ebooks

The Children of the Abbey

517

CHAPTER LI.

Take heed, take heed, thou lovely maid,

Nor be by glittering ills betray’d.

To open our hearts to those we know will commiserate our sorrows, is the sweetest conso­lation those sorrows can receive: to you, then, madam, I divulge mine, sure at least of pity. At the time I first had the happiness of seeing you, the little credit my father had was exhausted, and his inability to pay being well known, he was arrested one evening as he sat by the bed-side of my almost expiring mother! I will not pain your gentle nature by dwelling on the horrors of that moment, on the agonies of a parent, and a husband torn from a family so situated as was my father’s; feeble, emaciated, without even sufficient clothing to guard him from the inclemency of the weather, he leaned upon the arm of one of the bailiffs, as he turned his eyes from that wife he never more expected to behold. She fainted at the moment he left the room, and it was many minutes ere I had power to approach her. The long continuance of her fit at length recalled my distracted thoughts: but I had no restoratives to apply, no assistance to recover her, for my eldest brother had followed my father, and the rest of the children, terrified by the scene they had witnessed, wept together in a corner of the room. I had at last recollected a lady who lived nearly opposite to us, and from whom I hoped to procure some relief for her; nothing but the present emergency could have made me apply to her, for the attention she had paid us on first coming to Mr. Heathfield’s, was entirely withdrawn after his death. Pride, however, was forgotten at the present moment, and I flew to the house. The servant showed me into a parlour, where she, her daughters, and a young clergyman I had never before seen, were sitting at tea. I could not bring myself to mention my distress before a stranger, and accordingly begged to speak to her in another room; but she told me, in a blunt manner, I night speak there. In a low and faltering voice, which signs and tears often impeded, I acquainted her of what had happened, the situation of my mother, and requested a cordial for her. How great was my confusion when she declared aloud all I had told her, and 518 turning to her daughter, bid her give me part of a bottle of wine. “Ay, ay,” cried she, “I always thought things would turn out so; it was really very foolish of Mr. Heathfield to bring you to his house, and lead you all into such expenses!” I listened to no more, but taking the wine, with a silent pang retired.

“I had not been many minutes returned, and was kneeling by the bed-side of my mother, who began to show some symptoms of returning life, when a gentle knock came to the hall door; I supposed it my brother, and bid one of the children fly to open it. What was my surprise when in a few minutes she returned, followed by the young clergyman I had just seen! I started from my kneeling posture, and my looks expressed my wonder. He approached, and, in the soft accent of benevolence, apologized for his intrusion: but said, he came with a hope and wish that he might be serviceable. Oh! how soothing were his words! oh! how painfully pleasing the voice of tenderness to the wretched! The tears which pride and indignation had suspended but a few minutes before, again began flowing.

“But I will not dwell upon my feelings; suffice it to say, that every attention which could mitigate my wretchedness he paid, and that his efforts, aided by mine, soon restored my mother. His looks, his manner, his profession all conspired to calm her spirits, and she blessed the power which so unexpectedly gave us a friend. My brother returned from my father merely to inquire how we were, and to go back to him directly. The stranger requested permission to accompany him! a request most pleasing to us, as we trusted his soothing attention would have the same effect upon his sorrowing heart as it had upon ours. Scarcely had he gone ere a man arrived from the neighbouring hotel with a basket loaded with wine and provi­sions; but to enumerate every instance of this young man’s goodness would be encroaching upon your patience, in short, by his care my mother in a few days was able to be carried to my father’s prison. Mrs. Connel, who on the first intimation of our distress, had come to us, took me into her house at a stated salary, which was to be given to my parents, and the rest of the children were to continue with them. My mother desired me one evening to take a walk with the children to Kensington, as she thought them injured by constant confinement. Our friend attended us, and in our way thither informed me that he must soon leave town, as he was but a country 519 curate and his leave of absence from his rector was expired; it was above a month since we had known him, during which time his attentions were unremitted, and he was a source of comfort to us all. A sudden chill came over my heart as he spoke, and every sorrow at that moment seemed aggravated. On entering Kensington gardens, I seated myself on a little rising mount, for I felt trembling and fatigued, and he sat beside me. Never had I before felt so oppressed, and my tears gushed forth in spite of my efforts to restrain them. Something I said of their being occasioned by the recollection of the period when my parents enjoyed the charming scene I now contemplated along with me. “Would to heaven,” cried he, “I could restore them to the enjoyment of it!”

“Ah!” said I, “they already lie under unreturnable obligations to you; in losing you,” added I, involuntarily, “they will lose their only comfort.”

“Since then,” cried he, “you flatter me by saying it is in my power to give them comfort, oh! let them have a constant claim upon me for it. Oh! Emily,” he continued, taking my hand, “let them be my parents as well as yours; then will their too scrupulous delicacy be conquered, and they will receive as a right what they now consider as a favour.” I felt my cheek glow with blushes, but still did not perfectly conceive his meaning. “My destiny is humble,” he continued: “was it otherwise, I should long since have entreated you to share it with me; could you be prevailed on to do be, you would give it pleasures it never yet experienced.” He paused for a reply, but I was unable to give him one.

“Ah, madam, how little necessity either was there for one! my looks, my confusion, betrayed my feelings. He urged me to speak, and at last I acknow­ledged I should not hesitate to share his destiny, but for my parents, who by such a measure would lose my assistance. “Oh, do not think,” cried he, “I would ever wish to tempt you into any situation which should make you neglect them,” He then proceeded to say, “that though unable at present, to liberate them, yet he trusted, that, if they consented to our union, he should, by economy, be enabled to contribute more essentially to their support than I could do, and also be able in a short time to discharge their debts.” His proposals were made known to them, and met their warmest appro­bation. The pleasure they derived from them was more on my 520 account than their own, as the idea of having me so settled removed a weight of anxiety from their minds; some of my brothers and sisters should live with us, he said, and promised my time should be chiefly spent in doing fine works, which should be sent to Mrs. Connel to dispose of for my parents, and also that from time to time, I should visit them, till I had the power of bringing them to my cottage, for such he described his residence.

“He was compelled to go to the country, but it was settled he should return in a short time, and have every thing finally settled. In about a week after his departure, as I was returning one morning from a lady’s, where I had been on a message from Mrs. Connel, a gentleman joined me in the street, and, with a rude familiarity, endea­voured to enter into conversation with me. I endea­voured to shake him off, but could not succeed, and hastened home with the utmost expedition, whither I saw he followed me. I thought no more of the incident till, about two days after, I saw him enter the shop, and heard him inquire of Mrs. Connel about her lodgings, which to my great mortifi­cation he immediately took, for I could not help suspecting he had some improper motive for taking them. I resolved, however, if such a motive really existed, to disappoint it by keeping out of his way: but all my vigilance was unavailing, he was continually on the watch for me, and I could not go up or down stairs without being insulted by him. I at length informed Mrs. Connel of his conduct, and entreated her to fulfil the sacred trust her friends reposed in her when they gave me to her care, by terminating the insults of Mr. Sipthorpe—Alas! could I have possibly foreseen the consequences that would have followed my appli­cation to her, I should have borne those insults in silence. She has already informed you of them. Oh! madam, when the letter came, which dissolved a promise so cheerfully, so fondly given, every prospect of felicity was in a moment overshadowed! For a long time I resisted every effort that was made to prevail on me to marry Sipthorpe, but when at last my mother said she was sorry to find my feelings less than his, who had generously resigned me that my father might be extricated from his difficulties, I shrunk with agony at the rebuke. I wondered, I was shocked, how I could have so long hesitated to open the prison gates of my father, and determined from that moment to sacrifice myself for him; for oh! Miss Donald, it is a sacrifice of the most dreadful 521 nature I am about making. Sipthorpe is a man I never could have liked, had my heart even been disengaged.”

Amanda felt the truest pity for her young friend, who ended her narrative in tears; but she did not, by yielding entirely to that pity (as too many girls, with tender hearts but weak heads might have done) heighten the sorrow of Miss Rushbrook. She proved her friendship and sympathy more sincerely than she could have done by mere expressions of condolement, which feed the grief they commiserate, in trying to reconcile her to a destiny that seemed irrevocable; she pointed out the claims a parent had upon a child, and dwelt upon the delight a child experienced when conscious of fulfilling those claims. She spoke of the rapture attending the triumph of reason and humanity over self and passion, and mentioned the silent plaudits of the heart as superior to all gratifi­cation, or external advantages. She spoke from the real feelings of her soul, she recollected the period at which, to a father’s admonition, she had resigned a lover, and had that father been in Captain Rushbrook’s situation, and the same sacrifice been demanded from her, as from Emily, she felt without hesitation, she would have made it. She was indeed a monitress that had practised, and would practise (was there a necessity for so doing) the lessons she gave, not as poor Ophelia says,

Like some ungracious pastors,

Who show the steep and thorny path to heaven,

But take the primrose one themselves.

The sweet consciousness of this gave energy and more than usual eloquence to her language; but, whilst she wished to inspire her young friend, she felt from the tenderness of her nature, and the sad situation of her own heart, what the friend must feel from disap­pointed affection and a reluctant union. Scarcely could she refrain from weeping over a fate so wretched, and which she was tempted to think as dreadful as her own; but a little reflection soon convinced her she had the sad pre-eminence of misery, for in her fate, there were none of these alleviations as in Emily’s, which she was convinced, must, in some degree, reconcile her to it; her sufferings, unlike Emily’s, would not be rewarded by knowing that they contributed to the comfort of those dearest to her heart.

“Your words, my dear madam,” said Emily, “have calmed my spirits; henceforth I will be more resolute in trying to banish regrets from my mind; but I have been inconsi­derate to a degree in keeping 522 you so long from rest after your fatiguing journey.” Amanda indeed appeared at this moment nearly exhausted, and gladly hastened to bed. Her slumbers were short and unrefreshing; the cares which clung to her heart when waking, were equally oppressive whilst sleeping. Lord Mortimer mingled in the meditations of the morning, in the visions of the night, and when she awoke she found her pillow wet with the tears she had shed on his account. Emily was already up, but on Amanda’s drawing back the curtain, she laid down the book she was reading, and came to her. She saw she looked extremely ill, and imputing this to fatigue, requested she would breakfast in bed; but Amanda, who knew her illness proceeded from a cause which neither rest nor assiduous care could cure, refused complying with this request, and immediately dressed herself. As she stood at the toilet, Emily suddenly exclaimed, “if you have a mind to see Sipthorpe, I will show him to you now, for he is just going out.” Amanda went to the window, which Emily gently opened; but, oh! what was the shock of that moment, when in Sipthorpe, she recognized the insidious Belgrave! A shivering horror ran through her veins, and recoiling a few paces, she sunk half-fainting on a chair. Emily, terrified by her appearance, was flying to the bell to ring for assistance, when, by a faint motion of her hand, Amanda prevented her. “I shall soon be better,” said she, speaking with difficulty; “but I will lie down on the bed for a few minutes, and I beg you may go to your breakfast.” Emily refused to go, and entreated that, instead of leaving her, she might have breakfast brought up for them both. Amanda assured her she could take nothing at present, and wished for quiet: Emily therefore reluctantly left her. Amanda now endea­voured to compose her distracted thoughts, and quiet the throbbings of her agonized heart, that she might be able to arrange some plan for extricating herself from her present situation, which appeared replete with every danger, to her imagination; for from the libertine principles of Belgrave, she could not hope that a new object of pursuit would detach him from her, when he found her so unexpectedly thrown in his way; unprotected as she was, she could not think of openly avowing her knowledge of Belgrave; to discover his baseness required therefore caution and deliberation, lest, in saving Emily from the snare spread for her destruction, she should entangle herself in it; to declare at once his 523 real character must betray her to him, and though she might banish him from the house, yet, unsupported as she was by friends or kindred, unable to procure the protection of Rushbrook, in his present situation, however willing he might be to extend it, she trembled to think of the dangers to which, by thus discovering, she might expose herself, dangers which the deep treachery and daring effrontery of Belgrave would, in all proba­bility, prevent her escaping. As the safest measure, she resolved on quitting the house in the course of the day; but without giving an intimation that she meant not to return to it. She recollected a place where there was a proba­bility of her getting lodgings, which would be at once secret and secure; and by an anonymous letter to Captain Rushbrook, she intended to acquaint him of his daughter’s danger, and refer him to Sir Charles Bingley, at whose agent’s he could receive intelligence of him, for the truth of what she said. Her plan concerted, she grew more composed, and was able, when Emily entered the room with her breakfast, to ask, in a seeming careless manner, “when Mr. Sipthorpe was expected back?”

“It is very uncertain, indeed,” answered she.

“I must go out in the course of the day,” said Amanda, “about parti­cular business; I may, therefore, as well prepare myself at once for it.” She accordingly put on her habit, and requested materials for writing from Emily, which were immediately brought, and Emily then retired till she had written her letter. Amanda, left to herself, hastily unlocked her little trunk, and taking from thence two changes of linen, and the will and narrative of Lady Dunreath, she deposited the two former in her pocket, and the two latter in her bosom, then sat down and wrote the following letter to Captain Rushbrook:

“A person who esteems the character of Captain Rushbrook, and the amiable simplicity of his daughter, cautions him to guard that simplicity against the danger which now threatens it, from a wretch, who, under the sacred semblance of virtue, designs to fix a sharper sting in the bosom of affliction than adversity ever yet implanted. The worth of Sipthorpe is not more fictitious than his name; his real one is Belgrave; his hand is already another’s; and his character for many years past, marked with instances of deceit, if not equal, at least little inferior to the present. For the truth of these assertions, the writer of this letter refers Captain Rushbrook to Sir Charles Bingley, of —— regiment, from whose agent a direction may be procured to him, certain, from his honour and sensi­bility, he will eagerly 524 step forward to save worth and innocence from woe and destruction.”

Amanda’s anxiety about Emily being equal to what she felt for herself, she resolved to leave this letter at Rushbrook’s prison, lest any accident should happen if it went by other hands. She was anxious to be gone, but thought it better to wait till towards evening, when there would be the least chance of meeting Belgrave, who, at that time, would probably be fixed in some place for the remainder of the day. Emily returned in about an hour, and finding Amanda disengaged, requested permission to sit with her. Amanda, in her present agitation, would have preferred solitude, but could not decline the company of the affec­tionate girl, who, in conversing with her, sought to forget the heavy cares which the dreadful idea of an union with Sipthorpe had drawn upon her. Amanda listened with a beating heart to every sound, but no intimation of Belgrave’s return reached her ears. At length they were summoned to dinner, but Amanda could not think of going to it, lest she should be seen by him. To avoid this risk, and also the parti­cularity of a refusal, she determined immediately to go out, and having told Emily her intention, they both descended the stairs together. Emily pressed her exceedingly to stay for dinner, but she positively refused, and left the house with a beating heart, without having answered Emily’s question, who desired to know if she would not soon return. Thus perpetually threatened with danger, like a frightened bird, again was she to seek a shelter for her innocent head. She walked with quickness to Oxford street, where she directly procured a carriage, but was so weak and agitated, the coachman was almost obliged to lift her into it. She directed it to the prison, and on reaching it, sent for one of the turnkeys, to whom she gave her letter for Rushbrook, with a parti­cular charge to deliver it immediately to him. She then ordered the carriage to Pall-Mall, where it may be remembered she had once lodged with Lady Greystock. This was the only lodging-house in London she knew, and in it she expected no satis­faction but what would be derived from thinking herself safe, as its mistress was a woman of a most unpleasant temper. She had once been in affluent circum­stances, and the remembrance of those circum­stances soured her temper, and rendered her, if not incapable of enjoying, at least unwilling to acknow­ledge the blessings she yet possessed; on any 525 one in her power she vented her spleen. Her chief pursuit was the gratifi­cation of a most insatiate curiosity, and her first delight, relating the affairs, good or bad, which that curiosity dived into. Amanda, finding she was at home, dismissed the coach, and was shown by the maid into the back parlour, where she sat. “Oh, dear!” cried she, with a super­cilious smile, the moment Amanda entered, without rising from her chair to return her salute, “when did you return to London, and pray, may I ask, what brought you back to it?”

Amanda was now convinced, from Mrs. Hansard’s altered manner, who had once been servile to a degree to her, that she was perfectly acquainted with her destitute condition, and a heavy sigh burst from her heart at the idea of associating with a woman, who had the meanness to treat her ill because of that condition. A chillness crept through her frame when she reflected that her sad situation might long compel her to this.—Sick, weary, exhausted, she sunk into a chair, which she had neither been offered nor desired to take.

“Well, Miss, and pray what is your business in town?” again asked Mrs. Hansard, with an increased degree of pertness.

“My business, madam,” replied Amanda, “can be of no consequence to a person not connected with me. My business with you is to know whether you can accommodate me with lodgings.” “Really; well, you might have paid me the compliment of saying you would have called at any rate to know how I did.—You may guess how greatly flattered a humble being like me would be by the notice of so amiable a young lady.”

These words were pronounced with a kind of sneer, that, by rousing the pride of Amanda, a little revived her spirits. “I should be glad, madam,” said she, with a composed voice, while a faint glow stole over her cheek, “to know whether you can, or choose to accommodate me with lodgings?”

“Lord! my dear,” replied Mrs. Hansard, “do not be in such a wondrous hurry: take a cup of tea with me, and then we will settle about that business.”—These words implied that she would comply with the wish of Amanda, and however disagreeable the asylum, yet to have secured one cheered her singeing heart.—Tea was soon made, which, to Amanda, who had touched nothing since breakfast, and but little then, would have been a pleasant refreshment had she not 526 been tormented and fatigued with the questions of Mrs. Hansard, who laid a thousand baits to betray her into a full confession of what had brought her to London.—Amanda, though a stranger in herself to every species of art, from fatal experience was aware of it in others, and therefore guarded her secret. Mrs. Hansard, who loved what she called a gossiping cup of tea, sat a tedious time over the tea-table. Amanda at last, mortified and alarmed by some expressions which dropped from her, again ventured to ask if she could be lodged under her roof.

“Are you really serious in that question?” said Mrs. Hansard. There was a certain expression of contempt in her features as she spoke, which shocked Amanda so much, that she had not power to reply; “because if you are my dear,” continued Mrs. Hansard, “you have more assurance than I thought you possessed of, though I always gave you credit for a pretty large share. Do you think I would ruin my house, which lodges people of the first rank and character, by admitting you into it; you who, it is well known, obtained Lady Greystock’s protection from charity, and lost it through misconduct? Poor lady, I had the whole story from her own mouth. She suffered well by having anything to say to you. I always guessed how it would be: notwith­standing your demure look, I saw well enough how it would turn out. I assure you, to use your own words, if I could accommodate you in my house, it would not answer you at all, for there are no convenient closets in it, in which a lady of your disposition might now and then want to hide a smart young fellow. I advise you, if you have had a tiff with any of your friends, to make up the difference, though, indeed, if you did not, in such a place as London, you can never be at a loss for such friends. Perhaps you are now beginning to repent of your evil courses, and if I took you into my house, I should suffer as much in my pocket, I suppose, as in my character.”

The terrified and distressed look with which Amanda listened to this speech would have stopped Mrs. Hansard in the middle of it, had she possessed a spark of humanity, even if she believed her (which was not the case) guilty; but lost to the noble, the gentle feelings of humanity, she exulted in the triumph of malice, and rejoiced to have an opportunity of piercing the panting heart of helpless innocence with the sharp dart of insult and unmerited reproach. Amidst the 527 various shocks Amanda had experienced in the short but eventful course of her life, one greater than the present she had never felt; petrified by Mrs. Hansard’s words it was some time ere she had power to speak. “Gracious heaven!” exclaimed she, looking up to that heaven she addressed, and which she now consi­dered her only refuge from evil, “to what trials am I continually exposed? Persecuted, insulted, shocked! oh! what happiness to lay my feeble frame, my woe-struck heart, within that low asylum, where malice could no more annoy, deceit no more betray me! I am happy,” she continued, starting up, and looking at Mrs. Hansard, “that the accommodation I desired in this house you refused me, for I am now well convinced, from my knowledge of your disposition, that the security my situation requires I should not have found within it.”—She hastily quitted the room, but on entering the hall her spirits entirely forsook her, at the dreadful idea of having no home to go to; overcome with horror, she sunk into tears upon one of the hall chairs. A maid, who had probably been listening to her mistress’s conversation, now came down from a front parlour, and as Mrs. Hansard had shut the door after Amanda, addressed her without fear of being overhead.—“Bless me! Miss,” said she, “are you crying? Why, Lord! surely you will not mind what old blowsey in the parlour says? I promise you, if we minded her, we should have red eyes here every day in the week. Do, pray, Miss, tell me if I can be of any service to you.”

Amanda, in a voice scarcely articulate, thanked her, and said, “in a few minutes she should be better able to speak.” To seek lodgings at this late hour was not to be thought of, except she wished to run into the very dangers she had wanted to avoid, and Mrs. Connel’s house returned to her recollection, as the impossi­bility of procuring a refuge in any other was confirmed in her mind; she began to think it would not be so dangerous as her fears in the morning had repre­sented it to be; ere this she thought Belgrave (for since the delivery of the letter there had been time enough for such a proceeding) might be banished from it; if not, she had a chance of concealing herself, and, even if discovered, she believed Mrs. Connel would protect her from his open insults, whilst she trusted her own precaution would, under heaven, defeat his secret schemes, should he again contrive any; she therefore resolved, or rather necessity compelled her, 528 for, could she have avoided it, she would not have done so, to return to Mrs. Connel’s; she accordingly requested the maid to procure her a carriage, and rewarded her for her trouble. As she was returning to Mrs. Connel’s, she endea­voured to calm her spirits, and quell her apprehensions.—When the carriage stopped, and the maid appeared, she could scarcely prevent herself ere she alighted, from inquiring whether any one but the family was within; conscious, however, that such a question might create suspicions, and that suspicions would naturally excite inquiries, she checked herself, and re-entered, though with trembling limbs, that house from whence in the morning she had fled with such terror.

Errata: Chapter LI

“To open our hearts to those we know will commiserate our sorrows
text has out sorrows

“I had not been many minutes returned, and was kneeling by the bed-side
open quote missing

“My destiny is humble,” he continued:
, missing

you would give it pleasures it never yet experienced.”
text has experienced,”

“He was compelled to go to the country
open quote missing

as I was returning one morning from a lady’s
text has moring

heighten the sorrow of Miss Rushbrook.
text has Miss.

she would not have done so, to return to Mrs. Connel’s;
text has Connells;


She alighted from the carriage when it stopped at the door, and entered the shop


Amanda had not reached the parlour when the door opened, and Mrs. Connel came from it

Introduction and Contents

 

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.