SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW;
FISHERMAN’S DAUGHTERS OF
A Patchwork Story.
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
BY THE AUTHOR OF LIGHT AND SHADE; EVERSFIELD ABBEY;
BANKS OF THE WYE; AUNT AND NIECE, &c. &c.
Artless and unadorn’d she pleas’d the more;
- - - -
The other dame seem’d e’en of fairer hue,
Fat bold her mien, unguarded mov’d her eye.
FOR A. K. NEWMAN AND CO.
SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW.
———Ever was he seen
A faithful pastor! POLWHELL
THOUGH Mr. Elwyn had received from nature a good understanding, yet he had not been gifted with much strength of mind; his father’s indulgence had not permitted him to discern this weakness in his son’s character; and under little parental discipline or mental controul, encouraged in pursuing every thing which he liked; and while he kept within the bounds of propriety, receiving no check in his pleasures, it is not surprising that he fell into those errors which embittered his future life. His heart was rightly formed, his temper was good, his morals were not vicious; but neglecting to fortify his own imbecility with the firm rock of religion, he shrunk appalled from every thing which opposed his wishes; and unaided by the stability of principle, or the consolations of piety, he sacrificed every virtuous sentiment, and ultimately became the voluntary victim of vice! How frequently are the words of sacred writ realized before us! how often do we see “the sins of the parents visited on their children!”
The extravagance of Elwyn’s father, the profusion which in the days of youth had impaired and hurt his fortune, and which he had not then considered as an injury to his son, was brought to his reflection and his conscience at the decline of life, when avarice not unfrequently takes place of the opposite quality in the human breast.
The peculiar situation, the extreme youth, the relative affinity of the orphan heiress, and the reversionary claim of his son, all pointed her out to the doating father as the person destined to repair his errors; and Henry’s first lesson from his father had his cousin Clara for its object. Of an inactive disposition, nurtured in luxury, and addicted to its enjoyments, nothing appeared more congenial to the wishes of Henry; and Clara’s partial eyes soon viewed her cousin in the light which her uncle desired. Her kind and judicious aunt, who loved this amiable girl with an affection equal to that which she felt for her son, was pleased at the prospect of the happiness of these two beloved objects centering in one another; and hoped that while the fortune of Clara might add to Henry’s opportunities of doing good, his affection and gratitude would ensure her felicity.
Henry Elwyn went through the usual routine of education at a public school, and afterwards at college, with credit, though not with distinction; his easy good-nature and inoffensiveness of manners, made him generally liked; and as no spark of emulation existed in his character, he never excited envy or jealousy.
With the flattering prospects which were before him, his father did not hesitate to supply him with the means of gratifying every wish that he formed; he soon perceived that his inclination did not lead him towards his cousin Clara, although she was eminently gifted, both in person and manners, to rivet the heart which should once acknowledge her influence; but Mr. Elwyn’s notions on this score were by no means romantic; and he concluded, that when Henry had taken his fill of the world and its pleasures, he should see him sit down soberly and contentedly with his cousin, a married man.
Henry Elwyn had a perfect appreciation of the character of Clara; and while he saw it so entirely disinterested, so free from selfishness, while he observed her gentleness and humility, at the same time that her superiority in intellect, in judgment, and discrimination, was painfully pressed upon him by the bright light of truth, he was uneasy and awed in her presence; a humiliating, a degrading feeling oppressed him; his own interested and mercenary views, in seeking to form a connexion with her, were forcibly presented to his mind, by the suggestions of his yet unseared conscience; but he had neither resolution to oppose himself to the wishes of his father, nor strength of mind to bear the privations to which a limited income would subject him; neither did he possess the application and stability requisite to embark in a genteel profession, and to secure, by his own meritorious exertions, those indulgencies which he had been accustomed to consider as the necessaries of life.
Seeing Clara Elwyn as he saw her, thinking so differently from her, yet at the same moment admiring the virtue which he dared not imitate (and which he was about to act in direct contradiction to), while she was to become the sacrifice, is it wonderful that Elwyn’s absences from home became more frequent, as the period fixed upon for his marriage drew nearer?
At college he had been acquainted with Edward Harley, a young man of slender hopes and narrow fortune. The easiness of access, and unassuming manner by which Elwyn’s character was marked, had given this humbler son of fortune courage to approach him, for modesty and diffidence were his characteristic traits; and hope blighted ere it had budded in him, by the consciousness of his forlorn situation, and the isolation of his prospects. With the death of his parents he had lost every thing on which he had leaned, and in his turn he now saw himself the only stay of his lovely sister.
The parents of Harley had moved in an inferior situation; but having the advantage of a classical free-school in the town where they lived, they naturally wished to obtain an education for their son, which might so essentially benefit him, when they could do it free of expence to themselves; and accordingly he was entered on the foundation, and obtained such credit with the master for his assiduous application and general good conduct, that he was one of the youths who prosecuted his studies afterwards at Oxford, on the same endowment, by succeeding to a scholarship annexed to it.
With a sense of inferiority, and no soothing ideas derived from a consciousness of his own merit, Harley felt much gratified when he found that Mr. Elwyn received him with a good-humour and ease, which was seldom evinced by his fellow-collegians; he was grateful for that sufferance, which had been so seldom his lot to meet with; and his advice and opinions on the subject of Elwyn’s studies (opinions which had been derived from close reading and application), had more than once been of use to that idle and unstable young man, who had thus gathered the fruits which another had ripened.
The humility and natural modesty of Harley gave Elwyn no fear of his assuming on this superiority of knowledge; on the contrary, he became more respectful in his behaviour, and wore the air of the obliged, rather than that of him who had been conferring obligations.
With the usual tenor of Elwyn’s disposition, he would probably have forgotten his college friend intirely, if accident had not once more presented him before him.
Having spent some weeks amongst a set of choice companions at Southampton, he was returning towards Gloucestershire by a circuitous way (the party having separated), and being almost overcome with lassitude and ennui with his first day’s exercise, at the close of evening he sauntered, rather than rode, through a picturesque and lovely village, situated in a romantic and luxuriantly-wooded valley; he mechanically checked his horse as he saw a person approaching him, and inquired the name of the place. As he to whom he had addressed himself answered “Beech Grove,” their eyes met; their voices had previously and reciprocally rang in their ears. Elwyn sprang from the saddle, and with friendly hand met the hand of Edward Harley. He readily yielded to the wish of the village pastor, and any place being at that period preferable to home in his estimation, he consented to pass a few days in this lovely retirement. The servant was directed by Harley to lead the horses to the parsonage, and Elwyn, taking his friend’s arm, they crossed the church-yard by a nearer way.
“This is a sweet situation,” said Elwyn.
“Yes,” replied Harley, stopping, looking round him with enthusiasm, and lifting up his eyes towards heaven, as if in thankful gratitude; “I am happy!”
“It is a good living, I conclude,” said Elwyn, “for this is a rich tract of country. I heartily give you joy, Harley; how long have you had it? I never heard of your preferment.”
“The living is a good one, I believe,” answered Harley, with carelessness; “I do not know what it may be worth; I leave that to my rector; I am only his curate, on sixty pounds per annum, and think myself well paid for being made happy.”
“Sixty pounds per annum—a curacy—and happiness!” Here was a lesson for Elwyn; but it was an incomprehensible one to him. “How is it possible that you can live, Harley, on such a paltry pittance?”
“You shall see,” answered the young clergyman. “Ah, my dear Mr. Elwyn, I often think how just are the words of a poet whom I always admire (because his simple and natural descriptions cannot fail of touching the heart alive to rural beauties, and rural manners)—
‘Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long.”
As he repeated the last line, he pronounced it in a low and tremulous cadence, as if, with a prescient eye, he had seen that the limits of his own destiny were nearly closed.
“You are an enthusiast, Harley,” said Elwyn.
“I would teach you to become one too, if you would look with me ‘through nature, up to nature’s God,” answered Harley. “Look, Mr. Elwyn, can any thing be more beautiful than this scene? Behold the setting sun gilding our village spire; observe those finely-spreading beeches, which form a grove beyond it (and which gives the place its name); listen to the little choristers of these sylvan scenes, as they are chaunting their evening orisons; see those ‘laughing meads,’ so beautifully studded over with sheep; listen to the lowing herd; and look but just beyond the church-yard wall, and see the innocent children intent on rustic pastimes; even the river, as it glides through the vale below, conveys a sound sonorous to my ear, and in low murmurs speaks of happiness.”
Elwyn had been used to seek happiness in far different scenes, and different objects; and although perchance he never found her, he could almost have laughed outright in the face of his friend; but he thought it inhuman to break the spell of his enchantment, and walked on, unconscious that ere a few hours were passed, he himself should feel as much entranced.
A green door from the church-yard wall opened upon a grassy terrace; and the whitened parsonage, a small but neat habitation, was in their view, the beams of the setting sun gilding its casement windows.
“I dwell with Simplicity,” said Edward, as he opened the door on the terrace.
Elwyn preceded his friend, the door not being sufficiently large to admit them both at once—“And even Simplicity has her snares,” cried Elwyn, laughing on perceiving himself suddenly enveloped by a large net, which had been thrown over his whole person, by some one who had lain in ambush behind a large rose-bush, which grew at the side of the door-way.
Edward laughed; a stifled laugh was also heard from the place of concealment. Harley motioning his friend to keep silence, dragged the criminal to light, in the form of a blooming dimpled Hebe, who, on perceiving her brother at liberty, and a stranger enveloped by the net, sprang from his retaining hold, and with the agile swiftness of a young fawn, bounded over the grassy terrace, and ran into the house.
“Who is it that has thus fairly caught me in her toils?—who is this lovely Atalanta, Harley?” asked Elwyn.—
“If such thy haunts, Simplicity,
Oh, lovely maid! I’ll dwell with thee.”
“This dear girl is my sister,” answered Harley; “and a more unsophisticated creature there exists not upon earth. For her there cannot be a more desirable situation than this; her mind has had little cultivation, for till I was settled myself, I could not have her with me; and she was brought up amongst those whose ‘ignorance was bliss.’ She is of an age when impressions are easily made; her temper is affectionate and chearful; she is the very spring of my existence, for her vivacity enlivens my rather too sombre disposition. She is very grateful to me for any instructions which I give her; I mean to cultivate her mind sufficiently to teach her to enjoy the comforts of life, without giving it too much refinement or fastidiousness. I hope she will turn out a good girl.”
“Why seek to alter what is in itself so charming? Can you, by cultivation, add to the pure simplicity of the native snowdrop?”
“No,” said Harley; “the works of God are perfect; but there is a sully—a stain—a human taint, for which principle, discipline, and wholesome counsel, are necessary.”
“You talk like the divine, I perceive,” said Elwyn, with something sarcastic in his manner.
“Rather say the Christian, my good sir,” replied Harley.
Elwyn was soon ushered into the sitting-room of the parsonage, and to the bewitching girl, who in timid and blushing confusion apologized for her unintentional rudeness, saying, that “Edward had told her to wait for him in the garden, and that he would come and assist her in covering a cherry-tree with a net; but that he had lingered so long, that she was quite tired, and to revenge herself, she had, on hearing approaching steps in the church-yard, hid herself behind the rose-bush, and instantaneously enveloped the person of him who first set his foot on the terrace, concluding that it must be her brother, and that he had been detained, and was accompanied (as was frequently the case) by the parish clerk.”
The apology was received with delight; and the next morning saw Elwyn divested from ennui and lassitude, and assisting the smiling Ellen in protecting her cherries from the dangerous truants of the grove.
Every day, and all day long, Elwyn was at the side of Ellen Harley; he was taken captive by the fascination of her artless beauties; he felt no sensation of inequality here, as in the presence of his cousin Clara; he did not now hesitate, ere he made a remark, to know if it was well timed or appropriate.
Ellen seemed to approve every thing which he uttered, and to laugh at a jest, even where no jest was intended; her remarks might be called trifling and unimportant, to those who are accustomed to weigh and examine every sentence ere they granted a cold assent; but Elwyn must have been a cynic and an insensate not to have listened, when they came in such sweet tones to his ear, and were accompanied by such bewitching smiles and artless innocence of expression.
Harley did not at first observe the dangerous situation in which he had placed his friend and sister; and when at length he did discover it, the warm entreaties, the fond professions of that friend—the silent pleadings of that sister’s looks, triumphed over the rectitude of his principles, and he consented to their mutual wish, and joined their hands.
Here was a dereliction from the path of duty, which ill assorted with the otherwise undeviating tenor of our village pastor’s conduct; but who shall say, if thus tempted, he might not thus have erred? For himself, for his own advancement, Harley would have steadily refused every prospect which had been held out to him, if it must have been accompanied with the slightest deviation from the line of duty; but to secure a protector to his beloved Ellen—to forward her happiness—to place it beyond the frail tenure on which his own existence hung (for his delicate constitution seemed daily to predict an early dissolution)—to place her in so eligible a situation, surely he might, without dishonour to himself, consent to the entreaties of Elwyn, and conceal the marriage, till he should have gained his father’s approbation.
Harley tried to reconcile his own conduct to his principles; but it was only when he was witnessing the happiness of the fond pair whom “Love had joined,” that he could feel intirely free from self-upbraidings.
Elwyn had never hinted to his deceived friend his prior engagement to Miss Elwyn; and had merely urged, as a reason for a clandestine marriage, his own impetuous wishes, and the cruel and unnecessary suspense in which he should wear away the hours of absence, till he should have settled the formal preliminaries with his father, for the ceremonious celebration of that event on which his happiness depended, and of which, when it should have taken place, he was assured of obtaining the consent of his indulgent parent. Passion gave Elwyn rhetoric and animation unknown to him before; and Harley, as we have seen, was softened to his wishes.
It was at Elwyn’s first return home from Beech Grove, that Harley was seized with an illness that proved fatal to him; a few days terminated his existence; and the simple Ellen was not alive to his danger in time to send for her husband, otherwise it is probable that in witnessing the last moments of Harley, his mind might have been happily impressed, and he might have pursued a different course to that which he unfortunately took.
Elwyn’s return home had been triumphantly hailed by his father; his affairs had lately become more and more embarrassed; and his son’s numerous calls upon his purse had not a little contributed to bring them into their present awkward state; he pressed Henry to a speedy marriage with his cousin; Elwyn hesitated; but irresolutely forbore to acquaint his father with the insuperable obstacle which he had himself created to the union.
While in a state of doubt as to what conduct to pursue, fearing to incur his father’s everlasting displeasure—fearing to wound his cousin’s peace of mind, but, most of all, fearing to relinquish those pleasures and those luxuries on which he had hitherto revelled, even to satiety, he received a letter from his Ellen; it implored him to come to her immediately; it was couched in terms of distress and affliction, which Elwyn, who knew the tenderness of her brother’s affection, could well reconcile to this her sudden loss of him. He lost no time in obeying the summons; and in removing this artless and simple girl from the retirement of Beech Grove, to an asylum which he provided for her, in a village near the metropolis, here she assumed the name of Belford, at his request; and here, a very few months afterwards, he succeeded in making her believe that the ceremony of their marriage had not been legally solemnized between them, and that she was not his wife; and that though this had proceeded from an oversight in her brother, yet that his character would severely suffer in the eyes of the world, were it ever brought to light; and, finally, that finding his father inflexible to all his intreaties, and resolutely bent on casting him off without a shilling, should he act in opposition to his will, in a moment of desperation he had united himself to a lady of his selection, and had thus rendered himself miserable for ever.
Poor Ellen had nothing to oppose to this intelligence, but sighs and tears; she had lost him who would have assisted her with his counsel, and strengthened her weak and ductile mind by his advice. Her poor bark was now put on ocean’s tide, without rudder or pilot. She credulously, fondly believed Elwyn’s vows of eternal love, and fancied, because he told her so, that he had been more unfortunate than faulty. He called all the powers above to witness to his solemn asseverations of making her his wife, whenever it should please death to take his present lady; he forgot not to hint at the apparent delicacy of her constitution; and he gave ample proofs of the comforts which her fortune would enable him to bestow on his Ellen.
That Ellen still listened to the “voice of the charmer,” whom she had first known in the Beech Woods of Hampshire; and while she yielded up her child to his care, she had not resolution to order the father to discontinue his visits to herself, but through a term of twenty years, received him as her guest, at his occasional absences from Elwyn Hall; and, during that period, received her maintenance at his hands, and still lived on the idea of taking Mrs. Elwyn’s station at a future day, and becoming the mistress of Elwyn Hall.
No more at dawning morn I rise,
And sun myself in Clara’s eyes.
SCOTT’S LADY OF THE LAKE
HARLEY’S description of his sister had been perfectly just; her mind was like a sheet of blank paper.
When Elwyn made his appearance at Beech Grove, Harley, but newly settled in his parsonage, had scarcely began the labour of cultivation; Elwyn never thought of it; his love for Ellen (if we may call it by that name) had nothing intellectual in its nature; and, as we have seen in his behaviour towards the hapless Clara, in the pursuits of a refined and discriminating mind, there was nothing congenial to his taste. If, after an absence of some months, Ellen received him with her wonted smiles and caresses, he was well pleased; and even when the dimpled season of blooming youth was past, and the tint of fairest, freshest beauty had departed from the cheek of Ellen, he yet retained his first preference, and listened to her prattle, with none of that uneasiness and tedium which attended a tęte-ŕ-tęte conversation with Mrs. Elwyn.
A young female, living in seclusion, in a village near the metropolis, under the sanction of a married name, yet seeing her nominal husband only at stated periods, and then under mysterious circumstances (as during his visits to Feltham he was never accompanied by a servant), could not fail of drawing forth some remarks amongst the neighbours; nobody thought of visiting Mrs. Belford; indeed she was generally beheld as a woman of more than suspicious character.
Left to herself, with no resources, no taste for study, no wish for improvement, and entirely confined to the society of her two maid-servants, is it wonderful if the understanding of Ellen, never very brilliant, daily became more limited and more “mediocre;” her conversation imperceptibly assumed the style of common-place and hacknied sentences, an hundred times reiterated in the course of the twenty-four hours, and in questions which the gossiping tribe of female domestics are in general well inclined to answer. The affairs of the whole village were canvassed by Mrs. Belford and her two damsels; the chandler’s-shop was the mart of intelligence; and no sooner was it there procured, than it was conveyed by these prompt messengers to their mistress, who sat in her parlour, from morning till night, cutting out patchwork, and listening to the news of Sally and Betty.
That beauty which at fifteen had been dazzling, and which had owed much of its attraction to sparkling youth, to ruddy health, and to a swan-like skin, had, during the lapse of twenty years, lost almost every trace of what had most distinguished it; the colour on her cheek had gradually faded; her skin had assumed a deadened hue of sickliness; and even her actions and movements, no longer seen as those of a lively romp of fifteen on the grassy terrace of Beech Grove, but cooped up in a little parlour, had at once an air ungraceful and uncouth.
There was no mischief, no malice, in the composition of Ellen; she asked for intelligence merely to say something, and to have answers; her mind was as devoid of vicious as virtuous propensities; she might really be said to vegetate rather than to live, except when Mr. Elwyn appeared at Feltham; for then she became unusually animated, though from being unused to see him, and during his absence shut out from the rest of the world, her manners insensibly wore an air of constrained respect while she conversed with him; and though still very fond of him, and always hoping that the time would arrive when she should be mistress of Elwyn Hall, and in her “own rightful place,” as she called it, yet she not unfrequently found it a little relief to retire awhile from Mr. Elwyn; and while he was taking his afternoon’s nap, assembling Sally and Betty, she would exhibit to their admiring eyes the “lovely presents” he had brought her.
The informality of her marriage, Ellen had always considered as her misfortune rather than her fault; it had never occurred to her, that on making the discovery, it was her immediate duty to break off all further intercourse with Elwyn, and to consider him in future only as the husband of another. She never thought of Mrs. Elwyn but as an interloper between herself and happiness; she never thought of Elwyn’s father but as a cruel tyrant, who had forced his son into a marriage which he abhorred; in fact, she thought only as Elwyn would have her, and all his representations she literally believed; but never, even in those moments when the artless endearments of Ellen had called forth all the fervour of Elwyn’s love, never had he breathed a syllable which could be construed into disrespect for Clara. There was in her goodness, her virtues, and her understanding, something so superior, and so imposing, that he scrupulously veiled her from the observation and the discussion of the simple Ellen, with much of that sacred caution with which a superstitious devotee would shroud the relics of a favourite saint from each unholy touch.
It is more than probable, that had no impediments arisen to Elwyn’s connexion with Ellen (and had he introduced her as his wife, with the approbation and sanction of his father), that he would long since have repented of his youthful choice, and have turned from her with apathy, if not disgust; but being obliged to visit her clandestinely, always received with smiles, and parted from with tears, and charges of a quick return, there was an attraction in the intercourse which gave some interest, the interest of variety at least, to his otherwise inactive mind.
Of late years, when the beauty of Ellen had visibly faded, and when the health of Mrs. Elwyn had daily declined, without being entirely undermined; when he had seen her nobly, cheerfully struggling with sufferings, both bodily and mental, under which most women would immediately have sank; when he had seen her eye, though divested of its primeval lustre, still faintly beaming with a softened expression as it turned towards him, he had more frequently quitted home to fly from his own thoughts, and from the reproaches of conscience, than for the pleasure of seeing his once-adored Ellen; with her, his feelings were blunted and obtuse; he resigned himself to a vacuity of mind, and a lethargy of intellect: but this was almost impossible in the presence of the injured Clara; the momentary, yet inartificial display of her good sense, her patience, and, most of all, her piety; the discrimination which enabled her at the first survey to distinguish between the sophistry of false sentiment, and sterling and immutable truth; her rectitude of conduct, her innate humility, her strict manner of judging her own conduct, and the lenity which she observed with regard to that of others, all wounded him to the quick; and while he acknowledged the majesty of Virtue, he trembled before her shrine, and fled from her all-imposing power.
Never had a man ventured greater lengths to secure happiness than had Elwyn; never had any man wandered further from the mark. Those pleasures, and those luxuries, for which he had bartered so much, palled, without gratifying his senses. That rank in life which he had attained by his marriage with his cousin, he could not enjoy, for an accusing angel, in the form of Clara, was always pointing out his aggravated crime; and even in the retreat of Ellen, while lavishly heaping upon her those gewgaws which were so flatteringly received, he often turned his own condemner, and asked himself by what right, either of honesty or honour, he thus disposed of the fortune of Clara?
A prospect of relief presented itself to Elwyn in the form of his son; his easy and softened nature longed to have him near him; we have seen how he succeeded in gratifying this wish, and the engrossing fondness with which he regarded him. The love which he once felt for the mother, seemed now transferred to her child; and Elwyn’s visits to Ellen had, from thenceforth, been passed in pourtraying the engaging charms, and the promising talents, of this incomparable boy.
Ellen’s feelings were not very quick, or her maternal anxieties very acute, but her vanity was flattered at hearing she had such an all-accomplished son, and she listened to Elwyn’s accounts of “Mr. Henry,” as she always respectfully termed him, with an interest which she had never taken in any one subject, save in the praises of her own beauty, which had stolen on her youthful imagination in the luxuriant groves of Hampshire. The monotony of her life—the mechanical movement of her fingers, in cutting triangles, squares, and octagons for patch-work, the daily retailers of the village gossip, from the retail shop, were now likely to fade, “like the baseless fabric of a vision, and leave not a wreck (though perchance many a shred) behind.”
Mrs. Elwyn was dead. Ellen received the intelligence with joy; she was told to expect a visit from her husband.
The glass revers’d, by magic power of spleen,
A wrinkled idiot now the fair is seen.
ALWAYS enthusiastic, always impelled by his feelings, impatient of controul, unused to disappointment, apt to be taken by outward appearances, and tremblingly alive to the censures and the plaudits of the world, with more impetuosity in his disposition than augured well either for his happiness or his principles, we may conceive the perturbation of Henry Elwyn as he drew near the habitation of his mother. A thousand interesting and affecting traits of their first interview had been flitting before his heated imagination; he had supported this fainting, this already adored parent, as, overcome by emotion, she had vainly endeavoured to strain her child to her maternal bosom; he had knelt at her feet, and been raised to her arms, while the warm tears of affection had watered his face; he had heard the soft and mellifluous tones in which she had bestowed her blessing.
Mr. Elwyn, on the contrary, had relapsed into his usual solitary and abstracted mood, which seemed to proceed rather from a suspension of mental action, than from intense rumination; but to the eager—the earnest—the oft-repeated inquiries of his companion, he at length answered, “That the habitation which contained her who was henceforward to be known as Mrs. Elwyn was in sight;” and they were soon driven up to the door.
The heart of Henry panted; his whole frame was agitated, as he assisted his father in descending from the carriage. Mr. Elwyn preceded him into the house, where, at the parlour door, he was met by—was it possible?—could this be his mother?—could this be the lovely, the bewitching Ellen Harley? Dressed in a showy and vulgar-printed linen, with more of deep rose-coloured ribbon on her cap than would have been thought sufficient by the bar-maid of a country inn, she stood before her astonished—her wonder-struck son; and as she received the kiss of Mr. Elwyn, with coolness, but with a sort of respectful acquiescence, she turned towards her son, who was utterly motionless; all his high-wrought feelings were flown at the first glance; it seemed as if the revulsion had destroyed all animation—all sensation; he was fixed as a statue.
“Ellen, do you not speak to our son?” asked Mr. Elwyn.
“Oh! certainly, sir,” said Mrs. Elwyn, taking his hand. “How do you do, sir? I am very glad to see you—how dye do, Mr. Henry?—I hope I see you well, sir?—Dear me! only but to think what a fine stout young gentleman he has grown!—very so indeed—very much so!”
Henry bent his head on the hand of his mother; he touched, but did not press it with his lips; but the touch seemed to recall him to some sense of his situation. He remembered that she was his mother; but he turned to the window to conceal the tear which trickled down his manly cheek, while Mrs. Elwyn addressed to her husband reiterated questions of “And when did you leave home, sir?”—“You had pleasant weather—very much so”—“The roads are very good now, I suppose?”—“Pleasant travelling, I dare say”—“I thought you would be here to dinner—I was saying so this morning to Betty.”
What an utter dispersion of all the romance, the sentiment, and the enthusiasm of Henry, had this short specimen of his mother’s conversation occasioned! He could not bear the excess of disappointment, the cruel mortification which he had experienced. On pretence of looking at the garden, he stole out of the room; but he there gave way to the agony of his mind.—“And had the happiness of Clara Elwyn, that superior, that almost perfect creature, been sacrificed for such a coarse, such an underbred woman as this? Was this indeed the parent for whom he had bespoken the love and the respect, the attention and the deference of Mary Ellis—Mary Ellis, who had been accustomed to the refined conversation, the elegant manners, to the fervid affection of her beloved protectress, who had caught from her bright example all that was excellent and praiseworthy, and whose quick discrimination would enable her instantaneously to perceive, that there existed neither feeling, sentiment, or refinement, in the person who was to supply her place?—And the world,” cried he, “what will the world say of Harry Belford’s mother? will they not, from her appearance—from her language, deduce all that is lowering to my pride and my feelings?—Shall I not be daily wounded through her?—Shall I not be ashamed of her whom I ought to honour and to revere? Oh! Mr. Elwyn, into what a cruel predicament has your blind, your infatuated passion placed your offspring in! Rather would he have remained for ever in ignorance of his birth, than be thus oppressed by the weight of degrading feelings!—A father, still keeping himself concealed—I shall only be pointed at as the illegitimate child of her who has usurped the place of Mrs. Elwyn. The proud—the courted—the hitherto happy Harry Belford, will now be doomed to hear the voice of ridicule and sarcasm levelled at his mother!—He will—no!—he will not!” cried he, answering himself, with that furious expression of quickly rousing spirit, which he was not in the habit of controuling, or submitting to the dictates of reason, “No! The being who dares to cast an insinuation on my mother, shall find a way to the heart of her son with his sword, or shall atone for the insult with his own life-blood!”
This heroic and magnanimous resolve, seemed, in some measure, to have appeased the boiling fervour of his soul, and he walked himself into a more temperate frame of mind, and was lowered to something more like animal heat, ere he returned to his father and mother.
“If such thy haunts, Simplicity,
Oh, lovely maid! I’ll live with thee.”
Such had been the words which Mr. Elwyn had used two-and-twenty years ago, on first seeing Ellen Harley; had he made use of them at this period, to the person who sat on the opposite side of the fire, they would have been laughed at as a burlesque. Associating only with minds of the lowest order for such a length of time, can it be thought unnatural that the simple taste of Ellen should have been perverted and tortured?—that the native graces which were hers in extreme youth, should have fled with mature years, and that awkward and forced attempts at gentility and politeness should have usurped their place?
Mr. Elwyn had seen the gradual change without noticing it; he still beheld the traces of that beauty which had once charmed him; and in proportion as Ellen’s loveliness and attractive simplicity had vanished, so had his acuteness of perception been blunted, and his understanding and discernment been clouded.
In recounting his own history to his son, the emotions which were raised in his mind had carried him back to that period when he had felt with ardour, and admired with enthusiasm; and he had, unfortunately, described things that had been in such glowing colours, that Henry Elwyn had foolishly and fondly imagined they still were.
Called to be a witness of Mr. Elwyn’s second union with his mother, it required all Henry’s resolution to support him through the scene; he felt that this union would place him in a very questionable light to the world; but the heart-piercing entreaty of his father, as he had knelt at his feet at Elwyn Hall, and had besought him to spare his character from infamy while he lived, was not forgotten—and he witnessed the ceremony.
Mrs. Elwyn appeared wholly unembarrassed, and to have no unpleasant retrospections with respect to the former ceremony; she had no tremours, or fears, although she was still taught to believe that her son had no legal claim to the fortune of his father; but this was such an old matter, that it was no longer a subject to employ her mind.—“Mr. Henry was a very fine sensible young man, very much so indeed—and a great favourite with Mr. Elwyn—a very great favourite indeed—She was now going to be taken home—and to be the mistress of Elwyn Hall—and she must conduct herself like a prudent lady—and be very affable—and very genteel—and speak well of every body—and show the world that she had not one bit of pride.”
Henry could not determine on accompanying his father and mother back to the Hall, he therefore urged a wish of staying to partake a few of the pleasures of the metropolis; and Mr. Elwyn, always indulgent, consented, while his sagacious lady observed, “That it was very natural, very much so indeed, for so young and fine a gentleman as Mr. Henry, to wish to show himself a little, and to take a little recreation in the season of youth; but,” she added, “that she should expect him again soon, for she should greatly feel his loss—very so!”
Mary Ellis meanwhile had been sedulously endeavouring to prepare herself for the reception of the new mistress of Elwyn Hall; she was assured that she could never behold a second Mrs. Elwyn, who could, in her estimation, equal the first; she could not reconcile the idea of strict propriety and so hasty a marriage; she allowed a great deal for the high tone of Henry’s feelings, at the idea of being introduced to this parent; and much of his glowing colouring she attributed to the enthusiastic heat of his imagination; Mary expected, therefore, neither a perfect, nor an angelic, but a human being.
On the kind females’ favourites at the Hall.
ALTHOUGH Mary Ellis would have tried to check every rebellious feeling on the approach of Mrs. Elwyn, in conformance with her well-grounded principles of duty and religion, yet another motive was in co-operation with these, a motive which was more powerful than she herself suspected.
The being in the whole world who now professed to feel for her any portion of regard or affection, was Henry; it was his mother whom she was to receive, and she felt something gratifying and soothing to her self-love, in the idea of receiving her in a way which he would approve and applaud. How then was she mortified and humbled when she saw Mr. and Mrs. Elwyn return, but unaccompanied by Henry! how greatly did she feel the want of his encouraging, his approving eye, as she first approached Mrs. Elwyn! how was she astonished at the unpolished, yet unconfused manner of that lady! how was she wounded by the cold abstraction which still marked the deportment of Mr. Elwyn, who neither assisting the awkward curiosity of his wife, or the trembling diffidence of Mary, seemed as perfectly shrouded in his own reflections, or in vacant listlessness, as if he had already been shut up, and reclining in the great chair in his library!—“Had not Henry sent a letter?—a word? had he not breathed a hint to account for his absence?—had he not thought it possible that she might stand in need of support—of encouragement?” These were some of the heart-aching inquiries which passed in quick succession before Mary; but she had no time for reflection.
The new mistress of the Hall, eager to view her new possessions, proud of her “brief authority,” and anxious to gratify a silly curiosity, almost inundated her with questions, and almost deprived her of breath; for running from room to room, she was touching and admiring every thing she saw, asking the cost of each article, and the names and uses of many, declaring, “It was all very pretty, beautiful, and elegant, very so indeed.”
Her manner, so totally different to what Mary had been accustomed, her person, her appearance, her behaviour, all so entirely the reverse of her expectations, she could scarcely restrain her feelings; she felt worried, teazed, almost irritated, by the constant volubility which assailed her, and she longed to creep into some quiet corner, where she might relieve her full heart by a plentiful shower of tears; but Mrs. Elwyn held her by the arm, and while she went on with “pray, Miss, what is this?” and “dear Miss, do tell me what is that?” and “was this the last Mrs. Elwyn’s doing?” and “is that the last Mrs. Elwyn’s work?” a negative, an affirmative, or an answer of “I do not know,” fell in rapid succession from her lips.
The drawing-room, hung with portraits of the Elwyn family, afforded a wide field for declamation; the names of each venerable personage, long since numbered with the dead, were called over. A predecessor of the family, who had been eminent in the law, and had risen to the dignity of a judge, was an object of marked respect.
“I shall know the judge again by his wig, you see,” said the wise lady; “very fine—very fine indeed!—how much it must have cost him, when he had it new! And the divine, Miss Mary, I shall remember by his band and gown; so there you see, I have found out two of the family already—there’s the judge, you know, and the doctor.”
Mary scarcely attended, for her heart was palpitating; she saw Mrs. Elwyn tripping on to the portrait of her beloved, her lamented protectress—a portrait which she had been in the habit of contemplating daily for the last month, which she had never viewed without emotion. The likeness was striking; the serious yet placid expression of Clara’s features, had been preserved by the happy pencil of Romney; and the delicacy of that countenance, which had been the index of a truly delicate and refined mind, had almost sanctified the touch of the painter, and had spread over it an air of something more than mortal—at least so Mary thought, and so she delighted to behold it.
It had been taken in the days of youth and hilarity, when a gay vista of delight had apparently opened to the view of Clara; it had been taken previous to her marriage with her cousin; but the pensive prescient expression of her soft blue eye, as the lifted lid was turned towards heaven, seemed, even then, to intimate that she must look beyond this nether world for happiness.
“And who is this here lady?—who is she?—more modern, I perceive, by the frame.—Who is this lady, Miss?” asked Mrs. Elwyn.
“This is the portrait of Mrs. Elwyn, madam.”
“Of the last Mrs. Elwyn?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is.”
“Dear me—dear me! only to think—I am quite surprised. Why I had taken it into my head that she was a great beauty. Law bless me! this picture could never have been at all like her, if she was. Was it thought a likeness, Miss What-do-you-call-em?”
“Oh it is a great—a striking likeness!” answered Mary.
“Well, for my part, if ever I was more surprised in all my born days—Law, bless me! how formal she looks! and so thin—and so spare—and then no fine colour in the cheeks, and the eyes no roundness in them—Well, commend me to such a beauty as that; for my part, I see no beauty there—do you, Miss?”
“Yes, ma’am, I see a great deal,” said Mary, as she moved mechanically on to the next picture.
“And so that was the last Mrs. Elwyn?” said the lady; “so that was the beauty I have heard so much of?” muttering in an under tone to herself, and casting a lingering look at the picture, as she followed Mary to the next.
Bitter were the feelings which struggled in the affectionate bosom of poor Mary, at such an indelicate survey of the object of her admiration; her heart would have been too full to have named the next portrait, but Mrs. Elwyn saved her the trouble. “Ah! there he is indeed!—there he is to the very life!—there’s Mr. Elwyn to a T!—Ah, he wore that very coloured coat when he first saw me in Hampshire! and that was the way he dressed his hair too!—See Miss, how nice he looks—how much of a gentleman!—oh, very so indeed! that picture should have been mine by right. Well, there is no crying over spilt milk; better late than never. To be sure what a handsome man he was in those days! and Mr. Henry, my son, Miss, he is a very fine young man, don’t you think so? but he does not come up to his—to Mr. Elwyn, do you think he does, Miss?”
“Not knowing Mr. Elwyn at the period you speak of, madam, I cannot be a judge,” answered Mary, who seeing that Mrs. Elwyn meant to be civil, and that her coarse remarks were entirely the result of ignorance, earnestly endeavoured to acquire resolution, and to behave with composure.
“No, that is very true, as you observe, you can’t be a judge, Miss—what is it? I always forget your name; but I believe you are never called Elwyn.”
“No, ma’am, my name is Ellis.”
“Ah, so it is—I remember now, Mr. Elwyn told me all about it—and Mr. Henry too; Mr. Henry spoke very handsome of you, very so indeed; and I promised to be very kind to you, and I dare say we shall be very good friends.”
“I hope so, ma’am.”
“Do you understand patchwork, Miss?”
“I do not know that I do, ma’am.”
“Oh you will very soon learn, I dare say, and you shall help me; I make no doubt but when I come to tumble over Mrs. Elwyn’s old hoards, I shall find a good many odd bits of one sort or another; and we will set to, and I dare say between us, shall make some very pretty quilts, for I waste nothing; the least bit that is can be joined to another, you know; and if I did not bring a fortune to Mr. Elwyn,” and she gave a sneering toss of the head towards Mrs. Elwyn’s unconscious resemblance, “I will save one.”
The meek figure on the canvas seemed to preach patience and piety to her beloved child, as she threw an almost imploring look towards it; while Mrs. Elwyn, seizing her by the arm, cried, “Come, Miss, what shall we see next? ’tis all very well worth seeing, I’m sure, and very grand, and very pretty.”
It has been remarked, and that not unfrequently, that the minor trials of life, those every-day occurrences which are constantly operating on the temper, and harassing the mind, are more difficult to surmount, and contribute, in a greater degree, to the perfections of the human character, than those striking events, which, by calling forth a sudden display of resolution, are frequently a mere flash in the pan (if we may be allowed the expression), and attended with no beneficial result.
It had been the zealous labour of the deceased Mrs. Elwyn to lay the ground-work of Mary’s character on a stable foundation; this foundation enabled her to bear with patience her present trials; the habit of retrospection had been cultivated for a beneficial purpose; when she met with any thing unpleasant, she recollected how much more unpleasant had been the situation from which her benefactress had rescued her; when her delicacy was wounded, and her sensibility hurt by the ignorance and the coarseness of Mrs. Elwyn, she recalled the long period of happiness which she had enjoyed under the indulgent eye, and the sensitive kindness of her beloved protectress; when she was wearied with the silly remarks, and weak garrulity of her present companion, she recollected with gratitude the many hours of refined enjoyment which she had spent in the improving converse of her last; and thus by looking backwards gratefully to past days of unmerited happiness, and forwards with humble hope to a never-ending period of felicity, and to a reunion with her departed friend, “in the realms of light and love,” she tried, by retrospection and anticipation, to lose the painful sense of the present.
Full of her own importance, Mrs. Elwyn always appeared in a complete bustle, and was never weary of making arrangements and alterations in the domestic economy at the Hall, which may be easily guessed to have turned out alterations rather than improvements; for the well-digested plans of Clara, and the soundness of her judgment, the steadiness with which she had issued her orders, the benefits which had been derived from their adoption, had been seen through a long term of years, during which period the Elwyn fortune had flourished under her management—the domestics had smiled as they had grown old in her service, and the whole neighbourhood had felt the effects of her discriminating bounty.
The present lady’s mind was as contracted as her understanding; she was as ignorant of the necessary expences of a genteel establishment, as she was of the necessary forms of genteel life; by attempting to be prudent, as she called it, she became parsimonious, in matters where the saving or the expenditure was of little consequence; and by a partial investigation, things of greater moment were in danger of being lavished without a thought. She delighted in rattling her keys, and calling herself her own housekeeper; while the faithful domestic who had retained that station under the auspices of the judicious Clara, and who was well qualified, both by practice and principle, to perform the office, was still retained in the family, in a sort of nondescript situation, and received the wages of a housekeeper, for the most part to sew together patches of nondescript shapes, for nondescript purposes; while the self-installed housekeeper was always searching in her pocket for the keys which she had lost, sending for the smiths to repair the locks which she had hampered, and turning the whole house into confusion, by neglecting to put things in their original places, or purposely seeking out new ones, in order to hide them from the domestics; and as her memory, amidst this multiplicity of business, was not very tenacious, there was often a hue and cry for some indispensable article of the table, which the lady of the mansion had put out of sight; fancying that every thing she did was very wise, she was never weary of recapitulating her exertions; and the repast was generally enlivened by a petty detail of the most minute occurrences of the morning.
Mr. Elwyn scarcely ever appeared to listen, so it was the part of the patient Mary to seem an attentive hearer.
Mrs. Elwyn appeared at the parish church of Norton in all due form as a bride. Three or four of the villagers formed a squad to pay their respects; and “she was so affable, so obliging, and so civil,” that they were from that moment on an intimate footing at the Hall. Mrs. Elwyn pronounced them all in one breath to be “very genteel, and very sensible, and very polite,” because they came finely dressed, talked of the weather, admired the Hall, and smiled assent, as soon as she had opened her lips.
The families who had been accustomed to keep up a friendly intercourse with Clara, and who were really well-bred and well-informed, still kept aloof, not liking the “questionable shape” in which this lady so soon appeared at the Hall, and not relishing the idea of having their lamented neighbour so soon superseded; but in the gossip of the attorney’s wife, in the flattery of an apothecary’s widow, who had a grown-up daughter to dispose of, and in the assistance of a maiden gentlewoman in making patches, Mrs. Elwyn had nothing more to desire. She said, that “really the village of Norton afforded the most agreeable society, very so indeed—very genteel ladies all; and how pleasant that Miss Lawson should be so extremely fond of patchwork!”
These under-bred females, who would have feared to approach the ear of the dignified Clara with a tale of scandal, with broad compliments, or with offers of assisting her in her refined pursuits and occupations, could easily fathom the depth of the present lady’s understanding; and while neither abashed by her superior elegance, or awed by her superior virtue, they were loud in their plaudits and admiration, and extolled her as “a being without a grain of pride or consequence,” and talked of “now feeling themselves at ease at the Hall,” which they “must say, never could have been the case in the last lady’s time.” So pleasant do we find it to censure those whose characters are beyond our imitation—so pleasant is it to applaud those who rise only to our own level—in fact, so grateful is it to extol ourselves.
Although Mrs. Elwyn had never made a direct communication to Mary of her early history and her former marriage, yet her frequent allusions to it were so plain, and her hints were so broad, that within a very few days after her arrival at the Hall, she had nothing to learn on the subject; and added to her other unpleasant feelings, she had the bitter regret of knowing, that while she had been one of the most amiable, her late friend had also been one of the most injured of women. Her natural diffidence and restraint in the presence of Mr. Elwyn, was encreased into something like aversion from this knowledge, and it required all her fortitude, it exercised all her patience, to be commonly cheerful before him.—“Henry Elwyn neither came or wrote; he was partaking in all the pleasures of the gay world, mixing, with careless avidity, in all its amusements, unmindful of the companion of his early days, alike indifferent to her weal or woe.”
Such were sometimes the bitter ruminations of Mary Ellis; at others, her disinterested spirit rejoiced that he was spared from the many mortifications which would have assailed his proud heart, in witnessing the vulgarity and coarseness of his mother.
In fact, as we have before observed, Henry had fled away from the contemplation; he could not bear the idea of beholding the contrast which she would form to the late Mrs. Elwyn; he thought with commiseration of Mary Ellis, and knew the trials which she must necessarily encounter; but he left her to brave them alone; and in the mad pursuit of pleasure, he sought to bury the remembrance of the first mortification which had ever assailed him; but it returned when the fevered pulse prevented his tranquil slumber; it pursued him when he came fatigued and enervated from the midnight party; he then felt that even pleasure had its alloy—that dissipation had its intervals of ennui; and in those moments the image of the gentle, the soul-consoling Mary, like a benignant angel, flitted before his imagination, and he would ask himself whether the mad tumult of revelry, and all its meretricious allurements, could, by a rational creature, be one moment preferred to the sober and placid conversation of that much-esteemed girl?
It was one day that his head aching from the noise and nonsense of the foregoing night’s pleasure, his heart reproaching for “time mispent, and talents mis-applied;” his exhausted purse reminding him that he could not stay much longer in the metropolis, without making another application to Mr. Elwyn to recruit it; and his conscience telling him, that though such an application would be attended to, yet that his duty required his return to the Hall, when he knew that his father had long expected him there—it was on this day that he determined to quit town in the succeeding morning; and full of the magnanimous resolve, he mentioned it to a friend who came to call on him at that moment.
“Ah, I see how it is,” said Mr. Fitzallan, who had a great turn for raillery, and who was loth to lose a companion whom he found so pleasant, “you are going to rusticate—the gallant gay Lothario, the dashing Harry Elwyn is now to disappear; he is going to the pastoral haunts, to the sylvan scenes of Elwyn; the treasured object of his affection there ‘wastes her sweetness in the desart air;’ he sees the charming form of Mary Ellis; he falls in with the designs of the first Mrs. Elwyn; he is taken captive by her sweet simplicity—her sparkling beauty; she becomes the fortunate foundling; he becomes a benedict—a married man; and then—why then the curtain drops—the scene closes—Farewell, Harry,” said Fitzallan, holding out his hand, in a tone half mournful, half bantering.
Henry reddened; Fitzallan had laid an emphasis on the words “fortunate foundling;” his heart, his rebellious heart, revolted from the idea of forming such a connexion, for was he not the son, the legitimate son of his patron?—was he not the lineal heir of the Elwyns? All the beauty, all the virtues of Mary Ellis, were forgotten in this thought, and he proudly, warmly averred that such an idea had never entered his imagination.
Fitzallan smiled at his warmth; the two friends dined together; and heated with wine, and buoyant in spirits, they went to the opera. It was the last evening of Henry Elwyn’s stay in town; he thought the house had never looked so splendid; the dancers had never before pleased him so much; the first song was enchanting; the ballet was ecstatic. In a transport of delight, he turned his head to address Fitzallan, when he saw two ladies near him, and his eye rested on the bewitching countenance of Lauretta Montgomery.
The chasm which had elapsed since he had last seen her was forgotten; instantaneously he was transported back to the enchanted supper-table at Cheltenham; he again remembered the honied smile which was playing on her lips; the eager anxiety with which he had waited for words, which were to render him the most blest of human beings.
Lady Lauretta was with her daughter; and her rank being well understood, he should now have an opportunity of showing the sarcastic Fitzallan, that an higher object than a “fortunate foundling” claimed the regard and the attentions of Henry Elwyn. Eagerly he advanced to lady Lauretta, who, with her accustomed ease, and in her usual figurative manner of speaking, told him that she “thought he had vanished for ever from the regions of the earth.”
“But now that I have lighted on a celestial hemisphere,” replied Henry, gaily, “oh, give me welcome!” and he turned towards Lauretta, who affected to be constrained and distant, yet seemed at the same time to be overwhelmed by embarrassing consciousness, as her eyes dropt before his ardent gaze.
The evening passed rapidly; Henry accounted for his hasty flight from Cheltenham; he talked of the pain which he had suffered in the idea of so abrupt a desertion, and of the strange appearance which his conduct must have worn to the lovely Miss Montgomery, and the amiable lady Lauretta.
The young lady still adopted something of reserve and diffidence in her manner; her mamma was flowery and metaphorical; both ladies, however, contrived to make him understand that they were to leave town in the morning, but neither of them seemed inclined to tell him to what spot they meant to bend their course. How tantalizing—how—how provokingly mortifying was this! had he then found the charming Lauretta only to lose her again? could he have no opportunity of renewing his suit?—of hearing that delightful avowal which she was once on the point of making to him? He eagerly assisted the ladies to their carriage, and passionately pressing the hand of Lauretta, he asked her to admit him in the morning, prior to her departure; smiling she gave him her address; and returning with Fitzallan to the tavern where they had dined, the morning dawned on them while toasting to the health of the beauteous Lauretta Montgomery, in bumpers of sparkling champaigne.
Fitzallan congratulated his friend on his conquest, and declared, that under the mask of bashfulness, under the semblance of wounded pride, and apparent displeasure at his long desertion, he could perceive that the heart of Lauretta was firmly his.
The natural vanity of Henry inclined him to believe it; every succeeding glass of the exhilarating liquor strengthened him in this opinion, and he returned home in most elevated spirits. Elwyn Hall and the humble Mary Ellis were entirely put to flight; he thought not of his journey; his head was full of champaigne, his heart of Lauretta Montgomery; he thought only of pursuing her wherever she might go. To feverish and disturbed dreams, succeeded some hours of deep sleep, and Henry awoke at a later hour than he had fixed to appear before the object of his admiration. Hastily dressing himself, he lost not a minute in going to the house where Miss Montgomery had directed him; alas! he was doomed to experience the severest rebuff, for on making his inquiries, he was answered that both the ladies had been gone for nearly an hour. His first idea was that of instant pursuit, but the person of the house could afford him no clue as to the way which the travellers had taken; all he could learn was, that they had left town, and that they were gone into the country; and not in the best of tempers with Lauretta Montgomery, neither with himself, he retraced his footsteps to his own lodgings, with rather a slower pace than he had set out. Fitzallan soon joined him, and laughed at his fallen and altered countenance; it was too sore a subject for raillery; and to avoid the bantering of his friend, to dissipate his own thoughts, and not knowing what else to do, Elwyn actually did make a desperate effort, and left London that afternoon.
But from these dames I turn, and as before,
What suits not with my humour, hurry o’er.
PARTENOPEX DE BLOIX.
ON the evening of the following day, Henry Elwyn reached the Hall. He felt no little degree of perturbation as he thought of the changes which had taken place since he had last been there; he felt awkward at the idea of meeting Mary Ellis, for he had certainly been strangely neglectful of her; “she was a good girl, and must have met with some unpleasant trials since he had quitted her;” he feared to look in her countenance for her opinion of his mother; but in his usual precipitate manner he entered the house, and not letting the servant announce him, he preceded him into the drawing-room. Mrs. Elwyn was there, seated in high giggle, over a card-table, with Mrs. Buxton (the wife of an attorney), and Mrs. and Miss Lumley, the apothecary’s widow and daughter, previously mentioned as being residents at Norton, while Miss Lawson, with great apparent consequence, was arranging patches at a little work-table; and Mary Ellis, with meek complacency, received the work from her hands, and mechanically followed the directions given her; her taper fingers dexterously plying the needle, while her truant thoughts were reverting to times that were past, and to the recollection of more pleasant hours.
Mrs. Elwyn had just picked up the odd trick, and declared “it was very extraordinary—very much so indeed, with her hand, for she did not think to have made three tricks for her part, hadn’t the cards played so monstrous lucky,” when she rose astonished from her seat, to make a proper curtsey to a gentleman, and to receive him with due politeness, not at the first moment recognising who it was; but when she did, she cried out, “Oh! bless and preserve us all, if here isn’t Mr. Henry himself!—who should have thought of seeing you, sir?—quite a stranger—very so indeed!”
In the mean time, all the ladies were put into some little trepidation. Mrs. Lumley pointed to her daughter to hold up, while the young lady, throwing something between a toss and a fling towards her mother, pretended to be deeply intent in adjusting the <i