The Children of the Abbey
Why, thou poor mourner, in what baleful corner
Hast thou been talking with that witch, the night.
On what cold stone hast thou been stretched along,
Gathering the grumbling winds about thy head,
To mix with theirs the accents of thy woes?
Amanda had not reached the parlour when the door opened, and Mrs. Connel came from it—“Oh! oh! Miss,” cried she, “so you are returned: I protest I was beginning to think you had stolen a march upon us.” There was a rude bluntness in this speech, which confounded Amanda; and her mind misgave her that all was not right. “Come,” continued Mrs. Connel, “come in, Miss; I assure you I have been very impatient for your return.” Amanda’s fears increased. She followed Mrs. Connel in silence into the parlour, where she beheld an elderly woman, of a pleasing but emaciated appearance, who seemed in great agitation and distress. How she could possibly have any thing to say to this woman she could not conjecture; and yet an idea that she had instantly darted into her mind; she sat down trembling in every limb, and waited with impatience for an explanation of this scene. After a general silence of a few minutes, the stranger, looking at Amanda, said, “My daughter, madam, had informed me we are indebted to your bounty; I am therefore happy 529 at an opportunity of discharging the debt.” These words announced Mrs. Rushbrook, but Amanda was confounded at her manner; its coldness and formality were more expressive of dislike and severity, than of gentleness or gratitude. Mrs. Rushbrook rose as she spoke, and offered a note to her. Speechless from astonishment, Amanda had not power either to decline or accept it, and it was laid on a table before her.
“Allow me, madam,” said Mrs. Rushbrook, as she resumed her seat, “to ask if your real name is Donald?” Amanda’s presentiment of underhand doings was now verified; it was evident to her that their author was Belgrave, and that he had been too successful in contriving them.
Amanda now appeared to have reached the crisis of her fate: in all the various trials she had hitherto experienced she had still some stay, some hope, to support her weakness and soothe her sorrows! when groaning under the injuries her character sustained by the success of an execrable plot, she had the consolation to think an idolizing father would shelter her from farther insult; when deprived of that father, tender friends stepped forward, who mingled tears of sympathy with hers, and poured the balm of pity on her sorrowing heart; when torn from the beloved object enshrined within that heart, while her sick soul languished under the heavy burthen of existence, again did the voice of friendship penetrate its gloom, and though it could not remove, alleviated its sufferings; now helpless, unprotected, she saw a dreadful storm ready to burst over her devoted head, without one hope to cheer, one stretched-out arm to shield her from its violence; surrounded by strangers prejudiced against her, she could not think that her plain, unvarnished tale would gain their credence, or prevail on them to protect her from the wretch whose machinations had ruined her in their estimation. The horrors of her situation, all at once assailing her mind, overpowered its faculties; a kind of mental sickness seized her; she leaned her throbbing head upon her hand, and a deep groan burst from her agonized heart.
“You see,” said Mrs. Connel, after a long silence, “she cannot brave this discovery.”
Amanda raised her hands at these words; she had grown a little more composed. “The being in whom I trust,” she said to herself, 530 “and whom I never wilfully offended, will still, I doubt not, as heretofore, protect me from danger.” Mrs. Rushbrook’s unanswered question still sounded in her ear. “Allow me, madam,” she cried, turning to her, “to ask your reason for inquiring whether my real is Donald?”
“Oh, Lord! my dear,” said Mrs. Connel, Mrs. Rushbrook, “you need not pester yourself or her with any more questions about the matter, her question is an answer in itself.”
“I am of your opinion, indeed,” exclaimed Mrs. Rushbrook, “and think any farther inquiry needless.”
“I acknowledge, madam,” said Amanda, whose voice grew firmer from the consciousness of never having acted improperly, “that my name is not Donald. I must also do myself the justice to declare (let me be credited or not) that my real one was not concealed from any motive which could deserve reproach or censure. My situation is peculiarly distressing.—My only consolation amidst my difficulties is the idea of never having drawn them upon myself by imprudence.”
“I do not want, madam,” replied Mrs. Rushbrook, “to inquire into your situation; you have been candid in one instance, I hope you will be equally so in another. Pray, madam,” handing to Amanda the letter she had written to Rushbrook, “is this your writing?”
“Yes, madam,” answered Amanda, whose pride was roused by the contempt she met, “it is my writing.”
“And pray,” said Mrs. Rushbrook, looking steadfastly at her, while her voice grew more severe, “what was your motive for writing this letter?”
“I think, madam,” cried Amanda, “the letter explains that.”
“A pretty explanation truly!” exclaimed Mrs. Connel: “and so you would try to vilify the poor gentleman’s character? But Miss, we have had an explanation you little dream of; ay, we found you out, notwithstanding your slyness in writing like one of the madams in a novel, a bit of a letter, without ever a name to it. Mr. Sipthorpe knew directly who it came from. Ah! poor gentleman, he allowed you wit enough, a pity there is not more goodness with it; he knows you very well, to his cost.”
“Yes,” said Amanda, “he knows I am a being whose happiness he disturbed, but whose innocence he never triumphed over. He knows that, like an evil genius, he has pursued my wandering footsteps, 531 heaping sorrow upon sorrow on me by his machinations; but he also knows, when encompassed by those sorrows, perplexed by those machinations, I rose superior to them all, and with uniform contempt and abhorrence rejected his offers.”
“Depend upon it,” cried Mrs. Connel, “she has been an actress.”
“Yes, madam,” said Amanda, whose struggling voice confessed the anguish of her soul; “upon a stage where I have seen a sad variety of scenes.”
“Come, come,” exclaimed Mrs. Connel, “confess all about yourself and Sipthorpe; full confession will entitle you to pardon.”
“It behoves me indeed,” said Amanda, “to be explicit: my character requires it, and my wish,” she continued, turning to Mrs. Rushbrook, “to save you from a fatal blow demands it.” She then proceeded to relate every thing she knew concerning Belgrave; but she had the mortification to find her short and simple story received with every mark of incredulity.—“Beware, madam,” said she to Mrs. Rushbrook, “of this infatuation, I adjure you, madam, beware of the consequences of it: oh! doom not your innocent, your reluctant Emily to destruction: draw not upon your own head, by such a deed, horrible and excruciating anguish.—Why does not Mr. Sipthorpe, if I must call him so, appear, and in my presence support his allegations?”
“I asked him to do so,” replied Mrs. Rushbrook; “but he has feeling, and he wished not to see your distress, however merited it might be.”
“No, madam,” cried Amanda, “he refused, because he knew that without shrinking he could not behold the innocence he has so abused, because he knew the conscious colouring of his cheek would betray the guilty feelings of his soul. Again I repeat he is not what he appears to be. I refer you for the truth of my words to Sir Charles Bingley. I feel for you, though you have not felt for me. I know, from false representations, you think me a poor misguided creature; but was I even so, my too evident anguish might surely have excited pity. Pardon me, madam, if I say your conduct has been most unkind; the gentle virtues are surely those best fitting a female breast; she that shows leniency to a fallen fellow-creature, fulfils the divine precept; the tear she sheds over her frailties is consecrated in the sight of heaven, and her compassion draws a blessing on her own head. Oh! madam! I once looked forward to a 532 meeting with you, far, far different from the present one; I once flattered myself that from the generous friendship of Mr. and Mrs. Rushbrook I should derive support and consolation; but this, like every other hope, is disappointed.” Amanda’s voice faltered at these words, and tears again trickled down her lovely cheeks; a faint glow tinged the pale cheek of Mrs. Rushbrook at Amanda’s accusation of unkindness; she bent her eyes to the ground as if conscious it was merited, and it was many minutes ere she could again look on the trembling creature before her. “Perhaps,” said she at last, “I may have spoken too severely; but it must be allowed I had great provocation; friendship and gratitude could not avoid resenting such shocking charges as yours against Mr. Sipthorpe.”
“For my part, I wonder you spoke so mildly to her,” exclaimed Mrs. Connel: “I protest in future I shall be guarded who I admit into my house. I declare she seemed so distressed at the idea of going among strangers, that, sooner than let her do so, I believe, if Miss Emily had not, I should have offered her a part of my bed; but this distress was all a pretext to get into the house with Mr. Sipthorpe, that she might try to entangle him in her snares again. Well, I am determined she shall not stay another night under my roof. Ay, you may stare as you please, Miss, but you shall march directly; you are not so ignorant about London, I dare say as you pretend to be.”
Mrs. Connel rose as she spoke, and approached her with a look, which seemed to say she would put her threat into execution. It was Amanda’s intention to quit the house the next morning; but to be turned from it at such an hour, a wanderer in the street, the idea was replete with horror! She started up, and retreating a few paces, looked at Mrs. Connel with a kind of melancholy wildness. “Yes,” repeated Mrs. Connel, “I say you shall march directly.” The wretched Amanda’s head grew giddy, her sight failed, her limbs refused to support her, and she would have fallen to the ground, had not Mrs. Rushbrook, who perceived her situation, timely caught her. She was replaced in a chair and water sprinkled on her face. “Be composed, my dear,” said Mrs. Rushbrook, whose softened voice proclaimed the return of her compassion; “you shall not leave this house to-night, I promise in the name of Mrs. Connel; she is a good-natured woman, and would not aggravate your distress.”533
“Ay, Lord knows, good nature is my foible,” exclaimed Mrs. Connel; “so, Miss, as Mrs. Rushbrook has promised, you may stay here to-night.”
Amanda opened her languid eyes, and raising her head from Mrs. Rushbrook’s bosom, said, in a low, tremulous voice, “To-morrow, madam, I shall depart. Oh! would to heaven,” cried she, clasping her hands together, and bursting into an agony of tears, “before to-morrow I could be rid of the heavy burthen that oppresses me!”
“Well, we have had wailing and weeping enough to-night,” said Mrs. Connel, “so, Miss, you may take one of the candles off the table, and go to your chamber if you choose.”
Amanda did not require to have this permission repeated. She arose, and taking the light, left the parlour. With feeble steps she ascended to the little chamber; but here all was dark and solitary; no cheerful fire sent forth an animating blaze, no gentle Emily, like the mild genius of benevolence, appeared to offer, with undissembled kindness, her little attentions; forsaken, faint, the pale child of misery laid down the candle, and, seating herself at the foot of the bed, gave way to deep and agonizing sorrow.
“Was I ever,” she asked herself, “blessed with friends who valued my existence as their own, who called me the beloved of their hearts? Oh, yes,” she groaned, “once such friends were mine, and the sad remembrance of them aggravates my present misery. Oh! happy is our ignorance of futurity! Oh! my father, had you been permitted to read the awful volume of fate, the page marked with your Amanda’s destiny would have rendered your existence miserable, and made you wish a thousand times the termination of hers.
“Oh! Oscar, from another hand than mine must you receive the deed which shall entitle you to independence; my trials sink me to the grave, to that grave in which but for the sweet hope of again seeing you, I should long since have wished myself.” The chamber door opened; she turned her eyes to it in expectation of seeing Emily, but was disappointed on perceiving only the maid of the house. “Oh! dear ma’am,” cried she, going up to Amanda, “I declare it quite grieves me to see you in such a situation. Poor Miss Emily is just in as sad a plight. Well, it is no matter, but I think both the old ladies will be punished for plaguing you in this manner. Madam Rushbrook will be sorry enough, when, after giving her daughter to 534 Mr. Sipthorpe, she finds he is not what he seems to be.” Amanda shrunk with horror from the idea of Emily’s destruction, and by a motion of her hand, signified to the maid her dislike to the subject. “Well, ma’am,” she continuted, “Miss Emily, as I was saying, is quite in as bad a plight as yourself; they have clapped her into my mistress’s chamber, which she durst not leave without running the risk of bringing their tongues upon her: however, she contrived to see me, and sent you this note.” Amanda took it, and read the following lines:
“I hope my dear Miss Donald will not doubt my sincerity, when I declare that all my sorrows are heightened, by knowing I have been the occasion of trouble to her. I have heard of the unworthy treatment she has received in this house, and her intention of quitting it to-morrow; knowing her averseness to lodge in a place she is unacquainted with, I have been speaking to the maid about her, and had the satisfaction to hear, that, through her means, my dear Miss Donald might be safely accommodated for a short time, long enough, however, to permit her to look out for an eligible situation. I refer her for particulars of the conversation to the maid, whose fidelity may be relied on. To think it may be useful to my dear Miss Donald, affords me the only pleasure I am now capable of enjoying. In her esteem may I ever retain the place of a sincere and affectionate friend.
“And where is the place I can be lodged in?” eagerly asked Amanda.
“Why, ma’am,” said the maid, “I have a sister who is housemaid at a very grand place on the Richmond road. All the family are now gone to Brighton, and she is left alone in the house, where you would be very welcome to take up your residence till you could get one to your mind. My sister is a sage sober body, and would do everything in her power to please and oblige you, and you would be as snug and secure with her as in a house of your own; and poor Miss Emily begged you would go to her, till you could get lodgings with people whose characters you know: and, indeed, ma’am, it is my humble opinion it would be safe and pleasant for you to do so; and if you consent, I will conduct you there to-morrow morning: and I am sure, ma’am, I shall be happy if I have the power of serving you.” Like the lady in Comus, Amanda might have said,535
I take thy word
And trust thy honest offer’d courtesy;
For in a place
Less warranted than this, or less secure,
I cannot be, that I should fear to change it.
Eye me, bless’d Providence, and square my trial
To my proportion’d strength.
To take refuge in this manner in any one’s house was truly repugnant to the feelings of Amanda; but sad necessity conquered her scrupulous delicacy, and she asked the maid, “at what hour in the morning she should be ready for her.”
“I shall come to you, ma’am,” answered she, “as soon as I think there is a carriage on the stand, and then we can go together to get one; but I protest, ma’am, you look sadly; I wish you would allow me to assist in undressing you, for I am sure you want a little rest; I dare say, for all my mistress said, if you choose it, I could get a little wine from her to make whey for you.” Amanda refused this, but accepted her offer of assistance, for she was so overpowered by the scenes of the day, as to be almost unequal to any exertion. The maid retired after she had seen her to bed. Amanda entreated her to be punctual to an early hour, and also requested her to give her most affectionate love to Miss Rushbrook, and her sincere thanks for the kind solicitude she had expressed about her. Her rest was now, as on the preceding night, broken and disturbed by frightful visions. She rose pale, trembling, and unrefreshed. The maid came to her soon after she was dressed, and she immediately accompanied her down stairs, trembling as she went, lest Belgrave should suddenly make his appearance and either prevent her departure, or follow her to her new residence. She left the house, however, without meeting any creature, and soon obtained the shelter of a carriage.
As they proceeded Amanda besought the maid, who seemed perfectly acquainted with every thing relative to Belgrave, to tell Miss Rushbrook to believe her assertions against him, if she wished to save herself from destruction. The maid assured her she would, and declared she always suspected Mr. Sipthorpe was not as good as he should be. Amanda soon found herself at the end of her little journey. The house was elegant and spacious, with a short avenue before it, planted with chestnuts. The maid’s sister was an elderly, plain-looking woman, who received Amanda with every appearance 536 of respect, and conducted her into a handsome parlour, where a neat breakfast was laid out. “I took care, ma’am,” said the maid, smiling, “to apprise my sister last night of the honour she was to have this morning; and I am sure she will do every thing in her power to oblige you.”
“I thank you both,” cried Amanda, with her usual sweetness; but while she spoke, a straggling tear stole down her lovely cheek at the idea of that forlorn situation, which had thus cast her upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who were themselves the children of poverty and dependence: “I hope, however,” she continued, “I shall not long be a trouble to either, as it is my intention immediately to look out for a lodging amongst the cottages in this till I can settle my affairs to return to my friends. In the mean time, I must insist on making some recompense for the attention I have received, and the expense I have put you to.” She accordingly forced a present upon each, for both the women appeared unwilling to accept them; and Mrs. Deborah, the maid’s sister, said “it was quite unnecessary at present to think of leaving the house, as the family would not return to it for six weeks.” Amanda, however, was resolved on doing what she had said, as she could not conquer the repugnance she felt to continue in a stranger’s house. Mrs. Connel’s maid departed in a few minutes; of the breakfast prepared for her, Amanda could only take some tea; her head ached violently, and her whole frame felt disordered. Mrs. Deborah, seeing her dejection, proposed showing her the house and garden, which was very fine, to amuse her; but Amanda declined the proposal at present, saying, “She thought if she lay down she would be better.” She was immediately conducted to an elegant chamber, where Mrs. Deborah left her, saying, “She would prepare some little light thing for her dinner, which she hoped would tempt her to eat.”
Amanda now tried to compose her spirits by reflecting she was in a place of security; but their agitation was not to be subdued from the sleep into which mere fatigue had thrown her; she was continually starting in inexpressible terrors. Mrs. Deborah came up two or three times to know how she was, and at last appeared with dinner. She laid a small table by the bedside, and besought Amanda to rise and try to eat; there was a friendliness in her manner, which recalled to Amanda’s recollection her faithful nurse Edwin, and she sighed to 537 think that the shelter of her humble cottage she could no more enjoy (should such a shelter be required,) from its vicinity to Tudor Hall, near which every feeling of tenderness and propriety must forbid her residing: the sad remembrance which now revived in her mind drew tears from her, and rendered her unable to eat. She thanked Mrs. Deborah for her attention; but, anxious to be alone, said she would no longer detain her; yet no sooner was she alone than she found solitude insupportable; she could not sleep, the anguish of her mind was so great, and arose with the idea, that a walk into the garden might be of use to her. As she was descending the stairs, she heard, notwithstanding the door was shut, a man’s voice from a front parlour. She started, for she thought it was a voice familiar to her ear; with a light foot, and throbbing heart, she turned into a parlour at the foot of the stairs, which communicated with the other. Here she listened, and soon had her fears confirmed by recollecting the voice to be that of Belgrave’s servant, whom she had often seen in Devonshire. She listened with that kind of horror, which the trembling wretch may be supposed to feel when about hearing a sentence he expects to be dreadful.
“Ay, I assure,” cried the man, “we are blown up at Mrs. Connel’s, but that is of little consequence to us; the colonel thinks the game now in view better than he has lost, so to-night you may expect him in a chaise and four to off your fair guest.”
“I declare I am glad of it,” said Mrs. Deborah, “for I think she will die soon.”
“Die soon!” repeated he, “oh! yes, indeed; great danger of that;” and he added something else, which, being delivered with a violent burst of laughter, Amanda could not hear: she thought she heard them moving towards the door; she instantly slipped from the parlour, and, ascending the stairs in breathless haste, stopped outside the chamber door to listen. In a few minutes she heard them coming into the hall, and the man softly let out by Mrs. Deborah. Amanda now entered the chamber, and closed the door, and knowing a guilty conscience is easily alarmed, she threw herself on the bed, lest Mrs. Deborah, if she found her up, should have her suspicions awakened. Her desperate situation inspired her with strength and courage, and she trusted by presence of mind, to be able to extricate herself from it; it was her intention, if she effected her escape, to proceed directly 538 to London, though the idea of entering it without a certain place to go to, was shocking to her imagination; yet, she thought it a more secure place for her than any of the neighbouring cottages, which might be searched. Mrs. Deborah, as she expected, soon came up to her. Amanda involuntarily shuddered at her appearance, but knowing her safety depended on the concealment of her feelings, she forced herself to converse with the treacherous creature. She at last arose from the bed, declaring she had indulged her languor too much, and, after a few turns about the room, went to the window, and pretended to be engrossed in admiring the garden. “There is a great deal of fruit in the garden,” said she, turning to Mrs. Deborah; “if I did not think it encroaching too much on your kindness, I should ask you for a nectarine or two.”
“Dear ma’am,” replied Mrs. Deborah, “you are heartily welcome. I declare I should have offered them to you, only I thought you would like a turn in the garden and pull them yourself.”
“No,” said Amanda, “I cannot at present.” Mrs. Deborah went off, and Amanda watched at the window till she saw her at the very end of the garden; she then snatched up her hat, and tied it on with a handkerchief, better to conceal her face, then hastily descended the stairs, and locked the back door to prevent an immediate pursuit. She ran down the avenue, nor flagged in her course till she had got some paces from it. She was then compelled to do so, as much from weakness as from fear of attracting notice, if she went on in such a wild manner. She started at the sound of every carriage, and hastily averted her head as they passed. But she reached London without any alarm but what her own fears gave her. The hour was now late and gloomy, and warned Amanda of the necessity there was for exertions to procure a lodging. Some poor women she saw retiring from their little fruit stands drew a shower of tears from her, to think her situation was more wretched than theirs, whom but a few days before she should have considered as objects of compassion. She knew at such an hour she would only be received into houses of an inferior description, and looked for one in which she could think there might be a chance of gaining admittance. She at last came to a small, mean-looking house: “This humble roof I think,” cried she, “will not disdain to shelter an unhappy wanderer!” She turned into the shop, where butter and cheese were displayed, 539 and where an elderly woman sat knitting behind the counter. She rose immediately as if from surprise and respect at Amanda’s appearance, who in universal agitation leaned against the door for support, unable for some minutes to speak. At last, in faltering accents, whilst over her pale face a crimson blush was diffused, she said, “I should be glad to know if you have any lodgings to let.”
The woman instantly dropped into her seat, and looking steadfastly at Amanda,—“This is a strange hour,” cried she, “for any decent body to come looking for lodgings!”
“I am as sensible of that as you can be,” said Amanda, “but peculiar circumstances have obliged me to it; if you can accommodate me, I can assure you, you will not have reason to repent doing so.”
“Oh! I do not know how that may be;” cried she; “it is natural for a body to speak a good word of themselves: however, if I do let you a room, for I have only one to spare, I shall expect to be paid for it before-hand.”
“You shall, indeed,” said Amanda.
“Well, I will show it you,” said she. She accordingly called a girl to watch the shop, and taking a candle, went up before Amanda, a narrow winding flight of stairs, and conducted her into a room, whose dirty, miserable appearance made her involuntarily shrink back, as if from the den of wretchedness itself. She tried to subdue the disgust it inspired her with, by reflecting that, after the imminent danger she had escaped, she should be happy to procure any asylum she could consider safe; she also tried to reconcile herself to it, by reflecting that in the morning she should quit it.
“Well, ma’am,” said the woman, “the price of this room is neither more nor less than one guinea per week, and if you do not like it, you are welcome not to stay.”
“I have no objection to the price,” replied Amanda; “but I hope you have quiet people in the house.”
“I flatter myself, ma’am,” said the woman, drawing up her head, “there is never a house in the parish can boast a better name than mine.”
“I am glad to hear it,” answered Amanda, “and I hope you are not offended by the inquiry.” She now put her hand in her pocket for the purse, to give the expected guinea; but the purse was not there. She sat down on the side of the bed and searched the other, but with 540 as little success. She pulled out the contents of both, but no purse was to be found. “Now—now,” cried she, clasping her hands together, in an agony which precluded reflection, “now—now, I am lost, indeed! My purse is stolen,” she continued, “and I cannot give you the promised guinea.”
“No, nor never could, I suppose,” exclaimed the woman. “Ah! I suspected all along what you were; and so you were glad my house had a good name! I shall take care that it does not lose that name by lodging you.”
“I conjure you,” cried Amanda, starting up and laying her hand on the woman’s, “I conjure you to let me stay this night: you will not, you shall not lose by doing so. I have things of value in a trunk in town, for which I will this instant give you a direction.”
“Your trunk,” replied the woman, in a scornful tone; “oh! yes, you have a trunk with things of value in it as much as you have a purse in your pocket. A pretty story indeed; but I know too much of the ways of the world to be deceived now-a-days: so march directly.”
Amanda again began to entreat, but the woman interrupted her, and declared, “if she did not depart directly, she would be sorry for it.” Amanda instantly ceased her importunities, and, in trembling silence followed her down stairs. Oppressed with weakness, she involuntarily hesitated in the shop, which the woman perceiving, she rudely seized her, and pushing her from it, shut the door. Amanda could not now, as in former exigencies, consider what was to be done. Alas! if even capable of reflection, it could have suggested no plan which there was a hope of accomplishing. The powers of her mind were overwhelmed with horror and anguish, she moved mechanically along, nor stopped, till from weakness she sunk upon the step of a door, against which she leaned her head in a kind of lethargy; but from this she was suddenly roused by two men who stopped before her. Death alone could have conquered her terrors of Belgrave. She instantly concluded these to be him and his man. She started up, uttered a scream, and calling upon heaven to defend her, was springing past them, when her hand was suddenly caught. She made a feeble, but unsuccessful effort to disengage it, and, overcome by terror and weakness, fell, though not fainting, unable to support herself, upon the bosom of him who had arrested 541 her course;— “Gracious Heaven!” cried he, “I have heard that voice before.”
Amanda raised her head:—“Sir Charles Bingley!” she exclaimed. The feelings of joy, surprise, and shame that pervaded her whole soul, and thrilled through her frame, were, in its present weak state, too much for it, and she again sunk upon his shoulder. The joy of unexpected protection, for protection she was convinced she would receive from Sir Charles Bingley, was conquered by reflecting on the injurious ideas her present situation must excite in his mind; ideas she feared she would never be able to remove, so strongly were appearances against her.
“Gracious Heaven!” exclaimed Sir Charles, “is this Miss Fitzalan? Oh; this,” he cried, in a tone of deep dejection, “is, indeed a meeting of horror!” A deep, convulsive sob from Amanda alone proclaimed her sensibility, for she lay motionless in his arms, arms which involuntarily encircled and enfolded her to a heart that throbbed with intolerable anguish on her account. His friend stood all this time a silent spectator of the scene. The raillery which he had been on the point of uttering at seeing Amanda, as he thought, so premeditatedly fall into the arms of his companion, was stopped by the sudden exclamation of Sir Charles. Though the face of Amanda was concealed, the glimmering of a lamp over their heads gave him a view of her fine form, and the countenance of Sir Charles, as he bent over her, was full of sorrow and dismay.
“Miss Fitzalan,” cried Sir Charles, after the silence of a minute, “you are ill: allow me to have the pleasure of seeing you home.”
“Home!” repeated Amanda, in the slow and hollow voice of despair, and raising her languid head, “alas! I have no home to go to.”
Every surmise of horror which Sir Charles had formed from seeing her in her present situation was now confirmed. He groaned, he shuddered, and, scarcely able to stand, was obliged to lean, with the lovely burthen he supported, against the rails. He besought his friend either to procure a chair or coach, in which he might have her conveyed to a house where he knew he could gain her admittance. Touched by his distress, and the powerful impulse of humanity, his friend instantly went to comply with his request.
The silence of Amanda, Sir Charles imputed to shame and illness, 542 and grief and delicacy forbade him to notice it. His friend returned in a few minutes with a coach, and Sir Charles then found that Amanda’s silence did not altogether proceed from the motives he had ascribed to it, for she had fainted on his bosom. She was lifted into the carriage, and he again received her in his arms. On the carriage stopping, he committed her to the care of his friend, whilst he stepped into the house to procure her a reception. In a few minutes he returned with a maid, who assisted him in carrying her up stairs; but on entering the drawing-room, how great was his amazement when a voice suddenly exclaimed, “Oh! merciful powers! this is Miss Donald!” It was indeed, to Mrs. Connel’s house, and to the care of the Rushbrooks, whom his bounty had released from prison, he had brought her. He had previously informed them of the situation in which he found her, little suspecting at the time, she was the Miss Donald they mentioned being under such obligations to.
“It is I, it is I,” cried Mrs. Rushbrook, gazing on her with mingled horror and anguish, “it is I have been the occasion of her distress and never shall I forgive myself for it.”
“Oh! my preserver, my friend, my benefactress,” said Emily, clasping her in an agony of tears to her bosom, “is it thus your Emily beholds you!” Amanda was laid upon a couch, and her hat being removed, displayed a face which, with the paleness of death, had all the wildness of despair; a wildness that denoted more expressively than language could have done the conflicts her spirits had endured; heavy sighs announced her having recovered from her fainting fit: but her eyes still continued closed, and her head, too weak to be self-supported, rested against the arm of the couch. Mrs. Rushbrook and her daughter hung over her in inexpressible agonies. If they were thus affected, oh! how was Sir Charles Bingley distressed? oh! how was the heart, which loved her with the most impassionate tenderness, agonized! As he bent over the couch, the big tear trickled down his manly cheek, and fell upon the cold pale face he contemplated. He softly asked himself, “Is this Amanda? Is this she, whom but a short time ago I beheld moving with unequalled elegance, adorned with unrivalled beauty, whom my heart worshipped as the first of women, and sought to unite its destiny to as the surest means of rendering that destiny happy? oh! what a change is here! how feeble is that form; how hollow is that cheek; 543 how heavy are those eyes, whose languid glance speaks incurable anguish of soul! Oh! Amanda, was the being present, who first led you into error, what horror and remorse must seize his soul at seeing the consequence of that error!” “Has this unhappy young creature,” asked Rushbrook, who had approached the couch and viewed her with the truest pity, “no connections that could be prevailed on to save her?”
“None that I know of,” replied Sir Charles; “her parents are both dead.”
“Happy are the parents,” resumed Rushbrook, “who, shrouded in the dust, cannot see the misfortune of their children—the fall of such a child as this!” glancing his tearful eyes as he spoke on his daughters.
“And pray, sir,” said Mrs. Connel, who was chafing her temples with lavender, “if she recovers, what is to become of her?”
“It shall be my care,” cried Sir Charles, “to procure an asylum. Yes, Amanda,” he continued, looking at her with an expression of mingled tenderness and grief, “he that must forever mourn thy fate, will try to mitigate it; but does she not want medical assistance?”
“I think not,” replied Mrs. Connel; “it is want of nourishment and rest has thrown her into her present situation.”
“Want of nourishment and rest!” repeated Sir Charles: “good heavens!” continued he, in the sudden agony of his soul (and walking from the couch,) “is it possible that Amanda was a wanderer in the streets, without food, or a place to lay her head in? Oh! this is dreadful! Oh! my friends,” he proceeded, looking around him, whilst his eyes beamed the divine compassion of his soul, “be kind, be careful of this poor creature; but it is unnecessary to exhort you to this, and excuse me for having done so. Yes, I know you will delight in binding up a broken heart, and drying the tears of a wretched outcast. A short time ago, and she appeared—” He stopped, overcome by his emotions, and turned away his head to wipe away his tears; “a short time ago,” he resumed, “and she appeared all that the heart of man could desire, all that a woman should wish and ought to be. Now she is fallen indeed; lost to herself and to the world.”
“No,” cried Emily with a generous warmth, starting from the side of the couch at which she had been kneeling, “I am confident she never was guilty of an error.”544
“I am inclined, indeed, to be of Emily’s opinion,” said Mrs. Rushbrook. “I think the monster who spread such a snare for her destruction, traduced Miss Donald, in order to drive her from those who would protect her from his schemes.”
“Would to heaven the truth of your conjectures could be proved,” exclaimed Sir Charles. Again he approached the couch: Amanda remained in the same attitude, but seeing her eyes open, he took her cold hand, and in a soothing voice assured her she was safe; but the assurance had no effect on her; hers, like the dull cold ear of death, was insensible of sound; a faint spark of life seemed only quivering through her woe-worn frame. “She is gone!” cried Sir Charles, pressing her hands between his; “she is gone, indeed! Oh! sweet Amanda! the mortal bounds that enclose thy afflicted spirit will soon be broken.”
“I trust not, sir,” exclaimed Captain Rushbrook; his wife and daughter were unable to speak: “in my opinion she had better be removed to bed.”
Amanda was accordingly carried to a chamber, and Sir Charles remained in the drawing room till Mrs. Rushbrook had returned to it. She informed him Miss Donald continued in the same state. He desired a physician might be sent for, and departed in inexpressible dejection.
Notes and Corrections: Chapter LII
“Oh, Lord! my dear,” said Mrs. Connel, addressing Mrs. Rushbrook
text has adddressing
whether my real name is Donald
word “name” missing at line break
look out for a lodging amongst the cottages in this neighbourhood
text has neigbourhood
you may expect him in a chaise and four to carry off your fair guest.”
text has cary
“To open our hearts to those we know will commiserate our sorrows, is the sweetest consolation those sorrows can receive
We shall now account for the incidents in the last chapter.