye, the daughter may do something or another altogether as odd, and then I am sure I shall be glad that I did not know her.”
“I trust not,” said Mary; “I believe she is very much attached to her husband; and her little errors have their origin in the indulgence and overweening fondness with which her mother brought her up; these will be corrected by experience.”
“Well, well, it is all very proper and very pretty in you to say what you can in her extenuation, as she is your guardian’s wife, and so on; I really should like well enough to be acquainted with him; my brother Humphrey is mighty partial to him, and speaks very much in his favour; and then too, as guardian of my visitor and inmate, it would be all very well to see him now and then; but as I do not know his wife, his visiting alone would have a particular look, and certainly would not be quite the thing.”
Nothing particular occurred during the remainder of the evening; the two ladies were seen into their chairs by the pleasant Fitzallan; and, with the exception of the transient mortification which the scornful behaviour of Mrs. Elwyn had raised in the breast of Mary, she returned home well pleased with the evening’s entertainment.
Fitzallan took an early advantage of the permission which Mrs. Ripley had given him, of paying his respects to her, and going at an unfashionable hour, he found both ladies at home; from that period he became a constant visitor in Gay-street, and the invariable attendant on Mrs. Ripley and Mary when they appeared in public; he was amused by the even tenor with which the former pursued the business of pleasure, and he was pleased and interested in the sensible and modest conversation of her young companion.
Sir, if your drift I rightly scan,
You’d hint a beau were not a man.
WITH much liveliness, and a sportive imagination, Frederic Fitzallan possessed sound principles and undeviating integrity. His father, sir John Fitzallan, had run the career of fashionable life, and fashionable indulgences, to the injury of his fortune, his constitution, and his peace of mind; at the age of forty, he thought of replenishing his exhausted purse, of patching up his shattered frame, of soothing his upbraiding conscience, and becoming a married man.
A lady was soon found, who, yielding to the ambition of her parents, consented to be led to the altar by a man to whom she was indifferent; she gained a title, and she found an early grave, leaving one son, an infant, in the cradle.
Sincerely attached to his youthful wife, her death overwhelmed sir John Fitzallan in affliction, and affliction was salutary to his soul; hitherto, his “compunctious visitings of conscience” had been transient, and soon passed off with the return of health and spirits, or with the replenishment of his purse; and when he was able to pursue his enjoyments, he had contrived to banish all tormenting regrets; but now, he looked inward on himself, he seriously asked whether he had lived to one rational purpose, and what account he could render for perverted talents, and mis-spent time? and he looked back on the mercy of that God who had continued him in the world—who had given him time for repentance and amendment of life, while he had cropt that lovely flower, which was fitted for an early tomb—her memory, her sacred, her virtuous, her sainted memory, he loved to contemplate; he remembered the filial obedience which made her yield her reluctant hand to him—he remembered the angelic sweetness with which she tried to show that she was happy—he remembered the patient sufferance which she manifested when stretched on the couch of pain, and the unclouded faith with which she faced the king of terrors.
Such retrospections were mournful, yet beneficial; sir John Fitzallan became an altered character; he now devoted his time to the care and education of his son; he resided wholly in the country; and in beneficence to those around him, and in acts of devotion and of sincere and genuine repentance, he tried to “acquaint himself with God, and be at peace;” that God, whom he sought with sincerity, seemed to hear his petitions, and to behold him with an eye of mercy.
Frederic Fitzallan grew up all that his father’s most sanguine wishes could have hoped; and while, as he advanced towards manhood, his cheerful and happy disposition led him to partake in the pleasures that were offered to his acceptance with the avidity of a youthful mind, his principles were uncorrupted, his morals unperverted. Sir John Fitzallan had purchased experience from his early errors; these had partly arisen from the indiscriminate indulgence of his parents; he adopted the happy, the golden mean in his conduct towards Frederic; and by restraining him properly, and indulging him judiciously, he preserved him from those rocks and precipices so dangerous to misguided youth.
There was something in the sanguine and enthusiastic manner and the agreeable qualities of Henry Elwyn, which had irresistibly drawn the regards of Frederic Fitzallan; and, as we have seen, he paid him a visit in Gloucestershire. There Fitzallan also had seen another object which had interested him: dazzled and confounded by the bright display of Lauretta Montgomery’s charms, there was a peculiar pleasure in turning from them to the contemplation of the retiring and softened graces of Mary Ellis; Fitzallan felt deeply interested in her happiness, for he believed that it depended on his friend; he believed that her youthful affections were centered in Elwyn; and he grieved at the wreck of peace which must ensue, when she should awaken from her early dream of peace and safety, when she should behold the truant heart of Henry plighting its vows to another, when she should see herself deserted, lonely, and forlorn.
Such was the picture which often presented itself to the fervid imagination of Fitzallan—“The tender mind, the delicate frame of this gentle girl, cannot bear the shock,” thought he; “like a bent lily, she will droop her head, and sink into the earth, the artless victim of hopeless, of unrequited love.”
In all these reflections, Fitzallan imagined that pity, and only pity, was his inspirer; and actuated, as he thought, by this motive, prior to his leaving Elwyn Hall, as our readers may remember, he conversed with his friend on the subject; and with much of that friend’s enthusiasm, he described the attractions and the gentle virtues of Mary Ellis, as they appeared to him, and opposed them to those of her more resplendant rival: we need not recapitulate, as we are all well aware of the result.
The events of Mr. Elwyn’s death, and of his son’s marriage, had both been communicated to Fitzallan at the same time, and when his filial duties were all demanded for his father, who was suffering from a tedious and painful illness; but even in this period of duteous anxiety, Fitzallan heaved a sigh towards that tender maid “whom Henry left forlorn,” and fervently prayed that her happiness might not suffer from what he imagined the wreck of her earliest hopes.
When sir John Fitzallan was sufficiently recovered to bear the journey, his medical attendants advised him to try the Bath waters; and he came down to that city, attended by his son: in the pump-room, the first morning after his arrival, Fitzallan had met Elwyn; and, mutually pleased at this unexpected meeting, the former had accepted his friend’s invitation to dine, and to accompany the party to the concert in the evening.
Dressed for conquest, in all the pride of youthful beauty, Fitzallan now again saw the lovely Lauretta; as he looked at her, the softer, the milder countenance of her likeness, Mary Ellis, recurred to his imagination; but placed at the right hand of the hostess, Mr. Finlater on the other, and Elwyn engaged in doing the honours to his guests, it would not be gallant to ask Mrs. Elwyn a question which should prove his recollection of another lady, while sitting in her all-imposing presence, that other contemned and scorned by her; neither would it be friendly to call up her remembrance to the mind of Elwyn, as perhaps it might be accompanied by some unpleasant attendants.
Fitzallan attended his friends to the concert; who can speak his surprise on seeing Mary Ellis?—who can speak the pleasure with which, on his return to her with Henry Elwyn, he perceived the easy unembarrassed manner with which she answered his address, and the tone of familiarity, yet modest confidence, in which she spoke to him?—Pity was now succeeded by unqualified admiration in the breast of Fitzallan; the ingenuous and artless tones in which Mary Ellis afterwards tried to palliate the rude and insolent impertinence of Mrs. Elwyn, had raised this sentiment to its height; and while he thought Lauretta the most envious, the most narrow-minded, and the most selfish of women, he was inclined to raise his ideas of Mary Ellis to something very much above the common class of created beings.
Fitzallan was very candid and unreserved; he continued to visit on an intimate footing at the Elwyns; and as his thoughts were frequently reverting towards Mary Ellis, and as he was very often in her society, it was natural for him to mention her name in the course of conversation, and he invariably did so in terms of approbation and respect.
Mrs. Elwyn could scarcely rein in her indignation at these instances of his partiality for Mary; the narrowness of her disposition made her envious of every other female, and of Mary Ellis in particular, whose unfortunate likeness to herself, and whose being beheld with regard by Henry Elwyn, had excited her hatred and aversion. She was never easy if she did not possess the exclusive regard and attention of every one who approached her: this rage for universal conquest and profound homage was just as violent now as it had been prior to her marriage; and though indifference towards her husband might have been supposed to be taking place of affection, by those who observed the pains which she took to attract the attentions of other men, yet to hear Elwyn bestow any thing like an eulogium on another female, to have seen him show a kindness to Mary Ellis, would have been to see the lovely features of Lauretta overspread with mortification and jealous ire.
Narcissus Finlater was her devoted slave, as far as his devotion could be abstracted from his own sweet person; Mrs. Elwyn was decidedly the very prettiest woman that had appeared for the season—he was the beauty of the ladies, and as he could not flirt with all the girls who were dying for him, why they might look on and die; it would perhaps be safer for him to attach himself to Mrs. Elwyn; she was a newly-married woman, and to be understood to have a tenderness for her, would give him great eclat; and there was so much trouble in following up the single ones, that he would rather send half a score of them to the Bristol Hot Wells, and keep his station by Mrs. Elwyn, thus destroying all their hopes.
But though the foolish and coxcomical attentions, and the flimsy flattery, of Finlater was very acceptable to the greedy palate of Mrs. Elwyn, and though his constant attentions to her in public were very smilingly received, yet she could not be easy, when she saw Fitzallan a guest at her table, and a visitor at her house, and heard him have the effrontery to praise a low-born and insignificant chit in her hearing. Sir John Fitzallan was in ill health; at the death of his father, Frederic would succeed to a large fortune, and to a title—lady Fitzallan!—oh! all ye powers of female mischief and malice, combine to prevent Mary Ellis from being raised to such an height! a height beyond herself—a height which perhaps she might have attained, had she not previously taken Elwyn in her toils: something must be thought of, something must be achieved, and that too quickly; for already the Bath world had called it a done thing, already she heard Fitzallan rallied upon his predilection, and already he appeared covertly to acknowledge it.
While Lauretta was thus suffering the baleful passion of envy to make wide inroads on her peace of mind, her husband was exerting his utmost resolution and all his fortitude to stifle its first suggestions; his proud spirit dared scarcely yet acknowledge that he had mistaken the path to happiness, but the daily display of Lauretta’s character too forcibly proclaimed it; tasteless apathy, almost disgust, had ensued to that fervid admiration with which he had once regarded her; and his impetuous nature was ill calculated to bear the weight of that tyrannic sway by which she would have held his every look and action in servile bondage, while at the same time she exercised the most unlicenced freedom for herself.
A bitter emotion, such as Harry Elwyn had never felt, had never known before, seemed to pervade his soul, when he thought of Mary Ellis and of Fitzallan; hastily did he turn from the bright perspective of felicity which seemed to open before them; he wished, yes, he was sure that he wished their happiness, yet he did not think that Mary Ellis could so soon—“What then,” cried he, “am I such a wretch?—would I keep her a hopeless, a solitary being, unconnected and unattached?—have I ever had reason to suspect her of a more tender attachment towards me than what our respective situations authorised—and did I ever hope, did I ever wish——”
Elwyn could not pursue such reflections; and we are loth to confess, that having once found easy entrance there, he frequently rushed from them, and from himself, to —— House; there was he welcomely received; and in the mad intoxication of successful play, or the fermentation of spirit produced by the contrary transition of fortune, he spent many of those hours which were passed by his thoughtless wife at the scenes of public amusement, under the close escort of Narcissus Finlater, and in the society of his sister, lady Sawbridge; no longer the enraptured, the confiding husband, he resisted the inquiries of Lauretta, in that tone of decided refusal, which even intimidated her from being too inquisitive as to his private engagements.
While all the Bath world, and even the prudent Mrs. Ripley, had given Mr. Fitzallan to Mary Ellis, she only had no suspicion of the kind; the genuine humility, which had, under the happy instructions of her beloved protectress, formed a component part in her character, preserved her from the indulgence of an idea which she would have considered as absurd and extravagant. She always remembered what she was, and the disparity which existed between her origin and that of almost every individual with whom she conversed; she felt particularly obliged to Mr. Fitzallan for his kind notice; she supposed that the natural goodness of his disposition induced him to bestow it, from having observed the wounding neglect of Mrs. Elwyn’s manner, and the consequent distance which had been adopted by her guardian; this kind attention gave her confidence in herself; she was grateful to Fitzallan, she felt pleasure in his society, she was amused and instructed by his chearful and enlightened conversation.
Fitzallan had an opportunity of seeing her divested of that restraint and embarrassment, which her knowledge of the general opinion, or of his private sentiments, would have certainly produced. In the present enfeebled and precarious state of his father’s health, demanding, as he did, the utmost attention of his son, Fitzallan could not form an immediate plan for changing his situation; but to secure an interest in the pure heart of Mary Ellis, was now become his most sanguine wish; and he set about it, not in the usual and hacknied way of flattery and compliment, and in the language and with the air of a lover, but he sought to make himself agreeable to her by manly confidence, by the honest display of his sentiments and opinions, and by a respectful mode of behaviour. This conduct combined with the unconscious modesty of Mary to hush all suspicion in her breast.
We do not pretend to recount all the routs, and the plays, and the balls, which Mary Ellis visited with Mrs. Ripley; neither one-tenth part of those to which the blooming Lauretta was led by the sweet Mr. Finlater and his sister: the description of such scenes and such parties has been read and reread, described and redescribed, till there is nothing left for us; and our book is more a history of feelings and of sentiments, than of incidents and adventures.
Miss Lawson now made her appearance at Bath, as the companion of a second-hand dowager of the name of Onfield; and can it be believed?—yes, for it was a fact—Lauretta extended to her the hand of amity; and Miss Lawson stooped to kiss that hand which but so lately smote her.
The first evening on which Miss Lawson made her appearance, she attended, with her friend Mrs. Onfield, a party to which Mrs. Ripley and Mary had been previously invited; all joy, all ecstacy, at seeing her “dear Mary,” the voluble Lawson hastily approached her, and in all the rapid professions, of which she was so extremely diffuse, expressed her delight at the unexpected meeting—lamented “sweet Ellis’s” leaving the Hall without having given her an opportunity of bidding her adieu—pathetically mourned the misguided conduct of poor Mrs. Piff—mournfully predicted that she would suffer for her folly—indignantly spoke of the already-discovered tyrannical and miserly disposition of her husband—sorrowfully bewailed the sad state of Mrs. Halifax, who was fast going to the grave—sentimentally glanced at amiable Miss Letsom’s daily death—angrily reprobated general Halifax’s neglect of his lady, and the shocking publicity of his connexion with lady Lauretta—prophetically descanted on the sad consequences which must ensue to the extravagant dissipation of her daughter—and presciently mourned over the ill-starred fate of dear interesting Elwyn—and almost passionately depicted his rude neglect of her beloved and interesting young friend.
Mary was not surprised at this torrent of declamation, because she had been accustomed to it, and knew pretty well how much of it she might credit; she answered Miss Lawson with her usual modest civility, but took care not to touch upon any of the numerous points on which she had enlarged so freely.
Two evenings subsequent to this interview, Mary again saw this lady, but in public, and in the party of Mrs. Elwyn; she saw her leaning on the arm of the “extravagant” and “dissipated” Lauretta; and can it be wondered if her “dear Mary” was suffered to pass and repass in the crowd, unseen, unnoticed? Mary had been inured to the ague-like transitions of this lady, and was as little mortified with the cold fit, as she had been exhilarated by the hot.
If there was a human being for whom Elwyn had an utter contempt, it was Miss Lawson; Lauretta had frequently heard him express his dislike of her cringing and time-serving character; but Lauretta was now emerged from the controul of her husband; his opinions had ceased to have any weight with her, if they came in contact with her own pleasures or her own designs; and with the civility which is ever due from the master of the house to his guests, Elwyn was constrained to treat Miss Lawson, whom with surprise he saw at his table, by him at least, an uninvited guest; to express his disapprobation to Lauretta, would be to call forth those childish whimperings and those fretful bewailings which ever ensued to the gentlest expostulations; her present situation, which was calculated to excite all the tender interest of such a heart as his, and his ardent wishes for a child who might perpetuate the name of which he was so proud, restrained him from giving his opinion. Lauretta’s intimacy with lady Sawbridge had not pleased him; he had noticed it to her; but the wonted paroxysms had followed, of tears, upbraidings, and sullen waywardness; she had asked him if he meant to take from her every thing and every body whom she loved? he had made her forsake her dear, her dearest, her good mamma already; and now, because that he saw she liked lady Sawbridge, he wanted her to relinquish her acquaintance; but she knew what it was, and if lady Sawbridge had not got a brother, her intimacy would not have been thought improper.
“No, Lauretta,” cried Elwyn, with some asperity, and all his proud superiority glowing in his reddening countenance, “he must be a wretch indeed, a low contemptible wretch, who can for a moment feel a rival in that shallow, brainless coxcomb.”
Lauretta pouted; she did not like to hear the pretty Mr. Finlater called names; but she could not take his part openly, though she determined from that hour, that if her husband did not feel a rival in Finlater, she would make him feel his power of teazing and of disturbing him whenever she chose.
After this conversation, our readers will have seen that it was not from Elwyn’s subjection to Lauretta that he kept silence on the subject of Miss Lawson, but because he knew his representations would be fruitless, and that his humanity inclined him to spare Lauretta from any agitation at the present period. But, must we say it? the empire of Lauretta daily slackened in his heart; he now beheld, with a sort of cool indifference, behaviour which would lately have created in him the most lively uneasiness; and when his sickened fancy, his disappointed hopes, his faded prospects, all conspired to raise a tumult in his soul, when he turned with retrospective eye, and saw the tender placid figure of Mary Ellis, like the shadow of departed joys, he would start from the momentary, the dangerous contemplation, and fancy that he had attained a victory over himself when he resorted to —— House; alas! that victory could only be perfected by applying for assistance where only it is to be found, but where it is seldom sought by men of the fashionable world.
If Lauretta insulted Miss Lawson in the country, what could be her motive for courting her in Bath? is the natural inquiry of our readers: is there a more engrossing, a more busy passion than envy? if it once gets possession of the female breast, is it not a fell usurper? To break the spell by which Fitzallan was bound to Mary Ellis, to prevent her from rising to a situation which she had not attained, had been the fixed determination of Mrs. Elwyn, from the moment in which she had believed that there was a probability of the kind; but to blacken the character of Mary Ellis with her husband, would not do; Fitzallan and Elwyn were on the most intimate terms; they had an implicit reliance on each other’s honour. The circumstance of Mary Ellis’s adoption by her protectress, had excited the interest, rather than chilled the predilection of Fitzallan; his chivalric spirit liked the idea of defending the orphan; and the conscience-stricken one of his father might perhaps weakly yield his concurrence to the wishes of a son on whom he weakly doated. Vainly racking her brain for an expedient that might be feasible for her adoption, and which might at the same time prove a serious obstacle to Mary’s elevation, Lauretta accidentally met with Miss Lawson: to make up for her late rudeness, would, she knew, be an easy matter with the placable Lawson; but doubly, trebly did she do so, by singling her out as the object of her marked attention at the well-thronged ball, and by leaning and lounging on her willing arm during the whole of the night.
Miss Lawson had never before been so delightedly happy; she saw that her charming friend was the object of universal attention; and as her sparkling brilliants emitted some faint rays of their splendour on the hitherto-tinselled brow of Miss Lawson, so, in the multitude of charming things which were said to Mrs. Elwyn, she came in for some small portion, as being the favoured friend of the fairest fair; and if there was any thing of substance in the professions which were made to Mrs. Elwyn, surely the shadow must devolve on the gratified Lawson.
Lauretta was not without a sufficient portion of art; her object, in thus noticing Miss Lawson, was to get her to detail, in the hearing of Fitzallan, the story concerning the mystery of Mary’s birth, and her adoption by the benevolent Clara, which the mischievous spleen of the ladies of Norton had surmised, and which the invidious spirit of Miss Lawson had tried to stamp with authenticity. If Lauretta herself were to relate it, Elwyn might fathom her motives, he might sift them to the bottom, and his indignation would be poured upon her; but Miss Lawson, with an air of confidence and secresy, should be the warning friend of Fitzallan, she should be the guardian genius which should interpose and save him from forming so disgraceful a connexion; the poverty of Mary Ellis’s pretended parents, the obscurity of her origin, might be thought of no moment, when weighed in the balance with her matchless excellencies; but would the scrupulous, the fastidious Mr. Fitzallan, ally himself to the child of shame, to the illicit offspring of a woman, who palmed herself upon the world as a creature of perfection? would he like to call her wife, who never knew a father? and would he not fear to see in every hoary-headed libertine who approached him, the man to whom his peerless Mary owed the infamy of her existence? This was strong language, and such language, such searching questions must probe the breast of Fitzallan; while the jealous spirit of Henry Elwyn, which would be roused at the slightest stigma which should attach to the name of a woman whose memory he had almost deified, must be conjured up to deter Fitzallan from breathing a hint on the subject in his presence.
Miss Lawson was well tutored; she played her part to admiration. Mrs. Elwyn was not direct in her confidence, even to her dear Lawson, but inuendoes and hints were well understood, and the motive of Lauretta was evidently apparent to her active coadjutor—active, because a similar spirit impelled her, for our readers need scarcely to be reminded, that the modest attractions of Mary, when likely to draw the serious admiration of the other sex, had long ago drawn on her the envy of the delectable Lawson.
An opportunity was not long wanting; with the profuse expressions of feeling, sympathy, and humanity, which are always to be received with doubt when they are poured forth in such abundance, Miss Lawson gained the private ear of Frederic, and there her tale unfolded. It harrowed up his soul—even though his better reason refused to give it credence, he was too prudent and too wary to commit himself to his curious informant, by giving her his sentiments on the subject of her communication, or by unfolding his secret wishes relative to Mary Ellis. To Miss Lawson he seemed to deport himself as one who had merely been listening to an extraordinary relation, in which he was not interested; and the self-satisfied agent returned to her employer, and avowed her belief in Mr. Fitzallan’s perfect indifference to the heroine of the little tale which she had invented.
Lauretta could not be of the same opinion; however, Fitzallan had now had a warning; if he fell into the snare with his eyes open, he must abide the consequence.
The encreased illness of sir John Fitzallan demanded the assiduous attention of his son; and as he had previously determined to make some inquiry into the foundation which existed for Miss Lawson’s narration, ere he hazarded an avowal to Mary Ellis, which might put it out of his power to retract, he was not sorry to be at present debarred from those opportunities of daily intercourse, which he was well aware would encrease his passion, and render it more difficult to conquer. To the child of honest parents, to the orphan daughter of virtuous poverty, his father would have no objection; and for his own part, he should greatly prefer raising the gentle Mary to a situation, which she would grace by her merits, to carrying off the high prize of fashion or of title, which often came within his grasp; in obscurity there was nothing which he dreaded—but mystery and infamy, his feelings revolted at the bare idea: how could he frame his words, how could he approach his father, and ask his countenance, his paternal sanction to such a connexion?—“I will fairly investigate the matter,” thought Fitzallan; “surmises, conjectures, and suspicions, shall not interpose between me and happiness; I must have proofs of the guilt and depravity of my Mary’s parents, for numberless, countless are the proofs of her goodness and her virtues.”
Constant occupation, perpetual engagement in the
active scenes of life, continued and unwearied attention
to the important duties of his station, form at once the