"You may call it wicked, Madam, not to inform her of what I have hinted at," cried he; "but I call it a breach of confidence—if it was divulged to me in confidence——"
He was going to explain; but Miss Milner entered, and put an end to the discourse. She had been passing the whole morning at an auction, and had laid out near two hundred pounds in different things for which she had no one use, but bought them because they were said to be cheap—among the rest was a lot of books upon chemistry, and some Latin authors.
"Why, Madam," cried Sandford, looking over the catalogue where her purchases were marked by a pencil, "do you know what you have done? You can't read a word of these books."
"Can't I, Mr. Sandford? But I assure you that you will be very much pleased with them, when you see how elegantly they are bound."
"My dear," said Mrs. Horton, "why have you bought china? You and my Lord Elmwood have more now, than you have places to put them in."
"Very true, Mrs. Horton—I forgot that—but then you know I can give these away."
Lord Elmwood was in the room at the conclusion of this conversation——he shook his head and sighed.
"My Lord," said she, "I have had a very agreeable morning; but I wished for you—if you had been with me, I should have bought a great many other things; but I did not like to appear unreasonable in your absence."
Sandford fixed his inquisitive eyes upon Lord Elmwood, to observe his countenance—he smiled, but appeared thoughtful.
"And, oh! my Lord, I have bought you a present," said she.
"I do not wish for a present, Miss Milner."
"What not from me? Very well."
"If you present me with yourself, it is all that I ask."
Sandford moved upon his chair, as if he sat uneasy.
"Why then, Miss Woodley," said Miss Milner, "you shall have the present. But then it won't suit you—it is for a gentleman. I'll keep it and give it to my Lord Frederick the first time I meet with him. I saw him this morning, and he looked divinely—I longed to speak to him."
Miss Woodley cast, by stealth, an eye of apprehension upon Lord Elmwood's face, and trembled at seeing it flushed with resentment.
Sandford stared with both his eyes full upon him: then threw himself upright on his chair, and took a pinch of snuff upon the strength of the Earl's uneasiness.
A silence ensued.
After a short time—"You all appear melancholy," said Miss Milner: "I wish I had not come home yet."
Miss Woodley was in agony—she saw Lord Elmwood's extreme displeasure, and dreaded lest he should express it by some words he could not recall, or she could not forgive—therefore, whispering to her she had something particular to say, she took her out of the room.
The moment she was gone, Mr. Sandford rose nimbly from his seat, rubbed his hands, walked briskly across the room, then asked Lord Elmwood in a cheerful tone, "Whether he dined at home to-day?"
That which had given Sandford cheerfulness, had so depressed Lord Elmwood, that he sat dejected and silent. At length he answered in a faint voice, "No, I believe I shall not dine at home."
"Where is your Lordship going to dine?" asked Mrs. Horton; "I thought we should have had your company to-day; Miss Milner dines at home, I believe."
"I have not yet determined where I shall dine," replied he, taking no notice of the conclusion of her speech.
"My Lord, if you mean to go to the hotel, I'll go with you, if you please," cried Sandford officiously.
"With all my heart, Sandford—" and they both went out together, before Miss Milner returned to the apartment.
Miss Woodley, for the first time, disobeyed the will of Mr. Sandford; and as soon as Miss Milner and she were alone, repeated all he had revealed to her; accompanying the recital, with her usual testimonies of sympathy and affection. But had the genius of Sandford presided over this discovery, it could not have influenced the mind of Miss Milner to receive the intelligence with a temper more exactly the opposite of that which it was the intention of the informer to recommend. Instead of shuddering at the menace Lord Elmwood had uttered, she said, she "Dared him to perform it." "He dares not," repeated she.
"Why dares not?" said Miss Woodley.
"Because he loves me too well—because his own happiness is too dear to him."
"I believe he loves you," replied Miss Woodley, "and yet there is a doubt if——"
"There shall be no longer a doubt," cried Miss Milner, "I'll put him to the proof."
"For shame, my dear! you talk inconsiderately—what can you mean by proof?"
"I mean I will do something that no prudent man ought to forgive; and yet, with all his vast share of prudence, he shall forgive it, and make a sacrifice of just resentment to partial affection."
"But if you should be disappointed, and he should not make the sacrifice?" said Miss Woodley.
"Then I have only lost a man who had no regard for me."
"He may have a great regard for you, notwithstanding."
"But for the love I have felt, and do still feel, for my Lord Elmwood, I will have something more than a great regard in return."
"You have his love, I am sure."
"But is it such as mine? I could love him if he had a thousand faults. And yet," said she, recollecting herself, "and yet, I believe his being faultless, was the first cause of my passion."
Thus she talked on—sometimes in anger, sometimes apparently jesting—till her servant came to let her know the dinner was served. Upon entering the dining-room, and seeing Lord Elmwood's place at table vacant, she started back. She was disappointed of the pleasure she expected in dining with him; and his sudden absence, so immediately after the intelligence that she had received from Miss Woodley, increased her uneasiness. She drew her chair, and sat down with an indifference, that said she should not eat; and as soon as she was seated, she put her fingers sullenly to her lips, nor touched her knife and fork, nor spoke a word in reply to any thing that was said to her during the whole dinner. Miss Woodley and Mrs. Horton were both too well acquainted with the good disposition of her heart, to take offence, or appear to notice this behaviour. They dined, and said nothing either to provoke or sooth her. Just as the dinner was going to be removed, a loud rap came at the door—"Who is that?" said Mrs. Horton. One of the servants went to the window, and answered, "My Lord and Mr. Sandford, Madam."
"Come back to dinner as I live," cried Mrs. Horton.
Miss Milner continued her position and said nothing—but at the corners of her mouth, which her fingers did not entirely cover, there were discoverable, a thousand dimpled graces like small convulsive fibres, which a restrained smile upon Lord Elmwood's return, had sent there.
Lord Elmwood and Sandford entered.
"I am glad you are returned, my Lord," said Mrs. Horton, "for Miss Milner would not eat a morsel."
"It was only because I had no appetite," returned she, blushing like crimson.
"We should not have come back," said Sandford, "but at the place where we went to dine, all the rooms were filled with company."
Lord Elmwood put the wing of a fowl on Miss Milner's plate, but without previously asking if she chose any; yet she condescended to eat—they spoke to each other too in the course of conversation, but it was with a reserve that appeared as if they had been quarrelling, and felt so to themselves, though no such circumstance had happened.
Two weeks passed away in this kind of distant behaviour on both sides, without either of them venturing a direct quarrel, and without either of them expressing (except inadvertently) their strong affection for each other.
During this time they were once, however, very near becoming the dearest friends in expression, as well as in sentiment. This arose from a favour that he had granted in compliance with her desire, though that desire had not been urged, but merely insinuated; and as it was a favour which he had refused to the repeated requests of many of his friends, the value of the obligation was heightened.
She and Miss Woodley had taken an airing to see the poor child, young Rushbrook. Lord Elmwood inquiring of the ladies how they had passed their morning, Miss Milner frankly told him; and added, "What pain it gave her to leave the child behind, as he had again cried to come away with her."
"Go for him then to-morrow," said Lord Elmwood, "and bring him home."
"Home!" she repeated, with surprise.
"Yes," replied he, "if you desire it, this shall be his home—you shall be a mother, and I will, henceforward, be a father to him."
Sandford, who was present, looked unusually sour at this high token of regard for Miss Milner; yet, with resentment on his face, he wiped a tear of joy from his eye, for the boy's sake—his frown was the force of prejudice, his tear the force of nature.
Rushbrook was brought home; and whenever Lord Elmwood wished to shew a kindness to Miss Milner, without directing it immediately to her, he took his nephew upon his knee, talked to him, and told him, he "Was glad they had become acquainted."
In the various, though delicate, struggles for power between Miss Milner and her guardian, there was not one person a witness to these incidents, who did not suppose, that all would at last end in wedlock—for the most common observer perceived, that ardent love was the foundation of every discontent, as well as of every joy they experienced. One great incident, however, totally reversed the hope of all future accommodation.
The fashionable Mrs. G—— gave a masked ball; tickets were presented to persons of quality and fashion; among the rest, three were sent to Miss Milner. She had never been at a masquerade, and received them with ecstasy—the more especially, as the masque being at the house of a woman of fashion, she did not conceive there could be any objection to her going. She was mistaken—the moment she mentioned it to Lord Elmwood, he desired her, somewhat sternly, "Not to think of being there." She was vexed at the prohibition, but more at the manner in which it was delivered, and boldly said, "That she should certainly go."
She expected a rebuke for this, but what alarmed her much more, he said not a word; but looked with a resignation, which foreboded her sorrow greater than the severest reproaches would have done. She sat for a minute, reflecting how to rouse him from this composure—she first thought of attacking him with upbraidings; then she thought of soothing him; and at last of laughing at him. This was the most dangerous of all, and yet, this she ventured upon.
"I am sure your Lordship," said she, "with all your saintliness, can have no objection to my being present at the masquerade, if I go as a Nun."
He made no reply.
"That is a habit," continued she, "which covers a multitude of faults—and, for that evening, I may have the chance of making a conquest even of you—nay, I question not, if under that inviting attire, even the pious Mr. Sandford would not ogle me."
"Hush!" said Miss Woodley.
"Why hush?" cried Miss Milner, aloud, though Miss Woodley had spoken in a whisper, "I am sure," continued she, "I am only repeating what I have read in books about nuns and their confessors."
"Your conduct, Miss Milner," replied Lord Elmwood "gives evident proofs of the authors you have read; you may spare yourself the trouble of quoting them."
Her pride was hurt at this, beyond bearing; and as she could not, like him, govern her anger, it flushed in her face, and almost forced her into tears.
"My Lord," said Miss Woodley, (in a tone so soft and peaceful, that it should have calmed the resentment of both,) "my Lord, suppose you were to accompany Miss Milner? there are tickets for three, and you can then have no objection."
Miss Milner's brow was immediately smoothed; and she fetched a sigh, in anxious expectation that he would consent.
"I go, Miss Woodley?" he replied, with astonishment, "Do you imagine I would play the buffoon at a masquerade?"
Miss Milner's face changed into its former state.
"I have seen grave characters there, my Lord," said Miss Woodley.
"Dear Miss Woodley," cried Miss Milner, "why persuade Lord Elmwood to put on a mask, just at the time he has laid it aside?"
His patience was now tempted to its height, and he answered, "If you suspect me of inconsistency, Madam, you shall find me changed."
Pleased that she had been able at last to irritate him, she smiled with a degree of triumph, and in that humour was going to reply; but before she could speak four words, and before she thought of it, he abruptly left the room.
She was highly offended at this insult, and declared, "From that moment she banished him from her heart for ever." And to prove that she set his love and his anger at equal defiance, she immediately ordered her carriage, and said, she "Was going to some of her acquaintance, whom she knew to have tickets, and with whom she would fix upon the habit she was to appear in at the masquerade; for nothing, unless she was locked up, should alter the resolution she had formed, of being there." To remonstrate at that moment, Miss Woodley knew would be in vain—her coach came to the door, and she drove away.
She did not return to dinner, nor till it was late in the evening; Lord Elmwood was at home, but he never once mentioned her name.
She came home, after he had retired, in great spirits; and then, for the first time, in her whole life, appeared careless what he might think of her behaviour:—but her whole thoughts were occupied upon the business which had employed the chief of her day; and her dress engrossed all her conversation, as soon as Miss Woodley and she were alone. She told her, she had been shewn the greatest variety of beautiful and becoming dresses she had ever beheld; "and yet," said she, "I have at last fixed upon a very plain one; but one I look so well in, that you will hardly know me, when I have it on."
"You are seriously then resolved to go," said Miss Woodley, "if you hear no more on the subject from your guardian?"
"Whether I do hear or not, Miss Woodley, I am equally resolved to go."
"But you know, my dear, he has desired you not—and you used always to obey his commands."
"As my guardian, I certainly did obey him; and I could obey him as a husband; but as a lover, I will not."
"Yet that is the way never to have him for a husband."
"As he pleases—for if he will not submit to be my lover, I will not submit to be his wife—nor has he the affection that I require in a husband."
Thus the old sentiments, repeated again and again, prevented a separation till towards morning.
Miss Milner, for that night, dreamed less of her guardian than of the masquerade. On the evening of the next day it was to be—she was up early, breakfasted in her dressing room, and remained there most of the day, busied in a thousand preparations for the night; one of them was, to take every particle of powder out of her hair, and have it curled all over in falling ringlets. Her next care was, that her dress should exactly fit, and display her fine person to the best advantage—it did so. Miss Woodley entered as it was trying on, and was all astonishment at the elegance of the habit, and its beautiful effect upon her graceful person; but, most of all, she was astonished at her venturing on such a character—for though it represented the goddess of Chastity, yet from the buskins, and the petticoat festooned far above the ancle, it had, on a first glance, the appearance of a female much less virtuous. Miss Woodley admired this dress, yet objected to it; but as she admired first, her objections after had no weight.
"Where is Lord Elmwood?" said Miss Milner—"he must not see me."
"No, for heaven's sake," cried Miss Woodley, "I would not have him see you in such a disguise for the universe."
"And yet," returned the other, with a sigh, "why am I then thus pleased with my dress? for I had rather he should admire me than all the world besides, and yet he is not to see me in it."
"But he would not admire you so dressed," said Miss Woodley.
"How shall I contrive to avoid him," said Miss Milner, "if in the evening he should offer to hand me into my carriage? But I believe he will not be in good humour enough for that."
"You had better dress at the house of the ladies with whom you go," said Miss Woodley; and this was agreed upon.
At dinner they learnt that Lord Elmwood was to go that evening to Windsor, in order to be in readiness for the king's hunt early in the morning. This intelligence having dispersed Miss Milner's fears, she concluded upon dressing at home.
Lord Elmwood appeared at dinner, in an even, but not in a good temper; the subject of the masquerade was never brought up, nor indeed was it once in his thoughts; for though he was offended at his ward's behaviour on the occasion, and considered that she committed a fault in telling him, "She would go," yet he never suspected she meant to do so, not even at the time she said it, much less that she would persist, coolly and deliberately, in so direct a contradiction to his will. She, for her part, flattered herself, that his going to Windsor, was intended in order to give her an opportunity of passing the evening as she pleased, without his being obliged to know of it, and consequently to complain. Miss Woodley, who was willing to hope as she wished, began to be of the same opinion; and, without reluctance, dressed herself as a wood-nymph to accompany her friend.
At half after eleven, Miss Milner's chair, and another with Miss Woodley, took them from Lord Elmwood's, to call upon the party (wood-nymphs and huntresses) who were to accompany them, and make up the suit of Diana.
They had not left the house two minutes, when a thundering rap came at the door—it was Lord Elmwood in a post chaise. Upon some occasion the next day's hunt was deferred: he had been made acquainted with it, and came from Windsor at that late hour. After he had informed Mrs. Horton and Mr. Sandford, who were sitting together, of the cause of his sudden return, and had supper ordered for him, he enquired, "What company had just left the house?"
"We have been alone the whole evening, my Lord," replied Mrs. Horton.
"Nay," returned he, "I saw two chairs, with several servants, come out of the door as I drove up, but what livery I could not discern."
"We have had no creature here," repeated Mrs. Horton.
"Nor has Miss Milner had visitors?" asked he.
This brought Mrs. Horton to her recollection, and she cried, "Oh! now I know;"——and then checked herself, as if she knew too much.
"What do you know, Madam?" said he, sharply.
"Nothing," said Mrs. Horton, "I know nothing—" and she lifted up her hands and shook her head.
"So all people say, who know a great deal," cried Sandford, "and I suspect that is at present your case."
"Then I know more than I wish, I am sure, Mr. Sandford," returned she, shrugging up her shoulders.
Lord Elmwood was all impatience.
"Explain, Madam, explain."
"Dear my Lord," said she, "if your Lordship will recollect, you may just have the same knowledge that I have."
"Recollect what?" said he sternly.
"The quarrel you and your ward had about the masquerade."
"What of that? she is not gone there?" he cried.
"I am not sure she is," returned Mrs. Horton; "but if your Lordship saw two sedan chairs going out of this house, I cannot but suspect it must be Miss Milner and my niece going to the masquerade."
He made no answer, but rang the bell violently. A servant entered. "Send Miss Milner's maid hither," said he, "immediately." The man withdrew.
"Nay, my Lord," cried Mrs. Horton, "any of the other servants could tell you just as well, whether Miss Milner is at home, or gone out."
"Perhaps not," replied he.
The maid entered.
"Where is your mistress?" said Lord Elmwood.
The woman had received no orders to conceal where the ladies were gone, and yet a secret influence which governs the thoughts of all waiting-women and chambermaids, whispered to her that she ought not to tell the truth.
"Where is your mistress?" repeated he, in a louder voice than before.
"Gone out, my Lord," she replied.
"My Lady did not tell me."
"And don't you know?"
"No, my Lord:" she answered, and without blushing.
"Is this the night of the masquerade?" said he.
"I don't know, my Lord, upon my word; but, I believe, my Lord, it is not."
Sandford, as soon as Lord Elmwood had asked the last question, ran hastily to the table, at the other side of the room, took something from it, and returned to his place again—and when the maid said, "It was not the night of the masquerade," he exclaimed, "But it is, my Lord, it is—yes, it is," and shewing a newspaper in his hand, pointed to the paragraph which contained the information.
"Leave the room," said Lord Elmwood to the woman, "I have done with you." She withdrew.
"Yes, yes, here it is," repeated Sandford, with the paper in his hand.——He then read the paragraph: "'The masquerade at the honorable Mrs. G——'s this evening'—This evening, my Lord, you find—'it is expected will be the most brilliant, of any thing of the kind for these many years past.'"
"They should not put such things in the papers," said Mrs. Horton, "to tempt young women to their ruin." The word ruin grated upon Lord Elmwood's ear, and he said to the servant who came to wait on him, while he supped, "Take the supper away." He had not attempted either to eat, or even to sit down; and he now walked backwards and forwards in the room, lost in thought and care.
A little time after, one of Miss Milner's footmen came in upon some occasion, and Mr. Sandford said to him, "Pray did you attend your lady to the masquerade?"
"Yes, Sir," replied the man.
Lord Elmwood stopped himself short in his walk, and said to the servant, "You did?"
"Yes, my Lord," replied he.
He walked again.
"I should like to know what she was dressed in," said Mrs. Horton: and turning to the servant, "Do you know what your lady had on?"
"Yes, Madam," replied the man, "she was in men's clothes."
"How!" cried Lord Elmwood.
"You tell a story, to be sure," said Mrs. Horton to the servant.
"No," cried Sandford, "I am sure he does not; for he is an honest good young man, and would not tell a lie upon any account—would you, George?"
Lord Elmwood ordered Miss Milner's woman to be again sent up. She came.
"In what dress did your lady go to the masquerade?" asked he, and with a look so extremely morose, it seemed to command the answer in a single word, and that word to be truth.
A mind, with a spark of sensibility more than this woman possessed, could not have equivocated with such an interrogator, but her reply was, "She went in her own dress, my Lord."
"Was it a man's or a woman's?" asked he, with a look of the same command.
"Ha, ha, my Lord," (half laughing and half crying) "a woman's dress, to be sure, my Lord."
On which Sandford cried——
"Call the footman up, and let him confront her."
He was called; but Lord Elmwood, now disgusted at the scene, withdrew to the further end of the room, and left Sandford to question them.
With all the authority and consequence of a country magistrate, Sandford—his back to the fire, and the witnesses before him, began with the footman.
"In what dress do you say, that you saw your lady, when you attended, and went along with her, to the masquerade?"
"In men's clothes," replied the man, boldly and firmly as before.
"Bless my soul, George, how can you say such a thing?" cried the woman.
"What dress do you say she went in?" cried Sandford to her.
"In women's clothes, indeed, Sir."
"This is very odd!" said Mrs. Horton.
"Had she on, or had she not on, a coat?" asked Sandford.
"Yes, Sir, a petticoat," replied the woman.
"Do you say she had on a petticoat?" said Sandford to the man.
"I can't answer exactly for that," replied he, "but I know she had boots on."
"They were not boots," replied the maid with vehemence—"indeed, Sir, (turning to Sandford) they were only half boots."
"My girl," said Sandford kindly to her, "your own evidence convicts your mistress—What has a woman to do with any boots?"
Impatient at this mummery, Lord Elmwood rose, ordered the servants out of the room, and then, looking at his watch, found it was near one. "At what hour am I to expect her home?" said he.
"Perhaps not till three in the morning," answered Mrs. Horton.
"Three! more likely six," cried Sandford.
"I can't wait with patience till that time," answered Lord Elmwood, with a most anxious sigh.
"You had better go to bed, my Lord," said Mrs. Horton; "and, by sleeping, the time will pass away unperceived."
"If I could sleep, Madam."
"Will you play a game of cards, my Lord?" said Sandford, "for I will not leave you till she comes home; and though I am not used to sit up all night——"
"All night!" repeated Lord Elmwood; "she dares not stay all night."
"And yet, after going," said Sandford, "in defiance to your commands, I should suppose she dared."
"She is in good company, at least, my Lord," said Mrs. Horton.
"She does not know herself what company she is in," replied he.
"How should she," cried Sandford, "where every one hides his face?"
Till five o'clock in the morning, in conversation such as this, the hours passed away. Mrs. Horton, indeed, retired to her chamber at two, and left the gentlemen to a more serious discourse; but a discourse still less advantageous to poor Miss Milner.
She, during this time, was at the scene of pleasure she had painted to herself, and all the pleasure it gave her was, that she was sure she should never desire to go to a masquerade again. Its crowd and bustle fatigued her—its freedom offended her delicacy—and though she perceived that she was the first object of admiration in the place, yet there was one person still wanting to admire; and the remorse at having transgressed his injunctions for so trivial an entertainment, weighed upon her spirits, and added to its weariness. She would have come away sooner than she did, but she could not, with any degree of good manners, leave the company with whom she went; and not till half after four, were they prevailed on to return.
Daylight just peeped through the shutters of the room in which Lord Elmwood and Sandford were sitting, when the sound of her carriage, and the sudden stop it made at the door, caused Lord Elmwood to start from his chair. He trembled extremely, and looked pale. Sandford was ashamed to seem to notice it, yet he could not help asking him, "To take a glass of wine." He took it—and for once, evinced he was reduced so low, as to be glad of such a resource.
What passion thus agitated Lord Elmwood at this crisis, it is hard to define—perhaps it was indignation at Miss Milner's imprudence, and exultation at being on the point of revenge—perhaps it was emotion arising from joy, to find that she was safe—perhaps it was perturbation at the regret he felt that he must upbraid her—perhaps it was not one alone of these sensations, but all of them combined.
She, wearied out with the tedious night's dissipation, and far less joyous than melancholy, had fallen asleep as she rode home, and came half asleep out of her carriage. "Light me to my bed-chamber instantly," said she to her maid, who waited in the hall to receive her. But one of Lord Elmwood's valets went up to her, and answered, "Madam, my Lord desires to see you before you retire."
"Your Lord!" she cried, "Is he not out of town?"
"No, Madam, my Lord has been at home ever since you went out; and has been sitting up with Mr. Sandford, waiting for you."
She was wide awake immediately. The heaviness was removed from her eyes, but fear, grief, and shame, seized upon her heart. She leaned against her maid, as if unable to support herself under those feelings, and said to Miss Woodley,
"Make my excuse—I cannot see him to-night—I am unfit—indeed I cannot."
Miss Woodley was alarmed at the idea of going to him by herself, and thus, perhaps, irritating him still more: she, therefore, said, "He has sent for you; for heaven's sake, do not disobey him a second time."
"No, dear Madam, don't," cried her woman, "for he is like a lion—he has been scolding me."
"Good God!" (exclaimed Miss Milner, and in a tone that seemed prophetic) "Then he is not to be my husband, after all."
"Yes," cried Miss Woodley, "if you will only be humble, and appear sorry. You know your power over him, and all may yet be well."
She turned her speaking eyes upon her friend, the tears starting from them, her lips trembling—"Do I not appear sorry?" she cried.
The bell at that moment rang furiously, and they hastened their steps to the door of the apartment where Lord Elmwood was.
"No, this shuddering is only fright," replied Miss Woodley—"Say to him you are sorry, and beg his pardon."
"I cannot," said she, "if Mr. Sandford is with him."
The servant opened the door, and she and Miss Woodley went in. Lord Elmwood, by this time, was composed, and received her with a slight inclination of his head—she bowed to him in return, and said, with some marks of humility,
"I suppose, my Lord, I have done wrong."
"You have indeed, Miss Milner," answered he; "but do not suppose, that I mean to upbraid you: I am, on the contrary, going to release you from any such apprehension for the future."
Those last three words he delivered with a countenance so serious and so determined, with an accent so firm and so decided, they pierced through her heart. Yet she did not weep, or even sigh; but her friend, knowing what she felt, exclaimed, "Oh?" as if for her.
She herself strove with her anguish, and replied, (but with a faltering voice) "I expected as much, my Lord."
"Then, Madam, you perhaps expect all that I intend?"
"In regard to myself," she replied, "I suppose I do."
"Then," said he, "you may expect that in a few days we shall part."
"I am prepared for it, my Lord," she answered, and, while she said so, sunk upon a chair.
"My Lord, what you have to say farther," said Miss Woodley, in tears, "defer till the morning—Miss Milner, you see, is not able to bear it now."
"I have nothing to say further," replied he coolly—"I have now only to act."
"Lord Elmwood," cried Miss Milner, divided between grief and anger, "you think to terrify me by your menaces—but I can part with you—heaven knows I can—your late behaviour has reconciled me to a separation."
On this he was going out of the room—but Miss Woodley, catching hold of him, cried, "Oh! my Lord, do not leave her in this sorrow—pity her weakness, and forgive it." She was proceeding; and he seemed as if inclined to listen, when Sandford called out in a tone of voice so harsh,
"Miss Woodley, what do you mean?"—She gave a start, and desisted.
Lord Elmwood then turned to Sandford, and said, "Nay, Mr. Sandford, you need entertain no doubts of me—I have judged, and have deter——"
He was going to say determined; but Miss Milner, who dreaded the word, interrupted the period, and exclaimed, "Oh! could my poor father know the days of sorrow I have experienced since his death, how would he repent his fatal choice of a protector!"
This sentence, in which his friend's memory was recalled, with an additional allusion to her long and secret love for him, affected Lord Elmwood much—he was moved, but ashamed of being so, and as soon as possible conquered the propensity to forgive. Yet, for a short interval, he did not know whether to go out of the room, or to remain in it; whether to speak, or to be silent. At length he turned towards her, and said,
"Appeal to your father in some other form—in that (pointing at her dress) he will not know you. Reflect upon him, too, in your moments of dissipation, and let his idea controul your indiscretions—not merely in an hour of contradiction call peevishly upon his name, only to wound the dearest friend you have."
There was a degree of truth, and a degree of passionate feeling, in the conclusion of this speech, that alarmed Sandford—he caught up one of the candles, and, laying hold of his friend's elbow, drew him out of the room, crying, "Come, my Lord, come to your bed-chamber—it is very late—it is morning—it is time to rise." And by a continual repetition of these words, in a very loud voice, drowned whatever Lord Elmwood, or any other person might have wished either to have said or to have heard.
In this manner, Lord Elmwood was forced out of the apartment, and the evening's entertainment concluded.
Two whole days passed in the bitterest suspense on the part of Miss Milner, while neither one word or look from Lord Elmwood, denoted the most trivial change of the sentiments he had declared, on the night of the masquerade. Still those sentiments, or intentions, were not explicitly delivered; they were more like intimations, than solemn declarations—for though he had said, "He would never reproach her for the future," and that "She might expect they should part," he had not positively said they should; and upon this doubtful meaning of his words, she hung with the strongest agitation of hope and of fear.
Miss Woodley seeing the distress of her mind, (much as she endeavoured to conceal it) entreated, nay implored of her, to permit her to be a mediator; to suffer her to ask for a private interview with Lord Elmwood, and if she found him inflexible, to behave with a proper spirit in return; but if he appeared not absolutely averse to a reconciliation, to offer it in so cautious a manner, that it might take place without farther uneasiness on either side. But Miss Milner peremptorily forbade this, and acknowledging to her friend every weakness she felt on the occasion, yet concluded with solemnly declaring, "That after what had passed between her and Lord Elmwood, he must be the first to make a concession, before she herself would condescend to be reconciled."
"I believe I know Lord Elmwood's temper," replied Miss Woodley, "and I do not think he will be easily induced to beg pardon for a fault which he thinks you have committed."
"Then he does not love me."
"Pshaw! Miss Milner, this is the old argument. He may love you too well to spoil you—consider that he is your guardian as well as your lover, he means also to become your husband; and he is a man of such nice honour, that he will not indulge you with any power before marriage, to which he does not intend to submit hereafter."
"But tenderness, affection, the politeness due from a lover to his mistress demands his submission; and as I now despair of enticing, I will oblige him to it—at least I'll make the trial, and know my fate at once."
"What do you mean to do?"
"Invite Lord Frederick to the house, and ask my guardian's consent for our immediate union; you will then see, what effect that will have upon his pride."
"But you will then make it too late for him to be humble. If you resolve on this, my dear Miss Milner, you are undone at once—you may thus hurry yourself into a marriage with a man you do not love, and the misery of your whole future life may be the result. Or, would you force Mr. Dorriforth (I mean Lord Elmwood) to another duel with my Lord Frederick?"
"No, call him Dorriforth," answered she, with the tears stealing from her eyes; "I thank you for calling him so; for by that name alone, is he dear to me."
"Nay, Miss Milner, with what rapture did you not receive his love, as Lord Elmwood!"
"But under this title he has been barbarous; under the first, he was all friendship and tenderness."
Notwithstanding Miss Milner indulged herself in all these soft bewailings to her friend—before Lord Elmwood she maintained a degree of pride and steadiness, which surprised even him, who perhaps thought less of her love for him, than any other person. She now began to fear she had gone too far in discovering her affection, and resolved to make trial of a contrary method. She determined to retrieve that haughty character which had inspired so many of her admirers with passion, and take the chance of its effect upon this only one, to whom she ever acknowledged a mutual attachment. But although she acted this character well—so well, that every one but Miss Woodley thought her in earnest—yet, with nice and attentive anxiety, she watched even the slightest circumstances that might revive her hopes, or confirm her despair. Lord Elmwood's behaviour was calculated only to produce the latter—he was cold, polite, and perfectly indifferent. Yet, whatever his manners now were, they did not remove from her recollection what they had been—she recalled, with delight, the ardour with which he had first declared his passion to her, and the thousand proofs he had since given of its reality. From the constancy of his disposition, she depended that sentiments like these were not totally eradicated; and from the extreme desire which Mr. Sandford now, more than ever, discovered of depreciating her in his patron's esteem—from the now, more than common zeal, which urged him to take Lord Elmwood from her company, whenever he had it in his power, she was led to believe, that while his friend entertained such strong fears of his relapsing into love, she had reason to indulge the strongest hopes that he would.
But the reserve, and even indifference, that she had so well assumed for a few days, and which might perhaps have effected her design, she had not the patience to persevere in, without calling levity to their aid. She visited repeatedly without saying where, or with whom—kept later hours than usual—appeared in the highest spirits—sung, laughed, and never heaved a sigh—but when she was alone.
Still Lord Elmwood protracted a resolution, that he was determined he would never break when taken.
Miss Woodley was excessively uneasy, and with cause; she saw her friend was providing herself with a weight of cares, that she would soon find infinitely too much for her strength to bear—she would have reasoned with her, but all her arguments had long since proved unavailing. She wished to speak to Lord Elmwood upon the subject, and (unknown to her) plead her excuse; but he apprehended Miss Woodley's intention, and evidently shunned her. Mr. Sandford was now the only person to whom she could speak of Miss Milner, and the delight he took to expatiate on her faults, was more sorrow to her friend, than not to speak of her at all. She, therefore, sat a silent spectator, waiting with dread for the time when she, who now scorned her advice, would fly to her in vain for comfort.
Sandford had, however, said one thing to Miss Woodley, which gave her a ray of hope. During their conversation on the subject, (not by way of consolation to her, but as a reproach to Lord Elmwood) he one day angrily exclaimed, "And yet, notwithstanding all this provocation, he has not come to the determination that he will think no more of her—he lingers and he hesitates—I never saw him so weak upon any occasion before."
This was joyful hearing to Miss Woodley; still, she could not but reflect, the longer he was in coming to this determination, the more irrevocable it would be, when once taken; and every moment that passed, she trembled lest it should be the very moment, in which Lord Elmwood should resolve to banish Miss Milner from his heart.
Amongst her unpardonable indiscretions, during this trial upon the temper of her guardian, was the frequent mention of many gentlemen, who had been her professed admirers, and the mention of them with partiality. Teased, if not tortured, by this, Lord Elmwood still behaved with a manly evenness of temper, and neither appeared provoked on the subject, nor insolently careless. In a single instance, however, this calmness was near deserting him.
Entering the drawing-room, one evening, he started, on seeing Lord Frederick Lawnly there, in earnest conversation with Miss Milner.
Mrs. Horton and Miss Woodley were both indeed present, and Lord Frederick was talking in an audible voice, upon some indifferent subjects; but with that impressive manner, in which a man never fails to speak to the woman he loves, be the subject what it may. The moment Lord Elmwood started, which was the moment he entered, Lord Frederick arose.
"I beg your pardon, my Lord," said Lord Elmwood, "I protest I did not know you."
"I ought to entreat your Lordship's pardon," returned Lord Frederick, "for this intrusion, which an accident alone has occasioned. Miss Milner has been almost overturned by the carelessness of a lady's coachman, in whose carriage she was, and therefore suffered me to bring her home in mine."
"I hope you are not hurt," said Lord Elmwood to Miss Milner, but his voice was so much affected by what he felt that he could scarce articulate the words. Not with the apprehension that she was hurt, was he thus agitated, for the gaiety of her manners convinced him that could not be the case, nor did he indeed suppose any accident, of the kind mentioned, had occurred; but the circumstance of unexpectedly seeing Lord Frederick had taken him off his guard, and being totally unprepared, he could not conceal indications of the surprise, and of the shock it had given him.
Lord Frederick, who had heard nothing of his intended union with his ward, (for it was even kept a secret, at present, from every servant in the house) imputed this discomposure to the personal resentment he might bear him, in consequence of their duel; for though Lord Elmwood had assured the uncle of Lord Frederick, (who once waited upon him on the subject of Miss Milner) that all resentment was, on his part, entirely at an end; and that he was willing to consent to his ward's marriage with his nephew, if she would concur; yet Lord Frederick doubted the sincerity of this, and would still have had the delicacy not to have entered Lord Elmwood's house, had he not been encouraged by Miss Milner, and emboldened by his love. Personal resentment was therefore the construction he put upon Lord Elmwood's emotion on entering the room; but Miss Milner and Miss Woodley knew his agitation to arise from a far different cause.
After his entrance, Lord Frederick did not attempt once to resume his seat, but having bowed most respectfully to all present, he took his leave; while Miss Milner followed him as far as the door, and repeated her thanks for his protection.
Lord Elmwood was hurt beyond measure; but he had a second concern, which was, that he had not the power to conceal how much he was affected. He trembled—when he attempted to speak, he stammered—he perceived his face burning with confusion, and thus one confusion gave birth to another, till his state was pitiable.
Miss Milner, with all her assumed gaiety and real insolence, had not, however, the insolence to seem as if she observed him; she had only the confidence to observe him by stealth. And Mrs. Horton and Miss Woodley, having opportunely begun a discourse upon some trivial occurrences, gave him time to recover himself by degrees—yet, still it was merely by degrees; for the impression which this incident had made, was deep, and not easily to be erased. The entrance of Mr. Sandford, who knew nothing of what had happened, was however, another relief; for he began a conversation with him, which they very soon retired into the library to terminate. Miss Milner, taking Miss Woodley with her, went directly to her own apartment, and there exclaimed in rapture,
"He is mine—he loves me—and he is mine for ever."
Miss Woodley congratulated her upon believing so, but confessed she herself "Had her fears."
"What fears?" cried Miss Milner: "don't you perceive that he loves me?"
"I do," said Miss Woodley, "but that I always believed; and, I think, if he loves you now, he has yet the good sense to know that he has reason to hate you."
"What has good sense to do with love?" returned Miss Milner—"If a lover of mine suffers his understanding to get the better of his affection—"
The same arguments were going to be repeated; but Miss Woodley interrupted her, by requiring an explanation of her conduct as to Lord Frederick, whom, at least, she was treating with cruelty, if she only made use of his affection to stimulate that of Lord Elmwood.
"By no means, my dear Miss Woodley," returned she—"I have, indeed, done with my Lord Frederick from this day; and he has certainly given me the proof I wanted of Lord Elmwood's love; but then I did not engage him to this by the smallest ray of hope. No; do not suspect me of that, while my heart was another's: and I assure you, seriously, that it was from the circumstance we described he came with me home—yet, I must own, that if I had not had this design upon Lord Elmwood's jealousy in idea, I would have walked on foot through the streets, rather than have suffered his rival's civilities. But he pressed his services so violently, and my Lady Evans (in whose coach I was when the accident happened) pressed me so violently to accept them, that he cannot expect any farther meaning from this acquiescence than my own convenience."
Miss Woodley was going to reply, when she resumed,
"Nay, if you intend to say I have done wrong, still I am not sorry for it, when it has given me such convincing proofs of Lord Elmwood's love. Did you see him? I am afraid you did not see how he trembled? and that manly voice faltered, as mine does sometimes—his proud heart was humbled too, as mine is now and then. Oh! Miss Woodley, I have been counterfeiting indifference to him—I now find that all his indifference to me has been counterfeit, and that we not only love, but love equally."
"Suppose this all as you hope—I yet think it highly necessary that your guardian should be informed, seriously informed, it was mere accident (for, at present, that plea seems but as a subterfuge) which brought Lord Frederick hither."
"No, that will be destroying the work so successfully begun. I will not suffer any explanation to take place, but let my Lord Elmwood act just as his love shall dictate; and now I have no longer a doubt of its excess, instead of stooping to him, I wait in the certain expectation of his submission to me."
In vain, for three long days, did Miss Milner wait impatiently for this submission; not a sign, not a symptom appeared—nay, Lord Elmwood had, since the evening of Lord Frederick's visit, (which, at the time it happened, seemed to affect him so exceedingly) become just the same man he was before the circumstance occurred; except, indeed, that he was less thoughtful, and now and then cheerful; but without any appearance that his cheerfulness was affected. Miss Milner was vext—she was alarmed—but was ashamed to confess those humiliating sensations, even to Miss Woodley—she supported, therefore, when in company, the vivacity she had so long assumed; but gave way, when alone, to a still greater degree of melancholy than usual. She no longer applauded her scheme of bringing Lord Frederick to the house, and trembled, lest, on some pretence, he should dare to call again. But as these were feelings which her pride would not suffer her to disclose even to her friend, who would have condoled with her, their effects were doubly poignant.
Sitting in her dressing-room one forenoon with Miss Woodley, and burthened with a load of grief that she blushed to acknowledge, while her companion was charged with apprehensions that she too was loath to disclose, one of Lord Elmwood's valets tapped gently at the door, and delivered a letter to Miss Milner. By the person who brought it, as well as by the address, she knew it came from Lord Elmwood, and laid it down upon her toilet, as if she was fearful to unfold it.
"What is that?" said Miss Woodley.
"A letter from Lord Elmwood," replied Miss Milner.
"Good Heaven!" exclaimed Miss Woodley.
"Nay," returned she, "it is, I have no doubt, a letter to beg my pardon." But her reluctance to open it plainly evinced she did not think so.
"Do not read it yet," said Miss Woodley.
"I do not intend it," replied she, trembling extremely.
"Will you dine first?" said Miss Woodley.
"No—for not knowing its contents, I shall not know how to conduct myself towards him."
Here a silence followed. Miss Milner took up the letter—looked earnestly at the handwriting on the outside—at the seal—inspected into its folds—and seemed to wish, by some equivocal method, to guess at the contents, without having the courage to come at the certain knowledge of them.
Curiosity, at length, got the better of her fears—she opened the letter, and, scarce able to hold it while she read, she read the following words:—
"While I considered you only as my ward, my friendship for you was unbounded—when I looked upon you as a woman formed to grace a fashionable circle, my admiration equalled my friendship—and when fate permitted me to behold you in the tender light of my betrothed wife, my soaring love left those humbler passions at a distance.
"That you have still my friendship, my admiration, and even my love, I will not attempt to deceive either myself or you by disavowing; but still, with a firm assurance, I declare, that prudence outweighs them all; and I have not, from henceforward, a wish to be regarded by you, in any other respect than as one 'who wishes you well.' That you ever beheld me in the endearing quality of a destined and an affectionate husband, (such as I would have proved) was a deception upon my hopes: they acknowledge the mistake, and are humbled—but I entreat you to spare their farther trial, and for a single week do not insult me with the open preference of another. In the short space of that period I shall have taken my leave of you—for ever.
"I shall visit Italy, and some other parts of the Continent; from whence I propose passing to the West Indies, in order to inspect my possessions there: nor shall I return to England till after a few years' absence; in which time I hope to become once more reconciled to the change of state I am enjoined—a change I now most fervently wish could be entirely dispensed with.
"The occasion of my remaining here a week longer, is to settle some necessary affairs, among which the principal is, that of delivering to a friend, a man of worth and of tenderness, all those writings which have invested me with the power of my guardianship—he will, the day after my departure, (without one upbraiding word) resign them to you in my name; and even your most respected father, could he behold the resignation, would concur in its propriety.
"And now, my dear Miss Milner, let not affected resentment, contempt, or levity, oppose that serenity, which, for the week to come, I wish to enjoy. By complying with this request, give me to believe, that, since you have been under my care, you think I have, at least, faithfully discharged some part of my duty. And wherever I have been inadequate to your wishes, attribute my demerits to some infirmity of mind, rather than to a negligence of your happiness. Yet, be the cause what it will, since these faults have existed, I do not attempt to disavow or extenuate them, and I beg your pardon.
"However time, and a succession of objects, may eradicate more tender sentiments, I am sure never to lose the liveliest anxiety for your welfare—and with all that solicitude, which cannot be described, I entreat for your own sake, for mine—when we shall be far asunder—and for the sake of your dead father's memory, that, upon every important occasion, you will call your serious judgment to direct you.
"I am, Madam,
"Your sincerest friend,
After she had read every syllable of this letter, it dropped from her hands; but she uttered not a word. There was, however, a paleness in her face, a deadness in her eye, and a kind of palsy over her frame, which Miss Woodley, who had seen her in every stage of her uneasiness, never had seen before.
"I do not want to read the letter," said Miss Woodley; "your looks tell me its contents."
"They will then discover to Lord Elmwood," replied she, "what I feel; but Heaven forbid—that would sink me even lower than I am."
Scarce able to move, she rose, and looked in her glass, as if to arrange her features, and impose upon him: alas! it was of no avail—a serenity of mind could alone effect what she desired.
"You must endeavour," said Miss Woodley, "to feel the disposition you wish to make appear."
"I will," replied she, "I will feel a proper pride—and a proper scorn of this treatment."
And so desirous was she to attain the appearance of these sentiments, that she made the strongest efforts to calm her thoughts, in order to acquire it.
"I have but a few days to remain with him," she said to herself, "and we part for ever—during those few days it is not only my duty to obey his commands, or rather comply with his request, but it is also my wish to leave upon his mind an impression, which may not add to the ill opinion he has formed of me, but, perhaps, serve to diminish it. If, in every other instance, my conduct has been blameable, he shall, at least in this, acknowledge its merit. The fate I have drawn upon myself, he shall find I can be resigned to; and he shall be convinced, that the woman, of whose weakness he has had so many fatal proofs, is yet in possession of some fortitude—fortitude, to bid him farewell, without discovering one affected or one real pang, though her death should be the immediate consequence."
Thus she resolved, and thus she acted. The severest judge could not have arraigned her conduct, from the day she received Lord Elmwood's letter, to the day of his departure. She had, indeed, involuntary weaknesses, but none with which she did not struggle, and, in general, her struggles were victorious.
The first time she saw him after the receipt of his letter, was on the evening of the same day—she had a little concert of amateurs of music, and was herself singing and playing when he entered the room: the connoisseurs immediately perceived she made a false cadence—but Lord Elmwood was no connoisseur in the art, and he did not observe it.
They occasionally spoke to each other through the evening, but the subjects were general—and though their manners every time they spoke, were perfectly polite, they were not marked with the smallest degree of familiarity. To describe his behaviour exactly, it was the same as his letter, polite, friendly, composed, and resolved. Some of the company staid supper, which prevented the embarrassment that must unavoidably have arisen, had the family been by themselves.
The next morning each breakfasted in his separate apartments—more company dined with them—in the evening, and at supper, Lord Elmwood was from home.
Thus, all passed on as peaceably as he had requested, and Miss Milner had not betrayed one particle of frailty; when, the third day at dinner, some gentlemen of his acquaintance being at table, one of them said,
"And so, my Lord, you absolutely set off on Tuesday morning?"
This was Friday.
Sandford and he both replied at the same time, "Yes." And Sandford, but not Lord Elmwood, looked at Miss Milner when he spoke. Her knife and fork gave a sudden spring in her hand, but no other emotion witnessed what she felt.
"Aye, Elmwood," cried another gentleman at table, "you'll bring home, I am afraid, a foreign wife, and that I shan't forgive."
"It is his errand abroad, I make no doubt," said another visitor.
Before he could return an answer, Sandford cried, "And what objection to a foreigner for a wife? do not crowned heads all marry foreigners? and who happier in the married state than some kings?"
Lord Elmwood directed his eyes to the side of the table, opposite to that where Miss Milner sat.
"Nay," (answered one of the guests, who was a country gentleman) "what do you say, ladies—do you think my Lord ought to go out of his own nation for a wife?" and he looked at Miss Milner for the reply.
Miss Woodley, uneasy at her friend's being thus forced to give an opinion upon so delicate a subject, endeavoured to satisfy the gentleman, by answering to the question herself: "Whoever my Lord Elmwood marries, Sir," said Miss Woodley, "he, no doubt, will be happy."
"But what say you, Madam?" asked the visitor, still keeping his eyes on Miss Milner.
"That whoever Lord Elmwood marries, he deserves to be happy:" returned she, with the utmost command of her voice and looks; for Miss Woodley, by replying first, had given her time to collect herself.
The colour flew to Lord Elmwood's face, as she delivered this short sentence; and Miss Woodley persuaded herself, she saw a tear start in his eye.
Miss Milner did not look that way.
In an instant he found means to change the subject, but that of his journey still employed the conversation; and what horses, servants, and carriages he took with him, was minutely asked, and so accurately answered, either by himself or by Mr. Sandford, that Miss Milner, although she had known her doom before, till now had received no circumstantial account of it—and as circumstances increase or diminish all we feel, the hearing these things told, increased the bitterness of their truth.
Soon after dinner the ladies retired; and from that time, though Miss Milner's behaviour continued the same, yet her looks and her voice were totally altered—for the world, she could not have looked cheerfully; for the world, she could not have spoken with a sprightly accent; she frequently began in one, but not three words could she utter, before her tones sunk into dejection. Not only her colour, but her features became changed; her eyes lost their brilliancy, her lips seemed to hang without the power of motion, her head drooped, and her dress was neglected. Conscious of this appearance, and conscious of the cause from whence it arose, it was her desire to hide herself from the only object she could have wished to have charmed. Accordingly, she sat alone, or with Miss Woodley in her own apartment as much as was consistent with that civility which her guardian had requested, and which forbade her totally absenting herself.
Miss Woodley felt so acutely the torments of her friend, that had not her reason told her, that the inflexible mind of Lord Elmwood, was fixed beyond her power to shake, she had cast herself at his feet, and implored the return of his affection and tenderness, as the only means to save his once-beloved ward from an untimely death. But her understanding—her knowledge of his firm and immoveable temper; and of all his provocations—her knowledge of his word, long since given to Sandford, "That if once resolved, he would not recall his resolution"—the certainty of the various plans arranged for his travels, all convinced her, that by any interference, she would only expose Miss Milner's love and delicacy, to a contemptuous rejection.
If the conversation did not every day turn upon the subject of Lord Elmwood's departure—a conversation he evidently avoided himself—yet, every day, some new preparation for his journey, struck either the ear or the eye of Miss Milner—and had she beheld a frightful spectre, she could not have shuddered with more horror, than when she unexpectedly passed his large trunks in the hall, nailed and corded, ready to be sent off to meet him at Venice. At the sight, she flew from the company that chanced to be with her, and stole to the first lonely corner of the house to conceal her tears—she reclined her head upon her hands, and bedewed them with the sudden anguish, that had overcome her. She heard a footstep advancing towards the spot where she hoped to have been concealed; she lifted up her eyes, and saw Lord Elmwood. Pride, was the first emotion his presence inspired—pride, which arose from the humility into which she was plunged.
She looked at him earnestly, as if to imply, "What now, my Lord?"
He only answered with a bow, which expressed; "I beg your pardon." And immediately withdrew.
Thus each understood the other's language, without either having uttered a word.
The just construction she put upon his looks and behaviour upon this occasion, kept up her spirits for some little time; and she blessed heaven, repeatedly, for the singular favour of shewing to her, clearly, by this accident, his negligence of her sorrows, his total indifference.
The next day was the eve of that on which he was to depart—of the day on which she was to bid adieu to Dorriforth, to her guardian, to Lord Elmwood; to all her hopes at once.
The moment she awoke on Monday morning, the recollection, that this was, perhaps, the last day she was ever again to see him, softened all the resentment his yesterday's conduct had raised: forgetting his austerity, and all she had once termed cruelties, she now only remembered his friendship, his tenderness, and his love. She was impatient to see him, and promised herself, for this last day, to neglect no one opportunity of being with him. For that purpose she did not breakfast in her own room, as she had done for several mornings before, but went into the breakfast-room, where all the family in general met. She was rejoiced on hearing his voice as she opened the door, yet the sound made her tremble so much, that she could scarcely totter to the table.
Miss Woodley looked at her as she entered, and was never so shocked at seeing her; for never had she yet seen her look so ill. As she approached, she made an inclination of her head to Mrs. Horton, then to her guardian, as was her custom, when she first saw them in a morning—he looked in her face as he bowed in return, then fixed his eyes upon the fire-place, rubbed his forehead, and began talking with Mr. Sandford.
Sandford, during breakfast, by accident cast a glance upon Miss Milner; his attention was caught by her deadly countenance, and he looked earnestly. He then turned to Lord Elmwood to see if he was observing her appearance—he was not—and so much were her thoughts engaged on him alone, that she did not once perceive Sandford gazing at her.
Mrs. Horton, after a little while observed, "It was a beautiful morning."
Lord Elmwood said, "He thought he heard it rain in the night."
Sandford cried, "For his part he slept too well to know." And then (unasked) held a plate with biscuits to Miss Milner—it was the first civility he had ever in his life offered her; she smiled at the whimsicality of the circumstance, but she took one in return for his attention. He looked grave beyond his usual gravity, and yet not with his usual ill temper. She did not eat what she had so politely taken, but laid it down soon after.
Lord Elmwood was the first who rose from breakfast, and he did not return to dinner.
At dinner, Mrs. Horton said, "She hoped he would, however, favour them with his company at supper."
To which Sandford replied, "No doubt, for you will hardly any of you see him in the morning; as we shall be off by six, or soon after."
Sandford was not going abroad with Lord Elmwood, but was to go with him as far as Dover.
These words of his—"Not see Lord Elmwood in the morning"—[never again to see him after this evening,] were like the knell of death to Miss Milner. She felt the symptoms of fainting, and eagerly snatched a glass of water, which the servant was holding to Sandford, who had called for it, and drank it off;—as she returned the glass to the servant, she began to apologize to Mr. Sandford for her seeming rudeness, but before she could utter what she intended, he said, good-naturedly, "Never mind—you are very welcome—I am glad you took it." She looked at him to observe, whether he had really spoken kindly, or ironically; but before his countenance could satisfy her, her thoughts were called away from that trivial matter, and again fixed upon Lord Elmwood.
The moments seemed tedious till he came home to supper, and yet, when she reflected how short the remainder of the evening would be after that time, she wished to defer the hour of his return for months. At ten o'clock he arrived; and at half after ten the family, without any visitor, met at supper.
Miss Milner had considered, that the period for her to counterfeit appearances, was diminished now to a most contracted one; and she rigorously enjoined herself not to shrink from the little which remained. The certain end, that would be so soon put to this painful deception, encouraged her to struggle through it with redoubled zeal; and this was but necessary, as her weakness increased. She therefore listened, she talked, and even smiled with the rest of the company, nor did their vivacity seem to arise, from a much less compulsive source than her own.
It was past twelve, when Lord Elmwood looked at his watch, and rising from his chair, went up to Mrs. Horton, and taking her hand, said, "Till I see you again, Madam, I sincerely wish you every happiness."
Miss Milner fixed her eyes upon the table before her.
"My Lord," replied Mrs. Horton, "I sincerely wish you health and happiness likewise."
He then went to Miss Woodley, and taking her hand, repeated much the same, as he had said to Mrs. Horton.
Miss Milner now trembled beyond all power of concealment.
"My Lord," replied Miss Woodley, a good deal affected, "I sincerely hope my prayers for your happiness may be heard."
She and Mrs. Horton were both standing as well as Lord Elmwood; but Miss Milner kept her seat, till his eye was turned upon her, and he moved slowly towards her; she then rose:—every one who was present, attentive to what he would now say, and how she would receive what he said, here cast their eyes upon them, and listened with impatience. They were all disappointed—he did not utter a syllable. Yet he took her hand, and held it closely between his. He then bowed most respectfully and left her.
No "I wish you well;—I wish you health and happiness." No "Prayers for blessings on her." Not even the word "Farewell," escaped his lips—perhaps, to have attempted any of these, might have choaked his utterance.
She had behaved with fortitude the whole evening, and she continued to do so, till the moment he turned away from her. Her eyes then overflowed with tears, and in the agony of her mind, not knowing what she did, she laid her cold hand upon the person next to her—it happened to be Sandford; but not observing it was he, she grasped his hand with violence—yet he did not snatch it away, nor look at her with his wonted severity. And thus she stood, silent and motionless, while Lord Elmwood, now at the door, bowed once more to all the company, and retired.
Sandford had still Miss Milner's hand fixed upon his; and when the door was shut after Lord Elmwood, he turned his head to look in her face, and turned it with some marks of apprehension for the grief he might find there. She strove to overcome that grief, and after a heavy sigh, sat down, as if resigned to the fate to which she was decreed.
Instead of following Lord Elmwood, as usual, Sandford poured out a glass of wine, and drank it. A general silence ensued for near three minutes. At last, turning himself round on his seat, towards Miss Milner, who sat like a statue of despair at his side, "Will you breakfast with us to-morrow?" said he.
She made no answer.
"We shan't breakfast before half after six," continued he, "I dare say; and if you can rise so early—why do."
"Miss Milner," said Miss Woodley, (for she caught eagerly at the hope of her passing this night in less unhappiness than she had foreboded) "pray rise at that hour to breakfast; Mr. Sandford would not invite you, if he thought it would displease Lord Elmwood."
"Not I," replied Sandford, churlishly.
"Then desire her maid to call her:" said Mrs. Horton to Miss Woodley.
"Nay, she will be awake, I have no doubt;" returned her niece.
"No;" replied Miss Milner, "since Lord Elmwood has thought proper to take his leave of me, without even speaking a word; by my own design, never will I see him again." And her tears burst forth, as if her heart burst at the same time.
"Why did not you speak to him?" cried Sandford—"Pray did you bid him farewell? and I don't see why one is not as much to be blamed, in that respect, as the other."
"I was too weak to say I wished him happy," cried Miss Milner; "but, Heaven is my witness, I do wish him so from my soul."
"And do you imagine he does not wish you so?" cried Sandford. "You should judge him by your own heart; and what you feel for him, imagine he feels for you, my dear."
Though "my dear" is a trivial phrase, yet from certain people, and upon certain occasions, it is a phrase of infinite comfort and assurance. Mr. Sandford seldom said "my dear" to any one; to Miss Milner never; and upon this occasion, and from him, it was an expression most precious.
She turned to him with a look of gratitude; but as she only looked, and did not speak, he rose up, and soon after said, with a friendly tone he had seldom used in her presence, "I sincerely wish you a good night."
As soon as he was gone, Miss Milner exclaimed, "However my fate may have been precipitated by the unkindness of Mr. Sandford, yet, for that particle of concern which he has shown for me this night, I will always be grateful to him."
"Ay," cried Mrs. Horton, "good Mr. Sandford may show his kindness now, without any danger from its consequences. Now Lord Elmwood is going away for ever, he is not afraid of your seeing him once again." And she thought she praised him by this suggestion.
When Miss Milner retired to her bed-chamber, Miss Woodley went with her, nor would leave her the whole night—but in vain did she persuade her to rest—she absolutely refused; and declared she would never, from that hour, indulge repose. "The part I undertook to perform," cried she, "is over—I will now, for my whole life, appear in my own character, and give a loose to the anguish I endure."
As daylight showed itself—"And yet I might see him once again," said she—"I might see him within these two hours, if I pleased, for Mr. Sandford invited me."
"If you think, my dear Miss Milner," said Miss Woodley, "that a second parting from Lord Elmwood would but give you a second agony, in the name of Heaven do not see him any more—but, if you hope your mind would be easier, were you to bid each other adieu in a more direct manner than you did last night, let us go down and breakfast with him. I'll go before, and prepare him for your reception—you shall not surprise him—and I will let him know, it is by Mr. Sandford's invitation you are coming."
She listened with a smile to this proposal, yet objected to the indelicacy of her wishing to see him, after he had taken his leave—but as Miss Woodley perceived that she was inclined to infringe this delicacy, of which she had so proper a sense, she easily persuaded her, it was impossible for the most suspicious person (and Lord Elmwood was far from such a character) to suppose, that the paying him a visit at that period of time, could be with the most distant idea of regaining his heart, or of altering one resolution he had taken.
But though Miss Milner acquiesced in this opinion, yet she had not the courage to form the determination that she would go.
Daylight now no longer peeped, but stared upon them. Miss Milner went to the looking-glass, breathed upon her hands and rubbed them on her eyes, smoothed her hair and adjusted her dress; yet said, after all, "I dare not see him again."
"You may do as you please," said Miss Woodley, "but I will. I that have lived for so many years under the same roof with him, and on the most friendly terms, and he going away, perhaps for these ten years, perhaps for ever, I should think it a disrespect not to see him to the last moment of his remaining in the house."
"Then do you go," said Miss Milner, eagerly; "and if he should ask for me, I will gladly come, you know; but if he does not ask for me, I will not—and pray don't deceive me."
Miss Woodley promised her not to deceive her; and soon after, as they heard the servants pass about the house, and the clock had struck six, Miss Woodley went to the breakfast room.
She found Lord Elmwood there in his travelling dress, standing pensively by the fire-place—and, as he did not dream of seeing her, he started when she entered, and, with an appearance of alarm, said, "Dear Miss Woodley, what's the matter?" She replied, "Nothing, my Lord; but I could not be satisfied without seeing your Lordship once again, while I had it in my power."
"I thank you," he returned with a sigh—the heaviest and most intelligent sigh she ever heard him condescend to give. She imagined, alas, that he looked as if he wished to ask how Miss Milner did, but would not allow himself the indulgence. She was half inclined to mention her to him, and was debating in her mind whether she should or not, when Mr. Sandford came into the room, saying, as he entered,
"For Heaven's sake, my Lord, where did you sleep last night?"
"Why do you ask!" said he.
"Because," replied Sandford, "I went into your bed-chamber just now, and I found your bed made. You have not slept there to-night."
"I have slept no where," returned he; "I could not sleep—and having some papers to look over, and to set off early, I thought I might as well not go to bed at all."
Miss Woodley was pleased at the frank manner in which he made this confession, and could not resist the strong impulse to say, "You have done just then, my Lord, like Miss Milner, for she has not been in bed the whole night."
Miss Woodley spoke this in a negligent manner, and yet, Lord Elmwood echoed back the words with solicitude, "Has not Miss Milner been in bed the whole night?"
"If she is up, why does not she come and take some coffee?" said Sandford, as he began to pour it out.
"If she thought it would be agreeable," returned Miss Woodley, "I dare say she would." And she looked at Lord Elmwood while she spoke, though she did not absolutely address him; but he made no reply.
"Agreeable!" returned Sandford, angrily—"Has she then a quarrel with any body here? or does she suppose any body here bears enmity to her? Is she not in peace and charity?"
"Yes," replied Miss Woodley, "that I am sure she is."
"Then bring her hither," cried Sandford, "directly. Would she have the wickedness to imagine we are not all friends with her?"
Miss Woodley left the room, and found Miss Milner almost in despair, lest she should hear Lord Elmwood's carriage drive off before her friend's return.
"Did he send for me?" were the words she uttered as soon as she saw her.
"Mr. Sandford did, in his presence," returned Miss Woodley, "and you may go with the utmost decorum, or I would not tell you so."
She required no protestations of this, but readily followed her beloved adviser, whose kindness never appeared in so amiable a light as at that moment.
On entering the room, through all the dead white of her present complection, she blushed to a crimson. Lord Elmwood rose from his seat, and brought a chair for her to sit down.
Sandford looked at her inquisitively, sipped his tea, and said, "He never made tea to his own liking."
Miss Milner took a cup, but had scarce strength to hold it.
It seemed but a very short time they were at breakfast, when the carriage, that was to take Lord Elmwood away, drove to the door. Miss Milner started at the sound—so did he—but she had nearly dropped her cup and saucer; on which Sandford took them out of her hand, saying,
"Perhaps you had rather have coffee?"
Her lips moved, but he could not hear what she said.
A servant came in, and told Lord Elmwood, "The carriage was at the door."
He replied, "Very well." But though he had breakfasted, he did not attempt to move.
At last, rising briskly, as if it was necessary to go in haste when he did go; he took up his hat, which he had brought with him into the room, and was turning to Miss Woodley to take his leave, when Sandford cried, "My Lord, you are in a great hurry." And then, as if he wished to give poor Miss Milner every moment he could, added, (looking about) "I don't know where I have laid my gloves."
Lord Elmwood, after repeating to Miss Woodley his last night's farewell, now went up to Miss Milner, and taking one of her hands, again held it between his, but still without speaking—while she, unable to suppress her tears as heretofore, suffered them to fall in torrents.
"What is all this?" cried Sandford, going up to them in anger.
They neither of them replied, or changed their situation.
"Separate this moment," cried Sandford, "or resolve to be separated only by—death."
The commanding and awful manner in which he spoke this sentence, made them both turn to him in amazement, and as it were, petrified with the sensation his words had caused.
He left them for a moment, and going to a small bookcase in one corner of the room, took out of it a book, and returning with it in his hand, said,
"Lord Elmwood, do you love this woman?"
"More than my life." He replied, with the most heartfelt accents.
He then turned to Miss Milner—"Can you say the same by him?"
She spread her hands over her eyes, and exclaimed, "Oh, Heavens!"
"I believe you can say so," returned Sandford; "and in the name of God, and your own happiness, since this is the state of you both, let me put it out of your power to part."
Lord Elmwood gazed at him with wonder! and yet, as if enraptured by the sudden change this conduct gave to his prospects.
She, sighed with a kind of trembling ecstasy; while Sandford, with all the dignity of his official character, delivered these words——
"My Lord, while I thought my counsel might save you from the worst of misfortunes, conjugal strife, I importuned you hourly, and set forth your danger in the light it appeared to me. But though old, and a priest, I can submit to think I have been in an error; and I now firmly believe, it is for the welfare of you both, to become man and wife. My Lord, take this woman's marriage vows—you can ask no fairer promises of her reform—she can give you none half so sacred, half so binding; and I see by her looks that she will mean to keep them. And my dear," continued he, addressing himself to her, "act but under the dominion of those vows, to a husband of sense and virtue, like him, and you will be all that I, himself, or even Heaven can desire. Now, then, Lord Elmwood, this moment give her up for ever, or this moment constrain her by such ties from offending you, as she shall not dare to violate."
Lord Elmwood struck his forehead in doubt and agitation; but, still holding her hand, he cried, "I cannot part from her." Then feeling this reply as equivocal, he fell upon his knees, and cried, "Will you pardon my hesitation? and will you, in marriage, show me that tender love you have not shown me yet? Will you, in possessing all my affections, bear with all my infirmities?"
She raised him from her feet, and by the expression of her countenance, by the tears that bathed his hands, gave him confidence.
He turned to Sandford—then placing her by his own side, as the form of matrimony requires, gave this for a sign to Sandford that he should begin the ceremony. On which, he opened his book, and—married them.
With voice and manners so serious, so solemn and so fervent, he performed these rites, that every idea of jest, or even of lightness, was absent from the mind of all who were present.
Miss Milner, covered with shame, sunk on the bosom of Miss Woodley.
When the ring was wanting, Lord Elmwood supplied it with one from his own hand, but throughout all the rest of the ceremony, appeared lost in zealous devotion to Heaven. Yet, no sooner was it finished, than his thoughts descended to this world. He embraced his bride with all the transport of the fondest, happiest bridegroom, and in raptures called her by the endearing name of "wife."
"But still, my Lord," cried Sandford, "you are only married by your own church and conscience, not by your wife's, or by the law of the land; and let me advise you not to defer that marriage long, lest in the time you disagree, and she should refuse to become your legal spouse."
"I think there is danger," returned Lord Elmwood, "and therefore our second marriage must take place to-morrow."
To this the ladies objected, and Sandford was to fix their second wedding-day, as he had done their first. He, after consideration, gave them four days.
Miss Woodley then recollected (for every one else had forgot it) that the carriage was still at the door to convey Lord Elmwood far away. It was of course dismissed—and one of those great incidents of delight which Miss Milner that morning tasted, was to look out of the window, and see this very carriage drive from the door unoccupied.
Never was there a more rapid change from despair to happiness—to happiness perfect and supreme—than was that, which Miss Milner and Lord Elmwood experienced in one single hour.
The few days that intervened between this and their lawful marriage, were passed in the delightful care of preparing for that happy day—yet, with all its delights inferior to the first, when every unexpected joy was doubled by the once expected sorrow.
Nevertheless, on that first wedding-day, that joyful day, which restored her lost lover to her hopes again; even on that very day, after the sacred ceremony was over, Miss Milner—(with all the fears, the tremors, the superstition of her sex)—felt an excruciating shock; when, looking on the ring Lord Elmwood had put upon her finger, in haste, when he married her, she perceived it was a—mourning ring.
IN FOUR VOLUMES,
THE FOURTH EDITION.
Printed for G. G. and J. ROBINSON,
A SIMPLE STORY.
Not any event, throughout life, can arrest the reflection of a thoughtful mind more powerfully, or leave so lasting an impression, as that of returning to a place after a few years absence, and observing an entire alteration, in respect to all the persons who once formed the neighbourhood. To find that many, who but a few years before were left in their bloom of youth and health, are dead—to find that children left at school, are married and have children of their own—that some, who were left in riches, are reduced to poverty—that others, who were in poverty are become rich—to find, those once renowned for virtue, now detested for vice—roving husbands, grown constant—constant husbands, become rovers—the firmest friends, changed to the most implacable enemies—beauty faded. In a word, every change to demonstrate, that,
"All is transitory on this side the grave."
Guided by a wish, that the reflecting reader may experience the sensation, which an attention to circumstances like these, must excite; he is desired to imagine seventeen years elapsed, since he has seen or heard of any of those persons who in the foregoing volumes have been introduced to his acquaintance—and then, supposing himself at the period of those seventeen years, follow the sequel of their history.
To begin with the first female object of this story. The beautiful, the beloved Miss Milner—she is no longer beautiful—no longer beloved—no longer—tremble while you read it!—no longer—virtuous.
Dorriforth, the pious, the good, the tender Dorriforth, is become a hard-hearted tyrant. The compassionate, the feeling, the just Lord Elmwood, an example of implacable rigour and injustice.
Miss Woodley is grown old, but less with years than grief.
The boy, Rushbrook, is become a man, and the apparent heir of Lord Elmwood's fortune; while his own daughter, his only child by his once adored Miss Milner, he refuses ever to see again, in vengeance to her mother's crimes.
The least wonderful change, is, the death of Mrs. Horton. Except Sandford, who remains much the same as heretofore.
We left Lady Elmwood in the last volume at the summit of human happiness; a loving and beloved bride. We begin this volume, and find her upon her death-bed.
At thirty-five, her "Course was run"—a course full of perils, of hopes, of fears, of joys, and at the end, of sorrows; all exquisite of their kind, for exquisite were the feelings of her susceptible heart.
At the commencement of this story, her father is described in the last moments of his life, with all his cares fixed upon her, his only child—how vain these cares! how vain every precaution that was taken for her welfare! She knows, she reflects upon this; and yet, impelled by that instinctive power which actuates a parent, Lady Elmwood on her dying day has no worldly thoughts, but that of the future happiness of an only child. To every other prospect in her view, "Thy will be done" is her continual exclamation; but where the misery of her daughter presents itself, the expiring penitent would there combat the will of Heaven.
To detail the progression by which vice gains a predominancy in the heart, may be a useful lesson; but it is one so little to the satisfaction of most readers, that the degrees of misconduct by which Lady Elmwood fell, are not meant to be related here; but instead of picturing every occasion of her fall, to come briefly to the events that followed.