"Any love-letters among them, Mrs. Pott?" said his lordship, lowering his tone.
"Oh, fie! my lord, how should I know?" answered Mrs. Pott, dropping her voice to the same cadence.
"Oh! every one can tell a love-letter—that has ever received one, that is—one knows them without opening—they are always folded hurriedly and sealed carefully—and the direction manifests a kind of tremulous agitation, that marks the state of the writer's nerves—that now,"—pointing with his switch to a letter upon the chimney-piece, "that must be a love-letter."
"He, he, he!" giggled Mrs. Pott, "I beg pardon for laughing, my lord—but—he, he, he!—that is a letter from one Bindloose, the banker body, to the old woman Luckie Dods, as they call her, at the change-house in the Aultoun."
"Depend upon it then, Mrs. Pott, that your neighbour, Mrs. Dods, has got a lover in Mr. Bindloose—unless the banker has been shaking hands with the palsy. Why do you not forward her letter?—you are very cruel to keep it in durance here."
"Me forward!" answered Mrs. Pott; "the cappernoity, old, girning alewife, may wait long enough or I forward it—She'll not loose the letters that come to her by the King's post, and she must go on troking wi' the old carrier, as if there was no post-house in the neighbourhood. But the solicitor will be about wi' her one of these days."
"Oh! you are too cruel—you really should send the love-letter; consider, the older she is, the poor soul has the less time to lose."
But this was a topic on which Mrs. Pott understood no jesting. She was well aware of our matron's inveteracy against her and her establishment, and she resented it as a placeman resents the efforts of a radical. She answered something sulkily, "That they that loosed letters should have letters; and neither Luckie Dods, nor any of her lodgers, should ever see the scrape of a pen from the St. Ronan's office, that they did not call for and pay for."
It is probable that this declaration contained the essence of the information which Lord Etherington had designed to extract by his momentary flirtation with Mrs. Pott; for when, retreating as it were from this sore subject, she asked him, in a pretty mincing tone, to try his skill in pointing out another love-letter, he only answered carelessly, "that in order to do that he must write her one;" and leaving his confidential station by her little throne, he lounged through the narrow shop, bowed slightly to Lady Penelope as he passed, and issued forth upon the parade, where he saw a spectacle which might well have appalled a man of less self-possession than himself.
Just as he left the shop, little Miss Digges entered almost breathless, with the emotion of impatience and of curiosity. "Oh la! my lady, what do you stay here for?—Mr. Tyrrel has just entered the other end of the parade this moment, and Lord Etherington is walking that way—they must meet each other.—O lord! come, come away, and see them meet!—I wonder if they'll speak—I hope they won't fight—Oh la! do come, my lady!"
"I must go with you, I find," said Lady Penelope; "it is the strangest thing, my love, that curiosity of yours about other folk's matters—I wonder what your mamma will say to it."
"Oh! never mind mamma—nobody minds her—papa, nor nobody—Do come, dearest Lady Pen, or I will run away by myself.—Mr. Chatterly, do make her come!"
"I must come, it seems," said Lady Penelope, "or I shall have a pretty account of you."
But, notwithstanding this rebuke, and forgetting, at the same time, that people of quality ought never to seem in a hurry, Lady Penelope, with such of her satellites as she could hastily collect around her, tripped along the parade with unusual haste, in sympathy, doubtless, with Miss Digges's curiosity, as her ladyship declared she had none of her own.
Our friend, the traveller, had also caught up Miss Digges's information; and, breaking off abruptly an account of the Great Pyramid, which had been naturally introduced by the mention of the Thebais, and echoing the fair alarmist's words, "hope they won't fight," he rushed upon the parade, and bustled along as hard as his sturdy supporters could carry him. If the gravity of the traveller, and the delicacy of Lady Penelope, were surprised into unwonted haste from their eagerness to witness the meeting of Tyrrel and Lord Etherington, it may be well supposed that the decorum of the rest of the company was a slender restraint on their curiosity, and that they hurried to be present at the expected scene, with the alacrity of gentlemen of the fancy hastening to a set-to.
In truth, though the meeting afforded little sport to those who expected dire conclusions, it was, nevertheless, sufficiently interesting to those spectators who are accustomed to read the language of suppressed passion betraying itself at the moment when the parties are most desirous to conceal it.
Tyrrel had been followed by several loiterers so soon as he entered the public walk; and their number was now so much reinforced, that he saw himself with pain and displeasure the centre of a sort of crowd who watched his motions. Sir Bingo and Captain MacTurk were the first to bustle through it, and to address him with as much politeness as they could command.
"Servant, sir," mumbled Sir Bingo, extending the right hand of fellowship and reconciliation, ungloved. "Servant—sorry that anything should have happened between us—very sorry, on my word."
"No more need be said, sir," replied Tyrrel; "the whole is forgotten."
"Very handsome, indeed—quite the civil thing—hope to meet you often, sir."—And here the knight was silent.
Meanwhile, the more verbose Captain proceeded, "Och, py Cot, and it was an awfu' mistake, and I could draw the penknife across my finger for having written the word.—By my sowl, and I scratched it till I scratched a hole in the paper.—Och! that I should live to do an uncivil thing by a gentleman that had got himself hit in an honourable affair! But you should have written, my dear; for how the devil could we guess that you were so well provided in quarrels, that you had to settle two in one day!"
"I was hurt in an unexpected—an accidental manner, Captain MacTurk. I did not write, because there was something, in my circumstances at the moment which required secrecy; but I was resolved, the instant I recovered, to put myself to rights in your good opinion."
"Och! and you have done that," said the Captain, nodding sagaciously; "for Captain Jekyl, who is a fine child, has put us all up to your honourable conduct. They are pretty boys, these guardsmen, though they may play a little fine sometimes, and think more of themselves than peradventure they need for to do, in comparison with us of the line.—But he let us know all about it—and, though he said not a word of a certain fine lord, with his footpad, and his hurt, and what not, yet we all knew how to lay that and that together.—And if the law would not right you, and there were bad words between you, why should not two gentlemen right themselves? And as to your being kinsmen, why should not kinsmen behave to each other like men of honour? Only, some say you are father's sons, and that is something too near.—I had once thoughts of calling out my uncle Dougal myself, for there is no saying where the line should be drawn; but I thought, on the whole, there should be no fighting, as there is no marriage, within the forbidden degrees. As for first cousins—Wheugh!—that's all fair—fire away, Flanigan!—But here is my lord, just upon us, like a stag of the first head, and the whole herd behind him."
Tyrrel stepped forward a little before his officious companions, his complexion rapidly changing into various shades, like that of one who forces himself to approach and touch some animal or reptile for which he entertains that deep disgust and abhorrence which was anciently ascribed to constitutional antipathy. This appearance of constraint put upon himself, with the changes which it produced on his face, was calculated to prejudice him somewhat in the opinion of the spectators, when compared with the steady, stately, yet, at the same time, easy demeanour of the Earl of Etherington, who was equal to any man in England in the difficult art of putting a good countenance on a bad cause. He met Tyrrel with an air as unembarrassed, as it was cold; and, while he paid the courtesy of a formal and distant salutation, he said aloud, "I presume, Mr. Tyrrel de Martigny, that, since you have not thought fit to avoid this awkward meeting, you are disposed to remember our family connexion so far as to avoid making sport for the good company?"
"You have nothing to apprehend from my passion, Mr. Bulmer," replied Tyrrel, "if you can assure yourself against the consequences of your own."
"I am glad of that," said the Earl, with the same composure, but sinking his voice so as only to be heard by Tyrrel; "and as we may not again in a hurry hold any communication together, I take the freedom to remind you, that I sent you a proposal of accommodation by my friend, Mr. Jekyl."
"It was inadmissible," said Tyrrel—"altogether inadmissible—both from reasons which you may guess, and others which it is needless to detail.—I sent you a proposition, think of it well."
"I will," replied Lord Etherington, "when I shall see it supported by those alleged proofs, which I do not believe ever had existence."
"Your conscience holds another language from your tongue," said Tyrrel; "but I disclaim reproaches, and decline altercation. I will let Captain Jekyl know when I have received the papers, which, you say, are essential to your forming an opinion on my proposal.—In the meanwhile, do not think to deceive me. I am here for the very purpose of watching and defeating your machinations; and, while I live, be assured they shall never succeed.—And now, sir—or my lord—for the titles are in your choice—fare you well."
"Hold a little," said Lord Etherington. "Since we are condemned to shock each other's eyes, it is fit the good company should know what they are to think of us. You are a philosopher, and do not value the opinion of the public—a poor worldling like me is desirous to stand fair with it.—Gentlemen," he continued, raising his voice, "Mr. Winterblossom, Captain MacTurk, Mr.—what is his name, Jekyl?—Ay, Micklehen—You have, I believe, all some notion, that this gentleman, my near relation, and I, have some undecided claims on each other, which prevent our living upon good terms. We do not mean, however, to disturb you with our family quarrels; and, for my own part, while this gentleman, Mr. Tyrrel, or whatever he may please to call himself, remains a member of this company, my behaviour to him will be the same as to any stranger who may have that advantage.—Good morrow to you, sir—Good morning, gentlemen—we all meet at dinner, as usual.—Come, Jekyl."
So saying, he took Jekyl by the arm, and, gently extricating himself from the sort of crowd, walked off, leaving most of the company prepossessed in his favour, by the ease and apparent reasonableness of his demeanour. Sounds of depreciation, forming themselves indistinctly into something like the words, "my eye, and Betty Martin," did issue from the neckcloth of Sir Bingo, but they were not much attended to; for it had not escaped the observation of the quicksighted gentry at the Well, that the Baronet's feelings towards the noble Earl were in the inverse ratio of those displayed by Lady Binks, and that, though ashamed to testify, or perhaps incapable of feeling, any anxious degree of jealousy, his temper had been for some time considerably upon the fret; a circumstance concerning which his fair moiety did not think it necessary to give herself any concern.
Meanwhile, the Earl of Etherington walked onward with his confidant, in the full triumph of successful genius.
"You see," he said, "Jekyl, that I can turn a corner with any man in England. It was a proper blunder of yours, that you must extricate the fellow from the mist which accident had flung around him—you might as well have published the story of our rencontre at once, for every one can guess it, by laying time, place, and circumstance together; but never trouble your brains for a justification. You marked how I assumed my natural superiority over him—towered up in the full pride of legitimacy—silenced him even where the good company most do congregate. This will go to Mowbray through his agent, and will put him still madder on my alliance. I know he looks jealously on my flirtation with a certain lady—the dasher yonder—nothing makes a man sensible of the value of an opportunity, but the chance of losing it."
"I wish to Heaven you would give up thoughts of Miss Mowbray!" said Jekyl; "and take Tyrrel's offer, if he has the means of making it good."
"Ay, if—if. But I am quite sure he has no such rights as he pretends to, and that his papers are all a deception.—Why do you put your eye upon me as fixed as if you were searching out some wonderful secret?"
"I wish I knew what to think of your real bona fide belief respecting these documents," said Jekyl, not a little puzzled by the steady and unembarrassed air of his friend.
"Why, thou most suspicious of coxcombs," said Etherington, "what the devil would you have me say to you?—Can I, as the lawyers say, prove a negative? or, is it not very possible, that such things may exist, though I have never seen or heard of them? All I can say is, that of all men I am the most interested to deny the existence of such documents; and, therefore, certainly will not admit of it, unless I am compelled to do so by their being produced; nor then either, unless I am at the same time well assured of their authenticity."
"I cannot blame you for your being hard of faith, my lord," said Jekyl; "but still I think if you can cut out with your earldom, and your noble hereditary estate, I would, in your case, pitch Nettlewood to the devil."
"Yes, as you pitched your own patrimony, Jekyl; but you took care to have the spending of it first.—What would you give for such an opportunity of piecing your fortunes by marriage?—Confess the truth."
"I might be tempted, perhaps," said Jekyl, "in my present circumstances; but if they were what they have been, I should despise an estate that was to be held by petticoat tenure, especially when the lady of the manor was a sickly fantastic girl, that hated me, as this Miss Mowbray has the bad taste to hate you."
"Umph—sickly?—no, no, she is not sickly—she is as healthy as any one in constitution—and, on my word, I think her paleness only renders her more interesting. The last time I saw her, I thought she might have rivalled one of Canova's finest statues."
"Yes; but she is indifferent to you—you do not love her," said Jekyl.
"She is any thing but indifferent to me," said the Earl; "she becomes daily more interesting—for her dislike piques me; and besides, she has the insolence openly to defy and contemn me before her brother, and in the eyes of all the world. I have a kind of loving hatred—a sort of hating love for her; in short, thinking upon her is like trying to read a riddle, and makes one make quite as many blunders, and talk just as much nonsense. If ever I have the opportunity, I will make her pay for all her airs."
"What airs?" said Jekyl.
"Nay, the devil may describe them, for I cannot; but, for example—Since her brother has insisted on her receiving me, or I should rather say on her appearing when I visit Shaws-Castle, one would think her invention has toiled in discovering different ways of showing want of respect to me, and dislike to my presence. Instead of dressing herself as a lady should, especially on such occasions, she chooses some fantastic, or old-fashioned, or negligent bedizening, which makes her at least look odd, if it cannot make her ridiculous—such triple tiaras of various-coloured gauze on her head—such pieces of old tapestry, I think, instead of shawls and pelisses—such thick-soled shoes—such tan-leather gloves—mercy upon us, Hal, the very sight of her equipment would drive mad a whole conclave of milliners! Then her postures are so strange—she does so stoop and lollop, as the women call it, so cross her legs and square her arms—were the goddess of grace to look down on her, it would put her to flight for ever!"
"And you are willing to make this awkward, ill-dressed, unmannered dowdy, your Countess, Etherington; you, for whose critical eye half the town dress themselves?" said Jekyl.
"It is all a trick, Hal—all an assumed character to get rid of me, to disgust me, to baffle me; but I am not to be had so easily. The brother is driven to despair—he bites his nails, winks, coughs, makes signs, which she always takes up at cross-purpose.—I hope he beats her after I go away; there would be a touch of consolation, were one but certain of that."
"A very charitable hope, truly, and your present feelings might lead the lady to judge what she may expect after wedlock. But," added Jekyl, "cannot you, so skilful in fathoming every mood of the female mind, divine some mode of engaging her in conversation?"
"Conversation!" replied the Earl; "why, ever since the shock of my first appearance was surmounted, she has contrived to vote me a nonentity; and that she may annihilate me completely, she has chosen, of all occupations, that of working a stocking! From what cursed old antediluvian, who lived before the invention of spinning-jennies, she learned this craft, Heaven only knows; but there she sits, with her work pinned to her knee—not the pretty taper silken fabric, with which Jeannette of Amiens coquetted, while Tristram Shandy was observing her progress; but a huge worsted bag, designed for some flat-footed old pauper, with heels like an elephant—And there she squats, counting all the stitches as she works, and refusing to speak, or listen, or look up, under pretence that it disturbs her calculation!"
"An elegant occupation, truly, and I wonder it does not work a cure upon her noble admirer," said Jekyl.
"Confound her—no—she shall not trick me. And then amid this affectation of vulgar stolidity, there break out such sparkles of exultation, when she thinks she has succeeded in baffling her brother, and in plaguing me, that, by my faith, Hal, I could not tell, were it at my option, whether to kiss or to cuff her."
"You are determined to go on with this strange affair, then?" said Jekyl.
"On—on—on, my boy!—Clara and Nettlewood for ever!" answered the Earl. "Besides this brother of hers provokes me too—he does not do for me half what he might—what he ought to do. He stands on points of honour, forsooth, this broken-down horse-jockey, who swallowed my two thousand pounds as a pointer would a pat of butter.—I can see he wishes to play fast and loose—has some suspicions, like you, Hal, upon the strength of my right to my father's titles and estate; as if, with the tithe of the Nettlewood property alone, I would not be too good a match for one of his beggarly family. He must scheme, forsooth, this half-baked Scotch cake!—He must hold off and on, and be cautious, and wait the result, and try conclusions with me, this lump of oatmeal dough!—I am much tempted to make an example of him in the course of my proceedings."
"Why, this is vengeance horrible and dire," said Jekyl; "yet I give up the brother to you; he is a conceited coxcomb, and deserves a lesson. But I would fain intercede for the sister."
"We shall see"—replied the Earl; and then suddenly, "I tell you what it is, Hal; her caprices are so diverting, that I sometimes think out of mere contradiction, I almost love her; at least, if she would but clear old scores, and forget one unlucky prank of mine, it should be her own fault if I did not make her a happy woman."
[II-8] "Rob as a footpad."
It comes—it wrings me in my parting hour, The long-hid crime—the well-disguised guilt. Bring me some holy priest to lay the spectre!
The general expectation of the company had been disappointed by the pacific termination of the meeting betwixt the Earl of Etherington and Tyrrel, the anticipation of which had created so deep a sensation. It had been expected that some appalling scene would have taken place; instead of which, each party seemed to acquiesce in a sullen neutrality, and leave the war to be carried on by their lawyers. It was generally understood that the cause was removed out of the courts of Bellona into that of Themis; and although the litigants continued to inhabit the same neighbourhood, and once or twice met at the public walks or public table, they took no notice of each other, farther than by exchanging on such occasions, a grave and distant bow.
In the course of two or three days, people ceased to take interest in a feud so coldly conducted; and if they thought of it at all, it was but to wonder that both the parties should persevere in residing near the Spa, and in chilling, with their unsocial behaviour, a party met together for the purposes of health and amusement.
But the brothers, as the reader is aware, however painful their occasional meetings might be, had the strongest reasons to remain in each other's neighbourhood—Lord Etherington to conduct his design upon Miss Mowbray, Tyrrel to disconcert his plan, if possible, and both to await the answer which should be returned by the house in London, who were depositaries of the papers left by the late Earl.
Jekyl, anxious to assist his friend as much as possible, made in the meantime a visit to old Touchwood at the Aultoun, expecting to find him as communicative as he had formerly been on the subject of the quarrel betwixt the brothers, and trusting to discover, by dint of address, whence he had derived his information concerning the affairs of the noble house of Etherington. But the confidence which he had been induced to expect on the part of the old traveller was not reposed. Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, as the Earl called him, had changed his mind, or was not in the vein of communication. The only proof of his confidence worth mentioning, was his imparting to the young officer a valuable receipt for concocting curry-powder.
Jekyl was therefore reduced to believe that Touchwood, who appeared all his life to have been a great intermeddler in other people's matters, had puzzled out the information which he appeared to possess of Lord Etherington's affairs, through some of those obscure sources whence very important secrets do frequently, to the astonishment and confusion of those whom they concern, escape to the public. He thought this the more likely, as Touchwood was by no means critically nice in his society, but was observed to converse as readily with a gentleman's gentleman, as with the gentleman to whom he belonged, and with a lady's attendant, as with the lady herself. He that will stoop to this sort of society, who is fond of tattle, being at the same time disposed to pay some consideration for gratification of his curiosity, and not over scrupulous respecting its accuracy, may always command a great quantity of private anecdote. Captain Jekyl naturally enough concluded, that this busy old man became in some degree master of other people's affairs by such correspondences as these; and he could himself bear witness to his success in cross-examination, as he had been surprised into an avowal of the rencontre between the brothers, by an insidious observation of the said Touchwood. He reported, therefore, to the Earl, after this interview, that, on the whole, he thought he had no reason to fear much on the subject of the traveller, who, though he had become acquainted, by some means or other, with some leading facts of his remarkable history; only possessed them in a broken, confused, and desultory manner, insomuch that he seemed to doubt whether the parties in the expected lawsuit were brothers or cousins, and appeared totally ignorant of the facts on which it was to be founded.
It was the next day after this eclaircissement on the subject of Touchwood, that Lord Etherington dropped as usual into the bookseller's shop, got his papers, and skimming his eye over the shelf on which lay, till called for, the postponed letters destined for the Aultoun, saw with a beating heart the smart post-mistress toss amongst them, with an air of sovereign contempt, a pretty large packet, addressed to Francis Tyrrel, Esq. &c. He withdrew his eyes, as if conscious that even to have looked on this important parcel might engender some suspicion of his purpose, or intimate the deep interest which he took in the contents of the missive which was so slightly treated by his friend Mrs. Pott. At this moment the door of the shop opened, and Lady Penelope Penfeather entered, with her eternal pendante, the little Miss Digges.
"Have you seen Mr. Mowbray?—Has Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's been down this morning?—Do you know any thing of Mr. Mowbray, Mrs. Pott?" were questions which the lettered lady eagerly huddled on the back of each other, scarcely giving time to the lady of letters to return a decided negative to all and each of them.
"Mr. Mowbray was not about—was not coming there this morning—his servant had just called for letters and papers, and announced as much."
"Good Heaven! how unfortunate!" said Lady Penelope, with a deep sigh, and sinking down on one of the little sofas in an attitude of shocking desolation, which called the instant attention of Mr. Pott and his good woman, the first uncorking a small phial of salts, for he was a pharmacopolist as well as vender of literature and transmitter of letters, and the other hastening for a glass of water. A strong temptation thrilled from Lord Etherington's eyes to his finger-ends. Two steps might have brought him within arm's-length of the unwatched packet, on the contents of which, in all probability, rested the hope and claims of his rival in honour and fortune; and, in the general confusion, was it impossible to possess himself of it unobserved? But no—no—no—the attempt was too dreadfully dangerous to be risked; and, passing from one extreme to another, he felt as if he was incurring suspicion by suffering Lady Penelope to play off her airs of affected distress and anxiety, without seeming to take that interest in them which her rank at least might be supposed to demand. Stung with this apprehension, he hastened to express himself so anxiously on the subject, and to demonstrate so busily his wish to assist her ladyship, that he presently stood committed a great deal farther than he had intended. Lady Penelope was infinitely obliged to his lordship—indeed, it was her character in general not to permit herself to be overcome by circumstances; but something had happened, so strange, so embarrassing, so melancholy, that she owned it had quite overcome her—notwithstanding, she had at all times piqued herself on supporting her own distresses, better than she was able to suppress her emotions in viewing those of others.
"Could he be of any use?" Lord Etherington asked. "She had enquired after Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's—his servant was at her ladyship's service, if she chose to send to command his attendance."
"Oh! no, no!" said Lady Penelope; "I dare say, my dear lord, you will answer the purpose a great deal better than Mr. Mowbray—that is, provided you are a Justice of Peace."
"A Justice of Peace!" said Lord Etherington, much surprised; "I am in the commission unquestionably, but not for any Scotch county."
"O, that does not signify," said Lady Penelope; "and if you will trust yourself with me a little way, I will explain to you how you can do one of the most charitable, and kind, and generous things in the world."
Lord Etherington's delight in the exercise of charity, kindness, and generosity, was not so exuberant as to prevent his devising some means for evading Lady Penelope's request, when, looking through the sash-door, he had a distant glance of his servant Solmes approaching the Post-office.
I have heard of a sheep-stealer who had rendered his dog so skilful an accomplice in his nefarious traffic, that he used to send him out to commit acts of felony by himself, and had even contrived to impress on the poor cur the caution that he should not, on such occasions, seem even to recognise his master, if they met accidentally.[II-9] Apparently, Lord Etherington conducted himself upon a similar principle; for he had no sooner a glimpse of his agent, than he seemed to feel the necessity of leaving the stage free for his machinations.
"My servant," he said, with as much indifference as he could assume, "will call for my letters—I must attend Lady Penelope;" and, instantly proffering his services as Justice of the Peace, or in whatever other quality she chose to employ them, he hastily presented his arm, and scarce gave her ladyship time to recover from her state of languor to the necessary degree of activity, ere he hurried her from the shop; and, with her thin hatchet-face chattering close to his ear, her yellow and scarlet feathers crossing his nose, her lean right honourable arm hooking his elbow, he braved the suppressed titters and sneers of all the younger women whom he met as they traversed the parade. One glance of intelligence, though shot at a distance, passed betwixt his lordship and Solmes, as the former left the public walk under the guidance of Lady Penelope, his limbs indeed obeying her pleasure, and his ears dinned with her attempts to explain the business in question, but his mind totally indifferent where he was going, or ignorant on what purpose, and exclusively occupied with the packet in Mrs. Pott's heap of postponed letters, and its probable fate.
At length an effort of recollection made Lord Etherington sensible that his abstraction must seem strange, and, as his conscience told him, even suspicious in the eyes of his companion; putting therefore the necessary degree of constraint upon himself, he expressed, for the first time, curiosity to know where their walk was to terminate. It chanced, that this was precisely the question which he needed not to have asked, if he had paid but the slightest attention to the very voluble communications of her ladyship, which had all turned upon this subject.
"Now, my dear lord," she said, "I must believe you lords of the creation think us poor simple women the vainest fools alive. I have told you how much pain it costs me to speak about my little charities, and yet you come to make me tell you the whole story over again. But I hope, after all, your lordship is not surprised at what I have thought it my duty to do in this sad affair—perhaps I have listened too much to the dictates of my own heart, which are apt to be so deceitful."
On the watch to get at something explanatory, yet afraid, by demanding it directly, to show that the previous tide of narrative and pathos had been lost on an inattentive ear, Lord Etherington could only say, that Lady Penelope could not err in acting according to the dictates of her own judgment.
Still the compliment had not sauce enough for the lady's sated palate; so, like a true glutton of praise, she began to help herself with the soup-ladle.
"Ah! judgment?—how is it you men know us so little, that you think we can pause to weigh sentiment in the balance of judgment?—that is expecting rather too much from us poor victims of our feelings. So that you must really hold me excused if I forgot the errors of this guilty and unhappy creature, when I looked upon her wretchedness—Not that I would have my little friend, Miss Digges, or your lordship, suppose that I am capable of palliating the fault, while I pity the poor, miserable sinner. Oh, no—Walpole's verses express beautifully what one ought to feel on such occasions—
'For never was the gentle breast Insensible to human woes; Feeling, though firm, it melts distress'd For weaknesses it never knows.'"
"Most accursed of all precieuses," thought his lordship, "when wilt thou, amidst all thy chatter, utter one word sounding like sense or information!"
But, Lady Penelope went on—"If you knew, my lord, how I lament my limited means on those occasions! but I have gathered something among the good people at the Well. I asked that selfish wretch, Winterblossom, to walk down with me to view her distress, and the heartless beast told me he was afraid of infection!—infection from a puer—puerperal fever! I should not perhaps pronounce the word, but science is of no sex—however, I have always used thieves' vinegar essence, and never have gone farther than the threshold."
Whatever were Etherington's faults, he did not want charity, so far as it consists in giving alms.
"I am sorry," he said, taking out his purse, "your ladyship should not have applied to me."
"Pardon me, my lord, we only beg from our friends; and your lordship is so constantly engaged with Lady Binks, that we have rarely the pleasure of seeing you in what I call my little circle."
Lord Etherington, without further answer, tendered a couple of guineas, and observed, that the poor woman should have medical attendance.
"Why, so I say," answered Lady Penelope; "and I asked the brute Quackleben, who, I am sure, owes me some gratitude, to go and see her; but the sordid monster answered, 'Who was to pay him?'—He grows every day more intolerable, now that he seems sure of marrying that fat blowzy widow. He could not, I am sure, expect that I—out of my pittance—And besides, my lord, is there not a law that the parish, or the county, or the something or other, shall pay for physicking the poor?"
"We will find means to secure the Doctor's attendance," said Lord Etherington; "and I believe my best way will be to walk back to the Well, and send him to wait on the patient. I am afraid I can be of little use to a poor woman in a childbed fever."
"Puerperal, my lord, puerperal," said Lady Penelope, in a tone of correction.
"In a puerperal fever, then," said Lord Etherington; "why, what can I do to help her?"
"Oh! my lord, you have forgotten that this Anne Heggie, that I told you of, came here with one child in her arms—and another—in short, about to become a mother again—and settled herself in this miserable hut I told you of—and some people think the minister should have sent her to her own parish; but he is a strange, soft-headed, sleepy sort of man, not over active in his parochial duties. However, there she settled, and there was something about her quite beyond the style of a common pauper, my lord—not at all the disgusting sort of person that you give a sixpence to while you look another way—but some one that seemed to have seen better days—one that, as Shakspeare says, could a tale unfold—though, indeed, I have never thoroughly learned her history—only, that to-day, as I called to know how she was, and sent my maid into her hut with some trifle, not worth mentioning, I find there is something hangs about her mind concerning the Mowbray family here of St. Ronan's—and my woman says the poor creature is dying, and is raving either for Mr. Mowbray or for some magistrate to receive a declaration; and so I have given you the trouble to come with me, that we may get out of the poor creature, if possible, whatever she has got to say.—I hope it is not murder—I hope not—though young St. Ronan's has been a strange, wild, daring, thoughtless creature—sgherro insigne, as the Italian says.—But here is the hut, my lord—pray, walk in."
The mention of the St. Ronan's family, and of a secret relating to them, banished the thoughts which Lord Etherington began to entertain of leaving Lady Penelope to execute her works of devoted charity without his assistance. It was now with an interest equal to her own, that he stood before a most miserable hut, where the unfortunate female, her distresses not greatly relieved by Lady Penelope's ostentatious bounty, had resided both previous to her confinement, and since that event had taken place, with an old woman, one of the parish poor, whose miserable dole the minister had augmented, that she might have some means of assisting the stranger.
Lady Penelope lifted the latch and entered, after a momentary hesitation, which proceeded from a struggle betwixt her fear of infection, and her eager curiosity to know something, she could not guess what, that might affect the Mowbrays in their honour or fortunes. The latter soon prevailed, and she entered, followed by Lord Etherington. The lady, like other comforters of the cabins of the poor, proceeded to rebuke the grumbling old woman for want of order and cleanliness—censured the food which was provided for the patient, and enquired particularly after the wine which she had left to make caudle with. The crone was not so dazzled with Lady Penelope's dignity or bounty as to endure her reprimand with patience. "They that had their bread to won wi' ae arm," she said, for the other hung powerless by her side, "had mair to do than to soop hooses; if her leddyship wad let her ain idle quean of a lass take the besom, she might make the house as clean as she liked; and madam wad be a' the better of the exercise, and wad hae done, at least, ae turn of wark at the week's end."
"Do you hear the old hag, my lord?" said Lady Penelope. "Well, the poor are horrid ungrateful wretches—And the wine, dame—the wine?"
"The wine!—there was hardly half a mutchkin, and puir, thin, fusionless skink it was—the wine was drank out, ye may swear—we didna fling it ower our shouther—if ever we were to get good o't, it was by taking it naked, and no wi' your sugar and your slaisters—I wish, for ane, I had ne'er kend the sour smack o't. If the bedral hadna gien me a drap of usquebaugh, I might e'en hae died of your leddyship's liquor, for"——
Lord Etherington here interrupted the grumbling crone, thrusting some silver into her grasp, and at the same time begging her to be silent. The hag weighed the crown-piece in her hand, and crawled to her chimney-corner, muttering as she went,—"This is something like—this is something like—no like rinning into the house and out of the house, and geeing orders, like mistress and mair, and than a puir shilling again Saturday at e'en."
So saying, she sat down to her wheel, and seized, while she spun, her jet-black cutty pipe, from which she soon sent such clouds of vile mundungus vapour as must have cleared the premises of Lady Penelope, had she not been strong in purpose to share the expected confession of the invalid. As for Miss Digges, she coughed, sneezed, retched, and finally ran out of the cottage, declaring she could not live in such a smoke, if it were to hear twenty sick women's last speeches; and that, besides, she was sure to know all about it from Lady Penelope, if it was ever so little worth telling over again.
Lord Etherington was now standing beside the miserable flock-bed, in which lay the poor patient, distracted, in what seemed to be her dying moments, with the peevish clamour of the elder infant, to which she could only reply by low moans, turning her looks as well as she could from its ceaseless whine to the other side of her wretched couch, where lay the unlucky creature to which she had last given birth; its shivering limbs imperfectly covered with a blanket, its little features already swollen and bloated, and its eyes scarce open, apparently insensible to the evils of a state from which it seemed about to be speedily released.
"You are very ill, poor woman," said Lord Etherington; "I am told you desire a magistrate."
"It was Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's, whom I desired to see—John Mowbray of St. Ronan's—the lady promised to bring him here."
"I am not Mowbray of St. Ronan's," said Lord Etherington; "but I am a justice of peace, and a member of the legislature—I am, moreover, Mr. Mowbray's particular friend, if I can be of use to you in any of these capacities."
The poor woman remained long silent, and when she spoke it was doubtfully.
"Is my Lady Penelope Penfeather there?" she said, straining her darkened eyes.
"Her ladyship is present, and within hearing," said Lord Etherington.
"My case is the worse," answered the dying woman, for so she seemed, "if I must communicate such a secret as mine to a man of whom I know nothing, and a woman of whom I only know that she wants discretion."
"I—I want discretion!" said Lady Penelope; but at a signal from Lord Etherington she seemed to restrain herself; nor did the sick woman, whose powers of observation were greatly impaired, seem to be aware of the interruption. She spoke, notwithstanding her situation, with an intelligible and even emphatic voice; her manner in a great measure betraying the influence of the fever, and her tone and language seeming much superior to her most miserable condition.
"I am not the abject creature which I seem," she said; "at least, I was not born to be so. I wish I were that utter abject! I wish I were a wretched pauper of the lowest class—a starving vagabond—a wifeless mother—ignorance and insensibility would make me bear my lot like the outcast animal that dies patiently on the side of the common, where it has been half-starved during its life. But I—but I—born and bred to better things, have not lost the memory of them, and they make my present condition—my shame—my poverty—my infamy—the sight of my dying babes—the sense that my own death is coming fast on—they make these things a foretaste of hell!"
Lady Penelope's self-conceit and affectation were broken down by this fearful exordium. She sobbed, shuddered, and, for once perhaps in her life, felt the real, not the assumed necessity, of putting her handkerchief to her eyes. Lord Etherington also was moved.
"Good woman," he said, "as far as relieving your personal wants can mitigate your distress, I will see that that is fully performed, and that your poor children are attended to."
"May God bless you!" said the poor woman, with a glance at the wretched forms beside her; "and may you," she added, after a momentary pause, "deserve the blessing of God, for it is bestowed in vain on those who are unworthy of it!"
Lord Etherington felt, perhaps, a twinge of conscience; for he said, something hastily, "Pray go on, good woman, if you really have any thing to communicate to me as a magistrate—it is time your condition was somewhat mended, and I will cause you to be cared for directly."
"Stop yet a moment," she said; "let me unload my conscience before I go hence, for no earthly relief will long avail to prolong my time here.—I was well born, the more my present shame! well educated, the greater my present guilt!—I was always, indeed, poor, but I felt not of the ills of poverty. I only thought of it when my vanity demanded idle and expensive gratifications, for real wants I knew none. I was companion of a young lady of higher rank than my own, my relative however, and one of such exquisite kindness of disposition, that she treated me as a sister, and would have shared with me all that she had on earth——I scarce think I can go farther with my story!—something rises to my throat when I recollect how I rewarded her sisterly love!—I was elder than Clara—I should have directed her reading, and confirmed her understanding; but my own bent led me to peruse only works, which, though they burlesque nature, are seductive to the imagination. We read these follies together, until we had fashioned out for ourselves a little world of romance, and prepared ourselves for a maze of adventures. Clara's imaginations were as pure as those of angels; mine were—but it is unnecessary to tell them. The fiend, always watchful, presented a tempter at the moment when it was most dangerous."
She paused here, as if she found difficulty in expressing herself; and Lord Etherington, turning, with great appearance of interest, to Lady Penelope, began to enquire, "Whether it were quite agreeable to her ladyship to remain any longer an ear-witness of this unfortunate's confession?—it seems to be verging on some things—things that it might be unpleasant for your ladyship to hear."
"I was just forming the same opinion, my lord; and, to say truth, was about to propose to your lordship to withdraw, and leave me alone with the poor woman. My sex will make her necessary communications more frank in your lordship's absence."
"True, madam; but then I am called here in my capacity of a magistrate."
"Hush!" said Lady Penelope; "she speaks."
"They say every woman that yields, makes herself a slave to her seducer; but I sold my liberty not to a man, but a demon! He made me serve him in his vile schemes against my friend and patroness—and oh! he found in me an agent too willing, from mere envy, to destroy the virtue which I had lost myself. Do not listen to me any more—Go, and leave me to my fate! I am the most detestable wretch that ever lived—detestable to myself worst of all, because even in my penitence there is a secret whisper that tells me, that were I as I have been, I would again act over all the wickedness I have done, and much worse. Oh! for Heaven's assistance, to crush the wicked thought!"
She closed her eyes, folded her emaciated hands, and held them upwards in the attitude of one who prays internally; presently the hands separated, and fell gently down on the miserable couch; but her eyes did not open, nor was there the slightest sign of motion in the features. Lady Penelope shrieked faintly, hid her eyes, and hurried back from the bed, while Lord Etherington, his looks darkening with a complication of feelings, remained gazing on the poor woman, as if eager to discern whether the spark of life was totally extinct. Her grim old assistant hurried to the bedside, with some spirits in a broken glass.
"Have ye no had pennyworths for your charity?" she said, in spiteful scorn. "Ye buy the very life o' us wi' your shillings and sixpences, your groats and your boddles—ye hae garr'd the puir wretch speak till she swarfs, and now ye stand as if ye never saw a woman in a dwam before? Let me till her wi' the dram—mony words mickle drought, ye ken—Stand out o' my gate, my leddy, if sae be that ye are a leddy; there is little use of the like of you when there is death in the pot."
Lady Penelope, half affronted, but still more frightened by the manners of the old hag, now gladly embraced Lord Etherington's renewed offer to escort her from the hut. He left it not, however, without bestowing an additional gratuity on the old woman, who received it with a whining benediction.
"The Almighty guide your course through the troubles of this wicked warld—and the muckle deevil blaw wind in your sails," she added, in her natural tone, as the guests vanished from her miserable threshold. "A wheen cork-headed, barmy-brained gowks! that wunna let puir folk sae muckle as die in quiet, wi' their sossings and their soopings."[II-10]
"This poor creature's declaration," said Lord Etherington to Lady Penelope, "seems to refer to matters which the law has nothing to do with, and which, perhaps, as they seem to implicate the peace of a family of respectability, and the character of a young lady, we ought to enquire no farther after."
"I differ from your lordship," said Lady Penelope; "I differ extremely—I suppose you guess whom her discourse touched upon?"
"Indeed, your ladyship does my acuteness too much honour."
"Did she not mention a Christian name?" said Lady Penelope; "your lordship is strangely dull this morning!"
"A Christian name?—No, none that I heard—yes, she said something about—a Catherine, I think it was."
"Catherine!" answered the lady; "No, my lord, it was Clara—rather a rare name in this country, and belonging, I think, to a young lady of whom your lordship should know something, unless your evening flirtations with Lady Binks have blotted entirely out of your memory your morning visits to Shaws-Castle. You are a bold man, my lord. I would advise you to include Mrs. Blower among the objects of your attention, and then you will have maid, wife, and widow upon your list."
"Upon my honour, your ladyship is too severe," said Lord Etherington; "you surround yourself every evening with all that is clever and accomplished among the people here, and then you ridicule a poor secluded monster, who dare not approach your charmed circle, because he seeks for some amusement elsewhere. This is to tyrannize and not to reign—it is Turkish despotism!"
"Ah! my lord, I know you well, my lord," said Lady Penelope—"Sorry would your lordship be, had you not power to render yourself welcome to any circle which you may please to approach."
"That is to say," answered the lord, "you will pardon me if I intrude on your ladyship's coterie this evening?"
"There is no society which Lord Etherington can think of frequenting, where he will not be a welcome guest."
"I will plead then at once my pardon and privilege this evening—And now," (speaking as if he had succeeded in establishing some confidence with her ladyship,) "what do you really think of this blind story?"
"O, I must believe it concerns Miss Mowbray. She was always an odd girl—something about her I could never endure—a sort of effrontery—that is, perhaps, a harsh word, but a kind of assurance—an air of confidence—so that though I kept on a footing with her, because she was an orphan girl of good family, and because I really knew nothing positively bad of her, yet she sometimes absolutely shocked me."
"Your ladyship, perhaps, would not think it right to give publicity to the story? at least, till you know exactly what it is," said the Earl, in a tone of suggestion.
"Depend upon it, that it is quite the worst, the very worst—You heard the woman say that she had exposed Clara to ruin—and you know she must have meant Clara Mowbray, because she was so anxious to tell the story to her brother, St. Ronan's."
"Very true—I did not think of that," answered Lord Etherington; "still it would be hard on the poor girl if it should get abroad."
"O, it will never get abroad for me," said Lady Penelope; "I would not tell the very wind of it. But then I cannot meet Miss Mowbray as formerly—I have a station in life to maintain, my lord—and I am under the necessity of being select in my society—it is a duty I owe the public, if it were even not my own inclination."
"Certainly, my Lady Penelope," said Lord Etherington; "but then consider, that, in a place where all eyes are necessarily observant of your ladyship's behaviour, the least coldness on your part to Miss Mowbray—and, after all, we have nothing like assurance of any thing being wrong there—would ruin her with the company here, and with the world at large."
"Oh! my lord," answered Lady Penelope, "as for the truth of the story, I have some private reasons of my own for 'holding the strange tale devoutly true;' for I had a mysterious hint from a very worthy, but a very singular man, (your lordship knows how I adore originality,) the clergyman of the parish, who made me aware there was something wrong about Miss Clara—something that—your lordship will excuse my speaking more plainly,—Oh, no!—I fear—I fear it is all too true—You know Mr. Cargill, I suppose, my lord?"
"Yes—no—I—I think I have seen him," said Lord Etherington. "But how came the lady to make the parson her father-confessor?—they have no auricular confession in the Kirk—it must have been with the purpose of marriage, I presume—let us hope that it took place—perhaps it really was so—did he, Cargill—the minister, I mean—say any thing of such a matter?"
"Not a word—not a word—I see where you are, my lord; you would put a good face on't.—
'They call'd it marriage, by that specious name To veil the crime, and sanctify the shame.'
Queen Dido for that. How the clergyman came into the secret I cannot tell—he is a very close man. But I know he will not hear of Miss Mowbray being married to any one, unquestionably because he knows that, in doing so, she would introduce disgrace into some honest family—and, truly, I am much of his mind, my lord."
"Perhaps Mr. Cargill may know the lady is privately married already," said the Earl; "I think that is the more natural inference, begging your ladyship's pardon for presuming to differ in opinion."
Lady Penelope seemed determined not to take this view of the case.
"No, no—no, I tell you," she replied; "she cannot be married, for if she were married, how could the poor wretch say that she was ruined?—You know there is a difference betwixt ruin and marriage."
"Some people are said to have found them synonymous, Lady Penelope," answered the Earl.
"You are smart on me, my lord; but still, in common parlance, when we say a woman is ruined, we mean quite the contrary of her being married—it is impossible for me to be more explicit upon such a topic, my lord."
"I defer to your ladyship's better judgment," said Lord Etherington. "I only entreat you to observe a little caution in this business—I will make the strictest enquiries of this woman, and acquaint you with the result; and I hope, out of regard to the respectable family of St. Ronan's, your ladyship will be in no hurry to intimate any thing to Miss Mowbray's prejudice."
"I certainly am no person to spread scandal, my lord," answered the lady, drawing herself up; "at the same time, I must say, the Mowbrays have little claim on me for forbearance. I am sure I was the first person to bring this Spa into fashion, which has been a matter of such consequence to their estate; and yet Mr. Mowbray set himself against me, my lord, in every possible sort of way, and encouraged the under-bred people about him to behave very strangely.—There was the business of building the Belvidere, which he would not permit to be done out of the stock-purse of the company, because I had given the workmen the plan and the orders—and then, about the tea-room—and the hour for beginning dancing—and about the subscription for Mr. Rymour's new Tale of Chivalry—in short, I owe no consideration to Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's."
"But the poor young lady?" said Lord Etherington.
"Oh! the poor young lady?—the poor young lady can be as saucy as a rich young lady, I promise you.—There was a business in which she used me scandalously, Lord Etherington—it was about a very trifling matter—a shawl. Nobody minds dress less than I do, my lord; I thank Heaven my thoughts turn upon very different topics—but it is in trifles that disrespect and unkindness are shown; and I have had a full share of both from Miss Clara, besides a good deal of impertinence from her brother upon the same subject."
"There is but one way remains," thought the Earl, as they approached the Spa, "and that is to work on the fears of this d—d vindictive blue-stocking'd wild-cat.—Your ladyship," he said aloud, "is aware what severe damages have been awarded in late cases where something approaching to scandal has been traced to ladies of consideration—the privileges of the tea-table have been found insufficient to protect some fair critics against the consequences of too frank and liberal animadversion upon the characters of their friends. So pray, remember, that as yet we know very little on this subject."
Lady Penelope loved money, and feared the law; and this hint, fortified by her acquaintance with Mowbray's love of his sister, and his irritable and revengeful disposition, brought her in a moment much nearer the temper in which Lord Etherington wished to leave her. She protested, that no one could be more tender than she of the fame of the unfortunate, even supposing their guilt was fully proved—promised caution on the subject of the pauper's declaration, and hoped Lord Etherington would join her tea-party early in the evening, as she wished to make him acquainted with one or two of her proteges, whom, she was sure, his lordship would find deserving of his advice and countenance. Being by this time at the door of her own apartment, her ladyship took leave of the Earl with a most gracious smile.
[II-9] Note I.
[II-10] Note II.
On the lee-beam lies the land, boys, See all clear to reef each course; Let the fore-sheet go, don't mind, boys, Though the weather should be worse.
"It darkens round me like a tempest," thought Lord Etherington, as, with slow step, folded arms, and his white hat slouched over his brows, he traversed the short interval of space betwixt his own apartments and those of the Lady Penelope. In a buck of the old school, one of Congreve's men of wit and pleasure about town, this would have been a departure from character; but the present fine man does not derogate from his quality, even by exhibiting all the moody and gentlemanlike solemnity of Master Stephen.[II-C] So, Lord Etherington was at liberty to carry on his reflections, without attracting observation.—"I have put a stopper into the mouth of that old vinegar-cruet of quality, but the acidity of her temper will soon dissolve the charm—And what to do?"
As he looked round him, he saw his trusty valet Solmes, who, touching his hat with due respect, said, as he passed him, "Your lordship's letters are in your private dispatch-box."
Simple as these words were, and indifferent the tone in which they were spoken, their import made Lord Etherington's heart bound as if his fate had depended on the accents. He intimated no farther interest in the communication, however, than to desire Solmes to be below, in case he should ring; and with these words entered his apartment, and barred and bolted the door, even before he looked on the table where his dispatch-box was placed.
Lord Etherington had, as is usual, one key to the box which held his letters, his confidential servant being intrusted with the other; so that, under the protection of a patent lock, his dispatches escaped all risk of being tampered with,—a precaution not altogether unnecessary on the part of those who frequent hotels and lodging-houses.
"By your leave, Mr. Bramah," said the Earl, as he applied the key, jesting, as it were, with his own agitation, as he would have done with that of a third party. The lid was raised, and displayed the packet, the appearance and superscription of which had attracted his observation but a short while before in the post-office. Then he would have given much to be possessed of the opportunity which was now in his power; but many pause on the brink of a crime, who have contemplated it at a distance without scruple. Lord Etherington's first impulse had led him to poke the fire; and he held in his hand the letter which he was more than half tempted to commit, without even breaking the seal, to the fiery element. But, though sufficiently familiarized with guilt, he was not as yet acquainted with it in its basest shapes—he had not yet acted with meanness, or at least with what the world terms such. He had been a duellist, the manners of the age authorized it—a libertine, the world excused it to his youth and condition—a bold and successful gambler, for that quality he was admired and envied; and a thousand other inaccuracies, to which these practices and habits lead, were easily slurred over in a man of quality, with fortune and spirit to support his rank. But his present meditated act was of a different kind. Tell it not in Bond Street, whisper it not on St. James's pavement!—it amounted to an act of petty larceny, for which the code of honour would admit of no composition.
Lord Etherington, under the influence of these recollections, stood for a few minutes suspended—But the devil always finds logic to convince his followers. He recollected the wrong done to his mother, and to himself, her offspring, to whom his father had, in the face of the whole world, imparted the hereditary rights, of which he was now, by a posthumous deed, endeavouring to deprive the memory of the one and the expectations of the other. Surely, the right being his own, he had a full title, by the most effectual means, whatever such means might be, to repel all attacks on that right, and even destroy, if necessary, the documents by which his enemies were prosecuting their unjust plans against his honour and interest.
This reasoning prevailed, and Lord Etherington again held the devoted packet above the flames; when it occurred to him, that, his resolution being taken, he ought to carry it into execution as effectually as possible; and to do so, it was necessary to know, that the packet actually contained the papers which he was desirous to destroy.
Never did a doubt arise in juster time; for no sooner had the seal burst, and the envelope rustled under his fingers, than he perceived, to his utter consternation, that he held in his hand only the copies of the deeds for which Francis Tyrrel had written, the originals of which he had too sanguinely concluded would be forwarded according to his requisition. A letter from a partner of the house with which they were deposited, stated, that they had not felt themselves at liberty, in the absence of the head of their firm, to whom these papers had been committed, to part with them even to Mr. Tyrrel, though they had proceeded so far as to open the parcel, and now transmitted to him formal copies of the papers contained in it, which, they presumed, would serve Mr. Tyrrel's purpose for consulting counsel, or the like. They themselves, in a case of so much delicacy, and in the absence of their principal partner, were determined to retain the originals, unless called to produce them in a court of justice.
With a solemn imprecation on the formality and absurdity of the writer, Lord Etherington let the letter of advice drop from his hand into the fire, and throwing himself into a chair, passed his hand across his eyes, as if their very power of sight had been blighted by what he had read. His title, and his paternal fortune, which he thought but an instant before might be rendered unchallengeable by a single movement of his hand, seemed now on the verge of being lost for ever. His rapid recollection failed not to remind him of what was less known to the world, that his early and profuse expenditure had greatly dilapidated his maternal fortune; and that the estate of Nettlewood, which five minutes ago he only coveted as a wealthy man desires increase of his store, must now be acquired, if he would avoid being a poor and embarrassed spendthrift. To impede his possessing himself of this property, fate had restored to the scene the penitent of the morning, who, as he had too much reason to believe, was returned to this neighbourhood, to do justice to Clara Mowbray, and who was not unlikely to put the whole story of the marriage on its right footing. She, however, might be got rid of; and it might still be possible to hurry Miss Mowbray, by working on her fears, or through the agency of her brother, into a union with him while he still preserved the title of Lord Etherington. This, therefore, he resolved to secure, if effort or if intrigue could carry the point; nor was it the least consideration, that, should he succeed, he would obtain over Tyrrel, his successful rival, such a triumph, as would be sufficient to embitter the tranquillity of his whole life.
In a few minutes, his rapid and contriving invention had formed a plan for securing the sole advantage which seemed to remain open for him; and conscious that he had no time to lose, he entered immediately upon the execution.
The bell summoned Solmes to his lordship's apartment, when the Earl, as coolly as if he had hoped to dupe his experienced valet by such an assertion, said, "You have brought me a packet designed for some man at the Aultoun—let it be sent to him—Stay,—I will re-seal it first."
He accordingly re-sealed the packet, containing all the writings, excepting the letter of advice, (which he had burnt,) and gave it to the valet, with the caution, "I wish you would not make such blunders in future."
"I beg your lordship's pardon—I will take better care again—thought it was addressed to your lordship."
So answered Solmes, too knowing to give the least look of intelligence, far less to remind the Earl that his own directions had occasioned the mistake of which he complained.
"Solmes," continued the Earl, "you need not mention your blunder at the post-office; it would only occasion tattle in this idle place—but be sure that the gentleman has his letter.—And, Solmes, I see Mr. Mowbray walk across—ask him to dine with me to-day at five. I have a headache, and cannot face the clamour of the savages who feed at the public table.—And let me see—make my compliments to Lady Penelope Penfeather—I will certainly have the honour of waiting on her ladyship this evening to tea, agreeably to her very boring invitation received—write her a proper card, and word it your own way. Bespeak dinner for two, and see you have some of that batch of Burgundy." The servant was retiring, when his master added, "Stay a moment—I have a more important business than I have yet mentioned.—Solmes, you have managed devilish ill about the woman Irwin!"
"I, my lord?" answered Solmes.
"Yes, you, sir—did you not tell me she had gone to the West Indies with a friend of yours, and did not I give them a couple of hundred pounds for passage-money?"
"Yes, my lord," replied the valet.
"Ay, but now it proves no, my lord," said Lord Etherington; "for she has found her way back to this country in miserable plight—half-starved, and, no doubt, willing to do or say any thing for a livelihood—How has this happened?"
"Biddulph must have taken her cash, and turned her loose, my lord," answered Solmes, as if he had been speaking of the most commonplace transaction in the world; "but I know the woman's nature so well, and am so much master of her history, that I can carry her off the country in twenty-four hours, and place her where she will never think of returning, provided your lordship can spare me so long."
"About it directly—but I can tell you, that you will find the woman in a very penitential humour, and very ill in health to boot."
"I am sure of my game," answered Solmes; "with submission to your lordship, I think if death and her good angel had hold of one of that woman's arms, the devil and I could make a shift to lead her away by the other."
"Away and about it, then," said Etherington. "But, hark ye, Solmes, be kind to her, and see all her wants relieved. I have done her mischief enough—though nature and the devil had done half the work to my hand."
Solmes at length was permitted to withdraw to execute his various commissions, with an assurance that his services would not be wanted for the next twenty-four hours.
"Soh!" said the Earl, as his agent withdrew, "there is a spring put in motion, which, well oiled, will move the whole machine—And here, in lucky time, comes Harry Jekyl—I hear his whistle on the stairs.—There is a silly lightness of heart about that fellow, which I envy, while I despise it; but he is welcome now, for I want him."
Jekyl entered accordingly, and broke out with "I am glad to see one of your fellows laying a cloth for two in your parlour, Etherington—I was afraid you were going down among these confounded bores again to-day."
"You are not to be one of the two, Hal," answered Lord Etherington.
"No?—then I may be a third, I hope, if not second?"
"Neither first, second, nor third, Captain.—The truth is, I want a tete-a-tete with Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's," replied the Earl; "and, besides, I have to beg the very particular favour of you to go again to that fellow Martigny. It is time that he should produce his papers, if he has any—of which, for one, I do not believe a word. He has had ample time to hear from London; and I think I have delayed long enough in an important matter upon his bare assertion."
"I cannot blame your impatience," said Jekyl, "and I will go on your errand instantly. As you waited on my advice, I am bound to find an end to your suspense.—At the same time, if the man is not possessed of such papers as he spoke of, I must own he is happy in a command of consummate assurance, which might set up the whole roll of attorneys."
"You will be soon able to judge of that," said Lord Etherington; "and now, off with you—Why do you look at me so anxiously?"
"I cannot tell—I have strange forebodings about this tete-a-tete with Mowbray. You should spare him, Etherington—he is not your match—wants both judgment and temper."
"Tell him so, Jekyl," answered the Earl, "and his proud Scotch stomach will be up in an instant, and he will pay you with a shot for your pains.—Why, he thinks himself cock of the walk, this strutting bantam, notwithstanding the lesson I gave him before—And what do you think?—He has the impudence to talk about my attentions to Lady Binks as inconsistent with the prosecution of my suit to his sister! Yes, Hal—this awkward Scotch laird, that has scarce tact enough to make love to a ewe-milker, or, at best, to some daggletailed soubrette, has the assurance to start himself as my rival!"
"Then, good-night to St. Ronan's!—this will be a fatal dinner to him.—Etherington, I know by that laugh you are bent on mischief—I have a great mind to give him a hint."
"I wish you would," answered the Earl; "it would all turn to my account."
"Do you defy me?—Well, if I meet him, I will put him on his guard."
The friends parted; and it was not long ere Jekyl encountered Mowbray on one of the public walks.
"You dine with Etherington to-day?" said the Captain—"Forgive me, Mr. Mowbray, if I say one single word—Beware."
"Of what should I beware, Captain Jekyl," answered Mowbray, "when I dine with a friend of your own, and a man of honour?"
"Certainly Lord Etherington is both, Mr. Mowbray; but he loves play, and is too hard for most people."
"I thank you for your hint, Captain Jekyl—I am a raw Scotchman, it is true; but yet I know a thing or two. Fair play is always presumed amongst gentlemen; and that taken for granted, I have the vanity to think I need no one's caution on the subject, not even Captain Jekyl's, though his experience must needs be so much superior to mine."
"In that case, sir," said Jekyl, bowing coldly, "I have no more to say, and I hope there is no harm done.—Conceited coxcomb!" he added, mentally, as they parted, "how truly did Etherington judge of him, and what an ass was I to intermeddle!—I hope Etherington will strip him of every feather!"
He pursued his walk in quest of Tyrrel, and Mowbray proceeded to the apartments of the Earl, in a temper of mind well suited to the purposes of the latter, who judged of his disposition accurately when he permitted Jekyl to give his well-meant warning. To be supposed, by a man of acknowledged fashion, so decidedly inferior to his antagonist—to be considered as an object of compassion, and made the subject of a good-boy warning, was gall and bitterness to his proud spirit, which, the more that he felt a conscious inferiority in the arts which they all cultivated, struggled the more to preserve the footing of at least apparent equality.
Since the first memorable party at piquet, Mowbray had never hazarded his luck with Lord Etherington, except for trifling stakes; but his conceit led him to suppose that he now fully understood his play, and, agreeably to the practice of those who have habituated themselves to gambling, he had every now and then felt a yearning to try for his revenge. He wished also to be out of Lord Etherington's debt, feeling galled under a sense of pecuniary obligation, which hindered his speaking his mind to him fully upon the subject of his flirtation with Lady Binks, which he justly considered as an insult to his family, considering the footing on which the Earl seemed desirous to stand with Clara Mowbray. From these obligations a favourable evening might free him, and Mowbray was, in fact, indulging in a waking dream to this purpose, when Jekyl interrupted him. His untimely warning only excited a spirit of contradiction, and a determination to show the adviser how little he was qualified to judge of his talents; and in this humour, his ruin, which was the consequence of that afternoon, was far from seeming to be the premeditated, or even the voluntary work of the Earl of Etherington.
On the contrary, the victim himself was the first to propose play—deep play—double stakes; while Lord Etherington, on the other hand, often proposed to diminish their game, or to break off entirely; but it was always with an affectation of superiority which only stimulated Mowbray to farther and more desperate risks; and, at last, when Mowbray became his debtor to an overwhelming amount, (his circumstances considered,) the Earl threw down the cards, and declared he should be too late for Lady Penelope's tea-party, to which he was positively engaged.
"Will you not give me my revenge?" said Mowbray, taking up the cards, and shuffling them with fierce anxiety.
"Not now, Mowbray; we have played too long already—you have lost too much—more than perhaps is convenient for you to pay."
Mowbray gnashed his teeth, in spite of his resolution to maintain an exterior, at least, of firmness.
"You can take your time, you know," said the Earl; "a note of hand will suit me as well as the money."
"No, by G—!" answered Mowbray, "I will not be so taken in a second time—I had better have sold myself to the devil than to your lordship—I have never been my own man since."
"These are not very kind expressions, Mowbray," said the Earl; "you would play, and they that will play must expect sometimes to lose"——
"And they who win will expect to be paid," said Mowbray, breaking in. "I know that as well as you, my lord, and you shall be paid—I will pay you—I will pay you, by G—! Do you make any doubt that I will pay you, my lord?"
"You look as if you thought of paying me in sharp coin," said Lord Etherington; "and I think that would scarce be consistent with the terms we stand upon towards each other."
"By my soul, my lord," said Mowbray, "I cannot tell what these terms are; and to be at my wit's end at once, I should be glad to know. You set out upon paying addresses to my sister, and with your visits and opportunities at Shaws-Castle, I cannot find the matter makes the least progress—it keeps moving without advancing, like a child's rocking-horse. Perhaps you think that you have curbed me up so tightly, that I dare not stir in the matter; but you will find it otherwise.—Your lordship may keep a haram if you will, but my sister shall not enter it."
"You are angry, and therefore you are unjust," said Etherington; "you know well enough it is your sister's fault that there is any delay. I am most willing—most desirous—to call her Lady Etherington—nothing but her unlucky prejudices against me have retarded a union which I have so many reasons for desiring."
"Well," replied Mowbray, "that shall be my business. I know no reason she can pretend to decline a marriage so honourable to her house, and which is approved of by me, that house's head. That matter shall be arranged in twenty-four hours."
"It will do me the most sensible pleasure," said Lord Etherington; "you shall soon see how sincerely I desire your alliance; and as for the trifle you have lost"——
"It is no trifle to me, my lord—it is my ruin—but it shall be paid—and let me tell your lordship, you may thank your good luck for it more than your good play."
"We will say no more of it at present, if you please," said Lord Etherington, "to-morrow is a new day; and if you will take my advice, you will not be too harsh with your sister. A little firmness is seldom amiss with young women, but severity"——
"I will pray your lordship to spare me your advice on this subject. However valuable it may be in other respects, I can, I take it, speak to my own sister in my own way."
"Since you are so caustically-disposed, Mowbray," answered the Earl, "I presume you will not honour her ladyship's tea-table to-night, though I believe it will be the last of the season?"
"And why should you think so, my lord?" answered Mowbray, whose losses had rendered him testy and contradictory upon every subject that was started. "Why should not I pay my respects to Lady Penelope, or any other tabby of quality? I have no title, indeed; but I suppose that my family"——
"Entitles you to become a canon of Strasburgh[II-D] doubtless—But you do not seem in a very Christian mood for taking orders. All I meant to say was, that you and Lady Pen were not used to be on such a good footing."
"Well, she sent me a card for her blow-out," said Mowbray; "and so I am resolved to go. When I have been there half an hour, I will ride up to Shaws-Castle, and you shall hear of my speed in wooing for you to-morrow morning."
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round; And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn Throws up a steamy column, and the cups That cheer, but not inebriate, wait on each, Thus let us welcome peaceful evening in.
The approach of the cold and rainy season had now so far thinned the company at the Well, that, in order to secure the necessary degree of crowd upon her tea-nights, Lady Penelope was obliged to employ some coaxing towards those whom she had considered as much under par in society. Even the Doctor and Mrs. Blower were graciously smiled upon—for their marriage was now an arranged affair; and the event was of a nature likely to spread the reputation of the Spa among wealthy widows, and medical gentlemen of more skill than practice. So in they came, the Doctor smirking, gallanting, and performing all the bustling parade of settled and arranged courtship, with much of that grace wherewith a turkey-cock goes through the same ceremony. Old Touchwood had also attended her ladyship's summons, chiefly, it may be supposed, from his restless fidgety disposition, which seldom suffered him to remain absent even from those places of resort of which he usually professed his detestation. There was, besides, Mr. Winterblossom, who, in his usual spirit of quiet epicurism and self-indulgence, was, under the fire of a volley of compliments to Lady Penelope, scheming to secure for himself an early cup of tea. There was Lady Binks also, with the wonted degree of sullenness in her beautiful face, angry at her husband as usual, and not disposed to be pleased with Lord Etherington for being absent, when she desired to excite Sir Bingo's jealousy. This she had discovered to be the most effectual way of tormenting the Baronet, and she rejoiced in it with the savage glee of a hackney coachman, who has found a raw, where he can make his poor jade feel the whip. The rest of the company were also in attendance as usual. MacTurk himself was present, notwithstanding that he thought it an egregious waste of hot water, to bestow it upon compounding any mixture saving punch. He had of late associated himself a good deal with the traveller; not that they by any means resembled each other in temper or opinions, but rather because there was that degree of difference betwixt them which furnished perpetual subject for dispute and discussion. They were not long, on the present occasion, ere they lighted on a fertile source of controversy.
"Never tell me of your points of honour," said Touchwood, raising his voice altogether above the general tone of polite conversation—"all humbug, Captain MacTurk—mere hair-traps to springe woodcocks—men of sense break through them."
"Upon my word, sir," said the Captain, "and myself is surprised to hear you—for, look you, sir, every man's honour is the breath of his nostrils—Cot tamn!"
"Then, let men breathe through their mouths, and be d—d," returned the controversialist. "I tell you, sir, that, besides its being forbidden, both by law and gospel, it's an idiotical and totally absurd practice, that of duelling. An honest savage has more sense than to practise it—he takes his bow or his gun, as the thing may be, and shoots his enemy from behind a bush. And a very good way; for you see there can, in that case, be only one man's death between them."
"Saul of my body, sir," said the Captain, "gin ye promulgate sic doctrines amang the good company, it's my belief you will bring somebody to the gallows."
"Thank ye, Captain, with all my heart; but I stir up no quarrels—I leave war to them that live by it. I only say, that, except our old, stupid ancestors in the north-west here, I know no country so silly as to harbour this custom of duelling. It is unknown in Africa, among the negroes—in America."
"Don't tell me that," said the Captain; "a Yankee will fight with muskets and buck-shot, rather than sit still with an affront. I should know Jonathan, I think."
"Altogether unknown among the thousand tribes of India."
"I'll be tamned, then!" said Captain MacTurk. "Was I not in Tippoo's prison at Bangalore? and, when the joyful day of our liberation came, did we not solemnize it with fourteen little affairs, whereof we had been laying the foundation in our house of captivity, as holy writ has it, and never went farther to settle them than the glacis of the fort? By my soul, you would have thought there was a smart skirmish, the firing was so close; and did not I, Captain MacTurk, fight three of them myself, without moving my foot from the place I set it on?"
"And pray, sir, what might be the result of this Christian mode of giving thanks for your deliverance?" demanded Mr. Touchwood.
"A small list of casualties, after all," said the Captain; "one killed on the spot, one died of his wounds—two wounded severely—three ditto slightly, and little Duncan Macphail reported missing. We were out of practice, after such long confinement. So you see how we manage matters in India, my dear friend."
"You are to understand," replied Touchwood, "that I spoke only of the heathen natives, who, heathen as they are, live in the light of their own moral reason, and among whom ye shall therefore see better examples of practical morality than among such as yourselves; who, though calling yourselves Christians, have no more knowledge of the true acceptation and meaning of your religion, than if you had left your Christianity at the Cape of Good Hope, as they say of you, and forgot to take it up when you come back again."
"Py Cot! and I can tell you, sir," said the Captain, elevating at once his voice and his nostrils, and snuffing the air with a truculent and indignant visage, "that I will not permit you or any man to throw any such scandal on my character.—I thank Cot, I can bring good witness that I am as good a Christian as another, for a poor sinner, as the best of us are; and I am ready to justify my religion with my sword—Cot tamn!—Compare my own self with a parcel of black heathen bodies and natives, that were never in the inner side of a kirk whilst they lived, but go about worshipping stocks and stones, and swinging themselves upon bamboos, like peasts, as they are!"
An indignant growling in his throat, which sounded like the acquiescence of his inward man in the indignant proposition which his external organs thus expressed, concluded this haughty speech, which, however, made not the least impression on Touchwood, who cared as little for angry tones and looks as he did for fine speeches. So that it is likely a quarrel between the Christian preceptor and the peacemaker might have occurred for the amusement of the company, had not the attention of both, but particularly that of Touchwood, been diverted from the topic of debate by the entrance of Lord Etherington and Mowbray.
The former was, as usual, all grace, smiles, and gentleness. Yet, contrary to his wonted custom, which usually was, after a few general compliments, to attach himself particularly to Lady Binks, the Earl, on the present occasion, avoided the side of the room on which that beautiful but sullen idol held her station, and attached himself exclusively to Lady Penelope Penfeather, enduring, without flinching, the strange variety of conceited bavardage, which that lady's natural parts and acquired information enabled her to pour forth with unparalleled profusion.
An honest heathen, one of Plutarch's heroes, if I mistake not,[II-E] dreamed once upon a night, that the figure of Proserpina, whom he had long worshipped, visited his slumbers with an angry and vindictive countenance, and menaced him with vengeance, in resentment of his having neglected her altars, with the usual fickleness of a polytheist, for those of some more fashionable divinity. Not that goddess of the infernal regions herself could assume a more haughty or more displeased countenance than that with which Lady Binks looked from time to time upon Lord Etherington, as if to warn him of the consequence of this departure from the allegiance which the young Earl had hitherto manifested towards her, and which seemed now, she knew not why, unless it were for the purpose of public insult, to be transferred to her rival. Perilous as her eye-glances were, and much as they menaced, Lord Etherington felt at this moment the importance of soothing Lady Penelope to silence on the subject of the invalid's confession of that morning, to be more pressing than that of appeasing the indignation of Lady Binks. The former was a case of the most urgent necessity—the latter, if he was at all anxious on the subject, might, he perhaps thought, be trusted to time. Had the ladies continued on a tolerable footing together, he might have endeavoured to conciliate both. But the bitterness of their long-suppressed feud had greatly increased, now that it was probable the end of the season was to separate them, in all likelihood for ever; so that Lady Penelope had no longer any motive for countenancing Lady Binks, or the lady of Sir Bingo for desiring Lady Penelope's countenance. The wealth and lavish expense of the one was no longer to render more illustrious the suit of her right honourable friend, nor was the society of Lady Penelope likely to be soon again useful or necessary to Lady Binks. So that neither were any longer desirous to suppress symptoms of the mutual contempt and dislike which they had long nourished for each other; and whoever should, in this decisive hour, take part with one, had little henceforward to expect from her rival. What farther and more private reasons Lady Binks might have to resent the defection of Lord Etherington, have never come with certainty to our knowledge; but it was said there had been high words between them on the floating report that his lordship's visits to Shaws-Castle were dictated by the wish to find a bride there.
Women's wits are said to be quick in spying the surest means of avenging a real or supposed slight. After biting her pretty lips, and revolving in her mind the readiest means of vengeance, fate threw in her way young Mowbray of St. Ronan's. She looked at him, and endeavoured to fix his attention with a nod and gracious smile, such as in an ordinary mood would have instantly drawn him to her side. On receiving in answer only a vacant glance and a bow, she was led to observe him more attentively, and was induced to believe, from his wavering look, varying complexion, and unsteady step, that he had been drinking unusually deep. Still his eye was less that of an intoxicated than of a disturbed and desperate man, one whose faculties were engrossed by deep and turbid reflection, which withdrew him from the passing scene.
"Do you observe how ill Mr. Mowbray looks?" said she, in a loud whisper; "I hope he has not heard what Lady Penelope was just now saying of his family?"
"Unless he hears it from you, my lady," answered Mr. Touchwood, who, upon Mowbray's entrance, had broken off his discourse with MacTurk, "I think there is little chance of his learning it from any other person."
"What is the matter?" said Mowbray, sharply, addressing Chatterly and Winterblossom; but the one shrunk nervously from the question, protesting, he indeed had not been precisely attending to what had been passing among the ladies, and Winterblossom bowed out of the scrape with quiet and cautious politeness—"he really had not given particular attention to what was passing—I was negotiating with Mrs. Jones for an additional lump of sugar to my coffee.—Egad, it was so difficult a piece of diplomacy," he added, sinking his voice, "that I have an idea her ladyship calculates the West India produce by grains and pennyweights."
The innuendo, if designed to make Mowbray smile, was far from succeeding. He stepped forward, with more than usual stiffness in his air, which was never entirely free from self-consequence, and said to Lady Binks, "May I request to know of your ladyship what particular respecting my family had the honour to engage the attention of the company?"
"I was only a listener, Mr. Mowbray," returned Lady Binks, with evident enjoyment of the rising indignation which she read in his countenance; "not being queen of the night, I am not at all disposed to be answerable for the turn of the conversation."
Mowbray, in no humour to bear jesting, yet afraid to expose himself by farther enquiry in a company so public, darted a fierce look at Lady Penelope, then in close conversation with Lord Etherington,—advanced a step or two towards them,—then, as if checking himself, turned on his heel, and left the room. A few minutes afterwards, and when certain satirical nods and winks were circulating among the assembly, a waiter slid a piece of paper into Mrs. Jones's hand, who, on looking at the contents, seemed about to leave the room.
"Jones—Jones!" exclaimed Lady Penelope, in surprise and displeasure.
"Only the key of the tea-caddie, your ladyship," answered Jones; "I will be back in an instant."
"Jones—Jones!" again exclaimed her mistress, "here is enough"—of tea, she would have said; but Lord Etherington was so near her, that she was ashamed to complete the sentence, and had only hope in Jones's quickness of apprehension, and the prospect that she would be unable to find the key which she went in search of.
Jones, meanwhile, tripped off to a sort of housekeeper's apartment, of which she was locum tenens for the evening, for the more ready supply of whatever might be wanted on Lady Penelope's night, as it was called. Here she found Mr. Mowbray of St. Ronan's, whom she instantly began to assail with, "La! now, Mr. Mowbray, you are such another gentleman!—I am sure you will make me lose my place—I'll swear you will—what can you have to say, that you could not as well put off for an hour?"
"I want to know, Jones," answered Mowbray, in a different tone, perhaps, from what the damsel expected, "what your lady was just now saying about my family."
"Pshaw!—was that all?" answered Mrs. Jones. "What should she be saying?—nonsense—Who minds what she says?—I am sure I never do, for one."
"Nay, but, my dear Jones," said Mowbray, "I insist upon knowing—I must know, and I will know."
"La! Mr. Mowbray, why should I make mischief?—As I live, I hear some one coming! and if you were found speaking with me here—indeed, indeed, some one is coming!"
"The devil may come, if he will!" said Mowbray, "but we do not part, pretty mistress, till you tell me what I wish to know."
"Lord, sir, you frighten me!" answered Jones; "but all the room heard it as well as I—it was about Miss Mowbray—and that my lady would be shy of her company hereafter—for that she was—she was"——
"For that my sister was what?" said Mowbray, fiercely, seizing her arm.
"Lord, sir, you terrify me!" said Jones, beginning to cry; "at any rate, it was not I that said it—it was Lady Penelope."
"And what was it the old, adder-tongued madwoman dared to say of Clara Mowbray?—Speak out plainly, and directly, or, by Heaven, I'll make you!"
"Hold, sir—hold, for God's sake!—you will break my arm," answered the terrified handmaiden. "I am sure I know no harm of Miss Mowbray; only, my lady spoke as if she was no better than she ought to be.—Lord, sir, there is some one listening at the door!"—and making a spring out of his grasp, she hastened back to the room in which the company were assembled.
Mowbray stood petrified at the news he had heard, ignorant alike what could be the motive for a calumny so atrocious, and uncertain what he were best do to put a stop to the scandal. To his farther confusion, he was presently convinced of the truth of Mrs. Jones's belief that they had been watched, for, as he went to the door of the apartment, he was met by Mr. Touchwood.
"What has brought you here, sir?" said Mowbray, sternly.
"Hoitie toitie," answered the traveller, "why, how came you here, if you go to that, squire?—Egad, Lady Penelope is trembling for her souchong, so I just took a step here to save her ladyship the trouble of looking after Mrs. Jones in person, which, I think, might have been a worse interruption than mine, Mr. Mowbray."
"Pshaw, sir, you talk nonsense," said Mowbray; "the tea-room is so infernally hot, that I had sat down here a moment to draw breath, when the young woman came in."
"And you are going to run away, now the old gentleman is come in?" said Touchwood—"Come, sir, I am more your friend than you may think."
"Sir, you are intrusive—I want nothing that you can give me," said Mowbray.
"That is a mistake," answered the senior; "for I can supply you with what most young men want—money and wisdom."