The Children of the Abbey
And why should such, within herself she cried,
Lock the lost wealth a thousand want beside?
Amanda was sitting alone in the drawing room one morning, when a gentleman was shown into it, to wait for Lady Greystock. The 241 stranger was about the middle period of life; his dress announced him a military man, and his thread-bare coat seemed to declare, that whatever laurels he had gathered, they were barren ones. His form and face were interesting: infirmity appeared to press upon one, and sorrow had deeply marked the other, yet without despoiling it of a certain expression which indicated the hilarity nature had once stamped upon it; his temples were sunk, and his cheek faded to a sickly hue. Amanda felt immediate respect and sensibility for the interesting figure before her; the feelings of her soul, the early lessons of her youth, had taught her to reverence distress; and never perhaps, did she think it so peculiarly affecting, as when in a military garb.
The day was uncommonly severe, and the stranger shivered with the cold.
“I declare, young lady,” cried he, as he took the chair which Amanda had placed for him by the fire, “I think I should not tremble more before an enemy, than I do before this day: I don’t know but what it is as essential for a subaltern officer to stand cold as fire.”
Amanda smiled, and resumed her work; she was busily employed making a trimming of artificial flowers for Lady Greystock to present to a young lady, from whose family she had received some obligations. This was a cheap mode of returning them, as Amanda’s materials were used.
“Your employment is an entertaining one,” said the stranger, “and your roses literally without thorns: such no doubt as you expect to gather in your path through life.”
“No,” replied Amanda, “I have no such expectation.”
“And yet,” said he, “how few at your time of life, particularly if possessed of your advantages, could make such a declaration.”
“Whoever had reflection undoubtedly would,” replied Amanda.
“That I allow,” cried he, “but how few do we find with reflection!—from the young it is banished as the rigid tyrant that would forbid the enjoyment of the pleasure they pant after: and from the old it is too often expelled as an enemy to that forgetfulness which can alone ensure their tranquillity.”
“But in both, I trust,” said Amanda, “you will allow there are exceptions.”
“Perhaps there are; yet often when conscience has not reason to dread, sensibility has cause to fear reflection: which not only revives 242 the recollection of happy hours, but inspires such a regret for their loss, as almost unfits the soul for any exertions; ’tis indeed beautifully described in these lines:
Still importunate and vain,
To former joys recurring ever.
And turning all the past to pain.”
Amanda attentively watched him, and thought what he said appeared to be particularly applicable to himself, as his countenance resumed a more dejected expression. He revived, however, in a few moments.
“I have, my dear young lady,” continued he, smiling, “beguiled you most soberly, as Lady Grace says, into conversation; I have, however, given you an opportunity of amusing your fancy by drawing a comparison between an old veteran and a young soldier; but though you may allow him more animation, I trust you will not do me so much injustice as to allow him more taste; while he merely extolled the lustre of your eyes, I should admire the mildness which tempered that lustre; while he praised the glow of your cheek, I should adore that sensibility which had power, in a moment, to augment or diminish.”
At this instant Lady Greystock entered the room:—she entered it with a swell of importance, and a haughty expression of contempt on her features.
The stranger rose from his chair, and his paleness increased.
“So, Mr. Rushbrook,” at last drawled out her ladyship; “so, sir; but pray be seated,” waving her hand at the same time.
Amanda now retired: she had lingered a few moments in the room, under the pretence of putting her work out of her ladyship’s way, to discover who the stranger was.
Rushbrook had been represented to her as artful, treacherous, and contemptible. His appearance was almost a sufficient refutation of those charges, and she began to think they never would have been laid against him by any other being than Lady Greystock, from a desire of depreciating her adversary. In her ladyship she had seen much to dislike since she resided with her; she saw that the temper, like the person, is often allowed to be in dishabille at home.
She felt even warmly interested about Rushbrook; she had heard 243 of his large family; and from his appearance, she conjectured they must be in distress. There was a kind of humorous sadness in his manner, which affected her even more than a settled melancholy perhaps would have done, as it implied the efforts of a noble heart to repel sorrow; and if there cannot be a more noble, neither surely can there be a more affecting sight, than that of a good and brave man struggling with adversity.
As she leaned pensively against the window, reflecting on the various inequalities of fortune, yet still believing they were designed by a wise Providence, like hill and valley, mutually to benefit each other, she saw Rushbrook cross the street: his walk was the slow and lingering walk of dejection and disappointment: he raised his hand to his eyes, Amanda supposed to wipe away his tears, and her own fell at the supposition.—The severity of the day had increased; a heavy shower of snow was falling, against which poor Rushbrook had no shelter but his threadbare coat. Amanda was unutterably affected; and when he disappeared from her sight, she fell into a sentimental soliloquy, something in the style of Yorick.
“Was I mistress,” exclaimed she, as she beheld the splendid carriages passing and repassing, “was I mistress of one of these carriages, an old soldier, like Rushbrook, should not be exposed to the inclemency of a winter sky; neither should his coat be thread-bare, nor his heart oppressed with anguish; if I saw a tear upon his cheek, I would say it had no business there, for comfort was about revisiting him.” As she spoke, the idea of Lord Mortimer occurred: her tears were suspended, and her cheek began to glow.
“Yes, poor Rushbrook,” she exclaimed, “perhaps the period is not far distant, when a bounteous Providence, through the hands of Amanda, may relieve thy wants; when Mortimer himself may be her assistant in the office of benevolence.”
Lady Greystock’s woman now appeared, to desire she would come down to her lady. She immediately obeyed the summons, with a secret hope of hearing something of the conference. Her ladyship received her with an exulting laugh.
“I have good news to tell you, my dear,” exclaimed she: “that poor wretch, Rushbrook, has lost the friend who was to have supported him in the lawsuit; and the lawyers, finding the sheet anchor gone, have steered off, and left him to shift for himself: the miserable 244 creature and his family must certainly starve: only think of his assurance; he came to say, indeed he would now be satisfied with a compromise.”
“Well, madam,” said Amanda.
“Well, madam,” repeated her ladyship, mimicking her manner, “I told him I must be a fool indeed, if I ever consented to such a thing, after his effrontery in attempting to litigate the will of his much abused uncle, my dear good Sir Geoffry. No, no, I bid him proceed in the suit, and all my lawyers were prepared; and after so much trouble on both sides, it would be a pity the thing came to nothing.”
“As your ladyship, however, knows his extreme distress, no doubt you will relieve it.”
“Why, pray,” said her ladyship, smartly, “do you think he has any claim upon me?”
“Yes,” replied Amanda, “if not upon your justice, at least upon your humanity.”
“So you would advise me to fling away my money upon him?”
“Yes,” replied Amanda, smiling, “I would; and as your ladyship likes the expression, have you fling it away profusely.”
“Well, well,” answered she, “when you arrive at my age, you will know the real value of wealth.”
“I trust, madam,” said Amanda, with spirit, “I know its real value already: we only estimate it differently.”
“And pray,” asked her ladyship, with a sneer, “how may you estimate it?”
“As the means, madam, of dispensing happiness around us; of giving shelter to the houseless child of want; and joy to the afflicted heart: as a sacred deposit intrusted to us by an Almighty Power for those purposes: which, if so applied, will nourish placid and delightful reflections, that, like soothing friends, will crowd around on the bed of sickness or death, alleviating the pains of one, and the terrors of the other.”
“Upon my word,” exclaimed Lady Greystock, “a fine flowery speech, and well calculated for a sentimental novel, or a moral treatise for the improvement of youth; but I advise you, my dear, in future, to keep your queer and romantic notions to yourself, or else it will be suspected you have made romances your study, for you have just spoken as one of their heroines would have done.”245
Amanda made no reply: yet as she beheld her ladyship seated in an easy chair, by a blazing fire, with a large bowl of rich soup before her, which she took every morning, she could not forbear secretly exclaiming,—Hard hearted woman, engrossed by your own gratifications, no ray of compassion can soften your nature for the misfortunes of others; sheltered yourself from the tempest, you see it falling without pity on the head of wretchedness; and while you feast on luxuries, think without emotion, on those who want even common necessaries.
In the evening they went to a large party of the marchioness’s; but though the scene was gay and brilliant, it could not remove the pensiveness of Amanda’s spirits; the emaciated form of Rushbrook, returning to his desolate family, dwelt upon her mind. A little, she thought, as she surveyed the magnificence of the apartments and the splendour of the company which crowded them; a little from this parade of vanity and wealth, would give relief to many a child of indigence; never had the truth of the following lines so forcibly struck her imagination:
Ah, little think the gay, licentious proud,
Whom pleasure, power, and affluence surround,
They, who their thoughtless hours in giddy mirth.
And wanton, often cruel, riot waste;
Ah, little think they, while they dance along,
How many feel, this very moment death,
And all the sad variety of pain:
How many drink the cup
Of baleful grief, or eat the bitter bread
Of misery; sore pierced by wintry winds,
How many shrink into the sordid hut
Of cheerless poverty.
From such reflections as these, she was disturbed by the entrance of Sir Charles Bingley; as usual, he took his station by her, and in a few minutes after him Lord Mortimer appeared. A party for was formed, in which Amanda joined, from a wish of avoiding the absurdities of Sir Charles; but he took care to secure a seat next her, and Lord Mortimer sat opposite to them.
“Bingley,” said a gentleman, after they had been sometime at the table, “you are certainly the most changeable fellow in the world. About three weeks ago you were hurrying every thing for a journey 246 to Ireland, as if life and death depended on your expedition; and here I still find you loitering about the town.”
“I deny the imputation of changeableness,” replied the baronet, “all my actions are regulated,” and he glanced at Amanda, “by one source, one object.”
Amanda blushed, and caught, at that moment, a penetrating look from Lord Mortimer.
Her situation was extremely disagreeable: she dreaded his attentions would be imputed to encouragement from her: she had often tried to suppress them, and she resolved her next efforts should be more resolute.
Sir Charles reached Pall Mall the next morning, just as Lady Greystock was stepping into her chariot, to acquaint her lawyer of Rushbrook’s visit. She informed him that Miss Fitzalan was in the drawing room, and he flew up to her.
“You find,” said he, “by what you heard last night, that my conduct has surprise; I assure you my friends think I must absolutely be deranged, to relinquish so suddenly a journey I appeared so anxious to take: suffer me,” continued he, taking her hand, “to assign the true reason for this apparent change.”
“Sir Charles,” replied Amanda, “’tis time to terminate this trifling.”
“Oh, then let it be terminated,” said he, with eagerness, “by your consenting to my happiness: by your accepting a hand, tendered to you with the most ardent affections of my heart.”
With equal delicacy and tenderness, he then urged her acceptance of proposals, which were as disinterested as the most romantic generosity could desire them to be.
Amanda felt really concerned that he had made them; the grateful sensibility of her nature was hurt at the idea of giving him pain.
“Believe me, Sir Charles,” said she, “I am truly sensible of the honour of your addresses; but I should deem myself unworthy of the favourable opinion which excited them, if I delayed a moment assuring you, that friendship was the only return in my power to make for them.”
The impetuous passions of Sir Charles were now all in commotion, he started from his chair, and traversed the apartment in breathless agitation.247
“I will not, Miss Fitzalan,” said he, resuming his seat again, “believe you inflexible; I will not believe that you can think I shall so easily resign an idea, which I have so long cherished with rapture.”
“Surely, Sir Charles,” said Amanda, somewhat alarmed, “you cannot accuse me of having encouraged the idea?”
“Oh, no,” sighed he passionately, “to me you were always uniformly cold.”
“And from whence then proceeded such an idea?”
“From the natural propensity we all have to deceive ourselves, and to believe that whatever we wish will be accomplished. Ah! Miss Fitzalan, deprive me not of so sweet a belief; I will not at present urge you to any material step to which you are averse; I will only entreat for permission to hope that time, perseverance, unremitted attention, may make some impression on you, and at last produce a change in my favour.”
“Never, Sir Charles, will I give rise to a hope which I think cannot be realized: a little reflection will convince you, you should not be displeased, at my being so explicit. We are, at this moment, both, perhaps, too much discomposed to render a longer conference desirable; pardon me, therefore, if I now terminate it, and be assured, I shall never lose a grateful remembrance of the honour you intended me, or forget the friendship I professed for Sir Charles Bingley.”
She then withdrew, without any obstruction from him: regret and disappointment seemed to have suspended his faculties; but it was a momentary suspension, and on recovering them, he quitted the house.
His pride, at first, urged him to give up Amanda forever; but his tenderness soon repressed his resolution. He had, as he himself acknowledged, a propensity to believe, that whatever he wished was easy to accomplish: this propensity proceeded from the easiness with which his inclinations had hitherto been gratified; flattering himself that the coldness of Amanda proceeded more from natural reserve than particular indifference to him, he still hoped she might be induced to favour him. She was so superior, in his opinion, to every woman he had seen; so truly calculated to render him happy, that as the violence of offended pride abated, he resolved, without another effort, not to give her up. Without knowing it, he had rambled to St. James’s square, and having heard of the friendship subsisting between lord Cherbury and Fitzalan, he deemed his lordship a proper 248 person to apply to on the present occasion; thinking, that if he interested himself in his favour, he might yet be successful. He accordingly repaired to his house, and was shown into an apartment where the earl and Lord Mortimer were sitting together. After paying the usual compliments, “I am come, my lord,” said he, somewhat abruptly, “to entreat your interests in an affair which materially concerns my happiness, and trust your lordship will excuse my entreaty, when I inform you it relates to Miss Fitzalan.”
The earl, with much politeness, assured him, “he should feel happy in an opportunity of serving him,” and said “he did him but justice in supposing him particularly interested about Miss Fitzalan, not only as the daughter of his old friend, but from her own great merit.”
Sir Charles then acquainted him with the proposals he had just made her, and her absolute rejection of them; expressing his hope that Lord Cherbury would try to influence her in his favour.
“’Tis very extraordinary indeed,” cried his lordship, “that Miss Fitzalan should decline such an honorable, such an advantageous proposal; are you sure, Sir Charles, there is no prior attachment in the case?”
“I never heard of one, my lord, and I believe none exists.” Lord Mortimer’s countenance lowered at this, but happily its gloom was unperceived.
“I will write to-day,” said the earl, “to Mr. Fitzalan, and mention your proposals to him in the terms it deserves; except authorized by him, you must, Sir Charles, excuse my personal interference in the affair: I have no doubt, indeed, but he will approve of your addresses, and you may then depend upon my seconding them with all my interest.”
This promise satisfied Sir Charles, and he soon after withdrew. Lord Mortimer was now pretty well convinced of the state of Amanda’s heart: under this conviction, he delayed not many minutes after Sir Charles’s departure, going to Pall Mall; and having particularly inquired whether Lady Greystock was out, and being answered in the affirmative, he ascended to the drawing-room, to which Amanda had again returned.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXVI
A party for vingt-un was formed,
text has vingtun
my conduct has excited some surprise
text has excitedsome without space
In the drawing-room were already assembled the marquis, marchioness, Lady Euphrasia, Miss Malcolm, and Freelove.
In an emotion of surprise at so unexpected a visit, the book she was reading dropped from Amanda, and she arose in visible agitation.