The Children of the Abbey
“With dirges due and sad array,
“Slow through the church-way path I saw him borne.”
It will now be necessary to account for the sudden appearance of Lord Mortimer at the convent.—Our reader may recollect that we left him in London, in the deepest affliction for the supposed perfidy of Amanda: an affliction which knew no diminution from time. Neither the tenderness of his aunt, Lady Martha Dormer, or the kind consideration his father showed for him, who, for the present, ceased to importune him about Lady Euphrasia, could have any lenient effect upon him; he pined in thought, and felt a distaste to all society; he at last began to think, that though Amanda had been unhappily led astray, she might ere this have repented of her error, and forsaken Colonel Belgrave; to know whether she had done so, or whether she could be prevailed upon to give him up, he believed would be an alleviation of his sorrows. No sooner had he persuaded himself of this than he determined on going to Ireland without delay, to visit Captain Fitzalan, and if she was not returned to his protection, advise with him about some method of restoring her to it.
He told Lord Cherbury he thought an excursion into Wales would be of service to him. His lordship agreed on thinking it might; and secretly delighted that all danger relative to Amanda was over, gladly concurred in whatever could please his son, flattering himself, that on his return to London, he would no longer raise any objections to an alliance with the fair Scotch heiress.
Lord Mortimer travelled with as much expedition to Holyhead, as if certain that perfect happiness, not a small alleviation of misery, would be the recompense of his journey. He concealed from his aunt the real motive which actuated him to it, blushing even to himself at the weakness he still felt relative to Amanda.
When he crossed the water, he again set off post, attended on horseback only by his own man; within one mile of Castle Carberry he met a little mournful procession approaching, which was attending poor Fitzalan to his last home. The carriage stopped to let them 351 pass, and in the last of the group he perceived Johnaten, who at the same moment recognized him. Johnaten with much surprise in his countenance, stepped up to the carriage, and after bowing, and humbly hoping his lordship was well, with a melancholy shake of his head, informed him whose remains he was following.
“Captain Fitzalan dead!” repeated Lord Mortimer, with a face as pale as death, and a faltering voice, while his heart sunk within him at the idea, that his father was to some degree accessary to the fatal event; for just before he left London Lord Cherbury had informed him of the letter he wrote to Fitzalan, and this he believed, joined to his own immediate family misfortunes, had precipitated him from the world. “ Fitzalan dead!” he exclaimed.
“Yes, and please you my lord,” said Johnaten, wiping away a tear, “and he has not left a better or a braver man behind him. Poor gentleman, the world pressed hard upon him.”
“Had be no tender friend about him?” asked Lord Mortimer. “Were neither of his children with him?”
“Oh! yes, my lord, poor Miss Amanda.”
“She was with him?” said Lord Mortimer in an eager accent.
“Yes, my lord, she returned here about ten days ago, but so sadly altered, I think she won’t stay long behind him. Poor thing, she is going fast, indeed, and the more’s the pity, for she is a sweet creature.”
Lord Mortimer was inexpressibly shocked; he wished to hide his emotions, and waved his hand to Johnaten to depart; but Johnaten either did not, or would not understand the motion, and he was obliged in broken accents to say, he would no longer detain him.
The return of Amanda was to him a conviction that she had seen her error in its true light; he pictured to himself the affecting scene which must have ensued between the dying father and a penitent daughter, so loved, so valued as was Amanda, her situation when she received his forgiveness and benediction; he represented her to himself as at once bewailing the loss of her father, and her offences, endeavouring, by prayers, by tears, by sighs, to obliterate them in the sight of Heaven, and render herself fit to receive its awful fiat.
He heard she was dying; his soul recoiled at the idea of seeing her shrouded in her native clay, and yet he could not help believing this the only peaceful asylum she could find, to be freed from the shafts 352 of contempt, and malice of the world. He trembled lest he should not behold the lovely penitent while she was capable of observing him: to receive a last adieu, though dreadful, would yet he thought lighten the horrors of an eternal separation, and perhaps too, it would be some comfort to her departing spirit to know from him he had pardoned her, and conscious surely, he thought to himself, she must be of needing pardon from him, whom she had so long imposed on by a specious pretext of virtue. He had heard from Lord Cherbury, that Captain Fitzalan had quitted the castle; he knew not therefore at present where to find Amanda, nor did he choose to make any inquiries till he again saw Johnaten.
As soon as the procession was out of sight he alighted from the carriage; and ordering his man to discharge it on arriving at Castle Carberry, he took a path across the fields, which brought him to the side of the church-yard where Fitzalan was to be interred.
He reached it just as the coffin was lowering into the earth; a yew tree growing by the wall against which he leaned hid him from observation. He heard many of the rustics mentioning the merits of the deceased, in terms of warm, though artless commendation, as he saw Johnaten receiving the hat and sword, which, as military trophies, he had laid upon the coffin, with a flood of tears.
When the church-yard was cleared, he stepped across the broken wall to the silent mansion of Fitzalan; the scene was wild and dreary, and a lowering evening seemed in unison with the sad objects around. Lord Mortimer was sunk in the deepest despondence; he felt awfully convinced of the instability of human attainments, and the vanity of human pursuits, not only from the ceremony he had just witnessed, but his own situation; the fond hopes of his heart, the gay expectations of his youth, and the hilarity of his soul were blasted—never, he feared, to revive. Virtue rank, and fortune, advantages so highly prized by mankind, were unable to give him comfort, to remove the malady of his heart, to administer one obvious antidote to a mind diseased.
“Peace to thy shade, thou unfortunate soldier,” exclaimed he, after standing some time by the grave with folded arms; “peace to thy shade! peace which shall reward thee for a life of toil and trouble. Happy should I have deemed myself, had it been my lot to have lightened thy grief, or cheered thy closing hours; but those who 353 were dearer to thee than existence I may yet serve, and thus make the only atonement now in my power for the injustice I fear was done thee: thy Amanda and thy gallant son shall be my care, and his path, I trust, it will be in my power to smooth through life.”
A tear fell from Lord Mortimer upon the grave, and he turned mournfully from it towards Castle Carberry. Here Johnaten was arrived before him, and had already a large fire lighted in the dressing-room, poor Amanda, on coming to the castle, had chosen for herself. Johnaten fixed on this for Lord Mortimer, as the parlours had been shut up ever since Captain Fitzalan’s departure, and could not be put in order till the next day; but it was the worst place Lord Mortimer could have entered, as not only itself, but every thing in it reminded him of Amanda, and the grief it excited at his first entrance was so violent, as to alarm, not only his man who was spreading a table with refreshments, but Johnaten, who was assisting him. He soon checked it, however; but when he again looked round the room, and beheld it ornamented by works done by Amanda, he could scarcely prevent another burst of grief as violent as the first.
He now learned Amanda’s residence, and so great was his impatience to see her, that, apprehensive the convent would soon be closed, he set off, fatigued as he was, without taking any refreshment.
He intended to ask for one of the ladies of St. Catharine’s, and entreat her, if Amanda was then in a situation to be seen, to announce his arrival to her; but, after rapping repeatedly with a rattan against the door, the only person who appeared to him was a servant girl. From her he learned that the ladies were all in the chapel, and that Miss Fitzalan was in the prioress’ apartment. He asked, “Was she too ill to be seen?” The girl replied “No;” for having only entered the room to leave the kettle in it, at a time when Amanda was composed, she imagined she was very well.
Lord Mortimer then told her his name, and desired her to go up to Miss Fitzalan and inquire whether she would see him. The girl attempted not to move; she was in reality so struck of a heap, by hearing that she had been talking with a lord, that she knew not whether she was standing on her head or her heels. Lord Mortimer imputing her silence to disinclination to comply with his request, put a guinea into her hand, and entreated her to be expeditious. This 354 restored her to animation; but ere she reached the room she forgot his title, and being ashamed to deliver a blundering message to Miss Fitzalan, or to appear stupid to Lord Mortimer, she returned to him, pretending that she had delivered his message, and that he might go up. She showed him the door, and when he entered he imputed the silence of Amanda, and her not moving, to the effects of her grief. He advanced to the couch, and was not a little shocked on seeing her eyes closed, concluding from this that she had fainted; but her easy respiration soon convinced him that this was a mistake, and he immediately concluded that the girl had deceived him. He leaned over her till she began to stir, and then retreated behind her, lest his presence, on her first awaking, should alarm her.
What took place in the interview between them has already been related. Notwithstanding appearances were so much against her, and no explanation had ensued relative to them, from the moment she asserted her innocence with solemnity, he could no longer doubt it, and yielding at once to his conviction, to his love, to his pity for her, he again renewed his overtures for a union. Hearing of the stratagems laid for her destruction, the dangers she had escaped, the distresses she had experienced, made him more anxious than ever for completing it; that by his constant protection he might secure her from similar trials, and by his tenderness and care, restore her to health, peace, and happiness. He longed for the period of her triumphing over the perfidious marchioness and the detestable Lady Euphrasia, by being raised to that station they had so long attempted to prevent her attaining, and thus proving to them that virtue, sooner or later, will counteract the designs of vice. He felt a degree of rapture at the idea of being no longer obliged to regret the ardent, the unabated affection he felt for her.
His transports were somewhat checked when she solemnly declared a union between them impossible, and forbade his seeing her again. He was piqued by the steadiness with which she repeated this resolution, but her present weak state prevented his betraying any resentment, and he flattered himself he would be able to conquer her obstinacy; he could not now indeed despair of any event after the unexpected restoration of Amanda to his esteem, and the revival of those hopes of felicity, which in the certainty of having lost her had faded away.
He returned, as Johnaten said, an altered man to the castle; he no 355 longer experienced horror at entering the dressing room, which displayed so many vestiges of his Amanda’s taste.
He resolved on an immediate union as the surest proof he could give of his perfect confidence in her sincerity, not allowing himself to suppose she would continue firm in the resolution she had recently avowed to him. He then intended setting off for London, and sparing neither time, trouble, nor expense, to obtain from the inferior agents in the plot laid against her, a full avowal of the part they had themselves acted in it, and all they knew relative to those performed by others. This was not designed for his own satisfaction; he wanted no confirmation of what Amanda had asserted, as his meaning to marry her immediately demonstrated; it was to cover with confusion those who had meditated her destruction, and add to the horrors they would experience when they found her emerging from obscurity, not as Miss Fitzalan, but Lady Mortimer. Such proofs of her innocence would also prevent malice from saying he was a dupe of art, and he was convinced, for both their sakes, it was requisite to procure them; he would then avow his marriage, return for his wife, introduce her to his friends, and, if his father kept up any resentment against them longer than he expected, he knew, in Lady Martha Dormer’s house, and at Tudor Hall, he would find not only an eligible but pleasant residence. Those delightful schemes kept him awake half the night, and when he fell asleep it was only to dream of happiness and Amanda.
In the morning, notwithstanding the prohibition he had received to the contrary, he went to inquire how she was, and to try to see her. The girl who had answered his repeated knocks the preceding evening, appeared, and told him Miss Fitzalan was very bad.—He began to think that this must be a pretext to avoid seeing him, and to come at the truth, was slipping a bribe into her hand, when sister Mary, who had been watching them from an adjoining room, appeared and stopped this measure. She repeated what the girl had just said, and, in addition to it, declared that, even if Miss Fitzalan was up, she would not see him, and that he must come no more to St. Catharine’s, as both Miss Fitzalan and the prioress would resent such conduct exceedingly, and that, if he wanted to inquire after the health of the former, he might easily send a servant, and it would be much better done than to come frisking over there every moment.356
Lord Mortimer was seriously displeased with this unceremonious speech. “So I suppose,” cried he, “you want to make a real nun of Miss Fitzalan, and to keep her from all conversation.”
“And a happy creature she would be were she to become one of us,” replied sister Mary; “and as to keeping her from conversation, she might have as much as she pleased with any one. Indeed I believe the poor thing likes you well enough, the more’s her misfortune for doing so.”
“I thank you, madam,” cried Lord Mortimer; “I suppose it one of your vows to speak truth; if so, I must acknowledge you keep it religiously.”
“I have just heard her,” proceeded sister Mary, without minding what she “tell the prioress a long story about you and herself, by which I find it was her father’s desire she should have nothing more to say to you, and I dare say the poor gentleman had good reasons for doing so. I beg, my lord, you will come no more here, and, indeed, I think it was a shame for you to give money to the simpleton who answered you. Why, it was enough to turn the girl’s head, and set her mad after one fallal or other.”
Lord Mortimer could not depart without an effort to win sister Mary over to his favour, and engage her to try and persuade Miss Fitzalan to permit his visits; but she was inflexible. He then entreated to know if Amanda was so ill as to be unable to rise. She assured him she was; and as some little consolation to the distress she perceived this assurance gave him, said he might send when he pleased to inquire after her health, and she would take care to answer the messenger herself.
Lord Mortimer began now to be seriously alarmed, lest Captain Fitzalan had prevailed on his daughter to make a solemn renunciation of him: if this was the case, he knew nothing could prevail on her to break her promise. He was half distracted with doubt and anxiety, which were scarcely supportable, when he reflected that they could not for some time be satisfied, since, even if he wrote to her for that purpose, she could not at present be able to answer his letter; again he felt convinced of the instability of earthly happiness, and the close connexion there has ever been between pleasure and pain.
“Captain Fitzalan dead!” he exclaimed.
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Sister Mary recovered her with difficulty, but found it impossible to remove her from the cabin till she was once more composed.
The fatigue, distress, and agitation of Amanda could no longer be struggled with