To shield him from despondency, he formed in his mind a thousand visions, displaying the joys of his union with Lady Matilda; but her father's implacability confounded them all. Lord Elmwood was a man who made few resolutions—but those were the effect of deliberation; and as he was not the least capricious or inconstant in his temper, they were resolutions which no probable event could shake. Love, that produces wonders, that seduces and subdues the most determined and rigid spirits, had in two instances overcome the inflexibility of Lord Elmwood; he married Lady Elmwood contrary to his determination, because he loved; and for the sake of this beloved object, he had, contrary to his resolution, taken under his immediate care young Rushbrook; but the magic which once enchanted away this spirit of immutability was no more—Lady Elmwood was no more, and the charm was broken.
As Miss Woodley was deprived of the opportunity of desiring Rushbrook not to write, when he asked her the permission, he passed one whole morning, in the gratification of forming and writing a letter to her, which he thought might possibly be shewn to Matilda. As he dared not touch upon any of those circumstances in which he was the most interested, this, joined to the respect he wished to pay the lady to whom he wrote, limited his letter to about twenty lines; yet the studious manner with which these lines were dictated, the hope that they might, and the fear that they might not, be seen and regarded by Lady Matilda, rendered the task an anxiety so pleasing, that he could have wished it might have lasted for a year; and in this tendency to magnify trifles, was discoverable, the never-failing symptom of ardent love.
A reply to this formal address, was a reward he wished for with impatience, but he wished in vain; and in the midst of his chagrin at the disappointment, a sorrow, little thought of, occurred, and gave him a perturbation of mind he had never before experienced. Lord Elmwood proposed a wife to him; and in a way so assured of his acquiescence, that if Rushbrook's life had depended upon his daring to dispute his benefactor's will, he would not have had the courage to have done so. There was, however, in his reply, and his embarrassment, something which his uncle distinguished from a free concurrence; and looking stedfastly at him, he said, in that stern manner which he now almost invariably adopted,
"You have no engagements, I suppose! Have made no previous promises!"
"None on earth, my Lord," replied Rushbrook candidly.
"Nor have you disposed of your heart?"
"No, my Lord," replied he; but not candidly—nor with any appearance of candour: for though he spoke hastily, it was rather like a man frightened than assured. He hurried to tell the falsehood he thought himself obliged to tell, that the pain and shame might be over; but there he was deceived—the lie once told was as troublesome as in the conception, and added another confusion to the first.
Lord Elmwood now fixed his eyes upon him with a sullen contempt, and rising from his chair, said, "Rushbrook, if you have been so inconsiderate as to give away your heart, tell me so at once, and tell me the object."
Rushbrook shuddered at the thought.
"I here," continued the Earl, "tolerate the first untruth you ever told me, as the false assertion of a lover; and give you an opportunity of recalling it—but after this moment, it is a lie between man and man—a lie to your friend and father, and I will not forgive it."
Rushbrook stood silent, confused, alarmed, and bewildered in his thoughts. Lord Elmwood proceeded:
"Name the person, if there is any, on whom you have bestowed your heart; and though I do not give you the hope that I shall not censure your folly, I will at least not reproach you for having at first denied it."
To repeat these words in writing, the reader must condemn the young man that he could hesitate to own he loved, if he was even afraid to name the object of his passion; but his interrogator had made the two answers inseparable, so that all evasions of the second, Rushbrook knew would be fruitless, after having avowed the first—and how could he confess the latter? The absolute orders he received from the steward on his first return from his travels, were, "Never to mention his daughter, any more than his late wife, before Lord Elmwood." The fault of having rudely intruded into Lady Matilda's presence, rushed also upon his mind; for he did not even dare to say, by what means he had beheld her. But more than all, the threatening manner in which this rational and apparently conciliating speech was uttered, the menaces, the severity which sat upon the Earl's countenance while he delivered those moderate words, might have intimidated a man wholly independent, and less used to fear than his nephew had been.
"You make no answer, Sir," said Lord Elmwood, after waiting a few moments for his reply.
"I have only to say, my Lord," returned Rushbrook, "that although my heart may be totally disengaged, I may yet be disinclined to marriage."
"May! May! Your heart may be disengaged," repeated he. "Do you dare to reply to me equivocally, when I have asked a positive answer?"
"Perhaps I am not positive myself, my Lord; but I will enquire into the state of my mind, and make you acquainted with it very soon."
As the angry demeanour of his uncle affected Rushbrook with fear, so that fear, powerfully (but with proper manliness) expressed, again softened the displeasure of Lord Elmwood; and seeing and pitying his nephew's sensibility, he now changed his austere voice, and said mildly, but firmly,
"I give you a week to consult with yourself; at the expiration of that time I shall talk with you again, and I command you to be then prepared to speak, not only without deceit, but without hesitation." He left the room at these words, and left Rushbrook released from a fate, which his apprehensions had beheld impending that moment.
He had now a week to call his thoughts together, to weigh every circumstance, and to determine whether implicitly to submit to Lord Elmwood's recommendation of a wife, or to revolt from it, and see another, with more subserviency to his will, appointed his heir.
Undetermined how to act upon this trial which was to decide his future destiny, Rushbrook suffered so poignant an uncertainty, that he became at length ill, and before the end of the week that was allotted him for his reply, he was confined to his bed in a high fever. Lord Elmwood was extremely affected at his indisposition; he gave him every care he could bestow, and even much of his personal attendance. This last favour had a claim upon the young man's gratitude, superior to every other obligation which since his infancy his benefactor had conferred; and he was at times so moved by those marks of kindness he received, that he would form the intention of tearing from his heart every trace that Lady Matilda had left there, and as soon as his health would permit him, obey, to the utmost of his views, every wish his uncle had conceived. Yet again, her pitiable situation presented itself to his compassion, and her beauteous person to his love. Divided between the claims of obligation to the father, and tender attachment to the daughter, his illness was increased by the tortures of his mind, and he once sincerely wished for that death, of which he was in danger, to free him from the dilemma in which his affections had involved him.
At the time his disorder was at the height, and he lay complaining of the violence of his fever, Lord Elmwood, taking his hand, asked him, "If there was any thing he could do for him?"
"Yes, yes, my Lord, a great deal:" he replied eagerly.
"What is it, Harry?"
"Oh! my Lord," replied he, "that is what I must not tell you."
"Defer it then till you are well:" said Lord Elmwood; afraid of being surprised, or affected by the state of his health, into any promises which he might hereafter find the impropriety of granting.
"And when I recover, my Lord, you give me leave to reveal to you my wishes, let them be what they will?"
His uncle hesitated——but seeing an anxiety for the answer, by his raising himself upon his elbow in the bed and staring wildly, Lord Elmwood at last said, "Certainly—Yes, yes," as a child is answered for its quiet.
That Lord Elmwood could have no idea what the real petition was, which Rushbrook meant to present him is certain; but it is certain he expected he had some request to make, with which it might be wrong for him to comply, and therefore he avoided hearing what it was; for great as his compassion for him was in his present state, it was not of sufficient force to urge him to give a promise he did not mean to perform. Rushbrook, on his part was pleased with the assurance he might speak when he was restored to health; but no sooner was his fever abated, and his senses perfectly recovered from the slight derangement his malady had occasioned, than the lively remembrance of what he had hinted, alarmed him, and he was even afraid to look his kind, but awful relation in the face. Lord Elmwood's cheerfulness, however, on his returning health, and his undiminished attention, soon convinced him that he had nothing to fear. But, alas! he found too, that he had nothing to hope. As his health re-established, his wishes re-established also, and with his wishes, his despair.
Convinced now, that his nephew had something on his mind which he feared to reveal, the Earl no longer doubted but that some youthful attachment had armed him against any marriage he should propose; but he had so much pity for his present weak state, to delay that further inquiry which he had threatened before his illness, to a time when he should be entirely restored.
It was the end of May before Rushbrook was able to partake in the usual routine of the day—the country was now prescribed him as the means of complete restoration; and as Lord Elmwood designed to leave London some time in June, he advised him to go to Elmwood House a week or two before him; this advice was received with delight, and a letter was sent to Mr. Sandford to prepare for Mr. Rushbrook's arrival.
During the illness of Rushbrook, news had been sent of his danger, from the servants in town to those at Elmwood House, and Lady Matilda expressed compassion when she was told of it—she began to conceive, the instant she thought he would soon die, that his visit to her had merit rather than impertinence in its design, and that he might possibly be a more deserving man, than she had supposed him to be. Even Sandford and Miss Woodley, began to recollect qualifications he possessed, which they never had reflected on before, and Miss Woodley in particular, reproached herself that she had been so severe and inattentive to him. Notwithstanding the prospects his death pointed out to her, it was with infinite joy she heard he was recovered; nor was Sandford less satisfied; for he had treated the young man too unkindly not to dread, lest any ill should befall him; but although he was glad to hear of his restored health, when he was informed he was coming down to Elmwood House for a few weeks in the style of its master, Sandford, with all his religious and humane principles, could not help thinking, "That if the lad had been properly preps well out of the world as in it."
He was still less his friend when he saw him arrive with his usual florid complexion: had he come pale and sickly, Sandford had been kind to him; but in apparently good health and spirits, he could not form his lips to tell him he was "Glad to see him."
On his arrival, Matilda, who for five months had been at large, secluded herself as she would have done upon the arrival of Lord Elmwood; but with far different sensations. Notwithstanding her restriction on the latter occasion, the residence of her father in that house had been a source of pleasure, rather than of sorrow to her; but from the abode of Rushbrook she derived punishment alone.
When, from inquiries, Rushbrook found that on his approach, Matilda had retired to her own confined apartments, the thought was torture to him; it was the hope of seeing and conversing with her, of being admitted at all times to her society as the mistress of the house, that had raised his spirits, and effected his perfect cure beyond any other cause; and he was hurt to the greatest degree at this respect, or rather contempt, shown to him by her retreat.
It was, nevertheless, a subject too delicate for him to touch upon in any one sense—an invitation for her company on his part, might carry the appearance of superior authority, and an affected condescension, which he justly considered as the worst of all insults. And yet, how could he support the idea that his visit had placed the daughter of his benefactor, as a dependent stranger in that house, where in reality he was the dependent, and she the lawful heir? For two or three days he suffered the torment of these reflections, hoping that he should come to an explanation of all he felt, by a fortunate meeting with Miss Woodley; but when that meeting occurred, though he observed she talked to him with less reserve than she had formerly done, and even gave some proofs of the native goodness of her disposition, yet she scrupulously avoided naming Lady Matilda; and when he diffidently inquired of her health, a cold restraint overspread Miss Woodley's face, and she left him instantly. To Sandford it was still more difficult for him to apply; for though frequently together, they were never sociable; and as Sandford seldom disguised his feelings, to Rushbrook he was always extremely severe, and sometimes unmannerly.
In this perplexed situation, the country air was rather of detriment than service to the invalid; and had he not, like a true lover, clung fast to hope, while he could perceive nothing but despair, he would have returned to town, rather than by his stay have placed in a subordinate state, the object of his adoration. Persisting in his hopes, he one morning met Miss Woodley in the garden, and engaging her a longer time than usual in conversation, at last obtained her promise "She would that day dine with him and Mr. Sandford." But no sooner had she parted from him, than she repented of her consent; and upon communicating it, Matilda, for the first time in her life, darted upon her kind companion, a look of the most cutting reproach and haughty resentment. Miss Woodley's own sentiments had upbraided her before; but she was not prepared to receive so pointed a mark of disapprobation from her young friend, till now duteous and humble to her as to a mother, and not less affectionate. Her heart was too susceptible to bear this disrespectful and contumelious frown, from the object of her long-devoted care and concern; the tears instantly covered her face, and she laid her hands upon her heart, as if she thought it would break. Matilda was moved, but she possessed too much of the manly resentment of her father, to discover what she felt for the first few minutes. Miss Woodley, who had given so many tears to her sorrows, but never till now, one to her anger, had a deeper sense of this indifference, than of the anger itself, and to conceal what she suffered, left the room. Matilda, who had been till this time working at her needle, seemingly composed, now let her work drop from her hand, and sat for a while in a deep reverie. At length she rose up, and followed Miss Woodley to the other apartment. She entered grave, majestic and apparently serene, while her poor heart fluttered with a thousand distressing sensations. She approached Miss Woodley (who was still in tears) with silence; and awed by her manners, the faithful friend of her deceased mother exclaimed, "Dear Lady Matilda, think no more on what I have done—do not resent it any longer, and on my knees I'll beg your pardon." Miss Woodley rose as she uttered these last words; but Matilda laid fast hold of her to prevent the posture she offered to take, and instantly assumed it herself. "Oh, let this be my atonement!" she cried with the most earnest supplication.
They interchanged forgiveness; and as this reconciliation was sincere, they each, without reserve, gave their opinion upon the subject that had caused the misunderstanding; and it was agreed an apology should be sent to Mr. Rushbrook, "That Miss Woodley had been suddenly indisposed:" nor could this be said to differ from the truth, for since what had passed she was unfit to pay a visit.
Rushbrook, who had been all the morning elated with the advance he supposed he had made in that lady's favour, was highly disappointed, vexed, and angry, when this apology was delivered; nor did he, nor perhaps could he, conceal what he felt, although his severe observer, Mr. Sandford, was present.
"I am a very unfortunate man!" said he, as soon as the servant was gone who brought the message.
Sandford cast his eyes upon him with a look of surprise and contempt.
"A very unfortunate man indeed, Mr. Sandford," repeated he, "although you treat my complaint contemptuously."
Sandford made no reply, and seemed above making one.
They sat down to dinner;—Rushbrook eat scarce any thing, but drank frequently; Sandford took no notice of either, but had a book (which was his custom when he dined with persons whose conversation was not interesting to him) laid by the side of his plate, which he occasionally looked into, as the dishes were removing, or other opportunities served.
Rushbrook, just now more hopeless than ever of forming an acquaintance with Lady Matilda, began to give way to symptoms of despondency; and they made their first attack, by urging him, to treat on the same level of familiarity that he himself was treated, Mr. Sandford, to whom he had, till now, ever behaved with the most profound tokens of respect.
"Come," said he to him as soon as the dinner was removed, "lay aside your book and be good company."
Sandford lifted up his eyes upon him—stared in his face—and cast them on the book again.
"Pshaw," continued Rushbrook, "I want a companion; and as Miss Woodley has disappointed me, I must have your company."
Sandford now laid his book down upon the table; but still holding his fingers in the pages he was reading, said, "And why are you disappointed of Miss Woodley's company? When people expect what they have no right to hope, 'tis impertinent assurance to complain they are disappointed."
"I had a right to hope she would come," answered Rushbrook, "for she promised she would."
"But what right had you to ask her?"
"The right every one has, to make his time pass as agreeably as he can."
"But not at the expence of another."
"I believe, Mr. Sandford, it would be a heavy expence to you, to see me happy; I believe it would cost you even your own happiness."
"That is a price I have not now to give:" replied Sandford, and began reading again.
"What, you have already paid it away? No wonder that at your time of life it should be gone. But what do you think of my having already squandered mine?"
"I don't think about you;" returned Sandford, without taking his eyes from the book.
"Can you look me in the face and say that, Mr. Sandford? No, you cannot—for you know you do think of me, and you know you hate me."—Here he drank two glasses of wine one after another; "And I can tell you why you hate me," continued he: "It is from a cause for which I often hate myself."
Sandford read on.
"It is on Lady Matilda's account you hate me, and use me thus."
Sandford put down the book hastily, and put both his hands by his side.
"Yes," resumed Rushbrook, "you think I am wronging her."
"I think you insult her," exclaimed Sandford, "by this rude mention of her name; and I command you at your peril to desist."
"At my peril! Mr. Sandford? Do you assume the authority of my Lord Elmwood?"
"I do on this occasion; and if you dare to give your tongue a freedom"——
Rushbrook interrupted him—"Why then I boldly say, (and as her friend you ought rather to applaud than resent it) I boldly say, that my heart suffers so much for her situation, that I am regardless of my own. I love her father—I loved her mother more—but I love her beyond either."
"Hold your licentious tongue," cried Sandford, "or quit the room."
"Licentious! Oh! the pure thoughts that dwell in her innocent mind, are not less sensual than mine towards her. Do you upbraid me with my respect, my pity for her? They are the sensations which impel me to speak thus undisguised, even to you, my open—no, even worse—my secret enemy!"
"Insult me as you please, Mr. Rushbrook,—but beware how you mention Lord Elmwood's daughter."
"Can it be to her dishonour that I pity her? that I would quit the house this moment never to return, so that she supplied the place I with-hold from her."
"Go, then;" cried Sandford.
"It would be of no use to her, or I would. But come, Mr. Sandford, I will dare do as much as you. Only second me, and I will entreat Lord Elmwood to be reconciled—to see and own her."
"Your vanity would be equal to your temerity—you entreat? She must greatly esteem those paternal favours which your entreaties gained her! Do you forget, young man, how short a time it is, since you were entreated for?"
"I prove that I do not, while this anxiety for Lady Matilda, arises, from what I feel on that account."
"Remove your anxiety, then, from her to yourself; for were I to let Lord Elmwood know what has now passed"—
"It is for your own sake, not for mine, if you do not."
"You shall not dare me to it, Mr. Rushbrook." And he rose from his seat: "You shall not dare me to do you an injury. But to avoid the temptation, I will never again come into your company, unless my friend, Lord Elmwood, be present, to protect me and his child from your insults."
Rushbrook rose in yet more warmth than Sandford
"Have you the injustice to say that I have insulted Lady Matilda?"
"To speak of her at all, is in you an insult. But you have done more—you have dared to visit her—to force into her presence and shock her with your offers of services which she scorns; and with your compassion, which she is above."
"Did she complain to you?"
"She or her friend did."
"I rather suppose, Mr. Sandford, that you have bribed some of the servants to reveal this."
"The suspicion becomes Lord Elmwood's heir."
"It becomes the man, who lives in a house with you."
"I thank you, Mr. Rushbrook, for what has passed this day—it has taken a weight off my mind. I thought my disinclination to you, might perhaps arise from prejudice—this conversation has relieved me from those fears, and—I thank you." Saying this he calmly walked out of the room, and left Rushbrook to reflect on what he had been doing.
Heated with the wine he had drank (and which Sandford, engaged on his book, had not observed) no sooner was he alone, than he became by degrees cool and repentant. "What had he done?" was the first question to himself—"He had offended Sandford."—The man, whom reason as well as prudence had ever taught him to respect, and even to revere. He had grossly offended the firm friend of Lady Matilda, by the unreserved and wanton use of her name. All the retorts he had uttered came now to his memory; with a total forgetfulness of all that Sandford had said to provoke them.
He once thought to follow him and beg his pardon; but the contempt with which he had been treated, more than all the anger, with-held him.
As he sat forming plans how to retrieve the opinion, ill as it was, which Sandford formerly entertained of him, he received a letter from Lord Elmwood, kindly enquiring after his health, and saying that he should be down early in the following week. Never were the friendly expressions of his uncle half so welcome to him; for they served to sooth his imagination, racked with Sandford's wrath, and his own displeasure.
When Sandford acted deliberately, he always acted up to his duty; it was his duty to forgive Rushbrook, and he did so—but he had declared he would never "Be again in his company unless Lord Elmwood was present;" and with all his forgiveness, he found an unforgiving gratification, in the duty, of being obliged to keep his word.
The next day Rushbrook dined alone, while Sandford gave his company to the ladies. Rushbrook was too proud to seek to conciliate Sandford by abject concessions, but he endeavoured to meet him as by accident, and meant to try what, in such a case, a submissive apology might effect. For two days all the schemes he formed on that head proved fruitless; he could never procure even a sight of him. But on the evening of the third day, taking a lonely walk, he turned the corner of a grove, and saw in the very path he was going, Sandford accompanied by Miss Woodley; and, what agitated him infinitely more, Lady Matilda was with them. He knew not whether to proceed, or to quit the path and palpably shun them—to one, who seemed to put an unkind construction upon all he said and did, he knew that to do either, would be to do wrong. In spite of the propensity he felt to pass so near to Matilda, could he have known what conduct would have been deemed the most respectful, whatever painful denial it had cost him, that, he would have adopted. But undetermined whether to go forward, or to cross to another path, he still walked on till he came too nigh to recede: he then, with a diffidence not affected, but most powerfully felt, pulled off his hat; and without bowing, stood respectfully silent while the company passed. Sandford walked on some paces before, and took no further notice as he went by him, than just touching the fore part of his hat with his finger. Miss Woodley curtsied as she followed. But Lady Matilda made a full stop, and said, in the gentlest accents, "I hope, Mr. Rushbrook, you are perfectly recovered."
It was the sweetest music he had ever listened to; and he replied with the most reverential bow, "I am better a great deal, Ma'am." Then instantly pursued his way as if he did not dare to utter another syllable.
Sandford seldom found fault with Lady Matilda; not because he loved her, but because she seldom did wrong—upon this occasion, however, he was half inclined to reprimand her; but yet he did not know what to say—the subsequent humility of Rushbrook, had taken from the indiscretion of her speaking to him, and the event could by no means justify his censure. On hearing her begin to speak, Sandford had stopped; and as Rushbrook after replying, walked away, Sandford called to her crossly, "Come, come along." But at the same time he put out his elbow for her to take hold of his arm.
She hastened her steps, and did so—then turning to Miss Woodley, she said, "I expected you would have spoken to Mr. Rushbrook; it might have prevented me."
Miss Woodley replied, "I was at a loss what to do;—when we met formerly, he always spoke first."
"And he ought now," cried Sandford angrily—and then added, with a sarcastic smile, "It is certainly proper that the superior, should be the first who speaks."
"He did not look as if he thought himself our superior," replied Matilda.
"No," returned Sandford, "some people can put on what looks they please."
"Then while he looks so pale," replied Matilda, "and so dejected, I can never forbear speaking to him when we meet, whatever he may think of it."
"And were he and I to meet a hundred, nay a thousand times," returned Sandford, "I don't think I should ever speak to him again."
"Bless me! what for, Mr. Sandford?" cried Matilda—for Sandford, who was not a man that repeated little incidents, had never mentioned the circumstance of their quarrel.
"I have taken such a resolution," answered he, "yet I bear him no enmity."
As this short reply indicated that he meant to say no more, no more was asked; and the subject was dropped.
In the mean time, Rushbrook, happier than he had been for months, intoxicated with joy at that voluntary mark of civility he had received from Lady Matilda, felt his heart so joyous, and so free from every particle of malice, that he resolved, in the humblest manner, to make atonement for the violation of decorum he had lately committed against Mr. Sandford.
Too happy, at this time, to suffer a mortification from any indignities he might receive, he sent his servant to him into his study, as soon as he was returned home, to beg to know "If he might be permitted to wait upon him, with a message he had to deliver from Lord Elmwood."
The servant returned—"Mr. Sandford desired he would send the message by him, or the house-steward." This was highly affronting; but Rushbrook was not in a humour to be offended, and he sent again, begging he would admit him; but the answer was, "He was busy."
Thus wholly defeated in his hopes of reconciliation, his new transports felt an allay, and the few days that remained before Lord Elmwood came, he passed in solitary musing, and ineffectual walks and looks towards that path in which he had met Matilda—she came that way no more—indeed scarce quitted her apartment, in the practice of that confinement she was to experience on the arrival of her father.
All her former agitations now returned. On the day he arrived she wept—all the night she did not sleep—and the name of Rushbrook again became hateful to her. The Earl came in extremely good health and spirits, but appeared concerned to find Rushbrook less well than when he went from town. Sandford was now under the necessity of being in Rushbrook's company, yet he would never speak to him but when he was obliged; or look at him, but when he could not help it. Lord Elmwood observed this conduct, yet he neither wondered, or was offended at it—he had perceived what little esteem Sandford showed his nephew from his first return; but he forgave, in Sandford's humour, a thousand faults he would not forgive in any other; nor did he deem this one of his greatest faults, knowing the demand upon his partiality from another object.
Miss Woodley waited on Lord Elmwood as formerly; dined with him, and related, as heretofore, to the attentive Matilda, all that passed.
About this time Lord Margrave, deprived by the season of all the sports of the field, felt his love for Matilda (which had been violent, even though divided with the love of hunting) now too strong to be subdued; and he resolved, though reluctantly, to apply to her father for his consent to their union; but writing to Sandford this resolution, he was once more repulsed, and charged as a man of honour, to forbear to disturb the tranquillity of the family by any application of the kind. To this, Sandford received no answer; for the peer, highly incensed at his mistress's repugnance to him, determined more firmly than ever to consult his own happiness alone; and as that depended merely upon his obtaining her, he cared not by what method it was effected.
About a fortnight after Lord Elmwood came into the country, as he was riding one morning, his horse fell with him, and crushed his leg in so unfortunate a manner, as to be at first pronounced of dangerous consequence. He was brought home in a post chaise, and Matilda heard of the accident with more grief than would, perhaps, on such an occasion, appertain to the most fondled child.
In consequence of the pain he suffered, his fever was one night very high; and Sandford, who seldom quitted his apartment, went frequently to his bedside, every time with the secret hope he should hear him ask to see his daughter—he was every time disappointed—yet he saw him shake, with a cordial friendship, the hand of Rushbrook, as if he delighted in seeing those he loved.
The danger in which Lord Elmwood was supposed to be, was but of short duration, and his sudden recovery succeeded. Matilda, who had wept, moaned, and watched during the crisis of his illness, when she heard he was amending, exclaimed, (with a kind of surprise at the novelty of the sensation) "And this is joy that I feel! Oh! I never till now knew, what those persons felt who experienced joy."
Nor did she repine, like Mr. Sandford and Miss Woodley, at her father's inattention to her during his malady, for she did not hope like them—she did not hope he would behold her, even in dying.
But notwithstanding his seeming indifference, while his indisposition continued, no sooner was he recovered so as to receive the congratulations of his friends, than there was no one person he evidently showed so much satisfaction at seeing, as Miss Woodley. She waited upon him timorously, and with more than ordinary distaste at his late conduct, when he put out his hand with the utmost warmth to receive her; drew her to him; saluted her, (an honour he had never in his life conferred before) with signs of the sincerest friendship and affection. Sandford was present; and ever associating the idea of Matilda with Miss Woodley, felt his heart bound with a triumph it had not enjoyed for many a day.
Matilda listened with delight to the recital Miss Woodley gave on her return, and many times while it lasted exclaimed, "She was happy." But poor Matilda's sudden transports of joy, which she termed happiness, were not made for long continuance; and if she ever found cause for gladness, she far oftener had motives for grief.
As Mr. Sandford was sitting with her and Miss Woodley, one evening about a week after, a person rang at the bell and inquired for him: on being told of it by the servant, he went to the door of the apartment, and cried, "Oh! is it you? Come in." An elderly man entered, who had been for many years the head gardener at Elmwood House; a man of honesty and sobriety, and with an indigent family of aged parents, children, and other relations, who subsisted wholly on the income arising from his place. The ladies, as well as Sandford, knew him well, and they all, almost at once, asked, "What was the matter?" for his looks told them something distressful had befallen him.
"Oh, Sir!" said he to Sandford, "I come to intreat your interest."
"In what, Edwards?" said Sandford with a mild voice; for when his assistance was supplicated in distress, his rough tones always took a plaintive key.
"My Lord has discharged me from his service!" (returned Edwards trembling, and the tears starting in his eyes) "I am undone, Mr. Sandford, unless you plead for me."
"I will," said Sandford, "I will."
"And yet I am almost afraid of your success," replied the man, "for my Lord has ordered me out of his house this moment; and though I knelt down to him to be heard, he had no pity."
Matilda sighed from the bottom of her heart, and yet she envied this poor man, who had been kneeling to her father.
"What was your offence?" cried Sandford.
The man hesitated; then looking at Matilda, said, "I'll tell you, Sir, some other time."
"Did you name me, before Lord Elmwood?" cried she eagerly, and terrified.
"No, Madam," replied he, "but I unthinkingly spoke of my poor Lady who is dead and gone."
Matilda burst into tears.
"How came you to do so mad a thing?" cried Sandford; and the encouragement which his looks had once given him, now fled from his face.
"It was unthinkingly," repeated Edwards; "I was showing my Lord some plans for the new walks, and told him, among other things, that her Ladyship had many years ago approved of them. 'Who?' cried he. Still I did not call to mind, but said, 'Lady Elmwood, Sir, while you were abroad.'—As soon as these words were delivered, I saw my doom in his looks, and he commanded me to quit his house and service that instant."
"I am afraid," said Sandford, shaking his head, "I can do nothing for you."
"Yes, Sir, you know you have more power over my Lord than any body—and perhaps you may be able to save me and all mine from misery."
"I would, if I could," replied Sandford quickly.
"You can but try, Sir."
Matilda was all this while bathed in tears; nor was Miss Woodley much less affected—Lady Elmwood was before their eyes—Matilda beheld her in her dying moments; Miss Woodley saw her as the gay ward of Dorriforth.
"Ask Mr. Rushbrook," said Sandford, "prevail on him to speak for you; he has more power than I have."
"He has not enough, then," replied Edwards, "for he was in the room with my Lord when what I have told you happened."
"And did he say nothing?" asked Sandford.
"Yes, Sir; he offered to speak in my behalf, but my Lord interrupted him, and ordered him out of the room—he instantly went."
Sandford, now observing the effect which this narration had on the two ladies, led the man to his own apartments, and there assured him he dared not undertake his cause; but that if time or chance should happily make an alteration in his Lord's disposition, he would be the first who would endeavour to replace him.—Edwards was obliged to submit; and before the next day at noon, his pleasant house by the side of the park, his garden, and his orchard, which he had occupied above twenty years, were cleared of their old inhabitant, and all his wretched family.
This melancholy incident, perhaps affected Matilda and all the friends of the deceased Lady Elmwood, beyond any other that had occurred since her death. A few days after this circumstance, Miss Woodley, in order to divert the disconsolate mind of Lady Matilda, (and in the hope of bringing her some little anecdotes, to console her for that which had given her so much pain) waited upon Lord Elmwood in his library, and borrowed some books out of it. He was now perfectly well from his fall, and received her with his usual politeness, but, of course, not with that peculiar warmth which he had discovered when he received her just after his illness. Rushbrook was in the library at the same time; he shewed her several beautiful prints which Lord Elmwood had just received from London, and appeared anxious to entertain and give tokens of his esteem and respect for her. But what gave her pleasure beyond any other attention, was, that after she had taken (by the aid of Rushbrook) about a dozen volumes from different shelves, and had laid them together, saying she would send her servant to fetch them; Lord Elmwood went eagerly to the place where they were, and taking up each book, examined minutely what it was. One author he complained was too light, another too depressing, and put them on the shelves again: another was erroneous, and he changed it for a better: thus, he warned her against some, and selected other authors, as the most cautious preceptor culls for his pupil, or a fond father for his darling Child. She thanked him for his attention to her, but her heart thanked him for his attention to his daughter. For as she had herself never received such a proof of his care since all their long acquaintance, she reasonably supposed, Matilda's reading, and not hers, was the object of his solicitude.
Having in these books store of comfort for poor Matilda, she eagerly returned with them; and in reciting every particular circumstance, made her consider the volumes, almost like presents from her father.
The month of September was now arrived; and Lord Elmwood, accompanied by Rushbrook, went to a small shooting seat, near twenty miles distant from Elmwood Castle, for a week's particular sport. Matilda was once more at large; and one beautiful morning, about eleven o'clock, seeing Miss Woodley walking on the lawn before the house, she hastily took her hat to join her; and not waiting to put it on, went nimbly down the great staircase, with it hanging on her arm. When she had descended a few stairs, she heard a footstep walking slowly up; and, (from what emotion she could not tell,) she stopped short, half resolved to turn back. She hesitated a single instant whether she should or not—then went a few steps further till she came to the second landing place; when, by the sudden winding of the staircase,—Lord Elmwood was immediately before her!
She had felt something like affright before she saw him; but her reason told her she had nothing to fear, as he was away. But now, the appearance of a stranger whom she had never before seen; the authority in his looks, as well as in the sound of his steps; a resemblance to the portrait she had been shown of him; a start of astonishment which he gave on beholding her; but above all—her fears confirmed her that it was him. She gave a scream of terror—put out her trembling hands to catch the balustrades for support—missed them—and fell motionless into her father's arms.
He caught her, as by the same impulse, he would have caught any other person falling for want of aid. Yet when he found her in his arms, he still held her there—gazed on her attentively—and once pressed her to his bosom.
At length trying to escape the snare into which he had been led, he was going to leave her on the spot where she fell, when her eyes opened and she uttered, "Save me." Her voice unmanned him. His long-restrained tears now burst forth—and seeing her relapsing into the swoon, he cried out eagerly to recall her. Her name did not, however, come to his recollection—nor any name but this—"Miss Milner—Dear Miss Milner."
That sound did not awaken her; and now again he wished to leave her in this senseless state, that not remembering what had passed, she might escape the punishment.
But at this instant, Giffard, with another servant, passed by the foot of the stairs: on which, Lord Elmwood called to them—and into Giffard's hands delivered his apparently dead child; without one command respecting her, or one word of any kind; while his face was agitated with shame, with pity, with anger, with paternal tenderness.
As Giffard stood trembling, while he relieved his Lord from this hapless burthen, her father had to unloose her hand from the side of his coat, which she had caught fast hold of as she fell, and grasped so closely, it was with difficulty released.—On attempting to take the hand away he trembled—faltered—then bade Giffard do it.
"Who, I, my Lord! I separate you!" cried he. But recollecting himself, "My Lord, I will obey your commands whatever they are." And seizing her hand, pulled it with violence—it fell—and her father went away.
Matilda was carried to her own apartments, laid upon the bed, and Miss Woodley hasted to attend her, after listening to the recital of what had passed.
When Lady Elmwood's old and affectionate friend entered the room, and saw her youthful charge lying pale and speechless, yet no father by to comfort or sooth her, she lifted up her hands to Heaven exclaiming, with a burst of tears, "And is this the end of thee, my poor child? Is this the end of all our hopes?—of thy own fearful hopes—and of thy mother's supplications! Oh! Lord Elmwood! Lord Elmwood!"
At that name Matilda started, and cried, "Where is he? Is it a dream, or have I seen him?"
"It is all a dream, my dear," said Miss Woodley.
"And yet I thought he held me in his arms," she replied—"I thought I felt his hands press mine.—Let me sleep and dream again."
Now thinking it best to undeceive her, "It is no dream, my dear," returned Miss Woodley.
"Is it not?" cried she, starting up and leaning on her elbow—"Then I suppose I must go away—go for ever away."
Sandford now entered. Having been told the news, he came to condole—but at the sight of him Matilda was terrified, and cried, "Do not reproach me, do not upbraid me—I know I have done wrong—I know I had but one command from my father, and that I have disobeyed."
Sandford could not reproach her, for he could not speak; he therefore only walked to the window and concealed his tears.
That whole day and night was passed in sympathetic grief, in alarm at every sound, lest it should be a messenger to pronounce Matilda's destiny.
Lord Elmwood did not stay upon this visit above three hours at Elmwood House; he then set off again for the seat he had left; where Rushbrook still remained, and from whence his Lordship had merely come by accident, to look over some writings which he wanted dispatched to town.
During his short continuance here, Sandford cautiously avoided his presence; for he thought, in a case like this, what nature would not of herself effect, no art, no arguments of his, could accomplish: to Nature and Providence he left the whole. What these two powerful principles brought about, the reader will judge, when he peruses the following letter, received early the next morning by Miss Woodley.
IN FOUR VOLUMES,
THE FOURTH EDITION.
Printed for G. G. and J. ROBINSON,
A SIMPLE STORY.
A letter from Giffard, Lord Elmwood's House Steward, to Miss Woodley.
"My Lord, above a twelvemonth ago, acquainted me he had permitted his daughter to reside in his house; but at the same time he informed me, the grant was under a certain restriction, which, if ever broken, I was to see his then determination (of which he also acquainted me) put in execution. In consequence of Lady Matilda's indisposition, Madam, I have ventured to delay this notice till morning.—I need not say with what concern I now give it, or mention to you, I believe, what is forfeited. My Lord staid but a few hours yesterday, after the unhappy circumstance on which I write, took place; nor did I see him after, till he was in his carriage; he then sent for me to the carriage door, and told me he should be back in two days time, and added, 'Remember your duty.' That duty, I hope, Madam, you will not require me to explain in more direct terms.—As soon as my Lord returns, I have no doubt but he will ask me if it is fulfilled, and I shall be under the greatest apprehension, should his commands not be obeyed.
"If there is any thing wanting for the convenience of your and Lady Matilda's departure, you have but to order it, and it is at your service—I mean likewise any cash you may have occasion for. I should presume to add my opinion where you might best take up your abode; but with such advice as you will have from Mr. Sandford, mine would be but assuming.
"I would also have waited upon you, Madam, and have delivered myself the substance of this letter; but I am an old man, and the changes I have been witness to in my Lord's house since I first lived in it, has encreased my age many years; and I have not the strength to see you upon this occasion. I loved my deceased Lady—I love my Lord—and I love their child—nay, so I am sure does my Lord himself; but there is no accounting for his resolutions, or for the alteration his disposition has lately undergone.
"I beg pardon, Madam, for this long intrusion, and am, and ever will be, (while you and my Lord's daughter are so) your afflicted humble servant,
When this letter was brought to Miss Woodley, she knew what it contained before she opened it, and therefore took it with an air of resignation—yet though she guessed the momentous part of its contents, she dreaded in what words it might be related; and having now no essential good to expect, hope, that will never totally expire, clung at this crisis to little circumstances, and she hoped most fervently, the terms of the letter might not be harsh, but that Lord Elmwood had delivered his commands in gentle language. The event proved he had; and lost to every important comfort, she felt grateful to him for this small one.
Matilda, too, was cheered by this letter, for she expected something worse; and the last line, in which Giffard said he knew "His Lordship loved her," she thought repaid her for the purport of the other part.
Sandford was not so easily resigned or comforted—he walked about the room when the letter was shewn to him—called it cruel—stifled his tears, and wished to show his resentment only—but the former burst through all his endeavours, and he sunk into grief.
Nor was the fortitude of Matilda, which came to her assistance on the first onset of this trial, sufficient to arm her, when the moment came she was to quit the house—her father's house—never to see that, or him again.
When word was brought that the carriage was at the door, which was to convey her from all she held so dear, and she saw before her the prospect of a long youthful and healthful life, in which misery and despair were all she could discern; that despair seized her at once, and gaining courage from it, she cried,
"What have I to fear if I disobey my father's commands once more?—he cannot use me worse. I'll stay here till he returns—again throw myself in his way, and then I will not faint, but plead for mercy. Perhaps were I to kneel to him—kneel, like other children to their parents, and beg his blessing, he would not refuse it me."
"You must not try:" said Sandford, mildly.
"Who," cried she, "shall prevent me flying to my father? Have I another friend on earth? Have I one relation in the world but him? This is the second time I have been turned out of his house. In my infant state my cruel father turned me out; but then, he sent me to a mother—now I have none; and I will stay with him."
Again the steward sent to let them know the coach was waiting.
Sandford, now, with a determined countenance, went coolly up to Lady Matilda, and taking her hand, seemed resolved to lead her to the carriage.
Accustomed to be awed by every serious look of his, she yet resisted this; and cried, "Would you be the minister of my father's cruelty?"
"Then," said Sandford solemnly to her, "farewell—from this moment you and I part. I will take my leave, and do you remain where you are—at least till you are forced away. But I'll not stay to be driven hence—for it is impossible your father will suffer any friend of yours to continue here, after this disobedience. Adieu."
"I'll go this moment," said she, and rose hastily.
Miss Woodley took her at her word, and hurried her immediately out of the room.
Sandford followed slow behind, as if he had followed at her funeral.
When she came to that spot on the stairs where she had met her father, she started back, and scarce knew how to pass it. When she had—"There he held me in his arms," said she, "and I thought I felt him press me to his heart, but I now find I was mistaken."
As Sandford came forward, to hand her into the coach, "Now you behave well;" said he, "by this behaviour, you do not entirely close all prospect of reconciliation with your father."
"Do you think it is not yet impossible?" cried she, clasping his hand. "Giffard says he loves me," continued she, "and do you think he might yet be brought to forgive me?"
"Forgive you!" cried Sandford.
"Suppose I was to write to him, and entreat his forgiveness?"
"Do not write yet," said Sandford, with no cheering accent.
The carriage drove off—and as it went, Matilda leaned her head from the window, to survey Elmwood House from the roof to the bottom. She cast her eyes upon the gardens too—upon the fish ponds—even the coach houses, and all the offices adjoining—which, as objects that she should never see again—she contemplated, as objects of importance.
Rushbrook, who, at twenty miles distance, could have no conjecture what had passed at Elmwood House, during the short visit Lord Elmwood made there, went that way with his dogs and gun in order to meet him on his return, and accompany him in the chaise back—he did so—and getting into the carriage, told him eagerly the sport he had had during the day; laughed at an accident that had befallen one of his dogs; and for some time did not perceive but that his uncle was perfectly attentive. At length, observing he answered more negligently than usual to what he said, Rushbrook turned his eyes quickly upon him, and cried,
"My Lord, are you not well?"
"Yes; perfectly well, I thank you, Rushbrook," and he leaned back against the carriage.
"I thought, Sir," returned Rushbrook, "you spoke languidly—I beg your pardon."
"I have the head-ache a little," answered he:—then taking off his hat, brushed the powder from it, and as he put it on again, fetched a most heavy sigh; which no sooner had escaped him, than, to drown its sound, he said briskly,
"And so you tell me you have had good sport to-day?"
"No, my Lord, I said but indifferent."
"True, so you did. Bid the man drive faster—it will be dark before we get home."
"You will shoot to-morrow, my Lord?"
"How does Mr. Sandford do, Sir?"
"I did not see him."
"Not see Mr. Sandford, My Lord? but he was out I suppose—for they did not expect you at Elmwood House."
"No, they did not."
In such conversation Rushbrook and his uncle continued to the end of their journey. Dinner was then immediately served, and Lord Elmwood appeared much in his usual spirits; at least, not suspecting any cause for their abatement, Rushbrook did not observe any alteration.
Lord Elmwood went, however, earlier to bed than ordinary, or rather to his bed-chamber; for though he retired some time before his nephew, when Rushbrook passed his chamber door it was open, and he not in bed, but sitting in a musing posture, as if he had forgot to shut it.
When Rushbrook's valet came to attend his master, he said to him,
"I suppose, Sir, you do not know what has happened at the Castle?"
"For heaven's sake what?" cried Rushbrook.
"My Lord has met Lady Matilda:" replied the man.
"How? Where? What's the consequence?"
"We don't know yet, Sir; but all the servants suppose her Ladyship will not be suffered to remain there any longer."
"They all suppose wrong," returned Rushbrook hastily—"My Lord loves her I am certain, and this event may be the happy means of his treating her as his child from this day."
The servant smiled and shook his head.
"Why, what more do you know?"
"Nothing more than I have told you, Sir; except that his Lordship took no kind of notice of her Ladyship that appeared like love."
Rushbrook was all uneasiness and anxiety to know the particulars of what had passed; and now Lord Elmwood's inquietude, which he had but slightly noticed before, came full to his observation. He was going to ask more questions; but he recollected Lady Matilda's misfortunes were too sacred, to be talked of thus familiarly by the servants of the family;—besides, it was evident this man thought, and but naturally, it might not be for his master's interest the father and the daughter should be united; and therefore would certainly give to all he said the opposite colouring.
In spite of his prudence, however, and his delicacy towards Matilda, Rushbrook could not let his valet leave him till he had inquired, and learned all the circumstantial account of what had happened; except, indeed, the order received by Giffard, which being given after Lord Elmwood was in his carriage and in concise terms, the domestics who attended him (and from whom this man had gained his intelligence) were unacquainted with it.
When the servant had left Rushbrook alone, the perturbation of his mind was so great, that he was, at length, undetermined whether to go to bed, or to rush into his uncle's apartment, and at his feet beg for that compassion upon his daughter, which he feared he had denied her. But then, to what peril would he not expose himself by such a step? Nay, he might perhaps even injure her whom he wished to serve; for if his uncle was at present unresolved, whether to forgive or to resent this disobedience to his commands, another's interference might enrage, and precipitate him on the latter.
This consideration was so weighty, it resigned Rushbrook to the suspense he was compelled to endure till the morning; when he flattered himself, that by watching every look and motion of Lord Elmwood, his penetration would be able to discover the state of his heart, and how he meant to act.
But the morning came, and he found all his prying curiosity was of no avail; Lord Elmwood did not drop one word, give one look, or use one action that was not customary.
On first seeing him, Rushbrook blushed at the secret with which he was entrusted; then, as he gazed on the Earl, contemplated the joy he ought to have known in clasping in his arms a child like Matilda, whose tenderness, reverence, and duty, had deprived her of all sensation at his sight; which was in Rushbrook's mind an honour, that rendered him superior to what he was before.
They were in the fields all the day as usual; Lord Elmwood now cheerful, and complaining no more of the head-ache. Yet once being separated from his nephew, Rushbrook crossed over a stile into another field, and found him sitting by the side of a bank, his gun lying by him, and himself lost in thought. He rose on seeing him, and proceeded to the sport as before.
At dinner, he said he should not go to Elmwood House the next day, as he had appointed, but stay where he was, three or four days longer. From these two small occurrences, Rushbrook would fain have extracted something by which to judge the state of his mind; but upon the test, that was impossible—he had caught him so musing many a time before; and as to his prolonging his stay, that might arise from the sport—or, indeed, had any thing more material swayed him, who could penetrate whether it was the effect of the lenity, or the severity, he had dealt towards his child? whether his continuance there was to shun her, or to shun the house from whence he had banished her?
The three or four days for their temporary abode being passed, they both returned together to Elmwood House. Rushbrook thought he saw his uncle's countenance change as they entered the avenue, yet he did not appear less in spirits; and when Sandford joined them at dinner, the Earl went with his usual alacrity to him, and (as was his custom after any separation) put out his hand cheerfully to take his. Sandford said, "How do you do, my Lord?" cheerfully in return; but put both his hands into his bosom, and walked to the other side of the room. Lord Elmwood did not seem to observe this affront—nor was it done as an affront—it was merely what poor Sandford felt; and he felt he could not shake hands with him.
Rushbrook soon learned the news that Matilda was gone, and Elmwood House was to him a desert—he saw there no real friend of her's, except poor Sandford, and to him, Rushbrook knew himself now, more displeasing than ever; and all his overtures of atonement, he, at this time, found more and more ineffectual. Matilda was exiled; and her supposed triumphant rival was, to Sandford, more odious than he had ever been.
In alleviation of their banishment, Miss Woodley, with her charge, had not returned to their old retreat; but were gone to a farm house, not farther than thirty miles from Lord Elmwood's: here Sandford, with little inconvenience, visited them; nor did his patron ever take notice of his occasional absence; for as he had before given his daughter, in some measure, to his charge; so honour, delicacy, and the common ties of duty, made him approve, rather than condemn his attention to her.
Though Sandford's frequent visits soothed Matilda, they could not comfort her; for he had no consolation to bestow that was suited to her mind—her father had given no one token of regret for what he had done. He had even inquired sternly of Giffard on his returning home,
"If Miss Woodley had left the house?"
The steward guessing the whole of his meaning, answered, "Yes, my Lord; and all your commands in that respect have been obeyed."
He replied, "I am satisfied." And, to the grief of the old man, appeared really so.
To the farm-house, the place of Matilda's residence, there came, besides Sandford, another visitor far less welcome—Viscount Margrave. He had heard with surprise, and still greater joy, that Lord Elmwood had once more shut his doors against his daughter. In this her discarded state, he no longer burthened his lively imagination with the dull thoughts of marriage, but once more formed the idea of making her his mistress.
Ignorant of a certain decorum which attended all Lord Elmwood's actions, he suspected that his child might be in want; and an acquaintance with the worst part of her sex informed him, that relief from poverty was the sure bargain for his success. With these hopes, he again paid Miss Woodley and her a visit; but the coldness of the former, and the haughtiness of the latter, still kept him at a distance, and again made him fear to give one allusion to his purpose: but he returned home resolved to write what he durst not speak—he did so—he offered his services, his purse, his house—they were rejected with contempt, and a stronger prohibition than ever given to his visits.
Lord Elmwood had now allowed Rushbrook a long vacation, in respect to his answer upon the subject of marriage; and the young man vainly imagined, his intentions upon that subject were entirely given up. One morning, however, as he was attending him in the library,
"Henry,"——said his uncle, with a pause at the beginning of his speech, which indicated that he was going to say something of importance, "Henry——you have not forgot the discourse I had with you a little time previous to your illness?"
Henry hesitated—for he wished to have forgotten it—but it was too strongly impressed upon his memory. Lord Elmwood resumed,
"What! equivocating again, Sir? Do you remember it, or do you not?"
"Yes, my Lord, I do."
"And are you prepared to give me an answer?"
Rushbrook paused again.
"In our former conversation," continued the Earl, "I gave you but a week to determine—there has, I think, elapsed since that time, half a year."
"About as much, Sir."
"Then surely you have now made up your mind?"
"I had done that at first, my Lord—if it had met with your concurrence."
"You wished to lead a bachelor's life, I think you said?"
"Contrary to my will?"
"No, my Lord, I wished to have your approbation."
"And you wished for my approbation of the very opposite thing to that I proposed? But I am not surprised—such is the gratitude of the world—and such is yours."
"My Lord, if you doubt my gratitude——"
"Give me a proof of it, Harry, and I will doubt no longer."
"Upon every other subject but this, my Lord, Heaven is my witness your happiness——"
Lord Elmwood interrupted him. "I understand you—upon every other subject, but the only one, my content requires, you are ready to obey me. I thank you."
"My Lord, do not torture me with this suspicion; it is so contrary to my deserts, that I cannot bear it."
"Suspicion of your ingratitude!—you judge too favourably of my opinion—it amounts to certainty."
"Then to convince you, Sir, I am not ungrateful, tell me who the Lady is you have chosen for me, and here I give you my word, I will sacrifice all my future prospects of happiness—all, for which I would wish to live—and become her husband as soon as you shall appoint."
This was spoken with a tone so expressive of despair, that Lord Elmwood replied,
"And while you obey me, you take care to let me know, it will cost you your future peace. This is, I suppose, to enhance the merit of the obligation—but I shall not accept your acquiescence on these terms."
"Then in dispensing with it, I hope for your pardon."
"Do you suppose, Rushbrook, I can pardon an offence, the sole foundation of which, arises from a spirit of disobedience?—for you have declared to me your affections are disengaged. In our last conversation did you not say so?"
"At first I did, my Lord—but you permitted me to consult my heart more closely; and I have since found that I was mistaken."
"You then own you at first told me a falsehood, and yet have all this time, kept me in suspense without confessing it."
"I waited, my Lord, till you should enquire——"
"You have then, Sir, waited too long;" and the fire flashed from his eyes.
Rushbrook now found himself in that perilous state, that admitted of no medium of resentment, but by such dastardly conduct on his part, as would wound both his truth and courage; and thus, animated by his danger, he was resolved to plunge boldly at once into the depth of his patron's anger.
"My Lord," said he, (but he did not undertake this task without sustaining the trembling and convulsion of his whole frame) "My Lord—waving for a moment the subject of my marriage—permit me to remind you, that when I was upon my sick bed, you promised, that on my recovery, you would listen to a petition I should offer to you."
"Let me recollect," replied he. "Yes—I do remember something of it. But I said nothing to warrant any improper petition."
"Its impropriety was not named, my Lord."
"No matter—that, you must judge of, and answer for the consequences."
"I would answer with my life, willingly—but I own that I shrink from your anger."
"Then do not provoke it."
"I have already gone too far to recede—and you would of course demand an explanation, if I attempted to stop here."
"Then, my Lord, I am bound to speak—but do not interrupt me—hear me out, before you banish me from your presence for ever."
"I will, Sir," replied he, prepared to hear something that would displease him, and yet determined to hear with patience to the conclusion.
"Then, my Lord,"—(cried Rushbrook, in the greatest agitation of mind and body) "Your daughter"——
The resolution Lord Elmwood had taken (and on which he had given his word to his nephew not to interrupt him) immediately gave way. The colour rose in his face—his eye darted lightning—and his hand was lifted up with the emotion, that word had created.
"You promised to hear me, my Lord!" cried Rushbrook, "and I claim your promise."
He now suddenly overcame his violence of passion, and stood silent and resigned to hear him; but with a determined look, expressive of the vengeance that should ensue.
"Lady Matilda," resumed Rushbrook, "is an object that wrests from me the enjoyment of every blessing your kindness bestows. I cannot but feel myself as her adversary—as one, who has supplanted her in your affections—who supplies her place, while she is exiled, a wanderer, and an orphan."
The Earl took his eyes from Rushbrook, during this last sentence, and cast them on the floor.
"If I feel gratitude towards you, my Lord," continued he, "gratitude is innate in my heart, and I must also feel it towards her, who first introduced me to your protection."
Again the colour flew to Lord Elmwood's face; and again he could hardly restrain himself from uttering his indignation.
"It was the mother of Lady Matilda," continued Rushbrook, "who was this friend to me; nor will I ever think of marriage, or any other joyful prospect, while you abandon the only child of my beloved patroness, and load me with rights, which belong to her."
Here Rushbrook stopped—Lord Elmwood was silent too, for near half a minute; but still his countenance continued fixed, with his unvaried resolves.
After this long pause, the Earl said with composure, but with firmness, "Have you finished, Mr. Rushbrook?"
"All that I dare to utter, my Lord; and I fear, I have already said too much."
Rushbrook now trembled more than ever, and looked pale as death; for the ardour of speaking being over, he waited his sentence, with less constancy of mind than he expected he should.
"You disapprove my conduct, it seems;" said Lord Elmwood, "and in that, you are but like the rest of the world—and yet, among all my acquaintance, you are the only one who has dared to insult me with your opinion. And this you have not done inadvertently; but willingly, and deliberately. But as it has been my fate to be used ill, and severed from all those persons to whom my soul has been most attached; with less regret I can part from you, than if this were my first trial."
There was a truth and a pathetic sound in the utterance of these words, that struck Rushbrook to the heart—and he beheld himself as a barbarian, who had treated his benevolent and only friend, with insufferable liberty; void of respect for those corroding sorrows which had imbittered so many years of his life, and in open violation of his most peremptory commands. He felt that he deserved all he was going to suffer, and he fell upon his knees; not so much to deprecate the doom he saw impending, as thus humbly to acknowledge, it was his due.
Lord Elmwood, irritated by this posture, as a sign of the presumptuous hope that he might be forgiven, suffered now his anger to burst all bounds; and raising his voice, he exclaimed in a rage,
"Leave my house, Sir. Leave my house instantly, and seek some other home."
Just as these words were begun, Sandford opened the library door, was witness to them, and to the imploring situation of Rushbrook. He stood silent with amazement!
Rushbrook arose, and feeling in his mind a presage, that he might never from that hour, behold his benefactor more; as he bowed in token of obedience to his commands, a shower of tears covered his face; but Lord Elmwood, unmoved, fixed his eyes upon him, which pursued him with enraged looks to the end of the room. Here he had to pass Sandford; who, for the first time in his life, took hold of him by the hand, and said to Lord Elmwood, "My Lord, what's the matter?"
"That ungrateful villain," cried he, "has dared to insult me.—Leave my house this moment, Sir."
Rushbrook made an effort to go, but Sandford still held his hand; and meekly said to Lord Elmwood,
"He is but a boy, my Lord, and do not give him the punishment of a man."
Rushbrook now snatched his hand from Sandford's, and threw it with himself upon his neck; where he indeed sobbed like a boy.
"You are both in league," exclaimed Lord Elmwood.
"Do you suspect me of partiality to Mr. Rushbrook?" said Sandford, advancing nearer to the Earl.
Rushbrook had now gained the point of remaining in the room; but the hope that privilege inspired (while he still harboured all the just apprehensions for his fate) gave birth, perhaps, to a more exquisite sensation of pain, than despair would have done. He stood silent—confounded—hoping that he was forgiven—fearing that he was not.
As Sandford approached still nearer to Lord Elmwood, he continued, "No, my Lord, I know you do not suspect me, of partiality to Mr. Rushbrook—has any part of my behaviour ever discovered it?"
"You now then only interfere to provoke me."
"If that were the case," returned Sandford, "there have been occasions, when I might have done it more effectually—when my own heart-strings were breaking, because I would not provoke, or add to what you suffered."
"I am obliged to you, Mr. Sandford:" he returned, mildly.
"And if, my Lord, I have proved any merit in a late forbearance, reward me for it now; and take this young man from the depth of despair in which I see he is sunk, and say you pardon him."
Lord Elmwood made no answer—and Rushbrook, drawing strong inferences of hope from his silence, lifted up his eyes from the ground, and ventured to look in his face: he found it composed to what it had been, but still strongly marked with agitation. He cast his eyes away again, in confusion.
On which his uncle said to him—"I shall postpone executing your obedience to my late orders, till you think fit once more to provoke them—and then, not even Sandford, shall dare to plead your excuse."
"Go, leave the room, Sir."
He instantly obeyed.
Then Sandford, turning to Lord Elmwood, shook him by the hand, and cried, "My Lord, I thank you—I thank you very kindly, my Lord—I shall now begin to think I have some weight with you."
"You might indeed think so, did you know how much I have pardoned."
"What was his offence, my Lord?"
"Such as I would not have forgiven you, or any earthly being besides himself—but while you were speaking in his behalf, I recollected there was a gratitude so extraordinary in the hazards he ran, that almost made him pardonable."
"I guess the subject then," cried Sandford; and yet I could not have supposed"——
"It is a subject we cannot speak on, Sandford, therefore let us drop it."
At these words the discourse concluded.
To the relief of Rushbrook, Lord Elmwood that day dined from home, and he had not the confusion to see him again till the evening. Previous to this, Sandford and he met at dinner; but as the attendants were present, nothing passed on either side respecting the incident in the morning. Rushbrook, from the peril which had so lately threatened him, was now in his perfectly cool, and dispassionate senses; and notwithstanding the real tenderness which he bore to the daughter of his benefactor, he was not insensible to the comfort of finding himself, once more in the possession of all those enjoyments he had forfeited, and for a moment lost.
As he reflected on this, to Sandford he felt the first tie of acknowledgement—but for his compassion, he knew he should have been at that very time of their meeting at dinner, away from Elmwood House for ever; and bearing on his mind a still more painful recollection, the burthen of his kind patron's continual displeasure. Filled with these thoughts, all the time of dinner, he could scarce look at his companion, without tears of gratitude; and whenever he attempted to speak to him, gratitude choaked his utterance.
Sandford, on his part, behaved just the same as ever; and to show he did not wish to remind Rushbrook of what he had done, he was just as uncivil as ever.
Among other things, he said, "He did not know Lord Elmwood dined from home, for if he had, he should have dined in his own apartment."
Rushbrook was still more obliged to him for all this; and the weight of obligations with which he was oppressed, made him long for an opportunity to relieve himself by expressions. As soon, therefore, as the servants were all withdrawn, he began:
"Mr. Sandford, whatever has been your opinion of me, I take pride to myself, that in my sentiments towards you, I have always distinguished you for that humane, disinterested character, you have this day proved."
"Humane, and disinterested," replied Sandford, "are flattering epithets indeed, for an old man going out of the world, and who can have no temptation to be otherwise."
"Then suffer me to call your actions generous and compassionate, for they have saved me——"
"I know, young man," cried Sandford, interrupting him, "you are glad at what I have done, and that you find a gratification in telling me you are; but it is a gratification I will not indulge you with—therefore, say another sentence on the subject, and" (rising from his seat) "I'll leave the room, and never come into your company again, whatever your uncle may say to it."
Rushbrook saw by the solemnity of his countenance, he was serious, and positively assured him he would never thank him more: on which Sandford took his seat again, but he still frowned, and it was many minutes before he conquered his ill humour. As his countenance became less sour, Rushbrook fell from some general topics he had eagerly started in order to appease him, and said,
"How hard is it to restrain conversation from the subject of our thoughts; and yet amidst our dearest friends, and among persons who have the same dispositions and sentiments as our own, their minds, too, fixed upon the self-same objects, is this constraint practised—and thus, society, which was meant for one of our greatest blessings, becomes insipid, nay, often more wearisome than solitude."
"I think, young man," replied Sandford, "you have made pretty free with your speech to-day, and ought not to complain of the want of toleration on that score."
"I do complain;" replied Rushbrook, "for if toleration was more frequent, the favour of obtaining it would be less."
"And your pride, I suppose, is above receiving a favour."
"Never from those I esteem; and to convince you of it, I wish this moment to request a favour of you."
"I dare say I shall refuse it. However what is it?"
"Permit me to speak to you upon the subject of Lady Matilda?"
Sandford made no answer, consequently did not forbid him—and he proceeded.
"For her sake—as I suppose Lord Elmwood may have told you—I this morning rashly threw myself into the predicament from whence you released me—for her sake, I have suffered much—for her sake I have hazarded a great deal, and am still ready to hazard more."
"But for your own sake, do not," returned Sandford, drily.
"You may laugh at these sentiments as romantic, Mr. Sandford, but if they are, to me they are nevertheless natural."
"But of what service are they to be either to her, or to yourself?"
"To me they are painful, and to her would be but impertinent, were she to know them."
"I shan't inform her of them, so do not trouble yourself to caution me against it."
"I was not going—you know I was not—but I was going to say, that from no one so well as from you, could she be told my sentiments, without the danger of receiving offence."
"And what impression do you wish to give her, from her becoming acquainted with them?"
"The impression, that she has one sincere friend: that upon every occurrence in life, there is a heart so devoted to all she feels, that she never can suffer without the sympathy of another: or can ever command him, and all his fortunes to unite for her welfare, without his ready, his immediate compliance."
"And do you imagine, that any of your professions, or any of her necessities, would ever prevail upon her to put you to the trial?"
"What, then, are the motives which induce you to wish her to be told of this?"
"Do you think," continued Sandford, "the intelligence will give her any satisfaction?"
"Will it be of any to yourself?"
"The highest in the world."
"And so all you have been urging upon this occasion, is, at last, only to please yourself."
"You wrong my meaning—it is her merit which inspires me with the desire of being known to her—it is her sufferings, her innocence, her beauty——"
Sandford stared—Rushbrook proceeded: "It is her——"
"Nay, stop where you are," cried Sandford; "you are arrived at the zenith of perfection in a woman, and to add one qualification more, would be an anti-climax."
"Oh!" cried Rushbrook with warmth, "I loved her, before I ever beheld her."
"Loved her!" cried Sandford, with astonishment, "You are talking of what you did not intend."
"I am, indeed:" returned he in confusion, "I fell by accident on the word love."
"And by the same accident stumbled on the word beauty; and thus by accident, am I come to the truth of all your professions."
Rushbrook knew that he loved; and though his affection had sprung from the most laudable motives, yet was he ashamed of it, as of a vice—he rose, he walked about the room, and he did not look Sandford in the face for a quarter of an hour: Sandford, satisfied that he had judged rightly, and yet unwilling to be too hard upon a passion, which he readily believed must have had many noble virtues for its foundation, now got up and went away, without saying a word in censure, though not a word in approbation.
It was in the month of October, and just dark, at the time Rushbrook was left alone, yet in the agitation of his mind, arising from the subject on which he had been talking, he found it impossible to remain in the house, and therefore walked into the fields; but there was another instigation, more powerful than the necessity of walking—it was the allurement of passing along that path where he had last seen Lady Matilda, and where, for the only time, she had condescended to speak to him divested of haughtiness; and with a gentleness that dwelt upon his memory beyond all her other endowments.
Here, he retraced his own steps repeatedly, his whole imagination engrossed with her idea, till the sound of her father's carriage returning from his visit, roused him from the delusion of his trance, to the dread of the confusion and embarrassment he should endure, on next meeting him. He hoped Sandford might be present, and yet he was now, almost as much ashamed of seeing him, as his uncle, whom he had so lately offended.
Loath to leave the spot where he was, as to enter the house, he remained there, till he considered it would be ill manners, in his present humiliated situation, not to show himself at the usual supper hour, which was immediately.
As he laid his hand upon the door of the apartment to open it, he was sorry to hear by Lord Elmwood's voice, he was in the room before him; for there was something much more conspicuously distressing, in entering where he already was, than had his uncle come in after him. He found himself, however, re-assured, by overhearing the Earl laugh and speak in a tone expressive of the utmost good humour to Sandford, who was with him.
Yet again, he felt all the awkwardness of his own situation; but making one courageous effort, opened the door and entered. Lord Elmwood had been away half the day, had dined abroad, and it was necessary to take some notice of his return; Rushbrook, therefore, bowed humbly, and what was more to his advantage, he looked humbly. His uncle made a slight return to the salutation, but continued the recital he had begun to Sandford; then sat down to the supper table—supped—and passed the whole evening without saying a syllable, or even casting a look, in remembrance of what had passed in the morning. Or if there was any token, that shewed he remembered the circumstance at all, it was the putting his glass to his nephew's, when Rushbrook called for wine, and drinking at the time he did.
The repulse Lord Margrave received, did not diminish the ardour of his pursuit; for as he was no longer afraid of resentment from the Earl, whatever treatment his daughter might receive, he was determined the anger of Lady Matilda, or of her female friend, should not impede his pretensions.
Having taken this resolution, he laid the plan of an open violation of all right; and determined to bear away that prize by force, which no art was likely to procure. He concerted with two of his favourite companions, but their advice was, "One struggle more of fair means." This was totally against his inclination; for, he had much rather have encountered the piercing cries of a female in the last agonies of distress, than the fatigue of her sentimental harangues, or elegant reproofs, such as he had the sense to understand, but not the capacity to answer.
Stimulated, however, by his friends to one more trial, in spite of the formal dismission he had twice received, he intruded another visit on Lady Matilda at the Farm. Provoked beyond bearing at such unfeeling assurance, Matilda refused to come into the room where he was, and Miss Woodley alone received him, and expressed her surprise at the little attention he had paid to her explicit desire.
"Madam," replied the nobleman, "to be plain with you, I am in love."
"I do not the least doubt it, my Lord," replied Miss Woodley: "nor ought you to doubt the truth of what I advance, when I assure you, that you have not the smallest reason to hope your love will be returned; for Lady Matilda is resolved never to listen to your passion."
"That man," he replied, "is to blame, who can relinquish his hopes, upon the mere resolution of a lady."
"And that lady would be wrong," replied Miss Woodley, "who should entrust her happiness in the care of a man, who can think thus meanly of her and of her sex."
"I think highly of them all," he replied; "and to convince you in how high an estimation I hold her in particular, my whole fortune is at her command."
"Your entire absence from this house, my Lord, she would consider as a much greater mark of your respect."
A long conversation, as uninteresting as this, ensued: the unexpected arrival of Mr. Sandford, put an end to it. He started at the sight of Lord Margrave; but the Viscount was much more affected at the sight of him.
"My Lord," said Sandford boldly to him, "have you received any encouragement from Lady Matilda to authorize this visit?"
"None, upon my honour, Mr. Sandford; but I hope you know how to pardon a lover!"
"A rational one I do—but you, my Lord, are not of that class while you persecute the pretended object of your affection."
"Do you call it persecution that I once offered her a share of my title and fortune—and even now, declare my fortune is at her disposal?"
Sandford was uncertain whether he understood his meaning—but Lord Margrave, provoked at his ill reception, felt a triumph in removing his doubts, and proceeded thus:
"For the discarded daughter of Lord Elmwood, cannot expect the same proposals, which I made, while she was acknowledged, and under the protection of her father."
"What proposals then, my Lord?" asked Sandford hastily.
"Such," replied he, "as the Duke of Avon made to her mother."
Miss Woodley quitted the room that instant. But Sandford, who never felt resentment but against those in whom he saw some virtue, calmly replied,
"My Lord, the Duke of Avon was a gentleman, a man of elegance and breeding; and what have you to offer in recompense for your defects in qualities like these?"
"My wealth," replied he, "opposed to her indigence." Sandford smiled, and answered,
"Do you suppose that wealth can be esteemed, which has not been able to make you respectable? What is it makes wealth valuable? Is it the pleasures of the table? the pleasure of living in a fine house? or of wearing fine cloaths? These are pleasures, a Lord enjoys, but in common with his valet. It is the pleasure of being conspicuous, which makes riches desirable; but if we are conspicuous only for our vice and folly, had we not better remain in poverty?"
"You are beneath my notice."
"I trust I shall continue so—and that your Lordship will never again condescend to come where I am."
"A man of rank condescends to mix with any society, when a pretty woman is the object."
"My Lord, I have a book here in my pocket, which I am eager to read; it is an author who speaks sense and reason—will you pardon the impatience I feel for such company; and permit me to call your carriage?"
Saying this, he went hastily and beckoned to the coachman; the carriage drove up, the door was opened, and Lord Margrave, ashamed to be exposed before his attendants, and convinced of the inutility of remaining any longer where he was, departed.
Sandford was soon joined by the ladies; and the conversation falling, of course, upon the nobleman who had just taken his leave, Sandford unwarily exclaimed, "I wish Rushbrook had been here."
"Who?" cried Lady Matilda.
"I do believe," said Miss Woodley, "that young man has some good qualities."
"A great many," returned Sandford, mutteringly.
"Happy young man!" cried Matilda: "he is beloved by all those, whose affection it would be my choice to possess, beyond any other blessing this world could bestow."
"And yet I question, if Rushbrook is happy," said Sandford.
"He cannot be otherwise," returned Matilda, "if he is a man of understanding."
"He does not want understanding neither," replied Sandford; "although he has certainly many indiscretions."
"But which Lord Elmwood, I suppose," said Matilda, "looks upon with tenderness."
"Not upon all his faults," answered Sandford; "for I have seen him in very dangerous circumstances with your father."
"Have you indeed?" cried Matilda: "then I pity him."
"And I believe," said Miss Woodley, "that from his heart, he compassionates you. Now, Mr. Sandford," continued she, "though this is the first time I ever heard you speak in his favour, (and I once thought as indifferently of Mr. Rushbrook as you can do) yet now I will venture to ask you, whether you do not think he wishes Lady Matilda much happier than she is?"
"I have heard him say so," answered Sandford.
"It is a subject," returned Lady Matilda, "which I did not imagine you, Mr. Sandford, would have permitted him to have mentioned lightly, in your presence."
"Lightly! Do you suppose, my dear, we turned your situation into ridicule?"
"No, Sir,—but there is a sort of humiliation in the grief to which I am doomed, that ought surely to be treated with the highest degree of delicacy by my friends."
"I don't know on what point you fix real delicacy; but if it consists in sorrow, the young man gives a proof he possesses it, for he shed tears when I last heard him mention your name."
"I have more cause to weep at the mention of his."
"Perhaps so.—But let me tell you, Lady Matilda, that your father might have preferred a more unworthy object."
"Still had he been to me," she cried, "an object of envy. And as I frankly confess my envy of Mr. Rushbrook, I hope you will pardon my malice, which is, you know, but a consequent crime."
The subject now turned again upon Lord Margrave; and all of them being firmly persuaded, this last reception would put an end to every further intrusion from him, they treated his pretensions, and himself, with the contempt they inspired—but not with the caution that was requisite.
The next morning early, Mr. Sandford returned to Elmwood House, but with his spirits depressed, and his heart overcharged with sorrow. He had seen Lady Matilda, the object of his visit, but he had beheld her considerably altered in her looks and in her health; she was become very thin, and instead of the vivid bloom that used to adorn her cheeks, her whole complexion was of a deadly pale—her countenance no longer expressed hope or fear, but a fixed melancholy—she shed no tears, but was all sadness. He had beheld this, and he had heard her insulted by the licentious proposals of a nobleman, from whom there was no satisfaction to be demanded, because she had no friend to vindicate her honour.
Rushbrook, who suspected where Sandford was gone, and imagined he would return that day, took his morning's ride, so as to meet him on the road, at the distance of a few miles from the Castle; for, since his perilous situation with Lord Elmwood, he was so fully convinced of the general philanthropy of Sandford's character, that in spite of his churlish manners, he now addressed him, free from that reserve to which his rough behaviour had formerly given birth. And Sandford, on his part, believing he had formed an illiberal opinion of Lord Elmwood's heir, though he took no pains to let him know that his opinion was changed, yet resolved to make him restitution upon every occasion that offered.
Their mutual greetings when they met, were unceremonious, but cordial; and Rushbrook turned his horse and rode back with Sandford; yet, intimidated by his respect and tenderness for Lady Matilda, rather than by fear of the rebuffs of his companion, he had not the courage to name her, till the ride was just finished, and they came within a few yards of the house—incited then by the apprehension, he might not soon again enjoy so fit an opportunity, he said,
"Pardon me, Mr. Sandford, if I guess where you have been, and if my curiosity forces me to inquire for Miss Woodley's and Lady Matilda's health?"
He named Miss Woodley first, to prolong the time before he mentioned Matilda; for though to name her gave him extreme pleasure, yet it was a pleasure accompanied by confusion and pain.
"They are both very well," replied Sandford, "at least they did not complain they were sick."
"They are not in spirits, I suppose?" said Rushbrook.
"No, indeed:" replied Sandford, shaking his head.
"No new misfortune has happened, I hope?" cried Rushbrook; for it was plain to see Sandford's spirits were unusually cast down.
"Nothing new," returned he, "except the insolence of a young nobleman."
"What nobleman?" cried Rushbrook.
"A lover of Lady Matilda's," replied Sandford.
Rushbrook was petrified. "Who? What lover, Mr. Sandford?—explain?"
They were now arrived at the house; and Sandford, without making any reply to this question, said to the servant who took his horse, "She has come a long way this morning; take care of her."