The Children of the Abbey
Oh how this tyrant doubt torments my breast,
In thoughts, like birds, who frightened from their rest,
Around the place where all was hush’d before,
Flutter, and hardly settle any more.
Lord Mortimer, distrest by the indisposition of Amanda, hastened, at an earlier hour than usual (for his morning visits) to Portman Square, and was ushered into Lady Euphrasia’s dressing room, where she and Miss Malcolm, who had continued with her the preceding night, were sitting tête-à-tête at breakfast. His lordship was a welcome visitor, but it was soon obvious on whose account he had made his appearance, for scarcely were the usual compliments over, ere he inquired about Miss Fitzalan.
Lady Euphrasia said, she was still unwell, and had not yet left her apartment.
“She has not yet recovered the surprise of last night,” exclaimed Miss Malcolm with a malicious smile.
“What surprise?” asked his lordship.
“Dear me,” replied Miss Malcolm, “was not your lordship present at the time she met Colonel Belgrave?”
“No,” said Lord Mortimer, changing colour, “I was not 266 But what has Colonel Belgrave to say to Miss Fitzalan?” asked he in an agitated voice.
“That is a question your lordship must put to the young lady her self,” answered Miss Malcolm.
“Now I declare,” cried Lady Euphrasia, addressing her friend, “’tis very probable her illness did not proceed from seeing Colonel Belgrave; you know she never mentioned being acquainted with him, though her father was his tenant in Devonshire.”
Lord Mortimer grew more disturbed, and rose abruptly.
Lady Euphrasia mentioned their intention of going that evening to the play, and invited him to be of the party: he accepted her invitation and retired.
His visible distress was a source of infinite mirth to the young ladies, which they indulged, the moment he quitted the room. The circumstance relative to Belgrave, the marchioness had informed them of; as she and Lady Greystock were near Amanda when she met him.
Lord Mortimer was unhappy: the mind which has once harboured suspicion, will, from the most trivial circumstance, be tempted again to give admission to the unpleasing guest: nor was it a trivial circumstance which discomposed the too susceptible heart of Mortimer. The sudden illness of Amanda, her extraordinary agitation, her eagerness to quit the room, the close, though silent attendance of Belgrave; all these, I say, when recalled to recollection, gave an air of probability to Miss Malcolm’s insinuation, that her disorder was occasioned by seeing him. From residing more constantly in England than Sir Charles Bingley had done, he had more opportunities of learning Belgrave’s real character, which he knew to be that of a professed libertine. It was strange, he thought, that when Amanda informed him she once resided in Devonshire, she should conceal her father’s being the colonel’s tenant: he began to think her reluctance to a clandestine and immediate marriage, might have proceeded from some secret attachment, and not from a strict adherence to filial duty, which had exalted her so much in his opinion.
Yet the idea was scarcely formed ere he endeavoured to suppress it: he started as if from an uneasy dream, and wondered how he could have conceived this, or any other idea, injurious to Amanda; he felt a degree of remorse at having allowed her, for a moment, to 267 be lessened in his opinion; her tenderness, her purity, he said to himself, could not be feigned; no, she was a treasure greater than he deserved to possess; nor would he, like a wayward son of error, fling away the happiness he had so long desired to obtain.
The calm this resolution produced was but transient; doubts had been raised, and doubts could not be banished; he was inclined to think them unjust, yet had not power to dispel them. Vainly he applied to the ideas which had heretofore been such consolatory resources of comfort to him, namely, that his father would consent to his union with Amanda, through the interference of his aunt, and the felicity he should enjoy in that union: an unusual heaviness clung to his heart, which like a gloomy sky, cast a shade of sadness over every prospect. Thoughtful and pensive he reached home, just as Sir Charles Bingley was entering the door, who informed him he had just received a note from Lord Cherbury, desiring his immediate presence.
Lord Mortimer attended him to the earl, who acquainted him that he had received a letter from Mr. Fitzalan, in which he expressed a warm sense of the honour Sir Charles did his family, by addressing Miss Fitzalan: and that to have her united to a character so truly estimable would give him the truest happiness, from a conviction that hers would be secured by such an union. “He has written to his daughter, expressing his sentiments,” continued Lord Cherbury: “I have therefore no doubt. Sir Charles, but what every thing will succeed to your wish.”
“I am sorry, my lord,” cried Sir Charles, with an agitated voice, and a cheek flushed with emotion, “that I ever troubled your lordship in this affair, as I have now, and forever, relinquished all ideas of a union with Miss Fitzalan.”
“The resolution is really somewhat extraordinary and sudden,” replied the earl, “after the conversation which so lately passed between us.”
“Adopted, however, my lord, from a thorough conviction that happiness could never be attained in a union with that young lady.” Sir Charles’s tenderness for Amanda was still undiminished: he wished to preserve her from censure, and thus proceeded:
“Your lordship must allow that I could have little chance of happiness in allying myself to a woman who has resolutely and uniformly 268 treated me with indifference: passion blinded my reason, when I addressed your lordship relative to Miss Fitzalan, but its mists are now dispersed, and sober reflection obliges me to relinquish a scheme, whose accomplishment could not possibly give me satisfaction.”
“You are certainly the best judge of your own actions, Sir Charles,” replied the earl; “my acting in the affair proceeded from a wish to serve you, as well as from my friendship to Captain Fitzalan: I must suppose your conduct will never disparage your own honour, or cast a slight upon Miss Fitzalan.”
“That, my lord, you may be assured of,” said Sir Charles, with some warmth, “my actions and their motives have hitherto, and will ever, I trust, bear the strictest investigation. I cannot retire without thanking your lordship for the interest you took in my favour; had things succeeded as I then hoped and expected, I cannot deny but I should have been much happier than I am at present.” He then bowed and retired.
Lord Mortimer had listened with astonishment to Sir Charles’s relinquishment of Amanda: like his father, he thought it a sudden and extraordinary resolution: he was before jealous of Amanda’s love—he was now jealous of her honour. The agitation of Sir Charles seemed to imply even a cause more powerful than her coldness, for resigning her; he recollected that the baronet and the colonel were intimate friends: distracted by apprehensions, he rushed out of the house, and overtook Sir Charles ere he had quitted the square.
“Why, Bingley,” cried he, with affected gaiety, “I thought you too valiant a knight to be easily overcome by despair; and that without first trying every effort to win her favour, you never would give up a fair lady you had set your heart on.”
“I leave such efforts for your lordship,” replied Sir Charles, “of those who have equal patience.”
“But seriously, Bingley, I think this sudden resignation of Miss Fitzalan somewhat strange: why, last night I could have sworn you were as much attached to her as ever. From Lord Cherbury’s friendship for Captain Fitzalan, I think her in some degree under his protection and mine; and as the particularity of your attentions attracted observation, I think your abruptly withdrawing them requires explanation.”269
“As Lord Cherbury was the person I applied to, relative to Miss Fitzalan,” exclaimed Sir Charles, “and as he was satisfied with the motive I assigned for my conduct, be assured, my lord, I shall never give another to you.”
“Your words,” retorted Lord Mortimer, with warmth, “imply that there was another motive for your conduct, than the one you avowed: what horrid inference may not be drawn from such an insinuation? Oh, Sir Charles, reputation is a fragile flower, which the slightest breath may injure.”
“My lord, if Miss Fitzalan’s reputation is never injured but by my means, it will ever continue unsullied.”
“I cannot, indeed,” resumed Lord Mortimer, “style myself her guardian, but I consider myself her friend; and from the feelings of friendship, shall ever evince my interest in her welfare and resent any conduct which can possibly render her an object of censure to any being.”
“Allow me to ask your lordship one question,” cried Sir Charles, “and promise, on your honour, to answer it.”
“I do promise,” said Lord Mortimer.
“Then, my lord, did you ever really wish I should succeed with Miss Fitzalan?”
Lord Mortimer coloured, “You expect. Sir Charles, I shall answer you on my honour? Then really I never did.”
“Your passions and mine,” continued Sir Charles, “are impetuous; we had better check them in time, lest they lead us to lengths we may hereafter repent of. Of Miss Fitzalan’s fame, be assured no man could be more tenacious than I should: I love her with the truest ardour:—her acceptance of my proposals would have given me felicity:—my suddenly withdrawing them, can never injure her, when I declare my motive for so doing, was her indifference. Lord Cherbury is satisfied with the reason I have assigned for resigning her; he is conscious that no man of sensibility could experience happiness with a woman, in whose heart he knew he had no interest; this, I suppose, your lordship will allow.”
“Certainly,” replied Lord Mortimer.
“Then it strikes me, my lord, that it is your conduct, not mine, which has a tendency to injure Miss Fitzalan: that it is your words, not mine, which convey an insinuation against her: you really 270 appear as if conscious some other cause existed, which would have made me relinquish her, without the one I have already assigned for doing so.”
Lord Mortimer was instantly convinced of the justice of what Sir Charles said; he began to fear his warmth would really prove prejudicial to Amanda; betray the doubts which had obtruded on his mind, and communicate them to those who might not be equally influenced by tenderness and delicacy to conceal them.
“You are right, Sir Charles,” said he, “in what you have said; passion, like a bad advocate, hurts the cause in which it is engaged. From my knowledge of your character, I should have been convinced your honour would have prevented any improper conduct. You are going to Ireland; permit me, Sir Charles, to offer you my best wishes for your future happiness.”
Sir Charles took Lord Mortimer’s extended hand:—he respected and esteemed his lordship, and a mutual interchange of good wishes took place between them, as this was the last interview they expected for a long time.
The indisposition of Amanda was more of the mental than the bodily kind, and on the first intimation of a party to the play, she agreed to join it, in hopes the amusement would remove her dejection. Her father’s letter, relative to Sir Charles Bingley, had given her some uneasiness, but as he left her free to act, she contented herself with using the negative he allowed her, by a solemn resolution of never acting contrary to his inclination, and answered his letter to this purpose.
Lord Mortimer and Freelove attended the ladies in the evening to the play. His lordship found an opportunity of tenderly inquiring after Amanda’s health.—When they were seated in the house, he perceived a lady in another box, to whom he wished to speak, and accordingly left his party. The lady offered him a seat by herself, which he accepted. She was a stranger to Amanda, young, and extremely beautiful.—Amanda, however, had none of that foolish weakness which could make her dread a rival in every new face, or feel uneasiness at Lord Mortimer’s attention to any woman but her self; assured that his affections for her were founded on the basis of esteem, and that she would retain them while worthy of esteem, she could, without being discomposed by the agreeable conversation he 271 appeared enjoying, fix her attentions on the stage; so entirely, indeed, that she observed not, from time to time, the glances Lord Mortimer directed towards her: not so his fair companion; she noticed the wanderings of his eyes, and her own involuntarily pursued their course. She was speaking at the moment, but suddenly stopped, and Lord Mortimer saw her change colour. He turned pale himself, and in a faltering voice asked her, “if she knew the lady she had been looking at?”
“Know her?” replied she, “oh heavens! but too well.”
Lord Mortimer trembled universally, and was compelled to have recourse to his handkerchief, to hide his emotion.
It was by Adela, the lovely and neglected wife of Belgrave, he was sitting; she had been a short time in London, and her acquaintance with Lord Mortimer commenced at a ball, where she had danced with him. He was not one of those kind of men who when in love have neither eyes nor ears, but for the object of that love; he could see perfections in other women besides his Amanda, and was particularly well pleased with Mrs. Belgrave. He instantly perceived that she knew Amanda; also, that that knowledge was attended with pain. The well known profligacy of her husband intruded on his memory, and he shuddered at the dreadful thoughts which arose in his mind.
Curiosity had directed the eyes of Adela to Amanda, but an admiration, and an idea of having somewhere before seen her face, riveted them upon her; at last the picture Oscar Fitzalan had shown, occurred to her recollection, and she was immediately convinced it was no other than the original of that picture she now saw. Shocked at the sight of a person, who as she thought, had stepped (though innocently) between her and her felicity; and distressed by the emotions which past scenes thus recalled gave rise to, she entreated Lord Mortimer to conduct her from the box, that she might return home.
He complied with her request, but stopped in the lobby, and entreated her to tell him “where she had known the lady she had so attentively regarded.” Adela blushed, and would, if possible, have evaded the question; but the earnestness of his lordship’s manner, compelled her to answer it. She said “she had no personal knowledge of the lady, but recollected her face, from having seen her picture with a gentleman.”272
“And who was the gentleman?” asked Lord Mortimer, with a forced smile, and a faltering voice.
“That,” replied Adela, with involuntary quickness, “I will not tell.”
“I should apologize, indeed,” cried Lord Mortimer, recollecting himself, “for a curiosity which may appear impertinent.” He led her to a chair, and deliberated whether he should not follow her example in quitting the house.
Miss Malcolm had first made him uneasy; uneasiness introduced doubts, which Sir Charles Bingley had increased, and Mrs. Belgrave almost confirmed. He dreaded a horrid confirmation of his fears; the picture, like Othello’s handkerchief, was a source of unspeakable anguish. The agitation that Mrs. Belgrave had betrayed, on mentioning it, joined to her concealment of the gentleman she had seen it with, tempted him to believe he was no other than her husband.
Yet, that he might not be accused of yielding rashly to jealousy, he resolved to confine his suspicions, like his pangs, to his own bosom, except assured they were well founded; a little time, he supposed would determine the opinion he should form of Amanda. If he found she encouraged Belgrave, he resolved to leave her without an explanation; if, on the contrary, he saw that she avoided him, he meant to mention the circumstance of the picture to her, yet so as not to hurt her feelings, and be regulated by her answer, relative to his future conduct. He returned at last to the box, and procured a seat behind her. He had not occupied it long, ere Colonel Belgrave (who from a retired part of the house, where he sat with some female friends, had observed Amanda) entered the next box, and made his way to the pillar against which she leaned.—He endeavoured to catch her eyes, but the noise he made on entering put her on her guard, and she instantly averted her face. Her embarrassment was visible to her party, and they all, Lord Mortimer excepted, enjoyed it; scarcely could he refrain from chastising the audacity of Belgrave’s looks, who still continued to gaze on Amanda, though he could not see her face; nothing but the discovery which such a step would produce, could have prevented his lordship, in his present irritable state of mind, from chastising what he deemed the height of insolence.
At last the hour came for relieving Amanda from a situation 273 extremely painful to her. As Lord Mortimer sat next the marchioness, he was compelled to offer her his hand. Freelove led Lady Euphrasia; Lady Greystock and Miss Malcolm followed her, and Amanda was the last who quitted the box. A crowd in the lobby impeded their progress. Amanda was close behind the marchioness, when Belgrave forced his way to her, and attempted to take her hand at the very moment Lord Mortimer turned to look at her, who heard him say, “Dear, though unkind Amanda, why this cruel change in your conduct?”
The eyes of Mortimer flashed fire: “Miss Fitzalan,” said he, in a voice trembling through passion, “if you will accept my arm I will make way for you, or at least secure you from impertinence.” Amanda, though trembling and confounded by his looks, hesitated not to accept his offer. Belgrave knew his words alluded to him; at present, however, he resolved not to resent them, convinced that if he did, his views on Amanda would be defeated. From that moment her beauty was not more powerful in stimulating his designs, than his desire of revenge on Lord Mortimer: he saw he was fondly attached to Amanda, and he believed his proud heart would feel no event so afflictive as that which should deprive him of her.
Lord Mortimer handed Amanda to the carriage; he was pressed to return to supper, but refused. The ladies found the marquis and Lord Cherbury together.—Amanda retired to her chamber immediately after supper; the presence of Belgrave had increased the dejection which she hoped the amusements of the theatre would have dissipated; she now, indeed, longed for the period when she should be entitled to the protection of Lord Mortimer; when she should no longer dread the audacity or stratagems of Belgrave. Lord Cherbury, on her retiring, expressed his regret at her coldness to Sir Charles Bingley, by which she had lost a most honourable and advantageous attachment.
This was an opportunity not to be neglected by the marchioness, for commencing her operations against Fitzalan. A glance to Lady Greystock was the signal to begin.
“To those,” said Lady Greystock, “who are ignorant of Miss Fitzalan’s real motives for refusing Sir Charles, it must appear, no doubt, extraordinary: but ambitious people are not easily satisfied. 274 Indeed I cannot blame her so much for entertaining aspiring notions, as those who instilled them into her
Lord Cherbury started, and requested an explanation of her words.
“Why I declare, my lord,” cried she, “I do not know but that it will be more friendly to explain than conceal my meaning; when once informed of the young lady’s views, pour lordship may be able to convince her of her fallacy, and prevail on her not to lose another good opportunity of settling herself in consequence of them; in short, my lord. Miss Fitzalan, prompted by her father, has cast her eyes on Lord Mortimer: presuming on your friendship, he thought a union between them might easily be accomplished. I do not believe Lord Mortimer at first gave any encouragement to their designs; but when the girl was thrown continually in his way, it was impossible not to notice her at last. I really expressed a thorough disapprobation to her coming to London, knowing their motives for designing the excursion, but her father never ceased persecuting me, till I consented to take her under my protection.”
“Upon my word,” cried the marquis, who was not of the ladies’ privy council, though, if he had, it is probable he would not have objected to their schemes, “Captain Fitzalan must have had some such motive as this Lady Greystock has mentioned for sending his daughter to London, or else he would not have been so ridiculous as to put himself to the expense of fitting her out for company she has no right to enter.”
“I never thought,” exclaimed Lord Cherbury, whose mind was irritated to the most violent degree of resentment against his injured friend, “that Captain Fitzalan could have acted with such duplicity. He knew the views I entertained for my son: there is a mean treachery in his attempting to counteract them.”
“Nay, my lord,” said Lady Greystock, “you are a father yourself, and must make allowances for the anxiety of a parent to establish a child.”
“No, madam,” he replied, “I can make no allowance for a deviation from integrity, or for a sacrifice of honour and gratitude at the shrine of interest. The subject has discomposed me, and I must beg to be excused for abruptly retiring: nothing, indeed, I believe, can wound one so severely as deceit, where one reposed implicit confidence.”275
The ladies were enraptured at the success of their scheme. The passion of Lord Cherbury could scarcely be smothered in their presence. On the head of Fitzalan they knew it would burst with full violence. They did not mention Belgrave; relative to him they resolved to affect profound ignorance.
The passions of Lord Cherbury were impetuous. He had, as I have already hinted, secret motives for desiring a connection between his family and the marquis’s; and the idea of that desire being defeated drove him almost to distraction. He knew his son’s passions, though not so easily irritated as his own, were, when once irritated, equally violent. To remonstrate; with him concerning Miss Fitzalan, he believed, would be unavailing; he therefore resolved, if possible, to have her removed out of his way, ere he apprised him of the discovery he had made of his attachment. He entertained not a doubt of Lady Greystock’s veracity; from his general knowledge of mankind, he believed self the predominant consideration in every breast. His feelings were too violent not to seek an immediate vent, and ere he went to bed, he wrote a bitter and reproachful letter to Fitzalan, which concluded with an entreaty, or rather a command, to send without delay for his daughter. A dreadful stroke this for poor Fitzalan.
After all his wanderings round this world of care,
And all his griefs,
he hoped he had at last found a spot, where his latter days might close in tranquillity.
The innocent Amanda was received the next morning with smiles, by those who were preparing a plot for her destruction.
Whilst at breakfast, a servant informed Lady Greystock a young woman wanted to speak to her.
“Who is she?” asked her ladyship; “did she not send up her name?”
“No, my lady, but she said she had particular business with your ladyship.”
The marchioness directed she might be shown up, and a girl about seventeen was accordingly ushered into the room. Her figure was delicate, and her face interesting, not only from its innocence, but the strong expression of melancholy diffused over it. She appeared 276 trembling with confusion and timidity, and the poverty of her apparel implied the source of her dejection.
“So, child,” said Lady Greystock, after surveying her from head to foot, “I am told you have business with me.”
“Yes, madam,” replied she, in an accent so low as scarcely to be heard; “my father, Captain Rushbrook, desired me to deliver a letter to your ladyship.”
She presented it, and endeavoured to screen herself from the scrutinizing and contemptuous glances of Lady Euphrasia by pulling her hat over her face.
“I wonder, child,” said Lady Greystock, as she opened the letter, “what your father can write to me about. I don’t suppose it can be about the affair he mentioned the other day.—Why, really,” continued she, after she had perused it. “I believe he takes me for a fool; I am astonished, after his insolent conduct, how he can possibly have the assurance to make application to me for relief; no, no, child, he neglected the opportunity he had of securing me as his friend; it would really be a sin to give him the power of bringing up his family in idleness; no, no, child, he must learn you, and the other little dainty misses he has, to do something for yourselves.”
The poor girl blushed; a tear trembled in her eye, she tried to suppress it, but it forced its way, and dropped into her bosom. Amanda, inexpressibly shocked, could support the scene no longer; she retired precipitately, and descended to the parlour; sympathy as well as compassion made her feel for this daughter of affliction, for she herself knew what it was to feel the insolence of prosperity, “the proud man’s scorn, and all those ills which patient merit of the unworthy takes.”
In a few minutes Miss Rushbrook quitted the drawing-room and stopped in the hall to wipe away her tears. Amanda had been watching for her, and now appeared. She started and was hurrying away, when Amanda caught her hand, and, leading her softly to the parlour, endeavoured with angelic sweetness, to calm her emotion. Surprised at this unexpected attention, and overcome by her feelings, the poor girl sunk on her chair, and dropping her head on Amanda’s bosom, wet it with a shower of tears, as she exclaimed, “Alas! my unfortunate parents, how can I return to behold your misery? the grave is the only refuge for you and your wretched children.”277
“You must not encourage such desponding thoughts,” said Amanda; “Providence, all bounteous, and all powerful, is able in a short time to change the gloomiest scene into one of brightness. Tell me,” she continued, after a pause, “where do you reside?”
“Kensington,” repeated Amanda, “surely in your present situation, you are unable to take such a walk.”
“I must attempt it, however,” replied Miss Rushbrook.
Amanda walked from her to the window, revolving a scheme which had just darted into her mind; “If you know any house,” said she, “where you could stay for a short time, I would call on you in a carriage and leave you at home.”
This offer was truly pleasing to the poor, weak, trembling girl, but she modestly declined it, from the fear of giving trouble. Amanda besought her not to waste time in such unnecessary scruples, but to give her the desired information.
She accordingly informed her there was a haberdasher’s in Bond-street, mentioning the name, where she could stay till called for.
This point settled, Amanda, fearful of being surprised, conducted her softly to the hall-door, and immediately returned to the drawing-room, where she found Lady Euphrasia just to read Rushbrook’s letter, for her mother’s amusement.
Its style evidently denoted the painful conflicts there were between pride and distress, ere the former could be sufficiently subdued to allow an application for relief to the person who had occasioned the latter; the sight of a tender and beloved wife languishing in the arms of sickness, surrounded by a family under the pressure of the severest; want, had forced him to a step which, on his own account, no necessity could have compelled him to take. He and his family, he said, had drank the cup of misery to the very dregs: he waved the claims of justice, he only asserted those of humanity, in his present application to her ladyship; and these he flattered himself she would allow; he had sent a young petitioner in his behalf; whose tearful eyes, whose faded cheek, were sad evidences of the misery he described.
The marchioness declared she was astonished at his insolence in making such an application, and Lady Euphrasia protested it was the frost ridiculous stuff she had ever read.
Amanda, in this, as well as many other instances, differed from her 278 ladyship; but her opinion, like a little project she had in view about the Rushbrooks, was carefully concealed.
Out of the allowance her father made her for clothes, and other expenses, about ten guineas remained, which she had intended laying out in the purchase of some ornaments for her appearance at a ball to be given in the course of the ensuing week, by the duchess of B——, and for which at the time of invitation, Lord Mortimer had engaged her for his partner: to give up going to this ball, to consecrate to charity the money devoted to vanity, was her project; and most fortunate did she deem the application of Rushbrook, ere her purchase was made, and she consequently prevented from giving her mite. Her soul revolted from the inhumanity of the marchioness, her daughter and Lady Greystock. Exempt from the calamities of want themselves, they forgot the pity due to those calamities in others. If this coldness, this obduracy, she cried within herself, is the effect of prosperity: if thus it closes the avenues of benevolence and compassion, oh! never may the dangerous visitor approach me, for ill should I think the glow of compassion, and sensibility exchanged for all its gaudy pleasures.
The ladies had mentioned their intention of going to an auction, where, to use Lady Euphrasia’s phrase, “they expected to see all the world.” Amanda excused herself from being of the party, saying, she wanted to make some purchases in the city. Her excuse was readily admitted, and when they retired to their respective toilets, she sent for a carriage, and being prepared against it came, immediately stept into it, and was driven to Bond street, where she found Miss Rushbrook with trembling anxiety waiting her arrival.
their way to Kensington, the tenderness of Amanda at once conciliated the affection, and gained the entire confidence of her young companion. She related the little history of her parent’s sorrows. Her father on returning from America, with his wife and six children, had been advised by Mr. Heathfield, the friend who had effected a reconciliation between him and his uncle, to commence a suit against Lady Greystock, on the presumption that the will, by which she enjoyed Sir Geoffry’s fortune, was illegally executed. He offered him his purse to carry on the suit, and his house for a habitation. gratefully and gladly accepted both offers, and having disposed of his commission, to discharge some present demands 279 against him, he and his family took up their residence under Mr. Heathfield’s hospitable roof. In the midst of the felicity enjoyed beneath it; in the midst of the hopes of their own sanguine tempers, and the flattering suggestions the lawyers had excited, a violent fever carried off their benevolent friend ere the will was executed, in which he had promised largely to consider Rushbrook. His heir, narrow and illiberal, had long feared that his interest would be hurt by the affection he entertained for Rushbrook; and as if in revenge for the pain this fear had given, the moment he had power to show his malignant disposition, sold all the furniture of the house at Kensington, and, as a great favour, told Rushbrook he might continue in it till the expiration of the half year, when it was to be given up to the landlord. The lawyers understanding the state of his finances, soon informed him he could no longer expect their assistance. Thus, almost in one moment, did all his pleasing prospects vanish, and,
Like the baseless fabric of a vision, left not a wreck behind.
As a duty he owed his family, he tried whether Lady Greystock would make a compromise between justice and avarice, and afford him some means of support. Her insolence and inhumanity shocked him to the soul; and as he left her presence, he resolved never to enter it again, or apply to her: this last resolution, however, only continued till the distress of his family grew so great as to threaten their existence, particularly that of his wife, who, overpowered by grief, had sunk into a languishing illness, which every day increased for want of proper assistance.
In hopes of procuring her some, he was tempted again to apply to Lady Greystock. The youth and innocence of his daughter would, he thought, if anything could do it, soften her flinty heart; besides, he believed that pleasure, at finding his pretensions to the fortune entirely withdrawn, would influence her to administer from it to his wants.
“We have,” said Miss Rushbrook, as she concluded her simple narration, “tried, and been disappointed in our last resource: what will become of us I know not; we have long been strangers to the comforts, but even the necessaries of life we cannot now procure.”
“Comfort,” cried Amanda, “often arrives when least expected: to despair is to doubt the goodness of a Being who has promised to protect all his creatures.”
The carriage had now reached Kensington, and within a few yards 280 of Rushbrook’s habitation, Amanda stopt it; she took Miss Rushbrook’s hand, and as she shpt a ten pound note into it, exclaimed, “I trust the period is not far distant, when the friendship we have conceived for each other, may be cultivated under more fortunate auspices.”
Miss Rushbrook opened the folded paper; she started and “the hectic of a moment flushed her cheek.” “Oh! madam,” she cried, “your goodness—” tears impeded her further utterance.
“Do not distress me,” said Amanda, again taking her hand, “by mentioning such a trifle; was my ability equal to my inclination, I should blush to offer it to your acceptance: as it is, consider it but as the foretaste of the bounty which heaven has, I doubt not, in store for you.”
She then desired the door to be opened, and told her companion she would no longer detain her. Miss Rushbrook affectionately kissed her hand and exclaimed, “You look like an angel, and your goodness is correspondent to your looks, I will not, madam, refuse your bounty; I accept it with gratitude, for those dearer to me than myself: but ah! may I not indulge a hope of seeing you again? you are so kind, so gentle, madam, that every care is lulled into forgetfulness whilst conversing with you.” “I shall certainly see you again as soon as possible,” replied Amanda.
Miss Rushbrook then quitted the carriage, which Amanda ordered back to town, and bid the coachman drive as fast as possible. They had not proceeded far, when the traces suddenly gave way; and the man was obliged to dismount, and procure assistance from a public house on the road, in repairing them. This occasioned a delay, which greatly distressed Amanda; she wished greatly to get home before the ladies, lest, if this was not the case, her long absence should make Lady Greystock, who was remarkably inquisitive, inquire the reason of it; and to tell her she had a strong objection, convinced as she was, that her ladyship’s knowing she relieved objects so extremely disagreeable to her would occasion a quarrel between them, which would either render a long residence together impossible, or highly disagreeable; and to leave London at the present crisis, when everything relative to Lord Mortimer was drawing to a conclusion, was not to be thought of without the greatest pain.
At length the coachman remounted his box, and the velocity with which he drove flattered her with the hope of reaching home as soon 281 as she wished. Tranquillized by this hope, she again indulged her imagination with ideas of the comfort her little bounty had probably given Rushbrook and his dejected family; so sweet to her soul was the secret approbation which crowned her charity, so preferable to any pleasure she could have experienced at a ball, that even the disappointment she believed Lord Mortimer would feel from her declining it, was overlooked in the satisfaction she felt from the action she performed. She was convinced he would inquire her reason for not going, which she determined at to conceal; it would appear like ostentation, she thought, to say that the money requisite for her appearing at the ball was expended in charity, and perhaps excite his generosity, in a manner which delicacy at present forbid her allowing.
She asked the footman who handed her from the carriage whether the ladies were returned; and, on being answered in the affirmative, inquired the hour, and learned it was just dinner time. Flurried by this intelligence, she hastened to her chamber, followed by the maid appointed to attend her, who said Lady Greystock had inquired for her as soon as she came home. Amanda dressed herself with unusual expedition, and repaired to the drawing-room, where, in addition to the family party, she found Lord Mortimer, Freelove, Miss Malcolm, and some other ladies and gentlemen, assembled.
“Bless me, child!” said Lady Greystock, the moment she entered the room, “where have you been the whole day?”
“I declare. Miss Fitzalan,” exclaimed Lady Euphrasia, “I believe you stole a march somewhere upon us this morning.”
“Well,” cried Miss Malcolm, laughing, “your ladyship must know that people generally have some important reason for stolen marches, which they do not choose to divulge.”
Amanda treated this malicious insinuation with the silent contempt it merited; and on Lady Greystock’s again asking her where she had been, said in a low, hesitating voice, “In the city.”
“In the city?” repeated Lord Mortimer.
This sudden exclamation startled her: she looked at him, and perceived him regarding her with the most scrutinizing eagerness. She blushed deeply, as if detected in a falsehood, and immediately bent her eyes to the ground.
The conversation now changed, but it was some time ere Amanda’s confusion subsided.282
Lord Mortimer, indeed, had a reason for his exclamation she little thought of. He had met the marchioness and her companions, by appointment, at the auction, but soon grew weary of his situation, which the presence of Amanda could alone have rendered tolerable. He pleaded business as an excuse for withdrawing, and hurrying home, ordered his phaeton, and proceeded towards Kensington. An he passed the carriage in which Amanda sat, at the time the traces were mending, he carelessly looked into it, and directly recognized her. Lady Euphrasia had informed him she excused herself from their party on account of some business in the city. He never heard of her having any acquaintances in or about Kensington, and was at once alarmed and surprised by discovering her. He drove to some distance from the carriage, and as soon as it began to move pursued it with equal velocity till it reached town, and then giving his phaeton in charge of the servant, followed it on foot till he saw Amanda alight from it at the Marquis of Rosline’s. Amanda had escaped seeing his lordship, by a profound meditation in which she was engaged at the moment, as she pensively leaned against the side of the carriage. Lord Mortimer walked back with increased disorder to meet his phaeton. As he approached it he saw Colonel Belgrave by it, on horseback, admiring the horses, which were remarkably fine, and asking to whom they belonged. His acquaintance with the colonel had hitherto never exceeded more than a passing bow; now prompted by an irresistible impulse, he saluted him familiarly: inquired “whether he had had a pleasant ride that morning, and how far he had been.”
“No farther than Kensington,” replied the colonel.
This answer was confirmation strong to all the fears of Lord Mortimer; he turned pale, dropped the reins he had, with an intention of remounting, and without even noticing the colonel, flew from the place and arrived at home in almost a state of distraction. He was engaged to dine at the marquis’s, but in the first violence of his feelings, resolved on sending an apology. Ere the servant, however, summoned for that purpose, had entered his apartment, he changed his resolution. “I will go,” said he, “though appearances are against her, she may perhaps (and he tried to derive some comfort from the idea) be able satisfactorily to account for being at Kensington.”
Tortured by conflicting passions, alternately hoping and doubting, he arrived in Portman Square.283
Lady Greystock and Lady Euphrasia dwelt with wonder on the length of Amanda’s morning excursion. When she entered the room, he thought she appeared embarrassed; and that on Lady Greystock’s addressing her, this embarrassment increased; but when she said she had been in the city, her duplicity, as he termed it, appeared so monstrous to him, that he could not forbear an involuntary repetition of her words; so great indeed was the indignation it excited in his breast, that he could scarcely forbear reproaching her as the destroyer of his and her own felicity. Her blush appeared to him, not the ingenuous colouring of innocence, but the glow of shame and guilt. It was evident to him that she had seen Belgrave that morning; that he was the occasion of all the mystery which appeared in her conduct, and that it was the knowledge of the improper influence he had over her heart, which made Sir Charles Bingley so suddenly resign her.
“Gracious heaven!” said he to himself, “who that looked upon Amanda, could ever suppose duplicity harboured in her breast; yet that too surely it is, I have every reason to suppose; yet a little longer I will bear this tormenting suspense, nor reveal my doubts, till thoroughly convinced they are well
He sat opposite to her at dinner, and his eyes were directed towards her with that tender sadness which we feel on viewing a beloved object we know ourselves on the point of losing for ever.
His melancholy was quickly perceived by the penetrating marchioness and Lady Euphrasia; they saw with delight that the poison of suspicion infused into his mind, was already beginning to operate; they anticipated the success of all their schemes; their spirits grew uncommonly elevated, and Lady Euphrasia determined, whenever she had the power, to revenge on the susceptible nature of Mortimer, all the uneasiness he had made her suffer: and to add, as far as malice could add to it, to the misery about to be the lot of Amanda.
The dejection of Lord Mortimer was also observed by Amanda; it excited her fears and affected her sensibility; she dreaded that his aunt had refused complying with his request relative to her interference with his father, or that the earl had been urging him to an immediate union with Lady Euphrasia: perhaps he now wavered between love and duty: the thought struck a cold damp upon her 284 heart—yet no, cried she, it cannot be; if inclined to change, Lord Mortimer would at once have informed me.
In the evening there was a large addition to the party, but Lord Mortimer sat pensively apart from the company. Amanda by chance procured a seat next his. His paleness alarmed her, and she could not forbear hinting her fears that he was ill.
“I am ill indeed,” said he heavily:—he looked at her as he spoke, and beheld her regarding him with the most exquisite tenderness; but the period was past for receiving delight from such an appearance of affection; an affection he had reason to believe was never more than feigned for him: and also from his emotions when with her, that he should never cease regretting the deception; his passions exhausted by their own violence, had sunk into a calm, and sadness was the predominant feeling of his soul. Though he so bitterly lamented, he could not at the moment have reproached her perfidy: he gazed on her with mournful tenderness, and to the involuntary expression of regret which dropped from her, on hearing he was ill, only replied, by saying, “Ah! Amanda, the man that really excites your tenderness must be happy.”
Amanda, unconscious that any sinister meaning lurked beneath these words, considered them as an acknowledgment of the happiness he himself experienced from being convinced of her regard; and her heart swelled with pleasure at the idea.
Any farther conversation between them was interrupted by Miss Malcolm, who, in a laughing manner, seated herself by Lord Mortimer to rally him, she said, into good spirits.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter XXVIII
“I was not present.
text has present;
those who instilled them into her mind.”
close quote missing
Lady Euphrasia just beginning to read Rushbrook’s letter
text has begining
On their way to Kensington
text has In their way
Rushbrook gratefully and gladly accepted both offers
text has Rusbrook
which she determined at present to conceal
text has presant
till thoroughly convinced they are well founded.”
close quote also missing in 1800: supplied from 1816 edition
In an emotion of surprise at so unexpected a visit, the book she was reading dropped from Amanda, and she arose in visible agitation.
From that evening, to the day destined for the ball, nothing material happened.