If Miss Fenton was admired by Dorriforth, by Sandford she was adored—and, instead of placing her as an example to Miss Milner, he spoke of her as of one endowed beyond Miss Milner's power of imitation. Often, with a shake of his head and a sigh, would he say,
"No; I am not so hard upon you as your guardian: I only desire you to love Miss Fenton; to resemble her, I believe, is above your ability."
This was too much to bear composedly—and poor Miss Woodley, who was generally a witness of these controversies, felt a degree of sorrow at every sentence which like the foregoing chagrined and distressed her friend. Yet as she suffered too for Mr. Sandford, the joy of her friend's reply was abated by the uneasiness it gave to him. But Mrs. Horton felt for none but the right reverend priest; and often did she feel so violently interested in his cause, that she could not refrain giving an answer herself in his behalf—thus doing the duty of an adversary with all the zeal of an advocate.
Mr. Sandford finding his friend Dorriforth frequently perplexed in the management of his ward, and he himself thinking her incorrigible, gave his counsel, that a suitable match should be immediately sought out for her, and the care of so dangerous a person given into other hands. Dorriforth acknowledged the propriety of this advice, but lamented the difficulty of pleasing his ward as to the quality of her lover; for she had refused, besides Sir Edward Ashton, many others of equal pretensions. "Depend upon it then," cried Sandford, "that her affections are engaged; and it is proper that you should know to whom." Dorriforth thought he did know, and mentioned Lord Frederick; but said that he had no farther authority for the supposition than what his observation had given him, for that every explanation both upon his and her side had been evaded. "Take her then," cried Sandford, "into the country, and if Lord Frederick should not follow, there is an end of your suspicions."
"I shall not easily prevail upon Miss Milner to leave town," replied he, "while it is in the highest fashion."
"You can but try," returned Sandford; "and if you should not succeed now, at least fix the time you mean to go during the autumn, and be firm to your determination."
"But in the autumn," replied Dorriforth, "Lord Frederick will of course be in the country; and as his uncle's estate is near our residence, he will not then so evidently follow her, as he would if I could induce her to go now."
It was agreed the attempt should be made. Instead of receiving this abrupt proposal with uneasiness, Miss Milner, to the surprise of all present, immediately consented; and gave her guardian an opportunity of saying several of the kindest and politest things upon her ready compliance.
"A token of approbation from you, Mr. Dorriforth," returned she, "I always considered with high estimation—but your commendations are now become infinitely superior in value by their scarcity; for I do not believe that since Miss Fenton and Mr. Sandford came to town, I have received one testimony of your esteem."
Had these words been uttered with pleasantry, they might have passed without observation; but at the conclusion of the period, resentment flew to Miss Milner's face, and she darted a piercing look at Mr. Sandford, which more pointedly expressed that she was angry with him, than if she had spoken volumes in her usual strain of raillery. Dorriforth was confused—but the concern which she had so plainly evinced for his good opinion throughout all that she had been saying, silenced any rebuke he might else have given her, for this unwarrantable charge against his friend. Mrs. Horton was shocked at the irreverent manner in which Mr. Sandford was treated—and Miss Woodley turned to him with a benevolent smile upon her face, hoping to set him an example of the manner in which he should receive the reproach. Her good wishes did not succeed—yet he was perfectly unruffled, and replied with coolness,
"The air of the country has affected the lady already—but it is a comfortable thing," continued he, "that in the variety of humours to which some women are exposed, they cannot be uniform even in deceit."
"Deceit!" cried Miss Milner, "in what am I deceitful? did I ever pretend that I had an esteem for you?"
"That would not have been deceit, Madam, but merely good manners."
"I never, Mr. Sandford, sacrificed truth to politeness."
"Except when the country has been proposed, and you thought it politeness to appear satisfied."
"And I was satisfied, till I recollected that you might probably be of the party—then, every grove was changed into a wilderness, every rivulet into a stagnated pool, and every singing bird into a croaking raven."
"A very poetical description," returned he calmly. "But, Miss Milner, you need not have had any apprehensions of my company in the country, for I understand the seat to which your guardian means to go, belongs to you; and you may depend upon it, Madam, that I shall never enter a house in which you are the mistress."
"Nor any house, I am certain, Mr. Sandford, but in which you are yourself the master."
"What do you mean, Madam? (and for the first time he elevated his voice,) am I the master here?"
"Your servants," replied she, looking at the company, "will not tell you so; but I do."
"You condescend, Mr. Sandford," cried Mrs. Horton, "in talking so much to a young heedless woman; but I know you do it for her good."
"Well, Miss Milner," cried Dorriforth, (and the most cutting thing he could say,) "since I find my proposal of the country has put you out of humour, I shall mention it no more."
With all that quantity of resentment, anger, or rage, which sometimes boiled in the veins of Miss Milner, she was yet never wanting in that respect towards her guardian, which with-held her from ever uttering one angry sentence, directed immediately to him; and a severe word of his, instead of exasperating, was sure to subdue her. This was the case at present—his words wounded her to the heart, but she had not the asperity to reply to them as she thought they merited, and she burst into tears. Dorriforth, instead of being concerned, as he usually was at seeing her uneasy, appeared on the present occasion provoked. He thought her weeping was a new reproach to his friend Mr. Sandford, and that to suffer himself to be moved by it, would be a tacit condemnation of his friend's conduct. She understood his thoughts, and getting the better of her tears, apologised for her weakness; adding,
"She could never bear with indifference an unjust accusation."
"To prove that mine was unjust, Madam," replied Dorriforth; "be prepared to quit London, without any marks of regret, in a few days."
She bowed assent; the necessary preparations were agreed upon; and while with apparent satisfaction she adjusted the plan of her journey, (like those who behave well, not so much to please themselves as to vex their enemies,) she secretly triumphed in the mortification she hoped that Mr. Sandford would receive from her obedient behaviour.
The news of this intended journey was of course soon made public. There is a secret charm in being pitied, when the misfortune is but ideal; and Miss Milner found infinite gratification in being told, "That her's was a cruel case, and that it was unjust and barbarous to force so much beauty into concealment while London was filled with her admirers; who, like her, would languish in consequence of her solitude." These things, and a thousand such, a thousand times repeated, she still listened to with pleasure; yet preserved the constancy not to shrink from her resolution of submitting.
Those involuntary sighs, however, that Miss Woodley had long ago observed, became still more frequent; and a tear half starting in her eye was an additional subject of her friend's observation. Yet though Miss Milner at those times was softened into melancholy, she by no means appeared unhappy. Her friend was acquainted with love only by name; yet she was confirmed from these increased symptoms, in what she before only suspected, that love must be the foundation of her care. "Her senses have been captivated by the person and accomplishments of Lord Frederick," said Miss Woodley to herself, "but her understanding compels her to see his faults, and reproaches her passion.—And, oh!" cried she, "could her guardian and Mr. Sandford know of this conflict, how much would they have to admire; how little to condemn!"
With such friendly thoughts, and with the purest intentions, Miss Woodley did not fail to give both gentlemen reason to believe, a contention of this nature was the actual state of Miss Milner's mind. Dorriforth was affected at the description, and Sandford urged more than ever the necessity of leaving town. In a few days they departed; Mrs. Horton, Miss Woodley, Miss Milner, and Mr. Dorriforth, accompanied by Miss Fenton, whom Miss Milner, knowing it to be the wish of her guardian, invited, for three months before her marriage, to her country seat. Elmwood House, or rather Castle, the seat of Lord Elmwood, was only a few miles distant from this residence, and he was expected to pass great part of the summer there, with his tutor, Mr. Sandford.
In the neighbourhood was also (as it has been already said) an estate belonging to an uncle of Lord Frederick's, and most of the party suspected they should soon see him on a visit there. To that expectation they in great measure attributed Miss Milner's visible content.
With this party Miss Milner arrived at her country house, and for near six weeks, all around was the picture of tranquillity; her satisfaction was as evident as every other person's; and all severe admonition being at this time unnecessary, either to exhort her to her duty, or to warn her against her folly, she was even in perfect good humour with Miss Fenton, and added friendship to hospitality.
Mr. Sandford, who came with Lord Elmwood to the neighbouring seat, about a week after the arrival of Miss Milner at her's, was so scrupulously exact in the observance of his word, "Never to enter a house of Miss Milner's," that he would not even call upon his friend Dorriforth there—but in their walks, and at Lord Elmwood's, the two parties would occasionally join, and of course Sandford and she at those times met—yet so distant was the reserve on either side, that not a single word upon any occasion was ever exchanged between them.
Miss Milner did not like Mr. Sandford; yet as there was no cause of inveterate rancour, admiring him too as a man who meant well, and being besides of a most forgiving temper, she frequently felt concerned that he did not speak to her, although it had been to find fault as usual—and one morning as they were all, after a long ramble, drawing towards her house, where Lord Elmwood was invited to dine, she could not restrain dropping a tear at seeing Sandford turn back and wish them a "Good day."
But though she had the generosity to forgive an affront, she had not the humility to make a concession; and she foresaw that nothing less than some very humble atonement on her part would prevail upon the haughty priest to be reconciled. Dorriforth saw her concern upon this last trifling occasion with a secret pleasure, and an admiration that she had never before excited. She once insinuated to him to be a mediator between them; but before any accommodation could take place, the peace and composure of their abode were disturbed by the arrival of Sir Edward Ashton at Lord Elmwood's, where it appeared as if he had been invited in order to pursue his matrimonial plan.
At a dinner given by Lord Elmwood, Sir Edward was announced as an unexpected visitor; Miss Milner did not suppose him such, and she turned pale when his name was uttered. Dorriforth fixed his eyes upon her with some tokens of compassion, while Sandford seemed to exult, and by his repeated "Welcomes" to the Baronet, gave proofs how much he was rejoiced to see him. All the declining enmity of Miss Milner was renewed at this behaviour, and suspecting Sandford as the instigator of the visit, she could not overcome her displeasure, but gave way to it in a manner she thought the most mortifying. Sir Edward, in the course of conversation, enquired "What neighbours were in the country;" and she, with an appearance of high satisfaction, named Lord Frederick Lawnly as being hourly expected at his uncle's. The colour spread over Sir Edward's face—Dorriforth was confounded—and Mr. Sandford looked enraged.
"Did Lord Frederick tell you he should be down?" Sandford asked of Dorriforth.
To which he replied, "No."
"But I hope, Mr. Sandford, you will permit me to know?" said Miss Milner. For as she now meant to torment him by what she said, she no longer constrained herself to silence—and as he harboured the same kind intention towards her, he had no longer any objection to make a reply, and therefore answered,
"No, madam, if it depended upon my permission, you should not know."
"Not any thing, Sir, I dare say; you would keep me in utter ignorance."
"From a self-interested motive, Mr. Sandford—that I might have a greater respect for you."
Some of the company laughed—Mrs. Horton coughed—Miss Woodley blushed—Lord Elmwood sneered—Dorriforth frowned—and Miss Fenton looked just as she did before.
The conversation was changed as soon as possible, and early in the evening the party from Milner Lodge returned home.
Miss Milner had scarce left her dressing room, where she had been taking off some part of her dress, when Dorriforth's servant came to acquaint her that his master was alone in his study, and begged to speak with her. She felt herself tremble—she immediately experienced a consciousness that she had not acted properly at Lord Elmwood's; for she felt a presentiment that her guardian was going to upbraid her, and her heart whispered that he had never yet reproached her without a cause.
Miss Woodley just then entered her apartment, and she found herself so much a coward, as to propose that she should go with her, and aid her with a word or two occasionally in her excuse.
"What you, my dear," returned Miss Woodley, "who not three hours ago had the courage to vindicate your own cause before a whole company, of whom many were your adversaries; do you want an advocate before your guardian alone, who has ever treated you with tenderness?"
"It is that very tenderness which frightens me; which intimidates, and strikes me dumb. Is it possible I can return impertinence to the language and manners which Mr. Dorriforth uses? and as I am debarred from that resource, what can I do but stand before him like a guilty creature, acknowledging my faults."
She again entreated her friend to go with her; but on a positive refusal, from the impropriety of such an intrusion, she was obliged at length to go by herself.
How much does the difference of exterior circumstances influence not only the manners, but even the persons of some people! Miss Milner in Lord Elmwood's drawing room, surrounded by listeners, by admirers, (for even her enemies could not look at her without admiration) animated with approbation and applause—and Miss Milner, with no giddy observer to give her actions a false eclat, destitute of all but her own understanding, (which secretly condemns her) upon the point of receiving censure from her guardian and friend, are two different beings. Though still beautiful beyond description, she does not look even in person the same. In the last-mentioned situation, she was shorter in stature than in the former—she was paler—she was thinner—and a very different contour presided over her whole air, and all her features.
When she arrived at the door of the study, she opened it with a trepidation she could hardly account for, and entered to Dorriforth the altered woman she has been represented. His heart had taken the most decided part against her, and his face had assumed the most severe aspect of reproach; but her appearance gave an instantaneous change to his whole mind, and countenance.
She halted, as if she feared to approach—he hesitated, as if he knew not how to speak. Instead of the anger with which he was prepared to begin, his voice involuntarily softened, and without knowing what he said, he began,
"My dear Miss Milner."—
She expected he was angry, and in her confusion his gentleness was lost upon her. She imagined that what he said might be censure, and she continued to tremble, though he repeatedly assured her, that he meant only to advise, not upbraid her.
"For as to all those little disputes between Mr. Sandford and you," said he, "I should be partial if I blamed you more than him—indeed, when you take the liberty to condemn him, his character makes the freedom appear in a more serious light than when he complains of you—and yet, if he provokes your retorts, he alone must answer for them; nor will I undertake to decide betwixt you. But I have a question to ask you, and to which I require a serious and unequivocal answer. Do you expect Lord Frederick in the country?"
Without hesitation she replied, "I do."
"One more question I have to ask, madam, and to which I expect a reply equally unreserved. Is Lord Frederick the man you approve for your husband?"
Upon this close interrogation she discovered an embarrassment, beyond any she had ever yet betrayed, and faintly replied,
"No, he is not."
"Your words tell me one thing," answered Dorriforth, "but your looks declare another—which am I to believe?"
"Which you please," was her answer, while she discovered an insulted dignity, that astonished, without convincing him.
"But then why encourage him to follow you hither, Miss Milner?"
"Why commit a thousand follies (she replied in tears) every hour of my life?"
"You then promote the hopes of Lord Frederick without one serious intention of completing them? This is a conduct against which it is my duty to guard you, and you shall no longer deceive either him or yourself. The moment he arrives, it is my resolution that you refuse to see him, or consent to become his wife."
In answer to the alternative thus offered, she appeared averse to both propositions; and yet came to no explanation why; but left her guardian at the end of the conference as much at a loss to decide upon her true sentiments, as he was before he had thus seriously requested he might be informed of them; but having stedfastly taken the resolution which he had just communicated, he found that resolution a certain relief to his mind.
Sir Edward Ashton, though not invited by Miss Milner, yet frequently did himself the honour to visit her at her house; sometimes he accompanied Lord Elmwood, at other times he came to see Dorriforth alone, who generally introduced him to the ladies. But Sir Edward was either so unwilling to give pain to the object of his love, or so intimidated by her frowns, that he seldom addressed her with a single word, except the usual compliments at entering, and retiring. This apprehension of offending, without one hope of pleasing, had the most awkward effect upon the manners of the worthy Baronet; and his endeavours to insinuate himself into the affections of the woman he loved, merely by not giving her offence either in speaking to her or looking at her, formed a character so whimsical, that it frequently forced a smile from Miss Milner, though his very name had often power to throw a gloom over her face: she looked upon him as the cause of her being hurried to the election of a lover, before her own mind could well direct her where to fix. Besides, his pursuit was troublesome, while it was no triumph to her vanity, which by the addresses of Lord Frederick, was in the highest manner gratified.
His Lordship now arrives in the country, and calls one morning at Miss Milner's; her guardian sees his carriage coming up the avenue, and gives orders to the servants, to say their lady is not at home, but that Mr. Dorriforth is: Lord Frederick leaves his compliments and goes away.
The ladies all observed his carriage and servants. Miss Milner flew to her glass, adjusted her dress, and in her looks expressed every sign of palpitation—but in vain she keeps her eye fixed upon the door of the apartment; no Lord Frederick appears.
After some minutes of expectation, the door opens and her guardian comes in;—she was disappointed; he perceived that she was, and he looked at her with a most serious face;—she immediately called to mind the assurance he had given her, "That her acquaintance with Lord Frederick in its then improper state should not continue," and between chagrin and confusion, she was at a loss how to behave.
Though the ladies were all present, Dorriforth said, without the smallest reserve, "Perhaps, Miss Milner, you may think I have taken an unwarrantable liberty, in giving orders to your servants to deny you to Lord Frederick; but until his Lordship and I have had a private conference, or you condescend to declare your sentiments more fully in regard to his visits, I think it my duty to put an end to them."
"You will always perform your duty, Mr. Dorriforth, I have no doubt, whether I concur or not."
"Yet believe me, madam, I should perform it more cheerfully, if I could hope that it was sanctioned by your inclinations."
"I am not mistress of my inclinations, Sir, or they should conform to yours."
"Place them under my direction, and I will answer for it they will."
A servant came in—"Lord Frederick is returned, Sir, and says he should be glad to see you."
"Shew him into the study," cried Dorriforth hastily, and rising from his chair, left the room.
"I hope they won't quarrel," said Mrs. Horton, meaning, that she thought they would.
"I am sorry to see you so uneasy, Miss Milner," said Miss Fenton, with perfect unconcern.
As the badness of the weather had prevented their usual morning's exercise, the ladies were employed at their needles till the dinner bell called them away. "Do you think Lord Frederick is gone?" then whispered Miss Milner to Miss Woodley.—"I think not," she replied.—"Go ask of the servants, dear creature." And Miss Woodley went out of the room. She soon returned and said, apart, "He is now getting into his chariot; I saw him pass in violent haste through the hall; he seemed to fly."
"Ladies, the dinner is waiting," cried Mrs. Horton, and they repaired to the dining room, where Dorriforth soon after came, and engrossed their whole attention by his disturbed looks, and unusual silence. Before dinner was over, he was, however, more himself, but still he appeared thoughtful and dissatisfied. At the time of their evening walk he excused himself from accompanying them, and they saw him in a distant field with Mr. Sandford in earnest conversation; for Sandford and he often stopped on one spot for a quarter of an hour, as if the interest of the subject had so engaged them, they stood still without knowing it. Lord Elmwood, who had joined the ladies, walked home with them; Dorriforth entered soon after, in a much less gloomy humour than when he went out, and told his relation, that he and the ladies would dine with him the next day if he was disengaged; and it was agreed they should.
Still Dorriforth was in some perturbation, but the immediate cause was concealed till the day following, when, about an hour before the company's departure from the Castle, Miss Milner and Miss Woodley were desired, by a servant, to walk into a separate apartment, in which they found Mr. Dorriforth with Mr. Sandford waiting for them. Her guardian made an apology to Miss Milner for the form, the ceremony, of which he was going to make use; but he trusted, the extreme weight which oppressed his mind, lest he should mistake the real sentiments of a person whose happiness depended upon his correct knowledge of them, would plead his excuse.
"I know, Miss Milner," continued he, "the world in general allows to unmarried women great latitude in disguising their mind with respect to the man they love. I too, am willing to pardon any little dissimulation that is but consistent with a modesty that becomes every woman upon the subject of marriage. But here, to what point I may limit, or you may extend, this kind of venial deceit, may so widely differ, that it is not impossible for me to remain unacquainted with your sentiments, even after you have revealed them to me. Under this consideration, I wish once more to hear your thoughts in regard to matrimony, and to hear them before one of your own sex, that I may form an opinion by her constructions."
To all this serious oration, Miss Milner made no other reply than by turning to Mr. Sandford, and asking, "If he was the person of her own sex, to whose judgment her guardian was to submit his own?"
"Madam," cried Sandford angrily, "you are come hither upon serious business."
"Any business must be serious to me, Mr. Sandford, in which you are concerned; and if you had called it sorrowful, the epithet would have suited as well."
"Miss Milner," said her guardian, "I did not bring you here to contend with Mr. Sandford."
"Then why, Sir, bring him hither? for where he and I are, there must be contention."
"I brought him hither, Madam, or I should rather say, brought you to this house, merely that he might be present on this occasion, and with his discernment relieve me from a suspicion, that my own judgment is neither able to suppress nor to confirm."
"Are there any more witnesses you may wish to call in, Sir, to remove your doubts of my veracity? if there are, pray send for them before you begin your interrogations."
He shook his head—she continued.
"The whole world is welcome to hear what I say, and every different person is welcome to judge me differently."
"Dear Miss Milner,"—cried Miss Woodley, with a tone of reproach for the vehemence with which she had spoken.
"Perhaps, Miss Milner," said Dorriforth, "you will not now reply to those questions I was going to put?"
"Did I ever refuse, Sir," returned she with a self-approving air, "to comply with any request that you have seriously made? Have I ever refused obedience to your commands whenever you thought proper to lay them upon me? If not, you have no right to suppose that I will do so now."
He was going to reply, when Mr. Sandford sullenly interrupted him, and making towards the door, cried, "When you come to the point for which you brought me here, send for me again."
"Stay now," said Dorriforth. "And Miss Milner," continued he, "I not only entreat, but command you to tell me—have you given your word, or your affections to Lord Frederick Lawnly?"
The colour spread over her face, and she replied—"I thought confessions were always to be in secret; however, as I am not a member of your church, I submit to the persecution of a heretic, and I answer—Lord Frederick has neither my word, nor any share in my affections."
Sandford, Dorriforth, and Miss Woodley looked at each other with a degree of surprise that for some time kept them silent. At length Dorriforth said, "And it is your firm intention never to become his wife?"
To which she answered—"At present it is."
"At present! do you suspect you shall change your sentiments?"
"Women sometimes do."
"But before that change can take place, your acquaintance will be at an end: for it is that which I shall next insist upon, and to which you can have no objection."
She replied, "I had rather it should continue."
"On what account?" cried Dorriforth.
"Because it entertains me."
"For shame, for shame!" returned he; "it endangers your character and your happiness. Yet again, do not suffer me to interfere, if the breaking with Lord Frederick can militate against your felicity."
"By no means," she answered; "Lord Frederick makes part of my amusement, but could never constitute my felicity."
"Miss Woodley," said Dorriforth, "do you comprehend your friend in the same literal and unequivocal sense that I do?"
"Certainly I do, Sir."
"And pray, Miss Woodley," said he, "were those the sentiments which you have always entertained?"
Miss Woodley hesitated—he continued. "Or has this conversation altered them?"
She hesitated again, then answered—"This conversation has altered them."
"And yet you confide in it!" cried Sandford, looking at her with contempt.
"Certainly I do," replied Miss Woodley.
"Do not you then, Mr. Sandford?" asked Dorriforth.
"I would advise you to act as if I did," replied Sandford.
"Then, Miss Milner," said Dorriforth, "you see Lord Frederick no more—and I hope I have your permission to apprize him of this arrangement."
"You have, Sir," she replied with a completely unembarrassed countenance and voice.
Her friend looked at her as if to discover some lurking wish, adverse to all these protestations, but she could not discern one. Sandford too fixed his penetrating eyes upon her, as if he would look through her soul, but finding it perfectly composed, he cried out,
"Why then not write his dismission herself, and save you, Mr. Dorriforth, the trouble of any farther contest with him?"
"Indeed, Miss Milner," said Dorriforth, "that would oblige me; for it is with great reluctance that I meet him upon this subject—he was extremely impatient and importunate when he was last with me—he took advantage of my ecclesiastical situation to treat me with a levity and ill breeding, that I could ill have suffered upon any other consideration than a compliance with my duty."
"Dictate what you please, Mr. Dorriforth, and I will write it," said she, with a warmth like the most unaffected inclination. "And while you, Sir," she continued, "are so indulgent as not to distress me with the importunities of any gentleman to whom I am averse, I think myself equally bound to rid you of the impertinence of every one to whom you may have objection."
"But," answered he, "rest assured I have no material objection to my Lord Frederick, except from that dilemma, in which your acquaintance with him has involved us all; and I should conceive the same against any other man, where the same circumstance occurred. As you have now, however, freely and politely consented to the manner in which it has been proposed that you shall break with him, I will not trouble you a moment longer upon a subject on which I have so frequently explained my wishes, but conclude it by assuring you, that your ready acquiescence has given me the sincerest satisfaction."
"I hope, Mr. Sandford," said she, turning to him with a smile, "I have given you satisfaction likewise?"
Sandford could not say yes, and was ashamed to say no; he, therefore, made answer only by his looks, which were full of suspicion. She, notwithstanding, made him a very low courtesy. Her guardian then handed her out of the apartment into her coach, which was waiting to take her, Miss Woodley, and himself, home.
Notwithstanding the seeming readiness with which Miss Milner had resigned all farther acquaintance with Lord Frederick, during the short ride home she appeared to have lost great part of her wonted spirits; she was thoughtful, and once sighed heavily. Dorriforth began to fear that she had not only made a sacrifice of her affections, but of her veracity; yet, why she had done so, he could not comprehend.
As the carriage moved slowly through a lane between Elmwood Castle and her own house, on casting her eyes out of the window, Miss Milner's countenance was brightened in an instant, and that instant Lord Frederick, on horse-back, was at the coach door, and the coachman stopped.
"Oh, Miss Milner," cried he, (with a voice and manner that could give little suspicion of the truth of what he said) "I am overjoyed at the happiness of seeing you, even though it is but an accidental meeting."
She was evidently glad to see him; but the earnestness with which he spoke, put her upon her guard not to express the like, and she said, in a cool constrained manner, she "Was glad to see his Lordship."
The reserve with which she spoke, gave Lord Frederick immediate suspicion who was in the coach with her, and turning his head quickly, he met the stern eye of Dorriforth; upon which, without the smallest salutation, he turned from him again abruptly and rudely. Miss Milner was confused, and Miss Woodley in torture, at this palpable affront, to which Dorriforth alone appeared indifferent.
"Go on," said Miss Milner to the footman, "desire the coachman to drive on."
"No," cried Lord Frederick, "not till you have told me when I shall see you again."
"I will write you word, my Lord," replied she, something alarmed. "You shall have a letter immediately after I get home."
As if he guessed what its contents were to be, he cried out with warmth, "Take care, then, Madam, how you treat me in that letter—and you, Mr. Dorriforth," turning to him, "do you take care what it contains; for if it is dictated by you, to you I shall send the answer."
Dorriforth, without making any reply, or casting a look at him, put his head out of the window on the opposite side, and called, in a very angry tone, to the coachman, "How dare you not drive on, when your Lady orders you?"
The sound of Dorriforth's voice in anger, was to the servants so unusual, that it acted like electricity upon the man, and he drove on at the instant with such rapidity, that Lord Frederick was in a moment left many yards behind. As soon, however, as he recovered from the surprise into which this sudden command had thrown him, he rode with speed after the carriage, and followed it, till it arrived at the door of Miss Milner's house; there, giving himself up to the rage of love, or to rage against Dorriforth for the contempt he had shewn to him, he leaped from his horse when Miss Milner stepped from her carriage, and seizing her hand, entreated her "Not to desert him, in compliance with the injunctions of monkish hypocrisy."
Dorriforth heard this, standing silently by, with a manly scorn upon his countenance.
Miss Milner struggled to loose her hand, saying, "Excuse me from replying to you now, my Lord."
In return, he lifted her hand eagerly to his lips, and began to devour it with kisses; when Dorriforth, with an instantaneous impulse, rushed forward, and struck him a violent blow in the face. Under the force of this assault, and the astonishment it excited, Lord Frederick staggered, and letting fall the hand of Miss Milner, her guardian immediately laid hold of it, and led her into the house.
She was terrified beyond description; and with extreme difficulty Mr. Dorriforth conveyed her to her own chamber, without taking her in his arms. When, by the assistance of her maid, he had placed her upon a sofa—covered with shame and confusion for what he had done, he fell upon his knees before her, and earnestly "Entreated her forgiveness for the indelicacy he had been guilty of in her presence." And that he had alarmed her, and had forgot the respect which he thought sacredly her due, seemed the only circumstance which then dwelt upon his thoughts.
She felt the indecorum of the posture he had condescended to take, and was shocked. To see her guardian at her feet, struck her with a sense of impropriety, as if she had seen a parent there. All agitation and emotion, she implored him to rise, and, with a thousand protestations, declared, "That she thought the rashness of the action was the highest proof of his regard for her."
Miss Woodley now entered; her care being ever employed upon the unfortunate, Lord Frederick had been the object of it: she had waited by his side, and, with every good purpose, had preached patience to him, while he was smarting under the pain, but more under the shame, of his chastisement. At first, his fury threatened a retort upon the servants around him (and who refused his entrance into the house) of the punishment he had received. But, in the certainty of an amende honorable, which must hereafter be made, he overcame the many temptations which the moment offered, and re-mounting his horse rode away from the scene of his disgrace.
No sooner had Miss Woodley entered the room, and Dorriforth had resigned to her the care of his ward, than he flew to the spot where he had left Lord Frederick, negligent of what might be the event if he still remained there. After enquiring, and being told that he was gone, Dorriforth returned to his own apartment; and with a bosom torn by more excruciating sensations than those which he had given to his adversary.
The reflection that struck him first with remorse, as he shut the door upon himself, was:—"I have departed from my character—from the sacred character, and the dignity of my profession and sentiments—I have departed from myself. I am no longer the philosopher, but the ruffian—I have treated with an unpardonable insult a young nobleman, whose only offence was love, and a fond desire to insinuate himself into the favour of his mistress. I must atone for this outrage in whatever manner he may choose; and the law of honour and of justice (though in this one instance contrary to the law of religion) enjoins, that if he demands my life in satisfaction for his wounded feelings, it is his due. Alas! that I could have laid it down this morning, unsullied with a cause for which it will make but inadequate atonement."
His next reproach was—"I have offended and filled with horror, a beautiful young woman, whom it was my duty to have protected from those brutal manners, to which I myself have exposed her."
Again—"I have drawn upon myself the just upbraidings of my faithful preceptor and friend; of the man in whose judgment it was my delight to be approved—above all, I have drawn upon myself the stings of my conscience."
"Where shall I pass this sleepless night?" cried he, walking repeatedly across his chamber; "Can I go to the ladies? I am unworthy of their society. Shall I go and repose my disturbed mind on Sandford? I am ashamed to tell him the cause of my uneasiness. Shall I go to Lord Frederick, and humbling myself before him, beg his forgiveness? He would spurn me for a coward. No"——(and he lifted up his eyes to Heaven) "Thou all great, all wise and omnipotent Being, Thou whom I have most offended, it is to Thee alone that I have recourse in this hour of tribulation, and from Thee alone I solicit comfort. And the confidence in which I now address myself to Thee, encouraged by that long intercourse which religion has effected, repays me amply in this one moment, for the many years of my past life devoted with my best, though imperfect, efforts to thy service."
Although Miss Milner had not foreseen any fatal event resulting from the indignity offered to Lord Frederick, yet she passed a night very different from those to which she had been accustomed. No sooner was she falling into a sleep, than a thousand vague, but distressing, ideas darted across her imagination. Her heart would sometimes whisper to her when she was half asleep, "Lord Frederick is banished from you for ever." She shakes off the uneasiness this idea brings along with it—she then starts, and sees the blow still aimed at him by Dorriforth. No sooner has she driven away this painful image, than she is again awakened by beholding her guardian at her feet sueing for pardon. She sighs, she trembles, and is chilled with terror.
Relieved by tears, towards the morning she sinks into a slumber, but waking, finds the same images crowding all together upon her mind: she is doubtful to which to give the preference—one, however, rushes the foremost, and continues so. She knows not the fatal consequence of ruminating, nor why she dwells upon that, more than upon all the rest, but it will give place to none.
She rises languid and disordered, and at breakfast, adds fresh pain to Dorriforth by her altered appearance.
He had scarce left the room, when an officer waited upon him with a challenge from Lord Frederick. To the message delivered by this gentleman, he replied,
"Sir, as a clergyman, more especially of the church of Rome, I know not whether I am not exempt from answering a demand of this kind; but not having had forbearance to avoid an offence, I will not claim an exemption that would only indemnify me from making reparation."
"You will then, Sir, meet Lord Frederick at the appointed hour?" said the officer.
"I will, Sir; and my immediate care shall be to find a gentleman who will accompany me."
The officer withdrew, and when Dorriforth was again alone, he was going once more to reflect, but he durst not. Since yesterday, reflection, for the first time, was become painful to him; and even as he rode the short way to Lord Elmwood's immediately after, he found his own thoughts were so insufferable, that he was obliged to enter into conversation with his servant. Solitude, that formerly charmed him, would, at those moments, have been worse than death.
At Lord Elmwood's, he met Sandford in the hall, and the sight of him was no longer welcome—he knew how different the principles which he had just adopted were to those of that reverend friend, and without his complaining, or even suspecting what had happened, his presence was a sufficient reproach. He passed him as hastily as he could, and enquiring for Lord Elmwood, disclosed to him his errand. It was to ask him to be his second;—the young Earl started, and wished to consult his tutor, but that, his kinsman strictly forbade; and having urged his reasons with arguments, which at least he could not refute, he was at length prevailed upon to promise that he would accompany him to the field, which was at the distance only of a few miles, and the parties were to be there at seven on the same evening.
As soon as his business with Lord Elmwood was settled, Dorriforth returned home, to make preparations for the event which might ensue from this meeting. He wrote letters to several of his friends, and one to his ward, in writing which, he could with difficulty preserve the usual firmness of his mind. Sandford going into Lord Elmwood's library soon after his relation had left him, expressed his surprise at finding he was gone; upon which that nobleman having answered a few questions, and given a few significant hints that he was entrusted with a secret, frankly confessed, what he had promised to conceal.
Sandford, as much as a holy man could be, was enraged at Dorriforth for the cause of the challenge, but was still more enraged at his wickedness in accepting it. He applauded his pupil's virtue in making the discovery, and congratulated himself that he should be the instrument of saving not only his friend's life, but of preventing the scandal of his being engaged in a duel.
In the ardour of his designs, he went immediately to Miss Milner's—entered that house which he had so long refused to enter, and at a time when he was upon aggravated bad terms with its owner.
He asked for Dorriforth, went hastily into his apartment, and poured upon him a torrent of rebukes. Dorriforth bore all he said with the patience of a devotee, but with the firmness of a man. He owned his fault, but no eloquence could make him recall the promise he had given to repair the injury. Unshaken by the arguments, persuasions, and menaces of Sandford, he gave an additional proof of that inflexibility for which he had been long distinguished—and after a dispute of two hours, they parted, neither of them the better for what either had advanced, but Dorriforth something the worse; his conscience gave testimony to Sandford's opinion, "that he was bound by ties more sacred than worldly honour." But while he owned, he would not yield to the duty.
Sandford left him, determined, however, that Lord Elmwood should not be accessory in his guilt, and this he declared; upon which Dorriforth took the resolution of seeking another second.
In passing through the house on his return home, Sandford met, by accident, Mrs. Horton, Miss Milner, and the other two ladies returning from a saunter in the garden. Surprised at the sight of Mr. Sandford in her house, Miss Milner would not express that surprise, but going up to him with all the friendly benevolence which in general played about her heart, she took hold of one of his hands, and pressed it with a kindness which told him more forcibly that he was welcome, than if she had made the most elaborate speech to convince him of it. He, however, seemed little touched with her behaviour, and as an excuse for breaking his word, cried,
"I beg your pardon, madam, but I was brought hither in my anxiety to prevent murder."
"Murder!" exclaimed all the ladies.
"Yes," answered he, addressing himself to Miss Fenton, "your betrothed husband is a party concerned; he is going to be second to Mr. Dorriforth, who means this very evening to be killed by my Lord Frederick, or to kill him, in addition to the blow that he gave him last night."
Mrs. Horton exclaimed, "if Mr. Dorriforth dies, he dies a martyr."
Miss Woodley cried with fervour, "Heaven forbid!"
Miss Fenton cried, "dear me!"
While Miss Milner, without uttering one word, sunk speechless on the floor.
They lifted her up and brought her to the door which entered into the garden. She soon recovered; for the tumult of her mind would not suffer her to remain inactive, and she was rouzed, in spite of her weakness, to endeavour to ward off the impending disaster. In vain, however, she attempted to walk to her guardian's apartment—she sunk as before, and was taken to a settee, while Miss Woodley was dispatched to bring him to her.
Informed of the cause of her indisposition, he followed Miss Woodley with a tender anxiety for her health, and with grief and confusion that he had so carelessly endangered it. On his entering the room Sandford beheld the inquietude of his mind, and cried, "Here is your Guardian," with a cruel emphasis on the word.
He was too much engaged by the sufferings of his ward to reply to Sandford. He placed himself on the settee by her, and with the utmost tenderness, reverence, and pity, entreated her not to be concerned at an accident in which he, and he alone, had been to blame; but which he had no doubt would be accommodated in the most amicable manner.
"I have one favour to require of you, Mr. Dorriforth," said she, "and that is, your promise, your solemn promise, which I know is ever sacred, that you will not meet my Lord Frederick."
"Oh, Madam," cried Sandford, "he is grown a libertine now, and I would not believe his word, if he were to give it you."
"Then, Sir," returned Dorriforth angrily, "you may believe my word, for I will keep that which I gave to you. I will give Lord Frederick all the restitution in my power. But my dear Miss Milner, let not this alarm you; we may not find it convenient to meet this many a day; and most probably some fortunate explanation may prevent our meeting at all. If not, reckon but among the many duels that are fought, how few are fatal: and even in that case, how small would be the loss to society, if——" He was proceeding.
"I should ever deplore the loss!" cried Miss Milner; "on such an occasion, I could not survive the death of either."
"For my part," he replied, "I look upon my life as much forfeited to my Lord Frederick, to whom I have given a high offence, as it might in other instances have been forfeited to the offended laws of the land. Honour, is the law of the polite part of the land; we know it; and when we transgress against it knowingly, we justly incur our punishment. However, Miss Milner, this affair will not be settled immediately, and I have no doubt, but that all will be as you could wish. Do you think I should appear thus easy," added he with a smile, "if I were going to be shot at by my Lord Frederick?"
"Very well!" cried Sandford, with a look that evinced he was better informed.
"You will stay within then, all this day?" said Miss Milner.
"I am engaged to dinner," he replied; "it is unlucky—I am sorry for it—but I'll be at home early in the evening."
"Stained with human blood," cried Sandford, "or yourself a corpse."
The ladies lifted up their hands!—Miss Milner rose from her seat, and threw herself at her guardian's feet.
"You kneeled to me last night, I now kneel to you," (she cried) "kneel, never desiring to rise again, if you persist in your intention. I am weak, I am volatile, I am indiscreet, but I have a heart from which some impressions can never—oh! never, be erased."
He endeavoured to raise her, she persisted to kneel—and here the affright, the terror, the anguish, she endured, discovered to her, her own sentiments—which, till that moment, she had doubted—and she continued,
"I no longer pretend to conceal my passion—I love Lord Frederick Lawnly."
Her guardian started.
"Yes, to my shame I love him:" (cried she, all emotion) "I meant to have struggled with the weakness, because I supposed it would be displeasing to you—but apprehension for his safety has taken away every power of restraint, and I beseech you to spare his life."
"This is exactly what I thought," cried Sandford, with an air of triumph.
"Good heaven!" cried Miss Woodley.
"But it is very natural," said Mrs. Horton.
"I own," said Dorriforth, (struck with amaze, and now taking her from his feet with a force that she could not resist) "I own, Miss Milner, I am greatly affected and wounded at this contradiction in your character."—
"But did not I say so?" cried Sandford, interrupting him.
"However," continued he, "you may take my word, though you have deceived me in your's, that Lord Frederick's life is secure. For your sake, I would not endanger it for the universe. But let this be a warning to you"——
He was proceeding with the most austere looks, and pointed language, when observing the shame, and the self-reproach that agitated her mind, he divested himself in great measure of his resentment, and said, mildly,
"Let this be a warning to you, how you deal in future with the friends who wish you well. You have hurried me into a mistake that might have cost me my life, or the life of the man you love; and thus exposed you to misery, more bitter than death."
"I am not worthy of your friendship, Mr. Dorriforth," said she, sobbing with grief, "and from this moment forsake me."
"No, Madam, not in the moment you first discover to me, how I can make you happy."
The conversation appearing now to become of a nature in which the rest of the company could have no share whatever, they were all, except Mr. Sandford, retiring; when Miss Milner called Miss Woodley back, saying, "Stay you with me; I was never so unfit to be left without your friendship."
"Perhaps at present you can dispense with mine?" said Dorriforth. She made no answer. He then, once more assured her Lord Frederick's life was safe, and was quitting the room—but when he recollected in what humiliation he had left her, turning towards her as he opened the door, he added,
"And be assured, Madam, that my esteem for you, shall be the same as ever."
Sandford, as he followed him, bowed, and repeated the same words—"And, Madam, be assured that my esteem for you, shall be the same as ever."
This taunting reproof from Sandford made little impression upon Miss Milner, whose thoughts were all fixed on a subject of much more importance than the opinion which he entertained of her. She threw her arms about her friend the moment they were left alone, and asked, with anxiety, "What she thought of her behaviour?" Miss Woodley, who could not approve of the duplicity she had betrayed, still wished to reconcile her as much as possible to her own conduct, and replied, she "Highly commended the frankness with which she had, at last, acknowledged her sentiments."
"Frankness!" cried Miss Milner, starting. "Frankness, my dear Miss Woodley! What you have just now heard me say, is all a falsehood."
"How, Miss Milner!"
"Oh, Miss Woodley," returned she, sobbing upon her bosom, "pity the agonies of my heart, my heart, by nature sincere, when such are the fatal propensities it cherishes, that I must submit to the grossest falsehoods rather than reveal the truth."
"What can you mean?" cried Miss Woodley, with the strongest amazement in her face.
"Do you suppose I love Lord Frederick? Do you suppose I can love him? Oh fly, and prevent my guardian from telling him such an untruth."
"What can you mean?" repeated Miss Woodley; "I protest you terrify me." For this inconsistency in the behaviour of Miss Milner, appeared as if her senses had been deranged.
"Fly," she resumed, "and prevent the inevitable ill consequence which will ensue, if Lord Frederick should be told this falsehood. It will involve us all in greater disquiet than we suffer at present."
"Then what has influenced you, my dear Miss Milner?"
"That which impels all my actions—an unsurmountable instinct—a fatality, that will for ever render me the most miserable of human beings; and yet you, even you, my dear Miss Woodley, will not pity me."
Miss Woodley pressed her closely in her arms, and vowed, "That while she was unhappy, from whatever cause, she still would pity her."
"Go to Mr. Dorriforth then, and prevent him from imposing upon Lord Frederick."
"But that imposition is the only means of preventing the duel," replied Miss Woodley. "The moment I have told him that your affection was but counterfeited, he will no longer refuse accepting the challenge."
"Then at all events I am undone," exclaimed Miss Milner, "for the duel is horrible, even beyond every thing else."
"How so?" returned Miss Woodley, "since you have declared you do not care for Lord Frederick?"
"But are you so blind," returned Miss Milner with a degree of madness in her looks, "as to believe I do not care for Mr. Dorriforth? Oh! Miss Woodley! I love him with all the passion of a mistress, and with all the tenderness of a wife."
Miss Woodley at this sentence sat down—it was on a chair that was close to her—her feet could not have taken her to any other. She trembled—she was white as ashes, and deprived of speech. Miss Milner, taking her by the hand, said,
"I know what you feel—I know what you think of me—and how much you hate and despise me. But Heaven is witness to all my struggles—nor would I, even to myself, acknowledge the shameless prepossession, till forced by a sense of his danger"——
"Silence," cried Miss Woodley, struck with horror.
"And even now," resumed Miss Milner, "have I not concealed it from all but you, by plunging myself into a new difficulty, from which I know not how I shall be extricated? And do I entertain a hope? No, Miss Woodley, nor ever will. But suffer me to own my folly to you—to entreat your soothing friendship to free me from my weakness. And, oh! give me your advice, to deliver me from the difficulties which surround me."
Miss Woodley was still pale, and still silent.
Education, is called second nature; in the strict (but not enlarged) education of Miss Woodley, it was more powerful than the first—and the violation of oaths, persons, or things consecrated to Heaven, was, in her opinion, if not the most enormous, yet among the most terrific in the catalogue of crimes.
Miss Milner had lived so long in a family who had imbibed those opinions, that she was convinced of their existence; nay, her own reason told her that solemn vows of every kind, ought to be sacred; and the more she respected her guardian's understanding, the less did she call in question his religious tenets—in esteeming him, she esteemed all his notions; and among the rest, venerated those of his religion. Yet that passion, which had unhappily taken possession of her whole soul, would not have been inspired, had there not subsisted an early difference, in their systems of divine faith. Had she been early taught what were the sacred functions of a Roman ecclesiastic, though all her esteem, all her admiration, had been attracted by the qualities and accomplishments of her guardian, yet education, would have given such a prohibition to her love, that she would have been precluded from it, as by that barrier which divides a sister from a brother.
This, unfortunately, was not the case; and Miss Milner loved Dorriforth without one conscious check to tell her she was wrong, except that which convinced her—her love would be avoided by him with detestation, and with horror.
Miss Woodley, something recovered from her first surprise, and sufferings—for never did her susceptible mind suffer so exquisitely—amidst all her grief and abhorrence, felt that pity was still predominant—and reconciled to the faults of Miss Milner by her misery, she once more looked at her with friendship, and asked, "What she could do to render her less unhappy?"
"Make me forget," replied Miss Milner, "every moment of my life since I first saw you—that moment was teeming with a weight of cares, under which I must labour till my death."
"And even in death," replied Miss Woodley, "do not hope to shake them off. If unrepented in this world"——
She was proceeding—but the anxiety her friend endured, would not suffer her to be free from the apprehension, that, notwithstanding the positive assurance of her guardian, if he and Lord Frederick should meet, the duel might still take place; she therefore rang the bell and enquired if Mr. Dorriforth was still at home?—the answer was—"He had rode out. You remember," said Miss Woodley, "he told you he should dine from home." This did not, however, dismiss her fears, and she dispatched two servants different ways in pursuit of him, acquainting them with her suspicions, and charging them to prevent the duel. Sandford had also taken his precautions; but though he knew the time, he did not know the exact place of their appointment, for that Lord Elmwood had forgot to enquire.
The excessive alarm which Miss Milner discovered upon this occasion, was imputed by the servants, and by others who were witnesses of it, to her affection for Lord Frederick; while none but Miss Woodley knew, or had the most distant suspicion of the real cause.
Mrs. Horton and Miss Fenton, who were sitting together expatiating on the duplicity of their own sex in the instance just before them, had, notwithstanding the interest of the discourse, a longing desire to break it off; for they were impatient to see this poor frail being whom they were loading with their censure. They longed to see if she would have the confidence to look them in the face: them, to whom she had so often protested, that she had not the smallest attachment to Lord Frederick, but from motives of vanity.
These ladies heard with infinite satisfaction that dinner had been served, but met Miss Milner at the table with a less degree of pleasure than they had expected; for her mind was so totally abstracted from any consideration of them, that they could not discern a single blush, or confused glance, which their presence occasioned. No, she had before them divulged nothing of which she was ashamed; she was only ashamed that what she had said was not true. In the bosom of Miss Woodley alone was that secret entrusted which could call a blush into her face, and before her, she did feel confusion—before the gentle friend, to whom she had till this time communicated all her faults without embarrassment, she now cast down her eyes in shame.
Soon after the dinner was removed, Lord Elmwood entered; and that gallant young nobleman declared—"Mr. Sandford had used him ill, in not permitting him to accompany his relation; for he feared that Mr. Dorriforth would now throw himself upon the sword of Lord Frederick, without a single friend near to defend him." A rebuke from the eye of Miss Woodley, which from this day had a command over Miss Milner, restrained her from expressing the affright she suffered from this intimation. Miss Fenton replied, "As to that, my Lord, I see no reason why Mr. Dorriforth and Lord Frederick should not now be friends." "Certainly," said Mrs. Horton; "for as soon as my Lord Frederick is made acquainted with Miss Milner's confession, all differences must be reconciled."
"What confession?" asked Lord Elmwood.
Miss Milner, to avoid hearing a repetition of that which gave her pain even to recollect, rose in order to retire into her own apartment, but was obliged to sit down again, till she received the assistance of Lord Elmwood and her friend, who led her into her dressing room. She reclined upon a sofa there, and though left alone with that friend, a silence followed of half an hour; nor when the conversation began, was the name of Dorriforth once uttered—they were grown cool and considerate since the discovery, and both were equally fearful of naming him.
The vanity of the world, the folly of riches, the charms of retirement, and such topics engaged their discourse, but not their thoughts, for near two hours; and the first time the word Dorriforth was spoken, was by a servant, who with alacrity opened the dressing room door, without previously rapping, and cried, "Madam, Mr. Dorriforth."
Dorriforth immediately came in, and went eagerly to Miss Milner. Miss Woodley beheld the glow of joy and of guilt upon her face, and did not rise to give him her seat, as was her custom, when she was sitting by his ward and he came to her with intelligence. He therefore stood while he repeated all that had happened in his interview with Lord Frederick.
But with her gladness to see her guardian safe, she had forgot to enquire of the safety of his antagonist; of the man whom she had pretended to love so passionately—even smiles of rapture were upon her face, though Dorriforth might be returned from putting him to death. This incongruity of behaviour Miss Woodley observed, and was confounded—but Dorriforth, in whose thoughts a suspicion either of her love for him, or indifference for Lord Frederick, had no place, easily reconciled this inconsistency, and said,
"You see by my countenance that all is well, and therefore you smile on me before I tell you what has passed."
This brought her to the recollection of her conduct, and now with looks ill constrained, she attempted the expression of an alarm she did not feel.
"Nay, I assure you Lord Frederick is safe," he resumed, "and the disgrace of his blow washed entirely away, by a few drops of blood from this arm." And he laid his hand upon his left arm, which rested in his waistcoat as a kind of sling.
She cast her eyes there, and seeing where the ball had entered the coat sleeve, she gave an involuntary scream, and sunk upon the sofa. Instead of that affectionate sympathy which Miss Woodley used to exert upon her slightest illness or affliction, she now addressed her in an unpitying tone, and said, "Miss Milner, you have heard Lord Frederick is safe, you have therefore nothing to alarm you." Nor did she run to hold a smelling bottle, or to raise her head. Her guardian seeing her near fainting, and without any assistance from her friend, was going himself to give it; but on this, Miss Woodley interfered, and having taken her head upon her arm, assured him, "It was a weakness to which Miss Milner was accustomed: that she would ring for her maid, who knew how to relieve her instantly with a few drops." Satisfied with this, Dorriforth left the room; and a surgeon being come to examine his wound, he retired into his own chamber.
The power delegated by the confidential to those entrusted with their secrets, Miss Woodley was the last person on earth to abuse—but she was also the last, who, by an accommodating complacency, would participate in the guilt of her friend—and there was no guilt, except that of murder, which she thought equal to the crime in question, if it was ever perpetrated. Adultery, reason would perhaps have informed her, was a more pernicious evil to society; but to a religious mind, what sound is so horrible as sacrilege? Of vows made to God or to man, the former must weigh the heaviest. Moreover, the sin of infidelity in the married state, is not a little softened to common understandings, by its frequency; whereas, of religious vows broken by a devotee she had never heard; unless where the offence had been followed by such examples of divine vengeance, such miraculous punishments in this world, (as well as eternal punishment in the other) as served to exaggerate the wickedness.
She, who could, and who did pardon Miss Milner, was the person who saw her passion in the severest light, and resolved upon every method, however harsh, to root it from her heart—nor did she fear success, resting on the certain assurance, that however deep her love might be fixed, it would never be returned. Yet this confidence did not prevent her taking every precaution, lest Dorriforth should come to the knowledge of it. She would not have his composed mind disturbed with such a thought—his steadfast principles so much as shaken by the imagination—nor overwhelm him with those self-reproaches which his fatal attraction, unpremeditated as it was, would still have drawn upon him.
With this plan of concealment, in which the natural modesty of Miss Milner acquiesced, there was but one effort for which this unhappy ward was not prepared; and that was an entire separation from her guardian. She had, from the first, cherished her passion without the most remote prospect of a return—she was prepared to see Dorriforth, without ever seeing him more nearly connected to her than as her guardian and friend; but not to see him at all—for that, she was not prepared.
But Miss Woodley reflected upon the inevitable necessity of this measure before she made the proposal; and then made it with a firmness that might have done honour to the inflexibility of Dorriforth himself.
During the few days that intervened between her open confession of a passion for Lord Frederick and this proposed plan of separation, the most intricate incoherence appeared in the character of Miss Milner—and in order to evade a marriage with him, and conceal, at the same time, the shameful propensity which lurked in her breast, she was once even on the point of declaring a passion for Sir Edward Ashton.
In the duel which had taken place between Lord Frederick and Dorriforth, the latter had received the fire of his antagonist, but positively refused to return it; by which he had kept his promise not to endanger his Lordship's life, and had reconciled Sandford, in great measure, to his behaviour—and Sandford now (his resolution once broken) no longer refused entering Miss Milner's house, but came whenever it was convenient, though he yet avoided the mistress of it as much as possible; or showed by every word and look, when she was present, that she was still less in his favour than she had ever been.
He visited Dorriforth on the evening of his engagement with Lord Frederick, and the next morning breakfasted with him in his own chamber; nor did Miss Milner see her guardian after his first return from that engagement before the following noon. She enquired, however, of his servant how he did, and was rejoiced to hear that his wound was but slight—yet this enquiry she durst not make before Miss Woodley.
When Dorriforth made his appearance the next day, it was evident that he had thrown from his heart a load of cares; and though they had left a languor upon his face, content was in his voice, in his manners, in every word and action. Far from seeming to retain any resentment against his ward, for the danger into which her imprudence had led him, he appeared rather to pity her indiscretion, and to wish to soothe the perturbation which the recollection of her own conduct had evidently raised in her mind. His endeavours were successful—she was soothed every time he spoke to her; and had not the watchful eye of Miss Woodley stood guard over her inclinations, she had plainly discovered, that she was enraptured with the joy of seeing him again himself, after the danger to which he had been exposed.
These emotions, which she laboured to subdue, passed, however, the bounds of her ineffectual resistance, when at the time of retiring after dinner, he said to her in a low voice, but such as it was meant the company should hear, "Do me the favour, Miss Milner, to call at my study some time in the evening; I have to speak with you upon business."
She answered, "I will, Sir." And her eyes swam with delight, in expectation of the interview.
Let not the reader, nevertheless, imagine, there was in that ardent expectation, one idea which the most spotless mind, in love, might not have indulged without reproach. Sincere love (at least among the delicate of the female sex) is often gratified by that degree of enjoyment, or rather forbearance, which would be torture in the pursuit of any other passion. Real, delicate, and restrained love, such as Miss Milner's, was indulged in the sight of the object only; and having bounded her wishes by her hopes, the height of her happiness was limited to a conversation, in which no other but themselves took a part.
Miss Woodley was one of those who heard the appointment, but the only one who conceived with what sensation it was received.
While the ladies remained in the same room with Dorriforth, Miss Milner thought of little, except of him. As soon as they withdrew into another apartment, she remembered Miss Woodley; and turning her head suddenly, saw her friend's face imprinted with suspicion and displeasure: this at first was painful to her—but recollecting that in a couple of hours she was to meet her guardian alone—to speak to him, and hear him speak to her only—every other thought was absorbed in that one, and she considered with indifference, the uneasiness, or the anger of her friend.
Miss Milner, to do justice to her heart, did not wish to beguile Dorriforth into the snares of love: could any supernatural power have endowed her with the means, and at the same time have shewn to her the ills that must arise from such an effect of her charms, she had assuredly virtue enough to have declined the conquest; but without enquiring what she proposed, she never saw him, without previously endeavouring to look more attractive, than she would have desired, before any other person. And now, without listening to the thousand exhortations that spoke in every feature of Miss Woodley, she flew to a looking-glass, to adjust her dress in a manner that she thought most enchanting.
Time stole away, and the time of going to her guardian arrived. In his presence, unsupported by the presence of any other, every grace that she had practised, every look that she had borrowed to set off her charms, were annihilated; and she became a native beauty, with the artless arguments of reason only for her aid. Awed thus by his power, from every thing but what she really was, she never was perhaps half so bewitching, as in those timid, respectful, and embarrassed moments she passed alone with him. He caught at those times her respect, her diffidence, nay, even her embarrassment; and never would one word of anger pass on either side.
On the present occasion, he first expressed the high satisfaction that she had given him, by at length revealing to him the real state of her mind.
"And when I take every thing into consideration, Miss Milner," added he, "I rejoice that your sentiments happen to be such as you have owned. For, although my Lord Frederick is not the very man I could have wished for your perfect happiness; yet, in the state of human perfection and human happiness, you might have fixed your affections with perhaps less propriety; and still, where my unwillingness to thwart your inclinations might not have permitted me to contend with them."
Not a word of reply did this demand; or if it had, not a word could she have given.
"And now, Madam, the reason of my desire to speak with you—is, to know the means you think most proper to pursue, in order to acquaint Lord Frederick, that notwithstanding this late repulse, there are hopes of your partiality in his favour."
"Defer the explanation," she replied eagerly.
"I beg your pardon—it cannot be. Besides, how can you indulge a disposition thus unpitying? Even so ardently did I desire to render the man who loves you happy, that though he came armed against my life, had I not reflected, that previous to our engagement it would appear like fear, and the means of bartering for his forgiveness, I should have revealed your sentiments the moment I had seen him. When the engagement was over, I was too impatient to acquaint you with his safety, to think then on gratifying him. And indeed, the delicacy of the declaration, after the many denials which you have no doubt given him, should be considered. I therefore consult your opinion upon the manner in which it shall be made."
"Mr. Dorriforth, can you allow nothing to the moments of surprise, and that pity, which the fate impending inspired? and which might urge me to express myself of Lord Frederick, in a manner my cooler thoughts will not warrant?"
"There was nothing in your expressions, my dear Miss Milner, the least equivocal—if you were off your guard when you pleaded for Lord Frederick, as I believe you were, you said more sincerely what you thought; and no discreet, or rather indiscreet attempts to retract, can make me change these sentiments."
"I am very sorry," she replied, confused and trembling.
"Why sorry? Come give me commission to reveal your partiality. I'll not be too hard upon you—a hint from me will do. Hope is ever apt to interpret the slightest words to its own use, and a lover's hope is beyond all others, sanguine."
"I never gave Lord Frederick hope."
"But you never plunged him into despair."
"His pursuit intimates that I never have, but he has no other proof."
"However light and frivolous you have been upon frivolous subjects, yet I must own, Miss Milner, that I did expect when a case of this importance came seriously before you, you would have discovered a proper stability in your behaviour."
"I do, Sir; and it was only when I was affected with a weakness, which arose from accident, that I have betrayed inconsistency."
"You then assert again, that you have no affection for my Lord Frederick?"
"Not enough to become his wife."
"You are alarmed at marriage, and I do not wonder you should be so; it shews a prudent foresight which does you honour—but, my dear, are there no dangers in a single state? If I may judge, Miss Milner, there are many more to a young lady of your accomplishments, than if you were under the protection of a husband."
"My father, Mr. Dorriforth, thought your protection sufficient."
"But that protection was rather to direct your choice, than to be the cause of your not choosing at all. Give me leave to point out an observation which, perhaps, I have too frequently made before, but upon this occasion I must intrude it once again. Miss Fenton is its object—her fortune is inferior to your's, her personal attractions are less"——
Here the powerful glow of joy, and of gratitude, for an opinion so negligently, and yet so sincerely expressed, flew to Miss Milner's face, neck, and even to her hands and fingers; the blood mounted to every part of her skin that was visible, for not a fibre but felt the secret transport, that Dorriforth thought her more beautiful than the beautiful Miss Fenton.
If he observed her blushes, he was unsuspicious of the cause, and went on.
"There is, besides, in the temper of Miss Fenton, a sedateness that might with less hazard ensure her safety in an unmarried life; and yet she very properly thinks it her duty, as she does not mean to seclude herself by any vows to the contrary, to become a wife—and in obedience to the counsel of her friends, will be married within a very few weeks."
"Miss Fenton may marry from obedience, I never will."
"You mean to say, that love shall alone induce you."
"If you would point out a subject upon which I am the least able to reason, and on which my sentiments, such as they are, are formed only from theory, (and even there, more cautioned than instructed) it is the subject of love. And yet, even that little which I know, tells me, without a doubt, that what you said yesterday, pleading for Lord Frederick's life, was the result of the most violent and tender love."
"The little you know then, Mr. Dorriforth, has deceived you; had you known more, you would have judged otherwise."
"I submit to the merit of your reply; but without allowing me a judge at all, I will appeal to those who were present with me."
"Are Mrs. Horton and Mr. Sandford to be the connoisseurs?"
"No; I'll appeal to Miss Fenton and Miss Woodley."
"And yet, I believe," replied she with a smile, "I believe theory must only be the judge even there."
"Then from all you have said, Madam, on this occasion, I am to conclude that you still refuse to marry Lord Frederick?"
"And you submit never to see him again?"
"All you then said to me, yesterday, was false?"
"I was not mistress of myself at the time."
"Therefore it was truth!—for shame, for shame!"
At that moment the door opened, and Mr. Sandford walked in—he started back on seeing Miss Milner, and was going away; but Dorriforth called to him to stay, and said with warmth,
"Tell me, Mr. Sandford, by what power, by what persuasion, I can prevail upon Miss Milner to confide in me as her friend; to lay her heart open, and credit mine when I declare to her, that I have no view in all the advice I give to her, but her immediate welfare."
"Mr. Dorriforth, you know my opinion of that lady," replied Sandford; "it has been formed ever since my first acquaintance with her, and it continues the same."
"But instruct me how I am to inspire her with confidence," returned Dorriforth; "how I am to impress her with a sense of that, which is for her advantage?"
"You can work no miracles," replied Sandford, "you are not holy enough."
"And yet my ward," answered Dorriforth, "appears to be acquainted with that mystery; for what but the force of a miracle can induce her to contradict to-day, what before you, and several other witnesses, she positively acknowledged yesterday?"
"Do you call that miraculous?" cried Sandford; "the miracle had been if she had not done so—for did she not yesterday contradict what she acknowledged the day before? and will she not to-morrow disavow what she says to-day?"
"I wish that she may—" replied Dorriforth mildly, for he saw the tears flowing down her face at the rough and severe manner in which Sandford had spoken, and he began to feel for her uneasiness.
"I beg pardon," cried Sandford, "for speaking so rudely to the mistress of the house—I have no business here, I know; but where you are, Mr. Dorriforth, unless I am turned out, I shall always think it my duty to come."
Miss Milner curtsied, as much as to say, he was welcome to come. He continued,
"I was to blame, that upon a nice punctilio, I left you so long without my visits, and without my counsel; in that time, you have run the hazard of being murdered, and what is worse, of being excommunicated; for had you been so rash as to have returned your opponent's fire, not all my interest at Rome would have obtained remission of the punishment."
Miss Milner, through all her tears, could not now restrain her laughter. On which he resumed;
"And here do I venture, like a missionary among savages—but if I can only save you from their scalping knives—from the miseries which that lady is preparing for you, I am rewarded."
Sandford spoke this with great fervour, and the offence of her love never appeared to her in so tremendous a point of view, as when thus, unknowingly, alluded to by him.
"The miseries that lady is preparing for you," hung upon her ears like the notes of a raven, and sounded equally ominous. The words "murder" and "excommunication" he had likewise uttered; all the fatal effects of sacrilegious love. Frightful superstitions struck her to the heart, and she could scarcely prevent falling down under their oppression.
Dorriforth beheld the difficulty she had in sustaining herself, and with the utmost tenderness went towards her, and supporting her, said, "I beg your pardon—I invited you hither with a far different intention than your uneasiness, and be assured——"
Sandford was beginning to speak, when Dorriforth resumed,—"Hold, Mr. Sandford, the lady is under my protection, and I know not whether it is not requisite that you should apologize to her, and to me, for what you have already said."
"You asked my opinion, or I had not given it you—would you have me, like her, speak what I do not think?"
"Say no more, Sir," cried Dorriforth—and leading her kindly to the door, as if to defend her from his malice, told her, "He would take another opportunity of renewing the subject."
When Dorriforth was alone with Sandford, he explained to him what before he had only hinted; and this learned Jesuit frankly confessed, "That the mind of woman was far above, or rather beneath, his comprehension." It was so, indeed—for with all his penetration, and few even of that school had more, he had not yet penetrated into the recesses of Miss Milner's heart.
Miss Woodley, to whom she repeated all that had passed between herself, her guardian, and Sandford, took this moment, in the agitation of her spirits, to alarm her still more by prophetic insinuations; and at length represented to her here, for the first time, the necessity, "That Mr. Dorriforth and she no longer should remain under the same roof." This was like the stroke of sudden death to Miss Milner, and clinging to life, she endeavoured to avert the blow by prayers, and by promises. Her friend loved her too sincerely to be prevailed upon.
"But in what manner can I accomplish the separation?" cried she, "for till I marry we are obliged, by my father's request, to live in the same house."
"Miss Milner," answered Miss Woodley, "much as I respect the will of a dying man, I regard your and Mr. Dorriforth's present and eternal happiness much more; and it is my resolution that you shall part. If you will not contrive the means, that duty falls on me, and without any invention I see the measure at once."
"What is it?" cried Miss Milner eagerly.
"I will reveal to Mr. Dorriforth, without hesitation, the real state of your heart; which your present inconsistency of conduct will but too readily confirm."
"You would not plunge me into so much shame, into so much anguish!" cried she, distractedly.
"No," replied Miss Woodley, "not for the world, if you will separate from him by any mode of your own—but that you shall separate is my determination; and in spite of all your sufferings, this shall be the expedient, unless you instantly agree to some other."
"Good Heaven, Miss Woodley! is this your friendship?"
"Yes—and the truest friendship I have to bestow. Think what a task I undertake for your sake and his, when I condemn myself to explain to him your weakness. What astonishment! what confusion! what remorse, do I foresee painted upon his face! I hear him call you by the harshest names, and behold him fly from your sight for ever, as an object of his detestation."