This interruption was torture to Rushbrook, who kept close to his side, in order to obtain a further explanation; but Sandford, without attending to him, walked negligently into the hall, and before they advanced many steps, they were met by Lord Elmwood.
All further information was put an end to for the present.
"How do you do, Sandford?" said Lord Elmwood with extreme kindness; as if he thanked him for the journey which, it was likely, he suspected he had been taking.
"I am indifferently well, my Lord:" replied he, with a face of deep concern, and a tear in his eye, partly in gratitude for his patron's civility, and partly in reproach for his cruelty.
It was not now till the evening, that Rushbrook had an opportunity of renewing the conversation, which had been so barbarously interrupted.
In the evening, no longer able to support the suspense into which he was thrown; without fear or shame, he followed Sandford into his chamber at the time of his retiring, and entreated of him, with all the anxiety he suffered, to explain his allusion when he talked of a lover, and of insolence to Lady Matilda.
Sandford, seeing his emotion, was angry with himself that he had inadvertently mentioned the subject; and putting on an air of surly importance, desired,—if he had any business with him, that he would call in the morning.
Exasperated at so unexpected a reception, and at the pain of his disappointment, Rushbrook replied, "He treated him cruelly, nor would he stir out of his room, till he had received a satisfactory answer to his question."
"Then bring your bed," replied Sandford, "for you must pass your whole night here."
He found it vain to think of obtaining any intelligence by threats, he therefore said in a timid and persuasive manner,
"Did you, Mr. Sandford, hear Lady Matilda mention my name?"
"Yes," replied Sandford, a little better reconciled to him.
"Did you tell her what I lately declared to you?" he asked with still more diffidence.
"No," replied Sandford.
"It is very well, Sir," returned he, vexed to the heart—yet again wishing to sooth him—
"You certainly, Mr. Sandford, know what is for the best—yet I entreat you will give me some further account of the nobleman you named?"
"I know what is for the best," replied Sandford, "and I won't."
Rushbrook bowed, and immediately left the room. He went apparently submissive, but the moment he showed this submission, he took the resolution of paying a visit himself to the farm at which Lady Matilda resided; and of learning, either from Miss Woodley, the people of the house, the neighbours, or perhaps from Lady Matilda's own lips, the secret which the obstinacy of Sandford had with-held.
He saw all the dangers of this undertaking, but none appeared so great as the danger of losing her he loved, by the influence of a rival—and though Sandford had named "insolence," he was in doubt whether what had appeared so to him, was so in reality, or would be so considered by her.
To prevent the cause of his absence being suspected by Lord Elmwood, he immediately called his groom, ordered his horse, and giving those servants concerned, a strict charge of secrecy, with some frivolous pretence to apologize for his not being present at breakfast (resolving to be back by dinner) he set off that night, and arrived at an inn about a mile from the farm at break of day.
The joy he felt when he found himself so near to the beloved object of his journey, made him thank Sandford in his heart, for the unkindness which had sent him thither. But new difficulties arose, how to accomplish the end for which he came; he learned from the people of the inn, that a Lord, with a fine equipage, had visited at the farm, but who he was, or for what purpose he went, no one could inform him.
Dreading to return with his doubts unsatisfied, and yet afraid of proceeding to extremities that might be construed into presumption, he walked disconsolately (almost distractedly) about the fields, looking repeatedly at his watch, and wishing the time would stand still, till he was ready to go back with his errand compleated.
Every field he passed, brought him nearer to the house on which his imagination was fixed; but how, without forfeiting every appearance of that respect which he so powerfully felt, could he attempt to enter it?—he saw the indecorum, resolved not to be guilty of it, and yet walked on till he was within but a small orchard of the door. Could he then retreat?—he wished he could; but he found that he had proceeded too far to be any longer master of himself. The time was urgent; he must either behold her, and venture her displeasure, or by diffidence during one moment, give up all his hopes perhaps for ever.
With that same disregard to consequences, which actuated him when he dared to supplicate Lord Elmwood in his daughter's behalf, he at length went eagerly to the door and rapped.
A servant came—he asked to "Speak with Miss Woodley, if she was quite alone."
He was shown into an apartment, and Miss Woodley entered to him.
She started when she beheld who it was; but as he did not see a frown upon her face, he caught hold of her hand, and said persuasively,
"Do not be offended with me. If I mean to offend you, may I forfeit my life in atonement."
Poor Miss Woodley, glad in her solitude to see any one from Elmwood House, forgot his visit was an offence, till he put her in mind of it; she then said, with some reserve,
"Tell me the purport of your coming, Sir, and perhaps I may have no reason to complain?"
"It was to see Lady Matilda," he replied, "or to hear of her health. It was to offer her my services—it was, Miss Woodley, to convince her, if possible, of my esteem."
"Had you no other method, Sir?" said Miss Woodley, with the same reserve.
"None;" replied he, "or with joy I should have embraced it; and if you can inform me of any other, tell me I beseech you instantly, and I will immediately be gone, and pursue your directions."
Miss Woodley hesitated.
"You know of no other means, Miss Woodley," he cried.
"And yet I cannot commend this," said she.
"Nor do I. Do not imagine because you see me here, that I approve my conduct; but reduced to this necessity, pity the motives that have urged it."
Miss Woodley did pity them; but as she would not own that she did, she could think of nothing else to say.
At this instant a bell rung from the chamber above.
"That is Lady Matilda's bell," said Miss Woodley; "she is coming to take a short walk. Do you wish to see her?"
Though it was the first wish of his heart, he paused, and said, "Will you plead my excuse?"
As the flight of stairs was but short, which Matilda had to come down, she was in the room with Miss Woodley and Mr. Rushbrook, just as that sentence ended.
She had stepped beyond the door of the apartment, when perceiving a visitor, she hastily withdrew.
Rushbrook, animated, though trembling at her presence, cried, "Lady Matilda, do not avoid me, till you know that I deserve such a punishment."
She immediately saw who it was, and returned back with a proper pride, and yet a proper politeness in her manner.
"I beg your pardon, Sir," said she, "I did not know you; I was afraid I intruded upon Miss Woodley and a stranger."
"You do not then consider me as a stranger, Lady Matilda? and that you do not, requires my warmest acknowledgements."
She sat down, as if overcome by ill spirits and ill health.
Miss Woodley now asked Rushbrook to sit—for till now she had not.
"No, Madam," replied he, with confusion, "not unless Lady Matilda gives me permission."
She smiled, and pointed to a chair—and all the kindness which Rushbrook during his whole life had received from Lord Elmwood, never inspired half the gratitude, which this one instance of civility from his daughter excited.
He sat down, with the confession of the obligation upon every feature of his face.
"I am not well, Mr. Rushbrook," said Matilda, languidly; "and you must excuse any want of etiquette at this house."
"While you excuse me, Madam, what can I have to complain of?"
She appeared absent while he was speaking, and turning to Miss Woodley, said, "Do you think I had better walk to-day?"
"No, my dear," answered Miss Woodley; "the ground is damp, and the air cold."
"You are not well, indeed, Lady Matilda," said Rushbrook, gazing upon her with the most tender respect.
She shook her head; and the tears, without any effort either to impel or to restrain them, ran down her face.
Rushbrook rose from his seat, and with an accent and manner the most expressive, said, "We are cousins, Lady Matilda—in our infancy we were brought up together—we were beloved by the same mother—fostered by the same father"——
"Oh!" cried she, interrupting him, with a tone which indicated the bitterest anguish.
"Nay, do not let me add to your uneasiness," he resumed, "while I am attempting to alleviate it. Instruct me what I can do to show my esteem and respect, rather than permit me thus unguided, to rush upon what you may construe into insult and arrogance."
Miss Woodley went to Matilda, took her hand, then wiped the tears from her eyes, while Matilda reclined against her, entirely regardless of Rushbrook's presence.
"If I have been in the least instrumental to this sorrow,"—said Rushbrook, with a face as much agitated as his mind.
"No," said Miss Woodley, in a low voice, "you have not—she is often thus."
"Yes," said Matilda, raising her head, "I am frequently so weak that I cannot resist the smallest incitement to grief. But do not make your visit long, Mr. Rushbrook," she continued, "for I was just then thinking, that should Lord Elmwood hear of this attention you have paid me, it might be fatal to you." Here she wept again, as bitterly as before.
"There is no probability of his hearing of it, Madam," Rushbrook replied; "or if there was, I am persuaded that he would not resent it; for yesterday, when I am confident he knew that Mr. Sandford had been to see you, he received him on his return, with unusual marks of kindness."
"Did he?" said she—and again she lifted up her head; her eyes for a moment beaming with hope and joy.
"There is something which we cannot yet define," said Rushbrook, "that Lord Elmwood struggles with; but when time shall have eradicated"——
Before he could proceed further, Matilda was once more sunk into despondency, and scarce attended to what he was saying.
Miss Woodley observing this, said, "Mr. Rushbrook, let it be a token we shall be glad to see you hereafter, that I now use the freedom to beg you will put an end to your visit."
"You send me away, Madam," returned he, "with the warmest thanks for the reception you have give me; and this last assurance of your kindness, is beyond any other favour you could have bestowed. Lady Matilda," added he, "suffer me to take your hand at parting, and let it be a testimony that you acknowledge me for a relation."
She put out her hand—which he knelt to receive, but did not raise it to his lips—he held the boon too sacred—and looking earnestly upon it, as it lay pale and wan in his, he breathed one sigh over it, and withdrew.
Sorrowful and affecting as this interview had been, Rushbrook, as he rode home, reflected upon it with the most inordinate delight; and had he not seen decline of health, in the looks and behaviour of Lady Matilda, his felicity had been unbounded. Entranced in the happiness of her society, the thought of his rival never came once to his mind while he was with her; a want of recollection, however, he by no means regretted, as her whole appearance contradicted every suspicion he could possibly entertain, that she favoured the addresses of any man living—and had he remembered, he would not have dared to name the subject.
The time ran so swiftly while he was away, that it was beyond the dinner hour at Elmwood House, when he returned. Heated, his dress and his hair disordered, he entered the dining room just as the dessert was put upon the table. He was confounded at his own appearance, and at the falsehoods he should be obliged to fabricate in his excuse: there was yet, that which engaged his attention, beyond any circumstance relating to himself—the features of Lord Elmwood—of which his daughter's, whom he had just beheld, had the most striking resemblance; though her's were softened by sorrow, while his were made austere by the self-same cause.
"Where have you been?" said his uncle, with a frown.
"A chace, my Lord—I beg your pardon—but a pack of dogs I unexpectedly met." For in the hacknied art of lying without injury to any one, Rushbrook, to his shame, was proficient.
His excuses were received, and the subject ceased.
During his absence that day, Lord Elmwood had called Sandford apart, and said to him,—that as the malevolence which he once observed between him and Rushbrook, had, he perceived, subsided, he advised him, if he was a well-wisher to the young man, to sound his heart, and counsel him not to act against the will of his nearest relation and friend. "I myself am too hasty," continued Lord Elmwood, "and, unhappily, too much determined upon what I have once (though, perhaps, rashly) said, to speak upon a topic where it is probable I shall meet with opposition. You, Sandford, can reason with moderation. For after all that I have done for my nephew, it would be a pity to forsake him at last; and yet, that is but too likely, if he provokes me."
"Sir," replied Sandford, "I will speak to him."
"Yet," added Lord Elmwood, sternly, "do not urge what you say for my sake, but for his—I can part from him with ease—but he may then repent, and, you know, repentance always comes too late with me."
"My Lord, I will exert all the efforts in my power for his welfare. But what is the subject on which he has refused to comply with your desires?"
"Matrimony—have not I told you?"
"Not a word."
"I wish him to marry, that I may then conclude the deeds in respect to my estate,—and the only child of Sir William Winterton (a rich heiress) was the wife I meant to propose; but from his indifference to all I have said on the occasion, I have not yet mentioned her name to him; you may."
"I will, my Lord, and use all my persuasion to engage his obedience; and you shall have, at least, a faithful account of what he says."
Sandford the next morning sought an opportunity of being alone with Rushbrook—he then plainly repeated to him what Lord Elmwood had said, and saw him listen to it all, and heard him answer with the most tranquil resolution, "That he would do any thing to preserve the friendship and patronage of his uncle—but marry."
"What can be your reason?" asked Sandford—though he guessed.
"A reason, I cannot give to Lord Elmwood."
"Then do not give it to me, for I have promised to tell him every thing you say to me."
"And every thing I have said?" asked Rushbrook hastily.
"As to what you have said, I don't know whether it has made impression enough on my memory, to enable me to repeat it."
"I am glad it has not."
"And my answer to your uncle, is to be simply, that you will not obey him?"
"I should hope, Mr. Sandford, that you would express it in better terms."
"Tell me the terms, and I will be exact."
Rushbrook struck his forehead, and walked about the room.
"Am I to give him any reason for your disobeying him?"
"I tell you again, that I dare not name the cause."
"Then why do you submit to a power you are ashamed to own?"
"I am not ashamed—I glory in it.—Are you ashamed of your esteem for Lady Matilda?"
"Oh! if she is the cause of your disobedience, be assured I shall not mention it, for I am forbid to name her."
"And surely, as that is the case, I need not fear to speak plainly to you. I love Lady Matilda—or, perhaps, unacquainted with love, what I feel may be only pity—and if so, pity is the most pleasing passion that ever possessed a human heart, and I would not change it for all her father's estates."
"Pity, then, gives rise to very different sensations—for I pity you, and that sensation I would gladly exchange for approbation."
"If you really feel compassion for me, and I believe you do, contrive some means by your answers to Lord Elmwood to pacify him, without involving me in ruin. Hint at my affections being engaged, but not to whom; and add, that I have given my word, if he will allow me a short time, a year or two only, I will, during that period, try to disengage them, and use all my power to render myself worthy of the union for which he designs me."
"And this is not only your solemn promise—but your fixed determination?"
"Nay, why will you search my heart to the bottom, when the surface ought to content you?"
"If you cannot resolve on what you have proposed, why do you ask this time of your uncle? For should he allow it you, at the expiration, your disobedience to his commands will be less pardonable than it is now."
"Within a year, Mr. Sandford, who can tell what strange events may not occur, to change all our prospects? Even my passion may decline."
"In that expectation, then—the failure of which yourself must answer for—I will repeat as much of this discourse as shall be proper."
Here Rushbrook communicated his having been to see Lady Matilda, for which Sandford reproved him, but in less rigorous terms than he generally used in his reproofs; and Rushbrook, by his entreaties, now gained the intelligence who the nobleman was who addressed Matilda, and on what views; but was restrained to patience, by Sandford's arguments and threats.
Upon the subject of this marriage, Sandford met his patron, without having determined exactly what to say, but rested on the temper in which he should find him.
At the commencement of the conversation he said, "Rushbrook begged for time."
"I have given him time, have I not?" cried Lord Elmwood: "What can be the meaning of his thus trifling with me?"
Sandford replied, "My Lord, young men are frequently romantic in their notions of love, and think it impossible to have a sincere affection, where their own inclinations do not first point out the choice."
"If he is in love," answered Lord Elmwood, "let him take the object, and leave my house and me for ever. Nor under this destiny can he have any claim to pity; for genuine love will make him happy in banishment, in poverty, or in sickness: it makes the poor man happy as the rich, the fool blest as the wise." The sincerity with which Lord Elmwood had loved, was expressed more than in words, as he said this.
"Your Lordship is talking," replied Sandford, "of the passion in its most refined and predominant sense; while I may possibly be speaking of a mere phantom, that has led this young man astray."
"Whatever it be," returned Lord Elmwood, "let him and his friends weigh the case well, and act for the best—so shall I."
"His friends, my Lord?—What friends, or what friend has he upon earth but you?"
"Then why will he not submit to my advice; or himself give me a proper reason why he cannot?"
"Because there may be friendship without familiarity—and so it is between him and you."
"That cannot be; for I have condescended to talk to him in the most familiar terms."
"To condescend, my Lord, is not to be familiar."
"Then come, Sir, let us be on an equal footing through you. And now speak out his thoughts freely, and hear mine in return."
"Why, then, he begs a respite for a year or two."
"On what pretence?"
"To me, it was preference of a single life—but I suspect it is—what he imagines to be love—and for some object whom he thinks your Lordship would disapprove."
"He has not, then, actually confessed this to you?"
"If he has, it was drawn from him by such means, that I am not warranted to say it in direct words."
"I have entered into no contract, no agreement on his account with the friends of the lady I have pointed out," said Lord Elmwood; "nothing beyond implications have passed betwixt her family and myself at present; and if the person on whom he has fixed his affections, should not be in a situation absolutely contrary to my wishes, I may, perhaps, confirm his choice."
That moment Sandford's courage prompted him to name Lady Matilda, but his discretion opposed—however, in the various changes of his countenance from the conflict, it was plain to discern that he wished to say more than he dared.
On which Lord Elmwood cried,
"Speak on, Sandford—what are you afraid of?"
"Of you, my Lord."
Sandford went on——"I know no tie—no bond—no innocence, that is a protection when you feel resentment."
"You are right," he replied, significantly.
"Then how, my Lord, can you encourage me to speak on, when that which I perhaps would say, might offend you to hear?"
"To what, and whither are you changing our subject?" cried Lord Elmwood. "But, Sir, if you know my resentful and relentless temper, you surely know how to shun it."
"Not, and speak plainly."
"No, I'll not do that—but I'll be silent."
"A new parade of submission. You are more tormenting to me than any one I have about me. Constantly on the verge of disobeying my commands, that you may recede, and gain my good will by your forbearance. But know, Mr. Sandford, that I will not suffer this much longer. If you chuse in every conversation we have together (though the most remote from such a subject) to think of my daughter, you must either banish your thoughts, or conceal them—nor by one sign, one item, remind me of her."
"Your daughter did you call her? Can you call yourself her father?"
"I do, Sir—but I was likewise the husband of her mother. And, as that husband, I solemnly swear."——He was proceeding with violence.
"Oh! my Lord," cried Sandford, interrupting him, with his hands clasped in the most fervent supplication—"Oh! do not let me draw upon her one oath more of your eternal displeasure—I'll kneel to beg that you will drop the subject."
The inclination he made with his knees bent towards the ground, stopped Lord Elmwood instantly. But though it broke in upon his words, it did not alter one angry look—his eyes darted, and his lips trembled with, indignation.
Sandford, in order to appease him, bowed and offered to withdraw, hoping to be recalled. He wished in vain—Lord Elmwood's eyes followed him to the door, expressive of rejoicing at his absence.
The companions and counsellors of Lord Margrave, who had so prudently advised gentle methods in the pursuit of his passion, while there was left any hope of their success; now, convinced there was none, as strenuously commended open violence;—and sheltered under the consideration, that their depredations were to be practised upon a defenceless woman, who had not one protector, except an old priest, the subject of their ridicule;—assured likewise from the influence of Lord Margrave's wealth, that all inferior consequences could be overborne, they saw no room for fears on any side, and what they wished to execute, with care and skill premeditated.
When their scheme was mature for performance, three of his chosen companions, and three servants, trained in all the villainous exploits of their masters, set off for the habitation of poor Matilda, and arrived there about the twilight of the evening.
Near four hours after that time (just as the family were going to bed) they came up to the doors of the house, and rapping violently, gave the alarm of fire, conjuring all the inhabitants to make their way out immediately, as they would save their lives.
The family consisted of few persons, all of whom ran instantly to the doors and opened them; on which two men rushed in, and with the plea of saving Lady Matilda from the pretended flames, caught her in their arms, and carried her off; while all the deceived people of the house, running eagerly to save themselves, paid no regard to her, till looking for the cause for which they had been terrified, they perceived the stratagem, and the fatal consequences.
Amidst the complaints, the sorrow, and the affright of the people of the farm, Miss Woodley's sensations wanted a name—terror and anguish give but a faint description of what she suffered—something like the approach of death stole over her senses, and she sat like one petrified with horror. She had no doubt who was the perpetrator of this wickedness; but how was she to follow? how effect a rescue?
The circumstances of this event, as soon as the people had time to call up their recollection, were sent to a neighbouring magistrate; but little could be hoped from that. Who was to swear to the robber? Who, undertake to find him out! Miss Woodley thought of Rushbrook, of Sandford, of Lord Elmwood—but what could she hope from the want of power in the two former?—what from the latter, for the want of will? Now stupified, and now distracted, she walked about the house incessantly, begging for instructions how to act, or how to forget her misery.
A tenant of Lord Elmwood's, who occupied a little farm near to that where Lady Matilda lived, and who was well acquainted with the whole history of her's and her mother's misfortunes, was returning from a neighbouring fair, just as this inhuman plan was put in execution. He heard the cries of a woman in distress, and followed the sound, till he arrived at a chaise in waiting, and saw Matilda placed in it, by the side of two men, who presented pistols to him, as he offered to approach and expostulate.
The farmer, uncertain who this female was, yet went to the house she had been taken from (as the nearest) with the tale of what he had seen; and there, being informed it was Lady Matilda whom he had beheld, this intelligence, joined to the powerful effect her screams had on him, made him resolve to take horse immediately, and with some friends, follow the carriage till they should trace the place to which she was conveyed.
The anxiety, the firmness discovered in determining on this understanding, somewhat alleviated the agony Miss Woodley endured, and she began to hope, timely assistance might yet be given to her beloved charge.
The man set out, meaning at all events to attempt her release; but before he had proceeded far, the few friends that accompanied him, began to reflect on the improbability of their success, against a nobleman, surrounded by servants, with other attendants likewise, and, perhaps, even countenanced by the father of the lady, whom they presumed to take from him; or if not, while Lord Elmwood beheld the offence with indifference, that indifference gave it a sanction, they might in vain oppose. These cool reflections tending to their safety, had their weight with the companions of the farmer; they all rode back, rejoicing at their second thoughts, and left him to pursue his journey and prove his valour by himself.
It was not with Sandford, as it had lately been with Rushbrook under the displeasure of Lord Elmwood—to the latter he behaved, as soon as their dissension was past, as if it had never happened—but to Sandford it was otherwise—the resentment which he had repressed at the time of the offence, lurked in his heart, and dwelt upon his mind for several days; during which, he carefully avoided exchanging a word with him, and gave every other demonstration of his anger.
Sandford, though experienced in the cruelty and ingratitude of the world, yet could not without difficulty brook this severity, this contumely, from a man, for whose welfare, ever since his infancy, he had laboured; and whose happiness was more dear to him, in spite of all his faults, than that of any other person. Even Lady Matilda was not so dear to Sandford as her father—and he loved her more that she was Lord Elmwood's child, than for any other cause.
Sometimes the old Priest, incensed beyond bearing, was on the point of saying to his patron, "How, in my age, dare you thus treat the man, whom in his youth you respected and revered?"
Sometimes instead of anger, he felt the tear, he was ashamed to own, steal to his eye, and even fall down his cheek. Sometimes he left the room half determined to leave the house—but these were all half determinations; for he knew him with whom he had to deal too well, not to know that he might be provoked into yet greater anger; and that should he once rashly quit his house, the doors most probably would be shut against him for ever.
In this humiliating state (for even many of the domestics could not but observe their Lord's displeasure) Sandford passed three days, and was beginning the fourth, when sitting with Lord Elmwood and Rushbrook just after breakfast, a servant entered, saying, as he opened the door, to somebody who followed, "You must wait till you have my Lord's permission."
This attracted their eyes to the door, and a man meanly dressed, walked in, following close to the servant.
The latter turned, and seemed again to desire the person to retire, but in vain; he rushed forward regardless of his opposer, and in great agitation, cried,
"My Lord, if you please, I have business with you, provided you will chuse to be alone."
Lord Elmwood, struck with the intruder's earnestness, bade the servant leave the room; and then said to the stranger,
"You may speak before these gentlemen."
The man instantly turned pale, and trembled—then, to prolong the time before he spoke, went to the door to see if it was shut—returned—yet still trembling, seemed unwilling to say his errand.
"What have you done," cried Lord Elmwood, "that you are in this terror? What have you done, man?"
"Nothing, my Lord," replied he, "but I am afraid I am going to offend you."
"Well, no matter;" (he answered carelessly) "only go on, and let me know your business."
The man's distress increased—and he cried in a voice of grief and affright—"Your child, my Lord!"——
Rushbrook and Sandford started; and looking at Lord Elmwood, saw him turn white as death. In a tremulous voice he instantly cried,
"What of her?" and rose from his seat.
Encouraged by the question, and the agitation of him who asked it, the poor man gave way to his feelings, and answered with every sign of sorrow,
"I saw her, my Lord, taken away by force—two ruffians seized and carried her away, while she screamed in vain to me for help, and tore her hair in distraction."
"Man, what do you mean?" cried the Earl.
"Lord Margrave," replied the stranger, "we have no doubt, has formed this plot—he has for some time past beset the house where she lived; and when his visits were refused, he threatened this. Besides, one of his servants attended the carriage; I saw, and knew him."
Lord Elmwood listened to the last part of this account with seeming composure—then turning hastily to Rushbrook, he said,
"Where are my pistols, Harry?"
Sandford rose from his seat, and forgetting all the anger between them, caught hold of the Earl's hand, and cried, "Will you then prove yourself a father?"
Lord Elmwood only answered, "Yes," and left the room.
Rushbrook followed, and begged with all the earnestness he felt, to be permitted to accompany his uncle.
While Sandford shook hands with the farmer a thousand times; and he, in his turn, rejoiced, as if he had already seen Lady Matilda restored to liberty.
Rushbrook in vain entreated Lord Elmwood; he laid his commands upon him not to go a step from the Castle; while the agitation of his own mind, was too great, to observe the rigour of this sentence on his nephew.
During the hasty preparations for the Earl's departure, Sandford received from Miss Woodley the sad intelligence of what had happened; but he returned an answer to recompence her for all she had suffered on the occasion.
Within a few hours Lord Elmwood set off, accompanied by his guide, the farmer, and other attendants furnished with every requisite to ascertain the success of their enterprise—while poor Matilda little thought of a deliverer nigh, much less, that her deliverer should prove her father.
Lord Margrave, black as this incident of his life must make him appear to the reader, still nursed in his conscience a reserve of specious virtue, to keep him in peace with himself. It was his design to plead, to argue, to implore, nay even to threaten, long before he put his threats in force; and with this and the following reflection, he reconciled—as most bad men can—what he had done, not only to the laws of humanity, but to the laws of honour.
"I have stolen a woman certainly;" said he to himself, "but I will make her happier than she was in that humble state from which I have taken her. I will even," said he, "now that she is in my power, win her affections—and when, in fondness, hereafter she hangs upon me, how will she thank me for this little trial, through which I shall have conducted her to happiness!"
Thus did he hush his remorse, while he waited impatiently at home, in expectation of his prize.
Half expiring with her sufferings, of body as well as of mind, about twelve o'clock the next night, after she was borne away, Matilda arrived; and felt her spirits revive by the superior sufferings that awaited her—for her increasing terrors roused her from the death-like weakness, brought on by fatigue.
Lord Margrave's house, to which he had gone previous to this occasion, was situated in the lonely part of a well-known forest, not more than twenty miles distant from London: this was an estate he rarely visited; and as he had but few servants here, it was a place which he supposed would be less the object of suspicion in the present case, than any other of his seats. To this, then, Lady Matilda was conveyed—a superb apartment allotted her—and one of his confidential females placed to attend upon her, with all respect, and assurances of safety.
Matilda looked in this woman's face, and seeing she bore the features of her sex, while her own knowledge reached none of those worthless characters of which this person was a specimen, she imagined that none of those could look as she did, and therefore found consolation in her seeming tenderness. She was even prevailed upon (by her promises to sit by her side and watch) to throw herself on the bed, and suffer sleep for a few minutes—for sleep to her was suffering; her fears giving birth to dreams terrifying as her waking thoughts.
More wearied than refreshed with her sleep, she rose at break of day, and refusing to admit of the change of an article in her dress, she persisted to sit in the torn disordered habit in which she had been dragged away; nor would she taste a morsel, of all the delicacies that were prepared for her.
Her attendant, for some time observed the most reverential awe; but finding this had not the effect of gaining compliance with her advice, she varied her manners, and began by less submissive means to attempt an influence. She said her orders were to be obedient, while she herself was obeyed—at least in circumstances so material as the lady's health, of which she had the charge as a physician, and expected equal compliance from her patient—food and fresh apparel she prescribed as the only means to prevent death; and even threatened her invalid with something worse, a visit from Lord Margrave, if she continued obstinate.
Now loathing her for the deception she had practised, more, than had she received her thus at first, Matilda hid her eyes from the sight of her; and when she was obliged to look, she shuddered.
This female at length thought it her duty to wait upon her worthy employer, and inform him the young lady in her trust would certainly die, unless there were means employed to oblige her to take some nourishment.
Lord Margrave, glad of an opportunity that might apologize for his intrusion upon Lady Matilda, went with eagerness to her apartment, and throwing himself at her feet, conjured her if she would save his life, as well as her own, to submit to be consoled.
The extreme disgust and horror his presence inspired, caused Matilda for a moment to forget all her want of power, her want of health, her weakness; and rising from the place where she sat, she cried, with her voice elevated,
"Leave me, my Lord, or I'll die in spite of all your care; I'll instantly expire with grief, if you do not leave me."
Accustomed to the tears and reproaches of the sex—though not of those like her—he treated with contempt these menaces of anger, and seizing her hand, carried it to his lips.
Enraged, and overwhelmed with sorrow at the affront, she cried, (forgetting every other friend she had,) "Oh! my dear Miss Woodley, why are you not here to protect me?"
"Nay," returned Lord Margrave, stifling a fit of laughter, "I should think the old Priest would be as good a champion as the lady."
The remembrance of Sandford, with all his kindness, now rushed so forcibly on Matilda's mind, that she shed a shower of tears, on thinking how much he felt, and would continue to feel, for her situation. Once she thought on Rushbrook, and thought even he would be sorry for her. Of her father she did not think—she dared not—one single moment that thought intruded, but she hurried it away—it was too bitter.
It was now again quite night; and near to that hour when she came first to the house. Lord Margrave, though at some distance from her, remained still in her apartment, while her female companion had stolen away. His insensibility to her lamentations—the agitated looks he sometimes cast upon her—her weak and defenceless state, all conspired to fill her mind with horror.
He saw her apprehensions in her distracted face, disheveled hair, and the whole of her forlorn appearance—yet, notwithstanding his former resolutions, he could not resist the desire of fulfilling all her dreadful expectations.
He once again approached her, and again was going to seize her hand; when the report of a pistol, and a confused noise of persons assembling towards the apartment prevented him.
He started—but looked more surprised than alarmed—her alarm was augmented; for she supposed this tumult was some experiment to intimidate her into submission. She wrung her hands, and lifted up her eyes to Heaven, in the last agony of despair, when one of Lord Margrave's servants entered hastily and announced,
That moment her father entered—and with all the unrestrained fondness of a parent, folded her in his arms.
Her extreme, her excess of joy on such a meeting, and from such anguish rescued, was, in part, repressed by his awful presence. The apprehensions to which she had been accustomed, kept her timid and doubtful—she feared to speak, or clasp him in return for his embrace, but falling on her knees, clung round his legs, and bathed his feet with her tears.——These were the happiest moments that she had ever known—perhaps, the happiest he had ever known.
Lord Margrave, on whom Lord Elmwood had not even cast a look, now left the room; but as he quitted it, called out,
"My Lord Elmwood, if you have any demands on me,"—
The Earl interrupted him, "Would you make me an executioner? The law shall be your only antagonist."
Matilda, quite exhausted, yet upheld by the sudden transport she had felt, was led by her father out of this wretched dwelling—more despicable than the beggar's hovel.
Overcome with the want of rest for two nights, from her distracting fears, and all those fears now hushed; Matilda, soon after she was placed in the carriage with Lord Elmwood, dropped fast asleep; and thus, insensibly surprised, leaned her head against her father in the sweetest slumber that imagination can conceive.
When she awoke, instead of the usual melancholy scene before her view, she beheld her father, and heard the voice of the once dreaded Lord Elmwood tenderly saying,
"We will go no further to-night, the fatigue is too much for her; order beds here directly, and some proper person to sit up and attend her."
She could only turn to him with a look of love and duty; her lips could not utter a sentence.
In the morning she found her father by the side of her bed. He inquired "If she was in health sufficient to pursue her journey, or if she would remain where she was?"
"I am able to go with you," she answered instantly.
"Nay," replied he, "perhaps you ought to stay here till you are better?"
"I am better," said she, "and ready to go with you."——Half afraid that he meant to send her from him.
He perceived her fears, and replied, "Nay, if you stay, so shall I—and when I go, I shall take you along with me to my house."
"To Elmwood House?" she asked eagerly.
"No, to my house in town, where I intend to be all the winter, and where we shall live together."
She turned her face on the pillow to conceal tears of joy, but her sobs revealed them.
"Come," said he, "this kiss is a token you have nothing to fear." And he kissed her affectionately. "I shall send for Miss Woodley too immediately," continued he.
"Oh! I shall be overjoyed to see her, my Lord—and to see Mr. Sandford—and even Mr. Rushbrook."
"Do you know him?" said Lord Elmwood.
"Yes," she replied, "I have seen him two or three times."
The Earl hoping the air might be a means of re-establishing her strength and spirits, now left the room, and ordered his carriage to be prepared: while she arose, attended by one of his female servants, for whom he had sent to town, to bring such changes of apparel as were requisite.
When Matilda was ready to join her father in the next room, she felt a tremor seize her, that made it almost impossible to appear before him. No other circumstance now impending to agitate her heart, she felt more forcibly its embarrassment at meeting on terms of easy intercourse, him, of whom she had never been used to think, but with that distant reverence and fear, which his severity had excited; and she knew not how she should dare to speak to, or look on him, with that freedom her affection warranted.
After several efforts to conquer these nice and refined sensations, but to no purpose, she at last went to his apartment. He was reading; but as she entered, he put out his hand and drew her to him. Her tears wholly overcame her. He could have intermingled his—but assuming a grave countenance, he commanded her to desist from exhausting her spirits; and, after a few powerful struggles, she obeyed.
Before the morning was over, she experienced the extreme joy of sitting by her father's side as they drove to town, and of receiving, during his conversation, a thousand proofs of his love, and tokens of her lasting happiness.
It was now the middle of November; and yet, as Matilda passed along, never to her, did the sun shine so bright as upon this morning—never did her imagination comprehend, that the human heart could feel happiness true and genuine as hers!
On arriving at the house, there was no abatement of her felicity: all was respect and duty on the part of the domestics—all paternal care on the part of Lord Elmwood; and she would have been at that summit of her wishes which annihilates hope, but that the prospect of seeing Miss Woodley and Mr. Sandford, still kept this passion in existence.
Rushbrook was detained at Elmwood House during all this time, more from the persuasions, nay prayers, of Sandford, than the commands of Lord Elmwood. He had, but for Sandford, followed his uncle, and exposed himself to his anger, sooner than have endured the most piercing inquietude, which he was doomed to suffer, till the news arrived of Lady Matilda's safety. He indeed had little else to fear from the known firm, courageous character of her father, and the expedition with which he undertook his journey; but lovers' fears are like those of women, obstinate, and no argument could persuade either him or Miss Woodley (who had now ventured to come to Elmwood House) but that Matilda's peace of mind might be for ever destroyed, before she was set at liberty.
The summons from Lord Elmwood for their coming to town, was received by each of this party with delight; but the impatience to obey it, was in Rushbrook so violent, it was painful to himself, and extremely troublesome to Sandford; who wished, from his regard to Lady Matilda, rather to delay, than hurry their journey.
"You are to blame," said he to him and Miss Woodley, "to wish by your arrival, to divide with Lord Elmwood that tender bond, which ties the good who confer obligations, to the object of their benevolence. At present there is no one with him to share in the care and protection of his daughter, and he is under the necessity of discharging that duty himself; this habit may become so powerful, that he cannot throw it off, even if his former resolutions should urge him to it. While we remain here, therefore, Lady Matilda is safe with her father; but it would not surprise me, if on our arrival (especially if we are precipitate) he should place her again with Miss Woodley at a distance."
To this forcible conjecture, they submitted for a few days, and then most gladly set out for town.
On their arrival, they were met, even at the street-door, by Lady Matilda; and with an expression of joy, they did not suppose her features could have worn. She embraced Miss Woodley! hung upon Sandford! and to Mr. Rushbrook, who from his conscious love only bowed at an humble distance, she held out her hand with every look and gesture of the tenderest esteem.
When Lord Elmwood joined them, he welcomed them all sincerely; but Sandford the most, with whom he had not spoken for many days before he left the country, for his allusion to the wretched situation of his daughter.—And Sandford (with his fellow-travellers) now saw him treat that daughter with an easy, a natural fondness, as if she had lived with him from her infancy. He appeared, however, at times, under the apprehension, that the propensity of man to jealousy, might give Rushbrook a pang at this dangerous rival in his love and fortune—for though Lord Elmwood remembered well the hazard he had once ventured to befriend Matilda, yet the present unlimited reconciliation was something so unlooked for, it might be a trial too much for his generosity, to remain wholly disinterested on the event. Slight as was this suspicion, it did Rushbrook injustice. He loved Lady Matilda too sincerely, he loved her father's happiness, and her mother's memory too faithfully, not to be rejoiced at all he witnessed; nor could the secret hope that whispered him, "Their blessings might one day be mutual," increase the pleasure he found, in beholding Matilda happy.
Unexpected affairs, in which Lord Elmwood had been for some time engaged, had diverted his attention for awhile from the marriage of his nephew; nor did he at this time find his disposition sufficiently severe, to exact from the young man a compliance with his wishes, at so cruel an alternative as that of being for ever discarded. He felt his mind, by the late incident, too much softened for such harshness; he yet wished for the alliance he had proposed; for he was more consistent in his character than to suffer the tenderness his daughter's peril had awakened, to derange those plans which he had long projected. Never even now, for a moment did he indulge—for perhaps it would have been an indulgence—the idea of replacing her exactly in the rights of her birth, to the disappointment of all his nephew's expectations.
Yet, milder at this crisis in his temper than he had been for years before, and knowing he could be no longer irritated upon the subject of his daughter, he once more resolved to trust himself in a conference with Rushbrook on the subject of marriage; meaning at the same time to mention Matilda as an opponent from whom he had nothing to fear. But for some time before Rushbrook was called to this private audience, he had, by his unwearied attention, endeavoured to impress upon Matilda's mind, the softest sentiments in his favour. He succeeded—but not as he wished. She loved him as her friend, her cousin, her foster-brother, but not as a lover. The idea of love never once came to her thoughts; and she would sport with Rushbrook like the most harmless child, while he, all impassioned, could with difficulty resist telling her, what she made him suffer.
At the meeting between him and Lord Elmwood, to which he was called for his final answer on that subject which had once nearly proved so fatal to him; after a thousand fears, much confusion and embarrassment, he at length frankly confessed his "Heart was engaged, and had been so, long before his uncle offered to direct his choice."
Lord Elmwood desired to know, "On whom he had placed his affections."
"I dare not tell you, my Lord," returned he, infinitely confused; "but Mr. Sandford can witness their sincerity and how long they have been fixed."
"Fixed!" cried the Earl.
"Immoveably fixed, my Lord; and yet the object is as unconscious of my love to this moment, as you yourself have been; and I swear ever shall be so, without your permission."
"Name the object," said Lord Elmwood, anxiously.
"My Lord, I dare not.—The last time I named her to you, you threatened to abandon me for my arrogance."
Lord Elmwood started.——"My daughter! Would you marry her?"
"But with your approbation, my Lord; and that——"
Before he could proceed a word further, his uncle left the room hastily—and left Rushbrook all terror for his approaching fate.
Lord Elmwood went immediately into the apartment where Sandford, Miss Woodley, and Matilda, were sitting, and cried with an angry voice, and with his countenance disordered,
"Rushbrook has offended me beyond forgiveness.—Go, Sandford, to the library, where he is, and tell him this instant to quit my house, and never dare to return."
Miss Woodley lifted up her hands and sighed.
Sandford rose slowly from his seat to execute the office.
While Lady Matilda, who was arranging her music books upon the instrument, stopped from her employment suddenly, with her face bathed in tears.
A general silence ensued, till Lord Elmwood, resuming his angry tone, cried, "Did you hear me, Mr. Sandford?"
Sandford now, without a word in reply, made for the door—but there Matilda impeded him, and throwing her arms about his neck, cried,
"Dear Mr. Sandford, do not."
"How!" exclaimed her father.
She saw the impending frown, and rushing towards him, took his hand fearfully, and knelt at his feet. "Mr. Rushbrook is my relation," she cried in a pathetic voice, "my companion, my friend—before you loved me he was anxious for my happiness, and often visited me to lament with, and console me. I cannot see him turned out of your house without feeling for him, what he once felt for me."
Lord Elmwood turned aside to conceal his sensations—then raising her from the floor, he said, "Do you know what he has asked of me?"
"No," answered she in the utmost ignorance, and with the utmost innocence painted on her face; "but whatever it is, my Lord, though you do not grant it, yet pardon him for asking."
"Perhaps you would grant him what he has requested?" said her father.
"Most willingly—was it in my gift."
"It is," replied he. "Go to him in the library, and hear what he has to say; for on your will his fate shall depend."
Like lightning she flew out of the room; while even the grave Sandford smiled at the idea of their meeting.
Rushbrook, with his fears all verified by the manner in which his uncle had left him, sat with his head reclined against a bookcase, and every limb extended with the despair that had seized him.
Matilda nimbly opened the door and cried, "Mr. Rushbrook, I am come to comfort you."
"That you have always done," said he, rising in rapture to receive her, even in the midst of all his sadness.
"What is it you want?" said she. "What have you asked of my father that he has denied you?"
"I have asked for that," replied he, "which is dearer to me than my life."
"Be satisfied then," returned she, "for you shall have it."
"Dear Matilda! it is not in your power to bestow."
"But he has told me it shall be in my power; and has desired me to give, or to refuse it you, at my own pleasure."
"O Heavens!" cried Rushbrook in transport, "Has he?"
"He has indeed—before Mr. Sandford and Miss Woodley. Now tell me what you petitioned for?"
"I asked him," cried Rushbrook, trembling, "for a wife."
Her hand, which had just then taken hold of his, in the warmth of her wish to serve him, now dropped down as with the stroke of death—her face lost its colour—and she leaned against the desk by which they were standing, without uttering a word.
"What means this change?" said he; "Do you not wish me happy?"
"Yes," she exclaimed: "Heaven is my witness. But it gives me concern to think we must part."
"Then let us be joined," cried he, falling at her feet, "till death alone can part us."
All the sensibility—the reserve—the pride, with which she was so amply possessed, returned to her that moment. She started and cried, "Could Lord Elmwood know for what he sent me?"
"He did," replied Rushbrook—"I boldly told him of my presumptuous love, and he has given to you alone, the power over my happiness or misery. Oh! do not doom me to the latter."
Whether the heart of Matilda, such as it has been described, could sentence him to misery, the reader is left to surmise—and if he supposes that it could not, he has every reason to suppose that their wedded life, was—a life of happiness.
He has beheld the pernicious effects of an improper education in the destiny which attended the unthinking Miss Milner.—On the opposite side, what may not be hoped from that school of prudence—though of adversity—in which Matilda was bred?
And Mr. Milner, Matilda's grandfather, had better have given his fortune to a distant branch of his family—as Matilda's father once meant to do—so that he had given to his daughter
A PROPER EDUCATION.
PLAYS written by MRS. INCHBALD, and published by G. G. and J. ROBINSON, Paternoster Row.
A Play in five Acts, from the German of KOTZEBUE.
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SUCH THINGS ARE, A Play in five Acts.
THE MARRIED MAN, A Comedy, Price 1s. 6d. each.
THE CHILD OF NATURE.
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