Зображення сторінки

father ;

before avowed them) were long ago formed ; he would rush boldly into the apartment where he was always an object which added to my unhap was, and at his feet take leave of him for ever-piness; but since his daring intrusion into my she would lay hold of his hands, clasp his knees, apartments, he has been the object of my ha provoke him to spurn her, which would be joy in tred."

comparison to this cruel indifference.In the bit“But now, perhaps, I may tell you something terness of her grief, she once called upon her moto please you," cried Miss Woodley.

ther, and reproached her memory—but the mo“ And what is that ?" said Matilda, with indif ment she recollected this offence, (which was al ference ; for the first intelligence had hurt her most instantaneously) she became all mildness. spirits too much to suffer her to listen with pleasure and resignation. “ What have I said ?” cried she; to any thing.

“ Dear, dear, honoured saint, forgive me ; and for “Mr. Rushbrook," continued Miss Woodley, your sake I will bear all I have to bear with pati“ replied to your father, that his indisposition was ence--I will not groan, I will not even sigh again but a slight nervous fever, and he would defer a --this task I set myself to atone for what I liave physician's advice till he went to London-on dared to utter." which Lord Elmwood said, ' And when do you While Lady Matilda laboured under this varieexpect to be there ??—he replied, “Within a week ty of sensations, Miss Woodley was occupied in or two, I suppose, my lord.' But your father an bewailing and endeavouring to calm her sorrows swered, 'I do not mean to go myself till after -and Lord Elmwood, with Rushbrook, was ready Christmas.'— No, indeed, my lord!' said Mr. to set off. The earl, however, loitered, and did Sandford, with surprise : you have not passed not once seem in haste to be gone. Wh at last your Christmas here these many years.' No, he got up to depart, Sandford thought he pressed returned your

"but I think I feel myself his hand, and shook it with more warmth than more attached to this house at present than ever I ever he had done in his life. Encouraged by this did in my life.”

supposition, Sandford said, “ My lord, won't you “ You imagine, then, my father thought of me condescend to take your leave of Miss Woodwhen he said this ?” cried Matilda eagerly.

ley?"_" Certainly, Sandford,” replied he, and “But I may be mistaken,” replied Miss Wood seemed glad of an excuse to sit down again. ley. “I leave you to judge. Though I am sure Impressed with the pitiable state in which she Mr. Sandford imagined he thought of you, for I had left his only child, Miss Woodley, when she saw a smile over his whole face immediately.” came before Lord Elmwood to bid him farewell, “ Did you, Miss Woodley ?

was pale, trembling, and in tears.-Sandford, not“ Yes ; it appeared on every feature except his withstanding his patron's apparently kind humour, lips ; those he kept fast closed, for fear Lord Elm was alarmed at the construction he must put upon wood should perceive it."

her appearance, and cried, “What, Miss Woodley, Miss Woodley, with all her minute intelligence, are you not recovered of your illness yet?” Lord did not however acquaint Matilda, that Rushbrook Elmwood, however, took no notice of her looks, followed her to the window when the earl was out but after wishing her her health, walked slowly of the room, and Sandford half asleep at the other out of the house ; turning back frequently and end of it, and inquired respectfully but anxiously speaking to Sandford, or to some other person who for her ; adding, “ It is my concern for Lady was behind him., and he went with reluctance. Matilda which makes me thus indisposed : I suf When he had quitted the room where Miss fer more than she does ; but I am not permitted Woodley was, Rushbrook, timid before her, as to tell her so, nor can I hope, Miss Woodley, that she had been before her benefactor, went up to

She replied, “ You are right, sir.” her, all humility, and said, “ Miss Woodley, we Nor did she reveal this conversation, while not ought to be friends : our concern, our devotion is a sentence that passed, except that, was omit paid to the same objects, and one common interest ted.

should teach us to be friendly.” When Christmas arrived, Lord Elmwood had She made no reply—“Will you permit me to many convivial days at Elmwood House, but write to you when I am away?" said he; “You Matilda was never mentioned by one of his guests, may wish to hear of Lord Elmwood's health, and and most probably was never thought of. During of what changes may take place in his resoluall those holidays, she was unusually melancholy, tions—will you permit me?-At that mobut sunk into the deepest dejection when she was ment a servant came and said, “Sir, my lord is told the day was fixed on which her father was to in the carriage, and waiting for you.” He hasreturn to town. On the morning of that day she tened away, and Miss Woodley was relieved wept incessantly; and all her consolation was,

from the pain of giving him a denial. “ She would go to the chamber window that was No sooner was the travelling carriage, with all fronting the door through which he was to pass its attendants, out of sight, than Lady Matilda to his carriage, and for the first time, and most was conducted by Miss Woodley from her loneprobably for the last time in her life, behold him.” ly retreat, into that part of the house from whence This design was soon forgot in another : “She her father had just departed-and she visited every

you will.”


spot where he had so long resided, with a pleas son-in-law. Wedlock was not the plan which ing curiosity, that for a while diverted her grief. Lord Margrave had ever proposed to himself for In the breakfast and dining rooms, she leaned happiness; but the excess of his love on this new over those seats with a kind of filial piety, on occasion subdued all the resolutions he had formwhich she was told he had been accustomed to sit. ed against the married state; and not daring to And, in the library, she took up with filial delight hope for the consummation of his wishes by any the pen with which he had been writing; and other means, he suffered himself to look forward looked with the most curious attention into those to marriage, as his only resource. No sooner was books that were laid upon his reading desk. But the long expected death of Lady Elmwood arriva hat, lying on one of the tables, gave her a sen ed, than he waited with impatience to hear that sation beyond any other she experienced on this Lady Matilda was sent for and acknowledged by occasion-in that trifling article of his dress, she her father; for he meant to be the first to lay bethought she saw himself, and held it in her hand fore Lord Elmwood his pretensions as a suitor, with pious reverence.

But those pretensions were founded on the vague In the mean time, Lord Elmwood and Rush hopes of a lover only; and Miss Woodley, to brook were proceeding on the road, with hearts whom he first declared them, said everything not less heavy than those which they had left possible to convince him of their fallacy. As to the at Elmwood House; though neither of them object of his passion, she was not only insensible, could so well define the cause of this oppression, but wholly inattentive to all that was said to her as Matilda could account for the weight which on the subject ;-Lady Elmwood died without oppressed hers.

ever being disturbed with it; for her daughter did not even remember his proposals so as to repeat them again, and Miss Woodley thought it prudent to conceal from her friend every new incident which might give her cause for new anxie

ties. Young as Lady Matilda was during the life of When Sandford and the ladies left the north her mother, neither her youth, nor the recluse state and came to Elmwood House, so much were their in which she lived, had precluded her from the thoughts employed with other affairs that Lord notice and solicitations of a nobleman who had Margrave did not occupy a place; and during professed himself her lover. Viscount Margrave the whole time they had been at their new abode, had an estate not far distant from the retreat La they had never once heard of him. He had, dy Elmwood had chosen ; and being devoted to nevertheless, his whole mind fixed upon Lady the sports of the country, he seldom quitted it for Matilda, and had placed spies in the neighbourany of those joys which the town offered. He hood to inform him of every circumstance relatwas a young man, of a handsome person, and ing to her situation. Having imbibed an averwas, what his neighbours called “a man of spi sion to matrimony, he heard with but little regret, rit. He was an excellent fox hunter, and as ex that there was no prospect of her ever becoming cellent a companion over his bottle at the end of her father's heir, while such an information gave the chase—he was prodigal of his fortune, where him the hope of obtaining her upon the terms of his pleasures were concerned, and as those plea

a mercenary companion. sures were chietly social, his sporting companions Lord Elmwood's departure to town forwarded and his mistresses (for these were also of the plu this hope, and flattering himself that the humiliral number) partook largely of his wealth.

ating state, in which Matilda must feel herself in Two months previous to Lady Elmwood's the house of her father, might gladly induce her death, Miss Woodley and Lady Matilda were to take shelter under any other protection, he taking their usual walk in some fields and lanes boldly advanced, as soon as the earl was gone, near to their house, when chance threw Lord

to make such overture as his wishes and his vaMargrave in their way during a thunder storm, in niiy told him could not be rejected. which they were suddenly caught; and he had the Inquiring for Miss Woodley, he easily gained satisfaction to convey his new acquaintances to admittance; but at the sight of so much modesty their home in his coach, safe from the fury of the and dignity in the person of Matilda, the appearelements. Grateful for the service he had ren ance of so much good will, and yet such circumdered them, Miss Woodley and her charge per spection in her female friend, and charmed at the mitted him to inquire occasionally after their good sense and proper spirit which were always health, and would sometimes see him. The sto apparent in Sandford, he fell once more into the ry of Lady Elmwood was known to Lord Mar dread of never becoming to Lady Matilda any grave, and as he beheld her daughter with a pas thing of more importance to his reputation than a sion such as he had been unused to overcome, he husband. indulged it with the probable hope, that on the Even that humble hope was sometimes denied death of the mother Lord Elmwood would re him, while Sandford set forth the impropriety of ceive his child, and perhaps accept him as his troubling Lord Elmwood on such a subject at pre

sent; and while the Viscount's penetration, small as it was, discovered in his fair one more to discourage than to favour his wishes. Plunged, however, too deep in his passion to emerge from it in haste, he meant still to visit, and to wait for a change to happier circumstances; when he was peremptorily desired, by Mr. Sandford, to desist from ever coming again.

“And why, Mr. Sandford ?” cried he.

“For two reasons, my lord ;-in the first place, your visits might be displeasing to Lord Elmwood;

--in the next place, I know they are so to his daughter."

Unaccustomed to be addressed so plainly, particularly in a case where his heart was interested, he nevertheless submitted with patience; but, in his own mind, determined how long this patience should continue-no longer than it served as the means to prove his obedience, and by that artifice, to secure his better reception at some future period.

On his return home, cheered with the huzzas of his jovial companions, he began to consult those friends, what scheme was best to be adopted for the accomplishment of his desires. Some boldly advised application to the father in defiance to the old priest; but that was the very last method his lordship himself approved, as marriage must inevitably have followed Lord Elmwood's consent: besides, though a peer, Lord Margrave was unused to rank with peers; and even the formality of an interview with one of his equals carried along with it a terror, or at least a fatigue, to a rustic lord. Others of his companions advised seduction ; but happily the viscount possessed no arts of this kind, to affect a heart joined with such an understanding as Matilda's. There were not wanting among his most favourite counsellors some who painted the superior triumph and gratification of force; those assured him there was nothing to apprehend under this head, as from the behaviour of Lord Elmwood to his child, it was more than probable, he would be utterly indifferent as to any violence that might be offered her. This last advice seemed inspired by the aid of wine ; and no sooner had the wine freely circulated, than this was always the expedient which appeared by far the best.

While Lord Margrave alternately cherished his hopes and his fears in the country, Rushbrook in town gave way to his fears only. Every day of his life made him more acquainted with the firm unshaken temper of Lord Elmwood, and every day whispered more forcibly to him, that pity, gratitude, and friendship, strong and affectionate as these passions are, were weak and cold to that which had gained the possession of his heart--he doubted, but he did not long doubt, that, which he felt was love. “And yet,” said he to himself, “it is love of such a kind as, arising from causes independent of the object itself, can scarce deserve that gacred name. Did I not love Lady Matilda before I beheld her ? for her mother's sake I loved

her-and even for her father's. Should I have felt the same affection for her, had she been the child of other parents ? No. Or should I have felt that sympathetic tenderness which now preys upon my health, had not her misfortunes excited it? No." Yet the love which is the result of gratitude and pity only, he thought, had little claim to rank with his; and after the most deliberate and deep reflection, he concluded with this decisive opinion -He should have loved Lady Matilda, in whatever state, in whatever circumstances; and that the tenderness he felt towards her, and the anxiety for her happiness before he knew her, extreme as they were, were yet cool and dispassionate sensations, compared to those which her person and demeanour had incited—and though he acknowledged that, by the preceding sentiments, his heart was softened, prepared, and moulded, as it were, to receive this last impression; yet the violence of his passion told him that genuine love, if not the basis on which it was founded, had been the certain consequence. With a strict scrutiny into his heart he sought this knowledge, but arrived at it with a regret that amounted to despair.

To shield him from despondency, he formed in his mind a thousand visions, displaying the joys of his union with Lady Matilda ; but her father's implacability confounded them all. Lord Elmwood was a man who made few resolutions—but those were the effect of deliberation; and as he was not the least capricious or inconstant in his temper, they were resolutions which no probable event could shake. Love, which produces wonders, which seduces and subdues the most determined and rigid spirits, had in two instances overcome the inflexibility of Lord Elmwood; he married Lady Elmwood contrary to his determination, because he loved; and for the sake of this beloved object, he had, contrary to his resolution, taken under his immediate care young Rushbrook ! but the magic which once enchanted away this spirit of immutability was no more–Lady Elmwood was no more, and the charm was broken.

As Miss Woodley was deprived of the opportunity of desiring Rushbrook not to write, when he asked her the permission, he passed one whole morning in the gratification of forming and writing a letter to her, which he thought might possibly be shown to Matilda. As he dared not touch upon any of those circumstances in which he was the most interested, this, joined to the respect he wished to pay the lady to whom he wrote, limited this letter to about twenty lines; yet the studious manner with which these lines were dictated, the hope that they might, and the fear that they might not, be seen and regarded by Lady Matilda, rendered the task an anxiety so pleasing that he could have wished it might have lasted for a year; and in this tendency to magnify trifles was discoverable the never failing symptom of ardent love.

A reply to this formal address was a reward he wished for with impatience, but he wished in vain;

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

and in the midst of his chagrin at the disappointment, a sorrow, little thought of, occurred, and gave him a perturbation of mind he had never before experienced. Lord Elmwood proposed a wife to him; and in a way so assured of his acquiescence, that if Rushbrook's life had depended upon his daring to dispute his benefactor's will, he would not have had the courage to have done so. There was, however, in his reply and his embarrassment something which his uncle distinguished from a free concurrence; and looking steadfastly at him, he said, in that stern manner which he now almost invariably assumed,

“You have no engagements, I suppose ? Have made no previous promises ?

“None on earth, my lord,” replied Rushbrook candidly. “Nor have you disposed of your heart ?

No, my lord,” replied he ; but not candidlynor with any appearance of candour : for though he spoke hastily, it was rather like a man frightened than assured. He hurried to tell the falsehood he thought himself obliged to tell, that the pain and shame might be over ; but there he was deceived—the lie once told was more troublesome than in the conception, and added another confusion to the first.

Lord Elmwood now fixed his eyes upon him with a sullen scorn, and rising from his chair, said, “Rushbrook, if you have been so inconsiderate as to give away your heart, tell me so at once, and tell me the object.”

Rushbrook shuddered at the thought.

“I here,” continued the earl, "tolerate the first untruth you ever told me, as the false assertion of a lover ; and give you an opportunity of recalling it-but after this moment, it is a lie between man and man-a lie to your friend and father, and I will not forgive it."

Rushbrook stood silent, confused, alarmed, and bewildered in his thoughts,-Lord Elmwood proceeded :

“Name the person, if there is any, on whom you have bestowed your heart ; and though I do not give you the hope that I shall not censure your folly, I will at least not reproach you for having at first denied it.”

To repeat these words in writing, the reader must condemn the young man that he could hesitate to own he loved, if he was even afraid to name the object of his passion ; but his interrogator had made the two answers inseparable, so that all evasions of the second, Rushbrook knew, would be fruitless, after having avowed the first—and how could he confess the latter? The absolute orders he received from the steward, on his first return from his travels, were,

“ Never to mention his daughter, any more than his late wife, before Lord Elmwood.” The fault of having rudely intruded into Lady Matilda's presence rushed also upon his mind ; for he did not even dare to say, by what means he had beheld her. But more than

all, the threatening manner in which this rational and apparently conciliating speech was uttered, the menaces, the severity which sat upon the earl's countenance while he delivered those moderate words, might have intimidated a man wholly independent, and less used to fear him than his nephew had been.

“ You make no answer, sir,” said Lord Elmwood, after waiting a few moments for his reply.

“ I have only to say, my lord,” returned Rushbrook, “that although my heart may be totally disengaged, I may yet be disinclined to marriage.”

May! May! Your heart may be disengaged," repeated he. “Do you dare to reply to me equivocally, when I asked a positive answer ?”

Perhaps I am not positive myself, my lord ; but I will inquire into the state of my mind, and make you acquainted with it very soon."

As the angry demeanour of his uncle affected Rushbrook with fear, so that fear, powerfully (but with proper manliness) expressed, again softened the displeasure of lord Elmwood ; and seeing and pitying his nephew's sensibility, he now changed his austere voice, and said mildly, but firmly :

“ I give you a week to consult with yourself ; at the expiration of that time I shall talk with you again, and I command you to be then prepared to speak, not only without deceit, but without hesitation.” He left the room at these words, and left Rushbrook released from a fate, which his apprehensions had beheld impending that moment.

He had now a week to call his thoughts together, to weigh every circumstance, and to determine whether implicitly to submit to Lord Elmwood's recommendation of a wife, or to revolt from it, and see another, with more subserviency to his will, appointed his heir.

Undetermined how to act upon this trial which was to decide his future destiny, Rushbrook suffered so poignant an uncertainty that he became at length ill, and before the end of the week that was allotted him for his reply, he was confined to his bed in a high fever. Lord Elmwood was extremely affected at his indisposition ; he gave him every care he could bestow, and even much of his personal attendance. This last favour had a claim upon the young man's gratitude, superior to every other obligation which since his infancy his benefactor had conferred ; and he was at times so moved by those marks of kindness he received, that he would form the intention of tearing from his heart every trace that Lady Matilda had left there, and as soon as his health would permit him, obey, to the utmost of his views, every wish his uncle had conceived. Yet again, her pitiable situation presented itself to his compassion, and her beauteous person to his love. Divided beteween the claims of obligation to the father, and tender attachment to the daughter, his illness was increased by the tortures of his mind, and he once

June, he advised him to go to Elmwood house a week or two before him;—this advice was received with delight, and a letter was sent to Mr. Sandford to prepare for Mr. Rushbrook's arrival.


sincerely wished for that death, of which he was in danger, to free him from the dilemma in which his affections had involved him.

At the time his disorder was at the height, and he lay complaining of the violence of his fever, Lord Elmwood taking his hand, asked him, “ If there was any thing he could do for him ?

“ Yes, yes, my lord, a great deal :” he replied eagerly.

« What is it, Harry ?"

“Oh! my lord,” replied he, “ that is what I must not tell you."

“ Defer it then till you are well :” said Lord Elmwood ; afraid of being surprised, or affected by the state of his health, into any promises which he might hereafter find the impropriety of granting

« And when I recover, my lord, you give me leave to reveal to you my wishes, let them be what they will ?

His uncle hesitated -but seeing an anxiety for the answer, by his raising himself upon his elbow in the bed and staring wildly, Lord Elmwood at last said, “ Certainly-Yes, Yes,” as a child is answered for its quiet.

That Lord Elmwood could have no suspicion what the real petition was, which Rushbrook meant to present him, is certain ; but it is certain he expected he had some request to make, with which it might be wrong for him to comply, and therefore he now avoided hearing what it was ; for great as his compassion for him was in his present state, it was not of sufficient force to urge him to give a promise he did not mean to perform. Rushbrook, on his part, was pleased with the assurance he might speak when he was restored to health; but no sooner was his fever abated, and his senses perfectly recovered from the derangement his malady had occasioned, than the lively remembrance of what he had hinted alarmed him, and he was abashed to look his kind, but awful relation in the face. Lord Elmwood's cheerfulness, however, on his returning health, and his undiminished attention, soon convinced him that he had nothing to fear. But, alas ! he found too, that he had nothing to hope. As his health re-established, his wishes re-established also, and with his wishes, his despair.

Convinced by what had passed, that his nephew had something on his mind which he feared to reveal, the earl no longer doubted but that some youthful attachment had armed him against any marriage he should propose ; but he had so much pity for his present weak state, as to delay that further inquiry which he had threatened before his illness, to a time when his health should be entirely restored.

It was at the end of May before Rushbrook was able to partake in the usual routine of the day :--the country was now prescribed him as the means of complete restoration ; and as Lord Elmwood designed to leave London some time in

During the illness of Rushbrook, news had been sent of his danger, from the servants in town to those at Elmwood house, and Lady Matilda expressed compassion when she was told of it;—she began to conceive, the instant she thought he would soon die, that his visit to her had merit rather than impertinence in its design, and that he might possibly be a more deserving man than she had supposed him to be. Even Sandford and Miss Woodley began to recollect qualifications he possessed, which they never had reflected on before; and Miss Woodley, in particular, reproached herself that she had been so severe and inattentive to him. Notwithstanding the prospects his death pointed out to her, it was with infinite joy she heard he was recovered ; nor was Sandford less satisfied; for he had treated the young man too unkindly not to dread, lest any ill should befall him. But although he was glad to hear of his restored health ; when he was informed he was coming down to Elmwood house for a few weeks in the style of its master, Sandford, with all his religious and humane principles, could not help conceiving, “ that if the youth had been properly prepared to die, he had been as well out of the world as in it.”

He was still less his friend when he saw him arrive with his usual florid complexion : had he come pale and sickly, Sandford had been kind to him ; but in apparently good health and spirits, he could not form his lips to tell him he was “glad to see him."

On his arrival, Matilda, who for five months had been at large, secluded herself as she would have done upon the arrival of Lord Elmwood; but with far different sensations. Notwithstanding her restriction on the latter occasion, the residence of her father in that house had been a source of pleasure rather than of sorrow to her ; but from the abode of Rushbrook she derived punishment alone.

When, from inquiries, Rushbrook found that on his approach, Matilda had retired to her own confined apartments, the thought was torture to him; it was the hope of seeing and conversing with her, of being admitted at all times to her society as the mistress of the house, that had raised his spirits, and effected his perfect cure beyond any other cause ; and he was hurt to the greatest degree at this respect, or rather contempt, shown to him by her retreat.

It was nevertheless, a subject too delicate for him to touch upon in any sense :-an invitation

« НазадПродовжити »