The Children of the Abbey
Thy graceful footsteps; hither, gentle maid,
Incline thy polish’d forehead. Let thy eyes
Effuse the mildness of their azure dawn;
And may the fanning breezes waft aside
Thy radiant locks, disclosing, as it bends
With airy softness from the marble neck,
The cheek fair blooming, and the rosy lip,
Where winning smiles and pleasures sweet arrive,
With sanctity and wisdom, tempering blend
Their soft allurement.
While Amanda was at breakfast the next morning, Betsey brought a letter to her; expecting to hear from her father, she eagerly opened it, and to her great surprise perused the following lines:
TO MISS DUNFORD.
Lord Mortimer begs leave to assure Miss Dunford, he shall remain dissatisfied with himself, till he has an opportunity of personally apologizing for his intrusion yesterday. If the sweetness of her disposition fulfills the promise her face has given it, he flatters himself his pardon will speedily be accorded; yet never shall he think himself entirely forgiven, if her visits to the library are discontinued—Happy and honoured shall Lord Mortimer consider himself, if Tudor Hall contains anything, which can amuse, or merit the attention of Miss Dunford.
“From Lord Mortimer!” said Amanda, with involuntary emotion. “Well, this really has astonished me.”
“Oh lort, my tear!” cried the nurse in rapture.
Amanda waved her hand to silence her, as the servant stood in the outside room. She called Betsey; “Tell the servant,” said she—“Lort,” cried the nurse, softly, and twitching her sleeve, “write his lortship a little pit of a note, just to let him see what a pretty scribe you are.”
Amanda could not forbear smiling; but disengaging herself from the good woman, she rose, and going to the servant, desired him to tell his lord she thanked him for his polite attention; but that in future it would not be in her power to go to the library. When she 53 returned to the room, the nurse bitterly lamented her not writing. “Great matters,” she said, “had often arisen from small beginnings. She could not conceive why his lortship should be treated in such a manner: it was not the way she had ever served her Edwin. Lort, she remembered, if she got but the scrawl of a pen from him, she used to sit up to answer it.” Amanda tried to persuade her it was neither necessary nor proper for her to write. An hour passed in arguments between them, when two servants came from Tudor Hall to the cottage with a small book-case, which they sent in to Amanda, and their lord’s compliments, that in a few minutes he would have the honour of paying his respects to her.
Amanda felt agitated by this message, but it was the agitation of involuntary pleasure. Her room was always perfectly neat, yet did the nurse and her two daughters now busy themselves with trying, if possible, to put it into nicer order; the garden was ransacked for the choicest flowers to ornament it; nor would they depart, till they saw Lord Mortimer approaching.—Amanda, who had opened the book-case, then snatched up a book, to avoid the appearance of sitting in expectation of his coming.
He entered with an air at once easy and respectful, and, taking her hand, besought forgiveness for his intrusion on the preceding day. Amanda blushed, and faltered out something of the confusion she had experienced from being so surprised: he re-seated her, and drawing a chair close to hers, said he had taken the liberty of sending a few books to amuse her, till she again condescended to visit the library, which he entreated her to do; promising that, if she pleased, both it and the music-room should be sacred to her alone. She thanked him for his politeness; but declared she must be excused from going. Lord Mortimer regarded her with a degree of tender admiration; an admiration heightened by the contrast he drew in his mind between her and the generality of fashionable women he had seen, whom he often secretly censured for sacrificing too largely at the shrine of art and fashion. The pale and varied blush which mantled the cheek of Amanda, at once announced itself to be an involuntary suffusion; and her dress was only remarkable for its simplicity; she wore a plain robe of dimity, and an abbey cap of thin muslin, that shaded without concealing her face, and gave to it the soft expression of a Madonna; 54 her beautiful hair fell in long ringlets down her back, and curled upon her forehead.
“Good heaven!” cried Lord Mortimer, “how has your idea dwelt upon my mind since last night! if in the morning I was charmed, in the evening I was enraptured. Your looks, your attitude, were then beyond all that imagination could conceive of loveliness and grace: you appeared as a being of another world, mourning over a kindred spirit. I felt
Awe-struck, and as I passed, I worshipped.”
Confused by the energy of his words, and the ardent glances he directed towards her, Amanda scarcely knowing what she did, turned over the leaves of the book she still held in her hand; in doing so, she saw written on the title page, the Earl of Cherbury.—“Cherbury!” repeated she, in astonishment.
“Do you know him?” asked Lord Mortimer.
“Not personally; but I revere, I esteem him; he is one of the best, the truest friends my father ever had.”
“Oh how happy,” exclaimed Lord Mortimer, “would his son be, were he capable of inspiring you with such sentiments as you avow for him.”
“His son!” repeated Amanda, in a tone of surprise, and looking at Lord Mortimer.
“Yes,” replied he. “Is it then possible,” he continued, “that you are really ignorant of his being my father?”
Surprise kept her silent a few minutes; for her father had never given her any account of the earl’s family, till about the period he thought of applying to him; and her mind was so distracted at that time on his own account, that she scarcely understood a word he uttered. In the country she had never heard Lord Cherbury mentioned; for Tudor Hall belonged not to him, but to Lord Mortimer, to whom an uncle had bequeathed it.
“I thought, indeed, my lord,” said Amanda, as soon as she recovered her voice, “that your lordship’s title was familiar to me; though why, from the hurry and perplexity in which peculiar circumstances involved me, I could not tell.”
“Oh suffer,” cried Lord Mortimer, with one of his most insinuating smiles, “the friendship our parents feel to be continued to their children—let 55 this,” taking her soft hand, and pressing his lips to it, “be the pledge of amity between us.” He now inquired when the intimacy between her father and his had commenced, and where the former was; but from those inquiries Amanda shrunk. She reflected that without her father’s permission she had no right to answer them; and that in a situation like his and hers, too much caution could not be observed. Besides, both pride and delicacy made her solicitous at present to conceal her father’s real situation from Lord Mortimer; she could not bear to think it should be known his sole dependence was on Lord Cherbury, uncertain as it was, whether that nobleman would ever answer his expectations. She repented having ever dropped a hint of the intimacy subsisting between them, which surprise alone had made her do; and tried to wave the subject. In this design Lord Mortimer assisted her; for he had too much penetration not instantly to perceive it confused and distressed her. He requested permission to renew his visit; but Amanda, though well inclined to grant his request, yielded to prudence instead of inclination, and begged he would excuse her; the seeming disparity (she could not help saying) in their situations would render it very imprudent in her to receive such visits; she blushed, half-sighed, and bent her eyes to the ground as she spoke. Lord Mortimer continued to entreat, but she was steady in refusing; he would not depart, however, till he had obtained permission to attend her in the evening to a part of Tudor Grove, which she had never yet seen, and he described as particularly beautiful. He wanted to call for her at the appointed hour, but she would not suffer this; and he was compelled to be contented with leave to meet her near the cottage when it came.
With a beating heart she kept her appointment, and found his lordship not many yards distant from the cottage, impatiently waiting her approach. A brighter bloom than usual glowed upon her cheek, as she listened to his ardent expressions of admiration; yet not to such expressions which would soon have sated an ear of delicacy like Amanda’s did Lord Mortimer confine himself; he conversed on various subjects; and the eloquence of his language, the liveliness of his imagination, and the justness of his remarks, equally amused and interested his fair companion. There was indeed, in the disposition and manners of Lord Mortimer, that happy mixture of 56 animation and softness, which at once amuses the fancy and attracts the heart; and never had Amanda experienced such minutes as she now passed with him; so delightful in their progress, so rapid in their course. On entering the walk he had mentioned to her, she saw he had not exaggerated its beauties; after passing through many long and shaded alleys, they came to a smooth green lawn, about which the trees rose in the form of an amphitheatre, and their dark, luxuriant, and chequered shades proclaimed that amongst them
The rude axe, with heaved stroke,
Was never heard, the nymphs to daunt,
Or fright them from their hallowed haunt.
The lawn gently sloped to a winding stream, so clear as perfectly to reflect the beautiful scenery of heaven now glowing with the gold and purple of the setting sun; from the opposite bank of the stream rose a stupendous mountain, diversified with little verdant hills and dales, and skirted with a wild shrubbery, whose blossoms perfumed the air with the most balmy fragrance. Lord Mortimer prevailed on Amanda to sit down upon a rustic bench beneath the spreading branches of an oak, enwreathed with ivy; here they had not sat long ere the silence which reigned around was suddenly interrupted by strains, at once low, solemn, and melodious, that seemed to creep along the water, till they had reached the place where they sat; and then, as if a naiad of the stream had left her rosy couch to do them homage, they swelled by degrees into full melody, which the mountain echoes alternately revived and heightened. It appeared like enchantment to Amanda, and her eyes, turned to Lord Mortimer, seemed to say, it was to his magic it was owing. After enjoying her surprise some minutes, he acknowledged the music proceeded from two servants of his who played on the clarionet and French horn, and were stationed in a dell of the opposite mountain. Notwithstanding all her former thoughts to the contrary, Amanda now conceived a strong suspicion, that Lord Mortimer was really the person who had serenaded her: that she conceived pleasure from the idea, is scarcely necessary to say: she had reason soon to find she was not mistaken. Lord Mortimer solicited her for the lady’s song in Comus, saying the present situation was peculiarly adapted to it: on her hesitating, he told her she had no plea to offer for not complying, as 57 he himself had heard her enchanting powers in it. Amanda started, and eagerly inquired when or by what means. It was too late for his lordship to recede; and he not only confessed his concealment near the music-room, but his visit to her window. A soft confusion, intermingled with pleasure, pervaded the soul of Amanda at this confession: and it was some time ere she was sufficiently composed to comply with Lord Mortimer’s solicitations for her to sing; she at last allowed him to lead her to the centre of a little rustic bridge thrown over the stream, from whence her voice could be sufficiently distinguished for the music to keep time to it, as Lord Mortimer had directed. Her plaintive and harmonious invocation, answered by the low breathing of the clarionet, which appeared like the softest echo of the mountain, had the finest effect imaginable, and “took the imprisoned soul and wrapped it in Elysium.”
Lord Mortimer, for the first time in his life, found himself at a loss to express what he felt: he conducted her back to the seat, where, to her astonishment, she beheld fruits, ices, and creams, laid out as if by the hand of magic, for no mortal appeared near the spot. Dusky twilight now warned her to return home; but Lord Mortimer would not suffer her to depart, till she had partaken of this collation.
He was not by any means satisfied with the idea of only beholding her for an hour or two of an evening; and when they came near the cottage, desired to know whether it was to chance alone he was in future to be indebted for seeing her. Again he entreated permission to visit her sometimes in the morning, promising he would never disturb her avocations, but would be satisfied merely to sit and read to her, whenever she chose to work, and felt herself inclined for that amusement: Amanda’s refusals grew fainter, and at last she said, on the above mentioned conditions, he might sometimes come. That he availed himself of this permission is scarcely necessary to say; and from this time few hours passed without their seeing each other.
The cold reserve of Amanda by degrees wore away; from her knowledge of his family, she considered him more than a new or common acquaintance. The emotion she felt for him, she thought sanctioned by that knowledge, and the gratitude she felt for Lord Cherbury for his former conduct to her father, which claimed, she thought, her respect and esteem for so near and valuable a connexion of his; the worth, she could not help acknowledging to 58 herself, of Lord Mortimer, would of itself alone have authorized them. Her heart felt he was one of the most amiable, the most pleasing of men: she could scarcely disguise, in any degree, the lively pleasure she experienced in his society; nay, she scarcely thought it necessary to disguise it, for it resulted as much from innocence as sensibility, and was placed to the account of friendship.
But Lord Mortimer was too penetrating, not soon to perceive he might ascribe it to a softer impulse; with the most delicate attention, the most tender regard, he daily, nay hourly, insinuated himself into her heart, and secured for himself an interest in it, ere she was aware, which the efforts of subsequent resolution could not overcome. He was the companion of her rambles, the alleviator of her griefs; the care which so often saddened her brow always vanished at his presence; and in conversing with him she forgot every cause of sorrow.
He once or twice delicately hinted at those circumstances which at his first visit she had mentioned, as sufficiently distressing to bewilder her recollection; Amanda, with blushes, always shrunk from the subject, sickening at the idea of his knowing, that her father depended upon his for future support. If he ever addressed her seriously on the subject of the regard he professed for her (which from his attention, she could not help sometimes flattering herself would be the case) then indeed there would be no longer room for concealment; but except such a circumstance took place, she could not bring herself to make any humiliating discovery.
Tudor Grove was the favourite scene of their rambles: sometimes she allowed him to lead her to the music room: but as these visits were not frequent, a lute was brought from it to the cottage, and in the recess in the garden she often sung and played for the enraptured Mortimer; there too he frequently read for her, always selecting some elegant and pathetic piece of poetry, to which the harmony of his voice gave additional charms; a voice which sunk into the heart of Amanda, and interested her sensibility even more than the subject he perused.
Often straying to the valley’s verge, as they contemplated the lovely prospect around, only bounded by distant and stupendous mountains, Lord Mortimer, in strains of eloquence, would describe the beautiful scenes and extensive landscapes beyond them; and when Amanda expressed a wish (as she sometimes would from thoughtless 59 innocence) of viewing them, he would softly sigh, and wish he was to be her guide to them, as to point out beauties to a refined and cultivated taste like hers would be to him the greatest pleasure he could possibly experience.
Seated sometimes on the brow of a shrubby hill, as they viewed the scattered hamlets beneath, he would expatiate on the pleasure he conceived there must be in passing a tranquil life with one lovely and beloved object: his insidious eyes, turned towards Amanda, at these minutes seemed to say, she was the being who could realize all the ideas he entertained of such a life; and when he asked her opinion of his sentiments, her disordered blushes, and faltering accents, too plainly betrayed her conscious feelings. Every delicacy which Tudor Hall contained, was daily sent to the cottage, notwithstanding Amanda’s prohibition to the contrary; and sometimes Lord Mortimer was permitted to dine with her in the recess. Three weeks spent in this familiar manner, endeared and attached them to each other more than months would have done, passed in situations liable to interruption.
After tea Amanda asked little Betsey to accompany her in a walk
Howell was no stranger to the manner in which hours rolled away at the cottage