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,
But bold her mien, unguarded mov’d her eye.
FOR A. K. NEWMAN AND CO.
SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW.
Dear friend! so pleasant didst thou make those days,
That in my heart, long as my heart shall beat,
Minutest recollections still will live,
Still be the source of joy. SOUTHEY.
AT the departure of Henry, Mary returned to her usual occupations; it was by activity and employment that she endeavoured to dissipate the uneasy thoughts which oppressed her mind, but spite of herself they would recur; and she frequently revolved over the probable consequences which would ensue to his union with Lauretta Montgomery: her partial regard for Henry Elwyn did not blind her to his faults; she saw—she knew them all—she saw that his senses were dazzled by the brilliant display of Lauretta’s attractions, that the pride and the ambition of his nature were both gratified in the knowledge of her partiality for him; but when his imagination was sobered, and his enthusiasm was cooled, would he find in her the domestic companion, calculated to sooth his impetuosity of disposition, who would oppose gentleness to his irascibility, who would oppose steadiness to his instability? in his serious and reflecting moments, could he think that lady Lauretta Montgomery was fitted for educating her daughter to fill the station of a virtuous matron? her romantic fervour of expression, her effeminate and affected languor, were not these directly opposite to that precedent which a mother ought to set before her child? for was not the whole strain of her deportment and conversation calculated to impress her with the highest notions of personal attractions, while all the sober train of solid and substantial endowments were forgotten? The behaviour, too, of lady Lauretta towards general Halifax (though it might approach the very climax of Platonism and sentimentality) bordered very closely, in the idea of the modest Mary, on all that was immoral and indecorous; and her ladyship’s total neglect and disregard of the woman whose guest she was, and at whose hands she was consequently receiving favours, proved her lamentable failure in that feeling, and that benevolence, about which she could talk so fluently and so figuratively.
“The shadow of these amiable propensities may glide before her imagination,” thought Mary; “but surely she knows nothing of their substance; had she one spark of true benevolence, she would minister to the misfortune of Mrs. Halifax, she would attentively try to alleviate it, and not ungenerously take advantage of it, by engrossing the whole attention of her husband; and is Elwyn blind to all this? his perception, his discernment, are usually not defective; is it possible that he cannot see it? or is it possible that I see it through a prejudiced medium?” and then would she take herself to task, and try to discover, whether to malice, envy, or uncharitableness, she could impute her opinions on this subject; and rigid as Mary was ever inclined to be in judging herself (except that her partiality for Henry Elwyn, and her warm interest for his happiness, might incline her to see things in a stronger light than others, if they bore a reference to him), she could here stand acquitted to her own heart—a heart which, though tenderly attached to the object of its ruminations, would have throbbed with pleasure at witnessing his happiness, even with Lauretta Montgomery, could she have imagined that Lauretta Montgomery could have promoted it.
Mary felt herself in a very awkward predicament; to advise with Henry would have been at once her pleasure and her wish; but she had seen, with the most painful emotions of wounded delicacy and humbled pride (we mean that pride of modesty which is a “pearl of prize in beauty’s crown”), that he had taken up the idea which had gone abroad (and which Mrs. Elwyn had foolishly strengthened by her coarse cautions and obvious inuendoes), of her attachment to himself.—“Ah!” cried Mary, and the crimson dyed her face at the moment when she sighed out the words—“Ah! why is a pure and disinterested attachment so incomprehensible? why is it so uncommon? it is,” said she, after a pause, and answering herself, “it is because selfishness is a leading trait of the human character; it is that the gratification of every whim, of every caprice, is attended to, while the subjugation of self is entirely forgotten; and yet, as my dear Mrs. Elwyn used to ask me, is there any thing more seriously, more strongly enforced in that rule of life, which ought to be the Christian’s study?”
The foolish and teazing repetitions of Mrs. Elwyn, and the heavy and inert stupidity of her husband, were both sustained with patient and exemplary sweetness by Mary; when she found a sensation of irritability rise in her mind as she viewed the uniformity of the patches, and as she heard the same remark a fiftieth time repeated in a morning, she remembered that God had thought fit to place her in that situation; that she had been rescued probably from a life of penury and guilt by her lamented protectress; and while she ministered to the imbecility of Mr. Elwyn, and endeavoured to infuse some portion of animation into his sunk and dormant mind, she felt a soothing, a gratifying reward in the reflection, that by such conduct she was evincing her grateful remembrance of the maternal affection with which she had been regarded by his wife; for that such conduct would have been sure to have gained her approbation and her favour (had she been permitted to witness it), did not admit a doubt.
So passed the first week of Henry’s absence, unvaried by incident, unenlivened by conversation; the monotony of the Hall was unbroken; when one day Mrs. Elwyn said—“Suppose now, as you have no objection to a walk, Miss Mary, that you were to go over to Salcombe Lodge this afternoon, just to make my inquiries and compliments (in a polite, genteel way you see) after Mrs. Halifax; she would take it kind—very so indeed; I would order the coach myself, and go along with you, but only I want to finish these here corner patches, for when these are done, the worst part of it will be over—you like a walk, I know—a walk is very healthy for young people—when I was your age, I frisked, and jumped, and bounced about—didn’t I, Mr. Elwyn—didn’t I, sir? and the cherry net, you know, my dear—don’t you mind how I caught somebody in the cherry net?—Mr. Elwyn, my dear, I say, don’t you remember how I caught you in my net?—Mr. Elwyn, don’t you hear me? pray, sir, don’t you remember when I caught you in the net? do speak, sir!” getting up from her seat, and giving him a shake by the shoulder.
“Yes, yes,” said Elwyn, half sighing, and pouring out a glass of wine, “yes, yes, I was taken in the toils.”
“Oh! I thought nothing any toil then; I was as brisk as a bee, and as gay as a lark, and such a colour in my cheeks, they were as red as a carnation—didn’t you use to admire my colour, my dear Mr. Elwyn?—sir— I ask you, hadn’t I a sweet colour—wasn’t I a beautiful creature?—speak now, Mr. Elwyn;” and again she shook him by the shoulder; “now wasn’t I very pretty when you fell in love with me?”
“Yes, yes, Ellen, very true.”
Satisfied with having drawn this acknowledgment from her sleepy partner, Mrs. Elwyn, after a little more detail, a little more circumlocution, and a little more animadversion, on her extraordinary youthful beauty, dispatched Mary to inquire after the health of Mrs. Halifax. Mary was not displeased at the embassy; she liked Miss Letsom very much, and had some hopes of finding her disengaged, as she guessed that ere she could reach the Lodge, Mrs. Halifax would have resigned herself to the influence of her afternoon’s nap; so making all possible speed, and crossing the fields by a much nearer way than the road, she soon arrived.
Were, like a tyrant’s slumber, sullen looks,
Eyes turn’d on me, and whispers meant to meet
My ear. SOUTHEY.
IT was just as Mary had expected—Miss Letsom received her alone, and with smiles—“I am particularly glad to see you at this time,” said she; “for now I am enjoying the only hour which I can call my own.”
“Yours must be an irksome life,” said Mary.
“I don’t know that I ought to call it so,” replied Miss Letsom; “my avocations and occupations here are so perfectly independent of mind, and my body is so frequently mechanically engaged, that I can often amuse myself with reflections on a variety of subjects, which are wholly irrelevant to my employment; this, I believe, may be in some respects a bad habit; I rather think it gives me an abstracted air, and makes me appear ‘distrait’ and embarrassed, when I would wish to be otherwise; but I thought I took it up from a good motive (at least I hope it was not a culpable one); it was to secure my peace of mind.”
“It was a good one, most assuredly,” said Mary; “and I earnestly hope that it has succeeded.”
“It has, in part,” returned she; “the story of my situation, I will not call it of my life, is very short; perhaps I shall be trespassing upon your good nature if I were to relate it to you?”
“Not in the least,” answered Mary, with warmth; “I shall rejoice if you will give it to me—I shall consider it as a proof of your friendship.”
“You shall have a proof both of my friendship and of my confidence,” said Miss Letsom; then looking cautiously round the room, as if to be sure that no other ear could profit by the communication, she said—“I will confide to you the secret of my birth—I am the niece of Mrs. Halifax.”
“Her niece! is it possible?” asked Mary, starting with surprise.
“Yes, it is possible,” answered Miss Letsom, smiling; “it is more than possible, for it is the fact: my grandfather was a clergyman, who died unbeneficed and insolvent, leaving a widow and two girls behind him: my mother staid with her remaining sorrowing parent, while her sister joyfully accepted an offer that was made her of accompanying a family who were going to India, and left her relatives and her country, to tempt untried friends on untried shores: at the age of seventeen, the defects of her shape were scarcely visible; and, with the ruddy hue of health on her countenance, immediately on her landing, she attracted the notice of an old and wealthy nabob; this speculation she thought a good one, and her friends heard from her no more: meantime my mother attentively administered to the wants of a declining and broken-hearted parent; not eminent for beauty, and without the recommendation of money, she had lived to the age of twenty, without attracting the particular regard of the other sex, when death taking from her her only friend and solace, she found herself thrown upon the world, a distressed and isolated orphan: my grandmother’s maintenance had been derived from an annuity which had ceased with her life; thus the prospect of extreme indigence was added to the other sources of regret which filled my mother’s bosom: it was at this juncture that a gentleman of the name of Letsom came to reside in our native village, which was situated on the extreme verge of Cumberland; amongst the wild and picturesque scenery of this country, Mr. Letsom delighted to roam; he was a half-pay officer, and passed the meridian of life, a widower of broken heart and broken fortunes, the illegitimate son of a nobleman, who, giving him a commission in the army, thought he had made for him a sufficient provision; and, strange as it may appear, the knowledge of his origin was at once the source of pride and shame to my father; he did not like to associate with those above him; he felt a haughty contempt for those beneath him; and he shunned all society, because his tone and look of superiority naturally drew invidious inquiries, and mortification and humiliation were sure to succeed; frequently in his solitary rambles he encountered my mother; the deep mourning which she wore, and the look of sadness which was seated on her pallid countenance, at length raised his curiosity; he heard the history of her misfortunes; he introduced himself to her; they met, and walked together; and while the streaming eyes of the one pourtrayed all a parent’s sufferings and all a parent’s love, the agitated voice of the other was heard lamenting his broken prospects, his father’s cruelty, and his widowed love! like Desdemona, my mother pitied, and, like Othello, my father loved her that she pitied him—they were married; and the most exemplary of daughters became the wife, the nurse, and even the domestic of her husband! grateful to him for an asylum, neither fastidious with respect to the nature of her employments, nor chary in engaging in them, my mother took the whole business of their little cottage on herself; and always remembering that her husband’s origin was superior to her own, although his birth had happened under disgraceful circumstances, she duly and daily administered to his wants, to his comforts, and even to his caprices, not grudging the most unwearied pains of the most indefatigable attention, but on the contrary, taking a pride and a pleasure in doing every thing for him, and seeing him enjoy that leisure which she called his ‘inheritance;’ indeed it might be called his only one; idleness to him who have been used to the active bustle of a soldier’s life, solitude to him who had been accustomed to nurse the feelings of discontent, and contracted circumstances to him who had high and lavish notions, these all contributed to embitter the temper, and to sour the spirit of my father. My mother did not know what she had undertaken when she became his wife, but most nobly did she sustain her part—the querulous complainings of her husband were heard with meek forbearance, his peevish murmurings with patient fortitude, his whimsical caprices were passed over; and she taught me, by the influence of her example, in some measure to emulate her virtues.—I was a child of quick comprehension, and of active intellect; my father fancied me a prodigy, and declared that he would himself become my instructor; my mother was pleased with this plan; she thought that it would interest his mind, and she said, that ‘if Mr. Letsom would condescend so much, she made no doubt but that her Maria’s progress would keep pace with his wishes.’ Irregular in his instruction, sometimes imposing tasks upon me which were impossible for me to learn, at others letting me remain unoccupied for days together; now chiding me with severity, now indulging me with dangerous fondness; not thoroughly grounding me in my studies, nor pursuing any systematic plan—my father soon found that he had imposed on himself a task which he was unequal to; but finding that my youthful imagination was early taken captive by the witcheries of poetry and the charms of eloquence, and being himself an enthusiastic admirer of the fine flights of genius, he pronounced me one already in embryo, and always argued, that ‘I should one day make a figure:’ my dear mother thought that Mr. Letsom must know best, and she dared not breathe a word that seemed to militate against his allowed superiority of judgment; but she sedulously tried to impress upon my youthful mind the dangers which are ever attendant on a too sanguine disposition, and the benefits derivable from genuine humility. I listened to my father, but I listened to my mother also; and while I caught some of the ideas, and much of the irritability of the former, I hope I derived some benefit from the mild virtues and the wholesome counsels of the latter. Blind and insensate must I have been, a being without feeling, and without soul, could I have witnessed the cheerful assiduity with which she attended my father in his last long illness, and not have felt an emulative spark glowing in my breast; incessantly did she attend to his complainings, unremittingly did she administer to his necessities, sweetly did she sooth his pains, and patiently did she endure his chidings—he died! the being, who had been the impulse of my mother’s existence, who had been her sole care, who had engrossed her whole time for the last twenty years, was now no more! she felt a vacuum, which her child could not supply. By my duteous attentions, I tried to reconcile her to her loss; but it had been the whole business of her life to bestow, not to receive attentions; my cares, my anxious solicitudes, reminded her of the grateful satisfaction which she had felt in similar duties; life was a blank; the whole creation a dreary “boundless waste;” like a nurse pining after a petted child, she drooped, she sank, and in twelve months she followed her husband to the tomb—a rare instance of that faithfulness, that devotedness in woman, which will sometimes flourish in the most ungenial soil.
“Behold me then, my dear Miss Ellis, like my hapless mother, thrown desolate and friendless on the world, and at nearly the same age, for I had just passed my twentieth birthday. I had high and somewhat singular notions of independence, which I inherited from my father; from him, likewise, very sensitive feelings, and much warmth of temper; timidity, activity of spirit, and some small stock of patience, descended to me from my other parent; without indulging those extravagant ideas of my genius, which my father had frequently sounded in my ears, I fancied that I could manage to support myself decently and honourably by my pen; I had a taste for the rudely-sublime scenery which I saw around me, and descriptive poetry, if drawn from nature, and with the pencil of truth, must, I thought, come home to the tastes and the feelings of all readers; but without interest, without a name, without a recommendation, I soon found that it was an Herculean labour to get a bookseller to read my poem, so I was forced to lock it up, with all its beauties, and set myself, with renewed courage and renewed perseverance, to the fabrication of a novel. Productions of this kind were, I knew, in general request; every body read them, therefore I should be sure of a purchaser. I have naturally a little turn for satire—ah! Miss Ellis, you look doubtingly; but believe me, it has been no easy matter to mould these tell-tale features into one unvaried sameness of expression, to teach this tongue one uniform and passive tale. I had seen little of the world certainly, but I had been an observer of the general manners, sentiments, and opinions of those persons with whom I had occasionally mixed and conversed: though I had resided in a remote part of England, yet the universal taste for the romantic beauties of nature (or the universal profession of such a taste) had drawn numerous individuals to our neighbourhood, who had afforded me an opportunity of studying the human character; and the romantic and eccentric manners of some, the air of mystery and concealment which had been worn by others, the follies of fashion, as exhibited in these remote wilds, and contrasted to the rude simplicity and almost savage boorishness of the native peasantry, all these afforded scope to one who had any talent for description, and who should be equal to the task; so I thought, and I essayed the trial; I did not attempt at fine flights or bold invention; my portraits were from nature alone; and as there were no terrific images, no improbable adventures, no northern galleries, no ‘peopled palaces,’ no dying sounds of nightly music, nor clanking chains at the dead hour of midnight, I had very little chance of success with one class of readers, namely, the devourers of ghosts and goblins; while those who were fond of the highly-wrought, glowing colouring pictures of the imagination and the heart, were equally disappointed: my book was thrown by with apathy and disgust, and doomed to eternal oblivion—not so the poor authoress; my occupation had been suspected, and suspicions were soon substantiated into facts; and from that moment I was stared at, as though I had not belonged or appertained to the human species. If I know my own heart, not a feeling had actuated it in the prosecution of my labours, which could have militated against that great law of the Christian’s code, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you;’ neither malice, rancour, or envy, had ever guided my pen; but it was impossible to convince the world of this; every character in my book had the name of some person in the neighbourhood affixed to it; and though the characters and names were changed about by every reader, according to his or her fancy (and as frequently as the cameleon varies its hue), yet each was sure to make an individual application, though each might be different. If I happened to come into company, a general screw up of the person, a general whisper of ‘here comes the authoress!’ set the whole room in commotion, and a strict examination of my whole form, of every feature in my countenance, and of every article in my dress, was my invariable reception; if I was silent, I was supposed to be lying in wait to hear some eccentric remark, or to discover some odd turn of character, in order to note it in my book; if I was chatty, ‘there was no bearing me, I was got so insufferably conceited and opinionated since I had commenced authoress;’ though Heaven knew there was nothing to boast of, either in the merit of the work, or in the rapidity of the sale, to make me so; then it was found out that ‘I had always been singular and odd, and been suspected of having a little twist about me;’ and by general consent, I seemed to be shunned and avoided, as a person with whom it was dangerous to associate.
“I had no objection to solitude or to retirement; but to be utterly excluded from all social converse, to be shunned as a criminal, and to be dreaded as a censor, when I was free from guilt as from malice, and when I had only exerted my humble abilities with the hope of earning a decent and an honest maintenance—all these cut me to the quick; all my prospects seemed blighted in the bud; my energies were stagnated, my spirits drooped, my feelings had received a sore wound, all my self-confidence was lost, and I resigned myself, inert and desponding, to the most gloomy and painful reflections.
It was at this period that I received a message from a lady (who was just come for the second summer to inhabit a marine cottage which bordered one of our lakes,) desiring me to come to her; I had seen and frequently remarked this lady the preceding summer, but knew nothing of her, and had never been in her company; she had a bold, dashing air, and a handsome countenance; she was about the meridian of life, and was generally spoken of as a fashionable woman: ‘Who knows,’ thought I, and again the glow of hope lighted in my cheek, ‘who knows, this lady may discern some merit in my productions, though others cannot; and if I should be so fortunate as to gain her patronage, I may still be able to bear myself up against the malicious shafts of ill-nature and detraction.’
“Lady Sawbridge was seated on a sofa; a book, which was turned down, lay on the table before her—‘Miss Letsom, my lady,’ said the footman, who ushered me in.—‘I have sent for you, child,’ said her ladyship, ‘to return you my thanks, for the amiable portrait which you have taken of me in this unique production; the likeness is a very striking one certainly; but, may I beg to know, if it be not an impervious secret, by what means you became so accurately acquainted with my birth, parentage and education, and the most minute incidents of my life?’ I was at a loss to comprehend her meaning, till she put a volume of my own novel into my hand, and I saw it opened to the character of a lady, who, to say the truth, was not drawn as the most amiable being in creation. Utterly confounded, I was at first at a loss for a reply, but the dark and bold eyes of lady Sawbridge were fixed upon my agitated countenance, and recollecting that my silence would be interpreted into an indirect acknowledgement of the intention with which she had charged me, with all the spirit I could muster, I answered, ‘I will not affect to misunderstand your ladyship, neither will I deny that I am the author of the trifling work which you have put into my hands; the errors of the head will be excused by a candid and liberal reader; for other errors, there can, there ought to be no excuse, and if I were guilty of them, I should stand condemned at this moment: may I ask, without being accused of presumption or assurance, how your ladyship came to imagine, that in pourtraying this lady, I meant to depict you?’—‘Oh! it is very obvious, child, to the whole world,’ answered lady Sawbridge, with affected carelessness; ‘but, thank God, it cannot injure me.’—‘I thank God,’ answered I with fervour, ‘that I know it cannot—how is it possible that such an idea could have gone abroad? it is too ridiculous to be thought of seriously for one moment: at the time I wrote the pages which have excited your ladyship’s attention, I had never heard your name, neither did I know that you were in existence.’—‘Miss Letsom,’ interrupted she, ‘you would try to persuade me out of my seven senses—is not this me? have you not taken me off here? is not this me whom you allude to, as ‘mixing with the gay world, and entering with avidity into all its dissipations?’ is not sir James Sawbridge represented here as a ‘tame and easy husband?’ and have you not talked in terms, that cannot be misunderstood, of my little arrangement with lord——that is, have you not pointed out a particular character in your marquis of Borrowdale? ’—‘Believe me, lady Sawbridge,’ answered I, ‘when I aver, on the word of a woman of veracity and of principle, that I am quite ignorant what nobleman you allude to’—‘Oh! nonsense, nonsense, child, talk to those who know no better—look here,’ snatching the book out of my hand, and hastily turning over the pages, and then reading with much emphatic earnestness, ‘Borrowdale was handsome, insinuating, and well bred—a dangerous guest;’ and here again, ‘skilled in the arts of flattery, and elegant in his conversation; what a contrast did this young nobleman afford to his plain and unpolished host!’ can any thing be more striking?’—‘Till now,’ answered I, with some spirit, ‘it has failed to strike me; but your ladyship has taught me to consider that it does bear some resemblance to the private history with which you are making me acquainted.’—‘I am surprised at your insolence,’ cried she, reddening, rising from her sofa, and pulling the bell, ‘yes, Miss, I am surprised at your impertinent and bold denial of your designs, when, as if to make it legible to the capacity of a chambermaid, you have even depicted the colour of my cap—the very cap which I wore the first time I made my entrance at the marine cottage—the cap which I invented—which I brought into fashion—every domestic in my house could swear to me.’
“Roused to a retort at seeing the fury of her countenance, and at hearing the insolence of her expressions, I answered, with tolerable nonchalance, ‘Your ladyship must excuse me, but till this moment I had no idea that the cap fitted you.’—‘Show this young woman the door,’ cried she, almost foaming with passion. I made a slight curtsey, and quitted the marine cottage, mortified that the hopes with which I had entered were destroyed, but my conscience entirely at ease with respect to her ladyship’s accusations—and yet, my dear Miss Ellis, the idea of being thought capable of such a design was not calculated to give much ease to my irritable nerves; often did I forswear the beggarly trade of authorship, and as often recur to it again, when I recollected that any thing was preferable to eating the bread of dependence—servitude, I then thought I should have preferred, servitude in a menial capacity, to the life which I now led: but if I do not tire you, I will conclude my little narrative; it is not often that I have an opportunity of talking so long, and you find I am determined to make use of it.”
“Believe me,” replied Mary, “when I tell you that I am much interested in your relation.”
“You are very good,” said Miss Letsom, pressing her hand, “if I did not think you were, you would not find me so communicative.”
I learnt to bound my wishes here. SOUTHEY.
“ONE day,” said Miss Letsom, continuing her story, “I was called from my sad ruminations to a lady, who was waiting in my little parlour to see me; on my entrance I saw a stranger, plain in her person, and showy in her attire; her manners were affected, and her whole air displayed much conceit and self-consequence; taking my hand at my entrance, and lisping at every word she spoke, she said, ‘Amable geel! sweet child of genius and of talent, accept my thanks!’ and she put a bank-note into my hands; I looked at it with surprise, and felt even more confused than when lady Sawbridge put my own book there; but I said, returning it again, ‘There must be some mistake, madam—you will excuse me—you cannot be indebted to me—I am wholly a stranger to your person.’—‘Oh no! no indeed, my dee geel, you are not—sooly you forget—look, look at me again—now don’t you recognise your own Zulima? my dee geel, I am Miss Marlow, I am the very creature whom you pourtrayed as the heroine of your last tale—every incident of it the very same as my own life—the birth—the beauty—the graces—the virtues—you have flattered me a little, sweet geel—a little—little bit—and the denouement too, for,’ whispering in my ear, with affected modesty, ‘Clarford has not declared himself yet.’
“I began to think my visitor deranged; for, could I look at the being before me, and believe that, in her sober senses, she could fancy herself the heroine of a novel, an heroine whom I had certainly depicted as all that was lovely, and worthy of being beloved in woman? ‘My dear madam,’ said I, ‘my Zulima was entirely an imaginary character—I had not the least idea
that——’—‘Don’t say another word, my dee geel,’ said she, ‘don’t say a word about it—take this little bit of paper, and I will send you the fellow to it, when Clarford has declared himself; and you shall write two more volumes—yes, two more volumes, and entitle them, ‘Zulima in her married State!’ Of course I was inclined to laugh, when this vain and eccentric being left me; I recollected the fable of ‘The Painter, who pleased every body, and who pleased nobody;’ but I could not make up my mind so as to pocket the douceur of Miss Marlow; I felt that I had not deserved it from her, as she was the very last woman whom I should have singled out for my heroine, though I feared that if I were to copy from what I saw, I might be in danger of drawing affectation and Miss Marlow in the same page, when I attempted a new work: with a civil note, in which I acknowledged my grateful sense of her intended favour, I returned her present. The spirit of independence was still ardent in my bosom, and I preferred earning a scanty maintenance by my own exertions, to accepting favours from those whom I could not respect.
“I was one morning taking a solitary ramble, when I was accosted by a third lady, of a quite different appearance from the other two, and one who bore the character of an amiable and worthy woman; she had resided some years in the neighbourhood, and frequent instances of her benevolence and kind-heartedness had fallen under my own observation; she approached me with an air of civility, and an aspect of kindness—‘Miss Letsom,’ said she, ‘I have lately been much amused with reading a publication of yours.’ I felt embarrassed, and my blushes proclaimed the detected authoress. ‘Do not be ashamed,’ said she, ‘of a work which does no discredit to your abilities; I do not blame you for concealing your name; perhaps it may be as well, all things considered; our acquaintances do not like to be lashed openly; plain truths must not be spoken at all times, though it is impossible to view the ridiculous follies of those with whom we mix, without giving them an oblique stroke—you find it so, I dare say, my love?’ and she looked as if she expected me to answer.—‘I do not comprehend your meaning, madam,’ answered I, gravely; ‘general folly and general turpitude call for the author’s lash, and this may be done openly, and with honest courage; but to aim an oblique shaft, in order to wound the breast of an acquaintance, is neither the part of the moralist or the Christian.’—‘You take me too seriously,’ said Mrs. Bannister; ‘if we see marking traits of folly and eccentricity in an individual, is it possible not to make them the objects of our ridicule? believe me, those kind of productions which mean ‘more than meet the ear,’ are far more likely to gain the tide of popular favour than those humdrum and prosing periods which fail to interest or to strike; real characters are sure to be snatched at with avidity; and if you would gain a name, you must follow my hint.’ I was silent: Mrs. Bannister’s sentiments were so wholly inimical to mine, so wholly different to what I had expected of hers, that I stood mute with astonishment—‘Now there is lady Sawbridge,’ continued she; ‘I declare I would give you something handsome myself, as a stimulus, if you would produce a pretty strong likeness of her in your next work; her shameless effrontery, her bold and daring manner, and the high tone which she still assumes in all places, and in all companies, notwithstanding her known infamy, deserve to be taken off; do not spare, my dear Miss Letsom; get every anecdote you can procure of her past life; insert them as a sort of episode to your main story; it will lengthen it amazingly, it will give zest to the reader, and it will afford a nice contrast to the character of your heroine, who, like all other heroines, I conclude, will be a piece of perfection; but, whatever you do, pray do not fail to make the likeness of lady Sawbridge apparent; make it plain to every reader, I beseech you, and, lest it should not be sufficiently obvious, call her lady S——. Do this, my dear girl, and I will promise you to take fifty copies.’—‘If you were to take five hundred, madam,’ answered I, with emotion, ‘I would not be guilty of so base an action: to gratify the private pique of an individual, shall I wickedly pry into the faults of a fellow-being, and hold them up to the scorn and odium of the world? those faults are known only to her own heart and to her God; may they be owned by her with humble penitence! may they be heard by Him with mercy and forgiveness!’ I turned away as I uttered these words; the passion of lady Sawbridge, the vanity of Miss Marlow, were nothing—in my estimation they were amiable characters, when compared to Mrs. Bannister; I could not look at her again—what an insult she had offered me!—I felt her hand upon my shoulder ere I had proceeded many paces—I heard her soft voice, as she said, ‘Stay one moment;’ I looked back—her eyes were filled with tears; ‘forgive me, dear Miss Letsom,’ cried she ‘forgive me the severe trial which I have inflicted on you, and believe me, when I add, that these tears proceed from admiration of your sentiments—yes,’ said she, ‘unqualified admiration! I will confess to you, that my ardent wish to be of service to you was checked by my prejudice against the generality of females of your turn; I knew that abilities of the kind which you possess were in some hands most dangerous weapons; I was told that you exerted yours alike on friend or foe, and that you were feared and shunned, instead of being loved and sought; there was something, however, in the retiredness of your manners, and the modesty of your appearance, which would not permit me to give implicit credence to all I heard advanced on this subject, and I determined to seek an opportunity of sounding and discovering your sentiments; the event has been what I hoped and expected; and now behold me your sincere friend, your zealous champion, and say what shall I do to serve you? ’—‘Ah, madam! ’ cried I, overcome by her affecting address, ‘say, what, indeed! In trying to be independent of the world, I have drawn down all its odium on my defenceless head. Heaven knows that I never protruded myself as an author, to gratify any feelings of ambition or of vanity; how lamentably should I have suffered for my folly, had this been the case, for I have met with nothing but contumely and mortification! From my father I inherited a high spirit—a spirit which taught me to rely on my own exertions, rather than on the favours of others. I acutely feel that the choice which my disposition pointed out in the pursuit of independence, was a most unwise and unproductive one. ‘The post of honour is a private station,’ says the poet; how infinitely just the remark, when applied to our sex! How my name was first discovered as an authoress, is entirely unknown to me; but ever since have I been carped at, contemned, scorned, and hunted down, as if I were indeed a social pest! the world is weary of me, and I am weary of the world.’—‘Say not so,’ cried Mrs. Bannister, taking my hand with the most endearing kindness; ‘pursue the track you have chalked out; be assured of the approbation of your own heart.’—‘That is not enough for me,’ cried I, with a melancholy shake of the head; ‘I must not be suspected of such base, such culpable designs—I cannot bear to be the victim of malice—I must seek some other method, free from reproach, from detraction, and from slander, by which to get my bread.’—‘And where in this world of failing shall such a place be found?’ asked Mrs. Bannister.—‘No matter,’ said I; ‘I must essay the trial; I will unlearn all I have been learning, I will desert all in which I have delighted, I will burn my papers, I will throw aside my pen, I will divest myself of all relish for mental occupation, I will be as mechanical, as methodical, as fairly metamorphosed in the whole tenour of my life, as even my enemies could wish me.’
“Mrs. Bannister saw the bitter asperity with which I spoke; she did not rebuke me, for she pitied the wounded state of my feelings: she left me with a promise of trying to procure me some situation, which might at once secure me from want, and from those malicious censures, which I was too powerless to resist.
“Mrs. Bannister departed for London in a few weeks after our conversation; she was not unmindful of my interests; a friend of hers was introduced to Mrs. Halifax, on her return from India; the nearly total deafness of this lady rendered it necessary for her to have a companion, and, through the medium of Mrs. Bannister, I was applied to, to undertake the office. Ah! Miss Ellis, my heart fluttered in my bosom; a feeling of affinity, of relative affection, was its impulsive movement.
“A year or two previous to the demise of my dear mother, she had accidentally been informed of her sister’s second marriage with a gentleman of the name of Halifax; to have been an humble dependent, a hanger-on to a stranger, would have severely wounded my pride and mortified my spirit; but to contribute to the ease and happiness of my nearest relative, there was something gratifying in the idea, and there was something which soothed the romantic turn of my disposition, in keeping Mrs. Halifax in ignorance of my claim to her notice; for I should perform that from a principle of duty and singleness of heart, which she might otherwise have imputed to interested or mercenary motives.
“Mrs. Bannister knew nothing of my connexions; I believe she was rather surprised that I so readily acceded to this proposal, and that, without an objection, I consented to accept the very narrow stipend which Mrs. Halifax offered. Satisfied at having gained a respectable asylum, and feeling a pleased consciousness at the idea of its being my natural one, I determined that no difficulties, no unpleasantries, should make me quit it.
“I found Mrs. Halifax more ungracious, more captious, and more impatient, than I could have imagined she would have been; but the knowledge of our relationship enabled me to bear with her much better than I expected: the careless inattention, yet mock civility of her husband, was a stimulus to me; I really felt for her infirmity; it called for the forbearance and pity of every one; and while I steadily endeavoured to fulfil all the duties of my station, I as steadily determined that neither by word, by look, or action, would I betray that literary taste, which had once been my bane, but which is now become my antidote—yes; now I find the flights of my imagination, and my former pursuits, are a great resource to me, and fill up those parts of my time which would otherwise be miserably vacant. When Mrs. Halifax is unusually petulant and tiresome, I sit at her side, with my work in my hand, and while thus notably engaged, I am, perhaps, planning an heroic poem; and when some of her high-bred guests have been treating me with marked rudeness, I have, perhaps, been all the while engaged in arranging a little essay on true politeness. But oh, my stars!” cried she, “how I have been prating! you will not call it true politeness for me thus to have engrossed all the conversation, and then to run away—but I hear Mrs. Halifax’s bell; and you must be my excuse for her being obliged to have recourse to it; for she usually expects to see me at her side when she awakes.” Mary rose to take her leave—“Indeed,” said Miss Letsom, “I have behaved very shamefully—I wanted very much to have talked to you upon another subject; but you see how it is—when we begin to talk of ourselves, we know not where or when to stop; at this time,” said she, “I have the only hour which I can call my own—will you come again to-morrow? say you will—I hear the bell again—pray say you will.”
“With pleasure,” answered Mary, as she pressed the hand of her hastily-retreating friend. Miss Letsom’s story had at once excited her pity, surprise, and admiration: it was the custom of Mary Ellis to derive some profit to herself from most passing occurrences—“If I was not born with the genius or the abilities of Miss Letsom,” thought she, “I have been spared from its mortifications and its penalties; and if she can so cheerfully bear the querulous peevishness of Mrs. Halifax, if she can patiently pursue one unvaried routine of mechanical occupation, how happy ought I to think myself—how much more pleasant is my situation—how grateful ought I to be to a merciful Providence, who has shielded me from contempt and contumely!”
The mediatorial task. POLWHELE.
THE two succeeding days Mr. Elwyn was much indisposed, and Mary Ellis would not leave him to keep her engagement with Miss Letsom: on the third day, however, he appeared better, and she again sallied forth towards Salcombe Lodge; but, ere she had proceeded far, she was met by Mr. Munden—“Where are you going so fast?” asked he, “and all alone too! plague take it, what are all the young men thinking of? in my youthful days, it was not much the fashion to let a fair damsel take a solitary walk—come now, tell me all about it; how is the old squire, and where is the young one?”
Mary knew Mr. Munden, and was accustomed to his abrupt manner; she answered, that “Mr. Elwyn was better, and that Henry was gone on an excursion of pleasure with general Halifax and the Montgomerys.”
“When, where?” cried Mr. Munden, “pleasure indeed! may it turn out a pleasurable excursion, that’s all the harm I wish him—come, come, walk on, and I’ll walk with you a bit. And so the old deaf trumpet-woman is left at home? I tell you what it is, Mary Ellis, I was fairly sickened of that whole party the last time I was there; and if they were to stay in the country till Doomsday, I believe I should never go near them again. How Harry Elwyn, who really does not want for discernment on most subjects, how he can suffer his fool’s noddle to be so worked upon by those affected trumpery fandango women, is to me astonishing! There’s that bombastic mock sentimental lady Lauretta calling out every minute; and then again directly, ‘light of my eyes,’ and shade of my nose, and such cursed nonsensical jargon, it is enough to sicken any body; and all of it is meant to draw the attention of the company upon her affection, and her daughter’s beauty forsooth! not a breath do I believe of the one, for all that; and as to the other, why you, my little homespun girl, have all the beauty of this Lauretta, without her d—d art and affectation; she has tried all in her power to get away Harry Elwyn from you.”
“From me!” interposed Mary, in a tone of surprise, and burning blushes dyed her cheeks; “indeed, Mr. Munden——”
“Well, and indeed, Miss Mary,” said he, putting his hand before her mouth, “I don’t want you to interrupt me. If this Lauretta succeeds, Elwyn will be bound to curse his stars, and may as well hang or drown at once, if he marries that silly creature, and forsakes the girl that seemed set apart for him, by circumstances, by education, and by the care and affection of one, whose judgment he ought to have respected and followed.” Mary looked down; she felt confused and affected; a tear moistened the eyelid of Mr. Munden—he paused a moment—“Hang me,” said he, “if I can bear to go to Elwyn Hall now; I pity poor Elwyn—he is a lost man—lost to censure—to shame—to feeling—to respectability—but to see that fiddle-de-dee two-penny simpleton of a woman sitting in the seat of Clara, and fancying too that she is equal to her in dignity and importance! I don’t blame her; but she is in a perfect fool’s paradise; but if I cannot bear to look at it, it is my own fault if I go near them, that’s all—And this general Halifax—excellent generalship, faith!—he leaves old madam at home, dozing in her easy-chair, and off he marches, to take care of the favourite sultana. One would think he thought the old woman was blind as well as deaf; but if Harry Elwyn makes the daughter of lady Lauretta his wife—I say, Mary, if he does,” and Mr. Munden struck his stick with much emphatic earnestness on the ground, “if he does, he deserves every thing that may happen to him.”
“The advice of a man of your experience,” said Mary——
“Nonsense, nonsense,” cried Munden, interrupting her, “these hoity-toity young fellows will not hear any body or any thing which shall oppose their own inclinations; they have a mighty high opinion of their own judgment, and their own penetration; but as to reason or argument, they must be entirely set aside; and, by and-by, when they are out of their dream, they will rub their eyes, and staring blankly round them, cry out, ‘Dear me! who could have thought it? Lord, how I have been deceived!’ and who will pity them then, I should like to know? they may ‘go to the d——l and shake themselves,’ for aught that any body will care.”
“I remember somebody who frequently used to chide you for using such improper expressions,” said Mary.
“And I remember somebody, whose chidings were attended to, my little saucy girl,” answered he, “because her practice was always in conformity with her precepts—ah, Mary, Mary! we shall neither of us see her like again.” Tears now rolled down the cheeks of the grateful protegée, and they proved her perfect accordance with this sentiment. “I am an old hard-hearted coward,” said Munden, snatching her hand, “thus to distress a female—and one that I love too—yes, Mary! I love thee for the sake of poor Clara. God will bless you, I hope, my dear child; but if Harry Elwyn forsakes thee, he deserves to be hanged; if he forsakes thee for that jointed baby, he will have his punishment; but keep up your spirits—keep up your spirits—don’t let him triumph over your peace of mind—don’t let him see that you mind it—don’t afford him that gratification, for God’s sake, don’t.”
“Believe me, sir,” answered Mary, “there is no occasion for these cautions; I see the kindness of your motive, I acknowledge it with gratitude; but indeed I have never been so foolish or so vain as to suppose that Mr. Henry Elwyn——”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” said Munden; “I neither want to bring you to a confession or a denial; I dare say you are a good girl enough, as times go, and better than most, or my poor friend Clara would not have loved you; and I think Harry Elwyn would be better off with you than with that silly doll—however, as he brews, so may he bake. Well, fare you well—good-bye—I can’t go any further with you now; for though I have no objection to a Seville orange, when my stomach requires a strong bitter, yet I find no manner of fun in bawling till my voice is hoarse, and my lungs are expended, to be answered with a peevish ‘What? ’ or a flat ‘No.’ I should pity the old woman from my soul though, and I might endeavour to make her hear what a complete tool her husband makes of her, only that she seems quite unconcerned about it, and eats, and drinks, and sleeps; hers is the conquest of matter over mind, I believe, and faith, in her situation, it is, perhaps, the wisest plan she can pursue—well, good-bye!” and off Mr. Munden stumped, leaving Mary not a little embarrassed; for though accustomed to his abruptness, and his plump manner of delivering his opinions, she felt mortified at observing that general credence had been given to the report of her attachment to Henry Elwyn, and that if a marriage should take place between him and Lauretta, she should find herself an object of general curiosity and observation. To disclaim such an attachment would be of no avail; she felt that it would not be true; she had only to show, by her conduct and sentiments, that she could rejoice in the happiness of Henry Elwyn, were his destiny entirely unconnected from her own.
Waiting a few moments to compose her countenance, and to recall her scattered thoughts, ere she entered the house, Mary was soon met by her expecting friend.
“I was fearful,” said Miss Letsom, “that Mr. Elwyn might be still too ill for you to leave him, and am half-ashamed to say how impatient and anxious I was beginning to get; I perceive,” continued she, “that I have not yet acquired that conquest over my feelings with which I had flattered myself; however, my ardent wish of seeing you, originated partly in the interest I take in the happiness of a friend of yours.”
“Of whom do you speak?” asked Mary, in a tone of anxiety.
“Of Mr. Henry Elwyn,” answered Miss Letsom.
Taken off her guard, Mary asked with quickness—“Say, tell me, what of him?”
“Nothing,” answered Miss Letsom, mildly, and without appearing to notice her emotion. “A fortnight has nearly elapsed since the departure of the general and of our guests, yet Mrs. Halifax has not had a single line from her husband; he is never used to write frequently; but I believe my aunt feels this entire neglect, though she does not acknowledge it; for within the last two or three days, she has become more fretful and more petulant than I have ever known her; but imputing it to this cause, it does not operate on my nerves, or my temper, as you might imagine: but I will not relapse into egotism, though it seems as if I were again determined to be chief speaker; but not knowing how soon Mrs. Halifax may ring for me, I am impatient to say all I wish. You must perceive, my dear young friend, that I talk to you with the most undisguised confidence; the character I fill, in our family-parties, is that of silence and insignificancy; yet, though I am mute, I am not always unobserving: there is something in the open character, and ardent spirit of Mr. Henry Elwyn, which forcibly attracted my notice; indeed I fear a snare is laid for him—indeed I believe that lady Lauretta and her daughter have a design upon him.”
“If you mean that he is likely to become the husband of Miss Montgomery,” said Mary, “I believe his own wishes have outstepped any designs which those ladies could have had.”
“That he has fallen in with their designs is obvious; but I do suspect, and call me not uncharitable for so doing, that these ladies have a deeper scheme than they dare avow,” continued Miss Letsom. “If it was the affection of Lauretta for Mr. Elwyn, if it was this which was her instigator, I should pity her weakness, and perhaps be inclined to befriend it; but I have every reason to believe, that had any other man, with as good expectations, taken the bait, he would have been just as particular an object of regard.”
“I suspect that Henry owes something to his being the acknowledged heir of Mr. Elwyn,” said Mary.
“More than you are aware of,” returned Miss Letsom. “Lauretta has from her mother imbibed most boundless notions of expence; lady Lauretta, I fancy, cannot spare her much; and though general Halifax can minister to the extravagancies of the one, yet he would perhaps find that the mother and daughter were too heavy a tax even upon his purse; for I have been told, that a great part of my aunt’s property proceeds from a life-annuity, and that at her death, it will revert to the nearest relatives of her first husband. I have been sometimes amused in watching the hopes and fears with which lady Lauretta and Miss Montgomery have been actuated, as the attentions of Mr. Elwyn have been renewed or slackened; I know, from conversations (which, from being supposed unintelligible to me, were carried on in my hearing), that this house was taken by general Halifax, merely from its contiguity to Elwyn Hall, although they made it appear that their first meeting with Mr. Henry Elwyn was so purely accidental; I know too that when he had left them so suddenly at Cheltenham, that both ladies began to suspect his having eluded them entirely.”
“Why adopt so much art—so much duplicity?” asked Mary.
“These questions I cannot answer, except by giving you my conjectures over again,” said Miss Letsom; “at any rate, I know that the journey to Malvern was undertaken suddenly, and from my observations, I concluded that you were in part the cause of it.”
“Me?” asked Mary; “how is that possible?”
“There is a little teazing feeling called jealousy, my love,” said Miss Letsom, “which not unfrequently springs up in the female bosom. Mr. Elwyn had certainly not been here as often—you were always at the Hall.”
“Oh dear! I don’t think I had any thing to do with it; indeed, Miss Letsom, I could not.”
“Pray, my dear Mary, excuse me, but I am sure you had—I am sure both ladies were afraid of you; when your likeness to Lauretta was remarked, it always appeared to excite the apprehensions of her ladyship; she feared, and justly feared, that Mr. Henry Elwyn would begin to draw comparisons; and the sudden journey to Malvern was planned entirely from this idea: now they have got him to themselves—and now—yes, now, my dear Miss Ellis, it is the part of a true friend to warn him of his danger.”
“And will you do it?” asked Mary, with anxious earnestness, “kind, good Miss Letsom, will you do it?”
“Me?” asked Miss Letsom; “no, my love, that would be too ridiculous; Mr. Henry Elwyn has never observed or noticed me, but merely as that mechanical automaton which I wish to appear at the bottom of general Halifax’s table: were I to come forwards to give him advice and caution, he would very naturally suspect my motive, reject the one, and despise the other; I could only bring suspicions, where he would require proofs; and he would naturally conclude, that I must be actuated by base and unworthy motives. I have more than once thought of giving him an anonymous warning, but that would not be attended to by one of his open and impetuous disposition; he would treat it with the silent contempt which he would conclude it merited, and perhaps might accuse an innocent person of being the author of it, and I might thus be calling down odium on the head of another; neither of these plans would be of service; but you, Miss Ellis, who have been bred up with him on terms of intimacy, you, who have been the confidante of his youth, you may still be said to have the first place in his heart.”
A faint sickness came over Mary, her colour fled her cheek, she put her hand upon Miss Letsom’s, as she said—“And what would he think of me? no, dear Miss Letsom, I cannot do it; oh! much, much more than what you have just suggested will be imputed to me—I shall be despised—I shall be contemned—I shall be degraded! dear as is the happiness of Henry Elwyn to my peace of mind, yet I cannot consent to barter my own dignity, even in appearance, by such conduct: and what could I advance,” cried she, after a pause, “presumptions only—the presumptions of another too, whose name must be concealed—ah, dear friend! presumptions are not proofs; already has the busy meddling world made free with my poor name; and shall I myself assist the natural vanity of Elwyn, in teaching him the same belief? alas! I cannot.”
“For worlds would I not have distressed you thus,” said Miss Letsom, taking her hand; “forgive me, dear Miss Ellis.”
“Forgive you!” sighed Mary; “the kind interest you take in my happiness, and in the happiness of my best friend, Harry Elwyn, demands my warmest gratitude: we must leave him to himself, my dear Miss Letsom; he is a proud mortal, and has high notions of his own discernment, and of his own superiority; his feelings are quick, and his temper enthusiastic; and, at this moment, I dare say he would quarrel with the whole world, if but an hint were breathed against this idol of his imagination.”
“May she continue such!” said Miss
Letsom. The bell of Mrs. Halifax now sounded with violence; and pressing her
lips to the hand of Mary, and saying, “come again soon,” Miss Letsom hastily
Whisper the solemn warning in mine ear,
That I may bid my weeping friends good-bye.
“THUS am I doomed,” thought Mary, as she pursued her melancholy walk home, “thus am I doomed to be tormented with a thousand anxieties on the subject of Henry Elwyn, to have the fears and the suspicions of others added to my own; and yet I cannot, dare not breathe them to the object of them; yet surely it would be the part of true friendship to warn him of his danger; true friendship would despise every selfish motive; what would my dear, my lost protectress have done, had she received the communication of Miss Letsom? would she not have cautioned, would she not have reasoned, would she not have advised with him, and shall I, from weak and feminine fears, shall I shrink from the task? if the happiness of another is in question, shall I be daunted by any selfish scruples of delicacy, from doing my duty?”
Mary had nearly brought herself to the resolution of essaying an ungrateful task, and of writing to Henry Elwyn, when a little way from the house she met Mrs. Elwyn, who quite diverted the current of her thoughts; for, running towards her, and, at the same time, clasping both hands together, she cried—“Here’s a sad story—here’s a sad story indeed, Miss Mary! only think of it! Mr. Elwyn, poor man, is fallen into a fit, and is like one dead; I can get neither speech nor sound from him; I have sent for the doctor, and now I was come after you.”
Mary was very much alarmed, and hurrying on as fast as she could, she said, “Dear madam, where is he?”
“Oh! I have had him put into bed, and in the orange room; for you see, Miss Mary, there’s no knowing what may happen; ’tis all, you see, in the hands of God, and if his time is come, so it must be—but I thought the new patchwork bed, as it never has been used, you see, why ’twas a pity to do so now—as well not, you see, Miss Mary; and when the men were carrying him, why the orange room was only a few stairs further.”
Mary scarcely heard this prudent speech, but hastily ran to the apartment, where, stretched on the bed, lay Mr. Elwyn, to all appearance bereft of life; the old housekeeper was standing by his side, and vainly endeavouring to restore him to animation: Mary put her hand upon his heart; she felt it beat—“He lives!” whispered she; “if Mr. Leonard were but come to open a vein, all might be well again.”
While Mary chafed his temples, and assisted the housekeeper in rubbing his hands and feet, Mrs. Elwyn walked about the room, saying—“What a stout heart you must have, Miss Mary! I cannot go near him—I cannot bear to look at him—and to think what he once was—oh! he will be a very great loss—a very great loss indeed—to the bench of justices—he is in the commission, you know, Miss Mary—he is a magistrate—and then to the servants—oh, he will be a very great loss indeed—a loss to the whole country! And I shall be a widow—yes, I shall be an inconsolable widow—oh! dear me, dear me!—the changes and chances of this mortal life—but ’tis all as it pleases God—all entirely. If his time is come, we cannot help it: does he move now, Miss Mary? well, to be sure, you have a stout heart!”
While Mrs. Elwyn was walking about, and praising the stout-heartedness of Mary, she was mentally returning thanks to that merciful Providence, who had spared poor Clara from this affecting sight, and she was inwardly beseeching for an extension of his mercy towards the unhappy being before her, who neither, by his life or conduct, had evinced a proper sense of those rich bounties which had been so plentifully showered down upon his head.
Mr. Leonard at length arrived; having surveyed his patient with a countenance which did not infuse any sanguine hopes into the breast of Mary, he immediately pulled out a lancet—“You said so—if you didn’t say so, Miss Mary,” said Mrs. Elwyn; “law, mercy help us! I cannot look that way for the whole world; the very sight of poor dear Mr. Elwyn’s blood would make me faint away.”
“Pray God we may have a sight of it,” said the old housekeeper, (whose name was Scot), “or it will be all over,” as she came forward with a bason and napkins.
“What some hearts are made of, I can’t imagine for my part,” said Mrs. Elwyn.
“Thank God, he breathes again!” cried Mary, with fervour.
“He does,” said Mr. Leonard, “and he will revive soon; but there is great danger of a relapse.”
“Should not Henry Elwyn be sent for?” asked Mary.
“Certainly,” replied Mr. Leonard; “for,” added he, “there is no doubt of this seizure being of the apoplectic kind; and in Mr. Elwyn’s present state, from his corpulent habit, and his late lethargic indisposition, I confess I should not be at all surprised if——”
Mary waited to hear no further; she left the room, and writing a line to Henry, she instantly dispatched a messenger with it, ordering him to change horses at each stage, and not to stop till he reached Malvern.—“Who knows,” thought Mary, as she wrote the letter, “the death of my dear, dear Mrs. Elwyn once tore Harry Elwyn from this alluring Lauretta; may not the illness of his father once more break the spell—may not all my recent fears on this subject be speedily dissipated? ”
Mary returned to the sick-chamber—Mr. Elwyn had spoke—and though he still lay in an almost motionless state, it was plain that his torpid powers were restored to some degree of action.
“Do you think he will die now, Miss Mary?” asked Mrs. Elwyn, in a loud whisper.
“On the contrary, at present,” answered Mary, “I think there seems every chance of his amendment.”
“Well now, that is very wonderful—quite a miracle indeed—that bleeding I believe was a good thing, for all I could not bear to look at it—well then, Miss Mary, if you will just stay here, and see that all’s going on as it should do, why I’ll just go a bit below, and see how the maidens are going on with their sewing; so then every thing will be minded, you see; I’ll stay just to cut out a few patches, for you see, I suppose we shall both of us be sitting here, and we may be as well doing of a little work, as sitting with our hands before us, looking upon one another.”
“What some hearts are made of, I can’t imagine, for my part,” said the attentive Scot, as she saw Mrs. Elwyn leave the room, and as she watched the quick heavings of her master’s breath. Mr. Elwyn continued in this state during the whole of the night; he dozed at intervals; but when he awoke, he lay as still as if in a slumber, and it was only by the opening of his vacant eye that his awakening was discovered—he took the medicines administered to him by the assiduous hand of Mary Ellis, who never quitted him; but he seemed ignorant from whom he received them.
Mr. Leonard had been very candid in saying, that he thought the next attack would carry him off; and as Mary judged of the feelings of Henry Elwyn by her own, every hour that wore away without his appearance was passed in the most fearful anxiety.
The distance from Malvern to the Hall was only thirty miles—“Surely, surely,” thought Mary, “Henry would not willingly have retarded his journey.”
The last gleams of the setting sun were faintly illumining the window of the sick man’s apartment, when Henry entered it; his manner was agitated, his air disordered; he hastily approached the bed; Mary was bending over the almost lifeless form of Mr. Elwyn; one arm supported the pillow on which reclined his head; she was gently wiping his melting forehead with a handkerchief; the partial light, admitted by the opening of the curtain, fell on her countenance; it wore the celestial expression of a ministering angel. Pale, extended, his features changed and livid, Mr. Elwyn seemed expiring—what a sight was this for Henry! he remembered the indulgent kindness—the more than paternal affection of his early benefactor—his friend—his father! he remembered a similar scene; there too he remembered Mary Ellis—her hasty summons had then called him to the bed of death—he remembered every thing which he would have forgotten—he pressed his quivering lip to the coldly-moistened hand of his father—he burst into tears—he gave way to the agony of conflicting emotions; his eyes met those of Mary Ellis, beaming with tender compassion; he turned from her, and hiding his face in the counterpane, his convulsive sobs were audible.
“Take care, take care, Mr. Henry,” said Mrs. Elwyn, now approaching the bed; “you will disturb Mr. Elwyn, sir, and that will be a great pity, a very great pity indeed—see how quiet and how composed I am—nothing moves me—nothing at all—I am quite myself—always calm and collected—very so indeed.”
A faint groan from the invalid seemed to recall Henry’s self-possession—“Harry! is Harry here?” said he, as he feebly (and for the first time voluntarily) spoke.
“Here, here, dear sir, here is your own Harry Elwyn,” said Henry, as he hastily rose and took his father’s hand.
“And who is this?” asked he, feeling the soft hand of Mary on his forehead.
“’Tis Mary Ellis, sir,” answered she.
“Your nurse—your kind, your gentle friend,” added Henry.
“Aye, a good girl—a good girl! Clara used to say so,” said he; “Harry, you must reward her.”
Henry’s whole frame shook; his eyes were bent on the ground. Mrs. Elwyn now thought it her turn to be noticed—“How d’ye do, Mr. Elwyn? how d’ye find yourself by this time, my dear?”
“Ellen!” said he, “you are here, are you?”
“To be sure, sir, here am I; do you think I would leave you, my dear?”
“Harry, Harry! give me your hand, Harry,” said Mr. Elwyn, “give it me—and yours—and yours,” added he, eagerly catching that of Mary; with a convulsive grasp he held them both; he rose himself in the bed, and casting up his eyes, he said, “Oh! remember not my old sins, but have mercy upon me—oh! remember not the sins and offences of my youth;” and in the fervour of that petition he resigned his breath.
Mary was the first who perceived that his spirit was for ever fled; and, while gently withdrawing herself from the inanimate corpse, she piously, but mentally reiterated the dying petition of the poor departed; she contrasted, in her mind’s eye, the difference between his last sickness, and that of the resigned and collected Clara. A ray of light had indeed seemed to break in upon Mr. Elwyn’s benighted soul, at the moment of dissolving nature—“Oh! why—why was it not extended to him sooner?” it was a fearful, an awful subject—she dared not pursue it.
Her attention was now called to the living—with hysteric screams, Mrs. Elwyn was wringing her hands, and saying—“He is gone—he is dead—I am an inconsolable widow—yes, now I’m a widow indeed! a miserable woman—very so indeed!—what will become of me? oh! Mr. Henry, my best friend is gone.”
“You have still a friend left, my dear madam,” said Elwyn, as, overcome with real grief, he took the hand of his mother, and fervently pressed it to his lips.
Henry had a very feeling heart; he had loved Mr. Elwyn, from the moment when he first awoke to recollection—his indulgence, his kindness, his fond partiality, had gained him a warm interest in his grateful breast; and though duty and principle would have taught him to love and to respect his father, yet when that affinity had been made known to him, there were so many circumstances to lessen his character in the estimation of his son, that he still clung to the idea of his early benefactor, rather than to the parent of his ripened years.
It was in this character that he now seemed to lament him; all the instances of his indulgent love came fresh before his memory; his faults were forgotten; and he gave way to the most unqualified sorrow: taking the hand of Mary, he sighed, but could not articulate; but he seemed to give his mother to her care; and then breaking from them both, he locked himself into his own apartment.
Mrs. Elwyn’s was that kind of sorrow which seems likely to evaporate in words; she made incessant bemoanings, called herself “the most unhappy of women, the most miserable creature in the whole world, very so indeed, a most inconsolable widow!” then would wonder who had got the will, and “whether Mr. Henry would like it to be read before the funeral or after?” said, “she supposed crowds and crowds of people would attend the corpse to the grave, as Mr. Elwyn was a man of such fortune, and so very much respected—and then the mourning for the servants—that, you see, Miss Mary, will cost a great deal—men and maidens, all of them in black—oh! I am to be sure the most miserable woman in the world!—I am a mournful widow now—very so indeed—and then I must order the beef to be stuck with rosemary at the funeral, for that, you see, is always the custom, and I must think of every thing—oh dear—oh dear, I am a miserable woman indeed!”
of funeral woe. POLWHELE.
WE shall pass over the few days which intervened between the death of Mr. Elwyn and his interment; Henry gave himself up to the indulgence of that grief, which an impetuosity of disposition, never checked in its ebullitions, rendered very violent; he suffered acutely; and it was in vain that the gentle and reasonable Mary essayed to give him comfort, for he would not hear reason; he refused to be comforted; he continued to seclude himself from the family; and only that daily dispatches with letters were sent to and from Malvern, he would scarcely have been heard of as an inmate of the Hall.
In conjunction with the old butler and housekeeper, Mary arranged every thing for the funeral (for though Mrs. Elwyn talked a great deal of her orders, and the great bustle it was to her, yet she busied herself about things which she did not understand, and generally bred confusion, instead of order, when she interfered).
Out of respect to the memory of the deceased, Mary determined to attend the mournful ceremony with Henry; he had supported her with his presence during the last painful funeral; it was now her turn to support him; and to her encouraging look, to her steady seriousness of manner, Henry was indebted, for conducting himself with tolerable composure.
After the ceremony, the whole family were convened in the drawing-room of Elwyn Hall, and the confidential lawyer of Mr. Elwyn prepared to read the will.
Mr. Munden (who, with several of the surrounding gentry, had attended the funeral) was desired by Mr. Sargent (the lawyer) to be present at this scene. Mrs. Elwyn, dressed in her weeds, sat down with an air of consequence, and with very little semblance of delicacy, though she frequently told Mr. Munden, “that she was the most miserable of women!” While Henry Elwyn looked with fearful anxiety on Mr. Sargent, he also looked with an air of watchful solicitude towards Mary Ellis; “if his father had done justice to the fame of his mother, if he had declared the legitimacy of his son, would not the deep injuries of Clara become glaringly conspicuous? would not the ardently-attached Mary feel them in her inmost soul?”
Mary Ellis had nothing to expect; she had nothing to hope or to fear for herself; her dear lost friend had made a sufficient provision for her; she had never wished its augmentation; and she well knew that Mr. Elwyn would never have thought of doing it.
All eyes were fixed on Mr. Sargent; he broke the seals, and then opened two small papers, which were placed immediately within the envelope; the first he read was a certificate of the marriage of Henry Elwyn and Ellen Harley, with dates and proper attestations; the second was the copy of the register of the birth of Henry Elwyn, the son of that marriage. Henry Elwyn rose from his seat; his chest seemed to expand; he stood erect in the room; as if by an involuntary and intuitive motion, all the domestics made an obeisance to their lineal lord.
Mrs. Elwyn drew herself up with an air of importance, as if to show that she was brought out as conspicuously as her son by this discovery.
Mary Ellis caught the back of Mr. Munden’s chair, to save herself from falling; she had long suspected, she had even known the secret of Henry’s birth; but this public declaration of it—this public acknowledgement of the injuries which had been heaped upon the poor Clara—“Oh!” thought she, “can I ever regret her more? can I ever be sorry that she was taken from the evil to come—that she was spared from an explanation like this?” Her whole countenance betrayed the working emotions of her heart; her tottering limbs refused their office; Henry caught her in his arms, and placed her on a sofa, for she refused to retire; and having desired that her indisposition might not interrupt the business which had drawn them together, and Mrs. Elwyn having “wondered what should thus have overcome Miss Mary, who was always so stout-hearted,” and Mr. Munden having frowned on her, instead of answering, Mr. Sargent proceeded——
After a few legacies to the servants, Mr. Elwyn had bequeathed the whole of his property to his son, charging the estates with a jointure of four hundred per annum to Mrs. Elwyn. Mr. Munden was appointed the trustee for the widow. Mary’s legacy, which was bequeathed to her by her late benefactress, was specifically mentioned; and Henry Elwyn was charged to pay her the yearly interest of it, till she should become of age, or was married.
Mrs. Elwyn was not pleased; her countenance lowered—“What, not leave me the Hall for my life!” said she. “Oh, I am a most miserable woman! very so indeed!”
“The Hall is yours, for your life, my dear madam,” said Henry, respectfully taking her hand, “and all, and every thing you wish.”
She did not receive this generous speech with her usual cordiality, but answered—“It certainly ought to have been mine by will.”
Henry turned immediately from her, and thanked Mr. Munden for his friendly attendance.
Munden shook him cordially by the hand, as he turned a commiserating glance on Mary; and, in a whisper, but which was loud enough to reach her ear, said—“Elwyn, whatever you do, be a friend to that poor girl; in your kindness to her, show your sense of the injuries which your father—well—well—let it pass now.”
“My friendship for you, dearest Mary,” said Elwyn, approaching her, and taking her hand, “can cease but with my existence; a regard for Mary Ellis was infused into my heart with its first feeling; look on me as your guardian—your friend—your brother!” his voice fell as he uttered the last word, and he let the hand which he had taken drop resistless on her lap.
“When—when?” cried Munden, as the word ‘brother’ faintly reached his ear.
Elwyn recovered himself from his momentary embarrassment, and addressing the domestics, in that tone of conciliating freedom which finds its way to all hearts, he thanked them for their past kindnesses, while ignorant of his claim to them; he told them that he would endeavour to make their lives as comfortable as they had been; and that he hoped they should all grow grey-headed together; he then told them to consider Mrs. Elwyn (pointing to his mother) as their mistress, and to treat her with the utmost respect and attention.
When the company were dispersed, Elwyn again sought Mary—“I have some necessary matters to arrange, during the remainder of this day,” said he; “to-morrow I shall leave the Hall, perhaps for some time; I shall see you before I go; but, lest another opportunity should not offer, I avail myself of the present, to ask you to continue here, and to be still the companion of my mother?”
Mary hesitated—she did not like to refuse any request of Henry Elwyn; at such a moment, it would be cruel and unfeeling to do it; and as he was appointed her guardian by the will of his father, perhaps she had no right to do so; but she painfully felt that the society of Mrs. Elwyn could afford her no gratification, and she scarcely knew that Mrs. Elwyn would herself wish her to remain; these ideas ran through her mind, while the asking eyes of Henry were still fixed on her face. Henry Elwyn was pleading for his mother! a refusal was impossible; she answered—“While I think my society is acceptable, or that I am useful to Mrs. Elwyn, I will not quit her.”
“You are a noble, generous girl—acceptable I should think it must always be—useful, my dear Mary, I am confident you must be to my poor mother, who, bred up with contracted ideas, and confined notions, she has no idea of her own deficiencies—your forbearance, your sufferance with her, has often called forth my surprise, and will ever demand my warmest gratitude. My dear Mary, I speak to you with the greatest unreserve; I know that my mother is not fit to live alone—from the time of her acquaintance with my——” (he could not utter the word father, for his eye at that moment caught the portrait of Clara)—“From the era of her acquaintance with Mr. Elwyn until a very recent period, she was entirely shut up from the world. She is now in a new situation, for independence is entirely new to her; and I consider her as helpless, and as inexperienced a being, as an infant who had just escaped from its leading-strings, and is first trying its emancipated limbs—Do not leave her, my dear friend—do not quit our mother:” the plural our called up a blush of crimson in the cheek of Mary; its shadow seemed to glow over the manly countenance of Elwyn, as he added, “Do not leave her, my dearest sister,” and with these words he quitted the room.
The appellative sister had again
recalled Mary’s thoughts to a subject, from which they had been diverted by
recent occurrences; it was the part of a sister, of a tender, of an
apprehensive sister, to give advice to her fraternal relative—to warn him of
his danger; she had not forgotten one syllable of Miss Letsom’s conversation;
neither had she forgotten the determination, which she had nearly made, of writing her sisterly
cautions to Henry Elwyn; he was now under the same roof with her; there was no
occasion for writing—she could speak to him; it was now become necessary that
she should do so, for did he not talk of leaving the Hall the next day, and for
some time? and was it not more than probable that he was going to join the
party whom he had quitted? was he not now become independent? master of a noble
patrimony—had any human being a right to controul his actions? these were
serious questions—but ah! how could the sensitive, the conscious Mary Ellis,
approach Henry Elwyn on such a subject, and at such a time? might he not impute
to her a motive, very lowering to her character, if she were to investigate his
sentiments concerning Lauretta? would not her cautions wear the hue of
jealousy? would not his vanity lead him to deduce every reason but the right
one for her interference? and would not her confusion and her embarrassment
make her appear before him like a convicted culprit? and yet to suffer him to
go, without one hint, one friendly hint—would this be generous or proper?
“Away, away, my early dream,
Remembrance never must awake.”
THUS canvassing the matter over and over again in her own mind, without coming to any fixed determination, Mary passed the whole of the night: at the breakfast-table she found Miss Lawson, who had come “on the wings of friendship to see her dear, suffering Mrs. Elwyn, and to console her for her irreparable loss!” how much was the inexperienced Mary astonished at the renewed civility of this good lady towards herself! for she could not be aware that the circumstance of her having appeared, the preceding morning, with Henry Elwyn, as one of the mourners at his father’s funeral, and the mutual good understanding which had been remarked to have subsisted between them, had already been circulated through the village of Norton, and that she was again set down for the wife of Mr. Elwyn.
Miss Lawson was more scrupulous than an Eastern devotee in bowing to the rising sun; getting up to place a chair for Mary near the fire, she desired that she would permit her to officiate for her at the breakfast-table, adding—“I know, my amiable friend, that you must be quite exhausted—and how is Mr. Elwyn to-day? poor man, how I felt for him yesterday! though I am told that he looked most charmingly graceful and interesting—and you, my dear Mary, you—why, they say you looked like a little heroine! they may tell me what they will of their Laurettas, and Eastern manners, and the Italian School, but give me plain English, Mary, and the school of nature.”
“I thought Miss Montgomery had been a great favourite with you,” said Mrs. Elwyn; “I really thought so indeed, Miss Lawson.”
“A favourite, ma’am! I don’t know what you mean by a favourite—yes, a favourite—certainly, I believe—that is—I admired at her—there is, certainly, as Mr. Henry Elwyn (Mr. Elwyn, I mean), there is, certainly, as Mr. Elwyn has been heard to say, a good deal of dash and speciousness about them; but as Mr. Elwyn said to a particular friend of mine, in confidence—‘Where,’ said he, ‘is the sterling one? what are lady Lauretta and Miss Montgomery?’ asked he again, ‘spectacle, mere spectacle!”
The breakfast-room at Elwyn Hall was hung with tapestry; it opened into the library by a private door; Miss Lawson did not hear the soft opening of that door, but Mary Ellis did, and almost enjoyed her confusion, as she looked up, and saw the form of Henry Elwyn standing in the doorway, habited in mourning, his eyes fixed upon her face; she started—affectedly screamed, to hide her confusion, and cried—“Good Heavens! Mr. Elwyn, how could you frighten me so? I really thought you were a ghost.”
“Spectacle, mere spectacle, Miss Lawson,” said Elwyn, with some degree of severity; “but pray go on; do not let me interrupt you; were you not good enough to entertain these ladies with some opinions of mine?”
Elwyn took a chair next to Mary, and began his breakfast with a serious air; the disconcerted Miss Lawson could not recover herself; her hands trembled as she attempted to pour out the tea; she could not face Elwyn; but snatching up her tippet, and saying—“She believed she should not get the better of her fright for the day, and that she should fancy a ghost was pursuing her wherever she went,” she flung out of the room.
“Law, bless my heart! Mr. Henry, sir, you have certainly terrified Miss Lawson out of her senses!—hadn’t you better go after her, Miss Mary, and see what is become of her?”
“No—for Heaven’s sake, sit still!” said Elwyn; “if I have terrified her into a little shame of falshood, I have done her a vast deal of good; however, I am glad she is gone, at any rate, for I wanted to speak to you both on a subject of importance. You love your son, my dear madam; and you, my dear Mary, you love your brother,” and he took a hand of each—he stopped, and looked confused—he looked down—Mary’s breath was held in, in trembling expectation of his next address.—“You both wish my happiness?” said he.
“Certainly, sir, to be sure we do, very much indeed,” said Mrs. Elwyn.
“Fervently!” sighed out Mary; for she perceived that Elwyn waited for an answer.
“Then congratulate me upon it,” said he, “for it is secured—I am married!—Lauretta Montgomery is my wife.”
Did Mary Ellis hear aright? did she really hear those words? she hastily withdrew her hand from Elwyn’s; she retreated a few paces from him; her whole frame felt paralysed; she tried to speak, but something swelled at her throat—the words died on her tongue—she walked to a window, and burst into tears.
“Married!” said Mrs. Elwyn, “you married, Mr. Henry! and to Miss Montgomery! well, sir, I wish you joy with all my heart; and my son married to the daughter of a lady too!—but dear me, Mr. Henry, wont she want to come and to live here? and then, you see, I shan’t be mistress—oh! sad doings—sad doings!—I am a miserable woman now, I am an inconsolable woman indeed!—when Mr. Elwyn went, I lost my best friend—I thought how ’twou’d be!” and Mrs. Elwyn relapsed into one of her hysterical moanings.
“Be calm, my dear madam,” cried Henry; “assure yourself that it will never be the wish of my Lauretta, that it will never be my wish, to dispossess you of this place.—Mrs. Henry Elwyn will always make it her study to pay you every proper attention.”
“Well, well, that is very handsomely said of you, indeed, Mr. Henry—but when did all this take place, sir? when did it happen? how very comical!—very so indeed!—very comical! and you only to tell us of it this very minute!—why, Mr. Henry, are you sure you an’t dreaming?”
“From such a pleasing dream, oh, let me never wake!” cried Henry, with proud emotion.
Mary remarked the warmth of his expression; her heart, her affectionate heart, rejoiced in his happiness, and it chimed with his in this wish; she gathered courage with the enthusiasm of her feelings, as advancing towards him once more, and extending her hand with the genuine freedom of her nature, she said, “Allow something, dearest Henry, to the surprise of your intelligence, which almost overcame me, but believe me that I shall ardently pray for the continuance of your felicity.”
“Thank you—thank you!” said he, gratefully kissing her proffered hand; “thank you, and bless you!”
“But, Mr. Henry, how was it, sir—a wedding and a burying together, sir, how was that? do you think it will be lucky, Mr. Henry?—when was it, sir?—I hope it won’t be unlucky!”
“Not ominous, I hope and trust, my dearest madam,” said Elwyn; “but certainly I should not have chosen the day which closed on my father’s existence to dawn on my marriage; but at the moment when the express arrived, I was tortured with a thousand fearful presentiments—I knew not the period of my detention here—lady Lauretta Montgomery seemed undecided, and somewhat reserved, in regard to her stay at Malvern, and also as to the place where she should afterwards bend her course.—I could not get her promise of returning to Salcombe Lodge—once I had been separated from my Lauretta, and had been in danger of losing her for ever; such an idea was not to be borne again—Mary, you are acquainted with my impetuosity, you know my warmth of disposition, you can imagine my distracted state—I pleaded—I knelt—I entreated—general Halifax was kind enough to stand my friend, and previous to my setting out for this place, I received from his hands my amiable, my lovely bride.”
“Law bless me, how very extraordinary! why, Mr. Henry, it is really quite a history, sir—quite a history indeed! and where do you mean to live?”
“At present, madam, I know nothing,” answered he; “do not suppose that all my ideas were engrossed on this subject; having once secured my Lauretta beyond the reach of fate, I turned with anxious tenderness towards my suffering father: you know the melancholy scene which followed—you saw that even the prospect of unalloyed happiness with Lauretta, could not sooth a breast, which mourned with grateful affection over its first and earliest friend.”
“Yes, yes, you were very much affected—very so indeed!—and so we were all of us; for that matter, I’m sure, for my part, I am the most miserable creature in the world—but how extraordinary and comical is all this that you have been telling me!—Miss Lawson, you see, was very much mistaken—for I dare say, Mr. Henry, you never said a word, that she said you did, to that particular friend of hers?”
“You may not only dare say it, but dare swear it, my dear madam; do you think that I would hear a syllable, which was breathed by another, against the elected of my soul? then do you think I would basely traduce her myself?”
“No, no, sir, it was not mighty likely, to be sure—but how Miss Lawson will stare when she hears it!”
After a little general conversation, and having given his mother directions, and unlimited power over the establishment at the Hall, which he desired her to keep up in every respect as it had been during the lifetime of his father, and after recommending her and Mary Ellis mutually to the care of each other, Elwyn took an affectionate leave of them both, and quitted the Hall.
Mrs. Elwyn seemed to lose a great deal of her sorrows, in finding herself sustaining a situation of greater consequence than she had previous to Mr. Elwyn’s death; for as she constantly remarked to Mary, “now all the charge lies upon me, Miss Mary—you see I am now both master and mistress—a great charge upon one head, very so indeed, especially where there are both men-servants and maids to direct, and to look after—not but what they all seem to be very respectable, and very civil, and very well behaved, and very sober—but yet a head-piece is required—I say, Miss Mary—nothing at all is to be done without a head-piece.”
Mary Ellis did not give way to unavailing repinings, or to fruitless wishes; Henry Elwyn had now decided his own fate; she could only hope that it would turn out propitiously; she felt great comfort in reflecting, that her indecision had been of no consequence, for had she given her cautions to Henry, they would have been too late, her conversation with Miss Letsom having taken place only on the evening previous to Elwyn’s marriage; had it been possible for her to have delayed it by her advice, and thus have given him time for reflection, she would have severely blamed her own irresolution; but, under the existing circumstances, she was much rejoiced that she had not breathed a hint on the subject: she wrote immediately to Miss Letsom, and informed her of the confession which Elwyn had made, previous to his departure; and in answer, that lady joined her wishes with those of her friend, for the happiness of the new-married pair, and hoped that time would prove the injustice of her surmises with regard to the Montgomerys.
“If lady Lauretta’s fortune is limited,” thought Mary, after reading Miss Letsom’s letter, “it was natural enough for her to be anxious for her daughter to secure such an eligible alliance as that of Elwyn’s; he has enough to satisfy the profuse desires even of Lauretta, supposing them to be as profuse as Miss Letsom believes them; Lauretta must be void of the common feelings of humanity, if she be not affectionate and grateful to such a man as Elwyn; and lady Lauretta cannot be culpable in her conduct, with regard to general Halifax, else Henry Elwyn would never have made her daughter his wife.”
On the whole, Mary was inclined to hope that Miss Letsom, without intending to do so, might have exaggerated the disagreeable features of this party; “Her own principles are so very correct,” thought she, “her own conduct so strictly uniform, that she might be led to view any thing through a prejudiced medium, which should a little diverge from her own straight rule of right.”
At any rate, it was for Mary’s peace of mind to hope that this was the case—while believing Henry Elwyn happy, she felt so; if he were the contrary, she knew that she should experience great uneasiness of mind.
The coterie began to assemble as usual at Elwyn Hall, and the whist-table again made its appearance; it was not thought decorous for the “new-made widow” to join in the rubber; so, while the Lumleys, Mrs. Buxton, and Miss Lawson, were the active parties, she looked on, made her remarks on the progress of the game, and cut out patches.
All the ladies were astonished at the mildly-placid look of Mary Ellis.
Miss Lumley “thought that if she had been used so, she would have let all the world know that she was not to be trampled upon with impunity;” while Miss Lawson “never did think there was much feeling in Mary Ellis—a good sort of a humdrum bide-at-home girl;” she made no doubt “but there was more sentiment, more soul, more refinement, in the little finger of sweet Lauretta, than there was in the whole body of Mary Ellis.”
Miss Ellis, meantime, cared very little for the remarks of Miss Lawson; she had the approbation of her own heart; and by a steady performance of the duties of her station, and a firm reliance on the mercy of a good and an all-wise Providence, who she considered as the supreme disposer of all human events, she endeavoured to secure its continuance. Mary’s disposition was neither that of indolence or supineness—she did not forget disappointments as soon as they were passed, but by active exertion she endeavoured to divert her mind from the contemplation of them; when the weather would permit, she frequently strolled over to Salcombe Lodge, though, as the days shortened, and as Miss Letsom had only one disengaged hour, she found becoming impracticable; and the friends determined on exchanging notes, when they were no longer able to have interviews.
Scarcely any weather prevented Mary from fulfilling her allotted engagements in the village of Norton; and while the poor blessed her approaching and her departing steps, lisping infants could number her amongst their benefactors, for through her exertions they were brought up “in the nurture and the fear of the Lord.” It is thus that a well-regulated and a virtuous mind can bear itself up against what the world calls trouble and disappointment—it was thus that Mary Ellis practised the precepts of her lamented friend.
General Halifax had not returned to the Lodge; and the peevishness and irritability of his forsaken lady was almost more than her unfortunate niece could support; she had a long winter before her, and she almost regretted that she had forsaken the wilds of Cumberland, and the trade of authorship, for peevish discontent, and ungracious petulance.
Accomplish’d only in defects. MOORE.
OUR new-married pair (with their mamma and her faithful friend) had worn away the honeymoon at Cheltenham, and had for some weeks been gone to Bath: delighted in the possession of his fascinating Lauretta, and flattered at the buz of admiration which followed her charms whenever and wherever she appeared, Elwyn treated her with the most unbounded indulgence, and his purse was ever open to supply all her extravagancies; and Lauretta was always in smiles, because she had always her own way. At their house in Bath, lady Lauretta was the guest of her daughter; and without having received any particularly pressing invitation from Elwyn, general Halifax made up the quartetto with the greatest nonchalance. At Bath, Elwyn ascertained what he had previously suspected at Cheltenham, namely, that general Halifax was addicted to high play; Elwyn had no right to interfere in these matters, for, perhaps, he was himself in the habit of betting higher than was prudent; but he remarked, that the frequent absences of general Halifax were not suffered to pass with that habitual inattention with which lady Lauretta appeared to regard every other passing occurrence. Though the eyes of the infatuated lover had been completely hood-winked, yet those of the secure husband became rather more clear-sighted; and when general Halifax talked of returning for a short time to Salcombe Lodge, and Elwyn heard lady Lauretta propose to leave her daughter, in order to accompany him thither, he took the first opportunity of conversing with his Lauretta, in terms of confiding friendship—“For worlds, my love,” said he, “would I not breathe a hint which should wound the unsullied delicacy of your respected mother; but her ignorance of our customs renders her conduct open to the censures of an envious and a carping world; her friendship for general Halifax is not understood; the charms of lady Lauretta Montgomery, still undiminished, are seen and allowed by all—do, my dearest Lauretta, prevail on your mother to give up her intention, and to remain under our roof during the general’s visit to his wife.”
“Oh! indeed, Elwyn, I cannot say a word on the subject; my mamma never contradicted me in her life; and I dare say she has set her heart on going, or else she would not have proposed, and I dare say she could not bear a disappointment; I am sure I could not, when I had set my heart on any thing.”
“Now you jest, my love; for you well know that the heart of your mother seldom diverges her from this sweet object of attraction,” and he tenderly kissed her cheek—“Come, tell me that you will persuade her.”
“I shall not tell you any such thing; I dare not disoblige my mamma; and besides, I dare say that she would not remain with us when the general had left us—she would find it mighty flat—and why should she indeed? you know I am married now, and cannot expect to have her always living with me.”
“But you wish it, Lauretta, and I wish it too; surely your mother cannot find a more eligible or a more desirable situation?”
“Every woman, when she is married, likes to be her own mistress, I believe; mamma is welcome to come as often as she likes.”
“Yes, very welcome, Elwyn; but if she is inclined to take this little jaunt with the general, who has any right to prevent her?”
“No one has any right, certainly; but I confess to you, my Lauretta, that I have the wish, for the reasons which I have given you.”
“And I have told you that I choose to have nothing to do in the business—so that is ended,” answered Lauretta, with more asperity in her manner than Elwyn had ever seen her use.
A feeling of mortified pride struggled in his bosom; with difficulty he smothered his emotions; and turning towards her, he said—“Come, come, I have found out a way of settling this matter,” willing to bring back the smiles to her bewitching countenance, “and that without any interference on your part; I really want to take a trip to Elwyn Hall; my mother will take it very kind of you to pay her an early visit; we may travel en suite, and make quite a sociable thing of it; you shall go with me to my mother; and lady Lauretta can be the guest of Mrs. Halifax, if she prefers it.”
“What! go back to that horrid dull place in the winter?” asked Lauretta, in a tone and with a look of the greatest dismay, “and leave all the dear delights of Bath—cruel, cruel Elwyn!” and she burst into tears. “It is thus then that you already shew me that you are my husband.”
“Forgive me, dearest Lauretta,” said he, “I meant not to distress you; I know that the country is not very enticing at this season of the year; but I had flattered myself, that in the society of your happy and grateful Elwyn, you would not have found it wholly insupportable for a short time, especially as I must otherwise leave you alone.”
This half reproof, though couched in the gentlest terms, was not unremarked by Lauretta; pouting her lip as she turned from him, she said—“And how long do you mean to stay there?”
“Only a few days, my love,” answered he.
“Well, I don’t know,” said Lauretta, “I must consider of it;” then turning to him with an air of childish and playful coquetry, as she took down a diamond tiara from the mantle-piece, she said, “look at this; did you ever see any thing more beautifully brilliant? now, look at it again on my head—Riviere swears the lowest farthing must be five hundred guineas—don’t you think it must be dear?”
As Elwyn admired the polished brow which it surmounted, he could not think it dear—a compromise seemed to be made, and the first matrimonial jangle was settled—Elwyn paid five hundred guineas for the tiara, and Lauretta consented to leave Bath, and to bury herself for a few days at Elwyn Hall.
When Mrs. Elwyn was informed of the approach of her guests, she was “quite overcome with the idea of receiving them in a proper manner;” she hurried all over the house, and put every thing out of its place, that she might have it all in order; and having countermanded her directions to the old butler as frequently as she had given them, till she had quite bewildered his faculties, she left him in a pet, saying, “Timothy was worth twenty of him;” and calling Timothy into the butler’s room, she told him that “she believed old Joseph was doating, for he did not remember one single thing she had said to him; and so, Timothy, I am now going to make you sensible.”
Timothy had not lived a great while in the family; he was a young man of a smirking air, and a dapper look; and as from time to time Mrs. Elwyn remarked to him, that “without a head nothing was to be done in a family,” he answered—“Very true indeed, ma’am, and with so much upon yours, I really wonders how you keeps it upon your shoulders.”
“No bad remark that,” thought Mrs. Elwyn, drawing her head back, as if to feel that it was still safe in its place: “well then, Timothy, you mind all I have said to you, every single word of it, you see, and see that you have it all right, for else, you see, I shall suffer, for all the responsibility is mine; this it is to be without a master—nobody to advise—nobody to direct but myself.”
Mary Ellis did not interfere in these arduous arrangements, being well assured that notwithstanding her complaints of the irksomeness of it, Mrs. Elwyn liked the bustle into which she put herself, as there was not the least occasion for her exertions, her domestics being very equal to perform the offices they filled; but Timothy was become the right-hand of his mistress; and though his official capacity in the house was under the butler, yet she put him in every department in turn; he was dispatched to the housemaid, to see that the sheets were aired; he was sent to the larder, to inspect the provisions, and to the garden, to forestall the gardener, in the decorations for the table. Mrs. Elwyn even spread out her patches for the approbation of Timothy, as she formerly used to do to her two maid-servants.
Many sly nods and winks were already seen round the servants’-hall; and when the parlour-bell rang after dinner, Timothy was sure to skip off, and to be followed by the laugh of his companions.
Mary Ellis had forgotten all the contemptuous airs of Lauretta Montgomery, in her good-will towards the wife of Henry Elwyn, and she determined to exert herself, by every means in her power, to evince her disinterested and pure regard for him, in her attentions to his lady.
The travellers did not arrive till a late hour of the evening; fatigued with her journey, Lauretta scarcely spoke a word, after declaring—“that travelling in winter was a horrid bore.” She then kicked off her shoes, and put her feet upon the fender, turning her back completely on Mrs. Elwyn and on Mary. Soon after, she desired Elwyn to ring the bell for her abigail, “as she must go to bed.”
Mrs. Elwyn got up with great officious consequence, to precede her to her apartment, and Mary offered to follow; without noticing the civility of either, she took the arm of her servant, who stood at the door, and walked languidly up the stairs, Mrs. Elwyn tripping on before, to see that all was right, and Mary following, because she would not appear to notice her rude inattention to herself, and because she did not at this moment wish for a tête-à-tête with Elwyn; he had left the room when she returned to it, and she saw him no more for that night.
The next day, having kept the breakfast waiting much beyond its usual hour, Lauretta at length sent to desire that she might have hers in her chamber.
Elwyn had been up some time, and walking about the grounds, and talking to his steward; his countenance expressed mortification when he saw that Lauretta was absent from the breakfast-table; but he talked with cheerful freedom on indifferent subjects. Mary sustained her part very well. Elwyn mentioned his having engaged to take a ride with the steward to one of the adjoining estates, which had just fallen into hand, and which was the immediate cause of his present visit to the Hall; and having finished his repast, rose from his seat, on seeing his horse brought to the door.
Mrs. Elwyn and Mary followed him, and were standing to see him mount, when a sash was thrown up of the window of Lauretta’s room, and putting out her head, with her hair hanging dishevelled on her shoulders, she cried out—“Elwyn, where are you going to?”
“Oh, good morning to you,” cried he, with a careless air; “I am glad to see you are at last awake, my love.”
“I ask you, whence you are going, Mr. Elwyn?” repeated she.
“I am going to take a long ride on business.”
“And leave me here, all alone, to be killed with the ennui and vapours! indeed, Elwyn, it is very, very unkind of you to bring me to this frightful place, and then to leave me all alone.”
“You forget, Lauretta, that my mother and Miss Ellis are both here, and will be very happy if you will give them your society.”
“I thought how it would be,” said Lauretta, holding her handkerchief to her eyes, “I thought that you were coming here for your own pleasure—I know I should be miserable and wretched, to be shut up here amongst rooks and owls—I said so when I left Bath—you know I told you so.”
Mary Ellis could not look at Henry Elwyn; she knew that he was putting a great restraint on himself, in not giving way to the ebullitions of passion; Mrs. Elwyn, however, said—“Mr. Henry, you had better go up to the poor lady, and try to comfort her; tell her there is nothing to be afraid of here; and tell her, that we will do all in our power to make it pleasant and comfortable—pray tell her so, sir.”
Half ashamed at his condescension in thus going to sooth this childish ill-humour, Henry took the advice of his mother, and went up stairs; after remaining half an hour, he came down again, and without speaking, mounted his horse, and rode off.
In another half hour, Lauretta made her entrance into the room where Mrs. Elwyn and Mary were sitting at work; to the kind inquiries of Mrs. Elwyn, as “to how she liked her apartment, and the new patchwork bed, which had never been slept in before?” she answered—“Then I am confident it has not been slept in now by me—oh, ma’am! it was horrid—it dazzled my eyes, and confounded my senses—for Heaven’s sake, keep it to frighten the birds from your fruit, or give it to some merry Andrew, some motley fool, to shew off in at one of your country wakes; but in mercy, never put any human being to sleep under it again—I have nothing but angles, right angles, circles, and semi-circles, squares and octagons, floating before my eyes—my whole visual faculties are disordered.”
“I am very sorry,” said Mrs. Elwyn, as she rose from her seat, and walked across the room with a discomposed air, which proclaimed that she was very angry, “I am very sorry; I really thought I was paying you a proper compliment, as Mr. Henry’s wife, in putting you into what I think the best bed in the house—however, I suppose I was wrong—yes, I suppose I was wrong—the orange room, you see, I did not think would be so well—however, you shall move to that—yes, you shall move to that—though that bed has never been lain upon since the death of poor dear Mr. Elwyn—he was a great loss, a very great loss indeed!—I have no friend to stand by me now;” and she took out her handkerchief to conceal the tears, which were as much produced by the affront which was put upon her new patchwork bed, as by the remembrance of her husband—“I have lost my best friend,” continued she; “a weak woman like me is in want of a friend to stand by her; but now all is lost—and as to my new patchwork bed, why, you see, Miss Mary, we have only been making scarecrows!”
“Dear ma’am,” said Lauretta, “my nerves are quite hurt at the sight of your distress; what can have produced it? surely I have not been unfortunate enough to have been the cause of it?—pray don’t disturb yourself on my account; I am the easiest creature in the world; I have already ordered the carriage, and am going to my dear mamma—I always feel perfectly at home at Salcombe Lodge; Mrs. Halifax is so easy, she never puts herself out of her way for any body; I am sure you will be much more at home without me; you can then pursue your eternal sewing, and your dexterous companion can assist you—I dare say I shall look in on you now and then—I shall be always sure of finding you well employed—I think the carriage is now driving round, so good morning to you—good day, good day.”
“Why, law bless us and preserve us, you are not going off in such a hurry as this comes to?” said Mrs. Elwyn; “do stay a bit, if only till Mr. Henry comes—what will he think of it?”
“Pray stay till the return of Mr. Elwyn,” interposed Mary.
“Oh, ma’am, don’t alarm yourself on his account,” said Lauretta; “I informed him of my intention just now—having paid my duty in due form to his mother, surely my own sweet, dear mamma has now a claim upon me.”
The carriage was really in waiting. Mrs. Aubrey (the abigail of Mrs. Elwyn), was waiting with her packages and bandboxes in the hall; so, very coolly stepping into the carriage, Lauretta kissed her hand as it moved off.
“Great cry and little wool!” said Mrs. Elwyn. “I have taken a good deal of trouble for nothing it seems—a very short visit really—but if Mr. Henry’s lady did not find herself happy, why, so be it.”
Mary thought so too; and did not envy the sweet mamma her capricious and peevish companion.
Arrogant of sole dominion. MOORE.
HENRY Elwyn had married a woman whose whole existence depended on her being the object of admiration, and in the enjoyment of the pleasures of the world; spoiled by early indulgence, her mind was enervated and weakened; her temper was more wayward than that of a petted infant, who is but just recovering from a dangerous illness; the accomplishments on which she had rested, as her chief means of attack, in taking the hearts of men, had been acquired with this view only, and had been the stimulus to that application, which had not been exerted in one really praise-worthy or beneficial pursuit: confidence in her own beauty and attractions, an impatience of the slightest contradiction, an affectation of infantile helplessness, were the marking traits of her character; her whole ideas and wishes were centered in self; her own charms—her own enjoyments—her own tastes—her own caprices, were the objects of her contemplation—of her pursuit—of her aim—of her gratification; she thought not of the feelings of others; she cared not whom she offended of her own sex, provided she gained the homage of the other; and her insolence and peevishness was extended towards all those who did not fall in with her humour, flatter her vanity, or minister to her enjoyments.
On her setting out from Bath, she had determined to make herself so disagreeable a companion, as not to make Elwyn wish to bring her into the country again; it was now that she must exert her power if she meant to ensure it—“Mary Ellis had always been the object of her inveterate dislike; she had merely suffered her, while she could not help it; but now that she was become her own mistress, she might do as she pleased, and act as she pleased, and not stay with people who were disagreeable to her, and punish herself, while she was not pleasing them.”
These were the words with which she had concluded her speech when Elwyn had quitted her; in vain had he besought her to remain at the Hall, and to continue his mother’s guest, during the short time which he meant to remain in the country. She flatly refused; “she declared that her head already ached with the worrying questions of Mrs. Elwyn; it might be very well for him, she was his mother, and he could make allowances; but she would go to her own dear, sweet mamma, and the charming general, who was one of the most polite, the most complaisant, and most engaging men in the world.”
“After having so directly given my sentiments on this subject,” thought Elwyn, “previous to my leaving Bath, is it possible that Lauretta can mean purposely to provoke me by this language?” he half began to think that he had been a fool to throw away five hundred guineas in a diamond tiara, for it had not purchased the good humour of his wife; he mounted his horse in no enviable state of mind.
The idea of his being deceived in the character of the woman whom he had chosen for his wife, was insupportable to one of his proud and unsubdued spirit; he had only to put the best face upon the matter which was in his power—“it was natural that she should feel uncomfortable at knowing herself so near lady Lauretta, without being under the same roof;” at least, thus he must make it appear to his mother and to Mary Ellis—as he thought of the latter, he sighed involuntarily; and as he recollected her correct conduct, and the justness of her sentiments, he believed that he should have matter to impose upon her, by making the “worse appear the better reason,” though her good-nature would, he was sure, incline her to make every extenuation for his Lauretta’s conduct: he rode back to the Hall ere he went to Salcombe Lodge, and offered every apology in his power for the conduct of his wife; he soon smoothed away the frowns from his mother’s brow, by his conciliating manner; she promised him to call at the Lodge the next morning; and Mary, who always felt too insignificant in her own estimation, to take umbrage at any rudeness which was offered to her, very readily agreed to be of the party.
Mrs. Halifax had been displeased at her husband’s long absence, and when at length he returned, accompanied by lady Lauretta Montgomery, she did not think it at all incumbent upon her to put herself out of her way, in order to shew any civility to a guest who never paid her the least attention. She had for some time made a sitting-apartment of the dressing-room which adjoined her bed-chamber, and she did not move out of it to pay her compliments to lady Lauretta.
“Ease,” the general always made a point of saying, “was the characteristic of every house which he inhabited, and likewise of Asiatic manners.”
Lady Lauretta stationed herself, with her accustomed nonchalance, without even asking after Mrs. Halifax; and the general, when he paid his first visit of polite inquiry, desired Mrs. Halifax to make herself perfectly easy and comfortable, for he would shew every civility to their engaging guest; and at the same time he returned his grateful thanks to Miss Letsom, for the devotedness of her attention to his amiable wife.”
Miss Letsom knew perfectly how far she might estimate the lip-deep professions of the general; she understood an hint for her continuance, as the companion of Mrs. Halifax, to be conveyed in this apparent compliment; and she was rejoiced at being spared from mixing in a party which was very uncongenial to her taste.
The very easy arrangements of Salcombe Lodge did not please Henry Elwyn; he did not feel at all easy at finding himself the constrained guest of a man whose behaviour he condemned; his respect for lady Lauretta was considerably lessened, for though he did not imagine that there was any thing directly culpable in her conduct, yet it was not what he would have wished in the mother of his wife; with these impressions on his mind, he felt very impatient to get away, and thus met the inclinations of Lauretta, who was also very anxious to do so.
Lady Lauretta, on the contrary, “declared that there was something in the tranquil solitude of Salcombe Lodge, which she found very refreshing, and soothing to her soul, and that as her dear friend did not mean to leave it so soon, she should remain to be his companion, and to console him by her presence, during the tedious confinement of Mrs. Halifax.”
Such a bold avowal, in any woman but lady Lauretta Montgomery, would have called forth the most unqualified expression of his sentiments from Elwyn; but he stifled them as well as he could in the present instance, and began to think that the sooner he separated Lauretta from her mother, the better, and that if they were to meet but seldom, the more beneficial would it be to the daughter, and to his own peace of mind.
In the mean time, Mrs. Elwyn and Mary had paid their promised visit. Lauretta received them with her accustomed careless sang froid, and did not appear to think any further apology requisite for following her own inclinations, and acting as she thought proper.
“To be sure,” thought Mrs. Elwyn, “Mr. Henry has married a beauty, and her mother’s a real lady with a title, and all that; but somehow, I think, if he had chosen Miss Mary, she would have suited me full as well—only, to be sure, that would not have done, because of what Miss Lawson told me about the last Mrs. Elwyn, and that comical journey to Brighton.”
Miss Lawson was very early in paying her compliments to her “enchanting Mrs. Elwyn and fascinating mamma!”
“How rejoiced am I,” said she, “to find you filling that station which you ornament and adorn!—I always said you were born for Henry Elwyn.”
Lauretta no longer wanted Miss Lawson; she answered these fine speeches with great conciseness, and asked her “how she could think of fatiguing herself by taking such a long tramp in the cold?” adding, “you used, I remember, to ask for a lift in Mrs. Elwyn’s old leathern conveniency, which she calls a coach.”
From Mary Ellis, such a speech would have called forth all the indignation and resentment of Miss Lawson; but “every body must put up with the whimsical humour of such an angelic creature as Lauretta;” so with what she meant for an expressive look of sentimental tenderness, Miss Lawson said—“She should have thought no walk long, no weather cold, when she had the cheering prospect in perspective, of seeing so beloved a friend!”
“Oh dear, you are vastly polite!” returned Lauretta; “I had no notion that we were so intimate; but ‘ma chere amie, excuse moi,’ I cannot return the visit—I make it a principle to return no visits to the country families; and if I once break through the rule which I have set down, I shall be fatigued to death, and not able to stir out, when I get back to dear, delightful Bath.”
“What then, am I to see no more of you?” asked the mortified Miss Lawson (who had enjoyed the idea of having paid her compliments before the Lumleys, and of their seeing the elegant landau of Mrs. Elwyn stopping the next morning at her door); “what, am I doomed only to have this transient view?” asked she in an affectedly sorrowful tone.
“Don’t look so shocking, for Heaven’s sake!” said Lauretta; “I protest you remind me of Mrs. Buxton; and I never could bear to look at any thing that was ugly in all my life.”
Mrs. Buxton was the plainest woman in the neighbourhood, or she would not have been singled out for this comparison.
Miss Lawson saw that the tables were completely turned, so she turned her back upon her “charming young friend,” in her heart calling her the most capricious and insolent of human beings.
During the few days which Mrs. Henry Elwyn remained at Salcombe Lodge, she was, or pretended to be indisposed; Henry’s enthusiastic fondness was all awake, at the voice of her complaint; he reproached himself for urging her to accompany him into Gloucestershire; to indisposition he now attributed her apparent ill-humour, and he hurried over his business, in order to get back to Bath, with all the apprehensive eagerness of his disposition.
The morning previous to his departure, he breakfasted at Elwyn Hall, and conversed with his mother and with Mary, in his wonted pleasant and familiar manner—“My Lauretta’s health is delicate,” said he, in answer to his mother’s inquiries; “the air of the country is, I believe, too keen for her; I think we shall winter in Bath—let me hear from you, my dear madam,” said he, rising, “and if any thing should occur, in which I can be instrumental to your comfort, though in the remotest way, pray do not hesitate to inform me; and you also, my dear Mary,” said he, “remember I am your guardian now—always apply to me, as you would to an affectionate brother; and be assured, that I shall feel flattered at every additional instance of your confidence—I would ask you to come and see us at Bath, but that I would not rob my mother of her only companion.”
“Ah!” interrupted Mrs. Elwyn, “’tis very true, sir, very true indeed, I have lost my best friend.”
“But still you have two faithful ones remaining, my dear madam,” said Elwyn.
“Ah, Mr. Henry! I say, a woman who loses a good husband loses every thing;” and she put her handkerchief to her eyes.
Elwyn hastily shook the hand of his mother, and pressing Mary’s to his lip, he put a paper into it, and immediately quitted the room, saying—“Health and happiness attend you both!”
For some moments Mary continued motionless, and standing with vacant eye in the apartment he had quitted, when perceiving that Mrs. Elwyn had also disappeared, she opened the paper which Elwyn had given her; it enclosed a bank bill for two hundred pounds, with these lines from Elwyn—
“Your delicate spirit, my dear friend, might scruple to apply to me, for that which is your due. I enclose the first year’s interest of your fortune; I have dated it from the day on which I commenced my stewardship; it will always be my proudest hope to merit the title of your brother and your friend,
The tears streamed down the cheeks of Mary, at this proof of Henry’s kindness; she fervently wished his happiness, though, alas! her discernment had recently given her many painful presentiments of the contrary. Elwyn had forestalled her wants; but she would not hurt his generous spirit by returning the note; she should now have it in her power to be more liberal to her poor friends in the village; and what better prospect of amusement had she, for a blank and dreary winter, than by thus turning her thoughts to the alleviation of the wants of others?
THE Elwyns left Salcombe Lodge; the general and lady Lauretta remained only a few days after them, and then set off for London—“And there let them go, in God’s name, if they choose it,” said Mrs. Halifax, talking more openly than Miss Letsom had ever heard her before; “the general chose to bring me here in the first place, and here I’ll stay—I am sure I did not want to come, but now I am here, I wont go again to please him—I can’t keep moving about, for my part—he talks of the expence indeed of keeping up this house and establishment—I do not mind it, and why should he? my own fortune is equal to it; he spends his how he likes, and with whom he likes, and I don’t see why I am to save for him; so he leaves me to myself, and lets me live and die my own way, I am contented.”
With the most unwearied patience, Miss Letsom bore the complaining fretfulness of her aunt; she had the inward consolation of knowing that she was performing her duty, in attending on her nearest relative; and when she thought that were she to relinquish the situation, it would in all probability be occupied by some unprincipled and unfeeling mercenary, she resolved never voluntarily to forsake the post, which appeared to have been pointed out to her by the finger of Providence.
The situation of two young women, who were so near each other, so formed for the enjoyment of each other’s society, and impressed with a mutual regard, was very peculiar.
Mrs. Halifax never suffered Miss Letsom’s attendance to relax, except at the hour (when, as we have previously stated) she took her afternoon’s nap; and at this dark hour in the cold and cheerless month of December, even Mary’s courage sunk at the idea of taking so long a walk; so she contented herself with good wishes and kind messages, and spent the long unbroken evenings in the monotonous society of Mrs. Elwyn, who daily made her complaints of the loss of “her best friend,” and who, as winter approached, had suffered the most ridiculous terrors to take possession of her weak mind; she declared it “was her firm belief that somebody walked the house at night; and when Mary tried to argue her out of such a foolish idea, she grew angry, and said, “things might be made a jest of, by those who knew no better; but there were others that had heard strange noises, as well as herself; there were others that could not rest in their beds at night, though Miss Ellis might make a joke of it, and try to disprove it.”
“My dear madam,” said Mary, “I do not joke—I only wish to quiet your mind, and to calm your fears—your horrors are weak—and——”
“No, Miss Mary, I am not weak—but I am sure I am a most miserable woman thus to have lost my only friend!—That this house is haunted, I am very certain,” continued she; “all the night long I hear strange noises—very so indeed—and I am not the only one.”
Mary saw that argument was useless; she talked on the subject, however, to the housekeeper, and desired her to tell the rest of the servants, that it was very improper to intimidate their mistress, and to confirm her in her fears by telling their own.
“Indeed, my dear Miss Ellis,” said the honest domestic, “I do not think that one of us—of the old set, I mean, would think of alarming Mrs. Elwyn—ah! I am sure, if any of us saw a ghost, I should be likely to be the person, for often and often do I walk into my late lady’s room, and look around me, and almost wish to see her back again—ah! dear Miss Ellis, she was a loss to all—to every one of us—she was an injured angel—and let them say as they will, but my poor master never once held up his head again from the day when she died; she was an angel while she lived on earth, and now she is one in heaven.”
The grateful heart of Mary overflowed at her eyes, while she delightedly listened to the honest fervour of praise, which this good creature bestowed on her departed mistress.
Mrs. Elwyn still continued to complain of her desolate and deserted state, though there were no apparent symptoms of the unhappiness which she talked so much about; and with the blessings of health, with all the luxuries of life around her, and with the means of extending her usefulness in benefiting her fellow-creatures, Mary could not help considering her as an ingrate to that Providence who had so plentifully showered down his bounties upon her head.
There was something mysterious, and very unaccountable, in the behaviour of Mrs. Elwyn; though she unceasingly lamented her watchful frights, yet she would not be prevailed upon to let a servant, or to suffer Mary Ellis to sleep in her room; and though she talked of the dreariness and gloom of the house, yet she was frequently walking about the retired part of the offices of an evening; and though the shades of night were fast closing round her, refused to let Mary accompany her.
The work which used to be her only pleasure, and her most sedulous employ, was now forsaken—she had not forgotten the affront which her daughter-in-law had put upon the new bed; and when Mary proposed to her to resume her former amusement, and offered to assist her, her answer was—“No, Miss Mary, what’s the use of taking so much trouble to frighten the birds, and to dress a merry Andrew?—’twill only be laughed at, after all.”
The evening coterie, which used to be so delightful, was now very seldom convened at the Hall.
Pitying the unsettled state of Mrs. Elwyn, and the distaste which she evinced to every occupation, Mary Ellis wished her to invite the ladies more frequently, hoping that their company would amuse her; but Mrs. Elwyn had generally an excuse—sometimes “the weather was too bad to ask them to come out;” when Mary proposed sending the coach to fetch them, she was more than once answered, “that the servants might take cold, and that they had feelings as well as others.”
Mary was very uneasy at this evident change in Mrs. Elwyn, not on her own account, because she was more at liberty to pursue her amusements and occupations than she had ever been, but because she thought it a melancholy spectacle to see any human being without a resource or an employment, because she had been told that idleness could rarely be indulged at any period of life, without being productive of ill effects, and because her benevolent disposition could not let her see the unsettled and fidgeting temper, which deranged and disordered the whole family, without feeling much regret—“Surely,” thought Mary, “this constant uneasiness must proceed from disordered nerves; and if such are the effects which are already produced on her weak mind, by the foolish fears which she entertains, what may be the consequence?”
Yet while Mary sometimes asked herself the foregoing question, and while her goodness and humanity, and her regard for Henry Elwyn, led her to do every thing in her power to make Mrs. Elwyn more tranquil, she could not, on sober reflection, impute to unhappiness or to real dejection, the strange and singular behaviour which she lamented; on the contrary, at times Mrs. Elwyn appeared to be in very high spirits; and though Mary suspected that these might be in part forced, as she observed that they generally rose during the hour of dinner, and that then she would frequently recount, with great apparent glee, the romping feats of her girlish days, and relate the story of the cherry-net, with no little merriment, while Timothy was standing behind her chair, and old Joseph retained his position at the sideboard, yet there was something in their inequality which was quite as alarming as total depression; for when, on the cloth being removed, and the servants withdrawn, Mary tried to keep up the ball of conversation, and in her turn to entertain, by innocent pleasantry, or cheerful remark, the absent look, and the altered tone of Mrs. Elwyn, forcibly proclaimed to her mortified companion, that supineness and inanity had succeeded to her transient exhilaration.
To write to Henry Elwyn, on the subject of his mother’s altered manner, would only be to causelessly alarm him; for Mary had nothing to alledge, which ought to raise any serious fears in him, either with regard to her health or peace of mind—“It is only,” thought Mary, “one who is shut up, as I am, from day to day, with Mrs. Elwyn, whom the changes in her behaviour and her conduct would strike, and perhaps I give the subject more seriousness than it deserves.”
We have hitherto never represented our Mary as a heroine, because she is of too retired a character to stand forth in the lists with the protruding heroines of modern days; but if to see the man whom she loved married to another, if to regulate her affection for him by those rules prescribed by principle and religion, if to sustain her cheerfulness in a situation which would have severely tried the temper of half her sex, if to continue her exertions for the use of those around her, independent of self, or self-interest, if to refer every thing to the Supreme Disposer of all human events, yet not to slacken in her endeavours, or to falter in her duty, from such a reference, if these can entitle her to the designation of a Christian, we desire no other title, no other heroine for our tale, for she has gained the best meed which can be allotted to her here below.
I do remember when I was a child,
How my young heart, a stranger then to care,
With transport leapt upon this holiday,
As o’er the house, all gay with evergreens,
From friend to friend with eager speed I ran,
Bidding a merry Christmas to them all;
Those years are past, their pleasures, and their pains.
THE season of Christmas was arrived, but it was neither a season of festivity or hilarity to Mary Ellis; on the contrary, the most depressing and painful retrospections took possession of her mind; she recalled those halcyon days of peace and happiness, when it had been her delightful employment to be the almoner of her departed friend, and when her little hands were laden with the gifts which the benevolence of that friend bestowed on all around her.
Mr. Elwyn had given orders to his steward to distribute a sum of money to the suffering poor; Mary had been consulted in the distribution; but she felt that the remembrance of her who once gave a charm to every scene, and who now, “deep in the grave, a mouldering victim lay,” had impressed her heart with melancholy, even at those moments when it used to throb with pleasure, and she seemed spontaneously to cry out—“How much more blessed is it to give than to receive!” but not relaxing in her duty, because it no longer gave her unmixed delight, and not relinquishing her active exertions, because the enthusiasm of her spirit was damped, Mary still continued to employ her time to some purpose; and going to visit a poor family one morning in a severe frost, a sudden thaw came on before she returned home, and the next day she was too much indisposed to quit her room; a slight fever hung about her for several days; her whole frame became enervated and languid; and her spirits sunk in consequence.
The old housekeeper was unwearied in her attentions, and in using every means for her speedy restoration to health; grateful and quiescent, Mary acceded to every thing that she proposed; and she did not regret that Mrs. Elwyn was not much in her sick chamber; for the worrying manner, and incessant volubility of that good lady, were not calculated to sooth the weak mind of an invalid; and Mary felt particularly disposed to quietness and tranquillity, for the slightest noise affected her nerves, and agitated her whole frame.
It was more than a week before Mary found herself sufficiently recovered to leave her room; the housekeeper had prepared her breakfast about nine o’clock; and Mary, never accustoming herself to have any assistance in dressing, had put on her clothes, and about twelve descended, with tottering and uncertain steps, to the parlour, where Mrs. Elwyn usually sat; she found it empty, however, and there were no symptoms of its having been occupied that morning; it felt cold and chill; there was no fire in the grate; she rang the bell, but no one appeared to the summons; a strange confusion and noise seemed to pervade the house; at intervals she heard the loud and coarse laugh of some of the under-servants; she tried to walk to Mrs. Scot’s room, but her feet refused to perform their office; her temples throbbed violently; she held by one of the pillars, as she would have endeavoured to cross it, but she would have fallen to the ground, if at that moment she had not been held by the sustaining arm of Elwyn, who opened the hall-door in extreme agitation, and hastily throwing off his hat, sprang towards her: he was followed by Mr. Munden.
“Something has happened!” cried Mary, in a voice impeded by weakness and emotion, observing the wild air of Elwyn.
“Yes, I know it—I know it all!” cried he, in a tone of passionate vehemence; “I am disgraced—the name of Elwyn is disgraced!—it is allied to infamy!—Infamous!—infamous woman!” and he smote his hand against his forehead, in an agony of passion.
“Good Heavens! Henry, dearest Henry, what are you saying? what do you tell me? what do I hear?” cried the trembling Mary.
“Do you not know?” asked he; “I thought you knew it—I thought you told me something had happened—are you not acquainted with my shame—my dishonour—the eternal degradation of——”
“You will frighten her out of her senses, Henry,” said Mr. Munden; “I am sure you will.”
“Oh! I have been very, very ill,” said Mary; “I have seen nobody, I have heard nothing—I am very weak now—but I can bear it—I can bear it—compose yourself, Harry, and tell me all!”
Mr. Munden led her back into the parlour, and seated her on a sofa.
“You have been too violent,” said
he; “Harry, you have almost frightened her to death!”
“I am frantic—I am mad, I believe,” said Elwyn, walking about the room in an agony; “I know not what I do, or what I say.”
“Why, you are making a bad matter worse, by your passion and your vehemence—do pull the bell, and order something for this poor girl.”
With the same violence of manner, Elwyn now had recourse to the bell, and laid the string on the carpet: the old housekeeper and butler both appeared at the door together; Mrs. Scot lifted up her hands and eyes—“What a day is this with us all!” said she; “I declare I do not know what I do, or what I say—oh that I should have ever lived to see it!” while old Joseph, hanging down his venerable head, seemed afraid to lift up his eyes; he seemed afraid to look at his young master, lest that look should tell him of his disgrace.
“Give her something to take,” said Munden, pointing to Mary; “and do you light a fire, and give us some breakfast,” said he to the butler; “Harry Elwyn has travelled all night; and though a cursed Jezebel has lighted up a flame within him, yet a little fire without would do him no harm.”
“Have you indeed travelled all night, Henry?” asked Mary, in a tone of anxiety. “Where is Mrs. Elwyn?” said she, addressing the housekeeper; “I don’t think she knows of her son’s arrival, or she would have been here to welcome him.”
Mrs. Scot turned away her head.
“When, when?” cried Mr. Munden; “curse——” he stopped.
The old butler left the room.
“My mother!” cried Elwyn—“my mother!—Oh, Mary, Mary! I have no mother! I forswear her—I contemn her—I abhor her—I cast her off for ever! I consign her to eternal infamy and shame! she has disgraced me—she has disgraced herself—she has fixed an indelible stain upon her sex—upon her name—upon the name of Elwyn!—she has—oh, torture—madness—distraction!—I cannot—cannot speak the words; she has married——” he threw himself down, he writhed on the carpet, he ground his teeth together, he gave way to all the frenzied fury of passion.
“Silly, passionate, mad-headed boy!” cried Munden, “you are killing this poor thing as fast as you possibly can.”
Elwyn was recalled to himself; his eye with hasty glance was turned on the almost convulsed countenance of Mary; he run towards her—he fell on his knees at her feet—he hid his face in her lap—he sobbed aloud.
Mary joined her tears with those of Elwyn; they fell in soft showers upon his burning head; she felt herself relieved by them; a terrible weight had been removed from her mind, as Elwyn had avowed that his mother was the cause of his present distress; the apprehensive, the affectionate heart of Mary had trembled, lest another, lest a nearer sorrow might have driven him into this wild paroxysm of passion—“This is all strange, incomprehensible to me!” said she; “your arrival, and the absence of——”
“How long have you been ill, child?” asked Munden, bluntly interrupting her.
“I have been confined to my room more than nine days,” said Mary.
“And during this time, it seems, this nine days wonder has been brought about.”
“What can you allude to, sir?” asked Mary: “I am still in the dark.”
“What a poor, unsuspicious little creature you must have been!” said he; “why surely you are more blind than a beetle!—all the country have seen it for the last month—all the gossips in the country have talked of it for the last two months—I heard it at last, but too late for my friend Harry here to prevent it—I dispatched an express to him at Bath—he came off without a moment’s delay; but he was just two hours behind the time; for as we passed through the village, the bells informed us that the knot was tied, and that Mr. Timothy Piff had just received the hand of——”
“Don’t, for God’s sake, don’t speak it!” cried Elwyn, putting his hand before the mouth of Munden. “Mary knows—Mary hears—Mary understands all now—oh, Mary, Mary, pity me!”
Mary had awoke as from a dream, while Mr. Munden had been speaking—a thousand incidents, a thousand circumstances, which had previously seemed strange and unaccountable, were now explained; she wondered at her own stupidity, she blamed her dulness of perception, she lamented that she had not seen, that she had not prevented it—“Oh, Henry!” cried she, holding out her hand to him, “could I have a suspicion, could I have an idea of such a mortifying event as this?”
“Impossible!” answered he; “you could not have an idea of the kind—could delicacy, could purity, like yours, have imagined that such a degrading, such a——”
“Whew, whew!” said Mr. Munden; “now you are set off again—Done is done—your part as guardian to this young lady is now to consider what she is to be done with, and mine as trustee or guardian, if you please, of the old one, is to see that this Mr. Timothy Ticklepitcher has not got the management of her income.”
“You must go back to Bath with me, Mary,” said Elwyn.
“Oh! no, no!” cried Mary, with eagerness, “that is quite impossible!”
“And why is it impossible?” asked Elwyn, with some reproach in his manner. “Lauretta will, I am sure, be very happy—that is, I am sure—under my roof—under the roof of your brother, Mary, you must find a proper protection.”
“And why not remain here?” asked Mary.
“Remain here!” repeated Henry “what! to be subservient to the insolence and vulgarity of a low-born menial? What were the last accents of an expiring saint? to whom did she turn her closing eyes? for whom did they entreat? Oh, Mary, Mary! were you not then given to my charge, and shall I ever relinquish it?”
“Indeed, indeed!” returned Mary, “you are very kind, you are very good; but I must remain in the country; I am weak in health, I am weaker in spirits; I am not fit to become the guest of Mrs. Elwyn; I cannot consent to become an intruder on your domestic comfort.”
Elwyn sighed, his lips quivered, his eyes were hastily turned from Mary, though the moment before they had been fixed upon her in pleading earnestness—“Pray, pray let me remain in the country!” said she, “any sequestered spot, any little retired nook.”
“Whew, whew!” again cried Mr. Munden; “come, come, my good girl, take heart, and believe a rough fellow, who speaks all he thinks—I see you want change of air, and change of scene—you have done all you could, and you have borne up as long as you could; but at your time of life society is necessary—go to Bath, I say—you want to see a little of the world.”
“Oh, no, no!” cried Mary, “I have already seen enough of it.”
“Poh, poh, enough indeed! I tell you, child, you have seen nothing of it—you are but just out of your egg-shell—you have seen nothing of it—you know nothing of it—go to Bath, you must—and you shall—what! will you remain here, and bring your own name into scandal with that old madam Patchwork’s? why, child, if you were to live with them, all the world will swear you were privy to the whole business of their love intrigue, and the healer is always thought as bad as the stealer—no, no, we will have no more sequestrations, or by-and-by we shall have the old butler hobbling off to church with you; besides, my little chicken, you are not of age; my friend Harry is constituted your guardian by the will of his father, and he has a right to dispose of you as he chooses.”
“I know it, I know it, sir,” said Mary; “but surely he will not constrain me to go against my inclinations?”
Mary could not but remember the marked rudeness which had always accompanied Lauretta’s behaviour towards herself; she remembered it, without retaining a shadow of ill-will towards her; but she was determined never voluntarily to become her guest; and heroine as Mary was become over the early prepossessions of her heart, yet she felt that the roof of Henry Elwyn was the last under which she ought to reside; besides, the whole tenor of Lauretta’s behaviour and conversation was so entirely at variance with her own sentiments, that she felt it would be utterly impossible for her to experience any comfort in her society; as she said the words—“Surely he will not constrain me to go against my inclinations?” the mortified air of Elwyn proclaimed his inward sentiments, as he turned from her.
Munden stood for some moments in silent observation before Mary, his head resting on the cane which he still held in his hand; at length, looking up at her with an approving smile, while he cordially shook her by the hand—“I believe,” said he, “you are a good girl; nay, I think you are a girl of ten thousand—Hear me, Harry—I say, hear me, Harry Elwyn, and don’t look so cursed glum—I am quite of your opinion as to Mary’s going to Bath—I say so, and I think so; but remember I do not say, neither do I think, that your house will be the best place for her—you have a wife of your own, you know, one of your own choosing, and all that, and to say the truth (though I have never been married myself, and therefore do not speak from my own experience), yet I have always thought a third person must be d—nably in the way: now, for instance, suppose that such an odd accident should occur, as a little bit of a matrimonial squabble, I should like to know which side this poor thing is to take?”
“You are pleased to jest, sir,” said Henry, in a grave, and somewhat haughty tone.
“Oh yes, I am jesting; I thought I premised that I meant it for a jest,” returned Munden; “however, to cut the matter short at once, hear my proposition—I have a sister now at Bath, a good buxom widow, but with too much pride to find a Timothy to her mind; she is a very good-tempered creature, and will be very well pleased to have such a companion—go to her, my dear Mary, go to her; take up your quarters with Mrs. Ripley for the present; and if she does not thank me for my introduction, my name’s not Humphrey Munden, that’s all.”
Under the blunt, and apparent uncouthness of Mr. Munden’s manner, Mary discerned the delicacy of this arrangement; and though she might feel it awkward to appear before a stranger, yet she did not think it right to decline this proposal also, and to appear ungratefully averse to every plan that was offered to her consideration.
Elwyn seemed hurt that she acceded to Mr. Munden’s offer rather than to his; but Mary did not appear to notice it; she could not explain her reasons, and she had the approbation of her own heart, to support her in the determination which she had made.
Enjoy’d the most that innocence can give.
THOUGH Mary had been occupied by mental inquietude, she could not but feel that her corporeal frame was at present ill fitted to undertake a journey; and when Elwyn and Mr. Munden talked of her setting out on that day, she desired them to consider, that “she had but recently arisen from a severe illness.”
“We know, we consider all that,” said Elwyn; “you shall go as slowly, you shall go by as short stages as you wish, you shall receive every attention, you shall receive every care; but I cannot consent to your remaining here, to be subject to the painful humiliation of an introduction to the object of my mother’s degrading choice.”
“And when does Mrs.—when does she return?” asked Mary, tremblingly.
“This very evening,” replied Elwyn; “it seems, that on her departure this morning, she informed the servants that she was going out for the day only on particular business, and that she should return again in the evening. To you, my good sir,” added Elwyn, addressing himself to Munden, “to you I refer the painful task of talking to this foolish woman—I am by no means equal to it—I am sure if I were to come in contact with this fellow (whom I dare not call her husband), that I should forget every thing due to myself; for her—for her, whom I still ought to remember as my mother—what respect—what affection can exist in this breast? Never, never can I voluntarily behold her more—Tell her so, Mr. Munden—through you, if you will condescend to undertake the office, shall she receive her jointure regularly; I told her this house should be hers as long as she chose to remain in it; I will not forfeit my word: as the widow of my father, at my own expence I retained her former establishment about her; but I think I shall be disgracing myself, if I were to keep a retinue for Mr. Timothy Piff—let him have the arrangement of his own household: you must arrange every thing for me, my very good friend: I cannot expect, I cannot wish that the old and faithful servants of the Elwyn family should remain here now; but let them not depart with empty hands; see that they have the comfortable means of subsistence—I do not wish them to barter their principles, or to forego their sense of right, by remaining in a servitude which would affix a stigma on their name; but in relinquishing it, they must not suffer any pecuniary inconveniences, which would affix a stigma on mine.”
“Harry, you are a noble fellow,” said Mr. Munden. “Why did you ever consent to give up this house to that silly woman? Why did you not come and sit down amongst us yourself? Why did you not come and live among your tenants, and, by your presence, cheer the hearts of your poor neighbours? Why did you not come, and once more bring the name of Elwyn into repute? If you had done this, and something else, that I could mention, these doors would have opened to me much oftener than they have of late—Ah, Harry, Harry Elwyn, you have not acted like a sensible man!”
Elwyn walked to and fro the room in extreme agitation.
“The young men of the present day,” continued Munden, talking to Mary, “have taken a strange aversion to those places where their grandfathers and their great-grandfathers were born, lived, and died contented—the country is too dull for them—they must live in the world forsooth; and what does the world afford them in exchange for all that they relinquish for it?—Tell me, Harry Elwyn,” turning to him, “if one solid advantage will accrue to you, in the long run, from having forsaken this your paternal inheritance? for as to giving it up to your mother, that was all romantic nonsense; and you see what a fine return she has made to you already! a little snug house in a village, where she could have gossiped with the women, and Timothy could have junketted with the men, would have been much better suited to them both.”
“My Lauretta does not like the country,” said Elwyn, “and I could not put a constraint.”
“Whew, whew!” interrupted Munden; “like, indeed!—I say like! a good wife will like what her husband approves—Here’s one,” said he, pinching the pale cheek of Mary, which was presently suffused by the richest crimson; “had you got her for your wife, my life for it, she would not have said nay, if you had proposed to live in the country.”
Elwyn’s countenance became flushed, he struggled with himself, he seemed to bridle his passion, as he answered—“Excuse me, sir; I did not say that my Lauretta refused to reside here—I never proposed it to her—for my mother——”
“Aye, aye, she was willing to get all she could, and to keep all she could—and so no matter, for done is done.”
Mary now retired, in order to make the necessary preparations for her journey. The old housekeeper attended her; and while her hands were busily employed, her tongue was not idle. Mary was obliged to be a spectator and a hearer only; her weak frame was unfit to take any part in the packing, and her tongue refused its office, though her heart was full: while apparently listening to Mrs. Scot, who was giving her a long account of all the suspicions, and all the surmises which had filled her mind with regard to her mistress, “and which (as she had feared to divulge them) had disturbed her rest by night, and all her comfort by day;” and while she accounted for the noises which Mrs. Elwyn and Timothy only had heard, by supposing, that after the family were in bed, they held their nocturnal meetings, and that in order to elude suspicion, they had thought it politic to intimidate the rest of the family with these imputed terrors; while Mary seemed to be attending to this garrulous old domestic, she was engrossed by various new and conflicting emotions; she was now going to leave a spot, endeared to her by a thousand local and affecting recollections; she was going to leave the dear scenes where she had wandered with her beloved friend; the paths where, in childhood, she had strayed with Henry Elwyn.
These scenes were now to be relinquished by the only being who regarded them with partiality; the unhallowed mirth of the vulgar domestic, raised to a level with his mistress, would now break the silence of those embowering shades, which were once sacred to the purest and the most refined contemplations; where the virtuous and suffering Clara, “once the lov’d mistress of the sylvan scene,” poured out the sorrows of her heart in the depths of solitude, and sought consolation from that rich fount where only it could be found. Dear to the breast of unsophisticated nature, are retrospections like these; dear are the haunts of our infancy, dear are the spots which were visited in our childhood; much dearer do they seem, much closer do they twine round the heart and the imagination, at the moment when we are about to quit them—and perhaps for ever.
The weak state of Mary’s health, and the severity of the weather, both operated as preventions, otherwise she would have felt a romantic satisfaction in taking a last look of the woods, the groves, the fields, the lawns which she loved, though now despoiled of their foliage, and robbed of their verdure, and fain would she have taken an affectionate leave of those humble cottagers who had been the daily objects of her attention; but to the kindness and the activity of Mrs. Scot they were referred; and that good woman, while she held the purse which Mary deposited in her hands for the precious trust, and while tears of genuine and unaffected sorrow filled her eyes, besought her young lady to take it back again, assuring her that the liberality of the young squire would amply provide for her poor friends—“and what can I do better than attend to them, and coddle them up, and doctor for them as usual?” said Scot; “I shall go from hence, you may be sure, and I shall take some little cottage about the village, just to pop my head into, and there I can remain, till my dearest Miss Mary wants me—when she pleases to demand my services, I am ready at a moment, and I will live and die with her.”
Mary caught the hand of Scot (filled with gratitude at this proof of affection), and pressing it warmly to her bosom, she said —“How grateful ought I to be to a good God, for such kind-hearted affection!—dear, good Scot! I cannot arrange any thing at present; I am not my own mistress; but who knows whether it may not indeed be permitted us to live and die together?”
In about an hour, Elwyn sent to inform Mary that he was ready to set out. Scarcely knowing what she did, she attended the summons.
A table was laid with refreshments, and observing her agitated manner, and pallid countenance, Mr. Munden poured out a glass of wine, and held it to her lips—“Drink this, my dear girl,” said he, “and may Heaven preserve and keep you!”
Mary tasted it, and endeavouring to acquire resolution, she took a biscuit, which Elwyn at the same moment offered her.
Every thing was ready for their departure; a chaise was at the door, and standing at it, and equipped for a journey, Mary saw the housemaid Susan, who had generally attended upon her in the lifetime of her benefactress, and whom Henry, with delicate and refined attention, insisted on her taking as a servant. Mary had nothing to object to this arrangement; she looked, but could not speak her grateful acquiescence; she felt that her present weak health required an attendant, and she felt the propriety of having a third person of their party.
The carriage drove off, followed by the prayers and good wishes of the domestics; and Mr. Munden soberly reseated himself in the parlour, and taking a book, said, “he was determined to stay and pay his compliments to the new married couple.”
The journey of our travellers was performed by slow stages; Mary was too weak in spirits, and in health, to be a talkative, or a lively companion; Henry treated her with the most respectful, yet affectionate kindness; he anticipated her wants, and did every thing in his power to prevent her from feeling fatigue or inconvenience; but he was silent and dispirited—his pride, his unconquered pride of heart, had received a mortifying stab, in the disgraceful conduct of his mother; he had never aimed at any conquest over this besetting sin of his soul; he had indulged it, without attending to the dictates of reason or of propriety; for had Harry Elwyn seriously asked himself what he had to be proud of, and had the answer been given with candour, on what foundation could he have built, for the indulgence of the sentiment? he had been educated and fondled by Mr. Elwyn—true; but his birth had been shrouded in mystery; he had been looked on as the illegitimate child of his benefactor; he had been supposed to have owed his origin to the guilt of his parents—was this a situation to be proud of?
Only one little month after the death of a virtuous, an exemplary wife, Mr. Elwyn had brought home another to the Hall; she had been introduced too as the mother of Henry; the world recognised her as such—and could the pride of her son receive any addition in the questionable light in which she was viewed? With the death of his father, the legitimacy of his birth was ascertained; but could a thinking and a virtuous child pride himself in the obloquy which that discovery attached to the name of his parent? and could all the sophistry of this engrossing failing teach him to sink the remembrance of lady Lauretta Montgomery’s disgraceful connexion with general Halifax, in her high-sounding name, and imposing title? In the recent imprudence of his mother, there was nothing to extenuate, there was nothing to soften, but there was every thing to lower the pride of human nature, and to teach it that wholesome, that beneficial knowledge, that “pride was not made for man!” but the high spirit of Henry Elwyn still resisted itself against conviction; he could be sullen—he could be vindictive—he could be furious—but he could not be humble.
Here languid Beauty kept her pale-fac’d court,
Bevies of dainty dames, of high degree,
From every quarter, hither made resort.
THOMSON’S Castle of Indolence.
A MESSENGER had preceded our travellers, in order to apprize Mrs. Ripley of the approach of her visitor; it was late in the evening ere they entered Bath, and Elwyn ordered the carriage to be driven immediately to the house of that lady, in Gay-street.
Fatigued with the journey, agitated at the idea of encountering a stranger, and of coming, an unbidden guest, to take up her abode under her roof, Mary’s suffocating emotions prevented her from thanking Elwyn, as she wished to have done, for his friendly and kind attentions.
As he assisted her from the carriage, he pressed the hand he held with fervour to his lips, saying—“God bless you, my dear Mary, and speedily restore you to your wonted enjoyment of health! I have no doubt of your finding this an eligible asylum for the present; but as you are not to be stationary here, turn over any plan in your mind, to which your wishes may point, and assure yourself,” added he, with a smile, “that it will meet with the concurrence of your guardian, as he is well assured that prudence and propriety are always admitted to your counsels: and yet,” added he, and the smile was vanished, and a sigh struggled to be heard, though he still assumed a gaiety of manner, “and yet I shrewdly suspect that any plan which you may now lay will speedily be frustrated; for blind and insensible must be the whole race of beaux, if your modest and endearing graces and virtues are not seen and felt, as soon as you are known, and if this hand is not coveted by many.”
“That is very improbable,” said Mary.
“The contrary would be improbable,” returned Henry; “but however you may decide, whenever, wherever you bestow this precious treasure, may that happiness which you deserve be yours without alloy! may he on whom you bestow it be worthy of the invaluable boon!” and hastily turning from the door, and leaving her to be ushered into a parlour by the servant, he jumped again into the chaise, and ordered to be driven to his own house in Great Pulteney-street.
Mary’s eyes were filled with tears when the door opened, and Mrs. Ripley entered the room; she advanced towards her with the most unaffected freedom, and taking her hand, said—“Miss Ellis, I am very glad to see you, and hope you do not feel much inconvenience from your journey; I am much obliged to Humphrey, for providing me with so nice a companion, and hope I shall be able to make Bath agreeable to you. I always think ceremony the very bane of sociability, therefore you are to do as you please in every respect; I thought you would perhaps prefer retiring to your chamber, to the formality of a company supper and a stiff tête-à-tête; your room is prepared, and I shall not take it at all amiss to be left: you have been an invalid, I find; you look rather delicate still.”
Reassured by the kind familiarity of this address, all restraint was immediately removed from the manner of Mary—with grateful thanks she accepted Mrs. Ripley’s offer of retiring; and conducted to her chamber by her hospitable hostess, she was there left to the care of her maid; and having taken a glass of negus, soon felt the refreshing influence of balmy sleep.
Mrs. Ripley, though some years younger than her brother, Mr. Munden, was yet passed the meridian of life; she had been early left a widow; and, having a good jointure, good health, good spirits, and no family, she lived half the year in Bath, where she had a house, and the other six months she passed in different places, either in visiting her friends, or in scenes of public resort. Mrs. Ripley was a good-natured, cheerful woman; she was contented to take the world as she found it; she was a pleased participater in all the goods which it offered to her acceptance; and her sensibility was not so acute, as to make her susceptible to many of those minor evils which disturb the peace of a more fastidious portion of society: she adopted for herself some certain rules of action, which she scrupulously maintained, such as the following—she never went but to one amusement in one evening; her stake at whist was always limited to half-a-crown; she never made a bet; she never attended a card-party of a Sunday; she never accepted an invitation to a rout, after the twenty-fifth of March, or before the twenty-ninth of September: thus she had a settled system in her pursuit of pleasure, which gave her the character of regularity and prudence, in a place where party succeeds to party, and one scene of amusement to another; and morning frequently dawns on the devotees of fashion, as they are returning from the play, the party, and the private-ball, while the thundering knocks of their footmen, or their chairmen, alarm their more sober neighbours.
Mrs. Ripley did not read, for this substantial reason—that she had no time; for her time was completely filled up by the stated avocations of the day; she knew how every hour was to be employed; and without appearing to be the least hurried, or to feel the least fatigue, she went through the four-and-twenty hours, with as much mechanical precision as the elegant little clock which stood upon the chimney piece in her breakfast-parlour. At nine she arose, at ten she breakfasted; from that hour till one she spent in answering letters—writing cards of thanks—of inquiry—of acceptance—or of invitation; from one till four she paid or received morning visits, or passed in shopping; from four till five she was at the toilet; at five she dined; and if she had no company, she looked over the cards which had been left for her during the morning, in order to arrange her plan of action for the ensuing day; and at seven or eight, according to the formality or informality, the dress or the undress of the party, she performed her evening’s engagement; at eleven she returned home, and was always in bed (unless she was detained at a late private ball or supper) before midnight; on Sunday, she always went to church in the morning, and invariably to the Crescent or to the Pump-room afterwards; while there were a certain part of her female acquaintance (invalids, who never went to parties, and for whom Sunday was consequently the only open day—decayed gentlewomen, who were glad of a comfortable dinner, or professional people whom she had been desired to notice), that were glad to make a circle round her well-spread board on this day, and who tried, by their cheerful conversation, to evince their sense of the attention. Mrs. Ripley never invited any fortune-hunting men, or any of questionable character, to those friendly parties; and for decorum, circumspection, and regularity, no widow lady in Bath stood higher in the estimation of the public—the old liked her, because she was attentive to them; the young, because she was good-natured and cheerful; the fashionable, because she dressed well, and looked smart; the unfashionable, because she did not gamble, or leave off all her petticoats.
Mary Ellis could not have gone to any lady, under whose protection she would have been sure of more universal suffrage; for Mrs. Ripley had no enemies—she had no spirit of competition or rivalry, hence she was not an object of envy; and if the question was asked—“Do you know Mrs. Ripley?” the answer was generally returned—“Oh yes, to be sure I do—what a charming, good-humoured creature she is!”
Though much renovated by a comfortable night’s repose, yet Mary did not feel herself well enough to join Mrs. Ripley, either in her morning’s round of visits, or in her evening’s engagements; and when she heard these called over at the breakfast-table, she pleaded her inability.
“Oh! don’t trouble to make any apology about it,” said Mrs. Ripley; “you shall stay at home as long as you like, and till you are quite well; I shall be always glad to have you with me, but I shall never be offended if you are not; and till you are quite recovered, I think the more cautious you are, the better; I will not act so much in the ceremonious way as to offer to stay at home with you; that would be putting myself quite out of my track, and I should not know how to get right again, for my hands are quite full, and every day brings its own business; and if I do not quit scores, I shall get over head and ears in debt. Yesterday was one of my stay-at-home mornings; in consequence, I had a great many visitors; and if I do not return them to-day, only think how they will be increased upon me by to-morrow!”
“I am quite pleased that you treat me in this manner, my dear madam,” said Mary; “I should never be able to reconcile myself to the intrusion, if it were not for the kind and easy reception which you give me.”
“Don’t say a word about it,” said Mrs. Ripley; “I am always happy to oblige Humphrey, independent of every other consideration, for he is a good creature, though not fit for a Bath beau; but in this instance, I suspect that I am obliging myself, and I almost wish that I could enjoy a little more of your society this morning—but you see how it is,” pointing to the pile of visiting-tickets which lay before her; “these must all be left in propria persona, at least I must be the bearer of them, though in all probability I shall not be let into one of the houses.”
“In that case, could not your footman spare you the trouble?” asked Mary.
“Why, my dear Miss Ellis, one would think that you had lived in Bath all your life—you are really quite dashy in your ideas—that is the very tip-top of ton—No—I never will come into that absurd plan—now I am ready to make my entrée, if my friends are at home, and choose to admit me, in the other case I could not see them—no, I will always be rational in my amusements.”
“But surely there must be a great fatigue in having to return visit for visit, in this formal manner.”
“Not the least, my dear, when once a regular method is established. These little bits of paper,” taking up one of the cards, “may be considered as the very cement of fashionable society; they are of the utmost possible use in maintaining an uninterrupted and social intercourse with our friends; many, very many ladies of my intimate acquaintance, I have not spoken to for the whole winter, though I may have visited them, and they may have visited me once a-week, or a fortnight at furthest—perhaps I may have met them accidentally of an evening, seated in a part of a room where it has been utterly impossible to get to them; and our familiar nods have evinced to one another that our intimacy is as undiminished as it had been the preceding winter, though our personal intercourse has been unavoidably suspended.”
“You must have so much to attend to—so much upon your mind,” said Mary.
“No, my dear girl, it is brought by me into so regular a routine, that I assure you I am never the least perplexed; put me out of my way, send me to two or three parties of a-night, to balls first, and suppers after, to Sunday card-meetings, and evening breakfasts, and I should be out of my head, and soon have my senses bewildered; I could not bear the dissipated lives of the fashionable world. I take things moderately and soberly—I use, but not abuse—some people never tire, never weary in the pursuit of pleasure—but pleasure would cease to be pleasure to me, if I could not follow it in my own methodical and strait-forward manner—I must now answer some of these notes.”
“Can I assist you, ma’am?” asked Mary; “you cannot oblige me more than by making me useful.”
“No, my dear, I thank you, I am entirely independent—it is no trouble to me; for this is as much the business of the morning as my breakfast—but I had like to have forgotten to ask if you like reading?”
“Very much,” answered Mary.
“Then I will order George to go to a library and subscribe, that you may get some books.”
“Don’t put yourself to that unnecessary trouble, on my account, I entreat you, ma’am,” said Mary.
“Oh, my dear, the trouble is none.”
“But any from your own library.”
“I have no library, my dear child—I have no time for reading, and consequently, a library would be useless to me—mere lumber. At Mr. Ripley’s death, I sold off all my books, except my Bible and Prayer-book, Hoyle on Whist, and Blair’s Sermons (as I always make a point of reading a sermon on Sundays, if I can’t go to church), and a Guide to the Watering-places, for that is necessary to take with me on my summer excursions—now this is literally my library; it would be down-right folly in me to talk of books which I have not, and which, if I had, I should not read—I dare say there are many pretty things to be got at the libraries—I hear people talking about books frequently; but as I do not read myself, I remember nothing about them; however, when I meet with some of my reading acquaintances, I will get them to set down a few titles for me; but George shall ask Mr. —— to recommend something for to-day.”
From this specimen of Mrs. Ripley, our readers will be as well acquainted with her, as if they had been her inmate for a month; she was perfectly easy, unaffected, and good-humoured; but the little niceties of sentiment and feeling, the traits of genuine sensibility, the resources of mental cultivation, the discriminating eye of taste, the vitality of religion, none of those were hers.
Grateful to Heaven, and thankful to Mr. Munden, for having placed her in a respectable asylum, Mary felt very much relieved when Mrs. Ripley sallied forth on her morning’s duty, and she was left to pursue her own amusements; her enfeebled frame, and the late agitation of her spirits, both required rest, and she was happy at being freed from any troublesome intruders; but with all the apprehensive anxiety of a mind which was still feeble and tremulous from illness, she fancied every knock at the door was the knock of Mrs. Elwyn, who, though she almost dreaded to see, she yet expected to call upon her; but that lady did not make her appearance; and though spared from the unpleasant sensations which must inevitably have ensued, from an interview with a person who had always evinced such insolent superiority over her, yet she grieved to think that Henry Elwyn’s wife was of such a stamp, and that he should have united himself to a woman so wholly opposite to himself in every generous quality.
In the course of the morning, Elwyn called at the door with a message of inquiry, and being told that Mrs. Ripley was out, and that Miss Ellis was tolerably well, he merely left his compliments, and did not ask admittance.
Mary was pleased at this delicate behaviour; for though Elwyn was her guardian, he was yet a very young man for that office; the world in the country had already joined their names more than once; the world at Bath might do the same; and if Mrs. Elwyn refused to notice her, the particular regards of her husband might be viewed with the eye of suspicion.
Such were some of the ruminations of Mary, during the absence of Mrs. Ripley; but in order to show her sense of that lady’s attention, she began to peruse the books, and spent two hours very pleasantly: Mr. —— had been judicious in the selections, and she derived both amusement and instruction from the employment.
Enchanting, as if aught so sweet
Ne’er faded. Do thy daughters wear the weeds
Of calm domestic peace, and wedded love?
WHEN Henry Elwyn had turned from the door of Mrs. Ripley, having there in safety deposited his fair ward, he was much affected at the separation: Mary Ellis had entered into all the humiliating feelings which had wounded him, as he contemplated the disgraceful conduct of his mother; she had sympathized in his distress; she had tried to sooth his perturbed soul; the warm interest which he still took in the happiness of the gentle girl with whom he had been bred up in habits of early intimacy; the ravages which her recent illness had made upon her delicate frame, and something, perhaps, nearly allied to compunction, as he took a retrospect of the past—all these had combined to give much pathos and seriousness to his parting address; but his sanguine spirit again sprang with elastic anticipation towards his lovely, and still fondly-beloved Lauretta; the little female foibles which he had noticed in her were forgotten, in the idea of once more folding her to his breast; after this forced, this painful absence, she should be the sweet soother of his cares, the repository of his sorrows; to her he should reveal the mortifying, the distressing recollections which still unmanned him; when a mother’s frailty, a mother’s imprudence, called the indignant blush into his cheek, Lauretta should speak peace to his wounded soul; she would feel for him; the soft accents of affection from her lips would be a cordial balm to his heart.
The messenger who had preceded Elwyn to Bath, to apprize Mrs. Ripley of the approach of her guest, had also been ordered to inform Mrs. Elwyn when she might expect her husband.
Elwyn did not wait to be announced; he ran up immediately into the drawing-room, but it was deserted; the fire was scarcely alive in the grate, and cast a melancholy light over the apartment; the candles were placed on the table, but were not lighted. Elwyn rang the bell; a servant appeared—“Is your mistress unwell? is she gone to bed?” asked he, in a tone of hurried agitation.
“Oh, no, sir,” replied the man; “my mistress is very well indeed, sir—never saw her better—she left her compliments for you, sir, when she went out, and bid me tell you, sir, that she went first to the play, sir, and then to lady Sawbridge’s ball and supper; she said she supposed they should keep it up late, sir: she desired, sir, if you came home in time, that you would follow her to my lady Sawbridge’s, as your name was in the card.”
“Not to-night,” thought Elwyn. “Light the candles, and leave me,” said he aloud; he folded his arms across, and leant his head on the mantle-piece—“Would Mary Ellis have been absent at such a time?” asked he, mentally; the question was a dangerous one—he did not pursue it, but he felt all the rebellious passions of his nature struggling in his breast: “is it thus,” cried he, “that Lauretta can enjoy herself in my absence? she knew the recent shock which I had felt—she knew that I was coming—she expected me to-night—Does she not love me then?—has Harry Elwyn lavished his fondness, and bartered his liberty, to one who loves him not?” he walked round the room in a distempered agony of mind, which baffles description—“Impossible!” said he, pausing, and the natural vanity of his disposition again triumphant, “Impossible!—did I not view the delight (a delight which female coyness vainly tried to hide) which sparkled in her eyes, which glowed in her dear cheek, when we accidentally met at Salcombe? and did I not view the distress, the tender sensibility, the fearful apprehension, which overcame her, which subdued reserve and timidity, when the express reached me at Malvern, when a separation was about to take place between us? but when all doubt was changed to certainty, and she was mine for ever—oh, Lauretta! dearest, sweetest Lauretta! why art thou absent?”
Elwyn took a seat—he tried to read—the book was dull—the style uninteresting—the story spiritless—he thought of going to lady Sawbridge’s; but he cast his eyes in the glass, and seeing the disordered state of his dress, he gave up the idea; for he was too much fatigued to engage in the duties of the toilet that night.
The servant reappeared, to ask if his master chose supper?
“Aye, you may bring some in,” answered Elwyn, scarcely knowing what he said. He ate a mouthful of cold chicken, and he hastily swallowed several glasses of Madeira; his spirits rose in consequence—he could not remain in the house—he knew that several of his acquaintances were assembled at —— house, and that at this hour they were deeply engaged at play; dress would be inconsequential there; it was more easy to amuse himself for an hour in looking at them, than in undergoing all the parade of dress, and attending to the imposing laws of etiquette. He went out, and was soon welcomed by the party at —— house, who received this voluntary visit with the highest satisfaction.
At first, Elwyn resisted all entreaties to engage in the amusement; but the turbulent state of his mind did not exactly tally with the character of a calm and disengaged spectator; insensibly he became interested in the scene he was contemplating; he betted highly; the enthusiasm of his spirits rose with success; he betted again; he doubled the former sum—he lost! and, fatigued and exhausted, he returned home at five in the morning, dissatisfied with himself, and ready to throw the blame of his ill fortune on Lauretta, whose absence from home had been the original cause of this imprudent visit.
To his inquiry concerning Mrs. Elwyn, he was answered that “she had been returned home an hour, that she had expressed great surprise at not having seen him at lady Sawbridge’s, and that she had gone to bed immediately.”
“Poor Lauretta!” thought Henry, and immediately his feelings were brought into their wonted channel; “hurt, no doubt, at this seeming neglect of thee; thy tenderness wounded at my not following thee to lady Sawbridge’s; at my absence, when thou hadst expected me to hail thy return with eager fondness, thou hast retired to the privacy of thine own apartment, to the solitude of thine own chamber, to hide the overflowings of thy feeling heart, to pour them out upon thy pillow.”
With cautious and gentle steps Elwyn entered the chamber of his wife, certain of finding her awake, and ready to chide his absence; he approached the bed; those eyes, which he had pourtrayed as beaming with tenderness upon him (while they were yet moistened by the tears of apprehensive affection), tears which would upbraid him for his long delay, tears which would reproach him more than words, tears which he should kiss away, those eyes were closed in sleep—in sleep sound and undisturbed! no traces of tears were seen on her cheek, no signs of anxiety were perceptible on her tranquil countenance—“It would be cruel to awaken her,” thought Elwyn, as he gazed upon her; and fearing lest the light of the candle should fall on her face, he set it down on the dressing-table. There, strewed in confusion, lay the ornaments of his lovely wife, there lay the diamond tiara which had adorned her hair, the strings of pearls which had graced her neck and arms; the disorder which was there apparent, proved that overcome by fatigue, she had hastened to bed, without even allowing her abigail time to put her trappings aside. There was something very mortifying in this thought, yet it would recur, and force itself upon the mind of Elwyn. The speaking witnesses of Lauretta’s insensate indifference seemed to lie before him, in the discarded decorations of her beauty; he did not stay to analyse his own sentiments, but snatching up the candle, he retired to the next room; he felt a malicious kind of satisfaction, in the idea of Lauretta’s surprise and mortification when she should awake in the morning, and find that her apartment had not been occupied by her husband.
Elwyn threw himself upon a bed, but his slumbers were neither unbroken or tranquil—“distempered visions of the night” stole over his perturbed imagination, and disturbed his soul; he lay until a late hour, and awoke with an aching head, and a feverish pulse.
He arose—his first inquiry was for Lauretta; she had not yet rang her bell; he sent to ask after her health, and to let her know that he was ready for breakfast; the answer she returned him was that “she was very lazy, but that she would try to get up.”
Elwyn went into the drawing-room, and throwing himself upon the sofa, by the time he took up a book, and held it in his hand, turning over the leaves without reading, for nearly an hour, when the door opened, and in a loose wrapping-gown, and a dishabille which evidently proved that she had not been long at her toilet, Lauretta entered, and rubbing her eyes, and saying—“Elwyn, you naughty man, how could you be so cruel? you awoke me out of the sweetest sleep in the world.”
“My dearest love,” replied Elwyn, tenderly pressing her to his breast, “I thought you would not be sorry to come to me after an absence of four days—oh, Lauretta! a cruel absence has it been to me! much, much has your Elwyn suffered—and much has he longed for the solace of your society.”
“It was plain you longed very much for it,” said Lauretta, with an air half-jesting, half-chiding, “by your not following me to lady Sawbridge’s, when I expressly left a message to desire that you would.”
“My love, I was harassed in mind and body,” replied Elwyn, “and ill suited for a scene of gaiety.”
“But you went out somewhere,” said Lauretta, “and you were out when I returned home, Mr. Elwyn,” in an accusing tone; “may I ask whither your fatigue impelled you?”
“Alas!” thought Elwyn, “it was you, Lauretta, that impelled me;” but he tried to parry her question; for though Lauretta might not chide him, his heart recoiled from the painful confession. Henry Elwyn dared not avow that he had spent the night at a gaming-table; and thus ever is it with novices in vice—they blush to own—they are ashamed to acknowledge their first transgression, when the acknowledgement might, perhaps, prevent a repetition of the fault—the temptation recurs a second time, the first offence still undiscovered, still shrouded in secresy—it is repeated, and by degrees the fearful sinner becomes the open and bold offender, with feelings callous, with conscience seared—“I did not go where I enjoyed myself,” said Elwyn, with a languid sigh.
“You tell me so,” replied Lauretta, sarcastically.
“I had much to unhinge, much to unman me,” returned he; “ah, Lauretta! judge of my sensations, when I found I came too late to save my mother from disgrace! yes, I have cast off my only remaining parent—I have cast her off for ever!”
“And what is there in that?” asked Lauretta, with the utmost nonchalance; “nothing to make you look so solemn, Elwyn—it is rather a comic than a tragic tale—Mrs. Elwyn cast you off, and has chosen a companion more suited to her taste—Lord bless you! leave all the world to be happy in their own way, and don’t trouble about it.”
“And can you really talk with so much coolness on a subject which so nearly affects me?” asked Elwyn.
“I really see nothing at all to make a fuss about,” answered Lauretta; “these things are done every day; I dare say your mother is extremely happy with Timothy for her husband, and her friend Miss Mary for her sempstress.”
“Lauretta,” said Elwyn, with seriousness, “do not class those names together; do you think I suffered Mary Ellis to remain at the Hall? do you think I would expose purity, delicacy like hers, to the gross familiarity of such a man as the one whom my mother has chosen?”
“Bless me, what harm could he do her?” said Lauretta; “he would be too much taken up in attending to his old lady, to have time to spare to the young one; and, by-the-bye, I believe, Elwyn, if we were to trace things to their sources, we should find that this Miss Mary Ellis has no great right to be fastidious, and that she, of all people, need not turn up her nose at Mr. Timothy Piff.”
“No right! fastidious! turn up her nose! Timothy Piff! Lauretta, do I really hear you? Are you speaking of Mary Ellis, the humblest, the most virtuous of human beings?”
“And pray,” asked Lauretta, nettled at the warm approbation in which her husband spoke of Mary Ellis, who had always been the particular object of her aversion and contempt, “and pray, sir, will you suffer me to ask what asylum you may, in your wisdom, have selected for the humblest and the most virtuous of human beings?”
“That of respectability, madam,” said Elwyn; “I brought Miss Ellis with me to Bath, and have placed her under the protection of Mrs. Ripley in Gay-street, a lady who mixes in polite society, whose conduct is marked by prudence and propriety, whose sanction is sufficient introduction, as she is well known here, and who is the sister of Mr. Munden, our old friend and neighbour, through whose kind interference his sister’s countenance was bespoken for my ward.”
“Brought her to this place!—brought her to Bath!—heavens and earth! what could induce you to do so ill-judged a thing?” cried Lauretta.
“I am utterly at a loss to know why it was ill-judged,” replied Henry, with steady coolness; “as guardian of Mary Ellis, it is my duty to promote her happiness; her merits and attractions entitle her to an advantageous establishment; here she will have opportunities of being seen, and of being known, which she could not have had in the country; and though the imprudence of my misguided parent has affixed an indelible stigma upon her character, and planted a thorn in this breast, yet eventually it may be beneficial to my lovely and interesting ward.”
“Lovely and interesting!” repeated Lauretta, passion rising in her flushed cheek; “this is most extraordinary!—your nocturnal, your mysterious visit is now accounted for, Mr. Elwyn; guardian to this perfect being, you assume the office by night, as well as day, it seems, and watch even her slumbers.”
“Ridiculous accusation!” cried Elwyn; “you do not believe it yourself, Lauretta, though for the sake of peevishness you choose to say it.”
“But I do believe it, and I will believe it,” said Lauretta, in a querulously impatient tone; “I do believe it, I say—I know it—I know you do every thing you can to teaze and torment me.—My dear, sweet, good mamma never said a word to hurt me in her whole life—no, she did not, Mr. Elwyn;” and Lauretta flung herself on a chair, and whimpered like an infant.
It will perhaps occur to our readers, as it did to Elwyn, that though lady Lauretta spared the rod, she had spoiled the child; but he merely walked to the window, and looked out for some minutes with a would-be careless air, and apparently regardless of the reiterated sobbings of Lauretta: at length, turning hastily round, and walking towards her, and seizing both her hands, he said—“Lauretta, dearest Lauretta, you know that I love you to distraction, you know that on yourself the whole tenderness of this heart is lavished—for God’s sake take care what you do! do not let mere female caprice and idle spleen get the dominion over you; do not let them stand between you and happiness—I am hasty—I am impetuous—but you have it in your power to make me what you like—oh, do not raise those tumultuous throes of agony in my bosom, which cannot be allayed!—oh, do not let me for one moment think that you sport with my feelings—that you can take a malicious pleasure in torturing me; for that moment,” and his eye flashed rapid fire, the whole fire of his countenance changed, and his voice was raised almost to a frenzied pitch, “that moment would show Henry Elwyn that he had been deceived—that Lauretta Montgomery acted the dissembler’s part, when she said she loved him.”
Lauretta was intimidated by the violence of his manner—“I am sure I cannot think what this is all about, for my part,” said she. “Oh, my dear mamma——”
“Lauretta,” interrupted Elwyn, with more calmness in his manner, “hear me—no more of this—this continual reference to your mother is at once childish and ungenerous—are you not a rational and an accountable being? you have chosen a companion for your life—I am that person; if you object to any thing in my conduct, my sentiments, or my behaviour, ingenuously tell me so; but do not thus, by inference, invocate lady Lauretta to come and witness against me—rather, much rather rejoice that she is at a distance—that you, her child, are spared from hearing the unpleasant remarks which are passed upon her extraordinary conduct.”
Lauretta was silenced; she had never before heard Elwyn speak so openly on the subject of her mother’s intimacy with general Halifax; she felt that she could urge nothing which would extenuate it; she looked humbled and convinced.
Elwyn saw her look, and in a moment felt it; his proud spirit was appeased and softened; he reproached himself for giving the slightest shadow of uneasiness to so lovely, so charming a being—he folded her in his arms, he imprinted the warm kiss of reconciliation on her lips, and they breakfasted together in perfect harmony. Mary Ellis’s name seemed to be avoided by mutual consent, though Elwyn would fain have learnt whether Lauretta intended to call upon her, hoping that she would do so, and not liking to propose it to her—but nothing was further from Lauretta’s intention; it never occurred to her that it was proper; and as it was not pleasant, as it did not meet her own wishes, it never entered her head: she pursued her daily routine of amusement with unslackened avidity, and Elwyn contented himself with a mere inquiry after Mary Ellis.
END OF VOL. III.
Printed by Lane, Darling, & Co. Leadenhall-street, London.