The Children of the Abbey
In struggling with misfortunes
Lies the proof of virtue.—
The turbulence of grief, and the agitation of suspense, gradually lessened in the mind of Amanda, and were succeeded by a soft and pleasing melancholy, which sprang from the consciousness of having always to the best of her abilities, performed the duties imposed upon her, and supported her misfortunes with placid resignation. She loved to think of her father, for amidst her sighs for his loss, were mingled the delightful ideas of having ever been a source of comfort to him, and she believed, if departed spirits were allowed to review this world, his would look down upon her with delight and approbation, at beholding her undeviating in the path he marked out for her to take; the calm derived from such meditations she considered as a recompense far many sorrows; it was such, indeed, as 370 nothing earthly gives, or can destroy, and what the good must ever experience, though “amidst the wreck of matter and the crush of worlds.”
She tried to prevent her thoughts from wandering to Lord Mortimer, as the surest means of retaining her composure, which fled whenever she reflected on the doubtful balance in which her fate yet hung concerning him.
The solitude of St. Catharine’s was well adapted to her present situation and frame of mind. She was neither teazed with impertinent or unmeaning ceremony, but, perfect mistress of her own time and actions, read, worked, and walked, as most agreeable to herself. She did not extend her walks beyond the convent, as the scenes around it would awaken remembrances she had not sufficient fortitude to bear; but the space it covered was ample enough to afford her many different and extensive rambles; and of a still evening, when nothing but the lowing of the cattle, or the buzzing of the summer-flies, was to be heard, she loved to wander through the solemn and romantic ruins, sometimes accompanied by a nun, but much oftener alone.
A fortnight had elapsed in this manner, since Lord Mortimer’s departure, when one morning a carriage was heard driving across the common, and stopping at the outer gate of St. Catharine’s; Amanda, who was sitting at work in the parlour with the prioress, started in a universal trepidation at the sound; it may be easily imagined the idea of Lord Mortimer was uppermost in her thoughts. The door opened in a few minutes, and, to her great astonishment, Mrs. Kilcorban and her two daughters made their appearance.
Agitation and surprise prevented Amanda from speaking; she curtsied, and motioned them to be seated. The young ladies saluted her with an icy civility, and the mother treated her with a rude familiarity, which she thought herself authorized in using to one so reduced in her circumstances as Amanda. “Dear me,” cried she, “you can’t think, child, how shocked we have all been to hear of your misfortunes! we only returned to the country yesterday, for we have been in town the whole winter, and to be sure a most delightful winter we have had of it, such balls, such routs, such racketings; but, as I was going to say, as soon as we came home, I began, according to my old custom, to inquire after all my neighbours and to 371 be sure, the very first thing I heard was of the poor captain’s death. Don’t cry, my dear, we must all go one time or another; those are things of course, as the doctor says in his sermon; so when I heard of your father’s death and your distress, I began to cast about in my brain some plan for helping you, and at last I hit upon one, which, says I to the girls, will delight the poor soul, as it will give her an opportunity of earning decent bread for herself. You must know, my dear, the tutoress we brought to town would not come back with us—a dirty trollop, by the bye, and I think her place would be quite the thing for you. You will have the four young girls to learn French, and work to, and I will expect you, as you have a good taste, to assist the eldest Miss Kilcorbans in making up their things and dressing,—I give twenty guineas a year. When we have no company, the tutoress always sits at the table, and gets, besides this, the best of treatment in every respect.”
A blush of indignation had gradually conquered Amanda’s paleness, during Mrs. Kilcorban’s long and eloquent speech—“Your intentions may be friendly, madam,” cried she, “but I must decline your proposal.”
“Bless me, and why must you decline it! Perhaps you think yourself not qualified to instruct: indeed this may be the case, for people often get credit for accomplishments they did not possess. Well, if this is so I am still content to take you, as you were always a decent behaved young body. Indeed you cannot expect I should give you twenty guineas a year: no, no, I must make some abatement in the salary; if I am forced to get masters to help in learning the girls.” “Miss Fitzalan, madam,” exclaimed the prioress, who had hitherto continued silent, “never got credit for accomplishments which she did not possess; her modesty has rather obscured than blazoned forth her perfections; she does not, therefore, madam, decline your offer from a consciousness of inability to undertake the office of instructor, but from a conviction she never could support impertinence and folly; should her situation ever require her to exert her talents for subsistence, I trust she will never experience the mortification of associating with those who are insensible of her worth, or unwilling to pay her the respect she merits.”
“Hoity toity,” cried Mrs. Kilcorban, “what assurance! Why, madam, many a better man’s child would be glad to jump at such an offer.”372
“Dear madam,” said Miss Kilcorban, “perhaps the young lady has a better settlement in view. We forget Lord Mortimer has been lately at Castle Carberry, and we all know his lordship is a friend to Captain Fitzalan’s daughter.”
“Or, perhaps,” cried Miss Alicia, in a giggling tone, “she means to be a nun.”
“Indeed, I suppose she means to be nothing good,” rejoined Mrs. Kilcorban, “and I suppose it was by some impertinence or other she had a tiff with Lady Greystock. Lord! (looking round the room) only see her music books—her harp—her guitar—as if she had nothing to do but sing and thrum away the whole day. Well, miss,” rising from her chair, “you may yet be sorry your friend said so much about you. I did not come merely to offer to take you into my house, but to offer you also a good sum for your harp and guitar, supposing you had no business with such things now-a days; but I dare say you would have refused this offer.”
“I certainly should, madam,” said Amanda; “it must be strong necessity, which compels me to part with my beloved father’s presents.”
“Well, well, child, I wish this pride of thine may not yet be humbled,” So saying she flounced out of the room, followed by her daughters, who, under an affectation of contempt, evidently showed they were chagrined by the reception they had met.
The prioress indulged herself in a long fit of laughter, at the passion in which she had thrown Mrs. Kilcorban; and Amanda, who considered the lady and her daughters as the most insignificant of human beings, soon recovered from the discomposure their visits had occasioned.
In the course of the evening a letter was delivered her by the servant, who said the messenger who brought it waited for an answer. Amanda, in a universal trepidation, broke the seal; but, instead of Lord Mortimer’s, as she expected, a hand, to her entirely new, struck her view
“TO MISS FITZALAN.
“MY DEAR CREATURE,
“I think I was never so diverted in my life as at the account my mother and sisters gave of the reception they met with from you to-day at St. Catharine’s. I vow to God it was excellent; nor can I help still wondering at their absurdity, in thinking such a 373 devilish fine girl as you are, would sacrifice your time in instructing a parcel of chits, when it can be devoted to so much better purpose. To be brief, my dear girl, I will take you immediately under my protection: if not your own fault, bring you to Dublin, settle you in elegant lodgings, with a handsome allowance, and not only make you, but declare you, to be the grand sultana of my affections, a situation which, I can assure you, you will not be a little envied enjoying. In your answer to this, I shall expect to hear when I may have the felicity of bringing you out of obscurity, to the brilliant scene you were formed to ornament. Adieu my dear.
“Believe me your devoted,
The indignation which filled Amanda’s breast, at reading this scroll, cannot be expressed. Her blood seemed to boil in her veins; it was some time ere she could sufficiently compose herself to acquaint the prioress with the cause of her agitation; it was then agreed that the letter should be returned, with the following lines written on it.
“The author of this effusion of ignorance and impertinence has already inspired all the contempt he merits; should he repeat his insolence, something even more mortifying than contempt, chastisement, must ensue.”
That a repetition of this kind would be the case she did not believe. From Kilcorban, she had no reason to suspect either the perseverance or designs of Belgrave; one was a libertine from principle, and the other she believed from fashion, and that to pique his pride would be a sure method of getting rid of him.
But the calm she had for some time experienced was destined to be interrupted. The next morning brought father O’Gallaghan, the little fat priest (of whom we have made mention before in our pages) to the convent, he was not the officiating priest, but notwithstanding this paid many visits to the sisterhood, with whom he was a great favourite; he had been much concerned about Amanda’s illness. She was sitting alone in the parlour, drawing, when he entered it. He seated himself by her, and the expression of his countenance seemed to declare his heart was brimful of something pleasant.
“You won’t be offended now, my dear sowl,” said he, smirking up in her face, “with a body for asking you how you would like to leave this dismal solitude, and have a comfortable home of your own, where you might see your own friends, and have every thing warm and cosy about you.”374
“Why,” said Amanda, “though I do not consider this a dismal solitude, yet, to be sure, I should have no objection to a pleasant settled habitation.”
“Ay, I always thought you a sensible young body. Well, and what would you say to the person then who could point out such a habitation; ay, you little rogue, who could say they had just such a one in their eye for you!”
Amanda stared at him with astonishment. She had at first believed him jesting, but now found him serious.
“Ay, faith, my dear creature,” cried he, continuing his discourse, with a look of the most perfect satisfaction, “I have an offer to make you, which I believe would make many girls jump out of their skins with joy to hear.”
“You remember the O’Flanaghans, I am sure where you took tea last summer. Well, the eldest of the sons (as honest a lad as ever broke bread) cast a sheep’s eye upon you then: but what with your going from the country, and some other matters, he thought there was no use then in revealing his flame; but now, when you are come plump in his way again, faith he plucked up his courage, and told his father all about it. Old Flanaghan is a good-natured sowl, and is very willing the match should take place. They have every thing snug about them. The old man will give every thing into your spouse’s hands; the youngest son will live in the house till he gets married, and goes off to a farm of his own; the eldest daughter is married; the second will live with her, and the youngest will be a little handy assistant to you; so you see you will not be tormented with a large family. There is one little matter, which to be sure, they are a little uneasy about, and that is, your being of different persuasions; but, says I to them, when this was stated—faith, says I, you need not give yourself any trouble about it, for I know the young woman to be a discreet sowl, and I am sure she will make no hesitation about going to chapel instead of church, when she knows too, it is for her own interest. So, my dear sowl, I hope soon to give you the nuptial benediction, and to be also your spiritual director.”
Amanda had listened to this speech in silent amazement. She now rose, and would have quitted the room without speaking, to evince her contempt, had not an idea darted into her mind, that such conduct, perhaps, might not be construed by the ignorant priest in the 375 manner she wished; she therefore stopped and turning to him said, “He could not wonder at her being offended at his pretending to answer so freely for her, in matters so important as religion; but to prove how presumptuous he was in every thing he said about her, she must assure him, his embassy to her was equally fruitless and disagreeable: and that if Mr. O’Flanaghan consulted his own happiness, he would seek to unite himself with a woman brought up in his own sphere of life.” So saying, she quitted the room, with a look of dignity, which quite confounded the poor priest, who snatched up his hat in a great hurry, and waddled away to the farm, to communicate the ill success of his visit, which had quite crushed his expectations of wedding presents, and pudding feasts, which he had contemplated in idea with delight.
It was some time ere Amanda recovered from the discomposure into which the impertinence of the Kilcorbans and the priest had thrown her. From what she suffered in consequence of it, she was forcibly convinced how ill qualified she was to struggle with a world where she would be continually liable to such shocks: she had yet a hope of escaping them—a hope of being guarded by the tutelary care of Lord Mortimer and of being one of the happiest of her sex.
The fatigue, distress, and agitation of Amanda could no longer be struggled with
But a shock more severe than those she had lately experienced was yet in store for our hapless heroine.