There are, nevertheless, some articles under the former class, which ought not to be entirely omitted.
Lord Elmwood, after four years enjoyment of the most perfect happiness that marriage could give, after becoming the father of a beautiful daughter, whom he loved with a tenderness almost equal to his love of her mother, was under the indispensable necessity of leaving them both for a time, in order to rescue from the depredation of his own steward, his very large estates in the West Indies. His voyage was tedious; his residence there, from various accidents, prolonged from time to time, till near three years had at length passed away. Lady Elmwood, at first only unhappy, became at last provoked; and giving way to that irritable disposition which she had so seldom governed, resolved, in spite of his injunctions, to divert the melancholy hours caused by his absence, by mixing in the gay circles of London.
Lord Elmwood at this time, and for many months before, had been detained abroad by a severe and dangerous illness, which a too cautious fear of her uneasiness, had prompted him to conceal; and she received his frequent apologies for not returning, with a suspicion and resentment they were calculated, but not intended, to inspire.
To violent anger, succeeded a degree of indifference still more fatal—Lady Elmwood's heart was not formed for such a state—there, where all the tumultuous passions harboured by turns, one among them soon found the means to occupy all vacancies: a passion, commencing innocently, but terminating in guilt. The dear object of her fondest, her truest affections, was away; and those affections, painted the time so irksome that was past; so wearisome, that, which was still to come; that she flew from the present tedious solitude, to the dangerous society of one, whose whole mind depraved by fashionable vices, could not repay her for a moment's loss of him, whose absence he supplied. Or, if the delirium gave her a moment's recompence, what were her sufferings, her remorse, when she was awakened from the fleeting joy, by the arrival of her husband? How happy, how transporting would have been that arrival a few months before! As it would then have been felicity unbounded, it was now—language affords no word that can describe Lady Elmwood's sensations, on being told her Lord was arrived, and that necessity alone had so long delayed his return.
Guilty, but not hardened in her guilt, her pangs, her shame were the more excessive. She fled from the place at his approach; fled from his house, never again to return to a habitation where he was the master. She did not, however, elope with her paramour, but escaped to shelter herself in the most dreary retreat; where she partook of no one comfort from society, or from life, but the still unremitting friendship of Miss Woodley. Even her infant daughter she left behind, nor would allow herself the consolation of her innocent, though reproachful smiles—she left her in her father's house, that she might be under his protection; parted with her, as she thought, for ever, with all the agonies with which mothers part from their infant children: and yet, even a mother can scarce conceive how much more sharp those agonies were, on beholding—the child sent after her, as the perpetual outcast of its father.
Lord Elmwood's love to his wife had been extravagant—the effect of his hate was the same. Beholding himself separated from her by a barrier never to be removed, he vowed in the deep torments of his revenge, never to be reminded of her by one individual object; much less, by one so near to her as her child. To bestow upon that child his affections, would be, he imagined, still, in some sort, to divide them with the mother. Firm in his resolution, the beautiful Matilda, was, at the age of six years, sent out of her father's house, and received by her mother with all the tenderness, but with all the anguish, of those parents, who behold their offspring visited by the punishment due only to their own offences.
While this rigid act was executing by Lord Elmwood's agents at his command, himself was engaged in an affair of still weightier importance—that of life or death:—he determined upon his own death, or the death of the man who had wounded his honour and destroyed his happiness. A duel with his old antagonist was the result of this determination; nor was the Duke of Avon (who before the decease of his father and eldest brother, was Lord Frederick Lawnly) averse from giving him all the satisfaction he required. For it was no other than he, whose passion for Lady Elmwood had still subsisted, and whose address in gallantry left no means unattempted for the success of his designs;—no other than he, (who, next to Lord Elmwood, had been of all her lovers, the most favoured,) to whom Lady Elmwood sacrificed her own and her husband's future peace, and thus gave to his vanity a prouder triumph, than if she had never bestowed her hand in marriage on another. This triumph however was but short—a month only, after the return of Lord Elmwood, the Duke was called upon to answer for his conduct, and was left where they met, so defaced with scars, as never again to endanger the honour of a husband. As Lord Elmwood was inexorable to all accommodation, their engagement continued for a long space of time; nor could any thing but the assurance that his opponent was slain, have at last torn him from the field, though he himself was dangerously wounded.
Yet even during the period of his danger, while for days he lay in the continual expectation of his own death, not all the entreaties of his dearest, most intimate, and most respected friends, could prevail upon him to pronounce forgiveness of his wife, or to suffer them to bring his daughter to him, for his last blessing.
Lady Elmwood, who was made acquainted with the minutest circumstance as it passed, appeared to wait the news of her husband's decease with patience; but upon her brow, and in every lineament of her face was marked, that his death was an event she would not for a day survive: and she would have left her child an orphan, to have followed Lord Elmwood to the tomb. She was prevented the trial; he recovered; and from the ample vengeance he had obtained upon the irresistible person of the Duke, in a short time seemed to regain his usual tranquillity.
He recovered, but Lady Elmwood fell sick and languished—possessed of youth to struggle with her woes, she lingered on, till ten years decline brought her to that period, with which the reader is now going to be presented.
In a lonely country on the borders of Scotland, a single house by the side of a dreary heath, was the residence of the once gay, volatile Miss Milner. In a large gloomy apartment of this solitary habitation (the windows of which scarce rendered the light accessible) was laid upon her death-bed, the once lovely Lady Elmwood—pale, half suffocated with the loss of breath; yet her senses perfectly clear and collected, which served but to sharpen the anguish of dying.
In one corner of the room, by the side of an old fashioned stool, kneels Miss Woodley, praying most devoutly for her still beloved friend, but in vain endeavouring to pray composedly—floods of tears pour down her furrowed cheeks, and frequent sobs of sorrow, break through each pious ejaculation.
Close by her mother's side, one hand supporting her head, the other wiping from her face the cold dew of death, behold Lady Elmwood's daughter—Lord Elmwood's daughter too—yet he far away, negligent of what either suffers. Lady Elmwood turns to her often and attempts an embrace, but her feeble arms forbid, and they fall motionless. The daughter perceiving these ineffectual efforts, has her whole face convulsed with grief: kisses her mother; holds her to her bosom; and hangs upon her neck, as if she wished to cling there, not to be parted even by the grave.
On the other side of the bed sits Sandford—his hair grown white—his face wrinkled with age—his heart the same as ever.—The reprover, the enemy of the vain, the idle, and the wicked; but the friend and comforter of the forlorn and miserable.
Upon those features where sarcasm, reproach, and anger dwelt, to threaten and alarm the sinner; mildness, tenderness, and pity beamed, to support and console the penitent. Compassion changed his language, and softened all those harsh tones that used to denounce perdition.
"In the name of God," said he to Lady Elmwood, "of that God, who suffered for you, and, suffering, knew and pitied all our weaknesses—By him, who has given his word to take compassion on the sinner's tears, I bid you hope for mercy. By that innocence in which you once lived, be comforted—By the sorrows you have known since your degradation, hope, that in some measure, you have atoned——By the sincerity that shone upon your youthful face when I joined your hands, and those thousand virtues you have since given proofs of, trust, that you were not born to die the death of the wicked."
As he spoke these words of consolation, her trembling hand clasped his—her dying eyes darted a ray of brightness—but her failing voice endeavoured in vain, to articulate. At length, fixing her looks upon her daughter as their last dear object, she was just understood to utter the word "Father."
"I understand you," replied Sandford, "and by all that influence I ever had over him, by my prayers, my tears," (and they flowed as he spoke) "I will implore him to own his child."
She could now only smile in thanks.
"And if I should fail," continued he, "yet while I live, she shall not want a friend or protector—all an old man, like me can answer for"——here his tears interrupted him.
Lady Elmwood was sufficiently sensible of his words and their import, to make a sign as if she wished to embrace him: but finding her life leaving her fast, she reserved this last token of love for her daughter—with a struggle she lifted herself from her pillow, clung to her child—and died in her arms.
Lord Elmwood was by nature, and more from education, of a serious, thinking, and philosophic turn of mind. His religious studies had completely taught him to consider this world but as a passage to another; to enjoy with gratitude what Heaven in its bounty should bestow, and to bear with submission, whatever in its vengeance it might inflict. In a greater degree than most people he practised this doctrine; and as soon as the shock he received from Lady Elmwood's conduct was abated, an entire calmness and resignation ensued; but still of that sensible and feeling kind, that could never suffer him to forget the happiness he had lost; and it was this sensibility, which urged him to fly from its more keen recollection as much as possible—this, he alleged as the reason why he would never permit Lady Elmwood, or even her child, to be named in his hearing. But this injunction (which all his friends, and even the servants in the house who attended his person, had received) was, by many people, suspected rather to proceed from his resentment, than his tenderness; nor did he deny, that resentment co-operated with his prudence: for prudence he called it, not to remind himself of happiness he could never taste again, and of ingratitude that might impel him to hatred: and prudence he called it, not to form another attachment near to his heart, more especially so near as a parent's which might again expose him to all the torments of ingratitude, from an object whom he affectionately loved.
Upon these principles he formed the unshaken resolution, never to acknowledge Lady Matilda as his child—or acknowledging her as such—never to see, to hear of, or take one concern whatever in her fate and fortune. The death of her mother appeared a favourable time, had he been so inclined, to have recalled this declaration which he had solemnly and repeatedly made—she was now destitute of the protection of her other parent, and it became his duty, at least, to provide her a guardian, if he did not chuse to take that tender title upon himself—but to mention either the mother or child to Lord Elmwood, was an equal offence, and prohibited in the strongest terms to all his friends and household; and as he was an excellent good master, a sincere friend, and a most generous patron, not one of his acquaintance or dependants, were hardy enough to draw upon themselves his certain displeasure, which was always violent in the extreme, by even the official intelligence of Lady Elmwood's death.
Sandford himself, intimidated through age, or by the austere, and morose manners which Lord Elmwood had of late years adopted; Sandford wished, if possible, that some other would undertake the dangerous task of recalling to his memory there ever was such a person as his wife. He advised Miss Woodley to write a proper letter to him on the subject; but she reminded him that such a step would be more perilous to her, than to any other person, as she was the most destitute being on earth, without the benevolence of Lord Elmwood. The death of her aunt, Mrs. Horton, had left her solely relying on the bounty of Lady Elmwood, and now her death, had left her totally dependant upon the Earl—for Lady Elmwood though she had separate effects, had long before her death declared it was not her intention to leave a sentence behind her in the form of a will. She had no will, she said, but what she would wholly submit to Lord Elmwood's; and, if it were even his will, that her child should live in poverty, as well as banishment, it should be so. But, perhaps, in this implicit submission to him, there was a distant hope, that the necessitous situation of his daughter, might plead more forcibly than his parental love; and that knowing her bereft of every support but through himself, that idea might form some little tie between them, and be at least a token of the relationship.
But as Lady Elmwood anxiously wished this principle upon which she acted, should be concealed from his suspicion, she included her friend, Miss Woodley, in the same fate; and thus, the only persons dear to her, she left, but at Lord Elmwood's pleasure, to be preserved from perishing in want. Her child was too young to advise her on this subject, her friend too disinterested; and at this moment they were both without the smallest means of subsistence, except through the justice or compassion of Lord Elmwood. Sandford had indeed promised his protection to the daughter; but his liberality had no other source than from his patron, with whom he still lived as usual, except during part of the winter, when the Earl resided in town; he then mostly stole a visit to Lady Elmwood.—On this last visit he staid to see her buried.
After some mature deliberations, Sandford was now preparing to go to Lord Elmwood at his house in town, and there, to deliver himself the news that must sooner or later be told; and he meant also to venture, at the same time, to keep the promise he had made to his dying Lady—but the news reached his Lordship before Sandford arrived; it was announced in the public papers, and by that means first came to his knowledge.
He was breakfasting by himself, when the newspaper that first gave the intelligence of Lady Elmwood's death, was laid before him—the paragraph contained these words:
"On Wednesday last died, at Dring Park, a village in Northumberland, the right honourable Countess Elmwood.—This lady, who has not been heard of for many years in the fashionable world, was a rich heiress, and of extreme beauty; but although she received overtures from many men of the first rank, she preferred her guardian, the present Lord Elmwood (then Mr. Dorriforth) to them all—and it is said, their marriage was followed by an uncommon share of felicity, till his Lordship going abroad, and remaining there some time, the consequences (to a most captivating young woman left without a protector) were such as to cause a separation on his return. Her Ladyship has left one child by the Earl, a daughter, about fifteen."
Lord Elmwood had so much feeling upon reading this, as to lay down the paper, and not take it up again for several minutes—nor did he taste his chocolate during this interval, but leaned his elbow on the table and rested his head upon his hand. He then rose up—walked two or three times across the room—sat down again—took up the paper—and read as usual.—Nor let the vociferous mourner, or the perpetual weeper, here complain of his want of sensibility—but let them remember that Lord Elmwood was a man—a man of understanding—of courage—of fortitude—above all, a man of the nicest feelings—and who shall say, but that at the time he leaned his head upon his hand, and rose to walk away the sense of what he felt, he might not feel as much as Lady Elmwood did in her last moments.
Be this as it may, his susceptibility on the occasion was not suspected by any one—yet he passed that day the same as usual; the next day too, and the day after. On the morning of the fourth, he sent for his steward to his study, and after talking of other business, said to him;
"Is it true that Lady Elmwood is dead?"
"It is, my Lord."
His Lordship looked unusually grave, and at this reply, fetched an involuntary sigh.
"Mr. Sandford, my lord," continued the steward, "sent me word of the news, but left it to my own discretion, whether I would make your Lordship acquainted with it or not: I let him know I declined."
"Where is Sandford?" asked Lord Elmwood.
"He was with my Lady," replied the steward.
"When she died?" asked he.
"Yes, my Lord."
"I am glad of it—he will see that every thing she desired is done—Sandford is a good man, and would be a friend to every body."
"He is a very good man indeed, my Lord."
There was now a silence.——Mr. Giffard then bowing, said, "Has your Lordship any further commands?"
"Write to Sandford," said Lord Elmwood, hesitating as he spoke, "and tell him to have every thing performed as she desired. And whoever she may have selected for the guardian of her child, has my consent to act as such.—Nor in one instance, where I myself am not concerned, shall I oppose her will." The tears rushed into his eyes as he said this, and caused them to start in the steward's—observing which, he sternly resumed,
"Do not suppose from this conversation, that any of those resolutions I have long since taken, are, or will be changed—they are the same; and shall continue inflexible."
"I understand you, my Lord," replied Mr. Giffard, "your express orders, to me, as well as to every other person, remain just the same as formerly, never to mention this subject to you again."
"They do, Sir."
"My Lord, I always obeyed you, and hope I always shall."
"I hope so too," he replied in a threatening accent—"Write to Sandford," continued he, "to let him know my pleasure, and that is all you have to do."
The steward bowed and withdrew.
But before his letter arrived to Sandford, Sandford arrived in town; and Mr. Giffard related, word for word, what had passed between him and his Lord. Upon every occasion, and upon every topic, except that of Lady Elmwood and her child, Sandford was just as free with Lord Elmwood as he had ever been; and as usual (after his interview with the steward) went into his apartment without any previous notice. Lord Elmwood shook him by the hand, as upon all other meetings; and yet, whether his fear suggested it or not, Sandford thought he appeared more cool and reserved with him than formerly.
During the whole day, the slightest mention of Lady Elmwood, or of her child, was cautiously avoided—and not till the evening, (after Sandford had risen to retire, and had wished Lord Elmwood good night) did he dare to mention the subject. He then, after taking leave, and going to the door—turned back and said, "My Lord,"—
It was easy to guess on what he was preparing to speak—his voice failed, the tears began to trickle down his cheeks, he took out his handkerchief, and could proceed no farther.
"I thought," said Lord Elmwood, angrily, "I thought I had given my orders upon the subject—did not my steward write them to you?"
"He did, my Lord," said Sandford, humbly, "but I was set out before they arrived."
"Has he not told you my mind then?" cried he, more angrily still.
"He has;" replied Sandford,—"But"——
"But what, Sir?" cried Lord Elmwood.
"Your Lordship," continued Sandford, "was mistaken in supposing that Lady Elmwood left a will, she left none."
"No will? no will at all?" returned he, surprised.
"No, my Lord," answered Sandford, "she wished every thing to be as you willed."
"She left me all the trouble, then, you mean?"
"No great trouble, Sir; for there are but two persons whom she has left behind her, to hope for your protection."
"And who are those two?" cried he hastily.
"One, my Lord, I need not name—the other is Miss Woodley."
There was a delicacy and humility in the manner in which Sandford delivered this reply, that Lord Elmwood could not resent, and he only returned,
"Miss Woodley—is she yet living?"
"She is—I left her at the house I came from."
"Well then," answered he, "you must see that my steward provides for those two persons. That care I leave to you—and should there be any complaints, on you they fall."
Sandford bowed and was going.
"And now," resumed Lord Elmwood, in a more stern voice, "let me never hear again on this subject. You have power to act in regard to the persons you have mentioned; and upon you their situation, the care, the whole management of them depends—but be sure you never let them be named before me, from this moment."
"Then," said Sandford, "as this must be the last time they are mentioned, I must now take the opportunity to disburden my mind of a charge"—
"What charge?" cried Lord Elmwood, morosely interrupting him.
"Though Lady Elmwood, my Lord, left no will behind her, she left a request."
"A request!" said he, starting, "If it is for me to see her daughter, I tell you now before you ask, that I will not grant it—for by heaven (and he spoke and looked most solemnly) though I have no resentment against the innocent child, and wish her happy, yet I will never see her. Never, for her mother's sake, suffer my heart again to be softened by an object I might dote upon. Therefore, Sir, if that is the request, it is already answered; my will is fixed."
"The request, my Lord," replied Sandford, (and he took out a pocket-book from whence he drew several papers) "is contained in this letter; nor do I rightly know what its contents are." And he held it out to him.
"Is it Lady Elmwood's writing?" asked Lord Elmwood, extremely discomposed.
"It is, my Lord.—She wrote it a few days before she died, and enjoined me to deliver it to you, with my own hands."
"I refuse to read it:" cried he, putting it from him—and trembling while he did so.
"She desired me," said Sandford, (still presenting the letter) "to conjure you to read it, for her father's sake."
Lord Elmwood took it instantly. But as soon as it was in his hand, he seemed distressed to know what he should do with it—in what place to go and read it—or how to fortify himself against its contents. He appeared ashamed too, that he had been so far prevailed upon, and said, by way of excuse,
"For Mr. Milner's sake I would do much—nay, any thing, but that to which I have just now sworn never to consent. For his sake I have borne a great deal—for his sake alone, his daughter died my wife. You know, no other motive than respect for him, prevented my divorcing her. Pray (and he hesitated) was she buried with him?"
"No, my Lord—she expressed no such desire; and as that was the case, I did not think it necessary to carry the corpse so far."
At the word corpse, Lord Elmwood shrunk, and looked shocked beyond measure—but recovering himself, said, "I am sorry for it; for he loved her sincerely, if she did not love him—and I wish they had been buried together."
"It is not then too late," said Sandford, and was going on—but the other interrupted him.
"No, no—we will have no disturbing the dead."
"Read her letter then," said Sandford, "and bid her rest in peace."
"If it is in my power," returned he, "to grant what she asks, I will—but if her demand is what I apprehend, I cannot, I will not, bid her rest by complying. You know my resolution, my disposition, and take care how you provoke me. You may do an injury to the very person you are seeking to befriend—the very maintenance I mean to allow her daughter I can withdraw."
Poor Sandford, all alarmed at this menace, replied with energy, "My Lord, unless you begin the subject, I never shall presume to mention it again."
"I take you at your word, and in consequence of that, but of that alone, we are friends. Good night, Sir."
Sandford bowed with humility, and they went to their separate bedchambers.
After Lord Elmwood had retired into his chamber, it was some time before he read the letter Sandford had given him. He first walked backwards and forwards in the room—he then began to take off some part of his dress, but he did it slowly. At length, he dismissed his valet, and sitting down, took the letter from his pocket. He looked at the seal, but not at the direction; for he seemed to dread seeing Lady Elmwood's handwriting. He then laid it on the table, and began again to undress. He did not proceed, but taking up the letter quickly, (with a kind of effort in making the resolution) broke it open. These were its contents:
"Who writes this letter I well know—I well know also to whom it is addressed—I feel with the most powerful force both our situations; nor should I dare to offer you even this humble petition, but that at the time you receive it, there will be no such person as I am, in existence.
"For myself, then, all concern will be over—but there is a care that pursues me to the grave, and threatens my want of repose even there.
"I leave a child—I will not call her mine: that has undone her—I will not call her yours; that will be of no avail—I present her before you as the granddaughter of Mr. Milner. Oh! do not refuse an asylum even in your own house, to the destitute offspring of your friend; the last, and only remaining branch of his family.
"Receive her into your household, be her condition there ever so abject. I cannot write distinctly what I would—my senses are not impaired, but the powers of expression are. The complaint of the unfortunate child in the scriptures (a lesson I have studied) has made this wish cling so fast to my heart, that without the distant hope of its being fulfilled, death would have more terrors than my weak mind could support.
"'I will go to my father; how many servants live in my father's house, and are fed with plenty, while I starve in a foreign land?'
"I do not ask a parent's festive rejoicing at her approach—I do not even ask her father to behold her; but let her live under his protection. For her grandfather's sake do not refuse this—to the child of his child, whom he entrusted to your care, do not refuse it.
"Be her host; I remit the tie of being her parent. Never see her—but let her sometimes live under the same roof with you.
"It is Miss Milner, your ward, to whom you never refused a request, who supplicates you—not now for your nephew, Rushbrook, but for one so much more dear, that a denial——she dares not suffer her thoughts to glance that way.—She will hope—and in that hope, bids you farewell, with all the love she ever bore you.
"Farewell Dorriforth—farewell Lord Elmwood—and before you throw this letter from you with contempt or anger, cast your imagination into the grave where I am lying. Reflect upon all the days of my past life—the anxious moments I have known, and what has been their end. Behold me, also—in my altered face there is no anxiety—no joy or sorrow—all is over.——My whole frame is motionless—my heart beats no more. Look at my horrid habitation, too,—and ask yourself—whether I am an object of resentment?"
While Lord Elmwood read this letter, it trembled in his hand: he once or twice wiped the tears from his eyes as he read, and once laid the letter down for a few minutes. At its conclusion, the tears flowed fast down his face; but he seemed both ashamed and angry they did, and was going to throw the paper upon the fire—he however suddenly checked his hand, and putting it hastily into his pocket, went to bed.
The next morning, when Lord Elmwood and Sandford met at breakfast, the latter was pale with fear for the success of Lady Elmwood's letter—the Earl was pale too, but there was besides upon his face, something which evidently marked he was displeased. Sandford observed it, and was all humbleness, both in his words and looks, in order to soften him.
As soon as the breakfast was removed, Lord Elmwood drew the letter from his pocket, and holding it towards Sandford, said,
"That, may be of more value to you, than it is to me, therefore I give it you."
Sandford called up a look of surprise, as if he did not know the letter again.
"'Tis Lady Elmwood's letter," said Lord Elmwood, "and I return it to you for two reasons."
Sandford took it, and putting it up, asked fearfully, "What those two reasons were?"
"First," said he, "because I think it is a relick you may like to preserve—my second reason is, that you may shew it to her daughter, and let her know why, and on what conditions, I grant her mother's request."
"You do then grant it?" cried Sandford joyfully; "I thank you—you are kind—you are considerate."
"Be not hasty in your gratitude; you may have cause to recall it."
"I know what you have said;" replied Sandford, "you have said you grant Lady Elmwood's request—you cannot recall these words, nor I my gratitude."
"Do you know what her request is?" returned he.
"Not exactly, my Lord—I told you before, I did not; but it is no doubt something in favour of her child."
"I think not," he replied: "such as it is, however, I grant it: but in the strictest sense of the word—no farther—and one neglect of my commands, releases me from this promise totally."
"We will take care, Sir, not to disobey them."
"Then listen to what they are, for to you I give the charge of delivering them again. Lady Elmwood has petitioned me in the name of her father, (a name I reverence) to give his grandchild the sanction of my protection. In the literal sense, to suffer that she may reside at one of my seats; dispensing at the same time with my ever seeing her."
"And you will comply?"
"I will, till she encroaches on this concession, and dares to hope for a greater. I will, while she avoids my sight, or the giving me any remembrance of her. But if, whether by design or by accident, I ever see or hear from her, that moment, my compliance to her mother's supplication ceases, and I abandon her once more."
Sandford sighed. Lord Elmwood continued:
"I am glad her request stopped where it did. I would rather comply with her desires than not; and I rejoice they are such as I can grant with ease and honour to myself. I am seldom now at Elmwood castle; let her daughter go there; the few weeks or months I am down in the summer, she may easily in that extensive house avoid me—while she does, she lives in security—when she does not—you know my resolution."
Sandford bowed—the Earl resumed:
"Nor can it be a hardship to obey this command—she cannot lament the separation from a parent whom she never knew—" Sandford was going eagerly to prove the error of that assertion, but he prevented him, saying, "In a word—without farther argument—if she obeys me in this, I will provide for her as my daughter during my life, and leave her a fortune at my death—but if she dares—"
Sandford interrupted the menace prepared for utterance, saying, "and you still mean, I suppose, to make Mr. Rushbrook your heir?"
"Have you not heard me say so? And do you imagine I have changed my determination? I am not given to alter my resolutions, Mr. Sandford; and I thought you knew I was not; besides, will not my title be extinct, whoever I make my heir? Could any thing but a son have preserved my title?"
"Then it is yet possible——"
"By marrying again, you mean? No—no—I have had enough of marriage—and Henry Rushbrook I shall leave my heir. Therefore, Sir——"
"My Lord, I do not presume—"
"Do not, Sandford, and we may still be good friends. But I am not to be controlled as formerly; my temper is changed of late; changed to what it was originally; till your religious precepts reformed it. You may remember, how troublesome it was, to conquer my stubborn disposition in my youth; then, indeed, you did; but in my more advanced age, you will find the task too difficult."
Sandford again repeated, "He should not presume—"
To which Lord Elmwood again made answer, "Do not, Sandford;" and added, "for I have a sincere regard for you, and should be loath, at these years, to quarrel with you seriously."
Sandford turned away his head to conceal his feelings.
"Nay, if we do quarrel," resumed Lord Elmwood, "You know it must be your own fault; and as this is a theme the most likely of any, nay, the only one on which we can have a difference (such as we cannot forgive) take care never from this day to resume it; indeed that of itself, would be an offence I could not pardon. I have been clear and explicit in all I have said; there can be no fear of mistaking my meaning; therefore, all future explanation is unnecessary—nor will I permit a word, or a hint on the subject from any one, without shewing my resentment even to the hour of my death." He was going out of the room.
"But before we bid adieu to the subject for ever, my Lord—there was another person whom I named to you—"
"Do you mean Miss Woodley? Oh, by all means let her live at Elmwood House too. On consideration, I have no objection to see Miss Woodley at any time—I shall be glad to see her—do not let her be frightened at me—to her I shall be the same, that I have always been."
"She is a good woman, my Lord," cried Sandford, pleased.
"You need not tell me that, Mr. Sandford; I know her worth." And he left the room.
Sandford, to relieve Miss Woodley and her lovely charge from the suspence in which he had left them, prepared to set off for their habitation, in order himself to conduct them from thence to Elmwood Castle, and appoint some retired part of it for Lady Matilda, against the annual visit her father should pay there. But before he left London, Giffard, the steward, took an opportunity to wait upon him, and let him know, that his Lord had acquainted him with the consent he had given for his daughter to be admitted at Elmwood Castle, and upon what restrictions: that he had farther uttered the severest threats, should these restrictions ever be infringed. Sandford thanked Giffard for his friendly information. It served him as a second warning of the circumspection that was necessary; and having taken leave of his friend and patron, under the pretence that "He could not live in the smoke of London," he set out for the North.
It is unnecessary to say with what delight Sandford was received by Miss Woodley, and the hapless daughter of Lady Elmwood, even before he told his errand. They both loved him sincerely; more especially Lady Matilda, whose forlorn state, and innocent sufferings, had ever excited his compassion and caused him to treat her with affection, tenderness, and respect. She knew, too, how much he had been her mother's friend; for that, she also loved him; and for being honoured with the friendship of her father, she looked up to him with reverence. For Matilda (with an excellent understanding, a sedateness above her years, and early accustomed to the most private converse between Lady Elmwood and Miss Woodley) was perfectly acquainted with the whole fatal history of her mother; and was, by her, taught the respect and admiration of her father's virtues which they justly merited.
Notwithstanding the joy of Mr. Sandford's presence, once more to cheer their solitary dwelling; no sooner were the first kind greetings over, than the dread of what he might have to inform them of, possessed poor Matilda and Miss Woodley so powerfully, that all their gladness was changed into affright. Their apprehensions were far more forcible than their curiosity; they dared not ask a question, and even began to wish he would continue silent upon the subject on which they feared to listen. For near two hours he was so.——At length, after a short interval from speaking, (during which they waited with anxiety for what he might next say) he turned to Lady Matilda, and said,
"You don't ask for your father, my dear."
"I did not know it was proper:" she replied, timidly.
"It is always proper," answered Sandford, "for you to think of him, though he should never think on you."
She burst into tears, and said that she "Did think of him, but she felt an apprehension of mentioning his name"—and she wept bitterly while she spoke.
"Do not think I reproved you," said Sandford; "I only told you what was right."
"Nay," said Miss Woodley, "she does not weep for that—she fears her father has not complied with her mother's request. Perhaps—not even read her letter?"
"Yes, he has read it," returned Sandford.
"Oh Heavens!" exclaimed Matilda, clasping her hands together, and the tears falling still faster.
"Do not be so much alarmed, my dear," said Miss Woodley; "you know we are prepared for the worst; and you know you promised your mother, whatever your fate should be, to submit with patience."
"Yes," replied Matilda, "and I am prepared for every thing, but my father's refusal to my dear mother."
"Your father has not refused your mother's request," replied Sandford.
She was leaping from her seat in ecstasy.
"But," continued he, "do you know what her request was?"
"Not entirely," replied Matilda, "and since it is granted, I am careless. But she told me her letter concerned none but me."
To explain perfectly to Matilda, Lady Elmwood's letter, and that she might perfectly understand upon what terms she was admitted into Elmwood Castle, Sandford now read the letter to her; and repeated, as nearly as he could remember, the whole of the conversation that passed between Lord Elmwood and himself; not even sparing, through an erroneous delicacy, any of those threats her father had denounced, should she dare to transgress the limits he prescribed—nor did he try to soften, in one instance, a word he uttered. She listened sometimes with tears, sometimes with hope, but always with awe, and with terror, to every sentence in which her father was concerned. Once she called him cruel—then exclaimed "He was kind;" but at the end of Sandford's intelligence, concluded "that she was happy and grateful for the boon bestowed." Even her mother had not a more exalted idea of Lord Elmwood's worth than his daughter had formed; and this little bounty just obtained, would not have been greater in her mother's estimation, than it was now in hers. Miss Woodley, too, smiled at the prospect before her—she esteemed Lord Elmwood beyond any mortal living—she was proud to hear what he had said in her praise, and overjoyed at the prospect of being once again in his company; painting at the same time a thousand bright hopes, from watching every emotion of his soul, and catching every proper occasion to excite or increase his paternal sentiments. Yet she had the prudence to conceal those vague hopes from his child, lest a disappointment might prove fatal; and assuming a behaviour neither too much elated or depressed, she advised that they should hope for the best, but yet, as usual, expect and prepare for the worst.——After taking measures for quitting their melancholy abode, within the fortnight, they all departed for Elmwood Castle—Matilda, Miss Woodley, and even Sandford, first visiting Lady Elmwood's grave, and bedewing it with their tears.
It was on a dark evening in the month of March, that Lady Matilda, accompanied by Sandford and Miss Woodley, arrived at Elmwood Castle, the magnificent seat of her father. Sandford chose the evening, rather to steal into the house privately, than by any appearance of parade, to suffer Lord Elmwood to be reminded of their arrival by the public prints, or by any other accident. Nor would he give the neighbours or servants reason to suppose, the daughter of their Lord was admitted into his house, in any other situation than that, in which she really was permitted to be there.
As the porter opened the gates of the avenue to the carriage that brought them, Matilda felt an awful, and yet gladsome sensation, which no terms can describe. As she entered the door of the house this sensation increased—and as she passed along the spacious hall, the splendid staircase, and many stately apartments, wonder, with a crowd of the tenderest, yet most afflicting sentiments, rushed to her heart. She gazed with astonishment!—she reflected with still more.
"And is my father the master of this house?" she cried—"and was my mother once the mistress of this castle?" Here tears relieved her from a part of that burthen, which was before insupportable.
"Yes," replied Sandford, "and you are the mistress of it now, till your father arrives."
"Good God!" exclaimed she, "and will he ever arrive? and shall I live to sleep under the same roof with my father?"
"My dear," replied Miss Woodley, "have not you been told so?"
"Yes," said she, "but though I heard it with extreme pleasure, yet the idea never so forcibly affected me as at this moment. I now feel, as the reality approaches, that to be admitted here, is kindness enough—I do not ask for more—I am now convinced, from what this trial makes me feel, that to see my father, would occasion emotions I could not survive."
The next morning gave to Matilda, more objects of admiration and wonder, as she walked over the extensive gardens, groves, and other pleasure grounds belonging to the house. She, who had never been beyond the dreary, ruinous places which her deceased mother had made her residence, was naturally struck with amazement and delight at the grandeur of a seat, which travellers came for miles to see, nor thought their time mispent.
There was one object, however, among all she saw, which attracted her attention above the rest, and she would stand for hours to look at it. This was a whole length portrait of Lord Elmwood, esteemed a very capital picture, and a perfect likeness—to this picture she would sigh and weep; though when it was first pointed out to her, she shrunk back with fear, and it was some time before she dared venture to cast her eyes completely upon it. In the features of her father she was proud to discern the exact mould in which her own appeared to have been modelled; yet Matilda's person, shape, and complexion were so extremely like what her mother's once were, that at the first glance she appeared to have a still greater resemblance of her, than of her father—but her mind and manners were all Lord Elmwood's; softened by the delicacy of her sex, the extreme tenderness of her heart, and the melancholy of her situation.
She was now in her seventeenth year—of the same age, within a year and a few months, of her mother, when she became the ward of Dorriforth. She was just three years old when her father went abroad, and remembered something of bidding him farewell; but more of taking cherries from his hand, as he pulled them from the tree to give to her.
Educated in the school of adversity, and inured to retirement from her infancy, she had acquired a taste for all those amusements which a recluse life affords. She was fond of walking and riding—was accomplished in the arts of music and drawing, by the most careful instructions of her mother—and as a scholar, she excelled most of her sex, from the pains which Sandford had taken with that part of her education, and the superior abilities he possessed for the task.
In devoting certain hours of the day to study with him, others to music, riding, and such amusements, Matilda's time never appeared tedious at Elmwood Castle, although she received and paid no one visit—for it was soon divulged in the neighbourhood, upon what stipulation she resided at her father's, and studiously intimated, that the most prudent and friendly behaviour of her true friends, would be, to take no notice whatever that she lived among them: and as Lord Elmwood's will was a law all around, such was the consequence of that will, known, or merely supposed.
Neither did Miss Woodley regret the want of visitors, but found herself far more satisfied in her present situation, than her most sanguine hopes could have formed. She had a companion whom she loved with an equal fondness, with which she had loved her deceased mother; and frequently, in this charming mansion, where she had so often beheld Lady Elmwood, her imagination represented Matilda as her friend risen from the grave, in her former youth, health, and exquisite beauty.
In peace, in content, though not in happiness, the days and weeks passed away till about the middle of August, when preparations began to be made for the arrival of Lord Elmwood. The week in which he was to come was at length fixed, and some part of his retinue was arrived before him. When this was told Matilda, she started, and looked just as her mother at her age had often done, when in spite of her love, she was conscious that she had offended him, and was terrified at his approach. Sandford observing this, put out his hand, and taking hers, shook it kindly; and bade her (but it was not in a cheering tone) "not be afraid." This gave her no confidence; and she began, before her father's arrival, to seclude herself in the apartments allotted for her during the time of his stay; and in the timorous expectation of his coming, her appetite declined, and she lost all her colour. Even Miss Woodley, whose spirits had been for some time elated with the hopes she had formed, on drawing near to the test, found those hopes vanished; and though she endeavoured to conceal it, she was full of apprehensions. Sandford, had certainly fewer fears than either; yet upon the eve of the day on which his patron was to arrive, he was evidently cast down.
Lady Matilda once asked him—"Are you certain, Mr. Sandford, you made no mistake in respect to what Lord Elmwood said, when he granted my mother's request? Are you sure he did grant it? Was there nothing equivocal on which he may ground his displeasure should he be told that I am here? Oh do not let me hazard being once again turned out of his house! Oh! save me from provoking him perhaps to curse me." And here she clasped her hands together with the most fervent petition, in the dread of what might happen.
"If you doubt my words or my senses," said Sandford, "call Giffard, and let him inform you; the same words were repeated to him as to me."
Though from her reason, Matilda could not doubt of any mistake from Mr. Sandford, yet her fears suggested a thousand scruples; and this reference to the steward she received with the utmost satisfaction, (though she did not think it necessary to apply to him) as it perfectly convinced her of the folly of the suspicions she had entertained.
"And yet, Mr. Sandford," said she, "if it is so, why are you less cheerful than you were? I cannot help thinking but it must be your expectation of Lord Elmwood, which has occasioned this change."
"I don't know," replied Sandford, carelessly, "but I believe I am grown afraid of your father. His temper is a great deal altered from what it once was—he raises his voice, and uses harsh expressions upon the least provocation—his eyes flash lightning, and his face is distorted with anger upon the slightest motives—he turns away his old servants at a moment's warning, and no concession can make their peace. In a word, I am more at my ease when I am away from him—and I really believe," added he with a smile, but with a tear at the same time, "I really believe, I am more afraid of him in my age, than he was of me when he was a boy."
Miss Woodley was present; she and Matilda looked at one another; and each of them saw the other turn pale at this description.
The day at length came, on which Lord Elmwood was expected to dinner. It would have been a high gratification to his daughter to have gone to the topmost window of the house, and have only beheld his carriage enter the avenue; but it was a gratification which her fears, her tremor, her extreme sensibility would not permit her to enjoy.
Miss Woodley and she, sat down that day to dinner in their retired apartments, which were detached from the other part of the house by a gallery; and of the door leading to the gallery, they had a key to impede any one from passing that way, without first ringing a bell; to answer which, was the sole employment of a servant, who was placed there during the Earl's residence, lest by any accident he might chance to come near that unfrequented part of the house, on which occasion the man was to give immediate notice to his Lady.
Matilda and Miss Woodley sat down to dinner, but did not dine. Sandford dined as usual, with Lord Elmwood. When tea was brought, Miss Woodley asked the servant, who attended, if he had seen his Lord. The man answered, "Yes, Madam; and he looks vastly well." Matilda wept with joy to hear it.
About nine in the evening, Sandford rang at the bell, and was admitted—never had he been so welcome—Matilda hung upon him, as if his recent interview with her father, had endeared him to her more than ever; and staring anxiously in his face, seemed to enquire of him something about Lord Elmwood, and something that should not alarm her.
"Well—how do you find yourself?" said he to her.
"How are you, Mr. Sandford?" she returned, with a sigh.
"Oh! very well," replied he.
"Is my Lord in a good temper?" asked Miss Woodley.
"Yes; very well," replied Sandford, with indifference.
"Did he seem glad to see you?" asked Matilda.
"He shook me by the hand," replied Sandford.
"That was a sign he was glad to see you, was it not?" said Matilda.
"Yes; but he could not do less."
"Nor more:" replied she.
"He looks very well, our servant tells us," said Miss Woodley.
"Extremely well indeed," answered Sandford: "and to tell the truth, I never saw him in better spirits."
"That is well—" said Matilda, and sighed a weight of fears from her heart.
"Where is he now, Mr. Sandford?"
"Gone to take a walk about his grounds, and I stole here in the mean time."
"What was your conversation during dinner?" asked Miss Woodley.
"Horses, hay, farming, and politics."
"Won't you sup with him?"
"I shall see him again before I go to bed."
"And again to-morrow!" cried Matilda, "what happiness!"
"He has visitors to-morrow," said Sandford, "coming for a week or two."
"Thank Heaven," said Miss Woodley, "he will then be diverted from thinking on us."
"Do you know," returned Sandford, "it is my firm opinion, that his thinking of ye at present, is the cause of his good spirits."
"Oh, Heavens!" cried Matilda, lifting up her hands with rapture.
"Nay, do not mistake me," said Sandford; "I would not have you build a foundation for joy upon this surmise; for if he is in spirits that you are in this house—so near him—positively under his protection—yet he will not allow himself to think it is the cause of his content—and the sentiments he has adopted, and which are now become natural to him, will remain the same as ever; nay, perhaps with greater force, should he suspect his weakness (as he calls it) acting in opposition to them."
"If he does but think of me with tenderness," cried Matilda, "I am recompensed."
"And what recompense would his kind thoughts be to you," said Sandford, "were he to turn you out to beggary?"
"A great deal—a great deal," she replied.
"But how are you to know he has these kind thoughts, if he gives you no proof of them?"
"No, Mr. Sandford; but supposing we could know them without proof."
"But as that is impossible," answered he, "I shall suppose, till proof appears, that I have been mistaken in my conjectures."
Matilda looked deeply concerned that the argument should conclude in her disappointment; for to have believed herself thought of with tenderness by her father, would have alone constituted her happiness.
When the servant came up with something by way of supper, he told Mr. Sandford that his Lord was returned from his walk and had enquired for him; Sandford immediately bade his companions good night, and left them.
"How strange is this!" cried Matilda, when Miss Woodley and she were alone, "My father within a few rooms of me, and yet I am debarred from seeing him! Only by walking a few paces I could be at his feet, and perhaps receive his blessing!"
"You make me shudder," cried Miss Woodley; "but some spirits less timid than mine, might perhaps advise you to the experiment."
"Not for worlds!" returned Matilda, "no counsel could tempt me to such temerity—and yet to entertain the thought that it is possible I could do this, is a source of infinite comfort."
This conversation lasted till bed time, and later; for they sat up beyond their usual hour to indulge it.
Miss Woodley slept little, but Matilda less—she awaked repeatedly during the night, and every time sighed to herself, "I sleep in the same house with my father! Blessed spirit of my mother, look down and rejoice."
The next day the whole Castle appeared to Lady Matilda (though she was in some degree retired from it) all tumult and bustle, as was usually the case while Lord Elmwood was there. She saw from her windows, the servants running across the yards and park; horses and carriages driving with fury; all the suite of a nobleman; and it sometimes elated, at other times depressed her.
These impressions however, and others of fear and anxiety, which her father's arrival had excited, by degrees wore off; and after some little time, she was in the same tranquil state that she enjoyed before he came.
He had visitors, who passed a week or two with him; he paid visits himself for several days; and thus the time stole away, till it was about four weeks from the time that he had arrived; in which long period, Sandford, with all his penetration, could never clearly discover whether he had once called to mind that his daughter was living in the same house. He had not once named her (that was not extraordinary) consequently no one dared name her to him; but he had not even mentioned Miss Woodley, of whom he had so lately spoken in the kindest terms, and had said, "He should take pleasure in seeing her again." From these contradictions in Lord Elmwood's behaviour in respect to her, it was Miss Woodley's plan neither to throw herself in his way, nor avoid him. She therefore frequently walked about the house while he was in it, not indeed entirely without restraint, but at least with the show of liberty. This freedom, indulged for some time without peril, became at last less cautious; and as no ill consequences had arisen from its practice, her scruples gradually ceased.
One morning, however, as she was crossing the large hall, thoughtless of danger, a footstep at a distance alarmed her almost without knowing why. She stopped for a moment, thinking to return; the steps approached quicker, and before she could retreat, she beheld Lord Elmwood at the other end of the hall, and perceived that he saw her. It was too late to hesitate what was to be done; she could not go back, and had not courage to go on; she therefore stood still. Disconcerted, and much affected at his sight, (their former intimacy coming to her mind with the many years, and many sad occurrences passed, since she last saw him) all her intentions, all her meditated plans how to conduct herself on such an occasion, gave way to a sudden shock—and to make the meeting yet more distressing, her very fright, she knew, would serve to recall more powerfully to his mind, the subject she most wished him to forget. The steward was with him, and as they came up close by her side, Giffard observing him look at her earnestly, said softly, but so as she heard him, "My Lord, it is Miss Woodley." Lord Elmwood took off his hat instantly—and, with an apparent friendly warmth, laying hold of her hand, he said, "Indeed, Miss Woodley, I did not know you—I am very glad to see you:" and while he spoke, shook her hand with a cordiality which her tender heart could not bear—and never did she feel so hard a struggle as to restrain her tears. But the thought of Matilda's fate—the idea of awakening in his mind a sentiment that might irritate him against his child, wrought more forcibly than every other effort; and though she could not reply distinctly, she replied without weeping. Whether he saw her embarrassment, and wished to release her from it, or was in haste to conceal his own, he left her almost instantly: but not till he had entreated she would dine that very day with him and Mr. Sandford, who were to dine without other company. She curtsied assent, and flew to tell Matilda what had occurred. After listening with anxiety and with joy to all she told, Matilda laid hold of that hand which she said Lord Elmwood had held, and pressed it to her lips with love and reverence.
When Miss Woodley made her appearance at dinner, Sandford, (who had not seen her since the invitation, and did not know of it) looked amazed; on which Lord Elmwood said, "Do you know, Sandford, I met Miss Woodley this morning, and had it not been for Giffard, I should have passed her without knowing her—but Miss Woodley, if I am not so much altered but that you knew me, I take it unkind you did not speak first." She was unable to speak even now—he saw it, and changed the conversation; when Sandford eagerly joined in discourse, which relieved him from the pain of the former.
As they advanced in their dinner, the embarrassment of Miss Woodley and of Mr. Sandford diminished; Lord Elmwood in his turn became, not embarrassed, but absent and melancholy. He now and then sighed heavily—and called for wine much oftener than he was accustomed.
When Miss Woodley took her leave, he invited her to dine with him and Sandford whenever it was convenient to her; he said, besides, many things of the same kind, and all with the utmost civility, yet not with that warmth with which he had spoken in the morning—into that he had been surprised—his coolness was the effect of reflection.
When she came to Lady Matilda, and Sandford had joined them, they talked and deliberated on what had passed.
"You acknowledge Mr. Sandford," said Miss Woodley, "that you think my presence affected Lord Elmwood, so as to make him much more thoughtful than usual; if you imagine these thoughts were upon Lady Elmwood, I will never intrude again; but if you suppose that I made him think upon his daughter, I cannot go too often."
"I don't see how he can divide those two objects in his mind," replied Sandford, "therefore you must e'en visit him on, and take your chance, what reflections you may cause—but, be they what they will, time will steal away from you that power of affecting him."
She concurred in the opinion, and occasionally she walked into Lord Elmwood's apartments, dined, or took her coffee with him, as the accident suited; and observed, according to Sandford's prediction, that time wore off the impression her visits first made. Lord Elmwood now became just the same before her as before others. She easily discerned, too, through all that politeness which he assumed—that he was no longer the considerate, the forbearing character he formerly was; but haughty, impatient, imperious, and more than ever, implacable.
When Lord Elmwood had been at his country seat about six weeks, Mr. Rushbrook, his nephew, and his adopted child—that friendless boy whom poor Lady Elmwood first introduced into his uncle's house, and by her kindness preserved there—arrived from his travels, and was received by his uncle with all the marks of affection due to the man he thought worthy to be his heir. Rushbrook had been a beautiful boy, and was now an extremely handsome young man; he had made unusual progress in his studies, had completed the tour of Italy and Germany, and returned home with the air and address of a perfect man of fashion—there was, besides, an elegance and persuasion in his manner almost irresistible. Yet with all those accomplishments, when he was introduced to Sandford, and put forth his hand to take his, Sandford, with evident reluctance, gave it to him; and when Lord Elmwood asked him, in the young man's presence, "If he did not think his nephew greatly improved?" He looked at him from head to foot, and muttered "He could not say he observed it." The colour heightened in Mr. Rushbrook's face upon the occasion, but he was too well bred not to be in perfect good humour.
Sandford saw this young man treated, in the house of Lord Elmwood, with the same respect and attention as if he had been his son; and it was but probable the old priest would make a comparison between the situation of him, and of Lady Matilda Elmwood. Before her, it was Sandford's meaning to have concealed his thoughts upon the subject, and never to have mentioned it but with composure; that was, however, impossible—unused to hide his feelings, at the name of Rushbrook, his countenance would always change, and a sarcastic sneer, sometimes a frown of resentment, would force its way in spite of his resolution. Miss Woodley, too, with all her boundless charity and good will, was, upon this occasion, induced to limit their excess; and they did not extend so far as to reach poor Rushbrook. She even, and in reality, did not think him handsome or engaging in his manners—she thought his gaiety frivolousness, his complaisance affectation, and his good humour impertinence. It was impossible to conceal those unfavourable sentiments entirely from Matilda; for when the subject arose, as it frequently did, Miss Woodley's undisguised heart, and Sandford's undisguised countenance, told them instantly. Matilda had the understanding to imagine, that she was, perhaps, the object who had thus deformed Mr. Rushbrook, and frequently (though he was a stranger to her, and one who had caused her many a jealous heart-ache) frequently she would speak in his vindication.
"You are very good," said Sandford, one day to her; "you like him, because you know your father loves him."
This was a hard sentence for the daughter of Lord Elmwood to hear, to whom her father's love would have been more precious than any other blessing.—She, however, checked the assault of envy, and kindly replied,
"My mother loved him too, Mr. Sandford."
"Yes," answered Sandford, "he has been a grateful man to your poor mother.—She did not suppose when she took him into the house; when she intreated your father to take him; and through her caresses and officious praises of him, first gave him that power which he now possesses over his uncle; she little foresaw, at that time, his ingratitude, and its effects."
"Very true," said Miss Woodley, with a heavy sigh.
"What ingratitude?" asked Matilda, "do you suppose Mr. Rushbrook is the cause that my father will not see me? Oh do not pay Lord Elmwood's motive so ill a compliment."
"I do not say that he is the absolute cause," returned Sandford; "but if a parent's heart is void, I would have it remain so, till its lawful owner is replaced—usurpers I detest."
"No one can take Lord Elmwood's heart by force," replied his daughter, "it must, I believe, be a free gift to the possessor; and as such, whoever has it, has a right to it."
In this manner she would plead the young man's excuse—perhaps but to hear what could be said in his disfavour, for secretly his name was bitter to her—and once she exclaimed in vexation, on Sandford's saying Lord Elmwood and Mr. Rushbrook were gone out shooting together,
"All that pleasure is now eclipsed which I used to take in listening to the report of my father's gun, for I cannot now distinguish his, from his parasite's."
Sandford, (much as he disliked Rushbrook) for this expression which comprised her father in the reflection, turned to Matilda in extreme anger—but as he saw the colour mount into her face, for what, in the strong feelings of her heart had escaped her lips, he did not say a word—and by her tears that followed, he rejoiced to see how much she reproved herself.
Miss Woodley, vexed to the heart, and provoked every time she saw Lord Elmwood and Rushbrook together, and saw the familiar terms on which this young man lived with his benefactor, now made her visits to him very seldom. If Lord Elmwood observed this, he did not appear to observe it; and though he received her politely when she did pay him a visit, it was always very coldly; nor did she suppose if she never went, he would ever ask for her. For his daughter's sake, however, she thought it right sometimes to shew herself before him; for she knew it must be impossible that, with all his apparent indifference, he could ever see her without thinking for a moment on his child; and what one fortunate thought might some time bring about, was an object much too serious for her to overlook. She therefore, after remaining confined to her apartments near three weeks, (excepting those anxious walks she and Matilda stole, while Lord Elmwood dined, or before he rose in a morning) went one forenoon into his apartments, where, as usual, she found him, with Mr. Sandford, and Mr. Rushbrook. After she had sat about half an hour, conversing with them all, though but very little with the latter, Lord Elmwood was called out of the room upon some business; presently after, Sandford; and now, by no means pleased with the companion with whom she was left, she rose, and was going likewise, when Rushbrook fixed his speaking eyes upon her, and cried,
"Miss Woodley, will you pardon me what I am going to say?"
"Certainly, Sir. You can, I am sure, say nothing but what I must forgive." But she made this reply with a distance and a reserve, very unlike the usual manners of Miss Woodley.
He looked at her earnestly and cried, "Ah! Miss Woodley, you don't behave so kindly to me as you used to do!"
"I do not understand you, Sir," she replied very gravely; "Times are changed, Mr. Rushbrook, since you were last here—you were then but a child."
"Yet I love all those persons now, that I loved then," replied he; "and so I shall for ever."
"But you mistake, Mr. Rushbrook; I was not even then so very much the object of your affections—there were other ladies you loved better. Perhaps you don't remember Lady Elmwood?"
"Don't I," cried he, "Oh!" (clasping his hands and lifting up his eyes to heaven) "shall I ever forget her?"
That moment Lord Elmwood opened the door; the conversation of course that moment ended; but confusion, at the sudden surprise, was on the face of both parties—he saw it, and looked at each of them by turns, with a sternness that made poor Miss Woodley ready to faint; while Rushbrook, with the most natural and happy laugh that ever was affected, cried, "No, don't tell my Lord, pray Miss Woodley." She was more confused than before, and Lord Elmwood turning to him, asked what the subject was. By this time he had invented one, and, continuing his laugh, said, "Miss Woodley, my Lord, will to this day protest that she saw my apparition when I was a boy; and she says it is a sign I shall die young, and is really much affected at it."
Lord Elmwood turned away before this ridiculous speech was concluded; yet so well had it been acted, that he did not for an instant doubt its truth.
Miss Woodley felt herself greatly relieved; and yet so little is it in the power of those we dislike to do any thing to please us, that from this very circumstance, she formed a more unfavourable opinion of Mr. Rushbrook than she had done before. She saw in this little incident the art of dissimulation, cunning, and duplicity in its most glaring shape; and detested the method by which they had each escaped Lord Elmwood's suspicion, and perhaps anger, the more, because it was so dexterously managed.
Lady Matilda and Sandford were both in their turns informed of this trait in Mr. Rushbrook's character; and although Miss Woodley had the best of dispositions, and upon every occasion spoke the strictest truth, yet in relating this occurrence, she did not speak all the truth; for every circumstance that would have told to the young man's advantage, literally had slipped her memory.
The twenty-ninth of October arrived; on which a dinner, a ball, and supper, was given by Lord Elmwood to all the neighbouring gentry—the peasants also dined in the park off a roasted bullock, several casks of ale were distributed, and the bells of the village rung. Matilda, who heard and saw some part of this festivity from her windows, inquired the cause; but even the servant who waited upon her had too much sensibility to tell her, and answered, "He did not know." Miss Woodley however, soon learned the reason, and groaning with the painful secret, informed her, "Mr. Rushbrook on that day was come of age."
"My birth-day was last week," replied Matilda; but not a word beside.
In their retired apartments, this day passed away not only soberly, but almost silently; for to speak upon any subject that did not engage their thoughts had been difficult, and to speak upon the only one that did, had been afflicting.
Just as they were sitting down to dinner their bell gently rung, and in walked Sandford.
"Why are you not among the revellers, Mr. Sandford?" cried Miss Woodley, with an ironical sneer—(the first her features ever wore)—"Pray, were not you invited to dine with the company?"
"Yes," replied Sandford; "but my head ached; and so I had rather come and take a bit with you."
Matilda, as if she had seen his heart as he spoke, clung round his neck and sobbed on his bosom: he put her peevishly away, crying "Nonsense, nonsense—eat your dinner." But he did not eat himself.
About a week after this, Lord Elmwood went out two days for a visit; consequently Rushbrook was for that time master of the house. The first morning he went a shooting, and returning about noon, enquired of Sandford, who was sitting in the room, if he had taken up a volume of plays left upon the table. "I read no such things," replied Sandford, and quitted the room abruptly. Rushbrook then rang for his servant, and desired him to look for the book, asking him angrily, "Who had been in the apartment? for he was sure he had left it there when he went out." The servant withdrew to enquire, and presently returned with the volume in his hand, and "Miss Woodley's compliments, she begs your pardon, Sir, she did not know the book was yours, and hopes you will excuse the liberty she took."
"Miss Woodley!" cried Rushbrook with surprise, "she comes so seldom into these apartments, I did not suppose it was her who had it—take it back to her instantly, with my respects, and I beg she will keep it."
The man went; but returned with the book again, and laying it on the table without speaking, was going away; when Rushbrook, hurt at receiving no second message, said, "I am afraid, Sir, you did very wrong when you first took this book from Miss Woodley."
"It was not from her I took it, Sir," replied the man, "it was from Lady Matilda."
Since he had entered the house, Rushbrook had never before heard the name of Lady Matilda, he was shocked—confounded more than ever—and to conceal what he felt, instantly ordered the man out of the room.
In the mean time, Miss Woodley and Matilda were talking over this trifling occurrence; and frivolous as it was, drew from it strong conclusions of Rushbrook's insolence and power. In spite of her pride, the daughter of Lord Elmwood even wept at the insult she had received on this insignificant occasion; for the volume being merely taken from her at Mr. Rushbrook's command, she felt an insult; and the manner in which it was done by the servant, might contribute to the offence.
While Miss Woodley and she were upon this conversation, a note came from Rushbrook to Miss Woodley, wherein he entreated he might be permitted to see her. She sent a verbal answer, "She was engaged." He sent again, begging she would name her own time. But sure of a second denial, he followed the servant who took the last message, and as Miss Woodley came out of her apartment into the gallery to speak to him, Rushbrook presented himself, and told the man to retire.
"Mr. Rushbrook," said Miss Woodley, "this intrusion is insupportable; and destitute as you may think me of the friendship of Lord Elmwood"——
In the ardour with which Rushbrook was waiting to express himself, he interrupted her, and caught hold of her hand.
She immediately snatched it from him, and withdrew into her chamber.
He followed, saying, in a low voice, "Dear Miss Woodley, hear me."
At that juncture Lady Matilda, who was in an inner apartment, came out of it into Miss Woodley's. Perceiving a gentleman, she stopped short at the door.
Rushbrook cast his eyes upon her, and stood motionless—his lips only moved. "Do not depart, Madam," said he, "without hearing my apology for being here."
Though Matilda had never seen him since her infancy, there was no occasion to tell her who it was that addressed her—his elegant and youthful person, joined to the incident which had just occurred, convinced her it was Rushbrook: she looked at him with an air of surprise, but with still more, of dignity.
"Miss Woodley is severe upon me, Madam," continued he, "she judges me unkindly; and I am afraid she will prepossess you with the same unfavourable sentiments."
Still Matilda did not speak, but looked at him with the same air of dignity.
"If, Lady Matilda," resumed he, "I have offended you, and must quit you without pardon, I am more unhappy than I should be with the loss of your father's protection—more forlorn, than when an orphan boy, your mother first took pity on me."
At this last sentence, Matilda turned her eyes on Miss Woodley, and seemed in doubt what reply she was to give.
Rushbrook immediately fell upon his knees—"Oh! Lady Matilda," cried he, "if you knew the sensations of my heart, you would not treat me with this disdain."
"We can only judge of those sensations, Mr. Rushbrook," said Miss Woodley, "by the effect they have upon your conduct; and while you insult Lord and Lady Elmwood's daughter by an intrusion like this, and then ridicule her abject state by mockeries like these——"
He rose from his knees instantly, and interrupted her, crying, "What can I do? What am I to say, to make you change your opinion of me? While Lord Elmwood has been at home, I have kept an awful distance; and though every moment I breathed was a wish to cast myself at his daughter's feet, yet as I feared, Miss Woodley, that you were incensed against me, by what means was I to procure an interview but by stratagem or force? This accident has given a third method, and I had not strength, I had not courage, to let it pass. Lord Elmwood will soon return, and we may both of us be hurried to town immediately—then how for a tedious winter could I endure the reflexion that I was despised, nay, perhaps considered as an object of ingratitude, by the only child of my deceased benefactress?"
Matilda replied with all her father's haughtiness, "Depend upon it, Sir, if you should ever enter my thoughts, it will only be as an object of envy."
"Suffer me then, Madam," said he, "as an earnest that you do not think worse of me than I merit, suffer me to be sometimes admitted into your presence—."
She would scarce permit him to finish the period, before she replied, "This is the last time, Sir, we shall ever meet, depend upon it—unless, indeed, Lord Elmwood should delegate to you the controul of me—his commands I never dispute." And here she burst into tears.
Rushbrook walked towards the window, and did not speak for some time—then turning himself to make a reply, both Matilda and Miss Woodley were somewhat surprised to see, that he had been shedding tears himself.—Having conquered them, he said, "I will not offend you, Madam, by remaining one moment longer; and I give you my honour, that, upon no pretence whatever, will I presume to intrude here again. Professions, I find, have no weight, and only by this obedience to your orders, can I give a proof of that respect which you inspire;—and let the agitation I now feel, convince you, Lady Matilda, that, with all my seeming good fortune, I am not happier than yourself." And so much was he agitated while he delivered this, that it was with difficulty he came to the conclusion. When he did, he bowed with reverence, as if leaving the presence of a deity, and retired.
Matilda immediately entered the chamber she had left, and without casting a single look at Miss Woodley by which she might guess of the opinion she had formed of Mr. Rushbrook's conduct. The next time they met they did not even mention his name; for they were ashamed to own a partiality in his favour, and were too just to bring any accusation against him.
But Miss Woodley, the day following, communicated the intelligence of this visit to Mr. Sandford, who not being present, and a witness of those marks of humility and respect which were conspicuous in the deportment of Mr. Rushbrook, was highly offended at his presumption, and threatened if he ever dared to force his company there again, he would acquaint Lord Elmwood with his arrogance, whatever might be the event. Miss Woodley, however, assured him, she believed he would have no cause for such a complaint, as the young man had made the most solemn promise never to commit the like offence; and she thought it her duty to enjoin Sandford, till he did repeat it, not to mention the circumstance, even to Rushbrook himself.
Matilda could not but feel a regard for her father's heir, in return for that which he had so fervently declared for her; yet the more favourable her opinion of his mind and manners, the more he became an object of her jealousy for the affections of Lord Elmwood, and he was now consequently, an object of greater sorrow to her, than when she believed him less worthy. These sentiments were reversed on his part towards her—no jealousy intervened to bar his admiration and esteem—the beauty of her person, and grandeur of her mien, not only confirmed, but improved, the exalted idea he had formed of her previous to their meeting, and which his affection to both her parents had inspired. The next time he saw his benefactor, he began to feel a new esteem and regard for him, for his daughter's sake; as he had at first an esteem for her, on the foundation of his love for Lord and Lady Elmwood. He gazed with wonder at his uncle's insensibility to his own happiness, and would gladly have led him to the jewel he cast away, though even his own expulsion should be the fatal consequence. Such was the youthful, warm, generous, grateful, but unreflecting mind of Rushbrook.
After this incident, Miss Woodley left her apartments less frequently than before—she was afraid, though till now mistrust had been a stranger to her heart, she was afraid that duplicity might be concealed under the apparent friendship of Rushbrook; it did not indeed appear so from any part of his behaviour, but she was apprehensive for the fate of Matilda; she disliked him too, and therefore she suspected him. Near three weeks she had not now paid a visit to Lord Elmwood, and though to herself every visit was a pain, yet as Matilda took a delight in hearing of her father, what he said, what he did, what his attention seemed most employed on, and a thousand other circumstantial informations, in which Sandford would scorn to be half so particular, it was a deprivation to her, that Miss Woodley did not go oftener. Now too, the middle of November was come, and it was expected her father would soon quit the country.
Partly therefore to indulge her hapless companion, and partly because it was a duty, Miss Woodley once again paid Lord Elmwood a morning visit, and staid dinner. Rushbrook was officiously polite, (for that was the epithet she gave his attention in relating it to Lady Matilda) yet she owned he had not that forward impertinence she had formerly discovered in him, but appeared much more grave and sedate.
"But tell me of my father," said Matilda.
"I was going, my dear—but don't be concerned—don't let it vex you."
"What? what?" cried Matilda, frightened by the preface.
"Why, on my observing that I thought Mr. Rushbrook looked paler than usual, and appeared not to be in perfect health, (which was really the case) your father expressed the greatest anxiety imaginable; he said he could not bear to see him look so ill, begged him, with all the tenderness of a parent, to take the advice of a physician, and added a thousand other affectionate things."
"I detest Mr. Rushbrook," said Matilda, with her eyes flashing indignation.
"Nay, for shame," returned Miss Woodley; "do you suppose I told you this, to make you hate him?"
"No, there was no occasion for that," replied Matilda; "my sentiments (though I have never before avowed them) were long ago formed; he was always an object which added to my unhappiness; but since his daring intrusion into my apartments, he has been an object of my hatred."
"But now, perhaps, I may tell you something to please you," cried Miss Woodley.
"And what is that?" said Matilda, with indifference; for the first intelligence had hurt her spirits too much to suffer her to listen with pleasure to anything.
"Mr. Rushbrook," continued Miss Woodley, "replied to your father, that his indisposition was but a slight nervous fever, and he would defer a physician's advice till he went to London"—on which Lord Elmwood said, "And when do you expect to be there?"—he replied, "Within a week or two, I suppose, my Lord." But your father answered, "I do not mean to go myself till after Christmas." "No indeed, my Lord!" said Mr. Sandford, with surprise: "you have not passed your Christmas here these many years." "No," returned your father; "but I think I feel myself more attached to this house at present, than ever I did in my life."
"You imagine, then, my father thought of me, when he said this?" cried Matilda eagerly.
"But I may be mistaken," replied Miss Woodley. "I leave you to judge. Though I am sure Mr. Sandford imagined he thought of you, for I saw a smile over his whole face immediately."
"Did you, Miss Woodley?"
"Yes; it appeared on every feature except his lips; those he kept fast closed, for fear Lord Elmwood should perceive it."
Miss Woodley, with all her minute intelligence, did not however acquaint Matilda, that Rushbrook followed her to the window when the Earl was out of the room, and Sandford half asleep at the other end of it, and inquired respectfully but anxiously for her; adding, "It is my concern for Lady Matilda which makes me thus indisposed: I suffer more than she does; but I am not permitted to tell her so, nor can I hope, Miss Woodley, you will." She replied, "You are right, Sir." Nor did she reveal this conversation, while not a sentence that passed except that, was omitted.
When Christmas arrived, Lord Elmwood had many convivial days at Elmwood House, but Matilda was never mentioned by one of his guests, and most probably was never thought of. During all those holidays, she was unusually melancholy, but sunk into the deepest dejection when she was told the day was fixed, on which her father was to return to town. On the morning of that day she wept incessantly; and all her consolation was, "She would go to the chamber window that was fronting the door through which he was to pass to his carriage, and for the first time, and most probably for the last time in her life, behold him."
This design was soon forgot in another:—"She would rush boldly into the apartment where he was, and at his feet take leave of him for ever—she would lay hold of his hands, clasp his knees, provoke him to spurn her, which would be joy in comparison to this cruel indifference." In the bitterness of her grief, she once called upon her mother, and reproached her memory—but the moment she recollected this offence, (which was almost instantaneously) she became all mildness and resignation. "What have I said?" cried she; "Dear, dear saint, forgive me; and for your sake I will bear all with patience—I will not groan, I will not even sigh again—this task I set myself to atone for what I have dared to utter."
While Lady Matilda laboured under this variety of sensations, Miss Woodley was occupied in bewailing and endeavouring to calm her sorrows—and Lord Elmwood, with Rushbrook, was ready to set off. The Earl, however, loitered, and did not once seem in haste to be gone. When at last he got up to depart, Sandford thought he pressed his hand, and shook it with more warmth than ever he had done in his life. Encouraged by this supposition, Sandford said, "My Lord, won't you condescend to take your leave of Miss Woodley?"
"Certainly, Sandford," replied he, and seemed glad of an excuse to sit down again.
Impressed with the idea of the state in which she had left his only child, Miss Woodley, when she came before Lord Elmwood to bid him farewell, was pale, trembling, and in tears. Sandford, notwithstanding his patron's apparently kind humour, was shocked at the construction he must put upon her appearance, and cried, "What, Miss Woodley, are you not recovered of your illness yet?" Lord Elmwood, however, took no notice of her looks, but after wishing her her health, walked slowly out of the house; turning back frequently and speaking to Sandford, or to some other person who was behind him, as if part of his thoughts were left behind, and he went with reluctance.
When he had quitted the room where Miss Woodley was, Rushbrook, timid before her, as she had been before her benefactor, went up to her, all humility, and said, "Miss Woodley, we ought to be friends: our concern, our devotion is paid to the same objects, and one common interest should teach us to be friendly."
She made no reply.—"Will you permit me to write to you when I am away?" said he; "You may wish to hear of Lord Elmwood's health, and of what changes may take place in his resolutions.—Will you permit me?" At that moment a servant came and said, "Sir, my Lord is in the carriage, and waiting for you." He hastened away, and Miss Woodley was relieved from the pain of giving him a denial.
No sooner was the chaise, with all its attendants, out of sight, than Lady Matilda was conducted by Miss Woodley from her lonely retreat, into that part of the house from whence her father had just departed—and she visited every spot where he had so long resided, with a pleasing curiosity that for a while diverted her grief. In the breakfast and dining rooms, she leaned over those seats with a kind of filial piety, on which she was told he had been accustomed to sit. And, in the library, she took up with filial delight, the pen with which he had been writing; and looked with the most curious attention into those books that were laid upon his reading desk. But a hat, lying on one of the tables, gave her a sensation beyond any other she experienced on this occasion—in that trifling article of his dress, she thought she saw himself, and held it in her hand with pious reverence.
In the mean time, Lord Elmwood and Rushbrook were proceeding on the road, with hearts not less heavy than those which they had left at Elmwood House; though neither of them could so well define the cause of this oppression, as Matilda could account for the weight which oppressed her's.
Young as Lady Matilda was during the life of her mother, neither her youth, nor the recluse state in which she lived, had precluded her from the notice and solicitations of a nobleman who had professed himself her lover. Viscount Margrave had an estate not far distant from the retreat Lady Elmwood had chosen; and being devoted to the sports of the country, he seldom quitted it for any of those joys which the town offered. He was a young man, of a handsome person, and was, what his neighbours called, "A man of spirit." He was an excellent fox-hunter, and as excellent a companion over his bottle at the end of the chace—he was prodigal of his fortune, where his pleasures were concerned, and as those pleasures were chiefly social, his sporting companions and his mistresses (for these were also of the plural number) partook largely of his wealth.
Two months previous to Lady Elmwood's death, Miss Woodley and Lady Matilda were taking their usual walk in some fields and lanes near to their house, when chance threw Lord Margrave in their way during a thunder storm in which they were suddenly caught; and he had the satisfaction to convey his new acquaintances to their home in his coach, safe from the fury of the elements. Grateful for the service he had rendered them, Miss Woodley and her charge, permitted him to enquire occasionally after their health, and would sometimes see him. The story of Lady Elmwood was known to Lord Margrave, and as he beheld her daughter with a passion such as he had been unused to overcome, he indulged it with the probable hope, that on the death of the mother Lord Elmwood would receive his child, and perhaps accept him as his son-in-law. Wedlock was not the plan which Lord Margrave had ever proposed to himself for happiness; but the excess of his love on this new occasion, subdued all the resolutions he had formed against the married state; and not daring to hope for the consummation of his wishes by any other means, he suffered himself to look forward to that, as his only resource. No sooner was the long expected death of Lady Elmwood arrived, than he waited with impatience to hear that Lady Matilda was sent for and acknowledged by her father; for he meant to be the first to lay before Lord Elmwood his pretensions as a suitor. But those pretensions were founded on the vague hopes of a lover only; and Miss Woodley, to whom he first declared them, said every thing possible to convince him of their fallacy. As to the object of his passion, she was not only insensible, but wholly inattentive to all that was said to her on the subject. Lady Elmwood died without ever being disturbed with it; for her daughter did not even remember his proposals so as to repeat them again, and Miss Woodley thought it prudent to conceal from her friend, every new incident which might give her cause for new anxieties.
When Sandford and the ladies left the north and came to Elmwood House, so much were their thoughts employed with other ideas, that Lord Margrave did not occupy a place; and during the whole time they had been at their new abode, they had never once heard of him. He had, nevertheless, his whole mind fixed upon Lady Matilda, and had placed spies in the neighbourhood to inform him of every circumstance relating to her situation. Having imbibed an aversion to matrimony, he heard with but little regret, that there was no prospect of her ever becoming her father's heir, while such an information gave him the hope of obtaining her, upon the terms of a mistress.
Lord Elmwood's departure to town forwarded this hope, and flattering himself that the humiliating state in which Matilda must feel herself in the house of her father might gladly induce her to take shelter under any other protection, he boldly advanced as soon as the Earl was gone, to make such overture as his wishes and his vanity told him, could not be rejected.
Inquiring for Miss Woodley, he easily gained admittance; but at the sight of so much modesty and dignity in the person of Matilda, the appearance of so much good will, and yet such circumspection in her companion; and charmed at the good sense and proper spirit which were always apparent in the manners of Sandford, he fell once more into the despondency of never becoming to Lady Matilda any thing of more importance to his reputation, than a husband.
Even that humble hope was sometimes denied him, while Sandford set forth the impropriety of troubling Lord Elmwood on such a subject at present; and while the Viscount's penetration, small as it was, discovered in his fair one, more to discourage, than to favour his wishes. Plunged, however, too deep in his passion to emerge from it in haste, he meant still to visit, and wait for a change to happier circumstances, when he was peremptorily desired by Mr. Sandford to desist from ever coming again.
"And why, Mr. Sandford?" cried he.
"For two reasons, my Lord;—in the first place, your visits might be displeasing to Lord Elmwood; in the next place, I know they are so to his daughter."
Unaccustomed to be addressed so plainly, particularly in a case where his heart was interested, he nevertheless submitted with patience; but in his own mind determined how long this patience should continue—no longer than it served as the means to prove his obedience, and by that artifice, to secure his better reception at some future period.
On his return home, cheered with the huzzas of his jovial companions, he began to consult those friends, what scheme was best to be adopted for the accomplishment of his desires. Some, boldly advised application to the father in defiance to the old priest; but that was the very last method his Lordship himself approved, as marriage must inevitably have followed Lord Elmwood's consent: besides, though a Peer, Lord Margrave was unused to rank with Peers; and even the formality of an interview with one of his equals, carried along with it a terror, or at least a fatigue, to a rustic Baron. Others of his companions advised seduction; but happily the Viscount possessed no arts of this kind, to affect a heart joined with such an understanding as Matilda's. There were not wanting among his most favourite counsellors some, who painted the superior triumph and gratification of force; those assured him there was nothing to apprehend under this head, as from the behaviour of Lord Elmwood to his child, it was more than probable, he would be utterly indifferent as to any violence that might be offered her. This last advice seemed inspired by the aid of wine; and no sooner had the wine freely circulated, than this was always the expedient, which appeared by far the best.
While Lord Margrave alternately cherished his hopes and his fears in the country, Rushbrook in town gave way to his fears only. Every day of his life made him more acquainted with the firm, unshaken temper of Lord Elmwood, and every day whispered more forcibly to him, that pity, gratitude, and friendship, strong and affectionate as these passions are, were weak and cold to that, which had gained the possession of his heart—he doubted, but he did not long doubt, that, which he felt was love. "And yet," said he to himself, "it is love of such a kind, as arising from causes independent of the object itself can scarce deserve that sacred name. Did I not love Lady Matilda before I beheld her?—for her mother's sake I loved her—and even for her father's. Should I have felt the same affection for her, had she been the child of other parents? No. Or should I have felt that sympathetic tenderness which now preys upon my health, had not her misfortunes excited it? No." Yet the love which is the result of gratitude and pity only, he thought had little claim to rank with his; and after the most deliberate and deep reflection, he concluded with this decisive opinion—He had loved Lady Matilda, in whatever state, in whatever circumstances; and that the tenderness he felt towards her, and the anxiety for her happiness before he knew her, extreme as they were, were yet cool and dispassionate sensations, compared to those which her person and demeanour had incited—and though he acknowledged, that by the preceding sentiments, his heart was softened, prepared, and moulded, as it were, to receive this last impression, yet the violence of his passion told him that genuine love, if not the basis on which it was founded, had been the certain consequence. With a strict scrutiny into his heart he sought this knowledge, but arrived at it with a regret that amounted to despair.